The Sleeping Beauty

A couple of weeks after my trip to Southeast Asia I found myself yet again in a very different world and a very different experience. Alexandra wanted to meet up on NYC for a mother/daughter arts weekend—how could I say no to that. My sweet girl and art—never a better combination.

For both of us it was a pilgrimage for we were going to see the New York City Ballet perform The Sleeping Beauty. I have loved ballet since I was a small girl but it wasn’t available to me because of religious restrictions. When I became a mother and removed those artificial restrictions I put my daughters in ballet class the moment they were old enough. I was too old to begin ballet but could live vicariously through them—-I’m so glad it worked out for all of us. Alexandra became passionate about ballet and it was her life all through school and beyond. She still takes class regularly and informs me that it is essential for her life and mental wellbeing. She is six feet tall and professional dancing isn’t her career path but instead she just gets to find the joy with none of the pressure.

Over the last few years she has become passionate about the New York City Ballet and follows them like others follow football. She knows the players, the moves, the opponents, the dramas and the choreography. So in February NYCB was performing her number one ballet The Sleeping Beauty. This ballet contains the quintessential elements of ballet in its highest form. The music, costumes, story, dancers, orchestra and audience all come together to experience art at its most refined and inspired.

Tchaikovsky wrote the music to The Sleeping Beauty in 1889 and was first performed in 1890. It has been a touchstone for classical ballet ever since. Along with The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty will forever remain a popular and perfect ballet as it is at once pure beauty and mythic story that touches our hearts.  For in the classic fairytale we are reminded that true unconditional love awakens us from our unconscious lives. The NYCB production is choreographed by Peter Martins and is very much in the school of George Balanchine who founded the company. It is this perfect combination of the magnificent score by Tchaikovsky and the unique and truly American style of Balanchine that makes this work iconic and universal. Yet it was over 100 years in the making. Balanchine, a half a century after Tchaikovsky, pioneered a style and technique that matches the music like never before and elevated the art to a new level. It is a unique art form that can change and grow but yet still convey the essence of the original story and music.

Ballet is art expressed with the human body in time and space and this is the essence of this pilgrimage but makes it so different from visiting sacred sites. This is a pilgrimage of Time and ephemeral beauty. It is Time that brings the music and movement together in a refined state. Only in Time does this experience exist, the music and movement are only in the Now, fleeting and yet eternal in the effect on all who participate; dancers, musicians and audience. Alexandra and I were enraptured by the experience and what human beings are able to create. Each perfect movement to the perfect note is a transcendent moment.

Alexandra is the poster child for October 2017 Knoxville Symphony.   This picture from 2011 is just pure joy.

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Questions

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It all started with a question. How will I feed my reading addiction when I’m walking the Camino? I could only carry about 17 pounds so a couple of books would make me way over the weight limit. Some people even suggested that there wouldn’t be time to read but they had no idea of the extent of my problem. I can get the shakes if I go more than few hours without reading. So, I bought a Kindle. Up until then I preferred books and fed my addiction at the used bookstore and with penny books on Amazon.

I took to my new electronic reader right away which is surprising because I’m actually what is termed a “slow adapter”, which mostly means I’m too frugal to buy new technology until the price comes down. Nothing wrong with old technology, in my world, the main source of entertainment here on the farm is sitting around a fire drinking coffee.

I looked around to find books to put on my new-fangled device that would be pilgrimage appropriate. I’m not much of a novel reader—can’t keep characters straight. I didn’t want anything densely philosophical or overly religious. I needed something to gently ground me after a long day’s walk, so Buddhism fit the requirements perfectly. I like the gentleness and simplicity of modern Zen writing and it was a good way to balance life on a Christian pilgrimage.

I decided to read Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller. I had read Hand Wash Cold and liked her style of writing. Karen is a Zen Buddhist priest living on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It looked like a good fit and someone I could relate too; mother, American, Buddhist, gardener. I downloaded the book and a couple of others on yoga two days before I flew to Spain hoping that would sustain me on my walk.

Everyday after our long walk and a hot shower Alexandra would take a nap and I would find some place to read because if I napped I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Each day I would read the next chapter in Paradise in Plain Sight. I always like to savor books like this and just read one chapter a day. Every chapter is centered around a part of Karen’s Zen garden that she was lovingly restoring to its original beauty after many years of neglect. It was a big project to take on but Karen knew she was the next caretaker for this special little paradise.

Each day I enjoyed learning something new about the garden and Zen. It was the perfect way to unwind after our daily 12 mile walk. That was until chapter 16, Weeds. Then everything changed. There was one tiny sentence that changed the entire perspective of my pilgrimage:

In Zen, we don’t find the answers: we lose the questions.

What?!? The whole point of the walk was to work through any lingering problems, sort through old memories, make future goals and generally come out of the experience full of ambition, accomplishment and deep personal insight. It seems that Zen had just turned that upside down and inside out. I put aside my western mind and moved into a wonderfully Zen place. In that moment I lost the questions.

The next three weeks of the journey took on a new light. Each day was just a walk in the world in great joy. I was freed from trying to figure life out and instead I was left the with the incredible lightness of being. Don’t tell anyone but I wrote the saying on a rock in hope that another pilgrim would also lose the need to find answers.

I am deeply changed by my walk, not in a dramatic “change everything about my life” type of change but a quiet, gentle way of seeing the world. I don’t need to have things figured out or know why things happen or what the future will be. All these questions will figure themselves out in time. My work is to be in this world and breath in life. I can definitely do that.

Vistadome Train

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I woke up about 5:15. The sun was up although it was overcast. There was no lying around and snoozing; my body had enough of the tent and every part of me was dried out. I sat on a bench used for the soccer games and just enjoyed the morning air and rehydrated. Soon the cook was up and I wandered up to the lodge for some hot cocoa and trail mix. One by one, the rest joined me and we relived the glories of the day before. We had fava bean porridge, omelets and a fried crispy bread with either cheese or chocolate sauce. Nico also baked and decorated a cake for a farewell. We thanked our support staff, Richard, Nico and Pablito for their great care and packed up to leave for Ollantaytambo.

As we were packing up Lisa started making a fuss. Seems that a friendly tarantula found her shirt warm and inviting. Lisa apparently wasn’t up to sharing and shook him out onto the ground. Poor thing just wandered off to liven up someone else’s day.

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A large bus came and the kitchen equipment was put on top and the rest of us inside plus an Australian couple, the only other people on the trail. Pablito rounded up the horses and started his trek the 15 miles back over the mountain to his home.

We dropped off Richard and Nico to head back to Cusco and picked up some people headed our way. In Ollantaytambo we found a restaurant to park our gear and ordered pizzas made in a wood-fired oven and set off to explore the town. We had already seen the ruins a few days before and there wasn’t much time so we peeked into the shops and bought a drink. Soon I had a text from Alexandra. She had found kittens so we played with the babies until lunch. It has always been our mission to find and hold kittens, lambs and puppies wherever we go

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It was time for the train to Auges Calientes the town at Machu Picchu. Our coach was a Vistadome with big windows, even overhead, because we were headed down the Urubamba gorge a long, spectacular raging river. This is one of the world’s great train rides.

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It ended too soon and we were met by a porter to take us to our hotel (El MaPi). There are no cars allowed in the town and it is all built on the side of a mountain. The porter loaded his cart with our bags and we followed him through the narrow streets. Quickly checked in, we got to our beautiful modern rooms. Each room had a quote on the wall. Mine was from Isaac Newton, “Nature is truly coherent and comfortable with itself”. Yep, Pachamama knows what she is doing. As much as I loved sleeping in the mountains I was ready for a shower and Wi-Fi. I had worn the same clothes for 4 days and was feeling a bit dirty.

We headed out to explore the town and do some shopping. There is never a lack of shopping even while we were on the isolated trek. There was always some one with a blanket covered in hats or scarves or a boy with woven brackets.

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Dinner and a pisco sour, the local drink something like a margarita, were included. So we headed to the bar to celebrate our victory and the glories of Peru. The dinner was wonderful with quinoa, lamb, pasta and salad. After a visit it was time for bed. Clean sheets and a fluffy comforter were pure luxury and I was tired so it wasn’t long until I was fast asleep

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Lemniscate

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A few years ago I started to seeing a new symbol on jewelry, along side the usual hearts and crosses were infinity symbols. The infinity sign had been around a long time but now I started to see it on bracelets, necklaces, made in pink or blue stones symbolizing everlasting love and friendship. I was gifted one of these bracelets with the infinity sign outlined in pink next to a few other bangles about love and friendship. It is the one bracelet I wear often and for me it is a reminder of a couple of my favorite Tarot cards.

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There are four Tarot cards that have the infinity sign, also known as the lemniscate. I’ve already written about the Two of Pentacles. On this card the man with a tall hat is balancing two opposing pentacles, ideas or demands. In this case, he doesn’t have to choose. The lemniscate is helping him balance the seemingly unbalanceable. He is able to juggle these two directions by holding them lightly and allowing the flow of life to keep it all going. He demonstrates that, with a little skill, you can balance the yin and yang of life.

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The next card to have the lemniscate is The Magician, card number 2. Our magician has all the tools of the trade laid out for him to use to create his world. But, more importantly, he has the connection to the universe symbolized by the lemniscate over his head. He is connected and will use the power of the divine, the infinite, to create his world for growth and wisdom, not manipulation. He has this never ending loop to connect the physical world with the unseen spiritual world. He is in balance and is ready to start the journey through the lessons of all the cards.

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Our beautiful and gentle Strength, card number 8, has the lemniscate over her head as she tames the wild beast of our animal nature. When you turn the 8 on its side it becomes the infinite connection with her higher self that connects her to the spiritual strength she needs. Now she has the right force at the right time and the right place to balance her world. She is controlling the lion with gentleness and compassion. She is using her inner strength to demonstrate bravery, endurance and steadfastness, important skills for the trials ahead on the path of life.

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The lemniscate makes a fourth and final appearance in the grand finale of the journey. The World, card 21, has red ribbons on top and bottom of the laurel wreath surrounding the dancer of life. These red ribbons are lemniscates meaning that the connection to infinite wisdom is part of the whole being. The dancer is victorious after the long journey and is no longer separate from the eternal state represented by infinity. This is the state of oneness, always in the moment, beyond time.

As you can see the meaning of the lemniscate grows and becomes richer the further down the path of life’s journey. The cards use this elegant symbol to represent the never ending loop of love and spiritual power to our higher self and source if you choose. You are always connected. It is just about remembering that connection. Maybe a bracelet will help.

A Pilgrimage and A Class

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A Pilgrimage

May 2017 I get to return to one of my favorite places Scotland and this time I get to take friends and fellow pilgrims with me for the adventure.   I’m going to be teaching as part of Audrey Press Tours  Awakening the Celtic Journey Within:  A Pilgrimage to Scotland May 24-June 5, 2017.   Highlights include Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel, Glen Lyon, Isle of Lewis and Callanish Stones and 2 nights on Iona.

http://www.audreypresstours.com.

 

A Class

Sunday July 17-Friday July 22, 2016  I will be teaching a week long class on pilgrimages and sacred sites, Pilgrimage:  A Journey for The Soul at The Great Lakes Retreat, Olivet, Michigan.   The class explores the history, stages, experiences and lessons of pilgrimage.  Each day we will explore sacred sites around the world.    On Thursday I will give a talk on Arriving Home and how to integrate your journey into everyday life.

http://www.thegreatlakesretreat.org

 

 

Shaker Village

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For most people visions of heaven include pearly gates, streets of gold and jewel encrusted mansions but not in my world. All I have to do is go to Kentucky to find my version of nirvana and it is called Shaker Village. After our lovely time at the Serpent Mound, Val and I fortified ourselves with a latte and retraced our path back to Lexington for the night. I had one more essential pilgrimage stop to make the next day. I needed a Shaker Village fix.

These days I live in my in-law’s home which is decorated in a style I would call High Ostentation but in my heart I prefer a style more like Early Convent. My Taurus/Virgo soul longs for a tidy house with white walls and simple furniture. The Shakers perfected this style and brought it to a high art.

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So who were the Shakers? They were a branch of the Quakers who came to America looking for religious freedom. Lead by Mother Ann Lee, the first communities were started in the late 1700’s and formed around 20 utopian centers with 6000 members at the peak of popularity. These communities were founded on principles of equality for the sexes and races, celibacy and pacifism. Men and women lived separately but worked together and the congregations grew by recruitment since procreation wasn’t allowed. In the early 1900’s the communities stopped taking members and were eventually closed

Spiritually they believe God was both male and female and the imminent second coming of Christ. They worshiped in stark meeting rooms with narrow benches and no pulpit. The service consisted of singing, dancing and ecstatic states of shaking and shouting thus they got the name “Shakers”. They wrote many songs for their worship and the most popular tune is Simple Gifts, immortalized in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.

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The communities were self-sustaining farms and invented many new labor-saving devises. The Kentucky Shakers were know for their brooms and high-quality seeds as well as furniture and weaving. Hard work was important to them so all the communities thrived. They believed that beautifully made simple furniture was an act of prayer. Each building and room was perfectly planned for simplicity, practicality and order and ideal which has had a lasting influence on American design.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is like stepping back in time. On this perfect September day the buildings glowed in the sun with a back drop of purple/blue sky. Pumpkins and corn stocks decorate the stack stone fences and there is just a hint of color in the trees that line the lane; translation—-pure joy. I wandered the buildings looking at the magnificent worn furniture, craft demonstrations, amazing circular staircases and stark perfection. We wandered into the dinning room for corn pudding and buttermilk pie, headed down to the old barn to see the friendly ram and horses and felt the gentle grace of this place frozen in time. During a past visit I sang Simple Gifts in the meeting hall where that song has reverberated thousands of times and I’m thrilled to sing it for myself.

After having our joy quotient filled by two beautiful days in Kentucky. Val and I head back to Tennessee. We don’t have far to go and on the way home we have a long discussion about beauty. We have been bathed in beauty and sacred vibration for two days which has left our hearts singing and our spirits cheerful. Our quick pilgrimage had all the joys of any exotic journey with no jet lag or expensive tickets. So this Fall find a place to pilgrimage close to home and bring beauty and joy to your soul.

http://www.shakervillageky.org

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A Year

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Magnolia blossoms from my yard.

It has been a year now since Alexandra and I finished our grand adventure/pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain. And what a year it has been. You know how certain years stand out in your mind, I have a few: 1994 when I moved to my first house, 1999, the year both girls learned the Bach Double Concerto back to back, 2006, the year Caroline was 16—need I say more, 2013, the year I moved to the farm. A lot of other years are just a blur with nothing note worthy.

My 50th year will go down as a year I won’t forget. Just days after my birthday I headed to Spain and walked 12 miles everyday for 5 weeks until I reached Santiago de Compestela. Each day was a joy and a gift to walk where millions of pilgrims walked with devotion along with great saints like Theresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi. We all walked along the Milky Way path for Compestela means way of the stars.

My prayer everyday on the path was to be strengthened, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t think the people in my life would call me weak but there were life lessons I had not faced and was afraid of.  I wanted to come back a stronger person so I could start the next half of my life ready to take on new challenges and make it as wonderful as the first half. My daughters are grown now and I will forever miss those wonderful years of having them home but I want to keep growing and be productive.

There is a saying on the Camino, “the Camino starts when you get home”. I wasn’t home six weeks when I needed to call on the strength I had so prayed for. In fact I was faced with the very situations that frightened me most—-confrontation and death. First I had to confront a family member who was using the family for their own gain. Somehow I became the front line to protect the family. I’ve never confronted anyone in my life but there I was and the family started calling me Ninja Nancy (my first name). The betrayal went on for months and finally ended badly with the vengeful selling of the family farm in Minnesota. My efforts didn’t change the outcome but I walked away knowing I had fought hard, done my best and there was nothing more I could do. Now there are relationships that are forever lost but many others were strengthened and the bonds even tighter. I still don’t like confrontation but I now know I can do it when needed.

While I was in Spain my father was diagnosed with skin cancer with no available treatment options for his age. We thought he had a couple of years but by January he was getting sicker quickly and so my home turned into a hospice. My father’s mind was so sharp and his will to die consciously so strong that it was my deepest desire to keep him home with his family. With the help of hospice nurses and my brother, who stayed with me a month, I was able to keep him home until he died. Never in my life did I think I had the emotional or physical strength to face such a difficult task. The last few days were incredibly hard but I was able to pull from the strength that I had ask for. I faced what was a truly frightening task for me.

Loss and betrayal, two of the great themes of the human condition. I’ve had both in my life before but never like this past year. I’ve learned to be present with strong emotions in myself and in others. In the past I would run at the least bit of unhappiness. But it is ok that happiness isn’t in every experience, sometimes the courage to face the loss without losing oneself is all the spirit and soul wants.