As I sit here in the midst of sorting through the aftermath of the midterms elections in the United States, which are still proving to be not very united, my mind is filled with my own polarizing thoughts. Glimmers of light have cropped up across the nation: Massachusetts has appeared to have elected their first woman and openly gay governor, Maryland, their first black man, and Fetterman has defeated Trump’s henchman, Oz in Pennsylvania. Yes, there is hope. Hope that we can continue to step in the direction of equality not just for humanity, but for this larger ecosystem we are all a part.
Last night I had an impromptu dinner with my sister and her children. It was an historic day. Her son, 18, voted in his first election. I am so proud of the younger generations who are making their voices heard. My daughter, who is studying in London this year, crossed the pond to cast her vote early. In the background, the news through NPR is being projected through my kitchen speaker. A few moments ago, a young man was featured. His voice clear and strong, but not without force. Instead, there was the strength of conviction, of confidence, intelligence, and compassion. His is the voice of masculinity balanced by compassion and empathy.
There are so many in the younger generations who are speaking up, and voting, for a better world. A world where all are treated equal, where women’s reproductive rights are basic human rights, where diversity is embraced and the planet, this home we all share, is respected as a living body that is worthy of respect and nurturing. Yes, I am still hopeful, perhaps even more than hopeful, that as we continue on with our lives we will grow a unifying respect for all life, not just for our own personal interest.
I’m still, though, on the fence about Florida. One cannot help but wonder if they really do want to sink into the ocean. They’re certainly heading rapidly in that direction. Some of them may not live long enough to see it, but…
If I go back to the origin of my blog’s title and consider the impetus of the name, I am reminded of the pulse behind the darkness. We are, undeniably, immersed in a time of chaos that can be over-whelming. More often than I’d like to, I find myself considering whether we are a World Gone Mad.
These days I can count insanity by just one degree of separation, sometimes less. On Sunday I conversed with a colleague who was trying to find her grounding after bearing witness to the aftermath of a senseless shooting: A father shot dead by a young man, unrelated. Two kids left behind to watch it from a car’s window.
In my hometown, the community FB page is filled with comments about a man who took it upon himself to drain an entire pond, destroying a beaver dam and countless lives, so that he and his friends could ride their snowmobiles in winter. A season used to be, but is not often, without snow.
I cannot help but wonder if the world has gone mad. Next door, the neighbor who talked to me about love and community years ago as we both displayed our Obama signs with hope has, it seems, turned to the dark side. The opposite of hope and love, staked to her ground.
What is happening? Why is it so easy for us to fall into hatred and fear? Why is it so difficult for us to pause, consider, and breathe the light back into our collective story?
We are succumbing to our own madness through a belief that our world is spinning out of our control. Thinking, ever-foolishly, that we are here to control it. The land is mine to mold my way…
Instead of, I am of the Earth, and therefore a part of all life it nourishes.
Simple facts forgotten. Ignored.
I honor the light in you that is also in me. Therefore, I will do no harm.
I find myself turning to the land with every excuse I can muster. I have taken up foraging as a reason to walk into my wild home and find peace and connection. Belonging returns when the heart opens back to its origins. More than ever I have become a fervent believer that our salvation as humans will only return when we turn to the Earth with reverence. And through this return, find our origin. We are of the Earth, but not limited by it.
One vast body boundless
Yet we allow ourselves to be limited by our own myopic vision. We allow fear to establish our parameters and this fear grows to mistrust, which too often turns to hatred.
I find myself using the term “toxic masculinity” all too often, but there is a disturbing truth to this phrase. It is what kills the hope and love inside of us. It is rapidly seeking dominance again, as it has so often done in our collective history. Why are we afraid of the softening? Why are we afraid of vulnerability? Of surrender? Of love?
We are not truly held by walls and barricades. They are blocks. Temporary, but more often than not, dangerous. They shut us out from the wider world. They block the light of life. They block the greater truth. They block the flow of energy that seeks our connection. They block our coming home to ourselves.
On Sunday, my colleague and I also spoke of this lose of connection. We are both yoga instructors, but our desire to thread this idea of union is not limited to the mat of practice. We spoke of Earth. Of nature and our connection to it. We spoke of how to bring the concepts of yoga, which share the teachings of all the ancient wisdoms, out into the community in a way that brings us home to ourselves through a reconnection with wonder and nature.
During one of my foraging walks with another friend, conversation led to physical education classes and how simple and effective it would be to switch the focus from competitive sports to exercises like nature walks. Imagine combining P.E. with science, writing, history, and, an inherent mindfulness. The possibilities turn from limiting, to limitless. It’s in some ways a radical shift in perspective, but it’s also a chance at our salvation. Each child given a sense of belonging instead of vying for one.
If we all had that sense of belonging, would we need to erect walls to separate? Would we need to point fingers and declare, “You are not good enough?”
True connection to one’s self and the greater “world,” unites. It is yoga. It is a coming home to the self and the self’s origins which, at its essence, is a limitless belonging.
We left her at the airport the day after the apples in our favorite orchard were ready to be picked. Two days later, the peaches on our tree would begin to yield to our tug. Before she left, I was already starting a tally of what she would miss. Or maybe, If I am honest, it was more about what I would miss.
My daughter, who arrived in this world with eyes wide open and determined to take in fully the life laid out before her, was more ready to leave than I was to let her go. Even if it meant flying over the ocean to begin college in a city that she had only visited for one rather hectic day eight years ago. It was not the drop-off I would created if I could create it for us, but it was fitting for the way my daughter has chosen to take on this life she has been given. My winged girl always knowing how to soar, even when it was a struggle for me to release her.
I spent half of yesterday, three days after her departure, cleaning her room. The house was quiet. My husband at work, my son at school, only the pets to keep complete solitude at bay. It took me the better part of the morning. I went through two handfuls of rags and filled the washer three times to release the dust of more than a dozen years from the blankets and forgotten garments wedged underneath and on the side of her bed. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but nearly.
I took my time placing the gray flannel sheets with snowflakes on her bed. Pulling the edges tight around a mattress that would not be slept in before December. I nearly forgot about summer as I piled on her holiday pillows and folded the colors of Christmas at the foot of her bed. Before she left, my daughter asked if I would go through her binders and folders from her last year of high school, but I told her I would do more than that. Instead of leaving her room untouched, just how she would have kept it had she been home to use it, I knew I needed to clean it. The release had to be as full and complete as I could make it.
I didn’t want her to feel held back. Even from 3,000 miles away. Even from London, I knew she would feel my tug. So I cleaned and tried to think about how much she would appreciate coming home to order free of dust. To having her closet and shelves sorted, and her desk and bureau free of clutter. Her bed made with clean sheets meant to keep in the warmth.
Despite the calendar reminding me that we still had nearly three weeks of summer left, I tugged the air conditioner out of her window, and swiped the dust cloth across its surface before I tucked it into the newly vacuumed corner of her closet. I noticed the gray film on the window frames, grabbed a clean cloth and the glass cleaner to wipe them clear.
It was nearly noon by the time I untied the sashes from her curtains and pulled them to the center of her closet. To keep the dust out I told myself, but all I could see was a closed space. I lowered her windows by a couple of inches, left their shades up to keep the light in, then left my daughter’s door wide open as I exited her space. To keep the air fresh, I told myself.
During the night I woke often, as has become my habit this summer, to peer through the crack of my bedroom door to look for the light in her room. I didn’t see it until morning, when I knew it was time to get up and greet the day in whatever form it presented to me. I walked passed by daughter’s room and the door that had not been closed during the night, with a new load of laundry in my hands trying not to think about how different the lines of clothes would look outside drying in the sun.
Once again, like many others, I am feeling deeply bothered by the state of the world in which we all live. Today I am thinking of the words of Louis Armstrong and his beautiful lyrical antidote to a troubled world. A world that, more than fifty years later, feels, well, no less-troubled.
Where have we gone wrong? How do we make right?
We still cling to our violence like an infant clings to his “blankie.” We are hesitant to let go. The lust for power and greed continually supersedes our common good. We are a broken beautiful world trying to exists in the extremes of violence (mankind) and beauty (nature).
I use the world “mankind,” because let us be clear that it is the driving force of masculinity, whether it exists in a so-called male of female body, that lends itself towards violent acts. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often is in our world. The driving force is also the creative force, bringing forth life instead of death, in all its myriad forms.
It is working with the “light” that drives the life force that threads through all of us in its purest form. It is what Christ strived for, and Buddha. It is a quest for a balance and harmony. For the common good of all life.
And here we are stuck in the throes of our extremes. Many of us are struggling to incite change: signing petitions, calling senators, picketing our capital buildings, voting…while knowing it is simply not enough.
I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. I don’t know what it is going to take for us to put aside our accumulated lust for power and find our common ground. I wish I did.
One thing that nags me continuously though, is those we keep silent. Those who pull the card of spirituality without actually doing the real work. The term spiritual bypassing was coined by a psychotherapist named John Welwood to define individuals who use spirituality and its practices as a way of bypassing the real work of healing and changing their lives. Now it is a term used to also include the lives of others.
We see it all the time. It has become a chronic problem. An excuse for either doing nothing, or worse, doing the wrong thing. I am stretching the limits of this term to define all of those who claim to be following the path of the “light,” but refusing to do the real work to support the balance and harmony of life, whether it be within or outside of them.
We see it everywhere, in all of its masked forms. Self-ascribed christians refusing to give up their weapons of death used to murder children. We see it in self-ascribed light-workers refusing to acknowledge their individual and our shared darkness in their need to hold onto the ideal of the “light” they think shines more brightly within them. Their need to feel special superseding the good they proclaim to spread in the world. Instead of digging into fact-based, real-world problems to work towards bringing light to our collective darkness, they add to the darkness by spreading falls theories created by bots and deranged individuals intent of perpetrating the chaos in the world. The irony is almost too much to bear, but bear it they do, with a perverse sense of delight. Otherwise they would not be “special.”
This chronic need to be special and have control over others negates the real work of the light and being a spiritual being, whether you are professed follower of Christ, Buddha, Allah…a pantheon of gods or one God.
A world filled with beings who are striving to be separate. To feel special. To be better. Beings that feast on individual greed and need…with always tip towards chaos.
Our beautiful world of “skies of blue,” and “fields of green,” is raging. Fires burn in lands turned arid by mankind’s greed. Fires burn from the bullets of guns, destroying life, over and over again, because of mankind’s lust for power and control. And the fires of denial burn in the hearts of those who bypass the real work of life and cling to their sense of otherness.
We cannot live in a wonderful world without doing the real work of nurturing life itself.
It’s been a week since my grandmother left this life and rejoined the realm of spirit. She was 94.5 years old, and for the last two decades of her life she awaited the day when she would be rejoined with her beloved husband, the man I used to call Poppy.
I feel lucky to have had my Gram in my life for nearly half a century. It is a much longer time than most. My mother was a young mother when she brought me into the world, and her mother was there to welcome me into this life. One of the last memories Gram shared with me, as she often did, was of that day.
“Did you know, Alethea,” she reminded me as I sat beside her on her bed, “I was the first person to hold you?”
I know the story well, as I do so many others Gram used to like to share with me. Although we lived, for most of our shared lives, 3,000 miles apart from one another, Gram and I spoke regularly on the phone. When it became evident that she was getting ready to transition out of this life, my sister and I decided to fly the distance to visit our Gram one last time.
It was, in many ways, just like old times. Except it wasn’t summer, there were no longer mystery meals to unwrap on the plane, or cigarette smoke to pollute our lungs. It was, though, just the two of us again, flying west to see the family we had left behind when we were four and six years old, if only for a few days.
And we are both glad we did. We spent many hours of those two days sitting with Gram, trying to help her find comfort in her increasingly uncomfortable body, and even wheeling her outside for some time in the fresh air to look at the gardens surrounding the facility where she lived.
Gram’s weariness with life was apparent, but so was her unfailing love for us. Gram was happy we were there and didn’t want us to leave.
Although our Gram and Poppy had their faults, as all people do, they always exhibited unconditional love for me and my sister. It was something we needed as children, and clung to, despite only seeing our grandparents for a few days a year, if we were lucky.
In those few, brief visits, I have compiled a lifetime of happy memories. Sitting on the sun-soaked deck of my grandparents’ pool and eating homemade dried granny smith apples with Pringles and cans of pop is one of them. As are the moments when Gram would take my hand and trace each finger from the base to the tip before she took her emory board out to shape my nails and push back my cuticles. “You and your sister have such pretty hands,” she’d tell me, “just like your mother’s.”
Mine was a childhood filled with a sense of not belonging, of feeling like I constantly needed to prove my self-worth and earn my keep, but never was that the case at Gram and Poppy’s house. For those few blissful days each summer, my sister and I were able to relish the bliss of unconditional love, and even of being spoiled a bit.
At Gram and Poppy’s we’d watch forbidden cartoons during daylight hours and gleefully open cabinets filled with the junk food of our choosing. Outside, we’d turn handstands on their perfect lawn and lift our feet above the water in their chlorinated pool. Whenever I smell cedar, I think of Gram and Poppy and their home atop Mt. Scott in Portland. It was the closest place to heaven I found in my godless childhood.
Gram and Poppy sold their house on Mt. Scott many years ago, but during our brief trip west to say goodbye to Gram, our father drove my sister and me to see it. It looked the same, but very much changed. Just like life. Just like the entire trip.
The night before Gram passed, I had a conversation with her in my mind. I told her how much I loved her and that it was more than okay to leave. I knew she was ready. She had been working hard, in fact, at letting go. Gram knew I believed in life after death, even if it wasn’t in the same way she did.
“Send me a red bird,” I requested the following morning after I learned of her passing. “Let me know you made it okay.”
I was in the car, and as I turned the corner, a red-breasted robin stood in the road in front of me. It looked at me, then flew away.
I turned the radio on, and through the speakers came the word “bird.” NPR was doing a showing on birds.
A year ago today, the winds sang of spring. Rebirth toppled half a maple in my front yard and I woke to the lyrics of “Silent Night.” A soul had passed back into the realm of pure consciousness after a life well-lived as Sue.
I have yet to meet a more remarkable being. I doubt I will. Sue had a way of connecting to Truth that made you feel like you belonged, and everything around you did too. She was the embodiment of divine feminine energy in physical form. It is no surprise that Isis chose her as a vessel to tell her story.
The last time I saw Sue was the last time I traveled to England. She cleared space in her busy day to take Larissa and me to Uffington Castle and Wayland’s Smithy. I had tried to find the white horse during my first trip to England, but had landed in the other Uffington, miles away from my intended destination. Fate, it seems, had other plans for me.
I can say with assurance that my life would not have been the same without having had Sue’s presence in it, even though I knew her for less than a decade. Death, though, does not bring an end to the essence of life and Sue’s presence has not wholly departed. Today, on the anniversary of her passing out of physical form, the dogs drew me outside an hour before they usually do. It was with some reluctance and a fair bit of annoyance that I set down the writing of this post, gathered my coat, gloves, and hat, leashed the dogs and made my way outside into a blustery day much like the one I woke to one year ago.
Instead of turning right, down her favorite path filled with sticks to chew, Rosy pulled me to the left. There, above us, was a falcon dancing across the vast canvas of sky. I have no doubt Sue has managed to keep herself quite busy with her work on the other side, just as she did here on Earth, but somehow she still manages to make an appearance when it is most needed.
On days when the temperature is above frigid, I don’t protest the dogs’ favorite habit stopping to gnaw at every single stick they encounter during our noontime walks. Instead, while they ravage the broken arms of trees to top off their stomaches already filled with lunch, I study the language of trees.
Winter is the season of dormancy, but also of exposure. By mid-February only a few stubborn bunches of withered brown oak leaves hang lifeless from the trees that bore them. The floor of the forest has long been taken over by the element of water, suspending time in its frozen form in a mosaic of matter in various stages of life and death.
The artful practice of mindfulness is everywhere in winter, urging the walker to slow down. To breathe. To be still and observe the state of stasis. I love winter because of its offering to be still. The other three seasons can overwhelm the senses, but not winter. Winter pulls the mind inward and begs it to find the magic always held within.
There are days when I think winter is ugly and dreary. It stretches time here in the northeast in a way that tries patience. Yet, when I look closer, while the dogs feast on their finds, I find the magic of stillness revealing itself. Lately, this magic has taken the form of the language of the trees.
In truth, it is not the language of the trees itself that I read, but the story of the insect life that feasts upon them. I am in awe of the patterns. When I stop to read their art, I marvel at how each one is unique. It is a language of pictographic script that only the insect scribe understands, in truth, but it doesn’t stop the wondering mind from making an attempt.
It has now been more than a month since I have posted on my blog. I have allowed myself to be pulled elsewhere, but have not been idle when it comes to creating. Instead, I have decided to dig into the work of creation in every sense of the word in which I can define it.
Last year was a really tough year for me. It tested me in many ways, and what came out of this testing was a deep knowing that I need to return to myself. As completely as I can. I don’t think I’m alone. These divisive times call us individually and collectively to come home to ourselves, and in the process find what unites us to the web-of-life we are all a part of.
For me, self care has taken the form of no more substitute teaching as the stress far outweighed the benefits for me. Being underpaid and undervalued is a life pattern I am striving to release. It’s not easy to navigate back into the paying workforce when one consumes so much time into childcare, but I would not have changed focusing on my children and now teenagers as they grow into their selves.
Instead, I am realizing what I now have to offer the world and am finding unexplored paths to bring my creative energies into existence. In my writing life, I am moving into the third book in my middle-grade Warriors of Light fantasy series while a group of beta readers are going through the second book. I have decided self-publishing is not for me, so am exploring the somewhat more daunting world of finding a traditional publisher for the series.
I am also writing more poetry, after a bit of a lapse. I have collected a group of spiritual “yoga” poems in a file that are simmering in prospects as I also delve into the shadowland of the self to create from the raw material of pain that seeks voice. They are braver poems then I am used to writing, but I find them necessary and healing. It feels good to be bold where I have previously held myself back.
This boldness includes breaking into the world of podcasts and I am happy to announce I will be a guest on the first of what I hope will be several at the beginning of February. I will be sharing more on that later. In addition to guest podcasting, I am creating online workshops with a friend of mine. These endeavors have made it clear that I need to amp up my marketing game. Marketing, ironically is the field I was in before I had children. Not by choice so much as by default. The pay was good and I had a knack for the work.
I am finding marketing and marketing writing is much easier when it is not focused on yourself. This too is breaking me out of my comfort zone. There will be a shoot with a professional photographer soon, I hope. The scheduled session had to be canceled on her end because of COVID-like symptoms. I’ll need to channel some of my daughter’s confidence to do these, but they are necessary for the endeavors I am pursuing.
As I am going through this process of self care and delving into what I wish to bring forth into the world, I am noticing how freeing it is to release what is no longer serving me in a positive manner. This release opens the door for that “good” stuff to come in that feels true to the soul. I am reminded that the self, and the world we are a part of, is not served by staying small inside the confines of self-doubt and fear. The light comes in and goes out through the open door.