Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Letter from 1978

"I fought with my twin, that enemy within, 'til both of us fell by the way."

"There's a white diamond gloom on the dark side of this room and a pathway that leads up to the stars. If you don't believe there's a price for this sweet paradise, remind me to show you the scars."

-- Bob Dylan, quoted from "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat), 1978"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vincent van Gogh and Karma Yoga

"Painter on the Road to Tarascon" (1888)

How can I be useful, of what service can I be?  There is something inside me, what can it be?
-- Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

There are six branches of yoga, each with a different focus:

Raja yoga (path of meditation)
Karma yoga (path of service)
Bhakti yoga (path of the heart)
Jnana yoga (path of the mind)
Tantric yoga (path of ritual)
Hatha yoga (path of physical health through postures and breathing practices)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Undisciplined Yoga / What It Feels Like To Be A Tree

Thank you, robin andrea and tara, for inspiring this post with your comments on my previous post.

For me, there is no discipline and no joining involved with yoga because I choose the poses I do, and I do them at home.  I'm a thoroughly undisciplined person who is not a joiner, and I don't do well with authority figures -- even yoga teachers that I am grateful for.

After the initial period of taking yoga classes, it has suited me best to practice alone at home in the way I want to practice yoga.  That's what has worked for me for nearly 30 years.  Rebellion dogs my every step.

Doing a series of yoga poses just feels good to me.  I can experience what it feels like to be a mountain and a tree and an eagle and a frog.  I can experience what liking myself feels like.  I can experience what being relaxed feels like.   And then there is the corpse pose, the oddest pose of all.  When I rest in that pose, I experience how alive I am.

As I experience it, the process of doing yoga poses is like preparing and eating a good meal or a taking a good long walk or taking photographs or reading a book or taking a hot bath or working on a post for my blog.

My perception is that the Buddha chose a single yoga pose, the lotus pose, and stuck with that one for his practice of of meditation.  He didn't do it as a discipline.  He did it because his experience was that it worked for him.  I don't have to do my chosen poses if I don't feel like doing them, but I miss them if I don't do them for awhile.

Here are some of my previous posts on yoga.

It is occurring to me that although I am not disciplined when it comes to yoga, I am enthusiastic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In gratitude to B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014)

The news of the death of B.K.S. Iyengar yesterday just reached me.

In 1979, when I was 29 years old, I began taking yoga classes taught in the tradition of B.K.S. Iyengar by Ingela Abbott who had taken classes from him in India.  He was her first yoga teacher.  For many years I took classes from her and then took classes from other teachers she trained to teach in the yoga school she opened in 1987.  Gradually, I developed my own home yoga practice that has continued to this day.  I have taken classes in other yoga traditions in past years, but Iyengar yoga is my foundation.  I have heard teachers in other yoga traditions say that they can easily tell which students have learned the yoga poses in the Iyengar tradition.

My first exposure to yoga -- a positive experience -- had been a single yoga class in the San Francisco Bay area in 1970.  As I recall, that class was taught in the tradition of  Swami Kriyananda -- Ananda Yoga.   My vague goal in the early years of my interest in yoga was to get out of my head and back into the rest of my body.  Unfortunately, I also had eating disorders at that time and most of my focus began to be on trying to lose weight and achieve what I perceived as a "perfect" yoga body.

Yoga taught me about humility and gratitude.  No matter how hard I have practiced, there have always been poses that I cannot do well.  I simply do the best I can and enjoy what I can do.  In the photo below, taken in 2012, I was holding a pose that I believed I could not do at all and suddenly realized I could do when I was 57 years old.  B.K.S. Iyengar said that yoga is for everyone.  I look forward to some form of yoga practice for the rest of my life.  I will never be too old for a yoga practice.  At the end of each yoga session, we practice the corpse pose, and I think of George Harrison singing The Art of Dying.  Yoga on my deathbed.

I was introduced to yoga in the Iyengar tradition at a low point in my life.  In the years after starting yoga classes, I returned to college and finished my degree in English Literature and Art, left a marriage that wasn't good for either of us, created 200 paintings, and began my recovery from eating disorders and alcoholism.  Yoga has played a major part in my healing, teaching me to respect and honor myself and live in relative peace with myself and the world around me.

How can you know God if you don't know your big toe?
(B.K.S. Iyengar)

Yoga is not a religion.  Mr. Iyengar describes it as an "art and a science." That is its great appeal to me.

Thank you, Mr. Iyengar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Swing and Turn Jubilee

"If I had no horse to ride I'd be found a-crawlin' up and down this rocky road looking' for my darlin."

Here are some poems I am grateful to have found today at Beth's blog.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Say yep to life


I've enjoyed the word yep for as long as I can remember.  Its source for me must have been television.  In my earliest memories of hearing that word, a man is saying it.   It's like yesiree, which I would have heard on the Howdy Doody Show in the early 1950s -- "yessiree Bob."

I wonder if the generation that grew up watching The Muppet Show says, "Yep Yep Yep."

Okey-dokey and okey-doke came from watching "The Little Rascals" on television.



Yessiree Bob.

After starting out as a boisterous child (my father's adjective -- he didn't want boisterous children), I became a shy quiet child who didn't say much in public.  I didn't want to be a cowgirl.  I didn't want to grow up to be Dale Evans or Lucille Ball or any of the other women I saw on television or in the movies.  I wanted to be a brave and solitary cowboy and say, "Yep." And since that was impossible, I wished I could grow up to be a brave cocker spaniel like Lady and have a friend like Tramp who would help me to defend the baby.  And most of all, I didn't want to be like the aunt in this clip:


Not yep yep yep  (-:

And then there's wow and wowee.

My wandering mind just said,  "Say yep to life."

Here is the only time those words have ever been written on the internet until now, and I had been so sure that lots of people were saying yep to life.

This is my 64th summer.  Wow.  Wowee.  Yep.

To see a most beautiful place to walk, look here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Things That Remain Painful / Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo

"Stand-up is how comedians process things that are painful."
-- Billy Crystal, quoted by interviewer during an interview with Robin Williams in 2011.

Robin Williams' early comedy didn't bring me much laughter.  I was severely depressed during those years. What was evoked for me then was the pain that prompted his sense of humor. Although I've found much peace as a sober alcoholic, I sometimes find myself on the depressive side of things.  My gratitude goes out to Robin Williams for the ways he used drama to help himself and us process war and suicides, grief and loss.  There are some things that I can't process through laughter. Depression and active alcoholism are two of them.  

In the interview above, he tells this story:

"Years ago I was reading a story to my daughter.  I was doing voices and everything, and she turned to me and said, "Just read the story."

I'm with his daughter.

In the order that I saw them, these are Robin Williams movies which made a lasting impression on me, helping me to know that I was not alone:

1982 -- The World According to Garp (after watching that movie at age 34, I decided that I did want to have children, but my husband decided that he didn't, and we divorced soon after.  I never did have children)

1989 -- Dead Poets Society (although I remember only speechless anger at the way the movie ended)

1991 -- The Fisher King (wanting to see it again, I looked in vain for this movie in the drama section of a video store and was bewildered to find that this great drama was filed in the comedy section. "Parry is also continually haunted by a hallucinatory Red Knight, who terrifies him whenever he shows any confidence." The quote is from a Wiki article on The Fisher King)

1991 -- Hook (I loved that it wasn't about Peter Pan at all.  It was about Hook.  Robin Williams could just as easily have played Hook)

1997 -- Good Will Hunting

What I'd like to see now is "Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo." It took Robin Williams' suicide for me to become aware of it.  

"Some nights people come expecting me to riff, and I'm not going to do it. I can't."
(Robin Williams, in the above interview with Charlie Rose in 2011)

I'm feeling all off-balance today.  It's been difficult to determine what I want to say to express my unexpected flood of feelings of grief and loss. I do see a connection between Virginia Woolf's suicide at the beginning of World War II and Robin Williams' suicide in the context of the United States conducting air strikes in Northern Iraq and the recent events in Gaza.

"Ring them bells for those of us who are left."
(Bob Dylan, 1989)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Unsigned Work

Yesterday I searched in vain all day long for my mother's album that documented her art work.  My living space is very small, and it is puzzling that I can't find that album.  It must be here somewhere.  My plan was to start a new series featuring more of the things she had made -- most of which she had given away.

For several years, I have been looking for a carved wooden toy that belonged to my father and had been bewildered and saddened that I couldn't find something that was so dear to me and to him.  Just before I went to bed last night, I was standing on my grandmother's chair and looking once again in a small walk-in closet that has shelves and books in it, among other things.  On a top shelf, next to two dolls that belonged to my mother, was a zippered bag.  After all this time, it occurred to me that I may have put the carved wooden toy in that bag at some time in the past when I emptied the closet in my every-so-often process of going through everything I have and getting rid of what I don't need anymore.

There was the carved wooden toy, along with other treasures that I had forgotten about.

When my father was a small boy growing up in Minnesota in the 1920s, a Christian missionary who had spent time in China gave my father a carved wooden figure of a man in the process of removing husks from rice.  With a little research, I came up with this current image from Thailand of a simpler lever-based rice huller:

So far, I have been unable to find any similar carved objects from China on Google Images.  

Somehow, over the years, the carved rice-hulling man lost the front of his right foot.  His right foot was also no longer attached to the surface of the lever, and he could be swiveled on his left foot.  As I was photographing him, I noticed that the stick he had been holding was lying on my table.  It must have fallen out while I was in the process of reattaching his right foot to the tiny pin that stuck up from the lever. When I looked at his hand so that I could reattach the stick, I could see that a hole was drilled from the top to the bottom of his hand.  The stick could be inserted above or below, but could not be moved through the hole in its entirety.  The stick appeared to be broken off at one end. Was there another stick that was meant to fit into the top of his hand so that it would look as if he were holding a tall staff for balance? Looking more closely, I see that it is possible that his left hand is also missing.  I can see now that at one time there was a break to his left lower leg, and that it had been glued back to his left foot.  I wonder what the story is.  

The finely carved toy is unsigned.

After my father retired from his job as a systems analyst, he traveled to the places he had dreamed of traveling all his life.  My mother chose not to accompany him.  One of those places was China -- a completely different China from that of his childhood.  In his retirement, my father also enjoyed woodcarving.  Who knows what seeds were planted in his dreams when he was given that carved wooden toy as a small boy?  I sense that it was one of his treasures throughout life, although I don't recall seeing it until after my mother died in 1994.

Just as it was with my mother, my relationship with my father was conflicted and is in need of healing.  It was painful to think that I had lost his carved wooden toy that he kept throughout his life.  I treasure the ways I do feel connected to my father and am grateful to have found the carving again.  

One of these days, when the time is right, I know I will find my mother's album, too.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #21 of 21


Air Baloons
Spinning tops
Dyed Eggs


(click on image for additional details)

Thanks to all who have followed along with this series, especially robin andrea.

I am grateful that my mother didn't destroy this series of mandalas that would have upset my father if had he been aware of them.  I am grateful to have been able to share these mandalas on my blog.

My mother's earliest creative efforts involved writing.  From childhood, she dreamed of being a writer.  If I remember correctly, in the last years of my mother's life her creative energy went into Norwegian pattern knitting.  The only writing she did in her last years, that I know of, was writing letters.

In 1966, at age 50, she had finished a poem she had begun at age 48. The original version of the poem ended with these lines:

... "What means Gethsemane?"
The Inspiration fled.  Was God its source?
So be it.
Then rich I am having felt His force.

In the final version:

... "What means Gethsemane?"
The answers rise and fall like waves.  I wait.
Then blindly stumble on towards heaven's gate.

In the years between 1966 and 1989, having lost the Inspiration, she redirected her abundant energy to creations that didn't involve words. It is occurring to me this morning that with the mandalas, she was combining words and images -- not poetry exactly but something like it. Traditional mandalas don't have words in them.  There were still words that needed to come through her, but they presented themselves to her in this process.

Who knows why she started making mandalas sometime in 1989 and stopped making them in July of 1991 and went back to working with color and pattern without words.  Who knows what turned her away from Christianity and moved her toward Judaism?  I know that she found joy and solace and meaning in her last years by celebrating Jewish holy days in secret.

This pillow was one of her many handmade gifts to me during her steady output of Norwegian pattern knitting in her last years:

My mother continued to ask questions.  I know that for sure.  She was an artist and spiritual seeker.  She lives on for me in the words she wrote and the things she made with her hands.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #20 of 21




Thursday, August 7, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #19 of 21


Martin Luther King Day

... I have a dream ...

(click on image for additional details)


"Freedom Highway"

March for freedom's highway
March each and every day

Made up my mind and I won't turn around
Made up my mind and I won't turn around

There is just one thing
I can't understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.

Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.

(lyrics by Pops Staples -- 1962)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #18 of 21


Gulf War


Saudi Arabia
Tel Aviv

(click on image for additional details)

am's notes:  On January 18, 1991, Iraq launched SCUD missiles on Israel. The U.S. deployed Patriot missiles to Israel and Saudi Arabia.  See Gulf War link above for additional context for this mandala.

This process of sharing my mother's mandalas is transformative. Perhaps it is time to begin to make some mandalas of my own.  I do have two drawings (one from 1999 and one from 2007) that would be my mandala #1 and #2. They were inspired by a book about healing that I bought in 1999 during a time of turmoil and little inner peace in my life.

It has just occurred to me that I made my first mandala in 1999 in a room in a motel on the north end of Arcata, California, just off of Highway 1 and that I also stayed in Gualala during that time and worked on the exercises in the book there as well.  

As the end of 1999 approached, I had been seriously thinking about moving to Humboldt County, and I stayed there for the most part from late September to the end of October, also spending about a week in Gualala in Mendocino County, which was another place I thought I might like to live. 
The events leading to my being in a motel room in Arcata are coming back to me now.  

In spring of 1998, I had found myself feeling so distraught that I left my work station at the Catholic hospital where I was employed as a transcriptionist, and I went to talk with a social worker who was employed in Pastoral Care as a chaplain.  She was a Roman Catholic nun from the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.After talking with her, I went to the non-denominational hospital chapel (with its wooden altar built by a fine woodworker who identified as both Jewish and atheist) and sat quietly in meditation until I was able to return to my work station. As a result of leaving my work station without letting anyone know where I had gone, I was sharply reprimanded and sent for mandatory counseling through the hospital's employee assistance program and from there I was referred to a Gestalt therapist in Bellingham.  Now I'm wondering if that therapist was the one who suggested the book to me. 

Since the spring of 1998, I had been working with that therapist on emotional issues after the suicide of a former boyfriend (we were together briefly in our early 20s) on his 50th birthday in December of 1997 in Bellingham and also because of my increasingly strained and demoralizing relationship with my father after my mother's death and my distress in connection with my Richard's rapid descent into late stage alcoholism which had involved prison time.  I had distanced myself from Richard for my own safety, but he remained a constant presence in my psyche.   

As a result of living with Richard during the first five months after his return from Vietnam in 1970 and as a result of a terrifying episode while talking with him over the phone on Veterans Day 1989 during the Gulf War, as well as my anguish in response to the Gulf War,  it became increasingly clear that I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.  

In the spring of 1999, in a futile attempt to sort out the mess that my life had become, I abruptly quit my job at the hospital and cashed out my IRA that I had been building up for 14 years.  I thought that a new career or moving back to California, specifically Humboldt County, might be the answer.  Spending a month in Humboldt County seemed like a good idea.  Certainly the solace of the ocean and the redwoods would heal me.  

Because I found myself in severe emotional distress despite being in one of my favorite places on the earth, I went to the hospital in Eureka and talked with a hospital chaplain who referred me to a counselor in Arcata who helped me during that month in which I realized that I was in no shape to move alone to Humboldt County.  

Just now, I found my copy of the book that prompted me to make my first mandala.  My notes in the book show that I bought The Mythic Path, by David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner, in July of 1999 and that I may have finished the exercises in January of 2000.  The last page that I dated was January 23, 2000.  In December of 1999, against my better judgment, I had impulsively contacted Richard in California and was shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with oat cell carcinoma in his neck and throat and had undergone drastic surgery at Stanford University Hospital.  To my dismay, there was no word from him again until September 2001 when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and I flew to California to visit with him at his parents' home, where he was living at the time.  In spring of 2002, his cancer went into remission, and he began drinking heavily and using drugs again. Again, for my own safety, I had to keep my distance from him.    

In 2007, in a time of increasing inner turmoil and intermittent severe migraine headaches, close to a year before my Richard died, I went through the exercises in the book again and made a second mandala. With a little research, I see that I was moved by this poem at about the same time.  

Now in 2014, I can say that my daily experience contains close to an equal measure of inner peace and inner turmoil.  The yin-yang symbol has meaning for me.  Oneness.  The balance of darkness and light. Dynamic.  Alive.  

For so much of my life, I had very little sense of having any inner peace and only experienced unceasing inner turmoil.  Right now I'm wondering how life was for my mother.  What was the balance for her? I don't think she found the peace she sought, but she did continue her creative output in a way that has eluded me since the First Gulf War.  

The years between 1980 and 1989 resulted in nearly 200 drawings and paintings coming through me.  What a shock to do the math and see that 25 years have gone by since that unprecedented period of creativity.  I will be 65 years old in October.   

Then I remembered this:

"From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things.  When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs.  But all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with.  At 75 I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress.  At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist.  At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before.  To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age.  I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign myself "The Old Man Mad About Drawing."

-- Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Since December 2006, blogging has been keeping my creative energy alive, although it has resulted in only a few drawings and paintings.  Here are my top 10 blog labels:

   Here are the last twenty of a long long list of labels identified with a single post: 

Here is one of the first bloggers who found my blog and comment.  I've been hoping she would post on her blog again.  She wrote the poem that meant so much to me in 2007.  Her posts are worth waiting for.  Look back through her archives for "pictures, poems and other souvenirs and artifacts."

Thank you to anyone who read this far.  I didn't expect to write so much when I sat down 6 hours ago. 

Thank you to my mother for giving me a perspective on keeping the creative process alive in times of turmoil.  

Porch meditation:  Summer-blooming Amaryllis

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #17 of 21

12/11/90 - 12/18/90




Kislev 25
Nes Gadol Haya Sham

(click on image for additional details)

This post is dedicated to Velveteen Rabbi.  I wish my mother were still alive so that I could share Rachel's blog with her and that I could talk with my mother in a way we couldn't while she was alive.

My mother let her inner turmoil as well as her inner peace be made visible in this series of mandalas created in the last years of her life.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #16 of 21


Anchor Bay

Maxine R.



Jeni and Mike H.

(click on image for additional details)

am's note:   Anchor Bay is a few miles north of where my parents lived in the southwestern corner of Mendocino County.  My parents enjoyed visiting the beach at the Anchor Bay Campground and brought family and friends to that beach.  The names on this mandala are those of a friend of my mother, those of two dogs, and those of the couple who managed the campground then, and manage it to this day, as far as I can tell.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #15 of 21




Narcolepsy Mandala
I and II)
later in
day with
(All of
the Roman

49 days
7 weeks

1. -- once
2. -- once
3. -- 2 times
4. -- once
5. -- once
7. -- once
8. -- 3 times
9. -- 5 times
10. -- 5 times
11. -- 2 times
12. -- 2 times
13. -- 3 times
14. -- 1
15. -- 1
16. -- 1
17. -- 1

6 missing
No 6

The Ten Commandments - Exodus 20 - Moses

am's notes:  The 6th Commandment is "Thou Shalt Not Murder." The Ten Commandments are the first ten of 613 commandments given by God to the Jewish people.

Despite taking Dexedrine on a daily basis from 1954 until her unexpected death of a massive heart attack in 1994, it is clear that my mother never found complete relief from narcolepsy.  I'm not sure how she was able to stay awake during the time she held jobs in her 20s and early 30s, before marrying.  Before her daily dose of Dexedrine was prescribed, it must have been extremely difficult for her to struggle to stay awake while trying to be a wife and mother of very young children in the years from 1949 to 1954.  On the other hand, the emotional side effects of Dexadrine were devastating to her, and to us, her three daughters.  She was alternately giddy and full of amphetamine-fueled energy, unable to stay awake, prone to rage, and a creative well-intentioned mother.

It is intriguing that my mother's narcolepsy determined the course of her enigmatic 15th mandala. By the time she was 74, my mother was not taking as much Dexadrine as she had when we were growing up, but she took enough on a daily basis so that she could drive a car without having to worry about falling asleep at the wheel.

My Amaryllis plant only bloomed during winter the first year I had it. Every year after the danger of frost is over I put it out on my porch, and it blooms during July or August.  I took this photo a few days ago.  The first of the three flowers has not yet opened as of today, but it is getting close to opening.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #14 of 21


The music goes down and around
And it comes out here


(click on image for additional details)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Josephine's mandalas: #13 of 21


Pesah ...

Elijah's cup
Afikomen   Seder

... Shemah, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu Adonai, Echad ...

... Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One ...