Thanksgiving Weekend

There is a conflict of energies on Thanksgiving weekend.

For hundreds of years, Thanksgiving has been a spiritual holiday, a time for giving thanks for the bounty of nature that nourishes us, and a time to gather with friends and family and share a feast.

This year, I drove down to Santa Fe and spent four days with my two sons and their wives and children, eleven of us gathered under one roof. It was a lovely time, seeing the older cousins connecting with the younger ones, the living room full with multiple card games, music, love, and laughter. The crowning delight was a bountiful, delicious feast prepared by my daughter-in-law. All that Thanksgiving was meant to be was there.

The conflicting energy of Thanksgiving weekend is Black Friday which, over recent years, has crept like a fungus, encroaching more and more into the time of family and community and drowning out the sacred energy of gratitude.

Greed! Consumers’ greed for more and more stuff at bargain prices. Retailers’ greed for more and more sales, more and more money.

The employees of these retailers no longer get a holiday weekend. The black fungus of Black Friday has crept from early morning on Friday, to the wee hours of Friday morning, to midnight, and in the last few years to Thanksgiving evening. So now the employees can’t even linger with their families on the holiday.

I don’t feel so much concern for consumers who stand in line to get deals because they, at least, have a choice; though I am sad that they would curtail a celebration of gratitude to grab for more stuff. We have forgotten the meaning of enough.

Kudos to REI who closed their stores on Black Friday, saying in their ad that they wanted to give their employees a holiday weekend, and inviting their customers to meet them outdoors. Perhaps, I hope, this insanity has reached its peak and will turn around. I know I am not the only one to avoid Black Friday like the plague.

I believe that gratitude is a primary spiritual energy. Without it we can never be satisfied. No matter how little we have, or how much more we think we need, there is always something to be grateful for.DSCN0164 Even the simplest things— the light on a turning leaf, the smile on the face of a friend— can be a source of renewal. DSCN0331Most of us reading this blog have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Let us not forget to be thankful for these daily blessings, remembering that much of the population of the world does not have such basic security.

Once when I was trekking in Nepal with my shaman teacher Elizabeth Cogburn, she said to us as we gathered for our evening meal, “Gratitude is the beginning of abundance.”

Those words have stayed with me over many years. Perhaps if we hold them close to our hearts, we can stop burdening our planet with our craving for more and more stuff, and give thanks, give praise, for the greatest blessing of all—the love of God that surrounds and enfolds us.

Aging In A Sacred Manner

Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.

Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”

How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?

My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.

“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August

When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!

The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,

And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.

Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.

Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!

Look long, love deep while you may.

Too soon December.”

Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.

Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”



Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.

Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.

When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers,  “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”

As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.

Look long, love deep.

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.