Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Gift of Friendship

On an adventure 3 years ago at a neighborhood candy store.
I was introduced to adventures by Ella, my neighbor, who at the time was three. Yesterday Ella  turned 13.  I wanted to have an adventure but didn't know if Ella would be game.  I decided to ask anyway.  I told her mother what I had planned but Ella didn't know we were headed for a manicure until she got in my car. She was delighted which made my first manicure even more pleasurable.  We ended up at Venetian Nail Spa where I was somewhat overwhelmed by the "wall of choices."  I followed Ella's lead and chose pink.  What a satisfyingly wonderful time I had as we hardly had a moment of silence between us. She shared college and career thoughts, as well as pressures in soccer (Ella participates in the Olympic development program and received MVP for her school team). She talked of wishing she could go to a boarding school in Switzerland! as I shared of living in California for a summer in college.  And we reminisced about adventures past. 

One of the first things Ella talked about when she got in the car was friendship. This was the perfect entry for sharing with Ella the wisdom she shared with me during our Christmas adventure when she is four. 

This is the story from that outing nine years ago.  It is as needed today as it was then, possibly even more so.

The Gift of Friendship

   My friend Ella and I began a ritual last holiday.  We had lunch together then spent the afternoon doing things we enjoy.  We chronicled our adventure by photographing ourselves at various places.  I then created a book of photos complete with captions. 

  To Ella our book became a best seller and my gift of time was a hit with her mom since Ella’s only four years old.  This year we decided to stretch our second adventure over several outings. Our first was a trip to The Frothy Monkey, a cool neighborhood restaurant/coffee shop. 

   A twenty-something customer took our photo prior to the arrival of our grill cheese and chocolate milk. (The caption for this photo will probably read, “Ella and Aunt Dawn await their snack. Where do cheese and milk come from?”)   After enjoying our snack, I took Ella’s photo by the purple house next door since purple is one of her favorite colors. 

   Nearing home, Ella asked if we could continue our adventure the following day.  I explained that I had to work and she would be in school.   She then asked if I went to school, more specifically she asked if I went to college.  I explained that I went to college to become a good listener so I could talk and listen to people when their hearts were sad, scared, mad and happy.

   Thinking this was the perfect moment to plant seeds for Ella’s future, I explained that some people go to college to become doctors.  Before I rattled off other suitable career options, Ella said,  “I want to go to college to become a friend.”  This was the perfect moment meant for me, the grown-up in the car. 

   Just imagine if we all aspired like Ella to become a friend – the energy of such intention alone would dramatically change the world.  Poverty and imbalance would be greatly diminished.  Violence would be close to non-existent since it’s much harder to inflict harm on those we consider friends.  Attorneys, cops and therapists might have to find other careers since we earn much of our living from the results of people doing unfriendly things to one another or having been the recipients of less than friendly acts.  Anti-depressants would be much less needed since depression festers in isolation and withdrawal.  Friendship would lessen the stress hormones that flood our bodies thus impacting our arteries, heart and immune system.  (Of course, doctors and pharmaceutical companies would take a hit in the wallet since the medical profession makes a living off our stress filled lives. It’s believed that 60-90 percent of all doctor visits involves stress related complaints.)  Can you imagine your doctor writing a prescription that read:  Commit one friendly gesture twice daily for the next seven days.

   We make the holidays particularly stressful with our unrealistic expectations.  January in turn promises more stress as credit card debt comes due.  In this time of gift giving, give yourself the gift of friendship. It will not appear on your Visa card bill next month.  Friendship is the gift that keeps on giving and it never goes out of style like most things we buy.  It costs nothing yet it does more good I suspect to one’s heart and health than all the medicines in the world.  Remember Ella’s simple yet profound career goal.  Be a friend.   And I would add pay attention to the children in your life. They offer jewels of wisdom if we’re only listening.

-Dawn, The Good News Muse, 23 December 2013 
first printed in December 2004 by the Tennessean newspaper

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 6: Light (and Trust)

 Sound Cloud audio link HERE

My intent was to write of the Way of Light on Solstice Eve.  Instead I ended up in tears, lying on Mother Earth railing at God and every Angelic Being I could name and the ones I couldn't name over my having come to Earth and being the brunt of a cosmic joke. This was after one computer died last week (after 11 years  it was time) and another crashed yesterday. With these two interesting computer events, along with a pattern of getting overwhelmed (and not from the societally induced, commercialized Christmas craziness), I thought I should be writing of the Way of Trust.  I warned Jerry I knew I was a potential bitch (a word I never use). My warning didn't prevent me from crying in the yard an hour later.

This event may or may not ultimately weave its way into the Sixth Way but now here I sit, three days before Christmas with six Ways to go and I am worn out.  So I'll give myself permission to take as many days as I need and will start where I am, Here and Now using the 'old' laptop that's been around for years.

For the Sixth Way of Christmas, the Season gave to me Light in Darkness.

I thought of this Way while listening to Handel's "Messiah" presented last week by the Nashville Symphony Chorus.  Although I lip synched the Hallelujah chorus in college, I had never heard the entire Messiah.  (Yes, due to nervousness I somehow got separated from the sopranos and ended up mixed in with the altos as they walked out on stage. I don't recall anyone ever saying anything to me although at the time I must have been mortified.  This has since become one of a handful of what I call my Lucy moments.)

Last week as I listened, I pondered the times surrounding Jesus birth.  Here was this child whose birth was responsible for the deaths of so many male babies at the time.  How is it this child was such a threat?  Yet the one simple line in the piece that really got my attention was "His burden is light."  The prior line "His yoke is easy' suggested light meant not heavy.  What I heard was his burden is Light, as in carrying Light, the noun.

Jesus burden was Light. 

I thought of this Way and this line when I saw the "Gun Show" signs in the country town where I often visit weekends.

My first thought was, 'What?!*#@!?'

My second thought was 'This is perfect. Of course there would be a gun show on Solstice in the time of Winter's darkest night in this the Season of Light.'

My third thought was, 'Do the people of this small town where there are two churches on every corner get how this is contrary to the message of the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate in this time. He would not only not own a gun but more than likely would be turning over tables at the gun show.'

This year my burden has been Light as I've wrestled with how to respond when outraged.  How do I respond, not react, to events in these times whether it's the Gun Show a few miles away or the wolf derbies set to begin the day after Christmas in Idaho where those who kill the largest wolves are rewarded and even children ages 10-14 get in on the action. This makes the usually peaceful me want to torture people who hope to kill these beautiful animals I hold dear.

Yet I know Jesus nor the spirit of the Wolf would not want me to do this.  I am not to drain and dim my light by fighting people.  I am to hold them in Love's Light.  In this way it is a joy to hold Light.  In this way, Jesus burden was light - as in not heavy.

And yet closer to home and what happened Friday night, there I lay feeling alone, mad and sad.  For the three Christmases prior, Jerry and I have had the same misunderstanding which for people who really fight wouldn't look like a fight.   

In less than an hour of warning him, I made a judgment-laced comment implying he was a "careless man" which caused him to comment back. I had no idea what he said, all I felt was the angry energy behind the comment resulting in my crying to the Universe.

We determined that both our reactions grew out of disappointment yet I still railed and wailed about the wolves as well as my having failed the do-over I was presented to avoid hurt feelings.  In moments, I felt what the Bible might call the "peace that passes understanding."  Lying outside, I felt what I can best describe as being held by the stars and Earth.  I felt at home. I knew I could continue on and Love being here on Earth.

On Solstice Night as the winds howled I read that this season deepens the feeling life, the Inner Light is kindled in spite of outer darkness and the feminine energies are stirred in all life upon the planet.  We've the opportunity for healing.

Healing was what I needed last night as I wrote that last line and I didn't know where to find it.

The truth is I didn't want to be writing The Twelve Ways of Christmas. I just wanted to listen. I just wanted to receive. So I turned off the computer and did so, right?

No, I turned off the computer and quietly judged myself for having not completed this story, for having failed in what felt like my do-over. I felt I had ruined Solstice so I went to bed.

This morning things had not shifted within me.  I awoke weary, exhausted and internally throwing a tantrum.  The inner me was flailing about shouting, "I just want to listen. I  just want to receive."

I didn't want to write about a gun show down the road! 

As soon as I penned this line in my journal, I received what I know but easily forget.

Earth is a magical energetic orb of energy - Light.
We are Light Beings that come here to have experiences through physical bodies.

How do I get so far from my Light?

For me, it is simple and subtle.  Self-judgment took me down a gradually darkening path away from my Light.  In realizing this I also knew what I really want to write about is Redbud, the kitten who found me in August.

Jerry and I were having dinner at Cheekwood and seeing Bruce Munro's "Light"exhibit when my phone rang on a Friday evening.  My neighbor was calling to report that the yowling kitten heard by most everyone on our dead end street that morning had been found in the top of a red bud tree.  When I arrived home later, I joined Jo the neighbor who found this tiny black and white bean about twenty feet up in another neighbor's front yard.

We coaxed, called, put out tuna and sardines before finally coming inside around 1:30.  Since Jo's a night owl, she agreed to check the humane trap around 2:30 and I agreed to check it at daybreak to see if the kitten had come down.

Two thirty arrived and I thought before going to bed, I'd check on Jo and the cat. Jo ironically had fallen asleep and there sat a pair of glowing eyes beside the trap as I stood thirty feet away. Every forward step I took caused the eyes to move in reverse.

Finally I hid at the end of my neighbor's driveway and began to mentally vibe the owner of those eyes into the trap.  In minutes, I heard the door close and found the fiercest little frightened, hissing ball of fur inside the trap which I placed in the truck. In all my sitting under the tree, I assumed Jo would catch the cat. I hadn't thought of what would happen afterwards.

I took Mystery and Bogeysattvah's large carrier to my office and filled it with towels then brought the trap indoors.  I still recall shining a light on this little cat's face and gasping as I exclaimed, "It's YOU!"

Just days prior, I had a vision in which I saw a little animals face in the stars.  This was the most distressed, frightened, sad little face but it was made of light in the dark universe.  I immediately recognized that face in the trap. 

I could hardly sleep that night.

It took three days for Redbud to come around.  I had never been around a wild kitten.  At first when I put food in the carrier, the towel he hid under would move to the food and hoover. I would hear eating sounds then the towel would return to the corner.  On the third day, I put on two sweatshirts and a coat and Jerry's seldom used, extremely thick winter gloves. Protected I held and stroked the towel for quite awhile.  By the end of that day, Redbud was eating from my hand and by the week's end, he had his photo taken and placed on-line where he received many 'likes' from the Cat Shoppe followers but there were no takers.

Quietly I was glad because I would sit and weep at the thought of giving Redbud away.

I took him to Animal House that week, a place I had heard good things about but had never been to because of its distance from my house.  I still recall the vet walking in and asking, "Where did you get this cat?"  Thinking she implied I had stolen him, I defensively responded, "From a neighbor's red bud tree. Do you know his owner?"  I learned the feral cat group in town had brought Redbud in the week prior (when I saw him in the vision) to be neutered with other cats. Out of all the vets in Nashville I could have chosen, I brought him to the one that had tagged his ear the week prior. (I thought the dried blood on his little clipped ear was from my somehow cutting him in the trap.)

This cat and I had met for a reason. That reason began to unfold.

Redbud ended up a week later in our spare room and I hadn't a clue as to what was going to happen with him. I didn't really want a third cat, nor did Mystery or Bogey, yet the thought of giving this little being who I had seen in the stars away was unbearable.

I had two curious potential owners who couldn't agree to keeping him indoors so that ended those negotiations but still I would just weep at the thought of giving him away to just anyone.

And though I loved this cat, I was feeling worn caring for three cats amidst all in my life and having not yet discovered hormones or thyroid medicine yet. 

This is when I discovered Redbud is a Messenger Cat.  I was debating going to Jerry's mothers in late August. I really wanted to stay at home and rest but she was in Iowa and only a couple of hours from the weekend home of Also Leopold in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  A month prior I had cried through "Green Fire," a documentary on Leopold. I felt like I was to make this trip but wondered how I would do it being exhausted and not wanting to leave home.

That's when I walked into Redbud's room and saw the message. He had found a manilla folder of travel brochures in 'his' room, a folder I had forgotten about and didnt' even know was in there.  In the middle of the floor was one newspaper. The headline read:  "Earth Odyssey."  I knew I was to make the trip.

The next day, in case I had any doubts, I opened Leopold's book "Sand County Almanac" to a reference to the Odyssey.  Since the Hand that Guides All knows I've such mistrust, as we drove out of Nashville the following day Jerry used a word I've never heard him use in twenty years.  As we drove from Nashville he said, "Let the Odyssey begin."

Here I was having felt physically worn out, riding from Nashville without the least bit of exhaustion. I was feeling Light, following Light, being Light.

Redbud's messages continued.  We arrived home and within a month were possibly going to the Grand Canyon. For sometime Jerry had wanted to hike the canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim before he turned sixty.  That birthday was on his heels. I faxed a request for camping reservations a month prior to our trip and found of course there were no openings. These spots are scooped up months in advance.

I quietly wondered how we would do this. We didn't have reservations. I was procrastinating finding the number for other lodging options.  We hadn't trained. I had hardly been walking because night sweats and low thyroid had left me exhausted yet we continued to talk of making the trip and felt like we were suppose to.

Then I walked into Redbud's room one day and saw in the middle of the floor another message.  This was a paper from three years ago from, of course, the Grand Canyon.  Inside were all the numbers I needed to pursue further lodging and camping options.  We were also trying to determine what to do the remaining three days of our trip.  Redbud the following day confirmed what we were thinking.  That day I walked into the room and a booklet for Sedona was in the middle of the floor.

My Earth Odyssey was continuing and I was being asked to trust in a big way.  The day prior to leaving I secured a female dorm room on the bottom of the canyon for myself for three consecutive nights and a male room for Jerry for one night.  We flew to Phoenix trusting this was part of our Odyssey and whatever unfolded.  On the drive North, I happened to read the fine print in an email that I needed to confirm our reservations for Phantom Ranch a day prior.  I called to check-in by phone and  just happened to ask if there were any more male rooms available.  Two other nights had opened up in the male dorm.  We had a place to lay our heads three nights in a row.

I still didn't know how I personally was going to make this trek.  I awakened the day before leaving with a sore throat and horrible cold. I began filling myself with oregano and was grateful I had packed five days in advance something I've only done one time in my life prior.  We made it to the South Rim and the following morning at 7:00 am took a van to the North Rim.

On the morning of the Autumn Equinox when day and night, dark and Light are balanced, the clock sounded at 4:00 and I realized I was alright.  I was still blowing my nose but overall felt so much better. I was ecstatic to get on the trail.  Layered in every piece of clothing we had for the trek, we left our room under the light of the moon as winds howled, the temperature was in the thirties and flurries were expected but never came. 

We had our photo taken in dim light at the trail head and began.  I who had never really had knee problems began what became a most uncomfortable trek. On the very first step down, my right knee felt strange. Actually it hurt and my insides fell.  For most of 14.8 miles down, my knees hurt and I shuffled often sideways down the Grand Canyon's North Rim.  I was devastated not just for myself but for Jerry who had looked forward to this for three years.  Around the fourth mile I told him of my pain.  At one point he carried my pack.  There were times that the only thing that kept me going was knowing I had three cats at home that needed me.  That and my mantra: I am open and willing. 

Truthfully I felt betrayed by God and all my Guides.  I was devastated and enraged yet I kept walking and repeating I am open and willing.

We got to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in twelve hours.  At check-in Jerry asked if they had any cabins for two available for the following night. They wouldn't know until in the morning. I happened to ask about that night and can still feel the joy upon hearing, "Yes, we have one for tonight."

We had the sweetest cabin with bunk beds.  I wailed my disappointment out after dinner in one of those beds then pulled open the curtain and fell asleep only to be awakened by moonlight in the night.  I went outside to find the Pleiades and Sirius above me.  I laid my body, that had never hurt like this, on a bench outside the door and felt such joy under these stars that I'm accustomed to seeing in Tennessee on winter nights.

The next day we took a short walk which turned into a longer one unexpectedly ending up at Native American ruins by the Colorado River.  Standing by the stone remains of structures these ancient people lived in I heard myself sing a song, something that just came from me.  As I finished honoring these people, I felt every ache leave my body. The people and this land were honoring me as I honored them. Although my leg muscles still hurt some I never felt sick again and when it came time to hike ten miles up and out to the South Rim, I could not be stopped. My heart never raced. My legs never ached. And the only time my knees hurt was when we stopped for lunch and sat for an hour without moving.

What do Redbud, Aldo Leopold and the Grand Canyon have to do with the Way of Light? 

Earth is a magical place, a place of profound energy and light.  This is why we come here. We come to Earth knowing this and knowing we are Light Beings. Just like Redbud's face in the stars, we are made of Light yet early on in this Earth Odyssey we begin to experience events that cause us to forget our light.  Disappointments and negative messages present themselves.  We take them on, believe them and get further from Being Light.

We are like Redbud, Beings of Light, and we are like Redbud was in that cage, fierce and fighting when we're really afraid.  We need gentle folks with thick gloves to hold us and let us know we are safe. We are safe.  

I am repeatedly reminded of Earth's Light energy when I allow self-judgment and disappointment to become part of my heaviness.  I usually have experiences like those in the Grand Canyon or in my own back yard in which I feel Earth taking that heaviness and returning me to Being Light.

Remember how when I first saw Redbud in the trap and cried out "It's you" when I recognized him from the stars. This is how I want to be in relation to the people at the gun show down the road or the ones killing the wolves. I want to see who they really are and with excitement feel "It's YOU!  I remember you. We agreed to come here at this time and show up to be part of the Mystery that's unfolding."

Likewise I want to do that in my relationship with Jerry especially when we're at odds. To see him and say, "It's YOU.  You are here to teach me how to not betray myself, how to be honest even when I'm afraid and to give myself more fully over to love knowing one day I will loose you on this physical plane."

I  imagine this is what happened to Leopold when he killed the mother Wolf.  An avid hunter, he looked in her eyes and saw what he called the "Green Fire." I imagine him looking into her eyes and having the experience of  "It's You."  Though he continued to be a hunter, his opinions as to hunting dramatically changed. He would not be hunting wolves today. 

Remember my mantra in the canyon? I am open and willing. I find I can face something external like backpacking twenty miles much more easily than facing the internal, being open and willing to show up and be vulnerable and invite another human to do the same.  In this way, I am not unlike the patriarchy about which I complain, conquering the external and controling the internal.

And yet when I remember that I am a Light Being joining with other Light Beings here on this Earth Odyssey I am truly open and willing, joyful and Light as in not heavy and as in Light!

As for Redbud, I've intuitively known that my reflecting on and writing his story as I've just done will bring his forever home and people closer.  And yet he continues to a Messenger Cat.

As I was writing yesterday about Light on Solstice, I was thinking of how we are glass.  We are Light made of glass.  Then I heard the clanging of glass in the adjacent room. For a moment I froze. I took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen. Redbud sat on the counter trying to reach the wall clock.  In pursuit of the swinging pendelum he had tipped over all the old glass bottles on the counter. They lay propped on the artificial White Rose and the clay, heart-shaped vagina.

It was no accident they lay where they did.  The white rose is a Solstice symbol for purity and Love as a great force in this time.  The Season of Light in the long nights is the time of feminine energies being stirred and felt on Earth. What represents the feminine better than the clay of Mother Earth shaped into the heart and the vagina, the place of birth?

It is no accident none of those bottles were broken. Just like so many of our souls, they are old, they are strong and they are ultimately unbroken.  We are old. We are strong and we are ultimately unbroken. 

For this the Sixth Way of Christmas, the Season, Redbud, Mother Earth, the Stars, the wolf hunters, the gun buyers down the road and the man I love and grow with in my home gave to me the gift of remembrance. And by giving myself permission to write from where I was - exhausted and worn out- I am now where I am, rested and at peace feeling I am a Light Being be-ing Love, Joy, Tuned In, Open, Honest, at times Afraid and Angry but always Light on this beautiful, amazing Earth Odyseey.

For this the Sixth Way of Christmas, the Season of Light and I offer you the remembrance of your own Light, a courageous spirit looking within and the trust that is so often necessary so you may be willing and open during your Earth Odyssey.

To Ponder about Light -

1. How do you experience Light within yourself?
2. How does your Light get dimmed? How do you allow this?
3. How do you dim the Light of another consciously or unconsciously?
-Dawn, The Good News Muse, 22 December 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Remember Who You Really Are? - A Solstice Gift of Poem

(I wrote this seven years ago for a group yet each Solstice when I read it I realize how I wrote it for me as I remember more and more of who I came here to be.  I don't know about you but I easily and episodically press snooze and fall back to sleep.  Fortunately it is never to late to awaken and remember. I share this again on this Solstice Night 2013 in hopes that if it is suppose to it will speak to You in this the time of the Great Remembering. - Sincerely, Dawn)

Sound Cloud audio link: Remember 

from Nashville's Adventure Science Center 2013
Remember who you really are?
You're a child of the Universe,
You, you're a star.

You're the tree rooted
  yet stretching so tall
You're a divine flower
  opening to all.

Filled with whimsy, play and delight.
We are god seeds.
We are the light.

We're here with a purpose, a plan so divine
Small mind cannot hold it.
See with new eyes.

All that has happened
  was meant to be.
All that has happened,
  now sets us free.

The heartache, the lessons
  help us unfold
The greater story we're living.
It's time to be told.

So look over the years
  in the patterns you'll find.

Clues to your being.
Keys to your life.

We are here open hearts
  in this time so ripe.
Filled with potential in this Solstice Time.
-Dawn, The Good News Muse,  21 Dec. 2013
written 12/2006 

Are your heart and mind open to remembering who you really are if you're actually more than who you think you are?  

Do you allow heartache,disappointment or old story lines to define (and limit) who you are and how you think of your life?  

Be curious as to patterns that weave themselves from childhood to your adult life. My favorite place as a child in school was sitting in the floor in one corner of our small library and getting lost in the poetry books with beautiful drawings of flowers and plants.  Then around fifth grade, I was mesmerized with "Creepy Crawlers."  I could make snakes, lizards and bugs all day with the goop and molds in my creepy crawler kit.  It's only been in the last few years that I've realized it makes perfect sense that I would find bugs mesmerizing and beautiful. I can't imagine killing one as to me they're exquisite creatures with as much right to being on earth as I have.  The roots of my being in Love with Nature, writing poetry, and valuing bugs lies in my childhood

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 5: Presents of Presence

For the fifth way of Christmas, the Season gave to me presents of presence.

Nothing epitomizes this way more than things said and done by my two favorite girls, Ella and Lily.

Ella's now turning 13, but when she was four to five, we began a Christmas ritual of having adventures together.  Our first adventure was at the Frothy Monkey.  We shared grill cheese and chocolate milk. I took photos which I later turned into a book.  As we drove home, Ella asked what we were going to do the next day.  I had to go to work which prompted her asking what I did. I explained that I listened to and talked with people about their feelings.  Now wanting to let an opportunity pass I began to innumerate all the many things Ella could go to college to become.  I covered a multitude of options. 

Of course Ella's response wasn't on my extensive list.  She said, "I think I'll go to college to be a good friend."  That shut me up. 

How simply beautiful was this child's aspiration?

Imagine a world in which just a fraction of us gave friendship as a present this holiday.  

Ella soon had a little sister, Lily, who became a participant in Christmas adventures too though as all second children know they seldom get the same special treatment as the first child.  Lily though is definitely special just like her sister.

One Christmas eve when the two girls were over, Lily asked to become a present.  Within minutes, a roll of wrapping paper, tape and scissors transformed Lily into a gift that walked down the street and up the steps to present herself to her mother.  

How simply beautiful is that?

Imagine a world in which just a fraction of us realized the gift that we are to others and the gift they are to us. 

There are the unanticipated yet seemingly destined gifts of presence as shared in a friend's letter.  Tucked inside this year's Christmas card, Russ wrote of the unexpected bond that had developed between his wife and their dying neighbor, a mutual presence was being shared by these two women.

So much can get in the way of presence.

Busyness, exhaustion, social media, noise, resentments, misunderstandings, have-to's, need to's, should's but don't want-to's and judgement just for starters. 

I was given the present of presence by two friends years ago.  At different times, each of them met with me face-to-face to own their having judged me.  I just saw one of them recently and told her how much this meant to me.  I honor my friends for this gift of radical presence.

Contrary to billboards, ads and commercials, the best gifts aren't really found in stores or on-line.  The best gifts are found in each of us. We are gifts to one another as we share our presence, not just during the holidays but throughout the year.

It is simply and profoundly beautiful.  Each day is like dear Lily wrapped as a gift presenting itself. Likewise we are gifts to one another.  It is so simple as Ella knew.  Being a friend is what's really most important especially when that means showing up and practicing honesty as my friends did.

I wish for you the present of presence not just at Christmas but all the year through.
-Dawn, The Good News Muse 19 December 2013

Ponderings on Presence and Presents - 

What presents do you most value?
Practice noticing when you're present and when you are distracted from the present. 
What beliefs or distractions get in the way of your being present to others as well as to yourself as you go through your day?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 4 - A Heart Filled with Joy

Audio link at Sound Cloud HERE.

For the Fourth Way of Christmas, the Season gave to me a heart filled with joy or that's at least what I intended for today's way. 

Yet joy was the furthest thing from my heart and mind when I awoke this morning.  Actually what I felt was sadness.  I'm accustomed to being real so this sadness was quickly followed by a thought, 'How am I going to pull this off when today's way is joy?'

Then somewhere between feeding the cats and putting out peanuts for the blue jays, I realized my predicament was actually perfect. 

My path to a joyful heart has been paved by tears, tears and fears. 

Some of my earliest memories are of hiding to cry for a classmate in first grade.  I didn't know then that as a sensitive I would carry others' sorrows as well as my own.   Disappointment, fear and sadness were my constant companions on the inside though no one knew on the outside.

This morning as I was still waking I wondered, 'How did I arrive at this present place where I feel deep joy most days?' 

Reaching over to run my hand over Bogeysattvah's fur, I suddenly knew as my eyes met Bogey's.  Six Christmases ago I didn't realize Templeton, my cat of nearly eighteen years, was preparing to make a New Year's exit.  Near January's end, I chose to allow Templeton to die in her own time.  In the beginning of that time, my heart broke and I cried as my friend Sally called it from my butt.  That may sound crude but if you've ever done it, you know it's true. My sorrow was deep.  Yet somewhere in the middle of the span of two weeks, my sorrow turned to equally deep joy as I realized I was being handed an opportunity to participate in the passing of a being that to me was dear and sacred. Our animals usually know us better than our people and usually better than we know ourselves.  I was being offered an opportunity to participate in a sacred transition and was experiencing my heart's sacred alchemy as sorrow turned to joy. (This doesn't mean I didn't cry sad tears when Templeton died or that I didn't miss her, but the sadness was always supported by an undercurrent of joy.)

My father's dying two years before laid the groundwork for this experience.  There were days I would sit by his bed and sing.  I who never said or did anything this personal in relation to my father sang hymns from church and songs from my women's drum circle.  When I ran out of songs, I started all over again.  Driving to and from visiting him, I would sing, "Hallelujah, hallelujah."  In looking back, singing that one word over and over altered my vibration and charged my joy.

Still I didn't get my father's transition quite right.  I missed a big chunk, the chunk related to exposing my heart, the part related to being really vulnerable.  I unconsciously allowed fear to keep me from opening my heart to my father and didn't even realize I missed this until months after he died.

Joy also involves wanting, not the wanting of stuff to fill a void or cover pain or the wanting we're scripted to do during the holidays.  For someone whose Want-er is challenged this can be hard.  A family member and I were recently talking about aging issues.  She said, "You can't always get what you want."  I thought, 'That's how I inherited a defective wanter.'

Of course, the things I've always wanted were a bit more complex than a new pair of shoes or a ring. I've always wanted world peace.  Another of my earliest memories is of wanting everyone to just get along. 

I've not been one to want many material things but that changed when I stepped onto property in the country outside Nashville. It wasn't so much that I wanted a second house and yard.  I left that to the affluent and greedy. (Yes, that was judgment at the time.)  This wanting happened as a result of an experience I had.  I knew in my body that I was going to live in this place, that I was suppose to live there, as soon as I stepped into the yard.  The knowing continued as crossed the threshold into the home. I could feel the love with which the sellers had built it.  I had never experienced anything like this.  We didn't want another home yet this place would not leave us alone.  It wouldn't go away. After several weeks, we made an offer the very day a stranger passing through wrote a check to the seller for their asking price.

I never dreamed I would grieve loosing a home yet that's exactly what I did.  Something that I wanted more than I've wanted just about anything was gone. (For someone with a defective wanter, this is pretty amazing.) I even tried to buy a nearby house three years later just to be near "my home and gardens."  This wanting, this longing made my joy deeper when we went to look at the different house and found "our house" for sale again.

In my joy, I called a couple of friends and celebrated the day we closed on this place that called me to the country.  This was one of the most joyful days of my life until.... until Jerry reminded me many people were loosing their first homes due to the banking scandal of 2008.  I put a cap on my joy that I'm unsure I've fully taken off since.   

That cap stopped the flow of my outward joy yet it is through that very house, the gardens around it, the sky above it and the rock beneath it that I have found even deeper joy.

I have experienced an unexpected joy digging in the dirt, discovering volunteer trees, ferns and flowers, watching seeds grow, experimenting as I cook and can and laying to rest a fawn,  a fox, owls and so many of Mother Nature's birds.  And when I have been worn and sad which has been often, I have found rocks and trees that take my despair and heal me as I take theirs.

I have found joy because I have found my heart on Earth and I have found it through my body.

This doesn't mean it's been easy.  Joy is a practice.

Joy and I share this interesting dance.  The steps go something like this.  Dawn's feeling joy. She's actually been feeling joy for awhile.  Dawn gets ridiculed, judged or unexpectedly attacked. "Unexpected" is key.  I've this theory that if someone said, "I'm about to unload my anger your way" the blow and my resulting low wouldn't be as bad.  I remind myself as someone who's sensitive this might not really help.  The good news is my bounce-back time has radically decreased.

As my friend Wendy shared with me recently, "Don't let anyone steal your joy."   

Thanks to the land I now tend without and within, joy is a full body experience for me. 

A prerequisite for joy is embodiment, to be in one's body and one's heart - the two places many people avoid because of lack of awareness and physical and emotional pain.

Which gets me to the holidays.  The bits and pieces above aren't about the holidays yet they are.     

The Season of Love is all about the heart. It is simultaneously the season in which despair and loneliness are exacerbated.

Alcoholic Anonymous espouses faking it til you make it.  I'm not denying the value in taking action to get out of a rut or to shift energy but I am advocating that before faking it you take the time to honor your heart and your present situation.  You are being handed opportunities to open your heart again and again.  

So if you're sad this holiday, be sad but let it flow.  Cry from your butt.  Be sad. Be mad. Be afraid.  Feel like you are dying inside but stay in the flow.  Let it all move through you. Just as I was handed an opportunity to be with my father and my cat, you are being handed this experience.  Feel the joy in having a heart that has thawed and can flow in a world where many act heartless. 

To paraphrase the words of my wise friend, "Don't let anything steal your heart."

Heartfelt, hard earned, heart-earned JOY may be the greatest gift given to our world.

To ponder on Joy -

In what do you find joy?
How do you recognize and experience joy?
When was the last time you let yourself cry?
When you're sad, do you flow with it or resist, ignore or deny it?
How do you possibly stop joys flow through your life?
-Dawn, the Good News Muse  18 December 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 3: Wonder

Sound Cloud audio link:  The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 3

This Way is a day delayed as a result of unexpected rituals and Grace.  I’m not prone to wanting   (Marcia is a caterer.) This surprise treat was even more special because I had just written of the gift of food as a meaningful ritual in Way 2.  Eating longed for fruitcake became part of my evening then around 7:30 we spontaneously decided to pull out Christmas cd’s (yes, we still use cd's) and ride the neighborhood streets looking at Christmas lights.  As for Grace, Grace is the dear bundle of life that visited me for the first time since her unexpected early entry into our world months prior.
fruitcake yet all week I had been wanting fruitcake. I even considered making one for the first time in a decade.  My former neighbor Marcia’s timing was perfect as I heard a knock at the front door yesterday and found her holding a beautifully wrapped box containing homemade fruitcake.

The Third Way of Christmas was delayed because I was engaged in it through Marcia’s unexpected gift, Christmas lights and Grace.  

“For the Third Way of Christmas, the Season gave to me a Spirit of Wonder.” 

This may sound a bit strange but the first association I made with Wonder for this story involved flying on planes.  For a period, I flew to San Francisco and New York City regularly from my Nashville home.  These coast-to-coast flights prompted wonder in me that I had never felt in previous travels.  As I saw, really saw, the planet's people in airports and looked down on Mother Earth from the plane window I would marvel and think, "It is a wonder we are all here."

With all the opportunities for misunderstandings and miscommunications and with all our outer differences, we as a whole, this teeming, moving mass of people, we get along.  Yes, there is still much violence and fear-based hate between countries, peoples and individuals yet this doesn't take away from the wonder that in the bigger picture most of us get along.

Similarly from high in planes, I would look down and marvel at how wondrous it is that Mother Earth patiently supports us.  We take and take; we dig and blast and she continues to let us live here.  This too stirs my wonder.

Closer to home, Nature stirs my wonder daily.  Whether its winter’s cold, hard Earth holding Spring's green life beneath me or the Sun, Stars and Moon sharing their energy above me wonder is stirred.
These last two weeks, the juncos around me have prompted wonder.  These little black and white ground feeders remember where food is found from the Winter prior.  And just like clockwork they return to my yard each December. 

Then there are the seasonal wonders as I experienced last night.  I jumped from the car on occasion to take photos and felt the joy of being a fifty-something kid as my insides oohed and ahhed at light displays on neighbor's homes as trees twinkled in many windows.  This year the lights on trees reminded me on a deeper level of the light held by trees year round, the energetic, quantum light that's always there but not often seen as we hurry about and have forgetten how to see, really see.

Openness is a prerequisite for wonder and that's where the challenge begins. Wonder is reserved for children and a handful of artistic souls who manage to hold onto a way of seeing that's educated out of the masses scripted to compete academically and athletically.

Many are robbed of wonder at a young age due to abuse, addiction and violence.  Over this foundation of trauma and loss is laid pressures, expectations, unrealistic merry messages exacerbating isolation, alienation and despair. (Though I'm filled with wonder now, there have been times past when I have wanted to check out or 'return home.'  Don’t think I'm immune to pain. Now I find wonder in the puzzle pieces of my life’s story and my awakening to wonder at 50.)

My intent isn't to turn everyone into Lovers of Christmas, but I must confess I'd like to sow seeds of wonder and curiosity in those who live in the malls this time of year filling their emptiness rather than feeling it as well as those sensitive souls just trying to survive the holidays.

I'm reminded of a brief conversation I had with an acquaintance some time ago. She and I had never spoken much at all yet as we sat on her sofa, her sweet dog between us, she revealed that she never really experienced safety growing up.  I confided neither had I.

Suddenly a light bulb came on and I heard myself exclaim, "Sensitive people are the ones who don’t feel safe and yet we are the ones so needed now.  Mother Earth and the Times need us. We don't need to hide."  I’ve cognitively known this and said it to others before but this time there was something different about this knowing.  I felt an urgency, a sense of conviction.

Sensitive souls are SO needed in this time. Mother Earth needs us. Humankind needs us, our hearts, our intuition, our sensitivity and our gifts, talents and most of all our WONDER and LOVE.  Think about it.  We are walking wonders.  Our bodies house heart beats and breath, soul, heart, spirit and mind.  

We are equipped for wonder which takes me back to this Season, the juncos and Grace.

The juncos capacity to remember that my yard is one of abundant millet helps me believe we can remember our capacity for Wonder regardless of our age and circumstance.

As a writer, I value and am intrigued by story.  I find and feel great wonder in the primary religious story of this season. Whatever your feelings about organized religion, isn't it a wonder that the story of Jesus birth in times not so unlike ours has survived 2,000 years?  The powers that were in control experienced such threat at the word of this Child born under winter’s magical sky.  This stirs my wonder as I consider how a child called the Prince of Peace became the lightning rod for such fear and hate.  Equally my wonder is stirred by the children coming to Earth at this time, Grace Children here to teach us and lead the way.  

From the small to the large, the simple to the complex, from Marcia’s fruitcake to Mother Earth allowing our presence on her body, we are surrounded by wonders. We are wonders.

I wish for you wonder and curiosity as to your soul’s story, your body, heart, senses and mind and the life you are here to live in this Time not just at Christmas but all the year through.

Pondering wonder
What stirs your wonder?
When was the last time you experienced wonder?
If you're around children, imagine and practice seeing through their eyes.
If you're not around children, be mindful of when you are around them in the grocery or the park. BE curious.
Get outside. Watch the sun and moons shifting patterns across the sky.
See the magic in things. Cultivate curiosity.  Notice the buds already on the trees and wonder about the life inside while it's cold outside.

-Dawn, The Good News Muse 17 December 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 2: Meaningful Rituals

"For the Second Way of Christmas, the Season gave to me meaningful rituals ...." (The grief part is the First Way.)

Ritual -  A ritual is a ceremony or action performed in a customary way. Your family might have a Saturday night ritual of eating a big spaghetti dinner and then taking a long walk to the ice cream shop. (source vocabulary.com)

This was the first on-line definition I found that didn't refer to ritual solely as a function of religion so I decided to use it while simultaneously wondering what percent of families still sit down any day of the week especially at home for a meal and savor the experience of eating and being with each other?  How many would actually walk to the ice cream shop especially if it's a long walk?  

I also opted for this definition because my favorite childhood holiday ritual involved food and experience.  

Just last week I told my mother my favorite ritual was delivering plates of her homemade sweet treats to elderly members of our small community.  I can still see the white paper plates loaded with fudge, divinity, date balls, pecan pies and bite-size fruit cakes.  She and I would visit with each person before moving on to our next stop. In my mind this took an entire day though it may have only been a couple of hours. Equally meaningful for me was doing something with my mother who was usually busy following society's prescription for women of her generation running a home, yard and family.

In the late 80's I made those same sweets for the yearly ritual that was my Christmas party. 

Today this ritual has morphed into my giving loaves of chocolate-cranberry bread (from Provence) to those who are part of the fabric of my community, neighbors as well as the souls to whom I feel connected at Wild Birds Unlimited, the Cat Shoppe and Burgess Falls Nursery.  Holiday ritual involves conveying to those who are part of my weeks through the year that I value and honor their presence.

Lily, Ella and Corina.
Meaningful ritual for me has often involved children, like Ella and Lily, whose parents graciously allow us to be in their lives.  I had a Christmas Eve ritual with these two neighbor girls to whom I am "Aunt Dawn.'  On Christmas Eve we would don Santa, reindeer or elf headgear.  Then armed with three $5 gift cards from Starbucks, we would venture to the mall in search of happy people.  Contrary to the joy one's "suppose" to feel during the holidays, it is rare to find smiling people at least at the mall on Christmas Eve.  We would quietly stalk potential candidates for our gift cards to ensure their smile was constant and not connected to a brief interaction. We were seeking genuinely happy people. My favorite encounter involved meeting Corina.  Since she was the first person we spied as we walked into the mall, we delayed gifting her.  Yet everywhere we turned there she was seeming cordial with strangers as well as store clerks.  After looking for other happy people, yet always encountering her, we introduced ourselves.  She was delighted by our card but we were more impressed with her.  The Christmas prior she had been undergoing treatment for throat cancer and didn't know if she'd see another holiday.  Being alive was the reason for her joy.  
Aunt Dawn, You-Know-Who and Lily
You may have noticed I wrote I had a ritual with Ella and Lily.  Rituals are often most meaningful when they're fluid and flexible.  Ella's turning thirteen reminds me of this for suddenly putting on a Santa hat in public is far from cool.  Our ritual shifted in the last few years to hanging out together at Christmas in the Village.  This year we paddled in a down pour to Provence and Fido where Lily and I had our ritual photo with Santa taken.

My rituals are simple.  I've lights around the windows in the room where I spend much of my time.  This simple shift in light will stay with me through the winter until spring nears.  Putting up clear lights to remind me of the Season's Light is ritual for me as is sitting outside under Winter's stars. 

Music is part of holiday ritual for many.  Every year I hear my friend Kristi Rose and Aqua Velvet perform holiday songs at a local venue.  And sometime in the coming week, Jerry and I will probably conjure up our own little performance.  We'll put on our Santa hats and venture out to sing carols to a handful of friends and neighbors.  We may resuscitate a ritual from years prior.  (Yes, sometimes rituals are laid to rest then resurrected.)  When my nephews were young, we drove them all over Nashville one year to see homes decked in lights.  I still recall turning around in the car seat one night to ensure they were seeing the lights only to find the three of them fast asleep.  Jerry and I continued that ritual ourselves and added hot chocolate (maybe that would have kept my nephews awake).  With Christmas music playing, we drove all over Nashville seeing Christmas lights until we stopped for reasons I don't recall.  This year we're reviving this ritual for an evening.

My favorite more recent ritual has involved going to the Belcourt on Christmas Eve to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on the big screen.

At times I wonder if the speed with which we live is actually diminishing ritual in our lives.  Meaningful ritual requires attention, being mindful and taking time to reflect on what has meaning.

Meaningful rituals don't require money.  If the economy were based on my rituals, we'd surely experience a crash.  The things that hold the most meaning for me cost little to nothing.  Yet it seems around the holidays that buying stuff and eating a lot have become America's primary rituals. 

The on-line Encyclopedia Britannica refers to ritual as a specific, observable mode of behavior exhibited by all known societies.

Think about it.  At least in our known society, aren't the two most observable modes of behavior in America around the holidays buying a lot and eating a lot?

I'm not knocking food and gifts.  Food as a gift is connected to my most meaningful rituals past and present.  Awareness and balance seem to be key.

I challenge you in the coming week to consider your holiday rituals.  What are they?  How do you experience meaning in them?  Are they routine and somewhat hollow?  Have you inherited rituals that belonged to others and aren't really yours?  Are there rituals that have fallen by the way that you want to resuscitate?   

As for me, remember that ritual with Winter's stars I referred to earlier?  I've got a sky full alongside a nearly full moon awaiting me.

I wish for you simple rituals with much meaning.
-Dawn, The Good News Muse 15 December 2013