Solstice 2022

It’s been so cold where I live. The plowed snow has turned into blocks of ice and each footstep down an icy path has to be watched. Last week, following a friend down such a snow-covered trail, I did the splits. She was ahead of me chattering away and was oblivious to my near fall. A man driving a snowplow nearby, applauded my quick recovery.

Yesterday, I drove south an hour to feel the warmth of sun and the busyness of a city, especially busy during the holiday season. This is a season that we have masterfully manufactured and turned into a time of stress for some and profit for others. While there, I went to Barnes and Noble Booksellers to get myself a calendar journal for 2023 and a wall calendar for my daughter. I note the ways that we mark time. My new Jane Austen calendar journal doesn’t show Solstice. I think that it should and I write it in the little square.

Shouldn’t every calendar should show the days of turning. The days where there is a pivot, a change in the light and the dark. Tonight marks the longest night. In Pagan cultures, this has been and is a cause for celebration. The longest night marks the rebirth of the sun. As winter stretches out before us in the northern hemisphere, with Solstice, there is also a rebirth of hope…that spring is going to come. For now, there is a need to contemplate, to release what no longer serves us and to plant the seeds of what we want to grow this year. Planting them in the deep dark within, like the flower bulbs in the garden, we harmonize with the cycles of nature. I wonder, if I lived in alignment with these cycles and let myself be guided by nature’s calendar, might I feel less bound by the man-made pressures of modern living.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. I sense the desire to pause, slow the day down and give presence to the tasks that I’ve set before myself. And not to be concerned if everything on the list doesn’t get done. To make it alright that everything isn’t checked off the list. Tonight, I plan to participate in a free online Solstice event with Michael Meade, author, mythologist and storyteller.

A poem I wrote as I begin this day…

The days of turning
the longest dark
the deepest inward opportunity
But we’ve created a fantasy world
of distractions, diversions
that distance us from nature’s cycles
And we wonder why we’re
“out of touch” with reality
why we falter in our daily lives
We live our lives virtually
because it’s what we’ve been handed
by those who decide
what entertainment is,
and tell us what we need
At the end of the day,
I resort to such distractions
because “the world is too much with us”

Today, I pray for the pause…I want to slow things down and experience each thing that I do or say as the miracle it is. Anything, everything is worthy of my attention, deep noticing and gratitude.

Blessed and happy Solstice to you. May you find what you’re looking for today and always.

Looking Back, Learning Something, Going Forward

It’s snowing–like the early days when I first moved here to Mount Shasta. The blanket of white is in place and now the snow is falling heavily, coating the tree limbs and sticking to the walkways, driveways and streets. I probably won’t go very far by car today…and if it’s icy, not on foot either. I’m fine with that, for today. I have plenty to do here.

Last week I shampooed the carpet in my dining/office/art studio–an all-in-one room. I was expecting company at the end of December and it felt like a good start towards cleaning and preparation. That and baking pies, cooking meals and freezing them. Then, I got the notice that my daughter’s family couldn’t make it. Their son, my grandson, has three mandatory basketball games scheduled over the Christmas holiday! I thought this was a time to gather family together! I wrote to the coach at the high school. I objected, to no avail. Apparently no one else has challenged this tradition in the sixteen years that it’s been happening.

So, change of plans. I am sifting through my writing to see if it might be of use in future projects. The thing is that I like my writing. I learn about myself when reading an early journal. I witness my predicament as a woman at a certain stage of life. I realize the links this writing has with other women across the planet. I appreciate when I write as if I’m a writer that someone might actually read. I have fun employing metaphors. In rereading something I wrote all those years ago, I recognize the passion I felt at the time.

Here’s an example that took me on a journey. I wrote in third person–it’s been noted how writing in third person gives a degree of security when sharing something that you deem to be very personal.

They were skimming photos of nieces and nephews that he’d known from their past life together. She barely flashed a photo of herself with her new boyfriend but it was enough to hit him like an icy splash of water in his face. It smacked his dream down–the dream of her coming home and resuming family life with him. She noticed his response and felt sad but not like she should fix it.

I wrote this on the heels of my divorce after thirty years of marriage. The divorce was a long-time coming. I chose not to leave while our two daughters were in school. And then I left, gradually, but finally.

A good friend of mine has said more than once that “When your spouse dies, you grieve this very big loss and society expects that of you. However, when you get a divorce, there is less recognition and compassion for this very big loss. ” That would include the loss of your ideals, your dreams, your mate, your growing old together, family gatherings where you can both be amicably present. There can be a sense of having failed and sometimes shame. it’s every bit as hard as death and usually as final.

I had every reason to leave. He played the part of an abusive alcoholic with occasional bouts of sentiment. I played the part of the battered wife who tried harder. We were young, nineteen. Both of us fresh from dysfunctional childhoods, both lacking a real sense of who we were and what we desired for our lives. These many years later, I feel the loss although less potently. I have reviewed time and again, contemplating if there was a point where we could have healed our marriage. I realize that I had sacrificed too much in trying to make it work. Both have to want it and both have to try. There is that lopsidedness that women employ to try to make it work. It’s got to be a mutual effort or not at all. My mom, in her final years, made a wish that I would have someone to grow old with. Her marriage of seventy years modeled the second class and disrespected position that she held within their home. I wouldn’t want that and I don’t think that I want to care for a man in his waning years.

Taking a walk has been a way to gain perspective when I’m facing a difficulty.

Her lower back ached like an old blues song, whiny and deeply felt. Each breath tugged at the ache; a yawn immobilized her. This one-hour walk which had seemed like a good idea, a positive way to begin the new day, had turned out to be a test of her endurance. Why this pain–this relentless sob of pain? It caused her to mark each step; no sudden uncalculated moves.

Reading this early writing, taken out of the context of my larger life, I recognize the struggle of someone (me) who was trying to find my way while clearing out the clutter of other’s ideas of who they think I should be. I had been, like my mother, the woman who endures and stays in a marriage no matter what. Then, I no longer was
that woman.

She wondered what her life had been about as she lay there on the sofa staring out the cottage window–the new poufy-valance curtains she’d sewn defying the ruggedness of her environment. The heating pad warmed the small of her back while the hot water bottle heated her stomach–she was a toasty sandwich in between. And there were no definitive answers. She was as dichotomous as the opposing genders, as sun is to moon, ocean to desert; wizened parent to defiant teenager. Everything she desired she didn’t desire. Grown up while staunchly rooted in a forbidden childhood. “This isn’t good for you!” “But I want it!” tantrums at times.

The story continues until it doesn’t.

“…Growth of a Purpose.”

” I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose which I did not know.”

Joanna Field

Joanna Field was the pseudonym chosen by Marion Milner when publishing her books. Her first book, A Life of Ones’ Own (1934), was a chronicle of seven years of her life as she traced what made her happy and what she wanted from life.

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It seems that some people (how many do you know) appear to be born into their purpose while most others stumble along trying to discover their purpose. And even if you have a sense of your purpose, few people actually get to live from that knowledge. You have to consider “Can I get paid a living wage to live my purpose (or passion)?” Do you wait until retirement years to do what you love and answer the call that you always knew was there but didn’t quite fit in with your parents’ or society’s notion of what was an acceptable profession and/or would earn you a comfortable income?

Human beings on the whole are a study. And we continue to be studied and analyzed and categorized across the various genders, cultures, belief-systems, how we govern ourselves and you-name-it categories. And we study ourselves by other’s criteria typically in the form of self-judgment, self-criticism and self-denial. I have an acquaintance who mirrors this to me on occasion. She reflects on herself and her choices and her dissatisfactions. However, in her reflections she continually finds fault with herself for not landing on her specific purpose or getting to the root of her discontent. In self-criticism, she can’t rise to an occasion of celebrating who she is and what she brings to the table. “WHAT DID I COME HERE TO DO?” she wonders as she wanders through her life, estranged from herself.

I sometimes note that this friend has really good qualities of cultivating her friendships. Is that a purpose? Hmmm. Why not? Because you don’t make money at it or it’s not a profession or a career. However, it is an essential and prized quality, often overlooked as a life purpose. If she could look at who she is as a friend, what she brings to it, how she celebrates others, perhaps, within that there is a life purpose, one she could even make money at if she translates the qualities it takes to be a good friend into something marketable. I don’t like that word a lot. However, as women, and as a single woman, it is important to find what you love and then figure out how to make it into a deliverable service that others want to give you money for.

I tend to witness the “gradual discovery of a purpose” over the course of my life. Someone once suggested that you return to your childhood likes and recognize in that your purpose. What did you lean towards almost organically? If your dreams, hopes, desires, natural tendencies weren’t vandalized by parents or authority figures, perhaps in there you can see where you purpose lies. What I enjoyed doing always revolved around making things–learning to cook gourmet meals at a young age, crafts delivered in the mail monthly that my family enjoyed once I put them together. Playing school–teaching. If I rummage through those early years and into my young marriage, I can see the woman whose salvation lay in how I took the broken pieces and wove and rewove my life through making things, through writing, through painting.

Maybe my purpose has more to do with qualities of resilience through creativity, through art, through cooking and each one of these isn’t complete unless I find a way to share them with others. That’s a key piece of the purpose behind any gift that you may have…how do you share it with someone else. The benefit for me is in the process of creating. the completion of that process is in some way sharing it with others…whether through a blog, through an art exhibit, through a dining adventure.

Valuing our gifts in a world that doesn’t…that’s another topic entirely!

Loneliness and Creativity

Observation on a Buddha Rock

I know loneliness
a rock separated from a streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Like this displaced rock
am I commonplace
or too old

This rock
a misshapen Buddha
solitary Bodhisattva
witnessing the cleaving
remembering the whole

What dissension shattered humankind
into separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred rock
perhaps once praised for its cool detachment.
Who cares to take the time
to decipher the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises
in the darkening sky
experiencing
alternate realities

God is in us–
is all right with the world
Has the solitary rock learned compassion
Is that the panacea for loneliness

by Christine O’Brien

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In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, Adriana Diaz guides the artist/reader/ creative explorer, into many exercises that enable creativity. The subtitle of her book is: “Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap The Magic And Wisdom Within.” One of these exercises invites the reader to find a rock. And then, to sit with the rock, examining its many surfaces. To see the rock as a living being and to become in some way intimate to its experience. To draw it from its various angles and perhaps to write about it as I’ve done in the poem above.

We seldom do this, stop and be present with an inanimate object. Who has the time? I certainly didn’t when I had a bustling household with children, husband and pets, a part or full-time job, extended family. I wonder though, if I had taken the time, even once-a-week, if I wouldn’t have been more present, more grounded and more available to myself and others if I had paused to deepen a connection to myself and to something in nature.

I titled this blog Loneliness and Creativity because when I feel lonely and venture into the creative space, loneliness disappears. In the naming and writing of this poem, the feeling of loneliness dissolved into “art.” Have you experienced that? It’s almost magical, in fact it is magic. It’s an alchemical experience. The base ingredients of one’s loneliness, feelings of isolation or separation blend with the pen, the paper, the paint, the brush, the clay, the camera–whatever the medium that you are using–and are changed into something higher and lighter.

I’ve experienced this more than once. And I know that I’m not the only one. When Covid hit the headlines in 2020 and we were told to isolate, I began to post photos on my Facebook page of the beauty that surrounds me living here in the mountains. Those of us who live here see it daily. However, I have family and friends who don’t live here and since I believe that beauty lifts the spirits, I made a commitment to do this. In this way, I connected with others indirectly. And, I also allowed myself to be the witness with the camera who recorded this beauty. And this beauty was a salve for me too.

All of this to say, we each have creative resources. Regardless of what any former teacher or person of influence in your life might have once told you, we are all artists and our unique way of expression has value for oneself and others.

Doing Your “Ministry”

Last week, I watched the film, Hallelujah, about the life of Leonard Cohen and the journey of the song that he wrote, Hallelujah. A documentary, I was drawn quickly into the film. The soulful closeups of Cohen were mesmerizing. His deep bass voice seemed to touch a chord that my whole body responded to. And the words, his words are soulful. When I left the theater, the thought that rang true was
“He was doing his ministry.”

There was a period of five years when Cohen lived in a Buddhist Monastery. It was during the end of that period that he discovered that his manager had embezzled most of his money and sold the publishing rights to his songs. This forced Cohen out of retirement to recoup his losses. Those last years of touring around the world to sell-out crowds, in my estimation, brought out the quintessential minister/entertainer that he was. There was an added profundity, humor and presence to his performances. The audiences responded to his charisma.

All of this to wonder…how do I do my ministry? How do you do your ministry? What does that look like? In previous blogs, I’ve written about my Conversations with Daniel…a man with whom I had extensive intimate conversations about male/female relationships. For three months, we met weekly. I recorded our conversations and gave him a copy of the recording to review before the next meeting. The intention, was that we could witness how we communicated as a man and a woman in conversation.

Daniel quickly established himself as the teacher and that left me in the role of the student. However, in reviewing the recordings, he witnessed his ways of dominating the conversations. He made his best effort at being less imposing. He also had a lot of knowledge, wisdom and passion and a strong desire to impart that. It was challenging for him not to interrupt and insert himself frequently. Towards the last of our twelve weeks of conversations, I noted that I was doing at least an equal amount of talking and there seemed to be more of a balance.

Daniel passed away yesterday, suddenly. I got the news last night by telephone from an acquaintance. It was like dropping a mini-bomb in the midst of my bumpy life. Today, the day after, I can’t quite believe it. I was listening to one of our recordings last week. I put his name on my to-do list “Call Daniel!” I got so busy preparing for an upcoming art exhibit that I didn’t call him. And then the finality of the news, the phone call– “I’ve got some sad news. Daniel died.” The shock and immediate protest on my part. “No!” I wanted to turn back the hands of time by even one day so that I could call him without hesitation and without an excuse.

The reason I bring Daniel into this is that he was doing his ministry. His life was his ministry. His journey and sharing it with others was his proclamation. “I’m here!”
In the last ten to fifteen years, Daniel became a quieter man, following a spiritual teacher and doing a daily meditation. He was himself always, through his various stages of evolution. He was a poet, a writer, an actor, a friend. And likely more that I don’t know. His lived life was his ministry.

I sometimes collect quotes. This one appeared in my paper pile yesterday:

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you,
and that you will work with these stories from your life–
your life–not someone else’s life–water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.
That is the work, The only work.”

author unknown

This quote reminded me what a ministry might look like. Being you is your only purpose and a brilliant one at that.

I dedicate this post to my friend, Daniel.

Aha’s: Part Three–Separate Unity

I first heard of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in my late thirties. She migrated between several ashrams, one in India, one in New York and one in Oakland, California. An acquaintance told me about the ashram in Oakland, bordering Berkeley. In search of a spirituality that my Catholic upbringing didn’t offer, one spring day I visited the ashram.

When I think back on this time, I remember myself as a questing young woman. I was married and with children. I was in search of deeper meaning, spiritual solace and a community. There were things that stood out about the ashram. There was the indoor garden, like an arboretum, with fragrant Jasmine climbing trellises. The Chanting Cave was a sequestered room that was pitch dark. Being in a totally dark space, sensory stimulation was lessened. The constant was the recitation of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” as chanted by Gurumayi. This mantra played repeatedly over 24-hours. Anyone could go there at any time and find comfort and serenity. It felt like a womb to me, protected and cushioned.

Seva, meaning selfless service, was a participation in making meals and cleaning up afterwards. It could mean cleaning the bathrooms or whatever else is on the list to keep an ashram running efficiently. The meals were vegetarian and they were nutritious and delicious.

Although it was communal, it felt like a private experience to me–quiet, respectful, and non-intrusive–as we walked through the halls or prayed or chanted together.

I did spend one overnight there. I had a little room to myself until a woman walked in late in the evening to share the space. She emphasized that her given name was Barbara but she had taken a spiritual name which I can’t remember. She methodically took her stones–they traveled everywhere with her–from a pouch and placed them on the little shelf behind her bed. They were her companions and support. She told me that she snored. All I needed to do if it got loud was to call her by her given name and she would stop snoring.

That evening, settling down for a night’s rest, the sounds rose up from the street below. There was a bus stop and voices congregated and they seemed to be aggressive. Finally, they moved on. Barbara also settled in for the night. Within minutes, she was snoring. Not a soft, easy snore…but a loud and grating one that couldn’t be ignored! After several minutes, I called her name softly. And then again, softly. “Barbara, you’re snoring.” She woke and thanked me, turned on her side and continued to snore loudly throughout the night. In the morning, she thanked me for being “so gentle” in waking her. She got up refreshed and went downstairs for the morning service. I declined and stayed behind in the little twin bed for a few hours more.

The thing about the ashram was that it felt like a safe place to be. Your personal needs were met–food and shelter, if I wanted it…but the spiritual talks, the music, the atmosphere was permeated with a deep feeling of peace.

One very auspicious day, Gurumayi was coming to visit this ashram. When a holy person comes to visit, it is called darshan. I parked the car blocks away and walked to the ashram. The line to get into the hall wrapped around the building and down several blocks. I couldn’t even count the number of people in line and wondered if we would all fit inside the hall. Food was being served. I remember standing in another line to get a tray of delicious food. I walked into the hall. On the floor, there were little mats to kneel or sit upon. I sat with my tray of food. I looked around the room at this sea of humanity. A sudden insight of our separate unity washed over me. We were all unique individuals and here we were, bound together by a common purpose, need, desire or just a shared meal. Whatever it was, it felt profound–that we could sit there together, peacefully, respectfully and connected in a deep way as we anticipated the blessing of Gurumayi.

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What did this separate unity mean to me? We live in isolation in so many ways. There are those of us who live alone and perhaps far from family. We think that no one else feels or thinks as we do. We protect our isolation because we don’t want to be too vulnerable. Yet, that day, sitting among strangers, I felt that deep thread of connection to all of humanity, to all of life. Each one of us is unique and we bring our gifts to the life we are living. And yet, it is so supportive to realize that I am united with others as I walk this pilgrim’s path.