Monday, April 18, 2011

Confessions of a Solitudinarian

I will admit it; I am a loner.

This past winter I walked 80 days in the veil of the forest away from everyday worries. It was a trek to the inner world. I call it meditative walking. Meditative walking involves bringing myself to the center of nature in quiet solitude, with only the trees as my witness, and digging deep, really deep, to get in touch with who I am, who I have become. It is my winter ritual; the season pulls me in this direction.

My amazing journeys require very little preparation: warm clothes, comfy boots, an hour a day, willpower. My partner is my dog, Ribsy, himself involved in his own "spiritual" journey and requiring very little of my attention, though a terrific companion. Once I get over the hurdle of making it a routine, returning each day becomes something I look forward to.

Each day I enter the cocoon of snow and trees, diverging at spirit’s whim to paths that beckon me. I find myself in magic places that take my breath away, but only in a figurative sense, as really, I am breathing more deeply than I ever have. By breathing and tuning in to my mind and body, I get in touch with my truth.

In listening to my truth, I realize just how much I contort and fold myself in ways that are unnatural to me in an effort to fit in. Somewhere along the line I learned it was best to show only a glimpse of the real me and the rest of the time to fake it.

When I think about it, everyday life seems cut off from feelings in general as we rush around to adapt to inexpressive environments, like many work places. We have become image conscious to an extreme. Our energy goes to preserving an image of what we think we should be as opposed to living straightforwardly. Living in a more honest way might not present well in the context of the 9 to 5 workday. It might make for skewed data and untidy reports if people were to say how they really feel. They might admit they didn’t believe in what they were doing.

We all have our theories of how we came to be a whirling, unhappy, united cog, caught up in a wheel of repetition and pretenses: through media, the technology revolution, or the digital communication craze; it doesn't really matter to me how it came to be, it just matters that it is, and I don’t want to be caught up in it any more. The cost seems too great.

I am making an effort to be more mindful about the places I go and the people I interact with. For the time being, it may require that my world become a little smaller. But, I imagine, if I live authentically, my world will expand to include places where I fit right in. I have found some of these places.

My yoga practice is one of these places.  Because it is in a basement, I nicknamed it “the womb” and it feels like I am enveloped in security when I enter. When I look up at the windows, I just see sky all around me. I have a wonderful teacher who never pushes me, yet always challenges me. She is  genuine and honest. I love that she is not afraid to say things that some may find outrageous. It is because she is so authentic that I want to be in her presence, that I trust her and value my time with her.

Ironically, one of the hardest places for me to visit is an elementary school where I volunteer. You’d think that would be a pretty benevolent setting, but it isn’t. I used to teach in one and it felt like a second home, my classroom the heart. Things have changed. When I enter this school, I know to leave my feelings at the door. I try to express them but I always wind up with the same glazed look coming at me. When I am there, it is impossible for me not to see or hear snippets of spirit snuffing messages coming from the powers that be, directed toward impressionable children. They are told how to walk, talk, think, and express themselves, within perimeters designed for an adult world, just a little too tight for the vast scope of their young, malleable minds.

The thought of  conforming to fit in and please others now leaves me feeling tired. I have gotten in the habit of taking naps instead of going to unfulfilling social engagements. I realized the cost of living in the realm of “supposed-to’s". Supposed-to’s can be anything from what brand to wear, to who to hob knob with, to what sport your kid is supposed to play.

It doesn’t mean I don’t keep testing the waters and challenging myself to try new things, I do. Sometimes things that I think are right don’t work out and then I have to trust that this was not something I needed to be connected to anyway. I’ve had a few of these messages in the first months of 2011. I’ll admit, it is hard to give up the control and trust some days.

For instance, due to powers beyond my control: mud, ticks and a bear, I have had to come out of the woods for a little while. I am feeling a bit off-kilter as I enter back into the realm of "others." For one, things have gotten louder with leaf blowers and what not. But I do take solace in my back yard where I have a running brook and nature behind my home. I work for hours planting, weeding, pruning and planning my gardens. I suppose for now this will be my way to dig deep. Perhaps someday I will build a cabin far away from it all so I can enjoy the quiet in all seasons.

I confess, I am a solitudinarian.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Walking, A Metaphor for Life: Sometimes the Road Gets Muddy

One step at a time, uphill battle, moving forward, looking ahead, falling behind, walking the walk, navigating the peaks and valleys, stuck in a rut, finding balance, keeping the pace, it’s all downhill from here…my life, like my walks, contains all of these metaphors.

As of late, the path I walk has become precariously muddy. I suppose I could find some life circumstances to match if I delve a little.
Spring has burst forth. Her new rhythm pushes me off-kilter; she goads me to adjust my stride. I find the cycle of a new season brings with it many adjustments.

Truthfully, I can feel rather "Grinchy" about the prospect of cleaning up what mother nature mercifully covered up for a few blessed months. It’s like she laid a big ol' down comforter on top of things I was tired of looking at, and I got to take a long nap under it.

For those of us who worry about how things look, winter can be a welcome reprieve. I get to be alone in the woods on my winter walks. I joke with my friends that my long down parka doubles as a bathrobe and my sheepskin boots,  as slippers. But that’s what they feel like when I wear them to take my walks, and I feel secure in them. I have gotten in the habit of wearing just a tee and yoga pants underneath, no socks even, and I don’t even worry if my colors match. Ah, but now spring is hounding me to color coordinate again.

Winter didn’t make me lazy, though. I have hiked in the forest for hours at a time, often trudging through heavy, deep snow. Many days I ran. Sometimes it felt like if I just sprang up a little higher I would fly. There were times I was positive I was in a dream.

Now the paths are muddy and I can’t get my footing. I am wearing my clunky hiking boots, as opposed to my comfy sheepskin “slippers," sigh. Then yesterday, my dog got his first tick and I realized it was time to return to the streets for a while. No matter how hard I try to ignore it, change always comes around nudging me to look at things differently.

Today I returned to the streets to walk. My dog tried to a chase chipmunk and kept choking on his leash. I was surprised by how wide open the roads felt. I felt like things were different yet familiar, the warm air even had me reminiscing a little. It wasn’t so bad. Maybe I will try to run. I suppose I will need a fancy new pair of running shoes with some flashy colors, I have come out of hiding after all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Still Flowing


My art work Flow (aka Sophia) is complete. She manifested after having a part in two dreams. In one dream, a gaping river of flowing apples opened up beneath my feet after an upset, where walls came toppling down. In the other, there was a wise woman, a rushing river and a twisted tree with its limbs and roots lopped off. You can see this piece of art contains these themes and more.

She now resides in my living room. It is my hope she will become part of an art show one day, where she, and other goddess pieces, will join together.

Sophia was created originally for a specific show to raise funds for midwives at Edna Hospital in Somaliland, Africa. The criteria for the show was the art creations were to contain "themes of female empowerment and celebration of women in general." You will find these themes in the work, there is a lot in there to see. 

I enjoyed making the piece, it really flowed, as you might say, but she didn't get into the show. I knew that if it did not get accepted into the show, it would be a sign that I am to create my portfolio of goddesses and display them at my own show. Up until now, most of the pieces of art I have created have either been donated or sold, so in a way it is a treat to actually have a piece of my art on hand to admire for a while. I don't think I would have been nearly so happy to have her stay here, instead of her intended place, had I not made up my mind to "go with the flow" while I was creating her.

As I was putting the finishing touches on her, shattered porcelain pieces from my great grandmother's heirloom china set,  I recalled this dream:

I am in my grandma's bedroom. I am looking for artifacts of hers that might tell me something, hold a clue to my life. The room is vacant, the walls are white porcelain. Within the white porcelain are little ceramic faces of children. Many are broken off, they are in a row. I wonder if I can extricate them. As I come around to the wall where her bureau and mirror used to be, I rise to the top of the wall way up high and find a ceramic fountain, again white porcelain, but with some flowers in the pattern, it is old and has not been used in years. It reminds me of old tea cups. I look in the drain and see some old wood inside, as if it is the internal structure. I expect to see something living in it. From the back of the fountain comes a gleaming sliver snake, the size of a garter snake. I turn to leave the fountain,walking down a wooden ramp, and discover a middle-aged woman who has died and realize it is up to me to resurrect her.
So I added this snake skin, gifted to me by a garter snake who left it behind in my garden wall one summer.
The dream holds many layers of messages for me. But as I read it again, nine months after having it, it also speaks to me of the broken children of Somaliland, a very poor country where there is a very high infant mortaility rate. The dried up fountain reminds me of an inadequate water supply and the dead middle-aged woman reminds me that the average adult age of death in that impoverished African country is 47 years, middle-aged to us. The fact that it is up to me to resurrect the woman, speaks to me of my piece of art that was to be devoted to this cause, but also the importance of creating. The fact that my piece will not be part of the show has me confused, but I am determined to ride the waves of what is meant to be. There must be a greater reason that I am meant to discover.

The artwork, Flow, and this resurrection dream, have me reflecting more on the nature of going with the flow. I realize sometimes that is very hard to do. It is in our nature to want to have control over things. Relinquishing control and releasing our will to a greater force can sometimes feel like a slippery slope, where we are not sure we can find our footing.

And yet there is such serenity in letting go and moving with the current.

Sometimes we get caught up in the pressures of things, and life can feel scary or intense.

When we are lucky, some of life's happiest times are frozen in time, if for a little while.

But change is always around the bend and we must give in to it in order to live peacefully.

Sometimes we feel on edge, or maybe we are just on the brink of something larger than we realize.

We are all part of a something bigger than ourselves, and when we willingly give our strength to a greater force, ironically, we find we become stronger.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Creating Flow

I came out as a brook from a river,
and as a conduit into a garden. I said, I will water my best garden, and will water abundantly my garden bed: and lo, my brook became a river, and my river became a sea. I will make doctrine to shine as the morning, and will send forth her light afar off. I will yet pour out doctrine as prophecy, and leave it to all ages for ever. Behold that I have not laboured for myself only, but for all them that seek wisdom.
{The words of Sophia, the Book of ben-Sirach, 1st century B.C.}

I located this passage when I was doing some research on goddesses recently, preparing to make another piece of art for a series I am working on, based on my dreams. They are the words of Sophia, goddess of wisdom. Her name is contained in the Greek word philosophy which translates to love of wisdom. 

I was astonished to find the passage well after I had created the mermaid “Awareness,” whose goddess name is Venus. If you have already read the story of “Awareness then you know she literally came from a brook! And you know she is part of a greater dream where she was rescued and lived in a  garden bed.

So to find these words from Sophia, while preparing to do my next goddess art piece, was  a boon to me about my process and the meaning of my work. It is a confirmation that I am on the right path, aligned with my soul’s purpose.
some inspiration
The title of my new art piece is Flow, with the goddess name, Sophia. This work is a composite of several of my dreams. Two big dreams I had contained the theme of flow. The first big dream came in 2009, and in it there was a huge amount of turbulence that resulted in the walls of a disturbingly oppressive classroom being blown over, with the floor opening up to reveal a gaping river of fermenting apples flowing along beneath it.

This dream is always with me; it summons me to heed its plea, “Look below the surface, transformation is happening, be aware of the process, give in to the flow.”

The second big dream came  in March 2010. In this dream, I was in my neglected gardens and had been given a helper, an older woman, with white hair; she helped me to remove a thorny, dried up rosebush that had not received enough nutrients, plucking it out with her bare hands, and casting it in the flowing brook behind my home. As we stood from above, on a bridge,  watching the water move by, a large tree stripped of its bark, its roots and branches neatly severed off, came rushing by. Its wood was light and twisted, I saw it as a work of art, but it was so big and moving so quickly I did not know how to retrieve it alone. I was panicked. In the dream, the wise woman somehow reassured me, without words, as dream guides do, that I need not panic, but should instead let the tree go. I was relieved to be relinquished of this huge task and grateful for the support I received from the wise woman. I have returned to her advice often in the past year. I am reminded again and again to let go, to be mindful of the process and be aware, but not to panic--instead to go with the flow.

And so, it is in the spirit of the messages of my dreams that I created “Sophia.” When she was finished I asked for another dream and this is what I received:

I am vacationing on the ocean with my family. We are in a cottage, separate from a chain of resorts that are along the ocean, where others are staying. I am standing by a picture window, like the one in my family room, and the glass breaks from the pressure of a wave...I realize there is a storm and I must act now, it is up to me to move us...I look out the window and see that others along the chain are trapped by the waves. I feel fortunate that the location we are in allows us to get away from the rushing water. I look back and see a woman, who appears to be trapped by the water, but she is not worried, she knows she will be okay…

So the flow continues…I am curious, but I am not worried.