A New Year Dawns

Here are two versions of the same photo, taken as the sky was beginning to show grey on this first morning of a new year. In the first, I played with filters and textures and color saturation in order to create a pensive mood. Looking at it here in this space, it feels anxious and wary and stark, especially next to the second version, which I ran through an AI Dream filter. This second one is still pensive, but cheerier, more hopeful.

While both are significantly changed from the original, both of them hold emotional truth that is deeper than the just-the-facts original. I AM going pensively into this new year. I am both rattled and happy, scratched and hopeful. The shadows are there, but they don’t scare me (not so much, anyway), and I am ready to explore them a little more deeply.

Usually I wait until Epiphany to declare my words to myself, but I am feeling settled now, ready to choose, ready to embark.

So, my word for this year is Embodiment. I have written about this idea before, the way I have always felt a deep sense of wrongness whenever religious and spiritual and self-help practices begin to talk about mind over matter, or about transcending the body, or about liberating the soul from its body trap. I understand at a base level the philosophical concept that this physical reality isn’t the Real Reality, but I don’t really accept it as a core principle. Or, as I understand it, I think I need to understand it through the physical body I live in.

I think it’s helpful to consider body, mind, and spirit, to see to all our various categories of health and wellbeing, but I always feel like the greatest health happens when I am working to integrate all the various aspects of myself rather than separating them out, dividing in order to conquer, particularly in the way the culture I live in seems to see the punishment of the body as a virtue, unless it fits some strange “idealized” vision of what a body should be.

I am soul embodied into matter. I think perhaps, yes, the soul part of me exists in a way that may transcend this physical plane. I get glimpses of that. But this collection of atoms that make up the physical part of me are no less ME than the sentient, thinking, yearning, indwelling part. And if my soul exists here in this present plane, then I believe it’s here for a purpose, to know what it feels like to touch and taste and see and hear and smell, to experience physical pain and pleasure, to be em-bodied.

Body imbued with soul, with spirit, with sentience. Soul enmattered. Mind ensouled. These different pieces of what we come to know of as Self are in this current configuration because they teach and inform each other. I think we hinder our evolution by trying to escape and transcend the magic of this intertwinement. Or, to take the positive twist, we further human evolution and our own personal destiny and purpose by becoming integrated selves, all the pieces braided together.

Two streams that I have been working with this year that relate to Embodiment are Creativity and Magick, so those are also words for my coming year. If I am categorizing the various parts of me, perhaps Creativity fits in the more mental realm, the ways in which the mind solves problems and develops new ideas. And Magick is the more spiritual, the prayerful, the awareness of deeper levels of reality, the level of the soul. So my quest for the year is how to braid my creative and spiritual selves more artfully into my physical reality.

Some implications:
* I will continue this journey to consciously stop beating up on my body for the way she looks or feels. I will offer her what she needs and tend to her aches and changes.
* I will live through this period of peri-menopause with as much consciousness and intention as possible.
* I will feed the creative and spiritual parts of mySelf as intentionally as I feed my physical Self. With care and with joy. For health and for satisfaction.

Last week, I posted a quote by bell hooks on Facebook, about how self-improvement when done as a simply inward-looking thing can become narcissistic, that we only become better in the context of community. A friend expanded this, pointing out the paradox that we cannot improve our communities unless we do our inner work. Both/And.

Perhaps that’s part of why I have this urge to keep this blog-journal public, to lay at least some of it bare so that I can place my own journey into the community context. It’s why, even while I recognize that aspects of my social media life have become addictive and need reigning in, the overall open and vulnerable quality of the community I have discovered on social media keeps me learning and growing from the inner journeys of so many circles of beloveds. We become better together.


Gratitude List:
1. Being a multi-faceted being: soul and mind and body and spirit and streams of energy braided into one Self.
2. Evolving, growing, changing, Becoming
3. Cats
4. Reflections: windows, mirrors, shadows. . .
5. Layers: in artwork, leaves, selves, reflections, clothing. . .
May we walk in Wisdom!


Honoring Kwanzaa with those who celebrate it: The word for this last day of Kwanzaa is Imani, or Faith. Believe that your dreams have the power to create change in the world. May it be so for you and for me and for all who long for and work for justice in the coming year.


May the long time sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
—Traditional Irish Blessing


“A writer without readers is just a person alone in a room.” —Barbara Kingsolver


Someone Should Start Laughing
by Hafiz (Ladinsky)

I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
How are you?
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
What is God?
If you think that the Truth can be known
From words,
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening Called the mouth,
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing –Now!


“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Courage, Dear Heart.” —the Albatross (Aslan) to Lucy, C. S. Lewis


“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier.’” —Alfred Tennyson


“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” ―Joan Chittister


“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T. S. Eliot


“And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
—William Blake


“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
―Mary Oliver

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.
Amen.”
—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

A Calming Retreat

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:

On the way, I stopped and walked the labyrinth at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church near Lititz. On the way out of the labyrinth, the word embodiment came to me. That became the focus of my retreat. When I got home, I listened to sonia renee taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology. I liked it so much that I bought my own copy so I can underline bits and read sections to my classes.
My room. First time I have had air conditioning. It was very hot, so I actually spent more time in my room than usual.

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.

Every year when I am at the monastery, I greet Jesus in the stairwell when I go up and down the stairs. This year, he and the painting of Mary with the sacred heart were especially meaningful as I held my anxieties about my father’s upcoming open-heart surgery (all has gone exceedingly well, and he is now recovering and regaining his strength).

More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.

Embodiment

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” –Audre Lorde
*
“This is the true meaning of embodiment: To show up with wholehearted presence for this moving encounter with life. Instead of clambering towards ever-furthering horizons or withdrawing into distractions and addictions, showing up for those absences in our lives. Welcoming our fears and discomforts as necessary conditions to creativity. Loving the gestation as much as the harvest, even while remembering the barren season that must follow. Aspiring, in all things, to be human.” –Toko-pa Turner
*
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
*
“Human beings lose their logic in their vindictiveness.”
–Elizabeth Cady Stanton
*
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born,
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere–on water and land.” –Walt Whitman
*
A Prayer for the World
Rabbi Harold Kushner

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.
Amen.


Gratitude List:
1. Crows in the mist
2. Robins making a deafening ruckus in the hollow at dawn
3. A murmuration of starlings
4. The tender, open, compassionate hearts of teenagers. Every day, there’s something that melts my crusty heart a little.
5. I love Jon’s new job

May we walk in Beauty!