The Dance Season Begins

The heavy rain today seems to rise up from the earth to meet the drops falling from the sky. Quietly, I observe that I feel the tears of nature opening up opportunities in my own body, nourishing my strength while giving me the freedom to embrace the relief and fear of surrendering to Life.

My dance season began gently on Sunday as a natural, outdoor mass for Spring. With my two sons, I arrived to the dance grounds, welcomed by the land and the people on it with open hearts. With a toddler and a young boy, I knew I would not be going into the sweat lodge for purification with the others, but our prayers and joy would go into the sacred fire after it was complete in the little bundles of fabric and tobacco we’d made: prayer ties.

We greeted everyone and settled in, then the boys were hungry. We sat under a tree enjoying our food, the older boy using his toy shield as a plate, the younger one running off to explore a little and sneak food from his brother between bites and drinks. As we finished our meal, we heard the others coming down the hill to the dance field practicing the dance. It’s always best to practice before the sweat lodge takes away the rational memory. We joined them.

My older boy was uncharacteristically silent and the younger clung to me in a way he normally only does with his father, melting into my chest as if trying to return to my flesh. I danced this land pregnant, and carrying him when he was an infant, so maybe he was remembering that. This dance is both gentle and wild with joy. The jets of rising sound and the abandon of our fellow dancers surprised the boys out of their habits and into a kind of surrender of their own.

For me, having the boys present grounded me in a way I am not when on my own. I carried them with me and made it safe for them to be free in the experience while stabilizing myself. It was a perfect beginning for the season, distracting as it was to my mind. The steps I will follow in the rest of the summer are stable and thoughtful, rooted in family, protection, and deep, abiding love.

We played to pray, opening our hearts to the land and each other in the warm soft light, while our friends and teachers opened themselves to purity in the warm soft darkness. We climbed and rolled down the hills, played with last autumn’s leaves, tackled and comforted each other, defended the forces of good, breathed with the creatures around us and laughed with abandon. When my older boy found the dried form of a butterfly in the grass, it seemed like a sign that the change around and in us came from nature. We were ready to honor her when the sweat lodge ended, by sending her into the fire with our prayer ties and some discarded cords from last year’s dance arbor. The young one went with me, uncomfortable for the first time in the intense heat around the waning lodge fire. The older one, lay down on the grass with our tired companions out new from the dark womb of the Mother.

After a little rest, organization and a change of clothes, we were all ready for the ceremony. The boys went with me into the Sand Hill Crane dance, the older one leading us up the hill, the younger on my back, wearing white bands across our foreheads and shaking rattles to call the spirits. The younger one, who always makes music or noise with anything he can find, held the rattle but did not shake it once the dance began. He melted again into my back and stayed quiet and watchful until he was freed from the pack at the end. The older one became a warrior, opening to Spring, to protecting the land with his free whoops and daring the world with his fierce eyes. It was beautiful to partner with them on the adventure. With the boy on my back, grounding me more completely than before, I surrendered in a more gentle way than my son, more like the earth I represent than the sky and lightning he does.

So, this year, the season of prayer in the dance opens with family and tradition stabilizing the rest of my prayers. My feet and senses will not forget the love and joy of sharing the dance with my boys. My heart will open in a more connected way than before, bringing with me the dance I do every day to honor the beautiful spirits that graced my life by coming into it through this body. The gratitude opens more easily than ever in all my cells and cries out in wonder and relief. The rain today reflects it all around me.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

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Extended Silence

Although my vow of silence ended, I have not yet learned the habit of writing. Speaking is easier now, but the joy of quiet is such a rare gift that I’m not ready to disrupt it.

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Tie-In

=+=+=+=+

In the sharp waking light, the fear looked cheap
like borrowed skin flaking off to blend with common dust
It rose so sleek and impressive while wielding our strength
And even now, with the Truth crackling in the air,
We don’t know what we can do without it.

Still.
There is something here we have rarely known
The gentle hope of
open questions
The wild shared laughter of difference
The deep
er breaths of naked spirit and flesh

This day, if it be old or new
or evening
Is simpler…
Innocent.
Complete.

What cherished wisdom wiped clean of our brows,
and raw energy
burst through our hearts,
made space for the living
and the knowing.

Through the fire our essence melts
to rise and weave our paths of healing.
We bind ourselves with love
stretched out from heartbeats and harmony …
hum, roar, whoop, whisper
and silence …
walk, sway, spin, jump
and stillness.

In the clouds of our smoke and earth’s water
the animal forms, who guards and lives

Our Commitment.
Time goes spherical
and we come home
Together.
=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

note: The first half of this poem was written in 1996, 16 years ago, and words written then are italicized. It is a giveaway to Grandmother Pathweaver, Grandmother Fireheart and my other teachers and family in the Polar Bear apprentice group of the Buffalo Trace Society. A few words from the past were changed and left in plain text like the rest of the second half of the poem written on 10/15/12. Thank you for the safe spaces to learn, share, and grow.

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Silent Communication

At the end of last summer, I fell into observation. The vow of silence I’d been working to honor in short spurts of hours and days across the span of years, worked its way into my writing. Rather than the obvious accomplishment of sharing thoughts and solutions, solving problems, I turned my attention to being a solution, letting the energy communicate for me.

It all started with an observation years ago. “You talk too much,” an elder said. “When you fill the space with words, the quiet ones are crowded out. Listen better, share all that’s coming through that clear channel of yours with energy alone, eh? Sing or chant traditional songs if you can’t hold back. Speak only when directly asked for words. It will calm your heart.” And so I did. Or, at least I worked at it.

At first the experiment seemed doomed to failure. The visions would flow into me and I’d get so enchanted I’d bottle them up until I felt like I would explode. How could I deny the inner voice I’d been working to hear and honor. I couldn’t listen well to others, or even tear my attention from the inspiration to do anything with it all. It would burst out with intense force in a song or a prayer too big for the space and time it shattered into, out of place in my environment. I held the visions and dreams from ceremony until I was alone, and wasted them on the wrong audience. It was awkward and ineffectual… maddening.

I had to try something else, find another way to communicate. I started by releasing a little vision with each breath, still holding on and losing some, but wasting most of it. There was a little space for listening … a tiny sliver of time. Over days and months the sliver expanded to a comfortable opening. I added one sense after another to my hearing – touch, smell, taste, sight, second sight – until all of my senses paid attention to the beings around me, so meaning could seep into the space and swell to expand it even further. And I heard it. The answer sneaked in through an elder’s direction to a shy newcomer from another country in a sweat lodge ceremony. “Creator understands every language, even silence. When your turn comes to pray, do it in whatever way feels right. When the water meets the hot stone people, their voices will speak for you in steam if you have no words.”

Eureka! The universe opened up wide in a whole new way. The stones talk, the water talks, the earth talks, the trees talk, the bugs and air and animals and walls and all things talk. They just don’t speak my language. I listened with all of me for the first time since childhood and my identity melted away. The reverence and wonder held open the space it left for something more satisfying, for Faith. Attending with every sense to the stories around me, the visions and stories inside me found the rhythm of the moment. Little by little, with regular reminders, that rhythm released the stories and visions in harmony with the space I inhabited. The rhythm was a new language better than words.

I discovered the breath as a vehicle for the rhythm language. From then on, in ceremony, words came rarely and unconsciously when needed, as a natural extension of the heartbeat of the world and the music of life.

Last summer, the intense beauty of the Sun/Moon Dance revealed a deeper world, the life in all the things I thought of as inanimate, dead, senseless. Just because a thing has no brain or muscles or nerves, doesn’t mean it has no life, no senses or internal movement. Ceremony reminded me once again of all the life I’d been missing all around me, of all the voices I’d neglected when I talked or wrote, or assumed things couldn’t communicate. The reverent sensing began again. The writing stopped.

As you might guess, there was so much to catch up on, so much to change in my perspective, so much to integrate into my experience, that I’ve been enraptured these many months. “Being” replaced “doing” much of the time. In the silence, I was communicating without the words. Maybe I was heard and understood.

After nearly 3 seasons, I seem to have reached an equilibrium, where a budding reverence infuses everything I experience. Action comes often and responsively as needed, as a natural extension of the heartbeat of Love and the music of Life.

I still think and feel and plan and work, of course. It’s just that the ceremony never ends, so there’s nothing dividing the personal, spiritual and professional into separate lives. I don’t know what will happen or what I’ll do exactly. I know I’ll meet my commitments, keep my promises, care for my self-family-friends-community-work to the best of my ability, and live as honorably as I can. The details come clear only as they happen. It’s an amazing adventure. I still feel pretty tentative much of the time, but the quality of my experiences gives me more confidence every day. I was trained to take control and lead my life with a firm hand, so living in such a responsive, democratic way seems uncertain. The transition from leading a life to following a path is a little bumpy. Before I start the day and every so often within it, the butterflies in my stomach erupt into flight and the questions rush in.

The only way to calm them is to breathe and surrender. I answer the questions simply with an “I don’t know. We’ll see.” Then, the adventure begins again and the experience leaves no room for doubt.

After 10 years, a single year of silence is finally complete. The elder was right and I am grateful. Finding a way to communicate through the silence did calm my heart, and it gave me a richer voice. Silent communication brings a passionate harmony to life that I’ve learned to cherish. It is my first choice now. The words will come only when needed, if I can help it. When I’m frightened or sick or both, I can’t always help it. But that’s another story.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

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Whole?

“I am whole,” was the first thought in my mind today. The thrill suffusing my body at the words was an incredible boost. It was easy to bound out of bed and dress for my walk-with-sprints in the tiny neighborhood park. Only three words to sum up years of work and seeking. Things that mean so much tend to be simple. I’ll scream it now: “I AM WHOLE!” It feels so good, I am giggling inside with mischievous anticipation and understanding. It is so easy to take such simple blessings for granted, that every step and breath and act today is given up in honor of being whole. I am so very grateful.

A few months ago, a beloved friend confessed something heartbreaking to me: “I don’t like a single thing about myself, let alone love myself. Now what?”

Wanting desperately to do triage on the wounds this exposed, and help in any way I could from so far away, I offered up a poem here and a lot of concrete, personalized advice in emails and phone calls. The first step is gratitude, the second: acceptance. So far, so good.

“Congratulations!” I said. “Opening that door and shining a light on what’s inside is a huge step forward. Not knowing what to do means that you are no longer falling back on old habits and are ready to start building new ones. You’ve done a lot of research and planning over the years while slowing releasing poisons and healing wounds. Enough healing has been done that you could safely open the closet door and turn on the light. The monster is no longer in the closet, if it ever was. All that is left is a big ugly mess. Okay, good start. We can deal with reality.

Now, you’ve done enough intensive research, and you can take a methodical approach to cleaning up and making improvements. You’ll be lighter on theory and heavier on practice now. Break it down into parts and address it in a concrete way.” I gave some specifics then, said I’d pray on it and get back to her later in the week.

“The first thing to do is to separate love from like. I’ve found that a multi-pronged approach works best when healing, fixing, creating and learning: hold the bigger picture in mind while building the foundation. We talked about this recently. When learning a language, it means memorizing songs, breaking down and painstainkingly translating vocabulary that’s way beyond beginner level and absorbing cultural norms while learning basic parts of speech, structural rules and communication. So I learn how to say hello, how are you, my name is x in Italian while memorizing a folk song about a saint watching over a fisherman’s boat. The tasks are extremes at the beginning, but both are building toward mastery in expanding circles that will eventually touch. When they do, you’ll leap forward exponentially in skill by developing the two together. It’s an incredible rush when the circles intersect and open up into one much larger sphere of experience. With spiritual life it means constructing the basics of a daily practice while trusting the insights brought from an expanded life in the spirit plane. We don’t have to like ourselves or what we do to understand and practice universal unconditional love.

So, my recommendation for you is to focus on expanding the universal practice of unconditional love on the spirit plane. You don’t have to apply unconditional love to yourself on a concrete and personal level yet. Just practice it in prayer and the healing/weaving work we do, expanding your sphere of influence as you develop. At the same time, break down each point of your concrete self. Determine first if the poison is all out and the monster diminished, banished, dissolved, otherwise destroyed, or in a new place. Then decide what to do with it (the assessment).  That is one avenue of exploration and healing. Once you get that process started, start your unconditional love practice in the way that best suits you (the blueprint). Once you get that process started, start building your personal foundation. Start wherever you like – let’s say your smile. Find out what you actually believe about your smile, then where the belief came from. Is the belief really yours or did it develop from a seed someone planted? Then look at your smile now. Decide what you like and don’t like about it. Determine if there’s anything you can do to improve your perception of your smile, improve its foundation, etc. Set an action plan. Set the plan in motion. Move on to item 2. You get the drift.

Then call your friend (me) and scream in frustration. Complain. Explain. Allow the pain to dissipate. Get motivated. Repeat.”

It was a good start, but I knew completely that something was missing, something simple and important, something I was so comfortable with it that I couldn’t see it. It’s later in the year now, well past the week I thought it would take me to come up with an answer. Insights usually flow so easily. The spring and summer and part of autumn are behind us. I’ve prayed and thought and worked and talked and loved but little else of use has come to mind. Until today, there was nothing new to say. I was beginning to think I should give up on the question. It was eating at me that I wasn’t giving her what she needed, that I’d let her down. Then, this morning I remembered. I didn’t ask if she were whole.

“Okay, dear one, now you’ve looked at everything you know about yourself, broken it down, made a plan for changing what you can and started the work. You know yourself well, right? So answer me this – are all the pieces there?”

When traumatic things happen, we grieve, yes? Whether or not we like or recognize it, the pain infuses itself into our lives and we live with it until it’s gone. In my case, I didn’t know anyone that dealt with pain at all well. Nobody talked about how to heal, we all just limped along in silence, so I had to guess at how to get over … things. And I developed one really bad habit. Every time someone died, left or betrayed me, every time I was hurt or disappointed, I cut free part of myself and left it behind. It lived on with the lost loved one, with the places connected to painful times, or in the space between, leaving a hole in me. The bigger the trauma, the bigger the hole, and the harder it was for me to see it. I cut out good things with the bad, of course: memories, skills, people and places. No matter how well I did, the space inside screamed of emptiness until I couldn’t stand it any longer.

In 1994, I was at my wit’s end. No matter how good my life was I felt totally empty. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t live that way. I needed to do something drastic. I thought maybe the void was some kind of living hell I was suffering through for some past evil or something. With my keen conscience it was awful, even thought part of me knew how silly that was. Desperate, I decided to get away from everything I knew or thought I knew and find a solution. I planned a 4-month trip, vowing that if I hadn’t learned to live well by the end of it, I’d let myself die. Romantic and dramatic, I know, but it worked.

It took me awhile. My travels were aimless and strange, my thoughts dark, heavy and morose a lot of the time for the first month or so. And then I made it to Florence. A dream visit to Michelangelo’s studio next door to me in the Via Ghibellina exposed the truth. In the dream, the Master and I met for tea every afternoon in the hot slow hours of summer. Most afternoons we talked a lot ~ history, art, philosophy, work, beauty, healing, agriculture, politics, love, change ~ we meandered our way happily through dark wooded lanes of thought dappled with light in the shapes of things around and beyond us. On this day there was an urgency in him that I connected with the passion for a new work of art that was opening for him in a block of white stone.

When I arrived next door, my friend did not invite me in. He nodded briefly, moved by me without a word, grabbing my wrist as he passed, and dragged me stumbling behind him back the way I’d come. In minutes, we were in a bright, open studio space, with marble blocks in various states of distress, beauty and covering scattered about. We wove a short path through them to the bright far corner of the space. There, bathed in warm light, was a broken statue he called “The Redeemer.” A tall, classic female figure stood tall and straight, weight evenly balanced on both feet, arms stretched wide over her head. The form was graceful and stable, with a steady clear gaze and soft smile. It held all the wondrous potential of so many of his other works, but something was terribly wrong with it.

At first I’d thought it must be one of the ancient broken pieces Michelangelo sometimes recovered to use as models, but it was too smooth and new, and the marble dust and chunks scattered too thickly around its base. It had been whole but someone had gouged out odd pieces in a strange, melodic pattern. All over the body, chunks of flesh were torn away: some barely visible, some obvious. There was a small hole straight through the heart with afternoon light shining through it, sharp gashes on both cheeks, and a deep gouge that seemed to take out the entire womb, among other wounds. “I’m sorry, my dear,” Michelangelo said. “You know the stone tells the truth, whatever I do.” Tears and wails wrenched from both of us as we clung to each other in the open space. “I’m sorry I can’t fix you.” That night, I saw how I’d cut away so much of my soul I couldn’t piece together a story in it, even with the help of a Master.

The next morning, I started tracing those missing pieces, finding them and calling them back. One by one, I welcomed each missing part of myself with the longings, pains, abandonments, betrayals, doubts and beauty they carried. By the end of my travels, I was whole enough to see it wouldn’t be long before I’d found each piece. I had learned to live. By the end of that year, that mission was over and I had a new one: integrate it all. You can’t undo chisel strokes on a block of marble, but you can take back all of yourself. The work was done and I’ve slowly broken the habit of leaving part of me behind with every trauma. Work in progress that I am, it is good to be whole.

Yes, that means you can do it too. Next step: find any missing pieces of your self and welcome them home. You’ll have all the support you need.

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Adoration – Heroes Part II

I don’t usually start with the words of another, but Jamie Sams put my thoughts so perfectly: “If you have adored another person, putting him or her on a pedestal, without allowing him or her to earn your esteem, it may be time to take back some of that blind faith. Could it be that you have seen your best qualities projected outside of yourself so you won’t have to own who you are?”

Adoration is at best an illusion, at worst a lazy denial of personal responsibility. We are each born with a sliver of the gifts of Creator, and all the power, love and resources to manifest those gifts. Each of us has the responsibility to nurture those gifts and build on that foundation to leave our world better than we found it. When we’re tired, afraid, isolated and confused, the responsibility weighs on us. With enough time and pressure, our surface cracks and our foundation buckles. It feels good to look outside ourselves and lay our heavy gifts at the feet of someone else to carry.

There are certainly people out there who pretend they are doing their own work, and will take on yours as well for the price of power, control or money. Today, I’m not thinking of them. The deceivers get enough attention. The people that come to mind in this moment are the ones who never ask to be heroes, the role models.

Sometimes we lay our burdens at the feet of those who are really doing Creator’s work. In every moment they can, these people surrender to the will of something greater than themselves, doing what they can, with what they have now, for the highest good. They move the love through their actions in a concrete way and try to keep their egos from messing things up. They’re good people who admit their faults and perfection. When we sigh in relief at finding them, drop our gifts before them like a heavy travel pack, and drop exhausted to the ground, they turn away from their work for the moment and help. They make us comfortable then continue with their work. They may feed us, give us shelter while we rest and refresh ourselves, support us if we stumble, heal our wounds, give us the clothes from their backs, but they have work to do and we can not expect them to do ours as well.

Somehow, incredibly, that is what we expect. We start off looking for help using our gifts and end up thinking of them as a burden we want someone else to carry. We take a great, regular person who does not shy away from either their wisdom or the temptations that sometimes prevent them from using it, and make them into a pack animal, while crafting a vision of them as an untouchable icon. They morph into the mother, father, teacher, angel, saint, god we were waiting, praying and searching for all our lives.

The wise ones reach through our visions before they’re fully formed to remind us they are human with gifts and challenges just like us. They befriend us and offer support if it doesn’t sidetrack them from their purpose. They help us recover and find the strength to carry our gifts and learn to use them well, so they no longer weigh on us. They interact with their environment to find the best purpose for their gifts and encourage us to do the same. They are consistent, generous and responsive without depriving us of the joys of the real, focused work, of learning how much we can contribute.

Those who haven’t learned the tough side of love, whose tender hearts still open despite the signs of worship, who don’t understand the harm one can do by denying someone the right to struggle, they end up on some high perch holding too heavy a weight to balance without knowing quite how they got there. Their hard work in your place earns them instability, restricted movement, ineffectiveness and doubt. As we watch them floundering up there, bent under their extra burden, unable to function on such a narrow, delicate foundation, our iconic vision fades. We see they are people like us and feel betrayed. In the first rage of grief, we throw all our strength into a running, bellowing, relentless assault on the pedestal we built for them.

What happens when we take a great person who admits their faults, pretend they’re perfect, put them on a pedestal then attack it? They fall, of course. And the damage is often irreversible. When they fall, we blame them, insist they deceived us and deny them the help they offered us without hesitation. We are even less able than before to carry our own weight. And our former icon is demoralized. That’s unfair, ungrateful, counterproductive and limiting. What can we do to stop this cycle?

Choose respect over adoration. Choose mentors, not icons or heroes. Look for those who do real work to help people every day and make it easier for them to do it. Find the consistent human in our own bodies, own houses, own neighborhoods or workplaces or churches and give them generous unconditional support. Practice following the good examples we see around us. Ask concrete questions of mentors to improve the way we do things, incorporate their answers into our actions, then ask them to watch what we do to make sure we understood and used their direction well. Figure out what we want others to be or do and then model that in our own behavior. Identify things in our worlds that need doing, and do them ourselves if it doesn’t hurt anyone or unbalance our lives too much. Take responsibility for ourselves, our circumstances and our environment.

When we put every effort into living the best way we can, we don’t have the time or inclination to idolize, judge or tear down others. We’re too happy working.

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Guiding Truth

In the heart of magic

In the fine chisel work

of transformation

is Love

the essence of Creation

the God in our machines

of flesh and bone and blood and spirit.

 

When we embrace the hush

within the vibrant movement of Life,

that Love unlocks the wisdom

cradled within the gift

of identity,

guiding each iota of our being

on the path of Truth.

 

The wise ones know

to surrender the will

of striving self and fearfulness

to the monad hieroglyph,

with which the Love of All

and our ancestors

have graced our beginnings.

 

Within the yielding space

of true honor

pulse all the warm support

and clear instructions

we will ever need

to cure the fears

that banish Love and Art.

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