Prepare Ye: The Way and The Wilderness

There are many different definitions of the word ‘prepare’, and all of them are about acting decisively, with a will. Make, create, be willing…take responsibility. And there are as many ways of doing that as there are people on earth, I’m sure. The ‘how’ of preparation can be accompanied by a range of attitudes.

The Boy Scout metaphor describes one point on the spectrum. “Be Prepared” is their well-known motto. What that looks like conjures an exact check list of supplies – a camping list designed to meet any foreseeable outcome. Snake bite kit? Check. Flotation device? Check. Sunscreen and thermal underwear? Check and double check. This preparation is fueled by a desire to be in control, it seems. The responses are prescribed, preferred outcomes already decided upon. “I do not want to be cold, wet, sunburned or in pain, and I am taking action now to ensure that.” That is one attitude of preparation.

room tentAnother attitude might be illustrated by The Dancer metaphor. A dancer prepares for a pirouette by checking her starting position, aligning her hips and shoulders in a grounded plié  – but not staying in that position so long that it causes her to lose momentum. What really prepares her to execute a graceful turn is years and years of practice leading up to the moment of action. That seems to me to be a distinctly different attitude of preparation.

Of course, we can embody more than one attitude of preparation at a time. We can be both Boy Scouts and Dancers, among other things, and this helps us be better prepared for the unforeseen, mysterious, dynamic journey that is Life and better prepared for ventures in the Wilderness.

I recently attended a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law in the U.S. These preserved areas of natural lands and waters maintain a special character, “untrammeled” by man and distinctly autonomous. The wilderness is what it is. You cannot predict what will happen there, and you must rely on your own preparation when you visit. By law, there will not be any man-made structures, services, or systems that will provide for you or take responsibility for you. And the experience that you have as solitary and self-reliant can change your life. It is a deeply spiritual endeavor to go into the wilderness and learn from it.

wilderness threshold

Wilderness asks you two important questions: Are you willing to go there? Are you prepared? I think that the Way – whether that be Christian, Buddhist, or any other spiritual path – asks you the same questions. May your willing preparation and practice be a life-giving process, bringing you much happiness. Peace! – Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

I Haven’t Forgotten This Day

I haven’t forgotten what we shared and how much it meant: how meeting you for the first time made me feel…

I haven’t forgotten the gift of holding you in my arms…

…or the joy of our shared laughter…

…or the sweet music we made together.

I haven’t forgotten the caring; deep, yearning, hoping for all good things for you.

He whispered these things to my heart, and I responded, “Neither have we, my darling.”

To us: many happy returns of the day. 

Writer’s 4th Wednesday: Allegory

A piece I wrote in the last century…

The King’s Dream (John 4:13-14)

   There once was a wise and noble king who had a magnificent kingdom.  The king loved his kingdom immensely.  He could name every tree and flower, river, rock and creature in it.  He knew every thing about his kingdom, down to the number of the grains of sand on its shores.  He would take long walks through the hills and valleys, and sometimes he would come across a traveler, and they would walk together for a while.  Usually, the traveler did not recognize him immediately.  This may seen odd to you or me, since we are used to seeing pictures of our leaders in the newspaper or on our money, but this king had never had his likeness made in print or statue.  However, after some time in conversation, most people who encountered him could identify his authority by his regal bearing and knowledge.  For some reason that the king could not entirely understand, the travelers would begin to feel uncomfortable with him and refuse to keep his company after discovering his identity.  The king was puzzled and a bit hurt by this phenomenon. 

   In time, the people of the kingdom convened among themselves and decided to build the king a palace and a throne room where they assumed he would reside happily without the need to walk about the countryside bumping into them unexpectedly.  Certain subjects vowed to devote their lives to the business of making sure the king was reasonably content to stay in the throne room.  They brought lavish gifts of food and music to him and decorated his chamber with fine art and furnishings.  The king was very kind and wanted to honor these subjects’ devotion, for it seemed to him that they were trying their best to serve him in their own way.

   It wasn’t long, however, before the king began to miss his time among the rocks and trees and flowers that so delighted him.  It had also come to his attention that not all of his people had visited him, or were even allowed to visit him, in his fancy estate.  He wondered what the ones who hadn’t met him might think of him, and he still wondered why the ones who did meet him became uneasy in his presence.  Would they want to meet him here, gathered around this throne of gold, or would they stand just as uncomfortably, shifting their weight from foot to foot and shifting their eyes from floor to exit, just as they had done on the road?  He wondered what kind of a throne it could be around which they might gather comfortably.

   The king began to daydream about what it would be like if he could be king of the palace and king of every inch of his kingdom all at the same time.  He wondered how he might set up a throne wherever people were: in their homes, on the road, where they played, worked and visited, maybe as close as under their very skin, so that wherever people were, there was a place for him right in their midst.  He thought of the things that were common to every person in his kingdom, things that were linked to the richness of the land on which they all lived.  He thought of them walking home for supper at the end of the day, lighting fires in their hearths, gathering their children about them, and sharing a loaf of bread and a jug of cool water.  He thought of the water that flowed down from the mountain glaciers, cutting a fertile river valley in the plains and coming to rest in a large and bountiful lake.

    “To be truly king of this kingdom,” he thought, “I would have to be like water.  Then my throne would be on the highest mountain, in the smallest dewdrop dangling from a flower, in every kiss between two people, and at the feet of the children dancing on the beach.  Oh!” he thought, “to be amongst my people like water would be the best way to reign!”

   Giggling softly at his own pun, he drifted off into a contented sleep.  He dreamed that he was in a meadow.  He felt the warmth of the sun on his face and the tickle of the grass against his skin.  Suddenly, he heard laughter coming from the woods, and a host of joyful people burst onto the meadow.  Children skipped among the tall wildflowers playing games.  Women gathered bouquets and spread out colorful cloths on the grass.  Met set out large loaves of bread and wheels of cheese, cutting slices with knives that flashed sunlight back to the heavens.  In the middle of this happy scene, a young man carrying a wooden buck and and young woman with a crystal vase approached.  Steadily they advanced, and the king realized they were probably going to fetch water.

   “Let me help you,” he tried to call out, but he found he had no voice.

   Still they came nearer with clear purpose in their step.  The king was puzzled as they held out their vessels in his direction.  Then, with a smack! they plunged them through his heart and drew back their brimming containers dripping with the cool, clear liquid. 

   Breathless, the king realized that he was the source of the water they were now pouring and passing among themselves, and more than that, he could feel everything he flowed into all at the same time.  He was still the meadow spring that felt the impact of the bucket, but he was also surrounding the bouquet at the bottom of the vase.  He was ladled from the bucket to the lips of a child whose throat was dry and greedy and whose sleeve ran quickly over him.  He was passed in a wooden bowl to a lady, old and withered.  She parched in skin and bone and tongue, and he longed to fill her completely, to cool the burning heat that age had baked into her body.  He was mingled with the mud and dirt on the feet of men who had walked for miles to come to this gathering.  He heard them sighing in relief as he cleansed their weary soles.  A woman slicing cheese had slipped and blood ran from her finger.  He was pressed into her would to guard her from disease. 

   He found himself poured out, divided, spilled, then multiplied in a thousand new encounters with his people, while a part of him lay quietly in the meadow, ever-filled from deep below the earth.  His dreamed adventure set him about the kingdom enthroned in living water, and never did a traveler turn from him uncomfortably again.  He was able to be present in every corner of the land at once, and they say in that kingdom that the king has never fully awakened from his dream.

Summer's almost here!

© 2014, story and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Writer’s Fourth Wednesday: Second Person Poetry

Victoria Slotto’s prompt post invites me to share a poem written in the second person.  She says, “It is less rare to encounter poetry in the second person. As poets, we love to address our “audience,” celebrity figures, other poets or teachers who have an influence on us, people we love (or hate), God, mythological figures, people from our past.”  I went through the book of poems that I self-published back in 1997 and found one that I like.  Back in that decade, I was extremely rooted in a Christian identity and was rather prolific in my writing to God.  These days, I do not identify myself as Christian or even theistic per se, but I still have a great sense of appreciation.  The world is an amazing place; the beauty of it often makes me weep.  My brain is accustomed to seeking a source for manifestations, but I now realize that is more about me than it is necessarily about the way Life is.  I often find myself wondering, “Who do I thank for this?” It’s more likely that there are myriad contributing factors to the conditions that arise, the harmonious conjunction attributable to all of them simultaneously without hierarchy.  So I simply say, “Thanks be,” and leave it at that.

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The Sky

 

Did I ever thank you for the sky
      spread far around like an open field
           piled high with moods and structures,
                a playground for my soul?

This space above bids my thoughts expand
      to climb the heights of an anvil-cloud
           and teeter on the edge of a dazzling glare
                or slide down the shafts of the sun,

To swim to the center of its lonely blue
      where I find no mist to hide me,
           and lie exposed to the western wind
                like a mountain braced for sunrise.

Or clad in the shroud of brooding gray,
      it coaxes me to musing
           far removed from the minutiae
                that chains me to my life.

I search for light and openness
      to shadow the bonds of earth,
            exploring the vault of heaven
                for its meaning and its truth.

Thanks for this cathedral speaking glory through its art.
Thank you for these eyes admitting You into my heart.

© 2014, words and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Re-inventing Advent

Two years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a series of posts every day in the month of December.  This series was in lieu of an Advent calendar, which had been a big tradition of my family.  Back then, I had only a handful of faithful blog followers, instead of more than 400.  So, I intend to re-gift these entries.  After all, I am in the resale business! (Check out Scholar & Poet Books – there’s  a link in the side bar.) For my family and for Helen (God bless you!), these will be repeats.  For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy opening your daily presents!

‘Tis A Season

When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve.  I had the same tradition with my own kids.  The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses.  It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”.   There are other little treasures we could open each day, though.  When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them.   My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message.  We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors.   The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.

I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story.  They were supremely important in my life for many years.  My spirituality was formed around them.  I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience.  My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system.  I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe.  I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science.  There is a lot going on all over the world in this season.  What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?

My youngest daughter has always loved this season.  She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there.  What was that about?  Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats?  Possibly.  Peace, love, joy?  Possibly.  Emotions?  Definitely.  Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions?  Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time.  Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself.  Why not celebrate that dependence?  We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy.  Evergreen trees remind us of that.  Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers.  Gratitude is the attitude of the season.  Giving is the action that sustains us.

Vernon Marsh, sunset (click to enlarge)

I sent a text message to each of my kids this morning saying that the gift for Day #1 this season is sunshine.  The sun is shining here, showering us with Vitamin D and all kinds of other goodies we need to be healthy and happy.   We are blessed, saved, sustained, given life in this universe by an amazing set of circumstances that we did not originate.   However you acknowledge that and whoever taught you to acknowledge that deserves attention.  May you be happy as you think and act in awareness of this.

I’m still alive

Hebba-lubbo, frebbends! (Does anyone remember the PBS show Zoom?  Ubby-Dubby language?  Anyone?  Beuller?)  Are you wondering where I’ve been?  Why I went AWOL?  Have you missed me? *looking up, fluttering my lashes*  Well, I feel a need to justify my absence anyway.  Silliness aside, I need to take time to write again. 

I am anticipating the end of the season for my job at the living history museum, Old World Wisconsin.  By the end of next month, I will need to make up those wages by doing something else.  Fortunately, my previous employer still values my skills as a proofreader, and I have been able to contract with them for some work I can do at home.  Hopefully, I will be able to pick up some new voice students as well.  I have been spending my home days working on those enterprises and helping Steve with the book business.  So, I have not been spending my home time in leisurely rambles of creative writing.  And the memory card in my camera is full, so I haven’t been taking pictures.  I have been thinking, though….

Steve and I will soon be hitting the 5-year milestone in our relationship.  Our first date was October 4.  The evolution of our partnership has been an intense journey toward maturity, and keeping that energy going is quite a commitment.   The other day, I went back to some of our early e-mails (yes, I still haven’t deleted them) and came face-to-face with my former self: a grieving widow struggling to be a single Mom for the first time.  Yikes!  The more dramatic e-mails were the ones I exchanged with my 17-year old daughter.  Our grief, our survival, was such a strong agenda that we were hardly communicating anything besides our fears, our wants, our upset feelings.  It was very hard for us to listen to each other and be generous.  Steve stepped into that gap and calmly spoke his observations without judgment, even when my daughter’s anger was focused on his role in my life.  A metaphor that he uses is “clearing the windshield”.  We often have so much mud covering up the clarity of what life is and how we want to live it.  Steve has always come back to articulating his vision, one that he’s known since he was very young.   He’s been very patiently illustrating it over these past 5 years, and I’ve only recently felt that my windshield has been clear enough to see it. 

I have been reading a little book he gave me — Finding the Still Point: A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation by John Daido Loori.  Here’s the nugget I will keep returning to:

“From birth we have been conditioned by different events and people — our teachers, parents, country, culture, neighborhood, friends, and peers.  Everything we cherish — our positions, attitudes, opinions, all of our attachments, all the things we think give our life identity — is found in our conditioning.  Now here we are, decades later, trying to live our lives out of this random programming we call “my life”.  We feel so strongly about parts of the program we are ready to die for it.  And it is all created in our own mind.

There is no escaping the fact that getting beyond this accumulated conditioning is a long process.  Thirty or forty years of programming takes time to work through.  We look at the thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to the breath.  Day by day, we uncover what is underneath all of the conditioning.  What we discover is called freedom.  It is called human life.  It is called wisdom and compassion.  It’s the nature of all beings.”

Living freely is the reward of maturity.  Cleaning the windshield is an arduous, stinky task at times.  I am tempted to hide behind the caked-on guck and call it my safe cocoon, expecting my partner to join me there.  He will not.  Is that ungenerous?  Or the most loving thing a friend can do?  Sometimes I have a hard time deciding.  Even when he doesn’t join me there, he has waited for me to emerge.  He finds that very frustrating at times.  He would like to see me free.  He would like to see all people free, including himself.  His sadness and disappointment when we are not free shows in his face and posture.  I think of where my daughter and I used to live.  We have emerged joyfully from that place.  We know freedom.  But we are still cleaning the windshield.  There is more to be done, and the view from that one clear corner is my inspiration to continue the work. 

I am alive.  I am maturing.  I am working on my life.  And I enjoy taking time to write about it every once in a while.  Thanks for listening!

 

Winter Holy Days

The world did not end yesterday. We are in a new cycle, heading closer to the Sun once more.

In years past, I would have spent this day at an Episcopal church, practicing with the choir, ushering my children through the Christmas pageant, greeting friends, and sneaking private moments in the candlelit darkness whispering devotions to Jesus and His Father. I would have sent more than a hundred letters through the mail to people far and wide with Scriptural messages and personal anecdotes illustrating the great salvific actions of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world. I would have asked for and promised prayers for numerous specific ailments and misfortunes. I would have spoken and written my heartfelt greetings using words like “blessings”, “gifts”, “faith”, “Emmanuel” and “Savior”.

 This year is different.

 I have no tree; I have no gifts wrapped and waiting; I have not sung a hymn or carol; I have no creche with empty manger awaiting the figure of a baby. I am the same person, though, with the same heart and breath and life blood. I use a different language now to try to express my deepest hope for peace and love to rule my life and the lives of those with whom I share this planet. I no longer profess to know a single Truth; I no longer presume to belong to a select portion of humanity; I no longer pretend that the concepts in my brain adequately reflect very much at all of reality.

 The posture I hope to adopt is openness. To face the world, the people in it, the marvel of change and mystery beyond my control, without hiding behind a mask or label or system, is a severe challenge. Had I not already buried a husband, fledged a flock of four, sold a home I had for 20 years, and left employment, I might not believe that I could live without clinging to conventional structure. I test my ability to be flexible, graceful, alive and aware every day. I hope to learn. I hope to grow. I hope to love the world (and myself) more genuinely as I do. This is my holy quest, and every day is a holiday. I celebrate the mingling of material and spirit, the incarnation of life in the substances of Earth. I will eat and drink and hug the bodies of people I love with festive joy as before – but differently.

 I include the entire Universe in this celebration. Yes, this means you! Peace to you all. Love, joy, humility and grace be with us all together….scillagrace.

front porch view

Two-Minute Cosmic Worship Break

My mother serendipitously re-sent me a video that I had been searching for amongst my 4,000 saved e-mails.  I am in need of this video on a regular basis, and once you see it, you’ll know why.  I think I may have posted it before, but like looking up to see the horizon, it must be done often to stay sane.  Enjoy, re-blog, share…repeat.  (Not like shampoo instructions, which are entirely bogus.  Who lathers twice in one shower?)

I can’t seem to get the screen posted right here, so click this link until I figure it out.

Well, okay, it seems that WordPress requires a space upgrade to get the screen to show.  Please click the link, though.  I promise your two minutes will be rewarded!