Love, Spirit, Live

I am playing a little bit of catch up with the Lenten photo a day project.  So here are my photos for the past several days.

Day 9:  LOVE

Day 9 LoveI believe we were put on this earth to BE love.  It seems we spend so much time trying to get love rather than trying to just be love.  This has been one of my lessons in the last year to just be love.  Let love radiate from within me out to everything else.

This doesn’t mean the desire for romantic love is wrong.  It is natural and beautiful.   I think we would better serve our purposes in finding this kind of love if we would first cultivate the Beloved Within.  The first step to this in my mind is to focus on being love.

 

Day 10:  SPIRITDay 10 Spirit

This is my 7 pointed star pendent.  I wear this symbol nearly every day as a symbol of my spiritual tradition.  Each point on the star represents a Guardian and a direction – north, east, south, west, above, below, and center.  This is my touchstone to my spiritual practice and my spiritual beliefs.  The blue tint represent blue fire – the hottest part of the flame.

 

Day 11 - LiveDay 11: LIVE

When I got pregnant with my daughter Olivia I had been suffering from a pretty severe depression.  Her father and I were practically homeless, living in a one room building on my grandparent’s property.  I had been laid off and he was only working part time.  I slept nearly all day in addition to sleeping at night.  I was passively suicidal.  I did not want to be alive.

Then I find out I am pregnant  We decided to move forward with the pregnancy.  I had wanted to have a child when we first got married, now 2 years into the marriage I was finally pregnant. This was the spark that pulled me out of my depression and quite literally out of bed.

I call my daughter “Liv” because she made me want to live. She gave me hope and a reason to rise to be a better version of myself.  She still does.

 

 

 

 

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Evil

Day 8 EvilToday is a bit of a cheat I suppose.  My photograph is a blank screen shot.  I simply don’t want to think about evil today.  I do so much of that already.  My understanding of my Unitarian Universalist faith identity compels me to engage deeply, and often, with the concept of evil.  Though most Unitarian Universalists don’t believe in evil in the supernatural sense, we do acknowledge immorality and depravity in the world around us.  At our best, we work to bring justice to these situations.  As said in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

My own understanding of Unitarian Universalism, while not motivated by scripture, echoes this sentiment: “hold fast to what is good.”  This can be a tricky concept.  At times it can feel overwhelming how much evil there is in the world; misuse of power, rape, child abuse, slave labor, etc.  It can leave even the best of us worn out and wanting to avoid looking anywhere except into the television screen (another evil?).

Sometimes the same tool can be used for good or for evil. If I use my television to watch educational programming that is hardly evil.  However, if I allow the television to numb me, distract me from reality and be a vehicle for checking out that can certainly lead to discord, to being out of alignment with my higher purpose, taking me away from my ability to hold fast to what is good then perhaps I have fallen prey to evil.

It can be difficult to look at the way evil works in our own lives. It could be the purchase of Hear-No-Evil-See-No-Evil-Speak-No-Evilshirts made in sweatshops, supporting businesses we know treat employees unjustly, or lashing out at family members in moments of anger – perhaps even brought on by mental illness or imbalance. Whatever the reasoning, it is painful to own our contributions to the evil in our world.

Others own more than their fair share of responsibility and slide into shame.  Shame is one of the greatest evils in our world. Brene Brown says the difference between guilt and shame is guilt is feeling remorse and acknowledging a wrong doing, whereas shame is feeling I am wrong. It occurs to me that Unitarian Universalists ought to become very curious about how insidious shame is in our culture.  It is absolutely counter to our principle that all people have inherent worth and dignity. One cannot honor their own inherit worth and dignity while also living in shame. Then again, I don’t hear us talk much about honoring our own inherit worth so much as we talk about this principle in regards to welcoming others, being radical hospitable, and celebrating diversity.

Wanting to avoid engaging too deeply with evil today, I chose the white screen shot to represent my avoidance. It occurs to me now that it represents so much more. I think it really represents the conversations we haven’t had, the evils we don’t want to see, the blind eye we cast at our own evildoing but also to our own brilliance.

Wonder

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
― 
SocratesEye age 10

Children are full of wonder from the moment they open their eyes. It’s delightful to watch a baby’s eyes widen in fascination of car keys jingling or the sight of some shiny bauble. The wonder only grows as they begin to talk, to imagine, to play in ways where we can join them. This wonder is contagious. We find ourselves creating worlds with them as we build forts and explore woods. As they come more into the age of reason our own wonder increases.  We wonder, who will this person become?

My daughter has declared she will be a singer, an actress, a reporter, a lawyer, the President, a merchandiser, a boss, a waitress, and a construction worker.  This is just a few of the careers she has tried on. Who will she be?  It is a mystery.

Olivia Alien FutureRecently she’s been really in to Dr. Who. She tells me maybe she used to be something unique, something not yet discovered but the last of her kind.  She says this with complete seriousness though we both know this is a description of the Doctor. I don’t doubt her. There has always been something exotic and alien about her, something otherworldly.

Perhaps it is just the raw nature all children possess before our society teaches them to close the door on it.

“How beautiful is the black lascivious purity in the hearts of children and wild animals…” – Victor Anderson

The World

On day 6 of the 40 day photo project for Lent, the word is “world”.  The first image that Vcame to my mind was a vagina.  The World – birth, creation, mystery, beauty, and wonder.  This is where it all begins.

I remember when giving birth to my daughter the hospital staff had asked if I wanted a mirror so I could watch her come out. I declined thinking that would be the last thing I would want because of all the blood and shit involved in birth. At the last moment though, when she was crowning, I asked the nurse to grab the mirror.  She was quick, grabbing it from out of nowhere it seemed and positioning it at the end of the bed. It was amazing.

I raised my body upright, pushing with all I had, staring into the full length mirror. It was like looking at God. Everything was amazing; her head sliding out of my body and the warrior expression on my face. It seemed as though I was bathed in light. I watched her body follow her head and then lay back down exhausted. The vagina, MY vagina – life giving.

A few years later in an effort to become more comfortable with my body I asked a friend who is an incredible artist and priestess to do some very intimate art – to capture my vagina in some kind of visual art piece. She came over with her charcoals and pastels. We began by casting a circle, reading the poem “Radical Femme,” and then she started sketching. The photo above is the result. It feels… powerful… beautiful… holy. I wish all women could connect to the power, beauty, and holiness of their vaginas.

Last week I saw the Vagina Monologues.  This is probably the 9th or 10th time I’ve seen thisV monologues play.  Every time I am amazed by the actresses and by the stories.  There is still one story that is so close to home for me that I nearly pass out during that portion of the play.  I have to put my head down, concentrate on breathing, and remind myself that this isn’t happening right now, that I am safe. No one should have a story like that, too many of us do.

Vaginas – some of us never learn the word until adult hood.  I didn’t. In my family it’s considered dirty to say the word vagina. They were shocked when I taught my daughter this word and again later when I taught her labia. I had never HEARD these words until high school.  A body part so taboo we cannot even speak its name. Wow, it’s like Lord Voldermort up in here: “The pussy that shall not be named.”

For me, the vagina is holy.  It’s a sort of altar and I’ve been fortunate to have had several lovers who worship at that altar with reverence.  After all, the vagina is the world.

Settle

Day 5 SettleDear Weight Watchers,

I AM happy now.  The implication from your cover that the only way to be happy is to lose weight is disgusting to me. Our happiness isn’t going to come from a number on the scale or a smaller dress size.  Trust me, I know.  I did your program once and was a “success” story.  I lost 100 pounds in less than a year. I never found happiness though.  It wasn’t until I got off the diet wagon and started working on loving myself and being present to my life that I found any kind of happiness. Am I thin? No, not at all, but I am happy. Incidentally, I am also healthier having stopped eating a diet of fat free foods and learned to nourish my body properly and with more love.

-me

 

Refuse to settle.  Refuse to buy in to the ad campaigns that tell you there is something wrong with you, that you should be smaller, wear this lipstick, drive this car, buy those shoes. These are lies.  You can follow the ad formula, chase down the magazine promises and you won’t be any closer to happiness than you are right now. Happiness is not something you can buy.  It isn’t the result of a really good tummy tuck.  The kind of happiness achieved from weight loss or finding the perfect dress for Friday night is fleeting.  It isn’t the kind of happiness that springs from within you.  Don’t we all deserve the kind of happiness that cannot be bought or sold away?  I think so.

This kind of happiness with what is doesn’t mean you can’t improve your health, dropdont-settle some unwanted pounds, or buy those cute shoes. I just think it’s important to know the difference between the brief joy you feel from those things and true happiness.  So settle?  No thanks. I won’t settle and I hope you won’t either.  Keep questioning the “shoulds” coming at us whether from ourselves or headlines on magazines.

There is a simple truth. You are amazing.  You are a spark of the divine. You deserve happiness.  Don’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Injustice

I spent much of yesterday working on a part for the Sunday service.  The service was about race relations and my part was addressing the inequalities and injustices racial minorities face in our country.  I didn’t get around to blogging or doing my photo for the Lent project but was fully immersed in the subject of injustice.

Day 4 InjusticeA twenty was the largest bill lying around my house, but it represents hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It represents the distribution of wealth in our country.  For me, money is the most tangible symbol I have to represent injustice.  We don’t all have equal access to money. Women are still paid less than men to do the same work.  African-American men are less likely to be called back for a job interview, even if they have the same experience and education as a white applicant.  Women and minorities have the highest poverty rates.  Children of immigrants often drop out of school to work with their families as migrant farm workers.  The people working these farms make very little – sometimes less than a dollar per hour for the physical labor they do in high temperatures.  Due to the children having to drop out to work in the fields this cycle is likely continue another generation.

Money = Power.  With money you have the power to move through this world without much disturbance from others.  Heck you don’t even have to wait in line at amusement parks.  Power=Privilege.  We see this reflected in our justice system.  How many celebrities go to jail when they commit a crime?  How many people are incarcerated for “white collar” crime? Not very many.  As Bran Stevenson says in his TED Talk, “We have a system of justice in [the US] that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.  Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.”

See

The photograph for today was taken through a window looking into Starbuck’s.  It’s Friday night and the coffee shop is full.  There is a couple studying, a table bustling with conversation, a few people scattered about on their laptops, another looking off in the distance with his ear buds in his ears. I see all these people and think “God.”

Day 3 See

When I am my best self I see God everywhere, in the eyes of every creature.  When I moved to Gainesville the first sight I noticed was all the Spanish moss everywhere.  I had fallen in love with Spanish moss in Savannah and the climate here is very similar. I could see God in the brilliance of the palm trees in all their diversity.  I could feel the presence of divinity walking in the memorial garden at the church. Quickly I learned Gainesville has a huge homeless population.  Go downtown to the plaza after 11pm and you will see countless people sleeping around the edges of the plaza. It is illegal to sleep on the actual lawn and thanks to the Occupy movement the homeless in the area have been given the information needed around perimeter to keep them from arrests in the night. Walking through the plaza you are literally stepping over people.  Just blocks away both the Salvation Army shelter and the shelter at St. Francis’ House is full.  This is the overflow.

I grew up exposed to more homelessness than a lot of folks growing up in Fayetteville, AR have experienced. Homelessness in Fayetteville isn’t as overt as it is in Gainesville. My mom managed a convenient store in the late 80’s in south Fayetteville.  Homeless people, mostly men, and bikers were often at the store.  When mom took over she had been warned that this was a problem.  My mom never saw these people as a problem.

These men were a pivotal part of my childhood, of the formation of my values and the way I would look at others. It was here I started learning that we are all equal, we all have inherent worth and dignity, we are all a spark of God in human form. In this store there was a deli and mom would often give a sandwich to someone who took on a small job such as hosing down the parking lot.  The “dangerous” bikers became protective of my mom and me.  A few of them would continue to keep an eye on me later in life when I flirted with the wrong kinds of crowds for a while – they would keep me safe when I was being too reckless to do so for myself.

In the summers I remember sitting at the booths playing cards and hangman with the homeless guys.  I remember a man we called “dirty john” who came to believe my mom jesus homelesswas his daughter and I was his granddaughter.  He smelled so bad we did occasionally hide from him when he came in so we could spare his feelings and the awkward moment of not wanting to embrace him. Maybe if we had been our best selves we would have hugged him every time he wanted a hug, which had become every time he saw us. We learned years later his name was Fred and he had a family but would not go home.  The details are a blur, but clearly something had snapped for this man.  His adult son told my mom that Fred had just left home one day and would not return.  They found him living under the bridge and tried to get him to come home, but he would not.  They saw him weekly for a meal.  It was as often as Fred, “dirty john” would go to their house.

These men had nothing yet many of them insisted on paying for things.  I remember filthy money, mostly coins, being offered to the cashier’s for a cup of coffee.  My mom tried telling them they didn’t have to pay for coffee, they could have a few free cups a week.  They wouldn’t accept.  They would either do an odd job or bring their found money.  Mom would have the cashier’s put it in a bucket rather than ring it up.  It was so dirty it had to be washed.

So I am looking through the window at Starbucks and I doubt a single one of these people had to collect their coffee money from the gutter. I think about my privilege as I stand there with my smart phone then get into my car and drive to my safe home where temperatures are regulated at my will.  I send up a prayer of thanks because I never have to worry about my utilities being turned off or where I will sleep the next week. I also pray that we can all start to recognize God in one another – and in ourselves.

I am reminded of a photo project Andrew Kilgore does back in Fayetteville, AR.  He photographs people at Community Meals.  These people are extremely poor, some of them homeless and some living in shelters, public housing, or somehow making it.  Andrew sees God in their faces and is talented and skilled enough with photography to be able to capture a photo that holds that spark of divinity and allows the rest of us to see it.

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Holy Mystery, I pray for all of humankind to have our sight blessed.  Let us begin to see you in the faces of one another and in our own face in the mirror.  Let us begin to see the connection of creation and know the sacred in the forests and in the coffee shops. I believe as we begin to truly see, we will change our behaviors.  If we see the Holy in all things, we will surely rise to protect one another, the creatures, and the Earth itself. Let us truly see one another. Amen, Shalom, and Blessed Be.

Return

nikki-poster-return-lgLately I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about body comfort, body image, and the role good posture has played in improving my comfort and self-image.  I first started really noticing posture was when I began studying with Thorn back in 2007.  Well, no actually it was when I first met her in the summer of 2006.  When I asked her if she could give me one piece of advice to work on while waiting for a two-year training to form, she looked at me without any reservation and said, “posture and breath.”  It would be until 2009 before there were any significant and lasting improvements.  My low self-esteem, survival skills, and other factors had me constantly folding in on myself, rounding my back in an effort to hunch over my stomach and appear shorter.  I didn’t know how to be right sized in my energy or in my body.  Taking up space felt like something that should be avoided at all cost.  Taking up space gets you noticed.  I did not want to be noticed. I believed that the only reasons someone might notice me were reasons I should be ashamed of.  I was full of shame back then.

Since beginning my studies with Thorn and falling in love with Feri, I have been returning to my body. While I have felt embodied for the last few years, I still feel like I am returning. I am not clear on what this means precisely.  When was the last time I felt whole and at ease in my body for any length of time?  It would have to be childhood, and even then I struggle to name an age where I had that kind of comfort. How do you “return” if you can’t even recall being there to begin with?

I feel like what I am returning to is something ancient, something written into my DNA. This part feels like there is something essentially animal in feeling at home in the body.  This part can recall brief moments when I have felt this – choosing to garden in the sun with sweat on my brow, diving into the Ocean, playing in dirt, making love.  This feeling of being comfortable in our own skin is a birth right. I am returning to claim it.

My teacher is always saying “open your feet.” Opening these chakra centers help move energy more efficiently and connect to Earth with a greater sense of being part of Earth. In recovery work we do step work.  After all, it’s one foot in front of the other.  So how will I return to my body? With my feet planted firmly on the Earth, one step at a time.

Day 2 Return

Return. 

Return to strength, health, stability, flexibility.

Return to ease, wholeness, a sense of home.

Return to confidence, self-love, beauty.

The photograph for today was taken outside of my apartment.  Mid-February in North Central Florida means green grass with dead leaves scattered throughout.   I am like that right now, letting go of what needs to die and go back into the Earth, while at the same time green shoots press through the dirt to the light.  I decided to photograph my feet because I have had a hatred for my feet since junior high.  They are BIG.  A good friend once told me that my feet were right sized for my body and I should be proud of them; strong and sturdy feet supporting my Work in the world. So I decided I would photograph my beautiful feet on the earth, adorned with my favorite glittery red nail polish. These are the feet will return me to my body, return me home.

Who Am I?

snake shedding In this year of the snake there is a lot I am shedding. Much of the transformation this year will be physical and obvious to anyone who has seen me.  Some of the change has been happening internally for some time. When I moved to Florida 7 months ago I set out to CREATE myself.  I wanted a fresh start.  I needed a blank canvass. Living in the same place my entire life had its advantages.  It also had its disadvantages.

It is HARD to shed old ways of being and grow into a new self when you live in the same place your entire life.  As you wiggle loose from patterns and habits you no longer wish to hold, friends and family are nearby to define you in the same old ways they always have. The canvass is never blank.  It hasn’t been blank since you were born.  It is cluttered with bits of your old life, childhood, adolescence, once held theologies and practices, and of course – other people’s wishes for you.

Coming to Florida was rich with promise and it continues to be.  I know you can’t leave your problems behind and held no illusions that I would be “getting away” from anything.  Yet, I found myself distressed back in November when the new me had not yet emerged.  I forgot how long it can take to create something, to give birth.

As part of that continued process, I am observing Lent this year.  I have never observed The ProjectLent before.  While I love Easter and consider it one of my Holy Days, I’ve never given much thought to Lent.  I always saw it simply as giving something up, denial of pleasure – the exact opposite of my spiritual beliefs.  This year I was drawn to do more reading about Lent and found some phrasing I could work with, “becoming spiritually prepared.”  I can work with this.  The United Methodist put out this handy guide to encourage deeper reflection during Lent and utilize the popularity of social media. So today I am considering the question “who am I” as I begin my observance of Lent.

Who am I?

The temptation right away is to list the labels.  I am a mother, friend, chosen Sister, Pagan, UU, Witch, lover, geek… but labels aren’t what this is about.  Who am I really, deep down in my core?

During Lent we will move from Pisces into Aires; moving from the dissolution of identity and self into the very sign of self, the sign of “I AM.”  An astrologer and community leader I hold much esteem for says this, “Who am I is an impossible question for the seeker to answer.  I am not my name or y title.  I am not my education or the things that I love or hate. Who am I really leads me to ask what am I really?” Last year as part of a deep study of leadership, identity, and astrology I worked in a group as we cycled through the zodiacs via reflection, writing, discussion, and ritual.  In the section for Aries we listed our essentials for each of the 12 houses of the Zodiac.  What is so essentially “me” that without it I would not be “me” anymore?

Who am I?  Essentially…

I am a seeker.  I am a lover.  I am an edgewalker. I am a bridge builder. I am a leader. I am love.   These are essential to who I am.

I am constantly seeking in my spiritual development.  I look within through sitting practice, writing, and ritual.  I look without through lessons being given to me by my teachers, my peers, the words of prophets, poets, and other seekers.

I am a lover.  As Rumi says “wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.”  I am lover to Spirit and on occasion to Spirit as manifested in physical form.  I am a lover of poetry, of spirituality, of music, of dancing in rain and waterfalls.  I am a lover of ritual, or art, of liberty.

I am an edgewalker.  I walk along those outside places – outside of social norms, outside of acceptable conversation, outside of complacency.  I walk in shadow and kiss darkness.

I am a bridge builder.  I connect people, places, worlds.  I carry messages, merge realities, blend stories.  I help heal what is broken, mediate, reflect, model.  I reach across the divide in an effort to unite with what is Holy and True and invite others to join me.

I am a leader.  If this one thing, of all of these, was taken away – I am not sure I would exist.  I do not know how to NOT be a leader.  It is wired into my being as sure as there is blood in my veins.  I lead in every area of my life.  I also follow.

I am love.  I learned this beautiful lesson in the autumn when everything was falling from the sky, when everything seemed brown and dead, when my heart wanted to fall from my chest like an old crunchy leaf at the base of an Oak.  I leaned in.  I realized love is a noun.  I am love.  When I am aligned and Spirit is flowing through me, I am love.

Day 1 Who Am I

My picture to observe today’s prompt, who am I?

Pictured here is a black heart, representing my aligned Self; liberated and free and within it the 7 pointed star, symbolizing my connection to the Guardians.  This piece was made for me by a friend and purchased at my first witchcamp.  Because of its origins it ties together 3 important traditions which I hold dear: Feri, Reclaiming, and the teachings of Diana’s Grove.

This heart is resting on top of my recovery journal.  The journal is covered in my art.  This collage was one of the first which opened my eyes to view my collage work as art.  This represents a significant break through in emotional blocks I have had around art for years. The journal itself is dedicated to my recovery work, specifically 12 step work.  This is important because it symbolizes my healing as well as my commitment to writing.

Sobering Moments

Aside

It can be challenging in sobriety to experience rituals you used to drink around.  These can be office parties, weddings, 5 o’clock, or the super bowl.  Luckily it wasn’t difficult for me not to drink on Sunday.  It did provide some insight to explore memories of the past few super bowls and my behavior around drinking in general.

The last few years the Super Bowl has been my big drunk of the year.  I would start drinking an hour before the game started and do so nonstop.  I realized that every football game could be like this and started wanting to watch more games with people to have more excuses to drink until I couldn’t feel anything – not in my heart, not in my mind, and not in my body.  I would just get numb.  Somehow I thought this was great.

This year I spent the Super Bowl at an AA meeting.  I got there early and stayed there late.  I couldn’t help but think throughout the meeting that here I was circling up with people around a shared experience much like I would gather around a television somewhere with pitchers of beer covering the table.  This was better.  When I drove home I wasn’t at risk to kill someone.

addictionThe last year of my drinking I had learned to lie to people, even to myself, about drinking and driving.  I was convinced if I had coffee the last 10-20 minutes of the night that I was sober and I could drive.  I would start pulling it together just enough to convince people that I wasn’t completely out of it.  Then I’d get in the car and head home.  Somehow in my mind I really thought drinking for 3+ hours was all wiped out by a couple of cups of coffee.  I’m lucky.  I never killed anyone, crashed my car, or even got a DUI. I also think my ability to avoid these consequences made it difficult for me to own my alcoholism.

I was not a daily drinker.  I could go out and have just a beer or a margarita over dinner.  I often met people for drinks and had iced tea.  I didn’t seem like an alcoholic.  It was just that occasionally I would drink and be UNABLE to stop.  I would rationalize that I so rarely drank it didn’t matter and hey, everyone deserves to cut loose right?  So my one drink would turn into 10, sometimes more.  In the end, my final drunk, I had 16 vodka Collins in less than two hours.  It’s a wonder I didn’t get alcohol poisoning.

My sponsor has cautioned me that never really hitting a bottom could put me at risk for relapse.  At the same time he acknowledges that my firm grasp on spiritual development helped me come to the program earlier than some and gives me some advantage in being able to work the program.  I don’t dismiss his caution.  There are still times I tell myself I am not alcoholic.  Then I realize people who aren’t addicts do not have to argue with themselves about whether they are.

I never had a big bottom, but I never really built a life worth losing either.  I skated by.  I stayed in a miserable marriage, I never finished a degree or started a career, and I never managed any kind of financial stability or real independence. The only thing I had to lose was my daughter and while I didn’t lose her, I also didn’t have the kind of relationship with her that I do now.  I never started a life.

I’ve had friends ask if I really won’t drink again.  I don’t know, but I sure hope not.  I’m an addict.  I spent years trading one addiction for another.  I wasted my twenties just skating by rather than pursuing my dreams.  I don’t ever want to go back to that.  So today, I choose not to drink.  Sunday I chose to go to a meeting rather than a sports bar.  For me, it was a lifesaving choice.  It was only a matter of time before one of those binge drinking nights led me to kill myself or someone else.  I am so grateful I was able to wake up and get help before something like that happened.  I thank God every day that I’m sober.  To paraphrase Anne Lamott, I believe everything I have to offer anyone depends on my sobriety.  For those who do not know, Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies directly led to my decision to get help and get sober.  Thanks Anne.