Monthly Archives: July 2005

Walking in Paradise

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I woke up this morning with a stiff left shoulder and clavicle, stretching all the way to a stiff neck, especially on the left side. This is something that happens off and on, and I deal with it in several different ways. Today I decided to take a long walk, my favorite meditative way to deal with physical imbalances. So I got up early, threw on some clothes, and headed out the door for a 45-minute circuit walk through the neighborhood.

I’ve been taking this walk ever since we moved to Sebastopol over 16 years ago. Back then, with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, it was the only time I really took for myself. It helped me clear my mind and heart from the relentless work of mothering, and more importantly, it helped me get acquainted with my new home. We had just moved up from San Francisco, and I missed it terribly. All my friends, my community, my favorite haunts, the things I relied on to stay centered while raising children, we had left behind in the City. Here, just outside of town on a semi-rural piece of land, I knew I needed to get rooted somehow in my new home and I knew it would take some time. So I figured out a way to walk through our neighborhood, down a connecting street, and back along Occidental Road, which borders the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Then walking up a private road and cutting briefly across a neighbor’s back field, I made it back to our house.

I took this walk as much as I could, all year round (except for when the back field got too wet during the winter). I watched the berries ripen in the summer, I picked rosehips in the winter and made them into tea, I noted when the willows bloomed in the early spring and where to find the best oak galls in the fall for the kids to make little creatures out of. It took me about a year and a half of taking this walk before I felt rooted in this land, and it taught me a lot about what it takes to be at home somewhere.

This morning I couldn’t take the dog with me on my walk, because to straighten out the kinks in my shoulder I had to let both arms swing free. For being in reasonably good shape, I sure felt stiff and sluggish walking. I felt like I was packed in about 6 inches of jelly-like invisible substance that made freedom of movement just an artifact of memory. It was early enough that the big noisy machinery our neighbors are using to build their new house wasn’t in full swing yet, nor were our other neighbors’ dogs with their barking. Eventually, I perked up enough to notice some beautiful red roses blooming along a neighbor’s fence, and how another neighbor really needs to do some weeding along the curb.

My body loves walking uphill, and this walk has a nice hill to climb early on. By the top of the hill, my heart felt like it was humming along and my lungs had cleared out all the whatever-it-is from sleep that makes me so sluggish in the morning. I was still feeling a lot of stiffness in my shoulder, but at least it was now a localized stiffness. With every step, I imagined my shoulder carriage hanging relaxed from my spine, swinging effortlessly with the steady rhythm of my gait.

By the time I turned down the hill toward the laguna, I started feeling that sense of skeletal clarity and muscle coordination that I love the most about walking. It’s as though I have internal x-ray vision, and I can see my bones all working together the way they’re supposed to. My head could swing from side to side easily, and I started noticing plants: pearly everlasting, Queen Anne’s lace, chickory, fennel, dandelion, scarlet pimpernel, star thistle. Juniper, willow, Himalayan blackberry, Scotch broom, wild rose. Fir, eucalyptus, valley oak, live oak, cedar, redwood.

Humans are meant to walk. When my body gets really warmed up, I can imagine feeling like this walking across the savannah tens of thousands of years ago. I imagine that the penchant for identifying roadside plants is a remnant of gatherer’s mentality, and the simple act of pausing to eat ripe berries becomes infused with ancestral awareness.

So there I was, enjoying this delicious split awareness as I walked alongside the beautiful, lazy laguna. The local herd of cows was grazing on the grassland there, and a few turkey vultures made their rounds among the trees by the waterway. By this time, all the stiffness had left my shoulders, and I just had a few sore muscles left there as reminder. My walk felt powered by that mysterious force of locomotion that is centered in the pelvis. Like a great, subtle gyroscope, its figure-8 movement is enough to kick our legs out for the next step forward, and send a slight weaving motion up our spine, which like some ancient plant stem just knows how to move and sway to keep us perfectly balanced as we walk.

Thus aligned, I braved the increasing traffic speeding down the road (note to self: get started a little earlier next time to avoid commuters) till I got to the oddly named private road which leads me back home. The apple rancher who lives there was busy loading up a huge flatbed trailer with empty apple-picking boxes, stacked three high. Though the apples don’t look so good this year—late rains this spring made them kind of scaly and gnarled-looking—they still make great juice, and he and his crew must be starting the harvest through Sebastopol’s remaining Gravenstein orchards.

Across our little shared seasonal wetland, through the berry brambles and towering valley oaks of the laguna uplands where we live, and up the slight rise to our house. I’m not sure I have words adequate to describe the feeling of gratitude, centeredness and belonging that comes to me with taking this walk. This afternoon I have to drive to Sacramento and back, a hellish errand, which will I’m sure reinstate my neck and shoulder tension with full force. But then, looking on the bright side, maybe tomorrow morning I can get up early and take another walk in paradise.

Teaching what we do, not what we know

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I mentioned Donald Engstrom here earlier this week. Today I happened on a lovely article by Donald that really summarizes his approach to not only life but teaching, and also illustrates a point I’ve been meaning to make. This train of thought was brought on by my witchcamp teaching experience last month where, as I understand it, the feedback I received from my students was that in general they were much more jazzed about the times when we did stuff (namely dreamwork) that I do a lot, rather than the times when I tried to teach things.

That was a big learning for me: people are more interested in learning what I do than what I know. Happily, I am more interested in teaching that, too. So next time I teach, I will make it simpler, not try to bring in so many things. What a relief!

Donald is really my model for this type of teaching/learning. He is a big influence on Reclaiming magic, particularly the phrases he often uses: “dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight” being his way better version of something like “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Also, his rephrasing of “God,” “Gods,” “Deity,” “the Divine,” “Spirit”: he calls them “the Mysterious Ones.” I love that, it is so evocative while being so inclusive.

Donald teaches what he does. His teaching is very focused on creating cultures of beauty, balance and delight. That is his spiritual practice, and encompasses right livelihood, political action, art, gardening, relationship, friendship, and the health of the larger community. I don’t know that he varies the practices he uses from class to class, but everytime you study with Donald is an opportunity to let that work shift things in another aspect of your life.

Someone asked me at Dawn and Jim’s wedding whether I was planning to teach in my home community anytime, and I felt myself trip on that little speedbump of “what do I teach?” As a Reclaiming teacher, I “ought” to teach Elements of Magic; Iron Pentacle; Rites of Passage. But since magic is not a big part of my spiritual practice at the moment, I find it hard to be enthusiastic about teaching the material. Being reminded just now of Donald’s example to all of us helps me set my intention to teach more of what I do, and stop paying so much attention to the “oughts.”

Over the Broom, Under the Sun

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For the first time this summer, Ross and I actually managed to get out of town together for an entire weekend, solely to have fun. This entails making sure the noisy, diabetic, incontinent (did I mention blind and unpleasant?) miniature toy poodle that belonged to Rosses late mother has someone to give her insulin shots 2x a day (did I mention she bites nearly everyone who tries?). Also someone to look after Bill, Rosses father who lives with us and needs to take meds (but doesn’t bite) and eat meals a few times a day. Fortunately, all these roles were exercised by Rosses sister Barbara, who also has had Jojo staying with her for a couple weeks. So thanks to Barbara’s largesse we hightailed it up to Portland for Dawn and Jim’s wedding weekend.

We stayed with Kate and Yorck, who have two adorable boys 4-1/2 and 1 year old. It was like time traveling a bit to stay with them — fun to try to make friends with the little guys, nostalgic in the way an inconsolable one-year-old can be for past parents of one-year-olds, and also kind of like a rent-before-you-buy experience for prospective grandparents (which we are). Ross on these occasions often surprises me with how well he remembers the solutions we applied to baby problems in our day. My memory of events and his are different and complimentary. I consider this one of the top five reasons to cultivate and sustain long-term partnerships in life.

Anyway, the wedding was excellent. My dear friend Donald Engstrom officiated, and insisted that both Dawn and Jim undergo a cleansing ritual Saturday morning. As part of Dawn’s “team” in that ritual, I was deeply moved by both her willingness to be open through the process, and by how the work of shedding the energetic patterns of old relationships affected us all. By the end she was fully present, fully herself and full of joy, ready for whatever the next day brought. The rest of us felt the shift, and felt ourselves moving more fully into ritual space as well.

Afterwards, while Ross went out with some of his friends from the Process Work community, I got the unimaginable luxury of a couple hours walking through Southeast Portland by myself — I ambled down SE Hawthorne, had a wonderful breakfast (though it was the middle of the day), bought a couple books at Powell’s, and then ambled back to Kate’s in time to go to the rehearsal/dinner over at Edgefield that evening.

Truly what is special for me about Reclaiming are my many deep and fruitful friendships with so many deep and talented people. Myself, Oak, Donald, Todd, Ravyn, Miles, Clark, Nicole, Brook, Cypress, Lilith, Scott, Kate, Mark (Donald’s betrothed), River, Alphonsus…it was just a stellar group of witches, and ones with whom weaving magic is effortless and sublime. So we had effortless and sublime covered, and could pay attention to all the minute details of the day. I definitely felt like I had my “dragon” cap on, scanning the circle all the time for any blips in the energy field that could result in something less than auspicious happening. We were all anti-omen that day, I think especially because of Oak’s traumatic wedding event of the weekend before.

Brook and Cypress cast the most beautiful double-circle I have ever seen — it was like water ballet, except on solid ground — and neatly raised the bar of beauty, balance and delight for the rest of us, which I am happy to say we all met. Dawn and Jim said wonderful words to each other, rings were exchanged, a broom was jumped, glasses were raised, and both Dawn’s son Zack and one of Jim’s sons delivered very touching toasts to their new constellation of parents. After such an event, the two of them deserve a lovely honeymoon far from the family dramas that surely await them on their return.

As for Ross and I, we were having so much fun that we misjudged how long a trip to Rooster Rock beach would take (who could resist a jump in the Columbia River to cap off a trip?) and missed our flight home on Sunday night. After a few minutes of just being stunned at how we could fuck up so badly, we decided to just go with it, rented a car, and set out back for Edgefield for another night hanging out with friends. I don’t think we’ve done anything that irresponsible since we were in our early 20s, and once the annoyance, worry, and embarrassment wore off, it was really fun.

One more thing: I was telling Todd this story as we walked to the field Sunday noon, as I think of it every time I attend a wedding. Once when I was pretty young, 20 or 21, something like that, I took a medicine wheel class with Beth Beurkens in Santa Cruz, and her teacher Grandmother Mahad’yuni (Evelyn Eaton) attended a couple of our classes. She was a lovely older woman, half Scots and half Paiute as I recall, and on the last day we each got to ask her one question. Because Ross and I at that time were seriously considering getting married, I asked her what she thought about marriage. Her response went something like this:

“Oh you know, whenever I attend funerals, I am always so happy. They made it! They completed their tasks and a lifetime of work, and they are off to rest for a while. But weddings, you know… I think the Lords of Karma got together one day to figure out how to get us lazy humans to work through the greatest amount of our own karma in the shortest amount of time, and they came up with the idea of marriage. So that’s what I think of marriage.”

This obviously made a great impression on me, even though I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. We were so very much in love, and we knew that that was stronger and ultimately more important than any challenges we might face in the future. Now, I really understand what she was talking about, and I still think that we chose right. I think Dawn and Jim did, too.

Where Were You?

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I can count on one hand the number of events in our culture that were so important that it seems everyone remembers where they were at the time. The assassination of JFK is one, though I was only a few months old at the time so I was probably spitting up baby cereal all over my mother’s dress. I don’t really remember that.

The day that John Lennon was shot is one that I remember vividly. My friend Louie and I were driving in his ’66 Volvo over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco listening to the radio, and every station was playing the Beatles or John Lennon. We went from curious amusement at the synchronicity of it all, to wondering whether there was some anniversary going on, to suspecting that something really bad had happened, all while suspended over the Bay in that white car. It’s funny how once you reach that state of feeling like something terrible has happened, there’s no going back to the detached amusement. You really have to find out whether your fears are correct.

In this century, the event to be remembered is the falling of the twin towers. I have had such a strong reaction about how the tragedy has been manipulated by the forces of deception in our government that I have not been able to speak about it personally. I leave the room when others are talking about it, because I can’t stand to hear anyone echoing my own complaints. I feel we have all been slimed in our grief, and instead of talking about our experiences and listening to the experiences of others, we are all ranting and raving about politics. But now with Karl Rove teetering on the brink of justice, I’m feeling this breath of fresh air that allows me to think about and process my own experience of that fateful day in peace.

I got up that morning, got the kids off to school, packed my gi bag and headed for the dojo. It was Tuesday morning and I was looking forward to one of my favorite aikido classes, taught by my friend and sensei David Keip. I got out on the mat with the others, and before we all bowed in David said, “Let’s take a few moments of silence and extend energy to those who have been hit by the tragedy this morning.” I leaned over to James who was sitting next to me and whispered, “What tragedy?” He told me that an airplane had rammed into the World Trade Center. That little bit of detail helped me imagine where and to what I was extending my energy that morning. Then, without further talk, we bowed in and began training.

As I moved around the mat that morning, I remember feeling open to the waves of emotion that were circling the globe at that time. Group mind is a powerful force, and though I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I knew it was big, and I was so grateful to be there on the mat practicing letting the life force flow through me, and joining with the life force of my training partners in graceful non-violence. In fact, as the morning progressed I remember that being the crystallizing principle of our training: how to respond to conflict in ways that do not perpetuate the harm being done. I need to practice that every day, it is so easy for me to slide into acrimony and small-mindedness.

We can’t spend all day at the dojo, though. And the larger aikido is the act of constantly returning to center and embodying the principles of love and harmony no matter what training partners life throws at us. On the way home, the first thing I did was turn on KPFA to get the news. Suddenly, I was in the media stream, and there was no going back to my moments of peace in conflict I’d experienced earlier. I heard what had happened, and heard the first calls of conspiracy from the far Left. Then I went home and turned on the TV, where I heard the first voices of terrorist fear from the far Right. Disgusted by the instant spin, sickened by tragedy, and completely off-center, I turned off everything and tried to work. But there was no working that day. I don’t imagine that more than a dozen or so people in the entire nation were able to actually be productive that day.

The thought which stayed with me then was that the whole thing was a horror we were just going to have to live through, day by wrenching day, and there wasn’t a thing any of us could do to change that. It has gotten very, very ugly in this country in the years since 9/11. Today might be the first day since then that I’ve caught a whiff of hope: maybe the liars will come toppling down, as they all did during Watergate. Maybe the bad news will stop being so relentless. Maybe this terrible national insanity towards the environment and other nations will start to shift, and the burden of awareness of what is happening in our names will be easier for us to bear.

Associating With Dreams

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Last weekend I was down in Berkeley for the annual IASD (International Assoc. for the Study of Dreams) conference. This was a really inspiring conference, as usual, with lots of dreamworkers presenting on all sorts of topics. There was a panel of invited Muslim academics speaking on dreams and Islam; dream researchers reporting the results of their latest studies on dreams and trauma; presentations on sexual ethics in lucid dreaming, color in dreams, dreams and the Kabbalistic tree of life, past life dreams, dreams and sound, dreams and aging, dreams and social justice. One whole room is a dream-inspired art gallery, with paintings, ceramics, sculpture and mixed media works, all based on dream images. And of course, most dangerously for someone like me, there is a large bookstore set up with all the latest dream books and publications, as well as many obscure and fascinating titles. Fortunately, I was able to get away with spending under $100 on books, which made me feel practically frugal.

One of the things this conference makes me realize is that the world of serious dream-nerds is actually pretty small. All the big names in dreamwork: Patricia Garfield, Jeremy Taylor, Stephen LaBerge, Gayle Delaney, show up here, and you might even find yourself at the same table with one of them over lunch or dinner. I found an empty chair one lunch at a table where Stanley Krippner was holding forth about shamans and after-death visitations. When Meredith Sabini, Rose Dance and I presented our panel on “Dream-Based Spiritual Practice,” I was amazed to see Charles Tart and his wife in the audience. Dr. Tart had given a very interesting keynote talk on dreams and enlightenment the first evening of the conference.

Anyway, I don’t mean to spend this whole entry name-dropping, but I do encourage anyone who is interested in dreams to check out the IASD and check out the online dream conference this Fall, or one of the many regional conferences held throughout the year. It’s a great way to gain insight into your dreams, as well as learn new tools for associating with dreams.

Ross and I continue to work on our lovely piece of property out in Bodega Bay, CA, which I hope to make available for dream incubation retreats and weekend workshops by sometime this Fall. Mostly these days I spend time in our gardens there, weeding, planting, watering. It is so lovely moving back and forth between the sunny, temperate weather here in Sebastopol, and the cool, clear air at the coast. Driving west, everytime I catch a first glimpse of the bay I start to feel unreasonably happy, blessed and grateful. I love it when it’s socked in with fog at the coast, the air still and all the sounds of the neighborhood muted. I love being there at twilight too, when the fog quietly slips away and the stars come out against a sky that fades from a magenta horizon to deep indigo in the east. It’s the most effort I have put into a ritual space yet, and the times I have slept there have given me good dreams so far. I eagerly await the day when we can have group dreamings out there, supported by the ancient sand dunes at the edge of the great Pacific Ocean.

One more dream reference to note this morning. My dream teacher and friend Jeremy Taylor, one of the smartest guys I know about a lot of things, especially dreams, was recently interviewed by the SF Chronicle. It’s an interesting article, and you can read it here.