Reset

I just came back from a vacation, the first real, honest-to-pete, traveling just for the pleasure of exploration and bonding with one another that my partner and I have had the opportunity to enjoy together in years, most of our trips being family visits or retreats that we’re working at or quickie one-night getaways around Colorado. All of these, mind you, are normally both fun and fulfilling, but five days on the beach, letting our eyes rest on the waves in varying shades of blue rolling gently up onto the shore, well … It’s a different animal.

The holiday season this year left me feeling emotionally stirred up, at times very frustrated, and in the end unsure of myself and how I am supposed to respond to the world around me, with some degree of accompanying anxiety or malaise or depression — whatever you want to call it — the intensity depending on the day. But as our departure on this trip was set for New Year’s Day, I held the intention that the days “off the network” would be a way to hit the “Reset” button on my life. Like any good vacation should, the time away inserted a pause into my usual routines, interrupted habits (hopefully productively), gave me some space to see where changes could be helpful. There were a few main areas that kept floating to the surface like buoys bobbing on the ocean, just far enough out that it takes a hard swim to touch them.

One of those areas was busy-ness.

When I look back on the times when I’ve felt frustrated with my life in 2015, felt like I was spinning my wheels, like I didn’t know where my life was going or what my purpose was or who I was helping with my existence, those were often the times when I had gotten to feeling cramped, overcommitted, hemmed in, stuck in a self-created cage.

I am blessed to have a full time job and an abundance of activities to fill my time. Only thing is, I sometimes find myself filling my time so full that there is no room for dreams to grow. I guess I am restless both geographically and spiritually, and when my life gets so crowded that I can’t find a pathway out of the hustle, I start to have breakdowns.

I’ve already gone through a process of letting go of things that I’ve outgrown or that aren’t making me happy. I’m down to the things I’ve held on to because I love them. But I understand that I need to make some difficult choices now and let go some more — let go of some of the things that actually do feed me — because when a garden becomes choked, even with nourishing plants, it becomes harder and harder for anything to grow.

And there are things I want to grow. Solitude. Quiet meditation. Writing.

So on the updraft of Reset, I will be practicing this letting go, looking for a new balance that includes more space for my dreams to grow in.

As I have the goal of bringing writing from the sidelines to the forefront of my life, I’ve been thinking not only about what needs to be rearranged for it to fit, but also —

What do I have to say? What is the purpose of my talking at all? Questions that require silence to explore. And there were other questions that arose as well, in these beginnings of mental space, questions about my outlook, my role as a writer, as an observer and commentator, as a scholar outside the academy, as a witness to and participant in culture. (Some of these I will talk about in more detail in the next post — I started to go into it here, but the tangent got too long and split into its own separate essay, oops!)

I’ll be delving into these questions in the weeks to come. And if I find anything out,

I’ll let you know.

Funny how traveling brings the gaze right back to the self. Wherever we go, there we are, right? So what’s in this bag that I can’t help bringing everywhere with me?

No/Yes

I have this super clear memory of sitting with my family in a pew near the front of the Catholic church in my grandma’s town, attending Christmas Eve mass. The church was so tiny and narrow that my mom, dad, brother and I filled a row.

The memory is of looking down at my hands, with which I’d recently started to feel the flow of energy, and thinking, “No. That’s crazy. You’re being arrogant. You don’t have anything to say about God or religion or the soul. And if you did, no one would want to hear it. So make like an organ and pipe down.”

Ok, I was a little liberal with the recreation of the inner monologue here. But the key word rang out so clearly in my head that its echoes are still quietly reverberating today. “No.”

The funny thing is, I DON’T remember what insight I’d thought I had, and had wanted to share, before that voice shut me down so tidily. What I remember is how the No had the weight of certainty on its side.

I also remember that it was dark outside the stained glass windows. And I remember how I used to feel, standing outside at night in the winter when it hadn’t yet snowed, standing on a hillside in the heart of a Pennsylvania town that was so small, the glow from porch and street lamps stayed in pools on the ground and the sky remained untinted with light pollution – truly black.

  
I could feel the soles of my feet connecting with the earth, right through my socks and shoes. My scalp tingled and my skin sparkled and I could almost see energy arcing between my palms when I held them apart.

I interpreted this within the cosmology I was making up for myself, a sort of pagan-inspired universalism. I called the period between the fall equinox and the end of the year “the Gathering Together of Power.” I imagined magic condensing out of the cooling air like fog appearing on a window. I pictured the earth drawing its energy back into itself, down from the grass stems and tree trunks it had animated through the last season. The nights felt crisp and full.

I felt solitary but connected.

Now it’s that season again — it’s the beginning of the time when static electricity zings through the air and composting leaves release their pungent mystic gases and the stars sharpen their points. And again I’m thinking of things I want to say, and again a malignant voice, a voice that is part of my own mind, whispers, Put it away. Close the drawer. You’ve got nothing to add here. Go do something else.

But this time there is another voice, one that’s been slowly awakening over the course of this year of exploring self love. And she doesn’t say no.

She says YES. Yes. Let it out. Say whatever you want. Nobody has to care. This spring arising needs to flow.  This time say yes. Say yes. Say yes.  

Shrine to the Blessed Mother down the hill in my mom’s backyard

New CD: Starter Kit!

Oh goodness, how did that much time go by? I got caught up in the rapids of the end of the semester. Then, no sooner had I hit “save” on the final grades than I was off to Missouri for Ozark Sufi Camp, and when I got back to Colorado, here it was, time for summer session to start.

And then there’s that old “I don’t want to write about that, that’s boring, but I do want to write about thisthisthisthisthisthis and this, ah, but, maybe later, right now I need to, uh, rearrange all the cans in the kitchen cabinets.” That ever happen to you? No? Must be just me then …

Well, one project I did work on and actually finish during that time was this CD that I made with the help of my friend Jen F., who provided the equipment and technical know-how. It’s called Starter Kit and it’s a collection of songs and chants I’ve written over the past few years. This past spring I started really working with reclaiming my dreams around writing. I started to have a growing sense that before embarking on new projects (or at least while embarking…), it would be good for me to clear out some of the stuff I’d written but never published. For whatever reason, I got the inspiration to make this CD. I had long resisted the idea of putting folk-type songs and chants together on the same album — I planned to wait until I had enough of each to make two separate records. But it just came to me one day that this was the thing to do — collect the songs I have, and let them be available for those who have expressed interest. My goal was perhaps as much to open the flow of writing and sharing as anything else.

So this is basically a DIY project by two women.  I played all the instruments (wow, multi-track recording! I am such a newbie) except for one track on which my partner Sam plays the bass, and Jen did everything technical, including providing the recording location in her home studio.  I wanted to do it all with an intention and an aesthetic of simplicity.  I drew the art for the cover of the CD; that too popped into my head in a sudden flash.  Weird, but honest!  All these ideas, I just went with them, and crossed my fingers that it would sound ok! I frequently quoted Anne Bradstreet in my mind: “In better dress to trim thee was my mind, But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find,” etc.  But I wanted to take the CD with me on my summer travels, so we took the takes we liked and put it together in a little less than a month.  Craziness! And yes, we had a lot of fun!

Starter Kit Cover

So, you can read more specifics about that CD here on its own page, including how to get one if you want!

In other news, my dad asked me today if I was still working my ass off. I told him, “No, it’s summer; I’m only working one cheek at a time.” That means I actually have a couple of days off in the average week, and I’ll be posting more soon about my travels in the Show Me state, new projects under research, and more thoughts about paradigms.

Until then,
Much love!

The creek's up; now that's "in the flow"!

The creek’s up; now that’s “in the flow”!

Pink Aura

Yesterday I went to a day spa to use the gift certificate I got for my birthday from my partner’s wonderful sister (I guess I can’t say sister-in-law, even though that’s how I think of her, because “in-law” is exactly the one way we AREN’T related!) two months ago.  And man was I ready for it — I work in a spa so I see the fancy ladies come in for their multiple services and float out the door five hours later looking absolutely blissed out.  A month into the semester I was ready to be blissed out too.

But sometimes when I do things like that, i.e., go to the spa by myself, I DON’T leave floating on a cloud; instead I feel like the cloud is inside my head.  And it is: my negative thoughts, my undeserving thoughts, my recurrent thought that I am doing everything (even relaxing) all wrong.  I had really been looking forward to this day and I really didn’t want to sink myself with self-criticism.  So while I sat in the waiting room I tried to think of a mantra for the day — something I could direct my mind to whenever it started to go off on an unhelpful track; something my brain could hold onto like the hand can hold a pebble, to ground it when it starts to worry.   The mantra I chose was simply “I love you,” repeated on the in breath and the out breath both.  Later, when I was, indeed, so relaxed that my posture resembled that of a cooked noodle, this writing came out:

I love you I love you I love you I say — to myself, I love you as I breathe in, drawing this truth up from the ground beneath the floor beneath my slippers beneath my feet — finding the love in the energy that radiates from the earth — the Earth is the “I,” the mother Gaia.  I love you I breathe out, filling the bubble of my aura with this phrase — now I am the “I” and the “you” is me too.  I just want to fill my own field with the pink glow of loving but I know that as it fills with light it will shine those waves out and have an influence on the air, the crowd, the trees, and the earth all around me — so really I am breathing out “I love you” to the whole world.

Love!

Mich Fest Vision Quest

One of the trips I took this summer with my partner was up to Hart, Michigan for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

MichFest has always been my partner’s thing, from long before we got together.  He liked to go every year, and so I’ve gone with him every year since I’ve been with him.  (He? Isn’t that festival notoriously womyn-only? You may remember my partner’s a female-to-male transsexual, and he started going to this fest back in his angry lesbian days.  Hey, we’ve all had them, right?  Anyway, you may also know this fest has an official ANTI TRANS policy, so you can imagine what a can of worms it is for him/us to be there.  He’s been productively processing that, with amazing wisdom and beauty, in his writing since we’ve been back.  It’s been cool to see.)

Well, because I am working two part time gigs, neither extremely well paying, and I was making less as a part-time community college teacher in the summer, I was unsure about laying out this big chunk of dough to go to something I knew from experience would be simultaneously both a good time and major drag.  Last time we went, right after his firing from Women’s Studies, between the trans hate, our own issues and the thunderstorms, we un-pitched our tent a night early and departed, growling that we would not be back for a long time, if at all.  Two years later …

I know I tell way too much of the story and take too long getting to the point.  Okay, since I was committed to going but feeling ambivalent, I decided I was going to make the whole journey (we were planning to travel around for another week afterwards visiting friends, culminating (for me anyway) with seeing my Sufi friends and teacher in MO) a sort of vision quest, less in the Native American sense than like Parsifal and the knightly quests of the Grail days.  Since I was going into a big festival of music, getting the opportunity to see a lot of shows, hear a lot of musicians and artists talk about their process, go to workshops like the intensive drumming class I took, and basically be surrounded by creativity in action, I wanted to open myself to greater knowledge and clarity of my creative vision.  I have known I have been pursuing something, but it has been more of an unnamed feeling than even a thought.  I’ve been after something, trying to develop something in me, it has to do with playing and writing music, and maybe other writing too, and teaching (and doing) chant … but it was starting to get a little crazy-making so I decided to make the whole trip a spiritual quest and to seek in all things, from acoustic stage folk music concert to Twilight Zone panty party, whatever information or insight might be there to be found for me.  I tell you, it made things very interesting for me.  It really made me pay attention – I had my antennae up all the time.  I found myself savoring the times I walked alone on the paths – in the company of truly magical trees, mulling over the bits and pieces that came to me.  Though there was definitely upset going on around me, I was having a very close, intimate and sweet time with myself.

I am sure I will refer to more stuff from this time, because it brought a lot that I am still working with (yay! that was what I was hoping for after all), but I wanted to share one of the things that seemed both the most “duh” and also perhaps on some level the most important: and when this came to me I was, in fact, sitting on the grass at a concert at the acoustic stage.  I don’t remember who was playing or what prompted this thought, just that it suddenly occurred to me, It seems I have a lot of anger in my life, and one of the main things that anger attaches itself to is this idea that I don’t have time to play music or write or learn how to play the guitar better, etc. etc.  I would like to reduce the anger in my life because I don’t enjoy being in fights, either with myself or with others.  So – maybe if I devote more time to music and writing, I will actually have less anger in my life.  OMG!  This was like a lightning bolt to me (and incidentally, lightning did actually strike a tree the second night we were on the land.  I brought a piece of it home with me “for use in magic” as they said).  It seems very simple, almost stupidly so – like, why does this seem so profound to me? 

I guess it seems profound, even if obvious, because its implementation makes such a huge difference.  I really did/do have a ton of anger – which is frustration at not following what my heart is pushing me to do, aka my inner guidance, which is strongly suggesting I work on developing my music and writing, counterproductively turned against my own self (if I am self-hating) or my external circumstances (if I am blaming).  It is the blocked energy that has been wanting to go toward these things, becoming something else.   Because I have not been able to honestly acknowledge the importance of those things to me, and the role I really want them to take in my life – as a big part of what I am doing on this planet.  Putting myself out there and committing publicly to the fact that I am pursuing a creative dream of some kind – well of course it raises all sorts of terrifying anxieties of the “who do you think you are, lame-o?” variety.  But when it came down to a choice between actual greater peace of mind and continuing to thwart my own energies, well, one just sounded a lot more enjoyable so there became no excuse not to go for it.

So hence the guitar class that I enrolled in immediately after I got back from this journey.  Hence new commitments about writing, and a lot more experimentation, and, of course, the revival of this blog.  Truthfully the main reason I didn’t want to give it up even though I haven’t written all this time is because I like the name.  Hey, whatever works. 

That’s all for today.  Peace be with you!

Balance: Life and Art

What a year it’s been.  Moving to Colorado, many ups & downs (and not just my commute over the mountains ha ha ha) … a lot of fodder for thought packed into a relatively short amount of time.  You could say the stimuli have been highly concentrated for the past while.

Lately I’ve felt my pendulum swinging from a strong drive to go out and meet people, join groups, visit family and friends all over the country and interact constantly with others, to a definite and un-ignorable desire to go inward.   I have really felt most like getting down on my hands and knees and digging around in the muddy earth that is my brain.  Since May (spring Sufi camp, actually) my main desires have been to pray; to chant; to push deeper into understanding, even just a tiny bit more; and to create and create and create!  The feeling of fertility in the inner landscape has lasted a long enough time to surprise me.  Though I hold the awareness that it IS a cycle, and it WILL end, and swing in perhaps a third, as yet unknown direction — I still fear its end because I don’t have faith in myself to make the most of it.

Instead of just sitting down and making stuff, which is what I want to do, instead I sit down and ponder how best to divide up my time, and then I have a discussion about it, and then I dust my furniture, and then I remember something I need to do for work, and THEN I might squeeze in half an hour of letting neat things flow from my hands.  But really, even those half hours, even those fifteen minutes sometimes, they come around more often than is normal for me and so *I* feel like it is a rather lavish abundance.  So, that’s a good thing!

The more I decide to let myself be absorbed in what I really want to do, the less fear will have room to rise up and distract me.  So, that’s what I’m working on right now.