Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fit as a Dimension of Transformation

March 29, 2015

Dear Friends,

Those seductive seed catalogues now appear weekly in my post office box. 

So far I have wrestled successfully with the temptation they present. Neither the catalogs nor the calendar’s report of the arrival of Spring have persuaded me to do more than remove some dead foliage from the salvia and sedum that are greening up nicely. I have also admired the courage of some snapdragons that appear to have reseeded successfully in an inhospitable spot against the garage wall.

Forty springtimes in the Rockies make me remember that here in the Front Range snow appears briefly but regularly through mid-May.

Still—the High Plains Gardens Catalog is featuring a promising form of agastache (cana Rosita). This plant has made itself at home in their test gardens under harsh conditions of heat and cold and has reseeded vigorously in unfertile arid soil. Their gardeners report that Rosita does poorly only if pampered. Sounds like the ideal plant for the spot against the garage wall where last year the sun and heat left both verbena and petunias straggly-looking survivors by end of July. 

Maybe I could order Rosita and start her in a pot indoors and then move her by gradual steps to the patio, and then on Memorial Day weekend put her safely into the ground. On the other (and wiser) hand, I could admire her handsome portrait in the catalog until May, then order her and set her directly into her reserved spot by the garage wall when she arrives from Santa Fe.  

In addition to a picture of Rosita, the seed catalogs have provided good material for thought about the diminishment process.

I began to think with you about the transformative power of diminishment last week, but the progression of thought that I planned has been challenged by these seed catalogs. Somehow there is a complex relationship between the diminishment process and the “fit” between the organism and the environment. 

Suppose with me that Rosita finds her way from Santa Fe High Country Gardens into the hot, unfertile flower bed that borders my garage. 

Suppose further that in this hot, arid spot Rosita prospers in tough unpampered resilience. Despite this performance, diminishment will come in September and October, and by November Rosita will be dormant and leafless under the first winter snow.  Diminishment will come.

But somehow as I think today about this diminishment, Rosita's process appears (at least in my mind) to have a transformative quality that last year’s diminishment of petunias did not exhibit. 

This makes me wonder: is the transformative quality of diminishment influenced by the “fit” between the environment and the organism? 

Diminishment acts inevitably to change the living organism, but is the transformative nature of that change process qualified by the congruence of fit between the organism and its environment?

I am thinking again today of Parker Palmer’s observation that to feel at home in our own skins and at home on the face of the earth are perhaps the two deepest yearnings in our lives. Perhaps we humans know intuitively that congruence between our authentic self and both its inner and outer environment is the crucial factor in influencing the transformative power of life’s inevitable diminishment process.

See you next week.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Transformative Power of Diminishment

March 22, 2015

Dear Friends,

When a rather pragmatic friend asked what I was thinking about these days, I told her I was interested in the idea of hallowing our diminishments. She gave me a cheerful eye-roll in response, then remarked, “I don’t see what there is to think about. If something gets less or goes away, replace it. Isn’t it just that simple?”

No, it’s not.

The idea of diminishment commonly prompts this replacement impulse in our culture. Obviously, replacement and compensation are vital to effective patterns of life management. However, they are counterproductive responses if we are seeking to enter into the experience of diminishment in a way that alters our understanding of our world and our sense of ourselves.

Hallowing our diminishments is an aspect of the human change process that carries the potential for transformation. In order for transformation to occur, however, we must embrace the diminishment process rather than seek to circumvent it.

I am learning about this transformative aspect of diminishment, although I am still in that miserable beginning stage where there are too many questions and too little ‘say-able’ truth.

Nevertheless, life provided me an experience last week that I think illustrates both the point of transformation and the difficulty of describing how it works.

March has been a particularly busy month, and filled with an unusual number of tasks that have used large reserves of my small store of energy. One morning when the alarm went off I felt so tired that I had difficulty moving. I sat so long on the side of the bed that Annie came to investigate and gave a friendly tug on my robe to rouse me in case I had gone back to sleep in the process of dressing.

When after a long while I was ready to go downstairs I sat for a moment in the chair on my stair lift. From that position at the top of the stairs I can look out over the roof tops and trees straight into the eastern morning sky. As I sat there I was not thinking—I was sitting simply present with my inner world, the gray tiredness, the paralyzing drag on mind and muscles. I was motionless, present in the diminished world of physical potential, aware and present with the loss.

There was nothing to fill that empty place where once young stores of energy permitted me to run the stairs. There was no replacement for that eager inner running toward the day, its potential and possibilities that once permitted me (on occasion) to sing before I had my coffee.

Annie came to the top of the stairs and sat down to watch, puzzled. She could see that I was not in bed asleep. She was also clear that I was not downstairs filling her empty food bowl. What did it mean that I was not-doing-anything, and, even more puzzling, doing this not-doing-anything at the top of the stairs?

Inwardly I was not in a language place—I was just with myself, tired, too tired to push the switch on the chair and start down into the day—too tired for work, too tired for joy.

Then I became aware that while I was sitting, motionless, the eastern sky had filled with the brilliant gold and mauve and indigo of a prairie dawn. And that light, that indescribable moving color, poured into the empty, diminished inner space where I was sitting consciously present with my life losses.  And I was changed.

There was no magic sudden infusion of energy. 

There was no spontaneous hymn of morning praise to the God of life and sunrises. 

There was no compensating replacement for the reality of emptiness, the truth of diminished resources.

But transformation happened. I was changed—still tired, still slow to think, still present with the diminishments of aging. But in that diminished inner space, a sunrise—such a sunrise!!—had chosen to enter for five life-altering minutes.

I remained a tired, diminished aging person, but I was a tired, diminished aging person transformed by a prairie sunrise that had hallowed that diminished place.

Grateful all over again that the hallowing process incorporates more than replacement and compensation growing out of my effort. Doing nothing (at least from Annie’s point of view) was profitable. 

Embracing my diminishment did not cause the diminishment to lessen but it permitted the loss in my diminishment to be transformed.

Easter is coming.

See you next week.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Losing Without Losing

March 15, 2015

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was full of the frustrations of diminishment. I failed to order ink for the printer in a timely fashion, and as a result could not print tickets ordered on-line. I transposed numbers in a document resulting in inconvenient confusion to a number of people. I entered events in the wrong week on my appointment book with miserably time-wasting consequences for a number of people whom I love and value highly.

In contrast, yesterday brought good things, culminating with dinner out with my family who are visiting from out of town.

Before I dropped asleep last night, I revisited in my mind’s eye the delightful experience of dinner together—all of us grouped around the table, laughing, enjoying the food, talking, talking, and talking (some of us at the same time). I felt enormously grateful for the conscious, chosen effort these people make to come to me when I can no longer go to them. They chose—at high cost of time and energy—to have dinner with me. And then I thought—h-m-m.  Diminishment?

While the diminishment process has a gravitas about it, dinner last night reminded me that this sober significance can also have an unexpected connection with joy.

At dinner we talked about the remarkable (and irreversible) changes that have resulted from development of technology. The younger members of the group were curious about my experience in a world in which there were no cell phones, no television, no emails, and “text” was a noun describing the content of a document. It seemed unimaginable to them.  In turn, they were amusing and insightful about the reality and effects of technology in their world, a world which in turn I found unimaginable.    

Later, in that slow, soft world before sleep, I thought about the incredible flood of experiences these younger members of the family have that I will never experience. The process of diminishment has closed the doors to that possibility. 

Then I thought, “This is strange. I am not at all sad. I am lying here warm, safe, and with an overwhelming sense of joy. What is this?”

And then in that last moment before sleep came, I suddenly understood. 

Diminishment has severely eroded the bridge of common experience between those of us at the table who were separated by fifty or more tumultuous years of history. Yet. . .

They chose to be with me.  I chose with joy to be with them.

The power of diminishment to erode relationship is somehow held in check by the strength of the relationship. And the gift of diminishment (that loss of a world experienced in common) permitted the clear unimpeded view of something once called the bond of love.

Thinking with you that if diminishment permits me to see and know love more clearly, it is a gift indeed.

See you next week.