Stories Will Save Us

“Don’t build walls around your passions. Don’t be a gatekeeper to enthusiasm. Don’t scorn the uninitiated or treasure exclusivity. Instead, cultivate your loves into a vast forest. Build many paths there and, when you encounter a stranger beneath the trees, greet her as a friend.” —Jared Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist


I live on Earth at present,
and I don’t know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing—a noun.
I seem to be a verb,
an evolutionary process—
an integral function of the universe.”
—R. Buckminster Fuller


Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” ―David Bowie


“A good half of the art of living is resilience.” ―Alain de Botton


“Everyone needs a practice which polishes them, to wear away at the obscuring mindstuff which settles like debris on one’s way of seeing. In our hearts, we know there is meaning to it all, an ordering nature to the chaos, but like a dream which slips away into forgetting, we have to practice at coming into its coherency. Without such a practice, we fall prey to the belief that the toxic fog of consensus culture is the real reality. When in fact, it is only the ‘not-beauty’ behind which beauty is hiding.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa

Breath Lifts Spirit

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
She takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin
and rimmed with castanets of brass,
and she begins to dance.
The sound blares out wildly,
reaching even to the depths of the underworld,
so loud, so clamorous is it.

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
She finds the wildness in herself,
and as she does,
she finds that there is joy there too.
–Patricia Monaghan (attr. to Euripides)


Gratitude List:
1. One young snow goose in the flock of a thousand Canadas across the road from my parents’ house yesterday.
2. Anticipation: I have an education conference coming up at the end of the week, and I always look forward to the feeling of a little retreat. All the mundane tasks are taken care of. I get my own little room with my own little bed. I love getting to talk to colleagues and others, but also having time completely to myself.
3. Stories that inspire and heal
4. How breath lifts spirit
5. All the people who are working for justice.

May we walk in Beauty!

Wear Gratitude Like a Cloak

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” —Rumi
Like big sweaters and soft scarves on a chilly fall morning, I am finding a return to a regular practice of gratitude to be fortifying against internal chills.

Gratitude List:
1. One small boy submitted a cello piece he wrote, to the York Symphony Orchestra Song Writing Contest for students. He received a call from the director yesterday that he won an honorable mention. I’m so happy that his hard work received some recognition.
2. Stories. Grit. Resilience. Resolve.
3. The small sounds of morning. The little water fountain, a boy shuffling through pages in the next room. Small cat squeaks and mews of greeting.
4. Advocates.
5. A warm robe and slippers.

May we walk in Beauty!

Catch and Release

Brewer’s Poetic Asides Prompt today is Catch and Release.

Catch and Release

These idea-fish that swirl and swish
through the watery-airy stratum
above my frantic brain, how they
beg my attention, how they flip
their fringed and flowing tails,
how they sparkle in the sunlight.

I would catch them all and keep them,
dance with them in schooled formation,
watch them flow from my pen, from my
fingers, onto the pages, into the flow
of words, of sentences, of stories.

But the rushing streams of my living
have space and time for only a few,
a blue one here, three golden koi,
and a catfish with a mouth as wide
as the world. And then I must swim
with the currents for all I am worth,
hoping my chosen companions
will keep pace with me, while I find
us a quiet pool where we can settle
into the rhythm of the tales they bring.

So many I have had to release
back to the pools of time, hoping
that someone, somewhere else,
will find them, will see their beauty,
will set them flowing onto a page.

Into the Dark, December 14

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Yesterday was St. Lucia’s Day. I usually try to bring in holidays and celebrations from around the world in the first few moments of the class. By the end of the day, I was a little tired of repeating the story of her martyrdom–Diocletian had her eyes gouged out before she was killed. She has come to represent inner light, inner seeing. The tradition of wearing a wreath with lit candles represents that fact of life: that we have many forms of light, many ways to see. Even the St. Lucia buns that people eat on December 13, with the raisins swirled into the ends, represent eyes.

Yesterday I was preoccupied with a certain kind of seeing, of keeping my inner eyes on the beloved one who was in the hands of competent doctors. Prayer is a form of seeing, of watching, observing. Today’s word will be Seeing with a capital S: that watchfulness of what is happening inside, of keeping our beloveds and our world in that prayerful inner focus.


Gratitude List:
1. The sure hands of doctors. Medical technology. All went well in the surgery yesterday.
2. Painting with my small person
3. Eyes to see, and inner eyes to See
4. Fridays
5. Stories and ideas that percolate through the layers of dream

May we walk in Beauty!


“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser 
***
“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
—Alan Alda
***
“And love is always the bottom line.” -—Cynthia Bourgeault

Honest Anger


Gratitude List:
1. Grocery Shopping with Jon. It felt sort of like a date.
2. How things come together sometimes when they seem like they won’t, and how that space of uncertainty is often where the magic comes seeping in.
3. Rituals of healing
4. The power of stories. We watched Nanette last night. Hannah Gadsby has some of the most powerful reflections on the importance of story that I have ever heard.
5. Hot Tea on a chilly evening

May we walk in Beauty!

An Old, Old Story

gator

About a week ago, I had an extremely unsettling dream, which is not uncommon during stressful times and times of seasonal change. I wrote about it the following morning:

In the dream, we decide that our car is amphibious, so we drive it through the pond. Surprisingly, it works, and only starts to sputter when we get to the other side. On the way, we see a phainopepla, a shining blue bird with a little red on its crest. It’s sitting on the water in a short of moon shape, break in the air. It’s very thin. As we approach the other side of the pond, we see an alligator in the shallows! This is exciting!

We start to climb the hill on the other side and the alligator follows us. The hill is steep and rocky and the alligator is FAST. We’re not really worried. Ellis sort of jumps down toward the alligator to see which way it will take. Ellis is on a sort of a sled. Suddenly the alligator leaps up and catches Ellis and they zoom down into a rocky hole.

Just like that, they’re gone. I can’t believe it. I try to rewind the dream. I try to make a different thing happen. I try to make him come shooting out of a hole at the base of the hill, but my dream won’t let me take over. He’s just gone. I throw rocks into the hole to try to kill the alligator so it can’t hurt Ellis, but then I realize that the rocks will hurt Ellis. We cannot find him. He’s just gone.

I’m weeping in my dream. People want to talk to me, to comfort me, but I won’t look at them. I keep trying to rewind, to go back, to make it be different, to hold him, to warn him, to know the danger before it happens, but nothing works. As a last resort, I wake myself up, and lie there waiting for the dawn.

Friends offered so much wisdom. My son is growing up. At every single stage of his development, my pride in his developing independence has wrestled with my anxiety about letting him go. This has some obvious connections in the story.

Another friend simply wrote to me, “Demeter. This is the time Persephone descends.” This hit me like an arrow. The thing that rode on my back all day after the dream was the sense of un-comfort-able grief. I refused to be comforted. I felt like I was living in Demeter’s heart.

Grateful that I can feel myself so connected to the goddess of the season, and grateful that I have images for my anxiety about my own child growing up, I began to look at other layers. In the days before my dream, we had first begun to hear of allegations of sexual assault against a man running for one of the most ethically-based jobs in our country, an assault that occurred when they were both teenagers. In my daytime world, as a teacher in a high school, I have hundreds of daughters: young women who are wide awake and speaking their minds; young women who are sleeping, unaware, lulled by cultural signals about who they “should” be; young women who are actively trying to stay in the relative “safety” of their cages; young women who are dawning, awakening, bursting forth. I cannot protect them all.

And this story we are living in the US today, it’s as ancient as the oldest myths and stories, isn’t it? You know the story? In brief, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnaps and rapes Persephone, the teenaged daughter of Demeter, goddess of cereal grains and fields and farms and the earth’s abundance. Demeter cannot be comforted. She is distraught. She wanders the world in her anguish, seeking her daughter, but her daughter cannot be found. Finally she approaches Zeus, god of the sky, leader of the Olympians, to ask for justice for her daughter. But Hades is Zeus’ brother, and Zeus is hesitant to upset his brother. Finally, he acquiesces, but only after Demeter refuses to make things grow, and the people start to die. Unfortunately, because Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she must stay with Hades for half of every year, and can only rise to the upper world with her mother for half of each year.

Here is how it happens: A man who lives according to his shadows, according to the instinct of his reptilian brain, attacks a young woman. He has taken something essential of her Self captive, claimed it as his own. She may walk again in the sunlight, but part of her will always reside in the halls of shadow. Her mother (the women) wander the world in grief and rage, demanding justice, but the one to whom they can go for justice in a patriarchy is a brother to the attacker, and he’s more interested in preserving his power and his relationship to his brother than in meting out real justice for the woman. Hades continues as a powerful god. Demeter grieves and rages in her cycles. Persephone continues to be held captive by her memories and the trauma that now resides in her body.

Are we strong enough to break the cycle?

The Stories

Gratitude List:
1. Paint on canvas
2. The power of words
3. Where dreams take us
4. Rain
5. Summer schedules

May we walk in Beauty!


“You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.”
—Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
***
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson
***
“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla
***
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 10, 2016)
***
“Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.” —Leonard Cohen
***
“I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.” —Jimmy Carter
***
Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:
I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…

As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.


This is second-draft version of something I wrote at the Writers’ Retreat this past weekend:

It was dark, dark midnight, see. No moon, and clouds between us and the stars, and we’d given everything up for dead.

What else could we do? How could we not? With all that came before, and all we knew was certain to come after.

And the sky was just filled up with midnight, and our hearts were filled up with sky, because we could no longer bear to house that awful stench of despair within us.

And so we danced.

What else could we do? How could we not? Someone started humming there in the cold starless dark, not to fill up the space with sound, you see, because the space was filled, already filled with the indigo darkness of midnight, and with the sense of each other.

And so someone started humming, tunelessly almost, and someone else took it up, almost like a harmony. Another one began to tap a rhythm just like a baby’s heartbeat or the beating of a butterfly’s wings, and then, all around, there were rustling in the darkness, people swaying, shifting, standing up.

Feet took the rhythm, and hands and fingers clapped and snapped, and the humming broke into song. No one now can remember the words we sang, be we all knew they were a prayer. To the Great Mystery that surrounded us, or to some smaller goddess or god, or to the Truest, Best Thing within ourselves perhaps.  All One Thing, that, I suppose.

We felt each other in the the midnight as we sang, as we danced, and the feeling was like seeing, and the seeing was a dance itself. And we whirled on that lost and desolate plain in that place of utter midnight.

And when we had sung and danced and whirled and thundered there, we lay upon the ground, in jumbles and heaps, upon the green, green grass (we knew in our Seeing hearts that it was green) and we breathed the holy darkness around us. What else could we do? How could we not?

And we ourselves were the stars and the moon and the sun. And it was good.

And it was the end.
And it was the beginning.
Holyholyholyhallelujah.

When You Flew

   

   

Gratitude List:
1. Chicory everywhere! Bluer as sky, blue as Mary’s robe, blue as my beloved’s eye. Joy on the roadside.
2. Cucumber rounds with cream cheese. Perfect. Just perfect.
3. Dragonflies
4. Novels. Stories. Narrative. They teach me who I am.
5. Biscuits and gravy.

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for Wednesday:

“While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.” ―Brennan Manning
***
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” —Frida Kahlo
***
Rob Brezsny ft. Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
“Devote yourself to your heart’s desire with unflagging shrewdness. Make it your top priority. Let no lesser wishes distract you. But consider this, too. You may sabotage even your worthiest yearning if you’re maniacal in your pursuit of it.

Bear in mind the attitude described by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves”: “All that you are seeking is also seeking you. If you sit still, it will find you. It has been waiting for you a long time.”

Speculate on what exactly that would look like in your own life. Describe how your heart’s desire has been waiting for you, seeking you.”
***
“Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.”
―Robert Hass, Field Guide
***
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ―Albert Einstein
***
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ―Terry Pratchett
***
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes.”
―Walt Whitman
***
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

Persephone Rises


Quotes for the Day:
“To survive, you must tell stories.” ―Umberto Eco
***
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
―Henri J.M. Nouwen
***
“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?” ―Wendell Berry
***
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” ―Walt Whitman


Gratitude List:
1. The greening. Fields and lawns and grassy patches everywhere. Persephone rises.
2. The sap is rising. You can see the life force in the trees, pushing color and light into the limbs. Persephone rises.
3. Aconite and crocus. Persephone rises.
4. The young ones are rising, speaking their voices, leading the way.
5. We saw a great horned owl today. Harried by crows, it flew into the tops of the poplars on the hill above the pond. It waited where couldn’t see it for quite a while, until the crows got bored and flew off. Then it took wing back to the trees up the the hill.

May we walk in Beauty!