Empty Pond, Full Sky

what does it mean to be empty
and what does it mean to be full?

empty air
over the still glass
surface of the pond

empty belly

geese make
full-throated calls,
expectant

on a monday after the clocks change–
magic hour of daylight
missing hour of sleep

banks empty
still winter-brown

the fluttering sound
of a goose
drinking from the pond
she glides across

empty water, swirling,
then still
after her passing

the park full
of people stunned
at the way winter falls away

the playground full
of children shouting
in foreign tongues

pen drops from my hand
over the empty boulder
into the clear water
rests on the empty bottom

my womb, empty again

this moment
full of silence

this mind
full of the moment
blessed
empty

Samhain and the Shedding Skin

Of all our holidays, Samhain is the most obviously pagan in its origins. Halfheartedly assimilated by Christians as Halloween (or “All Saints’ Day” for the truly pious), the focus on the underworld — on death and dying — is hard to reconcile with a tradition that promises everlasting life.

The thing that makes this holiday essentially pagan is its acceptance and observance of death as a natural part of the cycle of existence. Like the Death card in the Tarot, it does not mean stagnation and decay. Rather, it symbolizes the difficult yet rewarding pain of transformation — think of a snake shedding its skin. At Samhain, we shed the remains of what we’ve harvested in the previous year and turn toward the inner work.

It’s a time of endings and beginnings. With darkness encroaching but not complete, it is the twilight time — not one thing nor another. In the half-shadows of the shorter days, with the final flare of the summer sun alive in the changing leaves, and the chill of late autumn in the air, we become aware of the thinning veil between this world and the next. We remember those who have passed before us, grieving their passing and celebrating the brightness they have brought to our own lives.

This October as we strolled under a corridor of yellow leaves, I bemoaned the passing of summer’s warmth and light to a friend.

“Maybe it’s important to focus not just on what’s passing, but on what’s germinating,” she replied. “This is the time of year for apples, and cider, and gathering inside with your tribe around the fire.”

As I continue through a major life transition, I see my tribe changing and shifting. I’ve had to shed some things in order to make room for others. The empty spaces leave me trembling and terrified. But even as I weep and grieve, I see how the Goddess fills those spaces with new life, new energy. I look ahead to what is germinating, trusting in the the wisdom of all the crones who have gone before me, and who gather with me now behind the Veil.

Gratitude: Germination, Money, Traffic, Tow Trucks

Gratitude is a practice that grows with use, strengthens as it gets stronger, spills out of the heart and into the world. Reciting the same dry words over and over again does not suffice. I need to write it down, seek out the new, let the words and associations spill out of me, touch each other off, tiny candle-flames coalescing until they’re blazing through the darkness.

As the days grow shorter, the trees flare and drop and reveal their bare architecture, my sap flows downward into silence. Under the snow, summertime slumbers. My mouth tied up with cobwebs and leaf mold, and underneath the filaments that hold the soil together, erupting after rain into white shoots of mushrooms — Indian paintbrush.

Three weeks ago, I struggled through unexpected traffic, late to a too-early appointment, left my car in its spot too long while the ignorant hounded me and I turned them tai-chi-like into pupils, and when the work was done and I could raise my head, I left the building to find my car half-hoisted in the joist of the tow truck.

I knew what came next. You don’t live in a city like Boston for ten years without knowing what came next. I danced the dance, said my lines, pleaded for mercy, failed to weep or gnash my teeth when the greasy man said, “Fifty dollars. Cash.”

Slaves who had become kings. I opened my wallet. No cash, but a card, and he would wait while I went to the ATM. Two twenties and a roll of quarters later, I was free, some buried part of me seething, sure, but the rest of me remembering how, in years past, I’d done the endless drive to industrial waste-yards, paid the fee and then the fee again, seen the greasy kings boasting about their orchards of waiting cars, the kings of trespass towing.

Learned the hard way that keeping my papers in order was not optional. Plodded to the other halls of justice, gave this paper-stamper and then that one my money more money always more money, watched my bank account wither past zero and into the land of deprivation, trying not to worry, not knowing what would keep me in the freezing room I rented with three others in Cambridge, eating lentils and rice in a cold winter porch, trusting in an unknown abundance despite the evidence.

And on that afternoon I saw the fruit of all that suffering.

Fifty dollars is a fortune when you have to it give to the miserable man in his miserable truck, and can be free to drive, comfortable and warm, through the bright autumn afternoon.

Emo Femme Shopping and What It Won’t Give Me

A while back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she wanted to indulge in some “emo femme shopping,” but that she was resisting the impulse. And she summed up the post with a phrase I wish I were uninhibited enough to write: “world love me NOW!”

I knew immediately what she meant. This friend and I have a lot in common. We’re both queer femmes, we’re both plus-sized girls, and neither of us had Mrs. Cleaver for a mother. Her post also made me aware of how I’d been indulging in my own emo femme shopping for quite a few weeks. And what, pray tell, is emo femme shopping? It’s an attempt to lift one’s mood via the purchase of a pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable item. And given the nearly unlimited number of pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable items available via the miracle of the Intartubes and Paypal (not to mention the nice bump in salary I enjoyed when I came back to work full-time this April), it can reach dangerous proportions.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of attempting to change our moods via some outside mechanism. Some of us use booze. Some of us use food. Some of us use sex. And some of us use things like this! or this! or this!. I’m actually not very interested in any of these items, but they do a good job of representing the kind of twee, impractical things I tend to crave when I’m in a particular kind of mood.

Emo femme shopping can very quickly turn into the hell of the hungry ghost — a hell of intense craving that’s impossible to satisfy. A tiny mouth and a huge belly. Like most hells, it’s an illusion. In this case, it’s the illusion that more material possessions will fill the god-shaped hole inside of me.

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Gratitude — and why do you hate Jesus?

I go in and out of the habit of posting gratitude lists on this blog. I usually include the word “gratitude practice” in the title of these posts, but I wonder if perhaps that sounds pretentious. People refer to a yoga practice, or a meditation practice. I think it’s important remind myself that order to retain certain skills I must practice them constantly. It’s one thing to know in theory how to align the parts of the body in order to achieve a particular asana (yoga pose). It’s another thing to experience the sensation of that alignment — and all the individual variations of mind and body over the course of days as I practice it again and again. Likewise with meditation practice. Likewise with physical exercise. I can’t keep being able to run a mile in 10 or 15 or 6 minutes unless I continue to do it every day.

And gratitude is the same thing. It’s a practice. It has benefits in the same way that aerobic exercise has benefits. If you practice gratitude yourself, perhaps you’d like to articulate those benefits in the comments below. For me, one of the major reasons I practice gratitude is so that I will refrain from behaviours that are harmful to myself or other people.

Someone — a woman I’d never met in person, but interacted with on the internet fairly regularly for a few months — once characterized my comments as “preachy.” I suppose the reason her words cut me so deeply were because I know that I often talk about spiritual matters and spiritual practice. But if you met me in person, you’d know that I do so because I’m a very earthy person. I sit with my legs open more than a ladylike lady-girl should. I wear a size 20. I like things like sex and food and digging in the dirt. And I have other tendencies that have gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life. So if I focus on spiritual practice in my posts on this blog, or on Facebook, or on GooglePlus, it’s because spiritual practice is something I need to remind myself about constantly.

Which brings me around to Jesus. In theory, Jesus and his teachings are quite wonderful. But whenever I hear or read someone describe themselves as a Christian, or as someone who trusts in Jesus, I can’t help but have a certain knee-jerk reaction to same. I don’t hate Jesus (despite what the title of this post might imply), but I have had many unpleasant interactions with many of his followers — including the Catholics who first taught me about things like God and souls and whatnot. Because of certain accidents of birth, I’ve also found myself at odds with the teachings of conservative, Evangelical Christians. When it comes to the culture wars threatening to tear this country in two, it’s pretty clear what side of the divide I belong on. In the 20-plus years since my Confirmation ceremony, I’ve come to terms with this negative-Jesus-association. But on some level, I think that words like “Jesus” and “the Lord” will always evoke a visceral response in me quite different than the one that might be intended by Good Christians(TM).

I went through a brief period of atheism in my early teens, but soon after I was introduced to the notion of a God of my own understanding. It was an incredibly freeing notion, and after much soul-searching I realized that almost none of the things the Catholic Church had to say about God had much to do with my own understanding of the Divine. The God of my understanding today is infinitely vast, infinitely complex and unknowable. In spite of God’s, vastness, I have a relationship with it. And I have directly experienced God’s infinite love for me, personally. I believe that God cares about me and my own well-being. And I don’t care if that belief is true or correct in some objective sense, because my spiritual beliefs and practice are fundamentally pragmatic.

I do and believe what I do because it makes me a better person in the world. It makes me more useful to my fellow human beings. And that is one of the reasons why I practice gratitude. Because a grateful heart is a generous heart. When I pay attention to the things I do have — gifts that were given to me regardless of whether or not I earned them — I’m more likely to find room in my heart to be of service to others. Sometimes being of service just means showing up to work on time and doing my job, or listening to someone who needs to talk. But it’s always easier to do these things when I feel replete. Feeling and being useful is something I’ve been focusing on lately, when I pray to the God/dess of my own understanding.

A Juicier, More Personal Kind of History

My freshman year of high school, I came up against the first class where I couldn’t break a C average. I was used to sailing through school on a cloud of As and Bs (well, except for that one F in Algebra in 8th grade, but that was clearly the teacher’s fault). But when I confronted my history teacher with his obvious mistake, he just replied “I just don’t think you’re doing more than C work.”

That’s because history was, to me, largely a matter of things men did. Things men built, countries men sailed to, wars men fought, gods men prayed to. In my relatively short life, I’d had yet to meet a man who was worth that much time and effort. Men were mostly things to be avoided or tolerated, so I wasn’t really all that interested.

Years later in my 20s, I discovered the work of feminist historians and archaeologists like Marija Gimbutas who would challenge this very male-centric approach to history. But it wasn’t what they taught at my high school — and certainly not what my mustachioed, L-7 professor had on offer.

I can still remember one class in the autumn of that year, after the leaves had begun to fall but before they’d left nothing but the bare grey skeletons of the trees. I sat in the far-right row, three desks back from the front. We were probably still studying the ancient tribes of mesopotamia and the Middle East — a subject that fascinates me today. But back in 1987, the official textbooks didn’t mention Inaana’s Descent into the Underworld, domain of her dark sister Ereshkigal. They talked about tribes and territories. They showed pictures of bones and relics in dry, brown places.

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Weekly gratitude practice: summer, work, Friday, clothes, love

  1. Summer arrived in force a couple of days ago. After months of shivering under rain and clouds, I will gladly take it. In typical New England style, we moved right from the 40s-50s to the 80s. But I’ll still take it.
  2. I’m especially grateful today to have steady work and a steady paycheck.
  3. It’s the Friday before Memorial Day…
  4. … and I am wearing a cute little summer outfit: a print skirt, a sleeveless top, and gladiator sandals. 75% of this outfit is new, which is lovely. I tend to put off buying new clothes for as long as possible. At a size 20, I’m not a fan of the buying process, but I’ve come to a level of acceptance about mail-order shopping. It’s not more convenient, it’s just a different kind of hassle. I’ve traded crowded Saturday parking lots for shipping fees, return forms, and trips to the Post Office. And it’s okay. Online stores like this one make it worthwhile. Last week I also had a closet consultation with Julie Foley, which is totally worth every penny. We revisited my colors, put together a bunch of new outfits, tried on some clothes I’d gotten in the mail, and made a shopping list. I’ll be busy for the next couple of months putting it all together.
  5. I’m feeling especially grateful for the love that surrounds me: the love of friends, of family, of Army Guy. As a society we tend to focus on romantic love, and I’m not discounting its importance in my life. I’m often struck with my dumb luck in that regard — as usual, it happened when I’d given up on looking for it. But it’s the other kinds of love that really sustain me. Without them, I doubt that my relationship with Army Guy would work at all. One of the reasons it does is because both of us continue to cultivate a wide circle of friends outside of our relationship. Without the sustained support of my friends and family, I wouldn’t be able to function half as well as I do now. I’m grateful that it exists and extra grateful that I know its value and work to maintain it.