Category: body of knowledge


After a full and fairly exhausting weekend, I found myself zoning out and shutting down last night.  This morning I still felt tired and burned out.   I pulled a tarot card, and got one that indicated hope and encouragement.  I smirked cynically at it.  “Any card can be read hopefully – it’s all just psychological bullshit.”

Going into the rest of my day with this perspective seemed like an awful idea, so I mustered up some energy for self-reflection.  My running mantra this morning seemed to be “there’s no meaning in any of this”, so I asked myself “what is meaningful to me?  What’s important?”

I sat with the question, feeling around for an answer that didn’t feel superficial.  Finally, clarity came.  It didn’t come in words, but a feeling in my body, relaxing and opening.  This.  Being open.  Letting myself be moved by something greater than me.  Being a source of love.  Being a blessing to anyone I encounter today.  I don’t have to know the plan – just love, and let the rest unfold accordingly.

 

Whew.

 

A woman came up to me after I gave a workshop yesterday, and said she really didn’t like her job as an accountant.  She asked me for advice on what she should do about that.  I encouraged her to use her discontent to drive her question to herself of what she does want.  I asked her if she knew what she wanted to be doing instead, and she said she had no idea.  I suggested sitting with that question whenever she felt frustrated with her current job, trusting that an answer will come.  She said thanks and walked away, but she didn’t seem satisfied.

After my experience this morning, I would add something else to my answer to her.  The details of what we do with our life aren’t as important as the how we live, the spirit from which we act.  If I could talk with her again, I’d suggest asking herself the same questions I asked myself this morning: “What’s meaningful to me?  What’s important?  What’s at the heart of life?”  Then, look for opportunities to use her answer to guide her through the day.  Maybe she’d find meaning in her job.  Or maybe she’d find an opportunity for other work that inspires her.  Maybe both.  At the very least, maybe she’d find some of the peace that I found this morning.

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As I was looking for images to go along with this post, I found this one (below) from MLK, Jr. that takes it to another level… a great reminder for me this morning as I think about my work in the world.

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One of the benefits of working at a church is having open access to sacred space.  We have a meditation room here that’s open 24 hours a day, and it rarely gets used.  I’ve made it my routine to start my day here, to walk into this beautiful, open room with large windows on two walls, and have some time to myself before I start work.

I only started doing this when I began attending seminary, and a daily spiritual practice was a commitment we made, part of our “homework”.  It took me weeks of setting the alarm for 5:30am, and then pressing snooze until 7, to realize that getting up in the morning before everyone else wasn’t going to work for me.  I finally decided that I could take half an hour after dropping off my daughter at school, before stepping into my office in the morning.  Sometimes I meditate, sometimes do yoga, dancing, or writing, or some combination of those.  I almost always begin or end with pulling a card.  This practice feeds me in amazing ways, helping me start my day with focus, intention, and a reminder of the real work I’m here to do.

Yesterday, I knew I had a meeting in the afternoon that would be emotionally tricky.  A co-worker wanted to take over an exciting project we had developed together, and we had already had one very intense and emotional conversation about it.  I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting much throughout my morning in the meditation room, until I sat down to pull a card.  “What do I want insight on today?” is a question I often ask myself when I get out the cards, and the answer came up in me clear and strong, remembering the meeting.  I took a deep breath and shuffled the cards gently, looking for the one that would jump out.  After a few patient minutes of sifting the cards, two poked up like they were raising their hands to be called on in class.  I pulled them out, set the other cards aside, and looked at the images.

I had the 9 of Wands and the Queen of Pentacles.  The 9 of Wands indicates defensiveness, having one’s finger on the trigger and ready to fight, to stubbornly protect what one has.  The Queen of Pentacles relaxes peacefully on her garden throne, generously sharing her abundance because she knows the secrets of a deeper source.  Because of her knowledge of the “magic” of the natural world, she is confident in her ability to get what she needs, and what she wants.

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I saw these cards as representing 2 of my options for the meeting.  The last time we met about the project, I had quickly gotten defensive and fearful of loosing a project that was important to me.  I clenched my fist around it and got angry.  In the following weeks, I worked through my experience and untangled my thoughts and emotions, and came to some clarity about what I wanted.  I found the pathways out of my defensiveness (again and again).

The cards reminded me of the choice I would get to make that afternoon, and in that moment in the meditation room, I chose.  I turned over the 9 of Wands and focused my attention on the Queen of Pentacles.  I breathed in, and let myself feel her energy spread throughout my body.  I let myself become her, knowing that the Tarot represents archetypes that we all carry within us all the time.  It wasn’t anything the card itself imparted into me, just a reminder that I could let that aspect come forward and take prominence.

I kept the card propped up at my desk all day.  I held the image in my mind as I walked down the hallway for the meeting.  During the meeting when I noticed myself getting defensive, the image of the 9 of Wands flashed in my mind, and I mentally turned the card over and brought up the image of the Queen of Pentacles.  As I spoke, I held her image lightly in my mind, reminding me (again and again) of the power of self-trust and generosity that come from confidence in the deepest source.

I listened with compassion, and I spoke with intention.  We explored options together, and agreed to move forward by trying something new.  This is the work of collaboration, of creative problem solving,  and it takes effort, strength, and trust.  It’s not easy.  The tarot was my tool yesterday, helping me move more into being who I want to be — who I know I can be, when I don’t get tangled up in fear and ego.  The evocative images help us connect with potent archetypes of human possibility, and remind us of the larger journey we’re on.

Read more on my work with tarot here.

using all the listening tools I haveThere are many voices in me, but when I try to list them all, they boil down to two: ego and inspiration.  The ego speaks the voices of fear and worry, doubt, righteousness, and attachment.  From inspiration comes the voice of curiosity and awe, delight and confidence.

Inspiration rises up in me like a bubble of light ascending through a pool of water.  Her voice is soft and persistent, excited and playful.  “What if!”, she says with a smile, and cocks her head to the side to see if I’m for a game.

Ego’s voice comes in strong and insistent, taking a stand with hands on hips.  Ego builds a cage, sets limits and conditions.  “Only if…”, ego says, protecting.

I’m learning their voices, learning to distinguish between them.  I’m learning to listen with my body, with my heart, with my intuition.  When I know who I’m listening to, I can choose to respond accordingly.

“Yes, ego, I hear you, I’ll pay attention, thank you.  Message received.  Over and out.”

“Yes, sweet inspiration, let’s play.  Say more, let’s explore.”

I’ve been trying to get back to my instincts for years.  I stopped milking the cows at Twin Oaks because I was uncomfortable with “taming” those big, beautiful animals out of their instincts (like kicking at a weird human trying to milk them).  I stopped wearing deodorant because it masks the complex smells that we respond to instinctively.  The idea of something “feral” (something domesticated that returns to a wild state) makes my mouth water.  But this week, this love-affair with my instincts is being put to the test.

poison ivy vine on a tree

it got me

I have a nasty case of Poison Ivy, all over my body.  The arm where it originated is swollen and blistered along the entire length, and my chest, legs, and belly are covered in swaths of red itchiness.  I wake up in the night scratching for relief, knowing that scratching today will make it worse tomorrow.  This is where I get confused — I instinctively want to scratch that damn itch!  It’s a biological response, right?  In my cosmology, our instincts lead us towards health and growth… so why am I instinctively wanting to do the exact wrong thing for healing?  Am I wrong about holding my instincts so sacred?

sugar sugar sugar

this gets me, too

Then I started thinking about other instincts that might not be so healthy… craving sugar was the first that came to mind.  I see it in 4 year old Aurora, too… this insatiable desire for sweetness.  All sweet stuff isn’t unhealthy, clearly, but my instincts don’t distinguish between apple juice versus the high fructose corn syrup in the jelly beans in the Easter Basket.  I just want it.  And after I’ve had it, I want more.  So, instincts, are you not the “voice of God” I believed you to be?

And then there’s emotions… fear or defensiveness or anger that seem to arise from that deep “instinctive” place within me, but can toss me into the darkness of a closed heart.  It’s been my practice over these last many years to respond to those emotions by connecting with something even deeper… a knowing, an awareness, a rootedness and a calmness.  It’s beyond my instinctive reactions — what is it?  Intuition?  Or am I just training myself to develop new instincts, the way dancers or athletes train their bodies to hit the move or the shot just right, without thinking.

So, if that’s true, then our instincts are not necessarily biological.  They’re basic chains of reactions that we do without thinking, and we’ve acquired these instincts from different sources: our bodies, our family, the culture around us.  (yep, confirmed by Merriam-Webster, definition B: “behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level”).  Instincts by this definition don’t have the value that I’ve been giving them.  Huh… time for a shift in cosmology.

So it’s not instinct.  There’s a different kind of knowing that I want to be putting my stock in (in addition to and sometimes trumping rationality) — I think it’s intuition.  It’s asking myself a question and having the answer bubble up without thinking.  It’s letting my plan for the day shift because I have an inkling, or a desire, or an inspiration.  It’s knowing what to say without thinking about it.

Instinct.  Intuition.  Inspiration.  Random thoughts that don’t matter.  Knowing myself well enough to know which is which seems to be the work of maturing.  And then choosing not to itch even though I know it’ll relieve me in the moment… maybe that’s just simple rationality.

jedi training

I’ve been feeling the rewards of persistence lately — it’s a trait I think I embody well.  When I’m not coming from a clear place it manifests as stubbornness and control-freak tendencies, but lately I’ve been doing well at just sticking with what I believe in, holding on in rough waters, and just breathing when I don’t know what else to do.

And now I’m experiencing the beauty on the other side… the relief of experiencing what I believed was possible: the depth of connection with my husband, the utter joy of being a mama, the nourishment of social connections in town.

Tonight, I got to feel the reward of persistence in the context of my current theatrical pursuit: a community theater production of Godspell.  The process has been frustratingly slow and lonely.  Our rehearsals have been spaced so far apart that we forget what we’ve already blocked, and the cast is a group of people who all know everyone else but me… the outsider in all number of ways, it seems (socially, politically, spiritually, financially…)

We’ve been rehearsing twice a week since June, with multiple cast members absent each time for various vacations and other conflicts.  it’s felt scattered and incoherent — Godspell is such a nonsensical show anyways!  I think we’ve all been confused about the purpose of what we’re doing up till now… I’ve left rehearsals feeling lonely and unsure of how we’re going to pull it all together.  But with a show like this, there’s no choice but to keep going.  I made a commitment to the cast and the director when I joined the show, and I wouldn’t break it except in dire circumstances (I’ve only regretted not quitting a show once… a horrible production with a director who had no vision and tried to cover up that lack with sex humor).

Tonight at rehearsal, something clicked into place.  It was our first time ever having two rehearsals in a row, and our first week seeing each other more than twice.   We’re starting to know the songs and the dances well enough that we can really perform them, rather than be thinking about what comes next.  It lets us be in our bodies, fully in the physical experience of the moment — and being in the moment together is what deepens connections.  It was tangible, in our eye contact, in our joking with each other, in our comfort with physical contact (encouraging pats on the back, engaging more fully in partnered choreography…).  Maybe the change is just in me, and everyone else has been feeling this with other people all along, but I don’t think so.  It really feels like we’ve reached another level of group cohesiveness — what Edie Turner (a favorite professor in UVA’s Anthro Dept) would call communitas.  It’s that expansion of awareness beyond the self, to include awareness of the group as a whole.  It’s one of the key things I love about theater, this experience of collective intent and collective action, giving myself over to that.  I was worried we’d never get there with this show, and tonight I feel grateful for the familiar feeling filling my body and my heart.  This is what I live for…  and I’m reminded yet again that maybe the period of isolation and chaos and not knowing what comes next, maybe that is actually a necessary step in opening to a more fulfilling experience.  It seems a paraodx… and embracing paradox seems to be a major piece of being human.

Grace

There was a moment today when I felt whole again.

I was with the first graders, outside, playing an elaborate game of tag called Fox and Bunny.   I was facilitating, shouting encouragement and instruction to the 8 kids.  Sage was in the Fox’s Den again — she has Down’s Syndrome and uses tag as an opportunity to run freely, though not necessarily away from whoever is “it”.  She was clearly bored with the cycle of getting tagged and then waiting to be rescued by another player.  She crisscrossed her legs and bent forward with her hands on the snowy ground, looking up to me.  “Kate!”

Something clicked into place in me, and I laughed.  I jogged over to her and swooped her up with my arms under her armpits, legs dangling in front of me.  She didn’t have to play the game like everyone else — it wasn’t my job to make her follow the rules.  Instead, she started using her legs to steer us around the field in a front facing, one team wheelbarrow race.  We played our own game, with its own shifting rules and goals.  “Quick!  To the Bunny Hole!”  “Now this way!”  The other first graders continued their game seamlessly, and sometimes we even played along — “Whoa, there’s the fox — watch out!”.

I felt myself wide open, giving myself fully to the moment and to this 6 year old girl.  Nothing held back for myself, or for Aurora, or for later.  Full on, right now — no rules to follow or enforce, the only goal is love.  I saw the snow-covered mountains around us with new eyes, with appreciation and joy and presence.  I was suddenly in the world as a full participant, instead of fighting against it, begrudging it for its responsibilities, or figuring out how to manipulate it to get what I want.  I’ve been so focused on not having enough money, or time, or energy — I’ve been in this rut of grabbing for whatever I can get and never feeling like I’ve gotten enough.  This afternoon I felt a wholehearted and wholespirited “yes!” to everything that was happening, effortlessly stepping into a dynamic of collaboration with all of existence.

It was just a few minutes, and I know I quickly slipped back into the struggle, but looking back on it tonight now that Rora is asleep and I have the space for reflection, I notice the feeling lingering in my body — the freedom, the joy, the sense of wholeness.

I think some people call it Grace.

a new way

A lot of my friends these days are focused on “old ways” of doing things, “primitive” skills like hunting and skinning their own meat, making fires without matches or lighters, wild food and medicine, living in wigwams… I’ve found myself attracted to a lot of this, especially collecting wild edible and medicinal plants.  I love being sustained by the earth, instead of by an exploitative system (exploitative of people and the planet).  “Primitive skills” also came into my world of childraising, through the book “The Continuum Concept”, a popular book about one woman’s observations of childraising practices of a South American indigenous tribe.  I read it while I was pregnant, on my self-imposed retreat in the Smoky Mountains last January.  Curled up in a cozy cabin outside of Gatlinburg with an ever-expanding belly, I earnestly read about the ways the Yequana Indians nurtured their children, who never yelled, cried, or peed on the floor.

The book is a convincing argument, and I’ve spent these first seven months of Rora’s life looking to the “old ways” for guidance in parenting my daughter.  I joined the “CC” email group, but the daily digests quickly piled up, as I’m spending less time in front of the computer than I have since the internet became widely available (my junior year of high school, for the record).  I’ve found alot of insight and useful perspective from asking myself, “what would the Yequana do?”, and a lot of frustration as well.  I don’t live in a tribe — nothing close to it.  We are at home, Rora and I, quite often by ourselves.  Our home is modern, with tables and electrical outlets and flush toilets.  I’ve found myself sometimes caught up in an anxious critique of my life, thinking “this isn’t how it’s SUPPOSED to be!” and “if we lived in a tribe, <current challenge> wouldn’t even be an issue!”

Jeffrey and I had a conversation today that went something like this:

me: I’ve been noticing that Rora likes it better when I’m doing things on her level, like when I fold clothes on the floor, better than when I do things up on counters and tables, like chop veggies in the kitchen.  If I were working around a fire pit, I’d always be on her level and she wouldn’t get frustrated!

him: A lot of tribes had fire pits built on mounds so they could work standing up.

me: No, they didn’t.

him: Yes, they did.

me: unh uh!

him: unh huh!

So the conversation about how we should design our lives hinges on an argument of what other people did in the past.  I woke up tonight with a shift in perspective — not sure where it came from, but it hit me hard, right in the center of my chest.  Now as I sit in front of the screen it seems simple, but here it is: instead of looking to the “old ways”, or to the newest child development literature, I want to look to my deepest self for the answers to the questions of how to raise my daughter.  I want to ask myself “what do I want to do?” instead of “what should I do?”.  My perspective is informed by that “old way” wisdom, and also by the things I learn about “cutting-edge” parenting techniques (which don’t actually seem so different)… but I look for answers within instead of from the outside. This will keep me working with what is, the raw material of our lives, instead of longing for what isn’t, some ideal I’m trying to hold myself to.  I want to be constantly asking myself “what resonates with my spirit?”, having faith in the answers that come, and in my ability to live by them.

This morning I danced with Aurora in the living room, classical music blaring from the kitchen.  Moving my hips with her snuggled against my belly reminded me of dancing with her the night before she was born, finding my body connection with this new being.  Now she’s not so new, and our body connection is ever evolving.  I love the way my body responds innately to hers, the way my foot moves to cushion her head when she falls, the way my nipple magnetically connects with her mouth in the dark of the night as we snuggle in bed.  Laying on my back, I lift her on my feet, high in the air, confident of our mutual balance.  We’re a team — she’s my sidekick, and I’m hers.

Sometimes I get stuck in feeling like she’s a chore to do, a responsibility that if I just get it done then I can go play.  Those are the overwhelming moments when I just want my independence back, so I can do what I want to do.  And then we dance together, or play peek-a-boo, or she smiles at me… and I catch a glimpse of this new stage of life — MOTHERHOOD — where I’m not operating alone, ever.  Even more so than living in community, my life is about interdependence, living in tandem.  When I give myself over to that experience, when I don’t fight it, I love it.

I started working on my first few doula training assignments after Rora went to sleep last night (and after I woke up 2 hours later, after falling asleep nursing her).

One of the first assignments was to write about an experience of someone dying, and look for similarities with the process of birth.  After writing until 2am, I realized that it’s Halloween today!  What a treat, to be exploring death on the day we honor the spirits that have crossed over!

Here’s what I wrote:

I was able to be with my maternal Grandma in the last two days of her life, through her death, and afterwards with my family as we processed the experience.  Being with her as she transitioned out of her body brought me to a deeper awareness of that sacred time between the spirit world and the physical world – and in fact, taught me tangibly that there isn’t such a clear distinction!

She was in a bed provided by hospice, set up in the living room of my aunt’s house.  We tried to make that space quiet and focused, but too often we became chatty and irreverent – and she clearly let us know that it was “TOO MUCH!”.  She didn’t like people casually talking or moving too quickly.  She wanted things done to her slowly, ever slower.  She wanted water, right up to her last hours, after she had refused food and medicine for days.  She wanted sunshine, and fresh air in the room.  Over the last two days, she wanted less and less restricting her body – first the pillows around her had to be a certain way, then no blankets covering her legs, then her shirt needed to be unbuttoned, then it came off altogether.  The oxygen tube around her neck was a constant irritation, and we finally removed it so she could be more comfortable.  She was adamant that she didn’t want anything to prolong her death – “Why is it taking so LONG?”

She often seemed frustrated when we didn’t understand what she was talking about, when she spoke out in the midst of a trance/sleep state.  She was experiencing something that none of the rest of us were experiencing, and we could often only guess at what she meant.  When we “got it”, she was clearly relieved and grateful.  She liked to be sung to, and gently touched.  She didn’t want to be alone.  She wanted to make sure she wasn’t being a burden to any of us, and at the same time, she clearly asked for what she wanted and needed.  “I might never taste carrot juice again if I don’t get some now!” Her social inhibitions mostly evaporated, making clear requests without politeness.  “I’m being myself for the first time.”

The day she died, the energetic shift in the hours beforehand was tangible to all of us on some level, though I don’t know how consciously.  We didn’t know she was going to die that day, but we all made significant changes that, looking back, indicated some awareness that everything was changing.  We spoke more softly, moved cellphones out of the room, and cleared the bedside clutter that had accumulated, replacing it with a few photographs and flowers.  We hung a blue curtain in the window, to soften the light.  Two of my aunts spent the day finding peace with each other, and were honoring each other over my grandma’s body when she took her last breath.

In the moments immediately after her heart stopped beating, we gathered in the room and celebrated her transition.  One aunt yelled “Hallelujah!” in a loving mimic of my faith-filled grandma.  I felt her spirit throughout the room, filling the space in a slow expansion.  I felt her on my body, in my body, and growing to encompass and permeate the whole house, then the city and the mountains and the globe and the stars and eventually the Whole Universe.  As I felt her spirit, I felt a taste of that Wholeness, an awareness that the only difference between the physical world and the spirit world is a perceived experience of the limitations of space and time.

I see clear parallels between death and birth after being with Grandma through her journey: the absolute need for sacred space, the slowing of time, the need for us to let her do and be and say whatever she needed and wanted to.  We were there to serve her, to honor her, and to witness her journey.  We responded to her requests and tried to intuit what she might want, but never forced her to do something that we thought she should do.  I guess the big difference between birth and death is that once you know someone is dying, there’s no need to fear death, or work to prevent it.  With birth, there remains the possibility (and thus the fear?) that the mother or baby could die, so we walk the balance between pursuing life and accepting death… while with someone ready to die, it’s just about surrender.

But then again, maybe birth is a different kind of surrender — surrendering to life.

This morning I watched Rora try to roll over in my mom’s bed, softer than ours at home. I snuck out of bed to write in my journal while Rora was self-entertaining with her toes. I sat in a chair at the foot of the bed in the small room, listening to Rora’s contented sounds as I wrote. When I finished, I took the opportunity for quiet observation of my daughter, who was totally focused on her new task. From laying on her back, she’d flip over using the strength of her legs, like usual, but the fluffiness of the bed prevented the rest of her body from following and she kept returning to her back. She tried at least a dozen times while I was watching, out of determination rather than frustration. She was exploring and experimenting, trying to figure out what the trouble was. She finally found that she could grab the fabric of the pillowcase to hold her body in place once she had her first arm over, then wriggled her second arm — stuck beneath her body in the nest of fluffiness — out from underneath.
Watching my daughter this morning, I remember that life is about experimenting, learning, growing. None of us have it all figured out. I can only keep exploring what’s possible, and enjoy myself while I do it!