First Tarot Reading

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Time for practicing yoga, reading about Ayurveda, balancing my doshas.

Time for writing in community with fellow poets online–

Thank you to Dave Bonta and Kelli Agodon for continuous motivation and opportunities for building online friendships.

Thinking Metaphysical

I’ve been thinking more than usual about the relationship between spirituality, poetry, and the body because of the workshop I’m taking at the Poetry Barn with Jenn Givhan, “Poetry as Altar: Creating Space for the Sacred.”

Since childhood, I’ve been asking myself questions about the nature of existence. I’ve always thought that if I just keep looking, searching, that the answers will come, that they are just around the corner.

Maybe it’s because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church.

Maybe it’s because my dad used to talk about Jesuit theology with me on our trips to the hardware store or the dump.

Now that I’m much older, nearing old age, I think I will not know the answers until I cross over into a spirit realm. That’s my hope, anyway, that there is a spirit realm or an astral plane.

I read a story about astronaut Edgar Mitchell who, when he saw Earth from space, experienced a deep knowing, a profound sense that infused him entirely, that he was in the midst of a limitless cosmic mind.

After his experience of seeing Earth from the surface of the moon, Mitchell created a center called The Institute of Noetic Science. On the website history they say, “As he watched the Earth float freely in the vastness of space, he became engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness.”

I’ve never had an epiphany like his, nor can I vouch for the scientific validity of the astronaut who experienced such bliss. But experience counts for something.

The realizations I’ve experienced have been fleeting ones that I need to practice again and again, moment by moment, through yoga, walking, writing, meditating, and even by teaching, reading, and discussing literature with friends and students.

What I Need Is More Yoga

Tree in tree pose

Tree in tree pose

When I woke up yesterday morning the light in the room was still dim. The closed door, stained dark walnut, looked like an open portal, a deep black tunnel.

At the end of yoga class yesterday afternoon, when our teacher said to allow the mind to go into the deeper states of consciousness, this ink black portal, a door made of shadows, opened before me once again.

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.

On the Way to Madrid 

While waiting for my flight, I’m doing some gentle yoga and trying to learn what has happened with the former FBI director when a man with a long white beard in an orange turban gives me a mantra that he sings–“baba nam kevalam, todo es amor: everything is an expression of one infinite, loving consciousness.”

Yoga on the Porch

This past April, my father passed away after a six-month illness. It’s too soon for me to write about the experience we went through as a family, but I can talk about my own health.
I had been experiencing early morning anxiety since November, around the time my dad got sick, and then I started waking in the night with panic.

By the end of April my nerves were completely shot and my “fight or flight” response was firing 24/7.

I ended up finding a wonderful doctor whose integrative approach is helping me recover, and in the meantime, I’m spending my mornings practicing gentle yoga on my back porch. 

My backyard is completely wild and overgrown, a place that could definitely be tagged as a wildlife refuge in the middle of the suburbs. All I hear in the early morning is the wind in the trees and birdsong. 

May we all experience healing and wholeness, the feeling of wellbeing, of feeling safe and secure and at peace.

After Yoga Writing Circle

Writing after practicing yoga and meditation is one of the best ways to release creativity. With a relaxed body and mind, we can touch our inner feelings. Writing with a group where we feel safe and nourished, we can take small risks with our writing and reveal heartfelt truths.

For the past six months or so, a group of us have been meeting once a month after our wonderful yoga teacher’s Saturday class to generate new writing. I’ve been leading the writing circle because of my certification with Amherst Writers and Artists, a writing circle method devised by Pat Schneider.

For the warm-up prompt, I read these lines from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching:

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening the knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

I wrote these lines based on the prompt:

Overflow

My heart is a bowl
that, today at least,
brims with anger.
Rage spills over the rim,
pulses into my chest, my throat.

But rather than opening my mouth,
I take to the street
and walk with my anger.
Inhaling the fresh fall air,
I release my bitterness.

The last yellow and orange leaves
hanging on the lowest branches
of a cottonwood tree
glitter in the breeze
like Tibetan prayer flags.

TreeCampus

A Clear Stone for a Clear Mind

Yesterday, Elizabeth started yoga class with a meditation. She asked us to think about our “feeling-tone” and to notice how it felt to be us at that particular moment. She said she was referring to lessons she learned from her teacher, Erich Schiffmann, who writes about levels of stillness in his book, Yoga, The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. 

In this book Schiffmann advises the yoga practitioner: Immerse your conscious awareness into your own unique feeling-tone, the feeling-tone of the Universe expressing Itself as you are. Do this deliberately in order to experience the truth of who you are. (7)

Elizabeth put her instructions to us within the context of the New Year and the Western tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. She suggested that we learn to accept our current feeling-tone, to even celebrate it, while being open to the potential for change. This is a much different way of looking at goal setting and resolutions. A gentle, self-accepting approach.

In yoga we often refer to sankalpa, a sanskrit term that is roughly translated as a resolve or an intention. During a state of deep relaxation, the yogini forms an intention, and then keeps that intention alive in her heart until she realizes it.

At the end of class Elizabeth recalled us to our initial feeling-tone, and again asked us to think about our potential for change. She asked us to think about an intention for the coming year that would involve our feeling-tone, and then she offered us a talisman to keep as a physical reminder of our sankalpa.

She had drawn symbols on smooth glass stones of different colors–the OM symbol, flowers, a peace sign, a cross, etc…, and she then had us choose a stone from her selection.

Image

Om Talisman

I chose a clear stone with the OM symbol. My sankalpa  is to cultivate a clear mind, clear speech, and a clear heart/body. I intend to meditate every day to tune into pure, clear awareness, to dive beneath the waves of mind chatter and to listen for the deep hum of primordial sound.

Peaceful mind, peaceful heart, peaceful speech, peaceful actions.

Mindful Writing Day 10, Writing Your Way Home. 

Practice

In an effort to work my way back to a daily writing practice, I’ve started sketching in my journal. It’s very relaxing because I have low expectations of the results. Drawing is a way for me to “rest on the page,” as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way.

Another good writing book is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She practices Zen meditation, and she said one of her teachers suggested that maybe writing would be her ‘practice,’ as in a meditative practice.

She describes her daily writing as a focused free-write, not stream of consciousness. I’ve come to realize that my daily writing will not necessarily result in a poem or a story, but the practice itself if important to keep myself open to the world. Even when it’s as hot as a pizza oven in my city and I only like to go out in the evening.

Philosopher told me what he learned from his poetry teacher: if you sit down to write every day your creativity will come to you.

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My dog's school of yoga

Scour the bathroom, the kitchen,
spray tiles with a film of diluted bleach,
wipe them with a rag once used to towel
off my diabetic dachshund, who now sniffs
leaves in the yard, eyes milky, a canine Tiresius.

On hands and knees, I scrub the floor,
try to erase stains I had once taken
for prefab designs on ceramic,
working to end this cleansing,
to conquer the scullery, at least for today.

In the laundry room I strip off sweaty
jeans and T-shirt, slink naked and shy
through the empty house to the shower,
a rinse and fresh clothes before grounding
my feet on the mat, folding into child’s pose.

Push up to hands and knees, curl onto the balls
of my feet, press with palms, sitting bones
pointed at the ceiling, shoulders broad
in Adho Muhka Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog.
Deep breaths of relief. Later in the yard

the dachshund tilts his furry hind parts
toward the sky, widens his ribs toward the earth,
sneezes twice, zigzags around a tree stump.
Even without his sight, he knows where home
is, does not hope to see past this moment.

***

I wrote this poem about two months ago. Even then I knew my dog was very sick, but I thought we might still have another few years with him. But the little guy died on Sunday afternoon. My son Freeboarder said, “he did everything in his life he was meant to do.”