Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life Petals

Not long ago I was reading one of the installments of a blog of a dear friend of mine.  Her name is Lisa Brandel and her blog is titled The Widow Lady, in which she chronicles the story of a loved one battling and ultimately dying of a grim disease.  Although sad, her story is also gripping, realistic, honest, at times funny, bittersweet and always profound.

Lisa's blog has often prompted memories of my own of family members who have fought long, debilitating illnesses with dignity and inner strength. I was writing a comment on one of her posts and said something along the lines of,

"This has always made me think of watching petals slowly falling from a flower."
That phrase stuck in my mind and kept surfacing in different ways, to the point that I knew eventually I would write more fully about this concept.

Those of us who are romantic, or have children, are familiar with the story of "Beauty and the Beast".  Depending on which version of the story you have read or viewed in movie format, the Soul of the Beast is represented by a flower, or a blooming bush, or blooming tree.  As Beauty fails to see past the outer visage of the Beast, with each disappointment sustained, another petal from the flower falls.

The more I turned these seemingly unrelated points over and over in my mind, the more interconnecting points began to fall into place.  Who among us, in the first flush of love, or secure in a lasting relationship hasn't felt replenished, our spirits renewed and uplifted by the attention of that other person?  I have always held a mental image that relationships are exactly like that Magical Flower, but my image is one of the flower constantly being renewed.  Certainly, disappointments, illnesses, arguments and other difficult experiences strip the petals away or crush the delicate surfaces, leaving unsightly bruising.  Yet, with time, patience, understanding and love, the fallen petals are replaced, the bruised petals are healed and the flower stands proudly, lush and vital.

Could it be that we each have different flowers for each relationship, different flowers for various levels of physical health? One specific type of flower for friendships, another for family, yet another for work relationships, still more flowers that reflect our state of bodily health, and finally, that one special flower for the most deeply personal connection with that loved one. There is certainly a Language of Flowers that has existed for almost 200 years, giving each flower a specific message, sometimes going to exquisitely minute detail with one flower having different meaning read by the color of the petals.  An example would be a yellow rose meaning friendship, while we all recognize the red rose denotes love. 

In my mind's eye, all of the flowers in our personal garden form a central path.  This central path leads to a unique flower that is unlike any other in existence, and would never be found here on Earth.  This flower would represent us.  No one else, just us.  All the other flowers in our personal garden channel energy into our personal Life Flower, keeping it healthy. 

With age, it is inevitable that people come and go.  Some leave this earthly plane early, at least to our human minds.  Our personal gardens are as those in nature - in a constant state of flux, with changes and shifts, birth, growth and death occurring.  The march of time causes our personal Life Flower to slowly...oh, so slowly, shed petals.  Sometimes those petals renew, and the Life Flower continues to flourish.

In the instances of terminal illness, I imagine that individual's personal garden experiences quite dramatic change.  I also can vividly picture their personal Life Flower becoming an equally profound depiction of their battle against that illness.  I would think the Life Flower would reflect all the physical struggles, all the emotions and fears that go unspoken.  Rather than this Life Flower becoming marked, or bruised or scarred, I can only visualize that it becomes more brilliantly beautiful, shining with an otherwordly purity, carrying a similar mien to that of a soldier in the midst of grim battle. 

Eventually, an end must come for all of us.  Our personal Life Flower will shed petals over time, slowly for some of us, abruptly and brutally for others.  In my own personal analogy, I believe that those fallen petals do not perish into proverbial dust.  I envision them drifting on that cosmic wind, guided by Love, to find their way to the Life Flowers of their loved ones.  Isn't that a wonderful thing to imagine?  That, just possibly, those fallen petals seek us out, those of us left to carry on and find a way to go forward alone, they drift until they find us, and they attach to our personal garden. 

This, many might say, is a fairytale of epic proportions.  I have no foundation for this concept other than my own, admittedly, fertile imagination.  The image of that single flower suspended in space, slowly releasing, one by one....Life Petals, is one that has popped into my mind's eye each time I have dealt with lingering, terminal illness.  Whether it makes sense to anyone else matters not to me; what does matter to me is that the thought brings me comfort.  Imagining that some small fragment of the true essence of someone I have loved never really leaves me makes me smile, and gives me a solid sense of inner peace. 

Perhaps one day I shall sit down and write out this different sort of fairytale, for I am curious to learn more of it.  This is one of those facets of being a writer that I cherish, because I am equally curious to learn the end of the story as my readers may be.  Questions certainly remain - where do all the petals shed over a lifetime go?  Do they swirl away on the wind, except for those precious few that seek out those that are left to continue living?  Do they form a carpeted path for us when our time comes, leading us in the right direction to reunite with those who have gone before us?  The story is unfinished at this time. 

I am left with how to close this blog.  It was prompted, in part, by the blog of a dear friend, bringing to the forefront of my mind an image and concept that has been softly chiming in the background, patiently waiting to be given voice.  How will this post be received?  I honestly have no idea, but again, I will choose to be brave, publish it and wait to see what responses come.  In the meantime, I will visit my own personal garden and gaze about me at the blessings, strewn in riotous color, then I shall gaze towards the center of my garden and recognize that my own Life Flower casts a bright glow.  For now, this is a fitting close.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tend your bucket!

After half a week full of interactions with various connections who displayed a strong level of negative traits and behaviors on various topics and in various ways, I had a conversation with my wonderful Mom on the phone.  As she always does, she listened, let me vent and just gave me that soft place to fall.  Once I calmed down from a rare moment of true, hot anger, we began discussing how this is one of those Life Lessons we all must learn - when to recognize that a relationship has become so out of balance that you're exhausting yourself with the maintenance of said relationship.

I mentioned to my Mom that the process begins to feel as though you're endlessly pouring water into a bucket that has a hole in the bottom.  For a while, if you work fast you can keep the water level high, but you can't ever rest.  Eventually the water level sinks and you have to rush to pour more water in.  Liken the water to your emotions, the bucket to the relationship and the hole at the bottom represents that other person, job, etc., that is in essence, draining you empty.

We all have moments, sometimes extended periods, where we aren't the best side of a given relationship.  Everyone has down times, bad days, grumpy days and low energy moments.  What I'm speaking of, however, is more than that.  I am discussing those relationships where you give and give and give, then you give some more, and you're patient, understanding, helpful, supportive, compassionate, caring and loving.  That other person is happy to soak it all up...all those wonderful things and all that sumptuous attention from you.  Who wouldn't?!  It's easy to be on the receiving end of all that nice, handy support!  If you're lucky, the majority of the people in your life are equally nurturing and supportive in return, giving you back ample amounts of the energy that you give.  Occasionally, and we all have had these types of relationships, there is that person who never gives back.

'Emotional vampire' is a term I have often used to describe this type of personality.  I wouldn't go so far as to call them 'bad', as I don't ascribe to the belief that people are completely or intrinsically evil for the most part.  I would describe them as broken vessels, or that bucket with the hole in the bottom.  Something has happened to them that has created an endless need for attention, and an utter lack of understanding of the notion of reciprocation.  'Fairweather friend' is another, similar term that would apply, as these people tend to be around and happy to bask in the sunshine of good days.  Conversely, these people tend to carry a dark storm cloud around with them! Usually, the moment adversity comes, or crisis happens, they vanish.  You hear from them when THEY are in a crisis in a heartbeat, of course, and they fully expect you to come running to their rescue.

Viewed from a calmer heart, I can write about this with humor, because it can be rather ironic to experience the extremes with these people.  Don't get me wrong, there are times when my own bucket springs a leak.  Most times when this happens, I can tend to that leak on my own and resume daily tasks.  Once in a while, the leak is rather impressive and requires some additional energy - a helping, loving hand.  I am not ashamed to reach out and ask for help at these moments, although I admit that this is a hard won lesson and wasn't easy to learn.  I am happy to say that I am blessed with loving, supportive family and friends whom I know I can depend on in times of need.  I know this because they tend to their own buckets on a daily basis.

They are well balanced and able to both give and receive love, care and support, and they are emotionally available and present in their friendships and family relationships.  Of course, no one walking the planet is perfect and without flaws.  I've said many times that it would be a sad, dull world if we were perfect.  We're here to learn and grow, after all.  Some days we soar and other days we take spectacular nose dives. 

This tending to your own personal bucket is an analogy for being responsible for your actions.  Those simple rules we're taught as a child work very well throughout life; Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.  If you're having a day where your bucket has sprung a leak, take a moment to look at it and identify the cause.  Be kind to yourself, forgive whatever actions were done to cause the leak to occur, and then apply a steady hand to repairing the leak.  Look about you afterwards to ascertain if your leak may have caused damage to anyone else.  Did your bucket spray all over others unwittingly?  If so, acknowledging that you had a rotten day and sincerely explaining that you're sorry can be magical and healing. 

Simply be mindful of your actions.  That sounds much easier than the true reality, as we all know!  There will be days that you need that helping hand to patch the leaks on your bucket; there will be different days where you need help replenishing the water in your bucket.  There is no shame in turning to family and friends for help in recharging your heart and filling you back up with love.  The only true sadness that I find in this situation is dealing with individuals who simply take and use eternally.

When you finally reach your point of exhaustion - and you will reach it! - when you're just too tired to make one more trip to the well to pour water into that other person's bucket for them, when you are personally drained dry and cannot summon the energy to be there for them one more time, you will be ready to walk away and leave them to their own devices.  This may hurt to do it, and you will probably worry for a while about that person.  Who is filling their bucket daily?  How are they repairing all those leaks that keep springing?  What if their bucket runs dry?

The answer is, suprisingly, if any or all of the above happen, consider it a blessing for that person and an opportunity for them to finally take responsibility for their own existence.  It can be a harsh lesson to learn when your bucket is abandoned and runs dry and you're left standing there with no idea what to do next. 

If you have reached that point yourself, I encourage you to resist the urge to fall back into old habits and run to the next available person to refill your bucket and take on the task of keeping it filled.  Try filling it yourself.  Just try.  See what happens and how you feel.  Notice how much energy it takes to keep that bucket full, what with the constant rushing to and fro with another bucket to accomplish the task.  You'll quickly realize it takes a lot of energy!  Now, step back, regroup, and find a method to patch the leaks in your bucket.  Refill it with water and see how strong your patch is. 

Sometimes your patch will hold strong and true.  Other times you'll have to do it several times, just like allowing a wound to heal, before the patch finally holds.  Most of us recognize the solid sense of satisfaction that is found in tending to our own buckets.  We grow as individuals when we take these actions into our own hands, and over time, our buckets spring fewer and fewer leaks. 

I like to think at some point that they begin to morph from your garden variety galvanized bucket to something a bit more refined.  Perhaps a shinier bucket, or a crystal vase, maybe something fashioned out of elegant woven materials  - I imagine that each transformation is unique to each person and their vessel represents their personality.  My vessel would definitely be an amphorae - a pottery jar or urn of ancient Greek or Mesopotamian design.  This shape has always pleased my eye.  But I digress.

What began as a way to blow off some frustration about a relationship that I have identified as one that is no longer viable has shifted gears and journeyed to this matter of tending to your own bucket.  I recognized today that this relationship has been a successive odyssey of me filling someone else's bucket that has a huge hole in the bottom as well as multiple leaks all around it.  I recognized that I have been exhausting myself with this relationship and it is time to walk away and allow that proverbial bucket to run dry.  Its owner will either learn to tend to it, or they will not. 

The other important thought to express is that if you do allow yourself to get sucked into these one-sided relationships, while you are busy tending to that other person's bucket, your own vessel is being neglected.  The water is getting stagnant, the metal is possibly rusting, maybe the handle has become less secure.  It is imperative that we tend to ourselves, my friends!  A healthy 'home', or 'vessel' will support you and allow you to be the vital, beautiful, generous, loving Spirit that you are.  A neglected vessel will cause you to falter.  Of the many lessons sprinkled throughout this blog, perhaps this is the most dramatic to remember.  Be kind to others, of a certainty.  Express love, care, compassion, support and all other manner of emotions to those around you.  At the same time, be mindful of surrounding yourself with those who cheerfully give those emotions in return on a regular basis.  Seek balance in all things! 

In so doing, your personal bucket will stay in Tip Top condition, and your radiance will broadcast to the world around you.  I think we all want to be viewed as someone who exhibits all those wonderful traits listed above.  We all want to be appreciated for the content of our character and for the quality of our actions.  A well tended bucket makes for a healthy person!  It sounds a bit far fetched and bizarre as far as analogies go, but I find it a very sound concept.  Perhaps if you're fortunate, your diligent care of your personal bucket will attract something like this wee creature...the Lady Bug.  I find her to be a positive note to end this blog.  A cheerful nod and benediction from Mother Nature and God/Universe that your bucket is sound and and well tended.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It isn't Writer's Block

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been on a break of sorts from blogging recently.  Nothing has been wrong to cause this.  Life, as it often does, has gotten in the way to a certain extent.  Beyond that, however, I've had an extended 'moment' of...something.  I have said it before and it bears repeating that I am not a daily blogger.  I write when inspiration strikes and enjoy that particular personal rhythm, as it works for me in my own peculiar manner.  When inspiration doesn't strike, I simply don't write.  Again, it works for me.  It is, however, a bit unusual for inspiration to be on such an extended vacation.  What I have discovered, over the years, is that this isn't Writer's Block, per se.  For me, it is a pause of sorts...a pause, a breath held for long moments, waiting for magic to enter.  And it always does.

Most writers would label this the creeping monster of doubt known as the aforementioned and dreaded Writer's Block.  I don't identify it as that, but I will admit to being quite aware of a different pace of sorts causing a hitch in my normal writing rhythm.  I also admit that as time stretched on with no familiar burning need to write thoughts out in blog article format, I did begin to question what was taking place.  Being the researching, analyzing personality that I am, I studied this experience from all angles.  Poked at it.  Nudged it sideways.  Shifted it a fraction of an inch that way, then back again.  Walked away from it for days only to return and regard it through occasionally narrowed, contemplative eyes.

Finally, this morning, I had had enough.  Time to joust with this unruly, temperamental, irregular jog to my writing stride.  "Don't worry so much, just sit down and write," I have often suggested to writing students that I have coached.  I know this to be a valuable bit of advice, as it can be helpful to knock loose the logjam of thoughts in every writer's mind.  Once you begin writing, it can magically open up the floodgates and inspiration once more comes rushing forward.  So, adopting a 'physician, heal thyself' philosophy, I began musing with much more intent than I have implemented in the past month.  And suddenly, before even setting fingertips to keyboard to begin the writing process, the thought occurred.

Perhaps we have all inaccurately tossed the cold, sterile phrase of Writer's Block around as a throwaway concept.  Perhaps it isn't a block at all.  I have written in a past blog about the concept of useful limbo, as I experienced that very thing in the recent past.  I believe there are definitely moments in our lives where God/Universe intentionally isolates us in order to forcefully focus our minds in a direction we would otherwise never have time to notice and open up to.  This, I boldly suggest, is that ephemeral moment, that opening up to allow magic to flow and embrace the writer's mind.

I have been experiencing what I would now identify as a mini-useful-limbo stage.  It definitely has not been a block of any kind in regard to writing, as my mind and imagination have been as fertile and active as they always are.  Indeed, there are stacks and lists and jotted notes in abundance waiting to be completed and given voice in blog format.  They just aren't ready yet.  My mind, my Spirit has been attending to another task.  And in the process, I have stumbled across the novel concept - to me, at least - that there truly is no such thing as 'writer's block' in the concrete sense of the description.  How liberating for writers the world over to revise their definition of this moment when their pens refuse to write, when the thoughts refuse to flow, when inspiration is is not a block, it is a sabbatical! 

By definition, as is my wont and love of words:
Webster's Dictionary describes the word 'sabbatical' as 1) an adjective, meaning of or relating to a sabbatical year; or as 2) a noun, meaning a leave or break or change from a normal routine or employment; or again as 3) a noun, meaning a year of rest for the land observed every seventh year in ancient Judea.  (
I think we are all aware that life is a series of neverending cycles, of beginnings, middle stages and endings.  Curiously, I have noted over the years that my own life tends to run on periods of 5 - 7 year cycles.  I recognized a little over two years ago that I was in the midst of a new cycle and with that huge chunk of grander change, I am also aware that there are mini-cycles taking place.  This most recent one has been that sabbatical of sorts where, I am now aware, my psyche has been doing some necessary shifting.  Adjusting, realigning, perhaps disposing of certain patterns that no longer serve me well, and embracing new patterns that have fresh, strong purpose.  This is an inward journey for some, and others choose to physically travel the world and discover themselves outwardly.

All of this is time consuming, but while I am in the midst of the process, time seems to slow down and stretch, as though I am in a slight time warp.  Where normally I might be jittery and a bit impatient, not wanting to lose momentum with my blog following, the stronger pull has been to honor this mini-sabbatical.  In the back of my mind, something is resonating softly but with bright purpose and I know it requires clear energy and full attention to bring it together into a cohesive melding.  Do I know what all this means?  No, I really don't.  That may sound a bit off kilter, as I have dedicated a full blog post to talking about what I am experiencing. 

I guess I could've whittled this down to a few simple paragraphs that said I have recently taken a mini-sabbatical from blog posts.  It would be true, but it wouldn't have allowed me to go on this winding trail of self-discovery.  It also wouldn't have allowed me to write this stream of consciousness that I often find turns out some true gems.  And to be a bit self-deprecating, I admit it wouldn't have been half as much fun, half as enjoyable as sharing my thoughts in this manner, here, with you.  I like to think that many of my friends and readers enjoy going on these jaunts with me in written format, meandering the long way around and about the proverbial Back 40 before reaching the destination.  Some days that destination is clear and I know where we'll end up, but more often the journey brings me to a different 'home' each time. 

As I'm writing this, part of my mind is noticing that this post bears quite strong resemblance to a couple of past posts.  My writer's preference is to never repeat myself - it's just a personal peeve, but this time I'm going to go ahead and give this one voice.  I am posting it because I recognize that sometimes repetition occurs in our lives for the very simple purpose of imprinting a lesson.  Commonly held belief is that doing something 21 times creates a pattern of habit in our brains.  I cannot argue with the thought that a bit of repetition on a common theme in blog posts might help not only me, but maybe click for other people who read this post and compare it to past blog posts that have been steps in this mental reflection of mine.  So, I will write this one and post it and see where it resonates, and what results occur.

This time it has brought me to the realization that for me, at least, right this moment in this past month of curious inactivity from a writing standpoint, it hasn't been writer's block.  It has been a spiritual sabbatical that has allowed my Soul to do some honing and refining.  Where I will admit that I was beginning to question the possibility of some true manifestation of blocking, instead I sit here, writing and smiling as I embrace a much friendlier, useful description.  Not writer's block.  Instead, a pause for magic!  Maybe a lull...but better adapted as a sabbatical.  I like it, and I think it will become a new phrase in my personal library.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


We are all a sum of our formative years.  If we're fortunate, we were surrounded by loving parents, grandparents and extended family that weave together a fabric of care, support, encouragement and guidance.  The time of year is spring and my thoughts always turn to home, up on the side of a ridge in East Tennessee.  I am drawn back home to walk the fields and see the flowers blooming, and revisit the places of my childhood.

I speak often about my large, loving family.  We were fortunate to live next door to my maternal Grandparents; in southern terms, just across the field.  Further down the lane was my Great Aunt Carrie's house.  Aunt Carrie and her mother raised flowers to sell downtown on Market Square at the turn of the century...early 1900's.  I have described in past blog articles that during my childhood, the remnants of all of those flower beds still existed all around our combined properties.  I learned all manner of information and details about flowers, gardening and the old ways of tending the land from these relatives.

For me, this was part of the quiet strength of my own foundation.  My Grandfather was a farmer who raised tobacco for a living, among other jobs.  Because he was raised around flowers, he had an appreciation for them that continued throughout his life.  When springtime would approach, he would often take us with him to the Farmer's Co-op to buy seeds for spring planting.  Or, if you happened to be visiting their house on the days in the fall when the seed catalogs came in the mail, you sometimes could sit quietly in his lap and peruse all the colorful pages of flowers and vegetables and 'help' plan for the following season's crops. 

My Grandfather was a hard person, with his own set of struggles and faults, but he was a very good grandparent.  One year when I was still small, we were outside playing and heard Grandpa's tractor start up.  This was the signal to race across the field and investigate what exciting, interesting task was on the day's agenda.  That morning, Grandpa was tilling and seeding the fields between our house and his.  When we approached, asking for the inevitable tractor ride, he obliged, taking each of us up on his lap for a turn around the field.

I can remember that so clearly, to this very day.  Sitting there on his lap, surrounded by his arms, watching his large, work worn hands on the wheel of the tractor.  It is one of the most secure feelings I believe I have ever felt, just being blissfully happy to be with him, experiencing riding on the tractor, chattering away, occasionally making him laugh.  When my turn on the tractor came to an end, he helped me down, then knelt next to me and pulled packets of seeds from the front pocket of his overalls.  The pictures on the seed packets were of daisies, all colors and varieties.  There had to have been a good 100 packets, as the fields were large that he was tending.  Grandpa told me the seeds had been on sale at the Farmer's Co-op and he decided he would buy them for me.  Just me.  It is important to note here that there are 27 grandchildren (my first cousins) in the family, so one child being singled out was not common.  Yet my Grandpa did this with us at various times.  He would take my brother hunting, show my sister how to use woodworking tools and he would share flowers with me and my Mom.

That year, the fields were sewn with a combination of hay and all those thousands of daisy seeds.  It looked like something out of a movie when the flowers bloomed...white ones, pink ones, yellow, pale blue...and a few black-eyed Susans scattered about.  I would come home with arm loads of bouquets daily, there were so many of them blooming. 

Why is this important enough to write a blog article about it?  I could say it is as simple as it being a lovely childhood memory and that would be true. I could leave it there and this would still be an enjoyable post to write and read.  Yet it was more than that.  Growing up in a home with an absent father, my Grandpa became our primary father figure.  In later years this would also grow to encompass all five of my Uncles, but to begin with, my Grandpa was my first male hero. 

That one summer where he did something that he probably didn't spend much time thinking about, was a moment where I was shown that small gestures matter.  It was also a moment where I felt loved in that unique manner that all small children accept as their due.  I was loved, cherished and cared for to the point that this busy, oftentimes gruff and brusque man took time to do something whimsical and thoughtful in a manner he knew would absolutely delight my little girl's heart.

As the years went forward, he would bring flower bulbs to my Mom and I to plant around our property.  Sometimes they were the old fashioned, familiar flowers such as daffodils, muscaris (we called them miniature grape hyacinths), peonies, hydrangeas, and my favorite flower, Lily of the Valley.  Occasionally they would be something that caught his eye because they were unusual.  It was his awkward, silent way of showing us he cared, I think.  Now, as an adult, when springtime approaches the Tennessee Valley and everything blooms fresh and new, I feel a sense of closeness to my roots.  When I see everything greening up and all the flowers blooming, I automatically reconnect with those childhood memories.

Scents and music are the strongest triggers for memories, so it is no small wonder that I am most at home during the spring and summer months.  When life is fast paced and hectic, I think we all revisit those quiet moments in our minds.  Clearly in my mind will always be the bright memory of a little girl standing next to a tall Grandpa with his hands full of flower seed packets, and a sweet moment just for that one little girl.  It reminds me that I am loved unconditionally and that the size of the field where those flowers were sewn that spring, vast and endless to a child's eye, represented a wide open vista.  Even at that young an age, I was aware of underlying messages that God/Universe sends us.  That day, the message was simple.  "You are loved."  And it was spelled out in daisies from the hand of a Grandpa to a Granddaughter. 

As an adult, I have carried that moment with me, deep in my memories and heart.  I have paid the moment forward regularly, paying attention to small things that matter to those around me.  I am a sum of my childhood and my life experiences, and it makes me smile to finish this specific post and realize that once again, the reason so many people comment on my loving nature is because of the solid foundation I was given in childhood.

If you are reading this blog post, take a moment to cast your mind back and find a special memory to focus on where you felt that same warm blanket of love surrounding you.  It may not be from your childhood; indeed, it could be from a week ago, but if you take a moment to concentrate, you will find it.  With enough time and thought, you will find many such moments, for you are equally beautiful and equally deserving of the message, spelled out in daisies or in colorful script, or in nice, simple clean lines...that....You Are Loved.