Marianne Simon Speaker Writer Coach

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What Matters

What matters?

Last night I heard a friend had passed away.  She was my age.  After two months of surgery and great pain, the cancer got the best of her. 

As we spoke of her and the progression of her illness over cups of tea, the thing that struck me most was a story of how in her last days of delirium she played melodies in the air.  That visual, fingers moving in the shadows, playing a Mozart Concerto was hauntingly beautiful, and terribly painful.

For the questions rise up, as they always do, when we are reminded that life in this body is such a finite gift.  They are difficult questions that require we look inside and examine the choices we’ve made, the importance we place.

As this brilliant, kind, generous, beautiful woman played her final song I wanted to know “What mattered?  What mattered?”

How many times have we gone into tizzies over meaningless (meaningless!) things?  How often have we shut someone out of our lives for a perceived insult? 

How often have we puttered away hours upon hours upon hours on some distraction or other?  Or thinking that what mattered was the brass ring, the applause, the bank account, the notches on a belt, the number of friends on facebook…

How often have we wasted this irreplaceable resource – time?

We all have our own journey to walk, our own path to forge.  I do not pretend to know what is the ‘right’ way to live a life.   I can commit only to the questioning – and answering as truthfully as possible for myself.

            What is it that matters? Truly matters.

            Have I made the choices that support my Soul?

            Have I opened my heart and trusted?

            Have I dared?     

At the end of the day, I believe it is all perfect, though we may not understand the meaning at the time. I have found great solace in the belief that there are no ‘wrong’ choices.  Though we may not like the outcome, they are all part of our life lesson.  And how often, when we are not paying attention, life has a way of setting us straight.

So as this sweet Soul now dances freely beyond her mortal coil, I am blessed for the knowing her.  Her thread woven indelibly with mine.  And I am grateful for her gift, the reminder, that to those who loved her, She mattered.

Love in a Bean Soup

It was bean soup I was making, cannellini bean made from scratch.  The beans had been soaking all night, and were now cooked perfectly (sometimes a challenge for me, getting them just right), salted and ready for soup.

kale-and-white-bean-soupInto my ancient cast iron pot I started with the bacon, just a few pieces for the flavor and the fat for sautéing the vegetables.  Then came the leeks and onions, stirred until they sweetened and softened.  Next came the celery and red pepper for color.  Finally, carrots, lots and lots of carrots, and a dash of chopped garlic.

Out in the living room, my daughter sat, phone in hand, texting to friends.  We’d had another one of our strange strained encounters.  Perhaps you know the ones, where you try, almost in desperation to find a topic you can share.  It doesn’t really matter what you talk about, only that there is a chance to connect with them a little bit.  Unfortunately, I’m not always the best conversationalist as you will see. I started out with great cheer, “How are you these days?”

Her response, “How do you want me to answer that?”  Ok, maybe that was not a good question to ask.  I then ran through a repertoire of other questions, each one feeling more forced than the last.  Somehow I had this sense there was something I was supposed to guess or understand about her situation that I had not yet found.  Finally, in desperation I asked her outright, “What is it you want me to ask?”

 Boom! The door slammed shut.  She looked at me with a painted smile and turned away. “I’m fine mom, fine.” Saddened, I walked away. 

 This is the scene I recalled as I prepare my soup.  I stir in the softened vegetables, adding the broth and herbs:  oregano fresh from the garden, parsley and basil, more salt and pepper.  Finally I slide in those  beans.  And as I’m stirring and tasting, my thoughts keep turning back to my daughter and the ache in my heart that I am so often at a loss as to how to connect with her.  But as I stir and the scent of the soup grows stronger, it comes to me … that I can love her with this soup.

With every stir of spoon, and splash of spice, I can pour my love into this soup.  As I taste the evolving flavors, I imagine her eating this soup.  And as she does, my love will warm her insides, and fortify her body.  My love will swim all up inside her, hugging her close, bestowing her with kisses, even if she does not hear the words. 

And so I stir and love as she sits in the living room texting, the wall between us thick and high.

Later that night after two bowls, she heads off to bed and takes a moment to say, “Good soup, mom.  Thanks.”  I hold those words close to my heart.

So here is the most wondrous thing, the next morning we sat on the couch drinking our coffee, when she opened up of her own accord.  She shared about her week, the frustrations she felt at work.  She spoke of friends moving away and feeling isolated where she lived. The conversation flowed easily, effortlessly.  Her sharing, my sharing, a sweet connection.coffee

Who knows the reason for this shift.  Maybe it was a good night’s sleep and how things are softer in the morning.  Maybe it was me not trying so hard, and her need for a kind shoulder.

And maybe, it was the magic of a soup infused with so much love – me in the making of it, her in the eating, that somehow softened defenses, cleared the illusion of obstacles we sometimes create.  Maybe in the sharing of that soup sits the possibility that love can be given and accepted without a word at all.

 Tonight I’m thinking about spaghetti squash with a marinara sauce, maybe a dash of wine…

 

Holding to Grace

Holding to Grace

Grace – 

A word that tumbles walls and softens the heart.  A word to hold to.

At supper, 

In temples, 

In the wilderness.  

Grace. A word to hold to, 

In the quiet, in the soul.

 

Grace.

Silver bells and dawn’s first light.

A baby’s first cry, and a morning lark.

The feel of my eyes upon your face.

 

Grace

A word to calm fears

And still wild waters.

A life raft in the storm,

A beacon in the night.

 

Grace.

The heart expanding to music.

Tears flowing in love.

Tenderness and forgiveness.

And all creation in a teacup.

 

Grace.

An ember stoked to flame,

The dove of peace.

Beauty and freedom.

The soft breath of lips, “I love you.”

 

Grace.

Flow and earth,

Whole and pure.

Salvation.

 

It is the end of the river when she meets the sea, in rejoicing.

The sense of coming home after painful separation.

It is melting hearts and tumbling walls.  Grace.

 

It is the feeling behind the words,

The ones we truly need to speak. 

What would it be to live this way?

 

Red Soul winking.

Head to heart.

Arms open in comfort and love.

White robed, barefooted, flower crowned, Grace.

 

Beneath it all – hard hearts and stone walls, She waits.  

Patient.

 

At some point, before the last breath, they reach out to her, Grace.

Hearts softening, walls tumbling.

“We have come to the end of the evening,” She whispers as she sits by him on the bed.  

He nods his head.  She takes his hand.

He feels it then, the warmth of her fingers,

The light of her eyes,

The love in her smile.

He leans back against the pillow, eyes closing, muscles loosening, breath slowing.

Heart melting, walls tumbling.

His children sigh, and for a few moments, just a few moments, 

– Grace.

 

What would it be to live this way?

She Started a Band at 55

She Started a Band at 55

TheRhythmRanchGalsI wrote that headline this morning as I was doing my morning pages, my daily conversation with myself. It made me smile.  So I wrote it again.  

My first reaction was “No, that’s just a crazy thought. I can barely make a C chord.”  But then I let that thought expand, an unfurling flower.  What made me smile was the possibility of this idea, that out of the blue, this notion filled my head.

I have no idea why I picked up my guitar after all this time, only that I felt the impulse and I followed it.

I know that it feels really good to have music back in my life.  I know that it feels good to master something new, feeling the accomplishment of fingers over strings, deciphering notes on a page.  I know it feels really good to sing to the music, even as my voice cracks and struggles to find the key.  I appreciate that I can let go of ‘perfect,’ and instead celebrate improvement, and practice and expansion. 

I know that for the time that I am in class or practicing, nothing else matters.  It gives me something important to hold to – creativity, beauty, communion, structure.

 I turn 55 next month.  I am 10 years away from’ retirement.’  It is easy to give in to the general consensus that we, especially as women, are ‘over the hill’ at a certain age, that we are done with our most productive years.  

So when those words showed up on my page you bet it made me smile.  It showed me that there will continue to be unexpected surprises, twists and turns in this life we cannot predict.  It reminded me that it’s not over until we’ve taken our last breath (and even then).  It reminded me of how much I have to ‘live this life,’ even as the insanity spins around me and it is so easy to crawl into a hole and hide.

So who knows, maybe I will start a band.  My head scoffs, but my Soul?  She may have a different idea.

To unlimited possibilities….

 

Power of the Phone for the Resistance

IMG_2396I love a good march. Love the camaraderie and sense of power. But yesterday I learned what some of the harder work is. It’s making the phone calls, talking to people one on one.  I joined Code Blue for a phone bank yesterday calling for democrats in Connecticut.  Especially since I live in a blue, blue community, it made sense to me to support elections in other districts even if I didn’t live there.  

Here’s what I learned:

1.  It’s not easy.  I couldn’t hide behind a funny picture of a cat, or even a ranting Melissa McCarthy.  This was just me on the phone with a total stranger, talking about some candidate I didn’t know.  And these were the easy calls, these were supposed to be mostly Democrats or at least Undecided.

2.  I stopped making assumptions about what people thought in other parts of the country.  I got a chance to talk to at least one person who had been Democrat but felt betrayed by his own party.

3.  There are people out there who have stopped caring, or rather, are so disappointed they don’t think it matters.

4.  There were opportunities to connect.  I wish I had taken the time to learn more about the candidate we were supporting and the issues, so I could talk with more intelligence.  I will next time.

5.  I admit sometimes I was happier when I got an answering machine.  My heart always skipped a little when I got a human on the line.  Then I took a breath and started.

6.  A couple of folks had not heard about the special election, and now they knew.  What they did with that was out of my control. But at least they knew.

7.  I had to put myself on the line.  When I let go of the ‘script’ I got a chance to share my own beliefs as to why this mattered.  IMG_2391And I thanked the people on the other line for taking the time to listen.

As I mentioned at the start, it wasn’t easy.  It helped a lot that there was a great team from Code Blue to support the efforts. Good coffee, yummy bagels.  Whenever we had a positive call, or if we got a bit discouraged, we all did a wave.  I left feeling that I had done something to help.

It hit me hard when I got home.  That if I, if WE, didn’t commit to resisting this assault with all we had, if we didn’t turn the tide, we were really and truly screwed: our economy, our environment, our future.

It will no doubt ask more of us than we anticipated.  We are going to have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off again and again.  There will be days of doubt and depression.  But what is the alternative?

So this morning, I invite you to continue to stay involved, to keep plugging away, to keep on caring.  Be it calls to your senators, meetings and town halls, marches and rallies, videos and songs.  Check out organizations like Code Blue, where you can get on the phone with folks across America and talk to people.  Or donate to ActBlue where they support candidates in local elections.  Meet your neighbors, make new friends.  There is power in numbers.  Keep working.

And maybe we can take it back – one seat at a time, one state at a time.  After all, what is the alternative?

 

 

Hands Across the Waters

As I’ve mentioned, I live in Los Angeles, and we don’t get much more blue than that.  In attending various gatherings post-election, the question comes up again and again: What can I do if my representatives already vote the way I believe?  The answers are solid: we can call them and rally for them to continue to support our values in the legislation.  Encourage them to be bold and aggressive in their defense of the constitution and protection of our rights.  Attend town halls and meet with them to continue to communicate our demands.

And I want to do more.  My stomach churns at the confirmation of Pruitt to the EPA.  My senators voted no – but 52 others voted yes!  I want to do more.

I was listening to MSNBC the other evening and Rachel Maddow mentioned a special election that was going to be held to fill Tom Price’s 6th Congressional seat in Georgia.  She then went on to question why the DNC was not sending forces down there to support a democratic alternative.  Trump had won by only 1.5 points there.  It was not outside the realm of possibility that we could flip this seat from red to blue.

Imagine the ripples this would send through the Republican bastions.  The look on their faces, the quiver in their bellies, when they discovered that indeed, the ‘pussy hats’ could do more than march.  Even if we did not win, the fact that we would rally in force behind a blue candidate, that we would raise money for them, that we would continue to raise awareness and make noise, might shake them up and get them to listen a little more openly.

So I’m way on board with this idea, but wondering what I could do from here, way across the country?  

The next morning I wake up to the words from a Beatles’ song, “hands across the water…” And as I’m walking, I’m thinking about ways that my hands could reach out to support other communities, across the state or even across the country.

I go online to learn a little bit more about the district.  I look to see if there is an Indivisible group there I can connect with.  I’m hearing about ‘huddles’ happening around the country and check that out.  

Then I ask myself who do I know that might have some suggestions.   And I think of someone.  At a water conference last year I struck up a conversation with this wonderful gal from Atlanta.  

So I got brave and gave her a call, and we had a talk.  I told her I was new to this stuff, but I wanted to do something.  She shared that though Tom Price was not in her district, she did have a friend who was in District 6, and she connected us.

I went online to discover there is an up and coming democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, supported by John Lewis, who is gaining momentum. I read about him, I liked what he stood for, so I contributed to his campaign via ActBlue.  Because, yes, money talks, action speaks.

That melody has stayed with me, the words ‘hands across the water.’  I’ve created a map with stars to indicate where there are other people I know outside of Los Angeles, it’s pretty cool.  I’m going to reach out to them as well.  I love the vision of reaching hands across this country to sister cities, sister states to support a bigger vision.  One that is about unity, and having our voices heard, and protecting our rights.  

So I encourage you to scroll through your contact list, your Facebook friends, your linked in connections.  Consider who you know, have fun, reach out, it’s what we women do really well.  Who knows… maybe a bunch of gals in silly pink hats will change the world…

 

hands across the states

 

 

Accidental Joy

Guitar classes.  My husband gave me a series at McCabe’s for Christmas this year.  I haven’t played since I was in college but was inspired to pick it back up again after all this time.

_Dan playing acoustic guitar It is definitely harder on this old brain to make it all work – fingering and plucking and reading and rhythm.  But it is a fantastic reminder that it is diligence and persistence that make the difference, because at each class we are all a little better.

 For the most part, it is mechanical and clumsy, the transitions to chords slow and muddy.  There is no ‘passion’ yet in what I play because I have to keep looking down to see where my fingers are supposed to go. 

This Monday the seven of us in class came together as usual and our instructor handed out John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”  Amazingly, our practice was paying off as we now knew all the chords, we knew the strum, and so away we went.  And as we played, one of the guys from McCabe’s joined in with a standing base, adding his thumping drive to the music. 

Our instructor started riffing on the melody and we all joined our voices to the chorus – the only words I could remember after all these years.  And then it happened.

…. We took off.  Like that feeling when a plane’s wheels leave the tarmac, we were soaring in the music.  Not thinking about it, but strumming and singing in the pure, sweet joy that is being in the complete flow of the moment.  I whooped and cheered when we were done, so proud of how far we had come.

So this is what I want to share with you my dear ones – joy can happen anywhere, at any time. 

 As I’d chatted with my fellow players, we understood how much of a relief these 90 minutes a week were in the midst of this insane political climate.

But here is the thing about joy (and love and truth) – It happens.  Often when we are not looking for it, or seeking it out. 

 Joy happens, unexpected …. accidental like … stumbled upon.  Hold it precious when it does.

 Play on.

 

Look to the Horizon

photo3For any of you that have been on the ocean and have felt that growing queasiness in your belly, you may recall the best advice is to ‘look to the horizon.’  These days I feel as if every day is a tempest and my little dinghy is taking on so much water. 

As I sit here writing this morning, I beg my husband not to share the latest news until I’ve at least finished my coffee.  One of the things I’m exploring is how do I survive the next four days, much less the next four years!

The thought that comes to me, one I’ve heard again and again, but now understand more fully, is that I must anchor myself.  All around me the world is going topsy turvy, but there is little I can do about it if I’m tossing about as well.  And I must look to the horizon for hope.

Each of us have our own way of grounding, anchoring, connecting to our own guiding light, our own true north (look at all these navigation terms!).  For some it is meditation, for some it is dance, for some it is prayer, for some it is a walk in the mountains, or surfing on the seas.  Those are moments when it all stills inside, when the only voice you hear is your own.  It is in those moments that strength comes, inspiration comes, possibility comes, connection.  Whatever it is that anchors you to yourself, hold fast.   We cannot counter this chaos with panic, fear, fury.  It is exhausting and not sustainable.

As the waves rise high and threaten to drown us we must look to the horizon, to the principles we hold to: freedom, justice, equality, safety, peace – for all of us.  As I think of those words, those beautiful words, their meaning settles into my heart.  I become less afraid. My stomach eases, my breathing deepens.  I also know, have witnessed this huge outcry, that I am not alone in wanting this vision.

No matter the actions we take – calling, writing, speaking, creating, marching, singing, donating – when we look towards the horizon instead of the lurching seas around us we move with more power, more direction, more grace.  

From this place of calm and strength we can “be the change we want to see.”

So take a deep breath, imagine that distant horizon glowing like a sunrise after a storm, and make your stand.

Sunrise after th storm over the ocean and lagoon at Torrey Pines

 

 

 

 

What Are the Principles We Will Fight For?

Flag-Raising1.4The sun was just rising as I headed down for my morning walk. I had to drop off a letter at the post office and as I was leaving I noticed an older gentleman raising the flag. I stopped and watched him for a while as it rose higher and higher into a bright blue morning sky. I felt my heart expand, tears stinging my eyes, as I drank in the sight. When he was done I had to walk over to him and thank him for doing that, for it was beautiful to behold.

In the past I have sometimes considered patriotism lightly.  But as I watched that flag unfurl in the morning light I felt something shift. I contemplated the words that are the foundation of our democracy and I felt a settling in my soul, a reaffirmation to these principles in a new and deeper way.  They are words that have the power to stir our hearts and unite us in a common cause. They are principles that make me feel connected and honorable and true.  They are a promise I make to my daughter, to my community, to my country.  They are principles I vow to protect:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1776)

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (1787)

 “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (original version 1892)

 “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (1886)

It is a Marathon not a Sprint

Finding My Rhythm to the Resistance

 Like many, I was exhilarated by the march and am inspired by those who are working valiantly to pull us together into a cohesive force. But I am also overwhelmed by the news coming out of Washington and the resulting calls to action to resist.

 I know I can’t sit on the sidelines and let this current administration run rampant without doing something. And I know I have to pace myself because this will be a long difficult slog. So I thought I would share some of the strategies I am developing to survive the resistance.

 Manage the input. Pick blocks of time during the day to read emails, check facebook, listen to the news. Determine which sources you trust for information.

 Manage the output. We only have 24 hours a day. Pick a block(s) of time to take focused action. Maximize your own gifts to be most effective: Write, call, email, march, speak, make art, donate.

 Manage the emotions. I am particularly vulnerable to this: getting angry or frustrated or frightened. Don’t let it consume you. Find ways to release: exercise, get into nature, turn on some music and dance.

95d28097b4edbbf400a9c872d2ab5f76 Feed the spirit (and body and mind). Essential.  There is no doubt that this work will be hard, stirring the muck, revealing both the darkness and the light in this country of ours. So we must fortify ourselves with care and kindness.

– Go quiet. Make sure to create time to turn off the noise. There are so many influences pulling at us, it is vital to go ‘inside’ to connect with our own personal guidance system, our own true north.

– Find sustenance in friends and family.  Share a meal, laugh, cry. It helps to remember we are not alone. Drink from their support.

– It is bigger than us. Whatever your faith or your belief system, lean into the support it provides. Whether it is praying at an altar, sitting in ceremony with your sisters, or lying under an oak tree, drink in the love, feel the connection, bow in gratitude for this life we have been given, and this opportunity to grow and evolve.

– Eat good food, made with love and respect.

– Sleep well and let your body’s own healing powers rejuvenate you.

– Remember you are not alone.

 So I am girding my loins, preparing myself for what may come. I recognize it is a marathon, not a sprint, so I am setting up the foundations; even if I falter, even if I fall, I will find the strength to rise again. Accepting that this will be a rough and tumble ride but, oh, what stories we will tell.

MPP50622

 

 

 

 

To your Journey !

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