When Hope has Left: Practical Medicines for Challenging Times

Ceremony and Ritual

A

s I have been talking to some of the soulful seekers in my community over the past month I have observed a pattern. The election, the year, the last five, or ten years, the wars, the injustices…it has all just become too much to bear.

So they have become, in their own words: paralyzed, unable to move, lazy, unproductive, not writing, not talking, not making love, music, or beauty of any kind, apathetic, numbed out, and hopeless.

Some people actively advise that we give up hope in the face of it all, understanding (incorrectly) hope to be a frail and passive thing, a kind of butterfly with broken wings.

In reality, hope is related to another word, the funny word “hop”. Hop, yes, just like a bunny rabbit through a springtime field.

No thank you, we say, the days of rabbits and springtime fields are long over.

Except we know better.

We know that life and death are in an eternal dance with each other, we know that rabbits are ancient creatures long honored not only for fertility and gentleness but also for their ability to guide the dead in the underworld and turn into magical women running free under the full moon.

This is the stuff of hope and there is nothing passive, fragile, or boring about it. Don’t give it up. Instead, call your deepest strength back and restore it.

I have written about the importance of keeping your tenderness alive during times that seem to call for only the hard and tough, and I have written too about the ever-unbroken deepest part of your self. Today I want to share with you the very practical medicines I have been encouraging my community members to apply to themselves whenever they find that hope has left and they are in a state of being turned to stone because they looked at the monster a bit too long. People are seeing results with them, and it is my expectation that you will too.

1.    Limit your exposure. If it is possible for you to get away from a situation, person, or place that saps you of vitality and strength then please do. If it is not possible then exercise extra sharp discernment about the quality of information you are receiving, the mediums through which you receive your information, and the amount of time during each day that you spend with this information. When we are called to be in witness of something hard we do not turn away, but we also do not let it take over the entirety of our lives, we cannot if we wish to bring blessing and healing back. Practically speaking limiting your exposure means gauging how much time and energy you spend on social media networks and in conversations (virtual and otherwise) that do not have a definite goal or end point.

2.    Rest and nourish your body. Ask any doctor, First Responder, or therapist. When we witness an event or a series of events that are traumatic we enter with a surge of adrenaline, then we often freeze, and from that point life slowly seeps out of us. The way out is most often not force or brute will, it is rest. Let yourself rest. Drink more water and less coffee, eat clean food. Soulful seekers need to realize that when they take in images, stories, information they take it in not just intellectually or emotionally, they take it in energetically and managing that energy tuckers you out. Lay your head down and let yourself cry some good tears. Your well has been emptied out and this is the first step to filling it back up again.

3.    Get oriented. In Spinning Gold I teach a ritual called the North Star rite. Everyone creates their own and everyone has a different one; but the one thing we all agree to is that this is the thing we do every single day, sometimes several times a day, to orient ourselves anew. Just as the North Star is a fixed point called upon for navigation, the ritual you choose is a fixed point that reminds you: this is who you are, this is where you stand, this is what (and who) you stand for; it roots you in your sovereignty. The North Star rite is something my students practice at least once a day, but when recovering from trauma or when knee-deep in it, the North Star rite is something you can do several times a day, calling yourself back to yourself morning, noon, and night.

4.    Stand in beauty. Once you have regained a sense of self and orientation it is time to fill the well back up. The best way I know is through beauty. Traumatic events happen and the winds of Fortune will blow this way and then the opposite direction. In orienting yourself you fix yourself to the immovable point in the spoke of the wheel. Standing in and for beauty, you call back to mind, body, and soul that there is wonder, and vastness, and more beauty in this world that is bigger and longer lasting than whatever horror has recently visited with you. Standing in and for beauty is not saying the horror did not, is not, happening; it is saying that it did, but that it isn’t the whole of your story, not ever.

5.    Bring the blessing. I call you all Miracles for the simple reason that you are. And you can choose to bring blessings in the ways that you live and the choices that you make every single day. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “In Selma, Alabama, I learned to pray with my feet.” Yes to that and also:

Pray with your life, bring the blessing by the way that you live and the work that you do. Click to Tweet

It matters more now so move the obstacles out of the way, break out of the stone and the ice, call movement and life back in, and take care of yourself so that you can do the good work that only you can do.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Blessing for the Dead ~ New Moon in Scorpio

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,
This New Moon in Scorpio also marks the eve of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and Samhain – all festivals that honor our Beloved Dead and our Ancestors. Those of us who have family members, living or dead, who are Catholic, may be familiar with the prayer cycles known as the Offices of the Dead that are traditionally recited on November 1st, All Saints Day.

Throughout these prayers and vigils there is a refrain spoken thus: The Fear of Death Confounds Me. The common understanding is that this petition, repeated over and over again, is meant to bring comfort to all of us who are, on some level, terrified of death.

But the deeper teaching can be found staring straight at us from the words themselves. The fear of death confounds me, meaning, a fear of death is a strange, confounding even, fear to have.

But why it is confounding?  Does it not seem at first glance to be a perfectly normal and reasonable fear? We do not know what lies on the other side of the veil and we feel, keenly, the loss of those we love.

We do not know, but our ancestors do. You may know their names or you may not. You may have blood relatives to honor or you may not. It makes no difference.

Each of us have ancestors of blood and spirit who have gone beyond the veil, gone before us, and they know. Click to Tweet

They tell us in a thousand ways that this fear, this fear that we all carry truly is confounding. There is nothing here to be afraid of. They gently nudge us to set this fear down and get on with the good work of living well.

Today our blessing is a call and response prayer to and for our Dead but also to and for each of us. It is written in first person intentionally and is meant to be read over yourself.

Blessing the Dead ~

These days are of the Dead and so I ask for blessing as I stand with, commune with, and remember the Dead.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my feet so that they will always find their footing and carry me along the paths it is now time to travel.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my knees as I dance all night long with them, reminding me that the dance is always allowed in all worlds.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my core and center so that it continues to be a strong and sound center point amid all the motion.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my heart in her red and blue robes, beating the ancient drums in tempo with her own bright, beat.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my throat, whispering into my mouth the words that they wished most to say and could not, giving me the gift of true voice.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my ears so that I can hear their stories, hear all that is said and unsaid in thousands of bird song languages each of stunning beauty.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my mind so that I know them, in all of their cracks and crevices and imperfections I know them for who they truly are, and I love them.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my memory, expanding out with their slightest touch they call upon me to remember the pieces of my own lineage back together, and in so doing sow within the good, black, dirt that their very bodies have nourished, the seeds for the legacy that is to come.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead are of me and I am of them, and there is no place for fear within this sacred hoop, only the love upon love upon love that has led to the miracle of my own blessed life.

If you would like to join in our free community altar for Honoring our Beloved Dead you can do that here (open through 12/29 at 12noon cdt).
For more on this special time of year, I highly recommend this post by Terri Windling. For more on Death in folk and fairy tales faces check out this article.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

The Man Who Taught Me About Magic

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,

You all know that lineage matters a great deal to me yes? I’m a strong believer that those who teach, as I do, should especially be clear and honest about their lineage – who are the people who gave them both information and inspiration? I’d like to tell you about one of my earliest, deepest, and truest teachers today, my grandfather.

Today is my grandfather’s birthday and if he were still among the living he would be 82 years old. He died on July 28th five years ago after living in a state that was very much in both worlds (due to a massive stroke) since October 31st, 2005. I miss him every single day; but I also speak with him every single day. That is one of the gifts of remembering your Beloved Dead.

I don’t think it would be too extreme for me to say that the first person who taught me to walk in both worlds; the man who taught me magic, was my grandfather.

From a very young age he instilled within me a love for story, for the wild and unruly (whether it be plant, person, or critter), for music of all kinds, and for the holy. It was on long walks with him through meadow and thicket that I found the roots of my own radical reverence; planting zinnia’s in row after row as a storm rolled in, sitting barefoot on the front porch shelling peas while he played his acoustic guitar, closing my eyes while he would take my hand in his own much larger, dark brown, work-calloused hand and listening with my skin as he would tap out the beat of a song and then ask me to guess what the song was – learning to listen, he called, it, with more than my ears.

My grandfather was a devout Baptist after meeting my grandmother (he himself was raised with the “old ways” and there was never much elaboration on what, exactly, that meant); but I knew from an early age through his teachings that church was not where one went to properly see and speak with God – in order to do that you needed dirt under your nails and dew on the hem of your gown.

Papa taught me where to hide offerings for the Little People, how to make a sacred vessel out of a bored out knot hole in a living tree so that the animals of the field would always be allies (you fill it with acorns and honey naturally enough), how to spot and harvest the wild onions and garlic that grow in the springtime, the Texas Persimmons that are ready right about this time of year, and the chili piquin peppers that show up in February. He taught me that the juiciest blackberries are always hidden beneath the most thorns and that it is worth the prickles and a few drops of blood to get to them, how to burn a piece of land to prepare it for sowing in new life, what rocks could be moistened and then used as red clay body paint, and where the fat horny toad lived. Papa taught me to help wherever you could, to never kill a spider, and what snakes were helpers or dangerous by turn. He taught me about how barn owls will come and speak to some people in their dreams and when they do, you best listen to their messages.

My grandfather was not perfect, not by a long shot. He came of age in a place where everyone was poor but even among them, his family was seen as especially poor. Considered a half-breed because his mother was Cherokee, the family grew up on literally the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Physical violence in his family was the norm as it was in so many families at the time and Papa told many stories of traveling over to the Black part of town (in highly segregated rural east Texas) and learning how to play guitar there. He would be “skinned alive” by his daddy when he got back home but it was worth it because it was music. Talk about a language that transcends. He was in many ways a hard man to live with by all accounts, with a terrible and often violent temper. The times with him were not easy, especially for those who loved him best.

Sometimes I am asked by students and clients if I think people can really change. This is an old, old, question. I say yes. No hemming and hawing, no qualifications. Yes. People can change. Fundamentally and deeper than deep; yes, it is possible. I know that because I know my grandfather did when I was born. According to our family it was sudden and extreme, as if much of the anger, frustration, and violence was breathed out of him in one great gust. He still had his moments – I remember a few of them myself, but with the arrival of me, his first grandchild, the storm raging inside of him mostly passed on. I would never say such change is easy or common; but is it possible? Oh yes.

I was talking to my grandmother yesterday about today, my papa’s birthday. She reminded me of the date of his death (I always forget) and I remember being able to sit beside his still body with my husband and my five-month old son. It was a blessing to sit there with him, hold is now-cold hand in my own one last time before we set about creating the rituals and blessing ways that we make when one of our beloveds passes on.

I told my Nana that I do not memorialize the time of his death, but rather I remember him at the time he was born and came into life, today, August 7th. His candle has been lit, I’ll make the cornbread he so loved and drink some Big Red soda pop in his honor. I’ll continue asking him questions, he will continue telling me stories, and when the owl shows up in my dreams now, I know it comes as a gift from him.

My papa loved to tell stories and he loved a good audience (Leo). I know he would like me telling all of you part of his story, and he would want each of you to go out, find magic, and tell many more stories of your own.

May it be so.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Why We Remember

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles,

As the leaves change and the early morning sun gilds everything in gold, we find ourselves turning our thoughts more and more towards magic, the liminal, and our ancestors. Holy days like Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, and All Saints and All Soul’s Day have grown in popularity, and more and more soulful seekers find ways of remembering.

Remembering what? Remembering our dead loved ones. Remembering our ancestors of spirit – influential people who touched our lives in a number of ways. And perhaps most of all, remembering our true selves.

For that is one of the primary reasons why we remember our ancestors, why we call them back to the land of the living through feasts, memory and celebration. Their presence reminds us of our lineage – who we really are and where we really come from. The presence of our ancestors reminds us too that we are not alone. Though our traditions and our old ways of knowing have certainly been disrupted and broken, they have never been completely destroyed, never totally forgotten. It is for this reason that we celebrate our beloved dead – to restore life and what it means to truly live well.

Cultures and traditions that honor the dead do more than just remember. They aspire to confer or to consult with those who have gone before us.  We, too, can take part in this aspiration.

There are many ways this conference or consultation can take place. Through divinations of all sorts; through simple question and answer; through sitting quietly and breaking bread with a deceased loved one; and through gathering with family, friends, and our communities, telling stories of the ones we love and remember.

When we look to our ancestors, we do so with love, but we also do so with questions. What stories, what old ways of knowing and being and honoring, were not passed down? What mistakes were made that can serve as reminders to us, from which we can learn? What aspects of culture and heritage were forgotten or shut out, and need to be opened once again?

In these relatively simple acts, we find nourishing prescriptions for life. And we find the roots of a robust care about how we live, what we are doing with our one precious life.  But there is more. A very old understanding reminds us that our beloved dead show up not only for us, but also for those who come after us. If we are sufficiently open to these roots, we discover care for what kind of world we are creating for those who come after us.

Legacy is not given nearly as much attention as lineage. But it should be. Legacy is simply the flip-side of honoring our lineage: the more we become aware of our lineage and our ancestors, the more we find ourselves becoming conscious of our legacy.
Each one of us has a legacy to share with our diverse communities.  In some cases these are our actual children. In other cases our legacy is built instead with and for our communities, our educational and creative endeavors, our businesses, our growing or healing of living things. All of these things are also our legacy, what we leave in our wake when it is our turn to go beyond the veil.

Who will find inspiration in the way we are living our lives?  Are we even living our life in way that others coming after us will find inspiring, are we living our lives in a way that we find inspiring?

Who will be there to ask: What, dear ancestor, can you help me remember? What do I need to know? What will I never know, and need to learn, because it did not find room or voice in your life?

Soulful seekers talk a lot about “conscious living” or “living with intention” and often we are told that the ways to those destinations are through asking what feels good in your life right now. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but I think we can go deeper and achieve something better. Remember your ancestors. And in so doing, remember that one day you too will be an ancestor. What do you want those who love you to remember – about you and about themselves? Live life with an eye to that. It will be a conscious life, an intentional life.  And, in a very real way, an eternal life – a true legacy.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

A Ritual for Mothers of Lost Children

Ceremony and Ritual

M

other’s Day for all of the Hallmark-esque marketing and posturing, does celebrate a vital and often looked over presence — that of the Mother, Mom, Momma, Ma. For many women, the holiday marks a special day when they get to take a break and relax, and it gives their children and partners a chance to honor them in extra special ways. These are all very good things. However, a group that is often looked over not just on Mother’s Day but in general, is the group of women and men who have lost children.

One can be a mother of lost children regardless of gender, and the stories span the spectrum…from children who are missing, who have died in all numbers of ways, who are present in body but disconnected from hearth and kin. One can be a mother of lost children too if one wished to have children but was unable for so many reasons not to conceive or carry to term. Some mothers of lost children had to walk away from their child, not wanting to but not having, or seeing, any other choice. Other mothers of lost children made a conscious decision not to bring children into the world…but the decision was not simple or easy and it is not ever forgotten. Many mothers of lost children live in a hellish limbo, in countries around the world torn to pieces by war and poverty, by avarice and cruelty – in many cases these mothers watched as their children were forcibly removed, or worse, in front of their very eyes.

We tend to disregard or look beyond these mothers of lost children generally, for how does one speak, sit, listen to, comfort someone who has faced this greatest of all losses? It often feels too much to bear and that one’s lack of experience will show all too plainly — that we will do or say, think or act in the wrong way. Maybe so. Our attempts to comfort, to heal, and to bless are not always elegant, they can be clumsy for sure, but simply to decide to act in kindness towards someone, especially someone who has known such loss, is an act of healing in and of itself.

So for those of you who wish to celebrate Mother’s Day this year I have a ritual for you. It does not involve candles, incantations, or a beautifully decorated altar. You need only three things: a phone, the name of someone you know who is a mother of a lost child, and a phone number.

The ritual is simple: call up this person and let them know that you love them, let them know that you see them, talk with them on this day about whatever they want to talk about. Take a few minutes to do this. If appropriate let them know how they have been a mother to you or to ones you love. Thank them. Love them. Bless them in the ways you can. It matters more than you think and it makes a difference more than you know.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Down to the Roots

Lunar Letter

heart made of roots

Spring in South Texas is the time to make the most of it.  Before this precious window of lovely weather closes, before the Heat with a capital H sets in, I give myself to long hours spent outside with gloves and spades, with dirt and roots.

For me, gardening is a spiritual practice, an opportunity to reflect and deepen my relationship with first things, with the root matters of life.

Whenever I put spade or blade into the rich, dark earth, whenever I see winter dulled roots stir awake in a soft spring rain, I too am stirred. Crouching down, moving soil out of the way to make room for new life, I sense a line of ancestors standing behind me, touching me on my back and my shoulders, bringing my attention to the many roots of farmer, rancher, gardener, wild-crafter, and plant healer from which I descend. I hear their whispered voices and songs on the breeze as it blows through leaf and branch, as it blows through my hair — remember how to sow and reap, remember how to grow and tend.

Who were these people? I can make some educated guesses based on the scattered stories I have collected, but in many cases I really don’t know. One thing I do know: they were wonderful storytellers and they could tell you what kind of a plant you were looking at and six ways to work with it in one minute flat.

Among my dead are also thieves and murders, philanderers and neglectful mothers, cheaters and liars. It is quite possible that one side of my family stole land and home from another side of my family. Among those who came before me are deeply wounded ones who, because of skin color and native tongue were not seen or heard or included in so many ways. There are names and lives that have been forgotten because the people who came before me did not see fit to remember them and pass them down. There were ways and traditions that may be native ground for me, but that I must learn or remember anew because they were not ever part of my inheritance.

Here is the truth: every single one us descends from broken, torn up, and bruised lineages.

Each family tree has suffered many droughts, many fires, many windstorms, and deep wounds from the axe. Every single one.

Because we all come from fractured lineages, it is all-too-easy to fall prey to two traps. On the one hand, we easily romanticize those roots or lineages. On the other hand, it can often seem more soothing, more immediately satisfying to forget, to cut ourselves off and distance ourselves from those crazed roots.  But both are errors of seeing and recollecting correctly.  Romanticizing the past or cutting the past off from conversation with present and future — both actions trade momentary peace of mind for long term healing.

We find our blessedness in and among what is broken and that means that we, those of us living right here and right now, we, are the medicine that is needed, the medicine that pours right down to the roots.

It is through the ways we live our lives, the actions we take, the words we speak, the choices, we make and the ones we love that we make our stories, individual and communal, we make our roots, whole, healthy, and holy…or not.

And one more truth to keep with you as you go forward throughout this day: as long as the root is healthy the plant can come back, it can and it will return. Tending to the roots of things — be they family, idea, creative work, physical health or spiritual practice, is exactly the act that allows for new life, for the new shoots of tender green leaf, for a vital, healthy, and lush garden.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

What to do when everything is NOT Ok

Lunar Letter

A

personal favorite theme in faerie tales is one I have come to call “peace, peace, but there is no peace.”  It goes like this: the hero or heroine is in a dangerous situation, but they refuse to recognize or acknowledge that fact.

In the story of the Little Match Girl, a homeless and hungry child freezes to death because she wastes what little fuel she has created pretty pictures and fantasies instead of assessing her perilous surroundings and seeking aid.

In the tale of Bluebeard, a young woman comes upon a room full of dead bodies but chooses to turn away and try to hide her discovery, wanting nothing more than to pretend that it never happened.

In the pages of Cinderella and Snow White we see this theme too — widowed men continually marrying bad, cruel, unforgiving women. Are all of the evil-step mothers really amazing actresses or are the men turning a blind eye to the things they would rather not see (or deal with)?

In all of these tales, there are only two possibilities: death or revelation. The stories teach us that to ignore what is really going on is tantamount to signing our own death warrant. To say “peace, peace” instead of squaring ourselves up to whatever is really happening is to breathe out the one lie that can take us down.

You might think that this behavior is found in faerie tale or myth only. Not so. We see it all of the time. It happens anytime someone asks you “how you are doing” and you respond with “I’m ok, great, fine” even when that is not the case. I have seen people “I’m OK” themselves into bad relationships, terrible jobs, unhappy marriages, and dangerous health situations. “Peace, peace”, but not really and certainly not now. This behavior comes from the best possible place…our desire for peace, our desire to truly be OK…but because it lacks the will to see things as they are, this well-intentioned desire leads ever and always to the exact opposite.

Longtime readers of mine know that I am an optimist. I believe in the best possible outcome, I expect the impossible on a regular basis, and my work is crafted around the reality of miracles. I never advise that we go looking for trouble or that we wallow in victimhood of any kind.  Yes, I believe in the power of positive thinking. But without a willingness to face uncomfortable truths, positive thinking is no longer a useful tool but a weapon capable of inflicting great harm to the self.

Call it like you see it, see it for what it is, and respond with compassion and courage.

This is the only way to call forth what is truly and deeply healing, whole, and holy in ourselves and each other. When we are able to do that not only do we stop the “I’m OK’ mantra we discover that much of what we wish to have more of in our lives, much of what we are yearning for, is already there, if only we see it clearly.

So it is that beauty is not perfectly smooth and soft but has edges, scars, and wrinkles. So it is too that magic requires transformation and demands a departure from comfort. Love — brave, brave love never turns away from fear but takes fear by the hand and walks with it through all kinds of terrain. And peace, lasting peace, is found by telling the truth, sometimes rocking the boat, making waves, being your one, blessed, perfect in your imperfections, self.

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. — Jeremiah 6:14

(Listen to this lunar letter by clicking here).

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.