Friday, December 31, 2010

Transfiguring the World with Scissors and Glue

Making collages is something I have greatly enjoyed doing for years.  I love the whole process, the  intuitiveness and magic of it.  I love making meaning out of randomness, taking images that seem to have nothing to do with each other and interlacing them.

I don't consider myself an Artist, and it's unlikely that my collages would ever be gallery quality, but their value to me is greater than any fine work of art.  I love it when other people appreciate them, but unlike my writing, they are made mainly for my own viewing.  I do enjoy sharing them though, and especially turning people on to the joys of collage-making.  If you've never done it, give it a try! 

I start by picking a theme and motifs; it has to be something fairly loose so that I'll be open to what unexpected images reveal themselves.  The collage I started yesterday afternoon and finished this morning is my 2011 collage, with the primary themes/motifs of the color green and its associations, the heart, earth and air.

I also choose a background "canvas" right away too, as it will obviously determine how many images I can use, but it defines the collage in other ways too.  I've done several collages on mirrors, for instance.  I did one on a piece of a brown paper grocery bag, which I then burned around the edges.  I think I want to get into shadow boxes next, try some 3D stuff.  The only 3D collage I've ever done was actually more like a mosaic and was on a pencil box.  I used keys and large glass beads, and pennies.

Next I heft a stack of magazines, and sometimes old books and calendars, to my bedroom, most of which I choose randomly, but with my themes in mind I might deliberately pick some types that will be more likely to contain related images.  I then try to stick to only the stack I've chosen, although at the end of the process, if there's a gap in the collage that needs filling by something of a particular color or size, I might go look at a few others.  I didn't have to do that this time, though.

The stack I ended up with consisted of many copies of Oprah's magazine, a couple of Vogues, a jewelry-maker's catalogue, a little book about Zen called The Art of Happiness, a couple of New Mexico magazines, a couple of issues each of National Geographic, Spirituality & Health, and Garden Design, a tiny book called Roman Wisdom, and one copy of Martha Stewart's Living.

I love the indulgence of closing myself in my room and flipping through magazines with scissors in hand.  A friend once gave me an X-Acto knife for collage use as a gift; I gave it a try but found that I much more enjoy using scissors, and I'm pretty darn good with them.

So I cut out a bunch of stuff I think might work, and once I've gone through all the magazines I start laying out pieces on the background.  It's really like putting a puzzle together, and I'm always amazed how certain things fit together as though they were made for each other.  Other pieces are trickier, and sometimes I have to just put one aside and realize it's not going to work.  But if there's a piece I really want in there, I'll find a way to fit it.

This is what my bedroom looks like when I'm in the middle of a collage:


Once it's all arranged the way I want, I usually leave it overnight.  I think of this as a steeping or gelling process.  The pieces need time to get to know each other and see if they're going to ultimately be compatible. And I need to be able to come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then the gluing begins.  This is the trickiest part, because the puzzle can become extremely intricate, where several pieces have to be joined very precisely or they won't blend in a way that looks organic.  And so a big part of this step is figuring out what order everything needs to be glued in.  I have tried different glues, but always use good old glue sticks these days, because they cause the least possible amount of air bubbles and wrinkles.  They're also easier and less messy.

Once it's done, I'll prop it up somewhere and gaze at it for a ridiculously long time.  Then I'll go have a cup of coffee or something, and come back and gaze some more.  I begin to see patterns I hadn't intended.  I tell myself a story about it, interpret it.  In the past few years I have more consciously created collages as a sort of prophecy, a picture of my intentions.  It's rather like spellcasting, really; or prayer.  And then the finished collage becomes an ongoing meditation as well as a way of tracking my progress.  There is a poetry and fluidity and mystery to a collage that opens me into deep self-discovery.  The meaning sometimes seems to make itself.  To make me.

The collage below I made shortly after my 13-year-old son was born.  It hangs in my living room and I still muse upon it:  where I was then, where I am now, what has been fulfilled, what is timeless and essential in it and becomes more obviously so over time.

 
One of my favorite collages because it was so fun and felt so deliciously subversive to do was on a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night.  I call it The Starry Kosmos.


  And here's the one I finished today.  Out of all my collages, I think this one inspires the most joy in me to look at.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The End of the Orange

So wow.  After months of being mostly absent from the blogosphere, this will be my third post in the past week or so.  Why?  Because a) my van has been in the shop for two weeks and I've been mostly housebound, b) teaching for the semester is over and I'm on break from grantwriting this week, and last but most certainly not least c) I'm actually inspired to write again.  (Well, let me clarify that:  I'm inspired to write my OWN stuff again.  Since I write a weekly column now, most of my writing juice goes to that and I find little left for my personal writing.  Not that I'm complaining; I LOVE writing my column.)    


This is the third year in a row that I've felt a strong sense of inspiration and magic in the post-Christmas season.  Last year, my immersion in the blogging community greatly enhanced that.  For one thing, I was turned on to the idea of picking a word for the year to reflect on, and that evolved into also picking a color.  (Although it really felt like the color picked me.)  


Now I'm coming to the end of my orange year of "quiet love" (yes - I picked two words instead of one).  I have discovered that for 2011 my word will be "bless," and the color will be green, and I'm so excited to begin this new journey that I've been consciously restraining myself from jumping ahead too fast.  I want to properly finish the old year before I throw myself completely into the new.  I want to make sure I've really learned the year's lessons, integrated its spirit, before I march off on a new adventure.  And so I'm reflecting more on the orange nature of the past year than I have in a while, letting the orange seep into my soul and steep there for these last few days of 2010.  It's been wonderful to be able to go back to old blog posts and track my path.  I clicked on "orange" in my labels section and went back and read those posts, and am gratified to see that the directions I felt led by my orange ruminations bore fruit. 


For instance, I wrote the following in one of those posts:  "What happens when the second chakra [whose color is orange] is too open (overly emotionally reactive, too absorptive of others' emotions) and too closed (shut down, apathetic, cold)  both fit me.  I go back and forth between these states."  Well, I'm thrilled to report that this year has found me finally balanced in this regard.  


I also wrote:  "I need to be able to feel the people around me without drowning in it or shutting myself down when it's all too much.  I need a vibrancy and vitality that flows out of me and doesn't just get stuck in my head."  I have actually learned this year to tap into such a flowing vibrancy and vitality within myself, which is exactly what has gotten me unstuck out of my head and brought balance between being too open and too closed.


Hallelujah!


May your old year end in peace and your new one begin with inspiration!


The orange flower lights June Amber gave me for my birthday this past year

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Journey of the Three Giant Aliens

On the day after Christmas, I ventured into a big box McStore to take advantage of 50% off on all holiday items.  I was specifically looking for wise men, because my nativity set is lacking these, and I've been trying to find some for years, but they never seem to be "sold separately." I've seen many wonderful nativity sets that include wise men, and have often been tempted to just get a new one, but the one I have, while not the finest to be had, has great sentimental value to me, as I've had it since childhood.

Here it is, in all its plastic, badly-painted glory:

You may notice that we added a nursing cow a couple of years ago.  This was when June Amber was going through a cow phase, and it just seemed appropriate to have a mama and her calf at the nativity.  You may also notice that under the angel's outstretched foot is evidence of a roof fire.  This was from the year that I placed a candle just a little too far inside the stable.

What you do not see here is wise men (or shepherds, for that matter).  So joy of joys!  I found three individually sold wise men between the big red bows and the four-packs of plastic Santa cups.  It was even worth waiting behind a woman and her young child who held up the checkout line for a price check on a singing Justin Bieber doll.

So here they are, set up on my dining table and on their way to the manger:

Aren't they handsome?

When I got them home and started playing with them, I noticed this on their (literal not figurative) bottoms:

The fact that they're from China made me wonder where my own nativity set is from, and lo and behold, I inspected it and discovered it's actually from Depose, Italy.  Huh.

But what really interested me on this label is the whole concept of the difference between a "decoration" and a "toy," and why the manufacturers felt it necessary to make such a distinction.  Are there only two categories for what these figures can be?  And what does that even mean, that they should be used ONLY for decoration and not for playing?

After I took the above photos, June Amber came home, and she played with them too, and accidentally knocked one over, resulting in his hand being broken off at the wrist.  Now the "not a toy" warning made some sense.

I decided not to glue the hand back on because it seemed fitting to me that during a long and arduous pilgrimage, there would be such trial and loss.  If you take Eliot's The Journey of the Magi to heart, a much deeper brokenness was experienced by the wise men.  And at least it wasn't the hand he was using to carry his gift to the Christ child.  

Other than that, there was really only one minor issue with my beautiful new magi - they are not quite to the scale of everyone else at the manger.  They are, in fact, twice as big as Mary and Joseph.  But I figure that's okay, because they were supposed to be from a strange land anyway, so who says they couldn't have been giants? (Although I suppose if they're from China, that would be unlikely.)  Also, if you look at it from their perspective of distance, it works.


Only when they reach the stable on Epiphany, will their size seem shocking, and perhaps that's as it should be.  Besides, with a giant benevolent Santa watching over the whole thing, it's all relative.






Thursday, December 23, 2010

Saying Yes to the Impossible

Because my free time has been very limited over the past months, and because I am now writing for a living, I have been spending far more time on Facebook than on Blogger.  When I'm sitting at my computer, working on an article or a grant, I can flip over to Facebook for a five minute break, and happily, I've been able to keep up with some of my blogging friends this way.  One of those friends is Claire, of A Seat at the Table.  Today she has shared several wonderful ruminations on Advent and Christmas, which I have been so inspired by that I had to come blog about it, even though a huge pile of laundry, an unwritten article, and unbaked goodies await my attention.

One of the links she shared was a post called Annunciations All the Time, at dotMagis.  The author shares the poem, "Annunciation," by Denise Levertov (one of my favorite poets).  This poem deals with the idea that we are always being presented with things to say "yes" to the way Mary said yes to the angel.  And this brought me back to something I've been ruminating about this Advent, which is the part of Mary's 'yes' that included giving birth away from home, in a stable (or cave, as I hear is more accurate).

It seems to me that if an angel came to me and told me I was going to give birth to the son of God, saying yes would be a no-brainer.  But then if the time came to give birth and I found myself far from home and family, in a dirty stable, I'd be questioning if it really was God after all.  I'd be thinking, "This can't be right, this can't be the way such a one should be born."

Last year, I blogged about the messiness of Christmas.  This year, I am deeper in the messiness, not just of Christmas but of life.  How is it that my most cherished notions of the way things should be can be so far from reality?  It helps me to think of Mary in the stable, saying Yes.

Claire shared another poem by Denise Levertov, on her own blog today, and this one is about the importance of welcoming grief when it comes.  I can't help but put this together with my Mary rumination.  When we think of grief, we usually think of the big losses, of people we love dying, but there are so many little losses.  So many.  And some losses we experience as big even when they might not seem so to others.  I think again of Mary in the stable, of reconciling with the loss of an imagined experience of giving birth surrounded by the comfort and familiarity of home and loved ones.  For me, this would likely bring a sense of great loss, and I would grieve.  For Mary, it was the introduction to a life of losses around her son.  And for all of us with children, we know that the moment we give birth, we begin to lose them.

To allow grief is to say yes to the loss that has caused the grief, and then to open up a new and more abundant set of possibilities.  This is what I continue to learn at deeper and deeper levels, or actually, in more and more circumstances, even the ones that have seemed impossible to accept.

The third link Claire has shared today is to a post called The Christmas We Are Waiting For, by Sister Joan Chittister, and it reflects upon the Advent theme of waiting.  Chittister comments that Christ's birth was really about establishing a whole new order, which in many ways, disappointed those who were waiting for a Messiah.  She asks, "For what have we been waiting...For the restoration of the old order or for the creation of the new?"

The creation of the new may be very different from what I had imagined and thought right, and I will grieve the loss of the old, but doing so may be the only way to really let go of it and welcome true freedom, peace, and joy.

May we all be awake to the blessings of the season, in whatever messy form they come.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vision Statement



I have been pondering vision.  This is largely because I got contact lenses a week ago, and because of who I got them from.  There's a vision care office in Taos called RealEyes, which, at my editor's suggestion,  I recently wrote about for my newspaper column.  You can read that here. From the inspiring conversation I had with Dr. Ratzlaff and his wife Fiona, I decided make them my eye care providers.

I wore contact lenses from the age of 14 until I was pregnant with my first child at 23.  Since your eyes change shape when you're pregnant, contacts became too uncomfortable, and I just never went back to them.  But now I'm ready for a change.  I'm tired of glasses, of the weight on my face, of the tiny little field of vision.  (And part of it is vanity, I'll admit, although glasses have sometimes afforded me the "sexy librarian" compliment.)

Dr. Ratzlaff told me things I've never heard from an eye doctor in the 33 years I've been wearing glasses.  One fascinating thing he told me was that with correction my eyes are much better than 20/20, which apparently is pretty unusual.  And then he said that with my current prescription I was actually overcorrected, which is not such a great thing.

So now I have contact lenses, and my prescription is slightly weaker, and it's like living in a different world.  I'm so used to being able to see at great distances that it's strange, for instance, to be driving and not be able to read all the faraway signs.  During my followup appointment, I found out that even with the weaker prescription, I still have 20/15 vision.  I had always thought that 20/20 equaled "perfect," but it turns out there is no such thing as perfect vision.

Because you always end up sacrificing something.

If you can see at great distances, you generally don't see as well close up, and vice versa.  So by having great distance vision with a stronger prescription, I was straining when reading and such, and ultimately weakening and stressing my eyes.

I can tell the difference now.  In the normal range of vision of say, a space the size of an average room, I can see much more clearly and my eyes feel more relaxed.  It's also very nice to not feel like I'm looking at things through a small window.  So in this sense, my world is bigger, more immediate.  (And things that are right in front of me appear almost startlingly larger.  I went shoe shopping the day I got my contacts, and they all looked too huge to possibly fit my feet, but then I'd pick up a pair and they'd be two sizes too small.)  But in terms of the world-at-large - well, it's less large, at least the sharp edges of it.

This is not a complaint.  My point is that it's fascinating to see from yet another perspective, another angle, how relative and subjective the experience of being alive in the world is.  To confirm to myself yet again how on the one hand, the least little shifts in circumstances can have a great effect, and on the other, how it makes no difference at all to how I feel at the deepest level.  Does being able to clearly see my legs while I'm shaving them in the bathtub make my experience of taking a bath better?  Yes and no.

The real question is, does being able to see my body clearly make me inhabit it more fully?  Does clearer vision make me more present?  Does improving my physical vision make my spiritual vision clearer?  I don't necessarily have any articulate answers, but these are the questions I'm holding at the moment.  This is the adventure I'm on.

One of the things that Dr. Ratzlaff eagerly talked about during our interview, and that totally sold me on him, was how the eyes are an extension of the brain.  When he later did my eye exam, he commented on the saying, "The eyes are the window of the soul."  It's true not only on a metaphorical level, but in the sense that when the pupil is dilated and the doctor shines a light into it, he can see the blood vessels in the eye; he's literally seeing into the person.  He pointed out that this is the only time you can look directly at blood vessels without cutting a person open.  I had never thought about it that way.

Because I'm a grant writer, I'm also now thinking about the meaning of a "vision statement."  And because I'm a poet, I'm thinking about how that would apply metaphorically to my life.  Do I have a personal vision statement to make and stick to?

According to Wikipedia, a vision statement "defines the desired or intended future state of an organization or enterprise in terms of its fundamental objective and/or strategic direction. Vision is a long term view, sometimes describing how the organization would like the world in which it operates to be. For example a charity working with the poor might have a vision statement which read "A world without poverty."

My immediate response when I ask myself what my vision statement would be is "To see and love what is."  Which is never about the future.  It's a goal in terms of "distance" of depth, not of time or space.  My "desired or intended future" is to be fully, deeply in the present.  My "fundamental objective" is to not be attached to objectives.  My "strategic direction" is within.  The world in which I'd like to operate could be described as "beautiful, interesting, kind, and intimate."  And when I am fully, deeply present, seeing and loving what is, that is the world I get.  So.

I also need to tell you the green colander story, without which this post would not be complete.  Without further ado:

The Green Colander Story

The colander I had before the green one was, frankly, crap.  It was too big, and it had slots that were too big, so that whenever you drained spaghetti in it, half of the noodles slipped through into the sink.


So I told the universe that I needed a new colander, and found this cute little green one at a thrift store for a dollar.  It was perfect.  And I loved that it was green.


And then one day I went to pull it out of the cabinet to drain some potatoes for mashing, and it was gone.  I looked everywhere for it, even out in the yard, thinking my three-year-old may have absconded with it, but alas, it was nowhere to be found.  For two or three weeks, every time I had to use that other big stupid colander, I'd ask whoever was around, "Are you SURE you didn't do something with that green colander?"  And they'd all say no.  Because why in the world would anyone make off with a colander?

Until one day, while I was searching in the refrigerator for something, I noticed the overripe apples a friend had brought me.  I had rinsed them and put them in the fridge, planning to eventually make applesauce in the crockpot.  And there they still were, right in the middle of the middle shelf of the fridge, two or three weeks later, right where I'd left and totally forgotten about them.  In my beloved green colander.

Sheesh.

I doubt there is a need for me to point out the significance of this story.  But you can believe I've been pondering it ever since.  Although I still haven't made applesauce.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Setting Scraps of Light on Fire


Scraps of light through the adobe ruins next to the grove


Today is my one year blogoversary.  It is this and only this that has finally gotten me to sit down and write a post.  I have missed blogging and think about it almost every day, but my life has become so full of other things that I haven't had the inspiration.  To find some, I walked over to the church today, but there were too many people around so I ended up in the grove, where I sat and wrote this post by hand.   I have found myself sitting in the grove more often lately than in the church courtyard.  It's green again, although the mass graves of trees are still untended.

So much has happened since I last posted, that I don't know where to begin.  Should I tell you about my busy life?  The immense sense of loss and sadness I've been feeling?  Should I talk about how disconnected I've become from my writing?  

Or maybe I should try to be more positive, and tell you about my discoveries about bats, or the white cat I keep seeing, or my lemon tree dream.  But all these things are moments that have passed, inspirations that have faded in the face of too much work.

I'm not happy.  I know I need to just accept the way my life is right now, surrender to it.  Believe me, I'm working on that moment by moment, but there is a very sad little girl inside me who wants to come out and play.  And I don't know what to tell her to make her stop banging on the door.

And I realize how much I miss you all, my blogging friends.  It's not only the writing that I miss, it's the community, the support.  I feel very alone in my life these days, very much like I'm carrying a heavy burden by myself.  Stumbling and faltering under it.

But life goes on, and I just keep taking the next step.  At times I have glimpses of all this as a journey of significance, but mostly it just feels like stumbling in the dark.  I get tired of trying to hang onto the scraps of light that are tossed me.  I get mad at God for not giving me more, and then I'm ashamed for feeling that way.

And that's why I need - NEED - to write about those scraps, because it's the only way for me to hold onto them as guides, as reminders of the greater journey, the better story.  I need to tell you about last week when I had both a butterfly and a dragonfly on my finger in the same day.  They were both trapped in my house at different points, and I freed them.  

I need to tell you about dreaming of a sugarlaced lemon tree so glorious that gazing up into it was like eating the sun.

I need to tell you about the lessons bats have been trying to teach me about surrender and rebirth, about echolocation, in which bats navigate in the dark by using their voices to create sounds that reverberate off objects - the ability to see with the ears, to hear with the voice.  Because by telling you, I have a greater chance of really learning the lessons, internalizing and integrating them.  I too hear with my voice.  I learn by teaching.

And now, just by writing all this, I feel lighter, happier, inspired, free.  It occurs to me that this post follows a similar structure to some of the biblical psalms that start out with a lament and end with praise because by writing the lament the psalmist has seen the joy again.

Now I see that the writing I haven't been doing had hardened around me like ice, that scraps of light left unshared leave me cold, and once that happens, I have to write into the cold to break through it.

The fire must be tended or it dies out.  The fire must be fed, and for me that means writing it. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bittersweet Harvest

Justin, Ben, and Harry in Mexico.  I met them shortly after this trip.

The house in Las Vegas, New Mexico that I moved into after I split up with my husband was next to a compound inhabited by three men:  Harry, Ben, and Justin, and I became very close to all of them.  In fact, Justin eventually became my partner and the father of my fourth child.  Harry was in his mid-sixties when I met him, but had the health and energy level of someone much younger.  He was a forest firefighter and a pilot, and had lived in many places and done many things.  At one point in his life he was a successful stock broker.  He was wise, funny, strong, and a great cook, famous for his amazing pots of beans. 

Two days before Eliana was born, he got up that morning, and something wasn't right.  We all thought he was drunk at first, but soon realized he had had a stroke.  We brought him to the hospital where he stayed for several days.  He and I were in there at the same time, I giving birth, and he beginning a slow process of death.

When he was released, he wasn't much better than when he went in.  The stroke had completely transformed him, he had turned into an old man overnight.  He was disoriented and couldn't do simple things for himself.  I would go visit him, and he'd have his glasses on upside down, or his shirt on inside out.  A few days after his return home, he reached into his woodstove and grabbed a smouldering log with his bare hand, severely burning it.  I became the tender of that wound, changing the dressing twice a day.  I was simultaneously caring for a newborn and a wounded old man, and it was hard.

Harry eventually got a little better in terms of greater clarity and ability to do for himself, but never again returned to the man he had been.  

I eventually left Las Vegas and did so with great relief to be ending a dark period of my life.  I had gone through a couple of years in which I suffered a major identity crisis, and allowed myself to be drawn into a downward spiral of reckless behavior.  This resulted in the loss of several friends, and even after I began rebuilding my life in a healthier direction, the views of certain people about me were set, so that I found myself trapped in the mirror, so to speak.  So after I left Las Vegas, I never looked back, I blocked it out of my consciousness as much as possible, and didn't go back to visit Harry or anyone else.

Last Wednesday, Harry killed himself with a rifle.  It had gotten to the point where there was discussion about putting him in a home.  That just wasn't going to happen.  I don't blame him, but it doesn't make it any easier.  It didn't make it easier to go to Las Vegas, or to walk in the room where it happened.  It didn't make it easier to clean brains off the wall, or to deal with the flood of memories that overtook me when I saw the white electric heater he had in there, that used to be my daughter's and was covered in exuberantly adolescent graffiti-like phrases she had written in black Sharpie.

Going to Las Vegas the other day was an intense opening to many things that I have been so closed to, so numb against.  Things related to my relationship with Justin, things that happened with my children while I was there, all the good and bad memories of living there, of who I was then.  And I realized to my shame that after Harry had his stroke, I detached from him because it was too hard to see how he'd changed, to suffer the loss of the amazing man he was.  I was always afraid I would betray the dismay I felt around him.  And honestly, after I left, it was as though I'd already written him off.  I kept expecting to hear that he'd died and I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did.  For a man like Harry, living in dependency on friends, doctors, pills, was no life at all.

I want to remember him as he was before the stroke, his gruff voice with that slight Texas drawl, the way he'd call you darlin'.  I see him driving down the road in his big black and red rescue Jeep, wearing one of those crisp white shirts he loved.  I remember how despite his ability to lead a team of firefighters, he was afraid of bugs.  How he mentored June Amber, my oldest daughter, during a difficult time for her.  But I also want to remember who he was after the stroke, and honor that person too.  Because he hung in there, he fought the good fight until the end. 

Today is Lammas, the pagan celebration of the first harvest, the harvest of the grain.  According to schooloftheseasons.com, it is a festival of regrets and farewells, and this is very fitting for me today, because I am experiencing a true regret, that I let my emotional difficulties  prevent me from staying in relationship with someone who was very dear to me and is now gone.

And yet, my overriding feeling is one of gratitude, that Harry lived and that he's free, that I have been brought full-circle to face and integrate my Las Vegas life and its people, to soften my heart and open to love in a place that has been cold and dark within me for several years.  To forgive myself and others.  To say a fond farewell - to Harry, to my regret, to past mistakes, both mine and others.'

One of the traditions associated with Lammas is baking bread, making good use of that which has been harvested.  So today, as I consider all that I am now reaping from my relationship with Harry, from my life in Las Vegas and all that I did there, all that I can now make good use of instead of regret, I will bake a loaf of bread in honor of Harry's life, and bring it to Las Vegas when I go for his memorial next weekend, to share with others who were connected to his life, and to mine.

Harry, Eliana, Justin, me, and June Amber in California, Summer '08


Sunday, July 25, 2010

At the Crossroads

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of pilgrimage lately.  It has been one of those themes that starts coming to me from several different directions at once until I find myself viewing it from a number of interesting angles. 

During the writers' conference that I participated in a couple of weeks ago, I had a major epiphany about my relationship with the San Francisco de Asis church.  From my very first post about it, I used the word "pilgrimage" to describe what I was doing in walking over there.  I said it was like taking a little daily pilgrimage, but what I've now realized is it's not a series of small pilgrimages, but only one, a long and profound one.  It's not a long journey in terms of physical distance but of time and moving through layers to an essential core.  

And today on Claire's blog, her post is titled "Pilgrimage as Inner Journey," and astoundingly connects with my own experience and thoughts.  She starts the post with a pilgrim's prayer, and one of the phrases that really jumped out at me was the plea for "a guide at the crossroads."  Because a crossroads is exactly where I am.

Ever since the writers' conference I have been dealing with the sense of moving to a deeper level with my relationship to the St. Francis church and the book I'm writing about it.  The piece I submitted for the conference workshop was woven together from various blog posts about the church, and the thematic thread I used was that of nakedness.  Some of you may remember my post last fall called "Naked in the Town Square."  I drew out the theme from that post to encompass the whole piece, and found it developing in my heart and mind as I did so.  Today in Claire's post, she talks about inner pilgrimage as a process in which she hands over to God all her life, both inner and outer, a process which feels like "stripping bare."

I am naked at the crossroads right now, because the conference made me realize that this book I'm writing is no longer hypothetical - I'm really doing it, and that process means getting more deeply involved with the church.  It occurred to me that it's time to talk to the priests and let them know what I'm doing, that it's only respectful to do so.  And also that one of my desires is to weave journalistic writing in with my memoir-ish stuff, and in order to do that I must connect with actual members of the church, get to know them, interview them.  It's time to move beyond the courtyard and enter the building, the body.  And this frightens me, for a number of reasons:  Fear of approaching people I don't know, doubt of myself having the "right" to be writing this book, boldness to claim that I'm doing so, putting myself and my writing out there to be scrutinized by people who have been members of the church all their lives.  Naked, naked, naked, in the stark light of day.  It would be so much easier to keep sitting in the courtyard with the hummingbird moths.

But honestly, the thing that frightens me most is in how I will be altered by deepening my relationship with this church.  I fear that I will be swept away, lose myself to it.  I have been flirting with the church, and now I'm confronted with the choice to make a commitment that I have no idea where it will lead.

Claire speaks of pilgrimage as a time of testing and says, "There is always a moment when it gets too much."  And to continue beyond this point requires surrender.  This is the crossroads where I now find myself.  Will I, as Claire puts it, allow the path I'm walking to "walk me?"  Even as I write this though, I realize it already is, even though I still have strong resistance.

Just now the church bells began ringing, calling the people to worship.  Today is the feast day of Santiago, and the annual Taos fiestas honoring this saint are in full swing downtown.  Hearing the bells, I feel an aching longing to be at the mass, but fear holds me back.  I'm not Catholic and I don't know how to do things like enter the pew and even if I did I would feel like a fake going through those movements.  I don't know the words spoken and sung during mass that Catholics know by heart, many of which are in Spanish, which I don't speak.  I don't know if they have childcare for Eliana or if I'm supposed to keep her with me, and I'm too afraid to ask.  And so I don't go.  I sit here and write about it instead.

Interestingly, the specific pilgrimage Claire refers to is the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and she writes of currently being elsewhere in the world, missing that place, knowing that today there is a huge celebration of the saint for which it's named. 

An amazing thing that came to me through the conference was in a discussion I had with one of the other participants who said she sensed that my deepest connecting point with the church is through St. Clare, not only in terms of the statue in the courtyard that I love, but also her story, that this woman perceived wants to be told and lived through me.  So today I am thankful to both my Cla(i)res for being my guides at the crossroads, and the awesomeness of this interlacing is not lost on me.

The name, Cla(i)re, of course, is related to clarity and light.  I have many photos of the statue of Clare in which she is framed by incredible clouds.  This is the metaphor I turn to today.  Recently I closely inspected an iron cross in the courtyard that I had never paid much attention to before.  I discovered that there is a Latin inscription on it, "Occurrent nubes," which Googling led me to learn means, "Clouds will intervene."  I love the mystery of this, I love that I can look at the clouds of my own doubt and fear and see how they interfere with my clear direction, but also in some way contribute to the overall pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage is not a straight walk from here to there.  Clouds refract light into variegated beauty.  They soften the harsh light that exposes nakedness.  They intervene on behalf of clarity if I only pay attention and keep walking the path, however haltingly. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Just an Update

First, I must apologize for my appalling lack of presence in the blogosphere of late.  I have been so crazybusy with other endeavors that I haven't even been reading, let alone commenting, on blogs very much.  At this point, I've pretty much accepted that it's just going to be like this for a while, maybe until fall.  But I do miss you all.

So why have I been so busy, you may ask?  Well, I'm working on a twelve-page manuscript for the Taos Summer Writers' Conference, which I'll be attending all next week.  The manuscript is a piece about my relationship with the San Francisco de Asis church, which I'm writing a book about. 

I'm also in the middle of several grants with looming deadlines, and I've had two sets of houseguests in the past couple of weeks. 

But the news I really want to share is that I'm now co-writing a weekly column for The Taos News, called "Innovators & Entrepreneurs," profiling local businesses.  Turns out joining the Chamber of Commerce was a really wise move, as this is how I got the gig.  My first article was published last Thursday, and can be viewed here. I love love love doing this column!

So that's pretty much it for now - I just wanted to let you all know that I haven't forgotten about you or your wonderful blogs, and I look forward to catching up on them all when my life slows down again.  I hope you all are having a wonderful summer (or winter, depending where you are).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Graffiti and Roses

Today is the Summer Solstice, and what that immediately conjures in my mind is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and a vague longing for romance and the ocean.

But I am single, and nowhere near the ocean.  I was hoping to visit the west coast this summer, but chose instead to put money into a writer's conference that will be happening here in Taos.  (Have I mentioned that I'm writing a book about my relationship with the San Francisco de Asis church?)  My heart right now is very much with the Gulf Coast, and so at this Solstice time of great light and life, I am permeated with the awareness of darkness and death.  I feel it in my own body.

Today is also Honoring Sacred Sites day, and so I send my light and life to the Gulf Coast, the sacred ocean.  And I turn, as I do every day, toward the San Francisco de Asis church, the sacred site right outside my door.

Taos is a tourist town, and each summer a theme is chosen to center activities and events around.  Last year it was "The Summer of Love," and the focus was on Taos' strong and enduring hippie culture.  Dennis Hopper came for the opening of his art show.  This year the theme is "Return to Sacred Places."  In fact, the newspaper held an essay contest for Taos residents around this theme, and I got an honorable mention for my essay about the church.

Because of this theme, there has been a lot of focus on the St. Francis church, with talks given and three art shows around town.  I missed the talk that was given at the public library on June 5, but was lucky enough to catch it on the radio the other night.  The thing that most struck me in this talk, given by David Maes, who is a lifelong resident of Ranchos de Taos and member of the church, was in his introduction.  He spoke of how the church belongs to anyone who experiences its sacredness, and how even the air around the church feels holy and refreshing.

I did not participate in enjarre, the annual remudding, which is now over.  There is a variety of reasons for that, but one of the most unexpected ones was the sense of loss I've been experiencing over the cutting down of trees in the grove by the church.  It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me want to stay away from the church altogether.  It was several days after seeing all the stumps before I could go back, and when I did, the stumps had all been overturned so that the whole space resembles a twisted wasteland.



















The next time I went, a few days after that, I discovered that the entrance to the grove between the gift shop and rectory was now defined with edging and filled with gravel.


I have to admit I'm having trouble with these changes.  A little bit of wildness has been tamed.  I don't think the birds are happy about it either.  The doves have been completely silent and the crows have sounded so angry lately.  They've been congregating and having screechfests in my yard.  I know I've mentioned the birdlife at the church before but I want to give you a clearer picture of this.  It's really only been in the past month or two that I've realized how central the church is to the bird communities of Ranchos de Taos.  There are more birds in this part of Taos than any other, and what I finally realized is that the church is their crossroads, their center.  They fly back and forth, in and out from that hub.  Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like there's been less bird traffic since enjarre began.

And I can't help but wonder how St. Francis would feel about all this.  One of the things he was famous for was going around and restoring rundown churches, but I wonder how far he took that, balanced against his intense reverence for Mother Earth and her creatures.  Sigh.  Well, what's done is done, and there is nothing for me to do but accept and integrate these changes, and continue to simply observe them.  One thing I do like is the new sign that marks the entrance to the grove from the church side:



The grove is still in flux.  Orange fencing surrounds the area near the adobe ruins that borders the grove, and certain spaces are marked out in a way that suggest something is planned.  Perhaps I've never mentioned the ruins before.  It's hard to give you the scope of it with my simple camera, but here's a try:








It's not the Parthenon, but there is still something sacred in this to me, even or perhaps especially in the graffiti.  There is a sacredness in the way we leave our artful marks on things.  I love the way recent generations have come up with ways to do this even in urban landscapes.  Graffiti, skateboarding, and parkour are all ways to use and add to the mundane and manmade in elevated ways, turning the utilitarian into the artful, for the sheer joy of it.  (I must mention here that I love the concept of Tess' blog, Sacred Graffiti; I highly recommend you visit there.)

After some inquiry at the gift shop, I discovered that the activity around the ruins is because an archaeology group is doing excavation.  When the church was first built, it was surrounded by a fort, and the buildings later became private residences, many of which are still occupied.  Since those buildings hold a lot of history, it makes sense that an archaeology group would be interested in the ruins. 

On the other side of the ruins is the church lot, a deep contrast in its manicured beauty.  Now that things have calmed down a bit over there, I've been able to settle in and enjoy it again. Today, a man was revarnishing the benches in the courtyard.


I love to see the seasonal changes over there.  The flowers that the hawkmoths come to aren't blooming yet, but the rose bushes are in full bloom, something I missed last year because I didn't start walking to the church until after the blossoms had faded.

Clare, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and their roses.  Notice the ruins in the background.
I'm thinking about the pruning metaphor again in terms of manmade changes versus "natural" ones.  I once had a student who wrote an astonishing paper using Emerson's ideas about nature to back up the claim that everything humans do is natural.  Is the grove-clearing and throwing down of gravel as natural and beautiful as any seasonal change of the flora?  My instinctive resistance to this idea is based on the fear that if we believe that, it gives us license to do all kinds of real damage, just the way that verses from Genesis about mankind having "dominion" over Creation have been used to justify all sort of horrible nonsense.  And yet, partially thanks to that student's paper, and also Byron Katie's teachings, I can't help but wonder:  If we consciously saw things in this way would it not ultimately give us a greater, not a lesser, awareness and sense of responsibility in our interactions with the natural world?  In fact, we would no longer see ourselves as being separate enough to have "interactions with" the natural world, but would know ourselves to be part of the organic whole.

I don't know.  If I've learned anything in my four decades here on Earth, it's that it's a long road from ideology to integration.  But on this Solstice day of honoring sacred sites, it feels like an appropriate rumination.  Graffiti and roses, skateboarding and birdflight, excavation and pollination, pruning, enjarre, restoration, decomposition - my former student would say these things are equal to each other, equally natural.  What has always appealed most to me about the St. Francis church, which is the most sacred place in the world to me, is the dance among nature, culture, spirituality, religion, art, tradition.  And the paradoxes in all of it, the paradox in my relationship to it as an intimate outsider.

What better way to honor the seasonal changes of nature and sacred sites both "natural" and manmade than to perceive ourselves as fully integrated with and responsible for them the way we are responsible for our own selves?  This is also National Prayer Day, and the only prayer I have is for this, and then to rest in the holy paradoxes, the mysteries to be integrated within and beyond our ideologies.   

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We Are All Spiritual Leaders

The following was forwarded to me from the pastor of the Presbyterian church I've attended here in Taos.  I pass it along to you for your consideration, and I would like to suggest, especially in response to Jennifer's comment on my last post, that we pray together, in whatever way is meaningful to each of us, in the spirit of what is written here.  Chief Arvol speaks of World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites Day on June 21.  I propose that any of you who feel called to do so, honor a site that is sacred to you on your blog that day.

 
A Great Urgency:  To All World Religious and Spiritual Leaders

My Relatives,

Time has come to speak to the hearts of our Nations and their Leaders.  I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, to come together from the Spirit of your Nations in prayer.

We, from the heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the World; we are guided to speak from all the White Animals showing their sacred color, which have been signs for us to pray for the sacred life of all things.  As I am sending this message to you, many Animal Nations are being threatened, those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, and the plant Nations, eventually all will be affect from the oil disaster in the Gulf.

The dangers we are faced with at this time are not of spirit. The catastrophe that has happened with the oil spill which looks like the
bleeding of Grandmother Earth, is made by human mistakes, mistakes that we cannot afford to continue to make.

I asked, as Spiritual Leaders, that we join together, united in prayer with the whole of our Global Communities. My concern is these serious issues will continue to worsen, as a domino effect that our Ancestors have warned us of in their Prophecies.

I know in my heart there are millions of people that feel our united prayers for the sake of our Grandmother Earth are long overdue.  I believe we as Spiritual people must gather ourselves and focus our thoughts and prayers to allow the healing of the many wounds that have been inflicted on the Earth.

As we honor the Cycle of Life, let us call for Prayer circles globally to assist in healing Grandmother Earth (our Unc¹I Maka).

We ask for prayers that the oil spill, this bleeding, will stop. That the winds stay calm to assist in the work. Pray for the people to be guided in repairing this mistake, and that we may also seek to live in harmony, as we make the choice to change the destructive path we are on.

As we pray, we will fully understand that we are all connected.  And that what we create can have lasting effects on all life.

So let us unite spiritually, All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.  Along with this immediate effort, I also ask to please remember June 21st, World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites day. Whether it is a natural site, a temple, a church, a synagogue or just your own sacred space, let us make a prayer for all life, for good decision making by our Nations, for our children¹s future and well-being, and the generations to come.

Onipikte (that we shall live),

Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
http://www.Wolakota.org

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, by indeed_2006

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ruthless Gardener

Bell near St. Clare's statue in the San Francisco de Asis courtyard

As I continue to practice dropping out of my mind and into my body, several interesting things have been occurring.  One is that my normal state of intense study and research is becoming less normal.  I simply don't have the same intensity of thinking, which also means less writing.  I've been finding myself at a loss to even comment on all of your blogs.  Even this post is more like an eruption than a coherent thought process.

At the same time, my level of physical activity has accelerated quite a bit.  As I'm spending more time in my body than my head, really listening to it, I hear that it wants to move and work, for the sheer joy of it.  I have taken up running with a zest I didn't know was possible.  For most of my life, physical activity was something I thought about doing, felt like I should be doing, but didn't actually want to do.  Now I look forward to it, and find myself having to temper my enthusiasm so I don't OVERdo it.  I've also been working in the yard, gardening.  I planted pumpkins, and they sprouted!  My arms are sore today from pulling up weeds.  There is an incredible level of satisfaction in all of this.

But nothing stays the same.  I simply don't know from day to day what my perspective will be.  It's as though things are shaking loose within me, swirling about, uprooted.  I worked hard on trying to let go of a thing I wanted.  That didn't work.  So I started praying earnestly for that thing, something I'd never tried before.  I prayed specifically and articulately every day with all my heart.  Until I discovered I didn't really want what I was praying for.  What a paradox - when I tried to not want it I wanted it more, and when I gave myself over to wanting it, I stopped wanting it. 

Now the loud voice of wanting in my head is shrieking with rage because I've abandoned it and it doesn't have an anchor anymore.  It's desperately trying to seek one, and I'm just watching and listening.  Not judging, not giving in to its ludicrous demands, just seeing.  Just hearing.  Go ahead and rant and rave, I can't stop you anyway.  I will just wait here in the quiet you can't touch until you diminish, which is already happening and is in fact the reason you're being so obnoxious, trying to cling to life.

Nothing stays the same.  Everything shifts and sometimes that looks "wrong" or dangerous.  "To enjarre or not to enjarre" got pushed way into the background this week because I got very sick.  I won't go into the details, but I was showing exact symptoms of a pretty serious condition.  However, by the time the doctor looked at me, the symptoms were gone and my tests came back fine.  I'm convinced that I made myself sick by listening to the shrieking voice.  I let it take me over for a couple of days, and became unguarded enough that the tumult of emotion that accompanied that rotten thinking caused something like an oil spill in my body.

When I finally felt better physically, and could listen to the shrieking without being taken over by it, I was eager to go for a run.  It had been days since my enjarre encounter.  I waited until evening so there would be no crowds at the church, since I was still not quite ready to deal with that challenge. 

Nothing stays the same.  Have I mentioned how very much I love the little grove by the church?  Well, they cut down most of the trees.  They only left the ones around the perimeter, but essentially, the grove is no longer.  It's just an empty lot full of tree stumps.  They took down the tire swing my son and his friend strung up with an old garden hose; in fact the tree it was hanging from is gone.  I'm welling up with tears as I write this, as I did when I first saw it. 

Nothing stays the same, but everything outward is reflected inwardly with an eternal tint.  I think of the metaphor of pruning in John 15.  Some prunings are bigger than others.  Sometimes life is pruned so radically it's alarming, and doesn't fit my idea of how things "should" be.  Do I really ultimately know what "health" means?  Do I really know what is for the ultimate good of myself or the world?  

Oil spills, sickness, destruction of trees.  All ranting and raving is a wall of nothing against such things.  These things happen, and I see them all together.  I see in them meaning and connection that suggest a story I cannot fully tell.  I hear in them only the call to awaken, the thunder of tremendous bells. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jarred by Enjarre

Notice the individual pieces of straw in the adobe.

The cloud formations just around sunset the other night were the most amazing and bizarre I've ever seen.  I was sitting at the computer when I looked out the window and noticed the unusual quality of light outside.  It had that otherworldly pink glow that sometimes happens when the sky is partly overcast and partly clear with a certain angle of the sun.

I put Eliana in the stroller and went out for a look-see.  A layered variety of clouds in the west hovered above the setting sun.  Some were sinewy and fetal, and these were superimposed with intense depth over what looked like calm waves on an ocean.  The whole configuration appeared to be a world upside down.

As I walked down the street toward the grove, the sky was intensely blue in certain places, but the overall quality of light was orangy-pink, and within this, the arch of trees over the road appeared electric green.  We walked slowly through the grove and I felt like I was dissolving into light and green, the scent of grass.  But when we got to the passage between the gift shop and rectory, it was blocked by a parked car, and I could see and hear a group of people in the courtyard.

I tried to wedge between the car and the gift shop wall, but the stroller wouldn't fit.  In frustration, I turned around and went back through grove, and we went around the neighborhood a different way instead.

The next day, which was yesterday, I discovered that the cause for the group at the church that night was that the annual remudding, called enjarre, was beginning.  I went for a morning walk with Eliana and was startled to see that the entire church parking lot, front and back, was packed with cars.  Even the side streets were full.  I could barely navigate the stroller in certain places.  The courtyard was packed with people, and there were two large trucks bearing cranes parked right next to the church.  Groups of two or three were hoisted against the walls of the church in little boxes, beginning the process of giving the church its annual facial.

As I walked back through the grove, another large group was busy pruning and cleaning up.  This was sort of a shock to see, as in all the time I've been walking through that grove, I've only run into a couple of other people doing the same, and there's usually a startled mutual acknowledgment along the lines of "Gee, I never see anyone else here."  It even has a slight undertone of propriety, like, "This is my place - what are YOU doing here?" 

Once I went specifically to the grove to pick up trash, and this was actually the first time I saw another person there.  An older man was doing exactly the same thing I had come to do, so we naturally started talking.  His name was Ray and he's a lifelong member of the church who periodically tends the grove.  He told me about the family who owns the lot, how they live in another part of town and won't take care of it, how the church keeps trying to buy it from them but they won't sell.

In that conversation, I felt a kinship with Ray.  Yes, I'm an outsider, but we were just two people taking care of a place we love, and I learned something about that place from him.  But encountering the enjarre masses, I felt a mixture of negative emotions that surprised me with their force.  I felt alienated, irritated, jealous, displaced.

Usually it is only members of the church that participate in enjarre, but this year they announced in the newspaper that it would be open to other committed volunteers.  I felt a pang when I read this because I knew I would not sign up, partly because I don't know how much time I'd be able to commit because of having Eliana, but that's not the only reason.  And I didn't really want to think about what that other reason is, but now I've been forced to:  I don't want to share the church with others.  I don't want to be part of a team, naked in the crowd.  I want to have my little private love affair with that place.  And this made me realize I'm like the other woman, refusing to recognize the wife.

And yet I do fiercely want to be involved.  I want to go be a part of that whole huge thing.  I want to contribute.  I want to touch the church, smear mud in her cracks, share in this sacred communal act.  I can't even believe such petty emotions are holding me back from it.  I'm realizing that I might actually be attached to being an outsider because that makes the church uniquely mine, and if I let go of that, I'll lose it.  It won't be special anymore.

Writing all this now makes it so very clear how ridiculous the ego really is.  

Somehow, I foolishly thought I could just bypass this whole event, just sort of walk around it without touching it.  But I see now I'm being called into something that isn't going to let me go.  This event will continue daily for at least a week and maybe two.  I have no idea how it's going to unfold, what I will do.  At this point, I feel like I would be insulting the church and myself if I just avoided the place until enjarre is over. Will I let life distract me away from getting involved, or will I stop being such a chicken and just jump in?  I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Easy Runner

I went for what has become my usual morning run a little late this morning, and when I came out of the grove into the church lot, there were quite a lot of cars and people, and it looked like a funeral.  Turns out it was Dennis Hopper's, which I began to suspect by the eclectic nature of the crowd.

I tried to stay to the perimeter of the parking lot to be respectful, but as I ran past a parked car with an open door, I couldn't help but notice that a man was sitting there in his underwear putting on dress pants.  Anyhoo.

I definitely felt a pang when I heard that Hopper had died, since True Romance, one of my very favorite movies, features him.  In fact, there is a truly brilliant scene between him and Christopher Walken which I feel is one of the best scenes in any movie, ever.  I'm glad for the grace that allowed me to brush up against his funeral and, however briefly and incompletely, honor his life with the expression of my own through running, something I'm completely stoked to finally be doing.  I've realized that I'm a person of passion and intensity and if I don't give that energy a release in vigorous physical activity, it's going to assert itself in less healthy ways. 

So I like that this new passion of mine connected me in some tiny way to Dennis Hopper's life and death.  He was known for being "difficult," an "enfant terrible" - things I have been seen as often myself.  He walked a self-destructive path for many years, but eventually emerged out of that, and overall his life can be perceived as a wild adventure, a kind of trail-blazing, and an amazingly diverse expression of creative genius.  That inspires me.

And in many ways, Hopper embodied the spirit of Taos, which is itself a sort of enfant terrible.  I love that his funeral was at the San Francisco de Asis church, which strikes me as a wonderful meshing of the frontier-like wildness, noble tradition, profuse creativity, and eclectic spirituality that is Taos.

As I write this now, I hear the bells at the church announcing the end of services.  I also just re-watched on YouTube the scene that I mentioned, and I'll leave you with that. Some of you may not want to watch it as it's pretty intense in terms of violence and profanity.  But if you can get past those things, it's definitely worth seeing, as Hopper's character stands up against the mafia in a brilliant way to defend his son, and becomes sort of a Christ figure in the process.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Self-Trotter


I'm losing my religion.  No, I'm not talking about Christianity.  That's a religion I could never "lose" because it's written into my soul.  My understanding and expression of it can and does deepen and change and grow, but what is essential in it cannot be lost, because, in the words of A Course in Miracles, "Nothing real can be threatened."

What I'm losing is the religion of "I need a partner to be complete," which is probably the most popular religion in the world, with the most convincing propaganda.  "Can't live without you," "You complete me," "You are my everything," are just a portion of its liturgy.

This process began several months ago with a short but powerful dream.  I was driving to my sort-of-sometimes-partner's house with the familiar feeling of anticipation and anxiety.  I need to see him.  What if he's not there?  What if he's with a woman?  It was nighttime, and there was a massive thunderstorm going on.  I could barely see the dirt road that leads to his place, and feared I would drive off the side into the ditch.  I was forced to slow down almost to the point of stopping, but was determined to go on.  I had to get there.  But all of a sudden, there was a huge flash of lightning that encompassed the whole scene.  I found myself enveloped and completely stopped by blinding light.  And in that moment, I just surrendered to it.  I gave up.  It was as though a voice deep inside me was saying, Stop this nonsense.  You are already here.  This light is what you want, and you are in it.  BE in it.  And I became very still and felt something akin to ecstasy in that living, permeating light.  I woke up.

The significance  and experience of this dream was so incredibly simple and obvious, so powerful, that it has remained prominent in my mind even though I didn't write it down and it was months ago.  But it's only now that I'm really starting to live its message, to truly be in that light without trying to get anywhere else.

And this has left me in a strange new space that keeps unfolding.  Until the other day, I couldn't say anything about it, but thanks to some blogging and other friends, I've found some words for it.  One thing I see now is that it's not even relationships I've been addicted to, but THINKING about relationships.  Since kindergarten, there's always been some boy on my mind.  Always.  And I get it now, that the need is to define myself against someone else.  Do I exist if you don't?  Hmmm.  I've realized that the only times I wasn't thinking about a boy, I was thinking about someone who might be mad at me, or someone I'm mad at.  It's about conflict, distance.  Needing to define my own existence as apart from, NOT together with someone else's, as it might appear.  Pure ego crap, to put it bluntly.

So now here I am, no longer a slave to those thoughts.  Now how do I define myself?  Well, I haven't been.  Which is why I've had nothing to say.  I've been deconstructed, I have no walls to bounce off, just free floating.  And I'm very aware that no matter what I say, I'm just making up stories, none of which are ultimately true.  And yet, as Kate put it in a comment on my last post, writing is the way to "know my insides."  The stories are not true, but can contain truth, as it much as truth CAN be contained.  And even more to the point, they construct meaning, a way of understanding.  Language has its limits, but can, at its best, point to truth.    

Jennifer and I had a conversation the other day about the limits of language, and how some words are just not adequate for what they describe.  The specific word in question was "recovery."  I don't think this word does justice to what it defines.  As Jennifer said, it implies a mask, a re-covering.  Once your light is uncovered, why re-cover it?  The word we agreed was better is "remembering," as in remembering who you really are, as in re-membering.  Sorting out and recreating the members of your being.  This is what's happening to me now.

I'm amazed at how quickly after re-entering the blogosphere, I gained inspiration and understanding through my blogging friends.  On Claire's blog the other day, she posted a quote about "inner geography," a term I immediately resonated with.  It gave me the language, the analogy to begin describing where I am.  It's as though I'm standing on the mountaintop of my inner geography for the first time in my life, exhausted and exhilarated from the climb, totally, gloriously alone, surveying my whole landscape.  But it all looks strange and unfamiliar from this vantage point, and I feel detached from it - I'm not IN it, consumed by it anymore.

The paradoxical beauty of this is that when I'm outdoors now, when I'm sitting in the grove by the church, for instance, I am oh so much more fully IN the grass, the sky, the birdsong, the breeze.

In Claire's post, she discussed an upcoming trip she's taking.  That woman is always going somewhere new in the world, and I admitted my envy of her being a globe-trotter.  She came back and said that I was a "self-trotter."  Yes.  I am traveling the world of myself, which is the world.  I'm in it, and it's everywhere in me.  Hallelujah.  As Rumi said, "To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes."  Hallelujah indeed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Easing Back

I have been gone from the blogosphere for so long, I hardly know where to begin with this post.  I can't yet fully articulate all of the changes that have been happening for me.  These changes have a lot to do with why I haven't been blogging (or writing at all), but the other reason is simply that I've been extraordinarily busy. 

Now, the semester is over, YouthFest (the sort-of major event I coordinated) is over, and I can ease back into my inner life, the part of myself that must be tended for anything to get written.  Even as I write this, the words feel awkward; I've gotten rusty.

There is so much I want to share and explore in writing, but I have to begin where I am, in this tongue-tied place.  All I can say is that everything has been expanding, opening up, becoming new.  I guess you could call it a rebirth, and now I'm toddling into a new world.  Great joy, passion, and inspiration light the way, even as I feel physically exhausted, emotionally stretched.  I'm grateful for the opportunity I now have to putter around my house and garden and soul.  To play with words again.  To bake bread.  To start taking my walks (and runs) again.  And to reconnect with my blogging friends.  I've missed you.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Bells, A Blessing of Crows


How mysterious that the Lent in which I did not attend church or immerse myself in Christian reading, ritual, or prayer was my most powerful one ever. I didn't read about Jesus, or even think about him much, but I have been going through a death/rebirth process that I think is what he was trying to teach about in the first place. Actually, it's not so much an ongoing "process" as it is a momentary, repeating occurrence: I find myself upset about something, and instead of trying to fight myself, I surrender, let the feeling die, and am reborn back into myself. It may happen many times a day.

I didn't know what I would do on Easter, and I deliberately made no plans. Since I had already been experiencing these rebirth-moments, Easter didn't strike me as terribly significant. When I arose Easter morning, I considered going to church, but found myself uninspired to do so.

I felt a certain sense of loss, of regret, that I was missing out. It was just a little nagging thing in the background of my attention, but it was enough to keep me feeling slightly off-center. I was sitting in my backyard feeling this offness when the church bells at San Francisco de Asis began to ring out. At first, hearing them intensified that uneasy feeling, but then the bells became church for me. They only rang for a minute or so, but as I surrendered my full attention to them, to enjoying them, I entered into those moments fully, and the Easter bells put me in the resurrection mood, brought me back to myself. Out of the tomb and into the day.

And I thought, as I often have, of a quote that Barbara at barefoot toward the Light posted a while back:
Just as the gong in a center for meditation reminds us from time to time to return to ourselves in the here and now, we all may become "bells of attentiveness."  ~Dorothee Soelle in The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance.
I love this analogy, the poetic beauty of it and the immediate effect it has on me. Just by thinking bell of attentiveness, just by entertaining the image in my imagination, it becomes my experience, now. It's a little icon.

This rumination also led me to remember other "being a bell" quotes from two of my favorite writers:
“The day's blow rang out, metallic -- or it was I, a bell awakened, and what I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can” ~Denise Levertov
"I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck." ~Annie Dillard
The thing that occurs to me is that in the sound that rings out, bell and what strikes it are one. Which leads me to another quote I discovered recently:
Take time to stop and smell the flowers," says an old homily. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss scientist who discovered LSD and lived to age 102, had a different approach. "Take the time to stop and be the flowers," he said.

That's my advice to you. Don't just set aside a few stolen moments to sniff the snapdragons, taste the rain, chase the wind, watch the hummingbirds, and listen to a friend. Use your imagination to actually be the snapdragons and rain and wind and hummingbirds and friend. Don't just behold the Other; become the Other.   ~Rob Brezsny, Freewill Astrology
Easter afternoon, I walked over to the church, something I've not done much recently. It was sunny, warm, and breezy, and no one was around. I lay on a wooden bench in the courtyard for quite a while, gazing up through the branches of a pine tree.

On my way back home through the grove, I noticed a lovely little patch of green green grass, something we don't have a lot of here in dry New Mexico, especially in early spring. I sat down in its softness, letting the play of light and tree branch shadows dance over me. I became very still, and watched two large crows fly back and forth among the trees, until they both came to perch in the one nearest me. Out of intense stillness and silence, their occasional lazy caws resonated through me, and the three of us just rested together. As I gazed at one of them, he or she looked back at me with tilted head. I felt an unmistakable connection, a message, the warm thrill of a caress. To be noticed by such a glorious creature! I was lifted and struck.

I may have missed church, but I didn't miss communion.



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