Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Light Returns

How curious
that when winter
begins,
and it is
the darkest and coldest time,
the light
is returning.

At our house
on the hill,
the sun cannot touch
our door or backyard
from November
to February.
We will not receive
the light these months.
The days must lengthen
before the sun’s reach will
extend to where
we and the chickens
live.

This year,
in the peculiarity
of weather and
climate change,
my flowering ginger
continues to burst
into bloom throughout
the dim month of
December.
The little stalk of  plumeria
I brought home from
the Big Island of Hawaii
and nursed for
so many years,
has also chosen to
flower abundantly
for the first time.
So, here,
in this dark season,
in this dark time,
when helicopters fill
the night sky of Oakland,
and my friends say
they, too, have trouble conjuring
the Christmas spirit,
my endarkened house
is filled with
the scents of paradise,
and the light

returns.

Winter Solstice, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Visiting the Village of Teotitlan del Valle

Many of our travels over the last twenty-five years have been pilgrimages, trips to sacred sites that have had deep meaning for us.  For me, our recent trip to Mexico was not one of these; it was a vacation (Barry saw it differently, as you can see if you check out his blog).  We did visit many ancient sites such as Teotihuacan and Monte Alban, and fabulous museums (Mexican museums are fantastic) full of ancient artifacts. I was impressed with the number of goddess figures, and I loved seeing all of it, but I didn’t experience a personal connection to pieces or to ruins the way I have, say, in Greece or Malta. 


What remains with me most clearly, though, are impressions, colors, and the depth of culture (or more accurately cultures).  People have told me that they wouldn’t travel to Mexico because they wouldn’t feel safe.  I have to say that where we went I felt perfectly safe.  Even in Mexico City (staying in the Condesa neighborhood was great).  Where I felt most connected and was touched profoundly was the village of Teotitlan del Valle, where we spent the final days of our trip.  I am so grateful that we didn’t go to the coast, which is what we had intended.  Not that we wouldn’t have loved some time by the ocean.  But being in the village was special.  Our timing was great.  We arrived on the 20 November holiday, and that evening there was a big village fiesta full of good food and folk dancing performances.  There were several hundred people, and I only saw two other anglos in the crowd.  It was not a tourist affair.  The Zapotec people are tiny, and many still dress in traditional garb, especially the older women.  We definitely stood out, but never felt unwelcome.




Teotitlan is the Zapotec weavers’ village.  It seems as though every family weaves, if not every member of every family.  Some still card and dye their own wool.  We stayed at a B&B an American ex-pat helped two widows open in order to earn money to feed their children after their husbands died.  It felt good to support them.  Of course, we had to purchase several of their small weavings.  



From the rooftop patio outside our 2nd floor room we had views of the surrounding mountains and of other nearby family compounds - yards with turkeys, chickens and goats, and stables of burros that woke us up each morning.  The area is lovely, with streams running through town and brightly painted buildings.  One nearby mountain peak stood out.  I had the feeling it must be a sacred mountain.  I asked our host and it turned out to be true, and still the site of annual rituals.



Elders here are treated with respect (imagine that!).  Barry witnessed a young man walking down our street who purposely crossed over to the other side to greet and take both hands of an old woman walking the other way. 

No one walks around here without being wished a good day.  Barry went out for a walk one evening and wound up at the church at the end of a mass.  People came up to him as they left and wished him peace, many hugging him.  He came back glowing.  We miss this, don’t we?  The simple courtesies and neighborliness that I imagine used to be the norm, not the exception.

I don’t want to paint life in the village as idyllic.  I’m sure there are plenty of problems, and it’s not realistic to think I could “get” the place in a few days.  But it was a wonderful few days that I will remember.


I’ve been writing and thinking about the importance of place ever since the workshop with Deena Metzger.  Teotitlan del Valle gave me a glimpse of something we’ve lost – a place where people have lived and worked and made art for many generations, where traditions run deep and the ancestral is very much present. 

It didn't hurt that the B&B is called Las Granadas, or The Pomegranates, which of course are sacred to me!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Walking through Walls, Part 2

Now that we've returned from our vacation in Mexico I am eager to dive back in to the writing I began in the writing/SoulCollage® workshop with Deena Metzger in October.  I am grateful for the explorations that began there and are still calling to me.

One of the exercises we did was to draw three of our SoulCollage® cards and tell their story.  It felt very synchronous to pull my "Walking through Walls" card as the first one of the three.  Clearly, this theme of needing to break through to the next phase is up for me in a big way.   And, of course, pulling my Persephone card is always meaningful for me. The third card pictures the temple of Athena at Delphi.

So, here is the second story I wrote (the first is in the previous post).

            She knew she was a magician.  There was magic in her hands, and at times, when she was very clear and able to release her doubts and negative thinking, she could send energy through her hands and whatever she held, and things would move and shift.  When she woke up in a dark mood, she could do none of this unless she was able to lighten her emotions.  The energy demanded her clarity, her openness, her love.
            The piece of magical work she decided she needed to achieve was this: she wanted to walk through walls.  She procured aardvark parts from African magicians having heard that they would confer this ability.  She prayed over them, offered them tobacco and cornmeal and asked for their assistance.  The, one day when she felt ready, she stood under her tall staff, placed her hands on the wall and willed herself to pass through to another world.
            She saw a field of grass, brown in the autumn twilight, and a cave, which she entered.  The path led down, down, to an underworld cavern large enough to be a palace, and suddenly before her stood a woman dressed in red, a powerful woman.  No, a goddess.
            “Welcome!” the goddess said.  “It’s remarkable to see you.  Only a very few living souls ever come here.  And you didn’t even cross the river.  In fact, you seemed to just emerge through the wall.”
            “Excuse me for asking,” the magician said.  “But where is ‘here’?”
            The goddess laughed and held out a broken-open pomegranate.
            “You are in Aidoneus’ realm.  You know that name?  No?  How about Hades?”
            The magician paled.   “This is not where I expected to end up.”
            “Oh, don’t worry, child.  You will not end up here, at least not yet.  Your magic is strong but needs discipline.  I will send you somewhere where you can learn.  Somewhere…say…a bit lighter.”  She laughed again and touched the magician’s eyelids, forcing them closed.
            When the magician opened her eyes again, she knew immediately that she was back on the earth’s surface.  The wind felt cool on her cheeks, and the air was crisp and clean.  She saw and felt that she was in the mountains.  She stood besides the ruins of a temple.  Three columns remained standing in a circle of broken ones.
            “Whose temple is this?” she wondered.  She closed her eyes again and opened her other senses.  There was a presence here.
            “Athena, Athena, Athena,” came the whisper in her mind.
            “Athena,” she said aloud.  “Please accept me as a student, as a devotee.  Tell me what it is I must learn.”
            “I am known for intellect,” came the response.  “And intellect you must have.  But mind without heart is only trouble.  You have cords wrapped around your heart.  Your heart is bound up, restricted, unfree.  Untie the knots and release these cords.  Your magic will avail you not if you cannot do this.”

            The magician bowed her head and wept, for she recognized the truth of this.  No brain power, no magic, no mental effort could save her.  Only the hard work of unwrapping what bound up her heart would do.  When heart energy flowed through her hands she would be able to walk through walls of blessing.  And that would be the true magic.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Old Woman's Dream

 This past weekend I attended a wonderful workshop with Deena Metzger on writing, dreams and SoulCollage®  (about 35 SoulCollage® facilitators attended).  I can't put into words how profound it was for me, and how grateful I am.  I now have much to reflect upon, and lots more writing to do as a result.  One of the big questions raised was:  What is the new story?  Also:  What story are you given to carry?

One of the writing exercises Deena assigned was to draw 3 of our cards and, in the order we pulled them, tell their story.  These are the cards I drew at random (sorry for the quality - they're photos from my phone):


     Here is the story that came to me:

     Once there was an old woman.  Her face was lined, her eyes deep and wise.  The woman was much beloved by her people and wore a necklace of turquoise and coral, given to her by the community as a token and sign of her position and regard.  Even so, she lived a simple life, spending her days caring for the grandbabies and honoring the gods and ancestors with offerings of cinnamon, cornmeal and flowers.  An outsider would only see her status by observing the numbers of people who visited her, seeking her advice and guidance.  She fed all who came to her home, but as time passed the younger generation began assuming much of the work that she had always done herself.  They cleaned her house, supplied her larder, washed her clothing and kept her supplied with the plant medicines and other items she needed. At first, she resisted allowing them to perform these services, but soon enough she recognized that she benefited from more rest.  And, besides, it was an honor for the children to serve, and she needed to give them that opportunity.  But the grandchildren she continued to care for with her strong and tender hands.
            One night, the old woman had a dream.  She found herself in an underground cavern full of large crystals.  Quartz grew in all directions, and it was beautiful.  On the floor of this cave an earth goddess reposed; she appeared to be sleeping.  The old woman wore a strange red garment and was reaching out to assist someone trying to climb up from below her.  A great blue butterfly appeared, and the old woman knew that it was a projection of her own soul.  She knew she should follow it, but she wanted to harvest some crustal to take with her.  And she had to help her fellow traveler. The butterfly was ascending, and she had to decide:  follow, or stay for the crystal, or help the other.
            When she woke up, the old woman called her community together.  she told them that she had dreamed a big dream.  Even before the dream came, she had been receiving messages about the future.  There were decisions to be made, and soon. A dark time was at hand.
            The old woman foretold of a time when the people would rush and hurry, moving so quickly and frantically through their lives that they appeared to her like dogs racing through the woods or forced to jump through hoops of fire.  There would be men who would build objects and structures both beautiful in a strange way and also deadly to the body and the soul.  The ancestors would loom as large as always, but the people would ignore them and they would seem frozen in place, unimportant.
            “This time will come,” said the old woman, after recounting her dream.  “What shall we do?”
            Some said they should attempt to rouse the sleeping earth goddess.  Some said they must bury crystals back in the earth as offerings.  Some said they must see if they must ensure that the ancestors not be forgotten.  Others refused to believe that they could fall so far from their practices and way of life.
            The old woman said, “I myself must pay attention and follow the blue butterfly of my soul.  If I do not, if I lose sight of it, then for me, all is truly lost.”  Then, she counseled those who felt so moved to make offerings, sing and dance to the earth goddess, to wake her up.  Others should bury crystals or be sure to offer helping hands to their companions.  Everyone should remember the ancestors.  But the must all act deliberately, and not with an urgency that welled up out of fear.
            “Time is a mystery,” she said.  “But if we cannot let it control us.  Honor it.  Respect it.  But do not allow it to dominate our lives.  We must live with and in all the worlds – dark, light, underworld, spirit world, middle earth – all of them.”
            “And what of this pollution of our way of life that is coming?  Must it come?” they asked.
            “I only see what the dream shows,” she replied.  “Whatever comes, we must keep together, remember the ancestors and spirits, and care for the children.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Husband Does the Laundry

I've been thinking about gender roles recently.  Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of being at a coming-of-age ritual for the granddaughter of a friend (my, the time!  I'd been at her mother's coming-of-age, too).  I also had a conversation with one of my daughters-in-law in which issues about motherhood came up.  The role that gender plays in parenting was only one aspect of our discussion, but it's a big one.  I know my generation of boomers wanted big changes in lots of areas of our lives, and I know many things are different, but to what degree, and how?  We're all feminists, right?  What can the young woman we blessed this weekend expect, as a woman?

Barry and I were in a gender group for about 10 years (it ended maybe 10 years ago) in which we explored through ritual and discussion any issues concerning gender that people wanted to pursue.  We joke now that we didn't know any more when the group ended than we did when it started.  What I did learn had little to do with gender, but rather with group dynamics.  (One thing was that groups constellate everyone's family of origin issues.  Another was that people have a hard time being direct and clear about their needs and desires.  A number of people left the group saying that they weren't getting what they wanted.  From my vantage point, they never asked or explained what they wanted.  Groups!  Very challenging!)  Gender issues are mysterious and run deep.

I have to admit that Barry and I fall into pretty stereotypical roles, for the most part.  I cook most of our dinners.  That's okay with me.  My cooking's a lot better, and now that I'm retired I'm enjoying cooking again.  Plus, we have a long-term house rule that the cook doesn't do the dishes.  Works for me!  Barry takes out the garbage, almost all of the time.  I do the housecleaning (though I wouldn't mind a little more help in this department - hint, hint).  He does repairs (he's good at it and learned to use tools as a kid; not me).  BUT... he does the laundry.  It wasn't always that way.  I remember a time when my Harvard-educated husband said he couldn't wash clothes because he didn't know how the washing machine worked.  Well, he does now.  When I was working many more hours than he was, and his work was all at home, he got the laundry chore.  It's something, I guess.

And you know, he folds the laundry much better than I do.

I hope things have changed more than superficially for the next generation.

I'm reminded of a poem I wrote a few months ago about how I learned to be a woman.  I guess the moral is that it's very difficult getting beyond our programming.  Here's the poem:

My Mama Told Me


My mama told me
            to be smart, to shine,
            just not more than boys.
My mama told me
            to pick up my messes
            and keep a clean house.
My mama told me
            to be on time,
            or punish myself if I can’t be.
My mama told me
            to help others
            and put my own needs last.
My mama told me
            to hold back my emotions
            and walk quietly.
My mama told me
            she would wash my mouth out with soap
            if I spoke the truth in vivid terms.
My mama told me
            to succeed,
            but not too much.
My mama told me
            to be a good girl,
            but to stick up for what is right.
My mama told me
            to choose my brain over my body,
            and so I left dancing behind.

My mama never told me
            that playing it safe
            meant not getting the gold.
My mama never told me
            how to be a mother,
            only that I had to be one.
My mama never told me
            how to give appropriately,
            neither too much nor too little.
My mama never told me
            there were consequences
            for holding back emotions.
My mama never told me
            that sarcastic comments
            would hurt me as well as others.
My mama never told me
            that there was value
            in trying to reach the stars.
My mama never told me
            why I should be afraid,
            only that I should be.
My mama never told me
            to love animals or
            my own animal body.
My mama never told me
            not to fear darkness,
            that it would hold me and nurture me.

I send blessings to my mama.
She did the best that she could.