Authenticity and Change

•June 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been reading a fantastic book by Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection. She defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” But who are we?

This question seems to be at the heart of a lot of conflicts and suffering. We suffer within because we define ourselves, whether through others’ expectations or through our own, and then we seek to stick firmly to this box we’ve put ourselves in. We suffer with others because we put them in a box (or accept the box they structure for themselves, if we are enlightened) and then try to keep shoving them back in it when they go out of bounds.

So far as I can tell, in observing Nature and myself, we are change. It is the one thing that can consistently define us – there is nothing about us that will remain forever static. Our feelings shift, our thoughts are constantly wandering, and even our bodies are made up of new cells that constantly replace old ones. The world around us changes, too. Existence is change. Even the seemingly stable earth herself, as every Californian knows, is full of moving and shaking.

To be me is to be change. Change happens because the world of nature around me changes. Because there are parts of myself I discover. Because there is an internal drive toward evolution. Because I play with my life as if it is my art. Because I feel another person’s feelings or think their thoughts. Because I get lost for a moment in their eyes. Because I move fluidly back and forth between a sense of expansion and individuality, between unity and emptiness, in the artificial and temporary space between my soul and the soul of another being.

Change can be really hard for oneself and for those around us. We all get used to a person in our life being a certain way – a certain personality, character, behavior, role. If one is sensitive, the combination of all these people’s unconscious expectations can feel like a cage, limiting our capacity to unfold. But really, our own fears of self-possession, self-knowledge, and self-love form the bars and lock on our prison.

If we trust ourselves and our connection to the Divine to bring us through any suffering, any heartache, any loneliness… then we are liberated to explore our full selves, and though it may be painful, it is a gift we give to humanity as a whole and to everyone we touch. Sometimes we fumble through our changes, hurting people along the way, either because we are clumsy with these new parts of ourselves, or because there are parts that are disconnected and broken, or because we haven’t yet figured out how to love our shadow-self and put her in service to our entire being.

But where there is fear, there is always courage. Where there is suffering, there is always love. Where there are mistakes, there is always grace. I am the beloved of the Divine, and so are you. And we are the Divine, made manifest.

To be authentically myself is to be the meeting place of the opposites, the friction, that creates existence. I am where light and dark, creator and destroyer, become lovers. To be authentically myself is to explore myself and my world, to make mistakes, to hurt and be hurt, to love and be loved. To be authentically myself is to be the essence of the Divine, of Nature, expressed through the fleeting moment of one life.

That Spirit of Solstice

•December 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Door in the Catacomb

I’ve been contemplating the dialogue in the Pagan community regarding how best to relate to this time of year sparked by T. Thorn Coyle and Jason Pitzl-Waters. Christmas is a troubling amalgam of Mithraism and the stories about a Jewish teacher named Jesus, Northern European Solstice rites and consumerist gluttony. What Christmas has become is socially forceful and often overshadows what our deeper selves call us to commemorate.

As I am drawn inevitably to my own soul’s liberation, there is a certain flow that becomes more and more the rhythm of my life. A major part of this is the waxing and waning of the light and darkness, creation and destruction, life and death, manifestation and potential. As I become more present to this shimmering vision, this inexplicably gorgeous song that stridently calls to every part of me, I find that no matter what happens with the hustle and bustle around me at this time of year, I am enraptured with being in the tomb of winter, awaiting my rebirth and release. I am soon to be unbound. I lie dormant in the earth, but above the sun breaks through and its brilliant play on the snowy woods around me is testimony of the spring that is to come.

I light candles in the darkness, feeling the presence of my potential and creativity as I enter the deep womb, as I die to myself and anticipate my rebirth. As I open to the great meaning the Solstices have for me – the promise of change and the constancy of Divine Light – this is my celebration of the stars, reflecting the Light of God Herself. I celebrate the birth of this Light into humanity, into the most unexpected times and places. It is the awakening and stirring of my own Light within.

Can I take this presence with me to a world that seems so asleep to its glory? Find patience in the maelstrom of long lines and traffic? Bring a little of the light and beauty of my hushed woods to those caught up in the frantic pace of buying bobbles? Around my cabin are the evergreens and mistletoe, bright splashes of life, and the oaks standing quiet in their temporary death. Can I bring their message of balance and harmony, rest and activity, to the strip malls in the cities below?

I am blessed. I live in the woods, where I am somewhat removed from the scattered and disintegrated pace “down the hill,” the Southern California most know. I exchange small, meaningful gifts only when I feel moved from within to do so. I am blessed to have family and friends who appreciate a thoughtful note, a shared meal, a hand-made work of art, something of my own that is ready for a new home, some gift of nature – a stone or leaf that offered itself.

These are blessings we can choose for ourselves. I choose the inconvenience of this cabin in a small mountain town, so I can be surrounded with the voices of the wild. I choose to be unapologetically myself, so my family has the opportunity to know me and love me for who I really am. I choose my friends carefully, because I want to be bonded with those who respect and love my spirit. When there is dissonance, I am committed first to the integrity of my journey.

This is hard work, but I am happy in it. My spiritual path resonates so poignantly with my soul, I no longer desire to wrap it up in the packaging of an economically manufactured holiday. I refuse to sacrifice the sanctity of this celestial reminder of the currents that move so powerfully through me on an altar to advertising and social bullying. Our gods are older and wiser than this, and the hearth-fire beckons in a dark time. Will we face the social risk and choose to heed their call?

Non-Polarity: Creation and Destruction

•July 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Death of a Star

I’ve been contemplating, both with my intellect and my emotion, creation and destruction, life and death. A couple months ago, one of my grandmothers passed away. She had the most beautiful death I could imagine. She had no pain, she was able to remain dignified and relatively self-sufficient, died in the loving care of my aunt’s home rather than a cold hospital, and was peaceful. Indeed, by the time of her passing, she was radiant. All the worry and fear had left, and she looked younger than she had in years. Half of her wrinkles disappeared, and her eyes held a love and light that I had never seen before. She had become whole, complete, and invincible. I could sense within this dying old woman, a young and vibrant being straining at the last ties that bound her to this particular life and place. She was reaching toward freedom while giving one last embrace to the life she had known.

When people die a good death, it is a profoundly beautiful experience. Death does not have to be ugly or frightening. It can be liberating, exhilarating, wondrous. Our own beings can, if we are willing, share with the stars the art of destruction. As the stars die, they offer the universe some of the most lovely and moving images we can behold. And when we are willing to meet death and destruction with courage and openness, we too can transform fear to deep knowing, and grief into joy. We can share with our loved ones the vastness that we are becoming.

Too often, our cultures and religions set life and death, creation and destruction, as oppositional polarities. This causes us to see one as good and the other as evil, to meet one with love and one with fear. But our construction of these primal forces, the processes that undergird all of existence, is not reality itself. Each holds the other, part of the unfolding of God Herself. In every creative act, whether by the force of Nature or by our own hands, is the destruction of every potential except one. In putting paint to canvas, we must choose one and only one eventuality. In writing this, I have chosen one focus for this moment and foresaken all others. In incarnation, we become a particular extension of the Divine for a while. We give up all the possibilities in the universe to live one life as one specific being in a particular time and place. So in our living, we die to all else we could have been. In every moment, we choose someone to be, something to do, a thought or feeling to have. And in doing so, we destroy every other possible outcome that moment could have held, at least for our sense of self right now. This is true for everything in existence. In becoming, we let go of being a field of potentiality in order to deeply explore just one self.

In death, this self, this particular existence, finds its end. Yet this is not a constriction, but an expansion. If we can just let go of our desperate grasp on this one life we have chosen, if we can face its end with willingness and meet destruction with open eyes and hearts, then we find not sorrow, but liberation. We find that death was never the enemy of life, but its fulfillment. Death and destruction are the return to the limitless process of God Herself, the unfathomable depth of the multiverse, and what is at the core of every existence. We return again to the infinite possibility when we face an empty page, a blank canvas, the place of stillness before motion begins. In this endless space, we become the great mystery of being itself. We find the great and fiery love that permeates all of existence and is beyond it, and we come to know once more what we ever have been and ever will be.

There we shall feel what it is to be everything and nothing, and to await the moment when, driven by the eternal passion of unity and diversity, of unfolding and returning, we become once more the Limitless in extension… a human being, a raven, a tree, a stone, a star.

Birth of a Star

Taking Wing

•April 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been working on a project concerning ways to meet fear and resistance with courage.  As often happens to me, whatever I begin to create in writing or art becomes my own spiritual work as well.  Whether my creativity arises first from this subconscious need to work on something in my own life, or whether the creative act manifests more opportunities to apply it in daily living, I don’t know.  Perhaps a bit of both.

For the past few weeks, I’d been struggling with fear and resistance as my spiritual growth hurtled toward a new plateau.  I felt pushed toward an unknown, and this caused an arising of trepidation.  What was to come?  How would it affect me?  Who would I become?

Most of all, I realized that I was resistant and fearful because I felt I had no choice.  I felt pressure from the Divine to take a leap across a chasm that I considered too big. 

When I recognized, with the help of a spiritual teacher, that I had a choice and could refuse this invitation… this was a moment of awakening to my own deep-seated desire.  With the option to take more time and space before facing this challenge, did I really desire it or was I simply disavowing my own power and strength to open to this change? 

There are some moments in which we make a choice that is inevitably tremendous.  While we’d like to cautiously dip one toe into the pool, sometimes our options do not include the incremental approach.  Like a young condor on the edge of a rocky precipice, opening its wings to the wind for the first time, there are some steps forward in our spiritual lives that require us to take a substantial risk and literally jump into the current… hoping that we will find the grace, strength, and intuition to fly. 

I didn’t intend to immediately rush headlong into this change, but the opportunity and moment presented itself.  I knew the desire of my soul, and the winds of change and liberation beckoned me.  When I fully opened these wings and felt their power and beauty, I could not resist the siren song of flight. 

When I chose to meet my fears and resistance, I found I was more capable than I had allowed myself to know.  I was more expansive, flexible, and open than I had thought was possible.  And now I fly… learning and loving this new gift as I prepare for my next leap into the unknown forces of transformation.

I come back to my project on meeting fear and resistance with more confidence and understanding.  What do we fear?  What is the love and light that we resist?  Why?  Underneath our fears of inadequacy and the unknown are also often fears of our own power and potential… it is not only that we fear to fall.  We also fear to soar.  But to fly is to touch heaven and bring it back to the earth.  Some possibilities are worth the risk.

California Condor ~ Reader’s Digest

Returning to God Herself

•April 14, 2010 • 1 Comment

A short while ago, someone sent me a video of a water droplet returning to a pool of water in slow-motion.

What I saw intrigued me.  The drop of water does not return to the pool all at once, but bit by bit.  Bits of itself are shed into the pool until it is small enough to be absorbed entirely.

Auburn Office of Sustainability Website

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about incarnation and returning to God Herself- the consummation of the soul, the full embrace of the Divine.  We exist for a while- perhaps for eons- as individual beings, whether disincarnate or incarnate.  We exist with an ego, a sense of self.  But what is really underneath?  If we stripped away our egos, bit by bit, what would be the last little drop of water before it was consumed by the vast ocean below it?  And how does this simplifying happen?

In the video, the pool of water was still, rippling only from the water droplet’s gradual acceptance of absorption.  But water is not always so.  Sometimes water falls in torrents of rain or uniquely constructed snowflakes.  Sometimes the water that rises to meet it is a wheeling sea or raging river. 

Perhaps we experience both at once- this gradual movement toward returning, and moments of ecstatic communion.  I know that I have moments in which I feel lost in a storm- the little drop of myself buffeted by the winds of transformation and pure being-ness, then swallowed up all at once by the Divine.  These moments of profound bliss last a short while, but they seem unsustainable for an incarnate life.  So what is the point of spiritual ecstasy and the Divine embrace?  I emerge from these moments renewed and slightly transformed.  One more small layer of ego has willingly given itself over to the sea of God Herself.  I am left with a new being to know, to love, from which to learn.  That gradual returning, one little bit offered at a time, carries on.

Can we learn to love both processes equally?  Can we learn to face our fears of both with grace and courage?

Sacred Peace Walk 2010

•April 10, 2010 • 1 Comment

Sacred Peace Walk Flowers by Jim Haber

Last week, I danced, chanted, prayed, and walked with people of diverse faiths in the cause of peace and nuclear disarmament.  Together, we engaged in ritual from our myriad religions with intentions focused on forging peace in humanity. We walked from Las Vegas to the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada- in the wind, the sun, heat and cold.  We listened to the wind (howling at times), to the stillness of the desert, to each other.  We shared meals, sunscreen, and duct tape (my blistered feet thank you!).  We shared vision, desire, and dream.

My heart and mind are still raw with the memory of the pain of the land and the suffering of beings at the hands of war.  On Friday, the Stations of the Cross were performed with a unique focus on the continued suffering of humanity in the violence of war, imploring us to find the peace that was offered by Christ.  Meanwhile, the drones of Creech Air Force Base flew overhead.  By about the fifth station, I could not repeat the sections of the performance that were for us all to read in unison.  My voice caught in my throat and tears gathered as I opened myself to the pain of humanity- its fears, hatred, and grief. 

As I walked on Saturday, I found a space of stillness, alone with my footsteps.  With every step I took toward the Nuclear Test Site, I felt a weight on my chest increase, the burdened and belabored Earth Mother struggling to heal a tremendous wound.  I opened myself as wide as I could, breathed out space for this suffering, and grieved with the Land as I would for my family.  I touched the plants lightly, hearing their voices.  I cried.  I apologized.  And then I gave what Light I could offer this place.

I began to breathe more deeply, more evenly.  I called upon the Light of the Divine, called it from within and without, in me and through me.  I envisioned this vast desert being cleansed and healed with this Light, pouring out past me, past the Nuclear Test Site fence, and across the land.  I envisioned Light pooling from my footsteps, Light resting gently from above on every cactus and shrub, Light penetrating below the crust of soil and deep into the Earth.  Light seeping into myself, then touching every human heart.  Light bringing love and peace to all people. 

For all the pain and suffering this Earth holds, mostly due to our own lack of mindfulness and our bowing down to fear, it holds much beauty too.  When I had allowed the pain to wash over me, faced it, embraced it, and met it with courage… I began to feel a deep affection.  Despite Her wounds, the Earth cooperated with the rain to cause the desert to gift us with the most amazing array of flowers.  Flowers so small they were dwarfed by my fingernails fought to the surface to meet the sun.  A wary burro eyed me cautiously, trotting off to the horizon.  A pair of ravens took to the sky ahead.

And in humanity, too, there is hope and the capacity for healing.  Again and again this came to me- as we huddled together at lunch using a car as a windbreak, as we stood together in vigil at Creech Air Force Base… but mostly when we danced together.  Thursday night, in the Temple of Goddess Spirituality (dedicated to Sekhmet), led by T. Thorn Coyle and Spinner McBride, we called upon the inner divine fire, the elements, and the Goddess Sekhmet.  The rhythm of the drums, the warmth of the fire, the starry sky of the open dome of the temple… I could feel myself spiral into this Divine presence, this deep capacity for love and peace.  Friday morning, remembering together Christ’s sacrifice and the continued suffering of humanity at the hands of violence, I felt this same spiraling- this unity despite difference.  And Friday night, led by T. Thorn Coyle and Joshua Levin, recitations of Thomas Merton backed by drumming turned into spontaneous chanting and dancing.  As I moved and sung, I felt my soul rise to meet the Divine presence, bringing the Light and Love of this Divine into me and my humanity. 

Sunday morning, again we danced- this time to the drumbeat of Johnny Bob, the Tribal Chief of the Western Shoshone.  Before dawn, we gathered around the fire, listening to prayers in the Shoshone language and dancing together in the solid heartbeat of the drum.  As we went round and round, holding hands, circling as the sun rose, I began to lose myself in the circular swirl of energy around the fire, the vortex created by just a few dozen human feet, stomping out the rhythm of love and peace.  At breakfast, my mind wondered: what would it be like to have a world of people dancing to that rhythm of awakening, holding hands in a never-ending spiral of life?  What would happen if humanity as a whole, collective consciousness became mindful of how precious life really is?  What if we knew our incredible potential to honor it in other beings and transform this world?  What if we realized Earth is our heaven or our hell- that we choose which reality we create?

Nearly a week later, I sit here at my computer in my little mountain cabin and I still can call up the pain of the Land and humanity in the shackles of war.  Yet, I can also still call up the hope of humanity moving in unison to the heartbeat of peace.  Logic tells me that humans are a long way off from finding a collective consciousness of unity and friendship.  Yet, perhaps because it is a deep-seated desire, my heart and soul tell me this is possible.  In the meantime, whenever I can, I will hold hands with you and dance, and together, we can become filled with the joy and wonder of living.  In those moments, we will create heaven on earth.  We will become this future humanity, able to celebrate our differences and yet raise one voice for peace- so that no child is orphaned by violence, no mother buries her son in the name of war, and no land is poisoned and scarred by weapons.