Observations from the Deck

My generation is getting old. Janis Ian has white hair and Carrie Fisher is having menopausal weight gain issues and Paul Simon looks ancient and beaten down by life’s vicissitudes. Mick Jagger is a creepy mess. Oh how popular culture brings it all home, and I’m not at all sure, from day to day, just how to mentally catalog these observations. Aging gracefully is possible, but only when we engage our passion for life and ditch society’s expectations and fantasy images we are conditioned to aspire to.

I actually think life is much easier now, post-sixty. I don’t let everything slide, but I also don’t worry inordinately about fixing my hair or slapping on makeup to go out and pick up the mail. What I can’t improve through good diet and exercise and plenty of fresh air and sunshine is beyond recovery anyway.

It wasn’t until fairly recently in the scheme of time that childbearing women lived much beyond fifty. Remember this, my sisters, as you soar into your eighties and beyond. Be gentle with yourself and others. Men, be kind to yourself and your aging partners. In return, you will grow in dignity and wisdom and further plumb the depths of reciprocal, unconditional love.




Whether attributed to Confucius or Jesus and/or simply as a conclusion drawn by many who observe life’s workings over time, Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you is an assertion fastened upon from my youth. It has stood the test of time too, though I now simply consider it karma.

It mystifies me that people who espouse one set of guidelines and live by another are the least likely to understand the implications of this simple Law of Attraction. If I wish others to respect me, I learn to respect others. If I want to be treated kindly, I practice kindness. To everyone. If friendship and unconditional love are desired, I liberate my own considerable affections and entrapments (money and time leap to mind as particularly Western concerns).

If I yearn for others to appreciate me, I consistently demonstrate qualities I wish to have mirrored back by others. These things may be difficult at times, but of course they can be cultivated.

Life is too expansive a canvas to cower in the same corner when there’s a diverse world waiting to be explored. If I continue reinforcing thus and so, I restrict my experience to a set of circumstances that rubber-stamp that belief. I relegate myself to the smallness of my own confusion rather than the glorious adventure waiting beyond the boundaries of what I believe to be known.

image from The Neverending Story

Dervish Mind

Although generally settled in my skin or in the garden, occasionally I discover, quite surprisingly, that I am also skilled at manufacturing worry. I wonder if it’s the challenge of many creative types at this time of life, where we find ourselves at the juncture between that which we have achieved through realizing youthful ideals and the inner call to express something more heartfelt before we die. Ideally this contribution would both benefit a world in need as well as enhancing our own spirits.

It is on this unknown road that I have been traveling now for several years with little tangible result; that is, an end product as measured in the way society gauges such things; in the way that I, myself once assessed them. I’ve always been a person with never-ending ideas, a perpetual flow of possibilities scrolling through a dervish mind.

Over the years I have embraced the practice of waking, walking awareness. The vexation of mindfulness is that, once in awhile, I glimpse myself whirling away, mounting virtual scenarios on the Pinterest board of my mind. The downside is that my body interprets these fantasies as real, and adrenaline surges up through my core, causing yet another uncomfortable hot flash. And though it is annoying, this mercurial thermometer provides a useful key to conscious awareness.

The upside to mindfulness is exactly this: to listen and learn; to observe and ingest; to sift and cast out and finally grow in wisdom, as a result. Some choose doctors and prescriptions. Personally I’d rather un-mask and un-earth the karmic residue that keeps me from arising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of my own ego’s immolation. And the more I surrender, the sharper my vision becomes, metaphorically as well as literally. Like a figure walking toward me through a mirage, that vision begins to take form.


Sweet Forgiveness

Recently I came across a quote which prompted thoughts about what we accomplish as we get past the ‘stuff’ of childhood we drag into our adult life:

“My mother didn’t touch me, but you can’t give what you didn’t get. ~ Maria Shriver

Why has it taken me most of my life to understand parents as fallible human beings rather than the perfect archetypal models my Inner Child yearns for? Don’t I already understand that a lack of forgiveness only hurts me in the end? Of course I do. Now.

It was pivotal when I comprehended forgiveness as a two-way street. I thought absolving another was an offering, my own noble gesture to another. It seemed a thankless task, then, when crushed expectations boomeranged that gift back into my own lap. It took me years to discover the root of forgiveness arising organically from a combination of spiritual desire, cerebral understanding, and a heart longing to be free from the burdens of recurring disappointment and perpetual sadness.

I was not a happy child, though I pretended to be upbeat to fit in. If I could garner recognition and acceptance from others, that elusive prop of ego known as I must exist. In fact for years I felt as though I only lived for others, as if the mirror in another’s eyes would reflect my precious heart back to me. Then I could begin to love myself enough to justify my life, such as it was.

I always felt like an impostor well into my forties, if not fifties. Cynical about all things including happiness, you couldn’t have told me anything different. Like most human beings, I needed to learn the hardest lessons myself, experiencing enough adversity that the messages finally stuck. As I acknowledged my own suffering, it became easier to empathize with all living things following a similar directive to survive and thrive.

Finally what arises quite naturally these days is the desire that all beings discover clarity of heart, encouraging a dissolution of anger and acrimony. We all possess history that we either learn from or are unable, for whatever reason, to rise above. Perpetuating a state of antipathy and confusion cripples us emotionally, poisoning others we might least wish to harm. Forgiveness is key to unlocking many liberties, not the least of which is the freedom to express more fully that which our inner nature has ever intended.



What was important then

empties into bleakness as we relax now,

savoring moments inside skin;

dropping defenses if we are lucky,

losing the act if we are smart

so that others may access our heart.


What is it about the young,

pushing against, away –

only to discover those crowded to perimeters

are needed most in times of self loathing;

of grief and trembling and fear?

Culture to culture, we are the same –

running yellow under the surface where,

like animals, we strike out and retreat,

licking perceived wounds.


Clouds part and shift, planets repel and attract,

universes expand and implode

while the smallness of human drama continues

thrusting and parrying; hunching

into a sea of weakness inside bodies constructed

too frailly for posturing emotions.



Somewhere along the line,

I learned to separate

recollection from reflection;

memories from lessons learned.


Once the needle was stuck in the groove

like an old vinyl LP,

scritching and scratching static

clear through to my core.

I could neither bump it forward,

nor hearken back to reconstruct

another track.


How the shift began,

where it seated itself at that long banquet table

measuring the breadth of life,

I do not know.

I am only grateful that it did.


All my life has been like that:

subtle shiftings and backdoor gatherings;

avoiding the grand entrance whenever possible.

Transforming and slowly polishing

stone to gem, porous black rock to brilliant diamond;

myriad surfaces picking up hues and subtleties,

refracting back to their source.


Precious gifts are useless when pillaged or ignored;

instead they are banked and trussed,

forming the framework of kindness

radiating silently from the cavern of the heart.


~ bj






Bridging Cultures

I cannot tell you what a relief it is

sitting amongst those raised with means and ways

foreign to mine as the surface of the moon.


Laughter of young children acting out

like I never could;

relaxing into parental anarchy,

rather than worrying about raising them

with some skewed interpretation of rightness.


What can I say about those who likely will

never go to college, except to let them be

who they are.

The world needs diversity more than another lawyer;

another veneered politician spinning rhetoric

from a glossy tongue bought by a corporate constituency.





He turns over in his sleep,

wanting to be sure I am out of harm’s way,

though the language spoken is of dreams.

Laughing until we tear up,

knowing this interlude will be forgotten

with the coming of morn.


I pull into myself then;

watch the steady rise and fall of ribs

as familiar to me as my own skin,

knowing what is temporal is fragile;

that it will end all too soon.


We just don’t know when.


Life does not play favorites.

What is precious or repugnant –

neither endures forever.


My love must coexist with pragmatism,

for in order to discover the depth and breadth of joy,

embracing impermanence is the only option;

savoring each moment

for the miracle it is.



The Good Life

I’m afraid of going home. Clad in layers of Sherpa wear purchased at an outdoor store to keep me warm and waterproof in Portland, I feel out of place boarding a plane bound for the Hawaiian Islands. While I’m homeward bound, excited visitors gather in flip-flops, shorts and aloha shirts, ready for adventure.

I arrived in Portland feeling similarly enthused, but the city’s cold breath knocked me into a tight shivering ball. My blood had thinned in the years since I last lived on the mainland, and it seemed nothing would warm my interior. My daughters drove me downtown, and I walked out of the shop with four layerable garments that, along with the warm socks and hooded rain jacket I had brought in my luggage, proved boon to the soul. I could now hike the misty trails above the city; marvel at the Craftsman architecture the town is well known for; pace tree-lined streets hung with vines and flanked with roses, flowering shrubs and raised bed vegetable gardens. Borrowing a Trek eighteen-speed, I bicycled into town and back; around Mount Tabor and the Hawthorne district. Being warm changed my perspective, as well as my attitude.

I’m on the plane now headed home, infused with the spectre of dread; a tiny background thing that lilts up and down like waves surging below the emerald and burnt sienna ocean cliffs near our home. I’d like to ignore the discomfort, yet it lingers. Is it shades of grief from my mother’s recent passing; from rejoining my beloved daughters and now having to leave them, yet again? How do mothers manage this distance, for it is a thing not easily reconciled, no matter the intervening years. What once abided within my own body surges further and further away like a toy the ocean pulls irretrievably out of reach and beyond, becoming a tiny speck in the distance and then gone: blazing rays of a setting sun pouring into the sea and flashing green as it slips below the horizon. I let go because I must; because their light must shine not only upon me, but on a world awaiting their sharing.

What the head conjures cannot ferry this troubled heart home. I will simply have to feel my way back to my own beloved half-acre of stewardship; to the peace and beauty on which we exchange paper and stake a claim. Earth sustains and nourishes; she grants precious birth and then slowly schools us to distance and eventually toward our demise. This growing and stretching; this holding tight and letting go is the nature of existence. Embracing paradox allows authentic happiness to penetrate the darkness of delusion, and I am ready to return to the good life, once again.


2013-05-25 19.04.56 2013-05-25 18.53.16 2013-05-24 15.39.48 2013-05-21 11.58.30 2013-05-21 11.58.11 2013-05-21 11.54.06 2013-05-21 10.48.27 2013-05-20 20.42.56

~ all photos copyright 2013 – Bela Johnson



How long can one exist on just a story? I think some people live out the entirety of their days in the thrall of fabrication. And many don’t realize it until it is too late.

I remember My Story. It began in the distant past, and I coughed it up and out like a nasty hairball – a reflexive and seemingly necessary act at the time – resulting in an unpalatable mess plopped directly in my path for all the world to see. I had to side-step it, just to forge on with a tiny bit of progress.

Recognizing something is a huge help in preventing its future recurrence.

Once I observed My Story for what it was, not only could I strive for greater authenticity, but I could detect the affliction in others. Another leap and I sailed beyond judgment into the waiting arms of compassion; not only for others, but for the once-mired illusory self I’d been dragging around all those years.