All posts by Sally Singingtree

Acknowledging Sorrow: Seeing Rays of Hope


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.



[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.[ ]


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


Asparagus Teachings


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


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


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.