Today I bring you my next eight December Reflections via photographs!
December 8: 5 THINGS ABOUT ME
- I am slightly far-sighted and as the years progress I notice that I need my glasses more and more for computer work and reading — especially when grading my students’ assignments.
- My hair is naturally light brown. Well, my hair is naturally light brown with lots of silver and gray.
- As far as I know, my cultural background is Irish-English-Scottish-German-Swedish and Prussian. My paternal grandmother told me that we’re related to Prussian royalty, but I’m not sure I believe her since she also told my brother that he was 1% Hawaiian. I’m also (apparently) related to Rufus Putnam, an American Revolutionary War general, so I guess that makes me a “DAR,” but I have no interest in that label or association. My favorite label is HUMAN and my favorite cause is PEACE.
- I have green eyes with a little bit of gold around the edges. These eyes are sensitive to light and this sensitivity sometimes causes ocular migraines.
- I have four tattoos on my body, including six birds and two Sanskrit symbols.
December 9: FAVE PHOTO OF 2015
It’s often so challenging for me to pick a “favorite” anything, so I have many favorite photos from this year. I will say that this photo of my cat Selkie delights me to no end. Last winter he sat with me in front my full-spectrum S.A.D. light absorbing the warmth and light with me as we traversed the dark months together.
December 10: SHADOWS
This last summer in Seattle was unusually hot. For the first time, my husband and I were considering getting an air conditioning unit. Instead, we cooled off in the kiddie pool and hid in the shadows of the sun.
December 11: GOLD
This sky! I took this photo on a walk home from the grocery store one evening this summer. The clouds were littered with gold and the sky was so softly blue. I dropped all my grocery bags and stared and stared. Remembering this moment reinforces my intention to stop and really look at the world with my whole body.
December 12: BEST DECISION OF 2015
So many good decisions this year, but I am going to focus on one that is constant: my decision to keep connecting, learning, and growing with my partner in this life.
December 13, 2015: A is FOR…
ART! And making artful messes! And reminding myself how the process of making art invigorates me like nothing else quite does. Here’s to a 2016 of setting up my art space in our new home in Bellingham and creating!
December 14: THE SPACE IN BETWEEN
Speaking of old and new spaces, this is a photo of our cat Selkie scoping out our empty bedroom right before our move. I think he found a few ghosts in that room … in that space in between.
December 15: SOUNDTRACK of 2015
My new (longer) commute from Bellingham to Bothell twice a week to teach at Cascadia College has certainly been an adjustment, but it has been made much more lively with some riot grrrl tunes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ani Difranco on my drives and her strong energy, provoking lyrics, and social consciousness have me rockin’ and singing along with her up and down I-5.
I’ve been revisiting my grief books lately (and yes, I do have quite a lot of them). I find them comforting — and not only when I read them, but also just knowing that they occupy a significant row on my bookshelf and are my solace companions.
Today is the death anniversary of my grandfather and the reminder of his passing brings forward all the other passings I have experienced, from the death of my great-uncle (his twin) in October of 2001, to my grandmother’s passing in 2007, to my father’s passing in 2008. My already little family got much smaller in the span of seven years — and when I add in the death of my beloved bird Zelda, my childhood dog Alex, and my cat Mountie, there’s a lot of loss energy pooling and bubbling to the surface. One loss triggers all losses, my mother says.
Little me with my grandfather.
There is a chapter in the book Unattended Sorrow by Stephen Levine called “Trusting Our Pain.” When I arrived at that chapter this evening, I gave the chapter title a double-take. “Wait. Trust our pain? Don’t we want to get rid of our pain?” we might ask. Levine writes:
To make peace with our pain, we must come to trust IT enough to be able to approach it without tightening our belly. First we need to soften to our pain and send mercy to it, then finally we can perhaps make peace with it. To reclaim our heart we need to forgive ourselves for being in so much pain. Perhaps the most difficult of the balancing acts we learn is to trust our pain, to let the healing in. Pain is surrounded by and encapsulated in fear. We tend to send hatred to our pains, whether physical or mental….The way we treat our pain is a demonstration in how we treat ourselves.
When I read Levine’s words I immediately began to think of the work I do as a bodywork practitioner. When there is either physical or emotional pain and we trust in it enough to soften into it, explore it, and give it the chance to unclench and let go, we don’t stay stuck in a pattern of pain. When I give massage or energy work sessions, I encourage my clients to surrender into the pain, to lean into it (sometimes physically), and to visualize what is happening inside the body. Is it dark? Cool? Hot? Olive green? Windy? Does the pain have a voice? Do you want to run from the pain or do you want to get inside its head?
In guiding my clients through trusting their pain, I’ve come to the realization that I need to do more of this myself. Sometimes the grief is a tiny stream in the background and sometimes it is a crashing wave that spits me out onto a rough, sandpapery shore. I ask myself how can I loosen into this pain, not tighten? How can I surrender to the feelings and not run from them out of overwhelm? How can I trust my pain-process enough to be vulnerable, open, and authentic? How can you?
I send you all a healing flashlight for illuminating your pain, whatever it may be, and a sunburst of courage so you can try trusting the pain by leaning in and softening into its uncertain edges.
Today Walter and I joined about 50 other whale watchers on a Pacific Whale Foundation two-hour tour in the waters between west Maui and the island of Lana’i. This time of year there are probably around 1000 whales in the waters of the Hawaiian islands. It’s like a big orgy of conception and birth in these waters. Talk about potent energy!
Walter is content and ready to oooh and ahhh at the whales.
Wouldn’t you want to give birth and/or mate in these warm, 76-degree waters, as opposed to the cold waters of Alaska? Apparently these humpback whales choose the Hawaiian islands for their mating and birthing process during these January – March months because of the warm water temperature, but also because the waters here aren’t as deep as other places and new baby humpbacks are learning to hold their breath underwater and these shallow waters are great environments for practice.
Here are the best photographs I took from our tour. I am delighted that we not only saw mommas and babies (including a mother whale nursing!), but one big whale surfaced right next to the boat.
These koholas (whales in Hawaiian) are curious, friendly, and so expressive!
What a powerful, sacred experience to be so close to these amazing, intelligent creatures who are part of the Cetacean Nation of the Hawaiian Islands.
Mama and baby…
This brave, curious humpback decided to swim right under our boat and surface next to us!
Some blowing and splashing off in the distance.
What is the most beautiful thing?
On Fiona Robyn’s blog Writing Our Way Home, she asks that bloggers write a post about our “most beautiful thing” in celebration of her new novel of the same name. I am a bit behind with my post, but thought I would blog about this anyway.
There are so many beautiful things, but today, these are the things that catch my eye:
My Buddha with blooming orchid is in full view from my bed. When I feel the haunting nighttime worries entering my body, I look to my little altar of peace and beauty and feel calmer. I also feel “at home” at this altar, as though I am part of it somehow.
Our cat Selkie is indeed beautiful on the outside. His gray fur an milk-dipped toes and chin make him so huggable. Selkie, though, is also such a beauty on the inside. He knows when to rest his body on my stomach and chest to calm me. He knows how to lean in to head-butt my forehead in complete surrender. If only humans would head-butt each other regularly like cats do. I think the world would be a better place. We would be vulnerable with one another and fully acknowledge one another. Thank you, Selkie, for this gift.
What is “the most beautiful thing” today for you?
I recently had a realization about life. I don’t want to seem to be a downer, though, so I will tread lightly here. My epiphany: My hardships aren’t strange anomalies that will suddenly change into rainbows. My hardships are part of life. Illness, death, change, depression, anxiety, loss — these are all part of life. And my sense of Truth right now tells me that these won’t go away, nor should they necessarily. See, you all think I’m dragging myself down, don’t you?
Actually, I am finding this realization freeing. I came to this feeling when a friend remarked that since my dad’s death in 2008, so much change and loss and hardship has occurred. A few weeks ago, my friend was visiting with me and sweet Mountie, who was not doing so well. She was feeling my pain about my sick kitty and exuding compassion when she said, “You need a break!” While a break would be nice, I realize that all of the pain and losses I have experienced in the last four years — okay, eleven years…wait, my whole life — are part of a continuum and the best thing I can do is meet all of it with grace.
Grace is my new power word this year. How do I meet loss gracefully? Loss will not go away. Loss is part of what we all experience. So how do I (how do we) deal with our hardships without breaking apart? Or maybe, for some, the question is how do we put ourselves back together after being broken apart?
We take our time. We approach ourselves gently. We pick up the pieces as if they are delicate artifacts in need a soft dusting. We forgive others. We forgive ourselves. We cry. We scream. We laugh. We step outside of ourselves and connect with others on this planet. We trust another day will come. We walk. We drink tea. We dance. We breathe. We take one small risk, even if that is to get out of bed. We rest. We realize others suffer more than us. We realize others have suffered less. We realize that ranking suffering isn’t fair, kind, or helpful. We realize that our losses are the most important because they are ours. We forgive others for not understanding or saying the “wrong thing.” We write in our journals. We read books with self-help quotes and poetry that makes us cry. We realize that we are grateful to feel deeply and we love ourselves, snotty nose and all, because life isn’t out to get us. Life just is. So we will just be.
I leave you with a poem by Walt Whitman — a poem which gives my achy heart some comfort. I hope it does for you as well.
Youth, large, lusty, loving-youth full of grace, force, fascination,
Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace,
Day full-blown and splendid-day of the immense sun, action,
The Night follows close with millions of suns, and sleep and
I am deeply sad to share that my sweet Mountie passed away last Thursday evening, February 2. I have been attending to my grief mostly by crying and napping and rearranging furniture, but I did get out for a walk around Greenlake the other day with my friend Robyn, who reassured me that I could cry under my sunglasses and no one would notice. Walking, I have found, is quite helpful as grief can create a sort of glue for the body, mind, and heart — and it’s easy to feel stuck or at least sticky at the edges.
I am sure that I will have more Mountie posts and more posts about the ways I am processing such loss, but for now I am going to share a poem I wrote in 2010 in which Mountie appears. This poem reminds me of three things: 1) Loss is interconnected, 2) Beauty can happen even when you’re in the shower looking at the world through foggy glass, and 3) Mountie was 100% authentic, empathetic, sincere, and generous of spirit.
Through the shower’s foggy glass,
I spot my night self heaped in a pile—
my gray t-shirt and blue-striped pajama
bottoms crumpled like a winter flower—
and remember last night’s nightmare,
of my father dying all over again,
the adrenaline sweat’s sickly sweet
stain left on my clothes—
and then I spot my cat approaching,
sniffing the pajama puddle.
He circles twice before settling
in the center, then begins to knead
the little heap with his claws, rubs
his nose into my shirt’s armpit,
and sleeps right there, in the remnants
of my terror, content to be in it,
for I am somehow comfort and he can smell it –
beneath the taste of panic’s tang,
despite the nighttime tremors
that sometimes shake him right off the bed,
I am still the one who he adores,
I am still the one who smells of love.
Courtney Putnam, c. 2010