Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bringing Back the Light

All week I've been listening to tales of holiday drama from clients and friends. Every one of the stories involves arguments among family members. "My brother picked a fight with me," "My mother and I were at each other's throats," "The kids had to be separated to keep from killing each other," "My husband is beastly at Christmas." Etc. At the end of every story, the people say, "Why can't my family have a NICE Christmas?"

I'm not saying everyone is doomed to have a terrible time at Christmas, but it does seem to be a common experience. Naturally, having heard so many stories of holiday sturm und drang I've developed a theory. Maybe all the conflict is instinctual, maybe once upon a time it served a purpose, at least ritually.

In my imagination I travel back in time 12,000 years to the end of the Ice Age. I sit quietly at the edge of the fire circle and watch my ancestors celebrate winter solstice. The celebration doesn't look that different than what we do now, except in 2007 we have better outfits and whiter teeth. Back in 10,000 B.C., I see a bunch of people gathered around the fire. There's a lot of drinking and eating, big fires, dancing, loud talking, boisterous laughter and ... yes ... I see arguing. Or at least some kind of ritualized jousting, head banging or mock battle. Why? Because conflict creates energy. Get angry and you'll warm up right away. Friction among people stirs things up, creates a certain kind of (uncomfortable) light, but at least it's light, and at winter solstice any light is better than no light. Right? ... Well ... maybe!

Conflict, too, can help clear problems or resentments that have been festering for awhile and need to get cleaned up before the new year begins. Maybe some of the angry outbursts serve a psychological purpose as well.

Coming back through time to 2007, what I see is the same behavior, but less consciousness around why we continue to make such a fuss at solstice. Also we are now so harsh and judgmental towards ourselves and each other, maybe because we can't remember that this is normal holiday behavior. We expect perfection from each other and ourselves no matter how stressed out we are. What a shame.

I believe in my heart of hearts that people aren't that different now than we've ever been. We like to think of ourselves as evolved, so rational and intelligent - so modern. But every year as the days grow shorter, still, we throw ourselves into a frenzy, sacrifice ourselves to the rigors of the holidays, make offerings until our bank accounts are depleted and we're completely frazzled. Small wonder that so many of us breathe a sigh of relief on New Year's Day when we can finally relax again.

Really it's sweet, when you think about it. It's an act of valour, flopping around and doing the best we can to get through winter even though we've become virtually disconnected from the cycle of the year. A salute to our once and future quirkiness, so characteristic of our species.

Same as it ever was.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Monochromatic DC

2007 is dwindling down, bit by bit. Apparently all our allotted midatlantic technicolor has been used up and won't be renewed till January 1. How do people in Cleveland live with so much gray? Or Portland, Oregon for that matter. I lived there once for a couple of years. The never-ending gray drove me literally crazy.

But it's just a couple more days and then ... onwards to the new year. I am ready.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dregs of the Old Year

2007 is passing away. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. It was a very challenging year for me and in spite of all the wonderful things that came to pass, like getting my Reiki Master degree, finding the Sufi acupuncturist and showing (and selling) my photos, I can't dredge up a single drop of sadness at its passing.

When things get old, it's time for them to move on. Even time itself, measured in secular years, gets stale by the end of the solar month we call December. Some people write lists of the best and worst of the year passing away. I could. I could rant and rave especially about the seventh month of the seventh year of the new millenium, a month that sucked from beginning to end. Or I could wax rhapsodic about all the wonderful things that happened in the past cycle.

I prefer, however, to look forward to 2008. I'll complete my training in Jin Shin this coming year, take a class in memoir writing - sounds fun, eh? I've got two café shows for my photographs lined up for January and February, too. And I have an invitation to spend Thanksgiving in Wales this coming year, something I'm determined to do. Sounds like a great year ahead, yes? Yes.

As for 2007, may you pass away quickly and painlessly and rest in peace. What a year. All the good things, and all the sad things that made up the year are all finished now ... it's almost over. Onwards & upwards!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

....... R. Buckminster Fuller, *Critical Path*

Thanks to Rob Breszny for pointing me in the direction of this quote. He is my favorite astrologer.

How does a person go about resisting the urge to fight the existing reality? First have a look at existing reality, a clear eyed, clear hearted look. You can't flinch. You can't look in some other direction, hoping the change will happen without first really seeing what IS.

Well, I guess you can. I've tried looking away, hoping the existing reality would just disappear, but somehow, it never works that way for me. To build a model that makes the old ways obsolete requires that I know the old model like the back of my hand. Ouch!

Of course I'm as deluded as the next human, but sometimes I get a clear view, a glimpse of the "real world." Whoa ... the experience is like a cold drink tossed right into the face. Bracing! Invigorating! ... Humbling! Brilliant. Thanks, Bucky.

Happy Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Squirrel Mind

The mind is so powerful, amazing really. That old saying, that you can do anything you put your mind to, is absolutely correct. My problem with the cliché is that it sounds so easy. It's the "putting your mind to" part that's hard. The "doing anything" part is easy once the mind has been set to the task.

Yeah. The mind has a will of its own, almost, well ... seems that way sometimes, do you know what I'm talking about? Changing my mind, putting my mind to something, and especially opening my mind sometimes feels impossible, but it isn't impossible - far from it. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? Of course not.

I've been thinking about the power of the mind these last few weeks as I wander around Capitol Hill gazing in wonder at the squirrel nests, so beautifully constructed, so cozy and well situated at the cruxes of sturdy branches. It's hard to imagine that squirrels could focus long enough enough to build these gorgeous igloos of leaves, but they obviously can - and do. Their nests are exquisite works of rodent architecture, really they are. I figure, if squirrels can do it, so can I. In fact this year I surrendered to the holiday, put my mind to the task of celebrating Christmas. VOILA! I've had a fabulous Christmas.

It wasn't just the planned activities, getting together with old friends, gift giving and receiving, the cards. As if the world decided to shamanically align itself with my surrender, all day long yesterday delightful bits of fun and connection "accidentally" occurred. You can not plan for these moments, like yesterday afternooon when one of the owners of Schneider's (a wine shop) grabbed my elbow and steered me into the store. The staff was feasting and drinking, laughing, exchanging erudite wine jokes no one except other wine snobs could possibly understand. The owner happened to glance out the window at the very moment I walked past. Miraculously, he recognized me, and more miraculous still, he remembered a funny Christmas carol I wrote years ago for the store. The next thing I knew he was handing me a glass of champagne. It was an experience of spontaneous, unexpected Christmas generosity and good cheer, a lot of fun, and the champagne was delicious. Wow. What a Christmas.

Also lovely is the fact that light has literally returned to Washington DC in the form of crisp blue skies and plenty of light silvery gold sunshine. Jake and I have already had one walk today. Later I'll take the other dog in the house out, too, so I can soak in the light of the brand new solar year. I feel sparkly and cozy, like a Hallmark card. Awww! Isn't it sweet?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

U.S. Capitol, Winter Solstice 2007

My plan for the next three days?

Exchange gifts.
Have fun.

Surrendering to the holidays is the only way to go. Really, it is! Merry, happy, jolly to all, and much love.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Return of the Light

During the darkest quarter of the year, if you're going to be a photographer, you have to learn how to capture images at night. It's hard, at least for me. There aren't a lot of photons floating around, except in proximity to the Christmas lights adorning the front yards, and of course the obnoxious halogen orangey-pink from the street lights.

We urban folks take light for granted, but nighttime light is a fairly recent event. It used to be dark at midwinter, really really dark. Try as I might, I can't really imagine what life must have been like.

I love to think about Isaac Newton working with his prisms (in daylight only of course. Can moonlight be refracted through prisms? I have no idea.) Isaac lived way before electric light, so no wonder he was so fascinated with the stuff. He had two solid years to pull together his ideas about the nature of light, years he spent tucked away in a house in the country, avoiding the plague. Can you imagine? That was the mid 1600's in Britain, a rather unfathomable time not just because of the dark nights.

The good thing about Newton's enforced seclusion was that he had in his possession a book with hundreds of blank pages in which he wrote his observations and insights. Blank books were a very rare thing. He, and subsequently, we, were very lucky he had this book because during those two years, he did his most profound work with the physics of light. Can you imagine how he must have felt when he figured out that the prism actually divides light into different wavelengths? It must have been a hell of a moment. No wonder he turned to alchemy later in life. Light is amazing stuff. The darkest days of winter, even now in 2007, are a little bit scary. No wonder we gather in groups, make a lot of noise, light many lights, drink and eat too much. I mean, really.

The moon has turned, and as of today, solstice has passed. The light will return again. I've continued my frenzy, and am feeling cheerful. After tomorrow I will rest. Happy return of the light, ya'all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

When You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

A couple of days ago I finally figured out what you have to do at this time of year. Surrender. Surrender to the holidays. It's not about being Jewish or Christian or Pagan or any other religion, oh no. It's a national holiday as impossible to ignore as Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. Even trying to resist is just plain silly.

You see, I'm democratic by nature (small d, though I'm capital D, too). There are so many people I love. To send greetings to all of them would require a staff of 20 people who would have to work around the clock to get all the cards mailed, gifts wrapped, dates and drinks and dinners arranged. I might even have to hire people to attend some of the dinners and drinks in my place. After all, I'm also working like a dog and there are only 24 hours in a day.

What do I do when faced with this dilemma? I give up, try to hide, try to pretend the holidays aren't really important to me or some such bullshit. I fill my schedule at work to overfull so I don't have the energy to do anything once I get home, except collapse.

For heaven's sake.

So, for the past couple of days I've surrendered to the frenzy. It's better, actually, making cards (most of them not yet mailed), shopping for gifts, trying to get everything wrapped and addressed, as opposed to sitting in my room, sullen and pouting, or oblivious. In fact, I've been having fun in my mini-frenzy. Who could have guessed?

It's clear that I will not be able, as usual, to send holiday greetings to everyone I care about, but I think the truth is that all I have to do is send as many as I can, and trust that the people who don't get a card or gift understand it isn't because I don't love them.

Note to self: Send cards, give gifts. On December 24th, STOP. Then, relax, Reya. Relax! Gosh.

The moon is full and solstice is upon us. Life is good and I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Spirit - MIA

Where is my holiday spirit? It seems to have gone missing this year.

Ordinarily I'm no lover of the Christmas season, a behavioral pattern established during many years of Christmases spent in unhappy situations or alone. Usually I dread the day, the eve, the whole thing. I'm a big scrooge, bah-humbugging whenever possible. Last year I rallied my energy, sent cards, bought presents, even got them mailed off in time to meet the deadline, and though I still felt out of sorts about it, at least I celebrated.

This year? I'm not feeling against Christmas, nor am I feeling in a Christmas mood. I'm completely blank about the upcoming holiday, just around the corner at this point.

I bought some Christmas cards but I have yet to send out more than three or four. I almost bought some gift wrap today but then i remembered that I don't have any gifts to wrap up.

What gives?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Three Random Thoughts

1. "Re-gifting" is an end stage activity of a consumer society. You can still shop till you drop, even though every closet in your house is stuffed to overflowing. It's OK because you don't have to keep anything. You can wrap it nicely and give it away, thereby creating some room for the possibility of more shopping. Wow.

I'm fascinated by shows like Clean House in which the people are so attached to their stuff, and to shopping and buying, that they literally don't have any room left in their homes. The Clean House team comes in, talks them into selling stuff at a yard sale, then fixes up their houses. It's on the Style channel. Highly recommended to students of popular culture as well as those interested in the dirty underbelly of this empire's fall from grace. Right now Clean House is looking for the "messiest home in America." Can you imagine?

All empires end the same way - with a bloated population stuffed to the gills, apathetic, numb, mostly drunk or drugged in some way or another. It was just like this in Rome, too. C'est la vie.

2. A friend asks, Why does Christmas have to be a month long?

I think it used to be shorter. I had one boyfriend during the early 1980's who had nerves of steel. He never even started shopping before Christmas Eve. He loved it. He would go to some big mall, shop all day among the mobs of angry "last minute" shoppers, then spend the evening wrapping presents and decorating the tree. I bet he doesn't do it anymore. This year certain American stores opened at 4:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Four in the morning? That's just wrong. Crazy.

3. Other than a couple of seasonally related trains of thought, I'm below the radar for the duration (till solstice) apparently. OK. Why not?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The End of the Storm

Perhaps the unrelenting Cleveland-style overcast has finally cleared. Brother Wind started howling late in the day, ripping the thick layer of cloud to shreds. It can't have been easy to break the choke hold that the heavy stratus has had on our usually sunny landscape. Thanks Brother Wind!

By sundown all that remained of the clipper were some pretty, pink-flecked clouds that, even as I watched, pulled themselves apart and disappeared, revealing the first quarter moon and even a couple of stars. Nice!

I love weather, but any condition that persists for more than a few days begins to get on my nerves. Fortunately, here in the U.S. midatlantic, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, the weather changes every three days, year round - except - when it doesn't, like this past week. DC's moody weather is one of the main reasons I'm grateful to have landed here in this crazy powerful wounded beautiful city.

A toast to the weather gods, you great thespians. To the Eternal Blue Sky, a deep bow. Gasshos all around, too, for Grandfather Sun, so old now. Onwards and upwards to solstice. I am ready!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Behind the Veil

Doing well, though. I'm in a fine humor, having great dreams in which, for instance, I'm leading a spiral dance or George Clooney is my boyfriend. It's unusual for me to be so quiet. Kind of nice.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Life Beneath the Pervasive Stratus Uniformus

An unrelenting heavy gray overcast has cast a pall over the last few days of solar 2007, quite unusual for DC, even in winter. It's Connecticut weather, but at least without all the grimy leftover snow. I'm not a fan of Connecticut weather, no offense to the Connecticons I know.

Somehow it's just perfect that a serious gloom has settled over the city here in mid-December. It should be gloomy and damp, cold. Even so, or maybe in shamanic alignment with the weather, I feel exhausted, longing to hibernate, wilting away without sunshine, though I know after solstice next week, suddenly I'll be lighter on my feet - in attitude too, even if it's still cloudy and spitting rain. Sometimes turning the wheel of the year is an arduous task.

Eight years ago on December 21st, I arrived in Washington DC, still in shock over the fact that I'd actually left San Francisco behind. In some ways it seems like yesterday, but mostly, that day we zoomed into town after a drive across the country with a our stuff in boxes, stored somewhere, and Jake napping comfortably in the back of the truck, mostly that day seems like a million years ago. Crazy.

What a solstice! Let there be light, please? ... Just a few more days. All is well, I'm hanging in there. Hope you are, too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The fallen leaves, surprised by last week's snow and the subsequent rains, haven't had the opportunity to shrivel up, get dry and crumble before winter like they usually do. Instead they've been mummified by all the cold precipitation, plastered into the pavements. Underfoot, the landscape is a decoupage of the elements, slippery, beautiful and slightly unnerving.

I don't remember a fall like this but I haven't lived here that long. I've definitely seen incredible variations here in the seasons, but nothing like this year, though I'm sure it isn't the first autumn of mummified leaves and leaf ghosts. Surely not.

It's new to me, which is what makes the leaf rot so interesting, and kind of creepy. The sequence goes like this: first they get flattened but are still structurally sound, then pudding-like, then transparent, after which they disappear altogether, leaving behind only ghostly silhouettes, as if they'd been vaporized.

Decay has never been my favorite phase of the cycle of life, but these tableaus, the sidewalks of Capitol Hill in mid-December 2007, are striking, even beautiful. A salute to the leaves, once vibrant, then colorful, now just a memory. May each of us be so graceful at the appointed time. Bravo! L'Chaim!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Of the Blood

Originally my interest in Mongolian shamanism centered around the training and initiation I received from a person whose family practices the old ways up in the tea producing mountains of what is now Bangladesh. I learned so much from her. She was a great teacher and generous benefactor. Wow.

My interest was rekindled after reading about Chinkiss Khan, but I've had a hard time finding sources of good information about anything Mongolian. Obviously, it's not a topic that mainstream readers are interested in - I can't understand why - I find it fascinating. And it's not that different than the other earth-based religions, like Native American trads and western European pagan customs, all of which have become tremendously popular in the last twenty years. What, are the Mongols chopped liver?

Well, there are extenuating circumstances, it turns out. Mongolian shamanism was repressed under the U.S.S.R. - that could account in part for its obscurity. The Soviets took Chinggiss Khan's spirit flag away from the Tibetan monastery where it had been kept for hundreds of years. No one knows what happened to it. Mongolian shamanism was ... outlawed?

Hard to imagine that some guy on a horse in the middle of Mongolia, making offerings to the Eternal Blue Sky, could possibly interfere with things occurring in the Kremlin - what was the threat? Except - the Soviets took a dim view of all religions - maybe they were just being thorough.

I should go down to the Library of Congress - maybe I'll find something really good there. In the meantime, I'm slogging through Shamans and Elders, Experience, Knowledge and Power among the Daur Mongols by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon. She's an Oxford anthropology Ph.D., so you can imagine how difficult it is to read, like plowing through mud. Well worth it, though, for all the information I can understand. (Why do academics write like that? Sheesh.)

For comic relief from Ms. Humphrey's Oxford-speak, I've also been reading a popular book about the history of Chinese medicine, written for the lay person. Ahhhh. The most ancient acupuncture needles yet discovered were found in Manchuria, a part of Inner Mongolia. They estimate the age of the stone needles at 8,000-10,000 years! Isn't that crazy? At the end of the last Ice Age, somebody in Mongolia was using stone needles on his or her fellows, using a style probably not that different than the Sufi acupuncturist's 21st century brand of healing. He has much thinner needles, thank God. Wow. Acupuncture has definitely stood the test of time - and it's so old (they guess it's much older than herbal medicine) that it has to be shamanic at its roots. No wonder I'm having such a dramatic and completely unexplainable experience as a receiver of this ancient healing art.

A salute and respectful gassho to you Mongolian shamans, both ancient and modern. Thank you!

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure-dome decree,
where Alph, the sacred river, ran
through caverns measureless to man
down to a sunless sea,

so twice five miles of fertile ground
with walls and towers were girdled round.
and there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
where blossom'd many an incense-bearing tree.
And here were forests as ancient as the hills,
enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Many different spiritual traditions have a theology of triple souls, including Judaism. The Mongolian/Siberian shamanistic version is so interesting. One of the souls becomes a bird and flies to the upper world after death. Nice. The second soul belongs to nature. It will only incarnate as a human once. After death, that soul returns to nature, never to return in human form again. They say that when a person has a strong nature soul, they command respect, admiration, even awe, the kind of thing you would feel when looking at beautiful mountains or rivers.

The nature spirit can never leave the body. Once it's gone, you're dead. But the other two souls regularly come and go from the body. It's the soul of the lower world that so often gets lost or stolen. The underworld soul is the one shamans usually go after when doing a soul retrieval.

I know what those shamans mean when say someone has lost a bit of themselves. Anytime I see George W. Bush these days, I'm struck by how blank he seems. I believe he needs a shamanic soul retrieval ritual. Or ... maybe it's too late. It would be an interesting task, trying to bring his soul back. Or anyone's, really. Whew.

What I'm undergoing right now in conjunction with the work of the Sufi acupuncturist and the newly released seven dragons, feels like an extended soul retrieval ritual. That's why I can't write a post to save my life of late. I don't have words to explain my current experience. Hope, though, that you've enjoyed the pics.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gratitude to Old Teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight--
We were students then--holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

--Robert Bly

Friday, December 7, 2007

When Seasons Collide

The poor trees. First there was the drought. Finally that pattern broke and the rains came. But it was hot and humid until the very end of October. Naturally confused as to what season it was, the trees hung on, continued to feed chlorophyll into their leaves. Some of them were still operating in late summer mode this week, before the snow, that is.

All those nice green leaves are on the ground now, brought down by the heavy snow. As you can imagine, the trees that shed them are looking a little dishevelled, maybe even forlorn. I would be, if I were a tree.

Spring was too cold, summer was dry and congealed, and went on way too long. Fall was very nice, though late, and now winter has jumped the gun, slipped in a bit ahead of schedule. What ill-mannered seasons we've endured in 2007!

I wonder if the trees agree. Happy weekend ya'all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Seven Dragons, et. al.

S N O W !!!

There wasn't a lot of it, but that's fine. This early in the season, snow is a wonderful surprise. It's fluffy and drifty and beautiful - and still falling at 3:00 pm on Capitol Hill. Snow cleans the air and, if it accumulates, temporarily transforms the landscape into an open body of water. I love snow.

I watched the snow begin in earnest this morning through the window of the Sufi acupuncturist's treatment room as I lay on the table, receiving a treatment called Release of the Seven Dragons. For awhile he held my head and chanted prayers in Arabic, too. He waved his hands around me just the way I do when I'm re-arranging a client's energy field. What, I ask you, is not to love about the Sufi acupuncturist? Meanwhile in shamanic alignment with the treatment, frozen crystals fell from the sky and a firetruck (so like a fire dragon) roared past the office building. The timing was perfect.

This morning I was the lucky recipient of a multi-dimensional healing in which early season snowflakes, the DC Fire Department, a Sufi acupuncturist and even the dragons were involved. Isn't that cool?

To all the natural forces that came together so magically for me today:

I am in awe. Thank you, I salute you. Well done!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Life Among the Subterraneans

A client came in today for the first time in weeks. She's been in Argentina and had many fine stories to tell. The whole time she was on the table, I was wracking my brain, trying to come up with even a mildly entertaining anecdote from my own life these last three weeks, anything I could share in response to her question, "So what's up with you?"

Could have talked about Mongolian shamanism, I guess, something I'm currently studying, along with the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM arose from shamanism in extremely ancient Manchuria, which is part of Mongolia. The two traditions are deeply entwined. Wow. Even separately, these subjects fascinate me at the moment, though, for most folks, all my thoughts about ancient China would be completely:


Oh well.

In shamanic alignment with the season of inwards and downwards, I've been virtually 100% internal of late. Not all of it has been uncomfortable. I'm healing now, a kind of private affair, isn't it? Thank God for Otis Redding.

Sunday, December 2, 2007