Moonlight and Roadkill and Making Peace with the Past

imageafter, everystockfile.com
imageafter, everystockfile.com

There was a time when my spiritual life was anchored by two things: the moon and animals that had been killed by oncoming traffic.

Seeing a white crescent hanging in a blue sky would bring an unaccustomed smile to a face that was creased with worry over a life I could not figure out how to live. I’d whisper “Hi, Lady” and feel the glint of some divine power in what I considered a very bleak existence.

Catching sight of a crumpled, furry corpse would make me shiver in the way you might expect, but it also offered me my only experience of prayer. Again in a whisper I would say, “I commend your soul to the Goddess.” I’d drive on, convinced, at least for a few moments that a great, compassionate Being watched over us all, especially her most defenseless creatures.

I was in a relationship that dissolved my sense of self and power and I was working in a job that truly soul destroying experience. (If ever I weary of an idyllic college library, I need to remember the gigantic orthopedic surgeons’ office in a high rise; I’ve never met people so miserable as the female secretaries of all those male doctors.)

dsc01228My boyfriend, whom I thought I had to love beyond all sense and reason, was a great guy – but just not for me. For all that he could not understand or reach me, he did have his own stores of wisdom as he tried to create a life with the very depressed woman who shared his home. I remember him saying that he wished I had a cat to come home to so that I could be able to look forward to coming home each night to a creature who loved me (he worked nights, so he was apparently looking for a four legged substitute for himself). As much as I yearned for a pet, I know I despised him a little for that comment and for leaving me alone so much that I needed to find friendship at the ASPCA.

Of course, looking back I salute him for being so right.

Each day I awake to count my blessings. A man I love with all the right mix of sensibleness and unreasonableness and everything in between. A pair of cats who greet me at the door and make me laugh every day and warm the bed each night. A clear, open sky full of the moon and the open eyes to see her. An awareness of the Divine in all things, not just departed squirrels and waxing celestial bodies.

I bask in the empathetic gaze of animal friends as well as the awesome, changing power of the moon and understand that hopelessness is a habit long outgrown.

img_2040And still, recognizing that I still greet the Lady when I see a smudge of white on the morning horizon or repeat a prayer over every departed animal, just as I did when my life was at its worst, reminds me that there is worth in every moment of life, even when it feels wasted and pointless. Back then, despite the thick fog of despair that was my twenty-third year of life, a connection to my true self still blazed forth.

I have never felt so distanced from that chain-smoking girl as I do now, but I must respect and remember that poor lost girl. She helped to create the woman I love to be today.

I honor the person I no longer have to be. She is every bit a part of me, just as the phases of the moon and a connection to animal life is a part of my every day.

Recognizing that even when life seems to be at its maddest, there is still a connection to true self. I feel so much closer to that and ususally laugh off my past as an unrecogniable dark period, but in fact, that woman created who i am now. Honoring her, just as I honor the moon and the animals who lost their battle with oncoming cars.

Thanks to Those Who Inspire Creativity and Delight

Sailboat skyThe wise, wise Painter of Blue at Art of the Spirit posed the question:

“How much natural creativity would flow out of us if we just opened completely to the One?”

Immediately I felt the power of that question, the way in which, if followed to its conclusion in the depths of my being I might reveal a new face of possibility I had never dared envision. At the same time, perhaps because her site is graced with such amazing artwork, I could only imagine fulfilling that vision with a paintbrush in hand. Though I suspect that buried somewhere inside me there may be a creature who could fill canvases, she is generally too afraid of making a mess and spoiling a perfect white plane with mistakes and wasting money on paints and paper. This fear seems to be related to the same sort of mysterious trepidation that made me afraid of ruining my shoes when I was young, causing me to leave too many trees unclimbed and too few mud puddles explored.

Of course I know that deciding that such a flow of creativity did not apply to me is just another way that I obstruct the flow of the Divine through my life. I was able to only see my chosen mode of expression – these written words – to be instantly limited and less. Words are cheapened currency – used to curse and abuse and sell fabric softener and describe nuclear missiles. Instantly I longed for a more profound method of conveying whatever it was that the One was trying to say through me, because clearly I had chosen an inferior medium. It had nothing to do with a basic refusal to just open myself up and listen, to become liberated from distractions like my addiction to my own inferiority. No, no, I just careened off in the direction of all I ought to have done: should have stuck with dancing, or the violin of the flute or the saxophone, or invested myself more in art classes, or reveled innocently in nature when I had the chance. And off I wander down a path of regret, negligently slamming the door of my heart shut with a thud that reverberates all the way back into this gloomy past of my own creation.

But I can spot such foolishness and avoid such wasted thought, right? I am too smart to be enticed by such dark detours now that I read the right books and dabble in a new vocabulary of the soul. Sure.

If I have learned anything so far is the intense difficulty and absolute simplicity of opening myself to the One. The process can be forgotten the instant I leave the books or meditation chair. So today I am going to try something simpler and less plagued with the wisdom of the ages. I take a cue from Christine Kane who talks about delight.

How much more creative could I dared to be if I let myself truly feel overcome with delight at:

– kittens finding new comfortable contortions to sleep in
– snoring creatures in my bed (husband included) who just prove to me I am surrounded by trusting love
– a stretch that makes me sigh “ahhhhhhh”
– an unexpected letter from a friend
– the smell of snow
– the glow of the rising sun on my tea kettle
– discovering a new love of classical music and cellos
– the poem that suddenly makes everything clear
– nicknames
– a smile of recognition in a face I barely know
– those free flowing moments of joy when I forget I am on any sort of a journey at all

Savasana, With Feline

Seamus in reposeSavasana, also known as corpse pose, is a pose of deep relaxation most often practiced at the conclusion of a yoga session. It is about letting go completely both bodily preoccupation and racing mind and simply observing and integrating experience into the being. Often savasana is called the most difficult yoga posture to master because we are so programmed to run from thoughts that disturb us and plunge back into the constant “loops of distraction“; witnessing the process that is our own being can be a scary thing.

Cats are masters of savasana. Though known for napping, I have witnessed our own felines spend hours with lids half open, never moving but somehow conscious of the world around them. Despite the strong winter sun streaming through the windows, or perhaps because of it, Seamus and Banshee spent a remarkable amount of the day curled up or sprawled out in complete peace (why they cannot seem to strike such poses while I am cooking dinner and constantly shooing them from the countertops is another matter…). Unlike other days when they do excellent impressions of downward dog right there with me (and leave lovely little punctures in my mat), both were motionless for my entire practice (thanks to another great podcast by Elsie Escobar) . Somehow Banshee seems to have radar that wakes her from deepest slumber as soon as I lie down on the floor; she found true bliss purring on my belly right before I started my final bridge poses. I decided to take this as a sign from the universe to embrace savasana a few minutes early – who can deny an ecstatic black kitty who has persevered in her loveliness (most the of the time) despite the addition of a twerpy little brother last month?

Rather than surrendering to the earth and allowing my practice to settle into my bones and my spirit, my mind continued to spiral. I considered how the beauty of this moment in which I enjoyed complete simpatico with another species was a blessing beyond measure; I wondered how long she might want to stay like this before I got cold or bored; I tried to use this time to meditate and enter my Interior Castle. Generally I pondered how this might be good blog fodder and enjoyed the warmth that was a perfectly contented cat.

Because I guard these solitary Saturdays with a calculating ferocity, I plotted how to maximize this enforced period of relaxation while I was beyond the reach of my computer or a book. It was becoming painfully clear that I was not embracing the spirit of corpse pose, though I am guessing if the dead do any thinking my brain will be more active than most. Instead, it seemed a good time to do some really deep thinking – about God, the nature of my existence, and whether my husband would mind vacuuming on his day off (I did it last week).

My mind drifted to more of the James Finley lecture on Meister Eckart I had been listening to that morning and I began to realize the impossibility and the absurdity of my task. Luckily there is a transcript of his talk: “Every idea of God is God, no idea of God is God, every idea of God is infinitely less than God even a true idea, even a revealed idea is infinitely less than God, and therefore to the extent we cling to any idea of God – clinging to that ideal thought is the obstacle to God.” Even if simply existing in the present moment in savasana is difficult, apparently it is easier that conceptualizing the divine!

In jest Finley also said,”We are not created by God to think about God, that’s why Jesuits were created.” That seemed to prove why I was drawn to Boston College despite my disinterest in the Church at the time – unknowingly I had surrounded myself with people like me who long to ponder the unponderable!

A Post About My Cats (and Milkweed and Bittersweet and Vine Swinging)

Banshee and Seamus getting acquaintedFunny thing about epiphanies – not only are you glowing with insights about all that you never realized before, you are also glowing a little with shame at the silly things you did and said and thought before the revelation. Now I don’t plan to dwell too much on self recrimination, but I think it healthy to recognize a few minor revolutions in my perspective.

Last week, buried in a post that rambled on about phenomenology I mentioned that we had a gotten a new kitten and were nervous about how our cat Banshee would accept him. In trying to describe the way that we felt the need to control feline nature rather than allow it to take its natural course and hence were disassociated from the greater patterns the universe, I did apologize for lowering the tone of this space to encompass house pets. Well, I’m not sorry and I am about to do it again.

This afternoon I broke what has become a tradition for me since my husband started working Saturdays. Instead of hunching in my writing spot that is surrounded by windows and wondering if the squirrels were cold out there, I went out to join them. We have miles of trails behind the house – a nature preserve and state park in one direction and a great college town in the other – and it’s a big month if I get out there once. Ah yes, I am the ecofeminist who is too busy reading to feel actual wind in my hair.

I tried to make it a walking meditation; I realized there were brief statements sent in God’s general direction, but really I was just writing blog posts in my head and at one point was repeating “Row, row, row our boat” like a mantra. No real idea why the usual one was replaced with a nursery rhyme, but it might have been something to do with looking at the world through my mostly forgotten childhood eyes. I glanced at bittersweet on the way out and thought of the way Nanna used to collect armfuls of it. I noticed the milkweed pods, their white fur waiting for a strong breeze to send them dancing on the air and remembered collecting them near the swans’ marshes in Falmouth once upon a time.

On the return trip I saw a vine hanging across the path and wondered if I could jump and reach it. Even though the November afternoon chilled my exposed belly, I grabbed hold and swung for a while; this was not a typical Saturday afternoon. When I came upon a patch of milkweed this time I climbed through the brush to feel its silkiness and liberate a few dozen parachutes of seed. So this was what it was like to notice the outer world, to delight in all that it invited me to see, to be.

The sanitized, cerebral version of myself filtered through what I have studied presents an extremely limited view of who I am, and from what I know about epiphanies, they don’t thrive in the presence of limitation. How did I assume I could elucidate anything about my relationship to “Nature” when I was leaving out an inherent aspect of my own nature: I’m a sucker for anything four legged and furry. It’s a condition I’m really quite proud of and I do not even worry that this affliction gets worse with age (I slipped a promise of a puppy into my husband’s wedding vows – it’s been 13 months and Bacchus the golden retriever has yet to materialize, but that is another story).

So my cat related epiphany is about patience and trust. After only seven days, the newcomer has pretty much been accepted by herself. His name is Seamus, and he is really quite shameless, and his dance with Banshee has taught me more in the last week about acceptance and adaptability than any self-help guru I’ve had occasion to hear.S&B curled up

Nature, Ignored, Still Red In Tooth and Claw

Or, black in growl and hiss.

Today I started reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous. The first sixty pages are heavy with my underlining and marginalia as I considered phenomenology and allowed myself to sink into his beautiful aesthetic, communing with condors and spinning with spiders. Phenomenology, to my limited understanding was first developed by Edmund Husserl as a “science of experience” rooted in the body’s direct interaction with other entities. The intention is to locate ourselves in the “real world” and realize that we can never be truly unbiased or unaffected because everything we observe is filtered through the experience of our own existence. Husserl feared that modern science was driving the West into crisis as a complete separation from the experience of being human was idealized in the pursuit of objective “truth.”

Others have taken up the thread of this philosophy so that it seems to validate the belief that everything we encounter is another universe in and of itself. We can never truly observe something in its entirety because we can never experience all planes of another’s existence. What I take from it at this point (admittedly without even finishing this particular chapter) is the inherently interconnected nature of all things because, to quote Abram’s rhetorical statement: “Does the human intellect, or ‘reason,’ really spring us free from our inheritance in the depths of this wild proliferation of forms? Or on the contrary, is the human intellect rooted in, and secretly borne by, our forgotten contact with the multiple nonhuman shapes that surround us?” Judging this book by its cover, I am thinking we are building to the recognition that we are an integral part of this world’s ecology obligated to work for its salvation and that observing and empathizing with the living creatures around us is only the beginning.

unhappy kittyBut really, this is a post about my cat(s?). (Just this once, I swear I am not turning to stupid pet tricks.) Our beloved four-year-old former alley cat who only drinks out of pint glasses always seemed desperately lonely when left alone for a weekend or even a workday, so when the opportunity came to adopt a homeless kitten we decided to see if Banshee wanted a pet. It has been a disastrous seven hours that has involved a lot of dueling dust bunnies to reclaim our quaking feline from beneath the bed. She is hissing and groaning and hiding and looking as miserable as any furry black faced mammal could without being caught in a trap or stuck in a well. But, you see, the book said that cats live longer when they have a companion and that if you follow these instructions for introducing a new kitten (not that we actually involved a neutral third party and performed a for-our-pet-only pantomime, but we read the page aloud and considered engaging in such absurdity) all will be assimilated nicely. And well, this is our domain and we are only looking out for Ms. Kitty’s best interest with our massive largely homo sapien cerebral cortices and we really must know best, so what if her first reaction is despair? The book also says we have to ignore the new little soul until alpha kitty tells us it is time to recognize her, so there is a four month old kitten hiding in a closet somewhere wondering who these giants are who seem so generous with the food but so stingy with the affection.

And so it goes that one can spend the morning reading about integrating with the brilliance that is the natural world, but still play dictator at home when it comes to the surrounding non-human life (I gleefully sucked up a bunch of spiders with the vacuum today too) – and play it badly. Because we lack the faculties to understand what it is that either of these quadrupeds is thinking we traumatize them both and inflict a mix of human morality and cat handbook logic (written by a biped, mind you) upon them. You see, I was all set to believe that Abrams really was able to chat with a squirrel, but I have to call this cat woman a lunatic because she contends Banshee can tell if I am even looking at the interloper while in another room. It seems we love nature in its place, safely within the pages of a book; it’s completely different in one’s living room. How can I hearken to the pulse of the planet if I cannot make my own cat purr?

If you’ll excuse me, I have to obsess over whether to try to touch our new pet and marvel at the burden of my sweet minded hypocrisy. They’re just cats, after all.

Right?