Finding Inner Wisdom

Woodstove Fire

Wood stove Fire-Photo by Margy Dowzer

During our ritual celebration yesterday evening for Imbolc/Groundhog Day, we scryed with the magic of the fire in our wood stove.  Scrying is a form of seeking wisdom, by gazing into some sort of medium–such as a crystal ball, tea leaves, a bowl of water, a candle flame.  It gets a bad rap on Wikipedia as “unscientific.”  But as one person mentioned last night, while meditation may sometimes be difficult, there is something about quietly staring into a fire with each other that brings one to a state of stillness within.

When we find that stillness, we have access to our own deeper wisdom, and the wisdom of the deeper mystery. Some people see images in the fire. Others notice whatever thoughts or feelings emerge in the stillness of gazing.

Here is what I noticed on the way to the wisdom in me:  First of all, a sense of deep weariness.  Then, a desire to stop doing so much out there in the world, to pay attention to what is happening within.  Then, a feeling of how difficult it is to say no to invitations to activism on issues that are important.  There is so much hard stuff in our world right now, and so many good people are responding.  How do I know when I should be taking action, and when I should be in stillness?

Then, a fear that if I choose to say no, I will disappoint people, lose their love and acceptance. Then, a realization that that motivation, that fear, is not a source of wisdom, but rather a wound that needs healing.  I sat with the fear for a while, gazing still into the fire, opening my heart to the healing energies of the mystery.  We were celebrating Brigid after all, who is a Celtic goddess of healing. We had brought into the circle a small bottle of water from one of Brigid’s wells in Ireland, and I anointed my forehead and heart and hands with some of that water.

Deeper still, I realized that I am in the midst of a profound change.  I am shifting from one identity, one chapter of my life–as the minister of the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church, to another identity, another chapter–as yet unknown.  What I most desire is something like a cocoon in which to make that transformation, just as the caterpillar encloses itself for its transition to the butterfly.

This “enclosing myself” is not the same as doing nothing at all.  There are activities that directly relate to this transition–processes of ending, closing down, completing the work. I notice how hard it is to turn my attention away from the usual activities of my current/former self, to pay attention to the transition.  And in understanding this, I realize that I have to be courageous enough to say no to some good and important activities and activism. I have to say no, so that I can be courageous enough to say yes to the transformation.

Advertisements

Groundhog Day

IMG_4560

We’ve made it half-way to the Spring Equinox–Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Imbolc according to the Celts… Whatever we call it, I have always liked this festival. Even the birds seem to know that something is up.  On my walks the last couple days, they have been singing so that I notice it.  The height of the sun? The change in the light?  Even though it’s been cold, and today snow was covering everything, they sing.

Today, in my neighborhood, the groundhog would not have seen his shadow–so that means that spring will come early.  But in fact, groundhogs are still in hibernation here, and since technically, it will still be six weeks until spring no matter what, I don’t actually count on the groundhog to confirm the weather.  But this day still awakens the hope that winter won’t last forever.

I was happy to learn that the Groundhog Day tradition comes from Americans with German ancestry–since that is part of my own heritage.  Back in German-speaking lands, it was instead a badger, and originally a bear, whose emergence would predict the weather on Candlemas Day.  Candlemas was a Catholic feast, but was retained even after Protestant Reforms, likely because it was an even earlier pagan feast that had been Christianized. There are sayings in English, French, and Latin as well that correspond to the myth: “If Candlemas is fair and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.” This attests to its antiquity as a European tradition.

Imbolc is the feast of Brigid, the goddess of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.  When Margy and I visited Ireland, we visited more than one Brigid’s well where the waters are known for their healing properties.  But I also think of this festival as a celebration of fire–fire is the key component of welding and smithcraft, and it is also a symbol of creativity–the inner fire that inspires poetry and art and music.  It is the fire which inspires social change, transformation, and healing.

Years ago, this came together for me in the poem by Cherrie Moraga, “The Welder,” in the book, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.  It concludes with these lines:

I am now
coming up for air.
Yes, I am
picking up the torch.

I am the welder.
I understand the capacity of heat
to change the shape of things.
I am suited to work
within the realm of sparks
out of control.

I am the welder.
I am taking the power
into my own hands.

Thank you Cherrie Moraga!  And thank you to the singing birds!  Thank you dear neighborhood groundhog for not eating my kale last summer!  And to all of you reading this, may your day be filled with creativity and healing.

Layers of Community-Fire

After- Fire Circle Close-upComing back to the Permablitz of June 24, another project that was completed that day was a fire circle.  As Lisa Fernandes said, every home needs a place to burn things.  So she was our team leader for the fire circle, and gathered in the layers of community for the element of fire.  With a community of workers!

Ground prep for Fire Circle Lisa & the boysFirst they had to remove big pile of bittersweet brush (that we will eventually burn) from the spot we had chosen.  Lisa and Kristen gathered together the stone blocks that would be used.  (But there could have been other helpers–at that moment I was over in the garden beds.)  Then they prepared the ground with a layer of sand. Our youngest permablitz members got into the sand-tamping process, as well as Lisa and Kristen.

I love the first layer of stones, and the circle that it creates on the sand. I heard that they found this method of creating a fire pit via a youtube video.  The second layer (in case anyone wants to copy) uses a staggered spacing on top of these, and includes four openings for air–which they positioned to the north, east, south, and west.  Then a third layer is placed on the top.  Somewhere in the process, for the middle layer, you have to knock off a little edge on the bricks.Fire Circle first layer on sand.jpgFinally, they brought a whole pile of pine mulch for the seating area around it, and then laid some bittersweet brush and pine cones for our first fire.  Permaculture is not just about a way of gardening but also about how communities care for each other.  Its three principles have been summed up as earth care, people care, and future care.  So having a place to gather with others is an integral part of our permaculture design.

By the way, if you want to see all the photos from the day, you can find them at the Meet-up site.

Forgiving the Broken

Apple Tree Fall DSC01738Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.
                                                                                           Louise Erdrich

One day, caught in the gap between my ideals for living in harmony with the earth and what I am actually able to do, I went outside to share my sorrow with the trees and the green earth. I want human society to be better than it is—I want there to be a path forward that is not so lonely and hard, so expensive and out of reach. I was in a painful, broken place. I sat down on a blanket on the ground, and looked to the four sacred elements of the earth for help; the earth, the air, the fire, the water. They were kinder than I expected.

The Earth said, “Forgive the people of your society. Don’t hate your own kind. They didn’t know the oil would run out. They were creating what seemed to be good with all this abundance. It’s not evil to use oil. It is evil to fight wars and oppress workers and sully the waters in your attempts to keep it and secure it.”

The Air reminded me that the songs of birds can dispel sadness, and awaken joy and beauty.

The Fire surrounded me with the warmth of love, and said these energy issues can only be resolved through your connection to the sun. All of our energy comes from the sun.

The Water said, “Weep when you are sad. Don’t always try to fix it.” And so I eventually came to a place of peace.

One of my ecological dreams is a “net-zero carbon” home that generates more energy than it needs. I’ve heard about these homes and the architects that are designing them. That would be ideal. But in order to be alive in this world, I need to forgive the messiness of what is, as it is now. I need to accept that human beings as a species do not live in harmony with the earth right now. We are broken off.

I am able to accept our brokenness when I feel the Sun shining down on us despite it all. When I feel the water claiming us as her own, the flowers blooming, the food growing, the birds singing. The beauty of this earth teaches me that there is something very good even in the midst of our brokenness. The next day, the newspaper had a story about green homes in New England. If I can expand my perspective, I can be joyful that some people are creating zero-carbon homes, that something is awakening among human beings that will lead to greater wholeness with the earth. I feel hopeful when I learn that the United Kingdom has a goal of all new constructed homes being zero-carbon homes by 2016.Apple DSC01750

Louise Erdrich quote from The Painted Drum, p. 274.

Blessed Illusion!

Flowing Water MJ DSC02210The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote,

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
there was a fountain flowing
deep within my heart.
Water, tell me by what hidden
channel you come to me,
with a source of new life
I never drank from before.

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
I had a beehive
deep within my heart;
and the golden bees
were using old
bitterness to produce
white wax and sweet honey.

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
a blazing sun was shining
deep within my heart.
It burned because it gave off
heat like a red hearth;
it was a sun that illumined
and also made me cry.

Last night when I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
it was God that I felt
deep within my heart.
                                                                          Translation by Armand F. Baker.

As I have explored in earlier posts, the word God can be a confusing word. God is hard to talk about—whatever we can say about God, that is not really what God is. Machado’s poem uses these stories and images, these dream illusions to describe a movement of mystery within his heart.  Robert Bly, in a more well known translation, calls the original spanish “¡bendita ilusión!” a “Marvelous Error.”

I believe that Machado knows that words can’t really describe what he has found inside his heart.  Only “illusion”–he calls it a blessed illusion–can begin to point to it.  And yet, what we say about God reflects what we worship in the temple in our hearts. What we say about God matters.  And saying this word God is a good reminder to choose something big enough to worship. Saying the word God is a good reminder not to give our devotion to anything which is not worthy of us.

Raymond Baughan, said,

What is required of us…
Is that we go down
Into uncertainty
Where what is new is old as every morning
And what is well known is not known as well…

What is worthy of our worship? What can lead us into the largest reality of which we are a part? What can open our being to the essential Mystery? What will keep expanding, and never be smaller than what we have already known? It is a process never finished.

“What is Required of Us,” by Raymond Baughan,author of The Sound of Silence: a Book of Meditations, 1965, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Risky Talk

I have some of my own baggage attached to spirituality. From my earliest memories, I knew that it was risky to talk about spirituality. It was sure to mark you as strange or crazy, or get you into trouble. I don’t even know how or where I learned this—maybe at school among my classmates? There was something embarrassing, or dangerous, or profoundly broken with the idea of speaking about this realm.

But in my immediate family, it was just the opposite. Spirituality was an ever-present force. My father didn’t just believe in God, he was in love with God. He had called out to God, and experienced an answer. It filled his life like a contagious fire. A spark of that fire ignited in my heart, too.

FlameI was hungry for this burning love. But I was also afraid of what other people would think of me. How often do we deny our own deep experience to gain social acceptance? It seemed to me that most people outside my family said they believed in God, but they didn’t really expect anything to come of it. So I learned to keep certain things hidden—especially the solitary and mysterious experiences of longing or feeling loved.

Because I was a child growing up Catholic, I fit my experience into the stories I learned, the beliefs that were given to me. It was safer to talk in the language of belief, rather than to reveal my feelings. Later, those beliefs were challenged by my experience, and my journey brought me into a very different place. My beliefs got turned upside down, in order for me to be true to my experience. But that fire of burning love kept re-igniting.

Today, when I venture inside my own heart, I still experience deep longings, these hungers that feel almost like pain, or sometimes like restlessness. It is difficult to feel this and I am tempted to read a book, or find something else that might fill up that empty place. But instead of escaping or fixing it, I invite myself to try to be present with it. I breathe into the longing and let myself experience the hunger. Is this what it means to become friends with my burning? I accept the feelings of my heart just as they are. I connect with the experience of my deeper self.

Perhaps that is all that happens. But sometimes, something else happens too. My heart opens up, the emptiness becomes a doorway, and I fall into a larger awareness. I feel the earth, the sky, the wind. I feel joined to everything. I find answers to questions and guidance when I face a crossroads. I feel held in the arms of tenderness. I feel that I have come home. Sometimes, as Rumi says,

Something opens our wings
Something makes boredom and hurt disappear
Someone fills the cup in front of us
We taste only sacredness.

This has been my experience of spiritual awakening. Hunger itself becomes a doorway into sacredness, into feeling connection beyond my aloneness. Does it matter, on any particular day, whether I feel longing or feel love? Whether I feel questions or feel answers? The Buddhist mystics would say no. What matters is that I am becoming conscious. Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says,

“If we want to enter Heaven on Earth, we need only one conscious step and one conscious breath.”

Take some time to notice what is brewing in your heart. Do you feel a sense of emptiness? A sense of connection? Do you feel questions? Don’t try to change anything, just become aware of what you are carrying in your heart in this moment.

Quotes from: The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks p. 280.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, p. 8.