Monday, February 24, 2014

Visiting Labyrinths Before the Next Winter Blast

(For more information about my 50-state labyrinth journey, please click on the "Labyrinth Journey" tab above. Visits to Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi make #38, 39 and 40, with 10 more to go by my July 1st goal!)

It was a risk to plan a labyrinth trip in February (17th-19th), with the Polar Vortex pounding parts of the country that could affect my travel.  I intentionally visited Minnesota, North and South Dakota when it was so hot that my sunscreen was challenged to keep up. Saving Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi for winter seemed like a safe bet.  Not this year.

Three days before I left, I received an email from Clarice O'Bryan in Owensboro, Kentucky, whose labyrinth I planned to visit on the 18th. .
"I awoke this morning to over three inches of snow.  The labyrinth has disappeared.  Hope we have a clear view on the 18th."

Gracie Regen in Nashville said that her labyrinth was covered with leaves - soggy, heavy leaves.  More rain, with the potential for severe thunderstorms, was in the forecast.

And who would have thought?  Snow and ice in the Deep South, including Mississippi, where I was visiting Nancy Bridges' labyrinth on the 19th. 

 With delays and cancellations occurring on a regular basis at Newark Airport, would I even be able to get out?

Should I take a chance. ..  or reschedule?

With a three-day window of opportunity in the five-day forecast, I decided to go!  My journey to visit a labyrinth in every state, is never solely about the labyrinth. It's, equally, about the woman who envisioned and built it. It's about her story. The three women were available; I would keep my fingers crossed about the labyrinths.

My labyrinth-traveling friend, Marian Levine and I, flew out of Newark Monday morning, on time. (The next morning brought more snow, and multiple delays/cancellations.)  By that evening, we had driven from Nashville to Owensboro. 
It was raining.
I brought my rain boots. 

"Clarice, this is Twylla." I said the next morning as Marian and I were leaving the hotel. "I should be at your house in about 20 minutes."

"The rain last night cleared a lot of snow off the labyrinth.  And the sun is shining this morning, the first time in about 10 days!" Her excitement matched mine. 

Placing my feet gently on stone, mud and ice, I made my way to the center of Clarice's labyrinth and back. Yesterday, the path would have been impossible to discern. Today, I  walked each step with gratitude.

As we drove back to Nashville that afternoon, signs of snow gradually faded. Under partly cloudy skies, I hoped to walk Gracie's labyrinth before the predicted rain began. 

Tucked in the valley at the back of Gracie's house lay her Man in the Maze Labyrinth.
Thankfully, moss-covered rocks outlined the path, barely visible under a dumping of autumn leaves. I had never seen this configuration before, except in pictures, and was eager to walk it. Gracie showed me the entrance, pointed the way to the first turn, then left me alone to 
walk. As with every labyrinth, I could trust that the path would lead me to the center and back, no matter what the design, nor number of leaves.  It did.
In Tupelo the next morning, all vestiges of ice and snow had melted into a humid 50 degrees. I looked for Nancy's labyrinth as Marian and I drove into her driveway, remembering the 100-foot dimension on the Labyrinth Locator. It should be easy to spot;  but it wasn't until Nancy walked us to within a few feet of the labyrinth's edge, that I saw the faint outline of pavers.  Her "Harmony Labyrinth" blended in with the brownness of the season, as if it were resting.  Wild onion shoots, freshly mowed by Nancy's husband, littered the path, and smelled of spring. The labyrinth was waking up.  

Back to Nashville one last time, we checked in at the Southwest counter. Our flight had been cancelled. 
"At least we did it; we visited them all before we were stopped." I said, as Marian and I walked away. 
"Oh, wait!" shouted the ticket agent. "Flight #45 from Houston is making an unscheduled stop to pick up 40 of you going to Newark. I've never known that to happen before."

"Ummm. . ." I smiled. "It doesn't surprise me."




Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Gift of a Poem

This week I received an envelope filled with poems from my friend, Mary, in Idaho.

Her yoga teacher shares a poem at each class, and Mary thoughtfully passed on a few of them to me.  I have savored them, reading one each day, writing down lines in my Quote Book that I want to remember.  Lines like. . .

. . .So I've thought about it tonight,
With the new moon dark
and double draped in cloud cover.
I will live.
I will live now.
I'll try to do better than I did yesterday.
I'll love better, cleaner, kinder, easier.
I'll give away little things.
Things I love.
I'll talk to strangers. . .
~Jan Sarchio from her poem, "Dire Predictions"

When I visited Mary and her husband, Doug, at their home in September, they turned on the radio each morning to listen to "The Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor.

Warmed by the wood stove, we sipped tea at their kitchen table, while Keillor's distinctive voice kept us company for five minutes. On each program, he recounts highlights of significance, mostly literary, that occurred on that day in history, then reads a poem.

I've adopted my own version of Mary and Doug's morning ritual, not at the kitchen table but in the bathroom, while putting on my make-up. I place my laptop on the counter, download the day's program and listen. When Keillor begins reading the poem, I always pause, whether in the middle of mascara or blush, to be fully present to the poet's words. I bookmark my favorites and return to listen.

Many of the poets are unfamiliar to me, and I'm eager to read more of their work. Where could I possibly go to find collections by all of these poets, under one roof? Where else? New York City.

I can actually see Poets House across the Hudson River from our apartment. I can hop on a ferry and be there in 15 minutes, which is what I did yesterday.

I sat in a comfortable cushioned chair, facing the windows, with a book of poetry in hand and read. It felt like meditation.

Poets House contains 60,000 volumes of poetry. It is free and open to the public. Its collection "is among the most comprehensive, open-stacks of poetry in the United States."

Poems for adults                                                               Poems for children


                              Mary has inspired me to pass along favorite poems to others.
                          In the mail, with a handwritten note - just as I received hers. 
                                           After all, I have the perfect place to find them!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Meditation 101

You know the expression, "I'm losing my mind?" Do you ever wonder where the mind goes when it gets lost? Or when the mind wanders, does it stay close to home or strike out to parts unknown?
I've never paid much attention to where my mind goes, except for the fact that it's often absent. I continue to function - eat my morning Wheat Chex, walk to the nearest PATH station, change the sheets on the bed - but my mind, my thoughts, may be on a beach in Hawaii 6 months from now, or in the doctor's office last week. Rarely, do my thoughts stay put.

I've been monitoring my thoughts more lately as part of a six-week beginner's meditation class at New York Insight Meditation Center.

Wanting to lead a more mindful, present-moment life is not a new goal for me. I have attempted sitting meditation several times, tried eating meditation (chewing a raisin as slowly as humanly possible), and walking meditation as I follow a labyrinth's path. But in each instance, my body is doing its job - sitting, chewing, walking - but my thoughts have left the building.

I was inspired to try again when I attended the exhibit of Thich Nhat Hanh's calligraphic meditations at the Deepak Chopra's HomeBase in December. In my blog about the event, I posted two pictures which are particularly meaningful to me.

But how? How to live the only moment I truly have to live, more fully.

I discovered New York Insight through a connection with a book I'm reading, The Force of Kindness by Sharon Salzberg.  Googling the website, I read the philosophy, further benefits of meditation beyond  those I knew, and learned of opportunities to participate.

"Insight meditation is a way to develop wisdom and compassion.  The core of the practice is the cultivation of mindfulness." 

The next series of classes started within two days. I signed up.

Each Monday a group of about 20 other beginners and I gather in an open-spaced room on 27th St. from 10:00-12:00.

 In a circle of chairs we meditate, listen to our instructor, and share our experiences.

After four weeks of weekly instruction and daily practice, I am encouraged. I am learning to guide my wandering thoughts back to my breath and body, experiencing what it's like to be present in a moment. I feel more moments of calm, mindfulness and patience in my daily life, whether that's standing in line at the post office or brushing my teeth.

My mind is still doing its own thing 90% of the time, but as Elaine, our meditation instructor says, "That's just what minds do." I continue to gently invite mine back, hopeful that She will hang around more often. Or maybe I'll join Her at that beach in Hawaii.

I'm wondering. . . what are some practices that keep you centered?  

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