Worshipping at the Sacred Well

I really, really love water.

A good supply of fresh water is what anyone would want if stranded on a desert island. I would put water, and my ever-present SIGG bottle, at the very top of my list for purely emotional reasons.

dsc01624I know that the constant need to carry a flask of H2O is an addiction of my entire generation, but I know I only thrive when I’m secure if I have a source of hydration at my fingertips. At this point, I am pretty certain it’s not indicative of any physical malady. It’s just one of my social crutches – kind of like how I can only speak coherently at a meeting if I have a pen in my hand.

Both because I fill my bottle so often and because the filter is a little slow, I tend to spend a lot of time standing in front of our fancy new refrigerator. When my sister remarked upon how long it took to fill glass when she was visiting on Thanksgiving I told her I usually use the time to consider my posture and say a few Hail Marys.

She looked at me like I was insane (I know I’ve mentioned plenty of time that prayers to the BVM have not generally been part of my repertoire) and declared that she’d spend the time doing calf raises.

In the three months since the whole family gathered here for turkey and feasting I have logged in a lot more time in front of the great stainless steel font. It struck me this morning, as I launched into the fifth “blessed art thou amongst women…” that a lot of concentrated, spiritual attention was focused on that section of kitchen tile. So many books on meditation recommend setting aside a specific place to further empower one’s daily practice. Short of my actual altar, I spent more time talking to God in front of the fridge than I do anywhere else in the house.

photo Mario Corrigan, www.kildare.ie
photo Mario Corrigan, http://www.kildare.ie

Then it occurred to me that prayer has always been centered around sacred springs. Brigid’s Well in Kildare remains one of my favorite places in Ireland. There was most certainly a deep and abiding power there. That power came from generations of prayer as well as from the holy nature of water itself.

There are streams near the house, bodies of flowing life that so inspire me on these thawing days when the hush of spring is in the air. So rarely do I remember that the same water flows from our own humbly red-capped well and fills my cup. It’s that sense of disconnection that is so easy to get trapped in when eggs come from cardboard cartons and chickens are born covered in plastic wrap. Sweet, fresh water comes from the belly of the earth, not from an unending labyrinth of pipes.

And then I realize that I may not be moved to talk to Mary just because I am trying to be more conscious of the divine and because its a good way to kill time. It may be that a part of me I barely recognize is trying to get connected. I am giving thanks for precious water because something deep in my ancestral core knows that to worship at a well is to see the face of God.

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On a Scale of One to Ten – Thirty

Pam Snow/Canadian Press)
Pam Snow/Canadian Press)

This has not been a winter to speak aloud.

My words have frozen in my throat or in the pages of my private books and rarely been able to cross the ice to the outer world.  I know that sound carries best over open water.  It seems that those waters have to be flowing freely, not suspended in a bitter February’s thoughtfulness.

Wait, I misspeak.  It is not I that is bitter, but the weather.  And even then, I am spinning frigid tales and  manipulating them for my own rhetoric.  The view from my front window offers grass like straw and sad heaps of forgotten leaves with only the occasional sad mountain of snow.  We expect flurries throughout the weekend – it’s still winter after all – but she has let her white cloak slip low enough to prove that not even the ice can last forever.

I spoke of returning the other day.  Returning is a long and careful process.  It can mean the traveler is still a great distance from home.

When my healer experiences great spiritual shifts she talks about all the internal furniture being rearranged. I still live in a new house that is short on chairs and couches, so I’ll stick to the images of the landscape – the view is always free even if we can’t yet afford new bookshelves. 

My inner landscape has been reformed during a 10 days of sickness and soul searching. I’ve watched new river valleys form and have shored up my retaining walls.  I have repaved a concrete wasteland with a rainbow of precious stones.

I only weep a little at the changes being wrought, the unfamiliar, though beautiful, territory being forged within.  A new home is a great milestone, but one that is surely accompanied by mourning for all that was.  New houses also mean a great many stubbed toes when one needs a glass of water in the middle of the night.

So I am rejoicing in my new caverns of joy and testing the echoes against my new interior walls.  But I am still receiving snippets of news reports about the maelstrom out there that seems to have nothing to do with this inner transformation or the February sunshine beyond the shadows of my front porch.

I am still a creature of this world for all that I have spent the better part of two weeks diving in my own ocean.  I realize that I am caught in this web of shift and discomfort and even chaos that has caught hold of our societies.

In the midst of all this tumult, there was the voice of a man from Canada who spoke with the disjointed music of Scotland and the mid-west and the southern Maritimes that I know so well.  Give yourself a couple of minutes to listen to the story of five men in Seal Cove, Newfoundland who saved a pod of dolphins trapped in the thickening ice of their harbor.  Listen to his harmonies and his tale and think about what you might do that would lead you to reply “Oh, on scale of one to ten, thirty” when someone asked you how you feel.

There are parts of me feel like I am at a thirty, and there are bits of me that feel too lost in the flux of the soul to take stock and realize this journey is all about elation.  But, as I continue this process of returning I think I have found one more guidepost of inspiration that will help me redefine my internal measurement of all that is good.

Living in the Place Between Elation and Despair

dsc01119Over the past few weeks, I sacrificed myself to constantly undulating experience.

It was not the Zen recognition that I am one with the great waves of the sea, rolling in and rolling out in a constant dancing pattern to eternity. I was making no metaphors to help me realize I bear my own ocean of breath that is forever washing in and out of my faithful lungs.

No, I was letting myself be thrown into the air, high on untethered adrenaline and then allowing myself to get lost in the panic of the free fall back to earth (or the water, to drag that metaphor a bit further).

In a bid for financial security (the buzz word actually is meant to be “abundance”), I actually offered up any sort of peaceful control I might have had over my routines of sleep and recollection, focused work and unselfish love.

Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, I know. Part of that is probably rooted in that I have written oh-so-little of late that I am just reveling in my ability to weave tangled webs of succulent, hyperbolic words. I guess I am just rejoicing that I caught myself before I really got lost. I came back to this space before all of my dear readers gave up on me. I’m ready to return to my novel before I decided to drop out of my writing group as a failed creative scribe.

But for all that I protest (too much…), I was still living during the last few weeks. I may have strayed from the plan I had intended for myself, and I may have been swinging madly between elation and despair, but it was still all an expression of some part of me. After all, John Lennon told us that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

dsc01122_2I was riding extremes, but isn’t that what living is, at least some of the time? It may not be the ideal – I am definitely excited to return to a more orderly lifestyle that supports dedicated contemplation rather than a fixation on “prosperity” – but sometimes I think we have to resign ourselves to riding the fluctuations of being and give ourselves over to that process.

All this is a way to tell myself that I forgive her for the wild ride. I need to remember that I must continue to take risks and trust that even if things do not end anything like I had planned, I am the stronger for having dared to stretch myself in a new direction.

Am I being a relativist, concocting lessons well learned so that I won’t have to feel so silly for temporarily being the mouthpiece for a company that was not what it purported to be?

Or am I wisely making the best out of a detour, reading it as an opportunity to understand and learn compassion for people who are driven by fears about money and wealth that are otherwise foreign to me? It is so easy to act from insecurity, to make choices based on fear of loss, of downward mobility.

I am blessed to have had this brief chance to see how these fears have played out in my own life and were able to take precedence over my true calling as a writer and a healer.

My dear ones, I will no belabor this awakening too much, but it was such an unexpected gift, this widened perspective. I guess the wonder potion that is Zrii still keeps giving even when its business prospects seem to have gone bust…

And so, these extremes of life… How can you catch a ride on these powerful forces to learn what you can and what you must? And then, how can you most gracefully step off the wild ride?



Adapt Or … Be a Lousy Houseguest?

A picky eater? Me? Never.

A woman who needs her sleep? Oh, me? No way.

A creature of habit? Who, me? No, no, not at all!

Well…

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I never realized how dedicated to my routine I have become until the last few weeks when I have been off visiting friends and family.

Ensconced in my beloved house, it has been relatively simple to establish healthy new patterns. Problematic foods avoided. Vitamins taken on time. Blog updated daily. Meditation practice observed. House maintained. (Ok, the last two are things I intend to throw into the routine, but I am honest to a fault).

I am beyond blessed to have people who love who take the changes that I have undergone in stride. They enable my gluten free imperative: we eat more Mexican (they have corn tortillas, right?); we make eggs rather than pancakes (no, please don’t worry about buying the extra expensive GF mix). Heck, we even sip herbal tea rather than opening a bottle of wine since I have sworn off drinking for a while as I get my body back in balance after years of troublesome yeast infections.

I used to eat anything any time and wore my barroom credentials with pride after a couple years keeping up with the lads in more than a few Irish pubs. I slept only when absolutely necessary and shunned the predictability of a daily routine.

And then I guess I grew up. Or maybe I wised up. I am not always certain whether those two experiences are mutually exclusive.

Sometimes I wonder if my transformation is stranger for my friends or for me as I offer to be designated driver and stifle a yawn past 10:30. I guess it is stranger for me since I am writing about it tonight.

The reasons I write about it at all are twofold: because I am grateful to have people who support the decisions I have made about my health (and so rarely make me feel like self-obsessed health nut who’s allergic to everything) and because I am learning a lot about the art of being adaptable.

There is a time for discipline. There is a time for tending to the self. There is a time for inwardness. There is a time to craft a life according to perfectly chosen criteria.

img_2224And then you realize that those perfectly chosen criteria are a lovely illusion that can be sweet and gentle for a while but invariably must fall away when we accept that we are not in control.

I had a perfect weekend with friends that took me out of my element enough to show me how I was getting perhaps a little too accustomed to my routines. I stayed up late and ate some weird food and guess what? I had a wonderful time.

I needed to remember that as much as much as I have changed and as hard as this journey to health has been, I am now far from fragile. There were days when this new incarnation of me was far from established when I might have had trouble deviating from the “safe” routines I was trying to create, but I live in steadier times and must realize I am strong and, yes, adaptable.

All this work I am doing is almost meaningless if I cannot carry it into the world and enjoy life all the more. Spiritual work and listening to the body are about training myself to live with a sense of completeness both within my own soul and throughout my outer experiences.

I am not training to be a monastic; these skills are not shaped and honed so I can be the perfect hermit.

Are you living within safe patterns that nurture you right now? Are you instead stuck in some sort of rut?

Can you step outside of your routines and still feel supported and healthy?

What would it take to both create positive patterns and yet still maintain the flexibility to adapt and to be a good houseguest even if you have to say “no thanks” to the main course?

Trusting the Abundance of the Feast

On this final Sunday of our winter retreat, this blissful stretch of days at home, I searched through the furthest reaches of the pantry for some “special tea.” I found a forgotten bag of loose chocolate mint roobois from our local tea room that I simply adore. I looked to my husband and remarked that he had bought this for me, once upon a time. He looked confused, “uh, must have been a long time ago.”

0172It was. Early in our courtship I would often go away on the weekends. Determined to prove my independence and let him know that I would be maintaining my own life, I resisted commitment every step of the way. I would return home to little gifts from a brilliantly persistent man intent upon taming a young redhead convinced she valued freedom over security, spontaneity over real love.

The morning’s tea was lovely, but not as nice as it might have been if I had enjoyed it back when it was first given to me as a token of a young romance. It was rich with memory, but it lacked the piquancy it once had when it was fresh.

This is not some oblique metaphor to say that my marriage has gone flat. Instead, it just sets me thinking about the odd ways we hoard our little treats, delaying our pleasures until we eventually we realized they have gone a little stale.

How many perfumes and lotions have you saved for special occasions only to find them in the back of the cabinet, their magic faded, their sweet essences separated into their uninspired base ingredients? How often has the treasured saffron turned into flavorless threads of crimson while you waited for that golden day you would create a paella your beloved ones would never forget? (Last night I threw my saffron saving self to last year’s hungry dogs and made this amazing North African chickpea and kale soup.)

This year, wisps of resolutions are coming to me in the form of little lessons, like when I sip my tea’s faded glory and when I generously toss spices into the mix.

Trust in abundance. Believe that you can enjoy what the Universe has given you. Be secure that what you need will come to you, even if you open your cupboards wide to share your bounty. Don’t hoard your own talents or your material treasures for a rainy day that will never come. Live in this moment. Allow your wings to spread to their fullest span.

Now, I am not celebrating the feckless grasshopper at the expense of the assiduous ant. I stand by the belief that frugality is not a crime. I am just talking about enjoying the simple luxuries you have and allowing them to make each day a little sweeter.

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photo by: xllukins

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. The name of this blog was fueled only by a purely secular glory of revelation, and never even knew when the Epiphany was or what it really meant until last year.

And though I am growing more comfortable with Christianity in many ways, I realize that this feast does not necessarily speak to me directly, at least not the story itself does not. The appearance of the Wise Men, the giving of the gifts, heralding Christ’s birth to the gentiles. I think the weight of this story is finding me on a more subterranean level. The gift of tea seems to conjure frankincense, perhaps?

One symbol that does speak to me: following your star.

As a watcher of the skies and a dancer of the moon, I can hook myself to that great star that guided the Magi. For now it is leading me to epiphanies much more mundane that the birth of the savior, but it seems that it is all this sweetly contented moment in my life seems to require.

Live Within the Harvest of Your Own Creation

Live within your harvest

This phrase has woven itself through my consciousness ever since I saw it painted on a sign at the country store.

It seemed more than fitting in this time of economic craziness. We all need to reframe “greed is bad” into some sort of life affirming mantra.img_1052_2

A post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about finding an alternative to the consumerist imperative has managed to get a little bit of attention. It also connected me to Catherine at Frugal Homemaker Plus and clued me in to the fact that there are a lot of people out there who are dedicated to living more simply, desiring both to leave less of a dent in their savings accounts and to leave a less toxic footprint on the planet.

It’s as much a spiritual exercise as it is fiscal one, this learning to decipher the difference between want and need.

This last windy evening of the year has me looking both at the year’s spiritual legacy, as well as some more practical elements of life.

We bought our first house this year, a decided stretch into the luxury of three bedrooms and a huge kitchen and a perfect writing/yoga/meditation space. Money is a little tighter than we might like. Luckily, we have mastered the teeter totter of marriage in this respect – one of us always seems to remain optimistic and calm enough to comfort the other through bank balance related panic.

Are we living within our harvest or within the bounds of what the bank was willing to loan a nice young couple with a great credit rating?

It’s easy, and probably pretty useless, to look at the monetary decisions we made this past summer through the gloomy lens of this fall’s economic, um, fall. Were we victims of easy credit living or part of the problem, Americans with aspirations bigger than their incomes?

Now, we try to pare down our spending. It’s not enough to make up for the gigantic leap up the housing ladder that we’ve made, but maybe I should quit worrying about that so much.

I have accepted “live within your harvest” as a sage bit of chastening wisdom. A sweeter, less cliched way of saying “live within your means.”

But what if I have been looking at it all wrong? What if we reexamine the meaning of “your harvest”?

img_1007_2I was wasting my energy on resigning myself to the limitations I have assumed were placed upon my harvest. There were thoughts of my paycheck and the hoped for tax return, but no trace of the metaphysical ramifications of the idea. I saw no more than a single August field, already having calculated how many rolls of hay it could produce.

In a matter of hours, a new year will begin. Many of my friends have already toasted its arrival and find themselves in 2009. I will awaken to fresh snow fall and the knowledge that I am the only one who can reign in my potential, who can set the boundaries around my harvest.

I look at this still inspirational phrase with fresh eyes. To live within my harvest is to exalt in all that I have created and be content with all that I have.

It is also a reminder that I must work to gather the sort harvest that I most need to live within. Why would I ever want to exceed my lot in life if I understand that determine so much of what my lot is in the first place?

Why not sow more powerful seeds so that the eventual reaping will be all the sweeter?

What do you want to harvest in this flawless, sparkling new year?

Advent, Christmas, Consciousness

Creeping around in the early evening gloom. Fumbling for cords. Flipping antique switches.

Bringing light to the darkness. Filling the house with the glow of hope.dsc01481

This is one of those epiphanies so obvious, I cannot believe I never realized its significance before.

It’s got to the be combination of a new house of our own and my own expanding awareness. I have fallen in love with the ritual of switching on these Christmas sparkles when I get home each night.

So pedestrian, the twinkling of colorful bulbs each December, and yet stringing these lights connects us to an amazing deeper consciousness. This tradition of decking the halls can be so much more than doing what’s expected and decorating as soon as Thanksgiving has passed.

Isn’t one of the best ways to really integrate changes into your life to introduce new habits? This habit, formed when there are a few extra, lovely tasks to do every day as we cast our homes in a precious, brief kaleidoscope of color can be the sort of thing that changes our whole outlook.

Spending those moments to consciously fill my house with beauty reminds me that it can be so simple to let a similar glow fall upon the rest of my life.

We light the Advent candles to prepare for a coming birth. We bring trees and boughs into our homes to spin some sympathetic magic, in hopes that the green will return once again to the earth. We fill our lives with all this light, both secular and holy, because we need it to guide us through this darkest time of year.

I have created my own sacred circle of candles to further help me remember that the sun will own the sky once more and that there is always promise on the bleakest of nights. I gaze into each flame and ask that I may always remember the sacredness of fire, the divinity of inspiration, the blessings that dance around my well lit path.

Oh, and check out a wonderful piece on the Winter Solstice at the Huffington Post by Judith Rich!

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