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How do you expand a mind?

Mind you, I’m not plotting to expand yours. You may keep reading free of the fear of that.

What I am considering here is my own mind who wants expanding regularly, but rarely gets the chance. Because I am very busy confounding its attempts by confining it and pointing it in its rightward direction. Any veering off course is met with a swift kick to get back on track…This you know. This you do. This is yours and not theirs. This is the pattern we have established here. Stop being silly and get on board.

So, I am asking myself, what expands a mind? And while we’re thinking about it, how about its alternative: what constricts one?

Oh, I’d like just to invest in a prescription. Dole me out some prednisone to reduce the inflammation, and NOW the blood will flow more freely to those cerebral spaces. But that’s too chemical. Too controllable. Too directed. Can a constricted mind even unconstrict itself? No, I think expansion desires a different way.

One might consider, here, today’s popularly proffered solution: seek out “opposing points of view” and listen “with an open mind.” This generally doesn’t work for me. My sit and listen tends to spin off and spiral into ways I can defend my position just as soon as you are through.

Clearly, this is no recipe for expansion. Expansion, I fear, has more to do with letting, and perhaps with its calming companions, lessening and releasing. Instead of breath-holding, these three invite me to blow out that old dead air in order to accommodate some refreshener. To make ample room in my mental meandering for question-asking, what-iffing and perhaps even a bit of wit and whimsy.


What if gravity didn’t hold? What if humans could walk through walls? What if magic was real? What if stars could speak? What if (gasp) I didn’t have to abide by all the rules of best behavior? I know this is NOT a mind expansion for many of you, but it’s a biggie for me. And it’s my mind we’re investigating here, so come with me …

What if we could be issued an exemption from always having to behave according to expectations? Even a momentary exemption, say the moment when a foul ball came into my possession at a recent pre-season baseball game and everyone in the stadium expected me to hand it over to a kid. No respectable adult would KEEP that ball. Heck, the guy in the NYY hat whirled on me and shouted, “Give it to a kid!”

I didn’t want to. And I didn’t. Yep, that’s what this is all about. Me, reconciling that moment. When my mind — normally constricted by guilting, shaming and shoulding — broke out of that mold. No guilt, shame or shoulds here. Everything dilated to allow a little breathing room. And it was okay.

What, I’ve been wondering since, what if this expansive moment could last?!! What if we could activate it ON PURPOSE?!

Really is this such a stretch? I mean, our eyes do it all the time. When darkness descends, our pupils dilate to help us see. That’s hard-wired into our subconscious. So, why not will ourselves to let more figurative light in to our cerebral spaces? Intentionally, invite our minds to skip freely down new paths opening doors to new ideas, and new ways accessed by new passageways? Dare we suspend the mathematical and equational, even the sensational and emotional, in service of the … mystical? supernatural? Let’s call it super-rational… where, a bit more light might help what’s been hidden to show itself?

Ah, try as we might, we humans only have meager success at controlling the subconscious by intention. A few may be especially capable, but alas I am not one of these. Try as I might to pry my eyes open to let more light in, my reflexes resist and my eyes slam shut, smarting from the effort.

I have more success actually in the darkened room when I shut my eyes tightly, excusing them from trying to extract visual input where there isn’t any. Don’t waste your time; just let yourself see. Somehow that “letting” allows perception to travel through different channels creating a new inner dialog.

Something like… you won’t die if you keep this baseball. (Who told you, you would?!) and… If you let yourself, a giddiness will overtake you every time you look at it. Go ahead… And when you hold it, it will transport you to long ago memories of major league games your mom took you to.

Games when your 8-year-old self wished the big-leaguers would hit it right to you so you could catch it in the mitt you hauled all the way from home. Games at 10 years and 12 years old, when, as a consolation prize, you brought home the game-day-give-away, a Dal Maxville signature bat. (You weren’t bold like the other kids who asked for bats signed by the heavy hitters instead of the light-hitting shortstop. No, you would never ask; you took what they gave you.) Oh, you brought home memories for sure.

And you brought them with you to tonight’s game, so that when you gripped that ball, you tucked it deeply in your pocket. When kids surrounded you awaiting their handout, you didn’t comply. You broke the rules and kept that ball. And gave it, sure as day, to the kid in you who’s been waiting decades for that catch.

Light. A veritable blooming.


What’s Revealed at the Pool?

swimming-pool-blue-waterHow do you get in?

Close your eyes, hold your nose and jump!

Shimmy in, inch by inch.

Step. down. the. ladder.

Look out below!! SPLASH

Test the water …

Sit with feet dangling

Sunning and dipping. Sunning and dipping.

Dive: Lap, lap, lap, lap, lap, lap.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they enter the pool.

How do you get in?

Order in Chaos: can’t you see it?


As I look down this tunnel of books packed floor to ceiling, I hear… du-doo, du-doo, du-doo, du-doo. I am pretty sure Rod Serling is about to tell me I have crossed over into … “The Twilight zone.

I am standing in the back of a small bookstore in Lake Junaluska, NC. On entering, I ran nearly headlong into the first stacks of books, and the mustiness of decades wafted past me, sprinting for the freedom of the fresh air before I let the door close behind me. I, on the other hand, am trapped.

Any sensible person would have about-faced and bolted. But these are books: floor to ceiling, stacked backward and sideways, piled high on the floors, even on new shelves created by recalcitrant volumes not satisfied to stand they lay and allow more to be piled upon them. And not just in one aisle, but many, many aisles. Row after row of treasured tomes, perhaps a hundred thousand; my Dad would have had to calculate for sure. But even he would have been stymied because behind what shows forth is another. That is, when you pull out one item, another is behind it, and another. Their spines are laid flat or backed in, as if their pages could protect their identity.

But they cannot. Not to the curious. It is this promise of buried treasure that draws me in. And not only into the store but actually down the center aisle. Looking left and right, I recognize a few of the book covers and I can see they have been sorted according their contents, though only the random sticky note shoved in between even hints at the general category. An unseen hand has collected each and every book and has placed it with its fellows. The proprietor of the bookstore who offered a cheery hello and a “can I help you find something?” and an “I’ve got everything, don’t you think I deserve a few dollars?” when we came in. Forty years worth of collecting and more years of living are represented in these shelves. I have wandered in, unaccompanied, so I tug a book or two from the shelves to thumb through, in the unlikely expectation that I’ll ever successfully re-shelve them if I decide not to purchase.

I dig under a pile of popular magazines and arrive at a 1987 edition whose cover feature raves about this new technology that will save lives: magnetic resonance imaging. MRIs that regularly do save lives and limbs and are beamed into my house via computer to my radiologist husband. What I hold in my hands is ancient history, yet telling for its prediction of the future which I know know. I brush off the dusty cover and attempt to re-stack the magazines as I found them.

What else is here? Everything, it seems, yet so completely jumbled how would I ever find it? What a dilemma. I am standing amid all the world’s answers and haven’t a single means to find what I am looking for. This quest feels all too real and very distressing.

Still, I make my way, boldly to the end of the aisle. I’ve begun; why stop now? Arriving at the end, I must sidestep to make the turn. From here I spot Melanie, my cohort and partner in crime on this day, hovering near the entry-way. She is not leaving the safety of the entrance; I snap a photo, focusing on her in the distant tunnel. For a moment she seems very far away and the walls of books threaten to topple or to burst into flame.

Silly me. What an imagination!

But then the photo. The books seem to spin, the luminescence, haunting. It is not outside me but in. The brilliant light, a nerve cell, perhaps a brain cell, carrying information at warp speed. It sprints past my memories, my experiences, my past. All of it is so distorted and disorganized it can’t be retrieved.

Now that is the Twilight Zone.

The bookstore owner is Mary Judith Messer. She has written a memoir entitled, The Moonshiner’s Daughter. It is available from Amazon and in her bookstore, were you to get to Junaluska.

An excerpt reads: Her father, a hard-drinking, ardent moonshiner when he wasn’t in prison, and her mother, often showing mental illness from an earlier brain injury, raised their four children in some of the grimmest circumstances that you will ever read about. Both parents were extremely abusive during Mary’s childhood and she also reveals the trauma she and her siblings suffered at the hands of teachers, principals and members of the community as a “dirt” poor child.  

Perhaps Judith has managed life by accelerating past all these terrible memories riding that neon neuron for safe passage along the ceiling. The clutter that only she can organize is on display in that little bookstore. Her livelihood, perhaps, but certainly her life turned inside out. God bless her; she is a survivor. She keeps collecting more books.

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