AK Reader: Three blog entries from western road trip (2007)

As I continue following through with my post-AKID decision to collect, put into word docs, and share, in various ways, much of my voluminous “corpus” from when I began seriously, and often secretly! writing, back in my mid-20s, I continue to be amazed at how beautiful my extended life feels now, at the age of 75; not so much in terms of “what happened when,” as in the way I, the evolving person I was “back then,” interpreted and gave meaning to events. Every time I re-read one of these old pieces I feel gifted with the reworking and reinvigoration of memory, as well as — dare I say it? — a hushed, sacred appreciation of the soul and spirit that guide the mysterious process that we call human Life on Earth.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not one of those new-agers who say “Release the past. The past doesn’t count. Be here now.” No. For me, the NOW can be large or small; indeed, the present “moment” widens into panorama and narrows to a laser beam, over and over again, in and out, at will, reconnecting, interweaving in kaleidoscopic ways, jolting me with feeling. All “dots” (“facts,” factoids, memory snatches) arise out of the void and return to the void; meanwhile, I as a self-conscious all-too-human being, am the one who shapes these dots into ever emerging and dissolving forms. And the forms the evolving “I” have created, over time, over decade upon decade, take my breath away. 

I’m not bragging, just stating fact. A fact that would be true, a fact that IS true, for anyone who wakes up to the preciousness of his or her own embodied life here on Mother Earth — and then, perhaps even more crucial, discovers a way to share that journey. For me, it’s language, for others, images, and so on. And when we gradually come to enjoy a waking state that endures, not just comes and goes in brief momentary flashes, but tending gradually over time to expand into a vast oceanic presence, well then, at least for this one small, human, female person, there is no greater pleasure than rediscovering these old posts, and sharing them. So grateful!

I present here, three offerings from a blog documenting an extended road trip back in 2007. I had just published This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation, and decided to take it on the road for two months, offering workshops on the grieving process, 30 in all, mostly in living rooms, libraries, and bookstores, across seven western states. I had almost forgotten this blog, until two days ago, when I dug it out, and am astonished, as usual, by the treasures it holds.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Early morning: Coyote, Raven

5:00 A.M., jerked awake. Overwhelming urge to get up, right now!, and walk north two miles to the Warm Springs from Kelly Wyoming where I’m staying in a yurt. Surprised. Not only do I not feel any trace of the sore throat and lethargy that threatened to undo me yesterday, I am bursting with energy.

Quickly dress, start walking, an eye out for bison which have proliferated this year like rabbits. First light, yes. As in years past while on this early walk, I will get to see dawn’s rose hue brush the top of the Grand Teton and move on down to the valley floor way before the Sun itself rises over the eastern hills.

Winding my way on a horse-path through three-feet high sagebrush, picking sage leaves and rubbing them in my fingers, bringing up to my nose, inhaling, swooning with intoxication, just like when it rains. When will it rain? The dry underbrush crackles, crunches underfoot. Reminded of how, as a kid growing up on the Idaho sagebrush desert, each rare hard rain’s release of sage aroma would throw me into this same swoon.

Somehow, that brief brush with infection yesterday, countered with a well-timed acupuncture appointment in Jackson with Carol (I had been prescient enough to schedule it in advance, knowing I would probably need a tune-up, given the switch into high, dry climate) grounded me here, landed me back into the magic of this place.

Kelly Warm Springs: site of countless inner journeys over the years, sitting on its banks watching both white mist hover over winter-cooled water and the soft clumps of summer’s algae green. That day, for example, in 1991, when I sat there perplexed after two years of doing the magazine Crone Chronicles, wondering whether to continue. I asked Raven sitting on a post nearby for a sign; then crestfallen when he immediately flew off in the other direction. The very next day, on another walk, Raven swooshed over my head with inches to spare from behind, then turned, and flew back, again low, directly over my head, giving me the precise signal I needed to go on. (The magazine had begun in response to a dream in which Raven was clawing into my shoulders from behind, cawing, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S TIME! IT’S TIME!” and I KNEW that this symbol, for me, was that of the Crone.)

This morning I climb the little hill directly north of the springs and just as I arrive on top, Coyote streaks out from under a bush and runs down the hill, not thirty feet from me. In all my 18 years in Jackson, I never encountered Coyote at such close range, and so of course, take it as a sign.

On way back, there sits Raven, on a downed post. He lets me walk up to within ten feet of him, and we stand together and watch the sun gleam then burst across the top of the eastern hills.

Last night’s event had a bit of Trickster Coyote energy, interesting, and moving at times, however with a distinct disjointed feeling. From the beginning I’ve known that in order to do this trip I need to release all expectations and move into the present oment. As these book events unfold, three so far, I find myself comparing the relative lightness of the second two to the terrific intensity of the first. “Comparing” has to do with expectations. Reminds me of “compare and contrast” essay questions in tests throughout my school years, including comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. I’ve been so long conditioned that expectations-based-upon-analysis feels natural. But does Coyote or Raven compare and contrast, judge, see right and wrong, good, better, best?


Friday, August 3, 2007

Limbic and other fundamentalisms

Bozeman, 6:00 A.M. Hint of rain in the smoky air. Respiratory system compromised. I keep thinking I have a cold, then allergies, then I realize once again that it’s the fires north and west of here, which obscure the mountains in a haze so that the deeper the breath, the more smoke I breathe in. How I feel for those who must live here! So much easier to just be traveling through. Reminds me of 1988 the Yellowstone fire year, when a feeling of claustrophic dread set in and caught us day and night, for months on end.

Last night’s book event another totally new experience. My hostess, Helen, decided to hold it in the place she works as a nurse, in the conference room of a long-term care facility. So in order to reach the room where we were to talk of loss and grief and their gifts, we had to run the gauntlet of ghosts, thin, emaciated, hospital-gown-white clad men and women, sitting still and quiet here and there, in no seeming communication with each other or the world outside their own interiors. What are they thinking? Are they thinking? Are they afraid to die? Do they want to die?

Seven of us gathered under harsh fluorescent lights, pulling cloth-upholstered armchairs intoa circle aside from the conference table. From talking with her beforehand, I discover that one of the participants is VERY experienced in the varieties of experience encountered as humans lay dying and their families, she tells me, are 98% of the time, not on the same page with them. This reminded me of what the hospice director in Jackson told me, that often families will try to keep their loved ones alive as long as possible, despite their own wishes, because to them, this is how they show their love.

Love, in other words, as attachment, and, if the Buddha is right, guaranteed to cause suffering.

The experienced woman from last night took care of her own parents as they were dying, and works with elderly now, both in hospice and otherwise. Her mentor, she tossed as an aside as she left (she had to go early) was Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

Decades ago, this woman had a near-death experience on the operating table, and ever since then she has been in an altered state, with a number of extrasensory capabilities. I urged her to tell us her story, but (and I am grateful now), she insisted that I talk about the book first. So I did, but I must say, I kept feeling myself under her watchful eye. As if she was assessing me, somehow.

In any case, once she started to tell her near-death story, which was amazingly detailed and descriptive, the evening took off in another direction.

To summarize: she spoke of being above the operating table, watching the doctors frantically trying to revive her while a translucent being of light showed her a big book, and kept turning the pages on the future — up to 2011.

Somewhere in her tale I began to feel uncomfortable. She began to speak of “God,” and God’s plans for the human race, and a war between angels and fallen angels, and the Rosicrutians and the great plan that is unfolding now, since 7/07/07, where people chose which side to be on, and cannot go back . . .

As she went on, bolstered, and in part contradicted, by another woman in the room who also has a sort of black-and-white, fundamentalist, born-again, absolutist view of the world, I felt my stomach turn, clench, tie in knots as some of the people in the group (six women, one man) started accosting, in a gentle way, but firmly and with certainty, each other with their beliefs.

How many times have I been privy to such conversations, which lead nowhere, and seem to cause only separation? The one new element last night, at least for me, was the man, who, despite being a conservative Christian, had an amazingly light and attentive attitude towards others and their beliefs. To my belief that “we need to get below our beliefs to what we all have in common, our experience of loss, and grief, which, if fully processed, releases into love,” he asked, kindly, softly, wondering, as a real question, “But then how do we make sure that people do the right thing?” (I paraphrase.) In other words, he was concerned that without some kind of guiding principles (beliefs), chaos might ensue. I imagine that this IS the usual fear of those who feel that society needs rules to stave off a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Helen and I then expressed our common view, that people, when given enough love and left to their own devices, will naturally develop and express their own unique natures and harmonize with others. Our generation speaking. Or at least our generation as we were in our heyday, the ‘60s. This man too, Helen told me later, had done his share of acid, and had participated just as we had in that storied time, and she has long been impressed with his open-hearted approach to conversations about ultimate beliefs, despite his own conservative cast.

I contrast his soft, gentle, untroubled way with my own emotional embroilment as I detect even a whiff of fundamentalism. Much like the Dalai Lama, whom we all admire for his obvious compassion and light-hearted acceptance of even the greatest suffering and injustice, this man apparently does not attach himself to his beliefs, at least not to the extent that he becomes emotionally upset when others contradict him.

So I’m still a fundamentalist. A limbic fundamentalist. Attached to getting rid of fundamentalism. My instinctive revulsion for black and white thinking is itself a polarized reaction to it, and I thank both the woman who started the conversation, and the man who showed me that one could be in it and yet not of it, for their gifts.

This journey is such a teacher! Over and over again, I discover another part of myself that feels rough, hard-edged, in need of gentle care. And it feels that this journey is guiding me to understand, little by little, more and more of why I have undertaken it.

My focus on grief and loss does lie beneath beliefs, and my way of working with these experiences and the feelings that they engender is not theoretical, not based on belief, but on an attunement with the body and its natural wisdom. If undamentalism is the problem, then re-membering our connection with our bodies and through them, the earth of which they are made, is the solution. I aim for the spirit, by working with the flesh.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Then, blowing in from stage left . . .

Several decades ago, Kathy Ruyts decided to manifest a long-held dream. She bought an old church in the tiny town of Buhl, Idaho, and turned it into a beautiful little temple with a labyrinth at its heart. This little jewel, with the bland name of “8th St. Center,” has become the cultural heart of not only the town it sits in, but a magnetic draw for the entire Magic Valley of Southern Idaho. My talk and discussion of This Vast Being was held there. Coffee, tea, cheese, crackers and brownies were all available to . . . but who knew how many would show up? Despite newspaper notices, lots of phone calls and emails, and even a small newspaper ad, only seven people came — and that includes me and thre others who worked to put on the event.

My expectations, so battered by this trip in all ways, suffered another sharp jolt. I thought that by this time I had learned to flow with the Now, immune to expectation, but NO! I think what seduced me this time was the sheer beauty of this little space which can hold 50 people easily.

As usual, we formed a circle with chairs and began. Not sure how it started this way, but the conversation immediately moved to the slightly raunchy — on the theme of “men are assholes.” (Two of the six were men; all of the participants knew each other; and the two men were good sports, mostly agreeing with our comments.) Then, suddenly, like a tornado, blew in a giant, ungainly stranger with huge calloused hands and a dirty baseball cap on his sweat-streaked face, apparently fresh out of the potato fields. He strode over to the circle, pulled out a chair, and sat down, saying, “I lost my wife in March. It’s been a long, unending nightmare.”

Oops! Back up. Start again.

It was as if one play had begun, but then was scratched entirely, when a larger-than-life figure strode in from stage left. Riveting.

Immediately, we all entered the sorrowing spirit of Bill and his massive, flowing, vulnerably expressive grief. From that moment on, the evening galvanized all of us into the rich, paradoxical emotional field that the archetypal experience of death and loss engenders, encompassing both desolation and hilarity, and spinning out stories from each participant that riveted all the others. For the first time on this trip, part of our conversation centered on what might be the differences between men and women in how they grieve. (Men needing to “work out” grief, by engaging in something very physical.) Clearly, these three men, at least, were NOT assholes.

Nearly three hours later we were done, spent. Bill strode out with not one, but two books, and not before commenting, “I think there are 600 people in this town who could have benefitted from this evening’s discussion.


Today, visits with old, nearby friends. Tomorrow morning, book signing at Chapter One bookstore, Ketchum, Idaho




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