Sunday, November 11, 2012

Today's Medicine: Choices and Yearnings

The Morrow Tree - Mat Holmgren

Having a few hours to myself, with no-one in house but me, is a thing to be cherished. You'd think that I'd get more of that sort of thing, especially since I am not working outside of hearth and home. Yet I find myself savoring the quiet energy of snoozing dogs and cats almost as much as the cup of Crumpet Shoppe tea I am sipping.

Choice has been on my mind these days. And how often I avoid making decisions because it means taking one path over another and my perceived notion that I will miss out on something marvelous on the road not taken. Don't get me wrong, I love my life and most days I'm pretty connected with a deep sense of gratitude about my life. Much of the time I feel pretty confident about my choices and I'm at peace the consequences that come from them. Yet I do have my moments of doubt, or at least wondering what might have come from a different choice. When I visit a home with lovely antique furniture and NO CAT HAIR, I pause to notice the longing in my heart for the same in my own home. Reading travelogues often triggers a sense of yearning for the freedom to pick up and leave my life behind. The wicked glance from the laughing eyes of a stranger can make me pause and ponder my relationship with my beloved of twenty years. Each of these moments show me the hidden yearnings of my heart, as well as make me look at my life as it is now. How to accept and embrace the longing is becoming a daily practice for me.

So often I see choices as an either/or concept. These days they are all about how I want to shape the life I want to live. Do I want a fulfilling job or tend hearth and home full time? Do I want to tend the land and my childhood home or do I want to wander the country in an RV with my beloved? Do I want to put my time and energy into deepening my spiritual practices or explore new ones that resonate? When faced with these questions, all too often I dither, put off and tell myself that I'm "working on it." It's hard to separate out the heart of the matter from the brain that wants a clear cut answer. I'm fascinated how some decisions come easily and quickly and others take some sorting. I guess it just depends on where I am in the process. Sometimes I need time to consider the choice and really think about what would be best. Other times I need the time to find a way into peace with a choice that is not comfortable at the moment but necessary for the life I want to live. Basically, I need to talk myself into it because I'm really good at being obstinate for no really good reason, which really doesn't work so much anymore. But that's medicine for another day. 

I think there are several things that I need to remember when facing choices, especially difficult ones. One is that I don't have to face them alone. Not only do I have many loved ones that will lend their ears and share their thoughts, I have the support of my ancestors, guides and guardians. I may not hear always what I want to hear from them, but that's not their job anyway. Sometimes an outside perspective is super helpful in finding my way to the best choice. Second, in many cases it is rarely an either/or choice. Options usually abound and there are layers in any choice. Can I look at an either/or choice and see the gray areas? Doing this might help me find some movement when I feel stuck and unable to move forward. Third, remember what works, what tools have worked in the past when I've made choices that feel really hard. For me, this means making lists of options and possible outcomes, talking with trusted friends and family, doing divination and giving myself permission to have a hissy fit if it's needed. It's amazing how letting myself be angry and frustrated can move me toward acceptance and a good outcome. I highly recommend it. 

I also think it's super important to notice when yearnings come up and find ways, even small ways, to bring them forward into my life. If I want that house with no cat hair, maybe I need to bring forward a practice of vacuuming and sweeping more often than I do now, as well as choosing to have fewer cats next time around. If see photos of foreign lands that make my heart vibrate with happiness, perhaps I should get some to put in a place where I will see them every day. If that person with a wicked smile flirts with me, then I can flirt back and bring the giddy heart home to my beloved. Or keep it to myself and give a secret smile when he asks why I'm so happy. 

And with that, I think that I am off to make a card with one of my favorite quotes by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. When faced with choices, and the confusion that comes with decisions making, it's helpful for me to remember these words: 

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today's Medicine: Creative expressions and helpful questions

Almost a year ago, I started a new way of living my life. My well of inspiration, desire and vitality was dry as a bone and I needed a big shift in perspective. So I quit my full time job at a women's health clinic and began a slow and steady renewal journey. It wasn't easy, it wasn't always a dream and it certainly forced me to examine my life choices in a very focused way. It was also soul-opening, revitalizing and filled with more contentment and satisfaction than I could have asked consciously asked for. And one of the first things I did was to make the above inspiration card, to remind me of how writing helps me to process, reflect and purge the brain buffer, so to speak.

My journals are private places for me to express my thoughts, vent my frustrations so that I don't harm others with my words and to be curious about my life and the world around me. I don't have a writing habit; I write as I feel inspired to do so. Or when I need to blow off some steam. Or when I need to flesh out an idea or delve deeper into a thought before I share it with others. I've often thought that a daily or weekly practice of writing would be helpful, rather like having a date with the part of myself I don't always connect fully with during my daily life. Since part of my renewal includes realigning my intentions and focus on what's truly important, I checked out the book The Life Organizer: Tips, Stories, & Prompts to Focus on Your Needs and Navigate Your Dreams by Jennifer Louden. The concept is different than a day-timer, that useful tool to keep track of all your appointments and reminders. It's a day book you create for your life. You set the pace, set the intentions, explore your desires and figure out what is or isn't working for you anymore. The book has questions, quotes and prompts that are sorted by week, as well as by subject/topic. I love the concept and have been working on mine so that I can begin on November 1st, which for me is the mark of a year of a new way of being in the world. I am curious to see how a weekly writing date works for me and I'm allowing my enthusiasm to guide me.

I also decided to take it another step. Since I sometimes feel a lack of creative expression in my life, and since I adore paper products with a passion undimmed since childhood, I decided to start a project of making inspiration cards for myself. If I find a question or quote that makes me laugh, pokes my heart, brings me to stillness or takes my breath away, I create a card with it. I will use these cards to bring me back to my center when I'm feeling stuck, burdened, overwhelmed or flat. This is today's card and I think it will bring some levity to when I feel a loss of gratitude for the blessings in my life.

*snort* Yes, indeed, I think that will do nicely. May we all be gentle with ourselves and others, and laugh fiercely at the absurdities in our lives.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Everyday Medicine: Ancestors

The sky is heavy today, feeding a melancholy mood. Earlier, I pondered an afternoon's raking of the never-ending leaves from the grandmother maple in the back yard, yet I was not inspired by this choice. I have been feeling restless, unable to settle into an activity for any length of time. I hate this mood of distraction. When it strikes, I feel completely unable to get anything accomplished. Even sitting and doing nothing feels off. So as I sat in my rocking chair, stuck in anxious indecision, I looked over to my ancestor altar. And it occurred to me that perhaps some active meditation is what I needed. And surely enough, it was.

There were two altars I wanted to make for All Hallows this year. One is dedicated to my ancestral and spiritual lineages and would involve setting up a more elaborate altar than my daily ancestral altar. The other is something different. I've been pondering doing specific altars for the blessed dead who inspire me, as a group or individuals. This year I wanted to do a separate altar honoring the women of the suffrage movement, both in the UK and US. This subject is very near and dear to my heart, so it seemed fitting to honor them during this time of the year. So that's what I worked on this afternoon.

These altars will be works in progress through All Hallows and a few days after. I did a bunch of work on them today and not-so-oddly-enough, I feel much more grounded and embodied. Crafting the collages helped channel some of my blocked creativity and creating the offerings helped settle my energy. I want to get some flowers for my ancestral altar and some lace to put around the edges of the collages. I will probably dig through my stickers and see what kind of late 19th century style art I can find to use as well. And this week, when I make my morning tea, I will be sure to make a proper cup for those women as well.

Sitting back, with a cup of peppermint and nettle tea, I realize that coming back to basics (like the blood that thrums through my veins and the reminders of the sacrifices made so I can live a life I want) is such an incredible gift. And as I type this, the sun breaks through and I see a hint of blue sky. Maybe doing some raking isn't out of the question after all. It is definitely easier to consider now that I have a lighter heart.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's Medicine: Just Do It

Since I'm not working at this time, I determined that I would really embrace the job of home and hearth tending. Since November, I've been slowly and surely finding out what that looks like. One of the things I've learned is that it can be overwhelming to think about all the cleaning, projects and organizing that I've let slide over the years. I don't think I've ever felt I had the time to consider how to be more efficient with cleaning. Or realized that no matter how organized I get, if I have a bunch of crap I don't need or want, I will still have to clean and care for it. It's liberating to be able to think about this and and find creative ways to start doing the work with satisfaction, if not outright joy.

At first I wasn't sure where to start and struggled with trying to do too many different things. Then I started asking myself questions that started with, "What would it look like if..." or "What would it feel like if..." For some reason this made me feel less fearful and more able to have an open heart to the process. I decided I'd make sure my kitchen was tidy before going to bed each night. Now, almost every morning I wake to a welcoming kitchen rather than a chore that needs tending before I even fully wake up. Small changes are lasting changes and all that. I also determined that it would go easier on me if I focused on hearth and home tending using the four directions and seasons. This means that during Winter I am working on my library/guest room and home office, which is in the North area of the house. I've had the library/guest room sorted for a while and have done a spectacular job avoiding my home office. For at least six months, perhaps longer, I've been boxing up various piles of clutter from different rooms in my house. These boxes have been piling up in a corner of my home office, waiting for me to get the gumption to finally sort through them. I've felt them looming in the shadows, like some dark and hairy formless being that you see out of the corner of your eye but won't look at directly just in case it's really there. For some reason my brain often chooses not see something that it's procrastinating about. Funny that.

Well tonight was the night that I put my big girl pants on and dove in. I'd managed to sort through a couple boxes before my trip to California, but that didn't make much of a dent in the pile. I'm always astonished at how much stuff I've accumulated over the days, months and years of my life. I decided beforehand I would have several boxes to sort things into, listed below:

1. Not sure why I'm keeping it but not ready to send it off quite yet
2. Paper of all sorts
3. Sacred objects and crafting supplies
4. Genealogy and family photos
5. Artwork and picture frames (I have a whole box of those to go through)
6. Stuff to be put away in it's proper place
7. The "Let it go, for God's sake!" pile
8. Box of notebooks and papers of a ritual/ceremonial/sacred sort that need to be consolidated

As of now, #4 is on the ancestor shelf in the bookcase in my home office. I'll have a paper sorting day in the near future in which I go through my desk and filing cabinet drawers and I'll deal with #2 then. Numbers 1, 3, and 5 are in my workroom, which is fairly chaotic right now and will be sorted sometime in Spring. I've put away the items in #6 and #7 is ready to be released to the wilds. Number 8 is patiently waiting next to my desk for my full attention. My trash and recycle cans are emptied. The fact that I can see the floor again pleases me to no end. It needs to be scrubbed in a serious way and I will tend to that tomorrow. I had already refreshed and moved some altars, so I've got goddesses watching over my shoulder. And it is good that it is so.

I just realized it's starting to feel like a sanctuary again. More work is to be done, like my genealogy projects, but I can do it with a lighter heart. The fact I know where things are again is a huge load off. And not having the hairy beast of Clutterdom lurking in the corner waiting to pounce is also a huge relief. Off now to tidy the kitchen, which shouldn't take long, and take a bath before sleeping. I wonder what dreams will come...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Today's Medicine: Open Heart

I started my morning much like every other morning in my life. I was awakened by a restless dog, who sensed the sunshine behind the blinds, and stumbled downstairs to let both canines out for their morning constitutional. Once inside, I fed them, started my oatmeal, set the tea kettle heating and sat down to read my e-mail and Facebook. I found the link below through a FB friend, and thought to myself, "That looks intriguing." I clicked and waited, not knowing that I was about to experience open heart surgery in a matter of minutes.

Midway I started bawling. After, I sat, tears streaming down my face, even as they are now as I let the emotions evoked from this simple video wash over me. And the most amazing thing for me is how I laugh aloud, even as I cry like a wee babe. It's astonishing how joy can reveal itself.

When I was a child, I would cry like this whenever I saw a clear cut forestland near my home. I couldn't watch documentaries that showed whale's being slaughtered without falling apart from grief. I learned that I would be made fun of if I voiced my tree-hugger attitudes and felt so alone that I let that voice within grow quiet. As I've grown, I've become hardened to the suffering all around me, sometimes more so, sometimes less. It hurt to care too much. And in one moment, that all shifted, and I feel more free than I've felt in ages.

Humans can be so unaware of the life and beauty that is all around. We forget there is value in things that cannot be tamed, ignore that we too are part of the natural world and exploit or ridicule those who have a heart that beats in time with the wild ones, the seen and unseen. We shut away our longing for connection, for understanding, for love and healing. And this was a brutal and gentle reminder that my own heart has been shut away from the things I love about living on this beautiful Mother Earth.

The road back into joy is often not so joyful. But rediscovering my connection to the world around me, to the beauty of the natural world and it's lost human companions, is well worth any pain I feel along the way. My prayer for today? May my heart stay wide open, may my laughter ring with joy and may I remember that, as a wise friend once said, "It's better to be brave than safe."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Today's Medicine: Action

Wear your 'action pants' with pride and think "love." - from a Clive's Cats cartoon bookmark

Now for those who aren't in the know, in the United Kingdom "pants" refers to underpants. So what this is saying to me is "put your big girl knickers on with loving intention and get to it!" And these days, I need the not so gentle reminder to do so.

The last several years, Winter has become a rough ride for me and I find myself more prone to navel gazing and contemplation than during the heady green energy of Spring or the blazing energy of Summer. Autumn starts the slowing down process and I have been finding that come late November I am more than ready for the cranky weather of the Pacific Northwest to settle into freezing rains and maybe even a bit of snow. (Let's be honest, here: a LOT of snow.) I want to settle into a comfy chair with my journal, a book or a good movie and be a bit, well, fallow. I don't feel as much like creating (other than cookies), engaging with others in any sort of meaningful way becomes a real struggle and my motivation subsides to close to nil. Action is not exactly the first thing on my list, as I'm wholeheartedly practicing not doing something but just sitting there. And almost completely at peace when doing so.

Now before anyone suggests I am saying it's better to be busy than to take time to renew, please note that I am NOT saying that at all. I believe one of the primary purposes of Winter is to make us slow down a bit, to regroup and reassess where we are on our life journeys. Bad weather gives us permission to stay at home, spend time in solitude or with loved ones and perhaps even do something that brings us that enlivening energy: joy. We are being blessed with a sacred pause. And that pause is as necessary as our breath and the beating of our heart. It's that pause that allows us to gather our scattered selves so we can continue doing our work in the world.

And for me, that's where Action message comes in. I am coming up on three months without working outside my home, and that's been a blessing that I cannot begin to quantify. It has taken that long for me to begin to feel within a spark of joy, of creation and of generosity. My last job was one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever experienced, even if it drained my heart and soul to a breaking point. I learned a lot about myself, how I want to be of service to others and I don't ever regret the cost. Now, as Imbolc draws near and I begin to feel the stirring of creativity, of curiosity. I find I am willing to consider actions that before cost too much time/energy/effort or that I feared would leave my well within depleted. This contemplation of choices is altogether liberating, and a little frightening, and I'm doing my blessed best to keep my heart and mind open to the process.

Although Winter will not end until mid March, and we're sure to have many days of wet, chilly and windy weather ahead, I have to say I feel a hopeful optimism that has been decidedly absent for a very long time. I think I'll have to go shopping for new undergarments and see if I can find some with huge pink and red hearts on them. It is almost Valentine's Day, so there should be some options out there. And lord knows, I could use another tangible reminder of choosing to act with love in all things...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Today's Medicine: Impermanence

This week we experienced a full-on blast of Winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we don't get snow all that often and when we do, folk have a variety of responses. Some frolic in the falling flakes, some groan and grumple, while others start stocking up on foodstuffs like the end of the world is at hand. I am one of the folk who sit inside the warm and cozy house, watching the birds feed on the extra seed I put out for them or taking the dogs out for a romp. I could sit for hours watching the snow accumulate and the land become blanketed in white. It's a suggestion to me to slow down and enjoy a sacred pause, something I don't do often enough in my daily life.

Now that the rains have come, the great thaw begins. The tree branches are almost bare and the icicles are dripping back into liquid form. As I watch the snow drop from the trees with an audible "flumph," I am reminded that most things do not last. (The jury is still out on some processed foods out there.) It reminds me that that no matter what's going on in my life, positive or negative or somewhere in between, it too shall pass. Sometimes it's circumstances outside my control that shifts the frozen places within. Other times it's my conscious choices that shift me out of stasis into joyful action. And just to say it, even a mediocre action is okay, as long as it's action in some form. Joy doesn't care if the steps we take are grudging and small and reluctant, we reap the bounty just by taking them in the first place.

Today that choice involves sitting still, drinking a cuppa tea, and watching the rain come down. I expect we'll have more snowy days before Winter's end, and I'll enjoy them if they come. For now it's enough to take the gift of a sacred pause forward into the coming days and be grateful for what is NOW.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today's Medicine: Gratitude

'Tis been a fair while since I last chose to post anything here. 2011 was a year of revelations that are still settling into my being. I have been wanting to get back to writing each day and now have the time to do so. I figured starting here was a good plan and I'll see where things go.

I used to do a Thankful Thursday quite regularly. Nothing too lengthy, just a short list of simple pleasures and abundances in my life. I got to thinking today about gratitude and how powerful a tool it can be for shifting perspective. A simple prayer of "thank you for my life" can motivate me to shift from a place of lack to a sense of abundance. Most of the time I think we focus so much on what we don't have, what we feel we need to feel whole and complete. I forget to pause and see the truth of my abundance.

It's not just that I'm grateful for having a roof over my head, food to eat, electricity and heat, good health, clothing and folk who love me as much as I love them. It's the fact I have a home that I love and enjoy on a daily basis. I have food that I LIKE to eat and have the means to go out occasionally and celebrate living with dear ones. I have a wood stove that brings the a sense of cozy solitude and mellow companionship. I can dance and walk and be aware that my health is impacted directly by my choices. I have clothing that I enjoy wearing and I have choices that allow me to decide how I want to armor myself or express my inner being. And I have folk (two and four legged) in my life who not only love me, but accept my quirks, help me learn how to communicate better and laugh lots. All of these things, and so many more, help me recognize the richness of my life. That's a whole lot of stuff to be grateful for.

So today, as I watch the snow shift into rain, I will be conscious of how gratitude shapes my perceptions. And be grateful that I don't have to be anywhere but here, in the now.