Posted by: Banta | December 15, 2015

A Winter Solstice Celebration

Winter Solstice photo by Danny Richard Buxton

In honor of my Spirit Sisters and our many years of creating sacred space together, I share our Winter Solstice Celebration here. Please feel free to use it in circles of your own, with your families, or in any way that makes meaning for you. Part I honors the deep darkness. Part II invokes the Light.

Part I ~ Honoring the Darkness

We gather on this longest night to celebrate Winter Solstice, to honor the deep darkness and welcome the coming of the light. As the ancients did before us, we circle round the Yule log for ritual and story-telling. We breathe the warmth of the fire and the sacred aromas of frankincense and myrrh. And in this season when the ancients believed the sun stood still, we take time for stillness ourselves. May peace be all around us, in this room, in all the earth, and in our hearts.

All: Spirit of all Creation, we give thanks this night for the gifts of darkness and light. Help us to name and to honor the dark places within us. Remind us that when we grow still and listen, the darkness will teach us what we need to know.

A Litany of Intention

In the silence and the darkness, we honor the mystery of life, from which new creation emerges.

We remember how much patience is needed for incubation and growth: in the earth, the sea, the human heart, the womb.

We reclaim hope from the shadows of transition or despair, knowing that the seeds of change are always present. And we honor our energy to keep moving forward, even when we cannot see what lies ahead.

We give thanks for all living beings, for the organic cycles of nature, and for this Solstice time when the gates between the worlds stand ajar, allowing us a glimpse of what lies beyond.

On this night we partake in the most ancient of miracles, giving birth to the light. We bear witness to the renewal of the world and the renewal of our own spirits.

All: With humility and open hearts, we offer ourselves as vessels for the rekindling of Divine Light. May we each be made new in this season. In our experience of light within, may we bring forth the light of compassion, peace and wisdom more fully into our wounded world.

Lighting the Fire

All: We turn toward the light at a time of deep darkness, being together and of one heart, being at peace with the whole of creation. We dedicate this fire to the eternal light of Midwinter. May its warmth remind us of summer and the return of the Sun. May its glow awaken the Divine spark that lives in each of our hearts.

Calling the Directions

The great festivals of light – Solstice, Divali (Hindu), Hanukkah and Christmas – invite us to witness the birth of love within one another. As we circle around, we call forth the spirits of East, South, West and North.

The East brings the winds of awakening, the new life that spreads through the world in spring time. From east come fresh beginnings and a revival of the spirit.

All: Awaken, Guardians of the East! Bring the wind, the sweet smells of the season, pine and juniper, frankincense and myrrh. Blow the staleness away, fill our lungs with new breath. Let there be clear skies, clear minds for us to see our way. Let our words create a safe space. We welcome you to our circle on this sacred night. Blessed Be.

The South is the direction of fire, the heat of life that grows and ripens in the earth. From south we seek the roots of our lives, the stability that the hearth fire brings.

All: Awaken, Guardians of the South! Let the light of the Yule log shine in our darkness. Come into our hearts, thaw our frozen places. Rekindle energy and passion within us. Coax our emotions out of hiding. Warm and enliven us with your fire. We welcome you to our circle on this sacred night. Blessed Be.

The West is the area of water, restless seas and wandering spirits. West blesses us with fluid movement and emotion, and keeps us afloat as the year turns fall into winter.

All: Awaken, Guardians of the West! Bless us with your sacred water. Rain on us, quench our thirst. Help us remember the ocean womb from which we came. Reconnect us to one another. Let the drought of separation be over. We welcome you to our circle on this sacred night. Blessed Be.

The North carries the energy of earth in cold incubation, the energy of challenge and endings. It is the place of ice and snow, of things waiting to germinate and be born.

All: Awaken, Guardians of the North! Call all of Nature’s creatures to celebrate the renewal of the earth. Strengthen our resolve, keep us centered. Ground us in the here and now. Draw our roots down deep to that place where we find our common source. One earth, one people, one future. We welcome you to our circle on this sacred night. Blessed Be.

At the Center we meet our divine source, the seed of first light, the still point of the turning world. At the Center we connect with our core and with the primal energy of all creation. At the Center we all breathe as one.

All: Awaken, Guardians of Center! Here in the heart of sacred space, in the timeless present moment, new life grows from old, light is born of darkness, old wounds are healed. We welcome you to our circle on this sacred night. Blessed Be.

Entering the Silence  

On this, the longest night of the year, our ancestors planted seeds of hope for the Sun’s eventual return by making a “spiritual cradle” – a sacred space for the new Light to fill. Whether that space is within our community here, or within our own hearts, we are that spiritual cradle.       

As we rest in that spiritual cradle, let us surrender to the silence for a few moments. Celebrate the dark where your inner life is honored and nurtured. Re-light your inner light. What dreams do you carry inside? What are you visioning or hoping for? (excerpted from Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries by Ruth Barrett)

Time for Remembrance and Giving Thanks

Let us take a few moments to remember – either silently or aloud – those who are not present with us, those in need, situations of our own, in the world or in our community that compel our attention and our prayers. And let us give thanks.

In lighting our candles, remember to light one for yourself, saying aloud as you do so: “I honor the Divine Light that shines within me, and I carry that Light into the world.” (There follows a time of lighting candles and holding space.)

Benedictions 

All: For all that enfolds us, for each word of grace and every act of care. For those who offer refuge, for each shelter given and every welcome space. For the healing of our souls, for balm and rest, for soothing and sleep. For vigils kept and for lights kept burning. Blessed be.

All: Divine Spirit of peace and love, companion in solitude, protector in exile, you inhabit the shadows of our communities. Show us the way to stand against injustice, to protect and nurture life, to live nonviolently. Help us to embrace simplicity, to be mindful of the value of all living things, to care tenderly for others. Teach us to conserve and preserve the natural gifts of this world. Help us to be fully present to one another. Increase among us a spirit of tolerance and good will. Bring us to the quiet still place of healing and transform our souls to become clear mirrors of your love and compassion. We offer these prayers in the name of all we hold Sacred. Blessed be.

Closing the Circle

All: Creator God, Holy Mother, Great Spirit, By the earth that is Your body, By the air that is Your breath, By the fire that is Your bright spirit, By the living waters of Your womb. The circle is open, but unbroken. The peace of all that is Holy go in our hearts. Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again. Blessed be.

Winter solstice sunburst

Part II ~ Invocation to the Light
by Stephanie Marohn

On this holiday eve, with our fragile planet hanging in the balance, we call upon all the angels of mercy who have ever shed a tear for the human race.

We call upon all the guardians of peace who have ever raised an olive branch or let fly a flock of doves. We call upon all the mystics who have ever crossed a desert in search of the truth.

We call upon all who have journeyed to the underworld and returned with the wisdom of the dark. We call upon all the ancestral spirits who know the pain of parting the veil.

We call upon the guardians of the four directions of the universe: East, South, West, North, open our hearts to your weeping whispers.

We call upon the luminous, numinous Center of the orb. Help us to embrace again the mystery of unknowing.

We call upon all the animal messengers who hold the secret of oneness. We call upon all the faeries and sprites who dance in the forest.

We call upon the undines, the gnomes, the sylphs, and the salamanders, the oracles of the mountains and the sages of the springs.

We call upon the elves, the pookas, the djinns and the genies, the heavenly nymphs, the houris and peris, the cherubim, the seraphim, the celestial choir, the witches, the magi, the prophets, the messiah, saints and avatars, paragons and virtues, archangels in waiting, wings, haloes, and music.

We call upon the three Fates, the three Graces, the nine Muses, and the seven Sisters, all the gods and goddesses of a thousand names and guises.

We call upon the Angel of the Abyss with the flame in his hand, the Angel of Memory who knows where we’ve been, the Angel of Truth, the Angel of Hope, the Angel of the Apocalypse who rides into the night.

Come to us now all forces of light. Help us find our way through the wilderness. Open our eyes to your sight.

~ May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Banta | December 13, 2015

The weight of words

The three gates of speech

If social media is any kind of barometer, we humans have thrown ourselves headlong into a virtual street brawl. The weapons of choice? Angry, hate-filled posts and tweets being hurled like verbal grenades into cyberspace. The noise is deafening, the tone often harsh and unforgiving.

It helps to remember that anger is the bodyguard of fear. When anger rules the airwaves, we can be certain that waves of fear are roiling just beneath the surface. If you’ve ever lost sleep waiting for a teenager to come home, you know this truth. Your chest is tight with worry, imagining the worst. But when the key turns in the lock and she walks in the door unscathed, the anger jumps out to ambush you both, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick!”

Whether in the privacy of parenting or in the public eye of social media, our trigger-happy reactivity—in the form of words and feelings—nearly always does more harm than good. Every time I react with anger or defensiveness, my words feed the beast. Every time I allow myself to be carried by the energy of hate or terror, I feed the beast. Every time I indulge an impulse to lash out in frustration and demean a particular group or politician or fanatic, I feed the beast. Every minute of air time, every line of print the news media gives to speculation and sensationalism, feeds the beast.

The beast in these examples thrives on anger, hate, fear and revenge. Sometimes the beast resides within us, quiet until triggered. Then it roars forth blindly, brandishing word swords, or rushing out to buy a gun. Sometimes the beast takes the form of a politician who incites a crowd to his own advantage, or a group of radicalized terrorists who play to our fears.

I no longer want to feed the beast. Not with words or “Likes” or rushes of adrenaline. I want to retreat from the virtual street brawl and find more positive, more productive ways to respond. Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, famously observed, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

One way to cultivate the space between stimulus and response is by using a protocol made familiar by Quakers, Sufis and Buddhists alike, in the story of the three sieves, or the three gates of speech. Before we allow our words to pass through each of the three sieves or gates, we pause to ask these questions: Is what I’m about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Each of the questions opens up a Pandora’s box of other queries. Is it true because I heard it on the “news” or read it on the internet? Is it true, but only partially so? What part of this ‘true’ statement is simply a collage of well-constructed opinions from biased sources?

The kindness of a remark may seem obvious at first. But sometimes that which is true will cause suffering to a friend or colleague. Is speaking this truth the kind thing to do? When does truth trump kindness? And how much of what we say is necessary?

Meditation teacher and author Sally Kempton suggests we use these questions not to censor ourselves but more as an invitation to speak from the highest level of consciousness we are capable of in any given moment. She says, “Speech that resonates from our highest Self, comes out of our contact with the silent place behind words, the place we reach when we’re able to pause, turn into the heart, and let the stillness speak through our words. Speech that comes out of stillness is speech that comes, quite literally, from the source of wisdom itself.”

Words matter. They have energy and weight, the power to wound or heal. I want to use my words for healing. I want to move the conversation forward, with grace and civility. Will you join me?

We are members of one another, kindred with all we meet.

May we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 

May the words of all our mouths be a benediction and a blessing to those we encounter.

May what we say be kind, true, and necessary.

 

 

 

Posted by: Banta | December 7, 2015

A practice of opposites

Blog on Byron Katie

For reasons too mundane to list, I missed my yoga class today. To compensate I defaulted to Plan B—a video class on YouTube. I could say that I chose this particular class at random, but no doubt I pressed the Play button through some act of divine intervention. As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

We began in child’s pose, sinking our bones into the mat as instructed. The teacher explained that her focus for the hour was the ‘practice of opposites.’ As our bodies entered into the different poses—or asanas—she invited us to consider the value of reacting to emotional triggers with a feeling or behavior directly opposite to our usual or habitual reaction.

For example, if I am resisting an opportunity for generosity or whole-hearted giving, I might dive into the chance to be generous instead. If my knee-jerk response is “no,” I might try an arms open wide “yes.” If I feel annoyed by a situation, I might assume the best and lean into compassion instead. You get the gist.

The stories we tell ourselves, to a great extent, create our reality. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, woke up from a deep depression thirty years ago with the epiphany that her attachment to her own thoughts was the cause of her suffering.

According to Katie, “You either believe what you think or you question it. There’s no other choice.” She teaches the use of four questions to tackle any persistent thought that triggers suffering. For example, if I think I am unsafe, and feel anxious as a result, Katie says to ask, “Is it true?” Yes or no. Am I unsafe, literally? In this moment?

The second question is, “Can you absolutely know that it is true?” Yes or no. Then, “How do you react? What happens when you believe that thought?” When I believe I am unsafe, I react with fear and anxious worry. I distrust others. I lose sleep. I may become paralyzed by inaction for fear of stepping outside my comfort zone.

Katie’s last question is, “Who would you be without that thought?” It helps to sit with this one for a bit. Without the thought that I am unsafe, I would be someone who is no longer a hostage to fear and anxiety. I would feel more alive, more trusting. I would sleep better, be free to move freely about in my life and in the world. I would have more energy for love.

Once we see the cause and effect of our thoughts, our suffering begins to unravel. Katie would add that, “Arguing with reality is like trying to teach a cat to bark—hopeless.” Loving what is does not mean a passive surrender. Quite the contrary. It means embracing what reality presents with the clear understanding that things are not happening to you, but for your benefit and your greater good.

Loving what is represents a ‘practice of opposites’ much like the one I encountered in the YouTube yoga class today—an “opportunity” to embrace what life dishes out with more grace and gratitude than we thought possible.

Posted by: Banta | November 30, 2015

Rocks in the road

Rocks in the roadHe was an otherwise mild-mannered man whose wife wanted him to deal with his “road rage.” Getting stuck in traffic or at a RR crossing made his blood boil. If another driver cut him off or caused him to miss a light, he became apoplectic. He gave the finger to anyone who rode his bumper too closely, and flung curses at whoever dared pull into a parking spot he had earmarked for himself.

When I asked what expectations he had about his daily commute, he eyed me as if I had two heads. Maybe this was a trick question? He shifted in his seat. “Well, I expect traffic to keep moving at a reasonable pace,” he ventured warily. “I expect the slow drivers to stay in their lane or move over if I come up behind them.”

“And in a crowded parking lot? What might you expect there?” I asked.

“That’s easy,” he said, warming to the subject. “I expect people to be courteous and not horn in on a spot when I got there first and am clearly waiting for it.” He sat back, folded his arms across his chest, and looked at me expectantly.

I let the silence settle in for a few beats. “So when other drivers act in ways that run counter to your expectations, it really, really frustrates you.” He nodded with vigor and unfolded his arms.

“Every time that happens,” I went on, “it’s like having a rock kicked into your path. You didn’t ask for that rock. It’s in your way. And somebody is to blame. You’re mad as hell about that rock and you want it handled right now. That rock has no business being in your path. You expected a rock-free ride and now you have this obstruction to deal with. You didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t part of the plan.”

He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Ok, I get it. I’m acting like an entitled bastard, aren’t I?”

I let that pass. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “We humans have an uncanny ability to create our own suffering. We forget the simple truth about the rocks in the road. Every single day we will encounter rocks in our road. The rocks come in different sizes and shapes. Some are just pebbles that get between our toes; others are enormous boulders we must navigate around or blast our way through. To expect a path free of rocks is a surefire recipe for suffering.”

He opened his palms and studied them. “Suffering,” he said in a soft voice. “You mean like me getting so impatient in traffic, or carrying around my resentment all day about the guy who stole my parking space?”

He was a quick study.

The rocks in the road are a given. We can get angry; we can flail at the rocks; we can take on the role of victim; we can retreat down a helpless-hopeless hole. But resistance is futile. The rocks remain.

David Richo, psychotherapist and practicing Buddhist, would probably liken the rocks in the road to any of the five “givens” he identifies in his book The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them. (Shambala, 2006) Richo reminds us that these givens are immutable facts of life, and we humans are powerless to change them.

  1. Everything changes and ends.
  2. Things do not always go according to plan.
  3. Life is not always fair.
  4. Pain is part of life.
  5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.

Ironically, the best possible response to the rocks in the road is an unconditional Yes.” By accepting and embracing the givens, we open to the lessons they have to offer—lessons in courage, compassion and wisdom. In effect, we clear the path to a more lasting and authentic state of happiness and contentment. To do otherwise—to resist the givens—all but guarantees a chronic cycle of disappointment, frustration, cynicism, anger, resentment and sorrow.

Richo’s book takes each of his five givens and illustrates how saying yes to each one frees us from self-imposed suffering. The process has the power to transform us from the inside out.

Saying yes to the rocks in the road feels much different from saying yes to new adventures or to stepping out of our comfort zone. Saying yes to the rocks in the road—the things we cannot control or change—puts us on a personal growth path from which there is no turning back.

When we cease our ego-driven protests that life isn’t fair, when we let go of our need to control the outcome, when we set down the grasping and the complaints and the fear, only then does the suffering fall away and make space for true freedom.

I circle around again to the words of Dag Hammmarskjöld, “For all that has been, Thanks. For all that will be, Yes.”

Posted by: Banta | November 23, 2015

Room at the table

At millions of Thanksgiving tables this week, gatherings of families and friends will offer up prayers for those who are hungry, cold, homeless and alone. We will pray for for the ill and suffering, for those whose countries are at war, or who have been touched by violence of any kind. We will pray for our service men and women at home and abroad, for all who offer humanitarian aid, and all who govern.

Many of us will have one or more “empty chairs” at the table. Loved ones once occupied these chairs, but they have passed on. Parents, grandparents and friends, some who lived long full lives and some who left us far too soon. We remember them always, but especially around the family table at Thanksgiving. We light candles for them and speak of each one by name.

Given the spirit of inclusion that permeates this season of thanks and gratitude, I am deeply troubled by the frenzy of not-in-my-backyard anxiety and divisiveness that has exploded in the news and over social media in recent days. While Syrian refugees swarm toward any port in the storm, we have allowed fear to poison and divide us, to separate us from our common humanity. Because we fear a terrorist may lurk among them, we say to the hordes of refugees, “No, you are not welcome here.” We have become the very innkeepers who turned away Mary and Joseph when they were most in need.

Weren’t we once refugees ourselves? Have we forgotten Ellis Island? As people who arrived on these shores not more than a few generations ago, from “foreign” countries around the world, do we not intend to honor the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

When we clasp hands to say grace at family gatherings, we often begin by giving thanks for the “hands around this table.” This Thanksgiving, we stretch our imaginations beyond the walls of our home, to join hearts and hands with those in dark alleys and homeless shelters, in refugee camps and war torn cities. We honor our connection with our brothers and sisters of every nation and faith, and from all walks of life. We honor all those who are different, whose names we cannot pronounce, who believe in other gods.

We are only strangers because we have not yet met, because our worlds have not intersected. Yet for all our different-ness, we have much in common. If we could but walk a mile in the shoes of the “other,” we might see more of our shared humanity: the helplessness of a parent unable to feed her child, the shame of losing one’s home or sleeping under a bridge, the tenderness of a caregiver with his aging father, the fierce devotion to family and country, the pain of loss, the fear of the unknown.

Most of our fear is unwarranted, based on stories we tell ourselves about terrible things that might happen. The media fuels our fear. We start to believe that disaster awaits just around the next corner. Of course we must take reasonable precautions to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of harm’s way. But we cannot allow fear to warp us into turning our backs on good people who need our help. To do so does not make us more safe; it makes us less human.

As Carrie Newcomer reminds us, there is room at the table for everyone.

Metta Prayer

 

Posted by: Banta | November 15, 2015

When the world aches

In the wake of terrible atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and a host of shootings in our own country, I am at a loss for words. Today I borrow the healing music of Carrie Newcomer, and the wisdom of artist/writer Roderick MacIver, who penned these thoughts several years ago in Heron Dance, a magazine he founded.

I often feel that ‘I am too soft for this hard world,’ before turning off the news in disgust and sadness and turning my mind towards daydreams of mountain streams and dark, fragrant pine glens. When exposed to the harsh realities of the world, I recoil, afraid they will engulf my light; it is a physical fear. But, I do not want to be the ostrich with my head in the sand or skip along singing my little song while Rome burns. It does not feel good to go into hiding.

The question I have been asking myself lately is: How can I stay completely present to this world – the light and the dark – while still keeping an open loving heart?

I have heard a cynic defined as a disappointed idealist. When I hear myself mutter, curse and complain following the news, I think of that definition and pull myself up by the collar. Who ever promised me the world would be perfect? I need to set a different course by reminding myself that humankind has always been flawed, has always committed atrocities at home and abroad – and love and light continued to exist anyway.

The news should simply inspire me to be extra loving and tender. It should remind me to do what I can to sway the scales towards love instead of backsliding into apathy and despair and fear. The media can make it easy to forget the light created by the millions of loving gentle souls who do exist. Good news doesn’t get much press.

Today I resolve to balance every dose of darkness I receive with an equal, if not greater, dose of light. I’ll dose up on the beauty of nature, the tender touch given, the kind deed done, and beautiful soul-stirring music. I resolve to check the balance daily and provide myself with the silence and solitude I need to maintain it. Because I truly believe it does matter what energy we put out into the world.

In celebration of the Gift of Life.

Offered in gratitude to Rod MacIver and Carrie Newcomer, and in compassion for all those who suffer pain and loss in every corner of our wounded world. May we find ways each day to lean in toward the light.

Posted by: Banta | November 10, 2015

The lost language of wild nature

2008.06 140

Does anyone still look up words in an actual dictionary? Or do we all default to the Google oracle for meanings and etymologies?

Words matter to me. Certain ones are dear, dear friends. Yes, I was a college English major. Yes, reading and writing rescued my childhood like sturdy life rafts in a swollen sea. Yes, I did re-read every Jane Austen novel last year. For fun.

So when I hear that words like acorn, moss, minnow and fern no longer appear in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, I grieve what our digitized world has done to a culture—and a generation of children—already suffering severe ‘nature deficit disorder.’ This dictionary, aimed at 7-year olds, began deleting certain references to flora and fauna back in 2007, but they don’t publish the words they omit each year. Only hands-on sleuthing reveals which ones have gone missing.

In their stead, we find blog, broadband, dyslexia, mp3 player and chatroom, words geared to the market share of 7-year olds who spend far more hours in front of digital screens than in the wild outdoors. Even the luscious summer blackberry has morphed into BlackBerry of smart phone fame.

Self-confessed word hoarder Robert Macfarlane, professor at Cambridge, believes that our impoverished language for wild places threatens the quality of our literary life. In his book Landmarks (2015), Macfarlane takes up the cause of resurrecting the language of landscape. “The terrain beyond the city fringe is chiefly understood in terms of large generic units—field, hill, valley, wood,” writes Macfarlane. “It has become a blandscape.”

But it’s more than that. Like the canary in the coal mine, the disappearance of ‘nature words’ from the Oxford Junior Dictionary mirrors the far more urgent loss of thousands of plant and animal species each year. Gone from our planet. Forever. Scientists estimate the rapid loss of species we see today at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate—that is, what would be happening if we humans were not around.

Restoration ecologist Donald Falk likens species to bricks in the foundation of a building. “You can probably lose one or two or a dozen bricks and still have a standing house. But by the time you’ve lost 20 per cent of species, you’re going to destabilize the entire structure,” says Falk. “That’s the way ecosystems work.”

More than twenty years ago, Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould connected the dots between species loss and our human connection to the natural world. “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”

Macfarlane makes a similar case for rewilding the language of landscape. “Language deficit leads to attention deficit,” writes Macfarlane. “As we deplete our ability to denote particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.”

Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, environmental activist and writer, creates a memorable literature of place better than almost any author I know. His passion for Henry County, KY and the fictional town of Port William emanates from every paragraph. Language matters to Berry. “We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love,” writes Berry. “To defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.”

What wild place do you love? A mountain, a river, a desert mesa, an old growth forest? Go there now, if only in your mind. Sit on the ground. Close your eyes and listen. Let the wild place talk to you in her own language. She may need your help. Take her words to heart. Speak them out loud. Write them down. Keep them safe for the next generation.

Posted by: Banta | November 3, 2015

All the sky we do not see

Star Trails. Joye Arden Durham.

When gifted professional photographer Joye Ardyn Durham, owner of Gingko Tree Gallery in Black Mountain, NC, admired the view from our deck and asked if we’d like a “star trails” picture, the answer was a resounding YES. Only then did we ask, “What’s a star trail?”

A star trail is a photographic rendering of the stars’ path across the night sky. Here’s how it worked. Joye arrived at dusk with her camera and tripod, attached the tripod to the deck railing with a bungee cord, set the camera’s timer to shoot a photo every minute or so throughout the night, then collected the camera in the morning and magically merged several hundred photos into one stunning image. Voila!

The shimmery white lines in Joye’s photo appear to document the movement of millions of stars streaking across the sky while we slept. Awake, we can nearly always find the Big and Little Dippers, Orion, and a smattering of other constellations and planets on the celestial stage. Seasons change and the stars seem to shift their positions on the stage. But the larger truth is that we are the ones in motion.

The Earth spins at a dizzying 1000 miles per hour. The only reason we’re not thrown off into space from the sheer velocity of the spinning is that we humans (along with everything else on the planet) are moving at precisely the same speed. While the science is way above my pay grade, I think of the spinning as a metaphor for our amped-up, digitally-driven, moving-too-fast life. Small wonder that the practice of stillness is so illusive, the gifts of focus and presence so extraordinary.

If I hiked to the top of Max Patch Bald tomorrow and lay all night in the meadow there, eyes wide open, what more might I see of the sky? In the pitch dark of a mountain top, miles from the nearest town, that sky is the main event. Yet we’ve seen so little of it in our lifetimes. To see more sky, we must look up from what we are doing, focus our gaze, be present in the moment. If we become more conscious travelers on our spinning earth, perhaps we, too, might one day leave star trails in our wake.

Posted by: Banta | January 2, 2015

Angel Cards

In our small but mighty family,as our daughter calls us, and among a circle of spirit sister friends, the month of January brings the annual selection of Angel Card. We draw from a box of some 72 tiny cards, each card bearing a tiny angel graphic and one key word—an invitation to focus on a particular aspect of one’s inner life during the coming year. I confess to some anxiety about this annual drawing, as well as some heart-pounding anticipation. What do my spirit guides think I most need to work on? Where are the edges most rough right now? Will I even know how to work with this part of myself in ways that help me grow, or enable me to be of greater service to others?

Over the past fifteen years or so, since I’ve collected these cards, I’ve learned that if a word makes no sense to me in January, its meaning will deepen and come very, very clear as the year unfolds. And some years, the word will resonate right away, as if mirroring back to me something I already know needs my attention.

Friendship • Grace • Purpose • Flexibility • Gratitude •Clarity • Resilience • Courage • Awakening

This choosing of a card is a small act with big ripple effects. Like a mantra humming in the background, these words linger and pulse and breathe with each of us all year long—at times in a whisper, at other times more like a jackhammer. With this one word beacon of light on my radar screen, I am almost always looking for ways to activate or express the concept more fully.

The word for 2015 is Courage. While it scares me to wonder what circumstances will require untapped resources of inner courage this year, I also hear this as an invitation to be more courageous in all aspects of life—in my writing, in speaking about difficult subjects, in personal relationships, in physical undertakings, in new adventures, in crossing spiritual frontiers.

At the least, these Angel Cards encourage us to be more mindful, to stop, look, and listen for messages from the unseen. For any and every such reminder, I am eternally grateful.

Posted by: Banta | August 26, 2014

Snake Encounters

The air was still that Saturday. In the dappled early light, honey bees created a frenzied hum around the dill blossoms, Russian sage, and tall spikes of bee balm, their obvious favorite. Morning glories greeted me like happy children straddling the fence, clad in jewel tones of magenta, sky blue, opaline white, and purple quartz. A mug of tea in one hand, I had come to the garden to pick a few plump blueberries for my breakfast. Just last week, we had tossed squares of netting over the two-year old bushes, to keep the birds from picking off the ripening berries.

I stopped abruptly some ten feet from the lone blueberry bush we’d planted outside the fenced garden. A snake was coiled around the thin trunk, leaving the lower third of its brown-flecked body curled on the ground. It seemed tangled in the bird netting and did not move as I approached. More startled than afraid, I stood still for a moment, registering the scene. Then, without taking my eyes off the snake, I set the mug of tea down, pulled out my phone, and snapped as many photos as I dared. The snake remained motionless. I imagined it might be watching me, too. A minute passed, and another. We seemed suspended in a state of mutual curiosity.

Finally, with deliberate caution. I backed away, one step at a time, until I reached the flagstone path to the house. Inside I found a book about reptiles, and posted a photo on Facebook to ask for help identifying this snake. The book and my wilderness-wise friends confirmed it was a timber rattlesnake, quite poisonous, and advised me to keep my distance. But I couldn’t stay away. Like a rubbernecker riveted to the scene of a gruesome wreck, I made frequent trips to the garden to keep tabs on the rattler. By midday, black flies were circling, and I was ready to pronounce the snake dead by strangulation. But I was not ready to get close enough to take its pulse.

When Bruce got home at dusk, he jabbed the rattlesnake with a pitchfork to confirm it was dead, then cut it down – netting and all – and buried it in the woods. I thought that was the end of the snake tale.

Not so. The bird netting would have to be removed, but other projects took precedence, until a week later. I’d spent the morning replenishing soil in the raised beds, adding compost, and planting vegetable seedlings for the fall garden. Then another few hours clearing brush and brambles along the driveway. By late afternoon, I was bone tired, caked with dust, and ready for a shower. Just one last trip through the garden gate to return the shovel and clippers to the shed.

And there I saw her – a shiny black rat snake curled at the base of a blueberry bush, camouflaged by and hopelessly entangled in a wad of the black bird netting. Damn. Her tail twitched when I leaned in to investigate. She was still alive. What happened next was so instinctive I hardly know how to explain it. I called Bruce up from his woodshop, grabbed work gloves and scissors, and together we cut off the bundle of snake and netting and carried it to a patch of shade, where we set to work. Bruce held the snake’s head in one hand, and her slithering body in the other, calming her with his voice while I snipped at the netting. In many places the net was wound so tightly around her that her scaly skin bulged from the pressure. Every time she moved, she risked tightening the web of nooses further. I slipped the scissors under each thick plastic strand, taking great pains not to pierce her skin.

We were so engrossed in this delicate surgery that we lost all track of time. While black snakes have been known to hiss and bite when threatened, or emit a foul musky spray to ward off a predator, none of these things happened. She may have exhausted herself before I found her, in an effort to escape the netting. But all the while Bruce cradled her, she twitched only when the scissors pressed under the tightest bits of net to make a cut. She tracked our movements and intentions with a constant flicking of her black tongue. And with each snip of the scissors, she seemed to breathe a little easier.

Finally, impossibly, she was free. Bruce carried her to the edge of the woods and let her go. By the time he walked back up to the garden, I’d found two MORE black snakes tangled in two more wads of bird netting. How many times did we need to learn this lesson?

018Sadly, one of the two was already dead, but the other was very much alive. Not as thoroughly wound up in the net as the first hostage, this snake writhed and squirmed during the entire detangling procedure. But again, no hissing or aggression, nor any defensive musky spray. When we set her loose a few minutes later, it was with an odd mixof compassion, humility, and gratitude. And before the sun set, we took down the rest of the bird netting. By next summer, those blueberry bushes will provide enough berries for birds and humans to share.

I have no doubt that these snake encounters were about far more than bird netting. Indigenous peoples have great respect for the snake spirit animal, or snake totem. Snake lives close to the earth, and reminds us to stay grounded as we navigate change and transition. Snake energy invites an awakening of creativity, a heightened connection to the life force itself.

When a snake sheds her old skin, it is to make room for new growth. I want to shed my old skin, too – beliefs and habits I have outgrown, my ego attachment to having things go my way, personal narratives that no longer serve my own or the greater good. I want to walk barefoot on the earth, in that vulnerable new skin, open to the voices of all the life forms that co-exist with us here on this mountain – snakes, yes, and also bear, deer, gopher, mice, grasshoppers, slugs, hummingbirds, poke weed, brambles.

The snake encounters have taught me that if I am a willing student, my teachers are standing at the ready. Let the lessons begin.

 

 

 

 

 

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