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The Moment and the Messenger

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tayatha om bekandze bekanze maha bekandze bekandze randze samu gate soha

I learned this mantra years ago, while living in the garden oasis guest house of my dear friend Shui Lan. We listened to it together as we sought and claimed islands of peace in our chaotic lives. Shui Lan taught me to use this mantra to overcome both physical pain and the deeper pain of believing I am ever separate from the Oneness.

I have returned to this Medicine Buddha mantra over and over again as I surf the changes and excitements and pains and disappointments of this life. The words translate, I am told, to this:

do it like this:

start with OM, the undercurrent of the universe

do away with the pain of illness

do away with the darkness of ignorance

do away with the great separation

send this prayer to the highest, the widest, the deepest

offer this song and then relinquish it.

I offer this song, and then relinquish it. Because we don’t get to keep anything, do we? Sometimes at night, just before sleep, I review the golden moments of the day in my mind: the tickle of my son’s soft hair as he squeezes me tight, the deep joy in the clear eyes of my beloved as he laughs, the steam rising from a cup of perfect tea in that first sweet hour of the morning. I don’t get to keep any of that. I savor it, and breathe it in, and then relinquish it. Spring is bursting out in delirious joy all around me, a song to the sky that rises and then transforms. It doesn’t stay.

 

This dance of offering and relinquishing has become more subtle and complex as I grow older.  When is self-acceptance called for, and when do I need to change? When am I being lazy, and when do I need deep rest? When should I retreat with a cup of herbal tea and when should I jump madly into the fray?

Where is the sacredness in the afternoons I spend engrossed in paperwork, allowing the stress and frustration to mount until I lash out at my family?  Why do some days feel infused with magic and play, and others so heavy and purposeless? How do I reconcile the world of deep reverence and joy with the world that allows a friend to lose her child?

Lately I’ve been drawing the Raven card over and over again, the messenger from the great mystery. The message is: pay attention. The moment is a message, and my job is to pay attention. IMG_6648

I have come to accept that I will never arrive at the perfect balance between these poles. Each is as true as the other. The afternoons of waiting endlessly on staticky hold for the IRS while children screech at each other are just as real as the afternoons of liquid light and synchronicity. Life is a surge between them, a spiral of coming to peace and being devastated and coming to peace again, a little deeper each time, a little wiser each time. Yesterday I learned Pema Chodron’s definition of compassion:

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

This strikes me as being deeply true–true not only in our relationship to others, but in our relationship to our own lives. My life is not an interaction between the healed and the wounded. I am not wrong or broken when I am sick, or out-of-sorts, or reeling from loss.

Can I learn to relate to myself in those moments as an equal–not try to fix myself, or paper over my sadness and frustration with deep breaths and positive thinking? Can I learn to approach ALL OF IT with reverence and grace, to understand that ALL OF IT is an expression of an underlying Oneness?

Maybe not–not yet, anyway–but I am certainly being called to try. Again and again, life teaches me to stay on board through the hard things instead of wishing myself away to an ideal future. Sitting with friends who have just suffered unimaginable loss is every bit as sacred and important as sitting with friends who have just given birth.

IMG_6649This is especially scary, I think, because I have a fear that if I pay attention to the darker parts of life, I will somehow lose my way and fall entirely into darkness.  This is a shadow of the relentless “spiritual” drive to purify and enlighten and transcend, and it comes at the expense of authentic experience.  Somehow I have taught myself that joy is more valuable than sorrow, that happiness and idealism are more important than anger or fear.

Really, all of them are just temporary states, weather for processing experience. Yes, happiness and joy are much more pleasant to experience and socially waaaaay easier to explain, but are they innately more valuable? My times of deep anger, rage, and pain have all led to phenomenal growth and courage. I don’t particularly wish to return to them, but they propelled me forward to where I am now.

There is a fear, too, that if I find the sacred in the painful, I will somehow negate the misery, the wrongness, of suffering. I don’t want to ever be okay with the fact that there are hungry children or women who cannot vote. Instead, I want to be able to stay with my life when it takes me into these experiences: to let the righteous anger and sorrow and terror lead me forward into action rather than paralyzing me, and all without losing my reverence for life and beauty.

Life is short and full of unexpected joys and sorrows. Don’t I want to be able to welcome all of it? Don’t I want to be fully present for each moment, rather than wishing half of it away?

So here I am, balanced as usual on the fulcrum. I live in a beautiful city filled with incredible friends. I am deeply loved and I love deeply. I have just learned that I am going to IRELAND in a week for the Expressive Arts Symposium, which is like a thousand million dreams exploding into truth simultaneously, and all because of the support of incredible friends and family. It’s almost too much joy to take in—can I really deserve to be this happy?

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And also–real too– deep sadness. In my family, a child with mysterious symptoms that frighten us. In my community, children dying in a fire; dear friends losing close family, children losing parents. In my country, the rise of fear and hatred; in the world, waters rising, terror and devastating loss in Turkey.

Does the one experience negate the other? Or, somehow, can I live in such a way that I treat all of it with reverence?  I want to learn how to hold it all. I want to learn the art of finding the sacred in the devastating.

I found myself discussing all of this with my friend Maeve on a sunny patio on a beautiful spring morning last week. She has been exploring similar themes in the yoga classes she teaches and told me about the 5 kleshas, or causes of suffering: ignorance of the truth; labeling/judgment; attachment; aversion; and clinging to life.

I find such beauty in this framework: envisioning aversion and clinging to life not as forms of suffering, but as causes of suffering! It was in talking to Maeve that I once again remembered the Medicine Buddha mantra, and that fundamental sickness of thinking any of it is ever separate.

I am neither Buddhist nor Yogi, but I am profoundly grateful for the wisdom of those who have gone before and tangled with these questions so gracefully. Maeve and I have decided to explore this together, one klesha at a time,  through yoga and art and sacred slowness. We’ll attempt to welcome the shadows and the suffering with reverence and presence. (We’re meeting to explore the first klesha on April 21st, Lunar Beltane. All are welcome—if you’re in the area, we’ll be at our studio in the Phil Mechanic building; if you’re not and want to join in, let me know…we may try to structure it as a live webinar).

I offer this song and then relinquish it. I am filled with deep, heady joy even as I am devastated with sorrow.

Each moment is a messenger. I am learning not to turn any of them away.

teyatha om bekandze bekandze maha bekandze bekandze randze samu gate soha

 

5 Comments

March 21, 2016 · 7:14 pm

Celebrating the Solstice

 

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Yesterday evening we held a lovely, warm gathering in the studio to celebrate the return of the light. There is a part of me that longs every year to travel north and celebrate the solstice in the company of the sacred circle dance community there, where each year they dress all in white and and dance by candlelight for the longest night. It dawned on me this year that I could dance these beautiful dances within my own community.

There is a subtle magic that happens with circle dance, when your feet follow simple steps that have been danced for generations upon generations, a sort of window of sacred time that opens and bestows a deeper meaning upon every movement. I watched the candlelit faces of dear old friends and new acquaintances as they moved in the circle, remembering other faces that have danced this dance, feeling so much love and fulness as we moved, again, in the steps that honor our changing rhythms and the way we mirror and learn from the rhythms of the Earth.

We opened the evening with a mini-herbal workshop, where we learned how to make massage bars with infused oils. There is something warm and wonderful about creating gifts this time of year, when sources of light and warmth are low and a small handmade surprise from a friend can be the candle that keeps us going for the day. I love to give massage bars as presents, because it is a gift that inspires further warmth, love, and touch in the using of it. Here is the recipe we used:

3 oz. unrefined shea butter

3 oz. cocoa butter

5 oz. beeswax (up to 6 oz. if you prefer a more solid bar; I like mine to melt bewitchingly in my hand)

6 oz. herb-infused oil (more on this in a bit)

1-2 tablespoons essential oil, depending on your preference

~This is a very forgiving. adaptable recipe and can be easily altered to make greater or lesser quantities. Just keep the beeswax and oil roughly equal to each other and use half that amount of cocoa and shea butters. For example, to make only 4 or so massage bars, you would use 1.5 oz of the butters, 3 oz. of beeswax and oil, and just half a tablespoon of essential oil. ~

imageThe first step is to infuse the oils. I prefer to use sweet almond oil, as I like the way it absorbs into the skin, but you can use jojoba, grapeseed, apricot kernel, even olive.

For a sun extraction, pack a mason jar about 3/4 full with your chosen herb (I used calendula for its skin-healing properties; other good choices would include rose petal, witch hazel flower, comfrey, and lavender) and fill with the oil of your choice. Make sure no botanicals are peeking up over the top of the oil; these can rot and introduce bacteria to your infusion. Nobody wants a bacteria massage (at least, nobody I’ve met).

Let your jar sit in the sun for several weeks, checking occasionally to be sure the flowers are submerged. When the oil has taken on a bit of the color of your chosen botanical (usually 4-6 weeks) you can strain it and it’s ready to use!  Be sure to label right away. If you’re anything like me, you think you’ll remember what’s in that jar, but you won’t.

The other method we discussed last night was a warm extraction.  I tend to use this method when a) I’m infusing bark, twigs, or roots and b) I’m in a bit of a hurry. Roots tend to be concentrated sources of herbal compounds, so they aren’t as easily destroyed by heat, but it’s important to make sure you don’t overheat them all the same.

I prefer to use sun extraction with more delicate plant parts like leaves and flowers because they are easily overheated and their medicine compromised. You could do a warm extraction on pine bark, twigs of black birch (this makes a beautifully sassafrass-scented massage oil that goes deep into the tissues) and even garlic.

We used kava-kava root tonight, which has lovely muscle-relaxing properties when applied externally, making it an excellent choice for a massage bar. To do a warm extraction, you need either a crockpot or an oven-safe crock. Place your herbs in the crockpot and cover them with oil. I usually cover strong roots like kava kava with double the amount of oil.  Set your crockpot on ‘warm’ for two hours (or place in an oven at 100 for two hours) and then turn off.  Let sit all day, then repeat the process the next morning.  Do this for seven days and your oil is ready to strain.

imageNow you have your infused oils, you are ready to make the massage bars. First, melt the shea butter, cocoa butter, and beeswax in a double boiler (you can improvise one by resting your pan upon a mason jar lid in a larger pot of simmering water). Let them melt slowly; it does take a while.

When they have melted, remove pan from the heat and slowly add the infused oil. It may congeal a bit; continue to whisk and allow the residual heat to re-melt your mixture (you want to avoid heating your infused oils, as it can destroy the medicine).  Then add your essential oils.

We used a tablespoon of lavender with the kava kava for a deeply relaxing, skin-soothing bar and combined the calendula-infused oil with a teaspoon of rosemary essential oil and a half teaspoon of peppermint essential oil.  I love peppermint for its diaphoretic, opening properties, but you have to be careful with it as some people react to having it on their skin, so don’t use as much as you would use a safer oil like lavender.

Pour while still warm into your molds—I use silicon baking molds; you could also use muffin tins lined with waxed paper. You can pretty much assume that any implements you use with beeswax and butters are never ever going to get all the way clean again, so maybe have some dedicated pots and pans for your herbal creations!

Let your bars solidify and pop them out of their molds…you are ready to go!

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I wish all of you a deep dreaming in the darkness and a candle in the longest night. May there always be a source of light available to you, and may the darkness encourage deep rest and strong vision for the year to come.

 

3 Comments

December 19, 2015 · 2:38 pm

befriending our burdens

altarLast night I had the privilege of facilitating, with my dear friend Maeve, one of the most nourishing gatherings I’ve ever attended.  We gathered to explore the idea of befriending our burdens—noticing the hurts that we walk with in this world, and entering into dialogue with them through art and movement and the senses.  We wanted to learn, not just how to better care for ourselves as we wrangle our shadows, but also what gifts and lessons might be lurking beneath the surface of the curses we carry.

Several minutes in, the lights went out. The rosemary tea for the footbaths I’d been planning, merrily bubbling away on two electric burners, had shorted the electric system.  Fortunately the tea was ready, the water was warm, and the evening continued even more beautifully than we’d originally planned–lit by candles and accompanied by the soulful, spontaneous singing of our circle rather than the pre-recorded playlist.

We nourished our feet with the turmeric foot soaks I wrote about here, and scrubbed them tenderly with grapefruit halves filled with salt and coconut oil. We sipped rose petal chai and rose-hawthorn wine. We tasted bitter chocolate, sweet dates, salty and pungent almond dip, sour raspberries, astringent turmeric sake. We listened to our bodies’ response. Each sense– from the sound of the tea pouring to the sight of steam rising from the cup, candlelight reflecting here from the skin of a bell pepper and being absorbed there by the flat richness of cacao powder, the scent of roses and neroli and fresh sage, the feel of our feet in warm water, our hands curled around warm cups—invited us again and again into this sweet body, this lovely moment of carrying our burdens with tenderness and self-love.

All of us carry something— the loss of a loved one, a frightening diagnosis, a hurting child, a country at war. We are born into a world of darkness and light, joy and loss. No amount of herbal medicine and yoga will ever remove these hurts from us. But we can learn to love ourselves through the pain, take the moments of deliciousness and beauty fully in whenever they come. Our deep pain points the truest way to our most cherished desires, and we can choose to keep walking joyfully in the direction of those desires, however fearsome the obstacles become. (And we can choose to stop walking and give ourselves footbaths every once in a while!)

datesDecadent Mascarpone Dates

Slit several fresh dates halfway and remove the pits. (If the only dates you can get are quite dry, soak them overnight in a bit of fresh-squeezed orange juice.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, whip together 1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese (if you make kefir, kefir cheese works really well too) with raw honey to taste and a tablespoon of orange flower water. (If you are lucky enough to live in the presence of orange trees, you can make your own orange flower water using the hydrosol recipe I gave here; otherwise look for it in middle-eastern markets). Using a frosting pipe or a ziploc bag with one corner snipped off, pipe the mascarpone blend into the awaiting dates. Sprinkle with rose petals, calendula, or borage flowers.

feastAlmond Garden Bliss

Soak about a cup of almonds overnight in springwater; allow to sprout for a day. At the same time, soak 1/4 cup of sundried tomatoes in about 1/2 cup of spring water.

When the almonds have been soaked, the skins should rub off easily. Place your barenaked almonds and soaked sundried tomatoes in a blender, reserving the tomato soak water. Add a big handful of fresh basil and a clove of garlic and sea salt to taste. Blend until smooth and about the consistency of hummus, using the tomato soak water and olive oil as necessary to make the blender do its thing. (Last night the garden did not have nearly as much basil as I wanted, so I added a lot of fresh oregano and wild dandelion greens.  You could also use nettles! It’s a very adaptable recipe and lots of fun to play with!)


I want to say one thing more about befriending burdens. Nearly twelve years ago, I was walking alone in my neighborhood in Santa Monica.  I was pregnant, sad, isolated, and scared. Across the street I saw light and music spilling out from a little cafe and I was drawn almost magnetically to the sound of happy, laughing people. Inside, I observed a wonderland of art, music, color and beauty. Radiant people were sipping wine and gazing at luminous art. I knew I did not belong here, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I shyly stepped inside and found myself in conversation with the most beautiful woman in the room, a woman who turned out to be the artist who had designed the whole gathering!

She became a dear friend. She also turned out to be my lifeline as I navigated my way through that pregnancy and the crazy years to come.

I could so easily have succumbed to my burdens that night and not walked through that door. I could easily have listened to the voices that told me I didn’t belong there, could so easily have followed my normal patterns and quietly slipped home. Instead, I said yes to the quiet nudging of my lonely heart and fell into an opportunity for deep friendship, creative sustenance, and art, an opportunity that circuitously led me into this life I am living now, a life in which I am, somehow, miraculously, holding luminous artistic gatherings of my own. (I love you, Laura. )

All around me, the leaves are changing, falling onto the ground in incredible mosaics of color. If the chlorophyll did not die, we would never see the secondary pigmentation beneath it, these heartrending reds and oranges and purples and yellows.  I think life is like that sometimes. Life deals us a blow and BOOM! there goes our chlorophyll. But we are resilient, beautiful creatures, and we not only survive, we begin to show new colors that we never suspected were there. Sometimes our burdens walk us directly into the beauty.

kneelphoto by Maeve Hendrix

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

3 Comments

November 9, 2015 · 4:17 am

walk on feet of gold

2015-10-14 10.31.04I’ve been playing giddily in my new studio in Asheville, amazed at what it does to a life to have a space dedicated to creativity.   The lined-up jars of herbs and clays and petals and powders set my mind spinning down roads of possibilities and the scent is overpoweringly delicious.

Yesterday, dreaming about an upcoming workshop I’ll be hosting to inaugurate this space, I let the threads of life’s whisperings to me meet in this recipe for a fizzing foot soak.  That sounds a little grandiloquent, so let me explain.

This summer was a welter of weddings, dear friends diving with great celebration into the future; this fall has been a deep and sobering reminder of mortality, with the loss of loved ones to cancer and addiction and accident. I remember one moment from this summer, standing at the head of a lovely contra dance promenade to celebrate Anna Lena’s wedding. Her bridal bouquet, which was hand-gathered and heavy with fresh basil, was being passed from person to person in the dance. As I stood there, playing the role of ‘bride’ in the dance, the spicy-sweet aroma of crushed basil woke my memory of so many summers past, growing basil amid the rows of flowers at Touchstone Farm, blending basil from my california garden into a delicious potluck pesto, steeping holy basil in a tea for a hurting friend. This basil that I held now felt like a friend too. Yet this sprig of basil was grown in a garden far from those of my memory.  My idea of basil was overspreading, incorporating this sprig and every other I had held and grown and tasted.  This one branch of basil that I held was a symbol, both an individual and an archetype.

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It was not a great leap from there, standing as I was in the role of “bride” at a wedding, to understand myself in the same way.  I have attended weddings in the role of flower girl, in the role of attendant, in the role of bride.  We move through the roles of these ceremonies in an ancient dance, sometimes the maiden, sometimes the mother, sometimes the crone. Our lives wax and wane, and we dance the circle and fall, but we are more than just our one small life in the dance.  As we dance it, we incarnate every archetype and hold all the power of that role, all those who came before, in our small selves. I felt that, standing there with the bouquet, that just as this small sprig of basil evoked every experience I’ve ever had with basil, each time I engage in love, or heartbreak, or art-making, or poetry, or friendship, I am participating in an ongoing dance that is far bigger than I am. I get to dance the idea of love, of art, of poetry, of friendship. And in that moment, I am more than myself. I represent the vastness of that idea, breathe in all that has come before.

So, you’re wondering, how the hell is she going to bring this back to footsoaks? So glad you asked.  When I moved here to the mountains of North Carolina, a deep sense of home settled in my bones. I have never been in love with geography the way I love the contours of these mountains. My feet lead me through twisting rhododendron paths and amidst towering oaks and maples, and my heart almost hurts with the joy of it. I explained this feeling to someone I’d just met at an herbal gathering, and she told me that the substrate here is mica, a mineral whose message is “you’re okay.”

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You’re okay. Isn’t that the essential message of self-care? I like to pick up flakes of mica from the soil and crush it in my fingers to a fine silver powder, then dust it into my hair and onto my face, so that I glitter in the sun.  I like the silver my feet pick up when I hike barefoot here.  I put powdered mica in all of my bath bombs now, so that when I step from the bath I am covered in a silver sheen, glittering and steeped in I’M OKAY.

I put lots of mica in these little footsoaks I made, thinking of that contact between foot and ground, the archetype there. Bare foot to bare earth, all of the feet that have walked these trails before me.  It’s powerful. We can have feet of clay and of gold, both. We’re all of it. It’s okay.

And I put turmeric in, thinking of a friend of mine from India with radiant skin.  I asked her about it one day and she said she made traditional turmeric masques for her face once a week. That weekend I mixed turmeric powder with an egg yolk and some calendula tea, placed it all over my face, and waited twenty minutes.  When I washed it off, I was every bit as radiant as she said I would be.  Because my face was yellow.  Deep, bright, permanent yellow. It didn’t wash off for a week.

I am too white, it turns out, for turmeric masks. But I never forgot the power turmeric has on the skin, the way it nourishes and draws life and color to it. A pinch of turmeric in a foot bath draws the blood to the surface, enlivening and awakening our heroically perseverant feet.

I added sea salt, for the power of the ocean and the exultation available in racing the surf, the deep delight of feet in warm sand. I added rosemary, for its woodsy scent and evocation of memory, and its way of stopping nasty little infections in their tracks. And lavender, because OF COURSE.

After I pressed the little golden, shimmering foot soaks into their molds, I went to rinse out the bowl in the utility sink.  It fizzed up golden and aromatic.  I balanced on the edge of the sink and submerged my feet in that scented water.  I breathed in, aware that in this moment, so many of my dreams have come true.  I am working as a counselor with women, doing what I can to ease the heavy burdens of their lives. I am deep in love and deeply loved. I have an art studio on the river! I carry everything that has come before, all of the other roles I have played in the dance, and the dance goes on.  In this golden moment, I am one with all of it.

Golden, sparkling feet touching earth, for this moment, and all moments.

FEET OF GOLD FOOT SOAK

1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup citric acid

1/4 cup sea salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons crushed mica

2 tablespoons sweet almond oil (infused with calendula, if you have it!)

1 tablespoon cocoa butter

1 tablespoon rosemary essential oil

1 teaspoon lavender essential oil

Rosewater, for spritzing

Mix the dry ingredients carefully together, preferably with your hands, because then they will glitter the rest of the day! Add the cocoa butter and knead as though you are making pie crust, rubbing through your fingers until it pebbles evenly. Add the remaining oils and mix completely. Spritz very sparsely with rosewater just until the mixture holds together into a ball when squeezed. Work the rosewater in very quickly so the mixture doesn’t lose its fizz.  Press into molds (silicon baking molds work well, or old plastic easter eggs) quickly before the mixture sets.  Let dry overnight.

Drop one into a warm tub of water and submerge feet. Dream. Walk on feet of gold.

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7 Comments

October 23, 2015 · 3:22 pm

a still place, containing everything

 

moon“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ”
~Pema Chodron

 

 

I woke this morning in a dreamy fugue, not quite able to pull myself from the world of sleep into the bright one of legos and breakfast-making that awaited me.  In the kitchen, I danced with my son to this song while I cooked eggs and tried to push away a growing sense of nostalgia for a life that wasn’t mine.

There is something about this music that reminds me of the time I spent in New England, working on an organic flower farm that also offered yoga and sacred circle dance.  It was a long time ago, and the friendships I made there still bear fruit, but this nostalgia is not about that place.  It’s about something deeper than that.  It’s about a life built around the deeper spirit of things.  It’s about a life built around seeking, and mystery, and an overarching pattern that I fit within but can never encompass.

I’ve written about nostalgia before—here and here—but today wrapped its arms around me and reminded me that however often I come to this understanding, it will both elude and find me again. There is no endpoint to life.  It goes on and on, with its immense joys and unbearable losses. Things come together and they fall apart again. We never ‘arrive’ at happiness.

And yet–there is, always available to us, this deeper place of relating to life, this ever-present and invisible river of other lives, other experiences, those who came before and are yet to come.  There have been long stretches in my life when I lived more in that world than in this one. Lately, with the tasks there are to do, with time stretched thin between studies and work and children and projects and plans, I have mostly forgotten that there is more than today’s to-do list.

I danced with my son in the kitchen, and I cooked breakfast, and we walked to Meeting, pausing to look at the striated colors the rain had painted onto the path.  It was a beautiful morning, bright and warm, and my heart was full and ebullient as I readied myself for the silence.  Yet the moment I sat down, tears began to fill my eyes and drip onto my chest.  I played it cool and kept my breathing even, surreptitiously swiping at my eyes from time to time, unsure of the origins of this sorrow.

yvar3My youngest son looked up at me, puzzled, and asked why my eyes were crying.  I told him  I did not know.

The moment I spoke these words, I began to concoct theories.  I’m crying because I won’t see the boys for seven days.  I’m crying because I’m overwhelmed.  I’m crying because my grandmother is in pain and dying.  But I wasn’t listening to the reasons.  My heart knew.  It was bigger than that.

The tears kept falling, steadily, for over an hour.  People rose and spoke out of the silence of Meeting, sharing messages of loss, of the connection of community, of the beauty to be found in stillness.  I spoke too, worried my voice would quaver but unable to silence myself.  I spoke of the world of linear time and the world of presence just alongside us, always, infinite and containing everything.  I spoke of the sense that sometimes the boundaries between self and world blur, and I fall in love with the rise and fall of everything, the transience and beauty and impermanence of lives that have brushed mine and passed on.  I spoke of the gratitude I feel in these moments of supreme joy, walking in the sunlight with my children, even as I know they are growing and changing, as beautiful children are born, beloved elders die.

The sorrow ended as abruptly as it began, and we walked home laughing, but I’ve been tender all day.  I want to hold everything close and bathe it in my attention.  I want to understand why that song tugs at my heartstrings, I want to wrap my mind around the scope of all that I’ve lost and all the treasures I’ve experienced. I find myself wondering whether I will still be here in thirty years, wondering and wise, whether I will be strong enough on this path to put my hand on another’s shoulder and say ‘this is how it is, the daily struggles and losses, the small joys, and this is how it will be always, and that’s the beauty of it’.

I think about the ones who have done this for me, the ones who have really seen and opened my heart to seeing:  Rilke, and Teilhard de Chardin, and Hildegard von Bingen, all the ones whose names I don’t know who have felt this same shuddering beauty.  Where are they now?  When I think of this, I am not afraid of dying.  I love life so much, and yet I cannot fear to walk a path that these have walked before me.

The days go on, full of floors that need to be swept and dish drainers that need to be emptied; applications that must be filled out and nails that must be clipped; tires to inflate and battles to fight.  Each day marches forward from the last, bearing pain and ugliness and boredom and beauty and delight.

 And beneath all of it, always there:  this still place, containing everything.

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7 Comments

March 16, 2015 · 3:23 am

tear up the art

swirlThis morning I had a far-ranging, heart-lifting conversation with the wonderful Michelle Wilde that set my mind spinning.  We were talking about the cyclical, eternal routine of the day-to-day and the incongruity of living that way when there are shattering losses everywhere in the world.  We were talking about relationship, and childrearing, and mental illness.

“We are always talking about setting boundaries,” she said. “Boundaries are what we set in politics—they’re imposed and artificial.  Nature doesn’t have boundaries.  What if instead of building walls we planted gardens?”

I thought about the deep love I have shared with people who have hurt me terribly. I thought about building walls around those experiences, trying to isolate them.  And then I thought about what it would be like if the walls were torn down, if I saw those incidents and relationships as strange soil–soil in which to plant the seeds that won’t germinate in the sun and rich humus of my daily life.

thornsThere is a gift that darkness gives us.  When I think about what there is for me to do in the face of the terrible losses we are sustaining right now, I think about the strange soil of my dark experiences.  I survived them.  Sometimes I survived them by behaving in ways that contradict my own moral code.  I think about some of the relationships I have sustained with people whose brilliance is matched by a searing lack of empathy.  In this strange soil, I can plant seeds that would not grow anywhere else in life.  A person without empathy does not worry about the judgment of others. She can live the kind of experiment that might greatly advance our species, because she does not fear social censure. But the personal costs of befriending her are terrible.  These are strange and vital gardens. They are frightening, and the impulse to wall them off is strong, but if we plant here we may grow answers that would not grow elsewhere.

It is only recently that I have had the courage to make terrible art. I asked my teacher, once, after having a profound art-making experience that resulted in a slab of what appeared to be gray vomit, if I had to keep this terrible thing.  She said I had to keep the message.  I could ask this art I had created: what do you have to tell me?  And I could hold onto the answer and let the form go.

I’ve been thinking about that, in the context of walls and political boundaries and activism and loss and gardens.  Where do I miss messages by holding on to forms?  Where do I refuse to notice the truth of my experience because it doesn’t look the way I want it to? Where do I build walls instead of allowing the soil to be what it is, perhaps not for heirloom tomatoes but for wild and thorny medicine?

When I do retreat to the soothing cycles of the day-to-day, when I do take nourishment from what remains the same, I want to bring the messages with me.  Those messages are an honoring of the terrible power of my own shadow and the shadows of others. On the days when I cannot even take action, I can pay attention to what is true.  Because nature does have boundaries, of a sort:  the edge zones of sand to ocean; the falling away of forests into grassland.  There are places that do not nurture life. But even these are not walled away; they too are ground down by water and wind, warmed by sunlight. We do not have to live there or look upon them every day.  But they are there, slowly becoming everything else.  And they are part of us.  We can tear up the art, but not before hearing its message.

(This song is another work-in-progress exploration of these questions. )

3 Comments

August 12, 2014 · 7:56 pm

talking to people

imageRecently my son and I attended a week of surf camp.  We had an incredible time swimming all day, gathering seashells, meeting with old friends and new, and yes, even catching some waves. In the afternoons we learned about the wider ecosystem of the beach we were surfing on, attending talks by the Cape Fear Riverkeeper and the founder of the Plastic Oceans Project and participating in rain garden maintenance with the Coastal Federation.

The Plastic Ocean Project slideshow affected my son profoundly.  After showing us some of the damaging effects plastics have on the turtles, fish, mammals, and birds of the ocean, and reminding us that the ocean is ‘downhill from everywhere’, Bonnie explained that one simple way to take action is to refuse a plastic straw at restaurants.

My son became an anti-straw zealot on the spot. And since we’ve been on the road visiting family for the past week, he’s had plenty of restaurants to practice his policy on. At first I was pleased and proud of his new social conscience, though I know that straws are quite literally the tip of the iceberg-sized plastics problem, but lately I’ve been noticing something disturbing. Every time we enter a restaurant he not only refuses a straw, but then proceeds to judge everyone who DOES use one. “Look at that man”, he’ll whisper. “He used TWO straws, one for his water and one for his tea.  He doesn’t care about the sea turtles at ALL.”

And it struck me that this is the same subtle ‘othering’ that can lead one population to kill another simply because it has unfamiliar values, or an unintelligible language, or a different skin tone.  It’s the same ‘othering’ that can make us view the children of ‘others’ not as laughing, vivid, crazy-making-straw-refusing humans, but as collateral damage.

Bonnie’s work with the Plastic Ocean Project is all about collaboration:  building bridges between the soft and hard sciences, between academics and puppeteers, between chemistry and biology students, in the name of rethinking our concept of garbage. I was especially struck by the tone of positivity and enthusiasm she brought into the room, the excitement engendered by this collaborative solution-building.

Which made it all the more glaring when my son took this message of inclusiveness and turned it into divisiveness. Most painful of all, however, was awakening to a pervasive tendency of divisiveness in myself. This family-visiting road trip has been incredibly instructive for me. Extended family members who had dwindled to nothing more than a few political sound bites and snapshots on Facebook have become flesh-and-blood humans again. I’ve been forced to step away from my comfortable little tribe of like-mindeds and associate with ‘others’.  And I’ve been reminded of something very important. Fear and hatred are powerful motivators, to be sure. When I see stats on what my country’s policies are doing to oceans and children, I am galvanized into action. But the actions I am galvanized into doing tend to promote the same kind of ‘othering’ that allows us to deport children and destroy entire species without compunction. I get fanned into a furor of me vs. them. ‘Them’ being anyone whose sound bites do not match my own.

This is why I tend not to post political articles or opinions on Facebook–I’ve learned that if my little sound bite is going to change someone’s opinion, then the next sound bite that comes along is just as likely to change it back. All I’m doing is preaching to the choir or being inflammatory, and the last thing I want to be doing is engendering more divisiveness.  But I have noticed that I judge other people by their sound bites. I make snap judgments, I dismiss whole humans or assign them into ‘my’ or ‘their’ camp, based on a skimming of my newsfeed.

I’ve been reading a book called mindwise by Nicholas Epley, a psychologist who studies the way we read people.  Turns out, when we try to take the perspective of others, we are often wrong. Turns out, if you want to know what someone is thinking or feeling, the most accurate way to find out is to ask them. Which requires us to talk to people.  It’s a lot harder to dismiss someone you’re eating dinner with than it is to dismiss them over Facebook from several hundred miles away

Last month I learned that during the deadly 1854 cholera outbreak in London, when the disease kept spreading and people kept dying and no one could figure out why people were getting sick, one man, Dr. John Snow, thought to interview the sick families to discover what they had in common. He discovered, through talking to people, that all of the sick people were drinking water from a single pump on Broad Street. And then he performed an elegantly simple behavioral intervention: he broke off the pump handle. And thus ended the deadly cholera outbreak of 1854.

So I’ve been thinking about John Snow and political sound bites and plastic straws and extended family. And it seems to me that any lasting, effective change any of us hope to make will have to be rooted in a different paradigm than the reigning one of us vs. them. The kind of change we need is planetary, because the mistakes we’ve made are planetary in scope. We can’t afford to be divisive anymore. We need to talk to people. We need to figure out where they’re coming from, what needs and hopes and desires their actions rise from. We’re going to have to see even the most inflammatory of the ‘others’ as human, and we’re going to have to be smart enough to come up with ideas that make it easy, even desirable, to change.

Another collaborative solution Bonnie mentioned besides foregoing straws was incentivizing the return of plastics for upcycling into fuel. Apparently, there remain a few companies whose patents haven’t been bought out by big oil (see the othering I did there? Betcha there are families in ‘big oil’ that love to surf and care about sea turtles too, whose employment choices were the complicated result of circumstances I can’t even begin to fathom) who recycle used plastic into usable fuel. Imagine if there were plastic-return centers where anyone could bring waste plastics in for conversion to fuel and be paid by the pound for their efforts–if waste plastic were worth something I doubt there’d be so much of it lying around waiting to float out to sea. That’s a pretty great breaking-the-pump-handle intervention right there–making it easy to do the ‘right’ thing.

It reminds me of desire lines in Permaculture design. We have a species-wide instinct-driven inclination to take the easy route.  Parks the world over have bare patches worn into the grass where hordes of people have ignored the visually appealing, curving pathways to take the shortest distance between points. If the pump handle is broken, you’ll get your water elsewhere. But we won’t know what the desire lines are, which pump handle to target, why the behaviors exist, until we talk to people.

I heard an interview with the amazing Israeli musician Idan Raichel recently. He spoke about the heartbreaking situation in the Middle East in terms I’d never heard before. He spoke about exposing Israelis to the music and theater and art of the Palestinian people. To paraphrase: ‘If everyone is clamoring to open the borders so that they can hear their favorite musician perform, if art-lovers petition for checkpoints to open so the artists they’ve been hearing so much about can come through from Lebanon and Jordan and Palestine and Syria, the rigid lines of politics will soften and we’ll all just be humans, making change on a human scale.’  In other words, if we learn to see the people we fear and hate as people, if we learn by interacting and listening and talking with them that they are similar to, even valuable to us, our behavior toward them will change.

Which is is why we can’t afford fear- and anger-based interventions. If we want to build change on the level that change is required, we need to talk to people–the way that Bonnie does, the way Dr. Snow did, the way Idan Raichel proposes.  We simply can’t afford to ‘other’ each other any more.

 

6 Comments

July 27, 2014 · 2:34 pm

dandelion drift

2014-05-01 10.44.23I am drinking locust-blossom elixir.  I’ve been drinking it all morning, and contrary to the assertions of the marvelous Doug Elliott (from whom I learned to make the stuff) it is QUITE intoxicating.

Though, to be fair, the giddiness started the moment I walked the boys to school through groves of blooming locust trees this morning, and was fairly advanced before I ever took a sip of the blossom-infused water.  I had not expected the locusts to be in bloom yet—I spent last week in Boone, where the trees are only in the precontemplative phase of leafing out (sorry, counseling joke)—so I used my travel mug to carry home handfuls of the blossoms. Carrying a coffee mug filled with frothy flowers is like holding the poetic precursor to a latte.  I got a lot of smiles. (Smiles were a theme—the smilacina racemosa has come out, lining the path through the forest, and the boys were nibbling new sprouts of smilax on their way to school.)

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It was too beautiful to go straight home. I stopped at my friend’s house first, to talk with her about an expressive arts workshop she is putting on this weekend, and then it seemed to me Randall Jarrell would appreciate the scent of locust flowers, so I visited him too.

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And eventually, as I always do, I ended up in the meadow.  I love this meadow.  Last week, I even found myself sitting in its tall grasses near midnight with a lit candelabra (I was walking home from joy circle, so naturally I had a candelabra), looking at stars. Life is good in a meadow at midnight with a candelabra.

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This time of year, the meadow is brimful of dandelions, and I had just signed up to bring four dozen cookies to my son’s end-of-kindergarten picnic, so I improvised a pouch and started collecting petals for dandelion cookies.  My hands are already stained turmeric-yellow from gathering gallons of dandelion blooms in Boone yesterday; those will become infused oil and medicinal tincture, but today’s dandelions are for pure delight.

 

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This whole morning was for pure delight.  The scent of locust in bloom, slow time to gather dandelions, watching my children chase geese and pick up tulip poplar flowers and discover lily-of-the-valley for the first time. Conversations with friends and dead poets, fields of nodding flowers, sipping blossom elixir, the scent of baking cookies.  My inspiring friend Briana just wrote a beautiful blog about drifting for pleasure, and that is what this morning was, a long slow drift of delight. (Even the cookies drifted over the edges of their pan a little bit!)

What a wonderful gift, time simply to absorb any pleasure, any inclination for delight, that might be blossoming at the edges of consciousness.

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2014-05-01 11.23.07(Another incredibly creative and inspiring friend, Laura, taught me to document these moments–her feedback is always along the lines of “hmm, great story, WHERE ARE THE PICTURES?” Thank you Laura. This blog’s for you, baby.)

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Dandelion Drift Cookies2014-05-01 12.47.09

2 egg whites

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 c. raw sugar

1 c. shredded coconut

1 c. dandelion petals, calyx removed

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and vanilla until they froth.  Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time and continue beating until the whites are stiff, but not dry.  Fold in the coconut and dandelion (you can use all dandelion instead, but it takes a looooooong time to gather 2 cups of petals, and then what are you going to make oil and wine and tincture and vinegar with??) and drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 300 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

(Note on gathering: make sure the area you are gathering in has not been sprayed and is not near a roadside or a frequent pitstop for pets.  Leave a few open flowers for the bees. After you’ve gathered the dandelions, let them sit in a basket outside for a while so the critters can jump ship.)

Now go visit Doug to learn how to make locust blossom elixir, and Briana to giggle with unfolding joy, and Laura for complete creative inspiration!

 

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5 Comments

May 1, 2014 · 6:44 pm

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.

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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.)

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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