We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Melancholy. Again.

Imbolc                                                                            New Life Moon

hitchikers melancholy robotCame back from a short trip to the post office and the doggy drug store. While driving, I realized I had sunk further into melancholy, the gremlins now over the wall of my subconscious. Perhaps that’s what this feeling of new life trying to break through is, a sadness about the immediate past, or perhaps it’s part of a deeper thread carrying those moments of doubt one accumulates in a life time. The overcast to my inner sky is real, whatever it is.

Negative emotions are closer to the surface, bursting out yesterday in a confrontation with Kate over to how complete a project. Anger is a handmaiden of melancholy, its easiest to access expression. Not proud of it. Kate responded out of our mussar learning, letting the stimulus and her response separate in time. Proud of her.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardIt’s been awhile, I think, since old man melancholy came to visit, set up residence as a guest, in Rumi’s characterization. But he’s moved in for the duration. Still don’t know what to do. Hunker down? Act better to feel better? The mussar way. Doesn’t feel right to me, at least not now. Go down the holy well from which this manifestation arose? If we do meet the gods in our pathologies, then who is this tromping around my psyche?

Spent much of yesterday reading I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, a member of Beth Evergreen. Almost finished in it one long gulp. This is a profound and well-written account of a journey through madness, a psychosis with gods and demons populating another world, the world of Yr. In terms of background to melancholy, it shows the further reaches of hospitality, when the guests become multiple and their stay overshadows all. It also underscores the agony associated with mental illness.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

We know that agony in my family with my Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie and Aunt Roberta all diagnosed as bi-polar. Aunt Barbara and Aunt Marjorie both succumbed to the disease, Aunt Barbara spending the bulk of her life in a mental hospital, Aunt Marjorie starving herself to death. Aunt Roberta managed to get out of the same hospital after a long, severe episode. Psychosis is not faraway, at least not for us.

Not sure how long this journey will take. Not sure what new truth it wants to pull up from my inner world. I am sure though that this is a necessary path for me to walk. Where it heads, I do not know. I do sense that this ancientrail has an important purpose, probably about redefining how life is now, how it can be.

So, here, welcome to the table, old man melancholy. Dine with me for a while.

 

Life opens forward if you let it

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

Jim

Jim

Friend Jim Johnson had an opening of his work in Aberdeen, South Dakota the other night. His new work is lots of colors, strings, leaves, nice bright colors as Simon and Garfunkel sang. Jim, and his long time friend Mark, have both taken their art with them into the third phase. Mark has written one book, an initiation tale, about his time in Vietnam and is at work on another, a hero’s quest tale of his time in Fiji and on the road. He also had a show of new work a couple of years ago, his bridge series. I admire them, keeping Bridgit’s hearthfire lit. Life opens forward if you let it.

Bridgit is the triple goddess in the auld Celtic faith, patroness of poetry, of song, of craft, of the creative spirit. At the double monastery in Kildare, Ireland (men and women), Christians kept her eternal fire burning even after the church absorbed her as a saint. This is Bridgit’s time. She’s the goddess of Imbolc, the cross quarter holiday when the magic of life in the womb brought hope to ancient Celts after the long fallow season.

bridgit's holy well, Killdare, Ireland

Bridgit’s holy well, Kildare, Ireland

This is my creed outworn (see Wordsworth in the post below). Or, part of it. James Hillman, a very interesting Jungian analyst, said we find the gods in our pathologies. I believe that, too. Jung said we find the gods in our diseases. I believe we find them, too, in passions, in new art, in turning over old life like a furrow in which to plant the divine seeds of a new one.

A while back I talked about doing the work that only I can do. Jim and Mark are doing theirs. Over the last few weeks, reading Emerson and Deng Ming-Dao in daily meditations, I’ve found resonance with this idea. Emerson said, for example, in his essay, Success, “Each (person) has an aptitude born with (them). Do your work…It is rare to find a (person) who believes their own thought or who speaks that which (they were) created to say.” Ming-Dao, in his 365 Days of the Tao, says, in his entry #40, subconscious: “Everything to be understood is within us. All that must be transcended…is within us. All the power of transcendence is within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”

Approa39It is axiomatic that each person is unique, a particular example of the human, of life, of the creative process that began at tzimtzum or the big bang, thrown into a particular time and a particular place. It is that particularity that Emerson elevates. It is that particularity which formulates within us, as instantiations of the whole, our own work. When we tap into the sacred, the shard of ohr (divine light) lodged within us, we come to know our work. And, the world needs it because you are the only one with this spark of the divine and the only one in the whole history of the universe who has it. If you don’t express your ancientrail, it will die with you and the world will be poorer.

We need you. As you are. Not as a bearer of tradition. Not as a follower of rules and laws, no matter what their claim to authority. Not as a sycophant to the culture in which you were raised. No, none of these. Instead we need the you that dances among the stars, the you that drinks from the deep holy wells within you. We need the you that only you can be.

Yes, it’s a scary prospect that you might be worthwhile just for what you are. Not for the degrees you’ve earned or the children you’ve had or the job you do, but for the you that carries a singular vision, a once in eternity vantage point on the universe. Tell us what you see. Tell us what you know. Tell us who you are. We need you, all of us need you.

 

 

 

Gospel Aversion

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

GaithersWorlds collided last night and I found it unpleasant. Rabbi Jamie, the Evergreen Chorale, and choir director Val Robinson combined for an evening of Jospel music. That’s gospel music done in a Jewish idiom. Val was a spectacular director. She had the choir energized, crisp in its delivery, and used all of its members as if she were playing an organ. A Beth Evergreen member, Cheri Rubin and her husband Alan, helped make this happen.

Rabbi Jamie seems to blend in with other traditions, yet not lose his distinctively Jewish identity, a feat I admire. Last night he was in gospel mode, adjusting his usual musical style to the more upbeat, quick, punctuated rhythm Val and the music brought.

The worship began with a real memory dredger and heart massager, We Shall Overcome. Appropriate for Black History month and for a setting which commemorated the strong Jewish involvement in the early civil rights movement. So far, I was with the program.

As the music went on, words projected on two screens to either side of the sanctuary, though, I found myself wanting to be elsewhere. Too much God language with too much evangelical style emoting. The woman in front of me sat with her hands palms up, forearms lifted, elbows on her chair rests. Then, the God language got patriarchal with God on his throne and the heavenly father with an excellent name.

BlakeI didn’t realize the distance I’d come from Alexandria and the gospel music style of Bill and Gloria Gaither, my high school teachers who went on to become big stars in the niche genre of popular gospel music. No, that’s not quite right. The style is treacly and sentimental, pop in its overtones while churchy just underneath. That doesn’t push me away though it’s not music I’d turn on voluntarily.

What pushes me away, what I felt physically as a desire to leave the room, was the patriarchal God language, though even that is not the nub of it. The nub of it is the presumption of knowledge, certainty, about a god. That certainty which presents an anthropomorphic deity, gendered and crowned, comes from a text based religion which confuses the words of others with revelation. This confusion, common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, leads to all the poisoned politics which those monotheistic faiths engender. (ha, a pun there.)

No thrones. No gender. No person like god. No. That cannot be read in the wind howling down Mt. Evans. That cannot be known from the blooming of the bloodroot in spring. That cannot be found in the cry of a new born animal whether human baby or puppy or calf or tiny turtle scurrying toward the sea. That cannot be learned from the glitter of the stars at night or the gentle silver light of a full moon.

No. Just no.

Becoming Native

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

20180211_120056Life still trickling by. A bit of snow over the last few days, colder now, in the Colorado measure of that term. So relative. Saw a facebook meme with Texans in parkas at 70 degrees. Could have countered that with a Minnesotan in shorts at ten below. Meanwhile 11, last night, felt pretty cold after three years here. These gross physical acclimatizations  are easy to spot, but what about the more subtle mental adjustments?

How does the mind change, for example, when it goes up and down mountains, around curves into canyons, rather than coasting across the flat lands of the Midwest? Or, what about looking up and seeing ovular lenticular clouds, high flying cirrus against blue sky? When fall comes and the changes are only in the aspen, a mass of gold variations, what happens to the heart used to deciduous colors?

Political colorations are different here, too. That thick vein of let me alone libertarianism too often gets mined for political results that would make even conservative Minnesotans cringe. Immigrants to the state, like Kate and me, drag along with us expectations that government should be of, by and most of all, for the people. This is a far from universal sentiment in the West. We’re adding new strata to the political geography, but the whole still feels very alien to me.

becoming nativeThis is all by way of becoming native to this place, a key element in my pagan creed borrowed from Wes Jackson at the Land Institute. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? That’s why I love it, the challenging notion that we can be of a new place in a very old, intimate way, through what Rabbi Jamie would call Torah study, close attention, close attention to details and to our own inner world, compassionate attention willing to be shaped by what we find.

IMAG0861Kate and I did it on the Great Anoka Sand Plain. Over the Andover years we listened to the soil, to the rhythms of the growing season. We stuck our hands in the soil, partnered with it. We planted trees and fruit bearing shrubs. There was the open prairie we cultivated on either sides of the more traditional suburban lawn carpet. Bees, with whom we partnered, for honey. Dogs who used the woods as their home and hunting ground. By the time we left we were native to that place. Its rhythms shaped our own and together we created a place to live.

It’s happening here, too. A long and nuanced process, still in its early days, but one that has promise for the Great Work, creating a sustainable presence for humans on this planet.

 

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.

Be gone, Gremlin

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

gremlinsFelt myself slipping into that old debil melancholy this morning. You know, the usual. What have I done with my life? Have I wasted it, wasted the gifts granted to me by genetics and being thrown into this amazing moment on the world’s journey? Look at how much others have done. Kate. Joanne. Ron. The rabbi. Deadly, comparing. And, pointless.

I know that. Most of the time. But this morning a gremlin slipped up from the collective pool in which we all swim, burrowed through my unconscious and grabbed my self-perception by the collar, shook it. “Look here. See this! See you! What’s. Been. Going. On?”

One of the grace marks of age though, thank God, is experience. Oh, I know you, Gremlin. You’ve visited before. Often. And listening to you is bad juju. I’m going to go on about my day, get this done and that done. Think about what I can be up to right now since yesterday’s gone and tomorrow’s not vouchsafed. In the present your grimy, gremliny thing is irrelevant and the present is all I have. Yes, I remember that.

Gremlin shrinks back from the horizon of my consciousness. Well, I’ll be going, but I won’t be far. I’ll come to visit you again.

I know you will. And that’s ok, because in your aftermath I appreciate my life in this moment so much more.

Gremlin shrinks in size, looks ashamed.

Yes, we all have, and need, spurs to invigorate us, make the pony gallop. I remember those spurs, rawls they called them, on the wall at the Chilean ranch we visited in Puerto Mont. They were a circle of sharp pointed metal tines, vicious looking. You’re nowhere near that bad, not anymore.

And there, the gremlin has disappeared, diving back into the deep pool, swimming with other beasties, ready to come try for a bit of the Self, of the Soul next time. Until then.

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.

 

 

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