Living in the Layers

This morning, I am sitting outside with cool breezes, delicious morning sunlight, the calling of the wingfolk all around, a not-so-small boy playing in the sandbox, and an old man cat resting in his bed beside me. It is a perfect moment, one I want to hold forever, inner and outer worlds aligned. Grief is here, too, in the perfect moment: the old man cat has gone nearly blind in the past week, the marvelous boy with the giant-sized heart is growing so fast I cannot keep track of the changes, some of my beloveds are hurting and anxious. It is all part of the wheel of changes, and grief and uncertainty have their place. It is part of the package of being human.

And it’s not only the boys and the cat who are aging and changing. I am about to complete my fiftieth year. It feels right and good to be here on the cusp of my half-century, still learning to be who I am: mother, spouse, teacher, friend, writer. I feel a new story rising, wanting to burst forth. I have spent this past decade learning to trust my voice, honing my craft, taking baby steps. Now it is time to find a way to take my words out, further out. I’m not entirely sure what that will look like, but it is the promise that I am making to myself in this moment. I am ready to leave the safety of the chrysalis.

(And now there is an older boy here, golden as the sunlight, and he is telling me words that are beyond my understanding, this child who came from my body–he is so much smarter than I am, already–his mind making connections at lightning speed, learning every new thing. What a marvel it is to watch these beings absorb information and grow and develop, extending ideas of their own, creating new things. The wheel turns. . .)

“I saw you once, Medusa; we were alone.
I looked you straight in the cold eye, cold.
I was not punished, was not turned to stone.
How to believe the legends I am told? …
I turned your face around! It is my face.
That frozen rage is what I must explore —
Oh secret, self-enclosed, and ravaged place!
That is the gift I thank Medusa for.”
―May Sarton, “The Muse as Medusa”
Pablo Picasso:
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
“Our religion is relationship. Our relationships are our religion.” ―Bruxy Cavey
“The work of the eyes is done.
Go now and do the heart-work
on the images imprisoned within you.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke

Gratitude List:
1. (How did you encounter the Divine Wow?) Synchronicity. In this case, it had to do with armadillos. “Protect yourself,” says the wise woman, and the Mystery adds, “What she said.”
2. (What awakens you?) All the butterflies swinging down the breezes: monarch, swallowtail, fritillary, buckeye. “Isn’t that chrysalis becoming a little claustrophobic?” they ask. Isn’t it time to emerge and fly?
3. (What quickened within you?) It is time to fly, time to learn a new kind of noticing, time to address the claustrophobia, time to break out of the chrysalis.
4. (What do you take deeper?) The layers of my living–photos of very young children who are both gone and here in this moment, time with friends which is both this moment now and last year and the years before, this morning sun slanting into the hollow and the blue jay and doves calling which is the essence of this very moment and also a hearkening to my own ancient story.
5. (How will you carry the past and the present into the next moment?) Allowing the little bird of grief for what is past and gone to sit on my shoulder and sing her songs. Anticipating the joy that comes with the next ray of sunlight, the next bird call, the next “Mom, look!”

May we walk in Beauty!

Day of the Monarchs

Monarchs mating. May your tribe grow and thrive, Brightwings!

“There is so much in eternity that is trying to reach us, if only we can suspend our wranglings long enough to be touched.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea.”
—D. H. Lawrence
“Water, the Hub of Life. Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium. Water is the most extraordinary substance! Practically all its properties are anomalous, which enabled life to use it as building material for its machinery. Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.”
—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893 – 1986) Hungarian-American physiologist; Nobel laureate
“There is really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
—Arundhati Roy
“God is only ever where we stand with our neighbor in trouble and against injustice.”
—Naomi Wolf
“Follow the waters,
lean in with the trees,
breathe the cool morning air,
walk through the swirling mists.”
—Beth Weaver-Kreider

1. (How did you meet the Mystery?) Monarchs dancing in the field. A small person’s excitement to tell me that he and his dad had watched monarchs mating. May there always be monarchs.
2. (What brought you awake?) Hard work in the heat and humidity. I do want to be cautious about pushing myself out there when it’s so hot, but it does feel good. Strengthening. Working the body gives the mind and heart time and space for a different pacing.
3. (What is the message from your heart?) Listen. When there is clamor, when there is silence, when there doesn’t seem to be anything to listen to or for.
4. (What takes you into the Center?) Hints of magic and mystery all around. There is so much I do not understand at an intellectual level about the world around me, but sometimes my heart gets glimpses.
5. (What do you take forward?) The inner stillness. This is getting redundant, perhaps, but it is the lesson I am learning in these days of heat and humidity, of getting work accomplished and finding energy even in the lethargy induced by the weather. There is an inner stillness that can find its way from the moments of solitude into the clamor of the day. (Most of the clamor is pretty delightful, even when it’s bickering children.)

May we walk in Beauty!

Morning Examen

Under the bridge.

“In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.” —Howard Thurman
“Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.” —Walter Scott
“No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it.” —attributed to Albert Einstein
“I feel we have to begin standing our ground in the places we love. I think that we have to demand that concern for the land, concern for the Earth, and this extension of community that we’ve been speaking of, is not marginal – in the same way that women’s rights are not marginal, in the same way that rights for children are not marginal. There is no separation between the health of human beings and the health of the land. It is all part of a compassionate view of the world.”
—Terry Tempest Williams
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
—Mary Oliver
“All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed in the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythm of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”
—Layne Redmond

Gratitude List/Examen:
1. (How is the Mystery Present to You?) Sunlight sparkling on dew. A silent flock of crows winging over the hollow. The way people reach out to each other.
2. (What visions brought your spirit awake?) A doe and her fawn came to me in a dream last night. Dreams full of wanderings and portents, cautions and protection.
3. (What does your heart say?) I can keep laying down the need to be better, the desire for perfection, the wish to be other than I am at the moment.
4. (What goes deeper?) The silence. The solitude. The giving of myself to the quiet.
5. (Where do you take this?) Today, I will just do the next thing.

May we walk in Beauty!

Walk in Beauty

“And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up or away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder, and better.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
“As long as your curiosity is greater than your fear,
you will move forward.”
–Mehmet Murat Ildan
“What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!” –Hafiz
“We write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely.” –Tracy K. Smith
“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” –Nelson Mandela
“It is time for the next generations to continue our struggle against social injustice and for the rights of humanity. It is in your hands.” –Nelson Mandela
A Navajo Prayer

In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again

Hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shideigi hózhóogo naasháa doo
T’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa doo
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’

Gratitude List/Examen:
1. (What do you hear?) The fog here in the holler creates an interesting aural field. I feel like I am sitting in an isolated country space, with the sound of Cabin Creek gurbling down there, Susan’s wind chimes, a wren, a robin, a cardinal, some little chittery thing in the leaves of the sycamore. And then there are distant echoes that come from outside this inverted bowl of fog: an airplane, highway traffic, and a rooster, up the hill.
2. (What is satisfying?) Taking the wallpaper off the wall in the little room upstairs. Why is that so supremely satisfying, the feel of the paper coming off in strips?
3. (What do you see?) The umbrella arms of my sycamore friend, enclosing and sheltering this part of the hollow. I call her Wangari.
4. (Where does hope reside?) In knowing I am not alone, in knowing that small things become big things, that many of us together—doing our work—can make change.
5. (What are the words for the day?) Work, deliberation, play, stories, thunder, fog, watchfulness.

May we walk in Beauty!

Make Your Own

I have heard of people having a make-your-own-pizza night, but last night was our first try. I set out a regular store-bought tomato sauce and a store-bought pesto, and I made up a sort of tapenade of black olives, dried sungold tomatoes, and basil. We chose which of those three we wanted, mixing and layering if we wanted. Then we had little bowls of chopped peppers, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, dill, basil, halved sungolds, slice black olives, and we topped them with shredded cheese. We will definitely be doing this again.

Another poem from last spring’s Creative Writing prompts (write about an element):
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

You’re golden, simply golden,
sunshine on a stick,
a priceless prize,
the treasure in the middle of the map,
a glorious X marking the spot,

which is you,
which has always been you,
just waiting patiently,
a box of surprises:

“In order to arrive at what you are not you must go through the way in which you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” —Richard Rohr
“Whatever gets in the way of the work is the work.”
—Jason Shinder
“An agricultural adage says the tiny animals that live below the surface of a healthy pasture weigh more than the cows grazing above it. In a catalogue selling composting equipment I read that two handfuls of healthy soil contain more living organisms than there are people on the earth. What these beings are and what they can be doing is difficult to even begin to comprehend, but it helps to realize that even though they are many, they work as one.”
—Carol Williams
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” —Flannery O’Connor
“I don’t know about you, but I didn’t become an environmentalist because someone made a rational argument that convinced me that the planet was in danger. I became an environmentalist out of love and pain: love for the world and its beauty and the grief of seeing it destroyed. It was only because I was in touch with these feelings that I had the ears to listen to evidence and reason and the eyes to see what is happening to our world. I believe that this love and this grief are latent in every human being. When they awaken, that person becomes an environmentalist.” —Charles Eisenstein
“You can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” —Audre Lorde

Gratitude List/Examen:
1. (What has awakened you?) The increasingly familiar ache of muscles and joints, the streaming of sunlight into the hollow, the comfortable presence of a small boy, love
2. (How have you encountered Mystery?) The communication that happens between humans and animals. The moment of awareness, of recognition.
3. (What has given you cause for wonder?) Roadside flowers: toadflax, mullein, St. John’s wort, Queen Anne’s lace, purple clover, vetch, buttercup, chicory. So many colors and textures to the weaving.
4. (What has nudged you forward?) Past pains, not wanting the future to be like certain parts of the past. I struggle with this answer. I know it finds me in a caught and immature place. Still, part of what helps me to be a better person is acknowledging past failures so I can amend them for next time, and in these days as I prepare for the coming school year, I need to think about what I managed poorly so I can prepare myself to manage well.
5. (What do you offer the day?) More holding, more noticing, more listening. Laughter. I will find laughter in the day. Also, twinkling eyes–I will seek out twinkles. (This was last year’s answer, and I find it good for today as well.

May we walk in Beauty!

Discussing Gnome Philosophy

This evening, we decided that the Math Gnomes are actually Element Gnomes, representing Earth, Air, Water and Fire, as well as the four operations.  The Equals Gnome has always been the Queen of the Gnomes, so that remains her character.  I was playing with a sixth gnome in a sort of shaggy green robe, and I decided to call her the Swamp Gnome, and in our Gnome Convocation this evening, the Swamp Gnome was responsible for the coming together of all the elements.  I thought this was a brilliant way to represent the spirit at the center of the circle–Swamp Gnome, the eldest of the gnomes, brings them all together.  My elder son, ever the thinker, was really uncomfortable with this: “Mom, there is no Fire in a swamp!  Swamps are really a combination of Water and Earth.”  I thought that the will-o’-the-wisp would qualify, but he said that will-o’-the-wisp is extremely rare, so it hardly gives Fire an equal place.  He’s right, of course, so I said that perhaps the Fire part of the swamp is the life force in the plants and trees, but he thinks that’s the realm of Earth, and it is a strong argument.  “And anyway,” he said, “You have the Queen over here, and she is really the center, the place where all the Elements come together.”  When did he get so wise?  And I am in awe, having spent part of my evening discussing the philosophy of the Deep Nature of Things with my son.

I feel a need of a caveat, just to make it clear: I do not always feel like a success at this parenting business.  I yell and ignore and belittle and cave in way too often.  That is one of the reasons moments like this one are so sweet–it reminds me that I can mess up regularly, but these people are going to grow into themselves despite my messy momming.

Oh, and there was this, too: He was actually playing on the iPod while the younger one and I were playing with the gnomes.  My gnomes were having a meeting, and the Queen was checking in with each of her helpers.  At one point, he stopped his game and looked over at me: “I think your gnomes are having a formal meeting, Mom, using formal language.  They probably should not be using contractions.”  Indeed.  Ahem.

DSCN8252 DSCN8227
The Queen on her throne, the Four Elements.

Fred the Dragon captures the Queen.

DSCN8240 DSCN8223
All Aboard the Gnome Train, and Chicken and Mouse nests in tree.

How did Mystery encounter you today?
In thoughtful conversation with a child on the nature of things.

What awakened you?
The breeze in the evening as the sun was setting out of Skunk Hollow.  The cool of the day.

What nudged you forward?
The singing group kith+kin, whom I just now discovered when I was looking for a version of the song “The Cool of the Day.”  Sublime.
Also, working in my classroom today.

What sits in your heart?
Satisfaction, delight, quiet care, tending the spirit, peacefulness.
Some deep sadness remains–there is always an undercurrent of deep sadness, no matter how content and joyful my own place is.  Someone is always suffering.  While I can keep that ocean of sadness outside the door most days, I know it is there, and some days it wants to be acknowledged.

What do you take deeper?
My children.  Mothering.  Preparing the space for my students.

What do you offer tomorrow?
Intention.  I will be present to my moments.

May we walk in Beauty!


Burning Through

Sometimes a new thing catches me on fire, and I just have to let it burn through me, so I can see the trail it leaves, follow the glowing embers.  This poem by Mary Oliver–“Gratitude“–has taken hold of me.  First, I had to copy it, using her questions, and then I had to create my own, while still adding my own regular 5-point gratitude list at the end.  Tonight, more of my own questions.

And I am lifting my nose to sniff the air–there’s an aroma there of something lodged in my memory.  Here it is: I have been feeling compelled to call this emerging process an Examen.  I have been looking it up, and I think that perhaps it isn’t so far from the Examen of St. Ignatius.  His process, according to the Loyola Press website, is to:

1. Become aware of the presence of God.  (I like to call God the Mystery, or Love, or the Source, or Mama.)
2. Review the day with gratitude.  (That’s the part I have been working on for the past three or four years.  It has been transformative in ways I could not have predicted.)
3. Pay attention to your emotions.  (Sometimes I stop at the second step.  This is a good reminder.  Also, I think I would add, Check in with your energy, because that is part of my practice, too.)
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.  (For me, the noticing is prayer, the gratitude is prayer.  Still, I get what this is about: take one thing deeper.  Oh, I do like that.)
5. Look toward tomorrow.  (Bring the past and the present and the future together in this moment.  How does the past [the work of #2] inform the present [#1, #3, #4]?  And how can the past-imbued present inform the future [#5]?)

How is the Mystery present to you?
In silence.  In the space between my breaths.  In the night sounds of crickets and peepers.

What visions brought your spirit awake?
Three crows flying above the fields into morning.
A white heron flying over the city in the afternoon heat.
The hard work of preparing an essay.
What words awakened you?
“Prophetic listening,” transformation, kairos, dialectical hermeneutics
What awakened your senses?
Rice and peas, garlic, squash, long thin green beans, broccoli, and fat slices of pink tomato with coarse salt.

What does your heart say?
There is anxiety here for friends who are suffering.
Contentment, which is sometimes better than wild joy.
I am tired.
New ideas flitting through the rooms of my brain excite and exhaust me.

What goes deeper?
I am one spider on this humming web,
surveying the movement from strand to strand.
We all weave and spin together,
no longer simply waiting for the Morai
to measure and cut, but being ourselves the spiders,
tending the web, minding the movement.

Where does this go tomorrow?
Tomorrow is a clearing day–
get things accomplished.

May we walk in Beauty!