Rain drenched the desert this past weekend, moisture we desperately needed. The amazing thing about the desert is, after months without precipitation, the plants immediately burst with green after a mere inch of water. The crystalline air has been washed free of dust and all is pristine. Cholla glows in the sunlight, the brittlebush stands tall, and the globe mallow is vibrant and lush. Even birdsong rings more clearly after a rain; everything and everyone is energized.
If water is that cleansing, that invigorating, why are we so often afraid to cry? Tears expose us to the world, leave us soft and vulnerable, yet it is in that vulnerability that we reveal our humanity. The last two days I’ve been communicating online with a dear woman from my past. Out of respect for her privacy I won’t reveal her identity or the genesis of our relationship. It is sufficient to know that after long years without contact she reached out to me in emotional pain. As she shared the details of her situation, my heart heaved and tears welled in my eyes. In her last missive, she told me tears were running down her face as she read my words and felt the love I extended to her.
This morning as I walked the dogs through the fresh desert, I couldn’t help but think of the synchronicity of the desert rain and my friend’s tears. She brought me a gift: the recognition of the power of water to physically cleanse and the power of tears to emotionally heal. Tears are meant to be spent. How often do we hide our tears in embarrassment, quickly wiping them away before anyone can see? Instead of accepting the sweet release they bring, we hoard them, storing the emotions they represent away, piling them up like boxes on a dark closet shelf. Time after time we cram those boxed feelings away, stoically standing tall beneath its weight until finally the shelf gives way. The closet door springs open and we find ourselves awash in a torrent of unresolved emotion and tears.
Once I was gifted with a silver medallion etched with a Medicine Wheel by another dear friend. As she slipped the medallion over my head, tears dripped freely down my cheeks. Embarrassed I brushed them away but she stayed my hand, telling me “your tears are crystal tears and are meant to be shared with the world.” She was right. There is great beauty and power in running water, in flowing tears. Like the desert after a rain, spent tears leave one clean and bright, ready for new.
The woman who reached out to me the other day lingers on my mind. I hope she reads my words. I want to congratulate her and tell her I’m glad she wept for it means she is unafraid to heal and those tears are the first step on that path. Sending her all my love and letting her know how grateful I am she shared her tears.
Returning from my morning walk in the desert with the dogs, my neighbor, William, who lives around the corner, stopped to say hello. Every morning he walks his two young children to the school bus stop, a luxury he enjoys thanks to his career as a free lance writer for the sports and entertainment industry. The bulk of his work is magazine articles and marketing for the local baseball team. During the course of our conversation, William leaned in closer to me when he asked about my Monday morning writing group. His eyes sparked as I told him about our timed writings but, when I told him we read our work out loud, he physically drew back, put his hands up as if I had thrown a punch and sputtered, “how intimidating!”
Here is a man who supports his wife and two young children through his writing; rubs elbows with professional baseball players and baseball executives; and holds his own with the movers and shakers in the movie and television industries. Yet, the thought of writing and reading out loud a 10 minute stream of consciousness piece scares the crap out of him. Isn’t that true of all who indulge in the arts? We invest more than time and effort, we invest sweeping amounts of heart and soul into our art, knowing that all who experience our work will, at least for a moment, hold our fragile life in her hands. A roll of the eyes, a single word, even the tone of voice is all it takes to crush our hearts. We know it, yet summon up our courage day after day to offer ourselves to the world. We persevere for we have no choice but to create. With his response, William immediately endeared himself to me as a fellow human being and artist. Although I’ve never knowingly read his work, my gut tells me his writing shines.
How can you tell if your latest creation is great? How can you tell if it’s worth putting out there? Does it make you nervous? Are you sucking in your gut, preparing for the blow of criticism you feel sure is coming? When you hold it in your hands do the butterflies dance a jig in your belly? When you display your latest sketch, or read your piece out loud, does it make you weep or possibly laugh? Then, rest assured you’ve engaged the heart, expressed your humanity, and created something great, even if no one else gets it.
Several years ago I stood in a long line at the Printers Book Fair simply to have author Augusten Burroughs autograph a copy of his latest book. Some folks in line stepped quietly up to him; others managed to coax a smile. A few chatted with him as if they were the best of friends. Mr. Burrough’s writing is brutally honest, at times graphic, and sprinkled with humor. I admire him tremendously and fretted throughout the wait trying to think of something witty to say when I finally stood in front of him. As I placed my newly purchased book on the table, he robotically flipped it open, pen poised in the air as he waited for me to say my name. “Thank you for writing,” popped out of my mouth. He dropped his hand, sat back and looked me straight in the eye and smiled.
If I could, I’d purchase every piece of art and every book ever written and enjoy them to the fullest. But funds are limited, so the most I can offer to all artists and writers is the same thing I offered Augusten Burroughs.
Thank you for creating.
Last summer my friend Sharon and I decided to make our own drums. We both enjoy Shamanic work and drumming is an essential part of that practice. My first drum was small: a piece of cowhide on an 11.5 inch diameter wooden base. It took us two days to complete those first drums and was only accomplished through the assistance of her artistic husband, Jim, kit instructions, and a Youtube video. As with all first attempts, we over-engineered, making it harder than it needed to be, but we were so proud of the end result, especially me! A novice drum-maker was born.
Yesterday, I added the finishing touch to my latest drum, a stylized painting of the sun. This was my sixth drum and already I am thinking of the next one. In addition, I have helped my husband make two drums making a total of eight drums scattered throughout our house. Oops, make that nine, as I neglected to count a store bought drum. I forget that one simply because my homemade drums are so much better than the decorative one.
Why do I need so many drums? Why am I so fascinated with drumming? Why has drumming been such an integral part of almost every indigenous culture since the beginning of humankind? What do Ringo Starr and every other famed drummer know that we don’t know? First, each drum has a different tone. So many things impact the resonance: the size, the type of hide, its thickness, its decoration, even the tension combine to create its song. Second, each one is alive. Hold the drum up to catch the wind and you can hear its voice. In a circle, each drum hears the beat of its neighbor and all attune until discordance becomes fluid.
Music may soothe the soul but drumming revs it up and carries it away to places mythical and magical. My heart entrains with the percussive beat; my muscles start to twitch and bounce to the music. The beat touches something deep inside, buried in the limbic brain, and unleashes a primal freedom. I am the classic definition of an introvert. Each time I had to sing alone in front of my high school choir, my knees and voice quaked so much I could barely squeak out the words. When I would sing along with the car radio, my children would yell “stop signing, Mom.” Yet at our first drumming circle in January, I led the group in a rollicking version of the Cherokee Water Song, chanting and drumming my heart out. I didn’t care if it was good or bad. It simply was. Folks told me later it was the best part of the evening. That’s the beauty of drumming and chanting: all you need is heart.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, my heart is on my mind. Notice I said “my heart” rather than “the heart” for I believe that when it comes to the heart, there is only one way to do it. You have to get personal. You have to dig in, open it up, turn it over, scour out the crud, and get ready for love to pour in. Something or someone may crack it open a bit, but only you and you alone are in charge of getting it ready, like a mother bird feathering her nest in anticipation of new life. I’m getting ready for the February Drum Circle, the circle in the month of the heart. Gathering with my friends, we’ll drum in Love, attraction, sacred union, mirroring and reflection. We’ll allow the drums to purify our hearts and get them ready for new beginnings. I don’t know for sure what that new beginning will bring, but somehow I think another drum begs for creation.
Projects, projects. I am the best at coming up with projects. The new drum I made last week sits in the corner begging for my attention. I plan to craft a design on it, lovingly adorn it with oil paint. The sewing machine gathers dust as it waits for me to settle on a new fabric to recover the chair in the living room. Three gourds, count them – not one, not two, but three! – rest on the side countertop cleaned, cut and scraped. One will be corded, a second will be painted and the third carved and stained. The garden is again full of weeds and the patio needs sweeping. Not to mention the stacks of books waiting to be read, the dogs that require walking, and the husband that needs feeding.
What do all these projects have in common? They are nothing more than distractions to keep me from sitting down to write. Honestly, it’s not the actual process of writing that is difficult. It’s the constant re-writing that sends me to the brink of despair. Not once have I met my writing expectations. When I left Chicago behind and settled myself into Aravaipa Canyon, I had the mistaken idea that I would whip out my first book in a year. In fact, I was so naïve, I actually told the owner of the ranch that I would only be there a year. One year turned into two before book one was finished. You would think I might have learned something from that experience, but no. In November 2012 I sat down to pen book number two and here I sit, one year and two months later, about to begin the third draft. Last April I whooped and hollered that I finished it until I gave it to folks to review. Their feedback sent me down the path of revision, a torturous journey through the next November. Sending it off to a professional editor was a blessing and a curse, for now I know it could be better. So much better. If I’m lucky, it will be finished by year end but I’m not going to hold my breath.
I thought I was doing it wrong. Setting myself up for failure each time I set a deadline or expectation for completion of this book, then sabotaging myself with my distraction projects. Today I realized I needed a new approach. Freedom from expectations. Everything that should be done will be done and when it is supposed to be done. Today I recognized that Creativity has no concept of time. It doesn’t care if it’s a hot, blazing summer or a soft, white winter; doesn’t care if it’s a full moon or mid-day sun. You can sit staring at your computer screen, a blank canvas or a lump of clay for hours on end without a single creative thought coming to mind. Then you’re standing in a long line at the grocery store, begging for the person in front of you to hurry up because you’ve got to find the ladies room before you burst, when wham! You catch a snippet of conversation, someone drops a carton of eggs, or two lovers quarrel the next aisle over. And you have it! Creativity doesn’t always come when you are focused and demanding. Creativity is sneaky. It appreciates a little bit of chaos, a little bit of diversity, a little bit of life, then It comes out in a rush.
The book will get finished, the drum will be painted, and the gourds adorned. I’ll throw an old blanket over the chair and carefully tuck it in for now. Don’t ask me when. The only thing that will get done today is the chair. BUT I researched designs for the drum and found one I like. The gourds are still sitting there but I pulled a few weeds and wrote over 1,000 words. The dogs are content after an hour walk and when my husband comes in and asks what’s for dinner, I’ll drop a hint or two about that new restaurant that opened last week. If he doesn’t bite, I’ll get creative.
My friend Celina took a break from the frigid Chicago weather to spend the week with me in Arizona. She’s enjoying our warm temperatures so much I’ll probably have to drag her kicking and screaming to the airport today to catch her flight home. Celina and I are different in many ways. While I am edging up on 61, Celina is 34 years old. I wake before dawn and she sleeps in. I crawl to bed about the time she is ready to party. She likes to dress up; I dress down. She is fond of chunky platforms while I prefer flats or sneakers. She’s a city girl while I’ve shed that skin in favor of more rural roots. The most noticeable difference is height: she’s the size of an Olympic gymnast and I am a robust 5’8”.
As we meandered through the outdoor mall yesterday, I noticed something. Tiny Celina hauled an oversize black leather bag over her shoulder while I carried my simple, small leather wallet. I pointed this out to her and said, “You’re living large in a small body while I’m trying to live small in a large body.” We both erupted in laughter. As I looked at her, I realized the truth of what I’d said. She exudes an attitude of self confidence and puts herself out there every single day.
During my daily trek with my three dogs through the desert, that snippet of conversation floated through my brain. Celina was still buried deep in sleep while the dogs and I gloried in the sunrise. The morning light draped the mountains in a mist of gold and the cholla and palo verdes glowed with pleasure and dog fur gleamed. As I pushed my hair away from my face, I glimpsed the reflection of sunlight in the strands and it hit me: it’s all about perspective. Some folks live large by doing things: travel, theater, fine dining and concerts. I enjoy those things immensely but what fills me more is my daily walk in the desert. My aura expands and connects with the mountains, the towering saguaros, the coyotes and lizards scrabbling past, and even the stones beneath my feet. I mingle with the Earth and Sky and become one with all that is. I breathe deep and take it all in until there is no separation between the physical and spiritual realm. Dressed in my worn sneakers, dusty jeans and faded sweatshirt, I put myself out there and glow in the morning light and I know this: I, too, am living large.
Okay, I admit it. Some days I get overwhelmed and get a little wacky. I notice that it’s at those times I have lost touch with Spirit a little bit and, after mini-meltdown, I come back down to earth and realize I’ve been shirking my practice. In a way, though, it’s a good thing. For it makes me think about what I had been doing as far as morning prayers and such. At those times I realize I’ve been “calling it in”. I take it for granted that simply because I am saying the words, by rote, that Spirit will be accepting. The problem with that thinking is that I don’t accept it! My soul is the one that rebels, hence the mini-meltdown.
Why is it a good thing? Because it makes me reflect and re-evaluate; it prompts me to search for true meaning. I try new things. Lately, I discovered a simple practice that for me has been especially powerful: Surrender. Did you catch that capital “S”? When faced with issues before, I’ve asked Spirit to take the burden, figure it out, and then get back to me with a solution. Now this works pretty well as long as I trust my intuition (which, after all, is nothing more than guidance from within), but it is not the whole enchilada. When I surrender body, mind, and soul problems and challenges become stones in the river. Have you ever taken time to sit next to a running creek or stream and notice the soothing sound of the water? Think about it for a moment. It’s not the water creating that sound. It’s the combination of the water and the stones. The water doesn’t allow the stones in its path to impede its progress, rather it surrenders to them. The water embraces them, bouncing and splashing over and around them. The water recognizes the stones for what they are: opportunities to create a little soul-stirring music.
Each day I sit for fifteen minutes. I begin by placing the Reiki symbols in each hand. If you are not a Reiki practitioner, simply hold your hands in prayer position over your heart for a few moments. Then, with focused intention, I surrender my entire life to the loving care of Spirit. I surrender my aches and pains. I surrender conflicts both internal and external. I surrender financial burdens. I surrender worries and concerns. I surrender my ego. I surrender my heart to the guidance of Spirit. Then I place my hands palm up on my thighs, close my eyes and allow the energy to flow. When I open my eyes, I feel light and grounded at the same time. My mind is at peace.
Treasure in the Dark
The dark cellar of painful memory is
Musty with cobwebs, dank, dirty and damp.
Don’t be afraid.
As you creep down the stairs, flip the switch.
Look with new eyes in the bare bulb’s light
And you may find
High in the corner tucked on a dusty shelf
A jar of peach preserves waiting to be opened
And spread on a wedge of warm toast.
As you savor the sweetness the pain melts away
A reminder there is treasure in the dark.
What a great morning chatting with blog radio talk show host Nancy Lombardo! A replay of the interview can be found here at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/comedy-concepts/2013/03/11/kathleen-odwyer-author-of-breath-of-blue
Tonight I will be at Anasazi Bookstore in West Phoenix for a book signing. Come on out! Hope to see you there http://www.anasazibookstore.com/events.html
It started around one in the morning, this rain, and continued for close to twelve hours. Steady and strong, the rain gauge already reads over an inch and a quarter with no sign of stopping. Water flows across the gravel drive, a mini-torrent pushing pebbles and twigs down to the wash. The mountain fog languished heavily for most of the morning but has now dissipated to mist allowing me to catch a glimpse of silver waterfalls. I treasure this rain. It is more than the much needed moisture; it is a day of self-restoration and full sensations. The storm arrived without fanfare: no smell of ozone in the air, no bursts of lightening or thunder, no slashing wind to cut the night. So I fling the windows open the better to hear the cadence of raindrops. The diversity of its music catches me by surprise: a heavy rhythm on the concrete, tin music on the cars and softer splashes on the leaves. Tom pulls on heavy boots and a poncho and I listen to him stomp through the water to retrieve his Wall Street Journal. The dogs run in bringing in the damp on their glistening fur, shaking and sending an arc of water across the tiles already wet with their prints. A rainbow appears on the floor, a trail of towels and rags to soak up the wet, and I decide to leave it there in anticipation of future doggy excursions. The air is so fresh and cold, I inhale deeply and welcome the opportunity to stop and wrap myself in a blanket and lay kindling in the fireplace to ward off the afternoon gloom. The warmth of a cup of hot tea soothes my hands; its amber liquid calms my heart. A day to go nowhere but into myself, a place I have not been for awhile. And then I received the news.
Sally transitioned after battling cancer for fourteen months. I learned this on Facebook, of all places. Her family posted the message on her account, a good thing I suppose, for otherwise I would not have known. We were not close friends but we were kindred spirits, or at least she saw the potential in me, the desire for more, or simply that I was a lost soul searching for something. Pulling out my blue binder of certificates, I looked up the date: the course on Quantum Touch completed in February 2008. Eager to explore the world of energy work, I drove six hours on a rainy weekend from Chicago to The Christine Center in northern Wisconsin. A dozen or so people attended the weekend course, folks ranging from massage therapists (like me) to a dentist, some nurses and one or two seekers looking for a magic healing bullet. At dinner that night, I filled my plate and pulled out a chair at a solitary table. Others seemed to have come in pairs or threes, sharing the drive and the expense of lodging. As I bent to taste my bowl of vegetarian soup, a voice with a light Irish lilt sang out, may I join you? I looked up into a face soft with wrinkles, hair like spun sugar and blue eyes filled with kindness. With that, our friendship began.
There are people who cross your path for only a short time, yet it could be a lifetime, the impact is that great. For some time I had moused around the edges of energy work, quietly exploring, curious but reluctant, believing but uncertain. Sally brought Reiki and energy work firmly into my life. She was thirty years my senior, older than my mother, yet when we sat and talked over dinner that night it was like dining with family or, better yet, that dearest friend who knows everything about you and loves you anyway. With her encouragement, I pursued my interest in Reiki and kept her abreast of my progress. My first encounter with the Akashic Records was with Sally and, as she walked through my previous lives to help me understand the current one, I remember her words, you can do this, too, you know. Her confidence fueled me forward.
A few months before I left Chicago, I went to Sally’s home for lunch. Her two story white farmhouse was set back from the road, a leftover of rural times in a suburban setting. Flowers spilled over the walkway and widely bordered the house leaving precious little room for a lawn. A giant oak shaded the yard. Inside, Sally’s personality filled every corner. Quilts and needlework graced the walls, antique furniture smelled like lemon, and lilacs in a vase graced the table. Pointing up she told me the story of how she and her husband planned to install a new drop ceiling until they discovered the secret hidden above the old. Her husband was long gone and she was a widow now, but the fine oak beams that they refinished together still gleamed. The center island in the kitchen held jars and jars of herbs and oils, the old fashioned porcelain sink that stood on iron legs had a checkered blue and white skirt, and wonderful smells emanated from the old gas stove in the corner. We shared a simple meal of brown rice and caramelized onions topped with black beans that afternoon. Comfort food shared with a comfortable friend. At the end of our afternoon, we promised to get together again in the next few months. We promised to do a better job of keeping in touch. It never happened, though, for I soon found myself on the way to Arizona and Facebook became the only thread connecting us.
As I sit here at my laptop and write these words, I know she is laughing at me. Grief is not her style and I can hear her say “I’m still here!” Even as I know she is right and that I can call on her when I wish, I still miss her. Much like today’s rain, I treasure the time Sally and I spent together.
“What do you think Spirit is saying to us through Hurricane Sandy?” A New York friend asked me a few days ago. The question rolled around in my mind over the past few days and honestly, I have come to the conclusion that this is simply a question impossible for me or anyone else to answer in broad terms. The concept of Spirit is infinitely diverse: what Spirit means to me is specific to me and different from what Spirit means to my mother or next door neighbor. And that is as it should be for we are all moving on different paths with different challenges and lessons along the way.
So I speak for myself when I say Spirit is within us and connects us to all that is. It is important to understand the definition of us in that statement. When I use that term I refer to ALL things: the Earth, Sky, Clouds, Plants, Animals, Rocks, Mountains, Insects, Reptiles, Birds, Planets, Moon, and Sun…need I go on? In this context the word “us” encompasses everything within and without my realm of experience. “Did I think Spirit sent the hurricane to remind us of what is important?” If I say yes to that, then I am returning to my Catholic roots of a terrible and merciless God; one who smites those who stray. Roots of guilt I pulled up long ago as I forged my spiritual path. If I say yes to that, then I am removing Spirit from within and installing it back on the crumbling pedestal of my youth. This I cannot do.
This morning when I walked the desert, the question of Hurricane Sandy kept gurgling up through my thoughts followed by the words “quid pro quo”. The Great Law of the Iroquois holds appropriate the responsibility to think seven generations ahead when making decisions today. This Law recognizes Mother Earth as a living entity; one that supports life in all ways. She gives us resources to build our homes, fuel our cars, and nourish our bodies. Mankind even uses those resources to build great ships to explore space and tiny chips that operate our smart phones. I thank her for the resources that built the laptop I write on so quickly and efficiently. Yet how does mankind thank her? We deplete her resources, often without thought, and it seems we are never sated. Yet, we forget that as mankind continues to grow and evolve so too does Mother Earth. More and more the Earthly changes are the result of mankind’s disregard for Earthly blessings. Is the cataclysmic impact of Hurricane Sandy on mankind any greater than the impact of man’s depletion of our environmental resources? Quid pro quo.
Yet, as terrible as these natural disasters are, Spirit moves me to hold to a different perspective, to see this as an opportunity for heroes to emerge. Not only the leaders of the nation who are offering comfort and aid, but the father who scooped his child up and held her tight through the storm; the grandmother who brought hot cups of coffee to the rescue workers; the utility repairmen working feverishly for days on end to restore power. This is Spirit: the people who dig deep within to find Spirit and honor it through their words and actions, however small they might seem. Those everyday people who recognize the connections between us all and choose to use challenge as a opportunity to strengthen the bonds rather than sever them. Did I think Spirit was trying to tell us what is important? If we listen, Spirit tells us this every day, but sometimes in the haste of life, it falls on deaf ears. Ultimately crisis returns us to a state of appreciation and humility, and it is those things that are the foundation of Spirit, the foundation of self. Did Spirit send the hurricane? I don’t know the answer. But I do know I see Spirit in the eyes and actions of all who are reaching out to assist those in need yesterday, today and beyond.