Throwing Open the Doors, Come What May

May the guesthouse of your soul know no January days...

Beloved Tess over at Anchors and Masts shared this poem by Rumi the other day:

This being human is a guesthouse;
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honourably.
She may be clearing you out for some new delight
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them all at the door laughing and invite them in
Be grateful for whatever comes
Because each has been sent as
A guide from beyond!

The last day of my maternity leave is nearing its end.  Though I will only be going into the office three days a week and will be with Moira much more than I am away from her, I somehow feel like I am leaving a remote island where the world has not been able to touch us for the last two and a half months.  We have journeyed out a bit, but when the waves crashed too high we could always retreat back to this country of two, of mother and daughter where the spell of the womb still lingered.

I still belong to Moira in ways I will belong to no other entity.  No job, no obligation, no passion will be stronger than my devotion to my daughter.  And yet, she is not the only being in my guesthouse.  Of course, my husband, the rest of my family, and my friends fill up many of my rooms with laughter and with love, but still, there are also the public spaces where others must be permitted to tread.

A week ago I looked to this time of returning and considered about how I grow through each interaction with those difficult people that my work life sends into my orbit.  In weakness, I still cringe a bit at having to walk back into certain rooms where the air is heavy with mistakes of the past, where relationships have soured and interactions have become strained.  In strength, I can let that old smoke dissipate with one deep breath.  I can willfully forget damaged histories and walk back to the office a woman reborn because hey, I was in many, many ways.

Since Christmas, ghosts of answers to those prayers I was slinging into the Universe about finding a way to stay home with baby girl seem to be finding me.  There is a long way to go to be sure, but little lights are flickering on and little windows are opening in the house of my dreams.  I am realizing that if I am going to fling wide the doors so that such bits of opportunity can make themselves comfortable, then those doors will also have to be open to Rumi’s “cloud of sorrows.”

Right now, I am in a mood that allows anything to be possible, and that includes being grateful for all the good and all the bad that I may encounter in this fully lived life.  Going back to work tomorrow may not be my ideal way to spend a day, but it is the only January 5, 2010 that I will ever see, so I might as well show up and be a good hostess, come what may.

January 5, 2010… Sounds like a pretty mundane sort of day.  What sort of magic will you allow to find you in all its wintry midst?

Courage, For Crying Out Loud!

The word of the year is going to have to be courage.

I tried strength, but I worry there is blindness in just muscling through.

I was debating between manifesting and allowing, but that just proved how confused and addled I have allowed myself to become.  Will I be coming or going in 2010?  Forcing it or just letting life happen to me? Ugh, too much stress to solve THAT in one word.

I need a middle road that keeps me an active player in my fate and yet allows me to surrender to the larger forces of the Universe.

And so, instead of trying to craft a yearlong strategy, I will focus on how I will face life as its challenges and mystery emerge.

With courage.

Growing up, I was never aware that moms could cry.  Since Moira’s birth I have been blessed with tons of quality time with my mother and she has told me plenty of stories about being a fully human mommy to my sister and me, occasional tears and all.  I don’t want to start weeping in the pantry, but at least I have some validation that it is possible to be frail sometimes while still keeping your kids secure in the (perhaps mythic) idea of the Power and Might of the Mommy.

The tidal waves of hormones through pregnancy and the “fourth trimester” have been ample excuse to dissolve into sobs.  It’s time to change that.  Not because I want to start bottling up my emotions or because I want to stop dealing with my feelings (impossible anyway), but because I need to take on the world with all my wits about me.

This is such a confessional turn (more than usual, even) for the first day of the year, but I do not think that I am alone in this.  For all that we may be proud of how aware we are, of how good it feels to “get it” about so many things, there is still a tendency toward leading with our weaknesses.

We have examined our pasts, our spirits, our souls, and we feel pretty comfortable there.  Light has been cast on the wounds and the failings and the idiosyncrasies that make us weird and wonderful.  All this plumbing of our inner depths can leave us holding buckets of pain and pounds of explanations for why we react the way we do, why it’s ok that we’re broken.

All this self examination does no always bring us to the place of wholeness, to strength, to courage, to passion, to forward momentum.

That takes another kind of work, a fiery kind of work that requires more energy than it might takes simply to look within and endlessly ask “why?”

I know a lot about who I am, and I know why I behave how I do.  Now is the time to act on that knowledge, cultivate the behaviors that serve me and abandon those which do not.

Now is the time to turn outward to not only look upon the world with courage, but to move through the world embodying the Damn Fine Courageous and Outrageous Mother that I know I really am.

Poetry Doesn’t Pay, and Prayer Doesn’t Either

Irish poet Rita Ann Higgins has a poem called “Poetry Doesn’t Pay.”  I began the decade living for poetry.   I end the 2000s with one half remembered line and a focus on payment rather than poetics.

I’m still working on imagining my way out of my day job and into being an at home mom.  Oh what a passel of worries (“gremlins” as Magpie Girl calls them) have been stirred up as I imagine stepping into the void that is life without guaranteed salary and benefits!  One of the more bizarre worries that has emerged is how I’ll find spiritual nourishment in this new venture.

The role of spirituality in my life is not a bizarre concern, of course, but it’s generally considered rather superfluous to one’s career choices.  My current job certainly does not have a spiritual dimension.  Why would I expect the new home business I hope to pull together to have any direct connection to the way I talk to God?

I am coming to realize all the pressure I am putting on myself, on how I expect that earning money in a new way will change everything that motherhood has not already rearranged.  As much as I have liked the general direction of my life, Moira’s birth began the seismic quake I was waiting for.  Now I am looking for everything to shift; I am impatient for all of the random puzzle pieces of me to fall into place.

Some who know me in the “real world” might laugh to hear this, but my ideal job would be to be a priest.  There are several impediments, of course, seeing that I am female, and even if I could become an Episcopalian or something, I still cannot commit to Christianity solely enough to convince a congregation of my piety.  Since I don’t think I am quite ready to start holding revivals in my backyard and no established religions will have me (or I won’t have them…), it seems that prayer isn’t going to bring in a paycheck.  At least not directly…

I am overwhelmed by the weight of my dreams, my burdensome need for poetry and and a life that is purely mine from waking ’til sleep.  The love of my child, my husband, my home is a crippling curse and an incessant blessing and the only thing that matters at the end of the day.  This love is the stuff my prayers are made of.

May this love be strong enough.

May I be strong enough.

But nothing,
you can’t pay me in poems or prayers,
or your husband’s jokes,
or with photographs of your children
in lucky lemon sweaters hand made by your dead Great Aunt
who had amnesia and the croup

Rita Ann Higgins, “Poetry Doesn’t Pay”

How to Build a Mantra

Ok, so yesterday’s post wasn’t the traditional “How to…” sort of piece, even if the title might have said something about how to have a prayer answered.  Through writing that entry I realized how it’s ridiculous it is to obsess about how to formulate the perfect request for God.  We are so much more likely to connect with our dreams when we actively work to convince the Universe to conspire on our behalf.

But, if it is impossible to develop a plan to get the Powers-That-Be to give you exactly what you want, it may at least be possible to devise a mantra that will help to shift your consciousness and get you out of your own way.

Forgive me if I use “mantra” too loosely.  I suppose I am really talking about affirmations, but even if Stuart Smalley has moved on to the Senate floor, I cannot use that word without thinking “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”  Whatever you call  it, I have learned that there is better way to construct that little phrase that you invite to rattle about in your brain dozens of times per day.

In my training as an energy healer, we talk a lot about stresses on the system. Body, mind, and spirit are constantly assaulted by our environment, our diet, our social interactions, and even the words that we use.

The affirmations that people choose are often spiked with stress.  “I am thin” is a pretty painful sentiment when you feel anything but.

So, the key is to try to include the word “becoming.”

To say “I am healthy” when you are struggling with a diagnosis that you know is as dire as it is correct is a stressor – lies always are.  Do not pretend that you have already arrived in your ideal state.  Instead, allow yourself to be in the midst of an evolutionary process, moving incrementally toward your goal.  “Becoming” is a delicious, dynamic state.  And it should be forgiving word since you are the only one who has to measure your progress.

My newest mantra? Offered to me by my teacher at class last weekend: Every day, in every way I am becoming patient and in control.

In the middle of the night when I am beside myself because I cannot figure out why Moira is crying or convince her to stop, I can’t be fooled into thinking I’ve got it all together.  I am willing to believe that I am on a journey, however.  A journey furthered by each deep, peaceful breath.  A journey toward being a patient mother who may not be able to control the world but who can at least be in control of her reactions to all of the challenges that an infant can conjure at 1:30 a.m.

It’s getting time for resolutions and all of those words of the year.  If brevity is not on your side and you feel you need a whole sentence maybe there is some bliss to be found in becoming?

How To Have a Prayer Answered

Prayer is a word I have and flirted with and danced around and fled from.  I used to worry about the term’s religious baggage.  Also, I have worried that I did not know how to do it properly.

Now, I know that no tradition has a monopoly on prayer and I am aligning myself with God, not with a specific tradition when I talk about the practice.  As for concerns about whether I am doing it right, well, I want to say I really don’t have time for that stuff any more.

Motherhood makes you appreciate each activity a little more because you have less time to spend on everything. Every breath in downward dog is deeper because you don’t know when a wail from the next room will pull you from the mat.  Every chance you get to type with two hands because baby is sweetly sleeping in her sling is to be treasured and exploited fully.  Even though a huge part of me is dedicated to simply experiencing Moira each day, the other side of that equation means that efficiency is more important than ever.  This applies even to talking Goddess or God, or whatever I am calling the Divine on a given day.

Like I said, I do not have time to worry about whether I am crafting perfect prayers, I just have to unleash my soul’s dialog and hope the ideas organize themselves.

And yet, I am left to wonder, how literal is Spirit?  What matters more, the intention of one’s petition or the way one words the prayer, the way one might craft them into mantra?

My deepest prayers as I look into my baby girl’s great blue eyes are that we may find a way for me to stay home with her full time. I always knew I didn’t want to be a working mom, but I thought that was because it would be too draining to do both and because I never liked my job that much.  Never could I have imagined the all consuming love that would make being with my daughter a need not a simple desire.

And so I have found my days and nights filled with a constant refrain: “Please, please, please let me stay home with my baby.”

But then I wonder about how true “be careful what you wish for” really is.  What if the Universe decides to answer my most fervent prayers through a lay off?  You see, it’s economics that is keeping me at home, so not only do I need the courage to leave the security of my job, but I also need to find another source of income to make staying home the idyllic portrait of mother and child that I dream of.

In our media soaked age in which we are barraged by perfectly honed messages intended to convince us to buy something or vote for somebody, is God looking for us to be slick ad-men when we try to present our own petitions?  Do I have to research the attitudes of the trget demographic in order to be understood? Do I have to add words about manifesting abundance and continued health to garnish my plea so that the Powers-That-Be get it right?

In writing this I am realizing how all of this heaven-bound wordsmithing may just be a way to distract myself from getting down to the business putting myself out there as a healer and a writer and an editor and a graphic designer.  Maybe the desire to perfect my prayer presentation is more of an earthly imperative than anything else. If I can sell the divine on my plan to stay home, maybe I can convince a few mere mortals to help me achieve my goal.  God/dess works in mysterious ways, no?

How much time do we waste obsessing over how we might bargain our way into an answered prayer when we’d be so much better off using that energy in active pursuit of our dreams and needs?

P.S.  I do realize that pretending I know better than God about what is best or thinking the Goddess isn’t clever enough to figure out a way to keep mama and baby together smacks of foolishness and hubris, but these were just some thoughts along the way to remembering that to believe in a higher power is to allow Her to do her magic!

Ash Wednesday in the House of Christianity

The cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death. The words “Remember that thou art dust and that to dust thou shall return” are not to be taken as the quasi-form of a kind of “sacrament of death” (as if such a thing were possible). It might be good stoicism to receive a mere reminder of our condemnation to die, but it is not Christianity.

Thomas Merton

dsc00665I attended an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service this evening. The program they passed out gave us Merton’s introductory passage to glimpse what Christianity was not. As I stood in a chapel I had last entered when I attended a Rufus Wainright concert (not exactly a journey into the sacred as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might have it), I came to realize how much I have to learn about what Christianity is.

Sure, I’ve got the basics down and I understand what it was to be raised a Catholic kid in the 80s. But for all my reading, it was not until I watched a sparsely attended ritual held together with a crazy quilt of readings and quotations that I was able to look through the windows of Christianity in a new way and realize, despite its many doors, it is still just one large house.

Though I now have a smudge of ash upon my forehead, I did not remember the significance of this temporary mark when I decided to step in after work. I am sure that I knew once, but it was not the sort of information I ever had to retain. All I knew was that it made sense that I was in that chapel. I needed a place for quiet contemplation to mark the day and the remnants of my own history and the power of ancestral memory set me comfortably enough in the Christian fold.

Perhaps it was because I am not a student, but for all that I had the credentials of a Christian, I still felt like I stood outside and looked in the windows of their ritual.

This is not to say that I felt alienated. In fact, I felt the complete opposite.

I was amazed to realize that the sentiments included in the Litany of Penance so closely echoed untutored words I have whispered into my own soul. The language, that I know a younger, more recalcitrant version of myself would have found debasing, felt necessarily humble and honest. The professed admissions of failings and the hunger for reconciliation at first seemed too heavy a cross to bear, but then I realized that I force myself through such rigorous self examination all the time. And I am much less forgiving of my own sins than God promises to be…

Yes, it all made sense, and the prayers rang true.  Enough of me was at home there.

dsc00383But still, a portion of me observed from outside this house of Christ. That part of me stood rooted into the earth and felt the rain fall upon my face and trusted the sun would come out to dry me in time. I was able to love everything marks this first day of Lent because I know I am welcome in that building, but am comforted to know I can still step away in order to speak the language of a Yoga Sutra or an Arabic mantra.

Other faiths’ houses of worship do not offer the organic comfort that the Catholicism of my heritage does, but their traditions still offer sweet succor for the soul. Sitting in the warm embrace of Christ I was able to understand that every moment is sweeter when I can embrace all spiritual possibilities. Churches, mosques, and temples – they are a collection of neighbors’ homes planted in a circle on God’s beautiful green earth.

Recovering Buried Mythologies

Some of the sage advice that my most exquisite energy healer offered when I visited her in the midst of my 10 day long battle with depleted energy and sinking spirits was quite simple:

Just relax. No stress. No contemplating. No conscious creating. Just watch the equivalent of Oprah and seek out as many comedies as possible. You need to laugh.

peneloperococo_hcI tried really hard to comply. I watched a lovely fairy tale of a movie, Penelope, that was full of eye candy and clever enough allegory. I began reading a book called Rococo and am loving my time with an interior decorator from New Jersey who’s transforming his childhood church. Each reminded me of aspects of my own story, but neither demanded that I deconstruct my reactions or analyze their greater significance.

But I couldn’t turn off my brain completely. I was drawn under the spell of a novel that was far from funny and couldn’t be construed as light. It drew me into the shadows of my past. Not necessarily into black, frightening corners, but more to the mesmerizing shapes that fill the walls of a firelit room.

For all that I wrote a college entrance essay in which I declared my ambition to be a “professional Irish person” (oh, it was cheesy, but it got me in!) and have a couple of degrees in the literature from that little country, I have sort of lost track of that passion. I ignored much of the rest of the world’s wisdom as I immersed myself in the hills and the fog of a small corner of the world. To make up for lost time, I since dedicated myself to a whole globe of knowledge and have largely forgotten about Ireland.

confessionsbigMostly, I picked up Confessions of a Pagan Nun because I felt I owed it to my seventeen year-old self to read a book about a druid who comes to live in an early Christian community dedicated to tending the flame of Goddess/Saint Brigid. A “translation” of a (fictional) newly discovered 6th century manuscript? I cringed at how painful it might be to observe a modern novelist mix English and Irish, Christians and Druids. The part of me that longs to love fantasy but knows my literary snob is much too outspoken figured that Kate Horsley’s book would be a brief experiment that would send me back to the bookshelves as soon as I had the strength to get off the couch. (By the way, oh those lovers of fantasy, I welcome a comments section full of well-written recommendations from that genre!)

It was beautifully crafted and compelling and reminded me that though it may be a time to “put away childish things,” there is also a lot of wisdom to be found and a great many new discoveries to be made if I look back at passions from half a lifetime ago.

Myths are something that inform our lives in everything from collective memory to vernacular expression and metaphor. We are generally unaware that myth lurks at the edges, coloring societies and individuals. A past, back to the age of “once upon a time” or as recent as Kennedy’s Camelot, always haunts and enlivens us.

A delicious bit from Kate Horsley’s Confessions of a Pagan Nun that most appeals to my look back upon the stuff of my own founding mythologies:

I began to accept the limitations of my life and the alteration of my aspirations, an acceptance that younger women consider weakness and surrender. But I found the limitations I accepted, as youth and its dreams fell away, composed a narrow and secret passage leading to an expanse of space and liberation I have not realized existed. I began to prefer peaceful surrender to noble battle, for in peace is and internal freedom one never has in war, though sometimes warring is essential for external freedom.