Breath

Everything comes back to the breath. Everything.

Meditation? It’s about the breath.

Trance? It’s about the breath.

Yoga? It’s about the breath.

Tai chi? Breath.

Aikido? Breath.

Orgasm? Breath.

Singing? Shinto chingon and misogi? Being present? Pain management? Anger management? Birth and death?

It is all about the breath.

Everything I need for this quarter I learned from Hinduism

On my last entry the ever insightful Niklas suggested I think about things in terms of house-holding. I’ve been mulling over that this week. I’ve barely tended my outside shrine, hardly had time or focus to sit. I find that I need to adjust my shrine, or else accept that everything will rust. But there’s always one more load of laundry to deal with, one more diaper to change, one more need to meet.

While the ideas of Place and Land have little overlap with Hindu spirituality proper, the lessons I learned last summer are ever so applicable now.

I feel like I’m doing things all wrong this quarter, that I’m being lazy, that I haven’t spent enough time, that this quarter will end before it gets off the ground. I remind myself that this project is just a beginning. None of this ends when my project officially ends. There is no doing it wrong. Last summer I wrote about being my own guru, about listening to what I need, about going deeper within. If I am honest, I need to rest. Spring, while on the surface a time of bursting energy: blooms, blood, blossoms, has always been a challenge for me. While most people feel the rush from the sun and the pull of the earth, I have often had my worst depressive episodes in the spring. Spring actually makes me want to hibernate. It’s not usually until June that I snap out of it and start to enjoy the pulse. I had forgotten this. I will let myself rest.

That realization brings me to quote myself: “I am starting to see that perhaps the questions of discipline, at this point in time, for me, may not be what I need to be focusing on.” I struggle with Doing It Right. But for my purposes, right now, doing it at all, and doing it with an open mind and heart, is more important than doing it Right.

I discovered though my Hindu practice that my practice is as a house-holder. “Every day I care for my family and as a parent I have to love and care for my kids without attachment to the outcome. Parenting is a spiritual practice! This is my karma-yoga. It is also a form of devotion, even as I cultivate relationships with the gods [or land spirits].” Of course, there are struggles. Am I really resting? Am I really taking care of my family? Couldn’t I be out tending my altar right now? And it all swings back around to the beginning and worrying about doing it right.

There is no way that I am going to learn everything or even most things about this new state, new town, new home in just this quarter. There is no way I am going to make lasting relationships with the spirits of anything in a mere 12 weeks. But like I discovered with Hinduism, I am making a start; I am forging new relationships, new practices, and this quarter is a beginning, not an end. I have every intention in getting back to Hindu practice, and the Land certainly isn’t going anywhere.

 

The newness isn’t really so new

New(ish) quarter, new altar, new practices, new challenges. I’ll be honest: I don’t feel up to newness right now. It might be blog project fatigue, or it might be the unique challenges that this quarter presents, on top of all the changes from moving and having sick pretty kids lately.

The new altar is small and outside. It’s a little metal cabinet I found at World Market Cost Plus. (It turns out that I love that store. I find so many great altar items there.) Inside the altar I have candles (which I put on top when I burn them), a little wooden heart-shaped mirror, offerings of water and salt, and glass marbles (they called out to me and look pretty). I sit on a round rock from the garden, which I keep next to the garden. I’d post a picture but my phone isn’t working. Still.

At the beginning of this quarter some one asked me what Place would look like as a practice or tradition. I had ideas. But a big challenge for me is that Place isn’t a tradition; there’s nothing to grip on to. I forge this practice entirely on my own. Sure, I can look to Indigenous traditional practices or to Shinto for ideas and guidance, but Place is my own thing. What was so helpful during my Hindu and Feri quarters was the specificity of practice. For a parent with little time and space, these traditions gave me something I could look to and grab hold of. This amorphous, create-it-myself tradition is harder.

It bothers me that I need something so concrete, that I need external structure to create a personal, spiritual practice. But the reality is, I have limited space and time in my day to make a practice happen. I have other little beings with needs that often trump my own desires. For the householder, mystical practices are impractical much of the time. I see why the great mystics had to give up family life. I see all of that and I take a breath and remember that there is no trophy to be won, no time limit set where I must reach enlightenment before my kids hit school. Spiritual practice is just that: practice.

So what does my practice look like right now? After my son goes off to preschool and husband has the baby, I head outside. I change out the water and salt. I light the candle and sit on my rock. I clap and bow and sit. Mostly my brain swirls with things to do, things not to forget, ideas to write about later.

Once I can get past that I try to listen and feel. Listen to the sounds of my neighborhood. To the birds. I feel the air and occasionally the rain. And then I think of myself as the World Tree: I sink into the earth and put down roots. I reach up into the heavens with the branches of my soul. I breathe in the air.

And then I bow again and blow out the green egg candle. I thank the spirits of the land and the Fey. It’s simple, but some days it feels like a struggle.

 

Recovery

Staycation 2012 was both a dud and an exercise in recovery. I did very little of my normal workload: spiritual practices, writing, cleaning, cooking, etc. It was nice to take a break. To sit. To read fiction. I freed up some space to deal with some lingering dysfunction. That wasn’t quite how I wanted to spend my free time, and yet…. it was necessary and freeing. I didn’t have my normal distractions and some unresolved personal junk demanded attention. I took off some of my armor and I’m trying to keep it off. Staycation was a recovery of sorts. A move toward more vulnerability.

But the kids were sick. Whatever cold I had the week prior hit both the kids with an unusual ferocity. Fevers, snot, coughs, whining, clinging…. I guess it was a good thing that I had more space, because the kids demanded so much of me.

So here I am. Nothing much to report from my ‘week off.’ The armor is down (at least, a little bit). I feel a bit more present. A little less desperate. More centered. Let’s begin again.

I’m back on my seat in the mornings: listening, breathing, pulling a tarot card, making offerings and saying my prayers. Back to exploring and expanding. Back to experimentation.

Yesterday’s blessings

UPDATED: added some photos. Thanks to Regan House Photo for her permission.

The resting doesn’t come easy for me. And now my nearly 4 year old is a whiny sick mess. But yesterday….

Yesterday was Priest Point Park (aptly named, no?). Just wild enough to please my soul. I sat in the trees while the baby girl toddled around. My boy was home with his papa, resting. A lazy bee buzzed around me in circles. A grey squirrel watched us from his perch on a tree. My friend and her children arrived and we went to play on the mudflats.

Rocks, shells, mud, the subtle sound of the water oozing from the earth. Ravens, crab shells, sun, the smell of the sea. And a big blue heron flying overhead, alighting on a near-ish tree.

Click here – Everyday Life Magic – to see pictures of the day. My friend, Rebecka, is a gifted photographer and she captured the joy of it all.

No great spiritual insights, just Being Present. For now, that’s enough.

Rest

I’ve talked about how I struggle with vulnerability. I also struggle with rest. Part of this is because I’m a naturally energetic and enthusiastic person. I like doing! Part of it is I internalize not doing with wasting time and taking up space. I do not heap this judgment on others; it’s a special judgment I keep for myself. Resting can mean sitting on the couch, but I’d better be Reading Important Works or Thinking Deep Thoughts. Funny, all the time I spend on the internet isn’t all that restful.

I’m very, very blessed/lucky/privileged that I get to live the life that I do. Almost all of my life is made up of things I enjoy doing: being with my kids, cooking for my family (yep, I really love doing that), taking care of my home, reading and writing, diving into my spiritual practices. It’s a great life.

But every so many weeks I get slammed with exhaustion. Part of it is because I’ve got a little nursling and a family to care for. Part of it is it’s been a damn busy year: new child (who arrived the day after I ‘got over’ the flu), big decisions about quitting my PhD program and where to move to when our visas expired, and then moving countries in two months. I have a lot of reasons to be tired. Part of it is because I am lousy at resting.

And so….. I am taking a little staycation. I’m going to take the next week and a bit off: husband is picking up the house and cooking slack, I’m going to back off of the blog and project and the internet in general. I’ve already started a fun, entirely non-serious novel.

My big struggle is not turning this period of rest into a Project all its own.

See you in a bit.

Moondays

I’m going to discuss Female Things, like fertility and menstruation, so if this is not your cup of tea, I’ll just say  – thanks for stopping by! – and wish you well on your way. This will likely be a little TMI for some.

When I started this project my baby girl was five months old. I was exclusively breastfeeding her and it wasn’t until last month (at 12.5 months postpartum) that my period returned. Like girls beginning to menstruate for the first time, the postpartum body takes several cycles (anywhere from one to over a year) to ‘normalize’ – find its rhythm and flow, literally. I am in the midst of my second postpartum period, and it’s a doozy.

Hot on the heels of last week’s virus I began bleeding. When I was a teen I had crippling menstrual cramps. Humiliatingly crippling. I once crawled on hands and knees through my high school hallways to get to the nurse. In college, I was once carried out of the dining hall bathroom back to my dorm because I was unable to stand, let alone walk. That kind of thing no longer happens to me. Birth has aided me in that area. But I’m bleeding more than I ever have since I was about 13.

It hits me in waves. I may be tired but I can focus and function, and then WHAM: I’m dizzy, exhausted. I can’t focus. I’m light-headed and the focus of my body is in my pelvis. Plans for even menial tasks are out the window. In some ways, it reminds me of being pregnant. I don’t get light-headed and unable to focus, but my center of gravity is lower. My body feels thicker, heavier – not necessarily in a weight and size way, but as if my blood is magnetized and connecting more viscerally with the iron in the earth.

This changes my perception of the world around me and profoundly affects my spiritual practice. During pregnancy and menstruation I feel less up in my head; Talky Self is less engaged and Fetch, my more primal soul, is at the forefront. I don’t want to think, I want to Be. This is a needed and welcome change for me – when I can alter my life and expectations to suit that shift.

My spiritual practice the last couple of days has been disjointed. I haven’t had the energy to take my practice outside, or to work on putting together my outside altar. This morning I sat on my cushion and lit a red egg candle. I feel fertile and bloody and fully enfleshed. Primal. I feel like I connect more deeply with Kali and the goddesses who in my mind sit on the Red side of things: Inanna, Ishtar, Lilith, Babalon. I am considering deepening my relationship with them and focusing my practice during my ‘moondays’ on them. I feel I relate a lot more now than otherwise.

I certainly don’t consider menstruation an impurity. I may feel sticky and messy and achy, but I know that the process is one of purification. This process allows me to have children. As a woman who chooses to have children, I am grateful for this. I am grateful that I no longer live a life where I have to ‘suck it up’ and continue on as if I’m not bleeding. Our society has no room for the mysteries of fertility, for Women’s Things.

None of this particularly lines up with place or Shinto. Perhaps as my outdoor practice becomes routine I’ll feel differently. Maybe next month will be a different experience entirely.

I’d love to hear from other women: how has menstruation affected your spiritual practice or experience? How do you accommodate it? Thoughts?