His Book of Questions

“And what is the name of the month
that falls between December and January?

By what authority did they number
the twelve grapes of the cluster?

Why didn’t they give us longer
months that last all year?

Did spring never deceive you”
with kisses that didn’t blossom?”

Pablo Neruda

Neruda has his book of questions.  Each question could be a meditation.  And each one of us, taking the time, could write our own book of questions.  Once written, perhaps we  then could open to the answers that swirl around us in the ethers.  Ready to be snatched from space and turned over and around–examined in a state of awe at some wisdom that usually lies outside of our usual perceptions.  Until we take the time to tune in.

****
While a child, asking questions wasn’t allowed.  The land of childhood was ruled by a tyrant, a dictator, my father.  In his land of authority, questions weren’t supposed to be thought let alone voiced!  That said, every child has questions.  They are born into a world that they are yet to discover.  Under such circumstances, questions, when we learn to talk, are a natural response to being alive.  They are the avenue of discovery of what the heck we’re doing here.  To have that normal curiosity curtailed, inhibited or prohibited is a sin.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we have questions…and yes, we question our elected authority figures, the scientists and researchers and our religious or spiritual teachers.  We turn to one another inquiring into “what’s going on here?”  And we are hard pressed to get direct and truthful answers.  The frustration that we feel in the face of a pandemic is exacerbated by a media that contradicts itself.  Sometimes the lack of wise leadership compounds the challenges that we are facing personally as a result of the pandemic.

All of this uncertainty doesn’t prevent us from asking the questions that surface for each one of us.  Get your journal and write the questions that weigh on your mind at this time.  They are important.  They are relevant.  While they are your individual questions, chances are that they are the questions from your subconscious and/or the greater unconscious.  I trust the questioning process.  Choose one question and don’t force an answer.  Linger with the question for a day or the week.  When answers come to you, write them in your journal beneath the question.  And answers are going to come.  This process has been very helpful when I crafted creative writing workshops.

The invitation to lean into your questions is placed on the table.  It is an activating process.

Question

 

 

She Who Knows

SheWhoKnows.

There is the tale that is told so well by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her world-renowned book,  Women Who Run with the Wolves.  When I first encountered this book, I was in an independent bookstore, The East West Bookshop, down the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I opened the book randomly and read a passage that was relevant to an experience that I recently had.  The hardbound book wasn’t in my budget.  I replaced it on the display table and walked away.  Then, after browsing for awhile, I was drawn back to the book.  Again, I randomly opened it and voila, another passage that claimed me.  I bought the book.  Every weekend, I’d read a chapter and integrate what I was discovering.  This book felt like a woman’s bible to me.  The mythology and tales that were woven in with a Jungian interpretation touched me deeply.  These tales, passed down from generation to generation, transported me into my own psyche in a way that had never happened before.

La Que Sabe, She Who Knows, was one of those stories.  The story goes…

“In the Southwest the archetype of the old woman can also be apprehended as old La Que Sabe, The One Who Knows. I first came to understand La Que Sabe when I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico, under the heart of Lobo Peak. An old witch from Ranchos told me that La Que Sabe knew everything about women, that La Que Sabe had created women from a wrinkle on the sole of her divine foot: This is why women are knowing creatures; they are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything. This idea that the skin of the foot is sentient had the ring of a truth, for an acculturated Kiché tribeswoman once told me that she’d worn her first pair of shoes when she was twenty years old and was still not used to walking con los ojos vendados, with blindfolds on her feet.”
(excerpt from Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

****
When I created this mixed media painting, I had no idea who or what was going to emerge.  But then, she did.  This painting is not about perfection of features…it became about expression of a deep feeling…the woman who has searched inside and encountered her own depths in search of her place in the world.  She does not feign timidity.  Pretense doesn’t work for her.  She decorates herself.  She is radiant and is comfortable with being in her own power.  She is not apologetic for being this powerful.

She has lived her life and learned from it.  She is present with you and deep seeing into human foibles and their underlying strengths.  She understands that wisdom is there for each one of us.  And, she holds patient compassion for herself and others as we sense into our own deep knowing.

Horse

This horse painting appears to be total whimsy.  However, it appeared at a time when I felt the wind had been knocked out of me, out of many of us.  It was the occasion of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.  The helplessness and shock that I felt with the election of someone whose values were so opposite to my own, to so many of us.

The one word on this mixed media piece is WISDOM.  I felt that this was what was needed more than anything.  This seemed to be lacking in the newly elected administration.  I painted and collaged this white whimsical horse as a way to cope with what was ahead.  As I prayed for a leader who loves the earth, mankind and all of our relations.

Horse1

In one sense, this could be seen as a political cartoon or a bit of satire.  After the election of 2016, things were (and continue to be) extremely serious.

****
Picking up a brush, pencil, paints, clay, charcoal, pastels, watercolors–any creative tool can help you to cope with what is challenging.  It can give you a field of expression when you feel powerless or without a voice.

I have several art journals.  They are a private expression of things that seem too large to manage; the word could be unwieldy.  Words and images blend on these pages to express what I feel and have trouble sharing with others.  Or understanding myself.

What about you?  Do you have a journal for your writing and art?  Or several?  Use them.

Calico Cat

I remember painting this piece–the discovery of images, shapes, making designs and loving the colors, the whimsical cat and dog that appeared.  I was following the flow of what wanted to be seen next.  I was certainly a beginner when I painted this piece.  I would do it differently today.  And yet, there are people who really love it.  So it sits in a little gift shop waiting for the just right person to adopt it and take it home.

I see the naivete of myself as an artist.  But this piece, any piece, is important to one’s development as an artist.  Recognizing images, finding ways to enhance those images, blocking out images with color, learning about design, placement of objects in relation to one another and so much more.  Each is a necessary step in the learning process.  We can’t know something before we know it in life or in making art.

CatFish copy

I recollect that I painted the initial background in an abstract way.  Following the intuitive painting process taught by Flora Bowley.  But then, as I typically do, I see an image or two and leave abstraction for images.  The cat, the dog, the fishbowl with swimming fishes.  Flowers…this piece was pure play.  I think that comes across to the viewer.

****
Today, with the necessity of sheltering in place and social distancing, when I can approach the day as I did this painting, I do better.  I ask myself what the next step is, what can I do in this one moment? Paying attention to my feelings and when I need to pause, step back, observe and wait and let the wisdom of the moment inform my choices.  Then, I’m in conscious conversation with my life as it is right now.

****
For those of you who want to explore your creative side, there are many online art classes and teachers.  They typically offer free tutorials on their websites.  A few of my online instructors:  Flora Bowley, Tracy Verdugo, Olga Freeman, Lucy Chen and Galia Alena.  Check out their websites and see if something calls to you.  We start somewhere.

Be safe, stay healthy, find your calm in the midst of the storm.

Reinvention

When things aren’t working…when they haven’t been working for awhile…what do you do?  When I get quiet and take an overview of my life, I can sometimes see the patterns.  There are patterns that I am at peace with and then, there are patterns that I am undone by every single time.  Recognizing that, what can I do to change a pattern?

  • One key is recognition:  When I am able to identify a pattern and name it, that is the doorway to changing it.  Sometimes, I write it down in detail, the elements that make up this rerun pattern.  Then I gain a clearer understanding of myself and how and perhaps why I recycle this unhelpful pattern.
  • Recognizing the facets of the pattern, I might be able to see “choice points.”  Within the pattern, there are split seconds when I can decide to do something differently.  That is, catch the pattern at work and detour myself away from it.  No, don’t go that way–again!
  • The doing something differently can be placing my attention elsewhere, i.e. doing jumping jacks, dancing, going for a walk in nature, picking up a book, getting out the paints and painting.  Any number of possibilities.  You choose.
  • Another helpful tool is writing poetry about your dilemma.  Because poetry accesses another part of the brain, it can offer up a solution that you might not have logically considered.
  • If you feel safe enough to share your process with a trustworthy friend, you might ask them for support in your mission.
  • Also, if you believe in a higher power, prayer for assistance as you implement something new can assist you.

They say that it takes twenty-one days to solidify a new pattern or habit. Considering that there is the real possibility of falling into the same old, same old, you can remember that Alcoholics Anonymous slogan “Just for today…” I can do this differently.  Then it feels manageable.

Years ago, I read a quote by Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist.  It goes like this:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

****
I appreciate the wisdom in this quote.

 

 

 

Synergy

I appreciate the concept of synergy…better yet, I appreciate the actuality of synergy.  To consider that things are more effective when they work together than when they stand in isolation is fascinating.

Alphabet letters, individual symbols tossed in a heap, would be a jumble.  Combine them meaningfully, a word is created.  Then string words together to make a sentence or grouping…have we expressed a concept?  A concept can then be the basis for a story or a poem.

As a writer, your particular perspective or voice has influenced your choice of words.  Those words are poured into a form–an essay,  poem or story–whatever your chosen vehicle of expression.  Have you related something that has personal meaning to you?  Ideally, it would have meaning for others beyond you, the writer.  There is great synergy in that blending, isn’t there?

Definition:  “Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning “working together”       Wikipedia

****
What I especially appreciate about poetry, as concerns synergy, is that poetry is typically a synergy of feeling, thought and artistry.  And, when a poem is effective, it touches others. Poetry has the capacity to unite us on the universal themes that apply to anyone regardless of what separates us.  

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

Sullen is the feeling of this new day.
Who would choose to be in my company?
Are there words of wisdom I could relay
to soothe this hurt, a better way to be?

It seems I’m frozen in this sorry place.
Writing words, drawing images to abate
this well-contrived and crafted stubborn face
which staunchly hides behind this well-wrought gate.

We’re each here, wondering as we go
what is this “mortal coil” all about?
How do we find a path that is in flow?
Is there relief and trust beyond this doubt?

Is there a best way to be with the unknown?
What is this curious life I strive to own?

Haven’t we all felt sullen at times?  Don’t we ask the larger questions?  Wouldn’t we like to feel lighter as we face uncertainty?

 

 

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.

****
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 Sense of Girding Her Loins…

The “me too movement” and the film, Bombshell have drawn attention to the way women have been treated in the workplace (and in general).  The objectification of women is nothing new.  It’s brought forward by the current generation’s awareness of it.  Recognizing that the Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified by Congress gives rise to the question of what a woman can do to support her own causes, her own life and liberty.  In this country (the USA), women have a great deal of freedom.  Yet, some of us carry an inner sense of oppression.  Is that because it’s in our DNA, something we’ve inherited from generations of oppressed women? Is it a seemingly innate quality of submission?  Consent to be objectified?  A way we win approval?

Two years ago, I made a costume for a local Fiber Arts Show.  I was feeling the grief around the decline of my sister’s health.  I was surveying my own life and the ways in which I was taught to submit to men…my father, my husband, my bosses in the workplace.  I noted how my life was designed around not upsetting the dominant male ego.  And certainly, the disallowance of knowing more than him even when it concerned my body and personal well-being.

At first, I was going to call the costume Ravaged.  Then I decided on Girding Her Loins.  Finally it became Reclaiming.  What was there to reclaim?  All of the qualities of power, courage and strength that a woman gives over to another.  Like–her voice, her own thoughts, her truth, her wisdom, her intelligence, her intuition, her feelings, her free choices, her values and more.

This dress became a tactile representation of something that had been missing in my life.  The expression of  my right to be fully me as woman without shame or self-deprecation.  It has been about claiming my own entitlement to my life without having to deny my own truth and gleaned wisdom.

 

 

 

A Few Patterns of Communication

I wonder about this…when you engage in a conversation, do you look for ways to confirm what you already believe to be true or are you truly open to learning something different?  Even while listening to a lecture, I sometimes find within myself a resistance to new information.  Oh no, I might have to shift my hard won beliefs!

Seeking confirmation for what I already consider to be the truth, closes the door to discovering something else.  And if I am confirmed in what I already believe, is there sometimes an air of “evangelism” about me–if I believe that I know the truth, then do I think I have the right or responsibility to force my dogma on someone else?

When I’m in conversation with someone, am I really listening?  Or am I already planning what I’m going to say in response?  Often, our patterns of listening and conversing are so programmed that it’s hard to step out of the box of our behaviors to allow something or someone else in.

Or, have you noticed that sometimes, a conversation is more of a monologue than a dialogue?  I look into my own patterns and see if I’m guilty of stealing the stage and not allowing the other person to get in a word.  Or when a certain friend gives a soliloquy while we’re taking a walk in nature, I sometimes strategically interrupt and request “quiet time.”  This can help to bring awareness to the lopsided nature of the conversation.  And, it allows us to appreciate the beautiful surroundings.

In observing conversational patterns between men and women, I’ve noticed that some men take the role of “I’m the teacher,” while a woman may allow and even encourage that role.  Other times, she tries to contribute her own different but real wisdom, only to find herself disproved by the “dominant male’s absolute surety” about whatever it is they are discussing.  He might raise his voice or show some sign of physical prowess (body language) to emphasize his correctness.  It takes an aware male to help to create a safe atmosphere where true sharing can occur.  Is he able to inquire into her thoughts and ways of being and seeing without overpowering her?   It takes a super conscious male to understand that he may actually learn something from her!

 

A Day in the Park

Going north to Ashland, Oregon, without a particular plan, I experienced a day of variety and flow.

Her face
finely chiseled ivory
a cameo portrait
hair woven in braids
and curls piled high
tattoos traced her arms and any bare skin
her clothes were colorful, soft and flowing
her expression–lost in another time and place–
her fingers played the keys of the accordion
while she pumped the bellows gracefully
the soft, insistent, melancholic music
forcing its way into the heart’s land
I placed a few dollars in the accordion case
and she barely nodded as I said “beautiful” and
“thank you.”
I walked into the park
the loud tones of a man’s voice
rose over all other sounds
as he swore and beat on the man
lying at his feet on the ground.

The man on the ground was curled in a fetal position.  His arms and hands shielding his head as a circle of young men gathered and held back all at once.  I hurried two curious young girls along the path catching them up to their mother who finally said “They didn’t need to see that.”

I found a park bench in the shade beside the duck pond on this overheated day.  I marked the rentals in the newspaper out of habit and hope. I watched the mother duck and her nine, count them, nine ducklings being herded here, no here, no there, keep up–the fluffy-headed, wide-eyed ducklings.  “Yes, mother, oh yes mother, oh!”  They do respond to every barked order.  Survival is a serious business and this duck pond, for better or worse, is their home for now.

At a neighboring bench, someone said that the old woman was part Cherokee.  She weaves baskets out of pine needles!  Her old fingers do such fine work and she’s so proud.  She only learned two years ago.  She outdid her teacher…it’s in her cells this knowing how to weave baskets.

I approach the basket weaver.
“Do you teach classes?” I inquire.
$50.00 a person.  Gather some people.

I want to learn from her.  It’s obvious that she knows how to live a fulfilled life.  Teach me that, please.  She touches my arm as if a touch can impart such wisdom or is she reading me?  Her eyes show neither humble senility nor prideful superiority–only a quiet wisdom.  Yes, teach me soon, I’ll pay.  Her daughter, works in a salon, files fingernails.

The pianist in the ice cream parlor trying to sell me his cd.
“I really just came in to buy ice cream,” I emphasize.  I buy a cd, finally, for two thirds of the price–he’s a good salesman, but can he play the piano?

I got the last haircut appointment in a little shop off the boulevard.  The perfect cut.

This day held all a day could hold, all that life could hold.  Beauty and violence, the extremes and beauty prevailed.

****
Do you ever choose a day of flow without any particular plan?  Have you written about it?