Wednesday, September 17, 2014

lifted ...

A couple of weekends ago, I went away on retreat with some sisters I've been circling with during the past year. 



The journey itself felt like more than I was up to handling, but I knew that once I arrived, there would be deep nourishment available at many levels. Physically, the space was beautiful: restful and abundant in the sights ...



sounds (coyote calls, birdsong), and smells of nature mellowing into an early autumn.  




There was an abundance of food, laughter and soulful sharing, personal inquiry and reflection upon what has been and what I am ready to release, to shed as I balance my rhythms with those of mother nature.  Each of us shared what we were ready to release, to set down upon the altar.  We harvested what nature had shed, creating bundles to offer along with our prayers to the fire on an soon-to-be full harvest moon.




We ended our stay with an Inipi or Sweat Lodge ceremony held by Sweet Medicine Nation, a wisdom keeper and teacher honoring the sacred ways of her Lakota and Choctaw lineage. It was a sweat performed in the traditional ways: modest clothing (women worn long skirts); offerings of tobacco made to the fire tender and water pourer; four rounds inside the lodge with prayers and songs offered in each round. It was a fitting way to honor the work our group had been doing that weekend as the sweat ceremony itself is about purification and preparation for spiritual work.  Entering the lodge is likened to returning to the womb - the Womb - being cleansed and through the intense experience of the sweat, being re-birthed upon leaving.  

It was my first sweat lodge and I was nervous about the intensity of the heat and my ability to endure it.  Within minutes of being in the lodge a sweat covered my entire being.  By the end of the fourth round, I felt as if I was covered in amniotic fluid my clothing and skin slick and drenched. I had been advised to lie down, it being cooler nearer the ground and the edges of the lodge.  At times I lay curled on my side, singing along with the chants which seemed familiar even though the language was foreign to me. I cannot say I thought of anything. I was carried along by the words of Sweet Medicine, the songs, the energy of the group pulsating in the darkness.

I never doubted I could make it all four rounds (you can exit after any round) and by the end I felt emptied and cleansed.  I admit, I expected to feel something more ... what, I'm not sure. I suppose I expected to receive some insight, a piece of clarity or understanding to be released in all that sweat.

When the fourth round was complete, we each made our way to the exit.  There, the fire tender reached down to help each of us rise out and up from the darkness of the lodge into the bright sunlight of the midday.  Everyone lines up and you greet each person who had been in the lodge.  It was by the third person that I realized something was happening ... that I was feeling less and less in my body, that I was becoming rapidly and increasingly light headed.  I greeted a few more people and then declared - to whom, I cannot remember - "I've got to go down!"

I slowly sunk to the ground, folding myself into child's pose with my forehead resting upon my towel.  I felt as if I was clinging to the earth, attempting to hold on.  I was not aware of much else.  At one point someone - Sweet Medicine? - placed her hands upon my back and said "Oh, she is shaking."  I was unaware of anything but the earth supporting me.

Slowly the fear and the dizziness began to abate. I then noticed a pair of feet waiting by my left shoulder.  As I began to rise up, a hand came down to lift me.  Standing by me was one of the grandmothers, an elder who had attended the first two rounds of the sweat and then had sat outside with another participating in prayers and songs. She was a tall, beautifully strong and solid woman with liquid eyes and raven hair threaded with silver. She guided me up and then linking my arm with hers, walked me slowly and calmly out of the circle and towards the picnic area for the following feast.  The fire tender, Carl, greet us with water and as he poured it over my head she uttered "Ahh ... I can feel you shifting!"  I remember little else of what she said but tangible is the memory of her support, her strong assurance and comfort in caring for and guiding me. 

This was the gift of the sweat: becoming vulnerable, being open, being looked after, and tended to with compassion and great care.  Receiving is not my strong suit.  My greatest fears center upon being abandoned, unable to care for myself, and unable to cope.  But as writer and Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller has pointed out "Fear is a false barrier. It's nothing but a gaping hole you step through. On the other side, the teacher is waiting." (Paradise In Plain Sight)

Or in my case, a grandmother was ready to offer me a strong and supportive arm, reminding me I am never truly alone or helpless.  There is always support available to me.  I just have to open to it, tap into it, and meet it half way.  










In so many ways, I now see this truth manifesting in my life. Through so many channels, in many forms I am being looked after, I am being lifted up and received.

Friday, September 12, 2014

home (finally, friday)

I've been traveling and it always takes me several days to feel rooted again.  




Inhabiting an in between space of seasons, work, and myself.  Shedding so much, but not ready to fill up just yet. Marveling at the signs of new life ...


the deer of SouLodge ranch



 while at the same time, it seems summer is making a hasty retreat, autumn's grey skies hustling quickly on to the scene.




Some of us are more prepared for this change than others.





Taking deep breaths, taking it all in ...




A long, cleansing exhale and I will be ready.   

A beautiful, feisty and loving warrior sister is about to embark upon what will certainly be a empowering exploration of fear:

we will be exploring the wholeness of fear (it's light and dark sides), reconnecting with it's medicine while finding out how to use it in a way that is medicine, and pioneering new trails for us to be in an authentic and wise relationship with fear.

I will be hitching my wagon with Nissa's e-circle as I recommit to my spiritual practice through my own offering The Gift of Practice.  For a chance to win a seat in my course, visit Nissa's blog HERE and leave a comment.  I cannot think of a better way to nurture and support myself in this season of releasing than by circling with Nissa as I step into the deep water of Fear.  I know I will be supported and gently guided as I tackle some big medicine.  I am ready.  How about you?  xo


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

my year of mandalas


The following post is my contribution to The Mandala Blog Hop, a collective sharing of mandala love and goodness sponsored by the magically creative and inspiring artist/writer/teacher Andrea Schroeder of Creative Dream Incubator.  Andrea is launching her course The Mandala Journal on September 15.  To read more about her offering and to find links to other bloggers celebrating the mandala, just click HERE and down the mandala rabbit hole you will go!





A year ago, I began my mandala moon play ... 





It is a monthly practice in which I create a mandala exploring the seasonal/life lessons encompassed by each month's full moon. I like to explore the traditional and Native American names for each month's moon, taking into account how those seasonal and symbolic names shed light into my own human and spiritual journey. 

Initially, I began my practice by creating a group of fellow mandala makers. This container - and the six month commitment to creating it! - forced allowed me to root this practice into my routine.  It only recently occurred to me that as I am in the thick of perimenopause, I've lost connection to monthly rhythms (my moon cycle being regularly irregular now) but this practice has helped me stayed tethered to a consistent rhythm and pace. 

I wanted to strengthen my connection with Nature, to slow time down if you will by paying closer attention.  Paying attention to what is happening around me and within me, perhaps to notice the relationship between my inner and out worlds.

So starting with the Harvest Moon in September 2013, I began my journey: 


Harvest, Full Corn, Brown Bear Moon


My process varied month to month.  As the new moon approached, I would familiarize myself with the various names for that month's moon, noticing which one resonated with me at that time.  Sometimes I created the mandala at the beginning - on or around the new moon - and then would write my intentions or reflections for the coming month.

Other times, the mandala might appear, but the teachings of that month - the journaling portion of the process - become clearer to me around the full moon or even at the end of the cycle when the moon was waning, emptying as it prepared to begin the cycle anew.



Blood Moon


It was important for me to stay flexible and open in the process, witnessing how it wanted to flow.  As I've learned through much much practice, the time to be disciplined is when I need to show up - get butt in chair and draw, paint, create - and the time to be gentle is in allowing what arises in that session to manifest without judgment, releasing expectations as best I can.


Full Freeze, Beaver Moon


A year is a long time to commit to something (believe me, with 5 other year-long projects/practices under my belt, I've learned a lot about my way in this process!) and there are moments of pure magic, mixed in with the pure drudgery of doing something/making it happen. 



Cold Moon


But flipping through the work that spans all four seasons - Autumn through Summer - that is when the power of this process makes itself known. (I used a large, watercolor Moleskine journal to keep all of my mandalas in one place; I love having this Book of my own mandalas, my own journey.)


Wolf, Quiet, Earth Renewal Moon


Rest & Renewal; Cleansing Moon

Worm Moon



Budding Trees, Pink Moon


Full Flower, Frogs Return Moon



Strawberry, Deer Moon



Stag Moon



Ripe Berries, Sturgeon Moon


I admit, I was excited to think I've done it ... I've finished the year ... now I can stop! But looking through my journal, reading each month's intentions, the questions I posed myself, the nuggets of personal insight unearthed, it all makes me curious to see what next?

Each month is vivid, rich in re-membering all that has taken place.  I can't always appreciate the growth, lessons, integration until I have it piled up around me.  Now I have the opportunity to witness my unfolding within the images and the writing and such a gift I cannot so easily dismiss. During the year,my Mandala Moon journal is like a traveler's inn, a resting spot, a space to revive and refresh and regroup before trudging on.  With each completed mandala, my journal becomes like a collection of the songs shared by fireside, a mug of ale in my hand, lending color and light to the places of darkness. 

And so, this fellowship continues ...





Happy Mandala Making!

Thank you Andrea for inviting me. Don't forget to visit the other bloggers sharing their magical mandalas - full list can be found HERE.

If you are intrigued by the notion of a committed practice or if you have struggled with sustaining any kind of regular practice - be it creative, spiritual, or self care - I am offering The Gift of Practice my 6 week online course starting September 22. I love helping others re-frame what Practice means, what it looks like and how it can be a portal to inner growth, discovery and transformation. For more information hop over HERE.

Friday, September 5, 2014

reset button


One of the most potent tools I've gained from a yoga practice is working with intentions.  When I would teach classes, I would instruct the participants to first ground themselves in the Now moment (what is true for you ... right now?) and awakening and relaxing around all that is. I often overlook the energetic backpack I've been lugging around all day and when I take the time to pause, I am always surprised to discover it is there, weighing me down.  But rather than lapse into resistance or frustration over why I've been a pack mule for stress and worry, I can offer myself gentle care and acknowledgement Yes, you ARE tired ... look what you've been shouldering.

Next, I would instruct the class to create an intention for their practice - for the next hour and a half of their day.  An intention can be some quality or aspect of one's being that we want to open up to or cultivate, say presence or peacefulness or ease. An intention can also be a heartfelt wish for oneself or another or the world and one can offer up the fruits of one's practice for another.  In this way, the actions become prayerful.




Either way, an intention is a means of aligning oneself to the present moment.  Intentions are not goals, which are future based. Intentions clearly anchor us in the Now.  How do I want to BE in this process?  What do I want to express through my thoughts/words/deeds/actions?  Throughout practice, we would take a pause to reconnect with our intentions because - as you probably well know - the mind quickly wanders off into the future or the past.  I know I stumble into goal setting and measuring my progress against some future/yet to be known outcome. Goals are all fine and good, but they represent the very end point of a journey and to focus merely upon the goal is like putting blinders on: too often I overlook unexpected opportunities or gifts because I am fixated upon the outcome. 

All this is to say ... when I find myself off balance, thrashing through my day, frustrated, tangled up in disappointment (which is really to be ensnared by expectations) that is a good sign I've forgotten all any intentions I may have set for myself. All I have to do to hit the reset button is to pause, then reconnect.

Whatever I do, I try to set an intention. I want to stay awake for the entire journey.  Because I change throughout the process, so too my intentions may shift and adapt and change.  But that is the beauty of this practice: it allows me to unfold mindfully within the actions of my life. 

There are many ways to work with intentions: writing in a journal, creating a Vision board, establishing mindful moments of prayer or meditation, rituals, altars, a word stamped on a piece of jewelry, a tattoo, mandalas, art journaling to name a few favorites of mine. teaser: I share one of my year-long practices next week.   

Because I like to connect with Nature and the changing cycles and seasons, I've been creating prayer flags as a way of working with my intentions.  Giving form to the values, ideals, qualities that I want to cultivate within myself, in my work, and in my life. 




As I prepare for autumn - my favorite season! - I know I will be hunkering down and tending to some deep work ... The Big Project to name one ... and all the things that too easily fall by the wayside in the busyness of summer.  I want to begin ready, with my intentions in place and my A-Team ready to roll with me.  

I am wanting to cultivate and open to trust, deep listening, love ... 




creative abundance, connection, expanded vision ...




strength, grounded nurturance, and magic ...




always, always magic (along with pie ... two good things!)  

family anniversary - 8 years celebrated with a cherry pie


I am ready to roll up my sleeves but I am also ready to sink into it all.  Relax and receive.  Add to and witness magic unfolding in each moment. 

Join me in working with intentions & practice in The Gift of Practice starting September 22.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

hand holds


As much as I seek community and foster supportive circles for creative and for spiritual practice, at the end of the day I know this path is a lonely one.

Lonely in the sense that only I can carry the load I've been tasked to move for this stretch of ground.  The gremlins of fear and doubt are of my own creating and therefore only I can slay them. Or rather, befriend and tame them as their purpose is not so much to derail me, as to protect and safeguard me.  Understanding their motives - to keep little Lisa safe - is to recognize they speak in the voice of the small, frightened, isolated me. And that, my friends, is not the totality of Me. Or you. This is when I need to draw upon guidance that provides a wider perspective, one that allows me to take in the fuller picture I am supported and cared for by forces far greater than what my limited senses can perceive.


 

I've been thinking that my frustration in community experience - no matter how loving and attentive my sisters may be - I still face the confusion and challenges alone.  How am I to proceed? What is the right action?  How to I find ease and comfort? How do I contribute to love and trust, rather than feeding fear and doubt?

Yet there is companionship ... brilliant points of light in the dark ... which may not make the struggle any less arduous but is comfort in the sense of yes, the task of healing is a universal one.  I don't want to avoid it because that only drives the pain in deeper.

One friend recently articulating what I've been struggling to understand:

I have been wanting to slurp from a straw "the answer" -- can I just pay you to do the hard work and heavy lifting so that I can slurp up spirit and truth and light and answers without having to even lift a hand? No more laziness. No more relying on others to do this work for me. It doesn't work.   

The loneliness forces me to dig deeper ... within myself, within my practice. I have to do my work.  This is my practice.  Attending to my life which has beautiful, soul stirring highs ...





... and the usual lows that come with being human and living in community.  Aging. People being unkind to others. Actions stemming from ignorance and fear. 

At the end of the day, I can choose to crumble or I can take action. As a spiritual teacher once shared, even small steps bring freedom from fear. 

These past few weeks, I've turned to my sketch book and to my meditation practice.  Both offer solid ground ... a place to regroup, rest, and attune to what is really true in this moment. And this moment. 




 What I can do is remember myself whole. Connected to Source.  This is how my practice sustains me.  Like a fire, I feed it and it rewards me with warmth and light.





Taking deep breaths helps.  Remembering all this IS my life ... running my mother to her many doctors appointments, sitting on the metal waffle iron that passes as a bench at Cowgirl's martial arts center, cleaning the toilets, walking the dog (there's a lot of poop in one's life), standing in line at the pharmacy waiting for my mother's prescriptions (eye-opening is the sight of pharmacists like line-cooks at McDonald's filling a towering pile of medications  ... drugs and waiting ... benefits of modern living?), and the usual host of tasks necessary to keep the day jerking forward.

Lurking underneath it all is the Not-knowing ... so much we cannot and do not know!  But rather than despair (have been facing that one with an aging parent) I choose to think about Mystery.  Opening to it, allowing it to simply be.  Do I have any other choice?  Would I want it otherwise?

I like magic, I believe in everyday miracles  - the hummingbird at my feeder, the sight of my sleeping girl cradling a stuffed lovey, the connections I've made with so many amazingly inspiring individuals - I show up afraid, uncertain, confused and am continually amazed to receive so much.




A new session of my online offering The Gift of Practice begins September 22.  All the details plus early registration bonus can be found HERE.    

I can't do the work for you, but I share how I pace myself for the journey, how practice offers me hand holds when life is a rocky and vertical climb. Some days, all I can do is cling on, but other days the climb is exhilarating.




 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

my quiet space

Yesterday, this is how my day began:




A sudden blur of movement across my patio alerted me to his presence. This is the first summer we've hung a hummingbird feeder up.  I had never thought of hummingbirds and Nebraska ... it seems too extreme, too hot, humid, windy, too corn-filled for such seemingly delicate beings.  Of course, the hummingbird is actually a very hardy thing and this ruby-throated fellow will make a 500 mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico to return to his breeding grounds.  My backyard feeder is a fueling up station - an all-you-can-eat nectar buffet bar -  for the hummingbird couple that kept me company throughout the day.

That was yesterday.  Today is a new day.  A very different day.  




A clap of thunder woke the entire family up.  Just as Cowgirl was ready for school, the skies split open with heavy, plopping, splattering rain drops.  It's been raining all morning now.

I am inside with the lights on. Their yellow glow combined with the cannon-blasts of thunder and percussion of falling rain have me in a strange mood.  The house is empty and my day ahead uncertain.  Oh, there are things to do and things I want to do but here I sit at odds with myself.

I feel like I am playing hooky.  While others are at their work, I am busy with ... what?  

At recent potluck held by the Husband's colleagues I was asked "Now that you've retired, does that mean you are lady of leisure?" I'm not sure quitting my University staff job is the same thing as retiring ... I suppose the mug I was given (yes, indeed ... 12 years of service and I got a mug) and the going away luncheon (left-overs from a previous gathering ... style points for sure!) suggested a moving on which is how I myself viewed that career decisionI don't help my cause by keeping silent, but I was unprepared for this assessment of my situation.

Lady of leisure?  Retiree?

Here is the dilemma: I work harder now than I ever did as someone's employee.  I work harder and reap more satisfaction and fulfillment from my efforts; I feel more engaged, more vital, and connected to what matters to meThat others don't see or immediately grasp this is ultimately inconsequential but frustrating none-the-less. 

Every day, I feel like I am reinventing myself.  Or rather, reinventing what work looks like and means in my life.  No one else can rubber-stamp my efforts and I alone set the terms and evaluate the outcome.  It is both thrilling and incredibly lonely.

I have to guard my time, watch out for my inner saboteur who dangles distractions and negative self talk in front of me, scaring me temporarily off my path.  Ultimately, my irritation over being pigeonholed as either retiree or worker bee has more to do with my own confusion. The internal chatter tells me I'm either productively engaged or loafing.  I have to return to the reason why I opted to set off on this unmarked trail; to remember I believe the fullness of my life is to be found in this space. Home. Family. Personal work. Creative Expression. Spiritual practice.  Less hustle and more presence. Surrender. Trust. Curiosity. Faith.

I'm into my second cup of coffee ... it's going to be that kind of a day. I am alone because the one I need to converse with, to really get to know, understand and accept is ... yes, myself.

But I do seek out lights of support and encouragement.  Friendly voices like this one and clear-eyed voices sharing deep truths and simple (yet powerful) advice.

You have to take a step. You are not going to mentally or emotionally move toward something until you’ve literally moved. (Karen Maezen Miller)


The rain softened for awhile.  Now it is a steady soaking. It is early afternoon and the dog hasn't been out once.  That would bother me, but it doesn't seem to rattle him.
 



The dark skies have settled into a uniform pale gray.  Even on this gloomy day, the hummingbird returns.  There is nectar waiting after all ... 



I am not alone. I am never alone.  The world waits for me to join in ... Life is arms always open to receive me.  I just have to move into them.

And today ... and elephant wants carving.  Music awaits my ear.  A sleeping dog rests at the edges of my attention, but always by my feet. 



Friday, August 22, 2014

always ... this ... (finally, friday)


Happy Family Day ... 8 years ... each one a blessing, a challenge, a gift, an opening into mystery & magic.




love you dear one.