Beneath

The city had been disgusting with the heat – waves of it coming up like an open oven from the pavement at intersections, the apartment sticky and muggy and confining and gross.
The only thing I could think about was getting up north, getting into some water and swimming.
Swimming swimming swimming in the coolness of a lake.
Packing a few things into a bag, I came across this little pamphlet kind of thing that’s been kicking around for a while – it’s written by my mom, but I’m not sure when I got it or why, and when exactly it emerged from the archives and started floating around my reading pile, but there it was blinking up at me, and since all I could think about was swimming, I threw it in.
underwater experience
My mom used to be a prof, so she would do things like write books, and I remember one time when I was a kid asking her what the title of her book was, and she said, “Equivocal Predications”.
Oh. Ummm, right. Whatever.
So I wasn’t sure how far I’d get into this mysterious little pamphlet, but although it’s dense, it’s actually quite lovely, and I thought about the ideas in it as I went swimming each day in the cool deliciousness of a little bay.
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In her opening, she says,

After positing that water has a body, a soul, and a voice, Gaston Bachelard argues in Water and Dreams, “Possibly more than any other element, water is the complete poetic reality”…

Floating, savouring, weightless and happy, chasing ducks and minnows, I remember what a passionate scuba diver my mom was – she couldn’t get enough of it and was always off on some trip to go diving.
underwater
She writes,

Until only recently, literature of the sea and its inherent poetry has been predicated on a superficial relationship between man and the sea: man on the edge of the sea or man on the surface of the sea. To go under, to go down in the sea, was to go the way of Plebase in “Death by Water,” losing the power of perception…

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Now, with special equipment, men can experience the profundity of the sea: he can go down and still live to hear the poetic language of the deep of the sea. The action of going down is the gesture of knowing: the deep holds within it the secret of all that is unknown, the metaphorically profound, and the mystery of all that is “under” – including psychology’s unconscious and the mythic underworld.

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Within the profound abyss, within the metaphor and experience of depth itself rests an expression, according to Merleau-Ponty, of divine Being – amazing us who might have expected and seen taught that God is transcendent and “above”: “Claudel,” he comments, “goes so far as to say that God is not above but beneath us – meaning that we do not find Him as a suprasensible idea, but as another ourself which dwells in and authenticates our darkness…

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Beneath Your Feet
…with a special shout-out to my mom ❤

Intricate worlds

The sun is already well above the horizon, but I go on down anyway.
It’s a tiny paradise of riotous sound down here, a cacophony of birds – funny to think we associate being in nature with quiet, when it can be so very noisy.
A red-winged blackbird flies straight at me as if to say, Hello! Where have you been? It’s been a few days, and you’ve missed all kinds of things – the buds are all over the trees, the geese have taken over the duck ponds, and they fight with the muskrat who’s always after their eggs, and the turtles are back, and so much is going on… what happened to you?red-winged blackbird speaksThe push-pull – some days I think, really I don’t need any more half-assed nature photos, so I skip it, stay home and do yoga.
Other days I head out, starting with a kind of fast walk exercise intention, and then inevitably there’s an image – a flicker of light in the trees, the grasses, the movement of a bird, an animal, and I pull my camera out of my bag and I’m in, disappearing for hours into this world.willow treeBut although I love taking pictures, I know that for me the camera is really more of a pretext to hang out here.
A raccoon lumbers up a tree and I watch his slow lazy movements, camera idle over my shoulder.
A hawk circles above, a spiral climbing higher and higher on unseen currents.
Yellow finches dot the tops of trees, the red-winged blackbirds chase each other through shrubs and grasses, the ducks appear suddenly from the sky in a chaos of clumsy squawking and crashing down into the water.
I watch. I listen.tiny bird atop old treeA tiny bird sits atop an old dead tree. Minutes pass. The bird looks around, curious, assessing, no hurry.
There’s a quiet shifting sound as another turtle comes onto the rock and the first turtle makes room for him.
3 turtles on rocksI think about this lack of urgency. The rhythm of birds and animals at rest and their freedom without the pressures of money and traffic and jobs and social mores and the feeling that all us humans have been sucked into some grinding soulless machinery that is modern society. I remember that amazing, devastating article by George Monbiot

In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption. We use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created…
Working hours rise, wages stagnate or fall, tasks become duller, more stressful and harder to fulfill, emails and texts and endless demands clatter inside our heads, shutting down the ability to think, corners are cut, services deteriorate, housing becomes almost impossible to afford, there’s ever less money for essential public services. What and whom is this growth for?

Yes, exactly.
Why do we feel the need to live our lives as if at war with our very selves?
When was it decided that joy was something we have to quash as children so we can be obedient enough to work at a job we hate and subscribe to some ThankGodItsFriday existence and care about celebrities we’ll never meet?
For whom, exactly, are we doing this?
The sun is getting higher.
Here and there I take a photo – a tree, a duck, a nesting goose.goose nestingThe ducks and geese meander about the pond, delighting in sensation, joy palpable as they douse themselves, ducking under again and again, bathing, covering themselves in water.goose face abstract waterThe light dances in the bubbling creek, but in the viewfinder I feel like I’m looking at pixels, looking at 1’s and 0’s and it separates me from this place, and I go back to just watching and listening… creek through tree trunksAnd then I feel it begin, the moment when the light, the air, some magic comes over me like a lover’s gust from behind and I suddenly feel it – lift off.
Lift off is my word for it, but it’s a sensation that comes like a rain shower – not so much over my body as some inner spirit thing where I feel like the “I”, the “me” disappears, my brain finally shuts up and I am no longer a person per se, I am just alive, breathing, experiencing this world.
It is bliss.
I wonder if it’s why some people meditate.
I wonder if it’s what runners feel during runners high.
It is a feeling of such freedom – so far far away from Monbiot’s grasping atomised culture, it is the place where time disappears.
It’s the reason I come here.
pathway turnsWeekly Photo Challenge – Intricate

Turtle textures

r gentry sea turtleImage: Raina Gentry

The most delicious underwater dream of the clearest, cleanest water, following a turtle as she swam ahead of me.
The light glowed underneath the water, glimmering on rocks and mosses and the legs and shell of the swimming turtle. A dream of such peace and pleasure, suspended weightless in the water.

tamara philips red turtleImage: Tamara Phillips

On my way home this morning, I stopped in at the local turtle hangout, just to savour the dream, even though the water is cloudy and murky, still it glints and ripples and hints at deliciousness for all the critters living in, on, and around it. Turtles sunbathing on rocks. Ducks by the dozens. A lone blue heron perched atop a tall dead tree. Sparrows and robins and cardinals and yellow finches belting out their morning song so loud I can barely hear whatever is crashing around in the bushes on the other side of the pond.turtles sunbathingI’d spent the night on a friend’s couch. We’d been talking into the wee hours about how much of the hokey woo we could each handle. You know, we’d gotten onto the whole Abraham Hicks / Law of Attraction thing, and of course the idea of “channeling” makes my friend recoil, AND, she protested, “the magical thinking”. She’s a rational, educated, hard working woman whose father is a scientist. I totally understand her reaction – if I actually try to think about channeling, it doesn’t speak to anything I understand, really – like what is that exactly?water abstractionBut I’m trying to stay open-minded. Cause I’ve been finding with some of these things, that if the message is beautiful and can move ideas around in interesting ways, does it matter how it arrives?

Most days I find the Abraham Hicks quotes I get in my inbox engage my mind and attitude in novel ways, however there are some days when it feels like the message of “abundance” is a kind of facile, “Yes, we can all have as many SUV’s as we want, you just need to raise your vibration to get your SUV too”, to which I have a rather negative reaction. You know, just thinking about the planet and turtles and clean water and things.turtle swimsBut I think of my late father-in-law, a highly educated doctor with an anthropological philosphical bent, a Marxist refugee from Papa Doc’s Haiti. He would say of all teachers and teachings, “take what you like and leave the rest”.

To me it feels like that. So last night I was telling my friend about an interview I heard between Wayne Dyer and Abraham Hicks, where Wayne Dyer talks about how for years and years he’d been angry at his father for abandoning him, cause he’d ended up in a series of foster homes and carried his anger with him until the day he went to visit his father’s grave. Abraham Hicks interrupts him and says, “but you chose all of that – you wanted the independence, you didn’t want some father figure around all the time, meddling in your affairs”.

Now of course, the problem is that you’d have to accept not only channeling, but also reincarnation and a kind of immortal soul that makes choices as it comes into a new lifetimes and a whole cluster of beliefs that may or may not be your thing.water abstraction 2And yet…even though I don’t really know if I believe in reincarnation and immortal souls, still I’m drawn to the mindset, because the idea that we choose our experiences is so totally liberating. All notions of victimhood are immediately eradicated, as one becomes the prime director of one’s experience in this lifetime. It is a sensation of freedom and agency perhaps not so different from the feeling in Nietzsche’s phrase, “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how“. There is a kind of purposeful light that is bestowed by this thought pattern, regardless of the origin or scientific provability of the thought pattern.turtle and duckLately my most favourite “channeled messages” are the Mayan Messages. Again, it’s a “take what you like and leave the rest” kind of relationship – there’s a bunch of things in there I can’t deal with, like UFO’s and stuff that I’m just not ready to think about. But what I love in them is the sense of the planet and the serious political and environmental challenges we face in our time, the need to think about living life simply, consciously, sharing the skills and resources we each have.

In Native American teachings, Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet Earth. It is the personification of goddess energy, and the eternal Mother from which our lives evolve. We are born of the womb of Earth, and to her soil our bodies will return. In honoring the Earth, we are asked by Turtle to be mindful of the cycle of give and take, to give back to the Mother as she has given to us. ~Jamie Sams

turtle collageWeekly Photo Challenge – Texture

Dream paraphernalia

dreamcatcherLast night I was telling my son about the dream of the house where nothing was what it seemed, everything shifting, slippery, treacherous and untenable.
We stood under the overhead lights in the kitchen, he towering above me as I said I thought it was about the job I quit on Tuesday.
“Oh, but you don’t know that”, he snapped with annoyance – one of mom’s hare-brained, hippie inclinations at work again.
He is a computer science student with a rare flare for mathematics. He is an excellent student, top of his class. I see the pages of his homework, a language of ciphers and glyphs that I will never ever in my life understand even a spec of.
Dreams, however, I know a little bit about – I’ve spent some time with them.dream shelf“It’s not like math, it’s an interpretive art”, I said to my too-cool-for-school, skeptical son. My son who insists it’s not that he doesn’t remember his dreams, it’s just that he doesn’t have them.
On a similar note, a number of the new visitors and commenters here on followyournose have mentioned they rarely remember their dreams.
So I’d like to share a few of the authors and influences I’ve come across, in case any of it might be helpful to someone.
I was telling Poshpedlar and Agniva how I keep a dream journal, THE single most important tool, I think, if you want to start remembering dreams.dream journalIt sits open beside my bed with a blank page ready in case I want to scribble in the dark in the middle of the night, and also for the blurry morning fragments, captured first thing, before turning over or getting up, any fleeting whispy images.
A good source for some of these fundamental things to try is dream-master, shaman-teacher Robert Moss – he’s got a Tools & Techniques page, very helpful.
Although the dream journal is one key tool, personally I use kind of a bunch…like kind of a lot….like I’m so heavy into the dream thing, it’s kinda way out in woo-woo land. In an exchange with jethag at Jet Lag, I allowed as how there may be “dream paraphernalia”…
For example, the dream catcher at the top of the post. Of course.
For example, this silver bowl – silver dream bowlIt sits on the bedside table with water in it – I refresh the water regularly.
This practice came from Ohki Simine Forest, a fascinating shaman-woman who lives in Chiapas, Mexico, though she’s originally Canadian (Québécoise / Mohawk). I got the silver dream bowl practice from her book, Dreaming the Council Ways, a book I loaned out to someone and along the way have forgotten the particulars of the why’s of this practice, but I still feel some magic quality, some mystery in the aquatic reflecting vessel by my bedside for facilitating, channelling dreams.
Also beside the bed is this buffalo fetish –
buffalo fetishHe reminds me of a dream I had some years ago, a dream of a buffalo in a zocalo, a town square, and of how I followed the dream to a place, traveled to try and find and understand the dream, and along the way found him in a shop just off the zocalo of a town that looked an awful lot like the dream.
He reminds me that I’m willing to travel for my dreams, to follow them to the places they show me, to think about what they are trying to tell me.dream crystalsThese crystals are quite tiny and special in a way that is so far out in the land of woo I can’t even describe it, I’ll let you explore for yourself here.
But I love putting one under my pillow each night, as a kind of promise to myself to try and pay attention to any dreams that come.
This little ritual emerged from a fellow student in an online dream workshop, Dreamwork with Toko-pa, a lovely experience. Toko-pa also has some tips for dream recall in a video on youtube – a nice way to get some ideas and introduce you to her fabulously exotic west-coast self.lion biting - brighterAnother favourite thing to do with really strong, vivid dreams when they come, is to draw them or paint them – it’s a great way to spend more time with them in a visual, visceral, sensual kind of way.
The lion above was from one striking dream I had, and the panthers below another strong onepanther collage - brighterEach of these practices is essentially about one thing – I am telling my dreams and myself that I’m listening. That I want to hear from them. That I respect and value what they have to tell me.
Some years ago I took a series of dreams I’d had to an elder, Joanne Longboat, a woman Robert Moss writes about in Dreamways of the Iroquois, referring to her as “Turtle Woman”.
She said to me, “They say the Spirits will come talking to those who listen.”
So I’m listening…

New Year Beginning

new year fireThere was a new moon on the first day of a new year.
We lit a fire.new year flame 1We set intentions, scrawling them secretly, folding them carefully into small squares of paper in the middle of an elaborate arrangement of flowers and candies and grains and seeds and sugar and wine.new year flame 2The bundle burned slowly, the temperature low, the wood still faintly damp.
We chatted and waited and watched. Shifted away from the smoke and watched some more.new year flame 3A log fell suddenly, burnt through by now, and with the moving heat the flame rose fierce around the bundle, encompassing it quickly now, then fluttered small until there was almost nothing but the coals glowing hot still. new year flame 4Weekly Photo Challenge – Beginning

Unexpected Angels

Last weekend I saw a Medicine Woman / healer.
A friend in Owen Sound had called me up and insisted I needed to come see this super-talented, up-and-coming, currently bargain-basement healer from the local reserve, quick, while the getting was good, before she becomes famous and unaffordable.
She was indeed magnificent – fun and funny and the most radiant, loving human being.
At the end of a long and powerful session, back upstairs in the kitchen, she asked me to pick a card from a divination deck. The one I chose said something about the protection of angels – a soft pale image, yellows and pinks, an image of light, illumination and feathers. As gentle and delicate and full of light and love as the image was, I felt resistance – I’m just not into angels. They have never appealed to my sensibility – they feel to me like princesses and unicorns and other girly fantasy-land entities. My own inexplicable prejudices – I try to hide it, but there it is.
So the Medicine Woman wrestled with me a bit over just accepting the concept, the idea of the angel image, as protective gentleness, as divine serendipitous light, synchronistic interventions, then had me do a 9-card spread from Jamie Sams’ Medicine Cards deck – all animal cards, much more my speed.
Of course I got a whack of cats – no surprise there, I am KAT, after all…
3 cat cardsThe next day I took the bus back to Toronto and, loaded down with many heavy bags, grabbed a cab at the corner. I had this idea of killing 2 taxi birds with one stone, and before going home, asked the driver to take me out to the art supplies store, the really big one with lots of cheap deals on paints and the big sizes of watercolour paper, cause when I go there I always have to take a cab home anyway.
When I explained to him, First I want to go here and then I want to go there, he pressed down hard on the gas, and called out, Whatever you want to do, we will do it! I laughed and glanced at his eyes in the mirror – they were small with the years, not a young man. Accent African, English not first language. As his face turned slightly with a right turn, I could see several thin scars on his cheek, as if he’d been slashed across the face by a very large cat.
Huh.
He was a chatty fellow, and we talked about this and that on the way to the art supplies store – Why did I only have one child, for example? Why did I not move close to my husband to get more? As we pulled into the small parking lot, he wanted to know, What is this place?
An art supplies store! Well, he was very excited by this news, but I was out the door of the cab and up the stairs and moving fast through the aisles and my list of paints and round the back to where they keep the big pads of paper. Coming back out to the front again, thinking I should have a quick look at the mediums, a man opened up his arms and waved at me. Here I am! he said with his grin.
It was the taxi driver. Looking a bit like actor Robert Wisdom –
r wisdomBut now I could see the long tribal scars patterned on both cheeks, kind of like a cat’s whiskers –
black_panther_spainI’ve never been in an art store before!
He was thrilled, delighted, in love with this newfound world.
I was so surprised to see him there, the moment was so disorienting, in my confusion I forgot about looking for mediums and simply lined up to pay for what I had in my arms. My driver was now in deep serious discussion with one of the store clerks.
Standing, waiting for the cashier I wondered, What was it that felt so disorienting, so unusual? That he seemed so open, so free, so un-servile? That in spite of being for hire he didn’t feel obliged to sit waiting in the car if his curiosity was strong?
We went back out to the car together, and driving away his delight with this world of wonder turned to concern – They have all those things out on the shelves where anyone can just grab them and put them in their bag or under their clothes!
This upset him quite a bit, the enormous quantities of goods lying out on open shelves, and he went on about it for a while, driving slowly up the street, now nearing my house, inching along at about 10km/hr, waving his hands, both of them frequently lifting off the steering wheel altogether. But soon this worry, this loose tooth troubling him was put to rest with the summing up, This would never work in the third world – in the third world, you would go up to the counter and ask for what you want, and they go back and get it for you.
This little exchange caught my attention somehow – that he had been so troubled by something I didn’t think twice about, and had had to settle himself down quite deliberately, reminding himself that the context was different. Some lesson about the importance of the need for adaptation felt nestled in the moment.
In front of my house, he practically clucked with dismay at the disarray, the strewn collection of chairs, old bicycles, unraked leaves and crumbling porch. God will help you settle down eventually, was his last fix-it pronouncement on my life.
We said our goodbyes and I trundled into the house, arms full of stuff, head full of the uniqueness of this man.
Somewhere in all of the twists and turns of the encounter I felt the hint of magic, the reminder to remain open to the possible variations on what angelic presences might look like…

Strange Teachers

For several nights now I’ve dreamt of a temple of death.
Apropos for the Halloween / Day of the Dead season I suppose – the skulls and skeletons are everywhere, sticking up out of the ground, in and around a kind of pyramid rising up into a darkened sky with segmented sections, the lower levels somewhat gorier and grisly, the staircase up to the upper level flanked with lithe dancing young people.
The dreams seem sort of natural for the season, or like maybe they’re a by-product of the new moon / eclipse action happening in the sky, but I also suspect they’ve been brought on by this breathing exercise thingy I’ve been doing.
The exercise is an extended 5-month project, 40 minutes a day of combined breathing and visualizations, taught or guided by Sergio Magaña of Mexico City. He has a school in Mexico for teaching spiritual mastery and healing techniques of the ancient Toltec and Mexicas, or Aztec as we would call them.
Here’s some music to set the tone (the video has Maya imagery, but gives that ancient Mexico feeling) –

This guy Sergio has a book out, and someone on the book jacket blurb calls him “the new Carlos Castaneda”, really a most unfortunate and misleading reference because for one, his writing is not the lush fiction of Castaneda, but a more impenetrably cryptic mathematical and culturally localized explanation of things that made no sense to me until I went to a workshop he gave a couple of months ago in Owen Sound.
Secondly, there is no sign of a creepy Castaneda cult around him – he is a funny, laid back, lovely, helpful guy, and works with the UNESCO Heritage Club to preserve the Nahuatl culture.
Nonetheless, at the workshop in Owen Sound I found I was having some serious resistance – doubts or hesitations or reservations about being open to a teacher, a healer from outside my own cultural tradition. Maybe it was because I hadn’t dreamt about him before he appeared – something that has happened to me more than once, where I’ve dreamt of a wise person, then met them later, a phenomena which made me trust the wisdom, the prescience of the dream to have led me to them.
With Sergio there was also a question for me of cultural appropriateness – I worry over the kind of mix & match version of spiritual grab-baggery that seems to plague New Age type ventures. Even though I am fascinated by all things Mexican, have spent a lot of time there, still I hesitated.
I kind of wanted to ask him directly about these questions, about why we Anglo-Saxon types should feel free to saunter into the study of ancient Mexican culture, but I felt awkward and maybe like an insensitive brute, cause in the back of my mind was also the thought that it seemed a bit bizarre to be learning spirituality from the tradition of the Aztecs? I mean heck, those guys were INTENSE!
jawbone ex1 again
But I waited, didn’t raise any questions, just learned what I could, and then back at home one night reading, I stumbled on these words:

…if you go back far enough you can probably find that all our ancestors practiced human sacrifice. It was part of the religion in the old days and seems like it was practiced all around the world…” ~J.M. White

Right. Of course. Abraham and Isaac. Not quite the same scale but yes, the idea being that human moral codes are constantly shifting.
And the joke I always remember of how they say the Aztecs and the Spaniards deserved each other in terms of their mutual capacities for cruelty.

So being charmed by his lovely personality and the remarkable amount of success he’s had with his practices, and because it’s free and I find myself totally unable to stick with traditional meditation, I committed myself to the 5-month project of Sergio’s breathing exercises. And things are definitely starting to shift internally – some seismic cracks that have left me without much impulse to write.
The fundamental point of this breathing exercise is to “cleanse the shadow”, or in Western psychological terms, clear the unconscious.
It’s a technique that proposes to bypass all talking cures and do away entirely with the “story” of the self.
The idea is to let go of all the elements of what we tell ourselves about who we are.

The challenge lies in understanding and accepting that human beings are simply an idea, an illusion in motion, and that the only truth is the energy of the essence, which is pure potential. As long as we are aware that this is the case, then our idea of ourselves can easily be replaced by a better idea. ~ Sergio Magaña

The more weeks and now months that pass of doing this exercise for 40 minutes a day, the more I seem to be dreaming of death.
But later, as I get towards the end of it, I wonder what new imagery might wait for me there?

What do you dream of, dear reader?