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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Matters

Fifty-nine days ago, I had a terrifying brush with death.

It was serious, but I'm going to be okay. I am still in the hospital, working on getting healthy enough to go home. It will be a long road to recovery but I'm already making great strides. For a while, I was breathing with one foot in this world and one foot in the other world.

I'm still processing through my experiences on the other side, but this side was full of overwhelming love. It seems to me it's the most important thing. It brought me back to this world. It protected me from the terrors of the other side. It has sustained me through my difficult journey, pouring in from all areas of my life, from all period of friendships, and even from strangers who pray for the health of the loved one of their loved ones.

I feel it, this web of prayers, thoughts, energy being sent my way. I experience it as divinity, as grace, as a safety net waiting to catch me when I don't think I can keep going. It illuminated what faith really is for me, and I have found it in humanity again, in the love that they can share.

We have choices, constantly, about what we feed the world. I like this world I woke into and I hope it continues to evolve, rippling out in waves. Love and joy are contagious. Pass them on.

I'm glad I woke up. I'm glad I'm still here. I plan to make sure those I love know that I love them, because it's the only thing that feels important to me. It's the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Rite of Passage in Trick-or-Treating

When I think of Halloween, my mind drifts to cups of mulled cider, the crunch of fresh apples, bright orange jack o’ lanterns, crisp leaves underfoot and the smoky breath in the evening air that foretells the coming of winter. The holidays of my childhood evoke memories of monster movies and spider webs, pillowcases full of candy, bobbing for apples, spooky houses and things unknown.
And trick-or-treating.
Once a year we had permission to, and were encouraged to, dress in costumes while travelling door-to-door, collecting candy in our pillowcases. Looking back, I understand that Halloween was a chance for an insecure girl to wear another skin, someone else I might be. Our parents would ask us, “What do you want to be for Halloween?” and the universe would open before me. When I didn’t have an idea for a costume I would raid my parents’ closet and come out some version of hobo, hippie or gypsy. Halloween, dipping us into darkness, was ripe with possibility for those among the living.

Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, pronounced sow-en, eventually coming to America with immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries. Children went out into the night carrying lanterns lit with candles, called samhnag, made from turnips. The root vegetables were carved with frightening faces to scare away the spirits wandering the night. Children went from home to home, guised in supernatural costumes, where they were given offerings of food or coins. The gifts were meant to help the children ward off any spirits wishing to do harm on Samhain, the night when the dead walked again.
Some later customs refer to it as Souling, where children would offer prayers for the dead in return for a small cake. At houses where they were refused, they would batter the door with the butt ends of turnips. One of the earliest records of guising for Halloween comes from 1895 Scotland. A North American reference to it in a newspaper in Ontario in 1911, reports that children would go guising between six and seven on Halloween, spilling songs and rhymes and being rewarded for them with candies and nuts. Trick or Treating as we know it in America didn’t begin until the 1950s.

Our parents carried us door-to-door when we were children and later, when we could walk on our own, they would coax and encourage us to go up and ring the doorbell while they waited for us on the sidewalk after a whispered reminder of what we were meant to say. The walk to the porch was long to my short legs. The temperature in the air dropped in the space between my parent and the heat behind the unfamiliar door opening before me. After a hearty “Trick or treat!” and a piece of candy dropped in our pillowcase we would run back to our parent, back to safe, and on to the next home.
The first year that we went out trick-or-treating without chaperone- our own little gang of tricksters- was an early, and personal, rite of passage. Mom stayed home to mind the door and was busy making sheets of homemade pepperoni pizza so it would be hot and waiting when we came in out of the cold. We walked the neighborhood and then the same route we walked every morning to elementary school. Up one side of the street and home the other. It was familiar and known, but in the cloak of darkness it felt foreign. Landmarks stood in shadow and we needed new eyes to find our way.
We were being trusted to watch out for each other, to stay safe, to cross streets wisely and not to stray beyond the streets we knew, or the ones we were told we could travel. As children we didn’t realize how far the web of grown ups-who-knew-each-other spun and we were not hip to the fact that we were never in any true danger.  But that unknown is an essential element to the rites of passage that test our mettle and help us grow. The cold leaves crunched underfoot as we ran from porch light to porch light, pillow cases filling fast with candies my brother and sister and I would later sort through and trade (always setting aside some tootsie rolls for my dad).
There was one house that was always decorated fantastically for the trick-or-treaters. And then one year, the house was barren, the only decoration a scarecrow flopped onto the porch with a bowl of candy in its lap. A lot of houses that closed for the night would put the candy bowl out on the porch with a note. As we closed upon the porch, I felt a strange feeling in my belly and I stopped. That’s a person, I thought. I knew that when we got up there, the scarecrow was going to grab us.
We stood still, watching the scarecrow and debating whether or not it could be a real person. We dared someone to see what kind of candy was in the bowl so we could gauge whether or not it was worth it. The scarecrow didn’t move the entire time and was sitting at a strange angle. We approached in a group and as I reached into the bowl… the scarecrow grabbed my hand as we screamed and ran halfway back down the sidewalk. A familiar voice laughed, assuring us it was our neighbor. We stood our ground and made him show his face before we went back for the candy we had earned.

There was a thrill in being able to be brave without the need for a parent. On our own we had evaluated the threat, calculated a plan and supported each other in carrying it out, calling on the energies of our Other skins to aid us. On Halloween we stood in the shadow of no one. It was always light when we started our adventure and in the joy of running from porch to porch we would lose the subtle slip into darkness until we were cold and tired and our bags were heavy with loot. Often, home seemed far away. We would slip home and share stories of what we had seen on our travels.
The next morning’s walk to school, I was aware that the same-old route I had been taking every morning was different. It was bigger. The houses weren’t just landmarks anymore. They were also skins of homes with families and faces inside of them, containing other children who thought the world was no bigger than the size of their house. On that morning I understood the world was bigger than my house, my block, my route to school. There was more of it than I could comprehend.
As a child, on Halloween night I walked with demons and devils, witches, ghosts and ghouls borrowing human skin, along with superheroes and princesses. I dared to enter dark places and returned from them unharmed. In the turning of the world, I learned I could enter the darkness and return. Maybe not unscathed, but I could return and know the healing would come. Each year now, as I drop candy into the bags and baskets of little cows, superheroes, witches and pirates, I hope they will remember their fearlessness on this night. I hope they will remember how they learned to move from jack o’ lantern light to jack o’ lantern light as a way as a means to get through the darkness.

[Originally published October 26, 2011.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Bastard's Ball

Last week I talked about how to work with/around unwanted ancestors in your family tree. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to talk more about doing a bit of ancestor work at this time of year. But this week I offer another way to honor those unwanted ancestors without having to invite them into your personal space. I set it up before doing any kind of work, before calling on my full ancestral line. It’s simple and easy and it can take a myriad of forms.
I call it The Bastard’s Ball.
  • Start with a space set away from where you intend to work. It can be a far corner of your yard, outside your home. It can be a small altar in the next room, a shelf beside the front door, or a folding table in a closet.
  • As with most magic, intention is everything. It’s more important than props or aesthetics. If you set aside a space and you mean for it to be isolated, it is.
  • First I light a candle. I call on the bastards, the drunks, the abusers, and the thieves. Some I call by name. But I concentrate on my family tree and I pull down those whose energy echo is dark and murky. And I light the candle, drawing them to it.
  • Then you need to entice them to stay. I leave a variety of vices out, like alcohol, cigarettes, candy, coffee, pastries, etc. If you know of specific vices, use them. It will make the spell stronger.
  • If you’re feeling especially uncertain, you can ring the small space with a circle of salt.
  • It can be that simple. Walk away and leave them to play while you do your own work elsewhere.

After my ancestor ritual, meditation, or dumb supper, I put the lights out on the Bastard’s Ball. I send my guests on their way, hoping they enjoyed my hospitality. It’s a twofold intention. I do it as a means to keep their energy from my work, as well as offering them a thank you for being part of the reason I exist.
Not everyone can stand in the place I do, and that’s all right. I think it’s important to acknowledge the dark as well as the light. When I claim my ancestral lineage, I accept it all. Without even one of those links, I would not be here.

To see where you’re going
You must know who you are
To know you who you are
You must know where you’ve been
The story of your ancestors speaks through your blood
Light and dark

You choose the way forward

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unwanted Ancestors

Every family tree has bad apples. It’s that simple. I mean, history is full of bad people. Every one of them had a mother and father, and perhaps siblings, and many of them had children of their own. If you go down far enough, some of us dangle at the end of those branches. This is a notion that commonly steers people away from ancestor work. They worry about what kind of spirits they’ll open up their world to.
Every apple tree bears some bad fruit. Every orchard sometimes suffers the rot of an entire tree. It happens. And sometimes blight will devour an entire orchard and kill off a species. You are who you are because of every person on your family tree that came before you.
Everything is interconnected. Everything. Just as you control who you open your front door to, you can control what spirits you open yourself and your heart to, without keeping that door locked. As long as you remember and believe that, you can work with or around your unwanted ancestors with ease.

When Bad Seeds Fall Close to Home
It’s hard for people to contemplate what sort of ancestors they might have had when the only family they’ve known were bad seeds. I have known people whose immediate families were so toxic they didn’t believe that they, themselves, were capable of being good people. In this way, reaching backwards into the line of ancestors can be healing. Every pattern of bad behavior starts somewhere, no matter the catalyst or reason. Remember that, because there were ancestors who existed before that pattern began. They are waiting for you.
In this world, we all have scars. It’s not a competition over whose are worse. It’s just a sad circumstance of our culture. For cases where the scars run deep, I heartily endorse and recommend therapy, as cycles of hurt are hard to overcome. It’s difficult to believe in a perspective outside of the world of hurt. Therapists, counselors and psychologists can offer that help.
It only takes one person to teach hate and fear, releasing it onto further generations. It also only takes one person to stop the cycle of violence, hate and abuse. If you can recognize the behavior, recognize the triggers that prompt it in yourself and/or prompted it in others, you can find the strength of will to stop yourself from repeating them. You are of your family, you are not your family.
Being able to see the cycle that your parent hurt you because their parent hurt them because their parent hurt them because… allows you to see the bigger picture and the larger energy. You can step back and see it without the personal attachment to it which allows you to decide that you don’t want to be a part of that energy. And your stepping out of it lessens its momentum. Sometimes we have to remove ourselves from one current of energy that’s polluting us, to a healthier one. It only takes one person. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” No one has said it better.
I do not argue nature or nurture. I believe in both. I have watched a boy, nurtured in a loving family struggle with his angry outbursts and violent tendencies. A boy who never knew his biological father and struggled with emotions he could not control until he was a man, meeting the mirror of himself in his father. Without being exposed to him, he struggled with the same fights he himself had. Growing up nurtured was one step of his evolution. Learning to nurture himself was the next. This is why it’s important to have a connection to something that reminds us of the length of time stretching before us and the length of time stretching after us. Our world is bigger than us.
You don’t have to do work with the dead who hurt you. You don’t even have to honor them. But if you allow your emotions to block their presence in your past in your heart, you block everyone who came before them too.

Ancestor Ritual of Self
Here’s a simple and symbolic ritual designed for attachment and detachment. It is specifically tailored here to help you disconnect from pain associated with specific spirits- not the spirit itself. This is not a cure-all, or a solution to feelings you have not dealt with yet. This ritual is not about forgiveness. A Buddhist teacher once told me that forgiveness is something you give when you need to because your anger is hurting you. It is never about absolving the other person.
Anger is a response our animal bodies have to situations that hurt us. It is supposed to act as that little burst of energy that propels us out of a bad situation. What it has evolved into, culturally, is something greater than it was meant to be. In that vein, this ritual is also about walking your body through a physical action of detaching to help change your actual brain chemistry and emotional response to the ghost of the person who hurt you, and, over time, to how you respond to being hurt in general.
Light a candle to focus your energy. Gather two slips of paper. If you need a stronger visualization, you can use pictures. On one paper, write the name(s) of the deceased family member(s) that caused you pain, and on the other paper, write your name. Put a hole in each paper and tie them together with a piece of red string or yarn, visualizing your connection.
Call on your ancestors, however elaborate or simply you wish, to offer support and witness. Concentrate on the red cord (this is meant for people who have done the internal work first). Acknowledge the hurt done to you from the deceased person. When you are focused and ready, and clearly see the thread between you, cut the red cord where it meets your name or picture, with the intention that you no longer accept the energetic hold the other person had on your heart.
Discard the paper with the cord still attached however feels natural in the moment. You can burn it. You can bury it. You can put it in the garbage.
Hold your name or image, free from tethers, and feel that strength run up your arms and into your heart. Then hold it in your heart and pull it down into your core. Remember that strength. This is where your magic lives.
You are not cutting these ancestors out of your family tree. Rewriting history never solves anything. But you are severing the cycle of hurt between the two of you, and passing peace onto your children and their descendants. The other benefit of doing this kind of work is that, as your ancestors see you working towards wholeness, you may be unknowingly equalizing a generational cycle of bad turns that will allow your ancestral energies some semblance of peace as well- and perhaps at last.

[Revamped from an article originally published November 10, 2010.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Honor the Recent Dead

All Hallows
Last week, I shared the difference for me between my Ancestral Dead and my Beloved Dead. As we near All Hallows Eve, I want to talk about the Recent Dead, where the emotional waters of grief are shallow and stormy, and easily stirred.
As the earth quiets and stills at this time of year, both we and the animals prepare to spend more time indoors than out. In the solitude we can hear more clearly our own thoughts and emotions. Mine move to the people I have lost in the last turning of the wheel.
The celebrations of Halloween and Samhain are dedicated to the concept of the spirits of the dead walking the land. Millions of minds are directed towards this idea on October 31st, whether in belief or mockery or fun. With such a large pool of energy to connect to, it is a fitting time of year to actively honor their memories.

Death as a Passage
Just as births are a joyous occasion and a rite of passage for both parent and child, death is also a rite of passage for both the deceased and their loved ones. It is meant to be a moment that alters our lives. After death we are forced to make sense of the sudden absence of physical life. We are forced to try to put faith in something fundamentally unknowable.
A fetus spends nine months in its cocoon, forming and birthing itself. As someone who appreciates the balance of the natural world, I believe that our spirits, once released from the larger physical cocoon, spends time to unform from the essence of who we are into… whatever comes next. Whatever you believe that to be. I honor the unknowable journey when I honor their memory.

Let Them Rest
            I do believe that those spirits who recently die are in a state of transformation, even though I don’t know of or into what… it’s where I put my faith. And just as our hearts are in turmoil at their loss, pulling at the strands of life that still might be connected to their spirits would pull at that transformation they are meant to undertake.
            Sometimes the recently dead reach out to us. Sometimes they are not finished. But that should be their instigation, not ours. So do not call the recent dead to work. But honor the love you feel for them. Honor that they were in your lives. Remember them that they will live on.

My Recent Dead
What names sit in your list of recent dead? Who were they to you? What impact did they have on your life? What lessons did they bring that challenged you and helped you grow?
This summer we lost a good man, my uncle, David Ruston Eaton. This loss seemed to bring the mortality of everyone I love into sharper focus. I will also honor the lives of Connie Salisbury, Ralph Hall, Arawn our kitty friend, and my grandmother’s youngest sister, my Aunt Carol Quagliano. I am a better person for having known them, for having been shaped and colored by their deeds, ideals, and service. I see the threads that connect us all more clearly every year.
There are many ways to honor the memory of the recent dead. If they died from illness, you can make a charitable donation in their name or volunteer time at a hospice. If it was a role model of yours, see where you can give back, like maybe working with Habitat for Humanity, or reading stories to children at the library. The one thing death clearly defines is how important it is to be a part of the life around us.
This year, on All Hallow’s Eve, spend a moment and share the name of someone who impacted your life, in whatever way, who passed this last year. Offer a toast to their memory the next time you share a drink. Tell a story of something you learned from them, or share a memory that makes you laugh. Light a candle for each life you’re grieving and be reminded of the light they brought into your journey.

Every life touches another.
Every death vibrates in someone’s breast.
May those we have lost be at peace.
May those who have lost find peace again.

[Revamped from an article originally published October 20, 2010.]

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Ancestral Dead, My Beloved Dead

My ancestors are pillars of ice-blue fire, breathing in seasons like stars, stones and trees. The Ancestral Dead are firelight that blazes but doesn’t burn. This is the energy source I connect into when I work with my Ancestors. That is not so for the Beloved Dead. The energy of those who you have known in this physical plane, those you have touched, held, hugged and lost is not cool and calm.
Hot salty tears burn my cheeks with a fever as the grief washes over me. The recent dead are changeable water, tumultuous with grief in one minute, still with acceptance in another, and then raging against the feel of loss… they are uneasy waters. Unless you feel called to step further on the path of this work, I recommend stating with clear intention that you are honoring the Beloved Dead and asking nothing of them in return. I routinely call on the energy of my forebears to watch over my nieces and nephew, but I do not ask that of the Beloved Dead.
It may seem strange that I do not ask the spirits who knew me to help watch over us. That’s the good thing about generations though- we keep coming. There are plenty of lives to call on that allow me to leave the recently deceased be. It’s my belief that the Beloved Dead are transitioning what was left of themselves through the process of dying and moving on. I have experienced the moment of death with a loved one, and it opened something in me. When he died and his spirit left his body, when the life of him left the room, the air about me wavered and changed, as if a warm flame had been blown out. His body was not him anymore.
I do not claim to know what comes next or what happens to that bit of life. I don’t know what happens. But I have faith that something does.

My Ancestral Dead
You can’t discuss spirit without being metaphysical. As far as I’m concerned, spirit is energy and science has proven that energy exists. The way I talk about it is more romantic but that doesn’t remove the science; after all, I’m a writer, not a scientist. I believe what I believe because it makes sense to me based on what I’ve experienced. I am always open to adapting my beliefs. As I change and grow and evolve, so too will my concepts of faith and spirit.
Anyone who came before me that I did not personally know is an ancestor. Most of my known ancestors are a list of names with little known substance, but I bridge that by speaking their names aloud. It is a song that sings the story of my bloodline, calling in the four lines of my parents, known through the first seven generations:
Margaret Loretta Burke and Robert Joseph Art, Eliza Conners and Frank Burke, Katherine S. Pils and George Art, Mary Dowd and David Conners, Thomas and Ellen Burke, Mary Burzee and John F. Pils, Ana Catherine Blume and Adam Art, Barney Dowd, Wilhemenia Wernersbach and George Art…
Harold Lafayette Riddle, Emma Louise Burnah and George Francis Durant, Frances Ann Gillett and Lafayette Riddle, Rosella Lavalley and Albert Durant, Jane Berry and Levi Gillette, Sarah Clickner and Marquis DeLafayette Riddle, Rosella LaRoche and Francois Xavier Lavalle, Elizabeth A. Hill and Frances Berry, Mary Ann Boots and Ezra Wheeler Gillette, Mary Ann Hayner and William Clickner, Abigail Chaffee and Freeborn Moulton Riddle, Marie Amable Langevin and Alexis Lavallee, Gertrude Dixon and Thomas Berry, Harriet Gower and Josiah Boots, Abigail Hannah and Eliphal Gillette, Elizabeth Weager and Petrus Haner, Engle Angelica Coonradt and Johannes Georg Gloeckner, Deborah and Charles Chaffee, Mary Thomas and Joseph Riddle…
Ruth Emma Ruston, Minnie Estelle Wicker and Frank William Ruston, Emma Angeline Whitcher and Hiram King Wicker, Ruth Ireland and Charles Evan Ruston, Ordelia DeLozier and Bailey Harrison Whitcher, Cynthia Lusk and Thaddeus Rice Wicker, Phoebe Lenton and William Ireland, Anna Richardson and Richard Ruston, Lucy Raymond and Peter DeLozier, Dorcas Kittredge and Simeon Whittier, Rebecca and Elizur Lusk, Chloe Morgan and Pliny Wicker, Mary Wilson and John Lenton, John Ireland, Thomas Richardson, Jane Brooks and Edward Ruston, Lucy Richmond and Daniel Raymond, Eleanor Erkells and Oliver Peterson Lozier, Molly Bailey and James Kittredge, Elizabeth Dow and Abner Whittier, Mary and Elisha Lusk, Susannah Parker and William Wicker, Elizabeth Wright and Thomas Lenton…
Hattie Eva Smith and Royal Levant Eaton, Hattie Eva Dutcher and Silas Parker Smith, Theresa Cordelia Tenney and Bennett Eaton, Eliza Marsh Bird and Reuben Feagles Dutcher, Sophia Sears and Ammi Smith, Malvina H. Targee and Philetus Tenney, Hannah Ann Treadwell and Solomon Gould Eaton, Irene and Manly Bird, Cynthia A. Feagles and Martin Dutcher, Clarissa DeBois and Heman Sears, Betsy and David Smith, Ellen S. and Thomas Targee, Esther and Hiram Tenney, Fermicy Peters and Solomon P. Tredwell, Lucy Gould and Joshua Eaton, Molly Coleman and Edmund Bird, Jane Palmer and David Dutcher, Abigail Andrews and Isaac Sears, Abigail Darby and Reuben Tenny, Delilah and John Peters, Anne Arnold and William Gould, Jr., Hepsibah Skiff and Benjamin Eaton…
So many names, so many lives. And I now know so many more. These names are the direct line of people whose children bore children who eventually bore me. Were it not for them, I would not be me. The magnitude of that realization could feel like pressure bearing down, waiting for me to be something special or do something special. But standing in honor of these people doesn’t feel like pressure. Those lives are stones beneath me, giving me firm footing. I am because they were, whether they were people of good character or not.
One step towards strengthening your ancestral ties is to begin writing down the names of your family tree you know. Ask your parents who their grandparents were if you didn’t know them. Ask your Grandparents who their parents were. Get as much information as you can. Where were they born? Where did they live? What did they do? Where did they grow up? When did they marry? How many times? How many children?

My Beloved Dead
As for my Beloved Dead, I remember those who have passed on from this world. For my work, I keep a list to remember those I was very close to, classmates I grew up with, people who helped shape and mold me, and people who affected a change my life in an important way:
Mark Eaton, Melinda Tanner, Elizabeth Fricke, Jeff Patterson, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton, Trent Illig, Edward Jerge, Donna Riddle, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Charles “Sienna Fox” Duvall, Jack Singer, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle, Brett Elsess, Andrew Begley, Coswald Mauri, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Princess Leather Falcor (beloved pet), Dr. August Staub, Martha Dayton, Melvin Chausse, John Simeon Croom, Karl Weber, Lunabelle the Jackalope (beloved pet), Charles Littman, Ellen Fitzgerald.
            Since I initially wrote this post in 2010, my list of Beloved Dead has grown: Thomas E. Malinowski, Michael Pullano, Albert Gritzmacher III, Joshua Verity, Freya Moon, John M. Rosenburg Jr., Gary French, Patches (beloved pet), Barbara Jean Schiffert, Bella the Bear-Cat (beloved pet), Russell S. Whitmire, Ken Koch, Soja Arumpanayil, Jane Palmer-Poole, Paul Slomba, Tracy Lee Flint Jr., Christina Adkins, Harry Brashear, David Ruston Eaton, Constance Salisbury, Ralph Hall, Arawn (beloved pet), and Carol Quagliano.

Remembering the Dead
Each Samhain night, I call out the names of my Ancestral dead to come and bear witness as I honor those that I loved, that I have known and held. I speak the names of the Beloved dead to remember them and hear memories stir within me at the sounds of familiar words on tongue. And then I add the names of those Recent dead, that have died since last Samhain, and welcome them into my Beloved dead, wishing their spirits peace.

            I know, as I age, that my list of Beloved dead will only get longer. It is the price of living and loving and I hold it close to my heart as proof that love is stronger than any magic. May you always remember that those who walked this earth before you walk with you still in the echoes of places their feet once touched the earth. [Revamped from a post originally published October 6, 2010.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When Spirit Walks Thickly

The Autumnal Equinox marks the first day of fall and opens a door into my favorite time of year. The leaves are dessicating and dropping, skittering across the sidewalk as the cooler winds blow in. In the northeast, we throw open our windows and let the new winds curl through our homes, licking at the corners and cleansing the edges of our rooms, and our minds.
We prepare ourselves to lower the storm windows and turn on our furnaces. We stock the woodpiles and harvest our fall gardens. We ready ourselves to turn inward and ride out the dark and cold days ahead. But they’re not here yet, and we relish in leaf piles and apple orchards, in pumpkins and autumn squashes.

The Equinoxes are balancing points. In the spring we tip both towards warmer days and the reality of shorter days after the solstice. After months of being closed up, we spring clean at the Vernal Equinox, sweeping out the cobwebs and dustbunnies and letting the warm air swirl through. In the fall we tip towards colder days and longer days after the promise of the solstice. At the Autumnal Equinox we also clean, consecrating and creating sacred space in the walls of the home we will depend on through the coming colder, dark days.
Cinnamon sticks simmer in a pot of water on the stove, the scent vibrating through the air, whispering to the ether in the house. Wake and walk, wake and walk. May all beings that wish us harm walk right out the front door. You are not wanted here.
Bundles of sage and rosemary are clipped from the garden and strung up in all the windows. May the ancestors protect all who dwell in this home. May the guardians watch over us. May they keep us healthy and safe.

Our cats run through the house, stimulated by the smells of the transforming world outside and the transforming home inside. And in their laps, the numbers grow. Two cats still of flesh and bone and two cats still beloved and every day missed. For the first time, all our babies are running together. It is a bittersweet sensation, both a gift and a heartache.
Have you ever been in a room with your cats, both sleeping, only to clearly hear another cat digging in the litter box? Have you ever reached out your hand to pet your animal, feeling them jump up beside you, before you remember that your pet is already behind you?
When spirit walks, we listen.
Equinox is a step closer to Samhain, towards All Hallows, towards the time of year when the veil between our world and spirit is thin. They walk all year, but this is the time of year that those who do not see may spy their shadows slipping past them. And this year, the spirits are walking more thickly earlier than I usually experience them, as my cats can attest.
My dreams are full of lost loved ones visiting and bringing me messages. Some of them are for me. Some of them are for people I love. And some of them are spirits who find me because I am an ancestral lighthouse keeper and I shine a bright light. Some messages I can’t deliver, some I won’t deliver, but I listen to what all the spirits have to say. Most of their messages are meaningful, but a handful of them are purely selfish. Still, I hear them out so they can move on.
This is my work and what I do. I listen to the living tell stories about their dead and I listen to the dead tell stories about their living, their loved ones, their descendants. And the spirits that follow the course of their family lines, a mirror of how I trace mine backwards, have just as much love for those they could never know as I have for those who came before me.
And this year, spirit is moving earlier than usual, reaches out to us and milling about, thickening the air around us. The only thing we have to fear from them is what they reveal to us that we have been trying not to look at, the things we have been trying not to see. The only fear is within us. Because they come with love. They come because they love us.
Call out to your loved ones as you close your eyes for slumber. Open yourself up to the spirit energy in the world around you. Open yourself to see what was previously unseen. And bring yourself to meet them in dream world with love in your heart.

(A note: I separate true hauntings and poltergeist activity from normal spirit world antics. Often what we think of as hauntings are spirits simply trying to get our attention. If they’re turning your iron or your stove burners on, that’s different than knocking over boxes, playing with your pets, and turning on lights around the house.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Ancestry of My Computer

Written September 14, 2015:
My computer is dying. His motherboard is failing. I call him Frankenstein, as he is cobbled together from bits of new and old and scavenged parts. He’s one in a long line of computer-helpers I have had that were passed down to me.
Well over a decade ago, I was gifted a hand-me-down computer by friends. And when that one crashed and burned three years later, I was gifted another tower by another friend. That one got me another three years.
When that one puttered out, it was in spurts, clearly warning me the end was coming. Another friend of mine found me a tower, the same day, that was being recycled from a small business, for $100. So I pilfered the money I had saved up to fix my sewing machine and bought the new computer.
Since then, another friend of mine has been the guardian angel of my writing and is my go-to computer guy. When the machine blinks or burps or blips I call him. We have replaced the sound card, wiped viruses, uninstalled and reinstalled operating systems, and dealt with hard drive issues to keep it going. After one call to him about strange noises in the fan and pages loading weird, my beloved Frankenstein was given a death sentence. We didn’t know when and we didn’t know how, but he was slowly shutting down. His motherboard was draining power from the other organs of his insides and piece by piece, they stopped working.
So I watched what I demanded of him. I didn’t download or upload any heavy programs. And he chugged along for a couple more years.
Last week his poor little brain started spazzing out, trying to perform at 100 CPU even though nothing was running. And today his exhaust fan stopped working. Tomorrow his meat gets a brain transplant and a new skin. It’s not a big upgrade, but it’s a similar brain with far fewer miles on it, another machine that had been destined for recycling.
Someone else’s upgrade was an answered miracle for me today.

I get attached to the pens and machines I use to create my stories. And even though it will still be my computer’s hard drives in a new box, I am sad to see big, clunky, noisy Frank go.
His new, temporary home is a small, sleek white cereal box of an tower. I have already started calling her Leia, for the dark patches on either side of her white face. And then I was reminded that Frank had another life before me, just a peon worker in some small office somewhere. It seems fitting somehow that Frankenstein has come full circle, finding a new home with Leia’s motherboard, another tower whose previous life was with a small business.
That thought, of his life before me, prompted by a friend, lead me to contemplate his life before that office space, when he was just separate pieces- a motherboard, exhaust fan, disk drive, sound card, video card, hard drives, etc. He was bits and pieces built separately, sent to some factory and assembled together. Before that he was bits of wire and metal and plastic and tungsten, cut, soldered, and cobbled together to form working pieces. And before he was bits and baubles, he was precious minerals mined from the earth- gold, platinum, palladium, copper, aluminum, steel, oil and tungsten.
I can’t help but think, with gratitude, at how far these precious resources travelled and evolved to be built into a machine that was sold to a business and then second-hand to me. I hate my reliance on technology I can’t afford to keep up with. But I am grateful for Frank, my Frankenstein, who is becoming FrankenLeia. He was gifted to me as a tool to start writing my stories. He is the vehicle I use to search for submissions and send out my work. He is what makes my weekly blog that people are now reading possible.

My gratitude is boundless.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Compassion for Those in Grief

When my Uncle died, one of my family members took the day off of work to attend his funeral. She didn’t get paid for it, which I understand. But she got docked for it. They took money from her paycheck- but, if they weren’t paying her, they weren’t losing money. So it feels more like she got punished for having a death in the family.
I have a problem with that. I have a general problem with the way business handles death in general. The list of how many days employees get off for each different variation of family member is unreal to me. Like someone in a room can decide how much time a parent, grandparent, child, or uncle is worth. For you. I am far closer to a few of my friends, my adopted family, than some of my blood family. If my best friend were to die it would be like the loss of a parent or partner. But as far as a workplace is concerned, he could mean nothing to me.
When my grandmother died, I was too young to know that my workplace didn’t have to give me the time I wanted off. I called my boss at home and told him I was going to my hometown to be with my family, that I didn’t know what the arrangements were, or when I was coming back. I told him that I would let him know. I was gone for a week. I could have lost my job. I wouldn’t have cared. Nothing was more important to me than that time with my family. They needed it. I needed it.
Death is never convenient. It is never a good time. Even if you expect death will come soon, you are never prepared when it does.
There’s been another death in our family. My Great-Aunt Carol, my Grandma’s younger sister, recently passed. It’s hard to say, but it’s true, that she is in a generation where death is common visitor, for my age group. It doesn’t make it easier. I hadn’t seen her in decades. It doesn’t make it easy.
My world has changed again. That sphere of loved ones surrounding me in the grandparent generation has shrunk again. My outer sphere of living family members has shrunk. My ancestral spirit world has grown. Life changes. Life goes on. Somewhere.
I’m good at grief now, but it wasn’t always so. I was five or six when my first friend died. She was crossing the road to get to the mail when she was hit by a semi truck. Then my Grandpa, a friend from dance class, a friend in high school, my Great-Grandma, etc. All before I considered myself an adult. There have been at least fifty since then.
I didn’t handle grief well as a young person. I was still trying to understand what death meant other than I would never see them again. But even if you know how to handle it, it doesn’t mean you will when it actually happens. I’ve watched my parents suffer their own personal losses, the deep aching ones I have yet to experience. I know what lies ahead for me. Not how it will be for me, but that it will be.
So, knowing that we are, or will someday be in the space of grieving, what can we do when other people in our lives are grieving a loss we don’t feel? We can have compassion for our grieving friends and give them the space they need. If you can be there for them when they need to vent, sit in silence, or have a cup of tea, even better. Isn’t that what you would want for yourself?
If we disagree with how our friends grieve, or we feel the need to judge how long it’s taking them, we can keep our mouths shut. It’s the sweetest kindness when those we love are in their dark places. It’s a journey they have to take in order to find their way forward.
And if we can’t be there for them, if we can’t watch, if it pokes places we fear to look into, we have the choice to walk away. And if we are the grieving party and it’s been multiple years and we still sit in our bathrobes on birthdays and anniversaries, we have to accept that not everyone can take that journey with us. We can’t be angry at others for needing to move on before we’re ready.
It’s okay if you’re not ready yet. But honestly, you’ll never be ready. Sometimes you just have to do it. Moving on doesn’t mean letting go or forgetting. It’s not disrespectful. I know that step is scary- worrying that you’re replacing the loved one, worrying that if you move on, or that you’ll forget them. We all worry about that. But think about the depth of your grief. How could you ever forget a love that deep?
While you are grieving you are edgewalking between two worlds. The one in which nothing changes and the one in which everything does. You, on the inside, feel more strongly the ways in which everything has changed. While your friends are grieving they are edgewalking between two worlds. You, on the outside, are imbedded in the world that doesn’t change. It is your friends who suddenly fall out of sync.
All those who have lost will recognize the foreign journey the grievers travel, but they will not have the answers for the griever as to how to traverse that new terrain- it terraforms itself into individual experiences for each griever. But those who have been there will be able to be trail markers and touchstones, witnesses to the journey. Because they know that someday, we will all come out the other side.

Thank you for being a light in my life Aunt Carol. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Morning Glory 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.

[Originally published August 14, 2013; new photos.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I Know of Forgiveness

Within with my loving-kindness work, I have and continue to endeavor to understand the notion of forgiveness. As a child I learned “forgive and forget” and it was easy enough to say the words of forgiveness, but I could never let go of the hurt in my heart. I felt that I failed in being a good person. I was also taught to “turn the other cheek.” I tried to live by those principles, but found myself taken advantage of, over and over. My heart was bruised and untrusting.
Years ago, I went to a workshop where I brought up how I felt foolish for letting people hurt me over and over again, citing the forgive and forget motto. My teacher looked at me, confused, and said, “Why would you forget? You don’t forget. You’d be foolish to forget.” It was a life altering moment for me. No one had ever said that to me before.

This post is not the answer to forgiveness as if there is only one answer, only one way, only one path. There are many paths and many ways and not all of them will work for you. This is the one that is working for me. This is my path to forgiveness. I share it in case any of my words can be of help to anyone else, in the way that it was to me.
I had it all wrong, thinking we were meant to “forgive and forget.” We are made to forgive, because people make mistakes, because we make mistakes. We are not meant to forget, or else how will we hold the person accountable when they repeat their hurtful behaviors?
I repeat, if we forget, how will we hold the person accountable if they repeat their hurtful behaviors? That makes sense. Then why forgive?
We don’t forgive someone because we’ve been taught it’s the right thing to do. We don’t forgive someone because other people are pressuring us to. An empty gesture is an empty gesture.
When we forgive someone, it is not about them. It is about us. We forgive them because we are ready to let go of the hurt in us. We forgive when our hearts need us to, when the hurt we hold onto hurts us. It doesn’t excuse the other person for their behavior. We don’t even have to tell them we’ve forgiven them. Because it’s about us.
If we wait for an apology before we release that pain, we anchor ourselves in it. What if the other party is never ready to apologize?

For me, apologies are not about solidifying who is right or who is wrong. At least, they shouldn’t be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I am a huge fan of agreeing to disagree.
So if it’s not about someone being right, what is it about? Needing an apology is about needing the other person to acknowledge that they hurt you. Delivering an apology is about acknowledging that, whether intended or not, something you said or did hurt someone you care about.
If I offer an apology, I mean that I genuinely feel bad that I hurt someone and I acknowledge that the behavior was not appropriate for my relationship with that person, and I make a promise not to repeat it. At the same time I ask the other person to hold me responsible in case I do by pointing it out to me when I do it. Re-patterning doesn’t happen overnight.
When someone apologizes to me, I make sure I explain to them what it means to me. I offer them time to think about it and come back to me. I have learned my own worth and no longer say “It’s all right,” in an effort to make the person who hurt me feel better. The apology isn’t enough. Their actions afterwards matter more than their words.

Moving Forward
The last time I had to confront someone about how they hurt me (again), he offhandedly apologized so that we could “move on”… I told him that if he apologized to me, it was an agreement that he would never treat me that way again, that by apologizing he was acknowledging that his behavior was bad for our relationship.
I threw him off by not just saying “It’s all right,” like I had every other time. But it offered us a real moment of connection. I don’t know if he’ll follow through on his end and I have no control over that. But I feel like, for the first time, I have laid the groundwork for not accepting that behavior from him again.
Forgiveness will happen when I am ready to give it. I have forgiven the dead for hurts done to me, without regretting that they were not still alive to hear it. I have also made apologies to the dead, without condemning myself for not being able to put it into words sooner.
I have forgiven people I hope to never see again, because the trust they broke can never be repaired. And yet, for the actions they took, I have found a way to forgive them for the pain they caused, in order to free myself from the feeling of being victim, to take any power they held over me back for myself. No amount of hate can undo the past, but I do not have to live in it.

If you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean you have to trust them again. And just because someone apologizes, it doesn’t mean you have to forgive them. If you are still sitting in your hurt and your heart has not softened towards them, it’s not time yet. Forgiveness will happen when you are ready to give it. Just remember that our hearts are not meant to stay hard forever. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Awakening Your Heart with Metta

The practice of Metta, of loving-kindness, began for me with a series of repetitive spoken meditations. The basic premise is simple enough: to have awareness of your emotional state, awaken your heart to gentleness and teach it to have compassion for yourself, loved ones, acquaintances and people you have difficulty with. I performed a twenty minute meditation every night before bed, wherever I was.
Besides being generally more relaxed and patient, and sleeping well, this work has gifted me the confidence to trust my own intuition. Maybe it was just the act of meditating every night that opened the door to reconnecting with my personal voice, but it was the decision to learn loving-kindness that brought me my awakening and I have gratitude for it.
I have my voice. I can express my thoughts and opinions without caring if people disagree with me or criticize me for what I think. If I want to be able to have faith in what I believe and share those beliefs, I have to allow others to do the same. Their differing opinions are not about me, but are woven from their lessons and life experiences.
We are all threads in the beautiful tapestry of life. Instead of getting upset or hurt, I use my compassion to seek clarification, so that disagreements breed conversation and discussion, which in turn allow my thoughts and beliefs to grow. I find myself acting from a place of kindness, and no longer out of fear.

How Awakened is Your Heart?
Or, I could also say, how present are you in your body? I use this exercise as a test to gauge the connection between my emotional and physical body, which helps me stay mindful. Relax and place your hand over your chest. As you say these three phrases slowly, one at a time, pay attention to your breath and your emotional responses.
Inhale. Say “May I be well” on the out-breath.
Inhale. Say “May I be happy” on the out-breath.
Inhale. Say “May I be free from suffering” on the out-breath.
Repeat multiple times.
If the words sound mechanical falling off your lips, you need to open a bit more to connect to your heart chakra. If you are overly emotional from the go, you will want to do them with the focus being control instead of opening.

Meditations for Loving-kindness
These meditations are based on the ones I learned from Whispering Deer. Spend however long feels right for you at each step until you feel genuine compassion blossoming in your heart. Be mindful and present with the words you are speaking.

Self: This is often the hardest step for those who are raised in Western Culture. Speak each of these phrases out loud. Reflect on how you feel after each one. Listen to catches and tremors in your voice that reveal your emotional state. Like a soft-focus gaze, you want to feel the edges around your heart soften as you repeat it:
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.                  
May I have the causes of happiness.
May I be safe.
May I be protected from harm.
May I be healthy.
May I be strong.         
May I care for myself.
May I live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept myself exactly as I am.
This meditation is to be repeated, until you feel a softness in the heart. This is the start of having loving-kindness for the self. While it is easier to have compassion for others in our society, we cannot take care of others until we can take care of ourselves. Revisit this meditation again, once you have mastered the others.

Loved Ones: This should be someone you are close to and have an easy relationship with, someone you have loving feelings for.
May [name of loved one] I be happy.
May [name of loved one] be peaceful.                       
May [name of loved one] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of loved one] be safe.
May [name of loved one] be protected from harm.
May [name of loved one] be healthy.
May [name of loved one] be strong.  
May [name of loved one] care for myself.
May [name of loved one] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of loved one] exactly as they are.

Neutral Acquaintance: Think of someone you interact with, maybe not every day, but regularly, but not someone you know deeply.
May [name of neutral person] be happy.
May [name of neutral person] be peaceful.               
May [name of neutral person] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of neutral person] be safe.
May [name of neutral person] be protected from harm.
May [name of neutral person] be healthy.
May [name of neutral person] be strong.      
May [name of neutral person] care for myself.
May [name of neutral person] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of neutral person] exactly as they are.

Difficult Person: This can be someone you have trouble having good feelings about in general, or someone who has acted hurtfully against you. I recommend doing this part at least twice. Start with someone you just have a bad feeling about and move onto someone who has hurt you.
May [name of person you hate] be happy.
May [name of person you hate] be peaceful.             
May [name of person you hate] have the causes of happiness.
May [name of person you hate] be safe.
May [name of person you hate] be protected from harm.
May [name of person you hate] be healthy.
May [name of person you hate] be strong.    
May [name of person you hate] care for myself.
May [name of person you hate] live in peace and harmony.
            May I accept [name of person you hate] exactly as they are.
Any time things become difficult and you feel agitated or constricted, ease out of it and return to a category or person that is easy for you.
Tips for Meditation
If you’re someone who falls asleep easily when you try to still yourself, let me assure you that it’s very common. It’s actually a way of your body throwing up resistance. It may be helpful to do these meditations with your knees bent upward, if you choose to lie down. If you start to fall asleep your legs will fall and wake you, and then you can slip back into wherever you remember leaving off with the meditation. Another thing you can do is to sit/lay with your thumb connected to another finger on the same hand. That physical touch will remind you subconsciously that you are meditating. They were both helpful tools in my early practice.

Wrapping Up
There is one final stage, which is to have gratitude for all sentient beings. By the time you are ready for that step you will most likely discover you already have those feelings of compassion within you. This work is slow work. It’s not an immediate relief. It’s difficult to unravel a lifetime of negative thinking. Allow yourself your feelings and be gentle. Never forget to hold compassion for yourself first, so that you may be able to offer it to the world around you.

            [Updated from an article originally published September 7, 2011.]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cultivating Loving-kindness

Eleven years ago, I attended a series of workshops that altered the course of my life. At my emotional core, I was full of pain and sadness. I did not know how to let go or forgive. New to my spiritual path, I didn’t yet understand the nature of faith. I know it now as a thing that religion has no ownership of. Faith exists without the need for temples, books, and miracles.
The woman leading the workshops, named Whispering Deer, walked us through the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness, also known as Metta. I was looking for that inner Zen, that place of peace inside me that hippies and yogis seemed to discover by sitting cross-legged with their hands on their knees and repeatedly humming to themselves- that was the only cultural visual I had to represent what I was looking for.
It’s amazing the stereotypes we create about things we simply don’t understand. These images act as resistance-barriers standing between us and the things we desire most. I wanted peace and compassion and yet I did not believe I deserved it. So I made fun of that idea of tranquility, as if to say, why would I want something so silly? Thus insuring I wouldn’t try for it… and fail. Again.
That weekend, listening to Whispering Deer’s story of transformation and seeing the person she had become standing before me, I finally believed that goal was possible for myself. And I wanted it more than I had wanted anything else in my life. I determined that if I could not find it inside myself, I would create it.

A new path bloomed before me.

The loving-kindness work I embarked on was a series of meditations to teach myself to have compassion. The side effect of the repetitive practice was the alteration in how I perceived events that happened around me. I had been stuck inside my own experience, and saw everything that happened as happening to me. It’s a nuanced line, and a change in inflection changes the meaning, but when you experience everything as happening to you, you cease to be in control of your world. You give that power up to the universe and put yourself at the mercy of its whims, like a ship adrift at sea. You become a victim of the world around you.
What I wanted was to be a part of the world with my hands firmly on the wheel. I wanted to be part of what was happening, of creating my own experiences. I dove into the lessons on compassion, spending 20 minutes in meditation every night, at the end of my day, just before bed. One of the things Whispering Deer told us was that the simplest Buddhist level of having compassion for oneself, was the hardest one for Westerners to master. She wasn’t wrong.
Embracing loving-kindness as a philosophy, requires you to build an awareness of how you respond to the events that occur in your life, and then to push into that awareness to understand those reactions. It’s a way of unlearning the way you have been taught to respond and discover your own intuitive way of walking through the world- which also requires that you be open to how different a path that might be.
If I step back and observe the world around me as a larger web, removing any personal attachments I have to how things work, I can see the pattern of emotional dialogue that plays out. We feel an emotion in our bodies and we react to it, at other people, without understanding where it came from or why we felt it in the first place. As a culture we lack awareness of our emotional bodies. How many times have you heard someone say, I don’t know why I feel the way I feel, I just do?
When we lash out against others because we feel a strong emotion, and we do it without seeking clarification, we commit acts of violence. Being angry/ frustrated/ irritated/ mad at anyone else is like sending out a tidal wave whiplash of your bad attitude. Others will feel it. Others will be hurt by it. I’m guilty of it. Whether you intended that hurt or not, you still have to own the responsibility for the effects of it. It’s why this path became so important to me. It’s why being a better version of myself became necessary.

This is a hard world we live in and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the traumas, hurts, losses and failures we collect on our journeys. It’s no excuse for being careless with the people around us. Our world moves so fast and so quickly that, often, we feel like all we can do is tread water to keep from getting swept away or left behind.
Even our news headlines are sensationalized to best catch our attention and we’ve had to learn to accept exaggerations and misleading implications as truth. No wonder we get depressed by the world around us. This is a hard world, when everyone is only thinking of themselves. But it is a beautiful world, too, where people do work together and help each other out. In order to experience that, you have to be part of it. You have to participate in it.
We all have to be gentle with each other. We can afford to. We need to remember that we are not just individuals having a personal experience in this world. We need to remember that the face we put out into the world is how the world perceives us. We have to treat people the way we want to be treated. When faced with hard times and hard people, patience, compassion and gentleness are a better choice for the health of your own heart.

            [Originally published August 31, 2011.]

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Notion of Home

My childhood home.
It’s a bittersweet thing, to have the means and ability to travel on borrowed wings (and buses) to visit with people I love. It’s bittersweet to fill up with deep moments of words and stillness, of hugs and held hands, to have all of that and then to move on, leaving it behind. It’s bittersweet because it aches as much as it heals.
I think about the history we have on our ancestors, knowing that they lived in small groups in cities until someone was the first to leave their family behind, and start over somewhere new. And I know how it feels to move away and not have that support next door, or across the city. How must it have been before the automobile? Before the train, when five hundred miles meant a greater distance from one house to another?
Life is a series of flights, of migrations away from love while still moving towards it. We are always moving forward in spiraling circles, and when the love runs deep, we find ourselves returning to it to visit, even as we move away from it. Springs, coils, spirals. I am blessed to have left bits of my heart in so many beautiful places.
I am on my way home, on a bus, writing these words in a small notebook I carry with me. I was visiting home and I am on my way home. People get confused when I use that word for my destinations. When camping, I often call my cabin, tent or site home as well. Who does that? The truth is, I am home in me. Home is me. Home is where I am and who I love. I am on my way home and I am leaving home behind me, all at the same time.
When both things are true, when you accept that both things are true, the deeper notion of truth opens up worlds in your universe. I can be right without it having to mean that you are wrong. I can remember that what is known was once unknown and I can stare into the voids without fear, but with wonder and curiosity.
Across this threshold, possibility becomes hope and hope becomes the light I chase as it traverses the sky. Wherever I am, wherever we are, whatever home I inhabit, I mark time by the rising and setting of the sun. And yet, I know there is more to life than what I can see in my daily experiences. I can’t see it, I don’t see it, but I know it.
The light I watch makes a full revolution as the earth turns around the sun. Even when I can’t see it, I know it is still there, on the other side of the darkness. On the other side of the globe, someone else is watching that light when I am not. I don’t know them but I know they’re there. They also call it hope.
What else don’t we know? What else, and how much, lies beyond what we know?

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
~Yoda, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

Our flesh is what’s known to us, binding what we call spirit in the edges of our skin. We spend our lives exploring them, discovering their purpose. And when we are satisfied with the flesh, we wonder at all that lays beyond it.
We gaze at the stars and we dream of their seemingly boundless space. And as our thoughts drift into the void, we find their reflection pulling us deeper within ourselves to our center, our original self… our origin story. There is so much life there, so much promise lies within us. No matter how far we find ourselves from our path, we can always touch it again and open the way.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
~George MacDonald, Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood

No matter how far we find ourselves from our path, we are never far from ourselves. Both things are true. We are the only home we will ever need. We carry it with us.
The earth rotates around the sun, the light in the sky I call hope. Be your own sun and shine. Share your light. Tell the people you love that they are your family. Breathe in. Let love be your greatest legacy. Let kindness be the only calling card you need. Every breath counts. Every choice matters. Every moment becomes part of your history. What story will you write?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ask Your Family for their Stories

The Wicker Cottage.
My mind is swimming with the new information I acquired while home after my Uncle’s death. There were so many stories I hadn’t heard before, unknown to me and my parents. My maternal grandmother, 83, was especially chatty, sharing stories about her own grandparents, who both worked for a local wealthy family in Lockport. Her grandpa was the groundskeeper for the Kenans and her grandma was their cook.
My grandpa’s cousin shared information about my mom’s father’s family that we didn’t have, solving the mystery of way my great-great grandfather was an only child. He was not an only child, just the only one who survived. My Uncle, older than my father and the brother they just lost, shared a letter full of memories of my grandparents, including the mother my father never knew and the grandmother I never met. My heart is full of joy at fleshing out her character and sorrow at never having known her.
This morning, in the wavering heat of the summer air, her ghost is almost tangible. My great-grandparents, the Rustons, grew vegetables during the war and Grandma Ruth and her sons helped with the weeding and growing. I can almost hear her laughter as I work on the neglected garden I abandoned while visiting my family.
I learned that the Rustons also had a cottage at Olcott, a small town on Lake Ontario. Where it used to sit is now a garage, attached to another cottage sitting beside two more. The trio used to belong to the Wicker brothers Hiram, William, and Frank. Hiram was my great-great-grandfather, and his cottage is still standing.
In my sadness, I am overwhelmed by the history. Standing at the edge of life, time is irrelevant and much that is unknown feels within reach. If I hadn’t asked, I’d never have known. I am grateful for the stories my Uncle Dave told me about his stint in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis this past Christmas. And I’m grateful that I was old enough to understand what a gift it was to receive all these stories I now hold.
I am a storyteller. And I am a storykeeper. They are swimming in my head and I am waiting for them to settle until they are part of my known histories.
Ask your parents and your grandparents and your great-grandparents how they met. What was their favorite music? Song? Book? What was the first film they remember seeing in a movie theater? What church did they attend? What were their first jobs? Who were their first heroes? What hobbies did they have or enjoy? Or wish they’d taken up? What do they say is the most important thing they learned about life?

Don’t let time and distance stand between you and knowing your history. Don’t be afraid to ask. You may be surprised to learn what you discover. This morning, I feel closer to a woman I never thought I’d have the chance to get to know. Today I am thinking about my Grandma Ruth and her son Dave, and hoping that they have been reunited in whatever comes after this life. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saying Goodbye from a Distance

After my uncle died on July 10th, I couldn’t be home in time for the wake and the service. I could have rearranged things, but not without giving up on an opportunity for work which may or may not eventually play out. So I made a call.

The services we have are for the living, though they are how we honor and pay our respects to who they were for and to us. I don’t regret my choice but I still missed being there. I missed being able to show up and pay homage to a man I loved and greatly admired.

I made a choice and I own my choices. And here is something I learned… It’s hard to grieve on an island. No one where I lived knew my uncle. No one in my physical space shared my grief.

Nothing changed in my day to day, but there was heaviness in my heart. I didn’t know how my family was. I couldn’t support my father through the immediate difficult time.

I couldn’t be sure my aunt and my cousins understood that, even though I wasn’t there, I was holding space with them from my city, and holding love for all of them. And laughing, because my Uncle Dave would have liked that. So I reminisced through my myriad of memories of him. And I lit candles when it hurt, to remember that light comes after the darkness, letting the flame remember for me while I grieved.

I am writing this from my childhood bedroom, home with my family, sharing stories with my parents, and hugging on my dad. Because he’s here. Because they’re here, and because I love them, and time is fleeting. I am memorizing each of these minutes and moments into my muscle tissue, and cherishing them.

Having to say goodbye reminds me to love, to be present, and to live, for loving and living are the best way we could honor the ones we lose.
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