Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Morning's Joy, A New Poem - And Denise Levertov's Poetry

Fr. Andy Parker, rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, where I am a member, is doing a Poetry as Prayer class each Sunday morning during Lent. I would love to attend, but I have another class at the same time, so he's gracious enough to send me his notes, and I have the great joy of reading and pondering them during my morning quiet time. This week he finished up a discussion of one of my favorite poets, Denise Levertov. Her work always moves me, and this morning was no different. As I read one of her poems, I was inspired to write my own.

Morning Joy

Peace be upon each thing my eye takes in, 
upon each thing my mouth takes in.
- Carmina Gadelica

the neatly folded fresh towels placed
like a tower leaning askew on the coffee table the night before.

the crumpled quilt covering the leather seat of the couch, 
protecting my backside from winter's chill.

the cat curled round on the crumpled quilt,
whose snore I hear even now - a half-room away.

this cup that holds morning coffee,
and the rich brown liquid that warms my throat and my hand as it holds that cup.

the windows in this room that open
to the light and brightness of each new day.

the old trees across the creek
dressed in the youth of Spring's verdent green.

the dove that sits on the deck's banister
singing its mourning song.

the rich aqua walls that envelop my soul 
and my physical presence,

words of poetry spilling off the pages on my lap
and bathing my heart.

my feet flat on the floor
rooted and ground in Love.

Each morning's stillness,
all this and more - 
       gift after gift.

I've provided links below to some of the poems that Andy used last week - the one's that spoke to me particularly. But I want to give space here to one that moved me to tears this morning. My own images of God have changed over the past 10 years, so much so that I seldom perceive of God as Father anymore.  And because of my own struggles with religious abuse, dogma, and doctrine, I've struggled too with memories of my dad, who I loved dearly, but who, while thinking he was doing good, put me into a box so small I almost died.

This poem opens my heart again and softens it to both. I am grateful.

by Denise Levertov

A scholar takes a room on the next street,
the better to concentrate on his unending work, his word,
his world. His grown children
feel bereft. He comes and goes while they sleep.
But at times it happens a son or daughter
wakes in the dark and finds him sitting
at the foot of the bed
in the old rocker: sleepless
in his old coat, gazing
into the invisible distance, but clearly there to protect
as he has always done.
The child springs up and flings 
arms about him, presses
a cheek to his temple, taking him by surprise,
and exclaims, "Abba!" - the old intimate name
from the days of infancy.
And the old scholar, the father,
is deeply glad to be found.
That's how it is, Lord, sometimes:
You seek, and I find.

Agnus Dei, Midnight Gladness, and On a Theme from Jilian's Chapter XX - all of these spoke to me profoundly this morning. I think perhaps the thing I love most about Levertov's poetry is the tenor of doubt and faith in her struggle to believe in God and to give room to the church. Her struggle has held my own. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Just Sayin'

The only dreams I can do anything about are mine. I will no longer carry the responsibility of your dreams coming true. YOU must work to make your dreams come true.

And I refuse to carry shame any longer.  I am free. I am forgiven. I am loved. And I am enough.
PS: So are you.

The first drawing is done by a Facebook friend of mine - an incredible artist who's work I really admire, David Hayward, used with permission. The second drawing was posted on FB. I don't know who the artist is - wish I did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Melancholy Blue

Meet Melancholy Blue

In the process of self discovery over the past number of years, one of the most interesting things I've learned through the Enneagram is that the gift and essence of a 4 is JOY!  Who knew? I've often looked at that list of the Gifts of the Spirit and thought, "JOY?  Really?"

I've been angry most of my life.  A long time ago, when my second husband and I went to counseling, I was told that I was "hostile". ME?? Yes - deep inside, I knew it.  But the last couple of years have shown me that underneath the hostility and anger, deep inside is grief, sadness. It's much easier for me to go to anger than it is to allow the grief and sadness to come. Much better to blow the top than to cry the tears.

4's on the Enneagram tend to "melancholy". I've wondered about that because I haven't really suffered depression - just, you know, moments of sadness.  Recently I heard Victor Hugo's quote: “Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.” Susan Sontag writes, "Depression is melancholy minus its charm". That's so helped me understand melancholy, and yes, I agree, that's what it is for me - a sweet sadness. And, kind of like sugar, it can be addictive. Oscar Wilde wrote that melancholy had "marred many moments of joy".

I've been meditating on the Yoga Sutras, and have come across this quote by Nischala Joy Devi, "Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart." The moment I saw that line last week, I knew that's what I wanted to do with this mask. Melancholy Blue is a mask I've worn most of my life, and it has "marred many moments of joy".

4's tend to live in the fantasies of the mind, and those fantastical mind stories are what stir up the emotions (energy in motion). Even though I'm a heart-centered person, I seldom emote from my heart. Instead, my small mind sends me into overdrive, whipping the emotions into a frenzy, and that's where I've lived from most of my life. Yoga has been pure gift to me, along with massage and body awareness, and now the Enneagram and sommatics. All of this has taught me to GROUND. To drop my small mind and it's stories into the body long enough to be still and feel the feelings that are in the body, not in my mind.

Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the heart is the seat of intelligence. That's where Big Mind, God, lives. Small mind sends the heart into a frenzy; the heart holding Big Mind allows time and space for joy to bubble up and be.

Melancholy Blue has her heart, passions, and emotions in her small box mind and its stories. And there's nothing where her heart is supposed to be.

But that's changing. It's shifting. And with practice, my heart will be able to hold Big Mind Consciousness. Watch out JOY - we're going to be fast friends! I'm doing the work.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Masks, Yoga, and Freedom

We made masks last month at The Well, and I waited to make one with a friend of mine here in my studio. But that moment never materialized, and tomorrow at The Well, we'll paint and decorate masks, SO this morning was now or never. Down to my studio I went. I've made "self" masks a few times, and the process is forever interesting.

First, it has to be done with no makeup on.  That's always a fearful thing for us - especially as women. Make up is probably the first mask we wear that's "acceptable". But after wearing make up for over 50 years, the makeup mask is much more familiar to me than my own face, and I'm more certainly comfortable with it than without it, especially in front of a camera.

I have discovered that mask-making is NOT the most widely attended session that I offer at The Well. It's pretty intimidating being seen publicly without my faithful, acceptable mask named Mabelline.

After being properly greased and oiled with lotion and Vaseline, the mask making begins. So how does Yoga enter the picture? Yoga has taught me how to be sensitive to what I'm feeling in my body, not just in my emotions.  So, I was very aware this morning how my body felt a little threatened as my mouth was shut.  You do know that's one of the first things a woman experiences as she attempts to become herself - her mouth is closed and she loses her voice. If what she says doesn't fit the pattern, no one listens. She's no longer heard. When she tries to give voice to what she's feeling or sensing, she's often told she's being too emotional, too loud, over sensitive, or too melodramatic. It may be that her intuitive voice is ridiculed, and if she becomes quiet to try to figure it out, she may be accused of "pouting like Grandmother". Mother and I talked about this particular statement we both lived with for most of our lives.  Poor Grandmother. Maybe she wasn't really pouting either.

Eventually the mask she begins to make to please others and to get along results in her eyes being covered. She can no longer see, and her world becomes "unreal", mostly what she dreams up in her imagination.

Even thought I've made a number of these, this morning was a little different. My mind knew I could handle this, but my body was still tentative. I noticed my heartbeat beginning to beat faster, and the instinctive breath shortening, so I began to practice "conscious breathing" that I've learned through Yoga. And as I sat and waited for the mask to dry, I was able to drop into my body and observe the contractions and resistances I felt. I've learned through Yoga and other body awareness work that contraction will eventually give way to expansion, that contraction and expansion are natural rhythms in the body, so there's no need to fear, but simply stay present to the discomfort and allow it to pass. One of our most human tendencies is to run away from discomfort, or we try to ignore it. If that doesn't work, we begin to battle it. None of that brings relief to the body, and eventually harms us, mind, body, and soul. Learning to stay with the discomfort, to notice it, to allow it, and to breath into and through it, helps my body begin to relax. Space is made for expansion.  The easiest way to get to a body sensation of relief is to become still and to consciously follow follow the breath until it relaxes. That's taken a lot of practice and time, but the practice of Yoga has been my biggest helper.

This morning, I got another chance to allow discomfort and contraction as I used my breath and waited for expansion to follow - I had trouble getting the mask to release. I've never experienced that before. And I had greased up really well, but for some reason, the mask wouldn't let go.  So, I practiced my breathing a little longer, lengthening my inhales and exhales as I slowly wiggled my face underneath, and in time, the mask broke loose - Free at Last! Some masks are easy to take off (Mabelline, for instance), but others are difficult, maybe even a little painful to remove.

But there's nothing like being loosed from the mask - both this one and the others I've worn all my life in order to get along.  The real me may not be as pretty, nor may she be "acceptable" to some I've known, but this "naked me" - this is who I want to be. 

No more masks, no more boxes, no more pretending, no more smiling just to get along. Over the last few years, I've swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other, but the longer I walk in who I really am, the easier it gets. I've lost a few relationship, but I've gained a lot more. And I like myself a whole lot more at 64 than I did at 40 or even 50.  

I spent a little time refining my mask and tomorrow I'll paint it and gaudy it up to make it more presentable. We actually do that with our other masks, don't we. Meanwhile - another little spiritual lesson I learned this morning...when I put my mask on the window seal so the warmth of the sun could dry it, imagine my delight when I noticed the light shining through the mask.

WooHoo! When the Light shines through, there's always hope! To be continued!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Reflections

This is probably the most reflective time of the year for me, a time of introspection and "repentance". I no longer use the term "repentance" as I did so many years ago, but instead, I use the term "repentance" as Cynthia Bourgeault defines it in her book, The Wisdom Jesus. She defines "repentance" as the art of  "waking up". During Lent, I choose in a profound way to wake up to my life and what Jesus (still) means to me as I live deeply into my personal evolution.

I wrote this poem a few years ago as part of our St. Timothy's Ash Wednesday reflection. The poem is a flash back of my first Ash Wednesday experience as a member of the catholic community of  St. Michael's in 2003.
Integrating Ashes
(Remember, O man, that you are dust,
and unto dust you shall return.)

He stands before her today
dressed in purple. 
In his hand a small dish
filled with ashes of palms
mixed with holy oil and water.
He traces his thumb in the black mixture
and marks her forehead with the sign of the cross
while reciting ancient words
meant to remind her of her mortality.

like a bolt of lightning
she remembers her beginnings
not the date of her birth
but the origin of her material substance
billions of years ago at the dawning time.
She feels her feet rooted
in dirt
in time
in space.
She is child of Earth
as well as Spirit.

Most of her life has been separated
time here below is preparation for there - above
true life begins only at death
all is disconnected from the Holy.
Creation is fallen.
Genuine joy comes only after this vale of tears.
Heaven is her only real home.

But at this moment
marked with ashes
under the sign of the Cross
integration begins as she experiences
the delight of being human
woven into the fabric of the New Creation Story
connected with all that was and is and ever shall be
all that has been created for billions of years.
Creation is good.
So is she.

She has been given beauty for ashes.

Today, even before I go to church to receive my ashes, I am already remembering again my mortality.  When I lost my mother last year in August, I was privileged to keep her ashes here in my home for a few days before taking them to East Texas to be buried next to my father.  Over those few days, I often stopped to hold that urn close to my heart and ponder the ashes of her life - 84 years reduced to just this little bit of dust.  And yet....

She is still so near me. Her spirit is so alive. I know that my experience of the ashes is only a shadow of the Reality that she now experiences, freed by physical death, into the fullness of the Great All that I call God.

I know so much less today than I did back in 2003. I'm not so sure about so many of the dogmatic beliefs I held so near then, but I do know in my knower deep inside that there is life after death.  I'm no longer so sure what that looks like. But I do know that there is Something More, and that my sweet Mother is experiencing that More. And I believe down deep inside me that someday I'll experience that More, even as I seek to live each day more fully into the gift of being human, bound by time and space.