Advent 11: Letting Go

In the story of Inanna descending the labyrinth to see her sister Ereshkigal, she had to leave some outward emblem of her power at the gates at each turning. The symbols that represented her identity as the Queen of Heaven were stripped away from her, one by one.

What are the images of your identity that you cling to? What “clothing” hides the true and essential you?

In the daytime summer worlds, certain aspects of my self serve me and help me to do the work I am meant to do. But here in the darkness, on the way to meet with my shadow-twin, all the trappings of my personal power and identity only get in the way of the deep recognition of self, shadow and all.

Right now, I am trying hard to live with the picture that I have everything under control. While there’s a certain truth and effectiveness to faking it until I manage to get back in control of things, I think that holding on to this image of myself is actually hindering the work. I am desperately behind on the grading, more than is comfortable for me or for my students. Every day, every evening, there’s something that pulls me away, takes energy and time that I need to get my work done. Still, I pretend to myself that I’ve got this under control. I think it’s time to relinquish that emblem of my sense of personal power, admit that I don’t have everything under control, and make a plan that will help me to catch up. Here, in the dark of the eleventh day, I lay down that piece of myself.

I cannot meet my shadow self and understand her, truly, until I can look honestly at my daytime self. I have no stone to lay at this turning, as I do when I walk a labyrinth in real time. Here is a long, sighing outward breath to symbolize my relinquishing of this inner belief that I am in control of things.

(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.

Today, I think of the people of Le Chambon, France, who resisted the Vichy attempts arrest Jewish people by hiding people in their homes. As a village, a town, a region, they did what was right, not because they wanted to be heroes, but simply because it was right. They held a vision of what is the right thing to do–quiet, dedicated harboring of people in danger for their lives–and in doing so, actively resisted the violence of the political machine in which they lived.

Enter the Portal

Two crow feathers in one week. The world is full of messages, if we know how to look,
if we know how to read the text of the landscape.

Gratitude List:
1. Teaching the spectrum. I have begun teaching college-in-the-high-school courses this year, and I am loving the conversation, the determination, the bright-eyed desire to LEARN of these soon-to-fledge upperclassfolk. I also have much younger students just coming in as ninth graders, both the 101s, and the students coming into my Foundations class to get some more literacy skill-building to prepare them to succeed in high school. This latter group tends to be more shy, more uncertain about school, but they’re ready and shiny-eyed in their own way, and eager to learn. I saw stirrings of deep understanding in this group on Tuesday when I showed them Kendi Ibram’s speech about what it means to be an intellectual. My heart is full.
2. Monarchs. Every day on the drive to and from school, I can count 3-5, and sometimes more, flitting across the road or in the roadside wildflower buffet. Sun in their wings, dancing in the breezes, determined wings setting a course for the beach. My heart is full.
3. Joe the Duck and the Cat Clan. Now that school has started, we pick up ED every morning and drive down the road where Joe the Duck lives, and where a colony of half-feral cats lives. We pause at Joe’s personal paddle pool to say hello, and drive slowly through the territory of the cat colony. There are new kittens: black, ginger-and-white, and a greyish-tortoise-shell. My heart is full.
4. Learning New Messages. “I am an organized person.” Ellis and I are reminding each other of our Organized Person identities, and I’m at least beginning to override the old story I habitually told myself about being unable to remain organized. And I see him doing the same. My heart is full.
5. My children are excited about school. Ellis has been advocating for himself to take Spanish 2 when it looked like he wouldn’t be able to fit it into his schedule. In the end, he and three others got permission to take a computer course in the library during the time others are taking Spanish 1. He’s taking charge of his learning, and that makes me proud. Right now, he’s downstairs on a Friday night doing his Algebra homework. (I think he knows it’s Friday.) And Josiah had three extra days off this summer because of mold in the school district, and while that was exciting, he is chomping at the bit to get back to school. My heart is full.

May we walk in Beauty!

Friday’s Meditations:
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions.” —Hafiz
“When your world moves too fast and you lose yourself in the chaos, introduce yourself to each color of the sunset. Reacquaint yourself with the earth beneath your feet. Thank the air that surrounds you with every breath you take. Find yourself in the appreciation of life.” —Christy Ann Martine
“Every word you utter to another human being has an effect, but you don’t know it. If people began to understand that change comes about as a result of millions of tiny acts that seem totally insignificant, well then, they wouldn’t hesitate to take those tiny acts.” —Howard Zinn
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” —Leonard Bernstein
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ―Elie Wiesel
“All forms of racism must be rejected directly and openly.” —bell hooks and Cornel West
“Our mission was to make a beloved community in the world where everyone would be free to live well.” —bell hooks

A Very Simple Secret

Today’s prompt is to write a self-destruct poem:

When you are finished reading this poem,
it will self-destruct. The words
will fly outward, shards of ideas
exploding, lacerating skin,
feelings and notions piercing the soul,
shredding elevated egos
and mangling worn-out theories.
You will not be able to escape
into the house of another poem,
for all poetry is designed to explode,
to burst, to shatter into a thousand colors,
like the fracturing of light.

“The word is the making of the world.” —Wallace Stevens
“Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” —Albert Einstein
“I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” —Coretta Scott King
“When you feel the suffering of every living thing in your own heart, that is consciousness.”
—Bhagavad Gita
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.”
―Naomi Shihab Nye

Gratitude List:
1. How dreams keep revealing themselves
2. How the leaves fly down from the sky
3. How children see things that adults miss
4. How the work gets done
5. How starlings move as a single bird

May we walk in Beauty!

Violence and Peace

Since it is Tuesday, the poetry prompt is a two-part poem:  Write a poem about violence and/or peace.
Here is my #readapoem aloud poem for today.


In the spring, there are skunk cabbages,
purple pods rising from the marshes,
spathe and spadix (look them up)
scenting the air, first in the race
to lure the waking pollinators.

Snowdrops and aconite bring the wood alive,
their blossoms whispering amid breezes,
the buzz of the first honeybees,
the Louisiana waterthrush singing
about the creek that mutters over stones.

And at night, while the owls utter longing
to the moon, and a drizzle coats the moonlit branches,
the mud salamanders wriggle from their winter burrows
and slither down to the vernal pools to lay their precious eggs.

What will they do when the bulldozers come?
When the trucks arrive with their gravel and pipes?
Where will the birds find quiet branches for nesting,
the spotted salamanders find soft muddy springs for their young?

Someone has studied it, surely,
made a proposal based on plan
which is based on a study
which dismisses in fine language
the impact of pipelines on wildlife
in tender wild places.

The chances of leaks in the pipe
are slim to nothing, so they say.
Tell that to the ducks of Mayflower,
to the marshes of Ripley, Missouri.
Tell it to the wheat farmers of Tioga,
to the wildflowers of the Oak Glen Nature Preserve.

Tell it to the tender dogtooth violets
before you tear them from the soil,
to the otters who dance on the creek banks.
Tell it to the shy hermit thrush
before you slash through the wood
with your heavy machinery.

We cannot unring this bell.
We cannot unkill the wild.
We cannot unbreak our hearts.


Gratitude List:
1.   Louisiana Waterthrush
2.  Toads sing!  I did not know this when I named my book.  Turn on your sound and click here.
3.  A sense of purpose in uncertain times
4.  Fresh energy
5.  Chaperoning a field trip

May we walk in Beauty!

The Sacred Work of Raising Children

I have always resisted too intense a categorization of genders.  Now, with two boys to raise, I often find myself caught in that tight spot between the noticing of their particular energies and the awareness of cultural beliefs about gender in children.  In some ways I see them behaving in the particular ways that people say boys will behave, and often they defy such artificial categorization.  They are who they are, separate from notions of gender.

Perhaps all children go through the hitting phase, no matter their particular shading of gender identity.  I can only speak to my own family’s experience: My children hit each other.  Often, and without holding back.  We do not hit our children, so they did not learn it from us.  The seven-year-old is developing better impulse control, fortunately, but this puts him more at the mercy of the four-year-old.  Of course, Seven is a master of provoking Four to violence.  There now, have I gone and blamed the victim?

I do not handle their violence well.  I think we need some help.  It hasn’t worked to keep repeating the scripted phrases, “When you hit, I feel worried because I am afraid you might hurt your brother.  I need you to stop hitting now.”  It hasn’t worked to threaten to take toys or video time.

Yesterday, I tried the technique I have heard about of holding the hitter in a chair until s/he calms down.  I could feel his frustration building, could feel the need to lash out rising within him.  Needless to say, it did not seem to be a successful intervention.  I want to do more simple acknowledging of strong feelings, more talking it through.  Too often, I go in yelling too:  “This is not acceptable in this house!  We do not hit each other!  How often do I need to tell you that?”  Umm.  Not helpful.

Yesterday I finally watched the video that everyone has been posting on Facebook in which Patrick Stewart speaks of the work he is doing to end domestic violence in memory of his mother, and now in memory of his father as well as he learns of the role PTSD played in his family’s story:  “Violence is never, ever, ever, a choice that a man should make!”  I often tell the boys that we do not hit each other, but I have started using a variation of Stewart’s phrase for the boys:  “Violence is never a choice we should make.”

We do talk about it, and I suppose it is sinking in to the corners of their consciousness.  Yesterday as we were driving, I began to rhapsodize about the Valley we were driving through, and Four perked up from the back seat, “I thought you were starting to say Violence.”  Okay.  So he’s learning the words, at least.

Yesterday someone also sent me this simply-written article from The Huffington Post.  While I am pretty sure I am not like the parents in the story who let their son run rough-shod over another child’s imaginative realm, it was another good reminder of why this work of socializing our children is so crucial to their development.  When people dismiss aggressive behavior in boys as simply the uncontrollable behavior of their gender, how deeply does that become part of their psyche as they grow up and relate to women?

I went into the day weary of the constant tasks related to helping these children learn to interact with each other without violence, and came out of it weavng together the video and the article which remind me that this is sacred work, this work of helping these two boys learn to control their impulses, to name and acknowledge and express their feelings in open ways, to respect each others’ space.  I’m still at a bit of a loss about how to handle the hitting, but more hopeful that each conversation, each interaction, is a moment for learning how to be mature human beings.  For all of us.


Gratitude List:
(It’s been a few days, so I am going to break the rules and let myself have ten.)
1.  A sparkling, humming, magical swarm of bees.  I am sorry that the beekeeper was unable to catch them–they settled too high in the tree before flying off, but I will hope that they will establish a powerful and healthy wild colony.
2.  The panicky-sounding “Yeep!” of the bullfrogs when we startle them as we walk by the pond.
3.  Listening to Alice in Wonderland with Ellis, and watching him catch the jokes and puzzles and puns.  It is such fun to laugh with my children.
4.  The enormous Yard Sale at Lebanon Valley Brethren Home.  It was a delight to explore the treasures with the kids.
5.  The temporary grace offered by a little pharmaceutical assistance when the herbs just seemed to be insufficient to help my body cope with the current onslaught of pollens.  I will still hold out as long as I can because I don’t like to live in the mental fog, but it’s nice to know it’s there when my eyes blow up and I can’t stop sneezing.
6.  Someone saw a big black snake at the farm.  It has been a couple years since one has been spotted.  Snakes are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.  Now to keep my evening eyes peeled for bats. . .
7.  Lupines growing from the stones at the edge of the highway!
8.  Roadside sign that said, “Let us walk Honestly.”  That’s nice.  So often I dismiss those signs because they tend to be consigning people to hell, so this was a lovely change.  And then I saw one that said, “Be ye merciful.”  I like that one, too.
9.  Family expedition to Weaver’s Dry Goods in Fivepointsville.  Mini Doughnuts.  The wonder of exploring the toy section with the children.  And Jon, too–he was like a kid himself.  (But don’t get me started on the prominent display of Roundup in the front of the store.)  In the parking lot on the way out, we saw something you don’t see every day, a plain Mennonite woman driving a tractor, pulling a trailer with a load of supplies and three or four girls in it.  I hope they weren’t going far–it looked sort of dangerous.  But amazing.
10.  Entering Weaverland Valley from Terre Hill (say Turr-eh Hill).  Something sings in my bones at the view of the light playing over the valley, the farms, the green meadows and tidy fields.

May we walk in Beauty.