Archive for the ‘William Stafford’ Tag

Omen Days 7-9   Leave a comment

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

A New Year’s Side-Note

Looking for tips on making a radical change in 2020? Here are some actually good ideas from The Guardian, in an article titled “Everyone thought I was mad — how to make a life-changing decision and stick to it” — not the usual “New Year’s Resolutions” clickbait. The 10 strategies it offers are, of course, all (un)common sense, that birthright so many of us abandon under the onslaught of dark-magic* advertising, politics, social media, bad education, lack of imaginative reading, etc. — the soul-less enterprise that infiltrates much of what we call life, but is really a bad substitute, sold and re-sold to us, when the Real Thing is always and forever free.

Yes, Others really do want to exploit our wills for their benefit — one of the good things coming out of our times is how transparently clear that’s finally become to many. And that need not lead us to despair, but can tell us how powerful we really are, or can be, unless and until we listen to numerous forms of bad counsel that run against our own better judgment. Yield too much, and it can take us lifetimes to regain and restore what we gave up. Or you may be a “just-this-one-life-that’s-it” kind of person, but you still see how far too many of us relinquish our sovereignty and holy self-hood to others who deserve it not at all.

Smartest radical change I ever made? Walking away from a teaching job at a private boarding school that included not only a high salary (for a school-teacher), but also health insurance and housing and utilities, but that was also quite literally making me sick (cancer diagnosis in 2009). At one point I was homeless and jobless, too — but alive.

Second smartest change? Marrying my wife, though at the time I was unemployed and broke, and had just returned from an overseas teaching job in Changsha, Hunan Province, China that paid me $250 U.S. per month. The strategies in the article are wise ones — take it from someone who’s made some radical changes in his life, and never regretted those he made (only those he didn’t!).

Third smartest change? Taking that China job I just referred to, though it paid so little. Because it opened doors to all the subsequent jobs I ever had, though I didn’t foresee that at the time. And the perspective of being a foreigner, going deep into another culture as speaking even some of the language can help you do, as well as seeing my country from a distance, from the outside, and as a foreigner myself for a short while after I returned — I can set no price on the profound value of those experiences.

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The junco’s for Omen Day 7. Tuesday, on my way to drop off a draft of our labyrinth paper to my hospice client, I spotted a flock of juncos foraging near my car as I exited the community where my client lives. Juncos were such frequent wintertime companions in my childhood in upstate New York that I was pained but not surprised to read how their range has shrunk over 50% in the interim. Below’s an image of the dark-eyed subspecies I saw, clearly featured against the snow. Or as Linnaeus described it in his 18th-century classification, F[ringilla] nigra, ventre albo — “A black finch with white belly”.

What we take for granted is often the most vulnerable, or least permanent: whether it’s democracy, life, health, friendships or a bird, they can all prove equal in their fragility. We forget we are a part of this world, not apart from it. What we do matters, helping to shape the whole we all live in and through.

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dark-eyed junco — junco hyemalis

Omen Day 8 didn’t even ask me to leave the house: the sourdough starter we revived for yesterday’s New Year’s Day breakfast of waffles. We’d refrigerated it for several days, and the night before, it was time to revive and feed it, ready it for another meal.

It’s natural to find the cute and furry things amenable to a nice, safe middle-class Druidry. But the prickly, grotesque, dangerous, or simply odd and invisible ones? Not so much. All praise, then, to the lactobacillus that gives all things sourdough their tangy character, and thrives together with us in our bodies all our lives, strengthening, healing and rebalancing so many of our essential biological systems! Three hurrahs for such mutualism!

Let me find ways, o Spirit of 2020, to be more surprised, and less fearful, more grateful, and less suspicious.

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One of the traditional practices for the Omen Days is to go outdoors, close your eyes, spin yourself around, and take the omen from the first thing you see when you re-open your eyes. But of course there are many ways to read the cosmos. I’ve done it with dreams, with the “obvious/non-obvious” thing immediately underfoot, and so on. For me the deeper point of taking an omen is to pay attention, to actually attend to what I may have overlooked, to begin to explore the richness of the supposedly ordinary and everyday. If I’ve expanded where I look, noticed more of the daily amazement of living that offers itself to all of us, I count that omen a successful one.

Omen Day 9, looking for your sign, I finally see it.

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Going out to the woodpile, I participate in its manifestation, by being alive, in this place, here, now. A log, the heartwood brown and rough. Nothing “special”, perhaps, but beauty, given freely. That counts in my book as “special”. I bring it indoors, the condensation damp on my hands, and set it on a side table to photograph. In the picture it looks like the lampshade’s growing out of the wood — fittingly enough: firewood, a source of heat and light.

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Another bard offering words — William Stafford’s “The Dream Of Now”. This isn’t an expansive poem of the summer solstice, exulting in long days and heat and passion, but a poem about that core toughness in us, that sees us through winter along with all the other things fluffing out feathers and fur against the cold, or sleeping deep in the Earth till she warms again.

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.
When spring comes north and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.
Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.

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IMAGE: free Junco image from Pixabay.

*dark-magic: magic that doesn’t let our own light in; magic practiced against our own better interests, something we almost always participate in, because our consent is required, until we notice and begin to wake up again. Always weaker than light-magic, though its power comes from convincing us otherwise by whatever means available: deceit, obscurity, false promises, appeals to our weaknesses (cleverly scouted out in advance) … Another reason to learn and practice magic: absolutely everyone and everything else all around us already practices it.

Renewing the Shrine: Part 2   Leave a comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2] [My Shinto 1 | 2]

What is it about renewal?  We need and long for it, desperately, a hunger nothing else can satisfy, though we try to fill it with things rather than with actual transformation.  Too often we get cynical when hopes and dreams don’t pan out.  I saw a fair amount of this, sadly, in the adolescents I worked with as a high school teacher.  Of course, some of it was learned from adults. Renewal and revitalization can seem remote, hard to access.  Too often we mock the sentimentalist and the optimist for living in “another world.”  Maybe that’s partly because we know deep down that the renewal we need is in this one.

In Part One I wrote about the Japanese Shinto practice of Shikinen Sengu, a ceremony that occurs every twenty years, in which the most important shrine in Japan, at Ise Jingu, is ritually rebuilt and renewed.  The biggest shrine most of us have is our homes, where we erect a mirror for our lives by our choice of partners, children, pets, clothing, furnishings, beloved objects and spaces.  So a ceremony in a foreign country, and one focusing on a foreign spiritual practice on top of that, may seem like a backwards way, to say no more, of getting at anything important or useful to say about living life in 21st century America.  But bear with me.

Here wood for the new shrine is floated down the Isuzu River toward the site:

rivertransport

When we hear words like ‘globalization’ we may not realize how dramatic the changes have actually been, since we simply live through many of them in some form, often unawares.  To give just one local example, the recent decision to close our nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee, was driven by economic forces more than anything else, but among those were the mounting costs of meeting a tightening of regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in response to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following the tsunami two years ago.   Our lives are already linked to those of many others we will never meet.  Globalization isn’t a choice, it’s a phenomenon like the seasons — it’s part of living on earth in this era.  We’re neighbors already — distances between us collapse to nothing.

The Roman writer Terence (Terentius) captures something of this in one of his plays with the wonderfully opaque title Heauton Timoroumenos, which can be translated as the “The Self-Tormentor.”  In this short excerpt*, two country neighbors, Menedemus and Chremes, speak candidly to each other:

MENEDEMUS: Chremes, can you spare a moment from your own affairs to listen to someone else’s–even if they don’t really concern you?

CHREMES: I’m human, so any human interest is my concern. Call it solicitude or curiosity on my part, whichever you like. If you’re right I’ll copy you, and if you’re wrong I’ll try to make you mend your ways.

Where am I going with all this?  Chremes’ attitude is a valuable one, if we’re to thrive.  If I can learn something useful from Shinto, even from a crazy ceremony that rebuilds a perfectly good building right next door, I’ll try to pay attention and learn.  Notice Chremes isn’t forfeiting his own judgment.  In love with its own exceptionalism, America sometimes seems preoccupied with the second half of Chremes’ response: “if you’re wrong I’ll try to make you mend your ways” — while ignoring the possibility that the former might also be occasionally worthwhile: “If you’re right I’ll copy you.”

Shikinen Sengu is a family affair.  Occurring as it does every two decades, the ceremony happens three to four times in the average person’s lifespan.

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Another aspect of the Shikinen Sengu ceremony deserving mention is its “greenness.”  In a footnote, the JNTO brochure I cited in Part One observes:

Many trees are felled in preparation for each Shikinen Sengu. These logs are carefully selected and then transported to the reconstruction site at Ise, where new life is endowed to the logs. Young trees are carefully planted to replace those fallen in order to perpetuate the forest. The timbers removed when the Shrine is rebuilt are distributed to shrines throughout Japan, where they are reused, particularly to disaster or earthquake-stricken regions. Some of the sacrificial offerings and other contents of the shrine are also distributed among other shrines. Following the 61st Shikinen Sengu, lumber and contents of the Shrine were distributed among 169 shrines throughout Japan.

In Shinto as in Druidry, spirituality is life — there’s no separation.  What we do to maintain our connection with Spirit is what we do already as humans in living fully and well.  Here’s how the Japanese themselves talk about the ceremony:

As food, clothing and shelter form the requisites of our life, we have to prepare similar requisites for the kami, if we wish to receive blessings from them. Therefore, the ceremony of the Shikinen Sengu includes the renewal of buildings (shelter) as well as the renewal of the treasures (clothing) and the offering of first fruits (food). By performing the Shikinen Sengu, we renew our minds by remembering that our ancestors had enshrined Amaterasu Omikami in Ise, and praying that the Emperor will live long, and that peace will prevail in Japan and the world. It also involves the wish that Japanese traditional culture should be transmitted to the next generation. The renewal of the buildings and of the treasures has been conducted in the same traditional way ever since the first Shikinen Sengu had been performed 1300 years ago. The scientific development makes manual technology obsolete in some fields. However, by performing the Shikinen Sengu, traditional technologies are preserved.

Ritual and ceremony still have important roles to play in keeping us balanced, connected and mindful of our heritage.  Even more, ritual and ceremony remind us of our place in this world, as beings who share a planet with so many others.  This is one way to understand the Japanese kami or spirit:  not so much separate things or “gods” as they are personifications of the profound links we share with the world and the other beings in it.  The links exist, and deserve our acknowledgement.  Our culture has dispensed with much former ritual, not always to the bettering of our Western lives.  We need the connections that ritual can help us form and maintain, and which help nourish and sustain us.

Of course, families usually make their own traditions and rituals instinctively, regardless of what the larger culture is doing.  It’s the start of football season, and how many families do you know who have special recipes, traditions, gatherings, rites to celebrate their favorite teams and the hours of television ahead?  We do ritual because we’re human.  The old ceremonies that no longer hold meaning or value need to be updated, renewed, or replaced with others — but not abandoned, any more than we abandon our humanness merely because one way of being human needs refreshing, renewing or transforming.  To do otherwise means living stunted, incomplete lives.

Here’s one of my favorite poems by the late William Stafford which addresses this human need for connection, renewal and watchfulness vividly:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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*Betty Radice, trans. 1961.
Images:  logs in river; family in river.
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