Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Practice of Happiness

The people were oblivious, but the venerable dog was well aware of me standing there, taking his pic.

I do believe that everything I need to get through even the most difficult moments is at hand, if only I will pay attention. For instance, at the end of a hideous summer of relentless heat and toxic air, when I'm kind of at the end of my rope physically and psychically, a friend will whisk me away, up to the mountains and the river as Rod did last week. Friends step up to the plate all the time when I need some help. I am very grateful.

Right now his excellency the Dalai Lama is sitting at the kitchen table here at the chateau, smiling calmly from the cover of the book The Art of Happiness. Instead of reading the book from cover to cover (as I suppose I should), I've been practicing the art of bibliomancy. When I feel like surfing (or scuba diving) in the ocean of wisdom, or am in need of a reminder about the preciousness of this existence, I open the book randomly and read whatever is right in front of my eyes. Last night I read about all the ways that we increase our own suffering. Oh my, yes, sometimes I work so diligently at that task. Ha. After a few minutes of reading, I was laughing at myself, all my antics and inner dramas ... melodramas, actually. Silly Reya. For heaven's sake.

What a revelation it is, that happiness, at least as defined by the D.L., isn't something that drops down from heaven. Just like compassion and mindfulness, happiness is a practice. Wow. So when I catch myself increasing my own suffering, the practice is to just stop, breathe, and return to the practice of happiness. I'm not talking about denying the state of suffering, but I don't have to crank it up or prolong it, do I? I like the idea of practicing happiness. It makes more sense to me than pursuing happiness. As you see I am really chewing on this.

Speaking of the way things come to me just when I need them (if I pay attention that is), here's a little bit of a teaching Pema Chodron posted on Facebook yesterday. Sublime. Love those Buddhists!! Oh yeah. Shalom.

I quote this so much, this Poem of Rick Fields, where he said:

Behind the hardness there is fear
And if you touch the heart of the fear
You find sadness (it sort of gets more and more tender)
And if you touch the sadness
You find the vast blue sky

This is what I am encouraging. The next time you feel yourself hooked, if you pause and you breathe with it, and you don't act out and you don't repress, but you think of this quote, and you think the ones who will create the new culture that is needed are those who are not afraid to be insecure. Whatever it is that you think at that moment, maybe this is what it feels like to be burning up the seeds that have caused all the pain on this earth.

All I can say is: Wow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

About Face - Maybe

Two buzzards doing their wobbly circle flight-dance above the Potomac.

For a long time I've held a grudge against Thomas Jefferson for that "pursuit of happiness" idea he inserted into the Declaration of Independence. I love all the ideas about independence, liberty and so forth, but happiness? I've believed for a long time that chasing after happiness is like forever running after a carrot that is so close, and yet so far away. My own life's experiences of happiness have always been fleeting. I've preferred to pursue states of being that are perhaps slightly longer-lasting, such as satisfaction with work well done, the contentment of a lazy afternoon reading the New York Times, or the pleasure of climbing into bed when the sheets are crisp and freshly laundered.

One recent publishing trend has centered around books about happiness. (Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, Darrin McMahon's Happiness: A History, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, for instance.) You should have seen my eyes roll around when I saw the book titles. I can be such a cynic sometimes, for heaven's sake.

Just yesterday, though, I started reading the Dalai Lama's book, The Art of Happiness which is really giving me pause for thought. Honestly there's nothing I love more than learning something I don't already know, or when an entrenched thought form gets uprooted. I love finding out I've been totally wrong about something. It's such a revelation!

The thing is, I trust the Dalai Lama. If he says it's a human birthright - the pursuit of happiness - then, well, maybe I'm going to have to apologize to old Thomas Jefferson. Maybe Thom was on to something after all. Because the Dalai Lama, in spite of everything, seems like a pretty happy guy. He seems lighthearted, good humored. This is exactly what I'm aiming for as I head into my "golden years." I might have to revise all my assumptions about this.

The pursuit of happiness ... Hmmmm ....

Very cool looking thistles, aren't they? Prickly little dudes, but cool looking.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Need for Speed

See the land dropping away from the cabin? What a crazy landscape.

My friend Rod (with whom I just stayed at Tanglewood) says sometimes you have to get in a car and "go fast" down the highway. All your cares peel away, fly away, or so he says. I'm inclined to agree. Almost the moment we got outside DC, onto the freeway, I felt my late summer consternations evaporating. I like the idea that troubles are slow-moving. I really like the concept that troubles can be left behind in the dust. Oh yeah.

I'm not sure this works if you're in a car all the time, zooming up and down the freeways, but for people like me, (I'm rarely even in a car, let alone zooming), it's a real change of pace.

One of the tenets of Chinese medicine is "moderation in all things." My Shi'atsu teacher used to say, "moderation in all things - including moderation!" I love that idea - that sometimes, in order to break congealed energy, we have to go too far, too fast, we have to step into the extremes. Too much of the too far, too fast, too extreme is very unhealthy, but a little bit of it here and there? It really helps.

Today is another code orange day - toxic air, extreme heat and humidity. Summer this year in DC was way too much of too much. In fact I was so entrenched here over the summer that I lost my faith in the turn of the seasons. The trip up to Tanglewood, coupled with a break in the weather (for a day or two - love the synchronicity, weather gods!) reminded me that things DO change, that life unfolds to the better way. The relentless heat and terrible air of this summer got inside me somehow, where it congealed, made me so cranky and hopeless. Getting in Rod's car, zooming up to W. Virginia, helped me leave a rigidity of mind and heart in the dust.

I believe, once again, in the turn of the seasons. I know that this awful summer must end. Woolly socks season will come, it will. Onwards & upwards. Shalom.

Screened-in porches are just the thing in a swampy landscape like DC (or up in the mountains, at the beach ... well ... anywhere really). A porch is outside, but also inside. Love screened in porches!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Living Outside the Box

Halfway down the steep path that leads from the house to the river. Walking down it is like a freefall.

Everything at Tanglewood pitches forward towards the river - including me, should say. Only the trees stand at a true vertical, and the house itself, thank God. At Whitings Neck, the Potomac is so serpent-like, looping and switching back and forth. I read somewhere once upon a time that a meandering river is an old river.

Water is so powerful, and so very patient. It kept rushing past the limestone, rushing, running, flooding, receding, flowing, year in and year out, century after century after aeon, until it wore away the rock, creating the steep cliffs on the W. Virginia side of Whitings Neck.

Water vs. rock? If you give the water time, it will always triumph. The river vs. Reya? When I'm there, I want to sommersault into the water, sink to the bottom, or perhaps be carried along on the current down to the Chesapeake Bay. It's very seductive.

The cabin at Tanglewood. The shed on the left is Rod's studio.

When I stay at Tanglewood, after a day or two I begin to biodegrade. Rod, one of the men who currently holds the deed on Tanglewood, calls it "going feral." When I go to the beach, I usually decide to forego my urban habit of wearing wear make-up. When I go to Tanglewood, I don't even THINK about make-up. After a few days there I can't remember what I look like in make-up. I forego all my usual standards of appearance in order to dance in shamanic alignment with the wildness of that place. It's not a conscious act. Wow.

In the evenings, after a day of slowly tumbling (energetically) into the river, being worn away by the power of the Potomac, biodegrading in the hammock under the trees, I take a nice shower (outdoor showers are SO COOL), wash my hands and face, and enter the absolutely beautiful civilization of the indoors. Rod and Tom have made Tanglewood inviting, cozy, and beautiful. It is a nest for humans, it really is.

It's a restorative, humanizing, healing dynamic - honoring the wild by day, then moving with gratitude into the comforts of home and friendship by night. What a great vacation!

From the terrace. Those trees on the other side of the Potomac? They're in Maryland.

Monday, August 23, 2010

God is Nice to Me

I went on at some length, explaining in great detail to my friend all the reasons not to go up to the cabin under the trees, on the cliff overlooking the Potomac. His response was a three word email: You are going.

He'll be in the art studio all day working on projects. I can be sick here, or sick up there, on the screened in porch, reading a book, drawing, dozing. So maybe I won't swim in the river (though I might ...) and I won't drink too much wine (just tea, thank you). I won't be making curried salmon (soup instead). BUT ... it will be peaceful, beautiful and healing. I will be outside the whirling vortex of Washington DC, away from everything for a couple of days. In other words: just what I need. I am going.

I'm outta here. See y'all on the flip side. xx love and Shalom.

God is Mean to Me

I don't believe it, of course. I just thought it would be a funny post title. The God I know about doesn't have a mean bone in his/her body. Nor does God have bones or a body, or a personality for that matter.

There are times when I yearn to be bodyless, like right now, for instance. A terrible summer cold came over me all of a sudden yesterday, and has gotten worse overnight (that's why I'm not sleeping - when I lie down I can't breathe). Besides being uncomfortable, the cold is grounding me in DC, spoiling my plans for a mountain/river getaway. There will be no escape up to the cabin this week after all. I'm experiencing a failure to launch.

Some people would try their best to ignore the symptoms. They would go anyway, maybe after swallowing a fistful of decongestants, some Advil, etc. That kind of behavior makes no sense to me at all. What is the point of pretending to have fun? I want to actually have fun, something that's not possible when I'm sick.

Timing is everything and the body never lies. Indeed this cold is a beautiful (in a way) metaphor for my current spiritual state: my heart and lungs are heavy as the result of a recent separation from a dear one. My sore throat reflects the shutdown in communication, my stuffy sinuses mimic the aftermath of a good cry. I've been trying to be so brave, valiant, strong, etc. about this recent turn of events, but my body knows better. And so I sniffle. When I wrote the series of posts about valour, Linda Sue (at least) suggested I go ahead, rant and rave, misbehave. Oh man. Linda Sue: you were absolutely correct. I stuffed my reaction and now look at me.

Or maybe this cold is just random. Who knows?

What I do know is that I'll be watching streaming movies from netflix this week, eating chicken soup instead of hanging out at the cabin in W. Virginia. Maybe I'll be able to reschedule my escape for sometime in September. If I work it out, please remind me to go ahead and pitch a fit if I'm feeling moody BEFORE it's time to get out of town, OK? OK.

Under "Marine Wife" it says, "Toughest job in the corps."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do It Yourself

Have I mentioned recently how much I am loving life here at Chateau 7? Twenty five years ago (the last time I lived alone) I was still extremely bohemian. Imagine a futon on the floor, Chinese take-out and beer in the fridge, art and/or music posters stuck to the walls with push pins.

A lot happens in two and a half decades. Whoa. I am such a different person! You might be thinking, "And she didn't notice she had changed?" Well, yes I did, kind of. Since the last time I lived alone, I have shared houses with people who made pretty much every decision about the environment. I spent a whole lot more energy and time learning to be accommodating, to adjust to the preferences of others, than thinking about what I would want if things were up to me and me only. When in Rome, you know?

I bought a nice radio for the kitchen this week. I love listening to NPR while I cook. Ahhh - Terry Gross, All Things Considered, it's nice to be reaquainted. I haven't been the alpha decider for such a long time, I forgot all about this simple pleasure. Technically I could have done this at the house on Tennessee Avenue, but NPR in the kitchen was not the prevailing paradigm. Nor was NPR a part of the kitchen feng shui at the houses of my ex husband or ex partner. While I lived with other people, I very carefully chose my battles, all in the service of domestic harmony. Better to go with the flow, yes?

It turns out that I'm very fussy about table linens (who knew?) and that even living alone, I like a clean house. I don't miss TV at all, and am having so much fun turning up the music as loud as I like (not that loud, but out of consideration to the people I lived with, for the last quarter of a century, I was careful to always keep the volume down.)

Life at Chateau 7 is a voyage of discovery, also a steep learning curve. My two exes and my ex housemates were all very handy. When something broke, I turned to them to fix it. I liked to say, "I can cook, do massage, take pictures. But I can't fix this." Well. I'm learning to fix things, a little at a time. Patching a hole in the screen door? I know it doesn't sound like a complicated thing, but for me, it was a triumph. I'm learning, and no doubt I'll learn more.

Bit by bit, this experience of living alone is helping me fill in a whole lot of spaces left blank for a long time, teaching me to be self reliant in ways I haven't for a long, long time. Life is good and I am grateful. Oh yeah.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Achieving Escape Velocity

One of the most important cultural imperatives, here in the District, has to do with getting the hell outta town in August. Ask any of us; we all know how important it is.

Even though in August everything is slow, Congress is in recess and nothing much happens, getting out takes umphhh. DC has an energy, an internal vortex, centered in the Capitol rotunda, contained by the boundary stones laid by our founding brothers a couple of centuries ago, that makes escape almost impossible - or at least undesirable.

Some will disagree with me; indeed people travel in and out of the District all the time. But I'll argue that even those who live in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, and who come and go every day from the District, have to pass through the energetic barrier. I believe that's why people drive like maniacs here. They have to get angry, they have to step on the gas with a vengeance in order to make it through the diamond-shaped wall of energy. Once inside the District, the energy of the vortex comes into play. Many people immediately get turned around; they are driving towards Maryland but believe they're headed for the other side of town. Maybe that phenomena isn't as pronounced now, due to GPS systems. I'm not sure.

I have a whole other theory about those who take the subway in and out of the city. Subterranean DC is extensive - you wouldn't believe how much stuff is down there. Subterranean DC is a different realm from the city above ground; the energy is very different down there. I could get into it, but I will spare you the details.

My point is: this city has a crazy, intense, compelling energy that makes us clench our jaws, drink too much liquor, too much coffee, think way way way too hard, work too much. In August, one way or another, we HAVE to get out of town for awhile.

My moment of escape is at hand - almost. Monday night I will head west, up into the mountains of West Virginia to spend a few days at a friend's cabin.

Last year I escaped the District early - at the end of July. This year I've waited until the last minute. I am so ready to let my jaw relax, sleep through the night, breathe easy, put my feet up, listen to the song of the woodthrush and the music of the Potomac River. Three more sleeps and I'm outta here. Yay!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not Easy

More atmospheric than explicit - a bus plowing through the heavy rain yesterday morning, outside the Sufi acupuncturist's office.

Life unfolds to the better way. --Mary Baker Eddy

Above is one of my very favorite quotes. I believe it, absolutely. The unfolding part, though, can be tricky. Apparently it isn't just me who is struggling this week. So many people are in crisis; yikes. A friend said it perfectly today - she feels "rattled" by the energy. I feel rattled, too. As a literalist with a "symbolist spirit," I'm thinking I'll spend at least part of today rattling - literally. I might even pull out my Big Ole Serious Shamanic Rattle. Usually I use a little one but big situations call for a big response.

If your life is calmly following its usual path, I salute you! Or if you just made a major change (I'm thinking of a friend who, after a lengthy engagement, got married last week), then you've done your bit and may perhaps be able to rest easy.

I moved house this summer after nine years on Tennessee Avenue, but apparently that external shift wasn't enough to satisfy the gods. My struggle is internal, manifesting as an upset stomach. When the Sufi acupuncturist felt my pulses yesterday, he said, "Oh - battling it out in there, are you?" Oh yeah. I don't think he has ever used as many needles as he did yesterday. The first point he needled is called "Not Easy" (hence the post title). You see this is what I LOVE about Chinese medicine. It cuts to the chase.

Though pulled thin this week, full of doubts and fears, I will survive, even if next week pulls me thinner. I am brave, I will be true at least if not exactly valiant. I will thrive - eventually. You see? I really do believe life unfolds to the better way. Onwards & upwards.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shifting Gears

WWII vets, hanging around their memorial on the National Mall.

The season is definitely taking a turn, oh yeah. Yesterday was steamy but not too hot, so unlike June and July, so unlike the way August usually is in DC. Today is cool and rainy. Water is falling from the sky (big percussive raindrops) but also suspended in the air, making my skin and breath soft and damp, my hair extremely frizzy. The windows are open here at the chateau, I'm listening to the birds, the heartbeat of the rain. It's a dreamy, smooth, melancholy morning. No doubt about it: Fall just around the corner.

Timing is everything, or so they say. Though flopping around this week in several dimensions and on various levels, my timing is pretty good. Hmm ... that's interesting. Yesterday, when the sun was shining, I took a serious bike ride. Today, I'll clean house, cook, dash out only to see the Sufi acupuncturist. How perfect. Everything works better when I dance in shamanic alignment with the weather.

I believe in my heart of hearts that everything unfolds exactly as it should; i.e. there is a greater wisdom that guides me, if only I will listen. I have to do my bit, you know: stand tall, remain open and curious. In order to participate in the unfolding of my life, it's important to cultivate evolutionary qualities such as compassion, courage, valour, forgiveness, gratitude. The idea that I have control, though - over anything or anyone? That's just silly.

With a deep bow and big ole gassho to friends who help me remember the above. You know who you are! Thank you!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Uncommon Valour

Love this dainty leaf ghost.

Plutarch, Sir Walter Scott, Emerson, Ovid, Shakespeare ... a whole bunch of folks have had something to say about valour. Here's a quote that resonates: "Valour is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul." -Michel de Montaigne.

I also like this one: "True valor lies between cowardice and rashness." --Miguel de Cervantes.


Carl Sandburg believed that valour is a gift, that you can never know if you're up to the task until the crisis is at hand, and once practiced, you can never know if you'll be able to access it a second time. That's interesting, too.

It's coming to me that valour is one of the great ideals, that its manifestation is rare and precious. Valour is well worth thinking about, striving towards, yes. But expectations around having access to valour at all times is probably more about hubris than reality. We humans can imagine perfection; it's a blessing and a curse, isn't it? Once imagined, we yearn for the perfections. Perfect valour, perfect love and perfect trust (as we used to say in Reclaiming). We yearn for Pythagorean perfections of all stripes. We homo sapiens are so ambitious!

For this morning at least, I'm assigning valour to the same constellation of idealized human qualities as true forgiveness, unconditional love, and unflinching compassion. The ideal qualities have always seemed, to me at least, like gifts, divinely bestowed. Or, depending on the structure of your personal cosmology, you could say that these ideal qualities are forces of nature over which we have no control.

Of course we humans have to do our bit, we have to work towards the ideals, oh yeah. We must practice compassion, we must release grudges, resentments and judgments whenever we can. We really have to learn how to open our minds and hearts, try to learn (every single day) something we don't already know. These practices put us in a better space to receive the divine gift, but there are no guarantees that no matter how hard we try, we will succeed in these endeavors. Nope. At least that's how it seems according to the cosmology of Reya.

My goals for today do not include achievement of perfect valour. I think I'll cut myself some slack and instead, set more modest goals: a nice bike ride, cooking something good for dinner, cleaning the chateau. Today I will talk to people I love, read wonder tales and blogs, breathe and pray, drink a lot of water.

Valour is a pretty hefty goal, eh? My plans for today seem a lot more right-sized. Yes? I say yes.

Salaam and Shalom, y'all. Onwards & upwards.

Monday, August 16, 2010


For Val and Steve, who are curious about how I distinguish valour from courage, bravery and stoicism. Thank you both so much for asking! The usual disclaimers apply: that these are my personal ideas about the differences; I'm not saying I'm right to the exclusion of other ideas. End disclaimer.

No sooner do I start thinking seriously about valour than the multiverse provides me with an opportunity to practice. Oh man. A roundhouse right straight up from the floor caught me unawares yesterday, knocked the breath out of me. A dear one has dropped below the horizon, out of the blue as they say. We were so close, now we couldn't be farther away from each other. It happens in all kinds of relationships, right?

Imagine me flat out on the ground, gasping, my hair flying around, eyes bulging, my arms and legs flailing. I believe I am mouthing the word HELP.

Yeah, that's me today. Kind of funny, actually.

Courage is the state of being able to speak and act from the heart. So in the case of my current dilemma, that would entail me being able to really take in at the deepest level how much I am hurting. Courage means being able to go much deeper than understanding. Pema Chodron would say courage involves "staying with the broken heart." It's not as easy as it sounds. It is not an active state, but not passive either.

Bravery would compel me to jump immediately to my feet, curse (perhaps), roll my hands into fists and start swinging. Or perhaps simply declare to the world, to God, to the elements, that I'll be FINE thank you!! Here's a great example of my teenage, girly, macho bravery. My father was a piece of work. Sometimes he would go into a rage and start picking on us, his beloved children. His specialty was psychological abuse - humiliation, shaming, insults, cutting us down to size. He knew exactly how to get to us, whew. Poor guy, he was such a mess. Of course I didn't feel like that at the time.

I remember the day he went after me about ... gosh, can't even remember why. It probably had nothing to do with me. Usually I tried to stay out of the way of the raging, but I felt brave that day. I took him on. I have no idea what I said (shouted). Then I grabbed the car keys and drove off ... in his car. Hmmm ... Naturally once I got on the road I realized I had no choice but to eventually drive back home ... that bit is the comic relief that follows brash bravery.

Valour requires courage, and the motivating quality of bravery, but without the histrionics, without the clenched fists and cursing. Valour is sublime, requires grace and resiliency. In the past, whenever I had to be brave, I would white-knuckle my way through whatever was going on. But if I'm to be valiant, I have to soften around the situation; I have to include compassion in the mix. Soldiers exhibit bravery when they march into battle. When the soldier stops to help a wounded brother, in spite of the risk, that is valour.

Bravery has, for me at least, always included blame; identifying the "enemy" then standing up against that perceived foe (situations can be enemies as well as people). I'm thinking that in order to be valiant, I can't spend time or expend energy blaming; that I must stand up for what I believe, but move quickly towards healing rather than battle. I'll fight if I have to, but if I don't have to, all the better.

I'm only beginning to learn about valour, so my fists are clenching and unclenching out of habit. I am standing up, I am breathing. I am not cursing or making proclamations, neither am I smiling, though. It's too early to say whether or not I can be valiant about this one. We shall see.

Stoicism is yet another state of being in which I would take the roundhouse right, endure the pain silently, walk around wounded, ignore the need for justice and for healing, try to "get over it." I am SO not stoic!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Ex housemate and his dogs yesterday afternoon. Nice sidewalk couch, eh?

Valour: Strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness, courage, bravery.

I've been thinking about valour a lot lately, about what it takes to embody valour. Once upon a time, I was thought of (in my family at least) as the one who was "too sensitive" - a.k.a. a wimp. Years into psychotherapy I suddenly became aware that the way in which (for instance) I had insisted on wearing my little dresses, in spite of how my little girl fashion sense was in direct opposition to the Mellicker family aesthetic of proletarianism, meant I was a lot braver than my rep. That a-ha moment lead me, over time, to the realization that in spite of how much fear I experience, I'm actually fairly brave.

One of my spirit guides believes life is best experienced while standing tall, putting your shoulders back, lifting your chin, sucking in your gut and walking directly towards whatever is in front of you (whether or not that 'whatever' appears to be pleasant or not.) This guide is trying to teach me how to be valiant, which is a step or two ahead of raw courage. Maybe a few steps ahead, eh? Yes, I'm brave, but am I graceful? Valour requires a kind of gentleness or softness, a subtlety that is not necessarily part of bravery. Valour requires compassion, including self-compassion. Whew!! Valour is a steep learning curve!

Pema Chodron, the baddest ass Buddhist on the planet, also beckons me towards valour. Well, not me personally, but all of us. Her book, The Places that Scare You is such a compassionate call to valour. She posted the following on Facebook last week: "To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path."

Wow. Most of my experiences with courage are so much more awkward than what she describes. I've faced scary stuff, yes, but with bravado, with a girly macho. Afterwards, I drink or in some other way make myself numb. I think that counts as bravery, but certainly not as valour.

In the wonder stories, the heroes and heroines are always valiant. They work hard, stay pure in their hearts, meet challenges, keep their eyes on the prize even while undergoing tremendous hardships. They stop to help the less fortunate, march into battle, risk their lives in order to help the ones they love. Even when everything seems hopeless, they hope. They see straight through delusions, they are not ambitious; instead, they are humble. Meanwhile their stepsisters or older brothers, wicked kings and stepmothers, who are ambitious and greedy, never come to anything good in the end. The heroes and heroines of these stories, by virtue of their valour, live happily ever after. I believe Marina Warner is correct when she says wonder tales are socially subversive. They certainly are!

My life is so easy and full of goodness, fun, and beauty. The challenges I face are nothing compared to what others have to deal with every single day. I am very grateful! But into every life, some rain must fall. In the past I have endeavored to meet difficulty with courage. I thought that was the best I could do. From now on, when I am faced with some kind of relatively minor hardship (in the scheme of things), I'm going to try my best to meet it valiantly or as close to that as is possible. This is the spiritual path, as Pema says.

Shoulders back, chin up, gut sucked in, walking forward as gracefully as possible. Oh yeah. Shalom.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The quote on the sidebar comes from the introduction to my new book. Yes. I bought a book this week even though I swore, after the move, that I had to cure myself of this particular addiction. Hello, my name is Reya and I am a bookaholic. It could be worse.

The book is a great collection of not well known French "wonder tales" as the editor calls them, stories that were told in salons and at dinner parties throughout the eighteenth century. These stories (usually called fairytales) were not intended for children, oh no. I love very old and very new translations of stories we heard as children - my my these tales were dumbed down when they became children's stories. Wow.

The eighteenth century was (in Europe at least) such a bizarre and fruitful era. It was a great time for music as well as all the other arts. Revolutions brought down old paradigms - it was a pretty dynamic century. The high fashion of that time puts 1980's spandex, shoulder pads and glitter to shame, don't you think? What in the world were they thinking with the white wigs and powder and all those foofy blouses? (Of course you know I'm talking about men's fashion, right?) It is no wonder that the folktales of that century are so psychedelic. I imagine the rich people sitting around in their tricked out fashions, sipping absynthe and spinning stories all night long. What an image. Wow.

In Reclaiming we worked a lot with folk/fairy/wonder tales. Witch camp was almost always a seven-day intensive shaped around such a story. We explored the plot lines and characters through ritual and spontaneous performance art, by channeling the essence of the characters and themes. We dove deep into those stories because we thought they contained archtypal patterns that would help us transform ourselves.

Marina Warner says that wonder tales begin (of course) with wonder.

After wonder, consolation; after inquiry, resolution; after shape-shifting or metamorphosis, the happy ending. Happy endings characterise the wonder tale, and a happy ending, in this collection, means a certain strain of exalted, heartfelt, hardwon love.

This is the perfect book for me to be reading at this moment in time, and a great addition to my enormous library of fairytales. And it was only $3 on the table at Riverby books. You see how I justify my addictions?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mutable Truths

I love the film The Matrix. I love Laurence Fishburne explaining "reality" to Keanu Reeves. I particularly like the line, "Your mind makes it real." Oh yeah! Several times during the movie, some character or another says something about "the" truth to which Keanu inevitably responds, "What truth?"

What truth, indeed!

I'm a believer in multiple truths, possibly I believe in infinite truths, infinite realities and universes. One problem with this set of beliefs is that sometimes one of my personal truths clashes with another; I guess that's inevitable, in a world of infinite truths, yes? Honestly, is it any wonder I get so confused sometimes?

One of my truths is that the future does not exist, that all of us (not just people, but everything - plants, animals, planets, stars, weather, bugs, etc. co-create the world. "Reality" (such as it is a singular thing) is an ongoing process of weaving, so therefore the future can not, does not exist. There's a warp and woof, but no substance to the future, according to this truth.

But another truth is, sometimes I can see around a corner into the future, before it has been co-created. For instance, for years in San Francisco I dreamed repeatedly that I had moved east of the Mississippi River to a hot and humid landscape. In those dreams I always asked myself why in the world had I moved. When I woke up from those dreams, I always felt so relieved to still be in California, my home forever, so so I thought at the time.

Last night I was thinking about a moment years ago, in Dundon, Somerset County, England, at witch camp in mid August, during the Perseid meteor shower. Someone else was leading an outdoor ritual so I was standing up the hill a ways, watching the energy from a distance. All of a sudden, my body turned me around. My head tilted backwards of its own accord or so it seemed, just in time to see a bright turquoise fireball appear in the sky, trace a brilliant arc, sizzling (you could hear it, it was so close). I didn't even have time to say LOOK before it disappeared. It was an OH WOW moment I will never forget.

Maybe that experience was more about being in relationship with the fireball, like the way in which, in martial arts and in love, we connect with the Other. Maybe it was my energetic relationship with the aqua blue meteor that turned my body to face it. It moved, so I moved. Maybe that small miracle had nothing to do with me "knowing" (at some level) that this thing was about to occur.

Who knows? You see how I try to synch all my truths? It's an impossible endeavor, like herding cats, as they say. But I try anyway. You know.

It was cloudy and rainy in DC last night so I was unable to see the conjunction of planets in the early evening, nor was I able to see even a single Perseid meteor. Dang, man. Since I was having a hard time sleeping, I decided to imagine that the shooting stars were keeping me awake. I made maybe a dozen wishes, all as heartfelt as if I had seen, with my own eyes, the shower of light that was taking place above the overcast.

Do you have to see a shooting star with your physical eyes in order to be granted a wish? My truth? Nope. The earth is still moving through the debris left behind by comet Swift Tuttle, so - make a wish. Make a dozen wishes. May all your wishes come true. Salaam and Shalom, y'all. Happy weekend.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

Dawn arrived this morning as always. My bedroom is quite dark but ambient light filters in from the kitchen. I love waking up to natural light so much. It makes the animal of my body very happy. This morning, the light came, but then it grew dark again. I was dozing off and on. The thought came to me: "Eclipse?" But I knew that wasn't right so I shook myself completely out of sleep, got up. A fierce thunderstorm was just beginning in earnest.

The usual pattern of weather in DC includes lots of summer thunderstorms, though ordinarily they occur in the afternoon. A morning thunderstorm is quite unusual, and y'all know I almost always love unusual. It was a serious thunderstorm this morning. At its peak I heard whooping and shouting coming from East Capitol Street, no doubt some poor person just trying to get to work on time, getting drenched, and finally surrendering to the beautiful power of the storm. The citizens of the District do not normally let loose with big ole wooooo-hooooooo's unless they are cheering for their team of choice. The storm seemed to respond by coming closer, getting louder and brighter. The hooting guy on East Capitol Street was dancing in shamanic alignment with the weather. Hope he didn't get struck by Brother Lightning.

I've written before about how I believe that every possible universe exists simultaneously, side by side. The realities that are very similar sometimes coalesce into one another. Also, sometimes I feel like a gate opens through which I can step into a reality almost identical to the one in which my consciousness resides.

The move into the chateau was a literal version of the above idea. I'm still here on Capitol Hill, still working at the same place as before, still cooking dinner for John and Manuel (they were here last night). My patterns and routines are almost the same as before, "almost" being the key word here.

Though at times as disorienting as a fierce morning thunderstorm, I'm really loving the new reality in which I've taken up residence. Physically, as well as spiritually, I am in such a different space than I was a month ago. Life is good and I am grateful. Bravo, Salaam and Shalom. And thanks Brothers Lightning and Thunder, Brother Wind and Sister Rain, for showing me in no uncertain terms how different this brave new world can be. Beautiful work this morning! A+. Oh yeah.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I love stars

Many thanks to Jo, Rick and Dubby, who inspired me to write about this.

Some people use family trees or organizational charts or other kinds of schematics in order to understand relationships. I love the idea of schematics of all kinds, for sure. Diagrammed sentences totally fascinate me; I am such a nerd. Geometry is, of course, a map of spatial relationships. Math of all kinds of a symbolic way to understand how everything is related to everything else. (If I had it all to do over again, I would study math with a passion.)

Word clouds are very cool ways to visually understand the relationship of an individual to her writing. I made a word cloud from this post on wordle.com. Quite revealing, very cool. I've also always been a fan of mind mapping. It is a very creative process. Speaking only for myself, I've tried taking notes at meetings using this colorful method. Though - later on when trying to write up the notes, my eyes crossed. I couldn't figure out what the heck I was trying to convey. Oh well, it was a lot more fun than taking notes in the traditional sense.

I like to think in terms of constellations. I love the way in which, in the Greek myths, the heroes are often placed in the sky as constellations. To me when more than one person or thing comes together in a way that means the whole becomes greater than a sum of its parts, even the very finest org chart or blueprint can not describe the connection.

A few years ago I did a series of paintings of the standard 88 constellations in the night sky of earth. The paintings themselves are not very interesting to look at, but the process of making the paintings was great. I had so much time, while painting, to think about how I constellate with others, with my work and the world. Using the idea of constellations offers the chance to view relationships as much more than simple connections. Constellations are mythic by their very nature, both the "real" constellations as well as the constellations I've invented to describe my relationships.

I like using the big and little dippers as the constellation that best describes my relationship to my profession. I "see" them, as they turn in the sky, pouring a healing potion back and forth, almost like the Temperance card in the tarot. Don't ask me why, but the constellation that describes the relationship among a group of tight knit friends (the "band of gypsies" as we call ourselves) is Lyra, the harp.

Some relationship constellations do not exist in astronomy books. The truth is, looking at a dark, clear sky, the eye can create all kinds of unofficial shapes. Also, sometimes constellations alone can not adequately describe relationships. For instance, I "see" the blog realm as the Milky Way, a whole galaxy of interactions, seen from within.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea, right? I am relational, almost to a fault. Well, not quite. And I like to connect the dots. So it makes sense that I constellate, on a daily basis, with people, animals and things near and far. Yes? I say yes.

Here's the constellation of Riverby Books and the Congress Market next door. On Sundays the Capitol Hillbillies play bluegrass. Folks sit around and listen. Sweet old village style constellation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quiet DC

From the "back porch", aka west side, of the Capitol.

Not everything about August is bad. Though the relentless midatlantic summer usually worsens in August (hard to imagine it could get any worse this year), the good thing is: everyone leaves town. The citizens of the District slip away to a lake in Vermont or the mountains or the Outer Banks or some other beach location. Members of Congress go "home," their staffs work short days, wear flip flops, take long weekends. Even the tourists disappear.

The traffic lightens up, the pace slows, DC gets quiet and as close to lazy as this frantic city ever will. I love this aspect of August so much. As I always say, I really hate sharing the nation's capital with the rest of the nation even though I know that's part of the deal.

I tend to get nostalgic during the quiet days of August. I think about how DC used to be, with folks sitting out on their front porches drinking tea or lemonade, talking about the neighbors, or at least to the neighbors.

One thing I really miss about living on Tennessee Avenue is the neighbors. I bet I hadn't lived in that house for 5 days before I knew pretty much everyone on our end of the block. The other day, one of my ex neighbors drove past me as I was wandering around. She leaned out of the car and yelled YOU ABANDONED US, REYA!!, then laughed and drove on. I love the informal, ironic, you-are-one-of-us connection that was part of the Tennessee Avenue lifestyle. Here on East Capitol, people are friendly, but it's very different, much more formal. Truth is, I am way too funky to live on this grand avenue. Please don't tell anyone; I'm trying hard to fit in!

I miss being awakened every day by the sound of barking dogs. Now I wake up to an alarm clock which is not nearly as humanizing. Awww ... see? I am feeling nostalgic. Time to get a grip right now, jump in the shower, head into my busy day at work. That should shake me out of my reverie, yes? I say yes. Onwards & upwards. Shalom.

The blues guys at Eastern Market, with their porkpie hats and some cute girls. Oh, and bubbles from the bubble machine at Marvelous Market.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Once upon a time, way back in the mists of my personal history, I was smart enough to take one day a month to flush my system. When the moon was dark, I fasted, drank only carrot juice and water for 24 hours. Even a mild-mannered cleanse like a one day fast resets everything, reminds the body what normal appetites look like. It's nice to let the digestive system rest once in awhile, to let go of habits such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and such.

In recent years I've let that practice slip, mostly out of laziness or perhaps self-indulgence or who knows why. By the time I got sick this last week, my toxin level was pretty much over the top, or so it has seemed during the early phases of the detox I'm currently experiencing. I'm not fasting, but am eating very carefully, while totally avoiding all my guilty pleasures until I feel "right" again, whatever that means.

It's always a relief to discover that drinking, coffee, even chocolate, are all just habits that aren't that hard to stop once I'm in a mood to do so. I was so sick this week, it was not a struggle to slam the brakes on these pleasant indulgences.

My mind clears during a flush like the one I'm now in the midst of. I see things from different angles, I feel so focused and able to contemplate fully. It's kind of a miracle - which begs the question, why don't I quit for good, live the pure and righteous lifestyle?

Oh. Come on! Life is short and I'm not dead yet. Carpe diem, baby. Never drink coffee again? Just shoot me! No chocolate, ever?? Back slowly away from me without my chocolate. A glass of wine or blender drink or occasional martini? As I always say, a little bit of alcohol is great for people, though too much alcohol is terrible for everyone.

Yes I am benefiting from the flush, and looking forward to a more moderate approach to all beloved poisons sometime in the future. In the meantime, just visualize me with a halo over my head, my hands in the gassho position in front of my heart, an angelic look on my face. What? You can't imagine that? OK. Neither can I.


Saturday, August 7, 2010


One minute I was dancing around the chateau, drinking martinis and singing Shake yer groove thang, shake yer groove thang, the next minute: flat on my ass. Yeah. I got sick, an inevitable consequence of too much booze and coffee, not enough water, and not enough sleep. The body never lies. For awhile now my body has been telling me to slow down. But I was too busy having fun to listen, so - my body knocked me down. Ouch.

When I'm in a mood to blame something other than the unbridled behavior I've cultivated since I moved into my own space, I hold the crazy planetary arrangements and especially the mass coronal ejection of last week responsible. It's an excellent storyline: extreme space weather brought me to my knees. Ya think? Why not blame Brother Sun? He doesn't care, yes? I say yes.

Recovery from a big ole solar beat down requires monumental effort. I'm off all liquor for awhile, all caffeine, too, drinking lots of water and juice, eating carefully, getting enough sleep. Does it sound boring? It is actually refreshing, believe it or not. Slowly but surely I am coming back to my usual standards of good health. Maybe I can be a little bit more moderate in the aftermath. That is my intention.

Happy Saturday to all. L'chaim.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mithraic Reya

Brother Sun, who has been very quiet for the last couple of years, just woke up. I wish I could have seen the aurora borealis that was the result of the massive coronal ejection, but it has been cloudy in DC at night, so I missed it - if indeed you could even see it from here. Dang, man.

But I sense the awakened neighborhood star, or at least I tell myself that I can feel the renewed energy of Brother Sun. I feel the power, as a friend would say. Even in the midst of this ridiculously hot summer, I love the sun. I'm glad he's stirring around again, it's a relief.

The re-awakened sun stirs up in me a sense of excitement, anticipation. It feels as if something really big is just about to happen? Do you feel it? Or is it just me?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Social Studies

What happened to yesterday? What I remember about days off work from the house on Tennessee Avenue is a whole lot of leisure time. Here at the chateau, my social life has picked up to such a degree that even my "weekend days" disappear in a poof of smoke.

Ironic that living alone has tilted me in the direction of extroversion, such an unusual state for me. People drop by, ring the doorbell, come in for whatever I have on hand (not much since I haven't even had time to get to the supermarket.) I go out - for lunch, dinner, drinks.

Hectic? Yes. Fun? Oh yeah. But ... I do miss hanging out here in the bloghood. This afternoon, between this and that, I should have some time to get around and visit.

Even now, at age 57, I learn something new every day, and every day I am surprised by something or another. Life is good and I am grateful. Shalom.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Strategy: Make Love, Not War

It's a great week to bump heads - well, if you feel like it - because the planets are squaring off against each other, i.e. metaphorically bumping heads, so you can blame the sky should anyone become offended. Or perhaps you would like to row against the current, and radiate peace, harmony and tranquility. I'm actually considering the latter rather than the former, which is so unlike me. I'm a mixer by nature and tradition. We Jews learn through disagreement. We argue at the drop of a hat, but we can come out of those interactions so much wiser, if we're able to listen, that is.

I am feeling rather contrarian, I mean moreso than usual. My intention is to keep that tendency in check as I move through this week, if possible. I'm going to get on the table of the Bulgarian swimmer massage therapist today; that should help soften me up. Also perhaps I can blow off some steam at lunch today with the woman who brought me "into the blood of Mongolian shamanism," as she describes it. She loves a good head bump and is never offended by a challenge. Later on a friend and I will meet for martinis. The two of us love to laugh hard, a very good way to dissipate excess energy.

Once upon a time I loved seeing sparks fly, but as I get older, the allure of of mixing it up has waned. Especially recently, I'm feeling the urge to cultivate grace more than ever in my life. I'll be OHmmming a lot this week. Also ShalOHmming. And Salaaaaamming.

We'll see how it goes. Peace.

Monday, August 2, 2010


It's hard to catch digital images of ghosts, but I got one yesterday. Right after I took this shot, the ghost moved away quickly, offended, perhaps, or embarrassed at being photographed. When I realized what had happened, I yelled Sorry! but it was too late.

Yesterday for the first time since Jake died, which was well over a year ago, I "saw" myself walking a little dog, a mellow dog, a SMALL black dog, a dog named (who knows why?): Tony. I'm not ready yet, but at last I'm understanding it's possible another dog might come into my life. Right now, in the midst of the dog days, I'm receiving visuals that include a dog. Cute, eh? Also, it's now official: I am a dog person.

Jake was the first dog of my life, my dog of destiny, as I always called him. Once upon a time I thought I was a cat person, but as it turns out, that isn't at all true. Jake was so hard to live with, he was waaayyy too much dog for me to manage - and yet - I loved him without reserve. After Jake died, in so many ways I wondered if he would be the only dog to come into my personal saga. It seemed quite likely until yesterday, that is, when I "saw" Tony. I saw him curled up on the couch next to me, hanging out in the kitchen while I'm cooking, I saw us walking around Capitol Hill.

Maybe it won't be a black dog, maybe it won't be named Tony. I like the name Fiona for a dog as well, also Roxy would be a great dog name. Depends on the dog, I guess. Some of the things I know for sure: it will be a small dog, suitable for an old lady like me. It will be full grown - No More Puppies. It will be a mellow dog, not completely without attitude, but Tony - or Fiona - must get along with other dogs, and must not try to devour the mailman.

When I took on Jake, I didn't know a damn thing about dogs. I really hope I burned through a lifetime of dog karma with Jake; I'd like my relationship with Tony to be a whole lot easier. Just putting it out there, ok? OK.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In between

Oh man. I'm feeling the season of Lammas, this cross quarter moment halfway between summer solstice and fall equinox. It's not quite harvest season, yet summer has peaked and begun to recede. Lammas is a time that's neither here nor there. My shamanic dance at this moment looks a whole lot like the limbo.

In Reclaiming we characterized Lammas as a time of both hopes and fears. I'm feeling it, definitely. My heart is full to the brim with both emotions. All this hope, so much fear, overlapped in a way that makes it hard to tell the difference! Maybe my hopes and fears represent flip sides of the same thing, who knows?

I had a good sleep last night, so I'm therefore feeling more plush, as Mary Oliver would say. I'm more resilient this morning, confident that I can abide with an abundance of hope/fear for the time being. I wasn't so sure yesterday or the day before. I love a good sleep! Oh yeah.

White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers

--Mary Oliver