Thursday, April 5, 2012

From Doing to Being

Living here on the water´s edge in the warm and sunny clime of Mexico´s Yucatan Peninsula feels a lot like being in the Garden of Eden. Although I´m a little past running around naked, my clothes are minimal and I love the absence of shoes. Mornings find me with socks and running shoes for my early walk, but these are exchanged for sandals as soon as I´m back at the house. Actually they´re only used to walk around outside. It´s barefoot on the cool tiles inside.

My morning routine is generally the same, although if we have a trip planned to Chetumal, our nearest city, I sometimes forego the early morning walk that John and I take together as often as I can convince him to accompany me. We don´t have lots of choices, so we walk around the perimeter of the Rancho, picking tulipanes (hibiscus) to take back to the house. That´s what I call value added to our exercise. Sometimes I add bougainvillea which we have growing in abundance.

Then it´s time to arrange the flowers in their various stations around the house while John gets our breakfast together. Usually it´s oatmeal with walnuts (which I bring down from the U.S.) and other healthy additives. That´s accompanied by fresh cut papaya with limon (lime).

Now we can find organic soy milk here, another plus that was never available in this area. Between that and sugar- free natural yogurt, it´s possible to expand the fare of what Nature has provided us with coconuts, limones (limes), naranjas (oranges) and bananas which we have growing on our own property.

Although we don´t grow our own vegetables (we actually leave most of the fruit to the birds), we do have basil and cilantro growing in container on our terrace. We also have some nopal cactus which I have very often, but I confess that I buy it already cleaned and cut up in the market as dealing with the thorny spikes are not exactly my notion of what I need to be doing in Eden.

So what do I do here in Eden? Much of my time is spent gardening which I love to do and which keeps me in reasonably good shape. I exercise with weights about every other day and spend less time than I should practicing balance by standing on one leg. That´s important, you know, when you get older. I also practice the other kinds of balance of mind and spirit. The mind is easy to take care of here if you´re an inveterate reader, as I am. There are certain things we seem to remember from the past that still occupy an up-front place in our memories. One of those things was the feeling that I had for those dozen or more years when I was a young mother raising infants and toddlers that I would never have the time to just read for the sheer pleasure of it. Usually by nighttime I was so exhausted that reading stories to my kids was about as far as I could go, although I always managed to get a few pages of real reading for myself before my eyes closed. Even when I had returned to school and was reading for university courses, it was reading because I needed to, although of course I enjoyed it, too.

After a brief hiatus of living on my own with my children for a couple of years, reading once again became part of my life. But getting involved with a partner who seemed to occupy most of my time and thoughts, especially when our lives together was so very intense, changed that. Instead of reading, I lived romance and adventure each day for many years completely action packed, traveling, creating two separate businesses, building a livable and beautiful country home and somewhat raising children.

But here in Eden there´s no demand on any of my time. In a place where my biggest decision is what to have for dinner, time is very elastic and stretched out. It is so very beautiful and so very easy that the indulgence of reading whenever I feel like it has become what I “do.” What can be more delightful than lying out on my chaise lounge with the sound of the water gently lapping at the shore so close, the birds flitting, singing, whistling and chirping and doing whatever beautiful things they do to make their own special music, a book next to me or on my lap if I happen to doze off which happens frequently-- like, why not?

Most importantly, keeping spiritually in balance is a natural component of being here. By taking a complete break from “doing” and switching to the “being” mode, the spiritual connection happens of its own accord. There simply cannot be a day that doesn´t carry the active consciousness of gratitude. It would be a travesty to live like this if there weren´t that most important awareness of all, that I´ve been given a gift at this time in my life that should be treasured. As I treasure my children and grandchildren, and all of my family, I also need to say thanks for being here in good health (my body loves the moisture and warmth), embraced by the nurturing Laguna Bacalar.

I sometimes feel that I´m living someone´s fantasy and remind myself if there´s any element of truth to this, then I need to enjoy it or I render it empty. All I can offer in return is my love and compassion to those whose circumstances are so very different from being in Eden. I can´t and won´t forget them and can only hope that somewhere, somehow, something beautiful will enter their lives and fill them, however briefly, with that feeling of joy we were all meant to experience.
See the start of my new blog Seventy and Beyond: From Doing to Being.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Snowy Day in the Mountains of Northern New Mexico

I had just about opened my eyes when John came in to say that we could have tea by the fire to commemorate the snow that had fallen during the night. With the covers tucked up to my chin, I was just awakening from a dream about driving my vehicle while completely covered above my eyes with the comforter. It was somewhat nerve racking, not being able to see where I was going, so it was a relief to wake up.

Since we returned from our stay in Mexico just last week, we’ve been exulting at the mild weather we’ve been having at the end of December, which can often be bitter cold, here in the mountains of New Mexico. Even though the weather forecast predicted it, the snow that fell last night was more like what we associated with this time of the year. Although Christmas was balmy, it looked as though we were definitely going to have a snowy landscape to celebrate the New Year the day after tomorrow.

As always, when I see snow and know that more is on its way, I always vacillate about whether or not to drive into town to work. This is the time when we have our big annual clearance sale at the gallery and I’m always programmed to be there every day possible. However, living out in the country, there are other considerations, like visibility on the highway. By the time noon rolled around, I had made up my mind. Knowing that I’d have to leave early to come home before the snow froze on our dirt roads leading home, it just didn’t seem to be worth while to contemplate going in for just a few hours. Good decision!

With warm clothes and the heat cranked up to the comfort zone, it was totally lovely being indoors with no schedule or menu of things to be done. Leisurely, I played in the garden room, removing the remaining dead leaves from the plants that had been without my daily care for three weeks. Then I swept the floor, but all done gradually. Finally, it felt finished and the garden room was abloom again in a clean and bright atmosphere, just the way I like it to be.

And that’s how the day passed, some time on the computer, some time cleaning the kitchen, some time writing out my schedule for the next few days (but not today!), some time just sitting with John discussing our plans for our upcoming Mexico trip next week. There was nothing exciting, unusual or noteworthy. Except…..if this could be considered an ordinary day, I celebrated the ordinary, grateful for the time to be cozy and warm, unhurried and unstressed, appreciating the beauty outside.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

War and Children

From Mirabai Starr's blog:
This Beautiful Wound
Exploring the transformational power of grief and loss.

August 2, 2010

With her permission, I am posting an excerpt from my mother’s personal journal. You can see where I get the impulse to allow individual loss to connect me to the suffering of the world! My mom, Susanna Starr, is my role model for compassion in action.

Susanna writes:

Sometimes I wake up from that place just preceding the deep sleep at night where I’m coughing and gasping for the next breath. Sometimes my heart is racing and I have to take some deep breaths to slow it down. For a number of years, especially in the final years of a difficult relationship this was an ongoing syndrome. Almost every night I would have the choking sensation, which I later thought of as some kind of anxiety attack.

For some fairly long period of time it seemed to have subsided and just again has begun to recur. Again, I have the same association I’ve always had: Is this what my son Matty was feeling that night at 12 PM, at the change of shifts at the hospital, when nobody heard or saw him? It was around 3 AM when we received the “dreaded” middle of the night phone call. It was from an unknown doctor at the hospital who let us know that he had to perform an emergency tracheotomy, since by the time he was called, Matty had stopped breathing and was turning blue. He was very apologetic. I was grateful that my son was still alive.

The next day at the hospital my father-in-law said, “They should have let him go.” I was astounded, still in denial that my son would never recover from the brain tumor that was destroying him, now in its final stages. But when your child is just ten and a half years old, it seems that anything that could be done to prolong their life is justified. As a doctor, himself, my father-in-law knew differently. Matty survived the tracheotomy, but never really had a quality of life again. He regained consciousness and I still held on to the belief that he’d get through this, too, as he had several times before when he was in crisis during the various hospital stays.

We brought him Christmas present, which he couldn’t see, since the muscles controlling his eyelids were no longer operative. Just the day before the tracheotomy he said that his hearing was affected, as if the sounds and voices were coming through a tunnel. So it’s likely that he wasn’t hearing, but who knows? Meanwhile we spoke to him, wrapping his finger around the new pen and pencil that we assured him were for when he returned to school. There was a small stained glass hanging that we bought in the hospital gift shop that we told him was to hang in his window in his room at home. Were the gifts for him, or for us, to keep up the illusion that there would be some kind of future for him, for whatever limited time he had?

By the next day, though, we sat by his bed and saw the struggle, calling on the last vestiges of strength he still had just to breathe, his body wasted, his still child’s face, pallid and drawn, with the bone structure showing through. When my husband Ian said quietly, “We have to let him go,” I nodded in resignation. It was apparent he was holding on just for us. That was the day that we drove out to the cemeteries on Long Island, looking for a place to bury our son, our firstborn. It was a cold, grey day, typical of the end of December on Long Island. We were both numb, but not from the cold.

We’re all accustomed to using the metaphor of the “camino” or road as the metaphor for life. We call it our “path.” The path, obviously, is unknown. We sometimes think we have a roadmap, but often we don’t. Many times we deviate from that path, going off in different directions, sometimes to return to the more traveled one, sometimes forging out into uncharted territories. But all along the way there are markers. Since we can’t look ahead, we can only look back and recognize the markers. “Ah, here was a turning point! I’m so glad I didn’t go in that direction…. If only I had…. Knowing what I do now, I would have done it differently….” Would we have, could we have?

Sometimes the markers are clear and we know when we are experiencing certain events in our lives that they will leave their mark upon us forever. Often they’re a lot more subtle and only in retrospect can we recognize their significance in our lives. Although we each have our own scenario, most have specific events that are major markers, and we have ceremonies to honor them – birth, death, marriages, catastrophic happenings that affect us forever. Some of the markers that we thought important seem to fade as in a road sign that has become weathered. Others, that we paid little attention to at the time they occurred, take on increased meaning.

Death and destruction, loss and unspeakable sadness touch us all. We sometimes think we really don’t want to continue living, but we do. “Letting go” is still one of the most difficult concepts to carry out, even when we think we have a good grasp of it’s meaning. How do people survive unspeakable atrocities? How do people witness the death and torture of their loved ones and have to bear witness to these inhuman crimes? The human spirit can be amazing in its resilience. It’s too easy to get completely submerged in despair as we live in a world that continues to treat human life not as something to be honored and revered but all too often as having been stripped of any meaning, reduced to something “other than.”

Do those who have for thousands of years sent other people’s children off to fight in their wars have any idea of what it means to lose a child, other people’s as well as our own, someone’s son, father, brother, and more recently, someone’s daughter, mother, sister? Do we each have to suffer our own individual loss to know compassion? I think not. There is no way we can each share every experience, at least not at the level of human consciousness that we’re at right now. Our experiences are limited and the freedom of expression comes from our ability to respond to our own particular life circumstances, the ability to celebrate joys as blessings and sorrows to be transcended. Often, that’s much easier to say than do.

Every day we casually say upon meeting someone we know, “How are you doing?” What if we were to answer “I’m transcending.” Even your best friends might be taken a little aback, or maybe they would respond from their heart instead of their head, and not try to figure it out, but smile because they “got it.”

Susanna Starr

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!

As owner of a weaving gallery, I meet lots of people who are fifty and beyond. Since I feel more or less responsible for coining this phrase when I chose it for the title of my book, Fifty and Beyond; New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being, published in 2002, I’m always interested in how people who have passed this important threshold feel about where they are now.

I find that those who are fit, healthy, engaged in physical and creative activities, continue to look at least a decade younger than one might expect from their chronological age. They exude vitality, humor and an overall humble view of what they find of importance in their lives. Most of these kinds of people seem to be kind, caring and compassionate, thinking more about sharing rather than acquiring more “stuff.”

Interestingly enough, I find myself engaged in new projects as I gradually withdraw from previous ones. In 1985, my then partner and I found a beautiful piece of land in the southernmost part of the Yucatan Peninsula along the shores of Laguna Bacalar, called the lake of the seven colors by the ancient Maya. Over a period of 22 years we created, little by little, a small eco-retreat/resort. It was and is very special and intimate with 12 private handmade casitas, 2 large open air thatched roof palapas, and staffed by local people from the village. Unfortunately, the last few years had become burdened with tension as the needs of the Rancho exceeded our ability to provide them. Fortunately, once we made the decision to sell (which took a couple of years of detaching emotionally), it was purchased by a family we knew.

Because we had built our own two houses there, I knew that I would still be “connected.” I felt that divesting ourselves of the overwhelming responsibilities would free me up to write, to paint, to garden and to pursue the kinds of things that I had put on the back burner, just as I had suggested to others in my book. At the same time, my plan of gradually separating myself from the business I created here in the U.S. was unfolding and after 34 years, it seems as though I’m working just enough, without the pressure of having to. In both cases, the work I was doing and continue to do has been extremely rewarding. I’ve been fortunate to have the kind of relationship with the people and the land that have given me great pleasure.

However……I now find myself beginning a new career. Just as I suggested in Fifty and Beyond, New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being, things that we become used to as being such an important part of our lives, businesses, jobs or careers that we have identified with, need to be let go of before other things can take their place. With me, the letting go process evolved over a period of several years. But when the Universe decided that I had done my part in the process, it presented me with something else.

This something else could have been a change in homes, in the places where I live, or any number of other possibilities. With me, it was presented in the form of travel writing. It helped that my partner, who is a travel writer, has helped get me launched (he also published my first book). But I thought of that as him having recreated himself as he has done many times, as artisan, musician, artist and other interesting things that he’s done over the years. I didn’t think that it applied to me. We do, of course, share travel in our life style and both of us have had strong connections to Mexico for decades. It is, more or less, “a natural.” However, it’s something I had never thought of before.

So here I am in my mid-sixties (or is it seventies?) launched on an entirely new project in my life which fits in, as it turns out, nicely with the writing of my new book about, guess what…….these last decades of our lives. To repeat the often said quote, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Keeping Fit in Senior Years

Although we all recognize that we live in a culture that stresses looking, acting, dressing and being part of a youth oriented society, the fact is that much of the population is 50 and beyond. Does that mean that those who are part of this segment of the population are exempt? Obviously not.

If we were to ask a healthy, fit, vital looking older person who pays attention to their state of health and well-being, what their age is, I think we would be surprised to find out that they are considerably older than we would have thought them to be. What does this mean? I think that we simply have to change our own image of the various stages of our lives and how we should look and feel.

Despite one of our favorite lines “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look, darling,” I think most of us recognize that it’s how you feel. If a body is toned and fit, if the energy level is vital and the creative juices flowing strong, if the endurance and strength are evidenced, that person looks great! More importantly, that person feels great a good deal of the time.

To know that we are doing the best for ourselves, in mind, body and spirit, is a rewarding and satisfying feeling. To be able to hike, to garden, to do physical work without moaning and groaning every time we bend down (or even harder, get up), to spend a day at work without feeling totally exhausted is a sign of fitness. To be able to maintain a general feeling of well being most of the time is the proof that we’re succeeding in keeping ourselves healthy.

Exercising regularly, eating in a healthy and conscious way, keeping our weight at a desirable level, and maintaining a strong immune system, at any and all ages, will help insure a life that is rewarding. Keeping a mind that is active and creative, a body that is strong and fit and a spirit that is connected, will help insure the quality of life, whatever the quantity of years that we’re given. It is vital to our best interests to insure that we stay healthy at any age, but even more so at fifty and beyond. If you haven’t tuned into this yet, and you’re part of this age group, it’s time to begin….now. The results will amaze you!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lovers I Never Had

Daydreams? -- no. Reminiscences? -- no. Hopes, Dreams or Ambitions? -- no. What things could have been? -- no. So, what are they, the lovers I never had? They are simply recollections of people (men, specifically, in my case) that have touched me, although not really touched me as in the biblical sense.

My feeling that is if people have stayed in your mind after as many decades that have passed since I knew them, however briefly or fleetingly, there must be something there. Otherwise, how could there be a connection? I think I've figured it out. They're signposts to other realities that never became manifest. How many other signposts have we had like these in our lives, the road not taken?

My life has been rich and full, filled with adventure, taking risks, at times being quite crazy. I've been surrounded by loving family who fill me with joy. My creative energy still flows strongly, and my chosen business continues to give me pleasure as well as challenges. I have interesting and caring friends and don't think I've ever known the real meaning of "bored."

Most people are happy enough with a home which is their sanctuary. I have two. Both of them are beautiful. Every night I lay me down to sleep, it feels like a sacred space and it is my heartfelt wish that everyone on earth had a place to lay themselves down to rest that would give them solace and respite. Someone else will have to take care of the feeding and clothing part -- I just wish them to sleep well and feel comforted.

I'm deeply connected to nature and don't believe I've let a day go by in decades, where I'm not consciously aware of all the blessings and beauty that are given to me. I'm surrounded by green growing things, by plants, flowers and trees, most of which I've planted myself although I've been fortunate enough to find land that started out with old growth trees. I'm surrounded by them right at this moment, their full branches disrobing from their summer opulence and changing to their fall finery.

The life that has unfolded for me and continues to unfold (it ain't over til it's over, as someone once said), is touched with mystery and magic and I take little for granted. I've little or no attachment to the way I look, sometimes with long hair, sometimes with short. I have a varied wardrobe and wear long velvet skirts as well as jeans, silk as as well as denim. I travel. I never feel stuck in a "rut" or role.

Complaining about my life would probably be last on my list, as I don't think it would or could ever occur to me to do so. I love my life and try to live it with gratitude, consciousness and awareness. I try to help others when I can. So, why do I sometimes think of the lovers I never had? I think the answer is that they represent lives I might have had, or certainly episodes that might have had a direct impact on the choices I did make.

This is so with all of us. Some read their signposts directing their career, their family, their personal relationships and sometimes think of the way things could have been. Maybe. But for me, these lovers I never had are simply reminders that we all have lots of choices that continue to unfold for us like beads on a string, different colors, textures and sizes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taste of Oaxaca in Taos, New Mexico: Master Zapotec Weaver, Florentino Gutierrez Gives a Weaving Demonstration

October 3-4, 2009

On Saturday and Sunday, October 3rd and 4th, Starr Interiors weaving gallery will host a special event in their courtyard to coincide with the Taos Wool Festival. Noted Master Zapotec Weaver, Florentino Gutierrez, will be giving a weaving demonstration showing the traditional method of the centuries old Zapotec Indian flat weaving technique on a double harness loom.

His wife, Eloisa, will be preparing and serving traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate, a delicious blend of hand ground chocolate, cinnamon and sugar, beat to a frothy mixture that is traditionally served at all important events in Oaxaca.

Thirty or so years ago, Florentino Gutierrez was a young law student, one of the first from his Zapotec Indian village outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. Like most of the men from his village he was also a weaver and an exceptionally fine one. Raised by an older cousin, he was steeped in the tradition of weaving that the village is known for.

Before becoming an "abagado," Florentino decided to stop his studies and continue in the weaving tradition, eventually finding his place as a master weaver and then as one of the village council members, proudly possessing the staff that represents one of the highest forms of service to his community.

Now, with several decades of dedication to developing his craft, he has been able to send his oldest son to continue his education, not as a lawyer, but as a doctor of medicine. He and his wife, Eloisa, live with their three children in a spacious home in the village with a courtyard filled with flowers and birdsong.

Starr Interior’s owner, Susanna Starr, has had a close relationship with the weaver and his family for thirty five years. The entire collection of his weavings will be exhibited and on special sale during the weekend event.

117-119 Paseo del Pueblo Norte (2 doors south of the historic Taos Inn)
Taos, New Mexico
575 758 3065
MEDIA: For more media information contact Leah or Susanna at Starr Interiors
Photographs available
photos by John Lamkin