Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mindful Living in Today: Do Not Worry; Trust the Universe

Intuitively, I knew that "mindfulness" was the most important concept that I had learned from teaching nearly 40 years of high school English. Elsewhere, I have already blogged about "living in this present moment" several times, and since my retirement in 2010, I have headed up some "workshops" on the subject.

More attention is being paid to the concept of mindfulness in our world today--more "articles," podcasts, etc., on the subject. Ironically, I think that part of the reason for this attention to mindfulness is because we live even less mindful, more mindless lives than ever before. In part because of technology--in particular because of our smart phones, tablets, etc.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible has always been that one from the Sermon of the Mount that tells us, "do not worry about tomorrow."

Unfortunately, as a child and teen in my damaged/dysfunctional family of origin (which I've also already blogged about in my memoir posts), I was taught to worry about everything! Perhaps many of us raised in the 50s and 60s were taught to be too concerned about the future. Especially if we were raised in a family with mental illnesses.

Lately, my go-to word has been "Trust." It is imprinted on my key chain, and it is the word that usually comes to my mind when my yoga instructor tells us to find a centering word.  

This morning I read an interpretation of the "do not worry" verse from Deepak Chopra's book THE THIRD JESUS that tied "mindfulness" and the verse together in a way that made a lot of sense to me.

First, Chopra lets us know that this "do not worry" verse is one of Jesus's most radical injunctions to us, yet it is probably the least followed. Like everyone else, Christians worry, plan, earn a living, and amass money and possessions against some future time. And all of our society encourages us to do so. Learning to trust God's Providence (or providing) is a process that we can learn to practice everyday.

Chopra tells us that the most direct way not to worry about tomorrow is to live in the present. Only the present is real, but it can be elusive. Why? Because we spend so much of our time remembering the past and anticipating the future. The past and the future are "unreal." Thus the real and the unreal become blended--so entangled, in fact, that the present must be retrieved piecemeal.

Furthernore, Chopra gives us 7 qualities of the present to ponder and to embrace, and he further gives us their opposites to avoid:

7 qualities of mindfulness:            

Alertness--being awake
Openess--being free from expectations
Freshness--not being overshadowed by the past (yesterday)
Innocence--not judging (from old or past experience)
Spontaneity--allowing new impulses to come in without criticism or censorship
Fearlessness--the absence of traumas from the past
Replenishing--the capacity to renew oneself from within

the opposites:

Dull instead of alert
Closed off instead of open
Stale instead of fresh
Knowing instead of innocence
Planned or routine instead of spontaneous
Anxious instead of fearless
Depleting instead of replenishing (renewing)

Children--especially young children--display these 7 mindfulness qualities all the time, and all of these qualities are present inside us. So we don't have to learn them, but we have to uncover them once more. As Jesus tells us, "Let the children come to me."

Right now, the present moment is filled with memories, expectations, projected beliefs, and past conditioning. Allow yourself to fill the present moment in a different, far more real way, by practicing the 7 qualities above! Allow yourself to be free, for "the truth shall make you free." As a matter of fact, we need to be more childlike and trusting.

Retrieve the present moment by clearing out the past, which means whatever is routine, dull, knowing, calculated, anxious, and traumatic. You cannot manufacture innocence, for example, but by removing its opposite, knowingness, you leave space so that innocence can express itself once more through you.

Chopra challenges us to the following exercise: When confronted with someone you think you know very well, whose behavior is predictable, don't react at first. Leave a place for something new in this person. Ask a new kind of question, agree where you would normally disagree, withhold judgement, and see what happens. Distance yourself from past experience and expectations, leaving space for something unexpected to emerge.

This same process can be applied to every other qulaity of the present moment.

Trust the universal Spirit, ask for a change, and let this universe be transformed into a safe haven, a home for evey person, filled with life's necessities. Because it already is. If we allow it to be.

Practice the 7 qualities of mindfullness, of living in the present monment. And trust that your needs will be provided for. Chopra says that Jesus called this safe haven Providence because its purpose is to provide.

Because God or the Universe knows what you need even before you ask, I say pencil in your plans for your life ever so lightly and Trust that Life will flow through you and fill out your Living in this Eternal Present moment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Regrets--I've had a few"--Part 2

We all love imperfectly, if we love at all.

When I was a child, there were two people whose love I was sure of. I knew that my Granddaddy Clark (my mother's father) and my step Grandmother Etta loved me. And only me, it seemed to my childish heart, or at least, loved me best of all. They lived in Columbia, South Carolina, and I would get to stay with them for a week or two in the summer. I've written about their love for me in another blog post.

To the best of my knowledge, Etta had married my grandfather after my own parents had married. I don't know Etta and Joe's (my grandfather's) story--how they came to meet and fall in love. I only knew that my grandfather "drank," and that my mother's parents divorced when my mother was a young girl. (Her mother had also remarried to my step Grandfather Wassil and moved to New Jersey, where we visited once  year.) From my family and society, I had gotten the message that divorce was "wrong" or something to be ashamed of.

I also knew that, at first, I had three sets of grandparents. Then I had two.

Here are my Granddaddy and Etta, Daddy and Mama and little eight-year-old or nine-year-old me with the sun in my eyes in front of the old store that my grandparents managed on a hot dusty street in Columbia, SC. They lived in rooms behind the store. I just noticed that painted on the wall behind us it says "school supplies"!
As fate would have it, my Granddaddy Clark died in his 50s when I was 9 years old. His death left me in despair, but in my family, I had been taught to put on a brave face and not let people know how I felt. So life went on. And down I went into the maelstrom of my damaged family.

Since Granddaddy was gone, I do recall visiting Etta only once; she lived with her sister(s) in Summerville, SC, and the old house seemed filled with those large coastal Carolina cockroaches or Palmetto bugs that scurried when one turned on the kitchen light at night. I do not remember our visiting Etta anymore. And somehow to my childish mind, that seemed about right, She was, after all, a "step" grandmother. Not someone that we were really kin to.

I do not recall being encouraged to stay in contact with Etta, nor do I remember any more connection to her. But apparently my mother stayed in contact with her because the next thing I do remember about Etta, my mother was telling me that she was in a nursing home and didn't want to live anymore, to which my young adult self replied that then she should be allowed to die. Possibly 15 or 20 years had passed since the death of my gandfather.

And these are my regrets about Etta--that I did not stay in touch with her--with someone who had loved me as a child--that I did not let her know how important she was to me--that I did not thank her for loving and caring for me and my grandfather--that I neglected her. So when I get to Heaven, Etta is another one of those people that I will definitely be looking up, for I have a sin to expiate. My deepest hope is that she will somehow find it in her heart to forgive me. After all, Heaven's the right place for forgiving; I don't know where it's likely to go better. (to purposely misquote Robert Frost)

Another regret that I carry in my heart is with my first mother-in-law Lucy Cooper.

Here are Tommy Cooper and I getting maried.

And here's the only picture that I know of that I have of Lucy Cooper--she's the pretty lady in pink smiling so broadly, so proudly to the right of her son.
Since I had begun to date Tommy in high school, his mother Lucy was nothing but kind to and supportive of me. After my junior year in college, Tommy and I married. Lucy continued to be nothing but kind to me and proud of me; she liked to brag about the clean and organized house that I kept, which to her was a great accomplishment. She taught me some of the few cooking skills that I had--like how to make the best whipped potatoes. Since he was an only child, Tommy and I ate dinner with his parents, probably every other week.

After about two years of marriage and working, I had finally earned my English degree and qualified to become a high school teacher. It was May, 1972, and I was gong to graduate from college (which my father had predicted that I never would do after I had gotten married). Again Lucy was so proud of me.

Tommy and I had rented the smallest possible house in Clarksville. (before tiny houses were popular). It was probably originally build for a so-called "mother-in-law" apartment in the back yard of a much larger house.

My parents were coming from Kansas to attend the ceremony, and though my house was too small for them to spend the night, I had invited them over for a meal that I was cooking after graduation.
I was so nervous about cooking and about the table setting and about the house being perfect for them.

Of course, Lucy had naturally assumed that she and her husand, Tommy's father, whom we called simply Cooper, were invited to partake of my speical day and special dinner. But I had to tell her that I had no room for them, that the table only sat four people, that I didn't have enough dishware for them, in short, that they were not invited to the dinner.

And though she did not show it, I know that must have hurt her something fierce. Pretty much, I thought that I and my family were better than the Coopers--than Lucy Cooper--I was still being that little snob who had dissed Dethula years before:

--and I was still trying to impress my own parents, still trying to win their love, I guess. It was rude; it was mean. And later I regretted it, but by then, Tommy and I had divorced (which also, I'm sure, had hurt Lucy), and I had moved on to Ashland City to my first teaching job and out of the lives of the Coopers.

So again when I get to Heaven, I have something to expiate--my mistreating Lucy Cooper in any of the ways that I may have done so. Decades later, when I saw Tommy again when I bought a car from him in Madison, he told me that his mother had died years before of cancer. Asked why he had not gotten in touch with me when she was sick, he said that she felt if people didn't come see her when she was well, she didn't want them to come when she was sick. I stood there justifiably accused. I should have taken the time to go to her and to have apologized for my mean act toward her and Cooper.

 Please Dear God, Forgive me now, for all my sins of commission and my sins of omission. Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2017

"Regrets--I've had a few" and I Shall Mention Them Here and Come Clean!

We are shaped by the people that we perceive love us unconditionally.

I was talking yesterday to a friend about regrets in our lives. She mentioned that she regrets not finishing college, and I quickly responded, "But you can still do that!"

Then I said that my regrets are such that I could not do anything about them. Most of them are about hurting other people.

Being known for my "tactlessness," I'm sure that I have hurt many people unintentionally and was completely unaware that I had hurt them. But these regrets that I write about now are about intentional hurts.

I'll talk first about Dethula Mathis.

There she stands in the top picture on the left in 1984 at age 54, I think. Sorry the picture is not clearer.

Here's the story. It was in my childhood in the 1950s (grades 4-6) in Madison, Tennessee. My family and I lived on Berwich Trail, way down a long driveway by the Cumberland River. For several years Dethula was our domestic, as we called black women who came into the house to help our mothers with housework. Though my mother was a stay-at-home mother (as were most mothers that we knew), she kept such a spotless, perfect house, she needed help once a week to keep it that way. Plus she needed help to do all of the ironing that was done back then--to starch and iron my father's crisp white shirts, my school dresses, etc.

My mother was not a very nurturing woman, but Dethula was the essence of the word maternal. For years, she mothered me, as I had not known such nurturing before or since. As much as I loved school and my teachers, I loved her more. I couldn't wait to get home from school on the days she worked at our house and was always greeted by her big smile and a warm embrace. Then I would hang with her as she completed her chores. On occasion, I would pretend to be sick so that I could stay home from school to be with her. She would baby me like no other--fix me my favorite foods for lunch (PB& strawberry J and her delightful concoction of homemade chicken noodle soup with a rare gingerale), read to me, and rub my back until I fell asleep,  Later I discovered that she was referred to in the Madison area as "Big Mama."

Me around 8 or 9.
So life was good to me in those early years in Madison, Tennessee. (,

And Dethula was an integral part of that good life. I had felt loved by her and by my Granddaddy Clark ( and by my teachers at Neely's Bend Elemenary School.

Then we moved away to Louisville, Kentucky, where things changed for me in many different ways and where these things changed me. (

Flash forward to Madison, Tennessee, 1964. After a couple chaotic, confusing years in Louisville, Kentucky, my family had returned to Madison, where I was to spend my best high school years--my sophomore and junior years at Madison High School. I had left Madison at age 12, feeling on top of the world, and I returned to Madison at age 14 an insecure teenager, thinking that what mattered the most were the way I looked, the clothes that I wore, and how popular I was or was not.

Me at 13 or 14.
So one day as I walked into the Madison High School cafeteria for lunch, I spied Dethula way back in the serving area. Back then, probably blacks were not allowed out in the front, where we students were served our food. Immediately, I ignored her. Weeks passed and I continued to ignore her, hoping that she would not see nor recognize me. But one day, Dethula caught sight of me in the serving line and her face broke into her biggest smile, and she loudly and lovingly called out my name, "Laura!"

I turned away from her as if  I did not know who she was, but not before seeing the look of deep hurt on her face (or do I just imagine that). I had become a snobby little overt racist! Because she was black, I was rejecting the person who had shown me the most kindness in my younger years. And I felt nothing, or perhaps I felt that I was jusified. I don't recall what I felt--except embarrassed that she had called my name, hoping no one else had noticed. That was it; that was the only and last time that Dethula tried to acknowledge me. I guess she knew exactly what was going on in my small mind and smaller heart.

As best I can recall, I immediately regretted what I had done, but didn't have the courage to make amends for it. I avoided even looking at Dethula the rest of my years at Madison High School, for fear that she would again try to speak to me. I simply ran my heedless high school ways through the rest of my days there, caring only about myself.

Sometime later in my life, I began to feel shame and sadness and repentance for what I had done. But one day led to another, and my life continued on in its shambles through college and into adulthood. Still later when I read D. H. Lawrence's poem "Snake" and taught it to my high schoolers, I knew that I found comfort in his words:

"And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life. [with one of the saints of life]
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness."

Expiate means "to atone for guilt or sin." Synonyms include "make up for, do penance for, pay for."

I can see from an online obituary that Dethula died in 2010 at the age of 90 and left behind three grown children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. I wish that I could have visited her in this lifetime, so that I could have apologized to her and told her my story of how much she meant to me when I was a little girl who lived at the end of that long driveway by the Cumberland River and how much her affection for me meant later in my life..

Dethula is one of those people that I will definitely be looking up when I get to Heaven, for I have a sin to expiate. My deepest hope is that she doesn't ignore me, that she will somehow find it in her big heart to forgive me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Southern Utah in October, 2016--Zion National Park--my favorite!

After hiking in Byrce Canyon that Monday morning, October 17, I drove a couple hours to Zion National Park. Zion, like Capitol Reef National Park, is on the road that runs through it. Above is my first view of Zion.

(BTW, I'm sorry, but I notice that these beautiful, colorful pictures do not transfer to my computer (blog) as high defintion as they are on my phone. So you are gonna have to use your imagination to enhance them!)

Like Capitol Reef, Zion is also on a river--the Virgin River. In other words, a river runs through Zion, with all of its tributaries and creeks. Which perhaps accounts for its amazing variety of colors.

the sparkling green Virgin River
or sometimes blue sparkling waters of her tributaries

I had to go through several tunnels--some much longer than this one, which of course, required lights on!

That afternoon as I drove through Zion, I had to keep stopping my car and getting out to truly appreciate the vivid colors and forms of its captivating beauty.

I can't begin to describe the actual colors in this picture, which are not showing up. The colors of this same picture on my phone are deep tans with bright white tops and red rock to the right with vivid greens below.

Below is my view from my hotel room in Springdale, Utah, just on the outskirts of the park. The next morning I caught a shuttle right outside my hotel and journeyed back into the park. On the shuttle I met visitors to the park from around the states and around the world--there were many Asian people and people from Engliand and Switzerland. I heard Hebrew spoken and had an interesting conversation with some people from Isreal. 

Everywhere I went people from all over the states and the world were saying that they could not believe that someone like Trump was running for President of the United States! Sadly, I have to wonder what they think now.

Again the colors of bright whites and deep reds are missing in this picture!

There were many stops along the way, where you could exit from the shuttle bus. I got off at one them--the last one, I believe--and had a delightful morning hike along the river bank,

Unless you forget, we are out West!

As in the other parks, the cottonwoods were at their peak!

After I caught a shuttle back into the town of Springdale, I was treated to the best meal of my trip--homemade chicken parmesan--and from the restaurant, I had one of the best views too (see below).

All in all, this solo trip of mine was another fun adventure. I would not choose to go to these parks in the heat or the crowds of  the summer or in the snow and ice of the winter. Autumn and spring are usually the ideal times to travel into this region. Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park were my two favorites on this trip, but I would return to any of these Southern Utah national parks in a heartbeat!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Southern Utah--the third national park Bryce Canyon

So the 15 and 16 of October found me in Bryce Canyon National Park. Everyone is gonna have his/her favorite national park, and many had said that they loved Bryce, but I did not love it so much.

Yes, the towering rock formations called hoodoos were interesting. And the rose-colored spires, fins, and mazes were nice. But it was in the little town of Tropic one morning that I found more interesting sights within walking distnce of my little cabin.

The sheep farmer picked these apples off his trees for me! Delicious!

I've always had a fondness for cows, and these came over as if I was gonna give them my apples!

Even at the top of Bryce Canyon, I found a dancing raven. And still having an animal friendly day, on the way out, I spotted some doe and her fawns.
Ravens are very intelligent and capable birds. Some researchers believe that ravens have a rudimentary language. Ravens have been observed communicating ideas, not only to each other, but also to members of other species Ravens mate for life and are one of the few truly monogamous species of songbirds. They will continually use the same nest. 

These are the hoodoos for which this park is particularly famous.The Paiutes believed that the rock figures were people turned to stone by angry gods.

The next morning I explored a little more of Bryce Canyon before heading off to Zion National Park through that rock tunnel you see at the bottom of this page, and I found some more of Bryce's beauty.

I called this one star pennacle. 

Wasn't this a fun little tunnel? And there will be more to come--much longer ones as I approach and get into Zion!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Southern Utah--the second national park Capitol Reef

On Friday afternoon, October 14, after my last visit into Arches National Park, I headed off to Torrey, Utah, to visit Capitol Reef National Park.

Just as in a part of my drive from Salt Lake City, I viewed some of what I refer to as dirt mountains along the way--especially from the interstate. Except for the last two, the pictures below are not ones that I took and are actually more scenic than the dirt moutains I saw which were rising up from flatter dirt ground. There was no vegetation--nothing to divert the eye to something more attractive. The dirt mountians were broken only by gullies of water erosion running down their sides. Very rugged terrain. Very much desert terrain.

So just as in my traveling into Moab a few days ago, from this rather ugly landscape rose such beauty--beauty that we have protected by designating it a national park. I arrive at Capitol Reef National Park. The very road that I'm traveling on goes through some of the park! One of the massive domes in the park is white and reminded the earlier travelers of the US Capitol building and later inspired the name of the park.

As far as the word reef in the parks name goes, this environment was once an ocean, which by three powerful processes--deposition, unlift, and erosion gradually disappeared. Then over time a wrinkle in the Earth's crust was created, extending nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. The result is a classic example of a monocline, or a one-sided fold, in the otherwise horizontal rock layers.  So over millions of years, geologic forces shaped, lifted, and folded the earth, creating this rugged, remote area known as the Waterpocket Fold, or as Capitol Reef National Park!

In contrast to the mono-colored desert lands that I had been traveling through, all of a sudden, a vibrant palette of color spills across the landscape. The hues are constantly changing, altered by the play of light agasinst the towering cliffs, massive domes, arches, natural bridges, and twisting canyons. Since it is October, the cottonwoods are a radiant yellow. And since the Fremont River and Sulpher Creek run through this area, the cottonwoods are lush.

In the 1880s, at the confluence of these two waterways, Mormons established a small settlement in this area that they named Fruita. They built irrigation systems to water orchards and pastures and to sustain a self-reliance agriculture lifestyle for decades. Families tended the apple, peach, pear, and apricot trees. As reminders of this pioneer time, the park still maintains these orchards, as well as the one room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and the Gilford homestead.

the one-room school house in the Fruita community

Carvings and paintings on rock walls are reminders of the first people who lived here from about 300-1300 CE and even earlier. These peoples are the ancestors of the modern-day Hopi, Zuni, and Paiute tribes of American Indians. They farmed the fertile land adjacent to the Fremont River and other nearby creeks and supplemented crops by hunting wildlife and harvesting nuts, berries, and seeds. No evidence of this culture is found after 1300.

Look closely and you can see the petroglyphs and pictographs on the walls made by the American Indians. 

I didn't stay in these teepees, but in a motel in Torrey--quite a nice town. It too was filled with cottonwoods. And a lovely art shop in an old house.

An ancient Carolina poplar in the backyard of the art gallery

Now here's the hardest part of Capitol Reef National Part for me to try to tell you about, and so astounded was I by this particular area that I took no pictures. Or maybe I knew the pictures wouldn't turn out. My second day in the park before I headed off to Bryce Canyon NP, I headed down a road that I had not previously been on. At first the scenery was pretty typically lots of red rock cliffs, domes, and canyons, and I almost turned around.

But then the asphalt road came to an abrupt halt, and a friend of mine from Kingston Springs who had been to Capitol Reef the year before had told me to be sure to keep going onto the dirt road. So I listened to him and kept traveling deeper into what turned out to be a gorge--a gorge that got deeper as I twisted and turned on this almost single lane dirt road. On either side of me were these towering rock walls and cliffs of various colors like nothing I had ever seen--so high and close were they that at times I could only see a ribbon of the blue sky! It was somewhat spooky and yet magnificent! It went on for several, several miles before I came to the end of the dirt road and turned around and drove slowly back to the asphalt.

That was the image that I held in my mind's eye as I made my way to the next national park that afternoon. But soon I found myself twisting and turning through a national forest, and I was at the top of this road filled on either side with already denuded white aspens.

Finally as I rose higher and higher up this mountainous road, this forest gave way to deep canyons on either side, and I was indeep on top of the world!

Except to show some of the colors and some yellow cottonwood trees all in a line further out and apparently near a river, this picture does not do justice to the deep caverns/canyons that were on either side of the road atop a narrow passageway that I was traveling.

  to be continued at Bryce Canyon National Park!