Contemplative Life

An Offering: Free Books and Program

First, let me say this isn’t goodbye. I’d mentioned in a post back in May that I’d been going through a process—perhaps you have as well—made convenient by the pandemic. In a certain way, with all pretty much coming to a standstill, the space and time demanded it. The call for sorting was strong: the recapitulation of a life, what really matters, and the future laid open to be taken up in an even deeper way. I can’t say this track is complete. Messages still come winging in as I’m easing back into the loosening future that is now.

…I fully recognize what’s ahead to be a different personal landscape than the one I’d been traveling—and have come to realize I don’t regret it. In fact, I welcome it. There’s a point when what was once off the beaten path becomes a well-traveled road.

…I’m not ready to slip my physical body as yet. But who knows what the future holds? However, I have a body of work that spans about 30 years, and experiences older than that. A lot of it has been documented through books, essays, a mentoring program and audio teachings. Some have yet to be written down. I’ve been fortunate to have engaged with a good number of people who let me know they’ve benefitted through the programs I’ve sponsored, private work and writings.

Alto Madre de Dios – A River of Life. Manu, Peru.

To fully review how guidance presented itself, read From the Archives: A Life Experienced. For me, these promptings are rarely linear but alert me to certain cues that string together decisions.

That said, I’ve archived two of my three books and my mentoring program so that they’re available for free on Medium in serial chapter format. Soon I’ll upload my third book as well. All are about conscious living and the spiritual journey. I hope you find them of benefit.

Link through the writing platform Medium. For each book or program chapter, scroll to the bottom for the table of contents with links to continue.

Books:

Calling Our Spirits Home: Gateways to Full Consciousness

Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage

A Program to Revolutionize Your Life:

Navigating Your Lifepath: Reclaiming Your Self, Recapturing Your Vision


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Categories: Contemplative Life, Giveaway, Gratitude, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: A Pilgrimage to Eternity

A friend recommended A Pilgrimage to Eternity knowing how much the Camino de Santiago meant to me—my walk and the aftermath, what I learned about myself. I confess I thought I’d be wading through a lot of historical minutiae reading this book. But I was pleasantly surprised, moved and entertained.

Timothy Egan’s mother was a progressive but devout Catholic. After her passing, he decided to make the pilgrimage on the Via Francigena, an ancient route actually older than the  Camino de Santiago by about two hundred years. It begins in Canterbury and ends in Rome. The Via passes through England, France, Switzerland and Italy, a length of 1100 miles.

Egan self-identified as a “lapsed” Catholic. One reason for his undertaking such an incredibly testing journey was the sheer physicality of it. But there were two other reasons. He really wanted to get to the bottom of how early Christianity—whose tenets were love, gender equality, charity and little dogma—transitioned to what it is today. He also wanted to reactivate his own spirituality, and see if he could find those original core precepts in action in the present-day Catholic Church.

This is Egan’s account of his own personal pilgrimage. By his very reasons, it included a fine examination and accounting of where the Catholic Church fell from its early grace. The  Inquisition, murders, sexual abuse, bias and politics are already commonly known.  But this writer fills in the gaps and pinpoints specific immoral deeds, contradictions, greed and subterfuge— often told with wickedly irreverent, biting humor. He doesn’t cut them any slack.

He came into the pilgrimage already carrying his own personal grief and strikes against the Church, which are relayed in the book. One had to do with Father Patrick O’Donnell who lived across the street from his childhood home, back then a 31-year-old priest. Egan’s mother welcomed him, a frequently invited guest. The priest was charismatic and considered a Pied Piper with kids. We know this familiar story. In 2002, a Spokane paper broke the story of dozens of accusations against the priest for sexually abusing boys across his priestly career, and how he’d just been moved by from one parish to another when things got too dicey. When Egan’s grown friend read the news, trauma came flooding back…what he’d kept secret. He subsequently took his own life.

Egan takes the Church to task about their fear of women’s power and sexuality: “Sex got stuck, just like those clerics who were never able to move beyond the boyhood trauma of arousal. The best women—Mary the mother of God, Joan the Maid, and Brigid of Ireland—were [made] virgins. The best men—Augustine, Jerome, and Benedict—renounced sex.”

He goes on to talk about Pope Gregory VII’s edict in the 11th century against clerical marriage. This when nearly half the clerics had wives or mistresses. There’s a lot more on that subject. But you’ve got a taste.

Here’s an accounting of high shenanigans I hadn’t known. When in Geneva, Egan sought out the repository of a special, preserved document issued by the pope—a “passport to paradise” of which who knew how many were sold. The purpose was protection from hell. The cost of the document depended on how many years the buyer wanted to reduce their time in purgatory. They could do so for themselves or a deceased relative. The fee lined the pope’s and clerics’ pockets. Thus were palaces built and feasts laid out…while peasants gave what money they had to the Church and their families went without enough food. The practice came to a halt after Martin Luther made a public exposé of this and a plethora of other instances of vast indulgences and greed by the Catholic Church. So began the advancement of Protestantism.

Along with informing us of the Church’s misdeeds, the author shares his experiences. This one is quite remarkable. He visited the crypt of Saint Lucia Filipini located in Montesiascone Cathedral in the town of Montefiascone, Italy. She died in 1732 at 6o. Her body remains incorruptible. On his visit, Egan looked closely. Her eyes were half open. Shooting a number of photos, he zoomed in and observed “a slow but discernible movement. The eyes are opening wider, to a half oval.” It jolted him with a sense of direct connection to the saint, the body. The next day he returned to the crypt. The eyes were completely closed.

He introduces us to the Abbey of Saint-Maurice along the Great St-Bernard Pass. Yes, the one with the rescue dogs. Perpetual prayer and chanting has endured 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for centuries. These days the monks who perform this duty are known as the Sleepless Ones. A site for contemplatives, there’s a draw for retreat.

Why truly would someone, and particularly the author, want to make such an arduous pilgrimage on the Via? “Wonder is a simple virtue. Like childhood, it’s grounded in innocence, taken for granted until it’s impossible to reclaim. One of the reasons I’m on the VF is to see whether I can maintain my wonder of what could be, while never forgetting what was.”

Now I’m dreaming of doing it myself. Well, maybe a truncated version at least.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity is available wherever books are sold. I checked mine out from our local library.


This book review first appeared in the publication Illumination on Medium.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

From the Archives: A Life Experienced

How do  I Iead into what I want to convey? Isn’t that always the underlying unconscious question? These days it’s not so much what I want to express but how. What is the conveyance that will provide the depth I seek…to the point…without rambling? But really, life is rarely to the point if you think about it. By necessity rambling is required for learning, isn’t it? For me, the circuitous route has proven to be the most interesting, serendipity the gift most enlivening, what’s off the beaten path most fruitful.

Now going into the second year of the pandemic, it’s fifteen months since my usual life came to a screeching halt—the same as nearly everyone’s on the planet. A force much greater than any of us took over. We’re left with how to mediate uncertain ground. I haven’t been home this long in more than twenty years. My lifework involves a lot of travel.

What I’ve noticed though is my rambling hasn’t gone away. I’m just covering other-than-physical ground more deeply than I have in quite a while. The space and silence provided the opportunity to do so. Hence, the questions and ruminations I mentioned. I fully recognize what’s ahead to be a different personal landscape than the one I’d been traveling—and have come to realize I don’t regret it. In fact, I welcome it. There’s a point when what was once off the beaten path becomes a well-traveled road.

Over this last year I’ve been through a conscious sorting process. The core elements I consider most important haven’t changed. The intent I hold remains solid. It’s more about opening to other or even wider, spacious ways to engage them. It’s the process of coming to comfort within uncertainty—knowing there was never any certainty anyway and all is transient. It’s possible whatever way I end up may not look outwardly different. Who knows at this point? However, I intend that inwardly it will hold spaciousness. I’m bringing my intent to ground by speaking it here. The process I’ve been undergoing is very much about the present and future.

A curious thing happened several weeks ago. In the middle of the night I awoke with a start. I rode into wakefulness with this thought: I’ve been on the planet for 67 years. Soon it will be 68. It’s not like I don’t know this. But I’ve never thought much about my own age. I’m fortunate to be healthy and, through long ago choices, living the kind of life I never could have dreamed up. I hold a lot of gratitude for that. I’m guessing most people think about their longevity, but I really  hadn’t paid it much mind.

I have been holding the thought, borne through that middle-of-the-night prompting. Things going the way they do with me, this next piece happened a few days later. I can’t pinpoint how this occurred exactly, but a music video appeared in my social media feed. I actually watched it. Not typical for me. It was a song by the Avett Brothers called  No Hard Feelings. I’d never heard of them. The lyrics, the way they sang it and the images in the video touched me so deeply, I listened to it several times in a row and have continued since.

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
…Will my hands be steady when I lay down my fears, my hopes, and my doubts?
The rings on my fingers, and the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

…When the sun hangs low in the west
…And it’s just hallelujah…

This poignantly beautiful song caused me to do something I urge the people I mentor to do but hadn’t done in some time.

Acknowledge yourself, where you’ve been that brought you to where you are now.

Recapitulation of a life, I looked back over time. I’ve been holding this process lightly for a few weeks now and imagine it will go on for at least a few more. I recognize that I’ve done a lot of wandering of various sorts over most of my life, and was never lost. Even though, there were times when it felt so. I couldn’t have told you what compelled me until a decade or so ago. Finally, I realized there’s an energy I follow that has not let me down when I’m faithful to it. I’ve experienced some things most people have not. Some I can’t explain. I’ve had great joy in my life, also devastation and deep loss. What I’ve come to is this: It’s all been perfect. Every bit has brought me to this point in time. I feel blessed by it all.

One of my favorite things to do is have a meal with friends and afterward linger, usually over a glass of red wine, and relay favorite stories of experiences past. That I’ve missed a lot through the pandemic. (Although it’s transferred to more writing and artwork as my narrative.)

Some years ago, I was doing  this very thing with a few of the intrepid travelers who came with me to Chiapas on my Maya program. We’d been hanging out after dinner at Don Mucho’s, an open-air restaurant at the rainforest compound outside Palenque called El Panchan. (It holds so many of its own stories a book was written about it.) One of the women said to me, “You need to put all these stories together and call it Tales from Carla’s Table.” This memory came back to me during my life review, and I made a decision.

I’m not ready to slip my physical body as yet. But who knows what the future holds? However, I have a body of work that spans about 30 years, and experiences older than that. A lot of it has been documented through books, essays, a mentoring program and audio teachings. Some have yet to be written down. I’ve been fortunate to have engaged with a good number of people who let me know they’ve benefitted through the programs I’ve sponsored, private work and writings.

All this meandering narrative to come to this point—an announcement—and I appreciate your patience. I’ve already started to archive all of it in one place, including my book Standing Stark in serialized chapter form with the others to follow. I have Dr. Mehmet Yildiz to thank for his generous support. Dr. Yildiz  is the founder and editor-in-chief of Illumination and related publications on the writing platform Medium. He took me on as a writer and welcomes my reprints.  You can find my author page here.

All will be available to anyone who desires for as long as Medium remains online. I hope it may be of benefit.

K’iche’ Maya fire ceremony, 2018. Photo: Carla Woody.

***

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Categories: Contemplative Life, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Esoteric Art of Mystic Hilma af Klint

There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Hilma af Klint unless you’ve been to a show or seen articles on the flurry she’s now creating as major exhibitions of her artwork are gaining momentum, across the globe, consistently since 2013. Prior to that her only international show of any significance was The Spiritual in Art –  Abstract Painting 1890 – 1985 at the Los Angeles County Museum where she was listed as a previously unknown painter against luminaries Kandinsky, Kupka, Malevich and Mondrian. In fact, she’d only exhibited four times in group exhibitions in her native Sweden during her life. The last time was 1914.

Why?

Hilma became fed up with the lack of understanding and response to her work by contemporaries. A significant point was Rudolf Steiner’s reluctant visit to her studio in 1908, his tepid feedback and suggestion she completely alter her method  and source of inspiration.

She decided the world was not yet ready for her paintings. When she passed in 1944, she’d willed her lifework—approximately 1500 paintings and works on paper, plus her notebooks totaling 26,000 pages—to her nephew Erik af Klint who had no involvement whatsoever in art. There was an unusual requirement in the will: None of her work was to be made public for 20 years. A wise choice since the 1940s was not the landscape into which to release precious expressions whose source was not of a pedestrian world.

Here are three major points of interest.

Despite unfavorable responses to her work, she didn’t give up as some might have. Instead, she retreated to her studio and secreted her output. This reminded me of Saint Julian of Norwich who slipped her writings into cracks in the walls of her cell—this for her physical safety though—to be discovered only after her death. Women through the ages have kept things quiet, lived beneath the radar, known to few, because it was dangerous to be recognized. Not so now.

Kandinsky is credited with inventing abstract art with his 1910 watercolor. When, in fact, Hilma was already producing a series called Primordial Chaos between 1906-1907. So, she’s actually the mother of invention.

Primordial Chaos, Group I. Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum.

It goes back farther than that. In 1903, her hand was being guided in automatic writing sessions and non-representational drawings—not unlike some of her later paintings. Initially a classical artist, it was automatic writing that loosed her from those precise restrictions. She jumped right into abstraction informed by the metaphysical question:  What lies beyond form?

Group X, Altarpieces, 1915. Public domain.

She was fortunate to live in a time of great curiosity in the Western world toward those things beyond the physical plane. Like many artists and writers of the time, Hilma was interested in spiritualism. She was a member of the Edelweiss Society in Sweden whose prime interest was mediumship. Hilma left to be part of a small group of women who called themselves The Five. They met regularly to hold seances, automatic writing sessions and other related exploration. She continued to hold these interests throughout her life. She was a seeker who drew from a complex well of the occult, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism , Buddhism, Christianity, Anthroposophy and physics, along with her foundation in spiritualism. It formed her world view and emerged clearly in her cosmic artwork.

My introduction to Hilma af Klint came through the remarkable documentary Beyond the Visible, streaming online. I was so taken with her story and artwork I ordered Paintings for the Future, the coffee table book produced by the Guggenheim, to study her more closely.

In well-deserved recognition, this female artist—who once painted alone in her studio, secreting her work—had her work viewed by more than 600,000 art enthusiasts by the close of the 2018-2019 Guggenheim exhibition. This is “the highest recorded attendance figure for a single exhibition in the museum’s history.”

And so, the celebration of her work continues globally. It’s about time.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Film, Solitude, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

My Dream Last Night

I remembered a dream from last night. This is significant because I typically don’t, if I dream at all. I suppose I must though. It’s common knowledge that we all dream most nights. But in this case, I awoke from it—for a few seconds—and observed to myself, that’s peculiar. It’s unclear if anything happened before or after that short clip, but I promptly went back to sleep. It was a few hours after I got up that I recalled the dream.

It’s in times of heightened awareness that such recollection occurs, and there’s a clear message. The messages come in other ways, too, just as it did a few minutes ago, and I’m compelled to write about it. I was reading Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge when suddenly a passage popped out from the page.

But scarcely a day passes now without such an encounter. Not only in the twilight; it happens at midday in the most crowded streets, that a little man or an old woman is suddenly there, nods to me, shows me something,  and then vanishes, as though all the necessary were now done.

It was upon reading these few lines that my dream last night plucked itself out of the depths and advanced in my memory. I’m guessing it will stick with me as others of importance have remained just beneath the surface, at the ready to be called up in great visual detail, unfolding second by second, loosing the visceral response to be reviewed, reminded or having marked a passage.

Here are a couple of the latter sort from the mid-1980s that I’ve kept close and celebrated over the years.

I see myself scurrying away on a path straight through a thick dark forest. I’m wearing one of those medieval capes with its large hood on my head and carry my cat tightly in my arms. It has a fairy tale look. Suddenly, I hear loud crashing from the right, and I see a huge white stallion running through the trees at breakneck speed headed directly for me. It screeches to a halt a few feet in front of me and begins to leap over and over straight up in the air. I stand there and watch it.

It was a short time after that I began to paint again after a 10-year hiatus.

I’m in an old mansion fallen into disrepair, standing at the bottom of one of those sweeping staircases. When I look up, I realize a third of the steps had fallen away. The staircase doesn’t reach the next story.

That was a repetitive dream that lasted for some years. But finally, it shifted. The staircase reached the next story. When I got to the top of the stairs, there was a wide hall that seemed to stretch endlessly that led to other halls, stairs and unusually interesting rooms. By then I’d begun to make major changes in my life that ultimately brought me to where I am now. This dream took the other one’s place as repetitive. It still visits every several years and is always welcome.

I’ve also had dreams that play a part in admonishing me, but also acknowledge. Its tendrils extending into daylight hours with synchronicities like the one last night. My favorite involved a relationship with the playwright Eugene O’Neill.

So, my dream last night…

I’m associated in this dream, meaning in my body looking out of my own eyes. I reach into my mouth, grasp the incisor at the lower left and pull it out. I hold it up, astounded. I go over to a wall mirror—that magically appears. When I open my mouth rather than a gaping hole where the other one was, strangely, I see another tooth that must have been just behind that one plucked out. It’s already half grown.

That’s it. I can imagine its message but will be alert, engaged and experience its unfolding. I also acknowledge this one isn’t just for me but also the Collective.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Staying Too Long at the Party

Years ago, a client sat in my office telling me about a problematic, repetitive situation. Coming to the end of her story, she said dryly, “I stayed too long at the party.” I looked at her. At that point, I’d never heard that expression before. But doesn’t that just say it all? Hoping for a different outcome, you find the same loop—familiar old patterns delivering you to the well-known destination.

What seems like a lifetime ago we were ushered into this extended retreat, which could seem artificial if the pandemic and its outcomes haven’t been all too real. There’s been forced isolation, times when our best and worst individual aspects likely emerged. I bet there hasn’t been one person who hasn’t examined their life during this period, evaluated to some extent, and now looking for the future to be different … better … somehow. Suddenly, it even seems like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—that more freedom may be in the foreseeable future.

If there’s something you want to change…headed through this liminal space…coming out the other side with a difference, it’s totally up to you. There’s no magic to make it happen. But there can be an alchemical reaction if you undertake this part of the journey with intent. To take some of the mystery out of the process, I want to offer you something. I’ve pulled this piece from my Navigating Your Lifepath Manual.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

Reformation

Alchemy can be defined as elements recombined to create new forms. When beliefs are re-formed, arising out of what was, a rebirthing takes place.

Resistance is necessary as a form of progression. In order to resist, the mind has to consider something new. Otherwise, resistance wouldn’t happen. Imagining something new begins to create substance. The greater the level of resistance, the more potentially profound the new creation may be ─ and out of the comfort zone. The more rigid we are in our own thinking, the more inertia we will experience against moving forward.

To create, we must push through the membrane that separates what we’ve preserved as real to the newly imagined reality. Becoming aware of our own thought patterns that contain the status quo is paramount to the process.

What are the faces of inertia? Fear, confusion, doubt, apathy, overwhelm are some.

The creative impulse is always within us. How active or dormant it is depends on the strength of inertia. The resistance or membrane we must move through is really about our self-image, the beliefs we hold about the nature of our own operating identity, what we hold possible for ourselves as individuals.

Resistance guards the doorway against freedom of choice.

The combined focus of heart and mind distills energy in such a way that it becomes an attractor. Random events and possibilities are vibrating in the ether, but are drawn into a person’s reality depending on what they hold in their mind…with laser-like precision. Two people can be in the same situation and experience it differently because their separate realities are divergent.

When faced with a challenge does your mind go to thoughts of: Opportunity? Barriers? The great possibility? Perpetual limitation?

The desire to evolve is innate. Therefore, we are all predisposed to be facing ever-present conflict, the degree of which is up to us. It depends on the lens through which we view change, our own level of awareness and what we give focus.  In our evolutionary process, when we step off what has been the beaten path, we throw things into chaos until a sort of order begins to settle in. Too much order and we become entrenched and unmovable. Order will seek disorder until order occurs. Then the cycle repeats. This is the natural progression. In order to create we must dispense with the idea of separation, any thought that we are separate from our creation. Otherwise, the past, present and future folds over on itself as one and we’re likely to remain inert ─ until a new pathway is envisioned. Then even the past can change depending on your perspective. Former victimhood can be converted to that of spiritual warrior.

Insight comes in the hiccup that deletes autopilot.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Creativity Strategies, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

In Time With the Deluge

Nearly twenty years ago, I began writing my second book Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage. It was a time of exhilarating change and deep insights for me, rampant with significant leaps of faith, without any visible safety net, that brought me to where I am today.  I was presented with another fork in the road as there had been others along the way. Who knows where I’d be if I’d remained on the beaten path? While those personal choices dismantled much of my old foundation, they were proactive in constituting another, likely waiting for the right time to emerge.

Here we are now, as a Collective, with something so major thrust upon us, something so new that little can be predicted, safety net unknown or when it may settle down. It’s torn apart our systemic status quo and exposed what was kept under wraps. Upheaval. The measure of response at both an individual and macro level will necessarily bring revolution and evolution, or (my belief) we wouldn’t have been presented with it. Its time was past due.

I’ve had plenty of time to muse about things over these months in ways I wouldn’t have had before, being so much on the move. Being still has always worked its magic on me.

With that, I began to consider the words that came through me all those years ago. They flowed out of me to become the prologue, setting the stage for Standing Stark. Presently, we are in the time of monsoons, the same period I wrote then, with barely a drop of relief, hoping for the rains to come. Yet they’ll come in their own time or not at all. We have no control over the movements of nature. But, as with any time, we do have control over our own responses and sensibilities.

StarkTree

We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy — trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.

But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.

Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before. They draw our attention — our fascination.

The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren…

The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive…

In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and merely stand waiting. This is for those souls who hold themselves available — to be struck.

— In the time of monsoons

For a few years, prior to a huge personal fork in the road in 1992, I worked as an internal consultant for the US government. (Those who know me find my long stint in civil service hard to believe. Now, so do I.) I was one of several in my small office trained to seed organizational development by focusing on leadership strategies, team building, conflict resolution and the like. The approach most meaningful to me was a holistic one. With intact work teams, we used the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator or experiential activities that pointed to similar outcomes: the varied styles and capabilities of each individual made a stronger, more creative team. Everyone brings something to the table to contribute. Most of the time, I felt like I was banging my head against a stone wall. It was a challenge to get most of those managers to think beyond protecting their own turf and short-term thinking.

When that happened, we had another trick to pull out of our back pockets: WIIFM (pronounced whiff-um). When wanting them to consider a more holistic, visionary style, we’d guide them to consider, what’s in it for me? Back then I was fresh-faced and hopeful. Now, I see asking that question likely served to entrench rigid individualism rather than open a pathway toward higher values on Maslow’s pyramid and farseeing. It wasn’t long before all came to a head for me. I simply couldn’t do it anymore and cut those ties.

A friend recently said, we’ll all find something to justify our beliefs and actions. Of course, we do. That’s true no matter where you fall in the current deluge that assaults our moral compass or however else you make decisions.

Shortly after leaving disillusionment behind, I was first introduced to traditional Indigenous ways: seventh generation decision-making, sacred reciprocity and actions intent on the well-being of the planet and all beings. This is the world where I choose to dwell, one whose time is long overdue and endangered. In practicing stillness, these are some of the memories and metaphors that have guided my considerations over the last months.

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Friends With Whatever Arises

Last week, I had a landscaper deliver and spread much on the few garden beds I have. He’d been out to my place before and is dependable. It’s been a trial over the last several years, finding plants that the wildlife in this outback won’t eat and that can tolerate drought conditions.

It’s certainly been a trial this year in so many ways. Even the flowering plants have largely hidden their color, choosing instead to retain their blooms, leaves frequently curled inward to protect themselves against the raging hot winds.

At dusk, I wandered out to admire what the workers had accomplished. When I rounded the slope alongside my long dirt driveway, I stopped short. I felt a pang in my heart and nearly burst into tears.

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Seeking solitude, I moved to this particular spot nearly 20 years ago because I would have a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks nearly 90 miles to the north. They were precious to me, precious to the Indigenous peoples of Northern Arizona.

When I walked this land back then and noticed small mounds dotting the hillside with waxy leaves on branching stems holding quarter-size violet flowers, it cinched my choice. For me, seeing these brilliant points—each flower only lasting for a day—in this sunburned, high desert landscape has been a kiss of beauty I’ve come to cherish. My love affair with these wild four o’clocks, that I’ve never seen elsewhere, has endured.

A few years ago, several of them started volunteering in the lower bed containing only a large juniper and a few shrubs native here, cliff-rose and Apache plume. The four o’clocks made their home around the juniper where little else would grow. I felt blessed and never failed to glance their way when driving down the hill, looking forward to the day they would completely cover the ground.

But now, the four o’clocks were gone.

At first, I thought I was seeing—or not seeing—things. But then I spotted a pile of wilted leaves and branching stems laying on the wild side of my driveway. They held their beauty close to the vest this year, few of the flowers making any appearance whatsoever.

When I showed my landscaper the next day, he said he felt so bad. I could see he did, having mistaken them for weeds. We searched for some to take their place. Most elsewhere had died back in the heat and lack of water, but we finally found a few. I don’t think the transplants are going to take. I’ve been encouraging them in my daily visits but don’t hold out much hope.

A couple of days later, I began to think about my response to the situation, the visceral sadness, the barely held in tears. I knew something was going on with me well beneath the surface.

A few days later, a friend and I were catching up with each other, a rare opportunity for me to be in the physical (safe distancing) presence of another person, these being pandemic days.

We’d just co-facilitated a meeting via videoconferencing in accordance with safety guidelines. She asked me how I’d been faring, and I told her I was personally fine. But I was so concerned about the Indigenous communities I work with. My nonprofit had been fundraising to provide emergency relief for the Hopi and Q’ero villages who had reached out for help—and the fact that I just didn’t have the means to extend assistance to all.

I knew all were suffering in a variety of ways, from isolation to lack of medical care and protective supplies to food insecurities. I was aware that some of the Maya people I work with are also in a bad way. Across the board, there is serious loss of livelihood for any Indigenous community or business dependent on tourism.

A memory surfaced, and I began to tell her of the experience.

“In 2006, my friend Will and I were traveling in Guatemala. There had been some kind of natural disaster, a hurricane or earthquake causing mudslides and washed-out roads. It was impossible to get to Lake Atitlán or surrounding villages for a few months. We went there right after it had opened up again.

The night we arrived, we had dinner there in Panajachel at an open-air restaurant. I ordered fish. But it didn’t taste quite right, like it was old. I picked around on my meal for a while. I noticed two little Maya girls and an even smaller boy sitting on the curb across the street, their eyes glued on us. When Will and I finished our dinner, most of the food remained. The children ran over and asked politely if they could have what we’d left. Of course, they could! We put it all in a series of napkins, and they scurried back to the curb and devoured the food.

It made my heart ache. Clearly, these little ones had been suffering. Up close it was evident. People just don’t realize how on the edge so many live. How can we ignore such a thing? Once you’ve seen it right in front of your face, you can’t ‘unsee’ it. It breaks my heart, and I know for sure that’s happening now in so many places in the world.”

By the time I finished my story, tears were pooling in my eyes, threatening to overflow. My friend was the same. She said, “You’ve made it real, personal.” We went on to talk about the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing and so many others, the same. I could hardly bear it all.

I don’t want to bear it.

For the last several weeks I’d been participating in online teachings with Pir Shabda Kahn, the spiritual director of Sufi Ruhaniat International, reconnecting with practices.

I suddenly remembered he said something I’d known from long ago:

Whatever arises make friends with it.

And in that instant, the discomfort I’d been so valiantly trying to push down—to make invisible—made its presence fully known.

Grief. I was grieving. How could I not be and still be human? How could any of us not be?

I don’t want my grief to be lodged in my body and forever be carrying it. I don’t want my grief to go underground again.

I want it to be fully present. That way, I simply cannot be complacent or allow anyone to be seen as other.

Pir Shabda had talked about the real meaning of justice, bringing things into balance. Peace won’t come from justice alone but transformation. The remedy comes from each of us. Perennial wisdom has to do with the development of compassion. This is our contribution to send into the world.

The Sufi wazifas are the “99 Beautiful Names of God” that, when chanted, seek to call upon the person any sacred attribute that is named and release it globally. In closing our last session, he offered us the phrase “Ya Jabbar” as a strong way to bring things together. Known as the bonesetter, this wazifa is the healer of fractured human existence.

I’ve been placing this sacred phrase on my breath.

***

Make Friends With Whatever Arises was first published in the Elephant Journal on July 6, 2020 and awarded the status of Ecosystem Winner.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

An Offering from the Heart

A  couple of months ago, the newly established Museum of Beadwork in Portland, Maine sent a call out for bead artists to participate in a very special project, which would become part of their permanent collection.  It was an invitation to a community undertaking. Artists would create a design of their choice on a six-inch square hard surface. All the squares would be put together in such a way to form a visual quilt.

The potential of such a project caught my attention. Decades ago in a college art class, the instructor assigned students to shoot black and white photos of the urban industrial landscape that were later cut up, pieced together and mounted on a large collective board. It produced an interesting piece of art. I’m quite sure the outcome was intended to probe the depths of a philosophy—because that’s who the instructor was—and open our sensibilities. I wish I remembered what we unearthed, quite unknown to us at the start. At any rate, the memory of that assignment, the process and result, stayed with me all these years and came to mind again after I received the call for bead artists.

I sat with it. I considered participating but nothing as far as design came to me. And frankly, I  work much larger than the criteria allowed, and it felt restricting. But then I thought about haiku and the six-word story. In their brevity, just the framework, much is left open to the reader’s interpretation.  And isn’t that what art is at its best anyway? Something evocative that touches you? Through which you can have an experience?

That still didn’t produce a design of any juice for me. Finally, something did. I focus my writing there frequently, and especially now.

 

…liminal space, the territory that holds the material and imaginal realms equally…until they come together as one.

—Excerpted from Liminal

 

In the last month I’ve written of immediacy and the process we’ve collectively undertaken one way or another produced by the pandemic: This Pilgrimage We’re On and Move Slowly Back Into the World.

Of course, I’d also want to commemorate my own process in a piece of artwork! But it’s even more than that. Within a rite of passage, it would become a sacrament. An invocation, an intent to release into the world held lightly by community. It takes on power. With shape, color and symbols, as the piece may speak for me, others may find their own meaning through what is left unexplained. The fashioning of form, the placement of each bead is no less a prayer, the embodiment of spiritual practice set into it, ultimately to be released to those who may feel and see, those who open their sensibilities to be touched in that way.

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Offering from the Heart. Bas relief mixed media, 6″x6.” ©2020 Carla Woody.

I finished my Offering from the Heart. Now it’s getting ready to travel across the country to finally find its placement in the community project.

An idea occurred to me after my own piece was completed. This really is a momentous time to make visible what comes from the core. While I usually don’t accept art commissions, I would be glad to do so for anyone wanting to mark their own rite of passage in this way. An intent to move into form, remembrance of a loved one, a blessing to release whatever it is whose time is past. The expression would be yours to formulate and provide me as the well from which to draw. The heart—being the carrier of love and resonance—and the square—as consciousness, Mother Earth, foundation—would remain the common elements. A piece to take its place on your altar, hang on the wall, or include in ceremony. I’d welcome any sacred items, symbols or anything else that would further personalize and would be possible to include within a 6”x6” or 8”x8” format.

See my artist website for detailed images, options and pricing.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Move Slowly Back Into the World

In looking back to This Pilgrimage We’re On, I was surprised to see I wrote it on May 13 when I was 60 days into sheltering at home. Now—in time—here I am just upon a month later when, in some ways, it feels like only yesterday. Yet, it’s been within my reach, even experience, to travel through galaxies—possibilities and probabilities—to come back to the place I am now.

 At some time in our lives, we receive a signal to arouse from a deep sleep. If we answer the cue, we set out on a journey toward authenticity that takes us into the unknown. We begin to separate from the selves we thought we were and search for who we are.*

Having made the monumental journey, albeit enforced, globally we’ve come to the next phase. It’s a precious time to be framed with thoughtful consideration…how to re-enter the world. Yes, it’s a consideration of safety measures and health precautions. But equally important is the measure of who you are and how do you want to be in the world moving forward. That means something not only on a personal level but collectively. What consciousness do you want to hold and act through?

If you’re like me, during this containment, you’ve visited lifetimes, incarnations you thought you’d left behind. Sometimes giving you a fleeting visit, or sticking around for a while, to let you know there are aspects of underdeveloped selves still contained wanting to fly free. Having habitually denied it, you don’t know that one is still there until you’ve jumped right into the middle of it, automatically entranced as you were when the inroads were made in the first place.

Isn’t it fortunate the pandemic has provided the conditions to shake us all up? There are no words for the tragedies that have occurred. Lost lives. Global grief. Righteous anger spilling out for all the historical and present-day inequities. Injustice. Devastation. Generational trauma. Calling for all to be righted.

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Facing the Storm. Oil and cold wax. ©2015 Carla Woody.

Do not waste this. Do not let life go back to what it’s been.

For in this time, we’ve all been given a gift. If you can take it to heart then its expression will translate to right action.

It’s explicitly due to instilled solitude, crowding, whatever your situation, that gives space for exactly our strengths, yearnings and woundedness to arise.

In my contemplations, a memory came that provided me with a metaphor. It was from the very early 2000s. I was traveling in the Altiplano of Peru with Peruvian mystic Américo Yábar and a couple of friends. This remembrance comes from the hours spent on a sacred mesa  in the middle of nowhere.

Don Américo motioned, inviting us to follow him on a walk around the mesa’s edge. I followed closely behind him, the others straggling farther back enjoying the view. After a distance, he came to a sudden halt and brought me over to the very rim and gestured to a flat rock jutting out below, indicating I was to light there and meditate…

I didn’t want to think about the sheer drop of at least a thousand feet and preferred to look instead at the narrow ground where I would place my feet. I charted a short course and then carefully picked my way to the stone and settled into a comfortable seated position. Legs crossed, spine straight and ready to meditate, a bizarre urge ran through me. There was a strong part of me that wanted nothing more than to physically leap into the lonely, empty space in front of me that stretched for miles! Quickly quelling that impulse and pushing it from my mind, I closed my eyes…

After a while, I heard  a tranquil wind from the right, whistling softly, slowly coming along the perimeter of the mesa. Surprisingly, I felt it touch my body and instead of moving around me, it went through me on its way to the left. The wind was immensely long, its blowing gentle, but when its tail finally exited, it left me bodiless, having indulgently thrown me into the abyss I’d wished for after all. I dissipated into the dark nothingness of the Void while, at the same time, I merged with the totality of the landscape, covering it. The silence was such that I have no words for it, but a feeling of profound tranquility and yet expansive joy permeated the being that I call myself.

I have no idea how long I remained in that state, a minute or an hour. It was timeless. Somewhere in the midst of it, something compelled me to open my eyes, and I received a jolt. Not only was my consciousness not fully in my body when I did so, but I had also erased any awareness that I was seated on the precipice of a very high mesa rather than the usual ground! In addition, I had catapulted myself from the blackest black into the brilliant light of the high Andean sun. I slammed my eyes shut, unwilling to experience the colossal contrast.

Slowly though, I began to feel the outlines of my body and the friendly stone supporting me. This time I took my time raising my outer eyelids and gazed without fear across the miles of the Altiplano, all the way to the ring of mountains on the other side. I found that I was taken with the beauty of this place that many would consider barren and lifeless. I had discovered the richness hidden from casual eyes.

While my compulsion to jump into thin air was unexpected at the time, I’ve experienced it before in high places. After having talked with others, I realize that I’m not alone. This is a common urge. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s a petition from the deepest part of us. It’s the soul’s sense of wanting freedom. It’s a strong inner existential yearning that calls for merging rather than separation…

As though a curtain is drawn open to admit the sunlight, we discover that the Truth for which we’ve strived is revealed to be ever-present. We merely partitioned it off. If we’ve chosen to fully immerse ourselves, without fear, into the effervescent warmth of nothingness, we automatically want to remain there. The everyday world matters little in this flow…

If we’re going to travel the deeper path, we need to learn how to navigate it. If we were thrown into such a sea without any tools we would be seriously disadvantaged at best. So, there are the continuing series of re-entries we make to increase our awareness of the geography. If we pass back and forth over similar area enough times, perhaps we will become familiar enough with the territory to make the one transparent to the other. In the meantime, the transitions can be shocking until we recognize them for what they are.

…The silence may come when we make a space, take time out from normal activities. It can come through meditation, using the breath to empty the mind; finally inspiring the no-breath. It can come through a walk in the forest, mindfully, slowly placing the feet firmly on the earth, connecting in such a way that the body is no longer a body, but a bubble of energy skimming along the surface of life. It can come through intentfully opening the crown center of the head during times of creative expression. We only know that silence has visited when we return to our work later and wonder who has written the passages or painted an image nowhere in our memory to have done so. But oftentimes, no matter how we prepare the ground, it doesn’t come. At least not to the depth we would choose, or the habitual voice imposes instead…

Many have already begun to move back into the world with pronounced actions, clearly needed. Others—I fear—are unable to deal with the discomfort  found in a containment where internal and external voices are more apparently loud, and pain ever-present…and the old ways of numbing out appear the only solution.

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Mythic II Oil and cold wax. ©2019 Carla Woody.

Soon it will be time for me to walk again in a world other than I’ve known over these last months. But not yet. I know I’m charting another path forward, and I know I’m leaving something behind. I can’t formulate words but can feel the energy slowly presenting itself.

In the meantime, I’m sitting with these questions.

  • What are the choices you’re making in the moment—those that fulfill deeper values?
  • What are you giving care to that you had forgotten or set aside?
  • What has come to the forefront that you’re no longer able to ignore?

I’ve called upon patience. I know the answers will be given in stillness. Silence is the conduit for creation.

***

* Quoted portions are excerpted from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage, my narrative nonfiction book of a spiritual path.

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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