Giving thanks, offering healing: in practice

Offering our thanks is healing itself, for our own hearts, and the world’s Great Heart

Dear Readers ….

May this day find us each and every one with an abundance of blessings received and equally abundant impulses to pay them forward.

May we feast on a bounty of kindness for our troubled world and our own aching hearts.

May we breathe life into ancient wisdom stories, take instruction from them, and welcome opportunities to join hands with strangers within and without.

May we resolve to understand where we have come from, on whose tribal shoulders we stand, on whose tribal lands and graves our lives are built, and pursue paths to Truths and Reconciliations for the healing of human sorrows.

May we summon our will and our willingness to participate in the ways our Mother Earth reveals she is healing Herself.

May we yield to the solace of Mystery, our incapacity to understand and make meaning.

May we grant ourselves and one another permission – whether to recoil in incredulity or numbness or shed tears as we cry out to the Mystery,  in hurt, in love, in anger, in grief, in fear, in relief.

May we pursue and accept responsibility for the power to do and be good with which we have been gifted by the Mystery.

 

An invitation to practice: 

Contemplate your yearning for personal healing and for healing in the world, and how they are irrevocably one, like the palm and back of your hand. Journal a bit, or let a poem write itself through you. Leonard Cohen’s beautiful lyrics and melody in Come Healing help me sink into this contemplation.

Take a walk – around your own block or in a favorite setting. Be attentive to your environment, and pocket with thanks a few natural objects that capture your attention – twigs, stones, moss, dried plant stalks, broken open nutshells.

Back home, lay your found objects down, and gather bits of broken pottery or glass, a bead or two, yarn or twine, clay or duct tape for threading and binding them together.

Sit quietly as you infuse the items with your healing intentions and compose an offering with these found natural and household items.

Give yourself uninterrupted time to be leisurely, and make arrangement with your family/housemates as necessary. (Any animals in your home are likely to sniff you out in this activity to join their energies with yours!)

Choose any altar – in your own home or in a place in your town or countryside in need of healing, or in the hands of a friend or colleague in need: place your offering in any one of these gracious laps of the great Mystery.

Photos and words of reflection on your experience are welcome!

 

This practice will yield fruit, whether you are able to set aside a block of time to follow all the steps from beginning to end, or whether you do it in stages. If the latter, take time to reconnect with your healing intentions at each step – and follow and trust your own process as it shifts and deepens,  becomes more specific, or changes direction.

Note: This practice is adapted with gratitude from a healing ceremony that two of my healing colleagues and I channeled/designed for A Society  of Souls’ biannual gathering in July, 2018.

 

P.S. I have been peering into the “dark light” these last number of months, while a life of practice’s blog has gone dark. Thank you, dear readers, who have in one way or another blown on the embers, letting me know you missed it! Look for posts to appear twice a month.

 

Today is an empty altar: what offering do you bring?

Today is an empty altar: what offering do you bring?

Because It is no small thing that you and I got ourselves out of bed this morning.

It is the height of summer, and a dry spell to boot. 

The wild ginger that fills my shade bed is prostrate. 

I’m wilted with the heat, a little woozy, not up for standing on a ladder to maneuver two floppy 2×4 fluorescent light panels back in place, where they have to be nestled precisely on all four lips of the opening.

 

I’m guessing that, like me, you are already scheduling meetings and medical check-ups and family and professional gatherings well into 2019 and beyond. 

Meanwhile…

Joan’s sister is recovering from a life-threatening medical event.

Sharon is scheduled for her fifth stent. That hasn’t prevented her from stepping for the first time in her life into a hub of activism in her community.

Pundits across the political spectrum pedal their tired wares.

Four men drive up in a 4-door Infiniti, and shoot 10-year old Makiyah Wilson in the chest as she is headed towards an ice-cream truck.

Tim, who never sang before in public, takes to the stage during Talent Night and belts out The National Anthem. Some stand. Some take the knee. Some holler out at the end, “Play Ball!”

Evelyn’s daughter is treating her to a couple of days’  of midweek quiet at a monastery.

A childcare resource staffer ends up taking a call from an active suicide.

Irene spends countless hours engraving and fusing glass as gifts for our healing community.

 

For just a few days I am taking a vacation from making plans.

Because along with the happenings just described among the countless stream of events, there is this: a web of helping hands.  

“I’ve got meals covered for today.” For a single woman nearing the end of life.

“Can I give you a hand with that?”  (Moving easels and tables at 1:00 am.)

“We need help repairing this hurt – I’ll go knock on ——-‘ s door.”

“I’m heading for: Haiti, the Texas border, the local ICE office, the corner of Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue to talk with that prophet who hangs out there.”

“Just checking in to see how you’re doing – we haven’t talked in a while.”

“No, you can’t use that language in my company.”

“Yes, I am ready to listen.”

 

Instead of planning, I’m stepping back and looking around.

Where are my hands needed? 

My words?

My physical support?

My open heart?

My firm boundary?

My gut wisdom?

My opinion-of-the-moment?

 

What mistaken beliefs, partial understandings, outright delusions prevent me from seeing  who and what needs help?

Help.

Support. Succor. Benefit. Being done good to. Cure. Aid. Assistance.

All stemming from the Old English helpan.

 

As full as life is, every day is an empty altar, waiting for the offerings of my hands.

Your hands. A web of hands that circle the globe.

Time collapses, the fruits of practice persist

This week I’m drawn to reflect on how clock time collapses in the face of death, life and practice. And yet something vital persists through time.

 

A funeral

Sunday was marked by the torrential rains that once again washed away historic Ellicott City’s Main Street. The locals call it “a 1,000 year storm.” What meteorologists mean by this is there is a .1% chance in any year that such a storm will hit. But the last one hit just two years ago. I’m not sure if actuarial tables follow the same mathematical principles: a seventy-nine year old woman could be expected to live for another ten years. Judy did not.

Judy and her husband Jon were among the first “locals” I met when I moved to Baltimore to go to college. Over the years that we spent time in one another’s homes and on an occasional outing, she was kind and helpful in the way an older sister can be. I lost this couple in a divorce almost forty years ago and had rarely seen them since. Even so, I wanted to be present among the mourners honoring her life. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, the room was full of people greeting one another – so many people in her life who were not strangers to one another.

The officiating rabbi had listened deeply and wisely to what family members recalled about Judy’s life, and wove them into a beautiful and tender picture: significant losses that had shaped her as an adolescent, choices she made to tend to family, to her social work and counseling patients, to community institutions and well-being.

I experienced once again a mix of wonder, regret, and resignation that it is through a eulogy I learn so much about one who has died. The person I remember fondly, “knew” and took to be a whole person – I “knew” such a small part and yet somehow that also contained the whole of her.

I experienced once again how time collapses at such a moment: a lifetime into a 20-minute  eulogy. The definitive ending. Or a person’s departure from the time-bound into some timeless realm. A self-comforting thought.

 

An ordination

Tuesday was marked by a more rare event, and one that I was attending for the first time: the ordination of my old friend Jerry as a rabbi.  Jerry and his wife Becky and I had shared some years together as members of the same weekly Chaverah, a Jewish fellowship. As I pulled up and parked across the street from the 145-year old synagogue, Jerry beckoned me to join in the pre-ceremonial photo-shoot outside. We were delighted to see one another: it had been perhaps several decades.

From a distance I had followed his lengthy journey through both secular and rabbinic studies. This was such a singular culmination of years of effort. According to Becky’s lovingly written bio of her husband he began teaching himself Hebrew out of a book when he was 15, visited Israel five times before he was 20. He earned a degree with honors in Political Science and Spanish. Most recently Jerry completed a Rabbinical degree at the Union of Traditional Judaism along with an MS in Pastoral Counseling.

Several of his rabbinic teachers traveled some distance for the occasion, and  praised Jerry for his devotion, persistence, patience, and provocative questions as a student. But the overall theme of this eulogy-during-life was his menschlichkeit (roughly translated from the Yiddish as humanity, human goodness, honor, integrity). They spoke to his skill in tending to peoples’ needs, to sensing just which words, which tone to strike to help the person in front of him. And they spoke of the partnership between Jerry and Becky, and their numerous acts of kindness, showing up at the door of whoever needed help in the community with practical, emotional, and spiritual support.

 

The similarities to the eulogy spoken at Judy’s funeral were striking: one life story ended, another beginning a new chapter. And yet in Jerry’s life, time collapses regularly. 

Because among the many dynamics of Torah study is the collapse of time.  We are cautioned not to assume the events we read in chronological order in Torah actually transpired that way. And the 63 sections of the Talmud contain conversations among countless rabbis over hundreds of years, as if all were sitting around a table in the same study hall with today’s students.

 

Times collapses, but the fruits of our practice persist.

Whatever we devote ourselves to is our practice.

This is how we build our character, our menschlichkeit.

This is how we write our life story, whose ending is beyond our choosing.

And the fruits of our devotion endure, made, as they are, of love.

On patriotism and sorrow: a personal history of the flag

You will seldom read about sports here, but Roger Goodell’s statement on national anthem policy today provokes many thoughts about patriotism and how the ties that bind us can also divide us.

When I was ten years old God got mixed into the business both of patriotism and daily household purchases. This is the year (1954) that the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, not without controversy. I remember stumbling over the word change every morning after Congress passed the Joint Resolution that mandated this change to the Flag Code. Two years later Congress passed another Joint Resolution stipulating that the words “in God we trust” must appear on all U.S. currency. 

These changes mixed strangely with warm feelings of standing with the multitudes at Cleveland Municipal Stadium to sing the National Anthem on pleasant summer evenings, followed by the pronouncement: “Play ball.” And even more strangely with the grainy apoplectic faces of Senator Joseph McCarthy and company: McCarthy, chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, conducted hearings into his charges that the U.S. Army was “soft on communism.” This is among my earliest memories of television. Also 1954.

Flags stood at the front of the classroom in elementary school, and flew from poles in public places. We were taught that Betsy Ross was a seamstress who “made” the first American flag. This may be an apocryphal story first recorded by her grandson. We were not taught that as an apprentice to an upholsterer she also made and repaired curtains, bedcovers, tablecloths, rugs, umbrellas and Venetian blinds.

And then – in 1954! – President Eisenhower standardized the dates and time periods when the flag was to be flown at half staff:  Memorial Day, Peace Officers Day, upon the death of a president or former president (for 30 days), upon the death of a vice president, Supreme Court chief justice/retired chief justice, or speaker of the House of Representatives (10 days.)

My first memory of the flag at half-staff is following the assassination of President Kennedy – nineteen years after Eisenhower’s proclamation. The period of mourning was one of extraordinary national unity.

 

All in all my relationship with the flag was respectful, if perfunctory and transactional. 

So I was more bemused than triumphant when astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong planted the flag on the moon in 1969. More bemused than horrified by flag-burnings during Vietnam War protests.

It was President Nixon who adopted the flag as a lapel pin. He was also the first President to end a public speech with the words “God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.” (The speech was an attempt to exert damage control over the escalating Watergate scandal.)  And flag pins were not uncommon during the First Gulf War (1990-91).

But it was after 9/11 that President George W. Bush – and his staff – and some news anchors, began not so much wearing as displaying them.

 

This is when I started to feel queasy. 

As if something that was a standard fixture in my life was being appropriated to stand in for something that I did not stand for at all: the display of patriotism. As if the terrible assault on our civilian life required the display of a symbol for us to rally around. I’m not talking about fireworks displays or parades on Independence Day. Or the display of respect when a folded flag is handed to the family of a fallen military member. 

What I mean is the display of the flag as a badge of chosen-ness, of righteousness or self-righteousness, the display of the flag as if it is a political brand. Or a team brand. This is where Goodell’s statement of the day comes in:

It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.

This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.

And then there’s the mixing up of patriotism and God. The God I believe in is not the God of American currency, a deity of patriotism, or a deity who favors either a set of political or religious beliefs or any tribe or nation.

 

The flag for me has become real. It has become a sorrow.

Not a symbol of sorrow but a sorrow in itself. Because it is flown at half-staff with such frequency that I often have to inquire of people  – or Google – just who is being mourned and for what reason.

And because in 2018 the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag does not confound a 10-year-old trying to remember to add two new words to her daily recitation, but inspires a six-year-old to decide, all on his own, to take the knee. And because in 2018 a team member can be relegated to the locker room for “bad” behavior (choosing not to stand for the national anthem) the way I could be sent to the coat-room at the back of my classroom in 1954 for behaving out of order.

 

So I heartfully propose that we decommission the flag, the pledge, and the anthem all three as badges of anything. 

Let us rid all three of sanctimony. Instead let us return them to their essential nature, a true sanctity. Let us consider the values they inspire us to embody, in support of the indivisible Union to which we continue to aspire. Humility shoulder to shoulder with pride. From the depths of our humanity.

I can think of no better antidote to

the American flag as sorrow.

Limits of our seeing, depth in our listening

When we fail to notice the limits of how things look to us, we can inflict a great deal of harm. It is seeing-listening that opens us to human connection.

 

Three stories I heard this week about how deeply our physical appearance affects our lives

Her right arm in a cast and sling, this visionary and hard-working woman was stunned at how thoughtfully people responded to her apparent need for help. No one has made any such allowances for her, she noted, during times when she has actually felt a lot worse.

A courageous young woman struggling with multiple auto-immune diagnoses was dismayed when she heard other women in her online support groups describe how physicians treated them dismissively because Ankylosing Spondylitis is considered “a man’s disease.” 

A skilled, team-playing and tenacious contractor who was let go from her federal position considers her options as she applies for other jobs. The medical marijuana industry attracts her.  She can see herself learning about the industry and ultimately opening her own dispensary.  She also sees the industry as “nontraditional,” offering her freedom to show up where she is less constrained, less hindered by how she is seen in white-male-dominated workplaces: as her gender and skin color.

 

Bias is another way to describe the limits of how things look to us, and limit our capacity to connect

None of us is without our filters as we make our way through life. Even amongst family, close friends and associates, our personal suffering, both emotional and physical, can be “missed” or “dismissed” because we look fine, seem cheerful, have a pretty good energy level. We display no obvious signifiers of distress. No arm in a sling. And when we talk about our distress, what we say, how we are heard, may not override the visual conclusion already reached: oh, she’s really fine.

This is one reason we often turn to people who we know are going through the same thing.

There are other settings – medical or workplace – where the biases, and the harm of our limited “seeing” go deeper. This can play out with the physician reluctant to order lab tests you ask for, or undervaluing your mood, stress, or pain symptoms. The average time from onset to diagnosis if fibromyalgia, for example, is 5-8 years.  Or the lack of opportunities for women and people of color to advance and to occupy positions of influence and leadership.

When we are not aware of our filters, our biases, we are unable ourselves to be full human beings. Nor are we able to meet others as full human beings.

 

Seeing-Listening takes us below surface appearances, where we can be aware of our own biases and meet a fully dimensional human being 

Going by my appearance, one may comment on my outfit, the bags under my eyes, or the expression on my face, and ask “What’s going on?” Then comes the listening (or not.) My tone of voice. My word choices, metaphor of the day. I may feel invited to open up – or close down. But when a friend, a colleague, or a medical professional listens to me deeply, non-judgmentally, with curiosity and nuance, I experience a renewed wholeness.

As a healer, it took me a long time to understand why my clients weren’t put off by my taking notes when I sit with them, and even why the note-taking doesn’t distract me and take my attention elsewhere. It’s about the listening I am able to presence while I take notes. A listening that includes awareness of my own filters. As I can do that, I find I am Seeing-Listening:  I can take in the glorious particulars of her appearance, her story, as she sits across from me, and also the heartfulness of our shared, and flawed, human condition. As I See-Listen, an exchange of giving and receiving flows between us. And in any given moment, either of us may be receiving, either of us giving.

Even in environments fraught with structural barriers for women and people of color, when we can make space for more than transactional relationships, when we set our intention on connecting to one another, there are opportunities to meet across our differences. There are opportunities to bear one another. To appreciate one another. It is Seeing-Listening that allows another person, however different from us, to show up as the full human being they are, not as a representative of their gender or ethnicity or religious practice. Not as a boss or peer or subordinate, but as a whole human being.

It will take many types of collective efforts to remedy the coarseness of our national conversation, as well as our structural problems, the policies and practices of our government and private institutions.

But there is no choice closer at hand to us as individuals in relationship, whatever the personal or professional context. All it takes is a pause to remember: this angry/strange/different person in front of me may have more sorrows than joys, and still has a human heart.  Offer the gift of Seeing-Listening, even in small ways, as you go about your day. You too may start to wonder who is the giver, who the receiver.

Listen as the garden teaches

Lilah, pictured above, oversees the garden as the temperature climbs towards 90 degrees.  She appears to be sleeping, but listens as the garden teaches.

It’s not that unusual for us to go from blustery, gray, chill and damp directly to summer. But this year the perennials are more confused than usual. A feast for the eyes and soul, a grand allergy provocation (all those grass and tree pollens.) The sixty-foot Linden tree that anchors our property and shades the house is barely budding. Yet blooming all at once, we have, left to right:

Row 1 Jack-in-the Pulpit, Goldenseal, Solomon’s Seal

Row 2: Pulsatilla, Dwarf Comfrey, Greater Celandine

Row 3: Senencio,  Cramp Bark, Apple

Row 4: Lenten Rose, Horny Goat’s Weed, Tiarella

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We began populating our city lot with perennials and medicinals several decades ago.

In 2009 we studied how the water ran, the sun moved, the winds blew, the soil clumped or didn’t – and began applying permaculture principles. We dug up and sheet-mulched vast swaths of lawn and added medicinal trees and shrubs: Fringetree, Vitex, Witch Hazel. We put a bamboo-management plan in place. We added a couple of apple trees and a fig to the venerable grapevines planted by an earlier owner. We’ve drawn back the no-longer common swallowtail caterpillars and gold-finches. The neighborhood fox. And many curious neighbors.

Some plants have flourished, some are just hanging on, many others  did not survive.

The garden teaches

1.  Not everything blooms where it is planted.

2. Not everything blooms.

3. Living things do not mature at the same rate.

4. Some parts of the same living thing may mature while other parts remain stunted.

5. It is wise to feed the roots.

6. A tree shaped by storm damage (aka Life) is no less beautiful than before.

On North Avenue, A Chance Encounter with Dignity

A chance encounter with dignity: we were headed in different directions, our destinations – and everything else – unknown to one another.

A portion of North Avenue, formerly a city limit, is home to a jumble of long-time African-American neighbors, creatives, young entrepreneurs, and people passing through. Rich with their assorted cultural resources. 

It’s one place in Baltimore where racial and class silos are just a bit permeable. People mix it up on the street. At the corner of North Avenue and North Charles Street. At Red Emma’s, where you can pay it forward for a cuppa joe and browse radical lit. At the Y-Not Lot, home to community gatherings like the mourning after the Pulse shootings. At Impact Hub, a co-working and civic forum space. I was headed there yesterday to learn about the work of B-CIITY: Baltimore City Intergenerational Initiatives for Trauma and Youth. 

More about them another time: that event was cancelled at the last minute, making room for a different encounter.

 

North Avenue, Tuesday morning

by Sara Eisenberg

 

how ‘bout we exchange a little love?

you said,

throwing your left arm wide 

open for a hug.

 

awlriiiight, I said,

turning back to you

with a natural affection.

 

you’d spent four bucks

on a bus pass and had not

eaten, i had

a couple of bucks

to spare.

 

we turned away, headed in different

directions,

I had a clear destination, 

arrived to find 

B-CIITY’s event cancelled, so

 

(ten minutes) 

 

there you were, reached out

again, 

standing at the bus stop, half

a hot sandwich wrapped

in paper

 

made my day,

you said

turns out I came down here just to meet you,

I said

 

you looked emaciated, even a lightweight

jacket sat heavy on your

shoulders but

you had a destination too

 

and dignity

to spare.

 


Banner photo: Common Threads, by Linda Carmel, Hillsborough Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Designed to go on being, even when I forget to trust

I know I am designed “to go on being.” And to “go on being” not just anybody. Not an idealized, cleaned up version of myself. Nor an aspirational version. But a plain and quirky, occasionally brilliant, more often ordinary and flawed Sara: one-of-a-kind.

Yet I forget. I forget to trust my design. 

Life itself provides the reminders, as well as the support and pleasures of “going on being” in the company of other one-of-a-kinders.

 

recommissioned in perpetuity

by Sara Eisenberg

 

a wisdom-mechanism within

moves inexorably towards wholeness,

around, over, through the

barriers I have erected

(put in place for the Highest Good at the time: survival.) I

 

study myself to know I 

am alive, have a place. I 

push myself. I 

push against myself

(prevent  annihilation) 

unforgiving towards my

self as a flaw in creation. I

 

move out of the center of my attention,

move towards you: I 

push against you or disappear

(Reb Nachman said, ‘All the world is just a narrow bridge.” 

Just so my bandwidth for connection.)

 

in my 02 Honda the check engine light comes on.

Gary the technician reminds me it could be nothing, again, or one 

of ninety-two possible malfunctions.

Brenda the healer reminds me I can bear the incompleteness I

am.

 

the battery of the loaner car, parked

in front of my house 

dies.

 

by evening,

Daniel and Leah bear witness to the day’s

recommissions: I trust

my existence, relax

in my skin, dance

as I wash dishes,

self-forgiven,

soft, tender,

a woman

of rank.

Run to do good with a snow shovel

“Run to do good with a snow shovel.” As of this noon, I am moved to add this action to the list of obligatory ways to do good under Jewish law (halachah).

Early this morning in Baltimore we were having a white-out moment. No matter we were less than twenty-four hours into spring by the Gregorian calendar. Wet snow was falling heavily, already bending the bamboo grove in our backyard down to the ground.

After a short night’s sleep, an early-morning on-line meeting, and a late breakfast, I napped. When I woke, a blinding whiteness shone through the window. The snow had stopped. I went to the front door prepared to bundle up and spend an hour clearing the front steps and walk, to see that an Angel-with-a-Shovel had already been by. Two angels, it turned out – Lisa, my next-door neighbor, and Ashley, her neighbor on the other side. Ashley and I have waved hello to one another but never really “met.”

As recipients of an unending flow of goodness from the One Source, Judaism teaches us, so we are bound to carry out acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chassadim), regardless of whether the recipient appears to be “needy” or not, “deserving” or not. Especially acts of lovingkindness extended towards the dead, who cannot reward us.

Thus we are taught to offer unstintingly

to the wealthy and the poor,

to the wise and the foolish,

to the dead and the living.

 

We are taught to offer “all our everything.”

To offer of ourselves, our effort, our resources.

To offer hospitality.

To welcome in and provide for the stranger, and guide her on her way.

To visit the sick.

To celebrate with the couple at their wedding.

To guard and prepare the body of the dead.

To accompany and bury the dead.

To comfort the mourner.

To seek and pursue peace.

To bring people into the presence of the Shechinah, the Indwelling presence of God.

To learn Torah, teach Torah.

No legal (halachic) limit is set on what we can offer: no moment when we can cease from giving and say that we have fulfilled our duty.

Then there is the “running” aspect. It’s not just that we are not to stop and weigh the pros and cons.

The “running” is an actual eagerness to be of service, in the same spirit that G-d “runs” to bestow everything on us. Our “running” is in the image of G-d. All the more-so when we treat the “stranger” as friend and neighbor, in spite of the fact that – like Ashley and me – we may never have met.

As we offer in this way, we give up “reward” in the mundane sense, and as we give without expectation, so we do also receive. nourishment.

More than that, we become partners with G-d in completing creation. With eagerness and as small and mighty a tool as a snow shovel.

Lisa and Ashley: thank you!

As we name our feelings, so we move with life

Learning to recognize, re-cognize, embody, express, and name our feelings is a life-giving practice. Because our feelings are among the most fluid expressions of Life itself as it continually moves and changes. And they often pair with subtle sensations, movements in the body-mind.

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A chartreuse-winged butterfly – yes, chartreuse – crosses my line of sight. Flits across the yard and back again. I have never seen such a creature before, nor such a color in a winged being.

And I find no online source that yields a species name.

But I can capture the feeling that lingered: a mix of a rising up to meet, a joy, a curiosity, a quick inhale, a caught breath.

I am devoted to naming what I see, hear, think, sense as accurately and precisely as I can. Sometimes it is still to save myself from terror or trouble, often it is to locate myself, find some stability. More and more it is to come into relationship with what is right here, without time-traveling to regrets or anxieties.

Yet even now it is easier for me to select the Prismacolor shade

of blue that is true to my emotion of the moment

than it is to precisely name a feeling. 

photo 8

Sometime in my late twenties, when I was a young mother, I came across the“list of feelings that persons have but often fail to identify” pictured in the banner photo. I don’t recall whether someone gave me a copy or I myself typed the many mis-spellings on my green Olivetti portable. In any case, the list was a revelation, no less than Helen Keller’s discovery that the sensation of water could be named by movements in the palm of her hand

How do I describe my family of origin? repressed? secretive? private? of its cultural time – first-generation Americans who came of age post WW I and in the Depression?

Emotions of all kinds loomed large among the unnamed  and unexpressed, crackled and smoked around me.  I was buffeted by strange winds and weather systems, haunted by maternal and paternal hungry ghosts. I didn’t know who or what they were, just felt the life force bound up in them, and that they  sought some kind of appeasement. I learned to snuff out my own feelings. I stored great indistinct tangles of emotion in large, heavily guarded vaults. So large that to unravel even my own state of mind or heart became overwhelming.

But I could sit with the list and begin to name a multitude of orphaned feelings. Eventually I was able to tolerate more sensations in my body (that is another story) as they shifted with my feeling-state.  Then I began to discover the pleasures of nuance.

Nuance is truthful to the uniqueness of the moment, thus a great ally to living a life of practice.

Of course, we can name every little thing exhaustively – and to the point of exhaustion, when we name to capture and fix something in place – a bit like pinning a specimen chartreuse butterfly to a mounting board.

We don’t need to name everything, just enough to warm us. Just enough to move with the precious and unique dance between the changing forms that surrounds us and and the fluid life that arises within us.