Convoluted Dreamways

In the middle of the night I woke up just as someone was giving me a message. It was like I was a student in a classroom, and the teacher was writing these things on the board:

Living By Their Rules:
1. You will only succeed if you push down the others around you.
2. There is not enough for everyone.

I’m sort of glad I woke up at that point. I don’t think I want to see that play out. Don’t want to try to fit in to that system.

More dreams about forgetting my mask and being among others who simply don’t care. Trying to pull my shirt collar up above my nose to protect myself and others.

Also, I heard a bird call, loudly, while I was in a large room, like a mall (I think the sound was the real world entering my dream), and saw, instead of the singer, two tiny green hummingbirds, no larger than bumble bees, circling around each other by a red wall in an elaborate aerial dance.


Gratitudes:
1. Tabula Rasa
2. My wonderful mother, who was born 80 years ago today.
3. Squirrels, how they stand with their hands on their hearts. I love the white spots behind their ears, the pensive look on their faces when they are looking up at the feeders–and yes, they’re a pain at the feeders, but they belong here, too.
4. Color and texture. I’m an eccentric in my sartorial choices because I like to mix colors and prints and textures. Might look funny, but it makes me oddly happy.
5. How small acts can be rituals, like mending torn clothing focuses the mind on Mending.

May we walk this year in Beauty!


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.


“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

Quiet and Color

I needed sleep long and deep last night, so the dream-realm was quiet, at least as far as dream (re)collection goes. There is a book, by an author whose name is Ratzia (or Rascia) Hescht. My sleep-drenched brain felt that was important to remember. Perhaps that ought to be my pen name. This morning, there is a bright red cardinal in the beige world outside, a singular pop of brilliance, like a single name drawn from the mists of dream.


Gratitudes:
1. Deep sleep and feeling rested
2. The potential of an open day ahead
3. Learning–again and again–to listen to my body
4. Mystery and magic and webs of connection
5. The inward path

May we walk in Beauty!


“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


Honoring Kwanzaa with those who celebrate it: Today’s word is Nia, Purpose. This refers to the purpose of building African culture through community endeavor. As a white person, this is another reminder to me to take a learning and listening posture, and to use the privilege culturally stamped on my skin to give space and voice to others.


“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


“We need wilderness and extravagance. Whatever shuts a human being away from the waterfall and the tiger will kill [her].” —Robert Bly


“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

Fragments and Anxieties

So many random dream images from last night. They’re fragmented, but they all seem connected somehow.

Josiah and I buy sandwiches in some sort of sunny outdoor courtyard. People are setting up for some sort of event, so we put together a couple of chairs and sit down. One of the custodians from school makes a chair for himself and eats with us.

Jon and I are in a classroom. I think we’re back in elementary school. We’re ahead of the class, so we get to sit near the back and read the next material on our own. The class is finished with the work, but the teacher can’t find the test. I have little plastic animals set up all around my desk and on the windowsill behind me. I’m a little claustrophobic in the space, worried I’ll send my little animals tumbling if I move.

I’m in a Victorian sort of house with two other young women. It’s the next class (after the one in the previous paragraph), and we’re reading a Shakespeare play together. The one woman gets bored and wanders off. I am helping the other to read the parts. It sounds more like Jane Austen than Shakespeare. The other woman tires out, but we’ve been reading for half an hour, so we quit.

I am frantically calling people and trying to find out where my baby is. Someone took him and said they’d bring him right back, but I can’t get in touch with anyone.

I’m on a sort of courtroom, and the proceedings have been going on for hours. I’m bored. Suddenly I notice that the one lawyer is terribly sick. His eyes are red and puffy and he’s sneezing. No one else seems to notice, but I am frantic about finding my mask and putting it on. I move to a corner of the room near a window.

I find a telephone and try to remember how to dial my parents’ number to tell them about the missing baby. This never goes well in dreams, but this time when I pick up the old-fashioned receiver, my mother is right there, on the other end of the line! I think that perhaps everything is going to be okay.

I decide to rid my bike through the countryside to get home to my parents. This is common in dreams for me. I get to a place that is familiar to my dream-self, except that the corn has grown up on all the corners. Someone has placed blankets on the corn all around, as if they needed somewhere to hang a thousand blankets to dry. The road to the right should be the right way to go, but it seems to curve up ahead in a way that it isn’t supposed to. I ride several yards up toward the curve, but it actually turns back upon itself in a loop and ends up heading back the way I have come. Someone has planted their corn across the road! Just as I decide to ride back the way I have come, I wake up.

The odd thing in the waking up was that I thought I was hearing people speaking, so faintly it could have been my imagination (which it probably was). I thought maybe one of the kids was up really early, listening to a video somewhere in the house. But there’s no sign of anyone. Maybe it was the heat coming on that sounded in my dreambrain like people talking.

This set has a lot of little anxieties: the lost child, the inability to get to my parents, the unprepared teacher, the claustrophobia, the coronavirus, the confusing pathway home. So many of these are my dream-tropes for lostness and confusion. In each one, I am just going along, trying to muddle through each scene the best I can, which is what Jon and I are doing here, trying to make the best of this strange year. This will be a lovely introverts’ holiday, all of us together here, but we also need our people, and we can’t quite see how the road ahead will lead us to them. It seems to be recursive, bending back upon itself.

If there’s a message here, it’s to tend to my anxieties, to notice how the worry affects my choices.


Gratitude:
1. The messages of dreams
2. Quiet holidays
3. Loving hearts, even at a distance
4. There will be an end to this
5. All the people who are working to keep us safe, and to bring an end to this.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


Someday soon, we all will be together, if the Fates allow. . .”


“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . .get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel


“From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.”
—Rory Cooney, from “Canticle of the Turning”


Making the House Ready for the Lord
by Mary Oliver
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice–it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances–but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.


“I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through
listen to this music
I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus” —Hafiz (Ladinsky)


“May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.” ―Mary Oliver


“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass


“I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel.” ―Mary Oliver

Season’s Dreamings

These next couple weeks until Epiphany are going to include a lot of Dream-Work. I’m sifting through the messages and images and questions presented in my dreams during this Liminal time to formulate my word or phrase or token to carry with me for the coming year.

Last night’s dream:
I am on a sort of retreat with friends at a house in a little mountain town. I sleep in a cramped little chair bed, although there are plenty of spacious and comfortable beds and couches and recliners all over the house, and my neck is stiff. The basement smells like a musty bathroom. I feel like my friends are accusing me of having created the stench, but I explain that it’s because of the old pipes in the basement bathroom.

My parents have decided to come pick me up. Even though it feels a little intrusive, I am excited to see them, and grateful that they’re coming. We decide to drive around the little town. I recognize it from previous dreams. It might even be the same town from the previous night’s dream that I was so sure was Lancaster.

When we get back to the house, some distant cousins are driving up to the house. I don’t recognize them from waking life, but in the dream, they’re a close connection from childhood. They’re conservative Mennonites. Only the father of the family is wearing a mask, and I suddenly realize that I am also unmasked. As I get out of the car, the mother rushes up to hug me, and I am frantically trying to pull my shirt up over my nose. She doesn’t notice or care, and wraps me in a giant hug, but I am pulling away and trying to cover my face. They’re in a hurry to get going, so they rush off. (This is the only point in my dream where masks seem to matter.)

While we’re getting ready to go into the house, the Evangelist drives up. He’s a famous evangelical Christian evangelist (not one I recognize from waking life). He’s attractive and charming. He’s wearing a fashionably rumpled brown wool suit. It’s like someone in the 1940s might wear–like a hip and dashing college boy, not a stuffy banker. He is charming and attractive and he knows it. And he knows we know it. It’s like a private joke between us. The press are snapping pictures and yelling questions. He’s posing and vamping for the camera, cracking jokes and being charming. His hair falls just so over his forehead. Then he gets sort of quiet and serious, and says that he has predicted the exact moment of the return of Jesus. Then he goes into the house, vamping and posing all the way.

We go inside to pack up my things. I have to remember to take the artwork that’s up on top of the wardrobe. It’s a six or seven foot high piece of lace, tacked onto a wooden frame. The pattern in the lace is of Jesus, and I have painted colors onto the lace to clarify the image.

Then I wake up.

My Dream-spinner seems to have been trying to organize some thoughts about Christians. I feel like she sent me tropes, like I already know this lesson, thanks. The loving and caring plain people of my childhood are ignoring mask mandates intended to keep people safe. The evangelical evangelisti are shallow and vampy and charming. Despite my disillusionment with so many of the forms of Christianity today, I have my own carefully and artfully crafted image of Jesus that I need to remember to take with me. I’ve started with the abstract images that others have created, and have filled in the lines and colors to create an image that makes sense to me. Some of my people may think my idea of Jesus is too fragile and insubstantial, and others will think it cheesy, like a painting of Elvis on velvet, but I am fond of it, and I keep it quietly in my own room.

I need to ponder how I am also the judgmental friends, the scofflaw Mennonites, the vampy Evangelist. After the first scenes at the house where I was at the retreat, the rest of the events of the dream seemed to happen to me and around me, and I took much more of an observer role.

What threads do I pull out to keep in my Dream Bundle? What messages rise to the surface? Jesus is a pretty strong thread. Community in many forms (with my friends, my family, the long-ago childhood connections, the town, the media). There’s the Charming but Shallow Evangelist (I think this is a message about my Leo energy).


“Stay close to those who sing, tell stories, and enjoy life, and whose eyes sparkle with happiness. Because happiness is contagious and will always manage to find a solution, whereas logic can find only an explanation for the mistake made.” —Paulo Coelho


“Souls love. That’s what souls do. Egos don’t, but souls do. Become a soul, look around, and you’ll be amazed —all the beings around you are souls. Be one, see one. When many people have this heart connection, then we will know that we are all one, we human beings all over the planet. We will be one. One love. And don’t leave out the animals, and trees, and clouds, and galaxies—it’s all one. It’s one energy.” —Ram Dass


“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass (1931-2019)


“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” —Ram Dass


“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” —Ram Dass


“Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.” —Ram Dass


“Only that in you which is me can hear what I’m saying.” —Ram Dass


“We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” —Ram Dass


“Start from where you are—not where you wish you were. The work you’re doing becomes your path.” —Ram Dass


“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
―Jonathan Gottschall


“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.” —Wendell Berry


“Sincerity? I can fake that.” —Hawkeye Pierce


“There is a way of beholding nature that is in itself a form of prayer.” —Diane Ackerman


“The best way to know God is to love many things.”
―Vincent van Gogh

Season of Dreaming

This is the season of dreaming, these nights and days between the Solstice and Epiphany.
I mine my dreams in these days carefully, for words and feelings and images, symbols I can use to put the old year to rest, or to carry into the creation of the coming year.

This is going to seem more like a personal journal, perhaps, than a blog. In some ways that is what the blog is. Feel free to read along. I follow a fairly Jungian path to dream interpretation, looking at myself in the story of it, reading it like a fairy tale, watching for images and people to stand out to me, for relationships to reveal themselves. I try to write my dreams in present tense, so it draws me back into the moment of experiencing the dream. I am open to hearing your thoughts about symbols and archetypes in the dream. I tend to close myself off to “This is what your dreams means,” finding my inner world much more open to “This is what I see or hear in your dream.”

Last night: I am taking a student home. While people in my dreams are often archetypal stand-ins, this is an actual student in an actual class of mine right now, a sensitive and thoughtful young woman who has been finding this year to be an emotional roller coaster. We are in Lancaster. Parts of it are recognizably Lancaster, but much of it is dream creation. Also, we are not in a car. I am pushing her in a large stroller.

At one point, we get stuck waiting in traffic, and she starts to suggest we go left, but I am already on it. We pull out of traffic and go through a neighborhood which is almost entirely brick. Orange brick–big, rounded orange bricks. All the houses, the cobbled walkways, and the street itself. “We call this Peter’s thumbs,” she tells me.

I say that it’s good exercise to go up over this way, and she says, “Oh, I don’t believe in that whole weight loss thing.”

This touches a nerve for me because, while I am being really careful right now about not gaining more weight (I gained al lot in the spring of the pandemic), I make it a point to never ever use the words weight loss diet in front of students. So I make a little half-lie: “Oh, I just meant exercise. I want to be healthy and strong. I don’t care about diets and weight loss.” (This is the lie I tell myself in real, waking, life in order to try to make it a truth. When the numbers on the scale are troubling to me. Even at 53, I still struggle with body image.)

At one point our journey takes us up a street that’s more of a tunnel, underneath a heavy, dark skywalk. I’m talking more about exercise and deepening my lie about not caring about my weight. At the top of the hill, when we get into the light, I realize that she’s no longer in the stroller thing. I panic. I’ve lost her! She emerges from the doorway behind me: “Oh, I just thought I’d walk for myself for a little while.” She’s wearing an orange acrobat’s leotard.

That’s when the alarm goes off. As I was writing that, I kept getting flashes of the dream that preceded it, of a small blond boy (perhaps one of mine) following an older child around a camp. They cover themselves in mud. They run down to the river to wash. I have a moment of panic that the small child will drown, and have that moment of vision when I see myself diving into the muddy river, frantically searching for a drowning child, but it passes, and I hold back on my panic as they run laughing into the water.

I think this dream hits right at the center of my anxieties about parenting and teaching–the weight of responsibility, of protecting (both physically and psychically) the young ones in my care. Unfortunately, when I get anxious about the physical well-being of my children, I do get momentary visions of worst-case scenarios sometimes. I do find myself spooling out the dreads. My Dream-spinner was showing me that part of myself, I think.

And also about my own lifelong battle with learning to love being in this particular body, of dealing with shame for my up-and-down weight, of very intentionally not speaking of diet in front of students, particularly female students. In general, I think teachers and adults need to be open about our struggles with students, not spilling all our secrets and pain, but letting them know that we, too, go through challenges. But this whole diet thing is pernicious and insidious. Hearing others talk about dieting has always been a trigger for me, and I want to be extra cautious about that with students.

Like the panic about the boy in the river, I had a similar panic when the student (who is struggling in real life) approached the topic of weight loss. I felt the heaviness of being responsible for someone else’s emotional health. But the reality, at the end of the dream, was that I was not actually pushing her. She was coming out on her own power, and indeed, with grace and agility and strength, as an acrobat.

I think the words for this dream are: Responsibility, Care, Anxiety. Maybe Diet or Body Image. The color orange: Sacral Chakra. Tend to the creative and sensual.
I have no idea what the heck Peter’s Thumbs are doing in the dream!


Gratitudes:
1. When I cannot be with my beloveds, memories really do warm my heart
2. New things arising and old things passing out of the picture
3. Messages from the Dream-spinner
4. Today is the last day of school until January–I need this break
5. Today I am healthy. And I hope you are, too. Stay well.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” —Isadora Duncan


“There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds.” —Toko-pa Turner


“God has scattered the haughty ones.
God has cast down the powerful from their places of power
and has lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” —Mary


“No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.” —Kahlil Gibran


“Always there comes an hour when one is weary of one’s work and devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.” —Albert Camus


“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop. ” —Rumi (Barks)


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

More Dreams

Dream: I’m in Dreamtown. I don’t know what else to call it, but it’s a place I often go in dreams. Sometimes I even recognize streets or buildings from dream to dream, but not often. I just know its the same city. There are other dream towns, too.

My sister parks her van and puts the keys under the seat, says she’ll see me later. I am going to wander in town a bit and check out some of these yard sales. It’s a little surprising that people are having yard sales during this time, but they sort of seem to be social distancing. I don’t remember seeing them in masks, but masks have not really entered my dreams yet.

After a while, I go to get in the van to drive home, and in the few hours I have been there, a whole bunch of foxtails have grown up between the cab and the bed of the pick-up (it is now my old red F150 instead of Valerie’s Van). I’m kind of glad to be driving the old pick-up again. I back out of the parking lot onto the road, put it in first and accelerate, but the truck keeps going in reverse. The brakes don’t work. The gears won’t shift into forward. I am hurtling backwards down a steep city hill.


That’s where I woke up. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was a school dream, or a dream about the feelings I am experiencing right now.
It’s all so out of control.
Even the vehicle has changed.
The weeds grew up while I was away.
Everybody out there is going about their normal business as though nothing has changed.
I’m hurtling backward downhill.
I can’t focus enough to get any serious school planning done. I can’t get it in the right gear.

Breathe. Pray. Sit in the chair. Do the work. Be ready for plans to change. Steer the truck.

Yesterday, on my birthday, I made myself a set of prayer beads. It’s based on the 108 beads of the Tibetan mala, but I am not Buddhist, so I hesitate to call it anything that specific. I am very intentional about not buying new things for new projects, but using up what I have, so I scrounged stone beads from my collection, and used a turquoise skull bead for my main bead. I chose the skull bead intentionally, as the symbol often associated with Mary Magdalene, who perhaps had more reason than most of us to contemplate the mysteries of life and death. With the tassel on the end, the skull looks like La Calavera Catriona on her way to the dance, which adds a nice layer of meaning. I added a dangle-bead Hand of Fatima, which represents protection and safety.

Here are the things I am going to do to try to deal with these anxieties:
1. Sit at my desk and Do My Work.
2. Keep hanging my worries on the willow.
3. Carry my prayer beads with me. In these early days of wearing it, I want to let the prayers kind of form themselves as I notice the worries that arise. (The cording is nylon, so I can disinfect them when I wear it to school.)
4. Be as conscientious in the classroom about cleaning and disinfecting as possible. Be strict about masking and distancing.
5. Meditate on the web. So many wonderful people have reached out to say they are praying for teachers, and thinking about us as we prepare for the coming year. I feel like I am on a golden web of people’s prayers and energies, along with my colleagues and students.
6. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Really, I am still fairly grounded and centered. I am like a lion, I think, quick to rage or jump into action in response to attack or hunger, but mostly lying around, still and quiet, unbothered. Both. It takes a quirky dream or another announcement from the governor or scary numbers in the news to get me to jump up and take off. But the worries are always there, and in the meantime, I have to be as prepared as possible for school to begin.


Gratitude List:
1. Such an overflowing bowl of birthday greetings yesterday! I’m so grateful for all my beloveds, in both my physical and virtual worlds.
2. Goldfinches on the thistles.
3. Chocolate ice cream cake.
4. Making things.
5. Bright fingernail polish. I always feel a little like I’m in drag or something when I wear make-up or fingernail polish. They don’t feel quite like me. But I love shiny colors on my fingertips, and I will keeping painting my nails until I get bored or tired of touching up the chipped bits.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” —Leonard Cohen


“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” —Robin Williams


“One gives one’s life to be and to know, rather than to possess.” —Teilhard de Chardin


“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” —Rumi


Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
–William Stafford


“Perfectionism is a virus which keeps us running on the treadmill of never-enoughness. It is inherently deadening for how it strives and never arrives. Failure is embedded in its very pursuit, for our humanity can never be homogenised. The only antidote is to turn away from every whiff of plastic and gloss and follow our grief, pursue our imperfections, exaggerate our eccentricities until they, the things we once sought to hide, reveal themselves as our true majesty.” –Toko-pa Turner

The [redacted] Secret

By the time I got to the end of the second sentence, and saw the words “friend” and “Nazi” in successive lines, it suddenly became impossible for me to search out any other phrase than “Nazi friend” to end the poem, but the order was transposed. Sometimes people use arrows to make such a puzzle work. I decided to get out my little knife.

I woke up this morning with this phrase in my head: “Hymns to The Unknown Civilization.” I might have to create some sort of poetry/art project with that title.

You know that feeling when you wake up, and the cobweb of a dream is still clinging to your consciousness? I always try to maintain that dreamlike consciousness while I stumble downstairs so it stays fresh enough to write down. The dream flotsam offers myriad gifts. Sometimes it’s a stark image floating in my mind’s eye, asking me to look and consider and contemplate. I especially love when it’s word or a song. Sometimes the phrase is so surreal that I can’t weave it into the meaning of daytime reality and I just enjoy its oddness, its quirky presence in my day. Other times, I feel like there are distinct and specific messages in the words and images and stories that appear at the ends of dreamtime.


Gratitude:
The sounds of my walk yesterday: Greetings with friendly neighbors, the horses making that blustery horsey sigh, Barb’s goats calling greetings from up the hillside, bird twitterings in the trees, the deep glugging of the bullfrogs in the pond. Earlier, as I was riding my bike on the rail trail, I heard the wood thrushes calling across the path to each other.

May we walk in Beauty!


“If only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“A woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”
—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi


“I can’t offer justice so I offer just trees.” —Kilian Schoenberger (who photographs trees and woods)


Dalai Lama: “There are only two days of the year in which nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. That means today is the ideal day to love, to believe, to create and to live.”


“We cannot assume the sacredness nor spiritual livingness of the earth or accept it as a new ideology or as a sentimentally pleasing idea. We must experience that life and sacredness, if it is there, in relationship to our own and to that ultimate mystery we call God. We must experience it in our lives, in our practice, in the flesh of our cultural creativity. We must allow it to shape us, as great spiritual ideas have always shaped those who entertain them, and not expect that we can simply use the image of Gaia to meet emotional, religious, political, or even commercial needs without allowing it to transform us in unexpected and radical ways. The spirituality of the earth is more than a slogan. It is an invitation to initiation, to the death of what we have been and the birth of something new.” —David Spangler


Rob Brezsny reflects on Fuller and Socrates:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” wrote Buckminster Fuller. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Socrates said something similar: “The secret of change is to focus your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Are they right? Or should we instead focus on unleashing our apocalyptic rage at the corruption and decay of the dying order?

I Just Want This to Be Over

“I just want this to be over.”

That’s what I said to Jon before I slipped off to sleep last night. I’m tired of this sometimes overpowering feeling of dread. I’m tired of carrying this bag of tears just beneath the surface.

The virus has entered my circles. People I know, and the beloveds of people I know, are getting sick. I had just heard the news of John Prine’s death, and then an anxious email popped up from someone I know, asking me to pray for his family because his father (who is an essential worker) came home yesterday with a fever. The dread is seeping in deeply. I was relieved to escape the real world into sleep for a little while.

I’m sorry. That’s a lot of heavy to place into this bowl of a space first thing in the morning. But it’s a big part of what I’ve got. So I stretch and breathe, stretch and breathe. I breathe in, and feel all the places where my body is touching a surface. I breathe out and straighten my spine. I breathe in and draw in the blue violet of those wild hyacinths. I breathe out and relax my shoulders. I breathe in and hold the taste and smell of the coffee that I am drinking. I breathe out and notice the quiet cat at the windowsill. In. Out. I can feel myself settling.

The dread is not gone. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. And maybe it will never go away. Likely it will mark and shape who I become for the rest of my life. And not all of that will be terrible. Some will contribute to my growth and completeness as a human. But right now? Right now, I breathe, and I notice. I find ways to live through the dread.

And this morning I have strange and wacky dreams to sort through. There was a part of the dream that was part real-life, part animation. A young man in a striped shirt was sneaking around, watching people, trying not to get caught. It wasn’t creepy or terrifying–more like an old-fashioned mystery. We chased him to an open field where dozens of blankets were lying about. He crawled under one, and by the time we got there and lifted the corner, he’d vanished.

And there was a baby bird who fluttered up to me with its beak open. I fed it tomatoes–they’re red like worms, right? It’s back was developing rich golden feathers through the baby fluff. Someone said it was a cuckoo.

And the strangest and most beautiful was the phrase. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with a song or a phrase in my head, often completely unrelated to anything. This morning’s phrase is “Thou camest to me in sadness. . .and what wilt thou do for joy?” Yes, my Sleep Angels seem to be speaking Elizabethan English. Despite the weirdness of the delivery, it seemed to be a pretty clear response to my expression of pain as I dropped into sleep. And I think of the dreams that I dreamed (there were others, which even now are fading), and I wonder if this is what I can do for joy today and in the coming days: I can let myself experience wonder and surprise. I can tend to those who need me to feed them whatever I have at hand. I can immerse myself in story. I can communicate with my beloveds.

It feels like an extension of a thing a friend wrote to me yesterday, when I asked her about her husband, who has a fever and a cough: “Holding grief and joy together is messy and weird.” That has to be one of the defining phrases of these days.

May we all find ways to bring joy into these days when grief and dread can feel all-encompassing. Listen to your dreams. Keep an eye out for blue, for gold, for the thousand shades of green. Hold each other close–in our hearts if not in our arms. And when it just seems like you cannot bear the dread, let someone know. Reach out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ground and center. There is no way out but through, and it will be easier if we walk it together.


Gratitude List:
1. The messages that come in dreams (even–or especially–if they’re speaking in Elizabethan English)
2. That patch of blue violet wild hyacinth at the base of the bird feeder stand, and the violet Gill-on-the-Grass that spreads from there to the Japanese maple
3. The chipping sparrow in the Japanese maple
4. The sounds of the morning house: cat eating second (or third, or fourth) breakfast, the constant flow of the water fountain (yes, also for cats), the little bits of conversation with Josiah, my own breathing. . .
5. The way a gratitude list becomes a grounding in-the-moment exercise. The dread has not lifted, but I am no longer living in the center of that cloud. I have sunk to a deeper place, where I can find more complexity (for now)–there is joy in the midst of sadness, no matter how messy and weird it is to hold all those pieces together.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. May we walk in Beauty!


“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk


“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” ―JRR Tolkien


“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” ―June Jordan


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein


“We are all the leaves of one tree.
We are all the waves of one sea.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh


“It is respectable to have no illusions―and safe―and profitable and dull.” ―Joseph Conrad


“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton


“After a War” by Chinua Achebe

After a war life catches
desperately at passing
hints of normalcy like
vines entwining a hollow
twig; its famished roots
close on rubble and every
piece of broken glass.
Irritations we used
to curse return to joyous
tables like prodigals home
from the city. . . . The meter man
serving my maiden bill brought
a friendly face to my circle
of sullen strangers and me
smiling gratefully
to the door.
After a war
we clutch at watery
scum pulsating on listless
eddies of our spent
deluge. . . . Convalescent
dancers rising too soon
to rejoin their circle dance
our powerless feet intent
as before but no longer
adept contrive only
half-remembered
eccentric steps.
After years
of pressing death
and dizzy last-hour reprieves
we’re glad to dump our fears
and our perilous gains together
in one shallow grave and flee
the same rueful way we came
straight home to haunted revelry.

(Christmas 1971)

Twelvenight: Harvesting Images

As I process the dreams I have been having, I have been making and gathering symbols of my psychic flotsam of the past week or so. A couple summers ago, we went to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I took a picture of a door handle that was a wing, and did some digital altering. This morning I happened upon it, and noticed that it resembles the black wings of the vultures in my dreams a couple nights ago:

And yesterday as I was bringing in the trash cans, I noticed a little pile of corn husks I had brought back from a walk weeks ago and left in a planter. I had intended to make a corn dolly. Yesterday, I picked them up and started to work, but suddenly what I saw in my head was a jester, a fool, rather than a pioneer woman. So this happened:

Neither corn dolly nor straw man, she is a corn jester, a jokester, a trickster.
Now I need to find some really good rainbow images. Oh! We did see faint sundogs yesterday afternoon! Rainbow spots.

Last night’s dream feels more like an anxiety dream than anything, but I don’t want to discount the images. I am sitting on a table in the middle of a church basement, leading a service or meeting of people gathered in a circle around me. I have to keep turning to face people in various parts of the circle. I am talking to a woman I keep calling Bibi (which means grandmother in Swahili), honoring her for the work she’s done, noting that she deserves the break that she is taking. A young man with a scruffy beard begins to pray, and I am sort of relieved because I wasn’t sure I could make the meeting go as long as it’s supposed to. But this man starts to ramble, making l-o-n-g pauses and using lots of Father-god and Lordy phrases, and I know that we’re all getting sort of uncomfortable with this almost militant gendering of the Holy One. Finally, the pastor, who is sitting next to the man, nudges him, and he sort of comes out of his prayer trance and sits up, and it’s over.

More hints at something to do with bringing patriarchal assumptions to light. I don’t know how that might be something new for the coming year. I am really tired of battling the patriarchy, tired of sidestepping them and ignoring them and waiting for them to finish. I want to jump back to wings and fools and rainbows. Hmm. Maybe instead of battling the patriarchy, I need to be the Fool to the crumbling system in the coming year.

Oh, and there’s the Bibi, the grandmother. Maybe it’s time to let the grandmothers rest and begin taking on the work they leave behind.

What are the images and messages you are receiving? What animals are crossing your path? What is catching your eye in these days of Time Out Of Time?


Gratitude List:
1. Eating and laughing with good friends.
2. Sundogs
3. Wings
4. Making things
5. Watching and Listening

May we walk in Beauty!

Twelvenight: Omens and Messages

Today, some notes on the dreamwork I do during Twelvenight. I just read Caitlyn Matthews’ blog post, “The Omen Days: The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the most thorough consideration of the folklore and legend of the intercalary days (December 26 to January 6) that I have been able to find in a long time. Twenty or so years ago, I had done some reading about this season in the medieval calendar and pieced together my own practice for this period of Time out of Time. I’ve lost my original sources, so it was a delight to find her writing.

The search for omens and divination for a coming year may feel superstitious and strange to you. I think of the dreams and images that roil in my head during these days as guiding archetypes and images for the coming year. The observation of my dreams and the search for images in waking life is, for me, like being a beachcomber carefully combing the sand for anything the ocean of my psyche may toss up. Pick up a pretty shell here, a pebble there, a piece of driftwood, an oddly-shaped something of no known origin. When I lay them out on a table and examine each, some of them seem to fit into groups and categories, while others get discarded. Some I can make immediate sense of, while others I carry with me for months, loving them for their inscrutability, hoping that they’ll offer me a connection at some later point in time.

These inner labyrinths we’ve been traversing and exploring in the quiet work of Advent are also vast and unknowable oceans, tossing up bits of flotsam for us to examine. It can happen in recurrent dream messages, where the little hard-working elf of my deep self sends pictures and stories to try to get my attention. We don’t speak the same language, the deep self elf and I–she communicates in images and oblique stories that my waking self must interpret.

The same process often happens in waking-life observations and meditations. Several days ago, I wrote about the Fool, the topsy-turvy tumbler who offers true wisdom to the wise ones, often in the form of riddles. In the days since, the archetype of Fool has caught fire in my imagination, recurring to me throughout the day. I keep finding more that I want to say about the Fool. Then I read the seven little books that my family bought for me from Hedgespoken Press. One, in particular, Twilight by Jay Griffiths, is a prose-poem essay, a thoughtful meandering through the deep symbolic qualities of twilight. One of his primary images is the Trickster, the Fool. My own deep-self elf began to do a little dance. If she could speak in words, she’d be yelling, “See? See? Do you see the connections?” Instead, a deep satisfaction, a nearly audible visceral click occurs somewhere in my inner spaces. I get it, deep in my gut.

And so, for me, I think this year may have me following the path of the Fool, searching for that click again. Because my brain loves intellectual work, part of my exploration will include searching through Shakespeare for fools and fools’ talk. Because of Lear’s Fool, I trust Shakespeare on this. I might have to do some collage work or painting or doodling of fools. And when I see a representation of the Fool or the Sacred Clown or the Trickster in the mundane world, I’ll recognize her and we’ll wink at each other.

In some of the circles I work and play with, we do careful dreamwork together, telling dreams and reflecting on their symbols. One of the things we try to do is to tell the dream in present tense. It can take some work to get into that groove, but the immediacy of the present-tense telling often draws forth images and colors and general weirdness that get ignored in a past-tense telling. All storytelling is a process of choosing which details to tell and which to ignore. We try not to censor out the odd and seemingly-insignificant details in our dream-tellings. Often those deep-self elves have a purpose in the sudden shifts, when your sister is now a sparrow or you step out of bed and find yourself walking on air. In dream-tellings, the truth is often in the weird. Then when others reflect on the dream, we are careful not to baldly interpret. We rarely say, “I think your dream means. . .” More often, it’s “That red dress really catches my attention. I wonder if you have any associations with red?” Dreamwork seems to proceed best when done dreamily. Interpretation is fluid and watery, not calcified. And no one is an expert. We all have skills at noticing.

As often happens in dreams, last night’s setting was in a big rambling building. Sometimes, even though the rooms and halls are unfamiliar, my dream-mind knows exactly here I am. For years, my building dreams were located in my grandmother’s house, though not in any rooms that existed in my waking reality. School dreams have frequently recurred, as have various hotels.

Last night’s dream is in a school. I’m in the library, talking to a couple of colleagues. We are discussing giving an extension on a big paper to a student who has been sick. Students are looking for books. Out of the window, in the long straight rows of orchard trees, a vulture keeps spreading its wings wide against the green of the leaves. I can see the individual feathers and how the light shines on them. At some point in the discussion, I find that I am holding a small figurine of the bird, and my colleague says, “Oh, that’s just a crow.”

As we are leaving, important visitors come into the library, mostly men in short-sleeved button-up shirts and ties, with pens in their pockets. They look like Mennonite men from the seventies. They enter the library in two straight lines. I smile politely and edge past them. They feel like history, like people from my childhood, and so I am kind of drawn to them, but wary as well. I don’t really want them to notice me.

Yesterday, it felt somehow wrong to end the storytelling about the horrors of the day with my dream of the night before. Only a fragment, really: I am walking sock-footed up wet stairs around the outside of a big old rambling house, carrying a folding chair because I want to sit on the roof and watch a rainbow.

So, my current collection of Twelvenight deep-self flotsam for now contains a Fool, shining black wings, and a rainbow. I think the patriarchy is walking through there somewhere, too, but I will wait and see what connections that one makes. Oh, and that solemn phrase from two days back: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.” This table of gathered flotsam is going to get pretty full in the next nine nights!

What about you? What has been roiling and boiling inside you in these last days and weeks? What does the dreaming season have to tell you?


Gratitude List:
1. I can feel the light returning.
2. While I’ve been grateful for deep sleep, last night’s troubled sleep offered me more memorable dreaming to work with.
3. The seven little books that my family bought me for Christmas from Hedgespoken Press. Seven Doors in an Unyielding Stone is the name of the series. I love the writers: Terri Windling, Rima Staines, Tom Hirons, Jay Griffiths and more. I love the feel of them in my hands. They’re little and thin. I love the design, the font, the paper choice. I have been mulling and muddling self-publishing some more of my poetry for several years now, and this design is so compelling and enchanting, I might let it inspire me to next steps with that work.
4. This lo-o-o-ong break. Do you know what it feels like to breathe deeply and satisfyingly after you’ve recovered from the panting of a long walk or run? That.
5. Messages from that deep-self elf: dreams, contemplations, messages, archetypes, images, flashes of color. Psychic flotsam. The poetry of the deep inner realms.
6. Bonus: There are now 1000 condors! I can distinctly remember when there were fewer that 25, and I think there were only 8 in the wild!

May we walk in Beauty!