Thursday, December 30, 2010

Solstice, solace and Spirit

I am planning a winter sabbatical soon. Time away with no distractions and the chance to delve deeply into my real work: my book and myself. When I'm here, things easily get in the way and the book patiently waits.

I also think this very forceful nudging is a response to the holidays: the expectation, obligation and tradition as well as weeks of a big push all for ONE day. Yes, I find Christmas Eve magical, but the day after makes me shake my head in wonder. I agree with early Quakers that every day should be lived as if it is sacred, not just one or two days out of the year.

I have really cut back on gifts, commitments, cards, baking and a whole lot else. I do more trimming every  year and each Dec. 26 I feel more and more like giving up the tradition completely, but I am not certain how that would sit with other family members. I may need to find out.

I am certain that I need to live more simply and that begins with me getting away by myself to a small place in the woods with only my book and the bare essentials. Who knows, I may be climbing the walls after the first day. I do believe it will take a few days to find my rhythm; the one warped by our culture's mushrooming pace.

I did it once before, but with a different intention. I spent a week in Italy alone to immerse myself in the culture, art, food, language and people. It was a tough lesson and I texted my best friend at midnight the second night: "Why did I think I was an introvert?"

This time, I hope I am more prepared. I'll have even less distraction. I believe winter suits this. I'll be holed up, but that's where my spirit calls. I heard an amazing musician on pbs yesterday say winter is for reflection, which has always been my reaction. We're forced inside literally and figuratively. It's also the time I feel more alive, more embodied and in tune. It's the season of my birth. A season that suits introverts.

It seems as if I am the only one among my friends who welcomes the solace and hunkering down; they're ready to keep making merry with large groups well after the holidays. Not I. I am so very ready for the quiet of my own spirit. And the quiet in which to seek Spirit's direction.

• How do the holidays leave me feeling?
• What type of break do I need after?
• When, where and how does simplicity call me?
• In what way(s) can I invite that into my life?
• In way way(s) can I invite Spirit deeper into my life?



so that a time and space
once reserved for
reflection, gratitude and praise
becomes something else entirely

something from which I
wish to disengage

so I may re-engage
with myself and, mostly,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Community of creative mystics

Disappointment does't seem an appropriate topic for this time of year, but I can't help how I feel. Disappointed.

Disappointed in that my prayer was answered almost immediately, but became twisted and confusing, then changing all together.

Disappointed in almost settling. Settling for doing less than who I am.

My very wise and wonderful shamanic counselor said to take the threads of all of the disappointment in my life and find what's common. That's where the lessons rests. Most, he says, don't live in those places. Those of us who do periodically are not easily understood.

He heard the yearning in my voice. The desperation for understanding ... human understanding. "If you can't find the type of community you need, create it," he counseled.

I seem caught between spirituality and creativity and have supportive friends in both places. Some, like me, that travel between the two. Apparently I crave more than those connections. I crave a community of creative visionaries and mystics as my shaman described it. He said to initiate one ... online. I had almost forgotten that when I created a Salon for the Soul website (apart from this blog) four years ago, that was the intention. It has been here as well, but I crave more of a conversation and some two-way nurture. I guess I am searching for other creative mystics. I know you're out there and here as well. I'd like some engagement.

In my disappointment with organized religion, my counselor explained that religion needs to be corralled through process and procedure for those with less vision, but a persistence and discipline to follow those channels. Sometimes rewarded with direct experience.

I don't understand a faith that is anything less than direct experience, but then again, perhaps, it's being more faithful without.

My experience emanates form the heart and body and can not be intellectualized. It can often be articulated, better captured in art, but intellectualizing is diminishing. I'm weary of feeling diminished.

This time, I'm not settling. I'm asking for another answer to that prayer for companionship. One that better matches my needs. I don't want the regular blue door, I want the purple door with the golden trim. Who's in?

• What are the lessons from my life's disappointments?
• Do I have the community I need?
• If not, where is it and how do I get there?
• What's my direct experience of the Divine?
• When and how have I shared that?

So, I have these really BIG questions
with which I struggle. They're more
than I can handle alone. They are meant
to be shared. But with whom?

Hearts that will understand and accept.
Hearts open to jumping off the edge.
Hearts that know the darkness as well as the light.
Hearts that know the creative drive.
Hearts ready to explode like mine
with similar questions:
– How do you know when the answer to prayer is really the answer?
– Who else sees, hears and feels a love so boundless that it opens another dimension unlike anything in the normal human experience that's difficult to articulate because it offers a momentary glimpse of all that is?
– When you know that exists, how do you return to life, yourself, family and friends and find meaning in the old way when, sometimes, you'd rather discard it?
– How do you balance the new insight with the old life?
– I'm working so hard to function as a whole person, drawing all the parts of me together, yet it's so against the grain, how do I succeed, especially at making my gifts and ministry provide what I need to live on in the secular world?
 – How can I BE in this world and not be WHAT I do?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not a highway girl

I am a side-road traveler, not a highway girl.

I was contemplating this as we drove to and from Holland, Michigan, to my husband's family Christmas. We almost always choose the scenic route. Yesterday, for example, we turned off the main road (a two-lane highway) looking for something on the map called Amishville in mid-eastern Indiana. While not quite the attraction we had anticipated (not in winter anyway), we were treated to: a variety of horse-drawn buggies we easily [almost woefully] overtook; neat, sprawling farms; solid blocks of color flapping in the chilly wind on clotheslines; and an absence of the clutter of electric lines. It was simply beautiful country eerily wrapped in a white blanket and punctuated by a misty sun, translucently peering through the dense cloud cover.

Okay, it took us a couple of hours longer, but the images and impressions linger and it was not merely getting from point A to point B. It was a journey.

Yesterday's reminded me of the annual pilgrimage to Iowa my family undertook every Christmas to visit my paternal and maternal grandparents. We ventured out in a '67 Chevy Caprice wagon complete with wood-look paneling, snaking along two-lane highways at night when the barn lights would sparkle off the mounds of snow. It was magical ... especially when viewed from the comfort of the "way" back amid sleeping bags and pillows. Small towns decorate in a manner different than anywhere else and yesterday, I saw they still do: dusting off the 1960s lights and worn figures that echo a simpler time and place. And call my heart to the anticipation of what lay ahead: warm houses, bear hugs and more Christmas allure than a kid could stand. Yesterday's scenery evoked a familiar heart flutter.

As a couple, we've always travelled like this. Stretching a two-hour jaunt between Vermont bed-and-breakfasts into an all-day meandering, joyful trek. Our girls are accustomed to this method and understand stops are certain to be unusual. I seem to have a nose for ferreting out the unusual along the way as well as the best local watering/eating hole.

I believe it's a way of life. Of taking the time, observing and letting what's along the path touch us. Not being in such a rush to get one place.

So I wonder what places along the way the new year holds more than where I'll be, exactly, in 12 months.

• What kind of traveler am I?
• When I spend the time to enjoy the ride, what's the reward?
• How does my travel style correspond to the way I live?
• What magical travel memory can I recall I'd have missed if I'd have been in a rush?
• What course (intention)  am I setting for the new year?

I could have been home earlier
to unpack earlier
to get to bed earlier
to sleep earlier
to get up earlier
to start the day in the same pattern


I could have chosen the scenic route,
filling my head and senses with something new
an escape from my ordinary life
glimpsing another way
recalling childhood dreams
and delivering me to the same place

and yet I arrive in a very different place

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pink goggles and dental floss

Once again, I am reminded that I am given whatever I need. In the muddle of life, I, too often, forget.

This morning, I layered up and traversed the three-inches of snow the forecasters made into a blizzard to the gym for one of my favorites: a dip in the 88° pool, sauna and shower after. I knew I'd have the pool to myself and I did.

While unloading the one bag that had been merged from my usual two, I realized I had forgotten the one item – besides a bathing suit – I really needed to swim laps in the very bleached water: my goggles. They and my cap were laying on the kitchen table. No way was I bundling up to trek back out. I called home to be sure they were there, then phoned the front desk ... didn't really want to waltz out in my swim suit and naked feet .. to ask if they could unlock the aquatics office. No luck, but there were two pairs of goggles in the lost and found. BINGO!

I sauntered up the to counter, picked both pairs and hightailed it back to the pool. Probably my swim-team-type racerback suit is more than some people wear to work out on the machines.

Got into the pool and chose the black Speedo goggles over the screaming pink set that looked kid sized. I could not make the black ones work; the side straps kept slipping out of their buckle. So I undid as much of the pink straps as possible and put them on. They fit around my head and pretty much over my eyes, though a little less socket coverage than normal. But if they made laps possible, who cares. It's not like there's anyone to see me.

They were snug and emitted no water. Always a plus. But something wasn't quite right. As I was ticking off the first few lengths, things appeared differently. Less foggy and more focused. I could actually see out of these goggles. After time and wear, I had not even noticed how scratched and cloudy mine had become. I could actually tell the time on the wall clock, quite an accomplishment given the level of my nearsightedness. It was odd swimming with such clarity, my arms and hands crisply stroking under the water, the lane dividers evident. This workout had a an entirely different feel than usual. I had clarity literally and figuratively. I could see that for all the whininess of my life, I actually do receive what it is I truly need. Maybe not always what I want or think I need, but what I really do require.

The last time I was aware of such a vivid reminder, I had been a week off in making a session of Quaker ministry school I attended over two years in Philadelphia. I caught the error the day classes started, died for a few hours, was resurrected with the help of my husband and got myself to Philly the next day. In the bustle of packing and taking a paper that was due, there was only one thing I had missed: dental floss. As I was unpacking and placing my clothes in the convent dresser, I discovered a small, unopened package in the corner: floss.

I appreciate the pink goggles and dental floss gifts in life. I am certain they appear much more often than I recognize.

• When was a time I felt I had everything, but the one item I really needed and it was supplied?
• How was I able to recognize it at the time?
• How did I express gratitude?
• What other gifts like that have come across my path?
• How have my prayers be answered in ways foreign to me, but with better results or solutions?

always when I'm in a rush
trying to squeeze everything in:
time, actions, material items

and then my humanness
forgets one thing
always the ONE thing
I feel I desperately need

and every time that
I've been able to notice

the gift of what I'm missing

not always as I had envisioned,
but always there, always useful,
always reminding me
I am not alone

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Arriving at myself

I seem torn between being by myself and seeking companionship. Introversion and extroversion. Being mother and not wanting to be mother. Knowing who I am and being unsure who I am. Being happy and being something else I can't quite define. Meeting obligation and seizing the moment.

Is this the human condition or just mine?

Younger, my life seemed more on an even keel, but I was also spiritually asleep. Now I am spiritually  – mostly – awake, but I can't find the zone of enlightenment where nothing matters. I think that place is a mythical Shangri-La or reserved for those who don't feel with their hearts.

Either that or I have light years of soul work to accomplish.

You'd think that well into midlife I'd have something figured out, but the real truths as I know them are:
• The only constant IS change;
• The more I know, the more I recognize how little I comprehend;
• I am continually growing into who I am;
• The mysteries of life are vast;
• Something so much bigger than we are exists and is capable of more love and creativity than we can fathom and is just waiting for us whenever, however we are ready;
• The world is bigger than ourselves, yet we can permeate those divisions and oneness is the state of true reality;
• Our biggest job is to act as conduits of love.

Okay, so there are probably more, but this is what my brain radiates at this moment. It's a passable list; one I would not have written half a lifetime ago.

I had dinner tonight with someone just turning half my age. Someone struggling with who he is, how he is in the world. With bigger issues than most, but a surer sense of who he is than people twice his age.

He seems so wise for just turning 26. I can't imagine I was that aware at his age. Maybe I've just forgotten. But he's still questioning, pushing and probing just like I am all these decades later. The ONE bit of advice I offered is that it's our life's work to figure out who we are and remind him that he already knows.

And then the mirror reflects that back to me. Do I already know who I am or is that the task of a lifetime? Maybe the answer is both.

• Who am I in this moment?
• How is that different from who I was yesterday or will be tomorrow?
• How am I reflected in others?
• They, in me?
• What are my life's truths?

young and
so very sure

more answers
than questions

now, decades
older and less sure

downright confused
at times, yet

striving to be
the person I am
meant to be

living into myself
my soul
my destiny

will I ever get there
or is getting there
the real lesson?

what happens
when I arrive
if I arrive?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Desperately seeking stillness

This time of year is always hardest to find stillness. And that seems so counter to what the season is supposed to be: remembrance, gratitude, humility, compassion and reflection to name a few.

I feel winter is MY season; partly because I was born in January, partly because I like to hunker down, be indoors, snug and introspective and also because the briskness clears my eyes, mind and soul. I layer up to go out and yet my cheeks tingle with the rouge of cold, my hair sparkles, my eyes twinkle and seem capable of holding more. I feel very bodily alive.

But the madness of invitations, obligations, inordinate gift-giving, incessant distraction and over expectation rear their ugly heads. I am learning not to give into the cultural flow. For me, it's a matter of survival and not getting swallowed up in the stream of tradition racheted up and whacked out.

I do participate, but in a reduced manner. I have embraced the Quaker idea that every day is sacred, so one day, such as Christmas or Easter, should be no more sacred than another. Christmas is merely a date on the calendar someone, sometime declared as a Holy Day, a holiday. There aren't actual, historical ties to the date. In fact, I read the organized church chose December to celebrate Jesus' birth because there were already so many solstice celebrations and it seemed an easy entree´ into those traditions.

My feelings about this time of year were reflected back to me yesterday in my Quaker meeting's (church) business session, which is called worship with attention to business. Once again, we were discussing how our committee structure was draining the congregation. Some groups are functioning well, but half are not, although energy has swelled informally around certain areas where needs are being met. One suggestion was to exchange the layers of committees that require clerks, reporting and regular meetings for informal task forces. The word task really spoke to me of obligation, expectation and legacy, although I know that is not what its proponents meant. Then the idea surfaced (the ways solutions do when a group is worshipfully conducting business and concepts arise that could not in any other way, with Spirit guiding and those present prayerfully listening and discerning) that the struggling committees take a brief hiatus and we see where the energy arises.

That so reminds me of the insight I was provided a little over a year ago during a retreat on spiritual restlessness: "If you can't do it with love, then don't do it."

For me, that's also applicable this time of year. When I cave into the wave of shoulds, my hearts shrinks to Grinch size. When I hold my own and do what I am called to out of love, it expands. One way of encouraging that expansion is to find regular stillness anytime of year. The simplest is just to follow the breath. When we get worked up and in lockdown mode, we breath so shallowly. Deep, expanding breaths are bodily and spiritually cleansing. Adding a simple prayer (thank you or help) to that breath nudges us deeper, connecting us, grounding us, reminding us who we really are.

What on my to-do list can I eliminate?
• What am I called to this time of year out of love?
• How do I respond to the seasonal change and do I recognize my body and spirit's natural rhythm?
• What reminder can I create to expand, not contract, my heart?
• In what ways do I pay attention to my breath?

breathe deep
forcing the air
into the abdomen,
down toward
the toes

and slowly
let go 

of the breath and
anything else

that's draining,

and not me

repeat until
I know who I am

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Divine dreamlike absorption

Why am I doing this?

When three people suggested I blog, I knew I had to do more than listen. It was time to act. In the back of my mind, it seemed somehow beneficial for the book I am creating. I am a writer and wanted to stay current. I'd had the name selected for something forever, so why not?

Now, I really must explore why, not why not.

I think it's because I have been a listener for so long that those stories, as well as any residual including my experience, were mounting to something and demanding synthesis and an audience. I believe – this is  a BIG step for me to verbalize – I have some wisdom to share. Granted much of that wisdom was sparked by others, but I do offer a unique spin.

I am so grateful for those loyal from the beginning and those who've even stopped in once. I realize Salon for the Soul is not everyone's cup of tea [heck, it wasn't mine 10 years ago], but it feels like a piece of my work. You know, the place where my deep desire meets the world's great need.*

It hasn't been easy stepping from behind the curtain of journalist/observer to own my voice, not merely interpreting someone else's.

It isn't about numbers or reputation, it's about depth and connection -- well, at least, I hope it is.

I have been very surprised by one of my biggest lessons: that the appeal of Salon for the Soul is not just some little Quaker niche. In fact, I have been disappointed to not feel recognized in larger Quaker circles, yet am much more gratified by those I hear from saying something really hit home or they share my warped perspective!

Every once in awhile, I google this blog or a specific post to see if it even makes the first page. It has, but usually way down the list or only very specifically. I've read books about special media and what's important. I've been told by Quaker bloggers that the way to get noticed is to visit other bloggers in the tight community and leave comments, hopefully directing people back to your blog. Sorry, but that's not why I'm doing this. I had hoped by writing with depth and integrity, that would draw attention. Then, I also recognize this is not a Quaker blog, though I do mention periodically that's what I practice. I think I transcend that and that makes me very happy. Happy that some experience, reflection or thought speaks to someone else. So very pleased to see who it impacts.

I was rather proud of the inspiration for the title I'd had for my last post, "Praying attention." It was telling, pithy and succinctly captured the text. I was stunned when it was listed fourth on google yesterday. I am interpreting that as I have made a small footing of showing up here regularly, being credible and speaking to an audience.

Please don't take this as totally self-serving. It's just a good way for me to reflect on what this is, who I am, where I am and how I connect. I also think it's helping me determine that an audience for the book I am compiling is broader than I originally conceived. A well-respected editor in spirituality circles told me the same thing. She said to look beyond spirituality to self-help and creativity. Together, we noodled that what I was offering there (and here) was DIY spiritual direction.

Anyone agree (or not)?

• What is my vocation (not just my job)?
• How am I doing that or moving toward  it?
• How have I been prayerfully paying attention?
• What are my gifts in connecting with others?
• How am I using or developing those?

it's a dreamlike sequence
my life right now
things are flowing,
falling into place

after so long in limbo
my limbo

like the thin, radiant shaft of light
piercing through the layered, frosty window

I unfurl my palm and catch it
it was meant for me and I feel its power,
let it envelop me as it had
hours earlier in yoga 
when, with my eyes closed, that same
light hovered overhead
pouring itself into every cell

and all I do is absorb

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Praying attention

Ever get what you pray for? I have twice lately and neither was the answer I had expected, which leads me to believe my prayers may have been answered with much more frequency, it's just that I wasn't p[r]aying attention.

My idea of the answer is never as creative, connecting or magnificent as God's ... that is when I can see it's been answered.

I think my last post about being inspired by a friend's prayer for "fresh vision" made a difference. Maybe the fact I put my prayer out there and, perhaps, you said a prayer for me as you read did, too.

For years, I struggled with the term prayer because it had been too narrowly defined for me. Growing up it was usually a booming man's words in church, at a wedding, funeral or family meal that didn't often speak my heart. Of course, I was grateful for the food, the person's life, the blessed union. But I was probably more concerned with if God loved me, what torment lay ahead at school, if I were a good person, etc. Personal stuff between me and God. DIRECTLY. My words from my heart straight to God. Don't get me wrong, intercessory prayer is wonderful, but I'm speaking of my sacred relationship. One I did not understand I could have until I experienced Quakerism ... although I think I was dabbling in it on my own, in my own manner.

I believe prayer is a very broad term that can be applied to the times I communicate with or open to God. Much of the time, the communication is non verbal and on a plane I can not always explain. As if God can transcend my heart for a heart meld (like Spock's mind mild on Star Trek). The only requirement is I get myself and my daily drama out of the way and listen. Sometimes I speak or I vocalize first, then listen. The real stuff happens in the listening.

So I pray with my body, my heart, my pastels, my pencil and even the internet! Like I used to as a kid, making myself permeable so God can be inside and, together, we can just be.

Prayer is being with God.


• How do I pray?
• What ways are unique to me?
• What's my definition of prayer?
• How has that evolved?
• What can I do to deepen my prayer life?

my skin
was permeable

as if
God lived
inside it
with me

the world

and I forgot

one day
I remembered

that being
with God
had to
BE in my way

no one else's

and yet
can BE
in their
own way,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Practicing otherness together

I feel as if I have been working and living in a vacuum: so very alone. I always think I am such an introvert and believe I prefer things that way. And, sometimes, I do. But right now, I could do with some companionship, some championship. Writing a book is lonesome work.

Yesterday,  I heard from a wonderful young friend overseas doing mission work in a very unconventional way (she's living and working among that country's people) and introducing them to the concept of Christianity if and when they or the circumstance seems ripe. I know she's becoming accepted and her gentle ways and beliefs drifting to others. She remarked how alone she felt until she articulated a prayer for "fresh vision" for her work and life even though she's "living the dream." When I responded to her e-mail, saying how much she hit the mark for me as well, she added wisdom from yet another friend:

" ... it's not loneliness, it's just aloneness. It's that I'm the only one who carries both of my lives from the two sides of the ocean with me when I cross back and forth. No one else comes along and 'gets' it on both sides. "

My friend added:
" I believe you are a builder in what you're doing, but you're not the only builder. You might not see the other ones or grasp the layout of the whole structure, but your piece fits into something bigger and you're not really alone in it."
Several years ago when I was in the midst of a two-year spiritual-nurture training, I was introduced to the concept of "otherness." I had never heard the term, yet it immediately spoke to me. And I now know we all experience that otherness much more than we'd care to admit. There is, definitely, work we must do alone, but there is also a corporate aspect that gives great meaning to our lives. Quakers are adept at balancing the individual and the corporate, using the community to encourage, challenge and hold accountable.

When we can recognize that we are not truly alone, but that we all feel like it, it builds community and support by that very insight.

My prayer is still for fresh vision, companionship, championship. It' s a prayer many others are uttering as well ... in unison with my heart. Awareness of practicing otherness together makes it not otherness any more.

• What's my auto mode when I feel alone?
• How often do I admit that feeling to others?
• What happens when I do?
• Am I currently in need of a fresh vision?
• How am I able to ask/pray for that?

head stuck in a notebook or a computer behind a closed door by myself often, it's solace lately, it's lonely it IS my work but I desperately need another to understand, to cheer how many of us have the same prayer?