Sometimes it takes a message from the larger world to shift our inner and outer paths. Sometimes the message arrives via spoken word or by e-mail, letter, or book. Sometimes it arrives, early in the morning, from Crow, whose presence in Old Oak speaks clearly to me without need of human words.
Sometimes, the necessary message wells up from many different sources/places/beings all at once– coming again and again like quick beats of a Drum moving my feet, my body, my spirit into a different Dance.
That is the kind of synchronicity that I have experienced this week. My deepest gratitude to all that have helped in their different ways to open my heart, letting in fresh air to fan dim embers back into flame. On my walks, I have seen the gift of crocus blossom and rising shoots of narcissus. It is time.
Yesterday was February 1. That day is associated with Imbolc — Celtic season of Emergence and New Life, whose name is derived from words meaning “in the belly,” pointing to the time of early spring lambing, to Birth. It is also the day associated with Brigid. She is Celtic goddess, historic person, and Christian saint — embodying — in all her forms — Unification, Inclusion, Mercy, Hospitality, the Fire of Passionate & Creative Purpose, and the Sacredness (Sovereignty) of the Land.
Yesterday — February 1, 2023 — was also the first celebration of a new national holiday in Ireland, the first national Irish holiday dedicated to a woman — Brigid.
You might enjoy the Irish video prepared to mark that special day: Finding Brigid https://www.rte.ie/player/movie/finding-brigid/362119208110 . The video explores all the aspects of Brigid and why she is so important to women today. It concludes that Brigid is, for each of us, a mirror — and so, I would add, is every myth, legend, story. I recently came across a quote (lost to me for now) or maybe dreamed the image of a Story built of mirrors, arranged in constellations that reflect and illuminate not only the listener but so much more.
Now, blessed as I am with the spirit of Imbolc/Emergence, it seems like the time (Kairos) to open my heart & hands, to reach out to the vastness of Community which spreads from each being in ever-growing circles –like ripples on water in which a stone has been dropped — onward and outward to furthest reaches of the Cosmos. So, here I am.
Firebird stories and images have long been haunting me (see, for example, Sept. 23, 2022), but I have hindered myself with feelings of the difficulty (impossibility?) of embodying what is speaking to me. Materials have been left to languish helplessly on my table. But now, once more aware that I — like all — am filled with the Fire that the ancient goddess Brigit celebrates, I gather the colors and textures together — giving them permission to begin taking whatever form they will, curious to discover whatever may emerge, viewing with with kindness and acceptance rather than judgement.
* * * * * * *
Mindful of the anguish caused by the wildfires that have engulfed so much of Earth and by the turmoil and pain as Earth’s inner that erupt in lava flow and quake, I can’t help but wonder whether I am being insensitive to dwell so much on the metaphor of Fire as Life. And yet, in fact, there would be no Life here without the generous Fire of the Sun, the Fire of Earth’s core…..
So today I will leave you to ponder a prayer & blessing by John O’Donohue ( from his book To Bless the Space Between Us:
"Let us praise the grace and risk of Fire.
In the beginning,
The Word was red,
And the sound was thunder,
And the wound in the unseen
Spilled forth the red weather of being.
In the name of the Fire,
And the Light:
Praise the pure presence of fire
That burns from within
Without thought of time.
The hunger of Fire has no need
For the reliquary of the future;
It adores the eros of now,
Where the memory of the earth
In flames that lick and drink the air
Is made to release
Its long-enduring forms
In a powder of ashes
Left for the wind to decipher.
As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.
As fire cleanses dross,
May the flame of passion
Burn away what is false.
As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.
May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.
Cause our lives to flame,
In the name of the Fire,
And the Flame,
And the Light."
And, just as I finished writing this, a final word came from the cardinal outside my window: Feast and Fly Free!
Back in March 2021, when I sent that first installment of “Sharing Trickster’s Hoard” flying out into the unknown, I wrote: “I’ll start by posting once a week on Fridays. Then we’ll see whether Trickster has something else in mind.” I’ve stuck with Fridays for almost two years — 94 posts. As much as I dislike deadlines, they are often life-lines for me — forcing me to stop galloping off in a dozen different directions & focus my thoughts. So, once a week it has been — a good, rhythmic journey from which I’ve learned much more than I had ever expected. Now, however, Trickster is taking me by the hand & suggesting I try something else.
Over the last 10 years or so, my body has developed a number of issues, the main one being my heart — its crumbling architecture & its tangled and unreliable wiring — blood unable to proceed smoothly on its expected rounds, wildly erratic heartbeats, no steady rhythm on which to build. With unpredictable days when neither my brain nor the rest of my body get all the blood they need, my life has changed. I cannot depend on my body to cooperate with my plans & schedules.
Sharing Trickster’s Hoard continues to be a precious & liberating experience for me — and I love hanging out with all you wonderful & amazing people. So, I’ve decided not to say my farewells. There are so many unfolding wonders & wonderings & stories still to play with. And l love hearing your responses & your stories in return! Such gifts you have given me!
I will send out letters to you as I can — quite randomly. And randomness is certainly in keeping with both Trickster & what many scientists tell us about the underlying nature of the Universe! 🙂
In the January Reflection sent out by The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World https://www.beholdnature.org/ , I was delighted to see this quote from Thomas Berry:
“Through our contact with the natural world we learn that the universe throughout its vast extent in space and throughout its long sequence of transformations in time is a single multiform celebratory event. Our role is to enter into this celebration in a special mode of conscious self-awareness, for this celebration is the divine liturgy, the purpose of all existence, a celebration begun in time but continued through eternity.”
Questions I’ve been asking myself today:
“If the Universe is an on-going Emergence, how am I emerging at this point in time?”
“How am I — as part of the Universe — celebrating?“
I’ve been spending long moments, even hours, beholding the land behind our house: this morning’s dense fog; my teacher, Old Oak; the birds that gather at the feeders in such a perfect & perfectly surprising array of sizes, forms, colors & personalities; and the shifts & plays of winter light. Such beauty! And I no longer have much doubt that Beholding, Loving, and Praising are “Real Work” — maybe as important to the Cosmos as any other form of creative work I might undertake. It’s not as tangible as a woven mask or a story or a garden or a tasty stew, but could it be just as essential? Certainly it is Celebration!
Pattiann Rogers has written a lovely poem imagining the role of Praise, which I may have already shared with you:
Suppose the molecular changes taking place
In the mind during the act of praise
Resulted in an emanation rising into space.
Suppose that emanation went forth
In the configuration of its occasion:
For instance, the design of rain pocks
On the lake's surface or the blue depths
Of the canyon with its horizontal cedars stunted.
Suppose praise had physical properties
And actually endured? What if the pattern
Of its disturbances rose beyond the atmosphere,
Becoming a permanent outline implanted in the cosmos ---
The sound of a celebratory banjo or horn
Lodging near the third star of Orion's belt;
Or to the east of the Pleiades, an atomic
disarrangement of the words,
"How particular, the pod-eyed hermit crab
and his prickly orange legs"?
Suppose benevolent praise,
Coming into being by our will,
Had a separate existence, its purple or azure light
Gathering in the upper reaches, affecting
The aura of morning haze over autumn fields,
Or causing a perturbation in the mode of an asteroid.
What if praise and its emanations
Were necessary catalysts to the harmonious
Expansion of the void? Suppose, for the prosperous
Welfare of the universe, there were an element
Of need involved.
"All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold."
Here in the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice will occur on December 21. The word “Solstice” derives from two Latin words meaning “Sun” & “Stopped/Stationary.” The sun — which has been rising & setting further and further south every day [or, in the southern hemisphere, further north] — appears to stop its southward path for three days before reversing its journey to move gradually further north, lengthening our days. There seems to be a pause in the sun’s travels, a stopping, a still point….
Excerpt from BURNT NORTON (No. 1 of ‘Four Quartets’) by T.S. Eliot
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
In our human world, this is a time of festivities and celebrations in many traditions. It is a time when we gather together to rejoice in the lengthening days & to strengthen relationships as we face the deepening cold. In our U.S. version, however, it has tended to become a time of blatant commercialization & frenzied consumerism. The simpler, beautiful, heart-inspired rituals of the season can too easily become buried, overwhelmed by the rush, drowned out by the noise.
For many reasons, this year I need to honor the Still Point, to step back, to stand quietly — like the wise trees — resting a bit, dreaming roots & paths & ways of being that I have not yet imagined.
I am taking the next two weeks off from Trickster’s Hoard. I’ll be back on January 6th — a new year, a time for new weavings of fibers, stories, and thoughts.
For now, I want to leave you with a poem by Pattiann Rogers that, for me, captures the way a cold winter wind can actually be enlivening, can carry to me the mysteries of the far north [a place that has haunted me all my life] & bring me the dreams of the Old Ones whose wisdom — born of their deep & sacred communion with place — kept them alive through times of ice and hunger.
THE FIRST NORTHER — by Pattiann Rogers
Arriving all evening, turning up the bellies
Of oak leaves, parting the edges
Of cotton hulls and spikelet shafts, it comes,
Having swept first over deserts
Of black tundra, having brushed the flanks
Of the musk ox, descended into the dark
Bubbles of the pipits’ lungs and out again.
It has been slack in the wings
Of the snowy owl, static in the webs
Of a thousand firs, but it comes now
Pressing particles of down
And whale smoke, penetrating windows
With spirits of cedar, frost
From the lemming’s mouth.
Aware of its presence, what will happen to us then
If we choose to leave this room together,
If we walk out among the trees maintaining
Their broken intentions against the wind
And stop beside the wall, feeling the hiss
Of Arctic lichen in our sweaters, the rush
Of frozen grasses in our hands?
You and I, tasting the same air that touched
The eye of the caribou in migration,
Taking into our lungs the same molecules
That reckoned their motion over icy plains
By darkness alone? Surrounded
And utterly possessed, how will you speak
To me then? How will I ever reply?
Sending you love & all the blessings of this season, however it enters your life and your heart — Margery
“Yesterday, simply asking myself a lot of questions. Today trying to answer them. But I think answers don’t apply for very long really. Things are always changing. And I, we, are only human and answers, there aren’t any really. Questions are prompts for considering, and answers , well what if they are just coffee breaks?”
Thank you all for your warm, wonderful, and kind contributions this past week. This safe circle is truly a sacred space.
And thank you again, Tina, for your question. It has been said that a good question prompts more questions. That has certainly my experience this last couple weeks. I keep finding more & more questions, shifting perspectives, uncovering important memories…. My mind/spirit does enjoy finding connections that expand & complexify things. [No doubt part of my love of Paradox & Trickster.] So — a simple question requesting one title of one book sent me off down many maze-like rabbit holes at once. (And, of course, it doesn’t help that I am what my husband calls a “bookaholic.”)
I began to think about the myriad of books that have ignited life-changing passions, patterns, ways of being — starting with the books my mother read to me as a young child…… I thought about how, in 1986, a single step into an unexpected bookstore led me to randomly open a book to the poem that gave me the courage to make a difficult but necessary life-changing (shattering) decision.
And then I thought beyond the books to some of the authors with whom I was later fortunate enough to interact for a day or a week or, occasionally, for months.
I thought of folktales & myths which I was told — encountering them with my ears & body, rather than through the written word.
And then, beyond words — to experiences such as time spend beyond language with the land, plants, and animals for months in Kenya or daily in my own backyard. Or Aramaic chants & the Dances of Universal Peace with a Sufi master — sounds & movements that helped me develop and deepen a new relationship with my body, moving from head-centered to heart-centered.
Oh, I could go on & on — but would any of this be helpful in the sense of a “recommendation”? It’s the story of my life, which may or may not be relevant to another in one or many (or no) details.
So — I am incapable of recommending one book or one experience or one teacher (human or other). But what I did realize as I thought about possible answers was that it is the very diversity of books, experiences, and teachers that is the treasure.
I guess if I have any recommendation it is to Cherish your Curiosity.
And another recommendation [I told you I couldn’t do just one!] is to Practice Gratitude. Even though it is often hard or may seem impossible at times, I believe we can learn to give gratitude for whatever we meet along the way — be it book, dance, idea, personal teacher, unexpected bird, Old Woman in the Forest, or Coyote at the Crossroads. I often fail. Still, whatever my response, I believe each encounter does have at its heart (though often disguised & recognized only in hindsight) something I need to learn. The gift can come gently or with the roughness of a rusty blade, but it is something that can help in building a more grounded, kinder, and wiser life. And building such a life from what is at hand is something I will keep trying to do.
THE HOUSE --- by Mary Oliver
It grows larger,
wall after wall,
on some miraculous arrangement
blond and weightless
as balsa, making space
for windows, alcoves,
more rooms, stairways
and passages, all
in light, with here
and there the green
flower of a tree,
breaking through --
what a change
from the cramped
room at the center
where I began, where I crouched
and was safe, but could hardly
breathe! Day after day
I labor at it;
night after night
I keep going --
I'm clearing new ground,
I'm lugging boards,
I'm hanging sheets of glass,
I'm nailing down the hardwoods,
the thresholds --
I'm hinging the doors --
once they are up they will lift
their easy latches, they will open
Last week Tina, in her comment, wrote: “I feel I have spent my whole life searching for a better kinder self. It’s why I visit here everyday. If you would recommend one book to read .. what would it be?? I want help!” It was a good question, but I couldn’t answer it — I couldn’t recommend just one book. There have been too many different ones at different times. I meandered at length through a maze of thoughts & feelings and finally wrote a long response …. but somehow my response disappeared into the ether, into the Virtual Dark Hole. Then, when I sat down to try to reconstruct it yesterday, I had total writer’s block.
I’ll write more next week but, in the meantime, if any of you have suggestions, please put them in today’s comments to share with all the circle. Thank you so much! We’re all in this together.
This morning my dreams wanted to keep me trapped in their web & the down-filled duvet was so warm, so comforting. But a whisper came, a line by Rumi:
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell. Don’t go back to sleep.”
I got up and raised the blinds — opened my eyes to the beautiful world. The pale sky was filled with several different amazing patterns of light gray clouds moving in some stately dance . As I watched, the still-invisible sun began to stain them a deep magenta that gradually spread upward & outward — every moment different — gradually changing — through coral to a more golden tint.
It was pure gift.
I was totally engaged — embraced by the world, experiencing more comfort than any quilt could offer. Just before the fading began, I finally tore myself loose to take a photo. I wanted to share the gift with you.
[And only now, as I write this & look at today’s photo, do I remember the dawn I saw out the hospital window when I was 18. I’d had a bad bicycle accident, with a concussion, and that dawn was my first awareness of coming back into myself. Another gift.]
Then — after breakfast, I turned on my computer, and found this beautiful December Reflection from The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World: http://www.beholdnature.org .
Again, pure gift.
“The experiences that we have spoken of as we look up at the starry sky at night, and as, in the morning, we see the landscape revealed as the sun dawns over the Earth – these experiences reveal a physical world but also a more profound world that cannot be bought with money, cannot be manufactured with technology, cannot be listed on the stock market, cannot be made in the chemical laboratory, cannot be reproduced with all our genetic engineering – cannot be sent by e-mail. These experiences require only that we follow the deepest feelings of the human soul.
What we look for is no longer the Pax Romana, the peace among humans, but the Pax Gaia, the peace of Earth and every being on the Earth. This is the original and final peace, the peace granted by whatever power it is that brings our world into being. ….”
~ Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts (from The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World, December Reflection, http://www.beholdnature.org )
Even in difficult, ugly times, the Earth offers so much Beauty….
In the United States, we celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday (the 4th Thursday of November). I hope each of you, wherever you are, had a good day with much to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving, among other things, celebrates the day in 1621 when about 90 people — native Wampanoags & the Puritan settlers, who had recently arrived from England & needed the help of the local people — gathered together to share food & celebrate the harvest. Since childhood, I have been buoyed up by the image of two very different peoples coming together in a spirit of friendship and sharing. Later, of course, I learned that such a spirit was quickly dissolved as the settlers attacked the indigenous people and stole their land. Still, I like to focus on the image of that moment sharing across divisions.
I am reminded, too, of the Hindu woman in India who received a relief package of rice during hard times. She meticulously counted out the kernels and gave half to her Muslim neighbor. Such caring & sharing is something beautiful that holds the world together. I am thankful for the possibility of this way of being.
Today (Friday) is Native American Heritage Day. This is a time for the indigenous people of Turtle Island to celebrate their traditions, including the ways they have learned to care for the land that sustains them. It is a time for those Americans whose ancestors came from other lands to give thanks for the wisdom that Native Americans have developed over millennia as they have lived with & cared for this land. And it is a time to give thanks for their willingness to share that wisdom now as we all confront the damage that the dominant “settler” mindset has created during the last 5 centuries and that we must now confront together.
This wisdom is embodied in the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, which is proclaimed at the beginning of every solemn gathering. After each short section of the address is recited, all the people present affirm their unity and their gratitude by saying “Now our minds are one.”
May we all now affirm our praise and gratitude to the Earth community!
“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires…The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need… That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, from braiding Sweetgrass
Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:
Greetings to the Natural WorldThe People
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.
Now our minds are one.The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.The Waters
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and
streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.
Now our minds are one.The Fish
We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.The Plants
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.
Now our minds are one.The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.
Now our minds are one.The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.
Now our minds are one.The Animals
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one.The Trees
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.The Birds
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and
appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength.
With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.
Now our minds are one.The Thunderers
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one
to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.
Now our minds are one.The Sun
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.
Now our minds are one.Grandmother Moon
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.
Now our minds are one.The Stars
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.
Now our minds are one.The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.
Now our minds are one.The Creator
Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
Now our minds are one.Closing Words
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.
Now our minds are one.
This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was
developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of:
Six Nations Indian Museum and the
Tracking Project All rights reserved.
Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World
English version: John Stokes and Kanawahienton (David Benedict, Turtle Clan/Mohawk)
Mohawk version: Rokwaho (DanThompson, Wolf Clan/Mohawk)
Original inspiration: Tekaronianekon (Jake Swamp, WolfClan/Mohawk)
Giving thanks today to the woodland community that has sheltered so many:
Thanksgiving Day walk in the Guilford College Woods near our house — once an important part of the Underground Railroad
I’m sure many of you have encountered the creative-confidence prompt that asks you to confront all the negative voices in your past. Yesterday I heard someone asking about all the kind voices that we have heard. I am fortunate that there have been many of those throughout my life — though, at the time, I lacked the secure sense of self needed to take them seriously, often experiencing them as pressure (which may have been true of some, but not all). However, when I heard the question about kind voices yesterday, the first thing that popped into my mind was all of you. Thank you so much for your encouragement and, most of all, your companionship on the way.
Lat week, when I made a commitment to the current mask, it didn’t mean I’d adopted a plan or a map. After all, the way changes as we walk. Neither was it an act of determination and will-power — a promise to plunge ahead no matter what. It was something much lighter — simply an agreement to spend time in deep conversation with the materials that are showing me how to create the mask & with the spirit that is seeking to emerge. And since conversation is a co-operative process (not “all on me”), it was enjoyable — not a duty but a privilege. Learning, and learning again!
As so often, I tended to over-complicate things & my conversation partners chuckles as they reminded me of the rule of KISS (keep it simple, sweetie).
For example, after all my fussing, fretting, and late-night spinning to make a warp that could turn into glorious hair for the mask, she told me, “No hair.” This is not the first time I’ve confronted a mask’s resistance to some Great Idea of mine — and all I can do is laugh!
Because I used a wool/silk mixture for several layers of the felted context, it turned out thinner than I’d expected, which — combined with its irregular shape — will make hanging it a challenge. I’ve got some ideas & am curious to see how it goes.
I haven’t yet sewn the mask onto (into?) its context. There are still details to work out. But here’s the way she looks at the moment, perched on the felt in what may or may not be her final place. It’s all an adventure! Working with her has made me come alive. I am grateful to her.
“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
The yellow-crowned night-heron continues to make visits to the pond. Five deer in our yard this morning. Finches, cardinals, and what I think is a hairy woodpecker (maybe a downy?) at the feeder today…. These creatures are definitely alive! And to witness them wakes me up. Their lively presence is a gift of enlivenment for me too. Every day I give thanks for their being.
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life
is thank you,
it is enough.
-- Meister Eckhardt
Looking back over the last week or so — no matter what the topic or level of experience & meaning — I see Trickster’s tracks weaving in and out and over my own tracks, sometimes almost obliterating them. I feel flummoxed and frustrated and have wanted to raise a fist & shout “Enough Already!” …..But, of course, it isn’t enough; otherwise he’d skip away to other business. Trickster is summoned into existence by many things — inattention, indecision, distraction, lack of perception & imbalance, and hyper-seriousness, to name just a few. They all seem to describe the sort of funk I’ve been in. Trickster is my eternal teacher, usually advising me to praise paradox more loudly & to dance through this journey more lightly, more joyfully.
– – – – – – And, since writing those words yesterday, since naming Trickster’s message, I’ve found myself turning a corner, choosing a path, no longer stuck in indecision and useless lamentation at the crossroads. I continue to be amazed by the power of words. Preoccupation with words — or with a lack of them — may occasionally cause me to stumble into some deep crevasse … but words can also provide the handholds & footholds I need to climb back out and continue the journey!
Of course, many feelings and experiences are way beyond words & need to be protected from attempts to nail them down & cage them with language. Trickster himself is one of those beings/experiences. This is why poetry, metaphor, story are the linguistic vehicles we use when trying to share the deepest truths. And there are non-linguistic ways as well — image, music, dance….
I love nonverbal communication. Still, words are strong — and, like Story, potentially dangerous. Many indigenous cultures (including the Navajo and the ancient Hebrews) have taken language seriously, recognizing that spoken words create or shift reality. For me, writing, saying, or just thinking a word, metaphor, or story can sometimes be a prayer, both a source of clarification & a kind of commitment. Such commitment is essential before undertaking true work. (My teacher Luisah Teisch teaches that Trickster sits at the Crossroads and, if you lack clear intention & commitment, he is more than happy to lead you astray.)
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
And so I am, once more, beginning — remembering the words of St. Benedict:
“Always we begin again.”
I have finally begun to put into words for myself a paradox that, especially in light of political struggles here in the U.S. & around the world, has been drifting in a cloud around me like a swarm of gnats, bothering me incessantly. Somewhere earlier on this blog I said (no doubt, many times) that the power of Story is stronger than we’ve imagined and can be harnessed for healing or for harm. But when I read definitions of Story, I hear little that distinguishes these 2 possibilities from each other, little to explain the difference and how to identify & avoid or overcome the latter. Why/how is one story “better” or more “true” than another? After wallowing unhappily in my puzzlement for far too long, I feel like someone who’s been drowning in shallow water and suddenly — simply — puts her feet down on the bottom and rises up above the waves. [This reminds me of the saying — highlighting the stunted growth of trees in the cold of Iceland — that advises: “If you are lost in a forest in Iceland, stand up!”]
Well, more on those thoughts as they develop….
I’ve also been dithering for weeks about the colors for my next weaving. As I’ve pulled out more & more possible (or impossible) fibers and yarns from my stash, my studio came to resemble the messy, unstructured, hodge-podge nest of a mourning dove — though the mourning dove is definitely more minimalist than I am in the collection of building materials. (I once read about a mourning dove who constructed her nest of just five poorly arranged twigs.)
Two days ago, I came across words written by Maeve Brenan to her friend Tillie Olsen:
“You are all your work has. It has nobody else and never had anybody else. If you deny it hands and a voice, it will continue as it is, alive, but speechless and without hands. You know it has eyes and can see you, and you know how hopefully it watches you.”
Hooray for synchronicity & serendipity! This was just the reminder, the wake-up call, I needed. “... and you know how hopefully it watches you.” How much longer will the work be patient? There have been times when, faced with my endless wavering, it finally gave up on me and went off to look for someone else.
So — I finally pulled out some fluffy gray wool & slick hand-dyed mohair and began to spin yarn for the mask’s warp (which will become the hair). Yesterday I plied the two uneven yarns together loosely & washed the skein to set the twist. …… Ha! The power of commitment took hold! When I couldn’t sleep last night, I got up & found the yarn to be dry. I cut the lengths and warped the loom — and returned to bed for a few hours of satisfied & restful sleep. First thing this morning, I began playing with a variety of wefts on the edge of the warp, anxious to see some of the possibilities emerge before unraveling them all & beginning to weave the form in earnest. (Warp colors are not bright pastel than shown — more subdued & subtle.)
Throw Yourself Like Seed ~~ by Miguel de Unamuno
“Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit; sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate that brushes your heel as it turns going by, the man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant.
Now you are only giving food to that final pain which is slowly winding you in the nets of death, but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts is the work; start then, turn to the work.
Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field, don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death, and do not let the past weigh down your motion.
Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself, for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds; from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.”
In the meantime, the other-than-human world continues to offer its multiplicity of gifts. A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has visited the neighboring pond (drained during a construction project but now refilling) a number of times this week — Such a magical creature!
And Old Oak continues to shed leaves & let go of overt growth so that she can find a deeper life in the darkness of winter — a time when, though the part of her I see above ground will appear dead & dormant, deep underground her roots will continue to grow & to gather water and nutrients — storing them to propel her sudden burst of life in the spring.
I love how her bones are beginning to show: the form, the strength, the scaffolding on which her life and the lives of many other beings depend.
Of what am I currently letting go?
What is the shape of my own scaffolding?
And what, I wonder, will my roots be doing this winter?
In the meantime, I’ll leave us all to ponder the advice of Osho:
"Don't move the way fear makes you move.
Move the way love makes you move.
Move the way joy makes you move."
This week — in order to postpone some color decisions I have to make for my next project — I’ve been experimenting with making felt vessels. Many mistakes, much learning — and much more to learn!
Mostly, though I’ve been immersed in this magical time of year when the land where I live transitions into a different way of being. There are, in many European traditions, times and places where the veils — between this world & other worlds; between the living & the dead; between past, present, and future — become thin, porous, or dissolve entirely, allowing us to step through from one world to another. This time of the year is a tipping point from the halcyon early autumn days into the first biting intimations of ice and frost, from sunlit world to the growing dark. It seems natural that many holidays mark this thinning of boundaries just as October slips into November: the Celtic season of Samhain, with its remnants lingering in American Halloween (although the name of the holiday here is a bow towards the Christian church: All Hallows Eve); Slavic Dziady; Scandinavian Álfablót (Elven sacrifice); Christian All Souls Day; the Mexican Day of the Dead….
So I have been thinking a lot this past week about “thin places” and have realized how, when we truly pay attention in this world, we can — at any time — thin the veils, boundaries, walls that our western industrialized culture has placed between human and other-than-human lives. Our perspective can shift, we can learn from from the Other, we can expand our constricted views & relax into our place in the Cosmos: we can step into another way of being/seeing.
Journal Entry — May 5, 2004, Trinity Center, Salter Path, NC:
I know something of the spider webs in the Appalachian woods and buildings I call home: dew-whitened handkerchiefs spread out across morning fields, strong cables strung across forest paths at precisely face height, glorious orbs adorning gates and barn doors, the seemingly disorganized constructions of myriad dust-loving spiders that inhabit the cracks and crannies of our house. Today, however, I am contemplating different webs in a different place.
9 a.m – The woods behind the beach dunes here are low and narrow, filled with gnarled live oak, holly, and other trees whose names I do not know. After two days of severe storm, the sun came out yesterday. As the breeze shifts leaves and light, webs of many kinds began to wink in and out of sight, as if in and out of existence. Sometimes a pale green caterpillar little more than an inch long appears to float above the path. I watch several such creatures apparently gathering the thread from which they dangle (visible only when the leaves move to let through light) into tiny white balls on their chests, reeling themselves up once more to the twigs from which they must have come. It takes them about half an hour to climb the 4 feet back up to the tree. To what purpose? I wonder. I watch one caterpillar regain his perch on a twig, hoping to discern his intentions. He simply moves slowly from one leaf to the next—testing his route with feet and snout—before disappearing from my sight. I feel patient curiosity and respect for his precise labor. There is only a slight intrusion of my own agenda when I find myself hoping he’ll launch again or begin to spin a cocoon – somehow revealing his story within a time-frame cut to my convenience.
I am endlessly fascinated by the way the caterpillar webs flicker in and out of my perceptual world—brilliantly lit and obvious one moment; simply “gone” the next.
4 p.m. – A brown ovoid leaf—shiny mahogany on one side, matte beige on the other — twists and pirouettes in the wind. Never falling, it is a testament to the strength of some invisible thread. [As I watch its dance, I experience in my body a kindred sense of restriction, of being leashed against gravity and the normal process of letting go. What sticky threads have I extruded in my life? What detritus do my webs hold in thrall, turning in place—pulling my attention and energy back again and again to the futile twirling?]
As I watch, I remember reading that some spiders’ webs are stronger than any human-contrived filaments. Scientists are experimenting with splicing spider genes into goats in order to create milk with a chemical to be used in cables. Can that be right?
4:15 p.m. – A breath of air ruffles the leaves, once again changing the configuration of shadow. The thread on which the leaf dangles is suddenly delineated in silver. Like a pointer, it leads my eye straight down to a glowing horizontal orb web—about 9” in diameter and 15” above the ground—bellying like a sail in the wind. A tiny grey-brown spider with a bright red spot on its back rests perfectly still in the center, riding the web’s undulations with legs extended front and back. I have, for the last quarter hour or so, been standing less than a foot from it—completely unaware!
Again light and shadows of the forest move, and the web disappears. Only the spider is still visible — its glowing spot, a good marker. But if I glance away to jot a note or simply rest my eyes, I am hard-pressed to find it again. I inevitably look down between a flimsy briar and a tentative shrub—the only obvious anchors for the web. But that is too low. I must let my eyes slide softly out of focus, undistracted by the definitive forms of stems and leaves. Then the spider pops back into my sight. How can its web be so high? There seem to be no nearby posts for support. The anchoring threads must be longer than I imagine. Again, I am drawn to contemplate what I cannot see.
Sun through the forest’s canopy brings brief visibility. A large insect bumps the web slightly but is not caught. I seem to feel the jarring stretch of filament, the twang of departure. The spider waits a space of two breaths (mine), then pivots, pats the web to check for damage, and — apparently satisfied that no repairs are required — returns to its east-facing posture.
Again, in late afternoon shade, the spider seems to ride on air. What is firm to the spider can only be inferred by me. [On what unseen structure do I rest? Do I—like the spider—respond to its vibrations, calmly check it, repair it as needed and return to alert waiting? Do others sense the web’s firmness under the heavy abdomen and many legs of my being?]
As the sun descends, the web I am contemplating remains invisible, but I am getting better at finding the spider after glancing away. I am learning how to read what is right before me. At the same time, I notice how the surrounding stems, leaves, and forest debris take on greater clarity as well. Leaves on each stalk are distinctly individual—slight variations of shape, partially eaten away or whole. Attention to what I cannot see has somehow sharpened my perceptions of and delight in the visible. My eyes feel newly washed.
Meanwhile, the small brown leaf dances on its tether — as it has been doing since I first noticed it 7 hours earlier on my morning walk. The dead leaf above so frenetic; the living spider below so still. The web holding each is known to me, in the darkening woods, only by the presence of its interaction with something else. [What illuminates the threads of my life just as the ray of sun glints, for a moment, on these forest webs? What demarcates the threads when there is no sun? I think of the importance of that first brief silvery glimpse of the web — enough to keep me attentive, alert to reality moving beyond my senses.]
5 p.m. – I rise to leave, pausing to check out one more fat green caterpillar reeling himself upward. When I look back, the spider seems to have vanished. I cannot recover the proper perspective. But, just as I decide to give up, a puff of wind shifts the web over a lighter leaf on the forest floor. I am immensely happy to have that farewell glimpse – and immensely happy to know that the forest is full of beings (and ways of being) that I do not see. I write in my notebook: “Focus is everything!” — meaning “convergence” and remembering that “focus” comes from Latin for “hearth” – the center, the heart of the fire. I could just as well have written (for I felt) that Relationship is everything. Not one thing extracted from the community, but in dynamic relation to all…
Not unlike the spider on its billowing web, I rested for a while–content and vigilant—in the invisible and ever changing interlacement of sun, wind, and beach-forest community. In some strange way, as the focus of my attention became narrower and more precise, the edges of my own being faded, opened, embraced a larger and larger community, until I felt the web of Being (seen and unseen) without limit. When I return the next morning, I find no trace of web or spider or the dangling leaf (released—“at last”? or “in its own good time”?). There are stories here that I will never know, and I am strangely content—upheld even—by my un-knowing.
UNSEEN by mck
Within Creation's pulsing heart --
black holes and all
we do not know --
the un-seen is the larger part
of what sustains our cosmic round.
More than fleshly hands,
the fervent clasping;
More than lightning flash,
the ions dancing.
Daily our lives proceed along
not such paths as we suppose but
-- flaring forth into flame and out --
(Shall I name it gravity? allurement?)
-- perhaps it is --
Whether we perceive it or not,
the bush is always burning, unconsumed;
the ground, always holy.
"Secretly we spoke,
That wise one and me.
I said, Tell me the secrets of the world.
He said, Sh…Let silence
Tell you the secrets of the world."
Keeping Quiet ~~~ Pablo Neruda
"Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about...
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go."