Season of Light

Image by Nic McPhee on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/ziUEh

Light in the darkness

If you believe the astronomical calendar, we were through the darkest time of the year as of yesterday morning, December 22, when the day after the longest night dawned. From here on out, the days get longer and longer, the dark coming a little later every day. But especially for those of us who live in more northerly climes, we know that in our subjective reality, it’s going to get darker from here: the winter is long and hard, and February seems to the time that sufferers of SAD and other types of depression have the worst time.

The holidays are a patch of light in this darkness: for millennia, humans who lived in places where winter covers the earth for a long, dark, cold and scarce period have gathered at this time to bring their resources of fire, food, and fellowship together and huddle close against the encroaching dark. Saturnalia, Yule, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and others are celebrations that center on the Winter Solstice, or that are observed around the same time and have, at their centers, the symbology of light in the darkness.

With the Solstice passed, Hannukah underway, Christmas on the near horizon, New Year’s Day next week (more light and fireworks!), and Kwanzaa thereafter with its seven candles for the seven principles, the holiday season brings us firmly together in the toughest time of the year to face our fears, strengthen family relationships, and share our light with one another.

This year, I am in sunny southern CA, which is an odd place to celebrate, as Irving Berlin long ago noted. But as I watch the Santa Anas blow outside the window here, and prepare to celebrate with my partner and his family, I feel that same need calling from the depths of my own body memory, from my ancestors (nearly all from Northern Europe), and from the movement of the earth: to draw together, to find the light, to joyfully fatten ourselves against the cold and to laugh and sing against the dark.

Whatever draws you together this season, I hope it brings you joy, warmth, love and light.

Seek balance. Find what's important. Fulfill.

Balanced Rock and Juniper

Photo By Eric Bryan

Think globally, 
but act locally. 

Plan for the future, 
but act in the present. 

Dream of all the masterpieces you’d be thrilled to create, 
but work on just one at a time. 

Lust for every enticing soul you see, 
but only make love to the imperfect beauty you’re actually with. 

Allow yourself to be flooded 
with every last feeling that bubbles up from your subconscious, 
but understand that only a very few of these feelings 
need to be forcefully expressed. 

Be passionately attuned 
to all the injustices and hypocrisies you see around you, 
but be selective when choosing which of those you will actually fight.

 

-from Rob Brezsny’s Televisionary Oracle

Seek balance. Find what’s important. Fulfill.

Balanced Rock and Juniper

Photo By Eric Bryan

Think globally, 
but act locally. 

Plan for the future, 
but act in the present. 

Dream of all the masterpieces you’d be thrilled to create, 
but work on just one at a time. 

Lust for every enticing soul you see, 
but only make love to the imperfect beauty you’re actually with. 

Allow yourself to be flooded 
with every last feeling that bubbles up from your subconscious, 
but understand that only a very few of these feelings 
need to be forcefully expressed. 

Be passionately attuned 
to all the injustices and hypocrisies you see around you, 
but be selective when choosing which of those you will actually fight.

 

-from Rob Brezsny’s Televisionary Oracle

The Power of April Fool's

Carnival in Venice

Today, in the US at least, we celebrate that divine silliness which is April Fool’s Day.  The Internet brings us its usual bevy of pranks, your office manager might have swapped out the salt for the sugar in the break room, and weird Uncle Larry, who never quite got the whole April Fool thing, is sending you selfies with his underwear on his head per usual.

But the real power of April Fool’s derives from a deeper tradition of fooling, of topsy-turviness, of Carnivalia, if you like, that is about rule-breaking, role-shifting, and speaking truth to power.

For centuries, the time of Carnival in many Western nations has been about turning power structures upside-down for a time, allowing people’s more animal natures to run wild in the streets, crowning commoners as temporary royalty, and letting the masses, as it were, “get it out of their systems.”

Court jesters, those fools so celebrated in Shakespeare’s plays, were often the only people allowed to speak truly in a critical way about a sovereign’s policies (though at times they risked hanging anyway). Great comics like Pieter-Dirk Uys of South Africa and our own Stephen Colbert are stellar examples of jesters working in the modern court, skewering the corrupt power-mongers by showing them a distorted mirror.

And so in some way, today is a day for all of us to look at ourselves, at our place, at our sources of power and persecution, and to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

That may sound like a serious call of duty for a day that’s supposed to be about Whoopee cushions and fake dog poo.  But there’s a reason the blog’s called Power In Your Hands.

What are you doing with your power, with your humor, and with your mischief today?

The Power of April Fool’s

Carnival in Venice

Today, in the US at least, we celebrate that divine silliness which is April Fool’s Day.  The Internet brings us its usual bevy of pranks, your office manager might have swapped out the salt for the sugar in the break room, and weird Uncle Larry, who never quite got the whole April Fool thing, is sending you selfies with his underwear on his head per usual.

But the real power of April Fool’s derives from a deeper tradition of fooling, of topsy-turviness, of Carnivalia, if you like, that is about rule-breaking, role-shifting, and speaking truth to power.

For centuries, the time of Carnival in many Western nations has been about turning power structures upside-down for a time, allowing people’s more animal natures to run wild in the streets, crowning commoners as temporary royalty, and letting the masses, as it were, “get it out of their systems.”

Court jesters, those fools so celebrated in Shakespeare’s plays, were often the only people allowed to speak truly in a critical way about a sovereign’s policies (though at times they risked hanging anyway). Great comics like Pieter-Dirk Uys of South Africa and our own Stephen Colbert are stellar examples of jesters working in the modern court, skewering the corrupt power-mongers by showing them a distorted mirror.

And so in some way, today is a day for all of us to look at ourselves, at our place, at our sources of power and persecution, and to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

That may sound like a serious call of duty for a day that’s supposed to be about Whoopee cushions and fake dog poo.  But there’s a reason the blog’s called Power In Your Hands.

What are you doing with your power, with your humor, and with your mischief today?

[Rerun] On the Solstice, contemplating the concept of faith

Reprinted from last year, and presented to you a few days after the Solstice, while your humble writer is on vacation.  Enjoy it, and the days to come.

***

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year.  Pagans tend to celebrate this night as Yule, the time when the old sun dies and is reborn anew.  We stay up all night, tending candles and fires, carrying the light through the long dark.  We tell stories, play music, eat and drink, nap in shifts.  Tonight, my household will feast on roast pork, decorate a tree, possibly watch silly movies and/or play silly games, and generally make merry through as much of the night as we can manage with our aging bodies.

Outside, rain and wind is pounding us, and it’s exactly the kind of day where it feels like we’ll never see the sun again, even during the daylight hours.  But marking this day and this night with merriment is what gets us through to the other side.

Two years ago, a couple I’d met only recently invited me to a Solstice gathering at their place, which they hold every year.  Each time, there is a theme on which the gathered are asked to speak in some way, and invariably it is intensely moving.  That year, the theme was faith, and I wrote an essay that encapsulated what I felt about that very loaded word.

I’m pleased to share that essay here, in the spirit of the season, and in the hope that it may bring some illumination.

Happy Solstice, everyone, and Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas, and Joyous Kwanzaa, and Blessed Yule, and joy rain down upon you whatever you do or do not celebrate.  Let’s push through to the light.

***

When I heard about tonight’s theme, I must admit I had a little trouble. Faith is a difficult concept for me, one of those virtues which, like “purity,” has had all the piss taken out of it by Christianity. Faith is George W. Bush following his gut into Iraq. Faith is Creationists who value their fairy tales over scientific evidence. Faith is what got the witches burned, kept the Crusades going for hundreds of years, fueled the Spanish Inquisition, took out the Twin Towers, impregnated and infected teenagers whose only sex education was abstinence-only, and defined people like me – female, bisexual, queer, pagan – as sub-human.

If you can do the hard work, though, of separating faith from its incredibly strong right-wing religious connotations, it’s actually an incredible tool of being human. Because faith, real faith, isn’t about blind belief in dogma. It’s about mystery. It’s about going forward with grace, when faced with the unknowable and terrifying. Faith is the holy communion of imagination and hope.

I’m a pagan woo-woo witch-identified skeptic. The founder of my own tradition used to say, “First perceive, then believe.” Of course, his doors of perception were open a little wider than a lot of people’s, and his perception allowed him to believe in fairies, spirits, gods and goddesses, energetic currents, blessings and curses. I’m only beginning to touch some of those things, and even when I perceive them, I’m still not sure I believe.

But I have faith.

Faith is what is left over when inquiry is exhausted, that thing that keeps us going when we Just Don’t Know. Faith is what allows us to turn the proverbial lemons into the equally proverbial lemonade; to keep trying when the damn thing has broken down fifteen times in a row but maybe if we switch these wires or kick it a few more times it’ll start; to wait and wait and wait because maybe this time, the Great Pumpkin will come. (The secret? If you wait long enough without eating or sleeping, he does.)

Faith allows some of you to light things on fire and swing them around your bodies for fun and entertainment, and others of us to look at a bare stage and make it into a world. In fact, faith is what makes most art – and all theatre – operate. For as the prophet Geoffrey Rush once said, “it’s a mystery.”

Faith is what allows a marathoner to get up Heartbreak Hill, a widow to get through her grief, a soldier to make it through the night. It’s what made our ancestors learn to wait for the bread to rise, the crops to grow, the game to return, the rains to stop. It’s the thing that lets us live in the terrifyingly simultaneous way that our human brains make us: one foot in the present, and one in the future.

Faith is what makes you able to love even when your heart has been torn out, stepped on, run over, and left on the side of the road to die. Faith makes you get up, dust your heart off, maybe wall it up a little better than before, but leave a window open a crack, just in case.

Just in case. Because we still imagine. And we still hope. And we still wait for the light.

Thanksgiving week: How gratitude can change your life

thanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving this week. The holiday has always been a favorite for me, and not just because I love to eat. I also love the thoroughly secular opportunity that it gives Americans to express gratitude.

Gratitude is an emotion that we’re not in contact with a lot of the time. Life is hard, and even though it’s also beautiful, we’re far more likely to notice the hard bits. After all, when you feel well, you don’t tend to think about it all that much. When you fall ill is when you notice: my head hurts, my nose is running, I’m so tired, and so on. It’s only human to notice the bad more acutely than the good, especially when the good is not Peak Good. Not every day can be college graduation, your wedding day, Christmas, or winning the lottery. But when you stop to notice is, most days are pretty okay. Some of them are even deeply beautiful.

I’m not even talking about noticing the sunset, or hearing the joy in a child’s laughter, though those cliched things are important. I’m talking about simple stuff. Notice the way a fork fits in your hand, and is the perfect tool for the job. Smell how truly great coffee is when you’re stumbling down the stairs in the morning. Take a moment when you turn the key in the ignition of your car to recognize that you have a car, and can drive it anyplace you want. If you’re about to drive it to your job, take a breath of thanks that you have a job.

These little pieces of gratitude can have a dramatic effect. The science is mounting: gratitude, besides just feeling good, is wonderful for our health. It improves optimism, increases exercise, moves us toward our goals, and enhances our connection with others.

But more even than that: it connects us to ourselves, and our deepest truths. After all, what says more about what you value, about who you are, than what you are truly thankful for?

Try this, starting on Thanksgiving and going through Christmas – classically, one of the most stressful times of the year. Get a journal, if you don’t already keep one, and take two minutes each day to record something that you’re grateful for. When it is especially hard to find something, pay special attention. Give thanks for your breath. Or your feet. Or your warm bed. Or even your pain. Your sorrow. Your many-times broken heart.

Starting this Thanksgiving, see what happens to you when you open yourself to gratitude. And if you’re ready to come home to yourself, find your true desire, and transform your life, contact me for a free phone consult.

Have a wonderful holiday.

[Rerun] When will it be safe to be a girl?

This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me.  Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can.  But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.

The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls.  In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:

After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’

Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world. 

So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.

The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way.  “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”

The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before.  So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it.  (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)

But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me.  The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities.  I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic.  Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy.  She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this.  At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her.  He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”

I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor.  But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.

At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came.  To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive.   And then, the truth emerged.

“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl.  She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”

In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl.  Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one.  A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly.  A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain.  The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp.  Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening.  Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.

What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?

A blessing for your body

One of my brilliant teachers and the current president of the International Association of Rubenfeld Synergists (INARS), Theresa Pettersen-Chu, posted this blessing yesterday on the Rubenfeld Synergy Method Facebook page. I was pleased enough with it to want to share it here. I hope you enjoy, and take it to heart – and to all of your parts. 🙂

blessingforyourbody

"We are not built for this."

Once again, in the face of unthinkable tragedy – this time much closer to home than any of us here in Boston would like – Mark Morford says the thing I need to hear, and that I wanted to say myself.

I’ve asked here before how we humans are meant to deal with the tragedies that erupt around us every day, especially now that we hear about it instantly and relentlessly.  Increasingly, trauma happens to us not just when we are directly faced with a tragedy, but secondarily, when we are exposed to constant atrocities in our world.

Says Mark Morford:

We are not built for this. We are not designed, at our core, to be able to absorb, at a glance and a click, a tweet and a ruthless video feed, all the ills and horrors of the world, all at once, all manner of chaos and destruction in a nonstop bloody flood over which we are powerless to influence and impotent to stop.

So what do you do when something like this happens – as it seems to, increasingly, in recent times?

You gather in, hold tight, and take care of those close to you. As feeble as it sounds, as meek as you feel, this is the only way. This is also the best way. To help. To be a part. To avoid shutting down, hardening, adding more suspicion and mistrust to the world.

The outpouring of love and support not just locally but globally; the inspiring vision of marathoners completing the race, then continuing to run to hospitals to donate blood; the heroism of first responders, firefighters and others – it’s all made for one inspiring week in the face of tragedy.  And unlike the aftermath of 9/11, it feels like the first response here isn’t one of revenge, of hardening against whatever enemy emerges.  It feels like it may be, really this time, about banding together.

This is the most essential reminder of all, is it not? A handful of violent sociopaths will never match, much less defeat, the support and care of tens of millions. Those who wish harm and damage upon humanity will never outnumber those who enable, empower and heal. The odds are in our favor. They always are. This is why we are still alive. Maybe the only reason.

We are still here, supporting each other, enabling, empowering and healing.  My wish for all reading this is that you might find it in yourself to stay open during this time, to reach out to others, to bring caring and love to those who need it, and to not shut down, grow hard, let this event – the onslaught of events – close you off to humanity.

And anyway, as Stephen Colbert reminds us: we’re tougher than that.