Stand by the door: bless a year of taking stuff apart

What does it mean to bless? my friend Howard asked Reb Zalman. By way of response, Zalman posted Howard by the door to the retreat space as we returned from lunch, with no more directive than that.

 

It is in this spirit that I stand by the door of the year and consider the personal and public events of 2017, marked by disruption, interruption, dismantling.

On the personal side, I initiated significant disruption: after 35 years in our house, a project to re-do our sad-looking wood floors and repaint much of the first floor of our home. The domino effect, which I intended but couldn’t exactly plan, meant moving a lot of stuff around, getting into corners of accumulation, runs for empty beer and liquor boxes, hours of sorting and letting go. The physical and psychological labor was intense over a four-month period. A blockbuster approach to nostalgia, values clarification, and the great American dilemma of too-much-stuff. The process had its disruptive effects on my relationship with virtually every part of my identity, my family and my professional life. What does it all come down to? What, indeed. The outer rearrangements and lightening-up are settling in, the inner rearrangements and lightening up, still a work in progress.

 

But if a life of practice is about anything, it is about being a disruptor of habit and denial. And that commonly comes wrapped in discomfort.

There is more work to follow to get our house in order, going beyond nostalgia into territory such as: how long shall we assume we are going to live? how well-prepared are we financially? How well-prepared to assume care-taking roles for one another? what legacies are important to us, may someday help our children and grand-kids?

On the public side, I am horrified and terrified to live under an elected leader who governs by chaos and divisiveness and who cannot distinguish allies from enemies. Nostalgia makes for poor public and foreign policy. Values clarification? Many of us have caught fire with a new sense of urgency, commitment, skill and solidarity. We are paying attention. Our nation too has its ugly accumulation of dirt that now sees the light of day. Thousands of us are engaged daily to disrupt denial: the forces of habit of power-holders are formidable – whether in government, or in the home.

 

What does it even mean to be willing to bless such events?

May we each stand at the door of the year to bless as we can, looking first back, then ahead:

  • to look life straight in the eyes, to see who/what is before you and what is needed
  • to hold a profound intention for goodness
  • to take personal responsibility for guarding the threshold of the year
  • to join our volition with the volition of the universe that has our back

 

May we offer one another honesty suffused with kindness.

May we offer one another refuge from the wild elements within and without.

And please, share your blessings for the

outgoing and incoming years

 in the comments section.

A healing-awakening crisis? Listen for the Source-Song

From time to time, I have to listen up: my sense of being a secure “self” living “my” life unravels and dissolves as ink in water: a healing-awakening crisis.

An encounter with realities of daily life at unexplored levels. An encounter with tangles deep in my psyche. Like the outer world as we near the solstice, a time of maximum darkness.

In this current version, my mind has a mind of its own, spinning scenarios of one disaster after another in which no part of my life survives unscathed. No cues. No script. No landmarks. A profound stimulus to my prayer life, which languishes in “better times.”

 

I listen now for “the small Blue Deer.”*  Her song, as I learned it, ordered the forces and forms of creation.

In her native language, she Is Kauyumari. She first entered my life through the music and art of her Wixaritari (Huichol) people, a small indigenous tribe living in the Sierra Madre mountains of central northwest Mexico. In the story as I heard it, the small Blue Deer sang out her mysterious song to draw all the gods near to their Source: “form and essence, light and dark, fullness and emptiness.”* Drawn together as they followed her song, the gods, who had lived “each to his own”* – spinning from one creative/sustaining/destructive act to another, much as my mind is doing this very day – settled into their places – “conscious, mysterious, and free.”* Order followed, an order where each of the gods took on the role they were meant to play.

I am grateful for Kauyumari’s calming, warming and alchemical fire as the somewhat arbitrary end of the year approaches.

 

I go quiet, go within, listen for her song within, the one that carries “all that is, and all that was, and all that will ever be.”*

It’s about really getting that I have a within. That I am not spread out all over the universe, yet have a place in it that is mine alone. Whatever it is I am here for, no one else can do/be it.

I find myself resisting a path I have taken in recent years of engaging in some well-crafted, structured self-assessment, and planning ahead. My email box is filled with hashtags for creative alignment and inspiration. I cheer their creators and subscribers along – there are so many wonderful doors to walk through. But for myself, I cringe at each new arrival, shiny with promise.

Instead I gather information about parts of my life – and my being – that I have ignored – how I have made certain choices, and how did they work out? What have been my patterns of choices? Did they bring me some of what I hoped? What about unexpected consequences?

I crave quiet.

I listen to my own voices. Some wise. Some foolish, aka human.

I am intent on discovering and claiming what wisdom I have integrated. Taken in. Digested. I am intent on discovering and claiming – even as I cringe from them – my limitations and even shame.

And I listen for the echoes of the Source-song within my voices,

even within the deep loneliness that I cannot solve. 


 

*Language in quotes are lyrics from “The Blue Deer Is,” on the CD My God is a Tree, produced by Joby Baker and Scott Sheerin  (2007).

The banner photo of the Blue Deer is a yarn painting I purchased through the Huichol Art Project, under the auspices of the Blue Deer Center, founded by Huichol elder and Plant Spirit Medicine healer Eliot Cowan.

Collision averted and other miracles of the season

Collision averted today, one miracle in a season of miracles. 

Just in time I saw the dull gray sedan coming up on my right as I was about to make a left turn. On a dull gray day, when my mind was preoccupied with irritating matters. One of those near-misses I have experienced countless times behind the wheel, and that I imagine happens hundreds of times a day in crowded parking lots and on heavily-trafficked highways. I send my thanks heaven-ward, as it were, and move on uninjured and unimpeded to my next errand.

 

I am not much given to contemplating the miraculous, but this is the first day of Chanukah.

And the “Chanukah Story” that I grew up with was the miracle of the oil. The Israelites reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Greeks some 1800 years ago. In preparing to rededicate the space for worship, a single day’s worth of pure oil was found to burn in the re-kindled menorah. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days.

According to certain mystical teachings of the sages, miracles emanate from a level of creative power that precedes time and space, where delight infuses the divine urge to create. In some prayers we call upon this level, using the name “slow to anger.”

 

Since we are made in the image of God, this got me thinking about how we humans manifest miracles

I was standing in a long check-out line a couple of days ago. The woman behind me smiled and shook her head. Because she had just reunited with a dear high-school classmate, the woman in front of me. Their reunion may have been a miracle of divine origin. The way the two of them shared their delight with me, a stranger between them, and lifted my down-in-the-dumps spirits was of their very human origin.

 

But the miracle that has become foundational in my life story is about my mom towards the end of hers.

Mom was genteel. She had her views about what it meant to live “like a lady.” She was intensely private when it came to her emotions, her troubles, and her business. She always had a social circle of friends. In fact, she twice made the effort to cultivate a new circle of younger friends as her own peers died one by one. Still, she was not one to reach out to strangers or to others who appeared much different.

But on my last visit with her in the nursing home where she spent the last three months of her life, I was wheeling her through the diningroom on our way back to her room, when she asked me to stop next to a small table. A woman sat alone and downcast over her meal. My mother reached over, patted her hand and said sweetly, “How are you tonight, dear?” They exchanged a few words, and we went on our way, the woman clearly nourished and uplifted: a small miracle of human origin.

I was stunned at mom’s uncharacteristic behavior, and since then have drawn from it deep inspiration. Just a few weeks before dying at age 97 she was growing and changing.

At the end of life, another season of miracles.

 

May you be blessed to see the miracles around you, and to enact your own.

Morning has broken, I swim up to waking

Morning. Light hits my eyelids. As I swim up to waking, I mistakenly believe I am alone in the Universe.

I grew up believing that if there was something I wanted to see happen in the world, it was on me to bring it about: me alone. Years of adulthood roll on by before I even grok that this is a burden and a messianic imagining.  More years before I understand this to be an actual impossibility. Going it alone is just not possible.

We are irrevocably linked to one another and held together in God or Reality. Nor can God go it alone. She needs our arms and legs, our hands and voices.

 

Morning has broken

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I wake to find myself

wearing a tattered garment.

During sleep it has become

my skin, no seams,

the barest of hemmed edges

 

gilded with holes,

some gaping

where the garment hangs

on me,

by turns sad, reluctant, fearful as

light strikes

the fabric.

 

Such is the effort of waking as

if burdened by breath and pulse.

 

Once showered, properly

dressed for weather and agenda,

no one but You knows the undergarment.

Even I forget as the day goes on.

It doesn’t exactly chafe like a hair-shirt

but hums low, occasionally growls

and gives off a whiff of – Bear,

 

persists because You are in the holes and tatters

and persists because it makes a difference that I breathe and pulse

and slog and soar and walk tenderly and blindly

in this reluctant body,

and because it makes a difference that I know You are in the tatters and holes.

 

Still, I long to

lie still,

because there is One who longs

to wake into a world frayed yet made

whole.


 

Banner photo: Crooked Sky, Cold wax and oil, by Jude Lobe. Hillsborough Gallery of Art, Hillsborough, North Carolina