Body as Altar. Earth as Altar.


Body as Altar

I awoke the other morning with the knowing that this woman’s body is an altar.

My body is an altar, as are all bodies. As is the Earth.

How might your life be different if you knew this to be true, knew it deep down in the marrow of your bones, deep in the bowl of your belly, deep in the layers of your skin?

How might you wash your face?

How might you brew your tea?

How might you be with yourself? with others? with Life?

How might your sense of Love change?

What would it take for you to know this, throughout the cells of your being?


365 Altars

365 Altars - cloth and image by Jeanne

An altar is a place you go to reclaim your woman’s intuition. This place says to the busy, rational mind, “Quiet down—let the deeper, wiser woman within you speak!” Over time your view of yourself and your place in the world shifts. The altar becomes a sacred space because you place symbols of your true self on it. As you sit before the altar, these symbols act as mirrors reflecting your deeper self. You see yourself differently while looking in the mirror, and, in time, you find the courage to be this authentic self more frequently in the world. The peace you’ve invested in your altar now radiates back to you. ~ Denise Geddes

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers, my friend and writing partner, has a new creation called 365 Altars. From her inaugural post,

“There are so many things I’ve wanted to do, things I’ve longed to investigate, things I’ve wanted to at least try, I can’t help but wonder how my life might be differently now had I silenced those nay-saying Committee of Jeanne members advocating abandonment and moved forward, following the interest, the hobby, the question, the idea without regard to return on investment and such.

Every day – every single day – I will stop, drop, and honor my deepest sumptuous self in one way or another. Every single day, I will commit one single creative act – maybe more. I’d love to have you join me as and if and when you will.”

Waking up to the knowing of my body as an altar was born directly out of Jeanne’s creation. As I read her deepest desire to honor the sacredness in herself and to offer a way and community in which to do so, I could feel the rekindling of a deep, deep longing to honor Self in this way.

Jeanne is a woman who knows deep things. She sees things others don’t. Her deepest sumptuous self honors women in a way we must come to embody if we are to survive.

The Earth as Altar

Honoring Self is honoring the sacred, the divine, the Life that moves through all of existence.

Remembering the sacred in the body is awakening to the sacredness at the heart in every cell of Life, and when we do it within our own selves, we also do it for the Earth, a glorious being who is needing our love, our reflection, and a remembrance of the sacredness that she is.

There is no separation between your body and the Earth. We’re made of her clay. Our fluid is her fluid. Our breath is her breath. Our sacred substance is her sacred substance.

Find someway to honor your Self, your creativity, your divinity. And, share it with another.


Horror as the Foreground to Wonder


Living, Dying, Grieving

This post isn’t full of the beautiful…at least not the surface beautiful. But stick with me…

This is my edge…

We’re all living, we’re all dying, we’re all grieving, we’re all transforming. It’s life’s nature, death’s nature.

Life as Mirror

Life is always dying and being reborn. To grasp this truth, to live in this truth is to be fully alive. To never take this life for granted. It’s beauty, it’s power, the fact that none of us know. Can we embrace this? Live it? Touch death as we live life? Touch life as we die? Be with each other in whatever stage we are in? Really be with each other…

I don’t know have any answers. None. No flowery words. No insights.

But what I want to do is share what some beautiful women are writing about grief, dying, illness, death and life… and how reading their words is impacting my heart.

Unconscious to the edge…

The fact is we are alive and we are dying. Some of us are closer to death. Some of us are dead while we live, unconscious to the edge we exist on. Who’s to say what it is to be fully alive?

Joseph Campbell wrote,

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”

In one of his segments with Bill Moyers, Campbell shared,

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.

There’s a wonderful formula that the Buddhists have for the Bodhisattva, the one whose being (sattva) is illumination (bodhi), who realizes his identity with eternity and at the same time his participation in time. And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.

…not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.”

I write this post as a somewhat ‘healthy’ person, so I am seeing and writing through the eyes of someone who unconsciously, and perhaps somewhat consciously, tells herself she still has a fairly ‘long’ time to live. In reality, this is BS. I do not know how long I have to live. Even writing these words and saying them aloud to myself doesn’t even begin to cut through the normal denial that is here about death.

I do experience the absence of time, the eternity of which Campbell writes.

Where I have difficulty is in being with the ‘horrible’ nature of life, what my mind wants to fix, eliminate and avoid.

Campbell’s words “that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder” catch me.

Horror as a foreground of wonder.

My mind goes a little crazy wondering how you square this, square the horrors of this world with the mind’s concept of wonder. I notice that I write ‘wondering’ in the same sentence. To wonder…

In writing this, my mind fears it will sound as if I am romanticizing horror in some way, even wonders whether it is wise to include the word rapture and horror in the same post…

I recoil from the horrors of the world. I want to fix them. I want to save others. In reality, I don’t want to be with the horror itself. I don’t want to open to it.

As Campbell reminds me, the horror is the foreground to the real wonder of life, the awe-inducing wonder…

And yet, in those moments of life when the horrible knocked on my door, I did open the door. I opened to the horror, as much as I could. And in opening to it, I caught a glimpse of this wonder… the beauty in the darkness, the love in the horrible, the peace and silence that is always present all around this foreground of horror.

I do know Holy Is All There Is, yet my life, at least right now, is filled with days full of so much love and light. I can be content to sit in this ease, content to not open my heart to the horror…and it is here that I skim the shallow waters of life. Can I open to the rest of the wonder of life willingly, not just when it knocks, but now, of my own accord…

Krishnamurti said:

There must be no escape from it of any kind, no intellectual or explanatory justification – see the difficulty of this, for the mind is so cunning, so sharp to escape, because it does not know what to do with its violence. It is not capable of dealing with it – or it thinks it is not capable – therefore it escapes. Every form of escape, distraction, of movement away, sustains violence. If one realizes this, then the mind is confronted with the fact of `what is’ and nothing else.

The mind does not know what to do with its own violence…

This is my edge. This is the edge I recoil from…

I share words…

So I share others’ words, words that open me to this edge, words that help to open my eyes and heart…

In Pema‘s series, “Memory to Light“, she shares her experiences with grief, death, violence and life, leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Benita‘s new blog, The Useless Uterus or Chemo Brain Musings (she’s not yet sure what to call it) recounts her life as she moves through her days of chemo and healing.

Rhonda, a woman of 42 years who is dying from MS, is sharing her writing as she dies. Her writing is brilliant. Her words cut to the chase. And in responding, or attempting to respond by way of commenting, I found myself ‘trying’ to write to her, not quite sure how to share how her words have touched me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of things: partly that she is in the active stages of dying as I read her words, and perhaps because I don’t really know her. There’s an element of feeling like a watcher, reading her experience from this place of one who is ‘alive’ and not dying. My dear friend, Jeanne, is hosting these writings, offering a place for us to bear witness to Rhonda experiences and our own opening to how to be with…

And as we near this 10th anniversary of 9/11, Meg Worden shares her experience of 9/11, a day that was book-ended by her getting sober the day before, and conceiving her child two days after.

I do know…

What is true, what makes tears come, what causes my heart to open is the raw desire to serve life, to know the sacredness of life, to honor it…and I must admit, I don’t know how to do this… and I know there is no how.

I am this life, both the horror and the wonder. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the other. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the totality of what I am…I can’t feel this totality…

And, you?


Bear Witness to Her Words, to Her Life


What does it mean to witness?

What is it to listen, deeply, to the voice of another speak something that must be spoken?

What is it to not flinch when hearing the truth that flows from another’s heart and soul?

Many, many women are writing their stores. And, many women are reading these stories. We are bearing witness to each other, to our lives, and yes, even our deaths.

My good friend, and writing partner, Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is sharing the writing of her friend Rhonda at her blog, the Barefoot Heart.

In Jeanne’s words:

“Rhonda is now in hospice, and though she doesn’t fear death, she does dread it a bit because she still has so much she wants to say. And there’s so much we need to hear. “Jeanne, they tell me to rest,” she said in a recent phone call with a tone that’s as close to whining as I’ve ever heard come from her lips. “Fuck that,” I said. “You can rest later. Now you write. And write. And write.””

As I writer, I know how it feels when I must write. And as a writer, I know how it is to have my words witnessed, read, and considered.


Take a moment to read Rhonda’s stories and, as Jeanne writes, “join me as we bear witness to her words, to her life.”

As Rhonda writes, “I write only truth.”

I imagine that when it comes time to die, one’s patience for anything that is not truth grows thin.


Budding With New Life


Cherry Tree, by Julie Daley

It’s a beautiful sunny spring day. Life is budding.

I live in the hills of Berkeley, directly across the street from the hills of Tilden Park. Today, just days before the first day of Spring, the hills are richly green. The birds are singing. The trees are blossoming. One tree in particular grabs and holds my attention. It is a weeping cherry tree directly across from my living room window. She is budding, ripe with the fruit of life just bubbling under the skin of her delicate branches. Her branches are stark gray in contrast to the small, delicate blossoms just now opening to the warm spring sunshine.

I am amazed at the contrast between this small, soft pink flower petal and the sage, rooted, twisted and gnarled mother tree giving birth to it. When I look closely, the petals emerge right out of the tips of these weathered branches that have survived the winter cold, the driving rains and the months of dormancy. Life gives birth to life.

And so it is the same with us. In every moment, we are dying and being born, and in our times of transformation, we descend into the darkness, move through it, and if we stay with the intelligence of our own internal guidance, we emerge out into the light, budding with new life. The darkness is just as much a part of life as the light. We need to know one to know the other. Spring follows winter, summer turns to fall.

Life gives birth to life, and somewhere in the process something dies and transforms. It’s a circle that cannot be avoided, no matter how hard we might try. The past few years have been a patient teacher to me, providing me with the most gracious teachings on what it means to be fully alive to the circle of birth, death and transformation. And in these fecund teachings, I have become both painfully and joyously aware of what it means to be alive, not as a dry concept, but as rich experience. I have been humbled by the paradox I experience: the futility of trying to control anything at all, having the direct experience of life living exactly as life does, while at the same time knowing that I have the choice to follow that which compels me forward, a knowing at the deepest levels of my being that prods and pulls and pushes me into a place of complete undressing and exposure.


Which brings me to the blog-to-blog, post to post, conversation Jeanne Hewell-Chambers and I have been having, a conversation about voice, community and action.

Mother Teresa said some wise things about action:

“It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.”

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

It seems as if it is easy to get caught up in the ego’s desire to do big things to save the world. I know this well. And what I’ve experienced is that the desire to do big things causes me to spin into inaction, because I can’t even begin to know how to save the world. Does the world even need saving? I can make up all sorts of things about what I need to do if I am to make a difference. Yet somewhere within, a small voice stirs and is guiding me forth, if only I can listen.

I have come to see, through being aware of Life and how it unfolds, that all I can do is express my love for life in small actions, one step at a time. Life knows and I am an instrument of that knowing.

We are no different than the rest of nature for we, too, are nature. Just like the flowering cherry tree, what wants to emerge through me is pushing to unfold through me. What wants to emerge through you is causing something else in you to die, so that new life can be born.

In the dying paradigm, the old way of doing things that is on its way out, there was a central belief that a ‘big’ (powerful) person has to do something big to have an effect. This one person was the leader, the one others looked up to, the one others expected to take care of things.

In the new paradigm that is unfolding, things are different. We are beginning to see the strength of communities. Strong, supportive, truth-telling communities can bring collaboration and creativity and innovation. We’re beginning to see the possibilities that are there when many ordinary people do small things with great love and focus. Networks of people coming together, learning from each other, sparking ideas and doing small things with great love is the backbone of this new model.

If it sounds like small things have no power, think again. Imagine the force it takes for new blossoms to spring forth through gray, dry branches. It’s life force. It’s the same life force that is within you. The same life force that breathes you. The same life force that causes you to feel, to think, to love and to act.

In the end, trust yourself. Trust the urge in you that wants to propel you into action. The bigger intelligence can, and will, take care of the rest.

Do all of what you do with the great love that you are.

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