Monday, December 26, 2011

En Plein Air--A Guest Post by Tantrika au Naturale

Since receiving the request from David to share MY RITUAL, I have struggled to identify whether I have a suitable ritual and, if so, how to communicate it.

It is easy to state what ritual is not for me:
• It is not a supplication for personal benefit from a Santa Claus/Godfather celestial master
• It is not a sacrificial appeasement of other worldly destructive forces
• It is not the means of personal sanctification.

Rather, ritual for me is the vehicle for departure from the multi-tasking chaos of everyday life into the unity of simply being: the integration of my body-mind-spirit as the small self realizes the universal Self. The overt manifestation of this process is my morning yoga practice: a mélange of active and quiescent traditions linked by awareness of breath. This practice is done within a contrived sacred space before a contrived altar.

A less overt but equally valid ritual, I now realize, is my avocation of en plein air aquarelle (water color painting outdoors). This is a less contrived ritual of self and Self integration achieved through acceptance of all sensory perceptions to pass through noted without judgment or grasping. Perhaps this poem can convey the process whereby the accompanying images came to be.

En plein air

In Montana
Between yoga sessions
I gravitate
To a natural carin atop a small hill
Beneath prayer flags.

As in years before (and years to come)
I set out my supplies
And settle: rooting my body to untether my mind and spirit.

The fluidity of lodgepole pines and rainbow flags and body hairs
Delineates the peaks and troughs of the wind
Announced in Doppler sound of arboreal chimes.
This moment’s light and warmth, having departed a nuclear holocaust eight minutes before,
Fleeting white clouds across a cerulean canopy play hide-and-seek with
On-again, off-again shadow modulating vision and temperature.

Illusory perceptions condense
Activating the pencil line, the color choice, the brush stroke
There is no objective: my painting is not commissioned, will not be sold and only viewed by a few
A keep sake of surrender to Unity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Not All Sweetness and Light

I don’t remember a year in which I’ve been so acutely aware of bright afternoon sunlight as sheer, fleeting gift in late December; nor one in which falling darkness has felt so absolute. I’m trying to sort out how much geography accounts for my heightened awareness: I’ve never before spent a whole winter on eastern Long Island, so close to the leading edge of the time zone that night falls before 5 p.m. The light slants down with a clarity that’s almost a cliché; but the grey of an overcast winter day here somehow sucks the light out of even a well-lit room.

Reminders of mortality all around me account for a lot of what geography can’t explain: a spectacularly gifted friend whom I much admired, dead in November long before his time; another, deeply beloved, with whom I share nearly twenty years of intimate, varied connection, now newly battling an aggressive recurrence of cancer; a third I’ve come to know this last year and a half, now living with a recent diagnosis of lymphoma. All of them, my age or younger. I find myself noticing every ache and pain, and thinking to myself, what kind of cancer could I get?

Hanukkah begins tomorrow at sundown; Thursday (if you’re being astronomically exact about it) comes the Solstice; and Christmas lights are everywhere. I’ve always loved this season—loved it for the poignant bravery of light kindled in darkness. This year, I find myself looking for the lesson somewhere in the darkness itself. In the silence, in the not knowing, in the nothingness that the light shines out of. In giving the darkness its due, before moving too quickly into the attempts to lighten it.

Kevin Smith, in an eloquent and wise and funny post to his TouchPractice blog just a few days ago, wrote this: “Here’s a holiday wish: embrace your bleakest self, the shadow self. That side that you’re NOT listing on your resume these days. The photos that you’re NOT posting. Just look at it. Acknowledge it. And lest you fear that doing so in some way might grant the part of yourself that you’re not thrilled with some sort of permanence, consider that nothing gets granted permanence, neither the things we love about ourselves nor our biggest disappointments.” (

I have no idea what I’ll find over the next days, but I know where I need to look for it: wrapped up against the cold, listening to the surf crash, on a beach where perhaps I’ll see stars in the night sky, or perhaps, huddled below cloud, see almost nothing at all.

And then, yes—but only at last—kindle a light.

Friday, December 16, 2011

And One More New Tarot

0 The Trickster
The banana peel, the one who drops it, and the one who slips on it, all rolled into One. When you’re expecting something, the Big Zero you get. When you’re expecting nothing, the Big Surprise. The bait, the catch, hook, line, and sinker. You name it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Bracelet of Surrender: A Guest Post by Steve Brammeier

Here Steve shares his experience of creating and walking with a prayer that can be held in the hand--and perhaps call the mind back when it decides to go off in another direction.

My Spiritual practice isn't always the same. Sometimes, I feel that I'm failing because I'm not disciplined in specific spiritual ritual and therefore less spiritual. I'm fortunate enough to have an extra bedroom that serves as a "quiet room." I have my altar there. There's also an easy chair for comfortable sitting and enough room to set up a massage table. My altar holds items that are sacred to me; things that have come into my life at special times, or from individuals who have touched my life. For a while I was meditating every morning for ten minutes or so at my altar. In the last few months I seem antsy when I try to do that every day. I feel like my day is pulling me into it.

At the suggestion of a mentor well-versed in the spiritual practices of many different cultures, I decided to create a beaded bracelet as a ritual that could become a portable sacred object. I was fortunate to be at Easton Mountain during the summer, with Easton's wonderful “Beading Tree,” an outdoor craft studio created by Hunter Reynolds, as a resource. I didn't have a specific theme or design in mind as I made my bracelet. I just found beads that appealed to me and assembled them. The finished product ended up being highly symbolic of earth, fire, wind and water. I place the bracelet on my altar and frequently take it with me into my day. When I get to work, I take it off, wrapping in around my wallet, which I place in my desk drawer, so I'm less likely to forget it when I leave. Then before I go to bed I place it back on my altar, spending a few minutes connecting with the sacred objects there.

The bracelet became a large part of my Vision Quest experience this summer in Colorado. I took the bracelet into nature on my solo of four days of fasting. I kept it tied in a bandana with the rest of my sacred objects. I would open the bandana every morning as part of my ritual on the mountain. On the third day, I took the bracelet on a meditating walk through the forest. I held it in my hand, moving from bead to bead as I walked. Later that day back at my campsite, I realized I did not have the bracelet. I looked through everything multiple times. I was devastated that somehow I had lost it. How could this object that had come to me in such a meaningful way and become so sacred to me be lost? How could I now believe in whatever seemed to me to be intuitively connecting with me? I knew it was just an object, but it held my hope, my joy, and my trust in the knowledge of my own spirit.

I became despondent. I considered ending my solo time on the mountain early. I went deep into the shadow of doubt. I climbed into my sleeping bag well before sundown and stewed in my own juices of misery.

The next morning I resolved to retrace my steps, figuring I likely would come across the place where I'd set it down. There is not a lot else to do alone on the mountain and no one else there to pick it up, so I went out again. It was not a frantic walk, but a quiet, deliberate, thoughtful search. I did not find it. Part of my practice on the mountain also included drawing Animal Spirit cards. My card that morning called me to "surrender." So, I resolved that my spiritual path could be less about actively seeking or searching and more about surrendering to what was being put in front of me: my bracelet and my guidance would "find" me if I keep an open awareness.

More things transpired that day and night, but that realization was a turning point. I moved out of the shadow and came down the mountain the next morning as scheduled, feeling strong.

Two days later, while riding my bicycle from Breckenridge to Frisco, I discovered a little bead shop. I went in to see what I could find and ended up with specific intention recreating my bracelet—this his time with a stretchy cord that allows it to fit perfectly over my hand and snugly on my wrist. It has almost exactly the same design and has come to be a significant part of my life. I feel like spirit taught me a huge lesson and my bracelet indeed "found" me again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few More New Tarot

Three more of the Major Arcana from the alternative Tarot deck on which I collaborated with Sara Norquay.

X The Miser
Losing his fist would give him back his hand. He’s too stuck with the reality of the one to imagine the other. What’s killing him seems the only thing that keeps him alive. A windfall received as though it were a God-given right. A privilege defended to the death.

XI The Matchmaker
An alliance effected from outside. The web of connections from which a particular connection emerges. Social agony. Grounds for a lawsuit.

XII The Foundling
Hope floating precariously. Waters of life, or of destruction. The protection of temporary obscurity. Eventual victory or vindication.