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Monthly Archives: November 2010

by Alice Popkorn

One email and a week of illness slowed down my writing and my desire to publish my book. How did I become so afraid of doing what I have been moving toward for these past three years? The email stirred up images of the FBI trailing my every move again, of negative reactions to revelations I intend to share in the book, of paparazzi disturbing my family and my peaceful life. Crazy? It seems so, now that my health and energy are returning, now that I cannot find the email that started my downward spiral. There will be negative reactions to the story of a nun committing five federal felonies. The hate mail flowed in 1969. It will come electronically this time.

Should these fears keep me from sharing my story with the world? My husband says fear is my “lizard brain” talking, limiting me from taking chances. He and another favorite author gave me pep talks, encouraged me to keep writing, keep revising. Fear is often “false evidence appearing real.” Perhaps the FBI has more important things to do these days than hassle an anti-war protester.

Seth Godin says, “Be a generous artist, even if it doesn’t work.” What do you do when it doesn’t work? Make more art. Give more gifts. Overcome fear with a generous heart.

Does generosity motivate you, soften your heart, create more gratitude in the world, melt fear?

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On Sunday, I participated in an amazing workshop called Family Constellations. The participants have an opportunity to present a question or problem and then have the other participants act out the various members of the family involved in the issue. The purpose is to free blockages that are preventing the flow of love and respect from one family member to another. I played various roles in several scenarios – a dead mother, an unborn twin, a grandmother holding back her daughter from the convent. A circle was somehow created that allowed us to sometimes feel the feelings of the character we portrayed. I could feel the pain of the mother who died leaving her daughter with no immediate family members and her “letting go” when the daughter accepted her fate.

When my turn came, the problem and the outcome were very different from what I expected. I was told that the issue I brought was “none of my business,” but that another issue from the information I gave could be used. The central family member who emerged as an ally in my life was my paternal grandmother, a woman who died in childbirth with her eighth child when my father was very young. My heart went out in a deeper way to my father, who also lost his father when he was eleven years old. Orphaned, he and his brothers were separated and placed with various relatives and the Benedictine seminary.

This grandmother lives on in me and feels more present to me, more than a name and a distant story. Perhaps her story will become the subject of another book.

What experience do you have with your ancestors?

Warmer air, falling leaves and rich colors drew me outdoors this afternoon. I love nature and find my true self in blue skies, autumn leaves and flowing creeks. I can spend an entire summer day on the beach or hiking a mountain. Fall and winter have been more recently acquired tastes, possibly due to more wool in my wardrobe and a great coat. So, I left tasks such as buying airline tickets, balancing the checkbook, writing this blog and re-working Chapter One of my book to seize the day and take a lone walk.

I walked slowly, meditatively, stopping to touch a new fruit tree, peer over the bridge on Sligo Creek and spot a tiny minnow. Then I sat on a playground bench to do some preparation for a meeting I am leading in thirty minutes, warmed by the slipping sun.

I have been advised by wise spiritual teachers to stop whatever I am doing for some time outdoors in nature every day. Today I remembered.

Photo by Tanakawho

A woman is running from tigers behind her, comes to a cliff and hangs down a vine to escape, only to find that there are also tigers awaiting her below and a little mouse eating at the vine that suspends her over the abyss. Then she sees a strawberry growing near the vine. She smiles, plucks the berry and eats it with a smile, enjoying the taste, color and smell.

This story about enjoying the present moment grabbed me at yesterday’s sitting meditation at Stillwater. We are reading from Pema Chodron‘s Comfortable with Uncertainty.

The story above is a paraphrase of her version. After the reading, I invited the bell and tears came to my eyes. How delicious the sound of the bell in that moment, how precious. I listened until the sound reverberated out into the atmosphere, smiled at the group and invited comments. One person said that her resistance to staying in the present moment was very great, especially when tigers where chasing from the behind and growling with open mouths in her future. We understood, breathed together, enjoying the fact of our present unity, safety and presence. How much easier it is to smile at the tigers our minds create and reach for the strawberry surrounded by friends.

Before I begin my list of writing tasks for tonight’s last class at the Writer’s Center, return phone calls, emails, do more planning for Saturday’s workshop, teach meditation to local high school students, counsel friends, I give thanks that the tigers are relatively quiet in my mind this morning, the strawberries of the day beckoning.

What are your tigers? Your strawberry today?