Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Way of Ceremony

What she said:

The only cure

I know

is a good ceremony.

That's what she said.

- Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

"It still hurts," I say to a friend. "I pretend it doesn't, because I don't want it to. But it does."

"What you need right now is a good ceremony," she replies.

Here's the thing about ceremonies: there are no rules.

I wanted to let go. I thought I already had. But there were still some things that I was holding onto. They were tangible things. Material things. Visible tokens of something that ultimately was false.

I thought I had let go. But I still had the things.

I'm blessed to live by a beautiful creek along a wooded path. I'm blessed that I know a thing or two about alchemy, how to transform the shape or form of a thing, how to reduce it to mere shreds or shards or pieces. I'm blessed that I am bold enough to do this, to give to the water what is burdening me.

I go to the place where the owl sits and hunts, but today, I find crows there instead. They are quiet sentinels, thier black eyes observing solemnly as I toss fragments of things I once held dear into the creek. I watch the rush of water consume all that I offer it, and I think of the Oconaluftee River on the Cherokee Reservation, how it flows and winds, how I love to stay in The Drama Motel that overlooks it. How long it has been since I've swam in that river! How much I'd love to swim in it now. I remember how water is cleansing, how it's always part of any good ceremony.

It is in ceremony that I feel closest to my native heritage. I lift up my silent prayer as the crows rise, crying out, carrying away on thier wings what I don't wish to carry anymore. The crow is a sacred bird to the Cherokee for many reasons, but a favorite old adage lends that crows near a river means a storm is brewing. And a storm brewing means rain will come. Rain means the river will rise, taking in its flowing waves all that I have given.

Nothing could be more fitting.

On the path home, my son and I (because he has been taught the way of ceremony) pass a pair of pileated woodpeckers teaching thier offspring to hunt. Another sacred bird to the Cherokee, I know this rare sighting of such normally reclusive creatures is a very good thing, just as I know the thunderclouds that move in within an hour are going to bring heavy rains, rains that will wash away completely all that I've released.

It's evening now, and the storm, which was powerful, has passed. I am on the trail. Lightening bugs surround me. An owl calls. Another responds. The creek swells. There is no trace within it of fragments from things I once held dear. They are gone. But I am smiling, because I know that it is finished. The water rushes past.

I am free.

The ceremony is complete.

What she said:

The only cure
I know
is a good ceremony.

That's what she said.

Silko was right. Sometimes the only cure is a good ceremony.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is available at

Art: Selu's Gift, mixed media, Amy L. Alley

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The End of Oprah, the Royal Wedding, Toltec Wisdom, and the Power of Words

I could not get caught up in the ending of Oprah.

Or the Royal Wedding.

Or really, tempting as it was, the 'Wiener-tweeting' scandal.

I knew about these things, yes, but truth is, I've just never been one to sit down and watch television, whether it be the news, a spectacular event, or a dynamic talk show that helped millions of people.

The few times in my life I've caught Oprah, I've either been home sick or at the gym in early afternoon, pounding on a treadmill. For as long as I can remember, I've not had the lifestyle that would accomodate coming home from work and watching a show at 4pm. During college, I came home from work by 3pm in order to make it to class at 4pm. Or vice versa. After college, I was usually working a variety of myriad jobs with wierd hours. For years and years, I didn't have cable (or , for one period of time, even a television,) at all.

It's funny, because I grew up in a home with a television in almost every room that was usually on at all times. I grew up with people looking over my shoulder to see the screen or interrupting conversations to hear what was being said on a show. I can remember a family member who, mercifully, I did not live with but visited from time to time, that would actually turn the volume up louder when people were conversing around him. Which amazed me, even as a child, to think that he had real, live people around him, yet he preferred to listen to what was being blasted out of an electronic box in the corner.

I should have grown up to be a television-aholic. The seeds for this fate were certainly sown early on. But mercifully, I was spared by a dynamic teacher who, in a chance moment, uttered a phrase that had an impact on me like no other. He was passionate about his field and a real hipster at heart with a 'kill your tv' sticker on his office wall. There was one day in class when some students were laughing and talking about a popular sitcom and what had happened on it the night before, rather than concentrating on thier assignments. And he walked over to the table where they were sitting and said, loud enough for all to hear, "You can just sit around and watch TV, or you can be so amazing that one day you might be on TV. But you will never, ever do both."

It's been years since I was in that class, but I have never forgotten that moment, or those words. But what I have forgotten is to do is to make the watching television regularly one of my habits. It simply isn't part of my lifestyle. I don't think it is bad, mind you. Criticizing television is not the point of this blog. I think it's fine in moderation. But the ending of the Oprah show made me realize how far out of a loop I am because I don't. My friends were celebrating the show and it's impact on America, and I might have seen it a half a dozen times in the many years since it's been on. I couldn't get caught up in that wave at all. It's hard to latch on to the enthusiasm of others when you can't relate.

I saw no coverage whatsoever of the Royal Wedding, save for a few images on the cover of supermarket tabloids.

And if it weren't for the fact that I had to spend five hours sitting with my son last week in the ER, I would have no clue who Anthony Weiner was or what he tweeted. (And to be honest, when it comes to that, I think I'd have been okay to not be in the know for once.)

No, the point of this blog is not to criticize television or those who make watching it a part of thier daily lives. It has its place, certainly. The point of this blog, rather, is to celebrate the power of words. How profound a simple phrase uttered by a respected teacher can be. Don Miguel Ruiz states, in The Four Agreements, that "....words are not just sounds or written symbols. Depending on how it is used, the word can set you free, or it can enslave you more than you know. The word is a force....all the magic you possess is based on your words."

I internalized my teacher's words and they became part of my lifestyle, a habit now that I find almost impossible to break, a lifestyle choice I've really no desire or intent to change at this point (who would consciously try to spend MORE time in front of the television?) But all the same, what we internalize, i.e. the words of others, can easily become part of who we are, as my teacher's words did become part of me, casting a spell across my being that lead to my subconciously cultivating a lifestyle that television would not be even a minor part of.

Being impeccable with your word is, based on ancient Toltec wisdoms, Ruiz's first 'agreement'. What comes out of our mouths has the power to change lives, or destroy them. And what comes out of the mouths of others can have the same power to change or destroy us...but only if we internalize it.

We can't control what others say to us, however, because many times what people feel, say and do is based solely on negative realites they have constructed for themselves. But we can, as Ruiz encourages, strive to be impeccable with our word, because it is, in the end, our magic.

And our magic becomes our legacy.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a recommended read for anyone wishing to make a positive change in thier life. It is available at all fine bookstores and also can be ordered by following the link below:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Captain of My Own Ship

This is a re-post of a blog from January. Writing this was to become the catalyst for a new chapter of life, and it seems appropriate now for the Boldness Initiative column. If you've read this blog before, then you should know the past few months have changed me, and as a result, I've revised this blog, and I'm much happier with the version I am posting now....would love your comments on the changes! Enjoy!!!

To Be, Or Not To Be, BOLD

A dear friend asks me what I want from life, and I don’t have a clear answer to give her. After all, it’s an open ended question, bound to have different answers at different times. But I know I need to give her a response, and so I think about it for a moment....What do I want from life?

The answer comes like waves crashing into the shore: I want to be bold.

Well, that may not make a lot of sense initially, but think about it for a second...what does being bold really mean? Taking a brave step? Going out on a limb? Or just facing up to a nasty neighbor who insists on using his leaf blower to redecorate your lawn? No, being bold is more than that. It's a way of life.

Bravery and courage are typically attributes that we can all call upon ourselves to have from time to time. But boldness is living fiercely, taking risks, and making sure that the adventure of one's life is never, ever typical. I was introduced recently to the ancient myth of Ariadne and Theseus, famous lovers from Ancient Greek mythology, and their story is one of boldness…mainly Ariadne’s boldness, and Theseus’ lack of it.

I’m trying to decide if it’s a sad or happy tale, as like many Greek myths, it appears in a variety of forms, with different endings. But after doing a little research, I found the one most common telling of the tale goes as follows: Ariadne was a special young woman who possessed an ability to defeat the Minotaur, who lived at the center of a labyrinth. Her secret was a ball of yarn, red yarn, a special fiber used to find one’s way out of a labyrinth that no one had ever escaped alive. (love that YARN was her magic tool!) But the labyrinth belonged to her family, the minotaur was her half-brother. She never thought to use her special gift...and then, she saw Theseus.

He’d come to slay the Minotaur, and when the duskily beautiful Ariadne first cast her black eyes onto the handsome, fair-headed warrior, she was in love. She knew that even if Theseus defeated the Minotaur, he would never find his way out of the ever-changing labyrinth, and thus, she changed history by being bold enough to take the chance of helping the handsome Athenian. She knew if she were discovered assisting him, she’d be cast out of her family, never to be allowed to return to her homeland, possibly even killed. She knew the risks, but Ariadne also knew what it meant to love another person completely. And so she shared with Theseus the magic of the red fiber, and he defeated the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth.

Theseus pledged love to Ariadne and took her away with him when he sailed from Crete back to his home in Athens. But it was a long journey, and Theseus began to have second thoughts along the way. He began to fear the reaction of his fellow Athenians if he pulled ashore with this dark foreigner. He was a prince, after all. It could create trouble in his kingdom to have a Creten bride. Despite his affection for Ariande, he began to believe that his life would be simpler without her in it. And so Theseus, because he lacked boldness, took the easy way out. He pulled his ship ashore on the island of Dia, telling the lovely Ariadne to take a nap on the sand while he checked on the ship. And while she was sleeping, Theseus set sail for Athens, leaving the woman he'd given his word to alone on a foreign shore.

There are differerent versions of what happened next…but the one I use here tells that Ariadne woke up, realized Theseus had abandoned her, and was devastated. She couldn’t believe that this man, whom she had loved so much, would abandon her so coldly and without any real explanation. She spent days, weeks, and then months watching the sea, waiting to see the sail of her beloved’s ship. But of course, it never came.

She was sad for a long, long time, but then one day, she summoned the same boldness that had given her courage to love and save Theseus and applied that to her own life. She made a new home on the island of Dia, learned the native language and customs as easily as she would have in Athens, and began to be a happy, productive member of Dian society. She stayed as busy as she could, but still watched the sea each night, because broken hearts do have a way of beating loudest when one is alone in the eve.

And then, one day she finally saw a ship’s mast looming on the horizon. Her heart soared…but it wasn’t Theseus who pulled into shore. It was the dashing and truly bold Dionysis, who took one look at her and saw all the wonderful attributes Theseus had seen but not been man enough to claim. And Ariadne saw in Dinoysis a kindred spirit, someone whose boldness matched her own, a man who wasn’t intimidated by a woman’s strength, but instead, reveled in it.

And what became of Theseus? Oh, he had a pretty good life, I suppose. He returned home and fell into typical, normal patterns for a young prince of his day. He would become king through his birth, not by his own doing. He wasn’t as lucky as Ariadne, for he would never again find someone who loved him the way that she had. He’d marry twice and be betrayed by each wife. Ariadne would become immortal through her marriage to Dionysis, who was actually a God. When she was slain in battle (because she was bold enough to fight), he braved the underworld to bring her back, and then took her then to live on Mount Olympus, home of the Gods.

What Ariadne did - and was willing to do - for Theseus showed a far greater courage and strength than he possessed, and most likely, he knew this. It can be very intimidating for a man who considers himself strong to realize his woman's courage far exceeds his own. Whether or not this was true with these two lovers, Ariadne did survive Theseus' betrayal using the same inner strength that had enabled her to love him in the first place. She could have let the hurt of his betrayal destroy her, just as we can all choose to let pain destroy us, but she didn’t. She rose above what he had done, and in his absence she began to see him for what he really was: A fair and handsome man full of sweet words and bravado, but in the end lacking the one characteristic she'd learn was most important to her in a partner: Boldness.

It was quite some time before she would met the wildly charismatic Dionysis on the very shores where Theseus had dumped her, but when she did meet him, she was finally ready for a man whose strength and courage matched her own.

But even if she hadn’t met Dionysis, Ariadne would have been okay. She’d have still had a fulfilling life because she was a survivor. She did not take the easy way out. She took risks. She sometimes lost. But she rose up to face the challenges life cast upon her, because she was a bold and courageous woman. Left alone to cry on an island, she didn’t let that experience keep her from eventually finding her feet on Mount Olympus.

There are a million versions of these ancient myths to be found, you might easily find this tale told in a variety of ways, but I use this version here to illustrate the fact that we never know what life is going to throw our way, who is going to abandon us, and where we might find ourselves after that. But there is one thing to be sure of…there are those who preserve towards a dream, and those who simply talk themselves out of dreaming and settle for whatever comes their way. Because that is, of course, much easier.

What do I want the most out of life? I take a deep breath, and I turn to my friend.

“I want to live boldly,” I respond. "And I don't want to watch for sails on the horizon. I think I'm better suited to be the captain of a ship than I am to sit in the sand, hoping one will appear."

My friend smiles. It was the answer she'd been hoping to hear. And I smile too, because it's something I've known all along.