Is Christmas Our Whore?

I finally went to Starbucks this season, and all I got was a plain old white cup…

Kelly & Lila

~the heart of compassion found in a red cup

Starbucks red cup controversy (Facebook post from Austin Blood.)

In the last week of October, a Facebook friend posted:  “Let’s get through Halloween and Thanksgiving before the Christmas season starts.”

Less than a week later, that same friend posted a meme that said: “It’s okay to say Merry Christmas and One Nation Under God. (Share if you agree.)”

This past Sunday, I stepped into the Dollar Store and was stunned to hear Christmas music. The store was empty except for two clerks who were unpacking a heck of a lot of red and green and gold for sale.

Today, I find my Facebook wall filling up with red Starbucks cups. Apparently, some kind of Christmas controversy is brewing. Even Donald Trump weighed in:

No more ‘Merry Christmas’ at Starbucks. No more. Maybe we should boycott…

If I become President, we’re all going to be saying…

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An Unbeliever’s Claim on the Heart of Jesus

In the chaos, some of my younger siblings reached toward an irrefutable truth. Theirs were radical conversions, delineating us–one from the other–saved and unsaved–which served to formally separate me from my friend Jesus.

Kelly & Lila

tumblr_inline_musegkkWxH1r6vmweMy life with Jesus had been filled with expectation.

First, he was my friend–a role which he filled sweetly–with paper and paste and popsicle sticks.

Then, he was my personal savior–a relationship which, at the age of 7, I didn’t entirely grasp, but was happy to boast about.

Finally, he was my protector–a guardianship in which he failed me, immensely, but only once, because I never trusted him again.

On the day that my grandmother and her best friends were crushed by that 18-wheeler, my fourteen year-old heart was broken.

Perhaps if I hadn’t left behind my sangha–my Sunday school class of spiritual seekers–our relationship would have matured around the crack of His infidelity, but instead I discarded him, just as I was discarded by everything I knew as good and certain and enduring.

In the chaos, some of my younger siblings reached toward an irrefutable truth. Theirs were radical…

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Happy Fall

There is a fourth body in the house, with its own nocturnal habits, which leads me to question, at 4 am, the decision to select latch handles instead of boring door knobs all those years ago.

Twenty minutes later, in the dark, I spoke aloud:

“The basil. Did you cover it?”

We had been covering the basil, just in case, every night, this entire month, ever since nightfall began forcing sweatshirts after dinner at the pond.

Just yesterday, I ripped a few pieces for my lunch, thinking how tender the leaves were and how I must get to making more pesto before the frost.

Instead, I went to the pond, and swam nude toward the sparkling sun, and afterward spread my tarot cards on a blanket for an Equinox draw.

The month had been so unusually pleasant that I’d missed my annual nude swim to the dock because the heat had populated the pond even after the children went back to school.

Now the dock is beached so it’s not the same as lying naked in the middle of a mountain range in the middle of the water in the middle of your life, and besides the pond is populated today too.

I did take a moment in the heat, bare breasted, beside the water, before wrapping my wet body in a towel, on this first afternoon of Autumn.

But it’s not just the basil and the summer. My youngest got his drivers permit yesterday. In fact, he showed up at the pond and put it in my face.

At 5 am, I consider that 15 is the Autumn of youth.

Just the other day, I was forced to go down into the cellar, in search of hanging files, where I found, discarded, on what had once been a train table, the remnants of his childhood.

For love & loss in Makkah

Pushing backward, I attempt to protect their frail bodies. ‘You’re killing them!’ I scream…

(I first read this piece on a contest site called FieldReport. Over the years I’ve looked for it, but the site vanished and I could never find the author and his work anywhere else online. Fortunately, my husband had a cut and paste copy that I sent him all those years ago, so that when I heard of the deaths in Mecca, I could read this piece again and share it with you, and slip into the mystery that is humanity and devotion and art…)

The Dust in God’s Eye
Thomas Joyce
March 2001

cubeKaabaBlackStoneMidnight. The moon is full overhead, a flat white disk in an onyx void rising above the maelstrom. A swirling sea of potential accretes into patterns of motion, congeals into protoplasmic organization, dissolves into a sound, an all-consuming idea, a single word that cannot be grasped by intellect.

My teacher, Yassir, told me the Arabic word qutbmeans “axis,” the spiritual center, the point upon which the whole world and all the dervishes spin in perfect tranquility. Not so much a place, he explained, as a state of mind. Fixing my attention on the black Cube, the meteorite set like a great jewel into its Eastern corner—Hajar al-Aswad—is just visible above the newly shaven heads of a hundred thousand ecstatic hajjis spinning around the tranquil eye of the cyclone.

Finally, I understand what Yassir was talking about.

Toeing the line of dark marble that cuts diagonally across the plaza to al-Ka’bah, I salute the meteorite in its silver setting and prepare for tawwaf al’wadah—my farewell circumambulation of Al-Llâh’s house in Makkah—neither spelled or pronounced “Mecca” by any Muslim worth his prayer rug.

Slipping into the interstices between sweating pilgrims, I’m drawn in toward the Cube’s magnetic vortex. By the time I’ve completed the fifth circuit, I’m only twenty feet from the structure, close enough now to see the details of its kiswah,the elegant black-on-black verses from Al-Qur’ân embroidered into the finely woven veil, gently undulating in a breeze generated by heat rising from the whirling bodies beneath its hem. Al-Ka’bah beckons me closer, invites me to reach out my hand and touch its silken veil.

Rounding the horseshoe enclosure called Hijr Isma’il, I look up to see a golden rainspout jutting from the northwestern rooftop of the Cube. As that thunderstorm blew across the Plain of ‘Arafat several days ago, hajjis danced beneath the deluge of water pouring from this spout, baptized in a fountain of bliss. It was the first time in 25 years that rain fell during Hajj. A sign from heaven, everyone said.

Extruded through the transient gaps between bodies, I suddenly find myself pressed up against the cool, sloping foundation of al-Ka’bah. Enormous brass mooring rings are fitted into the stone, and through their holes, a rope—at least ten inches in diameter—is threaded around the perimeter beneath the roughly chiseled granite blocks. Hajjis are perched like circus performers on the rope’s slick hemp, hugging the wall beneath the kiswah, adoring the structure as if it were the very source of life. Laying my palms flat against the wall, I run my fingertips over the strips of yellow-beige marble that appeared from a distance to be golden mortar. The construction is impeccable, every detail crafted with love, every stitch on the veil’s surface inserted with a prayer for perfection—art elevated to the level of worship.

Within ten feet of the meteorite, determination builds to frenzy, an excruciating crush of flesh against flesh. I’m barely able to breathe as a human tidal wave breaks against my chest. At the corner of the Cube, where the silver bezel protrudes from the granite foundation, an eddy of pilgrims washes back against the flow, pressing in all directions at once. But I hold my ground, keep my sites fixed on the glittering silver “eye” into which Hajar al-Aswad is set like a black diamond.

Two feet now—so close—almost within an arm’s length. But there is an old Tajik hugging the silver eye for dear life, his head inserted into the orifice as if he would die of grief were his gnarly fingers to be pried loose. A dozen hajjis are tugging at him, pushing against his brittle, brown body, but he remains rigid, intransigent, obsessed. Watching the old man, feeling his agony as if it were my own, I lose focus, feel myself being ripped away from the wall. The “Nigerian Wedge” thrusts into the gap—a well-practiced, fluidly incisive team of glistening black bodies—shears through the dense pack of pilgrims, finding space where space had not existed a moment earlier. An unstoppable force of nature.

And I scream like one of those absurd cinematic slow-mo sequences where the hero can’t reach the bomb in time—”Nooooo!”—but cannot even hear my own plea above the synchronized chanting of the Nigerians. A human riptide spits me into the eddy beyond the stone and carries me like a helpless shard of driftwood out to sea. I glance up to the soldier on duty above Hajar al-Aswad, clinging for dear life to his leather lanyard, watching indifferently as the old Tajik is brutally slammed backward and sucked into the maelstrom.

But it’s as if some magnetic field draws me back into al-Ka’bah’s shadow, close in beneath its great golden door. Hajjis climb on the ledge beneath to touch its sublime surface, grope upward toward its embossed medallions as if it were Heaven’s own gate. Squeezed against the horseshoe curve of Hijr Isma’il once again, I’m shunted along on the current, beneath mirrored sunglasses masking the watchful eyes of Sa’udi guards. A Turk who has fainted from exhaustion is lifted onto the low wall out of harm’s way by his fellow pilgrims, given water from the Zamzam well beneath the plaza by a soldier in black beret. Rounding the Yamani corner and flattened against the Ka’bah’s eastern wall, I glance upward at a line of pilgrims balancing tentatively on the thick rope skirting its foundation. A Sudanese man smiles blissfully down at me, touches his brown hand to the silken kiswah and then places it on my sodden head like a blessing, a sanction of renewal—a green light.

Six feet to go…four feet…two…Twenty minutes pass in agony; nothing moves. There is only pressure, only an unrelenting equilibrium. A crush of Iraqis men, wearing orange caps and vests, slams in from the south attempting to break through the crowd. Right in front of me, two tiny Bosnian women in delicate whitehijab and lacey decorative bands across their furrowed foreheads are smashed between my chest and the silver eye of Hajar al-Aswad. Pushing backward, I attempt to protect their frail bodies from the onslaught, but all I can do is watch helplessly as their little mouths gasp like drowning birds, their pleas swallowed by the ubiquitous sonic violence. “You’re killing them!” I scream for mercy, but no one cares or hears. Yassir’s face flashes across my overloaded synapses, his fatalistic explanation echoing through my inner ear.

This is Hajj, Tâ-Hâ.

There is no choice but to surrender to the eye of the storm, let go any hope of control. And suddenly—miraculously—the little Bosnian women reach the silver cradle and kiss the black meteorite within like a baby. And then they disappear, swept into waves of groping arms and contorted faces as my fingers wraps around the stone’s silver eyelid, cool to the touch. Other hands try to pry me loose, but that is impossible. No one but Al-Llâh can move me now.

Inches away… all my strength is focused singularly on the point where the metal flange blends seamlessly into the surface of the black meteorite. I can see it clearly now—the stone that fell from heaven—irregular chunks of taupe and flecks of silver glittering in the synthetic halogen sunlight, suspended in a charcoal matrix torn from the recesses of deep space by the same irresistible forces that have drawn me here. The metacarpal joints of my left hand extend beyond their previous range until I feel the smooth irregular surface beneath my fingertips.

And then I slip into the gap, that space between each thought—the still center of the universe—and find myself staring directly into the tranquil qutb, which whispers its secret into my surrendered heart.

Tâ-Hâ, look around you—all these specks of dust, turning and spinning and going nowhere at all. Do you see yourself? But wait! Who is looking? Ah, it isyou—here at the very center of everything—the answer to all your own questions.

Moments before I’m swept back into the vortex, my teacher’s face appears, his smile as bright as the sunrise. And with that light comes the answer I’ve been seeking all my life.

So I scream it at the top of my lungs to every breathless pilgrim scrambling for blessings in the great Haram of Makkah. I scream it to the black meteorite in its silver setting, to the white moon in its boundless heaven, to the One who constantly creates and moves it all. I scream it in laughter and in tears, with a clarity I’ve never felt before. I scream it to everyone who ever doubted me, everyone who thought me a pretender. I scream it to the teacher who saw through my hubris and ignorance, through the dust that clouded my vision until right now.

And mostly, I scream it to myself—so I will never forget. Because, even if only for this fleeting moment of eternity, I know what saints and sages discovered at the end of their long dark nights, what heroes and heretics came to know at the end of all their exploring.

The Truth that shines eternally beneath the dust in God’s eye.

(The Dust in God’s Eye, Thomas Joyce)

the gift of wildly fluctuating hormones

651d184b026fb7ecd9f9e6575e822f6bI want to talk about anxiety. And depression.

Do they always go together?

I’m new at this. Not new at experiencing them. But new at knowing I’m experiencing them.

It’s not only that I didn’t have names for my feelings when I was younger,
but that I didn’t fully feel them.
Until I had no choice.


Earlier this week, I found myself humming and singing what has become my tell-tale sad song (it knows I’m feeling sad before I do):

I learned the truth at 17,
that love was meant for beauty queens,
and pretty girls with clear-skinned smiles,
who married young and then retired.
And those of us with ravaged faces…

Oddly enough, I was one of those clear-skinned, pretty girls.
But still, this song comes to me more and more as I age, to the point where my youngest, at 15, hears it playing on YouTube for the first time and says: “I like the original better,” not realizing that he’s only ever heard it sung by me.

This is Janis Ian, I say. It’s her song.

I’m relieved when I Google her and find that she’s still alive: and 64, happily through menopause no doubt, even winning a Grammy in 2013!

Mid-life women inspire me. They are such warriors. So full-hearted.

This morning I wake with a crushing weight on my chest. (Well, maybe not crushing. But pressing.)
I’m unable to take a full breath. (I taught yoga yesterday.)
When I consider the day ahead, even the smallest part of the day ahead, I feel immobilized. (It’s a relatively straightforward day.)

I’m expecting my period. And menopause. (Soon, please.)

I stay put and feel into the sensations of weight and panic until they soften enough. I take a shower, pack my work things–while scaling the items shouting for my attention around the house–and I drive away.

I feel lighter.

Until I enter our Co-op grocery store. I decide not to shop first as planned, but instead take a seat in the corner of the cafe and get to work. I always feel good when I work. Almost always. It’s how I’ve kept ahead of anxiety and depression throughout my life, though I never knew that then. I thought I loved work. Until someone said these words:

What you love brings you balance.

Work never brought me balance. It brought me 100-hour work weeks at 20. And teacher burn-out by 30. So I decided to stay home. For two decades.

That didn’t fare well either. I found at-home-motherhood excruciatingly boring. Diapers, dishes, routines. Sitting down on the floor with the kids was the worst. I couldn’t still myself into their worlds. I thought it was play that I resisted, but now I realize that it was me. Without complexity to consume my mind, anxiety devoured me.

I had a window into those years when I went shopping with my son earlier this week. I noticed that if I kept my focus on items that engaged me, say the household aisle of TJ Maxx, then I could keep the anxiety at bay. But if he wanted to talk to me, or worse yet, show me something, particularly something that held no interest for me, my anxiety magnified.

I wonder when it all started.

Is it genetic?
Trauma induced?

I remember a high fever at the age of 4 and the way the world grew too large and then too small and far away for me to handle.

I remember a fire at the age of 9–the one that took the lives of an entire family except for the boy who went to my school–and how I trembled with that news all night long.

I remember my arm in a sling at age 11, broken on the ice–the result of a mind game that I played often that year–counting down how quickly I could get from place to place–before I blew up.

That would have been sixth grade,
the first year of my mother’s alcoholism,
the year that my father poured the bottles down the sink,
and said, “You have to watch your mother. She’s sick.”

My breath catches on this memory.
The weight on my chest returns.

I see this young girl, and go to her.
I rub her heart, and lift the weight from it.

I’m here, I say.
I’ll watch your mother.
You go play.

Sexiest Pajamas

Girls. Role Models. 70s.

Kelly & Lila

When I was a girl, we moved from the East Coast to the Rockies when I was still a Brownie. My new best friend and nextdoor neighbor Liz wasn’t a Girl Scout, she was a Southern Baptist.  Liz went to her church with her family, and I rode the school bus with my younger sisters to another church while our parents slept in.

Mom was an ex-Catholic, and Dad was an Agnostic. They said church was good for us. I read the Bible every night. My very own. It was present for my 8th birthday. (I begged for it.) It had a green leather cover and a tie dye label that (still) reads: KELLY SALASIN–in capitals–which I spelled out, letter by letter, and then printed, with my very first label maker.

Ruth was my favorite book. I read it again and again. Just saying Ruth releases a…

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for my “sisters”

The Feminine, Divine
taking me by hand…

Kelly & Lila

The day we buried our mother. 8 sisters & a much beloved brother (with a newborn on my lap.)

Dear Robin, Michelle, Stephanie, Bonnie, Lauren and April,

It was this week, 15 years ago, our baby sister called to say, “I think Mom is having a seizure.”

That she called me, 300 miles away, instead of 911, was testimony to her tender age, and to our strong connection.

mom's program Our beloved mother.

48 hours earlier, I left them at the shore, to return to my home in Vermont, for the last weeks of my pregnancy. Mom would die when Aidan was just over month old.

She was the one who taught me about synchronicities, which is what brought me to write this letter to you, today–Father’s Day, Solstice, and the International Day of Yoga–an alchemy of consciousness.

I’ve just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Urgent Message from MOTHER. Her …

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