Sunday, November 30, 2008

MysticBliss: Thomas Merton on Advent

Oh, that sky!

Did you go shopping this past "black" Friday?

If you did, no need to feel ashamed. (I know some people do.) It's hard to resist the sales, and I know that it can just be fun to be out and about, sharing in the holiday zeal.

The problem is, of course, that more often it is holiday "grouch." People are out and about spending money they don't have, stressing over buying gifts for people they feel they should know well but barely know at all, thinking ahead to all the baking and the card sending and the parties they would rather skip.

For a time of renewal and birth, we certainly are not tapping into any sort of meaning.

A reminder from Thomas Merton:

It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or unconsciously, as a return to our innocence and our own infancy. But the church, in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior, and a Prince of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, history, humanity, the world, and our own being. In Advent, we celebrate the coming, and indeed the presence, of Christ in our world.

Even if you no longer celebrate a "religious" Christmas, I think you can still partake of the larger and deeper meanings of peace and purpose and presence. How will you try to do this?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

BardBliss: For Federico Garcia Lorca, A Prayer of Sorts

I can't get enough of these Japanese Maple
leaves on the icy snow.


For Federico Garcia Lorca (an early draft)

on the drive out
to the country side
did you mourn for
your family?
did you lament
the lovers never
known or
did you foresee
all the poems
not written,
ache for all
the words not spilled,
like ink across your desk
(or blood across the sand)?

I imagine your
drive to your
death and I too
weep for the poems.
I feel your heart
constricting at the thought
of them
and I vow
to write more myself,
not to waste
a minute
with mundane
concerns, to open
my eyes to the land,
my heart to the sky,
to let the muse
pass through me,
take residence
in my blood
still flowing,
my heart still
beating.

the jazz piano
in the background
slows my pace
and the city
glows with fresh
snow and
people come and go
through the doors
of this cafe
unaware that I sit
and imagine
your death as I try
to re-imagine my
own life.

--christine c. reed

Friday, November 28, 2008

BlissQuest: Let Your Advent(ure) Begin!

Lilly Adeline upside down.

Listening to: It's officially time for this!

Bliss: Leftovers. Need I say more?

In my house, when I was little, we were C & E Catholics. You know -- Christmas and Easter was the only time you would catch us at mass, unless there was a funeral or a wedding or we were visiting my grandparents, who went every week.

We certainly never participated in or did anything for Lent and Advent, and now I know how much we were missing out on -- all that build up and preparation can just add to the actual day.

This Sunday is the first day of Advent, and this year, I am going to light the Advent candles. I love this ritual as a reminder and as a hint of the underlying paganism. This idea of Advent culminates in Christmas but also in the Winter Solstice and the return of light, so it only makes sense to be adding light to our candle wreath as we go through these coming days.

From Christmas/Winter Solstice on, we are building day time into our days. What a wonderful thing. This is one of the ways that I have learned to overcome a predisposition toward Seasonal Affective Disorder -- to really focus on that extra minute or two every day.

In the Catholic church, the Advent season is the beginning of the liturgical year, so you could say that this Sunday is New Years.

And, of course, the end of the Advent season is all about birth, a beautiful metaphor for your creative and spiritual life.

Perhaps you could build an altar with a candle wreath at the center and every Sunday when you light one and more of those candles, you could ask yourself or the universe or divinity what it is that is trying to birth itself through you. Do some journaling around this theme.

What do you want to bring to fruition over the coming year?

Be clear in your intentions and let them light your way.

Another idea: ask for or get yourself a Christmas gift that is centered around that intention. Painting or writing supplies. A fresh journal. Whatever it is that will help you with the step that comes after prayer and meditation: action!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

RandomBliss: Blogger Album Project

A birthday present, signifying a
new obsession: vinyl.

You all know how much I love music, and I know a lot of you feel the same way and that you look forward to finding, possibly, some new music when you come here to Blisschick.

I've written about the healing effects of music really early on in this blog, about how you can create or re-create your world with music.

There is barely a time when you would walk into our house and not hear music, and frankly, it confuses me when people don't play music in their homes or when they come here and don't ask what it is that we're playing (because so often I know we are playing something they've never heard).

Music, for both my partner and I, is as important as food and air; music is transcendence.

So it seems appropriate to this day of thanks to answer to a tag by Linda (a yogi who will be interviewed here) over at Ageless Hippie Chick and join in the Blogger Album Project.

THE RULES:

1. Post your list of the seven best albums, the seven bloggers you will tag, a copy of these rules, and a link back to this page.
2. Each person tagged will put a URL to their Blogger Album Project post along with a list of the seven best albums in the comment section HERE.
3. Feel free to post the “I Contributed to the Blogger Album Project” Award Graphic on your sidebar, along with a link back to this page.
4. Post a link back to the blogger who tagged you.

Now, I think it's impossible to list the "seven best albums." Obviously. I mean, maybe the seven best jazz quartet albums of a certain decade, and even that might not be specific enough.

I LOVE ALL MUSIC! There is something in every single genre to be admired and awed by.

But, I'll play, and I'll list what seven albums I am most consistently in love with and which will come to mind! Also, my list will focus on really representing the music of my generation.

Here we go:

1. The Joshua Tree by U2. This album never ceases to blow me away emotionally, and isn't that totally what music is for? And if you watch the documentary about its making, you'll be amazed at the musicianship especially of The Edge. And the bravery of Bono as a vocalist.

2. Seven & the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran. This album was the first one that I truly love love loved when I was about 16. The first time I heard the Reflex, I was transported. This album turned me into a true junkie. I had liked music always -- I was a dancer -- but this album changed me to a freak about music. I just look at the cover and feel elated.

3. Kick by INXS. Though this group tended to create a bit of filler on each album, their overall oeuvre is mind boggling due to the power of Michael Hutchence. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard of his death. I remember the exact moment. His voice was, I think, one of the greatest voices to grace this planet. Listen to some of the very late stuff that he was just starting to do before he died. Heart breaking. It puts a lump in my throat.

4. Temple of Low Men by Crowded House. I was just reading a critic writing about Neil Finn, who said that Neil has simply never made a misstep in his entire singer/song writing career, and that he just gets better with age. Exactly true. The lyrics, the orchestration...Neil (another Australian) is a God of Music.

5. Nine Heavens the new one by Niyaz with Azam Ali. I loved the work of this woman from the first sound out of her mouth. But seeing her live was like participating in prayer. And it's been said that this newest work is an utter evolution of Middle Eastern fusion. (And very cool: they include a second CD that is all acoustic, so the listener can hear the music without so much production.)

6. Toward the Within by Dead Can Dance. Soul moving. And if you can listen to Cantara and not feel utterly stunned, then you are lacking some soul. (And, sadly, I have watched a person listen to it and then go back to talking without even blinking.) Lisa Gerrard starts singing at about 2 minutes; put it on good speakers and listen to her voice build and build to the very end. I have listened to this song probably thousands of times and it never fails to give me goosebumps.

7. Places by Brad Mehldau. A jazz pianist who is two years younger than me and has already changed jazz piano so much that he has imitators. I can't possibly write about him without it sounding like hyperbole. But jazz critics feel the same way.

Okay, that was totally hard.

Here are the seven bloggers I am tagging:

Emma at Eriepressible (a fellow, local blogger!).

Caroline at the Zen in You.

Marisa at The Girl Who Cried Epiphany.

Sharon at Birdchick.

Diane at The Everything Yoga Blog.

Madelyn at Persisting Stars.

And Liz at Be Present, Be Here.

Play if you want!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SharedBliss: Chef Alekka, Owner of Give Me Some Sugar


Listening to: A great version of a great song.

Bliss: Today, I am accompanying our friend who had brain surgery to a doctor's appointment. What is bliss about this, you ask? We are going to discuss the fact that it is his meds -- and NOT further illness -- that are creating recently strange symptoms. YAY! Something that can be taken care of!

As some of you may realize, I have recently gotten involved in Facebook. If you haven't already, please join me there -- I love having the opportunity to get to know readers of blisschick even better.

Besides the chance to get to know readers better, I have also been fortunate enough to find some dear friends from way back when on Facebook. This is a strange and simultaneously wonderful experience. Strange to re-meet people who already know you so well -- or know some old version of you that still oddly applies. And wonderful for the same reasons.

My partner has gotten in touch with some of her friends from college. Chef Alekka is one of these. What a delightful surprise to meet someone from my partner's past who is the epitome of a blisschick! (Not that this is a total surprise, given my partner's own blisschickyness -- oh! a new word!)

Alekka runs her own company, Give Me Some Sugar, that provides in home cooking classes (in Chicago). She is also an adjunct pastry instructor. (Wouldn't you like to even eat the mistakes in that class!?) She also happens to be a fellow yogini and blog writer.

Note: Pay attention to the quotes on every page of Alekka's website. My favorite:

Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.
--Ernastine Ulmer

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

Teaching/Cooking. I come from a family of teachers and instructors. My career path found me at a very early age. Both my parents worked full time jobs, so one of our chores was to cook family dinners. I took it to the next level by coming home from school and picking up our copy of The Joy Of Cooking and seeing what I could create. My mother made bread every week and we had a garden in the back yard with many vegetables at my disposal. I did attend some college, but my heart was not in my classes. During the summer between sophomore and junior years, I visited some culinary schools, and with the encouragement of both my parents, I enrolled in culinary school and did not return to college. This was by far the best decision I made for myself.

Teaching came later. I went through many facets of the culinary world: Line cooking, prep work, catering, wedding cake making and corporate jobs. When I did decide to finally teach a class, I knew that it was the right “fit” for me. So once again, I quit my corporate pastry job to start my own business.

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

One of the biggest sacrifices was time spent with family. In the beginning of my career, and even to this day, I missed out on a lot of holidays and family gatherings. I tell my budding culinary students that people eat seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Also your social life is limited to people in the industry. We work long hours and weekends and holidays and this can burn people out quite early. You need to have a certain mind-set to maintain a healthy lifestyle and not go crazy!

Being a free-lance teacher has given me back the freedom to set my own schedule and make time for the most important thing in my life……..family and friends.

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

I love teaching people how to cook. It is a job that I enjoy and it encompasses everything that I am.

I used to get really stressed out with certain jobs and this would carry over into my personal life. I was seeing my life as a series of “jobs” that I started and eventually hated and then ended up leaving then starting the cycle all over.

Being my own boss and making my own schedule has made me a more relaxed and confident person. Now the only person that can piss me off over a job is myself!

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

Reading a really good book. Or tracking down a favorite family recipe from my past


What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

YOGA!!! I used to take a really great yoga class here in Chicago, but unfortunately because of my crazy schedule I have a hard time going once a week. Any personal yoga instructor in the Chicago area can call me ASAP!
*

(*You can find contact information for Alekka at her website.)

What music is your bliss?

I grew up listening to all types of music. Music of all kinds was constantly on in our house. My favorite music from my past:

Pink Floyd: The Wall & Dark Side Of The Moon
Seals and Croft : Diamond Girl
Free To Be You And Me: Various Artists

My parents would put on an album after they got home from work or before they went out, back then we thought our parents were weird, looking back they were really cool.

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

Books: The Joy Of Cooking
Mastering The Art of French Cooking- Julia Child
Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen
People: MY MOM & DAD


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

This is a tough one….I think people are always looking towards material things for happiness.

I had a good friend who sat me down during a time when I was really down and pointed out the following aspects of my life:
I have a great family

I have good friends who support me

I have a business that I created and I love what I am doing


It is the simple things in life that are my Bliss, plus a really good chocolate brownie!!


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

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
-George Bernard Shaw

Early on, Alekka started acting in ways that led to the life she has now. She knew what spoke to her heart, and she made choices based on that. It may have taken her some trial and error, but before very long, Alekka had connected all the dots.

The key for her was this ability to notice and admit the error and then to start over. She kept doing this until it all clicked. She could have easily decided to stay in a corporate job, convincing herself that "okay was good enough." But she pushed her own edges and took risks.

It was like she knew that brownies, though yummy, could taste even better -- and so she added a little of this and took out a little of that.

Life and brownies -- chocolate goodness is what we're all after.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OuterBliss: Oh, Is My Face Red!?

A coneflower wearing a snow hat.

Listening to: This is a bit old-ish but a video truly has everything when it has an Asian Elvis.

Bliss: My niece will be here from Columbus for a few hours this afternoon (on their way elsewhere, so a short visit). And our writing group meets for the second time tonight -- a real meeting where we'll talk about the work of two members.

A post in which the writer feels very vulnerable...

How much are you attached to the external you?

That's a new question that I am being challenged by lately.
A few months ago, I started noticing these hot flash type moments. Really intense. A fire started at my jaw line and spread over my cheeks like it was the dry season in California. My partner said that perhaps I was entering very early stages of menopause. Possible.
But then I started getting this crazy hot and itchy thing happening with my eyes. And then, finally, to seal the deal, my skin has these little pink irritations and a general blotchiness -- on my cheeks. Classic.

Rosacea.

Not bad, mind you, not bad at all. You would have to be standing very close to me to even notice anything at all "off." But I can see it and see it I do. I look at it. Too much. Every time I am in a bathroom. I stare at it, willing it away and probably just giving it more power in the process.
And alas, I am confronted by my vanity. Oh, ugly vanity.

I am confronted by the fact that all I do to act as if I am not vain -- the lack of make-up, the simple hair, the glasses -- alas all of that is a vanity concealing method that I have adopted.

There are no grades of vanity,
there are only grades of ability in concealing it.
-- Mark Twain

I've been somewhat aware of this, what I will call, reverse-vanity issue for a few years, as I have in those few years declared that I would be letting out my feathered and glittered self -- a self that I kept hidden for many reasons that I won't go into here. So I have been exploring for these few years what it is to allow myself to feel beautiful (argh, that was hard to even write), to feel attractive, to let myself put some effort into my outfits and the accessories, to dare to be noticed, to "pimp" myself, so to speak.

This seems a healthy exercise in not hiding your light under a bushel and all that.

But this....this red blotchiness on my skin. I feel myself worrying about what others are thinking of me. I worry that they see me as some sort of ... monster, like I can hear their thoughts: "Oh my god, why doesn't she cover that?" or "What is on her face?!" or "Oh, how sad, Christine used to be kinda cute...". Silly, of course, because most people aren't nearly that observant and even more people aren't nearly that mean.

Again, this is barely noticeable and it's bringing up so much "stuff."

I wonder how much I have walked around my whole life mistaking my body and my face for "me."

I wonder where I learned that my shell is so much more important than my guts.

I wonder what the hell I've been doing yoga and spiritual seeking for over all these years? So I could get stopped in my tracks by a little blotch on each cheek?!

I guess the yoga and the spiritual seeking are helping in two ways at this moment: first of all, I am able to recognize my behaviors, admit my weaknesses, and I am trying to work through it, figure it out, get something out of it.

And second, I am also able to look at the blotchiness as not just just a message from my spirit about my spirit but perhaps as a physical manifestation of some way that I am not physically taking care of myself. A small tap on the shoulder rather than a brick to the head about my health needs, whether nutritional or emotional or hormonal.

Whatever.

I still want it to just go away.

And, now, ladies and gentlemen, who is coming around the corner to join this discussion? Shame and guilt over feeling so strongly about something so silly; shame and guilt are sidling up to vanity. Oh, goody, now we can all have a tea party!

Monday, November 24, 2008

InnerBliss: Guidance from the Four Directions, Beginning in the East

A tulip poplar on the next block:
I love when the snow outlines
the edges
of the trees.

Listening to: A theme for the week.

Bliss: The sun on the snow yesterday was amazing. I loving walking in this weather. (Thanks to the these on the bottom of my boots, that is.)

By five, even if the sun has been up all day, it is getting dark now. And for the next few weeks, it will get darker still.

Many people are affected by this, as I used to be, but a side benefit of being a spiritual seeker is that sometimes you get to actually figure something out.

And for me, finding a deeper connection to the earth and her seasons has cured me of what I thought was seasonal affective disorder. Now I pay extra close attention during the changes and my new found fascination with the details has made it easier to tolerate the larger picture -- the darkness that can envelope us "too early."

I thought that, as we work our way toward the Winter Solstice (and the return of the light), we could take a closer look at the four directions and the meaning they can bring to our everyday experience of this life.

I will be bringing together thought from a variety of traditions, including Celtic, Native American, and modern pagan.

Starting with the East always makes sense: the start of our day comes from the East and the rising of the sun. And some traditions associate the East with the wind, which brings change in weather and moods:

I come to the East.
I ask the wind to clear away
preconceptions and muddy reasoning.
At this moment of sunrise, the beginning
of a new day, I come to thee
seeking the wisdom I may need.

(From A Priestess's Litany for a New Day by Grey Cat. For the whole thing, go here.)

To help facilitate any work you might want to do with this direction, here are some correspondences, taken from Spiral Dance:

The East's element is air; time is dawn; season is spring; colors are white, bright yellow, crimson; tools are athame, sword, censer; sense is smell; jewel is topaz; incense is frankincense; plants include myrrh, pansy, primrose, vervain, violet, and yarrow; animals are birds, especially the eagle and other hawks; goddesses include Aradia, Arianrhod, Cardea, Nuit, Urania.

According to the Lakota, the East is spirit and salvation; for the Celts, it is air, communication, and new beginnings.

I think of a Kundalini yoga exercise on one of the Ana Brett and Ravi Singh DVD's that goes like this: sit on folded knees and hold your arms out in front of you, palms up; lean back a bit and extend your face upward, so that you are using the back neck muscles to hold your gaze toward the sky. Do the breath of fire. Ravi says something amusing and smart (as usual) about tapping into the universal internet by doing this.

The receiving posture of the hands tells us a lot about working with the base energies of the East, energies that bring about inspiration.

This all makes the start of your day even more important on a literal and metaphorical level. We praise the rising of the sun, externally and internally, so that we might begin again, begin anew in whatever creative endeavors we are currently finding challenging.

Supplicating ourselves to the start of the day and staying in a posture where we are open and ready to receiving is of utmost importance. We want to begin as an open and clear channel so that we inspiration arrives, we notice it and are ready and able to receive it.

Here are some questions to consider:

Do you feel stuck in any part of your life right now? Do you think your stuck-ness anything to do with communication? It usually does. Think about how you communicate with others, with yourself, and with the larger universe. Are you communicating or just getting by?

Are you resisting new types of creativity that are trying to enter your life? Sometimes we have such preconceived notions about what it is that we do that we don't stay open to anything new and different.

Do you start your day in a way that leads to healthy productivity? Are you getting on the computer too soon? Do you always skip what is best for you -- like yoga, prayer, morning pages, a good breakfast?

For this coming week, perhaps think about all the ways the East works in your life.

You could set up an altar using some of the correspondences mentioned. You could write every morning about how you feel at the beginning of the day and then review later in the evening.

Let me know how it goes...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

MysticBliss: Kathleen Norris

Japanese maple leaves in snow, number 2.

I read Kathleen Norris' Dakota fourteen years ago, and it would have been this time of year that I did so. Her writing has been in and out of my life since then, weaving golden threads of wisdom in between the everyday cottons and wools, sometimes gleaming close together, sometimes many inches apart.

When I had to go to St. John's for a conference, I thought of her sitting where I was sitting, chanting the psalms with the monks as I was doing. I thought of her when I came upon the monks' cemetery and stared at the large, black marble cross.

And now I think I am embarking upon her best work ever and will bring up bits and pieces of it every chance I have.

But for today, a small selection from an earlier memoir, The Cloister Walk:

At St. John's I discovered the true purpose of vespers, which is to let my body tell me, at the end of the workday, just how tired I am. Often I'd come to vespers after dinner, and in the middle of a psalm, or in the silence between psalms, I'd find that my great plans for the evening -- to attend a concert, lecture, or a film -- were falling by the way...

Sitting in the choir, in the wooden seats that hadn't seemed so hard at morning prayer, or at noon or at Mass, I would realize that I'd been running for hours on nervous energy. Grateful for the quiet flow of vespers that had nudged me into acknowledging my weary state, I'd become more willing to do what my body asked of me: let the day suffice, with all its joys and failings, its little triumphs and defeats. I'd happily, if sleepily, welcome evening as a time of rest, and let it slip away, losing nothing.

Doesn't that just make you sigh?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

BardBliss: Li-Young Lee

Rosie cat demonstrating her annoyance
at all the photos of Lilly.

I once read an interview with the poet Li-Young Lee in which he spoke of the poet's calling being very much like that of a monk. This resonated with me, sounded very true from my own experience.

To reach the poetry that may be residing and waiting within you, there is a vast amount of cultivation that must be tended to. This includes much silence and sitting still and listening and watching. A sort of praying, really.

But then I wonder if not all of us are called in one way or another to a life more closely resembling that of a monk or poet?

Here is one poem by Li-Young Lee. I recommend reading anything by him you can get your hands on.

Pillow

There's nothing I can't find under there.
Voices in the trees, the missing pages
of the sea.

Everything but sleep.

And night is a river bridging
the speaking and the listening banks,

a fortress, undefended and inviolate.

There's nothing that won't fit under it:
fountains clogged with mud and leaves,
the houses of my childhood.

And night begins when my mother's fingers
let go of the thread
they've been tying and untying
to touch toward our fraying story's hem.

Night is the shadow of my father's hands
setting the clock for resurrection.

Or is it the clock unraveled, the numbers flown?

There's nothing that hasn't found home there:
discarded wings, lost shoes, a broken alphabet.

Everything but sleep. And night begins

with the first beheading
of the jasmine, its captive fragrance
rid at last of burial clothes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

BlissQuest: Where Positive Thinking Really Comes From

Lilly-sicles from the other night.

Listening to: Oh, I love this.

Bliss: Not having to leave the house, except to go outside later in my snow pants and take photos of this beautiful storm we've gotten. A winter wonderland out there!

The other day I brought home a movie I had put on hold at the library. I was felling a wee bit on the skeptical side about this film. To be truthful, I was expecting total, gooey, ripe cheese.

I have watched and loved films like this before -- like this one, for example. But I have also seen my share of bad movies (or the first ten minutes of them, to be more precise), and I have listened to my share of bad books on CD. For me, "bad" usually means some complex topic has been way over simplified, leaving the non-critical reader/listener/watcher to eventually give up or consider themselves a failure when trying the proposed techniques.

These oversimplified approaches usually take a hodgepodge approach, taking a bit from here, a sprinkle from there, until the philosophies and theologies are so distilled that they become a weak, tasteless soup, providing absolutely no nutrition.

I was expecting this very type of failed teaching from this recent DVD.

But, as is obvious at this point in my writing, I was totally surprised. There were a few things to learn from this. (And as a side note: what a woman! She is a perfect example of surviving in order to thrive!)

I'm sure a lot of you have done your fair share of reading about, thinking about, trying the whole positive affirmation thing. Who hasn't, if we are to be honest?

But in this DVD, I learned the missing link that most writers don't cover -- the emotion behind the positive affirmation.

Your thoughts are just reflections of your emotions which are just reflective of the vibration that you are putting out and it is this vibration that does all the miracle work, so to speak.

Since all of life is vibration, this makes sense.

So if you only change your thoughts, you are not going deeply enough to affect any real change.

You have to also change your emotions behind those thoughts.

Put another way: you have to believe with all your heart what you are saying and thinking.

We do this quite easily, don't we, with negative thinking? We quite easily believe that we are fat, that we are failures, that we are worthless, but to believe the opposite -- well, usually, we are just paying lip service to the good stuff.

As usual, then, we are at the "how" of it. How in the world do we change the emotion behind the thought?

The "how," of course, is where the real work comes in.

Set aside some time. Perhaps first thing in the morning, even while you are standing under the warm water of your shower if you feel really pressed.

Get yourself still. Breathe deeply. Now, think of your affirmation, perhaps "I am happy." (Affirmations are not wishes but statements of facts that already exist within you or the universe somewhere; you are calling forth that which already is.)

After thinking, "I am happy," enter that thought visually and concretely. What does "happy" look like to you. See it. See yourself smiling at your computer writing your book or peacefully sitting at the water with your family or confidently running a meeting. Whatever "happy" is. You might not even see a specific activity.

See it clearly. Get into the details of it. But don't get mired. Just watch it -- don't try to control the image.

Now here is the most important part of all: feel it. Enter the that image and feel what you are feeling. Feel what you already know.

Do this every day. Do this every chance you get.

Positive thinking, it turns out, does not come from your mind; positive thinking comes from your heart.

(Go here if you want to work on your heart energy center.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

RandomBliss: Turning 40

My best present, though
I am looking forward to the pile
awaiting me this evening!

Listening to: Even at 40, one of my all time favorite videos.

Bliss: My life. My partner. My animal friends. My writing. All the books I still have to read. All the music and wine I still have to sample.

I timed this post so that it would go live at 5 AM today -- the exact time that, forty years ago, I "went live."

Forty.

For a while now, I haven't been quite sure how I feel about this. Of course, it's "better than the alternative," but beyond that obvious fact, I've been feeling a little down. Judging myself for all I have not accomplished rather than focusing on and being thankful for all that I have accomplished and experienced.

And then a friend of ours went back in the hospital and he needs surgery -- again and too soon and my, we are all so worried about him and feeling quite sad at what very likely may be happening.

This easily puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

To hold onto that perspective when there isn't something there to remind you -- that is the key to a well lived life, a life always on purpose, a life lived in every minute.

So that is going to be my 40th birthday present to myself: Permanent Perspective.

The perspective that life is always excellent right now.

The perspective that no matter what happens, all will be well. (Thanks, Julian of Norwich!)

The perspective that we are here to be happy. Period.

The perspective that it is my mind and my spirit that creates this life and through my choices it manifests.

The perspective that love is all that matters -- and not the number of books I have or have not published or the size of my waist or the contents of my bank account.

The perspective that in every breath is an eternity.

I think this is worth eating some cake about!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Priestess & Seeker Aurora Collins

A recent pet portrait by Marcy:
Trixie as the Goddess Lakshmi

Listening to: It always amazes me how much this sounds like the music native to Tibet -- a culture completely isolated from the rest of the world. To me, it seems like evidence for the whole collective unconscious idea.

Bliss: Today is my last day in my 30's. There were times when I was younger that I felt so sad, so immersed in darkness that I did not know if I would make it to 34 (I am/was not being dramatic; it just felt that way)...and so I am thankful for the beautiful life I have. Tomorrow, it feels like I cross some sort of line, though I'm not sure what that means yet. So I am spending some time thinking about what it is I want out of my 40's. More tomorrow!

When it comes to spiritual exploration, I -- like many of you -- have been there and back again, as Bilbo Baggins would say. We have left home, crossed every kind of landscape, encountered danger in the shape and guise of dragons and trolls, fought hard, and returned home different than when we left.

As it should be. Whatever sort of spiritual life we have now, we are the richer for our struggle. I would not want it any other way.

My foray into pagan and Celtic and wiccan thought have added depth to where I currently reside. My spiritual life is not some cheap buffet but a banquet comprised of all the best cooking!

I have learned to notice and love each and every season, not just the ones that are "fun" or "easy." I have learned to count my days by the waxing and waning of the moon. I am constantly learning more about the night sky. I have a deep and forever love now of all mythology and its interconnectedness.

I see Quan Yin and earth goddesses and Mary not as some line of succession where one cruelly replaced the next but as one and the same -- manifestations of the eternal idea of creation and love, each with her own place, each calling to different people at different times, each essential.

About two years ago, I came across the writings of Jhenah Telynoru. She is a Priestess of Avalon and uses the stories of the British Isles as beautiful metaphorical pathways to our higher selves:

The Allegory of Avalon is profound in its simplicity; the path to reaching her shores is well marked. We are called to cross the lake -- to embark upon the journey through the unconscious -- the water realm of memory and emotion. From here we must part the mists -- rending the veil of illusion that obscures our clarity of sight. This artifice is the greatest barrier keeping us from obtaining our true goal -- reaching the Island of Avalon. The Holy Isle represents the truth of our sacred nature -- the paradisaical existence of the actualized Self. (Avalon Within)

We are all capable of crossing these waters and coming to Paradise. And there are many kinds of boats in which the crossing may occur -- or perhaps, you will choose to swim...or walk.

Magic. Prayer. Intention. Circle. Ceremony. Mass.

In the end it all has the same purpose: to raise our own energy to the highest, most divine vibrational level possible so that we affect all those around us through love and creativity.

Today, I am excited to offer this interview with Aurora Collins, priestess, fellow seeker, and energy raiser.

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

Being in tangible touch with Mother Earth has always brought me joy, peace, and the greatest feeling of at-one-ment. As a child, I spent all my available time in the woods, or walking across the fields near my home. It is here that I feel at home, and at night, I would spend hours stargazing and feeling a part of something much greater, much more profound, not religious but very full of spiritual fulfillment. Nothing else ever did that for me.

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

I found myself seeking through one religious system after another to find the place that felt “right” to me. I studied Mormonism, unity metaphysical Christianity, religious science, spiritualism, and read five different versions of the Bible. Then I fond Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch and I felt that she was living and teaching what I felt and knew inside myself. I made contact with her, and that led to learning from her, as well as studies with several others on a similar path. I founded two covens in the 80’s and 90’s and then was sidetracked to work with a Native American teacher and attended ceremonies that changed my life. It also brought me to the awareness that the Native traditions and the Old Celtic path were not different but actually very similar. My friends and associates in the “witch” world were not sympathetic and were incensed that I would go “native.” It actually gave me a more complete picture of how people so in tune with nature could create a magical life in a real day to day existence. Great sacrifice, great strength, and wonderful magic took place every day for them. And I wanted to share this and live in such a way myself. It gave me new direction and goals for my work. And great satisfaction.

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

I found that when I was in that bliss/atonement state that anything I needed or wanted would manifest quite effortlessly. When I was not in that state, roadblocks would appear out of nowhere...hence I learned that how I created my life was in my hands, so to speak.

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

Writing, being in circles or ceremony, being in a healing sweat lodge, meditation, standing in the wind, feeling the oneness of the elements, walking in the rain...it is almost sensual, this awareness of the elemental side of nature. And enjoying my animals.

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

Meditation, candle magic for healing, etc. giving thanks for all the wonders of nature.

What music is your bliss?

Enya, Celtic music, drumming, native flutes.

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

Ly de Angeles, Sybil Leek, Lynn Andrews, the Mists of Avalon series.

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

Follow your heart. Your instinctive self knows what it needs. Meditate in nature regularly. The universe will show you the way if you are aware and watch for the signs.

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

Magic is alive, the goddess is alive, magic is afoot, the goddess is alive.

--Buffy St. Marie

I love Aurora's emphasis on being aware. Holding your attention open to all the messages that are trying to get through, which can be difficult in our noisy times, but she gives us a clear piece of advice about how to do it -- get our butts outside!

Before I started exploring all of this, I hated the wind. Hated it! As if it intended anything toward me. But after a lot of reading and thinking and opening of my own eyes, I now have come to love the wind -- to see it as a harbinger of change. Now when it's really windy and I feel myself getting annoyed, I know to ask it to "blow my stink off."

In honor of Aurora, perhaps we could all think about changing our own mindsets about some aspect of Mother Nature. What about it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OuterBliss: Getting the Computer Monkey Off Your Back

The first big snow: a night thunder snow storm.

Listening to: One of my favorite songs of all time from a favorite holiday movie.

Bliss: Tonight my creative writing group will gather again for the first time in ... too long. We are starting over. We are all hopeful that this will help us each finish projects that are well on their way.

Connie over at DirtyFootprints joined Facebook recently and lamented that it would only add to her computer addiction. She asked that I write something about this to help others like herself, but you see, I'd have to help myself first!

My partner sometimes (and rightfully...I guess) declares herself a computer widow.

And I admit, I am online a lot, but I'm working, I whine.

And that's true. I do quite a bit of work when I am on the computer. This blog and the writing of it take a considerable amount of my time and effort. Besides, I enjoy it immensely.

But it does take away from other creative endeavors that become more and more pressing. There are books and poems to write, my heart cries out as I head toward the computer one more time.

For me, you see, poetry comes from a place of stillness and silence, and really, the computer is neither of those things. The computer is all about movement and speed and sound -- whether it be music playing in the background or just all the chatter out there.

Novel writing is also of a different flow than the computer allows for. My entire first draft was written on a red, 1969 manual Olivetti typewriter. The clickety clack creates a rhythm that matches my imaginative mind, and there is nothing like physically pulling paper from the typewriter as you finish a page and creating a stack to the right. Nothing like it on this planet!

I am, also, beginning to work on a nonfiction book, and the computer works perfectly for that. If I can manage to stay offline, that is.

So, though I don't like to admit it, the unfinished projects that are right now standing behind me, tapping me on the shoulder, dancing, crying, screaming, pacing -- all of them are evidence that I do have a bit of a problem.

What to do? Let's try an altered version of the 12 steps, shall we?

1. We admit we are powerless over our (pretty, smart, awesome, helpful) computers — that our lives have become over-managed.

Over-managed -- do you count on your computer for every little thing? Are you decreasing your own capacity for memory every time you add to your computer's? Are you able to stay curious about something or do you have to "google" every little thing that comes to mind?

2. We believe that a Power great and within ourselves can restore us to sanity.

I'm not talking Steve Jobs here. We are in control of ourselves; the computer is not at fault. (Poor, computer!)

3. We decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our internal (and/or external) divinity.

We've admitted we have a problem and now know that we also contain the solution.

4. We make a searching and fearless inventory of our healthy creative impulses.

This is important. Look deep within at your computer dependency and see what it is holding you back from. As I've already said, I know that I am killing poems with too much time on the computer.

5. We admit to others that we may have (sorta) a problem.

Has someone like my partner been telling you you have a problem? Let them know that they are right.

6. We are ready to make change.

Time for some lists, and I don't want you to make these on the computer! Get out that dusty paper journal that you've neglected and get out your favorite pen and start listing what changes you want to make in your day and your week. Perhaps start coming up with some Computer Rules & Regulations.

7. Humbly, we ask others for help.

Share your Rules & Regulations with someone who will hold you accountable.

8. We make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

I know that the computer can actually bite into my time with my sweet partner, so I owe her lots of dates!

9. We make direct amends to such people wherever possible.

Not only dates but I owe my partner more uninterrupted attention. When I say I am turning the computer off for the weekend, I need to mean it.

10. We continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admitted it.

This is important. I wrote about a life log not too long ago and now it's time to keep a computer log. The amount of time you are on and what you are doing.

11. We daily meditate our relationship to the computer and that relationship to our own creativity.

At the beginning of the day, think about what you really want to accomplish. Do you really need to look up all the movies that actress was in? Stick to your goals. Read your blogs (of course!) but don't go on some twisty path through blog roll land.

At the end of the day, look back and see if you were true to your deepest desires or did you cave to easy, momentary addictive behavior?

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to help others get the computer monkey off their backs and realize their full creative potential.

This is really what it's all about: that we are robbing ourselves (and thus the world) of our fullest potential. We are losing sight of our life purpose when we give into anything that is repetitive and mind-numbing, whether it be too much TV, too much candy type fiction, or too much time throwing snowballs at friends on Facebook.

Each of these behaviors also has its positive side, too, so this is not an "all or nothing" situation. No, this is about balance, the hardest thing of all.

I'd love to hear what other people think about this "computer problem."

Monday, November 17, 2008

InnerBliss: Taking Back that Hooker-Hugging Hippie

The Fall Garden: The Last Rose, which
will surely be gone after this rain/snow/ice mix.

Listening to: This because I like the line "Where I stop that's where you begin."

Bliss: Wonderful friends gathering this past Saturday to eat food and drink wine and celebrate my coming 40th. Wonderful, loving friends who embrace us completely.

Since Election Day, and especially over the past week, some of the conversations on blogs' comments have been utterly frightening and eye opening.

It seems that Proposition 8 has been an excuse for the haters on this planet to emerge from their dark, dank closets, which is fine because I've always believed that open hate is easier to deal with than that secret kind that boils under the surface or wears masks in public. I think if you are a hater, you should let it all hang out so the rest of us know what we are up against.

But what really bothers me is that these haters are emerging from their closets carrying the cross.

It makes me want to puke.

But not necessarily why you think.

It makes me want to puke for the damage it does to what Christianity really is and should be. It makes me want to puke because it gives the intellectuals and the radicals and the liberals of my own day and age even more reason to push Christianity away, to say things like "well, that's organized religion for you," or to run away to Eastern religions as if Christianity weren't an Eastern religion that happened to migrate.

What I wish would happen instead? I wish we (because I include myself in this group) -- the liberals and the intellectuals and the radicals of my own day and age -- would take this religion back from the clutches of the haters.

I wish we would all stand up and declare Christianity off limits for anyone who doesn't get the basic message of love and compassion.

I wish our kind would fill the pews and the aisles and the choirs and let our voices ring with the true power of this Hooker-Hugging Hippie's message.

I wish we would stop letting the haters drive us out of what is rightfully ours.

Christ was a radical who died for his espousal of tolerance and love for all; he was killed because he sat down to dinner with the outsiders of his time; he himself was hated and feared because he taught us that God was not the war-monger of the Old Testament but rather a loving father who wanted nothing more or less than to take care of us.

How dare we allow the haters to take over his name? To take over the churches named after him? We have failed him miserably; he dies over and over for our failure.

Yes, religions are human made institutions in response to the lives of great teachers. So why allow the haters to determine the shape of these institutions? Why allow the haters to deform this great teacher's vision?

Why abandon him to them?

As I used to sing in my grandmother's church when I was very small, "Jesus loves me, this I know."

And no one can tell me any different.

It is time to call for another reformation, and this time, the reformation must be one of love. It is time to take Christianity back as a path toward individual enlightenment that leads to a community of compassionate thinkers and creators -- the heaven on earth that Christ spoke of most people being blind to.

It is time to expose the haters for what they are: liars drunk on power.

Did you know, for example, that the Mormon church (the church that poured 20 million dollars into prop 8 and sent their children to school with hate sloganed t-shirts) was founded by a man who took three "disciples" into the woods, starved them for a week, and then used their "visions" to justify his claim to a new found "bible," a bible composed of bits and pieces that he had most likely heard and seen in small plays that were traveling through towns he had been in. Did you know this Mormon "Bible" contains bits of Shakespeare? I'm not sure that that actually qualifies as "divine revelation."

And that is just the tip of that particular Hate Iceberg.

Cults like this must no longer be allowed to claim Christ for their own.

He is ours. Christ belongs to the down trodden. Christ belongs to the outsiders. Christ belongs to those willing to walk the most difficult path of all -- that of love for the other.

He calls us to strip away our preconceived notions, to rid ourselves of judgement and intolerance, to work at ourselves like great sculptors work on marble -- getting rid of anything that is in the way of the beautiful essence.

Christ was not a rule follower or a rule maker. He actually asked that people break rules that they took for granted as "good." Give away everything (hello, redistribution of wealth!), leave your family, follow me, he said. He asked that we do the hardest things of all. Because we aren't here to be cozy and comfortable -- that does not encourage growth of any kind.

He also said that the poor would always be with us, and as this Proposition 8 discussion so clearly illustrates, he was speaking not only of the materially poor but of the poor of love, the poor of spirit, the poor of compassion -- the kind of which we have an obvious overabundance.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

MysticBliss: Your Heart Holds the Universe

The Fall Garden: A Chinese Lantern

Earlier this week, I wrote about realizing that I am not here to shrink my heart, which is vast and beautiful and contains infinite love. I thought we could end the week (or begin it -- whichever you prefer) on this note:


You are not just a meaningless fragment in an alien universe, briefly suspended between life and death, allowed a few short-lived pleasures followed by pain and ultimate annihilation. Underneath your outer form, you are connected with something so vast, so immeasurable and sacred, that it cannot be spoken of - yet I am speaking of it now. I am speaking of it now not to give you something to believe in but to show you how you can know it for yourself.

--Eckhart Tolle


Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. This house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized. Even so large as the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, moon, the lightning and all the stars. Whatever is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm also.

--Chandogya Upanishad

Saturday, November 15, 2008

BardBliss: Glimpsed, Again

The Fall Garden:
This color has not been altered at all!

This post made me think of this poem, which I posted at the very beginning of June, but I think it's worth posting again:

Glimpsed

They say that inside my
chest resides a flower
and at the center sits
God, smiling.

I sit and try to feel this,
try to know this.
Blossoming inside each of us
is a universe, radiating.

I sit and try to visualize
the stars, the planets, the giant
clouds birthing galaxies,
all of this deep

Within my ribs, deep inside
my cells, beyond the quarks
and the strings, a tiny wholeness
within a separateness

that is me.

I try, but only for a brief
moment, so brief it’s easily
missed, do I grasp my true size
and then it slips

and I am left
empty, holding only an aching
memory.

--christine c. reed

Friday, November 14, 2008

BlissQuest: What is Left Not Grieved?

Fall Garden: The Asparagus Bed

Listening to: Swedish Rock? Yep, brand new though it looks and sounds like the 60's.

Bliss: I am already looking forward to dinner -- gluten free pizza. I'm all about the food! And tomorrow night, a friend is having a birthday dinner for me, to start off my birthday week. Six days and counting until the big 4-0.

It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses.
~Colette

This is what it's been like having the energy and giant joy of a kitten enter this house. Lilly has brought so much happiness that she has uncovered the sad that I still hadn't worked through.

Grief, mourning...it all takes so much longer than any list of steps would have you believe. It comes and goes and comes again, a surprise that blindsides you when you least expect it, when you think that you are finally through it.

But I don't really think there is ever any getting through it. Yes, we get to the point where the feeling of it is not as powerful, not as able to knock us down, take away our breath, but I don't think the process is ever finished. That loved one will always be missed.

At the same time, this is what keeps the love alive, what keeps your relationship to that loved one evolving.

Because even beyond death, there is relationship. At least in my book.

In this culture, grief is something to hide from others and something to get over and move on from.

I think that this is a large part of the reason there is so much diagnosed depression in our day and age. There are all these wounded, grieving people walking around. And their wounds are open and infected, having never been tended to.

Grief is a story, and when we don't tell that story and construct something positive from it, it hurts us.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.
~William Shakespeare

There is more to grieve in this life than the loss of a loved one and thus the large masses of depressed individuals.

We don't see to it that we properly grieve a childhood unlived, parents who were not parents, dreams unrealized, parts of ourselves that have been lost...all of it needs to be grieved and the story of it needs to be told, as many times as it takes.

Right now, I think about all the joy we are feeling over President Elect Obama, but I think that it will very soon bring up a lot of pain and anger over the last eight years and the death and destruction they have brought.

And it is only right that we talk about it, get it out, cry, and scream until its power is no more.

We acquire the strength we have overcome.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Again, what we are talking about is repression. Repressed emotions just end up coming out in counterproductive ways. But expressed emotions, even when they feel rotten, the energy of them ends up creating something new and good, something that couldn't have been otherwise.

And repressed emotions, grief we haven't grieved, it all holds us back from our bliss, it all stifles our creative powers.

So what is it that you've not grieved? What sadness have you stuffed deep down and need to invite up and into the light?

She was no longer wrestling with the grief,
but could sit down with it as a lasting
companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.
~George Eliot

Thursday, November 13, 2008

RandomBliss: Take the Handmade Pledge!

First snow, which was late and is already gone.
(Japanese Maple leaves, front yard.)

Listening to: New British pop, totally 80's inspired. Woot!

Bliss: A new kitten who is already so into cuddling that she kept me in bed way too late this morning! Finding old friends on Facebook.

I've written before about the revolutionary beauty of the Internet in terms of the positive economic impact on artists and crafts people. Imagine that only twenty years ago, it was thought that to be an "artist" you had to live in New York City. Same for being a writer. To survive making and selling your craft, it was said, you better move to a large city. And you better try to get an arts agent. And if you're lucky, you could sell your ideas to a large merchandiser.

Because GOOD LUCK trying to do it on your own.

Well, no more.

Now there is the Internet: A global marketplace that creates localized economies.

Now you could live in the woods and sell paintings all over the world.

You could make jewelry in a cottage on the beach and get orders from India.

You can live in Anywhere USA or Anywhere World and your potential clientele is literally limitless. Of course, competition is fierce, but we are no longer living in a "Scarcity" mentality as artists; we are into abundance land.

As fellow artists, most importantly, we can support each other, and what better time to do this than the holidays?

You need gifts for family members and friends and colleagues, and instead of running to some generic mall and getting people things they never need, why not buy them something made with care and love? At the same time, you are spreading the word for that particular artist, which is the equivalent of spreading the word for all artists.

So this year, my partner (an artist who takes commissions) and I are taking the Handmade Pledge. All our gifts (besides a few books) will be handmade. Will you take the pledge, too?


I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org