Transcending Pain

On the planet of Eliria there is no pain. The Elirians are troubled by what they find here on Earth. Tirini says of the humans they have brought to their ship to heal, “They speak of pain. We feel their pain, but we of Eliria do not have pain of our own. We did not know of pain until we came here.”

And Clara, the human, exclaims, “What a blessed life you have!”


I believe that pain is probably the most difficult of the challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth.

Acute short-term pain can be intense, but it passes, we heal, and go on. Long- term pain is another matter.

It isolates. When we are in pain, we don’t have the energy and it hurts too much to go out and connect. Our pain can become so central in our consciousness that we find it difficult to speak of anything else, but complaining is a serious turn-off to those around us.

We find ourselves in survival mode. How can I get through this day? this night? Nights can be the hardest of all when pain denies us even the rest we so sorely need. We wonder, is it worth it to keep struggling?

I recently went through two years of acute sciatic pain. I am now gratefully functional again, but it was the toughest thing I’ve been through in my long life. During those two difficult years, I gradually crafted a survival code:

  1. Don’t complain. Ask for help only if I truly need it, and then be specific about exactly what help I need. Never dump the whole misery on anyone.
  2. Don’t freak out. Fear makes the pain worse, much worse.
  3. Show up. Keep all appointments and social engagements unless I truly can’t. Stay connected.

But that was only a survival code, and I am seeking to discover how we can transcend the challenges of Earthly incarnation. How can we live with pain in a sacred manner? How bring light out of such misery?

I confess I don’t know. I made it out the end of the tunnel, and I do believe I am wiser for the experience, but I’m not sure exactly how. I have only a few clues.

One is to keep hope alive. Change is the only constant. Miracles do happen. A year and a half ago, in the depths of my pain, I never dreamed I would walk in the high country or dance the tango again. And now I can.

Another is to live in gratitude. I learned to give thanks for the most basic gifts of my life—a comfortable chair, a hot bath, a warm bed, a roof over my head, food—and most of all for the friends who stood by me even before I learned not to complain. Every time we stop and give thanks, there is less space in our consciousness for pain.

Perhaps most important is the discipline of staying present. The Buddhists make a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation. Simply that. Suffering happens when we fall into fear, exacerbating the physical pain with emotional freakout and mental anguish, projecting whole mess onto an infinite future.

When we stay with the present moment, there is only the sensation of pain. Then perhaps we can expand our awareness to include our breath. Then our surroundings. The softness of our bed, or if we can go outside—which always helped me—the color of the sky, the earth underfoot, the smell of the air, the feel of the wind. The more we include in our present moment awareness, the less space there is for pain.

What clues have you found that help you transcend pain? I would welcome your sharing.


Dawn comes a little later, dusk a little earlier. There is a subtle shift in the light. The crickets begin to sing.

We have come to the beginning of August and the festival of Lammas. Lammas is the cross-quarter between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox, the honoring of the fullness and ending of summer, the beginning of fall, of harvest, and the gathering in of the first fruits of the summer’s abundance.

Traditionally the celebration has focused on the first harvest of the grain and the baking and sharing of the first loaf made from that grain.

During the years when we danced the long dance every quarter and cross-quarter, it became clear that all ritual is about death and transformation. At each point in the wheel of the year there are different symbols, textures, but the underlying process is the same.

At Lammas we celebrate the transformation of the grain. Imagine wheat, golden in the sunlight, going through the process of harvest, threshing, grinding, kneading, baking, until it becomes a loaf that is then broken, eaten, and transformed further into human flesh, blood, spirit.

Grain ears in wheat field

Golden grain ears in wheat field

I do not grow wheat. Nor do I have any longer the big garden that used to keep me busy this time of year gathering and freezing vegetables. I have only a little garden now, with herbs and flowers. But they, too, go through their process of transformation.

Rose petals and lavender, dried, will become sachets for Christmas gifts, to bring their fragrance to the linen closets and bureau drawers of my beloveds. My young grandchildren call them “smelly pillows” and take them to bed to sniff as they go to sleep. Basil, chopped and pounded, becomes pesto, or, dried, is stored away to season winter soups.

But the real abundance of summer—long days, outdoor play with friends and family, high country hikes, sitting in the garden to write, going barefoot—how does one gather and store these less tangible blessings?

I believe the catalyst is gratitude. Remembering that in all ritual it is we ourselves whom we seek to transform, let us gather in the gifts of summer with gratitude, let them become fragments of light that shine in every cell of us, until we become beings of gratitude, delighting not only in the abundance of summer but in all the gifts of our lives.

Then even the longest night of winter, the coldest day, will be blessed with warmth and fullness.

To Love In A Sacred Manner

On Eliria, since there is neither male nor female, Elirians are not troubled with sexuality. They are beings of perfect love and go peacefully about their tasks of creating harmony without being distracted.

On Earth, human sexuality is a tremendous force affecting every aspect of our lives: religion, politics, culture, family, gender roles, self-identity.

The spectrum of how we use that power is wide, touching at it’s worst the deepest depravity of humankind: rape, mutilation, murder, abuse of all kinds. I will not write more of that. It is in the paper most days.

At the other end of the spectrum, sex can be truly making love, bonding, comfort, delight, the creation of a desired child, the inspiration of great art in many forms, ecstasy, connection with the divine. As Lyra discovered, “dancing into the Light.”

How can we turn the force of sexuality to the highest end of the spectrum? How can we love in a sacred manner?

I think of two words: respect and kindness. They are not dramatic words, maybe not even especially romantic ones; but if all human sexuality were channeled through respect and kindness, it would be a different world indeed. 

In his book The Presence Process, Michael Brown writes that unconditional love is what everyone wants most and that all of our dramas amount to ways that we seek to get it. “Unfortunately unconditional love is not an experience we can force others to channel our direction through the manifestation of drama. . . .Unconditional love must be given to be experienced, for it is only through the act of giving that it is experienced.”

As I read those words, I was deeply touched. There was a sense that I had always known that somewhere in my soul, but only then did I realize it. The only way to know unconditional love is to give it.

What is unconditional love? This is a huge, infinite question, because such love is infinite, beyond human comprehension. Perhaps we begin with respect and kindness, and move on to love that is without judgement, attachment, or expectation, love that is committed to the highest good of the beloved.

(I am no authority on this. I speak only from the experiences and yearnings of my  heart.)

It seems that though such love is the essence of God, always within and around us, pouring through us, we are like kinked and leaky hoses that cut the flow to a trickle or send it off in divergent directions.

Clara muses after returning from her time with the Elirians, “I have been in the presence of perfect love. How can my imperfect self bear such love? How can I go again among humans where love is twisted, tainted? How can I not?”

Is is possible for us faulty humans love unconditionally?

I want to think it is at least worth a try. The great teachers call us to transformation. Sharon Salzberg in her book Lovingkindness, quotes the Buddha as saying, “Abandon what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.  . . . Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.”

My beloved teacher, Ida Rolf, said, “Perfection is not an appropriate goal for three-dimensional reality— but working toward it is.”

If we seek to embody this love, it is like stepping off a cliff like the Fool in the Tarot, or standing at the edge of the ocean intending to swim to the horizon.

Dare we jump? Dare we plunge in?

The Insanity of Falling In Love

Falling in love is insanity.

“I can’t go on without you.”

“I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.”

“Taunt me, and hurt me, deceive me, desert me, I’m yours till I die, so in love, so in love, so in love with you my love, am I.”

Lines from love songs.

On the planet of Eliria, there is neither male nor female. Peace and harmony prevail. On Earth, we are hard-wired to mate—and men are from Mars, women from Venus. Insanity prevails. Lured by the intensity and drama of the call to mate and all the hormones that stirs up, we lose sleep, break out in zits, agonize over what to wear, are captive to the throes of jealousy, exaltation, despondence, hope, despair.

Seriously bi-polar.

As I explore how to love in a sacred manner (see my post on Earth and Eliria), I don’t think all this turmoil is how you do it. Like a thunderstorm with no rain, it doesn’t nourish, and sometimes burns and destroys. Looking under the turmoil, I find that it is fear based, arising from loneliness, desperation, and clinging. And fear is the opposite of love.

Not everyone seeks love out of loneliness and desperation, but judging by the songs, it is not uncommon.

When we seek love in desperation, it is bound to go awry. Desperation tells us that we are not okay without a partner to protect us, to comfort us, to be there always to fill the terrible abyss of loneliness. Then should we find someone, we are apt to cling, and so ultimately chase our love away. There are many variations on this theme, but desperation rarely wins.

How do we transcend the desperation so that we can seek, find, and endure with our loved one in a sacred manner? Ah, that is hard. Fear and desperation are ravening beasts. I have spent a lifetime seeking the ways to tame them.

Here are few threads I have found to lead me out of their caves:

Meditation. Where would I be without that gentle process of watching the thoughts, feeling the feelings, calling them by name, and letting them go? Letting them go until at last the deep peace beneath surfaces and comforts.DSCN0235

Nature. Sitting against a tree absorbing the slow dance of its growth; rocking in the ocean; working in the garden, nurturing life, earth in my hands; walking high in the mountains and seeing my own small issue come into perspective with the vastness above and around me.

Movement. For me it has been walking, dancing, yoga. For others, exercise in many forms, sometimes extreme. When we move and feel our movement we are rescued from the terrors of past and future. Sensation is always now.

To love in a sacred manner we must first be at home with ourselves.

What threads have you found to lead you out of the caves of fear? What resources bring you home to yourself?

To Kill To Eat In A Sacred Manner


A month ago I posted a piece comparing Earth with the planet Eliria (the planet in my novel Never Again).  I wrote of the challenges of being incarnate on Earth, and how we might meet them in a sacred manner. Today I am writing about meeting the challenge of killing to eat.

Several decades ago I became a vegan because I didn’t want animals to be killed to feed me. But I was a gardener. I sang as I planted my seeds, prayed to the devas for guidance, blessed my little plants as I watered them, watched over them and nurtured them. Then one day I cut some leaves of Swiss chard, brought them into the house, chopped them up and steamed them over boiling water.

I had done that for years, harvested my vegetables and cooked them. Killed them.

That day I realized what I was doing, and grieved for my chopped up plant. It doesn’t matter whether it is animal or vegetable. We must kill to eat.

I was explaining to my seven-year-old grandson who has dinner with me once a week, why we say blessing before we eat. Because, I told him, other life forms have died so we can be fed.

He considered this for a while. “No, Grandma, not apples. The apple tree doesn’t die.” More consideration. “Not milk . . . or cheese . . . or yogurt. The cow doesn’t die.” He was silent a while frowning, then summed it up with a wave of his fork. “Fruit and dairy. We could just eat fruit and dairy.”

No, Grandma, apples

No, Grandma,  not apples

True. But in fact most of us need to eat more than that. And other life forms must die to feed us. Unlike the Elirians, we cannot live on light.

How then can we nurture the life that we eat, and kill in a sacred manner?

In some traditional cultures hunting was a ritual, with dances and prayers to honor the animal to be killed. There was awareness not to take more than was needed, to use every part of the animal sacrificed.

Not wasting is part of honoring what we kill to eat.

In earlier times in our country, and still on organic farms, animals are cared for well and killed cleanly. The soil is renewed with organic matter.

But most of the food in our stores comes from factory farms where no care is given to the quality of the life of the beings that feed us.

Caging animals so tightly that they cannot move and must live in their excrement is travesty.

Spraying vegetables with chemicals that then sink into the ground and poison our waterways is travesty.

Altering plants so they can withstand ever more toxic herbicides is travesty.

How much, I wonder, does this disregard for the lives that feed us lead to disregard of other lives—  other humans that are different from us, our wildlife, all living beings? And further lead us to destruction, war. If we could all honor the lives that are closest to us, those we eat, perhaps we could begin to turn around the culture of violence that so mars our planet.

There are ways to create our food in a sacred manner.  May we all be aware and make choices that can heal the travesties.

My shaman teacher, Elizabeth Cogburn, taught us this blessing for our food:

“We give thanks for all life given to nourish our life. May we so honor this life given that we use it to grow the cells of that which we seek to become. And may we offer ourselves again in service to life.”

The Poignancy of Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice is the peak of the year, the longest day, the fullness of the light, mid-summer in all its magic.

For me, especially during the twenty-six years I danced the Summer Solstice Long Dance, it has always been a time of celebration, transformation.

The canyons where we danced were glorious in the fullness of summer—the stream loud and full, the aspen leaves shiny-new, the sun hot, the nights chill. We danced two or three days and nights, sunrises and sunsets, blue-grey dawns, long hot afternoons, swift showers, starry nights, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, deep in trance, lost in magic.IMG_1662

There is a poignancy in any peak, because contained in its fullness is the coming down.

The path from the top of the mountain descends. The swing reaches its apex, hangs for a breathless moment, then drops toward earth. Orgasm subsides. The dance ends. The day after Summer Solstice is a just a little shorter.

It is tempting to grieve the loss of the peak, but there is also sweetness in the coming down. The trail descending the mountain is beautiful in the afternoon light, seen from a different perspective than when we climbed. The whoosh of the swing dropping is also thrilling. In the bliss after orgasm, lovers lie close, kiss softly. When the dance ends and the drum stops, there is deep silence accented by bird song, wind sough, the susurration of the stream. After Solstice there are still long summer days ahead.

In this time of fullness, may we rejoice and give thanks to the Sun that gives us life. And may we also let its rays fall between our fingers, not clinging, opening to the sweetness that follows.

Earth and Eliria

When I started to write Never Again, I knew that there had to be extraterrestrial beings, but I didn’t know who they would be or why they came to Earth, or what their home planet was like.

They wrote themselves onto my page. I love it when that happens. It is the most fun part of writing.

The planet of Eliria is a place of peace, beauty, harmony. There is no violence. No need to kill to eat, as the Elirians receive all their nourishment from light through their eyes and from the atmosphere of their planet through their fur.

No male or female.

No death. They are immortal, part of their planet. They arise out of it to take their unique shapes when they are called by a purpose, what they call an “ulada.” When their ulada is complete, they sink back into their planet until they are called again. The five Elirians who rescued Clara have been called to a huge ulada—to come to Earth and learn what is creating such discord that it is felt throughout the universe.

They are beings of unconditional love, whose gifts are healing song and the ability to see into the essence of things.Borowitz-Earth-Endangered-by-Fact-Resistant-Humans-690

Here they find violence, duality, grief, fear, pain, death—as well as much they come to admire about humans. As they prepare to leave Earth, Lillilia sings, “The song of Eliria will be forever changed because of what we have known here.”

When I read the morning paper and grieve, I think about the challenge of being incarnate on planet Earth.

Perhaps Earth is a testing ground for humanity. (I know this is not a new idea.)

Perhaps our coming here over the ages is like the test given boys at puberty in some traditional cultures. The boy is sent out into the wilderness alone, to survive or to die. If he survives, he comes back a man.

Built into life on Earth are the need to kill to eat, the need to mate, the inevitability of death. These challenges can lead us into violence, destruction, abuse, despair—as we see all around us. But these same challenges can be transcendent.

What if we truly honor each being that gives its life to feed us? What if we approach all relationships between the sexes with respect and concern for the good of the other? What if we open to death as a doorway to rebirth? What if we truly care for our Earth and all her creatures, and change our ways to heal and renew her?

Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, speaks of those he calls “frequency holders.” He says of them, “They do everything in a sacred manner.”

Like the boy in the wilderness, we must find the way to survive. If we do not change our ways, and soon, we and much of the life and beauty on Earth will die. If we can meet our challenges in a sacred manner, then perhaps we may return from the wilderness we’ve created, adults.

Accepting or Giving Up

Part of incarnate life on planet Earth is aging. It doesn’t happen to all of us; some die young. But for those of us who avoid early death, it is inevitable.

My mother, who was brought up in aristocratic circumstances, used to say of various unavoidable human frailties, including aging, “It happens in the best of families.” So it does.

One evening when I was twenty, standing in line at a church supper, I became impatient with the old woman in front of me. She moved so slowly, fussed clumsily with her tray and utensils. “Oh, get on with it,” I thought. “I’m hungry.”

Then it hit. A chill went through me. I can still remember that moment of realization. Someday I will be old like that.

And now I am.

I wonder what the young woman behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store feels as I slowly unload my cart and dig in my purse for just the right coins to give exact change.DSCN0181

It’s shocking, really. It seems just yesterday I could see clients all day, mow my big lawn running barefoot behind a push mower, hike high in the mountains, dance for hours.

When something is inevitable, an important question is, “How can we handle it gracefully?”

I think one piece has to do with finding the line between accepting and giving up.

In my novel Never Again, Clara, on her eightieth birthday, seeks to climb high in the mountains to a place she loves. She stumbles, her heart races, her inner voice tells her she should turn back. But she does not, because she fears that if she does, she will never try again, and her walks in the mountains, which are her greatest joy, will be lost to her forever. So begins her story.

When we are injured or ill or aging, there comes a point when we will have less grief if we accept where we are, adapt to it, make peace with it. There is grace in that.

But where is that point? Ah, that is tricky. It can be too easy to say, “I can’t,” and give up, when perhaps a little more effort would gain more function, more good years. There is also grace in pushing through, trying harder, holding hope.

Of course, finding that line between accepting and giving up applies not only to aging, but to any situation that challenges us, at any age.

May Day, The First Day of Summer

May Day comes at the sweetest time of year when everything is new and fresh, the air laden with fragrance, flowers blooming, the grass greening, the leaves on the trees just opening.

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In Gaelic traditions, May Day, also called Beltane, is the first day of summer, the midpoint between the fullness of spring at Equinox and the longest day of the year at Summer Solstice. It is the blending of these two energies, a time of fertility and embodiment, new life and ancient urges, birthing and growing.

This day has been celebrated in many northern cultures for hundreds of years with Beltane fires on the hilltops on the eve of May Day, dances around the May pole, and blessing ceremonies for the herds and crops.

My own experiences of May Day began when I was a child growing up in New England. We decorated little baskets with ribbons, filled them with flowers and gave them to our friends and neighbors. In the garden behind the house where I grew up, there were huge lilac trees and under them a wondrous carpet of purple and white violets. How I loved those violets and the joy of gathering them! Then there was the excitement of leaving the basket on the front porch of a neighbor, ringing the bell and running, so the neighbor wouldn’t know who had given them the basket. But I think they did know.

Much later in my life, I danced with my Shaman teacher Elizabeth Cogburn, then with the Earth Song Ceremonial Community here in Boulder, and for five years with a community I initiated in Durango. On the full moons, the quarter days (Equinoxes and Solstices) and the cross quarter days (Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and All Hallows), we danced a form of long dance developed by Elizabeth.

My memories of May dances are very rich.

On the evening of April 30, we gathered, built a Beltane fire and jumped the fire. Jumping the fire was sort of scary for me the first time, as I dashed toward the knee-high blaze, leaped, and hoped to make it to the other side. Then it became pure fun—the edge of excitement, the moment of flying over the fire, the rush of heat up my legs, the safe landing on solid earth. We took turns drumming and jumping. Sometimes we jumped alone; sometimes with a beloved, holding the prayer that jumping together over the fire would deepen our bond; sometimes with a person with whom we’d had difficulty, asking the sacred fire to cleanse our dissonance.

One time when I was drumming for the fire jumping, a young man, stripped to the waist, did a handspring over the fire. Ah, the sheer beauty of that! His youth, his strength and agility, his bare skin shining in the firelight seemed to hold all the magic and potency of Beltane.

Another year, everyone gathered on Beltane eve at our house in the mountains. After the fire jumping, we all slept there together, the men in one part of the house, the women in my bedroom on mats laid edge to edge. I remember the delight of waking with all my sisters, dressing together, combing each other’s hair, adorning each other for the dance. Then stepping out into the sweet summer morning to weave the pole.

Weaving the pole was the most delightful of all. We set it up the day before with many colored ribbons attached at the top. We each brought our own ribbons in a color of our choosing and imbued them with our dreams and visions.

On May Day morning we started the drum and opened the dance. Then each one of us picked up the end of our ribbon. We formed two circles, one moving clockwise, one counterclockwise. Over and under we wove the ribbons, dancing, greeting each other as we passed. Toward the end it became something of a scramble as the ribbons grew short near the bottom of the pole and we had to duck low to get under them. Then the pole, brightly woven, soaring to the sky, set deep into the earth, stood at the center as we danced, rocked in the rhythm of the drum, through the long summer day until evening.

It has been many years since I danced on May Day. I don’t think I could jump the fire now. Our communities have dispersed.

But still I honor this day. I celebrate by walking barefoot outside, delighting in flowers and new leaves that are like flowers, feeling the juiciness of life force awakening all around and within me, communing with all that is luscious, alive, sweet, beginning.

How will you celebrate this wondrous time?


Years ago, one of my therapists asked me, “Are you addicted to ecstasy?” (Not the drug, the state of being.)

I was startled by the question, had never considered such a possibility. Later, taking a walk alone to integrate the session, I answered him. “Damn right, I’m addicted to ecstasy. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.”  The tell-tale conviction of the addict.

Since then I have thought a great deal about ecstasy. It is wise to understand one’s addictions.

I think most people seek ecstasy at some point in their lives, in some way. Or if they do not seek it, long for it.

The word literally means “to stand outside.” So the experience of ecstasy is one of moving beyond ourselves, breaking free of the walls of our ego, our duties, our fears, all the trivia of incarnate existence, and opening into another dimension.

Some seek ecstasy through speed—flying downhill on skis, racing on a bicycle, a skateboard, or in a car. Some seek danger—hanging on a cliff face, riding towering waves on a surfboard, any activity so life-threatening that there is no room for thought.

Others seek ecstasy in quieter ways—immersing themselves in nature, in the creation of an art form, in the arms of a beloved, in meditation.

I believe the essence of it is connection. We not only go beyond ourselves, but merge with something greater. The rock face, the wave, the art, the beauty of nature, the beloved, the Beloved. IMG_20120824_104227

Some say we should not seek ecstasy, but contentment. Let go the drama, live gently. They say the higher we fly, the harder we fall, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow.

It is true. Clara (Never Again), muses on her life. “It had not been an easy life. It was like the wild mountains around her, ecstasy in the high places, despair in dark ravines at the bottom of sheer cliffs. Not often the wide, level path.”

Yet I would not want a life without ecstasy. I would let go the addiction. Addictions are never good; they warp life. I have been working for years to find more contentment, less drama.

But I also know that moments of ecstasy can be an invaluable resource, a renewal, a shift in perspective that can turn one’s life around.

At the beginning of her story (Leaves in Her Hair), Lyra was tormented by inner voices, struggling with an unhappy marriage, cut off from her art. Then she found her magic glade and Derwydd, the dryad of the oak tree. Her ecstatic times of dancing with Derwydd into the light strengthened her to return home and transform her life.

Back in 1972, I took a three month spiritual training called Arica. Toward the end of the training, we were asked to go to a place alone for three days and nights with a regime of practices to follow. One practice was to begin with an awareness of light at the center of the chest and then, breath by breath,  to expand it—to fill the body, the room, the building, the city, the planet, and on out into the universe.

That practice was a major turning point for me. When I reached the boundaries of the universe—never mind that such a thing is inconceivable—there was light, and light and beyond that Light. When I came back at last to the quiet room, my hands folded in my lap, the candle flickering, I knew I would never be the same again. Whatever ill might befall me in the years to come, I would always know the Light was there, within and around me.

So. I seek contentment, but also ecstasy. For me the paths are dancing, meditation, hiking in the high country, and . . .

You never know in what unexpected moment you will be surprised.