Tuesday, October 19, 2010

it's a journey, that's all i know

first view of tomales bay
taken with my iphone's awesome hipstamatic app

Sunday was drizzly as I returned, nourished, from our synagogue's Women's Retreat. Thirty hours with just us girls, singing, talking, praying, eating, laughing, and crying together. I gave and I received. And in the end enjoyed the journey so much.

The retreat is held bi-yearly at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, a small town known for its oysters on Tomales Bay. It's not far from where I live and I love that: getting away is so easy, just a 45 minute drive through the countryside and *poof* I'm in another world.

Well, ok, so the world isn't actually so terribly different from where I live, but there are no children to homeschool, no chores to do, no manure to pick up. A lot more estrogen and a lot less testosterone!

My life of late has been swirling around me, approaching a level of frenzy that I hadn't forseen. With Harry attending the JC, ballroom dancing, working at the synagogue, and practicing meditation at Spirit Rock in Marin, Mark and I barely see each other as we're driving him back and forth, picking him up or waiting for him in all those locations four nights a week. (He just got his driver's permit and began behind the wheel driving lessons this morning, but really, I'm not so excited about that anyways.) Add to that our blossoming homeschool group with weekly park days and teen and tween events. And then there's our new science class at Magi's house every couple weeks. And 4H club...and...and...you get the picture.

I've been trying to plan my father's memorial as well. And there just hasn't been much time.

Time. Lack of time. It's a recurring theme for me, have you noticed? It's not that I don't want to take the time for myself, nor is it a lack on Mark's part of trying to give me some space to do the things I need and want to do. It's just that I have a lot on my plate...a lot to accomplish...a lot of "to do's" to do. And maybe I'm not the best at prioritizing.

So, this weekend I prioritized. I put me at the top of my list. I put me up front and center. And the result was wonderful.

I helped lead services with music. Jewish music is one of my passions and I've been a songleader for years. This was my second time leading the retreat services and it was the best. Singing with women's voices, sharing new beautiful and meaningful music, praying while singing, singing to pray...all of that moves me like nothing else.

The Torah portion for this week was Lech L'cha...in which God speaks to Avram (not yet Abraham) and tells him He will lead him forward on a journey to a land he does not yet know (basically, "Avram, bubbeleh, trust Me! I'm the One and Only. Enough with the idols!"). Hence the theme of the weekend was journeys.

Now that is something that really resonated with me. My father's recent death, Ben's medical trials, recent hubbub in one of my homeschool communities, being a mother, entering menopause...all of this is a journey. I am constantly looking within and trying to find the right path, the right words, what is true for me. I feel like I live authentically and my life is full of blessings, but of late it has been hard to find myself in all my life swirling around me.

So, during the workshop periods on Saturday I went off by myself. I gave myself permission to not be social and to just be with my number one priority: ME.

First, I walked the amazing labyrinth created by Margo and Marcia from our congregation. Margo spoke about the journey and the symbolism of the labyrith at the Friday night service.
 from wikipedia.org: ...a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.
I did a meditative walk through the labyrinth, breathing in and out consciously with each step, repeating to myself: Breathe in, breathe out, step, step, step. I meditated on each footfall, I meditated on my breath. And when I got to the center I realized a few powerful metaphors about the labyrinth, namely:
  • as you walk the path to the center you pass by all that you have already walked and all that you have yet to walk
  • you enter the same way you exit
  • from the center you can see the whole journey, beginning to end
  • going in my eyes were on the ground, the path, and going out my eyes went up, to the sky...I trusted that I could find my way more going out
It was a powerful experience. I loved the quiet there in the field, the simplicity of the path of pinecones, the sounds of ravens and the wind in the pines. I learned a lot and felt myself relaxing and opening up.

I also sat and sketched this scene through the trees, of the fishing boats on the quiet bay.

After lunch, I gathered several layers (it had gotten quiet cold, a real sense of winter approaching), my brand new watercolors, my watercolor paper, my pencil case, my iPhone for music, and a large and small jar of water for drinking and painting. I didn't know what I was going to do exactly, but I knew there was something that wanted to come forth. I wandered the hills of the conference center for a bit and found a quiet bench looking out over the bay, looking away from the activity buildings, so I knew I would not get distracted.

I set my materials up and bundled up myself, turned my iPhone onto a loop of Craig Taubman music and opened up my art supplies.

It didn't take long before I'd written "me" in the center and started to mind map, asking myself over and over: Who am I? Mind mapping is a great process, one I've used many times to find clarity. I have a book I love called Mapping Inner Space that has been an inspiration for this type of process. It's verbal and artistic, emotional, psychological and very creative. I used it years ago when I was struggling with the idea of bringing Toby and Ben home to homeschool them, too, and it really helped bring clarity to the situation.
So, when I began the process on that quiet, cold hillside, I knew it was just what I needed. But I kept getting caught up in the words. Mother, daughter, sister, friend, wife...all those words seemed to define me from the perspective of how I related to someone else. "Who am I at my CORE?" I kept asking myself. And then I started listing words, turned off the editor, and finally found them:

caregiver  leader  creator  sharer  partner 
do-er  teacher  giver  lover

These words started to make sense to me. For a long time I drew pictures, painted colors, and wrote more words to help the meaning surface. And then, near the end of my available time, I realized I needed to include my dark side...the side that worries and fears the worst. So I added "pessimist" under a dark cloud, and I felt that the work was more complete.

Here it is:

I have shown it to many friends, the women at the retreat, and my homeschool moms. Many people are loving it, but one thing they don't get is that it's not a work of art for me. It's a process. A piece, not a whole. Not even complete. Just like I am...a work in progress. I realized yesterday while talking to my friend Mindy at the park, that I'd left out a big piece: questioner, I might call it, but it will hold the ideas of faith, spirituality, Jew, God or no God, the universe and beyond. It amazes me that on the retreat I could have left out that part...but maybe I just didn't even have the space, the emotional space, to start looking deeper into that right then. Who knows?

It's all a journey. That's all I know.

A friend of mine, G, has posted a picture of her "self-portrait". I urge you to check it out and then go make your own!


G said...

LOVE the artwork. In my first semester in the Hutchins program at SSU, we were asked to create a self portrait... I'll post a pic on my blog for you.

Taking time for oneself, to see where you are and where you are going, is SO important, and so hard to make time for. I'm glad you did that for yourself!

Rona said...

Damn, I wish we weren't on opposite coasts. We could be talking about these things over freshly brewed tea. We are going through similar journeys, both of us still expressing them in the language of "hippie dippie." I love reading your narratives and find myself smiling and repeatedly saying, "Yeah! that's it.'"

Angel said...

Love labyrinths - they are so special and also so female - the way be circle things - considering thing from all angles before we get to the core of it - nice blog!