Sunday, May 01, 2016

A Menagerie of Poems

I was debating whether to try tackling NaPoWriMo again this year, unsure whether I really felt up to doing a poem a day for a whole month again. But then I got a great jumpstart inspiration when I found a delightful book to give to Guy for his birthday that was an illustrated anthology of kid-friendly poems about animals. And not only some of the Edward Lear and Jack Prelutsky type stuff that you might expect, but also Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Bible verses, haiku, and more. I read it twice before sending it (late) up to Portland.

So then, right at the beginning of April, I had a whole menagerie of animals queueing up inside my head, asking for poems, and I’ve been having a ball writing them. Some are, yes, “for kids,” and some less so, but I love them all.

I was thinking about why this was such a fruitful way to generate poems. I think a big part of it is that simply choosing an animal to write about immediately gives you something very specific and concrete to focus on. When you sit down to a blank page, it can be all too easy to say “I’m going to write a poem about… Love!” And then something vague and mushy comes out because that’s way too broad a topic. On the other hand, you can say “I’m going to write a poem about a… Giraffe! Now what do I know about giraffes? They’re tall. Okay, let’s work with that.” And then you’re off and running with something that both writer and reader can really get a grip on. Zebras: black and white. Boom. And so on.

In some cases, the animal can even suggest the form of the poem, as with the Turtle, who made his own new type of sonnet by pulling the rhymes inside his shell with him. And then some of the animals just start telling you stories. I was a bit surprised with how the Manatee turned out, but apparently that’s what she wanted to say. (On the other hand, I got pretty much what I expected from the Buzzard.) One way or another, nearly all of my 30 poems for the month turned out to be about animals (though I did take a break to write The Danube Blues, just entirely for the sake of the title).

So now it’s May, and the poetry spigot is getting turned off. But I’m really starting to think this needs to turn into a book, especially since I have a very large number of small friends and relatives to whom I would very much enjoy giving such a book. Of course, these poems naturally beg for illustrations. So I may change the poem-a-day challenge into a drawing-a-day challenge and see how long it takes me to get marginally competent enough to do this. I really have no idea how it’ll work out, but wish me luck!

[P.S. A few more favorites include the Sloth, the Otters, and the Honeybee’s Lullaby. Or you can just read all the animals, if you like.]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seclusion Stories: Renouncing Time, Following Guidance, and Trick Trails

I was really ready to go on seclusion. (And I’m beginning to think I’ll always begin my seclusion stories this way.) It had been almost two years since the last one, and it turned out to be an interesting followup to what happened that last time.

One of the themes from my 2014 seclusion was learning not to just blindly charge ahead with whatever I want to do (even if it seems like a good idea at the time), but to deliberately involve God and Master in the process, and ask what He would like to do with me in our time together. So my overall goal for this time was to figure out how to do that. I ended up with three main tricks:

#1: Renouncing Time. (Or trying to, at least. Time’s not so keen on renouncing me.) The evening I arrived at the meditation retreat, I turned my phone completely off and disabled the clock in my computer’s menu bar (I still wanted my computer available for writing). I hadn’t brought a watch, and the cabin had no clock, which left me completely free to have no idea what time it was. There’s still the sun, of course, but I didn’t know exactly when sunrise/sunset was up there, and I didn’t think about it too hard.

This had a few benefits. One is that clocks like to tell us what to do, what with things like “lunchtime” and “bedtime,” especially for someone like myself who’s very schedule-conscious. This shuts them up. Then if a clock isn’t telling you when to do these things, you get to (a) decide yourself or (b) practice using your intuition. (Hint: (b) is a good choice.)

Additionally, it was really nice to completely let go of questions like “am I sleeping in too late?” or “how long am I meditating?” or other things that are more judgey than useful.

#2: The Guidance Log. The next thing I did was to take a small notebook and start a list for each day. Any time during the day that I had a question or a choice, and remembered to ask Master about it instead of simply deciding on my own, I would enter it in the log. This is both helpful as a reminder to keep doing this, and as a motivational game (trying to top the score from each previous day).

This also results in the notebook getting filled with a fair amount of pretty dumb questions. But that’s okay. The number of times in my life that Master will actually care what kind of tea I drink in the morning is probably a bit south of one. But he does like to be asked. It’s keeping the conversation going that’s important.

#3: The Activities Bowl. This was the final piece of my “system” for the week. I always head into a seclusion with a huge list of projects and activities that I don’t have enough time to do at home, and this isn’t nearly as helpful as it is tempting. In this particular case, I wanted to practice guitar, recorder, and singing, I wanted to work on a couple different choir arrangements, I wanted to do some writing, I wanted to prep for the next class I’m teaching, and more. All good stuff, yes, but with the danger that seclusion will simply turn into more busy-time.

So what I did was to write everything I thought I might possibly want to do on scraps of paper, fold them up, and put them in a bowl. (I also included sadhana activities, like meditation, energization, yoga, etc.) Then whenever I felt like I really needed to do something, I would go to the bowl and ask Master to help me pick.

Putting It All Together. Well, the first two days were mostly rest and recuperation time, with lots of sleeping and reading. This was something else I’d learned from the previous seclusion: that it’s not worth trying to push yourself if what you really just need is to recover for a bit. So just let that happen until you’re ready to start putting out more energy.

I also didn’t use the activities bowl much during those first two days. I felt that, if I were going to draw something blind, then I wanted to feel absolutely open and ready to do whatever it would turn out to be, no backing out. Which is a good attitude to cultivate, but took me a little while to work up to. And when I did start using it, I found myself getting a lot of things like meditation and energization and reading Whispers from Eternity, and not working on my “projects” much at all. But just as well, since it was supposed to be a seclusion, after all.

As for the guidance log, what I noticed was that, after a few days, I was less inclined to be asking so many questions as deliberately or writing it all down. Not in a bad way, but more because I began to feel like I was in a better overall flow and could simply see the next thing I was going to do at any given moment, rather than needing to make a deliberate decision. I did still keep taking some notes, of course, because it doesn’t do to get too complacent, but I could tell that the process had already gotten me into a different sort of state.

Also by now I was finding myself really wanting to meditate more, and I figure when that happens I shouldn’t worry too much but just go do it, which I did. Since I’m not big on endurance but focus better for short periods of time, I started getting into a system of multiple short-to-medium meditations throughout the day, alternating with other things, instead of trying to do long sessions. If I’d had more time there (the trip was only 4 full days this time), I think my eating schedule would have shifted from three small meals a day to four snacks, which would also have been helpful for throughout-the-day meditations.

It would be nice to do this for a longer seclusion sometime. As it was, I only had two really good days, and on the second of them I was already thinking about having to go home the next day. But it was all very definitely worthwhile, even for just this short amount of time.

More Games on the Hill. I wrote last time about the games God was playing with me up on the Bald Mountain trail, trying to get me to pay attention and listen. And I continue to be impressed with how amusingly tricky He can be up there on that small hill with so few passable trails. This week I had been happily visiting all my usual places up there, but on the last day I noticed something new.

At a bend in the trail, I saw a gap in the trees that I hadn’t noticed before. This was on my best “flow” day, and I just felt that it was obviously there for me to go explore, so I did. A short way into the undergrowth, I came upon a trail completely covered with dead manzanita branches, like a river of bleached wood. It seemed deliberately created, but also odd, since it doesn’t make for a particularly walkable trail. I followed it for a while, wondering how far down the other side of the mountain we were getting, or if I’d ever be able to find a trail all the way down to the river. After various twists and turns, the trail petered out, but I managed to continue a bit farther through various openings in the shrubbery.

And then suddenly—a path! An honest-to-goodness, perfectly clear trail. I set a branch next to the trail pointing the way I had come, in case I needed to find my way back. Then I asked Master which way to go, and headed left.

Then within 20 yards I came to the trail sign at the entrance I had come in every morning. I had just completely not recognized it coming from a different angle, and had gotten so turned around I assumed I was on the other side of the mountain.

No major lesson here, except that God likes to find ways to make me laugh.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

I Wonder as I Wander

Dambara always used to sing this song at our Christmas concerts, as a beautiful solo with piano accompaniment. Since he moved away, I guess we haven’t quite been ready to have anyone else try it. But it’s always been a favorite of mine, and I recently had the idea to arrange it for a group of singers, just so we could feel like we’re doing something different and not just trying to follow Dambara’s act. I’m imagining this not so much for full choir as for, say, an octet accompanying a male soloist (though the soprano and bass parts get turns joining on the melody as well).

I haven’t ever done a proper choral arrangement before (and it’s not quite the same as all the music theory exercises I did in college, now that I have more of a stake in how it actually works out). But I had a lot of fun over the past week putting this together. If anyone wants to take a look and share thoughts on it, I’m open to feedback. You can download a PDF of the score here.


I’d love to hear it sung by actual voices, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. (If anyone out there wants to get folks together and try it, please send me a recording!) In the meantime, there’s this computer-generated mp3, which isn’t great, but is something at least.

(And... Christmas songs in August, you ask? Yes. I’m totally starting on Christmas music now, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!)

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Zealand, Part 3: Lake Taupo (and Getting There)

For our final, finale weekend in New Zealand, we drove down to Lake Taupo to lead a weekend-long retreat at the Tauhara Centre, which is something like a mini-Expanding Light that hosts all sorts of different spiritually oriented retreats on a beautiful hill overlooking the lake.

But first we had to get there. We’d named our GPS on the first day of the trip: Georgia Sweet Potato. (She can’t spell, but she’s pretty good with directions.) So far, she’d been a great navigator, and we’d had no complaints. But she must have gotten some setting clicked for “obscure roads,” because we started taking some interesting turns.

We were a little suspicious when we turned off the highway that actually said “Taupo,” but we were still on a highway, could still go 100kph, and didn’t think it could be all that bad. Then we turned off onto a smaller road that we figured would just take us to another highway. Then with each new turn we took, the roads got smaller and more winding until we were just bumping down a little dirt track with nothing around us but cows and scenery. But oh, what scenery. Beautiful green hills fresh from the rain, that at one point we simply had to stop the van to get out and look. So maybe Georgia knew what she was doing after all.

Well, eventually the roads started getting bigger and more paved, until we saw that we were finally coming back to a main highway, at which point I commented that we had not passed or even seen a single other vehicle the entire time we were on the backroads. Literally the second after I said that, a car came around the corner ahead of us, just to prove me wrong. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it only actually existed for just the 10 seconds it took to get around the next corner behind us.)

Anyway, we made it to Taupo. We had about 35 people there for the retreat, which was a very nice size group for that facility. And somehow, the two days that we had there felt packed with a week’s worth of activities. (A lot will be getting posted on YouTube over the next few days as I get them processed.) One of the most fun parts of it for me was the Saturday night concert with Dambara (here’s the video). I’ve had a delightful time accompanying him throughout this entire trip, and that evening was a very nice culmination of it all. We started off with some fun, lively, laughing songs, and gradually moved more and more inward, which finally led us to an outdoor fire ceremony with a bonfire out under the stars.

On the way home we were a bit less trusting of Georgia, and blatantly ignored her attempts to get us off the highway. (The first time had a sign pointing to a “Stock Effluent Disposal Site,” and the second time, very shortly after it, to an “Animal Fun Park,” which sounded very suspicious in that context.)

But we did make a quick stop off at Huka Falls. They’re not super high, but the water rushing through the ravine becomes such a beautiful shade of frothy, white turquoise that is absolutely stunning. The light was already fading, so the picture doesn’t quite capture it here.

Today we’re lounging around back at Kavita’s in Hamilton, after dropping Travis off to head back to Australia. Then we’re heading home on Tuesday evening, to arrive 13 hours later on Tuesday afternoon (they refund you the day you lost getting here on the way back). Photos from the whole trip are here.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

New Zealand, Part 2: Wairere Falls and More Hamilton

Monday this week was a day off for us, so we drove to Wairere Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand’s North Island. It’s a beautiful hike, reminiscent of some California forests, but with extra, slightly tropical, touches. It’s quite steep, even resorting to stairs in a few places, and takes almost an hour and a half of pretty solid “tramping” (as they say here) to reach the top. So it’s very satisfying, both as physical exercise, and for the scenery.

The first lookout point is halfway up, with a gorgeous view of the falls. When you reach the top, you can actually hardly see the falls themselves at all. A very placid river meanders right up to the cliff, and then heads so completely straight down that you can’t see where it lands, even from the little observation platform reaching out over it. The view of the surrounding countryside is stunning, though. The mountains end very suddenly, leaving completely flat plains over which you can see for miles.

After a couple more days of workshops, we had some more free time today, so Dambara, Zebunnisa, Travis and I headed out for a trip to the Taitua Arboretum in Hamilton. The trees were nice enough, but as a tourist destination, it was underwhelming. The chickens were the most memorable part of it, in fact. Tons of them, just all over the place. There were times that we’d hear the crowing of roosters from all sides, as if a vicious pack of wild jungle chickens were slowly circling in for the kill. But we made it out safely. Also in the not-a-tree department, I was rather fond of this baby Stonehenge they have. A few thousand years more of regular watering and I’m sure it’ll be quite impressive.

We had passed signs for the Hamilton Zoo on the way to the arboretum, so we decided to head there next. It’s really quite a nice little zoo, with hardly any people there on a gray Thursday afternoon. We managed to catch feeding time for the lemurs and spider monkeys, which was fun to watch. A lot of the larger animals (tigers, cheetahs, etc.) were being lazy and unentertaining, but the rhinos put on a pretty good show. One of them had a really good wallow in a mud puddle, then started going after her companion like she wanted to push her in as well. Then they both took a fun canter around their whole enclosure. Lots more activity than I’d have expected from them, and very impressive to watch such formidable beasts in motion.

We’ve finished up our workshops in Hamilton, and tomorrow we’re heading out to Lake Taupo for a weekend-long retreat program. Then that’ll wrap things up for the trip and we’ll be heading home on Tuesday. I’m continuing to add photos to the album here as I go.