Monday, August 25, 2014

Lessons from the Food Bank

In 2011, I got breast cancer. I lived through the treatment.  I am still here. I paid the ferryman's price to stay of this side of the Styxx. I can no longer work outside in the 9 to 5 world. I don't care much for the term, "disabled." I collect a small payment of 525.00  month from the 'gov'ment.'  I shop for clothing on ebay, and in thrift stores. I reuse and recycle, plant a food garden, and this year I'm making my first batch of pickles grown in my pesticide and chemical free back yard. I clip coupons, shop sales at the grocery and every Monday, bright and early I take my coffee, my book, a folding chair and hit my local food bank.

According to Feeding food banks are no longer just a failsafe against emergency needs for food. More and more people are relying on food banks as I do--as an ongoing part of my family's food supply. In 2013, FISH Food Banks of Pierce County served more than 500,000 people, many of them young people under 18 years old.

No,  I am not too proud to wait in line for surplus day old bread, canned goods, and whatever else the local food bank has on hand by the grace of Creator and generous donors. Without this weekly supplement to our food budget, we would not be able to make ends meet. That's not entirely true. We could eat, but we would not be able to pay some other bills which would lead to a cascade of catastrophes culminating in no lights or water or gas. Not good. So I go early and I wait the three hours for the doors to open.

I am fortunate to have this resource available.  I am even more fortunate for the company I keep while waiting in line.  My Kwan Yin, Tara Goddesses, a group of ladies who arrive early many times before I do, have become a cherished part of my week. From Korea, they speak comfortably with one another, observing their cultural traditions and behaviors that to me speak clearly of their solidarity as women, and their respect for and loving actions with each other. One or two of them speak some english, but it doesn't matter to me. I am content within the easy flow of their conversation, reading their body language, observing their rituals.

The ladies who arrive later always come and say good day to the oldest of the group first. She takes their hands gently, holding them for a few moments--a sweet gesture of affection. The women share. There is laughter, news traded,  even a bit of gossip whispered, but mostly there is the unmistakable warmth generated when women gather. It is a radiant energy that gives a lightness of being to my heart and opens a space for my spirit to smile and connect with these women, without a common tongue between us.

It began slowly, this lightness I feel.  It began with one of the women knitting and so I brought mine. They smiled and touched the stitches,  nodding approval. I felt they allowed me into their circle just a bit with that interaction. So when I arrive each Monday I nod, smile, and greet them in english, "Good morning!" They smile,  nod, and return my good morning with their own. We might exchange a few words about the weather.  Then came the day a man with a rickety riding mower came to cut grass on the church grounds. A huge rock was kicked from under the unprotected blades. It screamed into the wooden porch support where we were all waiting, hitting the wood with such force, it sounded like a large caliber gunshot. The impact was inches from my head, where I sat in my green lawn chair.

As we looked at the crushed wood in the porch support, and examined the heavy rock  streaked with paint from the wood and scored from the blades of the riding mower, a couple of the women touched my arm, saying "luck." The oldest, looked at me pointed up and said, "God," and smiled.  Now when I see her on Monday she takes my hand and gently pats it. Sometimes she tells me her knee is hurting. Other times she just smiles.

The women call her anjeo, a term of respect and affection I'm guessing.  I feel included in their morning gathering though I dont speak Korean and I am of African and Cherokee descent. This Monday morning I am the first in line. As my Tara ladies begin to arrive,  they greet me in english.  "Morning! " "How do you say good morning in Korean? " I ask.  Anjaseo... when anjeo arrives she says, "good morning! " I say, "Anjaseo!" She is delighted and hugs me. Anjaseo♡

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Standing in the Wake of the Comet's Tail

Robin Williams died on Monday, taking his own life at the age of 63. He was one of Creator's special ones, carrying within him elements of Coyote, Brother Raven, Trickster, and Puck. He was also hilarious in the way of those grazed often with the fires of madness, and darkness. Depression was his lightless companion.

I cannot speak on his life. I didn't know him. I know depression well, for it is inside me, an aphotic ocean that churns and swells. It threatens to drown me regularly. It's not a thing I share with people in passing.  I am an earth mother, a strong black woman, a wounded healer. Women like us don't have depression. That's the lie we swallow,  fed to us daily by a culture dedicated to our diminishing, our Otherness,  and ultimately our destruction. We fight against disappearing. To own a soul sickness like depression, well, it feels like ungirding all of my carefully built up protection, bearing the most vulnerable place and inviting oblivion.

Robin Williams' death is lingering in my thoughts, chopping the waters of my own Cimmeria. Because I get it. While so many shake their heads in disbelief,  cry the questions of why, how could he do it, what was he thinking..? I don't know what particular demon held sway for him in his final earthly hours. I do know well the ones I have battled during my lifetime and I tell you they are powerful and crafty, and well-armed with all of my weaknesses, all of my insecurities,  all of my shame and self-hate. That is what depression is for me. A struggle between the elements of light and dark, good and evil, sane and mad. Extremes of the continuum of my spirit and soul driven by the inevitability of change and growth, confounded and confused by distorted thoughts and reality.

I have tried the way of big pharma. It is a treacherous road, with fuckyou ditches on both sides.  I've a trusted guide, translated therapist for many many years and I sometimes need a health and welfare break from her. I get that this is lifetime thing. There are days when I feel honed by my experience. Other days,  well, just feeling anything is a challenge.

So why am I still here, while other people have taken their leave of this place? I am no stranger to suicide. My youngest brother took his own life at 23. My oldest grandson ended his life at 15 years old in 2012. Despair runs deep in my family.  I am still here. Still striving for wholeness in the midst of my own and the world's brokeness. Here is why:

At the core of my heart, I have been given tasks and a purpose, perhaps more than one to complete while in this body. This is a knowing, not a mere belief, not some airy fairy new age clap trap. For me this is ancient, visitations in dreams, signs and portents kind of knowing. This knowing is not of the rational world; it is of the spirit. Creator has work for me to do here. Osun is my guardian,  my encantada,  the Orisa who has chosen me.

Her path is not an easy one.  It makes me seem outlandish and other to even those with whom I may have an affinity. Her path is one that asks me to love without possessing, to live outside of the world's conventions, to have intimate connection with the beings of trees, plants, rocks, rivers, animals and insects.  Living this way invites derision, avoidance and labeling from people. This adds energy to my dark places,  making them more difficult to balance.

 Despair has held me in such a suffocating embrace, dropping from the precipice seemed a blessing. I have somehow found the courage to return to the solid ground of Creator's love for me, the love shown by giving me a spiritual work to do. There have been times when the strangle hold of depression has brought me face to face with the means of dying and courage was not enough. It was only through an intervention that the means to destroy myself were removed. Something would happen--someone would come home, a book would fall off the shelf, the wind would kick a door closed,  the dog would walk in and pee on the floor. The spirit world often dresses itself in coincidence. And those interruptions would be enough to derail my actions.

I really have no great truth to reveal. I got no wisdom on this. All I have is my own journey, the connections I've been blessed to make. Robin Williams may not know how deeply he touched this world. For me, standing in the wake of his star dust, I am even more aware, more in love with our sacred nature, our sacred relationship to one another and all of Creation.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hematomas, Haters, and the Generation Gap

I have been openly polyamorous since 2006. I probably don't "do" poly the way a lot of people do. I'm not into having copious numbers of partners. I don't do schedules or calendars for spending time with my partners. My relationships are pedestrian--no kinks, no fetishes, no puppy piles, or other sex focused practices. I'm a long term, life partner kind of poly, 15 years with one partner, six and a half years with the other partner. I don't really understand or relate to poly as a primarily sexual variety kind of lifestyle. My spiritual path and practice embrace multiple loving and committed relationships that are essentially founded in friendship, emotional connection, and spiritual growth. M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love,  says that only after the newness of romantic love has calmed, can the real work of loving begin. He says that in order to really love someone, you no longer focus on what they bring to you. Real love becomes the life long work of holding goodwill for all concerned in our relationships, wanting to see our friends, family, lovers, and ourselves become their best selves, allowing them room to grow.

"I define love thus: The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth... Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

This is how I relate to the concept and practice of polyamory. Short and sweet answer, it means we talk...a lot. An area that is a source of many conversations between my partners and me is boundaries--mine, his, and his. It is essential that healthy boundaries be established for all of us because the result of loosely defined or non existent boundaries has led to extensive fallout. We have found ourselves in the middle of a shit storm and wondering how on earth we got there. We got there because one or all of us assumed an understanding that had not been discussed, or assumed that we all felt the same way about something. This brings me to the specific nature of one kind of personal boundary, namely is it ok to leave graphic"evidence" on your partner's body that would be a reminder to your other partner that you've been sexually intimate with him?

I don't think there is a graph, pie chart, or other visual to map the ways in which humans in relationships could feel and express their wishes on this subject. So much depends on the configuration of poly you're living. For us, the term Vee fits about as well as any other ( See also More than Two  for a glossary of terms relating to polyamory.). I am the point of the Vee and my partners are the axes:
My partners are involved with me separately in committed relationships. They are not involved with each other romantically, but they do maintain congenial interactions between themselves. They show respect to each other's relationship with me, and they are respectful of each other's boundaries. They are both very flexible when it comes to time and they don't make a habit of trying to have more time with me at the expense of the other partner. Example:  Partner 1 has been under the weather with bronchitis. We spent time together agreed on  by all of us, but when I mentioned to partner 2 that partner 1 was still feeling pretty punky,partner 2 said that if I needed to stay longer, he was fine with it. Partner 1 was appreciative, but wanted to stick to our original plan and I went home when it was time. This is how the menfolk get down with each other.

(possible TMI alert)
So here it is: I discovered a very tiny bruise while I was showering. I mentioned it to partner 1, who felt sorry about having done it. It was not intentional on his part. I was not upset about it and thought it was not a big deal. When I was a girl, many moons ago, we called the little or sometimes humongous marks love bites. They were damned near a badge of honor for bad girls in training. Partner 1 maintained that it was not cool for him to "mark me" because he considered it disrespectful to partner 2. "That's why we call them hater marks." I had never even heard the term before. Somewhere in the passing of one generation to another love bites became a way to show contempt for an enemy by leaving a mark on his or her boyfriend or girlfriend. A way to say, "yeah, I had that..." I was fairly drop-jawed at this cultural change to the way in which some of the young approach sexuality as a weapon to wield against one's enemies. What happened to the Love-In ?

I became aware that what we were really talking about was a specific boundary between partner 1 and partner 2. I know it may seem this is not a big deal because it's just skin, right? It's only sex, so they say. Yet, I've noticed as we go about the day to day of living in a polyamorous relationship, we become more and more conscious of the other people involved in the dynamic. As we are daily making a choice to act in loving ways with each other we start really caring how what we do affects everyone else. Partner 1 is a man who is sensitive to how partner 2 could feel about seeing a love bloom  on me. Therefore, he was not only apologetic, he said he would be more conscious to not leave a love bite in the future.

This is not so much about giving and getting love bites or even what the proper terminology for them is as it is a revelation that  moments of understanding and communication sometimes come to us in the weirdest circumstances. I could open a conversation with partner 2 about it, but to what end? It turns out he did not notice the mark. There are generational differences going on here. Partner 1 feels strongly about being respectful to partner 2 when it comes to guy stuff. It's part of what makes our poly relationship work between himself and partner 2. I get that. I am grateful that he cares enough to think about the comfortability of everyone involved and even more to act in a loving manner. I see his actions as Peck's "choice to love".

Further, choosing to act in a loving manner transcends any generation gap. The choice to love closes the gap and opens the space where real love can take root and grow. Loving action is the place between us where not only spiritual growth takes place. It is the center of healing and change that transforms us into what we are meant to be.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Return of the Dreamer

Memory returns through dreams
They stay dancing in the corners of my eyes
Not fully opened in the grey gauze morning
Chickadee clan is already darting between
Black Sunflower seeds and the sleeping Oak
They chide me for lingering inside
My cave of blankets with the dog
Her low snoring and small warm body
More real than the rumble of trucks outside
In here it is safe to let my dreams
Of a night mist valley
Where old women gambol and circle
Of great amaranthine orchids
In a long abandoned den
All sift into the heart of my wisdom
Within the fabric of this moment
A place of light begins

When I wrote this, I was in the midst of cancer treatment, keeping a weekly not so happy hour with a Cytoxan cocktail. Sleep was poor. When I slept I dreamed almost immediately upon falling asleep. The dreams were full of information I could not readily make sense of, but I wrote them down anyway. At the time, I had a passing thought to do deeper dreamwork, but I was too consumed with surviving the treatment.

Sleep once more has become phantom-like, coming and going as it pleases. Dreams are now nightmares. Wake up crying, sweating, heart pounding, wherethehellamI.  To add a layer of wtf, I experience head rushes or brain zaps as they are sometimes called.  Da doctor, he say it's "just side effects" from tapering off my medication. End of conversation for him. I am not content with the simplistic answer or to quietly accept and bear the negative impact this sleep disturbance is having on my life.

Patrice Maildoma Somé, of the Dagara people, has voiced the old wisdom, that what manifests in the body and mind are intertwined with the spirit. Imbalance in any part is imbalance in all parts. From the article What a Shaman Sees in a Mental Hospital :

"What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.”  The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm.  “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé. These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm."

It is the practice of his Dagara community to assist people in crisis in a way that allows the person to integrate the experience and become whole and balanced. While I carry the Ancestors in my bones and my spirit, I have no real world community like the Dagara who "get \it". Yet, I am not without resources. Instead of being held hostage by "symptoms" I want to work through them in a way that allows this experience to be integrated into my life that keeps me moving along the path that has chosen me. My Dreamwork consists of these spiritual practices:

Journaling  I journal regularly, but now I am making a point of writing down what I dreamed as soon as I wake. This helps me ground myself back in this world and detach from the Dream Realm. Writing calms me, slows my heart rate and my racing thoughts.

Tapping  My therapist uses tapping when I am caught up in PTSD episodes. She keeps it simple and I have been able to do this on my own. The brain zaps are constant companions, so I can do this when they become more than a nuisance.

Ancestor Reverence  This has already been a part of my path, but now I am listening and watching more closely to signs and messages from them.

Self Love  This is multifaceted  and the hardest part of the work for me. I am a nurturer so everyone else comes first, often leaving little or nothing for me. Eat well, drink plenty of water and tea. One of my partners gave me a gift of several teas, one of them an Earl Grey with Lavender blossoms. That first sip fills me with a healing that spreads throughout my body and spirit. Also I am working to short circuit negative self talk as it arises and replace it with allowing and then letting go. I go outside everyday even if it rains, sometimes because it does. Many more parts to this, but you get the idea.

Explore the World of Dreams  Right now I am doing an audio book by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. called The Beginner's Guide to Dream Interpretation. I have other books and articles on sleep and dreaming that I am revisiting.

Here is why I am choosing to deal with this disruption in the flow of life in this way instead allowing another pharmaceutical solution.

Since I was a child, the spirits of my ancestors were woven into my daily life by my mother, aunties, uncles, and community members. This was done in the most minute of ways--I often observed small rituals and actions when I was not supposed to be "in grown folks business." My life was infused with the do's and don'ts of old time ways--don't throw hair from your comb into the yard or into the trash; don't put hats on the bed; always stand the broom up on its handle; throw some salt over your shoulder when cooking, on and on.

I remember conversations between my mother and her posse of women friends, the whispers about one particular root woman who had a hold of my father from the time he was a young boy. This was a hushed and terrible part of my mother's life until the day she died.

There was Mr. M who had the face of a deep ebony African carving with rheumy eyes and a manner as still as the middle of the night. He was able to cure the wildfire of impetigo that raged through my neighborhood one summer, creating a sulfur yellow salve that had my brother's knees looking like he'd never had the infection in just a few weeks. Even though everyone in my neighborhood was afraid of him, he was the one the community sought out when Western ways failed, and they often did.

Here I am now, 60 years old and these parts of my life are as strong as ever, informing my spirit, my mind and heart. They keep my feet pointed in the direction that calls to me. These are old ways, old wisdom and they sing to me. These nightmares and brain disturbances are side effects, but they are something more, something rooted in the ancient. Bad dreams are more than the pickles eaten before bedtime. They are full of messages and information that the ancestors and spirit beings need for us to know. So I'm listening now for what they want me to know.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bad Ass Women

July 14th was Mala Day. Mala Yousafzai, the champion of education for young girls who was brutally assaulted for her refusal to be silenced, held a sign that said "I am stronger than fear." This slip of girl with a soft voice and a gentle face with a fierce light behind it pulled at the mother bear within me. I wanted to rise up and roar and tear apart her attackers; I wanted tear apart every human who had ever done a vicious act.

Instead I wrote a poem. And that poem awakened me to a movement of change that is growing the way  the currents of a river flow into furious whitewater. Malala is not alone in her calling. In 1976, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in bring peace to war ravaged Northern Ireland. There are so many others, unnamed women who have answered the call to become Oya's Broom, and bring the type of change that while desperately necessary, takes a toll on their own lives in ways we canot possibly conceive.

Consider the lives of women like Sampat Pal Devi, organizer and warrior goddess of the Gulabi Gang. Wearing their signature pink saris and carrying bamboo canes, they seek out abusers of women and children and administer their own brand of justice. They are in a word--badass.

I am certain I have not even grazed the surface in naming the women who have come into a kind of power and movement that is purely given by Grace. They are not simply courageous. They are answering an Earth song of healing that demands blood magic and sacrifice of what we of everyday concerns take for granted--safety, to lay down your head and sleep with both eyes closed, to walk out your door unconcerned for what lurks in shadows.

I am of the everyday, relative to the deep and too often bloodstained struggles these women engage in the service of Social Justice. It is a work suited to few and so it falls to the rest of us to speak their names, hold them up in prayer and praise. Give gratitude for their presence past, present, and future. For it is the women who bring peace finally. It is the women.

Toe to toe with death and destruction
She emerged warrior woman
Beauty of strength and love
Pouring from the wound
Wounded healer, a shaman
Beating the trance drum and singing
I... am...stronger...than
Your guns
Your hate
Your slipping in and out of dark
To silence and destroy
Me I am stronger than
My fear
I am stronger than yours

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Poetry is a Necessity

I read Poetry Is Not a Luxury from Audre Lorde's Sister OutsiderThis is not the first time. The wisdom of women now ancestors pries open my consciousness and signals meto pay attention and go deeper. Audre Lorde, black woman warrior poet wrote of  poetry as the embodiment of  spiritual journey for all women, an embodiment that is something deep, dark and ancient. Poetry, she said, is necessary for us. Not as the exercise of putting together pretty words, but as a means of knowing our true selves, and further giving voice to our profound longings. Not only give voice to them but in poetry, we prepare a birthing place for bringing forth those longings, those desires to action.

Poetry. It has saved me and confused me and kept me up into the dark hours. Poetry has kept me from the pill bottle and the precipice. It is the deeper part of my voice and it keeps me sane. When I am fortunate enough to cross a threshold into the sacred space of poetry like that of Suheir Ammad, I want jump up like Sunday Morning Amen. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Caring for Life

I started my day with cedar joss sticks and chants took me out of my head and into the present moment for a time. Breathing in air that felt new and life giving, I felt centered and able to go on another day.

I went to my plants, giving water and words of appreciation. Added the sound of the water fountain on my altar and did some other house work as my body allowed for it. I think about my health and its tenuous and sometimes unpredictable state and feel fully the privilege I enjoy to have adequate health care insurance and competent providers. I often forget that this is not true for so many in this land of more than any one person could ever need sitting in the hands and control of so few.

I sat here in the comfort of my home, sunshine pouring into every opening on this strange but usual winter day. I am given uncomfortable thoughts, truths to consider. That while the corruption and self interest that passes for goverment and public servants dicker about the cost and shape of health care and who is entitled to have this care,  there is a sense that health care is narrowly defined and somehow separate from care for and of life itself.

As we continue to make the unholy misery of war the daily reality for fellow humans in other places of our planet, it does seem insanity that we are so blind to the health and well being of those whose lives are forever changed by weapons wielded by our hands. Yes, the lives of those who push the button or pull the trigger on either side are casualties as well.

Sometimes when considering the damage we do to one another, I ask the Orisha how will balance be returned to us when we have fallen so far to one awful side? I am not content to chant and transcend to some lofty plane beyond the pain of human existence. Like the speaker in Marge Piercy's poem To Be of Use, I feel a need to get into the muck, hoist and bear away the dirt.

My journey presents me with the question of how do I go from spiritual thoughts and feelings to spiritual action? It is not enough that I think good thoughts. How will I convert thought to bodily experience? Before humans went so far away from our connection to Earth and to each other, creating a vessel that would hold water for the community's needs was a spiritual act of daily life. There was little separation, if any between spirit and daily living as each was entwined with the other. Now is a different time in which we are encouraged and driven to be as far removed from the web threads that inform our connection to Creation.

Our world is one that makes the pain and suffering of others a thing that is "over there" and not in our own souls. My own experience tells me that this is a lie. What is done to one is done to all. Yet, if every act of good, every act of kindness works toward restoring balance, then I can do something. Rather than list what I am doing to help, I would like to hear from others what would constitute for them an action of compassion and love to stand in the face of a world that has forgotten our purpose?