Finding Wholeheartedness

Image by Catrin Welz-Stein

Image by Catrin Welz-Stein

“The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” ~ David Whyte

Walking Into the Fire

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions. I subscribed to her website a few months back because I liked the ‘truth bombs’ I saw on Facebook. Then, I joined up with her Big Beautiful Writers Group (along with her co-creator, Linda Sivertsen) last month.

Generally speaking, books find their way to me at the right time. If it isn’t the right time, I will find it impossible to fall into a book’s pages. If it is the right time, I will find it impossible not to fall in. It will grab me by the throat and carry me away whether I feel ready or not.

Fire Starter Sessions was like that. As I read it, something inside me sat up and said, “Yes.”  Yes. That’s exactly it. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. That’s just the message I most craved would echo back from the universe right now.

I feel weary and wrong and out of sorts. A book inside of me is struggling to be born. Overworked and underappreciated, my cup registers as half-empty instead of half-full. This tiredness, this full blown ennui I’m feeling is clearly indicative of something amiss.

Am I wearing the wrong dance shoes? Am I eating the wrong greens?  Am I sitting too much and walking too little? (Likely answers to all: yes.)

And along comes Danielle’s certain brand of ass-kicking, just when I need it most.

She tells me, frankly, “Shit or get off the pot.”

For years now, I’ve longed for the kind of life that Fire Starter Sessions recommends: wholehearted, full, passionate, messy, creative, good.

The question is, what am I doing to forge that burning life?

***

What now?

I know what to do. I do.

Write. Put it out there. Let my freak-flag fly. Tell the truth. Rip myself open; drain these wounds. Be raw, gentle, wild, open.

Scribble on paper. Carry lots of pens. Make notes. Find encouragement. Compose poems. Compost every experience. Mulch and seed. Sprout and grow. Ache and stretch. Kiss and fuck and free fall into what scares me the most.

Become what I was born to be. Stop settling. Stop believing in my fears.

Keep going. No. Matter. What.

See ‘the moon over the capitol.’

Don’t stop.

Move forward.

***

Dancing in the Flames

Transformation is possible only if we believe it is possible.

Change is only an option if we check the box ‘yes, I am willing to change.’

All it takes is one moment of pure, unadulterated willingness to shift up, change lanes, and discover a whole new road in the wildness of life.

***

Finding Eden

I spent yesterday in the open air, exploring Boyce Thompson Arboretum just north of Superior, Arizona off of Highway 60, with my mother and my friend, Lea. We shook off the dirt of the city and strode into Eden, air thick with eucalyptus, wildflowers. I studied butterfly agave and golden flower agave and native ocotillo barely starting to bud. We walked through a eucalyptus grove of red gum trees planted in the 1920s — their beautiful trunks silver and white in the sunlight, branches jutting up and up, hundreds of feet into the air. Against the backdrop of desert mesas and 100-year-old saguaros, I walked a labyrinth in the center of the park.

I made my way back to myself. I remembered the value of sunlight on my skin. I remembered how good it feels to get lost.

I remembered how simple everything good is, if you know where to look.

So, I started a fire. Inside of me.

I remembered to love my light.

I remembered to let things go.

Starting a Fire.

After we hiked the arboretum, we drove into Superior for lunch.

We circled through town, looking for somewhere promising to eat.

Superior is a ramshackle, dusty, boarded up, seedy little town. 60% of its inhabitants are clearly eking out a subsistence there, with junk cars stacked next to their shit shack trailers and depression era homes. 40% of the people see promise, creativity, fire in all that mess.

As we drove through a second time, we stopped at an Asian BBQ restaurant called the Jade Grill.

The owner, it turns out, is her own sort of fire starter.

“I left here forty years ago for New York City,” she tells us as she passes out napkins, cutlery, and glasses of water. “I worked as a food editor at Country Living magazine and McCall’s. When I retired, I came home to give something back. Everyone around here wanted me to open a Chinese restaurant, but I wasn’t interested. Instead, I decided to do something different, Asian BBQ. I fire roast all my meats right here behind the building.”

We order salads and I am soon eating the best Vietnamese pork salad I’ve ever tasted. The best, most zingy, flavorful, tangy smoked pork, ever. Ever.

In this little one horse town, in the middle of nowhere, I meet a writer/editor/dreamer/restaurateur.

I meet someone wholehearted.

And as we drive home, I know exactly what I need to do.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

 

Stormy Weather

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Storm clouds gather…

November’s rolled in with its cooler nights and damp mornings. I find myself wanting to go to bed and sleep for days; I am so bone weary. The dark night. The fertile night. The howling soul. My longing for hibernation has begun.

It’s Sunday, a day of [supposed] rest.

I long to settle into the quiet, reading and sorting and writing, as a kind of sabbath for the week.

However, at this time of year, I often work six or seven days a week to keep up with the tsunami of papers I must grade and get back to my students.This fall has been particularly tough. Home is chaotic on a good day; a total madhouse on a bad one. My mom’s still unpacking, but we’re gradually developing a rhythm. However, everything this past month feels off kilter, out of sorts.

Even the dog is restless, pacing and digging and whimpering.

As I graded this last round of papers, I fell into a state of utter joylessness I haven’t felt in a very long time. I’ve never exactly enjoyed grading papers, but I didn’t loathe it.

Now, I hate it.

Now, I find it difficult to motivate myself to start reading and marking up papers at all. I feel demoralized by the clear lack of effort I see. It’s depressing.

As a teacher, I feel I am failing to motivate my young charges. I know in my heart of hearts this is not the case, but I wonder if I could do more.

At the same time, I am certain I have no more to give.

I am wiped out.

This, too, shall pass…

So, into this malaise, I pour my frustration and sadness — my feelings of uselessness – and I wonder if perhaps my talents could be put to better use elsewhere.

In another six weeks, this batch of students will move on, and I will finally rest over the holidays. I imagine I will regain my sense of purpose.

Or, I certainly hope so.

I admit I want to be a writer who teaches, rather than a teacher who writes.

Falling through the page…

When I write, I find my way back to myself. The words may come in a tangle, or burble up from somewhere unexpected, but I feel most like myself when am writing.

As I write, I feel plugged in, alive, certain (even when I am uncertain).

Don’t get me wrong; I still love teaching. I love mentoring young minds and seeing them develop, open and engage with the world, life, and other people. Absolutely, I love that.

But grading English papers has become drudgery. What. Is. The. Point.

I hand the paper back — carefully marked with notes and advice — and find it dropped in the trash at the backdoor of the classroom when I get ready to leave.

I do in-person conferences and no one takes a single note.

My careful consideration of each person’s work seems unjustified and unappreciated.

I find myself thinking: there must be something more than this.

What’s next for me?

I think what’s arising from deep within me is a desire for soul growth. I need to stretch my capacity, yet again. I need to dawdle and draw and dream. I need to find a like-minded tribe of soul fools, tricksters and mad muses.

Whenever I start to bristle when faced with my current surroundings, I know I am experiencing a growth spurt that’s pushing the boundaries of my life. I know it’s asking more of me. It’s demanding I become what I came here to be.

I cannot stay put. I cannot be fenced in.

Like most artists, I hear the wildness of life calling me with an insistence that makes me ache.

I hear a she-wolf howling under a white moon.

She’s got her hooks in my tethered soul and she’s pulling hard to free me.

I know this from experience. It won’t be long now. I will break what binds me.

I will follow my soul out into the moonlight.

I will howl under the Taurus moon. I will see where the book of my life goes next.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.

 

 

 

One Lovely Blog Award: Well, That Made My Day

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One Lovely Blog Award

My lovely blogger friend, Ingebird, at rectalcancermyass, nominated me for this award!  Wowie-zowie!  I am honored and thrilled just to know my words are out in the world and people are reading them…I think her blog is awesome because of her infectious joy just being alive, because she’s thrilled about surviving cancer, because she proud to be spreading the word on healthy living…Thank you, thank you. I am honored.

About Me

  1. I teach writing and editing at a research university in the desert southwest of the United States
  2. My favorite musician is Elton John, Elton John, Elton John
  3. I flew to London and met Elton John on my nineteenth birthday (and wrote about it here)
  4. I am a dog and cat lover (I have one dog and four cats)
  5. I love listening to the song sparrows and desert wrens and grackles sing each morning while I drink my coffee
  6. I’ve been a Nichiren Buddhist for the past 29 years
  7. I am pretty fearless as a cook, always willing to experiment!
  8. I am determined to finish a book project this year
  9. It’s been a year since I broke my face requiring extensive plastic surgery to fix it
  10. I am grateful for the life I’ve built as a writer, teacher, artist — and for the wonderful friends and family who support me
  11. I am single but open to possibility

Well, those are a few of the many things I could tell you about myself.  As for the rules for each blogger I nominate:

Nomination Rules

  1. Thank you link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Include (at least) seven facts about your life.
  4. Nominate other bloggers and let them know about the award.
  5. Follow the blogger who nominated you (if not already)

Nominees 

I wish to nominate the following for the One Lovely Blog Award

http://spilling-ink.blogspot.com.au/

http://thedharmadiva.wordpress.com/

http://findingmybliss-foxysue.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.veganhousewives.com/

http://bloodteethandflame.wordpress.com/

http://youmealwaysonly.wordpress.com/

Happy blogging!

Eclipses & Constellations

Image by Patricia Ariel

Image by Patricia Ariel

“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”John Keats, Letters of John Keats

No rest for the weary.

Lately my dreams roil with snakes: piles of striped snakes, red snakes, rattlers, garden snakes, and snakes shedding their skins.

The symbolism of these dreams isn’t lost on me.

My life’s molting and changing. I’m leaving an old ‘skin’ behind. I’m shape-shifting, but it isn’t clear yet what the shift means or entails.

I have my theories, but right now the only certainty is that everything feels uncertain, adrift.

Snakes frighten me. They’ve frightened me since I was a small child. Taken camping in the desert with my granddaddy, just on the heels of a Mump’s shot, I associate them with the abject terror I’m sure my mom felt having an active two-year-old with a bad vaccination reaction, set loose in a landscape full of creatures whose bite would kill her.

I remember that horrifying fear five decades later.

Still, despite that fact, there’ve been many times in my life — when in the throes of deep change — that, as I sleep, snakes have come to visit.

I awaken, heart pounding, realizing profound change is afoot.

Transformation, healing, resolve, and spiritual instinct all surface with the snake.

Total Eclipse.

In addition to my visits with the serpent, I’ve also been unpacking the extreme energetic shifts currently flooding the world.

The partial eclipse this past Thursday — in Scorpio —  signaled the closing bell on the past nineteen years of our lives. When I heard that, I thought back to 1995 and remembered what I set in motion that fall: graduate school in creative writing. I sent my application in that November. I finally read The Artist’s Way, after leaving it on the shelf for eighteen months after I bought it, and I realized — at the age of 35 — that if I didn’t make a change in my life, it was likely I wouldn’t survive much longer.

I circled the drain for another five years, but I went to school, got my Master’s, wrote my thesis, and told myself — in no uncertain terms — that I was a worthy investment. That my creative life mattered. That my words mattered. That the voice inside of me would be heard.

Twenty years later, I marvel at the fact that I let myself outgrow those self-inflicted chains.

Now what?

As this phase of my life draws to a close, snakes come to signal another round of total transformation. Like Eve with her apple, I sit and wonder what the next bite will taste like, what will fill my soul’s plate.

I have inklings — wispy ideas of what might be on the way — but as usual there’s nothing solid.

God damn, isn’t that just like change?! Rolling through causing mayhem and upset, without a single answer to a single question.

Everything’s a riddle.

There’s no use in a magic eight ball or in throwing the I-Ching. The answer’s always the same: in time, it will become clear.

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”Anaïs Nin

So, I’ll change my diet and I’ll take more walks. I’ll read the books I’ve tucked away for far too long. I’ll outline my book proposal and talk to my writing buddy in London. I’ll catalog the desert birds that visit my backyard and drink hot water with lemon. I’ll cut rosemary and get the scent all over my hands. I’ll snip some fresh peppers and basil and cook some lunch. I’ll watch evening shade turned to violet shadow. I’ll sit under the stars and open my chest to that vast sea of constellations, and I will pull it all into me.

I’ll remember that life is lived as a series of moments, nothing more.

We are here.

Now.

There is nothing else and nowhere else to be.

I’ll worry less and play more. I’ll figure it out.

In time, everything will become clear.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact.

If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.

 

The Best is Yet to Come

 

10155634_10152148017008978_3272808796417336039_nKarma, baby. Karma.

Karma’s been on my mind a lot lately. Unlike the popular interpretation of the term karma, literal karma is not just bad stuff. Instead, it is a sort of life ledger sheet — sometimes you’re in the black and sometimes you’re in the red — depending on what you say, think, and do.

Everything’s recorded and everything counts. There’s no such thing as a free pass.

What goes around, comes around.

So.

What got me thinking about all this is this experience of taking my mom in, after the whole thing she set up with my sibling fell to pieces.

I won’t say more about that, than that. I am actually thinking more about what’s up on my end — because this situation is obviously something I’ve called into my life (through actions, words, deeds) — in order to grow as a human being. Perhaps my sibling called this loss into his life to do the same.

One can hope, but I can’t know for sure. That’s his work, not mine.

The only thing I know for sure is that this stuff is my stuff, and I am responsible for handling it with grace and strength.

Unpacking Loss. Unpacking Sorrow.

Two weeks in.

We are sailing along, knee deep in mess and boxes, with packing tape sticking to our shoes. Mom’s been great — a real trouper — in the face of unpacking everything she just spent three months packing and shipping down here. So far, there’s no breakage and no loss — except all the loss that preceded her move to Arizona. My animals have moved in to comfort her, gathering in a tight bunch on her bed as she naps, exhausted from her trip through hell. The dog burrows under the covers and snuggles up to her, sighing with absolute delight at finding another sap to rub her belly.

We move furniture and open boxes. We weed and feed critters. We trade off cooking meals.

I go up to school to teach. My mother stays home with my pet people, giving them more attention than they have the right to expect.

I know she grieves while I am away. Her face changes as the days pass, sometimes it’s lighter, sometimes, darker. I know she’s swimming in a dark river now.  However, I cannot traverse those currents.  They’re hers to sort out and make sense of.  As much as I would like to be able to comfort her, this is something she must work out, without me.

We’ve contacted Social Security and her annuity provider and set up a bank account.

The list of things we still need to do is a long one. The process is exhausting and often irritating. We waited for fifty-minutes yesterday on hold for Social Security. My phone had started to beep the death beep by the time their rep finally answered. Luckily, we were still able to get her squared away before the phone gave up the ghost.

Ghosts and Ruins.

“Your father told me he’d always loved me.  At the end of his life, he told me that,” she says, wiping away tears.

“I know, Mom.”  My parents remained strange friends — of sorts — until the end of my dad’s life.

She holds a carved geisha he brought home from Japan after World War II.

“Grandma didn’t want any of the stuff he brought home,” she says, turning it from side to side. She didn’t want the paintings done on silk in sumi ink. She didn’t want any of it.

We talk as we run across photos of my father I’ve framed — one in particular of him in his fifties — posing with my grandmother.

“I’ve never seen this one,” she says, marveling at his ridiculous perm and big mustache. Not the best look for him, but I love the photo because they both look happy.

Daddy is almost thin — not long after his first heart attack — wearing dark jeans and a turtleneck sweater. Grandma was still several years away from a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease that would ravage her brain and body. They’re standing in the backyard of the house on 125th in Seattle with the greenness of the lawn and tall evergreens as a backdrop.

He was younger than I am now, then; grandma was younger than my mom is now.

Time Machine.

I open boxes I packed two months ago, and find a whole set of books by Leonard Shlain, Octavia Butler, and George Chesboro. I find Pooh Bear and a doll-sized chair, a carving of a horse, and one lithe deer.

I open boxes and my whole childhood spills out.

In the kitchen, I unpack boxes of spatulas and scrapers, mixing bowls and coffee mugs. There’s a huge set of black, octagonal dishes, bowls and cups, as well as a set of cornflower blue plates shaped like sea shells.

I told my mom to pack up anything that would make her feel at home. It is likely that even though she got rid of enormous amounts of stuff, she still has too much to shoehorn into my tiny house, but I am determined for her not to ‘get rid’ of anything else, just yet. It may need to live in the storage shed for a bit, but we will find a way to ferret away what she’s brought with her.

I think about this culling process my mom’s navigating and I wonder what it will be like for me in thirty years: a childless woman who is, as yet, unmarried. I realize that if I am surrounded by friends (and I am rich with astonishing, beautiful, kindhearted friends) I will be OK. I realize that I will likely cull and give away much of what I have by then, so I can travel lightly to the next world.

Life Is Beautiful: Don’t Waste It.

Our attachments make us human. As a Buddhist, being a humane human being, a soft, openhearted, humble human being, is crucial. Maybe what I am tasked with learning alongside my mother, is to walk softly on this earth. To enjoy what there is to enjoy and to suffer what there is to suffer (as Nichiren stated in his letter to his followers over 700 years ago).  There is much we can squander in life — that we can fail to see until it is too late — in particular, the ephemeral nature of our connection to our parents and families. We often spend our time — these incandescent moments that we cannot ever hold onto — complaining or fighting or measuring out what we didn’t get. Instead, we should be measuring how grateful we are — to be alive, to have a roof over our heads, to have food in the cupboard.

Life is, in lots of ways, very simple. We’re given this specific allotment of days in which to express our creativity and joy and humanity. We will likely have sorrow and get pretty banged up along the way. We will also see butterflies and bats and the river Thames. We will read Shakespeare and comics and instruction manuals. We will listen to Elton John and Devo and Elvis Costello. We will learn to cook. We will fall in love. We will bury people we deeply love.

We can muck it all up or we can make the most of it.

It’s up to us.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.

Brave New Girl

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“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”Abraham Lincoln

Life as I know it, is about to change.

As I write this, my 79-year-old mother is on a flight to Phoenix to come live with me. She’s worked tirelessly these past few months to get ready. The move involved not only culling and letting go of most of her belongings, but also euthanizing her 22-year-old cat, Zap. (Zap was failing in her final days, but I know my mom would have preferred that she decide when to exit.) The preparation has been brutal and illuminating. I learned a lot about my mother through this process: about her resolve, her strength, her grit. I learned how boundlessly brave she is.

I also learned a lot about myself.

I made a space for her, cleaned out and moved my office, cleaned out the extra bathroom and rearranged the house to (with luck) accommodate the few pieces of furniture she’s bringing with her. I did this without a moment’s hesitation, saying ‘yes’ when she called and said her current situation had become untenable and she needed to move. (I’ve been offering this option for quite some time now — but my mother wanted to stay put for the grand kids.)

What changed?

I think she realized that where she was living was toxic, and if she didn’t leave there, she would not live much longer.

It’s now or never.

So, even though the responsibility this entails is humbling (and pretty scary), we are moving forward. It’s moving day. She’s on her way.

I wonder if I have everything ready, even though I know I do.

I wonder if I could have done more for her, even though I did everything I could.

The child in me bristles in fear at the thought of taking this on, but the adult is ready, willing, able.

I’ve long wanted my mom to come down and live with me, if for no other reason than to offer her the chance to live someplace peaceful, where she is welcome and wanted.

She’s spent the past eight years living in a house where she was treated like a squatter — even though she’d paid a substantial sum to live there, ostensibly for the remainder of her life.

While there, she nearly died three times, due to neglect.

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”Kristin Hannah, Summer Island

So, it’s time do something else.

For all of my life, I’ve been the type of person who embarked on adventures impulsively. I flew to London because I wanted to meet Elton John (and I did). I moved to NYC to chase my singing and songwriting dreams. I moved to Los Angeles to learn to write. When opportunities arose, I grabbed them, whether doing so made sense or not.

At times, I’ve lamented my mis-adventurous nature. But generally that happened only after I’d already left the safety of solid ground.

“Shiiiiitttt,” I’d scream, as the air rushed past me, and I fell headlong into this or that set of muddy brambles at the side of the road.

Bruised and bloodied, I would brush myself off and occasionally wonder if such madcap activities were a good idea.

Oops, I did it again…

Because I leap first and look later, maybe I should have paused when making this choice.

However, I had no doubts about doing this.

This is the right thing to do. This is the only choice.

“A good mother is irreplaceable.”Adriana Trigiani

My mother. My heart. 

So, my mom will stay with me for the rest of her life. She will have a home surrounded by the desert where she was born. She will have a circle of animal people to keep her company while I work.

My mother’s still in relatively good health and is quite spry for someone nearing 80. It’s time for her to have adventures.

I look forward to seeing what sort of creative ideas bloom for her, as she sits in the quiet of this house, watching grackles and song sparrows and desert wrens drink and bathe in the back yard.

I look forward to collaborating with her on some of those creative projects.

What I know for sure…

This is a healing house. This is a house of solace, of sanctuary, of retreat.

Now, we will share this space: As friends. As confidants. As artists. As collaborators.

We will navigate the coming years as mother and daughter, even if our roles eventually reverse.

Perhaps I will learn some of her secrets and she will learn some of mine.

This is a big day.

Today, a new life begins.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact.

If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.

A Mixture of Bitter and Sweet

Missing You by Christian Schloe

Missing You by Christian Schloe

For C & L

Perception = Reality

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

~ Mary Oliver, When Death Comes

In lots of ways, this was a dark week for me. A friend called to say she’d gotten a devastating diagnosis. I went out for a fun evening with another friend and the person we went to see (a poet) chose to use her renown to reinforce racial stereotypes and share her deeply entrenched bitterness, rather than inspire and hearten the audience.

On the way home, we hit a feral cat. We tried to find it to help it, but couldn’t.

I cried for half the night.

This week, the cracks in the veneer of my family that have largely remained hidden over the past few years, became glaringly apparent. Suffice it to say, we’re not a particularly happy bunch right now. I have every faith we will eventually be happy again, but right now things are sort of terrible. One family member has done things that other family members find reprehensible and a long simmering, now blazing, war has broken out.

In the middle of it, my mother, whose whole life has been dismantled by this rift, is packing and readying to leave her home for my home.

It’s a big, teeming, ugly mess.

It was the kind of week that makes you hit your knees and start to pray.

It was the kind of week that makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong.

It was the kind of week that makes you reassess everything.

Turning the Wheel

And, maybe, that was the point.

I can focus on the terrible news.  That’s easy.  Everybody’s doing it.

I can mourn a precious being that likely lost its life.

I can lament the ways in which my family’s forgotten how to talk to one another.

Or, I can turn the wheel and head this thing in a different direction.

Choose Light

So, when I look back on the events of the week, I can instead choose to see everything — not just the dark bits.

This week as a teacher, I felt inspired. The students engaged with the course materials and we had wonderful, far reaching discussions of business ethics, the public good, the changes that need to happen. I reminded them they’re the ones who will lead the fight to implement change.

I went out for Thai food with the good friend who was driving when we hit kitty; we unpacked our challenges and comforted one another.

I reminded myself that I have money in the bank to pay my bills and cover my rent and feed myself and my animals.

When I talked to my friend about her illness, we ended up laughing through much of the conversation.

“Well, I’ve always said the one truth of life is, if you are born, you are going to die.  No one gets out of here alive.”

We screamed with laughter and she told me a really awful (but still funny) joke. We talked about what might be next (surgery, other treatment options), and she sounded hopeful.

Still.

And that’s something.

Choose Transformation

When a whole crew of my high school drama buddies (people I’ve known since the 1970s) and one Buddhist Facebook friend went over to help my mom pack her relocation cubes yesterday, I remembered that the world is full of good people doing good things. When my friend, J, came by and we went to see the astonishing Richard Linklater film, Boyhood, I remembered the multiple instances of incredible kindness I experienced from her and others all week. When I recalled looking into the wide open faces of the freshmen I am teaching — seeing their hope and their longing — I realized that I cannot allow myself to fall into bitterness like the poet I heard this week. I never want my work to exclude or depress or insult.

I want to live from a place of true integrity.

I learned a lot this week.

I learned a lot about how I want to move through the world and what I would like my eventual legacy to be.

And I learned a lot about who I do not want to be.

Yep. I learned that even in all this darkness — all this difficulty and despair — everything harbors light.

Everything.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Wonderland News: 50,000 Reasons to Celebrate

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

About two weeks ago, this blog quietly crossed the 50,000 page view mark.

I noted it on my Facebook page with much shouting and glee, but I realize I forgot to mention it here. I want to offer a profound and heartfelt thank you to each person who visits Wonderland – whether by accident or because you’ve read my work elsewhere and come here to see what’s up. This blog has been a place of solace and growth for me over the past two-plus years. I come here to reflect, ruminate, wonder, ponder, and find out what I know.  That may sound strange — but the writing process actually helps me sift my thoughts and feelings — and allows me to see a pathway through these dark woods. I find out what I know and what I think and what I feel as I write.

That said, these ruminations will soon become a book, and likely, a writing workbook as well. To start that process, I have put together a new website and will be adding products, workshops, online courses, and books to the mix there, as well as posting regularly in Wonderland, on tumblr, on twitter, and in The Writing Life, a new microblog that I will be sharing every Wednesday starting in November. The WordPress site that is Wonderland now, will continue to exist, at least for a while. However, I encourage you to visit my new website and sign up for my Song Sparrow newsletter and all the latest from the blog through the Contact Me page or the Subscribe block for the blog, so that we don’t lose touch as I make this transition. Everything that is here in Wonderland has already migrated over to the website.

Consider it the ‘new and improved’ version of my vision as an artist. I am excited and extremely proud to share it with you!

More Changes Coming.

Although I pride myself on getting this blog out every week, the past couple of months have been challenging due to changes in my life. I am about to start caring for an aging parent — my mother — and as a result I have been busily (frantically) preparing my house for her arrival. It has been quite a job. If you’ve read this blog much, you’ve met her here many times as I’ve navigated my relationship with her as she ages. She’s due here in a couple weeks, and after that things should settle down with regard to my usual weekly posts. I may switch the day to Sunday, but one way or another, I’ll choose a deadline that works for my current schedule and get back on this horse!

I currently have a very heavy teaching load (until December) so the new classes, workshops, editing and mentoring I plan to offer will likely roll out just after the first of the year. If you are interested in taking a writing course from me (online) or a local (Arizona) workshop (or a workshop gathering in another city), absolutely contact me! I will be setting up my schedule for all of 2015 in the next couple of months. I am also available to do short editing gigs and to mentor writers who want to develop their voice and style.

In the meantime, besides visiting me on my website, feel free to peruse my work on The Anjana Network (three posts per month), Be You Media Group (two posts per month) and Rebelle Society (two posts per month). My work is also available on Paperblog.

OXOXOX

Thank you again for finding whatever electronic or spiritual or emotional breadcrumbs that brought you to Wonderland.

Fall in. I am so glad you’re here.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Talkin’ about Revolution

1656175_658505090879416_2080627691_nQuit Yer Bitchin’

Is it just me, or have many of us mistakenly formed a loose, rag-tag nation of whiners, complainers, catastrophizers and bitchers?

Wha-wha.

How did that happen?

How did we go from the ‘grateful nation’ of my childhood to one filled with grubby, reflexive whiners? Why do we perpetuate the problem – compound it, actually – by continually focusing on what’s not right, what’s not there, what has left us, what has let us down, what doesn’t work, what doesn’t measure up?

It’s like expecting to regain your health by ingesting sewage; or thinking that if you hit yourself in the head with a hammer, you’ll feel better when you stop.

Better than what?

Start Your Human Revolution

“A great revolution of character in just a single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda

Many human beings tend to take the easy route. There is this (totally mistaken) perception that ‘others have it easy’ or ‘others don’t have to work as much or as hard as I do’ or ‘others make money for doing nothing.’  And while that may be true for a small number of inherited wealth, one-percenters — most people have a life that is built to the exact specifications of their thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words, your environment is a reflection of you. You cannot change your life by changing jobs, partners, or expecting others to change.

You change your life through inner reformation.

You change through embarking on the tough spiritual work involved with washing the filth and muck off of your inner life, and polishing it until it shines.

In the Buddhism I practice, this inner reformation is called ‘Human Revolution’. The terms was coined by a Japanese educator named Josei Toda when he helped to build the Buddhist lay organization in Japan in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. By looking only at inner reformation, humanity can transform society by focusing on the one thing we can change: ourselves.

So, how do you exit the negative bitch-fest?

Well, it ain’t easy, but it can be done.

How do I know?

Because I did it. And because I continue to remind myself not to backslide into thinking that complaint has any inherent value. It doesn’t. Complaint just calcifies your negative situation. It hardens around you and makes it even harder to break free.

Boarding the Grateful Train

When how you perceive your life changes, what you perceive changes.

It is simple, really.

Tell yourself a new story.

Tell yourself the story you want to live. Tell yourself the story that most makes you feel alive.

Stop focusing on what’s wrong.

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” ~ Jack Gilbert, A Brief for the Defense

Start focusing on what’s good, instead.

See, no matter what condition your life is in, there is always, always, always something good to enjoy.

A perfect cup of coffee. Your dog’s sigh while she sleeps. Clean sheets. Grilled cheese sandwiches. The crescent moon.

Appreciate the most minute good details, the smallest slivers of light.  

That will allow those things to multiply.

  • Start a gratitude journal and watch your whole life change.
  • Keep a gratitude jar, and drop in a note every time someone does something kind or helpful.  Take those notes out at year’s end, and write thank you letters to each person you mention.
  • Write letters to the people in your life who matter and tell them why.
  • Think about what people might say if you died tomorrow. Would it reflect the best possible version of you? If not, it’s time to make a change.
  • Say thank you, turn off your cell phone and focus on your meal and conversation, give people your undivided attention.
  • Be kind, knowing that we are all ‘fighting a hard battle’ now. Assume that we are doing our very best, because we are.
  • Watch the stars at night and marvel at the light show.
  • Kiss those who matter most to you and tell them how you feel. Longevity is never a guarantee for any of us.
  • Tell people about your struggles, but keep the focus on what you are learning from each experience.
  • Know that if something is pulled away from you, there is a reason for that wound. Trust that you will live your way into an answer.

Remember: we often don’t know why things happen until much later, if we ever do.

Rather than worry about the question why, think about what you’ve made of the life you were given.

Did you add to the light of the world? Did you make a difference?

Did you use your voice and contribute to this collaborative conversation called life?

If so, you did good.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Love is Sacred Surrender

Love is a Tango by Catrin Welz-Stein

Love is a Tango by Catrin Welz-Stein

“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.”Marianne Williamson

Choose Love.

One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned about love is to just let go, to let it take you.

You can try to outrun the longings of your own soul, but eventually you will need to turn and face the possibility that everything in life is about love.

There is nothing else.  Just love.

And if you do not allow the jaws of life to rip open your chest and do surgery on your small heart, enlarging it and stretching it beyond what you think is possible, you will miss out on the tastiest, most juicy parts of life. You will plan the most wonderful party and forget to go. You will arrive just in time to clean up the mess and take out the trash.

The fact of the matter is, you will be half the person you were meant to be, if you don’t surrender yourself to love.

But.

It hurts.

It scares me. It reveals parts of me I don’t want anyone to see.

But.

It calls me out in my smallest moments.

It requires that I stand for something. It means I must step up and walk my talk.

But.

I am uncertain I want to be that vulnerable, that raw, that tender.

What if I give my heart to you and you hand it back to me, without comment.

Or worse, you look me over and say, “No thanks.”

What if I let this great rush of water take me, and I land on your doorstep, muddied, with sticks in my hair and half my clothes washed off?

What if you take one look at that hot mess and think, damn, I could do better than that.

But.

What if you don’t?

What if you take one look and say, “It’s you. Migod. You’re here. You’re finally here.”

***

What I know about love.

It’s the honeyed-water of life.

It makes everything softer, lighter, and more open.

I also know it takes a courageous heart to even attempt to walk into its currents. It’s not for the faint-hearted or lily-livered or for those who like remaining stuck inside the life raft, wearing their orange vests.

If you open to love, you’ll get wet.  If you dive in, you’ll be soaked.

Love is messy; that’s what makes it a cake you want to bake. 

Love is thumping your head against the wall and waking your neighbors and starting all the nearby dogs barking. Love is bumping and grinding and falling apart afterward and thinking, God damn! What was that?

Who left my hair matted and my heart pumping and my toes curled?

Oh, yes.

You, love.  You.

***

Walking Away by Gabriela Insuratelu

Walking Away by Gabriela Insuratelu

Love is also quiet. Angry. Bored. Spiteful.

Love can be a troublesome little f*ck.

Often, it will stand on your last nerve, just for shits and giggles.

It will ask you for more than you ever thought you could possibly give.

Love is the ultimate self-improvement course. It is continuing-ed and life-long learning rolled into one. It is trial by fire and poop patrol and ‘I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-do-this’ spiritual practice.

Love is sacred surrender.

Love will shape you into a vessel that can withstand anything.

No matter how difficult your journey toward love is, it is something you do not want to miss.

It will forge a version of you that you could never become without it.

Risk it.

Risk your heart.

Risk everything and be glad.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.