Thursday, December 18, 2014

Longest Night

Long ago, the Celtic peoples of Northern climates gathered around communal fires and blessed the returning sun. In other places in the world people marked and celebrated not Winter Solstice, but those traditions which kept them connected to the Earth and her seasons. Many traditions honored and revered those ancestor spirits who went on into the Spirit Realm.

My own practice and heart have been shaped by my ancestor people--the Eastern Cherokee, the Yorubas, the Mozambicans, and the Celts. I live now in a place where winter is dark and cold and filled with rain. I  miss the blankets of snow from my childhood, but have learned to look to Mountain Mother and her perpetual snowy gown.

Morbid or not this time of year pushes me toward endings--and within endings are loss, fear, despair, and sadness as well as the openings to growth, love, and deepening spirit. This time  of year is full of the frenzy we humans have created and fed to distract ourselves from one another and from our world. The crazier the pace, the more inward I draw, avoiding the mall and stores, the traffic, the slack-jawed crowds.

Pulling in puts me close to the darkness of winter and the coming of the longest night. I reflect on the events and milestones of my life, now in my 61st year in this body. I touch the the griefs and heartaches, the joys and loves. I see the crest of the hill of my own mortality and the fear of death recedes faintly each time I look.

As the Winter Solstice approaches this weekend, the words of Stephen Jenkinson have presented themselves and become my meditation:

The idea of a relational identity panics North Americans because "my true inner self" is up for grabs as existing at all, never mind occupying the throne of our conscience the way it tends to do these days.

I believe, I experience that inside the kernel of our souls resides the "true inner self." It is not "up for grabs", but it is constantly seeking to find its place of belonging, its home within Creation. I can't speak for others; I  know only the limited view of my own journey and the sacred intersections I have been blessed with in 61 years.  It's  three in the morning and the fibro flare that has been rolling in for the past few weeks has arrived.

When the pain pushes its way past my ability to cope and compensate, my own mortality plays like a movie in my body and mind. I feel more isolated, more separate, more alone. The experience of "relational identity" is a place within me and without  to find balance once more. I  am not simply me, but am a part of every  human, every rock spirit, tree, flower and bee weighted down with pollen. I am mirrored in the empty eyes of the panhandlers on the corners. I am the man in a wheelchair outside of the courthouse whose face I could not see as I pressed some dollars into the jar in his lap. Somewhere in the corybantic movement of the rail thin, poufy lipped white woman who clutches her bag closer as she walks by me in the store, yes, even in her there is me in some kind of way. Is it hard to be compassionate and at peace with this connection? Of course. Still, this truth, this knowing I work to hold as the pain and exhaustion drag me about and I  can last until it passes.

It is the way of life. Nothing is easy. There is always some challenge, some sadness, some falling away, all of it out of our control no matter how large the illusion we create that we run this show. We do our best and things fall apart anyway. I reflect on these drop downs in my own life--my adult children's struggles with addiction and mental illness, how after more than a decade trying to help my mentally ill daughter get help, I had to put her out of my house because she became violent. How the suicide of my 16 year old grandson, and the wound left by his leaving aches at the least expected times. There is more but listing misery isn't my goal.

My desire is to send these words into the world as meditation and prayer, as a deep longing for that place where I  am becomes we are. So this Saturday, my fireplace will crackle, the ancestors will be fed, the house will be smudged and I will find the my threads and cast them out toward the coming year with hope and gratitude for this messy, illogical, spirit-filled life.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Work of Love

One of the misconceptions about a spiritual life is that it will be a life of light and perpetual bliss. I’ve fallen into that hole more than once and I continue to fall in. I start believing that because Osun has called me that I must be more wise than most. I fool myself into believing that only happy events will comprise my life. I forget that it is not my wisdom that Osun wants. It is my growth as a spiritual being. Therein shall I find bliss, and only therein.

Years ago, I read M. Scott Peck’s A Road Less Traveled. Poking around in one of the two local Goodwill stores I shop at these days, I found a pristine copy for $1.99. The first sentence of Chapter I tells me I made the right choice:

Life is difficult.
Echoing the first of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama’s Four Noble Truths, Peck eloquently reminds us that when we accept that life is a process of challenges, trials, break-through, enlightenment, and yet new challenges and trials, we can get down to the real work of living and loving, and stop wasting our time moaning and waiting for the goose that lays the golden egg of happiness.

When my beloved *yaar moved in and he, myself, and my *rafeegh of 11 years became a tribe of chosen family. I have been polyamorous all of my life. Like many poly people, it has taken me most of my life to find the fitting and loving expression of this love-style. Living together, sharing everyday life with a commitment to wherever it takes us is my poly ideal.  We cohabitated for four years. In those years, we all faced the inevitability of change that life brings.

In defining Love, Peck says this:

I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
To accept this definition of love means that I have to move beyond romantic notions of love. I would argue that his association of spiritual oneness with the myth of romantic love is inaccurate. I have experienced deep spiritual connection with my lovers during love-making, and during time spent in ritual at the altar. That said, his definition rings truth for me. Peck also sets as a condition of real love that it displays itself through action and effort. It is what we do that determines love, not what we profess. Love is action, not principle.

In order to love others, we must have an already established love of ourselves. There is no love, without water in our own wells to offer. If I am following Peck’s reasoning, that water must be our own will to engage in deep self-examination and accept our own mistakes, forgive ourselves, and move forward into further spiritual awakening. I think this process can be singularly our own or it can be entwined with the same process of our beloveds. It is…humbling. If you are unflinchingly honest with yourself when these moments of growth appear, prepare to be brought to your knees.

My yaar is highly sensitive, emotional, intense, spiritual, and often mercurial. He is high maintenance, so he is not for the faint of heart, and not for everyone. My nickname for him is my tempest in a teapot. When his teapot shatters, it’s best to step aside, allow him to pick up the pieces, and support him as he puts them all back together. He does this quite well.  In fact, he has outgrown my nickname as the years have demanded his growth and transformation.

Eventually, our lives as a poly tribe morphed. He moved into his own place. The whole process was messy, at times pure chaos. It felt like loss on so many levels. The change was pain filled. For a time I believed we had failed as a poly family. Not once did I ever stop loving him, but I wrestled with the necessity of this change, my own insecurities, and the complex issues and human interactions involved. At the lowest point I believed and accepted that he would never be in my life again.

The thing about change is you don't get to call the game plan or how it will be executed. You get to decide to embrace or fight. Through being open, allowing time to move us along, and a conscious choice to work through and with this change in all our lives, we somehow have remained loving and committed partners. There was damage surely, there has been heartache. There have been moments of excruciating soul searching, step offs into bad choices. Yet, because each of us has continued to choose to act in loving ways, we've weathered the seas of change.

Now I am the traveling lover packing a weekend bag. I keep creature comforts at his place, creating a space where I come "home" and live life with him as fully as possible. When it's time, I return "home" to my rafeegh.  It is worth all of the inconvenience, and complications.  The things that have deep value are never easy.

I deal with chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia every day. It's a lot to manage. I get overwhelmed.  I have pitiful me parties. I cry sometimes because there is so much I want to do and just can't anymore. It is so easy to let loss trap you, so easy and tempting to let the idea of what you lack steal what you have.

I choose to focus on the fact that we all have the gift of each other in our lives still after seven years, 15 for my rafeegh and me. And there is the joy of this amazing, crazy, outside the crayon lines, magical, other kind of life I live. A life of art, music, and maybe, yes, even dance again. As my choice to eschew the pharmaceutical method of coping with fibromyalgia unfolds, I have begun to experience healing in my body that I have not felt since before the cancer diagnosis.

 There is the unmistakable pull to go deeper into this spiritual sojourn. Giving expression to polyamory in the way it holds meaning for my heart and spirit has provided me incredible opportunities for spiritual growth. I think that these places of spiritual growth are what Peck means by the real work of loving. He says that falling in love, being in love is a romantic myth. He may be right, I don’t know. I do know that real love is more than a notion. It will crumble your ego into bits. Yet, it is only after the destruction of old ways of thinking can the new occur. Much like the way Oya, Goddess of Winds, prepares places and people by sweeping away old structures through lightning, and storms, our work in love and spiritual growth requires us to let go of our notions of wisdom and rightness so that the real work of spiritual growth and love can begin.

From the Introduction to The Thief of Sleep by Shahram Shiva

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It Takes a Village

As I reclaim my sacred space and altar time, I wanted to find a chair, stool, or bench that I could use to sit at my altar to Osun. It would need to be large enough to sit on comfortably for an hour, but small enough to remain in front of the bookshelf upon which the altar resides.

My intention was to do what I like to do--find a piece in a thrift store and fix it up. After putting that off for a couple of weeks,  I realized that this is another lesson in accepting my body and its limits. While I may be able to fit the trip to Goodwill into my spoon allotment for the day, the energy required to do the rehab on a piece is just not there.

So looking for something suitable now involves shopping for new. I've found several designs that fit the dimensions.  Now it's time to choose. While I don't have a huge following, it would be fun to have those who read this blog choose the design of my new prayer bench. Here they are:

Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Number 4

Number 5

Leave a comment with your choice and a few words about why you like the one you chose. I'll announce the one that got the most votes in a couple of weeks. I'm excited to see what folks think.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Mercy Seat

One of the sacred practices that became lost for me when I was undergoing cancer treatment was dedicated and regular time at my altar for Osun. Osun is my encantada,  the Orisa that has called me, been my guide and teacher for most of my life. While I have kept and maintained her altar, spending a hour or more in contemplation and prayer, or doing readings slipped away as my ability to concentrate, and my physical stamina were siphoned off by chemo, radiation,  and the entry of fibromyalgia in the aftermath of treatment.

As the new road of my journey opens before me, and I am beginning to breathe more slowly, make choices with more spiritual purpose. I find I can begin to look around at the wreckage of illness and begin to reclaim what still serves my life. It's not always about letting go. We have to hold close the blessings, and gifts that nourish us too.

Osun's altar is often found in the bedroom or the kitchen. But I have no space in either of those rooms. Her altar sits on an expansive bookcase between living room and dining room. The relatively public area puts Iyalode Osun in the main area of my home and I love her there. But how to have some quiet and private time with her?

One of my partners, with whom I often have shared altar time got my mind shifted in the direction of being more active about reclaiming my sacred space. As I thought about his words, "...you always took everything to your altar--joys, sorrows, everything..." His words sent me back to childhood and my mother's A.M.E. church, the call to bring it all to the altar. Everyone would sing so soft it was almost a whisper, "Come ye disconsolate...where 'er ye languish...Come to the mercy seat...fervently kneel...Earth has no sorrows,  that Heav'n cannot heal...."

It was my favorite time in church, so hushed and yet so deeply reverent and unwavering in faith that whatever it was, the Creator would take care of it. It stuck, one of the few pieces of traditi Izonal religion that did. And so I,  in my own way and on my own path have regularly come to the mercy seat to laugh, to weep, to supplicate, to beg and even bargain because I am not immune from my human failings. Every time I found what I needed. Every single time.

As I sort through the upturned and scattered pieces of my life, this found thing is pure treasure to me. How I will accomplish it is not so much a problem as an opportunity to allow Osun a more firm purchase in my heart and spirit. She will show me the way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Taking Stock

I spent a week in Tacoma General Hospital last week. A silent kidney infection went rogue and put my body into Sepsis. Been home for a week and I'm back to being able to do pretty much nothing, again.

I looked at the bottles and bottles of pharmaceutical drugs I've been allowing into my body since the cancer diagnosis

Then I had my husband bring down every bottle and box from the upstairs bathroom. 

When I look at this, I see poison. I see the root of why my body cannot heal properly. Why I'm limping along in a world between alive and dead, barely able to function. I can't place the blame entirely on Western Medicine.  I bought the snake oil, lock stock and "smoking barrel. " 

So this morning I'm assessing my state of being. There's a bag of kitty litter complete with turds waiting for this pile of pharmaceutical crap. Right now, I'm angry. At the consumer culture that makes medicine into profits, bottom lines, and way to get paid, instead of healed. I'm angry at a culture that treats the old as fodder for big pharma. I'm angry at myself for so easily swallowing the pills and the lie.

I'm not being stupid. I'm intelligent enough to know what I need to take, and what is simply junk. So enough. Enough of the sawbones' claptrap.  This morning, with the beginning of a tickle in my throat that wants to turn into something bigger, instead of the medicine chest, I'm into the kitchen and my teapot.





Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stepping Off the Big Pharma Road and Onto My Own

This is not a blog about Fibromyalgia. I am no expert. I have no special wisdom to impart to anyone looking for tips, tricks, or strategies on how to deal with having this vicious chronic madness that invades your life and turns it inside out. For the uninitiated:

fi·bro·my·al·gia
fībrōmīˈalj(ē)ə/
noun
a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas. (from google search)

The National Institute Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases says, "Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue (feeling tired). People with fibromyalgia have “tender points” on the body. Tender points are specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. These points hurt when pressure is put on them."

The Mayo Clinic defines Fibromyalgia as " a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals."

For two years since undergoing treatment for Breast Cancer, I've been battling, all out warring with a host of symptoms that fit the clinical definition of Fibromyalgia. According to the diagnostic criteria, which mind you, are sketchy at best, a person has to have suffered these symptoms ongoing for a minimum of three months. I received a definitive diagnosis this week, finally. The first appointment with a specialist came last year after repeated visits to my primary doctor, who implied I wasn't trying hard enough to get well, and that my pain was purely the result of clinical depression. The specialist, a neurologist, leaned back in his chair and glibly told me that Fibromyalgia is just a garbage term. It doesn't actually exist. Yeah...never went back to him. I've done the Big Pharma Shuffle, from SSRIs, to Tricyclics, to Lyrica, Effexor, Celexa, Trazodone--I've truly lost count of the number and kind of drugs I've swallowed attempting to gain control of my body and its pain and exhaustion. I have completely weaned myself from all prescription meds  except the three I truly need to take.

I don't know why I thought that I could invest all of my faith in Western Medicine. Fear and the desperation of chronic pain will drive a person to make unwise choices. Prior to seeing the rheumatologist who named my pain, I was focused on simply bearing it, coping moment to moment. I focused on hope--hope that it would go away, would heal on its own, hope that something would happen to make it better, or all else failing, I would die and it would all just stop. The problem with coping is that it requires different skill sets to deal with problems. I have not been using the right skill set to deal with this. Hope, too, requires a particular energy and mine has been to retreat into passive waiting. That kind of hope carries a thin light and I need something more active, more bright to see me through what I know now to be the state of my physical being.

Even my old standbys of altar time, prayer, drumming, creating art have not been enough to transmute the imbalance of chronic illness. I've tried, but I recognize now that I will need to go much deeper into spiritual practice, find the proper teachers and guides, if I am going to be able to have any decent quality of life.

First of all, I have no abundance of disposable income. Just don't have it. But I do have the resourcefulness gained from being poorer than many most of my life. I know where to look for free stuff. First stop, library for books about fibro, exercises, symptomology, treatment, all that. Next stop, a search for support groups that yielded a free  Tai Chi class at the Senior Center in Sumner, WA, about 20 minutes from me. I went to the class this morning, no small accomplishment since just opening my eyes and emerging from the blankets was a feat of strength today. The class was small and the forms were done seated--a blessing for me since I've given in to using a cane during this flare. The center has Yoga every week for 5.00 a class, and Ceramics for 3.00 a class.  I'm signed up for both.

I admit that at first I was turned off by the idea of hanging out at a place for old people. I felt I wasn't ready for that, not slowed down enough, but this morning's class disabused me of the notion that I am anyplace but in the deep down of slow and scrounging for a spoon. Humble pie is bitter sweet...and though it seems that so many of the young are slapped with Fibromyalgia, it is not a disease of the young. It is a disease, an imbalance in people who, like me were high energy never miss a beat, juggling all the plates in the air one handed. I was never a Type A kind of person, but I had my shit together. I did everything and anything I wanted to do. That was then. Shuffling about trying to remember what I was saying a few minutes ago is now. Wiping the kitchen counters and having to put my head down for a few minutes so I can make it to a chair to sit is now. Lying awake at two a.m. in pain so relentless and bone busting I'm sick to my stomach is now.

So I'm digging deeper for healing, even deeper than when I had cancer. Western Medicine has failed me. I have no more faith in what they provide except within an extremely limited scope. Spiritually, I am in a place that feels awakened by the call to do more than I have ever done before. To be more of who I am meant to be and to connect to my place in this world more firmly. Yes, even in pain I can do this.I am no longer at war with my body, no longer engaged in ways to make it submit to my desires. I see this path as one of making peace with my reality, finding balance in the midst of storm. Pain no longer is the focus, though it is ever present.  Will the pain go away? I can't say, but I am moving toward wholeness, not simply moving to be pain free. Ashé...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Allowing

Healing is a process. Healing is continuous. Healing washes the spirit in waves much like the tide rises, sometimes unperceptively but always in motion in and out, advancing and receding only to return again.

On November 4, 2011 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I have been treated and tracked from the realm of cancer patient to cancer survivor. I am still learning what that means. One thing I've discovered is that I have not "recovered" all that I was before cancer. Deep fatigue, muscle and bone aches, memory loss and slowness have continued to be present and relentless; a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia is a naming that gives little comfort.  I have developed scarring in my lungs and other late effects of the treatment that have a serious impact on my ability to function. I'm angry and frustrated at not being more physically well than I am. I know that I am not alone. Despite the doctors' pronouncements that I'm cured and should be feeling so much better--I'm not. I am out of synch, out of balance with my body and my spirit. The treatment took its toll and I am coming to know and accept that wellness and balance will be the work of my life from this point forward.

Western Medicine treats. It is not concerned with healing. From etymonline:

"restoration to health," Old English hæling; see heal. Figurative sense of "restoration of wholeness" is from early 13c.; meaning "touch that cures" is from 1670s.

By force and by poison cancer has been torn from my breast and my body. Blood was drawn and tested and found to be free of malignancy. Yet, I am not restored to wholeness, nor have I yet to receive the touch that cures. The year of BC blocked me from my spiritual practice, isolated me from the physical ability to engage in those pursuits that have  sustained me, kept me balanced, whole, and in harmony with my life in this body. I have resisted the truth that healing/balance is now the work of my life. I had been on a trajectory that had graduate school and work at the center of my life. Though the work I wanted to do was good work, work that would help others, it was still about what I could accomplish more than it was about who I am. Now, who I am has changed and that is as it should be. As a human I do not want to change. As a spiritual being change is a part of my existence. And once more, I have no map or guide book to navigate the passage I must travel.

Once more I find myself in this place of unknowing; I am walking with faith toward gnosis. It has been and continues to be a mostly solitary journey for me. By necessity I have withdrawn from connections to people and things that are not useful now. The time has come for me to let go of a guide who has been with me since the beginning of this journey in 2011. She gave me a new copy of Anita Moorjani's book, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing , which I have read and meditated on.

Each day I do something outside even if all I can do is sit in the sun. I try to practice patience with myself when I can catch myself in the act of self loathing for my perceived inadequacies both physical and emotional. As a Black Woman, I have been acculturated to a life of self denial, of self worth only in the light of what I could accomplish and achieve, because no matter what just me would never be enough. The Black Angels that keep appearing in my readings--Sun Daughter, Mother Soul, Earth Mother. Coming off the sleeping path of these guides requires me to be focused on my own needs instead of everyone else's. Cancer has taken all of that self from me. I am no longer able to keep house, cook, take care of everyone's needs as I did. Having Breast Cancer has brought change and this opportunity for growth. Anita Moorjani describes her healing as a process of "allowing" rather than doing. For me, it feels more of letting go. Letting go is the first step in allowing. Without letting go, nothing can open, nothing can enter in.

My spiritual practice has changed as it must in the wake of Oya's broom. Simplicity reigns supreme. My altars remain oases of spiritual energy, a little bliss in the eye of the storm that comprises my life these days. Many days, tending them is by necessity brief, but the brevity makes me pay attention more to what I am doing. Oya clears the way, and not kindly, for new growth, for rebirth, for allowing. When you hold on too tight, Oya will open your fingers and level everything you know down to rubble. From the destruction, if you are open, if you "allow," will come the growth that Creator asks of you. And that is why we are here--to love, to grow, to become, to experience this journey in a human form.

My journey has reached a place of learning what it means to heal, what it means to be broken, and what it means to be whole while still in the midst of pain. I have no clue where this road is leading. A spiritual life is no guarantee of answers. You don't get special treatment. The blessings and joy are built into the work of it all. The end of summer sunflower from my garden is the blessing that found its way into my pain-numbed brain, and hearing Osun's laughter in my spirit, I brought the golden girl inside to Iya's altar. That I could allow this small place of beauty in the midst of  pain and fatigue that made me want to crawl into bed with a bottle of wine and a chocolate bar, is a sacred thing to me. There is a place of light still that lives within me. I am understanding, I think what it means to "allow."