Gnarled

Photo by Noëlle — At Garden of the Gods

I stare at its gnarled and boney presence. Ripped up by its roots, bent away from it’s natural form and twisted into something barely recognizable as tree in the psyche.

Many still have leaves green and thriving at their tips. Life tenaciously holding on whilst facing winds so brutal nothing holds shape against them. It takes years of wind and water and baking sun to create such beauty. I look at the image closely, pondering the story that lies in every turned branch. Graceful, elegant are words that arise, even as the limbs seem tortured in their present form.

Photo by Noëlle— At Garden of the Gods

I look upon the hands that hold the image between them. I feel a shift of feeling here. Root-like veins cross the knuckles, age spots and deep creases over crepe like skin cover the bone structure. My fingers rise to touch the wrinkles at my eyes and mouth. Many years of wind, water and sun, metaphorically and literally, have weathered this form, too. Why do I, and so many others, not see the same beauty here. I see my reflection in the smart tablet screen. Do I see and experience the same grace and elegance as that moment on the trail?

Photo by Noëlle— Hand[/caption]

Photos by Noëlle— Hand

I look back at the images. Remember the feeling of magic and delight as I stepped into their presence along the red stone path. Felt the good fortune to see them with my eyes first, and then now, enjoying them again in a photograph. No wondering, just instantaneous recognition of something beautiful before me.

Photo by Noëlle— Garden of the Gods

Can I translate that to my own body now? Can I step into the presence of my aging process that looks back at me in the mirror and see how gnarled, bent, stretched, twisted life has made me and delight in the sudden discovery. Know it is beauty, not decay. See it as persistent life, thriving against all odds, rather than life slowly destroyed by time? Feel the grace of me, as instantaneously, as upon the trail?

The tree spoke of no sorrow or loss, as I stood before it. I know this. My other senses, those beyond my five standard issue senses — tell me I’d feel their suffering if they felt pain in their change and loss. Something in me knows this to be a deep truth. They live in the world, as it is and become what each moment brings to them. Bending to what is, rather than fighting against it. In this way, I see now that the grace and elegance I experience looking upon them in their gnarled form, is as much from their bending with the present moment, than just mere form.

Phot by Noëlle— Garden of the Gods

I can feel the world. I can feel it’s pulse and it’s movements. I can sense it’s shifts and it’s tides. I am more kin to the natural world, than I realize. Like so many, I am often lulled into a detached sleep from the natural evolution of all things by canned air, computer screens, shoe soles and walls.

Photo by Noëlle— Garden of the. Gods

I wish to return to this level of awareness. To be present to the weathering my path offers me. And in that presence, experience the beauty of my own changes — bent, twisted, bleached of all that was me — and know this as grace. I want to remember the wisdom that is inside of me, that is like the trees. Knows there is only what is here now and to bend to it. Allow it to shape me and alter my structure. Allow time and space to bring me into a new form that may have no appearance of it’s former self, yet is something that has become fresh and beautiful. Something so alive and tenacious that even faced with the elements of my own time on this Earth, I grow leaves of love, light and hope at the edges of all that I am.

If you enjoyed this piece, I’d be honored if you checked out my larger body of writing in my book “Into Your Meditation” at the link below or on the upper right hand corner of this blog site.

Defiance

I started thinking about this post when I was dangling from the bar in the playground. I wasn’t supposed to be dangling, I was supposed to be doing chin ups, but the up part… well… it was more complicated than I first expected. There were a couple of guys putting some new paint on the pool house trim at the local rec center where I am dangling, slightly defeated. I pretended I was stretching my arms, as if I intended to be hanging here unable to lift myself. I may be weak, but still proud. I’m no triathlete, but I pride myself in staying in shape. Hundreds of flights of stairs, yoga, push ups… I mean… I put effort into this. An inch shouldn’t be too much to ask. Seriously, an inch up. How hard can that be? Apparently, much harder than it looks.

I flip over and dangle by my knees off the bar, upside down. Though absolutely no health benefits in doing this, it still provided a brief acrobatic feeling that took away the shame of no chin up. I swung back and forth looking at the slides and jungle gym. Kids play here all day and they use these bars. When I was a kid I used these bars. I bend backward and grab my ankles. If I had a popsicle hanging out of my mouth the scene would be complete. I commit to returning here several times a week. One pull up. One chin up. Anything. That is my goal. My defiant Holy Grail.

I get back on my bike and head off down a trail that winds through neighborhoods and hugs a creek. I haven’t ridden in years, but like the chin ups, feels like the next phase somehow. Nothing makes you feel younger than riding a bike. In two seconds you are ten years old and it’s summer. It does not provide the steady attention to nature I enjoy while hiking, but the feel of the wind in my face, and the speed… oh that feeling of flying down a hill. The thrill is no less wonderful to me now at age 52 than it was at 10. I’m rusty, but I don’t care. It’ll come.

I try some of the dirt paths made by local children. Some are steep down hills, while others have little bumps for rocketing your bike over. I delight in being one of the neighbor boys dashing over a hillside for just a few moments. There is a curious fear at lifting off the ground on a bike that daunts me a little at my age. “Broken bones and hips”, my ego whispers. “You could fall or crash”, the small voice whines. So I do it again and again. Fear be damned.

As I ride along, I realize there must be a way to get through a neighbor’s yard to the field beyond. A child would’ve figured that out. So I begin to look and sure enough, a slip of a pathway passes between two houses covered in bike treads that leads to the larger field. A man is heading out with the trash from one house and I dash down the passage quick as lightning before I can be flagged off. I laugh out loud as I hit the field and race across it through tall grass and hard packed trails. I am the opportunistic thief Oliver Twist would’ve been proud of.

Here’s the thing about falling in love with yourself. You are constantly looking for ways to enjoy life. Ways to entertain yourself. Ways to make yourself laugh. I laugh mostly at what I’ve been told about aging. When I turned forty the women at my office gave me black balloons and my cake in a wheel chair. They meant it to be funny, of course, but we don’t realize how much we tell each other it’s over when really its just begun. How much we share the passed on story of decline and decay that was given to us by someone else. That life is like some creepy, slow crawl to the grave. I don’t want to give that to any of you. I want to give you vitality and joy. Laughter and hunger to learn new things. To be plotting your next re-invention, not your retirement.

I want to give you defiance of what everyone has ever told you about the laws of the body and death. Death is coming. It is as certain as the sun rising. So what? That isn’t even interesting. It’s predictable. What’s interesting is what we are doing with the time we’ve been given. That’s fire. Ask yourself, what do I value above all else? Then chase that with the power of a lion. Today, for me, it’s freedom. It’s remembering the promises I made to myself in my youth. It’s remembering to keep the fire burning in my belly for the life I’ve been given. It’s defying everything I’ve been told about how things should be.

Worth a glance, a short list of those who defied age.
http://mindvalleyacademy.com/featured/never-too-late

Alice

Free Bing Photos

If you ever want to see how ingrained a habit is, try breaking it, even once. I meditate every day after work. The weather has been unseasonably warm and to not go out in it would be a travesty, as my mother would say. To catch it I have to leave as soon as I get home and delay my sit for just a bit. Small thing, right? Even as I feel an exhilaration to hit the trail my feet drag as my body clearly wants to sit for meditation. Working at getting out the front door is tantamount to walking through a tunnel of cotton candy. It’s odd feeling your body wanting to go back inside as your head, heads out. That odd feeling though, is the sound of gears grinding on my ego’s ideas on how life should be. I’ve been thinking lately that I should practice that grind more often.

On any given day, goose poop litters the paths and sidewalks all the way to the marsh. On my walks I hop between the piles looking as if I’m playing the longest game of hopscotch ever. I know it’s pointless since, as the snow melts, the runoff is full of goose poop. What appears to be a clean path, isn’t. Still, I hop along imagining I am a paratrooper crossing a mind field into enemy lines. One wrong step and I’m done. Its entertainment for me, if not my neighbors and reminds me of being ten. Today, however, I remembered the muckers. I have sneakers I only wear to my friend’s barn to muck the stalls. Their bottoms have slogged through a lot of horse manure and I leave them in the garage. I don them happily knowing they were made for the world’s biggest piles of dung and finally leave my stoop.

A neighbor’s voice carries easily across the lake in a deep baritone, as he appears to be talking to someone on the phone. It is impossible not to eavesdrop.

“Everywhere we go, I ask after someone and they always say, “Oh that guy, he’s been dead for ages”. Then they seem all apologetic. Alice just says, “Don’t worry honey, we thought we should be dead ages ago, too.” His laughter banks off the houses on the other side of the lake and I can’t help but smile.

“Listen, listen here… I went to my 61st high school reunion. They had a list of names of those who graduated that year. Three pages of dead folks and a page of the living. All anyone wants to talk about is how so and so died. If he died parachuting out of a plane or in a runaway train ya got my ear, but other than that, hearing how old people died is about as interesting as stewed beets. Honestly, I’ve had a better time at a funeral.” He guffaws loudly. “Huh? Hell, I’ve already written my obit. No one lies about my accomplishments better than me. Ain’t that right, Alice.” I think I hear a kind of grunt come from inside the house, presumably Alice.

“No, no… I’m gonna be 87 next week. No, I’m not kidding.” He slams his hand down, emphatically, on the deck rail. “I’ll be 87. A guy called the other day to try to sell Alice and I life insurance. We told ’em if he was selling death insurance we’d be in!” Laughter storms the lake.

“I make a damn fine Rob Roy, I tell ya and here, listen up… If I get to heaven before you, I’ll have the finest Rob Roy you’ve ever had sittin’ there on the bar…. Well, hell, if you can’t drink in heaven where can you drink? Ain’t that right, Alice” Finally, Alice appears on the deck, “Ask him if he thinks that was water they were drinkin’ in those cups at the last supper? Ask him that.” I realize I’ve fallen in love with a woman I’ve never met.

Their banter continues and I walk on facing the setting western sun. They say sunlight is good for the cones in your eyes and that all of our sunglass wearing is actually weakening our eyesight. All our indoors-ness and computer screens are shortening our cones and causing them to vibrate in shorter color ranges. Holistic practitioners say we should get at least thirty minutes of sun every day. This is also true of the pituitary gland, I’ve read. That as we age the pituitary calcifies and it needs sunlight to blast off those calcifications. These are the sort of odd concerns and thoughts one has as they age. Do I have a clean pituitary gland? I mean, who wants a pituitary as hard as your shin bone. So I walk with my eye lids half closed and let the sun warm my eyes and imagine a limber pituitary and long, vibrating cones. Or I do for few moments, but the sun is warm and speaks so much of spring that after a time I am walking, half lidded thinking of beaches and warmer days to come. My meditation time is now long forgotten, along with the goose poop, as I walk into the sunny marsh. I realize I have gone from weird hopscotch lady to pituitary worrying sun bather. I remember the old man having himself a fine laugh at death with his old gal, Alice. I laugh, too. Me and my muckers and my calcified pituitary and short, faded, retinal cones, breaking the ceiling on my wierd little habits. I laugh even harder and wish I could confirm how funny life is with old Alice.

The Bench

Couple at Johnston Lake: Photo by Noelle

Couple at Johnston Lake: Photo by Noelle

It is not a loss of passion toward the end. At this level, you appreciate the subtlest gifts of time together. You need do little more than sit in silence enjoying the geese and you are made a bit more whole.

Dying Grace: Photo Poem 45

Last years art, waiting on new spring: Photo by Noelle

Last years art, waiting on new spring: Photo by Noelle

For my fortieth birthday my colleagues at work gave me a party with black balloons and a wheelchair. I’m normally a person with a sense of humor, but I had watched this parade with colleagues before me. I work with mostly women. We have a habit of telling each other stories of how our time is past as we age. The best years behind us. We’re used up and lost our sex appeal. Men don’t do this to us and they don’t do it to each other. We do it to ourselves. I smiled and thanked everyone, but I knew in that moment, that I would live differently. That I would not see aging as a cross to bear, but an immense opportunity.

I look at this leaf dead, fragile, used up and am filled with its beauty and grace. Even dead, passed its season and it’s still showing the world what it can do. What it has to give. Aging isn’t about years, it’s about perspective. It’s seeing beauty where no one else would think to look. That isn’t weakness, that’s power. In that power is the possibility to transform. To embrace death when it comes and know you are about to pull out your best work yet.

Dead Beauty

Dead Leaf Beauty: Photo by Noelle

Dead Leaf Beauty: Photo by Noelle

Crumbled, even moldy
Long dead
Yet delicately beautiful
As an old woman’s hands
Rubbing a rosary
At morning mass

Dry with crackles
At the grace of a finger
No more than paper
Of Earth stories
Telling now of last season

Take to hand
And it vanishes into
Pieces caught on the wind
And gone
Springs robust leaf
Now Winter’s palsied hand

Yet the scent of leaf lingers
Fecundity remembered
And growth to come
All born of this life’s passing

Doors open, green
Then to another closing, dark
The sprout and the
Discarded shell at once
Infuse a molasses mulch

Fertile is the soil of my life
And my passing
Is neither ending
Nor beginning
Just the leaf transforming
On a winter’s wind
Calling the land to Spring