I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Spring

I Want Stained Glass Windows!

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Awe

Around about now, I wish I belonged to a church. It seems like such a meaningful way to spend the holidays. You know, Christmas and Easter. Holidays that I celebrate. Secularly. But the sweet baskets of chocolate and the spring tulips and the nice family dinner don’t seem like enough. I want Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. Stained Glass Windows. The Word of God.

Every decade or so, I wonder about joining a church. The obstacles are many. I was brought up by cerebral scientists who were not necessarily atheists (neither would commit to believing nor not believing), but who were damn sure they did not want to go to church. And, probably not surprising, I married a man with a similar attitude: not quite sure about God but convinced that church is not for him and angry, angry, that religion is the root of so much persecution and conflict in the world.

I am not sure about God, but I don’t believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me. I am not Christian, but that is the religion to which I’ve been most exposed. I definitely don’t believe that you need to follow a religion and its rules and its mythology to be a good person.  In fact, I am suspicious of those who follow a religion’s rules without questioning.  How can you be so sure? And why is one religion more worthy than another?

But in stillness, the stillness of savasana or meditation or a Reiki session, sometimes – just sometimes – warmth spreads throughout my body. My body tingles with energy. I see colors and images. I am both hyper alert and deeply relaxed. Usually, in my daily life, I am too busy busy busy and too determined to achieve something to be still. To feel. To listen. But in stillness, it happens. Sometimes.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for my very physical, very dramatic, very strange, very powerful, very real experiences. I am equally sure that people who are more comfortable than me with the mysterious and the mystical will claim this as an excellent example of the unknowable. And that I should get myself to church or synagogue or temple without another moment’s hesitation.

When my mother died, I was determined that we would honor her in a church. Unlike our disappointing and unsatisfying nods to Christmas (presents!) and Easter (chocolate!), this life passage needed more meaning. We found a Unitarian minister and church who guided us to create a lovely memorial service. It helped. It made a difference.

I like the Unitarians. They tend to be liberal and intellectual without a lot of strictures. Good God, they hardly even mention God in their beliefs and principles! That’s my kind of religion! I must say however, that their churches hardly seem like churches to me. The church where we had my mother’s memorial service was an ugly building from the uninspired 1960’s. I Want Stained Glass Windows. A Breath-Taking Sanctuary. Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. The Word of God. A church should define the notion of Awe-Some.  Like the cathedrals that inspired me while I was traipsing all over Europe when I was 20.

I suppose the physical space should not matter. Any space can become beautiful, and sacred, as you spend time there, in stillness. It’s not the stained glass windows that are sacred, but the people who make the stained glass windows and sing in the choir.  Or chant in the yoga studio.  Or pray for peace.  Or act to build peace.  What matters is the community of people and the holiness of love and support between the people and a sense of sacred purpose. Faith that life and love matter.

I will spend some of Easter in stillness, being grateful for the hope and optimism that is Spring, and reflecting on love. I believe that what is holy is love. Love is what is Awe-Some.

Photo is the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral.

Stop Looking At Your Feet

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Looking Up

Worn down by a seemingly endless frigid and snowy winter, I was carefully stepping my way across an icy intersection. There was another man in the intersection, an older man – though probably not much older than me – who almost slipped and fell. He recovered his balance and continued on his way, his shoulders hunched forward staring at his feet, hoping that his determined downward gaze would protect him from the ice and a dangerous, incapacitating fall. As we all were. I looked around. Everyone, including me, was tensely hunched, focused downward and inward, stepping carefully.

It’s been a rough winter, filled with loss and anxiety. I pride myself on being fit and healthy, impervious to mortality, but this winter has mocked my illusion that I am in control. I fell on black ice in January, deeply bruising my tailbone and my ego. The pain was so great that I had to take a nap. Seeking healing refuge in sleep because I had no energy for anyone or any activity. Good God! Is this what people with chronic pain deal with every day?

Two weeks later, I had the first of two skin excisions. No big deal, right? The skin cells were atypical and the dermatologist recommended a surgical excision out of an abundance of caution. I’m convinced it’s part of our overmedicalization and overprescription of procedures, but who am I to argue with the potential threat of skin cancer? I complied. I confidently said to the surgeon, “I can go to yoga this afternoon, right?” He laughed and told me I had to refrain from strenuous activity for two weeks. “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t. Good God! No wonder people become more sedentary as they get older. All these damn doctors slowing us down.

Two weeks after that, my gynecologist called me with the results of my over-50 baseline bone density test. Osteopenia. Serious Osteopenia. Oh, and she wasn’t particularly cheerful either. I am really looking forward to my upcoming colonoscopy.

And so, I found myself more cautious and humble this winter. Hunkering down, stepping carefully, staying inside more and opting for the cross-town shuttle in bad weather instead of walking. And so, I found myself more sympathetic and patient this winter. Pain saps energy and diminishes your ability to be generous. Fear narrows your world, keeping you in your box. I get it. My ambitious striving is subsiding, being replaced with more patience and understanding for myself and for others and our struggles. Funny, this winter of loss has made me appreciate what I do have. To treasure my health and strength and to not take it for granted. To not mind this hard season, because the sweetness of Spring is coming.

The more I hunched forward staring at my feet willing myself to not fall, the more I appreciated my yoga practice and how it counteracts the fearful self-protection that can come with winter (or aging, or illness, or injury, or anxiety, or depression). One of my favorite poses is Vrksasana, tree pose. Rooting down to lift up. Rolling the shoulders back to open the chest and pecs, opening the heart. Balance. Happily taking up space, it’s the ideal antidote to anxious self-absorption. It’s a pose that shows you how lifting up, looking up, and opening your heart can change your mood.  Change your life.

When I first took up yoga, I devoted myself to the practice with ambition and zeal, wanting to please the teacher and perfect each pose. My approach was serious, disciplined, and tense. The more I achieved the more I came into contact with others who were better than me. More flexible, more strong, more adventurous, more serious, more spiritual, more more more. It was enough to make me cry. I began to try less hard. To stop comparing. To trust myself. To have more fun. After all, it’s only yoga.

On that icy day last week, when everyone was focused on their feet, you could feel Spring waiting in the wings. The light was longer. The birds were chirping. There was hope that this had to be the end of the dreary, messy, icy, slippy, frigid days, at least for now. To honor the joy and gratitude I feel for my imperfect yoga practice and the community I practice with, I did a happy imperfect tree pose with the first tree we planted when we moved into our house. The tree that will be covered in flowers in a few weeks.  Root down to lift up. Open your heart. Smile. Feel hopeful.

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