Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cynthia Doesn't Live Here Anymore.....

When we take a break from the routine duties of our lives, there is first a blessed sense of freedom. No weighty obligations or responsibilities beyond the usual family and self-care. What bliss!

Then comes the challenge of open-ended time and the real hard work of trying NOT to fill the time with other duties, tasks and busy-ness. We almost all say we want a break, but really those of us who are wont to be productive are likely to find "breaks" as hard to handle as work. For example, I have been accused of being a "travel-Nazi," filling every moment of family vacations with what I think are worthwhile and educational pursuits. My father instilled this ethic in me. I would call it compulsive productivity. Something must be cooked, written, mailed, cleaned, paid, arranged, created, fixed, etc. every day... preferably all of the above. He had a steady supply of 3x5 index cards upon which he wrote lists every night, right up until his final months of life, of things to accomplish the following day.

So it is not without effort that I have gotten through three weeks of unstructured time.

It's the same phenomenon that keeps most people from sticking with a meditation practice... when we empty our schedules, our minds, our environments of clutter, we are faced with.. ourselves.

It's fascinating to observe the urge to fill the time. To notice the feelings of discomfort, alienation, loneliness, and sadness as they arrive. To acknowledge that so much of my life has been structured around the needs and identities of others, and so much of my identity is wrapped up in being "mom" and "minister" that I am filled with anxiety and apprehension when I am alone and free.

What comes to the surface is anger, regret, confusion, fear, sadness, and even despair. But having long years of practice and study in mindfulness and presence, I know I have the tools to weather this period. On the other side of emptiness is peace of mind.

We took a family vacation of sorts this week, driving to Western Mass. to visit Marjorie at college. It was Family weekend. So, my mom identity was back in place. I have four children ages 6-29,  and all of them are still  very much in my life at present, so it will take some doing to keep returning to that less comfortable space where I look for me and assess my  needs, desires, and plans. But that is my goal, to stay with the emptiness and not fill the days and my mind with the the needs of others, just for awhile, so I can find me. In time, I'll be ready to return to the greater community and serve others from a place of clarity and strength.

Monday, October 17, 2011


The Vacation

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.

He went flying down the river in his boat

with his video camera to his eye, making

a moving picture of the moving river

upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly

toward the end of his vacation. He showed

his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,

preserving it forever: the river, the trees,

the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat

behind which he stood with his camera

preserving his vacation even as he was living it

so that after he had had it he would still

have it. It would be there. With a flick

of a switch, there it would be. But he

would not be in it. He would never be in it.

~Wendell Berry

I do understand what Berry is saying here.

My first set of kids were small when video cameras became widely available, and some parents really did film almost every moment of their poor kids' lives. Even then, way before I understood the Buddhist maxim of "being" here, now, I knew that it was important to put the camera down and just be present.

But I also think that taking photographs can encourage "seeing," by forcing us to look at the world around us, study the juxtaposition of things and people, and choose the colors, shapes, and moments we wish to preserve. It forces us to appreciate the grandeur of nature and impermanence of the beauty and drama we live with.

This week, I have been breathing, looking around me, noticing, and appreciating.

I have been immersed in gratitude for this space and time to do the things I normally can not, to stop and chat with a merchant, to drive slowly, observing the hues and inhaling the scent of fall leaves, to watch people, who are endlessly fascinating.

I wanted to buy a French butter keeper for my friend in New Jersey, since it's her birthday and I will see her this week. But I needed to look up the name of the potter from whom I got mine two years ago. Finally I found her, and drove to her home, and knocked at the door. She pulled out all of the butter keepers and we talked while I chose one. I drove on to Harrodsburg and studied the mailbox quotations on the farms of the Mennonites. I saw four Amish girls in a discount store looking surreptitiously at a Teen magazine. By the time I got a cart and returned they had disappeared. I picked up the magazine and saw that it was all about Selena Gomez, a popular Latina star. Neither of these things are a big deal, but I treasure them because they took time, which I often do not have.

I drove home a different way. I found a corn maze and saw beautiful rolling hills. More leaves.

Sometimes I feel sad that I almost never have time to just be present to life and to all the visual treasures there are to take in. So my meditation for this week is just to see, to be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sabbatical~ Week One


Many ministers start their sabbaticals with a vacation, or some travel, just to make a break with the compulsive workload and responsibilities of clergy life. Last sabbatical, I traveled to Romania and, later in the fall, to Great Britain with Eric and Marjorie.

Seth(6) has this entire week off from first grade – “Fall Break”—and Casey (29) is still only partially employed, so my inner travel-nazi wants to GO somewhere! I haven’t traveled anywhere with my eldest for over a decade, and I think we both have preserved memories of camping and hiking trips and cross-country journeys from the years before the complexities of divorce, addiction, and economics put an end to any thing remotely like a family getaway.

But a survey of the bank accounts tells me that even a foray into Tennessee, to see fall in the Smokies, or to Cincinnati, where Seth loves the art museum, are not feasible right now. We’ll stay in Washington County. The elements seem to approve of this decision, because each day is more glorious than the last, weather-wise. The colors are more vibrant at Innisfree, our farm, than they have been in the five years we’ve owned it, and the skies are brilliantly clear, the air warm and dry.

After all, what would you wish for on a vacation? Watching the sun rise and set, good food and wine, art and culture, lots of rest, something great to read, companionship, pampering, and maybe some intellectual stimulation…. Almost all of these can be had right at home, or close to home, with a bit of creativity.

I know I am blessed to have this place to live, where it is so peaceful and so far removed from any of the stresses of the city, but I have also noticed that despite having invited dozens of people to visit, both family and friends from far away and colleagues and acquaintances from Kentucky, only a few make the trek. It’s not far, either… 45 minutes’ drive from the start of the Bluegrass Parkway on Versailles Road! I know there were any number of times when I was exhausted beyond belief, but couldn’t bring myself to make the drive out here, even though I knew how much I’d appreciate it once here.

What I am saying is that, often, peace and serenity are very close at hand, but we do not avail ourselves of them. And, I please guilty to this!

So, this first week of sabbatical, I really did take a sabbath in the traditional sense. I refrained from driving, spending money, and from most sources of electronic media.

I noticed that each day, the sunrise happens in a unique way -- sometimes a gentle rosy glow gives way to a brilliant yellow ball that breaks the horizon; sometimes a startlingly red sky announces a hazy brightening. Each day, nature provides an art display. The hues of changing leaves, the clouds that shift from wispy strokes to puffy wads, the dew that glistens on the ripening pumpkin. Who needs the art museum? Wildlife? We spot coyotes, possums, foxes, deer and wild turkey. My husband brings a tiny green tree frog to show us, and my son brings home a snake that he found on the road.

My hammock, a quarter mile from the house, in a breezy hollow under a huge oak tree, and my Adirondack chair, from which I can survey the activities of swooping birds of prey, are as relaxing as any beach chaise. The wine I stopped and bought at a local winery is dry and satisfying. There is work if I want to work, and rest when I need to rest. I have enough reading to last a decade.

My youngest and I make a scarecrow and decorate the porch for Halloween. My oldest son helps me cook, and I discover that the Hubbard squash we've grown makes great "pumpkin" pies, and the local vegetables make a superb ratatouille. The local Amish market yields the world's best homemade "Long-johns," sumptuous cream-filled confections coated with maple icing. On Saturday, we all three go to Gravel Switch, to see the outhouse races at Penn's Store, an event I have wondered about for the twelve years I have been in Kentucky. It's our most expensive outing of the week; we spend ten dollars on admission and another fifteen on bar-b-que, ribs, and funnel cake. Seth gets his picture taken with Turtle Man, a local hero of sorts who is due to appear on Animal Planet this fall.

The week was not perfect. I was grouchy and irritable some of the time. I couldn't wait to enjoy some solitude, and Seth said, "Mommy!" every three minutes. I wondered when Casey would find employment and worried about bills and college tuition. I felt like I was doing way too much housework and I resented it. My battle cry was, "I did not take a sabbatical to be a maid!" But now it's Monday of Week Two. Casey has a full-time job, Seth's back at school, and Week One is over. It was a time of transition, from being Minister to being Mom. Now, what about "me?" Stay tuned.