Inside a Blessingway Ceremony

Breathing deeply, reclining comfortably on my throne of cushions I gazed down at my friend adorning my full moon belly with henna. It was swollen with baby, just like my feet, hands, and eyes were; yet in this space I felt luxuriously supported and comfortable. We smiled enjoying the silence together as she worked. Earlier, I had spoken to the group about my fears of not knowing how to take care of my baby when she arrived. This ritual was designed to support me in “feeling my way through the darkness” into the labyrinth of motherhood. Finally my friend spoke, “I will tell you what my mother told me before my daughter was born, and my grandmother told her, and my great-grandmother told my grandmother; love the Hell out of your daughter, and the rest will take care of itself.” Tears stung in my eyes as I drew in this fierce wisdom. The words settled deep into my bones, and I knew they were true. I was already wildly in love with my little one, and I knew she would tell me what she needed.

This scene illustrates one of my favorite memories from my own Blessingway (also called Mother Blessing) planned and implemented by Joy. Through my work with the Triangle Holistic Birth Collective http://triangleholisticbirth.com/, I am honored to also offer Blessingway rituals to expectant mothers. The Blessingway ceremony is an occasion to celebrate the expectant mother and her family for the spiritual journey they are undertaking. This contrasts acutely to the modern baby shower, which focuses on “buying things for the baby,” rather than responding to the emotional needs of the mother. Every Blessingway is unique and is tailored to celebrate and support the mother’s inner journey. Ritual, story, art, drama, and symbol all speak to us on a deep level in a way that ordinary conversation cannot. The Blessingway is a beautiful gift for new mothers, and also to celebrate the expansion of a family that has already given birth to their first child. In some Blessingway rituals the mother chooses for the older sister or husband to be included, supporting them as they expand into new roles. The possibilities are endless!

altar for website

The accompanying image is of a hand colored labyrinth Joy gave me to represent my journey through birth. The green candle was gifted to me during the ceremony as well, with thread tied around it from each participant, the fibers filled with love and support.

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Discovering My Center

Lately, my spiritual practice has been focused on cultivating the energy of stillness in my otherwise topsy-turvy abundant life.  My life is overflowing with love and joy, but also with work, errands, responsibilities, and demands.  As a result of the buzz of perpetual activity, I find myself desperately craving relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation.

I have reflected deeply on this dynamic and noticed that it stems from a combination of having a full plate of responsibilities from work and parenting, but also from my personality.  I have very high expectations for myself, and strive to excel at everything I do.  I have so many interests and goals that my natural tendency is to go-go-go, produce-produce-produce; the energy of Yang in Taoist philosophy.  In contrast to my actions, I have realized that my deepest yearning is to override that tendency, and slow down-down-down; bringing the healing Yin energy into my life.  This has been a momentous shift to make, requiring me to let go of my expectations, prioritize, and settle into chaos when it presents itself.  I am seeing tremendous benefits from reframing my life in this way.

Alongside the sweeping lifestyle changes, one tool I am using to help cultivate the energy of stillness in my life is a daily (cough- well let’s go with regular, because there are days I choose to sleep one more hour instead of practicing!) sadhana, or spiritual practice.  My regular practice is a combination of yoga, meditation, breath work, and energy manipulation exercises.  Over the next several posts I’ll share with you many of the techniques I use, and explain the ways in which I benefit from them throughout my day.  The first exercise I’d like to share is how I found my center.

What is Your Center and How Can Finding it Help You?

The center is the strong, stable, still place within.  It is a focal point we can draw upon to anchor ourselves.  It is also a place we can quickly direct our attention back to during the day, when life becomes hectic and we need to come back to our body in the present moment.

Different movement based traditions have different focal points.  In yoga, the focal point may be located at either the solar plexus or the heart center.  In qigong, it is the Lower Dantien, three finger lengths below and in towards the navel.  In finding your own center, I encourage you to let go of preconceived notions of where you center is located, and instead allow your body’s wisdom to reveal your center to you.  Your center point may change as circumstances in your life change.  You may have multiple center points that you choose to activate at different times.  Be open to your perceptions as they unfold.

Before doing this exploratory exercise, I used my solar plexus as my center point.  In yogic tradition, the solar plexus chakra is associated with willpower and drive.  In an effort to bring  yin energy into my life, I experimented with consciously dropping my center point down to the Lower Dantien.  This point is referred to as the “sea of energy” in Chinese medicine.  I noticed benefits from activating both those points.  However, I still didn’t feel like I had found my center.

To my surprise, when I completed this exercise a warm spreading feeling began to emanate from the crescent moon ridge above my pelvis.  I felt awareness and opening in my pelvic bowl.  Memories of past relationship trauma resurfaced, along with reminders of my corresponding body issues- chronically tight hips, lower back pain, and history of urinary tract infections.  My pelvis- which is my “problem area” that I can never quite “figure out” turns out to be my center!  Breathing into my center, I asked it what it needed to begin to heal.  My body responded by instructing me to begin exercises to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles, as well as a mantra to incorporate “love, trust, surrender.”

Here’s an outline of the technique I designed and used to find my personal center.  Try it out yourself, and see what emerges for you!

Technique:

1.  Begin by choosing a comfortable position.  I chose to do this exercise lying on my back, but you could also do it sitting upright on the floor or in a chair.

2.  Breathe long deep full breaths.  This slows down your brain waves, allowing your consciousness to shift inward.

3.  Set the intention of finding your center by stating it in your mind.

4.  Bring awareness to each part of your body, starting with your crown, and continuing to your feet.  Breathe into each body part, allowing it relax fully and deeply.

5.  When you have finished relaxing each body part, dwell in this state of expanded awareness, and listen to your body’s wisdom.  Allow your center point to reveal itself to you.

*Like I did, you may find the need to return to this exercise several times as wisdom gradually unfolds.

How to Tap Back Into It

Once you have found your center point, I suggest consciously breathing into it and bringing awareness to it before you begin each day.  This allows it to strengthen, and gives you a calm stable point to return to.  During the day, whenever you feel unbalanced, return your breath and awareness to your center point.
Happy centering!  Let me know how it goes!

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Honoring Our Beloved Dead

I can taste the richness of the dark season coating my tongue

Juicy and alluring

pulling me in and down, down, down

spreading my roots deep

Soaking up the salty nectar

that flows through the sacred rivers of blood and tears

sending my spirit down down down

synchronizing my pulse

with those who came before me

parting the veil

Samhain is the time of year when, astrologically speaking, the veil that separates the realm of the living and the realm of the spirits is thinnest.  The sun enters 15 degrees of Scorpio, associating it with the energy of death, endings, rebirth, and transformation.  It is also the last of the three traditional harvest holidays, when ancient cultures slaughtered the animals to provide sustenance for the cold winter months ahead.

During this time of year many folks experience an increase in their awareness of psychic phenomenon.  For instance, this past weekend I heard a loud off key piano chord resonate through the house (we have no piano, no neighbors, nor had the TV or music on).  Additionally, Bonnie, my beloved cat of 17 years who passed when I was 19, often tucks me into bed at night.  During this time of the year, her purr is particularly loud, and I can feel the pitter patter of her feet especially firmly.  It feels both comforting and a touch spooky to know she is so close.

Given the astrological significance of this season, it makes sense that cultures throughout the world have established traditions surrounding this time of year that honor their beloved dead.  I have created a family ancestor altar to do just this.  This altar contains photos of my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, heirloom jewelry given to me from them, statues to honor my darkness Goddesses, sparkle for the fae, a dark mirror for scrying, images to honor my totem animal the Raven, and a miniature stuffed dog to remember my husband’s childhood pets.

My ancestor altar is set up permanently in my home, so that they are honored all year long.  Periodically, I sit at our family ancestor altar in silence, sitting in gratitude and communion with their energy.  This year I crafted a letter to honor their role in protecting our home and placed it on our altar.

Dearest Ancestors, Guides, Allies, Beloved Dead, and Furry Companions,

We honor and deeply appreciate our loving memories and connections together.  We wish you peace, healing, and renewal in the between realms.  We are deeply grateful for the guidance and protection you provide this family and land.  May only the energy of love be present in our lives and home.

With reverence,

Opal and Family

How do you honor this season of darkness?  How do you connect to your ancestors?

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by | 10/30/2013 · 7:51 PM

Tracing My Roots; Honoring My Ancestors

Until this year, ancestor work hasn’t been a part of my practice. Being raised as a generic, Southern Protestant, without any sort of strong extended family ties or traditions is not a background that supports a connection to honoring the ancestors.

However, inevitably, the things I cringe at or run away from will be the things I eventually need to confront, make my peace with, and integrate into my life.

From Halloween and Samhain to Dia de los Muertos and All  Saints/Souls’ Days, this season is a time when many traditions think about, interact with, and honor death and the dead. So, this seemed like a good time to talk a little bit about my own practice in this are.

In the process of figuring out what ancestor work and honoring my ancestors means to me, I constructed an ancestor altar.

ancestor altarMy ancestor altar lacks a lot of the things you might see on other altars – pictures of family members, white candles and cloth, and special tools or equipment. However, all of the objects on the altar were chosen with care, and speak to my relationship with my ancestry and my ancestors. The right side of the altar is devoted to my blood ancestors – my direct family line – and the left side is for my lineage ancestors (mentors, personal heroes, those who led the way in my chosen communities).

Masks – The collaged masks were my first foray into ancestor work. I’m not much of a visual artist (that’s Opal’s territory!), but I love collage work. I put together these two masks – one for my blood ancestors and one for my ancestors of lineage – from images that represent aspects of those ancestral lines.

This was a great opportunity for me to think about what I know about my ancestors, how I feel about my ancestors, and what I associate with my ancestors. In the case of my lineage ancestors, I also thought a lot about who my ancestors are – the dancers, the academics, the medieval Christian mystics, the Cathar heretics, the musicians, the ascetics – all the traditions that I benefit from, that made me who I am in my mind, heart, and soul just as my blood family’s gifts made me who I am in body and genetics..

Books – Books have always been in important part of my life – my higher academic work was in English, and my maternal grandmother was a librarian. The book on the right side is a book of prayers that belonged to my paternal grandparents – the one relic I have of theirs. The book on the left is The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis – one of his major critical works. This book played a major role in my undergraduate coursework, and C.S. Lewis was one of the most influential thinkers in my young life. His theology (which is admittedly shaky and not without problems) aside, his vision of Narnia, was one of my first steps toward a Pagan worldview. Both of these books are important for themselves, but also serve as symbols of the knowledge my ancestors have gifted to me, of the benefit I’ve derived from their wisdom and work.

Stone – Much of my connection to my blood ancestors is tied to my connection to the land. My people are mountain people – Appalachian mountain folk. We’re not particularly rugged, as mountain folks go – my folk were bankers, doctors, lawyers – but we’ve been in the mountains, on this land for generations. The stone is from the mountains where I was born – a little part of the land I come from.

Pointe Shoe – I took dance – ballet and other forms – until I was eighteen. My childhood role models and heroes included the greats of ballet history – Marie Sallé, who emphasized the narrative of ballets over mere shows of technique; Marie Taglioni, the first ballerina to make dancing en pointe more than acrobatics; and Dame Margot Fonteyn, who sustained her life as a dancer far past the point when most dancers’ bodies give out. Though I no longer take dance classes, the lineage these women helped create helped shape my body and taught me about discipline, devotion, and the joys of movement.

Pentacle – This pentacle belonged to one of the elders of the first Pagan community I was a part of. She passed on a couple of years ago, and shortly before she died, one of her other students gave me the pentacle. I never knew Lady Eleanor terribly well, but her students – and the community she started – supported me and helped me grow.

Card/Photo – Most ancestor altars have photos of the beloved dead. I don’t have photos of my deceased relatives, nor do I have photos of most of my lineage ancestors. I didn’t want to print off pictures from the internet, so I decided to hold off. However, I found this lovely, laminated card of Anna Pavlova, who of all the dancers I admired as a child was the most dear to my heart, the closest thing to a saint I had in my early life. Pavlova’s devotion to dance was a sacred calling, and she did her best to take ballet to all corners of the world.

Of course, this isn’t a finished work. I’m working on elemental mandalas for this altar; I’ll be looking out for other photos and representations. But this is where I am now, what I have thus far.

Who are your ancestors and beloved dead? How do you want to honor them?

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Friday Check-In (Chicken) and Helloooo, Halloween-Time!

Hello, Friday! Wow, this week has been a wild ride that Mr. Toad would be proud of. A lot of hard, a lot of good – and we’re teetering on the edge of the Time of the year when we start thinking about/celebrating Death and the Dead. Opal and I have both been in dialogue with our practices around these things lately, so expect more on that in the next few days.

But for now, we’re going to Check-In (Chicken).

Onward to chickening….

What worked this week…

  • Dancing! Dancing under pretty lights and to pounding music!
  • Lots of weekend downtime before a week of doing-all-the-things.
  • Breathing and sticking with the pain.
  • Sticking to the facts and avoiding speculation and interpretation of others’ Stuff (Ok, mostly. This one was a partial success. But I’m proud of myself for remembering and being aware of it.).
  • Praying.

Next time, I might…

  • Start my paper earlier. Didn’t I mention this before? Oops. Um. Turning and re-turning. Starting again.
  • Take more time to get myself aligned and centered before having difficult conversations. Getting overwhelmed with feelings doesn’t help me communicate clearly. The facade of calm is not the same thing as a tranquil mind.
  • Remember to take more time for my practice – set aside time for making offerings and devotion.

The hard…

  • Too little sleep early in the week.
  • Hormones. They make hard things harder.
  • Communication. People acting in good faith can still hurt each other deeply.
  • Coping with a disorganized instructor. Clear deadlines and well-planned lectures would be useful.

The good…

  • Going out dancing on a school night. Ok, so this contributed to the too little sleep. But it was still worthwhile.
  • Articulating issues.
  • Kale-bean-potato soup. Y’all, it was divine.
  • New haircut. This is a big change, for me, but it feels good.
  • Visit to one of the local Hindu temples for class.

How was your week? What worked or didn’t?

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Friday Check-In (Chicken): Turning and Re-Turning

Hello, Friday! It’s good to see you again. I missed the Check-In (Chicken) last week, so I’m going to practice breathing and re-turning to this practice.

Breathing and turning – and re-turning.

  • Breathing, and turning again to this practice of checking in (chickening) on my week.
  • Breathing, and turning again to see brilliant colors emerging in the leaves.
  • Breathing, and turning my attention inward and downward, following the trail of the leaves, of the sap, of the energy.
  • Breathing, and turning toward my roots, towards the past.
  • Breathing, and turning, turning, shall be my delight, till by turning, turning I come ’round right.

Onward to chickening….

What worked this week…

  • Getting lots of people-time. I’m pretty solidly an extrovert, and I wilt without people-time.
  • Asking questions, asking for clarity, and asking for what I needed.
  • Breathing, and remembering compassion – with myself and with others.
  • Writing! Writing to strategize. Writing with an actual pen-and-paper.
  • Going boldly – speaking up, being assertive.
  • Warm drinks and reading on the couch.

Next time, I might…

  • Continue working to find the place from which I can speak with compassion, firmness and also objectivity.
  • As a couple more questions, earlier.
  • Be more proactive about communicating with all the parties involved in a planning process.
  • Remember to make time for dancing. A weekend without dancing is kind of a tragedy, in my world.

The hard…

  • Mornings. They continue to be really, really hard.
  • Contacts! ::blinkblink:: Contacts for astigmatism are strange.
  • Watching someone being all tied up in their own privilege and other people’s Stuff. Knowing that there’s only so much I can do to foster understanding.
  •  Realizing someone was left out of the loop on planning. Ooops! Yikes!
  • Having my massage canceled last night.

The good…

  • Soup with apples and potatoes and cheese. No, really. It sounds weird, but it was amazing.
  • Planning a year’s worth of workshops for the Circle Opal and I help lead. YES.
  • Seeing Opal’s visions for where we can go and how we can grow – this is a kinda scary good, but a good thing nonetheless!
  • Written revelations!
  • Beginning the unit on art in Hindu traditions in the class I’m taking. Seeing Shiva Nataraja fills me with happiness, each time.
  • Visits with friends! Unexpected tacos make everything so much better.
  • Discovering a new band! All the squee! (Ok, the band is not new. But it’s new to me, because I’m slow on the uptake.)

How was your week? What worked or didn’t?

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Storytime: Persephone Speaks

Joy here. I promised you a story – so here it is. These are Persephone’s musings on her yearly descent into Hades.

It hurts, this waiting, oh, it hurts.

I know that the Change comes. I know it approaches. I am ready to pick the flower, look into the mirrored pool, and descend. Go down, go deep, go red-bloody. I am ready to sink into deep dark.

Yes, I cried out the first time. Who wouldn’t? When my Lord Change takes us, are we not all surprised?

But know this: He extended his hand, and I took it. It was a bare moment of consent, but it was mine only. Do we not scream when we plunge down the hill, fearful though we boarded the ride of our own will, though we chose the hill and drop, though we know we’ll come through alright? Don’t we scream?

Even after all these years, each time, I still scream. Each year, even now, I still wait, flowers fading around me. And I do cry out, as I descend – in pain, in ecstasy, in relief. And those screams echo eerie throughout Hades’ dark realm. Styx resounds with them. I scream for joy, the deep calling to the deep – my core to the womb-world of Hades. For the fear, the thrill – and the relief.

Because this waiting hurts, teetering on the edge. I am hovering between worlds, between roles, between loves. I am caught in the gap, and all I want is to press on through, to just go.

And yes, my mama cried. Yes, she felt cheated. Yes, it’s hard. Change is. Even now, every time, change is hard. Even now, each time, her face is drawn when she has to let me go.

But oh, the touch of cool Styx. Oh, the tart sweetness of seeds bursting between teeth. Change is sweet, too.

And my mother cannot say it, cannot admit it – but it is good for her, this little death of mine. It is rest from her constant giving. It is renewal and a time for herself. Time for her to not be Mother, but simply Demeter, simply woman. She who creates for others, creates life, has time to create herself.

But it hurts, now. This edge-space is hard for me, is painful. The harvest is gathered – let my fruit come to ripeness. The wheat is scythed down, my mother’s gifts collected – let the animals be sacrificed, let the blood flow, the meat be roasted, rich and savory, and let me go.

Let the chill come, let frost cover grass, let me go. I long for my lover, my king. I long for the cool darkness, for rest and wisdom. Of course, I will come back. I will dance again. I will revel with Dionysus, but now I long to go down. Down where the dimness spares my eyes, where the dim light holds me in shadow. Down, where I am concealed and revealed. Into the deeps, where I rule, sovereign and mysterious.

The trees are turning red, the trees are burning, burning, burning. The pomegranates are burning in red leather. Everything is burning for release, for change. Everything around me is burning for reprieve and quiet. The whole world seems to be burning for Death, burning for Life, and immortality.My body is burning. My soul is burning. That same bright red, that same autumn glow.

True queen I am of flowers, true queen of the ruddy pomegranate. I am the true maiden-lover who dances with the wine-god, and the true Dark Queen of the dead and the depths. I rule life, and I rule death. My nature is rebirth – ever and ever will I rise and renew myself. Do not doubt it. But now, I go, stepping with joy and fear into the darkness. For my beloved is mine, and, for this season, I am his.

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