Friday, May 8, 2009

Somewhere over the rainbow....

Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow...why, oh, why can't I?

It has never been a secret that "Somewhere over the rainbow" is one of my favorite songs. Since I was a little girl, curled up on the sofa, watching Dorothy sing in "The Wizard of Oz", as she daydreamed about a place where wishes can come true. Dorothy's impression of that place "over the rainbow" for most of us would be paradise: a place in which she could feel safe from harm, peaceful in heart, loved and protected. Her imaginings led her to believe that that her excursion to "being over the rainbow", would mean that all her troubles would disappear, and where she would be happy forever. Despite the hopeful lyrics of a song that still touches my soul, the irony about Dorothy's fairy tale land was that it didn't exist at all. Yes, Dorothy did fly over the rainbow. She did land in a place completely away from all of her troubles. But, with her voyage came her old nemesis, her old fears and a deep seated homesickness. Dorothy got her wish: she flew over the rainbow. But, in the end, it wasn't the land in which her dreams came true in the way she'd imagined.

How many times have we thought to ourselves, "If I just can have this, I'll be happy for the rest of my life?". For some, that dream of "being over the rainbow" might be the perfect job, a date with your dreamy coworker, a bigger house or a newer car. I have a friend who, for years, cut all the things she wanted out of magazines and newspapers. She pasted these pictures in a scrapbook. She'd gaze at the photos of the elegant colonial style mansion, and the luxury SUV longingly. She would "furnish" her imaginary home with designer rooms from "Elegant Homes" magazine. She would glue photos of hairstyles she liked, and celebrities whose appearance she admired. She would clip out designer outfits from "Vogue" and imagine owning a handbag that cost more than her monthly house payment. My friend called this scrapbook her 'wish book', in an homage to the old Sears catalog that used to come out at Christmas time. Her idea was that she would 'check off' each item as she acquired it. The thing is, as the months turned into years, and the years dragged on, my friend became more and more resentful that she was not checking off more items in her wish book. Her marriage suffered. Her self-esteem crumbled. The wish book became, itself, an insurmountable goal. Because she had chosen to make these unattainable items, that she couldn't be happy without, her perfectly lovely life became the wrong side of the fence. Her wish book, like Dorothy's Oz, became a place that wasn't right for her. It wasn't healthy. And, it wasn't home.

Is it wrong of us to have daydreams, then? I don't believe there is anything wrong with daydreaming. I feel that daydreams are an essential part of creativity. Without daydreams and imagination, there would be no artists, no writers, no scientists making new discoveries. Without engaging in the 'possibilities' part of our brains, we would be deprived of essential thinking skills: lateral thinking and problem solving comes from the same area in the brain that dreams (both waking and sleeping) originate from. We would be unable to solve dilemmas we had never faced before. We would not be able to appreciate traveling to new places or enjoying new experiences, since they would be out of the realm of every day experience. Creative thought is extremely helpful to our society as a whole. It's the greatest daydreamers who have given us some of the greatest accomplishments. Hippocrates, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Isadora Duncan, Charles Dickens, Vincent Van Gogh and Susan B. Anthony were just some the world's greatest daydreamers....and each one of them made an indelible impression for generations after their lifetimes.

But, what about the rest of us? Since I'm neither a great artist, nor a gifted scientist, does daydreaming have any merit for average woman? Absolutely...having a daydream can give hope to us during difficult times.Daydreams, if we can keep them in check, can be a healthy way to relieve stress. In Yoga, we often use a technique called "Guided Meditation". Also called "Guided Imagery", this is defined as "practice in which your imagination is lead on a particular journey with the purpose of achieving healing and realizations through purposeful contemplation and reflection." For many of us, even during yoga classes, it can be difficult to let go of our working mind. One Yogic school of thought calls this the human "monkey mind", always jumping from tree to tree, never focusing on where one is, but always on what's next to do. A guided imagery meditation might involve gentle music, and a teacher to help lead your thought pattern into a predictable, peaceful and nurturing space. Using our imaginations, we can close our eyes and transform a simple yoga studio into a lush tropical oasis, a breathtaking mountaintop, an illuminated night sky or, simply, the place that most says "comfort" to us. I've had many students tell me that, when I ask them to bring forth the image of the place in which they feel the safest, their grandmother's house is first on the list. Evoking the image of a special place, either real or imaginary, can help restore a panicked breath pattern to normalcy and can aid us in our quest to calm our anxieties. Guided meditation may help relieve suffering for cancer patients, women in labor, those suffering from insomnia and mild depression, as well as those who just need a method to leave 'work' at the office.

When I think about flying over the rainbow, I can't help but smile. Imagining a place in which all my dreams come true is a wonderful image. But, the fact is, we still have daily life to deal with. We still need to live in this world, as it right now, at this very moment. We still need to make practical plans for our future, appreciate the blessings we do have and solve the problems that come our way. Daydreaming about being over the rainbow can be fun and relaxing, but if it begins to interfere with one's daily life, that's when we need to establish a firm grasp on what we're evading. Do we really hate our jobs? Are our children driving us batty? Do we have too little money, and too many bills? These are real issues facing most of us. Daydreaming isn't going to solve our issues. As a matter of fact, if we daydream too much, we may find our problems to seem even more insurmountable...just as Dorothy did, when she felt she had to run away from home to keep Toto safe. By working on creative problem solving techniques to work through these issues, as best as humanly possible, our stress level may also go down. Talking about methods to combat my dilemmas with my friends has been incredibly beneficial to me. In my life, my girlfriends often 'see' answers where I am missing them.

The simple fact is, daydreaming is healthy, beautiful and wonderful. It's part of the human experience. Yet, when it comes right down to it, 'there's no place home'...even if home means a busted water heater and an unstable economy. Home can still be two things at once: our sanctuary from harm and a place that holds mountains of laundry to be washed. If we can reconcile these two places within ourselves, we can live fully in reality, but with a creative imagination.


(And for further inspiration, click on the TITLE..."Somewhere over the Rainbow" at the top of this post, to listen to a beautiful rendition of the song...)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

To Protect and Defend...

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The above oath is still extraordinarily moving to me. I feel chills when I have been in the presence of a man, or woman, who affirms these words. Vowing to protect and defend others against all enemies is a not just a selfless promise: there are the very real potentials for harm to oneself. When we promise to champion others, at risk of our own lives, we are called to a higher and nobler purpose. I have been exceptionally blessed by the example of the most instrumental men in my life: my father was an active member of the New York City Mounted Police Auxiliary, as well as a volunteer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's office. My father in law is a retired New Hampshire Fire Chief. Finally, my husband was an Army Ranger for the first part of our marriage. I was able to learn from their experiences, and came to realize that the act of service was far more meaningful than the simple putting on of a uniform. The uniform was, simply, an outward expression of inward commitment to assisting others.

Promising to protect others, even at the risk of our own safety, is the ultimate act of bravery. But, do all people need to a firefighter or a police officer to make a difference to others? While members of all the many branches of service do an enormous credit to others, some of the most courageous souls are the ones who have protected the defenseless, knowing they will have no back up, no orders from commanding officers and no master strategy. In his powerful novel, "The Book Thief", Markus Zusak unfolds a story, narrated by Death himself. Slowly, creatively and lyrically, the author weaves a tale around a German family during the Second World War. The characters are quirky, courageous, ironic and deeply committed to seeing all human beings as equal, in a society that inspires fear. For the Hubermann family, and their foster daughter, Leisel Meminger, the war becomes personal. While each member of the family responds to the violence around them in a unique way, they also each exhibit profound courage in their insistence to live ethically, in a morally skewed world. They truly embody Jesus' words in the Gospel of John: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." In the Hubermann family's case, they were willing to lay down their lives for strangers, as well as friends. As all of mankind should believe, strangers do not require less of our humanity than people we know.

In modern society, few of us will be called to make the kinds of sacrifices that men and women in the Armed forces will. Few of us will shelter those who are facing murder in the streets. But, all of us can look deep within to discover the true meaning of the words "to protect and defend" in our own lives. For some of us, this might mean rallying around a cause that is important to basic human dignity. It may well mean stepping out of our comfort zone of not getting involved, just because it doesn't impact us personally. It might be fundraising for a charity that is doing noble and powerful work among those less fortunate. There are people who would rather face a battlefield than elicit donations for critical services. We may be called to help someone directly, by providing guidance, shelter or simply a safe person to talk to. We may be required to step out of moderation and into standing up for another, whose voice cannot be heard. When we stand up for someone who has no ability to protect herself, we stand up for all of humankind.

In closing, I'd like to share this poem that Martin Neimoller wrote at the end of the World War II. Neimoller was a Lutheran minister and, initially a political supporter of Adolph Hitler. However, as he witnessed the horror of daily life, his neighbors vanishing, and his friends being arrested, Neimoller began to speak out against the injustice he saw all around him. In turn, he himself was arrested and sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp. He wrote this poem upon his liberation:

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . .

And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

Speak up for those who have no voice in the face of oppression. It takes a great deal of courage, but ultimately, you will be speaking up for the essence of what it means to be human.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea In a beautiful pea-green boat. ~ Edward Lear

Boats have played always played a dramatic role in the imagery and practicality of human life. We are taught that Noah saved mankind, and all animals, from the Great Flood in his Ark. We know that Jonah, fleeing from doing God's command of preaching to the Ninevites, tried to sneak away on a boat, only to be cast overboard, and therefore, not hiding from anyone; his boatmates, or God alike. We know that Jesus traveled by boat often, and that the calmed the storm that threatened Him and His disciples. The Aztecs were foretold that their god would arrive by boat and approach from the east. (Sadly, this proved not to be God, but Cortes). Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" would not have been written without the use of boats in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Chinese had some of the most extraordinarily seaworthy and complex boats during the Han dynasty, approximately 200 BCE. The Nordic Vikings were renowned seafarers, but their lack of interest in colonization gave the credit to Christopher Columbus, some 200 years after their first discovery of North America. Boats have brought people, goods, services and ideas to different places. Boats have helped build metaphorical bridges between trading partners, and have brought wore to the shores of enemies. Boats ferry people to work each day, and deliver them home safely each night. When it comes right down to the topic, we are all "boat" people, even if we don't use one ourselves....because boats play such an enormous role in the globalization and culturalization of our world.

Growing up spending my summers in Maine, I have to admit that I was not always a boat aficionado. As a child, boats just seemed like an enormous amount of work. There was brass to polish daily, teak to varnish, lines to coil correctly, sails to fold perfectly, and a sense that I had to be able to read my father's mind, before he issued an order. Although my cousins both became adept and competent sailors, I was the incompetent and ugly duckling in the family. I was hit by the boom more than once, and could never seem to coil lines that didn't tangle around everyone else's ankles. If every family has a Gilligan, I'm afraid I held that distinction in mine. And yet, when I moved away from the ocean, I had forgotten how much I loved it. It was not until I returned home, many years later, inhaled the salt air into my landlubber lungs, and got out on the water again, that I felt, finally at peace on the sea.

Now that my husband and I are boat owners ourselves, I feel something akin to holiday magic when we launch our own watercraft each year. It feels like Christmas morning, with all the expectation, joy and sheer anticipation of all the wonderful memories that lie just around the bend. From the moment our boat hits the water, I can envision our summer unfolding before me: the picnics, the explorations, the adventures, the laughter of the children and their friends and the day trips we'll take. I remember all of the previous summers and my mind tends to focus on what happened on the boat, during any given year, as a way of marking the time. I can remember when Joshua first learned to drive the boat and when Caroline climbed to the high cliffs and jumped off the first time. I think about the children learning to water ski, wakeboard and the peals of hysterical laughter from tubing. I daydream nostalgically about sunset cruises and watching the fireworks from the boat on the 4th of July....with each passing year, the children growing a little taller. Our boat has become more than means of conveyance or a summer pastime: it has become a diary of living memories.

Boats can mean many things to many people. They can be symbols of wonderful memories, as they are to me, or they can evoke images of the strength of Naval might. In Yoga, Boat Pose is an asana in which many people have many different feelings. Boat Pose in a strength asana in which the Yogini uses all of her muscle groups at once. One must use her abdominal muscles, her trapezius muscles her quadriceps and her latissimus. She must concentrate fully on her breathing, as holding Boat pose tends to make people tense up, and lose their strengthening power of the breath. The Yogini must find her balance point, between her sitz bones and her tailbone, to anchor herself to the floor. Most of all, the Yogini needs to create a sense of ease and collaboration between each part of her body to ensure that the asana is successful. Just as a boat that must work to remain buoyant, progressing forward and with deliberateness, a Yogini needs to make certain all of her body parts are working together as one...and in doing so, creating strength.

Boats come in many shapes, sizes and purposes. There are tiny one person racing Opti's and enormous Windjammers. There are lobster boats that leave port, without fail, and return with their catch full. There are dredging ships and ice breakers and rescue boats. There are daysailors and party boats, ski boats and inflatable Zodiacs. Every type of craft serves a different purpose for her Captains. And, yet, they all manage to float, to do the job they were meant to do, and to carry out their purpose....just as there are different people, with different talents and different purposes. As long as we are comfortable with the boats of our lives, I believe we should feel content to be in the craft life has dealt us, always moving forward.

I leave with you the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "We may have all come by different ships in different times, but we're all in the same boat now." May we all strive to do make our world a place of many arrivals, but for the common good.