In June, right after school was over, and before I had even completed my grading, I went on silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, probably my last time there, as the Jesuits are selling the building and grounds. I needed that healing time.
In the weeks since, I have been taking stock, clearing out my hoard (fabric, mostly, but more will come), and working on getting healthy.
Here is a little photo essay of my time on retreat:
I took along a white cloth and some red thread. I have been inspired by several instagrammer embroiderers to begin to create a story cloth, something that’s not specifically functional, but is more of a journal, a dialogue with my inner self. On one of the first days there, I was meditating on something I’d read, a Buddhist idea about the base of the spine being where the three rivers meet. I began to consider what my three rivers are. Along with embodiment, I received creativity, and magic/mysticism. So I began embroidering the flowering hand image I found framed on the wall–for creativity. Then I embroidered a full body–my body–with wings and a crown, to represent embodiment, being alive within this body. And later, I embroidered my stump, the center of my current magical work, representing the inner work and the spiritual connection to the Source of All Life. All three are connected to a center cauldron, which is the place where the three rivers meet. Other images above include some collages I made while meditating, a painting (“You can become all flame,” said the ancient desert abba), and the back of my #alonetogether sweater, which I completed during retreat.
More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.
Start a revolution today: Decide to love your body just the way it is.
Instead of dieting or restricting, offer your body delicious and nourishing food.
Instead of exercising to change your weight or your shape, move your body because moving in a body is a wonderful and wholesome thing to do and your body loves to move.
Don’t get in shape. Be the shape you are. Love the shape you are.
Embody yourownself. Eat and move and feel sensations. Sniff the air. Learn to identify smells and aromas. Name new colors. Differentiate hues and shades. Listen for birdsong and crickets and the murmur of voices. Taste your food. Really taste it. Experience crunch and flavor and texture. Feel the wind in your skin, the pop of humidity, the softness of cat fur.
Stop obsessing about your weight and shape, please. There is so much more to experience about being in a body than whether you fit some socially-constructed idea about an “ideal” body.
Be in your body. Love your body. Offer it care.
1. So many circles of care. Holy, holy, holy.
2. Book discussions. I joined a book group! I love my book group!
3. All the Big Birds catching today’s thermals. And I think that was an osprey fishing in the River this morning. At first I thought maybe peregrine, but I think that was a fish in its talons.
4. Being in a body. There’s so much to experience in these bodies we live in.
5. Will. Determination. I’m working on opening and focusing on the solar plexus right now. Much has been left undone. I’m going to do.
How do you find your fire? What is the thing that awakens you, gets you moving, feeling alive?
Today is a day to open and energize the solar plexus chakra. This year, I’ve felt sluggish and bleh in the face of the pandemic, especially since my illness. I’ve lost my drive, my energy. My will has been blunted. So, lately, I’ve been concentrating on my solar plexus, the seat of the will. Here’s a meditation I’m working on, which I think is good for a Solstice Day:
Find your resting equilibrium, either seated or standing or sitting in lotus position. Gently stretch your spine: left, right, upward–until you feel aligned. Breathe.
I’m a little obsessive about opening the chakras in order, so I start by breathing deep roots toward the earth star chakra, grounding and centering.
Then breathe that energy up into the base, the root, where survival and support are seated. Red. Solid.
Then breathe the energy up to the sacral chakra, where your senses are seated, your gut responses, your creative urges, your desires. Orange. Energetic. Fertile.
Now we take a little more time breathing into the solar plexus chakra. Golden light shines from that space between the heart and gut. I always picture the bees living here, making liquid sunlight. Feel the buzzing hum of the bees, the purring whir of their wings. And breathe and breathe. You know that twinkling lively light of a June morning? That’s the bee-light. That shines from within you. It’s the fire of the sun translated and transmuted by the Little Sisters into the golden light of the hive. Breathe and breathe. As the solar plexus opens and enlivens, can you sense the trays of golden sun shining outward from within you? Breathe and breathe. Direct that light outward. Know there’s is always enough. Know that you are in charge of the flow you keep, the flow you share outwardly. Can you taste the honey on your tongue? Golden. Alive. Shining.
Bask a while in the hive within you.
When you are ready, keep breathing that energy upward, to your green, green heart, and spiralling out to your palms. Healing. Tender.
Breathe it into your throat. The seat of your voice. Make a sound: a hum, a sigh, a wail. Speak your true name. Blue of the sky. Mary’s robes. Swirling.
Breathe into your third eye, the space between your brows that Knows, that Gnows, that Sees. That gets it. Indigo. Mystery. Gnosis.
Breathe into your crown, where silver and violet light cascade upward and fall around you. Send that energy up to the star chakras that connect you to the cosmos. You are a conduit, connecting the energy of earth at your roots to the energy of the stars above you.
Rest within yourself. Breathe and breathe. Feel that golden bee energy at your core bringing you alive.
When you are done, speak your name, sigh, stretch. Feel the energy running your spine. Take a taste of honey. Thank the bees. Thank the earth. Thank the sun.
This afternoon, as Jon washing out some old bins beside the barn, and I was transplanting hosta by the shop, we were caught by the sight of a pair of brown thrashers dancing underneath the walnut tree. We figured it was a mating ritual. After one flew away, the other continued to dance-flit in a sort of circle around a branch, flashing its wings in rhythmic motions. When that one, too, had flown, I went to inspect the stick, which seemed odd to me. I thought maybe instead of a mating ritual, the birds were agitated about another dead bird or small animal.
It was not a stick, and it was not dead. It was a four-foot long black snake, squiggled in upon herself. (Note on Snake Pronouns: “It” seems disrespectful, somehow, like I am refusing to acknowledge her beingness. And somehow singular “they” doesn’t quite feel right here either, so I am going to use she/her.)
The whole family spent some time watching her, and she didn’t move more than to flick her tongue and shift her head to watch us. She was either frightened or torpid or waiting to figure out her next move. Snakes are patient that way.
Twenty minutes later I was carrying the black flags my parents had given me to the hole by the shop where I was planning to plant them.
The snake was sliding along the edge of the grass at the driveway toward the little stream of water running from Jon’s bin-washing. She stopped, dipped her head to the stream, and drank. Have you ever watched a snake drink? It was already feeling like a pretty sacred moment of wonder by this point watching a snake drink. I felt like the Goddess in Denise Levertov’s poem “The Fountain.”
I stood where I was, bag of plants in one hand and shovel in the other, and the snake began slithering toward me.
I’m not afraid of snakes. Not exactly. I love them. And yet, perhaps I actually am just the tiniest bit afraid of them.
This one slithered right toward me. I made a conscious decision not to move, to stay where I was, and to see what she would do when she came near to me. She kept on, right toward me, and I had a momentary sense that she was going to slither right between my feet.
And then she DID! Right between my feet!
I don’t think I would still be believing myself that it had happened had Jon not been there watching, too. Off she went to the hosta I had just disturbed beside the sycamore tree, and curled herself in a hollow beneath their broad leaves and in a hollow between sycamore roots.
You can tell me there’s a scientific reason that she came my way–snakes perhaps can’t see particularly well, perhaps they move toward tall things, and she slithered my way thinking I was a bush, perhaps it was simply the most direct route from small stream to sycamore.
Still. Still. Still, it was a magical moment I needed right now. A messenger. A visitation.
Yesterday, my father helped me to articulate what it feels like to live with the after-effects of Covid for weeks after I have supposedly recovered. It feels like languishing. It’s like that word was made for people like me, who can’t quite get out from under the rug of this thing.
There’s that meme of Count Rugen from The Princess Bride, where he has just tortured Westley on his Machine, and he says, “I’ve just sucked one year of your life away. Tell me, how do you feel?” Covid has been my Count Rugen. I always assumed that the year of life was taken away from the far end, that when people say, “It took a year off my life!” they mean that year 99 is now gone. After Covid, I feel like I’ve lost a year or three from my life, but they’ve been taken from right here, like I’ve gone from 53 to 55 or 57 in six weeks.
Here’s the part where I sit with the folks in the Nursing Home and enumerate my aches and pains, so feel free to skip down to gratitude and inspiring quotes here. Since this blog is also my personal archive and chronicle, I feel like I need to set it all down here. * I am definitely regaining my energy, but I still crash. I can’t push myself or overdo it, and expect to rest for an hour or two and bounce back. If I push myself too hard, I crash hard, and end up on the recliner for the rest of the day, my body exhausted and my brain foggy. This is definitely improving as time goes by–fewer crashes. * I have always been forgetful. I prefer to think of it as engagingly flaky. It just feels like I’m more forgetful now, like my brain enters fogs and mists more regularly. I need to really slow down and breathe in order to focus. This is also less intense six weeks out. * Before Covid, my body had been sort of toying with the idea of menopause for several years. I’d have periods of time when I would have a hot flash very morning at 3 am, or months of unbearable insomnia. I’d skip a period once in a while, or be late or early, or have really intense and heavy periods for a while and then really light ones. But my body would always re-regulate. In the time since I have had Covid, I’ve skipped two periods in a row. * About two weeks ago, I developed pain in my shoulder and upper arm. I figured I had just slept on it wrong, but it persisted and worsened, and I realized it wasn’t actually all muscle pain, but mostly nerve pain in my brachial nerves. The pain became excruciating at night, and has been manageable during the day. I did some research, and discovered that brachial neuritis occurs after injury, virus, or vaccine. The primary treatment is painkillers, yoga, and breathing exercises until it subsides. Several nights in the past week and a half, I have gotten very little sleep because of the pain, but the last three night are getting much better, and last night, I only woke up twice, and was able to get back to sleep almost immediately after doing some yoga stretches on the arm. * The other day when I was eating, I noticed that a piece of enamel had chipped off the back of one of my front teeth. Later in the day, as I was exploring the spot with my tongue, the top edge of the tooth just crumbled away. My brother is a dentist, and he didn’t think I should be too alarmed, that it’s not uncommon as people age. I have also heard that one side effect people are noticing after Covid is that their teeth crack or fall out. I’m getting it fixed this week.
Gratitude List: 1. The fiercely creative students at my school. This is school play weekend, and I am the head usher for plays, so I go to every show (which means I need to especially guard my energy this weekend), and this play offers them the perfect chance to collaborate in ensemble acting, and to sing and dance and do comedy and drama. 2. The little beans of Tanzanian Peaberry are such cute little peas, and it’s just the perfect coffee. 3. Every little noticeable bit of ground regained in my recovery. I slept most of last night, with very little nerve pain in my arm. This is huge. 4. Hugging people again. Carefully and with full consent, but hugging. 5. These cat-folx and their varied personalities. Interspecies communication.
May we walk in Beauty!
“The only time incorrectly is not spelled incorrectly is when it is spelled incorrectly.”
“There is no such thing as one-sided generosity. Like one ecosystem, we are each at different times receiving or purging, growing or pruning. In those moments when you believe you aren’t receiving enough, consider what you most want to receive might be the thing you need to give away.” —Toko-pa Turner
“Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.” —Joanna Macy
“What if the Creator is like the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s God: “like a webbing made of a hundred roots, that drink in silence”? What if the Source of All Life inhabits both the dark and the light, heals with strange splendor as much as with sweet insight, is hermaphroditic and omnisexual? What if the Source loves to give you riddles that push you past the boundaries of your understanding, forcing you to change the ways you think about everything? What if, as Rusty Morrison speculates in “Poetry Flash,” “the sublime can only be glimpsed by pressing through fear’s boundary, beyond one’s previous conceptions of the beautiful”? Close your eyes and imagine you can sense the presence of this tender, marvelous, difficult, entertaining intelligence.” —Rob Brezsny
Today is the last day of Poetry Prompts for April. I might take a break from the blog for a few days when this is done.
Today, as we stand in the doorway to May, write a poem about doorways and doors. Doors can be portals from one world to another, the symbol of the step of faith we take from one stage to the next. Doors can also be symbolic of the space between ourselves and others. What doors keep us apart or invite us in? Or write about the doors of your town.
Doorways are about liminal spaces. Write about thresholds, about standing poised between one thing and the next. What holds you in the past? What pushes you into the future? What are the spiritual lessons you learn from standing in the in-between? Or write about the doorway to another world.
Who or what is on the other side of that door?
Today is May Day Eve, one of those special moments in the solar calendar, situated between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. We’ve watched the riot of spring creeping over the gardens and fields, delighted in the shining colors of flowers and the tender greening of leaves, paid attention to what is hatching within us.
May Day, or Beltane, is about celebrating the freedom from that egg, about jumping into the green of the season, feet first, taking risks, whooping with joy. Dust off your wild barbaric yawp. Wanton is the word of this season. We’re stripping off the constricting cloaks and coats and scarves of winter, and running through the fields, barefoot and maybe naked (some of us keep that purely in the realm of metaphor).
What do you need to release and let go of in this season? What are the names of the items of clothing you drop in your wake as you run to the fields? What is the name of the green field before you, the thing you give yourself to with every ounce of your passion?
As we enter the season of Beltane, consider all that has kept you from living fully and joyfully and passionately into your purpose. Name the habits and boxes and dogmas that keep you from living in the world with you Whole Heart. Drop them. And run for the fields.
Gratitude List: 1. That phoebe, calling his name into the dawn. 2. The oriole who called from the sycamore trees yesterday as we left school. 3. Although I was disappointed that opening night of the school play was cancelled because of the rain, our whole family needed the rest of being cozy together in our house last evening. 4. Living by the seasons means that every year has its reminders and rituals of letting go, paying attention, living fully, resting, growing. On the threshold of May, I commit to ditching the constricting habits that keep me from living joyfully. 5. The dawn keeps coming earlier and the twilight comes later, even when the day is cloudy and grey.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Things aren’t so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are world of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
“We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into t anew way of thinking.” —Richard Rohr
“To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” —Georgia O’Keeffe
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ―Rebecca Solnit
“The child’s hand Folding these wings Wins no wars and ends them all. “ ―Thomas Merton
Write a poem about a tree, or a grove of trees, or a quiet wood, or a wild forest.
Gratitude List: 1. Morning Thor snuggles 2. Oriole is back! 3. How the green of early sycamore leaves filters the light into the holler 4. Sleep 5. Mint chocolate chip ice cream
May we walk in Beauty!
“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.” —Barry H. Gillespie
“There is room for you at our table, if you choose to join us.” —Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing
“For beautiful to happen, the beautiful has got to be seen.” —from the musical “Ordinary Days”
“You will be found.” —from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen”
“How do you become the person you’ve forgotten you ever were?” —from the musical “Anastasia”
“The universe is not made up of atoms; it’s made up of tiny stories.” ―Joseph Gordon-Levitt
To all the children by Thomas Berry
To the children who swim beneath The waves of the sea, to those who live in The soils of the Earth, to the children of the flowers In the meadows and the trees of the forest, To all those children who roam over the land And the winged ones who fly with the winds, To the human children too, that all the children May go together into the future in the full Diversity of their regional communities.
Carl Jung: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
“Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth.” ―Rumi (Barks)
“You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend, or not.” ―Isabel Allende
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ―Bréne Brown, Wholehearted
Today is National Great Poetry Reading Day! No, I’m serious! It’s a thing. Go get you some Angelou, Dickinson or Whitman, some Baraka, some Stein, some Oliver, and read it out loud. Read to yourself, to your lover, to your students, to your sister, to your cat. Read to the wind, to the apple tree, to the dishwasher, to the dust bunnies.
Dive into those great poems and make yourself a cento, which means “patchwork garment” in Latin, which makes this poem form seem extra special. Really, it’s a glorified found poem. You pull lines from a bunch of different poems and you make a poem from them, sticking them together in ways that seem to connect and complete each other’s thoughts and ideas. Homer did it. So did Virgil. So you can, too. Put an asterisk at the bottom of your page and list the poets you borrowed from.
Gratitude List: 1. May apples 2. Maples 3. Moooon 4. Massage 5. Meditation
May we walk in Beauty!
“The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” —Diane Ackerman
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” ―Wendell Berry
“A crone is a woman who has found her voice. She knows that silence is consent. This is a quality that makes older women feared. It is not the innocent voice of a child who says, “the emperor has no clothes,” but the fierce truthfulness of the crone that is the voice of reality. Both the innocent child and the crone are seeing through the illusions, denials, or “spin” to the truth. But the crone knows about the deception and its consequences, and it angers her. Her fierceness springs from the heart, gives her courage, makes her a force to be reckoned with.” —Jean Shinoda Bolen
“Go as far as you can see; when you get there you’ll be able to see farther.” —Thomas Carlyle
“At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” —Eston Williams
“Free me. . .from words, that I may discover the signified, the word unspoken in the darkness.” —Byzantine Prayer
“Father, Mother, God, Thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days. For then we have you to lean upon. For those who have no voice, we ask you to speak. For those who feel unworthy, we ask you to pour your love out in waterfalls of tenderness. For those who live in pain, we ask you to bathe them in the river of your healing. Dear Creator, You, the borderless sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the world that which we need most—Peace.” —Maya Angelou
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” —Leonard Bernstein
Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.” —Mary Oliver
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee
Write a poem that relaxes, a poem that settles, that brings rest. Maybe it’s a lullaby. Maybe it’s a poem for meditation or yoga practice. And another thing to do today: Memorize a poem you’ve written–get a poem out into the air. Poetry began as an oral art, and it longs to be set free into the air again.
Gratitude List: 1. Gulf Shrimp with risotto for supper. That was delicious. 2. Full Moon 3. Fluttering blossoms 4. Patterns 5. Lights at ends of tunnels.
May we walk in Beauty!
“As truly as God is our father, so truly is God our mother.” —Julian of Norwich
“Had I not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people’s.” ―Anaïs Nin
“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.” ―William Wordsworth
Forever Oneness, who sings to us in silence, who teaches us through each other. Guide my steps with strength and wisdom. May I see the lessons as I walk, honor the Purpose of all things. Help me touch with respect, always speak from behind my eyes. Let me observe, not judge. May I cause no harm, and leave music and beauty after my visit. When I return to forever may the circle be closed and the spiral be broader. ―Bee Lake (Aboriginal poet)
“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” ―Joseph Campbell
“I can’t tell you why your story is important, only that it is.” ―Mara Eve Robbins
My friend Keith suggested this one: A poem with an epigraph begins with a quotation from another literary work. An “after” poem responds to another poem or work of literature (you include the phrase “after so-and-so after your title) A bounce, usually at a poetry reading, reminds listeners of a poem they just heard–either because it is similar or in contrast to the previous poet’s work.
People like to do after poems related to William Carlos Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” Try writing a poem that refers to another poem, either in style or structure, or in an epigraph. Be sure to quote your original source.
Gratitude List: 1. I slept most of the night last night. I have been struggling for about a week now with intense pain in my shoulder, both in the trapezius muscle and something that feels like nerve pain in the upper arm, and when I wake up at night, I haven’t been able to get back to sleep because of the pain. Last night, I finally figured out the combination of elements (yoga and acetaminophen, mostly) to allow me to get back to sleep when I woke up. 2. Titmouses (titmice?) calling in the dawn 3. Redbud trees in bloom. 4. Ferns unfurling 5. Watching the grass grow through the straw in the places where the diggers dug up the lawn last fall for the new septic system. New growth.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” —Simone Weil
“You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe.” —Leymah Gbowee
“God speaks to each of us as [she] makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
“I do not see a delegation of the four-footed. I see no seat for the eagles.” —Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” —Kurt Vonnegut
“I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.” ―Rachel Held Evans
Go deeper. Past thoughts into silence. Past silence into stillness. Past stillness into the heart. Let love consume all that is left of you. —Kabir