We Need Both Darkness and Light

Shadow fenceWhen I first learned to read I fell in love with the printed word. After that I devoured as many books as I could get my hands on. Like many children, once in bed at night after I was supposed to be sleeping, I hid under the covers and read by flashlight. If I woke up ahead of my parents as I often did, I did, I pulled up my shade for more light, or perhaps again used my flashlight. Reading wherever I was every chance I got, I accumulated knowledge and stimulated my imagination giving me a rich childhood and a good basis for expansion as I grew older. I still love to read however I no longer use a flashlight under the covers nor do I fear the approaching footsteps of a parent suspicious of my eagerness to go to bed.

As I have grown older, darkness has taken on more of an impact for me. The dark winter hours mean I sleep more, which is enjoyable. However, nowadays I need more light to see by. With the onset of Daylight Saving and then the Equinox that is on its way, I will enjoy the longer hours of light. I appreciate being able to see more clearly later and later in the day. Yet were it not for the contrast of darkness or the shadows cast by the light, it would be more difficult for me to perceive the size, shape, and outlines of objects around me. Also, without the dark hours of winter the trees and perennials would not get the rest they need to rebirth themselves in the spring. As do I, nature needs both to function properly.

Darkness is as necessary to us as light. It is what helps us define and manage the world around us. Early in their development as we attempt to shield our children from making mistakes we teach them about right and wrong. Sometimes this is a tricky proposition. As one of my teachers used to say, there are no absolutes. We teach our children and young adults not to kill or cause harm or hurt to others. But then they join the armed services and find themselves given a gun to aim at someone who is called the enemy. So in that instance killing is right or so they are told now. Could that have something to do with why so many individuals return from combat with troubled minds?

The Equinox presents us with equal hours for day and night. After March 20th the days will be longer than the nights until the process reverses with the Solstice in June. Meanwhile the world around us will begin to wake up from its long winter sleep in the dark. Balance in all things and the achievement of that balance is one of the important goals of the universal natural process of growth and decay. In addition we too participate in this process as we learn and grow, shining the light of our understanding on the darkness of ignorance. It is the contrast between them together with our moral compass that guides us toward the wholeness that is made up of both sun and shadow, darkness and light.

 

Making Priorities and Cheering Deadlines

Porch Icicles 3When my children were small it was easy for me to set priorities. First and foremost they were related to the needs involved in parenting. Children let you know when they must have something, whether it is changing, food or the toy they saw on TV. Sometimes they yell until they get it. Later on they can be more subtle yet any concerned parent can figure these things out sooner or later and if they do not they will find out eventually what is needed.

Now it is much more difficult for me to figure out my priorities, especially if there is not a deadline connected with the task. I looked up the definition of deadline. It is a printing term that was originally connected to the size and shape of the type the press was using. Anything that went beyond a certain limit was “dead.” Later the term was adopted by editors and related to time rather than type. I find deadlines to be very useful in forming priorities.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to pay better attention to priorities. For instance, when something needs doing I need to do it in a timely manner and not put it off, only to discover that I have missed out or messed up in some way. One small example is coupons. They have dates on them; if I do not keep an eye on the dates they go by and the coupon is useless. No doubt many of my readers have the same issue.

I once read an article that suggested that when getting ready for a party one ought to put the most important things to do last because then they would surely get done. While is merit in that idea, and I have tried it for myself, what works for a party may not when it comes to everyday life. It’s been my experience that something I believed would take a certain amount of time actually took longer, and when I am working with a deadline that can be a problem to be dealt with.

On the other hand sometimes absent a deadline, it can be difficult to know what constitutes a priority. Vacuuming comes to mind, as does dusting. Of course if someone is coming over for a visit, cleaning and tidying become a priority. Then there is the email load. If I fail to answer an email sooner than later will there be a problem? It can be tricky to decide. Then there are the bills: Paying a bill involves a deadline and I hope not to put it somewhere I will forget about it and pass the deadline, thus accumulating interest or worse, a fine.

Nowadays I am thankful the Public Library sends out Internet reminders when a book is due. This is a great improvement on my having to remember the date it must be returned by. I can even look it up on line to do the renewal rather than make a phone call or perhaps drive to the library itself to do the renewal. The bottom line to my prioritizing is to rejoice for deadlines I have and make lists that will remind me to work on that which does not.

 

The Importance of Self Care

Teddy Bear 2

As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

Thrifty Ways

clothes-in-closetWhen I was a child a friend of my mother’s gave me the dresses that that her twins had outgrown. Because they were dressed alike, I had to wear two of whatever came my way. In the days when I was growing up, thrift meant making do with what was available. Aside from the fact that while my family had enough, they weren’t exactly wealthy, there was a war on and many things, including clothing and shoes were rationed.

In addition, in the years that followed, my mother had to stretch what my father earned to cover the needs of the three more children born after I turned eight years old. I remember how excited I was when in my sixteenth year I got a pair of Bermuda shorts. They were newly fashionable and I felt very special to have a pair. Although they were wool, I wore them all that summer and for a number of summers after that. For a long time they were my only pair.

Growing up in a thrifty household inclined me toward a thrifty lifestyle as an adult. When I was raising my own family of five children I had to stretch our food dollars to try to nourish as well as please my family. I learned all kinds of tricks to make inexpensive cuts of meat palatable and I baked cookies by the dozen so the children would have treats. Home made was far less expensive than store bought. My sewing machine hummed as I made dresses for my daughters and even some outfits for my sons when they were small.

Judging from the advertisements I see today, thrift is not especially fashionable. Bargains, of course are. However what is considered a bargain by some standards is not by others. When I was growing up the annual church fair rummage sales held in local churches were the best places to find inexpensive, serviceable garments. My mother was a faithful customer.

I do not remember there being consignment shops or other places one could find good second hand clothing when I was a child. When we got together I introduced Stephen to consignment and thrift store shopping, and he embraced it happily. I find it more fun to shop that way because you never know what you will find and the prices are far more reasonable than what other stores charge.

Over the years, I have amassed a wonderful collection of clothing. Much of it has come from consignment or thrift stores, the rest from sales. Certain garments have endured the test of time and I wear them joyfully in the appropriate season. Others get rotated back into the mainstream to be discovered by someone else who enjoys saving money by shopping wisely. What is especially nice for me is that now I can have a number of pairs of shorts for the price I would pay for one bought new, or a cashmere sweater that someone has passed on, at a fraction of the cost in a regular store. Perhaps this is a kind of payback for the days when I wore the twins’ hand me down dresses over and over again.

Tasha Halpert

Acceptance of What Is Can Be Learned

Cabbage with holes           I began at an early age to learn my role as a would be peacemaker. My parents were both very special and wonderful people, yet they had a lot of differences and often had trouble bridging them. As the eldest and only child by a number of years I had a good deal of practice as a kind of go between for them when there were difficulties to be dealt with. In addition I often found myself with my hands over my ears while my parents attempted to resolve their differences at the top of their lungs. Loving both of them dearly, I was often at a loss as to how to make things better. Most of all I had to deal with my desire for things to be different, and my inability to make this happen.

Fast forward to the present. I recently found myself in the midst of a situation that was very uncomfortable, yet that I could nothing to change. Like all the other times in my life going back to when I was a small child and this was the case, it felt very similar. So in addition I had to deal with these echoes from the past as well as the experience of the present. My nature as a peacemaker, has always made it difficult for me to deal with conflict. This time, as I often do, instead of facing the situation that I was confronted with squarely, I kept wishing things were different.

To be sure that is a natural reaction. Few among us are willing to face a difficult situation without feeling regret as well as the desire to change it in some way to make things easier on everyone. Yet sometimes even with the best of intentions from all concerned, whatever is going on will continue. If I could have accepted this, I would have been better able to come to terms with what was happening. As it was, I had to work hard just to stay calm and keep from trying to help. I have been reflecting on this ever since.

The best that anyone can gain from dealing with a situation where one can do nothing is to allow for a greater sense of compassion to emerge in the heart. A wise woman once quoted me this ancient Hebrew saying: “If there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?” As I have grown older and experienced more grief as well as regret, which is a precursor to grief, I have recognized that there is a treasure to be gained from it. Yet the treasure must be dug out from beneath the stubborn, unyielding crust of denial.

The denial can only be dealt with by my conscious acceptance of my inability to make anything different. As I accept what is and interweave it with threads of compassion, I can come to terms with my own sense of powerlessness, as well as with the pride that weeps over that, and the need to simply let go. The road cannot always be smooth. If there is no grit under the wheals, they will slip and slide without progress. The sandpaper that smooths the rough wood brings out the beauty of the grain. As I allow it to my heart can surely learn to grow.

Thorns and Roses

Maine Roses and Hips -15          The season of roses approaches. One of my delights is to drive with the windows open and smell the fragrant wild white roses that border the roadsides. I know they are an invasive species. I found that out when I planted some by our swimming pool and after a year found myself dodging them. Soon they loomed over the fence and began reaching out to snare unwary swimmers, not to mention encroaching on the neighboring raspberries.

However their scent is amazingly beautiful, and for the several weeks of their blossoming any excuse will do for me to drive around just to smell them. Though I have not been able to grow them successfully, I have always loved cultivated roses and to receive them as a gift. Nowadays many commercial roses come without thorns. Somehow this seems wrong. In my mind, thorns and roses go together, and lately I have been thinking about this as a metaphor for life.

My daughter’s beloved mother-in-law passed on a little while ago. I was looking for a card to express my sympathy to my son-in-law and daughter when I ran across the two cards I had bought to send to cheer up the now recently deceased. I had lost track of them and been meaning to look harder so as to send them to her. Now it is too late. However, while I have regrets I will not hold onto them because what’s done is done and cannot be changed any longer.

One of my favorite teachers, the late Pir Valayat Inayat  Khan used to say, “Rather than regret that roses have thorns, rejoice that thorns have roses.” There is always something to be learned from the thorniest situation or relationship. I remember reading an essay by Emerson to the effect that one’s enemies are to be cherished because they help us to learn. Difficult situations do the same, as do difficult relationships. Another recent passing of someone with whom I experienced failure in this regard makes me sigh.

What saddens me is that no matter how deep my regret, the past cannot be changed. This can cause either serious dismay or graceful resignation. The missed opportunity to make up after a quarrel, the disappointed hope or expectation, the fervent desire for a change of heart are all thorns, yet regardless how much I wish things had been different, a least the thorns do in fact all have their own roses.

The pricking of the thorns is also a reminder to cherish the roses. While it is not possible to change the past, there are always opportunities to influence the future. It reminds me to acknowledge and to cherish the friendships I do have and to appreciate the gifts of generosity and love that bless my life. To regret the past is to cloud the present and perhaps even tinge the future with unnecessary sadness. As I work to cultivate the garden of my life I will water the roses of my resolutions with joy.

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert