Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A tale of two cities

Today was my last day in Paris. I've packed my suitcase. I'm all set to go home though I have to wait about twelve hours before I can get in the cab, say, Bonjour Monsieur, CDG airport, sil vous plait, then lean back and watch the city fade into the background. Twenty four hours from now I'll emerge on the other side of the Atlantic, dazed, grimy from the travel, but no doubt happy.

The shamanic lifestyle is strange. So much takes place beneath the surface. From the outside looking in, my shamanic ways are easy to misunderstand, such as the day I visited the Eiffel Tower. I was surprised at the energy there. I didn't expect it to feel so powerful, but it is, it really is. In an effort to better understand what was going on, I pulled Eduardo, my glow-in-the-dark skull rattle, out of my bag, began to rattle and dance around. I figured this would be perfectly acceptable since it's a circus down there. There were hordes of tourists of course, and every kind of vendor and busker. A guy right next to me was playing the theme from the film Titanic on one of those South American flutes. Some people set up small trampolines and charged money for people to bounce around for awhile. A policeman on a bicycle was selling Eiffel Tower trinkets. So you see I felt that my shamanic dancing would be overlooked.

It was overcast when I arrived, but as I danced around, the sky cleared suddenly! You can't plan that kind of timing. I stopped my dance and looked up in awe and appreciation. Just then a woman approached and handed me a Euro. I was confused, and laughed, handed it back to her - I hope I didn't embarrass her. It took me awhile to figure out she thought I was busking. Well, why wouldn't she? Busking is everywhere in Paris. This morning I saw an organ grinder next to a Metro station. There was no monkey, thank god, but he did have two Pomeranians leashed to the organ. I've heard operatic singing, seen a French horn player, a gypsy band, a trumpeter and a guy playing a soulful clarinet in the subway this week.

See the people taking a selfie at the lower right?

I was not busking, however. My shamanic dancing is a part of my spiritual practice. How could I have expected that nice woman to understand? Even I don't really get it.

The truth is, it kind of made my day when that happened.

There have been a number of memorable experiences like that this week, also memorable experiences that are painful, such as seeing the filthy man with no legs dragging himself across the floor of the Metro train. He didn't even have a little cart with wheels. There was the angel faced young girl of maybe 10 years who approached me the day I went up to Montmartre. She started trying to engage me in conversation, saying she needed to practice her very poor English. My head was shaking back and forth - no, no. I said NON! But she came closer. She was trying to maintain eye contact, but my instincts warned me not to let myself be entranced. Even as I said NON! and turned to walk away, her tiny, greasy hand tried to slip into my bag. I slapped her hand - hard - before she could grab anything. I was wearing a ring. I'm sure it really hurt, but she didn't seem injured. She almost shrugged her shoulders as she turned to go. It was disturbing.

I wonder what her life is like? Probably not like the lives of the beautiful men, perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines, walking around Saint-Germaine de Pres, not like my fabulous vacation life of extravagance and comfort, no. I wonder where she sleeps? Does she have a family?

Who knows?

My week here was the best of times and the worst of times. I've been bipolar all week, either flying high or feeling utterly despondent. I believe something very important happened to me here this week, but I'm quite a ways from finding a language to express whatever it was. I feel as confused as the woman who wanted to give me a tip. I know I was on the job as it were (if being a shaman is a job), but as for what actually went on under the surface, so far, I hardly understand anything about it. I know it was important. Or - I think so. Needless to say I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

Paris is sublime. Paris is difficult. I have a strong love/hate relationship with this grand dame of a city, I surely do.

I always think of DC as a very intense city, but everything is relative. Compared to Paris, DC is relaxed, uncomplicated and affordable. I can't wait to go home!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Who is my crew?

I've been missing spiritual community. I was going to say I've missed it lately but the truth is, I've missed being part of a spiritual community since the moment I left the body/mind of Reclaiming.

I love group souls, the over-arching, dazzling complexity of the energy of groups. When people come together for any reason, the community can become more than a sum of its parts. Sometimes that's a great thing, sometimes the group soul is a disaster. Or it can be anything in-between.

In my work I often encounter family souls. If I get the chance, I love to work with siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and the children of clients I see regularly. There's a current that runs through families. DNA probably generates it, or that's one of my theories.

Workplaces generate powerful group souls that can make the experience of each individual either lovely for the most part, or horrendous.

I'm lucky to be a part of the group soul of Capitol Hill. It is the most cohesive neighborhood I've ever lived in. We are diverse but we share something powerful. We all LOVE living on the Hill. We're so proud. That pervasive thought form pulls us together, creates a sense of welcoming that permeates the communal table of good vibes at the coffee shop, the north hall of Eastern Market (a gathering space), the restaurants and shops, the parks and our beautiful boulevards and streets. We try our best to be good neighbors. It's an incredible experience.

What I've missed since the day I departed from the group soul of Reclaiming is being part of a community that comes together in order to consider the mysteries, to contemplate a greater wisdom, a greater kindness, a greater love. In spiritual community, even during periods of strife, the common goal is to connect to human beauty and goodness in ourselves and others, and to connect to God, however we imagine that.

Spiritual community is tricky for me, though. I always think I know how any ritual could be better, the result of many years of planning rituals. It's hard for me to sit there without critiquing what's going on. So silly. Also there is a problem with holy texts. The stories of the Torah do not resonate with me. I think it's a fascinating historical book, but holy? I really don't get it. Likewise Christianity is extremely challenging since Jesus Christ is not a functional lens for the divine for me.

I attended the Hill Havurah Seder this year, which was mad mayhem, punctuated by funny songs. That's one way to do a seder, not the worst way. The Hill Havurah is a bunch of Capitol Hill based hippie Jews without a rabbi or a temple.

Hill Havurah seder. That's the back of my head on the left side of the picture.

St. Mark's on Maundy Thursday.

I also went to Maundy Thursday and Easter services at St. Mark's, a very progressive, inclusive, social justice oriented Episcopalian church just down the street. It is very convenient.

It was nice to see neighbors and friends at these events. At the Seder, also at St. Mark's, I could not feel my connection to God, though, which is a problem. I tried, believe me. What I figured out is that it isn't just the community I seek. I would love to worship along with the others. At the Seder, also at St. Mark's, I felt like an observer, not a participant. It's slightly disappointing.

Now I'm headed to Paris where I will explore the Jewish quarter, of course, and also no doubt will walk through some big ole cathedrals. I'm no longer a witch, not really a pagan either. I have a hard time being Jewish and I am definitely not Christian at any level. In which spiritual community do I belong? Where can I connect with the people, the overarching soul of the community, and with God?

Who knows? It's an ongoing question. I am curious. Shalom.

Friday, April 18, 2014

All signs point to go

Even planning a journey is a journey - or - it can be. It has been in this case.

I set out for Paris many weeks ago when I bought the ticket. Actually, a part of me has been there since my 60th birthday. When I pressed the PURCHASE TICKET button on the Air France website, though, it felt like a much larger percentage of my soul took off over the Atlantic. I've been neither here nor there, forgetting about appointments or double booking people, eating badly and not sleeping well.

The part of me that remains in Washington DC has struggled mightily. On some level, I dug in my heels. I was conflicted, in flux, as the Sufi acupuncturist said. The part of me already in Paris argued bitterly with the part of me here in DC.

All the omens were dreadful until a couple of days ago. Maybe you wonder what kind of omens. Here's an example. I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in awhile, someone who had no idea I'm going.

Me: Hey, how are you?
Friend: Great! So good to be home from Paris. God, there's a pall hanging over the city. The restaurants are lackluster and the wine makers discouraged - people are depressed. They had that terrible pollution that made international news, and then the Sahara dust storm. I'm telling you, it was---
Me: Please stop! I'm going in 2 weeks!

That is a bad omen. Another sad portent: one of the women I'm traveling with has suffered the sudden loss of a sibling.

So you see I'm not talking about lukewarm omens.

But something in the time-space continuum shifted a couple of days ago. Maybe it was the acupuncture. I calmed down somewhat, and then the way cleared. On the way home from the acupuncture, I kept hearing Walk with the dragons. Walk with the dragons. Within an hour I had booked a room at the Hotel Du Dragon. I know someone personally who has stayed there. I believe I will be very comfortable. Also, the horrible rental agent from the apartment in Montmartre refunded my money. I had to threaten, but at last he relented. This may mark the end of the pattern of epic fails I've experienced recently. Usually it's hard to extract a refund, but they returned every penny. The omens have turned around.

The process of planning and thinking about the trip has been arduous. I had to let go of the idea that I could recreate the Paris of my Aunt Edie. That Paris is gone. My aunt is gone, but so is her era, the Jean Luc Godard Paris. The way I imagined this trip was utter fantasy. The process of deconstruction was painful and healing. I have grieved and let go as best I can.

As it turns out, I'm meant to visit the Paris of right now which will be, for me, a brand new Paris. I'm curious and at last looking forward to it.

Likewise, I'm meant to visit Paris as myself, not as the slightly intimidated niece of my Aunt Edie. When I've been there in the past, my aunt called all the shots - chose the restaurants, gave me wardrobe advice, explained what was going on, corrected my behavior. This time, I will think of her with warmth and love while doing my shamanic dance with the sandy basin of the land, the river and its many bridges, fragments of old city walls and such. I will go to the Paris of right now as myself, the urban shaman. I am so curious to see what that means.

At last I'm looking forward to going. I thought I might cancel the trip there for awhile. I was so discouraged! But the situation has turned around. I am grateful.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pilgrim's progress

I'm such a baby, dreading my trip to Paris. Kind of sickening, isn't it? A friend said to me, "You're robbing yourself of something." She meant I could be enjoying this crazy wave of energy. Really? I have no idea how to do that. Paris looms large, as it has every time my toes have touched the sandy basin of that landscape. Of course I'm not the only person to have developed a passionate relationship with that city.

This might sound pretentious, or insane: I'm not going to Paris to have fun and enjoy myself. I'm going because ... why am I going? Oh yeah - I've been called, since my 60th birthday. I've been called repeatedly. The city has been on my mind constantly. Now that I know I'm headed in that direction, I'm kind of freaking out. What pilgrim hasn't experienced a sense of dread just before setting out? C'mon.

Well. The thing is, I've practiced being present with whatever was happening. I've practiced welcoming my emotional states - whatever they are - knowing they will shift and change. It's a way of honoring my own true self.

I've practiced for decades, hence I can say with authority: I dread this trip! The dread is honest. I will not feel ashamed even though it seems ridiculous.

One of my spirit guides has suggested that I think of the Paris trip as a pilgrimage of grace, humor and lightness. 

Isn't that an oxymoron?


[pil-gruh-mij]  Show IPA
a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place asan act of religious devotion: a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
the Pilgrimage, hajj.
any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for avotive purpose, as to pay homage: a pilgrimage to the grave ofShakespeare.

verb (used without object), pil·grim·aged, pil·grim·ag·ing.
to make a pilgrimage.
1200–50; Middle English pilegrimage  (see pilgrim-age); replacingearlier pelrimage,  alteration of Old French pelerinage

When I think of pilgrimages, what I imagine is the devotion of the one on the journey. I imagine hardship, sore feet, blisters and mishaps. To the pilgrim, it's well worth the blisters. A pilgrimage is an act of devotion. So there are aches, there are pains. We devotees are slightly crazy. I guess!

This book had quite an impact on me - I highly recommend it even though China Galland is a bit charmed by herself. She took a pilgrimage to see the black madonnas in eastern Europe. What a story!

I bet I'll have fun in Paris. I think I will especially enjoy seeing Steve, a friend who lives in London. He will be more than willing to get off the beaten path, to walk and take pictures. I pray for nice weather. When my friends arrive Saturday, that will increase the chances that I will be able to embrace the idea of grace, humor and lightness. Those qualities don't come easily to me. But the idea of pilgrimage makes perfect sense. I'm certain I've trudged a mile or two in the moccasins of the pilgrim in many a past lifetime. I feel it in my DNA. And so I'm off again, to a very difficult and complicated city.

May I walk into it with clarity and humor. May I lighten up! Maybe after the eclipse tonight.


A soulful accordionist at Eastern Market last weekend.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Epic fails

I've been known to engage in a number of endeavors that turned out to be, in spite of my best intentions, epic fails. Most recently there was the saga of trying to get new glasses, an utter failure, yet expensive since I paid for frames I will never use and also for the eye exam which the eye doctor refused to refund. I spent a lot of money for nothing but frustration.

How about the ill-fated wish for birthday cake this year, the many disappointments leading up to the day when I ordered a Very Expensive cake from a bakery in Georgetown, for which I had to pay in advance. It snowed on my birthday. I decided to pick up the cake the following day. The bakery will only hold cakes one day. As I tried to make my way through the pools of icy slush to get to the bakery, I twisted my ankle. At that point I asked myself, "Do you even want that cake?" I did not. Turned around, limped home. Yep, that was an exercise in futility all the way around. An expensive failure.

This week's epic fail was my annual visit to see the cherries around the Tidal Basin. The trees were beautiful, yet the mood was, of all things, somber. I've never felt a melancholy mood down there when the cherries were in bloom - never. And it wasn't just me - I was with two friends who also said it felt off. The trees looked a bit off, too. I think winter was very hard on them. As soon as we left the Tidal Basin, all three of us cheered up and went for sushi. It was weird.

A few years ago, I decided to learn to play the bass. It's something I wanted to try for many years. When I moved into the chateau at last I had the sound proofing to make me think it would be ok to practice. I rented a bass, I hired a teacher. But alas, I have a dainty little pinky finger. It's the pinky that presses on the largest string of the bass. I am not made to play the bass after all.

Epic fail.

I could go on. I could describe my marriage, for instance, but I think you get the idea.

I'm not sleeping well. I'm worried about the trip to Paris, worried I'm about to engage in an Outrageously Expensive Epic Fail. I talked to a friend who has been recently, who said a malaise has laid a thick layer of discouragement over the city. Recently the city suffered from smog so terrible, it made the news here in the states, and a week later, dust from the Sahara. I'm getting it, that Paris, the city soul I mean, is struggling right now. I wanted to go in order to recharge after the hideous winter here, but I'm worried that I'm heading right into the same energy, only intensified since it is Paris. What was I thinking, buying the ticket?

If I could, I would cancel the trip. I've invested a lot of money already, though. I'm trying not to get stuck in this spiraling thought form. I'm trying to disbelieve it, to follow the advice I hand out so often which is: Remain curious, stay open. Anything could happen. Be open. I'm trying. I believed in my new glasses, I was enthusiastic, even determined. Same goes for the cherry blossoms, my birthday cake, my marriage, playing the bass. I can not locate a single calorie of enthusiasm for the upcoming trip. I am so worried. Oy vey!

When I mention my sense of dread about the trip, everyone tries to reassure me. I'll see some comments to that effect here, I imagine. I hope everyone else is right about this and that it turns into a great trip. Right now, since the weather has turned around, I want nothing more than to walk the streets and boulevards of this city, my home. After two years of longing with all my heart to go to Paris, now I dread it.

It was the dream of birthday cake that I loved, the fantasy of playing the bass, of my new glasses. It's a dream of Paris I've invested in. You can see, can't you, why I'm feeling discouraged and superstitious. Can you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Navigating space/time in the spiral city of light

In my dream last night, I'm in a favorite dreamscape, an urban setting kind of like San Francisco, kind of like Kansas City, vaguely but never completely familiar. I'm headed towards the Embarcadero BART station. 

What was different last night is that I knew exactly where I was going. Usually in these dreams I get turned around or enter a building I intend to pass through but there’s no way so I have to back track. When other people are with me in these dreams, which happens a lot, I’m so embarrassed I don’t really know the way. But last night I knew! I easily located the correct building where we took the escalator down to the platform. I even had Smartcards for my sisters, who were with me in last night's dream. Sometimes in these dreams I’m struggling to buy tickets from lackadaisical people in the booth or recalcitrant vending machines … as I will in Paris, come to think of it.

In the dream we arrive at the platform just as the train is leaving the station. We hop on the last car. This is a BART train so people are allowed to move from car to car, not like the Metro here. I say to my sisters, “Would you like to sit in the open roofed car?” It’s a funny question since most subway rides are underground in creepy dark tunnels. 

A good dream.

My interior is in order at the moment. I know my way around my own psyche, thank god. I will need this when I go to Paris and become instantly disoriented. 

I remember when I first moved to Capitol Hill, how often I got turned around, and believe me I'm not the only one. When the French design a city layout, confusion is inevitable. Apparently!

Last night I hung my map of Paris on the wall. But even with it all laid out before me, it was disorienting. I've been reading about the development of that ancient city, how it spiraled out from the island. Even the arrondissements spiral out from the center. Remnants of old city walls hold the shape, move the energy in a huge spiral. Is it any wonder I am so easily thrown off when I'm there?

And then there are the streets. If there is really any rhyme or reason to the street layout, it is beyond me. In the past the only way I could keep from getting lost was to take the Metro. Out on the streets, it seems straightforward enough ... but. It isn't. Walk to the end of a block, turn right, then right again once, twice, three times, and you should come back to the same place, right? Not in Paris. You'll find yourself in a different neighborhood.

When I first moved to Capitol Hill, I used the Capitol dome as a landmark. When I got turned around, if I could find the dome, I was instantly oriented. I'm thinking in Montmartre at least I shouldn't get too lost. The basilica is way up there and huge, too. Maybe. Elsewhere, who knows?

I have small maps, large maps, book maps and wall maps. I have several maps on my iPhone. I'm studying the layout of the terrains I imagine I will visit while I'm there, as if this is actually going to help me. Maybe it will, and anyway this is one of my favorite things - maps and navigation. Fun.

I'm not going to buy any data for my phone. People say it doesn't really work, hence googlemaps will not be an option. I'm going to take a compass, and several well marked maps. 

I am such a nerd! 

Have a lovely Tuesday. Shalom.

Monday, April 7, 2014

It takes a village

I was spiritually feral for awhile back in the day. I proudly joked about being the weird shaman who lives on the edge of the village, more in the woods than around other people. The spiritual character I celebrated back then is someone people mostly avoid unless they need healing. This was a self image I actually cultivated.

It's so weird to think about now. I'm no longer in the woods, or out on the fringes, hell no. I fully inhabit my communities these days, and have for many years now. Yes I am, for Washington DC in the 21st century, rather exotic. (I wouldn't be at all in other places - Taos, Boulder, Eugene, Savannah, New Orleans, for instance.) Though somewhat off the mainstream in DC, I am accepted, even welcomed by my neighbors, friends and clients. I feel perfectly at home here among these super smart, tough, determined people, even though I'm not like them at all!

I remember distinctly the moment when I realized I was coming in from the outskirts. It was at a Yom Kippur service at Temple Micah, where I studied Judaism for a couple of years after leaving Reclaiming. At some point I glanced down at my feet. I was struck by the shiny new shoes I chose to wear that day, how civilized they were. I knew then that my self imposed exile had come to an end.

It's not without precedent for the mystical/shamanic lifestyle - a period of isolation, wildness. Mystics have always been weirdoes. But I don't remember with happiness my magical mystery tour into the shamanic woods, no I do not. It was lonely, and scary too. I wouldn't do it again.

Lately I've been remembering my return to human communities, which began not long after my last visit to Paris. It seems like such a long time ago.

That was then, and this is now. Life is so good. I am grateful.

I leave for Paris in two weeks and two days! Shalom.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

a blank slate

I haven't been posting much here or on the other blog. I haven't felt inspired very often, and even at moments during which I think maybe there's something I could write about, when I open the computer, my fingers just sit there on the keyboard, twitching perhaps, but not typing anything. Oh well. Silence is accurate, as Mark Rothko said.

This morning was the final, tragic round of trying to get new glasses. At last, in utter frustration, I asked to have my money refunded. The eye doctor agreed! It was not a match made in heaven. As for new glasses, I'm putting that project aside for the time being. I'll wear the red frames and scratched up lenses a bit longer. I can see well through them - except for the scratches.

I would go on a bit, bellyache about the problems with the eye doctor, but this morning I received word that one client, a young woman barely into her 40s, someone who decided to cut off both her breasts when she got a breast cancer diagnosis in one breast a few years ago, now has cancer in her bones. A recurrence of cancer is never a good sign. Likewise I heard that a dear old friend from my San Francisco days is hospitalized with lung cancer.

It's a little hard to get worked up about my glasses, given the sad news. You know what I mean?

Winter was hard on me, and as I keep hearing from my clients, I'm not the only one to have been sucked dry by the season. We still haven't had more than 2 or 3 days of weather warm enough to sit outside without shivering a little bit. We need a week of warm, beautiful days. The trees need it, too. They're blooming, but even so, they look a bit bedraggled. That last freezing rain (this past weekend) damaged some of the blossoms. Yada yada yada.

This isn't 14th century London, or 1st century Jerusalem. I do not have cancer. I have nothing to complain about!

Between now and the 23rd (when I leave for Paris), I guess I'm just twiddling my thumbs.