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Monthly archives for November, 2017

Mystifying Move

Samain                                                                             Bare Aspen Moon

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

A friend wrote that he found our move here mystifying. No doubt. At age 67 and 70 respectively Kate and I left our lifetime home, the American Midwest (except for her brief sojourn in Houston), flat and humid, for the Rocky Mountains, high and arid. We had built a substantial life based on flat and humid, lots of horticulture, a woods of our own, plenty of space for our big dogs to roam. There was room in the Andover house for Kate’s sewing, my books and writing, an exercise space, a kitchen and dining area that worked for us.

We both had professional and friendship links of over 40 years in Minnesota. We made consistent use of the many cultural assets in the Twin Cities, having met at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We attended the Guthrie and other theater and musical events. I was a docent and guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for 12 years with frequent visits to the Walker, the Russian Museum and led a group that made monthly visits to quirky art related venues. Political engagement over a long period of time had, at the point of the move, led me to the Sierra Club where I helped work on the legislative program.

In other words we were both literally and figuratively well-rooted.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Workshops intervened. Progoff was a psychoanalyst in the Jungian tradition, the same theoretical framework used by my long time personal analyst, John Desteian. I first attended a Journal workshop in 1988 in southern Wisconsin. It altered my perception of the world through a six day process of guided meditations, journal writing guided through Progoff’s books and by a skilled facilitator. From this first one I developed a mantra, Stream flowing, White Pine rooting, that I used for decades in personal meditation. At a second Journal Workshop in Georgia, I deepened my appreciation of these workshops. They have an uncanny way of illuminating the current moment of my life in a way that’s both connected to the past, yet focused on the future.

Progoff’s intention is that the Journal be a source of continuing self-analysis. You learn the method at a workshop, then continue to use in daily life. I’ve found the journals too unwieldy for daily use, but the Journal workshops themselves transformative. I hope to attend one next year to get more insight into our life after the move.

IMAG0096It was the Tucson workshop that triggered the move. I say triggered advisedly because it shifted my sense of priorities after Kate’s retirement. Up till then the long, well-established roots I mentioned earlier made leaving Minnesota unthinkable to me. We had seriously discussed a move to Duluth, to Hawaii and often, to Colorado, but for me Minnesota’s thumb on the scale proved decisive. How could I leave the Woolly Mammoth’s, my men’s group of over 25 years at that point? How could I leave the political work and the work at the MIA? How could we leave our gardens and orchard, the bees?

However the various exercises in the Tucson workshop led me down a different path. First, it established clearly that my life phase that time, March/April of 2014, was defined by Kate’s retirement. It allowed me, encouraged me, to go into that phase with clearer eyes, to consider what our mutual life could mean now that she was free of daily work. With the exception of Anne, Kate’s sister who lives in Waconia, our family had moved on, both boys having left for Colorado, Jon around 2000, Joseph in 2005. Though Joseph had since joined the Air Force and left Breckenridge, Jon married and had two children.

Ruth and Gabe were 7 and 5, turning 8 and 6 the month of the Journal workshop. I planned to make a visit on the way home, driving from Tucson to Denver to surprise Ruth for her birthday. This meant the grandkids were on my mind.

Ruth, late March, 2014

Ruth, late March, 2014

I sensed, in meditation and through writing occasioned by the workshop’s flow, that our family’s center of gravity had shifted, for good, to Colorado. Both Jon and Joseph moved to Colorado for the skiing. Joseph would likely return to Colorado after his time in the Air Force (it seemed like that then, maybe not quite as much now) and our grandchildren were young. If we stayed in Minnesota, we would see them only occasionally and have little chance to play much of a role in their maturation.

This realization, that our family had shifted its home base from Minnesota, which we both loved, to Colorado, made me think moving to Colorado made some sense. Kate had gotten there long before me, so when I raised the question on my return, a decision to leave came quickly. We soon had a realtor, began making regular trips to G-Will Liquors for boxes and purchased colored tape.

First project, fence for the dogs

First project, fence for the dogs

Living in the mountains, at altitude, had three main drivers. The first was free air-conditioning. “If there’s no snow (or rain) falling from the sky and you’re not in a cloud, then the temperature decreases by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation.” on the snow. So you can do the math for 8,800 feet. The second was to live in a distinctly different environment from our Midwestern home. Denver didn’t meet this criteria since it’s at what I consider the western terminus of the Midwest, where the plains wash up against the Front Range of the Rockies, and it’s a metro area, therefore not very different in kind from the Twin Cities. The third was to put some distance, though not too much, between us and the grandkids. We didn’t want to be used as babysitters, but to be available as grandparents.

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

This latter desire on our part, to engage the grandkids, but not be engulfed by them, was a distinct point of conflict with Jen, Jon’s then wife. She complained, from the first time we decided on Black Mountain Drive, that we were living too far away. No matter how often we pointed out that we had moved 900 miles closer, she always came back to how far away we were. While we understood her point, it was exactly that sort of attitude that had made us choose some distance.

So we moved to the mountains on the Winter Solstice of 2014, barely 9 months after the workshop in Tucson. We came into alignment as the workshop changed my attitude toward the relative virtues of staying in Minnesota or being close to the grandkids. In effect, it brought me around to Kate’s thinking.

 

And life goes on, in endless song

Samain                                                                  Bare Aspen Moon

hebrewFinished chapter 1 in the Hebrew text, about half way through chapter 2. My plan is to keep working on the chapters until I’ve finished. The Hebrew class itself is a bit chaotic, lots of great information, but they’re teaching Aleph and Bet, beginners and next level, together. I’m out to sea at least part of the time. OK. Most of the time. Still, I can now recognize shabbat in Hebrew and pronounce five letters. Slooooowwww. Next class with Joann Greenberg at 4:30. Two weeks ago Bill and Tom were here for the class.

Nut, similar to this

Nut, similar to this

We hung some art in the guest room. Two batik pieces that Mary brought us from
Bali and an image on papyrus of Nut that I bought on the sidewalk outside the British Museum. Kate’s thinking a gray blue for the guest room. She’s beginning to get her interior designer on.

More Jennie’s Dead. Last two scenes were in Selma, Alabama and Denver. High intensity cardio yesterday, slow and long today. New workout tomorrow.

Centurylink comes today to install our new 60 Mbps service. This one requires some work between the box and the house, then a new modem, plus some inside changes at the jack, too. Faster is better and it’s much stronger wifi. That’s good because I bought the grandkids a tv for Hanukkah and it will get its reception with a Roku stick inserted into its USB port.

20171027_161725Kate and I have begun an ongoing effort to help her manage the fatigue which Sjogren’s, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcopenia and reduced available oxygen cause her. We have to be smarter about what mix of activities she does and what ones I do, yet we can’t set up a situation where she becomes housebound. Not good. A delicate balance. Right now we’re looking at the week ahead and trying to imagine how the week will challenge her, then planning for that. A transition to a new phase of life for us.

 

 

 

Found by Bill Schmidt

Samain                                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

I do not know what these shadows ask of you, what they might hold that means you good or ill. It is not for me to reckon whether you should linger or you should leave.

But this is what I can ask for you:

That in the darkness there be a blessing.

That in the shadows there be a welcome.

That in the night you be encompassed

by the Love that knows your name.

-Jan Richardson from Advent 1: A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark

Sarcopenia is a bitch

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

quantumTrying out another browser, Firefox Quantum. Changing browsers is a hassle, but the benefits of Quantum seem considerable. Right now I’m still on Chrome, but I plan to complete the transition today. I’ll let you know how the transition goes-for those who might care.

Spitting snow this morning, colder. 26. Heading into a cooler week, but then again, it is November 28th. A La Nina year.

Finally back at Jennie’s Dead. Again. Been bumpy. Holidays and “getting stuff done before winter sets in.” This latter is a holdover from 40 years in Minnesota. It’s a now thoroughly ingrained instinct inculcated by years of gardening, bee-keeping and brutal winters with little let up in the cold. Then, too, there’s Hebrew, kabbalah, the Evergreen Forum, ancientrails, all demanding in their own way. A good way.

agingSet a time on Thursday to get a new workout. The old one has grown stale, but it brought me to a new level of fitness, one I can feel in day to day activities. Exercise kicks in endorphins for a right now feel good, but it’s most important role is health maintenance. Sarcopenia, the slow decrease in muscle mass that begins in our 40’s, accelerates in our 70’s. You know, opening jars, lifting boxes, pushing a snow shovel, cleaning up the garage, carrying in groceries, all those everyday uses of our body become harder and harder.

In a nod to this change in both Kate and me, for example, I’ve put blue masking tape on all of our round door knobs because our grip strength is less. Arthritis in the thumbs and fingers can make turning the knobs painful. The tape is a temporary fix, a workaround, eventually we’ll have press down door handles installed. Sarcopenia is a bitch.

aging2Exercise is a way to push back against these changes. It doesn’t solve them, but it helps. The cardio work maintains the pump that literally keeps us alive, helps it respond to crisis modes without giving up. Been at it so long it’s just part of my day.

Restrung the lights out front trying to get even spacing between the two strands, but my skills don’t seem up to the task. However, I did not allow the best to be enemy of the good. They’re up and I like’m. Just the way they are.

 

 

Saws and Paws

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

20151013_112839Down the hill to Aurora yesterday afternoon. Newly spruced up (ha) chainsaw, limbing ax, pole saw, loppers, Swede saw, fuel for the chainsaw and bar and chain oil were on a tarp in the Rav4. Cleared out some overgrown shrubbery, cut down three scrubby trees and trimmed up small trees grown into the chain link fence on the south side of Jon’s new place. Also removed some dead wood. Had to leave a couple of dead trees. I didn’t know how to take them down without taking out the neighbor’s wooden fence at the same time.

Rigel went with me, sitting in the backseat, sometimes her head between the front seats, looking, looking, always looking. She spent most of the time I was there with Ruth, who was reading on the bed in her room. Gabe came out and helped me move a dead tree limb. He also offered advice on cutting limbs off a tree in the corner of the property. “Use the chainsaw, grandpa.” “Using a chainsaw overhead is dangerous, Gabe. I might cut my head off.” “Oh.”

Jon had lumber out, building a table in his backyard. He ran boards through a planer, nailed pieces together. Measured twice. Cut once with his power saw. In his kitchen there are no appliances. He and his friend Max deconstructed the kitchen a month or so ago and moved the appliances into the living room. Jon is at the point of installing douglas fir strips from a former museum as a new kitchen floor. In Ruth’s room he’s building a loft bed, in Gabe’s a desk. He loves making things and he’s good at it.

20170928_172531At 5 pm Jen came and picked up Ruth and Gabe for their week with her. “Bet it’s lonely when they leave, Jon.” “Actually it’s sort of a relief.” Single parenting is hard. I remember that feeling of relief when Joseph returned to Raeone’s, though my joy at his return was much greater.

Rigel and I drove back as the clouds turned red, then pinkish-orange, gray, then disappeared in the darkness of night. The lights of the Denver metro twinkled from the vantage point of Highway 285. The large lit cross positioned on the side of a mountain where the foothills begin shone out at us, a familiar landmark now. The humorists at the Colorado D.O.T. are at work again. The led sign just before 285 begins to climb read its usual: Watch for rocks and wildlife. But, it then blinked, changing the wording to: “Be aware. Falling rocks have the right-of-way.” Mountain humor.

 

 

Enthusiasm and Courage

Samain                                                                   Bare Aspen Moon

No more metaphysical presleep wanderings. Just to sleep, to dream, to wake again. Grateful each morning for that. Grateful too for the food in our fridge, the wonderful house Kate found, Kate, the dogs, friends near and far, Orion in the sky this morning, the bare aspen moon showing itself through a faint curtain of clouds last night.

Worked on middah summaries for Beth Evergreen’s newsletter, the Shofar. I’m honored to be asked to provide these but also a bit shy about it. A middah is a soul characteristic, an aspect of character itself. They can be identified, learned, then acted upon in measured ways. Here are the two unedited pieces I turned in yesterday.*

*Middah of the month Tevet (Dec. 19-Jan.16th

Zerizut=diligence, zeal, enthusiasm

Why focus on the character trait of enthusiasm?  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

Rabbi Luzzato in his Path of the Upright, studied by the Thursday mussar group for the past year, suggests a surprising antidote to the laziness which Burke adjures. Gratitude.

Alan Morinis, in the essay linked below says, “…recognizing the good in your life can dissolve the inner conditions that give rise to laziness. And when laziness falls away, the natural inclination of the heart is to be active and energetic can flow unimpeded.”

He suggests:

Spend five minutes writing down gifts received in the last few days
Keep a gratitude journal
Put insights in an Accounting of the Soul Diary

For more, follow this link: Mussar Institute Zerizut


Midah of the month Sh’vat (Jan 17 – Feb 15):  Ometz Lev = Courage (courage of the heart)

“It was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness until they acquired courage.” Moses Maimonedes, Guide to the Perplexed, part 3 32:2

Middah require cultivation, perhaps especially in situations where fear and uncertainty predominate. We might think it took ometz lev to leave Egypt, but Maimonedes suggests it was the wilderness where the former slaves acquired courage.

“Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his impulse, as it says, “slowness to anger is better than a mighty person and the ruler of his spirit than the conqueror of a city.”” (Proverbs 16:32).  Pirkei Avot 4.1

Courage of the heart is an inner matter. “A man walking on the road saw a pack of dogs and felt afraid of them, so he sat down amongst them.” Genesis Rabbah 84:5

What fear could you face today?
Who do you know as an example of heart-courage?
Who do you know who needs ometz lev in their life right now? How might you encourage them? “Chesed is to ometz lev as rain is to a withering plant.” Rabbi Sid Schwartz in his sermon, Profiles in Courage.

 

Coco. See it.

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

cocoMovie recommendation: Coco. A pixar film. Gabe and I went to see it. I loved this film so much that I’ll certainly buy it when it comes out on DVD and I will go see it again. Something I rarely do.

The story itself is touching. A young boy, Miguel, raised in a family that has banned music, wants to be a musician. He goes searching for a way to play and in the process ends up in the land of the dead over the holiday of Dias de los muertos. He’s searching for his great-great-great grandfather who left his wife to go on the road with his music and never returned. That abandonment is the reason for the family ban on music.

His adventures, accompanied by an engaging Mexican hairless dog, lead him eventually to a surprising revelation about his family history. He is almost trapped in the land of the dead, which he must leave before sunrise on Dias de los muertos or remain there forever. But with the help of his dead family, the very ones pictured on the ofrenda in his home, he makes it back to the land of the living. The end is a hymn to family, to the power of music, to the transformative nature of dreams. I cried.

The cgi in this film is extraordinary, transporting the viewer back and forth between the living and the dead, the past and the present with ease and beauty. The music itself is wonderful, too.

It also reminded me of a deep fascination I have with Mexican culture, its depth and its sense of wonder. Contemporary Mexican culture mixes together indigenous beliefs from such varied backgrounds as the Olmec, the Aztec and the Maya with a Roman Catholic faith transformed by the contact. It layers Spanish culture on top of the various cultures that existed in Mexico. Coco shows all this, not in a heavy handed or obvious way, but doesn’t caricature it, either.

Two small examples. At one point, when it looks as if he will be stuck in the land of dead, Miguel is thrown in what appears to be a hole in the earth with a lake at its bottom. It’s really a cenote of sacrifice, an artifact of Mayan civilization, one I’ve seen at Chichen Itza. Also, in the land of the dead there are colorful winged serpents. Quetzalcoatl is a feathered serpent god in both Aztec and Mayan mythology.

With the growing Latino presence in the U.S. this movie can help us gringos get a sense of their culture well beyond tacos and mariachis. It is a rich, mysterious, wonder-filled culture and Coco is a good ambassador for it.

 

 

Spaced Out

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

M31

M31

Not trying to do this, but last night, before I fell asleep the subject was space. The first three kabbalah classes are titled: soul, space, time. The other night I got caught up in the concept of time. I realize my thinking on these matters is probably naive relative to, say, astrophysics, but I’m trying thought experiments to come to my own understanding. I’m trying to read the book of the universe on my own, pursuing what Emerson called original revelation to us.

So here was the thought experiment on space. Imagine space as a large box. Or disc. Or sphere, whatever object. Now. Remove all the objects in it. All the galaxies. All the stars in the galaxies. All the planets. All the debris traveling anywhere. All the black holes. Everything. So now we have a large, empty universe. There is, I think, at this point, nothing but space. No thing.

empty-spaceEmpty. No way to know where you are because there are no reference points. Only empty space. But. This amount of space is contained by the limits of the universe. (I’m pretty sure this experiment violates some way of understanding the universe. An edge to the universe seems difficult to comprehend, but let me have this small-ok, large-conceit.) Now we put back in all the stuff. The things. Right back where they were.

We still have the same amount of space. It was empty and now it’s filled, but the space itself did not increase or decrease. So, then space itself is not a property of the things, it is  sui generis. In other words space itself is not the gap between objects, it has nothing to do with objects, since we had all of it still when the universe was emptied. So when we move objects further apart we are not creating more space, just as when we move objects closer together we are not closing off space. The amount of space is a constant.

einstein-einstein-quotesThis means, I think, that space as we use the term in day to day life is actually about relationship, not stillness and not emptiness. In other words the amount of space remains constant, yet we perceive space as relational, the gap between things. Space is used as a way of understanding relationships, actually, of perceiving other objects, because without space to differentiate objects everything would mush together to a somehow independent observer.

So try this, too. Imagine a square meter of space, imagine it in a place between galaxies. Now try to find it relative to another square meter of space. Nope. Can’t do that. Without objects to create points of reference space itself will not differentiate. That means that though space is vast and changeless, it can only come into conscious awareness when it is filled with objects, things. So no-thing can only be known in relation to some-thing. Space is relational, yet we don’t change it as we move through it. We can only understand, comprehend, perceive space as a gap between things. No-things, then, we might say, no space.

Does this mean that our original thought experiment fails? Does space exist sui generis or is it only about relationships, about perceiving? I’m inclined to say that space is not a thing at all because its most basic definition is undifferentiation, yet it is impossible for us to know space, anything really, if it cannot be differentiated from other things. Therefore space must not be a thing, but a matter of consciousness, some-thing that springs into existence when we see this in relation to that.

Oh, geez. I may have lost myself here. I’m going to post this and leave it for awhile. Come back to this at another point. I’m going to give this whole thought experiment some space.

Chronos

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

Found by friend Tom Crane.

Our story

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

 

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?”
Gabrielle Roth    posted on facebook by Jimmie Johnson.

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