Monday, April 27, 2009

The Crystal Flower

Once upon a time of the Medicine Wheel, there was a young girl of a desert tribe. She was afraid of death and, in holding onto her fear, her spirit became misplaced and she became ill. None who loved her were able to help.

Now, at this time there was an old, old woman who lived by herself in a canyon, close to the pueblo. This grandmother was held in great reverence by the people, though few came close to her, for spirits had talked through her since she was a child. She heard of the young girl and sent for her.

The girl's father carried her to the old woman's fire and set her gently down beside it. He stroked his daughter's hair and disappeared into the night, leaving her to face its magic. She turned her head like a frightened fawn at the rattle from the other side of the fire.

From behind the red rocks stepped a tiny woman, clutching her hides around her with claw-like hands. Her face was as lined and as red as the parched earth beneath her feet. Amber eyes shone in the fire's light. Her braids, thick and white, came down to her ankles. It seemed as if they glowed with a light all their own, making the young girl shrink back in fear.

"Do not be afraid child," said the old woman, in a voice like wind over sand. She reached under her robes and brought out a pouch. Loosening the ties, she sprinkled some strange powder on the fire. The young girl found herself staring deeply into the flames as the old woman began to chant her story. Suddenly there appeared, in the depths of the fire, the most beautiful flower the girl had ever seen. Her breath caught high in her throat. The petals were crystal prisms and the fire's light sent rainbow shafts shooting into the night. The girl's eyes began to tear with the light and sheer beauty, but she could not look away.

The old woman sang in a voice as soft and sweet as a maiden's. She told the girl of the quest she must make to find this flower and the secret it held within, for it was the secret of immortality. Death would be unable to claim her. As she sang, she walked slowly around the fire and laid her surprisingly gentle hands on the centre of the young girl's being, returning her spirit. Joy danced in her breast and she felt her strength surge to meet the task. She embraced the old woman and curled to sleep by the fire. With first light she would set off in search of this most magical of flowers.

For many years she walked Turtle Island, growing within and without from life's experiences. She had many adventures...but they belong to other stories within this one. Everywhere she went, she looked for the flower. She asked everyone she met and was shown many wondrous things, but no one had seen or heard of the crystal flower.

The young girl grew to womanhood, each turning of the seasons finding her in different country. Passing years began to sprinkle her braids with silver and the elements sculptured her form. Her walk became slower and her back became bent with the weight of her years.

She wanted to go home. Her braids were now as white as bones in the desert and she knew she was going to die. Slowly she made her way, labouring with every breath until, at last, she came to the arid land of her birth and to the very canyon of the old woman's fire, so long ago. She collapsed on that red parched earth and tears of anguish fell hot from her eyes. To have searched for so long, to have worked so hard for only an illusion of light! She hid her face in her arms and became quiet to take stock of her life. In the darkness within, she searched for the answer that had eluded her for a lifetime.

Painfully she raised her head for one last look at the world...and there it was.

Where her tears had fallen, grew a tiny and delicate, beautiful and perfect crystal flower. A light seemed to come from the centre of the blossom and, in the centre of her being, she felt a warmth begin where the old woman had laid her hands, all those years before. Now she understood. The light of the universe was hers, had always been hers just as she had always belonged to that light. She was now ready to return. She shed the body that had aged and slowed, the mind that had feared and doubted...soaring effortlessly over the landscape, higher and higher into the sky, to the light beyond the stars.

Going to the Campfire

1980 found me in New York, where a close-knit circle of women friends meditated together every Monday. During one session I was brought to a campfire, joining a very old Native American woman with long white braids. She began to tell me a story of a woman's life quest and, as I stared in the flames, I watched myself become the character in the story. To say it was an incredible experience would be an understatement; friends gathered around after, concerned at the flush on my face and completely dilated pupils. I was tingling from head to toe.

Many times after that, I returned to the same campfire and was told more stories, experiencing them as they unfolded. I began to write the stories down. The first tale had been the larger story that contained all the others, being about life, the fear of death and the connection to the infinite Great Mystery. When I wrote that first story, my mother-in-law was dying of ovarian cancer and I was taking care of her. I gave her the pages to read with a little trepidation (she was a very practical, real-world sort of person) and was gratified to find that it helped ease her fear and doubts in the final months of her life. It also opened the door for us to talk about life, death and love...not the daily conversations in my first husband's family, that's for sure, but she was desperate for just that.

The meditations and stories were very helpful to me during this difficult time, my first marriage crumbling around the events and my husband's alcoholism. What I didn't know at the time was that the woman always waiting at the campfire for me had plans and needs of her own, searching as she was for the old grey wolf.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

National Poetry Month

Three Wolves Running

He runs on my right side still,
four legs and the road's freedom
to turn.
Yes Beloved, I remember
a truck, a bedroll and that
great grey head.
Curling in your fur and stories,
a playful growl between us.
Deep in the dark of Steeple Mountains,
all trails led to your door
and let go.

She runs on my left side still,
amber eyes and the road's reading
to learn.
Yes Beloved, I remember
a fire, a teaching and your
panting breath.
I followed the scent of your
for the old grey between us.
Singing songs upon the moonlight,
three wolves running 'cross time,
and the ribboned line
of a howling highway.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Siah Ah Tai

Meditation has always been my practice, thanks in great part to my second mother, who was also my first spiritual teacher. She was a human manifestation of Quan Yin (Chinese Goddess of Compassion) inside a tiny package, just the right size for a Brit toddler in Southeast Asia. Siah Ah Tai was my Amah (nursemaid) for a good chunk of life's first decade, spent in Malaysia and Singapore.

Tai was a Chinese Buddhist woman whose voice only raised in the marketplace, over the price of crab. With me, she was always soft-spoken and unconditionally loving. Her harshest discipline was to turn the black pearls of her eyes away from me...and I was immediately ready to make amends. She was my constant when the world was unreliable in its movement; her smile punctuated every understanding.

She would welcome me into the morning with prayer and meditation. While a light pink mist hung in the dawn and the muezzin called the faithful to Islamic prayer, I would be transported on the pungent smoke from her joss sticks, her bowing prayers and then...stillness. No words were necessary in the hours I rubbed coconut oil and the morning sun through the blue-black of her knee-length hair, or the hours she spent bringing me tea and moonlight in the night when I was writing. She taught me being...and how to listen for all the names and thoughts of the Creator within quiet, humble waiting. She is the Far East and the yellow chrysanthemum robe still met within meditation.