Thursday, August 14, 2014

For Ferguson

The tightly closed fist has no room for light.
The tightly closed fist is unable to reach forward
to let go of the past.
The tightly closed fist can't receive what is given
can't let go of what it doesn't need.
Tightly closed fists can't take the hand of another
can't give or get help.
Enemies come from tightly closed fists.
Loneliness comes from tightly closed fists.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Of "I and Thou"

What does a nerd do when she's on spring break? She reads a philosophy of the sensuous and blogs about it before she even gets out of bed. Well, to be fair, I would rather be on a tropical beach, but I can't afford it. And honestly, I'd be reading The Spell of the Sensuous  on that beach.

I just read two of the most exciting sentences I've read in quite some time. But before I get to those, let me address what's been on my mind these past few mornings when I wake up (and it's relevant, leads up to the exciting sentences etc.). You see it's spring and in Chinese medicine school, you can't help but focus on the particular qualities of whatever season you are in and what the philosophy of the ancients was in regard to that season. Spring is about the Liver and Wood and Wind. Wind has captured my curiosity. Not just recently, but since I was a child. Right now, with spring winds whipping through the cedars and tapping on my studio's windows, I am obsessed with wind.

As a child I used to like to stand outside as the weather shifted into tornado clouds, green skies, swirling masses, leaves curling to show their underbellies. It was the ultimate in excitement. Warm air caressing my body, I would raise my arms and pretend to command the sky. (It wasn't quite the ego trip that it sounds like... more of an engagement with the elements.) On a sunny day I would lay for hours in a field listening to the song of tall, dry grasses commingled with bird calls. Both were sensuous experiences that engaged all of my senses.

I keep thinking lately about the nature of wind in particular though. Wind seems so different than the other elements. You can't really touch or hold or contain wind. You can't directly see it. You experience it most commonly through its effects on other things. The movement of tree leaves, the shaping of sand, tousling of hair.

You also come to know wind through sound- wind chimes, reeds. This has me thinking about the sounds we make and their origination in breath. One of the most obvious examples would be woodwind instruments. Like the wind itself, we can create music through our breath across and through these surfaces.

It doesn't take much to make the leap to speech itself. The shaping of wind-breath through our vocal cords, epiglottis and tongue. The proverbial "if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound" is only half the equation though right? It is the reverberation along the ear canal, past minuscule hairs, off the drum, into the sea-shell that is the cochlea of our inner ear that creates a reception of sound. (That is then translated specifically by our individual brains into a myriad of understandings that are related to our individual experiences.) The other half of the equation, that by many beings is sensed through an ear.

I am then reminded of Martin Buber's I and Thou and his discussion of the sacred nature of words. It's been years since I have read this mini-tome, but my take away was that words are acts of creation. We use words to convey a shared understanding of an object or being, but by applying a word to an object/being, we necessarily confine the object/being to our understanding of it. Buber is specifically addressing the profaning of the divine when we use words to define "God". We are taking something that is beyond our experiences and limiting it to our experiences thereby narrowing it's very nature to something within the human realm of experience. More to my current topic, our words are powerful.

The other aspects of wind important here are wind's nature to spring and wood. It is in spring that we see new life. We see long dormant seeds sprout through wet soil. This defiance of gravity is a lesson in the nature of wind. It takes enormous energy for this new life to burst out of the confines of its seed shell and through the soil into the increasing sunlight. There is a warmth in the surrounding, a shift in the angle of the sun, that calls it forth. An exchange if you will. My teachers have pointed out that seedlings need resistance. A seed that sprouts on the surface of the dirt will soon whither and die and rarely makes it to fruition. The seed that sprouts just the right depth under ground grows strong.

Wind and it's resistance to "other" illustrates the creative aspect of spring. We literally see wind in it's relationship to other objects. Wind, represents change and life (to paraphrase Brandt Stickley). It is the wind that moves seeds across oceans. Wind carries pollen and the insects that inseminate plants. Wind, and by extension, breath becomes a generative force. Through this we can see the power of our words, our formation of breath into meaning. Our words interact with the world around us to literally shape that world, to interact relationally with our surroundings.

And, finally, we come to the most exciting sentences I've read in some time. In his book, The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram draws us into how our language can cut us off sensorily from our surrounding world.

"By linguistically defining the surrounding world as a determinate set of objects, we cut our conscious, speaking selves off from the spontaneous life of our sensing bodies."

"Only affirming the animateness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world."

While we are never truly separated from our surroundings, our words go on affecting our environment but without our awareness of that effect. Additionally, we deny ourselves the reception of the response of the objects and beings around us. We feel alone when we are not, simply because we are closed off to seeing the animateness of the life around us. Lovely, lovely words my friends from a book I'm going to enjoy spending my spring break indulging in!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Most Beautiful

I think I have not been writing over the last few months, well for a few reasons. I have stumbled into something that feels like the deep end of the pool. The last few months have felt a bit like jumping off the diving board and then swimming as far down as I can go. Far enough to reach the bottom. The bottom hasn't come into reach yet though. I keep coming up for air and going back to try again. It's not the kind of deep, underwater feeling of being in over my head or drowning. Not that kind of sensation. It's as if there is something beautiful just out of reach. Something that catches my eye at the bottom, just distorted enough that I can't tell exactly what it is. 

I have an inkling of what it is. It is something beautiful for certain. Something that I tell myself will fill me and meet a need deep within me. Usually when I believe one thing or one experience will provide this, it's been an illusion. I pause each time I come up for air and think, "wild goose chase"? The radiance of what hides down there seems so close and so real though that I can't help but keep trying to reach it. I jump back in. 

This is the best way I can think of to describe the experience of my classical Chinese medicine program. The last five months have been an up and down journey of diving in, sometimes holding my breath, feeling at once exhilarated, exhausted, refreshed and curious. There are so many parables in this story it's hard to notice each. I have a feeling in my bones though that this image of repeatedly attempting to dive deep to capture the illusive beauty below is the central story I should attend to. 

It's possible that pearl represents two things. (If you know me well you know I will end up with a third before I'm finished, but I always like to start with two. If you are in school with me then let's contemplate the Daoist nature of that at some point please.) The elusive pearl that is always just out of reach must illustrate that the object of my desire will always be just out of reach and that perhaps that is the way it should be. The second story that life may be showing me is the beauty of this form we inhabit (that can keep diving and enjoys the sensation of water on skin, the slight pressure of depth and the release of breaking the surface upon return). 

So why should the pretty thing at the bottom of the pool be out of reach? Reaching it could mean forever stopping if what we attain fills our every need. And, perhaps the act of reaching is the actual pearl? The effort of stretching ourselves just a bit further, expanding our lungs and other capacities just a bit more broadly with each attempt, is the real purpose of our journey. That said, it might be good to learn to pace myself in this. To enjoy being at the edge of the pool, sitting still, drying off, refueling. We can't live in water right? (And oh what a tangent I could go on about the significance of water in Chinese medicine and the idea of water holding a bright flame at the center, but we won't go there just now). 

This form we are given is meant to live on land. Studying Chinese medicine for just a few months has given me a glimpse of the beauty in that earthly bound existence. Well, every experience I've lived up to now has informed that too. Don't misunderstand me though, I've hated being stuck in this human body for most of my life. I've been most comfortable in my head, living day to day through my eyes and ears and relating to the world through academic curiosity. Who would have thought an academic endeavor would alter that? But it has done just that. I have stepped closer to understanding I may experience the sublime more readily and reliably through embodiment.

I may more readily and reliably experience the sublime through embodiment. I think that may be the pearl at the bottom of the pool for me - right now anyway. Next time I dive in it may be something else. Maybe we never reach the pearl because it is something different each time we dive in. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I woke up this morning trying to tell myself I didn't want to give away our dog. You see he had me up at 2:30 AM cleaning a fresh pile of crap from my living room floor. Not sure why, at 7 years old, he is having an accident in the middle of the night. Could be he was boarded for a week over Christmas. Could have brought home a little bug of some sorts. Or he may have just gotten out of his routine and can't remember to relieve himself earlier in the day... Who knows.

At any rate, I needed a little "om" moment to change my attitude. I've been completely out of my habit of morning meditation/yoga for quite some time. I have no concrete plans today until 1:00 so no excuses.

Opening my "altar" (a repurposed armoire) this morning was like greeting a beloved friend. Absence made the heart grow fonder.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Seasons of Leaping

Ah, so it's that time in my life again where I take a swan dive into the unknown. I just completed my first week of medical school. Not your traditional medical school either, but Chinese medicine. And not your Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) either. No, I've chosen CCM or Classical Chinese Medicine and it's a rabbit hole I've dived into friend. More on that particular part of my new journey later though.

What I woke up thinking about in the wee hours of the morning today was just the actual process of getting onto this path and not the journey ahead itself. I had tea with a friend this past week, right in the middle of this new start and was able to reflect with him a little upon how I got here. It occurred to me, as he and I were talking about life changes, that I've had a few of these "leaps of faith" in my life.

The first was deciding to leave Missouri at 18 to attend school in a far corner of the Northwest. Sure I did a tiny bit of research into university programs. Enough to know that I could study French and/or Marine Biology at either of the places I applied to. That was about the extent of what I knew I was getting into though. My heart just said, "Go," and I followed.

The second leap of faith was leaving that little comfy corner, my ex-husband and friends to live in a new city and to embrace the life of a lesbian. This was no easy decision and it wasn't made overnight. I had spent countless hours searching my soul for concrete answers to what I should/shouldn't do. I didn't have a lot of support in the process aside from two very dear friends. Little planning went into this decision though. Lots of fretting, but in the end I just listened to my heart again.

Most recently, my heart said, "Get into this CCM program." So I made it so. All along, I have kept close to my heart the Rumi quote, "Let yourself be silently drawn by the greater pull of what you really love." I believe this to be true, I carve out spaces to try to listen to my heart.

What occurred to me after my conversation with my friend this past week though, was that it is very important to understand these leaps of faith have not been trodden on a blissful, easy road. Taking the path of my heart has not meant the path of least resistance nor have they been accompanied by that elusive friend "certainty." In fact, when I reflected this morning on the beginnings to these journeys, they are usually (like the hero's journey in Joseph Campbell's words) immediately rough. The start of the road is often one part excitement and joy and equal parts trepidation and obstacles. It is as if the universe says, "Are you sure you want this?"

In fact, each of these journeys fairly early on have been accompanied by loss and disorientation.  Early into my college years, my grandfather died and not terribly long after him, my cousin committed suicide and then within a year or so my grandmother died. Under a year of leaving Bellingham I lost the central vision of my left eye and one of the two dear friends mentioned above died unexpectedly. Just as I was entering this latest leap of faith, a dear friend and volunteer at my most recent job passed away and just before starting the actual program, another died.

I say this not to deter others from leaps of faith nor for sympathy. I say it because I want to internalize and recognize that this journey is difficult, but that it can still be the right path. In fact, this is a shedding of past buttresses, pillars of support, and the "known." There is discomfort in this process, no arguing it. But I am convinced this discomfort is just a normal part of the process and should not deter us from forging ahead. Or rather than "forging" ahead, for going softly inward to reflect upon how far we've come already down the path.  They are perhaps signposts that we are on our heart's path and, like any physical pain, are best attended to and breathed into rather than ignored.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Lesbian and a Bear Cross the Country...

Sounds like the start of a good joke no? So many miles crossed the last two days and so much seen, and yet not too much to share! We've been driving non-stop. We headed up from Nashville Friday morning, drove straight through Kentucky to Illinois and then over I-70 through Missouri. It was a marathon drive through hurricane Isaac rain and tornadoes and Labor Day weekend traffic. I have to say that Kentucky looks a lot like Missouri. We were barely in Illinois, but long enough I'm claiming it. The pay off was a night at my mom's house. Dinner with my mom and dad - home made and sleeping in their house and cozy clean beds! Then homemade breakfast to get us started.

And we sorely needed that start as day three was the worst. Driving straight north in Missouri to Iowa and then due West through Nebraska all the way into Rawlins Wyoming. Nebraska is WAY too wide. And flat, and boring. It was a 13 hour drive day and all we wanted to do was collapse in bed when we got to our hotel. But alas, we had no room at the Rawlins Hampton Inn when we got there at 11:30 PM. Jason had booked the room and paid in advance, but they had no room clean - they had rooms, but none clean. I almost went postal. It was a bit creepy too as the young woman working the front desk simply pulled on her hair, said, "I'm sorry" and disappeared to tidy the dining room for breakfast. We finally got them to get us a room at a nearby hotel.

Today we pushed through the rest of Wyoming, up the Eastern part of Idaho and then west from Butte to Missoula, Mt. We had a lovely lunch in Pineville, Wy - one of our best meals yet outside of my mom's house. Then we drove through the Tetons, past the basalt flow desert of Idaho and then West into the forest fire smoke to land here in Missoula for the night. Our room is strangely set up light a cruise ship room. I'm off to bed for an early start for the final push tomorrow to Seattle!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

We temporarily interrupt this blog.... bring you Jason and Maria's 10 Year Frenaversary (or Friend Anniversary) Cross-Country Road Trip!

OK, so the purpose of this voyage is not to celebrate our phenomenal friendship, but to move Jason from Tampa, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I am so excited about having him back in the Northwest (which makes a permanent move of John and Jason more believable), that I am willing to while away my time this way. 

It helps that I have nothing else I have to do right now. I'm currently in transition between my job managing one of the Portland Ronald McDonald Houses and starting a Master's of Science in Oriental Medicine program. So, why not road trip with a packed U-Haul trailer and pick-up?? 

First leg today was Tampa through Georgia to Tennessee. We are currently tucking in for the night just outside of Nashville. Two new states for me! Here's a little trivia we learned along the way: 
  • The Interstate system was a project of the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, although FDR had initiated research into an interstate system. 
  • The system was lobbied for by car manufacturers but was also seen as a good defensive network in a post war era. 
  • After crossing the Suwanee River, Jason and I discovered we only know one phrase of the entire song, which doesn't translate well into meows. AND, through the miracle of modern technology, we learned that we didn't want to know the rest of the lyrics. Apparently it is a racist song that tells of an ex-slave pining for the plantation! Who would have known? 
  • "Spa" in the south means whorehouse, pleasure palace, or something like that. So if your straight husband or lesbian wife says he/she went to the spa, be warned. (No we did not learn this by trying to sneak in a mani-pedi on the first day of our trek, although I know some of you won't believe that.)
  • Lastly, Jason is a pomophobe. This means he is bigoted toward post-modernists. 
Check back tomorrow night for real-life pictures of my morning hair.