Category: inspiration


Covet

One of the books we’re reading for seminary is Leonard Felder’s “The Ten Challenges”, an interfaith look at the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible.  This month, I read the last chapter, on the 10th Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his slave, his slave-girl, his ox, his ass, or anything that belongs to him”.  I read this a few hours after coming home from standing on beautiful land that a friend is going to buy.  Here’s this month’s homework:

      For much of my life, I’ve been confident in my ability to get what I want.  My parents helped me cultivate the skills of persistence, negotiation, and having a big picture view of situations.  My spiritual upbringing helped me develop an understanding of the power of a positive perspective and belief in my own worth.  I have pursued grand dreams and goals and achieved them.

One area of my life that I haven’t been confident in over the last decade has been in the realm of MONEY.  I’ve developed an identity around being poor, because (in my story) people have to exploit people or the land in order to get lots of money.  I’m not willing to do that, so I’ve accepted poor as a given in my life.  This means that things that cost a lot of money seem out of reach for me, unless I can get a scholarship or some kind of financial aid.  With this perspective, buying my own house and land has seemed totally out of the question.

When my dear friend Renee called me earlier this week and told me she found the land of her dreams, and that it was completely affordable, and she was going to buy it, my first reaction was envy and jealousy.  Why hadn’t I found it first?  When she took me out to see the land, I was in awe, and my envy felt like a heavy lump of clay in my chest.

Knowing our friendship could hold my complex feelings, I started to share my experience with Renee.  As I spoke, the clay loosened and lightened, and underneath it I found inspiration.  “If she found wonderful, affordable land, — I can too.”  And then, beyond that was the awareness that Renee has been working her ass off, holding a vision for this land for at least the last 15 years.  She’s looked online at real estate listings every day, almost as a spiritual practice.  She’s visited dozens of lots for sale, and each time it’s refined her vision about what she really wants.  And now she’s found it.

I realized that I’ve been putting this same kind of energy into my professional life for the last several years.  I’ve been looking at job postings and sometimes applying for positions, and feeling the deep knowing in me when something isn’t a right fit, and when it is.  Now I have 2 jobs that allow me to use my passions and talents, and I’m on my way to being ordained as an interfaith minister so I can really do my work in the world.  This is where I’ve put my manifesting energy.  Once I tapped into that understanding and appreciation, my envy of Renee’s land completely melted away, leaving my happiness for her (and my new inspiration to find spectacular and affordable land of my own) pure and clear.

Realizing that I’ve been manifesting what I truly want in my life was a great gift, born out of processing my experience of coveting Renee’s land.  It was possible because I accepted my experience instead of hiding or running away from it, and then looked deeper into the many layers.  It seems like this is an important piece of the “Thou shalt nots” of the 10 Commandments.  It doesn’t mean that having those experiences are bad or wrong, just that those experiences are an indication that there’s some work that needs to be done.

Humans are messy.  We’re a complicated layering of insight and ignorance, faith and fear, power and surrender.  We contain a multitude of contradictions and paradox, and all in varying degrees of expression.

To help us untangle the mess and see the strands for what they are, we work with archetypes — pure, distilled versions of the components that make up the human experience.  Religions do this with different gods (the Greek and Roman systems, Hinduism, Druid/Pagan, the orisha of the Yoruba…), allowing us to see a single aspect of ourselves reflected in the image of a particular deity.  Details of the deity’s life and actions can help us see parallels in ourselves, reminding us of the power and possibilities we can access by following that particular thread of our being.

I’ve found this same gift with the Tarot.  The cards offer a filter through which I can look at my life, highlighting specific aspects that I can access within myself, and draw upon for inspiration and focus.  This morning, I got the 5 of cups, the Star, and the Empress. The 5 of cups speaks directly to an experience I’m having right now of disappointment and grieving something that I’ve had to let go of, a dream that started to take shape and then melted away again.  Seeing this card this morning was a kind of validation for those feelings, and helped me acknowledge and honor the experience for what it is.

The meaning deepened, however, when I looked at all three cards together.  (When I pull a card in the morning, I shuffle until a card or two, or three, literally jump out of the deck.)  The Star is a card of finding relief and healing after chaotic changes, from the light that shines in the darkness.  The Empress is the nurturing mother, source of all abundance and a limitless fountain of love.  Looking at the 3 cards, I saw a journey of being present to disappointment and grief, moving forward by acknowledging the light that is always there, and stepping into a confident open heart that serves the world joyfully and without reservations.

As I reflected on the cards, I noticed that all of the images involved flowing water.  In the first, the woman cries over the water spilling from the cups, lamenting its loss.  In the second, water pours from the woman’s hands in an infinite flow.  In the third, a waterfall churns behind her.  From a belief of limits and loss, I move forward into knowing I have all I need within me.  And then I allow myself to trust that it’s not only within me, but all around me, an endless source of which I am a part.

5 Cups (World Spirit deck)   Star (World Spirit deck)   Empress (World Spirit deck)

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.

Image

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.

Image

Doing the Work

I sat down to write.  Really, I did.  But then I thought I should check my email to see if anyone responded to various things I sent out last night.  And while I was on my email, someone started a chat with me, and we talked back and forth for awhile.  And while I was waiting for her to respond, I checked Facebook to see if anyone had said anything interesting.  And while I was on Facebook, I saw a link to an article that looked like it might be kind of funny.  And then I got a phone call.  And another one.

And now my writing time is gone.

I have Work to do.  Not work that I get paid for, or something on my to-do list.  I have Work to do, the Work of getting out of this rut, back to my center.  It’s the Work of opening, accepting, releasing, trusting.  And maybe I’m scared of it?  Because why else would I choose to check my email instead of doing this awesome, fulfilling, juicy Work?

Today I’ve used up the time I set aside for the Work, but I can still do it in every moment.  The Work can happen as I drive, as I talk with coworkers (co Workers!), and go grocery shopping.

Let the Work begin, again.

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

When I left Twin Oaks, my partner and I were clear about our mutual desire to live in community.  I imagined he and I would quickly gather a group of people and start the process of forming a new community together.  A week or two after I left, I asked him when we should organize the first meeting and see who was interested.  “Meeting?  It’s gotta happen organically…”

A prime example of our different styles, and beyond that, a source of vital frustration for me as I struggled to align my yearning for community with our isolated nuclear family life.  I resented his lack of focus on creating a life we both said we wanted.  He thought I was impatient and unsatisfiable.   We’ve grown, though, and over the last 6 years something has indeed unfolded as we merged organic and intentional…  we’ve welcomed friends to live in our home for months, sharing tiny spaces with multiple adults, toddlers, and teenagers.  We’ve deepened connections with friends from around the country who gather for festivals a few times a year.  We’ve found ourselves as part of a “tribe” of freaky circus performers who get together several times a week to either practice or socialize (or both) — while our kids of all ages play together.

(Edited after a night of sleeping on it: It’s not just that we now have friends and deeper connections — it’s what we do together, and how we do it.  We cook group meals, help each other move, watch each others’ kids, celebrate birthdays and holidays, share the often chaotic waves of our lives… not just as friends one-on-one, but as a group, as a collective.)

Even though it doesn’t look like I thought it would, it’s working… in a different way than the systems and Bylaws of Twin Oaks does.  There’s a lot about those systems that I miss (like income-sharing… especially when our rent is due!), but I’m being challenged to translate the lessons from the commune into life in the larger world… and it’s working in beautiful ways.

This, I think, is the new direction this blog is finally taking — reporting to you live from Bohemia with my adventures in and reflection on cooperation for the masses.

working together

figuring it out...

lots of fire!

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday — it feels pretty big, much more than any other birthday since 20, I think.  21 was no big deal because I already drank alcohol, and not much of it, so nothing really changed.   There’s something about my sense of self that changes with these decade birthdays… a shift in my perspective on who I am in the world.

30 feels like turning outward, after spending my 20s learning about myself and testing out my ideas and ideals.  My 20s was about experiencing and experimenting, opening up to new possibilities and pushing perceived limits… and then noticing how I felt, how other people reacted, and how I felt about other people’s reactions.  Data collection, my 20’s.

And now I have a sense of a mandate to act on the information I’ve gathered.  I know myself fairly well — I know my tendencies, my emotional and mental “gravitations”.   I know the well-worn paths and the traps that lie therein.  It’s my job now to take responsibility for all that, and navigate gracefully around the traps.

I know how to open when I’m shut down, and I know how I justify not opening up.  I know that I have a tendency to be controlling, and I know the power and the danger of that habit.  I know the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I know I enjoy life more when I do them:

  • EAT WELL– avoid wheat and sugar, and don’t skip meals
  • DRINK A LOT OF WATER — I need a beautiful water bottle that I carry everywhere, otherwise I forget to drink
  • GO TO BED EARLY — I can’t let Facebook suck me in night after night… I need to give myself a bedtime
  • WRITE IN MY JOURNAL DAILY —  I need a daily routine where I write at the same time every day (right now it’s when Aurora naps)
  • WORK WITH TAROT CARDS REGULARLY — I need to give myself over to magical experience to get out of the illusion that I’m in control here
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH AURORA — I need to plan things the day before so in the morning we get up and GO!
  • WALK IN THE WOODS — I need to have time surrounded by the creations of raw nature, rather than the creations of people
  • WORK WITH PLANTS — I need a garden, and I need to be making medicine from herbs
  • DANCE — I need to have a regular date with myself for dancing, otherwise I let it slide
  • CHALLENGE MYSELF — I get bored if things are easy… I need to be challenging myself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually if I’m going to feel satisfied with my life, because I want to be growing.

And the purpose of all of this is shifting to be more outward now — not just the development of self-awareness from my 20s, but now shifting outward to being of service, making my life a contribution to the communities I’m a part of.  This family, my circles of friends, this city, this world… humanity.   I feel like I’ve been scrambling since Aurora was born (15 months ago!) to reconfigure my modes of service.  It’s hard to be an “activist’ as I wash diapers and dishes at home.  As it’s all played out, though, I find myself focusing on theater and ritual as my contributions.  Jeffrey has supported me in performing in 2 shows in the last 6 months, staying with Aurora during rehearsals and performances.  The stage has always called me… from my first role as Goldilocks in kindergarten, right up to tonight’s opening night for Godspell.   Yes, this is a clear path for me.  Sometimes it seems like it’s so obvious that I forget I’m an actress, when I’m in angst about not having a focus, not having a “profession”.  I do, it just doesn’t pay.

Then the other path, more recently acknowledged, is that of holding space for ritual.  Being by my Grandma’s side during the last days of her life inspired me to pursue work as a chaplain, after I was already in training to become a doula.  Holding sacred space for birth and death (and marriage, and divorce, and other life transitions) is another clear path that stays lit when I’m confused about everything else.

I think writing all this out here helps me claim it, helps me say “YES — this is who I am right now, on the eve of my 30th birthday”.  Of course I have no idea what comes next, what I’ll learn in this next decade.  But, controlling as I am, I know I thrive when I have a clear and tangible plan for where I’m headed… even if it turns out to completely change.  I’ve learned that much about myself… so I move forward with that information, doing the best I can.

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.