Online Grief Circle

We are all carrying grief; whether it is grief of a personal loss, grief of the injustice we see and experience every day, or grief of ecological loss, grief is something that we all share. We must come together to grieve as a community, while also honoring that each of our paths through grief is unique and ultimately solitary.

I am offering an online grief circle on Sunday June 24 2018 at 11am Pacific time. We will gather on Google Hangouts to share our grief in all of it’s expressions and then invite in gratitude and compassion. From our open hearts, we can find a way to move forward.

Registration is limited to 10 people. When you register I will send you an email with suggestions for how to prepare yourself and your space for the circle and more details on what to expect.

 

PayPal link

 

That wail? The one coiled in your gut, the tip of it stuck in your throat? You fear it is too wild, too unrestrained, that if you were to let it free the force of it might just break you in two?

It is. It will. It must.

It is the sound of stars, the sound of black holes and supernova, the sound of a sun burning to its death giving us life.

It is the sound of your liberation. It is the key to your wildness and your power. Your restraint is the lock put there by those who seek to keep us quiet, passive, productive.

Let grief break you. Let our wails rise in unison, mourning all that we have lost all that has been taken from us.

And let us build a better world with the pieces, serenaded by rediscovered notes so sweet.
~Syren Nagakyrie

Advertisements

An Open Letter to Everyone Joining the Fight

Dear people who are aghast at the abuse in this country and the presidency and want to do something,

Welcome. Glad you could make it. We need everyone to jump in on this.

But here’s the thing: you’re late to the party. If you’re white and middle+ class, you’ve just arrived from the airport with coats in arms and bags on the floor. But coat check is full, and your baggage is tripping people up. Find another place for it, maybe at your white neighbor’s house.

Rather than making a “fashionably late” entrance, come in quietly. Listen to the conversations in the room to figure out what has already been said – you’ve missed out on hours of discussion. Pay attention to what people are doing, and ask if you can help clean up a bit so the party can continue. This is not the time to climb up on the counter and propose a party game.

Find a group that is talking about something you want to be involved in, and ask if you can join the conversation. Listen and ask respectful questions – again you’ve missed out on a lot of discussion.

Leave the party to check on your baggage frequently.

Once people at the party have gotten to know you, you’ve listened to their conversations, and you’ve unpacked your bags, you can propose the next activity. Always remember that this is not your house, and that you are a guest of the First People here.

If you find yourself succumbing to a cycle of rage and fatigue, remember this:

The news cycle is meant to inflame and desensitize you. Watch for the patterns:

A horrific story breaks. In a rush for ‘ratings’ (which also means likes and shares now) articles are published that highlight the horror. People rightly become enraged and want to do something.

And the articles keep coming, and keep coming.

A few days pass. Right about the time everyone is feeling overwhelmed, new information rises from the grassroots level (which is how long it takes for thorough information to be released). This information contains nuance that was previously missing.

Unfortunately, this cycle of overwhelm does not leave much space for the understanding of nuance. Everyone is experiencing some level of fatigue and secondary trauma.

This information is received as a relief, as a sign that “oh it isn’t as bad as we thought, thank god.” It becomes a reason to question the entire atrocity.

So shortly afterwards, the rage is forgotten, the story is shelved, and we wait for the next cycle with little change happening.

There is no conspiracy in this. It is the nature of information = profit and the enforcement of the status quo. But if you know the cycle, you can break the way it influences you.

Yes, what is happening is that bad. Yes, there is nuance and information that is lacking, especially at first.

Here is my suggestion: pick 1 – 3 issues that you will commit to working on and focus on those. You will be more effective and less fatigued. This is especially important for spoonie fam, and for all people who are experiencing the direct harm of the oppressive systems in this country.

Disabled Hikers

I soft launched a new project on the Equinox, Disabled Hikers: Real Information, by Disabled Hikers for Disabled Hikers. I am creating hiking guides with information that I need as a disabled person to decide whether to attempt a trail or not.

I get so frustrated with having to scour guidebooks and online articles to determine whether I should attempt a trail or not. My frustration peaked two weeks ago, when after several days of not feeling well I finally managed to pull myself from the house and go out for a short trip. After visiting a familiar trail, I decided to try another one that I had read about, and had completed another segment of. Well, it was far more difficult for my weary body than the guides had indicated. There were steep stairs that weren’t mentioned, a few very slick and narrow slopes, and other problems.

Inspiration struck. Why don’t I combine my love of hiking and the outdoors, with my dedication to activism and subverting ableism, with my writing skills? Why don’t I create the thing that I wish existed, as I so often have? I could create my own hiking guides!

So I went home and created a website. In my excitement, I posted the link on my Facebook page to share with friends, and suddenly it was being shared 50 times! And then Autostraddle included it in a link roundup, and my barely-there blog was receiving hundreds of visits. That was followed by some shares from my personal blog, which also received hundreds of visits.

The response continues to be overwhelmingly positive, and I am very honored and admittedly a little surprised. I knew this was a need but I didn’t realize how much of a need. There are many people out there doing good work around accessibility and the outdoors, and I plan to feature as much of their work as I can, but for now my focus is on building the website, creating hiking guides, and spreading the word.

DisabledHikers.com now exists, and the first guide is up, with several more currently being written. It is a hefty task – each hike, when taken with the perspective of writing a guide, takes twice as long as usual. The guide takes at least 3 hours to research, write, and edit, and an additional 1-2 hours to format, edit photos, and post on the website. Then I spend several hours promoting the site so people know about the resource. All in all, I spend at least 10 hours publishing each guide.

I’m sharing this with you only because I think there is not enough transparency about the time it takes for people to put together projects and offer them to the community. The time I spend on this is time that I do not get to spend on other paying projects and opportunities. I offer this from my heart, in service to the community, because it is something that I want to exist. And yet, as a disabled person myself, I have to be honest about my abilities and resources and their limitations.

My plan for the website includes adding hikers and guides from other areas, additional resource and technical guides, a range of media offerings, and a community forum. I’ll be making print copies of the guides to give to organizations, and eventually publish a guidebook. I’m excited about the project and the possibilities.

If you want to help, you can do that by spreading the word and sharing the website, sending me links to people and groups who might be interested in the project or in speaking with me about it, or by contributing to my Patreon.

I hope this project provides a valuable resource to disabled hikers and disabled would be hikers. While nature is not a cure-all, my time in the outdoors has been profoundly healing, has helped me regain my confidence, and given me a home that I can always return to. I want to give that opportunity to as many people as I can, both for themselves and for the places they will come to love.

 

 

Modern Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

Modern Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

There are a growing number of people interested in a polytheistic monastic lifestyle, or at least growing awareness of it as a possibility. Many of these modern-day monastics lead a life in which devotion is present in every daily activity, service to others is considered service to the divine, and hours are spent in study, devotion, and contemplation rather than excessive socializing or other external activities.

I consider myself among those interested in creating this way of life and working toward building awareness and acceptance of it within western polytheism and modern culture. This lifestyle is a powerful resistance to American society; indeed, it goes against almost everything this culture values. I see four main areas of resistance in which a monastic lifestyle serves:

Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor
Our time is one of the most precious gifts that we have. Why should we spend it in service to lining the pockets of the wealthy, when we could spend it in service to the divine and each other? Our time is not a commodity to be traded and our labor does not determine our worth as human beings. Our existence, our innate divinity and connection with the divine, is sacrosanct. The monastic is not interested in accumulating unnecessary wealth, in owning more than is needed for basic needs, or in engaging in activities that do not support devotion and service. The monastic’s productive time and labor is committed to meeting their own and other’s basic needs to allow space to open for contemplation and devotion – no more and no less.

Resistance to the disenchantment of daily life
Our modern lifestyles leave little time for appreciation and connection with each other, the world around us, and the divine. Our power as creative beings in relation with a great web of existence is reduced to a few shallow moments that we can wring from the constant pressure to produce and do and go-go-go. This disenchantment, this disconnection from who we are, is the core of the systems that harm us. The monastic who steps back from the external pressure, finds joy in the simplicity of daily life, and re-enchants their days with deep contemplation and connection with beings human and divine holds a key to remembering our true selves. Like The Hermit card, they hang a lamp showing us the way.

Monastics bring enchantment back to the community. As devotionalists and frequent mystics, they serve a bridge between the mundane and the sacred, bringing the sacred into the every day and making every day sacred. Through their creativity and service, they make connection with the divine more readily available, and in contemplation they access deep truths and awareness.

Resistance to oppression and the devaluation of human beings
As Silence Maestas wrote in a post on devotional justice it is much more difficult for people facing threats to their existence to surrender to devotion. I have experienced this myself – while in, and recovering from, my abusive marriage, and while faced with the financial and housing instability that resulted from my divorce, surrender has been incredibly difficult. If we want more people to be able to lead spiritual lives, we have to make sure their basic needs and safety are met.

If one truly believes that all humans contain some spark or aspect of the divine, then anything that harms and oppresses humanity should be revolutionized. Those of us who place ourselves in service to the divine are also placing ourselves in service to humanity. Not only out of compassion for other humans, but out of love for deity.

Resistance to resource extraction from the earth
Many pagan monastics regard all parts of nature, moving and unmoving, as having their own unique spirit or to be a part of the divine. Just as we consider humans to be divine, so are all of the other beings on this planet. So, the monastic also aligns themselves with the earth and the beings of the place in which they live. The pagan monastic is often inclined to spend time in contemplative appreciation of the wild and natural world which we are a part of, and to protect and learn from those places.

The concept of extraction and exploitation is in stark contrast to the values of service and devotion; thus, the monastic practices an anti-capitalist resistance, though often without naming it that way. As such, this lifestyle is not easily accomplished in this society. There are many systemic barriers, external and internal. But the call to create a contemplative life firmly rooted in devotion and service is strong.

For myself, the past two years of trauma and insecurity has been clarifying and informative alongside terrifying; the ongoing process of shedding my old life, my old expectations, my old attachments has been difficult and painful. During this time that I have spent in relative solitude, I have experienced joy, contentment, and loneliness. But I realized that the loneliness is not new – being dependent upon an abusive husband and abusive wage labor jobs for security, caring about other peoples’ perceptions of me and my work, forcing myself to be productive when my spirit was screaming for time to just be, was in fact incredibly lonely and isolating. Upon realizing this, and the harm I was causing myself, I embraced my situation as an opportunity for healing and transformation. Yet, embracing the situation would have been impossibly difficult if it were not for the generosity of friends and strangers who provided support in many ways.

IMG_20180131_181122_163.jpg

As I allow this process to unfold, the call to live my most authentic life becomes stronger. A contemplative life of devotion and service is a life that feels right and good to me, a life that engages in as little harm as possible and is aligned with my values and connection with the earth. One of the things that I gained in coming out of an abusive relationship was an unwillingness to harbor abuse towards myself or abuse towards others. I cannot harbor blame against myself and I cannot willingly subject myself to something that I know will bring deep pain for minimal reward.

This too is not easy in our culture. The culture of the United States, so deeply rooted in capitalism and colonialism, is incredibly coercive and abusive. Wage labor is one of the most coercive aspects of capitalism: requiring us to be in service to capital or risk starvation. What do we lose, what potential does not get realized, while all of us are working ourselves to exhaustion in service to capital? That is not the practice of service I am here for. I am not here to bow to kings and capitalists.

Perhaps this is the result of being overly idealistic, mental health issues, or just my basic constitution (all of which have been “suggested” to me at some point). But I don’t think so. I think it is, as my friend Danica says much more eloquently, a revolt of the soul. Working a wage labor job feels like chaining my soul to everything that I don’t believe in. And while I recognize that I can bring my spiritual practice of devotion and service to everything that I do, including a wage labor job, experience has shown me again and again that the cost is too great. The cost to all of us is too great.

And yet, we still live in a capitalist society. There is no opting out, there is no freedom to choose; there is no true consent. So, what does this mean for someone like me, who wants to live a monastic lifestyle? How can I best move into this space of deepening into my truth and purpose and doing my true Work, while also meeting my basic needs within a society that puts a price tag on existence?

I’m most interested in creating a life in which wage labor is minimally necessary, if at all. The past year has certainly shown me that I can make do with far less than I thought I needed, that indeed I can be very happy by fulfilling my basic needs. Some food in my pack, water in my canteen, a warm dry place to come home to and a way to leave it when I’m ready, a source of communication with the rest of the world, my pen and notebook, my devotion, and my dog. That’s all.

So, what does the material foundation of a monastic life look like to me? It is pretty simple really:

  • Land that is my own/held in commons/conservation with other people
  • A small house or other structure
  • Labor focused on meeting needs, trade and service-oriented self-employment income to meet remaining needs, occasional supplementation with wage labor

I envision communities that are supportive of solitude and spiritual service, with access to a beautiful expanse of land, to be in a relationship of reciprocity with people and place.

In the interim, I am working on creating as much of this contemplative life of devotion and service as I can. I’m removing my own blocks and barriers to practice, feeling into where my service is most needed now, and opening to divine and ancestral guidance. I can only continue to flow where the current takes me, remaining hopeful that when it comes time to leap, Maa will open Her hand. I will continue to resist the conscription of my time, the chaining of my spirit to capitalism as much as I can.

I seek out support and community around these values. One such community is the Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism group (the Facebook group is currently set to “secret,” if you are interested in joining let me know). I also look to the work and friendship of Danica Swanson of the Black Stone Hermitage. I draw upon the Hindu tantric and bhakti traditions; as an initiate of Shakta Tantra, devotion to Kali Maa is the thread that weaves throughout my practice and draws me forward to awakening. There is a long history of monasticism, mysticism, and service to look to, even in the Western world. This desire is not new; indeed, there is evidence of people devoting themselves to spiritual service from the oldest of indigenous cultures. But as another wise hermit friend who practices Advaita Vedanta asked me, now that I have expressed this desire can I release it to the universe? That too is a part of the path.

Do you enjoy my writing or want to support this vision? Consider joining me on Patreon.

You Are Love

A valentine poem for you, for the earth. Perhaps especially for those who are in solitude this Valentine’s Day. Jai Maa ❤

27797743_10157035010854368_5098945402216265204_o
Vision of the Olympics from the Hoh River

Here the earth curves in welcome
meeting my back with the sure comfort
of a wizened love.

I lean into the embrace,
inclined to believe
this is meant to be.

I rest against stones in their fullness, round
rising from the ground
warmth penetrating my cold, jagged edges
soothing, subduing
as I sink into the flow
that caressed their shape
into form.

Here so held solitude
becomes expansive.

My awareness slides
into the ever flowing river
surely as the salmon
in rushing depths.
This as simple and precious as breath

Here a truth:
You are not loved.
You are love.
You are not on this earth.
You are of this earth.
You can not be separate from who you are
and even the strongest of forms
will change with the flow of time.

Break open, wild one

Whenever I am be-ing outdoors, awe and gratitude often strike me to the core, like a ray of sun suddenly slicing through the dense canopy and illuminating the forest floor in a shocking glow.

I realized a couple of weeks ago that on many of my recent outings, I had been much more focused on getting somewhere or on the physical activity of hiking, my body wanting to move while it could and my mind wanting a distraction from itself. I hadn’t been sinking into the still receptiveness of winter.

Well, cue a flare-up of body pain and an injury. Unable to exert myself I was forced to slow down, to be still and pay closer attention, to notice what was going on in my body and in the world around me. To be present with the pain* and my reaction to it, to notice where grief was rising, bubbles from the cracks at the bottom of an emotional sea.

It was then that the light of awe and gratitude that had recently been only like the first light of sunrise, rose high. The cracks broke open and a great flood washed over me.

IMG_20171207_181541_774.jpg
Quinault Rainforest, Photo by Syren

Driving south along 101, the Washington coast rising and falling in great curves that seemed to match the sound of the waves breaking upon her shore, I made a sudden left turn onto a dirt road with a sign that read “Big Cedar.” I had driven past this sign near Kalaloch many times on my way to other places, promising myself I would make a more leisurely trip and stop at this and all of the other heritage trees.

Just a few steps from the rough parking area ,this giant tree looms colossal. It is said the tree is over 1000 years old; part of it has fallen and there is only one living branch, and it is breathtaking. Standing in the presence of this ancient being I felt time spin and grow very still, each breath seeming to be an eternity. I found myself circumambulating this kin’s** great trunk like a temple. Stooping beneath a huge root that was well over human height and must have grown out of a great nurse log, I felt like I was entering the most sacred of places. Walking around the tree, seeing where new life was growing from the decay, I acutely felt the cycle of life and death and the gifts that the forest holds. Tears wet my cheeks at I slowly stepped forward to touch the exposed roots and the soft, decaying bark. I spoke a prayer of gratitude, and a promise to work to protect the tree’s kin so that they too would have the chance to live full lives of grace.

IMG_20180111_103700_269.jpg
Big Cedar, Photo by Syren

Following several days of winter rain (finally), the weather cleared and the steely dome of the sky lifted into a high blue cathedral ceiling. Still feeling sore, I decided pain be damned and went to Rialto Beach, on Quileute tribal land, now the Olympic National Park.

It was impossibly beautiful. The horizon was completely clear so I watched the bright orb of the sun as the horizon rotated away, dipping the sun into the ocean to turn the water into surreal shades of orange and red and pink and purple.

Then just after sunset, as I’m watching the colors shift in the fading light, overcome by the beauty, an eagle flies by. And then another. And then a raven circles me. And then another raven. And then an eagle circles me. And then two more eagles fly by and land in the tree above me. One after another after another in wave after wave of awe, me turning in circles with my face lifted skyward: bird, pink sky, sunset, purple ocean, bird. Feeling the incredible throng of life.

Before I knew it I was sobbing. Like tears pouring down my face grateful the ocean covered the sound and all the people had already moved on sobbing. I stood there and just wept for a while, the waves of awe and gratitude crashing against waves of pain and grief in a beautiful spray of tears.

Yes, I was sobbing for my own pain and loss, which we all have. But I was also crying in gratitude, crying for the sheer impossibility that I, or any of us, could be here to witness such beauty, and how fleeting it is. Crying for the loss that the earth has experienced, me listening to her cries, even as she hears mine. I felt awe at the continued celebration of the cycle of life and death, against all odds. And I felt a fierce protectiveness for what, who, I love.

I went home as the gloaming deepened. Later that night I went out to walk my dog, and was surprised to see to see something I had not seen here yet: the sky was perfectly clear, the moon was old, and the stars were flickering brightly.

I live close enough to town that there is enough light pollution to obscure the full majesty of the starry sky. So, I hopped back in the car and drove to Rialto again. As I drove one, two shooting stars crossed my sight, seeming to call me forward. I stopped where the Quillayute river pours into the sea, the electric lights blocked by mountains, and again turned my face skyward.

Its a good thing I was leaning against the car.

Above me stretched a tapestry of light against the darkness and the Milky Way in near-full glory, the river mirroring the flowing. Another shooting star with a tail that trailed across half my field of vision flashed brightly; I felt as if I could reach out and grab the star like a firefly in a jar.

And there I was, one being held by the cosmos, the earth supporting my feet, the stars as gateways to the unknowable. Time again began to spiral, the flickering stars seemed to giggle and sing as the river hummed softly and the waves added their crescendos. What greater miracle than this?

Nature can break us open in the most beautiful of ways, reminding us of our own wildness, of the connection we have with the world and with other beings. This connection remains whether we acknowledge it or not, and demands our attention and reciprocation.

*Pain and disability sucks, make no mistake about that. But for me, I have to see it as a gateway. Not to make the pain go away, but to understand myself as a person with pain and how fleeting life is, and to empathize with the pain of the world.
**I strive to remove inappropriate pronouns from my vocabulary, and to always address a being with the pronoun they use, human or non-human. I do not feel comfortable referring to the earth and the many beings that exist here as “it”. Kin is one alternative that I use, as it is non-appropriative, gender neutral, and reflects the relationship we have with other beings. Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks more about this, and has inspired me to continue to reflect on language.