I have a few half-written posts waiting for my attention here, most of them about cheery things like death and grief. Lately these topics are pretty close to my heart, and I do want to finish them up. For now, though, I’d like to share something pretty exciting.
On August 1st, a new website was launched to support a group that I’m affiliated with. Collectively we are called Expanding Inward, for reasons that make a great deal of sense to us, at least. Together, we offer group workshops, primarily in the form of weekend intensives using myth and story as a template for personal and spiritual growth.
You know what, here’s a better way of saying it, taken from our not-quite-mission-statement:
Expanding Inward creates, facilitates and celebrates opportunities to gather in a safe, supportive and healthy community context, encouraging deeply personal positive life transformation through Earth-based, ecstatic ritual. In doing this work together, we honor depth, inclusivity, spontaneity and the sacred in all of its manifestations.
We’ve actually held two successful events already, one last September and the second in March of this year. Organizing and promoting those events was made more difficult by the fact that we weren’t really “official” yet. The people who hosted us did an amazing job despite that limitation, and it’s my hope that by having a website (and something to call ourselves) will help make that process easier. Also, it just feels good to say, “Hey, here we are. This is what we do, and we’d love to have you join us.”
So, hey. Here we are. We’d love to have you join us. There are a couple of amazing events coming up, one in just a couple of months!
Three weeks ago today, I was packing up for a trip to Missouri. It was the sort of flurry of activity that I tend to retreat into when I know that slowing down is going to force me to look closely at my feelings, and lord knows we can’t have that. That said, one of my self-imposed intentions right now is to be as present to myself as I try to be to others, so I decided to pause for a moment.
For this draw, I pulled two cards. I’ll talk a bit about the purpose of the draw in a bit.
The Six of Cups
So, we have a lovely picture of two children, one boy and one girl. There are six chalices filled with beautiful flowers, and the boy is handing one of them to the girl. In the background, and armed adult stands, seemingly guarding the children from possible harm. I note that there is no threat visible or even implied in the image. So is the guard superflous, or is the threat kept at bay by his presence? Let’s come back to that in a moment.
The adorable children are straight out of central casting, aren’t they? One can almost hear their ultra-serious voices declaring their affection for one another. It’s that sort of interaction that most adults are obliged to say, “Awwww,” when they observe. They’re cute as hell, but what stands out for me is innocence. They seem to have eyes only for the beauty around them – the flowers, the sky, their friendship. If their lives are destined to be complicated someday, they don’t seem to know it. Their affection for one another is the most important thing facing them, and there is an innocent, lovely vulnerability there.
Now, back to that guard for a moment. He is pretty clearly making his rounds of the area. It could be that it’s simply his job, but given the rest of the image, I think it’s a bit more than that. It feels to me like the children are innocent, and innocence deserves to be protected. The guard’s job is to keep the adorable children sae so that they are free to be innocent.
I’ve drawn this card a number of times, and I have a complicated relationship with it. The Emperor is a symbol of structure and mastery. His power is the power of tradition and law, of rule and hierarchy. He rules because it is proper that he do so, and his appearance demonstrates that clearly. I mean, look at him. He’s the very image of patriarchal authority, isn’t he? He has his crown, his throne…he appears, to me, to be absolutely certain of his place and his rule.
One thing I really notice about the Emperor is his armor. While his crown and other symbols are golden, his armor isn’t. It appears to me to be functional, not symbolic. I look at the Emperor and see someone set in his ways, perhaps too rigid for his own good, but also someone who epitomizes strength and a willingness to stand and defend his lands and his people. If not for the armor, I think I would like him a lot less.
So, how about those cards, man?
Yeah. We have these two two very different images, one of innocence and vulnerability, and the other of strength and protection. The first was drawn for my father, and the second for me. I drew them about 32 hours before he died. There was no question that he was very close to death by then, of course, and I was looking for some idea of what to hope for for each of us, and what to attempt to manifest in myself, and what to try and make possible for him.
I look back at those children now, at their innocence and the single-mindedness that can come about when one is safe and innocent. It’s easy to see my father there. After 67 years of life, several of them spent suffering through a series of a series of illnesses and medical problems I hoped he would be spared, he had only one task left. It was time for him to let go, to set down the burdens that had, in many ways, defined years of his life.
But it’s not ever that simple, is it? In the spiritual work that I’ve participated in and offered, we often say that doing that sort of work requires safety above all other things. Vulnerability requires that it be safe to be vulnerable.
Enter, once again, that soldier standing guard over the children. And enter, too, the Emperor. Strength and power, protection and defense of that which he loves. If the images from these cards were part of the same story, I would like to imagine that the Emperor sent the solider to watch over those children. To do what he could, however little that might be, to make them safe.
Sadly, I am no Emperor, and Dad’s work wasn’t so easy as that of the adorable children…but the intention to be strong and to embody strength and safety for him to the best of my ability? That sure felt right to me. Still does, in fact.
The memorial mass for my dad was last Saturday, and I had an opportunity to speak briefly. I am not the sort to write out what I’m going to say ahead of time verbatim, so this isn’t a perfect reconstruction. It’s fairly close, though.
In my spiritual tradition, we often say this about our beloved dead: “What is remembered, lives.”
“What is remembered, lives.” It’s so simple, isn’t it? In the abstract, I’ve always thought of that as a very comforting thing. It feels like it should be easy to remember, because of course I want my dad to live on. I want him to be remembered and to live.
Well, after a little less than two weeks of this, I can report this: Remembering sucks. It’s hard. Not because there aren’t good memories and good stories. There are plenty of both. But sharing even the best stories reminds me that there won’t be any new stories about Dad…well, okay, we might make up some new ones, but they won’t be true. And remembering even the happiest times we spent together makes me realize all over again that those memories are a finite resource. We won’t have the opportunity to make new ones.
So. Remembering sucks, and it is hard. But I am also newly aware of how important that work of remembering is, precisely because it is hard. Dad’s was a life worth remembering. So, briefly, here are a couple of things I’ll remember about him.
The first took place right here. In high school, I served as a lector here at Sacred Heart. I remember one time, I was absolutely butchering a reading. In my defense, 21 years after the fact, I would like to point out that it was a very difficult reading, with lots of names and lots of “begats”. I still remember the expression on my Dad’s face as I stumbled through it. He had a look of complete exasperation that was really something to behold. Some of you have probably seen that expression before. I saw it…well, let’s say it was turned toward me pretty often. While he didn’t say anything directly, I eventually learned something from the experience. What he taught me with that look was that if I was going to do something to be of service, if I was going to do something that mattered, then I had to bring all of myself to it. I should have prepared more for that reading. I should have committed myself to it, if the work was that important to me.
The second memory is really a sense of generosity of spirit and welcoming that I always had from him. I’ve made a lot of choices that are different from the ones my dad made. I live a life that isn’t the one he chose for himself. But even so, I never felt anything but love and respect from him or from my mom. There’s a reason that Thanksgiving is, was, and always will be my favorite day of the year. It’s because no matter what, I was always free to bring whoever I wanted to join us for the holiday, and I always knew without a doubt that they would be welcomed and treated like family, without hesitation or question. That unquestioning generosity is amazing, and completely unique in my experience. If there is one thing from Dad’s life that I want to manifest in my own, that’s it.
There is one last thing that I’d like to share today, and I’ll admit that I’m a little uncertain about doing so. I mentioned before that my spiritual tradition and my dad’s were very different. As I’ve thought about it, though, I’m struck by certain points of intersection. There’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius that serves as a great example of that for me. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the 2nd century, and he was also a stoic philosopher. These words may not reflect Dad’s beliefs, per se, but they reflect how he lived, at least as I observed him.
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
Thank you, Dad. I love you.
My father died Monday morning at about 12:30am. He was surrounded by loved ones right until the end, and while I am heartbroken by his passing I am also exhaling in relief that he is no longer suffering. His last few years were hard ones physically, but always with the sense (until very recently) that once he conquered the current issue, things would improve. Often they would, for a while, and then another problem (or combination of problems) would crop up. By the end, he was just in so much pain that being able to rest is certainly a horrible, relieved blessing.
I did make it down here in time to be present for his last hours, which is another horrible sort of blessing in its own right. I am thankful for the opportunity to witness him in those hours, and doubly thankful that those of us who were here were steadfast in our messages to him. The chorus of “We love you, and it’s time for you to rest,” delivered in different words from each of us, will be a haunting reminder of what it really means to love someone so much that you want what’s best for them even to your own detriment.
I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has held me and my family in their hearts over the past little while. It means so much to feel your love and support.
As for me, at the moment I’m a giant mess. I know that will change in good ways and bad as time passes, and I’m doing what I can to simply be where I am for as much of this process as is possible. I suspect that I will be wildly imperfect at that.
I have some more words percolating, ones that I imagine will come out here in the coming days and weeks. For now, though, there is little to say other than that I am relieved and heartbroken.
It’s 3am and I am in the car, 50 miles from my parents’ place. I am hoping to make it there in time to say my goodbyes while Dad is still alive, but I’m (mostly) okay with the possibility that that won’t happen.
Not much else to say right now other than that life is hard. Thanks to everyone who has shared kind thoughts recently, and I’m sorry I haven’t been as responsive as I would like.
It was 3 days after I heard the prognosis before I talked to my dad. Mom and I had spoken on the phone a couple of times by then, and I had some good excuses all set up in my head for focusing on her instead.
“I’m sure Dad is tired,” for instance. Or, “Well, Mom said he’s got a lot of visitors right now. I don’t want to overload him.” Or, “What the fuck am I supposed to say?”
Actually, that last one was pretty close to accurate. The thing is, really, that I don’t really talk to Dad about big things very much. We talk, most of the time, about business, or how their rental property is doing, or something ridiculous that happened in our neightborhood in Chicago. On occasion our conversation will veer into more intimate topics, and we both welcome that, but it never seems like neither of us is actively looking to initiate that shift.
It’s not that we have a poor relationship. After a few rough years where I was an adolescent asshole (and a post-adolescent asshole), we’ve been pretty close. Close, but not intimate. So what do you talk about, with someone with whom you are close but not intimate, when one of the most intimate things possible is actively happening to them?
If you are me, you talk about the weather.
Yep, the weather.
Boy it sure is beautiful this weekend isn’t it and wasn’t that snow crazy a couple of weeks back and at the beginning of spring too, hah it sure didn’t feel like Spring, did it? Oh and you won’t believe this but our garage was broken into AGAIN and our lawnmower was stolen for the second time and you know it’s crazy how much I like mowing the yard here which is a good thing I guess since I’m sure not saving any money doing it myself if I have to replace my mower every year. Well it sounds like you have a busy night ahead of you so I should let you go I love you and I’ll call again soon.
Next time I think I need notes to have a real conversation with my father. Maybe something like, “What do you need from me? You know I’ll drop anything I can for you, right? I’ge got your back, Dad, whatever you need.”
Oh, and how about that weather, eh?
So, my dad is dying of liver cancer.
There’s more to the story than that, of course. Even so, when the bottom line is that he’s dying, I’m finding that the rest of the story rather less compelling.
Since receiving this news a few days ago, I’ve found myself with a desire to write about…something. Not my feelings, necessarily, since those are rather obvious (I’m sad, angry, et cetera). If not my feelings about the situation, then perhaps my actions. Which are fascinating, of course. Thus far I have cried, fretted, said maudlin things, failed to sleep, and perhaps played a few more computer games than is entirely healthy.
So I’m not really sure that there’s much to say that will be of interest to anyone other than myself, and I’m also aware that my parents might prefer that I not, you know, share every detail about what’s happening with the world. Even so, there’s at least a small sense of relief that I get from writing. For now, I’ll put these posts under a password, and share it with those who ask for it. The posts might become more public at some point. In the meantime, I figure the password protection will also make it easier to skip over this stuff, for those who might prefer to do that.
In a little less than three weeks, I will leave my job at the bank for a couple of days so I can head to Kansas City to present at an event called “The Seduction of Spring: Persephone Ascends.” I will stop teaching clients about an updated corporate credit card management system (and stop teaching my coworkers about how to behave like reasonable human beings) in favor of joining a team of amazing teachers to facilitate workshops on personal growth, cycles of the natural world, myth and magic, and, with a little luck, assist in offering a little bit of life-changing spiritual work. You know, like you do.
(I will also, for those couple of days, take about a 90% pay cut. But that’s neither here nor there.)
In any case, we’re very much in the midst of planning the details of the event. Don’t get me wrong – the broad strokes and theme were settled months ago, but as we get closer to the big day and get a sense of how many people have registered (and who they are), it’s time to put some more form into place and shape the theme into something more concrete. This is the point in the process that is either a lot of fun or a little terrifying. Or both.
While doing some brainstorming today, I remembered that it’s been approximately forever since I wrote up a tarot draw here. I’ve been working with the cards a little more often recently, but none of those questions have been particularly fit for public consumption. I figured that this was a good time to
Question: What should I keep at the front of my mind while planning the Persephone event?
Card: The World (no shit, The World)
First impressions: Well, I suppose a more perfect card could have come up, but I’m not sure what it would be.
About the card: We have an almost-naked woman floating in a bright blue sky, in the center of a green ring. Surrounding her are four clouds, each with a different head in it. From the top left and working around, there’s a man, an eagle, a lion and a bull. The woman is holding a wand (?) in each hand and has a long piece of fabric sort-of draped arond her. Her hair and the cloth are both blowing back over her shoulder, as if caught in the wind.
The story without words: It’s difficult for me to put a narrative on this particular card. With only one person there, and that one pretty obviously not, you know, a run of the mill human being, I find myself jumping pretty quickly from “What’s the story?” to “What does it mean, man?” One thing I will say, though. The lady isn’t standing still. She looks like she’s running, or dancing. She seems to be pretty pleased with herself. I imagine that if I was able to fly, I’d feel much the same.
Okay, and one other interesting note. The imagery here is actually very similar to that of the Wheel of Fortune, where we have similar images in the corners of the card, and of course a circular pattern in the center. But while that card draws attention to the edge of the circle, The World seems to be all about being right there in the center, where one isn’t in danger of being thrown off the wheel entirely.
But what does it mean?: Well, if we consider the cards in the Major Arcana as a single trip through life, The World is at the end of that journey. I like to imagine that way back at the beginning, the Fool (or Jason) took a tumble off the edge of the cliff and entered life, learning lessons from each of the cards along the way. And now, at the end, what do we find? Dancing, and flight, and magic, and joy.
And also mystery, I think. Persephone’s story is one of cycles. She returns to to the Underworld for half of the year, and then to the world Above for the other half. The pattern repeats itself every year, and the world is changed by it. Her movement from Above to Below is, in that myth, the explanation for why the Earth has seasons. So this looks like a card of fulfillment, and journey’s end…but isn’t that also the beginning of another journey? What will Persephone learn in the next cycle? What will the Fool learn in his next life? What draws each of us over that cliff?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty geeked about this event now.
It’s safe to say that the last few months have been rough ones for me. Emotional, interpersonal and financial stresses have been weighing on me, ranging from the pretty much usual frustrations about work and my minor role in contributing to the evils of the world (working for one of the largest banks in the world is not, as it happens, my dream job) to exceptionally unpleasant feelings of helplessness around my family, my home and the people I care about most. November and December, in particular, included several conversations similar to this:
Concerned friend: “Jason, how are things going for you these days?”
Jason: “Well, my life is just as shitty as they were last week, and since last week it was as shitty as I can remember my life ever being, I’d guess I’d say that I’m not doing so good.”
Concerned friend: “Oooooookay…..”
So, you know. Good times for everyone around me.
The biggest frustration, really, has been an acute lack of optimism. I’m not a rabid glass-is-half-full sort of guy, to be sure, but I’ve really tried to cultivate a sense of hopefulness in my life over the past 5 or 6 years, and mostly I’ve been successful at that. Lately, though, that well has been pretty dry. It’s become pretty obvious that I need to break some of my unhealthy patterns and lay some better ones in my life.
A few weeks back, I decided to try jumpstarting this process by shaking up my physical space. There has been some reorganization of space around the homestead, and as a result there was an empty bedroom down the hall from mine. Tempting as it was to just shove all of my crap in there and sort it out later (a strategy that I employed when we bought the place in 2010), I wanted to make this move – if you can rightly call it a “move” when it’s down the hall – a more intentional process than that. Also, it had been a long time since I painted anything around here and I clearly needed a reminder of how much I hate painting.
Over the course of about 3 weeks, I primed and painted the room, shopped for (and finally bought) some lamps and shelving and went through everything in the old room and asked myself whether it was necessary or added something of emotional value to my space. It was interesting to note which of my possessions made the cut based on those criteria and which didn’t. Most of my books, of course, did, though I put about 30 into a donation pile. All of my clothes that I hadn’t worn in more than a year, with the exception of one of a suit that I just haven’t had cause to wear lately, went away.
Of course, the spare hard drive and the spindle of DVD-ROMs that I haven’t touched in about forever? Those somehow went into the general tech bin despite serving no immediate purpose. Apparently they fall into the “Emotional value” category, since I have no real justification for calling them necessary.
Once that process was done, actually moving into the new room was pretty simple. I did the majority of the work myself, though I had some help getting the bed moved in and put together, and some advice as to where to put the shelf for my altar and exactly where to hang lamps and such. It was actually rather instructive to do so much of the physical labor myself – I found that I really appreciated the assistance I received for those few things where I asked for it. Also, as an intentional act, it carried a little more weight, knowing that most of what I now see around me was my own doing.
I still have a few more things to figure out. I’m waiting on a couple more frames so I can finish hanging some art on the walls, for instance, and I need a better storage solution beside the bed. I’m really happy with the outcome so far, though. It feels nice to know that what’s in this room is only what I actively want to have in here. It also helps that in the past week, I’ve had 2 of the best nights of sleep that I can remember having in a very long time.
One of the great luxuries we have in our home is that each of us has a space that’s completely our own domain. Not our own in the, “Everyone keep out at all times” sense, but in the, “This is my space and I’m happy to have you share it with me for a while” sense. This year, I’m hoping to both remember and take advantage of that abundance and luxury, and to maintain the sense of intention and choice I worked on when moving in.
A couple of folks have asked for pictures, so I’m attaching them here. Please try not to cringe too much at the many flaws in the painting job you may see.
The other day, I posted something to Facebook along the lines of, “Lately, I don’t give a damn about any virtue other than generosity.” I wouldn’t say that that’s literally true, but it’s pretty darn close. Certainly, calling someone generous is one of the highest forms of praise in my book, and it’s a characteristic that I challenge myself with pretty regularly.
Of course, to be generous can mean any number of things. There’s generosity of “stuff” – that is, giving gifts, sharing tangible resources and wealth, that sort of thing. That’s an important aspect, though certainly not the only one. There’s also, I think, generosity of spirit. To me, this can look like a lot of different things, but one of the most important manifestations is thinking well of another person, of giving them the benefit of the doubt. There’s generosity, I believe, in facing a situation where I can just as easily think ill of someone as I can think well of them, and to make the conscious choice to think well.
In my world, there’s also generosity of time. When my partner offers to go to the grocery store while I am working so the ingredients I need to bake cookies are available when I get home, her generosity of time allows me to be generous in turn – because then it is possible for me to spend my time baking cookies for friends. Also, there are sometimes extra cookies, and this is no bad thing.
At the end of the day, my working definition of generosity is “Looking for ways to say yes.” Because you know, I can’t always do it. Nobody can. Even when we’re feeling flush or are otherwise in a place of abundance, resources are limited. Even when the right answer is Yes, sometimes the only answer I can offer in good conscience is Not Right Now. But I do try, at least a good amount of the time, to find that place of Yes as a default position – even when the question isn’t asked directly. Perhaps a better definition is to look for a way to live “Yes” rather than just to say “Yes”.
Clearly, my thoughts on the subject aren’t as well formed as I would like. I want to be more generous, and I want to surround myself with people who embrace generosity as a way of moving through the world. I know that much, at least…but this evening I find myself curious about what I might see in a random draw on the subject. So after dusting off my long-neglected deck, I pulled one card.
Question: What do the cards have to tell me about generosity tonight?
Card: The Seven of Pentacles
First impressions: Huh. That seems oddly direct.
About the card: Well, we have a guy in simple clothing – a tunic, leggings and boots – leaning on a scythe or other harvesting tool in what looks like a garden, looking very very serious. On the left side of the image, there’s a bush that is bearing fruit. Or, you know, pentacles. In any case, he’s got seven of them, one of which seems to have been harvested while the other six are awaiting his attention.
The story without words: I can’t help but be drawn to his expression. Dude looks tired to me. His shoulders are a little slumped, and he is looking at the bush like, “Oh, come on. I’ve got six more of those freaking things to harvest? Are you freaking kidding me?” At the same time, though, there are resources there, and they didn’t arrive out of nowhere. This guy looks like a farmer, a peasant – not someone who had a great deal to start with. It seems to me that he’s catching his breath and wondering if maybe tomorrow would be a better day to tackle the next part of the task.
But what does it mean?: It’s interesting. If I ignored the person in the card, I would say, “Hey, this thing is obviously about abundance. Look, the resources are literally falling off the bush. On the other hand, if I looked only at the person and ignored everything else, I would say, “Oh, geez. This guy is just done with this shit.” The person and the surrounding image seem a little bit at odds with each other.
Of course, the one fruit that is on the ground didn’t fall there. The bush was planted, and tended, and it grew, and then the fruit was harvested. This looks like a successful growing cycle to me – the bush is full of fruit, after all. But even in the midst of that success, our hero is tired and seems to be wishing that he could have outsourced the “harvesting” part of this operation.
So what about the generosity thing? Well…our farmer can’t share what he hasn’t harvested, right? Likewise, I don’t know that any of us can share what we haven’t yet manifested in our lives. It’s often tempting for me to say, “Hey, look, I just yanked this one bit of extra energy (or extra time, or extra money, or whatever) into being. Of course I can share it.” The problem, often, is that when I offer that up too quickly, later I’m angry with myself, or resentful of the other person, because I realize just how much work is before me to get the next fruit from the tree, as it were. At the same time, recognizing the resources I have access to (even if it will take a great deal of effort to manifest it) can serve as a good reminder that abundance does exist, sometimes.