Advent 7: There Lives in Me

When I taught at a Waldorf School, we taught a little poem to the children:
There live in me an image
of all that I could be.
Until I have become it,
my heart is never free.

For some reason, as I try to recall it, my mind always substitutes “shadow” for “image.” It’s like something tickling at the back of my brain is trying to remind me that I am not only what can be seen on the surface, but that there’s something else there, too, some deeper me that needs to be recognized and integrated before I am truly whole and free.

Several years ago, I wrote a poem on the subject:

Shadow
I will be Crow.
Stone Steps to the Lady Shrine.
Spider’s tidy strands.
Moss. Pine cone.
Lichen. White stone.

Lady, what have you to say to me?

There lives in me a shadow. . .
Water trickling in the grotto.
Bark of the Sycamore Tree.
Crow. Willow.
Acorn. Sparrow.

What have you to say?

An image of all that I could be.
Ladybug on Her child’s chubby knee.
Spider in the fold of Her robe.
Green leaf. Cool breeze.
Whisper. Oak trees.

Become the Shadow.

I am the Crow and the Spider.
Scent of new boxwood.
The whisk-footed Squirrel.
Egg sac. Chickweed.
Web. Speedwell.

Breathe.

(From Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird by Elizabeth Weaver-Kreider, Skunk Holler Poetryworks, 2013.)

When I look into my own shadows, they’re composed of as many subtle colors and hues as the ones that intersect across my living room floor in the mornings. Some are indeed frightening and uncomfortable, because they are unknown, because they hold the secrets of my unresolved and unacknowledged self. Others hold a thrill, because they hide the daring and adventurous and wild side of me, because they harbor the self hinted at in my dreams. They whisper to me, ask me to take up the work they have.

The various personality and temperament studies I have done often point toward shadow work, to exploring those unexplored regions inside. I have found the Enneagram to be particularly helpful in this work. In the Enneagram, I am a pretty standard Seven, an Enthusiast. I call it Hedonist, to remind myself of the shadow possibilities. The Enthusiast wants to enjoy life to the fullest. What choose one option when five will do? We tend to overschedule ourselves, to take on more than we can handle, to eat too much and drink too much. We have a thousand unfinished projects because we want to try everything. We can be enjoyable companions because we like to pile on the fun. Some of the shadows that dog me are hoarding and gluttony and pain avoidance. There isn’t time or attention span enough to handle all the projects and ideas and things that I want to take on. And I get so excited about the next new thing that I avoid the actual work of other things I have committed myself to. In this case, working with my shadows means knowing this pitfalls, working with the anxiety that comes with saying no to the next new and exciting thing that comes along, learning to discipline myself to do the next thing that might bring work or pain.

And there are shadowselves that call me to integrate my the wilder, fiercer, more daring part of me into my everyday self. The shadows call: “Don’t let yourself be tamed! Don’t become domesticated! Don’t settle into safety and predictability. Don’t settle for the status quo.” It’s these shadowselves that raise their heads when everyday systems of oppression and injustice, patterns that everyone seems to accept, make us raise our heads and look around and start to ask questions. In order to live in a world that actively creates unjust systems, parts of ourselves slide into the shadows in order to function with minimal pain and less of the jarring sense of contradiction. Change in the world comes about when we let these sleeping shadows wake up and live within us.

Here, on the eighth day of our journey into the shadows of the December labyrinth, let’s walk into those rooms where our shadows wait, and examine their colors and shapes and textures. What might they have to teach us? This afternoon, I must tackle some things I have been avoiding, and set up a plan for myself to focus instead of fluttering from bright and shiny thing to bright and shiny thing.

What goal will you set for yourself? Maybe your natural state is to try to control all the details, and today you will let go of control? Maybe you’re dogged by particular shadow anxieties, and today is the day to look at them more closely, perhaps in the company of a beloved who can help you? Perhaps today is the day to wake up some sleepy shadows and start to make a plan to break the chains in an oppressive system that profits from your sleepiness?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

I think of the people of Landisville Mennonite Church and others who work with them to be companions to refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants who have been detained in York County Prison. These people are holding a vision of a welcoming community that helps people find their way in a new place. A group of people has come out of this work to raise money to pay the bonds for immigrants in the York detention center. Their website is IBAEPA.org, The Immigration Bond and Advocacy effort, if you would like to participate in their making their vision a reality.

Advent 7: Approach with Curiosity

This is a picture of my cat Erebus through the window between our kitchen and the breezeway. Behind him are some of the houses of Legoland, but my own reflection is caught within the shadow of him, and behind me is the reflection of the window to the outside.

One of the dangers for me in this season is numbness. There is so much to do; there are so many details to keep track of, so many people with needs to respond to. Compounding this, the cold and the closing darkness make me draw inward, pulling inside myself. It can be easy to forget to feel, to live in a survival mindset, moving from task to task with an automatic and robotic air, just trying to hold on and make it through.

It helps to be conscious and deliberate in my response to the pull toward hibernation, not denying the desire, offering myself small oases of hibernation in the context of the busy life I must continue to lead. Stop and breathe. Stop and read a poem. Stop and draw a picture. Stop and smile at someone. I need to change the pace, stepping at the rhythm my body and psyche demand rather than the rush and bustle that the frantically commercial outside world demands.

It also helps, here in this winter labyrinth, to hone and practice curiosity, letting the mind out to play, opening the heart more fully to wonder and delight. Look up from the relentless task list in front of you, and let your gaze wander over the world outside the momentary ruts. Notice the colors and textures. Take an interest. Be curious. It helps to combat the dullness.

I have developed an obsession with taking photos of reflections, and reflections of reflections. In the picture above, I am caught in the reflection of a picture of my cat through a window. His name is Erebus, which is the personification of darkness and shadow in ancient Greek cosmology. Even the shadows have a wonderful variety of shade and hue. Shadows and reflections of shadows are doorways, places where worlds meet, tangible and intangible places of possibility.

How will you be changed if you decide to walk through one of those doorways?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This week, I have come across several articles about Rain Dove, a model who responds to critics and detractors with what one writer called ‘relentless kindness.” Rain Dove is non-binary, and receives quite a lot of hateful responses to their social media posts about their own life. A recent incident in which an angry parent posted an angry and blaming note to Rain Dove about their influence on the parent’s child turned into an honest conversation about being present for a child who needs tender-hearted adults. Rain Dove began with humor to diffuse the anger, then probed gently and non-judgmentally to find out the root of the parent’s anxiety. Then they asserted repeatedly that it seems obvious that the parent must really love and care for the child and want what’s best. I want to be like Rain Dove, practicing a vision of a world in which we approach each other with relentless kindness.

Combustible Child

I was a little obsessed yesterday with the way the sun shone through the wine and water glasses.

In the dream, there is a combustible child, who is likely at any moment to burst into flame: hair, chest, shins on fire. I am the child, running to escape a mob of children. Their fear and their curiosity and their rage torment me. I just want to be alone, so I can burn in peace. I burn, but I am not harmed. But my fire can burn the buildings of the town, and the trees.

Also I am a child in the mob. I run with the others, trying to catch the combustible child. I want to protect him. I know that some of the others mean to kill him, and I want to be the first to find him, to warn him, to help him. But he is always ahead of us.

We are in the labyrinthine passages beneath an old mill building. I am the child, running and hiding, afraid the light of my burning will show the children where I am. I am also seeking the child, fearful that he will hurt himself, or burn the building down, but mostly that the other children will hurt him.

I have found a way to the roof of the old mill. The others are still mostly down in the underground passages. The building is wood, but it is not burning beneath me, although other buildings have burned in the past. Down below, I am a child in the mob; I hear two children talking. They have discovered one of the secrets of the combustible child: “I think he was the one we thought had drowned there in the lake. Remember?” I have to find the combustible child and warn him.

(I welcome comments and thoughts about my dreams. I don’t feel comfortable with the “Your dream means” sort of interpretations, but speculative and conjectural comments and questions are better for helping me to think through what might be going on.)


Gratitude List:
1. How tears sometimes bless the receiver of tears. Sharing emotion, like sharing bread.
2. Laughing with loved ones
3. Pumpkin coconut pie, venison pie, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake pie
4. Sweet soft cat. I’m a little grumpy because Thor was chasing Sachs all around the house, thumpily and hissily. I could not get him to stop. I came downstairs to the recliner, hoping it would distract him, and I could get back to sleep. No. I held him and gave him a lecture about chasing kitties. No. Every time I settled down to sleep, he was off and thundering. The minute I turned on the light and picked up the laptop, he jumped up beside me, rolled onto his back, and fell into a deep sleep. Sigh. And am I grouchy? No, I just love this soft warm breathing presence beside me. I’ll nap later.
5. Belonging. I don’t always feel like I belong, or like I understand the unwritten rules of certain groups, even though I think I am a pretty good observer of human nature. So when I am in a group whose rules accept everyone’s awkwardness and oddness unconditionally, which loves each one not in spite of our oddities, but because of them, then I feel safe. Then I feel belonging. I am especially grateful to those of you who know how to extend unconditional welcome in ways that make everyone believe they belong.

May we walk in Beauty!

Reflected Light and The Road to Faerie

Cherry Lane: In the Eastern Orchard, Cherry and Pear and Wild Rose

Gratitude List:
1. Red berries and autumn leaves and morning mist. And afternoon walks through the fields and orchards.
2. A day off. It’s a working day, but one I can take at my own pace. (Last night was really rough with gastro-intestinal issues, so I am especially grateful that I don’t have to go anywhere today. And I feel much better this morning.)
3. Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span and their fierce and folksy ilk–my soundtrack for today.
4. Reflected light.
5. You, my beautiful beloveds. How the right word always seems to come at the right moment. Sometimes I need to stew and fret and grumble for a while within the maze of my own troubles, but when it gets hard to breathe there always seems to be a thread in this amazing tapestry that I can grasp onto. May our webs and weavings grow ever outward to hold all within our reach.

May we walk in Beauty!

Mirrors and Reflections

One of my recent obsessions is taking photographs of light reflected in windows, so that it falls on the landscape outside, or seems to hover between realities, like a doorway or window between worlds. Mirrors, reflections, shadows: light and shadow create images that show us another version of reality, enable us to see things from a different perspective.

At the beginning of the year, instead of choosing a single word for my meditations throughout the year, I felt a nudging on Epiphany day just to keep the three that had risen to the top of my list: Bird, Bridge, Boundary. They’ve been weaving and reweaving themselves through my contemplations in the past month. And a week later, I felt the compulsion to add a fourth: mirror.

The season of Brigid calls us to consider mirrors and reflections and shadows, those otherworldly, deeper layers that offer us images of who we really are in the world. Look. Then look deeper. See, then See again. Open your eyes, and then open your eyes, and then open your eyes. The Groundhog takes on a priestly role, reminding us to examine what reflections we are making in the world, what shape is the shadow that we cast behind and around us.

Two nights ago, I dreamed about going on an adventure with one of my beloveds. I wrote and told her of the dream the next morning. During our conversation, she offered me the gift of mirroring, of showing me the shape she sees me casting into the world. It was a different image than my own perceptions offered me, and gentler. My own sense of inadequacy, my fierce judgement of myself, has cast another layer of shadow into my own perceptions, and made me see myself with too critical an eye. It took the gaze of a friend, the tending perception of another, to shift the view for me.

Light is funny that way. Send it through water, and the image is distorted, shifted slightly. The kingfisher knows this, and automatically corrects for refraction, aiming straight for the minnows despite the tricks of the light. I’ve let myself be seduced by the critical angle of the light, viewing myself with a distorted lens. It helps to have a beloved willing to gently mirror a different perception back to me. My contemplative lens will be clearer now, and perhaps my work will blossom as I view it through another’s eyes.

I’m intentionally mixing the images here: mirror, light, shadow, image, refraction, reflection. Their meanings are like different layers of light viewed in the reflections on a window, each with its own truth to offer, but all part of the layered image.

May your reflections in this season bring you insight into your truest self.
May your beloveds be tender mirrors to guide you to images which help you blossom.
May your inner gaze be kind, offering yourself space to grow and change.

Postscript: This image of the back pages of my grandmother’s copy of The Mennonite Community Cookbook is also a reflection of sorts, a mirror that shows me my reflection in the past, in my own ancestors, or perhaps their reflection/refraction into the image of me. When I am searching for a recipe, fanning the pages with my thumb, there’s a moment when I feel this little arc in the paper, this spot worn away by the years of my grandmother’s own thumb flipping the pages of her cookbook, and I can almost feel her reflected into the moment, into me.

Into the Dark, December 2

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am fascinated by the light reflected in the windows on these just-past-dawn winter mornings. I keep taking photos, trying to look through the reflections back into my world, but an altered version of my world. I am Alice gazing into the looking glass. I am Lucy looking into Narnia. There is a world of possibility out there, but also back in here. The images draw me outward and inward at the same time. There is magic at the very center of our lives. Alice and Lucy and their authors knew it: We are standing in the shining door or window or mirror or lamp post between worlds, you and I. The same vast worlds of possibility that reach outward also reach inward, and sometimes we approach them on the same pathways of light and shadow.

So today’s word is Reflection. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve chosen that word for contemplating our place in the world. We need the mirror or the glass, the light and shadow, the eyes to see the deeper layers.

Here is a poem on light by John O’Donohue. If you like it, you might consider buying yourself a copy of his To Bless the Space Between Us.

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

Gratitude List:
1. Sweet Habanero sauce on scrambled eggs.
2. Taking the world a step at a time
3. Creative projects. I need to draw and crochet and knit and take pictures right now. Zentangles, especially, are helping me to meditate and keep my heart open right now.
4. Hot showers and how they wake you up.
5. Yoga. Balancing. Stretching.

May we walk in Beauty!

Seeking Solitude

DSCN8116
In a couple hours, I will be heading up to the Jesuit Center for three days of solitude.  I will not write on the blog until I return.

Gratitude List:
1. Wandering and pondering
2. Solitude and silence
3. Memory and dream
4. Reflection and contemplation
5. Re-imagining

May we walk in Beauty!

Where Do I Draw the Line?

I had intended to make this playful and fun, but a heaviness overtook me as I began to reflect.  Perhaps I’ll try the silly side of this another day.

That lying line,
that lion,
that roars and rumbles rudely.

Color inside it or outside,
where shall we draw it?

When does the sweet secret
turn sourly to self-deception,
the slow slide of truth
across that watery line to lie?

This, says the heart, is mine,
this private line,
this inner realm I rule.
It is my right.

Indeed.  And yet,
integrity bleeds outward
from secret worlds,
the safest closets
and deep-down caves.

When does my secret cease
to protect us in its quiet case?
When does it enter that twisted space,
the reflection that belies reality?

Oh, give the heart its privacy
within indigo shadows,
but don’t mistake reflection
for the truth.

 

Prompt

Tomorrow’s poem, courtesy of my friend Brad Lehman, is to write a poem of phone prompts.  (I think he originally suggested that I translate them into or out of Spanish.  Um.  No.)  Something about the experience (frustration?) of finding your way through phone recordings.  Join me?  Press one for the poem of the day.  Beep.

 

Gratitude List:

1.  Getting the white shower curtain white again
2.  Cantaloupe smoothies
3.  Folk tales
4.  Hands to hold in the darkness
5.  Beeswax crayons

May we walk in beauty.

2013 January 005