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Pickling Harmonie


Pickling Harmonie

by Sally Singingtree
August 2017

It’s pickling season and this year I’ve discovered a variety of cucumber that makes the best dill pickles I’ve ever tasted. I grow some cucumbers in my garden and buy the rest from Libby at the local farmer’s market. Most cucumber plants are garden devas— demanding constant attention. One afternoon they preen with lush big leaves, a multitude of yellow blossoms, and verdant green baby cucumbers; yet for all that glory, by the very next morning the foliage can look wretched—covered with unsightly powdery mildew or blotches of scab. Organic treatment options are short lived and require frequent application. This year one of the farmers at the Wednesday market introduced me to “harmonie” cucumbers—intrepid growers that deliver without all the ups and downs. The dark green skin is tender and not too thick, the inner pulp flavorful, not bitter, the seeds are small and the plants are healthy and beautiful day in and out, thriving on drip irrigation, lots of sunshine and fertile soil.

I enjoy making my own pickles—it’s something I took up after being inspired by Aunt Rose’s pickles. In the beginning I used the ubiquitous hot water bath, vinegar based method, the same process my aunt used. About five years ago I began using the ancient brine fermentation process which relies on beneficial yeast and bacteria to preserve cucumbers by transforming them into pickles. It’s a simple technique; plus there’s no boiling a huge pot of hot water on a hot summer day. The night before I plan to pickle, I heat half a gallon of filtered water into which I dissolve 3 Tablespoons of salt; I let it cool overnight. The next day I gather cucumbers, lots of dill, garlic, peppercorns and a few grape leaves. Once everything is assembled, I carefully pack a big pickling crock with all the loose ingredients, and then pour the brine solution over everything. The mixture needs to stay submerged beneath the surface of the brine—it’s an anaerobic fermentation process — so I weight it down with a ceramic stone, and place a cover over the crock. The fermentation process will take a week or two.

As the cukes soak, mold, scum (also known as bloom) and weird looking bubbles form on top of the brine. This stuff is kinda scary looking; but it’s different from the fuzzy growth on top of leftovers at the back of the refrigerator; it won’t hurt you. Kitchen germ-o-phobes and refrigeration police would probably freak out at this point if they observed the brew, but humans have been preserving vegetables this way for thousands of years. Every day or so I skim off the bloom. After about 5-7 days soaking in the brine, the pickles are ready to taste. The first time I did this I half thought I might die, but I risked it anyway. I took a teeny bite, informed my husband so he’d know what to tell the paramedics if necessary, and waited to see if I survived until the next morning. I woke up feeling great—eager to take another taste of the pickles in process. I sliced a chunk off one of the cucumbers; it was almost ready, just needed another day or two. Once the pickles reached the ideal flavorful and still crunchy state, I packed them into wide-mouth quart Mason jars and refrigerated them.

Ingredients & Equipment:

“harmonie” cucumbers
grape leaves
garlic
dill
1/2 gallon filtered water + 3 Tbsp. salt
fermentation crock
weight + cover

Deirdre Rawlings provides the following description:
“Fermentation happens when microorganisms (natural bacteria and some yeasts) feed on the sugar and starch in food, converting them into lactic acid in a process known as lacto-fermentation…
Lacto-fermentation creates beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, and various strains of probiotics (live beneficial microorganisms). An added benefit just happens to be an increased shelf life of food.”
(Rawlings, Deirdre Ph.D.,N.D. Fermented Foods for Health. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2013, p.6.)

The nutritional health benefits of these pickles is mainly in the probiotics, a term meaning “for life”. These microorganisms form during the long soak in the brine. Probiotics have very beneficial properties for the intestinal flora. Even before science told us anything about probiotics, our distant forebears knew that eating a little sauerkraut, chutney, or a few pickle slices with a meal helped to keep the gut happy.

A few Saturdays ago, as I was packing up a late summer pickle batch, rioting was taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The KKK, neo-Nazis and alt-right neo-fascists—many of them carrying assault weapons and dressed in riot gear— were marching to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. Human rights counter-demonstrators had gathered as well—mostly groups and individuals practicing nonviolence but they were joined by antifa , an armed group ready to physically defend themselves and others from the violence of white supremacists. The situation was volatile and became deadly. I was getting “breaking news alerts” on my i-phone every few minutes. The intimidating vitriol and brazen incitement to violence had begun Friday night when white supremacists led a torch-lit march through the streets. By Saturday morning the scene was dry tinder. Like many, I was profoundly shaken. I had mistakenly assumed that our country’s old wounds were more healed than they are. I wonder if we will ever arrive at a time when we will live together amicably in an environment of dynamic harmony among all the different voices? Sometimes the discrepancy between what I hope for and what I hear on the news feels like it’s starting to pickle my brain!

But seriously, sometimes it helps to clarify a situation by noticing the partial similarities between two different processes. So, viewing our current socio-political situation via the analogy of fermentation and probiotics, what can we discern? Are there any correspondences between the fermenting process and the social unrest thats been brewing in our country for a very long time?

Just as mold and scum inevitably form on top of the brine during the early stages of transforming raw vegetables into fermented food, so to do unsavory human elements break forth during times of change and disruption of historical norms. Unfortunately, as we are seeing now, things often get dangerous before they (hopefully) improve. What we previously assumed was unshakable progress in our political/social/community environments is now threatened. The effect of changing times upon those who feel left behind creates a backlash of resentment, seething anger, and a longing to return to sugar-coated versions of an idealized past greatness. Yet most of us realize that it’s impossible to wrench things backwards; change resides in the conditions of the “here and now”. However it’s essential that we appreciate the difference between nostalgia and benefitting from the lessons of history—cautionary tales that can help us avoid repeating similar tragic mistakes in the present day.

During the Civil War General Lee authorized and personally committed despicable violence, torture and other hateful actions towards African Americans. Lee and most other confederates were unable to recognize that skin color is unrelated to human value, that all people are worthy of justice and compassion, and that torture, lynching and splitting families apart are depraved actions which only intensify the problems. After defeat of the Confederacy, after Jim Crow, after government mandated integration, after a black man was elected president of the United States— these attitudes festered in the psyches of many angry, fearful people who felt deprived of their glory days as top dogs. This is the legacy that the statues of General Lee venerate.

From another vantage point, the leaders of the Confederacy provided valuable lessons about what doesn’t work. Mistakes are an invaluable part of human advancement. Edison had many failures before he invented the incandescent light bulb. We don’t need to build monuments to mistakes; but to create a better future we must learn from them. Perhaps those empty pedestals where statues of confederate heroes once stood could portray newly sculpted figures showing humanity’s hard won progress along with humanity’s ongoing ability to birth inspiring solutions. Wouldn’t it be great if our public places were decorated with images of people coming together to work towards a future that holds pervasive social justice, equal opportunity and satisfying lives for all?

So, getting back to our analogy between fermentation and the current social/political unrest: what life-affirming benefits may be aborning within the roiling of disagreements, threats, and violence? Just as probiotics are formed in the alchemy beneath the scum of my vegetable ferment, I take comfort that this top layer that exposed to the air is also called “bloom”—the precursor to fruiting. From this perspective it is entirely possible that those who are now fermenting in in anger and vitriol are equally subject to the process of transformation. It’s within the realms of possibility that love and compassion will bubble into a state of bloom for many of those who went into the process only wanting disruption.

Once things have pickled long enough, we may begin to see more formerly disaffected people participating in compassionate, loving and wise grassroots action and public policy. Compassion is not the same thing as pity; it’s putting ourselves in another’s shoes and beginning to feel what that must be like. Love isn’t romantic or sentimental; rather it’s seeing and knowing with the intelligence of a caring, wise heart. Only when we’ve stewed around in the ferment long enough to realize that hating and killing doesn’t bring about anything except more wounding, reciprocal violence and fear do we realize that what we really want is harmony instead of dissonance, cooperation rather than provocation.

Clearly, the process we are in is frightening but there is also cause for hope. While I can’t possibly connect all the dots, nonetheless I have faith that what is currently brewing in this alchemical mix of raw betrayal, trauma, confusion, and demagoguery is the possibility of a “blooming” future of significant healing transformation and a time when people in our land can live together in more cooperative ways. Granted it would be a help if the top leadership had some sort of moral compass instead of just looking for the ego gratification of making deals, any deals. Without a doubt, we are in something of a pickle.

Fermenting raw ingredients is a messy, uncertain process. In the meantime, we can individually aspire to contribute compassion, wisdom, and loving kindness into the world around us. We can draw down deeper than our tendency to rant or blame or retreat and choose to be a calm presence in the midst of everything. Individually and collectively an evolution of consciousness is in the works. The healing factors for digesting and transmuting past evil and hate are beginning to exert some influence, even if we can’t see it yet.

How long will it take? There’s no timetable, and not everyone will choose to grow and heal; but many will undergo positive changes. Transformation is absolutely possible. I recall the story of John Newton, self proclaimed wretch, who felt the healing power of grace carry him into a new beginning. He turned away from his life as captain of a slave trading ship and chose instead to be an abolitionist, helping to bring about the end of the slave trade in England.

Deep within the briny slosh of confusion and suffering of our present time beneficial strands of transmutation we can’t taste, see or feel are alive. At some point in the not so distant future we will step into better ways of living cooperatively with each other. But for now, underneath the slime, we are pickling harmony.

Donkeys and Spiders

Donkeys and Spiders

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, calling into memory an historical sequence of events that launched “Holy Week” in the Christian religious tradition.  The significance of Palm Sunday goes well beyond remembering the story of a crowd waving palm branches to welcome and recognize a wisdom teacher unlike anyone else they had ever experienced. And it’s not just a commemoration of a past historical event either; Palm Sunday points to a dynamic that is present in our world and in my heart today.

In history, Palm Sunday was the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to face the human realities of his time and place, which would likely result in his execution. Even as he rode amidst the waving palm leaves, he was facing death.  He could have run for cover, gone into seclusion to save his skin or decided to play a political game by doing a flip-flop of his message to mollify his oppressors. No, there was none of that. He stayed true to who he knew he was and what he knew his mission in life to be; he was showing his followers a way of being that was radical departure from what they received from their culture and many of their religious leaders.

Although Jerusalem on the Sunday of Jesus’s arrival was a far cry from a modern city, it is eye-opening to realize that the politics of power, corruption, and militarized law enforcement bear striking similarity to our own urban centers.  Risking analogy, imagine that a person who belonged to a marginalized, sometimes rowdy ethnic group was processing into the capitol city bringing with him or her a significant crowd of followers. Such a gathering would certainly attract some attention.

According to tradition, Jesus was a “blended being” — completely human as well part of a seamless embodied relationship with the shimmering breath of all creation. With each step of his sandaled feet he carried not only the emotional, physical and mental reality of his humanity but also the embrace and knowing of the more expansive dimension of his nature. On Palm Sunday, this is what attracted the throngs to leave their homes and to come to Jerusalem. The stories and parables they’d heard called them to live in more compassionate, neighborly ways. Still ringing in their ears were phrases such as: “love your neighbor”, “turn the other cheek”, “forgive your enemies”, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, “blessed are the meek”, “blessed are the peacemakers”.

These teachings reverberate across time! Today this way of being, challenging as it is, has millions of adherents —despite all the disruption and political treachery. The inspiration today is to KEEP GOING!  We are all interconnected, brothers and sisters of each other, stewards of our environment and bearing some individual responsibility for working things out with each other. Even in the middle of these discouraging times, many of us— across all faith traditions and outside them as well— know that living this way is the only way that makes sense.  Despite instances of ignorance, confusion and power-grabbing, we must keep plodding along, weaving our lives forward in the way of love.

Let me tell you a little story. Yesterday I went into my kitchen to put a few utensils in the dishwasher. There, walking with verve and attitude across the open stainless steel door was a medium sized brown spider. She startled me; she didn’t belong there.  I wondered if she was a young brown recluse; it would have been easy to smash the life out of her because I was afraid; but I couldn’t do it. Instead, I took a juice glass from the cupboard, grabbed a cardstock piece of junk mail and let the energetic spider crawl into her rescue apparatus. Why am I telling you this? Before setting her free in the backyard, I paused to inquire if there was a message. Yes, there was; she was a messenger. Spider reminded me that past, present and future are interwoven in a large web. The lessons of Palm Sunday vibrate across the strands into this moment. Even very small acts matter. Honoring the life of that brown spider was a small instance of connection to the teachings to honor life and all the interconnections. Who knows what insects that spider will eat outside in the yard that might have munched on my vegetable garden?

Over the weekend I attended an inspiring concert by dozens of local musicians,   organized by a local activist and former co-worker. It was a benefit event for the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center and there was standing room only in the co-housing common house.  Financial contributions were robust, reflecting the compassionate, clear headed, resolve to offer money, music and embodied action in support of  harmony, justice and love.  This sort of thing is happening in pods and communities all over the globe despite what’s going on in the empire of our government or being inflicted upon innocents by murderous tyrants, or endured from icy hearted people who have in my humble opinion lost their way. Never forget that Jesus himself was a survivor of infanticide sanctioned by a Roman governor.

So, I ride the donkey of my life—that humble animal nature that plods along dutifully carrying my burdens and heartfelt intentions. I aspire to carry on, to see the good in people around me and to recognize our many similar concerns. Although I’m not expecting to face death by the end of the week, there is no time to waste. The Way onward into the next days beckons.

Note: Photo taken January 21, 2017, Women’s March, Santa Rosa, CA

First Day of Spring 2017

Facts: today is the first day of Spring; the president of my country is a bald face liar– most probably a puppet of Vladimir Putin, and a disgusting proportion of elected Republicans are shamelessly slithering in the murky undertows  of partisanship having pulled their anchors out of the traditional waterways that used to guide  our country.

I sit watching the dawn of this day. Rays of first light emerge  through the tall trees which are budding with expectancy high above their deep roots within  the clay soil  banks of Lornadell Creek,  just behind our vegetable garden. What am I to make of the startling facts? Where is my root system gathering nourishment… wisdom … understanding… direction?

I feel more vitality when I tap into what I stand “for” rather than just feeling resistance, alarm or abhorrence; and these days all these qualities of feeling waft through my consciousness. What I do know is that,  like many others who have walked upon this good Earth, my essential being is rooted in a much larger awareness that is clearly not of the same understanding and frame of reference as what I am witnessing in so much of today’s politics. Like the wild trees brazenly proclaiming the launch of another growing season, I too am budding with a resolve to live from the bedrock of my essential knowing. It all boils down to these four guidelines:

  1. It’s never been easy.
  2. I am alive in this time period because my life holds the promise and potential to contribute meaningfully into what is happening.
  3. Life is sacred – all of it; the coral reefs, the rivers and the refugees are each part of larger relationships that we know as the gift of life.
  4. We are held in Great Mystery and love by an ultimate reality that is as near as our next thought and as pervasive as the whole universe and beyond.

In the Christian calendar this week marks the celebration of the Annunciation –that bizarre and miraculous exchange between the Archangel Gabriel and the young woman the Holy Spirit sent him to visit. The story goes that young Mary was selected to receive a startling invitation — would she agree to carry the Light of Divinity in her womb and mother this very Light regardless of the human toll this would demand from her? Her reply was a simple: “Yes”.  The sacred story lends inspiration to my day. It informs and emboldens me to say “Yes” to that aspect of my being that carries  life sustaining promise and potential as well as acknowledgment that this path will always demand me to see things with the vision of my essential nature.

Although it is true that caring relationships, compassion and love prevail in both small and large ways in our world; it is also true that this pervasive goodness co-exists alongside the seductive lure of ignorance, fear and corruption. If I’m going to stand tall in the Light of my better nature, I also need to be courageous enough to name bald face lies for what they are as I step wholeheartedly into the growth season ahead. Happy Spring!

Worming My Way To Wholeness

Worming My Way To Wholeness

February 2017

I’m staying in a li;le cabin at a retreat center West of Healdsburg, California seeking respite from my toxic daily
rouEne of obsessive news
checking and a generalized

inability to focus adequately on
my larger life goals. This place
offers the healing energies of
nature, a spiritual focus and
the safety of staying near
others. It’s been raining here, a
lot — at least fiOy-some inches
in a li;le over four months.
During the first night I was here the wind blew sheets of rain against the building. In the wee hours, the din of the deluge awakened even a deep sleeper like me. Later, when I got up I found a li;le red wiggler worm on the linoleum floor of the bathroom. Poor thing, she must have been seeking drier ground and come in through a vent or window casing. Filled with compassion for her plight, I carefully brought her outside to the leeward side of the co;age, beneath the roof overhang and gently laid her squirmy, nervous body on a patch of soO earth.

These past months and weeks have held events, personaliEes and unforeseen outcomes that have shaken me out of a former naiveté and complacency about the outer forces that affect my life. Just a year ago I believed that the human rights and women’s rights I

witnessed being advanced in my lifeEme were indisputable. I believed that the ability of our government to withstand regressive, vulgar power grabs was a foregone conclusion. Even though there have always been doomsayers, I paid them li;le heed. I felt secure that the rare confluence of idealism and pragmaEsm that forged our government along with our accustomed rights and privileges would endure. I didn’t think it could disintegrate with the rapidity that now threatens us.

Now I wish someone would swoop in and pick me up off the floor and carry me to sane ground. Yet I realize it’s an inside job. It’s my head. So, I have taken myself on a healing retreat. For the last four days I have raEoned my consumpEon of breaking news on my cell phone. Walking along nature paths in between raindrops, I’m noEcing the larger cycles of nature that embody inherent mechanisms that bring balance, elegance and ar\ul soluEons into places of disequilibrium. Rain brings an end to drought. Ground water finds a path to the stream. Rainbows bring radiant color aOer the darkness of a storm. Nature holds an inherent longing to bring order and beauty out of chaos, to fashion a simple, elegant soluEon from the disordered, repulsive or dysfuncEonal.

Here in the budding green of February in Northern California, I have come home to a healing sense of wholeness. On my way to morning prayers in the chapel this morning I

saw a very large earthworm drowning in a big puddle of water on the blacktop. I was running late, I didn’t stop. The decision did not sit well with me, so aOer breakfast I returned to the puddle of water. The worm was sEll there. This Eme I listened to my heart. She crawled up on an oak leaf so I could carry her to safer ground.

You may find this hard to believe, but that simple act provided me with sweet joy, not to menEon what it did for the worm.

So for now, simple acts that weave me into the wholeness of nature offer a very effecEve anEdote to my malaise. My firm resolve is to take what I’ve experienced these days on retreat back into town. My intenEon is to conEnue to wean myself from too much breaking news, allowing just enough informaEon to stay informed. I’ll take walks, garden, meditate and engage in acEons that hold deep meaning for me. If I start to forget, hopefully one of the many worms that make their home near mine will remind me to take care of my poor head by sinking back into the wisdom that resides in my heart.

Acknowledging Sorrow: Seeing Rays of Hope

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Recently I spent the day at the sixty-two acre National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. The property is tucked away in a busy neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. If a person didn’t know it was there, one could easily drive right by the entrance, mistaking it for a neighborhood church. It was serendipitous that my Lyft taxi driver, only in the U.S. for seven years from his native land of Libya, knew the place well. He told me that first year he lived in Portland he would come each morning before work to walk the sacred paths. His religious tradition was The Coptic Orthodox Church, and he was particularly devoted to The Holy Mother.

Although the sanctuary is open to the public, the day I was there it had drawn only those seeking a quiet dose of walking meditation, contemplation and prayer. The site offers many delightful paths on which to meander through a forest of tall fir trees, alongside stoney rock outcroppings and past blooming plants, including a lovely rose garden. Along the way there are many shrines and even a full-size Chartres-style labyrinth. The atmosphere of the gardens gently soothed me into a reflective, calm state. Passing others on the paths, I could feel a soft “swoosh” of respectful and peaceful energy emanating from each of them. No words were spoken, but the meetings felt harmonic and infused by the uplifting surroundings in some way — markedly different from meeting people in the aisle of a big box store or encountering someone on their mobile device.

My purpose there was to visit the main shrine, The Grotto of The Sorrowful Mother, which is a fifty foot high cave carved out of a basalt cliffside. The cave is home to The Grieving Mother, represented by a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà. SHE is flanked by bronze angels and fresh flowers adorn a stone altar below her feet.   On either side of the altar are large sets of metal shelves filled with candles flickering in glass holders, protected from the elements by a narrow roof above. One can choose a candle in the gift store, bring it out to an empty spot on the shelves and light it yourself.   The photograph at the beginning of this essay shows me lighting my candle. I’ve always loved to accompany my meditations and prayers with the flicker of a candle flame.

I strongly identify with the archetype of The Sorrowful Mother.  Although the shrine expresses the archetype in Christian imagery IMG_5251and tradition[1], for me it evokes something even more universal — the Sacred Mother of all Life. [2] SHE, the energy that births worlds, is the force behind all traditional religious imagery of the feminine. SHE has borne us all. Each being is part of her enduring hope that all her progeny will express the promise of their of lives by embodying their unique version of wisdom, harmony and beauty. This inner promise of humanity has been given many names over the years — Christ-Light within, or Buddha nature, or simply our Essential Self. The point is that Our Divine Mother is endlessly birthing and endlessly prayerful that her sons and daughters will live from the indwelling sacredness of their being. Furthermore SHE holds in her vast heart of mercy the awareness of an Omega Point potential in time and space toward which humankind is progressing, albeit incrementally. Once humanity has arrived at The Omega Point we will have evolved our consciousness sufficiently to finally see the interconnection of all life. HER wisdom is that our well-being is inseparable from the well-being of others, our earth and our biosphere. In the meantime, there is much to lament.

The Sorrowful Mother, an aspect of the overarching Divine Feminine, holds deep sadness and profound grief. What SHE is lamenting is that the simple wisdom of honoring life is frequently under attack by those with unbridled greed for power and profit. Others, with deep-seated fears of radical change, all too often are complicit with the agenda of their oppressors, willingly enduring the sorrow and loss of wars, hate and blaming others. The decision to take stay small in difficult circumstances, to hold fast to dysfunctional patterns is woefully disheartening. The losses are staggering. Thank goodness for the small percentage of humanity who does embrace fresh approaches that promise more common sense, compassion and justice along with more respect for the natural life of the planet.                 Most importantly, feeling sorrow is the honest response to those situations, actions and attitudes that block the light giving aspects of life to flourish. It’s true that sorrow is mysterious, frightening, and overwhelming at times. Yet, sorrow unacknowledged or pushed away through a myriad of distractions goes underground, undigested and invisibly saps our vital creative life energy. [1] People are afraid that sorrow will suck them in and never spit them out. Rather than just forcing ourselves to “get over it” and carry on as if nothing significant had been lost, we can learn to be more patient with sorrow. Being with a grieving process until tiny seeds of new growth reveal themselves is a sacred act of faith. The stage of sorrow and grief cannot be short circuited. Our culture of instant gratification and habits of plastering over genuine emotions is robbing humanity of the vital function of sorrow. We are swept into sorrow and we remain there until the ashes of sorrow sprout some sort of transformation or rebirth.

Next week will mark the conclusion of the primary election season for this 2016 presidential campaign. For me, it’s been a bitter, vulgar and frightening primary season. It appears that we have our presidential nominees, neither of whom offer to govern in the ways that I would like to see. It’s a challenge to feel very optimistic about our current political situation! From my point of view it is a sorrowful time for the aspirations of the founding mothers and fathers that our nation “ shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [2] In my mind’s eye I see a “Statue of Liberty Pietà holding disconsolate patriots and suffragettes. Mother Liberty is giving life support to the visionaries who envisioned a form of government for our country that was balanced by the input of ordinary men and women and well as the wealthy aristocracy. Significant progress toward reinvigorating our political process will happen if or when ordinary people feel their grief about the many losses. Only then is it possible to awaken to new intentions and ways of being instead of blaming each other and fanning the flames of tyranny. Mother Liberty is grieving but she embodies resolute faith that the ordinary person will eventually shake off their stupor, cowardice and perilous distraction.

So I light a candle to accompany my prayers for a more just and functional political process in our country. . Even though I feel IMG_5245burdened by living in a world with so much suffering, violence and appalling lack of wisdom, it’s importance for me to keep reaching for places of hope and compassion. My prayerful vision is of humanity awakening, person by person into our fundamental interconnection with each other and all life that surrounds us. Cynicism, pessimism and despair will not help me personally or soothe anyone else. Neither will allowing myself to be distracted from what provokes my sorrow make it disappear. My goal is to let myself feel the sorrow, being fully present to it while at the same time looking for and identifying rays of hope. For this, I draw inspiration from The Grotto of The Sorrowful Mother. This last photo shows an empty candle holder, ready to receive the flickering light of my ongoing prayers.

 

FOOTNOTES

[1]The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother was built in 1923-24 by The Order of the Servants of Mary, a religious order dating back to 1233 AD in the Catholic Church. The order now consists of priests, brother, sisters and lay people who have chosen to dedicate themselves to Mary. It is through the ministry of The Servites that the sanctuary is maintained.

 

[2]The archetype of The Divine Feminine itself traces itself back to through human history and religion. Christian Mary has other close female relatives, including the Hebrew Shekinah, The Egyptian Isis, The Babylonian Inanna, The Hindu Kali and The Buddhist Quan Yin, The Lakota White Buffalo Woman and the Navajo Spider Woman

[3]One of my favorite musical expressions of “The Sorrowful Mother” is an 18th century version of an early Christian hymn text of Stabat Mater (Latin for “Mother Who Sorrows”) as it was interpreted by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SfZJQ7cXV4 ]

 

[4] Abraham Lincoln, from The Gettysburg address, November 19, 1863

 

Asparagus Teachings

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Asparagus Teachings

Earlier this week it was leap year day. The very existence of such a day, the fudge factor day, is living testament that the mathematicians and astronomers who devised our modern calendar were unable to push and shove the complex and multi-factored movement of the universe into a completely static form. So they settled on just sticking in an extra day every four years to make things work.

When my daughters were little we lived three houses down from Mr. and Mrs. Dragon. During the time we lived there Mrs. Dragon hosted a small neighborhood party on February 29th to celebrate eighty years of being alive and our family was invited. I remember how incredulous the girls were to realize that Mrs. Dragon had only experienced her “real” birthday twenty times! The concept of having to wait four years between birthdays, when for them waiting a whole year between birthdays required almost more patience than they could muster, was mind-boggling.

There is something about leap year day that delights me. We live in a time when we have almost everything available to us all the time. Twelve months of the year I could choose to buy fresh tomatoes, basil and zucchini at the nearby Safeway. If I have a hankering to watch a particular televised program, even a rerun from years ago, it’s nothing special to find it somewhere on the internet. But February 29 is something special! It’s like finding some exotic plant that only blooms once every four years. And unless we are attuned to the plants rhythms, we’ll miss the blossoms and fragrance altogether. Leap Day reminds me that there are countless easily overlooked occurrences happening in their own rhythm all the time.

My garden is a place governed by the rhythms of nature. I experience a sort of homecoming as my fingers ply the soil. By tending my vegetables and herbs I step into a quality of time that is impossible to fully calculate. Some part of me finds ease and well being there. After just a few minutes the cultural bubble of intense frenetic energy disintegrates and I am content being there with the early spring spinach and the overwintered parsley.

My garden also has an asparagus bed which until early winter was an overgrown tangle of tall fern-like foliage. When we bought the house the asparagus bed had been neglected. We learned that if we waited until the foliage turned yellow to cut the plants back to the ground, then applied soil amendment to the top layer of dirt, we could expect to have a bountiful asparagus harvest later on. And so, how serendipitous it was that on leap year morning we harvested our first spears of asparagus! A dozen spears had popped right out of the dirt, ready for the first cutting. And the taste was sublime. Even raw, they were the sweetest, crispest, juiciest asparagus I had ever tasted. Trimmed and sautéed in a little butter, mixed in with scrambled eggs garnished with a few springs of fresh picked tarragon and the asparagus was heavenly! What a wonderful way to celebrate leap day. The lesson from the asparagus was that it’s innate timing was in charge and sovereign, not the calendar or the caretaker. I was the one who had to pay attention and honor what was happening.

We are back in regular time again. The month of March has arrived with its annual shape and duration. But what I really appreciate is that my asparagus teaches me to be true to my essential self, to keep things simple, be humble, and grow some food. If it requires a leap day to remember all this, so be it.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Candlemas

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February 2, 2016 4 PM
The sun is still above the tree line, radiating at soft, oblique angles over the calm waters of Spring Lake. Today is Candlemas, the day when ancient people said they could sense the seeds of the growing season ahead quickening in the Earth. When I spent my winters in Massachusetts, on this day I could tell there was something new happening in the woods, even with ice and snow still on the trails. A stronger light was waking things up. I could see water flowing under the icy surface of the stream and the first shoots of skunk cabbage emerging through the snow. All at once, almost surprisingly, there was a sense of thaw in the still deep freeze of winter. Even though Spring is still eight or nine weeks away, late winter feels much more alive than winter solstice or the long dark evenings that accompany the launch of a new year in the Gregorian calendar. Here in Sonoma County, the ground is soggy from welcome winter rainfall. The round hills are bright green after so many months of wearing parched brown. Red-winged blackbirds are calling from the brush. Robins strut in front of a hedge. Ducks fly in from the cloudy blue sky to splash land on the lake. A shy egret cautiously allows me to click a photo before winging to an overhanging branch. I noticed that the reflection of its body captures a depth of being that the standing image of the bird doesn’t capture. We are all ripples in ever-changing waters. The sense that things continue in a static, repetitive way is shattered. The glimmer of the egret’s shadow image points to the almost imperceptible changes that happen all the time. And today is a day I honor the new life that is emerging all around me. If we look at things straight on we may miss what is quickening underneath. I love this day! To the general culture it is merely Groundhog Day and the little animal is afraid of his own shadow. For me it is a sacred day to acknowledge that life is waking up to the growing season ahead. I enjoy it all, image and shadowy reflection. I delight to feel new opportunities present themselves. My spirit quickens. This time is like no other. Things are changing.

Intentions for a New Year

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Intentions for The Year Ahead
Sally B. Singingtree
I’m looking out over my steering wheel. From the railing ahead, a small, round bodied blackbird stares at me with her yellow eyes. A grouse-like bird alights on the fence post to preen herself. A flock of blackbirds swoops in to perch on the green succulents carpeting the rocky buffer zone between ocean and dry land. Two bully crows roust out all the birds. Moments later, the crows fly off in favor of Japanese tourists posing for photos. Life is sort of a conveyor belt and the view keeps changing.

On my way here a red tailed hawk flew beside the passenger window of my car and set himself down on the roadside as I rounded a curve on Bodega Highway. I took him to be a messenger of approval for me to get out of town for awhile. I’m here at the ocean with paper and pen, my timer set for one hour. After that, I’ll head back to town. Tobey, my beloved and very attuned dog, is looking out the window of the backseat, both of us enveloped by the sounds of Bodega Head’s pounding surf and foghorn. I am blissfully unplugged. There is barely any cell phone signal here. My computer and all the internet distractions are on my desk back home. I’m here at the edge of the continent in this liminal place.

Something about the Pacific coastline has beckoned me for most of my life. Even before I’d ever been to the Northern Pacific, I had a sense that I would end up living here. It’s been quite a journey considering that I began life in landlocked central Kansas. It delights me that in former times the Great Plains were the ocean bed of a great prehistoric sea. By my time the ocean bed had become fertile soil supporting vast expanses of winter wheat and grazing cattle. Perhaps, with different decisions and more courage I could have extricated myself earlier. But what really happened is that it’s taken me a long time to arrive.

The first time I left home I moved to the opposite coast. For so many years my innate sense of direction was submerged in outer circumstances. I did a lot of meandering and made many less than fully thought out short-term decisions. Most painful of all were the lost times when I felt stuck in a shadow-land parallel universe, right beside the real life I came here to lead, yet maddeningly compartmentalized and seemingly unreachable.

It’s the first week of the new year. Winter rains have been falling all week. The sky is still mostly overcast, but the sun is trying to shine through a thin area of clouds. It’s time to consider what will fill up the calendar this year. Intentions are powerful magnetic attractors. I didn’t journey as far as I have without utilizing the power to focus.

The last few years I’ve been pulling together significant elements of my life experience and career into what I call a community ministry. The whole thing hasn’t quite jelled yet, but I know I’m on the right track. At least I’m finally living where I’ve always known I needed to be. There’s an openness here for people like me. And if I’m careful with finances, I have the freedom to live into what is taking form, which is no small blessing.

Whoever bestowed the name Pacific upon the ocean before me must have had a sense of humor because this ocean is deadly and violent. At the same time the waves, rocks and sky hold a luminosity that speaks of transcendence over tired, old ways of being. The beauty here acts like a magnet, drawing me to this coastline to envision my own evolving consciousness. Being here, my heart is open to the journey forward as I share my spiritual gifts as a wise woman and an elder. I know a lot about the sweet spots of life and how to steer away from pitfalls.

I am evolving ways to bring that wisdom and understanding into shareable forms such as mentoring, writing and music. I have been told that my work catalyzes and supports ongoing awakening and transformative insights for others. I believe that we are all teachers for each other in some way. Living into the fullness of my humanity forms the basis of what I call my ministry. The mission has reached a critical juncture. Like the Pacific, my life encompasses death and treacherous moments. Simultaneously, I live with exquisite times of beauty and inspiration.

My hour is up. I’m going to walk to the other side of the parking lot to see if there are any grey whales frolicking about beyond the surf zone as they migrate south for the winter. Clearly there is a lot more going on here for all of us than meets the eye. I know that this year will hold more than I can see from here. What lies ahead is part of an unseen wholeness. Like the whales, I intend to follow my own true nature, the rhythms of life and to frolic about in the waters around me whenever possible.