Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Formula for Everyday Miracles

Full moon in Pisces.  Here in NYC we’re getting a taste of fall with a series of cool grey rainy days, which makes this time super for dreaming and turning inward.  Last night I dreamt of a heart flame.  An elder put kindling on my heart.  Her soft fingers gently placed one tiny twig on top of another until the pyre was tall and firm.  The fire ignited on its own from underneath.  She blew over it gently until it became an illuminated pyramid.

I’ve just returned from the New England Women’s Herbal Conference in Vermont.  To say that the well has been refilled and is running over is an understatement.  The well has turned into a waterfall.  

Before I left, I wrote about the threat to local community gardens and how I was having a hard time rallying to defend them.  It felt painful to have to explain their value.  It’s crazy that we have to explain it.  It should be obvious.   But I went to the community meeting anyway. 

Despite being a scorching August weekday morning, there was a huge outpouring of support from all over the city.  Scores of people took turns at the podium giving heartfelt testimony on the importance of community gardens and their own deep personal connections. 

It wasn’t frustrating.  It wasn’t draining.  It was invigorating.   I left with more energy to work on our little garden, knowing viscerally and not just intellectually that I’m not alone.  Not at all.  That’s what happens, almost invariably, when people get together for something good—something worthy and life sustaining.  It nourishes us. 

The New England Women’s Herbal Conference was like that cubed.  I got to sleep on the earth under a canopy of pine, witch hazel, and birch trees.  I was in the presence of over five hundred earth loving women from all walks of life.  I dragged myself there on a bus that left at 3 AM with blind faith that my well would be refilled.  I had no idea about the waterfall.

I could probably write 10 different posts about the conference, but I have to tell you about the bath.  Curandera and ethno-botanist Rocio Alarcon initiated me and 31 other women into the art of spiritual bathing using the healing ceremonies of Ecuador. 

I’m always trying to get my herbal clients to take baths in the plants.  The skin is a huge organ.   Plant medicine can be easily absorbed through the skin through the medium of water.  That’s the basic bit.  Then there’s the nourishing-one’s-self consciously bit.  Hugely healing.  When you add in the spirit of the plants, the Divine, and make it a communal event… well.  Its completely fucking miraculous.

Before the bath I was experiencing what in Curanderismo (Native Latin American curing traditions) is called susto.  Heart sickness brought on by shock.  My soul was a little outside my body somewhere.   On top of that, after an almost sleepless night of travel, I’d spent Friday using all of my powers to stay engaged and alert for the classes.  I’d skipped the opening ceremony, opting for a 14-hour sleep under the trees on the open ground.  I still woke up tired the next day, still contracted, my heart still ill at ease. 

After the experience with the bath I became a skipping five year old.  Heart feather-light.  What I loved about Alarcon’s teaching was what I loved about the teaching of all of the elders at the conference.  They all said the same thing.  Its not about us.  You can do this.  You have to do this.  Its too late for masters and gurus to be the ones with all the wisdom.  Everyone needs to step into their own healing power.  This time requires it.  Everyone has to show up fully. 

Alarcon gave us very little direction with the bath.  She got us in touch with the nature around us and harmonized us as a group.    She showed us the plants, let us chose the ones we wanted for the group, adding some lovingly harvested and hand processed raw Ecuadorian rainforest chocolate, picked a week before, and told us to pray over the plants first and to massage each other with the water.  We could strain the plant material or not.  I can’t tell you about the experience exactly.  Only that it was profound.  Lots of singing.  Laughter.  Some tears.  Profanity.  Disappearing and reappearing pots.  Oak branches.   

When you put the healing power of nature and God (or whatever word you like to use for the Divine) together with the healing power of true community, miracles happen.  It’s a formula.  Simple. Hoping we all get it soon.  More and more.  The world is in susto.  We need some everyday miracles.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

word food

If I had not read this poem as a teenager, its fair to say I may not have made it.  It's by Alice Walker from her collection Revolutionary Petunias.

Additional info-- this was first published with only those 2 above sentences.  I was talking about survival of spirit-- not literal survival.  I have a problem with brevity.  Brevity plus hyperbole= melodrama.  Ah well.  I'm sure I would have made it-- literally-- without the below poem.  But I might have done something stupid (for me) like go to a good university with a real campus and become an English professor instead of coming to NYC to be a theater artist.

Be Nobody's Darling

for Julius Lester

Be nobody's darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.

Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.

Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave words they said.

Be nobody's darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.

Is there some poem or song lyric that absolutely saved your ass when you were young?  (Of course there is.)  Please share.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cake or Death?

 Image from Cake Wreaks.

Hot sultry Moonday.  Tropics in Manhattan.

I had it from good authority this morning that I need to lighten up.  As the song says, 'Its only life after all.'  We may as well laugh.  The problem is that I'm a gallows humor person.  The stuff I find funny isn't so light and fluffy.  No angelfood for me.  I prefer fruitcake that could double as a weapon.

Later today I was on Avenue A walking the dogs, looking for little clues to inspire my writing when a pigeon was hit by a passing car.  THUD.  I stopped in my tracks and covered my hand with my mouth in horror.  The pigeon wasn't dead.  It was intact.  Head on and everything.  Blinking.  Another car was coming and the pigeon wasn't moving.

A bearded man in dirty brown pants and a grime gray wife beater ran flailing at the pigeon.   It flapped its wings a bit and flew off the street into a plate glass shop window near my head.   THUNK.

 I stood motionless watching.   The pigeon peered back at me with something I took to be suspicion, and flew off again to muscle in on a finch who was pecking at a piece of bread in the road.  The bearded man grimaced and leaned against a building.

If I were writing the scene in a short film what would happen next is that the horrified, idiotically gaping passer-by (me) would be killed by a falling toilet bowl accidentally pushed off a windowsill by a crazy old lady who was using it as a bird bath for the pigeons.

Please don't be concerned gentle reader.  I'm leaving the city for a few days at the end of the week for some much needed time in the woods where my real-life crazy neighbor who has been trying to get me to bury her dead cat in the garden for two years can't find me.

For this Moonday, tell me what/who makes you laugh?  I'm craving laughter.  I'll take it from anywhere.  Even wholesome sources.

Here's a link to Eddie Izzard's 'cake or death' for those of you in my camp.

Friday, August 13, 2010

You can't do this and care if everyone loves you at the same time

When I was in college and listening to a lot of Tom Waits (I'm still listening to a lot of Tom Waits, btw) one of my roommate's many boyfriends commented that it sounded like a homeless person was singing out of a trash can.  There is no one who sounds like Tom Waits.  When he was young he wanted to sound like an angry old man, and now that he's getting up there he's sounding more like a cool old man.  I love that he's always wanted to be an old man.

Salmon Rushdie has pronounced him the best rock poet since Bob Dylan.  He's an actor, a raconteur, a composer, poet, musician, and pretty much seems to do what he wants to do artistically the way he wants to do it, and that changes often.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Have you ever found the perfect words?

When the perfect words come, they are, as my grandmother would say, a hushing miracle.  May they come to you, and may they come to me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I can't go on. I must go on. I go on. Dealing with Defeatism.

Moonday.  New Moon.  A good time to go inward and listen to what our deepest, wisest selves have to say.

As for me, I have no business posting today.  

I'm overheated and surrounded by waste.  I pick up garbage along the community garden fence as often as I can.  Other neighbors do it too.  More garbage blows by with every gust of wind.

When I throw away trash I feel it in my body.  The landfill is part of me.  This is true.  Its part of all of us.  We all have accumulated waste in our bodies that we can't metabolize, but that's another story.

I have chosen this.  Chosen to love and defend this little corner of earth.    I'm sure the garden is necessary for my survival too.

Tomorrow morning at 11 AM there will be a public hearing to help determine the fate of community gardens in the city, which are imperiled yet again.

Why are community gardens imperiled?  Why must people fight to save them?

I don't want to go to the hearing tomorrow.  I would like to spend the time working on my business, or plotting an escape to the ocean for a bit of sanity and perspective.  But I'm going to the hearing.  Dammit.   Be the change etc. etc. 

I'm reminding myself how grateful I am to all of the amazing people and organizations who work so hard for the earth, and therefore for us, the creatures who live here.  All I have to do is show up tomorrow.  How easy is that?  Fairly easy.

Don't know if this rant is of any use to anyone else, but I feel better.  So for this moonday.... RANT!  Or better yet, dream.  What is one collective change you would love to see in the world?  What small (or big) thing do you do to make it happen?

For those of you in NYC, info about the hearing and pep rally starting at 9 may be found on the New York City Community Garden Coalition's website.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What do Sartre, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, & T.S. Eliot have in common?

"Hell is other people."--Jean Paul Sartre
"Hell is empty and all the devils are here." --Shakespeare
"Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company." --Mark Twain
"Hell is oneself, Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections."--T.S. Eliot

Hell is an interesting place, and one I find myself contemplating frequently while standing on a New York City subway platform in August.

I've spent time in Hell, listening to poetry.

What do you imagine hell to be?

postscript:  My neighbor read this and asked if I was alright, with a tone of voice that seemed to ask, 'are you going off the deep end?'  I do not believe that I am.  Its simply that hell is a very interesting place to contemplate-- in all seriousness, tongue in cheek, eyes closed, eyes open.... it has been obsessing the collective unconscious for a goodly time now.  I was born in the late 1970's around the time of the birth of heavy metal.  When I was three my dad watched the Omen with me.  The Exorcist was a big movie in the early 1980's.... hell and the devil were big right about then, after the Vietmam war and into the Regan era.  Now its all about vampire love affairs, so maybe we are collectively trying to make friends with our demons.  Who knows? 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

flight paths of healing

I’m eleven.  I'm waiting for my mom outside of a nail salon in one of those cell block strip malls.  It’s a hot day, but I can't stand the salon's muzak or its chemical smell, so I’m sitting on the curb starring into the parking lot, sweat dripping down my back.

I hear a frantic squawking noise and notice a little brown finch caught in a viscus tar-like substance poured in a black line between two cement slabs. The finch's feathers are becoming covered in black gunk as she frenetically flaps her stuck wings while the tar hardens.  I kneel down, and as slowly and gently as I can, lift her up and out.

The finch is completely still in my hands.  Then she trembles for a few minutes before suddenly flying away.  In the car on the way home I tell my mom, who nods.

For years I couldn't understand why this memory is so important to me.

Recently I was re-reading Peter Levine's book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.  The book compares the way that humans handle trauma with other animals, using research from the field of neuroscience and psychological case studies to explain how trauma stays in our bodies, not just our brains, and so we need to move in order to heal.

The first phase of trauma, where we feel frozen, is an involuntary physical response that takes its time, and is then overcome by movement.  Human cultures often view the immobility phase as a sign of weakness, and so are unsupportive to people experiencing it, who internalize this feeling.

There is an immense amount of energy that needs to move through the body afterward, which also often has no good outlet.  We can get stuck in the frozen feeling, reliving the trauma again and again.   If we are allowed to let the energy move through our systems, we begin to heal.

I came across this passage in the book:
“A bird that crashes into a window, mistaking it for open sky, will appear stunned or even dead.  A child who sees the bird’s collision may pick up the bird out of curiosity... or a desire to help.  The warmth of the child’s hands can facilitate the bird’s return to normal functioning.  As the bird begins to tremble, it will show signs that it is reorienting to its surroundings… If the bird is not injured and is allowed to go through the trembling-reorienting process without interruption it can move through its immobilization and fly away.”

The bird was me.  In all those years of feeling stuck and thrashing in the tar, some part of me knew that if I could just feel the warmth of someone’s hands (being witnessed) and tremble it out (dance and move), I could fly.

We know the flight paths of our own healing.  The maps are always inside, and there are always clues to find them. 

This is an excellent interview on the related topic of PTSD, creativity, and healing.  Thanks gorgeous healer Shamsi for the link!

photo by Dean Borcherds. You can buy a print here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Song for Perdita

Orphan, there is a door.
Look inside the hollow where your thumb meets your wrist,
or in your elbow joint in the center of the bend,
or under the armature of your left shoulder blade behind your heart.
Slide your hand down your back and feel it there.

The door is carved from a two thousand year old olive tree
that grew in the garden of Gethsemane.
Sometimes it is rattled open by desert thunder,
or by dry wind through a forest on fire.
Sometimes it is sealed with resin.

There is no light behind the door, nor darkness.
There are no swollen-eyed mourners or bloodied fists,
no wide boulevards or sand beaches.
No hunger.  No dreams.
A wail will lead you to the door but inside there is no sound.

Only you can find it,
you, all the Perditas abandoned in all the storms. 
It is never found in a grandmother’s garden
of carefully trimmed box and well-fed roses.

You have to walk instead to a wild lot
inside the footprint of a forgotten building left to crumble
and seeded by rubble growers—
fast thirsty greens
that bloom with spiraling ghost flowers under white skies.
Jimsonweed and bind.

Behind the door nothing is ever lost. 

Slip in Perdita. 

Slip in little lost one.

Monday, August 2, 2010

life is a dream

Happy Moonday!  It’s the third quarter moon tonight, equal parts light and dark.   The weather is finally cooling down here in NYC, and the last few nights have been good for dreaming.  

Treat dreams a little bit more like waking life, and waking life a little bit more like a dream.  That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received—maybe in general, but certainly in trying to recall my dreams more frequently.

Treating waking life like dreaming-- that is, looking for signs, symbols, layers of meaning in things-- also stimulates my writing.  And its easy to do in the carnival of New York City.

I love picking up random pieces of paper I find on the street and imagining that someone wants me to read them like clues.  Sometimes I find grocery lists, an occasional overwrought love-note, or most magically a single yellowed page from an old book sitting on the middle of an empty sidewalk.

This latest falls into the last category, a lone page from The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader.  This is in part what it says:
“Meditation is a never-ending movement.  You can never say that you are meditating or set aside a period for meditation.  It isn’t at your command.  Its benediction doesn’t come to you because you lead a systemized life or follow a particular routine or morality.  It comes only when your heart is really open.  Not opened by the key of thought, not made safe by the intellect, but when it is as open as the skies without a cloud; then it comes without your knowing, without your invitation."
What a gorgeous little reminder for me to open my heart on a cloudless summer night.  Thanks Krishnamurti!

What treasures have you found in the street or in the woods/desert/jungle?  Stories, wisdom, inspiration?