Saturday, December 13, 2014

Four Corners of the Soul

Of course I've been thinking about the Christmas Spirit of late, but not in the way other's may assume.  The holidays used to be such an extraordinary time of year.  I don't need to reminisce, to show what I mean, so I won't.

What I will recall, is another time in my life, a time when I was feeling vulnerable, healing hurts, waking-up and getting centered.

Tom was two-ish, playing in his room.  I was pretty much bed-ridden.  Life was falling to pieces.  One afternoon, I had made my way into the living room rocking chair, trying to take a few vertical breaths for the day, when I heard his soft foot-stomp down the hall to me, where he asked:

"Mommy, come see what I am doing in my room."

I explained a couple more times, that I couldn't stand up, as he repeated his sojourn back and forth between me and his room.   My heart sank a bit deeper each time, until I relented and used the momentum of the chair to get up onto my feet.

Walking behind him, I looked at the back of his blonde hair and heard his soft voice say:  

"Thank you for giving up your rocker for me Mommy."

Who was this boy!  What an old, deep soul to say such a heartfelt thing, at such a time.  I will never forget it.  His sweet sentence, that simple moment, gave me the courage to heal my life.  

Through the practice of yoga, therapy, bodywork and a myriad of tinctures, books and just plain life-expereince, I was able to take on the healing process.  Several years later, during the holidays, I realized that this time of year used to feel so exceptional.  In truth, over the years of my healing journey, the holiday season had become no-less different than the way I felt every day.  

I know, I know!  It sounds glib to say I keep the Christmas Spirit all year long, but it is true.  That's what the healing process does to a person.  Marrying the body and mind, as part of a daily routine creates a heart-opening that also happens, for the masses, so naturally during the holidays.  

To practice the healing journey, through the breath between inhale and exhale, what's past and what's ahead, tends to converge a soul more fully into the present.  Diligently working to clean up a person's psychic messes, those spills that slide OH-SO easily into real-life circumstance as one goes along, is also a unique kind of hero's journey.  

For me, a regular yoga practice (everyday, or even one or two times a week), naturally stimulates the flow of the milk of human kindness. The type of kindness I am talking about, begins with being kind to one's Self, by healing my life as I go along.

This past Summer, that same milk of kindness created a 45ft by 45ft walking Labyrinth in the back yard, with four quadrants dedicated to the healing process. One for Healing itself, one for Enlightenment, one for Prosperity and one for Peace.
The East—Enlightenment:

The Eastern quadrant of this sacred path, a circular metaphor for life, is dedicated to the energy of Enlightenment, of course.   To those big A-ha moments (like with 2yr old Tom in the hallway), or little one's, like the nagging in the back of the mind calling me to mend my life.  The first thing a person needs, in order to feel the flow of harmony in life, is to get honest with what doesn't feel that way.  Over time that discomfort is like a good friend that will tell you the tag is hanging out on your obnoxious holiday sweater. 
When finishing the labyrinth, I found the stones I chose to place along the rings of the Enlightenment quadrant all ended up being long and narrow, like a strand of biwa pearls, to help the energy of waking-up flow swift through an open, clear channel.  With the sweet, moist, morning light pouring in from the east, this is the quadrant that so aptly sprouts the seeds that perpetually land there, from the trees above.  As Enlightenment should be, it's alive with possibility.

The South—Healing:

The Southern quadrant is dedicated to healing.  This area of the "Lab", as I call it, took the most work to open up.  I had to cut back nearly 7-feet of old, dead, wild rose bush thorns.  I admit, I was nervous about what I would uncover, as I hacked away at the thorny branches.  

It got to the point, when I went to sleep at night, when I would close my eyes, all I could see was a forest of thorns; like prince charming hacking away at the forest to wake Sleeping Beauty, with love's first kiss.  Healing the soul takes nothing less!  

I knew I had gone far enough, when I found, tucked back under feet and feet of dead thorny-branches, a hovel that was home to a backyard quail bevy.  (It's a fitting metaphor that the Healing section is the quadrant where bird-crap falls abundantly and moss grows underfoot). This uncovered hovel reminded me of Maurice Sendak's children's book, "Where The Wild Things Are".  It was perfect.
A cave made by mother nature Herself, tempting you to enter, to face your fears, to uncover what's unknown and to continue being brave, even in your hestitations, along the way.

The Healing quadrant is where I began, in life and here.  This section is where I knew I needed to ask for help.  I got honest with the truth that I could not face a task this large alone.  So I put it out on Facebook.  Julee made a comment that gave my spirit courage and Maria showed up in person.  They were the first responders.  It is important to ask for help, when one is in the healing quadrant. 
The stones that ended up bordering the path in the healing quadrant are cracked and uneven.  Someone interested in consistency throughout the "Lab" may have discarded them, but they called me to keep them here; to remind me (in the words of Dicken's Tiny Tim): "Of Him who made beggars walk and blind men see".  The Healing section is where the imperfect come to be reborn, through the courage and support of small miracles that start happening on their behalf, all along the way.

The North—Prosperity:

The Northern quadrant is dedicated to Prosperity, to abundance and to your ability to become vulnerable to it.  You may not associate prosperity with vulnerability, but guess what?  People with an abundance of hurt, lack, poverty of all kinds, mind and body, are abjectly vulnerable to it.  

Again, If it is so easy to walk around feeling vulnerable to a circumstance, vulnerability can also be a pathway to prosperity on the good-side of the life experience spectrum.  It just takes experience and you begin to create a habit of continually trusting it.  The reason the "rich get richer", as they say, is that the longer they stay that way, the more they don't know any different. It really is that simple.
The stones in the Prosperity quadrant are AUSPICIOUS, large, round and many look like the shape of a womb that promises the abundant spirit of new life itself.

So how do I embrace, more fully, a prosperity consciousness?  Well, I begin by waking up, being brave, doing the work, asking for help and then learning to be open to good things happening, in equal or greater measure to my habit of dealing with "bad" things.  I begin to be able to say:  "I KNEW IT!" when good stuff happens, in equal measure with how I used to say it, when life's challenges hit me hard.  

Here's where we talk turkey:  A daily prosperity practice, happens one day at a time, that's what makes it a daily practice.  I have to make space, to open up a place for my healing process, to be vulnerable to it in some way, on a daily basis.

To move my body in yoga poses, restorative, flow, chanting, meditation, reading, writing, artwork, whatever moves me, on a daily basis, relaxes the habit between mind and body, called "the stress response".  It teaches me, line upon line, that I can set aside the space to be open to living and feeling differently than I have.  

Through daily vulnerability, I feel the gift of the present, the joy of knowing something different than what I have so readily accepted about myself.   I feel a warm glow and the promise of new birth.  I feel the energy of wisdom, from wise men and women, from the philosophies of "the East" and little by little, this practice transforms the bleakness of the past and despair in the future into abundance.  When I begin to experience this type of prosperity of heart, I start to echo the shepherds in the fields, following the angelic messenger by "glorifying and praising God for all they had seen".  I have felt that praise in me from God and from me to God, by learning to feel more at home in my body, in my daily life.  This is where prosperity begins to grow and grow and just like the rough stuff, it begins to spill over into every facet of my life.

The philosophy of the style of yoga called "Bodhi Yoga" (that I developed from moving through the healing process again and again and again) explains this process: 

"Bodhi", a Sanskrit word for Awakening, is a yoga practice designed to help you be more aware, better able to notice and understand how your yoga moves your body, mind, emotions and spirit toward a place of balance and abundance.  Overtime, the result is that you are able to naturally increase your tolerance for that wonderful awareness.  Your yoga in this space is a great tool to bring the abundance and prosperity you learn in class outward, to enrich every other area of your life.

The West—Peace:

The Western quadrant of the Lab is the Peace quadrant.  The stones here are smooth, in a consistent rapport with one another, that is collectively beautiful.  The ground is smooth and stays clear of leaves and debris without any work.  There is a feeling in this section, of this sacred space, that opens you up to the feeling that whatever is going on right now, wherever I am in the healing process, is enough.
The elegance of simple contentment, of Peace, is the reward of working with healing, enlightenment and prosperity.  Peace happens when I can say:  "Lets call it good", whatever my circumstance.

Peace is the transcendence of want.   Peace can happen when we gain the emotional maturity (the ability to make use of your emotional healing), to be able to understand and recognize those moments when we feel contentment.  When we practice life in this way, we then consciously co-create more of them with God's Grace, because that is who we have naturally become.  

Contentment is a kind of emotional literacy.  Peace and contentment can happen all year long, but during the holiday season, we tend to allow ourselves to feel it more.  Peace is the natural result of apprenticing myself (or yourself) in the art of allowing, where a quiet kind of "Joy to the World" becomes your daily mantra.

Peace is the soothing quadrant, in this girl's backyard Labyrinth, that leads you to the entrance of the sacred center.  Yet, as in life, as soon as you start feeling dizzy in your excitement to be able to feel centered, you're off balance again.  As soon as you say I'm working on releasing my ego-centeric ways, you are bound by them in some form.  
The primary way to be at Peace on Earth, to get centered, is to stop seeking after it and beging living it daily, as best you can.  When I learned that a sense of Peace on earth, good will to my fellow men and women, was a ongoing matter of yoking (the English word for "yoga") myself with the healing process, I discovered that Peace, more often than not, is the window to feeling content, happy, light and joyful all year.  

The best way to feel peace all year is to practice being receptive, when you're in the middle of everything else.  It's a practice that all the masters teach...Receptive to what's going on, mind and body, in yourself first and then with others.  And lo' and behold, your everyday becomes something extraordinary.

If I could wrap you a gift and set it under your tree, this would be it. 

What happens in the center, while there, as well as when you make your way, weaving through the outer rings of this Labyrinth, is a story for another time. So for now, I am simply going to wish you holidays of Healing, Enlightenment, Prosperity and Peace from this day to the next.

Noel & Namaste

-Syl



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tales From the Labyrinth—Endings (Completion & Rebirth)

The Straight & Narrow of One Eternal Round


I certainly did not know the ending from the beginning, when I began building a 45-foot walking labyrinth in my back yard.  If you had told me, amidst the hot and earthy smells of July, that by October I would be steward over such a place, I likely would have felt that old familiar overwhelm.  Moments in life, than seem larger than it, run the risk of sending me into distraction, within the thickness of other thin things.  My way of changing the subject until I am really ready to go there.

I know, as well as anyone, that running away from our Dharma can have weighty consequences.  When prompted to succumb to such impulses, I have learned to let my inhale begin as a slow sip, toward the bridge of my nose and cascade back through an exhale into a long, deep, soothing sigh.  This most basic of yoga practices, helps me attune inwardly and steward the wiles of overwhelm.  Skills such as this, have been invaluable in teaching me the value of taking life one step at a time. 

So, by mid-August, the throngs of helpers had left this beautiful path complete. One evening, close to that time, I was near the back of my house rolling up the garden hose of Summer.  Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a quiet visitor, a monarch butterfly.  I thought how fitting (as she landed near my feet), that this sacred presence would grace this path.   Her life was a perfect metaphor of the many personal metamorphosis' that had already and would continue to occur here.  


My desire to snap a picture, without disturbing her faded quickly with a flush of sadness, when I realized that she had likely reached the end of a glorious journey, one that lasted all summer for her too.  It was clear that she did not have the energy to take flight again and was sharing her final moments with me.  

I watched over this beauty intermittently over the next 14-hours, as I allowed nature to take its course, until she had slipped fully away.  I will reflect eternally on the end of her journey, inseparable now, with the beginning of mine, as steward of this lovely Labyrinth.  

Many personal experiences have taught me, that endings are always some sort of beginning.  What a beautiful truth, what a beautiful paradox this is; and privilege to know it in body and soul, through this experience.



The sacred Labyrinth path, now laid out in my back yard, is for helping people realize that there is truth in both sides of paradox; to be able to feel it softly pound up their bare feet, as they walk from beginning, to center, to back out again.  A turning inward, as one also turns outward.  Winding in the same, yet different on the way out, as what seems unmanageable, becomes gradually more so.    

The Labyrinth path relaxes the width between Heaven and Earth, through each person walking it.  The path perpetually lends itself to naturally resolving paradox, just as this experience with vibrant wings turned to fade, is also a letting go of Summer and all the colors in our flights of fancy.  

The beautiful journey of creating something stunning together and the many epiphanies to come, leave me feeling blesses in this moment.  This path is a resolution of God-Source’s way that is both straight and narrow, while simultaneously, holding the beauty of One Eternal round.  


So, here's to the unanswerable questions and how they resolve (if only momentarily), on this precious path called Life; where (to paraphrase a scientific concept), given the opportunity, the shortest distance between two points, is the line between God and us.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tales From the Labyrinth—Middles

“Are We THERE Yet?”
This Labyrinth of mine.  It’s quite something.  I’ve patterned her after the Labyrinth found in the Chartres Cathedral, just outside Paris.  Though many Labyrinths date back over 5000 years, this particular style was first used during the time of the crusades between 1095 and 1201 A.D.

The crusades were a time when there was an intense struggle for control of the Holy Land.  A time when many were not able to make the journey, so Labyrinths were built (mostly in cathedrals) for people to walk, in order to metaphorically participate in the spiritual pilgrimages of the day.

As I have been building this sacred path in my back yard, I have reflected on how similar my time is to the time the Chartres was built.  Listening to NPR on my car radio, as I travel to buy the smooth gray-blue stones, purchase gardening equipment of all sorts and groceries to feed the groups who’ve shown up to help, I hear tales of conflict and great human tragedy in the Middle East.  I have felt so sorrowed for the brothers and sisters of my human family, who are suffering there, in so many ways and for so very long.  I feel a deep wish that I could do something to help ease the burdens of both sides, but here, I work away in my own space.

Yes, this path in my back yard is quite something; and here I am today, with such similar world circumstances, to the times of the crusades and so little changed beyond surface comforts.  The human heart, I think, is ageless.  This may be why we continue the struggle.  

I believe it is advanced work, this path of life, to balance the desire and struggle for attaining or maintaining what is outer-surface with the pilgrimages among the inner-disciplines.  Walking a Labyrinth is a wonderful opportunity for working with both simultaneously.  Using the outer gesture of taking each step, one by one and surrendering both thought and action to our source, our center, is a unique approach to modern meditation.

Last week I was asked to speak in my church.  The topic I had been assigned was called:  “The Power of Prayer” (of course).  So, here I was building a literal walking prayer-wheel in my back yard; working in the soil, as I contemplated what I would say in speaking to a local group of brothers and sisters.  

I thought of the words of a female leader in my church, Cheiko Okazaki, who wrote once of the founding prophet Joseph Smith.  He was a boy of 14 years old, who circled his way through a grove of trees, to a place he thought would be a good spot to pray to God with questions about his faith.  He had a Divine visitation there, a revelatory experience, that Cheiko was referring to when she said:

“We don't have to be in a sacred place for spiritual things to happen.  The Sacred Grove was just a stand of trees before Joseph Smith walked into it.  It became sacred because of what happened there…”  and then she asks the esoteric question:  “Where is your Sacred Grove?  It could even be in you car, if that's were you spend a lot of time thinking through problems and attuning your heart sensitively to the Spirit.”

During my talk, I also quoted another female leader, who was also one of my personal young women’s advisors, when I was 16 years old and wife to one of the current twelve apostles in the mormon church, Patricia Holland also said:

“We have to pray as the ancients prayed. We are women now, not children, and are expected to pray with maturity. The words most often used to describe urgent, prayerful labor are:   wrestle, plead, cry, and hunger...In some sense, prayer may be the hardest work we will ever be engaged in, and perhaps it should be.” 

In contemplating these women’s words, I added in my remarks that:   

“I believe that at our life’s end, the cumulative of our prayers, over the days and years of our sojourn here, will be reflected upon as one of the most powerful aspects of our mortal experience...of our humanity.”

Working from dawn to dusk, over the past seven weeks, I have mused at the process of building an ancient path of prayer and meditation in my back yard; of going to this type of length, in order to create a sacred space for the inner-discipleships of the human heart.  The events that have already taken place here, the many who have showed up to help, the gifts each one has given of time, attention and attunement, have already given this place a sacred feel. 
I’ve been reflecting this past week that during this, the second and middle phase of building a Labyrinth, the process of constructing this path is also mirroring the actions of pennetant souls of ages past, who showed their pioety and dedication to changing human behavior, by changing the path of the heart, with the practice of walking the Labyrinths of old on their knees. 


I smile to myself, each time I stand up, taking to heart that the work being done on this path right now requires each of us to physically kneel, as we add the twist and turns that will eventually take us to the center.  The center of a Labyrinth, the middle-path, is a sacred place for meditation and prayer, set aside for one to be more open and able to receive whatever insights or guidance that is there for you to receive.  
After a week of saying "we're almost done" about fifty times and as I write this evening, with just one more quadrant to complete, I am working a bit more prayerfully, on my own and at my own pace. The final section needed to complete this path holds the energy of PEACE and I am trying to respect that place.  Peace... An energy, that is so very aptly, also my prayer today for all my brothers and sisters, both near and far.

Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in all times and spaces
Be Happy and Free

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tales from the Labyrinth—Beginnings

I’ve always wished for a Labyrinth in my town.  During cancer treatments, I printed one out on paper and would trace my finger along it’s path to remind me that even when moving through the valley of the shadows, I could occasionally glimpse that in the larger view, my suffering was but a small moment.  My Labyrinth tracing, during this time, brought me to the mantra that come what may in life, it's all really Just For Now.  I learned a bit more, to cherish the prosperous heart and keep cleaner-clearer perspectives within some of my greatest challenges.

Simply put a Labyrinth is a metaphor for The Path, the one we all must walk in life, full of twists and turns.  Just when we think we’ve got it down, it throws us a curve and we find ourself headed in an entirely different direction than we had originally planned, or so we think.

Labyrinths are found all over the world.  Many date back over 3500 years.  They offer a guided walk, that will bring up whatever you are holding at bay, helping your ego let go of the need to control everything.  As your feet gently pound left, then right, then left again, the path itself helps you release a sense of feeling entitled to, or immune from life’s blessings. You learn anew the power of Being, just for now on a course greater than your own will.  A great way to find your center, to walk the middle way, to learn to let go and to learn to appreciate greater allowing in life, on a new level.  

When I moved into a new home, closing on the date of February 10th, 2014 (dear Rex’s birthdate, coincidentally), I walked out into the snow of the back yard and traipsed out a circle of where my Labyrinth would be.  Come spring, I was pleasantly surprised to find a tuft of grass, that had grown right at it’s center. 

Come Summer, last full moon to be exact, I lit a fire in the back yard and sat bathed in the warmth of the flames and the cool light of July’s Super Full Moon.  Sitting there, I resolved to begin a very literal Labyrinth journey of my own.  My good friend and former Bishop from church, had recently come, at my request, and dedicated my home.  Over the next few weeks, I contemplated his words as we knelt in my living room and listened to him say that my home was “being set apart as a place of personal revelation”.
I believe it is no mistake  that a Labyrinth resembles a cross-section of a human brain; as using this walking meditation will open up new neural-pathways between your mind, body and spirit.  As it does this, you receive insights that have been just out of your reach.  

In preparation for laying out this path, I have been weeding out old tufts of grass from the soil.  As I turn the soil and pluck and pluck, I cannot help but notice, that they each look like mother nature's little neural synapses. I can feel the benefits mind and body, in the metaphor of plucking out old ways of thinking, inaccurate beliefs about myself, others, or my life approach itself and the gradual change a Labyrinth offers.  Changing inside the circle, as I (and many friends who are joining me), cultivate The Path and create in this, miracles of insight, large and small, for all who will walk it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Amanda Taylor Her Gifts Acknowleged

Tonight, sleep is not coming so easy, but I believe it will, once I pen a small gesture of gratitude here.  
Amanda Taylor (a dear student of mine, who had just finished her 5-month personal immersion in Bodhi Yoga's 200-hour Teacher Training) was swept off her raft, while riding the Arkansas River in Colorado, this past Saturday.  At the Bodhi Yoga Center, we love and adore her bright spirit so dearly.  As her mentor, I want her tucked safely into bed, before I rest myself.  These are my desires and they would be near unbearable if I had not taken a moment to say thank you this past Tuesday.

You see, Amanda had to miss our last Yoga Teacher Training weekend, to ride another river a few weeks ago.  She called to say she had made each of the lovely women in our group a beaded bracelet.  

I had been so busy our last weekend, that I had not made it to the mailbox.  A few days following our training, I saw the package and opened up to discover, she had not strung several identical bracelets, but each had it's own beadwork, with the bracelet and name of each member of our group designated with a small white name-tag.


 I laid them out on my spice rack and wanted to text her the picture immediately to say thank you.  I could feel the love she put into them and as I ran my fingers over each one.  I could feel that Amanda also needed a well-deserved thank you, but I was immediately distracted by life.  

A day or so later, I got the bracelets down to the center, for each woman to pick up.  I wanted to text her then and let her know.  I wanted to call her and hear her voice and laugh together and catch-up on what she was doing and when we would connect up at Bodhi Yoga again, but then I noticed the time, and with a wisp of overwhelm (at my list of obligations) I went on with my day.


This past Tuesday, when taking a moment to check in on FaceBook, there was a post on my home-feed, from Amanda; a fortune cookie that said:

 "Quality Counts and You've Got It" and I got it, right then.  That fortune was absolutely right.  And I took a moment and commented my thank you to her.  

I took a picture of her lovely beadwork gracing my hand and enjoyed a thread of reconnection.  

She said she couldn't exactly remember the beads she used on mine, but knew they were for my Crown Chakra, Divine Connection.  It felt good to reconnect, to say thank you for such a lovely gift. 


This exchange more than others had pricked my consciousness.  It felt important at the time, I was aware of it and grateful for the opportunity.

No words, however for only a few days following, when I got a text from another student, letting me know about the rafting accident Saturday evening, and the search for her, still ongoing this very night.

When I heard, my concern was for her well-being and for that of her family.  I took a moment, closing my eyes and dropped into to a gently, meditative breath.  Once my mind quieted, I felt a deep and abiding gratitude, that I had taken a moment, that the space opened up, through a fortune cookie message, to say thank-you to her.

With in just a few moments, I felt a wash of gratitude along the left side of my face and heard the words in my head, very clearly from her:  "Everything is SO BEYOND okay." I felt a deep sense of both joy and peace, that surpass my limited understanding of the contexts of this experience and what it means.  I also reflected back to our time together at Bodh Yoga..
During our five months, we learned so much more that just how to do a pose.  We cover much more than simply teaching a class to future students.  We spend a large portion of our time there in sacred sanctuary, learning how to use our lives to walk the yogic path; a path called Bodhi, a Sanskrit word that means:  "The journey through which one experiences enlightenment", a journey through which we become comfortable living with the higher wisdom in things, of acting on what's best within us,  of widening our ability to awaken an awareness and recognition of the universal truth in things.

She was deciding, this past January, whether or not to enroll, but called me at the last minute to joyfully say:  "Syl, I am so excited. I am just going to go for it.  The timing just feels right.  I can't wait until it's more convenient, I know I have to do it now".  
We went deep together.  When it came to the cosmology of the soul, Amanda could not get enough.  When it came to the dynamo poses, she embraced past fears and accomplished yoga asanas, she had never done before.  We both have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I could relate to her personal limitations and what each success meant, body, mind and soul.  Tonight I feel immense comfort in the wisdom that, come what may, she is well-prepared in the practice of process and journey.
She was a pleasure to watch, during our time together there, she was generous and kind and made sure each one of us knew that individually.  She shared willingly the gift of Acknowledgement.   It brings to mind a few lines of one of my favorite poems by David Whyte called "My Daughter Alseep":

May She discover
before she grows
old,
not to choose
so easily
between past
and present
may she find
in
one or the other
her gifts 
acknowledged

This morning the students attending classes were each generous enough to dedicate our practice to Amanda's well-being.  We each drew two cards from the Chakra Deck, each student held the intention of both cards for her.  Such love, such gratitude.  Each holding the space for a blessing on her Soul, each a blessing on her body.  I find myself holding her with me, in that space this evening:
So tonight, as I drift into a much needed rest, I send a thousand prayers, a thousand kisses on your cheek, and a thousand thank-yous, for each one of your gifts acknowledged, always.  

So tonight, I hold the space for you in the two cards I drew for me and for you this morning:

Asking for our continued prayers on her behalf and for her family.

P.S. Chose to wear my "wildest" yoga pants, in honor of your clear mind and wild heart, dear sister. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Like Sunlight & Oxygen (from my personal history)

This coming new moon on June 27th will be four years since the passing of a dear, dear friend.   When It comes to those we love, who love us back and seem to leave this life too soon, time does not fly.  It passes oh-so slow.  But rather than miss him in slow-motion today, I am choosing to focus on one small moment from his life.  Sharing this post for his many Bodhi Yoga friends and clients.  An account from my personal history, of the first time I met someone who would eventually become a dear colleague, beloved friend and (taking me many years to grasp) a “twin-kin" from different parents:

“With a big breath I got out of the car and walked a few steps, into the office. Upon entering, I was immediately aware of a clean-moist smell, a mixture of tissues and potpourri. I mused to myself, that the amount of kleenex in this therapy office was so large, that the smell would be palpable. It was easy to visualize all of the sobbing that was going on, at any given moment in all the little offices down the hall.

I crossed the lobby and gave a perky, dark-brown-haired receptionist my insurance card and name. I also couldn’t help but notice how happy she was.  At such a place, I half expected a sullen gatekeeper with sunken eyes, and sallow expression, but this gal seemed wholly unaffected by anyones crap. The irony made me chuckle to myself, as I took a butterscotch candy from the dish.  I turned around from the desk and sat down, sifting through magazines to look busy, wondering what the couple on the couch next to me or the person across the lobby was in for.

Fairly soon, a therapist and teary-eyed client, (I was right about those kleenex) came down the hallway (half visible from the lobby).   We all sat there, like people bobbing in the ocean, waiting for a member of the psychological-coast-guard to throw out the life preserver and drag us ashore.

He was short, black t-shirt, silver earring clasp around the upper side of his ear, with a silver feather hanging off it. Native American. He looked like one of the toughest people I had ever seen, with kind of a hell’s-angel feel to him, and I thought to myself: ‘this guy looks like HE needs therapy’.

He sent the client out with some encouraging words, after stopping to schedule a follow-up session with the perky receptionist (who reminded me of Parker Posey) and then walked into the lobby. I looked at him and prayed to God to help me, if this was my therapist. His eyes scanned past me and then over to the person sitting at my right.  They greeted with a “Hi” and as he placed his hand on his client’s shoulder, they walked back down the hall together, disappearing into one of the many doors. 

I drew a deep breath, followed with a long quiet sigh, which I kept mostly to myself.

More people came in from outside and settled into the waiting room. Another therapist with long-blonde hair that drifted well past his shoulders came into view, walking his client down the hall.  He had a t-shirt on that said: “BACA” with a large fist with a broken chain on it, where below in bold letters it read: “BIKERS AGAINST CHILD ABUSE.” You know, I could really get behind the idea of the sentiment, if this guy looked a little less like someone who would kidnap a child. I prayed hard to Jesus to not let this be my guy!  He called out a name and a conservatively-dressed couple stood up.  Looking into my magazine, I heard him introduce himself and they all walked back into the hall together.  

I started to feel like it would be a mistake to stay. What was I doing here? Yet simultaneously, kleenex smell notwithstanding, the place had a relatively comforting feeling to it. Another woman therapist came out to the lobby and took her client back (I was sure she was positively not named Rex). 

Part of me really felt like I could still bolt for the door, and no one would ever know I was there...but bolt to what? I sighed again and resolved myself to stay put. Almost eighteen excruciating minutes after the hour of my scheduled session, I wondered if my therapist had glimpsed ME somehow, and decided himself to run the other way, out a hidden back door.

Twenty minutes after the hour...

I feigned reading, as I heard a door open and another pair coming down the hall. I glanced up and back down to my pages. They stood around the corner at a side of the counter at the hallway entrance, just out of view. I heard some muffled conversation, that went on for a bit, followed by the client’s feet walking across the lobby carpet and out the front door.  I gazed fuzzily into my magazine.

In a split second, when I looked up again to get a peek at the therapist that was with the client at the front desk, only a moment before, the hall entrance was empty. I looked down at my magazine as another moment passed.

Twenty…four…minutes…after…the…hour…

'Maybe it wasn’t going to happen’, was the thought I had, when I again looked up to a man quietly standing at the opening to the hall. He was surveying the lobby, with a confidence and shyness I had never seen simultaneously in one person. I felt myself smile at him, as it seemed like he needed my encouragement to ask if I was Syl.  His eyes scanned between me and the other person still left there.  Looking back to me, still grinning over my magazine, he asked: ‘Syl Carson?’  I smiled more and shook my head yes.

I got up and walked toward him, as I replaced the magazine back to the table next to me. He was around six-feet tall, fourty-something, bearded, slightly receding hairline, with a broad chest and very wide shoulders (no doubt, grown so, for his clients to cry on). He wore a plaid button-down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up along his forearms, wearing jeans and athletic shoes. He was clean and husky, with a sort-of hint of good-looking, without any excessively distinguished features, beyond the beard.

He looked at me and I at him.  There seemed to be a flash of something familiar, beyond where we stood in that waiting room, on a cold late-Fall day.  I was unprepared to make sense of it in the split second greeting, but there was a sort of enigmatic-recognition, from which we both needed a quick glance away.

“Hi I’m Rex”, he said and opened his hand toward the hall. The business woman in me had already taken over and I had held out my hand to greet him, not realizing he was just directing me down the hall. He looked at my hand for a moment, like he didn’t know what to do with it, then he reached over and shook it; in a gesture that implied he did so to simply get it out of the way. 

In our quick handshake, I was startled by a quiet sadness in him (like a little lightening rod, shooting up my arm).  In my life I had never experienced anything like this. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the immediacy of our exchange, so in order to change the pesky unspoken whatever-it-was, I feigned a quiet happy; something I did as a banker often, and sometimes at church on Sundays.

Threading myself through our handshake, I took his cue and headed into the hallway.  ‘Too late to run now’—I thought to myself.   

Walking slow, the hidden hallway finally revealed itself to me.  I felt a bit queazy and could completely relate to Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down the rabbit hole.  Poor girl.

Rex walked behind me and I began to feel intense self-doubt, unsure of where I was going (both physically and metaphorically). People walking close behind me always stirred up deep feelings of self-consciousness. I could feel that he could sense this primal insecurity, as I heard his voice from behind saying:  ‘Keep going, it’s just two more doors down on your right’.  
I stopped and said:  ‘Here?’  I was unsure of myself. 

‘No, just one more to your right’, he said.    

The sound of this voice over my shoulder was soft and encouraging.  It had a gentle-depth, a kindness, with a familiarity that paradoxically I had never known before, even among my own family members.

I entered right, into a small room with a fairly low ceiling.  It was cozy, with nice lighting and a comforting feel.  The early winter afternoon sun was coming in the windows on the west side of the room.  Walking in, I noticed that there was a door with a window, facing west as well…’Hmmm’, I thought to myself, ‘He really could have snuck out, if he wanted to.’  As I stepped toward the center of the room, I looked at the looming, green leather couch, that filled the walls of the south end of the small room and asked: 

“Is THIS the proverbial shrink’s couch, I’ve heard so much about?”  To which he gave no response.

I turned around from it and asked: “Where do I sit?”

Rex replied: “anywhere you like.” 

To my right, there were two light-gray, fabric-covered, lobby chairs set side by side and to my left was a big green lazy-boy rocker, with a throw over it that said something about fishing.  I assumed it was his seat, so I intentionally plopped myself down right there.  

When he sat down, I was surprised that Rex hadn’t taken the couch, instead, he had nestled himself into one of the chairs to my left.  His whole body filled the frame of the small, grey lobby chair, like an adult who had taken the kid-sized seat. I wondered to myself (feeling a wash of embarrassment at my seat choice) 'why did he squeeze into that chair?' 

Everything about this guy was pretty subtle, with an undercurrent of unmistakeable intensity; which he could have just as easily said of me, I guess.  I noticed the bear-like grip of his hands around a yellow legal pad (ready to get the scoop on me in writing, no doubt). There was something about his age, the way his square frame leaned to one elbow and the way the sleeves of his shirt were so neatly rolled up.  There was also the unspoken fact that he had left the couch open, as though he was covertly squaring off with me, in a gesture that actually made me like him a little bit.  

Sitting in his office, I had sequestered myself with this curious bull in a china-shop named Rex.  The one thing I was clear on, was that I, was one-hundred-percent, the china shop, as I embarked on the healing process.   I had never allowed myself to honestly feel this sort of vulnerability before.  Choosing his seat was the only armor I could muster.  So there we sat, him squished and me sitting in the center of his great big rocker, still feeling wholly unprepared to allow him to lead the way into this journey.  

Not right now…Not yet anyway."


(this post dedicated to the dearest of kindred spirits 


Friday, March 14, 2014

What Manner of Angel was She?

The thing about the college town community where I live, is that there is a lot of like-mindedness.  Like-mindedness can manifest in many ways.  At it’s best, it affords great support and reliability. Living here, in such a town, I think often of the words of Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, who when explaining the temperament of his own hometown said:

“How do we keep our balance?  That, I can tell you in one word, TRADITION! 

…and yet, also in the circle of our little village, we’ve always had our special types…Dai, Dai, Dai, Dai, Dai, DAIEE, Dai Dai Dai Dai, Dai!”

I suppose in my traditional mountain village, I would be esteemed one of those special types.  I don’t mind.  Since I was very young, I was always a bit fringy around the edges, always asking questions slightly outside the box or fully acceptable among many in the circle of my culture.

In writing down my thoughts here, I actually would like to hold the space for a very sacred conversation.  It is a unique one that is specific to me and the questioning nature of my soul as my thoughts branch slightly beyond the doctrinal demagogy of my village culture.  In addition, there is something very healing for me in the therapeutic nature of penning my thoughts here.

The local University, in my college town, has a beautiful Museum of Art, and currently on display there is an exhibit called Sacred Gifts.  It is a beautiful exchange between many churches and a variety of like-minded traditions, each having collaborated in community around artwork of Jesus Christ.

The paintings have all come from a variety of churches in Europe (many for the one and only time they will ever leave their home), where they were deteriorating and in need of repair.  The university offered to pay for state of the art restoration expertise, in exchange for the sharing of each sacred piece on loan for several months.  Eventually each beautiful piece will be returned fully renewed to their respective congregation; such a generous exchange on both sides.

I went to this exhibit with my son around the holidays.   He, like most teenagers, has been stewing within the traditions and the pressure that comes naturally from teachers, parents and neighbors, stewing in what is expected and hoped for him by his world community, as he faces the horizon of adulthood in his own life.  It’s intense, as anyone on the edge of 17 can attest.  

I had hoped he would want to come to the exhibit with me, but for him it was an evening away from his natural pursuits.  I wished so deeply, as I walked through, that we could share in the spirit of these deeply moving works of art, that it could ease the difficulty of teenage stresses in some way.  As a mother, I am discovering that this time in a son’s life can often leave a her feeling a state of perpetual helplessness.

As I entered the exhibit, the first painting caught me, body and soul.  It is called:  “Agony in the Garden” by Frans Schwartz. 
Having recently come through chemotherapy, followed by months of additional treatment for invasive breast cancer, I knew this place on the canvas before me. As I looked upon the artist's rendering of the face of Christ, I recognized this expression of unquenchable agony in His eyes.  I had also felt the presence of this very Angel, depicted enveloping Christ.  I KNEW HER, like the back of my own hand I had felt her angelic comfort as a personal reality.  I knew this reality from both from a literal angelic presence that had attended me at times during treatments, as well as the physical presence of angelic sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends, who attended to me both in person and in prayer, when all I could do was suffer the moment.  

At the end of the exhibit, I wrote these feelings on a piece of paper, provided by the Museum, to be sent as a thank-you to the congregation of the church who loaned this painting for restoration and display.

Convexly, in 2010, I had also shared in the experience of helping a friend through his own gethsemane, over the last two weeks of his life.  In the hours I spent in care of him, I could feel Her, this Angel, working through me.   In his most intense moments, I held his hand and head, trying to send every thought, every memory, every kindness and strength he had ever shown to so many of the people he had helped through his own life.  It just felt natural to reflect that love back through his body, at such a time.

One moment, in particular, I breathed deeply, trying to channel the love of literally hundreds of people through my hands into his body; people who wanted to be there helping him as well.  


I did my best to allow all their gratitude and love for his goodness to flow through my hands, into him.  Over those two very intense weeks, I stood in a unique kind of stewardship with one man, on behalf of many.  During this time, without a word, I would hold his hands, head or heart and show him, through my palms, the strongest moments of his own life, in hopes he would hang on with us for a while longer.

So I knew Her firsthand, I had been this Angel for someone else and I had also received Her, comforting me.

Over several months, this painting held steady in my mind.  I went back to the exhibit alone, just to look again.  I heard a question seasoning in my heart, as my eyes mused again across this image:  

“In Gethsemane with Christ, what manner of Angel would this be?  She would have to be something special, (not just any everyday angel), to be there with Christ in His suffering for you and me.  In breaking the bonds of time and space, which was also, paradoxically, the most mortal of His moments, asking God the Father that this cup may pass Him over, it would take quite a special type to be, (in my spiritually-traditional thinking), to be authorized to be there and called to witness that moment along side Him...”

Who was this Angel?  Could it possibly be ME?  Wow, I thought, where did that come from?

How could I relate to Her so.  How could my mortal experience be so aligned, in so many ways, with the image before me.  I stood, in contemplation, at the very canvas that supported the artist's brush, over a hundred years before.  

Standing there, I recalled a poem I had written, ten years earlier.  This poem came from one of my personal meditations, written for Christmas one year.  I called it “Turning East”.  The poem was written in relation to all of our days as Angels, prior to moving through this mortal coil.  I wrote of angelic hosts and what our perspective of Christ may be within the larger circles of Eternity.  I recalled it, as I contemplated such an unorthodox question that had leapt unfiltered from my heart into my mind:

From the East you’ve shown
Star of new light touched earth

Little Prince of Peace
Tiny Councilor

We kissed your feet before you came
And sang as Heaven’s Host

‘Tis our feet now that walk Your earth,
our song from winged eye

gaze back from whence you came 
at first...
waiting…
watching…
Eastern Skies…

Turning East

-Syl

As the weeks passed, I got very busy with a move into my new home, but I woke one morning to another recognition related to this picture.  As my eyes opened, barely awake, laying in my bed, I noticed a blank section of wall in my new bedroom.  It felt vacant, like something belonged on it.  I knew in a Kensho (zen meditation-sudden insight), that a small reproduction of this painting belonged right there.  I drove back to the Museum of Art that afternoon, for the third time, and purchased a 10x14 on canvas from the museum gift shop of “Agony in the Garden”.

I took it to my local framing shop and snapped a picture to review the frame I had picked out with the image itself.  I wanted to make sure that I had chosen the right frame, (in order to both honor the energy of the artwork and conform with the colors of my room).

“Who was she?” I asked myself again, as I drove home.

Within another few days I sequestered myself in sanctuary, in concern for my son and all of the life-changing circumstances he faces at such a pivotal time in his life.  As I sat in meditative silence, I reflected tenderly on my inability to cozy him up onto my lap, as I had been able to do, when he was small.  I am not able to be who I have always been for him, at least in the same ways that have come so naturally to me in the past.  It felt so dear to me, that a son growing into manhood, I am learning, is as great a sacrifice on a mother’s heart, as his birth was on her body.

So with this open and tender heart, I sat inside sacred walls, where I had brought with me the desire to ease the intensity of my son's challenges and also my question about this Angel, my peculiar query about the image on canvas I had left at the framers.

“Was this me?”  

The phrase of my question was really not as verbose as it sounds.  

It was the only language my feeble mind could muster at the time to articulate what I really meant:  “WHY do I resonate with this moment so sincerely, why does the angelic soul look so familiar to me and why do I share in both sides of the depiction of this beautiful piece so clearly and intimately in every cell of my being…

What manner of Angel was She?

So in a moment of deep prayer I asked the only feeble phrasing I could of God:  “Was this me, God?  Was this me?  The phase was a supplication, as a child would ask a pure-hearted question of a parent, without the maturity to understand the ramifications of the answer at the moment of it's asking.  

Yet as I asked, I felt no rebuke for questioning, whatsoever.

The answer did come, so strong and at the same time so very gently.

I felt a Godliness reverberating through me, like the most penetrating a whisper of this nature could possibly be:

“You are one of Her channels” was the reply to my question.

Several times…

“You are a channel of the Peace She brings.”

Several more times...

As this Wisdom reverberated in me, my simply heart-felt asking knew and understood her identity completely:  

There would be only ONE Presence with the stewardship to attend to the Savior, as He At-ONE-ed with me in gethsemane.  This was a simply an Angel Mother, a Mother like me, seeking to comfort and strengthen her Son, in His greatest hour of need.  The Divine Mother, the Mother of His Soul, in His soul’s darkest moment.  She alone, had the right to be there, as the Father retreated to the farthest corner of Heaven available. She, a Mother, attending to her Son.

I felt like Her and She felt like me.  I asked the question, because I felt that very desire, in the moment I was standing in front of this painting that evening for my own boy.  I saw Her there in that way, because I had the same desire to do as She was doing; to strengthen my son, at a time of deep challenge, deep personal transformation into manhood; as she stood there, with Her Son, as He Atoned for mankind.

I knew Her, because all mothers know Her in each other and within ourselves.  She was there, and so was I, giving and receiving.  She knows the space between both sides, Her stewardship is the void, She, the Eternal Yin.  She holds me dear as I hold my own son in my heart and will do for all the days of his manhood, just as I did in my lap all the days of his boyhood.

So as I sat in deep spiritual meditation I thought of many a scripture.  I opened a white Bible on the table next to me and reviewed many passages that have been tiny comforts to me in the past, when looking for personal representation amidst the traditional thinking of my village.   Each passage (and a new one, discovered on that day) have been a quiet-hidden strength to my inner-Divine-Feminine-daughter soul of both a Father and Mother in Heaven.  

Greater healing in that moment took place for the mother’s heart within me; a greater wholeness telling me “I’ve a Mother there”, felt both deeply grounding and enlivening simultaneously. A sacred moment, in which each tiny scriptural passage has served as a witness to strengthen me, at times when I too have been in need of both redemption and comfort:

“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time…”

—Revelation 12: 14

"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

—Proverbs 3:17

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.  And there appeared an Angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”

—Luke 22:41-43

“As one whom His mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:13

Sacred gifts, in-deed...such Sacred Gifts