Where do we find freedom?

I thought I'd see if I could cope with the ambiguity of yesterday's piece by creating another similar piece but adding in some of the borders and patterning implied by the baseball field analogy from Sunday. I might not like some of the design elements quite as much, but I do find the image more appealing, less disconcerting.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a long time with the priest who counseled me through my divorce. We were talking about the concept of freedom in marriage, and he pointed out that there's actually a lot more freedom if you have certain defined boundaries to work within. If there are no boundaries, he said, it's human nature to keep pushing out there, looking for them, seeing how far you can go -- and that becomes a kind of compulsion in itself, which doesn't actually free you.

...something to ponder...

The blessing in ambiguity

I had a great deal of fun creating this image, but when it was done I was frustrated with it; felt it needed something more identifiable, more recognizable to give it definition. I tried overlaying various statues -- Christ, a Buddha, Kwan Yin -- but then it felt more like finger-pointing, a lecture. So in the end I let it stand.

I think I was dealing with a natural human compulsion to quantify, identify, contain, simplify... Flannery O'Connor once remarked that she had an aunt who thought a story had little to offer unless somebody got married or shot at the end of it -- another variation of this all-too-human temptation. But, as Eugene Peterson says, life seldom provides such definitive endings. Life is ambiguous; there are loose ends -- and it takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. But if we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be absolutely essential to our growth and understanding.

This image doesn't make any pronouncements, offers no clear, identifiable subject. But perhaps what value it has lies in the invitation to you, the viewer, to make your own discoveries...

On and off the field

In baseball, writes Eugene Peterson, "the world is defined by exactly measured lines and precise, geometric patterns... Errors are instantly detected and their consequences immediately experienced.  Rule infractions are instantly detected and their consequences immediately experienced... Outstanding performance is recognized and applauded on the spot. 

"While the game is being played, people of widely divergent temperaments, moral values, religious commitments and cultural backgrounds agree on a goal and the means for pursuing it.  When the game is over, everyone knows who won and who lost.  It is a world from which all uncertainty is banished, in which everything is clear and obvious."

But off the playing field, he continues, "None of the lines are precise.  The boundaries are not clear.  Goals are not agreed upon.  Means are in constant dispute...At the end of the day -- or the week, or the year -- there is no agreement on who has won and who has lost."  And, of course, bad behavior is not always punished, nor is outstanding performance always recognized or applauded.

No wonder people love to lose themselves in sports...

Let the current take you

If a single picture could capture what I loved about living in the San Juan Islands, this might be it: the graceful curve of the madrona trees, the charm of the little cabins, the rocky shore, the tidal inlets, the sense of peace and isolation...

I've been missing this calm, quiet connection with the earth that breathes me into being.  So Rumi's poem for today (in Coleman Barks' A Year With Rumi) struck a chord:

"Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something from your soul.

I drank water from your spring
and felt the current take me."

Meditation is a bit like stepping into this little cabin: I rest in the peace and the beauty, drink from that source, and let the current take me. 

Hmm.  It must be Sunday...

Living in a larger world

People occasionally ask how I choose which images to post here.  It's a bit hard to answer -- a combination of what-have-I-photographed-recently-that-I-like  and, when I haven't been out with my camera lately, what have I shot in the past that I may have overlooked.  Mostly I just trust that, when looking over the images, something will call to me; I just have to figure out why.

This is what called to me this morning; it's a doorway, shot in Orvieto Italy in 2008, and I can think of at least two reasons why it spoke.  The first is that last night was the monthly First Friday Artwalk on Bainbridge, and the theme of the show at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery was "Main Street." There were lots of pictures of doorways and windows, even some of Italy, and so that probably planted itself in my brain. 

But the other reason, I suspect, is that since my husband was laid off (about 6 months after this picture was taken) we haven't really done any traveling, except for the annual Thanksgiving trek.  We've both been missing that exposure to other worlds and other ways of seeing, and so reading about Jeremiah's efforts to study and speak to other nations this morning made me think about that again, and made me wonder what sorts of pre-conceived notions I've brought to my travels over the years.

"Crossing the boundaries and exploring the horizons," says Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses, "develops our own deepest health.  For we cannot be whole enclosed in our own habits...we cannot grow to maturity confined within our own coterie... The larger the world we live in, the larger our lives develop in response."

I know that my world view shifted significantly with my first visit to Italy.  And I know there's room for more growth, and more opening.  And so I suspect that part of what triggered the choice of this photo is hope: hope that the job currently looming on my husband's horizon might come to fruition; that we might eventually replenish those depleted family coffers and actually someday be able to travel again... We've been living a bit in that dark cavern at the lower section of this image, and I'd like to think the time has come for that bright door at the top to open.  What the heck; a girl can dream!

All things are living

"All things are living, even stones.
It has to be that way;
energy pulsates from their bodies,
since all are part
of the Omnipresent Living Being.

Everything is holding out their hands,
offering something.

How much easier 
the world would be to live in
if we were as kind
and accepted all."

-- Hafiz

Swimming against the stream

There's lots of change in the wind today; time to keep breathing, hold the tiller steady, and press on in hope.  But as Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses, "It is, of course, far easier to languish in despair than to live in hope, for when we live in despair we don't have to do anything or risk anything.  We can live lazily and shiftlessly with an untarnished reputation for practicality, current with the way things appear.  

It is fashionable to espouse the latest cynicism," he continues.  "If we live in hope, we go against the stream." I'm doing my best to go against the stream -- and beginning to understand why the salmon who finally arrive in our streams to spawn look so incredibly battered. But I still believe it's worth the trip...

The safety of between

There's a bin full of unsold prints in my living room, and this one happened to be in front yesterday evening. It caught my eye as I sat at the dining room table, sharing dinner with (and sending calming vibes to) my daughter, who had two dreams come true yesterday: her visa for Australia came through (she's leaving in January to attend her cousin's wedding, and hopes to travel around the country for a few months) and she and her friends were approved to rent a darling bungalow in a community just outside Seattle: they'll hand in their rent checks and sign their lease tomorrow.

She is thrilled and frantic all at the same time, and it's all about leaving home, living on her own, being a grown-up... all stuff she's been moving toward for years, but still: when it finally happens... It's like when you try for months or years to get pregnant, or to get a job, or to buy a house, and then suddenly realize you've succeeded. That's that moment when you realize that you wanted it so much you lost sight of all the scary changes it would entail.

That's the moment when your past -- the wanting -- suddenly becomes your future, and the intensity, the present voltage of that, can be incredibly difficult to channel. When it happens around big purchases, there's even a name for it: buyer's remorse -- that instantaneous regret you feel when that thing you wanted beyond imagining is finally yours.


Been there, done that... I can't tell you how many sleepless nights I've spent in just-purchased houses, wondering what the heck I'd gotten myself into. So I understand it. And, empath that I am, I can't help but feel it. Which means now I'm calming myself as well as my daughter, because of course these are big shifts for us as well.

I'm pretty sure that's why this image caught my eye. It's because the craziness of it -- the bright colors of anticipation, the words that leap into your brain to say you've just done something incredibly foolish, the welling up of dark spirits at the bottom -- perfectly capture the sort of crazy moodiness of the moment.  And there's really nothing you can do but just go with the flow, catch the wave and ride with it.

... all of which is both exciting and exhausting.  Funny, isn't it: we hate that liminal between phase, the waiting, the space between what used to be and what's to come.  But once the end of that's in sight, it's curious to note how strong the longing is to return to the relative safety of between...

A balance of opposites

Sitting at coffee yesterday morning, we found ourselves chatting about the way we humans are attracted to opposites. We were talking mostly about relationships, but I think it applies in lots of other areas -- mostly because, searching for a photograph to share this morning, this was the one that leaped out.

It was taken in Eastern Washington, a world hugely different from ours, despite the fact that we're in the same state.  Their temperature, unlike ours, ranges from extreme heat to extreme cold.  Our colors are the muted tones of the rain forest -- blues and grays and greens -- while theirs offer the stark dry golds and deep blue skies of the desert.

I know from experience that there are places that call to our souls, that feel unmistakeably like home -- even if they're nowhere near where we grew up: I felt that kind of immediate affinity with Shaw Island, and with the house we live in now.  But -- for me, at least -- there is an almost biological imperative to experience "other:" to explore thoughts and feelings and places vitally different from the familiar paths of mind and home.

Which is why, though I love my home, I get those occasional urges to travel: I've been itching to go back to Santa Fe for years now.  Which is why, when I find myself particularly entrenched in a community with a rather Democratic political stance, I do my best to stay in conversation and keep relationships alive with my Republican friends.  And I suspect it's why I married my husband, who despite our shared values is my opposite in so many ways -- fascinated by history, politics, computers, science and math when I am drawn to music, literature, art and theater; athletic when I am not; uninterested in anything to do with spirituality or contemplation... The balance, I think, keeps us both sane: we never run the risk of getting set in our thinking!

Then and Now

It's October now, and summer is drawing to a close -- however slowly -- and I am sad to realize I didn't get to make nearly as many trips up to the islands as I'd been planning.

... which seems to be happening each year, despite the best of intentions.  The reasons are always different (this year it was a bum knee and three plays I was involved in) but the end result is the same: not enough time in the islands, and not enough drives through Washington's beautiful Skagit Valley to get there.

I was thinking a bit about that this morning, reading in Eugene Peterson's Run With the Horses about Jeremiah's words to the exiled leaders of Jerusalem, stuck in Babylon and longing for home.  Jeremiah essentially tells them to stop wishing for the past and longing for the future: bloom where you're planted.  I mean, yes, I miss life on a small island, miss the beauties of rural Washington -- and I'd like to revisit that, however briefly, from time to time.  But here is where I am, and this is what life is asking of me at the moment.  It makes sense to embrace what is rather than wasting time wishing I were somewhere else.

It seems to me that this is a message common to the wisdom literature of all faiths and belief systems, Abrahamic or otherwise.  It was perhaps most simply expressed in Ram Dass's famous title, Be Here Now,  but the heart of it is that to get the fullest benefit from life, you really need to be present to it, to live it, to notice what's around you and participate fully rather than dwelling on past regrets and glories or anticipating future challenges and opportunities. 

It seems to me that the political advertising this year is deeply entangled with America's longing for an economically healthier past -- and an economically healthy future.  Lots of promises are being made that seem to be designed to tap into exactly the same sort of hunger the Jewish leaders were experiencing in Babylon: a longing for things to be the way they were... AGAIN. 

My question for the members of both parties who are trying to gain my vote is this: and what are we doing about how things are NOW?
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