From my chair: Drinking in the sunshine

Today is another unexpected gift of radiant sunshine.

Drinking in Sunshine

Why is it that we have an alcoholic drink called “moonshine“? But we have no drink called sunshine.  For those of us in the Northwest who are often sunshine starved, we need our Vitamin D anyway we can get it.

I love the way my surroundings of glass from my chair let me absorb sunshine from all angles and see the reflections of the images of our tall cedars.

Cedars reflected

This first day of November has emptied most of the leaves from the trees in my view.  The colors of fall are dropping away, but the blue grays of the Puget Sound are always present.

As I drink in the sunshine I bounce between two books – The War of Art and What is Biodynamics?  The view in front of me battles back and forth and up and down between the richness of the squirrels hopping to and fro and the ferries journeying between Bainbridge and Seattle.  I am battling focusing on the falling leaves versus the mists slightly shrouding the Seattle Waterfront.  The morning’s clouds move speedily south as the sun rises to lift the maritime layer.  This battle is the constant movement of the “biodynamics” of life in front of me.

Steven Pressfield sees the battle as a war between creativity and resistance:

“I, on the other hand, believe that the source of creativity is found on the same plane of reality as Resistance. It, too, is genetic. It’s called talent: the innate power to discover the hidden connection between two things — images, ideas, words — that no one else has ever seen before, link them, and create for the world a third, utterly unique work.”

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art . Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

Hugh Courtney in his introduction to Steiner’s What is Biodynamics? shares:

“Real understanding takes place not just by exercising one’s mental capacities, but only when one is “doing,” or taking action.”

Steiner, Rudolf. What Is Biodynamics? . SteinerBooks. Kindle Edition.

I’ve drunk enough sunshine this morning.  It is time to meander downstairs and paint a little and write a little.  Drinking in the sun has overcome the resistance of the ongoing biodynamic battles “from my chair.”

Painting Experiment #132

 

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From my chair: My Storyteller Knows Me

As I read the “The Sycamore” by Wendell Berry, I am reminded of a trip my wife and I made to Coorg, India.  Each night we were entertained by the family’s cook.  His stories graciously synthesized the family wisdom of each day.

I remember my first meeting Russ Ackoff forty years ago at his office at the Wharton School.  On his door were taped three academic articles.  I asked what they were.  He shared “the best personal information system in the world is a set of graduate students who know me and know what I am currently interested in.  These articles are the selected results of their research yesterday.”

Rick Jackson handed me a copy of “The Sycamore” near the end of another engaging conversation.  I was stunned at how deeply it captured my journey of the last 19 months.

“In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.”

Each line brings forth memories of my building resilience journey.

I had to pause and reflect with this line “It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.”  How have the accidents in my life developed or changed my purpose?  I immediately thought of David Sinclair‘s Lifespan and how epigenetics order our development AND record all the “accidents” in our lives:

“Epigenetic information is what orchestrates the assembly of a human newborn made up of 26 billion cells from a single fertilized egg and what allows the genetically identical cells in our bodies to assume thousands of different modalities….”

“Broken DNA causes genome instability, I wrote, which distracts the Sir2 protein, which changes the epigenome, causing the cells to lose their identity and become sterile while they fixed the damage. Those were the analog scratches on the digital DVDs. Epigenetic changes cause aging.”

Sinclair, David . Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

My Tall Cedar

While I don’t have a sycamore in the view from my chair, I do have a tall cedar.  It has withstood earthquakes and mud slides and escaped the destruction from the building of our neighborhood.  For 20 years it is the first thing I see as look for Mt Rainier.  Now I wonder what accidents it has adapted to its purpose.

Thank you Rick.  As one of my storytellers, you have come to know me.

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From my chair: Morning sun breaks

The joy of a rainy fall morning light transition is to watch the blacks turn to grays turn to sun light shows.

Illuminating sun breaks

I finished John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace yesterday.  I didn’t realize that he was good friends with David Whyte, who is one of my favorite poets.  So today I started reading Consolations and one of the first words he explores is “beauty”.

“Beauty is the harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.”

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte

I love the notion of the “harvest of presence.”  I am wondering where O’Donohue stops and Whyte begins.  I took to underlining how many times O’Donohue uses the word “presence” in his book to describe many aspects of beauty.

Being present to the beauty of this morning’s transition to sun breaks speaks to my ongoing transition from a lifetime of doing the business of business to whatever is next.

This morning I choose to just be and occasionally capture the transitions of dark to light.  Would that I could “see” those transitions within me.  For now I will have to be satisfied with inhaling the beauty of the sun’s rays becoming a “bridge between the here and the there” of random parts of the Puget Sound.

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From my chair: Discovering time is presence

John O’Donohue reminds us that beauty is always around us.  This surrounding is the lesson I take away from his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.   The book finishes with:

A Beauty Blessing

“As stillness in stone to silence is wed
May your heart be somewhere a God might dwell.

As a river flows in an ideal sequence
May your soul discover time is presence.

As the moon absolves the dark of distance
May thought-light console your mind with brightness.

As the breath of light awakens colour
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.

As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
May your winter places be kissed by light.

As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance
May the grace of change bring you elegance.

As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
May your outer life grow from peace within.

As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May beauty await you at home beyond.” – p 249

Each couplet makes me stop and think.  Each couplet conjures a different image.

I look to my right and “time is presence” comes alive.

Creative Grand-parenting

Grandma is encouraging our granddaughter with her reading homework.  The medium for today’s homework is our window to the world.  What a great suggestion from her teacher to do the homework in some other medium than an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper.  Of course her mom admonishes that the window is OK, but the walls are not OK for homework.

What a gift to have the time AND take the time to “discover time is presence.”

As I re-read the “Beauty Blessing”, an image jumps to mind as I absorb “as clay anchors a tree in light and wind”.

A tree anchored

Each time I hike in Fort Ward, this tree symbolizes the preciousness of clinging to life.  I have to stop and becalm myself.

Thank you, Father O’Donohue.  “May Beauty await you at home beyond.”

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From my chair: Rainy rhythms

The fall/winter rain rhythm returned last night.  The to/fro rhythm of the Port of Seattle ships continues in front of me.

Today, the last of the cruise ships of the summer season returns.

Rainy Fall Rhythms

Reading John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace synchronicity strikes again:

“The old people used to say: everything that is on the land is in the sea; if you ever saw a mermaid on the shore, you had to be very careful because she would try to get you to come between her and the ocean, then she would drown you.  There were also stories about lost treasures and secret villages under the sea.  All this mystery was echoed in a memorable poem we learned in school.  It had the unforgettable first line: “a ship arrived from Valparaiso.”  The very sound of the word ‘Valparaiso’ conjured up images of all that was foreign and exotic, a dream-world which had mysteries and wonders beyond our wildest imaginings.  Somewhere on the other side of our ocean its waves were breaking on the magical kingdom of Valparaiso.

“The human heart is always drawn beyond the here and now.  Human presence never finally gathers anywhere; we are never simply or clearly here.” – p. 218

On any other day I would observe the ships, boats and ferries moving to and fro.  Thanks to O’Donohue I now wonder where each vessel is coming from or going to.  What is their Valparaiso?  What treasures did they bring today?

While contemplating the treasures I notice the droplets of the night’s rain on the sea oats in our deck planter.  I try to see through the prism of a rain drop to the cruise ship.  The macro and micro vibrate in my vision.  The present, past and future vibrate in my thoughts.

The weather rhythms of Seattle are different than what we were used to in New Hampshire.  In fall/winter NH the weather alternated through three day cycles.  Three days of storms and then three days of sunshine.  On Bainbridge we get all the rhythms in a single day.  The skies clear about 10 pm.  Around 3 am the clouds come in and we get our rain from 4 am to 7 am.  Then the marine layer over the Puget Sound slowly lifts and around 3 pm we have sun breaks (not an East Coast partly cloudy, but a Pacific Northwest sun break).  Slowly the skies clear as darkness arrives and then the cycle repeats.  For months on end.

I realize I need the rhythms of the hours of the ships moving to and fro to dream of Valparaiso while also peering through the hanging rain drop on the sea oat.

But it is the last line that stops me this morning “human presence never fully gathers anywhere”.  The simple oscillation of my view through the rain drop (the here and now) to the thoughts of the journey of the cruise ship (past and present) makes the assertion real.  Where am I? What a simple question that so long as my thoughts are swirling has no easy answer.

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From my chair: Seattle’s Mourning Veil

“Whoever cannot seek
the unforeseen sees nothing,
for the known way
is an impasse.”

Heraclitus

The clouds this morning are almost smoke like creating a thin veil over the buildings of Seattle.

Seattle’s Mourning Veil

I think nature is bemoaning the passing of summer and getting ready for the winter rains.

Contrasts of a fall mourning

As I stare at the veiled horizon, the colors right in front of me beckon.  The fading bright red leaves of our newly planted Japanese maple say hi.  The wisps of the waving grass stalks in our deck planter beckon my attention.  An almost fallen leaf caught in the snare of an abandoned spider web playfully leaps into my view.

So much to seek as I brighten in the shortening days of fall.

I return to reading Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue:

“Faithfulness to individuality is at the heart of compassion and creativity.

“More often than not, we feel so enmeshed in the life we have that the prospect of change appears remote or impossible.  Thus, we continue on the tracks that we have laid down for ourselves.  We are unable to think in new ways and we gradually teach ourselves to forget the other horizons.  We unlearn desire.  Quietly, over time, we succumb to the dependable script of the expected life and become masters of the middle way.  We avoid extremes and after a while we no longer even notice the pathways off to the side and no longer sense the danger and disturbance that could be experienced ‘out there’.  We learn to fit our chosen world with alarming precision and regularity.  Often it takes a huge crisis or trauma to crack the dead shell that has grown ever more solid around us.” p. 173

As the veil over Seattle is a transition between night and day and an early fall marine layer, I am at the transition from being enmeshed in the business of doing business to a new world as an elder.  The middle way is in the past.  The dead shell is shattered.

The Middle Way

Onward.

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From my chair: Quality of Looking

“The quality of our looking determines what we can see.” – John O’Donohue

This view greeted me thirty minutes into my morning “looking”:

Seattle Fall Sunrise

I am constantly surprised by joy when I remember to sit in my easy chair and look at the dynamic wonders of nature and man flowing across and around the Puget Sound.

I am constantly surprised by the joy of social media for reconnecting me with the people a lifetime of interactions has passed by.  This week a colleague from thirty five years ago reached out to see what I was up to.  I shared with her that I was reading John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace and that I was starting a new series of blog posts “From my chair”.

She followed up with an email from Richard Rohr (one of my favorite Christian authors) suggesting that I was doing something akin to a practice in seeing that Rohr recommends:

Practice: Lectio Divina in Nature

Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody’s ever really seen

How many can you find?

—Lew Welch [1]

We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. —Ilia Delio, OSF [2]

Lectio divina (Latin for sacred reading) is a contemplative way of reading and praying with Scripture. Rather than trying to rationally understand a static text, this practice helps us be present to the Living Word of God and allow it to change us. In lectio divina, God teaches us to listen for and seek God’s presence in silence. Although the Bible is most often used, many people practice lectio divina with nature. Franciscans believe that the first act of divine revelation is Creation itself, so it makes sense to “read” or observe God’s presence in Brother Sun and Sister Moon, in animals and plants.

As with other forms of lectio divina, the practice is divided into four steps. Find a place where you are surrounded by the beauty of nature and where you feel safe to be quiet and alone for 20 or more minutes.

1. Lectio/Read

In silence, be attentive to your surroundings, opening to the mystery of these beings’ existence and prayerfully asking them to address you. Simply asking is creating a space in which a response can happen. If you like, use a journal to write down any impressions that arise.

2. Meditatio/Meditate

Ponder what you are observing, being attentive to whatever is in front of you as though you could be in dialogue with it. For example, as you look around, if you see a flower, gaze at it and also consider what it would feel like for the flower to look back at you. What it would be like to be in mutual relationship with all of Creation?

3. Oratio/Pray

Oratio is an opportunity to enter into dialogue with God, offering gratitude as well as lifting up your hopes, fears, and pains. In oratio, you are invited to surrender all of these things and allow God to transform you and the world through this encounter.

4. Contemplatio/Contemplate

Contemplatio is simply abiding in the presence of God. Rest joyfully in Mystery after lifting up your prayers and problems to God, confident that your needs are known.

From my chair, I have the gift of seeing fifty miles into the distance of the Cascade Mountains beyond Seattle, while observing the fall colors fifty inches in front of me.  The oscillations of views “from my chair” remind me to stay with this dance no matter where I am.  Now to add daily conversations with my creator.

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