Yearly Archives: 2011

From Samhain to Solstice

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It feels like it’s time to take down the Day of the Dead altar. I am not aware of any hard and fast rule about this, but just last night as I added more wood to the fire and glanced up at the mantle, I had the distinct impression that things had to change.

The novenas that Deborah made need to be put away, those with pictures of George Carlin and Abbie Hoffman packed side by side with the ones honoring my father and uncle. The ancestor shrine I constructed from bits and pieces of Raven Moonshadow’s belongings will be as well, along with pictures of my beloved nephew Alex, my old boyfriend Steve, my good friend Barbara, and so many others.

Maybe there is no clear dividing line in home decor, when the colors of Samhain pass away and those of Winter Solstice deck the halls. Maybe I am simply reacting against the emotional burden of having my nephew’s picture prominent in the living room, a daily reminder that I will no longer see him change and grow with the seasons. Maybe I need to bring my thoughts back to the living: my niece’s baby who has had a tumultuous year; my daughter the newly-minted college freshman; my ailing mother.

Whatever the reason, I find myself looking forward to decorating with colored lights, bringing in fragrant fir boughs and branches of bright red berries, laying out a runner of rich jewel tones across the dining room table. This will not be a year when I procrastinate and keep the house bare until minutes before the Solstice. I may even get out the colored lights to hang the moment I return from Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow in Oakland.

I have written before about the evocative beauty of the winter sky here on the coast. The night is an echo chamber for the sea, carrying the thundering sound of surf and a fine salty mist over the dunes and into the village. It is a stillness that quivers with moisture, a silence that cradles sound.

For the last six years, this vast hall of night has cradled me as well. I love it here more than anywhere else I have ever lived, particularly in the winter months. I love how we can see the storms swirl in from across the Pacific, and how we are also the first ones in the sun after the storms have passed. I see the light break through low on the horizon well before the rain stops, and hours before those living inland ever feel its rays.

My friends have been taking turns this fall, gingerly asking me how I’m coping with an empty nest. I hope they are surprised rather than alarmed when I break out into a wide grin and tell them I love it. Emptiness does not equal sadness to me but rather spaciousness, clarity, calm. I love my children fiercely, look forward to their visits, and thoroughly enjoy them while they’re here. And then they leave, the house reverts to stillness, and I can see again the headlands to the west, the crisp blue outline of Pt. Reyes to the south, and above and all around me, the endless sky.

Dreams for the Harvest – My Fall Newsletter

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Like a very slow-moving clock, I aspire to create quarterly email newsletters but somehow only manage to get out two per year. Still, that does not deter me from calling them Quarterly Newsletters! Aim high, as I always tell my kids.

Earlier today I sent out my Fall Newsletter, available to read here. Highlighted in the email is news of my upcoming workshop in Portland, OR from Sept. 30—Oct. 2. Dreams and Eros takes on the forbidden subject of, well, dreams and eros ”not in the sense of romantic love, but in the original Greek meaning of the word:

“The original Eros expresses a new thrust in the universe: …from out of Earth there springs what she contains within her own depths. What Earth delivers and reveals is precisely the thing that had dwelled darkly within her.” —Jean-Pierre Vernant, The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths

Erotic dreams often break taboos and feature shockingly graphic imagery that we find it hard to bear, much less share. Yet in dream language these images of creation, destruction, and sexual union hold powerful energies that can help us overcome huge obstacles and transition into new phases of life. Our intent in this workshop is to create a safe space for engaging in this process with our own dreams. It should be a transformational weekend, and those who sign up before Sept. 12 receive a 20% discount.

Other highlights from the newsletter include mention of my two latest Dream Talk Radio podcasts. First up is a greatconversation with authors Kelly Bulkeley and Bernard Welt about their new book Dreaming in the Classroom: Practices, Methods, and Resources in Dream Education. I highly recommend the book for educators at every level.

You can read the complete newsletter here, and even join my mailing list if you want. I do send out informative newsletters a couple times a year—and who knows, maybe sometime I’ll actually achieve a quarterly schedule.

On Relationships: Beware the Fig Newton Syndrome

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During a break-up, it is natural to sift through your memories to see if there were early warning signs that the marriage was in trouble. This is an understandable process, as our minds try through hindsight to make logical sense of things. It is a way to deal with the pain of having something so central to your life no longer exist in quite the same way. Of course the relationship still exists, just as a brown dwarf star skulking around the galaxy can still technically be considered a continuation of the once-glorious star that got too hot and exploded all over everything, leaving only a hollowed-out flickering remnant of its former self. Unfortunately we now have to count on the brown dwarf star for financial help with our daughter’s college, though now that he has been exposed as a fading ember of the man he once was, the chances of him being true to his word are fading just as rapidly.

Searching posthumously for the early signs of collapse is tricky, because in any relationship there are difficult spots right from the start, disagreements, misunderstandings, and simple events that in retrospect can seem fraught with meaning. What is more, the defining moments that stand out in one person’s mind as a perfect crystallization of all that was to come are going to be very different from the moments that occur to the other person. But since you are now separate people and don’t have to put up with the other person’s clearly erroneous and narcissistic view of your former marriage, this should not trouble you.

There is a difference, however, between moments which exemplify a particular character trait and moments which warn of impending collapse. Just because a single moment teaches us something profound about our partner doesn’t mean that revelation will lead to the break-up of the marriage. As it happens, I have an example of each of these from the early days of my relationship to share with you now. Continue reading

What is Up With the Age of 27?

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I am flummoxed, having just read the New York Times article about Amy Winehouse’s recent death. The end of the article states,

Ms. Winehouse is not the first singer who died at the age of 27. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones were the same age.

Are you kidding me? They all died at 27? That fact startles and disturbs me, and adds to my low-level sadness this weekend. Tomorrow my nephew Alex would be turning 28, if he hadn’t followed the template of tragic deaths at age 27.

Alex was a gifted musician too, and spent a few years getting good on the drums as well as guitar when he lived with us. One of my favorite memories of Alex was at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer Camp the year he turned 14. He was Mr. Cool on the drum kit for most of the bands that formed there, taking pride in being a kind of wild big brother to the younger kids. They all looked up to him, and it seemed like he had found the perfect outlet for his energy and his desire to lead.

The first year after somebody dies is full of “firsts,” and getting past the birthday is a big one. I don’t know what I will do tomorrow to commemorate the day, but it may involve playing lots of Janis, Jimi, Kurt, and Jim.

In a Position to Write

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June may have been Pagan Values Month for some bloggers, but for me it was the Month of Random Shit Breaking. Among the random items breaking down all month: various car parts, household goods and appliances, and worst of all, my laptop.

It was a 7-year-old laptop, so old that it barely talked to other, newer pieces of hardware, or even rendered web pages reliably. But I didn’t really care since I used it mostly for writing. Not work-associated writing, though. The laptop was what I used for lying back on the sofa at the end of the day and reflecting, churning through feelings and impressions to come up with blog posts that answered some question I had been asking myself.

In its absence I realize that it is hard for me to get that same receptive state of mind while sitting up at my desk in my office, writing with a desktop computer. My analytic mind dominates in the office, while my poetic mind perches on the couch. And so here I sit tonight, weirdly upright and with too many papers spread out around me, trying to re-enter the musing frame of mind I just had on the couch before coming in here to write. Nope, not really happening.

One thing I have learned in the last few years is that even if I can’t see the way forward, things come through when I really need them to. So while I feel stymied by not having a working laptop I also feel weirdly serene about it, and kind of curious as to what will happen next. I have had to find serenity with a lot of things this year, mostly with my nephew’s death which is still very much an open wound. I don’t have as much energy for taking care of things as I used to have, so when stuff breaks unless it’s essential to my livelihood I tend to just leave it.

If it were my desktop computer that broke (God forbid) I would be all over the internet finding a replacement asap. But it’s my laptop, an almost ethereal companion that helps me dive deep and surface with something to say. Its loss I am taking more as a conversation with the Universe about what to do and how to do it right now. Maybe I need to bring that poetic mind into my office more. Who knows? At least I was able to write this tonight, and hopefully I’ll be back with more to say in the weeks to come. Meanwhile I’ve been writing a column for SageWoman Magazine the past three issues, so if you’re looking for longer musing pieces there is at least one other place to turn.

Talking to Children About Dreams (Video)

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It’s early in the morning and you’re busy getting your children ready for school. They are mostly cooperative, but one of them is moving very slowly and instead really wants to tell you about her dream. What do you do?

Maybe you’re a teacher, working with a small group of students who are writing stories. One of them proceeds to tell you his dream, and asks whether he could write that as a story. How do you respond?

If you have children in your life, eventually you will be faced with questions like these. Most adults these days want to encourage children’s creativity and avoid making them feel somehow “different” because of what they feel or experience. Talking about dreams with children is a great way to achieve both these goals, and many others besides.

I joined a dream group right after my third child was born, so by the time she was able to talk and tell me her dreams I had a little bit of knowledge about how to handle that conversation. The other ideas in the video below I figured out on my own, and I offer them here to help a new generation of parents become more comfortable talking with children about dreams.

My main requirement as a parent was that any dream activity or conversation had to be something I could do on the fly, without a lot of set-up, and whenever the moment felt right. There was just too much to do in our daily routine for me to stuff in one more must-do activity. Plus, I didn’t want dreams to feel like math homework—it had to be fun and non-stressful. Of course there are countless other ways you can bring dreams into the family (or school) conversation, but these will at least get you started. The basic idea is to expand our awareness of what is possible by bringing our dreaming creativity more fully into our waking lives.

This video presents seven great ideas for bringing dreams into routine family conversations, from keeping a dream map on the wall to making up dream stories in the car. It is the first in a series of “Essential Guides to Dreams” I have in the works, to share the most useful information on a number of common dream topics. Future episodes will cover nightmares, creating healthy sleep habits, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. If you want to be notified about them as soon as they are up, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. Be sure and leave a comment if you have any suggestions for future videos!

Look Ma, No Hands! – Dream Talk Radio Takes Off

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Last Thursday marked a milestone for my radio show, Dream Talk Radio, when I broadcast my last live show from the KOWS-fm studio in Occidental. For over three years, I have spent every Thursday from 9-10 am on the air, talking about dreams and sleep health, culture, creativity, and broader social issues. But from now on I will take my show to the cloud, so to speak, broadcasting on podcasts exclusively.

I spent the first ten minutes of last week’s show talking about how Dream Talk Radio came about and how it has evolved since that first live show in January, 2008. Then I aired a really interesting conversation I had just a week earlier with Leo Laporte, whose internet TV network, TWiT-TV, is based just a few miles away in Petaluma. TWiT (This Week in Tech) is currently building a 10,000 sq ft studio in the heart of Petaluma to house its growing broadcast operation, which now includes 40+ hours per week of live streaming video. I talked to Leo about how he built his network, and whether he sees its role in the community changing now that it will have a much bigger physical presence.

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If you are at all interested in where broadcasting is heading in the years to come, I encourage you to listen to the full show (it’s only 25 minutes long). At this point TWiT-TV has millions of viewers every month, and during each live show there can be over a thousand people commenting through an IRC chat. You’ll often see the show host peering down at the computer screen to bring up a point made by someone on the chat in real time, which makes it a very different viewing experience than watching regular TV, but also fascinating in its newness.

As for Dream Talk Radio, I now have up to 1,000 listeners for most of my podcasts, and have many recordings of past shows ready for upload in the near future. I also have several interviews in the works over the next couple months, including an update from Rev. Patrick McCollum about his religious freedom court case.

Not being on the air every week will allow me more freedom in scheduling my shows, but I couldn’t have arrived at this point without the amazing opportunity of having a show on local, low-power FM radio. If you’d like to support my former community radio home, KOWS gladly accepts donations. And if you want to find out about my upcoming shows, I post them on the Dream Talk Radio Facebook page and also on Twitter. It’s a whole new world of radio, people—I hope to see you there!

Standing in Spirit – Centeredness Through Change

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I love my work as a consultant on digital publishing and social media. It’s fun, I’m good at it, and it allows me time to write and keep up my radio show. Still, I was wondering when I’d get back into teaching, my other love. Now, it seems, is the time.

In 1999 I went back to school for a Doctor of Ministry degree, as a way to step back from all the teaching I’d been doing and reflect on what I’d learned and what I still believed. My dissertation was about women, power and leadership, with insights gleaned from dreamwork, Goddess spirituality, and the principles I’d learned while earning a black belt in aikido. I had seen a lot of examples of how not to hold power, and was convinced that it was possible to do it better, or at least avoid the most egregious errors I’d seen. In my dissertation, I started developing ideas on how to get there.

After graduating in 2003 I wrote a book proposal based on that material, and tried for several years to get it published. (I hope to publish it as an ebook this year.) Meanwhile, a friend asked me if I could teach what I was writing about—namely, how to stay relatively centered while holding authority and working well with others. The outcome was Standing in Spirit, a year-long training and transformative process to deepen personal presence while increasing outward effectiveness.

Leading the Standing in Spirit training for the first time was an amazing experience, and made me feel enthusiastic about teaching again. Then my father died, the economy tanked, and I had to stay focused on other things for a while.

But now it’s a new day, and it feels like a good time to start teaching again. I will be doing dreamwork in Chicago in May, teaching in Portland in July, and in June I am offering a daylong version of Standing in Spirit here in Bodega Bay, for anyone who might be interested. The full day is $50, and will only be open to 10 people.

You can see my full calendar of events here, sign up at the Standing in Spirit Facebook page, and even join my monthly dream group. Getting back into teaching feels great. But having something I’m really excited to teach—that’s the best.

Does Your Religion Pass the Briefcase Test?

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I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, a country that is a beacon of liberty and religious tolerance for the rest of the world. I am all for freedom of religion too, yet there are some religions that I have a very big problem with. Specifically, religions that hold truck with locked briefcases.

I became aware of this fact while reading a recent article about Scientology. At one point the article describes some secret documents at the core of Scientology—maybe the ones about hydrogen bombs being dropped by aliens into Earth’s volcanoes 75,000,000 years ago, I’m not sure. When you reach an exalted level of Scientology, you bring your own locked briefcase to a desk, someone puts a few sheets of paper into it, you go to a secure room, unlock the briefcase, and then you can read these documents—once—before returning them the same way.

I read this and was repulsed. What deluded Sci Fi fan club would actually believe that reading a short story could cause physical harm to non-believers? And what group of people would be so daft as to accept anything transported by locked briefcase as God’s revealed truth—or even God’s working draft?

My repulsion lasted all of 30 seconds, however, before I realized that the incident was ringing a bell. Yes, I too was once involved with a briefcase-carrying sect, and lived to tell the tale. And not to be outdone by any two-bit space aliens, my story has handcuffs as well. Let me explain.

This particular group is still active, so let’s fictionalize it a little bit: it is hereby the Dairy tradition. In the Dairy tradition, you always leave little saucers of milk outside for the nature spirits and feral cats in your neighborhood. Dairy people are big on leaving offerings, which came naturally to me with so many teenagers in my house at the time. Communing with the spirits was just like doing a huge Costco shop one day, only to find that everything had mysteriously disappeared by the next morning. Practical spirituality like this suited my lifestyle, and I felt I had found my place among kindred souls.

One of the first things I noticed about Dairy lore it was its six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-esque ability to be secretly connected to everyone else’s mythology. Celtic legends, it turns out, were suffused with ancient Dairy secrets, as were Hawaiian, South African, and Tibetan shamanic practices. Those early Dairy masters really got around!

Dairy people also felt very connected to the stars, and had elaborate means of contacting entities in the Milky Way and beyond, though as Sci Fi-inspired spirituality goes we were much more influenced by Lovecraft than Hubbard or even Heinlein. The smaller the sect, the more important these distinctions are.

Anyway, at one point my friends and I reached an exalted level of Dairydom, and were given copies of some short fiction, poetry, and arcane instruction written by early Dairy adherents. We dutifully studied the documents looking for something profound and earth-shattering, but came away scratching our heads wondering what if anything it all meant.

I privately dismissed most of it as the mumblings of drug-enhanced hippies who would never win a writing contest, but my friends were generally more tolerant. Then we got embroiled in an inter-Dairy feud about who should be allowed to read what, and soon we were visited by a Very Important Person who could either vouch for us, or banish us to the outer Dairy darkness.

He entered through the kitchen door and greeted us haltingly, with barely a smile. He couldn’t even shake our hands, because his right hand was still holding a briefcase that was not only locked but shackled to his wrist with handcuffs. All we could do was stare at the briefcase, stare at his graven face, and wonder what either held.

After sweeping his gaze around the room to be sure we were alone, he solemnly produced a key to the handcuffs, released his wrist, laid the case on the kitchen table, turned the combination locks, and opened it. Before us lay a stack of copies from Kinkos, the same papers we had been poring over for weeks. But they were revealed to us now in their proper context: as documents so dangerous and sacred they could harm the uninitiated viewer. Documents that at least one person would die to protect.

I knew right then that I could not be that person. I was prepared to be convinced by Mr. Serious of the value of these pages, but realized instead that this religion relied on a giant game of chicken to keep proving its own importance. Not impressed with the handcuffs? Maybe next time the briefcase would be attached to someone with a giant piercing, just like they did in ancient Sumer.

Our group soon split up, and I quietly backed away from any deeper involvement with Dairy. By all accounts their game of chicken is still going strong, but I have no desire to hear any details. I can be tolerant of other religions, just like our Constitution says we’re supposed to be, but sometimes that is best accomplished through blissful ignorance. Meanwhile, if anyone comes around here proselytizing with a locked briefcase in hand, I do have a home piercing kit right by the front door.

Poems for the Return of the Light

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I have two poems to offer this year: an invocation by Leonard Cohen, and an elegy by Rumi. Both of these I read at my nephew’s funeral last Fall. Both I think deserve wider reading. So here they are, in honor of Brigid, the poet’s muse. May the light return to us all.

Holy is your name, holy is your work, holy are the days that return to you. Holy are the years that you uncover. Holy are the hands that are raised to you, and the weeping that is wept to you. Holy is the fire between your will and ours, in which we are refined. Holy is that which is unredeemed, covered with your patience. Holy are the souls lost in your unnaming. Holy, and shining with a great light, is every living thing, established in this world and covered with time, until your name is praised forever.

Leonard Cohen
Book of Mercy

Autumn Rose Elegy

You’ve gone to the secret world.
Which way is it? You broke the cage

and flew. You heard the drum that
calls you home. You left this hu-

miliating shelf, this disorienting
desert where we’re given wrong

directions. What use now a crown?
You’ve become the sun. No need for

a belt: you’ve slipped out of your
waist! I have heard that near the

end you were eyes looking at soul.
No looking now. You live inside

the soul. You’re the strange autumn
rose that led the winter wind in

by withering. You’re rain soaking
everywhere from cloud to ground. No

bother of talking. Flowing silence
and sweet sleep beside the Friend.

Rumi
The Glance