rising waters


The gates are now open.
But how? When? You ask,
who wants to know?
Who is doing the asking?
The heart wants to feel
the rising of the waters,
rushing through the gates,
sparing nothing.

Where are the waters taking me
I don’t know.
The swelling of something
long awaited for –
a deep longing.
It has no name or shape,
this wave of anticipation.

Do not let the flood waters
scare you into hiding.
Do not think.
Breathe!
Through the rising waters,
this wave of your so-called life
gaining strength;
gearing up.

Breathe!

Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo by Yota Schneider

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along came a stranger

This time my “teacher” happened to be a middle aged woman in a dark suit and the loudest gum chewing style I’ve ever encountered.

You’re probably already thinking: “What is she talking about?”

Have you noticed how we come across certain people, in the course of a day or a lifetime, who seem to enter the stage for the mere reason of pointing out something we need to pay attention to? It’s not meant to be a pleasant interaction and often, neither we nor that person may be aware of what exactly happened, at that precise moment. It’s not until later, if and when we’ve had the chance to contemplate and reflect upon what happened, that we may have an aha moment.

Well, that’s the kind of experience I’ve had the other day, when I decided to go shopping for tea and honey.

She and I entered the store together and soon after that we met at the tea and coffee aisle. I was looking at the various teas, trying to decide, when the crackling sound gum makes when somebody chews with their mouth open, made me turn. It was like nails on the blackboard. My whole body contracted at the sound. Did I mention that chewing gum this way, in public, is a pet peeve of mine? I guess gum chewing etiquette was drilled into me early on and it’s here to stay.

Here I was, standing there with this total stranger next to me chewing gum and my “back went up.” How is it possible to have this strong  a reaction about something so trivial? My mood had changed within seconds.

I picked up a couple of teas and left as quickly as I could. I walked around the store picking a few other things. And then, the whole thing got really interesting. Everywhere I went, this woman followed me – chewing away! I just couldn’t escape her!

I headed to the register, paid for the few things I had, and left the store. As I drove back home, I reflected upon this random experience that caused such intense reaction on my part.

  • What had just happened?
  • Where did this strong reaction come from?
  • Do I really think I’m above annoyance over the little things?
  • How often does my mood get affected by trivial stuff? Is it worth it?
  • How often do I run away from that which annoys me? What would happen if I stuck with it?
  • How often do I run away from an unpleasant experience and why?
  • Who decides whether I stay or go? Is it reason, emotion or both?

Some of the questions are easier to answer and others will evolve over time. The truth is . . . I’m not above annoyance over trivial stuff. Yes, I try to be mindful and I’ve been practicing for a long time. This allows me to be present to what happened but it doesn’t mean I got it all figured out. On the contrary! I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that my work never ends. It just becomes more interesting!

What is your experience and what are you learning about yourself?

Blessings!

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twas the evening before halloween

The snow began falling early afternoon, on the Saturday before Halloween, and by early evening, we had lost electricity. On Sunday morning we woke up to an altered landscape. We took a ride to town in search of hot tea or coffee and as we drove through town we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were trees split in half, spread on snow covered lawns. The roads, side walks, and open spaces were covered with broken branches and fallen trees.

The snow came unexpectedly and hit hard, before the weather had turned cold and the trees had the chance to prepare for winter. The weight of the wet, heavy snow proved too much to bear and the trees fell.

The big crab apple tree in our front yard had bowed all the way to the ground by our front door. The magnolia that the girls and Neal had planted for me, as a Mother’s Day present, was lying broken by the stream in the back yard. The sturdy branch on which the girls’ tire swing has been hanging for the last ten years, broke right above the joint that the rope was tied.

Sometimes change hits hard and all we can do is go with it. It’s been only a little over two months since Irene hit and we find ourselves coping with similar conditions, much colder temperatures and a tougher recovery.

I’m writing this, sitting at our local Starbucks, on Halloween. My daughters are at a friend’s house for the evening, where there’s power, warmth and comfort. My husband and I chose to stay home. I made chicken soup on our grill outside and toasted some bread to have with it. We came to Starbucks to have hot chocolate, charge our phones and computers and to write. There are many people around me that are here for the same reasons. We look at each other and smile with a sense of common understanding. People bond over circumstances like this.

I can’t help but reflect on the process of change and transition. Change happens, sometimes gradually, slowly, over a period of time and other times suddenly, powerfully and undeniably. Sometimes we see it coming and often we initiate it. When it finally arrives, we embark on the journey of transition the best we can.

When change strikes out of the blue though or it catches us unprepared, the impact can be quite dramatic. How well we go through transition depends greatly on our level of preparation and mental attitude.

Whether we like it or not, we wished for it or not, change will test us. It will test our faith, our resolve and our resourcefulness. It will test the beliefs we hold dear and the rules we live by. It will force us to question everything we take for granted. The transition that follows change, is a journey of personal transformation; an initiation process into a different state of being.

As I look at the broken, fallen trees I wonder . . . will they recover? Will they bounce back to their original shape? How will the once familiar landscape of our town look like, come spring? I really don’t know. I have no way of knowing how nature will proceed or how the trees will respond to this transformation. All I can do is wait for nature to take its course.

I’m sad to see the once familiar lying broken. I’m worried about the future, but my responsibility is to focus on what demands my attention in the present moment. Everything slows down when something this drastic happens. We’re forced to pay close attention to details we may have previously taken for granted and be truly mindful.

Change is not meant to break us – although it may feel like it at times. It’s meant to polish our perception and powers of attention. Step by step, it leads us through the dark tunnel of uncertainty and insecurity and all the way to the other side, a side we never thought existed.

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always i

Who is this person,
timid and fearful,
at your mercy,
self-correcting, no matter the cost.
Living in doubt
questioning, searching,
unsure and silent?
It is I!

Who is this person,,
strong willed and sharp witted
quick thinking,
two steps ahead,
solid and unforgiving,
black and white
and never grey?
It is I!

Who is this person,
soft and loving,
feeling deeply,
knowing,
sensing the depths of another,
speaking words of wisdom,
walking the circle,
seeking, searching,
hearing the spirits’ call,
walking,
tracing the path
that many took before her,
walking, feeling, seeing, hearing,
sensing the call?
It is I!

It is always I!
Dancing on soft ground,
playing,
laughing, crying,
warm and cold,
soft and harsh,
sweet and bitter,
loving and withholding.

It is I!
Always I!

Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo Arbre Réflexologie © Stef in BA – Fotolia.com

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the yellow raincoat

The girls were sitting on the bench, waiting for their turn to join their team on the field. It was a rainy, chilly afternoon. “There is my mom,” one of them said. “Where?” the other asked. “Do you see this woman in the yellow raincoat? My mom is right next to her!” the first one answered. The girl looked to that direction and put her face in her hands “Oh, no,” she whispered. “What’s up?” the first one asked. “That’s my mom in the yellow raincoat. I don’t know what’s gotten into her with this neon yellow raincoat.”

During breakfast, my daughter shared this conversation with me. The woman in the yellow raincoat was, as many of you may have guessed . . . me! My daughter doesn’t approve of my yellow raincoat. This is not the first time she’s made a comment about it either.

I turned to her, smiling, and said “I love this raincoat! Anyway, you can always see me when I’m there, watching you playing. You can’t miss me!” She made a vague gesture and dismissed me.  Got to go!

I was left wondering. How did I transition from the adored mother this kid couldn’t get enough of, to this crazy old woman in a yellow raincoat who should mind her place? When I ask her this question, she pretty much gives me this answer: “Mom, you know how much I love you but I’m fifteen, can’t you see? I can’t help it!”

I know she can’t, but I’m not giving my yellow raincoat up. You see, I can’t help it either. I think it’s important that we both give each other space to be who we are. At this point of my life, I know who I am and I understand that she’s still exploring who she wants to be.

Being fifteen is all about fitting in and conforming to some kind of social maze. On the other hand, being fifty is about taking the journey back to the origin of self. It’s about shedding the layers of identity piled on over the years, and setting our wild selves free.

Exchanges like this one, make me reflect back and contemplate how easy it is to loose ourselves in our effort to please others and feel accepted and endorsed by them. I want to be loved, respected and admired by my daughter but I don’t want to be someone other than who I am. It’s been a long journey to claiming self-hood. There’s no going back.

I learned early in life, that friendship and love, are often used by people to extract a heavy price. How many times, especially women, morph to fit who they are with, be it family, friend or lover? Is this what love and friendship are supposed to be? Certainly not.

I was born to parents who expected perfection, albeit their version of it, and demanded obedience. They were strict and unyielding. I worked hard to satisfy and please people who weren’t meant to be satisfied.

I became really good at reading people’s moods and adapting accordingly. I became self-reliant at an early age. What I couldn’t get at home, I looked for in books, nature, and the wise mentors that seemed to always be there for me. I was blessed in that way. Life kept ushering me forward and I learned, at times the hard way, the importance of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

It’s true, when people say that our children become our teachers. We, as parents, are here to love, protect, and guide and they’re here to help us take the journey back and untie the knots that keep us bound. And, that’s what love is, isn’t it?

What are your learning about yourself these days?

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with me always

Being here
looking back
the distance traveled.
You moved me forward
often dragging my feet through mud
up, up the mountain side
sun beating down
other times walking, running
moving along
cool grass under my feet
a pleasant breeze on my face
The weather didn’t matter
my mood, my resistance, my blindness
nothing mattered.
You moved me forward
installing clarity where there was none
transmitting inspiration on arid soil
polishing my understanding
enriching my experience.
Step by step
there is a lesson in all
we meet on the path.
Chance? You smile.
This is a gift, fear not.
Open it!
I know the way
I’m here, now and always
you can’t see me and you get tired
you cry and despair often
your thoughts and emotions
cloud your recognition.
Fear not! I know the way
I’m with you
always present
always moving you forward
through rain and fair weather
With you always!Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo credit Yota Schneider

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this day

I’m grateful for sitting practice. Breathing the sound of the bell, in and out, following it deeper and deeper. I found myself expanding, becoming one with the sound. For a moment, there were no boundaries, only the sound . . . expanding, vibrating through space, and I with it.

I’m grateful for the morning fog that gave way to sunny skies, for my daughter’s loving words, the smile on my client’s face, hot tea and toast, birthday celebrations, good friends, nourishing food and the beauty that surrounds me.

 

I’m grateful for the rose bush in my yard that’s gone on a blooming spree. “I’m still here, look at me, touch my blooms, enjoy the fragrance and remember . . . I’ll be back.” The viburnum is filled with red pods, eagerly providing for the birds before the darkness and cold of winter. The wisdom of nature; nothing ever goes to waste and for everything there’s a purpose.

As I walked toward my car, I looked down and saw that the garden had been busy trying new things. A sculpture of moss, twig, a fallen bloom and wayward leaves. Left undisturbed for days, they made this stone their canvas. Nature being playful and oh-so creative! I’m reminded of how, we too, when given space, we can create all kinds of beauty out of the raw material of our lives.

Earlier in the morning, these words found me . . . “Nothing is worth more than this day” by Goethe. No wonder . . .

In gratitude!

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what’s cooking?

Did I ever mention that cooking is something I truly enjoy? Believe it or not, it’s one of the activities that keep me grounded and give me a great sense of satisfaction. The only exception is, when I entertain.

I’m still working on letting go, accepting what is and surrendering to the process when I take care of other people. I have this unhealthy habit of taking too much responsibility for other people’s experience. Call it control, a constant effort to look good, a heightened sense of perfectionism, or all of the above. Whatever it is, I’ve been watching it for years and I’m happy to report . . . there is progress in the making.

I didn’t use to enjoy cooking. Either way, I was pretty terrible at it. Once I started experimenting though, I discovered that one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy cooking was because I’m not that great at following recipes.

I’ve played by other people’s rules all my life. Do I really need to do the same while cooking? That’s what happens when you try to be “good” most of your young life. You reach adulthood and, one day, you realize that today is, as good a day as any, to rebel.

It didn’t help that my mother, who was a great cook, often took a critical stance at my first attempts in cooking. I figured, if she doesn’t like what I make, then, I don’t have to cook. And, I didn’t – which, of course, brought about a whole other wave of criticism. Oh, well. Being the old fashioned Greek lady that my mother was, she must have had nightmares of her daughter ending up a spinster. Who would ever marry anyone who was a lousy cook?

And so it went, until I got married to a guy who loved to cook and eat. Not only that, but he was vegetarian. What do you mean vegetarian? I never loved to eat red meat but, no self-respected Greek of my time was a vegetarian or had ever heard what a vegetarian is. And, here I am, marrying one. That ought to be fun . . . and so it’s been fun for the past 27 years.

For those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” let me tell you. When we went to see it, we almost got kicked out of the theatre, that’s how loud we were. We laughed to no end. It was deja vu! The memory of my mother’s reaction, to learning that her son-in-law was a vegetarian, was classic.

Today, 27 years and approximately 19,000 meals later, I can honestly say that cooking has become an activity I enjoy. I’ve even found cookbooks I love using as inspiration. I follow recipes, now and then, although there are very few recipes I don’t alter. I love that I can be creative, experiment and have something yummy and nutritious to share in the end.

For me, keeping it simple and authentic is the way to go. Who needs too much intervention when all this fresh stuff is here for our enjoyment? I love fresh herbs and vegetables; the more flavor and fragrance, the better.
I’ve also decided that, cooking, more than baking, suits my style. If I’m going to have dessert, it better be divine and that’s what, the French Bakery in our town, is for.

I’ve found that being myself is all I can do these days and the people around me agree. I think I’ve found my tribe . . . but more on the subject of “tribes” later.

Stay tuned. . .

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of gardens and wood fairies

I grew up watching my grandfather growing roses, tending grapes and fruit trees. In the summer, he would wake me up early in the morning so we could pick figs from the trees in our back yard for breakfast. Around noon, after the day’s chores were done, the children would lie down, under the shade of one of the fig trees, to rest, while our mothers would sit nearby and gossip or knit – seeking respite from the heat. Often, they would tell us stories about wood fairies and how they could steal the mind of the unfortunate mortals sleeping under their favorite trees.

My childhood wasn’t easy but there was magic in the air. It was that magic that sustained me; the deep connection to the land and the myths and vibrations of old.

The days I spent trailing my grandfather, as he tended his garden, have fueled my love for all things blooming. Lately, these memories have been circling my mind; strumming at my heart chords. It’s been a long time and an ocean between the child lying under the grand fig tree, dreaming of wood fairies, and the woman I am today.

My grandfather died when I was fifteen. That’s how old my daughters are now. The fig trees, the grape arbor and the rose garden are long gone. These days, I tend my own garden and although New England isn’t very friendly to fig trees, the magic still holds. The garden takes hold of me; I dream of it in the winter and, come spring, it’s the first place I go to, tea cup in hand. It keeps me connected and grounded; dirty fingernails and all.

I began fancying myself as a gardener in my late twenties. My initial efforts failed miserably. Secretly, I was happy that grandfather wasn’t around witnessing his apprentice making a mess of things. I kept trying and failing and each time I learned something more.

I learned about soil and light and native plants. I learned about timing and letting go. I learned to collaborate. A garden exists in spirit form and manifests through the gardener, in due time. It’s always a work in process and transformation, based on nature’s cycles and rhythm. With each passing season, I’m watching my sense of perfectionism softening its grip. I’ve learned to be happy with my lot. Other people’s gardens can serve as inspiration but, in the end, my garden and I have our own things going and it suits us fine.

Our moods are interconnected. Sometimes I like things simpler than others. As I change and transform, so does my garden. There are certain things that don’t change; my love for fragrant blooms, herbs and roses. I learned what plants invite hummingbirds in my yard. I recognize the sounds they make and I know when to be still and watch them.

The other day, I started doing some fall clean up. I’m still hesitating cutting back the shasta daisies and the peonies. Their dry stalks are reminders of the glory of spring and high summer. I’m not ready to let go . . . just yet. The basil is gone but I brought some parsley and mint inside for the winter.

The garden is preparing for darker, colder days ahead and so am I. Each season comes bearing gifts but I have spring in my mind. Soon, I’ll start dreaming again.

 

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what does chocolate have to do with it?

Here I am at Marty’s in Washington Depot, a cup of hot coffee and a morning glory muffin next to me. It’s raining pretty heavily, puddles of water already forming on the sidewalk. There’s the steady hum of the fans above, the chatter of a handful of people ordering coffee and joking with the owner, light jazz coming through the speakers.

On my way here, I drove by the post office to mail a letter and decided to circle back by the Middle School, on my way to Washington. The school is in session and the streets were quiet. I drove by slowly, looking at the school when, suddenly, it hit me.

My daughters are in High School now. Gone are the days when I used to drive by the Middle School, thinking of them, wondering what class they were in and sending them smiles. OR, when I’d walk in the building for committee meetings or to help with this and that. I used to see them in the corridors, on their way to class and they’d smile or stop to say hello but . . . no PDA . . . please! There was a host of middle schoolers watching, after all:-)

As all this went through my mind at the speed of lighting, I felt tears coming up. It was the first time, I let the tears come, since the girls started High School.

August was a whirlwind. We survived Irene and the four-day power shortage, went away for a four-day vacation and came back to . . . more rain! The floods that ensued caused the first school closing of the season All that while trying to adjust to a new schedule, a whole new set of demands and expectations, preparing for a workshop I was giving and trying to orchestrate home repairs and renovations. No wonder! There has been no time to stop and reflect.

This is how I tend to be and I suspect that’s how it is for many of you;  at the moment of a crisis or transition, I tend to brace and dive in. I do what I have to do, putting one foot in front of the other and making sure everyone is taken care of. Then, eventually, the “storm” passes, the initial impact is softened and the craziness becomes a distant memory. I find myself alone and quiet, settled into the new rhythm and ready to be with myself.

It’s at that point that whatever emotions were kept at bay, so I could function, often come to the surface; demanding to be dealt with. So, today, I finally felt the impact of having my daughters, my babies no-more, entering a new phase. I often joke that with twins, there is no dress rehearsal. No previous experience to fall back to.

Our relationship is strong and loving, yet things have also changed. For, as much as they love and respect me, they’re establishing boundaries and flexing their muscles. As a constant presence in their life, I’m here to rebel against and run to, often, at the same time. Confusing, to say the least . . . for all of us.

I have to constantly try and recall what it meant to be fifteen . . . while reminding myself that they’re not me! Their temperaments and individual traits may remind me of myself or my husband but they’re not us. They’re unique individuals.

So, here I am today, my coffee cup empty and my muffin indulged:-) I’ll have  brownies for them when I get home. They’ll be really happy after a long day at school and field hockey practice. They’ll give me a big smile and a hug before they grab the bag from my hands. For a brief moment they’ll regress back to being two kids with chocolate all over their mouths and a huge grin of utter satisfaction.

Don’t you love chocolate?

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