Sunday, February 25, 2018

Gratitude for the Present

Rivers imprint my life. Everywhere I’ve lived in eight decades has been near a river: the Muddy Mo, the Connecticut River, the Great Miami, the St. Croix, the Mississippi. Today I want to use the image of a river to share with you my thoughts on living in the present.

I think of my life as a river. It began in the tranquil lake of my mother’s womb. From there, it has flowed through the Land of Time on its way to the welcome of the Ocean of Eternity. The journey of that river, which is my life, has a history—past, present, future.

In the past, the river of myself met rapids that clashed against large boulders. Often, they blocked my way forward. Overarching willow branches shadowed the river of myself. Storms raged; bitter rain fell into the flow, which ended dammed in the Land of Past Time. Unable to flow forward and find the course beckoning me, I grew stagnant in that dam.

When the dam burst, I rushed forward, a waterfall plunging into the lake below. I then began to live in the Land of Future Time—always leaping the rapids, creating mercurial currents that hurtled forward to get somewhere, anywhere, perhaps to the rainbow’s promise.

Now, because of a deep gratitude that brightens my days, I flow gently, caught up in the moment that the Land of Presence unfolds for me. By day, I bask in the sun’s rays; by night in the moon’s beams. I flow past field and forest, valley and canyon. Each of these bring some gift into the river of my life. Deep within my current, I embrace the moment as it is given to me.

And that, I suppose, is what makes living in the present so rewarding. In this moment, I find that which is a blessing in my life. Gratitude springs within me like the many springs that enter the river of my life. Fresh spring water trickles into the stream of my flow. So many springs throughout so many miles of Time. So much, so many for whom to be grateful.

Living in gratitude, I have discovered, is the surest way to live in the present. Right now, I have a mug of steeping Earl Grey tea nearby; warm slippers on my feet; light from the table lamp; no Meniere’s headache; no arthritic pain. For all this I am grateful.

And if there were pain, what would it matter? My body is giving me a message: Rest. Take your prescription. Be calm. In this moment, I stop and listen. The Holy Oneness of All Creation gives me these posting words, one word after the other, surprising me, enlightening me. All is well. And all shall be well in the future. I need not worry. The river has flowed through all the landscapes of time and still it flows, undaunted.

Is its mouth around the next bend? At the end of the next valley? I do not know. I do not need to know. I know only that in this Land of Present Time I have today to write the Amazon blurb for the convent memoir—Prayer Wasn’t Enough. Daily, the river of my life flows into the unknown route ahead. The future. I do the work of the moment. This day.

I need only, as so many say, “Go with the flow.” Or as the Beatles said, “Let it be.”  I need only embrace this moment. And so I do.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dreaming an Idyllic Future

Last Sunday I wrote about living in the past and feeling more comfortable there than in the present. During my early years, I lived, as most children do, in the present. Up to the age of thirty, when I left the convent, my mind and spirit were rooted in the day.

But between December 1966, when I left the convent, and 1992, when A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story was published, I lived in the past, stewing about the experiences that had left me emotionally scarred and immature.

During those twenty-six years. I taught in grade and high school, earned a master’s degree in American Studies, worked as an editor and curriculum developer, and became a successful freelancer.

During those same years, I volunteered at an AIDS clinic; taught in an African-American dropout center; tried to organize a union in a department-store factory; taught in the inner city; got involved in Civil Rights; worked in political campaigns; and protested the Vietnam War.

The events of the day caught and held my attention, but still, when alone, I lived in the past, trying to discover why my psyche was broken.

Then in 1992, Crown published A Cat’s Life. The New York publishing firm later credited me with selling most of the 14,000 copies of the book that reached an audience. I liked to do all that marketing entailed. Within months, the hoopla affected my thinking patterns. Throughout my life I’d longed to be special. Then no one would abandon me as I thought my parents had in 1941.

And what, I thought, could be more special than a famous author? Almost overnight I went from dwelling in the past to dreaming of a bright and shining future. A future in which I’d be healed.

I longed to have an agent represent my writing; an editor encourage my ideas; a publicist market my books; readers who’d ask, “What’s your next book going to be about?” “When's it being published?” “Will your author tour bring you to our city?”

I dreamed of fame. Not to be a celebrity, but to be assured that readers would eagerly await my next book. And my next. I didn’t long for a wagonload of money—just enough to build a four-season porch on my house. I wanted my name to be recognized so my writing would be read.

The years passed: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008. During all those years, I continued to write and to send query letters to agents. No luck; no interest. I began to accept that I couldn’t write well enough to be published. I was a hack.

Then in May 2011 I began to blog. A number of those who read my posts left comments complimenting my writing. Ah. Perhaps I wasn’t a total failure at the craft of writing. Perhaps.

The following year, Wayman Press published Dulcy’s second book: A Cat’s Legacy. Once again I spun dreams of the future: I’d be successful. Readers would enjoy my stories. I’d build that porch! I’d hire someone to help me research my planned Bronze-Age trilogy. I’d hire an artist to illustrate the cat books I planned. Once again, I dreamed big! Whenever I dwelt in thought, I lived in the future, dreaming of what might happen any day, any week, any month if only I held on.

I went from dwelling in the past to dreaming of an idyllic future. What would guide me into the delight of the present? That’s next week’s post!


Photographs from Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dwelling in the Past

Until I was fifty-three, I spent most of my life dwelling in the past. My childhood had been somewhat difficult with health and family issues. College brought four years of relative calm, followed, upon graduation, by eight-and-a-half years in the convent.

Those years had also proved difficult as I was emotionally immature upon entering. I thought that if I became a saint—which in my mind meant that achieving perfection—everyone would finally find me worthwhile and not desert me. Striving for perfection led to an emotional breakdown toward the end of my convent years. I left, nearly catatonic.

Then came my re-entry into the “secular” world. The Vietnam War raged. I entered the age of hippies and war protest. Between 1969 and 1971, I attended grad school at the University of Minnesota. However, that experience also proved difficult as a depression led to a near suicide. Upon graduation I taught. That ultimately gave way to a career in publishing and in curriculum development.

In my early forties, the third psychiatrist I’d seen since leaving the convent recognized that a ten-year depression had resulted in a chemical imbalance in my body. She prescribed an antipsychotic drug that took away the hallucinating I’d been doing all that time. Because the drug worked, much of the lassitude of my existence disappeared.

Still, the present wasn’t inviting; I dwelt in the known past: on all that had happened to me as a child and in the convent; on my own immaturity; on my inability to be authentic; on how I faked normality, knowing that I felt not only inadequate but worthless.

In 1989, when I was fifty-three, Dulcy, the cat with whom I’d lived for seventeen-and-a-half years, died. She was more than feline; she was friend; family. I grieved her loss and the loss of the unconditional love she’d offered me.

Two days after her death, I woke on a Saturday morning and felt compelled to go downstairs to the computer. Turning it on, I placed my fingers on the keys and began to type. The first words that came were “At the end all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone, and they will comfort her.”

My fingers stopped typing, and without understanding, I gazed at the words that had come unbidden. Who was speaking? Not I. Then who? . . . Dulcy.

That day and for one hour each day for the next two months, she remembered—through me—our life together. From some deep place inside me—the place where Oneness dwells—came the story of the loving relationship Dulcy and I shared.

Crown, a division of Random House, ultimately published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story in October 1992. The slim gift book sold over 14,000 copies and was reprinted in Germany, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. The event changed my life by lifting me out of my obsessive dwelling on the past.

For years, I’d sifted through the tragedies of my life and found myself despicable. Then Dulcy’s book came to comfort me. Slowly I moved out of the past. I began to see possibilities. All during my life as a teacher, editor, and curriculum developer I’d just lived. I’d never thought of what the future might hold. In fact, I’d never even invested any money so as to have a future beyond retirement. The past was my home. To it I would retire.

Next week, I hope to share with you what happened next.