Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Do I love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.I love thee to the depth and breadth and height. My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight. For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with a passion put to use. In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose. With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,I shall but love thee better after death.

~ Elizabeth Barret Browning

One silly, mind numbing, but all consuming recent hobby of mine has been Facebook. It's been a lovely way to reconnect with old friends, and get to know new ones better. It's given a medium for friends and family, separated by thousands of miles, to stay in touch each day. Most of all, it is simply entertaining. Facebook has many features....from being able to upload photos to sending virtual gifts. It also has an innumerable number of quizzes. These inaccurate, but amusing tests, remind me of the ones my preteen self used to take in "Seventeen" magazine. At that time, I did enjoy the fashions and the hairstyle tips, but what I waited for, month after month, was the quiz of the month. It was my favorite feature of each issue. I vividly recall my friends and I writing our answers, not in the magazine, but on scraps of paper, so that we could compare our answers to "Is He The Guy for You?" and "What is Your Dream Date?". On Facebook, not only do we have hundreds of quizzes available to take immediately and compare outcomes with our friends, but we don't have a wait for the next magazine to receive the next quiz. It's a goofy habit that takes me back to the 'old days' of middle school....with the thought that choosing answers A, B, C or D will shed light on our innermost thoughts and unconscious desires.

I have taken dozens of Facebook quizzes since joining the online service. I've learned which book of the Bible most describes my life (The Book of Ruth), my Hippie Name (Gypsy Willow Dusk), What Type of Shoe I am (Ballerina Flat), Which Breed of Dog I am (a Fox Terrier) and that my predominant color is Blue. I have discovered that, as far as Disney Princesses are concerned, I'm Sleeping Beauty. According to the quizzes, I have learned that I should be most compatible with a Pisces (my cousin is the only Pisces I know), that I will give birth to 3 girls (not even close to the the mark) and that I should be living, for some reason I can't discern, in South Dakota. Therefore, it came as a great surprise to me when I took the "What Quote Represents your Life?" quiz this morning, to have Facebook bring up one of my truly favorite poems.

Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her book of verses, "Songs from the Portuguese", this poem describes loving another (in her case, her beloved husband, Robert Browning) person to the deepest depths in one's bones, to the most soaring heights of one's soul. Published in 1850, this poem's vitality and emotion has not dimmed over time. My husband gently teases me that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I find myself in good company on this front: clearly Elizabeth Barrett Browning did the same. "How Do I love Thee?" not only describes how much I love my husband of more than 2o years, but how much I adore my children, my family, my precious animals and my closest friends. The emotion expressed conveys the sentiments I feel when I watch a film that moves me deeply or read a book that touches my heart. Each time I reread this poem, I find deeper meaning into its spiritual profundity of the sacredness of love. While some critics like to dismiss this work as trite, sentimental or banal, I believe these same critics most certainly have not felt the power of extraordinary love before. In a sense, I feel sorry for those very same critics. I believe I have been uncommonly blessed not only to love as deeply as Ms. Barrett Browning did, but to have been loved in return with the same fierceness and regard.

Certainly all quizzes on Facebook are not as profound as this one has been for me. I don't think it crucial that knowing that the "Cocktail that best suits me" is a Samoan Fogcutter, nor do I believe that "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" is the story of my life. While I find that "The Type of Storm I am" (a snowstorm) is interesting, it doesn't bear much on deeper insights to my ideal self. But, I do believe that, in this one random instance, Facebook was frighteningly correct, on target, exact and precise. This poem is my favorite, I do believe it does represent me, and I am incredibly proud of that fact.

Now, if only my "Soul Animal" wasn't set to be a badger, I'd be all set.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Momentary Mindfulness

Don't be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. ~Charles Richards

If there is one lesson from living in Maine that I've learned the most strongly, it is to appreciate the magical days of summer. Before I have time to settle into a pattern, the summer has passed and the cold is inching its way into our lives. The warmth, the longer hours of daylight, the influx of new people visiting and the beautiful rhythm of tree frogs, bellowing at night, all make up a tapestry of moments. When viewed together, each one of these individual experiences can create a collage of summer memories. I can remember feelings that accompagnied entire summers. Some years were happier than others. Some seemed full of activity. Others seemed downright decadet in their languidness. But, each summer tends to incorporate feelings as a whole, just as if I can take a jam jar, bottle that particular year, and write "Hectic" or "Boating" or "Travel" on its label. Summers take on personalities. I have heard friends and family members all say "Don't you remember that incredibly hot year?" or "Do you remember the summer we all got sick?". The days and weeks and months become an amalgam of feelings regarding those months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Because our brains tend to process memories with labels, too often we lose the individual memories of specific events. We can recollect ideas, moods and overtones, but too many times we fail to capture snaphots of exact moments of perfection. It is my own belief that by allowing these times to be filed along with everything else in our brains, we tend to lose them as "too much paperwork". Yet, without those specific instances of reflection, we are left of vague images that all blur together. This happens to people with the very best of memories. We can only 'store' so much before our minds move into overload. And yet, without creating a way to remember special events, how can be certain that they won't be lost entirely? Pictures do help, of course. But, far too often, photos become posed, and then posed again ("Sit NEXT to your sister...") and the spirit of the image you take will not be the spontaneous twinkling you were hoping to capture.

So, what can we do? We can begin by practicing mindfulness. Mindfuless is defined as a "mental state, characterized by calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself." This doesn't mean we move away from the experience or the action itself. It simply requires us to look at each experience with appreciation. The gratitude might be about being with your friends or your children. It could emcompass the way the sunshine feels on your face early the morning. It bring an increased attention to the sand between your toes at the beach. Or, it could be simply a feeling of thankfulness...for being alive at this very moment in time. Mindfulness doesn't mean we have to move away from the world to sit in meditation for hours at a time. Mindfulness can be the gift of perception that all is truly well...regardless of the circumstances. We can teach our minds and our hearts to appraise and assess our current surroundings, to cultivate a memory by saying "I want to remember sitting on the porch like this..." and to cultivate moments of grace in our appreciation.

Much of the time, our singleness of thought can lead to mindfulness. Have you ever said to yourself,"This has been such a wonderful day...I want it to last forever!" That is a powerful emotion, and with that powerful emotion comes long lasting memory. I can remember, when I was very young, a parade I was in with my cousins. I was terribly nervous, because I had never been in a parade before, and I could barely recollect seeing one. However, my cousins' hometown of Belvedere, California was hosting a small parade one summer. I didn't know how to ride a 'two wheeler' yet, so my aunt Nancy pulled out the kids' tricycle for me. I can vividly recall decorating that little bike with ribbons and bows, and festooning it to try to resemble a float. I can remember wriggling with excitement as my cousin, Lori, did my hair, and as I anticipated the start of the festivities. I can still feel my 4 year old feet on the pedals, reminding myself to keep pedaling, no matter what, and not to stop before the big kids. I was so afraid of making a mistake, falling over or just embarrassing myself, that I kept whispering to myself " can do it...a little bit can do it...this is a special day..." Because I talked myself through this event with such reasoning and intention, I can remember the parade with exceptional clarity. I have more vivid images of this one day than I do of the rest of the years surrounding this parade, despite our having photographs to commemorate them. Why? It's because, without knowing it, I was practicing mindfulness. I was creating a memory pattern that I would never forget.

We can use mindfulness to create memories of simple, every day pleasures. I can remember breathing in my new babies' scent from the tops of their little heads, and just taking in that exact moment of experience, knowing that they would never be one day old again. I can resurrect my feelings from my wedding day by thinking about how it felt to let go of my father's arm, and pick up Jeff's,at the front of the church. I can recreate what it felt like to be skipping by mother's side, holding her hand, as we walked down 5th Avenue in New York City, just by catching the whiff of hot pretzels. Often, we don't even realize we're practicing mindfulness to create a memory. It just happens. We see a particular shade of green, and we're reminded of our grandmother's house. We taste a piece of pie, and in an instant, we're transported to our best friend's kitchen. Mindfulness doesn't just capture our thoughts, it can recall all five of our senses at the moment of that something special occurred.

If you could pick, what would choose to remember? What feelings, what sights, what smells and what sounds would you take in? If you could pick 'a best day to last forever' memory, what would it be? Perhaps your moment is one you take out of our heart and cherish. Perhaps it's an experience yet to come. For many of us, it's a bit of both. We can appreciate the joy we felt in the past, while still feeling an exceptional sense of excitement about the moments that lie ahead of us...just waiting for us to experience them. But, when you do...tell yourself "Keep pedaling..." and treasure that moment in your heart.

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years