a lost art?

i myself am constantly interested in what appears to be skills on the brink of extinction. fewer and fewer folks are caring for the land, raising and preserving foods, working with wood or wool, rendering lard or making cheese. these are the very things that fill most of my days. alas, lately, i have been pondering another of my favorite skills and it’s possible demise: the art of conversation.

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i have to admit i am fairly biased regarding this the topic. i am solidly in favor of face to face, heart to heart, over the top, conversation. i’m a talker, always have been. i can remember long ago in elementary school, i had a chronic behavioral situation. each and every report card was filled out the same way: the highest marks in all subjects and the ever present comment “talks too much in class”.  my parents tried everything, but the one i remember most is the two pictures.  drawn by yours truly, there was one of the full wide open mouth and the other of half mouth, the closed mouth. each morning i was to wake and look at that half mouth. i was to imagine myself silent in the classroom. i was to carry that image with me to school where surely it would stop my chatter.

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before i continue with this thought, i want to assure you i am not glamorizing check marks on your report cards or encouraging incessant chatter. these are not my proudest moments, i am however prepared to take a solid stand in defense of the all important, the less and less frequent, the one and only, the conversation.

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seems with the advent of the cell phone (which enabled us to talk more surely but spend less time in conversation, perhaps), the rapid move to the smart phone, and the all encompassing replacement of the voice with the now pervasive text, the good old fashioned talk grew less and less frequent. how often have you witnessed groups of people together, in a cafe or restaurant, in their own living room for goodness sake, all on their own hand held device? i personally have seen this often enough to be a bit scared. frightened that in the presence of the screen someone might just forget to look at their loved one across the table or seated next to them on the couch.

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to me this feels like an exercise in bring present. this is a topic we have been exploring in this space and i hope my thoughts add texture to your own attempts at remaining present: living as much as we can, in the now.  the screen pulls us away. i urge you to put down the phones, turn off the tablet and simply be with a dear one today. whether that be your mate or your child, your friend or a lovely co worker. turn off technology and tune on humanity.

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for me it is only the most sincere hope that when next we sit across from each other, we will delve right into a lovely conversation. if you are an old friend, we will quickly swap memories and stories of all that has happened in the years gone by. if you are a new acquaintance, we will share ideas and hopes and musings and get to know each other through words and the nuances of our face and body movements.  either way, we will solve the problems of the world over a cup of coffee. don’t forget, a good conversation is a balm for the soul and this can not be replaced with anything technology can offer.

 

stay here, mamma

After Levon conks out and the bed time stories are over, I lay with Lulah as she smooths out the wrinkles of her day and drifts into quietude. Then, either I fall asleep with her, or the desire to finish my evening tasks overwhelms me and I give the sleepy girl a kiss and roll out of bed into the evening. Sometimes even when I think she’s asleep she catches my arm and says, “Stay here, Mamma.

The first few verses of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describe the aim of yoga as the increased (and eventually perfected) capacity to direct the mind in a singular chosen direction. “Restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind”, as well put by one concise translation (You can read it here, if you like – it’s straight forward, no commentary).

Here lately, I’m feeling that challenge.

In Winter, life gets smaller, somewhat simpler, or at least more interior. It’s easy to forget the breadth and depth of our labors and life outdoors. The life of a Mamma in our house revolves largely around cooking, cleaning, and cooking some more, with more cleaning to follow. Then there’s keeping our selves clean, and reading with little minds, and playing with little bodies, and sleeping. Over and over.table

But now, there is Spring coming on, and our lives go to the outdoors, and the outdoors follows us back in. There are seedlings growing, demanding hours of tending, transplanting, and nudging along as necessary. There’s ground to clear and compost to spread, and Nature’s clock is ticking. Rain approaches, better hustle! But don’t plant peas when the ground is too cold, they’ll just rot. Not to mention the facts of the Hunger Moon, when mice, moles, and voles are searching for food in the ground. Peas are yummy to more creatures than us.

So, my days boomerang round and round, in and out the doors, watching laundry and dishes pile up as I pull back the winter debris from the garden, then zooming back in to knock those piles down, for a few hours anyway. Water seedlings, open the greenhouse, hang the laundry, make lunch. Is it time write a blog post already? Wow.seedlings2

It’s nearly impossible to stay still this time of year. It’s equally difficult to keep my mind in one place. While I water seedlings, I find myself thinking about the yoga class I will teach that evening. While I wash dishes, my mind wanders outdoors to the compost pile and where I’d like to put it. Lulah asks questions and I have to be asked twice before I think to answer. Oops. It’s not that all those things I’m thinking about aren’t important to consider, but thinking about them while working on something else that could stand my attention is a mistake.

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Here begins the description of the work of yoga

Stay here Mamma. There’s enough to see right here.

I’m out in the greenhouse, clipping back the extra sprouts of some heavily seeded flats. The air is thick and warm and the seedlings are beautiful shades of green. There are fine hairs on the new leaves of the spring kale sprouts. If I don’t pay attention, I’ll snip the wrong stems and make poor choices about which seedlings to keep and which to discard. So, I focus.seedlings 1sprouts 2

It’s a wonderful experience. Even though my focus is on the greens, my breath steadies and grows deeper. It’s as if all the peripheral experiences that might otherwise distract me are absorbed and integrated into the act of focusing. I hear birds singing, and Levon warbling one of his long stories to the blue sky as he plays in the yard.

Stay here, Mamma. This moment will not last forever. It’s fullness is sufficient unto itself. Everything else will return in its own time.

The baby greens are piled up in a stainless steel bowl, saved for a salad sometime soon. When we eat them, I will remember that sun kissed task with enjoyment, and allow that memory to enrich the enjoyment of the meal.sprouts

In time, Levon will grow up and no longer play around me. I will remember his little body, his small voice, his stories, with tender pleasure. It will be important to remember all that I can.

When I am not focused on the task at hand, whatever it may be, I am robbing myself not only of the pleasures of the present, but also of the future. If I am inattentive when I wash dishes, my dishes don’t get clean. If I am not attentive to the work of the garden, I will make mistakes, and pay for them, most likely in reduced food supply or food quality. If I am not attentive to my children, I will not know them as they are now, and will be less capable of accepting their changes when those changes come. If I miss this moment, I will not have it to remember, later. Paying attention pays off.lulah garden

There will always be too much to do. There will always be an excuse, maybe even a good one, to rush onto the next thing, or think about something other than the work happening right now. But being dragged around by the wild monkey of a mind diminishes the quality of my life and works, internally and externally.

I never accomplish the entirety of my to-do list, and probably never will. And I rarely succeed in taming my wild monkey thoughts for sustained periods. But every time I do, it’s worth the effort.

As I drift in dreamy quiet in Lulah’s little bed, I try push aside ideas about tomorrow, regrets about what didn’t happen today, worries about what could have been or might be. Instead, I welcome into my senses the breathing of my child beside me, getting softer and deeper as she sinks into sleep. There are the stars visible through the cracks around the curtains, and night noises beyond. It’s good to stay here.

 

inspired

We tried a new bed time story lately, and I’ve just got to share something about it here.

First of all, if J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series offends your religious sensibilities, please don’t read these Terry Pratchett books, and try again tomorrow on the blog.

However, if you’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter series,and especially, if you’ve enjoyed them not so much for the fast-paced adventure and hair raising descriptions of magical creatures and battles, but for the quirky characters, humor, and nuggets of wisdom passed on by Dumbledore in the last few pages of each book – I’ve got something for you.

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Meet Tiffany Aching.  She’s nine years old when the first book (The Wee Free Men) begins.  She lives on a rural sheep farm with her family and spends a lot of time making cheese and watching her little brother.  She is the witch, the hag-o-the-hills, in the making.  Tiffany is a practical girl who thinks a lot. She’s an astute nine year old, but still definitely a youngster.  She also fends off the magical creatures and even the deceptive and wicked Queen of Fairyland with nothing more than her common sense, love of the land, and a cast iron skillet.  There are more nuggets of curious wisdom in this first book than in the whole Potter series (no offense to Harry – I do love those books – just saying).

Tiffany’s wonderful foil throughout her adventures are the Nac Mac Feegle, otherwise known as the Wee Free Men.  They are a class of fairies unto themselves.  Six inches tall with dark blue skin, bright red hair and beards, dressed in kilts and carrying long swords.  Feegles are the rogues of the fairy world, whose misadventures are written phonetically in such a strange and hilarious brogue accent that it brought the whole family to uproarious laughter – even the three year old.  They are scoundrels with hearts of gold.  I can’t begin to sum them up.  They are not the stuff of beautiful and sweet fairy tales.  I wouldn’t read them aloud to a tender hearted four year old (I rely on some of this reading flying over Levon’s head for now), but now that Lulah is stepping into a different level of understanding of the world, and a different level of thought and humor, the Feegles really hit the spot.

As with Harry Potter, the Tiffany Aching series becomes more complex and mature as our heroine ages.  In The Wee Free Men Tiffany is nine, and Lulah did not find the monsters and situations overwhelming.  We went on into the next book, A Hat Full of Sky just because she was so enthusiastic (Tiffany is eleven and leaving home to get some more advanced training in the way of being a witch).  It was a little more intense.  Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight follow Tiffany into her teenage years.  We won’t go further until Lulah is older, too.

Terry Pratchett wrote these books.  They are part of his HUGE series, Discworld.  He has written eighty-something books, and has been knighted for his contribution to good reading.  His writing is very smart, funny, and tender in turns.  It’s good clean fun (well, as much as you can call a Feegle clean, anyway).  If you haven’t already, please check him out.

One of the things I love about these books, besides the good entertainment, is that they promote a sense of place, and the place, in this case, is a rural countryside.  That’s a rare find these days.  Tiffany’s family has always lived on the land she lives on.  She feels the land in her bones, and draws strength from that.  Her goodness and power aren’t connected to wands and spells.  She learns that magic doesn’t stop being magic just because you know how it’s done.  Inspiring.

I’ll leave you with an empowering passage:

“She leaned down and the centuries bent with her.

“The secret is not to dream,” she whispered. “The secret is to wake up.  Waking up is harder.  I have woken up and I am real. I know where I come from and I know where I’m going.  You cannot fool me anymore.  Or touch me.  Or anything that is mine.”

I’ll never be like this again, she thought, as she saw the terror in the Queen’s face.  I’ll never again feel as tall as the sky and as old as the hills and as strong as the sea.  I’ve been given something for a while, and the price of it is that I have to give it back.

And the reward of it is giving it back, too.  No human could live like this.  You could spend a day looking at a flower to see how wonderful it is, and that wouldn’t get the milking done.  No wonder we dream our way through our lives.  To be awake, and see it all as it really is…no one could stand that for long.”