Reverence

I find myself feeling trapped in a Korean sports medicine workshop for two days right after hearing that one of my cousins past away due to a fatal drug overdose, and two others were hospitalized for drug and alcohol overdoses and survived. This just breaks my heart, leaves me so mad as I sit in this workshop on how to repair broken bodies, I write furiously. What the hell is going on? 

 

We don't live forever

We don't always have more time

 

Life isn't all about positivity, success and winning. There is pain, doubt and loss.

This isn't me being pessimistic

I'm just trying to get real with myself and now you.

Life is delicate, living is a constantly occurring miracle.

Death is real, dying it the final underlying truth of being alive.

Death always makes me think about choices. About the paths we take that become the stories of our lives, the filters we use to see the world, the patterns we learn and repeat.

I can't pass judgement on anyone for how they live but I am critical of myself. I look back and worry about all the interactions I wish I could change. I look ahead and I feel like I'm being deceived or deluded - sometimes the view is beautiful and bright, other times it is distorted and dim and what scares me the most is when nothing is there as if there is no way forward, as if right here right now is the end of the road, right here right now is where the choices end.

The truth is I'm terrified and I doubt that feeling will ever disappear. I'm lost and it seems like there's no accurate map for this landscape. I want to run and hide in a cave somewhere outside of time where I can have it all and never lose anything.

Today my love of life hurts. Optimism hurts breathing hurts...

So today I decided to stop looking forward and back. I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath. I imagined I was in a cave outside of time, I expected to feel better. I expected to feel relieved. But once I was in that cave I realized I'd been led there before - in a dream.

An old naked crone took me into this cave through the trunk of a great tree. We made an exchange, a cosmic transaction I didn't expect. I gave her my judgement, sharp but worn like a pocket knife always on hand for a chore and she gave me my spirit, light as a feather but charged with a static like energy. Where she placed it in my hand a rose quickly bloomed. The crone said nothing. She quickly left me alone. I stood staring at this rose - this magical, inexplicable...and useless rose and I cried. The crone had said nothing but she had left me with everything.

Those tears were sparked by an overwhelming feeling of reverence for this small thing at hand for its simple fearless expression of being alive. Reverence is a living force and sometimes it is all we have. Reverence is the energy that keeps me going even when I can't see a way forward.  Reverence for what you may ask? I'm just grateful that I dream at all, that my spirit communicates with me at all, wants anything from me at all.

Today I understand that I have been seeing my life through judgmental eyes clouded by fear and scorn which lead me to seek escape and isolation. When I look through my newly tear cleansed eyes I can now see that in the presence of spirit, no matter how fleeting, beauty grows. And that living, growing beauty no matter how small is more precious than all the success in the world. I will never completely stop looking critically for answers but I trust my spirit to remind me what's really important, the grace of every breath and the simple fragile beauty of life itself.

The Great Frontier

The interior

The exterior

the membrane

the border

the dividing line

on the threshold

the brink

letting it in

taking it in

letting it all hang out

the frontier

big sky

unmapped

wild

Bound, but only on one side, for now 

empire

kingdom

moats

allegators

and manifest destiny

(Expanding my edges, my limits, my soul) 

who's in and who's out? 

letting new in

letting old die

Running straight for the edge

closing your eyes and

jump

protect what's yours

own your

own your

own your  

own self

be responsible and true

stay the course

get onboard  

share ideas

...sell ideas

Sell yourself

your body

your mind

your soul

your likes and dislikes

share! 

what's out there

you're so out there! 

 

come inside  

sit down by the fire

come inside and get out of the cold

Come inside and embrace

explore

inside

If I can find a way

If I can find a way

To find my voice 

Again

Then yes perhaps

I can write 

What I want to write

Not what I think they want

Not what I want to make me known

But what I want to see written.

 

I can draw

What I want to draw

Not what I think they want

Not what I want to make me known

But what I want to see drawn.

 

I can move

What I want to move

Not what I think they want

Not what I want to make me known

But what I want to see moved.

 

~Jessica Sue Burstein

 jessicasueburstein.com

Urban Wilderness: Central Park

A piece I wrote my first autumn in New York City.

 

I have been living in the city for more than a month and consciously saving this adventure for myself.  I imagined Central Park as this huge dark forest that one day I would venture into, but today I thought I would only dip into one of the corners and explore a little bit before returning to running my errands.  So far I had only allowed myself to wander along the fringes, leaving the interior of it impenetrable and unknowable in its entirety to me.  One of my favorite things to do on the autumn weekends was walk up Central Park West, whose uneven brick sidewalk served as a path between two worlds – on my left I could see the looming architecture and congested streets of the city, yet on my right were the barriers of the trees and the great stone faces visible from the outside.  As I peered into the depths of the park I used the numbers of the cross streets to map its exterior against the grid of the city and help remember where certain parts of the landscape were where I knew I wanted to return – an interesting rocky outcropping, a pool with a huge willow tree, a playground with elaborate wooden equipment. 

Today I ended up traveling through nearly a third of the western side of it, starting near the lake and working up through the ramble, past Belvedere Castle, around the rim of the reservoir, and a little further north than that.  It’s true that the park isn’t thoroughly portioned by cross streets and avenues, but it is traversed by paved roads, perimeter fences, and the more rustic gravel or wood-chip paths.  There are signs and maps all over the place – in another life I would have been a cartographer, but here, as nearly everywhere in the world, the work is already done for me.  When I asked my native friend if I would really find a troll in Central Park, he said “Oh there are plenty of trolls, especially if you look under the bridges at night.  But they won’t be as charming as you’d like to think.”

            I didn’t let this deter my enterprising spirit – I traveled several beaten and off-beaten paths, constantly pushing myself further, while at the same time telling myself that I should stop, that I should turn back, leave something undiscovered so that I can return another day.  I went as far north as I wanted to go on the heavily populated, jogger and biker-friendly bridle path, then I came back here to this bench in the ramble.  While I forged ahead I made the effort to notice the sound of birdsong, the rich smell of mulch and woodchips, the different types of trees – pine, maple, fir, willow – and the leaves that are starting to yellow, and the western afternoon sun peeking through the branches above me. I am content to march up and down these hills, or climb out on the rocks by the lake and watch the ducks and canoes.

            Even though I have found what I imagine to be the most heart-of-darkness-y place in my travels today, where rocky outcroppings jut out of the hills, the paths dead-end into thickets, and the canopy of trees provides shade and blocks the sight of buildings and highways, the forest is still curtailed by paved paths and benches, I am still sitting on a bench watching tourist families pass by with strollers and shopping bags, and I can still hear the whir of traffic even if I can’t see it.  In fact, I think there’s no place you can go in this park where you can’t hear the noise of the highway, or the musicians who strike up, or the hollers and thuds from the stadiums and tennis courts and playing fields.

I understand that New Yorkers need Central Park – this little piece of wilderness is necessary to save the urban soul.  In most places the buildings still dominate the skyline, towering over the tallest trees.  Then of course, because I cannot forget I am in the heart of the city, the tourists and locals frequently pass me by, even ones I see more than once in the same day – the recurring faces whose paths I continually cross. And just as I studied all the idiosyncrasies of the landscape, observing the so-called natural world, I observed all the idiosyncrasies in the people, most of them seeming completely self-absorbed, texting, listening to iPods, or even talking on hands-free phones so at first glance it seems like they are having a conversation entirely with themselves. 

            Whose world are we really in? At least in this place I fear more from the human world – I have much more dangerous things I could run into than trolls – than I do from the wildlife that seems to offer nothing more threatening than squirrels. In this epic quest through the forest I may not encounter witches or wolves, but the sinister elements are still here.  I know magic is perception, and if I journey far enough, and keep my eyes open, I will find the heart of darkness if I look for it.  Children exploring caverns see fantastical creatures molded out of the shapes of stalactites and stalagmites; all the human imagination needs is a canvas.  Yet I also see what is actually there – lovers in blankets on the lawns, children on the swings, the neat, well-kept plot of Shakespeare’s garden, the musicians, kids smoking on low branches – do people feel more uninhibited here?  Has the park transformed them as well? 

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I came here today with the intention of just walking around a bit, of enjoying one of the last really warm days before the onset of fall.  I saw the sign and the map that said “North Woods” and I decided to go down that path – not only because it was an unexplored area, and because it sounded alluringly romantic and mysterious, but also because I saw a trail on the map heading south, which was the general direction I was going.  I like to plan my spontaneous expeditions.

            But whatever methodical plan I tried to imprint upon my wanderings, I’m glad I ended up here.  There is a stream, and a small waterfall over the rocks – I love the sound of rushing water.  Very few tourists have passed over the wooden bridge over the path, although I’ve seen a few kids climb over the rocks with their parents warning them.  I am sitting on a rock face myself, loving the near vertical precariousness of it, tilting toward the flowing stream, as if I’m not careful I might lose my balance and tumble into the shallow water.  The stream bed is littered with twigs and branches poking up from the bottom, and the surface with a few scattered leaves and insects and bubbles.  Every now and then something falls into the water with an audible resounding plop, and I wonder if it is an acorn or something that fell from a tree. There is no one here to throw stones.  The western sun is behind me, turning the leaves on the branch next to me more yellow than green in this light.  I am left in the shade for now and the autumn breeze feels delicious against my skin. Clumps of delicate white wildflowers spring up all over on the rock face where I am sitting, their resilient roots tenacious enough to defy the stone.  The undergrowth along the other bank is dense and tangled, hanging over the water in some places, weeds and vines and branches not preventing easy paths.  I love it – there is something very un-scenic about it, uncultivated.  Its one of the closest things I’ve seen to untamed since I’ve been here in the city.  Same with the bare branches criss-crossed low over the stream and the trees that have fallen in the water – there is something beautiful about them because they are not there to be pretty.  I have been watching the robins flit and hop in and out of the undergrowth on the other side, and the occasional squirrel tentatively venture out onto one of the fallen branches suspended over the water.  Once, when I was watching the other bank carefully, I saw the long tail and then the whole big-bellied rat as it crept through the pile of roots and twigs and other forest debris along the streambank.  I thought of Eliot’s rat dragging its belly through the slime and litter on the side of the Thames and wondered how far away my experience today has been from that.  The air has no smell, which is hard to believe – not the smog and feces and concrete smell of the city, but not the cold wet scent of water either, or the richness of trees and soil.  But I am glad I came here at least – I wouldn’t trade this afternoon for a street festival.  Even though I’ve become too intellectual and pretentious to believe in anything like a soul, I would say something inside me has found peace here this afternoon.

Man and Nature - Reflections in Response to Joseph Campbell and Derrick Jensen

The hunt is a ritual. ... It is a fact that the religious attitude toward the principal animal is one of reverence and respect, and not only that – submission to the inspiration of that animal.  The animal is the one that brings the gifts.

- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, "The First Storytellers"

Deer.jpg

The passage where Campbell identified the initial relationship of the hunter to the hunted as one of reverence and respect and then describes the rituals of Native American culture really stuck out to me, mostly because I was come from a hunting background and continue the tradition to this day.  

Personally, I was taught to hunt much like Campbell describes here, ritualistically. The animal is sacrificing its life so that you may live, and for that you show the utmost respect and honor to its body. When you first kill the animal you thank its spirit for the life it's given to you, and afterwards you make sure that nothing on that animal goes to waste, be it meat, hide, feathers-anything that can be used WILL be used. In my family, we even go so far as to follow a Native American tradition (I'm going to assume it's Cherokee, since that's my grandfather's lineage, though I don't know this for certain) and place a piece of evergreen into the animal's mouth as a symbol to show me that though his body has been given up, his spirit goes on (since the leaves of evergreens trees and shrubs don't die). 

This IS NOT, from my personal experience, how children are brought up to hunt today, or even how my generation or my father's generation do things. In fact, I don't know a single person outside of myself, brother, father, and grandfather when he was alive that show respect and reverence for the hunt. From what I see today, it has transformed into a "survival of the fittest" massacre. If something walks in front of your gun, pull the trigger. This repulses me, especially when it's not carried out for food or necessity (i.e. trophy hunting). 

I feel like it was passed down through my family to continue this way of life. I continue hunting because, for me, it's very important from an animal rights standpoint that I eat as cruelty-free as possibly. I'm sure this is a blatant contradiction to some ("But you're still killing something - that's wrong!"); in my mind and how I feel, the meat that I eat from hunting has led a full life and knows what it's like to be free, something factory farm cows, pigs, and chickens know nothing of. It's also more rewarding for me when I have to work for what I want. Yes, it's infinitely easier to just go to the store and buy a pack of steaks and be done with it, but when you think about how that cow lived a short, cruel existence... 

Every single time I hunt I feel closer to nature. It's a very calm, quiet, serene experience; you get up at the ass crack of dawn and go sit in the woods before anything has had a chance to wake up, and you just have a chance to think with a mind unclouded by everyday first world issues, and be a part of something bigger than yourself. I've had a deer walk within 5 ft of me because she didn't see me sitting there, a flock of turkeys pass by me so close that I could put my arm out and grab one, and seen squirrels playing with a fox while some deer were grazing in a field. I don't know a word to describe how it makes me feel other than on a different plane of reality. 

****

Last fall I attended a debate, of sorts, between two people running to be Manager of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. ... 

When the moderator opened the evening to the public, I raised my hand.  I said, “A comment, and then a question.  The comment: I have to say that if bobcats, wolves, trees, and salmon could vote, they wouldn’t vote for either one of you.” Everyone gasped, as though I had pulled a gun.  “Now a question: Pretend we’re children two generations hence, and defend your actions to us.  Tell us why we shouldn’t hate you for destroying our world.”  Another gasp, as though I had fired it through their hearts. ...

I had broken the most basic commandment of our culture: Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.

-Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words

This guy thinks like me. "Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong." - Dear God in heaven, there was never a truer statement about environmentalism in my opinion. It's all bureaucracy, politics, and lobbying - the people who truly give a fuck about the plight of the grey wolf in Yellowstone or the rate of change in biodiversity in Australian coral reefs due to global warming are actually out in the field doing something about it, or spending their lives contributing to a solution rather than a problem. When you get into upper level management of environmental topics its not about saving the things you wanted to save when you started, it's about making the books look good and creating a name for yourself. 

As a biologist, I do believe in Darwinism and survival of the fittest; that does not, however, mean that I believe that we as the seemingly "dominant" species need to go around exerting our dominance and wiping lesser species out of existence. It's not a competition, and there can be harmony because everything around us - if we just get our fucking heads out of our asses long enough to see it - helps us with our "dominance." I was taught and still learn to live off the land and appreciate what it gives me, and listen to what she needs from me in order to sustain myself. 

I don't think there will be a cultural change of heart anytime soon towards the world around us. I DO feel like it's almost an indelible trait in humans now to dominate, conquer and win, and nature is just another battleground to be won for egotistical and economical reasons. When I think about things like this, I get incredibly sad, especially how children are growing up with this cutthroat manifesto.

Jensen put into words EXACTLY how I live on my little piece of paradise: 

"This relationship of mutual care doesn't mean that none shall die, nor even that I won't kill anything, nor eventually be killed: it simply means we will treat each other will respect, and that neither will unnecessarily shit where the other bathes." 

I live simply and I'm moving as much as I can towards sustainability. Gardening for my food, composting for fertilizer, recycling everything possible, and coming up with new uses for things that can't be recycled, I'm very conscious of energy usage.  This may not be a great example of "mutual care" but here goes: I have a lot of wildlife come up into the yard (deer, squirrels, foxes, groundhogs), and even though they can feed themselves I tend to throw my table scraps that can't be composted out in the yard for them to eat. Bringing more squirrels in the yard means I'll undoubtedly get more nuts planted randomly, so even in the 2 years I've been here, random tree saplings pop up. I put corn out for the squirrels so that they leave the bird feeders alone, and the feeders draw several species of birds which helps keep the bugs down. 

As for the animals that live with me (three cats and a ferret), I take care of them, feed them and ensure their safety, and they also take care of me. They give me affection and companionship, and I swear Chief is the best intruder detector ever.


SfB Celebrates One Year Anniversary at Esalen Institute

Do you remember when you first heard of Space for Breath?

It was a year ago during the first week of April 2013 that Hannah and Tabitha visited the Center for Symbolic Studies outside of New Paltz, NY. We arrived with only a vague sense of how to unite Tabitha's herbalism and healing practices, Hannah's love of writing and mythological archetypes, and the desire we both had to create a shared community of healers, artists, and thinkers.  After a weekend of exploring the woods, meeting new people, and encountering a few tricksters along the way, we were already planning our first projects during the bus ride back to the city.

Hannah and Tabitha at Center for Symbolic Studies, April 2013

Hannah and Tabitha at Center for Symbolic Studies, April 2013


The seeds of these ideas sprouted new growth, and now, a year later in Spring 2014, we look back to see how far Space for Breath has come. We've launched a website, hosted a series of seasonal events, started Write Now! a community art project to unite writing, spoken word, and healing practice - and now we have our SfB Newsletter to share the work of our contributors and reach out to others. We hope these projects will continue to grow and foster new connections, questions, and reflections.

This year April also marked another first for us - a year after starting Space for Breath, we journeyed to California to attend The Alchemy of Destiny workshop at Esalen Institute, led by Lorie Dechar and Benjamin Fox. The trip coincided exactly with our anniversary and brought another new beginning. How could it not? - it was Hannah's first time seeing the Pacific Ocean, and the California experience itself gave us both fresh perspective. The alchemical workshop gave us deeper insights into ourselves and the work we want to do in the world - we had time to journey inward and discover how we could turn our primary material - our inner lead - into gold.

Tabitha and Hannah basking in the California sun at Esalen, April 2014

Tabitha and Hannah basking in the California sun at Esalen, April 2014

Just like last year, we returned to the city renewed and with a set of action steps to move our vision forward. We are excited to share them with you! Check out the rest of the newsletter for upcoming events, reflections from our time at Esalen, developments to the website, and other ways to become more involved with Space for Breath.

And to bring our journey full circle, Space for Breath will be returning to the Center for Symbolic Studies this spring on May 3rd to volunteer at their Beltane Celebration.

 

9 of Earth - Esalen Free Write

This piece was spontaneously created at the Esalen Institute Writing Group.  Inspired by a free-write assignment based on a card from an erotic Tarot deck. 

9 of Earth 

She is a giant and she is on display. I feel a little bad for her, wonder if she is embarrassed to be exposed, and I want to tell her the secret is not to be self-conscious. Who are they to look at you? That's what serenity is - not to care who is looking at your white panties or that man running away from your giant ass - it's his fault if he doesn't know what's good for him. 

I know what it is to feel like a giantess - to feel exposed, to feel "I am so big amidst all these small people - why do I have so much flesh when they are so slight, so elvin and sylph-like, creatures of the air and the wood when my body is earthen, stable clay that does not shake?" 

Who are they to run? And who am I to hide? We are all exposed if we let ourselves be, and the criticism we get from others is so much less than what we lash on ourselves, how we flagellate and pick and prod our exposed flesh until it is raw, like red switch marks on the back of a child's thighs.

What is wrong with the giantess? There is nothing wrong with her - she just has to learn how to ignore the little people beneath her.

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F Train East Houston m4w (LES)

you stood across the platform from me going d/t & we exchanged glances several times you smiled & waved before the train stopped the most beautiful minute I ever held you are thin like an album tell me the color of your dress do you know how it is when you are the only one waiting if there is a place further from me I beg you do not go into the night now it’s 4 am but maybe you’ll read this & remember cause baby there’s nothing that distracts but your sweet face do not forget me

 

Gabrielle Kappes is a Ph.D. student in the English program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She lives in the Bronx, NY.

Morningside Heights by Irene Marcuse

St. Valentine’s Day has come and gone and now
store windows have turned from pink to green
in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day.

On the street, a woman in a brown coat carrying
a huge brown umbrella eats a chocolate ice cream cone
while she walks. Her umbrella brushes mine.

Yesterday in the subway an elderly man had a seizure.
It happened on the express and everyone got out at 96th St.
I sat with him until the guards came.

Later I saw a man vomiting against the side of the church
on 114th St. He stood with his back to the sidewalk 
heaving liquid vomit the color of red wine. 

A few people noticed. I glanced at him once
and walked on more quickly. People sleep
on those steps, beg for money on the corner.

Sometimes I give money to the regulars, the old men
who stand with paper cups held out – “Got a quarter?”
“Spare some change?” “Can you help me out?”

Other times I just smile and look into their eyes, “No, sorry,”
I say, and they smile back anyway. When I donate, it’s often
God who answers – “God thanks you.” “God bless you.” 

In the deli, the cashiers speak Spanish to each other
and never look at or talk to the customers. The produce
market where I buy Kim Chee is owned by Koreans.

Saturday night, a dense misty rain thickens and curls
in my hair. When I go out I put on a hot pink sweater
and pink lipstick, against the gray weather.

I seek the street. Jazz seeps from the West End.
A couple kisses under the awning. Midnight. I buy
a loaf of bread, a beer, an avocado, the Sunday Times.

I run into my Spanish teacher, who tells me this story:
An older woman in a black dress, make-up, rings, no purse,
lying full length in the entry to his building, weeping.

“Voy a morirme, voy a morirme!” Other tenants stood around.
He was the only one who understood, asked her in Spanish, “Why
do you want to kill yourself?” She kept on crying.

He asked her name, where she lived. The woman would not answer.
Finally the police came and carried her away. “Why do these things
happen to me?” he asks. The question of the compassionate

who can only witness and walk on. I mean to tell him 
about the man in the subway, my helplessness, but
he’s already paid for his paper and started home.


- Irene Marcuse 1986

Poems by Irene Marcuse from the Moonjuice II Anthology

 

 

clothes on the line

weeds in the garden

storm clouds of things undone

blot out the thin winter sunshine


 

 

I want

        the highs and lows

to be maudlin and melodramatic

trip, and fall,

        and get back up again

I want to feel more

breathe air so pure it hurts

plunge back to earth

        suck and root

raise branches to the sky

I want to know the axe that fells me.