Crazy, Gritty Good


Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures….
– Antonio Machado, c.1939


I feel less like a sweet, old grandmother and more like a gritty, scrappy person who is finally mellowing – wizening perhaps – as she matures. I find that I’ve never been one who generally “fits in.” I’ve tended to struggle – with myself and others in creative ways. The places of true community and belonging have been few and far between – but when I’ve found my Tribe members it has been pure joy.

There have been many people to love though – folks of all kinds, at all stages of life, and from all classes and cultures. My deepest bonding has been with others who, for a wide variety of reasons, were engaged in their own struggles. I’ve never known how to fully relate to those who have it together and are cruising through life – I gravitate toward my fellow travelers inhabiting the dimension of “still dealing with stuff.” These affinities may arise from my early years of sitting in smoke-filled rooms with coffee in hand, discussing things like recovery and codependency – not a culture of putting on airs around those tables.

These days, I’m still loving gritty, down-to-Earthers, but now I’m also gravitating toward those who find themselves moving through various stages of spiritual transformation. My “people” these days are a little out there. As my aunt commented to me recently, “You are indeed your father’s daughter.” I think that was her way of saying that my dad got a little “out there” after years of a more traditional journey, too – yoga, Esalen, Alan Watts, Alpert and Leary, Maslow, DeRopp, Gurdjieff, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism were the positive influences of those days (the mind-altering substances and other addictions were ultimately the negative). But my aunt is correct, I’ve kind of come full circle in some ways.

I’m finding that some of the wild and crazy teachings of my childhood were true…and then some. My mom always claimed that Dad was “ahead of his time.” Yes, he was…and a little nuts. But he would be the first to admit that from whatever other-worldly perch he inhabits these days. My mom was the one who discussed all of these teachings and concepts with me over breakfast from ninth grade on. It is no wonder I didn’t fit too well with my rural Minnesota peer group when we moved there from the Bay Area!

Instead, they taught me Transcendental Meditation and hooked me up to biofeedback. They filled me full of stories about people they met and saw on film at the Menninger Foundation – meditators, shamans, faith healers, physicists, who demonstrated vividly and compellingly that what we know in this three-dimensional plane doesn’t explain everything. There is more – much more – than we see or comprehend going on out there and “in here.” My parents gave me a lot to contemplate and consider alongside the apparent dysfunction and frequent crises in my family. So there was plenty of grist for the mill – spiritually, emotionally.

Fast forward thirty or so years and we arrive at today, where I’m finally coming to the conclusion that it is all good – the way-out philosophies and the family dysfunction, the mountain top experiences and the tragedies…good, good, good. Obviously, I’m jumping over a few steps – giving you the Reader’s Digest version of it all – but I love the full-circleness of things.

I spent many years sorting things into baskets of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. The process I’m experiencing now takes all of it in one giant basket – or maybe one giant kettle – and puts it together with a recipe of love, forgiveness, gratitude, joy. Strangely enough, the sacred process of loving transforms all of life’s experiences. To my great surprise all of it turns out to be good, good, good. Crazy, gritty Good.



Our own melody…

 Some dark days, it is necessary to be a conjurer of beauty. We must compose our transformational tune – creating a melody that begins with sorrow and pain and which then transmutes it into gritty, defiant joy. That sort of joy is the stuff of sages, mystics, and even children. These wise ones know that with a shout, a skip, and a burst of undaunted love, a nightmare may give rise to a heroic and colorful journey.

– Karen Gatlin, December 2015

Illustration: Kay Nielsen, East of the Sun, West of the Moon

We seek connection…

Artwork by Lucy Campbell

There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Artwork by Lucy Campbell)

This quote and artwork were paired on a Facebook post from “Shaman Tube.” I really resonated with both the words and the image, so I thought I would re-post them here.

Yesterday – not quite on the spur of the moment but almost – I had the opportunity to attend a workshop by a gifted woman named Songbird Grandmother. What an amazing journey this young visionary is on! It was so fun to gather with others who were drawn to this event.

We shared something of our journeys and experienced a wonderful meditation – a shamanic drumming/vibrational session leading us to our deepest selves of the past, present and future. I had a wonderful revelation about my gifts and purpose. We connected with each other and our common spiritual or mystical journeys. And we created the first pages of our “medicine books.”

When I returned home, I was so filled with energy! Today, I have a sense of peace and calm. It is amazing how we call and are called to the people and places we are supposed to connect with if we are open and rely on the guidance we receive.

To the universe, I keep saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” for the journey, for the connections, for the experience – for a partner who supports my exploration. It is a wild, amazing, and ever-expansive ride.

Sound Magic

Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering –
there’s a crack, a crack in everything…
that’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen

Since we first stepped into our Colorado home, over a year ago, I have pictured a gong in the main room. That isn’t everyone’s first thought, I suppose, but there was just something about the space. Our nice wooden floors and high ceilings, a view of the mountains…what else could be needed? A gong, of course!

But as we refreshed things with paint, wood, and tile, the cost of a gong seemed too much to think about. We finally made our move to the house from California last July. One August morning, my husband told me that my three-year-old granddaughter had a surprise for me. She did indeed! They blindfolded me and brought me into the living room where this little one rang the gong for the first time.

I was in shock! They had taken me completely off guard. I stared in awe at the beautiful symphonic gong that hung in my living room. It was just like my beloved friend and teacher, Shanan’s, gong. It gleamed there in the sunshine with its beautiful circular rainbow of metal around the rim.

And then, I suppose you would assume that I began to play? But I did not. I was truly overwhelmed and felt inadequate. I was at a loss to know how to begin. I dabbled for a few minutes every now and then, but then put the mallets back on the shelf. It would come in time I was sure, but I had no idea when or how.

It is unfortunate that the first instructional YouTube video I watched began with a warning by a spiritual teacher – a sound healer – saying that if you used the gong in the WRONG way, you could do damage to those listening. Oh no! Now I had reason to be intimidated.

To make a long story shorter, it took three months. I stared at the gong. I thought about it. I wondered how to begin. And then, yesterday, I assembled my little stool, my singing bowl, chimes, a rain stick, mallets and my wonderful gong. I began to play. I finally understood that if it was approached with respect and sacred attention, there would be no wrong way to play. An hour or so later, I felt as if the forces of the universe had initiated me as a gong player, a sound-healer-to-be.

And today, I experienced my first healing session! I was in an irritable and impatient mood – a little bit out of sorts after spending a morning on the laptop filling out forms. I sat down in front of the gong and grounded my energy and made my best attempt to set my irritability to the side. The gong vibrated and sounded deeply – sometimes fast, sometimes long and slow, wave upon wave of sound – a deep, metallic “OM.” Gradually my breath became peaceful, my thoughts calm, and my mood shifted. Wow! There is something mystical and awesome about this calming, healing sound.

So now, if I only share this gift with myself and my family it will be enough. But I have the feeling that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and an opportunity to share the waves (good vibrations) with others.

It is interesting to watch what gets in the way of us owning our power, our connection and knowing. Fear, self-consciousness, inadequacy, and so on. When we finally step into the light – relying on the forces all around us that are assembled for our good – the magic happens…at last. FullSizeRender (9)

Shifts in Perception: The Subtle and the Extraordinary

Arches morning

What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape….
– Ranier Maria Rilke, The Man Watching (trans. Robert Bly)

I am just home from a two week road trip visiting family and friends – visiting beauty here and there. It is also three weeks since I received my Level One and Two Reiki attunement and certification. And today I’ve been just soaking in the gratitude for all of it and for being home now, with my wonderful husband and partner.

The light has changed since we left on vacation. The morning we left, there were a dozen or so white-tail deer in our front yard as we headed down the driveway. Only a few yards away in the neighboring meadow, I said, “I think that’s an elk!” As we got closer, there she was, and there was the rest of a small herd eating grass behind her in the pine trees…they had been camouflaged. About seven miles down the road, we saw a larger herd of elk by a little stream and later that morning we saw a group of mountain goats. We were in awe. That set the tone for our trip. For the rest of our journey, we were soaking in the beauty – of creatures and fall colors, of the ocean, of spectacular geology, of our loved ones.

And now we are home.  The sun is shining at a different angle and there is a chill in the outside air. We turned on our heat for the first time. There has been a shift: of light, awareness, and vibration.

The day of my Reiki I and II attunement I was so excited as I drove there with my friend! I thought big dramatic things might occur over the course of the day. Instead, big subtle things happened. I felt the Reiki energy in the room as we were attuned and as we worked on each other – learning hand positions, mantras and symbols. I realized that the whole experience was not at all unfamiliar – it simply amplified or magnified a resource with which I was already familiar. And as we met our “guides” (which some call Reiki Masters or angels) – mine was very familiar – a being on whom I rely daily to assist me in keeping my balance. No new revelations there! My world view and perception shifted dramatically, however, the day I first “met” or became aware of her a couple of years ago. I had to open my mind to things I had previously dismissed.

Next week, I will experience advanced Reiki II, and in December, I have the opportunity to receive the Master level attunement. What am I learning? That the universe is filled with loving assistance and support for us. That love and life-force energy has the power to shift what we may have previously believed could not be shifted. It alters the unalterable. And it is all available right here and right now.

Perhaps not by coincidence, I have been preaching that message for years (literally). I am now learning that it is simpler and more profound than I previously dared to imagine. If we open to the Sacred, the Source, we are transformed – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. In the process, our reality – our world – is transformed and shifts with us.

It is worth overcoming our doubts and fears. The miraculous is in our midst.

Windows at Arches NP

Meeting a Mountain

Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart,
but in thin places that distance is even shorter.
The New York Times, March 11, 2012

Last Wednesday, Johnny and I arose a bit early to get a head start on the sun. We were hoping to miss all of the “leaf people” by going on Wednesday and still get up to Guanella Pass before the aspen leaves pass their peak. Johnny is fussy (or so I say) about light. He only likes his light for photos at dawn and right around dusk – first light and last light.

Anyway, the drive was gorgeous, we continued to climb toward the pass. Who doesn’t love a mountain drive, in fall, along a rolling river? I began to get anxious, however, believing that we hadn’t left early enough for him to get good early morning shots. All of a sudden we came up over a tall hillside and stretching out in front of us was a tundra-like landscape and a several tall mountains. No aspens here. We were above the tree line! I hadn’t expected that. The last photo outing had been up a neighboring pass – lots of trees up there. But we couldn’t stop to take it all in – we had some light to catch.

The short version of the story is that we arrived in plenty of time. This time the views from the road and neighboring woods were wonderful enough – we didn’t need to hike in any distance to get our photos. As usual, I ran around like a nut for a couple of hours looking at every possible perspective on the hill full of golden aspens and taking random shots while Johnny stayed put, focused on one thing and got spectacular photos of the mountainside. (There is a fairly obvious metaphor for how each of us approach our lives in that description.)

We continued down from the pass, stopping a couple of times for new perspectives. We parked at the base of the mountain in Georgetown, enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then walked around window shopping. It was the perfect fall day. Happy people milling about, chatting, smiling. Sunny, but delightfully cool air.

Then we headed back up the hill. One of our thoughts had been that if we spent enough time enjoying ourselves we might catch some acceptable afternoon light filtering through the leaves. As it turned out, that was indeed the case. But it was not what made my afternoon unforgettable.

We made our way back to the summit and parked in the busy lot so that I could use the restroom. Coming out, I could see that Johnny had set up the tripod and was taking some pictures. So, instead of getting back in the car, I headed over the nearest hill. As soon as I stepped over the top and onto the trail that headed into the distance, I was awe-struck. The plain, golden “moose bush”-covered landscape stretched out before me and Mt. Bierstadt’s rocky presence pulled me in.

I sheepishly returned and asked Johnny if he’d be willing to hike a bit up there. “Sure!” he said. Minutes later we were winding down the hill toward a large pond in the distance. As we started downward, he asked, “Just exactly how far did you want to go?” I smiled. Clouds billowed and rolled. The top of Mt. Bierstadt looked alive in the distance as wisps of rain clouds filtered through the high valleys. We got far enough along the trail to feel the mountain in front of us. I sat in the wind and breathed in the energy, the presence. Wow. I was certain: this is a place I will return to.

The magnetism of the mountain still has not left me – that trail winding upward in the distance is still calling. Our reverie was, however, broken by the drops of rain that began to fall as we quickly covered up Johnny’s new camera. A little sprint for him and speed walk for me and we were back up the hill in no time, headed toward the car.

I’ve been pondering the moment of communion with the mountain since then. At last the right term popped into my head: a “thin place”! As my geologist daughter once said to me about Point Reyes, “Mom, it IS a thin place! Not just a metaphor.” And then she talked about tectonic plates and subduction and so on. I’m not sure but what she missed my point. Her point was well taken, though. Mountains, too, have lots of crazy plates, thrusts, and geologic activity. As my daughter says, it is a thin place and I want to get close. Yep. It is.

Mount Bierstadt (Photo: John Gatlin)
Mount Bierstadt (Photo: John Gatlin)

Sacred Training Ground(lessness)

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,
to realize our dream of constant okayness….
But when…we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation
and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment….”  

– Pema Chodron

For many years, whenever my household had a financial surplus for a moment, it seemed a law of the universe that a car would break down and use it up. It didn’t seem fair at times, when friends’ lives appeared to be much more abundant. They took vacations, they celebrated special occasions in style. The benefit, however, was that this “life close to the edge” kept me always returning to my Source for comfort.

In those days, we named our Source our “Higher Power” and we found solace, guidance, strength, and peace each time we humbly returned to this spiritual well. Sometimes we found our Source in prayer and meditation, oftentimes we found these things in the words of other people – while they lovingly advised us or as they told of their own pain, struggle, or joy.

A belief that I lived by then was to “live simply.” This elevated my lack of abundance to a more spiritual simplicity – though I was never tempted to embrace the concept of “voluntary poverty.” I was fairly certain that abundance had its place, too, alongside simplicity.

Anyway, these days in a similar pattern, I’m recognizing that each time I reach a place in which it feels like I’ve finally integrated a spiritual concept that I’ve been struggling with for years, life seems to offer a challenge to put our integrity and groundedness to the test.

In the world of “manifesting” what we focus upon, I hope I’m not somehow calling for these challenges. If so, it is time to figure that one out – and soon!

No sooner do I have the sense of “Wow! I finally understand this!” that in the next breath the challenge appears. I guess if life is really and truly our spiritual training ground, this could make sense (though it seems kind of brutal!)

Pema Chodron print Etsy
Rebecca Borrelli, artist

In the midst of our most recent crisis, on an evening in which I felt my foundation shaking, my loving daughter sent my husband some encouraging notes. The last image she sent was beautiful – like a lovely Zen tangle. I zoomed in to read the words that encircled an image of waves crashing within a turbulent sea. It read, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Tears of recognition rimmed my eyes.

I read it again. This simple statement from wise woman, Pema Chodron, calmed and centered me. It reminded me that when overwhelming challenges arise, though they blow us off course and tear everything apart, they help us to grow. Though we would never knowingly wish for such chaos, they raise before us the possibility that maybe the goal is not to “have it all together.” Perhaps the goal is, when we are a shaken to pieces, to learn how to lovingly hold each tiny shard that’s been tossed, turned, broken, and tossed again. Perhaps it is also to recognize the calm, unmoving center in the storm.

So my daily practice, as we walk through this turbulent landscape together, is to ask: “Which places within need the most love and care today? And how shall I hold and honor them today – in myself and in my fellow journeyers?” In stillness, the answers arise for the moment.

Sigh. It is really pretty basic, isn’t it? And then I laugh at how complicated I make it.