I’ll always be a tree-hugger.

Grounding (or ‘earthing’) has been around for a long time. Shaman’s, Celts, Native Americans, yogi’s and others have believed that it is important to connect with the Earth. For years it’s had a kind of ‘airy-fairy’ aura about it, but more recently, holistic health practitioners, meditators, and even some medical professionals have begun to advocate the practice claiming that it can absorb natural electrical charges, balance our physical energy, assist with healing and possibly fix everything short of eliminating world hunger.

This morning, I read Dr. Eifrig’s Health & Wealth Bulletin article, ‘Grounding’ and Our Search for Good Science. In it, Dr. Eifrig explores both sides of whether it has validity or if those who promote it are merely trying to sell services and paraphernalia to the uninitiated. At the end, he invited his readers to respond- and I couldn’t resist.

I heard about it back in my early hippie days, when I first (and covertly) hugged a tree.

The tree I chose was a stately Maple that grew in my front yard, so I went out one early summer night and put my arms around it.  Honestly, I felt a little silly and figured I’d hug it and leave before anyone looked out their window and witnessed my strange behavior.

MY Maple Tree

I kicked off my sandals and my bare feet connected with the cool evening earth. The circumference of the fifty-year-old maple was larger than that of a very heavy man, and I had to turn my head to the side in order to be able to stretch out and half encircle it. I laid my face against its rough bark and closed my eyes.

My fingers naturally splayed out and fit perfectly into the little grooves of the trunk. As my chest, belly, hands, arms and face made contact with the old arbor, I pressed my ear to the tree and strained to hear something-perhaps a low humming or a rushing sound like when you listen to a conch shell. Did Native American Indians connect with the earth in this way when hunting their prey? Was this something my ancient ancestors had known about and done with the same regularity as I brush my teeth?

But instead of being actually audible, sound was transmitted to me as a ‘filling up,’ like when you are held captive for a moment in that split-second in the aftermath of a beautiful symphony or when you see a gorgeous sunset.

Although I heard nothing, a force of some sort compelled me to inhale deeply and fill my lungs with the sweet night air. I took in the deep velvety essence of the wood. It was not perfumed like an incense or pungent like a pine forest floor. I somehow ‘felt’ the scent in my nostrils rather than smelled its pheromones, and when I exhaled, what was transferred was an incredible infusion of peace. 

The feeling grew and grew so that after a few moments, I found my cheeks wet with tears. It was as though the branches of that tree enfolded me in its warmth and safety and made me feel like a little girl enveloped in my grandfather’s love. I will never in my life forget that night and those feelings. I have repeated it every now and again, not only with ‘my maple,’ but with younger trees.

I asked my adult son if he ever hugged a tree, and he said he’d climbed many, and felt “sort of the same thing.” And yes, though he didn’t analyze it as I have, he sensed something. Picking up a dresser just doesn’t evoke the same feeling.

So let the scientists, researchers and nay-sayers keep looking for those nail holes. Let them say that I (or people like me) have an overactive imagination, or even that I’m quite mad.  I care not whether what I feel when I hug a tree, or walk on the beach, or tend my vegetable garden in my bare feet is a ‘placebo’ effect or the result of reading or listening to some esoteric snake charmer in my youth.  

Because in my heart, I KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all our frequencies ebb and flow, and that like the hearts of two nurse sharks that beat in tandem when together, and resume their individual beats when apart, we are intimately connected to the earth’s energy and all that is in it!

I’ve included below a poem that I wrote in 2003 for a friend after reading “The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe” by Lynne McTaggart.  It could well apply to my experience as a tree-hugger. 

QUANTUM PHYSICS
I feel the vibration of your body:
A pulling, tugging, surrounding kind of touch
That resonates within my being.
I see your light with my hands.
I taste you and you are warm.
My receptors are turned toward you
Like a sunflower facing the sun.
We suck up the photons of each other
As we collide and merge
And cascade through the spectrum of time
With the speed of light,
Knowing all things together
That we could not know as one.
–Hillary Volk
, 2003

The Earthing Movie: The Remarkable Science of Grounding
(full documentary FREE) 1 hour 15 minutes

A new kind of caring

I was reading a blog earlier today by Jeff Goins.  He told how his daughter started making a fort at the playground, which inspired others to join her. At first, it was a single fort, but then the children branched out and made their own versions of what they thought one should look like. There was a little tussling, but they all got along well. 

“… I can’t help but wonder if what our world needs more of right now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”

Jeff Goins

There was no date on his blog, but I suspect it was before social distancing began and the fear of COVID-19 invaded all we do. To say that 2020 has ushered in an era of separation would be an understatement. How long will we have to ‘self-isolate’ before we can return to some semblance of ‘normalcy?’  I feel privileged to have known the world differently than today’s children and young people, and that I lived through the years before computers and television and travel to the moon.

I believe that play is not something that we are born knowing how to do; others need to show us how to free up our imaginations and prime the pump of creativity. Give a child a lump of clay and he or she will roll endless worms and round shapes, but show them what can be done, and they will spend a whole day happily creating animals and things that were always in their mind’s eye waiting to be rediscovered. 

Jeff’s blog made me remember the first day of school vacation some time in the 1950s. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably nine or ten. The long, hot summer stretched out in front of us, and we were excited to be allowed to stay out until dark. 

We already knew how to play hopscotch, tag and jump rope, but that night, my Dad became the Pied Piper of 41st Street by teaching us ‘city kids how to play.’ Dad grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s, when many ‘stoop games’ were invented and improvised upon. There were no fishing holes to swim in, no squirrels to shoot, no trees to climb. Counting cars on street corners was the most exciting thing to do!

He showed us Statues/Red-Light-Green-Light, Box Ball, Red-Rover (Let me come over), (I declare) War, and a game similar to Twister, but played on the large squares marked off on concrete sidewalks. Every few evenings, he taught us a new card game and things to do with bottle caps, popsicle sticks, Yo-Yo’s and handballs. I looked forward to his homecoming, and so did the other children in our little corner of the world. He was my hero. 

Few people had air conditioning in the 1950s, at least not in our neighborhood of Sunnyside, New York. Adults would bring kitchen or folding chairs outside to escape heat trapped apartments and to sit in the small slices of shade created by tall buildings. 

My mother was a champion paddleball player.  We would have competitions to see who could hit the ball the longest, and she usually won. (She also excelled at Jacks and Pickup Sticks, board games like Checkers and my favorite, Fox & Hounds.) Tables were set up and young and old would play together.

Neighbors took turns bringing ice water to share. One might treat us to a plate of homemade cookies or a bottle of soda pop. Another might bring the day’s newspaper and section it out, or put a radio near an open window. 

I don’t remember anyone smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or wine or even coffee, but that is not to say they didn’t. No one swore, but I recall sometimes hearing a woman say, “not in front of the children!”  Decorum was strict. 

It was a local, American version of a practice that has taken place in small towns and large city squares for hundreds of years when people of many generations come together for companionship and sociability. In warmer climates, walking after supper, sitting in parks, on the steps of buildings and around fountains was an everyday occurrence, and an extension of the Living Room. 

The point was that the little babies, school children, young and old married couples, the singles, and the elderly formed a community of caring

Of course, there was always the corner pub where a man could have a pint and talk about the old days with his friends. Women might sit together and catch up on local happenings while watching the children at play in the park. Church events required people to work together on planning, organizing, decorating and cooking. People with similar interests could usually find others to spend time with enjoying hobbies ranging from stamp collecting to armchair travel and bird watching. These things could be done alone, but it was much more fun in the company of others.

It seems to me that we have been practicing seclusion for a very long time — even before our lock downs began. Our singular lives have deprived us of a rich heritage which has nothing to do with being in a family or a circle of friends. We sit in front of screens, talk to them, play with them, write letters and exchange pictures with them, give virtual hugs and emoticon kisses. 

So now, before the curve is flattened, while the numbers climb and our freedom is curtailed, we should consider how we’d like things to be when we emerge from our ‘caves.’  We’ve been discovering since March what’s really important to us, and learned new skills that we might not have tried if we didn’t face long stretches of time. 

Some of the last children conceived before COVID-19 are being born now. What kind of world will they find? The Great Generation is thinning out and although Boomers are still here, our memories of how the world was before technology will fade and one day be lost, too. 

Jeff Goins said in his blog that he “can’t help but wonder if what our world needs now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”

We all need to think more creatively and come up with fresh, novel ways to ‘build our fort.’



This is the first blog of a series entitled, Growing Up in the 1950s.
I welcome your comments and memories as I try to weave the past and the present to come up with ideas for a future we can all be proud of!

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes

I still can’t get used to writing the year, let alone adjusting to the the time change, and 2020 is almost over.

Remember how we’d say, “Only six months until the election”? Now we have to wait until almost Thanksgiving, and who knows maybe until Christmas to find out the results. The goalposts are always being moved.

Before I dreamed of becoming a writer, I wanted to be a ballerina; it seemed more attainable at the time.

We’re always waiting. When we were little it was our birthdays and Christmases that were always elusive, but then we had to wait until we graduated, or turned 21 or got the new job or until the wedding day. Before I dreamed of becoming a writer, I wanted to be a ballerina; it seemed more attainable at the time.

But that’s not the happily-ever-after we dreamed of because first, we needed to buy a house, or wait until the children were in school full-time, and on and on it went, and before you knew it, you’ve waited for the divorce (or two), you’ve retired, and your next birthday has another zero in it.

Photos are startling reminders of those touchstones, but in between are those days and events that are never recorded except in the recesses of our minds. I used to wonder what my mother was thinking about during those last years as she stared out the window for hours on end, but now I know.

woman holding teal pillow
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I did a fair amount of staring when I was a child in school, and was often reprimanded by my teachers to stop daydreaming. I suppose there are people who look through windows and see only what is really out there, but my mind was light years in the future and a million miles away.

Today, people are more inclined to accept the possibility that girls have ADHD as often as boys, but it takes on a different persona in them. They may be chaotic and curious, overly-sensitive and often overwhelmed, sometimes irrational and impulsive, but always interesting!

I once had a supervisor who worked in the entertainment industry with Michael Jackson, and he proudly exclaimed that his ADHD was the best thing that ever happened to him! He was a master at thinking out of the box and coming up with creative and lucrative solutions to seemingly impossible situations. He was also a bit of a maverick, but all the other accountants secretly admired him for his je ne sais quoi.

People with ADHD have no problem finding things to do and delight. Their dance card is filled with dozens of possibilities from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. I could spend an entire afternoon exploring the etymology of sayings such as the one by Thomas Paine to which I just alluded. My mother often reminded us that there is no excuse for boredom. She would sometimes quote Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958), “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” (I actually can’t recall her using the word, ‘suckers;’ that wasn’t her style.)

Photo by Free Creative Stuff on Pexels.com

How would most people entertain themselves during this current pandemic if they didn’t have Netflix and YouTube and all the offers of seminars on how to make money creating videos? Market predictions report that e-Learning will grow to $325 billion by 2025! Working at home in your pajamas at the kitchen table was a dream to commuters a decade or two before the Internet, and now it’s here.

Perhaps we ADDers do take too many detours and too many chances which don’t always work out right. But the alternative is to have lived an ordinary life, which to us is tantamount to having your teeth pulled out by a barber. Some of the most memorable events in my life were the ones that ‘fell out of the sky and into my lap.’ I can’t express them any other way.

There was the time my sister called to say she was driving her MG Midget across the country to be shipped overseas and would I want to come with her. Yes, ma’am! What a blast we had! Similarly, when my mother called from Germany to ask me to, “Come on over!” I got on a plane a few days later. If I hadn’t, I may never have visited all those wonderful European cities.

I might say that flying by the seat of my pants has been a hallmark of some of the largest and most important decisions of my life, but to say that would negate the hours and hours of contemplation, daydreaming, researching and thought behind those decisions. It is easier to lambaste a woman for ‘irrational’ behavior than to call her decisions quick and decisive, as would be said of those in leadership. The concept ‘Know-Think-Do’ is not a binary skill only available to a certain subset of the population.

Falling down an Internet Vortex may seem like a waste of time, but to a retired researcher (which is what I now call myself), it is an exciting exploration of the human experience. If I am no longer able to travel across the ocean, I can dream, and perhaps, one day, I will find myself on the train from London, through Barcelona and on to Marrakesh…

Is that Crosby, Stills & Nash I hear?

“Paris is always a good idea.”

– Quote from Audrey Hepburn

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how important it is to be really specific about the things we want in life. I reiterated how I had always wanted to see Paris with someone I loved, and wound up going with my sister Andrea, which meant I DID get what I asked for. Exactly.

About twenty years later, I found myself planning a trip to France–this time with John. When I met him several years earlier, he was new to the idea of visualization, the Law of Attraction, and manifesting. On the other hand, I had been brought up in a religion that was primarily metaphysical, and all the contemporary New Age gurus such as Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Rhonda Byrnes of The Secret fame, were essentially restating what ancient writers had written and what I had been taught since childhood.

At first, John looked at me with the same disbelief I received throughout my youth: “That’s weird. What are you, a witch or something?” But when I began to read passages to him from a newly published book at that time, “Ask and It is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks, he began to embrace the idea of taking control of his life by directing his thoughts.

“I’ll SEE it when I BELIEVE it,” was the first hurdle he approached. As he began to discern the difference between repeating  Coué-like phrases and making declarations, he was rewarded with some successes. He was incredulous as little things like parking spaces appeared within seconds of driving to a store entrance; or when a thought occurred to look in an unlikely place for an item he thought was lost, or when answers just ‘showed up’ when he needed it.

“Beginner’s luck,” I teased, but I was also pleased that he was growing away from the purely material way of looking at the world. An oft-quoted phrase by Mary Baker Eddy in our household when I was a child was, “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionately to their occupancy of your thoughts.” As I get older, I realize how true her euphemisms were, even if couched in 19th century prose.

Now, just because I knew about these ideas didn’t mean I practiced them all the time; if I did, I’d probably have everything my heart desires. It seems that after long use of something we often get lazy, and like a relationship gone stale, I began to take metaphysics for granted.

I found myself in that state of mind in Paris.

AudreyJohn and I had a wonderful week driving through the French countryside. We visited Versailles, Amboise, Blois, and the Loire Valley with all its beautiful castles and grounds. Little surprises seemed to be around every corner that delighted the eye and the palate. We met locals and shop owners and families who were so authentic and happy, it made us wish we could stay forever. But of course, that’s what vacations are for–to learn things about other cultures and try to incorporate them into life at home.

As we made our way towards Paris (John, for the first time), we saw a sign for Orleans. John had seen a photo of the quaint little town in a brochure and wanted to visit, but never said anything because he didn’t think we’d have time. But a sign said the Fêtes Johanniques, the festival for Joan of Arc, was taking place that day, and we veered off the A10 toward the celebration. “See John, you put it into your consciousness, and here we are!” I told him, mirroring what my parents had always told me.

That little town turned out to be a big city, and true to form, John found the last available parking space, the one that was closest to the parade route. We marveled at this recurring talent of his and joined in the revelry just as Joan was riding past our spot in the crowd. We followed her and the Mayor in all his pageantry to the beautiful cathedral where the Mayor gave us a private tour.

“This is just like the picture!” he whispered. My eyes found his and we were locked together in that private language that couples in harmony have. It works! he said without speaking. Are you surprised? I silently answered.

We were falling in love with small-town France and wanted to delay leaving it. Paris would be exciting and romantic, but a quick, relaxing dinner (anything less than two hours in France is quick) would nicely finish off our rural escapade. We reviewed all the things we had seen and done, shared a decadent dessert, and were finally ready to head back toward the City of Lights.

colzaThe sun was fading over the fields of colza (rape seed), lavender and tall, slim windmills, and we realized with a dismay that we would never make it to the car rental location before it closed. “No matter,” John said confidently. “We’ll stop somewhere for a map and return the car in the morning.”

Drawing upon my own memories, I envisioned the nightmare of driving in Paris: tight, medieval lanes, one-way streets, cars jammed into spots like sardines and the possibility of getting lost. I got out the little flashlight I had in my bag and searched for our itinerary. “Rick Steves says that some hotels have parking garages, but you have to reserve well in advance.” I realized with dismay that I wouldn’t know how to use the phones, even if we found one.

Eyeing my worried look, John turned his eyes back to the road and answered by quoting a principle he was becoming comfortable with. “What do you always tell me? Don’t bring that negative energy into this.”

I’ll admit, that got my dander up a bit. Who was HE to tell ME about staying positive? He had never heard about the ‘Law of Attraction’ until he met me. He had never been to Paris. I took a deep breath. It was getting late, we were tired, and it had started to rain.

We found a petrol stop with a convenience store where I struggled to make myself understood. In my experience, few people in France speak English outside of the big cities, or perhaps they are just reluctant to do so with Americans. If you at least try to speak their language, they will be very nice.

As I unfolded the map on the front hood to take advantage of the store’s interior light, John walked around the car trying to figure out why everyone had been beeping at us as they passed. “Tell me if the brake lights work.” They did. And so did all the directional signals. “Are you sure?” He pressed.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said, a little more forcefully than necessary, then added, “They’re a little different from an American car, but they work.” We continued on our way, straining to read the signs through the pouring rain.

We missed our exit off the ring road and had to approach the city center from the North. We found ourselves on a wide boulevard, passing gated shops. Cars were beeping at us and we were clueless as to why. Finally, a driver leaned over at a stop light and shouted that we had our rear high beams on. We had been blinding everyone. John fumbled and found the knob to turn it off. “Merci,” he called to the driver in that sing-song way that the French speak. With the mystery solved, cars stopped honking, and thankfully the rain stopped as well.

Our moment of relief was short-lived. As I drew an imaginary line on the map between where we were and where we wanted to be, I realized we were heading straight toward the Seine and the center of Paris. I had hoped to avoid heavy traffic.

city art paris building

We’ll drive past that big church,” he said nonchalantly.

I eyed him with disbelief. “Notre Dame? You’ll just drive past Notre Dame, in the center of the city, with all the tourists walking around?”

“What’s the big deal?” I kept my mouth closed as we drove over the Rue de la Cite with its beautiful cathedral lit up like a jewel. The sight of it at night took my breath away.

“We’re almost there,” he said triumphantly. “There’s the Opera. We’ll be in our room opening that bottle of wine we bought in Chenonceau within the hour.” Was that just male bravado speaking? I wondered. But he said it with such conviction that I started to believe him. Was I creating the problems with my negative thoughts?

I looked at the clock. It said 8:35. We pre-paid for several nights at the hotel and were assured for late arrival, but as we drew closer to our destination, the streets narrowed and became incredibly confusing. We hadn’t passed a single open parking spot. “Don’t worry,” John said, “I’ll just drop you off at the hotel with the bags, park the car, and then I’ll come back.”

Suddenly, I was recalling the time Andrea and I got lost in Montparnasse after all the buses had stopped for the night. I shudder to think what would have happened if not for a young man who walked us to the street where our hotel was located.

“You don’t understand,” I said with real anxiety in my voice. “If you drop me off, I’ll never see you again! You don’t even speak the language!”

John didn’t answer. He has a calming effect on me when I get wound up and realizes that sometimes it’s best to say nothing. But after driving in circles and coming to the same corner three times in a row, even he was getting frustrated. Suddenly, without warning, he pulled into a residential driveway and shut the car off. I thought he was angry. “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted.

I realized I was caught up in a fear or anxiety ‘loop’–and I was pulling him there with me. A thought occurred to me, ‘Stop Everything and Listen!’ We sat there in silence and waited.

It could have been minutes or only a few seconds later when we were startled by a knock on the window. “Puis-je vous aider?” an older woman dressed all in black asked John.

He rolled down the window. “Oh oui, merci,” I said to the kind lady. Her husband stood nearby. “Notre destination est Hotel Mogador at…ummm… cinquante-et-un Rue de la Victoire.” I had been practicing for just such an encounter.

Ah! L’hotel Mogadar.” And then she rattled off in French a lot of droits and gauches, meaning lefts and rights.

John interrupted. “Do you speak English?” The husband, who had been standing nearby, shook his head and smiled. “Celeste, you’re giving them walking directions!” He proceeded to tell John how to find the hotel.

And then we were on our way. We turned into the correct street and saw the hotel name on the building ahead on the left. “There it is!” I exclaimed. It looked like the city of Oz in the distance.

A moment later, John asked, “Do you see what I see?” I turned my head slightly and watched as a car pulled out of a space right across from the door of the hotel. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. “I’ll run in and ask if it’s OK to park there and how much it will cost.”

John was removing our bags from the trunk. “We’re good,” I told him, “and no charge after eight PM.”

We checked into our lovely room, set the bags down, and he opened that bottle of wine. I realized I had learned a good lesson from our experience–one that was more important than simply getting lost and finding our way.

John had been adamant when he said he would be able to find a parking spot, and it showed up exactly where he expected at exactly the right time. He believed it, and then he saw it, not the other way around. If we had arrived a minute or two earlier or later, it might not have been there.

It would be easy to say that his advantage was that he didn’t have old memories clouding his optimism, but there was more to it than that. I had a personal lesson to learn. I was thinking that he was practicing the visualization I had taught him. So, I had not only doubted him, I had been haughty and egotistical about it.

the-more-i-learn-of-physics-the-more-i-am-drawn-to-metaphysics-quote-1

The ability to manifest is available to everyone. It is a power that when utilized can make a lot of things in our life much easier. If we remember not to get caught up in our own fears and negativity, and if we ask for what we want in a clear, direct way, when the time is right, our ideas will manifest into our experience.

It’s been over a decade since we went to Paris, but I will always keep this story in my memory to remind me not to become jaded about the power of our thinking – both positive and negative.

Oh, the clock on the bedside table said 9:30 as we sipped our wine. One hour had passed, just as John had envisioned.

This is what ‘being in the flow’ looks like…

A writer – or for that matter, any kind of artist – if s/he is lucky, may occasionally find himself in the throes of a creative power that is so enthralling and powerful that the words on paper, the brush on canvas, or the notes that fill the air take on an ethereal quality.

I’ve been fortunate to experience several of those major transcendent episodes over the course of my life. There is nothing more memorable than being so fully in the moment that your entire being is consumed with the energy of creation. Words flow almost effortlessly as if time stops and personal sense fades away. Every detail is synchronously registered in your body, and yet you may not even be aware of tears that stain your face because you are living a precious moment in the sweet spot of life.

I chanced upon this video today, performed by the popular Croatian cellist from 2CELLOS. It literally transported me into the space in time when I first heard those first few melancholic notes. What an incredible ability the mind has to recreate what it has known from the past when imprinted with emotion.

This is what ‘being in the flow’ looks like.

“Adagio for Strings,” composed by Samuel Barber, is one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Although it is slow and some may call it ‘depressing,’ it pulls at my heartstrings. Hearing it only once imprinted the notes into my brain over fifty years ago. You don’t have to know the composer, or the name of the piece to be drawn into its soaring, magical world.

As I watch Stjepan Hauser’s face, I can see that he is not just playing the cello, he IS the cello and he IS the music. He is so in tune with his instrument that you can see every note play on his face. With eyes closed, he blocks out the material world and enters the sublime.

The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man’s soul.
–Ludwig von Beethoven

We marvel a the great artists and writers who have earned a place in the sun for their work. Many have admitted that their talent was channeled through them, that “David was in the stone,” that “God dictated” and they listened, and we can recognize these gems because they have rightly floated to the top.

For many of us, it’s a long, hard slog. Where do we go for inspiration? After many false starts we realize that the Muse is not something to be found ‘out there.’ It is an imperative that wells up and fills us with the substance found in secret rooms in our heart, some barely covered with dust, others only found after years of excavation.

As an aspiring writer from a very young age, I recognized that I saw the world through the lens of words and literature. Books became both teacher and friend to me, and to this day I cannot part with many I read in my young adulthood. I learned from the successes and failures of Scarlett O’Hara as much as I have from Michael de Montagne and Wayne Dyer. Each applied to me at a point in time that connected me to its writer.

Creative people are often reluctant to show their work to others because they are concerned they will be judged not only for their creations, but the thoughts which ‘inspired’ them. I don’t think any of us truly stops striving for perfection or being fearful of what people will think of our work – and of us!

After winning awards as a young man and enjoying an illustrious career as a composer, Samuel Berber tore up a musical score when critics rejected his opera. He moved to Europe and became deeply depressed. Even the successful are not immune. I wonder whether Michelangelo was upset that one of David’s hands turned out larger than the other.

When we begin to truly love and accept ourselves, the false modesty that plagues all performers falls away, and like the superfluous marble from Michelangelo’s David, reveals the beauty beneath.

As I age and grow more comfortable with the understanding that my life experiences – both good and bad – are rich with tools I need to mine and share, I become more willing to step out and tell my own stories. In this way, I hope to help others succeed and learn from lessons I may have had to learn the hard way.

And when I ‘get myself out of the way’ as the musician above has done, and concentrate on my purpose, the words flow.

“Your gifts lie in the place where your values, passions and strengths meet. Discovering that place is the first step toward sculpting your masterpiece, Your Life.”
— Michelangelo

After the battle, sharpen the sword.

I always assumed the phrase cited above was something from the Bible, as my very wise mother was fond of quoting to stress a point rather than going into long explanations. Yet after an Internet search for its source, I could only find references to a legendary Japanese swordsman and to Steven Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Both links were excellent for their particular situations, but it didn’t really satisfy the meaning Mom wanted to impart.

As it turns out, demonstrating examples and lessons was a talent she learned from her own father, and as time passes I realize that her succinct method of using aphorisms was a smart strategy.

Let’s face it, teenagers hate to be lectured to, and in fact I know of no one who does. Participating in discussions – well, that’s a different matter. Mother could talk a blue-streak on almost any topic under the sun, but she was also a master of what she called, ‘verbal shorthand,’ or to quote another aphorism, ‘One picture is worth a thousand words.’ Because of its impact, I recall the discussion in vivid detail.

“That’s stupid,” my teenage self shot back. “they should do it before the battle.” She just smiled, and I’m certain she realized that I considered everything she did or said to be stupid or embarrassing. “You need a sharp sword to fight, so it should be done beforehand.” I added with the kind of annoyance sixteen-year-old girl seem to possess in abundance.

“Very true,” she agreed. “But how do you know who your enemy is or when they will strike again?”

I couldn’t understand where the conversation was headed because it began in response to chatting on the telephone about winning a writing competition. In the days before cell phones and Ma Bell Princess extensions, most people had only one phone in the middle of the house. Ours was in the kitchen / dining area, a place where I could usually find Mom reading or cooking. It was really hard to have private conversations without hiding in a closet, and besides, there was no closet in our kitchen.

“I wasn’t listening to your conversation, but I couldn’t help but hear you say to your friend that you had won first place.” She asked cagily.

“I didn’t think I was boasting, but maybe it did sound that way,” I replied, hedging my answer. She smiled, and I was afraid she was going to drag out her “Pride goeth before a fall” pitch. But she surprised me.

“Darling,” she began, and I then I knew that I wasn’t in trouble, “sometimes after you do something wonderful, people can become very jealous.” I sat down and joined her at the table as she continued. “They are very happy for you, but at the same time, they wish it was them doing the celebrating.”

I thought for a moment, “She was kind of quiet when I told her, but I was just so happy and I wanted to share the news with my best friend.”

“I know, dear, but sometimes it’s better to have a few successes before you tell people things. Envy can cause people to remarks that wither your joy and stop you from succeeding.” The puzzled look on my face made her continue, “They don’t do it on purpose, of course. But just like with a plant, you have to nurture those tender little sprouts until they’re strong enough to make it on their own.”

That sounded rather ominous to me at the time, but because mother did have eyes in the back of her head, I was sure she had reason to believe what she was saying was true. Still, I had been talking to my best friend. How could she wish me any ill will?

If I initially thought I was going to get away without some Biblical euphemism, I was wrong. “Mary pondered it, and kept it in her heart,” mother explained, “because she needed to protect the Promise.”

I recalled how a neighbor had just announced that she was expecting, but the due date was only five months away. “We wanted to keep it a secret until we were sure everything was O.K.” she had told us, barely masking her excitement.

I was just learning about the birds and the bees, and I didn’t realize that having a baby wasn’t a ‘slam-dunk’ thing. “You mean like Suzanne not saying anything when she first found out about the baby?” I was starting to understand.

It’s been over fifty years since that conversation, but I have come to see the truth in her admonition. It is often best to have a few successes under our belt so that our confidence is firmly anchored or ‘protected.’ Mom was my biggest supporter, but I realize now that in this instance she was speaking from experience. There had been people who had come between her and her own ‘bliss.’ What she didn’t recognize was that people can also project their own fears onto others – even onto people they love.

When we celebrate a victory, we should remember that nothing is a guarantee–not the next touchdown, the next novel or the next business deal. A stray comment may delay our success – even for decades. It may erode our confidence and diminish our purpose.

But as long as we remain prepared for action, weigh the validity of thoughts that may come to us either internally or from others, we will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

And when the battle finally comes-and it will-we will be ready.

“When the battle drum beats, it is too late to sharpen your sword.”
—Winston Churchill