Category Archives: Practice -artistic, spiritual

Purple poop: blackberry season

Purple: adj. a color intermediate between red and blue

Poop: n. excrement (but you knew that).

I’m a blackberry addict (and not the phone).  As much as I love eating blackberries, my addiction is actually to picking them…

I know when they’re ready for picking without tasting a single one; I just look down at the sidewalk near my house and see purple seedy bird droppings. From the color of the walk, we’re now at the height of the season.

It’s Blackberry Central here in the Pacific Northwest.  The bushes (Rubus, spp.) can be found wherever the dirt remains untended in vacant lots, by the road, along the walking paths. They are hardy and ingenious plants, doing whatever they can to ensure the survival of the species.

The long vining branches take root wherever they touch the ground – and with a plethora of thorns they protect these rooting branches from their human enemies who would destroy them.

To prevent the thicket from becoming too thick, blackberry bushes use their fruit to entice birds to spread the gospel far and wide.  In a bird’s belly, the berries mix with certain chemicals that help the seeds germinate once they hit the ground in plops of purple poop.

Over the years farmers have bred fancy berries that have no thorns, that are plumper, that are bigger – but IMHO none of them can compare to the deep flavor of the real “wild” thing.  Some of the most important commercially grown brambles are actually blackberry/red raspberry hybrids. Think Boysenberry, Loganberry, Marionberry and Youngberry.

Blackberry picking is part treasure hunt, part dance, part meditation. First you have to find the right bushes. Some look promising as you speed by in your car, but when you return later with the pail you discover that the berries are dessicated, under-ripe, or much less accessible than it first appeared.

New rule: However tall you are, the best berries dangle just six inches higher than you can reach.

If you find a good spot, and no one has beat you to it, you have to activate special berry sensors. The best berries often lurk just out of sight a few inches into the bush, so you have to “be with” the bush for a few minutes before your eyes calibrate on your tender targets. Your fingertips ever-so-gently palpate each berry to feel if it’s plump enough to pluck.

But no grabbing! Carefully rock the berry off its stem. If it resists at all, it’s not ready. If one of the drupelets near the stem is still red, the berry will be sour. Leave it. (A berry is made up of a collection of fleshy drupelets, each one encasing a seed.)

Retrieving berries without ruining your clothes or shredding your skin is where the dance comes in. Counter-intuitively perhaps, it’s best to wear a short-sleeved T-shirt (unless you’re picking at dusk when the mosquitoes are out).  This way you can snake your arms into the bush past the thorns without getting snagged in a bunch of fabric.  It’s a dance.

Time stops because you can think of nothing else when you’re picking berries. You have to be totally present to do the dance without getting hurt. You have to be totally present to sense and corral your prey. And finally, if the briar-patch is big enough, the quest keeps on, and on, and on.

“Just this one more cluster…”

“Oh, and THIS cluster… “

Once a season, I make my favorite dessert of all time: blackberry cobbler. Served warm with vanilla ice cream. Omigod.

I freeze most of the berries, though, so I can enjoy them on my cereal through the long winter, reminding me that summer will come again.

Poem: how precious this life

Poem: n. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.

Precious: adj. highly esteemed, cherished, worthy, valuable

Rev. Arthur Vaeni came down from Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to speak on Sunday – about what’s really important. (A terrific message: you can listen to an earlier version of it here: Four Reasons to Try Something Different.)

It was a Buddhist message, calling us to wake up to the present moment, because life is precious and it’s all too short- a realization make all the more poignant given the gun violence that snuffed out so many precious lives in recent days.

He quoted several Buddhist sages, and read one of my favorite teaching poems “Bugs in a Bowl” ( blogged here).

Bottom line: life is what it is; this moment is what it is; you can choose to resist it (whine, complain, deny) or get into it.

He closed with a poem by Susan Griffin:

Born Into a World Knowing

This will happen
Oh god we say just give
me a few more
breaths
and don’t let it be
terrible
let it be soft
perhaps in someone’s
arms, perhaps tasting
chocolate
perhaps
laughing or asking
Is it over already?
or saying not yet. Not
yet
the sky
has at this moment turned
another shade of blue,
and see there a child
still plays
in the fresh snow.

Peter’s Prayer

Peter: n.  In this case, Peter is the Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and candidate for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Prayer: n. an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

Two candidates are running for President of the UUA – election is June 27. On the UU list-serve about the election, supporters of the other candidate keep questioning whether Peter is “spiritual enough.”  (Full disclosure: I am an active Peter Morales supporter…)

Because UUs aren’t traditional Christians (and most UUs aren’t Christian at all) the issue of “prayer” often comes up. So,  since today is Sunday, and we talk about P-words here, I thought I’d excerpt from one of Peter’s sermons – this one called “Prayer.” This is the last 3rd of it:

. . . So, what can prayer mean to us if we don’t pray for divine supernatural intervention, if we don’t pray for forgiveness, if we don’t pray to a god that is a kind of person? Once we dump out the superstition, what is left?

Quite a lot, actually; quite a lot.

Prayer can be a kind of meditation, a time when you and I open our hearts, open our awareness. Prayer can be a time to reaffirm our concern for other people. Prayer can be a time when we connect with what we hold sacred, a time when we remind ourselves of what is truly important, what really matters to us. Prayer can be a time when we remind our selves of our highest aspirations and a time when we confront, in all humility and honesty, how we have fallen short of what strive to be. Prayer can be a time when we quietly rededicate our selves to becoming what we hope to be. Prayer can be a time for opening our selves to new possibility, to new direction—a time for listening to that quiet, gentle, persistent voice that dwells in us. We have to be quiet to hear that voice; we have to be still.

This is the core of what personal prayer has always been. This is the essence that remains after we strip away outmoded notions of god as a ruler, of god as an all powerful patriarch. Prayer has always been a time of quietly coming face to face with what we hold sacred, what we call holy. Prayer is a kind of relationship, an experience of standing before creation.

Personal prayer need not involve any words. The key is to make time, to reflect, to be still, to allow our selves to feel our connections to life, to others, to the unity of all creation.

Today, as every Sunday, we will offer a pastoral prayer. In this prayer we share our thanks for community. We share our gratitude for being alive, for beauty that surrounds us, for loving friends. We share our concern for members of our congregation who are suffering loss or difficult times. We rejoice with others who have cause for celebration. This is what every community should do—share life’s joys and life’s sorrows, be grateful for what we have, hold the wider world in our embrace, aspire to serve. Our collective prayer is like a hymn. Our prayer expresses our compassion and our hope. Such a prayer helps bind us together. Such a prayer does not require a belief in anything supernatural.

My personal prayer today is for inner peace, for a bit more patience (I dare not ask for a miracle) and a bit less crabbiness. My prayer is for wholeness, for allowing myself to experience the joy of being alive. If I am still and open and centered, gratitude comes over me. I would pray for the wisdom and energy to serve this community effectively.

My prayer for our congregation is that we prosper, that we remain open hearted, that we be a true beacon of compassion, understanding and acceptance. I pray that we help bring wholeness and love to each other, that we honor our elders and raise our children to be kind and strong. My prayer for my world is that it become a place of peace, understanding, and justice, a place where life is affirmed and violence disappears.

When you are still, when you are in that place of profound peace and strong connection to your inner self and to the universe, what is it that you would pray for? When you look at your self, those you love, this community and our world, what is it that you dare to hope for?

I suspect our prayers would have a lot in common. When we stop to be still, to open our hearts, to express our deepest longings, we find that we share much. We want wholeness, peace, joy, love, acceptance.

Once we pray in this way, once you and I allow our selves to be in contact with our innermost longings, when we experience our hopes and express them, then you I and have laid a foundation. For praying without acting is not enough; it never has been.

Prayer is a prelude. Prayer is preparation.

Our true task is not finished. If in my prayer I feel compassion for victims of hurricane Katrina and then fail to do anything, what good is my prayer? If I pray that human life may prosper for millennia to come and then do nothing to help create a sustainable world, what good are my hopes? If my prayer for our community is that we be open and welcoming, yet I never open my heart to embrace new people and make them feel truly welcome, what good is my prayer? If I pray for justice but never work for it, my prayer is simply an act of hypocrisy.

Our prayers will only be answered if you and I answer them! Our love can only find expression through what you and I do. Love is not some fuzzy abstraction; love is acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of compassion. Peace is not concept; peace is a relationship. Justice is a relationship.

Ultimately the person who really needs to hear my prayer is me. The person who needs to hear your prayer is you. The people who need to heed our collective prayer is us.

The first step is to be still, to hear our innermost voice, to be filled by our love for life and for each other.

Let us pray with all of our hearts. Then let us act. Let us live our prayers. Let us become the kind, caring, alive, joyful, grateful, idealistic, world transforming people we long to be.

Let us pray. Let us come honestly and humbly into the presence of all we hold sacred. And then let us be our prayer. When our life becomes our prayer and our prayer becomes our life, then we will truly have learned to pray.

Let us pray. Yes, let us pray.

So may it be. Amen.

Peter for President – of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Peter: n. Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden Colorado.

President: n. the person (democratically) elected by delegates from the thousand UU congregations in the U.S. to be the leader of and spokesperson for the denomination for the next four years.

Rev. Peter Morales is running for UUA President against the Rev. Laurel Hallman of Dallas. Both are fine candidates, but this election, to be held June 27 at our annual meeting, reminds me of last spring’s primary when I wanted a woman to be US president, but ended up supporting Obama because he was the right person for the job at this time.

Peter is the right man for this job at this time because he has the vision and the practical experience to help us out of our current shrinking mode. With less than 200,000 members you could say we’re but a blip on the American religious landscape these days.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about UUism:

Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a theologically liberal religion characterized by its support for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism have their historical roots in the Christian faith. But by the time they decided to combine their efforts at the continental level in 1961, the theological significance of these terms had expanded beyond the traditional Christian understanding. Today’s UUs appreciate and value aspects of other religions ranging from Judaism to Jainism. Although Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns, they do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians, nor do they necessarily subscribe to Christian beliefs.

The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one’s personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with Unitarian Universalism’s creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.

Let me say this: one of the biggest problems UUs have is articulating what we believe. We have “Seven Principles” which serve more as a code of behavior towards others and towards the natural world than a set of beliefs. Some of us are Buddhists, some are pagans. We have atheists and agnostics too.

It makes it hard to talk about what we’ve got going for us with people who’ve never heard of us! It also makes us really hard to govern when there’s no orthodoxy. A bunch of cats, we are.

Just pulling together a post  into something that actually says something meaningful about UUism is a challenge for me, and I’ve been a UU all my life — as were my parents and grandparents. Pathetic.

Compared to the other candidate, who is even more mush-mouthed than I am, Peter will ( if anyone can) help us share our message more effectively, and herd us into a flock that moves forward together.

His website is here

Pressure to pare down

Pressure: n. the burden of physical or mental distress; the constraint of circumstance; the weight of social or economic imposition; the application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it.

Pare: v. to trim off an outside, excess, or irregular part of; to diminish or reduce

Because I haven’t posted in a week you may think that I’m moving prematurely into slow blogging.

But no. I’ve just come to the realization that I can no longer afford to think about down-sizing. I need to DO down-sizing. Which means putting time and effort into planning, divesting, tossing…

Which means that instead of thinking about P words, I’ve been inventorying my stuff in preparation for the Great Divestiture.

Really, there’s no way I can go looking for some cute little shoebox until I sell the home I have – my beloved home.

To buy something, even a shoebox, would be silly when it could take months to sell my place in this challenging real estate market. And who wants to be paying for two places?

I’ve made myself a fine Excel spreadsheet on which I’m listing all my stuff, including measurements (will it fit in my shoebox?), and whether it’s a keeper, a give-away, a “store it in case the kids ever have real homes AND want Grandma’s embroidered antimacassar” , a “will it sell on eBay?” or “could I just dump it?”

I started with the easiest space – the guest bath. How much can a guest bathroom hold? I asked myself. Turns out quite a bit: a nice little rug, an antique commode, three pieces of art, and a very very very old Greek water jug. Sigh.

None I want to part with. And I’m just getting started.

I

Pressfield on the Protean Power of Resistance

Protean: adj. readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity.

Power: n. ability to act or produce an effect

Screenwriter Steven Pressfield has written the definitive book on the struggle involved in becoming a professional writer (artist, creative person), The War of Art. He is, how shall I say it, a muscular writer. Very yang. The artistic process is a WAR in which you either emerge victorious (and bloodied) or you die.

He attributes all my procrastination proclivities to RESISTANCE, that force that prevents me from producing a plethora of perfect prose .

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be….

Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mown down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed.

Once he’s kicked the reader’s ass around, he grapples with what it takes to be a Professional. It has to do with nailing your butt to the chair and just DOING IT. Every Day.

Although I write for hire, I’m clearly not a Professional – at least as concerns my OWN writing.

I’m taking a 4-week writing workshop in which we are to move a stuck project forward.  The third class is this weekend and  I’ve done almost nothing (again) on my project. While it’s true I’ve been busy with other things that seem essential, I should have been able to carve out a mere 30 daily minutes, for gods sake, to work on it. Flails at head and shoulders in pathetic gesture of self-abasement.

Even this blog, which has been such fun, is seeming onerous right now. 344 posts in 11 months; don’t stop now!!! Who cares. (the critic speaks.)

My daughter is blaming her blahs on sun-spots or solar flares. Sounds about right to me. Better than blaming it on my own resistance.

Praise for Anne Lamott

Praise: n. an expression of approval; commendation.

Yesterday I picked up Anne Lamott’s latest book, Grace (Eventually).These impoverished days I usually borrow my reading material from the library. Anne Lamott I buy. And once again I’m just enthralled.

Back in 1985 (?) she spoke at the first writer’s conference I ever attended. Using tales from her own writing life (and very messy personal life) she simultaneously inspired and convulsed us with laughter. I remember thinking, “Wow, if someone with this many hang-ups and problems can crank out books, what’s keeping me?”

Although she has written five novels, her true métier is the personal essay. I would KILL to be as inspiring, evocative and funny as Annie Lamott.

So far she’s produced three best-selling collections of personal essays: Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and this latest one.The subject matter evolves but doesn’t change: she weaves together her experiences as a (former) drunk, as a sober person, as an imperfect single mom, as a loving but jealous friend, as a dutiful and rebellious daughter, as an insecure writer, and as a born-again Christian who is simultaneously a flaming liberal feminist who curses and hates George Bush even more than I do.

One moment the reader is horrified: “she did what?”, the next all teary, and then you’re laughing your head off. Most of her tales have a gentle moral lesson lurking behind the breezy writing style, and yet this non-Christian reader is pulled in rather than repelled. For someone as devout as she clearly is, she has no qualms about being wicked and totally irreverent.

She also wrote one of my all-time favorite books about writing: Bird by Bird (1995). We learn that her style, which seems so effortless, is not. Here’s a piece of excellent advice:

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

[Amen sister! And how about really really shitty second third and fourth drafts?]

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out, and let it romp all over the place…you let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come though and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?” you let her….

She goes on to describe the battle she has with her internal editors:

The critics would be sitting on my shoulders, commenting like cartoon characters. They’d pretend to snore, or roll their eyes at my overwrought descriptions… For the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot…

What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?.. and there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion, and there’s William Burroughs dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant, and so on…

She suggests a process where you imagine shrinking each of these complainers to the size of a mouse and dropping them one by one into a jar with a lid on it to have at each other.

A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.

No. Of course not.