Tuesday, November 25, 2014

7:30 BELLS: “Praisegiving” and Thanksgiving

How is praise different from gratitude? Thanksgiving sets off the rounds of giving and expressing thanks for what is good in our lives. But I must confess, these recitations of the “be-gratitudes,” have always made me feel a little “squirrely,” as my father-in-law would say. When my turn comes at the table, the turkey steaming expectantly, I want to bolt. I’ve never understood why. There is nothing wrong, and much right, with saying things like:

  • I’m grateful for the sun and all this glorious world.
  • I’m thankful for the hands that prepared this feast.
  • I’m grateful for the heart that holds love.

Only when I began reading the work of the ecstatic poets such as Mirabai, Rilke, Dickinson, Whitman, did I understand why recitations of gratitude made me “squirrely.” The ecstatic poets essentially praise the world, people, objects, and whatever their conception of the divine is. Praising flows outward, and seems less self-oriented than gratitude. It’s about the world instead of me. Notice how you can drop the subject, I:

  • Praise the sun, and all this glorious world.
  • Praise the hands that prepared this feast.
  • Praise the heart that holds love.

Now this type of giving thanks I love and could do all day. So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to try “Praisegiving,” aloud and in silence, and see if that is my way to resound with the day. So I will start with the Lore of the Bell:

Praise the bells that ring and ring

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.
Winter Bells will be announced next week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Unleaving . . . The Price of Coming Home

The golden leaves on this tree are a threshold—so I thought as I stood beneath it in the wind. On the frontier of transformation, magic happens that enables the fall from one life into another. The leaves are unleaving . . . first leaving green behind, then turning gold in a grand exit before leaving the tree forever.

We fear such moments of change, even when we see them coming. I know I don’t like the uncertainty and the discomfort of the inbetween. Here’s a list of a few of such moments: 

The gold is when you leave one home or place, for another.
The gold is getting married.
The gold is having children.
The gold is leaving one kind of work for another.
The gold is leaving one love for another.
The gold is dying.

What courage it all takes. But when I look at this tree, listen to it, and think what I might become, I'm determined to find the courage. I want this moment of gold, want what it leads to. So I’ll pay the price. 

What is the price? Unleaving . . . leaving our current connectedness, whatever that may be, and for awhile become disconnected, marginal, outside. Bearing the discomfort of being a threshold person, and learning to value it,  in a society that doesn’t.

Anthropologist Victor Turner talks about this in his book, The Ritual Process. A threshold person endures not only the loss of their identity, but also their status in the world. They are considered outsiders, outcasts.  I think it is because threshold people make us anxious, make us secretly fear we might be living an unexamined life.

 But a threshold person emerges from transformation to re-connect with the world in a new way.

So when it’s your time to turn gold, don’t hurry. Savor it. Become a vessel for the ambiguous state. The golden door is the one to walk through in order to move from an old life into a new one.

 In this season of change, may we all find the courage to ring with gold when need calls, and then fall with our own grace into whatever awaits us next.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.
Winter Bells will be announced soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: The Body as Bell, by Martha Brockenbrough

What a privilege to share this post by brilliant YA author Martha Brockenbrough. Prepare to bedazzled!

I’m a sucker for a show of any kind. Give me a darkened theater. Turn on a spotlight. Transport me some place new and magical.

I expected this to happen that night ten years ago when I went to my first Cirque de Soleil performance. The tent was huge: sapphire blue and sun yellow on the outside, dark as night within. We had seats close enough to the stage to read the expression of the ringmaster, whose presence was utterly magnetic.

But what truly took me away were the acrobats suspended from the ceiling on wide ribbons of silk. The way they could make it look effortless to weave their limbs through the cloth—something I knew was extraordinarily difficult—made me wonder what it would be like to so fully inhabit my own flesh that way.

I’d become something of a head in a jar in my adulthood. Although I’d spent my childhood playing soccer, swimming, and running, I’d left the competitions behind when I went to college to focus on other my future.

It had always felt like my future would depend on my mind, after all. I had this notion sealed the summer I worked as a strap cutter in a golf bag manufacturing company, holding on to strips of nylon as I lowered the hot blade with my foot, an experience that convinced me that the more of your work you could do with your brain, the better.

And yet.

Life is not all work. And while it is a fine thing to feed your mind, it’s easy to forget there is a body that is attached, a body that hungers for movement, a body that is perhaps capable of mind-changing things. I wanted to return to mine.

And so, after that Cirque de Soleil show I signed myself up for yoga classes, which required me do move in ways I’d never moved before. I also took mixed martial arts classes and learned how to kick and punch. How to strike a target with kali sticks in each hand. I took up weight lifting. And lately, I have started a form of exercise called suspension training, which brings me as close to the acrobatics of Cirque de Soleil as I will ever get.

Hanging from a pair of straps like the ones I used to cut in my factory job, I jump. I balance. I pull myself skyward. It’s often painful and always exhausting, and I look nothing like the ethereal acrobats in a tent glowing with artificial stars. But it feels magical deep inside my cells. My muscles burn. My heart pounds. I breathe deeply. I drip sweat. My whole body vibrates like a bell that has been struck.

Invariably, I work so hard that I cannot think. And in these moments, it feels as though I have ventured out of the mind that rules me. But this isn’t quite it. It’s more that I have built up the kingdom I was always meant to inhabit: the one where I am both a brain and a body, a complex and complete human being striving to be better, stronger, smarter, more fully and deeply myself than I was the day before.

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of Devine Intervention, The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy, and the forthcoming young adult novel The Game of Love and Death. She grew up in Seattle, where she played the viola in string quartets and symphonies. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, and entertainment journalist. A lover of games, she also wrote questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. She founded National Grammar Day, volunteers with Readergirlz.com, and lives in Seattle with her family of musicians and their two tone-deaf dogs. Learn more at:


7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on December 9 for a guest post with author Holly Schindler.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Bridges in the Pea Patch: Creating a Discipline of Attention

In this community garden in West Seattle, mosaic tiles are tucked among the vegetables. Can you hear the exuberant conversation between the red stones and the red rhubarb? I love finding places like this, places where someone else’s vision creates a bridge that already leads halfway to the bells. All we have to do is notice and step across to hear the bells ring.

All we have to do. Sometimes that “all” is a pretty big one. How do you keep paying attention to what makes you feel most alive in the middle of all the grit of life?

There's a reason why religious orders like monastaries call practitioners to worship many times a day. (Matins. Lauds. Vespers, Compline, etc. . . . ) With all the distractions of life, we need to keep what is most important constantly in view. So 
I’m creating a disciplined practice in my life to facilitate paying attention to what makes me feel exuberantly alive.

Places do, certainly, but also books, art, ideas, kinds of work, and certain people. Commit every day to doing one thing that makes you feel alive. Reading a poem. Reading a book that points you in the direction of your passion. Dancing. Looking at a tree. Walking in the park. Meditating.

Look for the bridge.

People can be bridges, too. In this age of hyperactive connectivity, it’s important to maintain bridges to many different experiences. But I need my home place. I need to live where I can sing my best life song. That means being with people with whom I feel most at home, people who value my edges, who honor what I am trying to become. People who are bridges to ringing.

A practice of paying attention helps create bridges where there are none. This is useful not only for getting where you want to be, but also for escaping somewhere you don’t want to be. Instead of paralyzing yourself with the enormity of building a Golden Gate Bridge, just throw rocks into the water and hop across. (Mosaic stones through vegetable gardens work just fine, too.)

I want to live in a place where red rhubarb talks to red stone. Live a life tuned to hear such conversations when they happen, a life with people who know such conversations are possible and help create bridges to them.

Create a discipline of finding what brings you alive
and the bells will ring on their own.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.