“We live at the edge of the miraculous.”
Henry Miller
sparkles
 

I live in the middle of New York state. This week of weather has been insane…mild, cold, rain, snow,wind. Right now we are dealing with flooding. The frigid temperatures have caused our creeks and streams to freeze, creating ice jams that are now melting. The result is flooding. Flooding of streets and homes.

My friend in California is already experiencing drought conditions.

Someone posted on Facebook an image of Mercury spinning. Another friend posted a photograph from one of our National Parks. The Hubble space telescope sends back pictures from the edge of the universe.

My daughter visited family in Oregon and made sweet young children laugh with joy.

My forehead looks like a sci-fi costume as I am being treated for Actinic keratosis.

I heard an owl the other night.

On Friday I made the most delicious millet cakes for dinner.

People can fly to space and walk on the moon. We live on a sphere that spins and zips round the sun. Technology has given us computers and the internet. Diseases get cured. Death comes in a blink of an eye. Birth happens every day.

We cry. We laugh. We sleep. We experience emotions. We hug. Run. Float. Climb. Dance. Sit and walk.

looking into the creek

We have the capacity to love and to hate.

Every single moment there is something miraculous happening in us, with us, to us, around us. Still we feel bored. Restless. Unhappy. Unfulfilled.

cardinal in snow

Perhaps if we stopped. And looked around and saw. If we paused to understand the things that are on the edge of miraculous that are happening every single moment of each day…maybe we would stand in awe and wonder instead of restlessness and searching. If we were quiet enough we might hear the sound of a snowflake falling, or a tree creaking in the wind. Or a cat purring. Or a baby snoring. Perhaps if we could hear our own breath and feel the beating of our heart and understand the profound significance of those things, we would sigh and experience wonder.

ponk rose

Just be quiet. This quiet does not involve talking or not talking.
It does not involve any doing whatsoever.
Just let the mind fall into Silence. This is enough.
~ Papaji ~
 

Maybe in a moment of silence today, you, I, will be able to witness the miraculous that is all around us. All the time.

(all photographs are by me, Kathryn Howlett)
 
 
 

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“Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.”
~Bill Morgan, Jr.

It’s early December and winter has crept out of her summer hibernation. Snow fell softly last night, laying her blanket over already sleeping grasses and flowers.

This is always a reflective time of year for me. While childhood memories of summer are many, the memories of winter bring stronger emotions to the surface.

I can close my eyes and smell the pungent scent of evergreens in the church. I can see the flowers of Christmas,  the showy red and white poinsettias. Soft lights everywhere, shining and glittering like stars. The sounds of traditional and ancient music and song, stirred my heart. I remember wishing my mother wouldn’t find a parking spot for a few more minutes so I could continue to look out the car window and watch the people lightly stepping over snowbanks, and see the lights and street decorations of our little town. Shop windows held puppets, elves, princesses, nutcracker princes, polar bears and icicles. Red ribbons and bows were everywhere.

I remember that our house also was adorned for the season. The sliding glass doors in the living room became the canvas for the Nativity that my mother would paint every year. The colors of blue, green, yellow and brown blended in to the colors of living room, making me feel like the life sized Mary, Joseph and newborn Jesus were guests in our home. At night a colored spot light outside would turn pure white snow into drifts of muted red or blue.

On the ornate carved oak “buffet” was a seemingly magical gingerbread house. It was just high enough to be at eye level for me. I would look in through the windows while the subtle perfume of ginger spice transported me to an imaginary place where all houses were made of gingerbread. Every year I hoped I would see the children who lived in these sepia colored houses peek out at me through the windows.

ginger

On the mantel leaned a glitter draped Advent calender that my great aunt Mimi would send every year from Switzerland. As each cardboard Advent window was opened it revealed a wondrous scene that was like a little tease saying, “wait till you see what tomorrow’s picture will be!” The glitter would cover my hands and end up everywhere as if to say throughout the day “Don’t forget to open a new window tomorrow.”

calender

Over near the dining room was the “record player”. It was housed in a sleek console that complimented the modern Danish dining room set.

record player

I could barely reach into the console to turn it on, but I would stretch and turn that dial and watch the record begin to spin and the needle drop. Then I would sit in front of the speakers listening to vibrant voices and look at the cover of the records and drift away to places that were only reachable during December of every year. That one picture on the cover was enough to kindle my imagination through the whole length of the record.

babes little drummer boy

rudolf

My mom would usually knit sweaters and make bow ties for the “boys and men”.  I remember lots of plaid ties. Often they had little sprigs of tiny red holly berries.

bow tie

three sweater cropped

When Christmas morning finally came I would wait patiently sitting on top of a floor vent with my flannel nightgown stretched over my bent knees. The warm air would inflate my nightgown like a balloon and I felt as if I might float away. We had to wait until dad was ready with his movie camera. Then we would line up and walk into the living room to see what Santa had brought. I remember board games, new blue skis, a Thumbelina doll, Barbies, Cecil the puppet and Gumby.

cecil

gumbythumbelina

Mary and Joseph watched silently as the living room floor became a sea of wrapping paper and ribbon. The house smelled of Christmas tree. Over in the dining room the record player sang Christmas songs.

bingThen we would get all dressed up and head to church. It was always stuffed to overflowing. Perfume, pine and frankincense soaked into our wool coats and sweaters and remained with us all day. The lights were dimmed and the sanctuary sparkled. The organ player coaxed air through the pipes till it vibrated and became music. The choir sang songs that I still have memorized by heart. People in the aisles and pews reached hands and arms out to greet one another and it was hard not to feel loved by everyone.

Later in the day, turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy nestled in silver serving bowls and trays and we bowed our heads for grace. In the fireplace the fire crackled and warmed the room.

Memories are funny things. I’m sure my siblings have a different take on the scenes I have described. I also remember Christmases when I did not get what I wanted and the magic didn’t feel so strong. Disappointment dulled the senses. Back in the 60’s Christmas was about gifts, but with life sized Mary and Joseph as family members, limited TV and few or no Christmas specials, it felt gentler than it seems to feel now. I believed in the birth of a babe that guided the hearts of people everywhere. The season of Holy Days moved more slowly.

My own children are grown now. We are redefining what this time of year means to us now as a family. Gifts aren’t so important. Church doesn’t seem to fit. As I write this post, I am grateful for the childhood memories, and for the memories I have of my children experiencing Christmas when they were young. For me, this time of year has become more about going inward. Of finding gratitude and awareness for what we are “given” every day. Given in the love we receive from friends and family, in the softness and beauty of new fallen snow, of a sparkling star in the night sky, or a crescent moon. Given in abundance we find in the grocery stores and restaurants. Given in the service we receive from cashiers, garbage collectors, road crews, doctors, factory workers and everyone else. Given in the freedom we have to celebrate whatever is dear to our hearts in a way that has meaning to us personally. Given to us by this planet that nourishes our souls, waters and feeds our body, provides us with shelter and medicine and air that fills our lungs. Given in the potential for us to be tolerant, compassionate, hard working, contributing, empathetic, forgiving , accepting individuals. Given in looking into the eyes of our children, spouse, loved ones and knowing that is enough.

Given in the possibility that what we have is enough.

May you be content, healthy, and filled to the brim with love and gratitude.

“Winter came down to our house one night……….and we were children, once again.”

One Quiet Morning

November 9, 2013

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

– from “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Last Saturday in the wee hours of the morning I received a text that my cousin had passed away. Honestly, my first reaction was a sense of peace. He had been suffering for 15 years from the effects of cancer treatment. Then I felt the grief of his family—the loss of a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather. Then I felt the loss of his friends: long time friends, new friends, even those who would never know him.

And then, as tears washed my cheeks I began to think back to a time in our lives when things were magical and innocent. Michael and I were close in age. He was a little older. He had huge brown eyes, thick auburn hair and a smile that outshone the sun. His heart was huge, his kindness and gentleness were effortless.

Some of you may know I often use Gratefulness.org as a source for quotes and information. This morning I found this:

“Even if an experience crushes you, can it not serve as a wine press that releases an unexpected sweetness? Is there some way in which it allows you to reclaim a part of yourself that you’d forgotten? Did it release courage, compassion, a deeper awareness of what matters? Ponder each of these qualities and see if you can find them in your own experience: courage (take a moment for this); compassion (for whom?); a deeper awareness (of what?). And can you name other sweetnesses that can flow out of the grief that crushes you? Pay attention to the faintest taste of sweetness.” (from Gratefulness.org)

And that is what happened to me that morning, and the following week and today. A sadness that seemed to cover me like a soft blanket, yet an awareness of a sense of sweetness. The sweetness Michael brought to my life.

My memories of Michael and I during childhood are full of vibrant emotions and color. Movement and energy. Laughter and tears. Joy and total frustration.

We would spend weeks at our grandmother’s house in what was then rural Ohio. Her house nestled in a quiet corner of land that bordered the Olentangy River. The river at her house was more of a stream, but nonetheless it was a child’s delight. We would run down the softly banked lawn to the slender trees that signaled the river’s edge. The water slipped over rocks and made small, bubbly rapids that sang the song of a child’s freedom and joy. We played for hours in the river. Was there ever any more fun than collecting sticks for no reason? Throwing rocks at nothing just to hear the “plunk” and watch the ripples? Talk wasn’t even required because we could read each other’s mind.

My grandmother never “called” us in. We would play and explore and just be kids until we went back up to the house. If we had fish in hand we were usually sent back outside. If we were wet and muddy we were dried off and warmed up. At night we slept in cherry wood beds with sheets and blankets that smelled like lavender. When the morning sun woke up, so did we and we started all over again.

As we began to grow up, we still could be found together: climbing behind waterfalls in the many gorges of Ithaca, skiing in the crisp white of winter, sailing on the Finger Lakes, swimming in the chilly waters of Cayuga Lake.

And then, adult life happened and we drifted a bit. We married, raised children and put aside the companionship, but never the love. At my uncle’s (Micheal’s dad) birthday, when Michael was in a very painful part of his  recovery and had little strength and energy, my aunt wanted to take a picture of the two of us “because we had always loved each other so much”. I remember those words because, for some reason I didn’t think anyone else knew that……

Michael’s passing is like a press squeezing sweetness from my memory. A  kind of nectar that tastes of joy, and laughter and love, freedom and companionship, innocence and lightness. It does help to reclaim that inner magic that was childhood. It helps remind me to make time and space for those things again.

Thank you for letting me share this.

A Walk

October 20, 2013

I love fall. Hands down, it is my favorite season. There is something about the colors, the light, the wind, the smell of the air, the sounds…..all of it.

The other day I took a walk. I tried so very hard to be present with each step. To hear the sounds of the leaves crunching. To smell the decay of the fallen apples. To see what was scurrying in the under brush. To see the bird that was singing. It was so difficult.

And yet, as I passed others enjoying a walk, I realized I was probably more aware of the moment than they were. So many were talking on their cells phones, or listening to music with headphones. Runners were focused on running. Dog walkers were focused on dogs.

It became apparent that no one noticed there were at least 4 different kinds of nuts crunching underfoot. Was anyone noticing the herds of chipmunks running here and there with their cheeks full of the bounty of fallen nuts?

pinecone

(photo by me)

I heard the Red Tailed Hawks before I saw them. A pair. They lighted on a branch and seemed to have a conversation. Someone came walking by and I made an effort to be obviously looking at something beautiful…..they did not look up to see what I was watching.

The trail runs along a creek. I noticed a bobbing branch that somehow looked out of place. I stopped and realized it was a Blue Heron fishing for yummies. Again I stopped and watched. Again someone came by, oblivious to me and the display of beauty just in front of me.

heron3

(Photo by me)

Today I walked the same path. I passed a lady coming out while I was on my way in. She looked at me and smiled. Later we caught up with each other coming back. I said “Hello again”. It was like I had opened a door. “Have you noticed how beautiful the sumac is?” she inquired. Yes, I had. “And the chipmunks are loving the hickory nuts!” YES!!! Finally she said, “Sometimes I just stand and watch the Blue Heron in the creek. He is so majestic.” I nodded. She said “Enjoy your walk.” I said “Thank-you”. She looked at me and smiled. “Thank you for seeing all these things.”, I added. She smiled again and said “Thank you for seeing them too.”

What do we miss every day?

What do you see? Hear? Feel? Experience?

 

The Goodness of The Day

June 25, 2013

Sunsets grant us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the movement of the day. They remind us to take time to be still and quiet as the passage is made from day to night. To experience gratitude for the goodness of the day.

“When the sun is setting, leave whatever you are doing and watch it.” 
-Mehmet Murat ildan

sunset2

(photo by me, Oregon coast. Sunset)

In our daily lives we often participate in many things that might not fall under the category of “good”, or “pleasant”, and too often it so easy for us to hang on to those things as if THEY were our life threads, our defining moments. They are not.

At the end of the day the sunset comes. It has no judgement on our day. Yet the sunset can give us that moment to reflect on all the wonders and beauty in the world, and in people, that we may not have noticed during the day. The sunset reminds us of things that are greater than our evaluation of how we did during day. Greater than our evaluations of how we think others did during that day.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
– Rabindranath Tagore

The raging colors splattered across the horizon, the muted sorbet wisps translucent against the day blue sky: the sunset. It reminds us to give pause and notice the beauty and harmony in the natural world. To reflect on the goodness of the day and to be still and fully present in the beauty of the moment. THIS moment. A time of transition from day to night. Where there is nothing but the sunset. Events , struggles, pain, sorrow, laughter, joys of the day are gone…behind us. The next moment has not yet come. This is what is. It is natural. Ever changing. Impermanent. Beautiful. Miraculous. Inspiring. Healing. Breathtaking.  This is the cessation of the things that maybe are not so important. This is the interlude between misunderstanding and truth. This is the respite that says “Stop. Be mindful of the goodness of this day as it passes. Be present to this stillness and let the silence of the stillness echo throughout your body.”

There is part of us that
says it is never too late to be reborn
on the inbreath each morning.

Stephen Levine

sunrise breath

(photograph by Kathryn Howlett)

Mornings have become an addiction for me. They are quiet, soft and peaceful. They are beautiful and filled with wonder and hope. There is a stillness in the air that does not exist at any other time of the day. The birds wake with the light, slowly and gently they greet the day with their song. I marvel at the colors in the morning sky…..where do those colors come from? How can they be real colors?

I recently began a breathing practice called “So Hum”. So Hum translates as “I am this/that”.  http://www.chopra.com/sohum

I usually wake up before or around sunrise. I have begun to train myself to be still and to watch the sun rise. To breath in “So”, and to exhale “Hum”. To “be reborn on the inbreath each morning.”

I wish I could say I am able to carry that stillness and awareness throughout the day. But, I am not always able to do so. I try. I try every day without giving up because I believe that one day I will come to the end of a day and say “I did it!”

I like to think I make a difference in the world, even if it is to only one person. Yet, I remind myself that my “work” is not so important that things would “stop”, or someone would “suffer something” without me. When I remember, I silently say “So Hum”. I am this. “This” is simply what is. It’s not about importance or unimportance. It’s not about being of value or not. It is simply about being and doing. Of focusing on the qualities of compassion and patience and of being “this”.

When I soak in the first rays of the morning sun, feel the warmth wake my body and take those inbreath, I am “this”. It fills me with something unspeakable, extraordinary. It is a recharging of something deeply internal and personal. It is a rebirth every day.

I am so grateful for the east facing window in my bedroom. For the sky that lights up each morning, filled with color and beauty. A sky that cradles the sun and beckons me to take a long slow inbreath and to be “this”.

Digging A Hole Big Enough to Sit In, by Twylah Nitsch

“I must have been under five when I spent one whole summer day digging a hole with a large spoon in the side of a bank near our house. I had to dig and dig because the ground was so full of roots and my goal was to make a hole big enough to sit in – like a cave. And that took a lot of hard work. Digging through all those roots was tough.

What I remember most about the experience is something my grandmother said. “When you take the dirt out, make sure you have a place for it,” she cautioned me, “because the dirt is used to being in that particular place, and it is at home there. Don’t take anything that is part of something and just scatter it around. Remember you are disturbing the home of the worms and the insects. You are moving them out of the place where they have been living, and you need to make sure that they are happy about where you are taking them.” So I would scoop the dirt into a little basket I had and take it around to various spots. “Is this where you would like to be?” I’d ask. And if the answer was yes, I would leave it. Otherwise, I’d pick up my basket, go to another spot, and ask again.

When I had finally made the hold deep enough to sit in, I would crawl in there and listen. I could hear the earth talking.”

 https://www.facebook.com/notes/twylah-nitsch/digging-a-hole-big-enough-to-sit-in/155871381125953)

twylah

(from her Facebook page)

The most simple mundane things we do have impact somewhere on someone or something. For child Twylah, it was every child’s favorite pastime: digging a hole. And it impacted the worms and bugs. I work with pre-schoolers and we have holes all over our playground. And they sit in them. The holes are like those Mamasan chairs that cradle the body in a quasi fetal position.

When the children find worms we remind them they have to put them back into the earth: they cannot become a pet or they will die.

When I was a child I “lived” in the woods in back of my house. I played for hours there…listening, watching, tasting, feeling, smelling. I could hear the earth talking. I heard her sing and laugh!

Now, all grown up, I can’t seem to hear earth speak so clearly any more. But I still see, feel, taste, and smell. And it’s different than it was over 50 years ago. There is a lot of noise…some is in my head, and some is in the world, but it is not Earth talking, or singing anymore. Why?

I feel, sometimes, displaced, like the dirt Twylah’s mother mentions……moved out of where it’s used to being.

How do you listen to earth? What do you hear? Where do you “belong”, and feel that you belong?

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

~ John Muir

John Muir has a way of moving my heart and soul. His words resound with all the magnificence of nature and wonder.

Nature graces us with an unparalleled show each and every moment. If we can remember to look around and see it! If we can look up from our computers, ipads and phones. Hey, I am as guilty as the next person, but I do work on being mindful of the glory and beauty of nature when I can.

How staggering it is that we live on a vibrant planet full of life! How astounding that it spins and whirls and we never loose our balance or float away! How mind boggling is the balance that must be kept to keep everything alive? How fragile and yet how strong is our planet?!

Go out and take a look. Look up. Look down. To the north, the south, the east, the west. Take a look and marvel at your home.  Behold Nature and all her beauty, as the round earth rolls.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kukVNtyNDCw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RhgLCIsGq0&feature=related

http://www.sierraclub.org/

John Muir

Flawed Beauty: Wabi Sabi

August 11, 2012

Flawed beauty.

I knew a woman who was a weaver. She created stunning works of fiber art on her loom. And yet, not one piece was “perfect”. Each and every one had a repaired thread, a knot where a string had broken, a spot where the dye didn’t take in the yarn, a misread of the pattern: something. She never stopped to fix the errors. This artist commented that some of her contemporary weavers would tell her with much seriousness that she should “fix those mistakes to make the piece perfect instead of flawed.” She would shrug her shoulders and just say “I don’t worry much about perfection…..I think these pieces are richer because they remind us that none of us are perfect.”

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Most of us don’t like those words or their meanings.

“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” ( from Wikipedia)

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. (Wikipedia) Those are interesting concepts for our American society and way of thinking.

“Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things.” Leonard Koren

You have some wabi-sabi somewhere in your life. Where is it? What is it? Do you accept it or are you embarrassed by it?

I believe we could all benefit from embracing the idea of wabi-sabi in our lives and let go of the illusion of perfection.