The Eternal Gift Shop

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The very first episode of my very first self-hosted radio show aired last week. The show is on Whidbey Air and is called “Ear Candy (a piece of sound candy for your mind to suck on)” and the episode was called “The Eternal Gift Shop”. The scripting went something like this, and is purposely in sync with the season:

Welcome to the The Eternal Gift Shop.

What’s in this ethereal souvenir booth for tourists and wayfarers like you and me? Postcards from the edge”? Trinkets wrapped in soulful paper? Things that jingle, dangle, tinkle from the inside out? Surprises?

In childhood, there’s an expectation, an ideal; there’s magic to gifts- it’s that thing you’ve always wanted sparkling in your mind’s eye, rattling lifelike in the toy store of your imagination. . . and sometimes it’s that thing you’ve never ever wanted or never even thought of before, but it appears to you, as a gift from the world’s lost and found, something like Phil Harris found in his song “The Thing” (I’d recommend looking up the lyrics, it’s quite funny, and crescendos with ‘get outta here with that boom boom boom before I call the cops!’ A “gift” with some unpleasant twists for sure).

When it’s our turn to be the giver of gifts, we get to turn the twist around; we get to surprise others and hope their eyes will shine. Even if the gift is not worthy of what the receiver should receive, there is something so shiny and shimmery about the act of giving itself, the gift . . . of giving. I heard someone once say, “it only lives when you give it away,” (Bruce Cockburn).

Some gifts can truly surprise us, not wrapped in silver or slathered in pink frosting, but by themselves, naked, without paper or ribbons, sitting quietly under our feet or scented subtly under our noses; they are legacies, remnants of love from the people who love us; they are acts of service, acts of kindness.

Gifts can also be treasures disguised as hidden pennies at the root of a sycamore tree or the outlines of birds costumed as the outlines of our souls taken into pure magical flight. Mary Oliver once said in her poem, “The Uses of Sorrow”, that “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”

They come in so many shapes and sizes, don’t they?

What gift will you unwrap in the darkness or in the starlight or in the splendor of broad day?

What will you take away from the Eternal Gift Shop?

Thank you for “listening”.

Giving Thanks in the Diorama of the Day

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“We are each surrounded by an enormous silence that can be a blessing and a help to us, but from which we often turn away in dread and fear, a silence in which the skein of reality is knitted and unraveled to be knit again, in which the perspective of a work or a life or a relationship can be enlarged and enriched. Silence is like a cradle holding our endeavors, our will and our understanding in ways that allow them to grow and thrive; a cultivated and silent spaciousness sustains us and at the same time connects us to larger worlds that, in the busyness of our daily struggle to achieve, we have yet to investigate. Silence is fearful exactly because in its spacious depths lies both the soul’s sense of rest and its possible break for freedom.”

Taken from Adapted from Crossing the Unknown Sea:Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte

If I am carving out silence right now. I am enjoying the patterns of light creating joyful ghosts of illumination on the piano in my living room that the sun in companionship with the remnant storm are making. I am aware of a limited time set up to sit in this silent spaciousness. Awareness feels so important. So does gratitude. I am aware of the green statue sitting across from me- a long-haired lady also being touched by the sunlight, her candle holder glowing this time, not with fire, but with light. I am aware of the shimmering, sizzling shadows created by the shivering tree branches outside.

I am also aware of the potential. A guitar sitting in the corner. A notebook of songs. There is a sacredness here.in the silence. Is this what life is all about?

For this moment, yes. I guess each moment is crafted differently, in its own holiness. I am in the bowl of my living room. A hollow of holiness. It is a living sculpture where light can dance with shadow. It is a shadow box. It is a diorama. And I am in it. I am a living sculpture sitting and noticing the things that dance and play on this stage. Sometimes I will dance, and sometimes I will watch, eyes glowing, heart leaping in the audience. And yet, I still get to be a part of it all. Wherever I bring myself, there I am. The diorama of the day.

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.

 

What does the Mandala of your soul look like?

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I am gazing at a picture of a beautiful mandala made entirely of stones. Each one is painted differently. Some with curly fronds, others with symmetrical floral knots, but all silhouettes of the natural world. The center is a lacy confection of white designs feathered onto a brown rock, reminiscent of gingerbread. I don’t usually think of mandalas this way. Rock and stone. Silhouettes and gingerbread. I usually see painted glowing swirls of geometrics, looking luminous and celestial on a shaving of paper or a sheet of canvas. But I look at this one and think, “why not?” What does the mandala of my soul look like? What illumination do the interiors create for me and others at this moment? Is it a gingerbread stone, bringing complexity and joy all at once to my own self, then fingering them out through gifts of awareness of beauty to those around me? Is mine a windy labyrinth where trust is illuminated only one footstep at a time, but you can hear the pulse and voice of birdsong over the twisting walls, radiating both toward and away from me? Is it a field of fallen leaves creating an overlapping pattern of both life and death, beginnings and endings, sugar maple red, and rich compost brown, delicately trailing paths of newness and rebirthing all around?

 

What is the mandala of your soul today?

Day of the Living

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Today, at 48 years old, I am dressing up. Am I going to a Halloween party? Do I have school aged children to promenade with in all my splendor door to door for trick or treating? No and no. I choose to dress up on the eve of the Day of the Dead to celebrate the Day of the Living. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do respect, even enjoy the Day of the Dead. It is an opportunity for families to celebrate the lives of those who have passed and even invite them to sit down for another kind of spirit, a drink, and a calaveras poem recitation to remember and commemorate that person’s unique quirky contribution to the world. And, just as the Aztecs once asked their progeny not to cry on this day, so that the spirits of their loved ones didn’t slip on their way home, so I, too, choose not to cry (just for today!), but to laugh. And if tears come from too many giggles, well, perhaps the departed will just have to slide around a bit and giggle as they try to keep their balance. Today I choose to dance on the threshold. To let my shadow side give me a whirl on the masquerade floor and perhaps give me a tickle under my arms. To relish the gifts of life as we come face to face with the mysteries of death. Today, as a citizen of the living, I choose to live!

All Bodies, All Souls

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photo by Ginny Schneider

“The Body Is A Fragile Thing” is the name of a poem written by Judith Deem Dupree. It’s title and opening line has stuck with me now for two and a half decades. It rings true because the body is fragile, and yet, fiercely strong, strangely tolerant, and puzzlingly persevering. This week I faced both a potentially fatal infection in my daughter’s leg, and a potentially fatal surgery on my sister’s liver. Two scenarios. Two different hospitals.Two bodies. Three (thankfully) resilient souls (including mine).

I am always astonished at how the marriage of body and soul creates vows that are so secretive, yet so powerful. My daughter’s vows must have included, “I promise to trust you, stay with you, and relax into the possibility of a cure as long as it takes.” My sister’s might have been: “I will love you and fight for you until the day I die!” Both great vows for sure.

I wrote a poem a year or so back entitled, “The Marriage of Body and Soul” that included my own set of vows. It started like this:

“Do you, elbowed and ankled form take this soul to be your lawfully wedded wife?

I do.

Do you, sobbing, smiling, sentient, seeker take this body to be your patient earthly partner?

I do.

Do you promise to embrace her flesh in the full times, the fat times, the thin times, and in the ever-fluctuating ever-fascinating in-between?

I do.”

So, I guess my question for you today, my question for all of us, is, during this season of “all souls” and “all bodies”, do you  and will you always say, “I do”?

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.

Living in the Sea of “What Is”

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photo by Gina Marie Mammano

Today followed a yesterday of tears. A difficult diagnosis for someone very close. So, the slow, but sacred morning dictated a hearty bowl of oatmeal laced with blueberries and then a daylong fast to seek out clarity. And focus. Breath. “I do not want to live the drama of panic, fear, anxiety and life projected out months into the future; I do not want to live in the melancholy of wistfulness, regret, and sentimentality of the past. What does it mean to live in the gentle sorrow of today, and today only?”

I chose to begin my journey by hiking down a forested path that opens up to a beach at the bottom. I lay down on a large, toppled tree, and let the sun bleach the sand out of me, bleach the pearls out of me, bleach me raw. It felt good. Simple. To be in the body, and the heart, with nature as soul companion, a wise choice. I lay there, noticing the free flowing streams of tears moving down my face, the integrity of this, as well as the commitment to myself to not project into the future the worries and fears that might loom there. I realized that this is living in the sea of “what is”. I don’t know tomorrow. All I know is that I am here. And I am o.k. Sad, yes. Concerned. Yes. Warmed by the sun. Yes. But o.k. for today.

I ended the day finding some sweet peas. Smelling their aroma and admiring their colors. Taking a breath. Each day is filled with so many things.

Breath-ful

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A friend of mine said to me, “breath is everything”. I couldn’t help but be narrow-eyed and jaded. “Everything?” I asked. That’s a big word.

“It’s the beginning of everything. Everything starts from the breath,” she continued.

Still muddled, though less jaded, I started to let that thought work its marinade at the back of my mental refrigeration storage unit. It sat there for awhile.

And then, a few days later, events entered my life that created anxiety. An emergency here. A major worry there, my mind and soul whirring off of their mountings. Breathe. Just breathe, I remembered. It’s the simplest thing I can do. It’s the one thing I can do successfully right now if I take the time to do it thoughtfully, intentionally. In this time of spinning outward into the stratosphere, I can center on the very thing that gives me life: breathing. I can give myself this gift of life within the twirling chaos.

Breathing. It isn’t everything, but it is the beginning of everything. Sometimes paring life down to bare bones beginnings can open up worlds in us that may lead to other places. Better places.I’m banking on it; I’m breathing on it.