Retired – surfing waves of time and change’m lucky. I retired from a community I loved when I was ready to with a basic monthly stipend.  After 21 years at the University of Texas (thirteen managing the graduate program in the Sociology department) I can now grow a business that I already started developing. This gives me direction, an opportunity to explore new social networks and collaborations (skills that I honed in my former job and the part I liked best).  Will I be as staunch an advocate for myself as I was for others? We’ll see. In the meantime, I am two weeks out and slowly unfolding in the immensity of space and time.

The day after I retired I was sitting on my back porch staring into a meadow of swaying, native grasses and tall clouds sailing across a bright blue sky.  I was facing north, in the direction of the university and felt I was in a vacuum, like a tree that had been uprooted. I imagined my mind’s projections into all the relationships and collaborations, the structure of the yearly cycle, as roots torn from the earth. I had a frantic last few weeks, but this feeling of being bone tired was heavy with a feeling of loss.

So much of our identity is framed by “What do you do?” Loss of income, status and relevance can follow quickly, and suddenly we are no one.  While some cultures honor their elders, the good old USA values productivity, not wisdom. Extended family and friend networks help a lot; feeling useful is good at any age.

But why rush through an existential moment? The feeling that I’m a raft floating in an ocean of time will go away soon enough. I can let synchronicity be the current my raft will follow.  That spirit animated my youth, led me down many light and penumbral paths, to dreams that would foreshadow events or people who offered advice or an opportunity. With intuition as my guide, I can once again become a pilgrim in search of the wholly spirit.

I had such a moment while visiting the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center the other day.  Part of my plan is to encourage people of all ages to saunter, a reminder to see the beauty in the things that often go unnoticed.  Clearly, it’s something I go on and on about, so no problem making this my mission.  Connecting with the earth, resonating with the vibrancy of life in simple ways promotes well-being. Engage a child’s sense of discovery and let them lead the way. The fox boy I met on the trail agrees.

Synchronicity led me to the wildflower center, the first place I’ll volunteer.  It was not my plan, just looking for a good place to walk in Southwest Austin.  My camera and I are headed west in search of  . . . ? Let’s see what Portland and the Oregon Coast will bring.




Inside Out

Willow Seeds
Inside the soft fluff of the black willow blooms lie the seeds, little black dots that might become a whole new tree

Why do we live life on the surface,
reaching for the next shiny thing
forgetting the fruit that lies within?

The juicy sweetness obscured
by the color of our skin
and the place we call home

So, we starve for love
and hope is scarce,
because you are a banana
and I am a pear

The fruits of our thoughts
the kindness of our deeds
can heal the wounds of hate
and fear

If we embrace both many and one
our hearts will grow enough
for all the love we have to share

P1030625Turn down the noise,
go outside – listen
Make neighbors friends
and smile at the old
for many are alone

The world is our teacher
she is the source of every
gift we give and get

So treat her gently and
thank the stars for all we
are and all that we might be

A Basket Full of Wisdom

Loretto AngelWhile I walked through the aspen trees and the cottonwoods at Ghost Ranch my hips swayed, moving my belly from side to side like a basket rocking rhythmically on ocean waves. This motif continued throughout the wisdom circles, gathering together the treasures from our journey.  Some of my companions have written about their experience, which I add to our basket of wisdom.

From Leona Stucky-Abott

A few weeks ago, a remarkable group of mostly liberal women, I among the 450 or so, journeyed to Ghost Ranch to participate in a Wisdom Sharing event. Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung shared the meaning they garnered over the years and the hopes they harbor for women and for humanity. Though there was some new content in their presentations, the wisdom that became palpable among us emanated from their years of moving the message forward in the face of monumental historical forces; the life changing work that amplified their spirits. We understood how they changed their own worlds and while doing so changed much of ours too. Perhaps the most salient message was the warm, collegial, and spontaneous way they engaged each other. These womens’ and our vastly different lives were woven together by efforts to seek freedom, respect the struggles of poverty and disadvantage, refine honest assessments of the things that matter most, engage with curiosity and compassion, and disclose the transformative nature of equality. They offered essential teachings when those gems would enhance or challenge our values. Their personhood as well as their presentations conferred truths while they modeled a kind of leadership that will long be remembered and emulated.

Loretto Chapel StairsDr. Irene Martinez

The nice surprise for me was the different voices and opinions  that were heard ( starting with the 3 main speakers).  I liked their similarities, but most importantly their differences.  People listened to each other with respect and  were not afraid to talk about setbacks and opportunities for growth. I really liked the incorporation of politics and spirituality.  The word that  resonated the most for me was “interconnected.“  Yes, we need each other.  We will grow together.  It provided more fuel to hope, the creativity and energy to keep searching  for ways to work for a better “us” for a better word (and to have fun in the process).  The experience was greatly enriched by the leadership of the Native American healers in the wisdom circles.

The Way Home by John Morey Maurice

Licia Berry writes about Gloria Steinem at 80 in her blog post excerpted below.

She’s In It for the Long Haul

She’s 31 years ahead of me, and at 80 years of age, a seemingly tireless crusader for women’s equality in the world. But when I spent 4 days in her company at the Wisdom Sharing Retreat at Ghost Ranch last month, one of the things that Gloria Steinem said was, “It is okay to be tired.”  Wow.
As an artist, visionary, cultural commentator, author, educator, speaker, advocate, mother, wife, woman, and human being in the 21st century…I have also been tireless in my (much less significant) efforts over the many years I have been doing the work I do.

The title above is linked to Licia’s full post, well worth a visit. I’m wrapping up the Ghost Ranch series now and wondering what comes next. The connections on so many levels, with wonderful women I now call friends continues to inspire and energize me for new adventures. And for now, let’s keep dancing.

Indigenous women’s wisdom – healing waters

Opening_PrayerThere is an international indigenous council of 13 Grandmothers who travel the world to bring healing prayers to the earth and her inhabitants. I met Hopi Grandmother Constance Mirabal in 1998, which I’ve written about in my post Magically Real and took part in a wisdom circle that  Grandmother Florademayo led at the gathering.  There were a number of indigenous women leading wisdom circles, which is a testament to the many programs at Ghost Ranch that honor our sacred connection to the earth.   Florademayo_1The opening prayer was led by Florademayo, who prayed and wept as she entered into spirit.  Tears flowed often from our native presenters, sometimes as they felt personal grief and always on behalf of the divine mother.  I’ve been in sweat lodges, sun dances, pow wows and meetings with Native American medicine people.  I have witnessed the ways in which they enter other dimensions when the visions flow.  Some of the dream symbols Florademayo shared with us were the healing power of triangles (shout out to Bucky Fuller) and her vision of the coming renewal of humanity, symbolized by the birth of the golden baby. The baby is a cross-cultural motif seen by people the world over. Florademayo’s passion for collecting seeds is another part of the renewal and the protection of heritage plants.Blue_Corn  The blue corn pictured here is a symbol of the Hopi people. There is a compassion, directness and humor about many of the indigenous people I’ve met.   There is also a reservoir of sorrow, released in tears that often flow in healing ceremonies.  For those of European descent, white guilt is no stranger at these gatherings.  We had moments when it was the elephant in the room and others when it was on full display.  It’s hard to avoid – the collective unconscious is burdened with pain and unspoken apologies for the sins of our fathers, which continue to this day. When she was asked by Hyun Kyung how she dealt with the anguish of her peoples’ genocide, Florademayo said, “You accept the past, move forward and quit looking back.” Dancer Perhaps our only hope for our planet and our humanity is to come together in healing for our past, our present and thus, our future.  The collective shadow is in dire need of integration.  It can no longer be projected onto the other, for we are all other and we are all one.  Our world needs us to become the humane beings we really are.  I shared my poem, these tears of joy with Grandmother Florademayo, affirming our connection to the beauty of the living light.  May we continue to heal in love.

Moved to Tears

I sat in the morning sun watching the garden grow
Light glistening on spider webs
spun in moon’s rays just hours ago
Hummingbird gulped nectar
fueling its dizzy, spiraling flight

The light found me, seeping into my essence,
opening the eye that sees behind the veil
I saw the breath of the earth, rising up in radiating
needles of light, knitting the fabric of life
growing around and through me

So infused was I, witnessing this moment of creation
that tears fell softly down my cheeks
Moving beyond sorrow or joy
Naked in the presence of my Soul

The breath and the light, commingled
In loving recognition that moments
such as these are rare glimpses beneath
the endless parade of dos and don’ts
that occupy our daily lives

In the garden, sipping the wine of early morning’s light
I am moved to see what loving hand molds
This day into being

Hyun Kyung Chung – Soul on Fire

HyngKyungChungProfessor Chung Hyung Kyung teaches at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, when she is not researching or talking with people around the world who are inspired by her story and her wisdom. Kidnapped and tortured in Korea as a university student, Hyun Kyung survived, emigrated to the United States and completed her graduate work in theology.  She describes herself as a good Presbyterian girl growing up in Korea and has lived in a monastery in Tibet practicing Buddhist meditation, which she has incorporated into her faith and her feminism.

The Ted talk pictured above will give you a sense of her vibrant presence and how she views her Christian and Buddhist practice.  An ongoing theme in her talk was breaking open – that hearts will be broken, but from that brokenness comes new life and new ways for the light to enter. She started her presentation with an invitation to forgive those who have wronged us and spoke about a series of men who were sent to torture her.  Making a connection with her oppressors allowed her to postpone the inevitable torment, until she met a man whom she described as having suffered “soul loss.” Her talk was in honor of the man whose dead eyes betrayed no empathy for the young woman who had to choose between saving her lover or protecting her friends after withstanding the most violent abuse.

Dr. Irene Martinez with Rev. Shannon White and Evelyn Porter
Dr. Irene Martinez (center) with Rev Shannon White

HCAWI spoke with many women who had been abused or even tortured.  Some, as a result of government persecution and others, personally.  They were all challenged to forgive what none could forget and they moved forward with courage and humor, some days better than others.  Their hearts were broken and mended by an ongoing effort to live and love with respect for all.  Dr. Irene Martinez was one of the wisdom circle presenters who spoke of her experience as a political prisoner in Argentina.  In all these stories of abuse, the support of women for one another shined through, underscoring the intrinsically relational nature of who we are.  We are partners in the dance of life, with much light to share.

Dr. Chung will lead a group of women across the DMZ into North Korea next summer.  Women from the North and South have been meeting periodically to exchange recipes, talk about daily life and come to agreement that we all want a peaceful life. Our hearts are with them as they reach out in sisterhood across the barriers inflicted by war and famine in support of peace and healing.

Gloria Steinem – The Power of Air – Connectivity

GloriaSteinemGloria Steinem is 80 years old, tall, unbowed and aging naturally. Her voice is strong and despite chronicling the setbacks women have faced in the last number of decades, she retains a light, dry sense of humor.  Ms. Steinem took us on an historical tour of patriarchy – in religion, government and culture.  Coming to the conference from Austin, TX (where women are fighting to retain control of their reproductive rights) I resonated with her statement that men control women by controlling reproduction.  Patriarchy has institutionalized rape, genocide and created a capitalistic system in which fealty to God, King and husband have been legislated for centuries.  She views monotheism as religious imperialism with an imperative to subjugate nature and thus, women and children.  It’s hard to argue when women are still fighting the battle for fair and equitable representation in the workplace, at home and in government.  What would the world look like if women were in charge?

In Texas, many of us have been struggling to get out the vote.   Three of the young people in my office (students at a university) either were not registered to vote or did not know who was on the ballot.  Among other important considerations, we are electing a Governor and Lt. Governor who will control the money and the laws that will represent the wishes of the people or those of powerful elites.  Ms. Steinem rightly said that successful social movements are like a tree, starting with the roots and spreading upward.  Our power lies in how and where we spend our money  and in exercising our right to vote.

One of the most powerful stories Gloria told was the story of how Clarence Thomas eventually came to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1982 John Danforth, a Congressman from Missouri narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, Harriet Woods, by roughly 2,000 votes in his bid for reelection. He had earlier appointed Clarence Thomas as his aide, introducing him to highly placed Republicans in Washington DC.  Thomas was subsequently appointed to the United States court of Appeals by President GHW Bush. Then, only 16 months later he survived a hard fought confirmation hearing by a 52-48 vote (after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment). He was now the most conservative supreme court justice in the United States and has cast pivotal votes in electing George W Bush, among other decisions that have changed the course of history and will continue to do so.   This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for voting.   Gloria Many people feel disenfranchised and unrepresented by their elected leaders.  But I agree with Gloria; we really can make a difference by using our dollars wisely and by voting. There was a 13 year old girl at the conference who stood up on the last evening as we were summarizing what we would take home from our experience.  She spoke passionately about how grateful she was to know that feminism is alive and well and that she now knew that whether or not she was considered weird by her friends, she had people.  Let’s continue to fight the good fight for we are not done.

Shelter from the storm

Seduction is the opposite of freedom. The promise of release, satisfaction and pleasure fueled the fantasy of sex, drugs and rock n’roll. It was fun, it was tragic, it was (often fatally) flawed. The hangover was a real bitch and by the time it was done, so was I.

My friends were beautiful, younger and still clubbing. They introduced me to the man who would become my husband, a man I loved and hated and eventually left, to save my soul. There were good times, many fantastic shows and a great community of friends who made sure the party never ended. It’s hard to write about a time that arouses such longing and even more regret. In the end I admitted that our love was truly in vain and that train left the station.

If you ever find yourself hating someone, you will pay the price in self-loathing. I’m still working through the dark grottoes carved into my soul, honoring the good, releasing the bad and mending the hole in my heart. If only it were this simple.

Beware of seduction, it is a lie. The only freedom is found in truth.

The Shadow Knows

This poem The Elusive Shadow is from Michael Jackson’s Dancing the Dream. While remaining a step ahead of its looming presence he finally turns to face it and sees his soul.

We fear the unknown, the numinous and the dark but it is the womb from which we spring, a well of dreams. The shadow, like a thief in the night offers many possibilities, not the least of which is love.

Long associated with the feminine, many shadow motifs reflect our preoccupation with sex, seduction and the femme fatale. femme-fatale-lauren-bacall-nakedmonkey-tumblr

I love the way this dance of the moon by Yang LiPing brings grace and power to the shadow in night’s light.

Yet the shadow looms large, even grotesquely in our minds eye. All the things we cannot accept about ourselves can progress from morbid fascination, shame and resentment to autonomous complexes, wrecking all kinds of internal havoc.

There are times it demands our attention, forcing us to deal with a problem or reminding us to laugh. Here, Fred Astaire projects both collective and personal shadow elements, dancing with his shadow in black face, in 1936 a tribute to Bill Bojangles Robinson from Swingtime.

And of course, there’s our favorite mutual shadow projection, romance. Love, what’s not funny/tragic/chaotic/comforting?

They Came Together – Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler by teasertrailer

I Am One and Many

When we are at home with ourselves, peace finds a heart in which to grow.  It is a light we can share, compassion. So much fear is projected onto the “other” that hate spreads like a contagion on the news.  It just doesn’t stop, that heart numbing chatter, the internet offering images of school shootings and cute baby animals in the blink of an eye. Imagine you were a peaceful space explorer who tuned in to the projected psychosis of the human mind via waves of social media.  Would you stop?

Bowie_TMWFTE The ego’s job is to stake out territory we describe as “me.” Sometimes, that’s all we see.  Yet, I AM. Not the giant Me, the human being (I) of which we are all members.  It is not an exclusive club; we are one in space and time.  And I would argue, we all add to the human experience, transcending time.  Sociologists have debated the pros and cons of “The Social Organism” for centuries. MIT has a Center for Collective Intelligence that seeks to harness the power of computers to encourage cultural evolution, creating a more civilized society.  But the social pathology we are bombarded by every minute of the day is rooted in emotional suffering more than the symptomatic ideologies that compete for supremacy. 9384bec680c46a6c5f6f05f610827c09b78e879f

I remember reading about Pando, the trembling giant, an 80,000 year old stand of Aspen trees once thought to be the largest living organism in the world. Aspen trees are clones, sending out new tree shoots from the connected root of the whole.  Pando, identical male trees covering 107 acres in Utah has not only been dethroned, it is dying.

The reigning largest organism lives in Oregon, It is the Honey Mushroom or Armillaria ostoyae. Scientists have estimated a single specimen found in Malheur National Forest in Oregon to have been growing for some 2,400 years, covering 3.4 square miles (8.4 km²) and colloquially named the “Humongous Fungus.”

tumblr_mueucbrJeK1qh85kyo1_1280 One step closer to humanity, this parasitic mushroom reproduces sexually and absorbs nutrients by sending fibrous tentacles through the root systems of conifers, in plate like sheets, sucking the life from the land and its host trees.  One of the best ways to produce disease resistant forests is to plant mixed species.  This creates myriad, symbiotic life forms that control predatory dominance.

And what of the human organism?  We are a mixed species, adapted to every nook and cranny of our host, the earth.  If we are to avoid paraciticism, our diversity must be celebrated, survival stress reduced and efforts made to integrate the individual into a healthy whole society.  It’s time for sane, compassionate acceptance of our differences.  But we are stuck fighting the symptoms, the political, economic and religious beliefs that create enemies in every direction.  Fear, anger and love are forces for societal cohesion.  We saw how powerful the angry Fuhrer became, moving a nation to war, building a core around hatred of the “other”.   It seems that the part cannot overcome the power of the whole, so eventually the fury of the Nazis fell to the union of allies.  How many other tyrants have since come and gone?

Every religious tradition extols peace and the primacy of human love, yet many will not recognize that which they share.  The omnipotent, omnipresent God remains ineffable, somewhere out there, like a holy shadow.  It is the shadow – that which we reject in ourselves and others – we must integrate, both personally and collectively.  If we don’t act on the need to create a common center, recognizing our inner flame of love for humanity, we will continue to move in a parasitic direction, devouring our planet and each other.

It is up to us

What goes around comes around – Saturn, time and Frances Ha

Frances Ha is a film co-authored by Greta Gerwig (Frances) and Noah Baumbach.  Frances aspires to be a professional dancer, interning with a modern dance troupe in New York City, hoping for an invitation to join the company as a full-time member. But Frances, who is 27, lives hand to mouth and sees her options dwindling. This period (27-30) can be among the most creative times of life, Shelly's Mirrorcoinciding with the return of Saturn‘s birth position in one’s astrological chart.  The natal and progressed charts are maps of the psyche as it unfolds in time.  Pioneers Dane Rudhyar and Carl Jung used psychological astrology to reveal the Self as a path for becoming whole, building on a tradition that has historic roots around the world.  I am now approaching my second Saturn return and facing another widening field of possibilities as I look to retirement.  It begs the perfect Saturnian question: Are my dreams real? Which dreams can I realize?

In my mid 20′TreeEvs to early 30’s I rode a wave of art, music and love in Austin.  It was a time of energetic and fluid potential.   I valued time over money, (much as Frances Ha) living the halcyon days of my youth with carefree abandon. Those days of grasshopper summers are long gone. Several lifetimes later I roost above an open field, perched at the desk of my upstairs studio and seek a creative path forward. Deskview  As we age, nostalgia exudes a powerful scent, lulling the mind into reverie, often of the past rather than the future.  Are there fresh fields to plow, new adventures that decades of 40 hour work weeks have not entombed?  Saturn demands that we look to the present while incorporating the lessons of the past.  It is now that the spark of creativity ignites. We are admonished to stay active, to exercise and eat right and to maintain and cultivate new friendships.  Clearly, this is sage advice and research supports the crossword puzzle approach to mental acuity.  But dare we lose the mysterious beauty of life’s little delights?  I’m fortunate to have discovered digital photography in round two of my tango with the visual arts.  It’s easy to keep a small camera handy to capture often fleeting glimpses of beauty peeking out from behind the banal.  HatChairWhile not everyone gets excited about seeing a hummingbird tongue, it was a charming early morning novelty and one that I may never see again.  I do not underestimate the power of little victories or of nature’s desire for connection.  Going outside to smell the sweet grass, perfume rushing out with the rain – sublime.  It is that which seeps into my blood, calling my child into the present and reminding me to really be who I am on this earth.  Watching clouds sail through gorgeous blue skies hoists my soul like a kite, feeling the breeze caressing my body. rainfield When the senses grow weary and overwhelmed with media input – get thee outdoors.  I’m aware of the irony here, but my quest to reveal beauty in the little things is shared in good faith. beach featherThat sense of appreciation for life, the gratitude one feels when realizing how fortunate we are to live like kings and queens of yore, provides existential context.  Is this the fountain of youth? Perhaps so.  I do know that when I perceive a light infused scene or feel the light moving through me, I feel vibrantly alive.

So, while some see Saturn’s limitations, I see an opportunity to dig deep into the beauty of everyday life. It might not be exciting, but moments of opening, of appreciation and connection are food for the soul. Truly, in Beauty it is Finished.


Moved to tears

I sat in the morning sun watching the garden grow
Light glistening on spider webs
spun in moon’s rays just hours ago
Hummingbird gulps nectar
fueling its dizzy, spiraling flight

The light found me, seeping into my essence,
opening the eye that sees behind the veil
I saw the breath of earth, rising to meet radiating
needles of light, knitting the fabric of life
growing around and through me

So infused was I, witnessing this moment of creation
that tears fell softly down my cheeks
Moving beyond sorrow or joy
naked in the presence of my Soul

The breath and the light, commingling
In loving recognition that moments
such as these are rare glimpses beneath
the endless parade of dos and don’ts
that occupy our daily lives

In the garden, sipping the wine of early morning’s light
I am moved to see what loving hand molds
The day into being