Take Joy!

When I was a little girl, I spent many a happy hour reading The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, books illustrated by the artist Tasha Tudor.  The delicately drawn pictures and watercolors add to the enchanting story.  I particularly remember the illustration of the robin showing Mary Lennox the key to the hidden garden.   Tasha (1915-2008) illustrated and wrote dozens of children’s books during her prolific career.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with Tasha again, not just for her art but because of the unique life she crafted for herself.  She was fascinated with the 1830’s and moved to a farm in rural Vermont to recreate a life from that time.   She lived without electricity and wore clothes of the period.   She had a prolific garden and a barn full of animals which she tended with her beloved Corgis.   As an artist, she created the life she imagined and lived it to the fullest.   She used the words “take joy” to express the way she experienced life.   Her darling Christmas book and a documentary about her are also named Take Joy!

So in these last cold days of winter, before the spring comes, I want to encourage you to also Take Joy by finding beauty in the everyday and crafting your life to reflect your joy.   I find that we are so bombarded with everyone else’s ideas and desires, or just what the culture tells us to think and do, that we don’t take the time to really create our unique world.   This week I have been reading Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.  This is a new manifesto on how to loosen the control of media in your life so that you make more conscious choices about how you spend your time and what influences your thinking.  Take steps to mindfully use media so that life isn’t spent in front of a screen but out in the beauty of the world.   The constant bad news causes such anxiety and stress that the beauty all around is missed and then lost.  Choose media that brings happiness to your life, not that glorify the worst of human behavior.

Enter Tasha’s enchanted world for a bit and find that Joy and Take it into your life and then consciously look at your world to find the beauty.   In my world it is the chickadees having their breakfast, the wind ruffling the lake, the early spring frogs croaking in the shallow pond, the lichen on the fallen tree, the smell of the daffodils from the flower market…

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I ❤ Books

Blood Wolf Supermoon rising

January has gotten away from me all too quickly.  Christmas delightfully lingered until Epiphany and I barely got the Christmas trees snuggled into the basement when I got a cold that then became bronchitis.  School started up, our water main broke and Caroline needed some surgery (fully mended now).  Whheeww! And I didn’t feel like I was ready to leave 2018 yet.  I want to reminisce a bit about some lovely moments from last year.  There were trips to Taiwan, New Mexico, New York and of course Los Angeles. But what I want to remember and hold on to are some of the lovely things I read and watched so let me share some of my favorite literary moments of 2018.  Hopefully I will inspire something for you to enjoy and I would love for you to leave a comment on what was your favorite book or movie/series of 2018 for me to enjoy in 2019.

Last winter, one of my classes was on dreams.  I have taken classes in Jungian dream work before but there are new and interesting ways of processing dreams.  Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams by Stephen Aizenstat takes dreams from strict interpretation to learning how to have a relationship with your dreams and let them enter your waking world.  I spent a morning in a class with Dr. Aizenstat working on dreams and it was a magical experience to see this master dream tender at work.  If you are interested in knowing more about dreams, this is the book to get.

Although I didn’t read this next book for class, it combines work I did in two class on vocation and archetypes.  The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope, is a beautifully written book that uses the story of the Bhagavad Gita and weaves it with stories of people (famous and not famous) finding the vocation that comes from the heart.

In November, Alexandra and I went to the LA Opera to see Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha.  This is the story of Gandhi during his time in South Africa as he developed his ideals of non-violent resistance.  Once again, the opera uses the ancient Indian story of the Bhagavad Gita, to underscore Gandhi’s struggle to find the courage to fulfill his destiny in India.  A unique and powerful work sung in Sanskrit, it is Philip Glass’ masterpiece of opera and social change.   If you love music, I recommend Words Without Music, a memoir by Philip Glass about this remarkable composer’s life and work.  I have several of his albums on my iTunes and I wrote a paper on this amazing opera.

During a week off of school, I read Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen: A Study of Gurus by Anthony Storr.  A well written scholarly look at the phenomena of gurus, good and bad, this book helped me understand the psychology around gurus and the people that follow them.   Coincidently the Netflix show Wild Wild Country about Bahgwan Rajneesh came the same week I was reading about him in this book.  You know I had to watch it.

A few other books I enjoyed:

Sacred Space, Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places by Elizabeth Hale

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola

A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life by Tara Button

Some TV series/Movies I enjoyed: 

Howards End (2018 and 1992), The Miniaturist, Durrells of Corfu, Leave No Trace, Jane, Loving Vincent, Darkest Hour, This Beautiful Fantastic

 

 

 

I Wrote a Book

 

I wrote a book!  Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was launched on May 18 and is now available on Amazon. Over the last 5 years I’ve written about my adventures traveling in the world and at home in my everyday life. This is a guide book to help you find your own pilgrimage in the world and the path to your heart.

The first part is a guide for the physical journey, either around the world or close to home. I answer the questions of why take a pilgrimage and what is a sacred site. Then I created a step by step guide to help you take a pilgrimage from the first whisperings of a Call, preparing, the journey and integration of your experience into your life.

The second half of the book is 40 days of reflections to help find meaning in your journey and discovering your authentic self. Each day is written to take you into your heart and then unfold your new experiences and knowledge to bring you to a new understanding of yourself and the world.

This small book is an accessible and practical guide to make your journey a discovery of our beautiful world and yourself.

You can find my book here:  www.amazon.com

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

I would love for you to write an Amazon review to help others find my book.

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photo by C. Savage

Kilimanjaro

Sunrise from the summit of Kilimanjaro

Guest Post by Alexandra Bowen

In 2013 I forgot to return (i.e. stole) three books from the New York Public Library: All About The Oscar, Behind the Oscar, and A Pictorial History of the Academy Awards. These are the perfect reflection of what I was reading while in school—and a perfect reflection of how hard it is to care about overdue library books once you move. By 2015, I said goodbye to New York and started a my film career in LA, and the last thing I wanted to do after a long, albeit fulfilling, work day was read those damn books. Another literary interest took its place: Africa.

This interest isn’t entirely out of left field. I started reading because my dad was always reading, and he because his dad was always reading. What are they reading about? Africa. (And WWII, but that seemed more like a man thing than a Bowen thing). So I started reading about Africa.

More specifically, the Congo.

It seemed so dark and mysterious. And different from where I was. I started with King Leopold’s Ghost, then Blood River, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, and Dancing In the Glory of Monsters. This world was complicated, far away, oftentimes bleak, but always layered. There are cities in the Congo where time goes backwards. Grandparents had modern amenities that their grandchildren have never seen. They joke, “What did the Congolese use before they discovered candles?” Answer: electricity. I’d blow through these books each night before bed, wake up well-rested the next morning, and walk the palm-tree lined streets to my office while considering King Leopold, Kinshasa, and Mobutu. This fixation grew until every standing-in-line-at-CVS moment, morning or evening, was occupied by the Congo.

Then I climbed Kilimanjaro.

(We summited! and had a blast)

I landed back in LA with a thud—jittery, tired, and overly excited by all toilets. I settled into life again, ready to read under my down comforter. But I felt a full body block against reading about Africa. I couldn’t do it. The fixation disappeared. Fully obsessed to fully disinterested. I can only compare that weird sensation to taking a pill that instantly cures a headache.

Maybe it’s the every-changing phases of youth. Maybe it’s PTSD from international travel. I suspect, if I give it time, I’ll discover that the real block is that Africa is not a mystery anymore. It doesn’t matter that I was across the border in Tanzania; the far away world of the Congo is tangible now. There’s a chance I’ll stare at my hand too long and think too deeply about the dark details of what happened there.

I don’t know what I expected to take away from this trip, but it certainly wasn’t that. So goes life. Those people couldn’t care less if I’m reading about them or not—I wasn’t put here to solve the riddle of the Congo. For now, I feel a sense of endearment to that place. I will bide my time, send them good vibes, and get back to reading my contraband non-fiction film industry books until I’m ready to do what I am meant to do:

make a movie about it.

 

 

 

Opossum

It was a perfect early October day here in east Tennessee and it was time for an annual customer appreciation picnic at the local wildlife/nature center. This is one of my favorite days of fall for not only is the atmosphere beautiful but I love the food and each year there is a theme, this year it was ‘America’. After I had my dinner I went in the main building to see this year’s exhibit of birds of prey. The featured star was a bald eagle named America. He had been injured as a young bird and so had a long and illustrious career teaching children about his species. It is amazing to be so close to this magnificent bird, so regal. There was also a beautiful small screech owl with an eye injury that keeps her from hunting. It was too bad these lovely birds were no longer in the wild but they do so much to teach about birds and conservation.

But what does that have to do with opossums? Well nothing really, I was just setting the scene. Now on to the opossum. When I arrived at the picnic the head naturalist Lyn Bales was holding an opossum named Olivia. I’ve certainly seen lots of opossums, alive through the window having a midnight snack on my back porch and also unfortunately dead on the road, a way too common sight. But this was the first time for me to see one up close and personal, I love opossums. They are odd little creatures with pointy noses, beady eyes and a long hairless tail—I’m not much on the tail. They are the only marsupials in North American and they can be seen carrying their babies on their backs. The babies are beyond adorable.

I went straight over to Olivia and was totally enchanted by her whiskers and soft round gray ears. I mentioned to Lyn that I had just read the day before he had written a new book, Ephemeral by Nature. I guess I looked harmless and he let me pet her! I got to pet an opossum. Well here is why I was so excited—the opossum has long been one of my totem animals (symbolic personality traits). Strange, I know, most people have cool animals like wolves, bears, hawks or owls. Not me, I have an opossum but I’ve learned to love the gifts that opossum gives me. The gift of the opossum is to play dead. (Actually the faint when scared and give off a scent of rotting carcass.) That doesn’t seem like much of a skill set but let me tell you it is mighty useful. When you play dead you don’t have to use any energy fighting off detractors or criticism. “Nothing to see here” and then you run off as soon as the danger passes and go about your business. It is a good way to stay out of trouble and arguments with nary a scratch. It has saved me lots of suffering.

I loved having the opossum on my side but after awhile I needed some new techniques that were a little more empowered so I took on a bit more strength with the black panther. But every once in awhile the opossum keeps me out of trouble or is just the most expedient choice. Olivia the opossum was just the medicine I needed that day to remind me that opossums are not just helpful but cute too.

Media Fast

Beehive Hermit Cell,  Kilmartin Scotland

I was out of control. My YouTube time had ballooned into a near-addiction. Ever since I got rid of cable I had transferred my downtime to the internet instead of TV. And besides, YouTube is designed to keep you watching long past a couple of videos. I’ve never liked Facebook much but it still took up a bit of time everyday too. One Sunday morning I knew I needed to stop so I had Hamilton lock my iPad in the safe for a week. I need to take an internet break. I still had a laptop (too slow), smart-phone (too little) and Kindle (too basic) but none of them tempt me to do anything but important business.

With nothing to distract me I had to get back to books. I read some fluff on the Kindle and got the news from an actual newspaper and I got back to my early morning reading. I’ve had a routine since I was young of reading something spiritual when I first get up in the morning. I feed the cats, make some coffee and while that is brewing, unload the dishwasher. Then I pour my first cup of the day with just cream, and set to reading. I like to read a chapter or so in a spiritual or metaphysical book and then move on to something else I’m working on. It is amazing how many books you can get through in a year with a chapter a day.

The world is dark and quiet early in the morning and the only thing stirring is my cat Timmy who wants his morning cuddle. It is in this silence that I can open my mind and heart to the spiritual masters and teachers who left beautiful writings to help guide me on my path. During my internet fast I was reading a lovely book called The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way. An appropriate title for the a perpetual pilgrim to be reading, don’t you think? This spiritual classic was written by an unknown Russian peasant in the 1800’s who’s life was in shambles after losing his home and wife.

The author sets off to travel looking for his spiritual truth with only the clothes on his back and some crusts of bread in a knapsack. He wanted to follow the words of the Bible and learn to ‘pray without ceasing’. With the Bible and another book the Philokalia, a collection of early Christian writings. as his guide and solace, he encounters hardship, hunger, cold and thieves. As his journey continues he finds meaning and comfort in prayer and is able to help many people he encounters on the way. Two books and some bread—that is far from my stack of electronic devises and pantry full of food. Would I have the courage of this man? Could I ever be able to dedicate my life to such an ideal? Times have changed but the need to find our truth is still there.

I will definitely lock up the iPad again if I need a break from the world. I’m not quite ready to be a wandering mendicant but I did learn to put the world in its proper place again. By the way, my second book in the morning currently is about Thoreau and Walden Pond, Expect Great Things, and my third book is about a young man living in a van, Walden on Wheels. I think there is a pattern here. But as appealing as a good wander sounds I think I will stick with my air conditioned house during this hot and humid August and enjoy some vicarious wandering.

The Snow Leopard

photo by Bernard Landgraf

Last week Hamilton and I took my mom to see the movie Born in China. She loves nature shows on TV and it was a nice outing for all of us. So after dinner out we headed to the theater where we were the only three watching the movie. I’m so glad we saw it on the big screen because it was spectacularly beautiful with pandas, monkeys, cranes and my favorite, snow leopards. The narrator had charming and engaging story-lines about each animal mother and child. We watched rolly-polly baby pandas tumble down the mountain followed by young monkeys jumping around their forest home. In the introduction and ending are cranes flying across mountains, lakes and a giant setting sun. I really don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful movie. But what I wanted to see the most were the snow leopards, the rare and elusive big cat that lives in the high and uninhabitable Himalayas.

I first learned about snow leopards many years ago when I read a book in book club called The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The book was written in the 1970’s about Peter’s expedition into the deep Himalayas. His companion was in search of rutting sheep but Peter was in search of himself and a rare glimpse of the snow leopard. He had lost his young wife to cancer the year before and used this journey to look deeply at his life and grieve. The two hiked for weeks through high and difficult terrain with a rag-tag group of porters to reach the sheep. During the long days of hard walking Peter reflected on his personal and spiritual life. He never did see a snow leopard for at that time less than a handful of people had ever glimpsed this elusive cat.

The first time I read this book I understood absolutely nothing. Yep, I couldn’t comprehend anything Peter was talking about. I was young and I had no context for his experience. But interestingly enough I never forgot the book for somehow I sensed that it was important and so is the snow leopard. Over the years photographers captured a few distant images of the snow leopard in the wild but now this movie gives us a look at their elusive life.

I was inspired to read The Snow Leopard again after seeing this exquisite mama and babies try to survive in such a harshly beautiful environment. Hamilton had his copy high on a shelf so I got a ladder and pulled down the small paperback. The pages were old, discolored and rough. I started to read it for the first time in 25 years. This time I understood every word. Time had given me context for this beautiful pilgrimage into a harsh land and a grieving heart. Peter is a Buddhist and now all the words and stories about the Buddha made sense and after having a long walking pilgrimage myself I now understood his journey and deep need for a quest into the unknown. I had finally grown into the book.

At the same time I was revisiting another book I read over 20 years ago, The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham about mystical experiences. This is another book I didn’t understand on the first read but yet never forgot. These two books came into my life when the words were as elusive to me as the snow leopard. My life experience had no context for the story. But time changed that, for I persevered and built the vocabulary and experience to revisit these spiritual classics and now every word is like a tonic and a blessing. Like the new and amazing images of the snow leopard these books now can be part of my heart for I can see them now, when before they were so hidden with my lack of experience.

What books and movies do you need to revisit? What is waiting to for you to read with new eyes now that you have grown and learned? When time and experience combines with learning and wisdom we build new path ways to new mountain tops and are able to finally glimpse the snow leopard.

Persy on her snow leopard blanket.  It makes her feel exotic and mysterious.