Saturday, December 3, 2011

Making room for the piano

I am hard pressed to find something I don't love in my living room. It's small & cozy & filled with things that bring me joy; my primitive art collection, my Virgins,angels and old dolls and my artifacts; rocks, pods & such collected from around the world.
It's not the family room; we have one of those too. Big, loud, filled with teenagers & technology. I don't spend much time in that room outside of movie night.
This is a room without TV. It's my quiet cozy part of the house. My "room of her own", where I read & write and relax. Where I am often alone. It's where I am right now.

My living room hasn't changed much in the last few years; a new feather in the vase or a small owl painting, nothing major. I got things right where I wanted them & I called it done. Why mess with perfection!

One of the things I've been working on in my spiritual practice is movement. I like to stagnate. If still is comfortable than stagnate is more comfortable, right? I think that's what my lizard brain expected. More is better, right?...well, stagnate is not really comfortable at all. It's numb. It's safe in a really unpleasant way. It's the opposite of living fully.

Now, my living room is anything but safe or boring LOOKING. It's a veritable oasis of interesting!
Still, energetically, it had gotten stagnant. I knew it. I'd been thinking about what to do about it. I was worried that anything I might do would make it less than it already was. I was worried about change.

And then came the opportunity of the piano!

My dear friend, Sue, also has a small & cozy "room of her own" but she is anything but stagnant! I have seen that room incarnate in many ways over the last few years! It was a dining room (where more scrap booking took place than eating!) and then a music room. And then a sitting room with a piano in it. Now it's going to be even more cozy and have a small, flue-less fireplace. The fireplace needed to be where the piano was so, the piano had to go!
Sue had some reluctance about letting go of the piano. She's the sentimental sort (we have that in common) and there are a lot of memories attached to the old piano, but her daughter, Katie, was the only one who played and she is off at a conservatory in New York and will probably never live at home again. And Katie is not the sentimental type. She didn't need her mom to save the piano for her. Sue knew the piano wouldn't sell for much so, before listing it on Craigslist, she decided to ask the mom's in our email group if any one wanted it.

When I saw Sue's email, I didn't think much of it at first. No one in my family plays the piano! But then I couldn't get it out of my mind! I grew up with a mom & sisters who played, but I was never given the opportunity to take lessons. Still, I loved hearing my mother play. She always played show tunes and lots of Christmas carols. My husband expressed an interest in playing too, but he never had the chance to learn as a child either. We would have gladly bought a piano when our kids were young but they gravitated to guitars & ukeleles and drums...rock & roll stuff. Still, I kinda wanted that piano!

And then I thought of my living room and I knew how to break the cycle of stagnation. I would take the piano and maybe, just maybe, if you bring a piano into the house, someone will play!

Making space for the piano meant moving a lot of stuff! In a room where I believed I loved everything, I had to ask myself, "how much do I love this"? Could I let this go? Did this have to stay?

Art shifted on the walls and all the objects at rest on my beautiful drop leaf table had to be relocated. There was no longer space for that table or my big, distressed leather wing back chair. It wasn't easy letting them go from the space, but I did (change is good, change is good). Inspired by movement, I went further than the wall that the piano would sit on. Under the window, where my houseplants sit in the sun, I replaced my mother's tea cart with my grandmother's trunk.I shifted the sofa & bookshelf, just a little, to open the space up more and decided to feel the room out, just for a little while, without my enormous primitive farm table/coffee table.
                                            Lolly in the big leather chair, next to the drop leaf table

I made space & the piano came in. Energetically, it felt great! And everyone was so excited to have a piano! I discovered that my youngest son had been teaching himself to play at his girlfriends house. Who knew! He favored these delicate little music box like tunes; so opposite of anything he listens to! And, within hours of it's entrance, my daughter & her boyfriend were learning to play John Lennon's "Imagine" with an app they found on the iPad. Imagine! That sound drew me out of my bedroom and back into the living room. My room. The piano room. A room I so often sit alone in, where now, one of my near grown children was sending me a message. A message about the power of change. Imagine....

Monday, November 7, 2011

haiku for a busy day

into the juicer:
lemons, lettuce, kale.
mason jar of hope.

grounding meditation
brings clarity and focus
so why do I resist?

Shouldn't I be in
the studio in overalls?
A luncheon, really?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Every Last Dimes

I have a little tea tin on my dresser that I fill up with dimes. I sort the dimes out of the rest of the change in my pockets at the end of the day and I tuck them into my little tin. It's almost full right now and I'm getting excited. You see, when the tin is full, I get to give them away. Where they'll go next, I'm not quite sure. What I do know is that I'm giving away my every last dime so they have to go!

Cute, right? I learned this from my Grandma. When I was a young woman, whenever I visited her, my grandmother would give me her "every last dimes". Right before I was about to leave, she would reach into her sock drawer and pull out a baggie full of dimes. She'd press the bag into my hand, plant a kiss on my cheek and whisper, "You are so special and so deserving that I want to give you my every last dime!" 
So sweet!   It was rarely more than 20 dollars but it was such an awesome sentiment! I treasured those dimes like I treasured her. I never spent her dimes on anything "regular" like groceries or bills. Her dimes were spent on a nice meal, or flowers, or some special trinket at the flea market that I would have otherwise never allowed myself to buy. Her dimes were given in a special way & I understood  that. I honored that.

I know my tin holds about $50 worth of dimes. Over the years, I've given my "every last dimes" to all sorts of people and organizations. The homeless man who's always on the corner with his 3 legged dog and his funny cardboard signs, an elephant sanctuary, a garden club, and a friend who needed a little extra money to treat herself to something nice. Sometimes, I know where they'll go before the tin is full and I get excited by the prospect of watching it fill up; anticipating when I get to give it away. Other times, I drop the contents of the full tin into a baggie and take it out into the world with me to see where they want to land. Some purpose always shows itself. And always, I do this in my grandmother's name, to honor the woman who gave me the gift of giving away my "every last dimes".

Sure, my family has our favorite charities. And my husband & I have tried to instill the importance of giving back (both of time and money) in our kids. But no one knows about my dimes. It's something I do quietly. It's not as much about giving back as it is about paying it forward. A little something extra for a stranger, an organization, a friend. My every last dimes.  I hope one day I'll get to press a bag of dimes into my own grand kid's palm, kiss their cheek and let them know they are deserving of every last dime. And I hope I can have the same impact on that child as my grandmother had on me. My sweet Grandma & her gift of every last dimes...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The healing power of "Radio Head"

My life has always had a playlist. I get songs stuck in my head & they loop over and over and, mostly, I enjoy it. I call it "radio head". I'm one of those people who really relates to; I mean, really responds energetically to, music. Maybe that's true for everyone, I don't know, but it's true for me. And because it's true for me, I learned years ago that I had to be careful about what I listen to & when. If I'm a little down about something and I go off & listen to Joni Mitchel's Blue, I can slip into the quicksand of depression so fast it's hard to pull myself back out! So, I've learned not to indulge, not to wallow, unless I consciously want to (and sometimes I really, really want to).

I learned pretty early that music could bring me down but it took me a lot longer to realize that I could do the opposite. That I could lift my spirits (and raise my energy) by playing music that inspired me & made me happy.  That realization made house cleaning sooo much more enjoyable! If you come to my house & you hear disco coming from the bathroom, rest assured that I'm in there cleaning! Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples can turn the drudgery of "what's for dinner?" into soul food! If you are lucky, you will hear the music coming through speakers caressing my less than "queen of soul" vocal abilities. But many times, it's just me, singing along to my "radio head". If you live with me, you learn to live with it (the alternative being that you go hungry or have to clean the bathroom yourself!)

I recently discovered another use for my "radio head" that has literally transformed me. I am studying the spiritual philosophy of the Toltecs. You may have heard of the book, The Four Agreements? That was written by a Toltec shaman, don Miguel Ruiz (I highly recommend this book! so simply put and profound!). Anyway, a big part of the work (at least for me) is getting past the mind chatter, or mind "vomit" as my teacher so delicately puts it.
Now, I don't know about you but my mind loves to spin a story! I'm a wife, a mother and a chronic worrier. My mind can conjure up a worst case scenario so fast it would make your head spin! Honestly, I should write for the Spanish Telenovellas! If my husband doesn't return my calls for a couple of hours my mind will have him dead on the side of the road.  My kid is late getting home; abducted. I'm not kidding! It's that bad! My head will have me standing over my beloved's grave or standing in front of the cameras pleading for the safe return of my child, before I even know it's happening! Can you imagine what kind of stress it must put on my body to have those stories play out in my head? And, if you didn't catch it on your own, my stories usually have me in the staring roll of victim! I'm left alone, I'm standing over the grave....
All my stories aren't so telenovella. I have your basic, run of the mill victim rants too. There are the ones that I use against myself, "I screwed it up again! How can I be so stupid?"  And the ones I use to distance myself from others, "how could he leave his dirty dishes on the table AGAIN after I've asked him countless times not to!?!" These rants are actually more insidious than the worst case scenarios because they're harder to catch, and before I know it, I'm really pissed off at myself or my kids and I'm spiraling out of control. YUCK!
So, a few months ago, during my class at the Toltec Center, our teacher was talking about techniques to quiet the mind. People often think that meditation is the only way and those same people are often quick to say, "meditation doesn't work for me" and then they give up (have to admit, I was one of those people!). "Mind vomit is a habit. You just need a new habit." She asked us to take a few minutes and try to come up with an idea; something we could do when we realized that our mind was running amok, something to stop the "mind vomit" in it's tracks.

Now, I dont really know where my idea came from; I'm not really good at coming up with ideas in the spur of the moment and, honestly, when this one hit me, I thought it was just plain silly. But we were going to go around the room and share and I was sitting to the left of the teacher and there was a good chance that I was going to have to speak first (which meant that I wouldn't be able to steal anyone else's idea).

And that's how it went down. I had to share first, so, reluctantly, I went with it. What had come to me was this; every time my mind went into overdrive, I would shut it down with a little ditty that I had learned as a kid from the Muppet Show. It doesn't have real words, just silly sounds, and it has some positive memories associated with it for me. It's the Manamana song. Do you know it?
It's these 3 monsters, and one of them starts singing "Manamana" & then the others chime in with "Do do de do" and then they go around again. But then the Mana guy goes off on a tangent of Manas until he's reeled back in by the other two. Like I said, silly! But it got some good feedback in the circle and I decided to actually give it a shot. I would try to override the mind vomit with silliness!
And you know what? It worked! I mean it worked really, really well! At first, I was only using it to override my negative self talk (that was what we had been specifically working on in class), but very quickly I learned to use it to shut down the judgmental voice that bitched internally about other people. Once I got intentional with my Manamana song, I became aware of a couple of other songs that have been in my top10 "radio head" playlist for a really long time, just waiting to be put to good use!

One of them is John Lennon's Mind Games. Great song! There's only one line from this song that's part of my radio head, "Love is the answer...and you know that, for sure". It's like a beautifully melodic mantra. I can play it over and over in my head and never tire of it. It lifts me up. It brings me peace. Sigh....The other song is "Shake Your Groove Thing" by Peaches and Herb. They hardly belong on the same playlist, I know! But I have very eclectic tastes and they both really works for me. And Shake Your Groove Thing can shake off the mind vomit (okay, that imagery is kinda gross!) and draw in some pretty powerful energy really fast! Both these songs were already programed into my radio head but now I was realizing that I could play them whenever I wanted. I could use them to override the mind vomit!
Look, I'm not saying that my mind never goes into overdrive and that I'm living a completely centered and grounded existence. I wish! I'm really new to this "living with intent" stuff and I'm working really hard at it. But hard isn't always hard and sometimes it's actually fun! Faster and easier than I'd ever imagined possible, my mind chatter has quieted. I AM more at peace inside myself, and, hey, I've actually started listening to some guided meditation and it's working for me! I CAN learn to quiet my mind!
And you know what? On the days when I can't seem to keep the mind vomit from creeping in, I now know that I have tools. And that's when I turn on my radio head (with INTENT!) & get my GROOVE on!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Thank You For Passing Through This Trouble"

"Thank you for passing through this trouble." That's what he said to me. English was definitely not his first language. I was having trouble using the keypad on the credit card swiper and, after several attempts, the cashier at Target had to process my transaction by hand, typing each number into the register, one by one.  It took at least  90 seconds longer than if I had been able to do it myself and I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who'd get ticked off about losing that precious minute & a half. Honestly, on the wrong day, I could be one of them. But, on my good days, I try not to sweat the small stuff and I was having a good day. That's probably the only reason his statement resonated with me. "Thank you for passing through this trouble." It was his way of apologizing for the inconvenience and I really liked the way it came out, "passing trough this trouble."

Isn't that a great way to think about, and deal with, trouble? It reminds me of that bumper sticker, "If you're going through hell, keep going!"  If you run into trouble, pass through! Acknowledge it and keep on going! Don't let it stick to you!

It could be as simple as a faulty piece of machinery (a card swiper or your car) or as big as a thoughtless act by someone who's supposed to have your back. It might be a minor drag or it might be a big deal. It might be really painful.  It just doesn't have to ruin you day. Or your life, for that matter. You don't have to get stuck in it! So often, we let the little troubles stick to us and drag us down.  We forget that we actually have a choice! We forget that we actually get to choose what we think and how we feel! 

Can you sit with that for a minute and feel how powerful that is! How powerful YOU are?! Do you really want to feel victimized by an inanimate object? Do you really want to choose to be a victim, period?  I don't (not most of the time, anyway....)

As human beings we are blessed with the ability to perceive; to create a story around any given situation. In that situation I could have decided that that stupid machine was trying to intentionally put me behind schedule and ruin my day, but  I didn't. That day, the story was simple; technological snafu, no biggie, here's my card, thanks for your help. 

It's been over a year since I had that simple interaction with that sweet human being. That simple apology turned out to be a great gift to my life.
Sure, some days are easier than others. Some days aren't easy at all and some days I actually choose to be a victim and wallow in self pity!  But I almost never forget that I have a choice.

When faced with trouble, I get to choose. I can choose to get stuck or I can choose to "pass through".