Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sacred Work

“Know thyself.” These two little words (originally posted at the temple of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece) form the basis of all psychology, said renowned psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. And so, my husband and I trundled 6 miles down the road to Esalen Institute last week, for six days of guided exploration on this endlessly fascinating topic.

The workshop, The Intimate Couple, was led by modern-day seers Jack Rosenberg and Beverly Kitaen-Morse, PhD’s with decades of experience in helping souls know themselves better. The goal: to feel more joy and fulfillment during our brief time on the planet with each other.

Yes, I confess there's a vision of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice in the back of my mind, especially since we're in the Fritz (Perls) meeting room, where Fritz himself lived, the founder of Gestalt therapy and leader of the original encounter groups in the 60's.

The name for Jack and Beverly’s system is Integrative Body Pyschotherapy. Healing and honoring ourselves, v. repeating old patterns that perpetuate our wounds, is the key. Only when I am fully present (the work of consciousness) can I truly give, to myself and to my loved ones.

It’s all in the breath. This is where we dip into our core sense of Self, the “I am” that guides us through our journey. This awakens our sense of “authenticity and aliveness in the body." After our week of practice, we have a big fat book that explains it all, with diagrams and breath exercises, some yummy memories, and a fresh perspective on our internal landscapes.

It seems that it’s not just “know thyself”, but also “share thyself.” One of the most extraordinary phenomena of a workshop of this sort, where mature people come together in the spirit of discovery with compassionate experts, is the electrifying realization that as much we are different, we are also the same, underneath. Even gender differences recede, becoming merely a facet of core self, when we consider the basics: how much love did you receive as a child, and how much love can you give and receive today?

I "show up" by being powerfully vulnerable. Someone who I didn't see fully comes into focus, beautifully. Or someone who intimidated me becomes simply human, more like me than I could ever have realized. We weave a common thread of humanity between us and grow closer, despite our superficial variations. Imagine applying this dynamic cocktail of vulnerability and understanding to your beloved, expressed in the body, and you get the picture: the potential for communion.

By the end of the week we'd shared profound truths, and belly laughs usually reserved for old-timers sitting on the porch together. We took ancient skeletons out of our closets, then Jack and Beverly wrapped them up tenderly in soft, exotic fabrics. We danced with them gently around the room and out under the stars, and found they weren't so bad after all.

Photo by Linda Sonrisa. Skeletal couple courtesy of http://www.diadelosmuertos.us/

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Parting Thoughts

Who was this guy? Bob Nash in Big Sur, 1958
An early morning phone call occasions this response from Toby, “That’ll be Bob,” and we sigh together. Yes, he’s calling for a propane tank change or needs my “pale purple eyes” to interpret a bill. Where he is he’s warm, has no bills to pay, is young and strong again, laughing with all his loves, playing with his cats in the garden. We don’t need to worry about him any more.

One night last week I spent an hour in Bob’s cabin, which we have re-christened the “Nash Temple.” The house is still filled with flowers from Bob’s memorial, gifts from loving neighbors. Imagine the décor developed by a blind, elderly person, and the changes we’ve wrought: organizing books, the ceramic pieces Bob and his wife Rosa made in the 70’s and 80’s, re-hanging some of his framed drawings. An altar to Bob is behind the wood-burning stove, complete with a bright orange candle, ceramic casts of hands, and photos from decades ago.

The Nash Temple is currently a social / meditation space, where we can go to be alone or with others to commune with Bob’s spirit. Now that our lives have been interrupted by his death, we are more willing to pay attention to his life, a sad irony. In reviewing Bob’s photos, stored in a rusted metal box neither he nor I had opened in the past ten years, I got another shock. Why didn’t I open this, and talk to him about these images, hear his stories?

Bob lived in the moment, and never asked for this kind of attention. But standing in front of the altar, as a mezzo-soprano voice on the CD player fills the temple with luscious sound, I look at Bob standing amid the geraniums of his garden, or with an unidentified smiling woman, and it hits me. The real sin of how we treat our elderly: We’re not interested. Enough. Or not until it’s too late.

Perhaps part of the reason we farm out our old people to strangers for care in their final days is to disconnect from the possibility of error, of doing or not doing something (out of the ignorance of those of us caught up in the storms of life) that makes all the difference to a frail, dying person, The guilt of that, piled on to whatever family dynamics are in place, could be too much.

Bob and Rosa, newly in love, in 1969
Rosa and Bob met on Partingon Ridge, where Rosa was on retreat with another nun from her teaching order. Yes, Rosa was a nun, of the Immaculate Heart community, who had to write to the Vatican for permission to marry Bob! Interviewed for a lovely book, Big Sur Women (once available at the Phoenix Shop, now available from the Big Sur Historical Society) Rosa talks about meeting Bob in 1965:
"One day that week he asked us up to see where he lived, so the two of us hitched up our navy blue skirts and followed him up the dirt pathway. In front of the shelter was a slab of redwood and on it was a vase with a single daffodil, a book of poetry and a copy of the daily New York Times. The absolute simplicity of his life was a revelation to me."
They courted for a few years, via correspondence, and on long walks and talks on the Ridge. Our monk found his lady in Rosa.

Hands, like faces, become more beautiful as we age, because they tell a deeper story. Eventually, like Dorian Gray, we get the faces we deserve. Looking carefully, so much can be seen behind our masks: happiness and ease, grief and struggle. Most of all, what has triumphed—joy or pain. Open face, open book. Think of all the loving and working that hands do, touching the world outside of us at all phases of life. Hands too, by both look and feel, reveal our truest natures.

I'm so glad I held Bob’s hand often, hugged him every time I saw him, and told him I loved him every day for at least the past year! Worrying that I hadn't done "enough" early one morning just waking up, my palm remembered the cool softness and strength of Bob’s hand squeezing mine and saying "I love you." With the accent on the you. And this morning I hear him saying softly to me, "Don't be sad, all is well."

Bon voyage, dear Bob...
Bob and Rosa, 1984

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Adopting Teddy

It's "Where's Teddy?"
A few days after Bob passed away,
I went looking for his sweet cat, Teddy.
but didn't look carefully enough!

I'm on a quest to adopt Bob's big grey tabby cat, Teddy. Teddy is really the Cheshire cat, with wise green eyes and a big, gentle head. When he turns to look at you, you can just see a hint of his smile. He was under Bob’s covers with him when he died.

During the first seven days after Bob’s death, the first “Bardo,” when the mind becomes fully liberated from the body, Teddy was missing in action, though the food in his bowl slowly disappeared over the week. I did see him once, running from Bob’s garden gate to the cabin, his white boots scooting across the path. We think he’s still in mourning. Perhaps grief counseling is in order...

A few days ago Toby brought him over, wrapped in a blanket and stuffed into the cat carrier. He was not happy, and fled out our own cat door (hey, how did he know where it was?) as soon as he was out of the box.

At the moment a confused and sad Teddy is tucked under the wood burning stove at the foot of my bed. I carried him over this evening at sunset, and have three long scratches above my heart to prove it. Now he is in our bedroom, mewing and moaning, looking nothing like the sweet Buddha cat I’ve known so far, who was always drunk with the love of Bob’s caresses.

This is how much we love you, Bob. My bedroom smells of tuna fish and we just improvised a litter box for your bloody cat! But you loved him so very much, so we’re taking turns talking to him about how much we love him and about how he can’t stay over at your house all by himself.

It’s 4 am, and we’re awakened by the saddest meowing you’ve ever heard. I turn on the light and plop Teddy into the litter box (our two other critters are banned from the bedroom for the evening.) We try talking him down, but that only increases the mewing.

He’s always been completely free to come and go at Bob’s so we’re not surprised when he begins rattling the screen door, and banging the food dishes around. I start thinking about how all cat behavior, from tabby to saber tooth tiger, is the same. If Teddy were a tiger, maybe he’d slash us to ribbons for confining him.

Next, the unmistakable smell of cat poop fills the room. O God, did he use the litterbox? Or are our bare feet in for an unpleasant experience? Suddenly the mewing becomes this low, gurgling growl that comes from the depths of feline hell. Think Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. The sound reminds me of a fairy tale about temple cats battling goblins in rural Japan.

Then my saintly husband takes charge. On go the lights, he lifts Teddy up onto our bed and they have a serious talk. When I join in, Teddy is purring, loudly. This must be some kind of Leo magic. We pet him and soothe him and he looks at us, mystified, but calmer.

About an hour later though, the whole cycle begins again. So out Teddy goes, meows for a bit, then most likely wanders back to Bob’s. Hopefully he’ll think kindly of his wannabe adoptive parents, and someday soon will join our menagerie!

Will we end up with Teddy as part of our family? What do you think? More importantly, what do you suggest?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Del Campo Gallery

About 20 years ago (gulp!) I visited Big Sur and stopped at Loma Vista, which was then only a lonely outpost. There was a gas station, a garden offering begonias and cactus and a dimly lit building with a reefer in the back, filled with coke and beer. The sign on the highway was just like the ones outside churches, plastic lettering stating “Gas Cactus Beer.” So folks were always asking for the cactus beer.

Those days are gone (big sigh.) Now we have an establishment that bursts with energy: a lovely restaurant, a garden filled with exotic statuary, a community event space, gift shop, art gallery and yes, gas, cacti and beer.

Today, petite and smiling Lorena del Campo greets me at the door of her pint-sized gallery, which you can find in a corner of the Loma Vista Gardens, in a building that once-upon-a-time was a greenhouse. With Lorena as mistress of this tiny art space it sparkles with artistic fulfillment, much like Lorena herself.

The Del Campo Gallery, which like Lorena’s surname, means “of the country” is perfectly suited to showcase a variety of paintings and sculpture. These creations by local artists reflect Big Sur, in her many forms: dramatic to gentle views of ocean, land and sky, plus the whimsical creatures and fantasy visions that her majestic presence inspires.

Granddaughter to a gifted jeweler, from the time when jewelers were tradespeople who could make anything from earrings to watches, Lorena grew up in Villa Hermosa, Tabasco, Mexico. She studied Psychology at Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, and met her husband, sculptor Hans Apelqvist of Sweden, in 1984, in Playa del Carmen.

Hans introduced Lorena to Big Sur shortly afterwards. They spent 5 days together in a fierce rainstorm on Partington Ridge, enjoying the hospitality of friends. When the sun came out, the magic happened, and they’ve been here creating art here ever since. Hans sculpts in bronze, while Lorena paints and creates beautiful jewelry.

"Big Sur Portrait" in oil by Lorena, "Catching Up" by Hans

What makes Big Sur artists different? They are inspired, Lorena says, as that old scoundrel Henry Miller so aptly explained, by the magnificence of the landscape. Since Mother Nature has outdone herself, other artists want to powerfully express themselves, too.

She adds that Big Sur artists are also motivated by loneliness. They are more isolated than the average artist, who benefits from high-speed internet, the creative cross-pollination of a larger artistic community, or even just a few cafés to hang out in down the street.

"Looking for Shade", Acrylic, by Celia Sanborn

The mission of the Del Campo Gallery is to provide a successful sales space for reclusive and talented Big Sur artists to share their art and their inspiration, with each other, the community and the world. The gallery is a collective: members pay a monthly fee to use the space, and receive a generous share of the profit from their works.
"Ocean Succulent" , Oil, by Julia Ingersoll, Bronze goats by Lygia Chappellet

Like all successful businesspeople, Lorena keeps a few cards held close to her chest, keeping me guessing, and wanting more... Support for the arts in Big Sur is on a major upswing, good news for all of us. Each of these amazing artists has a story to tell, and I hope to share them here, with you!

Lorena holds "Old Coast North" , Mixed Media, by Sarah Healey