Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of the Rainbow

“Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.”
Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

My 2013 collage

Word for the year:  treasure
Color for the year:  gold 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Purple Passage

One of the things I discovered in my research about the color purple is that a paragraph containing "ornate and flowery language" is called a "purple passage."  Metaphorically speaking, that's a good way to describe how 2012 has been for me.  Also, this year has been a major rite of passage, resulting in discovery of what a new friend of mine calls the "heart treasure," that one still point of purpose that, once discovered, turns everything else in one's life to serve it.

During the time of planning my brother's memorial, I happened to see an ad in a magazine for the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, which trains people to become professional Life-Cycle Celebrants - people who create and perform ceremonies with and for people.  I immediately knew this was for me, and I entered that funny process of coming to decide something that you've actually already decided.

At the time, I had just started working toward building my new business as a personal historian, and I questioned the wisdom of aborting that in midstream and starting another new thing.  But the rightness was so apparent to me that I took the leap of faith and signed up for the training (which I'm now in the middle of). 

The thing is, I knew I had found my true calling, and so many things that had happened in recent months all worked together to form one big twinkling, neon arrow pointing to celebrancy.  It started with writing about wedding officiants and realizing the importance of celebrations of milestones.  But the biggest thing was leading my brother's memorial.  It felt totally right to me, and many people who attended, most of whom I didn't know, gave me very positive feedback; a couple of them even leaned in and whispered, "I want you to do my funeral."  I know it may sound strange, but I am so intensely grateful to my brother for this gift.

I have always felt drawn toward ritual and ceremony.  I've even considered going to seminary; and now, in the Celebrant Institute, I've found my tribe, my place.  I'm amazed at how this vocation will draw on all my passions and talents.  I'm so used to having multiple jobs, but for the first time in my life I see the various side paths all merging into one.  And since focus on the client's personal story as a "hero's journey" is one of the hallmarks that makes a Life-Cycle Celebrant different from other kinds of officiants, the personal history business is also simply being absorbed into this profession. 

All the bells in my heart are ringing in one accord.  Hallelujah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Meltdown

Almost every year, at some point on Christmas Day, I find myself in tears.  You might say it's a tradition - not planned and anticipated like wrapping presents or making my eggnog cheesecake, but just what spontaneously seems to happen.  I think it's largely because of attending Midnight Mass at the Ranchos church the night before, the way it opens and softens me. Also, being up so late means I'm tired on Christmas Day, and that adds to my feeling of vulnerability.

This Christmas crying is not a bad thing.  As Kahlil Gibran pointed out, sorrow and joy are inseparable.  And for either to exist, the heart has to be open. 

Christmas is about the birth of a baby - the most vulnerable, crying kind of creature there is.  When the Holy Child is born in my heart, joy cracks the brittleness inside me a little bit more, and I see the remaining brittleness more clearly.  The desire to freely and fully love is ignited anew but starkly contrasted against that, I see where I still fail, where I am still frozen in fear and resistance, and in noticing that, a little of it melts into tears.

Though God’s wisdom and holiness remind us of our limitations, it is precisely within these limitations that wisdom is often revealed.  The incarnation represents the moment in which this wisdom enters the human sphere in all its contradictions, so that nothing is left without transformation and transfiguration.   
~ William J. Danaher Jr. (via Edge of Enclosure)

So here I am the day after, and I can treasure these insights and begin again.  It's perfect that the new year begins soon after Christmas; I can plant seeds in this darkness and water them with these tears, and watch a new thing grow.  The light has been reborn, the world has been reborn, and I am in these movements too.  This beautiful day is mine to live, to surrender and surrender to the flow of grace in each moment.  And when I fail, to surrender again.
  Always we begin again.
~ St. Benedict

Monday, December 24, 2012

Consuming Christmas

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. --Hamilton Wright Mabie
The world is made of stories, and traditions and rituals are the ways we collectively enact those stories and keep them going. Most would agree that many of our collective stories are dysfunctional, but to say they are not "true" is to miss the point. There are no true stories: stories, like anything else in the world of the senses, can only point to truth, make space for an experience of truth.

The senses are the portal, as we are flesh and blood creatures in this world.  This is what has been given.  And that's why I love Christmas, because it is a shared feast for the senses.  We vary in what version of Christmas story we hold dear, but if we hold any of it dear at all, there are certain agreed upon symbols, colors, scents, etc.  Surrendering to the profusion of those, for me, is what makes Christmas magical, even though I am well beyond childhood.

Representing a progressive Christian point of view, Richard Rohr says:
Christmas is a celebration of God become flesh, of the sacred presence which shimmers through everything in this world.  The Incarnation is not an abstract theological principle, but an intimate flesh and blood invitation to celebrate the gifts of our senses and our bodies as portals to the divine. We are called to awaken to the holy birthing happening within us, not demanding our work, but our consent for this work to happen through us.  And yes, this is much harder than it sounds.
Thus, Advent and Christmas are for me a call to keen awareness of both light and dark within myself and in the world, and of my own power to bring forth light through surrender to the light that wants to come forth.   I find myself, at this time of year, both brimming with gratitude for the grace in my life - the abundance I have done nothing to deserve, as well as more aware of where there is want.

This is what happens to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  His transformation occurs out of awareness of want, both within himself and others, and gratitude that he has the power to do something about it.  I recently read a commentary on Internet Movie Database which added a new dimension to my understanding of this:
The word "humbug" is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge's hatred of Christmas. The word "humbug" describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in a scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge's eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them.
People today who call Christmas a humbug, although they no longer use that word, often do so because of the nasty consumerist nature of it all, with which I have no argument.  I would, however, point out, that consumption in and of itself is not a bad thing; it's what we do as creatures of flesh and blood.  A feast, by its very nature, is an excess of consumption, and serves the purpose of celebration.  Giving gifts and feasting both enact sharing of abundance in a way that stretches us; this, in my experience, is a healthy and valuable exercise occasionally.  As with anything, what makes it valuable is how consciously, conscientiously, and imaginatively we go about it.  It is in imagining and re-imagining what we already have that we create a better dream of life.

However, to me it's not so much about consuming as being consumed.  By immersing myself in the sensory overload of Christmas; by pouring out creatively, financially, and energetically, I realize surrender of ego a little bit more. I am the Yule log, each year learning a bit better to surrender to the flame and thus become one with it. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Extra-Spectral Year

This year has been something else.  I suspected it would be when I realized purple was going to be its color.  I've never been fond of this color; you might even say I'm porphyrophobic.   I've always associated purple with discomfort, with intensity, and also with death.  When I finished making my collage for the year and contemplated the finished product, I just knew it was going to be a fiercely disturbing year, and that there would be death in it.

Then, at the beginning of February, my younger brother Scott unexpectedly died.  And that was just the beginning.  There have been deaths and brushes with death on many different levels this year.  I could do about ten more posts on each of those experiences, but I'll spare you all that.

Really, the death theme started at the end of 2011, and that's partly how purple came to be my color for 2012.  I had been writing the weekly blog for a client's website.  Her product, called Life at Hand, is a system for recording and organizing personal information and vital documents, so a lot of what I was researching to blog about had to do with estate planning and other end-of-life stuff.  In the process of that research, I became more and more aware of (and disturbed by) how deeply in denial we are as a culture about all things death-related.  I began to feel an urgent sense to do something about that, but I knew not what.  All I knew is that death was going to be a focus for me for a while.

When Scott died, I took on the task of planning and leading his memorial.  At the time, I had been happily planning the Valentine's tea party I mentioned in my last post, inspired about the opportunity to create a celebration of my woman friends.  Now that enthusiasm went into creating a different kind of celebration altogether, a celebration of Scott's life.

But I had never done anything remotely like planning a memorial before, so I went into major research mode, and what I quickly discovered is that there is very little freely available on the Internet that is useful for such a task .  The poems and readings I found were mostly cheesy and/or bland, and I was horrified that several sites wanted to charge for the most basic resources.  For instance, one site I landed on wanted $30 for a funeral program template Word document.  After many, many hours of research I did finally find some good stuff, and managed to put it all together, but my sense that how death is approached in our culture needs to have the lid blown off it was amped up several levels.

It wasn't just because of the research, either.  It was because of Scott.

I had never had much of an opinion or feeling either way about the idea of connecting with people beyond the grave.  When people recount experiences of having felt the presence of a dead loved one, I've never really believed or disbelieved it.  But with Scott's death, that changed forever.

One day, shortly after his death, I was sitting with a friend in a coffee shop, talking about him.  Some amazing things had been happening among those he was connected to; a sense of community had formed over many miles among us.  His two ex-wives were connecting with each other, for instance.  And for me, who had been alienated from Scott for several years because his addictions and demons had made him an unsafe person for me to let into my life, I felt all of the walls I'd erected with him come down, and I simply loved him once again.  As I discussed all this with my friend in the cafe, I said, "I have no regrets; I'm at peace with all of this and I can tangibly feel that he is at peace too.  I just wish I could give him one good hug."  And as I said that, all of a sudden everything just lit up and became more alive, vibrant with warm good life; and his spirit, his essence - HE - was there hugging me, and it was infinitely more satisfying than any physical hug.

Eckhart Tolle says that when someone dies it's like a soap bubble bursting; the outer form of the bubble is gone, and what was inside that bubble is released.  That's as good an analogy as any I've heard to describe how this could be.

Can I prove that it was really Scott's essence there with me?  No, of course not.  But I know it on a level that trumps the puny "knowledge" of the rational mind.  Conveniently, there's a fitting metaphor here involving my color for the year: 

There is no such thing as the "wavelength of purple light" on the visible color spectrum; purple only exists as a combination, and is therefore referred to as "extra-spectral."  It wasn't even acknowledged on Newton's color wheel. However, as it says on Wikipedia, "The spectrum is often divided up into named colors, though any division is somewhat arbitrary: the spectrum is continuous."

Just as the color spectrum is continuous regardless of the divisions we impose upon it, so is the spectrum of life and death.  And whether you classify and divide the spectrum, whether you name the color or not and include it as part of a system you recognize, you know it when you see it, and that's all that matters. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Celebrating Stories

In my last post, I said that the TV show My Fair Wedding has had a major impact on my life.  Let me explain.

The premise of this reality show is that couples with a small budget and a distinct theme in mind for their weddings get help from world-class event planner, David Tutera.  He comes in three weeks before the wedding and takes over, usually changing everything from the dress to the venue.  What he doesn't do, however, is change the theme, no matter how wacky or tacky it is.

After watching the show for a few episodes, I began to realize why it was so appealing to me.  (Keep in mind that I rarely watch TV, ESPECIALLY reality shows.)  David Tutera has a true gift for taking the ideas and desires people have and ultimately treating them with respect, even if he begins with a little eye-rolling.  He takes it upon himself to understand where his brides are coming from, what it is they truly want, and then making it happen in a way that always far exceeds their expectations. And underneath it all, I realized, his foundational philosophy is that life is meant to be a celebration that we share with our loved ones and ourselves.

I found this very inspiring, and even began to plan a Valentine's Tea Party for my closest woman friends as a result (which actually turned out to be quite lovely.) 

Valentine's Tea Party, with heart-shaped lemon lavender shortbreads and heart-shaped cake

But even more significantly, I made connections between his gifts and my own.  Watching Tutera at work and really observing what he was doing made me realize that I have a similar gift in how I work with people I write about as well as those I teach writing to or do editing for.  I love to tell people's stories; I love to teach people how to find their writing voice.  I love to honor people's truths in these ways and even help them to recognize their own truths in some cases.  And from the wonderful feedback I often get from people I've written about, from my students, and from my clients, I know that this can have a real impact on them.

Around the same time as I was getting into My Fair Wedding, I was also feeling restless, like my life was in need of some new direction.  For a long time, I'd been feeling like even though I love what I do, I was missing out on time for "my own" writing.  But out of the connections I was making between David Tutera's work and my own, I had an epiphany that stopped me in my tracks:  Writing other people's stories IS "my own" writing.  It satisfies me, and I feel called to it.  Realizing this was like coming out from under a huge weight I didn't even know was there.  It gave me permission to stop pressuring myself to do "my" thing, and fully embrace what I was already doing.  And this led me to make the decision to launch a new service in my writing business:  writing personal histories for people.

And so I have reworked my writing business, Illuminated Manuscripts, to reflect this new direction.  Rather than make this post any longer explaining about what it means to be a personal historian, I will simply direct you to my new website,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Here Comes the Bride

My 2012 collage
As you know if you've ever been a regular reader of this blog, I choose a color and a word for each year.  This year my color is purple and my word is juice.  Last year, I also started the year by making a collage that represented my color and word, which turned out to be a wonderful thing, so I did it again this year.  I have a ton of stuff I want to share about how this year and its themes have unfolded so far, but I'm going to have to break it into several posts, so I hope you'll bear with me and come along for the ride.

In choosing the images for a collage, I keep my theme(s) in mind, but sometimes I will find myself drawn to an image that doesn't completely fit.  In the 2012 collage, that image was the face in the top right corner.

She is a bride from a small village in Kosovo where they paint women's faces for their weddings.  The colors used on her face, other than the obvious white, are blue, red, silver, and gold - not purple.  But I felt the need to include her with no idea why.  A bride?  What did that have to do with anything?

Lo and behold, a couple of days after I finished the collage I got an email from one of my editors at the Taos News, asking me to write an article for the Taos Wedding Guide supplement that comes out every spring.  I would be interviewing three women in Taos who are all ordained interfaith ministers and wedding officiants.

After interviewing these amazing women and then transcribing the interviews, I had no idea how to jump into writing the article.  Weddings are not something I've experienced much in life.  I did marry the same man twice, but the first time was on Halloween in a cemetery, and the second time was on a Wednesday night (in a church this time at least, but it was extremely casual).  I was a flower girl in my uncle and aunt's wedding as a child, and a bridesmaid for a friend from high school, but that's about the extent of it.

I always like to say there's a fine line between "the pre-writing process" and procrastination.  In this case, I felt I needed some inspiration to get started on the article, so I went onto Netflix to try to find some kind of wedding show to stream.  After comparing the few that came up, I chose a reality show called My Fair Wedding because it was higher rated than the others, and I proceeded to watch two episodes in a row, which did in fact inspire me to write the article.

However, this show had a far more profound impact on me than just helping me write.  I ended up watching all 24 episodes available on Netflix over the period of a few weeks.  Once again, something fluffy has changed my life, and in my next post, I'll tell you how.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How A Fluffy Movie Saved My Life

I'm writing this post in response to a question a friend of mine posted on Facebook; she asked bloggers what their goals are for their blogs.  I started to formulate a response, and quickly realized it would be too long-winded for a Facebook comment, because I have more than one blog, and more than one reason for each of them.  (It's probably even too long-winded for a blog post, but you can decide that for yourself.)

This blog was my first.  And I don't think I've ever confessed this here before, but I started it because of watching that epitome of "feel-good" (i.e., fluff) movies, Julie and Julia.  If you've seen it, then you know that it's based on the true story of a woman who started a blog and eventually became famous for it.

Well, I knew going in that there was little chance of fame in blogging these days, now that EVERYONE has a blog.  No, what convinced me to try it was what the Julie character said in the movie when she made the decision.  She said it would be a "regimen" for her, and she saw it as something that would fulfill her need to do something meaningful and creative.  This inspired me, because at the time, I had been living in Taos and working at Subway for about a year - it was one of the most miserable years of my life.  I was a lifelong writer who wasn't writing, and hadn't really since I'd finished my Master's in creative writing four years earlier.

For my Master's, my concentration was poetry, but I had always wanted to get into writing personal essays.  Blogging seemed like a great way to do that with the benefit of immediate gratification, just getting it out there and dropping the whole burden of "trying to get published," which graduate school had completely turned me off to.

So I started this blog, and proceeded to visit other people's blogs and leave comments.  Within a fairly short time, blogging completely and wonderfully exceeded my expectations.  I found myself part of an eclectic online community including (to name just a few) a young man who had been homeschooled, taught in Korea, then proceeded to get his bartender's license and his pilot's license more or less simultaneously; a male Buddhist kindergarten teacher in the Bay area who is married to the town's female mayor; an Australian storyteller-poet-naturalist; a glitzy woman entrepreneur in Dallas; a Scottish woman with equally passionate interests in cooking, photography, and literary pursuits of all kinds; and several spiritually-oriented women who sort of became my church.  One of those women I actually count now among my very closest friends, even though we've still never met in person. 

That in itself was fulfilling enough, but there was more.  Blogging gave me the confidence to think of myself as a writer again, so I started a writing business called Illuminated Manuscripts and created another blog for it.  I made business cards and brochures and joined the Taos Chamber of Commerce, and out of that, I got offered a job writing a weekly column for the Taos News, which I'm still writing today.  Other writing jobs came my way as well, and I have found myself living my childhood dream of writing for a living.

However, since I now had several clients and was no longer working at Subway, one might say I had a life, and blogging began to take up less and less of my time.  And anyone who blogs knows that if you don't do it on a pretty regular basis, the warm glowy sense of community begins to dissolve.  Less and less people comment on your blog, as you comment less and less on theirs, and after a while you just kind of lose touch altogether.  In the past year or so, I've posted here very infrequently, and hardly anyone comments anymore.  It sort of feels like a ghost town.  I miss those golden days, but that's okay.

The blog I started for Illuminated Manuscripts never really took off at all because I found myself with more than enough work without having to promote it.  I'm now about to expand my business' services and will be building a new website for it elsewhere.

My third blog came about when I decided to buy land off-grid and build an earthbag house on it.  Where my purpose for The Whole Blooming World was simply to be writing and sharing that writing, my purpose for Home Sweet Hive is more to document my project and connect with other people doing similar things.  It fascinates me to see that an entirely different group of bloggers has sprung up around me over there, although there are a couple of loyal readers that followed me over from this blog.

I know a lot of people blog for money, and I also know that if you want your business to grow online you should have a blog, but so far, blogging has had nothing to do with these things for me personally.  However, nowadays, I write the weekly blog for the business of one of my clients, and I've seen how it can be a whole different animal.  And once I get my new site up for Illuminated Manuscripts, I will be blogging regularly there for the sake of promoting my business.

Even though this blog has faded into the background of my life and there is little chance that will change in the foreseeable future, I know from time to time I'll still post here even if no one's reading it, because it's become for me a way to track and tell and change the story of my inner life.

If I hadn't watched Julie and Julia it's hard to imagine that my life would be as rich as it is today.  So there's a lot to be said for fluff.  For instance, milkweed is fluffy but plays several important roles: it remedies poison ivy, insulates, repels pests from plants in its vicinity, removes warts, and serves as the sole food source for monarch butterfly larvae.

But I guess some curmudgeons would consider butterflies "fluff" too.  Too bad for them.


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