Advent Offering for Women

(art: Cathy McClelland)


Journey through Advent with a virtual circle of women celebrating soul.

 
Each Sunday of Advent brings a new invitation to shape space–inside you–on a journey to the sun’s rebirth with the Winter Solstice.
 
All those who identify as female are welcome. All faith traditions welcome too. Diversity enriches the journey!
 
Step outside of time each week and steep inside the gift of you–your life, your gifts, your challenges.
 
You decide when and where to participate with each Advent invitation which will be posted at dusk on the four Sundays before Christmas (and again on the Sunday before New Year’s Eve.)
 
Week I, Sunday, December 2: EARTH
Week II, Sunday, December 9: WATER
Week III, Sunday, December 16: FIRE
Week IV, Sunday, December 23: AIR
Bonus Week V, Sunday, December 30: BLISS (New Year Visioning)
 

We’ll move through the elements together with a combination of online invitational prompts and handwritten mailings.

Sliding scale (pay what fits you this season):

Affordable $33  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/33.33
Sustaining $44  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/44.44
Providing   $55  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/55.55

Enroll you & friend/relative(s):
Giftgiver (for 2)   $77  https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/77.77
Giftgiver (for 3)   $111 https://www.paypal.me/KellySalasin/111.11

 
Facilitator Kelly Salasin is a lifelong educator, retreat leader and yoga/yogadance instructor. Kelly is the creator of Writing through the Chakras, an online writing journey for women. She regularly assists leading presenters at Kripalu Yoga & Healing Center including visionaries Tara Brach, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Joan Borysenko, Julia Cameron, Tama Kieves & Dani Shapiro.
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the deva in the darkness

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

by Denise Levertov

Fuessli, visipix.com

I wonder why we’re so quick to reach toward the Sun on Solstice.

Why do we dismiss the gift of the darkness?

Sipping margaritas under the summer sun is simpler. Much simpler.

I’ve read that the days leading up to Solstice are the most feminine of the year–a time of pause, of rest, of surrender. Winter’s yin to summer’s yang.

I need that.

Why do I fight it then? (Curse it, even!)

Why do I place a higher value on the expression on my yang than on the yin which necessarily conceives it?

This Solstice day is a dark one in New England. I’ve lit my tree and my staircase and my wreath to make Holy the darkness. In this week before Christmas, I’ve opted for extra yoga classes instead of the gym–seeking that which is slow and restorative to anything more invigorating.

My doctor calls, suggesting an upgrade with my progesterone cream–offsetting the havoc inflicted by my shifting hormones.

I’m hesitant to claim the relief.

Do I not deserve it? Wouldn’t I prefer to be my usual, satisfied self?

These are the questions I ponder in my therapist’s chair.

She tells me that some women say that it is their PMS self that is their truest reflection.

Am I an edgy, agitated, easily-irritated woman?

I can be.

Do I want to be?

I’m surprised to discover that, right now, I do. I prefer her. She fits. She has something important to say.

Annie Dillard writes that, How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

This morning I wake in self-love, the first I’ve felt in weeks. Gone is my fractured mind and my ever-present angst. My body is tired, but I feel whole. Still. Contained. Embraced.

I open my computer, and watch as that changes. With each click of the mouse, my mind wakes to the day. My fingers speed over the keys, delighting in the rapid succession of taps. Despite this engaging stimulation, my wellbeing begins to fray.

When I click on my browser, I am at once overwhelmed by how many pages I work at one time. I close all but one, and then suffer the lack of efficiency.

I resist the urge to check email while a page is loading. I don’t scan Facebook. I stay present to the site that is open in front of me. Even though nothing is happening. Even though I am bored. Even though this is impractical.

I witness how my thoughts race ahead of my body. I bring them back. I am gentle.

Slowly my sweet sense of sanity fractures away. The phone rings. An email comes through. A Facebook chat chimes. The Christmas cd skips. I have to pee.

Had there been sun–or hormones–I wouldn’t have noticed any of this…

This is how I live my life.

This is its cost.

This is the darkness illuminating the price tag.

Kelly Salasin, December 21, 2011

To read more on self & the holidays, click here.

To read more about the Sun and Winter Solstice, click here.

Seasonal Insanity Disorder

One of the challenges of being a highly intuitive person is that she is aware of her own insanity, as well as that around her.

A tell-tale sign that she herself is afflicted by Seasonal Insanity Disorder is the fact that it took her over 2 hours to get dressed; and not because she couldn’t decide on an outfit.

She began at the closet, where she noticed a pile of laundry that needed folding, and a pile of scattered clothes that needed sorting. She decided a cup of tea would help.

While boiling the water, she worked on the grocery list, packed up a Christmas gift, and made a call to her husband at work.  When she returned to her room and her closet, she couldn’t face it, so she sat down on her bed with the cup of tea and Facebook.

This was a good idea, she thought, as she relaxed into the pillows with her warm mug. She didn’t linger on the computer once her tea was drunk; she got right up–to use the bathroom–and noticed the towels lying around. She picked them up; started a load of laundry; scrubbed the toilet.

Upon returning to her closet, she realized she felt really tired so she decided to take a nap before getting dressed. That makes better sense, she thought. On her way to the bed, she packed up another gift, and then crawled under the covers in her robe.

She woke to the sound of the UPS man, and so she scampered down the stairs and brought the package inside, and opened it up, and wrapped it; and then realized she was hungry. She munched on a few half-eaten items that she grabbed mindlessly from the refrigerator, and then she noticed how cluttered the kitchen table was. She tidied it, started the dishwasher, and worried that she was wasting this precious day off.

When she returned to her closet it was almost 2 hours later, and yet it still took her more than 20 minutes to get dressed. After each article of clothing, she had another thought; to which she promptly attended: Have I plucked my eyebrows this week? Did my son remember his violin? Are cu-tips on the grocery list? Do those long johns still fit? Why is my bathing suit bag on the floor? Do I have time to wrap the stocking stuffers?

All the while, she was listening to a seasonal meditation, with soft music, and an annoyingly tender voice, and a listing of qualities of being from which she was to choose for a New Year focus. She stopped this recording, not once, not twice, but each time she left the room to chase down another thought–partially nude.

“Choose the quality that jumps out at you,” the reader said, listing one angel card after another.

When she heard the card “compassion” she felt it was hers, even while she chose a bra and socks and underwear, and tried to decide whether she should go to the gym or to the yoga studio or to the cafe after her appointment downtown.

Just before she ran to get her pants out of the dryer where they were de-wrinkling, she bent over into a standing fetal position and said, aloud:

“Oh God, help me.”

Instead of berating herself for indulging such craziness, she felt a blanket of compassion wrap around her, from her shoulders down to the floor.

In less than a minute, she was dressed, and writing this post… for you?

Kelly Salasin, December 20, 2011

The Atheist’s Christmas

Francesco, visipix.com

Why would an Atheist want to go to church?” a friend asks, after my mention of the Unitarian/Universalist congregations that include them.

Her question is a good one. It not only points to the Christian-centric view, it also provides a rich opportunity for exploration.

“I think all humans have an essential need to gather in community and deepen into that which is most important,” I say.

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, and I’m not sure of my accuracy either when it comes to what Atheists need or believe. I imagine they’re like the rest of us–some of this, some of that, and everything in between.

I’ve been listening to The Portable Atheist this holiday, mainly because I couldn’t find anything else seasonal at the library, and I’d rather listen to something about “not” believing than something completely unrelated to the question of the sacred at this time of year.

The truth is I’m not so worried about whether there is a God, and what his name is, and whether she’s benevolent or exacting or both. I just love being immersed in Spirit and for me Spirit comes alive with attention–whether it’s questions or ritual or worship or meditation.

The Portable Atheist makes a valid point, however, about the suffering propelled throughout time by religion. You don’t even need to look back into history for that. It’s happening right now, all around the world. That said, society’s ills can’t all be blamed on religion, just as all good acts can’t be ascribed to those of faith. And yet there is some alarming discrimination going on for those who are (openly) Atheist.

Years ago, I closely followed the story of a teacher at the local high school who was driven out of town because  he was an atheist. I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but if you read the collection of letters to the editor in our small town paper, you’d recognize the witch hunt too.

In my mind, it isn’t religion or atheism that is the root of the problem, it is fear. Whenever we’re afraid, we make the other–an “other”–and then all manner of horrid things are possible. (Think Holocaust.)

This brings me back to the UU’s. A few years ago, I was hired as the interim Director of Religious Education at our local Unitarian Universalist church–where surprisingly it didn’t matter that I had no religion.

I was fascinated by this organization. It found a way to bring together Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Pagans, Wiccans, Agnostics and even Atheists–and people like me who love exploring them all, but never settled down with a one. It was no simple task and I’m not sure the results were ever completely satisfying for any one group, but the effort is valiant and inspiring.

What’s particularly challenging is Christmastime, when the UU’s typically have a pageant–often Christian, sometimes Pagan, and sometimes something else altogether. No matter what, the service represents all faiths–in attendance, readings, music and spirit.

I had a similar experience at the Meetinghouse Church in our town last night on the final Sunday of advent. It was a service of scripture and carols; and it was led by long-time members of the church; but also by newcomers–some of whom are Unitarians or Catholic or dare I say, Agnostic. Most inspiring was the chorus–led by the Jewish community leader, accompanied by a professor of Buddhism, seated in front of the ex-wife of a leading yoga guru.

“I found those kind of services bland,” my friend says, and she makes a valid point. There does seem to be something missing when we try to accommodate everyone. It takes the flavor away. But maybe it’s time for a new flavor. Maybe we just haven’t gotten the recipe right.

Christianity has had over two thousand years to develop its flavor, while Judaism has had even longer. Maybe equality and diversity are just finding their spice. Maybe our taste buds need to adapt too.

Try hugging an Atheist this Christmas–tell them how much you appreciate the good they do, the humanity they uphold, and the reverence and awe they give to nature.

Kelly Salasin, December 19, 2011

From the Unitarian Universalist website:

Atheists are people who do not believe in a god, while Agnostics are people who think that we cannot know whether a god exists. Both groups are welcome in Unitarian Universalism. Today, a significant proportion of Unitarian Universalists do not believe in any type of god. Our congregations are theologically diverse places where people with many different understandings of the sacred can be in religious community together.

More information about Atheism and Agnosticism from a Unitarian Universalist perspective is available from the following UU World articles. UU World magazine is published in behalf of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) congregations to help its readers build their faith and act on it more effectively in their personal lives, their congregations, their communities, and the world.

Another non-theistic tradition is Humanism, which focuses on human potential and emphasizes personal responsibility for ethical behavior.

A Life Outgrown

http://uncle-rods.blogspot.com/ (globs8+omega)

She woke at 4:22 am, but didn’t go back to sleep. If it had been a Monday, she would have demanded it of herself; but since it was Saturday, every minute she stole from the dark would be hers.

She lay in bed considering consciousness, and contemplating whether or not she’d had enough sleep to survive a day.  It was a tricky calculation.  After a grueling afternoon at work the day before, she had collapsed into bed before 9, only to be wakened an hour later by the door latch and the creaking of the floor and then by snoring.

She woke then as if she had napped, feeling refreshed and better equipped to face her life; but it was 10 pm. It occurred to her then that she should have taken a nap at some point during the day rather than go to bed so early. But where? Under her desk or in some corner at the office?  She was once capable of that kind of surrender.

Now she turned and tossed and stewed and sighed, but despite the comfort of her ruby flannel sheets and the Sleep Number bed set at 35, she could not return to slumber.

“I don’t want him to go that party,” she finally said to her husband, about their son.

He had the audacity to reply, “You’ve woken me twice already.”

Eventually, she bled her mind back into sleep, and now at 4:44 am, she decided to rise, tossing her calculations aside.

What will I do, she asked herself as she creaked across the bedroom floor and fumbled for her robe in the dark.  Should I wrap presents? Write Christmas cards? Figure out last-minute gifts?

She should, but she didn’t want to. She had grown weary of the work of Christmas. Long ago.

Instead she went in search of eye drops. After sorting and discarding and reorganizing all three shelves of the medicine cabinet, she found the small white bottle on the counter where her son had left it; weeks ago; when he thought he had pink eye.

She worried that she had pink eye too. Her eye had been itching all night. She worried about all the clutter on the bathroom counter. She worried that she no longer cared to address it. There was even hair.

She was tired. Not from waking at 4 am, but from taking care of a house and a home for so many years. She had outgrown it. Prematurely. Her boys still lived there. They were 11 and 16. She should have had them earlier.

Into each eye, she placed a drop, blinked it in, and then tiptoed down the stairs to all the objects calling for attention. The dark woodstove. The kitchen sink. The table covered in projects, half-begun. The counters, continually re-populated with crumbs and butter and clutter.  They hollered at her because she had ignored them, and they watched as she took her seat on the couch and whittled away the darkness with words.

Because Christmas was only a week away, she hid from it. It was impossible to keep up. And worse yet, she no longer wanted to. She had outgrown the management of her life. How long had she been at it now? Maybe even before her mother started drinking. How old would she have been then? 10, 11?

It was around that time that she began her career in management. At first it was clubhouses comprised of friends–with meetings and dues, field trips and community service projects. Later there were basement variety shows and backyard performances. There was talent to seek, acts to plan, concession stands and ticket sales to prepare.  There was the man who told her that he could report her to the IRS after which she turned non-profit. Girl Scout Cookies, UNICEF boxes and Muscular Dystrophy carnivals.

At 12, she discovered self-employment–her calendar filled every night for a month in advance. There were the large Mormon families of 5 or 6 children, and tidy Protestant ones with only 2–who had exact bedtimes and routines and assigned snacks.

She marveled at the orderliness of one particular mother for whom she babysat every Tuesday from 6:00 to 8:30–she had short, perky hair; tailored jackets; and everything planned in half-hour segments–time for play, time for the Muppets, time for a story, time for bed; while she went off with her dutiful husband to attend something called P.E.T. classes.

She never needed Parenting Effectiveness Training. She could handle kids better than most grownups. It helped that she liked them, and therefore, wasn’t afraid of them.

“We know you mean business,” a student once confided to her during her first year in the classroom.

Before becoming a teacher, she had managed a restaurant.  Ever summer during college, she hired and trained 50 peers, most of whom were happy and productive and loaded by August. That first summer, she worked a hundred hours a week. That’s how much it took to turn the place around, and by the second summer, the restaurant doubled it sales, and she reduced her hours to 80. She returned to school that first summer with Mono, but it would be another twenty years before she realized how tired she really was.

Acadia National Park. That’s where it hit her. It was her first solo trip since becoming a parent. She hiked and drank tea and visited the shops in Bar Harbor.  Her days were delicately expansive, as if she could finally breathe, but her nights were a total wreck. After more than a dozen years as a mother, she could no longer sleep apart from her family, especially not in a cabin in the woods by herself.

This contrast of terrifying nights with glorious days exposed shocking thoughts. As she drove Acadia’s Ring Road, which circles the park with majestic views, she saw her mini-van turn off the cliff and into the air and down to the sea. The vision came to her again and again, but made no sense. She wasn’t suicidal. She was happy. She was giddily happy.

She was exhausted from trying to be.

Happiness was her thing. By 15, her mother had assigned it to her. If she wanted her sisters to have baths with rubba-dub-dub or lullabies at bedtime, she would have to do it herself.  “It’s your turn now,” her mother said.

So she made the Sunday brunches and the popcorn and the Christmas cookies. In her mother’s defense, there were mountains of laundry in the basement, and piles of dishes in the sink, and a demanding husband to serve.

Her mother had been the oldest of eight herself, and had grown weary of families long before she became a parent. Drinking was probably the only way she knew how to let go, just like her mother had done.

This might explain why she now felt the urge to tie one on after her demanding week at work; which was funny, because unlike her mother, she preferred employment outside the home to the full-time drudgery of the housewife; though both roles depleted her in different ways.

Of course she didn’t head to a bar. She went home, and joined the family to light the tree, and then tussled with the world of homemaking; and finally escaped to bed–before any of them.

It’s 6 am now, and the sky is still dark, and everyone else is still asleep. The kitchen has stopped calling, and suddenly looks peaceful in its disarray. The room is gently lit by twinkling glow of the tree, and she feels as if she’s been writing among the stars.

It’s time to start the fire and load the dishwasher and settle in to let others know that she’s thinking of them this Christmas. Maybe she’ll write those cards after all.

It’s not so much her life that she’s outgrown, she realizes, but her orientation to it. That’s what no longer fits. If only she knew how to sew.

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

More on Christmastime:

Those Damn Christmas Cookies

“Come in and Know me better, man

Which Christmas?

The Gift of Christmas Presence

Which Christmas?

Shider, vispix.com

For a moment, the shopping mall is magical–the twinkling lights, the soft sweaters, the peppermint cappuccinos.

This is the Christmas of soap operas–of shiny new outfits and fancy gatherings. It is my stepmother’s annual black tie event–carols on the baby grand, champagne in the crystal, salmon on the silver.

There’s a part of me that still craves this Christmas, like an old recipe insisting on its place. But there is another Christmas that woos me too–the quiet Christmas of fresh evergreens and fire places and simple delights.

This Christmas requires homemade gifts and handwritten cards; mornings in the kitchen, afternoons at the work bench, evenings on the sewing machine–joyfully rendering no matter what the hour–while the sweet sound of string music plays in the background.

And then, there is my “real” Christmas–the one fraught with tension between presence and presents, commerce and contentment, decorations and deities.

It’s no wonder that I short-circuit.

What is it that I can distill from these competing visions?

What is it that I truly appreciate about this season of light?

Preparation.
It is this ritual that I love…

preparation |ˌprepəˈrā sh ən| noun  ORIGIN late Middle English; via Old French from Latin praeparatio(n-), from praeparare ‘make ready before’

In the northern hemisphere, the winter holidays come at the darkest time of year. Their light helps us enter the winter months while our rituals of preparation make the journey sacred.

It’s hard to align department stores and cocktails parties and frantic hours of wrapping with a sense of the sacred; but I can understand the impulse. We are gathering. We are making sure we have enough. We are afraid we don’t.

It’s time to unplug from that ancient fear, at least for those of us who have enough food and heat and clothing.  It is time to notice that our fear not only robs others of what they need; but also robs each of us of the gift of enough.

May Sarton writes, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is… an instrument of grace.”

May our rituals of preparation be such an instrument, knowing that we are and we have… enough.

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

More on Christmas:

Those Damn Christmas Cookies

“Come in and Know me better, man

The Gift of Christmas Presence

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be…Revelation.”

~Eileen Caddy

photo

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also my birthday–which is why the nurses at the Sisters of Mercy begged my mother to name me Mary on the misty morning that I was born in their hospital by the sea.

Did you know that Mary was immaculately conceived?

If you’re not Catholic, this is probably a shock. And the good news about this news is that if you are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to attend a Catholic school, you get that day off–every year–which is pretty special when it’s your birthday, and probably explains why I continue to take this day off, even though I’m not Catholic.

Well, actually, I’m kind of Catholic, because supposedly my Irish Catholic grandmother, Loretta, baptized me in my carriage. If I remember correctly, baptism is the one Catholic sacrament for which you do not need a priest–which my agnostic father would have never tolerated, especially after The Church refused to marry him and my mother because of his Jewish heritage.  (Not to mention that she was pregnant with me.)

My own husband and I were married in the month of Mary (May) and gave birth to our first son on August 15–the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.  (Did you know that Mary was “assumed” into heaven? )

Given that my mother was born on Christmas Day, I became intrigued with my family’s growing Mary connection. When I later discovered that my husband’s birthday, September 8th, was celebrated as The Feast Day of Mary–her very own birthday–I was beside myself!

Imagine my delight while deliberating over a piece of land in Southern Vermont only to find that the closest neighbor was a summer camp–owned and operated by Guess Who?  The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception!

At this juncture of my tale, I’m must confess that our second son was born on a Pagan holiday which I was sure had jinxed us… until Mary started moving.

A new statue of Mary, that I received for my birthday last December 8th, was set on the cabinet facing the woodstove; but by summer, I noticed that she had inched her way west toward the pond–and toward the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception–who return there each July.  

I would turn her back, liking things just so, only to find her turned ever so slightly again.

Everyone in the house thought I was crazy, but when I swore that I hadn’t touched her, they became concerned. We all agreed to leave Mary gazing at the pond instead of the fire.

Lately I’ve been walking through lots of FIRES of my own making… I’ve discovered work that resonates deeply with my passions, yet I continue to resist and suffer. The mission of this organization is intercultural understanding which means that I get the privilege of connecting to members all around the world from this little corner of rural Vermont. When one of our offices notified me that they would be closed on December 8th for the national observance of the holiday, I felt the tug of alignment once again.

Arriving home that evening, another email came from an old college friend, saying that she always remembers my birthday because it falls on the Feast of the Conception. I joked that I liked any religion that associated conception with “feasting;” but what I didn’t say was that I was finally beginning to realize a deeper meaning and connection to the Immaculate Conception.

I am too humbled and ashamed to make such a claim, but it is true. For despite my overwhelming fear, and my daily grumblings of hardship, this work was certainly brought toward me by the deep waters of alignment and trust. I didn’t grab after it with my mind, as I have so often done (in the wrong direction); it reached out for me –by the heart–and the loins–conceiving of a new self-expression inhabited by allowing the Divine.

Sadly, there is no happily ever after. I’m still human.  I’m still Kelly.  I’m not going to sail off into the sunset, assumed into Heaven like the Holy Mother. 

There is work to be done–on the INside, and the OUTside–and often, I make that HARD. Yet despite this attachment to hardship, DREAMS do come true–again and again–when I open myself to Heaven’s part.

Kelly Salasin, December 8, 2010

(ps. thank you to my wise friend Carolyn who helped me recognize the Immaculate Conception in my own life.)

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Next post in this series: The Immaculate Conception, Part II