Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mindful Living Needs Space

The perimeter garden along the back of Adagio property is eight to ten feet wide. Seven years ago, azaleas, roses and a few scattered perennials allowed plenty of room for weeds but also made weeding a relatively direct process. Since I have rarely met a perennial I didn’t like, today there is little unplanted dirt. The roses are forced to climb their trellis high if they are to shine above delphinium, daylilies, campanula, iris, and the list goes on.

Shasta daisies are becoming a problem. Lychnis has stretched its roots through the lavender to get to the echinacea. Lunaria was a cheerful early pink behind the daffodils, but now it has seeded to the pathways, the rhubarb, and beyond. Something needs to be done.

My to-do list can be as overrun as my garden with too many excellent, worthwhile activities and goals that push me past my lawn chair into a hectic place. Joy is easily overgrown with “shoulds” and “coulds”.  The roots of busy slip into beds of satisfaction and dis them. In contrast, deliberate “time out” re-energizes and illuminates pleasure in thoughtful being. Mindful living pushes aside the invasive greenery, trims the out-of-sort branches that scratch at our contemplation, discovers the rich soil beneath. 

In art, space leads the eye to the main event. It lacks identity of its own but highlights lines, light or shadow. Mindful living flourishes in space, both positive (light and joy) and negative (dark and pain-filled). When a morning reaches noon and all our residents are cared for and happy, we sit on the deck to bird watch or in the kitchen with a juice drink and tell stories of who did what and wasn’t that good. The caregiver’s teenagers didn’t call with complaint, we received no news which is good news from our adult children, no one has an infection or suffered a mini stroke, and the herbs are growing tall in the window box. We thankfully pause in this space of light.

Negative space requires contemplation no less than light-filled moments. The telephone ringing can be made a cue to breathe deeply, roll shoulders. The burden of bad medical diagnosis may be carried when we carve out moments of ceased activity and prayer. News of relationship dissolution may be pondered while doing mindless hand work. A fast walk through a nature preserve may pound out fear until the heart is calmed and pumping legs can slow to deliberate walking.

Space allows me to see the truth: that persistent stem is not a flower; it’s a weed. We grow in beds of tall turmoil that serve to isolate us when we mistake them for achieved success. The view we lose is that of ourselves.

My garden needs space. The jumble of greenery self-placed confuses the view. Tomorrow I will patiently tease out of the ground white roots from stem to stem, pulling them free of the soil. Unless I sit on the deck with the residents and count sailboats while we murmur quietly, so many clouds.  Such beautiful clouds.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Caring for people with diminished capacity as we do at Adagio initiates many conversations about their behaviors and what we can do differently. We never assume they must change. We evaluate what happened before the behavior, what we could have done differently and discuss the new care plan with all the caregivers.  A mobile is the perfect metaphor.

You may wonder about the curly haired lady wearing the blue hat where most blog writers post their own picture. When new people visit our home they see Irene dangling from the living room ceiling. Unless they view her straight on, they think the dangling colored glass odd, usually being too polite to comment.

*Irene is a mobile. Air currents cause her to bob and turn so her hat is askew and her eye balls rotate beneath her immaculate brow. I have taken Irene as my avatar precisely because the parts of her visage dangle from separate lines and when one part veers, all the other parts also meander in the air. And there is a droll similarity between Irene and me.

Caring for people with diminished capacity is not that different from interacting with anyone else, like the members of their family. It takes mindful listening, mindful speaking, and change on our part if we want to see change from them.

“Thinking mobile” requires deliberate, mindful living. The rewards usually make the effort worthwhile.

*Irene is the creation of Dancing Glass artist, Sue Rena Curtis. Her mobiles make wonderful gifts for yourself or others.


Friday, May 2, 2014


April was National Poetry month. Writer’s Digest online magazine posted a daily writing prompt on their poetry blog and interested writers composed a poem on that subject du jour, for example, begin, settle, city, monster. Shortened to PAD, April was a month of deliberate, mindful writing.

In the aftermath of Poem A Day, I picked up a couple books set aside for the duration. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett is a collection of essays about writing life and then on to adopting a dog, a husband, a collection of interesting people, not necessarily nice strangers, but attention-grabbing.  Patchett’s observations on writing describe her maturation from beginning wordsmithery to studying and writing fiction.

“Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?...If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, ‘I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!’ you would pity their delusion, yet beginning fiction writers all across the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker.”

Patchett also writes, “If a person has never given writing a try, they assume that a brilliant idea is hard to come by. But really, even if it takes some digging, ideas are out there. Just open your eyes and look at the world.”

As sometimes happens when reading, my mind left the page and taking a curved left turn, remembered The Pen and the Bell,  Mindful Writing in a Busy World, by Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes. Specifically Chapter Six, “Practice, Practice, Practice”, where Brenda describes a change in her yoga practice, “My body retained the memory and the poses felt different.” She continues, “Now I think of writing the same way. Once you reach a certain comfortable level in your writing, it can be tempting to stay there…That’s fine for a while. But at some point we want to push ourselves further or find a coach who will guide us to another level. To feel ourselves stretching.”

This month of poetry definitely stretched me; now I have the challenge of merging practice writing with a balanced life and see what shape my writing takes. For her contribution to Chapter Six, Holly offers a compatible insight from a weekend workshop in the North Cascades, “Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence.” “…during one of our periods of meditation, I sat on a low, flat rock above the lake at the end of the log boom, noticing how the surface is agitated outside the log boom, serene within. It seems a perfect analogy for the last few days; we’ve seen how sitting, walking, and writing in silence enables these ripples to smooth out, at least until the next disturbance comes along.”

What follows Brenda and Holly’s observations in each chapter are contemplation practices and writing practices offering opportunities to build personal experience into each chapter’s theme. My month-long experience of pushing words around a specific foci has left me needing the contemplation, the deep breathing, the being that will allow more words to flow to the paper. PAD 2014 was a marathon effort and I’m glad I succeeded. But replenishment and balance will bring ideas, and with deliberate practice, satisfactory writing.

Write. v., wrote; written or writ; writing. 1. to trace or form characters, letters, words, etc. on the surface of some material, as with a pen, pencil, or other instrument or means. 2. to express or communicate in writing; give a written account of. 3. to fill in the blank spaces with writing: to write a check. 6. to produce as author or composer. Some special verb phrases are:  write down, write off, write out, write up, write-in.