A Vote For Ewe

After two weeks of political conventions revealing the stark divisions in our national politics to be just short of staggering, it was time to turn the television off and get outside for most of the glorious weekend. Cool breezes returned for a few days, and we met with members of our family at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, held near our home.

Staged at the County Fairgrounds, the festival fills barn after barn with crafts, wool, natural dyes, machines for carding and spinning, cutting, and knitting, crocheting, or creating woolen “rag rugs.” There are felting goods and materials, demonstrations and lessons in every step of every craft one can imagine that could be related to sheep and wool, cheeses, soaps, and, of course, many breeds of sheep. (I still haven’t figured out why one booth was selling raw honey, but it looked delicious!)

Experts and artisans manned hundreds of booths, and those who are passionate about the ancient practices and crafts of carding, spinning, and naturally dyeing wool, as well as the husbandry of raising and shearing sheep (and other fur-bearing animals whose hair can be converted to clothing and goods), roamed the barns utterly content, it seemed, to be with their community.

Although I enjoy the visual stimulus, crafts, and learning offered indoors, my favorite event is the stock dog trials held in an outdoor field. Here, the shepherd and his/her herding dog (Border Collies in the local trials I’ve attended) work together to gather and herd a group of sheep through a competitive course involving great distances, gates, and then into a pen, among other tasks.

The shepherd remains at the starting point, near the pen, and through common herd commands (Come by; away to me; lie down; that’ll do, etc.) and unique whistles, sends the dog in a wide arc along the field’s perimeter and back in to where the waiting sheep have been placed. The dog listens for the shepherd’s commands and guides the sheep back down the field, through the gates, (in a specific order) and etc. the rules and courses become more complicated according to the division competing. (If you’ve ever seen the movie, Babe, you might be familiar with sheepdog/stock dog trials.)

It’s a lot of fun to watch, and it’s wonderful to witness the herding dogs’ speed, intelligence, and desire to please their shepherds. After a course is completed, there’s always a big pool for the dogs to jump in to cool down and rehydrate.

It was a wonderful day among a community of people who love sheep and herding dogs, and the entire world of activities and beauty these passions create. It was vastly healing and hopeful for my spirit: not once did I hear a reference to politics, the coming election, or anyone’s voting preference. We were there to honor and celebrate far more authentic connections, ancient rhythms, and joyful reasons to congregate. And it was good.

Ewe should have been there.

 

© 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.

A Superior Vacation

We enjoy “getting gone” to honor our anniversary. Unmoored from the usual port and backdrops, we navigate into a new space together, isolating our spirits and bond, renewing our delight in each other’s company, reviewing the journey thus far, and dreaming together about the year to come.

The drought and heat sent us north this year, up to Lake Superior, the Great Lake that caps our state. The Ojibwa people called it “Gitchi-Gamee,” or “Great Water,” and the French explorers called it “la lac superieur,” or Upper Lake, because it lies north of Lake Michigan, which borders the eastern shores of our state. As the largest, coldest, and deepest of the Great Lakes, Superior certainly allowed us to cool our heels and relax for a few days.

We left our 4-legged’s in the care of their favorite friend (and ours), and headed north. We’re travel nerds, stopping for most historical markers and visiting museums along the way.

While we were aware of the Great Divide, we were utterly surprised by the “Concrete Museum” in tiny Phillips, Wisconsin. We’d switched routes and came upon this sustained burst of creative impulse right next to the road, and stopped to investigate, no other people in sight. Pure kismet, given our love for weird adventures.

We stayed in Bayfield, took the ferry to Madeline Island, and on other days, visited galleries, museums, berry farms and little towns bordering the lake.

It was a lovely vacation: in the company of my best friend and sweetheart, the days were fluid and peaceful, offering enough curiosities and color to balance the endless blues and greens of Superior and her shores.

We set out every morning with the sketchiest of plans, and allowed for plenty of time to wander, gaze, and dream.

We celebrated our anniversary and the memories accrued over the years of our shared journey, setting them out for each other like old photos of beloved friends, memories recounted like guests who have visited our lives.

We listened to other people’s stories, and took time to hear our own more clearly. Renewed, we headed home, ready to live into the next chapter.

 Here are some links, if you’re interested in learning more about Lake Superior… http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/superior/superiorfacts.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekgic7aHc50&feature=player_embedded

 

© 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.

Healing Arts

My life’s partner and I have a passion for handmade art–and for musicians, for painters, for photographers, and for people who shape their energy and the earth’s into pottery or glass, blankets or baskets, jewelry or carvings, or ornaments of beauty. The central joys of life, for me, have always been to listen for the generative song of creativity and to seek the company of those who hear, welcome, dance, and improvise to its music. And to midwife the arts of our own and others’ spirits.

How else do we love and heal and become, fully, ourselves?

I was three years removed from city life when we moved once more to Full Moon Cottage. Still weaning from close proximity to theaters, orchestras and art museums, I wondered if moving again, to even more remote country acres, was overdoing it. Happily, I soon learned that wherever there are people, there is art.

We can drive to Madison in 30 minutes, to Milwaukee in under an hour, or to downtown Chicago in about 2.5 hours. So when the Big Art Jones needs a fix, it can be readily satisfied. And then we can return home to sleep beneath a sky scattered with stars and the music of owls, crickets, and the entire Full Moon Orchestra.

Works for us.

But a lovelier benefit of living here is that many of our neighbors are working artists who live in this area because this is where they can afford a home and the space that feeds their spirits and art, and yet be near metropolitan centers where their creativity can be shared with wider audiences.

The town we now call home is built around a beautiful, clean lake. There’s a square at the center of the “business district” that forms a park where the local farmers’ market and festivals are held. In winter, an ice rink is formed at the park and “skating music” is played through speakers, something I look forward to every year. It’s wonderful, especially during a snowfall, to hear the music and children’s voices as I walk between the library and grocery store, or meet a friend for lunch. 

Art and community are what I need when my hope for humanity ebbs, as it does when one among us turns to violence and communicates his fear, anger, and alienation with a gun rather than a paintbrush, poem, or guitar. And so, yesterday, we attended the annual Art Fair on the town’s square. A good friend joined us, and we shared a peaceful day meeting artists, enjoying their creativity, listening to an all-women band playing classic “big band” music, watching children’s delight with face-painting, and catching up on our own stories. “It’s all about relationship,” a professor once told me. Yes, it is.

I strolled and sat and people-watched and thought how good it is when we gather to share our inherent creativity: not to judge, but just to celebrate that–given the choice between hate-fueled destruction or love-infused creativity—most people, over and over, choose to make art and make merry.

And so we love, and heal, and delight each other back to continued creativity and hope.

Our favorite house-sitter will be with the 4-leggeds this week so we can go up to Lake Superior, the Big Pond at the north end of our state. Peace to your week, and joy in your creativity!

 

© 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.

Noticing

Phillip recently took my camera for a swim and learned it couldn’t.

To be fair: he leapt into the Peshtigo River to assist his sister and her husband, whose canoe had just overturned, causing them to lose prescription eyeglasses and assorted other unsecured articles. My camera happened to be hanging over his shoulder and in the excitement, he realized this too late to spare its full-immersion death by drowning.

For a few weeks, I was without a camera and suffered severe withdrawal, reaching for it frequently when something lovely came into view, only to realize I’d just have to enjoy the moment for what it was: no opportunities to record, copy, or store the images. To be or not to be; that was the invitation. Just be; watch; notice. Or not.

And it was difficult. When a photographer sees “a moment,” it can be excruciating not to have a camera. (Of course, it can be even worse to have a camera and ruin the shot, but that’s another post.)

It was illuminating to notice what I noticed, however: why would this moment deserve my attention and the next barely register? I appreciated the insights into the imagery I value and, after a few twitchy days, I also appreciated not having to worry about “capturing” a moment; enjoying it fully was satisfaction enough. Taking a break from our passions may allow us to re-engage at a new level and with deeper appreciation, willing to try new ways of expressing those hidden or inchoate parts of ourselves that only art can translate into being.

I received a new camera for my birthday. And I’m grateful, though still passing through the awkward stage of learning where the bells and whistles are on this improved version of the camera I loved. The initial clumsiness that new technology always presents has cost me a few good photo-ops, but I notice I’m fumbling for the correct buttons less often and getting better acquainted with “Bessie.” At least now when I miss a photo, I’m fairly sure why.

I’ve been experimenting and adding to our Full Moon Guest Book Photo Album. The daisy garden was very busy this week; the bird feeders are always full of hungry travelers. I notice; therefore, I photograph…and therefore I notice more gratefully.

 

© 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.

Life Music

 The morning began with a lovely solo sung by Riley, serving as her impromptu accompaniment to a loud siren hurtling down a country highway. She has a beautiful voice. Sometimes Phillip and I start a “howl song” just to have the pups join in. It seems to be a deeply bonding experience for them. A pack song, a family theme; an ancient call, heart to heart.

Music is almost always playing at Full Moon Cottage, just as it was in our childhood homes.

I was born with music inside of me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me—like food or water.  ~ Ray Charles

Phillip’s dad was in a Milwaukee barbershop quartet called the Cream City Four, and sang 30’s and 40’s standards in another group, when he wasn’t singing with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera or directing church choirs. Phillip’s sister has had a successful career as an opera singer and is now a sought-after vocal and performance teacher. His other sister is an accomplished pianist, and his brother sings with the symphony chorus is Madison.

There was always music in my home, too. My mother listened to NPR from morning till dinner time. In those days, this meant that between Morning Edition and All Things Considered at day’s end, classical music was played all day long (except during Chapter-a-Day at noon). Both of my parents loved Broadway musicals, and my father had a special fondness for big band music. And then, late at night, jazz would be playing on the stereo as I drifted off to sleep.

I was always singing and “banging on the piano,” and later pursued a theater degree in part because of my love for musicals.

I can carry a tune; Phillip’s voice stops hearts. I’ve experience this “Phillip effect” for almost 20 years, and have seen it happen to others over and over. It is an amazing gift and I’m grateful every time I hear his voice and witness the way it touches people’s spirits.

Music is usually playing when I write, clean house, cook…we like every kind of music, and our CD collection is proof of this. We have it all arranged on lovely carousels that hold hundreds of  CD’s stacked vertically—500 CD’s per carousel—and then we can “program” the CD’s by genre, or artist, etc., and whether we want the music to shuffle and play random songs within the selected genre, play an entire album, etc. Very old-fashioned, almost a Victrola, but without the handle to wind…

We haven’t yet upgraded to digital music, and this is mostly due to the years we imagine passing while we burn  the CD’s and convert hundreds of old albums to digital signals. I imagine our hair turning white and walkers appearing in our hands as we trundle back and forth between our CD and album stash and the computer…and then I imagine finishing this Herculean task just in time to learn everything we’ve done is outmoded. (Kitty gasps; falls to floor; dies.)

No, wait! I couldn’t die at that point, because I have a Master List of music that I would like played at my Memorial Service…the service will have to last about a month at this point, but it will be a wonderful aural experience; I promise! If we can locate the right technology.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.  ~ Victor Hugo

Music heals; it stimulates and inspires; it changes us; it connects us and make us whole. I use music in my spiritual direction and I used it as a chaplain. There is a practice called “threshold singing.” It started here (http://www.thresholdchoir.org/), and promotes rehearsed, a capella songs offered to those waiting at the threshold between life and death. There are also harpists trained in “music thanatology,” and other musicians trained in techniques for accompanying those on healing journeys. You can read more about this here: (http://www.growthhouse.org/music.html)

I knew a nun who found a beautiful harp in the attic of her convent, had it restrung, polished and restored, and then taught herself to play it. She lugged it around to her city’s two large hospitals and played her harp for years, eventually receiving donations to purchase smaller, more portable harps.

It was no surprise that families and staff members at these hospitals felt the positive effects of her music, and she had some deeply graced experiences with patients as well. One woman lay in a coma that physicians had predicted she would remain within until her death. While the nun played her music just outside the patient’s room to soothe the family’s loss, the woman was gentled into wakefulness.  She later told the nun, “I was disappointed to still be here; your music led me to understand I was in heaven!”

Balfour Mount, one of the founders of Palliative Medicine in North America, wrote, “Music has touched the human soul across all boundaries of time, space, and genre…Perhaps, in its vibratory nature, music opens us to a greater appreciation of our essential connectedness to the cosmos, our oneness with all that is.” If you’ve ever watched one of the many flash mobs cause a breakout of spontaneous joy at a public gathering space, you know how music can affect and connect our spirits.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ~ Berthold Auerbach

I love watching the crowds at the flash mobs: they stop and notice–something I fear our increasingly busy lives don’t allow us to do—and then they are delighted. Their inner children often come out to play. Here is one of my favorites, in Antwerp, when a flash mob performed “Do Re Mi” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYAUazLI9k People often cry in response to such joyful invitations. Music can so quickly touch deep memories, unconscious needs, losses, and desires. And how healing it can be when we allow our bodies to move freely in response to the impetus of melody and rhythm.

And here is Ben E King’s Jerry Leiber’s, and Mike Stoller’s, Stand by Me, performed by musicians throughout the world: http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741, another lovely collaboration.

Music is vibration and so, at minute particle levels, are we; we’re bouncing particles, moving in waves, and everything is music. I wish we could hear more than the limited bandwidth we humans can manage, but I love the music of this beautiful cosmos that I’m able to hear: birdsong and rain, wind and beating wings, life’s breath, laughter, children’s voices, singing dogs, and my husband’s voice.

Many say that life entered the human body by the help of music, but the truth is that life itself is music. ~ Hafiz, Persian Sufi poet

 

© 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.

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.

Entering the Holy Flow

We received a lovely snowfall, a baptism of huge wet flakes that spiraled to earth and settled in mounds of glittering crystal. It began last night and ended as the sun rose, which is when I headed out in Phillip’s huge boots to listen to the world through my camera.

When I was eight, I received an old Kodak box camera from my grandfather. I think it required 110 film, and even then I preferred black and white images.

Love at first click, and forever enchanted, I said yes to a lifelong passion. It is one I never interrupted with formal classes or instruction (although those who view my photographs have often hinted such training might technically and artistically advance my use of the camera and images I create).

But that’s the thing with avocation (“a calling away”); it isn’t formal at all. It’s deeply intuitive, and sensual, and private. My camera and I have a relationship like any artist has with her tools: photography is one way I make love to the world, and who wants interruptions from “professionals” when she’s making love?

For me, time with my camera, like time in the garden, is a form of holy engagement. The world is always revealing, bearing, translating, and sharing communications from Spirit; I know this is true. Most of our lives, I think, are spent sending and receiving messages within a sadly constrained and diminished end of the language spectrum. We hold our lives, others, and the Sacred in such small and indifferent regard, as though love, life, and meaning could be neatly and summarily corralled only by words and behaviors of our own invention.

When we engage in art of any kind, we’re called away from false interactions. We shatter these ego-created boundaries, both the singular and collective, and let the world and Spirit speak to us and through us in other languages, those which our hearts have always understood and beyond the boundaries that separate us from self and other.

When I leave a film, or dance, or play, or art exhibit, and the first tendency of my companions is to analyze the feelings and responses washing over us, I leave them, too.

Everything doesn’t have to be put into my words, or yours. Everything doesn’t need to be evaluated, packaged, and labeled. We are still, always, at least in part, wild and in wilderness, and that is wonderful. And terrifying. And delightful.

When I set out with my camera, the world speaks in what is and isn’t language; it’s closer to music, and requires deep listening. Slowly, my learned language leaves me; the inchoate within finds resonance with dust, and wind, and angles of light. A kind of emotional and spiritual articulation emerges as I interact with the Sacred through my camera and enter the holy flow… The tree branches may begin the story, and then the birdsong continues until the river and clouds conclude a chapter in two voices. Patterns and rhythms, sometimes synchronized and at other times in syncopation (but always perfect), begin to create meaning, and I know I’m woven into this story as tightly, tenderly, and purposefully as hawk and stone.

When I am anxious, distracted, or rushing through my life and the world, I am utterly disconnected from these songs and stories all around me. But when my camera and I set out, my thoughts still and my spirit opens her doors and windows, and the Holy rushes in with messages about how we are loved and made to love.

I read a wonderful story this week about a woman named Vivian Maier, whose photographs were discovered posthumously. Thousands of photos were discovered by a young relator who—thankfully—recognized their value. These photographs were taken over the course of Vivian’s life, which was largely lived in the shadows of the wealthy families she served, caring for their children. I understand Vivian’s need to record and engage, and I understand her choice to leave the photos, once developed, in boxes. The finished photograph isn’t the point; the point is to make love to the world however and whenever we can.

http://motherjones.com/photoessays/2011/04/vivian-maier-chicago-street-photography/crying_boy

 

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer  ~ Walt Whitman

When I heard the learned astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When, I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

 

© 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.

50° and Raining (::Joyful Applause::)

As shocking as the revelation may be, I have had a lifelong love affair with winter.

For me, snow is magical in its brilliance and iridescence, and the hushed, cottony silence it bestows is even more captivating. I am not bothered by having to drive more slowly or carefully; in fact, I think it’s an excellent spiritual practice. If I wear enough layers, it’s never too cold for a brisk walk, and I look forward to snow-shoeing and playing in snowbanks with the dogs. Just to sit at a window and watch the snow drift, suspend, and flutter its way down to the earth offers a deeply healing meditation experience. I enjoy the slower pace of winter and I don’t mind that it lasts until spring returns and restores accelerated energy.

My spirit therefore rebels and droops when I wake on a mid-December morn to learn the day will bring an inch of rain and the urge to fire up the grill. (One inch of rain would convert to almost 10 inches of snow. And to be honest, the urge to cook on the grill exists and is satisfied by many Wisconsinites all year round. But still.)

So I’m going to play Christmas music, read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and make caramels. I’m trying to welcome the day as gracefully as I can, despite the fact that I just caught and released an Asian beetle and a box elder bug who were hanging around indoors. (“Go outside and play!”) When I stood on the porch observing their limb-stretching joy at being set into a warmer environment than they’d enjoyed inside my home, I couldn’t help noticing the equally cheerful green weeds sprouting in the front garden.

Sigh.

Phillip and I went to see the movie Hugo last weekend. Now that I’ve had eye surgery, we thought it would be fun to try a 3-D movie.

It was lovely.

The opening long-shots of 1930’s Paris during a snowfall, took my breath away. The story captivated everyone in the theater; I could sense our little community of parents, children, and couples were caught up in the magic and very willing to suspend disbelief and live within the story for its duration.

The movie’s sets were primarily dark, with little color or vivid relief, and the pacing slowed as the story explored themes of loss and renewal. I felt my focus move from the film to the audience at times, and wondered if the young children might lose their connection and become bored, but my attention would again be drawn into the film and, frankly, I forgot about everything else until it ended.

Which is when the magic really happened.

Just as the final shot subsided, from seats throughout the theater came a chorus of children’s sighs, those little fairy gasps we humans create when we’re released from the sacred spells life casts and so surprises and holds our spirits enthralled. Adults don’t release these spirit-filled breaths very often; we don’t look long or deeply enough to realize we’re always stepping through magic portals.

And then, as if on some synchronized cue, the children began to clap, the most joyful and innocent music I’ve heard in a long time. No other sound; just children, clapping their joy and gratitude. Phillip and I paused a moment; it seemed all the adults, sitting in the otherwise silent dark, paused as well. We could feel energy shifting. Astonished by the forgotten or misplaced purity of delight calling to us from our long-ago childhoods, we located, adjusted, and then tossed away our painstakingly-designed adult ego-masks, and freely joined in the clapping. Not a thoughtless reflex, but a response of gratitude for the deep joy of art, the feelings it elicits, the hopes it engenders, the connections it creates.

It was an experience of pure gift I’ll always associate with this film. Like all memories, I can re-visit it whenever I need its blessings to nourish and water my spirit.

Like today.

I believe a new spiritual practice may be to freely and whole-heartedly applaud throughout the daily round. Especially as a response to events that are other than I desire.

The cats are snoozing beneath the Christmas tree as happily as ever (clap!), the dogs will enjoy our walk in the rain as much as they enjoy every walk (clap!), and I’ll have caramels to savor and share when we watch tonight’s Christmas movie (clap!).

Create and share your art. Applaud the art of others.

It’s always a wonderful life.

 

© 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.

 

The Writing Spider

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single spider in possession of a good web must be in want of prey. But in the garden this season, I learned again that there are many ways we nourish and are nourished.

I first met Jane in early August, when I was weeding the large garden near the river. She had woven her distinct web across one of the sage plants, and its intricate stabilimenta zig-zagged, zipper-like, across the orb-web’s center. She was the largest and most brilliantly-colored garden spider I’d ever seen, so I fetched the camera and took several pictures from a respectful distance, and later researched her species and background. Her scientific classification was logical: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Anthropoda; Class: Arachnida; Order: Araneae; Family: Araneidae; Genus: Argiope; and Species: Argiope Aurantia (like an orange, though she was colored in brilliant yellow and black).

When I learned that one of her nicknames is “the writing spider,” she of course became further classified as a kindred spirit, and I christened her “Jane” after Jane Austen, a name to which she did not evidence rejection. For more than a month, we met several times a week, and she hospitably endured my observations.

Understand, Gentle Reader, that were Jane to visit my home’s interior, the sound of my arachnophobic screams would make international (and possibly intergalactic) news, but spiders do not bother me when they are outside, weaving their webs and living their lives within the larger web of nature, the home we all share.

Miss Jane, I learned, liked to remain in one place for most of her life, a homebody like myself. The creation of her web took hours and its complexity was miraculous: its architecture could be up to two feet across and up to eight feet off the ground. She usually remained at the web’s midpoint, head down (as I always found her), awaiting innocent prey’s entanglement. When I met her, the remaining wing of a swallowtail butterfly decorated her web, as did bits and pieces of insects.

Jane consumed the center of her web each night, possibly for nourishment or to recycle chemicals used in the web’s construction, and re-wove it daily, including the delightful “written” zipper (“stabilimenta”) across the middle. I could not discover a definitive  explanation for this part of her web, except that some scientists have suggested it may serve as camouflage or in some way attract prey. I also learned that among orb-weavers, the Aurantia is known for her unusually tidy and clean web. Other orb-weavers are content with disorder, clutter, and mess. Jane rose yet again in my regard and respect.

I never met Jane’s mate. He would have woven a “lesser” web nearby, including an escape line in case she attacked him; at any rate, he died after their love was consummated and she likely ate him. (Understandably, my husband Phillip does not like this part of Jane’s story.) But Jane’s partner did exist, for one day I discovered the egg sac, a delicate brown silken ball almost an inch in diameter, fixed near the web’s enter, and Jane hanging nearby, guarding it as vigilantly as  any artist watches over her creation. I read that within this tiny ball, up to 1,400 eggs were settled and would be harbored till spring, were they not harmed by birds, the elements, or other likely hazards.

We had a gentle frost one night several weeks after Jane and I became garden companions, and Jane was nowhere to be found; it is the common way for females of her species to die. I mourned her loss; we had an elegant, mutually intriguing (or so it seemed to me) relationship.

When I cut back the plants this weekend and neared the sage that was Jane’s home, I gently severed the branch holding her egg sac, and placed it under an evergreen shrub, settled within a bed of sedum and violets.

If the egg sac survives through winter, one day next spring, I could see what seems to be pollen or dust collecting within the silken sac…the tiny bodies of Jane’s progeny responding to Love’s call to write their own life stories. I hope some will decide to stay and grace our gardens with the elegance and artistry—and kinship—I shared with their mother.

We’re all here such a precious little while, invited to write the words, dance the dance, and create the art seeded within our spirits at its inception; the whole of life depends upon both our singular contributions and our abilities to form connections that welcome, encourage, and sustain the unique contributions of others.

It may be in the nature of the Kingdom Animalia to capture and devour prey; however, the instinct to forge connection and co-exist with deep humility, hospitality, and respect is also a lovely part of our mysterious story. In relationship, we nourish and are nourished.

Thank you, Jane.

 

© 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.

Celebrating Francis

Today, I join my Roman Catholic friends in celebrating the life of Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone who, as a young man, turned from beliefs and membership in the military, and then rejected his expected inheritance of easy wealth and power, and instead chose to pursue a different wealth: a conscious connection to, and respect for, all of creation.

It is said, too simplistically, that he “loved animals and nature.” I think he realized–and loved–that he was just another animal and part of nature, but born, as are all humans, with the responsibilities that come with our intellects and the potential to dominate the rest of creation, unless we recognize our kinship. I don’t think he “chose poverty” so much as he rejected the poverty of spirit offered by enslavement to his society’s definition of wealth. In our time of startling corporate greed and concentrated financial wealth, when students are taught more about branding, marketing, and acquisition than they are about developing a moral conscience and care for the earth, Giovanni Francesco has much to teach and offer.

Francis has been my anam cara (soul friend) for most of my life. He is the reason I have welcomed 4-legged companions into my life. (In fact, three of our current cats joined the family on St. Francis’ Day, 3 years ago.) He is the reason I earned an MA in Servant Leadership. He is the reason I am a pacifist, an environmentalist, and a gardener living in the country. Francis informs my politics and my decision that my body will one day be offered back to the earth in a green burial. He is one of the chief architects of my spiritual belief system.

Above all, Giovanni Francis di Bernardone has taught me about authenticity. He had to turn from all the important, learned, and “adult” voices in his life except the inner and most important one, to be the artist he came to be. And we’ve all come with art to share, and must, if we’re ever to be whole. Not perfect, just whole, a word related, at its root, to healed and healthy.

One summer during my college years I worked in a paper mill in Alabama. One of my co-workers, Miss Honey, was an older woman who shared her breaks with me. I had a lot of questions about life and my direction at that time, and will always remember her holding her carton of buttermilk, squinting at me seriously, and saying, “You just gotta do who you are, and be who you is!”

I think Francis would agree.

Celebrate his life by sharing your art, blessing your loves and companions, caring for your earth, speaking your truths, creating meaningful rituals, doing who you are, and being who you is…

Prayer of Francis

(Adapted)

 Spirit of Love,

Make me a gardener of your peace:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, let me sow pardon;

Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;

Where there is despair, let me sow hope;

Where there is darkness, let me sow light;

Where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

Help me to see that by consoling others, I will be consoled;

By offering understanding, I will come to understand myself;

By loving, I will rest in love…

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is when our bodies die that our spirits are set free.

 

© 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.