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.

The Inferior Sex

Women are often portrayed as the weaker sex, the dependents, the victims. Generally, women unconsciously, and consciously, assent to these designated classifications. While I have come to realize that the ascribed descriptives are false, it is the framework within which we live our lives. We thereby, allow our partners, the presumed-to-be stronger or wiser ones, to get away with things they should be called on. We allow them to remain immature and therefore irresponsible or not responsible for their actions. Women have a huge part to play in the maturation of human life on this planet. One way that we can do this is by holding men accountable for their behaviors. We must stop being the sweepers and fixers–sweeping it under the carpet and trying to make it all better. I want this to be a better world for our daughters and our sons than it was for me or my mother.

As women who are the awakeners of men, we need to begin to conduct ourselves as the goddesses that we are. I use this word to elevate us to our own authentic stature. Within this awareness is total equality. What does a goddess look like? How does she behave? How does she walk in the world when she has been disrespected for eons? This woman has unerring values and speaks her non-negotiable truth. She serves no man–she serves wisdom’s truth acquired through her lived experience. Within a relationship, she can choose to make a compromise without compromising her truth or values. For example, if you are with a partner who does not value monogamy and you do, and he isn’t ready to re-evaluate his position, you don’t belong together. What you value is not negotiable.

There is a sacredness in the womanly arts. Women’s work, while portrayed as mundane, is an art. I know about the womanly arts. Throughout history, women who were oppressed found ways to express through craft, cooking, gardening, quilting, embroidery, weaving textiles, dressing their family and more. Some things were done out of necessity, others were done from a deeper place–the need to express her own experience in some unique-to-her way. There was never a problem with women’s work aside from the fact that it is constant. That very constancy allows a woman to deepen her innate wisdom. The problem is that a dysfunctional patriarchal paradigm minimizes and devalues her work. Yet, it is the very backbone that consistently supports all of life. I don’t want to be a woman doing a man’s job. I don’t want to compete with men in a male-constructed market place. I want what I do to be properly respected, valued, elevated…and compensated. HA!

I believe that women should be included at any political bargaining table where war is being discussed. Women who are mothers and grandmothers should be adequately represented. Traditionally, there is and has been an imbalance in their representation. In some indigenous cultures, it is the women who determine whether or not their tribe is to go to battle.

Last evening, I viewed a film celebrating Women’s History Month. It’s called Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a model of a woman staying true to her values even under duress.

The Dreamcatcher

Years ago, I wove hundreds of dreamcatchers.  It was a very challenging time in my life.  I don’t remember how I discovered the dreamcatcher…but when I did, I found that designing and weaving them was healing and engaging in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I gathered supplies, hoops, twigs, willow, waxed threads, leather strips, feathers and beads.  Each dream catcher was a unique creation.  For me, this indigenous craft held deep meaning…and they were to be shared.  I gave one to each of my family members.  A man I met had a booth at a local flea market.  He sold them, keeping a profit for himself.  What they provided for me in the moment was without price.

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Tracy Verdugo taught a class on painting dream catchers.  And then invited us to write a poem.  This poem is written around the outside circle of the dreamcatcher.

Destiny

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget the dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

 

 

dreamcatcher

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A dreamcatcher is an indigenous symbol–a web, often with a hole in the center.  It is intended to let the bad dreams pass through and to catch the good dreams.  The dreams that guide you towards your highest visions.

There is both power and presence when we create.  What is the dream of the future that you’d like to paint, color, draw, sculpt or weave?  Make your own dream catcher using collage and paint.  Are there words or poetry that go with it?  Write them on your work of art.  Get lost in this process.  Invite others to participate in making their own dreamcatchers.  Share in ways that are available to you at this time.

Stay healthy and safe.

Printmaking for Beginners

Printmaking is not one of my fortes.  Nor do I claim to have studied the history of printmaking and the very fine artists who have taken this art to a high level of expertise.  However, I appreciate this art form.  And I can say that I’ve dabbled in it on a very introductory level.  Using scratch art scratch foam, I created the following print by etching a chosen design into the foam with a pen.  If you don’t have access to scratch foam, try using a styrofoam plate or the styrofoam packaging that some foods come in.

cafea

Above is the initial print pressed onto a piece of paper.  I could make several prints from the original press.  I used acrylic paint.

cafetime - Copy
Then I painted one of the prints with the colors of choice.  I could further embellish the print if I so choose.  

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This video explains the process quite well.  Give it a try.

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Years ago, in school, if it was raining outdoors, we had “rainy day session.”  By that, it was meant that we would stay indoors at recess and at lunchtime.  We were given an art project to do.  I remember that time fondly.  Art wasn’t given much room in the curriculum…so this was a fun break from the norm.

In these days of social isolation, you might try your hand at basic printmaking.  If you’re at home with several people, each one can make a print, color or paint it in their own unique way and then share the outcome with one another.  You can also do it individually and share it with your friends or family over Skype or through Facebook.

Take good care of yourselves.

 

Where Do We Begin?

“BEHOLD A SACRED VOICE IS CALLING YOU.  ALL OVER THE SKY A SACRED VOICE IS CALLING YOU.”    a quote from Black Elk

Once you establish (for yourself) why you write–is it because you feel something or are provoked in some way; is it for catharsis, clarity, to communicate, for integration, revelation, pleasure or because you can, because you must?–from here you begin.  And, as Pablo Neruda spoke so eloquently in his poem…we write to “convey to others what we are.”

BUT HOW DO I BEGIN?  WHERE DO I BEGIN?  These are age-old questions for the new writer especially.  The simplest answer is to begin where you are with what you know. As we’ve seen in an earlier post, listing your curiosities and passions can be the lead-ins for writing something.

WRITING PROMPT
Sometimes, beginning is just about making a mark on a page…a symbol, favorite number, any letter, a scribble…MAKE A MARK!  NOW!

Phew, you got that out of the way; a beginning.

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Intrinsically, we know how to begin. We begin again and again with each new day.  That first cup of tea, coffee or juice in the morning marks the starting gate for entering the portal of a new day.  I love the optimism in waking to a new day.  I remember the old man in the beginning of the film, “The Milagros Beanfield Wars.”  He wakes up as a ray of sunshine warms his face, he gives a slight smile.  With some effort he sits up on the side of his bed.  He stands with greater effort and his breath quickens.  Stooped, he shuffles across the tiny space of his hovel, his breathing hard and fast.  The rooster in the yard crows.  He squints into the oval mirror and says–“Thank you, God, for letting me have another day.”  

Beginning signifies entering.  When you designate a time for writing, you enter non-ordinary or altered time.  It is a time apart.  This time apart can be referred to as sacred.
In this time and the physical space that you have created, there is the possibility for something new to emerge.  You are the scribe who shows up, pen-in-hand, open to this possible emergence.  However, if you don’t begin, don’t enter, there is only dreaming and dormancy.  Entering, beginning, taking the first step, we accept the invitation to write.

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WRITING PROMPT
On the next page of your journal, print your full name.  If you have a middle name, include that.  Write the date, time and place of your birth.  Write the name of the hospital where you were born (or was it a home birth–or in a taxi on the way to the hospital?). Write down the city, state and country of your birth.  What are the names of your parents?  Do you have siblings, older or  younger and how many?  Where are you in the birth order?  Write it all down.  Write one significant thing that you would like to note about your birth?

Ah, you’ve noted a few details about your beginnings.  Good for you!  Details are important to a writer.  Details make one story unique from another.

WRITING TIP
In order to feel that you can say whatever wants to be spoken, you have to feel a great degree of safety–especially in your private journal.  I recommend that you safeguard your writing.  Store your journal in a place which feels secure and away from prying eyes.  Freedom to write, at this stage, means that you are not inhibited in exploring your truths, thoughts and feelings.  You decide when and what you want to share and with whom when the time and conditions are right.