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.

Our Adventurous Vision For the New Year

New Year's roses

Blessed be the road that does not end
Blessed be each minute that borrows us
To witness its eternity

We are old: a species gone to seed,
Run wild under the stars;
And our talk is old talk

While we watch our brazen children
Clutch at memory of when the land
Was waking to a young and lusty sun.

– Paula Meehan
The Man Who Was Marked By Winter, Epigraph

Perhaps this poem is a bittersweet way to begin 2008, but there must be worth in looking at a new year with a broad perspective strong enough to bear all of the hope that will poured into its freshness while still acknowledging the strains of fear that accompanies any beginning. Even as we look to the glow of a fresh calendar we must bear witness to all that we have been and all that we will carry into this infant January.

I feel as if I am one given to Meehan’s old talk since I look at a new year with a whisper of trepidation, glancing at past Decembers that have melted into Januarys only to reveal another December lying in wait. But despite this wisdom, or perhaps because of it, I still cling to the brazenness of a child and seek the waking earth, the waking consciousness. All of us who know hope in this time that can seem a desperate age must know what it is to be worn thin by a scorching sun, but remain willing to forget the burns as we long to dance in the glow of noon.

Last night, my husband and I celebrated the holiday at our favorite restaurant with a toast to “adventurous vision.” We shall make this phrase our guide and our strategy in the new year and look for what blessings we can on the road that does not end. Undoubtedly there are tremendous changes ahead for us in 2008 – where will we live, what will constitute our livelihood, how will we structure our living. I can only pray that we move through it with the wide-eyed intelligence and well-intentioned good sense so that we are present for every precious minute we are granted in our little piece of eternity.

Blessings for the new year – may the seeds you plant in the coming months grow wild and beautiful under the stars.

Just Three Breaths – My Practice

“Like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre… [the] Divine Mother and Brahman are one.” (full passage)

When Andrew Harvey first quoted this bit of wisdom from the nineteenth century Indian saint Ramakrishna I had my first introduction to the intertwined nature of transcendence and immanence. I began to realize that the adoration of the Goddess did not preclude God and that, in fact, the two faces of the divine are inextricably bound to one another.

For whatever reason, these metaphors made sense to me almost immediately, as if they were elucidating something I had always known but never understood. Brahman is the supreme spirit in Hinduism, the unchanging heavenly power associated with the transcendent Father God. The Mother is the energy that dances through us and all of creation, the universal love of the heavens in action upon the earth. All that we know is the union of these two aspects of God.

At the conference at which I first heard these ideas everyone was high on potential spiritual power (both real and imagined), yet there was a palpable sense of worry because people did not know how these feelings would translate back at home in reality. I think this little practice that I cobbled together from the ideas I gathered that weekend is my response to the concern that I would forget the resonance of such words. It is informed both by Harvey’s description of the divine and Caroline Myss’s journey into the soul, Saint Teresa of Avila’s interior castle.

* * *

After closing my eyes I search around to find my center for a little while until I remember yet again that only in stillness can one find that peaceful place of silence within. When I have stopped struggling with my own mind, I can just experience what it is to be for a few moments until a breath that seems to come from the earth itself begins to fill me. It is the power of the Mother, the earthy glory of the Goddess that I have identified with for so long, but here there are no rules or separations, just the wash of creation and growth itself. It is green, it is gold, it is the rich black of fertile soil. I pull this breath up and all the way through my body, filling with the Mother’s love and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

The second breath comes from above, the transcendent essence that arches over us all. It is the peace that lifts me out of my body to a place of complete freedom. There all human definitions of God might fade away so that the power that is the Absolute can wash the ego away. It is white and silver, it is cool and warm all at once. I pull this breath down through mind and heart, down and down to root the heavenly in my feet, and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

Finally there is the breath of synthesis that pulls every facet of creation into my own soul. It comes from every side, it is the very air around me. It is every color, texture, scent, taste. The beautiful mixes even with the horrible because to be truly present is to recognize all threads in the tapestry of this life. With this inhalation I realize my place in this incredible universe, this constant interplay of the divine with itself, of the sacred with the material. Rather than retreating from the world because I find solace in the spirit, I am driven to delight in all that is so that I can see the spiritual in everything.

Om Tat Sat

Imagining Sacred Activism While Sitting Still

God has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which she is to look out God’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which she is to go out doing good;
Yours are the hands with which she is to bless all now.

– Teresa of Avila

When I first discovered this prayer a few months ago I was newly alight with passions that would surely change the world simply because they burned brightly in my heart. Here was a piece of poetry that authentically spoke of God and expressed thoughts that I just had begun to realize were crying out from within my own being. I was left to wonder at how a sixteenth century Catholic saint could have written something that spoke directly to me and also to wrestle with what the content itself could mean: the eternal presence of the Divine; the sense of the sacred expressed in every shred of life, even my own; and the great responsibility inherent in such a realization. In studying Andrew Harvey‘s work I have come to know this imperative to be called sacred activism.

For a while, this was a simple phrase to throw around since it combined two terms with which I was reasonably familiar. I had co-opted “spiritual” for my own devices long ago and enjoyed the label. “Activism” was a bit more difficult since I associated it with people who quoted Chomsky over breakfast and would ask if your shoes were vegan; I respected much of what they struggled for, but found such devotion exhausting – and feared it was hypocrisy waiting to blossom. To combine the two, however, grounded the spiritual in a sense of purpose and rounded the most strident edges of activism. Having struggled to find a title for my journey for as long as I could remember, I was pleasantly surprised to find something so clever and simple.

Of course, it is the naming that is simple; inevitable challenges arise when you realize that what you do is more important than how you describe it.

“Still” is used consciously in the title of this post because it describes aspects of my current state and stands in stark opposition to the sense of “stillness” that remains elusive. The cultivation of stillness is essential if one intends to move beyond the confines of the seemingly intrinsic narcissism that marks the modern character and work effectively to help others and this planet- or so I have read. I remain frozen in the face of all that there is to “solve,” unable to dedicate myself to any cause in particular because my heartstrings will inevitably be tugged in a different direction momentarily.

I am still alight with the passion that fueled me when I first read Teresa’s words, but that passion is tinged with all of the realism that is possible when one declares herself to be something so fanciful as a creature prone to epiphanies. Through my writing and reaching out to the wisdom of others I hope to begin the task of cultivating stillness and begin this work of even imagining walking with the feet of God.