Friday, October 31, 2008

BlissQuest: Healing the Wounds of Repression with Dia De Los Muertos

My most recent Guadalupe.

Listening to: There is not a time when I listen to this that I don't get goosebumps. (And if you haven't watched this yet, what the heck are you waiting for?!)

Bliss: Time to get sugared up! Watch more scary movies. Drink red wine and pretend you are a vampire. Enjoy the children all dressed up. Enjoy yourself all dressed up.

Earlier this month, I posted a Thich Nhat Hanh quote that I think can bear repeating, especially at this time of year:

It is not possible for us to throw away one thing
and run after another.
Whether our tradition is Christianity, Judaism,
Islam, or something else,
we have to study the ways of our ancestors
and find the best elements
in the tradition for ourselves and our children.
We have to live in a way that allows
the ancestors in us to be liberated.

My partner, Frog, barely knows a fact or a story about the people who made the people who made the people who made her. It is always shocking to me that she doesn't know the name of the town her family lived in before they made that dangerous journey across ocean to a new life and very likely an early death.

I wonder why people choose to do things like that? Why leave the safety of soil and the familiarity of faces seen since birth? Why risk everything for an unknown? There has to be a compelling reason, but Frog has no idea how to answer any of this.

It shocks me even more that her own parents can't provide any insights.

We are made of blood and genes and breath, but we are also made of stories. We are like skin-sheathed libraries, really, containing the multitudinous myths of those who have gone before us. Whether we know it or not, those myths (and what more could they be? with people's memories and personal agendas always getting in the way)...those myths build us.

Buddhists believe that everything is interconnected, and I think it happens through story -- whether shared and told or not. Story is an invisible guest at every dinner or family celebration. We can ignore her and let her starve, but she remains.

And starving her is not very smart. This will only anger her. To move from a metaphor to possible pyscho-babble, you could say that I'm talking about the damage wrought by repression.

To know who you are, you have to know what you came from.

And that is the grand beauty of Dia De Los Muertos right there: the ecstatic celebration of the dead and the invitation extended to them to join their corporeal cousins in celebrating life.

The Aztecs who originally celebrated Dia De Los Muertos, at least 2500 years before Christianity came along, did not see life in the same stultifyingly precious way we do today. They saw it as an illusion; they believed that true awakening happened in unencumbered death, when spirit was free to fly.

So we have our task for the next few days -- and if you are in the same position as my partner, perhaps it is a task for the next year. (Making a year-long commitment right now is appropriate since the Celtics believed this was the New Year.)

And the task is thus: either celebrate your ancestors and invite them in to share their wisdom or figure out who you should be celebrating next year.

Perhaps you need to do some research or take a trip or talk to some elders in your family but begin collecting the pieces of the puzzle that comprise you. This is a multi-dimensional puzzle, connecting your physical self to the spirit realms.

After all of this, perhaps the searching and the deep sea diving will produce the treasure we seek: a fuller understanding of who we are, a liberation of ourselves that includes all the others who are always present around and within us.

Picture yourself in the middle of a grand mandala comprised of every single person who has lived and died to make your moment right here, right now possible. See that all of them -- the crazy ones, the mean ones, the sad ones, the beautiful ones -- all of them were needed, and all of them are whispering in your veins no matter where you are, no matter if you admit to hearing or not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

RandomBliss: Dressing Up For All Saints

Look closely at the platter -- eyeballs!

Listening to: This music might make you feel holy (tease!), but the art is pure eye candy! (Totally inspiring.)

Bliss: I am using my new weapons of mass creation today to get busy on that book I keep hinting at. Yay! Right to the computer and right to work. No hesitation allowed. Stop right there, stupid Hesitation, you can just take your schlumpy self elsewhere today!

If you really wanted to scare children, or anyone else for that matter, this Halloween, you should be dressing up like a Saint.

Take Saint Lucy at the top. A lovely girl -- if you can get over the fact that she wanders around carrying a platter of eyeballs! And then there's St. Sebastian -- a friend of mine said he was her favorite when she was younger because he was all beefcakey. But then you'd have to get over the blood-dripping arrows if you ever wanted to date him.

This weekend is a powerful time with a lot going on. There is Halloween or Samhein, and for many pagans, this is the true New Year. There is El Dia De Los Muertos, an amazing pagan/Catholic/Mexican tradition that I'll write about more tomorrow. And then over the weekend, All Saints and All Souls.

Three days of the veil thinning between this world and the others -- and all during a new and growing moon. Auspicious indeed. Magical and Mysterious.

All Saints and All Souls are probably the least understood of all the celebrations. And to tell you the truth, I'm still working on it myself, though lately, I have found I have an attraction to the kitschy nature of saint cards. But there must be something else going on besides a love of gaudy art, right? (I say that hopefully...)

When people ask me (and they do!) about the relevance of Saints, I tell them I believe that there is still a place for this in our lives. I explain to them my belief that there is something amazing about a man-made religious institution that has taken into account all the different personality types there are and all the different ways that people may need to utilize to come to some sort of relationship with divinity -- whatever that is for them.

Take all the art in a Catholic church, as an example. A lot of people see this as a sign of the church's decadence. I see it as one of those necessary ways. A long time ago, the church was dealing with an overwhelmingly illiterate laity. These works of art told the stories of the bible and got the theology across in a way that could be grasped without language, in a way that worked on an emotional level.

Looking at saints and martyrs, even nuns I have known see them simply as the church's misogyny. But again, I like to look at things in a positive, affirming, growth-enhancing way, and I think that taken as metaphors and maps these saint and martyr stories can be remarkable tools for winding our way through our own labyrinths of discontent.

The deities of other religions -- especially currently hip religions of the East (religions I happen to also love so I am making fun of myself first) -- the deities of these exotic lands are happily embraced by many seekers. Perhaps it's time to give ol' St. Sebastian a hug? (But watch out -- he's a bit prickly.)

I am sounding silly, yes, but there is a real point to be made...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Erica Aubin of bluJaYstudio

What a perfect image -- a yogi with angel wings!

Listening to: A favorite of Erica's that I think you'll also love, love, love.

Bliss: Two days until Halloween! Scary movie week here at our home, the Lilypad. Scary movies used to really get to me, but happily (ha), they no longer do. I take this as a sign that my psyche is stronger and more blissful than ever, armored and safe.

This weekend, while I was working through some of the "stuff" around SlothChick and all that, I had one of my mini-freakouts about the house and how it isn't nearly clean enough, not to mention that there is just too much crap everywhere and why aren't we more organized and why doesn't our garage and basement look like they came out of one of those organizing magazines and why aren't all my slips of paper just magically taking care of themselves and why and why and why...

"Why" and "Whine" sure sound alike.

Finally, my partner, Frog, couldn't take it any longer. She was sitting in her room, painting, listening to music, being hopped around by a sweet bunny, and I was standing in her doorway raining all my crap into her peaceful and creative space.

In the meantime, my creative space, containing a cat and candles to light and orange happy walls and music of my own, was just sitting, empty, waiting for someone -- could it be me? -- to get her butt in there and do some real work.

Finally, Frog stopped what she was doing and looked up and said:

"Do you want to paint paintings and write books or do you want to clean this house every day, knowing full well that no matter how hard we work, it will never be good enough?"

Smack! I was awakened.

In this interview with Erica Aubin, she writes about coming to this same realization -- that these everyday life errands might have to succumb to the more important call of art.

Erica's art has a freedom and an abandonment to it that conforms to her beliefs.

You can find her here, here, and here.

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

my primary bliss is the ACT OF CREATING! i have ALWAYS loved to create~ and my soul craves it more & more every day! how do i know? when i deny myself the time to create....i feel empty & gray, & hollow, & nothingness...
when i FOLLOW MY BLISS...i am a rainbow-colored, vibrating aura of HAPPINESS

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

i had to learn to LET THINGS GO~ things that are not really that important to ME~ like laundry, dishes, changing out of my p.j.s.... :)

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

take a look at this recent post

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

look at that post again...

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

drawing, painting, sewing... whenever the URGE strikes...sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes all day long~ whatever is flowing...i go with it :)

What music is your bliss?

i love sooooooooooo many!, jason mraz, brandi carlile, tristan prettyman, outkast....& TONS more~

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

sark, eckhart tolle,
mrs. bullough, mrs. clayton & mrs. mcconkie (my AMAZING high school art teachers!)
todd sherman (university print teacher...)

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

let go of your inhibitions, let go of pre-set thought patterns of who you THINK you should be, or what you THINK you should be doing...or what OTHERS think you should be doing! really, who CARES what others think?!, think back to when you were 7 years old...what did you want, more than anything else in the world, what did you DREAM you would be when you grew up?....remember? now, GO FOR IT!

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

on setting goals...if you aim for NOTHING, you'll hit the mark every time! be clear on where you want to go & how you plan on getting there!

Erica also touches on another really important point about acting on inspiration as soon as it hits, whenever possible. Even if you are at a day job, when you get inspired, you could take a few minutes to make notes.

But do what you can, as soon as you can. And do it for as long as it takes. One of the things -- I know this from teaching a wide variety of people in creative writing classes -- that can get in the way of people writing, for example, is that they harbor this belief that they must have these large, open periods of time to do it in. So nothing ever gets done.

I have had the privilege of teaching one remarkable woman, who was also a mother of very small children, and she had learned to write in minutes, if she had to -- whatever time she could steal for her writing. She had gone to school for visual arts, which I think is really helpful, because you learn about process. She had the process thing down!

What could you accomplish in five minutes? What could you accomplish during your lunch break if you found a quiet spot? What could you accomplish if you decided to get rid of your rules and your preconceived notions about what it is to "art?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

OuterBliss: Mourning Moon, Mourning Old You

A completed commission by my partner.
A triptych honoring two beloved animal companions.

Listening to: I can listen to this all day long, bouncing happily through my day.

Bliss: Since our two years of taking care of two sick animals who both eventually passed from their fur suits within nine months of each other, my brain has not been the same. For good reason. Grieving changes us, I think, on a molecular level. But getting through it, changes us in excellent ways. We are never the same, to be sure, but it is a good thing, a growth thing. Here's the current bliss: in the last week or so, my brain is getting back to its "new normal," including some old normal that I rather like. I can read again, for starters. I can focus on more than two pages. I can sit and get absorbed by fiction for hours. I feel calmer; I feel the anxiety of those two years finally melting in the heat of a new certainty.

Before I get into today's post, I wanted to point out a new (to me) blog I've been reading. Has anyone else discovered the writing of Marisa? She is wonderful; check her out. Her blog name is enough to capture you, I bet: The Girl Who Cried Epiphany.

Today is the first day of the new moon. This moon can be referred to in many names, just like all the others, depending on your tradition: Dark Moon, Mad Moon, Snow Moon, Moon of Storms, Moon When Deer Shed Antlers, White Moon. But the calendar I use calls this moon of my birth month the Mourning Moon.

It has taken me some time to embrace this name, to not cringe when I see it on the calendar, to not see it as a negative name, a name encompassing all my fears.

But I have managed to get past that and see the beauty and the possibility in this name that can easily elicit feelings of sadness and lethargy.

First, here are some basics about this moon:

The scents associated with this moon include: cedar, cherry blossoms, hyacinth, narcissus, peppermint, lemon. (All very uplifting.)

The trees are the alder and the cypress.

The deities are Kali, Black Isis, Hecate, Bast, Osiris, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Skadi, and Mawu.

Colors: gray, sea-green; Herbs: verbena, borage, blessed thistle; Flowers: blooming cacti and chrysanthemum; Stones: topaz and lapis lazuli.

Most important, the power flow of this moon is transformation and thus my becoming comfortable with this moon's name.

Once we get past our culturally ingrained fears of death, we see that death is nothing more than the changing from a fur suit to a sparkle one -- as is the case with animal companions, as well as humans. We fully become our essences.

The goddesses of death are all about this too; Kali and the Morrigan are not about blood and gore, as much as they are about getting to the essence, stripping away the unessential.

So this month, I propose, we all work on getting rid of what no longer serves us. Shedding old versions and ideas of ourselves that are impeding our progress.

For example, I have, for a long time, thought of myself as the type of person who gets ideas and starts on them but has a very hard time finishing. I feed this idea daily with the sorts of delicacies that it adores -- self-loathing, low self-esteem, hateful internal dialogue. This idea of me has been fattened through cannibalism of my spirit.

No more.

Last night, I realized I am totally letting go of that version of my story. It's time. I looked around and saw all that I do finish, rather than all that I don't. I looked around and noticed how very disciplined I am, rather than how lazy. I looked around and saw a person who is made of steely will power, rather than a cowering, fearful limp fish.

And by deciding to mourn and let go of that old version, I immediately felt the new me, the real me, unfurl and spread its giant, soft, blindingly white wings. And in that moment, something in the universe saw what happened, too, and I was rewarded. I instantly knew how to solve some creative problems I was having, and I instantly knew that I would, from now on, just do it.

What would you have to let die and then mourn to get your wings to spread?

Monday, October 27, 2008

InnerBliss: Administering A Bit of Bushido to SlothChick

The requisite leaf photo.

Listening to: This new group out of Texas; the lead singer has a rockin' good voice -- wait (literally) a minute and see what she can do! (And don't you love their name?)

Bliss: Today is the anniversary of Sylvia Plath's birth; she would have been 76. Read some of her poems -- in the right order (see the most accurate version of her final manuscript) -- and celebrate this woman artist's struggle to live her life in the way she needed to for her art.

I love ass-kicking films.

But be clear, it is a specific sort of ass-kicking that I enjoy. I do not watch movies that contain violence for violence sake. No. Most of the films that I watch in this kicking sort of genre are practically bloodless and certainly contain no gore.

The important point of these films is the triumph of good over evil. Yes, I admit it, I like my film world to be more definitively, black-and-white-moral than the world outside my window tends to be.

Some of my favorites are this, this, this, and this. My favorite television also tends to be about the same themes of justice and honor, like this, this, and this.

You can imagine, then, that I might be attracted to martial arts. Though I have never studied a martial art, it is something that I would like to do one day, as I respect the underlying codes and philosophical systems. There is a reality to them -- they do not deny the violence of the world around them -- and there is an idealism -- they try not to add to it but they are prepared to deal with it as a last resort.

I got to thinking over the weekend about the code of the Samurai, or Bushido, and how it might apply to us as artists and people trying to live lives of honor and compassion in this world. Specifically, how it might help us to kick SlothChick to the curb.

Let me emphasize that SlothChick is not the same as being sick and needing to rest. No, that is definitely BlissChick attitude -- the whole honoring your body thing. SlothChick is not the need to lay on the couch and read all weekend. Again that is Blisschick, honoring your need to put something in your creative mind to make up for all the taking out.

SlothChick is invasive and malignant. She wants you to say NO to all that is important. She wants you to be an audience member rather than a player. She wants you to feel horribly and act horribly and live a wasted life. She is bad. Period. Remember, some of the greatest mystics have perceived sloth as a danger to the soul. That is not light language.

A tolerance for SlothChick (as opposed to a BlissChick who wants you to care for yourself) is spiritual and intellectual negligence. It is giving up. We will not be doing that.

When we sense her presence, we must take action.

This can be hard. But a life that is fully lived was never guaranteed to be easy. A life of the spirit is not new-age-simple but rather a life of constant vigilance and rigor.

With that in mind, we will take up our stance and bow to our enemy. Then we will remember all of the traits that bring us to this place on a daily basis -- this place where we are able to look the enemy in the eye and flip it on its pathetic, ugly back.

Courage. I put this at number one in this list, because it is the thing that most often needs to be called upon. When our whole entire body and mind (otherwise known as our ego) is screaming at us that it would be so much easier to not do yoga or to not face that difficult chapter we were intending to write, when we feel ourselves caving into the "noonday demon," we must call upon our hearts and the courage contained within and just do it all anyway! Everyday, we must call upon this courage muscle and everyday it will get stronger.

Loyalty. Be clear about the things that matter to you and then be loyal to them. Whether it be people, places, concepts, or goals, being clear is the first important step, yes, but even more important is reviewing those things and making your decisions about your time and energy based upon them.

Integrity. Adhering to our convictions can be hard in a world of such fluid morality. But that does not mean that we have to be fluid. Walking the talk is not only important for you as an individual but it is vital for you as a community member, as someone whom other people may be looking to for their examples in life.

Honor. As I get older and turn more and more into an old, grouchy man (ha), I find myself using this word more than I could have ever imagined. But I find that the concept of honor becomes increasingly absent from our everyday world. In general, our culture is comprised of flippant flounderers, bouncing from place to place, person to person, with no regard for the larger picture, so desperate to outrun our fear of death, thinking the answer lies in running. We degrade and disgrace ourselves all too easily.

Veracity. Truthfulness. I cannot begin to count how many times in my life I have had people tell me that the thing they love most about me is my truthfulness. That if they want an honest answer or honest advice, they come to me even though it can be startling. I find it hard to take that people are so lacking other honest people around them that I stick out like this. If we are not truthful, we have nothing.

Compassion. Love above all else, almost every major religious system tells us this. God is love; love is God. We would do well to extend ourselves in some way to some person everyday. Not to someone we know and not to someone we like. This can be easy. Standing in line? Don't be impatient.

Respect. The samurai did not just run around killing people because they were good with swords. Martial arts practitioners learn to protect themselves so that they don't have to. These groups of people are taught to respect life above all. And this includes your own; do not squander the time you have but respect it. Do not deny your gifts because you don't find them noble enough...use them, whatever they are.

Upon waking, remember that everyday is a series of physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual challenges. Regard them with the heart and eye and mind of a Samurai and you will find each challenge adding to your arsenal rather than defeating you.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

MysticBliss: Carl Jung and the Power of the Individual

A favorite spot on our way to some relatives.

Some bits of wisdom from Carl Jung, who, remember (especially for this first quote), lived to see the rise and fall of Nazism, and who delved into all the ancient knowledge traditions and created what is our modern understanding of archetypes:

The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant. In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives, we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers.
Creative life always stands outside convention. That is why, when the mere routine of life predominates in the form of convention and tradition, there is bound to be a destructive outbreak of creative energy. This outbreak is a catastrophe only when it is a mass phenomenon, but never in the individual who consciously submits to these higher powers and serves them with all his strength.
Everything good is costly, and the development of personality is one of the most costly of all things. It is a matter of saying yea to oneself, of taking oneself as the most serious of tasks, of being conscious of everything that one does, and keeping it constantly before one's eyes in all its dubious aspects: truly a task that taxes us to the utmost.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

BardBliss: Still Life

Skipping stones at the lake.

Still Life

on a too warm
early spring
day -- the tulips
open to bees and bright --
a half moon floats
in a blazing
afternoon sky.

a half moon floats
half hidden
in brush stroke thin
clouds and a summer hot
sun sweats my skin
and the wind chimes
are silent.

the wind chimes
chime not even
a whisper
but birds fill that space
and a hardly breeze
lightly breathes
over my skin.

a hardly breeze
barely tickles
my bare feet
barely moves
the branches of a light
willow tree
as the half moon floats higher.

--christine c. reed

A poem written in one sitting. Literally. Sitting on the front stoop and just writing and falling in love with the words and the rhythms and forgetting everything but what was happening.

When did that last happen for you?

Friday, October 24, 2008

BlissQuest: Fantasies as Metaphors of Deeper Desires

I loved this lighting in the woods on our walk.

Listening to: Some of my favorite French pop in a perfect video for today's topic.

Bliss: Another sunny day and I am off on an adventure to find a perfect day planner and some pants that fit -- a fantasy in and of itself.

Here are some of my fantasies:

It is Sunday and my partner and I awaken in our Parisian flat. It is warm enough to spend the entire day walking about the city. First, we stop in at a favorite cafe -- the one I went to when I visited Paris, right next to the book seller stalls, with Notre Dame looming across the river. We sit and sip cappuccinos and eat pastry and read a newspaper -- in French -- and generally just people watch. Then we walk in the gardens and stroll along the Seine. All day... until it's time to stop somewhere to eat and drink wine and watch people some more.

Or here's another:

We live in a small house near the Sea. On the edge of a small village-like town on the Mediterranean. Yes. That's right. I awaken and get on my bike to go into town and run some errands. My partner gets right to her easel. Perhaps I go for a swim. I arrive home, bread and flowers sticking out of my basket, and I get to my typewriter.

You get the idea, I'm sure. Maybe there's even something a bit familiar about one or both of these.

Sometimes I get so caught up in these fantasies that my heart aches for them. It is a feeling similar to home sickness.

When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws
an image of the experience out before her
and enters into her own image.

--Meister Eckhart

It is easy to become so captivated by our fantasies that we begin to believe that they must come true. That we must possess them. We believe it is time to sell everything and move somewhere and thus become some other version of ourselves that we think will be better or smarter or prettier or all of that and more.

We forget that wherever we go, there we are.

But it is too important of a message to forget. If we forget this, we will always be moving. If we forget, we will always conjure new fantasies and convince ourselves that "this is the one." If we forget, we will always be in motion, never still enough to be ourselves.

Believe me, I know about this firsthand. I spent too many years of my almost forty thinking that if I could just find the perfect place to move to, then I would finally be able to be who I always wanted to be.

Thank goodness, I realized that I had it backwards. First we become who we are meant to be and then the outside stuff happens naturally. Of course, by the time you really become you, the outside stuff matters very little.

Now when I catch myself fantasizing like this and falling for my old tricks, I challenge myself to see the fantasy as a metaphor. I challenge myself to see the message within. My soul, like Eckhart says, is asking something of me and I have to put all the clues together so that I might have the experience that my soul craves.

My fantasies have some constant themes.

First, I am on the lookout for a certain level of solitude. Notice there really isn't interaction with other humans except my partner and whomever is handing me my next coffee drink!

When I start having these fantasies, I know that I need to seek out some serious hermit time.

Second, and somewhat paradoxically, my fantasies are usually very crowded with people. Cities and villages crawling with art and culture and humans going about their daily dramas. I may not want to be involved but I want to see it, watch it, learn from it.

When I start having these fantasies, I know I am craving some serious cultural enrichment. A trip to a large museum often sates this appetite or a local music event or a great book.

And finally, the fantasies are always centered around my partner and I living an existence of separate but supportive art based days. Besides the Sunday version where we walk about all day, the days in my fantasies are about getting down to the business of creating.

When I start having these fantasies, it is always about me not acting on my bliss nearly enough.

So, a question for the weekend (or longer):

What are your fantasies trying to tell you? Also, who are you in these fantasies? How can you be that person right now, right where you are?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

RandomBliss: Declaring War on Your SlothChick

The Sidewalk Trail at our peninsula.

Listening to: This is a strange little video (especially the sudden ending), but I so love her music.

Bliss: It's only 44 degrees today, but the sun is bright and strong. Lovely. Cats are pleased and so am I!

My SlothChick is super strong today. Obviously, since I'm only getting to this post at eight minutes past noon. A very late start indeed. And though I know what I want to write, making myself do it has been like walking through a river of molasses.

SlothChick has been whispering her sweet nothings to me all morning: "One more look at your reader -- maybe there's something there that will inspire you to write." (Yeah, what a line -- I've never heard that one before.) "Oh, the sun...just lay your head down on your cat's pillow right there and soak up that sun..."

"Writing? That sounds too HARD. Let's just read a book or eat something."

I want her to go away, but she's so determined and I do feel a bit on the sleepy side today...

Aruna, from Teaching Kids Yoga, summed this up best in a comment on this Tuesday's post:

My teacher always says the work of the mind, to think new thoughts, is more exhausting than physical labour. I've found this to be true, getting started is a real battle, it takes a lot of energy.

Though SlothChick is strong, I am stronger if I make the effort, if I set my intentions; otherwise, SlothChick can easily become my point of departure for all kinds of self-destructive and non-productive behaviors.

Sloth, for example, is included in the traditional list of seven deadly sins. Wait! Don't cringe at those words...

Let's get past some language blocks and preconceived notions here.

First, I would like to point out that every single religion on this planet has something to teach us. (This seems an obvious thing to say, but we don't always act this way.) Within every single tradition, there always resides thinkers and mystics from whom we can learn -- if we are open to seeing past the dogma to the theology and the philosophy.

Everyone is trying to find the same things after all -- love and acceptance and peace. (Some just take very winding paths that obscure this from others' views.)

Second, the word "sin" carries a lot of negative connotations for a lot of us. But I've always felt there was something important trying to express itself in that word, and then I read the definition by St. Aquinas.

"Sin" is "misdirected love." Wow.

Think about that. How many of your actions and thoughts that lead to suffering and disconnect can be defined as "misdirected love," whether toward self or other?

So, the seven deadly sins are seven types of misdirected love that create disconnection between you and the divine, whether you believe that divine resides within you, without you, or both.

They are seven mindsets that can destroy your capacity for love and therefore deplete you of the necessary energies to know or walk your life's path.

Like Aruna says, this is harder work than anything physical.

What about sloth, in particular, is so awful that it threatens our very souls/spirits/essences?

In the collection of essays, The Seven Deadly Sins, Evelyn Waugh asks that same question:

St. Thomas's answer is both comforting and surprising: tristitia de bono spirituali, sadness in the face of spiritual good. Humans are made for joy in the love of God, a love which humans express in service. If we deliberately turn away from that joy, we are denying the purpose of our existence. The malice of Sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a sypmtom of it) but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.

When we give into SlothChick, even for a moment, we are denying our BlissChick.

I'll say this a million more times, I'm sure, but as the Dalai Lama says, "Constant effort." Not "Sometimes effort." Not "Effort When You Feel Like It." Not "Effort When Everything Is Going Your Way and The Sun Is Shining."


We must declare nothing short of spiritual warfare on our SlothChicks.

We are talking about knowing our path and then saying "but I will not walk it today."

What? We don't have time for that. We have limited moments and so much to do. So many paintings to create and so many books to write and so much love to share.

This life we have been given is a beautiful thing, even when it is hard. We are here to say "yes."

You feel SlothChick coming on? Kick her to the curb. Get moving. Do what it takes.

No one ever said it would easy, but it will be worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Deb McNamara, Yoga Teacher & Sustainability Educator

From Deborah McNamara's Yoga site.
(Worth a tour just for the photos!)

Listening to: This woman never fails to delight me.

Bliss: For the first time in a long time, I'm reading a novel which captured me within the first page. Has anyone else read it? The prose is poetic; the characters and the plot are complex; and yet, it's also fantastical and creepy in that Gothic way that I love. And it is his first book! Crazy.

A few years back, my partner and I had only been car free for about three years, and we decided to take a class at our local grocery co-op. It was about developing a deeper sense of place. Perfect. We learned later that it was a packaged class from the Northwest Earth Institute.

Recently, I was trying to think of different types of people to interview for Blisschick, and that class came to mind. Certainly, I thought, someone who works for that delightful organization must be living their bliss, right? So I emailed them and received a reply within a day from this most amazing person. Yay! for instincts!

Deb McNamara is the Director of Business Partnerships and Outreach Team Leader for the Northwest Earth Institute. She facilitates workshops and retreats on sustainability, ecological footprint, environmental leadership, ecopsychology and yoga. She recently served on the Curriculum Development Committee in the development of Menu for the Future, a guide on creating and supporting more sustainable food communities ( Deb also teaches classical Hatha Yoga at Root Whole Body Wellness Center in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about Deborah’s yoga, visit Deborah’s blog:

Deb also has someone who takes kick-butt pictures of her:

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

Bliss is a practice. My experience of bliss is the continual practice of recognizing again and again that this one precious life is Sacred, Beautiful and a Gift. The “primary bliss” of my lifetime is the profound recognition of beauty that arises in each moment.

This recognition manifests in my experience and practice of feeling and being in my body, recognizing the heart-breaking gift that each glance I take is, each breath, each movement. The heart-breaking quality derives from the fleeting and impermanent nature of each moment, and the bliss and beauty simultaneously arise with the opening of my heart to the continual recognition of both my present moment Life (and all that I love about it) as well as my imminent Death.

My bliss is rooted in the practice of coming back again and again to that which I Love and feel gratitude for moment after moment. It is rooted in letting my heart break on a continual basis at the enormous amounts of beauty and pain draped throughout the tapestry of my days. My bliss is rooted in feeling my interconnections with all that surrounds me: how my inhale is exchanged with the trees I walk past, how my exhale falls on the person next to me.

The more I practice feeling, loving, and recognizing beauty, it has become a calling to live graciously, gracefully, lovingly, with generosity, intentionally. The more I open my heart to the gifts of being alive, the more responsible I become to my larger community.

As such, my practice put into action is the whole-hearted dedication of my life to cultivating and sharing the awareness that Earth, Life and Body are sacred, with my work being to advocate for the preservation and protection of life in all its forms, to inspire people to accept responsibility for Earth and to take actions that model sustainability and sanity.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

When my choices come from a place of love and generosity, this becomes the lens of contentment. I choose intentionally to continually practice the art of service: to share my presence as a gift and to dedicate my time to that which is in service of Life, Earth, health and well-being, relationship and community.

I choose to practice not compromising my values and to not spend my time doing anything that does not cultivate sanity (that which promotes health, well-being and life). I do my best to choose work, products and processes that do the least amount of harm to plants, animals, other humans and the Land. This means eating local and organic foods, spending more money to buy fair/direct trade, and supporting organizations and companies that embody corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices. This means radical lifestyle shifts with sustainability and social justice being the primary lenses through which I make every decision.

And when I fail myself, I let myself feel the disappointment and pain. I choose to stay wide awake to the effects that I have on others and the Earth. I choose to question the status quo and push my own boundaries of being radical in a culture that prefers dissociation and avoidance. I can always do more to cultivate health and beauty on more systemic levels, and this knowing is my growing edge. Bliss is ignorance when it doesn’t remember and integrate pain, injustice, violence and the cruelty of living a lifestyle that sucks the life out of the land. I choose to continually remember this, and to make choices that reflect this understanding.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

Through my spiritual practice (and the moment to moment giving away of this practice as a gift), the lifestyle choices I make, my work on behalf of the Earth, the giving away of my yoga practice through my yoga teaching, and through my presence.

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Slow walks, taking care of plants and garden (reminding myself of my connection to the larger natural world), writing letters, conversations addressing the subtleties and complexities of life, a quiet yoga practice, resting in silence, paying attention to the texture of natural light in all its forms, time in the woods and mountains...

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

My practice in a juicy nutshell: to love that which arises and to offer a sustained recognition of love outwards through my interactions with everything I encounter. My life is a practice.

What music is your bliss?

The sound of wind. The sound and feeling of my breath.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

The list is too long to recount! When you see the Divine mirrored in all that is life, influences are everywhere and endless. The greatest influencers: Mom and Dad (Joan and Bob McNamara), brother and husband: Rob McNamara and Chris Peraro. My hatha yoga teacher, Sofia Diaz. My favorite poet: Hafiz. Earth.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Stay wide awake!

Be fully engaged in your life! Cultivate recognition of the power of your heart and your capacity to feel. Resist cultural pressures to shut down. Practice full engagement of your senses. Let your heart break that you and all that you love will one day end. Practice love. Notice again and again: what do you love about this present moment, and this one, and this one?

Keep coming back to that which you are grateful for. Practice recognizing beauty. Let your challenges and pain mix with your recognition of beauty, and your experience of love and gratitude. Don’t keep your realizations to yourself; Give away your presence as a gift. Practice peeling away the layers that keep you from fully offering the beauty that you just are. Share generously. Give away what you most need.

Know where your center of gravity is and move from that place. Know what drives your movements. Practice certainty. Breathe deeply. Find times for stillness. Find out where equanimity and compassion reside in your experience and practice moving from these places.

Before doing anything, just be – here, now.

And Deb had this at the bottom of her email:

I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
How are you?
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
What is God?

If you think that the Truth can be known
From words,
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening Called the mouth,
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing –Now!

Recently, I wrote about the breath as a clue to your passions. How paying attention to things that take your breath away can guide you to understanding what you need.

There is a breathlessness in Deb's writing; I noticed myself reading faster and faster throughout her interview, and I think that is a clue as to the importance of all that she is saying, as if her messages to us are just tumbling forth, gathering speed like an avalanche of love in action.

So, we will just sit with her now and appreciate the millions of unique snowflakes that she has so graciously shared.

If you're in Portland -- lucky you -- you should certainly take a class with this wise woman of the wilds.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OuterBliss: More on Overcoming Resistance

A tree in our park from my "clear my head" walk.

Listening to: If you have even a bit of negativity in you today, this surely will make you giggle.

Bliss: The oranges are fully out in the trees right now. The leaves are crunching. The air is cool. I am happy to have on a soft scarf.

You may have already noticed that today's post, which is usually called "EcoBliss," is labeled "OuterBliss." EcoBliss, though an important category of discussion in terms of personal happiness, was getting to be a bit constraining.

Sure, there are lots of times when I want to talk about bikes versus cars, light pollution, or tearing up our carpet, but there are also days when I want to follow up on Monday's post, and this new heading for Tuesday's post will allow more freedom.

During this moment of change, I would also like to ask you -- dear, sweet, smart, beautiful, sassy readers -- if you have anything you would like to see changed about blisschick or if there are topics of discussion that you would like me to explore more here. Think about it.

Today, I wanted to get back to yesterday...

This concept of resisting the very thing that completes you, or as Lil put it in a comment, "the temporary abandonment of participating in tasks of pure Self," this concept really hit home for a lot of us. (And if you haven't already, make sure to read the comments from yesterday's post; they were incredibly deep and articulate and wise.)

It is not just me who resists. It seems to be an epidemic of sorts. Even for those of us who know our path, who have done the preliminary work of digging and discovering...even we end up occasionally, more often than we like, saying "no."

Why, I want to wail at the top of my lungs...and I want an answer! WHY? I want to whine to the universe.

For now, perhaps it is not for me to know why, but simply for me to say "what now?" Despite this resistance, I will move forward. I look at you, evil ugly resistance, and I walk away. (And I am totally sticking out my tongue right there.)

Walking away was literally what I did the other day.

I grabbed my camera and headed outside. I walked slowly and with no plan and I took pictures and soon I could feel it all melting away.

As soon as I reentered the house, I came upstairs and put on my yoga pants and put in this DVD. One of my new favorites by them (and in particular, I have to tell you, the menu is awesome; you can pre-program your yoga session to your liking and not have to pick up the remote to skip a section you don't want to do).

What happens during kundalini yoga?

First, it always starts with a mantra/chant. Right away, I feel my chest area relax, which is where a lot of tension sits. My heart opens. I feel the chant vibrating under my collar bone and within my ribs. A good feeling.

Kundalini is done with your eyes closed and looking up through your third eye does stimulate something -- what? Who knows? But it does something.

Like Linda says, "We don't do yoga; yoga does us." And again, I don't need to know "why," do I? I can let go of that particular obsession and just let it happen, which is, I think, a huge deal for someone who lives inside thoughts and books.

And this must be a clue...the walking, the picture taking, the yoga...all together it pours me back into me. Suddenly, I am the active participant in my own life again, rather than the watcher, who sits and wonders and worries and analyzes herself into a paralysis.

And thus "OuterBliss" -- the doing beyond the thinking. We could all use a bit more of that, couldn't we?

Monday, October 20, 2008

InnerBliss: Fighting Off Creative Resistance

At a local garden center where we
purchased pumpkins.

Listening to: Something
very new from England; I love the drums at the beginning -- a bit punk-y, a bit pop-y.

Bliss: All of a sudden, I have a huge pile of really wonderful books awaiting my attention. It's the fall list, of course -- publishers put out their best stuff during this quarter in preparation for the holidays. Yum.

I think I've mentioned that I'm reading Kathleen Norris' newest book, Acedia and Me. I am having a hard time getting very far in this book, because it keeps stopping me in my tracks. Every other paragraph contains some glittering gem that I must then hold in my hands, turn round and round, bedazzled, blinded, and bewildered by the seemingly bottomless pit of this one woman's wisdom.

This reading, which lasted all of five minutes on the front stoop in the warm Autumn sun before I had to get up and write something down, contained this particular jewel:

...I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married "for better for worse," anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in everyday life. When I complained to a Benedictine friend that for me, acedia was no longer a noontime demon but seemed like a twenty four hour proposition, he replied, "Well, we are speaking of cosmic time. And it is always noon somewhere."

Yes, it is always noon somewhere and that is no more true than in my writing room. Or so it can seem. There are times when it seems to be always true in my yoga space, too, which -- coincidentally or not -- is the same physical space as my writing room.

What is it that stops us from being utterly and forever committed to the very things that we know are not only good for us but are the things we love best when we are fully engaged in them?

This is a question that pops up for me every couple of months -- or every single day, depending.

Let me explain.

I am never, ever at a loss for ideas when it comes to writing (or any other creative endeavor, really). I have little slips of paper all over this house; I have little slips of paper all over the inside of my brain. Each little slip represents, at minimum, a full idea -- for an essay, a novel, a memoir, a new series of paintings for my partner, and on and on.

The idea of writer's "block" has never meant anything to me. The muse is kind and gracious and spoils me relentlessly with this first of one million steps in the creative process.

I have also proven to myself that I am capable of completing the other steps on that million step path. I have completed a couple books worth of poems (had a couple published); I have written more long papers than I could count; I write here almost every day and not just in little snippets; and I have completed a third draft of my quite long novel.

I can do this. I have done this. Why do I not do it more?

Why do I fight myself every single day to get writing? Why does it feel like utter agony to get to the typewriter (my favorite tool)? Why do I put it off when I know perfectly well, from years of experience, that while I am doing it, while I am writing, I am completely happy, completely myself in a way that I am not at any other time?

When I am writing, especially fiction I must say, I feel like I am being myself. I feel like everything I am, everything I have experienced makes sense, fits into the puzzle that is my existence.

Pretty heady stuff, that. And yet...

I get an impulse, and I resist it. I get an idea, and I resist it. I am inspired, and I resist it.

Is it true, what Kathleen Norris says? That acedia of this sort afflicts those who do work that is self-motivated and carried out in solitude? (It feels like a chicken and egg sort of question to me...)

Now, this happened to me just a couple of days ago.

I have a deadline (a self-imposed one) to get a draft done of certain sections of a non-fiction book that I am working on. I have put off and put off this work and now the deadline looms (just like I like deadlines) and so I have to push myself.

On Friday, I decided that that would be the day that I would finally conquer this starting. All morning, I put it off by doing various tiny and inconsequential tasks. I ran out of inconsequential and moved onto made-up-on-the-spot-to-avoid-real-work tasks. All the while, my anxiety was growing at alarming rates.

And my internal dialogue was getting worse. I was telling myself that the work I was to do wasn't even worth it anyway, so why bother? I was questioning the very path I had chosen -- perhaps I would be better off doing something completely different.

Now this time, there was a difference. I've been doing enough yoga and meditation and prayer work that I was able to see what my mind was up to. And I knew that there was one doorway that would provide my clearest, safest escape.

A session of yoga. Kundalini yoga, to be exact. Forty five minutes of it. Mantra, breath work, postures, all of it.

When I was finished, I felt clear, and I got up, got out my typewriter, and set to work. I got four pages finished -- a good start for this project that will take much piecing together.

But it's been a couple of days now and I can feel the anxiety building again. I am doubting the work I did do and doubting my capacity to get back to it.

How do you deal with this demon of resistance?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

AwardBliss: Oops!

My first blog award!

Teal Marie Chamblo over at Blissful Body was kind enough to bestow the Oops! Award on Blisschick! This particular award was started by Amy Oops! (Too many exclamation marks!)

Part of this award, like so many of them, is to share the joy, spread around the happiness, pay it forward, so here are my five picks:

The Everything Yoga Blog written by Diane Cesa. I love how focused this blog is but how open at the same time. Sure, Diane is pretty much always writing about yoga (one of my favorite topics), but she is not always writing about the same yoga. Diane is a true connoisseur, loving the entire world of yoga and continually on the lookout for something new to share with her readers.

Anchors and Masts by Tess is fairly new to me, but I love Tess' voice in her blog, and I love, again, what a seeker she is.

Nerdy Renegade News written by Lisa. Lisa is bare naked honest and you have to love that. She doesn't hide any aspect of her journey. I respect forthright writers above all and Lisa is surely one of those.

Hip Tranquil Chick written by Kimberly Wilson, a real uber-chick as I wrote in my interview with her. Kimberly constantly inspires me to go for more and bigger and better. A creative whirlwind, she is a true role model for those of us with many loves in our lives.

And finally, (i) love life written by the artist Kal Barteski. I usually save this blog to read last. First of all, the photography is to die for. Second, Kal's energy comes right off the page. And third, again the honesty thing...she doesn't hold anything back, even (or especially) her grouch, and as a bit of a grouch myself, I admire someone who owns it!

Here are the rules for passing this on (if you so choose):

1) Pick 5 blogs that you would like to award this honor to.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Oops” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

MysticBliss: Hungry Ghosts Need to Have Some Faith

A close up of the last of the summer
flower gardens.

A bit of wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh's Touching Peace:

Our society produces millions of hungry ghosts, people of all ages -- I have seen some not yet ten years old -- who have no roots at all. They have never experienced happiness at home, and they have nothing to believe in or belong to. This is the main sickness of our time. With nothing to believe in, how can you survive? How can you find the energy to smile or to touch the linden tree or the beautiful sky? You are lost, and you live without a sense of responsibility...

Mindfulness is something we can believe in. It is our capacity to be aware of what is going on in the present moment. To believe in mindfulness is safe, and not at all abstract. When we drink a glass of water and know that we are drinking a glass of water, mindfulness is there. When we sit, walk, stand, or breathe, and know that we are sitting, walking, standing, or breathing, we touch the seed of mindfulness in us, and after a few days, our mindfulness will grow quite strong. Mindfulness is the kind of light that shows us the way. It is the living Buddha inside of each of us. Mindfulness gives birth to insight, awakening, compassion, and love.

Not only Buddhists, but also Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Marxists can accept that each of us has the capacity of being mindful, everyone has the seed of mindfulness in himself or herself. If we know how to water this seed, it will grow, and we will become alive again, capable of enjoying all the wonders of life...That is why if you ask me what I believe, I would say that I believe in mindfulness. Faith is the first of the five powers taught by the Buddha. The second is energy, the third mindfulness, the fourth concentration, and the fifth understanding. If you do not have faith, if you do not believe in anything, you are without energy...

It is not possible for us to throw away one thing and run after another. Whether our tradition is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or something else, we have to study the ways of our ancestors and find the best elements in the tradition for ourselves and our children. We have to live in a way that allows the ancestors in us to be liberated.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

BardBliss: Choked

Standing at the edge of the cliff at our new
state park makes me feel all tipsy.

I've written about the throat chakra and my experiences working with that area. Have you had any experiences with this energy center? Have you ever felt as though something were stuck? You had something to express that wasn't coming out?


Like a rock, all you have
said and done to me sits in
my throat. Every time I swallow,
it is an effort to make those muscles work,
moving saliva, food, gulped-for-air
around the obstruction, through the small
alleys of space that remain.

And when I try to speak, words sit
under, waiting to be pushed, almost
burped up into my mouth where they are
finally free to escape. Some,
as they ascend with speed, become
embedded and only add to the boulder.

Tears, if they come, work like
acid, burning small streams,
leaving behind fossilized trails.
But I am in a drought and this life
giving water, this saving mixture
of air and hydrogen and salt, is rare.

So a mountain grows in my throat.
Piece by piece, it assembles itself
out of your hard and jagged gifts.
You stuffed them in my mouth from the time
you knew me, desperate to rid yourself
of their weight.

--christine c. reed