Returning

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A flock of geese cut across my piece of sky as I walked into work this morning after five days away. Five days wrapped in a hermit’s cocoon of fatigue, an illness that bubbles up from the very place where body meets spirit, where mind confuses physical and emotional realities.  I am left to piece together whether it is more a sickness of the soul or if I can fall back on the diagnosis that can be found in a typical physician’s handbook.  What is really lying in wait – a series of dark nights that I must withstand or a virus in my bloodstream?

The geese were flying northeast, finding signs of an approaching spring that sent them over and beyond what still might look to be a hopelessly icy Hudson River.

And so, there are always signs of return and the recovery of the sort of life that is enjoyed in warmer and sunnier times.  And so I am grateful that I remembered to turn my face up to see nature’s messengers and wait for my own internal messengers to reveal their secrets.

Returning Sun and Waning Moon: Presidents and Progressions

dsc00228There are some things that you do not blog about, at least not until the lessons have been distilled and the gory details been sublimated into lessons and broader examples. It is important to me that I offer wisdom here, not a transcript of my life. The sanctity of my inner world and those of my loved ones depends on my understanding that difference.

I have been working with some challenges that were bound to demand my attention eventually, and so I have stayed away from daily posting. If I had tried harder, I could have scraped together the time to spin out some rhetoric and offer some platitidtudes, but I think my readers are too smart to read what would have simply been empty pleasantries.

Today, I am still dancing warily with this sort of communication, afraid the necessary veils may slip and I may reveal too much and also worried that I am not in a place to yet believe my own optimism.

What I can offer is my husband’s comment on his way out the door as he put on his coat to brave the 6:30 a.m. chill: “I think the sun is actually trying to come up.”

The winter solstice was one month ago today. Despite our darkest December convictions, the sun is proving that it will in fact return and that we will once again be taught the joys of daylight.

How perfect it is to notice that the light is finally getting the upper hand on the first morning that the sun has risen over a new family in the White House.

Hope and dawn. Those two ideas are always linked in metaphor. I feel blessed to watch that metaphor take on a new sense of reality as I watch the horizon brighten a little earlier each morning.

lincoln-memorialThinking about politics and the skies, this morning I looked up to a waning moon again the rosy east. I would never have gotten married or planned any other life changing event while the moon was in its phase of decrease, but there is something fitting about January 20 falling during the fading Wolf Moon. As much as we are celebrating all that is fresh and new in an Obama administration, we also recognize the diminishing influence of fear and aggression that have marked the last eight years. And that incredible inaugural address yesterday was as much about letting the greed and irresponsibility fall away as it was about adding new challenges and strength to the American character.

APTOPIX Obama InaugurationAnd for all of the meaning that the astrologers may assign to the phases of Earth’s closest neighbor and dearest friend, we must remember that there is always beauty in our moon, no matter what face she shows us.

We need to be able to find that sort of beauty in ourselves and one another. May our new president inspire us. May we find the courage to act upon that inspiration.

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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Graffiti Philosophy: Everything Will Be Alright

Everything will be alright”

This phrase is written in tiny letters on the bathroom wall at work. Assuming that the staff has not taken to expressing themselves through gentle vandalism, I can only guess that a student plagued by looming deadlines or a broken heart that might never mend took it upon herself to share her affirmation with the rest of the world.

I cannot help that smile that I am lucky enough to work at a liberal arts college library where the graffiti is dedicated to such sweet, pure wisdom. It is one more thing that helps put into perspective the world of work in times like these.

Heart in the drive

For all that I loved the scholarly life when I was in school, all the emotional turmoil that sprang from too many hormones and too much beer and too little sleep and too few quiet moments are still vivid. I would never discount whatever drove that student to express herself in that hastily scribbled line, but I cannot help but think of those of us who already have our diplomas and who live in the “real world.” What do we think when we read “everything will be alright” each day?

This phrase hold special significance to me because it makes me hear Stephen Cope‘s voice every time. This aptly named author a few great books on yoga employs this phrase often (though to be exact, I think he says “everything will be OK”). He uses it to bring the scattered “puppy mind” back to stillness, to stop that constant monologue spurred by fear and regret that plays constantly in our heads. It isn’t Sanskrit, it isn’t much of a mantra, but what else do you really need when you are looking to create a moment of peace for yourself in the midst of chaos?

“Everything will be alright” is such a simple phrase, almost trite and probably over used, but why complicate things? Julian of Norwich gave us “all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” Her line is little more like fine wine when it rolls off the tongue, but it is the same idea. We can wrap it around ourselves even when things seem to be at their darkest.

If the bedrock of capitalism starts to shift and a sanctuary like an elite college begins to feel the tremors when the greedy beast of our economy stumbles under the weight of its own foolish gluttony, is “everything will be alright” going to be enough?

If jobs are endangered and mortgage payments start to loom too large are those four little words going to protect us?

I think my answer to that is: they will have to.

We have always lived in an uncertain world, for all that it was not so obvious until this latest rash of bad news. It seems likely that all of our spiritual practices and all of our work to be centered and whole will be tested in new and powerful ways. I know I worry that my lovely little coping mechanisms might fail in those moments when “real life” in all of its insistent ugliness comes to call.

Again, I think there’s a simple answer: make sure those coping mechanisms are more than idle strategies you play with when life is smooth. Find a way to love yourself enough that you can gather your power and hone your strength and begin to truly believe, come what may, every little thing is gonna be alright.

Open to Change, Receptive to Healing

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What if it’s true? What if, truly, “we are the ones we have been waiting for“?

I have always loved this phrase. First I heard it on the lips of women who inspired me. Then I found June Jordan who first strung those words together in her powerful, earth-shifting poem. Alice Walker gave us a book that borrowed the line for its title. And then of course there was Barack Obama who turned the phrase into a something more than a campaign slogan and made it mean something national and something real.

The election results are a month old now, but all that shiny hope cannot have worn away yet, right? The inauguration is still ages away, so I am sure that we are all just marinating in possibility. Aren’t we?

I ask that question because there is a sneaky little part of me worries that complacency will creep in. And perhaps it already has in some ways. The economy is still sliding downward. Cabinet picks are less sexy than frenzied chants of “Yes we can!” Christmas is coming and there are too many thing to get done in the next three weeks to even remember all that election night champagne

This was not intended to be a post about post-election let down, nor am I trying to let a big old cynical moon eclipse our gorgeous new sun. Our lightning-fast news cycle would have us believe that such musings are so three weeks ago anyway.

I am actually thinking about the changes that I am seeing take root in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. These changes have nothing to do with the political and have everything to do with the personal. Of course, we know that eventually, those two spheres almost always start to blend together

Though I have been practicing Reiki for eight years, I have begun to dedicate myself to the path of a healer in the last year since I have been enrolled in a Healing Arts School. The beautiful sense of wisdom that finally takes root when we find we’re closer to the middle of our lives than to the beginning, combined with what I have learned in my classes, has totally shifted my perspective on the world. I know its been a long process, but suddenly I realize I am able to articulate my interest in alternative health and offer what abilities I have in service to others.

This evolution in the way I can be honest about my belief in our power to heal ourselves and the possibility of finding true wellness outside the strict confines of typical Western medicine has been downright infectious. Trusting in the intuitive power of my hands and others’ desire to heal, I have been able to offer my warm touch to people who never would have been receptive to such “out there,” “new age” ideas. I think this is successful both because I take a quiet approach, casually introducing what I do and what I believe and then allowing people to open up to me in any way they can and because I have new confidence in what I do.

People’s new sense of receptivity has very little to do with me, however. I am just lucky enough to have had the chance to observe it. Something within the individual is shifting. There is the recognition that the road we have all been careening along together is doing us more harm than good and that we need to find a new way.

If we are the change that we have been waiting for, we have to realize that change is here, now. Despite all the chaos in this world, people are finding the ability to open themselves up to new experiences and new wisdom.

How can we access and live this change ourselves and how can be the midwives of change for others?

A Spiritual Midwife During a Dark Spell

Now that I am alert to this November chill, these late autumn doldrums, I see lives being eked out in the shadows all over the place.

It is happening on a global and national level as economies falter and threaten to fail and we come to realize that capitalism might have been some sort of cruel joke. This gathering darkness even after all that shiny hope of only a week and a half ago (can you believe that the elation over our new president has slid into naked financial fear in only eleven days?) is crippling everyone to some degree.

I am watching it happen to the people in my own circles. Relationships are changing irrevocably or are falling away. New illnesses are emerging and some are losing in their battles for wellness. The ability to pretend everything is fine is dissolving. It is time to admit that life cannot continue on this twisting track, at this breakneck pace.

Like I said, I am watching this happen to those around me right now. I find myself wrapped in a blanket of blessing and abundance that I thank the Gods for every day. My friend BlissChick talks about how such good fortune can set us questioning this luck, and sabotaging ourselves because we fear we have been granted “too much blessing.” I completely understand that impulse to throw on the hairshirt and deny ourselves the joy of what we have been given, and have fallen into that trap countless times.

This time around, however, I am able to look at my blessings and comfort as a divinely given shield and solace. I am so well shrouded in a soft cloak of peace that I can stand beside those who suffer and absorb their stories without the interference of my own fears and losses. None of this is to say that I am cleansed from all of the selfish whining that I regret occasionally mars my conversations, but I recognize that I am free of the deeper dramas that others need to be supported through right now. I can strive to be a vessel that takes in tears and offers them back as different brew of solace and hope.

For all that we are all marked by the wheel of the year, but the ebb and flow of nature, I think that we are occasionally chosen to stand outside of time. With all humility, I admit that I am caught in a time of joyful midsummer even as the skies turn a dirty pearl and wasted wet leaves choke the walkways. I give thanks for this role as spiritual midwife, a candle burning in the fog for those who are lost in the early evening gloom.

Have you been given a warmer coat to ward off the first frost? Is it big enough to wrap around a friend who needs it?

Hope In the Glare of Oncoming Headlights

Driving home from work last night I was listening to NPR, as usual. As All Things Considered drew to a close, they offered a commentary by a Steve Bouser about a turtle who perished in an ill considered bid to cross four lanes of traffic.

At the end of this momentous week, I was expecting inspiring homages to how much America had grown and how we all had been a part of history (well, at least the 52.3% who voted for Obama). Instead, here was a guy describing the cruel but banal death of a tortoise. He extended his metaphor to the madness of human “progress” that so often happens at the expense of other species and he closed with:

Turtles have been around for 200 million years, since before there were dinosaurs. And I’ll bet they’ll still be plodding on their way long after we humans have progressed to what sometimes seems a well-deserved extinction.

What? We take a bold step our of fear into a new vision of hope and we end up with the consolation of reptilian road kill and our inevitable, self-constructed doom?

Actually, there are times I agree with this rather dim view of the human endeavor. If we continue to pave over paradise and choke the air with the byproducts of our easy credit lifestyles, then a planet that refuses to support mammalian life might be just punishment.

How’s that for hope? I recognize that this intense frustration with the oblivious hedonism and narcissism of the developed world does not exactly harmonize with the spirited optimism I often share in this space. Both are vital aspects of who I am, however, and I think it is just this dissatisfaction with much of the world that drives me to write and to project whatever positive energy I can scratch together at the end of each day.

I think this NPR commentator and I are coming from a similar place, as much as I might refuse to end any of my own pieces with such a damning last sentence. He did try to save the poor little creature and is undoubtedly sharing his reflections in order to make others think about our relentless war with nature. There are enough of us who recognize that we are wreaking havoc on the globe that we must speak up and act to change it all.

Focusing on my immediate reaction to this story, I was paying little attention to the the winding road ahead of me. A black and white cat appeared, illuminated by the relentless glow of my approaching headlights. She stopped and I swear our eyes locked for a fraction of a moment. I screamed, thinking of a series of childhood cats who looked so much like her, all of whom had probably met the same fate on a dark road on a cold night.

This feline’s story would not end like the turtle’s, however. She would scamper into the bushes and my heartbeat would slow and at least one four legged creature would prove wilier than a four wheeled machine. And so I will interpret her escape as that ray of hope, that belief that there is still time to dodge the oncoming traffic of our own undoing.

The Dance of Limitation and Limitlessness

America is a country where, theoretically, any native born citizen can be president. Barack proved that it can be done regardless of race; Palin tried to prove that it could be done regardless of whether one was actually qualified.

As I settle into the path that I have chosen and that has chosen me, I cannot help but think about what I will most likely not be doing in this lifetime. Unless I wake up with some completely different priorities tomorrow, I am not going to be a doctor or a rock star or the governor of Alaska. Without a radical change of heart I will not be an aid worker in Afghanistan or a scientist studying polar ice or a film director. Luck and fate and desire and following the path of least resistance combined with the gifts that God has given me, have helped me find my way to a life that precludes countless options.

None of this is said to express regret; I simply recognize that making one decision will always limit other possibilities. It is a testament to my own contentment and my own belief in my journey.

As much as I am full of near limitless hope for America right now, I think about limitations when I look at all that Barack Obama has before him. For all that he might accomplish, there are endless things that prove impossible for one man to do, despite his intelligence and dedication. If the future leader of what is still the most powerful country in the world must confront the boundaries of what one person can do, how do we private citizens trying to keep together one relatively simple life deal with all that we will not attain?

Everyone is constrained in some way. A doctor who saves lives is powerless to eradicate the poverty that weakens the body. A reporter who brings us stories of the Sudan cannot stop the fighting she describes. A teacher who gives children the gift of language cannot change her students’ home life if it is not supportive of education.

Reality will always intercede at some level when we extend ourselves into the world around us, but that cannot stop us from engaging in life’s pain and glory. Mortality and time and space burden all of us and hold us back in myriad ways.

It is inside the soul that we find infinity and the erasure of barriers. A relationship with all that is limitless is always available if we look within.

The knowledge that we are all shaped by the limits of being human, paired with this sense that there is always an unfettered world of possibility within seems the only way to thrive.  We can let go of all that we do not possess and embrace all that we do have in our unique lives, vital and essential each in their own way.

Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.

Upon Hearing a Conversation Spiced with Hope

It’s funny how shreds of the past come to mind in a new light now that I am allowing myself to recognize the central place the question of planet’s future has in my life. On Saturday while I was making dinner I listened to a Speaking of Faith episode called “Discovering Where We Live: Reimagining Environmentalism.” At the time, I gave it as much mind as I could as I tried to wrap my head around making spaghetti alla carbonara (both because it was one of my husband’s favorite dishes and I wanted to make it perfect, and because I was frying pork and readying myself to eat it – me, vegetarian who??).

The person whose accomplishments and experiences stick with me now is Majora Carter, a native of the of the South Bronx who returned to her neighborhood after studying art in college and, to her own surprise, ended up taking on the environmental issues that detracted the lifestyle of all those who lived in her part of the city. How could I have listened to this story just a few days ago and been largely unmoved? How could I be filled with anything other than stop-in-the-middle-of-the-kitchen-with-my-jaw-open awe when I heard about this unlikely shifter and creator of local culture and landscape? Now that I am staring at this problem as vast as the atmosphere of the earth and all of the oceans combined, I am desperate to find proof that we can make some of difference. It seems that I have more shining examples than I have the ability to recognize. I just may be time to open my ears and eyes wider so I can recognize the radiant hope that humanity still has the power to generate.

Check it out at: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/discoveringwherewelive/index.shtml