Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Into the Blue and Beyond Laundry

I'm a multiple hat wearer; I've always been that way and always will be. That's part of what makes me fit in here in Taos so well, I think. Most of us here are like that.

The hats I've been wearing for the last couple of years include being an instructor at UNM-Taos and being a celebrant, and both are things that I enjoy. However, it finally hit me this past spring that, even doing both these things, I was barely making enough money to get by. Also, a crisis in my life at that time caused me to reevaluate my sense of purpose and core values, to revisit a passion for environmental sustainability that I had pushed to a back burner for too long.

I began to think about my "green laundromat" idea again, which I first came up with in 2009. In fact, I mentioned that in one of my early posts here, The Little Flowers of St. Clare, because Clare is considered the patron saint of laundry, for some unknown reason. (Anybody know why? If so, tell me in the comments, as I'm dying to know.)

Once I started revisiting the laundromat plan, things began to serendipitously fall into place. I became aware of a free online course in social entrepreneurship offered by Copenhagen Business School, so I enrolled. Through that course, I've been fortunate to connect with an international team who I'm now working with to not only open a laundry center in Taos, but also to eventually franchise and use 10% of our profits to bring sustainable laundry systems to developing countries.

There are a lot of things I could say here about how this business plan has developed, and what all it entails, but if you want to know more, you can read about it on the website, www.beyondlaundry.org. We also have a crowdfunding campaign going on right now, and I tell a lot of the story behind this project on that page: igg.me/at/beyondlaundry.

What I do want to say here, because even though I rarely post anymore, I still consider this blog my spiritual writing home, is that this whole plan has at its core a deep appreciation of water, not just as a natural resource, but in a spiritual sense.

This is my blue year, and once again, my color for the year has played out in unexpected and profound ways. In the collage I made for 2015, the central image is a woman diving into the blue, into a mandala of light and water, and that depicts beautifully what my experience of diving into this plan has been like.

In case you're wondering what the weird contraption under the diver is, it's actually the center of a bicycle wheel I placed over the whole collage. And it spins! And that thing poking out is a chopstick holding it to the wall.
I will continue to wear and enjoy my other hats, but Beyond Laundry (the name of my new company), has finally become the central focus of my work life, as I've wanted it to be these past six years. I can see now that when I first envisioned it, I wasn't ready, for a variety of reasons. Timing is a funny thing. I learn to trust it more and more.

And in really putting myself out there with this new business in a way that sometimes takes me way out of my comfort zone, I'm also learning to trust the water, the source. I came across these words of Jesus recently: "Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water," and that speaks to me in a new way these days. It occurred to me that rivers flow from mountaintops, and to do something so bold in my life means occupying the mountaintop of my heart and then letting the rivers flow, and as they flow, they pick up speed and force. They are pure, and they have a destination. When I allow myself to connect with the poetry and mystery and spirit of water in this way, I find the courage I need to keep diving into the blue, the clarity to identify the flow and the trust to go with it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Backdrop and a Blanket, but not Boring

2015 is the fifth year in a row that I've chosen a word and color for the year, and I've finally come around to blue. I feel like I've kind of been putting off blue, because frankly I've always been a bit bored by it.  All my past yearly colors have stood out to me in some significant way, "popped" so to speak, and I've enjoyed researching and exploring their symbolic associations.  Blue doesn't inspire me in this way, and now I understand why: it's the backdrop.

This was uncannily brought home to me the night I made my collage for this year.  I gathered up all my materials, sat down at the dining table, and turned on Pandora on shuffle.  Believe it or not, the second song that played was "Blue Lips" by Regina Spektor.  (As a side note, this is why I generally prefer radio over playlists, and also one of the reasons I love collage; there is magic in randomness.)

Ms. Spektor sings that "all the gods and all the worlds/began colliding on a backdrop of blue," which is actually a poetically fitting description of the collage process. And indeed, as I sat there browsing through a (randomly chosen) stack of magazines, I found that the blue images I was picking were more for the backdrop rather than the collage's featured images.  Here is the final product (which I'm going to post more about in the near future, since there's a lot going on with it that I feel the need to discuss):



Another line of the Regina Spektor song says blue is "the color of our planet from far, far away."  As I sit here at my desk and look out the window, I realize that it's also the most ubiquitous color from the perspective of the planet's surface, at least my little portion of it, because of the sky, of course. (And here in northern New Mexico that sky is an intense and vivid blue more often than not.)  Perhaps it's this ubiquity that's influenced my previously unexamined feeling that blue is boring.  I've taken it for granted; it's just the backdrop.  But embracing it now, the blue blue sky feels more like a blanket enfolding and warming all of my life, keeping it safe and cozy, and walking out into the big wide world is so much easier with from this perspective.

This all ties in very well with my word for the year, which is "innocence." This word came to me like a breath of fresh air one day, and I immediately knew it was the right one for the year.  Throughout my life I've struggled with feelings of guilt, sometimes warranted and sometimes not.  In the past few years, I've made great strides in terms of growth and personal evolution, which has made the guilt issue that much more obvious as something that still needs to be healed.  And so, rather than try to make those feelings go away, I will spend this year consciously connecting with the quality of innocence, embracing it within myself.  One of my first lessons in this regard has been that in order to embody innocence, there must be a deep and childlike trust, a feeling of safety.  At this point, I still can't fully articulate why this is so, but on a visceral level, I've experienced it to be true. And feeling enfolded by the sky, this living blanket of blue, is currently doing more to develop in me the sense of safety, trust, and innocence than I could have ever imagined.

The overall effect, which is already profound only 17 days into the new year, is a level of peace and relaxation I've never known before, at least not on a consistent basis. Blue is elemental, associated not just with the sky, of course, but also with bodies of water, and I feel like I'm floating: surrounded, supported, and upheld.  Floating in the sky, or floating in the water, in trust I dive into the blue and am pleasantly surprised by the intensely vibrant tranquility it offers in response.

I realized just now (although this may not make sense to anyone else) that my blue year experience so far is comparable to listening to the Enigma song, "Return to Innocence," which is powerful not so much in its lyrics detailing the meaning as in its power to effect the felt experience of innocence. When I searched for this song on YouTube, I ended up watching what I suppose is the official video, which I'd never seen before.  It definitely adds a different dimension to the experience of the song:









Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gold and Mud, and What I Mean by Kindness

Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing...You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm!" 

~ Hermann Hesse


During my gold year, I entered a process I metaphorically referred to as kintsugi, which refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. (You can read my musings on that process and how it can apply metaphorically to the inner life here.) And where I stand now, it really does feel like I've been repaired.

Another metaphorical process related to gold that I contemplated last year was chrysopoeia, which is what the ancient alchemists called the transmutation of base metals into gold. According to everyone's good friend, Wikipedia, this transmutation "symbolized [the alchemist's] evolution from ignorance to enlightenment."
(And then there's this perspective, which I also like.)

I certainly don't claim to be enlightened, but I do feel like a transmutation has happened within me. I have these moments, fairly often these days, in which I'm profoundly thankful for my life. I've come through some shitstorms in the past few years, but now my inner and outer landscapes are pretty clear. Not perfect, of course; I still find annoyances and worse in my outer landscape, and pettiness and worse in my inner landscape.

The real difference is that I've learned to give myself a break, and in doing so, have discovered that I love my life just as it is, both the mud and the gold.  The transmutation has resulted in, if not enlightenment, at least a certain kindness.  But the way I mean kindness here is not really in the conventional sense of being super nice and thoughtful and generous; I am definitely not always those things (and am even sort of suspicious of people who are). No, it's more like recognizing that everything is kindness, and simply receiving that.

But I'll leave you with this, because the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes about it much more eloquently than I:

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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