Gratitude: 1. The watchers. The ones who keep hearts attuned to the shifts of collective consciousness, who weave prayer and hope and intention into the tapestry. 2. As we drove east this morning, a river of crows, miles long, undulated across the grey of sunrise. 3. This unsettledness will not go on forever. 4. Through the veils of lies, there is truth, and there are many fine journalists and public figures who are speaking it with clarity. 5. You, out there, breathing too, settling into each moment, being Present to the world with your good kind hearts. Perhaps this is a repeat of point number 1. If so, so be it. We need such circles.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Beauty.
Gratitude List: 1. Crisp morning 2. Looking forward to family Zoom today 3. Ten deep breaths of outside air enliven me 4. Greeting the Beings of this place grounds me 5. Rain brings more greens
May we walk in Beauty!
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” —Rumi
“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
Gratitude List: 1. Silence 2. This breath 3. And this one 4. This moment 5. You
Take care of each other. Breathe.
“When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are not strengthening her prosocial sense; you are damaging it—and the first person she will stop protecting is herself.” —Martha Stout
“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.” ―Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ―Isaac Asimov
“In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.” ―Henri J.M. Nouwen
My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. ―Adrienne Rich
“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.” ―Natalie Goldberg
“The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke
“That story you writin’ just might save the world. That poem you throwin’ down, could end wars.” ―York Poet and Shining Woman Christine Lincoln
“Be here. Let your wild self fly free.” ―The Crows
Today, during the quiet moments between things, make a conscious effort to breathe deeply, down into your roots. Feel your spine straighten and your branches extend out and up.
Gratitude List: 1. The sweet little chirpy purr of a small cat who is happy that his human is awake. 2. Homemade soup 3. Making little changes to routines 4. The intense excitement of a small boy preparing for a competition. You’d think he was flying to California, with the seriousness of his planning and preparations. 5. Breath.
Look what the goddess does when she is sad: She takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin and rimmed with castanets of brass, and she begins to dance. The sound blares out wildly, reaching even to the depths of the underworld, so loud, so clamorous is it.
Look what the goddess does when she is sad: She finds the wildness in herself, and as she does, she finds that there is joy there too. –Patricia Monaghan (attr. to Euripides)
Gratitude List: 1. One young snow goose in the flock of a thousand Canadas across the road from my parents’ house yesterday. 2. Anticipation: I have an education conference coming up at the end of the week, and I always look forward to the feeling of a little retreat. All the mundane tasks are taken care of. I get my own little room with my own little bed. I love getting to talk to colleagues and others, but also having time completely to myself. 3. Stories that inspire and heal 4. How breath lifts spirit 5. All the people who are working for justice.
Beloveds, we are just over halfway to through this December labyrinth walk into the dark. The light begins to return on Solstice, on the 21st.
Where I live, the holiday traffic is ramping up to frantic, and the afternoon commute gets long and dark and claustrophobic. Yesterday, I nearly let the long ride home ruin my evening. Being trapped in a box on wheels on a highway in the dark for hours feels too much like my inner state in December.
Today, I need to make sure that I am intentionally working to combat the claustrophobia I feel rising in me as the constricting layers of winter clothes and the darkness and the schedule and the traffic have all closed around me.
First, Breathing: Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause: Remember last night’s moon. Breathe in, holding the image of moon. Pause: Let go of the traffic. Breathe out. Pause: Yesterday’s lovely morning snow. Breathe in. Pause: Let go of the work ahead. Breathe out. Pause: So many shining, twinkling lights surround me, students and family and friends. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. . .
Second, Art: Yesterday before I went to bed, I watched a little video of comic artist Tim Gula doing an exercise in automatic drawing. It’s kind of like a journal free-write, where you just keep your hand moving and put whatever comes down on the paper. I have noticed that even my doodles have become constricted lately, lines choked and tight. I think that some drawing practice might help me to free up some of this claustrophobic inner space.
Third, Story: I’ve queued up the next book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle on my tablet, and I am going to have it along on the ride to school so we can start to listen to it today.
Perhaps claustrophobia isn’t a struggle for you at this time of year. Is it panic, silence or noise, loneliness? Or maybe this is your happiest time. What are the tools you use to cope with the challenges or to mark and celebrate the joys?
Gratitude List: 1. Story 2. Art 3. Breath 4. Wildness 5. Moon
In the story of Inanna descending the labyrinth to see her sister Ereshkigal, she had to leave some outward emblem of her power at the gates at each turning. The symbols that represented her identity as the Queen of Heaven were stripped away from her, one by one.
What are the images of your identity that you cling to? What “clothing” hides the true and essential you?
In the daytime summer worlds, certain aspects of my self serve me and help me to do the work I am meant to do. But here in the darkness, on the way to meet with my shadow-twin, all the trappings of my personal power and identity only get in the way of the deep recognition of self, shadow and all.
Right now, I am trying hard to live with the picture that I have everything under control. While there’s a certain truth and effectiveness to faking it until I manage to get back in control of things, I think that holding on to this image of myself is actually hindering the work. I am desperately behind on the grading, more than is comfortable for me or for my students. Every day, every evening, there’s something that pulls me away, takes energy and time that I need to get my work done. Still, I pretend to myself that I’ve got this under control. I think it’s time to relinquish that emblem of my sense of personal power, admit that I don’t have everything under control, and make a plan that will help me to catch up. Here, in the dark of the eleventh day, I lay down that piece of myself.
I cannot meet my shadow self and understand her, truly, until I can look honestly at my daytime self. I have no stone to lay at this turning, as I do when I walk a labyrinth in real time. Here is a long, sighing outward breath to symbolize my relinquishing of this inner belief that I am in control of things.
Envisioning: (At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.
Today, I think of the people of Le Chambon, France, who resisted the Vichy attempts arrest Jewish people by hiding people in their homes. As a village, a town, a region, they did what was right, not because they wanted to be heroes, but simply because it was right. They held a vision of what is the right thing to do–quiet, dedicated harboring of people in danger for their lives–and in doing so, actively resisted the violence of the political machine in which they lived.
Today, we turn in to the third passage of this labyrinth. One thing I have noticed as I take this journey every year is that I get breathless. I find myself needing to take big sighs that don’t seem to quite satisfactorily fill my lungs. I’ll be walking in the halls at school and realize that I have been breathing shallowly, skimming the surface of breath.
So I sit or stand still, lift my chin, set my shoulders back, and take a long slow inward breath that goes down to my toes. When I breathe out again, I release some of that breath downward, through the base of my spine, into the Earth. You and I both know that the lungs are the organ of breathing in the body. I know that when we talk about breathing into our guts, we’re activating the diaphragm to get more involved in the activity of breathing. Still, for me, deep healing breath seems to follow more completely when I expand the activity of breathing throughout my body and into the Earth below me rather than simply centering it in my lungs. In the end I come away more grounded.
Try this, today in a moment between moments. Notice your breathing. Are you breathing deeply or shallowly? Settle yourself into a quiet space, either sitting or standing, and straighten your spine just a little. I think we’re trained to do the sudden, ramrod upward stance to quickly correct “bad posture.” This is about subtle movements that allow for a clear passage of air into our lungs. My shoulders go up and back a little, and I feel my spine as the road that connects Earth and Sky within me.
Breathe in. If you count when you breathe, you might try that. For me, I want to avoid regimentation in my breathing, and counting feels like that to me, but to some people, it’s a comfort. As you breathe in, notice your gut expanding, and feel your body open. Breathing out, send at least some of that breath down to your feet and to the base of your spine. This breath is roots that anchor you and hold you, connecting you to Earth.
Sometimes I get my arms involved, moving up and down with the breath, or I’ll shift my torso back and forth like a snake, to bring the breath into the nooks and crannies between my ribs. Roll your shoulders gently, or your neck, if that helps. Or make an audible sound on the outbreath. For me, the key is to do whatever helps me feel the breath filling all of me.
Right now, walking in this velvety morning darkness, I feel the quiet darkness of winter in the breath, and I take in the shadows that surround me. I am not afraid of this darkness. It’s the darkness of a deeply restful night, the darkness of a beloveds arms enclosing me, a regenerating darkness. The darkness in the chambers where the seed rests before it feels the stirrings that cause it to transform.
I cannot deny that I’m still anxious and claustrophobic about the long nights; that’s a feeling I need to keep naming and exploring, but at the same time I can still welcome the quiet restful dark. Walt Whitman said: “Do I contradict myself? Well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
One more thing about breathing: I have noticed that when I am talking with a student who is anxious or upset, if I subtly and consciously shift my breathing to a deeper level, they unconsciously join me in the deeper breath. I can see a shift, almost imperceptible, in their eyes, a relaxing. Try it when you’re in the presence of someone who is breathing shallowly because of anxiety or anger or weariness. We draw each other deeper as we tend to our own breath.
And so we walk onward, breathing together in the darkness. Breathing in the the darkness. I hear your steady breath, and the breathing of those who accompany us on this journey, and I know that when my breath falters, yours will be there to remind me to deepen.
Envisioning: (On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)
The story I think about today is Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing. In the story, the army of the Stewards is moving up the coast toward a free city/region. The people of the city have founded their civic life on principles based on nonviolence. As they decide how to respond to the coming army, they consider the point that armed resistance has been the chosen path of humanity for millennia, and it hasn’t worked. If they refuse to fight the invaders, they will lose their free way of life. If they find ways to arm themselves and fight, many of their number will die. If they choose a path of nonviolent resistance, many of them are also likely to die, but they might have a chance of preserving their way of life, and they won’t be compromising the principles upon which they’ve based their whole community. They tell the invading soldiers, “There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.”
I would spoil the ending for you to tell you more, whether they miraculously “won” the day with their brilliant tactics of nonviolent resistance, or whether they were overtaken by the violent forces in the end. But that’s actually part of the point, isn’t it? We don’t know whether the vision will “work” in any physical/human sense, but we do it anyway because we hold a vision for the possibility for a different way for humans to be human with each other.
Gratitude List: 1. Feeling my wings 2. Grades are ready to submit for Quarter 1. How have we gotten here already? 3. Breath. It’s always there when I need it, and more effective than sugar or coffee for a quick lift. 4. Keeping the resolve 5. The tunnel to Faerie up in the orchard, between the pear and cherry trees.
May we walk in Beauty! Breathe.
Sit in a quiet place, calm and undisturbed. Shift yourself into place. Let your upper body fidget a bit. Shrug and stretch, stretch your spine upwards, making little breathing spaces between all the bone. Sigh. Yawn. Sigh audibly. Settle your bones, making sure your ribcage is straight, your shoulders are restful, your hips are aligned.
Now begin to notice your breath as it enters and leaves the space of your body. Notice where your body rests on the chair, the floor, the earth. As you hold your awareness on your points of contact with earth, begin to draw the breath into your whole body. Breathe not only into your lungs, but into your stomach.
Feel the breath enliven your ribs and your gut. Breathe into the muscles and bones of your arms. Draw it down over your shoulders, swirling down your arms and down to your fingertips. As you breathe out, feel the breath flow out the tips of your fingers.
Draw breath down your spine. Let it flow out the base of your spine. Breathe it into your thighs and down your legs. Wiggle your toes and ankles as the breath fills your feet and trickles out the soles of your feet into the earth.
Breathe. And breathe. And breathe
Now shuffle your upper body once again, like a bird re-adjusting its feathers, and find your way to stillness, letting the breath continue to circulate through you.
Bring your attention to your back. Sit up a little straighter and pull your shoulders back. Can you sense your shoulder blades back there? These are your wingbuds. Breathe into them and out through them. Shift your shoulders as you need to, to maintain your awareness of them.
Feel or imagine them beginning to itch, to swell, to pulse with life. Feel the moment when a small, folded pair of wings bursts through the surface, like the tiny curl of a plant breaking through soil, or a small bird breaking out of an egg. As they grow larger with each breath, notice their color, their texture. Don’t rush to unfold them. Let them develop. Feel them in the space behind you. Roll your shoulders forward. Shrug. Give them space.
Then, when you are ready, on a breath, lift them upward and out. Feel their strength. Feel the way they lift you. Practice opening them and folding them. Notice how they become invisible when you fold them up, how you will be able to go about your normal life with your wings folded against your shoulders and back, and only those who Know will know.
Now when you need them, to give you strength, to help you move from one stuck place to a new open field—when you need to escape—when you need to see something from a distance, to change your perspective—now they will be there for you. All you have to do is to breathe into them, hear them rustle in the space behind you, stretch, and open.
Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.
I am part of a church that always seems to meet me exactly where I am at the moment. Yesterday Mindy reminded us that the idea of Advent is out of sync with the cultural rush to Christmas. Advent is about silence and waiting, about getting in touch with the sense of loss, the awareness of the injustice, the fear of the darkness. I found my way there automatically this year. And the spiritual discipline of Advent is to sit with those crunchy emotions, while actively living into the anticipation for the new thing that will come. Breathing in the darkness.
We sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and Jim had asked six of us to solo on the verses. My verse was number 3: “O come, Thou Day-Spring / Come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death’s dark shadows put to flight.” That was the verse I needed in this shadowy place.
And then Michelle, for the time of Confession, simply had us Breathe, while she read a prayer. So. My word for this Monday, the beginning of another long week, is Breathe.
Gratitude List: 1. Belonging to communities of beloved people who tend each other’s spirits 2. The blue heron who flies over the highway at Columbia. I am a little frightened for him, actually. On one of his recent flights, he went too low, and was nearly hit by a car. It’s been strange, though, how in the last three days, I have seen him fly over the highway three times as I drove past, and at three different times of day. He’s restless, too. 3. The way the children have passed my by. Ellis is making a fancy speaker for Christmas, cutting out holes in the sides of an old speaker he was given for free at a yard sale, and installing computery things. 4. Poetry 5. Rituals, like the burning of candles in the dark of the year.