Saturday, December 18, 2010

5th Entry of Thanks-Giving & Wonder ~ There's No Place Like Home...

"It's the national addiction: warmth on chilly winter nights, innocence on Saturday afternoons, the essence of the hearth, home, and blissful abandon."
~ Patricia Linden ~


Blazing night fire and wee little Harvey
asleep on his bed...

Dear Ones,

I have been sidling up to this entry for many days now. Thoughts float like leaves moving fast downstream and just as I am about to catch one it dances off on wispy waves to distant shores. I sit on the bank of my creek and watch them fade from sight. Sometimes we needn't catch something or box it in to appreciate it's importance in our lives. To be touched, for merely a moment, is to be blessed by an unseen grace. I walk back to the house looking the same but forever changed, and so I have been.

It seems impossible to me that it has been, just days ago, one year since my mother died. It is inconceivable, just yesterday, and yet a million miles away. As the weeks moved slowly on after my mother's passing my own life began what would be a tumultuous and amazing journey, a year of so many changes I cannot yet take them all in and yet I know enormous transformation, down to the cellular level, has taken place. At the end of January I bought a house, the first house I had ever purchased on my own at nearly 56 years of age. A cozy home shielded by a thick wood that slopes down to a creek, a perfect place for one woman and ten animals to take up residence. If you had asked me then, even as much as I loved the house I was buying, and how incredibly grateful and delighted I was, I would still perhaps have told you that it was not my "dream home," perhaps a way station. I have longed for decades to live in New Mexico since I stood in mucky mud up to my ankles in my snow boots on a cold winter's day in Taos overlooking the mountains and enormous sky and knew I had found my spiritual home.

What I have learned is that we don't need to move to our spiritual home, the location, mere geography, we need to hold it inside of us, to carry it with us always, and, most importantly, to follow the trail of that passion to it's source, our own Grail Quest. What was it that caused an eruption of spirit in a specific locale? What was I meant to learn there? By the time I am in this house one year it will be 21 years since I stood in Taos, NM, and cried because I didn't want to go home. The longing in me has been so deep all these years that I have broken down in tears, shaken to be torn away from a place that felt so much like home. I have visited New Mexico several times since that initial visit and I always thought that when I had the means I would move there. When the time came I didn't need to. What had shaken me to my core standing on that hillside in Taos now lived inside of me. It had rooted and sprouted and was growing like a beautiful vine through the four chambers of my heart. It has been growing rapidly through this past year and I never realized the significance until tonight.

I had been e-mailing back and forth with my dearest friend and we were talking about funny little dream homes, underground hobbit houses, and, she introduced me to cob houses and I squealed in delight. I love anything earthy and unusual and these are magical little places. And then...

As I was imagining how it would be possible to stuff one big blond woman, four small parrots, one giant parrot, three little pugs and Big Dog Moe into a Hobbit House, I looked around my living room and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz I chanted, "There's no place like home," over and over with increasing wonder, joy, and a kind of peace I have never known.

The fire was blazing and crackling in the fireplace, the room cozy and warm, lit only by one little light next to me here, and the Christmas tree, glowing with blue lights...

The "friendly beasts" were all sleeping around me, the parrots long asleep and the pugs in their various favorite spots snoring in perfect three part harmony. Big Dog Moe sprawled out in the middle of the floor and I sat barely breathing as I took it all in, and then it struck me... I had finally landed! I thought I would be a restless soul, ever wandering, never satisfied, always wanting to be some place else, but I sat here tonight so filled with gratitude tears ran down my cheeks. I almost had to pinch myself to make certain it was real, this feeling of quiet joy and radiant grace all around me. It was real, it is real, there's no place like home.

In Taos I was a restless spirit and the huge sky and mountains were filled with visions of potent possibilities abundant in my life. Everything seemed possible there, but going home put me back into my life and the confines of living in my own skin at that place and time made me feel like I was going under for the last time. It wasn't because of anyone or anything else, it was the unrest inside of me. Tonight I looked around my little cottage in wonder. Home. I am home, and I have been living my way into this house for nearly a year. Whole rooms were filled to the ceiling with boxes and paraphenalia and slowly but surely, and actually quite suddenly, these past couple of months things have been falling into place, coming together, my house was becoming a home and I didn't even realize what was happening.

I stared into the fire for so long I was mesmerized, my eyes slipping out of focus, a river of calm flooding my body. How was this possible I wondered? At peace, not full of depression and angst, a kind of quiet calm and near ecstatic joy came over me. I turned and stared deep into the Christmas tree, now the ornaments barely visible, the ethereal blue light spreading out on the carpet and up the little staircase. How could it be? I was... I am ... happy.

I got up slowly and put the kettle on for tea, opened the cupboard and took out one of my old vintage teapots...

... and my favorite old vintage mug which I simply adore...

... and I made the most delicious tea, a new one from American Tea Room, my new favorite tea company to order from. I first went there some weeks back to find a tea I was longing for, a "Milk Oolong." Oh, it was divine! And I found there what I believe to be the best tea I have ever had, "Brioche." I ordered a few other samples when I ordered more of the two above-mentioned teas and I chose one of the new ones to sip in this space of reverie this night has brought me. Tonight I spooned the leaves into the pot and fairly swooned over the fragrant blend, "Tangier."  (And Oh! what a beautiful tea it is. Click on any of the links to see the beautiful teas and read more about them. I only buy fresh loose teas but some are available in bags.) The description on the package is poetry for the tea lover... "A premium Sri Lankan black tea with apricot and saffron petals that evokes an exotic evening in Tangier." I don't think it's very exotic here and I've surely never been to Tangier but it is a lovely, delicious cup of tea, and sitting here sipping tea by the fire with the Christmas tree lights glowing, a small soft pug snuggled in the chair with me, and the quiet companionship of all of the other animals, well, to me this is bliss.

Home. I am home. I have a place to be me, fully, completely, with no constraints, inhibitions, apologies, or being less than I am to fit someone else's idea of what or who I should be. I am so filled with gratitude, overflowing with thanksgiving, full of tenderness and love that I long to share it with the world.

And so in this time when the world swirls faster than I can take in and the latest, greatest, whatnots are being bought in crushing crowds, I sit here in my cozy little cottage with my tea and feathered and furry companions and I am more blessed than I ever knew it was possible to be.

I will end here and finish my tea while reading, a lovely ending to a magical evening. I hope you can look around you wherever you are and find beauty, peace, and fulfilment in the simple things, for truly, this is where the most beautiful moments will be found, and you, like I, can whisper "There's no place like home," and if you haven't reached this place yet set out on your own Grail Quest. It is there to be had if you believe and never stop moving in the direction of your dreams. It is as Thoreau once wrote, and this has always been one of my favorite quotes...

"I have learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

Yes Mr. Thoreau, you are exactly right.

Warm regards, and may gentle moments trickle softly through your days ...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Giving Thanks, 4th Entry, Gratitude As A Way Of Life...

The newest member of our cottage family.  A baby
yellow nape amazon I was meant to take. She came
to me in need and I am blessed by her presence...
It is what I pray everyday...

God, use me as a channel for your peace, love, light, hope, and joy. 

It is a deeply profound prayer for me, came to me in meditation many years ago, came to me when I had no idea what it meant, or how this act of grace might manifest in my life, or understood that I was not to understand the way that it was to come to me but that I had to listen to that still small voice within and follow it every day of my life even if I didn't understand the direction in which I was being led. 

It has been, at times, confusing, there were times I didn't trust what I was hearing, feeling, but something in me was able to take that leap of faith and I said it every day, often many times a day. I say it every time I sit down to pray and meditate. Now I just trust this prayer, this willingness to give myself over to God and the path that I am meant to lead, have faith that even when I don't know why I am being led in a certain direction I am supposed to keep moving forward and I do. 

I am led by the light. I am led by the way in which I am ever unfolding. Now I can see it happening and I am more sure of myself. More sure of myself and less afraid of what others might think for my path was not to be, at times, a popular one, and certainly I live a life that most people don't understand, and often I will inspire you and alienate you in one piece of writing, but I am sincere in all that I say and do, I lay my heart open bare so that I might help others even when to do so will turn some people away, I know that others will always come, that I needn't know why, that the table always rises. My heart is my guide and I trust it.

God, use me as a channel for your peace, love, light, hope, and joy.

What have I learned? What am I grateful for in this time of thanks-giving? I am grateful for the understanding that has come to me through these years of pilgrimage. I am thankful that I was given to know that the oft used phrase "an attitude of gratitude" really was not quite the right mantra. We are not meant to have an "attitude of gratitude," gratitude is meant to be a way of life. We are not grateful one day a year, we are not grateful once in awhile when we think of it, we are to be grateful every moment of every day even when we are going through a particularly hard time and feel that we have nothing to be grateful for. I walk through my days whispering, or saying softly, wordlessly, in a place deep inside myself, "Thank you. Thank you God. Thank you." I say it over and over when I don't know why. Knowing is beside the point. Doing is the way to live.

What am I grateful for, despite the climate of the times, and knowing that in many ways I would walk the fire walk? I have been burned, I have been hurt, I have been fired from a job, I have lost most of my friends and at the same time I have found my faith, my heart, forged in the fire of the kiln that this life on earth is meant to be has become purified, if often imperfect. Purified in that I know when I have fallen away and I can find my way back.

I have learned, finally, what a soul-mate really is, an anam cara. We are worlds apart geographically now but my heart beats with hers in every moment. I did not know this kind of love until I found the ribbon of light that kept moving me forward. The day that I said out loud, "I am a lesbian," and felt the earth rumble and shake beneath my feet and split open, my old life and way of being, watching my former life fall deep inside the quaking terra firma, splitting wide open and swallowing everything I thought I knew up to the age of 45, terrified as I swam through a decade nearly drowning at several points, even wanting the waters to close above my head so I would not have to resurface, but then, after several failed attempts, I met her in the most unusual way. She is not what I expected and I know that I am not what she expected, and yet I know as sure as I write these words that it was meant to be, and will be.

Being a lesbian was not simply about finally coming into my true, authentic self, about finding love, it was about the work that I was meant to do after I came out. I started a website for lesbian women. It was a very gentle, non-sexual community of women who needed to understand, to be understood, to be accepted for who they were. It is said that we teach what we need to know. I needed to know. A professional writer for over 2 decades at that point my writing became the vehicle for bringing a message to these women. "You are exactly who you were meant to be, you are beautiful just as you are, you are accepted here without judgment, with compassion, with loving kindness. Thank you for being here with us. Namaste."

We laughed together, we cried together, we came to deep understandings that brought us very close and we had disagreements that tore the fabric of what I had tried to create. I was an imperfect light-bearer and sometimes my torch went out, but I learned so much from these women, from very young to what is considered old. I named the website Dragonfly Cottage, the name that I had chosen for my home, my haven. I wanted to offer safe space for other women. Before our time together came to an end my divorce was finalized, I had taken the name Maitri Libellule as a spiritual name and guide through life, and I had met the woman I have been close to for nearly a decade. Even in the absence of her presence at the current time I am moving forward with the lessons that she taught me, and I wait eagerly to learn more and to share what I can. Life and the people we meet in it change us in unexpected ways. She was certainly unexpected!

During the years of Dragonfly Cottage as an active web community something very unexpected and wonderful happened. People started writing to me from all over the world. I had touched a nerve. Not just lesbian women but gay men. Transgendered people. Not just people in the LGBT community but straight men and women, and I think the thing that touched me the most was the day I heard from a Catholic Bishop in Chicago. He, though straight, was working with gay men and women to try to bring them back to the church from which they had become outcasts, made to feel unwelcome. If they wanted to come back he wanted them know that they were accepted and loved and that the door was open. He found my website and felt it was a wonderful vehicle to bring hope and understanding to his community. At the time I was struggling terribly financially and I paid for the website and all that I offered out of my own pocket, dedicating most of my waking hours to answering people, often hundreds a week, and the Bishop sent me $50 a month to help me keep the cottage open. I cried. We never know what is just about to come our way. Those were the years that I realized that being suicidal was not an option. I had too much to live for, I had work to do and I was willing to do it. It was then that I knew I was meant to live a life of service, in a most unusual way. And so my new life began when I could not possibly imagine what it was meant to be.

When I was ordained a minister in January 2009 I knew that I would never have a church and an ordinary congregation. Due to long-term abuse as a child and with a cocktail of diagnoses that made, at times, each day a cross to bear, I learned that I was meant to not only bear that cross but one day put it down and help others with what I had learned, gone through, experienced, but I can barely leave my house and I seldom do. My work is done through my writing, through helping others from where I am, to taking in the numerous animals who have come to me in need and loving them and caring for them with all that I have in me, to plant seeds of thought, never knowing if they will sprout, but that is not my business. My business is to carry the message, the teachings that I have learned along the way and hope to help someone here and there. It is not earth-shaking work, it is simply my work.

And so now I move forward. I still pay for everything and am not paid, in dollars and cents, but the harvest of blessings that I reap is beyond the realm of money, of "salary" but a life of gratitude, of giving and receiving, of keeping on despite the odds, and of praying that one day my books will be published and find their way into the hands of those that I might help. And still, even in that, I am not driven toward a specific goal. I wake up every morning and care for my animals and spend my days in prayer and meditation, in solitude and silence, reading and writing and doing my fiber work, and answering the people who write to me for help, because they need someone to talk to, to listen to, and I am here.

My "congregation" includes the world at large as well as the animals that I care for and share my life with. I didn't know that when I got up Wednesday morning I would have this sweet little amazon parrot by Thursday night. I did not know, two months ago, that a gigantic macaw would come to share my life. I did not know when I adopted the first tiny little elderly black pug that I would have two more coming quickly on the heels of her arrival and another one nine months later, and yet it is perfect that they are here. I did not know that I would marry my beautiful daughter and wonderful son-in-law on the beach at sunrise over a year ago. That, too, is part of my ministry and one that though I may never repeat changed me forever and took me deeper in my faith and on my path.

The last year has been a crucible of sorts from my mother's death nearly a year ago -- in less than two weeks it will be a year. My life has been turned inside out and upside down and I am still learning what this life is meant to be, but with twelve years of learning and growing behind me, I know that I will cross this threshold and my work will deepen in untold ways. I am ready. I am grateful. I am living a life of gratitude and hope that I will have the help and strength to continue on. I believe that I will.

And so now in a dark house full of sleeping parrots, snoring pugs, and Big Doe Moe sleeping silently in his bed I will make some tea and continue on with my work. How thankful I am. What a wonderful life this is. And I thank God for all that has been given me as well as all that I am led to do every single day.

Namaste. I bow to the Divine within you. You will find your way...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Week of Thanks-Giving ~ I'm Grateful For Our Ability To Continually Re-Invent Ourselves ... Becoming Maitri Libellule...

"The universe is transformation; our life is what our thoughts make it."
~ Marcus Aurelius ~

Dear Ones,

Well, I said that I would write a week of Thanksgiving posts, and though I am not making consecutive posts I will still write seven posts on thanks-giving. It is a commitment that I made to myself and I intend to keep it. I think it's important that we take stock, we should all year, but we don't always take the time, however, when Thanksgiving week comes, it is a time that just calls out to us to give thanks, to imbue our days with Hallelujah choruses of gratitude, and though I don't believe that seven days is nearly enough time, I think that it is a good start towards making it a daily practice. This I believe and intend to do.

And even though I haven't been writing here these last days I knew what I would write about when I had the time, it kept echoing in my brain, humming and gliding along my synapses, not letting me forget, so tonight the seeds of thoughts come to fruition. Like the butterfly emerging from it's cocoon, the transformation that has happened for me at midlife has been a huge one in myriad ways, and though many were the times that I cried and was depressed and felt helpless, hopeless, and afraid, like the Phoenix crashing and burning, I have also felt the joy, the wonder, and the awe of all that was happening as I came through these Phoenix phases, rising again, over and over.

I have been thinking about this all week and it has truly been revelatory. It has been so because in this last year, after a decade long terrifying roller-coaster ride through life, I have begun to cross a threshold into new territory, to a place and time that is brimming over with potent possibilites abundant. I still don't know exactly what this becoming phase will look like, how it will change me, but I am grateful, more than I can say, that in our human journey one mistake doesn't stop us, no, we are reborn again and again and again. So it has been for me since I was separated after 25 years of marriage.

I never imagined myself as being anything but a married mother of three, looking forward to the grandchildren to come, and all that that life might hold, but it was not to be. A part of me burst into bloom in a way that was painful, confusing, complicated and absolutely right. I moved into a tiny place of my own, a little white cottage with a white picket fence, the night of my 45th birthday. I didn't plan it that way it just fell on that day and I still marvel over it. My new life started almost 12 years ago and though I cherished the years of being a family and having my children, the step that I took at 45 had been coming a long time, somewhere inside of me I knew, but I didn't realize it until after I was living alone and began to think and write about the decade leading up to the end of the marriage, and I was startled to realize how very strong the inner knowing was that propelled me out of a life that I had known, where I felt safe and comfortable, into a place that I was meant to be. I know a lot of people will feel uncomfortable about what I will be sharing next, but I am so at peace, feeling that I finally slipped out of a skin that didn't fit into new skin that fit just right. It is right for me, in fact necessary for my well being if I am to go on living in this world at all. At 45 years of age I came out as a lesbian. It was the truest thing that I had ever done. Though afraid of all of the changes ahead of me my whole body heaved a sigh of relief. It was an awakening the likes of which I had never known.

And the thing that I think is marvelous is that today, while it's not easy to do, we are able to begin again, to find and move into a kind of wholeness that is there for the taking if only we have the courage. I am not suggesting that one need to leave a marriage or relationship to find themselves, but I believe that as we age there is a ripening when the colors and flavors are deeper, when we come closer and closer to our core, to a new place in ourselves that we have never touched down on before. What that place will be will vary greatly from person to person, and may be considered a subtle change, but inside the body, the mind, the life of the woman or man going through these changes it is an enormous leap.

In the middle of the therapy that helped me through these changes I went one day for my appointment and as I walked into my therapist's office I felt a thrill go through my body. There was a painted tile on the wall with a stick figure sort of image of a person leaping out over a great crevasse. It said, "Leap and the net will appear." I have spent almost twelve years falling through space and time waiting for the net to catch me. It finally did, and then began the journey to discover all that I was meant to be and do and become. Filled with wonder, delight, fear, confusion, and a sense of unravelling I began to weave together the pieces of myself that were scattered hither and yon and put them together like a puzzle. I haven't finished putting all the pieces together so that I can see the full picture, but I can see a great deal of it, finally, in this past year, and I like the picture I am seeing. I feel a kind of joy most days that at times has startled me. Clinically depressed most of my life, the clouds are clearing and I begin to see a blue sky shimmering with sunshine, and the weather is beautiful, the day is fine. What beauty life can hold for us if we allow ourselves to make that leap into an unknown place. We are fortunate to be living at a time in history when we are able to make changes in our lives that past generations would not, or could not dare to make. And these changes will happen many times in our lives.

In these last many years I have grown as a writer, an artist, and most importantly, my connection to spirit has deepened so much further than I ever dreamed it could that now every minute of every day has more weight, more meaning, more texture, a multitude of colors, ever-expanding. This is a liminal time. It reminds me of the beginning of the classic movie "The Wizard Of Oz" when the movie turns from black and white to technicolor. I am smiling as I write this. Oh what a different woman I have become, am becoming. I am coming into my fullness, into my authentic self, and it is a revelation, and I am grateful every day that I have been led down this path. I stop here a moment to close my eyes, and lower my head in silent prayer. Thank you God. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We were separated for six years before we finalized the divorce, and I am grateful, oh so very grateful, that it was an amicable separation and even gentle divorce if that word might be used in this kind of situation. My ex-husband and I remained friends, and family, with our children, and though a dozen years has passed, and our lives have moved further and further apart, there is still a peace between us. This alone has been an enormous blessing.

And so as the time came, the absolute severing of a union that I had thought would last a lifetime, I came to the realization that the new life ahead of me would be very different than anything I had known before. Further, I was a very different person, I was almost unrecognizable to people who had known me in my youth and through the years of my marriage, and the new woman that was emerging longed for something that would represent my new life, and the person that I was becoming. Further, I wanted to do something that would be a beacon of light that would be a constant reminder of the path I believed I was meant to take. In July of 2005 I changed my name, legally, to Maitri Libellule. That was the moment I stepped out of my old skin, damp and trembling like the butterfly just emerging from her cocoon, but knowing that soon enough I would fly.

Why Maitri Libellule, every asks? Well, as a Buddhist of nearly 3 decades at that point one of the deepest teachings to me was the teaching of maitri. Maitri is about loving-kindness and compassion, and further that we must first have it for ourselves before we have it to give to another. This is a very important lesson for me and I will be a student of maitri all the days of my life. I wanted to take the name so that it would be a constant reminder of the direction I wanted my life to take, to dedicate my life to a life of service, of living and promoting loving-kindness, compassion, and self-acceptance for everyone that I could in the world around me and my vehicle would be, in the main, my writing, and also my art, and daily I live this teaching, also, in the care of rescued animals whom I cherish and who have become my family. "Maitri" would be both a beacon of light and a guide to remind me to keep true to my path. I knew that I would fall, forget, slip away from what my heart knew I should be, but in becoming Maitri I could never forget, when I write, or say my name or see it in print, that I have taken the mantle of this teaching and it is my duty to continue and deepen this work all the days of my life.

Libellule. When I left the marriage and moved into the little white cottage an amazing thing happened. Everywhere I went in the garden, walking around outside, in a parking lot at the grocery store there were dragonflies. Everywhere. Iridescent blues and greens and reds and golds and more. Finally, it was no longer startling. I realized one day that the dragonflies were coming to me with a message, that the dragonfly was my totem animal, my teacher, my guide. In Native American spirituality the dragonfly is the symbol of transformation, of moving out of the darkness into the light, and more times than I can count or even remember in this moment, as I fell into times of deepest despair the dragonfly would appear and remind me to keep becoming. During these early days I wrote a poem that expressed what I felt, where I was in my life at that moment. I will share it with you here, feeling somewhat shy, and also with a sense of pride. I have come such a long way...

~ Metamorphosis ~
Becoming A Dragonfly

Setting Sail

Who knew that when the sun did set on my forty-fifth birthday I would begin the long metamorphosis of woman into dragonfly? And that there would be so many painful and unexpected lessons along the way?

Leaving the cocoon I came out some kind of wet and slimy thing -- unable, yet, to fly; sticky ­ people and things stuck to me and my still bent wings tore in crucial places. No one believed that I would survive this phase, but I always knew I would.

Bending, shifting, stretching, reaching, carried on a bird's wings I did finally begin to rise. It was a bumpy flight. I tumbled and fell from the great bird's back, plummeted dangerously, nearly crashing headlong into the glassy waters, and while others darted and soared, I tried, desperately, at times, to keep my wings above the surface of the pond. Many times did I come close to drowning.

One day, in the time of the year when the sun sets earlier on the horizon, my heart lifted a little, my wings did dry and unfurl like great colorful kites high in the sky over the tranquil waters, but the sky became cloudy, the surface choppy, and The Great Kite that I emulated disappeared from view. I hit the raw-edged surface of the ocean, shattering like an egg on a grainy sidewalk.

I felt myself falling as well -- falling, falling, falling -- but just at the last moment, as The Great Kite met its demise, I bumped and I tossed and I turned and I tumbled sideways and, finally, found myself coasting on a level plane above the sea. I was flying low, but keeping my balance, if at times precariously, and staying just above the crest of the waves that would pull me under if they could.

Finding serenity on my passive plane I tried hard not to give in to the urge to fly upward too quickly, or to dive down beneath the mirrored sea to follow the Great Kite's path to seek the jewels hidden in the ocean's caves. I had learned the lesson of succumbing to the highs and lows. It was now my time to learn the great teaching about sitting still, of watching my breath, of taking the middle road, which, as always, is the road less traveled.

I had decided, finally, on this metamorphic ride, to learn the lesson not of destination, but of journey. If I become very still, very quiet, I can coast farther, longer, and sit just watching my brothers and sisters who have chosen different lessons this go-round. I sit like a frog on a rock in a stream, watching those around me flowing past at a sometimes alarming rate.

During this metamorphic cycle they rise and they fall, they sink and they swim, they soar and they dive and they crash and they burn. Some are here to learn about flight. Some, the dangers of plumbing the depths too deeply too quickly. It has been hard, at times, to allow each his own journey, but the middle way is one of being still. I will not stop them or save them, nor mourn their passing, for now I know the secret, the truth, the meaning of this ride called life, and it is to be all of who I can be, the best flying dragoness ever, without relying on others to guide or help or direct me.

Too, like the firefly, it is my mission to be lit from within. And as my dragonfly-self emerges, I also yearn to learn how to rest easy on a blade of grass and enjoy the sun's warmth as it dries my wings. I do not need a friend to bring me a towel. It feels good to allow the drying to take place of its own accord while I sit in this place and think.

I am wanting to be coupled with another dragoness whose wings might wrap around me when the night grows cold. But I am learning that the coupling must come only when the time is right. The time in the cocoon has its place, and the coupling will come, but first, like the firefly, I must find my own light.

Inside The Cocoon

I crouch in a corner, not even allowing myself to take up all the space afforded me. I fill the room around me with tiny trinkets, old quilts, many books, soft music, so that I might wrap myself ever tighter and inhabit a world of my own making, and I lay my head down on pillows made of many-colored feathers, so that my dreams might coddle and soothe me while I sleep. Too often they are vivid and painful, dreams of other flights, strenuous journeys, lost worlds, disappeared people, and I awaken with a broken heart. My new magical pillows are filled with the feathers of parrots who fly against the sky and make rainbows, offering I, myself, the opportunity to soar. I awaken sliding down the other side of the rainbow, my broken heart begins to heal.

Cocoon-time is long. The metamorphosis into a new being is not a smooth journey, nor an easy one. It is often unpleasant, and at times I wonder why I should make this change at all. Transformation is the most frightening thing I know. I can feel my old skin peeling back and tearing away, it is painful, and I scream, but it becomes impossible to continue to live in skin that has grown old, that no longer fits. It becomes leathery and it cracks in unfortunate places. That is more painful, much more painful, so I enter the dark-time, and I wait.

Once inside the cocoon, any shred of light becomes precious, and as the hours pass and the days, I begin to shed my skin, watching it crinkle, tear, rip, and fall around me, and see the slivers of light in places where in time just passed there had been nothing but blackness all around me. My old skin now forms the bedding upon which I sleep, trying to stay close to old memories, and the texture of my past against my cheek. Change chosen is still hard, and I hold on while I may

As emergence from the cocoon draws near, I become even more afraid. One does not leave the safety of the cocoon and come out into the light a bright and shining being. Not at all. One comes out wet, a slimy sticky newborn thing, and pieces of the past still cling to the tightly folded wings. I have, now, the tools for flight, but I will not soar until I spread them and seek upward mobility. Days are that I do not know if this will be possible. Night falls and I shiver and crouch in the dark, but the time draws near. It is almost here. I rock back and forth on fragile feet. My antennae quiver. My wings are shaking. Soon, I will not be able to help myself. I will spread my wings and fly.

It is coming. I can feel it. I think I may be ready

Part III
Emerging From The Cocoon...

When the light begins to stream in more quickly, it is as if one is in a sinking ship, the moment comes and there is no choice. When a ship begins to take on water all are at risk. Panic sets in. I feel the light, the heat, the walls of the cocoon are shaking, I am afraid. I hem and I haw, and the earth shakes beneath my feet. My wings unfurl like the sails on a great ship, I cringe back for a moment, suspended in time, the walls around me shake and shatter and fall away, I fly.

I bounce on the airwaves, I turn clumsily and I slip, faster and faster, nearing the surface of the earth. I quake, I flutter my wings far too quickly, I do a somersault, I stutter, I tremble, and I seize the air currents through which I pass. I begin to rise.

Is this possible? Will I be able to maintain level flight? Not at first, I have much to learn, but I am freer now, and I like the feel of my wings.

Copyright 2000-2010
Maitri Libellule

The thing that startled me, when I pulled this poem out again tonight, not having read it in years, was that it was prescient, it foretold a journey that I was beginning to travel, that I would for a decade and more, a path that I am still traveling. How could I know, nearly twelve years ago, that I would be here today. There's no way that I could, and yet it has been an important lesson for me that we hold everything we will ever need to know inside of us. These teachings are waiting there, maturing, until their time has come. In the year 2000, one year after I had left my marriage and long, oh so much longer than I could have imagined it would take, I am on the brink of flying. I am now ready to leap. I know that the net will appear. I have faith. I am not afraid.

And so I named my little home Dragonfly Cottage, and every place I have lived since is also Dragonfly Cottage, for it is not a specific place but a state of mind and it is the cocoon I have been growing and changing in, my safe haven, all these years.

I am now living in a larger space as I flutter on the threshold, ready to cross it. When I changed my name I wanted it to have meaning and purpose, and, too, I wanted to have a familial feel, one that went back to where it all began. I was adopted. It was strange but throughout my life I had been obsessed with France. I took four years of French in high school, went to France when I was eighteen after graduation, and felt at home for the first time in my life. In later years I would cry with such longing for the country where I first felt an inkling of who I might be. At 26 years of age I found my biological mother. It was not a good meeting but I did come away with a long list of questions answered and one was especially startling. I am half French. My biological grandmother's maiden name was Papillon, the butterfly. And so led by my totem animal and reaching back to the place I had my real roots, I took the name Libellule, dragonfly in French. Now I had a purpose, now I was rooted. Now, I was Maitri Libellule.

As I walked out onto the courthouse steps, the legal papers in my hand, I felt as though I had awakened from a long sleep. It is a powerful thing to change one's name and the reverberations go deep and wide. It is such a huge step that one cannot go back and I was propelled forward in a direction that felt right, and I knew I would keep traveling this path no matter what. I am still on that path today, but coming closer and closer to the next phase of my life. It has taken nearly six decades to get here.

Becoming Maitri Libellule is one of the most important things I have ever done in my life. It began the process of my finally picking up the threads of my new life and weaving them together. The tapestry is woven fine. It is almost complete.

And so this Thanksgiving week I am grateful for the opportunity that life has afforded me, that it affords us all if we are willing to leap out over that vast crevasse. I leapt farther than I could have ever imagined, and I have not fallen yet.

What a gift this life that we are given is. I treasure every moment now, the hard ones, the joyful ones, the moments of wonder and delight, and I even bear up a little easier going through times of pain and darkness because I know that the pain is the thing that begins the transformation that represents tremendous change. I am finding it easier to breathe and pray my way through these times. In the life of solitude and silence that I have chosen, reclusive, purposeful, doing work that never ceases every waking moment, I have found my true calling, and this week, and always and ongoing, I am filled with a kind of gratitude and inner peace that I didn't know existed. I have become Maitri Libellule and I will follow the path lit by my name for the rest of my life.

The road ahead is still unknown but I am no longer afraid. I journey onward, I have faith, how beautiful life is, all of it, and as I sit with a sleeping snoring pug snuggled against me I smile, about to go to bed, and wake up in the morning ready to take the journey that each day holds.

Oh, what a miracle life is.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Maitri and daughter Rachel, Thanksgiving 2010

Dear Ones,

My plan to write everyday didn't quite make it. I have tried the last 2 days but with it being a holiday week I fell behind. I plan a long post for tomorrow but wanted to wish you all a beautiful Thanks-Giving wherever you are, and whether or not you celebrate this holiday, we can all make every day a day of giving thanks. I know I am. 

I had a beautiful Thanksgiving with Rachel, her husband Jeremy and my little 6 year old grandson, precious boy, Lucas, and Jeremy's sweet dad Jere. Good food, wonderful loving family time. 

May blessings shower down on you, and peace and love fill all of our hearts...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Week Of Thanksgiving, Day 2 * I Am Grateful For My Rainbow Life ~ On Spirituality and Embracing The Square Peg In The Round Hole...

"The true harvest of my life is intangible ~ a little stardust caught,
a portion of the rainbow I have clutched."  

Henry David Thoreau ~

From Day One I was a square peg in a round hole. I never seemed to quite fit anywhere, was sort of the odd kid out, peculiar, living in my own little world. Life will have it's way with you and my journey started very young. I have accepted every single thing I have been through in my life. Not all of these things have been pretty, some very painful, but they formed the person I am today. I embrace it all. It has taken me 56 years to say that.

I think it has been very good for me to have been a child growing through those early days of not fitting. I began to see alternative ways of thinking and living and being, from the beginning, even if I didn't know how to label them. It opened my heart to myriad possibilities and ways of being. I am not a "black or white" person, there isn't even any grey, but there is a rainbow universe inside of me that has grown and grown and grown until I have become a person who...

... Will accept you for who you are, even if parts of you make me uncomfortable, even if I can't have a relationship with you, I will be very gentle with you and wish you well and godspeed on your journey. I won't allow you to entangle me in your life and dramas, and I will keep very firm boundaries, but I can truly wish you well from the bottom of my heart, and I am very sincere, and compassionate, and kind even when telling you why I can't be there for you in the way that you would like me to be.

I am grateful that I have come to accept and forgive myself when I haven't handled connections with people well. I have tried to make amends if possible, have learned from my mistakes, and have even come to realize, without the anguish that I have had most of my life, that everyone isn't going to love me and that's okay. It's a bigger lesson than these words can hold, it is huge, and something I can release and move forward with, with the knowledge that some of the people I had thought and hoped would always be in my life will not be here, or at least not right now. Holding onto that sorrow breaks my heart and I cannot allow that to happen and move forward with my life. I bless them, and let them go, at least for now. I have learned to love myself enough not to get squeamish and do things that I don't want to do because I am afraid someone will get mad at me. That never leads to anything good.

Take a deep breath, feel inside, touch your soft center, massage the hurt places in your heart, and realize that life isn't perfect and it's never going to be...

But... it is also grand and so full of blessings that in the balance, if we can learn to see the glass half full and more, we can move into life more deeply, less judgmentally, can round our corners so that we are able to roll through life like a ball in a game of bumper pool instead of being slammed with a stick down a hole. I am still that ball and I will be bumped about, but when the tension leaves your body, when you let go, when you become very soft inside (and that is not the opposite of strong) you can take your bumps and keep on living and glowing and being all that you can be. I am somewhat mis-shapen, kind of lopsided and cattywompus, but I am happier than I have ever been. I have learned to play pool and I will take a licking and keep on ticking...

I am not Pollyanna. I am a realist who is trying to put a gentle, loving spin on things so that I can live my life without hurting myself or others and continue to grow and journey onward in the way that I am led to go without allowing other people's judgment keep me from being the person that I believe I am meant to be. I will do my work, despite the odds, despite criticism, in spite of it all, and I won't stop. 

This is the tremendous gift, rooted in Self-Love, that is called confidence. It does not come easily or quickly and when it comes you know that it is time for you to move forward and get on with it, whatever "it" is in your life. Some days I'm trudging, sometimes I'm skipping, but forward motion is all I ask for.
I am a Rainbow Spirit, and what enormous grace there is in this mode of being. I am open to living and loving in a way that many people cut themselves off from, a way that invites infinite possibilities into my life, from spiritual beliefs to gender realities to embracing what might seem like impossible, improbable and sometimes ridiculous life choices, and even if no one understands, even if people rail and wail and criticize me, I have the inner strength to forge ahead and be at peace within myself. What a gift this is, in my sixth decade. Praise be!

I believe in everything, or, perhaps, better put, I believe, I embrace, I learn from every form of spirituality that is based in love, non-judgment, kindness, and the Golden Rule. To wit: I was raised Catholic, left the church by the time I was 20 and became a spiritual pilgrim, a spelunker in the caverns of the human soul. I attended many Christian churches, studied Native American spirituality as well as Goddess and Earth-Based teachings, and I came to Buddhism in my twenties and am still a student of Buddhism today, thirty plus years later, even while having been ordained an Inter-Faith minister in a Christian Church with a rosary in one pocket, a mala in the other, an Indian carved fetish in my pouch along with a feather, a crystal, and other sacred objects, wearing necklaces with Kuan Yin, Lakshmi, Buddha, a cross, and many symbols of other forms of spirituality that I believe are beautiful, that have power, that have the ability to make the world a more loving, generous, compassionate place.

I will not take part in any religion or form of spirituality that hurts others, that cuts some groups of people out and makes them "other than," that interprets religious texts in a manner that is soul-crushing for people who don't see the world and our spirit path through it in the same way. Every religion has tremendous beauty in it. Symbols and signs and texts can be interpreted an infinite number of ways. My human heart is what I use as a guide through life, and I will pick up every teaching, every way of being that is luminous and beautiful, and I will kneel before the priest, the shaman, the monk, the tribe elder, the priestess, the minister, the nun and my next door neighbor as well as all of the animals in the world around me, and I will honor them all, and I will feel humble in their presence. To this end I remain a spiritual seeker, a pilgrim, and my work in the world is with words and fiber, with feathers and fur, and with the whole world despite the sadness, the tragedies, the wars, I must, as we all must, be a single candle that can perhaps light the way for one other soul. If we accomplish that, in this lifetime, we will have done enormous work, important work, necessary work and our souls will journey onward to the stars no matter what mode of transportation (belief system) we take to get there. 

I believe all of these things, and I try to live them in my life. This is all we can do. One step forward at a time, person to person, each one, reach one, and share a cup of kindness where you can. This is my religion.

I have so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for this week of Thanksgiving, a time set aside in daily meditation and prayer to recognize, express, and share gratitude, the bedrock of a life well lived, and then to pick up the threads before me and begin weaving the rest of my life.

I bow in thanksgiving, my cup runneth over. I wish for you an open heart and love to fill it. May you find peace.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Week Of Thanksgiving at Dragonfly Cottage...

 "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice."
~ Meister Eckhart ~

I am happy and grateful to live with
funny pugs. Sampson always makes
me laugh....

In the week ahead I have decided to make each day a day of thanksgiving, each hour a time of prayer, every moment a time to celebrate each dear, delightful, funny, wonderful thing in my life. I have so much to be thankful for and Thanksgiving is too big to contain all the things we are grateful for in one day. Join me, if you would like, to celebrate Thanksgiving all week long. I will try to update the blog here as close to daily as possible this week.

So this morning I sat down with my coffee and I was having thoughts. I had spent 90 minutes caring for the four small parrots, the four dogs, the BIG parrot and other early morning chores. Ahhhh, I thought as I sipped my coffee, slipping into that comfortable early morning mode of silence, response to those who contact me and whom I would like to share with. I always have Sam, my snuggle pug, with the big tongue up top, glued to my body. Now I have two early morning helpers...

With my laptop on my lap desk, coffee next to me to the left, pug to the right, up came a very large bird, climbing down off of his play-stand to walk across the floor a few feet, when I feel a tug as he begins to climb up my afghan and perch on my feet saying a big, bright, "Hello Flounder!" as soon as we make eye contact. I swear the bird is smiling at me!

I am grateful for a life blessed with animal companions who make me smile, laugh, in whose feathers and fur I have cried and kissed and hugged and loved. I am thankful that I never really feel alone because my 9 sweet animal companions are always near, and in a sad moment there is a soft velvety nose pushing into me, or a giant bird lays his soft white cheek against mine and makes kissing sounds. I am filled with gratitude for all that I am blessed with, far too much to list here.

This year I am especially grateful for Flounder, the funny named gorgeous Greenwing macaw who needed a home after his beloved owner died and miracle of miracles somehow or another ended up here with me, very nearly 2 years to the day that I lost my beloved African Grey parrot Henry. I thought I would never survive that and I haven't been the same since. In a deep dark time a funny gentle giant of a bird flew into my life, and I have not had a sad day since. You cannot look at that face and not feel love and joy and delight.

Thank you God for the gift of happiness, for a lightening of spirit, for giving me wings to soar because now I have a teacher to set me on the path. Thank you for this great big bird.

And now there are funny little people everywhere here at the cottage who follow me everywhere I go, watch over me, will not budge until I do, making me feel the most loved human being in the whole universe. How could you not when you have these faces looking up at you?

Harvey is up front trying to stick his nose in
the camera and Sam is in back

You tell me that you could have those two faces + one more pug + Big Dog Moe looking up at you like that and feel lonely. I believe it is impossible.

Thank you God for giving me the gifts of a full home and a full heart. Despite whatever might happen in my life I have been blessed with a house full of angels and I am constantly floated on their love and presence, I am comforted, feel more peaceful, and my heart opens wider. Sometimes I feel like the most blessed person in the Universe. Others may have more of this or that, or things that most of the world crave or feel incomplete without. I, barefoot in my little cottage, surrounded by these small ones, know that I have so much to be grateful for if I continuously said "Thank You," for the rest of my life, like the continuous beads on a rosary, or mala, there wouldn't be enough beads, enough time, to express all of the gratitude I feel. A single "thank you" in each moment that I am awake and alive and aware enough to remember to say it will have to suffice. My cup runneth over...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I keep my beads moving, my lips silently form the words, a pug snuggles in closer to me and a big bird turns his head around and tucks his beak into his feathers. He is at peace, he has gone to sleep. Thank you God for helping me provide safe haven for the little ones in need.

Thank you for giving me the strength, for helping me in incomparable unseen ways, to save very tiny ones on the brink of death, to see life come back into them. I have been witness to many miracles. I am ever and always filled with a sense of awe and wonder...

Very tiny Quaker parakeet, helped out of the egg,
having been abandoned...

A very tiny zebra finch who fell out of the nest and
was rejected by parents. I named her Tallulah and
fed her with the tiniest dropper imaginable. She
thought I was her mother...

And for all the little ones I loved and cared for and tried to save but couldn't, who broke my heart but taught me lessons about life and death and love that I couldn't have learned any other way, I whisper softly... Thank you.

In this moment I am filled with such tenderness, over-flowing gratitude, thankful for all of my blessings that I have run out of words and will now sit in the silence, meditate and pray. But thank you dear reader, for sitting in this space with me. May you be showered with blessings, and may you be awake, alive, and aware enough to recognize every one. This is my practice now, to be able to see, to acknowledge, to be ever aware of even the smallest blessings that might otherwise go unnoticed. I am grateful for all of these things, and so much more.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Little Ones Outside...

"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."

~ Emily Dickinson ~

I have been wanting to get out and fill the bird feeders but with my knee, torn ligament, patellar tendonitis, fun fun fun, it was NOT an easy task and I had no business on the step ladder but I just hung on for dear life and got those feeders filled and up. I think God looks after those who look after his little ones!

As one who has always had many birds inside, I have also always had numerous feeders for the wild birds outside and they bring me such deep delight. The chickadee is one of my favorites and as in the picture above there is just something so charming about this tiny little puffball of a bird with so much personality.

I have a large studio off of my Cozy Room (The living room proper is in the front but I spend my time back here in the small room with the fireplace, a nook between the kitchen and the studio, filled with dogs and yarn and books and a glowing fire, definitely cozy!) and as I have written before the studio has a long wall of wooden windows above a built in cabinet that go all the way down the length of the studio and looks out into my woods in the back. The adjoining short wall has two sets of windows and the "dog door" that opens out onto a large deck. I love it out there. Going out into my back yard feels, at times, like taking a trip to Walden. Deep woods with a creek at the back.

On the outside of the short wall's windows are 7 feeders for the wild birds and squirrels. I have finally mastered the art of feeding the birds AND the squirrels without the squirrels tearing up the bird feeders (...and that includes the "squirrel proof" feeders they always seem to get into by hook or by crook!). I have 3 feeders hanging high for the birds and they are supposed to be squirrel proof but the ones on the sides not so much until I attached the 4 feeders to the windows with suction cups, and spread seed on the sill liberally.

And there is a large real tree perch that came with greenwing macaw Flounder who came to live with us recently but he won't have a thing to do with it. The bottom of it is filled with cement and rock so it is very sturdy and I spread seed all over the top of it too. The squirrels now eat from this once-a-parrot stand, the sill, and the bottom feeders...

Everyone eats well around here!

I also cleaned off the deck and filled the dog's big bowl with water (... they are inside dogs but like to go in and out of the dog door into our huge fenced back yard so I keep a big fresh bowl of water out there for them because on nice days they sometimes like to lounge on the deck. See purple dog door off green deck below!)...

.... and then washed and filled the big bowl of water for the birds to drink and bathe in. I change it daily and they are all quite happy hanging out on the deck. The concrete mermaid in front of the bowl is an antique that was once part of a fountain. I love mermaids...

And down the wall with the bird feeders are windchimes. There are several on the deck. It's a wonderful place to meditate...

And it is so adorable because inside, on the other side of the windows, is Flounder's huge cage and he just loves to sit on top and play with his toys and watch the birds at the feeders. He whistles and sings and gets so excited!

And so I came in, with an aching knee, four dogs trailing in behind me, Flounder happy to see Mama and come on my shoulder to ride around with me, and I felt so full and happy and satisfied and blessed knowing that bad knee or no I had been able to get all my little ones outside taken care of. Such a good feeling.

And now it is Saturday night and I am having a cup of Ginger Peach Green Tea in a mostly dark room, the birds longsince put to bed and dogs sleeping with puggerly snores all around me. Time to knit, crochet, read, write, and say prayers of thanksgiving for all that I am blessed with. I think once more of a favorite Emily Dickinson poem that is so well known and loved...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

And so I go in bedraggled but happy, feeling that quiet, tender, fulfilling joy. Praise be!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thought For The Day ~ On Loving-Kindness, Compassion and Peace...

"All the peace and happiness of the whole globe,
the peace and happiness of societies,
the peace and happiness of family,
the peace and happiness in the individual persons' life,
and the peace and happiness of even the animals and so forth,
all depends on having loving kindness toward each other.
When you cherish others, all your wishes are fulfilled
Living your life for others, cherishing them with loving kindness
and compassion is the door to happiness, the door to enlightenment."

~ Lama Zopa Rinpoche ~
The Door to Satisfaction

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I’ve Got This Mystic Streak In Me ~ Telling The Truth About Who I Am…

“This work of mine, the kind of work which takes no arms to do,
Is least noble of all. It's peopled by Wizards, the Forlorn,
The Awkward, the Blinkers, the Spoon-Fingered, Agnostic Lispers,
Stutterers of Prayer, the Flatulent, the Closet Weepers,
The Charlatans. I am one of those…”

“I draw a bath, enter the water as a god enters water:
Fertile, knowing, kind, surrounded by glass objects
Which could break easily if mishandled or ill-touched.
… I've got this mystic streak in me.”

From poet Lucie Brock-Broido’s
“Domestic Mysticism,”
from her book,
A Hunger.
Alfred K. Knopf, 1988

For more than twenty years I have read and reread this slender volume of poems until the book is raggedy and I plan to order another copy, but as much as I have loved the work of too many poets to count, I have never been as blown away as I was the first time I read Lucie Brock-Broido’s poems in her 1988 book, A Hunger. I carried that book around with me everywhere I went and opened it up and kept rereading passages that moved me and sang them like an anthem. I have always been different, I have never fit in, it doesn’t bother me, hasn’t for years, but I do find it curious. My worldview is so far away it is as if I am the farthest ring of Saturn away from the center. Close, part of the whole, but never reaching the inner circle, never touching down on the mother ground. You can see me, but you will never get close enough to touch me. My early childhood taught me that when you trust people, even some that are closest to you, you can be so bruised and damaged that like a piece of fruit gone soft from banging about inside a container or dropped, there’s nothing for it but to throw it out. My bruises and broken bits are internal, which makes it all the harder. If you can’t see the particles and pieces and bits of me floating around inside you will know, anyway, if you are long in my presence, that something is askew. That is because you will be expecting me to be, as we all are expected to be, what polite society expects, demands.

“This work of mine, the kind of work which takes no arms to do,
Is least noble of all. It's peopled by Wizards, the Forlorn,
The Awkward, the Blinkers, the Spoon-Fingered, Agnostic Lispers,
Stutterers of Prayer, the Flatulent, the Closet Weepers,
The Charlatans. I am one of those…”

I am one of those.

I am 56 years old and I have been trying to “find myself” for most of my adult life. More aptly put I have been trying to figure out who I am in my innermost being and hold true to that, be proud of that, celebrate that, all of who I am, while living in a world that finds the way I live peculiar, a forlorn, awkward, blinking, spoon-fingered lisper that stutters, yes, probably flatulent too, certainly weeping, and a Charlatan? Well, it depends on who you ask.

The neighbors don’t fear me, I am nice to them and they are nice to me, when they see me, but they quickly learned that nobody “drops in” on me, that I seldom ever leave the sanctity of my solitude, that I am, indeed, a modern anchorite. My own children wouldn’t drop in unannounced. It terrifies me. Another indicator of severe early childhood abuse, but I don’t like to linger there, we all have our stories, mine is no better or worse than anyone else’s. Our stories, based on our life experiences, make up who we are in large part. And we take that and try to figure out what to do with it. I think that too many people are continually going against the grain trying to be what they think they should be. I have certainly done that to near disastrous results. I would no longer consider suicide under any circumstances. What a waste of the gift of the life we are given. And yes, our lives truly are a gift, warts and all. I think the ones who do go crazy and kill themselves or other people have not been accepted for who they are, and allowed to be their authentic selves from early on. Of course there are other mitigating factors, but I believe that this is a big one.

 I truly life a life of solitude and some days don’t utter a sound other than the communion, often wordless, that I have with the nine animals I live with. I read, write, study, pray, meditate, cook, garden, spin fibers into yarn, weave, knit, crochet, spool-knit, sew everything under the sun together to make fiber art that has legs, that speaks to the world, that is weird and complicated like I am, but tender and trembling and shy too. Our art is a mirror of our inner being. Only now have my writing and art begun to approximate some facsimile of the woman I know that I am, the part that I am willing to share.

Charles Dickens wrote, in A Christmas Carol, “Secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I always thought that was the most apt description of me that I had ever read. I still do. You will never really know me, no one who knows me knows all of me except one extraordinary person who though my polar opposite taught me to accept the woman I am, to apologize for nothing (about the way that I must live in the world), and she made me feel as if I were special, extraordinary even, simply because I was brave enough to step out of the confines of what my life might have been, losing friends and loved ones along the way who could not accept nor understand me (…and I don’t blame them, I confuse me often enough…), but if we live our life as “safely” as possible, giving up who we are, where we are most comfortable, to try to please them, whoever they might be, we will still never be good enough in “their” eyes and we will fail miserably in our own because wearing a costume and mask through life is wearisome and doesn’t allow one to put their best foot forward so to speak.

I have been trying to find the right spiritual hat to wear. I could have started a hat shop for all the hats I’ve worn. Raised Catholic, a student of Buddhism from my twenties until today, having attended many Christian churches and been ordained in one, becoming an interfaith minister, and yet, while becoming ordained was something that meant a great deal to me, it ended up as if trying to put me in a box and I wouldn’t fit there like I don’t fit anywhere. I am a deeply spiritual woman. I meditate and pray nearly constantly, I feel the presence of God always, and you can use whatever name or label you want instead of the G-d word, it doesn’t matter to me. I think it matters that people believe in something, because without something larger than ourselves “up there” we not only can feel hopeless, but also not feel a need to be accountable for we who are and what we do in this world. Mind, I know I make a lot of mistakes but I keep trying to do better. There is a spiritual bar that raises higher and higher as we go through life and it’s hard work to keep up, to keep stepping up to the plate for the next round of lessons that though likely painful in some way are necessary for the evolution of our soul. What I’m getting at is that I bring with me every spiritual lesson I have learned, every baptism, confirmation, ordination, or other sacred ceremony I have engaged in, and I move forward with each of them woven fine in the cloth of my being, but I continue on, a pilgrim, a mystic, a woman who will live quietly all the days of her life and I will do my work, and I will never stop, and I will care tenderly for those I love, for the animals I live with, for the person, the only person, I can see spending my life with, but even in that, I know I am perfectly fine alone. I have come to terms with my life. If live alone for the rest of my life I shall, if you can call living with enough animals to fill Noah’s Ark “alone.”

For me it is not a question of faith. It never has been. I believe in everything unless and until it is proven otherwise. I read, captivated, just yesterday, about the remains, in Turkey, of what is believed to be the real Noah’s Ark. Now you will either be delighted in that knowledge or say, “Hogwash,” but it really doesn’t matter to me. That there are these kind of possibilities in the world gives me cause for hope for this radiant world that we live in is so much bigger than any of us can see or understand, and I look forward to living and learning and studying and writing about this pilgrimage I am on until I can no longer hold a pen. And despite a lifetime of clinical depression I am also a bit of a cock-eyed optimist. Therefore I call myself a “Rainbow-Eyed Mystic,” and while you roll your eyes I will go merrily along my way. There are sacred and mysterious things to discover, yarn to spin and yarns to write, animals of all sorts that need taking care of, and too many books to read in a lifetime. Finally, I’m happy with my life, I do have this mystic streak in me, and I’m no longer afraid to say it outloud. And I will go on treasuring the tiny things in life with great delight like the new Greenwing macaw who has come to live with us here at the cottage who is right now on the floor, having climbed down and walked over beak to nose with Coco, an elderly pug. They look at one another, lose interest, Coco goes to sleep and Big Bird Flounder climbs back up on his cage twice the size of my refrigerator and covered with so many toys it’s a Disneyland for macaws, and we shall all go on together here, each on our own pilgrimage, sharing the journey together.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sanctity of a Single Moment ...

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~

I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks, how often we look sadly at the past and with angst toward the unknown future when the remedy is so simple. So simple and yet we live in a time when in the world the word Mindfulness is bandied about so much it has lost it's meaning for people, one of those words that when used causes the listener, all too often, to just tune out. How many books are there out there on mindfulness? I think they are all important and I think it's the most necessary and meaningful message of our time. Mindfulness, Love, Compassion. And tenderness too, tenderness toward the smallest things. 

A woman was here the other day and in my studio there are built in shelves all along one long wall with windows all the way down the wall and around the wall next to it. It is bright and sunny and I love it. And half that long shelf-top is filled with African Violets. The woman looked amazed. She said she killed everyone she got. That is not an uncommon thing to say about these humblest of plants and I find it so sad. Mine are positively huge and when they flower, showstopping. And the thing is they are not hard to take care of at all, but you must be aware of their needs and willing to take the time to care for them. That's true of every single living thing on the planet. All of mine came from the grocery store and I always look eagerly to the time when they stop flowering and no one will buy them so they put them in a cart to the side for fifty-cents. I take them home, re-pot them and feed them, and sure enough they come back bigger and stronger just covered with flowers. We are a throw away society. They would have tossed all of those little plants if no one had taken them, in fact the lady at my store will once in awhile just give some to me. And each one is precious, and I croon over them and talk to them and anyone would think I'd lost my mind but living, growing things respond to love and attention, from my little plants to tiny children to the menagerie of animals I live with. (I would encourage all of you to find an old copy of the book The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, an amazing book.)

A week ago Saturday a Greenwing Macaw came to live at my house. His beloved owner had died of cancer and her husband didn't have any idea what to do with him. He is a gorgeous bird oddly named Flounder because they lived at the beach and somehow came up with a fishy name for him. I was rather appalled and tried to called him Freddy Flounder in hopes that he'd pick up the new name but he says "Flounder" a million times a day in a multitude of different voices. So Flounder he is. He is very sweet, very gentle, and VERY large. A Greenwing Macaw can be 40" from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail. His wingspan can be 49". I've not measured Flounder but he's a good sized boy!

To have a bird of this size you have to have had parrot experience and all of my years running a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots have served me well in rehabbing. handling and rescuing everything from the tiniest finch to the largest macaw or cockatoo. I have hand-raised a baby macaw, had cockatoos of all sorts but most were with me for a time until they were ready to go to a new home and they practically had to have an FBI background check to adopt the parrot. 

People have seen pictures and looked quite startled at his size and asked me, "Aren't you afraid that he'll hurt you?" I kind of laugh because my beloved African Grey Henry, whom I lost tragically 2 years ago -- I never thought I'd survive that -- wasn't a lot bigger than Flounder's head and he would bite the living hoo-ha out of you. Flounder is so gentle, a sweetheart of a giant, that if you are about to do something he doesn't want you to do he will not bite, he will take your finger in his beak and just hold it, not hard, and then he lets go. It's his way of saying, "No, I don't like that."

Greenwing macaws are the 2nd largest macaw, 2nd only to the rare and beautiful Hyacinth macaw, a sky blue parrot that would take your breath away. and Greenwings are called The Gentle Giants of the macaw family. His previous owner took him with her everywhere she went, to the store, to the beach, she even took a nap with him and he would curl up under her neck. 

He was very shy when he came and in these circumstances you say hello, give the bird food, water, treats, and let him settle in. They said it might be a few weeks before he let me really hold him. He was sitting in my lap kissing me the next day. 

I have a silent communion with animals and communicate with them in a place beyond speech. In the years that I ran the parrot shelter birds were sent to me labeled "unhandleable" and almost put down by their distraught owners. I said "Don't worry, he will be fine," and without a doubt the parrot just brought in, terrified, wild, screeching, biting, would be eating out of my hand, giving me kisses, and would eventually go to a home a calm loving pet. That sounds extraordinary to people, but it's not. Not really.

I would place the parrot in a nice sized cage. Food and toys and plenty of everything, and I would sit in a chair several feet away and ignore him. I did not try to get him out or pick him up, just sat there quietly reading and finally got up and went on about my business. One day I would stick a treat through the bars, half in, and half out, go sit in my chair, pick my book up and ignore him. Eventually he would pull the treat in, eat it, and rush to a perch in the back of his cage. Soon, I would scoot my chair closer and talk very softly, with very calm energy. You have to lower your energy around a wild animal. They can feel fear, anxiety and every other emotion you feel. And you have to respect them, as you would have them respect you. Next he would take a treat from me through the bars and not back away but I still sat silently beside him. Came the day I opened his cage, put a treat on the top, and sat back in my chair. It took some time but finally he would come out and get his treat and go back in, eventually spending longer and longer times out. The day he took a treat from my hand was a triumph but I just spoke a few words very softly and sat back down. And on we went. One day I gently pushed my finger up under his feet and said "Up," and up he stepped, and from there on in the relationship built. The particular bird I'm speaking about was a beautiful blue Indian ring neck parakeet, a parrot a little larger than a cockatiel. But there were many more and different little feathered friends that came and the routine was always the same.

There is a single moment, a moment suspended in time, when you look into a bird's eyes and know that you are accepted. It is a profound moment. I have even had experiences with the wild birds that congregate at the 7 feeders just outside my studio windows. In the last few days a curious little fellow, a tiny rosy finch, will fly over and sit not 2 feet away from me waiting for me to fill the feeders. I act like I don't notice but finally I looked at him yesterday, smiled, and said, "Are you hungry little fella?" And he didn't fly away, just sat there. Again, a profound moment. When a wild creature trusts you you have been given the gift of a lifetime. I felt exhilarated coming in. 

The first day that Flounder was here he was very shy. He was out on his large play stand with me most of the day, and it took a good long while before he was willing to step up on my hand to go into his cage to go night-night. The next day I opened the top door and he came out timidly. He did not say a word for 2 days. This is a bird with a vocabulary of roughly 300 words and counting. His previous owner kept a book of the words he said and sadly it didn't come with all of his things, but by the second day I opened his cage and let him come out, and eye to eye I said softly, "I love you Flounder. You're safe, you're home." He stepped up onto my hand and I carried him around awhile. We had to learn to trust each other.

Later I picked him up again and let him sit on my shoulder. He laid his cheek against mine and I reached up and took his beak in my hand gently and pulled it toward me and kissed his beautiful white face. There isn't anything softer in the world than the white skin on a macaw's face. It is amazing. I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew in that moment we were both taking a leap of faith but ready to give one another a shot. By that evening he was sitting on my chair with Sam, my velcro pug, and I, with the other pugs and big dog Moe surrounding us and I felt as if I were more blessed than anyone could hope for. And pardon the pictures. I have a torn ligament in my knee and can't get around well so I've used my camera phone to get some shots to capture his first days here.

Pug and Parrot Brothers...

Now, just over a week after his arrival he sings, laughs like a mad scientist, talks up a storm, preens me, has come beak to nose with Big Dog Moe, a lab-doby mix who now, at 17, thinks birds are just regular folks to have around. We got Moe as a tiny puppy and he grew up in the bird shelter. Many a baby parrot that I was handfeeding took their first flight and landed on Moe who sat still as a stone until I came and got him. We are a peaceable kingdom here.

It is a tremendous gift to live in a menagerie of 9 animals and who knows who else may show up along the way? Animals live in the moment. They do not worry about the past, nor the future, they live fully in the present moment. Time for dinner, time to go out, time for doggies to snuggle up to mom to watch t.v. after all the birds have gone to bed. And Flounder looks forward to his lovey time that comes just before he goes to bed. He sits in my lap and we kiss and talk and play and I rub his head and his face and preen him and he preens my hair, ever so gently, and then he will just sit and rest with me. He has given me the gift of his trust and I have given him my trust as well. 

There is real love here, and the animals remind me to be present and mindful, and when I forget I may be nipped gently or have a dog jump up and bark at me, or feel a wet nose or beak against my cheek. I forgot, and they remind me, and I never stay down or out of focus for long. Too many little people to take care of here. 

And so a great big bird has come to Dragonfly Cottage and our family grows larger with more love, unimaginable gifts that make my life more meaningful and teach me much about compassion, tenderness and trust, and, when people ask me if I get "lonely" since I'm divorced and my children grown I look around the room, scratch my head, and say distractedly, "I might, if I had the time..." There's never a dull moment here and I thank God for every single one of them and this moment, right now, writing these words to you. 

Open your heart, take a deep breath, forget the future and the past and what you're going to wear today. Stop and notice every single thing in your presence at this very moment. Feel a swell of gratitude for the smallest thing. You have air to breathe, a place to roost and call home, a meal to eat. I know that because if you are reading this on a computer you surely are fortunate enough, as I am, to have these things. Start with the fundamental things and give thanks. Move through your day and whisper a soft "thank you," or think it silently, every time you notice something in your environment you are lucky enough to have. Take your time. Go slow. Notice.

A stack of fresh crisp paper, sharpened pencils, a pen that writes smoothly, a chickadee at the window feeder. The blessing of a night when there seems nothing in the house to eat but you scrounge around and come up with a curious assortment of this and that and make a somewhat peculiar meal that in that moment tastes like the best thing you've ever eaten. I'll take one of those meals over any I've had in a fancy restaurant. There are so many things that we have or have around us that are deeply meaningful and enrich our lives beyond measure and I don't mean fancy cars or clothes, a big fancy house, lots of money, and all of the latest greatest technology around. Look to the little things and gradually move up from there. 

The breath you just took is sacred, it means that you are alive, it means that you still have time to be everything you ever wanted to be, you still have time to love and to grow and to skip and dance and sing and laugh. I laugh with Flounder. He cackles wildly which makes me laugh which makes him laugh harder and round and round we go like 2 lunatics. He would put Vincent Price to shame. And just before he came I was going through a long deep depression. We are saving each other and he has brought untold joy into my life. 

Do I get lonely? Let me put it to you this way, and forgive me if this seems a little, well, rude-ish to talk about. It seems that every morning in the middle of making my latte and shake and taking vitamins and whatnot I have to, well, you know, ahem, go to the Lady's Room. Flounder is on my shoulder so he goes too. I sit on the throne and he starts singing at the top of his lungs (His owner's husband said that he loves to be in a small space and he sings loud to hear the echoes!). As Flounder is singing, laughing, and calling out, "FLOUNDER... FLOUNDER BIRD...." three pugs crowd into the tiny bathroom and then big doe Moe brings up the rear. There is not an inch of space left in the bathroom. 

Do I get lonely? Well, I might, if I had the time...

We wish you well and send love and beaky kisses and soft doggie noses to kiss too. Some of you have kitties or other animal companions. I used to have a friend that looked forward to getting home at night so she could sit and read the paper with her 2 snakes coiled happily around her (To each their own!). What I'm saying is that if you have it in your heart to take in a gentle creature that needs a home, do so. There are so many rescues, so many animals in need, so much love to share, sublime companionship like you will never share with another human being. Animals keep you here, in the present, and if you win their love you will have one of the purest experiences in the world, and they will keep you in the moment if you stay awake and alive and aware with them.

Now I must close. Sam the pug has gone to sleep slumped over me. Flounder has his head turned around and beak tucked in his feathers. He's sleepy and it's time for me to take him in to bed. We wish you all a peaceful night and we are grateful for your presence in our lives as well. 

Blessings abound, Miracles are everywhere, and there is more to be thankful for than we will ever have time to witness and praise. Lift your face upward, smile, breathe deeply and say Thank You. It doesn't matter what you are saying thank you for, it's okay if you can't even think of a thing in this moment, gratitude makes us joyful, and makes us aware of the abundance of riches we have every single moment of our lives. 

Thank you. We love you. Namaste...

Maitri & Family