Archive for the ‘umami’ Tag

Fallowing and “Afters”

I google “fallow” and the first entry (from dictionary.com) reads:

  1. (of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production
  2. (of a sow) not pregnant

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“Befores” we’re good at celebrating and often taking to extremes. Expectation ramps up busy-ness of all kinds. (Valentine’s chocolates and flowers fill cash registers even if they don’t always pair up hearts that hoped they would.) Imbolc gave us its foretaste, the simple melody that will add a harmony at the Equinox, then turn in its own time to a full-throated chorus at Beltane.

We know how hopes and dreams have inspired countless songs, battles, marriages, investments, acquiescence to impossibly long odds, and reams of bad verse. A longed-for future, person or event feeds endless fantasy and often remarkably sharp focus. Who hasn’t hungered for what seemed a sure thing? Advertising, debased popular magic that it is, targets us squarely in our weakest nooks and crannies with images and sensations built almost entirely of non-physical energies. We’ve almost all strapped ourselves into a jet-fueled “before” and launched ourselves heavenward.

In fact, anticipation draws many of us right into the astral plane where even the least imaginative among us find our inner senses heightened. “It’s so close I can almost taste it!” we exclaim. While it’s sight and hearing that line up to deliver the astral experiences we’re most accustomed to, every physical sense has its correlate — “As above, so below, dude!” whispers the demon in aviator sunglasses at my elbow. Ghostly encounters are filled with accounts of phantom limbs brushing our very physical bodies. Touched by god or devil, we know the planes open and blur at times. The “Great Eight” yearly festivals celebrate and take advantage of this palpable fact.

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after the snow stopped yesterday

“Afters” on the other hand arrive far less domesticated. The let-down, the hangover, the next morning, the wake-up, the harsh light of day, the after-glow, after-image, aftermath — we know these well, even as we watch the outgoing tide surge past our ankles, that current that promised so richly, so gloriously, but dropped us forlorn among all the other flotsam and jetsam on the shore.

Riding the wave is a core skill that can demand a lifetime to master. We know those life-acrobats and artists who can step away from the wreckage and carry on as if little to nothing has happened. With everyone around shaking their heads in envy-tinged astonishment. We also know others who never recover. We ourselves may be one or the other of these.

Next month at the Equinox, as a portion of a Gulf Coast Gathering workshop on the awen and tapping our creative potential for transformation, I’ll take on our fallow times and dark nights and blocked intervals. Where do we find again the slow-burning love that never truly leaves us? How do we rekindle, re-ignite, plant ourselves in the hearth of the cosmos, plug into the Original Generator? Where are the embers we can blow again to living flame?

Dream chalice, spirit guide, cauldron sound, inner sap bucket, fire mirror — slowly I gather items from my toolkit, from experiment and fumble and learning, for the booklet I’ll distribute at the workshop. With time and further focus, it may become a book. I’ve mentioned several of these techniques on this blog, and will continue with them in future posts. Guard the mysteries, constantly reveal them, as the old Craft saying goes. Fallow is its own energy. Fallow is the way back. Fallow is a sure guide.

Honoring the dark times, the brooding, the fecund blackness, the inky abyss, the low and listless is a potent part of turning with the cycle. I re-learn (and re-learn) how important it is to “hallow the fallow”. Sometimes a cycle that’s finished here announces a new one on another plane. Fat lot of help that is to me here, now, I grumble. But the astral and other planes herald changes that may only show up later on the physical plane, so it’s an excellent place to look for insight, to peer down the road a little. But meanwhile the work here can be precisely to enter the fallow as completely as possible. Rather than resisting and thereby delaying the fulfillment of the cycle, acquainted with griefs and grief as I am in my 50s, I finally let myself sink into it.

I’m not talking drama or pity-me. This time, as it happens, I mourn no great tragic loss, merely the accumulation of small things that deserve memorializing and release. When my night dreams go dark as they have in the last week, and whole days find me depressed, there’s deflected grief and fallowing that begs for tending. No, it’s not just seasonal affective disorder! In the West we’re often busy enough we think we can leap from crest to crest and never endure a trough, a downturn, a rest. But then the flu, an accident, a lay-off, a family spat — something arrives to shove me into fallowing. Sometimes I even remember to make room for it instead of waiting till it insists. Slow learners, all of us.

deerbonewhistleWaning (and especially dark) of the moon says fallow. February is Hunger Moon — Full Snow Moon, one of my sources calls it. Here in the ebb tide of Valentine’s Day, after the Full Moon, riding away from Imbolc, wintering out the second half of the month, I gingerly caress a small chunk of obsidian, I blow a short deer-bone whistle*, shrill and high. I find myself longing for touch, for texture, the skin of the world.

I make entries in my gratitude journal. I run — no, I walk — through the ways I ground myself. I seek out the solace of umami, that fifth taste, the savor of earth and wintering over and time. Fish, soy, cabbage, cured meat, tomato, cheese, spinach. The Wikipedia entry helpfully informs me that many of us first encounter it in our mother’s breast milk. Umami — taste of the Mother.

“The tree by the well in the wood” in Damh the Bard’s song from a few posts back sinks its roots into the earth, drinking from underground sources. I sit in that formless darkness we all have behind the eyes. From there I gaze out on slowly growing light.

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*whistle: mine comes from the museum at Serpent Mound, Ohio.

Image: deer-bone whistle.

North Work

flatmoss

In the Pagan calendar the north quarter is the direction of winter and earth. We’re already both in it and going deeper. Darkness falls before it’s even 5:00 pm. I imagine my ancestors in their hut, rushlights burning. Firelight flickers on the walls, and a cauldron — a practical one, nothing magic except the daily magical tranformation of cooking — a cauldron hangs over the flames, full of stew, roots and grains and berries, and whatever meat the hunters may bring in. Despite its hardships, winter can taste umami, rich and dark and all earth-savory. Like no other season, it can return us to awareness of our mortal, imperfect, stubborn bodies.

Though we haven’t yet hit the Solstice and the official start of Winter, you feel it in the temperatures as you shiver each time the door opens. You see it in the look of the mostly barren trees — and see it denied by the green mosses which apparently have no problem with these nightly hard frosts and bright chill days.

We’re here partly to witness everything. And our doings and our not-doings are also part of what we witness.

Witness. Martyr, in Greek, revealing one problem of witnessing dangerous things.

There are many safer witnessings, of course. I like Japanese Buddhist kinhin, “walking meditation,” with the literal meaning, from the Chinese it comes from (I discover, courtesy of my magical familiar, Wikipedia), of “going through like the thread in a loom.” A back-and-forth that produces a fabric, a weaving of disparate threads into a whole.

kinhin

My weaver wife’s out of state visiting relatives, and I make a note to share this small discovery with her when she gets back at the end of the week. Practitioners of Zen do kinhin in alternation with periods of sitting meditation, which is what za-zen or Zen means. I encountered kinhin in Japan, and tried it a few times, the slow version, a deliberate, meditative pace. For the typical American, it can of course drive you absolutely mad — and revealing that irritation is very much part of the point.

“It’s all meditation,” I can imagine them saying, though much of the discipline is paying attention, which generally means not talking. A wonderful, terrible commentary on our whole political scene.

There’s another version of kinhin that offers a brisk almost-jog, and that’s the version I prefer, this time of year at least, to get the blood flowing and keep this middle-aged body busy enough that the mind quiets and the world joins me as a companion, rather than standing off at a distance as a mere object for thinking.

So what’s the goal of such mindfulness? Attention, the shutting down of the chatter that too often fills our heads, that gets overfed by the social media we know we’re addicted to. A balance or equilibrium with everything that feels astonishingly wonderful when we slip into it, because we mostly stand outside of it the rest of the time. Yes, to continue an image that meditators sometimes use, prolonged practice endows your awareness with a kind of fragrance you start to carry around with you the rest of the time. You can be more mindful in everything you do.

2moss-stonesAnd for me there’s a key. Mindfulness by itself is another tool,  not an Answer. It can help me act more effectively. Otherwise, the water flows, the sun rises and sets all by itself, good things, surely — and moss covers me, also as surely as it does a stone set in the right balance of light and moisture. Compared with the stone, moss darts across the surfaces of things, greening them and slowly grinding them into dirt. Dirt — the end result of billions of years of animal life. We all come from the Mother, and to Her we all return. Sing it, brothers and sisters!

Except that’s not the whole story. Our human capacity for doing, so fraught with bad decisions, holds immense power for whatever we choose. Mindfulness can too easily become just another addiction, a way of blissed-out watching while the majority of humans slowly murder each other and erase themselves from the planet. The earth doesn’t need saving, but we do, and the plain evidence of millennia is that nobody else is gonna do it for us.

Renunciation of my power leaves the rest with power over me. One ring, old J. R. R. Tolkien, one ring does rightfully belong to me. I”ve worn it since birth, I’ll wear it till I die. The chance to become more fully who and what I am. And what is that? That’s the walking meditation I strive to practice, that’s the trick of time and space, to figure it out for ourselves in all the years we have. Not an Answer, not a Final Solution (we know how well that worked), but a tool for living.

In the meantime, the mosses watch and (g)listen.

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IMAGES: mosses — both shots — me, from yesterday afternoon’s walk; kinhin.

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