Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Celebrating Spirit with a Silent Supper

“And in one house they could see an old grandfather mummy being taken out of a closet and put in the place of honor at the head of the table, with food set before him. And the members of the family sat down to their evening meal and lifted their glasses and drank to the dead one seated there, all dust and dry silence…”
~ Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree, 1972

Dine with the Dead
Bradbury’s text was my first introduction to the idea of the silent dinner with the dead, also known as a Dumb Supper. This formal sit-down is traditionally done any night between October thirty-first and November third. I enjoy it most when we can set the table on Halloween evening, also known as Samhain (sow-in), which we are planning to do this year. This one is also special as it marks the first anniversary of the accident where I almost died.
My Ancestors stood at my bedside with me, helping to channel the healing energy. I was so near death myself that I saw them clearly. A few were faces I recognized but most were new to me, with eyes or jaws or mouths set in familiar slants and patterns. When I was closest to the other side, I was least alone. My wife and I will be celebrating life as we honor those who aided my healing from the spirit world.
It’s meant to be silent but it does not have to be a solemn or somber event. Hold the supper sacred and keep conversation on the experience at hand; it is not a place to chit chat about the workday or chores that need to be done as such mundane life can keep the timid dead away who no longer recognize the world-as-is. Perhaps there was a time when true silence was possible but for the scraping of forks and howling of the wind, but in this day, when our homes are filled with the not-so-quiet hum and thrum of electronics, appliances, traffic and plumbing, I try to use the electrical aids to entice the dead to visit.
We play some kind of music that might appeal to our invited guests. We often listen to the radio drama of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, which pulls the spirit energy into our home. I grew up sitting around the radio with my family, listening to music. A generation before us it was music and radio serials. The emotional sensation that fills our home when we play the radio drama is one of a joyous family reunion.
The event itself can be as simple or elaborate as your circumstances require. The intention is the magic. Welcome in any weary travelers from the other world and offer them an extra place at your table. Feed them before you feed the living. Allow them an evening of humanity on the night when the overlapping worlds bleed through.

What We Do
We use the dumb supper to open a space for the living and dead to dine together. We have greatly ritualized the evening, though we keep it family-style-casual. At the heart of the evening, it is about honoring Those Who Came Before. We may make a connection and touch spirit world, but that is just an aside. It is not about us. So imagine you are gently trying to lull spirits who have been in other world back into the familiar trappings of life. Think about it like you are starting at the end and moving backwards, like a mirror image of their last breath.
It may seem like a stretch, but apply that to the table itself. I think of the table and meal like a reflection, a photo-negative image of your mundane life. Whatever order you would normally eat dinner courses, serve them backwards. However you would place-set the table, set it backwards. Do you usually put forks on the left and water glass on the right? Reverse them. Whether it makes sense or not, it works, and is one of the oldest guidelines for hosting a supper for the dead.

Prepare the Food
Planning the menu is part of the fun. What foods will you serve? I like to make items that were meaningful to my family as well as items I find that hearken to the cultural heritage I am discovering in my genealogical research: German, Polish, Irish, Dutch, English, French-Canadian, etc. What lines live in your bloodstream?
In order to highlight what makes this supper different, it’s helpful to plan a series of courses. It ends up being a bit more formal than a meal we would normally prepare, but for us, this is a special occasion. It may be helpful to note that pungent and fragrant scents are more enticing to the dead who no longer eat.

Plate the Table
We set a chair at the head of the table and shroud it in black fabric to represent the Spirit Chair. A candle is placed in the center of its plate. This is the setting for all those who wander the night and wish the living no harm. During each of the courses, this chair is the guest of honor.
Then we each set out an extra chair for our personally invited spirit guest. It cannot be someone who has died within the last year. We write the name of our invited guest on a piece of paper and place it beneath their plate. Sometimes I actually write letters or ask a question I am hoping to gain spiritual insight on. If you do not have a particular ancestor you wish to invoke, you may simply write the ancestors of your name, your bloodline, your spiritual heart, etc.
A candle is placed on the center of the plate. I place my guest’s chair across from me, so that I may gaze into the space there, like divination, during the meal. Ultimately, where you place them is not important. What is important is that you serve the Spirit Chair first, your invited guests next, and then yourself. It’s the intention of hospitality that matters most.

Open the Door and Light the Way
At the beginning of the meal, we stand behind the head chair and invite our ancestors to come and dine with us. I even go so far as to open the front door and invite them into my home. We light the candle on the Spirit plate and pour a libation into the cup at the head of the table. I call in the Ancestors with this prayer:
To those who have gone before,
To those whose names live in our hearts and dance upon our lips,
To those whose names have been lost in the sea of time,
To those whose bones lie above and below the earth,
To those whose ashes have travelled on the winds,
We, the living, bid you welcome and entrance.
This action opens door for your personal guests to step in, too. We light the candles on our invited guests’ plates and call them by name. This year I am inviting my unknown-to-me-in-life paternal great-grandmother Hattie Eva Smith. She trained to be a nurse late in life after her husband died. She stood at my left thigh most of the time I was in the ICU.

Enjoy the Evening
A place set for our beloved cats.
The meal itself is also a reflected image of what the dead would remember. We start with the dessert course and sit down to enjoy it. Next, the main course, then the sides. Then the soup and salad, followed by any appetizers and pre-dinner cocktails. You should structure your meal in a way that seems appropriate to you, your heritage and your family traditions- just backwards from whatever that might be.
During each pause in courses, while we are eating, I focus on the space across from me and the multiple sensory impressions I receive. In years past, I have invited my Great-Grandma (known-to-me-in-life) Elsie Durant Riddle to dine with me. From the ether I have been chastised for not salting her meatballs or being stingy on the chocolate cake. I have also heard the gentle trebling of her voice and felt the cool paper of her skin as our hands brushed while I was serving her. I have found myself responding to an unspoken request from her spirit for another napkin. On this night, they can allow themselves the human moments they had in life and we can be reminded of them; Elsie did often need an extra napkin.

Bid the Dead to Rest
When the meal is finished, we express our gratitude to those who came and supped with us. That mostly consists of speaking our thoughts and feelings out loud. When the evening feels over, I thank my guest for coming and I open the front door, wishing them a safe journey for the rest of their evening. I put their candle out. (If I use tea light, I just let them burn out.)
I thank the Ancestors for dining with us and I snuff out the candle on the Spirit Chair. I carry the libation from the Spirit cup, usually water, outside and pour it on the ground:
To those who have gone before,
To those whose names live in our hearts and dance upon our lips,
To those whose names have been lost in the sea of time,
To those whose bones lie above and below the earth,
To those whose ashes have travelled on the winds,
We, the living, thank you for dining with us.
We, the living, bid you safe travels.
Ideally, the food would also be disposed of sacredly, either burned, buried or, traditionally, placed in running water. For me, it means leaving it out in the woods for critters, an offering of the bones of spirit-eaten food to other life in need. When I dispose of it, I do so with sacred intention.

Death is a part of the natural cycle we are all a part of and it’s healthy to find ways of acknowledging it as we celebrate the lives we lead. Our Dumb Suppers are portals that allow us, for one moment, whether we truly believe or not, to open up the part of ourselves that remembers the imagination of our childhoods. And we can believe that we might not know what comes after. And we can allow ourselves to speak words to the dead that would otherwise seem foolish.
            Many blessings to you and your family, both living and dead on this day. I have much gratitude to the Ancestors who lived, who opened the Way that we might walk this earth together. May we walk this earth softly, that those who come after us will speak our names in joy. May the peace and stillness of the season be with you. May the Ancestors walk with us, always.

[Article revamped from a post originally published October 31, 2012.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

To Those Grieving a Recent Loss

All Hallows is upon us. Those sensitive to Spirit will feel the winds opening new doorways, and swiftly stirring up the ways between. All those whose hearts are sorrowed by loss, all of you will feel it, too. You may feel a presence beside you, or sense one walking through your kitchen. You may *know* that someone is in your bathroom and with the same surety, know that if you go look, it will be empty.
I understand why these moments scare you, when your heart is still deep in grief, still hoping somewhere beneath the rationality, that your loved one *will* be there one of these times. Anything less is a betrayal. Every time.
It might also feel like betrayal when I ask you not to look for your loved ones in those shadows. Do not will them to come forth. Do not beg them to appear. Not this year. Not this season.
Those who have recently died are in transition.
I believe there is more to us than these physical bodies. I believe there is an afterlife for whatever that is. I’ve said that before. Your recently lost loved one may choose to appear to you. But don’t let books and movies steer your heart. In my experience that choice is uncommon so soon. It may be theirs. But leave that to them. Grieve for them but do not call them to you.
I encourage you to light candles and burn incense. Crack a window and call to your ancestors. Call them by name if you know them. Call to the lines you know, call only to those who wish you well. Call them to sit beside you this season. Call them to sit with you on Hallows night.
Do not sit spiritually alone in this grief. Your ancestors have all known loss. Some of them have sat where you sit. They know that secret, marring hole inside of you. Ask them to find and welcome your loved one. Ask them to watch over you in your sorrow.
Sit with your ancestors and cry your heart dry.
There is no time limit to grief. It’s a silly concept. The loss never goes away. It never undoes. You must be brave and find the strength to bear knowing that, for every second you keep living, the possibility of them being involved in it has been removed. That’s tremendously hard and you’ll mostly make it up as you go along.
For now, this Samhain, these next few weeks and months, leave your lost loved ones to rest. Lean into your ancestors, lean into the living. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Buffalo Brother Visits

When I was in the Burn ICU, I suffered from night terrors after waking out of my medically-induced coma. I was beyond fearful for a while. I was terror-filled and terrified. One night, when my room was maddeningly growing around me and I struggled to catch my racing heartbeat, a musky scent filled the room and I heard the familiar snorting of a bison.
A large warm body folded itself beside my hospital bed and my heart recognized Tatanka, my animal guide, immediately. (I know his name is redundant.) He laid his head down and I dug my fingers into his hair, griping him like he were the largest grounding stone in the world. I pressed my face to his neck, shutting my eyes against the mad hallucinations and the insistence of their realness. He felt solid beneath me, too. I can still hear the rhythm of his breath and I matched my heartbeat to it. 
Under such traumatic duress, I was so enveloped in spirit, trance,and  not-in-my-body-ness that a door opened and my animal guide came to me in my time of need. He placed himself between me and other doors so that I could rest. So that I could sleep.
I was told that I talked with Tatanka out loud enough that people inquired after it.
I have been building a relationship with buffalo for over a decade and we have been through some trenches together. To honor him, I want to post some previous passages I wrote about having bison as a personal totem.

Meeting Bison
When our local zoo was host to a pair of male bison, I could not resist the opportunity to observe them in the waking world. I had dreamt of them thundering across the plains. I had dreamt of running with them in buffalo skin and walking among them with human feet. At difficult periods in my life, I called on their strength to aid me in putting one foot ahead of the other, to keep moving forward no matter what was coming at me.
            But I had never seen one in person.
I went to the zoo every week, sitting outside their pen. I told them stories about their European ancestors, the ancient aurochs. I thanked them for the generations of bison who have been feeding and sheltering humanity. I told them about the bison cave drawings in Altamira, Spain that date to 12,000 BC. I told them about the drawings in the Niaux Cave of France. Mostly, after a while, I sat in silence, trying to become part of their landscape, more than a mere tourist.
I felt their strength in the sound of their footfall and saw intelligence in their dark eyes, with their beautiful lashes. When the older male looked at me, it was not with a dull gaze. He was observing as much as I was. Despite their girth, there is a grace in the way they graze the grasses. The older male began to greet me at the fence when I arrived. When I went with my visiting mother, we were in the adjacent goat pen. I turned around to find my bison friend’s face inches from mine, where he had stuck it through a hole.

Bison in the Wild
Bison are even-toed ungulates, which are animals that hold their body weight on the tips of their toes while in motion. They are usually hooved. Others among the diverse group of ungulate mammals are the rhinoceros, zebra, camel, alpaca, warthog, pig, hippopotamus, giraffe, deer, elk, moose, caribou, reindeer, gazelle, antelope, yak, auroch, sheep, goat, oryx, and musk ox.
The bison and the buffalo are both animals of the Bovidae family, but the bison is of the genus Bison, while the buffalo is of the genus Syncerus. They are related, but they are not the same creature. Their genes diverged 5 to 10 million years ago. Still, as we called them buffalo before their genus was determined, it is acceptable to refer to them by either name. There are two living species, the American bison, composed of plains bison and wood bison, as well as the European bison. There were four other known bison species that are now extinct.
Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. The nomadic grazers travel in a large herd during the reproductive season from June to September. Otherwise, the females travel in their own herd with the young, including males under three years of age. The adult males travel together in a smaller herd; a bull seldom travels alone.
Both the male and female bison have horns, and are good swimmers, crossing rivers over a half-mile wide. Bison enjoy wallowing in small shallows of dirt or mud. They can appear peaceful and unconcerned, but they are unpredictable in temperament. Without warning they might launch into an attack. They can cover large distances at a gallop of up to 35 mph. Bison are most dangerous during mating season, when the older bulls rejoin the herd, hormones are high, and fights occur.
When there is outside danger, the female bison circle up around the young, old, and infirm. The bulls take position on the outside. When danger strikes, they come together to protect each other. The only known predators of the bison are the grey wolf, brown and grizzly bear, coyote, and human.

Buffalo Brother
My friend from the zoo!
I used to have anger issues. I began the Buddhist work of Lovingkindness as a means of reshaping that part of me, embracing gratitude, mindfulness, and compassion. I began to dream of Buffalo Brother, who gave me two options. I could snort and engage him in combat, or I could let my anger dissolve into the earth beneath me and graze quietly with him in the grasses. In our world, bison are humble and quiet and content to roam the wilds, but when provoked, they become giant, lumbering, movable mountains. I took this lesson to heart and adopted him as a guide. I connect buffalo to both my root and my heart chakra.
In many traditions, the bison is a symbol of gratitude. It represents the sacredness of life, the relation of all things, and the relation of all those things with the Earth beneath us. It is about honoring all living things, being humble enough to ask for help, and grateful for whatever help is given and offered. I’m going to repeat that: grateful for whatever help is given. That’s the point, right? If you ask for help and then are picky about what is offered, that is not gratitude. In that respect, buffalo medicine is also about prayer.
Bison turn their faces into approaching storms, standing firmly against them. Buffalo stands proud against the winds of adversity. Those called to this medicine should remember to temper themselves in dealings with others and allow tranquility and peace to enter their lives. Strive to see the positive side of all things.
Buffalo is about abundance. It’s about seeing that you have everything you need at your disposal. You do. But sometimes you have to dig into uncomfortable places to get to it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because it’s not what you want, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Being grateful for what you have is true prosperity. Stop focusing on what you don’t have and focus on what you do. Keep a daily gratitude list. This practice will change the way your brain thinks, and you will start to see all the good in the world. It will change you from the inside, and you will find that you no longer need to worry about storing your frustrations inside, because buffalo teaches us to release them into the earth.

The Legend of the White Buffalo
The relationship between the Native People and the buffalo was beautiful. They killed what they needed, offering prayers of gratitude to the Great Spirit before the hunt, and having ceremonies honoring the life of the buffalo afterwards. The meat would feed the tribe. The skins and hides were used to make clothing and shelter. Even the hooves were ground down to make glue. Buffalo gifted the People life by sacrificing his own. Many hunters wore protective amulets made of buffalo bone.
Many Native tribes have legends of White Buffalo Woman, who came to the People and taught them how all things were connected. She brought them the sacred pipe and taught them medicine rituals. She promised to return to them in an era of Peace, and since then the birth of a rare white buffalo has been an omen of promise and hope, marking an end to suffering.

Pida miya, Tatanka.

[Contains passages originally posted in Animal Allies: Buffalo Brother on September 25, 2013.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Equinox Descent Mythologies

Covering beds for the winter
as garden snakes go underground.
The sun retreats from half of the world,
hibernating through longer nights.
“We must carry the dark,” Autumn whispers.
“What do you bring into the dreaming?”

Inanna descends into the Underworld of her own free will. She makes the journey to meet with her sister, Ereshkigal, her shadow self. She goes to face her hidden half and she will be undone in the dark. But when the dawn comes she will *know* herself wholly for the first time, and will re-emerge from the deep in her strength and power. 

What do you see when you face your reflection? What is light? What is dark? Can you breathe in all of the pieces and make a whole image? Do you have the strength to stand naked and unflinching before it?

Unwinding her thread, Ariadne gave her lover the map to the labyrinth beneath the surface of the earth, beneath the surface of her skin. He went in to meet her shadow self, her twin brother chained at the center of the labyrinth. The beast we call Minotaur is the primal darkness within her breast, the animal part of her that she hides. Her twin is made of big bang, the original star. She is betrayed as the hero slays that same monster in order to woo her, to protect her, to impress her. Ariadne’s hero cut out her very heart. 

Do you keep your ugliness hidden from the world? Are you not made more beautiful in the shadow of your flaws? Who decides what is ugly or what makes a thing flawed? Do you have the strength to expose your vulnerabilities? The things that make you different help shape the world. Can you shed those who would stand in judgment of you for those who will embrace you as you are?

Persephone leaves the child of springtime behind her as the sands trickle towards autumn. She steps on the path winding into the hillside, away from her mother’s eyes and arms. She leaves her parent’s home, known and fragrant with summer memories, towards the unknown house of her husband, in shadow, where she shall be lover, spouse and woman. She steps lightly on the path. She knows where it is going though she does not know the landscape and she cannot see its end. As she journeys she grows more sure-footed. She trusts that it is the right path. Either way, she embraces her choice.

What shades of yourself have you shed in your journey? Have you learned to let them go and accept the changes? Can you be a daughter or son to your parents without still being a child? Can you step into uncertainty? Can you keep your feet to your path, though you cannot see the ending?

Orpheus descends to the Underworld in grief, passing where no living being can pass. In his love, he wins Eurydice back. But the path out of the darkness is too long and too quiet and his grief was too deep. Orpheus loses faith that she is behind him even though she promised she would be there. He turns around before they reach the light and she is lost to him forever. 

Can you face the moments when you slip? Can you take responsibility for your mistakes? Can you rise above them rather than sink into embarrassed despair? Can you find faith in those darkest moments?

Oya stands at the cemetery gate as the recent dead descend into the ground. She is the beacon of light calling them to rest. She greets them with a candle or lantern, standing against the flood of their fresh grief. Oya knows the darkness and she guides them through.

That strength lives in you. Do you know how to find it?

The key of the labyrinth is a crossroad of souls. Papa Legba waits in the darkest shadows for a cry, a whistle, a trumpet of need, ready to ferry bargains and deals as we wander through our winter nights. And his hand will be the warmest hand, and he will greet you as an old friend. And he will take what you offer to appease your heart. But you can never have it back.

What would you sacrifice? What have you already given?

Tlazolteotl balances the act of love with the act of defecation. Sacred in, sacred out. She is the flow between connection and release. Birth and death. Life and loss. One follows the other, like night follows day and day follows night. She walks-between for us, holding the memory of light when the darkness overwhelms, and holds the dark so we don’t forget to find gratitude for the light.

What is sacred to you?

The veils are thinning. The darkness is winning favor as we turn into autumn. Our mythologies provide us with archetypes we can use to illuminate ways to navigate the path ahead, that we can move forward. 

What do we learn from these stories? 

We learn to not fear the dark, but to tread gently through it and embrace it. Use your personal dark as a space of transformation. Face your twilight reflection and prepare to challenge and test yourself against the chilled slumber of the earth and the lengthening nights.

Covering beds for the winter
as garden snakes go underground.
The sun retreats from half of the world,
hibernating through longer nights.
“We must carry the dark,” Autumn whispers.
“What do you bring into the dreaming?”

*Original poem, Equinox, by Sarah Lyn.

[First posted as Equinox Mythos & Mystery on September 28, 2011.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Autumn Crossroads on the Equinox

We are turning into autumn and the last of our tomatoes and beans are fruiting. The morning glories herald the dawn in vibrant hues of violet, periwinkle, and fuchsia. White moon flowers twine around the rail, their buds thick and strong. They are ready to burst open and hail the darker days of the year. Silence stills the land here, five years after the horrible flooding that made our city headlines in the news. We’ve moved on but the earth remembers. The first of the geese flying north to south in migration have trumpeted across the sky.
Smells turn crisp and quick as leaves dry, drop and decay, crunching against the bottom of our feet as we walk through the brush. Garden fruit and vegetables that missed their harvest will rot and fall. They become mulch and nourish the earth for sowing in the spring. In autumn, layers of bone, earth and leaves cover the world, dulling the sharp piquant of summertime. We bed our gardens and add bulk to our bodies against the funneling twist of leaves lifting in chillier winds. The beauty of life is migrating onward, disappearing into the earth and ether. The world outside us prepares to sleep. The world inside us softens into rest, too.
We have toiled through the languid heat of our longest days and the changing landscape heralds the lengthening dark that will descend soon upon us. This Equinox is my favorite time of year, symbolized by the crossroads. We stand at the point where the breathing world bleeds into the spirit world.
It’s a place where two conflicting truths can stand equally as firm and where balance is born. It is the place where the gateway exists. It is a gateway that lives inside you.
As the point of balance floats over our land like twilight fog, obscuring lines and blurring edges, we have the chance to touch the other side without walking through it. On Equinox, I pause to catch a breath. I stand between the long days of light and the long nights of dark. I stand at the crossroad and pay homage to those who have stood here before me, to the pause in the passage of time, and to those who will stand here long after I am gone. On this day I can see into the future as far as I can see into the past.

We stand in the tipping point, the grey space, the limbo, the in-between. Equinox is a time for feeling and reflection, a chance to catch our breath before moving forward. This is the time of year when I pause my search for more lines of my family tree. I wrap up my current work and make notes of where to look next. I will spend the winter months researching what names I have, reading old tomes and histories so that I might discover who my ancestors were and what places they inhabited.
The genealogical research is easier for me to do in sprints, following one line through till I hit a wall, then fleshing out that line, giving it form and story. In this way the act alone is a study in my own history and I am the eternal student. By using this method, the names and dates imprint on my memory with context. Every winter my living knowledge of my family grows stronger. In my dedication, the threads between me and my ancestral dead grow thicker.
We are about to enter the labyrinth, going underground like the mythological Ariadne, under and inward. I have been practicing my embroidery, in remembrance of my Great-Grandmother Minnie, and her mothers, whose scraps of sewing craft I treat as sacred objects from a line of women I never knew. In my nightly meditations I have been embroidering labyrinths, moving into the dark to come out of the dark. It takes two full lines, two lengths of needle and thread, in at one end and out at the other, to create the full labyrinth, which is made up of two roads, crossing at the key. In this ancient tool, duality and balance snake into forms that do not lose their symbolic origins.
If I unwind the labyrinth, the four arms of the equinoxes and solstices spread before me. We stand at the crossroad, facing autumn, knowing that as we step onto the road it is already turning towards winter. The crossroad lies near the heart of the labyrinth. We turn inward to find center at Solstice, and roll outward, retracing steps to find the sun again next Equinox. In walking the labyrinth, we move like the waters of our body move to the currents of the ocean, rolling in and out, each turn in moving us closer to healing and wholeness. As life continues through the shorter days and my body moves daily through the world, I carry the peace of the labyrinth inside me, as an anchor of stillness, walking it quietly within while the world moves loudly around me.
As the leaves dry and fall, I find some of this peace in the act of showing honor to those long gone. I often walk the local cemeteries, picking up trash and litter. It is such a small offering made to the memory of those gone before. They may not be my ancestors but they belong to someone. These dead shaped the town that I live in and they had lives filled with hopes and dreams, just like mine. To me the cemeteries feel most like parks, with spirits wandering here and there. They are some of the quietest spaces, full of the grace of those who lived and those still living who remember their names.

[Originally posted as Autumn Crossroads at Equinox on September 19, 2012. Some moments updated for the current time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Morning Glories in Meditation

Every year, as spring begins to blossom, I push the base of a wooden trellis into the fresh dirt next to our little stoop. I watch as the small seedlings from the previous autumn poke their way through the earth and unfurl. I weed the bed and water the small beings reverently. As the vines grow, thin and spaghetti-like, I teach them to move towards the trellis. They grow thicker, covered in short fuzz. The leaves grow bigger, shaped like hearts. The larger they get, and the deeper the color, the closer they are to budding.
I spend each morning in a gentle meditation, wrapping the sweet vines around the trellis, and watching them catch on over the days, until they wind themselves, in and out. The trellis is the loom where nature and I create beautiful art together. As the weeks pass, the vines become a green wall, offering us a sense of privacy; our nature guardian.

When the buds first come, they are tight little spirals, growing bigger each day. When I can see the color threaded through them, I know they will open the next morning and it will be a morning treasure hunt to see where the early blooms have hidden themselves.
The flowers are full and thick and brilliant at dawn, staying to the shadows. The beautiful heart-shaped leaves act like umbrellas, extending the lives of the blossoms by shading them. At mid-morning, the blossoms glow with a luminescence that makes them seem otherworldly, as if tiny portals are opening from within the heart of the flower.
This is my favorite time of day to be in the garden, to be sitting on the stoop with a book and a notepad, stirring my own creative juices in their wake. I watch as the bees frolic and pollinate, leaving tiny dustings of pollen on the petals. I watch as the light fades from the petals.
As the day lengthens and the sun climbs in the sky, the morning glory blossoms grow weaker, their petals more translucent. The softening flowers tear easily and stick to the leaves around them. By mid-afternoon those that have survived curl in upon themselves. At dusk, the day-old flowers drop unceremoniously to the ground below.
Every day in the world of the morning glory is a new beginning, a new life. Their beauty doesn’t last because nothing lasts. The nature of life is that it ends. That is the magic of the morning glory for me. They are dead when dark descends, but tomorrow, there will be life again.
In the fall, when the garden withers, small buds of seeds are left behind on the browning vines. They will dry and shrink and loosen their eggplant-colored seeds into the ground. There, they will slumber through winter, waiting to emerge come next spring. So even in their seasonal ending, there is hope. There is always hope. But for today, under the last of summer sun, there is still beauty and joy.

[New photos, 2016. Reprinted September 2, 2015. Originally published August 14, 2013.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Shape of Spirituality

For me, concrete belief is the death of spiritual growth. We are students from the moment of our first breath until our last. And possibly beyond even that.
My personal spirituality has been a journey of trial and error, of accepting that what I thought I knew before was… not wrong, but not the whole truth. Multiple times, what-I-knew-as-true was altered by new expansive experiences. This was especially true in the wake of my accident last autumn. Our trials test us, not our deities or divinities. The world happens, and we fall victim to it as it unfolds.
Ten months of walking through pain and regenerating skin cells, of sitting and laying and reviving muscle tissue. Ten months of solitude and self-reflection, and the shape of my spirituality has shifted and grown once more. After a decade, I have finally stopped trying to label it.
Language can open our worlds and it can make it small. Spirituality should never be small. Our world isn’t small. And spirituality is larger than the world we see.
I may not know what it is, but I know where I stand in it. Fool. Witch. Shaman. Animist. Naturalist. Spirit Talker. Dream Walker. Word Knitter. Gardener.
In the beginning my work was all about ghost investigating and forest meditating. And still, the first time I heard the language of the trees, I freaked out. I hit a Wall of the Unknown. Yet instead of denying it, I took a breath, exhaled, and opened my world.
And then I understood that everything has life, even if we do not understand its language. And then I discovered the path to loving everyone, even if it’s from afar, and finding the way to a form of forgiveness that brought me healing. And I began to see the spirit in everyone around me. And my everyday became my spirituality. And when my head spun, when I hit a wall, I simply took a breath, exhaled, and stepped into a larger world.
I hit a wall the day I heard the voice of my deceased grandfather speaking to me in the forest. My heart raced and I broke out in a cold sweat. But I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t want to lose that connection just because I couldn’t understand it. So I accepted it as a truth I had not known before. And suddenly my idea of world was not limited to just the physical one. Every time I grow, the edges of my energy sphere stretch out more and I feel more immersed in the oneness of the world we live on.
That ability to surrender helped me in my recovery at the hospital. Others might have gone mad in the necessary-drug-induced fog of torture. It’s not that I didn’t fight against it. But when I realized I was smothering beneath it, I took a breath and sank in deeper to the horror of it. And then I saw it for what it was. Necessary. I did not give in to madness. I smiled at the spirits standing around my bed. I thanked the housekeepers for cleaning my room. I told the nurses what it was that made them special. We were all one team whose only goal was to get me better, even if the way there is more painful.

My spirituality shifts with every choice I make. The shape of me flows in to fill that space, like water, and I am forever, and momentarily, altered. And I am at peace.
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