Row

may-you-be-small-crop-jpegSometimes the way forward is akin to rowing a boat: facing backward is the only way to get proper leverage. Today, to stir my pot, to get some leverage and new energy, I revisited three books that I wrote but never published (or limply offered to a tiny audience). It was a revelation. It’s as if the man who wrote those books in the past meant for me to read them today. The man who wrote them was not ready or clear enough to birth them. The man who read them today knows just what to do (including rewrite some odd bits). Here is the introduction to the first of the three books:

I’ve generally stepped in every pothole, tripped over every opportunity, broken the family dishes, and made every mistake a person can make. I feel fortunate to be alive. I used to try and hide the mess behind a veneer of “knowing.” Eventually I realized that in order to find what I was seeking I had to stop pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I now recognize that the more I learn, the less I know. Life is not about knowing stuff. Life is vibrant when engaging with the un-known. Seeking is messy business. Being human is messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.

One day, while exhausting myself pretending, I realized that I was telling myself a story of fear. I realized that I was the only person invested in my fear story. I realized that I’d cast all the other people in my story as dangerous characters. I believed that if they really knew me they’d shame me. I realized that I was the only person in my story feeling pain, frustration and exhaustion. So, why was I telling myself this story? This was not the story that I wanted my life to tell. That day I began changing my story.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the story of our lives. When we do, we have the choice to retreat further into hiding or to take off the mask, turn around, and walk toward the thing we fear the most. This is to seek the bear.

Every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come to the same crossroad; those that faced their bear left behind clues about how to do it. They left us messages about how best to stop hiding, how to turn and walk toward fear, what to do when it is time to stand in front of the bear’s cave and how to welcome the encounter. The clues and messages are found in the stories they left for us. The stories are maps for navigating our inner geography.

Our ancestors understood that stories are a participation sport. Our lives are mirrored in the tale of adventure. We know what to do in our personal story because we identify with the heroine/hero in the story. Their journey of transformation is a guide to our journey of transformation. Their follies and foibles give coherence and direction to our messy passage. Their death and rebirth is a map for our death and rebirth. Their story is a call for us to step more fully into our adventure-story.

As is true in all life-lessons, it’s a perfect loop. I’m back where I started (apparently) only with new eyes and a few more years of experience. Order from chaos, chaos from order, I suspect we are all, one way or another, rowing in a perfect circle.circle-peace-earth-jpeg

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Play For The Light

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

I’m hanging out listening to the handbell choir practice. I meant to bring my ipad so I could write while hanging out but I forgot it so I had to go old school and find a pen and some paper. The pen was easy but the only paper I could find was the back of an old church bulletin. I opened the bulletin and found the language for the communion celebration, “…he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, ‘Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you….”

In reading the words I was thrown back in time (a meditative handbell soundtrack is very useful when being cast backwards in time). Many years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, the Makah tribe attempted to revive their traditional whale hunt. The entirety of their traditional ritual life stems from the hunt – the whale is their central god much as the buffalo is central to the worship of the plains tribes. In the early 20th century the Makah voluntarily suspended the hunt because European whaling techniques had devastated the whale population. Consequently, with no central ritual, their community fell into disarray. The revival of the hunt brought intense opposition and a media circus of epic proportions.

At the time, I was taking a masters degree in systems theory with a focus on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art and, so, was enrapt by the collision of cultural perspectives. Through one lens, the hunt was an unnecessary slaughter of a whale. Through another lens it was a communion meal; the hunter is deemed worthy and chosen by the god (the whale), the god gives his life to nourish the people (spiritually and literally), and the people, in turn, perform the rituals of rebirth that bring the god back to life. It is a cycle of death and rebirth, the god nourishing the people and the people revivifying the god through their rituals and attention to life.

The central word is “communion;” to commune with the divine – regardless of faith tradition. And, in the end of the day, when the shopping is all done, isn’t that what this season is about? Does it matter how we mark the return of the light, the winter solstice, the return of the god to eventually bring life to a barren winter landscape (I’m writing metaphorically, too), the fulfillment of a prophecy, as long as we truly experience communion with something bigger than ourselves? It is an awesome responsibility to revivify the god – especially when the return depends upon how we live our lives and perform our rituals.

The handbell choir is working extra hard. Although they play each month, this preparation is for something special. They play with a sense of stress and excitement and desire a perfection that they usually do not entertain. This performance matters more than the others because they know, just like this time last year, they are playing for the return of the light.

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Leave Your Ghost

from the archives. I call this painting "Demeter."

from the archives. I call this painting “Demeter.”

As Alan said, this year for me is a year of departures. First Tom, then Kathy, Bob, and Doug passed; mentors all. Earlier this month Casey, who lived a long season and once told me that heaven didn’t want him and hell wouldn’t have him, finally found his way out of this life and into his proper place in the mystery.

When I was a boy my favorite book was an old college text of my father’s on comparative religions. It was moldering on a shelf in the basement with other long forgotten books. Finding it was like uncovering buried treasure. I fell into it, reading and rereading it. Among other things, it helped me understand that religion was not fact but a cultural expression of universal experiences. Human beings have to deal with the enormity of existence (who am I?), birth (where do I come from), death (where am I going?), and everything in between (what’s my purpose?). Human beings deal with the enormity of existence like they deal with everything in life: they story it.

Since there has been so many significant departures this year I’ve been doing some reading about death and dying. Lately, I’m reading Deepak Chopra’s book, Life After Death. He weaves the book around a parable of a young woman who must confront Death. The woman seeks the help of rishi, a wise contemplative who lives in the forest. In one of my favorite sections of the parable, the rishi introduces the young woman to ghosts. The first is a toddler; the second is young girl. The woman soon recognizes that the ghosts are her past; they are the phantoms of various stages of her own life. The rishi tells her, “Every former self you have left behind is a ghost. Your body is no longer the body of a child. Your thoughts, desires, fears, and hopes have changed. It would be terrible to walk around with all your dead selves holding on.”

He teaches her that death has been with her every moment of her life. “You have survived thousands of deaths every day as your old thoughts, your old cells, your old emotions, and even your old identity passed away. Everyone is living in the afterlife right now. What is there to fear and doubt?”

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Return To Life

Tripper-dog-dog-dog listens to birds

Tripper-dog-dog-dog listens to birds

I’m writing this from the choir loft. It’s gorgeous outside and I wonder what I’m doing inside on such a beautiful morning. Kerri is playing the organ for an early morning service. I’ve decided – just this moment – that the organ is an instrument for the dark days of winter. It is heavy and fills your belly like good hearty stew. Birdsong is the music of spring.

Before coming here this morning I was hanging out in the back yard with Tripper-dog-dog-dog. We were watching birds. We were listening to their worship service. He is mystified by them. They are a relatively recent discovery for him. He cocks his head sideways as he stares at them as if to say, “What the heck!” Then he looks to me to see if I’m having the same revelation. I say, “Pretty incredible, huh!” He nods in agreement (no exaggeration. really. no really).

My conversation with the stained glass window continues. The three panels of the window are, of course, the nativity on the left, the crucifixion on the right, and the resurrection in the center panel. It is the largest image. The focal point. The return to life is the center and perhaps this is the meta-point of my window conversation. Many years ago in a class on ritual and life cycles, the instructor said that each one of us would die and be reborn 12 times in the course of our lives. These mini deaths and rebirths were preparation for the main event. Energy does not die, it changes form.

The window is a perfect cycle of the seasons. Throughout the winter the window and I have been talking about the return to life. We’ve talked about birth and rebirth. We’ve talked about pilgrimages. Every life is a pilgrimage. There are long stretches of walking, rich with discovery, sometimes with achy legs and exhaustion. There are days of rest. There are arrivals and departures. Sometimes the weather is fair and sometimes not. The bad weather days make better stories; protagonists need obstacles to move things forward. Flow rarely requires lengthy recounting. Sunrise and sunset are, of course, our daily birth and death cycle, a solar pilgrimage!

Birth and rebirth is the mirror image of death and resurrection and, of course, this is the season of things coming back to life. Both are progressions, movement through the cycle of life. This cycle, punctuated by my first Wisconsin winter, is especially pronounced for me. Three weeks ago we were knee deep in snow. I can see and feel the return of life, the warmth of the sun’s return.

One year ago I was wandering, in the exhaustion phase of my pilgrimage, dropping the old knapsack; it was too heavy to carry any longer. I enacted and presided over one of my mini deaths. This morning I breathed in the cool air and watched the worship of birds. Nests are being built and I am enjoying the sweetness of life’s return.

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Welcome Her

from my children's book, Lucy & The Waterfox

from my children’s book, Lucy & The Waterfox

The spring brought with it the birth of Annie Evelyn Domig. Her proud papa, poet, philosopher, and world-class actor, Chris Domig and zen warrior wife, Janelle, made me cry with the announcement of their daughter’s birth (both for the beauty of their words but also the sheer celebration of walking this life with people I love). Here’s a snippet:

Now I see that peace between nations will
only come to us as child, (then as now)
the weight of time witnessing her first cry,
(unsure where to turn, but willing to learn)
intuiting her way towards a mother’s heart,
followed by sleep reconciliatory and kind.

The sound of her name, forty long weeks,
tuned words to song, tossing variations
on a theme to each other, playing by ear,
(not forgetting the Austrian Aussprache).

The book says Annie means Prayer,
and Evelyn is one who brings Life
together she mends our broken circle.

Each day of life, a new hope. Each day lived as a prayer. Every child should enter this long walk with such a blessing (I suspect that they do but it is rarely voiced so beautifully).

Judy (she-whom-I-revere) gave me an image. It was meant for me but I see and feel it all around me. She wrote that I was like a bulb buried in the earth, gathering energy, ready to break from my confines and stretch my new growth, cracking through the earth’s crust and reaching toward the sun. Isn’t that a great image of birth (or rebirth)!

Yesterday, as I lived my greatest experience of vulnerability to date, I thought about Annie and the circle breaking and mending, breaking and mending; this life is both sturdy and fragile. Every rich life has an equal share of both breaking and mending. We are not meant to be static. Life is dynamic and vital and vitality requires breaking through to reach for the sun. How lovely that this year the return, the mending, the new green shoots pressing against the thawing earth, is signaled on the day of equinox (equal night) by the welcome arrival of dear Annie.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies