Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: The View You Seek

Yachats trip, last day 118
All photographs by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

This life as we imagine it draws breath,
expands and shrinks as is required, while
a universe births and thrives in a water drop.
It is a signal of more, a homily for humility.
Yet the scramble of cogitation thrills us and
we are diverted into mazes, veering off course.
Angst-ridden inquiry tends toward dead ends.

Try instead a pilgrimage of quietude.
Be chased and adorned by salty tang of sea,
let spontaneous wind usurp the worry, fear.
It matters less that you win a solution
and more that a stream of tawny or aqua sky
slips over the aching slope of your shoulders.
Any thoughts you hold close will captivate you.

This cave brought you here to lead you from
yourself, mend cracks and knots you’ve sustained
as has this earth with its eons of wisdom, power, beauty.
Why do you hope to find an enduring answer
within ego’s declarative restraints, its petty smallness?
Sit awhile with volcanic sand and agate, crab and whale,
wave and wing, the headland a bulwark against storms.

Visions and knowledge arise and find you here;
your compass trembles, horizon shines, skin sighs.
The soul does not need to solve one single thing,
nor travel fast or far to find its truth and be at home.
It feels familiar because it has made a place here, in you.

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Living Strong, Living Whole


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At the gym I start to think about the Olympics, my primary spectator sport. I am excited about the athletic prowess I will witness but try to follow each difficult and elegant move of Tai Chi in my class. Then I work up a dripping sweat on a treadmill. I have brought a psychologically probing mystery (Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street) to read as I briskly walk. I once made the mistake of responding to someone who had something to say about everything. Talking and power walking do not mix well.

I glance around at the end of a chapter. Twenty men and women, mostly past forty, are huffing their way towards a goal. I like the environment there. No flashy decor, no semi-pros or perfectly proportioned folks to daunt the rest of us. Twenty-five years ago I had engaged in intense weight training, so understand the propelling desire. But in this gym we still mean business. Not even close to that territory Olympians occupy much less the same mental zone, granted, but still, it counts. I am grateful to be among those who take ordinary well-being seriously, no matter fitness level. I attend Zumba weekly, dancing and working with concentration and pleasure. I appreciate the eighty year old woman who is more excited and committed than younger attendees.

But I have to tell you, the tightly packed rooms, the sounds of thunderous feet on treadmills and harsh clunks of barbells, the raucous redundancy of stationary bicycle wheels–all this gets to me if I stay too long. I work two hours to make it worth the fees. By midway I am wishing the televisions would die and I was hiking in the woods. Couldn’t there at least be a video of a trail through the forest or across a mountain meadow instead of CNN or a game show? Hence, another reason for a book. But I long to be outdoors. I engage in this extra fitness routine only at the behest of my cardiologist.

I wrapped it up a bit early in the morning. I had heard we were getting snow in Portland, a wild event. The rest of the country has been wrestling with polar vortexes, but Oregon has been in good shape, sunny and dry for weeks. Daffodils already arisen from the earth. Snowdrop flowers shimmering amidst forever-green grass. This winter the rain has been a bit scarce and I have missed it. But, really, snow?

It hit me as soon as I walked out the doors of the gym: snow swirling and stinging my face; that bright, sharp scent; flakes landing on eyelashes, melting into damp spots on my cheeks. I caught my breath. Wind drew my long hair across my face as I unlocked the car.

And I was transported to Michigan, thrust back to my youth.

Even though I, like my siblings, was studious, focused on developing musical abilities and given to somber introspection, I had an abiding need to be outdoors. Like children everywhere, I loved my serviceable bike, a blue Schwinn, and traversed streets and sidewalks, excited as a world traveler. My legs needed to stretch and sprint. Although not formally involved in track and field (though I did race–and often beat–the boys in our elementary schoolyard) I challenged myself, running races with friends. Neighborhood games were spontaneous: “kick the can”, “red rover, red rover”, playing baseball, volleyball and badminton. We had to move. Not even television snared us for long. The big maple in my back yard was a favored refuge–like a jungle gym and a good spot for the swing. It was a mountain to conquer. I was fascinated by trapeze artists. I dreamed of their routines, hands to hands or feet across treacherous gaps of space, then tried out moves on rings and swinging bars at parks. It felt amazing.

Ice skating called to me at six or seven. I found the speed exhilarating and mildly dangerous. The dancerly movements mesmerized. I had studied dance, felt deep kinship. Before long I was studying figure skating, performing at times, competing. It demanded discipline. Built stamina and increased courage, not only physically but emotionally, mentally. Nothing but feverish illness could keep me off the rudimentary outdoor rink, the snow a backdrop to challenging figures, falls and successes. On skates I was lifted beyond all cares, and felt free, powerful, joyous. This enchantment lasted until I was about fifteen, when life distracted me, and music had become more time-consuming and crucial to me. But I skated when I could. To this day, lacing my skates up at the side of a rink brings a thrill. And once on the ice this world falls away; I am granted entry to another kingdom.

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When I got home and watched snow drift and whiten our emerald city, I was taken back to years of tobogganing. The two icy runs in the deep greenery in City Forest were fast. Waxing the underside of the wooden toboggan augmented speed significantly. My mother was worried we would fly off and break our heads. Some occasionally did fly off; I was lucky. Four or five of us would squeeze close, hold on to the one in front and when pushed off would howl and scream our lungs out. The rush was beautiful, well worth bumps and bruises, the aching hands uncovered and slowly heated up in the warming house.

I more completely lived outdoors, or so it seems in retrospect.  I pondered life plenty, practiced cello and voice, studied for tests and topics of my choice, wrote poetry and stories, drew things and worried about surviving that netherworld of adolescence. For me, it was like trying to navigate quick sand. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse kept secret, back then I was haunted while asleep and dogged by its specter by day as I also resolved to meet standards set by a high-achieving family and an unusual town that was full of exceptional people. It was critical to move beyond myself and to vacate the confines of artificial place, to further call on Spirit as well as my senses to realign life. I had a wound from which soul and life bled. It had to heal. Delving into the complex organic world and finding my place in it assuaged grief, granted grace often. Even saved me.

I knew that being fully present while developing strength and reflexes, balance and agility held power that nothing else could offer. I felt it as a child and youth; everything worked right. I explored a small woods that was a maze of elegant birches and other deciduous trees, weaving through trails brushed with sunlight and shadow. The creek that ran through it and beyond was a gentling presence as I studied blooming things and rocks and gathered leaves. Sang back to birds. Tracked garter snakes through weeds. I also daily visited the tree nursery just behind our place. There were hours of uninterrupted sanctuary and play. Staff nodded and smiled, my co-conspirators.

I had other playgrounds where work also determined my time. I spent several summers as an arts student at National Music Camp, known as Interlochen, in northern Michigan’s forested lake lands. It took who I was and shaped me more deeply and broadly. It gave me a literal steady ground from which to better launch my life. It was a place where dreams came to fruition more each day, with extra gifts of  lake living, the trees a canopy of delights. Music flows from and returns to the Creator outdoors.

God, ever near, spoke to me more clearly outside, in that wordless language of Spirit. I experienced how well my body served me even if there was also pain in having one. Senses bring knowledge, build skills. Conditioning of mind and body result from discovering possibilities and pushing limits. Sports and play were then, and are now, good ways to learn. Courage arises when we are at our most weakened. This was surprising to me as a youth.

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As human beings, we are built to fight for what matters most; we are made to embrace the difficult as well as the blissful. I was not going to fail because I was unwilling to take a chance, to seek a better way. To find the holiness in the midst of the unholy is the way I choose to live. There is nothing between me and a life lived well but what I put there. Wholeness is our birthright.

I hiked at a state park a couple weeks ago, before we imagined snow coming. I left my husband behind, I confess. The hilly trails and giant moss-clothed trees beckoned like dear companions. My heart beat hard. Birdsong imbued the air with ethereal communiques. Sunlight drifted into microcosms and macrocosms and onto me as though a welcoming hand. I was profoundly at peace, as always.

I can now see the snow accumulating beneath a lamppost. Someone is cross country skiing in an otherwise empty street. Her long strides are efficient and smooth. I am envious. I remember that and snowshoeing at a place called Rattail Lake. It was one of those weekends full of friends, snow, a roaring fire and late night philosophizing. We were bold college students, aflame with life. We thought we had forever. But that reminiscence brings me back to an abiding passion, ice skating. It is time to get out there again, skim that field of ice, revel in the guidance of body and soul as they liberate joy.

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Eyes to See

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The morning was bleaker than it had been in weeks. Fog had arrived in a villainous blur, then crept through the blinds. I glanced a second time at the clock, then yanked the quilt over my head. Tiredness clogged my brain; it begged for a longer time out. I drifted and awakened, drifted, awakened. I was trying to get comfortable on the tightrope between waking and dreaming, to put off the inevitability of daylight and its requisites.

Then dangerous thoughts erupted: No reason to get up; dreams are preferable; besides, you are getting older every second and what do you have to do? In fact, what is there to show for all your efforts up to this moment?  I enumerated chores and errands as well as writing goals ahead of me. They seemed insignificant. Why even write? Who actually cares? What are you DOING with your life? The taunts brought forth an overpowering urge to do…as little as possible. I peered between the blinds and found the fog in communion with the black hole of my ruminations.

Well, almost. I looked again. Billions of chilled molecules of water gathered pallid light and illuminated air from inside out. The fog being hovered, mysterious. I opened the window a half inch and smelled the delicious cold. Then vacated the warmth entirely.

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Another day to greet if not welcome with open arms. Enter here but be forewarned. Remnants of negative energy trailed my footsteps. I thought briefly of ODAP, the acronym for “Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities”, widely known to those familiar with AA. How ODAP can sit on one’s shoulder, dispensing sabotaging directives.

Not going to a job every day can be sweet but harbors pitfalls. I have to be mindful of booby traps, like those in old jungle movies: if I am not paying attention I can end up dangling upside down, on my way to a snake hole. Other than accepting that there is no paycheck for my toil and isolation is more familiar than it has been for years, I am supposed to be having fun. And awakening with a lovely sense of few-and-far-between pressures. A lack of critical usefulness to which, finally, I am entitled. But time has shown me that, to paraphrase Pogo the possum, “I have met the enemy, and the enemy is me.” I forgot I knew that before. But I had been too busy working, with family and managing a household for forty-five years to dissect who I was every single day.

There are times in our lives when we need a full inspection, to root out the weak spots and shore up the mightier ones. In early recovery I was instructed to take a personal inventory daily to become truly honest with myself and others. It wasn’t easy but not so taxing; I still practice it in some form. I’ve long been enamored of introspection and self-analysis. Raised to be responsible for my actions, I knew how to track the good, not-so-good and unacceptable aspects of my life and personhood. In fact, I thought too much for my own good, so my mother noted. It was a luxury people could ill afford if they were engaged in achieving something. She was right in that, though a dreamer at heart, action made me happier. But I didn’t quite get it as a youth. Many years of being introspective to the point of burn-out clarified her statement. What she really meant was self-analysis can border on self-obsession, which comes to no good. Such as selfishness, or narcissism in therapeutic language. I didn’t want that.

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I thought of these things as I struggled through the internal charcoal palette of the morning. “Blue” it was not; blue implies a tinge of bitter-sweetness. This was not that. By noon I had concluded I had little good to offer and nothing decent I might yet accomplish. How can one get to my age and not have blazed trails I envisioned at sixteen? All this, partly resultant of a year of mini failures added to unforeseen challenges. Dissatisfaction with little successes. But it also came with the transition into another stage of life. And having way too much time alone. My head was a neighborhood I needed to vacate more often.

So I went to the park. There is almost nothing a good walk cannot alleviate and I walk daily. I took my camera and started to shoot, as usual. I felt peace elbow out the dis-ease. Creatures both human and otherwise cavorted and chattered. Rested and worked. I watched sunlight melt away fog and reveal colors of the Northwest in winter. There were kids practicing for track and couples arm in arm. Trees presided over all with stolid strength. Green shoots broke through dirt. Everywhere were stories of earth’s old ways and lives being lived.

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It may seem rudimentary but suddenly it came to me that I have these eyes to see. Not just to record, but really see life. They are one of numerous gifts of the body that can create and bridge whole worlds. Sensory data enters the brain’s alchemical laboratory and informs me. But my eyes also are a bridge from my own internal world–my particular ways of observing and responding–to the greater world with its moving complexity. What if, I thought, we are also given vision–and our other senses–in order to profoundly align us with all that is is just outside our skin and, thus, to save us from scrappy egos that meddle? To keep us closely attached to the earth we share, this planet we call home. So we can more often stay out of our own way. We can then forget our aloneness, recall our universality. Remember the compelling qualities of life that we  often want to divide and compartmentalize. Try to control. Personalize and dramatize when it isn’t remotely necessary.

I speculated what it would be like to have eyes that looked only inward and shuddered. The walk lasted over an hour and gratitude for sight increased. I wondered what it would be like if my vision one day fails me. I suppose other senses will come forward more, to the rescue. Our bodies are made to fit our needs. At least I have been blessed with basic operational requirements, if they’ve sometimes sputtered and paused.

Taking action is what I can do to change my life daily. Once more my vision scanned the horizon, allowing healthy escape and refreshment. It was opening a window when spiritual suffocation was threatening. My walks take me out of a cramped habitation–this mind that can stir up trouble–so I discover conduits to finer wonders again. With these eyes, I can see but what and how I perceive is a choice. And without fail, there is God within and without, my sure compass wherever I go. The path again clears.

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Being Here is a Dream of Love: the first story

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“Remember when you could take a step and be carried above the clouds? The worlds below and above would change into something new as you travelled. It seemed like a giant safety net was always there. And all around us were others, moving along, some flying and diving. And we spoke nothing but understood.”

Radya chattered away as she inspected the tiny yellow petals of a dandelion she had found by their shack. She shouldn’t have picked it–there were no others around–but it was so homely, but she liked that. Bright and round, like an orb of sun, it was worth admiration.

She found Lanay shaking out the extra water from a shirt. They were at the river the second time this week, washing themselves and their clothes. There had been more rain than usual, so everything had been muddied.

Radya reached up and tucked the cheerful flower behind her sister’s ear. “Guess we will smell good after all this washing.”

“This mess–just a nuisance,” Lanay said. “Yes, of course, I remember that much. But what we need to talk about today is the possibility of going somewhere drier and warmer. Dusty air would be delightful after so much mud and slime.”

“Back to our doomed Ketterin, by any chance?”

Lanay threw her a look. She knew she missed her ordinary life there, the school, the friends. So did she. Her younger sister was more naïve, but surely Radya had to know they were not going back there. Ketterin was the place they were least welcome, a city of scientific institutions and ideas that verged on militant, of technological wonders to dazzle the poor brain. People were getting used to plugging in every apparatus and entertainment to be functioning and alive. More and more were absorbed in the unreal of this world, whether electronics or other material magic. Whatever numbed them to the greater needs of this planet beckoned. She had watched friends languish in increasingly small and singular mind-body spaces and it scared her. She felt the pull, herself. It was so easy to forget.

“Ketterin? Of course not. The barreness made it too hot; trees were taken when it wasn’t necessary. Besides, you know why we left. It wasn’t safe. There is no turning back. No, I need good even heat. The rain forests here either block or absorb the sun’s energies. I feel less like myself. I want the sunlight to cover me like it used to–remember? Light that never diminished, even inside gradations of dark within slits, foldings and tunnels.” She caught herself then, and scanned the woods. There was no reason to believe they weren’t okay here, but who could be certain? Who that they didn’t discern might hear or see them trying to survive here? But nothing felt wrong. “South, maybe New Mexico or Arizona. But we need a pass first and that will take some thought.”

Radya dug her toes into the damp earth. “We are here because of me. I was not silent enough and the wrong ones paid attention. But I don’t understand why they can live without memory of home. I can’t stop thinking of it. They need to remember what they have chosen to forget. They know something is missing. We could all be happy…”

She walked into the green-blue Botha River; cold water nearly numbed her feet. The currents swirled between layers of rocks and left traces of sweetness. She picked up an oval grey stone and put it to her lips. The water sang to Radya of the mysterious spring and with that came otherings, those bright-winged bearers of kindness. The momentary entry into her soul’s home base clarified her mind.

She brought the rock to her lips, then took it to Lanny. She placed it on Lanay’s cheek. “Here, the elements kiss you and give you gentle heat. The water is well, sister. But not for long; it will grow sour. We need to leave before summer’s end. The pass holder is Jacques Armente. He will know what to do.”

The stone was so warm on Lanay’s skin it filled her head with humming. She took Radya into her arms and held her close. “Little light, thank you. I know what you say is true. But beware your words even here. We are growing in number but not yet enough. We never know who is our enemy.”

“But I do.” Radya pulled back and looked at Lanay deeply until their eyes blurred and became deep pools of shimmering space. She entered Lanay’s consciousness and took them beyond, to the spinning colors and most radiant darkness, music radiating from every even imagined movement, all beings of beauty connected by the universal family.

Remember, Radya intoned without speaking. Do not forget we are creatures of universes within universes. We have no enemies save who we decide to make enemies while we are here. This is a dream of love. We have been gifted these bodies to bring the One back into this earthly consciousness. We will find our way. Be at peace, sister.

Lanny felt her hands loosening their grip on her sister’s arms and she fell away, eyes wide but focused. “Stop, Radya! It hurts to recall what we cannot fully become here! Why must you still be in possession of the knowing? Let me be, at least for the rest of this day.”

Radya felt a heaviness shadow her, but she gave her attention to the woods and saw birds nesting and birds desiring to fly higher, heard  animals seek nourishment and rest, felt the air thicken and stir as more rain gathered on tails of wind. But she wasn’t ready for the music that roared in like a powerful chorus. Radya held her hands out to catch it as her human eyes sought the sky. Yes, she was young here but perhaps that was why she was less ready to accept defeat in this place. They still had ways and means; here there was time.

She pointed toward the celestial spheres that were not quite visible to the human eye. But she saw, and knew there were others, too, with their eyes raised, and some looking back. “Lanay, look.”

High above the trees spun a fiery circle emanating every color of the rainbow as it flared. It revolved, twisted and turned into the infinity sign, a manifestation of the One. It transformed into an everlasting and inestimable ribbon of light, then spun brilliant white-gold filaments that spread to every destination and soul, a phantasmagoria of light radiating perfect love.

They stayed close to each other but it was not fear that rose up, but relief.  The thrill of ancient joy. The energy they needed was coming through, was enlivening every sinew and synapse of their human bodies and brains.

Lanny spoke first. “I so easily forget I am more than this flesh. The veil lifts despite my stubborn resistance. I do remember why we are here. And we are responsible for what happens next on this path.”

“Yes,” Radya said. “We let love speak. We simply help the others to remember the souls we all are and will ever be. We are the fortunate ones; we can retain consciousness.”

Radya watched the last of the great light diminish and float into a far distance that, in truth, was so very near with its dauntless love. The eternal Presence invigorated her. She and Lanay could get on with their work.

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Rain Talk

My favorite beach spot in Oregon is Yachats, but Oceanside, on the northern coast, nestles nicely into its own hillside and bluff. Whether it is crouched in deep fog or illuminated by a dozen gradations of light, it asserts a homey beauty. As you round the last bend that descends to the ocean, it reels you in, saying: come. So we have, for twenty-five years and counting, walking the lazy length of beach, exploring the nooks and crannies between rocky protuberances. Out to sea a bit rise the Three Arch Rocks, housing for bird colonies. Our lengthy treasure hunts net milky-white, yellow and amber agates that are pleasing to eye and palm. Sometimes we sit on the driftwood and admire surfers as they patiently wait for a good wave. Climbing the huge rocks are a standard bit of exericse. There is a tunnel that cuts through the headland that we like to follow to another side of the beach. This visit, I carefully navigated water-covered rocks in the near-darkness until I reached the end. I watched from the opening as the tide surged forward and the sky brightened, the rain eased.  It was as if a small doorway opened to yet another heavenly place.

We have stayed at both condos and a place that perches high atop the headland. This time we decided to finally try small motel that sits closer to the sea, right in the village. It offered an efficiency apartment-style room, which meant we could dine in, as we prefer. We made reservations in late August for mid-October, knowing the weather could turn from carefree to dour and chilly, plain ole wet. That is just one more mood of the coast that we love.

And it did just that: rained and rained. From misty breezes to downpours that drummed against the roof and swept across the balcony of the room, the rain dominated day and night. Marc traversed the beach alone the first morning as I slept luxuriously late. He returned thoroughly saturated from sea and rain. “Just a little damp,” he smiled, although pants and jacket were draped, dripping, in front of an electric wall heater. He showed me a handful of rocks he rescued from the beach. After a late brunch, we ventured out on a short shopping jaunt, admiring the slick red- and yellow-leafed trees among the conifers, the cows, horses and deer unperturbed by the weather.  We returned to our spot in the afternoon, glad to be back.

We refilled our coffee mugs and settled down on the couch with sandwiches. For a time neither of us spoke much. The water drilled the roof and battered the windows; the wind swept across the sea. The tide rolled in, then gradually retreated.  We watched from the warm quietude. Shadows were nearly indiscernable; the last fingers of light pulled back quickly.

The soothing rainy rhythms crowded out stray thoughts, our feet touching, our heads bent over reading materials. Marc worked on Sudoku puzzles, then read a history of the Cascades, a book he always seemed to take on trips. I poured over the latest Smithsonian magazine, although four other books lay nearby. It’s our belief that one can never pack too many reading materials.

As we read on, we sporadically shared what we found amusing or intriguing, tidbits of fact and myth, a small feasting on ideas. We discussed beauty in a variety of forms and functions, from mathematics to NASA’s Hi-C telescopic images of the Sun’s corona and the curious study of pulchronomics, or the connection between beauty and economics. We laughed over “pulchritudinous”, as it seems such an unpleasant word to refer to beauty. Brain function was brought up as I read to Marc about neuroscience chiming in on how the brain processes art. A poem was offered.

Time vanished as the light diminished. The worries of work and home faded. We were afloat in a world of thought, the pleasures of easy discourse, with the music of rainfall imbuing the night with all that was good.

We turned the lamps on and travelled to the African Republic forest to learn about western lowland gorillas. He shared with me about the Cascade Mountains insects and plants, trees and explorers. That led to random sharing on nature, hiking, health, our gratitude. I arrived at the topic of books and book reviews, a couple of which I read aloud, then wondered over.

“This book talks about the electricity it requires to flex a muscle or smell a flower. It’s all about charged particles moving across cell membranes. I bet we glow a lot more than we realize. Probably send off charges as we breathe, even. And this one is about dance in the ordinary, daily world, a photography book of dancers doing fabulous things. Moving for the joy of it…Well, none of this planet and the life on it is very ordinary, is it? Can I come up with a new way to write about this?”

Marc said, “Why don’t we do this more often at home? Just sit for hours and read and talk?”

We determined to be more attentive to one another and to what matters most, then circled back to silence. One short afternoon and early evening had allowed us the chance to do nothing but think, imagine, share ideas and wonder. We smiled at each other from our respective ends of the couch, toe-to-toe, stilled by abiding affection and contentment.

Cool rain swayed and fell outside our window; the ocean drew back and gathered her powers and again flushed the sands. The wind came up and fell like a swirling veil upon rooftops. Gulls lined up on the balcony railing as an autumn horizon melded with white-crested waves. The gentle drumming of October rain spoke in secret ways– words can sometimes only say so much.