The Dark Time is The Ideal Time to Rest

The trees outside my window have lost most of their leaves. Some few still cling to their branches as a result of the late warm weather, however not many. The leaves are being released from their branches. The tree has sealed off the part where the stem contacts the twig and the leaves are subject to the whims of the wind. Thus the trees move from active participation in growth and expansion to rest and restoration, solidifying what has been gained. Nature is sensible that way, bringing opportunities for alternative modes of being. Most animals as well as insects are in their burrows or nests, resting from the work of gathering and consuming food as well as maintaining the dwelling.

Once there was no electricity to keep us humming along 24/7. In many cases native peoples in the North went into quasi hibernation mode in the winter. Later, although torches and candlelight provided evening illumination, early bed times were likely. Judging from how I feel, the human body seems to be inclined toward seasonal rest. I always seem to sleep longer and even more soundly during the darker hours between November and February. I find that my body is happy with the additional rest. However I am fortunate that I do not have to answer to a time clock at work or an alarm clock at home that tells me I must rise and get moving regardless whether or not my body would prefer to stay under the covers.

We humans do love the light. Throughout history various cultures have provided and still do provide their own opportunities to invoke it during the dark hours. In our Western European culture, our holidays devoted to light in one form or another commonly include Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Hanukah comes to us from another part of the world, as does Kwanzaa, a recent addition. The Internet can provide information concerning the many other celebrations of light that are not as common now because they have faded or been forgotten. These include interesting customs—some of which have come down to us, that include all kinds of symbolism as well as special dances and other activities. All these opportunities help counter the inevitable lethargy brought on by the dark hours.

Although I do not count the years, I still celebrate my birthdays. Now I have another celebration coming up, and I am reminded that as a result of the numerous autumns I have lived through, the leaves of my days are indeed falling. Little by little they flutter down, gathering on the ground in colorful heaps. I have also noticed that as the days of my life increase, I am slowing down. I do not get as much done; I need to rest more. Sometimes this is frustrating. These days are precious and the daylight needs to be made use of. Still I need to be kind enough to myself to allow for the rest I need to keep up my strength, most especially as the days of autumn dwindle and the dark hours grow longer.

More Than One Mother

Me and mama by Bachrach

In my life I have been fortunate to have some remarkable women friends who in certain ways could be considered in the light of mothers. Their age had little to do with it. It was their warmth, their acceptance, their caring and their love that helped to create the part they played in my life. I loved my late mother dearly, however there were aspects of her nature that were difficult for me to deal with, and while she was well meaning and did her best to be a good mother, she could not be everything I would have wished her to be. In my adult life the physical distances between us through the years also created a problem.

The depth of her compassion and acceptance were a special feature of one of the women who served my needs in a way my mother could not. We shared many of the same interests and in a climate where I had little support, she was very encouraging to me in my efforts to learn and to grow. She would frequently invite me to lunch and we would spend many hours in conversation about a variety of subjects. She had a wide range of knowledge and very little prejudice. She was also warm in a way my mother was not.

My own mother was a very good artist and once her family was grown devoted her life to her art. She had her own gallery and her paintings were admired and purchased by people from all over the globe. However, she and I had very little in common in our interests. Our telephone conversations were usually about what she had been doing or what my children were up to.

Another of my mother figures was also an important teacher in my life. Married at eighteen I had no work experience. As a result of studying with this person I gained a way to earn a living as well as a way to be of help to others. She took a personal interest in me and allowed me to assist her in many ways. I found in her a lifelong person to admire and look up to even after she moved away. She was a wonderful teacher and a good friend. My mother, who tried in vain to teach me to knit often said she was too impatient to teach me anything. However I am still thankful she was kind enough to pay a neighbor to give me sewing lessons.

These are only two of the special women who were also maternal figures in my life. It takes nothing from my original mother to think of them in this way because they filled roles that she could not. No single individual can be all things to another whether as a parent, sibling or spouse. Yet we all may play roles in one another’s lives to be of help and to fill in the gaps that our actual mothers might not have been equipped to do. I am always extremely grateful to my mother who worked so hard to raise and in her own way mother me. I am also very thankful to those others who gave of themselves to me with love and acceptance in their hearts.

 

Taking Account of the Gifts of the Moment

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          The maple tree outside my window has been late in turning. I worried the leaves might fall off before they changed color. Then one morning as I pulled the curtain aside I saw they had indeed made their transition to gold. Later in the day the sun shone through them and the brilliance of the leaves was a sight to behold. I stood gazing at them, grateful for the beauty of that moment and of the very special loveliness that is fall in New England.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in this beautiful part of the country. Fall has always been special to me. I remember as a child collecting bright leaves and ironing them between pieces of waxed paper to preserve their colors. I did the same with my children when they were small, and we would hang the leaves up in a window to let the light shine through them. When I went thorough my mother’s correspondence amongst the letters was one from me with some colorful leaves. Being in Florida she said she missed them, so I sent her some.

Lately driving on the country roads near where we live I find it difficult to keep my eyes on the road. The scenery is breathtaking. The foliage of the trees makes billowing waves of color; the rounded mounds of the distant leaves heaped one upon the other simply take my breath away. How easy it might be to get lost in my inner dialogue and miss this.

My mind, like most has a way of getting busy with thoughts concerning what is or is not to be done, or has or hasn’t been finished. Lately I’ve improved. I used to find myself making lists in my head and missing out on a lot of what I might have appreciated had my eyes had been focused outward rather than inward. Once I got into the habit of noticing what my mind was doing it became easier to tame its tendency to run away with my attention and keep me from seeing what was happening around me.

When I take the time to look there is always something interesting to see. Naturally when I am driving I must keep some of my attention focused on what I am doing. Providentially, while looking to the road itself I see what is in front of me. Too, when I am with someone if I pay attention to what he or she is saying or how they are feeling instead of thinking about what I am going to say next, it is much easier to be fully present and aware of my companion.

I’m coming up on a birthday this month, and what I realize about getting older is that it gets easier each year to be patient, to be aware, and to be present insofar as I am able. For this I am thankful. I may never know what I have missed in the past when my mind wandered off and took my attention with it, yet I can make it a practice to keep myself in the here and now. That way I can appreciate whatever there is to be enjoyed in any given moment.

Take care for each breath and love each heartbeat, Tasha

 

 

 

 

Driving Through the Past to the Future

grafron-photo-2          Children have little to no sense of the future, and they don’t have much of a past to remember. They live mainly in the present moment and that is why they might say, “I want it now!” because that is the time they know most about. For adults as they age, the past may tend to trail behind them like a long scarf. For them all too often it may be more vital than the actual present. The future may seem a vague, perhaps even fearful place to contemplate.

When I think about my childhood I have a collage of images: things I did, places I lived and played, those where I worked at learning. My adult past is far more present because it is more recent, especially the time I have lived here in Grafton. Because I have been in one place for twenty six years, my memories are attached to particular places. Some of these have changed others have not. All of them are in some sense present in my mind.

Recently, as I was driving through town on my way to the library, I looked around, remembering. When we first arrived here twenty six years ago, quite a bit was different. There was a furniture store where we bought our wicker porch set. There was a bookstore where we browsed and purchased a variety of books. There was a drug store with a marble soda fountain, where we found things to buy that we needed.

Some of the places I’ve mentioned have gone through several different transformations since. Yet my mind still holds the memory of what they looked like then. It’s almost as if in some way they still exist because I remember them so vividly. Yet it does not do to dwell to long on the past, or in it. If I become disappointed because the bookstore is no longer there, I cheat myself. I obscure the enjoyment of what is there because I am drenching it in regret.

As I drove through the past of my remembering, I was also driving toward the future. The years that we have spent here in this town have been good ones in our lives. Each place we have lived has held both difficulty and joy, sad memories and happy ones. I have no regrets about leaving any of them behind for where we are now. In my mind I can see, like an overlay, all the different times and places that have been and still are part of my life here.

The past and the future are not divided from one another; rather they are a seamless whole through which I travel at will. What is most important is to keep my eye on the present moment. If I don’t I am liable to lose my way or get into an accident. The present moment, while a product of all that has gone before, has its own uniqueness. It may bring me something I need to do in the future, or possibly something from the past that needs my attention. Either way, the present moment can help me to live mindfully and do the best I can.

 

A New World to Hear

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I remember my great grandmother’s ear trumpet. It was a long instrument, flared at one end. She held the small end to her ear. I also remember a black box the size and shape of a thick brick that had a cord running from sitting on a table that must have been an early hearing instrument. My grandmother wore a case the sizes of a slim cigarette pack clipped to the front of her dress with a cord connected between it and a button in her ear. There was a dial on the box she could turn on and off.

My dad used to say she turned it off when she didn’t want to hear what was being said. I remember as a child thinking how handy that must be. Aids to hearing have come a very long way since then. As people age, much like the normal need for eyeglasses to address a lessening of vision, so too there is a need for aids to hearing. Unfortunately these are extremely expensive compared to eyeglasses. Hopefully one day this will change.

Because of the deafness that seemed to run in my family, I was not surprised when my own hearing began to diminish. I found I needed to have the TV on louder. It was helpful to watch movies on DVD with subtitles, especially when the actors had British accents. If Stephen spoke to me and I was in the other room I had to get closer to him to hear what he was telling me.

Ambient noise interfered with my understanding of words; parties were less fun. My children noticed and suggested I get hearing aids. Still, I wasn’t sure I really needed them, or so I thought. Then as luck would have it I was gifted with a set. My daughter offered me her late mother-in-law’s hearing aids. I am very glad I said yes. It has been an adventure for me to use them. I find myself marveling at sounds I have not really heard before, or not for a long time.

I remember my mother telling me that when my grandmother put on her new hearing aid and went outdoors she said, “What’s all that noise?” It was the birds chirping. She had not heard birds for many years. My ears have not been that bad. I have been able to hear more or less, just not clearly. I notice the difference with the aids: without them, it’s like I have water in my ears. With them when I turn on the sink faucet, I hear splashes and ripples. When I unwrap paper it crackles. The stove timer sounds shrill. I hear sounds I didn’t before.

In the past when I thought about getting hearing aids I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I expected them to be clumsy, perhaps difficult to manage. None of this has proved true. Today’s aids are quite different from those of my grandmother’s or even of recent times. They are virtually invisible. I am very grateful to my daughter for her thoughtfulness, and I look forward to learning more about the new world I am hearing. As I have come to appreciate the clarity I get from wearing eyeglasses, now I enjoy the adventure of listening to a new and different world.

 

Into the Next Room

Maple Flowers          The first person whose death I remember hearing about was a relative named Cousin Ellen Parker. My memory of her is of someone roundish, gray haired, and somewhat wrinkled. I have no real memory of her other than of her appearance. She must have died when I was around four. My great grandmother died in her eighties when I was five. I don’t remember hearing much about that. I do have a vivid memory of picking dandelions in our yard and seeing her walking along in her purple hat. When I told my mother she insisted Grandma Great was dead and I couldn’t have seen her. But I had.

In those days death wasn’t usually discussed in front of children. I knew nothing of people dying, only small animals and occasionally pets. The rest of my family was healthy and active, living vigorously for many more years. I grew up with the idea that death was something that happened to people who were old. Times have changed. I have outlived not only my parents but now some of my friends and acquaintances.

This past week Stephen and I heard about three people dear to us who have stepped into the next room–another way to say they have passed from this life. As I write this, it is the birthday of another friend whose death I found out about earlier this year. Stephen and I both find it difficult to believe that these and other friends are gone from our sight. I find myself regretting that I never sent that card I meant to send, or made that phone call.

How can we know when someone’s time will run out? When the card we mean to send or the call to make can no longer be sent or made? No matter how well meaning I try to be there will always be that last small gesture that won’t be made before they are gone. There’s no way to predict when someone will make that transition from life on earth to the wider realm from which no one returns.

As I grow older in years I notice that more and more of the people I have known depart this life for the next. How can this be? Children believe one must be old to die. I’m not old so how can they be old enough to leave this life? When I was growing up I thought of fifty as old. As I approached that time I thought of the succeeding years as indicating age. Now it seems to me that there is no time limit on “old,” nor any way to tell what age is appropriate for the end of life.

It seems no matter how many years I accumulate, I still somewhere within me, retain my youth. From the other side of fifty and more, although the years tell me a different story, I don’t feel very much older. Why have these dear ones left me? It seems only yesterday that we were all in the sunshine of our years. Now the shade encroaches. Still I trust that those I miss are freer now, and without pain. My sorrow at their passing is only for me, not for them. However, I have my memories of them, and these will remain with me for all my years to come.

Tasha Halpert

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

 

A Little at a Time

 

My Buddha by the sink

My mother was an artist. She went to art school and studied sculpture as a young woman. Later when my brothers were both in school she studied painting at the Boston Museum of Art. She had a studio over the garage where she occasionally worked. She also kept her art materials there along with lots of interesting women’s magazines. I loved to go up and read them. From them I learned many helpful household hints. I still remember one that told how to change a bed by walking around it only once. I used to do that. Now Stephen and I make ours together.

It may have been then or it could have been later on in my life that I came across the twenty minute system for accomplishing lengthy tasks. The article suggested allotting twenty minutes daily or whenever convenient, to a chore that was normally postponed because it might take too long or be otherwise tedious. When I tried the suggestion I was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked. One example was that instead of cleaning out all the bureau drawers, or every shelf in the pantry at once, take twenty minutes to clean and tidy one, stop and do another on another day.

At one time I practiced this technique quite frequently, however it slipped into the mists at the back of my mind. Recently I was reminded of it. What happened was this: For a very long time I had postponed cleaning out the refrigerator. Week after week each time I wrote out a new to do list, that particular task was at the top. Still I found reasons not to. Then I noticed how sticky one of the racks on the refrigerator door was. I decided to clean it off then and there. Because there were many small jars to be removed, washed off and replaced, it took me about twenty minutes or so to complete the task.

As I shut the refrigerator door I remembered the household hint from so long ago and laughed. The next day I cleaned off the second shelf of the door. Several days later I washed off the whole bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Today I cleaned the oven, and so it goes. Each task that takes around twenty minutes to complete adds up eventually to a thorough cleaning and tidying. I will probably go through my bureau drawers next, and perhaps after that a couple of other tasks I can think of that need attention.

I remember hearing someone say once that when he thought about what he had to do, it always seemed far more daunting than it turned out to be once he actually began to do it. The same holds true for me about the time spent doing something. Dividing a task into smaller segments works much better for me these days than trying to get it all done at once. As well, it spreads out over all the different times spent, the feeling of satisfaction I get from my small yet necessary accomplishment.

Tasha Halpert

 

Growing Up By Myself

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When I was growing up I lived a couple of miles from a small seaside town on a large property that belonged to my Great Aunt Alice. I didn’t have any siblings until I was almost nine. Virtually an only child, I was surrounded by busy adults and often told to stop bothering them and find something to do. A voracious reader, when I wasn’t nose deep in a book, I played games of pretend, making believe I was someone other than a lonely child in an isolated neighborhood with only herself to rely on for amusement.

I had quite a collection of teddy bears, dolls and other stuffed animals. When I was small I was sure they came alive at night. This belief was influenced by Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy books. These innocent stories about a group of toys that had adventures were written in the early 1900s and became even more popular in the 30’s and 40’s. In these stories, ice cream cones grew on trees, cupcakes and hot dogs could be plucked from bushes and lemonade and sodas were available in puddles and brooks.

Raggedy Ann’s magical woods full of “fairies and elves and everything” held all sorts of fun inventions that I yearned to experience for myself. I loved the stories and used to watch my toys to see whether they too might have adventures while I was sleeping. Sometimes I thought I spotted them in different positions than I had left them, though I could never be sure.

Later I moved on to books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then I wanted to be a pirate or have exciting adventures when I became a grown up. I made bows and arrows out of handy branches and tied string to my father’s hoe and rake to make a hobby horse. If my father needed his rake he knew where to look–in my lilac bush “stable.”

My family believed in fresh air and I spent a lot of time all year round out of doors in nature. Where we lived I was fortunate in having a large open area to play in There were all kinds of trees to climb and large fields of tall grass that I made into my private jungle. My pretend life was much more interesting than my actual one. The world I lived in as a young child was without TV or any form of electronic toy or game. I had to use my imagination to conjure up my entertainment.

I wonder if my childhood led me to grow up looking at the world from a different perspective than most. Steeped in nature and in the creativity of my mind, its sights and sounds enhanced my imaginary life. Today I perceive links and patterns everywhere. I find significance in synchronicity and receive messages from the nature around me. The world was and is alive for me in a way today’s youth may not discover. With the current focus on electronics, most children will not have my opportunities. I learned to listen to and observe nature and found there a sense of companionship and of comfort that is with me still.

A Place of Peace by Tasha Halpert

Peace Village Bridge ReflectionIt is easy to get caught up in the busyness of everyday life. For me it is often difficult is to pause and to take the time for an opportunity to do some self exploration. Such an opportunity was recently offered me. At first I found myself wondering how I could fit it in to my schedule, as well as make sure Stephen would have good food to eat while I was away. Yet because it included time to be with my daughter I didn’t hesitate long before saying yes.

She invited me to go with her to a spiritual retreat at a very special center in the Catskill mountains in New York State. Peace Village, a tranquil place of residence halls and meeting rooms is run by the Brahma Kumaris, a worldwide organization that originated in the 30s in India. The organization is devoted to self study and progress toward enlightenment. The Brahma Kumaris have created an atmosphere there that is highly conducive to personal growth.

At one time I studied and taught yoga. Later after we moved to Grafton my husband Stephen and I for many years had an inner peace center in our home where we held weekly meditations as well as what we called Peace potlucks, monthly. Stephen and I meditate almost daily, so I anticipated enjoying my time at the retreat which was said to include that as well as other opportunities to learn and to grow.

My happy expectations were fulfilled. During the three day retreat called By Ourselves In Company, the twenty-five of us were given a exercises designed to help us to become better acquainted with ourselves, as well as other techniques we could use to learn and grow. The participants were all ages and in all stages of life, more women than men, and several married couples. There were chances for us to interact and to learn from one another’s experiences as well as to be by ourselves and explore our own responses and reactions. The process was well designed and helpful.

Most special for me was the opportunity to do something with my daughter that we could share in as well as share. She leads a very busy life and while we do get to see one another often, it is always in the context of our days. The atmosphere the Brahma Kumaris have created in Peace Village is gentle and flowing. There is no hustle or bustle, no noise or stressful energy. On the hour music would play and everyone would stop what they were doing, breathe and reflect on the presence of the moment.

Here it was easy for me to absorb the lessons given as well as to learn to know myself better. The lack of distraction was key in helping me to focus. Yet what I really learned there was how important a peaceful atmosphere is to the nurturing of my being. The challenge will be to recreate it or at least to bring about some of the elements of that peace in my daily life so that I can continue to learn to see and to know myself more clearly.