windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (hairflower)
I'm never there to catch their reactions. I'll never know the impact of my action, but for several weeks now I've been paying for other people's food. Driving through Starbucks with two sleeping kids in the car or cruising through Taco Bell for a last-minute mealtime, I've made it a point when I get to the window to say, "I'll pay for the car behind me, too."

The cashiers don't question me. It is surprisingly simple to do. I collect my order and drive off without looking back.

I'll never know, but I often wonder about what people think. Do they think someone in the car ahead of them was flirting? Does it make them smile and reengage with their day in a new, more positive way? It probably doesn't matter, financially, to someone able to afford the luxury of fast food, but does it help them in ways they didn't realize they needed help? Does it make them think, each time they return to that place, of the one time they arrived at the window to discover a stranger had paid for their meal? Will they think to pay for someone behind them someday?

I'll never know. I hope, though, that they might rethink their opinion of the world and its inhabitants. I hope they feel a moment, no matter how miniscule, of wonder.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (scarab)
For the next year, I'm working with The Temple of the Twelve as part of the initiatory group [ profile] sacred12novices. This month, as the first month, is dedicated to exploring the color Black and the many Mysteries and Truths she keeps. About a year ago, I had my first Black month and it was empowering and transformative. I'd expected a harsh reality check from Lady Black and instead got an emotionally restorative affirmation of my own divine nature. This time, though, it has been more of a tough love session.

At the new moon this month, I was challenged to see more Truth in my life and to learn greater discernment in my judgments and choices. I've been fielding all sorts of lessons and musings on the topic ever since and in them, I've realized just how prevalent self-deception is in our society. I live shrouded in the darkness of my self-created worlds without ever waking up to the reality of my impact and decisions. Once in awhile I've woken up with a start, mentally, with a flash of insight about what exists beyond the box of modern consumerism. Once in a long while I realize just how programmed I am. The awareness surfaces for a moment and then is swept away under the weight of the not-Me voices to come. I don't think I'm alone in that.

There is the voice of Truth, of Black, and then there is the (constant, chattering) voice of scripts. The scripts have come from my experiences, from the society around me, from friends and family, from strangers and critics, from overheard conversations, advertisements and the plots of books and television shows. The Truth, when it comes, upsets the balance of my life and so is frequently overruled with more scripts. (No, scratch that, always overruled as I never stay in those awake moments very long.)

So here's a couple of examples I've been thinking a lot about this month.

The Disease of Consumerism
Truth tells me that the Earth is overburdened by consumerism. There is a finite number of resources and everything on this earth that is created or manufactured or dreamed up in material form consumes some of those resources. For every one finished product, say a wooden chair or a marble chess set or a plastic ring of measuring spoons, ten times more resources are consumed then ever end up evident in the end product. I, as an American, am part of a society with no limits. I use too much water. I use too much electricity. I own too many things, made with too many precious pieces of the Earth's living body. I am personally responsible for too much pollution. If every human inhabitant on this planet aspired to the lifestyle that I feel is my right, our planet would die and everything upon it with Her. I am living an unsustainably indulgent lifestyle while others are dying, daily, from simple deprivation of food, water, warmth, and medical attention. That is Truth and it is ugly and shocking and upsetting. I know it. And yet, I cannot tell you how strong and frenzied and persistent the scripts are in my head that say, "I deserve to be happy. I deserve to treat myself. I deserve to have nice things. In fact, I *need* them." If I'm being honest, unflinchingly standing with Black, I don't. I am fortunate, blessed beyond measure, that I have all of my basic needs met. I am awash in abundance, not only within the world, but even within the high-life of modern American life. Someone, in fact a lot of someones, somewhere is paying or will eventually pay for the extravagance of my own choices. The resources of our planet are finite and when I take more than my share, I am costing someone else. The responsibility upon me, as one of the fortunate, is to share my abundances and to limit my consumption. The trouble is, with the scripts running, I forget these basic Black truths in favor of the advertisements for the latest sparkly eye shadow, another pair of shoes I don't need, or a crystal mined from god-knows-where with god-knows-what-destruction for my Earth-centered spiritual (material) lifestyle. I forget because it is radically inconvenient and makes me feel guilty and horrid to remember. That is my own self-deception...that this is okay.

The Monster of Overeating
I think the monster of overeating is really just a symptom of my own disease of consumerism--my 'affluenza'. I have access to every kind of high-fat, high-sugar, highly-processed food that trips all sorts of internal human body sensors that say, "Ahhh. That feels great. That kinda caloric boom will keep us alive for some time. Great job, provider!" Things that didn't even exist 50 years ago and the sort of food-high that humans encountered rarely, if ever, in their history are now so common-place that they've become a disaster for health and wellness. The statistics here in the United States are appalling and though I don't register officially as obese, I'm affected by the monster, too.

Truth: I eat too much and move too little. I am sabotaging my body, the quality and length of my life every single day. I'm throwing away the best and only gift the Universe has ever intended for me alone. My lifespan. My body to live it out in. I know it, it is plain fact, and yet I bury that inconvenient knowledge under insulating scripts.

The scripts say, "I'm hungry. I want it. I deserve it. It'll make me feel better. I need it to cope."

And the worst of it, for me, is knowing that my actions are not only affecting me and my family but also are rippling out with all sorts of (on my part) unintended consequences through the world. I went vegan for a reason, a whole host of reasons, but as a natural end-point of my spiritual belief system. It is a way for me to lessen, directly, the suffering that my consuming unleashes on the world. One way in hundreds, perhaps, but a very concrete way for me to live mindfully. I made that decision almost seven years ago and in that time I've fallen off the wagon, more than once, and started consuming dairy and egg products. I cannot envision a day that I'd ever eat animal flesh again but it is easy for my scripts to overwhelm the opposition and encourage me to forget all the reasons I steered away from cheese pizzas and ice cream and traditional dessert products to begin with. I've driven by veal calves chained in their little plastic doghouses and could almost hear the fever-pitched LA LA LA LA LA! I'm NOT LISTENING!! LA LA LA LA! ear in finger tactics that the scripts combated the sight with.

It is pretty horrifying to me to realize that I'm compromising what I believe to be morally right because the monster, that overconsuming monster, wants the fat and grease and calories and fullness and convenience and NOW!ness of non-vegan foods. I'm tempted and then the voices weigh in with all the reasons it is not only a good idea but a downright necessary indulgence. The voice of Truth gets buried in the chatter of the scripts.

So Instead of Giving Up, I Can....
Lady Black sees right through me, my self-deceptions, and shakes her head. I have justifications, I have excuses, I have many forms of defense but really--I'm sleepwalking through most of my life. I do things for reasons that aren't Truthful or mindful and then come up with scripts that support an image of me where that's okay. And this month, more than any, I've had the sobering and painful and embarrassing experience of being more keenly aware of these personal self-deceptions. It is enough to make me want to give up, go back to my self-made fantasy life, and find new ways to tune out the voice of Truth. But, this time, I'm trying not to. I'm trying to sit with the perfect Truth that I'm a divine light and precious beyond measure, yes, but that so is everyone and everything around me. I'm so big and I'm so small--a human body standing under the canopy of the night sky. I am nothing but I am part of everything and I have choices every day that I make that effect the world around me. I am flawed, yes, of course, but that means I can always do better.

1) I've been inspired to check out and read a few books (from my local library, though my knee-jerk reaction is *always* to buy things). Anyways, they've all crossed my path this month and tied into my thoughts on Black. They are:

The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Hannah and Kevin Salwen

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money by Geneen Roth

2) I've also been working on making small, mindful steps each day. We came home to a near-empty kitchen and will leave for Florida in only two days. Normally, I would have gone to the grocery store and stocked up. I'm suspicious of food that's sat in our fridge over the completely-arbitrary-time-frames I make up. I tend to toss leftovers and produce that looks even a tad bit imperfect. It is wasteful and silly. Also, I will let perfectly wonderful food rot in my fridge because I choose, instead of making it a priority to eat it, to buy more food that I like better or to go out to dinner or to just forget about it until it reaches that state of not-brand-new that triggers my urge to throw away.

Today, I pulled my crockpot out for the first time in six years in order to make something out of the bits and pieces we had laying around. I'm not sure what sort of soup we're in for tonight but it includes the half-a-jar of tomato sauce I'd left behind last week and would have ordinarily thrown away, half an onion, chickpeas, celery (which I'm no fan of), a handful of wrinkly grape tomatoes, two cloves of sprouting garlic, leftover steamed broccoli, veggie stock and some pasta odds and ends. It smells delightful and was surprisingly fun to scavenge together. It feels productive and ingenious and most importantly, mindful. A small victory but one in which I stayed AWAKE--not zooming along on my comfy scripted autopilot mode.

3) I came across a quote this month that has been fueling me and led to quite ambitious goals to declutter, thin out, and donate vast amounts of our clothes, toys, books, and other extraneous household items. It has been the voice of Black this month--compassionate, honest, and challenging.

"The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry;
the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked;
the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot;
the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor;
the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
~St. Basil the Great
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Default)
I dream of turning the tide from indifference to compassion-- swimming upstream through people going about their business until they notice my destination, my intention, and swing wide to join me.

I dream of bringing children home, opening the door to their very own bedroom, opening my heart, opening my arms and saying, "I've waited my entire life to find you, to love you, to adopt you into our family. Welcome home, dearheart."

I dream of bringing my children with me around the world and supporting them in their vast and varied interests.

I dream of a life of philanthropy. Putting shoes on feet, food on plates, books in hands, school supplies in backpacks, warm pajamas on children, smiles on faces, hope in hearts.

I dream of buying damaged/farmed/cleared land and restoring it, replanting it to be a haven for wildlife, simple living, and permaculture experimentation.

I dream of having a big, beautiful home where the guest rooms stand waiting and there are always wildflowers or evergreen boughs in vases on tables.

I dream of organizing and running a little storefront. Something sweet and lovely, where I can make lists and tie bows and punch keys on my cash register.

I dream of living a long, healthy life surrounded by those I love and being able to express my own love, devotion, and life's philosophy through service and kind acts.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (pink heart birds)

At the new moon, celebrating the end of my month with Pink, I went to take down my pink-themed altar and to clear the space for Silver's work. The area had gotten cluttered with found treasures and gifts that seemed to pour in to acknowledge my achievements and breakthroughs. From my mom, as a get-well gift, there was a pair of necklaces, one pink and one purple, from a charity in Africa that employs AIDS/HIV affected women in meticulously rolling beads from colorful magazine paper. The other, a small statue of a white-robed girl with her face buried in a bouquet of pink flowers. It is as if she knew, precisely, what I would need to affirm, the girl who bought herself flowers for the first time this month. In the mail yesterday, a card from a virtual stranger with an exquisite image of a pink lotus blossom. Chunks of pink stone, kicked underfoot in a Chicago alley, a multi-faceted bead found sparkling amongst the trash in a tree planter at the exact moment when I said to myself, mentally, "Wow, every breath is a moment to model love in the world, isn't it?" Winged seeds my son handed over, with great excitement, because they were faery wings and rosebuds dried from my bouquet, that enshrined a compassionate moment to myself.

Isis came to watch my progress, looking radiant and modern. Her hair, normally braided and weighted down with a crown, was flowing in waves of rainbow black over her shoulders. She'd traded her pleated linen for a gauzy, Grecian floating sleeveless pink gown, fixed with silver clips over her sun-brown shoulders. She's sitting, uncharacteristically domestic, with a large piece of fabric draped over her lap and a needle and embroidery thread in hand.

There's nothing to mourn, she said with a warm smile my way, you are leaving nothing behind. The thread she stitched with was silvery-pink and iridescent, making small bits of color in the fabric as she sat and sewed conversationally.

"Mama, are you Lady Pink?"

I can be.

"This has been such a hard month. I thought this would be one where I'd really shine and now with it ending, I feel like I've only started to get it, that I'm seeing Pink, really seeing those lessons, starting to transform about three weeks too late. It has been hard to decide whether I need to devote to another Pink Month. I could learn a lot more if I did."

Every month of your life has been a Pink Month. Why do you think that next month will suddenly be different just because you will be studying another color? The Silver will be Pink, the Blue will be Pink, every month you will grow more into yourself and you were always meant to be Pink. Your compassion, your desire to serve, your goodness and love will shine through everything you do and will color everything you learn. You lose nothing by growing in other areas. Each month, you will find the way to give it away, to make a gift of it for someone else. That is your Pink work.

I cried, unsure what to say to such kindness, such compliment, such reassuring guidance. She finished her stitching, knotting and snapping excess thread away.

"Thank you. I needed to hear that."

You are devoted to living your life as a Song to Isis, are you not? Have you never stopped to listen to yourself sing it to me? Can you be so deaf, Rachel, to the music you are making? Beloved girl. Sweet, beloved girl. Sing your heart out. Every day, you serve me well.

It was time for her to go. She stood up, arms laden with her sewing project.

"I didn't know you were a seamstress."

I am not. You are. All of you are.

The room tilted, she spun, the cloth that she was holding floated down and spread itself out against a wall where I could see it. It was a work-in-progress, no doubt, and bigger than I could even take in all at once. Close up, I could see it was made of stitched hearts, both miniscule and fairly large in a rainbow of colors and textures and heart-like shapes. And together, though not entirely filled in, I could see the suggestion of a gigantic heart made up of all those smaller, individual hearts taking form. There, in one space, was a small over-round heart in a silver-pink iridescent thread that I recognized--Isis' latest stitches.

This is the song of your life. Everyone has one, but few see it before they die. Sing the song that only you can sing. Love, for me. Believe, for me. Live, for me.

And she was gone and only a faint ghostly memory of that embroidered field was left. The brilliance, the light, the sparkle, the warmth that had poured out of it was dazzling even still. Had I stitched that miraculous, infinitely detailed image? Of course not, She said from some distant place behind my ear, you sew, always, for others.

And I saw it! I saw friends and family and loved ones and strangers and passers-by I smiled at taking their turn to sit at my Song, stitching hearts of gratitude, hearts of acknowledgment that said, "Thank you" and "You don't know how much what you did meant to me" and "You wished me a good day on the worst day" and "You made a difference in my life". I saw myself sitting to weave a few stitches of thread into others' Songs, marking the places where they treated me with kindness, gave me the advice I needed, bandaged a wound, cheered me with their presence, inspired me to believe in myself, met my eyes and encouraged me to keep going, held a door open for me when my arms were overloaded. My Song is recorded by others, added to with every kindness I do, every act of compassion, every word and action that positively impacts someone else's life here. It is the feedback, the acknowledgement, the record of my Life lived.

A Goddess sewed one of the hearts, a token of my work's loving impact on her immortal existence, and I begin to feel, again for the first time, that my case is not so hopeless after all.

I do the work of Pink in the world and it is beautiful.

windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (pink lotus candles)

Separating my experiences at Diana's Grove the weekend before my surgery, the hurt and healing of the surgery saga itself, the month of working on compassion and other "Pink" topics in Temple of the Twelve, and everything else that has been unsaid for so many weeks is impossible. It is such a tangle! Everywhere, lately, I've been discovering wise words about wounds and compassion in such a synchronous flood that it is impossible to ignore how important the lesson must be for me to learn. I'd love to be able to compartmentalize it into neat single-topic entries here and yet I can't cut it cleanly apart. So, eventually I'll talk about Diana's Grove and how some of those moments fold back into some of my surgery moments and my healing moments and my Temple of the Twelve moments. For now, though, as best as I can, I wanted to tell you what I learned about my third, and greatest, heart wound.

I don't count myself.

This month, my Pink Month with Temple of the Twelve, I accepted a few challenges. I agreed to dig for and uncover my three greatest heart wounds. I vowed to take steps to heal those wounds and to develop, in particular, a long-range strategy for the healing of the largest of these. I intended to act in a mindfully compassionate manner every day. I dared to stand my ground, at least, and stop running from love in all its forms as it made its way towards me. I would do (and record) one kind thing for someone else each day of the month. Tall order, all of that, from such a gentle color! :)

Following my surgery, I was doing some mid-moon musing on all the ways that this month has changed me and I have risen to the challenges Pink set before me. I've realized that I was shorting those around me by giving generously but carefully avoiding having to receive love/gifts/favors/encouragement/compliments/you name it in return. I wasn't allowing people to really connect with me, to know me beyond my surface layers. I've learned a lot about wounds--the way they stick around only because I feed them, the way that they can be honored by me and yet not sustained, and to appreciate their making as opportunities for compassionate growth within me. I've enjoyed the feeling of gifting myself with flowers for the sheer beauty and enjoyment of the act or surprising loved ones and strangers with tokens of appreciation and magick. I've affirmed for myself how inseparable my compassion and my service of priestessing are intertwined. There was one thing, though, that I had not done. I did not record my daily acts of kindness. Two days ago, I was quite certain, I would be repeating my Pink month in order to meet that obligation fairly.

It isn't that I didn't share a smile or a kind word, an encouraging note, a meal, or a gift with someone every day. Chances are good that I did. I left small "Believe" cards behind on bus benches and subway seats with random quotes about faith and accomplishment. I contributed uplifting, beloved books to the neighborhood free book exchange box. I called a rescue organization and did my best to aid a young pigeon in peril. I bought a meal and extra groceries for a neighborhood homeless man I've sailed past apologetically in the past. I poured my heart into the natal chart readings I did for people. I gave away gifts both small and large. I made a point to cheer all the people who crossed my path--nurses, cashiers, bus drivers. I wrote thank you notes in my hospital bed to the staff who delivered my food, checked my blood pressure, wheeled my bed from place to place. What I didn't do, though, was record any of it. I had failed in that obligation, completely, and would have to start over again next new moon.

On Lammas, all the things I had to mentally unpack wove together into one all-encompassing sense of insight. One part of that new knowledge is that my not-recording my good deeds is actually a symptom of my greatest heart wound--I do not count myself. I think that everyone around me is so beautiful, so heroic, so worthy of praise. I love the spark of the divine within their eyes and watch with sheer admiration the loving work their hands do in the world. They may not see their strength, their light, the difference their lives are making in the world--but I do. Me, though, I do not count myself. What I do is ordinary and flawed and always-too-little, so I do not count myself. When I achieve things that make my soul sing, they are soon forgotten. When I fall short of my expectations for myself, however, I remember those things forever.

At Diana's Grove, we were encouraged in ritual to string beads of challenge onto a string representing our life. Instead of counting our lives as a series of failures, we were pushed to rewrite those challenges into victories--even if that victory was merely surviving the hard time. I cannot tell you how much I wept. I see everyone for their victories, for their purest motives and most untarnished qualities, and myself I sketch in negative space. Here's where I fell, chose badly, stepped awry, took too long, wasted potential, wasted time, wasted space, did not do that which I knew was right. Here is where I screwed up my Pink Month's endeavours by not writing something down each day.

So slowly and finally, the messages are starting to sink in from the month. On Lammas, it all came together in one knowing--I am deserving of an equal share of compassion. It is a given that I am flawed, that I am challenged by this life and that I don't always respond in the way that I would wish. It is a given that I act sometimes out of fear instead of love, out of pain instead of wisdom. This is a given for everyone. This is not why I don't deserve compassion but rather why I require it. I must begin to count myself. I am as beautiful, as important and immortal and precious, as those who catch my eye and my heart and my admiration around me.

I must count myself, number my victories instead of my failures, and lend myself the compassion I need to truly thrive and grow and dare.

This month, I ran across two phenomenal pink items from a catalog of inspirational gifts for women. They made me weep with joy and soul-deep longing, so I bought them. There would be women aplenty in my life that I could gift them to. That is my way, when I see wonderful things, I want to give them to wonderful people. One, a small blank journal, reads on the cover, "She just had this way of brightening the day." The other, a portable folding picture frame, read on the outside cover, "She makes the world a better place." For Lammas, as an act of compassion to myself, I gave those gifts to myself. I will not redo my month of Pink, unless my New Moon time with Lady Pink convinces me otherwise, but part of my long-term task of healing my wound of not-counting-myself, I am keeping track in my little pink book my kindnesses of the day--for myself and for others. Into the picture frame, I slipped a photo of myself and a trimmed down card from the same "She..." line that reads, "She listened to her heart above all the other voices."

It feels too extravagantly, embarrassingly kind to myself and yet also, I know soul-deep, true. I have trouble holding onto the knowledge in the midst of all my self-criticism, but I am good and loving and compassionate and influential. The less I doubt myself, the more impossible, world-changing things I can achieve.

We are all necessary, irreplaceable, glorious lights in this life, finding the places where our unique abilities are cried out for, altering forevermore the lives of those we touch, shaping the world with our love and compassion--and I-Am-Counting-My-Self!

(I hope you will, too.)

windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (scarab)
Saturday's New Moon marked the beginning of my Temple of the Twelve studies. For the next month, I'll be focusing on the essence of Black and attempting to answer for myself the questions in the experiential journal about my self-identity, talents, and true self. Earlier in the week, I went on a scavenger hunt through my home to find black items that would be suitable for a black altar and for use through the month. My rummaging turned up a black pillar candle, a clear glass candle plate that will serve throughout the year, a flat sheet of specular hematite, a fragile spar of black tourmaline, and a marble of blue goldstone/sunstone so dark as to appear black. In my jewelry box, a few Glamourkins jumped out as being black-mystery sorts of messages and I rediscovered a faceted jet and silver ring that I'd bought some time ago and forgotten.

There is compassion in Black.

I was called, last minute, to volunteer Saturday at the local homeless shelter. I've not volunteered with them before, only contributed each year to their Christmas Basket sponsor-a-family program. I'd heard the Goddess, the day before, telling me there was compassion in Black, and so despite plenty of reasons to say "no", I said "yes". For six hours, I got to sit and talk with families in really dire straits. It was my job to fill out their Christmas Basket paperwork, sketch a short biography for potential sponsors to read, and to press each family member for their holiday wish lists. I was in my element. Six hours without pause, face after face across the table, and I didn't want it to end. Ever.

In Novice of Colors, the first Temple of the Twelve book, a young girl enters into religious instruction at the Temple. The first Color to visit her is Lady Black and the first task set before her is to use her talent for drawing to sketch a true portrait of herself, her soul, her energy inside-and-out. She can hide no part of herself as Black sees all we obscure in the dark of ourselves. Caroline has the talent, every bit of that necessary talent and insight to complete the portrait, and yet she spends most of that allotted month feeling inadequate, scared she'll fail, disappoint, be asked to leave before she's ever really begun. She has drive and passion and the certain knowledge that she is exactly where she most yearns to be in life and yet she can't quite commit to seizing her talent and using it for something so sacred.

I share Caroline's certainty and her uncertainty. I know who I am. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am unshakeably committed to my own vision, morals, and Path. Yet, I also battle almost debilitating self-criticism at times. I've married the most intelligent, successful, driven, reliable person I've ever met in my life and can't help but feel diminished in comparison. I am surrounded by people working amazing jobs and I don't have one. I am almost embarrassed to tell people what I studied in college as it seems to have no worth. I have an outrageously, outwardly, undeniably talented group of friends, family, and acquaintances. What do I contribute? How am I important? Am I good at anything? My life is half over and yet I still don't feel like I've even begun. It is the hurdle to my own engagement, that fear that I don't measure up.

Last month, I got a one draw reading from [ profile] stonetalker, an expert at crystal and mineral stone divination practices. The stone drawn was my stone, rose quartz, and that was comforting enough of an affirmation. (I'd asked, in the reading, for a sign of what I was supposed to be doing with my life, how to serve actively through it.)

Her interpretation of the stone, in light of my questions, was this:

"Be Here Now." Be fully in the moment. Life is what is happening to us while we are busy making plans. You are who you are, where you are, how you are, doing what you are, for a divine reason. Rather than seeking how to make it work, just kick off your shoes and enjoy the ride. It is all perfect as it is; now find the divine love in it.

Maybe, like Caroline, my uncertainties are part of the learning process. Maybe, just maybe, I can cut myself a little slack and stop apologizing for the things I'm not good at. I wouldn't even know where to begin in that process, though.

So back to my work at the shelter. I called the next number and an elderly man happily took the chair across from mine. He said, "I hoped I'd get you. This whole time, I'm watching you and you were smiling. Not one of them pasty-faced fake smiles but a real, genuine smile. I can tell you're genuine, smiling and kind like that."

I said, laughing, "Well, sir, I'm actually pretty pasty-faced, but my smile's the real thing. There's nowhere I'd rather be than right here with you."

That's about when it hit me--I am talented. Yeah, I can sing and yeah, I can type and yeah, I can read. Those aren't my biggest talents, though. I *am* kind. I *am* helpful. I *am* genuine. I *am* patient. I *am* empathetic. I *am* compassionate. I'm good at communicating with people, making them feel heard and respected, and I'm good at putting people at ease. I love humanity, I love people. I'm good at making strangers feel like friends and I'm damned good at being positive and pleasant and supportive and calm in the darkest of times. I was the perfect person to be sitting there that day and it had everything to do with my talents and my true self. I didn't even know things like that could be considered talents and yet they are, undoubtably, mine. My table wasn't business-as-usual. The families I met with and helped, we laughed and cried (and sometimes both at once). Elderly men preened and flirted with me and fussy children played with the contents of my purse, my pockets, my jewelry. Women held my arm and patted my shoulder and shook my hand when the forms were filled out. They told me things that were precious to them, little perfect secrets and confessions. One was sober exactly seven years, another daydreamed about going back to school to be a nurse, others didn't know how they'd afford their next meal or keep their teenaged sons out of the gangs. We shared sacred space. They allowed themselves to be charmed into making wishes after arriving unable to articulate anything like a personal wish or request. They were eager to talk, sometimes startled by the courtesy, the eye contact, the patient listening. I used my talents and it changed everything around me, everything within me. I just can't tell you what it was like working there. Fulfilling, heartbreaking, magickal, energizing, empowering, humbling, just one teaching moment after another.


I hate being volunteered for things. Many are the times I've had someone corner me and say, "Hey! You'd be perfect to do this!" and I've felt pressured into lettering car wash signs or babysitting unruly children or applying for a job I didn't even want. What other people view as my talents aren't always accurate. Lady Black asks what our talents are and how we're using them in the world. I finally understand that I can only volunteer myself. I must be brave enough to step forward into the void and say, "I am good at that and I am ready to help." Drive, passion, and purpose aren't enough. I need to reach into the dark and acknowledge all the ways I'm powerful and worthy and yes, talented, in this world.


In Part Two, I'll finally get around to telling you about my Black New Moon ritual and the many more insights and ah-ha moments I've already gotten only three days into my work with the Temple. :) That, though, will have to wait for a later date as I've got a toddler in need of some entertainment and a good jog around the neighborhood with me. :)


Jun. 1st, 2010 10:34 am
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Grow)
Only days before our return to Chicago, Daniel and I had a rare evening date. On a lark, we bought a couple scratch off lottery tickets to play, something we do together once or twice a year. We won $4. Daniel and I laughed about it on the way back from the Thai restaurant and figured that, at most, those tickets could have surprised us with $50,000 if we'd won the grand prizes.

"What would you do with $50,000 if you'd won?", Daniel asked.

I told him that I'd give it all away somehow since it was a windfall I neither expected nor needed. Imagine the joy of giving away $50,000, or even more entertaining, buying $50,000 worth of something to give to people in need. I waxed poetic on my imaginary plans for most of the car ride home before it occurred to me to ask Daniel the same question.

"Well", Daniel said with no hesitation, "I'd use $10,000 of it to pay off the loan we took out to remodel the house and then I'd split the other $40,000 into Graeme and Sequoia's (our niece) college funds."

Which, when you think about it, kinda tells you everything you need to know about our marriage. He's practical, I'm a dreamer. I'm the carefree heart, he's the steadfast caretaker. I'm a kite, he's running down below over rocky ground with the string.


My father was raised by a very stern man. To this day, ninety-two years old, my grandfather has never told a soul "I love you" including his wives, his children, his grandchildren. He's not an evil man, just a man who has never shown the slightest bit of sentiment, a boy raised in impossible conditions during the Depression when his father died suddenly and left their family penniless. He works hard, even today, as a woodworker and patternmaker. I haven't seen him in at least a decade.

I arrived home to Chicago with Graeme on Thursday to find a small box from him at the nursing home. The first package I've ever received from him--ever! Inside, nestled in a bed of packing peanuts, was a little handmade wooden truck, I can only imagine, intended for Graeme. There was a card, too, along with a handwritten note that shocked me even more. The note basically said that he'd decided to send all of the grandchildren a graduation gift of $500. It was signed "Love, Grandpa", two words I have never seen together from him. More astonishing was the card he bought to go with it. It reads:

Life Lesson No. 15: Do what you love...

It's what the world needs from's what you were meant to do.

It was like seeing pigs fly.


I deposited the $500 into my personal bank account, the money that is mine (birthday money or eBay spoils mostly, since I don't work), that I can spend without accounting for it to Daniel. No compromise, no budget, no practicality, just my money. That brings the balance to $688, the most it has been ever. I love the pure possibility of it, all the things I could buy myself or pay for, and so I keep it and look at the balance and scan through my etsy wishlists and visit the store at Sea Shepherd but hold off spending any of it.


Yesterday, with a thunderclap moment, I remembered the throw-away lottery ticket conversation. All those witchy feelings went WHHOOOSH! and I'd finally caught up to speed with the messages the Universe was feeding my way.

It is not a coincidence that a couple days after I declared that I'd give every penny of a windfall lottery win to charity, that I'd be tested with an unexpected gift of exactly that, minus two zeros. It is not a coincidence that my grandfather would choose this week to act completely out of character and to send along a graduation gift somewhere between 6-14 years belated. It is not a coincidence that the card he'd pick read like a reminder from a spiritual adviser or the Goddess Herself. This 'graduation' gift came in the form of a test and a wake-up call and an opportunity to do something really fun and fantastic and fulfilling.

$500 is safely stowed away as I keep my ears and eyes open for the opportunity to serve. I've been investigating some local women and children shelters and other local need. I may choose ultimately to bring them $500 of school supplies or toys or books or dolls or fuzzy pajamas.

I'm reminded again, that this is the way living really feels. (How can I be such a dolt? I keep forgetting! I keep going back to sleep!) I am connected, present, emotionally open, and excited. I feel alive and beyond happiness--purpose, service, and radiant, divine Love.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (sacred)
Lessons, from all sides, have been piecing themselves together into an "a-ha!" moment. I'm not sure I can explain my personal epiphany or where it all came from, but I wanted to try.

I've been inspired lately by Nicole Bouchard Boles' book How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist. It has hundreds of suggestions on how to live a life of daily philanthrophy using the resources you already have to spare. It encourages me to know that if I share what I have, on a small, sustainable scale, that I can do good in the world every day that I'm on it. Reading through the sort of menu of ideas and cobbling together what works with my own circumstances has been so inspirational. I can remember in elementary school telling people I wanted to be a philanthropist when I grew up. (If it wasn't a "ballerina" kinda day.) I'm only now getting into the mindset that it isn't something to aspire to in the future, when I'm organized and I have a lot of disposable income and my son isn't quite so dependent upon my time. It is something I can choose to be, choose to embody already. Quite a mind-shift there.

Mystery School at Diana's Grove has raised some interesting questions for me. Somewhere in the material or the resulting conversation, I came across that concept where theologian Frederick Buechner described a vocation, "[It is] the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." I was reading another theologian who dug into the concept a little and talked about how, if you start with the world's need, you get nowhere. It is too immense. Everywhere, need. Anyone with any empathy can feel the edges of that need, sense the size and shape of that hole. Nobody could get out of it. How often do we get the barest sense of that abyss and back away by shutting down emotionally? I know that is what allowed me, for years, to eat meat even though it went against my own personal ethics. I backed away and shut down to the reality of what it meant to me. Clearly, if we gathered on the edge together and looked into the yawning depths of despair and deprivation, we'd never begin anything. Instead, I must start with my own abilities, my own renewable resources, my unique talents and passions that urge me where to direct the small sparkles of effort I can contribute to the darkness of the world's troubles. What a life I would be living if it was shaped to the purpose of being love! What are my abilities and talents? I have more trouble with that. I do know what the Call sounds like, though, I know the feeling of reading a news-story, more often about children than anything else, and sobbing. I know the feeling that energizes me, even for just a moment, with the lightning bolt of, "I Must DO Something!".

Mystery School discussed the nature of heroism, too. Heroes were defined at one point as the people who keep getting up after they're knocked down. They aren't perfect and they aren't some elite predestined group--an unattainable level of mankind--they just choose to keep getting up. That's it. The sole quality of heroism. That shook me to the core. In the mailing lists, someone asked what helps you get back up when you've fallen or stumbled in life. I couldn't answer because, unlike other respondents, I didn't think I had much of an inner cheerleader spurring me on. I think when I stumble or fall, I'm the opposite of my own cheerleader. I've been, in the past, the voice of my own self-doubt. If I trip up, I've used it as an affirmation that I wasn't the person for the job--I wasn't good enough, talented enough, strong enough, organized enough, enough enough to be the hero that I wanted to be. At the core of all that self-doubt, there is the despair that tells me that I don't matter in the scheme of the world, that my life has not lived up to my potential, that I'm not important, that I'm without worth. That is the wound at the heart of me.

I met this banyan tree in the park the other day. It was fairly young and hadn't yet gotten any prop roots to grow from its branches down to the ground. Instead, it was curved around itself tightly in a tangle of bark, like a trunk of rolling snakes, to keep its weighty branches aloft. I put my hand out to her and felt the soreness. "Oh, Mama Banyan! What has happened to you in life?". I looked up along her great curving branches and found the source of that pain. Two of her main branches had curved alongside each other and there was a giant half-healed sore there where the wind sawed them against each other as a constant irritation. She couldn't get out of her own way. She couldn't help but hurt herself. She bore the scars of pruning and wind damage but nothing compared to that giant wound of her own making. Isn't that the way of it for me? Aren't I a banyan spirit whose greatest injuries don't come from outside influences but from the barbs I've laid that tear and worry at my energy, my sense of self?

And in another spiritual group, we discussed our Sun Signs and the lessons they are bringing us as individuals in life. I'm a Libra Sun and I have always thought I had that pretty much down pat. I'm fair and balanced, I'm diplomatic and logical, I eschew drama in search of harmony. I had this realization, though, that I'm lacking in balance. I'm invested in relationship and in doing so, I often neglect my own needs. I want others to feel harmonious so I don't always take a stand when something is important to me. I have trouble claiming what I need for my own self without feeling that is being, in fact, selfish. (One of the worst curse words my Libra mind can come up with...along with any thing along the lines of declaring what I "deserve". *shudder*) I am lacking in balance between meeting the needs of others and meeting those of myself. I don't always have to come last, do I?

It is time to dedicate to an element for the year. I am dedicating to water. At the full moon ritual, when I was so immediately connected to the divine, I felt my energy as an overfull glass of water, cascading the excess as more poured in. I was an open vessel of abundance. There was no scarcity within me, no wound, no self-doubt. I was embodying the Ace of Cups. I've often felt that I shouldn't dedicate to water or air as they are so much a part of me already. It felt like a cop-out, an alliance that would be too easy to take on. And yet...the full moon ritual, the meeting with the banyan, the realization that I'm not the balanced Libra I'd like to think, the hero getting back up, the everyday philanthropy, all of it moved together into my mind in one click. I am a compassionate being and yet I rarely, if ever, spare compassion for myself. If I become an embodied Ace of Cups, I must first fill my own cup to overflowing and then that energy, that healing and compassion and philanthropic passion will pour outward. I will not be living in scarcity if I drink first myself. There is enough for all of us--including me.

All this time, like Kore, I've walked without looking behind me. I've wandered and worried about all that I couldn't do. I've fallen and refused to go onward. I've been the thorn in my own side, the poison in my own cup. I have wanted to matter and yet refused myself the self-compassion of looking backward and acknowledging the wake of flowers that have sprouted like a cloak of small, bright miracles behind me.

I am the hero in my own life's story. Now to stop being my own hero-self's villain, too. Love and compassion trumps all and there is enough for all...including me.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (perfect love)
This morning, I completed the process to become a registered donor at the National Bone Marrow Donor's Be the Match registry. In five or six weeks, after they've typed the cheek swabs I sent in, I'll be part of the database that doctors search on behalf of 6,000 patients a day. Patients with leukemia, sickle cell anemia, what-have-you where the donation of healthy bone marrow cells and other blood-products are really the best hope for a cure. I found it crushing to read that presently only about 30% of patients are finding close enough genetic matches in the database.

I hope you'll consider joining, too!

Right now, there are enough funds to cover the costly testing process, so you can sign up and join the registry for free. (They'll send you information and a set of cotton-tipped swabs to play CSI with and send back.) The registry is for anyone, barring certain health concerns, from the age of 18-60 that is willing to donate blood product and/or marrow if your genetic match is in need. (The donation process also looked way simpler than the scary words "bone marrow" would imply.) Sign up once and they'll keep your information in the database until you turn 61 years old. If they ever need you for a specific patient, they'll call.

It feels powerful, throwing myself into the void. I have an unreasonably strong medical phobia, but I still hope that somewhere, sometime, my perfectly unique blend of Swedish/Scottish/Irish/English genes will offer what others could not. It is my Valentine to the rest of the embodied world--a hand outstretched if ever it should be needed.


windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Default)

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