Saturday, June 30, 2012


Although I’m not a Buddhist, I’ve always had an attraction to Buddhist teachings.  Lately, it’s been to the work of Pema Chodron.  I love her book Taking the Leap, and I’ve been trying to remember to use the practice she recommends concerning shenpa, which is when you get hooked or triggered.  I’ve read and re-read this section many times because it’s so hard to remember to put into practice, and yet makes so much sense to me.  What I like about it is that it doesn’t deny or turn away from the feeling.  You acknowledge that you’re hooked (as soon as you catch yourself in the feeling).  You then drop the storyline by pausing, “leaning into” the feeling (how it feels in the body, what it makes you think), taking three breaths, then relaxing and moving on.

One of the things that happened this week was I that I got the results of some blood work that did not make me happy.  On top of everything else that’s happened, it tipped me over into a pretty deep pit of distress.

Last night I had a really helpful phone conversation with one of my oldest and dearest friends (and very wise woman) Judith Lynne.  We got around to the idea of acceptance.  I realized how much I had been resisting the state I find myself in and caught up in the story I’d made up about this string of unfortunate events.  I’ve been indignant about the seeming futility of all the work I’ve done and all of the discipline I’ve had (diet, supplements, seeing lots of practitioners – you get the picture).  She said that she felt this all happened after I retired because I no longer had to keep myself geared up to deal with the 8 - 5 world.  I think she could be right.  But I’ve done lots of work in the last year and a half to attempt to figure out what has been going on with me.  It’s not that I haven’t had some results and insights, but  they haven’t gotten me clear of the problems.  It’s all made me good and tired of trying to figure it all out, though.

This morning, in my morning pages, I had the thought that maybe my body has been trying to communicate something to me and that I just wasn’t getting it (and none of the practitioners were, either).  I don’t trust myself to know what I need to do and have been too dependent on the “experts.”  It’s challenging because I don’t get the kind of instant feedback other people do. For instance, I haven’t eaten gluten in over a year, but I can’t tell that it’s made a difference.  I’ve done it because I’m “supposed” to.  I have friends who know right away when they eat something that doesn’t work for them.  Not me.

I’ve been hooked big-time – so big that using the shenpa practice didn’t even occur to me.

So, now the question is:  what do I need to do to get into a place where I feel aligned, both physically and spiritually?  I know that one of my core issues is around trust.  The rare times I feel truly aligned in myself and with my purpose, trust issues don’t arise.  When I’m out of whack, like I feel I’ve been, I don’t trust much at all.  I don’t believe the universe is a safe place, and I have lots of evidence to back that up.  It is sort of a chicken-and-egg thing.  If I had trust, I wouldn’t feel so off, and if I felt more aligned I wouldn’t experience a lack of trust.

I don’t have any answers, but I feel like I’m at least asking the right questions.  Three breaths, lean into the unknowing, move on.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One-Trick Pony

I was thinking this morning about my life-long fascination with Persephone, and the phrase “one-trick pony” popped into my mind.  That took me into this first draft of a poem:

One-Trick Pony

I admit it.
I’m a one-trick pony.
It’s an odd thing
for a pagan to be.
After all,
polytheists believe in the many,
            the goddess with a thousand faces,
            the diversity of the universe,
            the many-faceted jewel of divinity.
But I also believe
that Stafford was right, that
“…following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”
So I followed my one god. 
I know
that she is one of many.
I don’t know
if I chose her
or if she chose me.
I have walked, ridden and crawled
down her road,
knowingly and unknowingly,
for sixty years.
I have taken refuge
in the houses of other gods,
but she holds the teachings
I am required to follow.

Why Persephone?  I think it must have to do with the journeying between worlds, learning to navigate and live with the changes of moving from the light world to the dark and back.  There is, of course, the fact that I was born in the spring.  And, it's hard to ignore her story's focus on death.  Being the fear-based type that I am, what else would I focus on?

I have been wondering a lot about what I should be learning in this time of experiencing one physical problem after the next.  I feel out of whack, or hunkered down in the doldrums (hmm....that would be a good title for a poem), hanging out here with Hecate who has always been Persephone's guide and companion.  Maybe I've wandered off the road and she is leading me back to my chosen god.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Over the years, when I’ve felt the need for retreat, I have taken myself to Wilbur Hot Springs. 

We’ve been going to Wilbur for well over 35 years.  Max was a tiny baby the first time we went.  It’s one of those places that feels like home away from home to me.  For years, we went with a crowd every Thanksgiving.  I have many fond memories of those holidays and also of our family visits (and a few not-so-happy ones), but today I’m mostly thinking about my solo trips to Wilbur. It’s always been a healing place for me.

I think the first time I went without Barry was to heal after my miscarriage (Christmastime, 1977).  The most recent was this year when my undiagnosed physical symptoms were really getting to me. 

During one of my solitary visits I took the opportunity to work on a process recommended by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with
the Wolves.  She calls this exercise descansos.  Descansos are markers of the changes, the turning points, the deaths (literal and figurative) in one’s life.  She says, “Descansos are symbols that mark a death. Right there, right on that spot, someone’s journey in life halted unexpectedly. There has been a car accident, or someone was walking along the road and died of heat exhaustion, or a fight took place there. Something happened there that altered that person’s life and the lives of other persons forever.”   They are the roadside shrines that mark places where an accident claimed a life.  I also see them as crossroads, choice points, places where you choose one road and might have taken another.

It makes sense that I’d be thinking about this in this time of “retreat” I’m undertaking and in seeing myself at Hecate’s crossroads.

So, what Estes recommends is taking a long sheet of paper and mapping out a timeline of your life.  At every point you remember one of those timess, you make a little cross to mark it.  You can then look at and reflect on all of those times, all of those challenges and choice points, all of the roads taken and not taken. 

This morning as I was writing, the descanso that leaped into my mind was when I went to library school at Simmons in Boston.  Assuming there is a reason that particular time popped up – that there is something for me to glean from that memory – I’ll explore it here.

Fall, 1970.  I had just graduated from the University of Florida and spent the summer with a friend in Santa Barbara (my first trip to California).  I had chosen to go to Simmons for graduate school because they offered me a fellowship, complete with stipend for living expenses.  A better offer than I got from Denver or Berkeley (besides which, my parent said I’d go to Berkeley over their dead bodies – it was 1970).  I was in love with a guy who had been a real guide and mentor to me in all ways counter-culture, but it was clear that our paths were diverging.  I chose to stay longer in Santa Barbara than planned to see him one last time.  My parents were furious, having expected me to be home for a while before heading up to Boston.  It was the worst time in my relationship with them, ever.

My stipend money wasn’t due to arrive until 3 or 4 weeks into the school year.  I had my ticket to fly to Boston, but almost no money.  Refusing to be beholden to my folks (who I felt were too controlling and didn’t understand my lifestyle), I called a former boyfriend who agreed to loan me some money (nice guy; maybe he did it out of guilt for dumping me the year before, but no matter).  Off I went to Boston.  I knew no one.  I had no place to live, other than a depressing room reserved at the YWCA.

Now, I’m a 6 on the Enneagram.  Fear-based.  This whole situation was WAY out of my comfort zone.  I don’t take big risks, at least not easily.  Nevertheless, I landed in Boston, checked into the Y, found a copy of the latest underground newspaper, and read a housing ad for “The Zoo.”  It was a flat on Mass. Ave. full of friendly hippies, including a Harvard senior whose first question to me was “Do you like toads?”  Yes.  I met Barry the first evening I was in Boston.  I moved into The Zoo the following morning.

Is it easier to be courageous at 21 than at 63?  Good question.  Probably.  But this is the descanso memory that surfaced today, so it must mean something about taking risks and following my own road.  The fact is that I was able to take care of myself, to make decisions, to dive into a new life.  Maybe that’s what I need to remember now.

Also, that it is possible to move to a new city, to make friends, to try new things and to thrive. 

We can do this.  I can do it, broken foot and all.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hecate's House

I was writing my morning pages today and heard inside my head the words “Hecate’s house.”  No idea why, or where I might go with it.  So, plunge in.

When Hades grabbed Persephone,
            her cries echoed off the mountainsides,
But only Hecate heard them.
The story says she was
            resting in her cave nearby.
I have always wondered:
            Why would a goddess live in a cave?

Maybe it isn’t a rugged bear’s den sort of cave,
            (which is my first image).
It could be a cave like those in the rock walls of Cappadocia.
Or an elegant white-washed cave house perched on a cliff’s edge.

We stayed in a place like that once -
Hotel Galini, it was called –
In Firostefani on the island of Santorini.
I do believe it was the most beautiful place
            I have ever been.

Hecate would require such beauty.

Hecate’s house would provide respite from
            reigning at the crossroads.
Here she is neither pursued nor feared.
Here she need receive no desperate offerings,
            nor witness any agonizing decisions.
Here her meditations might drop her into the wisdom pool.
Here she can choose what to do with her time.

I guess what's bubbling up are thoughts about what home means to me - as I may be leaving mine in the (hopefully) near future.  And then will have to find a new one.

It was lovely pulling up memories of the cave house at Hotel Galini.  I loved the place, but the view!  Alex and Emily stayed there on our recommendation on their honeymoon.  I remember him describing it like being smacked in the face with beauty every time you left your room.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Holding the Torch

This is a SoulCollage® card I made a few months ago (sorry for the poor quality - I could only snap a picture of it with my phone as the printer/scanner is in storage).  The figure in the bottom left is Hecate.  The one at the very top is Hermes.

The card is about Barry and me standing on the verge of a new adventure (which moving to the east bay will certainly be).  And Hecate has handed me one of her torches.

Today, I began work on another poem, one about holding this torch.  I'm starting to feel like a disciple of William Stafford.  If you don't know the story, Stafford was in the habit of writing a poem each morning.  When a student asked him how he could do such a thing when it took the student weeks or longer to craft a single poem, Stafford is reputed to have replied, "Lower your standards."  Yes.  Well.  I seem to be putting out these unpolished poems here.

Yesterday, blogger refused to accept the spacings in my poem.  It only allowed a single stanza.  We'll see if it's in a better mood today.

 Holding the Torch 

Demeter carried
a torch in each hand,
searching for Persephone.
Hecate held two as well.
Now she has handed one to me.

It is a gift,
a blessing.
It also obliges me
to light my own way.

But wasn’t that ever
the case?
Oh, I have had teachers, guides,
a guru or two whose sway
I barely evaded.

But the road has always been
spiraling, weaving, circuitous -
a route forged
without a map.
Was it serendipity?
Or maybe I was
guided by an unseen and
unacknowledged hand.

Well, in any case,
now I have a torch.
This means no more excuses.

I am walking
the slow road of aging.
What I have learned
I must now demonstrate.
What I have planted
I must now harvest.

In the light of the torch,
all flaws are revealed,
all scars are visible.
No matter how
they were attained –
bestowed by parents, errors
or happenstance –
None of that signifies now.

To lift the torch
I must raise my arm.
It is a posture of praise,
and an affirmation of merit.

Hecate gave this light to me.
I hope to use it well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

We Are All Pilgrims

So, here at the crossroads.

Do you know Rob Brezsny's horoscopes?  Both Barry's and mine were amazing this week.  His was all about envisioning a new building he is going to (!).  Here's mine:

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Swans, geese, and ducks molt all their flight 
feathers at once, which means they may be unable to fly for several 
weeks afterwards. We humans don't do anything like that in a literal way, 
but we have a psychological analog: times when we shed outworn self-
images. I suspect you're coming up on such a transition, Aries. While 
you're going through it, you may want to lie low. Anything resembling 
flight -- launching new ventures, making big decisions, embarking on great 
adventures -- should probably be postponed until the metamorphosis is 
complete and your feathers grow back.

I really have no choice but to lie low.  Unable to fly... or walk.  

A few weeks ago I started a poem.  I think it still needs work, but this morning I found myself drawn back to it.

We Are All Pilgrims
We are all pilgrims.
Some worship at the temple of materialism.
Some linger in the warm pools of Aphrodite.
Others trek to mountain peaks
or hidden springs,
seeking the source
of mystery itself.
But we all journey somewhere.
We are all pilgrims.
The roads we travel –
the dusty miles,
the rain-soaked muddy roads,
the twisting uphill trails -
drag on, so arduous and long,
with no endpoint in sight.
But then, one day,
you look into a mirror, or
catch your reflection
in still water,
and you see
that you have grown old.
Suddenly, a different destination nears.
You cry out –
I’m not ready!
Now you understand that
it was never arriving
that mattered.
You know –
deeply and without doubt –
that the pilgrimage itself
was the point.
All of those hours lost
in complaint, confusion and misery –
you realize that they were
opportunities ignored and departed.
Even now,
walking the great camino,
you rouse – repeatedly –
from unconscious moments.
You desperately want
to stay open-eyed
and grateful.
But even our failures are the journey.
And we are all pilgrims.

The "you" here is, of course, me talking to me.

It is so hard to feel gratitude when you're having a rough time.  I'm trying to - as the saying goes - sit in the tension of the opposites.  I drew a SoulCollage card this morning for the next quarter, as I do on every solstice and equinox, and it came up a very challenging one (the printer is in storage or I'd scan it and post here).  The images are of a crying soldier, a little boy with a toy gun and a snake.  It was hard receiving this one, but I decided that part of my current challenge is to look at the old, painful stories, 
honor them, and lay them down, or offer them up, or...whatever I can do with/about them.

Here is where Hecate comes in. The pilgrimage brought me to this crossroads, and here I am.  Waiting.

Waiting to heal.  Waiting for the house to sell.  Waiting to move. Waiting for my feathers to grow back, according to my horoscope.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.  THIS is my journey right now.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Writing Retreat

Retirement.  No more 8 – 5 pressures.  Plenty of leisure time.  Perfect.

Except …. 4 months into my idyllic new life I developed some very annoying health issues (somewhat better but still not definitively diagnosed a year and a half later).   Then I had several (not too serious) skin cancers to deal with.  Then the chaos of getting our house ready to sell, the stress of it going on the market and not selling very quickly (with me having to come to terms with my ambivalence about making the move in the first place).  And now, on top of all this major Living in Limbo, I break a bone in my foot.  No driving, no swimming (the way I keep myself sane), and no walking for 6 – 8 weeks.  Not totally housebound, as I can be driven and have rented a knee scooter to move around on, but pretty close.

In an attempt to reframe my predicament and get past the self-pity, I came up with an idea while doing my morning pages – view the next 2 months as a retreat, a writing retreat.  Okay.  So, one of the ways I’m hoping to do that is by writing this blog. 

To be perfectly honest, I’m doing it for me.  If anyone else cares to read it, fine.  But I’m doing it because I need to do it.

Why am I calling it Hanging Out with Hecate?  Anyone who knows me well knows my love of the Persephone story.  (Really, If you haven’t seen my book of Persephone poems, take a look.  Max, my brilliant designer son made me a beautiful book.)  Hecate is one of the goddesses in the story.  She becomes the guide, the companion, to the young goddess.  In ancient Greece she was the goddess of the crossroads.  She became the goddess of witches. Night was her time.  In The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, my favorite version of the story, the description of Hecate does not make her sound as though she is a crone, although that would be tidy:  Persephone = maiden; Demeter = mother; Hecate = crone.  But I have decided that if she is not the crone goddess, she is the goddess of crones.

So, here at the crossroads I sit.  Hopefully, hanging out with Hecate.  Yesterday I wrote this:

Hanging Out with Hecate

I’ve been waiting at the crossroads.
I don’t know how long, but
            it feels like aeons.
This road?
That one?
It doesn’t matter much now,
            as I cannot walk either way.
My foot is fractured, and
            walking could damage it forever.
I rant and I rail, 
            shake my fists at heaven,
And then settle down again,
            waiting for Hecate to show.

This is Her domain, and
I need Her.
Advice, company, inspiration –
            I will gladly take
Whatever she has to offer.

She must come.
My need is fierce.