Collecting

 

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As our little group gathered into a bouquet of faces that represented so many poignant things to me– constancy, enduring relationship, shared history, valued friendship, unique interpersonal alchemies– I realized once again the value of intentional collecting. Not just once, not just twice, but over and over again.

Collecting for a milestone celebration (like a rite of passage), collecting for a documentary movie night, collecting for good food and the sharing of current creative projects– can naturally lead to eventually collecting for support during a health crisis, or collecting for a time of guidance, or collecting for some cheerful encouragement amid the long term difficulties of aging. But it seems to me, the key for intentional collecting is making it a practice. Not a droll, dull, gotta gotta do it practice, but a lovely, can’t wait to see them, this will give my soul a breather, this is gonna be great! practice.

As I looked at this lovely collection of women in a warm honey-toned living room on a winter’s day, celebrating my 50th year with no-holds-barred dancing and breezy, contemplative walks, I realized that these are also the faces I hope to see when arthritis sets in and loss is the topic of the day. And we’ll only get there if we practice. Practice, practice, practice! Making hot tea together alongside heaps of Mulberry paper and cardstock to create notes of appreciation to the givers in our lives, singing show tunes and gnarly old hymns at a yearly apple picking gathering, or seeing each other for my 50th or her 40th or our 20th year together.

I don’t know about you, but I plan on collecting for a very long time . . . .

Agog in Summer

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photo courtesy of Rick Vander Kam

I woke up this morning agog. Alive in gratitude, openness, and grace (yes each beginning letter is part of that eye opening made-up acronym, though I don’t usually do that sort of thing). When you look up the word “agog”, the definition “very eager or curious to hear or see something” will appear. Almost as if the reader were “very eager or curious . . . to see something”.

When taken “seriously”, or rather, earnestly, what a way to start out the day! But what a curiously forgetful lotus-eating event happens the moment I wake up and find myself chained to the rowing benches of my usual mindset: “What do I have to do today . . . will I get it done in time . . . will it be good enough? That sounds tiring.” O.K. reverse. Back to the alarm, or the sun, or whatever woke me up.

“I wonder what will unfold today? What surprises? What delights? Of course, I’m good enough, but will I be able to remain awake enough to see what perks up or peeks open?” That’s better. Agog. Alive with Gratitude, Openness, and Grace. That’s what I wish to be. Maybe you do, too . . .

Swamp Lanterns

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Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a plant called, “skunk cabbage”. You may know it, as it sprouts up in other parts of the country as well. It appears as a yellow sconce of slick petals housing a small “wick” of seeds. It can be quite startling passing by a “barren” patch of a mud hole for most of the year, then seeing these “surprises” pop up as a roomful of yellow lights, populating the ground with color.

The other name for this plant is “swamp lantern”. I prefer this name. I think it represents the plant more elegantly, and truer to its form. A thing of beauty. A thing of brightness. The unexpected emerging from the thick and lightless.

For those of us who traverse often or not so often, through the mud, we are grateful for swamp lanterns as they appear- yellow and bright, a sudden burst of glow from seemingly out of nowhere. This metaphor can reach into so many corners. A loving, energizing phone call or email in the middle of the day. The peeking out of the sun, creating seams of light on hems of dark clouds. A kind gesture, simple and human.

May swamp lanterns appear in the muddy places throughout your week. And may you, yourself, be a swamp lantern as well.

The Clay of Love

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I was at a folk museum in Santa Fe, where each diorama held a cluster of clay figures that captured a life scene from whatever distant land they were carried from: an old church in Peru with all of its doll-like mud-people gathered in finely painted array, a conclave of Portuguese dolls with sad eyes themselves the shape of tears and dripping earlobes, an old fashioned American family, placed sterilely in the white-slick compartments of kitchen or bedroom, all together, all alone. I wanted to crawl up into each container and know what it was like to be made of Peruvian soil, under a turquoise sky next to my church-going compadres, or selling plump rounds of fruit with the scarved carved women in the liminal spaces of the retablo from Mexico. I even tried to project myself inside the glass. Imagine my spirit shrinking to 3-inch size so I could feel the fellow adobe arms against my own, or look up and hear the tinkle of the tiny bell way up inside the marzipan-like churches.

And then I thought, I wonder if that’s what Someone was thinking when the diorama of the earth was set in place, saying quietly, “I wonder what it would be like to be clay? What if I could shrink myself into a million, a billion tiny people and feel the blazing Oaxacan sun on the melt of my skin, or sample the rum soaked wedding cake, as my heart is flooded with joy and anticipation of life lived together?” I wonder if that Someone really did it? Stared into this place, gawking with desire, and entered the rising clay- the little lumps forming forth into eyes, noses, and roundabout curves. I wonder if this is all an amazing experiment- an art project, where we are he and she are we and We get to dance and cry and eat and become the clay of Love.

 

Equinox and Equal Light with Equanitmity

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As the equinox of autumn slinks steadily toward us through elegant long-legged shadows, and glimmering streams of gold-tingedlight, I am reminded that “equinox” from the Latin means “equal night”. I guess we can also fairly call it autumn “equilucis” or “equal light” as well, because it is the time of year when sun and moon have equal chance at the bluescape of the sky, whether it be pale cerulean or midnight indigo.

It in the spirit of “equinox” and “equilucis” I see the opportunity for myself to become a set of balanced scales. I see myself on this threshold of autumn delicately tiptoeing onto, then standing strong and stately, upon the scales of equanimity.

One definition of equanimity is: “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation” with synonyms like “composure, calm, level-headedness, self-possession, presence of mind, self-confidence, poise, serenity, and imperturbability”.

I find myself this day seeking a place on that set of scales. I see myself deftly, carefully placing one foot onto one silver scale, and then gently onto the other. Then holding firm, eyes set on the horizon of both night and day.

I invite you here, too.

 

And This is Pure Truth, Pure Beauty

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The Art of Blessing The Day

by Marge Piercy

This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your splashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.

This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.

This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun.

This is the blessing for the first garden tomato:
Those green boxes of tasteless acid the store
sells in January, those red things with the savor
of wet chalk, they mock your fragrant name.
How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savor of summer in a thin red skin.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let’s not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends’
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

Walking the Coyote Rim of Love

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“Spirited Coyote” courtesy of the artist: Gretchen Grunt. gretchengrunt.com

The other night, miming the glass-box in the middle of my own vortex, trying to find my way out, I was drawn to Coyote. A few years back, on a lonely, ship-wrecked night, his solitary howl mirrored my own sorrow so well, that I have never forgotten it, and have always been grateful to that mysterious trickster-prowler who paces under a curtain of stars ever since.

I find sometimes the centrifugal force of my own life pulls me into itself roundly and voraciously. It can even be benevolent things that cause this: deeply wanting to help someone I love who is in need, listening intently, attentively, and graciously to another, engaging myself in the life of someone who could use a companion, but somehow I find myself at the center, the vortex, nonetheless.

And then, I remember my friend, Coyote. Dear Coyote. Coyote who walks and wanders at the edges of things. Coyote, who laughs wholeheartedly from the outside rim. Coyote who howls with blood curdling empathy from the hills beyond. Coyote, who knows how to stay out of the center, but at the heart.

This is a good lesson for me. My contribution to life and to people can be meaningful, empathetic, and soul-felt, but also more from a place of holding, arms surrounding and circling, gently observing, edge-walking, rather than swirling inside the center, finding it hard to breathe. I don’t have to place myself in the middle of the drama. I can actually contribute more by being in that inside-outside space. That Coyote space, roaming the hills, looking for ways to help, empathize, assist, but also carving out space for myself, a place to hear the stars breathe, and know the pulse of my own heartbeat.