Tag Archives: Contemplation

The Art of Slow Cooking

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The day my father retired he threw away every suit he owned save one basic blue.

He also shifted into low, easy gear. A sort of simmering Crock-Pot sense of being.

He walked no farther than the mailbox or the perimeter of his one-acre suburban ranch of weed-less green lawn.

He leisurely patrolled his tiny fiefdom in a new uniform:

  • a mesh baseball cap
  • polo shirt
  • high-waisted, flat-butt jeans
  • a pair of Thom McAn loafers .  .  . with ruptured toe boxes where bunion bouquets emerged.

His days were largely spent on the back porch in the rubber band rocking chair. Reading the local newspaper. Smoking cigarettes. Drinking cans of Old Milwaukee.

By afternoon, he was finished with printed words.

His eyes slightly glazed and dreamy, he’d sink into contemplative silence.

Thoughts simmering like a thin stew.

His body beginning to look like a portly little pot.

And after 8 to 10 hours of back-porch marinating, he’s be ready to uncork a vat of ancient memories and freshly-poached wisdom.

Dad spinning a yarn to my brother.

 

From him, I learned there are two forms of retirement:

  • The Outer: the pride of possessions earned and achievements polished for posterity.
  • The Inner: the reflective retiring.

This last one fascinated me.

Those methodically lazy days. The slow-cookery living. My dad perfected them and gifted them to me as the legacy for his firstborn.

The stride meant for my adoption .  .  . a bit like a monk with an imaginary monastery.

But honestly, I feel rather lost and lonely trying to step in his footprints. I long for the days of his endless stories and jokes, no matter how stale. They gave me a steady sense of place.

 

 

Little White Churches

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My heart can’t resist them.

A couple years of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, circa 1970s, I realized that I wanted to live in a church.

I found a little white clapboard Baptist church near Panther Falls, Virginia.   Abandoned, because the people lost faith in the midst of poverty.   But it was still structurally solid and safely nestled inside a grove of poplar trees and scrub oak.

The steeple looked like the base of an old windmill. Above the door was a round stained glass window, with red and blue hues, that reminded me of Jupiter.

Inside, the pews were lined in rows of horizontal soldiers. A grid work of dark wood and red velvet seat cushions. The room was small but it felt spacious because of the ascending ceiling and the choir loft that touched the clouds when fog descended.

The sunlight that crept through the trees was misty by the time it met the colored windows lining the building’s side walls. The interior was a mixture of light and dark and every color of the rainbow in-between. It was peaceful and solemn.

I love churches when they are empty.

Always have.

Those beautiful little handcrafted edifices without rituals, but with the accessories necessary to conduct one as décor.

A place to be still.

A place to call home.

I was too poor to buy that church and unable to convince the owners to rent it, but I still harbor a yearning to live in that Appalachian church-home.

I have thought lovingly of it for three+ decades. Every time I drive by a little white church of any denomination, my heart rejoices.

After I moved to the village of Estancia, New Mexico, several years back, I quickly discovered that around the corner from my tiny house was one of the sweetest white churches of all times.

Methodist.

Not acquainted with the religion, but I fell in love with the building. And when I learned that the back door was kept unlocked, on weekday afternoons after work, I’d slip in, sit on the red velvet cushion, and gaze through the painted glass windows. Noting that the southern exposures were singed – the edges of Jesus’ garments and the corners of the Last Supper’s tablecloth all charred and curling.

The wooden pews were arranged in arcs, with two aisles, like a huddle around the pulpit. Behind the lectern were tables draped in white fabrics that support forests of white taper candles.

I’d sit silently at different degrees of the arcs. Each radial angle reflective in a different color or shadow. I’d bow my head in some form of prism prayer.

Sitting in this church – alone – always washed me clean. Something about the simplicity of white that calms and renews.

I don’t yet understand my passion for little white wooden churches, but they invite my heart in.

They inspire confession.

When I feel filthy, a white church is my soap and washcloth.

And often I have some crazy sense of unclean.

I am always housecleaning; I am always heart-cleaning.

What am I obsessed with washing away?

Vacuuming some sin from the floor boards of my heart?

Scouring the toilet bowl of my soul?

Dusting the mantle of my mind?

Why is life – so messy – that I devote a lifetime to cleaning my space-of-being?

That I sit in empty churches to inhale purity?

That I focus my meditation upon the white fabrics draping from altars?

Sometimes I find my inner being crawling through the tunnels and webs of woven fibers, searching for the secret of the shroud.

I have never understood this passion for textiles either.

Maybe because fabric is tangible. Because I can see it constructed from its source – from the flax plants and silkworms and cotton pods.

I can track its progression. I can touch and smell its existence. I can also get lost in the fantasy of its lavish embroidery and festive beadwork.

I’m no fan of the new gospel churches that believe in bare warehouses as places of undistracted worship.

I need the distraction of beauty.

Especially the pageantry of ecclesiastical textiles.

I like sparse, but I need highlights of fabric embellishment. Lightly speaking: Holy dust clothes move me.

Sometimes I think that my deepest faith lies in empty churches and fabric. Somewhere in the honeycombs of stitchery, a wing of truth waits.

In a dust mote. In a spider’s dew-damp leg. In a tendril from a tightly-plied linen thread.

It’s absurdly simple. And mind-twistingly complex: sitting in empty white churches, contemplating sacred textiles, I find some sort of rogue religion.

And how happy was I, after remarrying, to find a tiny, tattered, white church about a mile away from my new home on the prairie.

A safe haven.

It offers peace of presence: Just knowing it’s sitting there .  .  . wind-beaten and bare .  .  . on a lonely dirt road.

A bit like someone’s stained and gritty coffee cup left behind.

Little Beans of Wisdom

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Little Beans of Wisdom - Sunburst with Bean-Star

Purple Coffee Beans and the Colors of Anxiety

 

 

In my second post  of this Little Beans of Wisdom series, I explored the origin of coffee through my version of a folktale based in fact.

I found a shepherd frolicking with Woodstock-induced goats to be enchanting. And this very intimate connection with the romps of retro-bohemian life coiled my mind with a scarf of jaunty colors.

The vision inspired me to imagine coffee beans as more diversely colored that mocha-brown. Let’s say: Blue, for beginners.

So, in the third post of Little Beans of Wisdom, I theorized about blue coffee. And a little research revealed that it exists. On the blue Caribbean island of Jamaica. Perfect!

By now, I’m starting to think: Rainbows.

How about purple coffee beans?

Well, by golly, it’s back to the exotic land so far away, the land called Ethiopia. Seems that in the forests of the southwestern highlands, an indigenous shrub produces coffee cherries that mature to purple. In order to be taste worthy, these must be “hard-purple” beans, which have a higher sugar content than “soft-ripe” purple.

I’m guessing that “hard” means a muscular brew. Something with a robust flavor that would jolt the bursting biceps off of Popeye.

In other words, a high level of caffeine resides inside purple, along with sugar.

And this is when anxiety crawls into the story, because one of its primary triggers is caffeine. (Remember those rambunctious goats??)

My delicate constitution is such that caffeine unzips its tiniest sensitivities and turns them inside out. It unravels me beyond goat-romping status.

Sad, because I find the aroma, and now, the colors of coffee to be so exquisitely enticing that I yearn to indulge.

When I find myself on that brink, I go peripheral and visit a coffee shop, instead. I drink the vicarious fragrances and sounds, and find that I’m inspired to write or be creative in some form of expression.

So here’s my hypothesis: I’m a sponge-sucking empath who inhales the vibrational energy and color of coffee, and, since I’m naturally prone to anxiety, that bouquet is transformed into an urge to create in order to subdue anxious tendencies.

It’s a survival mechanism in my soul.

Some further observations . . . after engaging in a creative act, I frequently note that anxiety was not present. Some anecdotal support for the theory.

I also “feel” the days of the week in terms of tranquility levels. Tuesdays are aquamarine. Calm and smooth as butterscotch. Good days for solitude and contemplation.

Sundays are royal blue or royal purple. Regal. Days as plush and safe as velvet. I love to dive into a good book and swim between the elegance of its beautiful language on Sunday afternoons.

Saturdays are red. Often too devoid of structure, they have a tendency toward spawning unease in my heart.

So, this all seems to add up to me being a bit of sponge. But, I make it my own in some way, shape or color.

When I opened this virtual coffee shop, I never imagined what thought-detours I’d take. Seems that exploring the world of coffee has given me a rainbow to pursue with insights galore.

What secrets are held in an innocent white porcelain cup with steam rising from its hot spring of healing? I’ll keep investigating.  Cup of coffee isolated on white

*Reference: Wikipedia

My Red-Heart Revelation

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Red Heart - With Key on Wooden BackgroundA few months back, after an early Valentine’s Day dinner out, Hubby and I decided to share a coffee shop experience. We topped off our meal with a thick slice of spicy pumpkin bread for him, and, a moist cranberry-orange scone for me. Since neither one of us drinks coffee, we sipped ice water in thick plastic cups.

Nestling into a parsnip-colored, well-patinaed leather sofa, we sat on the periphery – the perfect vantage point from which to people-watch.                      Sofa - Burnt-Parsnip-Colored Leather

It was fascinating to observe the young couples in love standing at the counter, debating and weighing the worth of each sweet treat.

The middle-aged folks generally walked in with a determination – stepping up to the register and ordering their tried-and-true coffee companions.

In between the traditional patterns of behavior, a few eccentrics slipped in – seeking refuge from the world of judgment for perhaps an hour or two.

Across from me, at a table by the window, sat a man with a large, sturdy mobile phone that he plugged into the wall outlet. He made a seemingly endless amount of phone calls. His talking was rapid, but, most people live life rapidly, so, I didn’t find this behavior unusual. It actually blended into the 70 decibel level that makes coffee shops so stimulating. So, it wasn’t until he ended conversation that I was surprised.

His hands clawed and corkscrewed the air and shook as though they held baby rattles. I didn’t want to stare, but, I’d never been face-to-face with the effects of Tourette Syndrome before. I was tangentially seduced.

With every bite of my scone, I caught a fragment of miming motion. Just when I thought I’d have to turn away so as to avoid indigestion, I heard him talking about the menu for a holiday dinner – a mere hour or two away. As his mouth talked, his hands were silenced.

I sighed and swallowed the final bite of warm cranberry melting into crusty biscuit dough. We reluctantly stood up, leaving our imprint on the sofa. As we exited, I thought about how I fantasize coffee shops – the cute, the colorful, the sweet, the nostalgic – but – I’ve never before paid salute to the wounded. To the uncommon challenges that so many brave baristas across the world confront and respectfully accommodate daily.

I felt a little red-faced and ashamed of myself for creating such a sanitized, retro vision with which to barricade my mind and heart.

Retro flower pot shape bike at a coffee shop.

But, minds and hearts can stretch and burst, and, return with second lives.

I think I’ve just tasted the nectar of encore.

And I have a sly suspicion that I’ve learned of one more reason why I’m so attracted to coffee shops: They are safe zones inside which I can both cloak and confess my own kinks. I can blend into the cake batter, anonymous and free, while remaining inextricably connected to the other ingredients of clientele.

Easily Bored

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I want to heartily thank Debra Marrs for providing the substance in yesterday’s issue of The Grind.

She did a great job of provoking thought, especially within me!

EV001120When I read her submission a few weeks ago, I knew the content would be perfect for Mocha Muse’s newspaper, but, I didn’t expect to be haunted by its title. Nevertheless, I’ve found myself chewing on the fact ever since that creative people are “easily bored.”

I’m not sure what gnawed on me first, the creative part or the bored part. But I haven’t been able to reconcile the connection within myself, so, I’m going to write out my quandary and see where it goes.

My first prick of discomfort was: I consider myself to be a person who exercises her creativity, however, I’m also rarely bored. So then I sat with that contradiction and wondered in good old Aristotelian logic:

If creative people are easily bored

And if I’m rarely bored

Then can I really be a very creative person?

And this logic, of course, scraped at the scab of my ego that defines me as being creative. It was like starting to shed the snake-layers of my protective personality and that felt uncomfortable. I shivered with a little anxiety; felt perhaps a little too exposed as a possible fraud.

Well, that was stage-one panic and once it passed, like any good storm, the thought-winds calmed and I was able to go forward without judgment or fear. Rather like a member of the audience watching a theatre production . . . I could lean back in the upholstery of my mind and relax. Not think. Just accept the delivery of free-spirited thoughts as they arrived at my doorstep.

And this is my favorite stratum of life to inhabit. Actively focused upon an idea, while the orbiters of observation roam around, encircle the topic and surveil it from every direction; all the while, my mind remains concentrated. I liken the process to a barn owl triangulating its evening meal.

It’s that inner faith we can rest in, knowing that all nourishment and wisdom will come if we just simply relax and stop fretting.

And, sure enough, after a week or so, I had new colors of vision. It was no longer about a threat to my self-identity; it was really more a situation of semantics.

I mean, what the heck is boredom, anyway?

By dictionary definition it may mean blasé and unconcerned; even the rather quaint “lackadaisical,” but, in my personal lexicon, I think it may just be a time of reflection. A time of ascending the clouds of daily chaos, and crawling into the lounge chair that glides along the stream of glass air up above where electronic signals can’t reach and distractions are never available. Romantically speaking, it’s that place somewhere over the rainbow.  Woman in retro kitchen.

That special timezone where technology is inaccessible; where conversations are mute; where traffic jams are unclogged; where I’m able to touch the quietest observant state possible. It’s when I’m sitting at the corner of contentment and attention that I receive subtle impulses that urge me to create – to express something visually, orally or in writing.

So, I don’t know. Is being bored – or being reflective – a lost art?

“Boredom” has some edges of darkness, so do many people run away from it into the bright wattage of gadgetry and social gatherings? And are those who stay behind the ones who receive the messages of creativity?

Is this the connection between being creative and being easily bored:  Just being open to receive the instructions of how to make something different?

To be un-rushed and available to search for more beautiful or provocative or poignant ways of expressing ourselves in this physical world?

Lots of questions remain, but at the moment I’m comfortable with understanding boredom as reflection – and for me – that feels healthy and creative.

Or, perhaps, “contemplation” is the word I’m reaching for .  .  . yes, that feels even more balanced. The fine art of contemplation. I believe in keeping it alive, and trust that it will, in return, enliven me.