Practical Magic

queen of cups

This New Year’s day happens to fall on the very same day in which the moon, our luminous satellite, is full in the night sky.

This is very auspicious.

Since getting on Instagram and enjoying all of the belly dance, tarot card and cat picture posts by resident witches, pagans and gypsies from around the world, I’ve discovered that everyone on the planet is an authority on astrology. I’ll be scrolling and see a long, emoji peppered post by a yoga teacher talking about how the moon is in Virgo so we better watch out, because it ain’t exalted there – or whatever.

I’m always like, “How do y’all know that? Where do you get your information?” Because I’m over here with my We’moon calendar trying to figure out what the symbol with the squiggly lines and horned dots is supposed to mean while the rest of y’all are planning your month around Pluto’s transits and solar flares.

The moon, on the other hand, is less foreign to me. The moon changes signs once about every two and a half days, so if you eff up a perfectly decent Moon in Libra by fighting with your spouse, you’ll get a re-do in about twenty eight days.

The new moon is a time for starting new projects and for setting intentions for what we would like to see increase in our lives. Think setting goals, re-aligning with your dreams, growing a business plan. Intention is something like a resolution, of which there are plenty at the New Year. Start a diet, get fit, finish the book, start the book, become a yoga celebrity, start college, ditch the loser, find a partner, quit drinking, quit smoking… you know what I’m talking about.

This is thinking in terms of, “I’m gonna do.” Not bad, but let’s turn it around.

The full moon is a good time to start thinking about what you would like to let go of, what you would like to see decrease in your life, what no longer upholds your dreams and aspirations or supports your work, whether that’s spiritually, mentally or physically. Think about what holds you back or enables procrastination. Y’all, the cosmos has set us up to do exactly that right here at the new year.

Turn your powers of discernment towards your day to day habits, contemplate what you want for your life and see where the two points are at odds. Question what you have set in place that keeps you from it. Instead of making a list of resolutions that you’re gonna start doing, decipher how you can get out of your own way and focus on that.

 

Now we’ve gotten around to the point of this post – your practice, should you choose to accept it. First, let me tell you that I have learned the fine art of using index cards in my spiritual practice from my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. She has us write stuff on index cards all the time.

So here we go, starting right now, start thinking about habits that get in the way of what you really want to be doing with your life. Immediately one or two might come to you, but stay with it and see if there is anything beneath the surface. You can even take this into your meditation and sit with a nice, slow fire breath for about a minute and then sit in the stillness to see what comes up.

There may be one big hurdle that you want to focus all of your energy and upon which you wish all of the moon’s brilliant rays to shine. However, there may be a lot of small ways in which you sabotage yourself, so just write that stuff down, too. Now is a good time to remind you to approach this practice without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just remember that you’re trying to make a little room in your life to start a flower bed but you have to shovel out some dirt, first. Full moon is for excavation, new moon is for planting.

On New Year’s eve or day build yourself a nice little bonfire. Invite the kids and get some marshmallows and vegan hot dogs. Invite your family and friends and have plenty of index cards. Say a sweet prayer for guidance and protection to whomever you entrust your path and practice then invite everyone to write on their index card. No one needs to read anyone else’s, but between bites of s’mores place your card in the flames.

You may not be set up for a bonfire. Don’t worry about it. A fireplace or a coffee can in the driveway works nicely, too. But let me tell you something, this practice doesn’t have to be so woo woo. You can write, think, text, email your list to yourself and then delete it, recycle it, bury it. What you’re going for is awareness of self-limiting habits and then a method in which to transform it.

Don’t expect overnight magic, though we can hope, can’t we? We’ll have to work at it and remain mindful, but this is deeply symbolic to the human psyche and a powerful method of solidifying your intentions. Consider what you put in the fire to be an offering to your highest Self and to the inspiration you wish to have and to be. I wish you all the luck and all the space to express your creativity, compassion and genius in the new year. Remember to work with fire responsibly, make an effort on behalf of the good and share your stories with me if you’d like.

* Image “Queen of Cups” from Danielle Noel’s forthcoming tarot deck Moon Child, shadow deck to the Star Child Tarot. @moonchildtarot starchildtarot.com

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No Show November – On The Other Side of the Up-Side-Down

I like to get into the Halloween spirit just like any other witchy thirty something, but wanted to watch something besides Hocus Pocus for the hundredth time. Just because I watched every single Saw movie doesn’t mean I like them. I prefer a whimsical Halloween; I like my Halloween movies to have a certain amount of glitter, humor, romance (Practical Magic, anyone?) or be old enough to be considered a classic – Carrie.

Netflix has been telling me for a year that I need to watch Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too caught up in The Adventures of Merlin and Frasier reruns to take a gamble on something new. That, and the preview for it looked like a spin-off of TheTwilight Zone and X Files, neither of which I like to watch after dark or alone.

Well, about two weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of October, I took a chance on episode one of Stanger Things. Oh, goodbye forever! I felt myself getting sucked into the television like that kid in Poltergeist. The first night I watched three episodes.

I am not a t.v. person on the regular. I have been known to quit dating a guy whose idea of a good time was watching the director’s cut with extras and cast interviews. I hate that. That’ll damn the relationship like Akasha and her vampire offspring in Queen of the Damned.  Boy, bye!

After two nights of Stranger Things season one, I dreamed I was in Atlanta desperately trying to find an Eckerd Drugs because I needed a special make-up kit. In this dream, I faced all manner of dangers, a monster I never actually saw, a dark alley and a Walgreens, but no Eckerd Drugs, which was a popular pharmacy in the eighties.

After I woke up and figured out I was at home and still without the much coveted make-up bag, I resolved I’d give myself a few days away from Stranger Things. That night while I was watching episode seven, I gave up. A week later I was driving home from work and saw a man walking his dog and the first thought that came to mind was “Demigorgon” (for those of you not bitten by this venus fly trap, that’s the name of the show’s monster). I was in deep.

By the time season two was released on October 27th I did manage to go to work, but beyond coming home and feeding myself, that’s about it. I watched three episodes unapologetically. Y’all I went off the rails with this show like at Thanksgiving when I have the pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pie all on the same plate and look around waiting on someone to say something. I went off the rails like on my birthday when I get out the soup tureen so I have a bowl big enough for my cake plus ice cream.

During this haze of consumption I felt conflicted, not unlike when my sister and I would get our hands on the newest season of True Blood on DVD and succumb to the hilarity, humanity and gore that show produced. I’d think of all the things I ought to be doing, like knotting that super amazing jade mala I put on yellow cord, for instance, or doing something – anything – with the third draft of my novel.

I just didn’t feel conflicted enough to do anything about it. Finally, by the seventh episode of season two, I convinced myself that this show is so good it’s like doing research on good story telling and that binge watching it is, in fact, going to help my writing career. Yeah, I had it that bad.

Now I’ve seen every single episode and am content and satiated with a subtle longing for more – exactly what I hope to offer my readers one day, so maybe it was good for my writing career, like studying character development in Witches of Eastwick. 

While I was wondering what in the hell I am going to do with my life now that I’ve seen all the episodes, contemplating even getting back to relative normality, I considered the looming NaNoWriMo fast approaching. “National Novel Writing Month” is the entire month of November where writers are challenged to compose a fifty thousand word masterpiece in thirty days.

I have no intention of hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year, I have enough problems of my own right now with the third draft of a very not bad novel looking forlornly from the corner of my big ‘ole desk. I don’t need the drama of two novels fighting, it would be like Freddy Versus Jason around here!

NaNoWriMo did give me an idea, though more related to No Shave November; by the way, this year I’m participating. By mid-month it’ll look like I’m wearing cashmere leggings.

No Show November is a challenge to not watch a show any night of the week. No new shows, nothing hot off the press from Netflix, nothing I’ve got on DVD, not even the news. This also includes YouTube, Instagram videos and infomercials unless you must watch any of the above specifically for work or study. For instance, if Sahdia teaches the hagala shimmy in belly dance class and I manage to forget how to do it before I get all the way home, then bet your bum I’m going to find it on YouTube, however, this does not mean I’m supposed to watch two hours of Belly Dance Superstars Live at the Pyramids.

So I’m going to start No Show November today. The idea of this might make you feel kinda tense. It does me, too. I like to have the television on, even if it’s on the radio station. When I knot malas, I sometimes like to have it on a Disney movie, depending on the vibe I’m working on. I like to watch a program with dinner. This challenge might have to be amended along the way, but I am curious what the first week will be like. I don’t want to feel like my novel is, in fact, the never ending story, so I’m going to use all my free time from No Show November to see if I can finish this incarnation and at least get to draft four. I’ll periodically remind myself this isn’t forever but just a little mental detox.

Wish me luck and join me if you want to. If you do, I’d like to know how it goes for you and in what you would like to invest your new found free time. Good Luck. The challenge starts now!

 

Vintage Word

If you have not read Night Circus yet, I suggest you put your tablet down and go buy it. Get yourself a nice paperback copy, it feels nice in the hands. Be sure and clear your calendar, you’re not going to be available for a while. When you’re finished, come on back.

I was so enamored with the book that I looked up the author, who is almost as interesting as her work (would that someone would say that about me one day!) and her website does not disappoint. I am curious about authors who have crossed the rainbow bridge into the world of publishing, and in particular the author of Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Because she is a good person, she has a page on her website for aspiring writers. You see, she was an unknown who was published by cold calling agents and editors (le sigh). I’ll have what she’s having, thankyouverymuch. I figure she knows what she’s talking about, even if she is a fly by the seat of your acrobat leotard kinda girl.

In her post on writing she says that she writes on a program called Scrivener. Well, obviously I need that, too. Right? But I have written on Microsoft Word for so long that it stands to reason it’s best not to waste time teaching old dogs new tricks, or more accurately, a sassy nearly middle aged cat who isn’t interested in learning anything new.

I pecked and searched my way through quite a lot of my first draft before my computer broke. It wasn’t sudden, either. I got to watch it wither and wilt with periodic spasms and death rattles. Damn the machine! I was in a frenzy to save this long drawn out document that may one day be my retirement from all of the jobs (except the ones I love, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess which ones they are).

I go get myself a new computer with no little whining about having to learn a new operating system. The worst part, I think, is getting accustomed to the new keyboard. It never feels just right until all of the sudden it does. When that moment arrives, good luck if you have to change again; old dogs and all.

I saved my stuff online with great displeasure. I am dubious of online storage things. My precious work, the words over which I labored and have not yet brought to conclusion, what if it ends up in the wrong hands? What if it is pirated? What if it is somehow spoiled or abducted by sand fleas and made to perform in small tents?

Then it occurred to me that I have plenty of content I put on the internet on purpose and very few people read it. I can’t drive traffic to my blog, and I’m worried someone is gonna go and pirate something I’ve written? Are they somehow going to go and get famous with work I can’t hock for free? Doubtful.

So, I started writing on a word processing program and I actually finished the first draft. I wasn’t happy about the way the word processing program felt, much like the new keyboard. The program didn’t have formatting up to my nearly professional standards (standards which I only discovered moments before my previous computer ceased its operations). This online writing program felt hollow and I knew it was a short term relationship, not unlike a passionate and combustible love affair.

Today that manuscript and how to proceed has rattled around in my mind. How to enter the next phase of editing? The Apollo phase, I like to call it. My nerves can’t take another moment of this online program, it’s too blank and generic. The obvious answer is to do what Erin Morgenstern did – write on Scrivener.

This program is confusing as hell. I’ve tried to learn it in the past and concluded it must be an operator error. There are sticky notes, cork board applications, there are even little digital push pins where you can hang your ideas and stuff. In the event you, Reader, and I have met in real life you know that I only have so much tolerance for fancy technologically advanced stuff and by my estimation there isn’t much more advanced stuff than digital pushpins and internet cork boards unless we’re talking intergalactic travel, in which case that might be more advanced.

I went running back to Microsoft Word. I’m not sure why I waited for so long. It came pre-installed but not activated on this new PC. Maybe I was trying to be different, technologically advanced or a good protege of Erin Morgenstern. But I just now put Word on my computer; it is offline and pretty much just the same as it was on my old, long lost computer. I swear even my keyboard feels better with my characters dancing around on a familiar word processor, not that my characters dance much. I will tell you that they don’t do too much yoga, either. I add this because folks are sometimes under the impression that I must be writing some sort of treatise on yoga or other advanced spirituality themed work of inspirational aphorisms.

Nope. It’s fiction and it’s ready to get the second draft treatment. I feel like someone should start the Rocky theme song. Ding. Ding.

Jaded Primitive

I am doing a Mary Oliver sadhana (practice). I totally made it up, but I like it. I like Mary Oliver.

I remember being in class with Laura at Dragonfly Yoga Studies, where I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training. I was one of my first few classes with her in late October before the January training began. Class was hard and intense and I believed that if ever there was a human who could help me become an effective yoga teacher, it was Laura.

I felt insulated and regimented in the hour and fifteen minute class, in which she played no music or tried much of anything fancy, just deep and real instruction. I learned to lean into the discipline of the practice and found satiation there, even with the open wound I carried around with me, my heart still tender from a loss.

She read a poem as we went into savasana, which Mukunda Stiles calls relaxation and absorption pose. Typically known as corpse pose, I stretched out on my back and felt the heaviness of my body rest into the Earth. I felt wrung out from the practice, but also lustrous on the inside like I had been polished in some important way.

The poem she read, In Blackwater Woods, tore through me like a million tiny stallions breaking free of their pens. I had never heard of Mary Oliver before that poem cut channels to my heart from the hard rock shaped by life….

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment…

I felt myself crumbling a little bit when she enchanted the poem over us. Then she began to chant some mantra I had never heard in my years of self-study. It rang through the room and burst through my eyes. She walked around smearing essential oil on our heads like a priestess anointing initiates.

…Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

I remember the feeling of her fingers, coated with lavender essential oil, pass through the tracks of my tears. I needed this poem and the poet, too, who took me to the edge of lying down and allowed me to bow deeply to my heart.

It is six years later and I have learned that Mary Oliver is one of the unofficial poets of the yoga community. New teachers come along, fresh like I was when Laura held me in her voice, and are smitten by the imagery of this artist’s work. I began to feel like a cliche, at once moved by something that is old hat to the disenfranchised. I watch new teachers make the same discoveries and wonder how I didn’t see myself, silly and new, falling in love. I sometimes feel the rigormortis of cynicism stiffen my mind that rested so easily in corpse pose those years ago.

The Mary Oliver practice is one I devised to brighten my practice of writing and mindfulness. Her work is one of the mysteries, nature and something primitive the mind isn’t advanced enough to understand. Her poetry silences thoughts not unlike Rumi or Ramprasad, but different.

Since my perspective of teaching yoga has changed in the last few months and so has my perception of my other work, like writing. I finished a longer work of fiction which I am allowing to “rest” as Stephen King suggests in his book “On Writing”. Six weeks is the minimum length of time one should step away from the story before attacking it for the second draft.

I’d just gotten my legs back under me to finish this book, which has absolutely nothing to do with yoga, by the way. I’d hate to lose momentum, especially since it’s so damn hard to gain through the discouragement and loneliness of writing.

The Mary Oliver practice consists of writing a poem a day for 40 days. The poem is inspired by something I encounter that lends itself to a feeling, memory or insight. When you see the moon, dear reader, what do you see in your inner landscape, illuminated? When the band of merry raccoons dance around the pool, who are you reminded of? Make a poem out of this.

A poem a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but try it. It is an art of discipline and creativity which are the ingredients necessary for gaining and maintaining momentum, both of which are necessary for spiritual practice as well as artistic endeavors.

If you would like to practice with me I would love to see some of your work – post your poetry in the comments if you’d like to share. If poetry, observation and writing practice bordering on Zen aren’t your thing, you might like to participate in NaNoWriMo with me this year… but more on that later.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)

What I Am Reading

Stephen King strongly urges aspiring authors to read as voraciously as they write. Granted, as an aspiring author, I admit being prone to fits of despair around the whole topic of it and wallowing not in productivity but in procrastination. What a waste of talent, I know.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. There are shiny distractions, interactions and general malaise that keeps me from a few of my favorite things. But, because Stephen King has done something I have yet to do, parlay story-telling into an art and career, I figure his advice ought to be heeded. And I’ll tell you something; the man is right – writing comes a little easier if you’re reading good writing.

I travel to Atlanta fairly often. I occupy myself on the drive by paying attention to the road, drinking coffee, listening to Michael Jackson and talking on the phone. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, offers that listening to audio books is the same as reading, if one is reading to be a better writer.

I went to the library (yes, there are still such a thing as those). I took To Kill a Mockingbird and something else I cannot remember to the counter for checkout. I hand over my little library card. It is declined.

I am not kidding.

I feel like I’m standing at the grocery store with a six pack of Miller Lite and a box of Magnums without the money to pay for them, so snarling and dismissive is the expression smeared across the face of this young librarian dressed in mute tones.

“Madam, you are mistaken.” I say. I hand over my card again, certain there are funds left on it.

“You are no longer a residence of this county. We need proof of your address.” She holds my driver’s license between us, proof of my unworthiness. She’d asked to see my license so as to renew my library card, I couldn’t have known I was walking into a trap.

“The devil with you!” I bellow at the quiet library desk where no one pays me the slightest bit of attention.

“I’ll just take these…” she says, sliding my selections across the counter with a sly smile that ejects me from the library of my hometown of nearly twenty years. I watch Harper Lee disappear behind a stack of Harlequin Romances meant for the friends of the library book sale.

I stew and fume and bemoan my lot in life. I do not want to visit the library on the other side of the bridge where I now live. It feels so inner city and downtown and large. The other side of the bridge has always felt like its own country, in the very least a different state.

I drive over the bridge. I drive around the looming, dark civic center and I skirt the edge of the cool part of town. I slide beneath a warm streetlight and park on the rain shiny curb, which feels dangerous and wild. I go into the downtown library. There is a massive marble staircase and a little grand piano.

This place is not unlike the library of my home, not the one from which I was just ejected but the town in Alabama where I grew up. This library is sprawling and wrought iron and new. It feels like the majesty of Scarlet’s mansion, Tara, before the Civil War. There is the smell of books and the long distant fragrance of coffee someone brought in at lunch. Now it is after dark and I am leaving for Atlanta in two days. I don’t have the luxury of admiring everything, I am there for a book on tape – er, CD.

Perhaps the coolest part of this venture, other than that Charlie Brown is on my library card, is that my library card is issued to Prana Devi. On this night, with my new library privileges in a facility far beyond the grandeur and selections of that place from which I was previously excluded most coldly, I check out The Isle of the Sequinned Love Nun by Christopher Moore.

I listen to this book all the way to Atlanta and back again. It is awesome. The narrator is funny and has a voice for each character, even the ladies. I think perhaps the narrator is a little bit crazy and wonder what he looks like. Probably very handsome, if crazy is any indicator.

I find when I get back from my trip my writing impulses start firing. I begin keeping a notebook in the console of my car again, to make notations during stop lights and in parking places. I have ideas and more than anything else, renewed interest.

The next book on tape I check out is The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. I find myself staying in my car extra, sitting in the driveway to get to the end of each chapter. There are three narrators for three different main characters and each is wonderful. I find myself wondering what it might take to be a narrator for books like these.

The third book I borrow is The Secret Magdelene by Ki Longfellow. This is the most remarkable book by far, and I am grateful to be able to listen and not to have to read because there are words and names I wouldn’t know how to pronounce by sight, phonics or no.

And then the CD starts skipping. This is not a book that you can miss a few words in. In fact, this is a book written in such poetic language I had to pause in my listening to make sure my heart’s beat hadn’t become too quiet for the listening.

I took the scratched CDs back to the library and checked out the book instead. I’d heard enough to know how the main characters names are pronounced, anyway. Finally, even while holding this book on my lap, I ordered my very own copy so I could sleep with it on the covers at night and leave hearts and stars in the margins in sky blue ink.

This is my companion for my stay-cation, this book and my cats. For the next two days I don’t plan on leaving my house unless its nice out and I take my mat outside for some poolside yoga. There is a slim possibility I will go for a walk between chapters, writing or reading, I am not sure.

My Thursday classes have substitute teachers who will probably play better music than I do, anyway. I will be home reading.