‘A desert is a place without expectation.’
~ Nadine Gordimer

I am a mountain girl.

Not only does this mean that I find the beautiful in majestic snow-covered peaks,  monumental boulders and expansive woodlands but it also means that I find the common, the banal, the (dare I admit it?) the mundane.

I know!  Presented with such grandiose splendor how could I ever take it for granted?  How could it just fade into the backdrop?

But being a mountain girl is exactly the problem.   With such blatant glory as the setting for all of my days, all of my routine, all of my own ordinary… they can sometimes become ordinary too.

So you can imagine why I never gave any thought to the desert.  Promoted as being barren and desolate with little to no life, little to no color…  How could that be beautiful in comparison to the brilliant and luxurious mountains that are at times not enough to capture my attention?

And so I was in my thirties before I was startled aware by the the exceptional loveliness of the desert.  The delicacy of the microscopic life there, the subtlety of the many shades of orange and gold that exist in the world, the unexplored depth of the sky… or earth… or self…

And I learned that without expectation, I was greeted with wonder and novelty and delight.

I have been thinking about expectation and the fact that it doesn’t seem to offer me any benefit.

Either I have high and hopeful expectations…  As have been my expectations that my partner will do what he said and at least consult the medical professionals to determine his current state of health.

And these expectations,of something out of my control, seem to be directly tied to disappointment and frustration.  Like those I am experiencing nearly two weeks after that promise and two more canceled appointments later…

Or I have extremely low, nearly dismal expectations…  As I have been having with my on-going state of unemployment.  Bemoaning being a highly-skilled specialist in a very narrow field and becoming increasingly discouraged by not even being able to find work in a ‘menial, meaningless’ position.

The end result of this sort of expectation is typically that something unexpected and rewarding causes me to deride myself for my fear and lack of faith in the universe.  But then I am ridiculing myself and have already spent countless hours awake in anxiety…

No.  Neither one of these situations seems to be an advantageous use of my time or energy or spirit.

And so, I have decided to rid myself of expectation.

I am going to focus instead on the things I can control.  Who I am.  How I perceive the world and recognize all of its mystery and wonder.  What I have to offer right here and now.  How to welcome each moment as a new discovery.  How to remain open and faithful to the certainty that there are microcosms and macrocosms spinning around me whose splendor I will know when I need to .

‘May the Light of God surround you,

the Love of God enfold you,

the Power of God protect you,

the Wisdom of God counsel you,

the Peace of God permeate you,

the Grace of God heal you,

the Presence of God watch over you.’


‘Mindful choosing of friends and lovers, not to mention teachers, is critical to remaining conscious, remaining intuitive, remaining in charge of the fiery light that sees and knows.’ 

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

On my 30th birthday, with my lover MIA, my family distracted by their own living, and my baby with his dad,  an extraordinary friend danced with me across the anomalous sand dunes of a high mountain valley under the lucid watch of a full moon.

On my 35th birthday, with my heart breaking, my certainty failing, and my questions compounding, a luminous friend bounded with me along a secluded back-packing trail in full view of the surf and stars, illuminated and elusive.

These are the kinds of women I know and love.  The sort that I stumble upon occasionally and who are so precious and rare that I cannot let them go.

They are brilliant, bold and brave.  They challenge me and themselves to greater being and so I collect them into my heart and life.

Being as exceptional as they are, they are an uncommon find, and so are scattered across continents and cultures.

This dispersion is the reverse of most collecting and it can be difficult to care for a collection like this.

I was reminded this week that I want to be more diligent and attentive to its care.

I recently ran into a lovely woman I know (my partner’s ex, mother to his step-daughter) in the grocery store.  She was clearly in a delicate state, one I have known well in recent months.

Fruits and juices and other edibles falling out of her overloaded arms, I went to help her and saw that she also clutched onto a large book, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a fantastic folklorist and seductive storyteller.

I commented that I was glad J (the partner) had given it to her.  (He had recently picked it up for me at a flea market, but as I already own a well-tattered and marked up copy, I suggested he give it to her.)

She responded by saying that actually, she had just now bought it at the thrift store next door and that he hadn’t yet mentioned it to her.

The synchronicity struck me.

I haven’t read the book in years, and here it was coming up twice in as many weeks, and just when I have been feeling isolated, disconnected and alone.

(For those who haven’t read it, it is an amazing read about female archetypes and the collective spirit that runs through and fortifies the feminine.)

I promptly suggested that we read it together and put together a discussion group.

I know of a couple other women right now who are moving through their days with heavy burdens and unknown futures.  Each time I see them, I hug them and suggest that we get together… but we never do.

Today, I am making the deliberate decision to pull out the duster and polish up the somewhat neglected collection of amazing women that I already have.  I am writing letters of love and appreciation and creating art to reflect the color they bring to my spirit.

I am also taking conscious actions to add to that collection, here, where I am now.

I am going to gather together my tribe that we may teach each other and strengthen each other and care for each other.  There are remarkable women out there and I am going to make them mine!

‘Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.’     

~ Christopher Forrest McDowell

I believe strongly in the sanctity of location.

That there are places or points on this earth where the spirit of the Divine resides unrestrained.  Where brilliance and peace and hope are present and waiting to touch and fill up any wandering souls.  Where a blessed wonder is accessible to all who pause a moment there.

Most of said places that I have encountered are natural spaces…

An apse-like alcove built of lavender stone and boulder where sunlight dappled through the trees and water’s laughter kept company; a shoreline where self was transported into the endless expanse of the sky and encompassing revelry of the thundering waves; a valley stippled with the vivid confetti of alpine flowers springing from the immaculate snow, just the opening act of a gala unfurling…

But I am fortunate to have also tumbled onto constructed spaces that have, either consciously or not, welcomed the Sacred and now offer refuge and safety to the weary soul…

An ancient cathedral in the Breton countryside where filtered sunbeams caressed the quiet hopes and apprehensions of those who’d left them there; the rock-cut tombs of a long-forsaken Byzantine city carved in celebration and honor of their much-loved inhabitants; a jungle-swathed Mayan temple wrapped in the celestial embrace of morning mist and mystical myth…

It is harder for me to find those spaces now, today, in my newly dressed metropolism…  And yet my need for this sort of refuge becomes more apparent and presses in on me.

My mountain-raised self is becoming more and more confined and crippled by the concrete and steel which now encase my days.  (I am remembering this feeling from my last city-spell…  Then, it sent me running for isolation, but that is not a tangible option right now.)

And so I am seeking the sacrosanct in urban edifices…  In which modern places (in a rather young, progressive western city) might someone have remembered to invite and leave room for the Sacred?  the Divine?

Where might I find the contemporary spaces which can replenish and sustain my dehydrated spirit?  Those filled with the grace, joy and tranquility upon which my real life is dependent?

Where do you find yours?

‘If we are going to love others at all, we must make up our minds to love them well.’  

~ Thomas Merton

‘I am against nature. I don’t dig nature at all. I think nature is very unnatural. I think the truly natural things are dreams, which nature can’t touch with decay.’
~ Bob Dylan

After lasagna, there is little I can think of as being more typically American than the Twinkie.

Golden fluffiness, spongy delight, sugary sweetness…  made to survive a nuclear fallout.  What more could one want from an afternoon snack?

I was not allowed to have Twinkies as a child.  I was cursed/blessed? with a mother who felt that they weren’t good for me.  That they were unnatural, stuffed, not with creamy joy, but with  artificial flavors and artificial preservatives, and therefore should not be a part of my  body’s sustenance.

(She also sent me to school with sprout-stuffed pita-pocket sandwiches.  There’s  no kid who’s gonna trade their Twinkie for that!  So it was, indeed, a long time before I knew the true taste of the Twinkie…)

As it turns out, she was only partially right.  While it is true that there is very little that is natural about the Twinkie, only one of its 39 mostly-chemical ingredients is an actual preservative.  The rest simply replaced the milk and eggs and butter of the original recipe, in order to extend the shelf life.

Eventually, the Twinkie too shall pass.

As an adult, I don’t eat Twinkies either, and I am unsure whether or not my son has ever talked anyone into trading a part of his lunch for one…

No, I only think of them now as I contemplate life and death and the natural order of things…

Coroners and statisticians use the term ‘Unnatural Death’ to refer to death by something other than a natural cause.  And yet, it seems as if the rest of us feel that death itself  is the unnatural ingredient.

Unexpectedly dying in our sleep at the age of 87 with no prior pain or disease, we can accept as natural.  Any other scenario and we resist.   We agree to start swapping out our milk and eggs and butter for artificial replacements in the hope of extending our shelf life.

But what did those early Twinkies taste like?  When they might have just come out of your grandmother’s oven and the flavors of real butter and vanilla (rather than the petroleum-based artificial sort) spilled over your tongue?

(You could try making them at home, but I must warn you, that you will  have to consume them in a matter of days.)

In light of the Twinkie, I understand my partner’s opposition to treatment.  Who wants to exchange their own organic ingredients for chemo-therapies, irradiated tissues, artificial organs…?  And just to extend their life, not necessarily make it better…

Yet, he is nowhere near approaching 87 either, so the element of the unnatural lingers.

But is it dying that is not natural or is it our fight to avoid it?

Certainly, our instinct to survive is strong and I want my partner to survive.  But I also want him to enjoy quality of life.  Yummy and fluffy and sweet.

And when it comes time for the end, I’d rather it were peaceful.  At least in heart if it cannot be in body.

I don’t know of any other way to achieve that other than accepting that death is a natural process of life, and may just be a final opportunity for more holistic living.

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”   ~ George Bernard Shaw

Last night I dreamt that I was in the Southern United States after the Civil War, during Reconstruction.

I was in what must once have been a beautiful and affluent city.  From my vantage point, which allowed me a nearly aerial view, I could see wide streets lined with large buildings, Georgian and Neo-classical in design.  Elegant and enormous and entitled…

However, the presiding mood of the city held none of this.  Instead it had been replaced with chaos and rivalry and fear.  The large avenues, once symbolic of an ordered existence, were muddy and torn and often un-navigable.   Many of the once graceful and imposing buildings were falling into disrepair, some reduced to rubble, and some burning, crumbling, turning to ash right before my eyes.

I knew of the enmity that reigned there.  Former military leaders, Majors and Generals, men used to power and authority…  struggled to command control of the city’s restructuring, desiring to maintain their status in the face of defeat and disenfranchisement.

And this new civil-contention kept the residents, the already physically, mentally, emotionally displaced men and women, fearful and confused.

I was not alone in my observation.

I had a companion who watched over the scene with me.  A man who was clearly part of the story, yet who possessed neither the fear nor the compulsion present in the other characters.

He, I discovered, was a Mineral Engineer.

He knew of the resources that lay beneath the stone and wood and failing dreams…  He knew how to unearth them, name them and verify their worth.

He was the principal upon whom the various other factions were depending in order to guide their new conceptions, their new decisions, their new realizations of a new life.

He was calm and confident and clear.  And he was my friend.

***

I awoke feeling strangely satisfied and secure.

Sensations of smoldering edifices and crying children still evident and alarming…  But it was the certainty of my companion that left me feeling strong and certain as well.

According to Jungian analysis, dreams of fire represent psychological transformation and may indicate either destruction or purification.

Houses are meant to symbolize the emotional self… and I don’t know that the razing, crumbling, looting of my emotional self sounds like a comfortable undertaking.

But I do know that my cohort was unafraid.  He had knowledge of what lay beneath that I did not have and could not see.

He saw treasure and possibility there.  And he was excited for what would come.

So, that is my focus today.

To look below the seeming chaos and disaster of my current situation.  The dying of my love.  The collapse of my friendship.  The trepidation of the unknown.

To know that there are plentiful and untapped resources there, within me.  And that out of the destruction will rise something new and intentional and flourishing.

Once, I knew

how to peer from within,

conscious of the framing of vision

which needs make up my

mortality.

 

Now I cannot will that insight

-outsight?-

without unbidden stimuli.

 

Like that first snow which

covers my scrutiny, filtering

its severity until the very

meekness jars me

into bewildered awareness.

‘Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.’
~ Confucius

Being new to blogging, I didn’t anticipate either the extent or the excellence of the beauty I would find here.

The generosity with which life’s artists are willing to share their vision of the world, in rich image, word, sentiment and connection has drawn me in and keeps me spellbound.

I, for one, do my collecting and creating with words.  Within my mind’s databases, that is how my understanding of existence is stored and recalled as well.

If you were to look up an object under my personal Dewey  Decimal System, it does not hold a picture, as I imagine many others do.  No, mine simply has a listing of characteristics.  i.e.  ‘house’ : (in my part of the world…) typically rectangular, a door, windows, covered with a triangular lid , sealed from weather and threat, a place of safety, gathering and rest for individuals or groups of individuals…

And as I look through photographs, I notice that it is more important for me to secure visuals of moments with those I love than it is to capture nature’s splendor.

(Those images, cherished in my mind’s memory, are perhaps made even more beautiful by the gentle softening and shifting that takes place there.  But I don’t want to soften any of the hard-earned lines in my grandmother’s skin, the piercing intensity of my lover’s eyes,  or the indisputable delight in my son’s smile. )

I also notice a void in my albums.  The absence of me.

My current partner  (a musician, artist and photographer) loves taking photos of me.  Before we even went out on our first date he had taken more shots of me than my former boyfriend had in seven years.

I now have a plethora of texts and emails containing my face and I can only tolerate the quantity of Facebook posts because of his agreement not to tag me.  I sometimes want to hide from his lens.  But what is it that makes me so uncomfortable?

First, is a fear I’ve discovered about being seen; a phobia too unexplored to weigh in here…  But second, is my lack of familiarity at seeing myself as he does.

I consider myself to be rather objective and rational when it comes to such things.

I know that I have most of the traits included under the listing for ‘Western concepts of Caucasian feminine beauty’:   thin,  fit, long legs, long hair, large breasts, symmetrical face, fair skin, light eyes…  But then, so does an albino spider.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder at the evident beauty looking back at me from those photos.

I didn’t know that before.

Each time I see said ex, he tells me how good I look.  And I always  reply that I look the same.  – Which is both true and not true.

My face, my hair, my body and most of my wardrobe is the same as during the time we spent together.  But now I am being looked at differently.  I am being seen by one who looks for and wants to celebrate my beauty.

And I find that this vision is projected into reality.  A reality where others see me as he does, and where even I am coming to recognize that there is… something…

That beauty may be less in what is actually seen by the beholder, or even in the beholder’s personal categorizing of beauty, but in the magnificence of the beholder themselves…

In the beauty of a man who loves me so well, that his beauty is reflected onto and within me for all to see.

“Sir,” said Han, “he is a dragon.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said the Mandarin.  “He’s a fat man who is tracking dirt on my fine carpets.  What do you want here, old man?”

“I have come to help you,” said the little fat man.  “But if you want a dragon to help you, you must treat him with courtesy.  I have come a long, weary way.  Give me something to eat and something to drink and speak to me politely, and I will save you.”

“Now, look here,” said the Mandarin.  “Everybody knows what a dragon looks like.”

~ Story by:  Jay Williams / Illustrated by: Mercer Mayer

My mom used to read that story to us over and over again.

Did she read it so much because we loved it?  Or did we love it because of the manifest joy it brought to her upon each telling?

My mom loves dragons.  Chinese Dragons, she was very clear to differentiate.

I remember them tucked into surreptitious corners throughout the house…  A set of 19th century painted candlesticks, a pair of carved bookends, a lamp base that sat on her private writing desk…

I didn’t really recognize them as dragons, having been raised on western dragon tales.  They looked like caricatured Shi Tzu’s to me, and it wasn’t until I was older that I understood there was also a distinction in their symbology.

For, while we in the west (used to stories of Hero-Knights saving Helpless-Maidens from Malevolent-Dragons) demonize the dragon, the Chinese know the dragon as a being of wisdom and grace, a divine ruler who protects the innocent and bestows ultimate good fortune.

Today is the start of the Chinese New Year.  This year (Jan. 23, 2012 – Feb. 9, 2013) is the Year of the Dragon.  This is to be a blessed year.

But I can’t help but wonder what this means for us westerners.  Have our own narratives conditioned in such a way that we will mistake the auspiciousness of this year’s dragon events as ill-fated?

Already, I am challenged to undress the Devil-Dragon and  search for the beneficent guardian underneath.

Last night, my partner spoke of an alternative cancer treatment option he had recently heard about.  He said that he had actually contacted a treatment center and sent them his medical history.

I know this means that he is feeling worse, and more consistently.

This seems bad.

I also know that the medical records he has are incomplete.

His most recent records are from an emergency hospitalization last May, during which he was told the cancer had metastasized to his liver.

In July, he never followed up with the clinic who found he had spindle cell carcinoma of the heart.  (He forgot, he said, when I asked about it yesterday.)

He intentionally missed a series of tests in December, meant to tell him what is currently going on and give him a view of his current state of well-being.

All of this seems really bad.  Like the Dreadful-Dragon of medieval legend rearing its ugly head…

But today, forced to confront these things in our conversation last night, he has promised to call the specialists.

It was the understanding that the spindle cell carcinoma isn’t some harmless little splinter, as he had allowed himself to imagine it to be.

It is a scary, menacing Cancer-Dragon that is enveloping his heart.

But my dragons-of-old could be defeated by David-like knights, and the Chinese Dragon, swooping in on us today, is a different creature, valiant and bold and divine…

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