Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Manzanita Magic: An Oracle Dog-walk through The Sandhills!

Back before he died; Willy and I took a walk almost every day. Our little black mutt was a most precious family member, and how he loved his daily walks! But on one particular morning, during our walk, I encountered something that invited me to take a significant turn in the direction of my life.

Willy loved the ritual invitation almost as much as the walk itself. It was an ongoing game we played: a family tradition. To whip him into an instant frenzy of ecstasy and wild excitement, you only had to almost say the magic phrase: "Do you want to go for a-a-a-a-a . . ."   (then silence and a breathless interlude). His hyper-alert, furry form would freeze--as if he'd been placed 'on hold'! Like the calm before the storm, Willy's ears stood on sharp alert--his tail paused mid-air, in a motionless trance of torture--while Life itself waited to hear what would come next . . .

Willy knew the word. His whole being had experienced it already, inside, but until the humans finally relented, and finished their sentence, his big chocolate eyes, would remain riveted on the verge of insane dog-laughter. Until uttered aloud, it simply wasn't REAL! So, of course, we played our part by  s-l-o-w-l-y  teasing forth this sacred word-charm, at last!

"Do you want to go for a "WALK?"  

Once he did finally hear this magic word, out loud, the dam would burst! Reassured that his high hopes were really true--he'd turn round and round, in mad circles, unable to contain his thrill, prancing and lifting himself up, excitedly, making happy dog sounds, as he bolted for the door.

We would each re-enact our role in this human/dog game, over and over again. We all needed the medicine waiting for us, up on top of 'The Sandhills'.

Fortunately, our street dead-ends at the entrance to a rare and precious eco-system of Sandy Hills and desert foliage. It's part of a tiny, unique, and well-hidden greenbelt, crisscrossed with delightful trails—well, it's actually more of a white-belt! 

Eon's ago, when the ocean floor was uplifted, high into the Santa Cruz Mountains, most of it became forest terrain, with Pines and Redwoods. But this small section of The San Lorenzo Valley, managed to remain exactly intact--like the Pacific shoreline it once was, with a smattering of desert plants, and loose sand.

The Silver Manzanita resides here, it's root-feet dug deep into hard packed sand dunes.

Silver Manzanita, Oak, and Madrone Embracing
The stately Madrone with it's bare and brazen branches is exquisite to behold. Dancing with the humble Manzanita--these two remain entwined, showing off their smooth red sheen of wooden limbs, protected by the sturdy old oaks. A Moonlit stroll, up into these sandhills, reveals one of Earth's well-hidden treasures. At night, the ground beneath your feet glows with incandescent moon dust! 

Winding among petrified dunes, dusted with a light layer of loose powdery-white sand, an entire world of utterly unique fossils, flora, and fauna is tucked away. But it refuses to stay 'in place'. Fickle as the sand it's made of, everything shifts and alters easily. Change is constant. No wonder I love it so much up here! My known world is exactly the same.

Metamorphosis is ongoing. Fortunately, I've always found it interesting. But I remember back, over a decade ago, when a particularly huge wave-swell hit. My marriage had ended abruptly, and it was easy to get caught in sudden undertows of loss and pain. Wave-swells would surge through without notice, pulling me beneath the surface, swift and hard.

On one particular day, as Willy and I started off on our walk, I found myself growing weary of bracing against the tides. I discovered something interesting, quite by accident: Pain is patient. It resides politely within us, until we are ready to deal with it. But it was actually the modest Silver Manzanita bush, who helped me out, the most.

Meandering back down through these familiar hills that rise from the Valley floor, I ran behind Willy, trying to keep up, when a monster wave of angst took me by surprise. It felt utterly impossible to manage. So, I followed my little black mutt through the smooth white mounds, of this rare, endangered habitat--drawing comfort as if from an old friend who knows me well.

Then SUDDENLY, I realized what it was we shared together (this unique area of terrain: and me); I understood why I need its lessons NOW. This place is going extinct—rapidly before our watching eyes. While my life as I had known it, was also going extinct, as well.

Willy, ran around exploring until he found a spot to rest, while I stopped to admire a particularly vibrant specimen of Manzanita.

Rooted in powdery sand, it's bearing was so majestic; so alive, that it might suddenly begin to walk around. 

Speaking directly to this lovely young tree , I shared my admiration. Silently, it listened. Soon I found myself asking for advice,

     “How does a plant deal with dying?" 

The bush was rather surprised at first; but soon replied,

     “Cycles rather than endings---that’s what we experience.”

So, I pondered this and saw how my personal relationship to grief, mirrors the plight of these lovely sandhills as they rapidly lose plants and critters--while they continue to erode. They are being rapidly crowded out by housing developments, while Life--as I'd known it--was slipping away as well.

      “Both of us are in the business of dying.”  I explained, then I also

     “And yes, for you it’s all about cycles but for me this isn't just a    

      cycle. It’s an ending. You probably don’t even care, one way or  
      another about your future. But, to me, my future matters   

Taciturn it merely presided over the sunsets glow. I regarded its equanimity and remarked, 

     “Well, the truth is that       neither of us is very
      good with endings.
      You are blissfully
      unprepared and have
      no clue how to how
      to deal with them,
      while I have been
      drawn to endings all         my life, without                 knowing why. 
     "In fact, our society in
      general, isn't so good
      with endings. We
      have overrun the            planet the in our               attempt to deal with
      pain, loss and grief. 

My lecture did not phase the lovely Manzanita, with it's intricate web of deep red branches, glowing through the silver-green foliage. It simply presided over the area. The next remark seemed to come out of nowhere:
    “There will always be waves of pain.”

This sage-like insight was stated in a very calm manner. I can’t say it was the silver manzanita, but I can’t say it wasn’t. However, since I like to feel engaged, I grabbed onto the quality of the word  w-a-v-e: sensing its pulse-like rush, punctuated with pauses. They did surge through me.

     “Yes, its true.”  I agreed, then noted,

     “Pain does have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like waves, it also tends to come and go."

What I glimpsed about waves of pain was a godsend as the waves would no doubt keep on coming. But this meant that I could breathe, rather than stiffening up, knowing that it’s always just one wave at a time. There's usually a break before the next one comes. And that could be manageable, if taken, just one wave at a time. I felt good about our conversation and turned toward home.

There was something else though, as the prickly leafed red limbs of the manzanita grabbed at my sweater, inquiring directly,

     “This business about dying. Aren’t you being given a chance finally, to do it right, this time?"  

While I considered this wise advice, the Silver Manzanita paused for a moment, then it continued,

     "Here is one of the most important relationship in your entire life and it is ending (changing). What if you put all the TLC possible, into making this a worthy ending? Remember, you and these sandhills are not alone. The planet is dealing with endings, Big Time, right now. Welcome to the club!”

     "Thank you." I said. And as I bowed to my new friend, something heavy lifted from my spirit. We just never know where, or how, Life's wisdom might arise!

~ ~ ~

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Feelings: What are they for?

“To speak, 
to ask to have audience today in the world,
requires that we speak 
to the world,
for the world is in the audience;
    it too is listening to what we say.”  

   James Hillman  [1]

~ ~ ~ 

Sensing beings have 'feelers'. Human feelers don't stand out on top of our head like antenna with little balls at the top. They are invisible. When our feelings want to reach outward, we speak, dance, run, laugh, cry or hide. We express feelings through our eyes, ears, skin, and proprioceptors. Without such inner sense organs, what we call 'feeling', simply wouldn't register. 

It's this miracle of connection that everyone longs to feel! Feelings are 'two-way' entities. They want to be 'taken in' just as much as they want to be broadcast forth. If all feeling could be taken out of your favorite TV show, or movie, would you still want to watch it?

~ ~ ~

When does a feeling stop being felt? Or become something different? Change into a thought? When do we shift from feeling something, into thinking about the feeling we just had? Or naming the feeling? Or analyzing the feeling? Or commenting upon the feeling? Or acting upon the feeling?

 ~ ~ ~

What might happen if we paused to CHERISH the feeling a bit longer, before moving on from it? 

Childhood, for me, was a time of immersion. Sand. Wind. Running through sprinklers barefoot, in freshly mowed green grass: inhaling the pungent fragrance! It was a time to INDULGE feelings. 

Do you remember swinging? The feel of legs pumping to match the extent of the arc! The breeze caressing pink cheeks with each 'back and forth' sway. What about climbing a tree? Hugging the trunk and scampering over branches, while the world below was a completely different place than the one you'd known, while you were 'down there'!

Recently, some friends were talking about how feelings are just feelings--UNTIL we take the next step of adding Interpretation onto whatever feelings we have. Or onto whatever feelings somebody else might have. I had never thought about the fact that feelings DO indeed, rapidly turn into interpretation. How fascinating!

I have been deeply attuned to the subtleties of "interpretation" ever since that conversation. This focus is penetrating my experience like a magnifying glass. Because of this, I keep hearing and seeing whatever is happening around me--with myself and with others--through the lens of this perspective. First: How does this FEEL?? (nothing beyond that...). Then,

Where does 'feeling' end; where does 'interpretation' begin?

As I pay really, really close attention to the actual   s p a c e   that does exist, in-between feeling and interpretation, IT seems to spread out. It creates more room, and more breath, and more time, for CONTENT to register. Within such an atmosphere there is STILLNESS, which allows thought to emerge at a natural pace. 

Within whatever space we might be sharing together; when this gap is not only allowed to exist, but is allowed to be felt and to be extended a little longer--something can come ALIVE, between beings whose feelings are co-arising. The texture and the complexity of such terrain can be utterly flabbergasting. So much exists therein.

As I notice how very much actually exists between the lines of our words and our actions, it is begining to amaze me how very MUCH is swirling and churning, within each one of us. I find myself caught between awe, compassion, and a strange sort of horror. The interweave of energy beneath all of these feelings is so powerful and so strong, that it is a sheer miracle that we are able to communicate at all!!!!!

To intentionally ALLOW all that actually LIVES within this realm of FEELING, to be freely experienced, silently honored, and somehow considered wholeheartedly, BEFORE anyone responds at all, can be a 'yummy' thing to do, as well as an 'alienating' thing to do. For myself, I often notice how my feelings can lead to numbness or a sort of 'dial tone' on existence itself. It's how I have learned to 'make myself safe' from the perceived dangers of feelings. 

As kids in an 'out of touch' culture, we have all imbibed so many subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages about the 'danger' of having feelings and the potential 'risk' of expressing them. We have learned this from watching others and from interacting with them. And from seeing what happens when thing 'go bad', as well as what 'seems to work'. This all got programed into us preverbally, and it's not gonna go away. So now we just get to live with it. And of course, it is gonna pop up all the time, through our interactions with each other.

~ ~ ~

The impulse to shift from FEELING into INTERPRETATION happens almost imperceptibly, beneath the surface. We have all been so conditioned to make this leap, that it seems to be 'part of the feeling itself'. I've been looking closely at this phenomena in my own life lately, and with those whose lives intertwine with mine. I find myself leaping from feeling to interpretation automatically and believing it before I realize what is happening. I see others doing it as well. It happens almost instantly and we often fail to even notice the transition. Then we have believed the 'conclusion' that our interpretation of a feeling, has led us to make. And far too often, we are impelled into action before we have consciously registered any of this!

~ ~ ~

I am imagining a different world: One where, at that first hint of a furrowed brow, or a slack jaw, with a sharp intake of breath; or at that first sign of bracing, or of hope, that shows up on the countenance of our friend or loved ones face: what if we'd all been conditioned instead, to be alerted (not to protect ourselves), but instead to become ever more intently and sincerely concerned about what sort of FEELINGS might be surfacing behind the expressions and tone and body language, of the one with whom we are trying to connect?

I don't know about you, but in my experience, what I saw mirrored around me, ranged from auto-pilot, knee-jerk counter responses, to a sort of frozen paralysis that made everyone's 'fight or flight' system start to activate deep inside. People would tend to either go into a shell, go into a reactionary mode, or occasionally someone would remain calm, centered, and steady, as they became curious about what was taking place. 

Those who did simply remain present, and were not threatened in any manner, were able to provide a safe space, wherein others could relax. And as soon as we humans feel relaxed and safe; as soon as we feel that there is genuine interest and an inherent support toward WHAT IS, along with the readiness to allow even deeper, hidden stuff to safely emerge if IT wants to--then the entire atmosphere in a room can shift.

PERMISSION is vitally crucial to safety. And yet even permission can seem to invite uncomfortable (socially awkward or personally threatening) energies to step forth into the arena. And what does our society value most? Permission? Subservience? Direct expression? Not rocking the boat? Comfort above all? Genuine response? Keeping the peace? Sincere expression? Questions or revelations that expose resistance? Discovering what another truly thinks, feels, or believes? Conformity? Honest dialogue? Stones unturned? Avoiding conflict? Pecking orders? Competition? Living vicariously through others or through fantasy? Direct confrontation? Power? Strength in vulnerability? Invulnerability? The list is endless. But consideration of the values we have imbibed, and of the values we model as we interact ARE indeed worth of exploration.