I write this from Sonoma County, where a deadly blaze has been burning without containment for the past five days. The death toll climbs daily. My car is packed with the things that truly cannot be replaced: my books of musical compositions, the sculpture and a drawing that is all I have of my father’s legacy, photo albums of my daughter’s childhood, paintings that I have cherished and which define “home” for me. Dozens of my friends have evacuated already, and several have lost everything they own, including my friend and sometimes videographer, Christopher. In the ashes of his home are the melted remains of the Mythica video equipment and the films we made the past year that we had hoped to turn into a revenue stream for both of us.
All of this is tragic—but with the large lens of time, it is not unusual. As a scholar of Ancient and Medieval history, I know that there have been so many worse disasters in the world, like the plagues that killed 30% of the population of parts of Europe in one summer. Or the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Or the Albigensian Crusade, which decimated Southern France in the 13th century, leaving a vast swath of burned lands and tortured citizens. It is not yet as catastrophic as the World Wars my grandparents and great grandparents endured, or the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s or the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.
Tragedy is a tune that returns again and again, weaving its dark and often brutal sounds in the tapestry of life. The question for us is not will tragedy break us---but will it break us open?
The great traditions of alchemy and depth psychology invite us to consider that inside the ashes of outer destruction are the seeds of new life, liberation and depth. These great traditions affirm that what looks like a breakdown can be a breakthrough, and that when all seems lost, something of greater meaning and authenticity might be found. This is the arc of the Hero’s Journey that we see played out over and over—not just in the myths of Parsifal or the stories of Jesus and Buddha, but also in the lives of Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri and Ludwig van Beethoven.
I am heartened and inspired by the story of the Confraternities of Florence, groups of laypeople who responded to the horrors of the plague during the calamitous 14th century. There were not enough doctors to tend the victims, nor enough priests to bury the bodies, and so ,ordinary folks gathered together to do what needed to be done: to tend to the sick, to bury the dead, to console the bereaved. Inspired by their patron saint Mary Magdalene and Francis of Assisi, they gathered their courage to stand fully present in the midst of pain, and also offered what they could of hope. They also created joyful liturgies of song and dance, commissioned works of art, and in the midst of unbelievable suffering and sorrow, found reasons to remind each other of the goodness and beauty that still existed in life.
These words of Goethe capture something of what I am feeling:
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.
It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life's field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.
I look around my community and I marvel. The evacuation centers are overflowing with donations and volunteers. The local coffee shops and restaurants are giving a percentage of all their sales to fire victims. People are opening up their homes to friends and strangers alike to stay. Hairdressers and massage therapists and yoga studios are offering free services tot those displaced by fire. In the midst of the worst of circumstances, we are also seeing the best of humanity shining forth.
Marc Andrus, Episcopalian Bishop at Grace Cathedral, told me a wondrous tale a few years ago. He had collected disaster relief funds for Haiti to assist in recovery after their horrific earthquake. When he arrived with his wife Sheila, who has a background in public health, they were astonished to learn that the first thing the Haitians wanted to rebuild was not the hospital or the water treatment plant. The first thing the Haitians wanted to rebuild was the music conservatory. This, they were told, was because music represented something even more important than medicine: it represented hope.
Bishop Marc's story has stayed with me. In the coming months, Sonoma County will need so much assistance as we rebuild shattered lives and charred and now desolate landscapes. We will need all the help we can get with building, and no-interest loans and housing. But just as much—maybe even more—we will need hope. If you are one of those people who needs to be reminded that there is still beauty and goodness in the world, I invite you to join my email list. Each week I promise to send out music, poetry or art that might be balm for your soul--- I know it is for mine.
Together may we find the seeds for renewal, to live a life of communal celebration, intimacy and connection deeper than we have yet dreamed.
Passing the Torch
by Kayleen Asbo
Once, in his prime,
He strode across the stage to the Steinway and bowed
Sat at the cool keyboard
And poured molten passion upon its shiny surface.
Her 13 year old heart melted
All the way back in row Y.
The flame of that concerto burned in her breast,
Kindling a fire
That lit the way through the underworld of adolescence.
It was during that terrible year
That she learned what it is to become Orpheus
To pour love and longing, loss and grief
Into the strings of the piano
How if she opens up her bleeding heart with her small fingers
And impassioned words
She might even cause Sisyphus to stop and weep
As she pleads on behalf of the dead.
Now it is thirty five years later.
The seeds of that dark year have ripened,
Flowered into bouquets of stories and songs.
She bestows garlands fragrant with beauty
Upon the aged ones gathered in hopeful expectation at the senior center
to listen to the life of Beethoven
His steps falter and he grasps another’s arm for support as he crosses to the speakers’ podium.
He teeters, almost falls
Barely able to see through the tears with his fading eyesight
before he gives her a kiss on each cheek,
Benediction for passing the torch of inspiration
Back to him
after all these years.
Inauguration Poem by Kayleen Asbo
There are shadows looming, and fears of war
Nightmares about belonging and safety and
Anxiety over whether hate will reign.
But this has always been the case in the world.
There have also always been moments
of astonishing courage and connection
And people of extraordinary decency and integrity
Bravely listening to a different drummer
to find a pathway to hope and unity and peace.
Amidst the storms and thunderbolts that rattle this winter sky,
there are still rainbows
And the lush green grass reaching for a glimpse of the sun
And the yellow roses glazed with rain blooming with radiance
when least expected
Let us be like them--
No matter what comes, stretching out our souls for the light
Unfurling our magnificence against the broad expanse of sky
Reaching for the possibilities of hope that always, always
Are there for the plucking.
This is a re-post of a blog I posted a few years ago- with a musical addition to savor!
Today is the feastday of Epiphany. It is one of my favorite celebrations of the year: the commemoration of the coming of light and a reminder that you can discover the sacred in the ordinary-- and maybe even in the awful. Having recently returned from a weekend at Bishop's Ranch, I carry in my body the memory that cows are not fragrant and delicate creatures. The manger of the Nativity scene was probably actually a cave where farm animals slept. Imagine finding God there.
This is exactly what the tradition of alchemy teaches also us: that the first step of the spiritual journey to transformation is the descent into the cave, the darkness, the blackness. The first step of the journey is the nigredo, when everything falls apart. We cannot begin the journey to our True Self until we've had a sufficient number of disasters, disappointments, failures and humiliations under our belt. In the symbolic lens of the alchemists, two of the first ingredients needed are actually excrement and a fire that reduced things to ash. They alone may provide the heat and intensity to transform your life into a spiritual quest. This is good news! When everything is shitty, when life stinks and everything is in ruins, you know have the raw ingredients to begin the Great Work. This may be an important and hopeful thing to remember in our collective moment in history right now. The potential for transformation is enormous.
In the Biblical story of Epiphany, three magi travel from afar expecting to find a new king. You can imagine their surprise when they discover that following the Light leads them to an out- of- the- way hovel where a woman has just given birth to an illegitimate Jewish boy. After giving their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (not exactly helpful gifts for a new mother, but symbolic of a leader who will master the realms of earthly power, priestly power and overcome death), the magi head home but are warned that they cannot return the way they have come. Life will be forever different for them after this encounter, and the old roads simply won't work.
The painting of Epiphany above can actually be seen as a map of the entire alchemical journey. On the sides, two long line of pilgrims descend through a gateway of a building that is in ruins. One by one, the seekers dismount their regal steeds, a psychological symbol of dismantling the ego (a delightful play on "getting off their high horse"). Now humbled, they encounter the ox and the ass, representatives of the lowly instinctual self on the way to genuflect to the Holy. Above the heads of the Holy Family is a peacock- the ancient symbol of spiritual transformation, beckoning us to learn the art of seeing the world not in black and white, but in a myriad of colors and possibilities, all shimmering with divine light. The Christ child is crowned with a halo in the colors of red and gold, signaling the end of the process: a new consciousness has been born (citrinitas) and union with the divine completed (rubedo).
Epiphany is not something that happened once in history to one set of people in the Middle East somewhere. It is something that is always true, for each one of us. If we treat the story as a dream, where each character represents an aspect of ourselves, Epiphany teaches us that the divine lies waiting to be discovered not in palaces of jewels and wrapped in fine linen, or in the fine horses of our Egoic self- no, it lies hidden where we least expect it: in the midst of darkness, fear, and even disgrace. In the cast off and unwanted parts of ourselves that we have had no room for in our busy lives.
The theme of illuminating light is a hallmark of the compositions of Morten Lauridsen. I invite you to listen to his glorious "Sure on This Shining Night", which you can find on youtube. In this season of Epiphany, may you, too, find a light within that guides you to unexpected new and glorious life- where you least expect it.
A Blessing for the New Year
by Kayleen Asbo
As the hours of darkness begin to slowly wane from the winter sky,
So too may the fearful places of your heart unclench their grasp on your life.
As the presence of light begins to grow with greater sureness with each passing day,
May your own courage blossom to open more brightly to truth and love.
Let this be the year that you turn off the television and silence the talk radio chatter
in order to pick up the writing pen, the paintbrush,
and watch the candle slowly burn.
May this be the year that you delight
in seeing how much joy you can extravagantly spread.
May you discover just how much beauty you can recklessly shower
upon this thirsty world.
May this be the year that you tune both the dusty piano in the corner
and the inner listening of your care-worn heart
So that both can play in harmony with the chorus of creation.
May you break the invisible yardstick of impossible expectations
and learn that just as you are,
you are enough.
May this be the year that you cease trying to march to an imagined ideal
and instead, wrap your arms around the messy wonder your life really is,
hold it close
and do the tango.
Let this be the year you befriend your soul in its radical particularity,
not forsaking it yet again for the bland demands and cravings of the masses.
Instead, may you elope with the wildness of your own true calling,
marry your soul to its deepest longings
and invite the hungry world to the wedding feast.
I wrote the poem above two years ago, but still find it something I want to live into. As both piano and yoga teach me daily, it is all about practice. Letting go of fear and judgment (particularly self -judgment!) are lifelong practices, ones to be cultivated each and every day. One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, has characterized the neurological tendencies of the mind as negative velcro (our tendency to hold on to the bad) and postive teflon (the tendency to let the good slip away). While this may protect us in a forest of ravenous beasts, it is a proclivity that bodes very ill for our psychological well-being, eventually yielding a state of cynicism unless consciously checked. It is the deliberate practice of gratitude and wonder that makes the difference between becoming embittered as we age or ripening into grace and joy. For myself, I'd like to become a wise and juicy and ecstatic crone and so I am deliberately cultivating practices that will carve those positive neural pathways into my brain. For the past year, I have kept a gratitude journal, penning just 2 or 3 sentences each day about where my heart felt touched with love, compassion, beauty or awe. This week, I've begun to review the year, and I find myself surprised with delight at the beautiful moments which had faded from view. Similiarly, scrolling through my 2016 images on Facebook has also given me a renewed sense of wonder as I recollect and remember all the lovely places I have been and the magnificent people who have graced my path. As I see the faces from my travels and lectures in France, Italy, Houston, Lousiana, Southern California and Ireland , I send a prayer of thanksgiving out for the sweet moment of connection I shared with people I may never meet again. It makes me feel a deep sense of belonging to a larger story. Who knew that even Facebook can be a spiritual practice?
Tomorrow, I wil be celebrating the New Year in Petaluma with a Soul Collage workshop, followed by a candlelit labyrinth walk with live music. Both are exercises in gratitude and mindfulness. Join me if you are able. If you can't, I encourage you to consider engaging in your own gratitude walk someplace beautiful. It is easy--with every step, think of a moment of surprising grace. Think of a loved one with each step. Call to mind something that has lit up your heart this year. You may find yourself surprised, as often I am, with how many forgotten moments of beauty return with this practice.
As we head into a New Year, remember: there is always a choice. For many of us, it has been a difficult and painful year. And yet, the sun still rises and sets each and every day with an extravagant and generous display of beauty and hope. As long as it does, I believe that it is our job to become the light.
by Kayleen Asbo
It is here in the deepest darkness
Where the longing for inner light burns most brightly.
If we are still enough,
We can sense the whisper of the ages
Beckoning us to suspend-just for awhile- the mind's restless demand for logical answers.
The sacred pattern we celebrate this day is ours, too, to claim:
To find the holy in the most unlikely of places;
To embrace the improbable, even the scandalous
as an unsought-for miracle.
Who needs angels with festal shouts of glory?
There are stars above us silently singing,
Ceaselessly urging us to remember
That there is something Divine within every one of us
Waiting each day to be born.
The Rose Windows that emerged in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries are a potent metaphor for our times. The Gothic cathedrals were dark and cold stone places, erected during some of the most violent and bloody and contentious times ever known to the planet. But in such darkness, the brilliance and splendor of these windows were all the more dazzling.
Similarly, though this year has been filled with darkness (both in my own life and in the life of the world and our country), I have also had my breath taken away by the kindness and compassion of so many people I have met. I have been deeply moved by the architects of beauty and peace that I have encountered, both those souls living now who are working valiantly to live lives of compassion and purpose and those saints of the past who wrested all the beauty they could out of their own unbelievable sorrows. I am reminded every day as I teach Dante, T.S. Eliot, Julian and Norwich and Beethoven that it is often in the midst pain and crisis that the truest glory and light of humanity shines forth.
My favorite piece of music right now is the String Quartet Op. 132 in A minor. Written by Beethoven after a life-threatening illness when he was utterly deaf, the middle movement bears the unwieldy title, "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (A holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode )- see below. In it, we hear both the tenderness that comes from complete surrender in the midst of illness, and the joyous stirrings of new life and the vision of the possibilities of transcendent joy
It is a piece which inspired T.S. Eliot to pen his poetic masterpieces, The Four Quartets, and also which has inspired my own humble offering for the season:
A Blessing for Thanksgiving, written after Beethoven
by Kayleen Asbo
May I have the eyes to see
The sacred ordinary miracles that weave their web of light
Around each darkening day:
The dappled dew-dropped leaves that decorate each dawn,
The shimmering sunrise on the glistening grass,
The symphony of birdsong that greets each new morn
And the owl's lament as the moon rises and sets.
May I be mindful of all the graces I did not deserve
and yet fell upon my thirsty soul:
For the beauty that ran to embrace my hurried, harried eyes and ears,
For the kindness of strangers that softened the shadows of sorrow,
For the loyalty of friends who saw my need and wordlessly offered
their tender touch,
For the strange and undying affections of blood
That opened my heart once again when I had thought a door had shut
For the courage that Beethoven kindles across the centuries
As he shows the way
To compose a life of hope in the midst of despair,
Joy in the midst of sorrow,
Love in the midst of loneliness.
No matter what may come,
May my soul, too, remember
To sing a song of Thanksgiving
Until my last, grateful breath.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
-Rumi, translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks
A million points of light: that is what we need today. For much of the world, yesterday was the manifestation of their worst fears and they wake terrified, sickened and broken hearted. For other people, it was a day of triumph and jubilation. No matter which way you voted, however, you know that this election has left deep scars and the shadow of hatred and darkness upon us. All of- Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian- need to come together. I do not think Donald Trump is a figure who can do that. But I do think St. Francis is. He lived in a time that was even more divisive and violent than our own, a time when Dominicans were burning people at the stake for their different views. St. Francis taught a pathway of healing and reconciliation, and it was simple: praise. Praise everything in creation. Give honor and blessing to all: to sun, moon, stars, fire, wind, water, earth and even death. See everything as a brother and sister. And then sing, say and write your praise songs. So I invite you, everyone in America, everyone in the world, to start singing your praises as loudly as you can. I am going to start a Facebook page called the Canticle Project. It is a hate free zone. Here I invite you to share what is good, beautiful and true. See something lovely? Post a picture. Hear a gorgeous song? Upload a link. Meet someone who inspired you? Tell us their story. Experience an act of kindness? Witness a profound gesture of hospitality? Share it with the world. Not one word of division, not one word of contempt. Only a celebration of what is kind and compassionate and in the spirit of love. Because we need those million points of life. All of us.
Please join our Facebook page (Canticle) and add your stories, images and songs of beauty, love and goodness. Thank you.
The Canticle of St Francis
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
Yesterday was a challenging day. There was the escalating fear and rancor of the political scene to start with, and the fact that my hubcab fell off and I am wondering how much a new one costs and when I am going to find time to get it. And then there was the embarrassment of lunch with two of my friends. When the bill came, I had to blushingly ask them not to split it evenly three ways because I had been very careful to keep to my daily budget while they had each had two dishes apiece and right now, $16.00 is not insignificant to me. $16.00 is what it costs me to park when I teach at UC Berkeley. Then last night there was the debate itself, which I could not listen to for more than 5 minutes without becoming very, very disturbed and slightly sick to my stomach.
But in the face of all of this, I want to say this: life is not getting worse. It might be getting worse for some people, including uneducated factory workers and very well educated adjunct professors (who often now actually make less than a Starbucks employee or factory worker per hour and have no benefits), but 2016 is not actually a worse year than 1016, 1209 or 1939. The current horrible political landscape is actually quite a bit more civil than the discord in Dante’s Florence, which sent him into a lifetime of exile with a death sentence over his head. It is not as bad as the first century’s Roman rule, when crowds amassed in a Coliseum to see people hack each other to bits and be eaten by lions and crucifixes lined the roads all the way to Jerusalem. It is not worse than the time of the witch burnings or the years of the Spanish Inquisition, when you could be tortured and jailed for not eating pork. It is not worse than the many centuries in which you could be drawn and quartered on charges of treason for owning a Bible in English. It is not as bad as the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews and countless others perished because they held alternative views, lifestyles or bloodlines. Let’s be clear: it is a darkening time, and disturbing and not going in a hopeful direction, but is not that bad. And this is where I believe it becomes very, very important to have a bigger perspective and to focus on the right things.
For example, I could have a pity party (and I am afraid at times I have) that despite having adjunct positions at four highly regarded colleges and being a featured lecturer for both the Symphony and the Opera, I still do not have any healthcare benefits provided by an employer and without the relentless work I do for Mythica, my composite salary would actually fall far below what is needed to live in the Bay Area ( FYI: an adjunct typically makes $2,000-4,000 per semester course). I could bewail the horrors of a society in which stock brokers or stock car drivers or even stock clerks in a grocery store are more valued economically in our culture that an educator who consistently gets reviews proclaiming “This class changed my life” or “Your courses make life worth living”. I could fall into a river of sorrow that my three master’s degrees and PhD have not amounted to anything that measures on the Richter Scale of Wealth. I could swell with self -pity that I actually have to go to a Laundromat to wash my clothes since my studio does not have a washing machine and dryer.
But there is another way to look at it. I drive less than 3 minutes to wash my clothes in clean water in a safe and well-lit environment where I can sit and prepare to teach my classes on TS Eliot at UC Berkeley and Beethoven at Dominican and religious studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I don't actually have to contend with alligators or cheetahs or polluted swamp water like many in this world do right now. I own significantly more clothes than Laura Ingalls Wilder and all the other American pioneers, who, if I remember correctly from “Little House on the Prairie”, had one dress for Sunday and one dress for the rest of the week.
I own more books and music than either Bach or Schubert ever had in their lifetime, and while the praise and letters I receive every day do not actually pay any of my bills, they do warm my heart if I do not let myself become cynical.
And this is what I want to say to you: becoming bitter and cynical and defeated is a choice. We get to choose what we focus on. We get to choose if we immerse ourselves in fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric and drown in trite and superficial media storms. We get to choose what we read, what we listen to and with whom we spend our precious time. We get to choose if we are comparing ourselves to those who have “more” (more wealth, more security, more power or prestige, more stuff- whatever) or if we are remembering how much we do have, which hopefully includes safety, enough food to not go hungry and people who love us even when we don’t deserve it. We also have sunsets and sunrises (every day!) and a moon and stars that shine over us each and every night. We have birds that sing and flowers that bloom and trees that whisper in the wind. We have libraries and internet sites that let us have access to treasures of the world’s wisdom (for free!) and you tube sites where we can listen to the most astonishing musical masterpieces known to humankind. It is amazing what riches there are strewn all around us.
I realized after five minutes of the debate last night that there was no point in listening further. I certainly wasn’t going to change my vote as a result of anything that was said. So instead, I turned it off, went to yoga class and then sat outside on my porch breathing in the beautiful crisp country air while I drank some steaming mint tea. In the gathering dusk, I saw a family of deer laying down to sleep, and then as night deepened, a shooting star streaked miraculously across the saphire sky. It made me remember to count my blessings, which are so many. It also made me remember to make a wish for the places and people who are really suffering and need an extra dose of love, compassion and help right now: the Syrian refugees, the families who are mourning the death of their children, my high school friend who is so bravely battling Stage 4 cancer, my octogenarian friends who are facing growing dementia. And finally, at last, I had the presence of mind to remember that I am so, so lucky.
It’s up to us. We can swim in the junk stream of Kim Kardashian and the Brad Pitt- Angelina Jolie tabloid headlines and the relentless polls and political analysis that we will be bombarded with before this ridiculous, embarrassing and downright heinous election is finally over, or we can go out and savor the beauty and goodness that is actually all around us right now.
Yes, the world is scary and painful and even tragic. It always has been, and it always will be. But it is also lovely and filled with gorgeous and heroic souls who do astonishing things in the face of their suffering--people like Dante and Beethoven and TS Eliot. And I get to be connected with these people every day, sharing the stories of their lives with those who need to hear about something beautiful and true and real. So this weekend, you’ll find me at the Laundromat preparing for my next set of lectures. My car will be the Prius that is missing a hubcap. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.
In just the past few days, the weather has turned. This morning there was frost on my windowpane and a bountiful bouquet of fallen leaves on my front porch. What a life lesson Nature offers us every Autumn! When the time is right, the trees do not cling to their old hopes and illusions. Rather, they bless the leaves and send them on their way with a final burst of vibrant benediction. The trees do not fear emptiness, understanding that stark simplicity is a pre-requisite to new growth. It is a lesson I am entering into in my own life. Inspired by St. Francis and the Franciscan spirit, I've recently downsized considerably, embracing a more modest and humble home and lifestyle, with far less room for the accumulation of things and far more time for contemplation and long walks in nature.
As I packed to move, I had to choose what was really necessary to take with me. My discernment began with three questions as I regarded each object: Is it meaningful? Is it beautiful? Is it useful? Along the way, a friend offered me a new question: Does it give me joy? Surprisingly, there were many things that I had that were meaningful, useful and even beautiful but which no longer gave me joy. Being surrounded by these objects would bring an echo of heartache and a reminder of past losses. In a practice adopted from author Marie Kondo, I went through a ritual of gratitude, gently setting aside each item to give away, saying "Thank you for your service. I loved you once and am grateful for what you once were in my life. But I no longer can rejoice in you, and I send you to where you will be cherished by another". There was a beautiful sense of release as I moved through my mountain of things, creating a smaller molehill of the objects I will carry with me into my future. It is, of course, a practice that is even more relevant when saying goodbye to relationships, to places and to jobs. "Thank you. I have learned and experienced so much. I release you now and follow a path of greater authenticity and joy". My heart felt lighter as I gave away boxes of books, clothes and "treasures" to friends, schools, thrift stores and homeless shelters.
Saying goodbye is difficult and we do not know how to do it well ( if at all) in the United States. Storage units are filled with things that we do not need, no longer love and may never see again. We have no collective experiences of mourning that help us transition in times of loss, grief and death. Everywhere is a cultural denial of the impermanence of things, and especially the impermanence of life itself. But the trees give us this teaching: in the letting go can be profound beauty. Colors are revealed in the ash and maple that we never see in the perpetual holding on of the palm tree. In the denial of change and death, we may ironically lose the depth and beauty of the ephemeral moment, something that the following poem speaks to:
Lake and Maple by Jane Hirshfield
I want to give myself
as this maple
that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf;
as this lake that,
no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths,
both takes and returns it.
In the still heart that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born –
two earths wheeling,
two egrets reaching
down into subtraction;
even the fish
for an instant doubled,
before it is gone.
I want the fish.
I want the losing it all
when it rains and I want
the returning transparence.
I want the place
by the edge-flowers where
the shallow sand is deceptive,
steps in must plunge,
and I want that plunging.
I want the ones
who come in secret to drink
only in early darkness,
and I want the ones
who are swallowed.
I want the way
the water sees without eyes,
hears without ears,
shivers without will or fear
at the gentlest touch.
I want the way it
accepts the cold moonlight
and lets it pass,
the way it lets
all of it pass
without judgment or comment.
There is a lake.
Lalla Ded sang, no larger
than one seed of mustard,
that all things return to.
O heart, if you
will not, cannot, give me the lake,
then give me the song.
The word "sacrifice" means "to make sacred". A good question for contemplation in the midst of letting of might be, " If surrender to this loss, what in my life will I be making sacred?"