Bodies That Matter

by Becky on August 3, 2017

in Right Life, Travel

Agkali-27As Ms. D and I sat on the rocks where the famous thermal waters gush from the earth in Aidipsos, a town on the northwest coast of Evia, we noted how utterly unconcerned the people around us seemed to be about their bodies. “Blithe abandon” is what I’d call it. “Blithe” because: you’re on a Greek island where steaming hot mineral water pours into the ocean as if from a spigot. And “abandon” because, well, who CARES whether you look like an American Ninja Warrior? (The answer is, exactly nobody cares; they’re all too busy relaxing or swimming or chatting up their friends who are also relaxing/swimming.) Come on, you’re not going to feel positively loopy about the prospect of lounging right in the sweet spot where the heat from that beautiful water meets the cool of the sea? Who cares what you look like in your bathing suit, right??

So, Ms. D and I, we soaked in the hot coolness. Or maybe it was the cool heat. And we had this long conversation about Americans’ preoccupation with what they view as their bodies’ deficiencies. I remarked that I’d personally heard Brené Brown give the women at the Mom 2.0 Conference a set-down for never putting their bathing suits on. “What kind of message are you sending your daughters!?” she wanted to know. And she’s right.

Ms. D and I also talked about how received notions about beauty virtually cripple us from the time we’re young. Years ago, for example, when I subscribed to Seventeen magazine, I’d spend whole summer days pouring over those pages and those pictures, comparing myself to the young women I saw there. Consciously or not, I always found myself deficient by comparison. Geez, what a waste of time! And what a perfect recipe for a lame self-story that featured me as not-so-perfect instead of Me as Bloom-in-progress. Indeed, our preoccupation with unrealistic (and these days, airbrushed) standards of beauty keeps us focused on what we view as our lack–at the expense of learning to flex our wisdom muscles or especially our kindness muscles more consistently.

But the Greeks and the other Europeans who’d come to “take the waters” that afternoon with Ms. D and me? Didn’t matter the size, the shape, the age: everyone was suited up for the bathe, and absolutely NO one seemed to care whether their proportions were acceptable to anyone else.Agkali-25b

Man, it was inspiring.

There was a little trio of women perched on the rocks near us. I’m guessing they were somewhere in their sixties. One of them had on a bikini. Moreover, she’d taken the time to apply bright, fire-engine-red lipstick before getting wet. Why she felt she needed red lips while stretched out in that steamy water, I don’t know, but I’m still smiling as I think about her. One of her companions had on what appeared to be all her best gold jewelry. Rings, bracelets, earrings–the whole, gold shebang. I love that she wanted to sparkle while she soaked. Oh, those gals laughed and laughed and laughed together. I found myself itching to know what was so funny. But more than that, I wholeheartedly admired their blithe abandon.

Look, bodies matter because they offer mobility, flexibility, strength, and moment-by-moment collisions with our senses.  But let’s not mistake our flesh for ourselves.  And let’s not misread opportunities to get in the water as opportunities to be shamed for all our perceived body flaws.  If the Greeks’ blithe abandon taught me anything that afternoon at Aidipsos, it’s that the business of really feeling the water with your friends works better when you let go of the need to feel a certain way in your suit.

But hey, I’m good at preaching. Let’s see if I can walk my talk next time I hit the beach with the Eleven O’Clock Kids!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Greece’s Tiny Churches

by Becky on July 26, 2017

in Traditions, Travel

Agkali-16I’ve been awed and delighted by the very small churches that dot the Greek islands. Ms. D and I spent part of our Sunday doing our own quiet kind of worship, if you can call it that.Agkali-10The little churches we stepped into were empty, except for the occasional candle lit by the hand of someone who stayed just long enough to utter a silent blessing.Agkali-08Just big enough to seat a smallish family, Evia’s tiny churches remind you that sometimes it’s just you and God.Agkali-12And your traveling companion, of course.

Honestly, though. If there’s a space that feels precisely like the visible expression of my own heart when I worship, it’s a tiny church.Agkali-14Totally compact yet exquisitely fitted out with every necessary reminder that the Divine waits just beyond the door, a Tiny Church is my kind of place.Agkali-11

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Saturday Night at the Remetzo

by Becky on July 24, 2017

in Food, Travel

Agkali-05Some nights, you’ve got to step out. Because your favorite cafe serves waffles with vanilla ice cream.

And because–why not?

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Athens-05One. I drove away from Athens.

For me, July 21st is often a fraught day. Nineteen years ago on that day, my mother died.

So it was with a quiet heart that, on the 20th, Ms. D and I rented a car and headed north, bound for a more remote spot, the island of Evia. After a couple of hours, we found ourselves on a winding mountain road, zipping through hairpin turns which delivered us eventually into lush lowlands dotted with farms and vegetable stands tended by smiling local farmers. We bought jars of local honey and bags of fresh oregano. We loaded up on onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers–ingredients for a classic Greek salad. The sun had kissed the hillsides, turning them amber. And man, what a noisy riot the cicadas were making!Agkali-03Two. I pointed the car toward Agia Anna, on the northeast coast of Evia.

We arrived late in the afternoon, and the sight of the coast pretty much took my breath away. Nothing quite prepares you for that!Agkali-02Three. We joined friends at their villa–old friends for Ms. D, new friends for me. Being greeted like I was a long lost cousin did my heart good.

And I couldn’t help but notice the lavender beds. When our host Mario urged me to take home as much as I wanted, I had to be grateful that I’d slipped a pair of very good scissors into my suitcase at the last minute.Agkali-01

Four. I marked the next day, July 21st, without a word to anyone, even Ms. D, who knew my mother well. At precisely 4 p.m., the hour Lynn Simms Piatt stepped into what poetess Mary Oliver calls “the cottage of darkness,” I was standing with my feet in the Aegean, scouring the area around my feet for beach glass.

I like to think my mother pointed out the only light aqua piece currently in my collection.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Glimpses of the Divine

by Becky on July 21, 2017

in Travel

Athens-01On a morning hike through the Acropolis, you begin to appreciate the divine forms stone can take.
Athens-03Ms. D, she’s a rather divine form herself, don’t you think? Standing there whole and healthy in front of the temple of Athena Nike. But then: survivors of the Big C–they all look that way to us, don’t they? Divine in the realest sense?
Athens-02

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Deb-Becky500

A few years ago (okay, more than a few, actually), I met my friend Ms. D.  I’d give her a flower fairy name, but I’m not sure there’s a fairy splendid enough to represent Ms. D’s unique combination of beauty, brains, and heart.

But sometimes, friends get breast cancer.

Triple positive–that was her diagnosis.  Then followed the lumpectomy, the chemotherapy, the radiation.  That was six years ago.  She survived with a combination of excellent medical attention and a regular practice of imagining herself swallowing liquid sunlight. She’s been well now for five years, a cause for celebration. And her husband, name of Mr. J, a PRINCE of a guy, decided that the two of us needed to do something grand to mark the anniversary of her remission.

So he bought us tickets to Greece.

And thus we got on a plane yesterday. Landed in Athens today.  In a couple of days, we’ll head to the more remote island of Evia, where the tourists are few and the food and the ocean are said to be fine.  Who would have thought, all those years ago, that in 2017, we’d be winging our way to the Greek islands to greet the sun, hike through ruins, thread our way through street markets, and wade out into the Aegean together?

Surviving has its perks, doesn’t it?

Thank you, Ms. D, for living. Thank you, Mr. J, for allowing me to discover Greece with your wife. And thank you Eleven O’Clock Crew, for holding down the fort while I’m gone.

Tomorrow:  the Acropolis.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

IMG_8907

Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Silas happy with ballooon_5215 Photos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

Answering to the name of “Goose,” the youngest member of our family frequently struggles with a problem common to many otherwise healthy eleven year olds. I call it the I Stink At Everything Syndrome, and it manifests thusly.

One. Said eleven year old scores two goals for his team during a soccer game, let’s say. During the second half of the game, when he is put in as goalie, the other team scores two goals. The only post-game thoughts of which this boy is now capable include self-torturing variations of “It’s like I didn’t even score in the first half!” or “Gah!!–how could I have let those balls get past me??” or “I stink as goalie . . . WHY did coach leave me in for so long??”

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Two. Said eleven year old is required to write an essay for a testing exercise at school, let’s say, an endeavor that results in an outbreak of self-doubt and accompanying self-flagellation likely to mortify even the most pitiable Dan Brown character (i.e., Da Vinci Code’s crazy monk).

Three. Said eleven year old notices that a couple of neighborhood friends have congregated for some outdoor playtime–without him. Ipso facto, this means that he has permanently fallen out of favor, that our doorbell will never ring again, that some vague conspiracy has begun whose stated goal is “Leave Goose Out Of The Fun, Forever.”

I ask you: what is a mother to do?

Well, I’ve pondered that question long and hard, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work–like suggesting that such patterns (failing to catch soccer balls arcing over your head, for instance) are merely temporary. Wow, big mistake. All this does is reinforce a child’s certainty that his mother doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be the victim of an unhappy fate. Another thing that never works?–suggesting that there might be some valuable take-away or learning that could put everything into meaningful perspective (completing an essay on a topic you loathe, for example, which then serves as a lever for teaching you that you actually can do hard things, and do them well). The fact that a mother has logic and wisdom on her side doesn’t make a lick of difference to a kid who has convinced himself that his is the Worst Life Ever. And finally, one thing that really doesn’t work is suggesting that perhaps the neighborhood chums aren’t deliberately leaving anyone out; they’ve just gotten something going, and now it’s, well, going. It happens all the time, I pointed out one day not too long ago. Nobody’s fault, I added. Go join the game, I urged. (Note: advice like this is often met with The Stare, which communicates a child’s contempt for motherly wisdom as surely as if he’d said, “Could you BE any thicker?”)

Silas_5070

And then, recently–maybe a month ago–I took up a meditation practice. I’d gone in fits and starts over the years–flirted with it, in other words. But I’d never been consistent. So it was with the most profound sense of humility and delight that I realized: If a mother can a) quiet her mind long enough to connect with her bliss, and b) do it for upwards of thirty days, why couldn’t she teach her eleven year old to do it, too? Stranger things have been attempted, am I right??

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

And so, maybe a week ago, I began in earnest, my primary objective being to stage a moment of effective meditation with/for Mr. Goose. Starting out, I had three very simple goals. One, teach him how to breathe and how to attend to his breathing. Two, help him experience the bliss of escaping from thinking patterns that sabotage healthy self-esteem and well-being. Three, like it well enough to want to do it again.

The good news. He not only liked it, he LOVED it! The equally good news. His sudden fascination with the art of quieting the mind promises to keep my imagination busy and my skills sharp for many weeks to come.

Tomorrow: three crucial tips for a successful meditation session with your child.

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

Check out the post from which these photos were taken, featuring Goose with an abandoned, yellow balloon in the town of St. Remy, in Provence, France.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Clave and Elder Shakespeare

I am what’s known in Mormon parlance as a Missionary Mom. No one else would capitalize the words, but I do. The fact that I have not seen my twenty-year-old son in the flesh for eighteen months has earned me the right to capitalize myself, if I want to.

This is not one of those posts written by one of the missionaries pictured. Actually, neither young man knows that he is making an appearance on my blog today.

Which is fine by me. From what I hear, they’re busy, these two. They belong temporarily to a species of do-gooder unlike any other. Both of these young men–and all the other young men and women in their mission besides–have put aside personal interests in order to focus on the interests, needs, challenges, and lives of the people with whom they collide. People of every faith, color, age, and attitude. Misplaced your confidence?–they’ll find it for you. Need to pack up and move somewhere?–they’re your truck loaders. Tearing out your garden and starting over?–they’re ready to get some real dirt under their nails. They will remember your name, do you a service, and remind you by the way they behave that young folks still keep their manners handy. The question you’ll hear over and over, straight from their mouths, will always be, “Is there anything we can do for you today?”

Is it easy, being a missionary? Are you totally kidding me? You want to get up at dark-thirty everyday, devote yourself to sincere prayer and study (not that there’s any other kind, when you do it right), and head out into the day, looking for that one person for whom life has become altogether lackluster? Or that family whose patterns of dysfunction have rendered them lost to each other? Over and over, you re-polish your message of hope and hold it out to people. Might happen at the gas pump, when someone sees your ministerial nametag and decides to download his life story to you, complete with the mistakes of tragic proportions. Might happen when you’re out just knocking doors, looking for anyone at all to listen to you, and you stumble onto someone who’s been busy soul-searching–the deep kind, where a person gets into the machinery of their choices and starts conducting inventory. As a missionary, you’re an ordained minister, a trustworthy friend of the highest order, and a bonafide, roll-up-your-sleeves yard work doer, if that’s what it comes to.

It’s hard, unremitting, sometimes lonely work that requires real character, which is why–if you’re a young man–you get two years to perfect the art of Being Selfless.

So why have I decided to post a picture sent to me by a Mom who fed my son (he’s on the right, with the beautifully wry smile) and his companion (on the left, with the beautifully big smile) a tasty, home-fashioned meal at the last minute? (Thank you Gina!) Because I just can’t get over those smiles. And I thought folks in my little corner of the world might enjoy a look at them, too.

Elder Davidson. Elder Shakespeare. Thanks for having the courage to just be all-out good. There it is.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

The Graveyard Book: Our Favorite Fall Read

by Becky on November 8, 2013 · 1 comment

in Books

 Book Review of Middle Grade Novels - The Graveyard Book by Neil Guiman

Neil Gaiman may be the most un-derivative writer out there. Which is the highest compliment I could give him. I LOVE stories that feel completely original, and The Graveyard Book, a Newbery Medal winner illustrated by Dave McKean, is like no other scary tale out there.

When a toddler suddenly finds himself in the local graveyard after the murder of his family, the resident ghosts decide to protect him from the mysterious figure hunting him, extending to him the “freedom of the graveyard,” a privilege rarely given to humans. Nobody Owens, or “Bod,” as the child is affectionately called by the ghosts with whom he shares the graveyard, leads an unusual existence, his childhood marked not only by the bizarre event that led him there but also by his relationships with some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in my (many) years of reading.

I read The Graveyard Book out loud to Goose last year, when we were in Spain. He was spellbound, the plot so riveting he scarcely moved when he was listening. Plus, I got to try on all kinds of fabulous (and no doubt poorly rendered) accents, since the various ghosts have totally distinct personalities and hail from various centuries and walks of life. There’s nothing more appealing to a frustrated theater actress than having a book to read out loud to a captive audience eager for a splashy performance. In fact, this book could as soon be acted as read, the narrative so vividly theatrical that you feel you’re watching a play or a movie.

Gaiman ratchets up the suspense by bringing back Jack, the shadowy figure who murdered Bod’s family. You knew he was going to return, and now you want to know why. And the revelations that take place as the reader comes to understand Jack’s identity and purpose are truly startling. I figured Jack merely had a score to settle. But it’s more than that. Much more. And Bod’s real identity holds the key.

This book is a darkly humorous fairy tale, a wildly suspenseful mystery, a cache of the most brilliant secondary characters not part of the Harry Potter series, and an unexpected delight for fans of the graphic novel. Lastly, I love the way Gaiman strikes that fascinating balance between what it means to be monstrous and what it means to be human. Scare yourself up a batch of popcorn and sit down with your favorite listener. And by all means, read this book out loud!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }