Day of Thanksgiving 2014

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“The root of joy is gratefulness…  It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
–Brother David Steindl-Rast

 

One of the many soul-soothing beauties of this time of year with its increasingly shorter days is coming slowly awake in deep stillness and filling the pre-dawn darkness with the rosy glow of candle light.  A magical ambience crowded with all manner of spirits… some reaching out to connect in the form of memories.  Thanksgiving Day always evokes thoughts of my Mom.  Through all the stages of our journey together and in ways I may not yet fully fathom, she and her utter devotion to the Divine –as she through her religion imagined the Divine– have been profound influences in my own unfoldment.

So it was that this early morn she called to me from her serious-young-mother photo on my ancestors altar next to my Pop and my Great-Grandmother Luisa.  And from the deep well of all that I felt –the ineffable peace and gratitude, the love I do not yet have a word for, and spun together with all that the always present acknowledgment of the difficult terrain we traversed to arrive at today’s serenity– my impulse was to read her the poem I’d written nearly two decades ago.  I had given it to her a year later in a hand-crafted edition of a collection of my poems.  A decade later, after her death, the little book made its way back to me.  I treasure it.  I hold it now –and I can see her and feel her holding it in her hands, trying with all her heart to understand her second daughter who rolled so far from all that she knew.   I read the hand-written inscription and marvel at how tellingly it captured that moment in our evolution –already light years from how we had been with each other on the Thanksgiving Day of the poem…

“Dear Mimi, my feelings are mixed as I give you this small book of my poetry.  Because writing is where I express my deepest truths, sharing it is sharing my innermost self.  In my way of being, that is the ultimate gift.  At the same time, I’m very aware that many of my ideas, and particularly my experience of Spirit, are disconcerting to you.  So, then, these poems –offered with my love– are a mixed bouquet.  Enjoy the roses –and beware the thorns.  All roads lead to the One. ♥ Lisa”

Mom, I know you too are rejoicing… and, Pop, you also along with us.  And I know too –though in this life I may never comprehend the mysterious dance of energies in which this transmutation occurs– that this peace and love I’m feeling is rippling back in that mystery we conceive of as time, rippling back as a healing through the four generations leading to you, Great-Grandparents Luisa and Tonio, and beyond you to your moms and dads and all who came before through all the rambling branches of this blessed family with all its earthly challenges.  I am so deeply grateful for all the joys and tribulations that shaped me, that forced me to fall back on my own experience and fortitude, and to own the whole constellation of paradox that expresses as my life.  From all of you and from all that befell me I gained the gift, the ability, to create from the raw material of difficulties that which could be cherished and shared as Beauty.

Here then is the poem…

Kitchen Spirits

That Thursday Mother prepared for Thanksgiving company,
tucked a flowered kitchen cloth over and around
the disturbing collection of jars
–powders green and inscrutable
that she shudders as I swallow,
nurturing pagan roots best left forgotten.

Looks prettier, was all Mom said to me of the cloth,
and didn’t say of my jars that someone might notice,
comment that her daughter, owner of these alien
influences brought back from inconceivable places,
is missing from the family table
–my very absence a ghost.

You’ll be missed, she said quietly at my side,
as I tugged the cartons of eggnog from the fridge,
stuffed them into a brown paper sack.
The wound always weeping between us at this season,
I kept my eyes on my task, flattened my voice:
I don’t know what to say… no words I can say…
When I looked up –seconds, no more–
she was across the room at the stove,
her hands busy stirring a pot,
her back hiding her pain.

♀   ♀   ♀

I return home with the first streaks of dawning,
stand at the dim kitchen counter,
light a blue candle invoking peace in our family
whose names I have inscribed in the wax.
I remove the flowered cloth from the jars wedged
into the one small nook I claim as my own.

In that niche they nestle in their glistening vessels of glass:
almonds gleaming next to crumbly black tea,
cranberries shrunken to rubies.
Ashwagandha for vitality, Shatawari for menopause.
I replenish some jars, empty others,
fill them with harmonizing vibrations:
blazing red chilies, tips cut off to let out the sting,
oil, cobalt blue, of Frankincense, Myrrh and Neroli.
Spirits encircle me, aromas thick with open-air markets:
Dar-es-Salaam and New Delhi, Katmandu and Antigua,
pungent salt sweet bustle of memories…

I perform each act with intention,
draw water from silver spigot,
wash away all traces of yesterday,
with each breath conjuring peace from within.
I open the door to the porch and
let in the spirits guarding the house.
In a troupe they pad in, warm from their beds,
swirl about me mewling and purring their ritual chorus.
I open tins, offer milk to appease them.

I warm apple juice over dancing blue flame,
pour it into crystal chalice disguised as a mug,
stir in heaping tablespoon of pristine alpine lakes,
hidden dampness of forests.
They swirl… woodsy musk… and I swallow
the sacred abundance of Earth.

Mother-in-long-flannel-robe pads in in her slippers.
She smiles a smile fresh from her pillow,
bends down, caresses and baby-talks to the spirits
rubbing against her legs.
We talk lightly, how the wind howled at the windows,
how we slept snug in our quilts.

She slips away into her sanctuary to whisper
beseechments for peace to her sky God,
rosary beads slipping through her fingers.
I dance-my-dance with earth spirits,
holding open the back door,
sweeping cinders into new morning air…

 

Resistance, shamanism & “pagan babies”

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“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

– Rumi

 

I was touched by the kindness with which the teacher, during our last class session, heard my question and even heard between the lines the depth of my need to be heard.  My heart stirred –as it does now as I write this– to have been given, uninterrupted, the time to not only articulate the resistance in me wanting to be expressed but also the space to be with my feelings as they arose.  His kindness was a salve on my soul.  Gratitude welled up in me even as a memory of Mom swam into my mind.  Her heart was deeply kind.  It was she who nurtured in me her own love of animals.  She was also unquestioningly devoted to the rightness of her religion, and in her gentler moments her voice tinged with sorrow when speaking to or about those (such as I) who she saw as “mistaken” for not believing as she did.   Mysterious what elicited that memory.  But no matter now.  What reverberates in my soul is the kindness.  That moment –and now this moment in the remembering of it– lives in me as exquisitely tender.

During the seven weeks of the course, Path of the Universal Shaman, I felt recurring waves of resistance.  I had expected perhaps an overview and an experience of shamanism in the modern world.  And I had hoped to be moved to up-level my own public expression of my deep reverence for the Earth, with an eye in particular toward improving the plight of animals.  Not expected had been the intense immersion in the ceremonial practices of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition with its meticulous detail, the fairly extensive use of Quechua spoken in the Peruvian Andes, and the oft-repeated chantings.  These were lavished on the energetic composing of the Mesa, the altar traditionally laid out on the ground.  And this detailed instruction in ceremony continued in all handling of the artes, the pieces placed on the Mesa to represent the seven sacred directions –Above, Below, Before, Behind, Left, Right and Within–  associated with elemental and archetypal forces present in the cosmos and in oneself.  The Mesa, properly activated, anchors the energies of the Cosmos, and serves –as I picture it– as a kind of vibratory “control panel” for invoking, evoking and transacting with seen and unseen forces, present in all realms of creation and accessible within the individual.  Those forces who serve as guides affect personal and collective healing  –the mission of this Tradition.

Perhaps had a more extensive orientation prepared me for what was to unfold I might have been able to let the challenging elements wash over me.  Instead I chafed at times under what felt to me like laborious and inscrutable ritual.  Not fully aware of it at the time, I was responding as if cast back to my childhood experience of forced attendance and scripted participation at heavily-incensed, Gregorian-chanted Mass –which in my body-memory remains a many-layered and still somewhat loaded experience.  But life happens without a rehearsal.  And the resistance that did get roiled up was precisely what needed to be called up –was, in fact, the continued purification I needed to complete prior to whatever could and will come next.  Burning away in those seven weeks and the weeks that followed was my own conditioning, the more deeply buried psychic layers of struggle against the expectations of the religious culture into which I was born, including fourteen years of Catholic school with elements of indoctrination, against which I rebelled, and what meaning I had made of my alienation, my worth, and the complicated pain of not belonging.

In the aftermath of this course I now wholly comprehend my unconscious and convoluted habit of resistance:    I automatically defend against anything that in any way pairs authority with religion in particular, though not exclusively, and where my natural inclination to probe beyond accepted confines is rejected.   And more:   having chosen to visibly stand in my own experience in the face of that authority, the powerless-child part of me once again feels loss, assuming I’ll be marginalized in community.  Just knowing this, seeing in bold relief how the pieces mesh, is a boon as I move forward, noticing resistance as it arises, consciously choosing to wholly feel its clutching sensation without identifying with it –as merely passing energy– and in that way giving it the space it needs to dissipate.

First two clarifications: Shamanism is not a religion.  It is a way of life lived in service to the community, to the web of life, through Earth-based spiritual practices and with guidance from all realms, seen and unseen –and this is what the course imparted.  My resistance was in no way to the spirit of the Tradition, which is whole-heartedly loving and joyful and based on Ayni, sacred reciprocity in all things.  And by “resistance” I mean the inner armoring sensation of defending against or walling out whatever feels psychically threatening –and usually arising from early childhood programming.  When such resistance is not triggered, it is easily possible to meet any proposition without feeling defensive or projecting any internal conflict outward, making the other person wrong.  It is possible to hear words that push our buttons, reframe them in alternative terms, and better hear what is actually being said.  It is possible to meet our own fear, our unknowing, our rage without losing our center.  When triggered, however, choice is lost and the pre-programmed powerless-child kicks in.

During the course I repeatedly stalled at what struck me as too much detail and culture-specific ceremony for my purposes –given my foremost desire to persuasively speak up for animals– which left me wondering what could be this Tradition’s practical application in my life.  That was rational and legitimate.  I could have simply and matter-of-factly taken what was useful and left the rest –and to some extent I did.  What was not rational was the shadowy just-below-the-radar inner struggle against a phantasm of my unconscious.  At best a phantasm dismissive of my notion of activism informed by spiritual principles.  At its extreme a phantasm with its monstrous power to determine what is acceptable and what is punishable at the stake.  This sounds too remotely out of bounds as I write it.  Yet such is the nature of what is locked in the unconscious.  My personal experience is but one drop in the collective experience of the patriarchal juggernaut –still to this day battling to maintain control over women’s sexuality and contraception [see Matthew Fox, below]– that for millennia ran every detail of our lives and which is only now being brought into balance by the rising Feminine.  It is no longer astonishing to me the number of women who speak of recalled past lives that ended branded and burned as witches for having practiced their healing arts.  I have no such memory.  But I am cognizant that the self-directed life I take for granted today, requiring no priest-craft to access the Mystery, openly seeking my own answers, practicing my astrological arts, would have undoubtedly taken me, during those burning times, to the stake.  But that is a topic for another day.  Suffice it to say, it is precisely the vestiges of patriarchal oppression in me that I am purifying today.

Proceeding through the course in my own naturally Earth-loving way, two unexpected wonders occurred –both having wider ramifications beyond the incidents themselves– and both having to do with stones.  Stones are considered the “bones of the mother”, that most-solid element of our mother Earth which takes the longest to erode, just as our own bones remain long after all other tissue has returned to soil.  And stone is a fitting symbolic teacher on the subject of my solidified resistance…

The first incident had its roots early in the course as we were being instructed how to place the artes on the Mesa.  One piece was to be chosen for each of the four cardinal directions, South, West, North and East plus the Center, in that order as the Mesa is configured in a spiral.  Each direction is associated with an element such as earth for the South, holding the energies of Pachamama, our Earth Mother, associated with our physical body and where physical healing takes place.  West, holding the energies of Mamakilla, Mother Moon, associated with the water element, signifying the collective unconscious, our own feeling nature and the place of our emotional healing.  North, the transcendent realm of Wiracocha, the Creator/Creatrix, associated with the element air, our spiritual body and the place of spiritual healing.  East, holding the energies of Inti, Father Sun, associated with the fire element and the place of mental healing.  And the sacred Center, considered the hub, the axis mundi where personal intention and all universal energy converge, is associated with the shape-shifting energy of K’uychi, the Rainbow Spirit, which is an element in itself.  Our first instruction was to choose a “stone relative” to symbolize Pachamama, the South.

My own garden provided the stone, a smooth, simple beauty the color of ashy charcoal with delicate white veins running through it, that fit comfortably in the palm of my hand.     I have always loved stones for their beautiful architectural form.  Seldom do I return from  a walk in nature without a stone or two in my pocket.  I place them reverently around my home and love looking at them.  However, it had never occurred to me that stones were my relatives.  This was a new way of seeing, unfamiliar, yet that made sense.  Matter is, after all, the dense form of spirit.  And spirit the subtle form of matter.  Having no actual felt experience of this kinship with stones, however, I could do no more than let the notion be.  Looking back now, I see that the stone’s mere presence on the Mesa was laying groundwork for what was to come.

Once the artes for the four cardinal directions and the center were chosen and placed on the Mesa, all done with much ritual and chanting, we were instructed to choose for the following week’s session the remaining two artes that would complete the seven sacred directions.  The sixth piece, to be placed in the Northwest, signifying our higher mind, is symbolized by the Royal Hummingbird, that most ephemeral winged creature –able, amidst its own agile and rapid movement, to hover in mid-air in total stillness.  And the seventh piece, to be placed in the Southeast, signifying embodiment, symbolizes the repository of our healing.  This piece was to be preferably of a metallic nature for its ability to retain the healing vibrations that it would come to hold and to transmit.

It was this seventh piece, at that time not yet known to me nor in my possession, that would become my teacher.   That week, looking for a woven pouch in a Haight Street oasis, I was drawn to an unusual double-terminated quartz crystal, amethyst-based, of an opaque smoky color capped at one end in rusty red.  In my eyes it had a quiet beauty of its own but not in the classic crystalline way.  I have crystals, enjoyed for their beauty, without knowing much about them or their qualities.  This crystal, the moment it lay in my hand, had an unmistakably strong effect on me.  The attraction was so complete I could not put it down.  Its function on the Mesa, if it had one, was unknown, but it accompanied me home.

Immediately it became part of my meditation.  Not through any process of deliberation.  It simply happened.  Customarily I meditate lying flat on my back and combine it with Reiki, the gentle pressure of my finger tips on my breast bone eliciting a deeply spacious vibration to flow from my heart chakra.  With the crystal now resting there, and its weight equal to what had been the pressure of my fingertips, the vibratory effect was identical.

Since I close my day and also begin my day with meditation I was now falling asleep with the crystal on my chest, sleeping through the night and waking in the morning with the crystal there still.  A palpable bond soon flowed between us and, imperceptibly with each day, the crystal had grown more beautiful in my eyes.  It became clear this was my Mesa’s seventh piece, the embodiment arte called Enq’a in Quechua.  I was now addressing it with a reverentially expanded heart as I moved it to and from the Mesa each day.  Without effort on my part, Enq’a had become kin.

Due to earlier bouts of fatigue, during the weeks of the course I’d had a series of treadmill stress tests that included ultrasound and echocardiogram.  No abnormality was found in the pumping of my heart but a possible problem with a valve.  Nutrition is my remedy for most things.  A valve malfunction, however, being mechanical, is not amenable to food medicine.  But definitely subject to energy medicine.  For some things there is no readily explainable cause and effect and no way to be certain.  However, my sense was and continues to be that this stone with its healing vibrations is accompanying me, opening my heart, as I learn.  And the valve insufficiency has now been medically determined to be negligible.

The second unexpected occurrence with stone relatives had to do with building an apacheta, a stone cairn.  They are often encountered in landscapes, roughly pyramidal piles of stones.  I’ve thought of them as markers, perhaps pointing the way, but hadn’t given them much thought.  Nearing the end of the course we were instructed, again with careful attention to detail, on building an apacheta.  It was explained that the Earth has meridians, as do our own bodies, and that apachetas serve as acupuncture points.  A well-fed apacheta, one that is maintained with reverence, feeds energy to the Earth.

Due to planned deck construction on the property where I live, I didn’t begin my apacheta until after the course ended, the instructions no longer pressing.  One day I just began, the stones themselves seemingly finding their places.  Even the top stone, a large smooth egg, some days earlier broken by a careless bicycle tire, had something to teach.  My heart had sunk when, toppled, it had split length-wise in three parts.  When it came time to place it where it was meant to go all along, its three parts were held in place by the smaller stones wedging it in.  The fissures were noticeable, but barely.  Except for one small diamond-shaped fragment nearing the top that stuck out a bit.  The next morning that fragment protruded still further and I lifted it out of its chink to investigate.  Promptly an earwig, who apparently had used one of the tight inner cracks as a vertical corridor, stuck her head out then flashed me her pincers –like a flustered housewife scolding this hapless intruder.  Quickly I returned the fragment.  The apacheta was occupied –and I say “her” because  (as I later learned) mother earwigs devotedly guard their young until they are grown!

Each day I sweep around the apacheta, add a small offering –a sprinkling of blue corn meal or pure water, a new stone, a bit of moss or sprig of pine, a seed pod, a feather…  Not the prescribed tobacco or Florida Water, things rich in meaning for someone else but, for my own use, disconcerting.  Tending the stones stirs my heart with such ineffable tenderness.  I’ve grown to love the apacheta, to look forward to stepping outside first thing in the morning to be with it.  Clearly in this simple act of ritually feeding the Earth I too am being nourished –the ever-flowing dance of Ayni.  I think of Alice Walker’s words “anything we love can be saved” and for the first time they dance in my heart.  There is magic in love, in loving the world with our whole heart.  And from that love acting on its behalf in whatever way we are called.

I am reminded also that in my second grade classroom, on the windowsill sat a tiny painted house.  The roof had a slot where the children dropped coins for the “pagan babies”.  Unless they were baptized in our “one true religion”, we were told, these children could not enter heaven, living out eternity in the shadow world of limbo.  Even then, at age seven, I recoiled from the stinginess of that belief.  Somehow I knew that the world held more promise than that.  Perhaps because twice already I had been uprooted, at age 3-1/2 from my native Nicaragua, and at 5 from Honduras to the U.S. –both times fleeing dictatorial regimes…

Back in the days when the word was a slur, pantheism provided a refuge for me.  It held the view that the totality of nature is identical with what some call “the Divine” or “God”.  I had not then connected the dots but I know now that the natural love of the Earth from which these “pagan babies” had to be “saved” was the same love for the smallest of creatures that since childhood throbbed numinously in my own heart.  In every blade of grass the Mystery is vibrantly alive and felt and visible for anyone seeing with indigenous eyes…

 

Shamanic wisdom and Dimensional communication with Don Oscar Miro-Quesada

Earwigs and Baby Earwigs

Using Stones for Personal Growth
http://www.lovesedona.com/stones.htm

Matthew Fox, theologian, on patriarchal religion, The Hobby Lobby, etc.  7-6-14
http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/104447

Possum Story

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Two baby foxes arrived recently at WildCare,  the Marin  wildlife rehab center, in a humane trap.  A well-meaning homeowner, suspecting an animal had taken up residence beneath the home, set out a trap –inadvertently separating the kits from their parents.  Fortunately, these dewy youngsters were in perfect health and were re-united with mom and dad.  Once again it’s baby season… and, tucked just out of sight, small families all around us are rustling.

A precious memory came flooding back…  Two decades ago in a two-story San Francisco Edwardian where I lived, it had become clear that critters were living in the basement.  Not knowing any better, I fastened a wire mesh grid over an opening on the street side of the house that, at eye-level, gave visual access to the utility meter readings.  Situated between the garage door and the concrete wall of the front stairs leading up to the front door, the opening was also beneath my bedroom window on the top floor.  The next morning before sunrise I was awakened by a loud rattling.

Running down two flights to the basement, I discovered that a mother possum was trying to pry the grid off –and inside were seven or eight very distressed babies squeaking and running around on a high workbench from where they could see their mom.  Since the grid was fastened from the outside, I thought it best to as quickly as possible take the babies out to her.  I couldn’t simply open the garage door for fear the racket would scare mama off.   I put on gloves to not get my scent on the kids.  The first two were easy to gently pluck from the bench.  I ran up one flight of inside stairs to the front door and down a flight to the sidewalk.  She freaked when she saw me, backing up against a wall, hissing and splayed out to look as menacing as she could, but I immediately put the babies down on the ground and they ran up and climbed onto their mom.

Back into the house I went, trying to calm the pounding of my heart.  Got another baby, went back outside, same as before, except that mama was calmer.  Flew back inside, got another, but this time when I opened the front door mama was already there waiting at the top of the stairs.  I put the baby down and softly closed the door.  Two or three more times I repeated this –she patiently waiting– then went back down to look around in case there was anyone I might have missed.  No one else was in sight.  Peering carefully into crannies I spotted one more little guy.  He had moved into a precarious position closer to the opening where he had last seen his mom.  Old construction had been left unfinished there, and when he saw me he retreated into a narrow space between walls where I would not be able to reach him if he chose to go further.  Panic clutched my chest at the thought that this frightened baby could be left behind.  Everything depended on this little one allowing himself to be caught.

I backed away from him, went up to sit at the top of the stairs and began slow mindful breathing to bring myself to neutral.  When calm I slowly approached him; he was now in the open.  Through some miracle he remained still.  Enfolding him gently in my hand I ran upstairs, opened the front door, set him down where mama was still waiting.  In the same instant that he reached her and climbed aboard, she whirled out the iron gate, jumped up onto the stairs’ masonry wall and clambered up through the thick woody vines of the bougainvillea that reached all the way to the roof and vanished.

I was left stunned and jubilant and vibrating with awe by the mom’s tenaciousness and loyalty and care –not budging until she had every last one of her babies.  Also humbled by the miracle of her knowing exactly how many constituted all of her babies.  Even this many years later the memory brings fresh tears, bathing me once again in the miracle of her profound and desperate mother love, that for the sake of keeping together her entire little family she chose to risk everything to trust me.

That mom taught me a huge lesson that day… to pay attention to the seasons… to make no changes whatsoever that might disrupt the small families making their start in our midst.

 

Africa 1984: Life and Death

Lisa OkavangoDelta1984

 

 

I had for so long taken for granted that I would not live past 40 that nowhere on my radar screen appeared any such thing as a long-term goal.  Imbued with unbridled curiosity, I was a perpetually impassioned learner exploring multiple interests but with no reason to sink roots.   A vague sense of a spectre at my shoulder was never far, calmly ready should that crucial moment arise, not in a way that was morbid, merely watchful, an aspect of myself through which I looked out at the world.  Periodically from out there would come small jagged reminders.  Once in my early twenties when my then-husband and I were on a road trip through the Southwest on his Harley, the stretch of freeway we were on was quaking with the tonnage of commercial transport trucks which sandwiched us all around.  The mud flaps of the rumbling behemoth directly in front bore the dirt-splotched message, “At road’s end you will see Jesus”.  A ripple of fear snaked through me.  And just as quickly, knowing I had no control over this situation and nothing I could do to change it, I resigned my life to whatever the outcome… and the moment passed.  Much later as integration closed the gaps of my wholeness, the alerts morphed organically into gentle inner reminders whenever the day of any anticipated event came and went: so too will come and go the day of my death.

At 40 I left for Africa to fulfill a life-long dream.  Since I was a toddler crawling among hens, animals have always accompanied me and taught me, and I yearned to experience Africa, its creatures and the land in all their mythic wildness.  I’d arranged to hook up in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a seven-week overland expedition.  That open-sided army-convoy-type truck trundled us through several countries including Botswana (home of my coveted Okavango Delta, first sighted on TV’s National Geographic), crossing the Kalahari desert, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and winding up in Nairobi, Kenya. Along the way stopping in villages to buy supplies, sleeping most nights under mosquito nets strung from trees, exploring whatever invited our attention.  Such exquisite intoxication this previously inconceivable freedom…

Because I had no certainty if or how I’d be returning home, no reason existed to hold back anything.  In no way was I courting death but neither skirting it.  Into or out of that blithe unquestioning openness spilled experiences which, to this day, the mere memory enfolds me with wonder, leaving me suspended in numinous reverie.  But the me at journey’s inception was a physical, secular me focused on the grand adventure I’d envisioned, not yet aware of how much more lay beyond my own knowing.  My primal bond with the earth and with animals profoundly stirred my soul, soothed and delighted me and gave me a sense of belonging.  But I did not perceive in those feelings anything other than natural.  Because I had early on vehemently rejected religion, forced on me in my youth, and with that rejection unknowingly discarded the spiritual reality to which religions attempt to point, I had developed a deeply ethical way of being in the world that relied on me, on my mind and heart, my intuition and instinct, and I could not conceive or experience a formless plenitude out of which I originated, from which I was inseparable, and that in any fashion took note of me.

All that I had expected to be thrilling –the elephants, the lions, the zebras, the hippos, the land and sky– turned out to be almost breathlessly entrancing, beyond anything I could have dreamed.  But even before encountering the animals, almost from the moment Johannesburg’s painful and surreal apartheid-era oppressiveness was left behind, once out on rural roads, seemingly out of nowhere something other became detectable.  Something.. a vibrational quickening altogether unexpected which I had never contemplated because even as I’d stitched together every detail of preparation for the trip I’d been in a kind of inner tunnel.  On crossing out of South Africa into Gaborone, Botswana we pulled off-road on a rise overlooking an open-air market that seemed an energetic sea of black faces and brilliant-hued textiles.  Something I can’t fully describe broke open in me, a mix of rootedness and freedom, elation and quiet sense of coming home, and along with it the long-buried crust around the memory of my family’s pride in its European heritage while denying our Miskito roots –and I the dark-skinned child overhearing it all and absorbing the rejection.

And it hit me.  That humming presence I’d been feeling in the air, gathering strength the farther we got from Johannesburg, was the life-force of Africans themselves, their unfettered vibrancy and generosity and rainbow colors, their warm simplicity and robust engagement with life, their inextricable connection to the land and to the immediacy and joy of the moment in spite of conditions often ranging from meager to numbing.  Again and again ordinary situations –a mid-day stop for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under the one tree in a vast Tanzanian plain, watching two tiny figures on foot way in the far off distance– turned out to reveal immense and indelible richness.  Arriving dusty and accepting water, these Maasai men, regal in their traditional red garb and serious faces, broke into wide smiles at the Swahili I’d been nurturing for nine months. In the course of our conversation –they feeding me the words I lacked– it came to light that one of them, the more chatty of the two, counted among his four languages, the clipped British English he’d acquired as a student at Oxford.  Drawn back to Africa by the love of the land, he wore dangling from his neck the tiny beaded leather pouch filled with a pinch of soil and the dried golden grass of his wide savannah…

I returned home cracked open… unrecognizable even to myself.  For weeks afterwards weeping in the shower for more than could yet be known… feeling like all the pieces that had made up who I once was had flung themselves into the air and when they fell back rearranged themselves in ways that even the simplest procedures had to be re-membered.

That venture at age 40 turned out to be, up to that time, my most conscious surrender to the all-encompassing nature of life, eyes wide open as I waded in to meet what I believed would be my physical death –and encountered instead a passage through a form of death, a transition that initiates, that lifts the veil on a yet larger reality.  I see now that it was my first true baptism –into the World, a world expanded light-years beyond the cocoon of my American-acculturated self with its generally unrecognized buffers of privilege and the self-soothing therapy of consumerism.  Only later would I come to find that during that entire year, synchronistically, Jupiter (expansion) had been transiting my natal Venus (values) in my 9th House of foreign travel…

That paradigm-altering leap into the unknown whetted a thirst in me to know more.  Africa initiated me into a decade of traveling solo and shoestring in Earth-based cultures.  In most of those travels it was a deep inner directive that prompted the journey and the destination.  I merely heeded the call, showing up with little more than a general sense of an itinerary, rarely with reserved accommodations or transport connections, allowing the journey to unfold through the synchronicities that confirmed I was being led.  Always at the core was my desire to see for myself parts of the whole unknown to me and, in doing so, to come  to recognize my own deepest values.

Out of this emerged an intention to live exuberantly and to whole-heartedly celebrate the primal life-force first encountered in Africa.  As I write this it becomes ever more clear this is what my life wants of me –to be present to whatever touches my heart, always letting the learning gift me with new eyes, and to listen closely among all that speaks to me for that one most subtle call that slows me to my most attentive stillness, not knowing where it will lead me…

~~* ~~
The young man in the photo, whose name my memory can no longer retrieve, was one of the wonderful guides who accompanied us, a group of seven women, into the Okavango Delta.  They poled the dugouts that took us through the tall reeds of the flooded plain to an island in the delta, and they made home out of our bare camp for the several days of our stay.  What I most remember were our lovely evenings under bright stars, amidst the music of night birds and insects, all of us hunched on the  ground around the campfire, talking, sharing stories, eating fish the men caught and grilled, later when conversation had quieted, one of them strumming honeyed notes out of a simple wood and string harp-like instrument as the glow of fire played on our faces…  Magical… and a dream come true…

 

Volcanos, gophers & miracles

mount-st-helens 1973

 

In the spring of 1980 Mount St. Helens, dormant for 120 years, woke up with the largest volcanic eruption in 100 years in North America.  The explosion left behind a lunar landscape that stretched over hundreds of thousands of acres and wiped out all life in an area of 200 square miles.  Nearby Spirit Lake was choked with debris, raising its bed more than 200 feet.  Due to the unexpected and unimaginable devastation and because Mount St. Helens is one of nearly 500 volcanos in  the Pacific Ring of Fire, studying the volcano became scientists’ top priority.  Massive effort went into discovering all that the mountain could tell, seismology equipment graphing every minute rumble for patterns that could help predict future activity.  Within weeks, when the toxic clouds of steam cleared, seismologists were on the ground, as close as possible to the crater.

From low flying helicopters every inch of ground was surveyed for signs of life.  Nothing for three months, then one day in a vast field of grey ash eight miles from the crater a small mound of brown disturbed soil.  Returning on foot, biologists discovered a pocket gopher.  Because they live underground protected by soil, some would have survived, and here was this little guy busy doing reconstruction –work familiar, though seldom appreciated, in our urban gardens.  In the days that followed more gophers were spotted.  All bent on their task of burrowing out from beneath feet of ash.

The following spring after snows had receded and helicopter searches for life once again resumed, a clump of color was spotted four miles from the crater in the pumice plain where all life had been extinguished. There, in full bloom, was a single plant of prairie lupine –the first sign of new life in a year.  Like the gopher, the prairie lupine is a pioneering species especially equipped to survive and even to thrive in conditions impossible for others.  Within a few years gophers had moved into the pumice plain, lupines providing their food while gophers enriched the pumice by burrowing their way through the ash, mixing in fresh soil and helping new plants to spread.

So too Spirit Lake had fallen into toxic swoon.  Smothered by debris and choked by deadly gases, it had suffered an explosion of deadly bacteria that had rapidly consumed all oxygen, finishing off all air-breathing life: fish, amphibians and insects.  For three years there was nothing, the lake essentially dead.  Then, as the debris settled and sunlight improved, a water sample showed the return of phytoplankton, microscopic plants that turn sunlight into oxygen.  They are the basic building blocks of aquatic life –and they had been brought in by birds or blown in by the wind.

In time, as the lupines and other scrubby plants increased –creating islands of vegetation in the mounds of turned-over soil provided by gophers– the elk returned.  In their travels their hooves collapsed gopher tunnels, in turn creating cool safe havens for small amphibians to take hold and replenish the lake.

This is the web of life, our sacred Mother Earth resplendent in her magnificence.  Every being, seen or unseen, mammoth or infinitesimal, dependent on and nourishing every other.  If ever we have needed to remember we are all in this together, needing all of our teammates onboard, it is now…

Mount St. Helens – Back from the Dead

And here the web of life at work in the nuclear-ravaged area of Chernobyl…

 

For You, Great-Grandmother…

Mama Luisa

 

 

Early on, my great-grandmother Mama Luisa became for me a magnetic pull, electrified by my mom’s confiding –in response to my endless questions– that Luisa had been “stolen off the street” by great-grandfather Tonio.

Later, when poetry was the ear into which I poured my deepest longings to make sense of who I was in relation to my family with its power struggles, secrets and fears, its denials and bitter discord, I had woven together the bits I’d been told into a plea of sorts to this woman I never knew but to whom I felt curiously bound:

Luisa, who was he to you? the man Tonio
who like a bandido hijacked your life,
wrenching you from girlhood into his coach…
Did your eyes linger on him the way his eyes
held you?   In the days before he stole you,
had he followed you as you wove Managua’s
streets selling homemade dulces?
Had he touched your hand, hoping?
In his coach that day, did your young girl’s
heart race as he professed his… love?
Did any part of you consent?  Or did he whirl
you away, heedless of your cries,
horses fleeing beneath the whip?
I’ve heard that you were lovely, elegant brow
of your dead Spanish mother, your father’s
raven Miskito eyes; that Tonio, smitten,
took what you would not give.

Luisa, within high walls of Tonio’s
quinta, what illusions withered as you flung
yourself against locked doors?
Lost to your frantic father, sisters, how long
was it before you spent your shuddering useless
tears?  Was it, at last, when Tonio’s child inside
you moved?  Eight sons and daughters you bore,
you and Tonio laying five into their graves.
Half a century later, how did you feel
when only on his deathbed, urged by the padre
as a condition of last rites, did he deign
to marry you?

Luisa, I have no child’s memory of you,
only the heirloom of your mythic saintliness,
your woman’s place beneath your man, thrust
on my grandmother, mi abuelita, passed on
to her daughter, my own mother.  In pale mirror
I see you swallow your hombre’s rages,
draw around you veils of dissimulation
–as Abuelita did, as Mom still does–
pass your beads through quiet fingers,
look to heaven for your reward….

Luisa, would you be proud that I place no man
above myself, and spit out what you could not?
Or caged too long, would you balk
at an open door, mute,
as I sing out your song?
_____

In my adult life I never lived beneath the subjection that was the normal home-life of my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother.  But my childhood experience of being trapped in its midst had lodged deep, like a bad gene to be guarded against.  That fear kept me primed for flight, and allowed no one to come close enough to step between me and the door.

What a long winding road…

As an adolescent, lashing out at home against the combined religious rigidity of parochial school nuns, “infallible” priests and Mom’s prayerful martyrdom in the face of Pop’s infantile tyranny rendered me the trouble-maker –the designated patient.  All I knew was I could see that elephant in the room.  No matter how whatever had just happened in plain sight was twisted or wholly denied, I would repeat to myself “I saw that… I saw it! ” and burn the image into my mind as proof –if only to myself– that I was not going mad.  Still, always constricting my breath loomed the fear of losing my footing on ground that never ceased shifting.

And at 12, my most fateful year, an unfathomably shocking incident instantly tumbled me into mute dissociation, a hazy gray parallel realm where I remained for some months, sleep-walking on tip-toes, invisible as family members shuffled around me.  I later emerged as silently and as unnoticed as I had disappeared.  But some part of me had not made the return trip and for the next decade I lived in exile in the midst of family –barely present, wandering far away in the pages of books.

Once I had finally fled home at 21, I knew –though I was nowhere near being conscious– that I wanted a life in no way resembling what I’d known.  The marriage I entered into at 23 was left behind seven years later at my first Saturn Return.  Emerging from that I was certain of only one thing– neither marriage nor motherhood was, or ever had been, something I desired.  At that point the most I could imagine for myself was the freedom to close the door behind me and breathe in peace undisturbed.  My tubes now tied and my mind set on experimenting my way into discovering who I was, I set out to “seek my fortune” –words magically charged in all the fairy tales that, as a child, had accompanied me and given me a template for finding my way out of the thicket.  These simple tales later led me to the classical myths, sacred stories of ancient cultures, that in times of darkness lit my way as I too took the heroic descent and return of Inanna.
[ interpretation ]

Instinctively I had always known –long before I understood why I questioned everything– that my life depended on understanding and releasing the family pattern.  But at age 12 I was still five decades away from having any notion that its legacy could be karmic or that Mama Luisa herself was key to unlocking the shackles.  That year  Mom was in profound depression and tending to her new infant, her fifth child and the first boy.  Apart from the small animals who daily mended my soul, there was no one to turn to, no one to tell. My devastating interlude became one more family secret.  Survival equated only with pulling inward, staying sufficiently out of sight, until the day I could walk away.  Hyper-vigilance, staying one step ahead of what was brewing around me, was my only defense against the sudden violent vortex of being caught unaware.  Once I was out on my own, there had been rounds of psychotherapy, but I continued to keep most everyone at arm’s length.  Not until age 33, in a blessedly conscious and intimate relationship that continues to this day as soul-deep friendship, did I break the surface into learning to trust.

Though astrology had much earlier entered my life, its fascination did not plunge me into serious study until, synchronistically, my Pluto square Pluto at age 42 coincided with a volcanic rage that suddenly hurled itself bellowing out of some inner subterranean realm.  From here my life became about winding deeper and deeper by every means possible into that dark fathomless warren inhabited by unseen, half-seen, always-shifting but no less real energies.  Through that long passage I often feared for my sanity.  But never did it occur to me to turn back.  Imperceptibly I gained a deepening sense of myself as a transpersonal cluster of innumerable forces under no one’s control.

What can be inscrutable mysteries of the psyche are unpacked for scrutiny by the map of consciousness that is the astrological chart with its evocative mythical language and ability to freeze-frame the shifting components of crisis or any given moment of life.  Over time the inner cast of characters, distinct, dynamic and paradoxical, became recognizable, each intent on expressing.  Every inner clash became instruction.  The archetypes involved, the cycles when they were active, were plumbed for insight, waded into and lived. Once felt, owned and allowed to be, they tempered and the conflicts among them lost their edge.

Even wholly knowing that this mysterious gift works, I am still often left open-mouthed with wonder at the endless ability of astrology to peer into whatever is being sought,  to home in on what is burnished in the soul.  So it was that in 2012 the chart first came to reveal the karmic tie I had always felt with Mama Luisa.

In mid-2013 an undeniable felt shift in my body began signaling that this work was done.  Not all, no bottom exists to be reached, but enough:  all relevant layers of buried psychic material related to the four generations…  all relevant debris from Mom’s religious terror of her rebellious daughter’s trajectory to “burning in hell for eternity”…  all relevant internalized and projected distortions in me of power and the lack of it, of being unworthy or unsafe…   Done!  No matter how relentlessly Mom had been driven to break me of the curse of refusing to bend before any codified and lifeless view of a personal “god”, and no matter the decades I continued to wage that war with her and anyone I perceived to be challenging my own small authority that even “I” didn’t believe in, what ultimately has survived is the unstoppable, ever-creating-and-renewing desire of Life to know itself as expressed through the prism of my own wildly individual experience.

The healing, the sense of once again being in possession of that which had been lost –along with the wisdom gained and the tale wanting to be told– are not solely mine.  They reverberate back through at least four generations to Mama Luisa.  And –“as above, so below, as within, so without”– the growing surrender and lightness of being reflect on endlessly… This, then, this returning home to oneself, the wiser for the journey, is the elixer, the boon, the sought and prized Holy Grail.

Listening into the murmurs…

texas-mockingbird-david-cutts

 

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

–Rumi

 

February brought my 70th birthday, and three days later I was wakened by an inner flow of words keenly addressing the vague unrest that for some weeks had been roiling in me.  Just days before, in the midst of that turbulence an intuitive pull had abruptly landed me in a writing course already in progress.  Though I resist discipline and was unclear why I was there, its invitation to the daily rhythm of self-unveiling –journal and responsive community always within reach– morphed into the perfect vehicle to support the dreamtime guidance that presented itself to me with such startling clarity:

“You are guiding yourself through a time of great change where nothing is as you’ve known it, where certainty or confidence in your familiar way of knowing has dissolved, and there is nothing to do but feel your way through the dark.  You are afraid of not knowing, of not doing it right.  But in truth, there is nothing here to be known or that can be known, nothing to get right or to fail.  There is only being with what’s arising, accompanying yourself with exquisite, tender devotion.”

Bathing me in that ineffable peace with which the soul signals congruence with an action taken, those words led me to surrender –trusting that this stream of all possibilities pulling me along would inexorably wind its way, at any hint of my growing capacity turning out into wider waters beyond my own knowing.  I’m reminded of Rilke who, in Letters to a Young Poet, said:  “If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; …many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.”

At midnight some ten days later as I sat at my computer writing –feeling into the visceral sensation of what I was trying to convey, and simultaneously feeling for the vibrational resonance of the one word arising whose frequency exquisitely matches– a mockingbird, a newcomer to my windy hilltop, began singing his heart out.  He continued for days –day and night– accompanying me.  I thrilled to the beauty and intricacy and non-stop thrust of his delivery, and also wondered with a tinge of alarm: when does he sleep? when does he eat?  He sang on impassioned, a one-of-a-kind froth of trills and whistles, warbles and chatters and chirps, mixing up the borrowed bits as he went, seemingly pressing me, instructing me, This is how it’s done! just begin! and again! and again without-stopping leaping into the new…”

So here am I, also a burbling convergence of many streams… also an unbridled learner, a dabbler and borrower pulled along far afield…  I too love the dawn hours, my receptors prone to catching its murmurings, its precious secrets…  I too feel the subtle stirrings which, because I heed them, then show up as future transformed, in whatever guise, as invitation.  Everything, everything, seen and unseen, is alive and always communicating.  Such a long winding road this journey of mine… more years than I ever imagined would be granted.  Now here at this juncture an inner pull to slow down and to savor… to pull out remembrances and intimations like delicate baubles held up to the light… to reflect and always to marvel at how magically all the threads find their place in the tapestry…

I so warmly welcome you who have found your way here.  This post is an introduction, a welcome –and the page a tentative foray through the daunting thicket of WordPress .  The look of the space will be changing.  Experimentation will chip away this linear structure to make it more a home.  What’s vital is to launch on this New Moon in Aries, the combined energies of Sun-Moon-Uranus conspiring blessings for any impassioned and exploratory endeavor. And yes! Mockingbird is still singing away!