Monday, November 30, 2015

Ritual Dancing

Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.” Gustav Mahler
(With thanks  to my friend Dawn for the quote)

The holiday season always gets me thinking about rituals and how we use them. I have seen that the role of ritual in my own life has been to help me order and arrange my perceptions - a way to sort. I also see that rituals, especially theatrical ones, have been used for millennia to order and arrange people, congregations - a way to impress and enthrall, usually to persuade toward some belief.  But in either case, there is nothing magic in it beyond our own perceptions, so that I can only call ritual a tool, useful for organizing myself and sharing experiences with friends and family, useful for creating context and invoking memory.

For example, several years ago I put a great deal of energy into using traditional Advent sensibilities toward a better personal understanding of the transition that I felt was taking place in my life. I set four gold candles on my dining room sideboard, lighting each one singly on each of the four Sundays before Solstice, which was on a Monday. On each of those Sundays I celebrated an Occasion. I had no set idea of how I would handle these celebrations, or what they would mean to me, but instead I hoped that they would serve as reminders of whatever I was supposed to be learning. 

The first candle was at our late Thanksgiving, family and friends using a table artfully set with dishes I have inherited, beautiful and sentimental. I announced that we were deliberately calling up the past in order to honor the future and made a small to-do about lighting the candle. The day went perfectly and the vibes were great and I later came to think of this as Invocation. The specific things I learned were that all future is built on the past, and, as my partner was injured and unable to help with the preparations, that I should never bite off more than I can chew by myself!

 The second Sunday was a family birthday celebration, and chaos reigned with kids and dogs so much that I forgot about lighting the candle at all until late in the evening. I have labeled the second candle Family, and the specific things I learned were that family commitments can be so consuming they make you shortsighted, and, secondly, that planning to the smallest detail inhibits creativity, as I cooked this meal and birthday cake ad hoc, mostly making it up as I went along.  It was delicious and fun and it reminded me that dancing is the right metaphor for living in this universe.

The third Sunday we had two old friends for dinner, and I set the table simply but elegantly with dinnerware handed down from my grandmother and cooked an easy roast with sides. I labeled this candle Friends, and the specific things I learned were that friends make up our larger context, and old friends keep us from moving too far off the track, kind of working as regulators; second, familiarity and trust are comfortable and without stress, restful and refreshing for our souls.

The fourth candle was lighted for Silver Fox and I alone, to talk about our dreams for the Future. We had a favorite meal and we spun dreams out loud.  I was reminded that sending double desires into the universe is more effective than sending single ones: thoughts have mass, as we learned from our early years planning together.  So the lesson from this candle was to revisit lessons learned earlier in life about getting results in the real world.

On Solstice I lighted all four candles and went through the above learned lessons in my mind, and then I abandoned all thought to the fire.

This would be the time to dance. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lost in the Game

(Written in 2010 but no less true today)

Like towering leaves of grass 
each experience overwhelms,
requires every moving quark, 
desires full complicity
and totally inhabits 
my most laserlike attentions. 

I am nervous to have run 
so far from my familiar,
never free to even raise 
my thumb to take my measure,
think of cats in boxes, 
or stack myself for treasure.

At my first chance I quickly try 
to sit and watch and think
to find that I just cannot do it, 
slow the red to pink.

Greet it as it comes 
and on my feet with jubilation,
time expanding with the sense 
of total saturation,
lost completely to myself 
until the game is called.

After all, this is the point. 
Play until you fall.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy

We hear an awful lot about how important sleep is lately, something those of us past 50 probably all know. I slept like a trouper most of my life, oblivious to anything except the slightest sound from a child, when I was on my feet and moving before I knew what I was doing. Funny that - Silver Fox never did hear them.

But that is another story. I want to talk about menopause and night sweats. Hundreds of them daily for years, or at least it seemed that way. The best broken sleep I could get from age 50 to 55 was perhaps four hours totaled, and I was beginning to be waked by aches and pains as well. Some nights it felt like no sleep at all, and I am sure that I am not the only one. My own body had become my worst enemy.

Eventually I broke down and went to my doctor for Ambien, a way to stay asleep through the discomfort. She gave me the prescription, but at my next checkup I noticed that one of the symptoms they listed in my records was insomnia. Now, I never in my life was unable to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow - two or three minutes max. (This perhaps from a lifetime of deadline work and the all-nighters that come with it, especially for procrastinators such as myself.) A little put out, I brought it up with the Doc, and she said I had told her I had insomnia when I asked for the Ambien. I replied that I had not, that I have never had insomnia, that I went to sleep only to be waked over and over by discomfort. This surprised her. In fact, she said she had not considered this condition and asked if I thought it was common with menopausal women. YES I said. YES YES YES!!

This made me wonder about the endless sleep studies, especially surveys, that I had been reading about how older women can't sleep any more. There is obviously confusion about why we don't sleep. I read deeper, looking directly at the studies instead of the journalists' interpretations and I came up with some very useful information about the aches and pains I was developing.

Human growth hormone (HGH) is a natural pain killer that we make in our bodies. It turns out that we secrete this after a rousing bout of exercise AND at the end of each sleep cycle. Well, damn, I had not had a complete sleep cycle for years! No wonder any joint or muscle I used screamed at me, particularly when I was not distracted by daytime activity. I used the Ambien to enable a slightly longer and uninterrupted sleep, and gradually over time, the aches and pains diminished. (To be fair, I also worked through a little yoga stretching.) Once the flashing stopped, I stopped the supplement and tried to make sure I had a complete cycle just before I woke, timing myself by waking between cycles to look at the clock. It took several years to retrain myself to a deeper sleep where I don't wake between each cycle, and I don't wake hardly ever for random aches and pains, and I have only one instance of flashing a night. I am almost back to myself after only 10 years of effort and attention on this front. Anyone can do it:)  Human growth hormone - Google it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Rainbow Diffraction

Lately when I meditate, I sometimes notice a little choppiness in my vision, almost like a stop-second film.  Not much, but there is a ripple between actions, a shimmering diffraction in my smooth perception of the world around me; a disjoint. I have come to think of this as the product of my late angle on the arc of life, the ability to see between actions.

How I understand this depends on my connection to that world around me. Most of us would feel that if things are breaking apart, we are losing our grip, fading, deteriorating in our ability to focus on our environment. This is unhappy, although it is true. 

If we are attending to our spirit, however, the phenomenon takes on a whole different meaning. If we believe there are other environments than the one we jointly see and that our participation in the visible world is only one aspect of our larger lives, then the ability to see between actions becomes a blessing, a chance to put those actions in a larger perspective that is connected to our larger existence. It becomes more about HOW we relate here than IF we relate here.  The visible world is not the only game in town.

Nevertheless I have been watching my reaction to this (and other signs of aging) and like most everyone else, I want to stay connected.  The diffraction is alarming, even if I find it useful.  We spend most of our lives working like radar, taking in signals to which we must react from every direction and in every intensity. That is how we manage diverse and busy lives, family and career, relationships and socialization, basic human survival needs, and everything in between. It is no wonder the signals begin to break apart as we age and our energies begin to flag.  

My answer has been to refine my focus and institute a project large enough to maintain my interest through hopefully all of my coming years. I am trying to change my filters to mute signals that are not specifically related to the foci I have chosen. That is, I am trying to phase out some of the business of my life and dedicate myself to fewer endeavors. For me, I find that I need at least one large and encompassing interest where I can channel my energy into accomplishment and learning. For many, it might mean simply that you pay for someone else to clean and maintain your home – not only because it is physically harder now but because then you can FORGET IT!  For me, the domestic and everything in that realm except my family relationships has become a real bore and is nothing but an energy drain. For others, particularly if they have been involved in career or other outside activity most of their lives, dedication to the domestic might be an optimal main focus. Maybe it is time to grow and put up vegetables, for example. Or start on the long remodel. Or take up gustatory excellence in the kitchen.

What you choose will not matter if it excites you and keeps you focused.  Rainbow diffraction invites less distraction and more single-mindedness as we pursue the years into our futures.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Eldertime Zone

I notice these days that when I think about things in my distant past, when I think about being 20 or 30, that so many memories that seemed very long and are important to me were actually very short in terms of time spent. That is, the world could turn over in a minute: the intense love affair that lasted really only two weeks; the year I took a graduate degree, moved, changed jobs three times, learned a new culture, became pregnant, and watched every bit of the Watergate investigation - so many things packed into so short a time. Of course, I had much more energy then to accomplish a lot, and I didn't need to spend the recovery time from overdoing it that I do now, but still, it is amazing to me that out of a 66 year life I can recall so vividly a few days or a few weeks that feel as if they must have been much longer. Intense enough that the memory lives in an emotional time zone that seems to not be prejudiced by how many days or months were involved. Funny that:)

I can't decide if it is because I am just slower to latch on to things and work through them or if my emotions, tempered by the years, are not so extreme as they were then, but if feels that I live in a different, less erratic time zone now. An eldertime zone. Habits I once eschewed have crept into my lifestyle and slow me down; my body slows me down; and I am pretty sure my mind slows me down compared to the quickness with which I grabbed life in my youth.

Or perhaps I am just more cautious. Certainly I have not given up having new experiences and I stay almost as busy as ever, but everything now takes more time, and I seldom rocket to emotional extremes. Maybe I have finally found balance.

I am not unhappy with my eldertime zone, but it is more a waltz than rock n' roll, and I find some loss in that.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

North Country Blues

The neighbors to the north of us have taken down a string of trees along our fence; trees that grew big and blocked the view so that our yard was very private. Trees that overhung our kennel, giving weather protection to the two beasties we always keep. It feels naked now, and exposed to the northern sky as well as a whole row of second floor balconies. I can't fix this, can't substitute another barrier, as nothing I can think of is anywhere near reasonable. So, instead, I must get comfortable with the North, consider the benefits, look at the view.

Personally I identify with the North anyway: ancestors from northern Europe, hate the hot, love my Zone 3 location, and winter is my favorite season. Good, that is all good, and it means to me that instead of feeling exposed, I should open up to these northern skies and reap their wisdoms, ready or not. After all, I now have the Northern Star to guide me.

Here are a few things I found out about the symbolism of the northern cardinal direction over several cultures.

Native American
Illumination, Discovery, Logic, Understanding, Mental wisdom.
Science and knowledge accumulated through our life cycles is purified, and trickles from the tips of ice-capped mountains of wisdom. As these streams of knowing move to our awareness, we prepare for Intellectual illumination. In this mentally-focused quadrant, the greatest reaches of our comprehension roll back into us, causing avalanches of deductive reason. Intellectual knowing is processed and crystallized.

Cool. On the other hand:

Symbolism of the Cardinal Points, North, South, East and West.
Mackey uses as an illustration of this the fact that the sun in its summer journey never passes north of 23° 28´, and that a wall built anywhere above that will have its northern side entirely in shadow even when the sun stands at his meridian. As this fact became known to early peoples it led them to look upon the North as the place of darkness. Accordingly, in all ancient mythologies, that portion of space was regarded with suspicion and even with terror. This prejudice was carried over into the Middle Ages, and traces of it, often dim and vague, survive to this day in popular customs. In his "Antiquities of Freemasonry," Fort writes that the "North by the Jutes was denominated black or sombre; the Frisians called it 'Fear corner.' The gallows faced North, and from these hyperborean shores beyond the North everything base and terrible proceeded." To the churchmen of mediƦval times it carried a like sinister meaning.

But, finally in my own preferred symbolic culture:

The Earth element, season of winter, time of midnight, the new moon, wisdom, stability.

This is clearly a case of feeding the right wolf! I'll get right on that.