An Unexpected Gift

body of water across forest
Photo by Manuela Adler on Pexels.com

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Heraclitus

Sometimes the universe has plans for us other than the ones we make for ourselves.  I’d arranged to go on an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail with a friend to celebrate the solstice.  For a multitude of reasons, we never made it to the trailhead much less out on the trail itself.

Just as my summer solstice plans were falling apart, an acquaintance sent a text with GPS coordinates and a short message “Went here last weekend. River, trees, lovely, peaceful. Go!” I don’t always do what my phone commands, but, suddenly free and wanting to shake off the stress of the last few weeks, I decided to check out the suggestion.  An hour and many miles of twisting mountain roads later,  I found a grassy pull-off at the coordinates.  A barely visible break in the vegetation at the roadside marked a path down to the river below.

The spot was as promised and more.  At the end of the short climb down the narrow tunnel through the wildly growing vegetation, the ground flattened out to a sandy shoal dotted with stones worn into smooth ovals by time and flowing water.  A slow moving river edged past the shoal, journeying around a rocky outcrop upriver, past the tree line bank opposite and meandering out of sight again a little further down stream.  Tiny flakes of muscovite dotted the river bed and shone out from the river rocks, creating a sparkling effect to the already beautiful water.  When the sunlight hit the smallest bits of mica just right, the riverbed gave the appearance of being dotted with tiny, shimmering rainbows.

It has been a long time since I’ve willingly plunged into a cold river, but the lazy current and warm day made it hard to resist.  I let myself drift easily downstream, walked back along the rock strewn shallows, and began again. I repeated this process a dozen or more times, recalling the liminality of such places – the shifting water renewing itself constantly over the thousands of years that the river has run this course and creating a fluid, flowing boundary with ever-changing thresholds to explore. In this place, the heartsong of the mountains can be heard as you immerse yourself in the very blood and bones of the land.

Such places can change us if we allow it.  At the end of the visit, I reclined back on the sun-kissed shoal feeling far calmer and more grounded than I have in a long time. I also came away with a fresh perspective on some old problems. The experience created a much needed reminder of the magic that exists in the natural world, if we’re willing to slow down and pay attention.  Who knew that a set of GPS coordinates could be such an unexpected gift?

 

Advertisements

Remembering The Forgotten

tombstone on cemetery during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

CW: PTSD, Suicide

A neighbor gave me a gift of a dozen ripe peaches today.  As I stood pondering what to do with them, a memory came back to me, unbidden, of the last conversation I had with my friend, Mike.  He’d just returned home from a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf and we were talking an upcoming pot luck holiday dinner that a mutual friend was hosting.  Mike suggested that I bring a peach pie to help everyone stick to their diets.  It was tongue-in-cheek joke, since Mike was the unfortunate taste tester of a peach pie I’d made in our high school home economics class, not realizing that some joker had switched out the sugar for salt.

Mike didn’t make it to the potluck for some reason or another and we just never seemed to be able to meet up.  Two years after he’d returned to his hometown, Mike drowned in the creek behind his parents house.  A letter to his family painted a terrible picture of a life  destroyed by PTSD and unexplained physical symptoms (what would later come to be know as Gulf War Syndrome).  Rather than endure the pain, he ended his life.

There are those who would say that a veteran who commits suicide does not deserve to be included in ceremonies for those who died in combat.  Bullshit I say.  Those who die as a result of their service to country should be honored and remembered, regardless of the manner of their death.  Whether by enemy fire, by their own hand or by the slow and terrible work of Agent Orange, our fallen vets should not be forgotten.

I do not want to mourn my friend again, but I do not want to forget him either. So I am doing what any good kitchen witch would do, pouring my heart and energy into the alchemy of baking.  In my oven are four rustic peach tarts made with rosemary laced crusts which will be delivered tomorrow to a shelter for homeless vets, because  while it’s important to honor the dead, we must never lose sight of those who still live.

 

 

The Temple of MSB: A Roadblock

 

IMG_20180520_144910
Photo Credit: Aisling Faa 2018

This morning I ventured out for what I refer to tongue-in-cheek at Sunday Services at the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood, which is to say that I spent some time on a local trail trying to clear my head.  I have a favorite loop trail that is just the right length and difficulty to let me work through whatever happens to be on my mind.

After several days of torrential downpours and thunderstorms, the conditions on trail were pretty miserable – slippery rocks, shoe-eating mud bogs, and downed limbs.  Horrendous trail conditions force my focus to what’s physically in front of me and to make rapid gut-instinct decisions about each step.  If my mind wanders, there’s a fair certainty that I’m going to fall, which means a potential injury with the added bonus of a mud bath.  These are some of my favorite conditions when I want to forget about something that’s gnawing at me.

Today, there were several downed trees thanks to the well-soaked ground.  The first three were small and easily passed. About a quarter-mile into the mire and muck, two trees had fallen across the trail- the first low to the ground, the second just above waist height a few inches behind the first. This isn’t a huge barrier – the instinct is to step over the first, duck under the second, and you’re back on your way.  Except stepping over a fallen tree or log in this part of the world is a very bad idea and a very good way to step on a rattler or copperhead that you can’t see. If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: Step carefully onto the fallen tree and then scan the ground behind the tree before stepping down.

In this case, there was a Black Racer waiting there – not venomous, but still a large and potentially aggressive snake. Suddenly, the obstacle was not so easy to pass, particularly as going off trail meant wading through poison ivy and brambles.  As I stood contemplating whether to turn back, I realized that the situation mirrored  the thing that had been on my mind as I’d set out on trail – a friendship that has been holding me back and causing frustration. If the message from the universe were not clear enough, I recalled as I stared at the snake that the friend identifies the snake as her ‘spirit animal’. Sometimes, the Powers That Be (TM) leave little doubt about what you need to be doing.  So the question became – do I let a non-lethal nuisance block my way or do I find a way around it?  What amount of control over my life am I willing to give someone who would impede my forward movement as a way of asserting their own power?

In the end, I opted to sidle around the snake, rather than turning back and facing a quarter mile uphill hike back to where I’d started. A small tree at the side of the trail made for a good handhold while scrambling over both of the fallen trees.  A small drop to the ground and I was on my way again and didn’t encounter another downed tree (or snake) in the remaining mile and a half of trail.  Now, hopefully, my slithering friend can be dealt with so swiftly and painlessly.

Nourishment

pexels-photo-416443.jpeg

(If you need it, this is your warning that this post touches on eating disorders and body image.)

Any spiritual path worth pursuing is going to have a foundation of core tenets.  In my case, the ideas responsibility and accountability are the rocks on which everything else is built.  Over the years, I think I’ve done a decent job of upholding those two things.  There may have been missteps and errors along the way (hey, human here!), but I’ve learned these lessons pretty well. There is no blaming others or circumstances when my actions and choices have lead to unwanted consequences.  Even when circumstances are entirely beyond my control, how I respond to those circumstances is still my choice and I am accountable for that choice.

All of this being responsible and accountable works well overall… until it comes to my relationship with food.  The minute food enters the equation, those tenets become a fiery train-wreck.  There’s a few reasons for this – food scarcity as a kid, an abundance of food being closely associated with celebrations and love, and many years of emotional eating as a result. I tend not to take any responsibility for what, when and how I eat;  holding myself accountable for my relationship with food simply does not happen.  The thought of doing so scares the hell out of me because I know that, even with serious chronic health issues, this is the area where I am least healthy.

When you have a dysfunctional relationship with food, you cannot hide it over the long term. If your waistline doesn’t give it away, then your eating habits will.  A friend who had stayed with me for a few weeks pointed out how very different the food I talked about eating was different than what I’d cooked for her.  I’d fed her made-from-scratch bread, healthy lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables.  I talked about (and ate) whatever junk was available, with little thought to the consequences or nutritional value. Do I usually give thought to any responsibility I might have for this dietary mess?  Not really.

With the new year, I began to make efforts to change how I nourish my body, to take as much responsibility for what goes into my mouth as for what comes out of it. Because there has been a disconnect between the spiritual and physical for a long time, one of the things that I am trying to do is to bring a spiritual element into the larger plan. I fell out of the habit of saying a prayer over mundane meals long ago, so it seemed a good place to begin. I am working on other ideas on how to make this connection between body and spirit, but those will be stories for another day.  For now, to begin is enough.

Today We Choose

Twenty seven years ago today, an amazing and unthinkable thing happened – a terrible wall that separated a city, a country, and the world fell.  Families that had been divided for nearly three decades were reunited and a world torn apart by the Cold War began to feel a little more friendly and united. A standing Republican United States president had called for its destruction and this wondrous call to action became a reality not long afterward. We cheered and cried and viewed the destruction of the Berlin Wall as a victory for freedom and democracy.

Yesterday, another amazing and unthinkable thing happened – the United States elected another Republican president – one who has promised to build walls in the name of patriotism, one who proclaims unity while encouraging division, one who uses his power for self-gain while touting the greater good. How far we’ve come only to take so many rapid steps backwards and away from the direction of greatness.

Today, we choose, not who will lead us, but rather how we will respond to yesterday’s election and the future that it promises.

For those of us who are anxious and fearful, who are feeling disenfranchised and unwelcome in our own nation, who are vulnerable and at risk… we can choose to let this fear drive us to despair.  We can choose to hide away from the world. We can also choose this time to find deep within ourselves the courage to reach out to our allies and support networks.  We can choose to let our fear motivate us to make positive changes and to  let our anxiety become a catalyst that drives us to a higher purpose.

Those of us who are thicker-skinned, who have learned to withstand bullies and hatred,  whose souls have been tempered by fire and force… we can choose to harden our hearts against this world.  We can choose to respond to hatred and intolerance with our own brand of the same.  Or we can choose to reach out to those who are vulnerable, weak, and afraid. We can choose to use our hardness as an shield to protect those who need shelter. We can choose to let our thick skins be an armor for ourselves as we battle on the side of compassion and love.

Today, we can choose to change the narrative.  We can choose to make this, not the ending, but the beginning of our story.  We can choose to tell it in voices proud and strong and to be the voice for those who have been silenced. We can choose, as we once did, to tear down walls instead of building them.

For those of you are capable, please take this opportunity to support those who need it. Grand gestures are wonderful, but it is the small compassion-filled actions that are often the most needed.  Whether volunteering to help a vulnerable part of the population or simply checking on a friend who might be feeling unsettled and frightened by the election results,  every compassionate action you take will make a positive difference.

I encourage you, if you are one of the vulnerable, to reach out to your support system  and to know that you are not alone.  You are loved, important and valued.  You have worth and beauty. Your story is not finished and there are people out there who will help you to write it in dark and difficult times. No election result will ever change those things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of My Head and Onto the Page

It is November and the annual madness has officially taken hold. It is five days into NaNoWriMo and my official word count is at just over 15,000. For the sake of expedience as I didn’t have the time or energy to world-build for a new novel this year, I have resorted to my last writing resort, fan fiction.

Spinning my own tales using existing characters and world is how I became interested in writing fiction.  This is the first time, however,  I’ve ever taken the time to write down one of those spin-off stories.  Usually the tales remain strictly in my head, the stuff of daydreams in idle moments.  I’ve decided that I would write a story about Hogwarts ten years after Voldemort’s final defeat.  At its core, it’s a story about characters who were marginalized, broken, and ruined by the Ministry in the years after the war.  As I said, it was a last resort, a desperate attempt to get something resembling a story on paper.

In the process of writing this draft, I spent an hour yesterday on a conversation about one character’s view of spell work. He differentiates it into two types – 1). spells that are effective because the person on whom it is used believes that magic has power and 2). spells whose power lies in the spell caster’s ability to shape the nature of reality (requiring no belief whatsoever).  An argument then ensues about whether the former is truly magic or simply form of psychological manipulation and whether or not someone who performs that kind of magic can truly call themselves a witch.

After I’d finished writing that section, I thought “Hmm, that’s interesting. Where in Hades did that come from?”  I haven’t given a lot of thought to the nature of what makes spells stick, because I rarely do spell work aimed at anyone else (the liminal work that constitutes much of  what I do is very different beast than conventional spell work). I realize that the theory above has loopholes that a truck could drive through and simplifies the issue too much, but it does have me thinking about where the power of spell work does lie. Is a curse effective simply because the person on whom it is cast believes, in however small a way, that curses have power?  Or does a curse’s efficacy lie solely with the caster and their ability to affect the circumstances of another person’s life?

For now, I’m just going to agree with the response that was given by another character: “Magic just is. It doesn’t need a theory or a philosophy.   Must you overthink everything?”  Ah, the joys of having philosophical debates in one’s own head.

Rethinking The Label of Solitary

297 days. That’s how long it’s been since my feet had trod the trail that’s been referred elsewhere in this blog as the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood. Three seasons have come and gone without so much as a single footfall.  Physical incapacity has kept me away from this moving meditation for months; fear has barred my way when physical pain no longer prevented me from returning.

I returned to the Temple of MSB this morning for a slow and cautious hike, as there is still months of recovery before I can contemplate running again.  Today’s return was an act of sacred (but much dreaded) duty.  Not wanting to think too hard about why I’d come back, I focused my attention on the trail itself and some improvements that had been made in my long absence.  It occurred to me for the first time that I’d taken for granted the trail other than as it pertained to my own footsteps upon it.  Someone had come long before me to forge a passable path through wild nature; other hands left trailblazes to guide the way; an unseen army works unceasingly to clear trash and fallen timber; a forest ranger frequently checks the area for anything problematic.  Likewise, my ability to walk today has been the result of so many dedicated folks who made it their jobs to get me back on my feet.  Though I was walking alone through the forest, I could not have claimed this space as my own without the work and assistance of so many people.

I may have entered the woods alone today, but it was  not done as a individual acting in isolation.  Avoiding this particular trail has been an act of cowardice and denial on my part.  It is the place where I first met Sam.  In the days since his passing,  I have felt called there by his spirit. It is a call that I haven’t not wanted to answer, because I felt that I have failed him in this life. Michael ultimately pushed me to answer the call, by reminding me that, in denying Sam, I am failing to do the work that I’m sworn to do.  Damn his eyes for being both correct and logical.  In the end, Sam simply wanted to let me know that he has found the peace that he so desperately sought in life.

As I hiked out of the woods, I had a bit of an epiphany.  While I have long described myself as a solitary practitioner, the term is a misnomer.  As is the case with the Temple of MSB and with my physical well-being, I am not working in spiritual isolation. Ever.  Deities, guides, guardians, gatekeepers, helpers, and human souls are all a part of the work that I do.  Without the ubiquitous others, I could not do the work that has been charged to me.  There is never a time in my work when other sentient beings are not involved, never a moment when interdependence ceases.  Solitary implies that I am walking this path alone.  While the path is my own, I am never alone in my practice, never wholly independent.  Always, someone stands behind me, before me, or at my back, motivating me to continue this work.  For every one of those individuals, I am grateful.

 

(This post was written as a part of the Cauldron Blog Project 2015 for the July theme of Independence/Interdependence.)