The Holy

Winter                                                                     Waxing Moon

Going for calories

Going for calories

Took Kate to Bailey yesterday, the social hall of St. Mary’s of the Rockies. She stayed several hours for a meeting of the Bailey Patchworkers. It was the first time she’d been back since August, a session when she piled up the good eats for a quilt documentation day. That was also the day I backed into her friend’s car. With said friend in it. Sigh. Kate’s stamina has improved markedly. So good to see.

After Bailey, I drove not home, but to Evergreen where I had lunch with Tara and Alan. Murphy’s sits right on Bear Creek, a lovely place in the spring, summer, and fall for an outside lunch. Tara and Alan and I talked CBE religious school. Alan returned Saturday from a couple of weeks in Argentina. In Patagonia, at a national park, he was told, no, you can’t walk on the glacier. You’re over 65. Didn’t know glaciers took notice of such brief lifespans; but, it was Argentina.

gods celtic twilight yeatsI’m responsible for the next lesson, tomorrow, as I was last week, but with Alan as back up this time. Last week we worked with the middah, character trait in the Jewish ethical discipline of mussar, chesed, or loving-kindness. This week we stay in mussar, but focus on yirah. Yirah often translates as fear in the Torah, as in “the fear of the Lord.” I prefer awe as a translation, but it does mean both and we’ll use that in the class.

Rudolf Otto, a famous theologian of the early 20th century, wrote a book called, The Idea of the Holy. I mentioned his thinking from this work in a post a couple of days ago. It’s one of a handful of theological texts that have had a radical effect on my thinking. Another is Moses and Monotheism by H. Richard Niebuhr. In both cases the authors try to dig behind religious concepts often simply accepted to find their phenomenal roots. Otto wants to understand the strange nature of the sacred. Niebuhr was after the psychic meaning of monotheism.

Otto’s work has a lot to do with yirah. His idea of the numinous, a distinctive feeling we often equate with the holy or the sacred, has two components: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. When we encounter the numinous, we encounter mystery, a mystery that both attracts us, we want to move toward the experience (awe, yirah, fascinans), and repels us, (fear, yirah, tremendum).

alvarez-adventure-caving-spelunking-1I have had many encounters of this kind and they vary in which characteristic of the Holy they emphasize. I’ve written before about my mystical experience on the quad at Ball State. Fascinans dominated. I wanted to be there, in a state of total linkage with all. I wanted to stay. In high school I attended a summer church camp at Epworth Forest in Indiana. We learned a lot about communion and in particular I took to the heart the idea that if we didn’t reconcile with others, we might “eat and drink our own damnation.” OK. I was an impressionable guy in that moment. But the fear occasioned by that idea made me find a young woman whom I’d teased and ask for her forgiveness. Stepping into the Sistine Chapel. Awe. Driving to Bailey and seeing the Continental Divide capped with snow. Awe. Contemplating my own death. Fear moving toward awe.

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Another. In Ely, Minnesota at the International Wolf Center, during a week long wolf studies immersion, we did a necroposy on a collared wolf that had been hit by a car. When we opened his rib cage, a space opened up in front of me where the mystery of life and death vibrated, took me in, absorbed me. This was both fascinans and tremendum. I wanted to look away, to be elsewhere. Right now. I wanted to dive in, swim in the galaxy revealed by this too intimate experience.

How about you? Got any experiences of the holy or the sacred? I especially encourage considering Otto’s point that an experience of the Holy is without moral freight. It simply is. We apply the morality later, much later.

 

iottoru001p1

iottoru001p1

*”In his most famous book, Das Heilige, Otto turned from a critical philosophical account of the possibility of religious experience to a descriptive psychology of the content of that experience and its relationship to the “rational,” symbolic dimension of religion. To designate religious feelings at their most distinctive he coined the word numinous, which referred, he said, to the Holy or Sacred minus the moral dimension. But he soon encountered a methodological limitation. Conscious experience is only available to the person who has it; therefore, it is possible to formulate a descriptive account of religious feelings only on the basis of introspection, informed by apparent similarities in what others have said. In other words, in order to study the experience that is the ultimate source of religion, a scholar must have a sensus numinis, an ability to experience numinous feelings—just as the description of color in painting or pitch in music requires certain kinds of perceptual abilities. Those who have such abilities, Otto suggested, experience the numinous as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As a mysterium, it is completely other, beyond the realm of ordinary existence, apprehensible but not comprehensible, evoking in human beings the feeling of stupor and stunned silence. People find this mysterium both attractive (fascinans ) and repulsive (tremendum ). On the one hand, it arouses the sense of grace, love, and mercy. On the other, it arouses feelings of terror and awe and the conviction that human beings are in reality nothing—feelings to which Otto, countering tendencies to equate genuine religion with love, gave a great deal of attention.” encyclopedia.com

 

 

 

A Feynman Method Explanation

Winter                                                                            Waxing Moon

feynmanRichard Feynman, the physicist, had a technique for learning. It’s pretty straight forward in its explanation:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Teach it to a child
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
  4. Review and Simplify (optional)

I’ve not used it before, but I’m going to try now with reimagining/reconstructing faith. I hope that by clarifying it this way, I can further my year theme: Seeking the myth beyond reason.

To Gabe. What do you need to stay alive? Food, yes. Oxygen, yes. Anything else? A house or place to live, yes.

20190101_103345OK. Let’s start with food. Where does food come from? The grocery store. Well, that’s where we buy it. But where does the grocery store get the food? From trucks? OK. How about the trucks. Where do they get the food?

From farms? Right. And, gardens. And, orchards. And, the ocean. Can you guess my next question? Where do the farms and the gardens and the orchards and the ocean get the food? What’s that? Plants and animals? Right again. You’ve got this, Gabe.

Think about the animals for a minute, Gabe. What kind of animals do we eat? Pigs and chickens. Check. Cows. Check. Fish. Check. Shrimp and turkeys. Check. That’s enough for now. So. Where do the pigs, chickens, cows, fish, shrimp, and turkey get their food? You don’t know? What’s that? Grass. Yes, good. Cows eat grass don’t they? What about chickens? Insects? For sure. How about pigs? Well, some pigs eat acorns. Others eat roots, fruit, fish. Yes, fish. That seems strange doesn’t it? What about shrimp? What do they eat? They eat tiny, tiny plants that live and grow in the water. Fish? What do they eat? Some eat plants that grow in the water, some eat insects, some eat other fish and other ocean animals.

photosynthesisDid you notice that a lot of the food the animals eat comes from plants? Acorns, grass, roots, tiny plants that live in water? What about the rest? Insects, other fish? What do insects eat? Some do eat other insects, that’s right. Praying mantises, for example. But most insects eat plants. Grasshoppers do. Leafchewers. Some eat plant roots. Some eat the nectar, like bees.

Here’s the thing, Gabe. When you really, really look at what animals eat, even if they eat other animals, you’ll find that the animals they eat get their food from plants. That’s strange isn’t it? Does that mean we all get our food from plants? Well, yes, in a way. If the hamburger you like tastes good, it’s because the cows ate grass and corn and beans. Can you guess my next question?

Exactly. Where do the plants get their food? What an interesting question. Land based plants dig deep into the soil with their roots. Their roots take water from the soil and some other things the plant needs to live. Here’s what might seem like a weird question. What color are plants?

Green. That’s right, Gabe! What part of the plants are green? Their leaves. Right again. What? Oh, their stalks, too? Yes. On many plants that’s right. They’re green, too. Here’s the really, really weird part, Gabe. Those green leaves? They make food for the plant from sunlight and water and vitamins from the soil.

photoHow do they do it? Even scientists have a hard time explaining it, but somehow the leaves take sunlight, water, and other things from the soil and make what the plant needs to live. Amazing, right? Sunlight, water, and nourishment from the soil. Nourishment? What does it mean? It just means anything that helps you live, or helps plants live. And you know what’s also amazing? Guess what the plants send out into the air when they’re done making food? Oxygen! That’s right, plants feed animals and they give off the thing we need to breathe to stay alive. Wow. Go, plants!

Now let’s see. Where are we, Gabe? You told me you need food to stay alive. And, oxygen. What’s that? Water. Water, too. We tracked down where food comes from, didn’t we? It all starts with plants and the sun and the soil and water. Plants get what they need from the sun, from mother earth and from the water on mother earth.

Sun. Mother Earth. Oxygen. Water. Without any of them, Gabe, you and Ruth and your mom and dad couldn’t stay alive. You’d die without oxygen which plants put into the air. You’d die without food, which plants create from the sun and water and nourishment (remember what nourishment is?) from mother earth.

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

When it comes to what I’m thankful for Gabe, I’m grateful for you, of course, and your family, but I’m also grateful for the sun. The sun provides us with light, heat, and now we know it also plays a key role in providing us with food. Without sun the plants can’t make their own food. I’m grateful for mother earth. She provides nourishment for the plants and through them for us. I’m grateful for the water we have to drink. Did you know it gets made good to drink by going into clouds and coming back down as rain and snow? It’s true. I’m grateful for clouds and rain and snow, too. I like fresh water to drink.

Gabe, I know you’ve been raised Jewish. That’s the religion of your mom. I don’t know how important it is to you right now, but I remember it was important enough that you didn’t like Christmas when you were five. There are a lot of religions, aren’t there? Let’s see if we can name some. Christianity. Judaism. Islam. Hinduism. Do you know that one? It comes from India. Buddhism. Taoism. You may not know that one. It comes from China. Lots and lots more, too.

religionI used to be a Christian, a while back. But, not anymore. What is a religion, do you think? There’s so many different ones that it’s hard to say. To me religions are about what is most important to you. What matters. It might be your relationships with your mom and dad, or Ruth, or your friends. How are you supposed to treat those close to you? It might be about animals and how you’re supposed to treat them. Do you remember when Herschel died? Your great-grandma? Your great-grandpa? Did you ever wonder what happened to Herschel and your great-grandparents after they die? Me, too. I’m not sure, but it is a question most religions try to answer.

Do you suppose a religion could be about food and where it comes from? Oxygen and where it comes from? Staying alive is pretty important. We agreed on that earlier. Right now my religion, my thoughts on what are most important, is about food, oxygen, and the things that make them. The sun and mother earth are like a god and a goddess to me. Together they make it possible for you and me to be alive. Through their children, the plants and the animals, they make possible the whole wonderful world of zebras, dogs, Ruth, you Gabe, forests, seaweed, whales, tuna, peanuts, apples, and oranges. Pretty amazing.

great wheel2Think of it, Gabe. The sun, that distant star that gives us daytime, the one we see everyday, provides us with the heat and energy to live. Mother earth, the ground we walk on everyday, that holds us up, that we see in parks and farm fields and mountains, provides a home for us and nourishment for the plants. The plants provide food for animals. And animals and plants make food for us. They also make our oxygen. You just breathed some in right now.

That’s enough for me, Gabe. The sun, mother earth. Their children. Us. When I drive through the forest, I’m driving in my church, my synagogue. When the rain or the snow falls on my head, it’s a holy act made possible by mother earth through her clouds. What’s that? You don’t know the word holy?

shamanic-spiral-with-qouteI think of the holy as something both amazing and mysterious. Imagine all the time you spent inside your mom’s womb, growing from two cells into the boy you are now. Amazing and mysterious. Think about a plant’s leaf taking energy from sunlight, mixing it somehow with water and nourishment from the soil to create food, give off oxygen. Amazing and mysterious. Or, how about the change from winter to spring when the cold goes away. Flowers come up. Trees put out their leaves. Grass turns green. Up here in the mountains you see fawns and elk calves. Amazing and mysterious. All holy.

And here’s one more amazing and mysterious piece. You were born on April 22nd, Earth Day, a day dedicated to Mother Earth. And, guess what. April 22nd was a Sunday that year. So you were also born on the day of the week that honors the sun. The sun and mother earth. You share a special relationship with them, Gabe.

 

 

Crullers, Empanadas, Goddesses, and Mussar

Winter                                                                                Waxing Moon

20190104_104318_001Made a big circle yesterday. Drove into Denver on 6, a six lane version of 6th Street between hwy 470 and Santa Fe. Wanted to try LeMar’s Donuts since Kate needs weight and likes donuts. It’s right at the intersection 6th and Santa Fe. I like Bismarck’s and crullers, Kate prefers original glazed. The Bismarck at LaMars was about twice the size of the usual. It was quiet there, mid-morning, after the before work rush. This picture is the counter.

Maybe 6-8 blocks further on 6th is Broadway. Turned right and headed south toward Louisiana Street. Broadway is fascinating. After it passes under I-25, just north of Mississippi, you could call it the Green Mile thanks to the number of dispensaries between there and Englewood. There are also funky bars, used bookstores, antique shops, design studios. Meiningers, the art supply store I mentioned earlier and the Wizard’s Chest, a magic and costume shop fit right in. At Louisiana sits Maria’s Empanadas.

cookingKate wanted more mushroom empanadas, corn, and spinach. Lisa Gidday, our internist, had recommended the spinach. “Your new favorite food.” I got an Argentina which has steak, onions, and red peppers.

The woman behind the counter had a very thick accent, Argentinian, I assume. Even with hearing aids accents often defeat me and with the ambient noise, we had difficulty communicating. I hope, in these situations, that I don’t come off as insensitive because I keep asking, “What?” The bill was more than I expected, but after my discomfort with our interaction, I just paid.

I have the same frustration with Vanessa. She’s a member of our mussar group at CBE who has MAS, a neurological disease that makes it very difficult for her to speak or swallow. It is, for her and me, a perfect storm. She can’t speak very well and I can’t hear very well. Third phase life.

20190104_112922As I drove further on the Green Mile, I came across Goddess Isis books. I thought it was on Colorado. I’d always wanted to stop and this was my chance. I’d accomplished my errands and had some free time.

Goddess Isis books used to be Isis books, but the turmoil with Daesh, or Isis in Iraq and Syria, occasioned the name change. Isis has books on astrology, Celtic magic, love magic, shamanism, Hinduism, chakras, a wall full of different Tarot decks, multiple statues and figures ranging from dragons to Kali to cutesy fairies. There’s also a magical apothecary with jars not of herbs or granola, but ingredients for spells.

I picked up Indian Temple Incense, a coloring book of the Tarot deck (to implant those images in my mind), and a magazine called Witches and Pagans. Wanted to see what the broader community was thinking. When asked how I was doing  by the owner, an older woman in a flower print dress with a flowing outer cover, I replied, as I often do, “I think I’ll make it.” She laughed and said, “I know I will.”

Our mussar groups sponsored a potluck last night. First time I’d been to CBE in a while since religious school shut down for the holidays. Lot of questions about Kate. “She’s improving, but had a setback the last couple of days.”

Still strange to me to be picked out as one of the mussar leaders, but I was, working with a small group to talk about the middot of responsibility. A quick example of how mussar works. When it came my turn to read, I had a long paragraph with a lot of Hebrew. I felt shy since the others all did much better than me at pronouncing it. And, I was leading.

Had a cruller after I came home. Unusual, but hey, it had been a long day.

 

 

Hark, The Herald Angels Sang…

Winter                                                                                    Stent Moon

20161203_083509

Happily in pain.    2016

ChristmasNot long after my December 1st, 2016, knee surgery, I had an odd moment. It was Hanukkah. Gabe and Ruth were plowing through their presents, and I sat on the couch, my leg up and some combination of pain meds circulating, morphine and oxycontin, I think. Ruth lit the menorah. A sudden, overwhelming (undoubtedly drug accelerated) sense of dislocation came over me. Sadness, too. What was I doing in this house? No Christmas tree. No decorations. This exotic holiday had pushed all that away and left me on the outside.

It was true nostalgia.* And it was painful. I swirled down, feeling a deep longing to get back to the seasons with which I was familiar. To push away this foreign intervention. To put myself under the Christmas tree on 419 N. Canal Street. All the way back. Not Colorado. Not Minnesota. Not Wisconsin. Indiana. An old fashioned, true to my culture Christmas.

Meanwhile Gabe was click-clacking a Rubik’s cube. Ruth held a money jar Kate had made for her. A fire crackled in the fire place and the menorah burned quietly on the dining table. No one knew I was somewhere else, sometime else. Here’s something from that day’s post:

                                                   2016

The Christmas spirit that still flows around this secular, pagan heart saw them. (Hanukkah presents) And rejected the moment. What followed was a period of dislocation, the closest analogy I can give is culture shock.

What was I doing in this house with this holiday underway? Mom, Dad, Mary and Mark rose up. I missed them all, a lot. Further the friends from Minnesota. Why was I here in cold Colorado, in the mountains, when my family and friends were dead or far away?

Having experience with the not so subtle influence of drugs on the mind, I knew this was both a false response and a true one. It was false in that I loved these kids, Kate, Jews all, and had begun to get more involved at Congregation Beth Evergreen. It was true in that Christmas spirit is a real thing, a tangible and mostly positive emotional state engendered by the church, by family, by memories of Christmas past, and, of course, by your favorite retail establishments. And at that moment I missed it.

Two years later the knee is fine, better than fine actually. I’m not using any drugs. (except at bedtime) And I’m much further along in the assimilation process I mentioned a few posts ago. My peri-Jewish identity has congealed around my membership at CBE. I’m part of a community I love, surrounded by people who love us and have shown that over and over again in the last few months. Love is a verb, after all.

Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

               Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

Last night was the night before Christmas. Today is Christmas day. The festive part of the day will be the big meal at noon and seeing Jon, Ruth, and Gabe at 2 pm. I’m ok with that. It feels like the right amount of celebration for us.

So. Christmas now has two components. One is much more tempered nostalgia than I felt in December, 2016, a warm spot from days now gone by. The second, and more important to me, is as a festival of incarnation, a celebration of the divine and human mixed inextricably together. As the bells ring out this Christmas day and churches the old familiar carols play, I’ll recall the folks I love, the animals I love. I’ll see past the mundane and look into their souls. There is the ohr. There is the divine. There is the sacred. And guess what? When I look in the mirror, I see the same thing.

*”…the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home — nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.” The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2014

The Sacred Marriage

Winter                                                                            Stent Moon

ohrOn the drive over to Tony’s Market to pick up Christmas dinner I got to thinking about ohr, the shards of divine light kabbalists believe actually make up the known universe. When I bow to the divine light in you and you bow to the divine light in me, we say that makes sense in that framework. So there can be the ohr, the light of the divine blasted apart at the moment of creation; but, I thought, there’s also the more immediate light, that of the sun.

It’s correct in every important way to say our life spark comes from and looks back to the sun. Photosynthesis creates the food we eat, whether at its primary source in plants or in a secondary source like meat. So the divine light could also be solar, the power of the fusion engine that is our star.

More and more I see the divine sun in sacred marriage with the holy goddess, mother earth. It is through the constant and intimate play between these two that all life emerges. In this sense then the celebration of the incarnation observed tomorrow can be seen as a holiday created to honor us as children of the sun and the earth. Of course, not just us, but all of the animate creations here.

We differ from the rest of the animate world, as far we know, primarily in our capacity to know our creators, the creature knowing the creator, or, said another way, the creators looking on themselves through their creation.

sacredIt is this dance, the days of the dancing star, that we are thrown into this world to execute. Sure, you could take this and conclude a scientistic flat-earth humanism, minus the divinity, but it seems to me you end up in the same place with a reductionistic refusal to see the simcha, the joy, of life as part of, not separate from. It is the bondedness we have with our star and our planet which is divinity, we are part of a dialectic between power and fertile elements, a fruit, in fact, of its creative tension.

Sure, you could also take this perspective and place a whole pantheon in and around it. Aurora. Shiva. Mithras. Yahweh. Even baby Jesus. But I believe it is this pair, this vital union of star and planet that both makes us and teaches us about our sacred relationship to the whole universe through the example of their intimacy. I see no need to add more deities though I don’t think it hurts. Not exactly. As long as we keep our hearts on the source, we can names its elements as we wish. That creative and destructive nature both sun and earth have. Sure, Shiva. The still point, the apparent stability of the earth below, the mountain above, the ocean spread out. Vishnu. The sun appearing as the earth turns on its axis. Aurora. The dangerous interplay among humans and among humans and the rest of the creation. Yahweh. Your presence as a manifestation of this sacred marriage? Jesus.

I come back now to the Great Wheel, that cyclical turning of mother earth around her sol, how it reflects our lives as they grow and change. It is the great scripture in which we can read of our gods, know their moods, and how we can celebrate their deep meaning in our lives. Blessed be.

Sol Invictus

Winter                                                                                 Stent Moon

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

The long night began to fall as I drove home from Swedish Hospital. It was only 4:30 or so, but the darkness had already come calling. It is not over yet, still dark here on Shadow Mountain. Black Mountain, out the window, is visible through a very gradual lightening of the sky.

The Winter Solstice marks the deepest immersion we mid-latitude folks have in the night and that’s the reason I love it, embracing the long slow slide into short days. It also marks another important moment, the victory of the light. Like the Summer Solstice which marks the shortest night, but also the point where darkness begins its gradual, yet inevitable return, so the Winter Solstice marks the point when light becomes the victor, again gradually, yet inevitably headed toward Summer.

In this case, not usual for me, but apt right now, I’m celebrating both the long nights and the return of the light. I want Kate’s long journey into misery to have seen it’s demise over the long Solstice night. I want the gradual return of light and lightness to her being and her becoming. I want to see, over the next six months, as light progresses toward Beltane and the start of the growing season, Kate’s health and weight follow a similar path.

Whatever lessons this illness had to teach were learned long ago. It’s time now to move forward. Appropriately, as I write this sentence the sky behind Black Mountain has gone from dark gray to a slightly rosy hue. May Kate’s recovery be the same.

Winter

Winter                                                                          Stent Moon

Christmas, 2014

Christmas, 2014

4 years ago today we moved to Colorado. Yes, we moved in on the Winter Solstice, my favorite holiday of the whole year. It was snowy and cold, well below zero. We thought, oh, this is familiar. Seemed just like what we’d left. And, for four years now it has never been that cold again. Strange.

As readers of this blog know, it’s been an eventful four years. We both hope that events will stop whipping by like Randy Johnson heaters. A nice, calm boring 2019 would be a good thing. Let us catch our breath before Johnson switches to curve balls. If not. Well. It’s been growth inducing. Still. I’m ready to stop growing for a bit.

urukIn ancient Uruk residents opened all city gates, lit bonfires and sang hymns timed to the rising and the setting of certain stars in the sky. This all night vigil honored many Sumerian deities, but most of all Anu, king of the gods, and special protector of the city. In the Congo the Mbuti hunters clap, sing, and dance around a fire at night, the Molimo Ceremony. This is not only a solstice observation, but for significant events. If there has been a death, they sing to the forest: “If darkness is, and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.” from the Lapham Quarterly, Winter 2019

Today, four years after the move, Kate gets a stent placed in her superior mesenteric artery, hopefully ending the reign of terror instigated by its stenosis. The placement, done by catheter inserted into her femoral artery, is not without risks. The probe can dissect the artery (open it), letting blood flow out, possibly causing death. The probe can dislodge plaque (causing the stenosis) causing a stroke. A thrombosis can form at the stent placement site, a blood clot that also cause a stroke or bleeding. We both agree that the risks are worth the chance to return her to a normal diet and life.

The guys who’s doing it, Dr. Mulden, has the praises of all those who work with him and know him well. Dr. Kooy, whom we saw at the interventional radiologists, said if anyone in his family, wife or kids or parents, needed a stent placement, he would choose Mulden. May his hands be steady, his eye clear, and his knowledge adequate to the task.

winter solstice 10Then Kate can heal over the longest night of the year. Fecund darkness, calm and quiet night, holy night, sacred night. A 98% full moon. With all the energy of a still waxing moon, one very near fullness, she will receive the best energy this long night can offer. If you have a moment once the darkness falls, feel your way into it, perhaps in the moonlight, and remember Kate.

It will be the most significant solstice for me in a long time, perhaps ever. Candles and silence. A walk outside, here on Shadow Mountain, to view the moon. I will remember the darkness, the emptiness which precedes our birth and the darkness, the emptiness which follows our death. Life grows from the night and flourishes under the sun. We need light and dark, cold and warm, life and death. Blessed be.

I like this guy

Samain                                                               Thanksgiving Moon

5002011 09 10_1164Happy to have some good news to report about Jon. Went to his court date yesterday. His inner attitude seems to be shifting away from anger about the divorce (understandable, but not helpful) toward getting on with his life, accepting the constraints of the restraining order (unreasonable, but legally enforceable, as he just discovered). He wants to get his art in a gallery or up for sale. This is big because it’s a key part of his identity that lay fallow during the twelve years of his marriage. He needs positive reinforcement and he’s had more than his share of negatives over the last few years.

artistHe’s a very talented, smart guy who can handle all the work necessary to remodel his home, replace an axle in his car, ski a great line down an A-basin bowl, teach elementary age kids how to express themselves. I hope he can organize his life so these thing line up, move him forward, and make him feel good about himself.

Kate had a nausea free day yesterday. She took the ativan and that seemed to help. A day without nausea is like a day with sunshine. It makes her feel good and makes me feel good. May it continue.

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphyI’m feeling a bit stressed, a lot going on. Religious school tonight. I’m taking pizza makings and teaching a unit on holidays, especially winter holidays. The kids will reimagine, reconstruct a new winter holiday. Tomorrow morning Kate has two imaging studies, looking for zebras. Tomorrow evening is Gabe’s winter concert in Stapleton. A sequelae of the hearing yesterday is that Jon can’t, for the moment, attend. The old protection order carved out an exception to the 100 yards rule for events with the kids, things like parent-teacher conferences, concerts, doctor visits, but the law is a blunt instrument.  Yesterday by default it eliminated those exceptions. Jon wants me to go to represent our side of the family. Important for Gabe. I’ll go.

Stressed, yes, but not anxious. Still. Amazing myself right now. Following the water course way, going with the many changes, leveraging their energy, keeping my feet while wading in a fast flowing river. Not trying to dam it up, divert it, slow it. Finding the chi, aligning mine, taking each day on its own. Most of the time, and this is the part that amazes me, little of this is conscious. Means I’ve integrated something at a soul level, some amalgam of mindfulness, wu wei, and love of life.

tao laoGot reinforced shortly after the move out here when I had to deal with prostate cancer. That shook me. I worked hard to keep myself upright and maybe, in the process, began to consolidate a lot of learning. A major part of that consolidation came from the support I got from family and friends. Oh. Life can be good, even when it’s bad. Weird. Since the move, it’s been one damned thing after another, or it feels that way right now. Those things forced a going deep, being honest, being grateful a lot. Now, four years later, our move anniversary is the Winter Solstice, my Colorado Self, the one born in the alembic of all those insults, has asserted itself.

And I like this guy. This mountain man, man of the West, embedded in family and friends and Congregation Beth Evergreen. Doing ok. Thanks to all of you and some random acts of life.

 

The Day After

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

holiday black-friday-vintage2Black Friday. Should be a dark observance like so-called Good Friday. But, no. It’s a flood the needy capitalists with your money by pretending to save money on deals that still allow them make even more  money sorta day. I mean, geez, I guess it is a dark observance after all. Yeah. Black Friday.

Anyhow today’s transparent Saturday. On this day we pretend we need our money more than the president of Best Buy or Target or Walmart or Mar-a-Lago. Yes, it’s don’t spend it, save it Saturday. Enjoy.

Black Friday does catch a nuance about holidays though. When, after the build up, the preparations, the all morning cooking or present wrapping or driving to grandma’s, the big day finally arrives, and ends. Just like that. Imagine buying a paper turkey today to hang on your front door. Ewww. Right? The day after the holiday is its shadow. In the instance of Black Friday it shifts all those thank-you’s said round the table to the board rooms of hand-wringing, slightly leering, folks discussing profit margins and the effectiveness of neuroscience based social media advertising. No, that’s not a nightmare, it’s real.

Holidays are key inflection points in a year. They encourage us, remind us to go deep, to re-member, to re-joice, to re-construct, even re-imagine historical or mythological or religious or tribal events that hold deep significance. In some instances, like Pesach, Easter, Hungry Ghost, Yom Kippur, Eid, they commemorate matters so important, so resonant that we call them Holy. On Holy Days we often take the rituals out of the hands of the priests, the rabbis, the elders and plunge into them on our own. Yes, that means that the rituals can be trivialized, but more often it means that we for a time, a day, a short season, reorient our daily life toward such fundamental notions as thanksgiving, liberation, resurrection, ancestral influence, atonement, sacrifice.

We rise from the tomb. Break out of captivity. Care for the memories of our dead. Do penance and reorient, return to our best selves. Celebrate a month of fasting and giving.

The let down, then. A return to, as the Catholics call it, ordinary time. Waking as from a dream. Taking these huge ideas and stuffing back them into the shirts and pants and shoes of daily life. Like the air going out of a tire. The gift-giving is over. Boxing Day remains.

I suppose you could choose to fill that moment when the ideal and the real merge again with numbing. Really, I know you can. Liquor. Gorging. TV. Shopping sprees. Arguments.

What if, though, we chose to take those days after Christmas, after New Years, after dia de los muertos, and spent some time, maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe all day, to meditate, reflect, to intentionally incorporate the idea of Beltane into our life, searching for those places where we can nurture the seedlings. Or  how our commitment to family might be strengthened. Can we find a spot in our days for atonement and return to our best selves? What if we said no to Black Friday and instead decided on a practice that would encourage gratitude. Holy Days give us the chance to course correct, to remember that our lives are anything but ordinary, that they are brief, but luminous. They can teach us if we let them.

 

 

A Permeable Self

Samain                                                                  Thanksgiving Moon

Our house in the early morning, light on Shadow Mountain

Our house in the early morning, light on Shadow Mountain

Tarnas uses Jung to make a bridge to astrology. First, he credits depth psychology, especially Freud and Jung, with moving Enlightenment rationality into the realm of a neo-primal worldview. The collective unconscious is a vast sea in which we all swim, our inner life effected by and effecting this outer context. That makes the modern self at least a semi-permeable membrane. Synchronicity, a Jungian notion, encourages us to look to how the outside may be speaking to our inside and vice versa.

I was with him on this line of thinking. It was synchronicity that brought the three mountain spirits, mule deer bucks, to our backyard here on Shadow Mountain the afternoon I closed on the purchase. We spent time together, present to each other, maybe thirty feet apart, seeing each other and being seen. It was clear to me that the mountains welcomed us, had given us their blessing for moving here.

Kate and I saw a stand of aspen that leafed out before all the others. Yes, I wondered about it from an arbor culture perspective, what made them favored over the many other groves? But, I also saw it as an affirmation of growth at different rates, even among members of the same species.

253_Body_Mind_SpiritWhen Orion rises, as he does each year, and I see him for the first time, it is the same feeling as seeing an old friend again. The same feeling. Orion has been with me and I with him since the guard shack in Muncie, Indiana where he graced my night shift attention. Orion is not merely starry objects far away, arranged in a distinctive pattern, though he is that. He is a part of the universe with which I have a personal relation. Is that relationship reciprocated? I don’t know. But, it feels like it.

There is more. Long ago, after reading the Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, I saw the perniciousness of transcendence, a move that diminishes the human by placing our ultimate validation outside the Self. Tarnas critiques this, too, as a transcendent god emptied out the cosmos, disenchanting the universe by creating a special creature, humans. Thus, the locii of significance, of vitality, of meaning was either in the godhead, up and away from creaturely existence, or in his creation, humankind. All else was an object created for the pleasure or sustenance of one or the other.

By choosing to locate my spirituality in the garden, its plants, in the animals who were our neighbors, in the community of other humans that I experience and deep within my own self, going in and down into the collective pool of archetypes and symbols Jung called the collective unconscious, I pushed at the boundaries of my Self as an isolate, beginning to break down the formidable, even hermetic, seal around it banged into place by Enlightenment reason.

Bee-guyThe current signature line on my e-mails is from John Muir, “You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.” Yes. In this discussion that includes depth psychology it’s appropriate to notice the synchronicity of living on Shadow Mountain, that massif within the psyche that contains all that we fear, that we reject, that we push away. How bout that? And beyond my study window is Black Mountain.

When I got a cancer diagnosis back in 2015, I wrote about the Consolation of Deer Creek Canyon and during Kate’s recent crisis, about the Laramide Consolation. In both cases the mountains spoke to me. I imagined their rootedness, their difficult and wrenching time as they were pushed up, up, up by the tectonic motion of our planet’s crust, the deep geological time that they represent, lives millions of years long already, with millions more before they become low ranges like the much older Appalachians. Our mayfly life compared to these stolid eminences. The particulars of our mortality vanish in the mountains. We are water running down from the peak, coursing through Maxwell Creek, emptying into Bear Creek, then the Platte, onto the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. We join the vast ocean of the dead.

images (6)As we try, some of us intuitively like me, some of us more systematically like Tarnas, to heal the rupture between the human and the living universe, we find a drag chute attached to our thought: 500 or so years of human autonomy, freedom, even liberation, 500 years of human probing, learning, knowing about the world seemingly disconnected from our Selves. The more classically educated you are, the more broad your learning, the more likely you are to feel something wrong with this line of thinking. It doesn’t add up. How can the universe have intention, consciousness? It’s the objective reality we probe with minds like Einstein, Bohr, Sagan, Darwin, Pasteur, Curie. We’ve found its regularities, its laws, its patterns, and we can use them to predict natural behavior and therefore exploit it.

How’s that going? Our hubris is killing us. We can find oil, so we do. We can refine oil for many different uses, so we do. We burn oil and let its byproducts drift off into our atmosphere. You know the end of this tale. An earth too hot for most human life. Would a sensibility that places us in the cosmos AND of it, do something so stupid? Or, perhaps better, once we discovered the implications of what we were doing, would we continue? No.

Tarnas, in the last pages of the second section of his book, suggests astrology as a means of expressing the intricate dance between our selves and the cosmos into which we were thrown at birth. Just how this works in his understanding I don’t know yet; but, I do know that his analysis of the crippling anomie occasioned by our Selves walled off from the rest of the place we inhabit has compelled me to give this idea a fair hearing.