The Spirit of the Tree

The Spirit of the Tree

We came upon this lovely creature holding firm to the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we went for a hike. It’s hot and bright in Southern California, and we have not had rain since the 4th of March. But the trees in the Thousand Oaks Arboretum are alive and green and providing lots of shade. When we came upon this one in the hush of soft breezes and the occasional bird call, the spirit of the majestic oak filled the place. Nature is calming and I wondered if across our planet we could all find some peace if we focussed more on such gifts.

We met another wanderer on the trail, and he pointed us in the direction of a narrow path that took us down by a stream. Yes, there was water tricking despite the drought and birds enjoying the quiet and profound calm of the place

The Spirit of the Tree

Water, creatures and trees bending over–such a lovely gesture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we walked on, the trees opened to a vista of sky, this one making us wonder if the spirits were playing with water colors, spilling some white paint into the blue, streaking it lightly.

The Spirit of the Tree

…streaking it lightly with white paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have had times when life was a struggle, that’s certainly true for nature. She is as tenacious as we are, her children lifting limbs with leaves, stems with flowers to the sun, working through the process of photosynthesis despite the lack of moisture. The plants in the photo below are thriving having decided that they can live without much water, if any.

The Spirit of the Tree

Hail to these survivors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were hot but exhilarated when we finished our two mile hike. We were grateful for a drink of water, yet more grateful to nature for the gift of amazing lavender and rosemary scents, buzzing insects, musical stream water and the ever attentive breeze. It’s a great stress reducer; it’s church–in the blowing grass, the waving branches.

For the spirit of creation is truly all around us. When we can, it is good to focus on it, soak it in. Even if your walk is punctuated with car horns and other traffic sounds–there should be one plant, one bright flower or bush shining somewhere, one tree for you to smile upon. The spirit of the tree–there to remind all of us to lift ourselves up–and hopefully to give back to others–like the tree continually does, shading us and sharing its constant strength.

Thanks to John Havey for the wonderful photos and the walk.

The Spirit of the Tree

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boomer Highway’s Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Boomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can UseBoomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Not to worry if you’re busy checking current aspects of the economy, trying to find a decent airfare to visit your grandchildren, or just too busy to read current health stuff. I’ve got your back. I’m drawn to all aspects of current health research and information, so here are some new health facts you should know.

It’s the Sugar, Baby! Not the Fats.

In the 80’s it was all about avoiding cholesterol and fats. Remember SnackWell’s? They’re still around in their very healthy green boxBut even though they promised limited fats, they upped the sugar so things would taste good—symbolic for that movement in the food industry. Fats were demonized, even though some cholesterol is good for us. In 1992 the Food Guide Pyramid made grains and bread the foundation of the U.S. diet. The idea was to cut calories, but research shows Americans began upping their calories and obesity and Type 2 diabetes skyrocketed. The problem: simple carbs like bread and corn quickly convert to sugar in your body. The sugar stimulates the production of insulin and then the fat cells in your body go into storage overdrive leading to weight gain. There will always be ongoing studies, but to keep weight in control, eating REAL FOOD, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains is the way to go. Forget the SnackWell’s. Read more in Time.

What’s Your Type 2 IQ?

If you’re all good about your weight and you eat a healthy diet, you might want to skip this, but if you have questions about diabetes or a family history–take the quiz. Because diabetes is a complex disease, and myths about it are very common. How much do YOU know about what cases it and how to treat it?

1. Eating lots of sugar (candy, cake) causes Type 2 diabetes. T  F

2. Type 2 diabetes happens only to overweight people. T  F

3. Type 2 diabetes occurs only in adulthood.  T  F

4. People with Type 2 diabetes must go on a special diet. T  F

5. If you have Type 2 diabetes, you must inject insulin. T  F

1. False. With Type 2 diabetes, your body can’t use insulin properly. Either the cells in your body are no longer able to accept the insulin or you have too many cells (because of being overweight) and not enough insulin. However, there is a connection between a poor diet that is high in carbs leading to the chance of getting Type 2 diabetes. (see the info in question #2)

2. False. People who are overweight have a greater risk of Type 2, but even normal-weight and under-weight people can get Type 2 because it can run in families.

3. False Type 2 diabetes used to affect mainly overweight adults over age 40. Now rates are increasing among children and teens, many of whom are obese and inactive.

4. False There’s no such thing as a diabetes diet, but if you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s important to eat healthy food in consistent amounts, as well as to avoid too many carbohydrates, so as to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

5. False. Some people with Type 2 diabetes can be treated with medications in pill form. Still others can avoid all drugs by maintaining a healthy weight and diet.

Don’t Slow Down. Fast walking is the thing! 

My mother was a fast walker. Even in her 80s she walked to the train, then once downtown she walked quickly to her job. Mom lived into her late 90s and it was only when she was 94 that one could see dementia beginning. New research done by Dr. Arthur F. Kramer supports the theory that walking a few miles per week can hold off the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. The study states:”people who walk at least 5 miles a week have bigger brains, better memories and improved mental ability compared to those who are more sedentary.” Because aging causes the brain circuits to become less connected, researchers wanted to see if brisk walking, as a form of aerobic exercise, would change that. The results: Those who walked briskly reaped the biggest benefits – older people in the study became more fit and simultaneously their aerobic exercise improved memory, attention and other cognitive processes. Their circuit connectivity increased so much, it mimicked that of the 20-somethings. To learn more about the study, read here and here  Note that many kinds of exercise can help protect brain health. Aim for 150 minutes of activity a week.

Here are some examples:

Biking or running: 30-40 minutes, six times a week

Racquetball: 90 minutes twice a week

Walking: 45 minutes daily.

Sleep-Time Tips

1. A sleep schedule is a great way to get a good night’s rest. Try to go to bed and arise at the same time every day. You can set your “alarm” for both.

2. Exercise should occur at least 5 to 6 hours before bedtime. Exercise is stimulating and can keep you awake.

3. No stimulants. Nicotine and caffeine can take up to 8 hours to wear off. It’s best to avoid foods and drinks with caffeine late in the day and avoid smoking altogether.

4. No nightcap. Alcohol makes you feel sleepy and relaxed, but it can disrupt your sleep cycles. Such sleep is less restful and can make you wake up in the middle of the night.

5. Make it dark. Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, as people sleep better in the dark when the light won’t interfere with your circadian rhythms.

6. Set the mood. Avoid jumping from activity to bed. Increase the time for getting ready by relaxing, maybe with a warm bath, good book or soft music. It helps your body settle in for sleep.

7. Don’t worry. If after 20 minutes you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing, like reading. The more you stress about not sleeping the longer you will stay awake.

8. Go Before You Go to Bed. Limit your fluid intake a few hours before sleeping, and try to do a double void–urinate once before your bedtime routine and then again right before you climb into bed.

So if you’ve got a program that is keeping you fit and you remember where your glasses or car keys are at all times–share your health headline. It’s news we all can use!

Thanks to Google Images

Boomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Do We Ever Really Leave THE NEST?

images images-3

“Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others.” — Virginia Woolf

Is that why so many people write memoirs—to hang on to the illusions of childhood? Oh so wonderful, lost childhood! Despite my father’s death when I was 3, I think my childhood was just about perfect. And I fiercely hold on to memories that delight me, make me feel loved and secure. But now and again that time in my life must rise inside me or tug me backwards or make things fly out of my mouth. Like when I remind people that I did not have a father. Why do I do that? Am I still in some pain? So I am asking you—do we ever really leave the nest?

Writers like Jonathan Safran Foer struggle with this question. A female character must be revealing his experience when she says: When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me… A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did… I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse? You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.

These are eternal questions that we all ask, though every person’s childhood is unique to them—some having incredible struggles, some having very few.

If my little world became confusing and distorted because one day my father was there, and then the next he was not—I blocked it out. I have little to no memory of him. Oddly, what I do remember was clinging to the world of my house—the nest.

At three, I started straightening throw rugs. Before I hit ten, I had insulted the cleaning woman by telling her that after dusting, she didn’t put stuff back right. The paperwork my mother did to support us drove me crazy, as it often littered our dining room. In college, I even cleaned up after my roommate. And whenever possible to this day the first thing I do on arising is make the bed I’ve slept in, even in hotels. And over the years I have gotten in trouble with various family members by tidying up and putting away something that then becomes undiscoverable.

All of this is part of the 3-year-old child that still lives inside me—a shy person who got over her shyness and became a teacher and a nurse, a person who loves to travel, but also really likes being home. A person who still wants order in her world and who firmly believes in monitoring and gradually exposing children to the harsh aspects of living.

J.D. Salinger thinks the same way. Here is Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the RyeI saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written ‘fuck you’ on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them— all cockeyed naturally—what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it.

Holden has a real concern. Some children are exposed to awful things at a very young age—right in their home environment. Do they remember? Do those events contribute to the development of the child later on? Did my father’s death make me crave order? Did I block it out because it was so horrible or because I was only 3 and I had childhood amnesia?

The latter is explained in a few ways: Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed childhood amnesia was a response to sexual repression, but another theory points to our lack of language skills before the age of three. It may be that our memories need to be stored conceptually and associated with the kinds of words and meanings that we don’t really get to grips with until we’re about three-years-old. Perhaps all of your childhood memories are still intact but in a form you can’t access anymore. Yet another view is that young childrens’ brains simply don’t have the tools to store memory properly. Babies are born with billions of brain cells but relatively few connections between them and so the areas of the brain responsible for processing memories are immature. In our brains, connections are everything and brain imaging studies on babies and toddlers suggest that between 8-24 months is when their brains are most active at growing more connections. 

Okay, so there is no definitive answer, but in my case, and maybe in yours, things that occurred in my childhood have definitely formed me. And I feel that most of them are positive. Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, would probably tell me that I am not “in pain” when I bring up my father. He would say that certainly there are dynamics and experiences in my life that will make me remember the loss, but that I have the power to control my response, to not feel hurt or pain when thinking of my loss. He is saying it is my choice.

Zukav writes: This is good news. Each time the dynamic is activated, for example, anger, abandonment, humiliation, you will have another opportunity to look inside. You will again feel the magnetic attraction of fear, the powerful pull of judgment, the need to prove that another person is causing your pain. But you can choose to experience the interior source of your pain—instead of blaming it on others. (Or as in my case blaming it on a circumstance beyond my control).

So I believe we finally do leave the nest and grow up, but I think we bring a lot of its remnants with us. If we are fortunate to have experienced good parenting, the remnants we bring can help us deal with the twists and turns of living. But sometimes not. Then we might block the memories or as Zukav warns, we might do more damage to ourselves by allowing them to hurt us again and again throughout our lives. “Only you can do damage to yourself,” he writes. Do you agree? It certainly means coming to grips with the past that has a way of entwining itself with the present. Better to not be angry and want to kill someone like Holden Caulfield. Better to accept the bad stuff and focus really really hard on the good. Please share your thoughts.

I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t. — Stephen Chbosky

Thanks to Thought Catalogue  Thanks to Google Images

And to end on a humorous note: maybe this is why I loved Snow White as a kid. She really knew how to clean up a mess!!!!

Do We Ever Really Leave THE NEST?

 

 

What Is Liminal Space and Why It’s Our New Normal

What Is Liminal Space and Why It's Our New Normal

We stand on the threshold, under the cloud of unknowing.

After 9-11 life was totally altered, for all of us. As a writer, I sat and stared at my manuscript wondering if anyone would ever read a novel again. Should I even bother. My husband had been traveling—not to New York, but to Connecticut. When he finally got home late on Friday, there was relief. But normality escaped us. It escaped everyone.

Then in those next few days, a friend offered me some insight. It came in the words of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose teaching is like that of the first St. Francis: empty yourself, be compassionate of others, especially those that are socially marginalized. Okay. How do I do that when I am angry and confused.

Rohr spoke of liminal space—and despite my many years of study and reading, those were words I had never heard. He defined it as: a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else… It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 
- Richard Rohr

Now I had a label for what I was feeling, what millions were feeling: liminal space—this terrible cloud of unknowing.

It was a terrible time—but ever so slowly we went back to work, children back to school and life haltingly proceeded. My husband had lost a co-worker who had been at the hotel attached to one of the towers. His body was never found. More and more images of that day were released and they stuck us all in this new and frightening liminal space. It was some horrible new norm, but all we could do was go on. For many—even that did not happen. There was too much pain and sorrow to allow for moving forward. Adjustments were indescribable and unlivable.

When I finally sat at the keyboard and worked again on my novel, I injected the concept of liminal space. It felt right. My character was truly living there.

But you know what? Often—we all are. Because we are always waiting for something: a job, a pregnancy, a graduation, a diagnosis, an acceptance letter, even a death; or a yes from someone who is holding what feels like the rest of our lives over our heads until the yes comes through. Until then, we are under that cloud of unknowing.

Regardless, there is often good news also, just as there was post-9-11. We saw, heard and felt the warmth, love, understanding and giving of many Americans who did whatever they could to help those who had lost someone. Later it was young men and women who joined our volunteer army, feeling that was the best way to give.

Certainly liminal space always challenges us humans. We are rarely free of the unknowing—because ah, yes, we are mortal and have no knowledge of the date of our demise. That’s a given. But it can be used to power our love of self (taking care of our bodies) and love of those we live and work with. For how much better to offer understanding, honesty and friendship on a daily basis—because who really knows what the next hours will bring.

Pain, trouble, even threatened violence can provide all of us with teachable moments. Though we find ourselves in liminal space, on the threshold of something unknowable, we forge ahead: the cancer patient who goes into remission and dedicates her time to helping other patients; the teacher who takes extra time to work with the very student who upsets his classroom; the doctor or nurse who enters the clinic despite life-threats; the cop on the beat who does all he can to make certain-sure before using deadly force; the mother, father, neighbor, citizen who listens and evaluates any situation before making a judgment or rising to anger.

After 9-11 Rohr reminded us that both Christian and Muslim mystics preferred the language of darkness. That is: they were most at home in the realm of not-knowing. In such darkness, Rohr writes, things are more spacious and open to creative response. We are more open to letting in God or blessed, positive thoughts–just like the cancer patient who is grateful for every day and turns darkness into light. This from the Persian mystic Hafiz:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft.

My voice so tender, my need of God, absolutely clear.

Finally, in this time of questioning, where we find ourselves often divided, even from friends and loved ones who feel and think differently than we do, try to accept and live in the cloud of unknowing. Try to move a bit closer to the other side or try to find something they share with you. It can be very challenging and just downright hard. But remember, you are both in liminal space, not truly knowing all.

Literature–inspirational books, poetry, memoirs, reflections–can serve as guides. There is actually a website devoted to liminal space that can help lift that cloud.

Music allows cultures to come together sharing dance, songs and just the joy of listening. And recently I saw the new film The Hundred-Foot Journey which underlines that people and cultures that are vastly different can cross the threshold and come to a place were there is not only knowing, but sharing and love. Because we have no choice but to often live on the threshold, uncertain of which path to take. We exist in this liminal space, a new normal that we must accept and work with so the cloud of unknowing will be transformed into one of understanding.

Thanks always to Father Richard Rohr

Thanks to Google Images

What Is Liminal Space and Why It's Our New Normal

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

Here is the Magic Carpet.
photo by John Havey

Traveling is about discovery. But along with seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time or realizing that the glaciers are truly melting is the process of self-discovery. Travel takes a person out of routine and in many cases away from comfort. Travel can teach about humanity and open fascinating and different worlds for questioning. Travel can challenge a person’s beliefs and change their understanding of how life is lived. The sheer variety travel can provide is a kind of magic carpet.

Travel and Comfort

As an over-fifty person, travel for me works really well if sameness is attached to newness. What do I mean by that? I like traveling on cruise ships because my hotel room goes along with me—it becomes my home away from home and I feel comfort and a sense of belonging when I go back to it. But in the very same vein, I liked camping in my thirties with my family. We would establish that comfort zone in our tent and then go off to explore and hike and exhaust ourselves. Then the tent awaited.

I have friends that currently are traveling across the country in an RV after selling their home. I think that’s amazing considering weather, long trips between gas stations and the necessity of finding the right spot to hook up their traveling home for electricity and a hot shower.

Where Are You on the Adventure Scale?

Of course there are people on this planet that are totally adventurous. We could put them on an adventure scale that might look like this:

Risky, total adventuring    looking for a few thrills    no thrills, just simple viewing    watching travel videos at home!

I’m still looking for a few thrills. When we went whitewater rafting, some persuasion was needed after I read the release form. But the guy who ran the ride at the Kicking Horse River in Canada rode with me in the back of the raft and there’s only one word for the experience–AWESOME.

Travel takes you away from your familiar life and activities, but never from responsibility. As a member of humanity living on this planet, travel should open our hearts and minds to things we need to know, people we need to care about. Traveling is the portable classroom that teaches us about the world and OURSELVES. Examples–

  • I like meeting people and discovering what they do, how they live
  • I am willing to try new things–new foods, methods of transportation
  • I can hold back at times and be uncertain
  • I am always eager to purchase the art and crafts of different countries, but practice self-restraint
  • I like imaging what it would be like to live on the canals of Venice or in the rainy city of Juneau, Alaska

Place Is Memory

This last idea relates to the act of living. Because wherever you dwell, place becomes memory. I’ve lived in 3 U.S. cities and recently traveled back to Chicago, where I was born, where we raised our children. Wow. For me, that city has a memory on every block. It bears the weight of my history–it opens up my early life, once caught in the passage of time. Example: “Remember? On my 21st birthday, you and I sat in that corner of the pizzeria and you bought me my first alcoholic drink. But a 7 And 7. Ugh.”

Thoughts on Recent Travel

So on a recent visit to Chicago, it came down to not just reliving the old and familiar in that city, but to reveling in the new. Many changes have occured along the lakeshore. Walking through Chicago’s Museum Campus reveals restructuring of roads and gardens so that bikers and strollers can access the Planetarium, Field Museum and Aquarium with no car and parking stress needed. It’s wonderful.

And on Michigan Avenue we spent a purposeful period of time viewing a work of art, a  metaphor for the power of difference and possibly the shame of finding fault with the spectrum of those differences.

It is AGORA, the work of Magdalena Abakanawitz, the Polish sculptor who has explained her work saying: “They must be like one body that represents so many different meanings. It’s the self against the whole world.”

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

The name Agora refers to the urban meeting places of the Ancient Greek city-states. The artist portrays these figures as  visibly hollow, suggesting that despite their strong physical presence, they might be shells of people who have become lost. They are genderless and ageless. They invoke humanity on a very affecting level. You walk through them and wonder about their connectedness and disconnectedness–they move as one yet they move apart. Isn’t that similar to how you feel walking down a busy metropolitan street? Isn’t that how you feel when watching the current news and seeing scores of displaced peoples moving down miles of road? Abakanowitz compares this work to nature, where herds of animals or leaves on trees are a metaphor for an overwhelming number of objects being the same and yet different. Like people.

The artist, who was a youth during World War II, has said that her art draws on her fear of crowds, which she once described as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command.” Some critics have said that if you give the figures the right intent, and if you think of them as whole with brains and hearts, then maybe you are looking at an emblem of democracy instead of the emblem of her memories fraught with real fears.

Concluding Thoughts

But again, through video and the internet, through reading and awareness–we all are traveling every day. We all can become vessels of self-discovery. And I have one last powerful suggestion.  It comes from knowing that when many of us who constantly know comfort–when we discuss traveling, we are talking about vacations, suitcases and airplane tickets. We are not talking about what is happening at this very moment to millions of people on our planet. They are also traveling because they are escaping governments or environmental conditions that predict death or suffering for their families. They seek the comfort of sameness, of home. If each one of us could do something through donations, volunteering or CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK about those who have less than we have, we can make life more positive for the people of AGORA, the people of the communities and city states on our earth.

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

A glacier near Juneau, Alaska      John Havey photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

 

Thanks to Google Images

The Grimke’ Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

Note the images of wings in some of the squares.

 

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

This quilt reveals the dangers of flight.

Sue Monk Kidd, author of the well-received novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (2002) was in New York City in 2007 to view Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party.” Kidd says that while there, she was thinking about a new novel about two sisters. Reading the names of women Judy Chicago wished to celebrate, Kidd saw the names Sarah and Angelina Grimke’, sisters from Charleston South Carolina. Being from Charleston, Kidd was amazed that she had not heard of them. Back home, she began researching the women’s lives, only to discover that she’d been driving by the Grimke’ sisters unmarked home for over ten years. Subsequent research revealed that both were feminist thinkers and the first female abolitionists whose pamphlets were published by William Lloyd Garrison.

Women’s History Erased 

Kidd writes: “My ignorance of them felt like both a personal failing and a confirmation of Judy Chicago’s view that women’s achievements had been repeatedly erased through history.” Kidd stated that Sarah and Angelina’s pamphlet, AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT ISwas written 15 years before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and that the Grimke’ sisters were out crusading for the immediate emancipation of slaves and for racial equality, an idea that was radical even among abolitionists. Their desire for freedom also extended to women’s rights, ten years before the Seneca Falls Convention.  

Those Scapular Bones 

What followed from her research was Kidd’s fictionalized story of the history of the Grimke’ sisters in her current novel, THE INVENTION OF WINGS, a New York Times bestseller. I smiled at the title, remembering that one of my short stories, “Back Problems” had a scene in which the protagonist, Kate, has overcome back pain which was both physical and related to her life choices. The final scene read: As Kate runs, she thinks about her physical therapist, remembers that he told her that she had large scapular bones, larger than most people’s. “You know about evolution,” he had said, “well the scapular bones are you wings and you’d just be able to fly farther than the others.”

At the very beginning of Kidd’s book, we meet Hetty, whose Mauma calls her Handful. Mauma explains to Handful that in Africa her grandmother flew over trees and clouds, flew like a blackbird. But she says: “When we came here, we left that magic behind.” When Handful is skeptical Mauma says: “You don’t believe me? Where you think these shoulder blades of your come from, girl?…This is all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get ‘em back.”

Hetty Is Sarah’s Birthday Gift

And so begins the story of Hetty who is an amazing Handful, because she learns to fight, knowing that she deserves her freedom, that she deserves to get her wings back. If there is a shred of good fortune in Hetty’s life, it’s that though she is a slave, she lives in Sarah Grimke’s house. Sarah begins to abhor slavery and everything connected to it, starting with her 11th birthday when Hetty is given to her as a gift.

Sarah Grimke’s writings relate that she was eager to teach her personal slave to read when the girl showed an interest. She was also eager to set up a Sunday school program for other slave children to teach them the Bible. But she met resistance, her parents disallowing literacy for their slaves, probably fearing a natural movement toward dissatisfaction and rebellion. Their approach: Mental exertion would make the slaves unable to perform their physical labors. A law initiated in South Carolina in 1740 supported such a decision as it forbid the teaching of slaves. Sarah’s father threatened to whip her  slave when he heard Sarah was teaching the girl to read.

Sarah herself had to struggle to be educated. Though her brothers were sent to Yale, being female, she was not. It is recorded that her father remarked that if Sarah had been a boy, “she would have made the greatest jurist in the country.” These words stayed with Sarah and she taught herself elements of the law from the books she could find and by questioning her brothers when they were home from university. But the inequality she lived with in the slave-oriented culture of the South, fed her desire for change—change for women, change for slaves.

The Power of Sue Monk Kidd’s Insight

Though Kidd’s book is fiction, she stays loyal to the history of the Grimke’ sisters and their efforts in both the abolitionist and feminist movements. But it is Kidd’s writing power that shines when her fiction gets into the mind of a woman she has only read about and imagines what thoughts might have affected her heart and mind so that she dedicated her life to change. Kidd writes these thoughts of Sarah: “I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me (Hetty) I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

This is not only the essence of Kidd’s book, it is the essence of the eternal dance of racism, the tricks of thought that we use now and again to excuse ourselves, that allows us to allow things that should not be allowed.

Gone with the Wind–Sugar Anyone?

My mother loved the book and the film GONE WITH THE WIND, but that story does exactly what Kidd is talking about–it allows the reader and the viewer to grow comfortable with the particulars of evil. Not even Prissy’s admission:”I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” isn’t really humorous. She’s a slave–and slaves were uneducated and treated like a potted plant if they were house slaves, treated like much worse if they worked on the plantation under the whip of the overseer. GONE WITH THE WIND is fiction and so is Kidd’s book, but she’s done her homework–there is no sugar-coating here.

Slave Quilts “Hidden in Plain View”

The novel includes the fascinating art of quilting which served slaves in more ways than one. Hetty’s mama, Charlotte, is the house seamstress–her job is to make clothing for the Grimke’ family and for all the slaves. Even in that position, things don’t go well for Charlotte because she fights daily for her freedom and part of that fight is the quilt squares that she makes late into the night. They depict her life–her mother’s slave ship, Hetty’s birth and separation from her father, the grandmother’s death. Slaves quilted not only to cover their children and themselves in their unheated cabins, but also to tell stories and to provide secret codes that helped slaves know when and how to safely escape. Blackbirds were a frequent symbol of flight. Quilt squares “hidden in plain view” revealed pathways for fugitives to follow on the underground railroad.

Thus Kidd’s book teaches history that is fascinating and important and allows the reader to ponder the hard choices of that life and time. If you’ve read THE INVENTION OF WINGS, please share your thoughts. Freedom and wings for everyone.

Thanks to Google Images

 

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

That’s what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is suggesting and he has some amazing theories to back up the process and explain why it works. Founder of Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, Hanson has written a bunch of books: Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, and Mother Nurture. And he’s tested and explored the concept that happiness in our lives can be the result of certain habits which when performed regularly can become part of the very tissue of our brains.

I AM GUILTY OF STINKING THINKING

Another word for this is rewiring. And it’s possible because our brains have the ability to change in structure as we respond to thoughts, feelings and life experiences. This is called neuroplasticity. Hanson writes: “All mental activity is based on the underlying actions of billions of nerve cells that continually signal each other through vast networks of connections. This complex activity is constantly changing your brain…intense, prolonged or repeated mental activity leaves a lasting imprint, while less active connections wither away.”

ONE NEGATIVE INTERACTION PACKS A PUNCH

And I am so guilty! How many times have I indulged in a bad mood, worked the same negative thoughts over and over (stinking thinking) and failed to focus on something positive and uplifting??  And why do we do that?? Hanson says that the human brain has a negativity bias and he uses the example of ten encounters with a person in the workplace. Five are positive, four are neutral and one is negative. Which one will we think about on the way home from work or when falling asleep? You guessed it, the negative one. And he stresses that research shows that a good long-term relationship needs a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? One negative interaction is as powerful as five good ones. Wow.

THAT OLD HUNTER-GATHERER RELATIVE

The negative bias is part of evolution. Our ancestors knew about the bad things—predators, falling off a cliff, freezing, not finding that animal which meant dinner—but their needs were more immediate than ours. Bad things meant death, and they knew it best to remember that. Thus the bias or awareness of the negative meant that good feelings and experiences bounced off the brain and the scary bad stuff was firmly implanted.

CHANGE IT UP

Hanson writes about the rewiring process in his book. Here are some basics to follow. Start the process on awakening and continue it throughout the day–possibly six times for a total of 3 minutes a day. And the change won’t happen overnight, but gradually you will find yourself gravitating toward a happy thought on awakening and keeping to this pattern throughout the day.

  • Process: relax, exhale, and focus on something beautiful or think of someone in your life who loves you and makes you feel good. You’ve activated a positive mental state.
  • Now realize that this makes you happy or that it is a positive thought and install this active state into the neural structure of your brain.
  • How? Stay aware of the positive experience or thought for 10-12 seconds. You can also enrich the thought by attaching more of your senses to that thought.

Hanson: “If you’re remembering …how your boss responded to your big presentation six months ago, recall the pleasant details—how your boss praised you afterward. By prolonging and enriching the experience or the memory, you’re aiming to get as many neurons as possible firing together so they start wiring together.” Morning is best because the brain is like a sponge ready to take in the first thought. So make it a good one–peace, happiness, good fortune, love and compassion. Hanson also suggests that as you continue to do this you will be more aware of the positive and cared-for feelings that you have. You will be able to make these positive thoughts stronger so that they won’t be overcome by the negative thoughts that come along. He writes: “Over time, the positive will gradually soothe and ease the negative and eventually even replace it.”

WHAT THOUGHT WILL START YOUR DAY?

As you awaken, maybe you’ll hear a bird sing, or you’ll focus on the sunlight at your window, or the gentle pattern of rain, or quiet music on the radio–anything that is positive and makes you happy. Then try to repeat the process throughout the day. Hanson stresses six times, 10-12 seconds a time, and all you have had to devote to this process is 3 minutes a day. Now that’s a habit that beats joining a gym or buying expensive equipment or cooking up a storm. Wishing you positive thoughts and happiness. 

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

Thanks to Google Images

Why We Get More Creative as We Age

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Why We Get More Creative as We Age

Marilee Shapiro, 101, poses for a portrait next to one of her sculptures that is titled “The Way” at her home in Washington.

Why We Get More Creative as We Age

Grandma Moses is a symbol for creativity sparking in one’s elder years.

As we age, we just might become more creative. Really? Yes. Would you believe that when we were five, we used 80% of our creative ability and that by the age of twelve, our creativity had fallen to about 2% of our potential. Because schools work to make us good members of society and that means conformity, we began to just accept ideas instead of using our brains to create them.

GOOD NEWS FOR AGING BRAINS 

Let’s examine the anatomy and physiology of the brain. Myelination, the growth of fatty insulation on our neurons, keeps brain circuits running smoothly. That process isn’t completed until young adulthood when the prefrontal cortex is fully matured. But magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revealed that in some parts of the brain, including the temporal lobe (visual memory, language, meaning and emotions), myelination is still going on into a person’s 50s and 60s. That’s good news for the prospect of being creative during the third stage of life. 

FORGET BEING AN EXPERT–LEARN SOMETHING NEW 

Now think back to your middle or working years. Remember how important it was to be an expert in your field of endeavor? It was essential to have a brain that knew the context of one’s work sphere, a brain that focused on one area and often didn’t have the time or the inclination to consider new ideas. In fact during those years we argued for our formed ideas and pushed aside new ones. Maybe we only read a certain kind of book or watched a certain sport or shared solidly formed beliefs that we were not willing to challenge. Our brains were or may still be ossifying. 

LEFT AND RIGHT BRAIN SHARING 

But we can all stop the ossifying process, age actually helping us, because the brain changes. First, certain brain skills are affected by aging—mathematicians, physicists and chess players will tell you this, acknowledging that brain speed slows down. But the brain compensates by enhancing creativity! Neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza of Duke University says that there is a reorganization in brain function and that the two hemispheres of the brain begin to cross talk to one another as part of this compensation. The left brain reaches to the right for help and voila! insightful, creative ideas are the result. Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard, relates that in fields like law, psychoanalysis and perhaps history and philosophy, “you need a much longer lead time, and so your best work is likely to occur in the latter years.” Good news for thinkers and writers in those fields.

LET’S HEAR IT FOR BRAIN REORGANIZATION 

Neurosurgeon Rex Jung states: “That’s where artistic expression perhaps benefits from demyelinization.” He notes that less efficient connectivity (that slowing down of brain speed) can mean a loosening of associations that allows ideas to flow more freely. “You have lots of data at your hands, and you have . . . fewer brakes on your frontal inhibitors, and you’re able to put things together in more novel and useful ways. When you see an increase in people’s creative undertakings in retirement, it may not be just because they’re retired and have more time on their hands; it may be because the brain organization is different.”

HARE BRAIN, TORTOISE MIND

Guy Claxton, in his book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, writes of the benefits of slower and more exploratory thinking. A psychologist, Claxton argues that our brains work best when we allow what he calls the “undermind” or unconscious to chart the way. He champions being less analytical and more creative. He acknowledges that most humans learn from society to solve problems under pressure and to use thinking as a means to achieve results. But he believes that patience and even confusion–rather than rigor and certainty–are the essential precursors of wisdom.

CONVINCED YET? CHECK THIS OUT 

Here are some well known creative people, their occupations and their ages. Novelist Doris Lessing, productive till 89; Marilee Shapiro, 101, still sculpting in D.C.; Paul Bocuse 87, chef and Michelin winner still oversees his restaurants; Igor Stravinsky, first worked with 12-tone music creation in his 70s; Grandma Moses, started the paintings that made her famous at 76; Frank Lloyd Wright died at 91, just before the opening of his 532nd work, the Guggenheim Museum; Valerie Trueblood 69, Seattle writer who published her novel, “Seven Loves,” and two short story collections in her 60s. And there are many more in many other fields still working and creating. So—don’t sell yourself short; yes you are no longer in your 20s and looking ahead, but the brevity of the years left can energize and make you work harder. You will use your time well. And there is so much out there to discover and learn and enjoy. Let’s all get creative and get going.

SOME STATEMENTS TO PONDER:

“Enhanced creativity is associated with greater satisfaction.” NEA research director Sunil Iyengar “One-trick artists become automatized, they become very habit-borne. They’re not continually challenging themselves to look at life from a new angle.” Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco. “Those people who have from the beginning developed complex lives with multiple interests and multiple talents, and continued to develop psychological complexity and tolerance for ambiguity, those people continue to do very well in later adulthood,” said Gary Gute, professor and director of the Creative Life Research Center at the University of Northern Iowa.

  • Engage in learning
  • Expose yourself to knew things
  • Think outside the box
  • Break through older beliefs.

And if you have any ideas as to how you sparked your creativity, please share. It’s never too late to enjoy the rush of good feelings when the painting, photograph, poem, gardening project, sculpture, collage, textile project, article or novel is a reality. Let’s hear it for aging and creativity!!

Thanks to Google Images

Why We Get More Creative as We Age More information here:

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Don’t be surprised if during you next appointment with your child or grandchild’s pediatrician, the doc gives your child a book and asks her to read. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that their providers counsel parents of young children about the benefits of reading stories aloud and talking about the accompanying illustrations. Evidence-based research shows that this practice: strengthens language skills, literacy development and the relationship between child and parent. It’s a win-win and an investment in the futures of all children.

HAVE A CHILD CLIMB ONTO YOUR LAP AND READ TO THEM Perri Klass MD, professor of Pediatrics, mother of three and author of fiction and nonfiction states:”…the bigger picture now is to help parents build interactions with their children into their everyday lives because this can create nurturing relationships, which promote early brain development, early literacy, language development and school readiness.” Sandy Banks writes in the LA TIMES:  I hope (this campaign) jumpstarts a public conversation about the value of parenting basics often overlooked in a world of high-teach tools where schools hand out tablets …before children learn to turn the pages of a book. Though Banks mentions the negative reactions from some: will parents feel like failures in front of their kids’ doctors? Will it shame parents who are themselves poor readers? She praises the basics of the process: The snuggling and bonding, the shared delight in a toddler’s discovery of textures, ideas, sights and sounds can be the building blocks of a strong foundation between parent and child. 

START THE CONVERSATION RIGHT AWAY  Making your child your conversational partner will boost that child’s literacy. Here’s an excerpt from my older post, New Moms: Talk to Your Child: This advice could be mom advice or grandmother advice. Or it could just be another plank in the platform of communication. But I have found that children who are talked to from the moment they breathe on this planet are smarter and better communicators than those treated like a piece of furniture that happens to be in the room. As they slip from the birth canal, children are alert to what’s happening around them. They sense calm and peaceful loving voices, disinterested voices and of course will be affected by shouting and angry voices. Because they cannot immediately see, we create their beginning world with our voices. Anne Fernald, a Stanford psychologist, agrees with me and her research underlines that the NUMBER OF WORDS a child is exposed to has a profound effect on how they process language. Why is that important? Because it helps them become part of their environment which is their ability to follow directions, label items, make choices and eventually read. But all stats aside, parents can’t just shower children with words–it’s the quality of the interaction Fernald says. “It’s about changing how you interact with a child–whether you perceive a question as a threat to your authority or the leading edge of curiosity that will serve this child well in school.” We should always encourage more than we scold.

WHY IS THIS RESEARCH NECESSARY? What do you think, Boomer parents and grandparents? The research confirms intuitive knowledge that many of us had raising our children and caring for our grandchildren. But sometimes that knowledge gets pushed aside by changes in our culture. Though I am all for women having careers and breaking through ceilings, glass or whatever, that cultural shift might have meant that a child didn’t have the cuddling, reading time, didn’t hear the mother’s voice on a constant basis, was often in a situation where speech was not directed just to him or her. Interactive toys powered by batteries or computer games on tablets can help build vocabulary and stimulate the desire for knowledge. But the point of the pediatrician campaign may just help the parents more than the child. Children grow fast. They leave us, fly away. Interaction, physical attention, loving advice, shared laughter, warm kisses and hugs, game playing — every bit of it helps to build a human being and a human connection. It’s for life. Parents shouldn’t fear this responsibility, but they should jump into it with eagerness and not decide that the television or a computer tablet is any kind of substitute.

AND BOOMERS, IT’S NEVER TOO LATE I had two aunts who never married and what they gave me and my brothers in terms of helping us become good citizens of the world was amazing. They read to us, played with us, encouraged our love of literature and music. It’s never too late to reach out and help a child. My friend Susan volunteers in the NICU at her local hospital. She holds infants, talks to them, sometimes feeds them. They are so lucky to have that soft voice and encouragement in addition to what they receive from nurses, doctors and their own parents when the parents can be there. My husband’s volunteer work is helping teens set future objectives. He guides them in discovering their skill set, writing a resume and finding employment or the right college path. Some Boomers start athletic programs for children or volunteer in daycare centers or teach art in elementary schools. And many Boomers are helping to raise their grandchildren by babysitting the entire work week or maybe a few days a week or on weekends. No matter what the time frame, every interaction is important.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR GRANDCHILDREN? HERE ARE MINE: Puzzles, drawing, Connect Four, Matching Card Games, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, imaginative play–especially cooking/kitchen–gardening and reading. Some favorite books: GOODNIGHT MOON, STUART LITTLE, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, FROG AND TOAD, JUST LIKE HEAVEN, and THE GIFT OF NOTHING. Here is a list of Scholastics Top 100 Books for Children, a pdf you can print out and refer to. http://www.scholastic.com/100books/pdf/Top_100_Childrens_Books_of_All_Time.pdf

Please share the books or activities you use when reading to a child or grandchild. After all, you are investing in that child’s future.

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

The world lies before them, in a book.

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Discover the world through a child’s eyes.

“The Divided Life” and How to Fix It

"The Divided Life" and How to Fix It

I love hearing stories about people who leave a job, a city or a career to grow lavender and make candles, build a tiny cabin and craft boats, get rid of the trappings of competition to write poetry; or who are fired because they told the truth at the board meeting, said what the corporation needed to do to change. It takes courage and guts. But one thing these actions shout out—I know who I am—this is me. I am not living a divided life, but my dream. Finally.

And of course if there are struggles while achieving this new life, there will always be someone who will say I told you so. But at some point in our lives, we all have to tear off the masks that we created to become accepted in society. We all need to reveal who we really want to be, who we really are. Parker J. Palmer is a writer and activist passionate about helping people escape from what he calls “the divided life.” He stresses that as children we are an integral whole, our emotions governed by our deep and real feelings. We hide nothing. We are authentic beings. But as we enter society and school, we learn to hide those feelings, alter our behaviors. We do this because we discover the world is not safe. We might be mocked, ignored, picked on. A minor example: I was mocked when I used vocabulary words that I heard in my home. A few of my peers didn’t like “sophisticated” language and so I avoided it, learned to dumb things down, skip the highfalutin words. As a kid in junior high it’s called preservation. But it’s damaging because we are pulling away from who we really are. We are beginning to live “the divided life.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons I became an English teacher—I could use those words in my classroom to my advantage and with no hesitation. Parker J. Palmer provides these very real and true examples as to how “the divided life” begins:

  1. At work we don’t truly invest ourselves, diminishing the quality of our work and distancing ourselves from those whose work is truly service
  2. We take jobs that violate our basic values, even when our survival doesn’t absolutely demand this of us
  3. We make or remain in relationships or locations that little by little kill our true spirit
  4. We hold secrets that help us achieve personal goals at the expense of others
  5. We hide our beliefs from those who don’t agree with us so as to avoid any conflict, challenge or change
  6. We basically conceal who we truly are for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.

One of the arguments that might be raised is how can I tear off my mask, or reclaim my true goals when I have a family to support? Tough question. But Palmer relates story after story of people he has worked with who woke up to realize that the need to drink, or gamble or take drugs for depression—were overt symbols that they weren’t living the life they wanted to live—the life that was meant to be theirs. Palmer writes: No one wants to suffer the penalties that come from choosing to live divided no more. But there can be no greater suffering than living a lifelong lie. As we move closer to the truth that lives within us—aware that in the end what will matter most is knowing that we stayed true to ourselves—institutions start losing their sway over our lives…This does not mean we must abandon institutions. In fact, when we live by the soul’s imperatives, we gain the courage to serve institutions more faithfully, to help them resist their tendency to default on their own missions. He acknowledges that this road won’t always be easy. Sacrifice might be necessary and certainly change and adjustment. “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” Parker J. Palmer

I think Parker’s ideas are truly important and that as we age, more and more we are face to face with all the decisions we have made. We have either firmly covered our souls with a mask or we have enhanced our true selves. Sacrifice might be necessary–but as we give some things up and take others into our lives–as we fix our own basic self, we are at the center of the goal. And isn’t it  wiser to become a whole person, than a face in the mirror that feels more like a stranger? Have you made significant changes in your life to be your true self?

For more from this writer and thinker go here. Listen to what he says about THE DIVIDED LIFE. "The Divided Life" and How to Fix It   I think it would be lovely to raise lavender, but I know that’s not my true calling. Thanks to Google Images