Gratitude

A portion of this was originally published on my blog The Forks Poems.

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Photo taken from Undi Bypass Road, Forks, WA

It’s true that the dark days can make us appreciate the bright ones more. When the clouds clear and the sun makes a sudden, stunning appearance painting the sky in an impossible play of colors, the gratitude I feel is overwhelmingly blissful.

Gratitude changes everything.

But I have gratitude, too for the dark days. The days when a different set of eyes allows me to see the play as the clouds pass over the sky, in as many shades of grey as there are colors in a bright sunset. Oh there is beauty and magic in that play too.

I read this excerpt from Wild Comfort: the Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (one of my favorite authors) the evening after I took this photo:

…[H]ere is the work of patience: to be ready for the world to slit us, the full length of us, opening our hearts with the pellucid attention that is the watchfulness of the heron in the cove at the end of the day, when wood smoke slides onto the rising tide and slanting rain pocks the water. This patience is the birth of gratitude. pg 109

I found this to resonate with such truth. The US has just celebrated Thanksgiving (which I abstain from, as I do not celebrate the colonialist and genocidal roots of the day) and expressions of gratitude have filled our tables and our media. But what is this gratitude that comes around once per year, expressed when so many people are sitting around incredible bounty that, for the most part, they are disconnected from?

Gratitude is relational; it’s opening is found through our connection with others, be they human, plant, animal, or spirit. In our willingness to open ourselves to the experience of being in relation with the world and all of its joy and sorrow, we open ourselves to the experience of deep gratitude. It requires steadfastness, attention, and patience as the world goes by, not to be swept away by its tidal pulls. Gratitude is not appreciation as someone spoons another helping onto our plate. Though it is a building block of gratitude, appreciation so often begins in entitlement and passes as quickly as the spoon to our mouths.

The day that I took this photo, I realized that I had gone over a week without talking to or seeing a (incarnate) human being, but I was very much ok with that. I had spent the week settling into my new home, getting to know the Place and patiently watching the storm clouds roll in and pass away. I was missing the Place that I had come from (by which I mean the plants and spirits) but feeling very joyful to get to know new ones. My heart was opening into deep gratitude.

In that space, I put my very excited dog into the car and went to check out the State Park down the road. I quickly realized it was primarily a campground and there didn’t appear to be much hiking but decided to wander around, noticing the trees and variety of mosses in a small area. As I wandered I ran into the campground host who was also out for a walk with her dog. The pups made quick friends and she warmly invited me to join her on their walk. She took me to a trail I never would have found on my own and we talked about mosses and how many ferns can grow on a tree and how creeks each have their own individual sound. Giving me more tips on hiking in the area, she invited me to her church and to come back to hike with her anytime. In accepting this offering of connection from her, I left full of gratitude.

From there I drove up the hill over a gravel road through logging land, and as I rounded a curve the trees sparkled as the sun began to dipped beneath the clouds and the sky started to clear. I gasped with surprise and delight and my heart burst open. The joy I felt in this moment, after days of patience and the offering of my attention to the world, was indescribable. Then it clicked: it was my gratitude, the gratitude that I have held on to through all of the trials I have endured, that was the key. It was the key to my grief and sorrow and my bliss and joy.

If we open to it gratitude has the power to slit us from stern to bow, to show us the power of connection and relation – even when the rain is unrelenting and the fishing ain’t easy.

 

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The Last Time

It has been a year since I wrote this piece to read at Grief Rites in Portland, Oregon. It has previously been shared only within the grief support group I administer and with my patrons. If you would like to hear me read it along with two poems, join my Patreon.

The sky outside my bedroom window is dark, the first rays of light trapped behind heavy clouds. Only omens come at this hour. As consciousness seizes me, I notice the look on my husband’s face, and the words “honey, its your mom, someone died” flee his lips. What? No. One of the dogs? Maybe a grandparent. Or my dad? Oh god. He thrusts the phone into my hand like some infected thing, and I take it.

Mom? Through the sobs I make out “your sister is dead. Jen is dead” and I sense time and space – of my world as I know it – being suddenly ripped apart. My thoughts scurry away from me as my body freezes. I feel completely dislocated from this moment, the veiled heaviness of the sky obscuring my presence.

I ask “what happened?”, as if my mother, barely able to say two words, would be able to tell me. In the few moments it bought me I quickly shuffled through the cards in my brain, looking for the instructions labeled “what to do if your sister just died and your mother is begging you to fix it”. Nothing. Shit. Alright. Another phrase flashes through my brain: In case of emergency break glass. Air rushes into my lungs, and I quickly ground and center myself. Yes, remember your training, Syren. The mantle of priestess goes on, blanketing my own emotions. I console my mother as best I can, while listening to my father speak to the police in the background. My mother keeps repeating: “she’s dead. I don’t know. I should have done something. I need you here.”

I hang up the phone and look for my husband who is rushing to get ready for work. I grab his arm and turn to look at him – as he puts his arms around me I allow myself one moment of sobs. “We have to go” I say.

Phone calls, internet searches, how can plane tickets be so expensive? clothes tossed into bags, ‘oh gods what are we going to do about the dogs?’ – note left for neighbor. Two hours later and we’re sitting in PDX waiting for our flight across the country. 8 hours. I have 8 blessed hours to breathe, and relax, and find some space within myself before I have to start swimming through miasma of pain and sorrow.

It had been two years since we last saw each other.
I know this, because I left the day before her 30th birthday. And she died two months after her 32nd.

She had talked about how wonderful it would be to have me there to celebrate the big Three-Oh. But I knew that was probably not going to happen. Ten days has generally been the longest I could visit home before things went south, and to stay that long would have been two weeks, the breadth of time from Winter Solstice to her birthday.

It was New Years Eve; my husband, my father, my sister, and a little too much alcohol was bound to be a volatile combination. Some argument about laws and politics, but it could have been about anything. It doesn’t take much to tread old scars, to scratch at barely concealed wounds.

We left the next day, while she sat in her room, barely a word of goodbye.

It would be the last time I went home while she was alive.

A year or so ago, she came into a discussion about racism on my Facebook wall. She quickly derailed, while I did my best to remain calm and compassionate. She spouted off hateful things at me. It was pretty obvious she was in another episode of mental instability. She unfriended me and said she didn’t want to speak to me anymore.

And I was fine with that.

I called it boundary-making. I called it self care. There is only so much familial instability one can handle, so many arguments, so many words flung in a panic of mania and anger. I loved her. But I couldn’t do it.

We didn’t speak again until this February. She called me a day or two before I left for India. She told me she was sorry, that she couldn’t let me leave without saying that she loved me and always would. Sisters are forever.

At least, that is what we always thought.

On March 2nd, a week before she died, she sent me another message. “I love my Sister. She is amazing and I couldn’t imagine my life without her” the meme said. I could feel her uncertainty, her shaking hand holding the olive branch, the simple statement and question: do you still love me? I didn’t know what to do or what to say, I still had so many mixed emotions and I was so busy. So all I said was “cute”.

We will never speak again.

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Rising from the Ashes

Hello dear readers,

I feel like a struck chord this morning, vibrating with the echoes of the past as they collide with the present and shift my movement into the future. It was a year ago today that I plunged my hands into the ashes of the body of my sister, and they slipped through my fingers at sea. A year ago that an initiation descended upon me, the continuation of a process that had begun in a vision now made manifest.

I now find my own life in ashes; what remains after having endured the most difficult year of my life. One can’t hold onto ashes… they are too easily picked up by the wind, slip through the fingers, are too easily gone never to be seen again, whisked off to dissolve back into the world.

The fires have stripped away my resistance and my fear, have reduced my attachments to the life I thought I wanted to something that will blow away at the slightest breath of will. In the space that remains I am finding the vulnerability to open my heart to the love of the Great Mother in ways that I have never known. It is giving me the confidence to step off the ledge and fall into the great unknown, to open to the ecstasy of Her love and to find Her within myself. To take myself as my own Lover.

I’m taking the leap into a new vision for my life. I’ve survived the trifecta of life tragedies this year – Death, Disability, Divorce – and the loss of my housing. There’s a new page on my blog explaining more about what is to come next to support my survival as I take this leap. I hope you will read it and offer whatever support you can.

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Artist Unknown

Grief Meditation

This experience is designed to help you unlock the grief that is being held in your body, trapped behind the barrier that says accessing the depths of our grief is not acceptable. It is written in response to the question “how do I access my grief?”. I use a variation of this in my grief ceremonies.

Gather your tissues and a shawl, scarf, or blanket. Have some music or a tool of sound ready. Find a quiet, dark place or somewhere you feel safe. You may want to do this with a friend present – having someone witness our grief can be profoundly healing – but it is not necessary. Meet yourself wherever you are, with whatever limitations you have. The most important thing is to just be in this moment with your grief.

Start breathing deeply but do not force your breath, let it come naturally. As you breathe, think about what you are grieving. It could be anything, one thing or many things. Grief is complex, it does not fall neatly into boxes. Think about what you are grieving, let the memories come to you. As you start to think about it, notice the feelings that arise. Notice the sensations in your body.

Now, ask your grief, those sensations, what they want. Let the answer come naturally – it too may be a sensation or feeling.

If it starts to feel like too much, or if you start to feel resistance, tell yourself that this is only for this moment. That after this exercise, you can return to your normal activities, but for now you are going to do this, even if it is only pretend.

Continue breathing into those feelings, and into the places in your body that are experiencing a sensation. Perhaps there is a tightness in your throat? A heaviness in your chest? A clenching in your gut? Really focus on those sensations, feel them, and let them rise.

Let yourself make a sound. It can be any sound. Maybe it is a chuckle, or a sob, or a soft moan or a single word or phrase. Give yourself permission to give a sound to your grief. If nothing comes out right away, fake it and make any sound. Have you ever started laughing and then found yourself sobbing? The process will unlock itself.

Do not censor yourself. Let whatever sound needs to come out, come out. Keep feeling into the sensations in your body and the memories of your grief.

As you reach deeper and unravel the cords of grief that have been tangled in you, a different sound may come to you. A wail or a keening or a great screaming cry. It may sound or feel animalistic. Do not be afraid of this sound. Let it rise from you, let it take over for a few moments and escape, taking with it the tangled cords that have kept you bound.

Give yourself time to cry, or scream, or just feel the sensations in your body. Put on some music or start drumming, and let your body move as freely as you are able. Find joy in your movement, do not let it cause you pain. If you have pleasant memories of the person you are grieving, think about those. Visualize a positive outcome for the thing that you are grieving. Visualize healing for yourself.

Once you’re ready, end the movement and sound and start breathing slowly and deeply. Wrap yourself in your shawl, and hug yourself (or have a friend hold you). Sing to yourself if you like. Thank your grief for the lessons it has given you, and thank yourself for giving yourself this time. When you are ready, make yourself something to eat and drink and give a prayer of gratitude to these things too. Do something to take care of yourself, and reach out to a friend. You may be tempted to analyze the experience, but please let your physical and emotional self be with the experience for now. You may like to journal about it later.

You may find that you are unable to go into your grief the first time you give yourself permission, or you may feel like you have much more grieving to do after this. Both of those experiences are valid. Keep trying. Continue to give yourself permission to grieve. Reach out to others for support. You can do this. It is as natural and normal as breathing, and loving.

From my grieving heart to yours.

Playlist suggestions for this work: In Sorrow and Hermitage 
Playlists courtesy Danica Swanson of The Black Stone Hermitage

You are welcome to share this with others, but please leave intact and credit Syren Nagakyrie.

A veiled ghost in front of a cave.
Image: Malgorzata Maj

Initiations of Ash

The man placed a line of gray ash from the sacred firepit upon my forehead, above the bright sindoor red bindi he had marked me with in Kali’s temple. I felt a shudder of energy release memories of past and future; a layer of old self replaced by a new layer of meaning. There was fire behind my eyes, gray of ash and red of blood. In that instant the gravity of the experience I had just received in the temple, the shrines I had visited marking patterns of a deeper mystery, began to transform me.

* * *

She came roaring in a cloud of ash, bright flashing blade and lolling tongue. Slice, chop, red palms to hungry skulls, CRACK. Here, my child, You Are.

* * *

The boat was rocking so softly as I took my place on the very edge, toes just touching the surface of the water; green-gray that seemed to taste extra salty. Or perhaps that was the tears trapped on my tongue. I plunged my hand into the depths of the black container, pulling out a grasp of the ashen remains of my sister’s body. My hand began to tingle as energy spread across it and up my arm. With a silent prayer I stretched out my arm and released, the ashes falling from my hand and spreading in a cloud in the water. I looked at my hand – it no longer felt like my own. It felt lighter, possessed of something holy and yet weighted by a mass defying it’s size.

Again. Plunge into the plastic, a handful of grains and chips of bone, release. The boat jumped slightly as wind and wave shifted, and the ash blew back into my face. Forehead, nose, lips – the graininess of salt and ash, borne on a gentle caress of wind. Again I felt the shudder, and the energy in my hand surged through my body and blasted through my new layers of meaning as freshly healed skin tender to the touch of it. I felt my crown open as my vision doubled, tripled, became clearer.

Now you see.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about initiation lately. The experiences I told you of here all happened within the span of about a month, this year. I’m also studying another initiatory tradition, and rolling that around has been an interesting exercise around my views on power and authority.

I’ve never really wanted initiation by a teacher (though I have craved the devotional relationship of student-teacher – but that is another post). The tradition I studied under the longest was non-initiatory, though I was given the blessing of self-initiation and acknowledgment as priestess.

But that isn’t to say I’ve never been initiated.

How could these experiences not be initiations? What if initiation is not only a single act, bestowed upon us by another supposedly (hopefully) with the support of the Gods? And what contextualization do we have for these experiences, let alone what support? I’ve struggled to feel comfortable discussing some of these experiences and to be taken seriously, and that struggle has really illuminated the places where initiation is tied to power and authority.

For me, being a priestess is who I am. It is how I walk in the world. It is in my actions and my way of being. It isn’t about holding power over others, dictating meaning or relationships with the Divine. It isn’t about being in service to any one or any thing either, though it is about being of service. It does mean an awful lot of work and sacrifice and looking at things that sometimes I would really just rather not.

It is going to the places unseen, doing the work that needs doing, and bringing it back out into the world. It is walking in cremation grounds, those places where people dare not go, and receiving the ashes.

“A healthy Priest makes all things sound.” Francesca DeGrandis

If I am a god, in relationship with other gods (embodied and not), then where do initiations come from? And if a God should deliver an initiation to me without an intermediary, how is that somehow ‘less valid’?

Ultimately for me, it comes down to the most important questions of all: how do you walk in the world? How are you of service? Do you live with integrity and accountability? Are you willing to show up and do the hard work? Will you thrust your hand into the ash and do what needs done?

If so, you have very likely undergone many of your own initiations, whether through the hands of another or the hands of the Gods.

Invocation to Grieving Hearts

May the waves of our grief
and the fires of our open hearts
rise and flow to remind us all
of the power that we contain.

Our bones are made of mountains
Our tears made of stars

With the contraction and expansion of every heart beat
Our bodies call to the grief and ecstasy of life

May we remember
in honor of all those who are forgotten
May we remember
in honor of the blood in the soil
and the beings that have been lost.

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I actually wrote that over a week ago, before I really heard about the murder of Alton Sterling, followed by the murder of Philando Castile, and a number of other deaths of POC in the last few days that happen everyday.

It came after a night of devotion to Kali. It came after having another layer of maya ripped from my sight. I’ve been struggling to reorient myself since then, and have realized that nothing has felt stable in longer than I can remember.

Three weeks ago I wrote “I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.”

I keep diving into the current, hoping to pull out something profound and meaningful, something that will inspire to empowerment and action. But I gotta be honest: right now I’m not finding anything other than the ominous. And as I watch the protests surge across the country, fear and grief flowing through the people, I can’t help but feel that this is not the end.

Are you feeling it too? That sense of something being ripped open, of something below the surface that feels too dark, too deep?

Do you feel the resistance, like a rip tide?