Seeking the Messages

This thing I do every year, during the high holy days between Solstice/Christmas and Epiphany, of listening for words and watching for repeated images and ideas in waking life and in dreamtime, helps me to focus on a theme for the year. In recent years, I’ve gotten pretty free with throwing everything into the mix. This exuberance has meant that I end up with such a collage of ideas and words that are somehow loosely tied together that I can’t seem to keep my focus as much throughout the year, and end up forgetting or dropping my theme by midyear.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It serves me for a while, and then I move on to another idea. This year, in June, while I was on my silent retreat, I found three words that I have been gnawing on for the past six months: Embodiment, Creativity, Magick. As I sort through my dreams and images from the past few days, I keep returning to these words. And yesterday, one of my new Facebook friends wrote a powerful piece about how focusing on embodiment helps her through times of anxiety. That’s the sort of message I look for. This word has been flittering about inside my skull, and then someone brings it up, or I hear it across a room, or it comes in a dream. Those are the patterens I search for.

As for the dreams, I’m finding a lot of anxiety there, and weariness. Last night, I was trying to care for two children, a boy and a girl. We were assigned a room on the fifth floor of a run-down building. It was so cold we slept in cardboard boxes. I was terrified I was going to lose the children. Typical anxiety dream.

In a later dream, I was at a farming conference with a group of people. A couple of us went up near the front to try to get seats for the group. I really wanted to hear the speakers. But nothing ever really happened. People milled about, and speakers seemed to go up and get ready to speak, but then something else would happen, the speakers would switch out, and eventually a bunch of us fell asleep on a mattress at the back. When we woke up, most people had already left. The weirdest thing about that dream was that at one point I was talking to a couple of farmers we’d once worked with (in the dream, they were just generic men–not any specific people I know in waking life), and I was struck by how crusty and rough-talking these earnest and thoughtful men had become. They were both smoking cigars, but they looked like stage cigars, with a glowing bulb in the end and little bits of orange and red tulle fabric to look like glowing ash. But smoke was coming from the ends, and they were getting shorter.

I feel like my dreams reflect the anxiety of the times. How can I take care of the Beloveds in my circles, and still have enough energy left for my own inner and artistic life? How can I maintain my true self when social and community rules and conventions seem to keep shifting? How can we build and grow the new thing when rest itself has become work?

What dreams and messages are you receiving these days?

Gratitude List:
1. I’m still feeling the resonance in my chest of playing music with Val and Henry several days ago: violin, clarinet, and tenor recorder. I’ve always liked clarinet, but now I am in love with it. What a rich sound, and what a blend of instruments. I don’t know if it’s just with recorder, or whether other instrumentalists hear it, but when recorders play together, there’s often an overtone, a separate voice, that layers itself in the mix. Often it’s a clue that the instruments aren’t quite in tune with each other. But sometimes, it blends and supports the other instruments, like an angel humming along. This happened during that session. At first, I thought my father was humming a harmony along with us.
2. A misty morning.
3. Time out of time. This is healing and rejuvenating time for me.
4. This sturdy little oak up on the bluff. It’s probably thirty or more feet tall by now, but still young and skinny. I remember when it was a sapling, just my own height. Thank you, friend squirrel, for planting this beautiful guardian of the hilltop.
5. Bright red cardinal on a branch out in the mist and the grey.
May we walk in Beauty!

Honoring Kwanzaa with those who celebrate it: Today’s word is Nia, Purpose.

“The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day’s work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief.
When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: ‘What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.’ People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.” —Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935)

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier. ‘” —Alfred Lord Tennyson

From An African Prayer Book
by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Wonderful one, you live
among the sheltering rocks.
You give rain to us people.
We pray to you,
hear us, O Strong One!
When we beg you, show your mercy.
You are in the highest places
with the spirits of the great ones.
You raise the grass-covered hills
above the earth,
and you make the rivers.
Gracious one!
—Rozwi, South Africa

“We arise today
in the Eternal Flow of Mercy
who was here when the land began to breathe,
when the first tribes began to roam,
and when the colonists came to settle.
We arise today
in the Eternal Flow of Wisdom
who is dimly perceived in the stones,
the stories and the studies of all our peoples.
We arise today
in the Eternal Flow of Life
who seeps through land and limb and love.
—Ray Simpson

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble” —John Lewis tweet

“Being curious is the most important part of being a journalist. It might be the most important part of being anything.” —Lemony Snicket

“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.” —Virginia Woolf

“And when I had asked the name of the river from the brakeman, and heard that it was called the Susquehanna, the beauty of the name seemed to be part and parcel of the beauty of the land. That was the name, as no other could be, for that shining river and desirable valley.” —Robert Louis Stevenson, 1879

The New Song
by W. S. Merwin
For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

“Know that the same spark of life that is within you, is within all of our animal friends; the desire to live is the same within all of us…” ―Rai Aren

Someone asked me what is your religion? I said, “All the paths that lead to the light.” —Anonymous

Dropping Down and Feeling

For several years, I’ve been practicing a spiritual discipline that I think of as non-defensiveness. I am not even sure when I first began it. It sounds vaguely Buddhist or Gandhian, and I’m certain those are influences, but I can’t really define where or how I began it as a spiritual discipline. Lately, I’m becoming uncomfortable with the term because it feels so non, so negativizing. And as I try to expand my ability to stay in touch with my feelings, something about the word feels too cold and calculating, too harshly reasonable, too solidly logical.

I think of rage and fury and defensiveness as the vanguard emotions, the frontier responses. They’re out there on the front lines, fighting it out. When I feel attacked, I practice dropping down below the fray, finding the steady place beneath the wild turmoil of the fighting plain (plane). And I have been getting better at that, good at taking that breath, realizing that my instinct is to dash in with my own verbal bombs, and instead dropping down. That dropping down, sinking to center, settling in–that’s the non-defensive posture that I have been learning to take.

I think, however, that there’s a danger of being non-defensively defensive, of sinking into that posture while wearing a mask of cold, hard, untouchable reason. It feels safe to step out of the fray and begin to take apart the arguments with logic. This is the King’s response–to break it down with the force of mind, the sword of reason. It’s not a bad stance, but it needs to be paired with the Queen’s shrewd eye for the inner world, her awareness of the secrets hidden in the chalice, the grail. If I don’t acknowledge my emotions while I drop down, I fail to find the true spiritual depth I’m seeking by not getting sucked into the skirmish.

It’s only by fully acknowledging the feelings that the skirmish brings up within me that I can truly grow from a non-defensive posture. Otherwise, I am just a Tin Man. While I breathe and drop down, I want to tell myself the story of my feelings: I feel hurt; I feel attacked and stalked; this wounds me.

Last spring, in Dr. Amanda Kemp’s course/workshop on Holding Space for Transformation, her emphasis on recognizing and acknowledging your feelings as you interrupt your defensive responses in the heat of the moment really spoke to me. When I mask my inner work with reason, I leave the feelings untended, and the wounds fester underneath my chain mail and my suit of armor.

And, to continue the martial metaphor, it isn’t that I never get into the battle. In these times, I believe that it is of utmost importance that people of conscience stand as a unified and powerful force against the powers that threaten to destroy the earth and the children, that silence the voices of the vulnerable, that exclude and marginalize difference and otherness. But I will not be effective in the big things if I spend my energy skirmishing, if I let myself get distracted from the big story by the little attacks in my individual story. And this big story needs us to be fully-realized humans who are capable workers in the realms of both reason and emotion. So the challenge, in the small skirmishes, is to drop down, but also to feel.

(I acknowledge that the archetypes of King and Queen are deeply gendered. I also find that they’re part of the language of the deep group conscious of my particular cultural background. Certainly, as a woman, I am more than the box that the Queen sits in, and I am more also than the King-Queen binary. I think that the fluid and ungendered realm of the Fool is where we will all be more free, but that’s for another day’s ruminations.)

Gratitude List:
1. Teachers who help me on the path toward wholeness. Thank you.
2. Time off, time out, time between time.
3. Three cats. I think a three-cat house is just about perfect for me.
4. How sleep tosses up bones for the dog of the brain to chew on.
5. That scarlet cardinal shining out in the gray of the morning.

May we walk in Beauty. With intention.

Welcome, November

This month, I am trying to re-arrange some of my daily practice in order to make more space for writing. I have had two books floating about in my brain for some time, but I can never seem to find the time to work on them, so I thought I would give my first morning moments to the process and see what happens. So far, in the last two days, in the moments before I wake up fully, my brain has grasped a piece of dream-flotsam, and wrangled it into an image or phrase which I have used to begin a dreamy piece of super-flash fiction.

Perhaps I’ll be able to fit these into one of the books. Meanwhile, I am following the Dreamcatcher to see what she offers me.

In the past six or eight years, I have missed very few November Poem-A-Day challenges with Poetic Asides blog. This new process feels a little solitary, even lonely. But it feels like I have stepped onto a pathway, in much the same way that my first forays into Poem-A-Day were steps on a poetic pathway.

Here’s another thing: This week, I opened a Bag of Longing to see what was inside. This one was the idea of getting an MFA. It’s been haunting the deep corners of my brain for some time now. I decided to look at it more closely and see what it might look like this week. It’s so easy to get excited about it, but it’s hard to justify adding debt to debt when we have projects on the farm that must be fed money, and when the first of the children has just entered high school and will be exploring college possibilities himself before we can even catch our breath. Shall I close this Bag and stuff it back into a corner before it starts to eat me? Or shall I let the creature inside it out to roam, hoping it can find its own way home?

Gratitude List:
1. The many varieties of orange
2. That bright scarlet leaf on the neighbors’ orange dogwood tree was actually a cardinal
3. One small person humming quietly to himself in the car last night on the way home from trick-or-treating in town
4. November means cats in the bed, and that’s wonderful, as long as they give each other space and don’t start hissing
5. New practices

May we walk in Beauty!

A Bright Red Cardinal

Gratitude List:
1. A bright red cardinal amid the brown twisting branches and vines of the bosque.
2. Songs this morning that healed my soul.
3. Humor. Humor helps me to keep it together.
4. Stories of goodness. Let’s just keep doing our little bit of good every day. We will perhaps be called upon to do big good things, but in the meantime, let’s keep doing the little good things.  And reminding each other of the stories we hear of goodness.
5. Afternoon naps, Legos and Percy Jackson. In other words, a restful Sunday afternoon.

May we walk in Beauty!

Blue Fire


Gratitude List:
1. That spring-singer out in the trees.  Cardinal: “Pretty, pretty, pretty!”
2. Yesterday’s sunrise.  The sun came into the hollow not golden as usual, but magenta and rose.  I felt like I was inside a heart.
3. Teaching is such a balance of the giving of instruction and input, and getting out of the way of the process.  Yesterday’s Drama class was a powerful example of how the real magic often happens when the teacher slips off to the sidelines.  There’s no real formula for making that happen.  Each group is different and each day is different, but yesterday was a shining, shining Moment.  A gift.
4. The flashes of blue fire inside my labradorite beads.
5. The green eyes of that small boy over there.

May we walk in Beauty!

All Our Children

How would it change things if we saw them all as our children?  A friend of mine asked me this this morning.  She’s a wise woman, with a kind and strong heart, a foster parent.

What if we really believed in that web of all connection, really treated them all as though they were our own?  What would happen if I let my heart break for my kidnapped daughters in Nigeria?  For my refugee children in Syrian?  For my son, the baby crying in the car-seat while his desperate mother gets high?

I am not talking about giving our hearts over to despair.  I wonder if we can train our hearts, intentionally, like athletes who train for a marathon, to bear the load without crumpling under the weight.  I think that’s what the children need from us, for us to bear them, bear the stories, hold them as though they were our own, to be prepared to act at any moment for any one of them within our reach.  I think the times call for hearts strong enough to be tender, to bleed without weakening, to rage and protect and pray and hope without numbing out.

I don’t think it has to be a choice.  We don’t have to choose between the closed heart and the broken heart.  We can be awake and yet not despair.  It’s worth a try.


Gratitude List:
1.  Good, heart-awakening questions
2.  Jim’s good words this morning about filters, about seeing
3.  Bright red cardinal in morning sun
4.  The flowers my mother has in little bouquets all over their house
5.  Breathing.  In, out, in out.  This moment.

May we walk in Beauty!

Who Inspires You?

I saw a photo the other day of a list that someone had made of people who inspired her.  She’d written the names by hand, artistically. That was part of what caught my attention, but the idea of keeping a running list of people who inspire me has really grabbed hold of me.  I plan to start a list right away.  When I get to one hundred names or so, I’ll look it over and see if I can discern themes and ideas that give me some clues to what I hold dear.  And I want to make sure that there’s variety there.

If you want to join me, here are some ideas to get us started.  You can list several names in each category, of course:

Someone in your immediate family.
An elder.
A peer.
A child.
A revolutionary person who helped to change the world.
Someone who changed the world quietly, behind the scenes.
A musician or band.
An artist.
A great thinker.
A historical figure.
A novelist and/or a poet.
Make sure that you have a good representation of gender, a good mix of races, of countries of origin, of historical periods.
Hmm.  How about a fictional character or two?
A religious or spiritual teacher.
A dancer or other athlete.

What other categories might you choose?

Gratitude List:
1.  The cardinal in the top of the chestnut tree singing, “Pretty, Pretty, sweeeEEEt, sweeEEET!”
2.  Afternoon sun on chicken feathers
3.  Walking between worlds.  Not sure how else to describe it.  Holding your story and yours and yours.  Being here, but there, too.
4.  Iron.  I know I need more of it.  The Earth supplies it.
5.  How everything and everyone changes and evolves, even me, to become more and more ourownselves.

May we walk in Beauty.

Everyone is Coming Home

This morning when I went out into the balmy sunrise to feed the chickens, I thought a strange wren was singing in the walnut tree.  He had such an odd accent.  But suddenly instead of wren, cardinal was calling, then robin was clucking out a scold, then jay announced, “News!  News!”  And there, at the very top branch of the walnut, was my old friend Mockingbird, giving me the run-down of all the folks he’d met on his wintertime journeys.  He seems to have expanded his repertoire of languages.  Welcome back, Polyglot.

And the swallows and the phoebe were back last week, along with the pileated woodpecker.  I put nectar in the oriole feeder today in case that friend arrives in the next week or two.  I’ll have to put out some oranges this week.

Mockingbird is the inspiration for this blog.  When my own internal editor gets too demanding, I listen instead for the voice of Mockingbird, my new editor of choice: “Oh, just say it again.  Say it more forcefully.  Say it three times in Spanish.”  I think we’re going to have a very good summer, Old Friend.


This is me at 3.
Slides 108

Gratitude List:
1.  Mockingbird is back in the hollow.
2.  The peony stalks are pushing up above the soil.
3.  This phrase, that was in my head this morning, when I woke up: “The life force is wanton and indiscriminate.  Use it.”  It may be time to start keeping a specific journal of the words and phrases that sit in my brain when I wake up in the mornings.
4.  Taking it one step at a time.
5.  Good old Vitamin D
May we walk in Beauty.