"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: change

constant change . . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

The only predictable thing in life is change. Many of us don’t like it. Some of us welcome it. I’m one of the latter.

Maybe because while observing life’s vicissitudes I see patterns that I didn’t notice before. Or, reading books that offer limited points of view that are either-or, black-and-white or some other bilateral nonsense – such as a) if you don’t like it; b) leave.

Being Asian, a student of Taoist thought and reading the I-Ching, Or Book of Changes,  I’ve been introduced to holistic thinking that isn’t bilateral or even 3-Dimensional. It’s not as simple as Western either-or approaches to everything and I highly recommend it as an alternative way to live one’s life. I know it has profoundly impacted my own for the past twenty-five years.

The other day, I consulted the I-Ching about what outcome there might be regarding a family situation that I’m experiencing and I laughed out loud when the line it gave me was number 5 in the Hexagram #12 called “Standstill.” Here it is:
“Standstill is giving way.  Good fortune for the great (wo)man. ‘What if it should fail, what if it should fail? In this way s(he) ties it to a cluster of mulberry shoots.”

The time undergoes a change. The right man/woman, able to restore order, has arrived. Hence ‘Good fortune.’ But such periods of transition are the very times in which we must fear and tremble. Success is assured only through greatest caution, which asks always, “what if it should fail?” When a mulberry bush is cut down, a number of unusually strong shoots sprout from the roots. Hence the image of tying something to a cluster of mulberry shoots is used to symbolize the way of making success certain. Confucius says about this line:

Danger arises when a (wo)man feels secure in h(er) position. Destruction threatens when a wo(man) seeks to preserve h(er) worldly estate. Confusion develops when a (wo)man does not forget danger in h(er) security, nor ruin when (s)he is well established, nor confusion when h(er) affairs are in order. In this way (s)he gains personal safety and is able to protect the empire.”

I guess that says it all. The Universe is here for us to learn from if only we will pay attention to it before it is too late. This reading from the I-Ching has also relieved my feelings of disappointment and replaced them with a neutrality about what the future might bring. And that, my friends, is a really big deal!



good advice . . .

  Today, I noticed a quotation by a venerated Japanese painter, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hokosui was a late-blooming artist who was remarkably well-traveled and turned out more than ten thousand woodblock prints.

 “All that I made before seventy is insignificant. At seventy-three, I began to understand how animals, plants, trees, birds, fish, and insects are constructed. At ninety, I will enter into the secret nature of things. . . and when I am one hundred and ten, everything–every detail–will live.” 

I was happy to come across this perspective and to learn that instead of feeling marginalized as you get older, that there’s still time to be creative–and moreover, that it need never stop.

Later this morning, I noticed an interesting observation made by James Schiro, a lead director of Goldman Sachs who passed away recently from multiple myeloma.

“Shortly before he left Zurich Financial, Mr. Schiro was asked by The New York Times to cite the most important leadership lesson he had learned in his career as an executive. He quoted Colin Powell who said:

         “People don’t like change, but they can manage change,” he said in part. “They can’t handle uncertainty. I think it is the job of leaders to eliminate uncertainty.”

So I guess for people like you and me, we can manage change, like growing older and being creative; what’s harder is feeling certain that we can still find ways to be creative.

sticker shock . . .

May-July 2007 351_2Have you ever found yourself living through a period of time when everything seems to weigh down your usual optimism and enthusiasm? Sorry to say, that’s how I’ve been feeling lately for two reasons: negative things that occur outside of my control; and people who don’t change even when they say they will.

These two irritants can irk me on an ongoing basis although I should know better. It’s INSANE to do the same things over and over and naively expect them to be different from the way they always are. I KNOW THIS, but it can still be deeply frustrating.

Okay. So why am I writing this post besides complaining about stuff that is a pain in the butt? Because, as I was stewing away while waiting at a stoplight, I happened to glance over to my left where a truck had a sticker in the window that said:

“Don’t take life so seriously. . . It’s not permanent.”


patterns . . .

How do patterns change? Are we creatures of habit all our lives? I know people who have eaten the same breakfast for over fifty years. I’m not one of them. I like to change it up with freshly blended smoothies sometimes. Soft-boiled eggs from the farm with a little dab of oyster sauce like my Dad used to have. Sometimes, the fat side of those big sandwich size Thomas’s English muffins, toasted crisp with sweet butter and some Rose’s orange marmalade. You can see I’m picky about the brands that I use. Those are some of my patterns.

What about patterns that are petty, dumb and that are aggravating? Like noticing when someone takes the best slices of the tomato and leaves you the ends. Or, wanting time and attention when things are going crazy with other important stuff but you’re feeling miffed and neglected all the same? I know someone whose end of the day drink is always Campari and soda with ice clinking in the glass. I used to be a dry martini on the rocks drinker when I was working 90 hours a week but not anymore. All we can manage these days is to split a can of Miller Lite beer poured into frosty glasses from the freezer where the beer also chills until we’re ready to sit down for dinner.

I’ve been noticing that I don’t like some of my patterns that are throwbacks to when I was a kid and was either scared or unhappy. I’m neither scared nor unhappy now but it’s hard to let go of those patterns of feeling that way anyhow. What a dumb thing that is, isn’t it? That’s one pattern that needs to go, pronto.

free at last . . .

When are we finally free of that period in our lives when we look back in order to look forward? I’m just about there, I think. Perhaps it’s because my next birthday is what they call a “milestone.” Or that everyone of us, at one time or another, goes through the Scrooge-like exercise of looking over our lives to see who we have really been so that we may muster up the will and willingness to live a “better life” or at least one that is truly our own.

The Taoist books, thin and succinct, make the argument to simplify our personality, to recognize that problems are mostly derived from our ego lurking around in the background, and to stop wanting things that we don’t need.

The other day, Bel Kaufman, the writer of the book “Up the Downstairs” turned 101. She was quoted as saying:

“I’ve lived a long time, a very long time, 101 years, and I’m still here. I’m done with the doubts and struggles and insecurities of youth. I’m finished with loss and guilt and regret. I’m very old, and nothing is expected of me. Now, provided good health continues, I can do what I want. I can write my memoirs. I can edit my works for future eBooks. I can even do nothing—what a luxury that is! I have new priorities and a new appreciation of time. I enjoy my family more than ever, and also a sunny day and a comfortable bed. I keep up my interest in books and theater and people, and when I’m tired, I rest. My former students write to me and visit me. I had many problems and disasters in my life; fortunately at my age, I don’t remember what they were. I’m glad I am 101.”

I also ran into this saying about change from William James, of all people:

To change one’s life:

Start immediately.

Do it flamboyantly.

No exceptions.

~William James

change (again) . . .

What is it when someone says they don’t want to change? I want to change all the time, it seems. When I learn that I may have thought the worst of someone when I felt down and out, I’d love to change and trust in the best of them in the future instead. They say you can’t change the past but I disagree because I’ve found that you can certainly change the way you think about the past–and therefore how you might feel about it at this stage in your life, especially if the shift in perspective allows you to feel a little better about things.

I seem to be at a stage in which there is a lot of loss of things that I valued in the past. The only way to “repair” things when a workman has carelessly uprooted and demolished the bed of red daylilies that have been in the front yard for over a decade is not to bawl him out (which I haven’t done although I wanted to) but to go online and buy 20 fans of red and red/orange daylilies on eBay and plant them in the barren space, this time, making a small stone border around the plot and mulching it so that the mistake doesn’t happen again.

I am happy to say that the poor hydrangea plant that had also been cut down twice (by the same workman) actually sprang back with some new leaf shoots after I rescued it last week. There’s an area of new white hydrangeas that seems to be forming a grouping in the front yard, visible from our third floor bedroom window. The rescued hydrangea will find a home there too, along with some pieces of old red brick that I will encircle the plot with, just in case.

It’s slim pickings these days at the local nursery across the street from Wal-Mart. I stopped by there yesterday after buying a small vanilla cone dipped in chocolate at the Dairy Queen up the street. It was drippy as I walked through the perennial sale table where I found a lone lunaria plant. They grew abundantly in the garden of our house in Lexington where the kids grew up. It’s also called “honesty” or “money plant” because you remove the brown papery edges to reveal a white, translucent inner shell that shimmers when it is dried. I had paid for it after I had decided not to spring for the tall gardenia tree in bloom on the asphalt, baking in the sun. The soil was dried out which made it all the more astonishing to see so many beautiful flowers on it. On the way to my car, I saw the owner of the nursery and asked him if it might be on sale. He said sure, he’d look it up and see what he could do. A few moments later after a $20 discount, I left with the gardenia tree on the front passenger floor of the car.

You might as well know that I have loved gardenias for a long time because it was one of my mother’s favorite flowers too. I used to buy them for her when I was nine while I was in Washington, D.C. where I took the bus from Maryland for my piano lessons. One creamy, fragrant blossom cost a dollar, the same as what my lunch would have cost at Neisner’s then. I remember that she was a hard person to give things to in those days and later on too–and that the gardenias were not always taken out of their cellophane wrapping. Nevertheless, I kept giving them to her over the years for special birthdays and so on.

I also ordered some when my second husband and I got married, just the two of us there with the Town Clerk in City Hall many years ago. So I bought the gardenia tree, not as some kind of nostalgic reminder of my mother, but because I liked it. Simple as that. Now, if that isn’t change, I don’t know what is.

a standstill gives way. . .

sunrise at thacher island, cape ann -- photo, a. dalton

There are periods of time when everything seems to come to a standstill. Last year was one of those times. From the autumn through the end of the year, family misunderstandings abounded. Then they took a turn for the worse. During that time, my three canaries went through their yearly moult. Silent as stones, they sat lethargically in their cages for weeks. Tiny feathers littered the floor and down floated in the air. I gave them egg food to supplement their diet; then gradually added back their usual song food. Often, it took awhile before the birds would sing again as their feathers grew back in. During this standstill, no sounds were heard at all, not even little peeps.

Two years ago, somebody gave us a good-luck money plant. It was about four inches high and sat on our kitchen windowsill. Since then, it’s had a couple of intense growth spurts. I repotted it twice and moved it into the other room as it got taller. In November, as I adjusted the support stake, the thin trunk doubled over and almost broke in half. We bandaged it with a splint taped around it, but the plant looked like it was not going to make it. Distraught, I started misting the wound where it had cracked open, four feet midway to the top, hoping that the added moisture would reach the tiny leaves above. The lower leaves began to discolor and fall off, one by one every other day.

The winter solstice arrived on December 22nd and the days began to lengthen and brighten up a little. As I cleaned the house in preparation for the holidays, I came across an old string of prayer beads made out of fossilized coral. Not knowing where to put it, I impulsively wound it around the old bronze Buddha which sat on the maple chest under the skylight. A day later, I found another string of prayer beads made of fossilized bone that I looped three times around a second Buddha, the silk tassel dangling like a pendant on the gilt statue’s chest.

One snowy day in January, I heard soft chirping noises. Short snippets of song followed. Soon, even the bird that hardly sang at all was joining the other two in song. After four months of eerie silence, a cacophony of canary song filled our rooms. Nothing had changed except the passage of time and the quality of light coming in the windows. The maidenhair fern made a comeback too. As for the money plant, we counted twelve new shoots appearing over the course of three days in the same week that the birds started singing again. As I watered the plants along the west side of the room, I also noticed that the Trader Joe orchid plants had branches of new growth with flower buds on every plant. We couldn’t believe all this was happening at once.

According to the I-Ching, a period of stagnation will eventually turn into its opposite. Change is the only thing that does not change according to this ancient book. Although I have had my share of ups and downs, it is still hard during a time of despair to have faith that things will improve again. It is human nature to worry that perhaps this time, the dark will stay forever, even though we know from experience that it is darkest before the dawn.

This dawn arrived, ushered in by a chorus of birdsong, a multitude of new leaflets on the money tree and a dozen orchid buds ready to open.

I am thankful and filled with awe. Hallelujah!