Pay it Forward

The SOFA show (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) was held at Navy Pier’s exhibition space this past weekend.

While the featured artwork, largely exquisite blown glass and home décor, is beyond my budget, I enjoy walking down the aisles, eager to see if something registers in my brain for surprising whimsy or unadulterated invention.

I planned to meet some friends there on Friday afternoon then go out to dinner as part of one of my gal pal’s birthday celebration. My Friday work schedule got re-arranged late in the week, and I had to forego the art show as a group experience. I met everyone at a neighborhood Greek restaurant for dinner later in the evening.

Between saganaki and kolokithokeftedes (zuchinni fritters), I asked the birthday girl for her thoughts on SOFA highlights.

She explained how the group organized their tour of the space and effused about seeing everything in less than three hours. She threw her admission ticket on the table and looked at me.

“I was gifted a three-day pass as part of a birthday gift. Would you want to go?”

As I graciously accepted the ticket, I started to reflect on the concept of PAYING IT FORWARD.

It’s wonderful at any time to get an unexpected gift. It feels like a bonus when you can see the occasion as being part of a larger phenomena, as a step in the continuous cycle of giving and receiving.

As I took the ticket and slid it into a special compartment in my purse, I considered the exchange of energy.

Nicki received this ticket as a gift, in some ways as recognition how she demonstrated herself to be a good friend over the years.

She offered the ticket to me because she had enjoyed the gift and understood that it still had value to someone, like me, who hadn’t yet been to the show and appreciates displays of creativity.

Yes, she passed it on to me in friendship, but my bigger impression was that she passed it on to someone who would use it.

When we clean our closets of clothes we no longer wear and donate them to different charities, we might want to make some space in our lives, but we’re also taken by the idea of moving resources to the place of greatest need, or greatest appreciation.

While I didn’t make efforts to find someone who might use the pass on the third day of the show, as it got me thinking about paying blessings forward, the initial gesture of generosity continued to echo.

Of course, I’d like to think I would share any windfall that came my way, but there are opportunities everyday to PAY IT FORWARD.

Maybe the most important thing I value and can pay forward is my own good state.

Yes, I still want things that I don’t have, but I feel very fortunate. I have come to value myself more than I have at other times in my life; my wisdom, my imagination, special efforts, my good intentions.

Rather than anger or frustration, anxiety, entitlement or jealously -– I’d like to think I can always share my good energy. I have worked hard at cleaning myself up on the inside. Taking care of one’s own energy then being mindful of how we always pay it forward, whether it’s hopeful and life affirming or bitter, represents how we gift the world with our footprints here.

After spending a few hours at the SOFA Show at Navy Pier Saturday, I took the #66 bus down Chicago Avenue to go to the State Street subway stop.

I locked gazes with a very slight woman just slightly older than me. We glanced at the smart phone occupied millennials around us and the jostled passengers loaded down with over-sized bags from fancy Michigan Avenue stores. We smiled at each other.

She got off the bus one stop before I did. As she walked in front of me on the way to the door, she said, “Have a nice day.”

Looking people that cross my path in the eyes and smiling, consciously sending them kindness and respect, shared humanity, is no small thing.

Breathe!

I recently attended a meditation retreat; a single day dedicated to chanting and meditation, to turning in.

Of course, it can be healthy, in general, to take a break from routines and habitual busyness to do such things. The larger benefits of this day, I imagine, will unfold over time.

The key thrust of the program was to encourage people to meditate. Rather than using meditation for centering or performance enhancement (a focus not ignored in business or sports), my perspective on the true power of meditation is more spiritual.

The goal of meditation, I believe, is to experience existence outside of one’s ego, to let go of one’s dependence on circumstances in order to be happy and to identify with the limitless and eternal rather than defining who we are based on politics or class, gender or profession.

Whether this approach to meditation is of interest to you or if you are curious about meditation to improve your golf swing or lessen anxiety, it’s common for beginning meditators to start with their BREATH.

Ah breathing…

It sounds so simple, and yet, as we often learn in a level one yoga class, many of us don’t breathe correctly. It’s hard at forty or older to allow your belly to fully expand when you’ve spent most of your life holding your stomach in.

When a well-meaning meditation instructor follows up on tips for how to sit by saying, Watch your breath, my battle with my breath kicks in to a higher gear.

I’m not a visual person to begin with. I have to play around with any metaphorical references to golden particles of light filling my lungs, filling all sorts of body cavities, and then being expelled in long exhalations. I can’t seem to conjure up the intended visuals but I get the gist of instruction.

Be conscious of your life force. Be aware of natural boundaries, with insides and outsides. Be present to the sensation of these boundaries melting away.

Breathe in deeply. Let your breath out slowly…

It’s not that I take breathing for granted.

I have two sisters that had experiences with lung cancer. One sister, older by seven years or so, after diagnosis five years ago, had two lobes of one lung removed. She had to re-learn how to breathe with less capacity. Another sister, only one year older, died 16 years ago.

As children, that sister, unhappy to share a bedroom with her snoring younger sister, used to pose a strange rhetorical question to me, Must you breathe? 

Was she merely tired of listening to the unconscious waves of my respiration? Was she upset at me just for being alive? Was she questioning my right to occupy space on this planet as she questioned whether air should fill my lungs?

No, I never had an easy relationship with my own breath. I still find myself holding my breath when I’m excited or deep in concentration. I’m aware of habits to take in just barely as much air as I need, not as much as life might be offering.

….But I want to experience samadhi, this state of total absorption in both the present and the eternal. I want to lose preoccupation with accomplishments and judgments and just BE.

From others before me who have had the same goal, I understand this place to be at the intersection of where one’s breath meets the heart, the heart of everything. There are no road signs, but I trust that I’ll know it when I get there.

Respiration keeps the body alive, but maybe, more importantly, breathing with this goal, gives life meaning.

Even though I’ve been at it for sixty years, I guess I have to practice breathing.

First thing in the morning (before I have tea and take India out for her walk), when the sound is turned down during a commercial break, or when I’m wiping my kitchen countertop –- It’s a good thing that I can practice every day.

Recognizing the importance of breathing, deeply and CONSCIOUSLY, even while the basic function occurs automatically, is no small thing.

 

Doing Evil Justice

I really enjoy taking walks in my neighborhood this time of year.

The temperature is comfortably in the 60s (my body’s favorite no-sweat, no chill range). The leaves have already turned from green to gold. They float to earth from tree branches, blanketing sidewalks and lawns in brownish hollow cones that greet our footsteps with their patented crunch-crunch-crunch.

I also love to look at Halloween decorations. This holiday has definitely surpassed Christmas as the time of year when homeowners go all out to transform their patch of front lawn. They become cemeteries, or giant spider webs or yellow-taped crime scenes.

Some front yards seem to call out the Dollar Tree provenance of their witches and skeletons and jack-o-lanterns. Other scary objects seemed to have come from a fire sale of props at the Theatre of the Macabre. Some scenes seem to be composed of an odd assortment of objects excavated from basements.

The source and expense involved in fashioning a compelling Halloween scene matters less than the creativity and attentiveness of the decorator.

Walking along Sacramento, I came across two dolls standing on top of cement and brick balusters flanking stairs leading up to a front entrance. They had curly red hair, which was a little wild, and their eyes seemed to be rolled back in their heads, appearing as nearly all white spheres under heavily mascaraed lashes.

Their red, bow-shaped lips were a deeper shade of red than that of a vampire’s last drink. They wore Victorian vintage dresses, which were hard to guess the age range they were made for. Were these dolls meant to represent schoolgirls or not-quite maids, women past their expiration dates for marriage?

Ah…I was standing before the Creepy Queen of the Pumpkin Patch.

I wondered what she could see with her eyes, turned, as they were, inside her head. I wondered if she was guarding the house or trying to escape some evil that resided there.

She wasn’t exactly threatening. I saw no fangs, no sickle of destruction. But she was creepy.   She was perfect in effect.

I started thinking about evil in literature and movies. Of course, evil is not something we want to see flourish, but I have a strange sort of admiration for authors or actors that create super memorable villains.

Some of the most famous came to mind: Sherlock Holmes’ clever nemesis, Moriarty; Shakespeare’s scheme-meister Iago from Othello and bitter hunchback Richard III; cruel slave-owner Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin; uncompromisingly in control, psych ward warden, Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; sadistic Nils from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, Darth Vader’s story can be conjured up whenever we hear particularly heavy breathing; a life destined for good that got corrupted.

Some of these characters had fine intellects, but misused them. Others centered their lives around manipulating others, which most of our better instincts tell us is wrong, and some were especially cruel as a sort of personal power metric, taking special advantage over the most vulnerable.

Some thrived on being in control (as many of us do), but took control to an extreme. Others showed no remorse or empathy for actions that harmed others.

All great villains are unique, but all teach us a little about our own humanity. Certainly, just the thought of EVIL makes me uncomfortable, but I have a great admiration for artists who make the qualities of evil real to me and remind me of my choices.

Doing wrong RIGHT is no small thing.

Adapting

I’ve had to relearn how to write after my shoulder injury.  My fingers were very stiff and my grip was weak.  I’ve been able to make progress largely due to a foam ring which hugs my pen; an adaptive device.  I started to think about many devices that helped me adapt to physical limitations or environmental conditions.  I use a pillow to be comfortable for meditation.  I remember, as a seven year-old, having training wheels on my two-wheeler until I felt confident enough to ride without them.  What are some adaptive devices you’ve used in your life? How have they changed your experience for the better?