Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cedar Weaving

I've been playing with cedar trees this week.  As work progresses on our property, I've felt this huge surge to be physically creative.  Gardens are going in, and I've been playing with branch weaving, yarn wrapping and weaving on strong Y sticks, and later, I'd like to start a basic small log shelter near my big birch tree (it takes three people to reach around it--a grand old lady).

The big outdoor projects are fun because they make me get off my butt. I love writing, but it's so refreshing to take a few days "off" and be creative in other ways.

I've been saving pill bottles to create little shakers, too--I'll be doing painting and what not on them as well--pictures later.  They have great sound!  I used popcorn inside, but for a softer voice, use rice, harsher voice, use small bits of gravel.  We have a drum circle coming up, and I wanted to to show folks how to make their own instruments--saved a Sweet Baby Ray's bottle, too--it has a huge open face for painting and it's own "handle".  Too funny,  Ketchup bottles would work great there, too!

OK, here are the pictures!

(Pea vine support in a triangular garden with rock and logs. We'll be filling with dirt and compost soon.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Modern Shamanism

I'm a fairly logic and word-driven person.  Yeah, I love poetry.  Yeah, I enjoy working with paint and music and getting plants to grow in the garden.  But all in all, I tend to be a pretty intellectually conservative soul. I like knowing.  I like words.  I like studying and research and putting things together, finding intricate patterns from scattered seeds.

In 2010, after my first bout with pneumonia and a breast biopsy, pretty small stuff compared to what would come three years later, I had an experience of being "met" by a spirit animal.  This spirit has shown up in dreams and what not since I was very small, and was usually a great comfort.  This time, though, she clawed me savagely, opening up terrible and gaping sternum-to-belly-button wounds. Then she encased me in clay, hauled me into a cave in a shallow depression and covered me with a blanket. I lay there, fetal, until some time later, I could creep to the side of the cave and look out over a warm, red desert landscape.

At the time, the imagery was incredibly real and it all shook me very much. I spent time with the Orca Circle, a shamanic group on Bainbridge Island and was deeply moved by the journey time they created as a group. But as it usually does, "life" began again and those experiences slipped away.  I went back to writing science fiction and comparative religion titles, and practicing Hatha Yoga and Buddhism.

Then, in 2013, a couple years of physical hell began.  Two gastric vovulous interventions with NG tubes, a paraesphageal hernia operation, three ventral hernia operations, a vaginal hysterectomy, two bouts with sepsis and a kidney infection and three kidney stones requiring intervention buffeted me and my family like tsunami waves. Then came the divorce, and through it all a terrible depression as my body seemed ripped from my own will.  I was just so much garbage, floating in foam and wreckage.

I still hadn't remembered the guardian spirit's strange response in 2010.

With each major illness, there came a time when the pain meds stripped away any attempt at thought. Time became strange, reality tipped and ran like watercolor over white hospital blankets. Any spiritual "techniques" were just beyond my grasp.  It was at these times that a creature showed up--some warm soul that simply sat with me, that I could smell, wrap my fingers in or feel the breathing presence of them.  The very first poem in this blog was about how standing with a horse in my heart kept me grounded and calm through being wide open in surgery and beyond--an experience that was far more "real" than all the many spiritual exercise, prayers and formal practices I know very well. It was like beneath this layer of man-made spirituality, something moves in my own self that is more primal and accessible in times of incredible physical, mental and emotional stress.

In 2016, my new husband and I bought land in northern Michigan.  50 acres of swamp and cedar, of ancient apple trees and a line of rocks that may have once been a fence, of three birch trees with girths the size of large oaks.  Limestone is littered everywhere, huge boulders thrust up from the forest floor and moss grows rampant in places, jeweled with tiny umbrella-like lichen.  The first thing I did that summer was play with rock--I thought I would make a Minoan labyrinth in my back yard.

But to my surprise, I found myself laying out a medicine wheel.

It just sort of happened.  It felt right.  I went and got my cell phone and laid out the compass directions, inscribing the circle with the help of my horse lunge line. Just a couple days after it was built, 15 turkeys paraded to it and spent half an hour scrounging around inside it's boundaries before forming up and marching back into the deep woods.  The circle "holds" the backyard, its northern line pointing to where our property unfurls slowly into its "back 40" acres.

And then life happened.  I wandered away, again into places of logic and "reasonable" behavior.  I wrote and worried about money and raised a litter of puppies and started two worship services that focus on spiritual experience rather than the typical sermon. And that seems to be part of a multi-layered trigger for what is unfurling right now.

I have a man coming to lead a drumming circle and chant experience at the end of April. And suddenly, this yearning came up to drum. Not with the djembe, which was my usual percussion instrument--I had given my beloved drum to people who had cared for me in Washington because I had nothing else, no money, to hand to them for their kindness in a time of terrible illness and transition. I wanted a frame drum, with a strong but ligamented voice. It was like an ache for a lover. I needed to feel that drum in my sternum, under the pads of my fingers and palm of my hand.  The more I thought about playing, the more I felt the urge to explore something I hadn't in since graduate school--modern shamanism.

I suppose I am luckier than some.  I have always felt free and right following these nudges of spirit, very content and secure in the sense of the One moving through all of life and all forms of religion. There is no guilt here, EXCEPT ironically at the intellectual level!  Truly!  And you'd think that writing science fiction and moving as I always have into other "imaginary" realms at will, like most fiction writers do, would make this all a shoulder-shrug non-issue.  But shamanism has always embarrassed me a little, like I had been caught playing with toys as a grown up.

Yet, looking back over the last few years, the energy in shamanism is anything but child's play and it is anything but a "toy". It has sustained and carried me when I have been in the deepest physical, mental and emotional places a human can imagine.

So, a little flushed in the cheek, I began to journey with more intent. I allowed the spirits of each of the cardinal directions appear to me, greeted the elemental spirits of each direction of my great stone medicine wheel. I identified what musical instrument each would like--flute, rattle, rain stick and drum. And standing there in the middle of my circle in my journey, my guardian spirit came again.

And I finally remembered being slashed open--a harbringer to all the necessary surgeries that would come. Had she had been warning me, preparing me all those years ago? I hadn't understood.  I remembered almost dying and being laid to earth, fetal, and I remembered being able to sit in my cave and look out on warm colors and blue sky. That's what my life is like now--rebirth, parts of me no longer necessary given to the earth, parts of me very young and very weak--a child still needing the cave but looking out at a wide and incredibly beautiful vista.

I wept as my guardian leaned against me, comforting and good-natured again.

So now, in the sunshine of spring this morning, I find myself asking, "how can I truly listen to these forces within and around me?"  They speak in poet-voices and I have to let go of what I think I know about how my mind works, how "reality" is. I am still so tempted to give into the urge to categorize those times, apply Jungian labels or "fit" it all into a known religion system. That's what I do with my intellect.

Not knowing is such a vast place, an unexplored and rich land. It's the closest geography to my unedited soul.

And I am finally allowing the courage to rise to explore it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Family Wild Dragonfly House

It's been a fun winter, repainting (still working on it), setting up an recording studio in a closet and now having the land cleared.

We bought the 50 acres last July, and while the front 10 or so is reasonably good land with over 20 apple trees, it's very rocky.  The back 40 is a marsh/swamp, bodies of trees creating the "land" where new trees grow.  It dries out fairly well in the summer, but the spring creates thousands of tiny pools of water. The little cedars there are ancient, but incredibly small, and shot through with tamarack and the occasion birch or poplar tree.

We hung up game cameras and tried to observe wildlife transit patterns.  Truth was, nothing much went into the deep woods.  No deer tracks.  One coyote all year, even though we left a gut pile from butchering our rabbits.

I was able to find a firm that agreed to cut us out four 10 acre fields with transit corridors between each field running east/west.  We'll be sowing clover, and later, species that do well with damp feet and rocks like dogwood varieties, pussy willow and the like. The cedar will be chipped, the other trees used to fuel a local electricity plant.  We don't "make" anything with the deal, but we gain a canvas that we can work with to increase the wildlife utilization on our property.

The machinery is quiet impressive--it's fun to watch an entire tree seem to uproot and "walk" itself across the horizon before laying itself down in a sorted pile.

Here are some pictures! You have to imagine solid forest before these were taken.  Next, they will pick up the piles you see and begin the processing stage.  Fascinating.  Most of the tree is used, which I like to see--very little waste. And the other thing I like to see? The sky!  Such stars at night, beautiful clouds and sunsets.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sample Chapter from Easing into Lao Tzu's Tao te Ching available this week on Amazon!

Great Idea #1


The Tao is the base on which the entire Tao te Ching rests, and it is one slippery and multivalent word! The very first line of the first verse claims: “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” So right off the bat, we are talking about something that cannot be talked about!  It’s a little like when Meister Eckhart exclaimed, “God, save me from my idea of God.”  We are asked, rather, to begin to observe nature and ourselves, identifying that fundamental flow of energy that is creative, supportive, nurturing and forever full. 

There is a kind of soft humility to the nature of the Tao—it prefers low places, has no desires, an image without an image, no beginning place and no ending, is associated with the formless, the origin, darkness and is said to exist prior to God, prior to time, prior even to space, all of which are human concepts.

The Tao is the where all matter takes its shape, and is where all matter returns upon “death”. One helpful line is that “you can’t know it but you can be it.”
It flows.  Through all of matter, through all actions, thoughts, through all of the universe, the Tao moves and is the energy behind movement, the source, the great base and activating principle of everything.

Yeah, that takes a bit to get your head around!  Later, we’ll be talking about how to “be” the Tao and the gifts that “being” brings. But to “be”, you have to lean heavily on the intuitive side of your brain.  In effect, it’s a kind of singularity that continues to exist in the midst of diversity. 

Buddhism would later add to this conversation, helping folks understand terms like relative and ultimate reality through the language of the Tao.  All matter, at its base, arises from a single source and returns to it.  So, intuitively, you can see the objects, give them names, enter into relationship with diversity, yet beneath and within it all hums a vast unity. 

The Tao is actually more accessible to the poet and artist than the typical essayist or scientist because of its slippery, chameleon nature.  And even in the arts, you are only getting a snapshot of an ever-changing but always existing presence.

The symbol of Yin and Yang, a black fish with a white eye holding a black eyed white fish’s tail (and whose own tail is, in turn, held) is seen as a frozen picture in time.  Spin the shape, and you will see gray, no fish, no eyes, just a disk of no-color, no-shape.  That also hints at the Tao. 

The beautiful flowing movements of Qigong or Tai Chi Chuan evoke the Tao, one gesture always morphing into another, yet all carried on a single sustained note of energy.

The Chinese artistic use of the space that surrounds and holds objects on the canvas also point to the concept of the Tao. 

But, in the end, this is only the finger pointing to the moon.  A moon, in this case, that can 
only be lived.

Poetic Response

Paint the portrait
of your mother before she was born,
working in air-pigments on a water canvas,
delicate brush of pure light,
swirling by touch in the darkness:
the masterpiece
you can never see,
never share
except through every breath,
every gesture
every moment
 of this thing you call
your life.

Questions to Take You Deeper

1.      Define the term “intuitive” for yourself. How does using an intuitive mind affect your body?  The way you use language? Your relationship with others?
2.      Do you agree that intuitive concepts like the Tao are more accessible to poets than scientists?  Explain.
3.      The Tao is framed conceptually in terms of low, soft, yielding, etc.  In what ways does this list of describing words fly in the face of our Western culture?
4.      Look up some classical Chinese art on the internet or at your library. In what ways does the art capture the intuitive sense of the Tao?
5.      Watch an athlete in motion—are you able to point out where they are soft and where they are strong?  In what ways does the soft or yielding part of their action make them more effective?  Can you see this in plants? In seascapes? In a city?  Explain.

Reference Verses

1 (mystery and manifestation arise from the same darkness)
3 (exists prior to God)
5 (doesn’t take sides, birth to both good and evil, empty but infinitely capable, more it is used, the more it produces, more you talk of it the less you understand)
6 (great mother, always present within you and without)
7 (infinite, eternal, never born/never dies, no desire for itself)
8 (content with the low places)
14 (can’t be seen with eyes, can’t be heard with ears, reach but you can’t grasp it, seamless—wholly without attributes.  Form that includes all forms, an image without an image, no beginning or end, you can’t know it but you can be it, life eased when you realize where you come from)
21 (dark, unfathomable, before time and space, beyond is and is not, approachable only within you)
25 (formless, perfect, empty, unchanging, infinite, eternally present, flows through all things, returns to the origin of all things.  Man follows earth, earth follows the universe, universe follows the Tao, Tao only follows itself.)
32 (can’t be perceived, smaller than an electron but contains galaxies, all things end in the Tao)
34 (flows everywhere, nourishes everything but doesn’t hold on to them; is the nature of work but without kudos; merged with all; hidden in their hearts; humble; all things vanish but it endures; only thing that is great is something unaware of its greatness)
38 (Tao is lost, then goodness arises.  Goodness lost, then morality comes about; Morality lost, then ritual takes over. Ritual is the husk of true faith.)
40 (return, yielding, being born of non-being)
41 (nowhere but nourishes and completes everything)

42 (Tao give birth to One.  One gives birth to two, Two to all things)

Now I Lay This Body Down: a poem

(picture from UN.org)

Now I shall lay this body down,
feeling streams rushing beneath thin winter skin,
my hair grown fine as spider webs,
my eyes, pale as spring skies.
No, not even mine anymore--
my breath flowing forever out at last,
both hurricane and lover’s sighs,
and when I pull the cover
of earth over my head,
I shall run through the heart of things,
and sing alike

with suns and endless void.

Sage: a poem

Just for the day,
Wear mis-matched socks and faded jeans,
pull a hat over your messy hair
and chose
not to talk about anyone who is not present,
laugh with the grocery cashier,
push the stray carts into their parking-lot folds.
listen to your teenager dream of computer game fame
smiling and nodding,
then show him how to cook stuffed pasta shells
and to watch for
the fox steal across the foggy meadow.
Pull up the covers at night,
tucked up with your lover,
feeling the embrace of the bedroom walls
and the breeze that flutters moth-like

over your cheek.

My Prayer Today: a poem

My prayer today is for the
the grounded wing,
sparrows pecking around
the most tender green of spring;
for the Peepers singing full-throated
hollering out “LIFE” from
the seasonal pond;
for the cedar logs stacked to frame
raised-bed gardens
and the straw bundled
to nestle vegetables yet to be seeded.
Oh, to dare to be low and simple

Oh, to dare such joy.