Posted in General Interest, Guest Writer, Imen Benyoub, Music, Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry

Music, Language of the Soul: the second in a series from Imen Benyoub on music in the context of war and occupation

The first post in this series is HERE.
10423604_519811371480762_878196538_n
Music, the language of the soul
The cultural Intifada*…From stones to musical instruments.
The story of Ramzi Abu Radwan.

They impressed the world
And all they had in their hands were stones
They lit like lanterns, and came like messengers
From “children of the stones” Nizar Quabbani (1923-1998), Syrian poet and publisher

The first Intifada is the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation that started on December 1987 in Jabalia** refugee camp and spread throughout the rest of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It lasted six years until the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993.

It was an unarmed, spontaneous yet exploding uprising, men with their faces covered with keffiyehs***, women and children with nothing but stones, slingshots and Molotov cocktails faced tanks and live ammunition of well-trained, heavily equipped Israeli soldiers.

10423556_519811321480767_1963506964_aOne of those children, a kid wearing blue jeans and a red jacket whose picture reached the world newspapers became a legendary symbol of the Intifada, a skinny kid throwing stones at an army jeep, his eyes welled with tears, on his face a mixture of anger, fear and defiance. This kid, whose picture was reproduced in posters all over the world as an icon of the uprising, never knew that his destiny will change forever and he will become a visionary artist.

This was Ramzi Aburadwan, born in Bethlehem in 1979, he spent his childhood and first teenage days in a refugee camp in Ramallah where his family was forced to live after the Nakbah****, his best friend died on their way home from school during a military operation, he was eight when a journalist took a picture of him hurling stones and was later called “the iconic child of the Intifada”.

Ramzi was introduced to music at the age of 17, when a woman invited him to attend a course, he immediately loved it and this was the beginning of his journey with music.

After a year of study in the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music at Birzeit University, he received a scholarship to study in a Conservatoire in France; on 2005 he went back to Palestine after graduation with dreams and promises of a brighter life for children.

640px-StainerThe multi-talented Aburadwan founded Al Kammanjati*****, a nonprofit organization that offers children especially from refugee camps music lessons, its aim is to keep them in touch with their cultural heritage, develop and nurture their skills and create an intimately entertaining atmosphere away from the violence and frustrations of their daily life under occupation. It gave them a precious chance to travel, play with different orchestras and meet young musicians from all over the world. Classical music is also introduced as a valuable weapon in the so called “the cultural Intifada” a peaceful way of resistance to save Palestinian culture and identity through letters, art and musical notes, something Palestinians began to understand with time because of Israeli policy of extensive judaisation of the land and fierce attempts to bury and distort Palestinian history and heritage.

He takes part in the West Eastern Divan Orchestra directed by Israeli-Argentine born conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim who said about him:

“Aburadwan has transformed not only his life, his destiny but that of many, many, many other people, this is an extraordinary collection of children all over Palestine that have all been inspired and opened to the beauty of life”

Al Kammanjati was honoured by “prince Klaus award” from the Netherlands in 2006.

* Intifada: Arabic word for “uprising”-Bethlehem, Ramallah: Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
**Jabalia: a refugee camp in the North of Gaza.
***Keffiyeh: a traditional black and white Middle Eastern cotton scarf, later considered a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and solidarity
***Bethlehem, Ramallah: Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
****Nakbah: Arabic word for “catastrophe” refers to the mass expulsion of more than 750.000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948 and creating a state of Israel on the occupied land.
****
*Al Kammanjati: Arabic word for “the violinist”

Trill_example_ornaments

A concerto for stone and violin:

The story of this generous musician and fighter inspired me to write this poem

A Poem for Ramzi Abu Radwan

The meditation of stone
In my hand
Is my song of freedom
That even your bullets
Can never pierce

Look at me
I am the child of the Intifada
These Palestinian hands
That were uprooted from my village
Like olive trees
And grew up in a camp
Small and scratched
will braid another song
From strings of a violin

Years pass
And the weeping violin
In my exiled soul
Will always remain
My song of freedom
That even your oppression
Can never silence

– Imen Benyoub

 

A portrait of the man:

The man’s music:

© 2014, essay and poem, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; Photograph (1) Ramzi Abu Radwan, adult and child, courtesy of Mr. Abu Radwan and ramallah cafe; photo of violin courtesy of Frink54 via Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 3.0; musical notations courtesy of Sprouls via Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 3.0.

pictureIMEN BENYOUB ~ is a multilingual, multi-talented writer, poet, and artist from Guelma, Algeria. Imen currently lives in East Jerusalem. She is a frequent guest here on The Bardo Group blog and with On the Plum Tree and Plum Tree Books Facebook page as well.

Posted in General Interest, Illness/life-threatening illness, Jamie Dedes, poem, Poems/Poetry, Poets Against War Week

Our Sighs Ride the Ebb-tides of Eternity …

 

On May 28, our group for people with life-threatening illnesses celebrated the lives of those who have already passed on. I was unable to attend the memorial service due to bronchitis, but I celebrate them, two of my family, and this wonderful group here today.

Our group is composed of people from several different religious traditions and is hosted by our local Insight Meditation Center. The group was founded and is run by a Buddhist chaplain who has been very kind and is a stalwart friend to each of us.

I no longer attend meetings. By some surely unearned grace, I am now considered “chronic and stable” and I’ve grown to the point that the news of death no longer disturbs me. The major take-away for me from this experience is that the only difference between having a medically predicted expiration date and not knowing when our time will come is that with a diagnosis, we no longer fall into those moments of denial. That’s a huge gift. Huge! The result is that we become present in each moment. 

Today, is my loving celebration of: Ann, Deborah, Dick, Ernie, Hilda, Mary, Parvathy, Robert, Mary Kate, Steve, Victor and to family lost in recent years: my former husband, Kirby (the most decent man I’ve ever known), and my cousin, Christopher, with whom I grew-up and who was like a brother … 

Each moment and every person is precious and beautiful and the only thing that really matters is how much we have loved and been loved and that – as survivors – we continue to live in the service of our families and those in need. In the end it would seem that’s the best way to honor the family and friends whose memory we treasure .

IMG_20140525_103644407Eternity flowed deftly through the last eight years
enfolding in her stream eleven with whom we
contemplated Knowledge and Mortality
Looking back, we ponder amazed at love among friends,
……….it blossoms fragrant, as gentle
……….as a dewy rose among thorns and thistles
We thrash and crawl and climb
……….puzzling
……….over the sea and fire that stalks us
Our hearts, cupped in one another’s hands
……….like castanets, beat in unison
Our measured moments grave lines in phantom fears,
……….they float like storm clouds above us
In words of jade, we speak elegies and encomiums
Our smiles mask our sorrows and yearning
Our laughter is love grown wild
We see each other in a thousand shapes and dreams
……….and in nameless names
Our sighs ride the ebb tides of Eternity
…..Another moment:
…..and even the sun will die
…..but our lotus song will echo on ….
……….We have lived! We have loved!

© 2014, poem and photograph (yellow roses traditionally symbolize friendship), Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3unnamed-18JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~I am a medically retired (disabled) elder and the mother of married son who is very dear. I started blogging shortly after I retired as a way to maintain my sanity, to stay connected to the arts and the artful despite being mostly homebound. My Facebook pages are: Jamie Dedes (Arts and Humanities) and Simply Living, Living Simply.

With the help and support of talented bloggers and readers, I founded and host The Bardo Group because I feel that blogging offers a means to see one another – no matter our tribe – in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters and not as “other.”

“Good work, like good talk or any other form of worthwhile human relationship, depends upon being able to assume an extended shared world.” Stefan Collini (b. 1947), English Literary Critic and Professor of English Literature at Cambridge

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Liz Rice-Sosne, poem, Writing

A Culture of Blame

Memorial Day in the USA has come and gone.  I have been thinking a great deal about veterans of war recently.  This is probably due to the really awful press about the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Veterans’ Administration or VA)  and Ray Shinseki.  As many know he holds the the post that oversees the VA  The proverbial “they want his head on a platter” underscores the culture of blame in this country – and perhaps worldwide.   I know nothing about Mr. Shinseki, but I do know that there is enough blame to go around.  The change of one man at the top will not right wrongs.

man-pointing-silhouetteThinking about this tragic situation with the VA made me think about the fact that we live in a “culture of blame” in this country.  Watching the news makes it appear that it comes naturally to wish to affix blame immediately for any problem that is discovered among us.  I know it well not just because I have seen it over and over but because I have lived it.  I was raised in a culture of blame.  I know what it feels like to be blamed at a young age for mistakes or problems that may or may not have been caused by me.  I ask myself, why do we do that?  When a problem is discovered anywhere, that problem should be carefully reviewed.  Facts should be gathered.  Then they should be weighed to determine how and where the problem originates.  Pros and cons ought be carefully determined and then decisions made that fix the problem with a solution that makes the entire situation better.  Instead of affixing blame we should fix the problem sooner and faster.  We would then waste less time and make needed changes more quickly.

When I ask myself, “why do we live in a culture of blame?”  I do not have the answer.  Is it a result of the need to be the best and the brightest?  For surely we can be none of those things while we make mistakes.  Is that why we need to make those mistakes belong to another?  That question makes me think back to the time when both my mother and my father stated to me that there are two places in life: “first and last,” with nothing in between.  This was an especially difficult view as they entered their children into competitions during all months of the year.  It is of course a farcical view of life and one that is not true.  This view of life does not allow for mistakes to be made while one is growing up.  And what are the mistakes made along life’s pathway?  They are merely moments of growth.  Without the mistakes that we make, we would not grow, we would not mature and we would not be able to reach our dreams.  Personal mistakes when carefully reviewed and nurtured help us to develop empathy for others.  Empathy is one of the most important of emotions to develop for empathy is the place of caring (for others).

9780226094991I spent two to three years at the VA as a volunteer in 2007 and 8.  At that time I was developing my masters project while there.  I was creating a booklet on creative writing for veterans.  Oddly, due to the bad behavior of the one under whom I served (at the VA) this booklet did not come about.  Instead I was to be responsible for bringing in and overseeing an event.  Upon retrospect, this change was a very good thing.  This event brought to the VA an expert author on creative writing with veterans.  He had spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan leading writing workshops for veterans  I learned a great deal from him.  My initial desire had been to work with young veterans returning from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Andrew Carroll edited Operation Homecoming.  This book supported by the National Endowment for the Arts is a collection of writings by service men and women at war.  I recommend it to all.  In my opinion we live in these modern times too far removed from our wars.  And they are our wars.  Those who serve are doing so in the name of freedom whether or not we agree with the current war.  The old adage “war is hell” is very true.  If we (the citizens ) are far removed from war, we will confuse the war with the warrior.  We blame the warrior for the war, then we forget that warrior upon their return home.

While at the VA I worked primarily with those who had been to Vietnam or those who had served during that time.  Not all had seen combat.  As a result of war many were not able to engage life fully.  Writing gave them a way to do that.  Writing about your war experiences allows some of the pressure that you experience to dissipate. By sharing your feelings on paper and then sharing them with a class of like minded people,  some of the pressure is released.  That is a healing moment.  It is something that works for any situation, not just war.  I was able to see much of the good that the VA does.  And although my thesis was changed, I had the opportunity to work with someone who truly loved and cared for her patients.  While at the VA I wrote the following poem.

An Observation

at this table
this quiet place
where they write
this flat surface
where poetry
spills
for the hungry ones
those
who wish to leave
their wars
behind
where recidivism
is high
where
eyes are glazed
stares penetrating
where
nothing is
given away
not even longing
empty bodies
hollowed
angered 
in a
fog
they write

– Liz Rice-Sosne 

© 2014, essay, poem, and portrait below, Liz Rice-Sosne, All rights reserved; illustration “Man Pointing” courtesy of George Hodan, Public Domain Photographs.net; bookcover art, University of Chicago Press, All rights reserved

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced many friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

Posted in General Interest, Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer, story, Story Telling, Photo Story

The Very Picture

The king was plagued with the heavy burden of responsibility. “Drought and famine, war and rebellion, disease and disaster, one after the other!  I must find a way to quiet my troubled heart, so I can sleep at night!”  He offered a reward to the artist who could paint him a picture of perfect peace.  Artists came from all over the kingdom, each bringing his own vision of peace.

 

One painted a sheltered mountain valley.

Another a pristine lake, still and calm, a perfect mirror to reflect a clear blue sky.

There was an orchard in full bloom.

Fluffy clouds with silver linings.


Cheerful sunny days.

And so many sunsets!

The king studied them all, and at last he decided.  He chose a painting of a waterfall, tumbling down a mountainside, beneath a dark, angry sky.

“But your majesty,” said his counselor. “Why this painting? This is a portrayal of chaos.”

“Look closely,” said the king.  He pointed to a sheltered spot behind the waterfall, where there was a ledge between the jagged rocks. Upon that ledge a mother bird had built her nest.  Snuggled beneath her wings, safe and warm, were her precious chicks.

“I understand now,” said the king. “Peace happens not only where there is an absence of strife and suffering.   In the midst of chaos, if there is calm in your heart, will you know the true meaning of peace.”

(Mrs. Bradford Ripley and Her Children, 1852. By Robert Walter Weir, Detroit Institute of Art)

(Sculpture for his friend Robert Arthur by Samuel Murray, Detroit Institute of Art)

Copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Culture/History, Disability, First Peoples, General Interest, Mental Health, Michael Watson, Shakti Ghosal

Trauma, Story, and Healing

Evening-Sky

He sat on the sofa, pulled deeply into himself, almost disappearing before my eyes, as he told me about his dad’s violence. I wondered whether he knew I was in the room with him. “I feel terribly fragmented; I don’t know who I am,” he explained. “I can’t remember ever being like everyone else; they seem so at home in themselves.”

One of my teachers, a Psychoanalytically oriented clinician, always said the real problem is the second trauma. Her view was the first trauma one encounters sets the stage for PTSD and related problems; the second trauma triggers the cascade. Repeated traumas in childhood physically alter the function of the developing brain, leaving one more vulnerable to new trauma. Even if only one trauma occurs in early childhood the person may remain susceptible to PTSD via a second trauma as an adult.

Continue reading “Trauma, Story, and Healing”

Posted in Essay, Liz Rice-Sosne, memoir, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

I Imagine …

I imagine Mummy

She is listening for Doodle Bugs

Running past St James Square

They make a swooshing noise before

Hitting their targets

Windows are darkening now

As she scurries by them

Like a mouse

Shades being pulled down

All light receding and gone

She is heading towards St Paul’s

She is meeting with a friend

At the statue of St Ann

Dinner was to soon follow

Constant gray clouds of dust

Engulfed her in dirt

London was under

Aerial bombardment

The Luftwaffe would spend

Fifty-seven nights

Bombing this great city

Wishing to eradicate it

From the face of the earth

This symbol of London and God

But London endured

St Paul’s remained standing

A symbol of British

endurance

Mummy lived to return home

To the USA

But I still imagine

I still wonder

Was it the war that

Shaped her personna

Making her harsh

She once said to me

During a phone call

With Mummy

Not long before her death

She told me that

The war was the most

Thrilling period of her life

I understand that feeling

I know what she was saying

She is gone

St Paul’s is standing

London thrives

Yet still I imagine

We all must come to terms with our upbringing.  For some there is more pain to work through than for others.  I had what one might call a proper upbringing.  Yet still, one filled with much pain.  My mother was not in London during those 57 nights of the Blitz.  This was of course poetic license on my part.  However, she was living in London during 1943 and 1944 in WWII.  She became a lifelong Anglophile.  This fact set up some difficult goals for her children to attain for they were not British (and we came after the war).

Sometimes due to her scrapbooks I feel as though I was there, in London during the war.

There was a time that I knew nothing about war.  A spiritual experience that I was willing to have in 2005, dictated that I learn about war.  Mummy never spoke of her work in London during WWII.  She worked for the US propaganda office or the OWI – Office of War Information.  I really never knew until I found two scrapbooks while cleaning out the family home.  Finding these scrapbooks made me realize what a vary brave woman she had been.  As a result, instead of harboring resentment towards her (resentment that she earned) I came to have significant admiration for her.

I wish to redo these books as they are in a state of disintegration.  However, it is exceptionally difficult for me to work with them.  I am very emotional about the subject.

Politicians never give thought to the consequences of wars into which they enter.  They have no clue as to the gravity of the collateral damage that accompanies their warring ways.  The United States of course had to enter WWII.  But, Hitler did not have to begin The War To End All Wars.  That war like so many have touched people down through the ages, times long past the end of the war in question.  War shapes people for generations to come.  Peace begins at home.  Not in the country, the state or the city.  No peace begins in the heart of the individual.  For it is when you get peaceful individuals together, one at a time that real peace begins to grow into a movement.  It becomes sizable and a peaceful nation is born.

The following paragraph is taken word for word out from Wikipedia:

“On 31 December, the Daily Mail took the unusual step of publishing the photographer’s account of how he took the picture:[

I focused at intervals as the great dome loomed up through the smoke. Glares of many fires and sweeping clouds of smoke kept hiding the shape. Then a wind sprang up. Suddenly, the shining cross, dome and towers stood out like a symbol in the inferno. The scene was unbelievable. In that moment or two I released my shutter.”  – Herbert Mason

Stpaulsblitz

© 2013, essay and photographs, Liz Rice-Stone, All rights reserved

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced numerous friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

BLOGGERS IN PLANET LOVE

Rainforest_Fatu_HivaPLEASE JOIN US: Beginning at  7 p.m. PST this evening, we are celebrating Valentine’s Day with love – not the love of and for another person – but our love for our mother planet ….

WE INVITE ALL writers, poets, artists, photographers, musicians and other creatives to join us at The Bardo Group for our Valentine’s Day event, BLOGGERS IN PLANET LOVE. Link in your work that shares your appreciation for the beauty of nature or your concern for environmental issues. You can share the url to your post via Mr. Linky, which will stay up for seventy-two hours. Corina Ravenscraft (DragonDreams) hosts. Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day) will visit sites and comment. We hope you will also visit others and comment on their work, lending support and encouragement and making connection.

If tonight is date-night for you, remember that you do have seventy-two hours to link your work in. It doesn’t have to be a new or recent piece, just something in the spirit of the event, something that expresses your love of our planet.

Photo credit ~ Tropical Rainforest, Fatu Hiva Island, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia by Benutzerseite: Makemake via German language Wikipedia under CC A-SA 3.0 Unported license.

Posted in Niamh Clune, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

Into The Blue

would I were sure-footed,precipice
not stumble, fall for you,
be exposed on craggy precipice,
tumble into blue.

would the wind might carry me,
to distant, silky shore
holding my heart tenderly
breaking it no more.

then would I dance lightly,
arabesque with perfect poise
never losing my sure-footing
never hear the rushing noise
of pulsing rivered life-blood
coursing through my veins
as fool, I step off madly
to break my heart again.

copyright 2013 Niamh Clune

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (Plum Tree Books Blog) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Dr. Clune is the CEO of Plum Tree Books and Art. Its online store is HERE.  Niamh’s Amazon page is HERE.

Posted in Essay, General Interest, Michael Watson

Edge of America

Winter-TwilightThe days are lengthening; the intense cold of the winter thus far has receded for the time being. Overnight a light snow fell, fluffy and bright, the form of snow that arrives with temperatures in the upper 20’s.

Yesterday a Six Nations friend dropped by with a film, Edge of America. I’ve been stuck at home for the past week, following some surgery, and I was beginning to feel a touch of cabin fever. I had managed to go the the university library for 45 minutes and out for a quick cup of coffee earlier in the week, but mostly I have been sleeping and reading.

I had missed the film when it played in the theaters here briefly several years ago. Then, as has been my habit for a number of years, I never got around to borrowing a copy. The plot is pretty basic. A Black man arrives to teach English on the Res, revives the high school women’s’ basketball team (they have not won a game in years), finds a home, and creates the conditions for a good deal of much needed healing. On the road to redemption he tramples all over his team, his friends, the local medicine woman, and his spirit. I sure could relate!

Watching the film I was carried back to my middle school days in rural Illinois where the world turns around basketball and agriculture. I was the manager of the basketball team; when I was in eight grade we won the state tourney in double overtime. The women of our film lose in the state finals (in double overtime) to a team that is racist and represented the very worst of the dominant culture. None-the-less, our heroines are greeted on their return home by the entire Res community. The view of people and vehicles lining the highway brought a flood of memories. (Somewhere I have a memorial book that includes photos of the victory parade. The other team had one, too.)

Just before the team arrives home they have a conversation about winning and losing. They are bitterly disappointed, working hard to resist recriminations. They have lost sight of just how much they have accomplished. The community, however, remembers and reminds them. They are winners.

They are also women. Most of our Indian cultures are women centered; healing arises from the strength and wisdom of women, just as life arose from the sacrifices of Falling Woman. We men are definitely the weaker gender. (Then there are the two-spirits but that is another story.)

Edge of America addresses the hard parts of life on and off the Res: alcohol, violence, poverty, and crushing racism, drawing connections between Indian and Black experience. It also explores the inevitable tension between the healer’s need to remain traditional while nurturing the future. And yes, there is a strong undercurrent of good old Indian spirituality. (There is a priceless scene in which the medicine woman (whose daughter plays for the team) and her friends, are listening to the women’s game on their transistor radio, in a beautiful, spacious, hogan far from anywhere. One of the players has been “witched”, has required a healing ceremony, and now must make crucial free throws. The healer switches from rambunctious fan to medicine person, does what is needed, and returns to fandom, all in maybe 20 seconds.)

So there we sat, two light skinned male Indians who have never lived anywhere close to the Res. We are well in to our sixties, reasonably affluent, over-educated urban professionals. We’re laughing, crying, and hooting for the good guys. (I remember as a kid wanting to be a cowboy so I could win occasionally.) We are also noting the racism and just plain viciousness coming from all the guys: Indian, White, and Black. No holds barred there. At the film’s conclusion I am choked with emotion.

I believe that at the very heart of human experience lies story. Sitting in my living room, wrapped in my electric blanket, gazing at the TV screen, I was blessed to be told a remarkably good story. In the process I was reminded that together a good friend, a community, and a great tale can be remarkably healing. Last night my dreams carried that notion forward. In my dreams the spirits and Ancestors came to remind me that these things are good to live and good to think about. They are indeed profoundly healing.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Essay, General Interest, Liz Rice-Sosne, Poems/Poetry, poetry, Spiritual Practice, Writing

Haiku – A Spiritual Experience

600px-Poecile-atricapilla-001I am sitting here trying to remember what prompted me to write one haiku per day during the first 6 months of 2012.  I was ill, that was the first reason for doing so.  I wished to remain connected to my writing community, keep alive my connection with the friends that I had met online.  I knew that I could not manage an article daily so I needed to write something short.  I decided that haiku was the answer.  Was there any shorter form of poetry?  The learning and the writing that year became for me a spiritual experience.  It taught me to see the world through a new and different lens.  I am so grateful for this experience

I have always been drawn to haiku even when young.  What can be said in 17 syllables, those three short lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables?  It would be easy – just compose three short lines of poetry a day.  Those thoughts will tell you just how little I knew of haiku when I began.  Experience has shown me that many Americans have little knowledge of haiku seeing it simply as three lines of poetry with the 5-7-5-syllable count.  If seen this way the reader and writer of haiku will never be fully satisfied.

The first thing that one should know is that the syllable count fits Japanese words or syllables.  Japanese words or syllables are nothing like English language syllables.  When attempting to write a haiku there are many things to consider before considering the word count.  The second thing that I learned is that it is often written in one line.  Just one.  In Japan that line is often written from top to bottom.  It is vertical.  I do not write vertically.

Poignancy in haiku is important.  The most important thing about haiku for me is very hard to put into language.  For I see haiku as a language all its own.   A haiku ties things together.  Haiku conveys the depths of nature’s beauty and its power.  Haiku shows ones relationship with nature.  One haiku can express in a few words what it might take a psychologist an entire magazine article to profess.  Haiku can evoke within the reader new understanding.  I equate haiku to light.  It can dazzle in brightness.  It can illuminate a path.  It can act as a halo separating yet conjoining reader and writer through the poem.  You are placed within the poem.  Haiku connects the ancient with the modern, the light with the dark, and nature with man/womankind.

The book to which I turn most often for reference is “The Haiku Handbook, How To Share Write and Teach Haiku,” by William J. Higginson.  I would go so far as to say that he has he has “lived” haiku, making his teachings easy to understand and to apply.  When writing haiku my goal is to be living in the moment, to be “living haiku.”  It is a spiritual moment.  I wish to express that moment to you so that you feel what I feel.  I believe Higginson tells us that haiku is about the eloquence of sharing those feelings.  It is easy to say to your friend: “the sky is beautiful.”  But in doing so, you do not really convey what you feel.   Nor are you conveying any degree of real beauty.  According to Higginson, when we share the depths of what we feel through haiku we are building community.   What more important act is there?

The first thing that I do when writing a haiku is search for a kigo.  A kigo is a season word and mandatory in haiku.  Your haiku should be driven by what you feel for your subject and your choice of kigo.   I view the kigo as an anchor.  There are numerous kigo databases online.  New words are always being added.

We have just experienced a foot of snow here in the midwest.  The last time we had so much snow was 1982.  This is an immense weather event here.  Along with subzero temperatures accompanied by wind many of us are pretty much homebound.  I would like to share this large weather experience with you by writing a haiku.  I edit and re-edit before I am happy with them.  Each of these are a part of my process for creating one haiku.

wall of snow – broken branches dangling from trees (this sounds awkward to me)

or

deep white snow – hidden branches (this coveys little feeling)

or

drifting snow – a chickadee’s cap (this possesses the essence of what I am looking for)

Final haiku:

blowing drifting snow – chickadee’s black cap

– Liz Rice-Sosne

© 2013, essay, Liz Rice-Stone, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ Black-capped Chickadee via Wikipedia and under CC A-SA 3.0 unported license

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced numerous friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

Posted in Niamh Clune, Poems/Poetry

Shedding Old Skins

Clouds by Janet Beasley
Clouds by Janet Beasley

.

My throat is dry from weeping into an ocean
Where a few more droplets will not create a swell.
Nor will the sound of tears spent
Be heard above the curlew cry
Or gulls greedy, dry-throated squawk for morsels.

Can I soar above the false cries, the shouts of fury,
The passion spent and wasted on others?
As I shed my skin and stand again within my core ~ within my light
And see it travel on the wind or move along the glistening wave
Until it reaches the shore?

© Niamh Clune, All rights reserved

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (On the Plum Tree) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Her Amazon page is HERE.

Posted in Essay, Judaism, Michael Watson, Spiritual Practice

Lessons From The Seer of Lublin

Autumn Colors, Nova ScotiaLast night we went to the synagogue for a healing service and to recite selichot in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. During the service one of the Rabbis told a story about the Seer of Lublin, a Hasidic Master who lived from 1745 to 1815.

Briefly the tale is this. A Hasid travels some distance to see The Seer who looks at him and tells him that since he (the visitor) is to die that night, he should go to a hotel in a nearby village to do so. The Seer explains that as it is the Sabbath a dead body in his house would create enormous problems. The man dutifully sets off for the village, only to meet a cart filled with Hasidim on their way into Lublin to spend the Sabbath with The Seer. They ask him why he is going in the WRONG DIRECTION, and he explains that the Rabbi has sent him away to die. The Hasidim respond that if he is to die he should certainly come with them so as not to die alone. He climbs into the cart and they set off for the city. Soon the men ask our tired journeyer, seeing as he obviously has money, to buy spirits to keep them happy and warm on the trip. He complies and soon all are happily singing and swapping tales. As they travel towards the city our Hasid is heaped with praise, blessings, and hopes for a long a prosperous life. When finally the crew arrives back at the Rabbi’s house, the Rabbi looks at our traveler and says, “Oh, you are indeed lucky. The blessings of your fellows have warded off Death.” It is said the man lived well for several more years.

Having told the tale, the Rabbi spoke to the power of blessing. She assured us she was not convinced blessing another has power in itself, and express concern about magical thinking. She was more certain that gathering in community opens the door to healing. She also spoke about what she saw as shamanic elements in the story. I have long considered the best Hasidic Rebbes to be shamans. Indeed, in many texts The Seer is portrayed as a great shaman, as are many of the best Hasidic Rebbes. After all, he can see the future, determine whether something is fated, and utilize whatever wiggle room is available to aid the members of his extended community to a different fate.

Today I’ve been thinking about the story, as well as the service. It seems to me The Seer saw a way to awaken the Wise Healer within the traveler. Perhaps he knew the man would meet fellow Hasids on their way into town, as The Seer’s congregation was far-flung, yet united in the task of reaching the Rabbi’s home before darkness and the beginning of the Sabbath. Maybe he felt secure in the likelihood his congregants would never let a fellow Hasid die alone.  Maybe he, like the founder of Hasidism, The Baal Shen Tov, could, through the good graces of All That Is, intervene directly in the man’s fate. We do not know, and that, too, is part of the mystery and the story.

So this evening we begin the Jewish High Holy Days, the time of remembrance, atonement, and forgiveness, a time we are invited to thoughtfully consider our individual and communal lives. Although I am not Jewish, the rest of our household is, and over the years this time of year has become dear to me. Like the Rabbi I, too, have doubts about magical thinking. Yet, I also believe in the power of compassion, prayer, and joy to awaken the Healer Within persons and communities. Luckily, we have these stories, arising from many traditions, to remind us of our connection to the Creator, one another, and the larger world.

Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Essay, Naomi Baltuck

Today (we are all survivors)

We are all survivors, of our personal histories, our family lines, and of the human race.  Since the dawn of time, think of the families ended abruptly by a bullet, a spear, a club, a predator, illness, by accident and even by someone’s own hand.

Today is the anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy invasion in 1944.  It was the day my Uncle Lewis was launched onto the Normandy beaches into a cruel war.  I think it no coincidence that today is also the anniversary of my father’s death in 1965.

The day before he died, while his kids ran and laughed and played in the yard, my father planted a walnut tree—just a stick of a sapling–by the side of the house.  Did he know what he was going to do?  Did he plant that tree as his own memorial?

I hope not, because someone else is living in that little house in Detroit, and my Dad’s walnut tree is long gone, cut down in its prime.  This I know, because I drive past each time I go back to visit my Aunt Loena.   So these words must serve as a memorial to a World War II vet who came home without his little brother and best friend.  That was the sin his mother never forgave him for, the sin he could he never quite forgive himself for either.

My army buddy, Jack Oliver, attended boot camp with Uncle Lewis.  He helped me understand that my father was as much a victim of the war as my uncle.  When the War Department tallies the casualties, it counts the dead, the wounded, the missing in action.  But no one ever takes into account the broken hearts and broken families left by the wayside in the wake of war.  If they did, perhaps they would stop sending our children off to fight and die.

But today is a day a of forgiveness, a day of understanding, a day to be thankful that life goes on.  It is a day of sorrow, but most of all, today is a day to love.

– Naomi Baltuck

© 2012, essay and photographs, Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi410xuqmD74L._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Buddhism, Michael Watson, Shamanism, Spiritual Practice

Spring, Ritual, and the Great Mystery

P1050397When I first began learning the ways of shamanism, more than thirty years ago, my Cherokee teacher used to speak to me about the similarities between Buddhism and Native American thinking. She was particularly fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism, and had traveled to Asia to meet with Tibetan teachers. I was intrigued, but not particularly interested in learning more. I was still trying to sort out my relationship to Native America. Adding Buddhism to the mix was quite simply beyond me.

Recently, I’ve been reading Bringing Zen Home, by Paula Kane Robinson Arai. The book is a marvelous piece of ethnographic writing examining the ways a group of Japanese women use domestic zen practices as healing tools. If one only read the early sections on ritual, the book would be a worthy purchase. Reading Arai’s words reminded me of my first teacher. I imagine she would love the book, especially the author’s focus on gratitude,  joy, kindness, and ritual as sources of connection to All That Is. She would also, I believe, deeply appreciate the discussion of Dogen, and his weaving together of form and formlessness.

This week Nature gave expression to the form/formlessness paradox. A few days ago there were buds on the trees, then in a single day, as if arising from nothing, innumerable umbrels of furled leaf and flower replaced them. The umbrels, in turn, transformed into flowers in full bloom, then immature seeds. Now the trees have largely leafed out; the entire process seemed to occur overnight, a green, fiery, big bang. Engaging Nature’s seasonal changes, we are reminded that the progression of the year is a ritual, encompassing and illuminating the patterns of Self as we unfurl, transform, and perhaps, seek rebirth. Our very lives enact, and reenact, the great patterns of the natural world.

I’ve also been reading Patrisia Gonzales’ Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing. In this volume Gonzales reminds us that human birth is another expression of the paradox. We know how pregnancy happens, yet the miracle of personhood challenges any simple reductionism. In quite a few Native traditions reincarnation is a given. One just expects those who pass on to be reborn to the family line, often announcing their intent by appearing to their prospective mother in a dream. Life and death are doors through which we pass, nothing more than state changes. Yet we do not know, ultimately, where we come from or whither we go; that remains a Great Mystery, of which we are all, innately, a part.

In their respective books Arai and Gonzales discuss ritual as serving to connect women to the Great Mystery, and in so doing, offering the possibility of an expanded perspective and healing. Their ideas echo those offered me by teachers in Native traditions from both North and South America, although rather than the term, “ritual”, my teachers often utilized “ceremony”.  As a mature practitioner, I encourage those who come to me for healing to create meaningful rituals in their daily lives, to “practice.” I also strongly advocate for ceremony. Like ritual, ceremony seeks to make evident the sacred nature of our lives, to encourage gratitude, and to embody participants in the experience of self as cosmos. When rituals and cerem0ny work, we are transported into an awareness of being part of, and supported by, All That Is. Of the two, perhaps ceremony is more social, often engaging communities in support of those seeking healing.

Reading the work of these thoughtful authors has reminded me of  my first teacher’s wisdom, insight, and clarity. Looking back those many years, I now see her efforts to broaden my perception in a new, more favorable light. I am grateful for her kindness and teachings.

– Michael Watson

© 2013, essay and all photographs include the portrait below, Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Poems/Poetry, Video

On the Death of the Beloved

$T2eC16FHJG!E9nm3pwQLBRZIZHCJm!~~_35Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or might or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

– John O’Donohue

Posted in General Interest, Guest Writer

Mei Rozavian posts as the spirit moves her … and it always seems to move her to share beauty, insight, and inspiration. Every post of hers is just as sweet as this one. Jamie Dedes

m e i r o

577880_393114467431557_409894121_n

*

When you help someone who is lost and confused;

When you hold someone who is sad and grieving;

When you hug someone who is unhappy and hopeless;

You too will feel healed and whole.

   – Dr Jeff Mulan –
*
***
– mei –
*
*

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Posted in Essay, Guest Writer

A dear lesson offered in story and photograph by the talented writer/blogger/world traveler, Naomi Baltuck, whose daughter is attending college just down the road from us. The link will take you to her blog to see the whole piece. Naomi is the author of a novel “The Keeper of the Crystal Spring,” which is available in English, German, Spanish and Italian. Her anthology of storytelling , “Apples From Heaven,” is an award winning collection. Jamie Dedes

Writing Between the Lines

A friend said to Hodja Nasruddin, “Look at all these dandelions!  I’ve tried pulling them, poisoning them, starving them, digging them out by the root.  Nothing works.  I am at my wit’s end!”

“That’s a shame,” said the Hodja. “They are not a problem for me.”

“Really?  Please tell me your secret, my friend!”

“It is very simple,” said Nasruddin.  “I have learned to love them.”

Dandelions are native to Eurasia, but have traveled all over this world.   In France they were called “Dent de Lion,” or “Lion’s Tooth,” because of their toothed leaves. In England they were, “Piss-a-Beds,” for their diuretic properties.  In Germany, Russia, and Italy they are “blowing flowers.”  In Catalan, Poland, Denmark, and Lithuania they are  “milk flowers,”  “milkpots,” and “sow’s milk,” after the flower stem’s milky sap.  In Finland, Estonia, and Croatia, they are “butter flowers.”  In China, they are “flower that grows in…

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Posted in Essay, Guest Writer

A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE

Early Azaleas

I am pleased to welcome my friend Michael Watson, a shaman and gifted healer to Into the Bardo.   He and I go back many years as friends, colleagues, and fellow therapists in Vermont. It is so nice to see that our minds continue to follow similar tracks.  Shared here with gratitude, Rob.

A World of Difference:

ON SEEING AND BEING SEEN

by

Michael Watson (Dreaming the World)

The cold returned this past week, and many trees and flowers seem to have taken a deep breath and halted their rush into Spring. Were the maple sugaring season ongoing, these would have been perfect sugaring days and the sugar houses would be boiling madly. (The warmth of a couple of weeks ago stopped the sugar season short.) Now, there is an air of expectancy in the natural world, a quickening and watchfulness, for we are in April, and returning warmth and renewing rains become daily more likely.

The seasonal round brings comfort and a sense of belonging. Maple sugaring gear is cleaned and put away. A few people have made it into their gardens, preparing for the warm season to come. Neighbors, yard and garden tools in hand,  wave to one another. “This sure is weird weather, ain’t it,” echoes down the block. A few daffodils have burst into bloom in south-facing flower gardens, some making their way indoors to adorn tables.  Throughout the neighborhood there is shared business and meaning.

Last week, in class, I showed the Bill Moyers interview with Bill T. JonesStill Here. The video, from 1994, follows the MacArthur Award winning choreographer as he morns the loss of his mate, faces mortality via an AIDS diagnosis, and creates his groundbreaking dance, Still/Here. The video addresses many topics our culture still finds difficult, and does so with refreshing directness: death, terminal illness, homosexuality, loss, and race, among others.

The real focus of the film is difference, a too-hot-to-handle concern in many cultures. Difference is a form of social glue, allowing us to identify ourselves in opposition to the other. It is also the source of creativity, innovation, and adventure, as well as some of our most threatening taboos. The tensions between these functions are played out daily in our cultures, our personal relationships, and our inner worlds. For many people around the world, accepting new technologies, no matter how socially disruptive, has become easier than accepting differences among human beings.

Of course, issues of difference demand attention in the therapy setting. Whether we sit with couples struggling with disagreements about how to manage daily life, young women critical of their body image, or youth and adults who carry labels of major mental illness and wrestle with unique experiences of the world, the underlying concerns are those of difference and acceptability. Always the questions held deep inside include, “Am I loveable as I am?” and “Am I safe?” These are not simple questions.

A walk in the forest offers the opportunity to see difference. No two plants of the same species are identical.  Life history and microecology play an enormous role in the development of each individual. From the point of view of the forest, each is perfect. Only through the gaze of other organisms do individual plants acquire differentiated value. When humans are involved, value is most likely culturally ascribed. Persons of diverse cultures may well read the worth of an individual plant differently from one another, as may individuals of separate species.

Ideally, psychotherapy offers persons the opportunity to challenge internalized or culturally enacted views of  difference in relationship to her or his life. In the process, it may place any number of subversive, liberatory tools at the disposal of those seeking help. Such therapy seeks to provide a space for the successful re-authoring of those stories that isolate and demean on the basis of rubrics of difference. In order to do so, patients are encouraged to challenge the authority of many voices, within and without. Yet, no one can successfully create a rewarding life alone; we each need others to witness and affirm our acts of courage and self authoring.  The therapist is a necessary, yet usually insufficient witness.

Would you share with us your healing stories of seeing, and of being seen by others?

Michael Watson ~ has been blogging (Dreaming the World) since September of 2009. He is a shamanic practitioner, psychotherapist, educator, and artist of First Nations* (Mixed Eastern Woodlands, Cherokee, and Lakota Sioux) and European (British Isles) descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont.

Michael’s teachers and his teachers teachers were shamans. His work is influenced by both the traditions of the First Nations* and contemporary Western traditions. It reflects a strong sense of “connection to the forces and processes of Nature.”  The greater objective of his work is to “support others in developing intimate, transformative relationships with both Self, and the natural world.”

* First Nations – the indigineous peoples of the North America. 

Posted in Essay, Jamie Dedes

ELDER POWER: Growing Strong in Broken Places

ELDER POWER:

Growing Strong in Broken Places

by

Jamie Dedes

Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old; It is the rust we value, not the gold. – Alexander Pope

Originally published in the now defunct California Woman.

I come to this place of Elder Power through the experience of a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness. Illness is many things. It is a mentor, not chosen, not welcome, but a mentor nonetheless. It is a challenge that often breaks the bonds of affection, the temper of the spine, and the sharpness of the mind. It is a reminder to everyone involved of his or her fragility and mortality. Everyone is touched: family, friends, and colleagues. Everyone is changed and the good or ill of it is largely choice

My family and friends want me to help others by writing from a more clinical perspective, but it seems to me that the clinical lessons are less important than the life lessons. It is the life lessons that give us the strength to keep going, that are the true value to be shared, and that make us elders. To me “elder” implies more than “senior” or “senior citizen,” which I see as demographic terms for people who have reached retirement age. A senior is someone who has merely put in time, while elder is about attitude and state of mind. Elder implies one who has learned a few things along the way.

As a writer, it is the life lessons, not the clinical ones, which inspire and inform my work. I have learned, for example, that all humans are in process and therefore imperfect; and that, no matter what our differences are, the most important things are to remain open to communication and to accept and release our own follies and those of others. I have learned that neither illness nor threat of death preclude joy. I have learned that people who are joyful rarely do harm to themselves or others. I have learned that fear of death has to be directly addressed and then firmly put aside in favor of the business of living. As the saying goes: “It’s not over until it’s over.” Until then, we have responsibilities to others and ourselves. The only real difference between someone who has a life- threatening illness and someone who doesn’t is that the former is no longer in denial.

“If people bring so much courage to this world, “ wrote Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms, “the world has to kill them to break them. The world beaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very brave and the very gentle impartially. If you are none of these it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I am not good, or brave, or particularly gentle. Sometimes I let it all get me down. I descend into fear. I am impatient with process, with taking meds and going for seemingly endless tests and doctors’ appointments. Maybe that’s why I’ve outlived my original expiration date by ten years. My mother used to say, “Only the good die young.” My best quality may be that under my protective shell of intractability, I actually am willing to be broken and reformed. I suppose only time will tell if I have grown “strong at the broken places.”

So, here I stand, after twelve years of battle, at the dawn of a bright new day in a body that is now significantly disabled and quite a bit older. It’s still a good morning and a good body. I recognize I once dealt with a worse handicap than my current disabilities. That handicap is commonly referred to as “youth.” I survived. Maturity on the other hand is a true boon, a gift to savor and enjoy with layers of luxurious nuance I had not anticipated. I do not long for my youth. I love my graying hair. I love my wrinkles and the loose skin on my neck. I love the mild deformity of my feet. These things remind me that I am still here after all. I will not dye my hair, though I have. I will not get chemical injections or cosmetic surgery. I will not use rejuvenating grooming products that have been tested on defenseless animals. I am inspired by civil-rights-era African-Americans who sported Afros, said essentially “this is who we are and what we look like,” and chanted “black is beautiful.” I am graying. I am wrinkled. It’s all lovely and lyrical and makes me smile. It’s about ripeness, not rottenness. It’s honesty: what you see is what you get. Aging is beautiful. With maturity, one finds character refined and perspective broadened, energy expands and compassion flowers. The experience of joy comes more easily.

As survivors, we owe it to those who have gone on, to live in gratitude for this gift of a long life. How ungrateful and what an insult it is to them for us to bemoan our maturity and yearn for our youth as we so often do. What an incredible waste of time and energy such yearning is. Many don’t survive childhood in their impoverished and war-torn areas. Some others don’t survive childhood due to congenital or other diseases. My sister died by her own hand when she was twenty-seven. I have a wonderful, talented, smart friend in her mid-thirties who will pass within three months from this writing. Like you, I have relatives and friends who didn’t make it to fifty, much less sixty or seventy. All things considered, aging is a gift not a curse.

Some of our power comes from our sheer numbers. I read somewhere that we are some six hundred million strong worldwide. In each of our countries, we represent a huge political constituency, a lucrative market, and an enormous fount of energy, experience, and expertise. If that isn’t power in this modern world, what is? What a force for peace we could be. Some of our power comes from consciousness. We are awake now. We have learned how to live in the moment and how to live joyfully, hugely. That alone is a lesson to share. Some of our power comes from more time and focus. Many of us are retired or semi- retired or on disability, or soon will be. Implicit in that is the time to keep abreast of issues in our communities, countries, and our world. We can take the time and make the effort to get accurate information, to analyze carefully, and to share appropriately; that is, in a well considered, non-inflammatory, non-sensational manner. We can act with grit and grace.

Let us show that we are strong in the broken places. Let those of us who have this gift of long life seize on it and ply our elder power. Let’s live with joy, do good, and have fun. Most of all let us be generous with our love. Soon enough, when the time is ripe, our bodies will return to the earth. Our spirits will go wherever spirits go. The river of earthly life will continue to flow. Our children will see us reflected in the eyes of their children. Our grandchildren will strain to hear our voices in rustling leaves and breezes that whisper to them in the night. They will seek us out in moonlight and the warmth of the sun, in the roar of the oceans and the gentle meandering of a lazy brook. They will find us in the good earth and in the good hearts of the lives we’ve touched with concern and compassion.

© 2009  photo and essay, Jamie Dedes All rights reserved

Posted in Jamie Dedes

HUG A COW, GIVE A PIG A TUMMY RUB, SNUGGLE WITH A TURKEY

SANCTUARY

by

Jamie Dedes

” ‘SOPHIE is a goat whose taste in books leans toward popular best sellers’, says Solana Mejia-Schnaufer, who reads aloud to her several times a week. ‘I know she likes The Hunger Games because she didn’t try to eat it. That wasn’t true of Animal Liberation.’ ” So begins a November 1 New York Times article that I linked through to this morning through gratefulness.org. The article is about The Gentle Barn, which gives sanctuary to abused and abandoned animals and healing gifts to worn and wounded humans. It is also the story of hope and healing for Solana, a woman previously inclined toward suicide.

A little early day research reveals that The Gentle Barn, founded by Ellie Laks in 1999 who runs it along with her husband, combines the best human values of compassion and stewardship, going beyond sanctuary for animals to provide profound and moving healing experiences for special-needs kids and grown-ups. The children include those in foster care and inner city youth on drugs, on probation, or in gangs. The adults suffer from emotional disorders and/or physical ones.

To read the inspiring stories of the animals and people helped at The Gentle Barn, link to the website HERE and the YouTube channel HERE. The sanctuary is open to the general public on Sundays and the admission is just $5 to help feed the animals. For many reasons, it’s unlikely that I’ll find myself in Southern California; but, if I did, I’d head straight for Santa Clarita and The Gentle Barn and, as Ellie Laks says, I’d “hug a cow, give a pig a tummy rub, and snuggle with a turkey.”

Here is a video about the rescue of a cow and calf. Grab your box of tissues …

© 2011, Jamie Dedes, all rights reserved

Photo credit ~ morgueFile

Video upload to YouTube by   

Posted in Jamie Dedes, Perspectives on Cancer, Uncategorized

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #33: Writing Your Self, Transforming Personal Material

WRITING YOUR SELF

Book Review

by

Jamie Dedes

We feel this book review puts a fine close on our series, Perspectives in Cancer. Writing as a healing art, whether as a purely personal exercise or for publication, is powerful. One of the authors of Writing Your Self, Myra Schneider, learned that with her much appreciated work,Writing My Way Though Cancer. That effort informs much of Writing Your Self.

This review was originally published at Musing by Moonlight.

Four of Myra’s poems were published earlier in this series.

We wrote the book because we believe that personal writing is very potent both for the writer and the reader, because some of the greatest literature is rooted in personal material. Myra Schneider in an interview HERE.

The subtitle of this book about writing is “transforming personal material.”  I think it is implicitly also about personal transformation. It always seems to me that writing and reading about life is a healing activity, a way to live hugely, and a way to empower ourselves and others. If we can do it well enough to engage others, whether our purpose is to leave a record behind for family, to set the record straight, or simply to share and entertain, the experience is rewarding. Writing is a powerful healing path.

Writing Your Self is the most comprehensive book of its type that I’ve yet to read, and I’ve read many. It is organized in two parts:

  • Part I: Here the focus is on life experiences, the exploration of those human experiences that are universal. These include childhood, self-conceptions, relationships, displacement, physical and mental illness and disability, and abuse.
  • Part II: Here the focus is on writing techniques, recognizing material that is unfinished, working on refinements, and developing work projects.

Writing Your Self is rich with examples from known and unknown writers including the authors. By example as well as explanation the authors reinforce what we all intuitively understand to be true: that telling stories preserves identity and clarifies the human condition. It helps us understand what it means to be human. The experience of working through the book was something like a rite of passage.

I very much can see the use of this book by individuals training themselves and by teachers of adult learners who wish to write memoir, poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. It would be useful in hospital therapeutic writing programs or in writing programs for active seniors.

Memories, both recent and distant, tell us who we are and so play a crucial role in our experience of life…

You may have memories which you want to plunge into or you may have material like a diary or letters which summon them up. There are other ways though of triggering memories. We offer a series of suggestions. Chapter 13, Accessing memories, secret letters, monologues and dialogues, visualizations.

I think Chapter 13 alone is worth the price of admission. I work a lot off of childhood memories and even the event that happened two minutes ago comes back to me with dreamlike qualities when I sit to write. I have not thought of the things I do naturally as triggers, but indeed they are. It was quite interesting to see these natural aids laid-out and organized on the page to read: objects and place as starting points, physical sensation as triggers, people in memory, and predominant feelings. The section on secret letters – that is, letters that you write someone and never send – was particularly interesting. I’ve only done this twice in my life, but I know some folks who do it all the time. I’m sure it is a common practice and would make a fine jumping-off point for some and a satisfactory exercise – complete in itself – for others. The authors go on to monologues and dialogues, which certainly everyone spins in their heads.  They discuss visualization. Hey, if you can see it, you can write it.

I’m an experienced writer and I enjoyed the book and the exercises and learned a few new things, got a few new ideas. If you are inexperienced or stuck midway in a transition from one form of writing to another, you’ll benefit from the exercises, ideas, and instruction in Writing Your Self: Transforming Personal Experience. This one’s a definite thumbs-up.

Myra Schneider  is a British poet, a poetry and writing tutor, and author of the acclaimed book: Writing My Way Through Cancer. Your can visit her HERE.

John Killick was a teacher for 30 years, in further, adult and prison education, but has written all his life. His work includes both prose works and poetry. You can visit him HERE.

© essay, Jamie Dedes, 2011 all rights reserved

Copyrighted cover art, fair use.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Jamie Dedes ~ Jamie is a former freelance feature writer and columnist whose topic specialties were employment, vocational training, and business. She finds the blessing of medical retirement to be more time to indulge in her poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She has two novels in progress, one in final edits, and is pulling together a poetry collection. Her primary playground is Musing by Moonlight. She is the founder and editor/administrator of Into the Bardo. Jamie’s mother was diagnosed with cancer the first time at thirty-six. She went three rounds with breast cancer, one with thyroid cancer, and died at seventy-six of breast and colon cancer.