Monday, July 25, 2011

Mother Divine

by Jeff Tweedy

When the devil came
he was not red
but chrome
and he said
come with me
you must go
so I went
where there was no fire
no torture
no hate
everything clean and precise
towering polished diamond skyscrapers
glittering ice avenues
translucent blues and silver signs
marking every turn
I was welcomed
with open arms
all lines of defeat sanded away
I felt no fear

I received every kind of help
the air was crisp
sunny late winter days
springtime yawning
over the cottony horizon
hell is chrome
I believe in god
hell is chrome

Presently, a roofing crew blasts music through the neighborhood.  They have been working for a week on my neighbor's house.  One member of the crew, a particularly spirited man, sings along to the festive Hispanic music hopping out of the radio.  While hammers make perfect background music for meditation (wink wink), I love this man's uncensored joy. I find myself grinning every time he cries out in song.  A huge pine blocks my view to the house but I imagine this man leaning into the slant of the roof, crooning to each shingle as he slaps his hammer down.  Maybe he doesn't care for his work.  Maybe it is only the music he loves.  It doesn't matter.  He sounds as though he simply cannot help himself and this abandon delights me.

I have been thinking about fertility lately.  Not THAT kind of fertility - although I did watch When Harry Met Sally this weekend and appreciated Sally's line about your biological clock not really starting to tick until you are 35 in whole new ways.  No, I have been thinking about how gentleness is a quality I was not able to give myself earlier in my life, and how projects and days and relationships blossom under its loving influence. 

The summer after I got married (those storied 14 months ago!) I traveled to Santa Fe to visit a friend, and to reconnect with the old place I originally fell in love with on a road trip just after college.  Wandering around the square, I spotted a 12 foot high statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in front of Santuario de Guadalupe, the oldest church in the United States honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I was drawn to the statue like a downstream current, and I circled and circled her, taking pictures from every angle, soaking in her beauty.  I drank in the golden constellation of her robe and its Statue of Liberty-esque turquoise patina.  I puzzled at the child bursting from her feet.  And I bowed beneath her towering, benevolent, powerful head, her massive shoulders, and folded-prayer hands.  I was devoted immediately, though I had no idea who this woman was, or what her story was.  I didn't care. I was in the presence of something great and loving and gorgeous.  That was enough for me. 

I later learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe's story and symbolism, but feel totally unqualified to explicate it here.  In a book titled A Woman's Journey to God, Joan Borysenko offers this: "She identified herself as 'the Mother of God, who is the God of Truth; the Mother of the Giver of Life; the Mother of the Creator; the Mother of the One who makes the sun and the earth; and the Mother of the One who is near.'" 

I adore this last name: the One who is near.  I find it so intimate and comforting and sweet.

Borysenko continues: "One of the most interesting aspects of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is that she is wearing the cintz, a tassel or maternity bond, around her wrist.  She is a pregnant goddess."

At the time I discovered the statue, I was going through an intense questioning period in my artistic life.  My journey to Santa Fe was, in many ways, a homecoming to my creative roots - to the woman I had been, and had been becoming, before I muted my free-spirited ways in the rough years after college.  Unbeknownst to me, in Santa Fe, I was journeying to get them back. 

As I stood beneath this eternal mother in the clean sun, I felt something I had no idea I had been living without.  I felt pure, utter acceptance: acceptance for who I was, for what I had been born to do, and for whatever pathways made me happy. 

No wonder my devotion was instant!  I had accessed something ancient and healing. 

When my parents visited Santa Fe,  I'm afraid they experienced the heat more than any other aspect.  But what mattered to me was my recognition that a primal energy connects my mother and I.  She is the woman who created me, housed me in her body, nurtured my own body's growth, and, ultimately, is the woman who taught me how to be a woman, living in a body that can create new life. 

My mother was on my mind all over Santa Fe.  I wanted to show her everything I discovered.  I felt incredible gratitude for her, and for all the ways she nurtured me - especially in high school when my brothers had left for college and my relationship with my mother blossomed.  My experience with the statue initiated me, and reconnected me to the universal mother energy, and thus to myself as a woman with creative powers.  This experience, and the art, and the festive embrace of God, were some of the reasons I felt so close to my mother - who was states away on the east coast - while I was in New Mexico. 

This is the energy I have been thinking about lately: the pregnant goddess energy, the woman in her creative powers, ready to give birth to the moon and the sun.  When I am in contact with this energy, which yogis call the Shakti, all my human loves and relationships connect.  They swirl together and mix and play, because I am stepping into the current drawing closer and closer to the mother's heart.  Things make more sense to me when I am in contact with this energy.  At the same time, I become aware more than ever of the mysteries I can never solve, and of the underwater shadows I cannot name.

When I am truly connected, I accept these mysteries and shadows, and even delight in them. Safe in the discovery process, I rediscover faith.

I get it now, what people mean when they say faith is a garden you have to water daily.  I am finding that my garden loves gentleness - sweet attention and listening.  I bet most gardens do, but what do I know? As Jeff Tweedy says in an interview about writing poetry in The Writer's Chronicle, "I believe that the interior landscape is much more honest because I really believe that is the only thing you can truly know...I find that the more you can get to the essence of your interior life, it actually becomes more expansive than any world view you can try and impart."

Sometimes I find efforts at self-care daunting, haunted by failures past and future.  But today, I'll slop  water on the roses, plop the house plants in the sun.  Is it really so hard to nurture and care for the soul?  Aren't there a million good ways to do so?  My hope is that we all find our own ways.  That we give ourselves permission to delight and cry out in song, or to weep and massage the blood out of welters.  Whatever the steps we take home, may we honor and keep them.  May we know where they are, even in the dark.  And may we share what we find with each other.

Friday, July 8, 2011


One day I just woke up, the wolves were all there
Wolves in the piano, wolves underneath the stairs…  -- Josh Ritter

Fortunately Not Every Day Is Important,
by Sol Gordon


          feeling sorry for
          the plants
          like my love
          in the Fall of


         seek the sun
         among withered flowers
         and brief encounters
         where friendship lingers
         not for long.
         I am loved
         not enough to still the
         Exile.  I lit two candles to


         The way.  No one noticed
         What is a way to a
         Jewish holiday?


         responded, somewhat impatiently
         I thought,
        "For Heaven's Sake, Water The
         Plants, And Get On With It."

I’ve been thinking about food, lately—both what we put into our bodies and into our minds.
  I’ve been on vacation in Alaska for the past two weeks.  Besides the fact that my dog may never forgive me for leaving him (it’s true, I may overestimate the value of my company), it was a very good trip.  Whales breached.  Sea lions burped and roared.  Bearded men sold and fed me delicious hunks of fish.

I Heart Alaska.
  Truly and freely.

Packing my suitcase for the flight home two days ago brought the kind of sadness I feel when departing a loved one.
  It didn't surprise me, exactly.  I knew I was leaving the most perfect combination of wilderness and western culture that I have found to date.  Still, the usual things I conjure up to make going home easier--the comfort of my kitchen, the freedom of uninterrupted yoga practice, the note cards and papers waiting in my desk at home--failed to seduce me.  I felt that, were I in a different place in my life, Alaska and I might make one sexy duo.       

Still, I got on the plane.  I entertained the briefest fantasies of returning to Colorado only to pack up everything and go back to Alaska.  But I knew they were only fantasies, and here's why: because I'm tired of moving.  I'm tired of being far away from everyone I love, and getting to the east coast from Colorado is way easier than getting there from Alaska.

All this added up to another realization: I'm tired of chucking my heart onto passing trains and wondering why I'm so tired at the end of the day.

Before the trip, I had imagined being struck by a great epiphany while we traveled.
  Instead, I got thunked over the head by a dull club. A red-headed stepchild of sorts emerged from the depths of my being around the end of week one.  She was gap-toothed and freckled, and hung around the front porch of my mind.  When I asked what she needed to tell me, she said, simply, “You ain’t having enough fun.”

Knowing that opportunities for amusement were in abundance (boat tours, coastal roads, log cabins, sourdough pancakes), I dug deeper for what she was trying to tell me.  I struck upon it immediately: though my body was on tour in one of the most gorgeous landscapes of the country, my heart itself was in a cardboard box, stuffed at the bottom of my suitcase. 

Travel stresses me in two ways:

1. When I don’t have adequate space to mediate for several days, my emotions board the nearest roller-coaster and ride every wave of anger, despair, depression, and despondency, and take those I love with them.

2. I often have difficulty with food options on the road.  This makes me anxious and, when I make the wrong choice, very very cranky.

All this comes back to grounding.  When I don't take adequate care to do so, I suffer big time and, unfortunately, so do those around me. 

I often think of a van full of dogs that Tim and I drove to Florida once.  They were piled into crates, and those crates were stacked one on top of another.  We were delivering the dogs to safety, to a no-kill shelter eighteen hours away.  When I want to bare my teeth at my travel companions, I think about those dogs.  Often, I fail in efforts toward patience, and I growl and snarl--if only internally.  But those sweet pups that Tim and I were not able to let out for those eighteen hours--not even for a bathroom break--were silent the entire ride.  It was like they knew where they were headed, and just wanted to get there.  I'm sure they were frightened, or more than anything a bit confused.  But they managed their spirits better than I do on big trips.

What I learned on this trip, in addition to many marine animal facts and what a glacier looks like up close (Superman blue!), is where I am out of balance in my life, and how to go to those places and soothe them.

I also learned that rocks left behind by glacial morraines are sometimes soft to the touch.
  I’m not saying I want to rake through my life and leave behind only perfection.  Actually, I do. And that’s the problem.  I know, intellectually, that perfection isn’t my job.  Surrender to the craggy parts of life, and learning to love them as much as the luxuriously soft and impeccably credentialed ones, is.  That sounds like there are a lot of those impeccably credentialed ones.  And maybe there are.  But all I seem to be seeing lately are the big ass crags.

I know that surrender, not perfection, is my job.  But why do I have to re-learn it every darned day of the year?

I once learned that, traditionally, Quaker women leave one mistake in the quilts they craft, because only God is perfect.
  What a sweet combination of reverence and playfulness!  And who are these women who can limit mistakes to just one?

I’ve been reading the exquisite Journal of a Solitude
, by May Sarton.  Incidentally, this book has been on Tim’s shelves, which are packed to the gills, for years.  I have passed it several times a day, for several years now.  Often, all that I have seen are shelves that are in desperate need of some Feng Shui love.  Now that I have finally pulled out Sarton’s book and waded into its sweet attention, I think: how strange is life that I wanted him to chuck what I need most? 

Here is a gem from the bowlful of gems contained in
Journal of a Solitude

Found this in an old journal of mine – Humphrey Trevelyan on Goethe: “It seems that two qualities are necessary if a great artist is to remain creative to the end of a long life; he must on the one hand retain an abnormally keen awareness of life, must always demand the impossible and when he cannot have it, must despair.  The burden of the mystery must be with him day and night.  He must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted.  This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tensions is the source of artistic energy.  Many lesser poets have it only in their youth; some even of the greatest lose it in middle life.  Wordsmith lost the courage to despair and with it his poetic power.  But more often the dynamic tensions are so powerful that they destroy the man before he reaches maturity.” 

Must art come from tension?  A few months ago I was dreaming of a happy work, a whole book of poems stemming from fruitful love. Now here I am back on the rack.  But perhaps this is a sign of health, not sickness.  Who knows?

And, from a delicious book I picked up in Denali, called Small Wonders: Year-Round Alaska,
a little piece of advice on ground work:

…go out and explore the world gathered around you…The closer I look, the more there is to see.

So, here’s to despair!  Or, learning how to work with it.  To seeing the trees inside the forest, to piles and piles of beautiful books, to bear and moose-lovers, to art as food, to meditation as life, and to abundant, life-long practices of mindfulness and humility.

With love,