We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

A, just A

Spring                                                                              Passover Moon


Yesterday on my Lego store, IKEA, Dairy Queen outing-all in the interest of Ruth and Gabe-I saw an unusual and unusually striking sight. While waiting for the stoplight at Chester and Yosemite after visiting IKEA, a flash of mylar caught my eye. In a parking lot across Yosemite I saw a person struggling, or at least that’s what I thought it was, to put shiny objects into their vehicle. Since the same shapes moved in, then came back out a couple of times, I realized it wasn’t going well. Then, just as most of them disappeared inside, one broke loose and drifted up, up, up into the air.

It was a silvery colored mylar A. As it lifted out of reach, the person at the vehicle looked up. Turning once onto its side, it became a triangular aircraft, life a B2 bomber. Then some current of air turned it again and it faded away toward the north, a clear and flashy A, signaling itself as a familiar part of the alphabet on a journey all its own, freed from both words and the earth.


The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.


The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.



As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.


The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.


Imbolc                                                                              Anniversary Moon

“Look at the candles. Choose one. Focus on receiving the light from the candle. Let your thoughts go. When they intrude, come back to the light of the candle.” Sounds like a meditation seminar. It wasn’t though. The speaker was Rabbi Jamie Arnold at Beth Evergreen last night. This was during last night’s shabbat service.

Had I not attended the kabbalah session on Tuesday I would have missed a key point. Kabbalah originally meant receive. It now has the connotation of tradition, teachings received by students over the centuries from kabbalistic sages.


Too, another key idea of kabbalah is that of a broken world. Shards of light, of divinity, of the sacred scattered from the vessel chosen by God to be the other in a newly created universe. That vessel could not contain the light and shattered into the matter that forms our world. This means that each part of our cosmos contains that light, a spark we can access in our Self, our soul, which is pure awareness. As pure awareness, we can attend to the light of the world.

As masked souls-our always state, we have to learn how to see the light. The service at Beth Evergreen offered mediation styles for that purpose. The second focused on following our breath and punctuating it while visualizing the Hebrew letters forming the tetragrammaton, one of the names of God. This was difficult for me since the shape of the Hebrew letters are distant memories. My Hebrew class was in 1974. Still, the breathing and its pauses on the inhale and exhale was meditative in itself.

I’m staying open to learning from this ancient faith, a tribal religion sustained by its traditions and the difficult history of its people.

Underground Family

Imbolc                                                                          Anniversary Moon

Dream last night. Once again in Oklahoma or its inner equivalent, a home place for the Ellises. This time Dad was there, having moved to a house in a city (Oklahoma City?). It was an old house, but well-maintained, with lots of wood detailing, cool even in the summer. It had older, abandoned houses around it though they were undergoing renovation. Dad was cool to me, tolerated me being there, but not much else.

He wanted to move, abandon this house, which I thought was wonderful and would increase greatly in value once the housing around was updated. I expressed my feelings, but he was determined to move.

I cleaned up the downstairs of the house, hoping he would stay.

Before finding Dad in this house, I had discovered a vast underground series of rooms, all devoted to the Ellis clan in Oklahoma. There were lots of people in them, moving around, conducting business (ranching type business), hanging out. I felt uncomfortable down there, though I was also impressed with the size and scope of these various rooms. My discomfort was minimal, but there. I wandered among the rooms for a long time.

The Masque

Imbolc                                                                          Anniversary Moon

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Franz Messerschmidt, sculpltor, (photo) Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Masks. The sample session about kabbalah has had me focused on masks I wear. Here are a few: grieving son, angry son, abandoned son, skeptic, philosophical analyst, anxious son, anxious man, friend (I think each friendship might prompt a different mask), loving husband, anxious husband, devoted and loyal husband, protective husband, father, proud father, step-father, grandfather, cousin, brother (again, a different mask for Mary and Mark), dog lover, grieving dog lover, gardener, beekeeper, greenman, mountain man, 60’s radical, weary 60’s radical, writer, anxious writer, fearful writer, reader, blogger, Celt, German, Minnesotan, Hoosier, Coloradan, member of Beth Evergreen, anxious member of Beth Evergreen, hiker, traveler, traveler for fun, traveler for self-knowledge, meditator, translator, Latin student, mussar student, fellow traveler of Judaism, driver, angry driver, meditative driver, commuter man, docent, art lover, art critic, poet, exerciser, reluctant exerciser, healthy man, dying man, sick man, indulgent man, poor eater man, healthy eater man, home maintenance scanning man, home maintenance securer, worker supervisor (home maintenance), father-in-law, theater and movie goer, chamber music lover, jazz lover, politically dutiful man. Well, it’s a start.

maskThe idea here is to know your own masks without judgment, then order them from core masks to peripheral. What masks can you not take off without removing some skin? Those are core (actually near core) and the most resistant to change. The core itself, the I am, is pure awareness and has no mask. I have an issue here with the kabbalah, not sure how a soul, a self, the core of me, can put on a mask. The donning of a mask seems contradictory to pure awareness, how would the motivation to mask up occur? How could it be actuated? This is important to my philosophical analyst mask though, as Jamie pointed out, the practical application of these ideas doesn’t require an answer.

The ultimate goal is to be able to take off and don masks appropriate to each moment. To do this, of course, we have to be self-aware, we have to know what mask we have on. This will take practice.



Imbolc                                                                      Anniversary Moon

Kabbalah. Last night at Beth Evergreen we dipped our toes in an ancient lake, one so esoteric that information about it was not written down until the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The kabbalah, it was felt, needed nuanced interpretation and written down it could be read by those who might misunderstand its teachings.Kabbalistic_creator

But during the Inquisition so many scholars were killed that many were concerned the teachings might be lost, so books began to be written. The Zohar is the famous Kabbalah text, a central work on Jewish mysticism.

Isaac Luria, a rabbi of 16th century Safed, a town in Galilee, at that time in Syria, is a key figure in contemporary Kabbalah.

Years ago Kate wanted me to go to Hawai’i with her for a continuing medical education event. I said, no thanks. She insisted. I went. My expectations were completely wrong. I had a cheesy hula dancer dashboard ornament, loud shirt, noisy American tourist understanding of Hawai’i. We went to Maui and the Big Island that year. I wanted to stay.

My sense of kabbalah comes from a teeny understanding of it as mysticism and the fact that Madonna got into it some time back. Its popularity among celebrities at that point made me avoid it then and colored my anticipation of what Jamie would have to offer. Last night I wanted to stay.


In kabbalah parlance in both instances I donned a mask of cultured (actually ignorant in these cases) sophistication. This mask has its advantages as it helps me avoid wasting time on matters I don’t consider important. But the instance of Hawai’i and kabbalah teaches me that this mask also excludes rich experiences if I know too little about them.

A key point of kabbalah is awareness of the masks (personas) we use and being able, eventually, to take them off and put them on when appropriate. Sounds like a long ride.


Learning How To Live

Imbolc                                                          Anniversary Moon

Teeth cleaning a.m. Kate and I now schedule teeth cleaning and annual physicals together. I call it medical entertainment. Just like going to the Tallgrass Spa together. Almost.


Mussar afternoon. Soul cleaning together, too. I’m learning a lot about Judaism with her. And, I’m impressed with what I’m learning. Here’s the key new insight: Judaism has, from a long time ago, insisted that abstract ideas like mercy, compassion, judgment, faith have embodied reality. That’s what all those laws are about, how to make the faith work in daily life.

This is very different from the Christianity in which I was trained. Christianity unhitched this very earthy, practical religion from the notion of embodied abstractions, letting the abstractions become dominant. This led to a growing gap between dogma and actual practice. Of course, many Christians work at making their faith inform their lives, but the tools are not as good the ones in Judaism. It’s not the laws themselves, but the spirit of actively grappling, every day, every moment with what it means to show mercy, to judge, to practice loving kindness, to exhibit patience that gives Judaism its lived flavor.

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Still don’t want to be a Jew, no interest in converting, but I have a lot of interest in learning how to live from the community of Beth Evergreen. Probably the best religious experience of my life.

Each Person a Holy Well

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

While writing the pendulum piece yesterday, I began to consider my inner life in a way I hadn’t before. It occurred to me, probably obvious to you, but not to me, that the inner world is timeless. It’s not part of the body (I’m not sure what I mean by this.) and does not participate in the changes of aging. That world, one we each carry within us (or about us, or as us), is quiet relative to the constantly moving, pulsing, buzzing blooming nature of reality beyond it. (Thanks to William James.)


chalice well, Glastonbury

Perhaps this is what the New Testament means when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Not only is the within timeless, it’s also boundaryless, extending into an infinite realm, not all known, at most partially. That’s not to say it’s static, not at all, just ask your dream life.

This is exciting to me, considering the world within. The weird part, the somewhat new part for me, lies in the metaphysics of the within. As I consider it, feel its reality, my inner world seems separate from the physical realm altogether. I know, in terms of contemporary neuroscience, that this could be challenged; but, in spite of that, this private place seems untethered from both the outer realm and my body and, oddly, my mind.

The mind, in my use of it here, is a tool, a way of managing the interface between my body and my current concerns in the world. It does have a Janus faced quality in that it can look out to the world as the dasein of Heidegger suggests; but, it can also look inward, into my inner world. Using the mind as a point of reference, it becomes a mediator between inside and outside, but, in a manner similar to the inner world, a part of neither.


So, when I say the inner world is not part of my mind, I say that because the mind is the tool I use to know that world, as it is the tool I use to know and interact with the outer world.

Therefore, we can ask, what is the ontological character of the inner world? Does it have being in the way of, say, a rock, a tree, a dog, another person? I don’t know the answer to this question. It is, in the sense of isness, real since it can be perceived as Bishop Berkeley put it, but its isness seems different qualitatively from my body or the world in which it moves and lives and has its being.

This inner world is the homeworld of the imagination, of the interplay between ideas and intuition. It is the realm of memory and the alteration of memory, of the creation of memory. It is the place of fairy tales, of myth, of legend, of gods and goddesses. It can be explored with some difficulty. It often manifests after it has done its own work, throwing up a new way of seeing. In fact, my understanding of it as timeless and spatially infinite is just such a new of way of seeing for me.

Canto 3

Canto 3

I’m not saying this well. What is amazing to me, what is pushing me to explore this idea is the vastness of the inner world and its unique nature for each human being. Maybe for each dog and cat, wombat and shark for all we know. In other words in a room full of people we see them in this familiar world as distinct entities, yes, but still in this world. Yet, each person is a holy well that, like the holy wells of Ireland and Wales, provides entrance to another world, a world sui generis.

So, in fact, that room full of people is not only what it appears to be, but is also a collection of unique worlds, worlds unseen by any eye but each person’s inner eye.

Still exploring this idea, trying to suss it out.




Imbolc                                                                 Anniversary Moon

I confess the pendulum powering my inner life has begun to move in eccentric ways since the emergence of the Trump. It swings in its plane, as it always has, tick tocking its energy into the engine of my inner world. Yet the rotating sphere of my inner life, which processes around the poles of birth and death, as the earth rotates around its north and south poles, normally keeping me from stasis in a place where time and space have no purchase, seems to have altered.

This is, for me, a dramatic change and one I have not yet learned to accommodate.  The whole circle which the pendulum scribes moves through these points: love, family, nature, writing, reading, travel, dogs, house, mountains, politics, art, science, friends, sleep, body, mind. In its completeness, as its plane touches the ancientrails of my soul/self, I experience those aspects of my inner me that are my unique identity.

Wrinkleberry Lane, North Devon, England

Wrinkleberry Lane, North Devon, England

But now, there is some magnetic pull when the plane of the pendulum finds underneath it the ancientrail of politics. The silver ball wobbles slightly, pulled out of its determined arc across the rotation beneath it. It has, so far, always righted itself, the dynamics of its swing returning it to its usual course, but it feels as if the ancientrail of politics has been altered in some dramatic way, as if its path no longer relates to the world in the ways to which I’m accustomed.

In that place, the place of the political, something new has emerged. It is part fear, a new feeling for me relative to the political; it is part anguish, not new, but intensified; it is part disorientation, definitely new; it is part earthquake, the terra firma of the political moving under my feet, all new feeling. The combination of these changes is trying to alter me, to change the rotation which is, really, my life.

 bdesham's mother

bdesham’s mother

In this extended metaphor my life is the rotation of my Self as it processes around the poles. It does not, in other words, move forward or backward, but in a repeating circle which might from the outside look like a spiral moving from Duncan, Oklahoma, where I was born, to that unknown point where, as far as I know, the sphere implodes and the pendulum stills.

How this will affect me, I don’t know.



The All Clear

Imbolc                                                                          Valentine Moon

20170129_112922Kate’s clear, up and down. Endoscopy and colonoscopy show no problems. That’s a relief. When we came out of Swedish hospital (I know, the Scandinavian touch was right for these two former Minnesotans), the day was one of those gifts Colorado gives frequently bright blue sky, luminous sun, even a bit warm. As in the weather, so in our hearts.

Now, a short rant. Televisions. Every damned where. Waiting rooms, airports, bars, the cafeteria at the hospital. They’re a drug. And, they’re loud, not to mention filled with drivel. Muzak became ubiquitous, too, but noisy colorful images positioned in places where I want peace is an invasion of my inner world and not a welcome one. OK. Rant over. Well, not quite. Plus now most people are looking at their phones while the tv blares. I left the waiting room for a much quieter seat in the hallway. The hallway!

20170204_181447Jon’s grown weary of all the moving, as well he might. Moving stuff carries a physical cost, but even more, it carries a psychological cost. There’s the velveteen rabbit in reverse grief, the burden of baggage, the repetitive actions, but most of it comes from the constant reminder of a huge change. Even when the move is voluntary, the psychological cost is high. When the move has the additional overlay of divorce and animosity, the cost can sometimes exceed our capacity to absorb. That can leave us depleted in heart and body.

Ruth has a phone. She got her dad’s old one when he replaced it. This means I can reach her by text now. She and her friends have a group text that they use a lot sending selfies, pictures of their meals, comments about their day. This is the world of the digital native and it’s different than the one in which I grew up. The communications 20170129_110437aspect of it is a cultural transition similar I imagine to the introduction of the telephone in its impact.

But, oddly, instant communication often interferes with the personal, the immediate, as even when they are together, heads and hands are all too often directed towards the phone and away from the flesh and blood presence. Not sure what the implication of this is, but it feels icky to me.

We’re already getting prepared for the Renaissance Fair. We all plan to go in costume. Ruth’s working on her’s. I’m growing my beard and hair so I can be a credible wizard. The Colorado Renaissance Fair is in mid-summer, so it’s a ways away, time for the sewing to get done and my beard to extend.



April 2017
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