Friday, December 21, 2012

My why

Someone asked me yesterday why I have a blog. I almost began to answer on the spot. But then I realized that the question within that question was "are you crazy? Why disclose so much of yourself to the world". I promised that person that I'd think about it and write a blog post on the topic. The truth is, of course, I am writing to also explain it to myself.  Whether it’s a blog or a painting or another form of "disclosure", the real question is what could be the upside to leaving one's self venerable and exposed?

So here is my "why" (or, I guess, a bunch of them)
  • This is not my strongest reason, but why not? I don't mean to be coy about it, just really wondering. If the technology is there, why wouldn't I, or anyone else for that matter, have a blog? 
  • I want to connect with the Universe.  I think we are ONE whole (yes, yes, I know  it sounds touchy feely to the skeptics, but that's how I view the world)  And we all want to be heard and understood, or at least acknowledged.  And this process happens through communication. So I imagine that that I am engaged in a conversation with many people all over the world.  I think it's amazing that right this minute I am "speaking" with people I haven't met and through them my "voice" (my spiritual voice not the physical one) can travel much farther than I could ever imagine. For some reason it feels important.
  • Those who know me well will tell you that I am a pretty private person. Seems like a contradiction then to having a blog. But it's not.  To me, my paintings are much more revealing and personal than anything I will write.  But unlike words, their true mystery and messages are much more subtle. 
  • I believe God lives in everything and everyone, but I think the internet is one of God's latest brilliant inventions. Maybe a blog is a form my prayer...
  • It’s for my grandchildren. Really. My grandfather was always worried that he was so poor that  he wouldn’t have any inheritance to leave me when he died. But he actually left me something priceless and enduring - he wrote a lot: his ideas, jokes, memoirs and stories of his life. So, I want to participate in this tradition. I may have switched up the mode of delivery – he used loose-leaf paper, napkins, journals and I use the internet - the essence is the same. Basically this is just a long letter to my future grandchildren.
  • I have a lot to say. It may not be always evident from the frequency of my blog posts. But in some way, my destiny writes my next post for me. It just happens. That's why I don't really have a "chatty" kind of a blog where I post to constantly. I think it may drain me and will be rather pointless. It's like painting - it happens when the inspiration meets preparation (or is it the definition of good luck?)
  • I think this question – why have a blog – also assumes that you must always be able to eloquently verbalize and contextualize your feelings and actions, make sense of everything. Again, it will sound a bit "out there", but some things are just meant to be. You get an urge to follow through with something (and as long as it is not in any way harmful to other living things and human beings or the environment) it is OK to not have a logical explanation (I have given myself the permission at least). Writing, painting on canvases,  pursuing a "impractical" Master’s degree, falling in love with someone "different", etc - you just get the feeling you must do xyz and that's it. 
  • Having a blog makes me feel less alone.It reminds me to notice things I may not notice otherwise and therefore helps me live more consciously.
  • It helps me not to take myself too seriously.
  • I would have regretted not having a blog. And one of my personal goals is to minimize (if not eliminate) all regrets.
  • And one more, I want Oprah to stumble on it, read  it and have an “A-ha” moment :)
Whew, that felt good. Now you. We all have that "something"  in our lives which happens to be viewed as an oddity. What's yours and what's your “why”?



Monday, October 22, 2012

Lost…found

"Inside the Great Mystery that is,
we don't really own anything.
What is this competition we feel then,
before we go, one at a time,
through the same gate?"

Rumi

Many of my deeply felt moments and soul’s discoveries happen in the most unglamorous of times – on the way to the subway in the morning. When the world is still quite, one can see the invisible and hear the unspoken…

I walk to the subway alone, very early in the morning. But I have my morning buddies who are part of my routine, there, on my journey. There is Joe, who opens the hardware store on our block. He smiles at me, says hello and scolds me if I don't have an umbrella when I should. He also always finds the right thing to say, as if he knows what my day might look like, “Take good care today” or “Good luck!” or “Take it easy” or “Be well”. There is a down-the-street neighbor who smokes and coughs loudly. His hellos are intertwined with a whole ensemble of gurgling sounds.  But he seems to be genuinely happy to see me. Once he wasn't there for a few days in a row and when I finally saw him, he said almost apologetically, "Hello! I went to see my kids in Virginia”. And there is a lady in a green hat trying to figure out if things add up on her calculator and shakes her head as I pass by. She doesn't wear her hat anymore... I wonder if she lost it. And she seems sadder than before. And then, there is a tall elderly gentleman with beautiful grey hair, who always walks his very old dog. The man walks slowly. But his legs are long and he makes wide steps. The dog is breathing hard to catch up with him. Even though walking must be hard work, I could swear the dog has a smile on his face. They both do. I can tell that this has been their routine since the beginning of time. The man has a fresh New York Times in his hand . After we pass by each other, the dog and the man stop for a moment and the man kneels down and gives the dog a hug and the dog hugs him back.  I always turn around and look at them for a moment. And I think, how lucky for them to have found each other.

And then one recent morning I suddenly saw the man alone. His long legs were still making big strides, he still had a longish beautiful grey hair, fresh New York Times was in his hand. Everything was exactly the same except the dog wasn’t next to him. We exchanged glances. His eyes said it all. My eyes said, "I am sorry you lost him". And both of us continued walking in opposite directions. And then I turned back, as I did so many times before. And the man slowed down and almost kneeled like he had done so many times before. Then he ran his hand trough his hair and walked on.

You might think, "So what. All of us pass by people and old dogs on the way to some place. Why is this any special, Blog-worthy? Just part of life." And I am thinking – exactly. It’s not special and yet it is special at the same time. I feel that I was a witness to something ordinary and timeless – this man’s moment of realization of temporariness and fragility of it all. It gave me pause and reminded me of the magic and the mystery of everything’s, everyone’s fleetingness. Someone wise once said that the Universe is unfolding exactly as it should, we are just not always aware of the rules.  Maybe life is like a lost and found bureau. It works like the clock.  Some things, some ones are lost and found every second on our big, small planet. There are beginnings, there are endings, and in between, there is life and universe unfolding exactly as it should... and somehow we are all connected in this routine.  We are all one. Sometimes we are fully present and aware, more times we are not.
I never saw the man again. But I know he is just like all of us – living in this space between lost and found. If we ever met again, perhaps I can quote Rumi and we can hope together that he was right when he said “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

There is no bad weather in Nature


My translation of the song called “There is no bad weather in Nature” from the movie “An Office Romance” (Служебный роман) directed by Eldar Rjazanov in 1977
Lyrics by E. Rjazanov
Music by A. Petrov

I watched this movie dozens of times. In fact, we, the movie and I, are from the same generation. It’s about an unlikely romance in a Soviet era office setting. It’s about complicated human relationships. It’s about love, life and betrayal. It’s sad, funny, absurd, inspiring and everything in-between. The song, which encompasses the wisdom of the movie, remains as well known and loved today (maybe even more known and even more loved) as it was nearly 40 years ago.  Why? Because there is something timeless about it; somethign both poetic and nostalgic. Unfortunately, I think, my translation, while may be somewhat accurate, does not do the Russian version justice. But that’s all I’ve got.
--------------------------------------------------------------
There is no bad weather in Nature –
Every kind of weather is a blessing.
Whether it is snowing or raining,
One has to accept with gratitude.

Echoes of bad weather in the soul,
The mark of loneliness in the heart
And the rise of sorrowful sleeplessness
One has to accept with gratitude.
One has to accept with gratitude.
Death of desires, years and calamities,
Day by day the burden is more unbearable.
What the Nature has in store for you,
One has to accept with gratitude.

Changes in ages, sunrises and sunsets,
The good fortune of one’s last love,
Just as the date of your own passing –
One has to accept with gratitude.
One has to accept with gratitude.

There is no bad weather in Nature,
The passage of time is unstoppable.
Autumn of life, just as autumn of a year,
One must bless without grieving.
One must bless without grieving.
One must bless without grieving.


PS - you can hear the song here - http://vimeo.com/39132640

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In memory of my grandfather

I know...lately so many of my posts seem to be titled "in memory of..." In less than 4 years, I lost my grandmother, my mom and last week, my grandfather. Yes, it is the cycle of life. I understand...and yet the sorrow is still very real.
My grandfather was an incredible man. And in time I will write about him - with humor, wit and with a lot of zest for life. But for now, here is something I wrote for my grandparents in 1999 (translated from Russian). My grandparents gave me everything, including the most incredible gift - unconditional love.


To my grandparents

1999

I am the continuation of your river,
I am a sunbeam from your sunlight,
I am a star, and my sky
Is your love and understanding.

I am the symbol of your depth and height,
The symbol of your victory over the cruel fate,
I am like the spring flower growing
Upon your welcoming soil.

I am the rhyme in your song,
A melody made up of simple and clear tones.
In the fields of life, I am a little straw,
And you are my summer rain, my sustenance.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

In memory of my mom: a year later

In less than two weeks, I will graduate into the second year of life without my mom. The divide between “before” and “after” has now widened by a year.

As a tribute to my mom, I am publishing the email I sent to the young Rabbi who was asked to officiate at her funeral. This is a somewhat edited version, because the original was incredibly raw (I wrote it the night my mom died), and had details that my very modest and private mom wouldn’t have approved of me posting on the World Wide Web…

This email is not profound. It’s not even all that well written. It’s not unique. But it’s true. It’s real. And it’s important to me to pay my respects in this way to the un-sung hero of my life, the woman who raised me, nourished my heart and soul, and have left me a better person for knowing her.
------------------
Dear Rabbi,

My mom always said that you could write a book about any person’s life. Her life, she would argue, was in no way remarkable. I always disagreed. To me, she was just the sweetest, kindest, most well-read, interesting person and a real life hero. The twists and turns of her life are absolutely worth a book. So, since you’ll be a very important person who’ll help her soul to get to wherever it needs to go, I wanted to tell you what I know about my mom and share questions/thoughts that are running through my mind:

As a child, she LOVED to read. She taught herself to read at age three and then read EVERYTHING. I mean, every single printed word she’d get her hands on, or, I should say, eyes on, because it included not just books but newspapers, street signs, and posters…She devoured Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” at age six or seven. She LOVED art. She wanted to get into the art university in Ukraine. But Jews weren’t accepted because of severe and wide-spread discriminatory unwritten rules. But she held out hope. She applied, and applied, and got all the A’s on her entrance exams and still didn’t get accepted. The Dean of the art school took pity on her and told her directly that because she was a Jew she would never be accepted. And she ultimately became an engineer and learned to love her profession…BUT she instilled the love of art in me. She took me to museums when I couldn’t yet speak or walk. My childhood books were large illustrated art history books. It’s no wonder that I am now in a graduate school pursuing an art history MA.

My mom was a true hero. When we came to the America, she went to work for FREE for over a year to confirm her chemical engineering degree. She worked three hours away from our apartment in Brooklyn at a hospital, late evenings and night shifts. We didn’t see each other at all during that time because she was never home. But to her it was all worth it. This was the first step towards the American dream. When she finally got a job in a hospital laboratory, she was on cloud nine. That was the first time we actually bought some furniture as oppose to picking it up from the garbage...

My mom was also the kindest, most generous person. For instance, she knew everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries, and all the other important dates. I have a card from my mom for nearly all the birthdays of my life. Here is just one example of her selfless giving nature: She had a friend in Ukraine, who stayed behind when we left. She was a widow with two young girls. For years, my mom sent them clothes, food, and money. It didn’t come easy, she had to work extra hard to collect the money for these gifts, but she did it. And at the end, her friend’s kids grew up and her friend stopped writing her letters…But my mom wasn’t looking for “repayment”. She knew true meaning of mitzvah – it’s when you give from your heart and expect nothing back.

It was so hard for me to accept the terrible diagnosis, when in 1990’s my mom was told that she had the incurable disease called Multiple Sclerosis. I was angry. I wanted her to just “snap out of it”. My mom was so scared. I was young and stupid. It took me years to come to terms with reality and to fully accept MS for what it was – a cruel and awful devil of a disease which sneaks up on you when you least expect it. In the past several years, as her condition worsened, my mom really fought for her life. And I fought alongside…There are things that I can’t stop thinking about and questions that I will be asking myself for the rest of my life. I had no premonition that she could die so suddenly. I made myself believe that what I wished for, namely her steady recovery and her prolonged life, was possible. But she died…Have I said “I love you” to her enough times? Is there such a thing is saying I love you enough times?

It’s in those years of struggle, I became aware of and was most amazed by people’s incredible kindness. My hat’s off to the nurses and doctors in all the hospitals that my mom had been to. I will never forget their compassion, their hugs, and their gentle ways. They would go and warm up blankets to cover my mom, they cried by her side sitting right next to me, virtual strangers, they marveled with me at how beautiful she is – no wrinkles, beautiful hair, beautiful skin. They smiled at my son's pictures. They didn’t want to change shifts and asked me if I needed them to stay by my side. They offered coffee, listened to me saying “no, thank you”, and brought it anyway. To me it all seemed both incredible and so right, because my mom deserved nothing less for all the kindness she offered to the world.

When I saw her for last time, I remember thinking that she must be in the room, but cannot be possibly in that body. I imagined her hovering over me, watching everything unfold. Was she sad? Did she hear me as I was whispering “go, just go, don’t worry about us?" Was she in fact comforting me, comforting my father, in the moment when I thought I was comforting her? Rabbi, do people really “turn” 33 when they die? If so, she was most beautiful when she was 33. She dressed fashionably, she had lots of friends, she had a job she loved, and she had a family who loved her.

I know it sounds cliché, but I really don’t care: My mom was a wonderful woman. Some girls have “issues” with their mothers. I didn’t. I adored her with all my soul, with all my heart, and with all my spirit. She was really a wonderful mom. I LOVED spending time with her. I loved making her laugh! We spoke every day, sometimes more than once a day on the phone. I would always end my call with, “I love you so very much. I adore you….” And she’d say, “me too”. And it was priceless. Yes, of course, we argued and I used to drive her mad. Yet, I know she poured a lot of attention, energy and time into me. She took me with her everywhere. We were pretty inseparable for all of my childhood: ice-skating, swimming, art classes, galleries, poetry, books, “heart-to-hearts”, exchanging jewelry...

She often said to me that she “programmed” me to be a certain way. When I was in her womb, she said that she talked to the Universe and wished for me to be strong, resilient, smart, successful, and beautiful. All the things, that in my Mom’s opinion, I’ve become. She also programmed me, she said, to be the opposite of her. I think she always thought there were major things that didn’t work out in her life as she had wanted them to…and the reason they didn’t work out, she felt, was partially or completely her fault. The crazy thing is that, her programming was a bit faulty. I am a lot like my mom in many respects. For starters, whenever I miss seeing her face, all I need to do is look in the mirror.

Because of MS, I’ve been saying good bye to my mom for years…but they were always followed by hope and hellos…but now I have to get used the fact that hello may only be possible when we meet again in the eternal world. And I know, she would have wanted it to be a long, long time from now.
There is so much more write, so much more to say… But like her life ending suddenly and too soon, I am going to let this email end suddenly as well…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

About nothing and tea

Many of you have been asking me, “why no blog posts” for so long…thank you for caring and for asking. My ego did grateful and happy circles around the globe to hear that sometimes what I write resonates with someone. Marc Chagall, one of my favorite artists, once said, “If I create an image from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” I guess all this time I’ve been waiting for something to originate from my heart. After my mom died, everything seems so different. I had to find where I fit in as half orphaned, grown woman. I am still not certain of any of that, but I do have something to say now. Something about nothing, that is.
Have you ever had a deep urge to turn everything off? As if the world was a big oversize loud TV set and you had a remote control with the “power” button? To simply stop all the noise? Not in a mean or spiteful way and not in a cowardly way either.To kind of put on internal ear plugs and shut off the valve of everything and to gaze into nothing.. …Well, I have.

What I’ve always known, or at least I thought that’s what I’ve always known, is that I am more like a human “doing” rather than a human “being”.  Doing comes easier to me than being. I tried to sit still many times in the past. I even tried to be "kind and compassionate" to my thoughts, to be the observer, to find the core self that is calm and magnificent...Every time with disastrous results. Nothing eluded me.

In those rare moments when I gathered the morsels of my will to “vacate my life” for any amount of time, my mind did amazing things to sabotage my meager attempts. These tricks included: sickening intellectual pirouettes where one thought is immediately followed by its opposite, i.e. “I don't want to die young. But I don't want to grow old”; ferocious sprints, when a whole bunch, hoards of big hairy, wild thoughts (imagine a mix between a bull and a gorilla) run in every possible direction. Kind of like a disorganized American football, where there is no hope for a touchdown – just wild, directionless mass. Without any protective layers or rules of the game, my beastie thoughts step on and bump into each other, roar uncontrollably…you get the un-pretty picture.

In her book called “The Joy Diet”, Martha Beck recommends “vacating” your life for 15 minutes every day (20 if you can manage). She calls this form of meditation a doze of “nothing”, where only mindless activity such as sitting while staring  at a candle, running or rocking is allowed. Beck says that in her practice as a coach she often meets people who feel that there is “something” missing in their lives. Do you ever feel that way?  Well, Beck tells her clients that they should start with that which their spirit hungers for, namely - “nothing”. 

I am finding that in grief, one’s yearning for the deep, deep silence is almost palpable.  When a loved one passes away, I believe they return to the source, into the big, magnificent nothing which is also somehow everything.  Since loss brings up many questions with no obvious answers, maybe it urges the soul to reconnect with something bigger.  Or maybe it’s just me…

A new sense of clarity came when I recently visited the beautiful land of Turkey. What I realized is that the process for finding peace within might be MUCH less complicated than I ever imagined. All you need is tea. Well, sort of. You see, in Turkey tea is a ritual, a form of simple meditation. They seem to drink tea to get in touch with their inner core, with each other or sometimes just because it tastes good. Tea accompanies business discussions, heart-to-heart talks and first dates. It is served at weddings, funerals, or just on someone’s front porch. It all starts with a smiling face of the host or hostess who asks, “Chai?”  The practice includes two kettles, stacked on top of one another – one with the hot water (on the bottom) and one (on top) with tea leaves. Whenever I visit Turkey I get nearly mesmerized with the tea tradition and everything associated with it. It’s so incredibly simple and yet therapeutic: just two shiny metal pots, some water, tea, and beautiful little glasses, with a golden rim and a little spoon.

Being in Turkey brings out the worst out of my “human doing-ness”. Used to the manic pace of New York, Turkey represents serenity and quiet wisdom and I sometimes get antsy there. And yet, my Turkish friends just smile at me and offer me a glass of tea. When I appear restless, bugging them about details of their life, their plans for “doing more stuff” (or our lunch plans), they shared them with me, joyfully, happily, and without reservation, all while sipping on a tea. And at the end, my Turkish friends often add one simple wise word. They say, "bekliyoruz", which in English means “we will see". But to me what it really means is, "It's so nice to be sharing a wonderful little glass of tea with you and tell you of all my plans and ideas. But, ultimately, some things are not up to me or up to you. That's the wonder of it all, isn't it? So, we will see how it all works out. More tea?"

The near-manic doing, the endless “to-do lists” create chaos and makes you mistakenly believe that you are in full control all the time. And when sh-t hits the fan, you get confused (or I should say I get confused) and think to yourself “wait, that wasn’t suppose to happened that way. I had it all planned differently.”  What I am beginning to learn is the quiet and peaceful nothing is always here, right inside me. I am still in search for it, but now I am convinced that it’s just a glass of flavorful Turkish tea away. In fact, I am sipping some hot tea right now. Would you like to share a glass of tea with me? It may bring you closer to…nothing. And a little bit of nothing is what we all need sometimes.

"...My soul is not asleep! My soul is not asleep!
It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches, its clear eyes open,
far off things, and listens, and listens
at the shores of the great silence.
It listens at the shores of the great silence."


~ Antonio Machado (thank you, Martha Beck, for introducing me to his poetry)