detachment

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Altared Perceptions: March 2012- “Perception”

Published March 4, 2012 by Susan Woodward

According to Rev. Scott Taylor, “Perception is not always about getting it right; sometimes it’s about seeing it all–about noticing what we’re leaving out of the picture. Stepping back and getting a wider view doesn’t always come naturally. It takes work and intention, and some assistance.”

As I gazed at this month’s altar, I have to admit that my initial reaction was disappointment.  Not that it isn’t beautiful… it certainly is.  However, what I saw seemed so simplistic that I wondered what kind of meaning I could pull from it to tie in with this month’s theme of perception.  But then, after re-reading Scott’s words about stepping back and getting a wider view, I was also reminded of a wonderful quote from Wayne W. Dyer:

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

How’s that for gaining perspective?

And so I began to ask myself about the symbolic meaning of the chosen decorations… what message could I find in them for me this month that would help me in examining my own perceptions of the world?

First, I noticed the green background.  Green symbolizes growth and new beginnings… fitting for March as we await the Vernal Equinox and the promise of Spring.  I, too, am anxious for growth… growing past my fears and allowing myself to let new buds of knowledge and experience form as I enter the next phase of my life (I turned 50 two weeks ago, and evaluating what’s next has been predominant in my mind).  The areas I would like to tend and bring new growth to are in my writing and re-evaluating what I want to do with the rest of my life.  Am I making a difference with what I am doing?  Do I still have the same passion with all the added stress of the media view of public education and the mandates coming down from the state?  How do I perceive my role as an educator?  How AM I perceived by others?  The perception of students, parents, administrators, the general media, and even the governor sometimes has me wondering how much longer I might stay in this profession.  How can I truly grow in the classroom when I often feel constrained by the pressure of conforming to producing data on state tests?   Larger classes, administrative duties, added meetings… all these are taking time away from preparing for and doing what I truly want to do: teach.  Maybe if I can find another way to perceive what is going on, I can once again sense growth not only in my students, but in myself.

For the irises, I turned to a dictionary of flower symbolism, and this is what I found:

The flower symbolism associated with the iris is faith, wisdom, cherished friendship, hope, valor, and courage.  The iris is often used in Mary gardens because the blade-shaped foliage denotes the sorrows which ‘pierced her heart.’ Iris is a Greek name meaning “rainbow,” and in mythology, this is the name of a rainbow goddess (“Living Arts Originals”).

Altering perceptions in life definitely involves the list of qualities above, so how fitting to find an iris on this month’s altar!  How I perceive myself and my role in the educational field is certainly going to include having faith in myself, having the courage to stand up for what I feel is right for students in the classroom while being wise enough to still find a way to give the state what it wants, all the while hoping that I can strike that balance effectively.  On a personal level, I feel like the flower that has not yet fully bloomed.  I am not the tight bud because I am not closed off from the knowledge of what I need to do for myself, but I am nowhere near the full blossoms either.  I am that flower that is beginning to open to this new stage of life that holds such promise of beauty as long as I persevere on opening.

The iris is a perennial, its bulbs producing flowers year after year, unlike annuals that last for only one season.  I want the changes I make in my life at this new stage to be just as on-going instead of short lived.  Also, notice that the bulb is not planted in soil, but in a dish of water.  Its roots are not anchored to one place and is therefore more mobile, able to be moved easily.  This reminds me of the detached branches from last month’s altar… able to leave the trunk yet still flourish on their own.  It’s another reminder of freeing myself from anything that binds me… including the public education system if need be one day.

The piece of driftwood at the forefront of the altar is another reminder of this.  It is wood that broke away from its source and, usually via water, made its way in the world.  At first look, it seems to simply be a dead piece of wood that serves no purpose; yet if that is true, why do so many people collect it and put it in their gardens?  It may have been worn down by time and no longer produces any new  growth, but it is still revered as an object of beauty.  Who knows where this piece of wood originated as it broke away from the tree and moved on?  Who knows what it has seen of the world?  That’s how I’d like to view myself in my old age: a piece of driftwood that managed to detach itself, travel around, and still remain an object of beauty.  For something that appears at first glance to have no use, driftwood is still perceived by many as nature’s artwork… otherwise, why would people bother to pick it up and take it home for display?

Finally, we have the pussy willows.  I again turned to a dictionary of symbolism for their meaning:

The flower symbolism associated with pussy willows is motherhood. When grown commercially, pussy willow shoots are picked just as the buds expand in spring, and can last indefinitely once dried. The branches can be put in vases or the buds can be used for table decoration. Pussy willows are one of the earliest signs of spring (“Living Arts Originals”).

Another early sign of spring, like the iris and the green background… but notice that it says that the pussy willow can last indefinitely.  That’s what I want for the changes I wish to make in my life; I want them to be indefinite, not just for a season.  As a symbol of motherhood, I am reminded of my own role as a mother, and how my love for them is indefinite… even if I someday detach myself and make my own path elsewhere.  These pussy willows have been cut from their source, yet their simplistic beauty will linger.  That’s what I want for my relationship with my children.  Whether they are the ones to uproot and move onward or I am, I want them to know that my love will always be with them.

From my original perception of simplicity in this month’s altar, I am surprised and pleased by what I have found in taking the time to explore its beauty and finding meaning there for me.  Reiterating what Wayne W. Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

Source:

“Living Arts Originals.”  2008-2011.  <http://livingartsoriginals.com&gt;.

Altared Perceptions: February 2012- “Courage”

Published February 5, 2012 by Susan Woodward

“What makes a king out of a slave? What makes the flag on the mast post wave? What makes the Hottentots so hot? Who put the ape in apricot? What do they got that I ain’t got?”

“Courage” — and that is the theme of February.

This is something I have been struggling with for quite some time and now, as I approach the golden age of fifty in two weeks, is really a good time to find my reminder of that which I seek… my courage.   I know I have it, but reminding myself of that fact seems to fall short (see my earlier post “Lessons from the Yellow Brick Road” for more).

The “altar” this month reminds me of how courageous it is to let go of our comfort zone.  The branches of the tree from last month have now broken away from the trunk and are free to find their own way.   It reminds me of how difficult breaking away can be.  Who can imagine a branch flourishing without the trunk to sustain it?  Yet these branches fly free among the moon and stars of the Heavens.   Letting go of all that we have known and “branching out” on our own is a true act of courage.  I remember what it was like for me to leave everything behind and begin a new life in Rochester where I didn’t know a soul.   It scared the hell out of me.  Like the floating branches, I felt like I had no roots.  However, in detaching myself,  I discovered a whole new life I never could have imagined.  Has it been perfect?  No.  Was it the right thing to do?  A hearty yes!

Adorning the branches are the white flowers of last month along with both evergreens and new leaves.   For me, I am reminded of how the white flowers represented the winter snow on the January altar.  Winter is a season where all seems dead.   Growth has halted as the world is at rest.  But February (and Imbolc) brings the promise of new growth, which is symbolized by the green leaves and the evergreen branches.  This reiterates the courage in the detached branches, as it takes a brave soul to suffer the loss of the old ways to make way for the new.  Death of former patterns and things that no longer suit us has to be suffered through if we are to reach the new growth that awaits us.  Yet even though we may let go of parts that no longer suit us, there will always be that which remains to remind us of our beginnings.  The birds that soar with the branches once nestled in the tree left behind.   The birds had symbolized those we loved and nourished in January, and that love does not leave us, even as we leave and take flight.

I also noticed the blue color of the stars and the ring around the moon.  For me, this is a two-fold symbol.

First, leaving our comfort zone and all we know can be sad in many ways.  When fear rises, nostalgia has a tendency to kick in and make us long for the comfortable parts of the past, even if they don’t really suit us anymore.   That’s why some people fall back into old patterns when the new ones get difficult.   From my own experience, I fell (several times) back into an unfulfilling relationship because it was easier than being courageous enough to go on alone.  Nostalgia has a way of coloring the memory.

But blue is also a color of serenity and peace.  I can only find peace within myself by having the courage to detach and follow my bliss.

In this way, the blue of the stars and the ring around the moon represent this conflict.  Although it may be sad to leave and move onward, having the courage to follow our own path is what will ultimately bring peace.

The same conflicting symbolism holds true for the blue netting that floats above the branches.  It could be viewed as the safety net that may catch us if we fall once we’ve taken flight, or it just might be the net of the past that threatens to ensnare us if we lose our courage.

As a safety net, the blue could bring us the peace of knowing that we can often count on people from the past to be there to help, even as we branch out on our own.

On the flip side, it could represent things from the past that never quite leave our memories and could trap us if we let them.

As I ruminate about my own courage and think again on my earlier post, I know that I am still looking for that physical symbol as my reminder that I do have courage.   I need and want that reminder as I venture forth so that I will no longer fall into situations that threaten to trap me in old patterns.

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