Saturday, December 3, 2022

Navigating Mystery

 I'm back to a topic that I did a whole series of (prose) posts on a while back, this time with a single poem. It is an inquiry I am in a lot - how to reframe living with uncertainty to navigating mystery, the words and concept coming from Martin Shaw.  

Now, I wrote this poem, some weeks ago, before I fell and broke some bones, and, oh, the irony!  The day I fell I was evidently not looking at my feet, just as I advise myself in the poem, and look what happened!

Hmm... Maybe some middle way is called for.  I remember Angeles Arrien saying so many times, "Walk the mystical path with practical feet."   My feet and I need to get a grip!  But I still think the poem has something to say, to me, at least.  

I am now spending much of my time healing, but also considering what healing really is about.

So, here's the poem.  And the Mystery of the sunset sky.

“Navigate Mystery,”

the storyteller says.

Look at it this way -

You can cower in fear

with all of life’s uncertainties,

or you can open to

the adventure.

Every story has suffering.

Every wanderer loses the way.

You live in the center

of your own imagination,

privilege your own story,

accentuate your own

pains and sorrows.

Traveling the trails

of the unknown

you have this choice:

either focus on your feet,

afraid of stumbling and falling,

or look up to the trees, the sky,

the birds winging their way

to a place of belonging.

Pain does not define you,

but if all you see is suffering,

all you will do is suffer.

Instead, watch the story unfold,

step by step, mile by mile

into whatever future


Sunday, November 20, 2022

A New Poem: The Season of the Dark

 First, the poem, then something about it.

The Season of the Dark


This is the season of the dark.

It is not only the natural ebbing

of the year’s light that causes distress.

This dark has shadowed many lives

with difficult and deep times:

-   broken bones;

-   the death of a friend’s beloved;

-   another’s home lost to fire.

A new normal descends, with needs for:

-   walking carefully;

-   hunkering down;

-   exhaling pain and grief.


And what is happening in our small lives

mimics what is happening in the world

and to the earth.


But in my dreams:

-   my hands turn towards healing;

-   a whale approaches the sacred cliff;

-   I bring flowers to a ritual.


The oracle advises yielding, and so I:

-   move slowly;

-   privilege the small;

-   let the Ghost River carry me.


I have spent a lifetime

trying to change the mind that

equates dark with bad.

In this season of suffering,

that challenge more than abides.


Don’t tell me that

this will all pass:

-   the darkness;

-   the pain;

-   the acute grief.

I know in my head that this is so,

at least for humans.

I do not know if it is true

for the world.


What I do know is that 

I must follow the oracle and

attend to the dreams,

which tell me:

-   to heal all that I can;

-   to pray my way through;

-   to offer flowers with respect and gratitude.


May we move through the dark

with a modicum of grace.

May we see what is precious

in the darkness and what

gestates here.

May the light return

in its season, for all.


 The Light Seeker
(my first SoulCollage® card, 2006)

The broken bones in the poem are mine. I fell on a walk a week ago and fractured my elbow, plus got a hairline ankle break. If you haven't seen me posting this week, well, I've been busy getting to doctors' appointments and trying to adjust to one-handed living and clunking around in a boot.

The other traumas are friends'. A lot of sorrow surrounds.

Plenty of time for new poems, though. Let's see if they come.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Mushroom Mysteries


It's funny how when you get interested in something, suddenly it seems to pop up everywhere.  Watching Fantastic Fungi led me to reading the book.  Then, Deena Metzger recommended Entangled Life:How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake.  So, one afternoon I was sitting in my recliner reading it when I happened to look up and to my left.  There, right on the table next to me, I spotted the three mushrooms rising up out of the soil of my potted anthurium.  I have never seen mushrooms come up in a potted plant before.  Such synchronicity!  Being no mushroom expert, I tried to identify them, but there were several possibilities.  They sure looked like the photos of Snowy Inkcaps, but I can't be positive.  No matter.

One of the things I have been contemplating lately has been how we are all knit into the fabric of life.  I am trying to really feel that, to understand that, I am a jewel in Indra's net, individual yet connected to all things.  Sometimes I like to make SoulCollage® cards for what is working in and on me, and so I made one on this idea.  That way I can look at it on my altar/writing table every day.  Here it is:

I find it amusing to see the knitter (who is herself knit).  And, of course, there's a large mushroom, too.  Why?  Because mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelium.  And mycelium connects plants and trees in an invisible network beneath our feet.  

I had never really thought about the fact that mushrooms (and mycelium) are not plants.  Nor are they animals.  They are another thing altogether, as I'm beginning to understand, and our lives are dependent on mycelium.  Mushroom are food, healers, and remediators.  Mysterious and magical.

My little white mushrooms opened a day later, and the day after that began to decompose.

I have been trying all morning to find something I read in a book on indigenous wisdom so that I could cite it properly here, but it's just not making an appearance.  It really impressed me, and I do remember it, so with apologies to the author of the book, I will paraphrase.  The idea is this: we westerners have been trained to see a hierarchy of life in this way:

  1. Humans
  2. Animals
  3. Plants
We're at the top.  Nothing we consider inanimate counts.

But indigenous people view it this way:
  1. Earth
  2. Plants
  3. Animals
  4. Humans
Each one depends on the ones above for its existence.  Plants can't live without the earth, animals without plants and the earth, etc.  This makes so much sense to me, and speaks so clearly to our interrelationships rather than our separateness.  But now that we know about mycelium and its fruiting bodies, perhaps it should be:
  1. Earth
  2. Mycelium
  3. Plants
  4. Animals
  5. Humans
Let's put ourselves in perspective, within the web of life.  There are mysteries we don't see that are happening all around (and under) us.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Navigating Mystery, Part 8 (final)

 That Persephone travels between worlds has always fascinated me.  I believe She  reframed what was once done to Her into an acceptance of Her fate and Her calling, and into a graceful way of moving through and relating to transitions.  She reframed uncertainty into mystery. When I can acknowledge and stop the self-torture of imagined fear, I have a chance of doing so also.  I live in and with this story and try to follow Her lead.

With this understanding, I can finally stand up. I head for the rose garden, a place of exuberant beauty in early June.  The waters of the fountain cascade down their stone steps, accompanied on both sides by pink roses in full bloom.  I walk past the little pond surrounded by crimson, peach, yellow, deep red, and white roses, all exuding their intoxicating fragrances.  I love the roses but do not linger; I am headed for the hillside where the oaks and redwoods live, a bit of the wild held captive but alive in the city.  I sink down at the foot of a redwood, my back against its strong trunk.  I respect the oaks, but I love the redwoods.  Here it smells of redwood duff, spicy and clean, and the ground is littered with twigs and dried needles.  It is not a soft place to sit, but no matter.  Finally, the young woman across the pond stops yelling into her cellphone.  There is a sweet breeze, and now the caws, cries and songs of various birds filter through.  I close my eyes, just to listen more deeply.


Morcom Rose Garden, Oakland

When I open them again, I turn to face the tree and am stunned to see what I am sitting next to and had not noticed before.  Someone has left an offering at the foot of this redwood tree – bougainvillea, lavender, thistle, poppy heads - a messy arrangement clearly here for some time.  It reminds me of that first trip to Eleusis, where I also found an offering left by someone else.  I straighten out the tangle of dried flowers, making some artful order out of the chaos, and then add something of my own.  How wonderful to feel again the companionship of unknown, unseen lovers of what I also love and venerate.  The tree does not speak to me, per se.  But sitting in its calm and majestic presence is sufficient.


Uncertainty will always be with me as it is with everyone. There is an old saying that false security is the only kind there is.  Freeing myself from the grip of fear, does not mean it will never visit me again.  There is no “happily ever after” in my or any other story.  Even in fairy tales, “happily ever after” really implies “happily until the next trouble arrives.”  I may not be “cured” but I hope there has been some healing.  There is a world of trouble outside this garden, full of violence, grief, disaster, and plenty of pain.

But what is happening in this moment is full of life and of mystery and deserves to be lived prayerfully. I look around.  The trees, the roses, the hillside, the mother walking by with a baby in a front pack, the sky, the sun falling in full force over there and in dappled patches here under the trees, the crows winging overhead, the offering of flowers … this is life, all of a piece, sacred, here and now.


I stand up, look around, and confirm that this tree, the one I was drawn to sit beneath, is the only one with an offering at its foot. 


When I reconsider to whom and to what I give my authority, here is my answer:  I give it to the redwoods.



Found offering

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Navigating Mystery, Part 7

I learned something else from my illness - that my brokenness and the world’s brokenness are no different.  We in the dominant culture are broken because the culture is broken, insupportable, and based on power and greed. Society raises us, raised me, to be disconnected from the earth and from other life forms, and we then go on to wreck the earth. We live in dark and desperate times. 

This summer,

water use in our dry

northern California

will be restricted.

My little pomegranate tree,

only two years old,

just burst out with

three deep red flowers.

Last year the tiny fruit fell off,

too heavy for the spindly

young branches to bear.

I don’t want the baby tree to die

from lack of water, so I will

catch shower-heating water

in a bucket and save the liquid

from steaming artichokes

to dribble onto the dry soil.


The rains do not come, cannot come.

No rain to evoke sadness

or a flow of memories, but sadness

and the ghosts of memories arrive.

What comes from the sky is dust,

what water arrives is in our eyes.

Looking up for omens and comets,

we struggle to see, to hear something,

to wait for a message, to change.

And still, I love the earth.

The earth Is not the world.

The world of drought and fire,

floods and reckless storms

is of our making.

Our tears are salty and insufficient.

The blown dust and ash clog our eyes.

Yet despite all the horror, all the brokenness,

the redwoods and pines draw up

and display their good green life.

The earth still and always reminds us

to keep on, to love anyway,

to sit down with our ancestors’ ghosts,

to keep telling the stories.

The earth has everything, bears everything –

us, the trees, the life-giving waters,

the myriad other beings.

With all that we have done to her,

can we do any less?


How to figure out what comes next, what to do to heal the earth, what to do to heal this fear?  While I wait, I pass a little time each morning by drawing a SoulCollage® card.  The card becomes a guide for the day.  Interestingly, the card I drew today is of a woman in a dark place full of pomegranates.  She is bent over, peering into a cauldron.  The cauldron belongs to Hecate, who is a guide for Persephone and Demeter.  She is also the goddess of the crossroads. 

SoulCollage® card - Hecate's Cauldron

Sitting here is like being at a crossroads, trying to figure out the way to go.  Waiting and writing, writing and waiting, it is essential to trust whatever flows from the pen onto the page. 


Here are the words that come: Real fear is necessary when you are in danger; anticipating or imagining danger and going into fear is self-torture.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Navigating Mystery, Part 6

 I intend to write my way into healing.

That sentiment came to me once before, in the depths of a life-threatening illness.   I came to understand that I also need to heal how I think and how I live. I know that healing does not necessarily mean cure.  There may be no cure; there wasn’t and isn’t for my illness, at least not according to the medical authorities, at least if I assume their authority.  Giving them authority is what I was trained to do.  There are doctors and there are patients, those who know and do, and those who do not know and who are done to. To whom and to what I give my authority and why are bound up with my fear.


Writing has been my lifeline, ever since I was ten years old and received my first diary, the kind with a tiny lock and key and a fake leather cover embossed with a multi-colored jewel-like pattern and the words “My diary.” 


Heal (v): to make whole.  If I need healing, if I am not whole, am I broken?


There is an old story, a very, very old story about brokenness and healing.  In the Kabbalistic tradition, it is said that God created ten sacred vessels to hold divine light.  The vessels, however, were not strong enough to contain all that brilliance, and so they broke into pieces that scattered all over the universe.  It is our job as humans to restore order and harmony, to gather the shards by living prayerful lives and acting in ways that are of service to the world. In Hebrew this is known as tikkun olam, the repair of the world.


And so, according to the story, the first step of healing is to live a prayerful life.  It is what my illness taught me, as well.  Before I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I was already old enough, of course, to be thinking about mortality, but only in a vaguely troubling and distant way.  When it got directly in my face, I realized to the core of my being that there was no time to lose.  Whatever work remained to be done, whatever gift I carried had to be delivered to the world without delay.  In the words of the 15th century Indian mystic Kabir:


What is found now is found then.

If you find nothing now,

you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.


If I stayed trapped, I foresaw being consigned to that apartment in the City of Death.  I have heard there is an old saying: When death finds you, may it find you alive.  That is what I want. I want life!  Mine, others, to see it everywhere.

SoulCollage® card - Dealing With the Medical System