We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Reconstructing

Imbolc                                                                     (New Life) Moon

valentine birthday71 times Valentine’s Day and I have shared a moment. This was a quiet one, a good one. Decided I would cook Kate a special meal. In all our years together I’d never done that. It felt great. Went to Tony’s Market (upscale groceries, great meat). Bought a ribeye and some model thin asparagus. Kate found some tiny potatoes. Candles and jazz from Kate’s Pandora Satchmo and Ella channel. Just right. Later, a dusting of snow.

Based partly on the Rumi poem* I posted, sent to me by Tom Crane after I wrote about that old debil melancholy,I’ve decided to lean into my uncertainty and ambiguity. Life purpose seems to be up for reconsideration. Or, perhaps, reconstruction, reimagining. Or, best, reenchantment. But, instead of forcing my way into a new life, I’m letting it come to me. Waiting. Testing. Entertaining.

Bits and pieces that have floated in. All my 70’s, barring some very unusual event, will be lived in Colorado, hopefully in the Rockies. So, this decade, the one I’m now firmly in, is a Western, arid lands, mountain decade. It also has a strong Jewish accent, spoken in a Beth Evergreen dialect.

reenchantmentAt one point concentrating on Colorado and the west. At another, more Taoism. Stop writing novels. Read more. A lot more. A year of the Tao or a year of the West. Travel. In our immediate region. As much as possible. Continue with the sumi-e. Take classes? Go to a Progoff workshop?

Not sure where this is going, but for some reason turning 71 has made me unsettled, willing to reject or set aside old purposes, find new ones. Or, possibly, reaffirm current ones. I’ll know when I’m done with this, moving into a new chapter. But, I don’t know when that will be.

 

*”This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all…” Rumi, The Guest House

Living in the questions

Imbolc                                                                 Imbolc Moon

1957 or so

1957 or so

1948. Polio at one and a half, paralyzed for six months, some time in an iron lung. Relearned to walk. The beginning of childhood. October, 1964. Mom dies of a stroke. 17, childhood’s end. Just realized this last week that my childhood had these two inflection points. Strange to think of childhood that way.

Hard to know the true pathways of the mind. But. Alcoholism. Smoking. An anxiety disorder. A constant focus on existential questions. Maybe. Maybe these were causative. Or, rather, my responses to them.

At 71 all that seems so long ago. I call those times the long ago and far away. Isn’t true, of course. That little boy still struggles with learning how to walk. That high school senior still grieves, is shocked, stunned. Compassion for the young man in his twenties, the one who lived after, unconscious largely, angry, hurt, determined, passionate. He didn’t understand the powerful psychic currents pushing and pulling him, making him yearn for knowledge, making him demand a changed world. Wish I could go back and hold his hand, comfort him. Reassure him. He needed it.

AheadNo matter our birthday, 19 or 99, our past selves come along to the party. I’m unclear about the reality of self or soul though I believe in them both. Whatever the self is, it’s a composite, a melange of key moments and the reactions to those moments. And, as time goes on, the reactions to those reactions.

Whatever the soul is, it represents that of us common with other souls, that of us common with the unimaginable creativity resulting in life. As such, the soul is our literal birthright, unimpeachable by our actions, our hopes, our nightmares. No matter how sullied or glorious our life our soul retains its pristine quality, its eternal character of universality. The afterlife, if there is one, lies hidden behind the veil; but, if anything passes into it, it will be this. Would the soul be stripped of the barnacles attached by our long or short lives? Hell if I know.

I’m happy to have lived this long, 71 years. And, I can see now that answers are not part of the search. It was always the questions. As Kate and I lived in the move for the 9 months  before we left for Colorado, so have I always lived in the questions. Then, in the long ago far away, and now, in 2018 on Shadow Mountain. Tomorrow, too.

Burned Love

Imbolc                                                                              Imbolc Moon

ash wednesdayThe first day of Lent falls, this year, today. That means, as Allan Metcalf, the author of the article quoted below says, that we’re dealing with hearts and ashes. Makes sense to me that my 71st would fall on such a day. Since hitting three score and ten a year ago, I’ve passed into birthdays that commonly show up in the obituary pages. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we deconstruct, returning our enlivened elements. #Recycle Me as the green burial folks said.

This reminder,  a mark made from the ash of palm leaves used a year ago, would be good for all of us. It doesn’t have to come with the whole freight train of Catholic dogma. We could use soot from the chimney or ash from a burned log in the fire place.

yamantaka3

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

It invites comparison to Yamantaka. “Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevents enlightenment is broken.” Met Museum

The holiday of Easter, which comes at the end of Lent, celebrates a god who conquers death. We do not defeat physical death though Christianity posits that great wakin’ up mornin’ sometime in a future dimly understood. Mebbe so. Mebbe so.

As for me, I’m with Yamantaka whose wonderful mandala hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It encourages a focused meditation on your own death so that the Bodhisattva can help you clear your mind of fear. That is the victory over death that Yamantaka offers, release from the fear of physical death. An ash mark on the forehead once a year is a start, but the Catholic one comes with strings created by texts. So let’s create our own and use it to recall our work with Yamantaka.

Imbolc 2018

Imbolc                                                                    Imbolc Moon

imbolcImbolc, as long time readers of this blog probably recall, means in the belly. This cross-quarter holiday comes between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It lies at the most desperate point of the year for an agricultural culture with no refrigeration. If it was a good harvest before the beginning of the fallow season at Samain, all right; but, if it was a poor or even mediocre harvest, then supplies might be running out.

This might mean awful choices must be made. Do you eat the seed grain, which you need to plant next year’s crop? Do you slaughter an animal which you need to breed, because you can’t feed it and your family?

A potential salvation lay in the sheep. The ewes, now pregnant, a lamb in-the-belly, would begin to freshen, produce milk, a source of nourishment that might be enough to get the family, the village, through until spring. Even in good years the freshening of the ewes was a time of celebration. It meant the fallow time was drawing to a close. Spring was near and the growing season would commence.

The Great Wheel turns. The sabbath for the land continues through Imbolc, awaiting the warmer temperatures and rains around the equinox.

imbolc-witch-picturesAn interesting annual spiritual practice I found at Heron’s Rook, but could not relocate even after searching there, begins at Samain. Heron, the witch who writes this blog, calls the annual focus, the great work. I’m going to reimagine it here. The general idea is hers, but the specifics are as I vaguely remember them or as my reimagining suggests they could be.

We go fallow at Samain, too, letting the last year’s work feed us as we consider what might make for a good crop in the coming year. On the Winter Solstice go deep into your own darkness, celebrate what roots in your soul, what is even now gathering nourishment from the soil of your inner garden.

On Imbolc, where we are right now, let the spiritual or creative elements of that which grows within you come to the surface, give you sustenance as you await the fullness of its birth.What you await is a purpose, a project, a great work strong enough to sustain focused energy over the growing season or several seasons. At Imbolc it’s still nascent, unformed, perhaps unrecognizable as what it will become. But its growth has already begun to feed you.

Around the vernal equinox let it out, bring it into the sunlight of the new spring. Let it gambol in the fields of your heart. Feed it. Embrace its newborn animal nature. You might see it as a puppy or a kitten, a lamb. It’s new in the world and must be fed, but just as much as physical needs it has a need to explore, to greet the new world in which it now lives.

imbolc-festival marsdenThis is the moment to run like crazy with that potential new work, examine all the ways it can go, let it loose. See what it needs to explore, to learn. By Beltane, the beginning of the growing season, you will know the skeletal structure of your new work. You will have followed its maturation from the dark of the Winter Solstice through its puppy like eagerness, to the now formed project or direction.

Over the course of the growing season you will give this great work for the year what it needs to thrive. Plenty of sunshine, water. You’ll weed around it. Provide it food. If its completion coincides with Samain, then the process will begin again.

As I wrote this, I realized that for me, I’d probably flip it. That is, I’d start the incubation process at Beltane, let the new great work grow over the Summer Solstice, let its creative energy begin to emerge around Lughnasa, bring it into the world around Mabon, or the fall equinox, and get down to serious work on it at Samain. This is because I find the cold and the bleakness of the fallow time most conducive to creative work.

An interesting idea, I think.

Night and Death. Yes.

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

20180131_185045The Imbolc moon has had its night in earth’s shadow, its night as super and blue and red. Hey, up in the sky, it’s Supermoon! And last night it was wonderful again. High, full, behind a faint veil of clouds. Orion and the moon. My two favorite celestial objects. Well, ok, the sun, too, but I can never look at it.

Something in a full moon moves me to the depths of my soul. I can find myself tearing up, a catch in my throat at the sheer extravagance of its beauty. It’s offered over and over, available to all, free.

So, too, Orion. He rises. Greets any who bother to find him. He stands always ready astride the horizon, a hunter and his dog. I don’t know whether he remembers our nights in Muncie while I watched over the entrance gate at the factory, but I like to think he does.

The night sky, in its shorter versions and in its Winter Solstice maximum, offers solace to those of us who want it. The night is, to paraphrase LP Hartley, a foreign country. They do things different there.

caphLast night I went back to Beth Evergreen, more kabbalah. Studying the kabbalah at night, especially under a full moon. Yes. Learning about more double letters: Pey, Caph, Reish, Tav.

I know this Jewish immersion of mine must seem odd to some of you who read this; but, it’s happened over many years, a sort of there and back again phenomenon. In this current instance Kate’s conversion long ago made us seek out a synagogue, just to see. We found Beth Evergreen, a special place, unique I imagine, even among Reconstructing congregations.

It was long ago though I read Isaac Bashevis Singer. Chaim Potok. Later, Rebecca Goldstein. It was long ago that I walked into the synagogue in Muncie for an anthropology assignment. It was long ago that I dated the jeweler’s daughter, Karen Singer, and found her father’s knowledge of philosophy astounding. Over the years many Jews have come into my life and I’ve always felt comfortable around them. As if we shared a common spirit. At Beth Evergreen that feeling surfaced immediately and has grown deeper over time.

green Natural-Burial--275x275Being part of the tribe? No. Not for me. Walking along with the tribe as it wends its way through this moment in time? Yes.

Let me give you an example. The friend I mentioned yesterday, Bonnie Houghton, the green cemetery and burial, rabbi in training, Bonnie, got me going on the Recycle Me idea. It fits so well with my pagan sensibility and it’s something I can act on through this community.

Yesterday was Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. It’s a part of the Jewish holiday year, just like Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. Kate and I went to the celebration yesterday before kabbalah. Later, as I rested before returning for kabbalah, an image struck me: a Tu B’Shvat celebration in our yet-to-be green cemetery. We would be honoring trees, trees of all kinds yes, but especially, in this celebration, those trees growing from the graves of deceased members of Beth Evergreen.

Can you imagine? An ancient holiday celebrating trees and the gifts that they offer, now including trees with their roots literally in members of the congregation? How mystical, how wonderful would that be. Out there, on the mountain side, perhaps a mountain stream running nearby, a breeze rolling down the slope and my tree, the tree that is a tree and me, our leaves rustling as the gathered folks sing, pray. Yes.

 

 

Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.

 

2018. Where’s my jetpack?

Winter                                                            Moon of the Long Nights

FutureFirst post of 2018. Ancientrails will start its 14th year in February, a long run for a blog started to ease my boredom during recovery from Achilles tendon repair. It long ago became part of my daily routine and remains so. I have no agenda with it; it’s a place to record what occurs to me, though what occurs to me does have definite repeating themes.

I was telling Kate last night that ever since 2000 writing the years has seemed like an exercise in science fiction. I mean, 2018? Jetpacks instead of a few electric cars. Food synthesis on demand. Space hotels. Ray guns, even. Concealed carry ray guns. Definitely not a rotund orange haired demagogue with the mind of a gnat. Definitely not a plague of wildfires and the imminent destruction of humanity by the planet which gave us birth. But, the future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera, as Doris Day sang.

20171202_192559This is a resolution-less New Year’s for me. Over the last year a Colorado life emerged, one that fits my age and stage, and one worth nurturing. It has these components: attention to the mountains, to the wildlife here, to the changing weather. Jewish immersion: studying kabbalah, mussar, Hebrew and getting to know as friends members of Congregation Beth Evergreen. Writing: ancientrails and novels, right now, Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire. Family: Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe SeoAh, Murdoch. Working out. Caring for our home. Maintaining contact with friends and family far from here.

It also includes a contraction of political activity, much less time in the city, and no gardening though there may be some beekeeping in my future through Beth Evergreen’s religious school. This is enough. It’s a full life, one that allows me to express myself, learn new things and walk the ancientrail of family and friends. There’s no need, at least right now, for new. I want to continue with the last year’s emphases.

New yearI do have hopes. I hope Kate continues her surprisingly upbeat attitude as she considers shoulder replacements and how to deal with the energy drain of Sjogren’s. I hope Jon continues to gain distance from Jen, to renovate his new home, to grow as a single parent. I hope Joe and SeoAh and Murdoch have a great year and I hope to see them again soon. I hope I can read more. I hope Beth Evergreen flourishes since it has become important to both Kate and me. I hope Korean tensions resolve peacefully. I’d like it if we could have a year with no major home repair issues.

2018. Another turn of the Great Wheel, another trip around the sun. What it holds we cannot know. I’m looking forward to it. Happy New Year!

Celebrating the Obverse

Winter                                                              Moon of the Long Nights

sol-invictusThe solstices mark swings to and from extremes, from the longest day to the longest night, there, and as with Bilbo, back again. Darkness and light are never steady in their presence. The earth always shifts in relation to the sun, gradually lengthening the days, then the nights.

Most folks celebrate the Winter Solstice for its moment of change toward increasing light. Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god, added a martial spirit. The ancients feared that the nights would continue to grow in length, and act as a shroud thrown over the earth marking an end to growing seasons, to warmth, to life. It’s no wonder that relief at the return of the sun, revealed by small increases in the length of the day, caused holidays to be born around this subtle astronomical change.

There are also bonfires and songs and drinking and sex on the Summer Solstice. The sun manifests itself as light giver, light bringer, with the longest days. The growing season is well underway then, the miracle of life that the sun’s increasing light creates is the very relief anticipated on the Winter Solstice. Fear and the vanquishing of fear. Sol Invictus, the conquering sun.

Yet even in ancient times there had to be a few outliers like myself. We don’t begrudge the return of the sun, nor deny all the miracles that its return makes possible, that would be silly; but, for some psychic reason, perhaps not clear even to us, we reverse the common sensibility and find succor in the gradual lengthening of the nights that begins at the Summer Solstice and reaches its maximum on the night of the Winter Solstice.

We know that the cold and the darkness, the fallow time whose genesis each year happens on the longest day, is also necessary, also worthy of honor. It is earth’s sabbath, a time for all the generative powers to rest, to regather themselves, to ready themselves for the next florescence. I suspect somehow in our psyches we honor slight dips into depression or melancholy, knowing that in those times we regroup, rest the eager forward creative parts of our souls and the gradual lengthening of the darkness outside mirrors that.

winter solstice4In these long nights the cold often brings clear, cloudless skies. The wonderful Van Gogh quote that I posted a few days ago underscores a virtue of darkness, one we can experience waking or asleep. Dreaming takes us out of the rigors of day to day life and puts us in the realm where ideas and hopes gather. So, the lengthening of the nights increases our opportunity to experience dream time. Whether you believe in Jung’s collective unconscious or not-I do, the rich resources of dreaming are available to us with greater ease when the nights are long and the cold makes sleeping a joy.

It was, too, many years ago when I pushed the notion of transcendence out of my spirituality in favor of immanence, incarnation over a god in the sky. My focus moved to down and in, not up and out. Our inner world is a mystery, a place of fecundity, but also a place often occulted by the demands of the day. When we shift our focus to the night, to the half of the year when darkness grows, we can use that external change as a trigger to lean inside, to find the divine within. If we can make this discovery, the god that we are, we can stiff arm the notion that revelation stopped thousands of years ago.

each birth, always

each birth, always

Every moment of our existence is a revelation, the path of a god, the most fundamental ancientrail of all. No, we are not omnipotent, that’s an illusion created by the idea of transcendence, the need to find validation outside of our own soul. This is the true polytheism, the one that folds its hands, says namaste, bows to that of god in everyone, in every animal, in every plant and stone and star.

When you reach out in love to another person, to a dog, to a crocus blooming in the snow, you bring the finger held out by the white haired floating god in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. That moment of creation is always, ongoing, a joint effort between and among us all, human and inhuman, animate and inanimate, the cosmic dance of Shiva brought into this mundane world. He or She is not out there, waiting to be called by prayer, but in here, waiting to be called by the quiet, by the joy, by the persistence held in the soul container that is you.

 

The Ancientrail of Family

Winter                                                        Moon of the Long Nights

Sushi Win last night

The last of the holiseason guests leave today. Joseph, SeoAh, and Murdoch load up the Subaru, including some very appreciated sports cards; one could be worth thousands! It has been so sweet to see these two and their puppy. Their second anniversary is only three and a half months away. Joe’s got a lot of travel with his Weapons Officer position, especially with the sword rattler-in-chief, so SeoAh and Murdoch get to spend a lot of time together at Robbins AFB.

We had the talk with Joe yesterday. No, not that talk, but the other one about estate plans, medical powers of attorney, money, disposal of cremains. Being in the military has made him very aware of such matters. As an officer, he’s required to understand them for the personnel he commands. He said, “I hope you live until I retire in ten years.” Me, too. But you never know.

typical of their relationship

typical of their relationship

This is another purpose of holidays, to bring families together and to allow opportunity for sorting out the business side of their affairs. These are often emotional and difficult issues, also, for the same reasons, often avoided. We’re lucky that we can have these conversations easily.

Kate got a call every patient appreciates. “Oh, that C.T. scan? They didn’t do the contrast dye so we have to do it over.” Great. On the upside it looks like the portable O2 concentrator battery has decided to come back on side. Tammy, from the O2 concentrator store tech support, had me recalibrate the battery. Recalibration involves running the battery down to zero, then charging it fully. “You should do this every quarter since the batteries are so expensive.”

goofy-droopy-glasses-bigAs with the whole United States (except for the 30% or so who still see Trump through those crazy glasses with the eyeballs that fall out on slinkys), I’m going to be very, very glad to put 2017 to bed. You know. The gradual rehab of the knee. Jon’s final eight months with us. The turmoil in his life and the kids. Kate’s gradual and painful introduction to Sjogren’s. Her shoulder. Trump. And, of course, Trump. The troubles in Korea, now of significance to us in a new way. It’s been a tough year, expensive and emotionally trying.

Rice Cake Soup. And more.

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

rice cake soup ddeok-kookYesterday SeoAh taught me how to make rice cake soup. It’s delicious, a good breakfast soup. It has an unusual role in Korean culture. At the New Year, the spring festival, (same time as Chinese New Year), all Koreans eat, with their families, a bowl of rice cake soup. When they’re done, they’re all a year older. The entire nation becomes a year older on the same day, using the same ritual.

The new InongenG3, Kate’s portable O2 concentrator, has refused to charge beyond 16%. Called service and they suggested a hard reset. “Set the unit on the right and the battery on the left of the table. Set an egg timer for thirty minutes. At 30 minutes, plug the unit in for 30 minutes. After that, put the two back together and charge.” Just a bit condescending. Didn’t work the first time. Trying one more time, then this puppy is getting rehomed and  exchanged for a new one.

20171225_162548Kate had a battery of tests, some blood work and a CT scan. The CT scan showed nothing. Which is good since they were looking for a possible pulmonary embolism. She may have a stress test next. The question moves on to cardiac issues. It’s been a tough year for Kate physically, but she’s handled it with calm and resolve. Still more stuff to workout. That damned right shoulder, too.

Joe and SeoAh decided to stay today, leave tomorrow. Joe and I took down the boxes of his stuff that we moved here from Andover. He’s going to sort through them, making a throwaway pile, a keep here pile, and a move to Robbin’s pile. He’ll start by taking some of that last pile tomorrow. He has many, many baseball, basketball, football cards. There are Transformers, a train set, the Great Books, college text books, Christmas decorations, fun things he had on the ledge in his room back in Minnesota. All that between high school and after college stuff.

Auld Lang SyneWe watched the Murdoch detective series last night. The detective is Murdoch the Akita’s namesake. There is a great ease in family relationships of long standing. So much that does not have to be said. So much confidence in the future of those relationships. Holiseason moments abound in these experiences, giving us fuel and stability for the months ahead.

May your days-and nights-be merry and bright, may old acquaintance be recalled and a cup of kindness lifted to them all.

 

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