Salmons Song

Sometimes I go out for a day to ramble, no real direction in mind, no real goal. Perhaps just an inkling of a desire, a thought, a feeling I follow, such as “I really want to get out of the city today.” Or, as it was on a fine sunny day last week, “I wonder if I can find some Elderberries before first frost?”

There is something of the eternal in days like this when I leave all sense of “should” behind and follow my senses and the wise old beat of my heart. I drove up 26 that day towards the mountain, reveling in an unexpected day of freedom, and in my solitude, which is becoming increasingly comfortable for me as I adjust to life as a single woman again. 18 years in partnership left me far away from myself, on many levels, and these days half of what I do is simply learn to be me, on my own. This demands more of me than one could know unless they have traveled a similar path.

The sun was bright and shone in that early autumnal way, where gold fills all the spaces between, and the light imbues everything with a certain magic. Colors are brighter, or perhaps just different somehow, the sun hanging lower in the sky as we weave our way towards winter. Or maybe it is the knowing that days like that are few to come over the impending long darkness of winter in the Pacific Northwest, either way, the spell of the light was thick and lent itself greatly to the beauty of the day and my sense of enchantment.

I am a baby forager. By this, I do not mean that I forage for babies, in case you were beginning to worry and wonder if perhaps you are on the wrong blog. No, I tend to leave babies with their parents unless called into Auntie duty. I mean simply that my knowledge and skills in finding wild food are still growing and quite undeveloped as of yet. This being so, I was thrilled to see the plump clusters of dark purple my eyes were searching for, just off the roadside, even while traveling 45 miles an hour. I pulled over, flipped a U-turn, and parked on the shoulder. Basket in hand I made my way to the Elderberry bushes, and after a word of gratitude and a prayer of asking for permission to harvest, I began. Those deep blue, purple fruits, so tiny and fine, coming easily into my basket as if there was no place on earth they would rather be.

I am stunned, awestruck by the generosity of the earth with great frequency. Especially in my garden that freely gives me mountains of cabbage and potatoes, beans, corn, and beets. Yet there is some real labor involved on my end, a bit of a give and take. Foraging is like Christmas. “For me? Really!? Why thank you!” My basket half full in 10 minutes, I bowed my thanks and kissed tenderly the plants leaves, having nothing to offer but my gratitude and praying that this was enough for the code of reciprocity to be upheld.

Handful of Joy

Back on the highway and with my prized berries, I knew the day was not done, and drove east again, heading towards a place I know so well, to be as close as I was and not pay a visit felt like sacrilege. Bigleaf maples, dripping with golden leaves, hung low over the road as I turned off the highway and onto Salmon River Rd, heading towards a favorite trail, long beloved by my family. I love the way places become kin when you visit enough, much like human friends. This place fills me with a sense of belonging, of knowing and being known. Of all the beauty I have seen in this glorious old world, there is really no place I would rather be than Oregon old-growth forest.

I was not geared up for a real hike, a saunter was more my desire so I took my bag, with my water and journal and walked along the river trail, searching for a place to land for a while, a place in the sun, to put my pen to paper. A poem had been tugging at my heart asking to be born for 5 days, and it was time to let that baby come to life. I found some sun, and a large smooth rock, just the right size for me to sit on, contemplated taking off my shoes but that water, even in early October is so cold, I kept them on. I wrote, and marveled at the beauty of it all, the simple grace of my days, the quiet. All the struggle and worry I carry so heavily on my shoulders felt a million miles away. In that golden afternoon it was just me, and the river and the wild old trees, and God, and as I would soon find out, Salmon.

Poem finished and I stashed my book away, sauntering along the riverbank to a deeper pool I love, one with a pebbled beach, a hole deep enough for a dip on a warmer day. Looking out over that sacred place, sun streaming in the crisp blue sky, I smelled river, and cedar and humus and… Salmon.

I searched the shoreline until I saw her, nearly beached but still in the water, nearly dead but still breathing. Eyes mostly cloudy, but still seeing. I knelt beside her, eye to eye we looked at one another. And I began to sing, a song that came from where, I don’t know, but it moved through me like it was there all along like it had been waiting for just this moment to be born, right now for me, and for her. ” I don’t know how the Salmon sings, I don’t know how the birds get wings, but I am woman and for this I give praise, my body is my vessel for all my days, my body is my vessel for all my days…”

As I sang I began to move, clearing pebbles to make a clear smooth surface, gathering stones, pine cones, and moss, small bright rose hips. My hands making an image of a fish, an image of her, from the materials I gathered, an act of art to show my love, a physical prayer for her and her kind, a way of being in the presence of her dying, and her living, and the place where those two met, which was now and here. I placed three rose hips to be her heart and one last stone to be her eye. The working complete and the prayers prayed, I went to sit beside her once again.

Land art- For her heart and for mine

I beheld her in her dying for quite some time, not close enough to scare her, or at least I don’t think so. I noticed others then, their bodies already in various stages of decomposition, her sisters…all around her as she lay dying. I was so moved by this, even as I type these words the tears pour hot down my cheeks. I was and am moved, not by the sorrow of the thing, though that is present as well, but more by the strength, her strength. To travel hundreds of miles to her home place, through struggles unknown, following only the call of her body, her sense of smell, and the knowledge of home. To lay her eggs and then her body down to die in those cold dark waters, next to the bodies of her kin, the cycle complete, she had only her last breaths left.

My Salmon Teacher – Thank you

The knowing hit me like a strong wind, a force, a voice almost audible, but not quite, audible in my heart and bones and sinew, “why would you think you deserve more than Salmon?”

See, I am always praying for direction. I joke that creator needs to make some neon glowing arrows to toss at me so I can find my way, my mortal mind so dense I can’t seem to figure out what comes next. But maybe I have had it all wrong, maybe all I need to do, all I can do, is follow the tides in my body and my sense of smell, all the way to home. Maybe I need to leave behind the concept of a mortal body and crawl deep down into my creature body once again, it all seemed so simple, so apparent. What hubris I have been inhabiting. I would have laughed if I’d not been crying.

Why do I cling so tightly to this concept of “should?” Where in nature is there any such thing? “What should come next, what should I do, how should I be…” Does Salmon sing that tired old song? No. She simply swims in the direction of home and completes the cycle.

It would be terribly human-centric to say she came to teach me a lesson that day, but I know I came to learn a lesson, and I was fortunate to find her and to be slow enough to see her, and to be ripe enough to listen to the voice on the wind and in my heart. We humans, the younger sibling of all creatures, so brazen with self-obsession, looking only in behind our own eyes, miss so much. If there is one thing life is teaching me each day and each year, it is to slow down, open my eyes, and be amazed. As our beloved Mary Oliver has said, “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” It may be there is nothing more I need to know.

I give great thanks for this learning. For my teachers who come in all forms, plant, fungi, human, animal, celestial, and, Salmon.

Driving home that day I let the sounds of the forest travel with me, I sang my simple song and let the cars drive by, busy in their doing-ness, and I quiet in my undoing-ness. Unbuttoning the heavy coat of shoulds, and sliding it off my shoulders, one note at a time. All I must be is woman, with my full- broken heart, with all my joy, with my one precious life. I ask for nothing more, I ask for no more than Salmon. May I be so fortunate.

The Good old Salmon River
Forest Magic

In Defense of a Simple Life

I can’t sleep. Up too late with thoughts running circles round my mind. It seems that life is moving faster all the time, each year, no, each month, swifter than the last. I can’t catch up. Here, in this culture where woman wear busyness like a badge of honor, I just want it all to slow down.

I an eternal optimist, I can’t help it, I try to be surly at times but to no avail. I always optimistically believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that I will have more “free” time, sometime in the near future…but sometime is never here. It looms, ever in the future, just out of reach, I could almost touch it if I just reach a little bit farther.

The ideal of the woman who can do everything is a crock of shit. I know this,I feel it in my bones. I know how marketing works, how swindled we all are. If it isn’t a fashion mag we are comparing ourselves with, its that perfect remodel on HGTV. There is no end to the cascade of false ideals dumped on our doorsteps each day. How can we know what is real amidst this storm of consumerist coercion? It insidiously creeps into our minds, thoughts we thought were our own, when opened for examination have no origin in us. This is madness. This drives us to madness.

I myself, am in a daily struggle. The desire to “produce” more, be it income, social capital, or even beauty. Weighed against the truth that I am tired, and I don’t want to play the game anymore.  I cannot hold it all up, and hold it to the standard that I desire to. Things begin to crumble. I cannot be it all, I cannot do it all. I feel this, and I am in a two income family with one grown child. What must this feel like for my friends with little ones at home and bills piling up on bills? Is this the equality we have been fighting for? Somehow it feels like we have missed the mark. “killin it” seems to be killing us.
And yes, of course this is a grand generalization, and I can only speak from my point of view. Still, I see so many women suffering under the delusion that we can multi-task our way to a picture perfect life, that it is time to pull back the curtain on that lie, expose it’s ugly underbelly and begin to engage in some real revolutionary work.

Could it be that in my relentless pursuit of becoming, I have lost myself? Lost the thread I am meant to hold throughout my life, the thread that William Stafford calls to us to cling tightly to? If this is what matters, and I think it does, what has to be sacrificed? What must I lay down in order to have a hand to hold the thread in?

There is this thing, called “too much” that surrounds us. We are so inundated by the cultural messages of acquisition that we fail to see how deep this patterning is. Peers of mine who eschew the commercialized ideals of the “American Dream” (who knows what that even means anymore) still ascribe to the doctrine of acquisition and hope, through a Hodge podge of progressive spiritual ideals that are in fact selling us the same thing. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I am not above this, how many weekend courses have I taken trying to become a better version of me? How many crystals and smudges do I have right now in this very room where I write? Spiritual capitalism at its finest.

It seems that the only way to get off this mad train is to turn and face it looming behind me. To stand firmly in my two shoes and say “no more!” I am unwilling to trade growth for depth any longer. I am unwilling to sacrifice the sanctity of my life to meet some ideal that is not even my own. I will no longer be 3 miles wide and 2 inches deep, I want to be a  well, a spring,  dig deep and find sweet water, here.

I am learning to identify barriers to connection in my life, competition is one, perfectionism is right up there as well. What can I reclaim, or claim for the first time to bring sanity back into my life? I’ve been thinking on this and simple as it sounds, and not surprisingly, I think it has something to do with vulnerability and acceptance. If I can learn to see all the ways I am striving towards unreal expectations or doctrines, than maybe I can turn myself around. Connection is the antidote to bullshit, in fact,  I am pretty sure it is the antidote to all the woes of western civilization.

When I allow myself to be vulnerable, to show my multi layered imperfection, I am open to connection. I can have friends at my house that is messy, I can eat with joy and abandon without concern for what others think of my size or shape, I can speak my mind and heart, not tip toe around others. Which in this PC world feels like it is more an more necessary. Truly, it is not. Disagreeing with someone does not mean you don’t love them. In fact, differing opinions are a healthy thing, if we are all the same it is pretty boring out there.

So I am learning to be uncomfortable, to listen when the feelings of ” I need to be….” arise. It takes so many forms, there are so many things and ways I have been taught I need to be to, to  be worthy, to be accepted. It is a lie. I am, and will be, a whole healthy human woman, even if I don’t meet the standards, even if I look a little frazzled at the edges. I am taking a stand. Because you know what? No one else is going to do it for me. I am going deep, holy well deep. I plant my feet on this soil I call home and I will stay here. I will joyfully  grow my food, raise my hens, sleep beside my husband. I will listen to the quite yearning of my own sweet heart, and stay, home. I will, day by day divorce myself from the system that says I must be more. I am enough. I am woman,  I am home, and I am grateful.

Marianna Louise Jones

*image is of St Fumac’s holy well, Canmore Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Measure of Worth

What does it mean to be worthy? This thought has been gathering in the corners of my mind for some time now, and in fact I have done some writing on this line of inquiry, but nothing that seems to articulate the true question I have fermenting in my heart. It is not how does one become worthy, but what does this worthy even mean, and where did this concept originate from?

In Indigenous cultures living their original life ways the idea that one could be worthy or unworthy would seem preposterous. Being human, being alive, you are obviously part of the fabric of life and therefore belonging to your people, sharing in life and community, and the joys and struggles therein. I am reminded as I write this of the stories of early missionaries attempting to bring the concept of original sin and baptism to native populations, who were so thrown off by the idea that they would just laugh at the missionaries. It was preposterous! Of course babies are not born as sinners, what an insane concept that it. I believe those cultures, so much older and wiser then our own, would have had the same reaction to this idea, spoken and unspoken that we all carry here in the west, that we are somehow unworthy and can attain worthiness through actions and appearances. Through becoming something other than what we are right now.

The etymological roots of the word worth come from multiple sources and cultures and vary some through the ages.  Many sources state a connection to value, price or merit. Old English, weorp, has the meaning of high value, equivalent, prized, but also hence, and toward. So you see even woven into the roots of this word we so casually and thoughtlessly use is this idea that we are heading toward something, that we are becoming. My teacher Stephen Jenkinson eloquently speaks about the concept of hope being a cruel sort of tyranny. I would propose that this idea of worth and the false god of hope live very close to one another, perhaps they are even bedfellows.

The idea that hope is anything less than a supreme healing and guiding force has been a hard sell for me I must say. I have long loved and quoted our dear Emily Dickenson’s poem that so beautifully states “hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” It has taken some time, sweat and befuddlement to arrive where I sit today, knowing that in hope we lose the moment we are in, forgoing the life we are in for an illusory golden someday that will, as much as we desire it to, never come to pass. When I fall into judgment of how my life looks, when I question my value in the world, my worth, I collapse into the idea that someday I will be more than I am now. This is a false belief.

I do not mean to say that I will never change, no contrary to that, I am changing all the time. I grow older, and a little wiser. I become more grounded and kinder. All this is true. And yes I can make more money and travel, finally write a book, get in better shape. All this can happen. Yet none of this changes who I am , and none of it affects my worth, or perceived lack there of. I am, by birthright, whole. This idea that is lodged in our culture and thereby in me, that I will someday be more worthy, is an illusion, a false god, a decoy.

I believe that trying to be of more worth, takes me away from the deeper work of  trying to be more me. It isn’t just me suffering with this affliction. I would wager that most of us, living in the west, suffer with this same damaged and distorted thinking. Fall prey tp that false god of perfection and attainment, and go to bed worrying about what we aren’t and what we could be, if we tried harder, if we had more self control, if we had a different set of circumstances at our doorstep. I know I do. I know many nights my last thought is a plan of how I will do better tomorrow, and on waking my first thought is how I will do better today. The idea of just being ok with how I am now, and now, and now…seems almost impossible. What would I do with my life if I was not chasing some ghost of perfection and worth?

The self help world does not help. I can scarcely begin to imagine how many guides to finding your worth, creating self worth rituals and becoming worthy there are lining the shelves of the local new age bookstores. The sorrowful thing is that as well meaning as this all is, it is actually nothing more than a distraction and a fantasy. What if we could simply feel that we were already worthy, that we have great value, that we are in fact mandatory to life as we know it. How would it feel to live in that reality? Awesome, it would feel awesome. You know who would not feel awesome about it? The publishers of self help books, the marketers that sell us products, the fashion industry, the car sales lots. The list could go on and on.

The capitalist, puritanical, colonizing voice of our culture sings loudly in our ears, ‘you are not enough” from the cradle to the grave, and we listen. We listen and we purchase. If we stay distracted by this never ending hunt for value and a sense of worth, we will continue chasing our tails in circles in a dark room. It is by turning to face the faceless voice that beguiles us, and challenging it that we can begin to come into right relationship with our own lives and the lives of those around us. You cannot put a price on that. It is valueless, or, is in invaluable.

As a woman living in North America I am personally deeply and darkly acquainted with this quest for feeling enough, and I see it in other woman as well. We all walk around quoting the same two lies, I am fine, and everything is ok. We say it so much we believe it, we say it so much when another woman breaks the mold, we condemn her. We are our own thought police. Living in cages that we have created and enforced, the cell walls of our own denial of suffering. In failing to speak our fears and inadequacies we add bars to the cage, so that less light can come through. All this is part of the ruthless oppression of the concept of worth and the constant searching and hoping that we can become more worthy and more whole.

I do not know how to banish from  mind and spirit the idea that I am unworthy. I do not know how to disconnect from my cultural conditioning and let go of these thought patterns that live so deeply in me. This way of viewing myself and my life may be here for the long haul. Thank god I do know, that I do not have to believe everything I think, and that shame cannot live in the light. It is dwells in the unspoken darkness and does not care for conversation. In being brave enough to dissect in myself this worthiness lie, and speaking of this process to others, I am putting a nail in the coffin of this manifestation of our cultural madness.

Healing does not happen in isolation, it happens in community. In the community that I share my sorrow, grief and shame in, and in my own inner community. I am learning to welcome home the parts of me that I have been hiding from. Learning that the very things I have felt made me unworthy are actually some of my greatest gifts. Retrieving  the pieces of me that I abandoned and beginning to do the work of figuring out why I abandoned them in the first place. This internal family that makes up who I am.

Instead of measuring my worth, I want to feel my life. Knowing that simply being here is enough.. The pleasures of having a body, a quite moment alone before dawn, the unspeakable beauty of morning birdsong. I am as whole as the birds that sing, as worthy of life’s beauty and abundance as the squirrels that visit each day. I do not have to be, do or change anything in order to claim my place in the order of things. I simply and sweetly show up in my life, and today, that is enough.