Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gesture: Part 2

            Here is another revelation.  I believe that I turn from Spirit, ignore it, forget it, don’t trust in its existence.  I believe that I am fundamentally alone in the universe – no help, no hope. 
            These beliefs are lies.
            My writing itself exposes the lies; it is infused with Spirit.  Every morning I light candles and sage and make the call.  Even when I think I am writing garbage, it is all done in Spirit.
            The gesture becomes the mudra of my elder years, acknowledging shame and love, pain and compassion. 
            This is how I know:
            She speaks to me, and I listen.  I have learned over time to do this, and it has taken both the strength of Her reaching out to me and also a certain surprising willingness on my part to entertain the possibility that the communication is real.
            In Malta, in the mother temple of Ggigantija, my back leaning into Her ancient stone body and feeling a hand on my head, I heard Her say, “You love Persephone because she is one of my forms.”
            In the Arizona desert, I woke up in the middle of the night hearing the words, “Go out and pay homage to the night.”  I dragged myself out of bed and walked outside, looked up, and saw a shooting star that swam across the sea of the dark sky more slowly than I had ever seen before or have seen since.
            At Eleusis, I had a vision of Demeter and Persephone, and I trembled seeing offerings left for them by other devotees.
            A few months ago I dreamed an aardvark crossed my path. In waking reality, I had recently written a piece called Walking through Walls.  The morning after the dream, I googled “Aardvark” (after searching for pictures of squat animals with snouts, not even recognizing what the animal I had dreamed about was).  I read how magicians in Africa use aardvark parts to walk through walls.
            These are just a few episodes of spirit presence in my life.  There are others.  I have sat with Persephone in my meditation, and She has told me She would walk with me through life and into death.
            Persephone’s path to the underworld is a downward spiral into the center of my heart.  She appeared just this morning as I uncovered the shame I had buried as a child, perhaps my first journey into her realm.  Here is the revelation – the underworld is at the core of the heart.  Only kindness and love can lead me out.  It was, after all, my mother’s misguided but well-intentioned love that led me in.
            But I do have another mother, a dark mother of heart-breaking wisdom and compassion.  If I ever know trust, if I ever take refuge, It is in Her hands that I place my soul.

It was a solitary road.
She’d seen no one
since leaving the women
at the crossroads.
All she knew was
the sound of gravel
crunching underfoot,
the wind in the Monterey pines
and the sound of the sea.
“Pacific is the wrong name,
for something so immense,
so powerful, so relentless,”
she mused.
“Maybe they named it that
as a prayer that it would prove true,
as a wish for their safety.”
She laughed aloud,
and the wheeling gulls overhead
cried out too, as if in response.

Memory was like
the ocean’s waves,
rising and falling,
touching shore and
running back
to the dark depths.
She realized
that she had now
lost her fear
of its failure,
had even relinquished
the worry about
where she was going and
when she would get there.

The wild and bitter wind
swept her mind clean
and left only
the pounding of her heart
and the rhythm of the waves.
The chopping barks of seals
called to her.
She could see distant splashes
where their sleek bodies
dove into the heaving sea,
disappearing below, below,
down into the dark, cold
depths of their home.

            Early in childhood, prior to assuming shame, I found the world to be wrapped in magic.  Things sparkled and glowed with energy, and words created images and stories.  They revealed what was true, what was real, what was sacred.  Words were a puzzle one could put together and take apart, forming and reforming, a magic that was endlessly fascinating. 
            If I root out and clear away the shame and self-doubt, I may find the old and eternal magic below it all.
            I want words to flow, falling as if over cliffs, in waterfalls of syllables that might be beautiful or clunky, or shining, or bouncing off rocks and open to the sky, the wind, the trees, the clouds, the stars.  I want to find words that will be ladders to the universe without and to the dark chambers within.  I want my magic back.  I want to be the purveyor of words and the conveyor of Spirit. Here is my (probably unsurprising but necessary) confession:  I am a mystic.  I claim it.
            My hand is on my heart.


Monday, December 14, 2015

The Gesture: Part 1

            The gesture is everything, says everything.  The hand on the heart is not a sign of protection or hiding; at least not this time.  It is an expression of grief, and the grief arises out of shame.
            My mother, coming of age during the Depression and birthing me soon after the Holocaust, wanted only to see me survive and thrive.  She saw me as willful, fiery, carrying the tempestuous temper of my father, which in her eyes would not serve me in this world.  It was not only fine but expected that I would be smart, but my task was to avoid revealing too much intelligence or too much spirit.  In that way, I would be acceptable and find a husband.  Being too much of anything – brilliant, impassioned, strong, ambitious – would be disastrous for a woman.
            My mother’s way of instructing and socializing me was shaming.  If that did not succeed, then outright sarcastic ridicule was the rod used to avoid spoiling the child.
            My humiliated and diminished heart held onto the shame, shoving it down into its deepest, remotest chambers.  There it quietly pulsed in rhythm with my heart, hidden yet present, waiting, waiting. 

            Four of us sat at a booth in a crowded coffee shop having Sunday morning breakfast: three abundant plates of omelets, crispy hash browns and biscuits, and one pathetic bowl of oatmeal.  Mine.  I was trying to heal a bout of esophageal pressure/pain that had cropped up after a series of colds and the fatigue that followed our annual Day of the Dead grief ritual.  My friend asked about how the ritual had gone, and I spoke about my regret over a small misstep I had made during the ritual. I was pleased that I had had enough maturity and awareness to admit my clumsiness and to make amends.  But it had truly been a tiny failure in large field of goodness.  It is telling that this is the story I chose to relate about the day.
            When I finished speaking, he asked if I realized that I had placed my hand over my heart as I spoke - precisely where I was experiencing my physical distress.  No. I was totally unaware of the gesture. 
            I had previously thought that the discomfort in my chest was a result both of depletion and also of taking a psychic hit that I saw as an energetic sword thrust into my heart by the one whose feelings I had disregarded.  There may be truth in that; a leader can easily become a target.  But maybe it was directing me towards my wound.  What if it were a sign like an arrow saying, “Hey, look over here!”  What if my body had responded to my shame, self-judgment and feeling of failure by tightening up my chest?

Surveying the road. 
Or roads, I should say, 
observing what is coming this way -
A limping figure, hard to see 
at this distance.
Ah, her hand is over her heart,
this girl or old woman approaching.

“What does your gesture signify?”
we ask, Hecate and I.
“This is the place, the only place,”
she responds, shaking her head.
“Good,” we say.  “That’s good.
This way or that way?”

She peers down one road, then the other.
“Does it matter?” she asks.

“Oh, yes.”

“Then I’ll go this way.”
And without hesitation, she proceeds
and quickly disappears from view.

I look at Hecate.
“Was that the right way?” I ask her.
She shrugs.
“Maybe a bit longer, but surer,
and with a view of the sea.”

I let out a sigh,
breath I did not even know
I was holding,
and notice my own hand
resting on my heart.

            How much is enough?  This is the struggle.  It is difficult to do what I am called to do.  It is even more of a challenge to notice and give myself credit for what I do accomplish.  How will the struggle change when the shame underneath everything is exposed?

            Here is what is emerging: the desire and effort to be kind.  Generally, being kind to others is not difficult.  Being kind to myself?  Another story.  The gesture of hand on heart becomes the token, the sign, the image for the new work.  It does not differentiate between working for the children and grandchildren and working to give the gift one has to give.  Seeing how all the work is intertwined is eye-opening.

Monday, November 30, 2015


One of the things I love about SoulCollage® is how the images you put together take on a significance you don't comprehend until you sit with them for a while.  I made this card yesterday (sorry for the crooked iPhone shot - couldn't figure out how to straighten it):

I actually began with the women in the background.  I had no idea this foreground image was even going onto the card.  Even when I spoke from the images with my group, I didn't really understand the card until I  began writing this morning to try to gain more clarity.  I let both the women in black and the woman in the spider web dress speak.  This is what they said.  First, the one in black on the right (the one I started with):

" I am one who walks the course, the route, the path laid out for me by my ancestors, my culture, my world.  The work is hard, but it is sacred, and I have company; I do not do it alone, and this is crucial.  If I do not isolate myself, if I remember that the work is sacred and for the community and the children, my garment becomes a comforting wrap of belonging.  Black gives me a sense of anonymity if I choose to be anonymous. I am one of many.  It is also an acknowledgement of grief, for women's work is full of grief.  We know that the work is vital and at the core of things, even if men have demeaned it.  We have had to assign our own value to it.  So, we stand tall and carry the burden in golden and silver pots.  We understand its worth and our own."

And then, the woman in foreground:

"I am one who weaves the web of life, wears it as an extension of my body, and dances the dance of life in it.  Webs are beautiful, fragile and patterned to be inclusive.  Each life occupies a node, a juncture, and all are part.  I protect and hover over the world, seeing the beauty, the pain, the sorrow.  The dance is one of joy and acknowledgement.  It is also a message to those embodied to do what I do - dance the joy, the pain, the sorrow, and dance with the joy, the pain, the sorrow.  See and know that you are not alone.  The women tread a difficult path, but they do so with grace.  What they bear is golden.  This card's name is Belonging."

I even gave the background a voice, which I don't remember ever doing before:

"We are the ones who are rock, memory and the snowy high peaks of rarified air.  We hold much beauty, terror and trepidation.  We are now in the sunset time, reflecting the red hues of the dying light.  It is a liminal time, a time between, just as life is liminal, a time between leaving the Mystery and entering the Mystery,  Even we will leave, in time, though we endure for much longer than you.  Your lives are brief.  Make the most of them."

So grateful for this process - it's so much fun, so easy to be creative, and goes so deep.

(I am very grateful to the artists whose images we use to deepen our own awareness.)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Wear My Mother's Clothes

Another Day of the Dead grief ritual over.  So much beauty, so much tenderness.  We truly became the "sudden community" Michael Meade talks about.  It's a lot of work, putting this thing on.  Most years I have to get over some dread and resistance of my own to do it.  Not so much this year.  I'm not sure why, but maybe it was partly my desire to honor and grieve for my friend Leona.

Barry always says, "Well, we've justified our existence for another year" when this ritual is over.

When I went to get dressed for the day, I grabbed a black outfit that had belonged to my mother.  Pretty fitting, to wear something of hers for Day of the Dead.  Here's a poem that's come out of it:

I Wear My Mother’s Clothes

When my mother died,
my sister and I removed
the two gold bracelets from
her weeping arms and
put them on each other.
Later, we divided up
her jewelry, and took
some items of
her clothing.

I am 5’8” tall.
Mom was at least
six inches shorter.
You might think her clothes
would never fit me.
Well, they did.
Her full-length pants
became my capris,
her width became
my length.

Those first weeks,
I wore her outfits
almost every day.
I did not plan to do this.
When I would go to my closet,
these were the clothes
that came to my hand.
I felt some comfort
surrounding my body
with what had
touched hers.

Even now,
thirteen years later,
I wear those clothes
from time to time.
When I take them off
their hangers,
I think of her and smile.
I still miss her touch and
the sound of her voice, but
even this fading bit of contact
fills my heart with love
and gratitude.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Stages of Cronedom

We're starting to plan this year's Day of the Dead ritual, and boy, does it seem like the community needs it this year!  Between the fires, the drought, climate change, the crazy state of the world (and this presidential election insanity) and the endless stream of school shootings, not to mention personal  losses and griefs, reasons for needing a grief ritual abound.  So, consider coming if laying down some of the heaviness and burden of grief you're carrying would be of benefit to you.

The season's inward focus and the rapid approach of the year's end brought a poem this morning.  Oh,  I just can't seem to help but be immersed in mortality issues these days.  In my morning pages, I wound up musing about our elder years.  It's becoming clear to me that "old age" isn't just one concise period toward the end of life.  There are stages that I, at least, am moving through.  So, here it is... as usual, a little raw and most likely in need of revision (that's what I love about blogging - you get to experiment without feeling as though it has to be perfect).

First, you are a novice elder.
Monthly bleeding finally ends,
bringing both relief
and sadness.
If you are lucky,
you receive a crone initiation
and a welcoming.
You begin to look at older friends
in a new way.
You study how they move,
how they rest,
how they persist in their arts.

Then, you move into
early cronehood.
You stop coloring your hair.
You grandparent.
If you are lucky,
you retire from your day job.
Because you live within youth culture,
you become invisible to many.
You wince at your image in the mirror,
hating the new lines etched
into your face and your sagging skin.
Then, you exhale deeply
and promise yourself to
accept it all.

Next, you surprise yourself
by finding that there is a
middle-elder phase.
You begin to identify yourself
as old.  Sometimes.
Inherent weaknesses in the body
begin to clarify themselves
into symptoms.
It is easy to get lost 
and discouraged now.
You realize that you will never
go backpacking again.
You visit your acupuncturist and
chiropractor.  Often.
If you are even a little wise,
you turn inward and to
whatever gods or spirits
call you.
You allow your gifts
to flow unobstructed.
You care less and less
what people think of you.
You begin to lose 
(or lose more) people.
You understand how much grief
there will be from now on.
You wonder how you can
bless and serve the young.

Later, you move into
true old age.
Not having arrived there yet,
I cannot speak of it
with any authority.
I suspect that the work 
will be to learn more
about  acceptance and
about staying open-hearted,
should I reach this  stage.
That opening to the life-force
and also the death-force
will be what is required.
I hope that I live long enough
to hold all things –
to love my beloveds -
to bless the youngers –

and to meld into the earth.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In the Time of the Mysteries

The season turns, the days grow shorter, and I feel myself turning inwards as Persephone descends to the underworld.  It's funny how quickly it can happen.  Last week we had the hottest weather of the summer; this week is feeling like Fall.   (And may the blessed rains that are just barely beginning to sprinkle come and soothe this parched and fire-ravaged California earth.)

This is the time of year when the Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated for several thousand years in Greece - initiation rites honoring Demeter and Persephone.

Last June, I made a promise to write four poems to Persephone this year.  Here's my second (still not happy with the first - I'm working on it).

There are a lot of poems where kindness is the theme.  I think of Naomi Shihab Nye's, for instance.  I'm just beginning to understand what treating myself with kindness really means.  Is that odd, at this late stage of the game?  I think to myself, "Well, duh," but that response demonstrates exactly the point - how easy it is to slip into self-talk that's anything but kind.

Here's the poem.  To you, Persephone!

The Way Through

Head tilted back,
Gaze lifted to the heavens -
The posture, in and of itself,
Causes spirits to rise.

But the One I honor
Is not in those realms above.
All the stories tell us
That She reigns below.

Under the earth?  
Not only that, but also
Beneath the surface
Of one’s own being -

The deep place which is
Hard to remember, hard to find,
Hard to acknowledge,
Hard to face.

The pulls of the surface world
Are strong and compelling.
Ascent into light is
A magnetic draw.

But following this goddess
Means agreeing to go into
Dark and buried places.
There is no escaping it.

I muse, is there no way
to both rise and descend? 
Are spirit glory and soul wisdom
Mutually exclusive?

“No!” She says. 
“The way of the life dream
Is to go deep and to rise,
To dwell and thrive

“In the paradox.
Come to the Dark One, 
And find the light.  After all,
I am the one who travels

"Between all the worlds.
 And one more thing –
the trickiest task of all -
Kindness must be the way through.

“To others, yes,
But above all, to yourself.
When you learn this,
You will truly find your way.”

My SoulCollage® card of Persephone