Ritual for New Beginnings

“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

The modern Gregorian calendar recognizes today, Jan. 1, as the beginning of a new 12-month cycle or the “New Year.” It is my favorite holiday (even when I go to bed at 8:30pm which I may or may not have done last night.) But not before I took the time to reflect upon the year and my aspirations for 2016 with a ritual I like to use instead of the overplayed and notoriously ineffective New Year’s resolutions people commonly make, not unlike tossing coins into a fountain with fingers crossed for well-intended wishes.

Photo credit: awildpath.com

Ritual is arguably a universal feature of human social existence. Though our life’s are full of daily ritual, we wake at a certain time, we ready for the workday in the same way perhaps, there is a certain order to our activities. But typical American culture is bereft of much of the intentional, meaningful ritual that have been integral to societies in the past and plenty of other cultures around the world today. Ritual is an important part of who we are. It is how we mark the passage of time, honor our history, our roots, big transitions and the sacred cycle of life. Maybe you were lucky and grew up with a cultural or religious heritage that offered special customs and if you are really lucky religion didn’t totally ruin it for you. Recently I have been seeking to bring more ritual into my life. I loved the rituals of my family growing up and have always been drawn to ceremony, magic, rites and sacrament as a way of honoring The Mystery. God. Gaia. Spirit. The Divine. The Great Mother. What Moves in You that Moves in Me. What Connects us All. 

circle2resizedI want to be clear about why I think ritual is important and why I believe it works. (Here is some data by some behavior scientists, by the way.) This is very different than the religious attitude of persuading God to act or our behalf or assuaging guilt for our sins by engaging ritual as a formula for accessing the Divine. The Divine is here all the time, in every moment and laughs at our contrived idea of sanctity and holiness. The Holy Spirit is not finally convinced to grace us transcendent experience or forgiveness upon the 108th recitation of a holy mantra or the final Hail Mary. And there are plenty of examples throughout history that the Divine does not require a perfect vessel for transmission of profound truth!

No, ritual is for our own hearts. Ritual “brings life to intention” (Nancy Napier, Sacred Practices for Conscious Living.) It engages the imagination which is what animates the soul. Ritual is a way of tending the soil of our hearts, of calling forth what is already there, reminding us that we are connected to something greater, something sacred. We may perform ritual before meditation practice or prayer in order to create a feeling of sanctuary. Simple symbolic action, burning incense, lighting a candle, or a pilgrimage to a special sitting spot may help us find a way into the inner temple. Rituals can punctuate birth and death, honor loss, help with healing,  express gratitude and celebration and demarcate transitions in our lives. They can involve any natural or material object, substance, food, art, music, water, fire or any other natural element. It isn’t the action or the ingredients but the meaning and intention we bring to ritual that make them sacred.  

There is something really powerful that happens when we ritualize our intentions. It is translating our ephemeral soul desires into something our brain can comprehend. Essentially integrating the mammalian brain (emotion and learning) with our reptilian brain (the action-oriented) and the neo-cortex (logical or “thinking” brain.) 

“Ritual returns you to what matters. The very act of beginning a ritual puts us in a state of mind where we can break with the routine patterns of the mundane and remember the sacred.” (Katie Silcox, The Importance of Ritual.) In 2015 I began creating rituals around the New and Full Moon, around my monthly bleeding cycle and the Solstices and Equinoxes. For the Winter Solstice, we filled the house full of candles and my partner, my son and I read through our jar full of gratitudes for 2015. Then we ate soup by candle light and watched the fire in the wood stove. Aside from all the technical and scientific stuff, ritual just makes life more special and fun. Do we really need a more spiritual or intellectual reason than that?  I don’t.

Here is my ritual for new beginnings. Of course, it doesn’t much matter what the date is. Whenever you feel like ritualizing the passing of an era and the dawn of a new season or ushering in a new chapter in your life, you can use this visioning technique or something similar. These are the things you will need:

A chunk of quiet, alone time where you can get still and present

4 sheets of journal or notebook paper and a writing instrument

A place to safely play with fire (a fireplace or fire pit is the easiest, but an abalone shell, metal kitchen sink or fire-safe bowl will do.)

  1. Get your body grounded and bring your mind to stillness. Begin to envision what you want to create in this next season of your life. What projects, ideas, endeavors you want to bring forth in your personal life and into the greater world. How do you want to feel? What roles do you see yourself playing? Write all of this down on one of the pieces of paper. Take as much time as you need.
  2. On the second piece of paper, write all of the ways you might sabotage yourself from your current vision.  Habits, self-talk, limiting beliefs, etc.
  3. On the next piece of paper list the things you need in order to cultivate and support your vision. Include other people, relationships, new habits, practical, financial and emotional resources.
  4. Lastly, on the final piece of paper list what needs to go in order to make space for this new vision. This may be commitments that no longer serve you, time and energy zappers, relationships with someone or a job that is not moving you toward your goals, or with ideas (letting go of body-obsession or seeking the perfect mate or house.)

Once you have your four lists you will prepare for the burning part of the ritual. The first list you are going to bring to flame is your list of self-sabotage. Find your own words but be clear. “I release now these means of sabotaging my vision for this coming year. I am grateful for the lessons they have offered me and the ways they have protected me in the past. I know release them from their service in my life.” You can read aloud some of the specific things you wrote down if it feels right. Then, watch it burn! Make your commitment to not return for these things but receive the support from the Universe (God, Spirit, your name for Her) to move forward in a new pattern.

Next, the list of what needs to go in order to create space. Surrender it to the fire. Speak what feels true: “I release these holds on my time, energy, attention and resources. I any lingering attachment to things things that no longer support the highest vision for my life.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. Feeling lighter?

So now you are left with two lists: The one that holds the vision you want to manifest and the list of what you need to cultivate it. The first list you made – the inspired, passionate vision of your future – you will bury in the earth. Go on a walk or a hike and find a special place beneath the roots of a tree or just in your yard somewhere. Like a seed, surrendering it to the dark, to the alchemy of germination. 

The last list you will keep close by – in a journal, tacked to a bulletin board, tucked in your journal. These are your instructions. This list is your reminder of the things to seek out on a daily basis that align with the greater vision of what you want, who you want to be and how you want to feel.

I encourage you to find a variation that feels authentic. Get creative and playful with your way to honor your intentions. The most important part is that is feels organic, heartfelt and true to you. No recitation or formulaic process is going to serve the work of the soul anymore than tossing a penny in a pond. The key is to find what feel meaningful to you.

So! here is to new beginnings.

More resources on how to incorporate ritual in your life:

Transform Your Life with the Power of Ritual – Deepak Chopra

The (6-minute) Miracle Morning Ritual

Burning the Past – A Ritual for Cleansing Pain

Honoring the Dark.

wintersolstice

Altar to honor the Winter Solstice and return of the light.

December fell over me like a heavy blanket. All at once it seemed, I felt the energy drain out of me. I worried I was slipping into depression, as I have in the past struggled against that gravitational pull, down into darkness, silence, deep introspection, isolation. I spent most of my adulthood watching for the signs that the dark was creeping in to grab hold again and drag me under. When I hear the first notes of that ghostly refrain I usually launch into my list of preventive action steps: I push myself to go running, to get out and socialize, to eat something nutritious even when I don’t feel hungry. I talked to my therapist: “I don’t know,” she said, “This doesn’t sound like depression to me. Could your body just be telling you that you need to slow down and rest?”

The next day I reread a text message I sent to a good friend: “I wish I could just curl up in my room for three days and see no one and do nothing. Then I could re-enter the world and be ok again and do Christmas.” Suddenly I flashed back to a year ago almost to the day, telling another friend right before a week long trip to see family: “I wish I could just check out from everything for two days and then come back and do the whole holiday thing.”

My life is as full as always: work, and school, a preschooler, household stuff and new projects on the horizon that I am excited about giving my time and energy to. But everything feels overwhelming. Not uninteresting just…too much.  And the more I push my body the greater the urge to retreat. And it’s no wonder, as we are linked to the earth’s cycles along with every other living thing. Since the Summer Solstice, we have been incrementally losing light here in the northern hemisphere. The longer nights and lower temperatures signal the trees to drop their leaves and the animals to start preparing for winter. When winter arrives, the trees are almost all bare, many of the plants that once flourished in the sun have let go their leaves and blossoms. If you didn’t know better, many of the plants and trees might appear as if dead. There is no movement, thus begins a period of conserving energy through the coldest months. Though life force is just as present, activity becomes dormant.

winter-solstice-wayne-devon

And why should we be any different? (Read: BODY RHYTHM, PLANETARY RHYTHM). 

Alan Fogel, author of Body Sense, writes in Psychology Today:  “I’ve always thought it odd that in the late Fall — when my body just wants to withdraw into cozy, warm rest in response to the longer nights and cooler temperatures – urban culture becomes more active, more complex, and more demanding. The trees are shutting down all but the most basic functions and mammals are retreating to their dens and burrows for some form of hibernation. I want to go with them but I can’t because school is in session, there are performances and shows and social events, business deals are being made, and then the winter holidays come with all their pulls and obligations.

All this social pressure coming at a time when our bodies want to slow down is a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Could it be that SAD and other seasonal dismays are not the result of darkness at all but rather a psychological splitting as we are torn between social demands for increased activity and the planet pulling our body sense in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is not our dark moods that are problematic so much as our sense of their cultural unacceptability?

Let’s imagine that we could just accept and embrace our body sense as it follows the lows and highs of seasonal cycles…Let’s imagine letting ourselves feel tired, I mean really feel like we are going to collapse if we don’t crawl under a blanket. Probably, you could find that feeling inside right now if you let yourself. Let’s imagine that we could give in completely to our sadness, that tears might come because we really let our feeling fill up the present moment; we become sadness and there is nothing else in the world but sadness. What would happen if we could do that?”

Well, what would happen?

There is  another pattern I have started to notice over the past four years of noting my natural cycles of highs and lows throughout the year is the near inevitability of a melancholy February and March, where exhaustion is often accompanied by sadness and loss of passion and interest in normal things. While this could be in part a natural reaction to the lack of sunlight (I plan to invest in a magic desk lamp this year) could this also be a result of pushing through the holidays, work, family gatherings and social events instead of honoring my own need to retreat, rest and conserve energy during the darkest months? Why is it so often our habit when feeling out of balance to add more instead of doing less?

Maybe there isn’t anything “wrong” with me at all but this natural inclination to check out from the world for awhile, even to be sad, to let the soul mourn it needs to could actually serve my highest good? Can I make space for honoring the dark? 

Perhaps I can’t take a week off my job or check out of parenting and run away to a hotel for three days by myself but can I bring the feeling of nurturing and self care into my life in small ways? What if, I could prepare for December the way people start their Christmas shopping early or string their lights up after Halloween? What if I could start creating space in July by working a few more hours to set aside for the December days when I need to work a bit less? Or be more deliberate in advance about keeping my schedule light during the holiday season?

Just by beginning to entertain these things, my heart begins to feel lighter. I don’t have to fight this, I don’t have to resist. I can make tea. I can change into my pajamas early. I can “check out” in the evenings with  something good to read, with a movie or a good show. I can decorate my altar to honor the Winter Solstice. I can let the house stay messier than usual, I can honor my body with a restorative practice instead of power vinyasa.  I can make a big pot of bone broth, I can clear my calendar of unessential items and I can curl up under this blanket for awhile and just rest… that is, until my kid calls me to come wipe his bum.

So yeah. That’s where you’ll find me. Don’t be offended if I don’t answer the phone. I’ll be back just as sure as the light returns.

Look at me all honoring myself and shit. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp

The in between place: Sometimes things are just shitty.

I’m in the hard holding space.

The painful, restless, unknowing place of trying to hold more than a human heart is capable of holding without knowing how anything is going to turn out.

The in between space, waiting for each next breath, each next step, having faith that healing can happen, that peace is possible. The world feels so heavy and full of darkness right now. I grieve over the war and violence in the world, I grieve with my fellow countrymen over the unfathomable corruption and devastating policy-makings of our government, over the unthinkable and compounding acts of violence and what it means for the future of our children and our planet.

Violence. Oppression. Suffering. Helplessness. Rage. Grief.

My partnership has been in its own stage of painful metamorphosis. Kind of like how the caterpillar in the cocoon has to completely dissolve before it can change form… you really want to believe its going to be reborn into a beautiful butterfly, but for awhile its such indistinguishable mush. Sometimes your faith can’t help but waver somewhat. I mean, it just looks like mush. It feels like a mess. From your limited human perspective, it doesn’t look promising. From the outside, things look impossible. Except that something tells you “Hold on. You don’t have all the information.” And you have lived long enough now and seen enough miracles to know that they are always happening.

It’s been a hard waiting. It’s been a good while now. Breathing, believing. Praying. And waiting.

There should be a meme out there that just says “Sometimes things are just shitty for awhile.” Because ain’t that the truth of life? It isn’t being negative. Actually it feels quite liberating when you remember that its normal for things to suck for awhile. But then they get better. Then suck again. And then its wonderful. And not everything hard is necessarily something that has to be (or can be) fixed at the moment. Like the world right now.

I’m going to make that meme.

Speaking with a few different friends this past week, it seems a lot of us are cycling through a pattern of feeling totally overwhelmed and checking out. I know that’s been true for me. Because it’s just. too. much.

Last week, I had to log off social media and the news feed for several days. When I came back on, I read first about Colorado and then about San Bernadino. What is happening? And what, oh what, are we to do about it?

To be awake, to be alive is to feel the darkness of the world, the heaviness when it comes, but to be of service to the world is not let ourselves be swallowed up by it. So I teeter back and forth, trying to find my balance when one after another these blows keep coming. We can choose gratitude – and can I tell you how my heart is swelled in gratitude these past weeks?? – We can focus on the positive, we can seek beauty for I have learned that there is always, always something beautiful happening

But we can also learn to sit with sorrow when sorrow is warranted, rage when rage is due, grief where heartbreak is demanded. This is what it means to be fully awake, we can’t choose to be selectively conscious. It is the juxtaposition of feeling these simultaneous polarities. We don’t turn our backs on one or the other, we don’t go back to sleep. It is the seemingly impossible task of learning to hold them both, the light and the dark. To find stillness in the churning sea. In the face of a tidal wave that threatens to wash away everything we know and to still believe that whatever the storm takes or leaves in it’s wake we will go on. We will still look for love.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist (that’s really a thing), author and stroke survivor (listen to her TED talk here) has said that it actually takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered within the body, peak, dissipate and disappear. So anything more than 90 seconds it caused by our thoughts about the emotion. We feel fear, we instantly create a story about why we are afraid and what ifs and how the world is unsafe and we feel out of control, which creates more fearful emotions.

Feelings create thoughts, thoughts create feelings. These become the constructs of our reality.

This simple concept feel especially empowering to me right now. I can breathe through 90 seconds. Hell, I breathed through 22 hours of labor contractions and I learned you don’t waste that sweet spot in between, you take any tiny respite you can.

Breath by breath.

space between

Glennon Melton, of Momastery (whom I adore and if by any possible circumstance you are not familiar with her, her blog or her work, please give yourself the huge gift of introducing yourself) gives these instructions on how to respond to global trauma:

“1. BE STILL. Feel it. Listen. Pray. There is a word in my holy text: Selah. Selah means holy pause. The Selah is the space between what happens to us and how we respond to what happens to us. When we don’t take a Selah—we tend to respond from fear. Fear is never a powerful or transformational launching pad.

2. HERE I AM. This is the action after the stillness. This is when we feel centered enough in love to be fairly certain that our reaction will bring light instead of more darkness. We are ready. Love is our launching pad.

Stillness without action is not compassion. It’s more like pity. Compassion means your pain into my heart and back out through my hands.  Action without stillness can’t be trusted. It has no wisdom, no steadiness, no plan. It’s reckless. It’s oil on a fire.”

Let’s look for beauty.  Let’s find a little patch of the natural world and sit in it; by a rock or a stream, beneath a tree or prostate on the Earth. She is very absorbent, She can hold all of it.

Let’s tune out when we need to. Let’s do the things we love with people we love. Let’s do the things we love by ourselves. Let’s look around for someone who needs help and offer what we can for service to others is a great healing balm for the human heart. Let’s stay awake.

And let’s pray, pray, pray. (Or dance, or sing, make art or do what you do.)

Ask ourselves, “what is the next right thing?” and do it.

xo

Here ya go 🙂

shitty final

(For more good stuff read here: “What would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?” by renegademama.)

Carry on soldier.

The only true thing.

A couple months ago I got this message from the Universe (I know, one of those). The message was that I needed to get start getting up earlier.

Now, let me tell you what the big deal is about getting up early.

I have this kid, you see. This sweet, wily, hilarious and over-the-top crazy little human who controls my life. And this little human from day one pretty much wakes up at the butt-ass-crack…no, before the butt-ass-crack of dawn because it’s like he has to get a front row seat or something. (If you are wondering when the “butt-ass-crack of dawn” exactly is, it is 4:45am. Or at least it was between 4:30 and 5am for almost a solid year. And before you start assuming anything: YES, I TRIED THAT. NO, IT DID NOT WORK. )

What I learned over that year was acceptance, sometimes through tears. But all of my resistances (which included strategies to “fix” the problem) only in the end caused suffering whereas accepting what was happening just meant that

1) I was tired.

2) It is hard being tired.

Tired is one thing, suffering is another. Tired can miserable, but suffering is what I was causing myself by trying to fight the truth of what was going on: I had a kid who woke up early no matter what we did.

But here is the truth we all know: things change. This is the one truth you can tell a new parent that is actually helpful: It will change. It always changes. Don’t try and tell them when! “Oh, when he gets to 3 months….when he gets to 6 months…a year…18 months… 2 years…” No one knows when because they don’t know your kid, they only know their own experience or worse, what they heard.  People want to help and say something positive but it is really just a set up for bitterness and despair when the promised milestone is reached and you are…. still in a shit-hole. So lets just stop doing that to parents who are having a hard time.  Let’s not even say “it will get better” (because you don’t know and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it gets worse. Or whatever is hard is replaced by something even shittier and harder.)  Eventually, it probably will get better. But no one knows when and I have never found the idea that “better” is somewhere out in the distance floating around very comforting. It’s like telling someone who is dying of thirst, “Don’t worry, someday it will rain. Try not to die until then.”

Things change. Another way to say it is right now is the only true thing

Holding on to this has made the hard moments softer to bear and the high moments ever more sweet because I know: it may change tomorrow, in an hour, next month or in five minutes. Cultivating continuous presence is the key that unlocks the ability to see what is true right now, what needs to shift and what I know I can breathe through, and what I better slow down and soak up.

So about six months ago things shifted and the little Acorn Scout started sleeping until six … SIX!! SIX AM!!!! A fucking miracle and nothing less, let me tell you. It is life-changing. I am reborn. Out of the darkness and wretched despair of night wakings, I rise victorious and the world is a beautiful place again and I am full of love for all people. Overall, things have fallen into a comfortable routine around here these days; no major struggles with bedtime, naptime, meal time. Always on the go, always talking, the little monster is generally content and increasingly independent. My work and school schedule, as well as my partner’s schedule have settled into predictability which is really nice. I feel like we are officially out of the “baby haze” and the survival mode of the first couple years. Life has lent us a bit of reprieve from any major crisis for the moment and of course, most of all, we are all sleeping. 

So when I hear this little tug I try to swat it away. For two and a half years I have been fitting in my meditation and yoga practice where I can. A few moments here and there, and at naptime or in the evening.  Juggling work and childcare and an opposite schedule from my partner meant constantly shifting things around, like an endless puzzle where there’s the inevitable jamming together of pieces that don’t fit just right and then left over pieces with no place to go. But for awhile there’s been the feeling that I want to take my meditation practice deeper and I was still struggling to make space in the day for myself.

So this inner voice pipes up (as it will do) and tells me to start waking up at 5:15. And I immediately answer with “You are f***ing kidding me.”  

Let me skip to the end of this argument (which I lost, or won, however you look at it.) When the Universe asks something of you and you say yes, all the support you need is in full supply. I go to bed early. I am usually asleep by 9pm these days. And 5:15 is quiet. It’s sacred. It’s all mine.

By the time I hear my son stirring (6am on the dot, that kid is never late) I am in a completely different space, heart, mind and body. I am able to give from a place of fullness instead of scraping the bottom and feeling the prickly irritation of having to give more than I have. And THEN this other miracle happened: My partner and I had been trading off mornings and since I have committed to every morning he has agreed to do bedtime every night which means I suddenly have a 30 whole other minutes in the evenings to do something for myself. Holy crap! What?!

Here is my challenge to you: What is your truth right now? Not the story you are telling yourself about what things “should” be like but what is true? What is being asked of you?

Remember: the Universe never asks you to do anything without being ready to rush in with full support. 

And unexpected blessings and gifts await you. It never fails.

samputa

Samputa mudra  – For cultivating truth (Satya)

The left hand is slightly cupped, the right hand rests on top with the fingers along the left thumb, created a space as if you held a precious treasure within your hands. Your truth. The voice of your true inner being.

Mudras are gestures of the hands, face or body that are used to evoke certain spiritual, physical or psychological qualities and have been used for over 2,000 years but they can also be found in various religious,  cultural and ritual practice around the world dating back thousands of years. The hands and fingers contain more sensory and nerve-endings than almost anywhere else in the body. This makes them a powerful tool for communicating directly to our brains and the rest of the body.  The subtle position of our hands and bodies have the capacity to alter the geometry and circuitry of the body, shifting vital energies. They are a powerful tool for any mediation practice.

When using mudras in meditation we hold the core quality of the gesture in our minds lightly and simply watch the effects on our breath, body, energy, thoughts and emotions that arise. We don’t try to change the breath or battle the thoughts or feelings that come. We just notice and gently steers our awareness back to the gesture and what we are awakening within ourselves. Because there is truly nothing we need that is not already there, waiting to be called forth.

For more an amazing resource on Mudras check out: Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page 

What She had to tell me in the end.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.31.48 AM

There is something about Fall. Something about the change of light, the movement of air, the fragrance of earth and bark and foliage that makes my heart feel a fullness it hasn’t felt all year. Something about this season reminds me of the passage of time more than any of the others; the simultaneous coming to a close of one era and the beginning of another. The darkening days lend a mood of introspection, the slowing from the buzz of summer activity, a cool breeze taking the edge of the simmering heat of the last few months – and I find myself sitting still a little longer, lingering by the open window and …watching the sky. I feel time moving.

In autumn, I always feel all of the autumns past. And it is at once an overwhelming gratitude, heartsick nostalgia and a profound awe. It catches me off guard and it always takes my breath.  How far we’ve come.  And all that is passing away as we speak. It almost feels like too much to bear.

Last week I hiked solo to the top of the ridge behind our house, a steep climb through the forest to a spectacular view of the valley with the river running down below and the one main road that leads through our rural community and on out to the sea. At the top of the hill has stood for a few hundred years an ancient, gnarled and sprawling magnificent oak. Whenever I have hiked this ridge, I have paused before Her in reverence; in the wetter seasons, reaching into the well of Her womb for the water that collected there.

“Holy water,” I said, anointing him and then myself. I remember it made him chuckle the first time I did it.  We were new and exploring, I was the wild and mysterious girl from the woods, we were in love and every single thing was pure magic.

We like to say it was She that brought us together.

One summer five years ago, on a whim I emailed this stranger to ask if he wanted to come build a tree house with me and live in it all summer. I said I knew the perfect tree. I was on a very serious kick to sell all my belongings and go and live out of doors, “off the grid”.  I was in that restless place of transition without having a clear idea of what the next stage of my life would look like. Recently I had picked up a book written by this interesting guy – a book which also contained his contact information.  I was bored and curious (a combination I have found leads either to stupid decisions or serendipitous ones!).

He wrote back. Thus began the two and a half years of correspondence that would eventually, finally lead him to my doorstep and “the girl in the woods by the sea” became no longer a mystery but now leading him up a mountain to the very tree that inspired it all, where we carved our initials (and later, a third set). Near Her roots we would bury a list of our heart’s aspirations for our life together as a family.

In the last couple of years, I have had fewer opportunities to visit her.  Days have been full and gone are the free hours when I could go get lost in the woods for half a day at a time. In the shorter walks we’ve taken through the woods with our son, the little Acorn Scout, we’ve watched the Phytophthora ramorum, the sudden oak death, sweep through the forest swiftly claiming one after the other, both the tan and the scrub oak. At first, just a black nodule here and there but within months hollowing them out and felling them like twigs. From time to time, I worried about Her.  I had seen the tell-tale signs high up on Her branches as well. But it was hard to believe that She could not withstand this too, for She had seen so much, She had stood for so long.

~

Last week I made the trek up the mountain for the first time since Spring. With the change in temperature, the bright red leaves of poison oak plant have begun to wither and recede again, making the way less perilous. I made my way up the mountain slowly, pausing to notice the filtered sunlight, the shift in temperature as I rose higher, the breeze as it sounded through crisp and drying leaves.

Reaching the summit, I came around the familiar bend and suddenly —

there She lay.

Half of Her tremendous weight collapsed across the path before me.  I could still see the freshness of Her wound where She split, taking smaller trees down in the power of Her wake. I stood unmoving.

Who knows when it had happened exactly, when the moment had finally come, when it was time to let go.  Had the forest mourned? Had the trees reached out their arms to soften Her fall? Had they bowed their heads to the great Matriarch, now Herself riddled with the disease that she had watched claim each of Her children?

How long had She stood watch over this hill? Hundreds of years of roots were not enough to protect Her. How long had She had stood with dignity even as the black death slowly ate Her from the inside and hollowed out all Her limbs? Now from where She lies upon her side, I can see how She held out to the very end. While I lived my life out below, She watched and waited patiently for the end to come. Lichen and moss still cling to Her like royal adornment, the emblem of our names now blighted with bulbous growth.

And I want to cry but I can’t and I am filled with shock and sorrow and I want to understand what it all means and I think of my partner and how hard and painful things have felt between us for awhile and how much we’ve grown since it felt like we were children clambering up to sit in Her branches. When She held us. When it felt like we were just beginning.

And I think of all the teachings. About non-attachment. About the impermanence of all things.

I want to cry but I don’t have any tears. So instead I find a foothold and lift myself up to rest my body against Hers. My hand runs along Her mossy trunk and I close my eyes.

Deep deep down, Her pulse still echoes. I slow my breath to listen.

She says: I am not gone. It’s just time to transform. My time in this form has come to an end, that is all. I am only changing form.

And then I see.

The forest does not know loss or grief. It only knows change. It only knows transformation.

It doesn’t know death, only surrender. Only becoming.

And I see.

That the sadness comes from the holding on. From the clinging to the old form past the time when it’s been worn out, expired and no longer of service.

It’s just time to transform. I am only changing form.

I am too.

We are.

And I want to cry or laugh or, or – something. But I can’t. My heart is too full.
So I just be still. I just be still and know.

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This very moment

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When I come to sit, I always find what I need to find. I see what I need to see.

So often we seek to rise above, to access a different plane of experience. I want to be filled with heavenly light and waves of unconditional love, of understanding and otherwordly-peace. Instead, I see my irritation with partner.

I see my guilt about not being more present with my son.  I see the way I am beating myself up for something insensitive I said to a friend. I see my resentment that my weekly schedule seems full of tasks that meet other people’s needs. I see my disappointment that the day hasn’t gone the way I wanted, that I don’t feel the way I expected to feel or that I aspire to feel or that I think I “should” feel.

And I see my doubt that in this imperfectly perfect moment, beauty is here for me to find.

As seekers we can’t help but want the transcendent experience that will take us out of these earthly bodies with our infantile feelings, sweep us up out of the mundane intricacies of the human life, and set us back down with transformed awareness. And sometimes we do get blessed with profound spiritual experiences.

But the most powerful and subtle work is the commitment to being with the moment just as it is. Only the longer we sit the more the surface layer starts to peel back and — oh! look at all we were missing!

The compassion I have been withholding from myself. The gratitude I have for recent provision. The honoring of my own process of working through and letting go. The comfort of the sun’s rays. The rustle of a soft breeze. The gift of encouragement from a mentor. The trees, the earth, the sky, the aliveness all around me. The things I have to look forward to. The celebration of recent accomplishments and new endeavors. The realization that everything all the time is in transition.

And right now is “it.” There is nothing I seek that does not exist within this moment. And now I can smile at it all, I can see that it is all part of the ever-changing landscape, a kaleidoscope of light and dark and every color on the spectrum.

We don’t have to wait for something outside to break through.

The magic of being with what is transforms our vision. It means that I honor my experience, whatever it may be. Throughout the day, whether my task is pleasant or tedious, whether the moment feels trying, mundane or profound, I extend permission to my resistance, disappointment or restlessness. I tell myself “You would rather be doing something else and that’s ok.” Dishes still need to be washed and dinner prepared and phone calls returned.

As Pema Chodron says that “this very moment is the perfect teacher”, just being with what is. It may take some strengthening of muscles we aren’t used to using but in time we increase our endurance. Instead of looking for an escape route we can stay where we are, we can stand our ground, we can breathe through it and see it is not bigger than us. We can see that they are just feelings about doing the dishes, not the dishes themselves. And they pass. Like the tantrums of a toddler, fierce in their wake but quickly receding.

The magic of coming to sit again and again to come fully awake, to remind myself I am alive. and that this is a truly grand thing.

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“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” 

~Agatha Christie

The power of befriending the mind (and occasionally, chocolate.)

It was just one of those mornings when nothing could fix it. Whiny and tearful over every little thing, the little Acorn Scout had been moping and pouting since he woke up. It became clear that no matter how much I tried to help, whatever process was taking place in his two and a half year old world was going to take it’s own time to work out. I pulled him into my lap.

“You sound so sad today, buddy. What’s going on? What’s making you so sad?”

“My buh-wain, Mama!” Pressing his face into my shirt. “My buh-wain is making me be sad.” (Buh-wain = brain, in toddler-speak)

“Your brain?” I asked, charmed and bemused.

“Yeah.” He sniffed into my chest. 

“What do you think you need to help your brain not be sad?” I asked.

“Anudder one! I need anudder (another) one BUH-WAIN!” His voice started up and his anguish was palpable.

Oh, my son. How many times in my life have I felt betrayed, encaged, even tyrannized by my own mind? Few of us have escaped the tormented idea at some point: There is simply something wrong with my brain. This one is defective. I am broken and I need fixing. 

Om nama shivaya. I honor the teacher within. 

“Well, there are ways that we can help our brain to feel better. First, we can take some deep breaths, right?”

We did some deep breaths. Spontaneously, he added a big “OOoooooooomMMM” at the end which us made us both smile and we chanted OOooooooommmmm together a few times.

“Now let’s try and think of all the things you love the most.” I said. “Let’s fill up your brain with all the things that make you feel happy! If we fill up your brain with all the happy things there won’t be any more room left for the sad. What are some things you love?”

He thought.

“Do you love… Papa?”

“YEAH!”

“Do you love….Dixie and Kitty?”

“YEAH! I love Dixie and Kitty!”

“Do you love….going to the beach?”

“YEAH!”

“What else?”

“I wuuuuv…….bunnies!”

Pirates. Bananas. His friends at school. Going on adventures. Going camping. His cousin. Doing art projects. Helping Mama cook. Trumpets. Popsicles. His train set. Birthday parties. Grandma and grandpa. Picking tomatoes. Tigers.

The list kept going. And it worked. His mood lightened. Whew. I thought, I think I really might have aced that one. 

And for a moment I glimpsed how far I had come in my own journey of mind. I have a history of depression and anxiety dating back to my teens.  There were moments in my twenties I felt so tormented by my own thoughts and that if life meant fighting that kind of oppression then I did not wish to continue. The path to peace with myself and my mind began with being still. Turning to face the shadows instead of running from them.

I began meditating in 2009. It did not solve all of my problems but it opened something. Even with an irregular practice, the universe saw it’s opportunity. That opening is what allowed healing to take place and transformation process to begin. It brought teachers into my life: people and books and experiences and ….miracles. I wasn’t afraid anymore. It didn’t happen overnight it happened through incremental shifts, big leaps and foolish ones, breaking through, backpedaling, testing the limits of grace (there are none), friendship and dignity (there are some),  and stepping in some dog shit along the way. And some days are still a struggle. But goddamn  it, if I can’t stand here today and say,
“Wow. I am so glad I didn’t give up back there.”

It occurred to me then and I have wondered since, “Is befriending our mind the whole purpose of our lives?”

Suddenly in that moment with my son, I was aware that the most valuable gift to come from those years of darkness and suffering is the ability for me now to teach my son at so early an age the power he can have over his own mind and with reverence and profound gratitude my heart beats out, Thank you.

A long winding road stretches ahead and there will be many more moments. I will not ace them all. But we have made a good beginning.

“Mama?”

“Hmmm?”

“I thiiiink…. if I can have a wittle tw-eat (little treat) and my bwain will feel SO HAPPY!!”

And then, of course, there are always chocolate chips.

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Check this great article: How to Teach a Child Emotional Intelligence.

“…I showed her that it is okay to experience emotions. Sadness and frustration are normal emotions to feel. By not offering her any tactics to stuff them down or any distraction, she was able to fully experience the emotion and feel what it is like to move completely through it. This is strengthening her ability to navigate strong feelings on her own…” (Read more)

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Yoga has changed my life. More accurately, I feel like it gave me my life because it gave (and continues to give) me myself. Through the shifting sands of motherhood, it has remained a faithful anchor.

Since attending my first yoga class in 2001, yoga offered me something my that both my body and spirit craved. Though my practice remained on and off for ten or so years before I became serious about making it a daily habit, I attribute the principles and tools of yoga with healing and transforming my relationship with my body, giving me mastery over my mind I didn’t know was possible, drawing me deeper into relationship with myself and sparking in me a romance with meditation.

Now, fourteen years after my first yoga class, I am enrolled in a training course to become a certified yoga instructor. The more I study, the more awe struck I am at the never-ending-ness of the learning process. Suddenly I feel like I need multiple lifetimes (ha.)

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The word yoga means “to come together”, to unite mind and body. The breath is the most expedient and powerful way to draw into unison the wayward meanderings of our thoughts with the sensations of our physical bodies. Another interpretation of the word yoga is to “be one with the divine.” In yoga, we honor the divine nature that is already present within each one of us, that is higher than us and that connects us all. You can call it God or Shakti or Spirit or whatever you like. The postures of yoga are just one manifestation of the practice of yoga, which is truly a path of self-discovery. It is attentiveness to our actions and their effect on the world. Therefore anything we do with mindfulness can be yoga. When we practice non-violence in our speech and actions we practice yoga. When we practice truthfulness with ourselves and others, when we find contentment with what we have instead of looking at what others have, when we practice moderation and strive for balance in our lifestyle, in our effort, diet or relationships – this is yoga also.  Yoga is not something you only do on a mat or in a class or in downward facing dog.  Any time we release attachment and settle into what is this very moment is the essence of yoga. 

My daily practice looks different every day. Every day I strive to find time to sit in meditation and most days I find at least a few postures to help me begin or close the day, but there are days when neither of those two things happen. Luckily, the opportunities to practice yoga throughout my day are endless.

It is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

No matter who you are, you can make this your daily practice. It can be done anywhere, at any time.  Here it is: pause in whatever you are doing and take 3 deep mindful breaths.

The first breath is to remind yourself that you are here and now.

The second breath is to wake up every cell of your body. 

With the third breath, extend compassion toward yourself. 

Practicing self-compassion even for one moment is a powerful practice. Don’t wait until you think you’ve earned it. You can’t afford that kind of time.

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If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. If you can fully engage in life with all of your senses for just even one moment, you are practicing mindful awareness, you are really present, you are really alive. Sister Simone Campbell, laywer, lobbysist, author, poet and Zen practitioner says her most important prayer is , “Please God, wake me up.”

We wander through the world, leaving behind a footprint here, a whispered prayer, a fingerprint or an indentation there, an imprint where we sat with a friend for awhile, a reverberation, a note. Those relics of our presence, some dissolving instantaneously, others becoming fossilized in time –

it is not entirely our business what it is all for.

It is just for us to being paying attention.

So I too say, “Wake me up! Don’t let my mind get in the way of the holy work I have to do today. The work of living (wholly.)”

Amen. Namaste. Aho.

The Siren Song.

I have been trying to formulate a post for awhile now about what it feels to be in the throes of early parenthood, where any and all free time seems to go to maintenance of the body, mind, general household or inadvertently catching up on sleep (ie; every time I pick up one of the eight books I have been inching my way through in the last 6 months) and yet the creative mind yearning for hours of interrupted space, to allow finally, the muse to emerge from her dusty hiding place. It makes my bones ache how she calls to me with her siren song.

I whisper, “I know, I know.”

A good friend and I reflect upon the irony that here we are – well into our thirties – having had all of this time while we were younger, so much more freedom to explore – and only now as we become mothers have discovered through the alchemical fire more than ever who and what we are called to do, to create, to birth creatively into the larger world. And now when it feels like we have less time than ever to explore these avenues that call to us…

Another friend and I just yesterday lamented yet again the pervasive feeling that aside from motherhood we should be doing something. Contributing. Living up to our professional or creative potential. And even if we know that the job we are doing is the “most important job in the whole world” and even though we would not choose to be doing anything else, somehow … that idea, reflecting the greater societal ideals, sort of starts seeping in to our thinking anyway. “I used to be so good at (fill in the blank)…I have a really great resume!.. Remember when I had that idea to do that amazing project? Whatever happened to that?” 

Though I have been working 25-35 hours a week since my son was 12 weeks old I still feel like I have been in a sense “checked out” of larger society for the last 2 1/2 years.  I count myself incredibly fortunate that my circumstances have allowed me to have worked from home much of this time while my son is young. I would not have traded it. And yet…I think maybe the isolation of being out of the traditional workplace and having to compartmentalize my time and energy into distinct categories 1) family/home and 2) work (what I need to do to keep my family and home functioning) makes me feel out of touch, like I am just not living up to my fullest potential.  

My social world has gotten a lot smaller. I’ve been on sabbatical from local volunteer/community work. I struggle even to keep up generally what is going on nationwide, globally. When friends (without kids) ask, “So what have you been up to lately?” I suddenly feel like I should come up with something different than, “Um, well  – working, and you know, raising a kid.” As if that was just not enough, or at least interesting enough.

Despite the little daydreams I have throughout the day about what I am going to do at nap time or after 8pm when the little Acorn Scout is finally in bed, when the time arrives there are always other things. The inspiration gives way to the more pressing activities, the family/home and leftover work responsibilities or just plain exhaustion.  And then…halfway through the night, I am lying awake with my heart beating fast and a head spinning full of all the creative projects I am not doing because instead I am doing the mundane, daunting, boring, incredibly profound and sacred work of raising a toddler. And these dreams and visions of my creative contributions to the world dissolve with the morning light as I say yes again instead to the alchemical process unfolding unseen between potty training and bug-hunting, answering emails, detailed spreadsheets, snacks, tantrums, flagging patience, clean up and long evening hours before bed when finally, I can grab a few moments of stillness for myself, breathing into the place of faith that all things come to fruition in their own time and the day closes again.

I am wholly enjoying parenthood right now. Two and a half is the best ever, so far. I am loving it and it’s wearing me out. Often, there is very little left over at the end of the day. But I know that somehow, on levels I cannot even determine, this work too is indispensable to whatever comes next for me. Whether or not I receive world-wide accolades for it (and I won’t) this day in and day out stuff is the seed bed of the soul’s work, the essential part of the creative process and my own growth and development as a creative being. I have changed indescribably in the last two and half years; in some ways I do not even recognize myself. It’s awesome. And irreplaceable.

Yesterday, I came across this article in Lenka Clayton: An artist in residence in motherhood: “…Some of the work she produced as part of An Artist Residency in Motherhood was just her working by herself as an artist and focusing on her materials, what she calls the “ephemeral stuff of parenthood,” and part of it was a collective endeavor examining what it is to be a parent and work as an artist at the same time.” One of her projects is called, “Another project was “63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth.” Seriously, so fucking inspirational!

Then, this morning I opened my inbox this morning and saw one of my favorite blog authors, Laura Kelly Fanucci: the essay I never wrote. She has a way – needless to say, a gift – of speaking the crux of things that I haven’t yet found the right words for and when I see them typed out my heart cries silently “YES! Yes, That’s exactly it!”  Like a string of pearls she’s dropped into my hand, like precious gemstones I roll over in my palm to carry with me for strength, are Laura’s words.

All of that stuff swirling around in you, in me — it will be there when it’s time has come to be shared with the world. This is what I am telling myself while I pull over on the side of the road on the way home from the grocery store to scribble down a thought I want to write more about later – will I remember what that scribble meant when I look at it a week later? I don’t know. But I keep scribbling. I don’t give up.

From A Room of One’s One, Virginia Woolf:

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister… She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite Elephant and Castle. Now it is my belief that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity , I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so … and have each of us rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves… then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”

My sisters, keep listening to that siren song with me. When you hear her, smile. Amidst the laundry piles, the grocery list, the bills and the snotty noses, maybe you’ll even start to hum along.

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You Are Your Own Oracle.

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On the side of Mt. Parnassus in Greece lie the ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi. From 1400 BC -381 AD the temple was visited by leaders and kings and people from far away seeking wisdom and divine guidance from the Oracle of Delphi. Animal sacrifices, divination and rituals were performed by priests who sought messages from the god Apollo. The ruins of the sacred site is still visited today by people from all over the world. Inscribed over the door of the temple through which countless of spirituals seekers have passed are the words, “Know Thyself.”

While millions seek divine direction, look to sages, search out prophets and oracles, the time-tested maxim still lies etched in eternal stone above the entrance to the temple within. Our hearts, our bodies, our minds have infinite information to give us if we can learn how to listen. Maybe the secrets of the universe, but certainly how to better exist in it. My whole life I have spent searching for wisdom outside of myself and now I find that it has all been within me the whole time.

I want to spend my life learning how better to listen.

 

When I skip my daily sitting practice now I have started to notice the effects pretty quickly. After a couple of days I am feeling off-balance, unsettled, generally more anxious and less patient. After 2 or 3 days my family feels it too. I have become so grateful for this efficient feedback system. In the same way my body responds when I have not been feeding it well or resting or moving like I should, my mind and spirit give me similar clues to my state of health and alignment. Without these signposts, I might have wandered further away.What a blessing discomfort can be! As physical and spiritual beings we have innate wisdom about what serves our highest good. And sometimes you don’t see the full benefit of a habit until you veer off course for a little bit.

Since the beginning of my meditation journey, daily life, the season, our schedules have evolved and I am now finding time in the evening for a longer practice. With the summer sun lingering a bit more in the sky, I can watch the evening descend from my front porch after I have said goodnight to the little Acorn Scout and my partner is settled to his writing. As tempting as it is at the end of the day to zone out with a movie, on the computer, or even with a good book, I have begun to tease myself outside instead. Instantly I am rewarded: there is no bliss like the light, the air and sounds of summer evening. Sometimes I work with a mantra, a mudra, or a pranayama (breathing technique) like Alternate Nostril Breathing. Sometimes I just sit and listen the world around me and then inwardly – at what is bubbling and churning around inside, find longer spaces in between the thoughts that come and go.

If you don’t have a daily mediation practice but are wanting to begin, here is a great article to get you started: 5 Tips on How to Meditate for Beginners (You can also read my post: DIY.) Start with 5 minutes twice a day and work up to 10 minutes twice a day.Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Like with any practice, every day is different. And you get stronger with time. Keep a journal for things that come up. Be consistent. Just see what happens. I would love to hear about your experience.

 

            “We seek to know the moving of each sphere,

            And the strange cause of the ebb and flow of Nile,

            But of that clock within our breasts we bear,

            The subtle motions we forget the while.

            “We that acquaint ourselves with every zone,

            And pass both tropics and behold the poles,

            When we come home, are to ourselves unknown,

            And unacquainted still with our own souls.”

~John Davies, from Nosce Tiepsum: of Human Knowledge

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(In this photo I am using Surya mudra: Gesture of the Sun, for activating radiant energy and the element of fire. This mudra is useful for balancing the third chakra, for kapha and vata doshas, supporting digestion and metabolism, cultivating self-esteem and personal power. For more information on mudras check out Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page.)