Nutshells Notwithstanding

I could tell you a version of my life
that would be intriguing, but would it be
true? In just under seven decades,
memories are viewed through
a prismatic lens of dazzling colors
or in black and white depending,
and I think it has perhaps always
been thus;

To retrieve fodder from far back requires
I plumb the mind of a child, dazzled
by a world of human behavior she never
understood, coming in, as she did,
with a certain clueless high mindedness
and expectations of how things
ought to be;

And I was not perfect, not by a hearty
stretch, I recall both mistreatment
from others but also a secret meanness
in myself, cavalier with my mother in ways
I would never be now, safe to make fun of her
then, taking for granted that unconditional
love and acceptance; I could do little wrong,
and I know now how fortunate I was;

So easy to find fault with those we know
love us without reservation, so facile to treat
our beloveds with praise or scorn, parsing
out kindness like breadcrumbs for hungry birds,
not realizing, until perhaps too late, the nature
of our own blunders, products of an overinflated
sense of self importance in a world starved
for kind words and deeds given simply now
from a heart filled with the sublime grace
and benevolent perceptions of others.

With my brothers in Yosemite, 1959

Circle of Life

Nothing is ever a mistake, not even
what we toss into the maw of a waiting
donation bin, our acquisitions
and castoffs equally important to us
in their time;

And aren’t we a part of nature, bright
flowers blooming their prolific heads off
out there in the garden, then shedding
copious detritus once they’re done,
the difference of course being that
their kind of death contributes to life
and does not impinge on the health
of the planet by piling
up in mountains of landfill;

We also gather people to us in this life,
some challenge us, others delight often
in the same breath, unexpected, sometimes
unwanted, and our responding feelings
of joy or sorrow enrich this journey
into awareness, as deep as we are able
to dive in and emerge, again and again;

Mis-take, mis-step imply we have acted
in error somehow, and yet without stepping
on your toes in the proverbial dance, we might
not have met as fully and honestly as we did
and as we continue to do, day by day, year
after year, and now, some thirty years later,
we can laugh about what others thought
the boldest move, the grandest mistake
of our lives.

Vallecitos, NM ~ bj 2022

What’s the Big Deal?

Stepping into that ladies parlor made me shiver,
reminded me of a rich friend’s house, her mother’s
shell pink bedroom with attached bath, gold gilded pink
tufted velvet chair she sat on to apply considerable amounts
of makeup and tease her platinum bleached blonde hair;

It scared the wits out of me how certain people live,
and I, her daughter’s friend, knew secrets she
of necessity would have to learn later, the pregnancy,
her firstborn running away with a beautiful Mexican
boyfriend to marry, something her mother would
never endorse in a million lifetimes;

And I thought then and I think now, what is this path
of exclusion, the shunning of dear family, friends,
people who don’t comply with another’s version
of what they ought to be, how things must look
in order to be acceptable and to whom I cannot imagine
if not themselves, the bitterness rising as gall
in the throat or feeding a tumor, black wad of hate
and resentment somewhere, now hidden, later
to be discovered somewhere in their own precious body;

We are all on this earth to learn unconditional love,
and experience schools us, molds us, polishes us like
diamonds from the roughest coal if we but accept
the tutelage, the sooner the better, in order
that we garner something of value to pass along
to a world in need of wisdom when our time here
is done.

mountains above Peñasco, NM ~ bj 2022

Giving Thanks

There is much to be grateful for, yet often lacking is a sense of perspective. Unless we have traveled around a bit, we Westerners tend to take a lot for granted. Observing the lives of others in dire circumstances, whether within the boundaries of our own country or in distant lands, can feel surreal at times. Many are so inundated by media, whether it be through television or advertising, that we develop mental filters or wander around in a constant state of overstimulation. Either way, a certain amount of numbing is bound to exist within the average person. Taking time to deeply contemplate, whether it be through quiet walks in nature or during some other form of meditative experience, perspective begins to emerge. As we ponder the trees and sky and the age of rocks, we can’t help but find ourselves amazed at our place within the greater scheme of things. Conversely if we remain insulated with electronics being the sole means of connecting with others and the outside world in any significant way, our perspective is distorted and we lose our sense of place. We lose our sense of the sacred.

While routine is a human comfort, getting stuck in a rut creates inner disturbances that affect everyone around us. We all know the feeling of coming home too tired to do anything but “zone out.” When we take that tired mind and subject it to a video screen, our perspective becomes tinged with the reality presented to us through this medium. We all have a deep need to express something uniquely our own. But when we give away a great measure of our day in trade for wages sapping most of our energy in the process, there is little time left over for indulging creativity. As this becomes a pattern, we lose sight of our desires and our days blur together like the view from the window of a fast-moving train. In our frustration, we place blame outwardly for our condition. We curse our dead-end lot. We lose perspective. Then when guilt sets in, we may seek to assuage it through financial means, again feeding into the cultural consumerist trap.

When we drain our pocketbooks attempting to fill longing within, we are left empty handed as well as empty hearted. When we make time for expressing our unique, genuine selves, we feel more settled in our skin. We don’t have to pretend. This kind of peace has a price beyond measure. We no longer need things to make us happy. We begin to accept ourselves in the scheme of creation. This fosters self forgiveness when we fall out of balance. We can then more easily forgive others when they do not meet our expectations, for we see that they too have similar struggles. Perspective leads to understanding which leads to empathy and compassion. This helps us accept differences, whether between close relations or countries and cultures.

Marva Collins, famous for her work with Chicago’s troubled inner city youth, says, “Until kids decide, ‘I am a miracle. I am unique. There is no one else exactly like me,’ they can never draw the conclusion, ‘Because I’m a miracle, I will never harm another person who’s a miracle like me.'” This is perspective, pure and simple. We all lose it from time to time. Yet in becoming aware that it is within our power to alter our perspective, we create the potential for movement, growth, healing. We can soothe the raw places in our psyches and in our souls. We can mend fractured relationships. We can heal our world, one step at a time. Honoring other people and all forms of life, including the life-giving planet itself, ever begins with the self.

As we head into this holiday season, we may reflect deeply on what gifts mean most to us. Is their worth heavily skewed to the cultural ideal, money? Or do we measure the fullness of our cup with love, health and well-being, our relationships with partners, friends and family? Does our cup runneth over with clean air, clean water, space to move; the scent of pine or wood smoke in the winter? We can focus on what we lack or we can change our perspective to one of abundance by expressing gratitude for all we deeply value. We can be aware of our level of material wealth relative to others. We can choose, in whatever ways present themselves to us, to share with those less fortunate. We can keep our eyes open to the large and small sufferings going on around us and share from a heartfelt place. We can gather the lost and weary to our dinner tables. We can make or purchase gifts which reflect something abiding deep within us rather than frantically scrambling to gather masses of meaningless treasure. We can take time to connect to Mother Earth and offer prayers to heal humanity, that they in turn may realize how to live more sustainably on Her. We can feel the fullness of gratitude for our lives while becoming aware of whether our material abundance is contributing to or taking away from other countries, cultures, and even the planet herself. Let our offerings in thought and deed be genuine, remembering that others learn from our example more than they will ever learn from teachings we discuss but do not put into practice. Let our very most basic gift, that of life itself, continue to be a more pure expression of who we are, in all our unique glory.

(Note: I wrote this piece in 2000 for publication in The Maine Eagle. It has been edited for this post.)

Hilltop view of our ranch, New Mexico, USA

Coming to Grips

Fifteen degrees on the outdoor thermometer, and I dread walking out to an unheated greenhouse, though he tells me I should, prepares me for what I am about to witness;

Tomato plants first, laden with unripened fruit, no fault, didn’t get the structure built on time, planting came late, and we agreed we were lucky to reap all we did;

Forty-two green tomatoes now line the windowsill in the sunroom, three acorn squash, four butternut; and we are fortunate, fresh zucchini, peppers, bitter and sweet greens every day, despite a gopher incursion that ended our beet harvest at four, despite not knowing what I was doing,
never having planted a greenhouse before;
And we agreed, if the season was extended
even a month, it would be worth it, likely
it will stretch to three at least;

Yet when I walked out that morning, gazing
dumbfoundedly at vine leaves hanging ragged as torn flesh in that dark blue-green transparency of frostbite, my heart ached, grateful I harvested most of the dicey crops; still, peppers hung limp and spongy on frost-damaged bushes, marigolds stood dead with seeds intact, geranium and gardenia still alive, though for how long, winter has just begun, there are degrees to descend into single digits yet;

Cleaning up vines this morning, I am pleased
with what remains, and relieved in a way now the shock has passed, snow will come and our woodshed is full, three days’ labor yielding enough fuel to heat through winter and spring, no more morning and evening watering, I can focus now on art and writing, indoor pursuits I miss when nature beckons me out the door and into the brilliant colors, the long days of spring and summer and yet another season to plant and thrive in the midst of my garden creations.

Shamed (Unfurling Leaves)

Are we really meant to impose shame,
humiliation, mortification upon ourselves
and others in this life? Is this really the
higher road our spirits wish us to take;
in other words, is this the desire in the mind
of the creator of stars, of galaxies,
of worlds too vast for our knowing?

As I watch leaves unfurl from the book
of my own life, I see events in the past
flashing by like pages stripped from a journal
and tossed out the window of a moving car,
tears of frustrated adolescent confusion staining
every one;

And I know, over fifty years later, the folly
in these perceptions, parents and others tasked
with shaping our impending adulthood simply
repeating patterns not found in Nature (She who
does not shame her children, She who follows
the template of a higher calling), not knowing,
for how could they? Generations of it, locked
in roles meant to be outgrown, just like
the clinging chrysalis bursting tight constraints
to reveal the extraordinary beauty within;

They gave me life and lessons, and for that,
I am grateful; and will assume, now they are gone,
that under the anthills of their own vexations,
they would have wanted for me, as I dearly desire
for my own daughters, to see them walking
higher paths, ears leaning always into the voices
on the wind, the whispers of the spirit,
urging forgive! forget! carry on! Make this world
a better place than you found it!

Fall leaves, Santa Fe, NM ~ bj 2021

Too Soon Gone

Where on earth do I belong?
I have taken up space on this orb
for nearly seventy years, many
of these spent in utter confusion,
lost to myself, leaving many
others to wonder, who is this being?
As if I, myself held the answers,
aware of my motivations, I did not;

And I get it, perhaps I am not solitary
in these musings, perhaps it is a product
of age and experience, duration
in a life spent with memories,
reflections, condensation of thirty-
five years of living in the Maine woods,
a home my heart returns to endlessly,
though those days are gone forever;

Even if I could return, I would not,
desecrated forests, polluted waters
where once I swam and floated
without human observation,
contemplating the brilliance
of streaming light from heavenly bodies
not yet emerging into view, swimming
with loons, their young paddling
behind parents, my future not something
I contemplated, rather encountered
often haltingly, day by day, headlong
and too often blindly as if rushing
into blackness, life happening to me,
instead of crafting it, shaping it
into a thing of my own choosing;

And now I sit, watching clouds gather,
listening to birds and the distant thump
of a garbage truck going about its run,
collecting refuse we cannot use,
all the detritus left as a product
of living in the twenty-first century,
too many people, how has it come
to this where, despite wilderness
surrounding me, my thoughts drift
constantly to the unnecessary waste,
not only refuse, but resentments, pain
of those growing up, not knowing years
in human form are precious and short,
building castle walls of separation,
unforgiveness, and it will be gone without warning to all of us, in the blinking eyes left to observe what once seemed an endless, open, uncluttered road of possibilities.

High desert sky, northern New Mexico, 2022 ~ bj

Gifts

I realize what it is, this gift I am given, it is enough, the wisdom of the word, when for others it is the peace of prayer; where to sit in meditation with this restless energy seems futile, not indigenous to the personality, and so I walk, cycle, move, contemplating flow;

One axis brings healing, profound from the intention up, the other holds the created universe, such as humans are capable of manifesting into being, in peaceful hands, fashioning useful things of lasting worth, and that gift is likewise enough;

One holds relationships higher than the value of self, whilst another overturns the moneylenders in the temple, and yet another holds visions far beyond what most are able to perceive;

Let it shine, let it stream through the fingers that type the words, let the roots settle and not strangle, tending always the ground of our fertile, living, dying existence, from one paradigm to the next.

Rio Grande, Taos, NM ~ bj

Point of Origin, A Koan

I woke up this morning and Got It,
I mean, kinesthetically in-my-bones
to-my-soul Got It. All was perfect,
the heaviness the damp brought about
was gone, and in its place, an incredible
lightness of being;

Of course the mind stepped in
to save the day, or so it thought,
to analyze, compose, order this new
awareness, as it were, to card catalog it
under A for anomaly, or perhaps label it
enlightenment, something it thought
it had defined but clearly had no idea,
No Idea. For this had little to do with that,
leaving the mind floundering,
as it were, on the shoals
of its lonely self importance;

But you Can be useful, I said
whilst mopping its tired, beaten brow,
but give it a break just now, I am content;
as something deeper recalled the voice
of Dorothy, I have traveled all the way
to Oz, seen the Wizard, cringed in fear
at the flying monkeys, All This Way!
Only to discover, Auntie Em, there’s
no place like home!

New Mexico sunset ~ bj 2022

Dark to Light

From the dark ocean to the lighter skies
of New Mexico, Mother Earth remains
my focus, my love, my joy;

It took awhile to learn different soils,
rich loam to clay and sand, mysterious
deep sea waters to high altitude desert,
cradled by Ponderosa and piñon forests,
and yes, a river runs through it,
though not like it used to,
this is dry country, interspersed
by monsoon rains, brittle brown landscape
highlighted with hues of verdant green
now looking more like New England
in the summer as I plant, now trees,
shrubs, now a greenhouse garden
so that we might sustain ourselves
on bitter greens throughout long
cold winters;

A friend I met years ago in Hawai’i
told me, upon discovering our intent
to move from the islands to the Southwest
years ago and sensing my distress at
not being on or near big bodies
of water for the first time in my life,
don’t worry! In New Mexico,
the ocean is the sky!
And how that comes to be true,
I cannot begin to convey; more
and different varieties of clouds
than anywhere I have been, sweeping
and sliding through crystal azure heavens,
and even in midwinter as temps dip
down below freezing night and morning,
at mid-day under the brilliance
of stark sunlight, it is easy to peel
back the layers and work in shirt sleeves;

And if I have learned nothing else
in this blessed life, it is that, given time,
any place putting me close to the ground
of this alluring planet is sacred, and if its spirit
has been damaged, it takes little time
and care to reveal its essence, once again.

 

David Austin rose “Bathsheba”
– grown and photographed by bj ~ 2022