To walk in beauty

bathhouse

I have never felt better in my entire life. Dare I say that? Something inside fears I may challenge a contrary part of the universe with such boldness, but there it is. My life is better than I ever imagined.

Each morning I sit in my backyard, as receptive to the sun as an Ojai orange, letting gentle morning light kiss every cell of my body,  ushering me into sublime states. I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer demonstrate the power of sound, so I incorporate it into meditation with phases like, the universe dwells in me, as me. I place all limitation in the museum of old beliefs. And, the universe has unobstructed flow through me. I do not limit my abundance.

(I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian idea of God, so I use the word universe instead.)

After that I take a long hot soak in my outside bathtub surrounded by trailing petunias, nasturtiums and purple hyacinths. The roof opens into the bluest sky one can imagine – every single day – dotted only by the arrival of scrub jays dipping in and out of a bath of their own. A gift of wind chimes from my sister accentuates the silence, reminding me of our history, bond and love.

Blended strawberries, beets, ginger and yogurt propel me out the door and through the wooded bike path to the Athletic club, where I get to swim, stretch or do yoga with some of the finest instructors in the world. One could not imagine a more ideal setting. And when that’s finished, I pedal back home ready to meet whatever the afternoon might hold, with an open heart and grateful spirit.

When I saw my acupuncturist last week, she said I had the body of a twenty year old. Well, she’s right because it’s been in storage for decades wrapped and preserved against the cold, my only activity, some Olympic indoor swimming to outrun the devil darkness.

But I walk in beauty now. My days are full of richness and a kind of grace and gentle spirit I could only imagine in my former lives. I craved the sun before, complaining to anyone who would listen about its absence. I was depressed and heavy for years, like a plant put in a closet. I withered and become diminished in spirit, never fully comprehending the personal cost. Now, thankfully, all that has changed.

I remember my first days in Ojai when I realized that shorts, tank tops and sandals could be daily apparel, instead of fleece, long underwear and sweat pants. Literally ‘seeing’ my body every day was like visiting an old friend I had dearly missed.

“Oh, there you are. How nice to see you again! So that’s what you look like, I’d nearly forgotten. Welcome Home.”

Starting Over

full of beansI’m sitting today in the gentle grace of the Full of Beans coffee house in Ojai California.

We’ve barely flipped the calendar from January to February, yet I can unwind on the patio beneath the sheltering branches of a Chinese Elm, soak in an abundance of sunlight and relax into my relatively new life. I try not to feel guilty knowing that friends and family are winter bound in the upper regions of Oregon, Vermont and New York.

There is something wonderful and terrifying about having this blank canvas on which to paint my life. Pulling away from forty years of northern existence has allowed the luxury of leaving decades of history behind, and the way one becomes solidified in the minds of others. For example, no one here knows me as the single mom on welfare, crazy enough to think she could make a living in the performing arts. And nobody is saying, “Hey, I remember when you taught at Portland Community College and went out with that guy that was so wrong for you. What was his name?” Or “Oh my God, remember that cross country trip in the hippie van with all the street musicians, and Big Bush, whose Afro took up the front seat?  And what was the name of that guy who did acid about 400 times?” Ah, the wildness of youth wiped clean. Regret nothing that once made you smile!

The downside is the limited way my eyes engage with those around me. When there are years of friendship, a light of recognition passes in a twinkle, landing someplace deep inside. But when there’s no history, you’re just another face. Eyes don’t invite in the same way, they only meet you on the surface, pulling quickly away. No cataloging of memory to be computed and filed, smiled about or declined.

My work has changed form here as well. It flows easily or perhaps it’s the openness of those who live in the sun who are easy. When I lived in Oregon my window faced a forest of old growth trees. Several were damaged by storms forcing them to grow to the side instead of straight up. They were vulnerable but strong as their trunks grew in bizarre shapes, pushing through tangles of neighboring trees until they found enough light to reach for the sky. I often thought how similar our human experience is and how resilient our spirits. When we can’t grow in one direction, when we are thwarted, we reach for another.  We don’t think about it, we just reach because survival depends on it.  It’s the hand we’ve been dealt, the environment we’re born into, our inherent gifts and the limitations we’ve come to grow beyond.

I did seriously wonder if a healer could make a living in a sun-filled place, without the advantage of the Oregon rainforest making everyone depressed. But it seems I can.

I lean into my wooden chair painted in primary shades of playful, listen to wind chimes dancing in an easy breeze and smile as a neighbor’s boxer-lab mix pulls against his leash hoping for a taste of my croissant.

Could life be better?

Aqua Abstravanganza

 

It was 8.30 in the morning under a cloudless California sky, when I waded into the shallow end at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club swimming pool, determined to try every exercise class offered, at least once. This one was called Aqua Abstravaganza, which I hoped would supplement lap swimming.

Warm water pooled around my waist as I greeted those who’d already arrived, noticing their hats, eye glasses and tee-shirts worn to ward off the coming of another sultry day. A woman with flowing grey hair smiled in my direction, introducing herself. The others followed, offering kindness and extended hands. Being greeted with such gracious acceptance is part of what I love about coming to this club. It’s an extension of the grace, beauty and specialness that is Ojai. Unfortunately, I forgot their names minutes after being introduced, my aging memory as short as my eyelash.

A young woman from a dark-skinned, dark-haired country told me this was her second class.

“I’ve come back because I love the teacher’s humor,” she confides, her cinnamon eyes catching rays of light from the water. She radiates health and youth, her long hair carefully braided and tucked out of the way. She’s attentive and eager for the class to begin.

The others are older, much older, being called by the grace and support water allows the elderly. The instructor, Debora, appeared in snug black pants and grey top, brown hair cascading around her shoulders. She too extends a hand. “Oh, you’re new. Welcome!”

This group has obviously been together a long time, as a kind of social club.

“Okay class,” Debora begins, “we’re starting today by running in place, so bring those knees up.”

A birdlike woman peering beneath the twilled rim of a khaki hat pays no attention, preferring to visit with her friend instead.

“Did you watch that reality show last night? Well I did and that man never should have won. They count on people not calling in but I’ll tell you what. I did call in because I think the judges are crooked. It’s just not fair. Anyone can see he was not the most talented. It was the singer, she was the best and then the girl with the dancing dog.”

Obviously an urgent conversation, much more important than the matter of moving about in water.

A series of jumping jacks propelled me near another huddled couple.

“So how was your trip to Thailand? We really missed you here. Did you know that Peggy broke her foot? Yes, she did, but is recovering nicely. Said she’d try and make it today. They have her in a walking boot. One just never knows, does one?”

At 9 o’clock, (yes, I was counting the minutes) the instructor suggested we venture into the deep end. Frankly, I was completely surprised anyone noticed the request. But move they did, like a great water-bound pod of visiting couples. At this point the exotic beauty with the braided hair leapt from the pool, grabbed her towel, a splashed copy of the New York Times and darted toward the changing room, clearly late for something.

The men were in the deep end doing just as much talking as the women.

“Are you having trouble with this kick, Bob?” The instructor asked. “Bob?

Bob are you with us?”

Bob looked up as if coming out of trance. “What kick?”

Savages

There were no grown-ups in our world, except the out of breath cook, who climbed steep stairs with our food tray in hand. His was a hurry-up job. Here is your food, be good.  He carried prime rib, mashed potatoes, vegetables and homemade pies from the restaurant below. Sometimes we ate it, more often we had food fights. Dishes crashed as we climbed on the table, eager to perform on our make-shift stage. We made wide-armed gestures like the ones we’d seen on television; sang, danced, created costumes, swirled and laughed.

Look at me. Look at me. I am Cruella DeVille.

My oldest brother picked up his guitar, my youngest brother beat out rhythms on his drumset. We all shrieked with delight, often peeing our pants with laughter. We were five kids raising ourselves.

A raccoon ran up and down the hallway, a cat with new kittens nested on fallen coats, and a crow rode my sister’s shoulder like it was born there; even an occasional chicken witnessed our performance. The raccoon was a mainstay, until he bit my father’s balding head, we never saw old Coonie after that.

No one survived very long in that house, especially not housekeepers or babysitters. We constantly fought one another, but became a unified force with outsiders. Those with an idea toward reform or discipline stood no chance at all. There is one vivid memory of a babysitter cornered in the music room. She was literally backed against the wall, as five of us threatened like predators. My brother thought we should have done the – pail of cold water over her head from the second floor trick – but I wanted to give her a fighting chance. She left and never returned, one of many defeated by the Banfield savages.

A Russian woman came once a week, leaving stacks of clean clothes, folded and neatly balanced on our beds.  Put these away, she instructed. During the week the stacks were knocked to the floor and walked on, like everything else. There was no one to notice, no one to care.

The playroom was at the far end of the kitchen and housed a rarely changed cat box. I remember it being cleaned when a dance teacher arrived. We pointed our toes and slid them back and forth in the hope of learning first and second positions. Ballet did not stick, nor did tap dancing. The horses, ice skating, swimming and backyard baseball games did.

My father’s mother was trouble. She was serious about rules and best avoided. We had a small white cottage near the pond, where we escaped when she came. The cottage was safe, since she refused to venture across cornfields to further her point. Lucky for us, she didn’t visit often, or we could have been civilized.

written 9-4-08