Monday, November 25, 2013

Changing our Stories

This is a First Word I presented to my Quaker community, West Hills Friends. A First Word is a time to share a story of how God's spirit is moving in your life and through sharing these stories we can more fully understand the world of the spirit in the world. I hope this story can shed some light on this big crazy world for you. Writing it helped me. 

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Hi, my name is Alyss and I am a middle school teacher. As far as I can see, the only thing on earth harder than being a middle school teacher is being a middle school student. Some of my students come into my cramped but well appointed classroom with worried faces, and folded, tight body language of those trying to be unobtrusive. Others show up with manic grins, big bouncing steps, drawing attention to themselves with wild gestures and loud words. Not a single one of them is sure of themselves or how they fit in this world and in that, I feel a great kinship with them. Being twelve is really, really hard… but it turns out being an adult is almost just as hard. Actually, I think it’s just hard to be a people.

I teach science and my main objectives as a science educator are to introduce kids to great minds that have come before them and to give their minds the tools they need to see the great world in front of them. We just started a unit on the Solar System and so, fittingly, we started with an introduction to how astronomers have viewed the solar system throughout the history of western civilization. I should not have been so surprised at their eagerness for these stories – stories of men who looked and saw, were confused and then made sense.

One of their favorites and mine is that well-known Polish astronomer Copernicus. 500 years ago he spent his life watching the stars trying to understand what was going on in this big crazy world. My sixth graders love it when I tell them that the world is crazy and we’re all just trying to understand it…. Copernicus, me and them in the same boat of having no idea what is going on. After years of dedicated watching, Copernicus realized that the observations he was making about the heavens did not fit with story he had been taught about how the solar system worked.  For over 1000 years western culture had been sure that the earth stood still in the center of the solar system and the rest of the heavenly bodies moved around it. But Copernicus’ data just wouldn’t fit that model. He had to change his story to make sense of his observations.

He had to change his story to make sense of his observations. I probably said that 25 times this week and at some point it dawned on me – I’m not just talking about astronomy, or science even. When Copernicus realized that his new information didn’t fit this old story he most likely felt the excitement of discovery but I suspect he also felt confused, insecure, anxious and maybe even more intense emotions like fear, dread, sadness or grief. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

We have to change our story to make sense of our observations. We tell ourselves lots of stories about how the world works – that the earth stands still, that God created heaven and earth in 6 days, that those people are taking our jobs, that that person will always act like this, or I will always do this or someday my prince will come. So many of these stories were built on outdated information but humans are meaning making machines and we hold onto our narratives like a drowning man, even when we know how to swim.

We have to change our story to make sense of our new observations. Hah, if only it were so easy. The child psychologist Piaget recognized that when humans get new information they can either ignore it, assimilate it seamlessly into their old story or reshape their understanding. Fundamentalists, hack scientists and addicts of all kinds are prime examples of the ignoring strategy, but we are all guilty. Piaget called the reshaping strategy disequilibrium, recognizing how uncomfortable and complex this process is.

Disequilibrium. Yeah, I know about that. Feeling like the ground is shifting under your feet. Like nothing makes sense anymore. Like all the old rules and old stories are a bunch of garbage and you are left with…. Well, you have no idea what you are left with. Anxiety and fear, sadness and grief are marking my disequilibrium. I see confusion and distress in the disequilibrium that my students are going through – because what is middle school if not a time when you are learning new things that don’t make sense in your old world order. Their bodies are changing, their brains are changing, their social networks are changing and nothing makes sense anymore. Yep, I know all about disequilibrium.

Piaget says that disequilibrium is a motivator for intellectual growth and creating schema, understandings, that are ever more adequate for dealing with reality. The astronomers we studied eventually came to a schema about the solar system that has allowed us to send men to the moon and probes to the worlds throughout our solar system. I have faith that my 6th graders will some day be generally functional adults and I’m sure I will come to an “ever more adequate schema” though I have no idea what that will look like. And none of these disequilibrium events are easy or comfortable. But as my Zen Buddhist friend says, with that very serious look Zen Buddhists so often have – what’s wrong with being uncomfortable? You just want to tell them to shut it, but he’s probably right.

I have to change my story to make sense of my observations. I’m anxious, uncomfortable, upset scared and sad these days. I’m in a state of disequilibrium. I’m not miserable, though… a new thing is rising or else I would still be happy in my old understanding. Its hard, it’s not fun, there are a lot of tears. But I guess one of those stories that doesn’t really work is the one that says life will be simple, comfortable and pleasant at all times.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ramadan Heroes

The Fathers Moon

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My evening walk was lit by the new crescent moon of the month of Ramadan. All over the world Muslims are fasting from food, water and other sins like lying and thinking badly of others. I was thinking about everyone everywhere who is going without, either because they must or because it will make them better. Blessed Ramadan!

Like years past, I have been collecting and sharing stories about Muslim people and culture this Ramadan month. This year, in keeping with my theme of Claiming My Super Powers and Calling My Allies, I focused on Muslim heroes. I found some really interesting stories about people from all over the Muslim world and throughout time who embody the ideals of being a hero - being the best they can be in service of others. I hope you are as inspired as I have been.

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No list of Muslim heroes can start anywhere except with the prophet Muhammad. Muslims will all agree that Muhammad is a hero because he is the seal of the prophets, the last voice of god on earth. Islam, no matter what fundamentalists may do in it's name, is a religion of equality, justice and compassion. Muhammad was very clear that his followers should treat women fairly in matters of inheritance and daily life and that a percentage of all wealth should go to the poor. He was revered, even in his early life, for his trustworthiness in business and gentleness with children. Ramadan mubarak!

A Timeline of the Prophet Muhammad by PBS

An American Sufi take on the Prophet Muhammad as a Hero

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"What ever I know, I owe solely to my assiduous reading of books of the ancients, to my desire to understand them and to appropriate this science; then I have added the observation and experience of my whole life." Abu al-Quasim al-Zahrawi was a physician who lived and worked in Al-Andalus, the medieval Islamic civilization in Spain. His encyclopedia of medical knowledge was the first to describe many surgical techniques including delicate procedures to remove tonsils, extract bladder stones, using catgut for stitches and techniques to reduce mortality rate during childbirth. The Latin translations of his work, usually with the name Albucasis, were influential well into the modern age. He blended thorough study of ancient texts with scientific observation of patients and a deep respect for human life to change the face of medicine in the Western world forever. He is one heck of a Muslim hero.

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What do you call a 6'2" tall, 320lb Egyptian man competing at high levels in Japanese sumo? Osunaarashi, or “Great Sandstorm.” Abdel Rahman Ahmed Shaalan moved to Japan to be a world class sumo competitor two years ago and his dreams seem to be coming true. Following his authentic and quirky dreams makes him a hero in many ways, but his team mates and coaches are heroes too for adapting their ancient traditions to his Muslim faith. The traditional pork stew eaten by sumo wrestlers is made with chicken and fish for his team, and his coaches are helping him compete in a big tournament this month despite the fact that he is observing the Ramadan fast. Best of luck, Osunaarashi!

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"My aim is to show that those governments that violate the rights of people by invoking the name of Islam have been misusing Islam." In 1969 Shirin Ebadi became the first woman to become a judge in an Iranian court. She served as a judge in various courts in Tehran until the Islamic revolution in 1979 when she, along with all other women judges who had come after her, were made clerks in the courts they had previous presided over. She began writing about her opposition to these so called Islamic laws and when she regained her law license in 1992 she began representing disenfranchised women, children and other victims. Threats to her life sent her into exile but she continued working for human rights in Iran and in 2008 was awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize for her work. She has inspired growing human rights movements in Iran and continues to speak against the despotic government she says is using Islam against people. Ms. Ebadi's story shows me how even something we think of as monolithic like "Iran" has a past, a future and a diversity of ideas and values. She's a hero to me!

Dr Ebadi was once asked if she had a message for Muslim women. “Yes,” she replied. “Keep on fighting.” 

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In late 2009 Fatma Iktasari and Shabnam Kazimi dressed up as men and snuck into Tehran's Azadi stadium to cheer on their national team as they played a World Cup qualifying match. In Iran, women may watch women play in all women audiences, but are not allowed to watch men play. The movie Offsides showed a fictionalized account of just such an act of political dissidence but I couldn't find any news of what actually happened to Fatma and Shabnam. I hope they are safe and cheering on Iran as they head to the Brazil for the world cup next summer.

This is the best part: "The state—and especially many clerics—argue that soccer stadiums are no place for women because male soccer fans are crude and shout phrases that are offensive to the ears of gentle women. There are also concerns that women might be touched by men in the crowded mass of a stadium. " I whole heartedly agree... and that's the best part of being a soccer fan   

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Can you name a world queen fought and vanquished many foes to protect her homeland's economic and trade interests? Who never married but ruled under her own power for decades? Built earthen fortifications that protected her people and are still in use today? Earned the honorific "A woman as capable as a man"? Became the inspiration for Xena Warrior Princess? The correct answer is Queen Amina, a 16th century leader of the Islamic Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. Legends are still told of her today and multiple universities bear her name. She is a national hero in modern Nigeria and kinda kick-ass all around.

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On July 20th, 1969 the crew of the Apollo 11 became the first humans to walk on the moon. When Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was a 9 years old his father showed him a poster of Neil Armstrong to motivate the young Malaysian to literally reach for the stars. "He was a remarkable person who opened the pathway to space exploration" says the man who became the first Malaysian in space when he spent 11 days aboard the ISS in 2007. When people dismissed his dream of becoming an astronaut due to his nationality, he studied to become an orthopedic surgeon, knowing science was the key to space travel. While aboard the ISS he performed experiments on cancer cells, bacteria and lipid crystallization. Like so many astronauts, he saw the earth differently from space "Seeing how small and how tiny the Earth is from space made me realise that we are actually insignificant. There are millions and millions of galaxies out there, and it saddens me that people are killing each other and destroying the earth and killing the environment." He has spent the years since his spaceflight working to inspire young Asians to study science and space. "You must dream big, believe in yourself and be very vocal."

As a Muslim, Shukor's trip presented some challenges to the expectations that he pray towards Mecca five times a day, and that he fast during Ramadan (when the trip occurred). The Malaysian government convened a council to figure out what he should do and how he should do it. "During my time in space, I heard the azaan (Islamic call to prayer) and it was the most magical sound I've heard in my life." He added that "In space, you just feel closer to the Creator". 

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"I think Afghanistan is not a jungle, with lions everywhere to scare people. There are human beings living in this country. The people of Afghanistan are braver than the rest of the world." There are brave people everywhere but Sosan Firooz is one of the bravest I've heard of. The 23 year old Afghani woman raps about her beloved homeland and the tragedies her people have faced in recent years. It is very frowned upon in Afghani culture for women to sing, especially in western clothes and sans headscarf as Sosan does in her YouTube video and her uncle has cut ties with the family. Her father, however, acts as her secretary and bodyguard whenever she leaves the house. Her ultimate goal? To help her family out of poverty and see her country get back on its feet. I wish I were half so brave! Sosan is a hero of mine  

Watch the Upworthy video here!

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"It’s a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures that come here. And we all support one Constitution, one Constitution that upholds our right to equal protection, one Constitution that guarantees us due process under the law, one Constitution which says that there is no religious test for elected office in America" said Keith Ellison when he became the first Muslim elected to the US Congress and made it clear that he would take his oath of office on a Koran rather than a Bible. In the years since he made that oath (on Jefferson's own Koran, no less) he has worked to protect the rights of Americans (staunchly pro-choice, active in credit reform legislation, support of American Muslims and environmental issues) and of people all over the world. He is one of the first congressmen to visit Gaza, has spoken openly against the war in Iraq and was arrested for publicly speaking out against the Sudanese government's actions in Darfur. Keith Ellison is an American Muslim hero who loves his country, works hard on progressive issues and believes in the values of tolerance and diversity.

Mr Ellison converted to Islam in college. "I can't claim that I was the most observant Catholic at the time [of my conversion]. I had begun to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change. When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society... I found Islam."

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"Anti-Semitism is only the lightning rod used to draw the people’s attention away from their real problems." wrote Dervis Korkut, the Muslim Bosniak curator of books at the Sarajevo library in 1941. He was writing a position paper to the Nazi puppet government set up after the invasion of Yugoslavia that year insisting that the native Muslim population had always embraced pluralism. During the ensuing occupation and fighting, Korkut lived this belief by risking his and his family's safety to protect Jewish treasures; the Sarajevo Haggadah and a woman named Mira Papo. Mira had escaped the round up of the Jews of Sarajevo spent months disguised as a Muslim servant in the Korkut household. The Haggadah, a book used in Passover services that originated in Spain in the 14th century, was demanded out of the museum by a Nazi officer and Korkut used wit and deception to smuggle it to safety in the mountains. Legend says it spent much of the rest of the war hidden under the floor boards of a small mosque. Korkuk spent six years in prison after the war on false charges of participating in a Muslim Fascist militia but testimony by his Jewish friends saved him from a death sentence. Standing up for the values of diversity and human dignity is one of the most heroic things I can think of a person doing.

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It might be said that almost all violence is caused by a lack of love. Ameena Matthews saw this when she made her own reputation as a young gang member in Chicago, driven there by poverty and violence in her own family, and she sees it now as a Violence Interrupter working with Ceasefire, a non profit in those same Chicago neighborhoods. Every day she steps into violent conflicts, “I get in and I stop the transmission of violence from one person to another. May it be through conversation, may it be through taking that person out of the conflict, maybe off the block, going to get them something to eat, and then talk about the conflict. And how to address it in a different manner so it won’t result in a homicide, so it won’t result into some jail time, so it won’t result into an innocent mother, baby sister being shot or killed." In other words, she loves them. Matthews' faith is a cornerstone of her life, giving her the strength to go out on the streets and love the young people so in need, to love her own children and family and to love herself enough to do this painful and difficult work. Her love isn't a gooey, saccharine kind, but a tough, demanding, expecting kind of love and she is a hero of mine. And she totally told off Stephen Colbert... how heroic!

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Some Hafiz for your Saturday: 
Out of a great need, 
we are holding hands and climbing. 
Not loving is letting go. 
the terrain around here 
is far too dangerous 
for that.

Hafiz is a 14th century Persian poet out of the Sufi tradition. His poems continue to be well known, memorized and recited throughout the world. Go, read more here.

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"I have decided that I am free, independent, self-reliant, and that no one can have control over my life and what I do. I am not going to allow anyone to bring me down or simply tell me that "I can't", because I can and I will, Just watch me! " says 23 year old Alaa Al-Eryani, a Yemeni who studied film and television in Malaysia before coming back to her home country to work with Save the Children. She is a staunch feminist who writes and works tirelessly to free herself and other women from societal norms that "teach us to not get harassed instead of teaching men not to harass us." She shines light on the plight of child brides, of women oppressed by their own expectations and the societal tragedy of failing to educate half the population. What makes Alaa a hero of mine is her positive spin on feminism and radical self determination. She insists that she will do what she wants, not that others should stop doing what they are doing. "I'm going to walk down the street and no matter how many men throw awful words at me, I won't care. I'm going to make my own decisions and choices without the permission of a man.... I am free, and I will fight for women's freedom until we are equal to men."

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No collection of Muslim Heroes would be complete without a nod to The 99, a group of comic book super heroes that are rooted in Islamic culture the way Superman and Batman are rooted in Western culture. The 99 gather their powers from ancient knowledge encapsulated in special noor stones and mirror the ninety nine attributes of Allah, including generosity, faithfulness, wisdom, and strength. The young people who find the stones are from all over the world and each learn to use their powers for good - the protection of others and promoting diversity and tolerance. The creator of the series, Naif Al-Mutawa, explicitly draws parallels between traditional superheroes fights against fascism in 20th century Europe and how The 99 preset role models for a fight against extremism in the 21st century. Check out the website, check out the preview video and see The 99 in action. They're pretty awesome.

Ramadan mubarak! 

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Read more! Read all my Father's Moon posts from late summers past, and check out all my writings on Ramadan, too.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Practicing Community

Mother's Moon

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This piece was written and presented as a "First Word" at my Quaker meeting. A First Word is a time to share with the community how god moves in your life so that we may more fully understand god's workings in the world. 
This is a topic I have been mulling over since at least last October (this post is what came out of those initial mullings) but between the time I agreed to give a First Word and the time I actually did get a chance to speak my life got turned pretty much on it's head. I contracted a serious bacterial infection in my ankle that landed me in the hospital for seven days, not walking for another week and still managing the physical and emotional recovery a month later. As I came through that trauma I realized I hadn't written out my thoughts and wondered if this was really what I wanted to speak about. I worried for a bit as I tried mightily to get thoughts to paper but then remembered - hey, I'm a Quaker. Words will come as words are meant to come. I got something down and trusted that the message that actually got shared would be the right message for the moment. 

What I present here is mostly "what I got down." I edited it lightly post ipso facto, but those of you who were in Meeting that morning will have to remember the sparkle as you saw it. 

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As much as we instant gratification, 21st century technology natives hate to admit it, it turns out, you gotta practice to get good at something. I was on a kickball team last spring and we lost every game we played. We had fun, but no one got any better at kicking or catching because we never practiced. I failed calculus three times in college before I figured out that doing the homework was the way to go. It helped that that last teacher was easy on the eyes, but the real key to success was practicing the work every day. Anything we want to get better at requires practice, from Stephen King writing every morning to things like friendship and relationships. I watch kids practice relationship with every awkward embrace in a high school hallway and every timid “can I play?” at day camp. 
Edward Hick's Peaceable Kingdom
Here at West Hills we do a lot of practicing, too; practicing how to be a community. Living in community with other people is hard, way harder than kickball and so the practice is that much more intense. We practice living in community with each birthday song and potluck, every dinner group and play date. I see us practicing the harder work of being vulnerable with each sharing of genuine joy or deep scary concern and I see us practicing caring for each other with every word of support or note of condolence. As a Quaker community we have a whole special set of skills to practice, from listening inwardly and outwardly in Meetings for Worship to learning to see that of god in every person. We practice discernment together and practice waiting for ways to open to lead us to win-win-win solutions. These are important skills that, through developing and practicing here, we have the opportunity to share with other communities we belong to. 
All this practice has paid off in my life. In recent hard times I have felt both the comforting refuge of a caring community and applied skills practiced here to other communities I am a part of. When I was in those dark days of finishing a master’s in teaching program I felt the support coming from this community and wondered why my group of girlfriends wasn’t doing the same for me. When I realized that this community includes explicit times to share concerns and encourages each other explicitly to meet each other’s expressed needs I was able to help my friends know what I needed. They stepped up and we grew closer as a community.
Recent events have tested my ability to give and receive support from my community again. Being in the hospital was overwhelmingly difficult in many ways. I have gotten tangible, physical support from members of this community as well as a flood of prayers, well wishes and more cat videos than I can shake a stick at. More importantly, though, this community has been a place for me to practiced asking for and receiving and giving support of all kinds so that when I really needed it, I could figure out what to ask for and how to ask it.
West Hills Friends is a community of peacemakers
A trusting, genuine, loving community is a basic human need that is hard to come by in our time and place in history. Here at West Hills Friends we have a special jewel worth nurturing and learning from. We have done the practice, put in the work to develop a community that, through our trusting relationships with each other and with the Spirit, allows people to be vulnerable, ask for help, receive help and celebrate joys. We have fun with each other, we do hard work together and we take care of each other. It is a safe and caring refuge for each of us in a world that can be scary, painful or cold. But it is also a training field for us to learn and practice skills we can bring to our other communities, our families, our work places, our other groups of friends. Learning to listen, to wait, to explicitly ask for help and cheerfully give what help we can, to subvert the power hierarchies of the culture by valuing people and relationships. These skills that we practice here at West Hills can be applied in all aspects of our lives. 
We have a lot to offer the world here, and the only way to get good enough to get noticed is to keep practicing. 
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Note: The topic of this post does not have much to do with the Mother's Moon. It's really much more a Journey Moon or a Father's Moon topic. But the fact of the matter is it got written and spoken during the Mother's Moon so that's where it falls in the blog. Things are getting a bit wacky around here. To understand the Mother's Moon energies, check out past posts, please.

Mother's Moon 2012: Nothing but Good Can Come of This 

Mother's Moon 2011: Freedom, July and Krishna and the Gopis

Mother's Moon 2009: Gifts from the Mother


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hedonism and Big Juicy Good

New Journey Moon

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and I have become
like two giant fat people living
in a tiny
keep bumping into
each other
and laughing

I joke that I gave up vegetarianism after college to become a hedonist. Little did I know how fruitful of a spiritual path hedonism could actually become. Over the last year or so I have allowed myself to indulge in all manner of earthly pleasures gastronomic, aesthetic, carnal and ecological. To my surprise and delight, I have found that these joys are not a diversion from spiritual pursuits but have been a yellow brick road leading directly to the Divine Wow.

Ascetic traditions ask followers to rise above the sea of emotion and physical sensation that are a leading cause of suffering. “Suffering rises from attachment to impermanent things,” the Buddha says. Monks and seekers from traditions Eastern and Western have been encouraged to abstain from certain foods, intoxicating beverages, the entanglements of romantic relationships and even the sensual pleasures of art and music for fear that they will dull or distract the soul from its journey towards God With a Capital G. In my experience, the unencumbered mind can soar to intellectual heights in this kind of pursuit. But there’s not much laughing there. Or ice cream. Or roasted duck, champagne cocktails and two hour make out sessions. And honestly, who wants to live in a world or go to a heaven without those thing? 

Indeed, those things have not stopped or distracted me from my connection with The Eternal Bliss. As my focus shifted a few chakras down over the last year the realizations are no less real or even less abundant, they are just of a different kind. Just the other night, while lounging contentedly, I said to the gentleman sharing my bed, “The Buddhists say Namaste – the divine in me greets the divine in you. Right now I wish there were a word for ‘the loving in me greets the lover in you.’” But there are no words for that kind of thing, just a squeeze, a kiss, a smile and knowing that this is All Good. My experience mirrors that of the Sufi understanding that all love, all pleasure, is a practice run for the love and pleasure we find with God. 

The renunciate’s ideal of detachment offers one path to the Kingdom of Heaven where we hurt no more. Radically deep connection is another way. In nature there is individual tragedy – the mouse must die for the owl to survive – but the web of connection keeps the mouse, the owl, the Fir tree, the fungus and everything else in Harmony. Rather than floating above the waves of emotions and physical sensation that are the root of hurt, this body and connection based search for That Which Is Wonder, invites me to dive into the ocean of life. There is pain and grief there; water up your nose and sand in your shorts. Feeling certainly causes a lot more tears than thinking, but that can’t get in the way of experiencing Big Juicy Good. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said to me once. “Well, there’s heartbreak at the end of this no matter what,” I replied, “’tis the human condition. Let’s not be afraid of that, ok?” The only way to feel ocean currents on your skin, to feel your heart ready to burst at the beauty of an azalea bush the size of your bedroom, or to experience the pleasure of a salumi plate and a crisp pinot gris on a warm spring evening is to dive in rather than float above. At least get in the boat with us  :)

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Yes, it has been a long time since I've posted. My life has been very full of doing and not so full of writing. But I try. And so here is a piece I wrote recently that shares a little of what my life is like these days. Hope you enjoy it, but more than that, I hope you are enjoying your own journey.   

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New Journey Moon 2011: Perseus and the Journey Moon

New Journey Moon 2010: Journey Moon is New

New Journey Moon 2009: Journey Moon

Saturday, April 27, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013

The Full Mating Moon

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April is National Poetry Month and as has been my habit these last few years I made an effort to find and share new poetry on my Facebook page. Last year I found a number of poems that spoke to my theme for 2012, Grabbing the Tiger By the Tail. This year, some of my favorite poems of National Poetry Month illuminated this year's theme - Claiming My Superpowers, Calling My Allies

By Emily Dickenson
This year's theme is still fleshing out in my mind and my life, but I have been enjoying the FEELINGS the poems have brought me. I think one of the elements of my superpowers that I am called to explore has to do with the shift away from THINKING into that place of FEELING. Feeling joy and sorrow, love and frustration. 

By e.e. cummings

I read so much new poetry this month and all of it added to my life. Every year I find more and more poetry that speaks so clearly to me. I didn't grow up reading or hearing poetry. In my culture, middle class, white, late 20th century American culture, poetry has been seen as something elite and academic. It is not something "we" do in our daily lives, it is something to be pondered and studied, kept clean and pure. But the reality is, poetry is as complex, grounded, interesting, dirty and real as the human experience. It is an egalitarian art that can be created in stolen moments between the endless work of women, working class people, incarcerated people or others without much in the way of resources to put towards art. It doesn't require lots of equipment, in fact, much great poetry has been created with nothing more than the human facility for language and memory. And poetry is a way to speak truth, the kinds of Truth that can not be adequately described with prose, or math or even visual art. Poetry is one helluva super power. 

By James Broughton

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Full Mating Moon 2012: Happy Hours and Pirate Queens

Full Mating Moon 2011: The Green Month

Full Mating Moon 2010: Mercurial

Full Mating Moon 2009: The Flower Moon

Also, be sure to check out all my other National Poetry Month postings, and all my other posts with poetry!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


February First

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February First has come and gone. I didn't make Red Soup. I didn't go for a walk around the neighborhood. Things are busy and complicated again this spring. But good. Really good.

I offer you a repost of my most favorite story on this blog. The story of Lovely Luz and Sweet Brigit. I originally wrote this in February of 2010 and I still love it. I hope you do too.

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Once upon a time there was a little girl named Luz who lived with her sickly mother in a small cabin near the woods. Her mother had been weak for a long time and Luz had to take care of herself and her mother. Luz cleaned the houses of other families in their village, collected firewood and tended a small flock of chickens and two pretty nanny goats in the yard behind the cabin, so there was always something to put on the table but never much extra.

In the autumn, as the leaves were falling and the days were getting shorter, Luz’s mother helped her light a candle in a little glass lantern. Her mother was able to come to the door and watch Luz as she paraded around the yard singing songs to the nanny goats and chickens. “Remember,” her mother said “as the light of the sun fades in the autumn, we can keep the light in our lantern through the winter.”

Photo by calynde
Winter was always hard for Luz and her mother. The days were cold and snowy but Luz needed to go out most days to collect more firewood. The nanny goats stopped giving milk and eventually even the chickens stopped laying eggs, but the cold left Luz and her mother hungry for those nourishing foods. There was one wonderful thing that happened in the winter, though. Every evening, after the wood had been stacked by the fireplace and the chickens had been shut in their coops, the goats had been given fresh hay and the dinner dishes washed and put away, Luz’s mother would tell her stories about the beautiful Goddess Brigit. Brigit was always good to the poor and people who were like her always had good things happen to them.

One day just before Christmas, Luz was out along the edge of the forest by her cabin collecting firewood. She had a good armload and was about to turn back seeing as it was getting dark when she saw a man huddled around a tiny campfire. Despite the cold air he was dressed in rags, working hard to warm his fingers which were turning blue. Luz remembered the story her mother told the night before where Brigit gave away a precious silver necklace to a poor woman in need. Brigit’s sisters were angry, but the next day they found a sliver necklace to replace the one given away. Well, Luz thought, whether she found another pile of wood or not, this man needs my firewood, as well as the hardboiled egg and small wedge of cheese my mother sent with me, more than I do.

“Here you go, sir.” Said Luz, setting her gifts down near him. “I don’t have much, but you need it more.”

“Thank you, child.” He said. “I am almost home, and your gifts and kindness will warm me until I get there. Bless you, child, bless you.”

Luz hurried home, for it was getting dark, but just as she reached the path back to her own cabin she came across a large pile of dry, good firewood. She picked it up and hurried home.

“Oh mama!” she cried. “I left the wood I had gathered with a poor man near the forest, but look! There’s a pile of dry, good firewood here!”

“What a lovely girl you are, Luz.” Her mother said. “Just like Brigit you give more than what you can spare. But look, Brigit left this wood for you as a gift. Those who keep the sun’s light strong and care for others are always taken care of.”

A few weeks later a neighbor had taken Luz’s mother on a visit to a friend’s house in the village and Luz was home alone, tending the chickens and nanny goats. Luz went out and collected the last few eggs the chickens would lay that winter and went inside to make a small lunch for herself. Just then an old woman walked up the path by their house and asked if Luz had any bread to spare. The woman looked like she needed more than just a slice of bread to get her home and Luz remembered the story of the old woman who gave Brigit shelter one cold night. The woman tore down a piece of her house and killed her only calf to feed and warm Brigit, but in the morning her cow had another calf and her house was whole and warm. Well, thought, Luz, I don’t have to tear down our cabin to give this woman a warm lunch so she invited her in.

Luz prepared the last of the eggs with the last of the goat milk and a few slices of bread to make a warm meal for the woman, and let her sit by the warm fire for as long as she needed.

“Thank you, child.” she said. “I am on my way to visit my daughter, and your gifts and kindness will warm me until I get there. Bless you, child, bless you.”

When Luz’s mother came home Luz rushed to find the last food in the cupboard to make her dinner, but instead of a crust of bread she found a full egg basket and two whole wheels of cheese.

“Oh mama!” she cried. “I fed a poor woman the last of our eggs this afternoon, but look! There’s a dozen eggs here!”

“What a lovely girl you are, Luz.” Her mother said. “Just like Brigit you give more than what you can spare. But look, Brigit left those eggs for you as a gift. Those who keep the sun’s light strong and care for others are always taken care of.”

Late in the winter, after Christmas but while the days are still dark and cold Luz’s mother, who had always been weak, got terribly sick. Luz was so worried, especially when her mother couldn’t even get out of bed. She kept her mother warm and the fire strong, and prayed to Brigit for help.
After three nights of this, when it felt like winter will never end and her mother would never be well, Luz fell asleep by the fire. She dreamed she heard an old woman walking by the window of their little cabin chanting.

Moving rightways with the sun
My blessings weave and bend
Weave and bend

All winter you did keep the light
Spring blessing soon will rise
Soon will rise

Luz rose from her seat by the fire and wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. She grabbed her Martinmas lantern and headed out to follow the sound. Ahead of her she saw a woman dressed all in black, with hair white as the snow and a face dark like old wood walking slowly through the woods. Luz followed her quietly, sure the old woman must know she’s there, but the old woman never turned around or stopped chanting. She just kept walking into the woods. Luz followed the woman further into the woods than she had ever been before but she wasn’t afraid, the old woman seemed to have a light and warmth that made Luz feel safe.

Moving rightways with the sun
My blessings weave and bend
Weave and bend

All winter you did keep the light
Spring blessing soon will rise
Soon will rise

Eventually, as the sky started to lighten in the east, the old woman, with Luz following behind, came to a clearing with an old stone well in it. The old woman stood by the well and finally spoke, “Come closer child. Do you know who I am?” Luz shook her head, too afraid to say what she knew must be true.

“I know I don’t look like the beautiful woman in the stories your mother tells you, but I am her, I am Brigit. This night is my night, this morning my dawn. You carry with you the light you have nurtured all winter with good deeds and warm stories. Because you have done so well at caring for that light through the long dark winter you may have a wish. What do you wish for, child?”

“I wish for my Mother to be well again.. and.. and for this winter to be over! I am so sick of it being cold all the time.”

Brigit laughed, “Granted one wish and you ask for two. No matter, it can be arranged.”

Just then, the first morning bird sang out, and the first ray of dawn’s light broke over the horizon. The old crone Brigit pulled the bucket out of the well, dipped her hands into the cold, clear water, and splashed her face. Her robes instantly turned to red, and her hair to a speckled grey and black, and her face to that of a matronly woman of middle age. In just another moment, the disk of the sun broke above the horizon, spilling full sunlight into the clearing with the well. The mother Brigit dipped her hands into the bucket again, and once more splashed a handful of water onto her face. In the blink of an eye her robes turned to pure white, her hair to a deep auburn red and her face fair as that of a young maiden.

“Come, bring your lamp here,” said the maiden Brigit and Luz did as she was asked. Brigit took the lantern from her hands and blew the candle out, but the light didn’t go away. It seemed to Luz that the light from the candle, instead of being kept inside the small lantern, spread throughout the whole forest. The morning dew sparkled on swelling buds and the sun seemed even brighter than it had been the day before. The snow was still deep and the air cold, but Luz could tell spring would be on its way soon.

The maiden Brigit pulled a small tin cup out of her cloak and filled it with water from the well. “Take this to your Mother and have her drink it. She will be well soon, and spring is on its way. Keep my memory alive, Luz, tell stories about my good deeds and live them out in your own life. Blessed be.”
Luz took the cup and her lantern and hurried home, as quickly as she could, but careful to not spill a drop of the precious water Brigit pulled from the sacred well.

“Oh mama!” she cried, when she got home. “I met sweet Brigit at the well and she gave me this magic water to make you well! Oh, mama! You will be well again!”

“What a lovely girl you are, Luz.” Her mother said. “Brigit found you who are so like herself and has blessed us all. Those who keep the sun’s light strong and care for others are always taken care of.”

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February First 2009: February the First

February First 2010: Lovely Luz and Sweet Bridgit
This happens to be my all time favorite post from all two plus years of blogging. Please go check it out. 

Feburary First 2011: Brigid - The Goddess of Poetry

February First 2012: Brigid's Red Soup and Magic

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Engaging My Superpowers, Calling my Allies

Full Birth Moon

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Welcome to 2013! I hope your 2012 wrapped up with joy, fun and enough time in the dark to be ready for the growing light. I was happy to get a couple days of work at the Nature Park over winter break, which is always fun and fulfilling as well as an adventure. Two of the days over break were snowshoe adventures on Mt. Hood that were sublime and painful in all the ways taking kids into the woods can be.

Like last year, I spent much of the time between Christmas and New Year's Day reflecting on last year and looking forward to this upcoming one. My theme for 2012 was Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail and one of the biggest lesson I learned is to be careful what I wish for, I just might get it. As I reread my New Year's post from last year I chuckled. Yep, pulled all of that into my life, didn't I? The 2012 Tiger roared into my life and chased me round and round all year. I think I came out on top and have some awesome stories to tell from the year,  like this one, and this one... and OMG this one. It was a crazy year, one of outward focus, of splendiferous adventures and of saying yes, just like I said I wanted. By the time this autumn was coming to a close I felt ragged and overused, but also like I had learned many lessons along with those great stories. 

I employed many of my traditional gwishing techniques these last few weeks to help cast my magic spell for 2013. I have heard many people compliment me recently on things both mundane and sublime and that started my thought process in the direction of looking at my gifts. I'm good at many things, and have much to offer the world but a year of chasing a tiger around didn't get me very far in using many of them. A peek into the Sabian Symbols brought me the images of crowds coming down the mountain to listen to one inspired man and of a group of people entering a large canoe for a journey. Taking what I have learned and sharing it with others, bringing it into the physical, daily realm. Joining with others on a journey of discovery and action. A tarot spread with my Fairy Tale Tarot deck brought me the Seeker/Knight of Wands as the symbol for the whole year. Traditionally the Knight of Wands is a fair haired youth full of inspiration and action, kind of an act first, think later kind of guy. Ambition and desire to do good in the world are his driving motivations. In my fairy tale deck this card is 
Peacock by Today is a good day
Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, a character who moves forward towards her destiny and her adventure despite challenges that plague her. Sounds like a theme for the year is shaping up!

2013 will be:

  • Peacock blue, vibrant green and shimmering purple. Or a super suit and cape in bright, primary colors.
  • It will sound like footsteps on gravel, like a pen scratching on paper and the chatter and clinks of a happy dinner party. 
  • It will smell like sweat and leather and dusty horse after a hard day's riding, freshly tilled still cold earth in the spring and a roast beast dinner that took hours to prepare for my friends and family.
  • It will include Bruce reminding me that I deserve to work for and have it all or nothing at all, the Lone Ranger reminding me that "God put the firewood there, but every man must gather it and light it himself", and The Doctor reminding me that I'm bigger on the inside.

I will remember that a goal without a plan is just a wish. That I am too good for half assed. That other people can be my allies on this trip, but they have their own stories and are not just my "sidekick". 

Last year, 2012, was all about gathering experience. I said yes to everything and I think it changed me. It made me less scared of some things and certainly gained me lots of experience doing lots of other things. The theme for 2013 is shaping up to be about discernment, about engagement and about connection. It is 
not enough to do stuff, it has to be the right stuff. When taking a journey in a canoe or to Oz you need to have the right companions and the right supplies, not just any companions and supplies. The people I gather for my companions are the heroes in their own stories and their time spent with me should be as helpful to them as it is to helpful to me to have them. I think the theme of companions, allies and community will come to be an important one for me. I've been thinking about this a lot over the last year or more and it is time to put some concerted effort into building my community into the community I really want. I know a lot, I'm good at a lot, it's time to step up to the plate and do the work requires to reap that harvest, rather than just letting the fruit fall as it may. 

I don't know what this year will bring, but it will be hard work and good work if I play my cards right. If I Engage My Super Powers and Call My Allies.

How have you gwished, set intentions or discovered themes for your upcoming year? What do you need to work on as 2013 rolls through the door and sets up shop? What are your superpowers and who are your allies?  

Happy New Year!

You may feel that you have had some wonderful realisations after hearing an inspired message and now you need to bring these understandings down and integrate them into everyday life. People will have many different responses to the messages being given. Not all will be responsive, but the message will resonate with some. What will be done with this new information?
Power to sway the feelings and thoughts of many. Having a large audience. Holding the floor.
The Caution: Naivete, gullibility Feeling like someone else holds all the answers. Wanting everyone to listen regardless of their needs.

To embark on a journey with a number of people is to embark on an emotional discovery. With cooperation, there can be great success. You may also find this to be a time when different and separate aspects of your personality come together to explore an emotional situation.
Cooperation. People coming together with a shared goal in sight. Feeling like you're on a journey of destiny. Travelling or living together.
The Caution: Uncoordinated energies. Not wanting to go along with anybody.

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Full Birth Moon 2008: Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Full Birth Moon 2009: New Year! and A Story for the Birth Moon 

Full Birth Moon 2010: The Dark of the Dark.

Full Birth Moon 2011: The Columber and
Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail