Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Prayer for Light

We gather to pray for the return of the light. Teetering on the thin edge of light, entering fully into the darkness, there is no way out but through. Each year, we wrestle with this unwilled descent into shadow, each alone with it, facing down our individual darknesses.

And yet, we can, and we do, gather to pray for the return of light, for lightness of heart, for the luminescence of a full-throated summer sun, for a light spirit treading lightly in the world.

We cherish and trim our candles, and hold them high in the darkness. In this hearth-keeping, this light-kindling, we feel a long connection with women down through the ages who have worked, mightily, to do the same for the ones they love, and for themselves. And the light does not, did not, illuminate only—no, it throws off warmth as well, to thaw the deep chill and unfreeze the mind.

I wish so fervently to nourish an illuminating, warming life force in myself, to fan it into a bright flame, letting it penetrate all my being and all my doing, and then to project it bravely beyond myself. I pray for the return of the light, in my world and in the world.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse 
from Our Solstice Sampler, December 19, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Take the 10/10/10 challenge

Fresh off the winds of November, widely known in writing circles as National Novel Writing Month or NANOWRIMO, or writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, I would like to present readers and writers with a new challenge. Please consider taking the 10/10/10 challenge: read 10 books, in each of 10 genres in 10 months from January 1st to October 31st.You should read genres that you do not normally read.  That would be 10 books a month for 100 books by the end of the challenge period.

I read an interesting essay as November began this year. The writer opined that while we were all so busy writing bad novels, there was a lot of great reading to be done and maybe we shouldn't waste our time writing bad fiction when we could become better writers simply by reading more.  We need to read more. She then introduced me to 10/10/10.

I gave up on NANOWRIMO several years ago. I just couldn't get excited about churning out really bad prose any more, and after reading this essay I am sure it was the right choice. Now I am intrigued by reading 100 books next year. I am an avid reader and my best reading record so far is 52 books in a year--a book a week. So this challenge seems daunting, but the spirit of it is simply to stretch beyond one's normal reading preferences to read things one would not normally read. And maybe, just maybe, to learn something about writing and the world.

So join me--in reading some new books in the new year. The first one on my list is a book of short stories by Nobel Prize winner Alice Monro.  What is the first new book on your list?

 Amy for the PGM.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I am a lifelong Logophile, a lover of words.  Words have been my friends for as long as I can remember. Before I learned to read I remember watching my mother, lost in reading her paperbacks and my dad being totally engrossed in his newspaper. I couldn’t wait to find out what that was all about

As I was growing up, I’m sure my family thought I was lying on my bed reading. But I was actually in England in a haunted mansion, or in Egypt excavating the tombs and reading hieroglyphics, or following Mowgli and Baloo through the jungle.  Words transported me to someplace else, which was exactly where I needed to be.

 I love the way words wrap themselves around your ears and touch your soul.Words spoken or written have the power to heal, wound, inspire and incite.  They change our world. Adolph Hitler used words to incite a whole country to commit atrocities that went against their very nature.  Randy Pausch inspired people to face death with grace and positivity, but to also live life to the fullest in his book The Last Lecture.  Jane Austen made young girls everywhere believe that true love was possible even if the odds were against them. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turned us into amateur sleuths after reading Sherlock Holmes. Social media, through Tweeting and Facebook connected people who were determined to overthrow a corrupt leader in Egypt. 
Words matter. As is evidenced in our schools with all the bullying that is going on today. I remember my mother never allowing anyone to call me “Red”. She didn’t want me to be diminished by a nickname that only spoke to the color of my hair and not who I really was. In grade school some boys would say to me, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head”. This gave me permission to chase them around the playground and show them how weak they were in the running department.

The word vagina can titillate a room full of women who were born with one when they were asked to ponder, “What was my vagina doing in 1988?”

Sometimes our own words can come back to bite us in the butt, for instance, when we make statements like  I would never…

We begin learning at a very early age how to be effective communicators with our words and how we use them.  My son learned early on that whining got him nowhere. 

Everyday I receive A. Word. A. Day  from:

I’m still learning.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Past Life Remembered

She was an elderly woman to have such a young child.  This child had been born at the very end of her childbearing possibility.  She was a poor, Tibetan widow.  He husband had died a few months before the birth of this last child.  Her other children were adults with families of their own to care for.  She could not ask them to take on responsibility for this damaged child.  He had been born with a cleft lip and he was also very slow to develop.  She knew that his mind would never develop normally and he would be unable to make his own way in the world.  She was sick.  She knew she was very sick and soon to die.  She thought about how to ensure this sweet child’s survival.  He was sweet.  His spirit was whole and bright in a damaged body and mind.

She decided at last to take this young boy to the monastery.  She knew that he would be allowed to live there and be of some use to the monks.  He could perform simple tasks.  He wanted to be helpful.  The sweetness of his spirit would surely be recognized by the monks.

She explained to him, over and over, that he would live with the monks when she went to rebirth and that they would certainly be together again in another life and that she would hold him, warm in her love, for all of his life.  She wasn’t sure how much he understood, but she knew that he was certain of her love and that he took that fully into his heart.
She and the boy traveled for two days to reach the monastery.  It took her to the limit of her endurance.  But she had to see him safe before she could let go of this life and this sick, painful body.  She explained her situation to the Abbot of the monastery and kissed her son goodbye.

When his mother left, the boy was shown the long stone hallways, lit with candles.  He was given a little cot in a small alcove off the kitchen.  He was to help the cook in any way that he was asked.  He liked to set the tables with bowls and spoons for each of the monks.  He loved using the broom and the mop to clean the stone floors after each meal.  He was rarely spoken to.  But some monks looked deep into his eyes and smiled at the light inside him.  He loved this more than anything else in his life.  He felt seen and known in those small moments and it filled his heart with the love that he had known from his mother.  Other monks refused to meet his eyes.  They ignored him as if he were an inanimate object.  That made him feel so alone.  He tried to engage those monks, but they avoided looking at him.

One of the happiest moments of his life happened one summer day when he was helping an old, wrinkled, bent monk who was working in the garden.  He was helping weed the vegetables as he had been shown to do.  The old gardener picked a ripe, red globe from a vine and held it out to him.  As he reached to take the offered gift, the old gardener smiled at him and looked so deeply into his eyes that it warmed his heart completely.  He felt the joy of being seen and known for the goodness that he was.  He felt happy to be alive in this moment.  He held that moment in his memory and he remembered it at nights before he fell asleep and relived the joy and warmth of the smile and the recognition he felt from the old gardener.

He lived for many years in the monastery.  He did the simple tasks he was assigned and took satisfaction in being a useful member of the community.  He especially enjoyed hearing the monks chanting and it brought a feeling of ease and peace to him.
At the end of his life, he was lying on a cot in a small, stone cell.  It was dark night, but there were candles all around the room.  Two monks were with him and they chanted beside him for a long time.  At last, he felt the light of his life force being pulled up and out the top of his head.  It felt so blissful.  It was the best thing he had ever experienced—the light being drawn up and out into the universe.  This life was over.

Veda for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, November 11, 2013


A sky so empty it’s full.
And my now-grown child’s long-ago question from the back seat of a mini-van: how can you feel something you can’t touch?

Today, having left Bloomington for the northern shores of Lake Michigan, I creep to the edges of things. Seeking rest, my mind wanders busily off and comes back.  I look up, look down the curved stretch of beach and in a dizzying moment of exposure to the elements, think it’s a teeter- totter world. 

Another word for teeter-totter is see-saw -- an Anglican version of the French,  ci-ca, literally translated, as This-That.

On a playground of my youth, we spent recess on long red boards across from one another. We learned to move up and down on a fulcrum, pushed with our legs, felt in our bellies the effects of weight and effort.  Physics before there were formulas.

Push too hard for a thrill, and you get bucked into the air.  Step off before your partner is ready, you send them hard to the ground.  We learned the power of plummeting, of holding on, of scootching by inches to find the perfect balancing point; the this and that of collaboration, cooperation, trust.

These lessons continue well into adulthood.  I know I’m not alone in a quest for the right balance of things, and though I cannot exactly achieve that balance often, I can feel it every once in a great while.

I cannot touch the emptiness of this sky, yet as I listen to wind across the water, as I take in a great emptiness above me cupped in the flaming colors of autumn, the blue lake stretching to the horizon and a smaller version of me contained therein, I feel the comfort of containment.  With very little effort, I feel a momentary weightlessness.  Here, so small in the large world with forces of nature in their own moment of unforced perfection, I FEEL what I cannot touch. The bigger thing.   Held in the Mystery.  A direct line of connection to the empty sky above. 

There’s an equilibrium to this.  A balance of empty and full.  Getting away from my daily routine helps.   I see it.  Next week I’ll need to remember that I saw it today.  

See-Saw.  Teeter-Totter.  Most days, and the whole rest of my life is an up and down ride. My longer-term stability depends on the moments I listen to the wind, feel without touching the real gift of emptiness and look for signs that remind me ultimately that there are instances, however rare, of perfect balance, if only we look and listen and feel our way into them.   

BLR  for the Poplar Grove Muse 

Monday, November 4, 2013

When someone else's finger goes inside your nose

When someone else's finger goes inside your nose, it leaves a permanent impression.

Catherine stood over me with her latex glove pointer finger inside my right nostril.

"I never force the nose work," she says "I just wait for it to open."

I could hear the clock ticking, feel her finger sliding deeper into my nostril.  I wondered if she would reach something painful, or sweetly discomforting.  Her finger just kept going in.  I imagined  her finding my brain up in there.  When it didn't go any further she just stopped.  At some point I opened my mouth to breathe out.

I'd always been taught that a finger in the nose is not a polite gesture, but I've found Rolfing is not much concerned with politeness.

Since June, I've been receiving the Rolfing 10 series as part of the initiation or prerequisite to attend the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, CO.  Flash back to my first session, undressed taking laps around the table.  Laying curious, asking..."are you pulling on my intestines?"  Yes, she was.

"If you like the nose work you're a natural Rolfer." 

Catherine slid her finger out of one nostril and into the other.  I giggled.

Rolfing is a form of bodywork and way of seeing that works with the human form in gravity.  And the form is worked directly on through connective tissue.  Its been around more than 50 years and many people that I talk to have either received some Rolfing or knows someone who has.  It's been interesting to navigate the stories of people who have received the work.  Some people I'd talked with in the beginning reported pain or aversion, that it felt like too much.  I've never felt it to be the case in any session, even when the Rolfer did have my intestines.  Curious what feels like pain to some.

It's hard to communicate the essence of a fundamental change while in it.  I feel like a vitally different person, and it feels wild that I appear as the same person I was to anyone.  The loudness of my voice has changed, I can feel my legs, and differentiate the vertebrae of my low back.  My morning walks feel like I have taken awareness into a whole new person's form.

It occurs to me that I will soon be putting my fingers in other people's nostrils.  And in other people's mouths.  I will soon be looking at the human form in a new way and using my fists and elbows to work and move flesh, and tissue.  I will be putting my hand in people's armpits and backsides.

And I can't wait!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The other day I realized that I have lived in my Bloomington house longer than I have ever lived in one place, nine-going-on-ten years.  For a girl who spent her first years in small-town South Dakota, with both grandmothers in town, my life of frequent moves has come as something of a surprise, one I may never quite get over....  
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse


I didn’t always live in a cookie-cutter house, in a subdivision where every street, every house, looked the same to me when I arrived and I didn’t know my way home for the first week.

Before that, home was a comfortably shabby two-story colonial on a fast country road, hidden on all sides of more than an acre by encroaching trees, and from my pillow I heard coyotes singing.

Before that, I lived in a box of glass and concrete, beside a lush walled garden, by a famous river, in a historic city, and walked my firstborn through the Revolutionary War history she studies now.

Before that, I inhabited a secret cottage behind a front house, where outside and inside blurred, and a tiny latched window in the bathroom looked out onto tile and skylights and our dining table.

Before that, I lived briefly in a different secret cottage behind a front house, where our golden retriever preferred to drink from the pool—the world’s largest dog dish—and we watched ripples travel out from his tongue across the turquoise expanse of water.

Before that, I lived high in a concrete tower above a stoplight where motors gunned and rap boomed all day and all night, and had to coax the dog onto an elevator for every outing.

Before that I rented the front of a house, lodger to a woman who endlessly created tasks for me to fill the time I owed her in exchange for rent, until she died and her husband was too griefstricken to speak to me.

Before that, I perched briefly on a mountain slope looking west over sparkling ocean sunsets, breathing eucalyptus and watching fog rise out of an overgrown gulch each morning.

Before that, I read Beowulf in a stone millhouse that straddled a river, behind a medieval deer park, and slept in a room paneled in dark wood with leaded glass windows that opened onto the rush of waters, and walked home lit only by moonlight.

Before that, I lived in a tenement by the el, and painted my windowsills bright green, and was the only one in the apartment to empty the mousetraps.

Before that, and before that, and before that, I lived in a succession of my parents’ Midwestern colonial homes, where the Ethan Allen furniture inhabited different rooms in changing configurations, and my mother managed to make each one feel enough like home for us all to get by, and I never knew the neighbors.

Before that, I lived in a big stucco house with a haunted attic and a scary octopus furnace in the dark basement filled with coaldust, and had my own room with four doors leading out from it, and a pigeon coop on the garage roof, and we burned leaves in the side yard in autumn.

Before that, I lived in a small frame house, and led neighbor children around the long block to my grandmother’s, where she gave us coconut cookies and licorice at the side door, and when we moved away, I vowed I would map the location of each piece of furniture in the house on graph paper so I would never forget my home, but I never did.