Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Face of Love

No one will put me in a cage, if so,
 I never will sing again...
Love without Freedom, isn’t love...
~Jose Araujo, Brazilian Writer
He grew quiet when I told him I was leaving the city. “Peaks and valleys inspire me,” I explained, contemplating life at 9,000 feet.
“I need to B-R-E-A-T-H-E . . .”
It would be a big change, for sure—mountain living—solitary; snowy; cold; with hardships I had yet to consider. I would leave behind a city that engaged me; people I loved. But in my soul lay waiting the masterpiece of my life, wanting expression. It was time for me to fly.
He helped me pack my things and move cross-country. And though he wanted me to stay, he never questioned my decision to leave; he didn’t push his own agenda. Instead, he looked for ways to help, filling the time with laughter and light while celebrating my choice; delighting in my new adventure all the way to the top.
And, here, on this mountain, with nature as my muse, I found my breathing space . . . where dreams fuel my creativity . . . and ideas manifest in a stream of consciousness . . . stretching my creative muscles beyond the imaginable. For it has been said that “it is only alone, truly alone that one bursts apart, springs forth.”
Here, I’ve learned grace under pressure as I tend the garden of my mind. I’ve learned that passion—great passion—gives us the strength to endure as we move forward on our path. And that just one moment can change everything—for good or ill. So I nourish myself with great people, places, things and ideas; I safeguard the energy of my life. And when my heart whispers its greatest desires, I’ve learned to listen . . . and watch . . . as the universe conspires to guide me. Even when I can’t see the road ahead, I dig deep to find the courage to face the truth; knowing that when I believe in myself, anything is possible.
He calls me every now and then, laughing through the phone. If I don’t answer, he worries that I’ve been eaten by a bear. “Sweetie-darling,” he teases in his charming, genteel way, “You are a woman and a half, living on that mountain with the lions and the bears.” Those moments of connection inspire me, when our spirits come together and move apart, in and out, again and again in continuous movement, like breath itself.
And though our lives are very different now—he, me, we—I’ve learned that when held loosely, love never dies; it simply changes form. “Every beginning, after all, is nothing but a sequel, and the book of events is always open in the middle” (~W. Szymborska)
I’ve only just begun to understand what I’m made of, but this much I know is true: Freedom is the face of love.
By Melissa Johnson

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seeds of Doubt

“Men are not prisoners of fate,
but only prisoners of their own mind.”
~Franklin D. Roosevelt
Proud Hummer © 2008 M. Johnson
Rumor has it I have the best sugar water in the Canyon. A little birdie told me so. That must be why Bad, Bad Red-Rufous Brown hoards that sweet stuff by chasing off—or dive bombing—other hummers as they refuel at the feeders. He’s a real bully.
I’ve already talked to him twice about his boorish behavior. The first time, I stood on the front porch, next to his favorite tree, and said, “Listen here, friend: I provide you with that delicious sugar water, and there’s plenty to go around. You don’t have to fight so hard for what you want. Have a little faith, dude. But if you keep this up, I promise you’re going to end up all alone without a friend in the world . . . What then?”
Lady Hummer © 2009 M. Johnson
Still, he continued to alienate himself—meaner than a junkyard dog—as he greedily guarded the feeders. Meanwhile, the other hummers organized themselves into factions and came back fighting, retaliating with games of intrigue and clever diversionary tactics, like chasing Mr. Rufous this way and that, steering him away from the feeders in small groups, while the other hummers drank in hurried shifts; trading off, two-by-two, until everyone had their fill.
Mr. Red-Rufous Brown © 2009 M. Johnson
But the next day he was back, more determined than ever, and he single-handedly chased the others away. That’s when I saw him, sitting all alone on the branch of an Aspen tree, rain pouring down on his little bird head; not a friend in sight. He looked so sad and pathetic; I couldn’t help but feel compassion for his greedy plight. I didn’t have to say a word. I just looked at him with a weary I-told-you-so sort of look that he seemed to understand.
I know, I know. Anthropomorphism is a funny thing—the way we project our human motivations onto our animal and winged friends. But I can’t help myself when I watch them in action. I’m fascinated by the patterns displayed in all of life.
After all, we aren’t so different from Mr. Rufous, are we? Consider the way that we, at times, grasp and hoard and jealously guard what’s “ours;” clinging to our treasures; afraid to share for fear that if we give it away (whatever “it” is—money, possessions, ideas) we might find ourselves without.
I’ve done it from time-to-time—operating from this fearful place—worried that I won’t get my fair share; doubting my ability to connect with my heart’s desires. At times, I’ve found myself holding back or, worse yet, questioning my voice: What could I possibly have to say that others want to hear? It doesn’t happen often but, when it does, I’m amazed at how quickly fear grows in a vulnerable heart.
Take my path as a writer, for instance. Having achieved a measure of success as a lawyer, I find myself floundering in foreign territory when it comes to writing and publishing and all that it entails. I log onto my Twitter account to discover a whole world of people sharing similar messages—many aspiring or published writers—all wanting to be heard and recognized for their uniqueness; some with elaborate websites and platforms and thousands of dedicated followers. I feel sick as I compare myself to them all, wondering if there’s room for me. Or I walk into a bookstore and find myself anxious among the hundreds of thousands of books stacked on tables and spilling from over-stuffed bookshelves, all vying for the readers’ attention, and I am overwhelmed by the realization that I couldn’t possibly read them all, much less compete with them. Or could I?  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
On such occasions, if I’m not careful, I can get myself so twisted up in doubt that I disconnect from that creative spark that led me to write in the first place. That’s when the fear kicks in and, suddenly, I feel the need to mark my territory; to defend my metaphorical sugar water, like Mr. Rufous Brown.
And it was on such an occasion that my friend told me the story of the Seed Planter, an old Moroccan tale passed down from his grandmother many years ago and translated here in my own words.
“Beware of the Seed Planter,” she said. “He will come to you when you’re worried or scared and whisper terrible things in your ear. He’ll tell you that you are not enough; that you’re not good enough; that you’ll never have—or be—enough. Do not listen to him! He will make you doubt everything you know in your heart to be true. Then you will need more, want more; you will never be happy with who you are and the gifts of your Creator. Like seeds planted deep in your soul, this kind of fear grows wild, poisoning your thoughts and stealing your happiness.”
No doubt, the Seed Planter had been whispering in my ear, and I knew he would come again. It’s the way of the human—we get stuck in our heads, dwelling in thoughts of lack and limitation. I don’t like how that feels. I want to thrive!
When I reflect on my life, I see that faith, hope and courage have long been arrows in my quiver, protecting me from doubt even when I couldn’t see the road ahead. Learning to be gentle with myself—an ongoing discipline—has helped me to look upon humanity with compassion, where I connect with the common thread—that all of us, in our deepest parts, just want to be loved and understood. This understanding allows our self-respect and faith in the process of life to deepen and grow; secret weapons in our battle with doubt.  Remember, our greatest, most heart-felt desires are there by design, and, like stars in the night sky, are there to guide us. We must never give up.
Take a look around. All of nature is abundant—the earth, flowers, trees, animals, the sun, moon and stars— always creating, ever-expanding, and life-enhancing. We are not forgotten.
What kind of seeds are you planting?
By Melissa Johnson