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Lemon slices

Lemon slices

In hot water

Cough in my throat

Aches in my joints

Is this a cold coming on? Nah, can’t be. Too much to do. Too much going on.

Still, I’ll eat soup for dinner. I’ll try to exercise to move whatever is going on through me.

Oh, oh. Just twisting my arm hurts. Just jogging along hurts.

Hmm, body, what’s happening? What is it you want to tell me? Is this why you laid awake last night?

What’s happenining, headache? What wisdom do you want to share? Or are you just telling me to go ahead and drink some advil?

I’m not sure. Walking home from my attempt at a jog, I saw Venus in the West, Orion overhead. Soon it will be the new moon, soon it will be the time of spring. Already the days are lengthening. I’m ready, I’m ready. But my body says “rest” too.

So much I wanted to write about today. About #blacklivesmatter, because they do. Books I want to recommend. On the name of my neighborhood. About cool things we are doing at work. But sickness is taking hold, so stream of consciousness then to bed I go …

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This morning

Long dreams of people, places, candles and leaks. At the end, a cousin cries out for another, to release him from jail. He escapes.

I wake in my bed, remembering the last dialogue of the dream. I turn over, reach down for my notebook, my pen, record the initial details of the dream. It’s 7am, the birds are beginning their chorus in the pine tree outside my window. The sky is brightening.

I emerge from bed, still clumsy from slumber. Feet against the hardwood floor, I cross the threshold of my door, walk along the hallway to the bathroom. Out the bathroom window, I can see the first pink of sunrise floating above the Oakland Hills in the east. The sky is patterned with clouds, blue-gray against a much lighter blue sky. The waning crescent moon, a sliver, a C, shines brightly before the full sun-rise, when she makes more of a contrast against the darker sky. The clouds roll over and obscure her, and roll away again. I watch just for a few moments. I catch myself smiling.

It’s taken me a week to adjust to daylight savings time, this time around. Many nights of going to bed too late, needing to sleep in. Even now, writing this, I find myself yawning. Part of me wants to slip back into slumber, see what new dreams will come. But there are things to do – this morning I want to stretch, meditate a little, go for a run. Have a full day at work, make progress on some of my big goals. Monday may be the moon’s day, but culturally, it has the force of so much solar energy – the planning, the doing, the executing. Already I can feel myself transitioning from the dreamland to my more action-oriented self. Snippets of poems repeat in my head, carrying me forward into the day.

Today I will eat butternut soup. Today I will try to focus on what is most important in my work, and forgive myself for all that remains undone. Today I will take a walk around my neighborhood with Sasha, and savor the California poppies that are blossoming, and give thanks for a life so full and blossoming.

Today’s moon status: Waning crescent, 21% illuminated.

No. 27/31 of the Moon Cycle project.

 

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On Appreciating Life’s Daily Rhythms

I woke up recently to a new awareness. For the first time that I am consciously aware of, I am reveling in the small, day-to-day details of my life. From the chirping of the birds outside my window starting at 7 every morning to the final ritual of flossing my teeth before bed, my days have become filled with a texture that I find myself looking forward to just as much as the big things in my life – the seeing of friends, work accomplishments, travel to new places and so on. To enjoy the daily rhythm of my days sounds so simple, yet it marks a profound shift from where I was just a few years ago. How did the shift take place? What lessons have I learned from it?

It’s not that I didn’t know how to appreciate small things before. As a child I could get lost in a clover patch, or hunting for moss in the woods. I’ve always appreciated taking walks, listening to birds, the hidden beauty of the patterned shadows of window blinds be-striping a room with afternoon sunlight. But as to the daily rhythms of my life? If I’m honest I think most of my life I’ve found them oppressive. Rushing to school, work or appointments. Hurrying to eat, hurrying to clean up, hurrying to get things done. It was as though life was one big dichotomy – the things that brought “joy” and the chores one had to accomplish to earn that joy. Relaxing, for instance, seemed to require some stressful sort of activity,  so that I could “relax”, these were realities for me. No matter how good my life was (and it so often has been), no matter how engaged I might be in my work, the ligaments of my daily activities were often torn and inflamed – the stress of riding the subway from meeting to meeting, the feeling of so many of my daily tasks being chores.

I remember the first time I lived away from home for an extended period. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and I was accepted into the Indiana University Honor’s Program in Foreign Languages. My host family had a sailboat on the Brittany coast, and we would go sailing every weekend. That sounded romantic to me, but I soon realized that the actual process involved a lot of packing up, driving, unpacking, loading the boat, untying ropes, etc etc, until we could get out on the open water to sail. Because we weren’t allowed to speak in English I had a lot of time to ponder all this, and I noticed a subtle but persistent anxiety in my experience of this – a feeling that we needed to be sailing, rather than an appreciation of the whole experience. It took me a while, but eventually I learned how to savor all these in between moments as part of the process, rather than an annoying but necessary barrier between me and the goal or destination. This was one of the greatest lessons I learned from my time in France.

Appreciating my daily rhythms fills my days with sweetness and lightness, but it is still often one of the first things to go when I feel stressed or under a time crunch. At those times I may have no problem appreciating the chirping of birds or the blossoming of poppies, but I struggle with the time it takes to do basic life maintenance, lament the waiting for the train on the platform, etc. This dance with my own patience and ability to be present in the moment is, I suppose, part of the work of a lifetime.

Post 26/31 in the Moon Cycle blog series.

Today’s moon status: Waning crescent. 25.6% illuminated. Moonrise – 3:42am. Moonset – 2:16pm.

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Water worries

What happens when a city runs out of water? What about a state? A country?

The Brazilian mega-city of São Paulo is facing dwindling water supplies. Rationing is likely to come next. But what happens when a city of 20 million people runs out of water? No one really knows … I certainly don’t.

What about here in California? Since 2011 the state has been in an increasingly severe drought; as these maps show, most of the state is now in “exceptional drought,” one step more dire than “extreme.”

For decades, water has been damned, piped hundreds of miles and more to support a growing population, golf courses and most of all agricultural practices. California’s central valley is the produce cart of America. So as the state faces urgently limited water supplies, it’s not just people in California who will be affected, it’s our entire food and economic system.

What can be done about it? A lot more than we’re currently doing, starting by facing the issue rather than turning our heads and praying for rain. A recent LA Times op-ed does a good of outlining some of the steps we should start taking – now.

Read the op-ed by Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine: California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?

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Women on 20s

A cool campaign is afoot to replace Andrew Jackson with a woman on the face of the US $20 bill. The campaign is well articulated, smart and working to build large grassroots support, by creating a multi-stage voting process to build a large movement of folks advocating for the change.

This video uses a classic tactic – using kids – to illustrate how bonkers it is that there are no women pictured on US paper currency. But changing this is actually quite simple – all it takes is the President to request a change to the Department of Treasury.

So the folks at Womenon20s have drafted a field of 15 candidates, and are asking for you to vote for 3 of them to move to the next round. Then there will be another round of voting to determine the people’s choice for the president to submit to congress.

Why replace Andrew Jackson? They do a great job of explaining on their site.

WHY BOOT ANDREW JACKSON FROM THE $20?

TWO REASONS THAT ARE GAINING TRACTION:

1. Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the “Indian Removal Act of 1830” that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration. Not okay.

2. Some argue that because Jackson was a fierce opponent of the central banking system and favored gold and silver coin or “hard money” over paper currency, he is an ironic choice for immortalization on our money.

Personally, I think there’s another reason to support this campaign – it’s a chance not only to put a woman’s face on our currency, but also to highlight the importance of a person of color. Aside from the Sacajawea golden dollar (and how often do you come across those?) there is not a single non-white person on any of the US currency. I think this is a travesty. Of the field of 15 candidates, 6 are women of color, and I think the time is long overdue to see one of them honored on our currency. A Sojourner Truth $20 bill? Harriet Tubman? Rosa Parks? Yes yes yes.

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Under the Glacier

It’s a pity we don’t whistle at one another, like birds. Words are misleading. I am always trying to forget words. That is why I contemplate the lilies of the field, but in particular the glacier. If one looks at the glacier for long enough, words cease to have any meaning on God’s earth.

– Halldor Laxness, Under the Glacier

I found it at Kramerbooks one spring. It was in the recommended section, but on a lower shelf. A green cover, helvetica font, a simple painting at the top. It called to me amidst hundreds of other options. I picked it up, put it down, picked it up, and bought it without a second thought. Under the Glacier. I somehow knew I needed to read the book.

Later that spring Julia and I decided to celebrate our official graduation from college, even though we had both finished classes a year before. She was the first friend I made at AU; it felt fitting for us to take an adventure together to celebrate the end of that chapter. We traveled to Iceland as part of a Scandanavian adventure, but didn’t leave Reykjavik, so we weren’t able to visit the glacier.

The glacier in question is Snaefells, on the Snaefellsness Peninsula to the north of Reykjavik. Two years ago I finally made it there, on a trip with Drew to celebrate our 30th birthdays. Laxness didn’t make Snaefellskojul famous – Jules Verne did. With the sun of late summer, according to coded runes, the peak of the mountain will show which opening in the volcanic crater contains a tunnel leading deep into the core of our planet. Thus setting the plot for Journey to the Center of the Earth.

If Journey to the Center of the Earth is a work of science fiction or science fantasy, Under the Glacier is more difficult to categorize. Susan Sontag, in the introduction, describes it as science fiction, a philosophical novel, a dream novel, a comic novel, and a visionary one. I would agree with those descriptions and add these: The book is deeply funny, and quite absurd.

My experience of the glacier involved desolate, lava-rock landscapes, unexplained light forms, and heavy fog which dulled the senses. Under the Glacier involves a young emissary from the bishop of Iceland who is sent from Reykjavik to investigate odd rumours about the pastor – and town – of Snaefells glacier. in short order, this becomes an investigation of all things considering “Christianity at the glacier.” The investigation is hilarious. There were times reading the book when I thought it very well might be the funniest book I have ever read.

Christianity, taoism, hinduism, reincarnation, hatha yoga, nature poetry, biblical verse, mythical fish, intergalactic communication, horse abusers and imported french biscuits … all come together in the book’s pages, yet there is cohesion in the absurdity. Throughout the narrative there are gems of ideas which so captivated me, such as the bishop’s instructions to the emissary:

“No verifying! If people tell lies, that’s as may be. If they’ve come up with some credo or other, so much the better! … remember, any lie you are told, even if deliberately, is often a more significant fact than a truth told in all sincerity.”

Myth, legend, custom, mistake. What do we make of it all, anyway? As we drove down the road towards the end of the world, I saw peaks in the distance. I knew instantly which one was the glacier, it called to me just as it had through the book in the store in the district of Columbia. Right towards the glacier, under a snowy sky, I traveled home to myself.

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Spring Equinox Solar Eclipse: On Cycles, Revolutions and the Relative Size of Things

March 20, 2015 is the vernal equinox, the first official day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This year, it happens to coincide with a new moon and a full solar eclipse, when the moon will completely cover the sun as it shines over the Arctic. A partial solar eclipse will be visible to much of Europe, northern Africa and parts of Asia. This unique occurrence is the beginning of a series of four March Equinox/Solar Eclipse occurrences that will happen at 19-year intervals this century, for the first time since the 1600s.

What is the shape of the universe?

When I was a kid growing up in Indianapolis, I would spend summer nights outside on the swingset my dad built in our backyard. I remember lying on my back on the wooden platform, looking up at the stars, marveling at so many points of light in the sky, wondering what they were, how they got there. Wondering who I was, how I got here. Sometimes my dad would be outside with me, too, and we would talk about the great wide expanse of the universe. I would ask him about it, because I couldn’t quite fathom it all. I learned the basics in elementary school – mnemonic devices for remembering the order of the planets, creating mobiles with brightly painted cardboard to simulate their rotation around the sun – but this information just seemed like the tip of the iceberg when I looked up at the night sky.

The biggest question I had for my dad was about the size and shape of the universe itself. Did it just expand out, infinitely? I couldn’t imagine that, there always seemed to be some invisible barrier in my mind. Try as I might, I couldn’t contemplate the universe without imagining an edge. I’d see it as a sort of giant balloon, with us being the tiniest prick of dust somewhere inside. But if the universe were a balloon, what was on the other side?

My dad would listen as I posed all my curiosities, and encouraged me by confessing he had the same. He didn’t know the answers, but he valued the questions. He would share ideas he’d heard, perhaps from scientists, perhaps from science fiction. I remember trying to wrap my seven-year old mind around the idea he told me one night, that the universe was like a giant curved creature (an endless glowworm?) that wrapped around itself – at every edge it was merely folding back onto itself. I could both understand this and not quite fathom it at all, but it only increased my wonder as I stared up at the sky. Years later in high school math my class constructed mobius strips out of paper and I remembered these summer conversations with my dad. Years after that, I attended a Center for Courage and Renewal with the marvelous Parker Palmer and he led a session he about “life on the mobius strip,” how we integrate our inner and outer worlds, and it all came full circle for me, once again. But throughout all these journeys, I retained a sense of wonder in the night sky.

Bigger than randomness

This wonder hasn’t gone away. In college, I was able to take an astronomy course with the great Richard Berendzen (who has a series of audiobooks if you’re interested in learning more astronomy). Every day I’d leave class with my friend John Cheney-Lippold, and I’d declare “John, can’t I go to grad school for astronomy?” He’d remind me that we were taking astronomy for non-science majors. Oh yeah – all that calculus I never learned might be necessary to go further in the field. So much for that.

I was teasing, anyway. It wasn’t that I wanted to be an astronomer, per se, it was just that I felt so lit up and alive when learning about what we think we know (which pales in comparison to what we don’t know!) about the universe. Since before wifi became ubiquitous, Astronomy Picture of the Day has been my favorite website. Thinking about the planets, stars and galaxies tickles my imagination, and gives me faith – yes, faith – that there is a meaning and purpose to life bigger than me, bigger than an accident, bigger than randomness. The universe, giant, astounding, unfathomable, is so clearly alive with meaning and purpose, the whole of creation beautiful, magical, mystical, material. Yet I consider it equal folly for humans to think we can know exactly what that meaning is, exactly how creation occurred, exactly what lies on the other side of the edge of what is known, exactly what lies on the other side of death.

Patterns within patterns: The upcoming Eclipse/Equinox cycle

Here’s an example of how patterns work in us, around us and through us. I began this daily blogging experiment on the new moon of February 18 partly inspired by what seemed to me a happy coincidence that this month’s new moon – March 20th – also happens to be a solar eclipse AND the first day of spring, the vernal equinox. The two equinoxes of spring and fall are the two days of the year when the sun rises exactly in the east, and spreads its light evenly (equinox = equal) between the Northern & Southern Hemispheres. Musing with a group of friends the other day, I guessed that such an occurrence must be rare – that it might be hundreds of years before it might happen again. That evening, I figured I should research that claim, so I began reading about the upcoming equinox eclipse. Turns out I was both right and wrong.

It is true that for a new moon/solar eclipse to happen to occur on the same day as the vernal equinox is quite rare – the last time a full eclipse was on the same day as the spring equinox was 1662, I learned from this helpful piece at Universe Today, and the last partial eclipse on the spring equinox was 1681. Long before the United States was a country, before my ancestors crossed the Atlantic Ocean, in the same century as the English Civil War, the death of Shakespeare, the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Great Plague in London and Isaac Newton’s experiments with gravity – that was the last time a solar eclipse coincided with the spring equinox.

But it won’t be hundreds of years until the next one. Just as this year will have three Friday the 13ths (last month, this Friday and again in November) occurrences in the sky also work in patterns and cycles of ever expanding scales. And it so happens that the March Equinox + Eclipse of 2015 is the first in a series of four spring equinox solar eclipses that will repeat themselves this century, at 19 year intervals. 2015, 2034, 2053 and 2072 – each one of these years will see a solar eclipse – a process whereby our moon temporarily blocks the light of the mighty sun – coinciding with the first day of spring, the day when the sun evenly distributes its light across the planet’s hemispheres. This pattern will repeat itself again, but not until 2387, when there will be a series of five Vernal Equinox Solar Eclipses at 19 year intervals, lasting until 2463. Wow. Learning this fills me with awe.

In other words, we’re not just experiencing a one-off event on March 20th, we’re experiencing the start of a series which will shape the course of the 21st century, and won’t recur again until for 315 years. Through some grand geometric rhythm I can only begin to grasp, we are entering a new pattern of rotation (one that has happened before; one that will happen again) that will last the next 76 years, or about 3 generations, then disappear for three centuries. How often do we even consider things that far distant in the future? And yet what was happening at the time of the last spring equinox eclipse has profoundly shaped our reality today.

Navigating the stars, navigating vastly different scales

My father’s father, like most of his generation, served in WWII. He served in the Navy, in the Pacific. As the ship’s navigator, he learned how to navigate by the stars. When I was a little girl he taught me how to find them. Orion. Big Dipper. Little Dipper. North Star.

In our own lives, we’re called to make observations of the world around us, and navigate accordingly. Living in cities, in suburbs, in populated places, many of these observations are related to the world of human affairs – to our social constructions, to the built environment. Yet there is much wisdom to be gained by observing areas beyond the scope of human relations. Take the concept of our solar system, our galaxy, our neighborhood of galaxies. To contemplate even one of these for very long is to be astounded, awed. I’m not advocating for any one religious point of view, but it’s hard not to recognize how humans of all types have looked up to the heavens and found traces of the divine. In the metaphorical sense of the word, it’s hard to believe existence is anything short of a miracle.

It so happened that in the early morning this morning, I came across this video, and excellent example of illustration of scale:

For the most part, I think this is a great video. But if you watched to the end, I want to present a different framing of the final idea suggested by the animation. The last statement “you are not the center of the universe” is a bit of a paradoxical statement, in that it is both true and not true. We are nothing in the face of such vastness, and yet we are something, too, and it is something that matters. I can look at a star and a caterpillar with the same amount of wonder. While our egos can benefit from a reality check, it seems to me that rather than emphasizing our smallness, emphasizing our interrelatedness is a more effective way to heal some of the bruised egos that to me seem to drive so much irrational and harmful behavior by humans towards one another.

While no one person, place or thing is the “center of the universe”, on the other hand every person place and thing is in its own way the center of the universe, and within each of us is a universe unto itself. Long journeys of learning and meditation have taught me how much we are all microcosms of the larger planet, solar system, universe. This can be seen in philosophical concepts from multiple traditions, from the Quaker concept that “there is that of God in everyone”  to the Hermetic phrase “as above, so below”, and across so many other philosophical and spiritual traditions.

From the vast expanse of galaxies to the vast expanse of sub-atomic particles

All this contemplation leads me to another film, Charles & Ray (a woman!) Eames’s marvelous Powers of Ten. It is a film you should watch without introduction from me, but please believe me that it is worth all 9 minutes of your time.

Marvelous, isn’t it? From the farthest away galaxies to the smallest atomic pieces, the universe is pulsing with patterns and rhythms that we can only begin to grasp. I think there is real magic and power in using our attention to observe our world at different levels, whether through a telescope, microscope or through the patient, daily work of sitting in silent meditation. Whether you are observing faraway galaxies, minuscule particles or the pattern of your own breath as it moves in & out of the tip of your nose, there are discernible pattens, and yet underlying this is a transcendental oneness of all of creation. A solar eclipse on the first day of spring, which will return again in 19 years, and again twice more before a rest of three centuries. The steady dance of the stars in the night sky, the growth of a child, the budding of leaves in the spring and falling of autumn. How marvelous, how mystical, how magic to be a part of it all!

No. 22/31 in the Moon Cycle blog series.

Today’s moon status: Waning gibbous, 69.2% illuminated.

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Meditation on mountains

A mountain is a mountain. A mountain knows it is a mountain and a mountain  cares nothing for knowing whether or not it is a mountain. A mountain is a mountain whether or not it thinks it is a mountain. A mountain is a mountain because it stirs one’s heart like a mountain. A mountain rises up from the horizon to say “yes, here I am, mountain.”

To visit mountains is to journey to far places on the breath of your boldest intentions. To visit mountains is to explore the towering heights and rocky cliffs of the soul. To see a mountain is to remember how little you know. Mountains are landscapes which defy the constraints of your understanding. To know yourself, know a mountain. To know a mountain, walk its ridges and water lines. To love a mountain, know a mountain. To love yourself, love a mountain.

The mountains call to me and my heart sings. The mountains ask me to come to play, to listen, to meditate. The mountains ask me to be part of something greater than myself.  The mountains stretch open my heart. The mountains call upon something more. Yes, they cry, with a thousand rocky crags. Yes.

(Post loosely inspired by Dogen’s Mountains & Waters Sutra)

Pt. 21/31 of the Moon Cycle blog series.

Today’s moon status: Waning gibbous 80.5% illuminated.

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On Journalism & How Things Are Complicated

Tonight I planned to write a piece inspired by a podcast I listened to this evening, with a non-fiction writer interviewed on the Longform Podcast (HT the wonderful Sabrina Hersi Issa for recommending it). In the interview, the writer spoke of how long it took for her to face that the intensity of the stories of people she was interviewing had an impact on her personal life and own mental health. Journalists are supposed to be tough; they’re supposed to keep going. They can report on people experiencing difficult circumstances but aren’t supposed to be affected by them.

Listening to the podcast got me reflecting on my own experiences as a young journalist, and how very much I was affected by the stories of the people I met through my reporting experiences. It took me a long time to fully recognize it, because I too felt that it was my job to listen and amplify their stories, but I was resistant to admitting that hearing difficult stories might take a toll on me. I could identify so many things I learned from my interviewees, from homeless children living on the streets of Moscow to refugee families fleeing horrible civil war in Burma/Myanmar. I recognized my own privilege alongside their pain, but it took me longer to realize that the very thing that made me a good reporter – my ability to empathize and connect with people – also meant that, in a real way, I experienced just a little bit of the pain that they had experienced. And, over the course of many years of working with people who had experienced intense human rights abuses, this added up.

I had planned to write about this, but then I did some further research on the journalist who was interviewed for the podcast, and realized that her story is more complicated, too. And I realized that to do justice to such a thorny, delicate subject will take more time, more thoughtfulness, and more fact-checking before I can write what I would like to write.

And so I am writing this, which feels incomplete, but also a testament to what I am learning from forcing myself to write something to be published every single day. It’s partially a recognition of limits – I have other work to do and I can only devote so much time and space to this – and also that yes, some things are complicated, and are not easily wrapped up in a short amount of space and tied up with a bit of string. Some things call for disentangling rather than tying together. And yet the universe is vast and beautiful, and tomorrow the sun will rise once more.

This is post 20/31 in the Moon Cycle Project.

Tonight’s moon status: Waning gibbous, 84.1% illuminated.

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Fragments

Moss garden

Swingset

Searching for golf balls in the pond at dusk

Learning to ride a bicycle by falling, getting up, falling again

Looking past the stars to the edges of the known world

The smell of freshly shorn grass