Devouring Mysteries

DSCF5966How can it be, at my advanced and advancing age, that only four seasons, circling round and round again continue to amaze me each time they take their turn and reappear? Like a church, Full Moon Cottage and the neighboring Glacial Drumlin Trail move through cycles, with attendant mysteries, rituals, sacraments, and an ever-changing choir to accompany these. DSCF5655And, if anything, each year’s cycle of seasons becomes more precious and startling, perhaps because I’m ever more acquainted with the energy required for the transformations they create. A rainstorm, overnight, shook off the bud casings and sang out the tender leaves on our fruit trees and along the trail. I went to sleep knowing the trees held the possibility of leaves, and woke to a realized mass of fluttering green foliage, newborn and tentative. The world is a nursery crammed with infants in spring. I devour these mysteries entirely and delightedly. DSCF5973 DSCF5865 DSCF5943Within a week or two, daffodils and tulips pierced the earth and are now ready to burst into bloom, and, if I don’t survey the gardens every day, I fear I’ll miss them. DSCF5876 DSCF5975 DSCF5870Along the trail, sweet wildflowers have been decorating our walks for the past week. Well, perhaps skunk cabbage is less sweet and flowery than a sure and comforting sign that spring is here for certain. Skunk cabbage is one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, or the ability to heat up the earth enough to melt the snow and ice that may be present, and emerge early enough to attract pollinating insects before they become prey to other creatures. It sends up a purple spathe rather than flowers, and, within the spathe, a spadix emits a decidedly unlovely odor that attracts the insects that will pollinate it. I understand this, but thermogenesis in a plant, however it’s explained, rests upon deeper mystery, to me. DSCF5856The Marsh Marigold is an ancient native plant, having survived glaciations, enduring after the last retreat of the ice, apparently well-suited to a landscape of glacial meltwaters. Why it managed to survive is a mystery, but its cheerful gold shines up from the puddle-filled ditches every April. DSCF5977And the Pink Beauty and Blood Root have ants as helpmeets to spread their seeds, a process called myrmecochory. Their seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that offers a “come hither” scent to the ants, who carry the seeds back to their nests. I wonder if these are considered a kind of party treat heralding the ants’ spring? Anyway, they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, rich in nutrients, where they are protected until they germinate. And although I can understand the science that explains these plants, their existence and their sacred interdependence with ants remains a cherished mystery. DSCF5811 DSCF5807The winter choir of sifting snows and blustery winds has changed to a chorus of birdsong and amphibian arias; this past week, the red-winged blackbirds were the day-sky stars, but at night, our opened windows allowed the Spring Peepers, Leopard Frogs, and toads to serenade us with their river songs. We haven’t heard the Bullfrogs yet; I hope their solos come along soon. All these mysteries occurring under my nose, all this energy being expended all around me…it makes my daily round look rather unproductive and flat by comparison. DSCF5677 DSCF5669My students and I planted potatoes this past week, and others worked with their teachers to prepare a butterfly garden. I’m not sure we’ll get out in the garden today, as it’s very windy and down about 30 degrees from last week’s surprising warmth, but we may plant some of the lettuces, peas, and other cold-weather vegetables we’ve started, and divide out tomato seedlings into their own 4” pots. The Master Gardeners have also scheduled lessons to teach the students more about Monarch Butterflies and their crises regarding habitat and migration, and plan to establish a Monarch Waystation at the school this spring.

When I’m not at school, I’ve been cleaning up the gardens and, of course, devouring mysteries, both those around me and those in book form. I like the ones I cannot solve the best. I’m re-reading the wonderful Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, and a friend just got me hooked on Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, so I’m fully-booked, so to speak. DSCF5877But it’s the mysteries and rituals surrounding me that most deeply feed and fill my spirit. Here is one of my favorites:DSCF5794DSCF5882When they were little puppies, we noticed how Riley and Clancy loved to fall on the grass and roll joyfully, over and over, especially in spring. We could almost hear them giggling. So, we’ve always called this their “Roly-Poly Game,” and the expression quickly became a cue for them. Whenever they heard it, they would fall down and merrily roll while we laughed at them and cried out in mock disbelief. “Oh, no! Not roly-poly!” Over and over, like little children, they seemed delighted in entertaining us with their silliness. A beloved spring ritual.

This past winter, when we received their respective health diagnoses, I didn’t expect them to be here, now, and certainly not with the ability to be sung back to life, like the green leaves, and playing roly-poly. But here they are, in April, celebrating our annual ritual, diving down to meet the sweet green earth, giggling and making me laugh, joyfully devouring the mystery that brought us together years ago and that allows us to share another spring day.  It is a mystery. And a gift.DSCF5797But this mystery has a name, written on my heart for 14 years. It is Love, and I devour it as hungrily as any communicant, and as full of gratitude. DSCF5868

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

When the Student is Ready

Since its publication in 1992, I have treasured my copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a seminal book about the spirituality of creativity, which also includes a 12-week program to clarify and deepen the artist’s path. I loved the chapter titles, the quotes, and the ideas. I even read the book several times—sometimes in bits and pieces and at other times, front to back in a few sittings.

But I never actually followed the 12-week course. This is not to say my life didn’t benefit from Cameron’s work; it did, and I hope the friends and students and patients with whom I shared Cameron’s ideas were also led to deeper engagement with their arts.

A few months ago, faced with more books than I could house (seriously overcrowded: imagine Miss Havisham with a book jones), I took boxes and boxes off to St. Vinnie’s, feeling very noble and much lighter. I remember hesitating with The Artist’s Way, but felt I’d yielded what wisdom I could from it; now it was another seeker’s turn.

So there I was last Saturday, browsing in Vinnie’s. I scanned a shelf of books, and reached for my old copy of The Artist’s Way. I flipped through the pages, landing on one of those wonderful quotes peppered throughout its pages and flipped back to the beginning…I bought it back for a dollar, came home, and earnestly began the 12-week course Cameron has outlined.

All the lovely excuses that for years had kept my relationship with the book confined to air-kissing and benign but surface-only involvement, have crumbled. Finally, I am ready and the teacher has appeared. Again.

All I can say is that it’s a far, far better thing than I have ever done. I’m one week in, and cannot believe what’s been excavated and revealed, just by following the “Morning Pages” writing exercise. It’s explained by Cameron, here (along with other aspects of the course and information about a live video version: http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/.) Note well, dear reader: You do not need to spend money; get the book (at a library) and dig in…if you’re ready. Or buy it used–my copy only cost a dollar. The second time.

Basically, the Morning Pages are three pages of free-writing done every morning, faithfully. Regardless of the form your artistic expression takes: painting, writing, cooking, gardening, composing, photography, teaching, healing, cake-decorating, doctoring, lawyering, whatever…Cameron prescribes the Morning Pages and asks that they be handwritten. (There are studies that emphasize the benefits of doing this type of writing by hand rather than typing. I type, because it flows better for me, but try both and see what works best for yourself.) She also stresses that no one else should ever read these and even recommends that you don’t re-read them; they’re strictly for “off-loading” your brain’s white noise and helping you encounter your critics, blocks, shadow and emotions…and for me, they’re doing this in spades and more. My dreams have been parading across my Morning Pages, along with memories and feelings that are surprising me and freeing my spirit. Connections have been made that are startling.

What I love about Cameron’s book is that it’s for everyone, of any age. It doesn’t matter how creative energy is translated through your talents (or how you would like it to be), your art will benefit from following the program. I’m excited to see what transformations will bud and bloom over the next 11 weeks…let me know if you’ve completed the course or considered it.

If you’re not ready, file this for later; if you’re ready, the teacher is, too. Joy to you.

Two other authors whose works have energized my creativity: Eric Maisel and Cathy A. Malchiodi

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Winnowing Books; Treasuring Stories

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

My home holds hundreds of books; it’s like living in a library, with a kitchen and beds, a couch, tables, and chairs—but mostly, books. They are mine, although there are many that Phillip has read and valued. He is far less tied to the material than I and rarely feels the need to keep a book he has read.

I am an insatiable addict with a jones for story. Garrison Keillor said, “You get older and realize there are no answers, just stories. And how we love them.”  Except, for me, the passion for story started at birth and has only increased. Before we could read, we were read to, frequently. The library outing was a weekly ritual before and after word decoding skills were mastered.

I am congenitally bibliophilic.

Reading, writing, and storytelling were the other Holy Trinity of my childhood, and nothing has altered their prominence in the course of my lengthening history. My mother was a gifted teacher who revered books all of her life. I am convinced she began reading to me when I was in utero. In my memory, Mama is either reading from a pile of novels, biographies, and her beloved English mysteries, or listening to “Chapter a Day” on NPR. She never returned from a trip to the store without stories about the people who stood in line with her and we would marvel at how quickly—and deeply—she elicited these. When we gathered with her sister and brothers, stories about their childhood and hometown community flowed for hours.

My father was a Journalism graduate who had edited his college newspaper and moved into a career that depended upon his facility for organizing, creating, editing, and sharing information. The latter half of his career was spent traveling to hundreds of college campuses as head of his large company’s corporate recruiting department. When he came home, I’d join him at the kitchen table and listen to stories of his travels. My father would describe the flights, hotels, restaurants, placement office professionals, campuses, and then the dozens of job applicants, usually engineers and accountants, whose so-far-biographies were encapsulated in hopeful resumes, piled on the table for review.

He taught me that a list of superlative achievements wasn’t nearly as interesting (or likely to secure employment) as a story of how one young man had to care for his parents, work a part-time job, and complete his studies, or another applicant was “all A’s and no sense,” or how this person was “well-rounded” and why, and that person was “too narrow to succeed on a corporate team,” while another job required a singular-focused “odd duck.”

I guess my father matched their stories with his employer’s needs, and was talented at this, because he listened to and appreciated the unique value of each person’s narrative. I remember my father as also gifted in helping rejected candidates understand that their stories wouldn’t proceed well at the job they’d applied for, and that there were better stories to find in order for their gifts and happiness to be challenged and grow.

Regardless of the titles and disciplines of my own jobs, for me they’ve all been immersions in hearing, creating, sharing, exploring, and collecting story: The meaning, spirit, and adventures of life; the wins and losses, the choices and directions, the lessons, surprises, twists and mysteries, the cliff-hangers, comedies, and tragedies.

Books have been my touchstones, companions, and comfort throughout my life. They are place-markers in the infinite flow of existence. We enter them and co-create worlds with the author and other readers. Books thus become our lifelong friends; their presence alone conjures beloved memories, places, and experiences that rival and often become associated with those lived outside their imagined realities.

But I have made a commitment to a simpler life, and that means I must winnow, again and again, through possessions I no longer need, which includes tackling my many bookcases. A New Year seems an appropriate time for such sorting. I slowly create the “give away” and “keep” piles; Phillip reviews; we negotiate; and out goes another box of books, off to St. Vinnie’s and—oh, how I hope—a good home.

There are authors and books—probably too many—with which I will never part, but there have also been reading passions that went excitingly deep, but in the long run, didn’t last, and I need to reassess, make peace, part company wherever necessary…it’s a way of reorganizing my spiritual geography as well, and always an insightful exercise and practice.

But oh, the hours and decisions it requires! More than once this past weekend, Phillip discovered me surrounded by piles of books (holding one or two as well), immobilized by indecision. But I’ll keep at it. These are my sacred relationships and no one else can do it for me.

When my mother made her last move to our home, her books, furniture, and possessions, except for clothes and a few articles, were put into storage. We thought this would be temporary, until she found a home she liked, but illness made this transition astonishingly and quickly her last.

I learned that sorting through the belongings of someone you love is almost too much to bear, but I retained hope that my love for, and familiarity with, her possessions conferred the sacredness they and the event deserved.

I do not want anyone I love to have that task at all, regarding our possessions, but certainly not to the degree I can take responsibility for making decisions now. And I think it would be even worse, perhaps, to have a stranger, ignorant of all the hallowed memory and meaning, pawing through books and fragments only Phillip and I knew as treasures.

So the Great Sifting continues. It’s time to lighten up, make way for new adventures, remind myself again that the books and the stories are elementally different things: the books, like everything I own, are objects for passing on to others, when I’m ready; the stories will always and forever be mine.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.