Now What?

I had one of those dreams this morning—the kind you have after you wake and think your day is starting, but then you fall back to sleep.

I encountered a young deer, a buck, on a trail. I tried to let him pass, stood very still, but he reared back and placed his front legs against me. I tried to make myself seem even more still. He placed his cool, black nose against mine. I realized he wasn’t threatening me or threatened by me.

I woke with a vivid memory of the deer.

So I did what I do when I have interesting encounters with animals, I looked up its meaning in the Animal-Wise Tarot book. Mythologies are ripe, it says, with tales of heroes being lured into new, transforming adventures by chasing the deer. Lured from civilization back into the wilderness by the hunt.

The new “normal” is setting in for Tom and me. Tessa Dog continues to be an absence that is a presence. But her absence is part of the new normal as we prepare for his next course of treatment—radiation.

Radiation disrupts both cancer cells and healthy cells. Cancer cells, the invaders, are not as good at repairing themselves as are healthy cells, the legitimate residents in our bodies. Antioxidants are good for us because they help repair our cells—but apparently help cancer cells as well. And so antioxidants aren’t recommended during the 9 weeks of radiation therapy.

Whatever that means. Antioxidants are part of the food we eat as well as supplements like vitamins C, D, and E. Are all antioxidants created equal?

Though I appreciate the radiation oncologist’s knowledge about the physics of radiation, he wasn’t really very helpful when it came to information about antioxidants. He also didn’t seem interested in learning anything about them. I was left with the feeling that we are at the mercy of cancer and radiation—neither of which is known for merciful behavior.

This is a limitation to the science of medicine. I highly respect the science, but the art needs to come in as well. That means engaging the patient. I’m sure we will find a way to work through this, as Tom is working with a naturopath as well.

So maybe that is the wilderness we are being lured into—a forced engagement with ourselves—each in our own way. A deep plunge into life, what it means to us, and our agency over our own lives.

The wilderness for me, the fears it evokes, are of having my head chopped off if I rise above. Or being the nail that gets banged down because it sticks up. Or being a flower that is taller than the others.

Being that which makes me one of a kind.

In my heart of hearts, I believe that we are all one of a kind, creating the story that comes out of our experience of life. The joys and the sorrows. The triumphs and the failures. The loves and the losses.

Compassion for being human is at the core of it. Especially compassion for ourselves.

We are reaching the two-year anniversary of moving to the Northwest. I often think I’m still in California because we are still on the left coast. But it has been a significant change. One sees evidence up here, for example, of the original inhabitants. Tribal centers. Towns with native names. Totem poles carved for civic centers.

There is a feral quality that transcends here.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this except to come back to my title: Now what?

Tom has said that he thinks cancer is outnumbered. I think that’s true. But as much a part of this that I am, when it comes down to it, this is Tom’s battle to wage. I am on the sidelines.

I feel like that candle in the wind Elton John wrote of.

I’ve been searching for my armor, my protection from the fears evoked in my wilderness. I think the deer in my dream was telling me that armor isn’t the answer. Protection isn’t the answer.

Valuing my experience of life is.

It occurred to me recently that no one has the right to survive. We are all at the mercy of life’s randomness. We can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place. Over that we have little, if any control.

But we do have a right to our life, to embrace its story, to dive into the experience of it.

So, I guess the answer to my title, “Now What?”, is to follow the deer into the wilderness and see where he leads me.

Dream Seeds of the Cold and Dark

Celebrate another passage through winter. Manifest the dream seeds of the cold and dark.”
From the Spring card in the Wisdom of the Crone deck.

Spring has come to my part of the world.

Delicate blossoms appear on the gnarly trees in the Arroyo where Tessa and I walked this morning. Buds appear on the tips of the lilac tree in our yard. We thought the tree was dead when we moved into our home. But it just needed a bit of care. Now it is a centerpiece in our yard, a sculpture in the middle of the path on the way to the Writing Shed. Mourning doves scurry past it this morning.

It was a rough entry into this new year. I found myself descending into a place I thought I had left behind—an esteem held hostage by the demon that whispers discouraging words. Words that dis my courage, send it deep underground.

Depression and a persistent virus silenced me. Or at least my blog voice. I wrote every day in my morning pages. I sometimes wondered if they were my mourning pages.

I would start my morning by pulling cards from the Animal-Wise Tarot deck and the Wisdom of the Crone deck. I do not see these cards as fortune-, or even truth tellers. They just give form to the chaos of feelings and emotions that rise during change. The recurring theme in the cards I pulled said, “Let go of the past that haunts you.”

What was the past that haunted me?

Ideas and concepts that I had discussed with various art groups appeared all over town during this time period, but with no acknowledgement of my contribution or any room for my own creative endeavors.

I’m not a victim. I don’t even play one on TV. Yet it is a recurring theme in my life—being left behind. So what was this about?

I have started writing Beans and Meatballs and the Pink Stuff—a creative nonfiction account of three women of similar age who influenced my life: my mother, and two women, Sally and Jeanette, I met through the Gray Panthers. I was 30 when I met Sally and Jeanette. I was in my late forties when they died. I was in my fifties when my mother died.

Each of these women was quirky, none aspired to be a lady. I don’t know what it would have been like to be the daughter of either Jeanette or Sally. Jeanette never married and had no children. If she had, I suspect she would have been a bit tyrannical in her expectations. Sally had a daughter. From what I could glean, I think that to reject the conventions of her time, Sally rejected the importance of mothering a child.

I do know what it was like to be my mother’s daughter. She rarely pulled out the matriarchal card with me. But when she did, that demon that dissed my courage was dissing hers, saying, “You’re a woman. To show love, you give up all that is you.”

It was a covert act, done under the cover of being for the “greater good.”

I was angry that my ideas and concepts had been co-opted. And then I felt guilty that I felt angry. That I felt entitled to what was mine. Guilty that I felt entitled to my own life. As I had done throughout my life, I sought to leave myself behind.

It was the ghost of that self that haunted me, a ghost left in limbo, waiting for permission to be, and wanting that permission to come from my mother. That ghost wanted to feel loved and loving. To let go of it, I had to leave behind the regret for the love I did not find in her, and still love my mother.

The dream seeds were planted in this cold and dark time—another round of grieving for my mother. The dream seeds are beginning to rise to the surface where they will reveal themselves. They are the seeds of entitlement to my life and the gifts I bring into the world.

Spring has come to my part of the world. Soon lilac blossoms will adorn the gnarly ancient branches on the sculpture that is the lilac tree. As I walk past it on the way to my Writing Shed, the delicate, subtle fragrance of its flowering will remind me that during times of cold and darkness, the seeds of change are awakening.

The Natural Sweetness of Life

Forgiveness is giving up all hope that the past could have been any different.
Either a direct quote from or a paraphrase of something really smart Anne Lamott wrote.

I’ve experienced a lot of disappointment over the past few months.

Hope by hope, I’ve had to let go. Not the hope for the future. But the hope that I could change the past.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow; accepting that the past could not have been any different. I think I finally understand that phrase – it’s a bitter pill to swallow. It doesn’t have anything to do with holding on to bitterness. It’s really about digesting it. Feeling the pain of disappointment at how things were, instead of how they could have been — if only. If only we all knew then what we know now.

But, of course, we didn’t know it then. And the only way that we can truly know it now is to forgive ourselves for not knowing before we could know it.

So I forgave myself for the number of times I strived for acceptance without really owning what I wanted to be accepted for. For being a child who wanted to be loved.

A door closed. And as is the case, another door opened – onto a blank page. And every writer knows how scary that can be – the blank page. In my morning pages I wrote, “What do I do next?”

Then I drew these three cards this morning from the Animal Wise Tarot deck:

Wolf: Intuitive guidance and guardianship

Beaver: Working for our dreams

Bear: Heeding inner voice and cycles

There was the answer to my question. Trust my own guidance and be willing to apply my efforts to what I imagine, not what I imagine someone wants me to do.

And here’s my favorite from today, the Bear card:

All bears have a fondness for honey, a symbol of the natural sweetness of life. When bear wanders in, it is a reminder that our innate potentials are awakening, but only by bringing them out in a new rhythm will we taste the honey of life.”

Here’s to today and the future, the bitter with the sweet.

May the past rest in peace.

Bombarded by Coconuts of Wakefulness – An Animal-Wise-Tarot-The-Places-That-Scare-You Blog

“In other traditions, demons are expelled externally. But in my tradition, they are welcome with compassion.”

Machik Labdron

The new tree in the yard

The new tree in the yard

I’ve developed a pretty good habit of at a minimum writing morning pages. Then I draw three cards from the Animal Wise Tarot deck. Today I drew the Raven (as I did yesterday but in a different order), then the Loon, and then the Eagle. Raven and Eagle are higher trump cards, Loon is from the Winged Ones suit, which in more traditional Tarot decks is Swords.

The first card I draw represents what’s come before; the second one represents my heart – the emotional center; the third has something to do with action. I’m kind of making this up as I go along, but then I do see living my life as an improvisation.

So the meanings today were:

Raven: Light in the Dark: Shapeshifting (wrote about that yesterday)
Loon: Answers and Hopes in Dreams
Eagle: Vision, Power, Healing

Loon is the one that struck me the most. Here’s what the book concludes: “Loon’s appearance tells us when we deal with the past that haunts us, we open doors to fulfilling our greatest dreams and imaginings in the future.”

I like that. Especially that bit about dealing with the past that haunts us. And that what haunts us are the dreams, wishes, and hopes we tucked to the back of our hearts.

What an interesting way to look at a ghost. Not so much the undead, as something that doesn’t die because its spirit transcends.

Our hopes, dreams, and wishes.

View of new tree from my writingshed

View of new tree from my writingshed

My parents were haunted by their hopes, dreams, and wishes. They’d tucked them away in their hearts so they could endure a Depression and then a War and then an era defined by the search for security. They even had security clearances – my dad worked at Lawrence Livermore Lab and my mom at Sandia.

It wasn’t security from fear; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Security was quite tenuous. If you signed the wrong statement, were a homosexual, belonged to the wrong organization, they believed, you would lose your security clearance. And then you would starve.

Fear was the sovereign emotion. Not a nourishing environment for dreams, wishes, and hopes.

The phrase “bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness,” comes from the book The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.

My books are a mess right now, strewn about my writingshed because I don’t have enough shelves to hold them all. So after looking on the shelves for a book I go through the piles on the floor, and often am surprised by what I find. That’s how I came across The Places That Scare You.

As I said, my life is an improvisation.

Compassion, Chodron, says is more emotionally challenging than loving kindness, because “it involves the willingness to feel pain.”

I think that’s what welcoming our demons with compassion means. Listening to what the demon is crying out for, which might be our dreams, hopes, and wishes yearning to be freed from where they have been tucked away.

My parents never really got the chance to do that. My dad got possessed by Alzheimer’s. My mother got closer to releasing them, but never really trusted that it was okay to do that.

And yet, another view of the new tree in my yard

And yet, another view of the new tree in my yard

I wonder if times are so difficult right now because that which has been tucked away for generations needs to be released. Maybe we are being bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness so we’ll wake up and smell the coffee, feel the pain of compassion, and yield to the yearning of our hopes, dreams, and wishes to be free.

Maybe the ghost that has been haunting us is Casper the friendly ghost.

So, here’s to finding light in the dark; answers and hopes in dreams and vision; and power and healing.

And may each of our days start by being bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.

The full quote, by the way is “In the garden of gentle sanity/May you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
About the new tree in the yard: One of the trees in my yard died. It was called a redbud. Apparently new soil got added to it and adding dirt to the base of a tree can suffocate it. I did not know this could happen.

I felt very sad about the tree dying. Really quite awful. And then this morning, as I wrote this blog, a new tree joined my yard. It’s a crepe myrtle. And gloriously red. Life continues.

The Light in the Dark

Time for an Animal-Wise Tarot blog.

I’ve been rewriting my story. Not the novel I’m working on, though I’m writing and rewriting that as well.

I’m talking about the story that is my life. My family tends to live a long time, my great grandfather married for the third time at 90 and lived to celebrate his 16th wedding anniversary. My grandmother lived to 99. I’m about to turn 60 (51 days and counting). It’s possible that I could still have forty years more. But even with that amount of time, I get it that time is limited. Our lives are limited. Limited to the time we have here in these bodies.

Okay, let’s say there is such a thing as past lives and that one day this life will be a past life for a new incarnation. That incarnation still will not be me in this life time.

So the question I have been asking myself is – what is my story? I’ve tried several on for size in the past. They didn’t fit. It’s interesting that I wrote two short stories for which the critique was, “This is really a novel.”

I resisted that. And now am working on making one of the short stories a novel (I will probably do the same with the other one). I’m finding that it was true. I was trying to compress something into a form that didn’t fit the story.

This is definitely not to dis short story. I’m still not sure how to write one. I hope to master that eventually.

It’s just to say that there’s more to my life story than I was allowing room for.

So today, I pulled the Devil card in my reading. The animal is the Raven and the meaning is Light in the Dark: Shapeshifting. The book says this, “We must be our own light in the dark.” And “Raven teaches us how to shapeshift our lives, but it also teaches us that how things shapeshift may not be exactly as we imagined. Regardless, we must take our responsibility for those changes.”

So here’s is what my shapeshifting is about, at least today. I have come to understand that I have expected to be turned down. To be thwarted. To be silenced. To have my head lopped off (figuratively) if I tried to rise above what others expected of life.

I can point to events that happened between the ages of ten and eleven that cemented my commitment to that particular shape – that particular belief system. What those experiences were is not important. What I think is important is to recognize that those experiences reinforced belief, not faith.

And I have come to define faith as the willingness to take action in the absence of certainty.

So I am in the middle of shapeshifting, tossing out antiquated rules and banishing fear from my workshop (thank you William Faulkner). It doesn’t mean I’m not afraid – I’m just treating fear as a friend for whom I need to set some boundaries.

I guess shapeshifting is improvising with life. Being willing to go with something to see if that really is the place you want to go. It might very well be the light in the dark.

Note: my name, Karen Lucille, means pure light. I probably should remember that.

Also, I think the saying goes both ways: “God is in the details,” and “The devil is in the details.” I suspect both are true.