Friday, September 9, 2016

Not my terms. Better

On Tuesdays I take a day off. To make that mean something, it's also a day offline. This creates a barrier between me and "just one email!" that quickly slides into a few hours tending to work-related tasks. These internet detoxes feel so precious. I find my mind free up remarkably. Thoughts wander creatively, connections occur that I generally don't create time for when I'm guided by my To-Do list.

Going offline and going away feels like maybe the most refreshing thing these days. Like, dewy sunrise refreshing. Like, hot day cold lake refreshing. Like, big juicy peach refreshing.

I keep two notebooks nearby: one for work-related things so if I remember something I have to tend to I can write it down and relax my brain. The other is for creative musings.

Last Wednesday morning, I sat on a screened-in porch in a cabin on a farm in West Virginia and let my mind soften into boredom. Meaning, the incessant "what's next?!" chatter in my mind wasn't tended to. Slowly, it stopped. And then I could be where I was. I listened to the birds chattering and thought about how my grandmother (Tennessee-raised and Georgia-residing) used to say, "the birds are fussing." In that context, her turn of phrase felt incredibly accurate. I've long been a fan of Southern colloquialisms-- I think they're beautiful-- but they also felt more true in that setting.

I thought of her other ways of speech-- "I'm fixing to." Yup, when you're not in a rush you are fixing to. I was fixing to get up from my coffee for about a solid hour. Instead, I poured more and Kevin and I played board games.

I read a quote from Thomas Wolfe:

"Something has spoken to me in the night... and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: '(Death is) to lose the earth you know for greater knowing, to lose the life you have, for greater life, to leave the friends you loved for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."

In the woods, I don't feel too important. The meaning of life doesn't have to be discovered-- it's everywhere. Animals are free but they're also bound by their hunger and search for food. Plants climb to the sun and they're torn down. I don't have to figure it all out. What I do doesn't matter so much. I just have an invitation to create alongside all of creation.

I read a quote from Walt Whitman:

"Now I know the secret of making the best persons; it is to grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth."

Kevin is a big fan of Uncle Walt but especially in these words. It's hard to complain about bug bites and desires for creature comforts when a peach feels so satisfying. A few days in a cabin in the woods seemed to scale the world both up and down. I felt far more integrated into the whole of things and the whole of things felt far more expansive. I took open-air showers under a bucket of well water. Afterwards, I used the olive oil we'd brought to moisturize (my long-time travel trick). I put on my pajamas and felt so unbelievably comfortable-- so much more comfortable than if I'd had hot water plumbing and luxurious robes and potions. The simplicity made effort and ease proportional.

I read a quote from Ron Rash:

"That's what wilderness is-- nature on its terms, not ours, and there's no middle ground."

And I felt grateful to this invitation into exhilaration, into movement, though it moved at a pace much gentler and different from time as I experience it on the grid. Life felt challenging and sweeter.

When I came home I answered some writing prompts about how I want my home life to feel. Happily, it's largely consistent with my vision: calm, comfortable, clean, spacious...

To have space to think and observe.

To feel where I am.

To feel at peace with what is.

To be receptive to it all.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Fallingwater and into West Virginia

A few years ago I was home along with Laz, our cat, while Kevin was at his residency at Goddard. I was getting reports of impending Hurricane Sandy and I was nervous. Kevin was often unreachable at Goddard given Vermonters wise-- and annoying-- fights against cell phone towers. I get it. The birds and I thank you wise citizens of Vermont. And yet when Kevin was largely inaccessible I was impatient.

I finally got word that he would be home and it seemed, in advance of the storm. I made preparations according to panicked news reports. When Kevin saw, he laughed. Having grown up in Hurricane-prone coastal Virginia, he were used to storms and didn't worry much about them. My brow furrowed.

The storm was intense. When it had passed over, I finally relaxed but Kevin sprung into action. He began removing fallen debris and checking out the streets and neighbor's properties. I was stunned. He knew how to be present and useful, but his timeline was the direct opposite of mine.

This is often the case.

When we travel, I love to read about where we're headed so I have insight and imaginings to place alongside the reality of our experience. Kevin likes to move into something new without any prior impression and then learn deeply afterwards.

When we elected to head to an off-the-grid cabin in West Virginia, I saw that our Ohio Valley destination was only an hour outside of Pittsburgh. I created a route out that included a stop in Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright design.

First, I picked up The Women by TC Boyle. I loved this novel told through the perspectives of Wright's various companions. When Kevin and I arrived at Fallingwater I had a rich imagining around where Wright was in his life, the various influences on him, and his famous ego rising up against his patrons', the Kauffmans.

Kevin on the other hand, was taking it all in for the first time. A true American artist. Design that was neither of our favorite in actuality, but we loved the urge to be located in the landscape, to find integration.

After touring Fallingwater, we continued our trek west to Pittsburgh. We passed through Squirrel Hill and the Strip, admiring the rivers, before heading further west and into "Wild and Wonderful West Virginia." Yes, we absolutely played John Denver as we passed the state line.

I knew that we had to bring in all potable water for our three night stay, along with bedding, towels, and our food. As is our pattern, I had meal planned, prepared, and packed. Kevin had done far less, but as we climbed up the farm's drive and stole deeper into the woods, he was a far more valuable asset.

We hiked 3/4 of a mile into a secluded camp site where we found our temporary home: a one room cabin with a screened-in porch. For cool nights, a wood burning stove. To bathe, a bucket hoisted in an open air shower. Water to wash up around the camp site was pumped from a little seep downhill.

I unpacked what we had brought. Kevin rolled up his sleeves and chopped wood.

I read Appalachian Southern Gothic novels and set that experience against my own quiet reality. We rested in the quiet space between us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

New Moon

I learned that Friday September 2 was a new moon in Virgo, leading up to a full moon in Pisces. Also, a Mercury in Retrograde. Somehow, Chiron, the archetype of the wounded healer, is implicated in all this.

I don't know. All I know is I'm digging it.

I heard that the three annual Mercury-in-Retrograde cycles can be excellent invitations to slow down. They remind us to re-examine our communication and also be attentive to what information we are digesting and internalizing. Leading up to this September 2 event, I was invited to "clean out communication, eat stable food, meditate, make altars, and ground down."

So I went to a cabin in West Virginia.

No communication, apart from conferring with Kevin about who would pump the water.

Very stable food. We brought several mason jars of rice and beans. Reheated them for most meals over the Cookman camp stove. Brought a pecan pie. Ate it by the fire. Often, several times per day. A couple of peaches to ward off the scurvy.

Buffalo creek creates the border of Redbud Farm, the host to our small cabin on a hill. We canoed a bit in the creek. Kevin almost stepped on a turtle (they've been crossing his path frequently of late. I think it's a message to slow down). The creek bed was filled with river stone. One afternoon, we spent a few hours making cairns. Most of Kevin's were architectural, jenga-ascensions, a few of which tumbled. Mine were a bit more traditional, smaller, but well chosen.

I made them because I was reminded of this invitation in a new moon to slow down and think of what I'm creating. To think of how I'm communicating and being present.

Our cabin was also filled with folk art and the owners invited all visitors to make something. I figured stone cairns along the creek were also an offering of art to this particular space.

I was reminded that Chiron is the archetype of the wounded healer. Water serves him, as it reminds of the fluid nature of pain and compassion.

I made lists of what I do, how it sustains me, how it grows, and what paths stop. I made decisions. I decided to let a few projects go so I could feel more balanced and less time-starved. I decided to create some space for less rush and more intention.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Short compilation of powerful reading on race consciousness for white folks

Amidst all the recent brutality, needed uprising, and horrific backlash, there has been profound insight. I've found some incredible articles that connected dots in ways that I had previously struggled to. As a white woman, I am particularly interested in how I can be aware of other people's experiences and how I can use whatever awareness that I might have to help other white people make more space for experiences outside of our known range. I found resources and help.

Here's a selection:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hot frustrated Lilith Earth

It is and has been effing hot. I have resisted this heat. Kevin melts into it, enjoys it, softens, gets blurry, sweats, and then sleeps. I get frustrated.

I have been hot and frustrated. I have felt at odds. Misunderstood. Mistreated. Charged. Inflamed.

Things started to cool down recently. I felt calmer. I'm working on perspective. Unexpectedly, I've taken great refuge in astrology, specifically astrology as written by Chani Nicholas. I haven't given myself full permission to go in. There's a part of me that has been side-eying astrology for many years, even while I periodically read my Aquarius horoscopes. Recently, I've come to see astrology more the way that I see myth: as archetype and entry into the bigger story. I'm actually beginning to allow myself to see astrology as even more than that, but to fully explain what I'm playing around with, I think I'd need more study into astrology for more language.

Anyway, this week on my day off I found an interview with Chani Nicholas. Apparently, one of her favorite topics is the Lilith story. I'm not quite sure how this works, but somehow Lilith is also in many charts, and maybe in the sky? Again, I need to do more research.

I remember being interested in Lilith as a teenager, around the time Sarah McLachlan was touring the Lilith Fair. As that all cooled off, I think I relegated Lilith and my understanding of her to that womynist time.

Chani gave a synopsis of Lilith, Adam's first wife. For full context, we're in the Garden of Eden and God has created Adam. He creates Lilith and in Chani's telling, Lilith begins to ride Adam. Adam says, "no! I dominate you!" Lilith can't abide not being equals so she banishes herself from the Garden of Eden. Stories begin to swirl around her, about all that she represents: she eats babies, she commits horrible acts. Chani, with great sympathy, shared her feelings that Lilith became a place-holder for all our fears. Lilith being the archetype of the strong, wild, in harmony with nature, woman. The woman who couldn't abide hierarchy and differentiation. The original "Other."

Her stance ostracized her and the venom grew in her absence.

At this point in listening, I was crying.

I was crying at this idea of the Othered woman, of the Othered being, given all those who are excluded from safety and recognition in our larger community. I was crying at this original idea of being misunderstood and there being no space for mutual recognition.

I hadn't realized it, but I'd been wrestling with a version of this story, of this myth, this archetype in my own life. There were patterns and behaviors in my family of origin that my family members were unwilling to discuss, face, and change. Behind that, I self-exiled for a few years. I now have relationships with some family members, but I still feel largely alienated and misunderstood (I'm sure they do too!). I've wrestled for years with feeling like I belong to myself, that I have faith in myself, even if there isn't a clear place for me in the unit where I entered the world.

In both my personal and work life, I've had a few shifts in relationships. Many were quite unexpected and some hurtful. I've wrestled with feeling really misunderstood and like I had become a scapegoat for issues that didn't really have anything to do with me. For months, I've been thinking about how to not take personal actions and feelings that are both personal and not.

And Lilith contextualized this all. This is a period in my life where I'm stretching into being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I'm learning to not be liked and yet love myself. I'm figuring out how to inhabit myself unabashedly, to know where that's celebrated, and also where I'll feel out of context. And to simply be at peace with that breadth of experience.

So it's not about me. And it is.

Astrology can give us these larger stories to step inside. The shunned wild woman. The warrior. The water bearer. Just like yoga, we get to wear these costumes, see what we are, see what we aren't, and maybe get to what's real. These various lenses feel like such great riches. How lucky we are to have so many vantage points for insight!

I complained to my Aunt about the heat. She said, "I'm trying to accept whatever the weather needs to do. We've done enough to try to change the environment and complain about everything that happens. We need rain, we get rain, and we complain about rain. If it needs to be hot, so be it, just be hot. I'm trying to be OK with it." This is the same Aunt, who when I mentioned some of these feelings of being misunderstood said, "how do you think the earth feels? If you believe that the earth is a living entity, how does it feel to be thought so little of that you're punctured for oil, fracked, poisoned, and covered over with concrete? And yet the earth still is. Still moves, and breathes, and lives."

Lilith. How does the Earth feel? Who am I to feel so minimized when such great forces are so wildly mistreated? The story instead gets to be access point to deeper compassion. If I've felt maligned in a small, personal way, perhaps this is just connection, sympathy, and then advocacy for the being that sustains. This larger archetypal story helps me understand that this is a much bigger story that sometimes we slide within and sometimes without. It's an opportunity for understanding.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fear of death or social media

My right shoulder has ropes running through to my neck. My right wrist at times gets painful and creaky. I feel tension in the muscle under my right thumb. It's not exclusively, but I think largely, due to my evil iPhone.

Evil and yet I love it. I love finding a coffee shop with an outdoor patio during a break between teaching. I love finding weird, quirky places when I pull up into town. I love that I can keep my inbox neat and manageable by frequently deleting the junk messages or sending a quick reply to something important.

I frequently check my email and Facebook. I get work-related messages on Facebook with some frequency and that's where I do most work promotions. Honestly, I don't mind it all but I do feel it in my body.

I'd been feeling like I wanted an internet cleanse really just to watch what happened. I wanted to see if my body did unwind a bit and what my mind felt like without the frequent connection and stimulus.

My work is pretty email reliant and I have certain obligations so it took a little coordinating but I did it-- cleared two full and surrounding partial days where I had fully communicated that I would be unavailable. Last Monday I taught three classes, squared away the last of my communications, made sure everyone had what they needed from me, jumped in the car, and headed north.

I printed out directions, which I hadn't done in awhile. I wanted my phone OFF. I also printed out swimming holes that might be fun to visit or other weird things I'd heard about.

I thought there would be a lot on my mind that I would want to remember-- tasks to attend to-- but nope. There really wasn't any resistance in falling into this parallel track.

Kevin and I returned to our favorite little cottage on a sweet creek in the Catskills. We walked into town and ate food at cafes. We walked back and kept the door open to the creek to feel the air and hear the rushing water. Incense stayed lit to keep bugs from our door. I opened up The Signature of all Things and didn't close it until I read the last word a day later. Kevin went through a few of his favorite works as well.

We swam in the creek. We laid on boulders and sun bathed.

We also did a halfday meditation retreat with Amma Sri Karunamayi but that's a separate subject for another day!

As I waded through the water I tried to feel what was different. The main thing I felt was that I had more of myself. My energy was all going into me, my relationship, the moment. None of my energy was siphoned away into another town, a different task, or a different moment. I felt more cohesive, coordinated, and potent. That felt really good, unexpected, and worthwhile.

I wasn't sure what I'd find-- that I was hopelessly addicted to social media and needed a constant hit? Nope. I like it. I like being connected but I was fine without it too. I wasn't sure if I'd feel isolated. No. I just felt like my energy got to be concentrated and directed more mindfully.

I waded through the creek and laughed as I thought, "if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it..." If I'm in the forest and no one hears me, did I happen? I think that's often the underlying motivation for constant updates and contacts. "I am here, existing, living, and trying to leave a record." Why? So maybe we can defeat the one undefeatable, seemingly chaotic, utterly consistent experience of our existence?

So, if no one knows what I'm experiencing, if no one knows me, other than me, is that enough? Is the present moment, this experience enough? Because ultimately, whether it's broadcasted or utterly private, this experience is all there is. This present moment, this feeling and engagement with it, this is it. As far as I can tell. No big meaning. No big culmination. No big quest. Just this. So if I'm the only one in my present, as all of us are both the only one and with everyone in this big is-ness, is it enough? Can it be enough? If it's fleeting? Ultimately unshareable? Ultimately unbearably private and completely universal?

Is that all there is?

Yup. Let's keep dancing.

I had Leonard Cohen wafting out of the open french doors of my cottage. I had an open book on a sun drenched boulder. Moss climbed on the boulder reminding us both that all is built and all breaks down.

It's all completely enough.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A process, not an instant

Last weekend I met my friend Julie for lunch. I became one of those vegetarians rolling my eyes at delicious bites of kale and sweet potato while Julie recounted her recent visit to Michigan. She'd read an article on the process of death-- that our thoughts of death being sudden and finite don't bear out.

And I got really excited.

Bear with me, but I love talking and thinking about old age and death. I don't mean to be morbid and in fact I don't think that I am. I love being intentional, aware, and finding light in areas of our life that are charged.

We're all thinking about death, or no-more-ness, all the time. Sometimes it drives us and scares us. I want to think about it to be more comfortable with it. I do it every time I practice yoga and lay down in savasana.

Another friend of mine had recently witnessed the death of someone dear to her. She recounted something similar-- that the body went through a process of shutting down but consciousness flickered forward and backward. The linear notion that we sometimes have of born, alive, dead, as being fixed firm places didn't bear out in what she saw.

Years ago I knew a pregnant woman who reached her due date and panicked that she hadn't automatically gone into labor. Other women who had delivered kids said, "don't worry, due dates are more suggestive than firm" but this first-time mother was scared and her stress was having an impact on her health and the health of her child. She went to the hospital, was induced and had a c-section to bear her child.

I remembered that and remembered how it shed light on this growing notion that our bodies aren't robotic, they don't function one way. In yoga I study anatomy and find that it's a beautiful map but the mechanics of two bodies rarely match. What is often more effective is understanding anatomy and biomechanics and then observing the intricacies of those systems in motion as they interact with environment and shifting circumstances.

According to my due date, I was two weeks late. My Mom was 39, unexpectedly pregnant with her fourth child, and I was breach. On my due date I turned. She said that it felt like an earthquake. When I was born I was 8 lbs 10 oz so I must have been nearing that size two weeks earlier. Two weeks late, a mother of "advanced maternal age" delivered me naturally. My progress into this world and pace didn't fit neatly into prescriptions around gestation and birth. I'm grateful that my Mom had already born three children so she wasn't so scared. She had a bigger faith in letting the process unfold and letting me emerge as I was ready to.

When a person is born is hotly debated in conversations around abortion. I heard a similar conversation come up recently in the yoga community about when the atman, or soul, enters the vehicle of the body. I heard one yoga teacher say it enters through the sperm in the moment of insemination. Ram Dass gave a lecture in the 70s saying that the soul might enter the body at any time-- at conception, during gestation, or after the baby has been alive for some time.

The cycles of birth, life, and death are more enmeshed than distinct.

There are parts of me that are dead. Some of my skin is dead and it sloughs off. I've been burned and watched new skin be created and form a shield across my body.

The me that was a baby is no more. It died. A child was born. That child died. A teenager was born. That teenager died. An adult was born. As an adult I've been a myriad of people living a myriad of lives. I grieved when some of those lives ended. Others I left gratefully.

And yet, all of those incarnations is still present in who I am in this moment.

I've known a multitude of lives and deaths. Their boundaries were not always so finite.

The other night I gathered with some friends to discuss chapters of Ram Dass' Paths to God.  The book is filled with beautiful suggestions, ruminations, and lectures on the Bhagavad Gita. He spends a good deal of time selling the reader on reincarnation because if you don't believe in reincarnation then some of the related concepts of karma and dharma simply won't make sense.

While we discussed evolving souls and the teachings of the Gita, I thought back to Helen Nearings' book Loving and Leaving the Good Life. She recounted watching her lifelong partner, Scott, near 100 years old. He started to find that he could no longer tote fire wood. That was an indicator to him that the usefulness of this body, this sheath, had run its course. He put his affairs in order. He made sure Helen was OK. They had a birthday dinner for Scott on his 100th birthday. He celebrated with his friends. Afterwards, he stopped eating. It took three weeks for the vitality to run out of his body. He left intentionally. Helen watched a man who entered the world with purpose, lived with vigor, release this life consciously.

Isn't that what we all strive for? Consciousness where previously there was not. A witnessing of the rising and shedding of lives, moments, and identities. A full investment in the moment and a willingness to release willingly when the moment has passed. Letting the transition not fill us with fear, but with awe.