handmade solstice

solstice treeWinter solstice is probably my favorite celebration.  There is something about gathering in the dark, cold, stark night to light candles and celebrate the returning of the light…something intuitive and ancient about bringing people together for music and laughter and dancing and body heat and feasting when the days grow short and the trees are bare against the stars.

Liberated from coursework for nearly a month, desperate to procrastinate (I declared to myself that I would finally obtain my driver’s permit this December, and I DON’T WANT TO), I have taken great delight in making new blended body butters, developing exquisitely scented solid perfumes, and returning to tablet weaving and knitting. Working with my hands instead of my brain, creating gifts that will help my beloved friends and family feel nourished and loved, planning a solstice party and circle dance, baking homemade bread again…ahhhhh.  Long mornings of soapmaking and kundalini yoga, hours of painting, mug after mug of st. john’s wort and damiana tea, George Winston playing piano, letters to friends. Such a beautiful time.

I wanted to share my favorite solstice recipes with you, so that even though we are centering in our own stillness at the dark of the year, we are still learning from each other.

DREAMER’S PILLOWS

these are wonderful eye pillows for savasana (if you do yoga) or to tuck beneath your pillow when you sleep, or even travel pillows to carry with you and alleviate the stale plastic aroma of commercial travel.

Cut 2 rectangles of material (I like lavender velvet) about 12″ by 6″ , turn so that the wrong sides face out, and hem along three sides. Turn right-side out and stuff with 2 cups of dried lavender, 1/2 cup of dried mugwort, and 1/2 cup of either dried passionflower or dried catnip.  Sometimes I’ll use a combination of elderflower and rose instead of the lavender.  Pin together the open side and sew shut.

PERSONAL PERFUMES

I learned long ago that of the senses, scent holds the most power for me. One good whiff of peat smoke can transport me into instant rapture, and the plastic scent of big-box stores plunges me into a depressive tailspin.

As a teenager, I practiced harnessing this power by experimenting with essential oils.  I would choose one oil to be my “happy” scent, and for weeks, whenever I felt particularly joyous, I would dab the oil on my wrists and under my nose.  Soon I had only to smell the oil to feel instant joy.  I could use the oil for months to inspire happiness, but eventually its powers would wane and it would be time to choose a new “happy” scent.

I like to study my friends for a few months–what scents seem to bring them alive? I’ll walk them through my soap-making workshop and notice which soaps they breathe in most deeply.  And then I design a perfume for them.  It’s easy to do—all you need are almond oil, beeswax, and essential oils—and a great way to get to know your friends even better.  Maybe I should design some for my enemies too so I can smell them coming…

2 tbsp. sweet almond oil
2 tbsp. grated beeswax
20-30 drops of your favorite essential oils

(some blends I love are petitgrain and patchouli, benzoin and amyris, vetiver and cedarwood, or bergamot and grapefruit)

Melt the beeswax and almond oil together in a pyrex bowl nested over boiling water. When melted, remove from heat and drop in your scent blend, stirring as you go.  (Keep in mind that the scent will mellow as the perfume hardens; get to the scent strength that smells perfect and then add 10 more drops!)  Pour quickly into empty lip balm tins or chapstick tubes–or an empty locket?–and let harden.

To use, simply rub some balm onto your finger and apply to pulse points and temples.  These are wonderfully subtle, perfuming your personal space without invading the air around.

SOLSTICE TEA

I do like the dark times of the year, I like the journey inward, but sometimes it can hurt. Sometimes I forget about the return of the light and let the darkness sweep me away.  This tea is for those times.  Hawthorn and rose strengthen and nourish the heart, St. John’s Wort reminds of the light, mullein clears the lungs (and energetically dissolves grief) and holy basil lifts the spirits.

1 c. dried holy basil (tulsi)  (if you can’t find this, you can substitute lemon balm)

1 c. dried rose petals

1/2 c. hawthorn berries

1/2 c. st. john’s wort flowers and leaves

1/4 c. mullein

Blend together and store in an airtight jar or tin.  To prepare, measure out 2 tbsp. of herbs per mug of tea.  Cover with freshly boiled water and let steep 5 min. before straining.  Sweeten with honey if desired.

SUNLIGHT BATH

This fizzing bath bomb perfumes the bathwater and leaves your skin slightly sparkling with golden mica. Take this bath by candlelight and I DARE you to stay sulky!

1 c. baking soda

1/2 c. citric acid

1 tsp. mica

3 tbsp. sweet almond or grapeseed oil

1 tsp- 1 tbsp. essential oil (I use lavender or rose, generally)

2 tbsp. crumbled cocoa butter

dried herbs or flowers, if you wish (though these can make a bit of a mess in the tub after.)

rosewater

Stir the dry ingredients together until well-mixed, then add the oils and cocoa butter.  Mix until it stays together when you squeeze it. Sprinkle a tiny bit of rosewater ( less than a tsp.) over the mixture, stirring constantly to keep from fizzing.

Working quickly, press the mixture into molds (empty easter eggs, silicon candy molds, flexible ice cube trays work well; I’ve even heard you can use a melon baller!) and let set a few minutes before popping out.  Air the bath bombs for 24 hours.  Then draw a hot bath, light candles, and drop one in.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Much love to you at the dark of the year! And happy Summer Solstice, Australians!

5 Comments

December 12, 2013 · 7:53 pm

croesus & fukushima

I spent yesterday learning bollywood-style choreography, hosting/taking an intense workshop on the touch drawing technique, and wildly spinning to amazing fiddle music at the contra dance.  There was hardly a moment to take a breath, but while my body made hand mudras and shimmied my shoulders, pressed ink into paper, and twirled in the arms of my dance partners, my mind doggedly pursued the same topic it’s been tumbling for weeks now.  Weeks of making art and writing papers, studying for exams and curing hundreds of bars of soap, visiting family and holding babies and blending body butters and solid perfumes, watching plans coalesce and unravel, feeling by turns utterly filled and completely devastated–I’ve been thinking about what’s beneath it all.

All of these different layers of self—the ones that come out at family dinners, the ones represented by the photographs we throw away and the poems that would embarrass us horribly if they ever came to light.  The parts we claim and don’t claim.  The parts we don’t even notice—the way our walk differs from everyone else’s, or what incites us to love, or why certain colors or sounds induce longing.

It strikes me that the ones who inspire me, my dearest friends and deepest teachers, are the ones who live frighteningly close to the surface.  We feel EVERYTHING.  It can be called sensitivity, touchiness, flakiness, vulnerability, mental illness, intuition, creativity, genius….so many of us who are this open to the world end up broken by it, submerged in depression or mania or something in between; so many of us develop  addictions as ways of dulling this excruciating sensitivity. Some of our addictions are benign—too many cups of sugared tea—and some kill us.   All are ways of tuning out, because our default setting is so very very tuned in.

But some of us manage to shift our value system, to see this burden as a gift.  We decide to highly prize experience and sensitivity.  We linger over every new idea, every scent, every painful and deeply felt emotion.  We let ourselves grieve in every color over situations that others seem not even to notice.

And lately I have learned something—we ALL notice.  All of us are born this close to the surface.  It’s just that some of us hide it better than others, and some of us dull it away with behaviors or time or routines.  I haven’t managed to hide mine. Or, perhaps, I have, by building my life around it.

At the touch drawing workshop, beautifully facilitated by Katrina Plato, we were urged to ask questions and let the drawings answer. I drew with closed eyes, on tissue paper that had been laid over rolled paint, so that the pressure of my fingers and elbows and hands marked the page. When my eyes opened I would quickly lift the drawing and begin a new one. I made 31 drawings in this way. They cycled through downcast faces, trees, weeping eyes, dancing women, ambiguous swirls, and back to downcast faces. Some of them terrified me.

touchdrawing5

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touchdrawing4touchdrawing7                                                  touchdrawing2

In the end we were asked to quickly number and title our drawings, keeping them in sequence so that they could tell an unfolding story.  There was one disturbing series that I titled “Croesus” for no particular reason. When I came home I read about Croesus and learned this:

Croesus was a spectacularly wealthy king crowned in 560 BC.  He reigned at a time when the once powerful Ionian cities were falling to the Persians in Anatolia.  He asked the oracle at Delphi if he should go to war; the oracles answered that if Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire.

The empire, of course, turned out to be his own, and Croesus was burned alive.  Some stories relate that as he burned, he cried out ‘Solon!’ three times–Solon, a poet and reformer who had warned the king that good fortune is fickle.

Terrible as that is, this is the story that broke my heart: There was a Phrygian prince called Adrastus, a young man who had been exiled for accidentally killing his own brother. Croesus took pity on Adrastus and offered him refuge. Adrastus thanked him by accidentally killing Croesus’ only son, Atys.   (what is it Maya Angelou said?  when someone shows you who they are for the first time, believe them.)

touchdrawing3

Croesus series

It is so hard for me to come to terms with this, that our very mercy, our desire to do good, can be the vehicle of our destruction–that sometimes there is no reason, no redemption, only terrible waste. I know that it is true and I do not know how to make peace with it.  But boy oh boy did it answer my question! Art amazes me in this way, in its power to coax out meaning, and in doing so, to heal.

Because it does heal. I have to remind myself of this; it is easy to think of expressive arts as ‘soft’ therapy, useless in times of real trauma, self-indulgent when there are so many who need water or light or, I don’t know, stitches.

But I had a dream several nights ago in which I lay beneath the ocean floor and looked up through layers of oddly warm water.  Fish of every color swam urgently past and then a whale, slowly, looking straight into my eyes.  And then another.  I was pinned there, beneath the water and between the unyielding gazes of these beautiful, sincere creatures trying fiercely to communicate something of extreme importance.  I saw a leaf catch fire at the corner of my eye and felt an overwhelming and inexplicable sadness.

When I woke , I saw my friend Zoe’s partially painted canvas.  She’d left it with me, urging me to either paint over it or complete it, and so I began painting.

I did not know I would paint my dream–not until the next morning. After painting on and off for several hours, I could see that I was painting about Fukushima and my deep despair over what is happening in the oceans of this world. And then I saw that my friend Zoe, who speaks fluent Japanese and studied papermaking in Japan, who practices acupuncture and shiatsu, was all over the canvas: layers of handmade paper torn up and collaged, points of light swirling along the meridians of the ocean as if to diagram its acupuncture points, underlying colors and depth she had left there for me.

fukushima Everything is a dialogue.  I am never in this alone, and neither are you.  When I finished that painting I felt emptied out—there was so much grief I did not know I’d been holding. But I also felt held, by my friend, and by the simple loving craft of papermaking, and by the power of acupuncture, by all of the good and beautiful things we humans have done.  Held by the mystery of it all, the mystery that is so much larger than my sadness or my dream or my vision.  Held by my own sensitivity, that is willing to open me to so much in this world that could hurt, and that defies explanation, but is willing all the same.

It is good journeying with you all. Thank you for your own willingness to live close to the surface of things, your bravery in feeling everything, the way you communicate what you’ve learned to the rest of us. That’s an answer right there.

15 Comments

December 8, 2013 · 9:34 pm

keep the old

old friends

I have known Zoe and Sarah since I was thirteen years old. On my first day of boarding school, sitting high on the third floor of that ancient brick building and trying very hard not to cry, I saw someone turning cartwheels on the lawn.  It took every shred of my bravery to go out and introduce myself to that free spirit, but it turned out to be Sarah.  She made me laugh right away. She’s inspired infinite bravery and laughter since.

Zoe was a sophomore, impossibly beautiful in glittery ska pants and plastic butterfly rings. It took me longer to acquire the courage necessary to speak with Zoe (she was a SOPHOMORE) but soon we were writing poetry back and forth, dancing in cornfields and trying to reach each other in dreams from across the hall.

The three of us wrote letters, real ones, all the way through college and after.  Sarah’s letter to me from a farm she was working on in France saved my skin once when, hitchhiking through Scotland, I ran out of money and had no place to stay. I called my mother, as one does, and she told me there was a letter waiting for me from Sarah.  I asked her to read it to me over the phone, and soon I was herding goats with Sarah in France.

Another time Zoe, back in Pennsylvania from the life she’d found in Australia, walked with me through cow pastures and balanced on trees over the Brandywine.  I’d just returned from the Middle East and was brimful of self-righteous politics.  Zoe was sitting on a fence post as we watched the sun set over a field near her mother’s home.  She stretched languidly and said “Lissa, for a pacifist you sure fight yourself a lot.”

I held on to that beautiful bit of insight for a long, long time.  Old friends, the real ones who know you through and through—they say hard things some times.  At times it feels easier not to be around them.  When I was barely holding on in California, when my marriage was falling apart and my life felt so constricted that it was hard even to draw breath, I cut off my family and friends.  I stopped returning Sarah’s calls and Zoe’s letters.  But they never stopped calling and writing.  They each found ways to show up at my door, all the way across the country.  And they continued to hold a mirror up to my life, much as I did not want to look.

Four years ago we decided–I forget how, it must have been divine inspiration!–to gather at Sarah’s family property in upstate New York.  We built wood-fired saunas and cooked elaborate feasts and swam in the lakes and sunned along the rivers, drank wine and laughed and wrote and reunited.  I remembered how large life is.  We all wrote about that experience on Sarah’s wonderful blog The Perspective Project.

We’ve met each year since. Each year felt different–one year, we were hosted by a dear friend on Nantucket in a palatial guest house, taken for ornate dinners and given free run of a jaw-droppingly well-supplied art studio.  We were all knee-deep in our own painful crises that year. To be so well taken care of felt like a drink of cool water in the midst of a punishing marathon.

Another time we gathered at Zoe’s place in Boston.  We made paper and kombucha and body butter and lip balm. We sang karaoke in a tiny Japanese bar.  And we laughed.  There is always so much laughter.

This year, Sarah and Zoe came to Boone. We had all reached a place of relative equilibrium.  The arc of this friendship covers so much–at first you do not notice the changes, but then suddenly here is Zoe, the freespirited poet and world traveler, opening her own acupuncture and shiatsu practice.  And Sarah, artist/writer/wit/cartwheel turner, a college professor.  Both here, in my world, thickening the thin places, weaving the loose ends back in.

oldfriends

oldfriends5

We have all changed.  But when we are together, the thirteen-year-olds are here too.  And the seventeen-year-olds. And, I think, the seventy-year-olds.  The past overflows into the present, and the present feels velvety with depth.

We sat on my sunny porch and did Johari Windows together, and enneagram tests.  One of the questions was this: does your life feel permeated by a sense of longing?  Unequivocally yes, we answered.  And thinking about this, it became clear to me:  this life has been so full.  Each of us has traveled so far, been so many things to so many people, tried on so many roles and languages and ways of being.  No one place can hold us anymore.  No matter where we are, there will be a longing for some aspect of our Self that cannot be held by that moment.

And yet, when we three are together, there is a broadness greater than the sum of our individual selves. When we are together, there is no part of me that is not fed.  We are big enough to hold it all.

oldfriends3

I look at my changing friends—the laughter lines (so much laughter!), the odd gray hairs, the incremental and transcendently lovely beginnings of self-acceptance—and I see myself.  That mirror is held up yet again and, seeing my friends, I see myself.  I see how brokenness heals, how some things remain immutable and some shift endlessly.  I see how age brings rare joy and wisdom as well as heartbreak.  I see how large this life is.

Being loved like this, by old friends, there is nothing like it.  Sometimes I wish they did not know me so well, it’s true, sometimes I feel called onto the carpet by issues I thought I’d resolved with puberty.  But until I am surrounded by old friends I forget how much energy I spend each day trying to be acceptable, trying to be liked.  With Sarah and Zoe, there is no question of being acceptable or liked–that question was settled long ago.  All of that energy is released outward, sizzling into art, and dance, and life, and laughter. Dear friends.  New friends teach me how much I can expand, the beautiful and haunting potential held by this life.  But the old ones—ahh, the old ones remember what I AM.  What WE ARE. What we have always been.  And that is big enough to hold everything.

olfdriemds4

this is a poem i wrote after the visit of another old friend (rob, your time is coming!!)–but it seems to fit here.

an old friend’s visit

continuing: remaining seen

there was a thread undone,

now woven in

and there is freedom here,

in being known

a freedom anonymity can’t own

continuing a thing!

o it is strange

that there is one who calls me by my name

.

7 Comments

November 20, 2013 · 2:37 am

insist on the sacred

sunrise2

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes it will feel

As though every moment of

Every day is walled in behind

Heavy blocks of solid ugliness

 

 

No light, no spark,

No color or song within

Or without you—

 

 

Some moments will feel

So heavily pointless that

The sky itself shrinks to dulness

And birds fly mechanically, with dead eyes.

 

 

Don’t believe it for a second.

Hand on heart, search with everything in you

For a single softness

 

 

There is a crack somewhere—look!

A leaf is falling in singing spirals

The sunset lights a stranger’s hair from within.

 

 

Perhaps it is the way your breath catches on

An unsung sadness in your throat before

Falling finally to fill your heart.

 

 

Grasp now with both hands

And shoulder it open, this

Cracked, dull facade: it isn’t true.

 

 

Push through.

 

 

It’s always there, the sacred, in the legal brief,

The pinching shoes,

The smashed body of the young raccoon,

The crushed beer cans, the lost love—

 

 

Don’t be fooled.

Insist.

Come alive.

Step through.

4 Comments

November 7, 2013 · 2:00 pm

permaculture, psychology, and cancer

photograph by lori fernald khamala

sugar maple on my street…photograph by lori fernald khamala

I began my studies in clinical mental health counseling this fall.  I’ve been learning dozens of theories, from Freudian psychodynamics to Rogerian person-centered therapy.  But long before I began my studies in counseling, I studied botany and ecology, herbal medicine and permaculture. I can’t help myself; my understanding of people as ecological beings filters through and colors everything I am learning.

Permaculture, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is the study of ecological systems and their application to human designs.  Many think of it as a gardening system, and it is: a wonderful design-based system for the creation of self-tending perennial food forests.  But permaculture principles, based as they are on years of studying ecology, apply to most of human behavior–from the way we grow our food to the way we build our cities and shape our lives.

I’ve found myself quietly ignoring psychological theory and applying permaculture principles to my studies instead.  It seems to me that there is only one system we know of that is entirely self-sustaining and functional under all conditions, only one that accounts for every life and death and galaxy and virus. Why not study that, instead of a man from Vienna, if I want to know how the mind works? Continue reading

11 Comments

November 2, 2013 · 3:25 am

mastery

Raking Leaves

I have had so many chances to observe myself lately.  Perhaps the most obvious was an assignment, recently completed for a counseling techniques class, in which I  ‘counseled’ a fellow student for a half-hour, videotaping the whole time. I was to use the session to demonstrate the skills I’ve been learning, making a certain number of responses from each of several prescribed categories.

Watching the video later, I was struck by how quickly I’d forgotten the prescribed responses, how immediately I’d been absorbed in my friend’s story.  The first few moments there’d been a struggle in my head between attentive listening and careful attention to the assignment.  Listening won, hands down.  I could not hold that tension in my mind between complete presence and detached focus. Continue reading

8 Comments

October 29, 2013 · 2:34 am

autumn on white oak road

what the oaks lose in beauty

they gain in flight–

though graceful maples self-immolate

hand by focused hand,

they cannot draw the sun back in.

 

yet each drab oak leaf, falling here,

is lifted–

humble icarus–

one last slow dance of dying

made of motion,

not of light.

 

all that’s lost in beauty

gained in flight.

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4 Comments

October 23, 2013 · 12:18 am

letting life speak

William Penn

I was raised Quaker.  Since I was very small I’ve practiced sitting in silence, listening for the ‘inner light’, the voice of God within.  I stared for so many hours at William Penn’s quote, framed on the wall of the building where I first learned to worship (and to read), that it still flickers over the inside of my eyelids when I am drowsy:

True godliness does not remove men from the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavors to mend it.

This was the spirituality I was steeped in: to listen for the voice of what is holy, and then to tirelessly live it in the world, to preach with my life.  To let my life speak.  There was no dogma, no preacher or minister or intermediary.  Just me and my conscience, and the several dozen Quaker political action committees that lobby endlessly the world over for an end to war, freedom for all, equality and a culture of nonviolence.  I grew up believing that religion is  listening to my own conscience and then working until the world around me matches what I feel on the inside.  I felt no inconsistency finding God in trees, bees, bee-balm flowers, chanting, poetry, dancing, mountains.  I did not realize until fairly recently how unusual this is. Continue reading

8 Comments

October 21, 2013 · 2:38 am

rejection

Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The P...

Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The Pericardium Meridian of Hand-Jueyin

This weekend I attended an illuminating workshop taught by Sarah Thomas of  Clarity Acupuncture. She described, from a Chinese Medical perspective, what happens to our bodies when we experience trauma.

Trauma, she explained, is so overwhelming that we simply cannot experience all of it in the moment.  As a result, the un-felt feelings get buried or frozen in the body.  How does this happen? Listen to this heartbreaking story:

The pericardium is the guardian of the heart.  Its job is to protect the spirit, the center of our ability to communicate and bring our light to the world.  The pericardium’s ability to open and close the gates of the heart is what allows us to love a friend deeply, yet take it in stride when she has a bad day and snaps at us.  It allows us to feel empathy for another’s tragedy, yet not cry at every cat food commercial.

But when there is trauma, something or someone attacks the pericardium with such might that it collapses and can no longer guard the heart. Continue reading

12 Comments

October 17, 2013 · 3:03 am

tooth of the gods

English: Black bear in the Canadian Rockies

Recently, at a mead-making workshop, someone related the story of a precious bottle of ancient honey wine, unearthed  and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As the bottle was carried to its new owner, it slipped from the tray and shattered on the ground.

“Ah,” said my mead-making friend, “that’s the tooth of the gods.”

I had never heard this term before and asked for elaboration.

“The tooth of the gods is the sacrifice that  life demands,” he said.  “Bottles shattering, for instance.  Or a promising life ending too soon.  It’s the immensity of living on the knife’s edge, never knowing what might be taken from you.”

I listened, taken aback by this concept that loss could be a holy thing. And yet—walking home tonight from a late meeting, I was absorbed in thought, absentmindedly watching for oncoming cars on my dark, curving street.  Suddenly a sharp smell raised the hackles on my neck and set my heart pounding. Continue reading

6 Comments

October 8, 2013 · 4:02 am