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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau

From three stories up in my somewhat-finished, attic-studio, the peaks of the tallest pines tower still several stories above me.

I’ve observed these skyscraping timbers more times than I can count seated in this cornflower blue, damask chair that once lived in Jonah’s room when his voice still lilted—a few octaves higher—and we planned to meet in our dreams on a pebble-strewn beach—he with a red balloon, me with my purple, sparkly shoes.

We were like characters in a Carolyn Curtis book in our envisioned dreamscapes—taking the moon out for a walk and hoping to be together even when we slept.

Pregnant with Adrian—my skin ached when it stretched taut in the last few weeks before his birth.

Jonah and I would crowd onto the chair to read—the two of us barely able to fit and my having to find room for breath—lungs all squished up by the baby inside and the little boy with the pointy elbows practically in my lap.

I would imagine what it was like for Adrian to know Jonah’s voice from the other side of the womb and when they did finally meet, Jonah climbed right over me in the hospital bed to Adrian so that he could be near him and say to him, elbow, as he rubbed his small fingers along Adrian’s silky skin still emanating aromas from another world.

Wearing his new big brother t-shirt, Jonah looked at me curiously—his blond hair lit up by the sun streaming in through the window—and then pointed up at the wall, “clock!” he’d said.

I was worried that he hadn’t eaten and he looked so big I could have sobbed but I kept a cheerful demeanor so as not to upset him.

“You made it …. You made it …” I cried to Adrian, again and again when he was handed to me—marveling at his crimson lips and pink skin—still wearing a soft, comforting shirt from my labor, woven with pastel ribbons near the collar and a hoodie of all things.

Taped to the side of my bed—as inspiration—was a photograph of Jonah just after he was born with his hands up by his mouth, skin bare, eyes wide and alert.

Remnants of tape from hanging it there line the edge of the tattered photo still today.

When I thought we might move, I panicked wondering whether I had come to know all of the trees within my midst and feared that I might leave having passed up the opportunity to know them all intimately.

I looked up at the plentiful oak out-front and off to the side—easily overlooked—and admired its quiet magnificence and outstretching branches.

Adrian once spotted a large creature in that tree.

He was still so little then— it’s hard to understand his attention being drawn upward to a spot higher than the roofline of our home, but it was.

It was almost as if his mind was tapped into another frequency of connectivity calling out to him and letting him know of its presence unbeknownst to me—like how a dog can hear the high pitch of a whistle undetectable by man.

We spent afternoons together then in our driveway—drawing with chalk and setting up a makeshift tennis court with a jump-rope tied between two, plaid lawn-chairs.

He has always had an awareness about him that goes beyond his years.

He once went through a phase in which he gave out tickets to people who called him cute.

According to him, it was ok if you called him sweet or kind or even precious.

I once asked him how much I would have to pay for all of the tickets I had accumulated and he said authoritatively (and oh-so-cutely) rocking his head from side to side to the rhythm of his words, “as many as the tickets you get.”

As a seven-year-old—knowing this story about himself well—he recently came up with the idea of reinstituting this issuing-of-tickets as a way of raising funds.

I would never have noticed the black and prickly beast nestled at the intersection of the two high-up branches—but Adrian did.

It took us digging out the binoculars and observing closely to figure out there was an oversized porcupine hovering high above us in that tree—not an ape or other out-of-place animal like it seemed.

From an upstairs window, the silhouette of a voluptuous woman is formed in the trunk of another oak tree—the curve of her breast evident, arms opening wide and at just the right height to form the soft sway of her underarm and perhaps the start of her hips.

She’s angled in such a way that she seems to look out at the water in a posture of open-hearted surrender.

Here I am.

I frequently gaze out at her and imagine that I might embody that same sense of renunciation of all things that separate us from what is real.

I invite instead a rootedness in the timeless—an observation of the world through the lens of something more lasting and bigger than me.

I wonder how I could have missed this figure just outside my window for all these years.

It’s a world of its own up in the canopy of these less-than-a-dozen pines gathered together like a tribe on view from my 3rdfloor studio.

I can only really guess what transpires in that lofty layer while noticing it from afar—the crows swooping about establishing their territory and vying for food, the air brimming with the fragrance of pine needles.

Movement is subtle at this height where the trunks become more and more slender as they rise upward to the top—revealing only the slightest, circular sway of the cone like branches even when the winds are high.

It is rare this late in the season for buds yet to have revealed themselves on tree branches—most deciduous trees still skeletal and spindly looking here in Maine.

All other signs—the dandelions, crocus and the mud—point to the breath-of-spring palpable and near—poised and ready for revealing herself more fully at any moment.

 

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“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”—Omar Khayyam

The housekeeper called to us from down the hallway with the swirling Caribbean carpet. She wore a distant stare on her bronze face that softened when we met. Her smile was generous, her body moved as if weighted down by more than her slight frame.

She offered us water rafts left behind—clear plastic tubes decorated with sky blue and chartreuse stars. We thanked her more than we needed to and Jonah and Adrian promptly pulled the inner tubes over their heads and around their bodies and began bouncing—like inflated Sumo wrestlers—down the hallway.

I slightly regretted the new acquisitions.

The pool water was much colder in the mornings than the more tepid, aqua sea. Jonah placed himself gingerly on his new raft—on his belly, just barely getting his chest wet.

He paddled out to the concrete island in the center of the pool with the imported palm tree planted in the middle—not indigenous to the desert climate where we had traveled for a rest.

He climbed carefully onto the enclave and stood up with satisfaction—his blue eyes sparkling, highlighted by his tan skin.

He folded his arms proudly and with his foot, pushed the raft away out of his reach, theatrically announcing, “Now, I’ve done it!”

“I’m stranded!”

“Now I’ll have to get in!”

A few seconds later he leapt off of the ledge—cannon-ball style—emerging gleefully, breathless from the extreme change in his body temperature and impressed by his strategy.

I lured them to the water’s edge with the suggestion of building a Hogwarts castle in the sand. This worked again and again and we created the structure at two separate beaches in three locales.

I began building drip-castles with them when they still thought it was a good idea to shove a chubby fist full of sand in their mouths.

There was a time when it seemed these days of leading them into play and creation would go on forever.

Now I recognize how brief a moment this stage will occupy across the timeline of living—a narrow sliver on a row of yardsticks across a stretch of years.

They think we will not need one, but I buy a cobalt blue bucket at the gift shop anyway.

I carry it to the shore, fill it with water and bring it to the place where the dense, wet sand meets the softer, lighter-color layer of powdery disintegrated shells.

Adrian makes the connection in this—his 7th year—that sand is the accumulation of billions of ground up shells and rock formations broken down over millennia by the tireless churn of ocean waves.

I once read that sea glass could be created at home by combining water with broken bottles and spinning it around and around in a household cement mixer.

In the past I thought about making the investment in this apparatus so that I—and my children—could experience this process first hand. I might still.

In the place where the wet and dry sand meet I situate myself on the upper layer where I begin building the base of our castle. Jonah and Adrian position themselves beneath me where they begin digging a long trench beside a thick wall—both constructed to protect the castle from the rolling tide.

I pour handfuls of soft sand into the water until I find the right mix—about the consistency of a thin cake batter.

With my fist full, I begin dripping a stream of sand into the formation of individual towers filling the rectangular outline. I watch as the sand sifts through the spaces between my fingers and fist accumulating into mini sculptures—each attempt unique.

It reminds me of the vast scope of lives among us. I think about the many ways that we may cultivate our unfolding—each development organic and coming to life in response to our every thought and vision.

Sometimes the sand cooperates forming a thick base, gradually thinning and growing more and more steep. Occasionally the accumulation of the dripping sand will reveal a form like a body or another figure—an hunched beggar, a mother with child, a towering tree.

My husband notices my whole-body exhale each time we arrive at this place of creating along a stretch of beach and joins in trying out my technique.

Jonah reserves the task of making the tallest drip-castle in the structure.

Once he decides to build it along the side of the building instead of in the center combining many towers into a large triangular wall.

I observe him as he surpasses what I have taught him and I imagine all that he may create in his life—my heart swelling at the thought of it.

I imagine what it means to be encouraged—all possibilities open like a river flowing swiftly through a gorge. The vision—only your heart’s deepest longing, whatever that might be.

The rain comes and goes rapidly.

When we see the nimbus clouds crowding together and darkening across the sky in stark juxtaposition with the turquoise water the boys rush to gather all of our belongings and begin sprinting toward the pool area where there is a hot tub and an awning to protect our things.

I think about how hard it can be to get them moving at times and the disparity of their speed with the threat of a storm.

I relish in the tingling of my skin when I sink into the Jacuzzi—a gentle, cold rain dampening my hair.

We do this again and again when the rain comes—hoping for the most extreme contrast we can experience—a powerful, heavy rain coupled with a warm bath.

Adrian loses his second, front tooth in the pool. He doesn’t notice until we’ve gotten back to the room and he remembers that he felt traction between his mouth and the water when he was swimming.

When his eye swelled up and we took him to the clinic, the doctor commented on the wide garage space in his mouth.

His new, toothless grin both matures him and anchors him more deeply into this place in time in which his r’s are still absent and his lens of the world still soft and hazy.

I was coming from our room by myself and entered into the elevator. It was just after noon.

An older couple—likely retirees—came inside the elevator along with a bellman.

The older man said to the bellman, “good morning.”

His wife promptly corrected him; “I think it is afternoon, now.”

The bellman said, “Yes, good afternoon, it is afternoon now.”

I watched as the older man composed himself. I could almost feel his energy zip into a line inside of him—taught.

A slight brightness came to his eyes. I knew he had something good to share.

“May this be the morning of our lives, then.”

I wanted to hug him.

Back in Maine, snow keeps getting swept out of the forecast by the rain.

Spring is here in full force with her elbows wide nudging aside the snowdrifts and making herself known through the mud and the sweet call-of-the-birds at dawn’s first light.

 

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“By God when you see your beauty, you’ll be the idol of yourself.” —Rumi

I am propped up on a cozy, orange bench, a fire is going. My layers can’t seem to warm my too-cold hands. My fingers are dry against the smooth keys of my keyboard and there is a layer of polymer gloss that remains on a couple of my fingernails—remnants from a current project, one that is living in me like a child waiting for delivery.  I’ve come to this place once again where I may anchor my soul back into myself, back onto this beautiful and complicated planet. My tendency is to drift in my mind and with my body into the realm of daydreams and desires, like a balloon caught up in a dance with the breeze.  The fluttering around of all that I am imagining and even all that I must do sheds off of me like a skin as I sink back down into the more weighted place of present moment awareness. Typing with eyes closed now, the neurotransmission of my mind become both softer and more rhythmic. My breathing slows and my shoulders uncurl. I am safe. There is time. When I sit down to write, I never quite know what will come to the page but I know that it will draw roots out of me and intertwine me back within the earth.

I recently was the recipient of deep-listening, a process in which I shared a burden and those around me graciously took in my story and then eventually mirrored my words back to me. It is quite simple and yet, not something we can count on in the current pace of our society today. I love to take in and examine faces. My brain does not always work perfectly when it comes to remembering names, but I make a practice of memorizing your eyes, the way your brow is shaped, how you breathe. And when you speak, my attention is one part on the words you share and another part is experiencing you, your energy, your existence as a miracle of creation. I recently read that the probability of our being born—each of us, exactly as we are—is just one in 400 trillion. When I look at you, I remember this about you. It is not hard to see all that is unique about you even as you describe to me your seemingly common concerns, your challenging weekend with the children, your desire to start exercising again, your wish for a greater sense of community and safety. The gifts of the spirit are sometimes spoken to us in the very softest, faintest sounds of a whisper, and we must listen intently in order to decipher the direction to go. And yet, as I look at you, I am left breathless with the realization of how many magnificent creatures there are to love.

The water itself is like a mirror this morning— a house across the way reflected precisely in the bay it sits beside. I just keep sitting and being here with this new moment, and the next and the next, experiencing my breath and sensing what it means to accept oneself, to access compassion for our very own, deeply recognized challenges and flaws and come to a place of noticing, as well, of the many, many ways in which our essence—that which we all inherently are made of—is good. As I breathe in, I come to a place of wonder, as I breathe out I release judgment. No matter our age, this day, this life is still young.

 

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“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” —Lao Tzu

This morning seems very still at first glance—like a neatly hung landscape painting in a tidy museum. The air is crisp and cool, a thin layer of the night’s frost remains, glistening. Upon closer observation, I begin to notice that there is movement all around. There is a seagull along the rocky shoreline of a tiny island in the distance with its white feathers against the mustard-yellow seaweed backdrop. I take in the contrast of colors and notice the way she is raising straight up into the air like an in-breath gaining height with each flap of her wings and then lowering back down again as as an exhale going about the work of cracking open her shellfish breakfast. Further to the right—across the water—are a few houses with a road leading up to them. A red truck with a wooden bed is moving along slowly—coming in and out of view in the branchy landscape. Just weeks ago, it would have been hidden by the crimson and gold of fall’s vibrant mural. The green pine needles of the towering Pine centered in our yard flutter almost imperceptibly. With deep focus, I can align myself with their slight and gentle rhythm of movement. And now the whole scene just becomes fully alive with six loud ducks, quacking their way across the sky—attuned to winter’s imminent arrival. There is so much to see in this world.

Sometimes when I am thinking of my Mom, she will suddenly call. When my sisters and I were growing up, she didn’t really like to go shopping like some other mothers did. She wasn’t someone who felt compelled to have the best name brand of clothing or collect a lot of things—although she always looked beautiful to me. I remember being at the mall with her from time-to-time and she would say, “let’s just sit down for a while and people-watch.” She loved to take in the way people can be. She liked to do that in airports, too, where we spent a lot of time. I was with her recently. Together we stole a moment and went out for a walk. It felt like such a luxury to be alone with her treading about. The grey day transformed and became sun-drenched. As we were walking along, my Mom just suddenly stopped and looked up at the sky. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back and just took in the sun’s warming rays onto her face. I remember her having done that many times before. I love that about my Mom.

I use little Asian tea cups to bring food to my boys at breakfast—they eat more readily from smaller containers. Sometimes the cups are filled with vitamins, other times with a handful of berries. There are two types of cups of different sizes and not meant to go one within another. One set is painted in pastels—pinks and blues—and belonged to my Grandmother. The other set is more modern with deep, rich colors—a recent gift. This morning I was clearing the table after my boys had gone to school and discovered that one of the smaller, older tea cups was caught inside one of the bigger ones. At the sink now, I had the two cups under the water, trying to gently separate them without breaking them—especially the littler one. Then there was a moment in which they somehow just separated. I hadn’t pulled them but was just sort of holding them and under the stream of water they just parted ways. I am taken with the ease with which they became untangled.

 

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“This too shall pass.” – Ancient Proverb

Yesterday it was a hurricane morning here in Coastal Southern Maine. The water was moving faster than usual and a strong wind was creating a shower of yellow leaves along the coastline. Out front it seemed almost balmy with a light fog peeking through the branches of our towering pines. Knowing we were not likely to be in for a direct hit made our preparations casual. Friends in harms way were on our minds.  Little Adrian was tucked in for a morning nap and young Jonah had gone to nursery school in his yellow rain pants. Before leaving, my two boys embraced in a goodbye hug. It was unprompted and so new for them. “Ug Oda,” said Adrian. (translation: “Hug, Jonah”) They put their little arms around each other in the sweetest embrace, Jonah with his crinkling rain gear, hood already in place. Adrian with his navy, mock turtleneck fully soiled from breakfast.

As Adrian slept, I remembered when Jonah had first discovered his voice. He was around 18 months old. I’m not fond of the term, but when he reached this age I remember thinking, “oh, the Terrible 2’s begin early in this house!” It wasn’t so bad, really. My biggest challenge was that Jonah didn’t like to get into his car seat. Oh, how we struggled. He arching his back like a yogi mastering backbend pose, me near tears not wanting to hurt him but needing to leave the house every now and then. I remember wondering if this was how things were going to proceed. It’s hard to know as a new mother. I sort of knew about the phrase “this to shall pass,” but I didn’t count on it like I do now. Adrian is in a similar time in his life now, grinning coyly as he tests out his ability to affirm the negative, “no!” in as many scenarios as possible. He too puts up a noble fight when it comes to being strapped into his car seat. We are a free spirited lot. I have never wondered, though, with Adrian if this is how things were going to be in that oh-so-final way.

Last weekend our family meandered down a wooded path together picking up pebbles and nibbling cookies. We were making our way to a beach, one rich with seaweed and salty air. Every now and then, as we strolled, the wind would gust a shower of leaves into the air. Having recently been told about catching leaves and making wishes, we decided to give it a try. And so our walk became injected with a series of leaps – my husband especially intent on capturing the falling foliage. On my leaf – a muted orange one – I wished for the feelings of these precious moments together to continue on forever. I wished that I could capture the contentment I felt inside in that very moment and bottle it for future use. I knew that they wouldn’t and I knew that I couldn’t. I knew there would be scuffles later on about dinner needing to be different, more tasty, about another weekend gone by with chores not completed – as if this were a bad thing! And that was ok.

I remember visiting a Zen Monk who made his home in a cozy, wooded spot in rural Virginia. He is the father of a first love of mine and I believe he offered me in our visits an introductory course in mindfulness. Upon entering his home an air of reverence always came over me. With his pace, he slowed mine. Often it was dinnertime when we would arrive and our first interactions would take place over a quiet, nourishing meal, prepared and presented with great care. I remember eating so slowly, so mindfully, that I truly tasted my food – maybe for the first time in my life. On one visit my then-boyfriend and I were complaining about the weather or some other minor inconvenience. Upon hearing us, our host clapped his hands together loudly and with great force. “Things change.” he said. I have thought of this moment so many times in my life throughout the various storms that I have weathered – always a little voice quietly whispering in my ear, “things change.” I don’t always live out my belief in this aphorism but I know that it is true. Both the good and the seemingly not so good moments in our lives are always fleeting.

Today is the day after a hurricane touched our lives. We are among the fortunate ones who only experienced high winds, heavy rain. There is a carpet of leaves blanketing our lawn so beautifully. This is so today.