Archive for December 2006

Choose, Act, Live

December 31, 2006

William James (1842-1910) wrote:

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

If we get bogged down in fear about the “what-if’s” so we can’t make choices, or if, once we’ve chosen a path, we constantly second-guess ourselves with the “I-shoulda’s,” or, after our actions have borne fruit, we wallow in the “how it woulda been’s” if we’d chosen differently, … Whatever the obstacle, we are encouraged to choose, then act, then live.

Nature teaches us this over and over, but we often miss it. If an egg drops from a nest, the bird doesn’t spend all her energy grieving: she gets on with the business of her remaining eggs, hatching, feeding, fledging.

In another light, the tree doesn’t worry over the fruit that gets picked from its branches by people, or eaten off the ground beneath it by birds; it drops its leaves in autumn, brings forth buds in the spring, and produces another crop of fruit the following year.

William James also wrote:

“Sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.”

Our lives are a continuous stream of actions, many that we think about, many that we don’t. Action after action, year after year, we shape and are shaped.

We can teach ourselves habits to help us, or discard those that are no longer serving our purpose.

All these things together show our character, both to ourselves and to others around us. Character isn’t something you are given passively at birth, a fixed point that can’t ever be changed. We all have tendencies, but it doesn’t mean we are not fluid.

We can nurture our character, and in so doing, our destiny expands. We don’t arrive in this world with our steps already completely in order. We must first learn to crawl, then pull ourselves to standing, take our first, unsteady steps, and, finally, take flight.

Our roads aren’t always straight. Sometimes, boulders block the way, and we go around them. Or we take a turn, wander in the woods for a while before finding the road again. But if we are always learning wherever we are, either on the main road or an overgrown path, then we take the best of these meanderings and add it to what we’ve gathered before.

What habits will you teach yourself or leave behind this year?

How will your character shift or grow?

What destiny have you taken hold of, and what still lies in the distance, waiting for you to come and claim it as your own?

Stepping Stones: Blue Jade (Jadeite)

December 30, 2006

Blue jade (jadeite) is considered to be another “wisdom” stone, noted for its calming properties.

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I have had a piece of blue jade for several months, but I only began using it recently in my own meditations. I have found that, just because I have a stone, I won’t necessarily use it right when I first get it. Often, I have preparations to make within myself before the lessons of a particular stone can be absorbed.

I quickly learned that the calming effects that make blue jade valuable were not just idle chatter. Indeed, it was very useful in quieting my mind and helping me refocus on the voices and messages of my Reiki guides.

In particular, I have found it indespensible in sorting out incoming information while creating “Soul Essence” music, especially in situations where there is apparent confusion or indecision.

Blue jade not only calmed mind and refocused perception so my guide’s teaching could come through. It also clarified and crystallized my sense of purpose and directed me to a right path to follow to accomplish whatever goal was appropriate. It was great at dispelling those little nagging doubts that can plague us all and sap our energy.

One of the things I noticed was blue jade’s contrasts to amethyst. While they both take one deep into meditative states, amethyst widens the perspective of the mind, revealing the vastness that lies at the center of us all. On the other hand, blue jade focuses the inner mind to a laser point of awareness and allows for the removal of any outward distractions that are inhibiting one’s progression toward higher selfhood.

Both blue jade and amethyst have cooling properties. But where amethyst takes you into a deep, calm pool, blue jade refines your mind into a single water droplet.

I’m sure I’ll come to a time when I set aside the blue jade and move on to another stone. But its lessons of quiet certainty, serenity and clear wisdom are ones I will surely revisit many times along my journey.

Stepping Stones: Ruin Marble

December 30, 2006

Along my “inner” stone path, marble has come to play a part.

I have a small polished piece that is roundish in shape. At first, I just enjoyed the feeling of it in my hand, how my fingers glided easily over its surface.

But as with everything else, there’s a lot more under the surface if we care to go looking.

I began holding the stone during meditation, and unlocked seemingly ancient wisdom. It wasn’t “trivia knowledge,” facts and figures, so much as a sense of something that was shared and passed from generation to generation.

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The particular stone I have is ruin marble, and it brought inner visions of the fabled ball courts and ceremonial plazas of ancient South America, or the sun-drenched public squares of Rome, or perhaps even the great temple and library complexes of Alexandria.

The specific place of origin didn’t matter. It was the sense of being connected to a long, continuous tradition of human discovery, thought, teaching and learning, storytelling that intrigued me. After all, I have no idea where my little stone came from.

I do know that, in combination with rose quartz, it makes a powerful statement. The love of God coupled with the mind of man, or perhaps, it would be better to say the mind of man seeking after and reflecting and contemplating the love of God. However it’s said, wherever it’s from, what the past has to teach us can be vital to our present circumstances and a precious gift we bestow on future generations.

Sometimes, we discredit ourselves, thinking we have nothing to teach or share. However, every single person, whether they have multiple college degrees or are an illiterate farmer, holds valuable insights that only they could have experienced and only they can express.

In discovering ourselves and sharing our path with others of many backgrounds, we knit ourselves into the grand tapestry of humanity. Every thread matters, and it is only by interwoven lives that the whole can be created and celebrated.

A Birthday Tribute to a Great Dog

December 29, 2006

Kiefer turns thirteen today. This chance will only come once, so I take it. Today, I choose to celebrate Kiefer, look back, look forward, and love my faithful friend.

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Dogs are cool, but I wouldn’t say I’m too much of a dog person. I love them a lot, but I’m not obsessive about it (or maybe this is just how I delude myself!).

Anyway, I met Kiefer just after Thanksgiving in 1994, when he was about to turn two. My dad and I were driving home after visiting my godmother in Pennsylvania when my mom called with the news, “Eric has a dog for you.”

Eric was the trainer at Freedom Guide Dogs, just outside Utica, NY. I had been on their waiting list and was expecting to get a dog in the spring.

Kiefer was my second guide dog, and he was teaching me new tricks within five minutes of his arrival. My first one, Elaine, had been a yellow Lab female. Kiefer is a black Lab male. Females squat when they pee; males lift a hind leg and just let fly! Lesson Number One, check.

At the end of our first training session together, Eric said, “Now tell him to find inside.” I just about fell over, then asked him to repeat what he’d said in case I’d heard wrong. Elaine was good for “Forward,” “Left,” “Right,” and “No!” I would soon discover that Kiefer loved the “find” command, and the more things I taught him to find, the happier he was.

On our small dairy goat farm, Kiefer became a constant barn companion. Milking, delivering baby goats, putting animals out to pasture, collecting buckets from the pastures at the end of the day, unloading wagonloads of hay, Kiefer was there. “Find the gate,” “Find the bucket,” if it needed to be found, we tried it. He even learned to keep a group of goats together in a herd for walks in the fields behind our house.

Elaine had been energetic to a fault. She thought nothing of interrupting our planned route to chase squirrels or birds or anything else, and she must have had fantasies of steeplechase at one time, because I learned to leap over hedges or go charging through them to keep up. Being in high school and a runner, I didn’t mind, but I knew a guide dog wasn’t really supposed to act like that! Needless to say, I kept her on a very tight leash so I could control her.

Kiefer, on the other hand, had only one thing in mind when his harness was on: guiding. Step around puddles, not through them. (At first I thought it was because he loved me, but really he just hated getting his feet wet!) He’d never, ever run with me in harness, and he preferred going around icy patches to going over them. If I slipped and fell, not an unheard-of occurrence in winter on a farm, he needed no scolding. My being in the wrong position (looking up at him from the ground) was humiliating enough, and he’d redouble his efforts to do his job.

From the beginning, Kiefer proved himself to be an exceptional dog. He was just as perfectionistic in his basic obedience as he was about his guiding duties. He and I, perhaps surprisingly to both of us, bonded fast and firm.

My family fell in love with him, too, and began collecting stories about his exploits. Whether it was eating the entire plate of cookies left for Santa his first Christmas with us, or his vigilance after an ice storm while I was taking care of the farm alone, the stories are now part of our family’s trove of legends. We love animals, but we have high standards, especially when it comes to temperament. Some might take Kiefer’s skills for granted, assuming it’s par for the course for any guide dog. But it’s not, and we all knew it.

There was one creature who wasn’t happy about Kiefer’s arrival, and that was Harley, our barn cat. She had it in mind that I “belonged” to her, along with any baby goat still drinking milk. She’d escort me to the barn whenever I went and lead me back to the house afterward, meowing all the way so I could follow her. If I got off the path, she’d throw herself on the ground and roll around, rustling in the grass until I found her, then scamper off in the right direction, encouraging me to follow with her meows.

Kiefer’s arrival was a huge betrayal (not to mention insulting) to her. For weeks, she stalked back and forth across the top of the Dutch door of our goat nursery barn, staring down at him, who was in a sit-stay waiting for me to finish whatever I was doing. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, her tail flicking in disgusted gestures that seemed to say, “You’re just a dog, and I’ll make you look foolish yet! She’ll send you back to wherever it is you came from. Then the human will be mine, all mine!”

It never worked. I never knew anyone more stubborn than Harley. But when Kiefer was in harness, he could resist just about anything. So the poor cat had to settle for a draw. As cats do, she disappeared for a few days to sulk, then came back and took up her usual daily barn escorts like nothing had happened. Maybe she thought the dog needed leading, too.

Kiefer’s adventures with me weren’t confined to the farm. He flew with me to California where I taught and worked at a conservatory in 2000.

In preparation for that trip, Ted and I flew to Baltimore to see how Kiefer would be on a plane. He hated it, just like he hated the car. So any time we flew, I gave him Benedryl beforehand. You’d think that would make him drowsy and lethargic. It didn’t; he was always much too committed to doing the right thing by me to let himself relax.

We also walked all over Albany, solidifying the trust between Kiefer and me. It’s always something of a process to give your trust to a dog, at least for me. I got many object lessons over the years that assured me Kiefer was trustworthy, but it took my falling into a reflecting pool to get rid of that last tiny smidgen of doubt.

Once at the conservatory, Kiefer and I were on our own, managing a large house and exploring. I tried to go swimming in the pool that was there, but Kiefer thought I was drowning and jumped in to save me. Puddles were bad, but this was unbearable! He paddled around for a minute or so, then jumped out and proceeded to run around the edge of the pool, barking franticly until I got out. Needless to say, I didn’t take him with me on my next swimming trip.

Early in our time in California, on a gorgeous warm night just before sundown, we were playing in the yard. I threw a tennis ball for Kiefer, and, leaping into the air to catch it, he yelped. My heart froze. I called him, and he came, walking on three legs.

That night, I worried a lot, but also hoped he’d just landed wrong and that he’d be fine by morning.

He wasn’t. He unwillingly got up for his breakfast, then went and laid down again. Now there was no doubt: There was something very wrong with Kiefer.

I got a ride to the vet I had found before coming out to the conservatory “just in case”. They took x-rays, then called me back into the exam room with Kiefer.

He had torn his anterior cruciate ligament in his left hind leg. It’s basicly the same injury football players get when they blow out their knees. And, if I wanted the possibility of a few more years of working life for Kiefer, they were recommending surgery.

I went back to the conservatory and called my mom. I called Ted. I called my regular vet back home. I called my Grandma. I cried. Elaine had retired at six because of epilepsy. Kiefer was six now, and we were discussing surgery to put plates and pins in his leg so he could keep working, although no one knew for how much longer.

Two days later, I saw another vet, this one a surgeon. I scheduled surgery, went and bought a crate for the three weeks of cage rest they said he’d need before his cast came off. I thought I was done crying, but I wasn’t.

The day of surgery was one of the hardest I’ve ever had with an animal. I stayed busy, tried not to worry. After all, I was at a conservatory, surrounded by music, the passion of my life.

But I couldn’t concentrate long enough to practice piano, or focus well enough to do any work. When the call from the vet’s office came that Kiefer had come through surgery fine, I cried some more. It would be another two days before I could bring him home.

I might have thought, growing up on a farm, that I could just make the decisions that needed to be made for an animal and be done with it. But my heart always got involved to one degree or another. Kiefer was more than any special goat I’d ever owned. He was my constant companion. I knew I was a strong, independent woman, and I also knew that I could function just fine whether I chose to travel with a long white cane or with a guide dog. But even if a guide dog is just looked at as a different travel tool, it’s a living, breathing, loving creature that I was responsible for, by my own choice. We relied on each other. I fed him, walked him, brushed and petted him. He slept by my bed, was there with a gentle nudge and a lick when I needed reminding that I was loved. He kept watch whether he was curled up under the seat of an airplane or standing with me at a street crossing. As often as Kiefer had done right by me, I wanted to do right by him, and I couldn’t wait to get him home.

Kiefer’s cast ran from the tip of his toes to above the hip, and it was bright blue. I learned how to walk with him while carrying his back end in a sling, how to put on and remove an Elizabethan collar, how to give injections. (I already knew this from the goats, but I didn’t like it and always tried to find someone else to do it.)

What I didn’t learn were the symptoms of anesthetic withdrawal. So when Kiefer woke up the first night howling and whining and didn’t stop for hours, I began to have serious doubts about keeping my sanity. If the next three weeks were going to be like this, I didn’t know how I’d hold up. I petted him, talked to him, held him, cried some more. There was nothing I could do except wait for Kiefer to quiet down.

That night, I was torn between immense relief that no one was in the house to be bothered by the noise and desperately wishing someone was there besides me because I was so scared and confused.

If I needed any proof of the bond between Kiefer and me (and by now, I most certainly didn’t), I got it the first time I put him on a down-stay and went upstairs to do something. Stairs, of course, were off-limits for him. He was good most times, but if I took too long … He’d start by whining for me. If that didn’t get my attention, he made the laborious trip up the stairs on three legs, the cumbersome cast dragging along behind. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the sound of his slow, determined footsteps on those carpeted spiral stairs, nor the absolute joy when he reached the top and found me.

I never used the crate and returned it a few days before flying home. And after the cast came off, I had a guide dog with one shaved leg on which the hair was growing back in brown instead of black and the muscles had atrophied.

Never mind. The welcome we got from family was incomparable.

I married my husband Ted the following April. The day after the wedding, I let Kiefer, now fully recovered out into the backyard. Ten minutes later, when I called him back into the house, he came in on three legs. Oh, Kiefer, you didn’t, did you? … Yes, he had, this time on the right side.

The second surgery was so different from the first; no cast, no post-op injections, and he’d done his withdrawal before I brought him home. Again, a complete recovery.

When my husband and I moved into an apartment, Kiefer learned all kinds of new things. I might have seen many things in Ted, but Kiefer saw only one. Now, not only did he have his “mommy,” but he had a “petting machine,” too. Ted swore he’d never feed Kiefer treats. That lasted three days, maybe less. Kiefer discovered that, not only was Ted good for petting, but he could stare at him adoringly, and unlike “mommy,” he’d get carrots or other goodies out of it.

Of course, at an apartment complex, there were plenty of new things to find, like elevators, curbs, cars. I only recall one instance when Kiefer made a mistake. I told him to find the Dumpster, and instead, he made a beeline for my dad’s truck. Either he misheard my command or my dog had a sense of humor.

By the time Kiefer was ten, though his heart was as willing as ever, his body was becoming unable to take the toll of being in harness. Some days, he’d barely be able to get up, and x-rays showed that he had almost no cartilage in his shoulders, so the pressure of the harness was probably excruciating.

I had told Eric at Freedom Guide Dogs that I would need another dog in the spring of 2005, but by late summer 2004, I had to call and say I needed a replacement for Kiefer sooner. Somehow, they managed to find one.

When the new dog, Ecko, arrived, I wondered if Kiefer would get along with him. I shouldn’t have worried. He has retained his position as the first dog, while allowing Ecko to bond with me and take over the daily responsibility of guiding. He’s also taught Ecko that if you sit and stare at my husband long enough without moving, good things can happen (for Kiefer, it’s often a treat, while Ecko gets a romp in the yard).

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Kiefer as my shadow. He still follows me wherever I go, lying behind my chair in my office or under the piano while I teach or at the foot of the bed while I read. In short, wherever I am is where Kiefer wants to be.

Now, he’s teaching me about old dogs. I’ve never had a dog this old. I’m discovering what my vet calls “grandfather’s cough,” unsteady hind legs, fatty cysts that always look like ticks when they first appear, and hair turning silver, then white. He’s slower going up and down the stairs now and would rather stay asleep than take that last walk before bedtime.

Kiefer has taken Ecko under his wing (or should it be paw?), and when we return from trips for recitals in far-off places, he’s delighted to have his buddy and his “mommy” back. He’s allowed Ecko and I to develop our own unique bond and understands that, even if Ecko gets to do all the work he used to do, there’s still more than enough love from me for both of them.

He loves the new-fallen snow, and after burying his nose in it and inhaling deeply until he sneezes, he’ll go on a long, meandering sniff-fest through the yard and might, if he’s not too stiff, even skip around in it a little.

His tail never stops wagging. Even if he doesn’t lift his head from his bed when I walk into the room, his tail starts thumping.

He greets anyone at the door with resounding barks, as if to let them know that they have to pass his inspection before they can come in, and once inside, they must pet him as a kind of toll payment before they can go up- or downstairs.

When I bend over or kneel down to put on my shoes before taking the dogs outside, Kiefer will bury his nose in my hair. And if I’m sitting, not paying enough attention to him or have stopped petting him before he thinks he’s gotten enough, his paw comes up onto my knee. “Aren’t you forgetting something, Mommy?”

He has been an ambassador for dogs in general and guide dogs in particular to countless people. In short, he’s the kind of dog everyone should be blessed with at least once in a lifetime but often miss out on, a dog who has completely stolen my heart and those of my family and friends.

So, on his thirteenth birthday, I wanted to say, “thanks, Kiefer. You’re a good, good dog!”

Guides and Guardians

December 28, 2006

Last night, I got a gentle yet powerful reminder about trusting my Reiki guides.

I have been working on “Soul Essence” songs for people since late spring, and each one has taught me a lot. Perhaps their greatest lessons have been about trusting my Reiki guides.

When I have asked them, they have been exceptional guardians, keeping unwanted influences and the assorted junk that everyone carries around from finding its way into my space.

When I have asked, they have made it possible to recall complex melodies and other musical information when I didn’t have anything to write it down with.

When I have asked, they have provided confidence that what I was hearing in the music being created was correct for whoever was receiving it, regardless of my own opinions about it.

They have encouraged, enlightened, pushed, held back, calmed, kicked in the proverbial butt, in short, have done everything you would want guides to do.

My shortcoming is that I often forget to ask. Then I wonder why I’m so confused or discouraged or otherwise shaken up.

I’ve got three very different guides, ranging from one with a typical, dry, British sense of humor, to one I only experience as an energetic being, to a third who is in the form of a phoenix.

They each have my highest good in mind and want to see me reach it. But I have to keep communicating with them, or I’ll get stuck in the same spot I’m at now, or, perhaps, slip backward.

My guides don’t like standing still or going backward. So wherever I am, as long as I remember to call them, I can count on some pretty amazing help.

The guides don’t replace God. God is still the highest pinnacle of everything. But since God provided these particular guides, knowing who I am and who they are, it’s nothing less than a match made in heaven.

The Reality of Humility

December 27, 2006

Humility has gotten a bad rap lately.

A lot of people think that humility is allowing others to take advantage of you, or that it’s not standing up for yourself.

Sometimes, humility is seen as sweeping your talents under the rug so they don’t get developed to their full potential and you don’t get credit for what you deserve.

In American society, where everyone is seeking their fifteen minutes of fame, desperately trying to “get” more, “get” ahead, and scrambling to stay on top, there isn’t much room or respect for humility. The bigger your ego, or bank account; the more beautiful your body or house; the more power you have, the more respect you get.

In this mad rush to have, to arrive, it’s easy to lose sight of the road we’re traveling along, and it’s just as easy for too many people to discard character traits that have no apparent benefit on their quest for material greatness.

But humility, as one of these traits, has a big part to play in our journey through life.

Humility doesn’t say, “I’m not good at anything.” It says, “Look at the talents God has blessed me with,” then uses those talents to reflect God to other people.

Humility doesn’t say, “I’m not strong, so go ahead and abuse me and I won’t fight back.” Instead, it says, “In the panorama of creation, I am only one small yet integral part, and I am just as precious to God as anyone else.”

Humility doesn’t say, “I am not worthy to receive honor or other good things.” On the contrary, it is thankful for all that comes to us, both good and bad, and uses everything to the benefit of all people.

Humility isn’t crawling in the dirt and groveling. Humility is being in awe of our place in the universe but never taking ourselves so seriously that we lose perspective.

In short, humility is something we could all use a bit more of. The lessons I am excited about today I may forget tomorrow and need to relearn the day after that. How can I be anything but humble with that kind of knowledge?

Christmas Goes to the Dogs

December 26, 2006

I try to do my Christmas gift-giving before Christmas, and my family has perfected the art of the non-purchased gift, believing the present of one’s time and attention is more valuable than anything we could buy.

So, on Christmas, the only ones in our house getting presents were the dogs, Kiefer and Ecko.

Actually, they’d gotten their presents a few days earlier, while staying at my mom’s. But they didn’t get used in our house until yesterday.

My husband will tell you I’m one of the hardest people to get gifts for, and he’s right. I’ve gotten very good at telling the difference between “I need” and “I want,” and if a gift isn’t in the “I need” category, I don’t think about the fact I don’t have it. I like my gifts practical and useful.

I still enjoy the purely pleasurable gift; my students have delighted me with countless CD’s, scented candles, lotions, etc. But I still like a gift that I can use often. This way, I think about the giver each time I’m using it, and they know without a doubt it’s appreciated.

This year, my mom got the dogs blankets. One set is “informal,” for use upstairs or when they stay at her house. The other set, which is white with grand pianos on it, is the “formal” set for use in my teaching studio downstairs.

I was delighted by the gifts first because we needed them. But second, I especially liked the fact that each blanket raises money for Empire Service Dogs, a group that is breeding and training service dogs for disabled people.

Now, Kiefer and Ecko haven’t quite figured out the blankets are theirs yet. After all, they don’t smell like they belong in our house (Ecko says) and they’re not easy to make into a wad and curl up around (according to Kiefer).

Ecko has also decided that, since he’s bigger, he should use both blankets by himself and relegate Kiefer to a cushion on the other side of the room. You know, typical behavior between older and younger siblings who just got really cool Christmas presents from their grandma!