Scent and memory

A few years ago a new Soft Surroundings catalog introduced a new scent, “L”.  I love sampling scents and I’ve really liked some of theirs, so I rubbed the back of my hand and inhaled.  The main scent I caught seemed so odd, I grabbed the catalog to read the list of included scents.  Nope, I called it.  Tobacco.

I loved the whole scent, so I bought a “rollerball”.  At first when I wore it and caught whiffs of the tobacco, I’d remember back to my dad’s pipe-smoking days and how much I liked the scent of tobacco when he opened a pouch and got ready to fill his pipe.  Not the smell of smoke after he lit it, the scent of the tobacco.

Recently I realized, though, there’s a deeper memory associated with the perfume.  Lexington used to have lots of tobacco barns where they dried tobacco.  When you drove past certain parts of town, the sweet smell of drying leaves wafted through the air.  During my summer visits, we’d pass through areas where the aroma filled the air and I loved every breath.

If you’ve never been in tobacco country and the only smell you associate is the smell of cigarette or cigar smoke, you probably can’t imagine the lovely, sweet smell of drying tobacco.  For many reasons, it isn’t a scent I ever catch in the breeze here now.

Lexington has changed from a small, sweet, mostly-Southern city to a mid-size metropolis in which the charm and gentle nature it once held are largely lost.  Sometimes in the historic center, where my aunt and grandmother lived for many years, or in a ride out country roads where much remains the same, I catch the feeling I loved when I spent my childhood summers here.

I try to live in the now, but I have my moments of nostalgia or longing for lost places of childhood.  Mostly it’s gone, that Lexington I adored.  And I miss the sweet tobacco scent on the wind.  But some days, when I dot some “L” on my wrists, the tobacco barns are still there, the leaves drying sweetly.

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So few degrees of separation

William Brewster

William Brewster

My parents, at 92, don’t really shop any more.  So for birthdays and holidays they give a check and I pick my own gift.  This year for my birthday I bought an Ancestry DNA test and then took advantage of a sale and purchased six months of membership so I’d be able to take advantage of the test results.  I’ve been immersed in research ever since and feeling such shifts because of it.

Thomas Prence

I’ve filled in some extensive branches of the tree, found out I’m a Mayflower Descendant, a many times great granddaughter of a governor of the Plymouth Colony and a distant cousin to Frank and Jesse James.  Oh and my great grandfather died as a result of wounds sustained in a knife fight with a Constable who was trying to arrest him.  Whew.

Thomas Gaitskill stabbing

All the research I’ve done before this seemed to lead to poor tenant farmers who left the British Isles to try for a better chance over here.  And everyone I’d found owned a farm over here.  I thought of my ancestors as up-by-the-bootstraps poor folks, some of whom prospered well in the “new land”.  I saw poverty consciousness, anger and repression.

Now I see the Gaitskills were actually ship captains for a few generations.  And bunches of my ancestors were fairly prominent in the Virginia Colony.  It’s hard to describe the inner shift it creates to feel I came from people from all walks of life and that they weren’t all poor and scrabbling.  I have the qualities of those leaders and movers and shakers in me as well.  It makes me feel…  different.

As I discover surname after surname on my tree, read histories of Colonial Virginia that are loaded with these names, check out the migration pattern of all those names into Kentucky, and extend my tree, I’m so amazed to realize all these connections.  To see that I have cousins of various levels by the hundreds of thousands out there [just to give you an idea, they estimate the number of current descendants of my one 10x great grandfather Mayflower passenger is multi-thousands and we all have 4196 10x great grandparents — do the math!!!].  Suddenly it’s so clear that the “one web” isn’t just an amorphous spiritual concept but a physical reality.

Just as I found out several years ago that an acquaintance of several years is actually my double fourth cousin, we’re all probably passing cousins in the street all the time, friends with cousins, working with cousins.  My seemingly all-British roots turn out to go back to Europe and ancestors who entered Britain as part of the Norman invasion, according to the DNA test.  And there are hints of ancestors before that who go back to some sort of migration from India.  Slaveholders in my tree have provided me with Black cousins.  My cousin’s children are half Chinese.  I’m connected to every other race and many ethnicities even though hundreds of years of history say I’m WASP through and through.

I’m sure the same is true of most of the people who wear their whiteness as some sort of badge of honor that makes them better or more entitled or whatever their goofy thought process is.  If they only knew their whole ancestral picture I wonder if it might change them?  It becomes so clear — at least to me — that we are all separated by only a few degrees.  One.  All one.

The Universe is listening

Chapman Dr, Corte Madera

The final ruminations arising from the phone call with my friend last week are intertwined with another friend asking if I’d like to do yoga together once a week.  The yoga offer came first and I quickly realized it would be just the thing.  Then when the phone call wound up with a suggestion to start getting together to help one another hold space as we traverse “the liminal phase” my heart began to sing.

For a couple of years now I’ve been feeling enough better to be realizing I need to get a social life — or some sort of life outside the house — going again.  Sorting through options I realized I really don’t particularly enjoy group activities unless everyone is participating in some sort of spiritual ceremony or meditation, etc.  I prefer one on one or small groups of 3 or 4 and to carry on deep conversations or to engage in some sort of practice that helps us stay grounded, balanced, tuned in…

When I first moved to Lexington I spent the first couple of years in a concerted effort to try out churches, meditation groups, book groups, etc. in order to meet people and make friends.  I wound up involved in a group in another town near here and then, through a couple of people there, in another group here in Lexington.  After a few years a number of the folks I felt close to moved away and then the various groups dissipated, the church closed, and so forth.  By then my struggles with the muscles and not sleeping were severe so I didn’t have much interest in socializing and certainly not in starting over.

I still have no desire to go through the kind of trying and joining and sifting process I went through on arrival here and really not a lot of interest in the kinds of groups I sought.  So, I’ve been hanging around knowing I need to get out and do more things with people other than my 92-year-old mother and that I wanted one on one activities with some kind of deep connection, but not how to make it happen.

So having two people I adore get in touch about starting just exactly the kind of get-togethers I didn’t quite know I was dreaming of felt like a wave of blessings and rightness washing over me.  I feel like the Universe was listening to the whispers in my mind and put together the perfect answer to a prayer I hadn’t quite said.  I also feel it says something about the shifts and opening in me that these two perfect offers appeared within a week or two of each other.

Although a lot of the teachings out there on manifestation are firm about the need to be specific, visualize exactly, etc., I’ve often had experiences more like this one.  Some vague longings and thoughts move through me and sometime thereafter an amazing solution that takes all the ramblings and feelings into account shows up.  In this case I also feel like the direction of both activities toward staying balanced and holding a certain kind of space in these chaotic times is part of my path forward into becoming the emissary of peace I aspire to be even if I still don’t see precisely what the path is.

It just feels like a moment of amazing grace and I’m drinking it in and feeling so grateful and full of joy!

Being a trailblazer

Last time I talked about a recent phone conversation that has been a big spark for thinking about this transition time I’ve been in.  The same discussion ignited a lengthy examination of my role in being one of the spiritual trailblazers who’ve been moving ahead of the curve.

It’s not how I would usually think of myself.  And even writing about this makes me realize there’s still a big issue to explore about wanting to always be humble and not take credit for anything “big”.  But I started seeing at least 10 or 12 years ago that some of my thinking about a lot of spiritual things and especially the application of spiritual principles in the world, was not in the same place as other people I knew or other people in general on a similar path.

At first, since I tend to be an outsider, I assumed I was just out of step — as usual.  But then one of the many quite psychic body-workers/healers with whom I’ve worked, commented on me being ahead of the curve on this.  Then, a little over two years ago I wrote about an amazing healing experience with Oshunnike, who made an even more pointed observation while she worked (and I was completely out of it and hadn’t said anything) that I am way out there ahead of where most people are in what I understand and the work I’ve been trying to do and it’s going to be hard for me for a while — and lonely.  She literally pulled this observation out of the air — 🙂 seemingly — as I’d not mentioned anything about this.  Two years ago and it’s still hard…

On the one hand it felt SO good to have this confirmation of feelings I’d barely acknowledged or allowed myself to note and on the other it was hard to accept the idea of me as a trailblazer.  But her words and that thought stayed with me and I’ve realized the truth of it more and more.  My reaction to the U.S. election last year and the aftermath have been bringing increasing clarity to how radically different my understanding is from the way most people see it or react to it.

I’m so grateful that I have friends who “get it” and I’ve been hoping to reach out more toward those who do.  Thus my gratitude is so enormous for having this great conversation show up — with a friend I rarely get to talk with at length — and for the wave of realizations it has brought.  Just having someone talking to me about it made me feel weepy.

Again, one of the things it has me contemplating is how I seem to have gathered a community here in the blogging world of people who get it — and I’m coming to understand it’s possibly the main reason I was drawn to do this.  So again, I’m interested to hear from you all about this trailblazer thing — your experience of being ahead of the curve on understanding how the world works and how far outside the mainstream understanding it is.

I’m wondering if there is some way we can support one another more than by just reading and commenting?  I’m sensing those of us in the advance troops could use some assistance in holding an energy space together, to join our energies in the forward movement to a new age.

What do you all think?

Still in the in between

I’ve been saying for several years now that I feel like I’m in a transition phase.  After years of almost non-stop emotional processing, spiritual practices and physical healing (all intertwined, of course), the journey finally led me to a place where I had no choice but to give all the changing and releasing time to percolate through and integrate.

To someone inclined to want to accomplish things while living in a culture that almost demands everyone at least appear to be constantly accomplishing things, this phase has seemed very long.  I didn’t imagine it would stretch to years although it makes sense that 20 years worth of transformational work with almost no integration or transition time would land me in a long liminal phase.

In a lovely phone conversation the other day a friend brought up the liminal phase, which set off a round of thinking about the “in between” again.  Her comments on this phase as being one in which you’ve left behind the old you and have yet to see who you are going to be in the next phase (I’m paraphrasing LIBERALLY 😉 ) left me ruminating and seeing new angles to my old musings.

To some extent this began back in 1992 when the conclusion of my Fisher Hoffman process group left me in what our facilitator called “the void“.  I’d set off kundalini and for the next few months as I contemplated all that I’d let go of, I realized I had lost a huge amount of who I’d been and that I no longer knew who I was.

As I’ve continued letting go and transforming, the sense of “who am I now?” has been ongoing.  Not that I don’t still know I love coffee and  yoga and that my general bent is toward liberal/left politics and concern for the welfare of all, etc.  But in other ways I’ve been adrift all these years.  So many things about the nervous, inhibited, angry, sarcastic person I was have shifted, so many thoughts about what I like or want to do have changed, I don’t always have a coherent sense of self.

My friend is in the same place of limbo, between who she used to be an the unknown self she is becoming.  It felt so amazing to hear someone else speak of the same place I almost cried for the joy of feeling less alone.  She also mentioned there are a number of us at this time who are in the forefront of this transition time and many of us are in this in between place.

I thought of my friends in this blogging community and how many of us are on the same page about so many things.  It has me wondering how many of us are feeling we’re in this in between place?  How many are feeling sometimes like you’re out in front, knowing stuff most people around you don’t get yet– and how lonely that is?

Next time: our conversation also covered a bit about this “trailblazer” position some of us are in and it has set off some deep thinking for me..

Dungeon Prompts: Needing Some Inspiration

This week’s Dungeon Prompt:

When you’re feeling down or just need a push forward with your day, where do you look for inspiration?  What drives you, or keeps you smiling?  Or when you’re really down, what keeps you alive, and getting out of bed each morning?  You don’t have to write about a major presence or source of inspiration in your life, but can just tell us about one of the little things that elevate you in some way.

One of the best things about 30+ years of yoga and meditation, as well as a lot of emotional processing thrown in along the way, is that I rarely feel “really down” or depressed.  I DO however struggle with frustration over the long trek with physical ill-health as well as the normal ups and downs of life and have days when I really need to shift.

I have a whole toolkit of cures for what ails me emotionally and/or spiritually, with variations to suit different circumstances:

  1. I start every morning with waking up and aligning my chakras by visualizing the energy spinning in each one from root to crown as soon as I wake up.  It helps me start the day in balance and with more energy.  Then I mentally list a few “gratitudes”.  Some days that’s enough to set the tone all day.
  2. If I’m feeling logy because of the muscles interfering with sleep, I do either the 8 Key Breaths or Flying Crane Chi Gung or the 5 Tibetan Rites or a combination.  They not only balance energy and align the chakras, but open and build the flow of energy so I’m more energized as well as calm and in balance.
  3. If I’m feeling uneasy or anxious, I like to do Yoga Nidra or a series of chants.  My current favorite roster of chants is to say the lovingkindness chant for 10 minutes, then sing the Gayatri Mantra and Om Shanti.  After I practice Yoga Nidra or chanting I feel balanced, calmed and my heart is open and full.  Can’t be open-hearted and anxious at the same time.
  4. When my writing is feeling stuck, I do writing practices a la Natalie Goldberg. Get out a notebook and a pen, pick a topic (usually out of her suggested exercises in Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind, set timer for 10-20 minutes and let fly.  It doesn’t work if I type, gotta sit down and write by hand.
  5. One of my almost daily practices is to spend some time sitting on our sun porch either with a laptop or a notebook, enjoying the sunniness and looking out into the garden as I work. It gives me a lift every time.
  6. In nice weather one of the best mood-boosters I have is to just go for a short walk someplace that inspires me.  Fortunately there’s a very nice park right behind the houses across the street, so it’s easy.  I also love going to Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate, to walk around on the grounds.  When I’m in Marin there’s a 1-1/2 mile walk in a loop around the hills where I house sit (and used to live) that puts me in a place of joy every time I walk it.
  7. For 2 or 3 years now I’ve been doing a daily e-mail check-in with a long-time (40+ years!) friend.  Each day we say (1) how we’re feeling, (2) what we intend to do that day, (3) three things we’re grateful for, and (4) anything that brought joy.  It really helps to stay mindful, keeps a focus on all the good that’s happening and most especially it is so helpful to have someone  with whom to check in about it all every day.  And I’m very grateful the internet allows us to do this in spite of 400 miles between 🙂

The biggest thing for me is realizing that if something feels “off” then energy is in some way out of balance.  The main focus for me is thus maintaining alignment and balance in my chakras, my energy, my body.  When it’s all open and aligned, it’s just about impossible to feel down (which is not to say that it alleviates personal grief or shock but it does help to keep those things from overwhelming life).

Most of the time I try to rotate among a number of these practices enough to hold a place of equilibrium without having to stop and do one of them to get back on track.  But getting off track is pretty easy; as long as I can stay tuned in enough to realize I need to do something and then to “feel” which practice would serve, being “really down” is an infrequent to nonexistent feeling for me.

Dungeon Prompts: Mission Statement

I’m running behind on everything blog lately so I’m just getting to last week’s Dungeon Prompt and will try to do better with the one that went up today…

If the journey of your life could be boiled down to a particular mission, what would it be?  What has been the primary focus or purpose of your particular birth?  You may believe that all of life is on a big picture path, but I’m asking about your particular journey.  Is there any lesson or goal that has defined the majority of your life?  What is your life’s mission?

Lately this is a good question.  As my long healing journey has progressed I’ve felt less and less sure that any notion I’ve had about my life’s purpose reflects why I’m really here.  That’s a work in progress.

In my youth and early adulthood, I would have unequivocally told you “music”.  My elementary school dreams involved Broadway or being in the newest movie musicals.  Around the time my interest moved more into jazz and rock I realized my beloved Hollywood musicals were pretty much over, so maturing tastes dovetailed with facing reality.  Through those years I also wrote short stories and poetry and pondered a secondary career possibility as a writer.

In my twenties I tried to revive the music love and was lead singer for a band for a short time, but it didn’t work out and I was slowly realizing my many years of studying classical voice left me with a voice that didn’t really fit the style of music I wanted to do.  More important, I could see I didn’t have the kind of “push” it takes to make a big music career.  Scrap that mission.

Having become radicalized in college I put a lot of thought into having a career that would make some kind of difference.  I wound up in law school, which I hated, and then in a short-lived career as an attorney fighting against nuclear power plants.  My writing skills landed me the job of writing all the motions and briefs for my office.  I liked winning those cases and the feeling of having helped to do something good but loathed being a lawyer.  My zeal to be a public interest attorney of any sort died; end of that mission.

In the meantime I’d taken up yoga and meditation, earned a teaching certificate for yoga and regularly spent weekends taking classes on various spiritual topics.  I started putting together a whole toolkit of quick, easy-to-use techniques for reducing tension and using them every day to keep the angst in check.  When I decided I couldn’t take the law I decided to teach stress management.

Around the same time the health issues I’d been fighting for some time turned out to be chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and I reached the point where continuing on a normal work path became impossible.  The next decade-and-a-half was spent juggling between trying to heal, continuing my spiritual and personal growth journey and trying to work as much as my ill health would allow.  I tried stress management, mediation, working as a proofreader and editor for a small publishing company, working part-time for the Institute of Noetic Sciences, wrote a novel, and more.

Throughout these years I kept seeking a career path that felt right for me but none of the hats I wore seemed to be a perfect fit and the health issues interfered increasingly with keeping any kind of regular work schedule. I wound up teaching yoga classes and for myself re-working Robert Masters’ Psychophysical Method into specific sets combining his certain of his triggers of release with yoga.  It made major inroads on the fibromyalgia issues. When I realized the power of this movement work I taught more classes using that than straight yoga classes but have never felt it’s my calling to teach movement.  So no mission statement for that except that I’d like to make it available through recordings so others can be helped by it without me having to be the cheerleader.

Eventually some years back I realized the healing had to come first.  That having the energy and the wherewithal to develop any career had to come first.  Eventually as I’ve worked through not only the physical side but also emotional, ancestral, and past life issues related to the tight muscles I realized that for now this healing journey IS my purpose.  And, since I know we are all one, each a part of the whole, I believe my healing helps others heal too.  So I’ve thought of healing as a mission.

I feel very drawn to work for peace and it has informed much of my blogging.  I designed workshops on the “Journey to Peace” but never managed to market them well enough to draw students in numbers  Put on the back burner while I’ve worked hard to complete the muscle issues, the draw is there but not a sense of “how”.

In these turbulent times my sense of wanting to be peace, to be a voice of peace, to impact world peace in some way has only grown.  I’m drawn toward creating a career path that brings the many things I’ve learned over the years together in service of peace.

But this path has meant letting go of so much of who I used to be and led to so many questions about who I really am, what I really love and what I’m really here for that I have no sense of the mission statement for the next phase beyond “serve peace”.  In many ways I see this desire as a maturing and transforming of my earlier desire to do public interest work and how that desire was born of the hippie protests, etc. of college.

So much is changing in me as my body changes, I’m content to see what feels right when the healing process winds down.