Friday, April 30, 2010

Sharing the cup of life

Normally I work on my photographic creations in the afternoons, but yesterday I was feeling kinda sleepy, and ended up spending the afternoon sitting in my living room and chatting with my daughter.

We ended up sharing a long conversation about the Enneagram, and I eventually got out one of the more amusing books on the subject, The Enneagram Made Easy, which led to lots of shared observations and chuckling about our own foibles and those of our family.

So I didn't get around to creating something new until this morning, and though I had read some wonderful deep stuff that I had intended to share with you, when I got to the images and started playing this is what emerged. There were many points along the path of its creation where I might have stopped, but for some reason I just kept going. And though this end result doesn't feel like great art to me I LOVE the sheer dancing joy of it.

So instead of filling this space with pithy and serious observations I think I'll just let this piece speak for itself, and encourage you to do something today that reveals your inner joy. You just gotta love yourself!

Oh -- and just so you know, this is the original from which the image above arose... go figure!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moving toward or away from integration

"Some artists paint or photograph the same subject many, many times, intentionally challenging themselves to represent it in new ways. This in-depth exploration of a single subject can be both demanding and rewarding, forcing the artist to explore nuances and subtleties that the first few visits fail to elicit."

-- Bob Cornelis, on his Art Blog

Given that I've been doing variations on this curious body/torso theme for a couple of months now, you can imagine that I found the observation above reassuring: just because I've done this once doesn't mean I can't do it again, continue exploring this theme.

But what intrigues me today is that these images are, for the most part, headless -- and therefore brainless. And it occurs to me that there's been a slight flaw in my spirituality of late: though I openly strive for integration and oneness with the rest of creation, I have made my own brain -- specifically, the monkey mind that interferes with my meditation practice -- a kind of enemy. Perhaps these images have been a way of exploring that and helping me to see what's been missing?

I first began to wonder about this when I began telling people about my plans to go to grad school. They'd ask what subject, and I'd answer "Organizational Development" and I could see their eyes begin to glaze over. And seeing that took me back to all those uncomfortable times in my childhood when my brains got in the way; when I was dropped into that box reserved for "the brainy ones" and otherwise ignored, chosen last, and shunned by my classmates.

Once I understood that this was the reason I was reacting to the glazing, I couldn't help but notice that one of the reasons I'm so excited about the program is that it will allow me to exercise my left brain again. But is that all there is to it?

I had thought that my excitement was arising from my true self, this feeling I have that this is the work I was born to do; that the happiness was flowing out of a sense that I was honoring my real self; integrating brain work and heart work. But could it be that what's really going on here is that I am excited to be moving back into a space where I might be able to earn money again, might be able to have prestige or power again? Because those are powerful motivators. Could it really be a sort of egoic triumph that's operating here?

I am of course hoping these petty motives have nothing to do with it -- or at least that they are not the prime motivators. But the fact is that desire and attachment are sometimes difficult to separate, and I will need to be sure that the longing to pursue this course stems from an overflowing of true self, a longing to give back, rather than from some sense of inner deficiency, of not being or having enough. And those, of course, are always good questions to ask in ANY decisions we make.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Growing pains

"Surprisingly, we fear our potential greatness almost as much as our present weakness... fear that if we grew into our greatness we would be very different people...all would be new and unfamiliar because real growth involves movement from the known into the unknown. We would have to give up our old familiar myths and stories... to die to one story, one myth, in order to be reborn to a larger one."

-- Roger Walsh, Essential Spirituality

Driving home after my interview yesterday, I had this curious sense that I was about to explode; that something great within me was about to burst its bonds and come into being. It wasn't exactly a comfortable feeling -- a little exciting, a little scary -- and some other part of me was working overtime to tame it, to loosen those bonds enough to allow the greatness to expand without breaking anything -- mostly by intellectualizing the experience; essentially "talking me down."

So when I saw this quote this morning, there was a sense of recognition, and a bit of wonder: how many times in my life have I had the chance to be more, and, out of false modesty or fear of rejection tamped it down, reduced the voltage, pulled back, afraid of overwhelming myself and others with the magnitude?

When I looked for an image to illustrate that, this one -- taken Sunday, just before we boarded the ferry to come home from Shaw -- leaped up. I had taken it for the colors, but now, looking at it, it had that swelling, bursting of bonds, and at the same time tied-down feeling. But of course it's not exploding at all -- it's just a life jacket: well-used, to be sure, but designed expressly to keep us afloat when we go overboard.

It's okay, I see now; it's all okay: the sense of something new coming, the excitement, the anxiety, the gentle damping down -- it's all a part of the buoyancy that comes when the spirit is moving and the winds are blowing and the boat is starting to rock. We have some time-tested responses that keep us balanced, and if, as we age, we continue to grow, it makes sense that we'll have to loosen those bonds a little.

And -- just as an aside -- I find it really interesting, that this quote, especially the parts at the end, about dying to be reborn, so closely mirrors the themes in yesterday's poem, which was written before I left for the interview. Which amuses me because I struggled with the pronouns in the poem, couldn't figure out who I was saying goodbye/farewell to: was it a guy? Was it a girl, a child? And now I see that there's another option: maybe I'm saying goodbye to another phase in my own life.

And it's all good.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When life gives you lemons...

We've all heard that old saying: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But what exactly does that mean? Is it just that we should make the best of a bad situation?

I went in today for my grad school interview, and part of my task was to read two paragraphs and write an essay in response. The two paragraphs listed a series of possible responses to situations where things don't quite go as expected.

The first response was just to assume it was just some sort of odd occurrence, and forget about it. The second was to take some time to reflect on the situation -- either at the time or later -- and the third was to simultaneously reflect and act; to notice what was happening and make some sort of smooth and appropriate shift.

That last choice reminded me, for some reason, of failed attempts to converse with cute boys when I was younger, and my usual inability to respond smoothly and appropriately to any conversational openings that arose: mostly I just froze and stammered. And I think, somehow, that my early failures in that arena must be what led me to assume -- for the sake of my essay, at least -- that the last choice is the most desirable choice, which then of course could be interpreted to imply that the other two are weak or lazy responses.

But of course each response can be valid in certain situations. For example, no tried and true technique for ANYthing is ALways going to work, so there are probably lots of instances where a minor failure can be ignored and you can just move on, and, in fact, you can create problems unnecessarily by stewing over a perfectly normal glitch. And, nice as it would be to be totally responsive in a given situation, if you don't do some reflecting on it afterwards, take time to figure out exactly what might have gone wrong, you increase your chances of having it happen again -- and again having to respond on the fly.

So in addition to knowing how to reflect, how to respond quickly, and knowing how to just "stuff things under the rug," we need to know WHEN each of these options might be appropriate. Or, to stick with our initial metaphor, maybe you don't always need to make lemonade. Sometimes it might be more appropriate to toss out those lemons and go buy the oranges you wanted in the first place. And sometimes it might be good to sit and stew a bit about what you might have done differently in the first place to avoid being handed lemons at all. Maybe making lemonade is a good thing. But each is a reasonable option, in its own time.

And it's all good.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Comfort in a drainspout

On our way home from Shaw yesterday we took a small detour -- despite our daughter's protests -- to see what was going on in the shipyard at the end of Commercial Avenue. I got some more lovely rusty boat shots, and, on the way out, this photo of a clever downspout on the side of a warehouse.

I always wonder when I see art in such unexpected places. Whose idea was it to put it there? Who paid for it? Why there? Why not someplace more public, where more people could see and appreciate the creativity and whimsicality of it?

But that's my brain speaking. My soul has a different response altogether: a sort of soaring feeling of recognition. Not the kind of recognition you get when you pass by a mirror and catch sight of yourself reflected there, or, in the course of a conversation, when you find illuminations in the self-truths reflected in another's thoughts and feelings.

This recognition goes beyond the self-referential to some other plane, and rejoices in the brilliance of the creative spirit, finding hope and encouragement in the discovery that there can -- in a world where everything inventable seems to have already been invented -- still be that spark of genius and originality, and that it can flourish in the oddest of places.

It feels like a reminder of that sense that led me to faith in the first place, that there is Something beyond me that is wiser and more wonderful and more creative than I could ever be -- and I take great comfort from that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The best-laid plans...

I was excited about flying down to California to meet my daughter; excited also to have the chance to drive back across country I'd never seen. And so I packed my trusty camera, eager to see what images it might gather to share with you here.

But as we realized how far we had to go, and how short a time we had to accomplish our travel goals, plans changed. And so, instead of spending the night with friends in Alameda, we shared an early dinner and hit the road.

My daughter had already been driving all day, so I took the first shift, and drove until dark; no picture-taking for me! At sunset we were driving through a lovely valley, and rejoiced together in the contrast between the pinks and purples of the sky and the bright chartreuse of the vegetation below. But no photos.

And then, of course, it was dark, and cold. We drove on, through the gorgeous mountains of northern California, climbing higher and higher into the snow and wind, and rejoiced together when the half moon rose and made the snow glow dimly to outline the passing hills. But no photos.

At 1 a.m. we called it a night and crawled into bed for a dreamless sleep. Rising again at 7 to grab a cup of hotel coffee, I went back to the room and woke my daughter long enough for her to shower; she was asleep again not long after climbing into the passenger seat, and I drove through the mountains of southern Oregon, rejoicing alone in the bright greens of the passing hills.

By the time she was awake and ready to drive, we'd pretty much come to the flatlands, and before long it was familiar territory, farms and fields I'd driven by before. And so, though I had my camera ready, there wasn't much to shoot. This is one of the few good ones we got, and I think actually she was the one who shot it, after I pointed it out and begged, at the tail end of my morning shift that second day.

So, no, it didn't turn out the way I planned -- and I could feel some childish part of me wanting to stamp her feet and whine. But in fact, for the chance to travel with my girl and listen to her tales of adventure and hold her hand while she mourned its coming end -- I'd do it all again in exactly the same way. Those hills will still be there when I get a chance to drive through there again. But she, I suspect, will never be the same: last night she came to me, now in full throes of her transition time, and said, holding me so tight, "Oh, mom. I feel so lost." I can only hold her and weep with her.

And now, today, we'll hit the road again, this time in a more comfortable car, with my husband driving; off to the islands for a very sad memorial service. A different sort of journey, celebrating -- and mourning -- a different sort of transition -- and in many ways a fitting beginning for this strange new chapter in all our lives. Who knows how it will all end; I am simply grateful we'll be traveling together, and trust that all will eventually become clear.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A bridge to the light

I, you, he, she, we.
In the garden of mystic lovers
these are not true distinctions.

--Rumi, A Year with Rumi (April 21)

I love the allure of this path, which I found in the woods beside our meditation room last week. And I found the bridge intriguing, as it seemed to have no obvious function; didn't cross a stream, just a minor indentation (Which might, of course, be filled with water in another season).

The way the bridge stands out reminds me somehow of the early stages of faith: there's a certain amount of pride, of excitement, and clarity, when you begin this path. You feel like you've stepped up to the plate; you feel set apart, and special, as if there is a light that shines on you alone.

But, like this bridge, that feeling doesn't last -- although it may come again from time to time -- and at some point you step back down and join the rest of the throng on the long trudge through the forest of distracting thoughts and feelings. Sometimes that path gets hard to find and rather overgrown, but there are always other paths merging in, and a growing sense of rightness, and a light beckoning from up ahead to pull us forward.

But there are times when we -- or others -- need encouragement to draw us into the path again. So though we do get these moments of feeling special, and it's hard not to sense that we stepped up, the truth is that everyone is special. In this garden through which we move, there are no true distinctions, just occasional opportunities to glow; times when we are just walking, times when we step up into the light again, and times when we are not just standing on the bridge but, for a brief time, becoming the bridge, to help others find the way.

And it's all good.

PS: I'm off to California to help my daughter drive her car back up for a memorial service on Shaw this weekend. Thanks for your patience; I'll be back in a few days.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the act of releasing, peace

"On each of five small pieces of paper, we write one thing that we find occupies a recurring place in our imagination. It can be a relationship, a material thing, money, something we desire, something we do, or an emotion that we experience.

We place these pieces of paper in a pile in front of us, go through each of them slowly, one by one, and let ourselves imagine that we are actually giving away the thing stated on the paper. We make an inner image of what is on each piece of paper, one at a time, and then release the image, letting it dissolve; let ourselves inwardly feel what it is like to give that thing away, to not have it anymore, neither the fantasy of it nor the desire for it.

When we release something from its internal attachment to our soul, we may immediately experience deep sorrow or loss. This experience may surprise us, even shock us. But along with this experience of deep sorrow, we feel an opening of a round-like, small space deep within the region of our chest, in the region of the heart. We feel pulled toward this center. This feeling is extremely important as it directs us toward the place of purest Silence, the interior of the heart.

-- Robert Sardello, Silence

When I first encountered this exercise, I felt both a sense of recognition -- releasing is, after all, the central repeated act of Centering Prayer -- and a sense of fear at the thought of letting go of the things that are important to me. What would happen if I stopped worrying about my daughters and the challenges they face at this transition time in their lives? What would happen if I stopped worrying about our finances, my husband's joblessness, and all the other lesser things that snag me during the course of the day?

And that's when I realized the compulsion beneath those worries, a sort of "shouldness" that accompanies them, a sense of responsibility, as if my constant wrestling with them and holding them up in prayer -- or whatever you call that -- was important, would make a difference; that, if I stopped, some disaster might befall us. Hmm, I thought, realizing this; what sort of faith is this? Is it a variation on the Sufi version of "trust God but lock your car (or tie your camel)"? Somehow this kind of superstitious worrying had acquired a sort of control status, a nobility, and so I began giving myself permission to release it.

Letting go of the thinking I "should" be doing did open up a sort of hole, but then all these other less admirable concerns rushed in to fill the gap -- something that might be ignored in one 20 minute meditation a day, but can't be missed when you spend hours a day in silence listening to the words in your head. It wasn't until I began releasing those secondary concerns -- many of which seemed to revolve around pleasing and appeasing others, and worrying about how I am perceived -- that I finally began to experience that hole, that gap in the heart, as a precious stillness, into which compassion could begin to flow.

And the compassion that came to me in that secondary releasing was first a compassion for myself, a sense -- an assurance -- that came from within AND without that I am loved, and valued, and blessed. The compassion I continue to seek for others flows out of that affectionate, non-judging acceptance of myself, and came more easily as I began sinking into that acceptance and feeling it almost physically flowing through my body.

All of which I somehow feel again when I look at this image: something about the size of the stump on the right, the beauty of the light on its organic curves, the outward thrust of the fallen tree, its shadow, the blues and greens of the water, the slight ripple of waves in the distance... It just has a mystical quality that takes me back into that space of releasing and grounds me in acceptance.

I can't really explain that -- or expect you to see it. I can only witness to the presence and power of that act of releasing and letting go. And say that there are times now -- at last -- when I can feel that pulse of warmth in my heart when I am NOT sitting in meditation; when I can carry it out into the world, however briefly. And for that I am and will remain eternally grateful.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A gentle reminder

"Don't make yourself miserable
with what's to come
or not to come."

--Rumi, A Year with Rumi (April 18)

A friend sent me one of those list-of-question memes that goes around the internet. You know the type: when did you get up this morning, what did you have for breakfast, when's the last time you cried, what scares you...

It was that last one -- what scares you -- that threw me. Now granted, when I got the list it was the day after my return from my retreat, and I was exhausted, all resistance down. But I was appalled at my response to this question, which began as a list and threatened to stretch into a paragraph.

Wouldn't you think, having spent a week in silent communion with the Holy, having been continually reassured as to the rightness of life as it is, that I would have released all those fears? Or at least, having released them, could carry that sense of release back into everyday life?

Ah, yes; that is the test, isn't it -- can we carry what we learn when we are away back into the reality that is our particular gift. Having learned what celestial beings we are, can we continue in that grace when the washing machine breaks down, the plane is delayed, the boss yells at us or the kids are sick. And -- more importantly -- when we can't, when the challenges run away with us or drag us back into emotion and terror, can we continue to love and forgive ourselves, to feel the encircling acceptance and peace of Divine love?

I'm working on it. And that's enough for now -- to be a work in progress is a good thing. I will continue -- especially now that I've recovered from my travels and have some of my equanimity back -- to release that which troubles me and love what is.

The Rumi poems from yesterday and today -- like the one above, from the day before -- have a little insight to offer:

"When the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon,
she left behind her kingdom and her wealth,
the same way lovers leave their reputations
... but her filigreed throne
was her one attachment.

It was a large throne and difficult to transport,
because it could not be taken apart,
being as cunningly put together as the human body.

Solomon saw that her heart was open to him
and that the throne would soon be left behind.

Let her bring it, he said.
It will soon become a lesson to her.
She can look at that throne
and see how far she has come."

Yup. We all have our attachments, our fears and our stories. They may not be beautiful, or filigreed as thrones. But God says, "Let her bring it." Because these challenges we carry serve as a gentle reminder -- both of how far we have come, and of how far we still have to go. And it's all good.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Divine Umbilical Cord

"I desire you
more than food or drink.
My body, my senses,
my mind
hunger for your taste
I can sense your presence in my heart
although you belong
to all the world.

I wait with silent passion
for one gesture,
one glance,
from you."

-- Rumi, The Love Poems of Rumi

I found the roots of these trees scattered along the edge of Lake Cowichan incredibly moving. And as I go over my notes from the retreat, I think I can see why.

As she was discussing the concept of Attention of the Heart, Cynthia Bourgeault suggested that it was not about keeping our attention ON ourselves as we pray, but IN ourselves; visceral; noticing all that passes through us as if we were watching from the 3rd chakra, the region below the heart.

There is, she said, a "divine umbilical cord" connecting us to where we really came from. And that yearning we feel, for connection, for intimacy, is the tether that holds us in that connection. It's not our yearning for God, but God's yearning for us, she told us; that same yearning that gave rise to us in the first place, that becomes us, that created us as a fully unique expression of Godness. And when we experience that yearning -- well, that yearning is actually the aching of the Infinite to be reunited with us, much as a mother yearns to be reunited with her child.

Having heard those words, it would be hard not to ache for the universe, and all creation; hard not to see in these roots, desperately reaching out to the water, a kind of exposed longing, the hunger and thirst for the infinitely nourishing grace that washes over us when we feel that connection.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's so lovely, remembering being green...

"We began as a mineral.
We emerged into plant life

and into the animal state,
and then to being human.

And always we have forgotten
our former states,

except in early spring,

when we dimly recall
being green again
-- Rumi, A Year with Rumi (April 13)

I came home at the end of a 10 hour journey to find some 290 emails awaiting my attention. Most were junk mail, of course, and easily discarded. But my dear blogger buddy, Kim, had sent pointers to a couple of her recent posts, with wonderful photos of birds. And whatever my original intent may have been for this morning, clearly the birds stayed on my brain. So here's a robin, remembering briefly what it was like to be green.

... which was really what my week of silence was about: remembering what it was like to be green, to be fresh, and new, and vitally alive, surrounded and held in a deep sense of being loved. Being with silence, I learned, can feel like pure intimacy; that sense of connection we long for so intensely can be felt at the deepest levels of being. To combine that with the central act of Centering Prayer -- letting go, releasing, returning -- allowed those of us who participated, some 60 seekers from British Columbia and beyond, to experience first-hand the truth of this statement, which I found in my retreat notes this morning: "Clear the space that was formerly occupied by your story, and everything you ever felt deprived of is right there."

Sitting in the chill and the damp of a cold British Columbia spring; waking to frost, and fog; stumbling through a communal shower and driving through the dark, dodging potholes and deer; clutching a ceramic mug of coffee and settling onto a hard plastic chair; pulling on an extra pair of socks and wrapping ourselves in blankets -- after all that, we settle into the space and the silence, the rhythm of the breathing, the pulse and whine of the tired refrigerator, the ticking of the heaters, and we hear, just outside the window, the morning chirp of the robins and feel the loving pull of the silence, drawing us back into that deep green peace of oneness. The stories we carry with us rise, and fall, and fade away, released again and again until at last we are wholly still, centered in the loving beat of our own devoted hearts.

It's so lovely, remembering being green.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Diving into the silence

This is another of my ferry floor creations. She looks like she's about to dive into a pool, doesn't she? But I didn't quite understand the significance of that until I realized -- oh, yes, it's another computer-free Sunday, so I should post this tonight. Hmm, shall I use the image I created today? And why did I call her "prepare to dive in"? What's the significance of that?

Silly question -- when I'm spending my weekend preparing for my week away. I'm preparing to dive in to a week of silence -- which means getting things tidied up and ready here, preparing answers to questions that might come up and anticipating needs for the coming week.

And, of course, I'm preparing for the trip itself -- reading the book, planning what to take, readying myself for the journey ahead: suiting up in preparation for a nice long dive into the deep pool of silence.

Will I be silent here as well? I'm not sure yet -- don't know if I'll have an internet connection, for one thing, though I will take my computer. And I don't know if I'll be moved to speak. What I do know is there will be none of these goddess torsos over the coming week, as I don't have this version of photoshop on my laptop. But I suspect there will be other things to photograph along the way, and other images to share.

So in case I can't sign on -- have a good week! Think of me in the silence, keep a moment of silence for yourself, and feel free to browse through some of my old posts if you're looking for something to read...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In the dropping of the blossoms

"Listen to me.
For one moment quit being sad.
Hear blessings

dropping their blossoms
around you. God."
--Rumi, A Year with Rumi (April 10)

One of my small economies this past year has been to re-read books I already own rather than purchase new ones. So yesterday I found myself reading a rather peculiar paperback romance that I don't actually remember having read before -- though clearly I must have -- about a young woman in Regency times who finds that the man she has married is actually some sort of fairy prince. (Bride Enchanted, by Edith Layton)

The prince has an evil sister who seduces his new bride's younger brother, so together the newlyweds go to the fairy kingdom to see if they can rescue the brother. Layton describes the magical scene that greets her heroine in this way.

"Peonies, lilacs, daisies, irises, sunflowers and roses, apple blossoms, chrysanthemums, meadowsweet and speedwell, all in full bloom...But it didn't feel right to her...She was a country girl and she knew that pear and apple blossoms shouldn't be falling, dappling the grass with showers of pink and white with every breeze, and then being replaced with more blossoms, rather than the little hard green knobs that would become fruit... there ought to have been buds as well as wrinkled petals, to show how they grew and changed, and then withered and died.... Her main objection to this glorious land was that it was all perfectly beautiful. Real perfection was rare, elusive, and always transitory. That made it more beautiful. But this display was permanent, and so, to Eve, however beautiful, entirely artificial."

Having read that last night, I viewed this morning's Rumi quote with different eyes. Somehow, in this context, I didn't leap to the obvious conclusion, that the world around me is covered in blessings if I only watch and listen for them. Yes, that is a lovely thought, but it is also true that the blessings that are dropping their blossoms before us are in fact still on the tree, still very much with us, not wrinkling and fading and withering away.

We may be sad to see their obvious beauty falling, failing, dying. But in the loss of that beauty lies the promise of the blessing that grows beneath, in the hard green knobs that will become rich ripe fruit. Somehow Rumi's image conveys to me now the blessings in the transitoriness of life; the gift that lies hidden in each loss, the fruit that can only be born after the initial flowering has passed.

Life can be very difficult: death and disease, change, discomfort and loss come to us all. But so do the blessings that precede and follow, just as day precedes and follows night, just as the blossoms precede and follow the fruit. It's not an easy thought to hold. But perhaps it is the gift of Spring; this promise of rebirth, that even as the blossoms are falling new life is emerging.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The luminosity of silence

"You miss the garden,
because you want a small fig
from a random tree...
Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull of what you really love."
-- Rumi, A Year with Rumi (April 9)

I am not -- unlike my older daughter -- particularly drawn to shiny things. But I do enjoy sleek curves of steel, both in sculpture and architecture, so when this image created itself yesterday from a pile of cleaning in plastic bags, I called my husband in and said, "Look, dear -- now I can be a SCULPTOR, too!"

I knew I wanted to share it with you, but had no idea what I wanted to say about it until I read these wonderful lines in Robert Sardello's Silence this morning:

"The dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence outshines all brilliance with the intensity of its dark luminosity. Silence shines within us like the reflected image of the sun on a lake. We live within the depths of it, and it glows from our being. It is a liquefying power, an interiorizing power, a liberating power that frees us from the sterile hardness of dead, institutionalized forms, and brings renewal to the world. We are merely the carriers, the transporters of this great mystery, having dipped into it in the depths of contemplation. We bring from the depths some of this mysterious fluidity and offer it to the world. We are graced with the mantle of Silence and dissolve in its diffused brilliance. It opens the door to our heart."

Throughout my meditation this morning, I kept thinking of those lines, "dark luminosity," and "mysterious fluidity." They seem to me to describe this image, and its appeal for me. But they also convey the cool clearness I get in meditation at its best, when I can still the monkey mind and luxuriate in the silence. What's sad, of course, is that despite the allure of the silence, the monkey mind is painfully seductive, rather like Rumi's fig tree in the garden: I keep getting drawn back into my daily concerns, lured by the illusions of taste and smell and color and feeling. Why can I not be more consistently drawn into silence, "by the stronger pull of what I really love"?

Ah, well -- perhaps this image is here to serve as a reminder of what I really love. As I look at it more, it seems almost like some sort of druidic figure, beckoning me into the silence, and, thinking of that, I realize how much I'm looking forward to my upcoming retreat. What a treat it will be, to spend a few days feasting on pure silence!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The body as a sacred vessel

"For some, the body is far from feeling like a sacred vessel. It is more like a repository for accumulated shame and abuse. Some people suffered overt abuse in childhood; others are wounded from the culture's distorted images of perfection -- ideals of thinness and eternal youth for women, and bulk and invulnerability for men. The poison of self-hate, born of unattainable cultural standards, flows in many men's and women's bodies. Some of us are so afraid to delve into the secrets trapped within the body's memory that we float through life, quite unable to enjoy the strength and earthiness of our human form."

-- Elizabeth Lesser, The Seeker's Guide

This is the most recent edition of my goddess/torso series. (I will have to figure out what to call these things, won't I! I suppose I am waiting for them to come to completion so I can see what the overall impact is...) And looking at her brought to mind this passage, which I read yesterday in The Seeker's Guide. What's interesting to me is that this passage lies within the passage I quoted two days ago -- between the first and second halves of it -- and I honestly did not even see it the first time through. Now doesn't THAT sound like a Freudian slip! Maybe that's what I should call this image...

So here I am, with no preconceived notions, walking through this with you to see what I can discover about what it has to tell us. The first thing I notice is that the torso itself has a very victorian feel to it; something about the shape of the bust -- no definition between the boobs -- and the narrow laced-in feeling of the waist. Add to that the sense of chains encircling the breast and hips, and there's a very confining aspect to this one -- which may be why the quote above came to mind.

Our images of ourselves and our bodies are very much constrained by societal demands and expectations. I can't know what that means for you, but I know how it has affected me and my daughters: I grew up thin, flat, and narrow-hipped in a German community where girls developed early and ripely, and though today that body I had would be considered model-lovely, I only knew it as lacking. (And now, of course, with the curves that weight and child-bearing have brought, I find myself longing for a return to that earlier slimness.)

My slim, curvaceous daughter refuses to wear shorts because she is embarrassed by her pale legs, and my less-curvy daughter, though she is less embarrassed to show her body, constantly compares it to her sister's and finds it lacking, whining -- as I once did -- that she "looks like a boy." I ache for them both, because, to me, they are both achingly beautiful, and I wish they could see that.

I also see, looking at this picture, that the background seems to circle around the torso, and is also strangely broken: perhaps this is a way of saying that as long as our self-image revolves around our body image -- and what is projected onto it by society -- we will remain broken -- or at least, I will. And I think, to some extent, that stays true: even as, in aging, I grow more accustomed to -- or comfortable with -- myself, I still find I'm very self-conscious, often worrying about how people react to me, how they see me, and what they project onto me. And I still dress with an eye to hiding my imperfections -- I don't wear shorts, either -- no matter HOW hot it gets!

And then, when I look at those two little handles that sit in the crack at either side of the waist, they look a bit like the pop-tops on a soup can, and I find I want to break the whole thing open; to find out what would happen if I were able, not only to release these expectations, but also to make them less central to my self-image. If I pop open the hard crust that lies beneath, what will appear? Or what if I grab those two rings at the top, and peel the image away? What will be revealed?

Taking one last look, I see an almost Christ-like figure, arms outstretched, rising from the center of the chest, between the rings -- or is it holding on to the rings? And looking at that, I come to see the whole as a gift, all of it -- the constraints and the brokenness, the distortions and the insecurities, the old and the new, the thin and the fat, the flat and the curves, the whole centrifugal whirl of it -- a gift, one of many, which gives me another path of discovery, another light to illuminate the wholeness of being. However flawed, we remain a sacred vessel: God/Christ/Divinity is always there, even in our brokenness and confusion and self-doubt; we have only to pay attention to see.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dear in the headlights

A friend mentioned the phrase "deer in the headlights" to me yesterday -- I forget the context -- and I decided I'd share this amusing image -- which I'd created over the weekend as a joke -- with you.

But despite the fact that I had a VERY strange dream just before I woke up, in which there was something I was about to do that kept not happening because there were people watching, I'm not finding any deeper meaning in this image: I just find it funny -- or punny.

Because the deer aren't supposed to be INSIDE the headlights, they're just supposed to be paralyzed by the spotlight and terrified to move. If they're actually IN the headlights, that would imply that they have some control over the situation, that they are equal to it, that they're not as vulnerable as they feel -- which is exactly what I began to get as my strange dream wore on. And, eventually, I gave up trying to push for a resolution and just lay back, thinking, when it's ready, it will happen.

Which I see now is a sort of obscure metaphor for the attitude I have finally adopted about my husband's unemployment (I can't believe; it's been almost a year!). They do say that the people and situations in life are put there to teach us things we need to learn. So maybe the gift in this one is that I'm learning to let go; learning both to stay alert to opportunities and to accept that I cannot force or control the timing of their arrival; learning to enjoy the blessings of the present and stay tuned to the possibilities it contains without getting too caught up in worrying about the future.

Which doesn't mean I'm entirely sanguine about the situation! I'm still pretty hyper-attentive: perhaps the lesson in this image is that he is my dear, and those headlights are me watching him for signs he's ready to tackle the job world again -- and though they're still there, I've finally turned off the energy behind the watching? Perhaps that's stretching things a bit.

But at least I'm developing a sense of humor about it... and what I see, watching him adapt, is that he's beginning to release a bit of his control needs as well; beginning to see that if we're just doing the best we can and staying attentive, life has a way of offering unexpected gifts and options. Perhaps that's the heart of faith -- just learning to trust that somehow there's a blessing in the circumstances...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coming home to the body

"One of the great tragedies of religious history occurred when the physical body was falsely accused for the sins of mankind, and was rooted out of Western religious traditions. The idea that our most basic bodily functions, our sexual passion, and our sensual pleasure are unclean and unholy is not only a regrettable belief system, it's also a profoundly ignorant one. Deep spirituality is not an out-of-body experience; it's an in-body experience. How could it be otherwise?"

-- Elizabeth Lesser, The Seeker's Guide.

I was born with a heart murmur, in a time when such things were just beginning to be understood. My mother was led to believe I was a fragile creature, and might not live past the age of five, and so for the early, formative years of my life, I was prohibited from most physical activities.

When I made it to five, they assumed most of the risk was past, and so I led a fairly normally active childhood, although, of course -- from the combination of earlier restrictions and my ungainly height, I was pretty uncoordinated, and always the last one chosen for games. Recess became a nightmare, and gym class was always embarrassing.

And then, in seventh grade, I began getting palpitations any time I did strenuous exercise. After the first incident, when I was taken to the emergency room, I learned to anticipate the symptoms, and would intentionally sideline myself when I could feel my pulse start to accelerate. So it's not surprising that over time my life became more centered around books and the mind, theater, art and music, rather than the more physical activities of my classmates. It's also not surprising that my body became more of an enemy than a friend, and exercise of any kind (other than sex, which for some reason escaped all these taboos) an unwanted activity and potential source of embarrassment.

But to see one's body as other, as enemy, as embarrassment, as obstacle, becomes a problem as we age: it is, after all, our only home, and we need to spend increasing amounts of time caring for it if we wish to continue enjoying the benefits of living. And so I decided that this would be a year I would start paying attention; taking better care of my physical being. Which would, I think, explain why this series of torsos is emerging from my art. Each of the torsos is youthful, but each began as something old and broken down. (This one began as the hull of a very large old wooden boat which sits, rotting, on a grassy knoll down by the water in Anacortes, on the way to the ferry dock.)

I'm just beginning on this path, and progress is predictably slow -- moreso over this past week, with my back being out. But I am beginning to feel more integrated; to love and respect my body, and see it as friend rather than enemy; to sense it, in the silence within and between its cells, as a sacred vessel for a lively spirit. And I like what Elizabeth Lesser says in the way of encouragement for this path:

"The body is your vehicle on planet earth; its well-being is a gift you were meant to relish. The body that you inhabit, the one you awoke in this morning, the one you washed and dressed, was designed perfectly to carry you through life. It is a wondrous invention of a mysterious creator, an invention that many of us barely understand, rarely contemplate, and often don't nurture."

And her advice, for those of us who choose to overturn this ancient concept of body as enemy and source of sin? "Start with the body you have, not the one you want. Come home to the body... start where you are, stay open, and practice fearlessness."

It's not always easy, coming to love the sagging parts, and encouraging the tired parts to keep working. But it's worth it, and a worthy challenge. After all -- as it says on the poster outside my pilates classroom: "Old age is not for sissies!"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Silence as a bridge between

For the last few days I have been reading Robert Sardello's Silence, in anticipation of an upcoming silent retreat. This morning he talked about the role of silence in a relationship, which was intriguing to me because... well, I'm in a relationship, and my husband doesn't seem all that comfortable with silence.

He's one of those people that has the radio going all the time -- and if, as yesterday, he's working in different rooms of the house, he'll have the radio going in as many as three different rooms. I've come home to find 2 radios going and even the TV on -- with no-one watching.

You would think -- given my own predilection for silence -- that this would make us incompatible. And yet -- 25 years in -- it doesn't seem to. In fact, last night we watched Woody Allen's movie, Husbands and Wives, and he continually turned to me to utter variations on the theme, "Do other married people really talk to each other like that?"

Having been married before -- for 10 years -- I could say, yes, I believe they do.

"But, why?" he asked.

I think, I replied, it's because they are so wrapped up in their own insecurities that neither hears the other speak, or has anything to offer when the other is needy. I'm wondering if that's why this image leaped off the computer for me. Perhaps silence is the bridge between two people. And it doesn't matter if one or the other prefers an environment with silence or noise.

What matters is that when one speaks, the other quiets his or her internal voices long enough to listen to what is really being said. And this attentive listening creates a bridge from one soul to the other. At different times we may make different choices about where to stand on that bridge, or how far to walk toward the other. But as long as we continue to create the bridge -- whether in a marriage, or between friends, or just in passing interactions -- we two are linked, and it doesn't matter how different our individual ecosystems may be.

Writing this, I think of the young woman who was running the cash register at our local Rite-Aid Saturday evening. We stopped by on our way home from Prairie Home Companion to pick up some Nyquil (I've caught my husband's cold), and when I stepped forward to pay for it, she looked at it, then looked at me and said, "Oh, do you have a cold?"

When I replied in the affirmative and handed her my money, she rang it up, and then said, as I was leaving, "Happy Easter; I hope you feel better soon!" It is, I know, a small thing. But she stepped beyond her own concerns, if only for a moment; she paid attention, and noticed, and stepped out onto the bridge between us with two offerings -- and it made a difference in my day. I'm hoping I can begin to do more of that kind of attentive listening; that in consciously silencing my monkey mind every morning -- and in my primary relationship -- I am learning to do that more effectively in the presence of others.

We'll see; I still have a lot to learn!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Easter wish

Happy Easter!
And may you find
that whatever gift has lain
buried within you
for all these years and more,
is now set free,
and when you go
for one last fond farewell
to the dreams you once had
or the longings of your childhood
or the hopes
or the passions
that were hidden
deep below consciousness
you'll find the stone has rolled away
and wholeness stands waiting at the door
to greet you by name
and walk with you
for the rest of your days
as lover, guide and friend.

* * *

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The colors of Easter

When I was a little girl, I was utterly enchanted with the idea of Cinderella, and longed desperately for a beautiful ballgown just like hers, with wide full skirts made of layers of chiffon.

The closest I ever came in those days was the dresses my mom bought for me to wear on Easter Sundays -- and the wonderful multi-layered slips I used to wear beneath them to make the skirts billow out. For years Easter meant colored eggs, awakening to an Easter basket, rushing off to church (my parents sang in the choir), and, best of all, beautiful dresses and sweet little hats with ribbons trailing down the back.

I carried on that tradition with my own daughters until, when they were 7 and 9, we moved to Shaw Island. They stopped attending church soon after we arrived, as there were no children there and they found the service boring. So there was no point in buying them new spring dresses, and Easter celebrations devolved into Easter baskets with candy and stuffed animals. And now, this year, with both girls over 21 and away from home, I won't even be doing that.

And what are they left with, after all this? Will they ever come to see Easter as part of the natural rhythm of life, something to look forward to after a long period of darkness and introspection? Will they ever experience the rising of hope I used to feel at midnight on Easter Eve, when after the darkness of the Vigil service we would turn on the lights, ring the bells and dance?

I think, as a parent, I did a reasonable job of making it clear that there was more to Christmas than Santa Claus and presents. But Easter, of course, is harder to explain -- partly because I didn't want to burden them too much with the pain of Good Friday. It's hard to get the point or the magnificent promise of Resurrection if you don't walk through death first. And I'm not sure the myths the church has built around the story really provide a way in to the mystery and wonder of Easter; you kind of have to experience the death and rebirth within yourself before it comes alive for you.

But there is a sense of promise in the colors of Easter; the soft yellows and blues, the pale lilacs and pinks. And so I was amused when this image emerged from my labors at the computer yesterday afternoon. Even if I won't be attending church tomorrow (too crowded) or wearing new clothes (too expensive) or buying candy and stuffed animals for my girls (too old, and too far away), something in me still knows the light is coming, still quivers with the hope of glory yet to come.

And so I wish you each a blessed Easter, and celebrate the new life that rises within us all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The fury of the storm

It's Good Friday, and there's a windstorm brewing outside my window. It seems appropriate for the day, somehow, the fury of the wind, the moaning and the whistling, the thump and clatter of branches and other detritus on the deck.

I drove into Seattle this morning to renew my passport for an upcoming visit to Canada, and the driving wind and rain made it almost impossible to open my car door on the ferry. There are fewer people in the city today -- Good Friday and spring break are coinciding for many this year -- and those who are out and about have their heads down and their umbrellas thrust forward; just trying to get to where they need to go without being blown away.

There's something a bit hellish about it all; a sort of every-man-for-himself feeling, each of us in separate worlds, obsessed with survival -- which is how most of us get when we're feeling under siege. And in it, I hear echoes of the bizarre and venomous rage that people seem to be feeling about the passing of the health care bill. Why such intensity? I wonder.

A friend sent me a link to an op-ed piece in the New York Times, which offers an answer to the question. The author of the article, Frank Rich, compares the disproportionate fury about the health care bill to the reaction, back in 1964, to the passing of the Civil Rights Amendment, and suggests that the rise in right-wing extremism is not about health care, but in reality a reaction to some serious demographic shifts in our country's population. "The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play." By 2012, he adds, "non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority." He then notes, "The Tea Party movement is virtually all white."

So here it is, Good Friday, and the shadows of extremism are darkening, clouds are looming, storms are brewing. Surely we are all desperate for the message of hope that Easter will bring. Perhaps when we put our heads down against the storm we are really bowing them in prayer.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

God yearning to become manifest

A friend called this morning to read to me from Cynthia Bourgeault's wonderful little book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing. And the piece she read was just so beautiful and perfect that I had to share it here:

"Conscience is the pearl of great price; it is both the instrument and the supreme realization of visionary seeing. It is the capacity always and everywhere to see the whole of God yearning to become manifest in all our human beings and doings, like the full of the moon faintly present behind the crescent.

"With the awakening of this eye, you no longer see Wisdom; you are Wisdom. You become a channel of God's peace, and the greatest of all artists as you dance with "the love that moves the stars and the sun

I loved this; loved that she was reading the book, loved that she called to read me the quote, loved the quote, love that it resonates so beautifully with who she is becoming, love the imagery... And I love it, too, because it feels that in a way this is what I'm doing with this series of torsos I seem to be creating; it's a concrete, demonstrable way of saying what I have always believed: that there is beauty everywhere -- that there is divinity everywhere -- in even the simplest things, in even the most irascible human beings and the most challenging situations.

The image above (can you tell my back was feeling better by the end of the day yesterday? I LOVE this one!!!) had its humble beginnings in the upper right corner of the image shown here, shot on a gray day on the ferry last week. She is, in her way, a guardian angel, a visual reminder of the truth my husband so kindly shared with me yesterday, as I was giving voice to my discouragement about what seemed to be negative progress with my back. "The path to healing is not always linear." (Note: the image for today's poem started with the lower left side of this photo).

We need to be patient with the times that are slow, or stopped, or that appear to be moving backwards, and trust that even in stepping back, room is being created for the divine to become manifest. Sometimes we, or our artistic spirits, or our communities, or our lives, or our hearts, need to curl up in a cocoon for a bit. It is only through that period of stillness and apparent stagnation that true metamorphosis can occur and the butterfly we were born to be can unfold her wings and fly.