Staying Grounded in Tricky Times

Thriving in challenging circumstances

It’s hot.  There’s a global pandemic.  The election is 96 days away.  Racial and general unrest is rocking our cities.  The short- to mid-term economic outlook is, at best, uncertain.  Tempers flare.  Sparks fly.  Blood pressure rises. 

I am privileged and the fabric of my days has changed dramatically since mid-March.  I go to the market, occasionally get a take-out coffee or meal, meet colleagues and friends on Zoom, and enjoy family photos and phone calls rather than in-person visits.  I wear a mask when I’m out and about.

Strengthened by meditation & prayer

After witnessing a few particularly charged interactions, I decided to share practices that are making it easier for me to stay centered in the hope that you’ll share some of yours as well.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • For the last 54 days, I’ve risen early and started my day with 45 minutes of meditation and prayer,
  • I’m drinking lots of water – regular and coconut – aiming for roughly half the equivalent of my weight in ounces,
  • I do my best to spend at least as much time performing activities like reading, writing, cooking, weeding as I do on the screen,
  • After dinner, weather-permitting, I spend 20 minutes in the hammock staring up at the clouds, hummingbirds, owls, leaves, butterflies, bees, or whatever is right in front of me,
  • Three to four times a week, we take a 20+ mile bike ride to enjoy nature and move our bodies,
  • Three or four times a week, my yoga mat and I spend an extended time together,
  • When friends come to mind, I send cards, usually by local artists,
  • Appreciating, purchasing, preparing and serving dishes of organic, locally-grown produce has become a daily ritual,
  • I’m working more intently than ever to align my work, purchases and contributions with my values,
  • Sometimes because it’s so energizing, I just let it all go and act silly, laugh and be weird.
Outside one of my favorite local markets

It’s definitely true.  There are serious matters at hand.  There have been for centuries and, with any luck, there will continue to be. 

My intention has become to FIRST appreciate the joy and beauty of living and what is working and then move from that place.  I don’t know that the new patterns I’ve formed will change as our world does and I don’t know that they won’t.  My plan is to enjoy them while I can.

Be well, all,

Sherry

Life Interrupted

Finding solace in times of change . . .

“You’ll be kicked out of the convent,” my boss said as I prepared to leave for a 10-day silent retreat on the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Her words ran through my head again as the van pulled through the wrought iron gate and stopped in front of a row of adobe buildings.

It was a February afternoon in the year 2000 and the New Mexico sun warmed my face.  I had a few hours to rest, explore the grounds, and settle in before our welcome dinner.  After that, our 10 days of silence would begin. 

I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained.  My need for rest prompted me to reserve a single room.  On my patio rested a statue of Buddha adorned with rocks, twigs, dried flowers, and coins left by previous pilgrims.  After a nap, I went outside and walked the track that would become my solace during the last meditation of each day.

Diving in Head First

Prior to this retreat, my meditation practice consisted of fairly brief periods of candle gazing, daily prayers, and attendance at a visiting teacher’s dharma talks.  Looking at the retreat schedule, it was clear that I was now attempting to enter the sphere of serious meditation – five one-hour periods of seated meditation daily, periodic morning dharma talks, and silence 24 hours a day.

The big surprise came at the opening dinner when I learned that in addition to observing silence, I had also signed up to refrain from eye contact for 10 days.  My visual nature cringed. My palms began to sweat.  

Never before had I heard the full measure of a strawberry’s snap . . .

Quiet Hours, Quiet Days

The stillness I’ve experienced during this year’s global pandemic resurrected memories of those ten transformative days more than twenty years ago.  The handful of photos I took in the silence have disappeared leaving only memories in their wake.

  • The vibrant snap of a strawberry at breakfast.   
  • The way my restlessness affected the people around me. 
  • The star-filled sky above the track I walked round and round during the final evening meditation. 
  • A pre-dawn gathering of my blankets and the wonder of lying beside the lake as the geese made a watery landing. 
  • Peaceful 2 a.m. visits to the hot tub. 
  • My surprise at feeling rested and alert after just four hours of sleep.
  • An unforgettable sense of being bathed in Divine light and love.   
A recent photo illustrates the rocky beauty of the path.

On the Path to a Brighter, Lighter Future

The final dharma talk addressed preparing for re-entry into the world.  Listening I wondered, “Would it really be so hard?”  During our final lunch together, the floodgates of conversation opened for seemingly everyone but me.  Much to my surprise, I was not eager to share or to listen.  I felt as though I was still “coming down” from an expanded space. 

Fortunately, several of us left for the airport together, which seemed dizzily confusing.  Seated in the middle seat of a full flight, claustrophobia set in for the first time. 

I returned home to a weekend-long dance competition with our daughters. “Mom!!!” one shouted as I unwittingly drove over a curb on the way.  Seated in the last row wearing ear plugs, sunglasses and a hat, I quietly cheered the dancers on – relieved when we could go home.

Like this time of sheltering in, I left for Santa Fe intending to resume life as I knew it.  I returned to life and work and gradually stepped up the pace.  Yet, something was different.  There was no “going back.”  I knew what a different, more soothing, way felt like.  Life around me wasn’t different, I was.  And, that changed everything.     

Oh, What A Difference A Year Makes

Off to an auspicious start at the Brooklyn Museum . . .

In late March 2019, just a little over a year ago, two friends and I had the privilege of spending 48 hours in the Big Apple.  The original purpose of the trip was to see the Off-Broadway production of Gloria:  A Life*, a play focusing on Gloria Steinem’s life and path to activism. 

A PBS interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tipped me off to her childhood visits to the Brooklyn Museum.  Curious to learn more, research revealed that Frida Kahlo:  Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the Mexican artist, would be underway.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Frida Kahlo

Our plane touched down at LaGuardia and we made a beeline for lunch in Brooklyn before spending an afternoon at the Frida exhibit, which was the first to include a collection of her clothing and personal possessions that had been locked away after her death in 1954.  From there we wandered through Washington Square before enjoying a glass of wine at the iconic Caffe Reggio.

The following morning was open.  It was decided that after a stop at Bluestone Lane, an Upper East Side café adjacent to the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, we would make our way to the Guggenheim.  It was a delightful surprise to find 95% of the storied museum displaying the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint.  Winding our way up the museum’s spiral, I learned that her significant collection of abstract work predates what has long been to be presumed as the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky.  It was refreshing to find an entire museum filled with the work of a ground-breaking woman artist and teeming with women and men, many of whom were learning about Hilma af Klint for the first time.

Featuring her works between 1906-20, Hilma af Klint’s first major solo U.S. exhibit spiraled up the Guggenheim’s rotunda walls . . .

On our way to the play that had been the impetus for what had miraculously become a 48-hour organic Women’s Learning Journey in New York City, we happened upon a bronze statue of Gandhi in Union Square Park. 

Who could know then that migrant workers in India would be walking thousands of kilometers to return to their villages during a global pandemic just a year later?

Once inside the theater, we signed a poster board birthday card for Gloria Steinem before taking our seats in the circle theater to watch actresses explore and engage us in her life and legacy.

A heartening outpouring of birthday greetings for Gloria . . .

The next morning, our 48-hours of enrichment nearly up, we caught a car back to LaGuardia.  I headed home grateful and buoyed by women from three countries — Frida, Hilma and Gloria — and by my eager and willing companions without whom I knew I would not have made the journey.

Fast forward to the previously unimaginable March 28, 2020, a moment when New York was the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus.  Museums and cafes in the city closed.  Broadway and Off-Broadway dark.  Iconic streets and famous squares empty. As of today, May 14, The New York Times reported that the city had experienced at least 192,314 coronavirus cases and at least 19,815 deaths.

Lighting the candles last year for women & girls everywhere, and this year for all whose lives have been upended by the virus . . .

I look back at our 48 hours with a mixture of awe, admiration, and sorrow.  The air travel, freedom of movement, museums and theaters, cafes, and sense of safety and security we experienced seem part of a distant past.  Especially in the wake of COVID-19’s ravages, it feels important to express my gratitude to New York City for its rich tapestry, the sweeping grandeur of its vision, and the moxie and resilience of its people.  Sending healing, strength and appreciation to our nation’s largest city and its more than 8 million residents.

With care and gratitude,

Sherry 

*Gloria: A Life will be featured on PBS this summer.