Breathe. Ground. Prepare.

Sweet Shining and Shadowy Beloveds:
This morning, it’s hard to keep believing in justice, hard to keep the long view in mind, hard to hold a vision of a world in which people of courage make decisions for the good of all, with wisdom, humility, and honor.

Part of me longs to enumerate all the horrors and destructions of the past week, to see the hurts laid out like a cadaver, to identify each killing blow, each bruise, each scar.

But that would only serve to feed the rising panic that’s been gathering in my gut this week, and perhaps in yours, too. Those pieces will come later, in poems. But now it’s time to tend to ourselves, to shore up and take stock and plan our way forward.

Let’s fight this collective panic attack. If we’re left lost and quivering, we only feed their power. Oh yes, I’m lost this morning, and quivering, too, re-traumatized. Let’s acknowledge it, notice where it lodges in our bodies.

My muscles actually ache from all the tightness I’ve been holding in. My head is pounding and my brain is foggy.

Now, it’s time to push back the panic:
Breathe in.
Straighten your spine. Lower your shoulders.
Breathe out.
Roll your neck and shoulders.
Stretch and wriggle your spine until you feel yourself to be a line drawn between heaven and earth, a conduit of energy that flows through you.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Notice every place your body is touching a surface. Notice the sensations in your body.
My backside and thighs on the chair. One foot on the floor, one on a chair rail. This cozy jacket keeps me just warm enough. My tongue’s a little scalded from that first sip of coffee.

What do you hear?
The water in the cat’s drinking fountain, a small boy clicking his tongue, the creaking of an old house on a chilly morning.

What do you taste? (Grab a bite of something, or remember a favorite taste sensation.)
The bite of pepper and the creamy counterpart in the pepperjack cheese.

What do you smell?
Coffee, vanilla, springtime

Look around you. Find a color, a texture, a beautiful thing.
The shining scarlet drop of red on the head of that downy woodpecker. The sweet, soft salmon leaves of the Japanese maple, still clinging to the branches and twigs. So many winter goldfinches on the thistle bag!

Now, here we are in the doorway of a new season.
Today and tomorrow mark the beginning of Imbolc, the Season of Stirrings. New life is coming, cold snap or not. Sap will rise. Seeds will sprout. The Earth spins and whirls on in her dance through the cosmos.

One of the old names for today is Candlemas, when we acknowledge how the light has been within us all along, how much light we have to offer. Take stock of your candles. What is the small flame that you can offer the world in this moment? What is the fuel that you share?

Perhaps you are already doing it–tending daily to children or calling your senators, teaching teenagers to ask discerning questions or planting seeds for the crops that will feed your neighbors, healing bodies, gathering friends, listening. Today, this week, this month, do that work like a prayer, like a magic spell. Do it with intention, knowing that your work is changing the world, that what you do is fighting the forces of wanton destruction and power-mongering.

And maybe take up another thing this week. Make cranes for the Tsuru for Solidarity March, when Japanese Americans for social justice will be marching on Washington in early June to demand the closure of internment camps in the United States. Become an advocate for immigration reform. Send money or food to groups who are taking food to asylum-seekers forced to wait in inhumane conditions in Mexico. Express your support for Muslim people, and people from African and Asian countries which have been added to the US travel bans. Help people register to vote.

To combat the lies and obfuscations: Speak truth. Magically. Prayerfully.
To combat the normalized cruelty: Speak compassion and tenderness. Prayerfully. Magically.
To combat the power-mongering: Share your privilege. Offer the microphone, the stage, the moment. Do it prayerfully. Do it magically.
To combat the greed-mongering: Be generous. Give. Share. Do it magically and prayerfully.

Another ancient name for this day, this season, is Brigid, after the ancient goddess of the Celtic peoples, who offered her muse to poets, to metalworkers, and to healers. She later became syncretized with the beloved St. Brighid, and so this aspect of human understanding of the Divine was not lost. Water and flame and word are her tools, her symbols. Today, make a poem, or make art, or make a nourishing broth to honor the gifts the Holy One has given you to make and change and heal. Do it prayerfully, as an act of defiant hope in the face of lies and cruelty and greed.

And also, this is the Groundhog’s moment. Tomorrow is the day when we check on the burrowers and the underworld dwellers. What light do they see? What shadows? In Advent, we walked into our own shadows. On Epiphany, we celebrated our light. And now, as we feel the heavy weight of the week’s shadows like a physical burden upon our shoulders, we must acknowledge and greet our own shadows. How do they give us power? How do they sap our power? Can we work with them instead of against them? Can we find their deepest meanings?

We can’t know what the coming days will bring. Too many signs point toward historical repetitions that turn me to salt, to stone. I freeze. I feel small and insignificant. But I must remember, constantly: Nothing we do now–to fight the tides of hatred and cruelty, to stand between the powerful and the vulnerable, to create holiness and beauty and health–will be wasted, no matter what happens. Now, perhaps more than ever, every act of hope and healing and love matters.

And:

We are not alone. You are not alone. Reach out. Take hands. Build the webs. Ask for help, and be the helper.

Let’s situate ourselves so that we are always ready–strong enough, centered enough, grounded enough–to step up and do the work of love and compassion and justice, to stand up, to stand between, to risk, to raise our voices, to be the fierce and defiant hope for the future we want to create.

Resilience and Resistance

Friends I met on my walk yesterday:
1. Crow. Crow reminds me to get the wide perspective, to take on the adventure that any wind offers, to speak my mind. Crows don’t take heed for nothing.
2. Dogbane. Dogbane reminds me to be resourceful, to take note of the helpers who are always present, and to spin: cord, stories, prayers. . .
3. Deer. She ran across Schmuck Road, causing an SUV to brake. She reminds me to pause. She reminds me to love myself unconditionally, to live from the heart, to listen.
4. Monarch. He reminds me of resilience, how fragility and strength are not mutually exclusive. He reminds me to always look for beauty in everything.
5. Scarlet Pimpernel. A tiny five-petaled scarlet flower found in the grasses. When I was in college, I watched the old black and white movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, about a French dandy who uses disguises to rescue aristocrats condemned to the guillotine. What I took away from the movie is the importance of resisting the machines vengeance and death-dealing. Be surprising. Pop up wherever you’re needed.

What messages is the world sending your way?

Questioning the Wolf

Little Red
I am a big fan of reinterpreting the wolf, of finding new ways to look at fairy tales. I think that’s one of the great beauties of fairy tales: like dream images, they can hold so many meanings, so many messages. I need my wolf today to be as big and scary as the messages from last night’s dream. I need Little Red to be little and solid as she confronts the creature. (This image is all over the internet, but I cannot seem to find the author’s name, or I would gladly give credit. I would like to see more work by this artist.)

In recent years, my most difficult dreams have been those disturbing anxiety dreams where I can’t find my classroom or I am totally unprepared or I can’t find clothes that fit. It’s been years since I had one of those dreams that wakes you up, paralyzed and sweating, unable to move anything but your eyeballs, months since I have had one of the ones that leave me with disturbing, haunting images that I can’t get out of the back of my head.  This morning, I woke up with an adrenaline shot and a searing image from one of those.

Isn’t that the funny thing about dreams? The lovely ones, the weird ones, the ones that feel like they have thoughtful messages–those I need to capture and hold onto with pen and paper the second I open my eyes, or they’re gone like frost crystals in the morning sun, dissipated like a mist. But the ones that pierce and hurt, the images that haunt and ache, that tell you the stories of your deepest, most panicky fears–those live on like a bad smell, like a poison ivy rash.

I know last night’s dream had messages for me. I used every technique I could think of to erase the image, and it isn’t holding such power over me as it did in the panicky moment of waking, though it’s still there, lurking. Now is the time to look back at it from this slightly safer distance and ask it what it wants to tell me. I am Little Red Riding Hood talking to the Wolf, Vassilissa in the house of Baba Yaga.

Gratitude List:
1. The gentle and fierce ones, the compassionate and powerful ones, the wise ones–so many people I know who work directly with people and communities who have experienced trauma, to explore and understand it, to help people seek for their inner resilience and to heal. These people I know, they work in education–both in the US and internationally, they develop social services to break cycles of trauma across generations, they make songs and music, they write poems, they tell their stories and the stories of others, they listen.  How they listen! And they ask questions. They hold a big, big bowl. You probably know some of these people, too. Let’s stand around them and help them hold the bowl of stories that they carry.
2. History. How we live into it today, wear it like a scarf over the clothes of this moment. Not just our own personal history, but deep history, the history of our ancestors, our nations, our idealistic and philosophical and spiritual pathways.
3. The Sermon on the Mount. That’s revolutionary stuff. I keep coming back to it, seeing it with fresh eyes. One of my favorite poems. One of my favorite spiritual growth essays. One of my favorite revolutionary treatises. It’s all in there.
4. Butterflies! Everywhere. They’re just everywhere. Monarchs flit along the highways and down the River. The swallowtails drift across the hollow all day long. I wish I could see a residual image of their pathways. I bet they’ve flown an intricate dreamcatcher across our life here, a web. (Perhaps it was that dream catcher that caught this morning’s fearsome nightmare before it could settle too deeply.)
5. Cooler days are coming.  Which is a thinly veiled complaint about the current heat. It bothers me so much more than it used to. So I will live with the happy thought of cool autumn days and chilly nights with a warm quilt.

May we walk in Beauty, ever ancient, ever new.