Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Natural Truth

Yesterday, I shared coffee and conversation with spiritual friends, spiritual friends who are also mystics. Ever since a June retreat for Quaker mystics, we've carved out a monthly meeting time to check in with each other spiritually, support our journeys and be present to one another. There's no real set agenda, which is such a blessing. We're there to be ... together.

I crave this kind of connection, daily. Perhaps that's why I subscribe to two online meditations and just signed up for a third. I need reminders and companionship. Walking the walk isn't so easy for me. It can feel lonely and desolate at times. Me against the world, when I have forgotten that Spirit is always available. A grounding of like-hearted others is crucial.

We don't even have to talk about much in this group of three, though we usually meander some deep places. I like that we come as equals and can bare our souls. I shyly released a haunting confession yesterday, to which one friend spouted out a silly story and put my heart at ease. "I would have responded with something deeper," the other said and we all laughed. It was just right.

Such an antidote to the fact my life is in high gear as my daughters transition to ungodly wake-up times, heavy class loads and after-school commitments. Toss in six weeks of three birthdays, accompanied by parties and overnights, a major grant, evaluation of another, an Artsy Fartsy field trip and community art day and, well, you get the picture. Fill in your own details, I'm certain you recognize this space. Not much room for God.

"What art are you making?" one of my mystic cohorts chirps. "Are you blogging?" I confess that it's been ages since I've made art and that my usual, holy blogging days of Tuesday and Friday have been shuffled for 13th-year celebrations and pursuing grant finances, something I abhor because it is the least creative endeavor I can imagine.

I have an order for a Turtlebox, plan to open an Etsy shop with more and am dying to get knee-deep in a daylong retreat I am facilitating on naming gifts in October. But not until the surveys, evaluations and event planning happen. Sometimes I think the super structure will eat me alive. Without it, however, there's no funding for work God calls me to.

My husband hints that I wouldn't know myself unless I was stacked to the gills with work. I yearn for spaciousness. Do I make my work work? There have been times when it seems flowing and easy. This is not one of those. Now I feel ultra responsible, with few to share the burden physically, emotionally and spiritually.

One of my escapes when I am busy is to read. Currently, I'm reading Bridget Jones' Edge of Reason for the second time (I need to laugh, plus I love her vulnerability), Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Direction, Quaker Jan Wood's Christians at Work and The Edison Gene, which I find fascinating. Subtitled ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child,  I recognize elements of my youngest, but also myself. I have no problem focusing, but the sections on why some people can't function in the public-education system as well as the history of compulsory education help me see the untruth in our society. These artificial systems of dominance defeat our natural and beautiful wild tendencies, beating us into submission. No wonder I detested the corporate world and felt like an outsider in school, even if I could conform and do well. However, what speaks to me most are the sections on spirituality and mysticism. Thom Hartmann supposes with much fact that people with this hunter gene, holdover from ages ago, constantly scan the landscape and, with our changing technology this is, yet, another genetic adaptation not a disorder. These Hunter types stray from the mainstream, seeking a direct experience of the divine, dream and have an inner knowing that's lacking today. THIS is where I want to live.

I'd love to trade the busyness and super structure for dreaming, closeness to God and deep relationship with others. What's stopping me?

• With whom do I share my spiritual journey?
• When do I have a space for that with no other agenda?
• Who are the companions or mystics in my life?
• How do I nurture my spirituality and connection to God?
• What untruths have I recognized in the secular world?

in 20 years,
the NPR reporter says,

productivity has
risen 70 percent

and salaries,
5 percent

craziness, I say

just what are we 
laboring and pushing for?

and when we have trouble
focusing, they suggest
we are disordered

when the truth is
the material world
creates myth and
a vicious cycle

like the lab rat in
a cage, unable 
to see her way out

dreaming, praying
and connecting
are the essential
and natural Truth

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Realm of Truth

My friend Ali is so wise spiritually, though I don't think she'd own that. Dealing with her third round of cancer, she is a beacon of light, hope and clarity. There must be something about facing death straight on that brings one closer to Spirit. 

I began to watch a Netflix movie entitled "I am" about a successful Hollywood director who, when facing a debilitating post-concussion syndrome from a biking accident, isolates himself to cope with the pain and decides he wants to die. In that moment, he begins to see that his life of chasing the American dream, becoming rich, successful and famous is a lie and he intends to expose it. So, he takes a small crew and interviews religious and environmental leaders, philosophers and writers posing two questions: What is wrong with our world? What can we do about it?

From the half-hour portion I watched, interviewees suggest that Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest theory has instilled a non-natural competitive drive into Americans, the result of which is the economy we worship. We act as if the economy is a real thing, not a man-made invention, one commentator states. It also drives the consumerism of other countries and cultures. Among animals and untainted indigenous people, cooperation is valued over competition. There is a deep, natural connection that we are missing.

Ali calls it EGO: Edging God Out. I love that. She's had her own wake-up call about career and, just this week, is leaving a successful position with all of the trappings. "What do I need all of that for?" she asks. "I want to do good in the world." She hasn't recognized that her presence and reliance on God is a shining example of being rather than doing good in the world.

She has an incredible story to tell about turning adversity and hardship into success and cycling back to God. That's hers to tell. However, we had powerful conversations Sunday after worship as we shared lunch and, again, lingering in the parking lot. I am following her model of listening to God and surrendering in my own life. I NEED models. I need people who walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Ali is one who courageously takes that walk closer to Spirit on so many levels.

Alone in the Meetinghouse: my own clearness
Last night I rushed off to a second clearness committee helping me discern Spirit's message. It had been a jammed-packed day getting my daughters prepped to start school next week, schedule pick-ups, supply errands and getting ready for a pack of teens to descend for my youngest's 13th birthday party on Friday. 

Little breathing room, let alone time to process and be ready for more clearness. Then, I realized that I was trying to be clear for my clearness committee. How utterly ridiculous! I'm not totally clear and that IS the point of the process ... other discerning hearts listening to where God is working in me.

I scuttled on over for the 6 o'clock meeting and no one else came. Under some circumstances that would have seemed a disaster. This was as it was meant to be: me alone in my beloved Meetinghouse; just me and Spirit. I waited and worshipped, knowing full well I would be humanly alone. We were working on God's time and direction. There had been a reason for the scheduling snafu.

As I unlocked the door and wandered in, waiting for others, an article on the bulletin board had snagged my attention: Standing Still in the Light: A Spiritual Practice of George Fox.* I took my time, unlocked the library door, found a seat and began to sink into worship, waiting. At first for a committee to appear, then for my heart to unlock and let God in. I played with Fox's practice of:
1. BE STILL and submit to the light. I never liked that word, submit. I took it out of our wedding vows. Sounds like slavery to me. In this context, I understood it to mean the opposite: freedom. I struggled at first with the submitting, but it came. Not a once-and-for-all submission, but one in this moment. And, surrendering all of myself to Spirit, not just the good parts. I must give up the negative ones as well.
2. BE PRESENT. The stillness and emptiness of the Meetinghouse helped ground me in that respect.
3. FEEL, DON'T THINK. Die in the silence, the page had demanded. Die? Really? Yes. Die to the falsity in my life. The lies of our culture. I've been experimenting with feeling something I call Christ energy and I let that invade me in these moments.
4. BE VULNERABLE – stand naked. Sheesh. I had said in my last clearness committee how I felt God was asking me to come out from under props and do that very thing. I feel vulnerable all of the time. Vulnerable and out of place in a world that values success and masks. That's not the world I desire to serve. 
5. ACCEPT THE TRUTH. I was waiting, shielding myself from the litany of my faults. They never came. Much like a shamanic journey years ago when I was so afraid to look in the mirror only to discover beauty, my beauty, and not ugliness, deformity or horror. I have been judging myself based on the world's values, not Spirit's. In God's realm I am being asked to claim my beauty and gifts and share them with a needy world.

My fear is fear and it's an illusion. I remember a pivotal quote from a dear family friend's memorial service, scrawled inside a Bible: "lack of fear is significant."

God is asking me to submit my fear, on that I AM clear.

• Who are my up-close-and-personal models of faith and living?
• What are they teaching me?
• How do I achieve clarity?
• Where is God currently working in my life?
• What am I being asked to submit?

last one picked
for the gym team

the odd one
left out of
the girl-scout

the one who would
never measure up
for the popular clique

who hated the
of the corporate
world, felt chewed
up and spit out

internally scarred
by a car accident

who opted to
be, mostly,
at home
with her kids

who chose to
start a non-profit
for the community's
poorest kids over
a career

not surviving as
the fittest,
yet being
called, guided
and molded by

in another realm,
of Truth

* Steve Smith, A Quaker in the Zendo, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #370

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Rumpled skin of myself

My wolf came out the other day; no, literally she really did. On a 45-miute drive while I was taking a cat nap in the passenger seat – we'd done this same, long stretch three times in the last week-and-a-half – I had a waking dream. The kind that pops up before you know it, signaling that you were on the edge of sleep, but not quite.

Almost before it shifted to another visual, I recognized it as something to note. A yowling wolf, standing straight up, as if half human, emerging from a silken guise that looked like me. I was just shed, split in two and shuffled to the floor like a Disney-princess costume when the bad-guy seems more attractive.

I immediately sensed the wolf represented both power and anger. After journaling, I am aware she also symbolizes not playing by the rules, wildness, a natural state, animalness, beastliness and rawness.
Max and the Wild Things

The power and anger had been suppressed, but now they are out. This coincides with recent night waking as if my body is programmed for fear mode. Fear that I won't get enough done, be a good enough parent, earn enough, basically that there is not enough and I am not enough. On an intellectual and spiritual level, I know this isn't true. But, bodily and deeply imbedded, I don't and I need to learn it in that realm to release it.

A couple of days ago, a Richard Rohr meditation addressed this issue in a manner I had not before articulated:
Moving to the level of "participative knowing: is first of all a cellular experience, a full-body knowing. It is nothing you can prove merely by the mental ego. It is something you know by inner experience – by prayer, by love, and by suffering."
That hits the nail on the head for me.

This week I have been struggling, more like battling, with my almost 13-year-old in organizing her to go back to school. Organization is not in her genes and so her wolf has been calling, growling, to mine. As I explore and begin to address her resistance to organization and preference for chaos, I understand that taps into my current journey. That I have been too conformed to the world's ways that are not in sync with my nature. I have been teaching her some of the structures that constrict me and stuffed this wolf inside. She's challenging that. As a mother, I do need to guide her through the maze of living more easily in the world. Interesting books on fast minds and the hunter gene teach me that my daughter's nature is one of constant scanning and change. That she's not meant to be still and obedient, though she must adapt somewhat to survive this world. That's where I come in.

I can't ignore either of our wolves. Mine is no longer invisible and has shredded the princess facade of niceness. My wolf must channel her anger. Confess, as a wise astrologer suggested six months ago. Not repress or express. She's rebelling against old messages of sucking my stomach in or eating with my mouth closed so I don't appear uncivilized to others.

I ache to embrace this wildness that I see in my child. To own my power and creativity and surrender the old messages, patterns and destructive ways along with the fear and anger. I long to let go of the super structures that are not me. The ones that hold and hem me in. The ones that separate me from Spirit.

I want to flow, dance, be joyful and not restricted. That's all my daughter wants. We're fallible human bodies with big hearts and a spark of Divinity, that of God within. In learning to unstrap my burden of responsibility, perfectionism and attachment and give them to Spirit, perhaps that will guide her as well.

I feel like the opposite of my favorite storybook character, Max, from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Max dresses up in a wolf suit to become "the king of all the wild things." I've dressed up in a suit that constricts my wildness and closeness to Spirit. Hoping to complete the journey and return while, like Max's homecoming, my dinner is still hot.

• When has my wild thing emerged?
• What triggered it?
• What message did it bring?
• How do I identify with the wildness in others?
• How does that wildness draw me closer to Spirit?

lazily drifting
out of thought
into the warmth
of the sun, the
soft breeze and
gentle hum of
the car


images carelessly
floating by until
one calls, grabs
my attention

the wolf, my wolf
growls her way
out of my skin

announcing her
visibility and need
to be out

now, what to do
with the rumpled
skin of myself and
the new wildness

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Best-laid plans

I am not in charge.
I am not in charge.
That's my new mantra, the result of Artsy Fartsy's (AF) first field trip. I want to say it was the trip from you-know-where, but will stop short and accept it's imperfections. In my head, as I planned, it was perfect:  an "easy" summer session that wouldn't require me to get the studio in order or supply a lesson, activity and project.
I am not in charge.
I am not in charge.
The girls and I began developing the museum scavenger hunt on the long drive back from our recent East Coast trip. We bounced ideas around as I drove, Autumn facilitated and Lily took notes. We know the museum pretty well, but, just to be sure, we trekked there a week in advance to double-check, make adjustments and record gallery numbers. That was the basis for our hunt, complete with a teacher's guide for leaders and museum maps with divergent paths for each group.

Dozens of empty water bottles from our June open house were the impetus for the trip. Painted and sliced in spirals, they'll make incredible Dale Chihuly-inspired sculptures for our old school building. But I wanted the kids to see a real Chihuly: the stunning, snaky, cobalt one greeting visitors as they enter the Cincinnati Art Museum. Most AF kids had never been and were stoked for the trip. Parents must've been, too, as permission slips came back sans much coaxing.

And drivers were plentiful ... until, for extremely valid reasons, they began to drop like flies. No worries, I chanted, invoking Spirit's help. Thanks to good friends and neighbors, we had our last-minute transport. I had carefully assigned particular kids to each car based on pick-up destinations and separating siblings and those who don't get along. I wanted it to flow smoothly.
I am not in charge.
I am not in charge.
That went out the door at my first stop. Could I wait 20 minutes til he could get back from his grandparents? Unfortunately, no, I responded, I have six others to take and meet the group in 10 minutes. One of the girls had asked if her step mother, an artist, could ride. Sure, I said once I knew there was an extra seat. The girls were lined up and ready at their complex when two of us arrived. Yet the artist was absent, running an errand. With her finally in tow, we met up with the other drivers and their charges at the school.

As we re-made car assignments, one was angry to be moved to accommodate warring siblings. She wasn't in my car, so I didn't understand the depth of her frustration, which she, apparently, articulated the entire ride.

We arrived, neatly, met a Quaker friend on the steps, took a group photo, had the kids read the etiquette and museum tips aloud and split into four small groups. We entered together and all spent time under the Chihuly, then went our separate ways, indicated by the orange highlighter on the museum maps. I was there long enough to experience real awe as one of the most shy and least self-assured girls become entranced with the shimmering sculpture. She saw an entire universe in that piece: animals, the sea and connected family members. I was charmed and grateful she had this opportunity.
I am not in charge.
I am not in charge.
My reverie was cut short when, a museum greeter asked me to fill out a lengthy form for our group, suggesting that I could have called ahead for a docent-led tour. I knew that would have been the death-knell for this group. Also could have received complementary parking. Ouch, I thought. Why hadn't the information-desk attendant mentioned that last week when I said I was bringing a group, I wondered to myself.

Soon, I received a panicked phone call from my night-before volunteer driver and group leader. "We're lost, I don't know the museum well and the girls in my group, well, they're not listening." Okay, so if anyone had to have a difficult group, it should have been me. I flew up the steps, rescued them and we all entered the special exhibit. One with wonderful props that I had hoped would set the stage for these kids. One of the three 6th graders, new to Artsy Fartsy this summer, pulled me over to a particular Potthast painting, noting that the label mentioned the variety of color in the ocean rocks. She was astounded as she began naming them. Another moment of awe for me.

A stop at the digitized sketch books would fascinate the kids, I thought, as they flipped through with a swipe. That's when things fell apart and two of my regulars wouldn't budge. They spewed that this was boring and too much like school and how one had begged her mother to come and now, she said without words, she wished she hadn't.

In my stern mother voice, I remarked that unless she changed her attitude right now, she and I would head downstairs and wait while the others finished. I was angry at how disrespectful she'd been of the teen leader and her mother. I mentioned that she had no idea how much time and how many people it had taken to put this trip together. Her face flushed and she was silent. She wouldn't budge. Sometimes I believe she rules the roost at home because she's the oldest and parenting has been absent. I also now understand that they were so many variables at work; that we weren't in our usual safe space with clear boundaries. I wish I had prayed in that moment.
I am not in charge.
I am not in charge.
I knew I'd have to throw the scavenger hunt idea out for this group. Clearly it wouldn't work. When the unbudger finally relented and focused on an encased toy kitchen, I mentioned that, perhaps, we could find the miniature paintings. That got her attention and off we went, casting caution to the wind and winding through rooms I had not planned on, letting the kids gravitate to what moved them. The tide had turned. We eventually completed about half the stops on the hunt and were warming up as it was time to wind down.

Apparently each of the other groups had been extremely successful, but they were with teens and adults they knew. I had thrust these two with new guides. Now I see the unfairness to both parties.

This is only the second time I've scolded any of my AF kids. I didn't like it, but their behavior made it necessary. Later I took each aside and said I was sorry that it had come to that, that I knew they were good kids and I was grateful we got past that moment. One of them apologized and the other, without words, signaled it was okay.

Again, we struggled to leave the museum collectively as the step mother tagging along was buying something from the gift shop. I had asked the kids not to visit because some had money and some had not. My plan had been to allow each to choose a post card of their favorite museum piece, but my time and energy had been directed elsewhere.
I am not in charge. 
I am not in charge.
Generously, the museum greeter approached me and said how grateful they were for our group and the information I'd provided. She comped our parking. We were off for a successful French picnic in Mt. Adams that went off without a hitch ... until we did some car swapping, two left and we realized we were left with an extra passenger. The second car swiftly returned and we re-situated ... about an hour later than scheduled, but we'd completed our trip.

A successful picnic!
I was worn out and wondering what had just happened. This was a lesson, I heard my Inner Teacher say. The biggest one being that I am not in charge no matter how much I think I may be.

• When have I labored to plan something that completely fell apart?
• What lessons did that experience impart?
• How have the lessons of not being in charge humbled me?
• How can I be present when that happens?
• How can I be prayerful in those moments?

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