Searching for Meaning

Do we ever really stop? Do we finally come to a place of deep understanding with a solid feeling of connection that lasts? Do we arrive there after years of turmoil and searching, content that we’ve arrived and never have to ride that train again?

It seems that during the winter season, we are called upon to go inside and sit with our questions. Where I live in the mountains, ready or not, winter comes with a definite icy awareness. I am indoors more. Today we are in the midst of a series of storms. To me, a storm feels somewhat dangerous. Being from the foggy city of San Francisco, regardless of how many winters I’ve experienced in the mountains, I feel insecure. I watch the snow rapidly falling, swirling, landing and sticking to the trees and ground. I wonder if it’s going to overwhelm me.

Although I understand the necessity and the actual blessing of snow, it unnerves me. It’s hard for me to appreciate the absolute beauty of snow although I sit within a warm and cozy cottage. It remains a foreign element to me. This feeling is exacerbated by STORM WARNINGS, AVALANCHE WARNINGS, the dread of power outages and downed lines. It happened one winter since I’ve lived here…we were without power for five days. It had been a heavy wet snow and took down electrical lines. Large tree branches had fallen across the streets making driving impossible and walking dangerous. I was fortunate to have an alternate heat source that didn’t rely on electricity. A few of us gathered and huddled around the little oil stove. When the power finally returned, I was flooded with relief.

Being without electricity for that period, I entered a primal part of myself. A part that is based in survival. And the certain awe that nature holds the final card. We witness it when we experience or hear about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Our ancestors lived in a pre-technology, pre-electricity era not so long ago. They didn’t have the cushions of safety and security that we’ve come to expect in these times.

Sometimes, there is a quality of merging that takes over. I notice (despite the refrigerator’s occasional loud hum) a feeling of deep quiet. The snow has a way of muffling external noise from the nearby highway. And within that quiet, a calm descends. When I sit on the enclosed back porch and knit while staring out the sliding glass door, this feeling can supersede any fear. I have momentarily accepted winter, the snow and my place in the order of things. That is a place where I’d like to live from more regularly. In that place, there is quiet revelation. I don’t have the need to know more in such moments. The quest for meaning releases and I have an experience of deep peace and connection.

In the New Year, I desire that for myself and I pray that it extends around the world…the experience of deep peace and connection.

Blessings to you in the new year and always.

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.

The Unbeautiful

The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”

For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.

I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.

I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.

As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?

Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.

Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?

What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?

Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.

While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.

Rejoining the Beauty
by Christine O’Brien

The chief beauty of the world
pattern of patterns
To tap into that beauty
to let it be the motivator
of this day
Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers,
the amethyst ring,
a smile, the cuddly cat
These things know
what I only surmise
A creator who
set this world in motion
where I join with this source
in my own creation
a masterpiece in the making
Within the stumbling,
the waywardness–
beauty
In the lost or
unlit places–
beauty
There is no waiting for me
to reach that highly evolved state
in the present incompleteness–
beauty
In what’s for dinner and
who I met for breakfast yesterday–
beauty
In the unknown tomorrow
the tentative step forward, the risk–
beauty
In the potential for love,
the yearning for peace–
beauty
The stone in my shoe set free,
rejoining the beauty

****

Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.

Six More Weeks of Winter?

So the groundhog predicted on February 2nd…that gives us three weeks down and three weeks to go approximately in the northern hemisphere. It’s all so unpredictable these days. Like everything else in front of us, we’re going to know how much longer we have of winter when it happens. Forecasting is a strange sport.

We’ve had a long inward time…much longer than we anticipated. Another writer, K. DuMont, said

“Time introduces a new character to our lives each season,
one with a temperature and a temperament that affects our own.”

So, what has your temperament been like lately? People here are talking about covid fatigue. Someone asked me today how that expresses itself for me. I thought about it and found myself talking about the things that I miss…like the ease of movement, sitting in a café leisurely sharing time and tea with a friend, hugs. The incentive to clean my house used to be strong if I knew I was going to have company coming over. Now, who cares. A pile here, a pile there. Visits to my family five hours away have been curtailed. Another friend asked if I take fewer showers than I typically would. And, the last time I had a professional haircut was over one year ago. I’m weary of the limitations. And, with that, I have a lot to be grateful for although sometimes it’s hard to remember. Humans are social beings.

Each of us has our own particular tale to tell around this unprecedented time as I hear it being referred to. I inquire within…if these are the rules of the game, can I safely bend them or come up with a creative solution to alleviate the loneliness (I live alone)? Without knowing how much longer that we have to do this cautious dance in the world, is there something I can offer to myself to make it a little lighter? Is there some sort of community (yes, we are grateful for ZOOM–but then there is ZOOM Fatigue?) Is there some other way that we can create community for ourselves? I’m open for suggestions. Even if you’re an introvert, you miss the company of people. Don’t you?

I was invited to do a collaborative painting with another artist. I received a panel through the mail. The first artist had etched the design–there was an original from which she created her own unique expression. As the second artist in the collaboration, my part was to embellish it. Which I did, adding color, collage and using various techniques to try to render something compatible yet unique to me. I then mailed the panel to a local art council. They gather the panels from several other participating artists to create a mural. That’s one way to connect with others. Interesting, but not totally satisfying.

I am, by nature, introspective. However, prolonged introspection–urgh. Regardless, winter is considered the season for the inward journey. According to author, Jamie Sams, in the Native American tradition, the bear is the guardian of the west and winter, the season for introspection. She says that “…bear seeks honey or the sweetness of truth in the hollow of an old oak tree.”

Over the course of this long time with your own company and thoughts, is there a sweetness of truth that you have gleaned. One thing? More than one thing? Share it under comments here if you like or at least share it with one other person.

Alone Doesn’t Have to be Lonely

I don’t remember exactly what inspired this mixed media painting.  Except that it was another intuitive journey and continued to shift over time.  Putting down colors that I was drawn to, seeing images within the evolving piece, deciding which ones to elaborate on and which ones to let go.

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It was a cold, winter’s night in the mountains where I live.  There was the early dark of winter and a blizzard outside.  There was nowhere to go and no friend to meet.  An existential loneliness settled in around me.  Resistance is the first response when an uncomfortable feeling presents.  Feet dug in…”I don’t want to go there.”  But it persisted and I needed to be with it.  I’d been working on a painting of a polar bear in the Arctic.  I’d been trying to paint the aurora borealis.  Good luck with that!  That sky went through so many changes.

aurora

What prompted me to paint a polar bear in the Arctic, that I can’t really say except that as I created the background, his image hovered in the painting.  I brought him forward.

polarbear1

That night of extreme loneliness, staring at this painting in process, imagining the polar bear as his world disappears, I wrote the poem that I’ve already shared in this blog earlier.  It begins like this…

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
The stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of his plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Painting this piece, writing the poem, helped to shift my energy.  The poem and painting connected me to something outside of myself, bigger than my small life and this moment of loneliness.

****
To be human is to feel loneliness at times.  In this time of the pandemic, social isolation and uncertainty, find a way to either write, draw or paint or any other creative activity.
One exploration could involve color.  Color crayons, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils…any of these work.  On a piece of paper, put down colors that you feel particularly attracted to.  Place them side by side, at different angles to each other.  If you are using paints, notice which colors make other colors “pop” forward and which colors recede.  Let yourself play with color.

 

 

Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

A New Relationship to Snow

I live in the mountains, but I haven’t always.  I spent most of my life living beside the ocean.  When I moved to the mountains twenty years ago, I had very little familiarity with snow.  Those first few winters, I was immersed and quickly educated on the reality of snow.  “Pretty on a postcard, but practically problematic” (from a poem I wrote).  Mine has been an evolving relationship with snow.  At first, I found it exciting, then daunting.  Beautiful and restrictive.  Enchanting and unpleasant.

Today, it is welcome (though not to the point of overwhelm) and appreciated.  For I understand the wisdom of snow.  How it coaches us to quiet ourselves, to slow our pace, to go within.  How it frosts the trees, covers the earth, seeps into the ground.  How it facilitates the fruiting of trees and the flowering of plants and the impetus of underground bulbs.  Is everything a metaphor?  Do we make it so?

There is poetic beauty in the first light snowfall, the large unique flakes that sift like fairy feathers lit by the back porch light.  That mesmerizing whirl of flakes that can put one into a trancelike state.  The deep quiet that is induced when the snow is softly falling. The first waking to a snow-blanketed world, the sweet shock of it all.

Then there is the impasse that deep snow creates.  The waiting for the snowplow to clear the roads.  More waiting for the men to come and shovel my driveway and pathways.  There is no going anywhere fast.  And if you dare to walk when its icy, be sure to wear your shoe chains.  Once, despite wearing shoe chains, I slipped.  I was carrying a cup of coffee from the local cafe.  I held that cup high in the air as I slid and fell to my knees.  I did not spill one single drop of that cup of coffee.

Hot foods, soups, warm grogs, hot chocolate are appreciated more when the weather is cold and there is confining snow.  Soup sipped and bread broken with friends adds to the warmth of the wood fire.

These days, the wisdom of snow supersedes everything for me. Following the last several summers of smoke and fires, I’m so grateful for the snow that soaks, saturates, nourishes the trees and the earth and every living creature.  The snowmelt that feeds our springs, raises our water table.  While there have been times that I desired an “easy winter,” now I’m grateful when winter behaves like winter.

Winter is a time of gestation on many levels.  We aren’t meant to plunge on ahead and force growth.  It is wise to slow down, integrate our experiences and be present with the slow growth of our own wisdom.

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thoughts on snow from an early journal:

Today, there is finally snow!  I have to say that my whole body has been waiting for the relief of snow.  Something in me was holding my breath, waiting, anticipating, leaning into as if I were frozen in the form of someone about to dive, but unable to.  Not until that first exhale of new snow falling–then I could breathe deeply once again.  I appreciate that there’s nowhere to get to this morning.  That I don’t need an excuse to stay in and cook, or paint (or if I get to it, sorting and organizing).  Maybe I’ll begin writing that book that I want to write…or daydream a bit.

 

A Winter’s Tale

One Greek myth is the story of Demeter and Persephone.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter (her mother) conducted a search near and far.  When she finally discovered Persephone’s whereabouts, she commanded Zeus to bring her home.  Persephone had been deceived into eating a pomegranate seed–this action decided her fate.  She would have to spend fall and winter in the underworld with Hades.  Spring and summer, she could surface and be with her mother.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation, inward time and perhaps a time for grief.  In December of 2018, I lost my sister, a long-time companion and my ex-husband had a stroke.  He died ten months later…that was three intimate losses in a period of ten months.  I began this grief journey one year ago…although, really, as I watched these three people decline in health, the grief was there.

One thing about loss, besides the actual physical loss is the loss of “the dream.”  Whatever dreams I had attached to each of these persons died with them.  I was also then mourning the loss of the dreams.  When I came across the following poem by the Persian poet, Hafiz, (1315-1390 approximately), I understood the need to grieve and transform our lost dreams.

Forgive the Dream
by Hafiz

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love
Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
The dream.

You still listen to an old alley song
That brings your body pain;

Now chain your ears
To His pacing drum and flute.

Fix your eyes upon
The magnificent arch of His brow

That supports
And allows this universe to expand.

Your hands, feet, and heart are wise
And want to know the warmth
Of a Perfect One’s circle.

A true saint
Is an earth in eternal spring.

Inside the veins of a petal
On a blooming redbud tree

Are hidden worlds
Where Hafiz sometimes
Resides.

I will spread
A Persian carpet there
Woven with light.

We can drink wine
From a gourd I hollowed
And dried on the roof of my house.

I will bring bread I have kneaded
That contains my own
Divine genes

And cheese from a calf I raised.

My love for your Master is such
You can just lean back
And I will feed you
This truth:

Your wounds of love can only heal
When you can forgive
This dream.  

Hafiz’s images are so precise that I find comfort in this poem.

How do you address your lost dreams?

In the New Year

2020 feels auspicious.  In the mountains, we are expecting snow and rain, that wintry mix.  I am appreciating winter for a good winter promises an abundant spring.  These days, I am also grateful for the inward time that winter proffers.  Did I use that word correctly?

A little poem, a couplet, that I came across in one of my journals:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays
the message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

 

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I’ve been painting again.  I wasn’t painting for awhile.  I’ve been grieving three intimate losses in a ten month period.  You might know that grief is it’s own country.  When you go there, everyday life takes on a different sheen.

Anyway, this painting began with a large sheet of watercolor paper (18″ x 24″).  I wrote down my feelings about grief.  Then, surprisingly, emerging from this came my version of “Puss n’ Boots.”  See below.

Blessings to everyone as we go forth.

pussn'boots3

“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.