Last weekend, my kirtan-leading friend invited me out to her place to join her for a fire ceremony on the morning after the New Moon — a time, traditionally, favorable to new beginnings.  It was cool.  This time she gave me a booklet so I could chant along with her toward the end.  That’s my favorite part, of course. 

Around the middle of the ceremony we were singing “Om Namah Shivaya,” and she casually mentioned that chanting Om Namah Shivaya would be a good practice for me this month.  I was like, Hm.  Interesting.  She knew a tiny bit about my partner’s job, just that something stressful was going on.  I was certainly thinking about it that morning, and really looking for signs, guidance about what to do, how to be, when I was feeling like I was about to fall apart.  So I took the suggestion to heart.

She also said something about her practice of doing the  fire ceremony on the full moon — that it didn’t matter what the practice was, it was just making the commitment to do something with a certain specific regularity.  So since then, I have been thinking about committing to chant Om Namah Shivaya a certain number of times every day for a month.  (Apparently the standard number of times is 108; I just looked it up.)  So, no more half-assing.  I hereby commit to chanting Om Namah Shivaya 108 times each day for the next 31 days.  Anyway, I have been doing it a little each day, when I thought about it; and so I was also wondering as I did it, Why this?  My friend quoted Babaji as saying that the power of Om Namah Shivaya could stop an atomic bomb.  But I thought there must be some reason why this suggestion had come to me, something about Shiva that I needed to learn.

Well, tonight Hawk went to bed before me so on a whim I got out a copy of Toward the One (a Sufi journal) that I’ve been working on reading since last October.  I opened it up to a random page, and what did I find?  That’s right, a whole 17-page article about the various aspects and qualities of Shiva!  Aw yeah!  Okay, I get excited about synchronicity.

Then, of course, the first quote at the top of the first page explained a great deal.  I’d had the vague idea that Shiva was some sort of god of destruction (my impression was, the breaking down of the old and dead to make space for the new and lively).  This quote said, “All pain is significant of change; all that changes for better or worse must cause a certain amount of pain, for change is at once birth and death.”  Wow, man, that knocked my socks off.

The pain of change is exactly what’s been getting me down, on all sorts of levels at once, conscious and unconscious, big and small.  Hawk’s firing and the uncertainty it throws us into about where and how we’re going to live after this summer has definitely been rattling my sense of security, my general orientation in the world.  It’s made me feel very powerless, out of control (in good ways, I guess, for my personal growth, but it has NOT been fun); like I’m waiting to find out what aspects of my life I’m going to lose, what I’m going to have to replace.  I’ve been on the pessimistic side a bit.  I have not been graceful about surrendering control (or the illusion of control that I cling to foolishly).  I haven’t been open to the cycle of change/pain/birth/death, the endless destruction and regeneration of life. 

But it’s not just that situation; I think there’s also an element of this panic of change hanging around my thoughts of finishing massage school at the end of May, and defending my dissertation (if all goes well) in June.  I’m a little freaked about what I’m going to do when those two events are over.  It’s pretty much a blank after that. 

I guess part of the message is that I can’t let myself get psyched out by this stuff.  According to the article I’m reading, Shiva’s devotees have the practice of “acting contrary to their nature for the purpose of acquiring mastery over themselves,” and thus experiencing the liberation of their souls.  Acting contrary to my nature, in this case, would be gracefully surrendering to the flow of life, not resisting, and thus not causing myself needless pain.  “Shiva the liberator,” the author continues, “is often represented as an archer” whose arrows frighten awake “those who feel comfortable in their peaceful and superficially virtuous life” (Nirtan Ekaterina Pasnak 53-54).  But Shiva is also described as extremely compassionate, repeatedly taking on harm or pain to himself to spare humans or gods from suffering (55). 

Compassion in gods of destruction is comforting to me.  It reassures me that whatever the outcome, there’s really no way for me to do it “wrong.”  Having the intention to let my higher self take the reins as much as possible in my life right now couldn’t hurt.  But when I am feeling like a big screw-up, it’s nice to know a god is not there to judge me or rate me, but merely to assist me.  And then I do feel supported and guided.  I start acting a little nicer to myself.  I repeat to myself, I surrender.  I tell myself slogans — Let Go and Let God.  And maybe, a little bit, I start to really release and relax, to ease up on the death grip I try to put on life.  Then, a little bit at a time, spaces open up where miracles can enter in.

Peace and love to all,



It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post.  I had planned a whole 3-part series of posts about the meanings of Easter,  putting together and balancing the interpretations I heard in the Baptist church and at the Sufi dances, and exploring the meanings of Easter for my own life.  Well, those posts (along with any other writing projects I had going two weeks ago) never got written, due to an interruption of life.  But my original vision was for this blog to be more about the day-to-day spiritual journey and less about abstract theorizing, so I’ll write about my process as I live it — messy as it is, petty as it no doubt will sometimes seem.  This blog is designed to be a place where I can sort things out as they happen.

The interruption — or perhaps irruption is a better word — of life is that my partner was fired from his job as a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies.  Surprising and emotionally devastating to my partner, this would be disruptive enough to our life together, but it’s much bigger than that… As I mentioned, my partner is transgender (specifically, female-to-male transsexual) and numerous aspects of the review and termination process he went through made it evident that discrimination was taking place, whether intentional or not, and that he was negatively impacted by trans invisibility and lack of knowledge about trans issues (transgender studies being also the field in which he’s beginning to pursue research).  First a student and community letter-writing campaign, and now an international protest by trans, queer, and allied scholars and academics emerged to protest his firing.  It has become a full-time campaign.

I mention all this by way of update — I’ve written elsewhere about my opinions on all of this and the reasons I believe it’s a trans issue (and a gender issue generally) — and the reasons are many.  But this blog is not a place where I want to bring those arguments and discussions — though I’ll probably talk about them in relation to my own values and passionate commitments.  Instead I really want to use this space to talk about marriage, partnership, disruptive life events, and the ways these trigger my emotional processes (for the purposes of healing, I have to have faith) and the ways I’m dealing with the emotional and practical upheaval.  In other words, how it all affects me and what I’m doing to cope and, in my better moments (sometimes woefully few) to flow. 

Selfish?  Perhaps.  Self-indulgent?  I hope not.  I want to share my experience honestly — not whining, but illuminating the ways we humans are interconnected (especially in our intimate relationships) and events that supposedly “happen to” one person touch off or initiate processes in others around them — processes which are both related and independent, another seeming paradox of our simultaneous oneness and uniqueness.

This is also not the same as saying that I am a victim of someone else’s actions or of circumstances beoynd my control that don’t even have me as a target.  None of this is meant to imply an abdication of personal power — my own responsibility for my own life.  Rather it’s to say that none of us is an island; that many seemingly unrelated events in our lives show up to further our own “individual” soul growth; and that the more we open up to intimacy (intermingling of energy flows) with any other beings, the more we complexify the array of influences on the winding course of our life path. 

This seems like a good time to introduce my partner by his very own pseudonym (of course, if you live in CoMo or are aware of this story then you know who my partner is — but it seems to be standard blog protocol).  He suggested “Frank” because, well, he doesn’t hold back when he has something to say.  (After he had written and submitted a book proposal for a memoir about his sex change, it occurred to him to ask me if I minded him telling all my business.  I said, Ha ha ha!  Wait until you read my blog.) 

I couldn’t really imagine calling him Frank on all occasions good and bad, though.  I think I’m going to call him Hawk instead.  I know he strongly identifies with birds of prey like hawks (and eagles) because of their high, soaring flight and their clear vision, and that the hawk is a special totem for him.  It seems to suit him as a pseudonym, simple and dignified.  Also it reminds me of Hawkeye from M*A*S*H — not really that much like my partner in personality, but I always had a big crush on him.  And like that Hawk, my partner can be very fun and silly.  And he stands up for his values, which are values of humanity and compassion, although his nontraditional methods are often not recognized by authority.  Okay, come to think of it, he iskinda like Hawkeye. … Hot! 

All right, on that note, I know this is already a very long post so I will bring it to a close.  There will be more to come on this topic.  Until next time,



Good Luck

Sometime in college, living in the dorm and under the spiritual influence of Girl Scout camp and comparative religious studies, I got it into my head that you could just declare a new belief or tradition, and that would establish it as existing and valid (although it might die with you if you could never convince anybody else to carry it on).  I said, Okay, from now on finding a spider in your house means good luck.  I remembered this whenever I saw a spider, and repeated the “superstition” to myself until it became comfortable.  Even knowing intellectually, “Oh, you just made this up, and didn’t you steal it from some other belief anyway?” (I was never sure if I’d heard it somewhere before), it became “real” to me in a light-hearted sort of way, with the effect that encountering a spider in my house started giving me a warm, happy feeling — a lucky state in itself, I guess, in retrospect.  Eventually, when I saw a spider in OTHER PEOPLE’s houses, or in their space in any way, I would tell them, “That’s good luck, you know!” 

A couple of weeks ago my partner and I were hiking in Ha Ha Tonka State Park and picking up pieces of trash as we went.  It occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be cool if we could propagate the idea, the legend, shall we say, that if you pick up a piece of trash when you’re in nature, that’s good luck?  I had a vision of kids competing with each other to see who had the most good luck — who could bring back the most pieces of litter out of the woods. 

Of course, it would be good “luck” — create more favorable circumstances for positive things to happen to us — in the literal sense, by improving the health of the environment (no losers in that game).  But also, those kinds of superstitions operate from a different part of the brain than logic (“It is smart to pick up litter”) or right and wrong (“It is a moral necessity that I pick up litter”) — both of which, as we can see, fail frequently in the prevention of littering and litter cleanup. There’s nobody who hasn’t heard that we shouldn’t and should do those things. respectively, yet obviously, lots of people do.  Maybe connecting doing a very specific good act — picking up litter from nature — with a magical sort of reward (“good luck”) taps into a different pleasure center than the one tapped by “doing the right thing.”  It’s more of a game. 

A lot of the things we are taught as children as superstitions stay with us as adults — many a grown-up stops to pick up a lucky penny.  I think that is superstition, traditional or “home-made,” can be worth having if it makes us more inclined to do a positive thing, helpful to others or ouselves, and connects us lightly to a sense of fun and pleasure in the doing of it.  It can be another way to help make that helpful act a habit.  We don’t need to believe that a leprechaun will come and giveus a potof gold if we do something nice for someone, but for those of us who welcome any little burst of good feeling, cosmic or human, that comes our way, it seems worth our while.  Play around with the idea.  What little thing could you connect to magic in your life?  See if it sticks.  And have fun!

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Good Luck and Good Fortune to All!


New Age

***woo-woo alert!!!***  (though you could probably pick that up from the title)

Not long ago, a bunch of people I know were talking about how the actual Age of Aquarius was going to begin at 7:25 a.m. on Feb. 14, when the astrological arrangements described in the song by the 5th Dimension would be occurring. 

As someone who is inclined to give astrology some credit, I thought this was neat (and a fine occasion for some happy celebratory singing) even though I don’t get so excited by “THIS IS THE ACTUAL, EXACT TIME!!!!!!!!” type things.  I have the sense that astrologically speaking, in any cycle that takes longer than a couple of weeks to complete, you’ll be feeling the effects of the new element mingling with those of the old element for a decent while on either side of the event.  In other words, whatever day and time “the big switch” is supposed to happen or have happened, we would now be in the midst of a somewhat drawn-out transition.

Transition to what?  Astrology folks have offered a lot of suggestions, generally seeming to be based on extrapolations from the meaning of the sign Aquarius.  This Wikipedia article summarizes numerous, often conflicting, ideas about the when and what of the Aquarian Age.  Now me, as you may guess — I’m both sympathetic and skeptical.  I think “we” (the humans on Earth, individually and as a collective body, and whatever other energy flows, spiritual entities, etc. might also be co-habiting this planet with us) are transitioning into a new era of some kind.  I think this transition is quick enough to be perceived on a year-to-year scale.  I would say that it’s more of an evolutionary sort of change, i.e., we will be doing at least some things in a better way.  I’m skeptical in that I withhold judgment on what the content of those changes will supposedly be — like the militant agnostic — “I don’t know, and you don’t either!”  Maybe it’s just from the song, but people seem to hold the idea that “peace will guide the planet.”  …  I’ll believe that when I see it.

Nonetheless, my gut tells me that that’s the general direction, and a good inner compass for orienting myself by in the coming years.  Everything I think about this “new age” thing is a translation from a gut feeling — and I’ll be honest, gut-language is not always easy to translate to something that can be written down or stated clearly (in a way that can even be read by others, let alone disagreed with!)  Yet I am deeply convinced that something is happening, and convinced that I can perceive it happening!  Wacko? 

For example — one of the phenomena I see as associated with this, shall we say, larger energetic shift is a dissipation of fixed identities and bounded categories in general.  This came up in a conversation I was having with my partner, who is trans, about the current policies of some women-only spaces, which say that trans men (those who change their gender or sex from female to male) are no longer “women” for the purposes of the rule, and are thus no longer allowed to be there.  As I was making my point, I found myself qualifying, something like — “Although whatever role the women-born-women policies may have played might have been a useful one in the twentieth century, those types of distinctions are not going to be as relevant in the new era, so …” 

So?  Obviously fixed gender (and national, and racial, and sexual, etc., etc.) identities and categories have been in a state of decline in the world of theory for decades.  Many, many people have made very strategic assaults on those categories and done a lot of actual WORK to take some of their power away.  Social conditions, by their ever-changing nature, work against any category stability over time, and if, as some say, our time is “speeding up,” it will become harder and harder to see why we attributed stability to those categories in the first place.

Maybe that’s the metaphysical piece of it; it’s certainly not the only piece.  All I can say is that I have a strong gut sense that the dissolution of boundaries (previously assumed to be fixed or to have limited, finite permeability) is going to be a major characteristic of the new age.  I know this is not really a position that goes well with academia.  One of my clearest memories from any class I took in graduate school was of this classmate of mine aggressively denouncing the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (incidentally, a very important book to me as a teenager) as an example of the rampant exploitation of Eastern philosophy, religion, and culture by privileged Westerners for consumption and fetish.  It took me literally YEARS to chew through this incident to the conclusion that it had so bothered me because it dismissed an extremely real experience I had of connecting with my spiritual self through teachings that arose in a culture other than my own.  I am very aware of the kind of exploitation this colleague was decrying, but I felt like her critique didn’t leave any room for the genuine spiritual experience. 

Multiple people have spoken to me in the past few months about the West’s need for the East’s spiritual teachings, and from the perspective of both Eastern teachers and Western students (often teachers in their own right).  I won’t lie, I do think there is a bunch of crap written mainly for profit and/or self-aggrandizement out there, AND there’s a bunch of other stuff that’s just racist, exploitative, and/or fetishized, but I really don’t think that’s all it’s about.  I am inclined to think (that’s the phrase I always want to use when talking about this stuff, because it leaves space for uncertainty and new information) that it really is part of a needed balancing-out. 

In astrological lore, the tagline for the sign of Aquarius is “I know,” which is sometimes rewritten as “enlightenment.”  If by enlightenment we mean the refinement of our ability to perceive things as they are, and our wisdom in knowing how to act, and our hearts in their ability to live in harmony with our fellow-beings, then yes — I guess I would say that the “Age of Aquarius” is a pointer in the right direction.

Hope this is of some interest!

Peace to all,

Heartland Soul

Sunday night

I am up late on this windy, rainy Sunday night waiting for my partner to get home from Minnesota.  He texted to say he’s just passing through Boonville — another twenty minutes.  I have to get up early in the morning to drive to St. Louis for massage school but I haven’t seen him since Friday morning and I won’t see him again until late tomorrow night so I’m staying up past my bedtime for a goodnight kiss.

This Sunday I’m unusally fussy about starting the work-week tomorrow.  This is my last session of massage school and in only seven more weeks I’ll be done entirely.  But thse past three weeks I’ve felt so annoyed about the driving and the long days (even though it’s only two days a week).  I’m feeling victimized by my schedule, even though I created it, I’m still sure it’s the right thing, and it will be over in less than two months!  I’m holding the intention that I will feel more upbeat about it when I wake up in the morning and I’ll recognize lots of things about the day tomorrow that will make it worthwhile.  (Because they’re there, I am certain.  I just have to take note of them!)

I tried to cram too many activities into this weekend.  They were all really good — sometimes fun, sometimes inspiring, and I connected with a lot of friends — but today after church I felt totally drained!  I had planned to follow THAT up with this bike ride on the Katy Trail organized by Missourians for Safe Energy but when I got out of church (ten minutes before we were supposed to gather, still needing to eat lunch and change from church clothes to  bike-riding clothes) it was cold and a light rain was falling.  I didn’t know if they were going to cancel the ride or not.  I said Forget it, and went to the Chinese buffet.

I realized tonight I mentioned the Chinese buffet in my last post (that’s two out of three posts) — I really don’t spend every day obsessing about it, but as a matter of fact this weekend I was obsessing about it, and I think I know why:  Because I wasn’t giving myself time to rest and process new stimuli and integrate the big experiences, I was feeling undernourished, run down, low on resources if you will, and getting to a pretty urgent situation.  Up stepped “food and plenty of it” as the old familiar cure-all, the easy and obvious way to feel like I’m being taken care of.  Of course, the needs that really needed feeding were not of the hunger variety (I got a clue from the fact that all sorts of old addictions were jabbing around for attention, not just eating) and so even though I gave in to the craving, and did in fact enjoy my Chinese buffet experience,  by nighttime I was still feeling unsatisfied on the inner level, feeling squashed and tired with too many expectations (self-imposed, to be truthful). 

Having already ditched my diet for the weekend (with a spirit of “Screw it” that I haven’t seen that much in the past two months since I’ve been on it) I decided to ditch my workout too (which was supposed to have been covered by the bike ride — now would require a trip to the gym), stay inside in my PJs, work on my last dissertation chapter, and take a salt bath.  I think it was the right decision.  After my bath I do feel lighter, more relaxed.  I use a whole 2 pounts of salt and a squirt of Castille soap for lavender and a few bubbles — not enough (I hope) to trigger my partner’s allergies.  After ten minutes or so I find myself melting into the salt water … feeling connected with the ocean.  One of my massage teachers recommends this combination as an energy cleanser.  I think it’s bliss.

Well, the traveller is home, so I am off to collect my kiss!  Good night …

Heartland Soul


There’s this woman who leads kirtan at the yoga studio where all my friends go.  I don’t do yoga (that is, I don’t have a yoga practice) but I do do kirtan, that is, devotional chanting.  Or say, rather, that I want to do kirtan.  I go every month and chant, but for the past year or so once a month hasn’t been enough for me, I want to go deeper, actually learn what I’m saying.  I understand that the heart can be singing without the brain knowing the language, and that the sound itself, the syllables and the music, is a channel through which one communes with the divine.  But that’s me.  I want to know stuff.  I feel like learning the traditions and stories around these prayers helps me to ground them in my life. 

I want to learn how to really use this practice of kirtan to open, open, open my heart! 

So I have been pestering this woman (in kind of a shy and hesitant way for me) to teach me independently.  Then today I got to join her in observing the last of nine days of Navratri, with a morning fire ceremony.  I showed up at her house with no idea what to expect.  She met me in her basement where she has a separate kitchen just for the preparation of rituals.  !  She asked me, in so many words, Why are you here?  What is your background?

I stumbled around a little — “Well, uh, I had an eclectic religious upbringing, and I, uh, do what I feel called to … ” — not at all the concise and thoughtful summary I would’ve liked to have had at the ready! 

She says, “So you’ve never studied Vedic practices … ?”  Read: This  oughta be interesting!

Well, she was extremely gracious, took me right under her wing, explained a little bit of the complicated ritual she was performing, gave me some little tasks within it, like you might tell a child who’s helping you bake cookies, Okay, now you stir this really well!  It was really a sweet, sweet ritual.  The essence of what we were doing, as I learned, was offering the best in us back to the Divine, back to the Source.  “Aarati,” this woman wrote to me, is offered to the fire, one’s teachers, and all the manifestations that aid our illumination.  Aarati means ‘light.'”  I was very moved.  It really touched me to imagine myself putting all I have that’s good at the service of the universe.  I felt illuminated.


Afterward we were sitting outside enjoying the spring morning sunshine and she was telling me about how she came to be a devotee of Babaji (the only one she knows of in Missouri); how once she found his teachings, following the path he taught became the consuming passion of her life.  And she was asking me, “So, you want to learn to play the harmonium, or what exactly do you want to learn?” “Anything,” I said.  “Ah, you just want to be in it,” she said, nodding like she understood. 

Maybe — yes — I DO just want to be in it. But I was thinking at the same time that I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of the people who gets struck by a lightning bold of truth and devotion one day and knows that they belong to one path.  I can’t speak for the future, but I just don’t think that’s going to be me.  And that’s been hard for me to accept.  I’ve really, really wanted to find “one thing,” a church, a structure, a teacher, a guru that called ME — that wanted me.  I’ve even tried making up my own religion, attempting to include all the elements I thought were most important, just so I could say “I am this.”   But now I don’t think that’s what I’m here for.  I’m a synthesizer.  It’s the same impulse that led me to American Studies for my graduate work — I can’t stop myself from sampling the kinds of knowledge produced in lots of different fields.  (Maybe that’s the same impulse that makes the Chinese buffet my favorite type of restaurant … )

But there are also themes.  I guess, for me, it’s about themes more than anything else, themes that dissolve into each other from one month to the next, and big themes that grab ahold of me for years.  The big theme that has me right now is singing and the sacred.  If there’s ever been a time when I actually felt an inner call to pursue something spiritual, to learn as much as I could about it from as many angles as I could, it’s this, and I’m in it now, and I have been for several years.    And that’s how I ended up at kirtan.  And it’s also how I ended up at Dances of Universal Peace, and in the Inspirational Choir at Downtown Baptist, and in the Columbia Chorale singing classical requiems, and hanging around the singing circles at women’s music festivals. 

I’ve got a whole big basket full of pieces right now.  Someday I’m going to be able to fit them all together.  Sometime when I’m not even thinking about it.  Maybe it’ll come like a lightning bolt.  But probably it will be more like a thousand fireflies all across the field of infinite possibilities.


Peace to all,

Heartland Soul

Heartland Soul Emerging

Well, I think the news from Iowa today proves there’s a soul in the heartland! 

Not that I needed persuading.  I wasn’t surprised; I always thought Iowa was a cool place, having lived in the states to the north and south of it, driven through it, camped in it, hiked, etc.  Really, when I was growing up in rural PA and my wee travel bug was fidgeting in its cocoon, I definitely did not see myself choosing the Midwest, of all places, to live.  But Minneapolis lured me in weird and personal ways.  Then, once I’d just decided I could live in Minnesota for a long time, my heart led me south to Columbia, Missouri.  What?  NOT what I had in mind!

But now, two years after coming here, I am digging it.  (Moved through “Missouri — it’s not that bad” to “Hey, I actually like it here!”)  I’ve had the sense for a long time that Columbia is like an incubator — you can get a hint from the lushness of the green here, and all the people who live in sweet self-built homes with composting outhouses in the woods all around town and have perfectly modern lives at the same time.  It’s a place that’s amenable to things sprouting.  And I think it has a nice vibe. 

This is a journal about me living my life, trying to keep a focus on Spirit while all kinds of crazy shit (pardon my French) is happening all around, and within, me.  I’m a universalist, so I look to many sources for spiritual guidance, and I believe Spirit infuses everything there is and everything that is done.  And yet my life is still plenty nuts.  I wanted a place to write about that, and talk to other people looking for the sweet balance in their lives, too.

Ok, still under construction, but I wanted to introduce myself properly.  I hope you’ll come back to see what develops!


Heartland Soul


Not so bad!