Power In Your Hands

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Halloween was always a thrilling time for me, both as a child and as an adult. It’s not that I was that into being scared; scary things were actually way too intense for me when I was little. And candy was nice, but given the weird scares of the 1980s, I wasn’t allowed to eat most of the candy I collected anyway. No: what really drew me was the opportunity to dress up and be someone different.

Costuming has always been powerful for me, especially as an actor. A different set of clothes, hair, makeup, shoes – it can all serve to change how you stand, walk, move, even think. The interaction between the body and the things we wrap it in is a source of constant fascination, changing our relationship to gender, age, place, season, cultural identity, time, and self.

If you think that’s a bit strong, think of how different you feel when you are sitting on the couch at home in your PJs, versus how you feel when you put on a suit, or dress up for church, or go out dancing on a Saturday night, or go to visit an elderly parent, or prepare to work on your car, or go hiking. If you’ve ever worn period clothing, you know how much a corset, or a loose tunic or robe, or a frock coat, or a flapper dress, can change how you stand, move, bend and carry yourself. Cross-dressing or deliberately queering gender through clothing has an effect on the wearer, as well as an effect on the viewer, depending on the culture in which it is done, the level of tolerance of the people involved, and the context. Today, a guy in my office won the costume contest dressed as Princess Leia – not, I think, because he looked silly, but because he looked so good without hiding any of his masculinity, and pulled it off proudly. Were he to show up dressed similarly on any other day, the context would have shifted, and the office would have a different response.

While it may be true that our “true selves” are inside us, what we express outwardly both reflects that internal state, and can shift it in minor and major ways. Halloween and other events like it – Carnival in various parts of the world, Purim in Judaism, and so on – offer people a chance to be something they are not, without any real consequences. As a result, it can offer a rare opportunity for people to explore something that they would like to be, or would like to play with being.

Even if you don’t go out to parties, or trick or treating, take some time this holiday to mess around with your outward appearance. What happens to your state of mind and the feeling in your body when you wear something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear? What becomes possible that wasn’t before?

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.

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?

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?

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.

My technology is back in working order (it only took three trips to the Apple Store…), I celebrated a lovely and quiet Fourth of July, and I’m feeling very grateful for all my first-world problems.  I will endeavor to return Monday with more enlightening topics, though the summer does tend to be quiet, doesn’t it?

How did you celebrate Independence Day?

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year.  Mayan Calendar nonsense notwithstanding, 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.

Some days – especially Fridays, I think – you just need to go for the simple.  This was a weird week, with the holiday in the middle of it, and all the heat; I’m betting most people who are working today are slacking off a bit and waiting for the weekend, and the rest are off enjoying other things.  I was going to write something deeply philosophical, but I think instead I’ll share a few little things that are giving me joy.  Blessings-counting is good practice, anyway.

Rock climbing.  I saw a friend at the climbing gym yesterday, whom I’d also seen a couple of days before.  She smirked and said, “Hooked enough that you’re here more than once a week, huh?”  Yeah, sure seems that way.   I’m really loving the sensation of getting stronger, smarter, more confident.  For maybe the first time in an athletic endeavor, I look at hard routes and don’t think, “I’ll never be able to do that.”  I think, “Boy, won’t it be neat when I can do that.”

House of Leaves.  The book I’m currently reading, by Mark Danielewski.  It’s a postmodern tome, yes.  But it’s beautiful, terrifying, engrossing, and unlike any book I’ve ever read.  Its layers are dazzling, and the necessity of turning the book to read upside-down passages, the scratchouts and illustrations and collages and nested footnotes – it’s a book that demands you read it with your whole being.  (Also, the word “House” always appears in blue, as above, even in the name of the publisher (Random House) and when it’s in other languages.  I’ve come to think of it as part of the pronunciation of the word, and wonder how the word’s blueness could be communicated in speech.)

Sugar gliders.  I mean, seriously, look at them!

Really, look!

Are you back?

Okay, moving on.

Happy videos.  Actually, a Coke commercial of all things, showing wonderful things picked up by security cameras.  Well, they always have been good about making the touching commercials.  Found this at David’s blog.  Enjoy, everyone, and happy Friday.

“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

~ Simone Weil

I picked up this quotation from David Kanigan’s blog, and have been mulling it over ever since.

Rubenfeld Synergy Method’s official, trademarked tagline is, “A dynamic system for the integration of body, mind, emotions and spirit.” Our teachers told us, however, that until our particular training, the “spirit” part of the equation was mostly implied, not directly addressed. Spirit is a difficult thing to talk about these days, especially in the context of healing: most of the context for the word’s use is either overtly Christian faith-healing kind of stuff, or New-Agey, unscientific crystal-waving. For many good reasons, the word “spirit” has come under suspicion by critically-thinking people, and in a field that is largely unknown to many as mine is, it’s a word I use carefully.

In our training, we had a “spirit night” every Friday during the week-long trainings. (This had nothing to do with a pep rally, though I realize that’s how it sounds.) These were always intense, often very moving, and always addressed a part of ourselves that is hard to define: the bit that is transcendent, that considers questions of mortality, that taps our inner strength and our inner voices. We walked a labyrinth one night, that the faculty had built inside a hotel ballroom. We listened to the messages of our hearts and our geniuses. We created collages, poems, and other tokens that we could take to remind us of the deep work we’d done. No “God” or “gods” were ever mentioned, no religion invoked, nor were we even asked explicitly to believe in any kind of soul. But we were doing the intangible work of spirit, and making it as tangible as possible. We were engaging deeply with that part of us that decides, every day, to go on living, and that helps us do it in the best way we possibly can. In an intensive training that focused greatly on the body and its interplay with the mind, those evenings of spirit are some of my fondest and strongest memories.

The word “prayer,” though, is even more loaded than the word “spirit.” Which is possibly why I liked this quotation so much: it bespeaks what I know about Rubenfeld as a practice involving deep and focused attention – “unmixed” attention, even. And this attention, this deep listening, is what I mean when I talk about the sacredness of this work.

Whatever it is that is happening to the client, there is a thing that happens to me, the practitioner, when I am in right spiritual relationship to the client. It is something that I cannot achieve in every moment of this practice, but it’s something I strive to cultivate so that it is there more and more often. The fact that it is difficult to name this quality is what lets me know that I’m dealing in the realm of spirit: it is a skill that can be practiced, yes, but it is difficult to say what part of my mind or body I use to do it. It’s something that, when it’s in place, I am doing with my entire being. Rubenfeld Synergists tend to call it listening; others might call it empathy, or emotional intelligence, or communion.

I don’t yet know what I call it. I just know that when I’m in that state, the client is the most interesting person I have ever met. Their troubles move me utterly; their lives are fascinating; I find them, for lack of a better word, extremely beautiful. I feel that I am completely with them, and that I will know what to say, how to move, where to touch next, without thinking about it. It is a state of complete presence.

I have experienced this at other times: during certain kinds of rituals, at moments of extreme joy or pain, while drumming or singing with a group, while making love. All of these are kinds of prayer, whether they are addressing any transcendent being or not. Prayer, as Abraham Heschel said, is not as much about petitioning for things as it is about singing, about opening our hearts to greater experience.

Absolutely unmixed attention. In today’s society, it’s hard to come by. But worth striving for. And quite possibly, what the idea of spirit comes down to: that place of mystery where all of our parts coalesce to a single point.