Trumping the candle

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 27, 2015

We have just lit a candle. An expensive, beautiful smelling, long-burning candle, the scent of which is neroli, I believe, (citrus aurantium — the flower of the bitter orange — a heady, citrusy, flowery scent still prized, as it was in ancient Egypt, for its calming, tranquilizing and mood-elevating effects). It is widely used in the perfume industry, and suspected to be one of the secret ingredients in the recipe for Coca-Cola.

We have not lit this candle as vigil or to make the house redolent of some evocative, mysterious, unnamable thing that leads one by the nose to blissful realms. It has not been lit to mark the presence of guests or the dinner hour or even as a late night treat for watching flame shadows flicker against a wall. In fact, we’re not even at home. We’re at work.

We’ve lit a candle quickly, with a specific purpose in mind and are having a good laugh about it now. This candle and matches have been dispatched to dispel bad energy, to clear the air, to burn away any residual negativity and to begin a new moment. Because what we’ve just had in our midst is an unfortunate person who does not have much control at all over her thoughts or her mouth and whose go-to expression is one of sourness, negativity and fault-finding. Meanwhile, in reality and right outside the door, soft fat snowflakes are falling all around, dotting peoples’ noses and eyelashes and accumulating in frosting-like layers, blanketing the town in a quiet and beautiful peace.

We are laughing for a couple of reasons. Because of the quick first aid we’ve applied to our space, the great and perfunctory speed of the sequence at which we’ve allowed a negative person to exit through a door and gone to fetch a good candle. We’re laughing because of the visible drama of marking the moment instead of internalizing it, which would involve taking on someone else’s miserable day, and taking it personally, a switch-up that is truly liberating.

And we’re also laughing because we’ve all been there before, in that discontented place, marching around like Pigpen from “Peanuts,” neck deep in a cloud of angry or resentful or fearful or lonely pheromones — inattentive to the world around us, thoroughly smitten by our own up-and-and-down-and-all-around stories, unaware or uncaring of their undeniable effects on other people.

The candle smells really good. In contrast to crisp, fresh mountain air, which is intoxicating and soul-reviving in its own way, the warmth and sweetness of the candle calms, helps us pause, accompanies us. Now, we are able to relax. Reboot. Let go of someone’s sharp, unwitting commentary.

Candles, which have been around for thousands of years, from the tiniest birthday candles to the tallest pillars, never disappoint. From insect wax and tallow, to oils, petroleums and more current permutations, we have lit our way through time, consoling and marking the moments as small flames burn bright. Now more than ever — in the advent of blue-screen glow and fluorescent light — we can benefit from the purity and light of fire, even in its most diminutive format.

Very shortly after we’ve applied micro-fire and scent to our space, another person walks through the door, this time a well-known personality with a couple of teenaged children and a husband in tow. They are an up group, a group whose vibe, charged with laughter and good cheer, with positivity and a sense of fun all around, changes everything and all at once.

We can feel it permeate not just the space but also our bones, our brains. It’s sweet and infectious and transformative. The children are polite. There is no sense of privilege or entitlement or urgency — none of that; and once they leave with their bags, the air in the shop expands, charged with good sparks, with pleasure, gratitude and generosity. It is now the prevailing climate, the power of which has trumped the candle by a long shot.

And we are the beneficiaries. It leaves us with a moment of real gratitude for the goodness of people who behave well. Who spread lightness of heart and joy. It gives us a moment to reflect on all of those who have told us (from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Norman Vincent Peale to Louise

Hay, Pema Chodron and many others) how important it is to tend to our emotional health, to take responsibility, to

examine the quality of our thoughts and emotions and to take care as we birth them in every moment.

What we learn, once again, this time from the cute candle-trumper family, is that good behavior is its own reward. It feels good and it makes others feel good. And what more could we possibly ask for as we attempt to make the very most of our limited time here on planet Earth?

Path of The Country Bunny

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 12, 2015

Dear Santa,

Here’s my Christmas list.

Actually, in preamble, I have to admit that I have been thinking about the Easter Bunny lately — more specifically, the one portrayed in my favorite book of all time, “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.” Do you remember it? It’s 1939. DuBose Heyward and Marjorie Flack, truly inspired, write and illustrate this gem. It’s a classic. Timeless. Indelibly sweet and true.

In the story, a country bumpkin female bunny — a single parent, actually, with 21 babies to whom she has ingeniously delegated all the work of keeping house — decides to vie for a recently vacated Easter Bunny position, a post notoriously dominated by males, a post almost too ridiculous for her even to consider. Nevertheless, courageously, she shows up, 21 Sunday-best bunnies in tow.

The old and wise grandfather and head Easter Bunny in charge of the competition — noting the shiny-clean order of the country bunny’s life and witnessing proof positive of all her other attributes — sees fit to elect her, in the end, to be one of his own. And because of her brilliant examples of cleverness, kindness, wisdom and speed, she is given the greatest honor of all: donning the little gold shoes to fly an Easter basket to an ailing boy on the top of a steep mountain.

Fantastic story! Beyond the giant pyramids of colored eggs in the Easter Palace and the competition on the lawn with all the naysayer jackrabbits showing off (until the country bunny speaks up and proves her mettle), this is also an early feminist tale, a tale driven by merit and virtue, the reward of which is, simply and unequivocally, the gift of service.

Now, we know very well that in the Santa Claus merit system, a good little girl or boy gets the gifts, sometimes even the impossible ones — the puppy, the visit from a long lost relative (or famous athlete), the miracle cure, the trip to Disneyland. But what if all Santa offered and all we got was…  giving? What if the greatest gift to get was the gift of being capable to give to others? To me, this feels like radically elevated thought — which may be one reason “The Country Bunny” story continues to influence me to this day.

This year — a beautiful, rich, challenging, profound year for me, in so many ways — I’d like to begin needing not so many material things (which I am an expert at doing, just like most of us are), but needing things that are both harder and easier to grasp, the idea being to shake it up, grab a person by the collar, bring her or him back to the things that matter the most. In short, to get on the path of the Country Bunny.

Here’s the beginning of my new and improved list, which I’m writing as much to myself as to you. You don’t need the buzzwords, but I do, as they sort of tack notions to the bulletin board of time.

Smiley face: The ability to get up every day and put a smile on, even in the dark, even in the cold, even after one has temporarily given up coffee, which is pretty much one’s only vice. A deep feeling for the net worth of a smile.

Deer in headlights: The ability to be stopped in my tracks by the beauty of nature. Three of four times a day would be a good start, more on particularly sparkly days.

Queen of hearts: To be a better sport at word and card games. I have no idea why my buttons get pushed here, but I am currently on hiatus for bad behavior. This is a red flag item.

Inner child: better behavior from the unruly inner-tantrum-throwing 3-year old, the one who slams inner emotional doors and marches off in an inner micro-huff. Yellow flag item.

Peace sign: more peace in my daily life. File under: acceptance and enjoyment of people as they are, deep satisfaction in the small things and gratitude for bounty, privilege and the gift of life.

Cash register: clean, clear ideas of service to others with no tit-for-tat or sense of owing or balancing accounts. Just being nice.

Windex: clearer eyes with which to see the world. A Mr. Potato Head sort of feeling that the eyes we see with can be the angry eyes, but they can also be clear and peaceful eyes. Relaxing the eyeballs.

Wax: Of course, I love candles and would take any and all candles offered me at Christmas or any other day of the year. The beauty of a candle is that it reminds us that life is a vigil, that we are here to stay awake and give watchful attention to the progress of our lives. Right?

These things may help get me moving in the right direction. Thanks in advance for any help from the office of the red and white suit.

Yours sincerely, MCW.

Holiday meditation: the gumdrop chakra

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 29, 2015

(First published in 2012; back by request.)

Lie down on the floor —arms and legs out, like a gingerbread man.

Imagine you have two gumdrop eyes and a big, messy, icing mouth, the kind gingerbread “men” have. Now tell yourself you are neither man nor woman, you are a spice cake, clove and cardamom and ginger essence through and through. Feel yourself sort of… floating… that unique feeling of a cookie cooling on a marble slab. Soon you will harden completely, but guess what? Your stiffness is perfectly natural, which is one of the delightful things about being a cookie. Your paralysis is not paralysis at all.

Relax deep into the core of your hardening dough. Like glass, you are really neither liquid nor solid but an in-between state. Feel the deep brown of the molasses coursing through your boneless and fingerless cookie hands, your fat cookie legs and then your crown chakra, which is an invisible gumdrop of pale purple sparkly sugar-light coming from a sugar-star about 93 million miles from here.

Imagine that crown gumdrop glowing now and spinning on, like, a toothpick, receiving celestial light… and that this light is infusing you, filling every melded morsel of butter, sugar, flour and spice in your being. You breathe in: clove. You breathe out: clove. This is universal clove. Feel it deeply.

Now, relax your icing smile until it is a flat loop, like a rubber band lying on the counter. You don’t always have to be happy, you know. You can be neutral. Just because you were born with a smile painted on doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of your true feelings. Like how it feels to be used as a tree decoration and then thrown away. Or how it feels when someone who doesn’t like cardamom takes one bite and spits your leg out into a napkin. Or when people lump you in with fruit cake and snickerdoodles. Not that those things have necessarily happened to you, but certainly to many of your ginger-brethren. But what about the regular, everyday stuff, like just a few hours ago when you were thinking to yourself, “Wow, why do I feel so flat inside — is there something wrong with me?”

No, there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with not trying so hard. With having some flatter days. It’s not easy being gingerbread, you know: having to be hard while staying somewhat soft inside — not just for others, but for yourself. Do you really want a roller coaster ride, wind pulling dangerously at the edges of your icing mouth?

Now ask yourself this trick question: “How can I smell clove if I don’t have a nose?” Do you feel your mind stretching as you enter the answer-less state? Now visualize your astral body getting up and walking, walking quietly through what appears to be a spearmint forest and toward what appears to be a gingerbread house, the old-fashioned kind, that has a pretzel gate that your astral fingers unlatch, feeling salt crystals come off in your palm. You stop for a moment, admiring the house, its piped-on architectural details. Then your hand-that-is-not-a-hand reaches for the doorknob and you enter. Tiptoeing on feet without toes.

Inside the house, it is dark except for a light in the kitchen. You feel like an outsider looking in, but you sense your quasi-flat body moving forward on its own, with yourself inside it. Is this duality? Are you observer or observed? Keep smelling the universal clove as you enter the cozy room. There are cookies in the oven, cookies just like you — do you see them? They look so much like you: are they you? They also look like paper dolls, laid out in rows, like clones.  All of a sudden, you are scared, really scared that this is “The Twilight Zone” again and that Rod Serling is going to walk through the side door and tell you it’s all a dream, that cookies don’t exist except in the mind of some giant sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice eating universe.

Be with your fear, breathing in, breathing out, flat heart beating in your flat chest. You are completely safe here and you are real. Look at the cookies through the glass oven door and see them with your mind’s gumdrop eye, going back, as if rewinding a tape, coming out of the oven, going back into the cookie cutters, and then finally… back into the bowl, the bowl of primordial dough from whence all gingerbread emerges, where unity of all confections exists, before hardness and softness even have come into being.

Are you happy? Calm? Of course you are, little cookie, because all is one. Now get out there and radiate your sugar-light in this brand new day.

Rainbow medicine

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 15, 2015

What have we to be thankful for? A living world of color (for one thing). The saturated and rich, the pale, the faded, the textured, the intense, the suggestive, the translucent. Eyeballs of today, screenburned, jaded and atrophied by narrowing fields of vision, need the good, strong, sane medicine of color.

Me, I like violets, humble and sweet, with heart-shaped leaves and deep, delicate petals. They ask us to bend down and bring our faces low, and remind us, growing there next to trees, of small next to big and big next to small. And sugar violets on cakes, can we love these, too? We can. Just like we can love the sweetness of sour grape balls and C. Howard’s Violet Scented Gum in the purple package.

Violet lives in cabbage leaves, the stretched out skin of figs, orchid parts, the insides of bitten plums. A strip of bright violet sky fades with the setting sun. Here’s another one: Elizabeth Taylor, with her one-of-a-kind violet eyes, an actual anomaly to go with another anomaly, her double set of eyelashes. Violet, a bunny’s favorite color, is the color of kings’ robes, amethyst rings, and little-girl leggings. It is the color of bygone ink scribbling, “Darling, I miss you.” In violet we trust.

Indigo, mysterious, dense, and delicious, is the true color of the so-called blueberry. It is the color of new denim jeans being washed in hot water. The indigo milk cap, a plain-seeming mushroom, can stain paper and fingers this shade of blue-black. Exotic indigo is the raw stuff of Halloween masks and dyed feathers, and poison, perhaps. It is the color of midnight shadows, of things that groan and creak, and of the massive North American indigo snake that eats other snakes for dinner. Indigo, going and gone. In indigo we lurk.

Blue speaks to both the bright and glum — the umbrella of sky and sorrows drooping. Bluebirds, top testifiers of cheer, cross the airy way with wings flashing bits and pieces of elemental hue. Blue! I love your name. You are a broad color with many cousins, from evening snow and crisp men’s shirts to glistering mirror lakes and crackled robins’ eggs. It is our blue planet ever so slowly creating with crushing power the bluest of Kashmir sapphires. What wallpapers a corner of my heart, though, is that medieval-painting blue, the one next to the gold of halos, beams of glory and tiny fleurs-de-lis. That blue is lush. In blue we sink or swim, we fly, or settle in.

Beneath the warming skin of ripening fruit like oranges and mangos is the high potentate of color – green — the color of life, ever ready. Green is Go, and Live, and Surge, and Conserve and Rejuvenate in shades of pine and olive, kelly, pistachio, lime, basil and stormy sea.  Green is all this: the frog, the lily pad, the insect on its tongue, and the willow’s leaves grazing the greenish pond. Yes, of course, green is envy, jealousy and the clear appraisal of a cat’s eye. Green is sometimes goo, and bile, mold, oxidation, and life attacking itself; one of the colors has to be both creator and destroyer, does it not? In green we surrender.

Yellow is thus experienced flawlessly: amid a stand of aspens all gone golden — whose  leaves contains the sun itself — the willing human stands receptive, allowing the color to penetrate and permeate first through the top of the head, then through closed eyelids, then back and down the throat and deep into the heart where it glows in its purest form long enough to carry us through the crawling months of blue-white winter. In yellow we thrill.

Orange, perhaps the most maligned of colors, is the color of the shirt or sweater you rarely wear. A loudmouth of a color. Really, how could we be expected to pull off the signature color of goldfish and pumpkins, Gerber daisies, tangerines, Himalayan salt lamps, carrot soup, rust and monarch butterflies? Chicken Tikka and Thai iced tea: Now, there are oranges you won’t soon forget. Orange is the exclamation point of colors. It’s the flaming hair of prancing foxes in the cold dry air. Orange is electric. In orange we vibrate.

Red, the color that points its fat finger right back to the beginning of the spectrum, is a red-ripe rose, a rosehip, an apple, a tomato and a raspberry. It is Rudolph’s nose.  Red is the color of heat, of blood, of fire engines, stop signs, corrected papers, and that red dress that says, “Get me my heels, I won’t be stopped. And help me with my coat, while you’re at it.” It is the bossy child of color and needs supervision at all times, unless it’s a flower or a piece of fruit. It is a bull’s favorite and least favorite color. In red we surge.

Life gives us a rainbow of colors every day. All we have to do is look up from our handheld devices long enough to see, register and marvel. Amen.