It took giving up biting my nails for me to realize just how fast they grow. After drawing blood when I scratched a mosquito bite and getting them caught between the keys of my mac, I had to admit that a maintenance program was calling my name. I went to K-mart and replaced the emery boards, that pit bull Shelby had shredded, with a couple of the larger more professional boards and made a note to self to call my hairdresser. Like my nails, my hair keeps growing so to keep up my new shorter do. periodic trims are joining my maintenance program in the interests of the long haul.
Maintenance is defined as: The work of keeping something in proper working condition. It comes from the latin, Manu Tenere which means to hold in the hand.
I smiled when I took a break from writing to go to the store for dog food and the maintenance light flashed on my dashboard and then when I went to the post office and picked up my dentist’s reminder that it’s time to have my teeth cleaned. It got me thinking about what it means to maintain and sustain (they are cousins) and about the line that stuck in my mind: there is no conclusion because sustainability is not about concluding but about continuing.
Manicures, hair cuts, oil changes, medical check ups, teeth cleaning, spring cleaning, keeping the Sabbath, sweeping the floor, watering the plants and even the monthly automatic withdrawal from my Paypal account to keep my digital New York Times coming – maintenance is everywhere.
Studies have also shown that goals are easier to reach if they’re specific (“I’ll walk 20 minutes a day,” rather than “I’ll get more exercise”) and not too numerous because having too many goals limits the amount of attention and willpower you can devote to reaching any single one. The same applies to maintenance because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the things that require our attention to continue working.
I just had the cranks replaced on my louvered windows and I know that they will last longer and work better if I spray them regularly with WD 40 like I didn’t last time. I am ashamed to admit that I once blew the engine on my beloved former jeep because my sporadic maintenance program didn’t include checking the oil in time. Preventative maintenance advises colonoscopies, mammograms and pap smears and we are sold service agreements for our appliances and taught protocols for our computers like back ups and scanning for viruses.
There is scheduled maintenance, preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance and don’t forget high maintenance as in demanding like some women (and men), hardwood floors, 100% silk and linen outfits a thick head of hair – things that require more attention than their alternatives.
We go on maintenance programs after dieting, are prescribed medications to keep us in balance after a state of disease and after rehabilitation programs to maintain a drug free life. We not only want to get healthy and happy but we want to stay that way.
In the last session of my God’s love is for everyone program we focused on how to maintain our connection with ourselves and with source and were advised to commit to a morning program of meditation, exercise and listening to talks or reading words of truth. I know folks who read the daily word, go to morning mass and the early morning regulars at Magen’s Bay are testimony to the benefits of maintenance.
When I fall off the wagon and stop doing any of the things that keep me working the way I want I feel less energetic, more depressed and am more vulnerable to judgment, discouragement and negative thinking – just like my window cranks are more vulnerable to rust, my dogs are more vulnerable to heart worm when I don’t give them their monthly pills and my dryer doesn’t dry (and might even catch fire) if I don’t clean out the lint tray.
Friendships suffer when we don’t keep in touch, our minds lose their alacrity and acuity if we don’t use them and when I don’t play the piano (or the violin) on a regular basis my fingers don’t work as well and the music doesn’t sound as good. Even life on Facebook suffers when I don’t post on a regular basis.
We are born with an exquisite built-in maintenance system – too hot, we sweat, too full of waste, we pee or poop, satisfied and connected and loved we smile and relax. Like the plant stickers poking out of the pots in garden stores we too have people stickers indicating the conditions under which we thrive – some are universal, some more specific to hot-house varieties, hybrids, nerds, social butterflies, intellectuals, jocks and all the things that we are.
Here’s to maintaining – to holding what matters most in our hands which means to keep it close to our hearts, to pay attention, to love and nourish and like the meaning of French word ‘maintenant’ to do it NOW.
Sitting on my deck in the late afternoon sunshine, there’s a breeze and it’s still winter enough that I can hear the sound of the surf down below in Caret Bay. When I checked earlier the waves were dotted with tiny lego-like surfers which inspired me to get out my binoculars and zoom in to check out the scene. I figured I’d leave them out for whale season because the coconut grapevine is full of whales and, out here on the north side, they’re bound to be passing by. It’s just a matter of right time, right place and looking in the right direction.
I’d love to have the pleasure of whales like I dream of dolphins frolicking when I’m out paddle-boarding – entirely within the realm of possibility on this late afternoon where I find myself in that state where’s, all’s not only right with the world right now, but tuned into hopeful rumblings, stretching out as far as I can see.
Before I went to The Heart of the Matter Transformation Retreat I bought a bottle of gold nail polish and did my nails. A life long nail biter, with only occasional and short lived forays into growing and polishing, this purchase came out of nowhere.
I have kept my nails painted gold ever since. Whenever I’ve allowed them to grow in the past, I’d let them get long and I didn’t like it. I play the piano. I play the violin. I type a lot. Long nails get in my way and I scratch myself. I like touching the world with my finger pads, like a cat.
With the gold polish on I didn’t bite. It wasn’t hard. The polish kept chipping and, since I didn’t have any remover, I just kept brushing new polish over the old until I made it to Walgreens and got supplies: Emery boards because I’d always figured I’d might as well bite as file and prided myself on being a measured nail biter – no bloody cuticles or down to the quick giveaways of extreme anxiety. Then I’d catch my daughter – an occasional nail biter – gnawing away at her fingers looking like a monkey and I’d realize that’s what I look like, So, instead of telling her to “stop it”, I just breathed and sent her love.
Along with a bottle of remover and a nail brush, I got a package of emery boards. Luckily, before Shelby the pit bull chewed them into twigs, I used one to file my nails down to a reasonable and functional length – nicely rounded and smooth. I removed the old polish and once again painted them gold thinking that I’d soon need a replacement bottle and maybe some sealer and a cuticle clipper. It dawned on me that maybe I was no longer a nail biter, that after more than half a century of mouth maintenance, I seemed to have left nail biting at the door I’d just walked through.
I don’t want to speak to soon or count my chickens before they hatch and I may bite my nails again someday, but the way it’s looking right now, nail biting has dropped out of my life into the pool of the past.
When a friend and I were talking about Lent which, as the organist at the Church of the Holy Spirit I am very aware of, we considered what we might give up. My friend said, “maybe sex” and then decided on brownies – the Ghiradelli kind that come in a box of 5 packages at Cost u Less. I said maybe sugar or late night TV until she told me that Scandal and Grey’s anatomy are back on the air.
A little later, sitting on my deck with neatly filed golden nails sparking in the golden sunshine, I realized that what I’d given up unconsciously I was going to give up intentionally. I am going to give up biting my nails – give up being a nail biter which is going to leave me more time and more room to let the spirit of love into my heart and out into the world. With my more comely hands I could tell that I was loving myself more and taking more pride and might even pull out a ring to go with the gold lacquer – like a intimation of Easter bonnets to come and of the celebration that follow the giving up.
Concerned that Lent is supposed to include suffering I did a little research and latched onto this biblical quote:
do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance
I took that to include nail biting and addictions of all kinds, not only to actions, substances and stuff, but to ways of being and to anything that clogs up our channels, including our arteries, our guts and our minds and anything that keeps us from being spacious inside and out and prevents us from being and sharing the good stuff, from paying it forward, from spreading the love –
Reaching for a bowl in my cupboard last week, the precarious pottery tower tipped over and, before I could catch it, one of Gail’s celadon green bowls tumbled to the ground and broke. It’s design of black leaves now lay in several pieces on the ground.
I gasped, “Oh no, oh no, not one of Gail’s bowls.” (Gail being the cousin by marriage I’d grown to love who passed away almost 10 years ago.) She was a potter and my cupboards and table tops are full of her creations – large bowls, soup bowls, mugs, dinner plates and one small green bowl, my favorite.
Carefully picking up the 4 shards, I see that it can be glued back together and a photo of a Japanese pottery bowl where the cracks had been filled in, like veins with gold, crosses my mind.
In fifteenth century Japan, a shogun damaged a precious Chinese bowl, causing cracks to splinter across the small vessel. Fearful of the cracks growing, the shogun took the bowl to a craftsman and asked him to repair it in such a way that it would become more valuable than before. The craftsman filled the cracks with lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold. Called kintsugi, “golden joinery” in English translation, the technique became highly desired. More than just a means of repair, kintsugi promotes a hopeful philosophy; unexpected damage can be an opportunity.
We all have the power to transmute and heal our pain and fill all our cracks with gold., go through the flames and like the phoenix rise from the ashes. It doesn’t matter so much what is happening as does our ability to look for the gift even if we can’t see it yet.
When a friend handed me Elizabeth Lesser’s book, Broken Open, How Difficult Times Help Us Grow, I was going through a rough time and the book affirmed the growth potential of heartbreak. I try to affirm the same growth potential for the people who come to see me whether they are suffering from PTSD, a recent loss, a break-up, a difficult situation at work or at home or inner turmoil. We often start by blaming others for the way we feeling and how things are and/or we blame ourselves. Either way we are victims and are powerless.
It’s when we take responsibility for our side of the street that the gift appears; the silver lining is revealed, the lesson is learned and we can cut the cord and move on – lighter, freer and profoundly grateful for something that we initially experienced as ‘bad” and tried to push away.
How many times have you heard people say that the illness or the business collapse, the loss or otherwise unwelcome event or experience had turned into a blessing in disguise – had revealed something of great importance – had changed their lives for the better.
Cracks in the surface of the earth indicate the shifting of tectonic plates – earth changes, foundational movement that leaves the world different. The same phenomena goes on within each of us, especially during difficult times when solid ground suddenly shakes and quake, our lives are turned upside down leaving cracks in our surface where we spill out and get to look inside when the dust settles.
Dropping a bowl led me to kintsugi, got me thinking about unexpected damage and opportunity and about my work and how, broken open, people have a lot in common with cracked bowels emerging more valuable than before from the repair shop of life, the cracks filled in with gold.
Leonard Cohen said the cracks are how the light gets in and I read a law of attraction blog the other day which recommended leaving the door ajar and a window cracked to keep the channels open and make room for not only light but miracles. I saved the shards. Either I’ll glue them back together or one day I really will make that garden table out of all my broken bits of pottery.
A few week’s ago I found myself looking through my rarely opened jewelry box for a pair of silver earnings to go with the silver necklace that I had, much to my surprise, decided to wear with my silvery gray skirt and charcoal camesol. In addition to matching earrings I came across a couple of silver bangles that had belonged to my mother and as I slid them on my wrist I gave them a shake just to hear them jangle. Looking at myself it the mirror I liked what I saw and had to laugh when I thought – OMG – I am turning into someone else – from someone who sports little or no adornment except for my always gold shell earrings – into someone who accessorizes.
It was intriguing to be behold my metamorphosis, arisen seemingly out of the blue. It’s not like I’d decided it was time to wear jewelry. I just woke up that morning and voila – like Imogine, a character in a favorite children’s book who woke up one day and found that she had antlers. Not quite the same thing because she couldn’t take her’s off and it was hard to get through doorways – but the fact that I even thought of Imogene confirmed that something in me is changing and one of the ways it is showing is in my new found accessorizing. I have since unearthed my pearls and pearl earrings and have been wearing matching jewelry more often than not. It makes me feel as my mother would say, ‘put together’ and having often admired other’s who wear beautiful necklaces and matching earrings and bracelets – I am becoming what I admire.
So it’s not surprising that Halloween got me thinking about shape shifting, costumes, dress up and the fun people have turning themselves into something or someone else –liberated from the suit and tie or the usual uniform that, if the costume is really good and includes a mask –will mean no one will even no who you are and you get to try on not only new looks but new personas, ways of walking, talking, flying and slithering, sliding, gliding – wand or sword in hand and perhaps sporting a crown or, my favorite wings.
I loved Halloween it as a kid because I got to dress up as a princess, a mermaid and as Little Miss Muffet and ,in a posse rang every doorbell in the 15 story building I grew up in. When I got older, I trick or treated in even bigger apartment buildings, hauling home bags and bags of candy and apples and the occasional nickel (this way a long time ago).
I loved making costumes for my daughter and walking her around east end condos where trick or treaters were welcome but, as an adult, I haven’t been so big on costumes. Considering that I’m turning into someone who accessorizes I am taking a fresh look at the dress-up part of Halloween and see a great coaching exercise and transformational tool not to mention a lot of fun.
Clark Kent knew the power of the cape and that all is took was ducking into a phone booth to turn into Superman. Royalty dons bejeweled crowns, the priesthood collars and mitres and an engagement ring indicates a change in inner and outer status and all you have to do is pick up a copy of a woman’s magazine and look at the make-over section to see people transformed from ordinary, uninspired, everyday even frumpy to extraordinary, glamorous, special occasion, stylish.
Sustainable change may be an inside job but costume change, as any actor knows is a powerful approach to gaining access to a way of being and seeing and being seen anew. Halloween and costumes in general allow the average person to bring dramatic expression into everyday life. Even deeper than that, it provides an opportunity to express aspects of personality that might otherwise remain dormant and we get a chance to “act out” parts of ourselves that we normally keep private or haven’t yet explored.
I’ll save my wings for special occasions but the pearls are glowing and calling my name and I hope you’ll be inspired to use dress up as your own personal transformation exercise. Have fun.
The day after my birthday, a friend sent me a belated birthday wish on FaceBook: ‘Everyday is a birth day if you live it right,”‘ which what I’d been thinking, so, before my niece made the suggestion to follow Uncle Bill’s advice and stretch the BirthDAY celebration into an ongoing BirthMONTH celebration– I’d already realized that the way things flowed on my birthday was the way I’d like the to flow everyday and,. since I didn’t “Do” anything that special on my birthday – I figured I might be able to pull it off. I created a challenge like the 21 day meditation challenges that have recently enhanced my life: every morning I renew my intention to celebrate the fact that I was born, that I am alive, that the world is my classroom and playground and there’s a big party going on to delight and gift me over and over and over again.
My intention includes operating from a place of innocence, playfulness and celebration of whatever I am doing and when I realize that I have strayed into other neighborhoods, my intention is to catch a safari and return to the party.
Had I spent my birthday drinking mimosas and margarittas and eating lots of chocolate cake, the morning after might have made me rethink my challenge but since I spent the day doing ordinary kinds of things that, because I was feeling like a kid on her birthday, seemed especially wonderful, I figured I could pull it off.
On my birthday itself, I was warmed by the many birthday greetings I got on Facebook from people I know and from people I don’t really know and I tuned into all the loving energy coming my way through cyberspace from all over the world , feeling my own energy buzzing in response. I watched an amazing video about forgiveness and adopting a broader vision of life.
I felt light and inspired as I headed out to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned, not perhaps a first choice on the birthday list but I figured why not have sparkling choppers on this special day and beside, I love hearing about my hygenist’s holidays while my mouth is otherwise occupied.
I took my clean teeth to Zora’s sandal shop where the celebration continued and I exchanged gifts with one of my birthday families while drooling over their new line of flowered sandals. I had an appointment with a telephone psychic, stopped by a friend’s house for a late afternoon dip in the pool and, moving right along headed out East for Ananda Niyalam’s weekly satsang (gathering for truth) where we sang and meditated and did a powerful exercise to rid ourselves of the bad memories and painful emotions that we store in the data banks of our sub-conscious.
Many birthday blessings and hugs later and, feeling bathed in the sweet light of love and community, I headed to a club to drop off a friend’s sound equipment which turned into a surprise late night birthday dinner which was perfect because we were hungry. By the time I made it back to my end of the island, dropped off my friend and crawled into bed – I was full – of food and love and gratitude and birthday wellbeing.
Honoring my challenge I have indeed been setting an intention each morning to celebrate my life as though every day were my birthday –asking that the lessons and gifts of each day be revealed me to – gift wrapped in rainbows or naked as they come. And so far so good – on the day after my b’day you’d have found me basking in steel pan music at the beach and enjoying a b’day glass of champagne and dinner with a friend. The party continued with a pizza party today and a fete at the French club with mes amis francais and tomorrow I’m celebrating with my soul sistah goddesses, going boating and, in a few weeks, partying with my beach ladies and I guess the real point is that even as the actual date fades into the past not to let the energy fade with it.
Join me at the Madhatter’s Tea Party where Alice and the Wonderland gang are perpetually celebrating their un-birthdays and singing:
A very merry un-birthday To me To who? To me Oh, you A very merry un-birthday To …. Now blow the candle out, my dear And make your wish come true A very merry un-birthday to you
As Tweedledum explained to Alice there are 364 unbirthdays – opportunities to receive (and give) un-birthday presents, eat un-birthday cakes and make wishes so Happy birthday or a Happy un-birthday.
Here’s to a day full of celebration, eager anticipation and delightful surprises.