Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Following the spiritual breadcrumbs

As I revisit themes from my novel, The Munich Girl, during my travels in Europe over these next weeks, I am mining, inwardly, for facets of my experience in writing that book that have been calling –and loudly — for quite some time now.

Doesn’t matter whether I’m awake or asleep, they mean business, and they’re not going away. What they want even appeared like a sign on a wall in a dream: memoir.

This is always the point at which I hear a voice in my head, with a mild British accent, asking, “Whatever bloody for?” It chimed in frequently over the nearly nine years that The Munich Girl came into being. The process of that book showed me that if I didn’t flinch or back away from that question but met it head-on, that voice frequently shifted to something like, “Oh, right, then,” and actually became a helpful ally.

As a writer, I have actively avoided the prospect of memoir for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is public embarrassment. (“Who cares?” is an effective deterrent, too.) Some might argue that I’ve already gotten the embarrassment part out of the way, perhaps more than once, and I wouldn’t disagree.

When I finally understood enough about the purpose of memoir as focusing in and reflecting about a specific stage or aspect of personal experience, I had a humbling recognition. The fact is, in much the way creative process, in all its mystery, delivered every part of the novel’s story when I was willing to let it lead, it offered up, at the same time, a cache of memoir material. It was like those dual-action machines gaining popularity in Europe that both wash and dry your clothes — it had practically outlined the next book for me.

If I had the heart, and will, to follow the trail again. “Spiritual breadcrumbs,” one friend calls this, adding boldly, “Are you going to be so ungrateful as to let them go to waste?”

I hadn’t planned to write a memoir any more than I had a novel that includes Hitler’s wife . But just as the environs of that story did, something is acting on me in a way I’ve given up trying to explain, but absolutely cannot deny.  As I have more conversations with readers of The Munich Girl, encounter the deep questions they ask and the observations they make after living in the book for a time, the following passage, which played a big part in the emotional themes of the novel, is right back in front of me for re-examination.

Without a doubt, I’ll let it lead again, whatever the outcome, because my heart knows it’s too big a piece of our current dilemmas in this world — too universal a one — not to heed, and honor.

We are all of us searching for love, for the intimacy, closeness, tenderness we may remember from when we were in our mother’s arms or may have glimpsed in a lover’s embrace.

Or we may know it just as a sense of something we always wanted, something missing from our life.

This love is at the core of our being, and yet we search for it everywhere, so often causing our self pain in the process, losing our way, becoming entangled in our desires and all our images of love.

Then, one day, something makes us turn away from the outer world to seek this truth within us.

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Balance sheets of light and dark

Photo: Saffron Moser

Spring flowers remind us to be happy.

It’s as though God treasured this invitation in each one,

then spread them abundantly about the landscape

to ensure we wouldn’t miss it.

Spring and flowers and happiness all dwell together in a snapshot scene from a long-ago Equinox.

As I packed up our Toyota for the Naw-Rúz (New Year, for Baha’is) party that night, I opened the car door to find our small son sitting in the backseat so surrounded by a mass of daffodils that I could barely see him. To ensure that the flowers traveled safely, my husband gave him the task of holding them and it was the first time he’d seen these harbingers of spring.

It’s hard to remember which was bigger, or brighter — that explosion of golden blooms, or his huge grin as he clutched his precious cargo. That smile was about the only part of him I could see.

This scene had prophecy in it. Today, our son grows hundreds of thousands of plants and sends them out into the wide world.

As I remember that day on this spring morning nearly 30 years later, with the sounds of wild geese flying over the house, I feel a soft sadness brush against me, rather the way a dog or cat might.

Image: Cary Enoch

Such feelings seem the inevitable outcome of simply living through the decades, a necessary component of the blessing of life, the contrast between happy memories and wistful ones, wintry days and brilliant spring sunshine, dark and light.

When we pause to reflect, it’s so often the contrast we come to see and recall. As one character in my novel, The Munich Girl, observes when confronted with the passage — and wages — of  time:

Didn’t it all turn out differently than we expected?

Didn’t it once seem there would be the whole sky to fly in?”

It did, no doubt for all of us.

It’s not what we thought, or perhaps planned or expected.

Photo: Saffron Moser

And yet, like the flowers and other plants that bloom and reappear so faithfully around us each year, there is fresh beauty and possibility in each new day.

 

No, it’s never what we thought, because it’s so very much bigger. When we look. And see. It really is the whole sky, and it will come to meet us when we stop hurling ourselves against it.

In their essence, daffodils, like so many spring flowers, remind us to be happy. It’s as though God treasured this special invitation in each one and then spread them abundantly about the landscape to make sure we wouldn’t miss it.

May each new springtime remind us we are truly unlimited  beings, however earthly our journey often seems.


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The season that calls us home

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You should go home to your hermitage; it is inside you.

Close the doors, light the fire, and make it cozy again.

That is what I call “taking refuge in the island of self.”

If you don’t go home to yourself, you continue to lose yourself. You destroy yourself and you destroy people around you, even if you have goodwill and want to do something to help.

That is why the practice of going home to the island of self is so important. No one can take your true home away.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education … But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.

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Photo: David Campbell

Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.  Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes.

At least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be very fruitful in this regard.

You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.

~ Nelson Mandela


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The unknown’s hidden kinship

When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly.

But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again.

Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be.

Or wonder who, after all, you are.

~ Ursula K. Le Guin

Wise insight from experienced writers like Ursula K. LeGuin helps shift my inner compass toward that grace of the space and time between, so I can discover, yet again, what it holds. Without exception, the mystery of this unknown offers me, like the source of a stream, the place from which creative expression flows.

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Photo: David Campbell / GBC Tours

“I have been a storyteller since the beginning of my life, rearranging facts in order to make them more significant,” John Cheever said. My own earliest play involved arranging miniature objects on the floor of my childhood bedroom to create scenes, often like the ones I saw around me in Germany, then adding the characters and conversations I knew somewhere inside me. I’m told that some of these exchanges were occasionally audible when I was 3, 4, or 5. After that, I probably grew too self-conscious to allow that to happen.

For me, Cheever’s “more significant” would, initially, have meant interesting for me. Today, it has grown to mean significant for my heart, with evidence of a soul’s transcendence over the small side of human being. That’s the only way that story — either others’ or my own — can ever attract me, and is the treasure I’m always searching for. It’s what I believe story, in its highest purpose, has always been for.

This makes the bringing forth of story a sacred thing for me, as well as a search that requires the surrender Le Guin points to, one woven with a willing sense of wonder.

“Wonder makes the unknown interesting, attractive, and miraculous. A sense of wonder helps awaken the hidden affinity and kinship which the unknown has with us,” John O’Donohue describes in Eternal Echoes.

““What we write today slipped into our soul some other day when we were alone and doing nothing,” writer Brenda Ueland has reminded.

Ah, the sweetness of this truth, whose admission price is that space and time between — beyond the insistent, nonstop doing that life — and we — so often try to impose. The experience of writing requires that I seek refuge from that clamor and feel my inner life slow down to presence once more.

In an interview with Karen Bouris of Original Story, novelist Elizabeth Gilbert said:

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Image: EnochVision.com

“I think creativity is entirely a spiritual practice. It has defined my entire life to think of it that way. When I hear the way some people speak about their work, people who are in creative fields who either attack themselves, or attack their work, or treat it as a burden rather than a blessing, or treat it as something that needs to be fought and defeated and beaten. . . . There is a war that people go to with their creative path that is very unfamiliar to me. To me, it feels like a holy calling and one that I am grateful for.

… I was given a contract, and the contract is: ‘We are not going to tell you why, but we gave you this capacity. Your side of the contract is that you must devote yourself to this in the highest possible manner, you must approach it with the greatest respect, and you must give your whole self to this. And then we will work with you on making progress.’ That’s sort of what it feels like for me.”

What good companionship I find here, as she speaks for my own heart.

The entire interview can be seen at http://www.dailygood.org/view.php?sid=413


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The foundation of all economics

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Photo: D. Kirkup Designs

GLEANINGS FOR THE SPIRIT

A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun
may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

The source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection. Make ye every effort that out of this ideal mine there may gleam forth such pearls of wisdom and utterance as will promote the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

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Photo: D. Kirkup Designs

True Economics ~ from a talk shared by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Boston, 1912:

Strive, therefore, to create love in the hearts in order that they may become glowing and radiant.  When that love is shining, it will permeate other hearts even as this electric light illumines its surroundings.

When the love of God is established, everything else will be realized. This is the true foundation of all economics. Reflect upon it.

Endeavor to become the cause of the attraction of souls rather than to enforce minds. Manifest true economics to the people. Show what love is, what kindness is, what true severance is and generosity. This is the important thing for you to do. Mirror Love

… Economic questions will not attract hearts. The love of God alone will attract them. Economic questions are most interesting; but the power which moves, controls and attracts the hearts of men is the love of God.


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Harvests of the heart

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Photo: David Campbell / http://GBCTours.com

Autumn is that time when so many endings seem to arrive at once, as the summer skies in which our dreams have soared in days of endless light grow overcast, like the darker mornings that are pointing us toward winter.

The intensity of contrast can be shocking when it appears. It reminds us of all that we do not yet know, and of the freedom in embracing that.

greens1374978_233813396773683_648730168_nEvery autumn, a part of me feels sad, as well as reminded, and also — like those spiked hulls from which such bright shiny chestnuts emerge — freshly broken open, once again.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable,” urges poet Mary Oliver.

Theologian Paul Tillich reminds,“The first duty of love is to listen.”

colortip1383238_233814043440285_366268116_n“ … if you are willing to let your heart break completely open, with no internal narrative controlling the opening, you will discover the pure, innocent love that is alive in the core of every emotion, every feeling, everybody,” writes Gangaji. “It remains pure and spacious regardless of change or loss.”

Once this happens, then perhaps we are equipped at last for what these words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s invite:

rotetry1379621_233814693440220_853513411_n“Make ready thy soul that thou mayest be like the light which shineth forth from the loftiest heights on the coast, by means of which guidance may be given to the timid ships amid the darkness of fog …”

Including those often-timid ships of our own small selves.

Leaf photos courtesy of photographer Nelson Ashberger.


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The kind gift of right-timing

DSCF3564Happy to have a piece up at BoomerCafé this week, as I strike out on the trail of a new novel, while reflecting on what my first one has revealed for me.

I had lots of expectations for my first novel when I began writing it in my 30s. Never did I imagine that when it was finally published, my strongest feeling would be, “Thank heaven this didn’t happen sooner.”

This stage of life reinforces that anything of value is not only worth waiting for, but subject to a right-timing factor we can never predict. Snow Fence Road Cover

Snow Fence Road looked ready to fly more than 20 years ago when a respected literary agency agreed to represent it. Things seemed on-track for success until life brought changes in the outer world that decided otherwise.

Today, it’s my inner world that appreciates this the most.

Today it’s a different book, in a different world, and I’m a writer with a far different perspective. Two decades ago, this book most likely had a narrow (i.e. months-long) window of time and opportunity to reach readers. Now its possibilities seem as wide as my willingness to follow an ever-unfolding learning curve. Social media and a digital world extend a global reach that astonishes me almost as much as the role readers themselves now play in advancing awareness of and appreciation for the book.

Yes, there are wildly shifting sands in the publishing experience now, but there are horizons I couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago.

READ THE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.boomercafe.com/2014/04/02/boomer-authors-reflections-finishing-book-later-life/#comment-95173

Find more about Snow Fence Road, from Black Lyon Publishing, at: http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Fence-Road-Phyllis-Edgerly/dp/1934912549/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1372083362&sr=8-2&keywords=Snow+Fence+Road+Phyllis+Ring