Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Collaborative Post: community thoughts on concept of invitation


Introduction


When I (Kara) put out the call for community contributors to share their thoughts on the concept of "invitation," I didn't know what to expect in return. In this collaborative post today, I'm so thrilled to share with you all the pieces of writing and heART that came in response to the call. You'll see as you read through the various works that, for some, invitation came as part of grief experience. For others, grief experience reminded them of the original invitations. For still others, the invitation that came was not necessarily one that was wanted. We humans are so ... fabulous ... in our range of motions and emotion and meaning making!!

For me, the concept of invitation has become an important theme in my life and work because I find it takes a stand against white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy. So much of our modern western competitive, money-driven, racist construct of a world tells us that being worthy means being an expert to the exclusion of the layperson. Being successful means doing whatever is needed to "win" even if that means violence like "stepping over" the "weaker" of the "others." Individualism means never working together, being self-made. Being in business means you have to be "better" than "others" which means we are literally "othering" people and holding ourselves superior.

Wow. The constructs in which we find ourselves certainly were built to colonize our minds, and hearts, and bodies. Noticing them, naming them and trying to find alternative ways to engage is a tall order. Let alone the on-going-ness of doing it over and over and over again, because this isn't something that you become "perfect" at and "done." Rather this is a creative practice, moment by moment, staying aware, and making choices, to stay with what you value instead of what the constructs of our world deem to be "right" or "successful" or "the proper way."

Invitation has meant for me that I want to do my grief + creativity work and life with mindfulness. I don't want to mindlessly "sell sell sell" to "make it" or to force others to see me or buy my way into this or that. I aim to do this life and this work and keep invitation open open open so that anyone out there can see my own manifestations of creativity. So that they might then think, "Hey I can do that, too!" and then do it. So that they might then think, "Oh how could I collaborate together with her, coz that seems like a heARTfull thing I'd like to do."

I didn't like competing for grades in school or accolades in sports. I didn't like competing for spots and $s in higher education. I didn't like seeing what others could do that was denied me AND I didn't like seeing what I could do that was denied others. I didn't like competing for jobs and housing -- literally trying to find a place to rent that one can afford is a game of chance, a game of who gets there first. Housing. It's sick. It's sick that we as a society do not want to invite each other into having a basic like HOUSING??!!!!!!! We have literally become so okay with the neglect of homelessness that we don't even consciously see housing as the competitive capitalist abuse that it is.

My intention is to stand against things like this and any other manifestations of it. I'm not perfect. I fuck up a lot. There are areas in which I don't even realize my own mind is playing the games. But I am aiming to live a life and offer works that are opening, that invite me, you, anyone to be a part in whatever ways you are able or desire. Keeping this as a practice for life and work, I hope that it will reflect out and be reflected back for me, too. I love feeling invited. I don't want to "hustle" for gigs or do outlandish things to "get noticed." Rather I want to offer the heARTwork I offer, and when you feel invited, I hope you will return the experience with an invitation to me if/when such a time or experience comes up for that kind of exchange. Not required. Invited.

While this may not change the world (this wacky absurdidiculous world), I do know it is something I can do in every present moment with an aim that is very, very different than what white supremacist, imperialist, colonial, capitalist, patriarchy offers. I hope. I hope you feel some sense of:

INVITED

when you visit here or interact with any of my works. Please know you are most welcome. From my radical grandma heart to yours!

And now, here are our collaborators for this topic:

Our collaborators

Yvonne Lucia on "My Life, Interrupted"


Excerpt: "When asked what the secret to her long life and happiness was, a wise elder woman is reported to have said, “I have always tried to cherish my interruptions.” (in SoulCollage© by Seena B, Frost, p. 100) This challenging advice has been percolating in my mind and heart all week. What does it mean to “cherish” one’s interruptions, and just how does one go about doing that?

How do parents cherish the interruption of giving birth to a child with a genetic abnormality that will consign them to a lifetime of daunting responsibility?   How does anyone cherish the interruption of the death of a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a beloved companion animal? How does a committed partner cherish the devastating news that they have been cheated on? How would any of us cherish the interruption of a cancer diagnosis?"

Click here to read Yvonne's full post on her blog.

*****************************


Deb Pierce McCabe on "Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills"


Excerpt: "When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

"...In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group..."

Click here to read Deb's guest post.

*****************************


Swaneagle on "Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve"


Excerpt: "...the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

"...Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring...I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide."

Click here to read Swaneagle's guest post.

*****************************


Sherene Zolno on "Invitation to mentor (and be mentored)"


Excerpt: "Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

"My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting."

Click here to read Sherene's guest post.


Conclusion


Thanks for being with us today exploring the topic of invitation. All our guest contributors came to us through a call we put out via our Grief + Creativity Sparks eZine. We will do more of these collaborative community posts on other topics in the future. In fact, when the zine went out to share this post, we included another call for a future collaboration on the topic of heARTmaking. If you are already subscribed to that zine, you'll find it in your inbox. If you aren't a subscriber, don't miss the next one. Click here to subscribe.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stillness and motion in grief experiences...


What metaphors out in the natural world do you find speak to your grief experiences?

Coming out of the grocery one day, this bird just seemed to sit still on the wire, on display for me. He stayed put while I stared, while the thought came to take a photo, while I dug out my phone and opened my camera app, while I focused and all the way through snapping several shots. And in equal quiet and grace, he leapt and opened his wings flying off. He made me acutely aware that in my own grief experience, I often have trouble being still and an equal amount of difficulty transitioning to movement. Even transitioning in and out of meditation each day, I'm clumsy and often uncomfortable and question why I keep practicing.

So I pondered for a bit standing in the parking lot. And as I tuned in, I saw other birds. Ones making a mess splashing water all about as they bathed in a puddle left over from the previous day's rain. A couple squawking at each other. Others flying, landing, and flying again. A little one rather awkwardly getting the hang of this "being out of the nest" thing. Made me ponder how awkwardly we humans can also be as we move into or away from our grief experiences. Sometimes the broken heart seems too jagged to touch, and yet other times we lean into the broken open spaces and nestle there. It's a process, not a product...a practice, not a perfect. Even when the moments of grace appear as perfections, it is helpful to be reminded that no one and nothing is perfection, end all be all, perfection. We all stumble and squawk and splash around.

In the end, I came home and starting with the image of the bird as one layer, I played around with digital collage until I ended up with the piece you see here. In my mind, I held the thought of the natural world as a metaphor for our grief experiences. The splashes, the colors, the black that streaks across everything sometimes, the counting of things (number of days since you died and the like), the attempts to re-order our lives (the backwards library card there). And, well, what you see in the image here is what surfaced.

Got any stories to share about how the natural world has provided metaphors for you in your grief experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here <3

From my radical grandmas heart to your heart,
k-

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

10 Ideas for tending when grief is breaking your heart(open)...


[Featured image: Summer daisy in full bloom with black and white distressed border on photo. Words surrounding: "Whatever is unfolding, even if it is the most difficult stuff, find some spot of ease each day where you can rest your body, mind, and heart."]

When grief experiences come along and seem to break our hearts (hopefully break them open, not just break them), it can be exhausting in all ways: body, mind, and emotion. Even being able to read or concentrate can be trying, so this is a quicky 10 ideas for tending when things are most difficult:


  1. As soon as you notice the difficulty is pressing on you, stop. Breathe deeply, allowing the breath to go all the way down to your toes and hold it for just a second. Then release and let your physical body relax a little with the exhale. Do this a few times if need be.
    *
  2. Can you get to a spot with access to clean water? If so, take a few moments to go there, rinse your hands, face, neck. Let the coolness or warmth of the water bring you fully into the moment, the body.
    *
  3. Can you find a place to comfortably sit for a few minutes? Maybe sit nearer the edge of the surface and flex and stretch your feet, pointing toes out, pointing toes up. Allow the stretch in your feet and calves be a reminder to tend your being.
    *
  4. How much water have you had to drink today? Can you get access to clean water now to drink a cup or fill a water bottle to keep you hydrated for the next little while?
    *
  5. Is this current difficulty leaving you feeling isolated or lonely? Is there one friend or love you can text - you don't even have to use your voice if that's too hard - just text to say, "Hi there, can we text for a bit to check in?"
    *
  6. If you can't think of anyone you'd like to be in touch with, how about trying out the text crisis line (US service only at this time) to chat with one of their volunteers. You don't have to be having suicidal thoughts to text, but rather just if you are having a moment in which you need some support, they can help. Here are details on how it works.
    *
  7. Can you find a few minutes to have complete quiet and stillness? You can set timer if need be so it doesn't feel endless or something. But just for 3 minutes or 5 minutes, can you close a door, turn off phone, find as much quiet as possible, just for a few? Sometimes the space of quiet can reset our head!
    *
  8. Or on the other end of the spectrum, can you take a few moments to listen, uninterrupted, and really savor your favorite tune? Maybe in a room with door closed, alone space? Or if not, then with earbuds in so you are kind of "away" from all the external stuff. Sometimes love of music can reset our head!
    *
  9. Can you use and do you have access to a piece of paper and crayon or color pencils or markers? Can you spend a few minutes just scribbling out whatever is hurting most right now? No "artmaking" type space, just scribble scribble to get the energy out of your heart and head, through your arm and fingers, and smooshed out on the page? After all is smooshed out, maybe take a few minutes in empty spaces of the scribble to write a few words that are in your head around this energy?
    *
  10. Do you have a favorite soft blanket or shirt or scarf? Something where the texture makes you feel safe or warm or cool or tended in some way? Can you get that now and wrap it around or wear it for a bit now? Allow yourself to feel enveloped.


By no means is this a comprehensive list. But I hope it encourages you to notice when things are hurting or difficult, and then check in with yourself to see how you can tend, either individually or in connection with others. And if you have other ideas to add to this list, please know you are invited to share them in the comments here <3

From my radical grandma heart to your heart!
k-

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

After grief comes, life goes relentlessly on...


After a significant grief experience in my life, a friend said to me, "Isn't it unnerving how life goes relentlessly on?"

It's true. Relentlessly. I'm so not cut out for relentless. 14 years. 2 years. 12 weeks. Whatever the time since the date of the death or loss, we wake up each day and the relentlessness starts.

People ask why I couch my work as grief *and* creativity. Because it takes A LOT of creativity to find reasons to get out of bed, to put your feet down on the relentless ground, every single day after grief comes.

It takes A LOT of creativity to honor self care and community care, especially in the face of white supremacist, individualistic, capitalistic, patriarchal culture.

It takes A LOT of creativity to be a helper in this world, honoring the sacred trust that extends out from us toward others AND also allowing others to extend back toward us in return. We may find we are not very practiced at accepting what others offer us. We may find we are in a culture that says you are supposed to be "professionally detached," so even just acknowledging that there is a two way relationship happening when in the role of helper can be taboo.

And when grief experiences knock us out of our routines, even our best efforts at re-entry to life can be complicated by the relentlessness that goes on. By realizing our previous work or priorities are completely different now. By a chronic illness that crops up. By the shock of realizing those you thought would stick by you don't, and by the gratitude you feel for complete strangers who show up in significant ways.

Creativity is needed because even as we are re-entering the relentless world, there are still gems to be found in the spaces grief originally took us. Remember how tended you felt when you allowed yourself some time in your blanket house! Remember how tended you felt when a friend stopped by and you allowed them to see your messy kitchen in which they ended up doing dishes for you! Remember how tended you and your community were when leaders stepped back and asked, "What do you need right now?" instead of being dictators determining for you what was needed!

Re-entering the relentless world might seem to put you in a position where competition, money making, and over-functioning are valued, while the gems of  listening to your body, collaboration, and community building are devalued. But screw that! We have permission to notice how relentlessness does not work for us. Don't ignore all you know now.

Having re-entered the world, are you again noticing things aren't quite right? Feeling exhausted? Can't sleep enough? Not much seem pleasurable? Body pain? Irritable at the smallest things? All big red flags calling for tending. How do we counter individualism, wealth worship, and "working through the pain" when we find ourselves surrounded by this relentlessness of "fake it till you make it" bs again?

While I don't have all the answers, I know that grief's different beat taught me it is valuable to give the sad, exhausted, hard spaces my listening ears. I need to hear them because they point me back toward relationships that nurture, toward paradigms of cooperation and collaboration, back toward the fact that relentlessness does not allow us to bring our whole selves to the table.

Individually this may look simply like reaching out to a friend via text to say, "Help. I need an ear." Or it may look collectively like calling "3 days bereavement leave" the bullshit that it is (remember that contract workers don't even get 3 days!), and demanding structural change that actually supports people when they are grieving.

I know it is unnerving that life goes relentlessly on after grief comes. AND I know that your heart is full of creativity that can be tapped to help buoy you through. And you aren't in this alone. Our connections matter. Whatever your situation looks like, just know that I SEE YOU.
Miracles,
k-


[Alternative version published at Radical Creativity Wednesday, October 10, 2012]

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve by Swaneagle

Today i attended the memorial for my dear friend Nina Murano who died April 30th of COPD and other chronic conditions at age 82. This moving event was held at Church of the Holy Spirit across from the Community Care Center, where my friend Joy Goldstein lives on Vashon. Both she and Nina were the mainstay of our Vashon Women In Black Group until Nina became ill about 4 years ago. We started our vigil in August of 2010. Joy and i had vigiled the day before.

This memorial was so beautifully and heartfully done that i was moved to tears for the first half having to use my scarf to mop them up. I had never been in the church itself but had been in the basement where i did childcare one Easter Sunday about 6 years ago. I also have eaten the delicious vegan vegetarian Wednesday night dinners there several times over the years. The church has such a large window behind the altar, it appeared that the trees were inside with us. Along one side are more windows, so during the memorial the light changed along with the movement of clouds, periodic full sun and rain augmenting the atmosphere inside. From the Prelude thru the opening song Gracias a La Vida beautifully rendered by Erin to the Yeats poem read by Nina's granddaughter, to the Psalm read by Nina's oldest daughter Deirdre, the Homily by the Rev. Joseph, prayers, then sharing by Nina's youngest Ann-Marie, the Holly Near song sung by Mary, concluded by the Northwest Viols strings and postlude on the organ, the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

I heard about Nina years before i first met her. I worked gardening and house cleaning for a dear Irish woman named Terese O'Halloran. She would tell me about her trip to El Salvador with Nina Murano in the '80's. So of course, i knew i needed to meet Nina. When i finally did, i really was so inspired that i did what i could to connect with her. Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring. She confronted prison guards who were abusing human rights activists in a Haitian prison. She confronted the notorious Kaibiles US Special Forces trained death squads in Guatemala who were threatening human rights workers while on boats in a river. She used her inheritance to go on so many human rights delegations in Mexico, Central and South America that i do not even know the sum of them. I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide.

Nina invited me to go with her to an art exhibit of the work of Selma Waldman after Waldman's death at the Gage School of Figure Drawing on Capital Hill. It was a stunning exhibit portraying the suffering of solitary figures who were in concentrations camps, Abu Grahib prison and other situations of hideous abuse. A slide show of her work was shown by her family illustrating how she would post articles that caught her eye on her walls and create art surrounded by the news of human atrocity. She had visited Auschwitz in Germany before drawing her works. She had also been part of Women In Black vigils in Seattle.

One day Nina invited me to go with her to a gun control rally at Seattle Center. She was part of the Raging Grannies and they performed as part of the event. NRA members were there in all their well armed glory. Anytime a speaker began their presentation, NRA people would start talking so loudly that no one could hear those on stage. When Nina joined me after singing with the Grannies, i told her the NRA had been behaving rudely. She immediately walked into their midst and soundly scolded them for such. It worked. Nina in all her wondrous grandma glory!

We went to eat Ethiopian food after that and then she took us a community center on 15th Ave. near Yesler where we listened to Iyad Burnat show raw footage of the nonviolent resistance he and his comunity in Bil'in have carried out for 14 years now. It was striking and powerful seeing how the people so courageously stood against the Israeli Occupation Forces and the illegal settlements as well as the apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from their customary lands, olive trees and farms. Several Zionists began heckling Iyad causing a severe interruption in his presentation. To top that off was another heckler giving Iyad a hard time about being committed to nonviolence while the Zionists claimed he was violent. It got so out of hand that several of us simply spontaneously formed a human block between the Zionists and Iyad. They finally left.

We listened to Iyad for a short time longer, then Nina needed to get home. I placed an envelope of some of my art and writing on the table where Iyad was standing. He looked at me with a questioning expression. Then we left. Little did i know because of this event i would become friends with Iyad and organize a speaking tour for him in Seattle and on Vashon during the week of Thanksgiving of 2016.

Later as we headed to the ferry, she told me i was brave to participate in blocking the Zionists. Well, i told her how brave she was to take on the NRA earlier that day. Such a precious memory.

Over the next few years, i had the pleasure of working among Nina's flowers and herbs. When i would finish for the day, we spent hours talking. The scope of her awareness was so broad, i always learned so much from these precious times we had. She gave me bags of wonderful books to read that heightened my literary pursuits. She also would share some of the political publications she subscribed to. Her knowledge was vast. I am a better person for having known this deeply courageous, outspoken, loving, humorous and gutsy woman. Nina you will always live in my heart.

Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills by Deb Pierce McCabe

When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

Invitation was vital to how this group worked. When a new person was invited to the group, the rest of us formed a tight standing circle with our arms linked, facing inward, and the new person had to “break into” the circle.  Sometimes they fought their way in, sometimes they tickled their way in, sometimes they tricked their way in, and sometimes they asked their way in.  Everyone eventually got in, though.  The important part was what happened next:  the new person was welcomed, and two people would sit with them and make sure they were included and made to feel part of the circle.  This was a sensitivity game, and the group was modeled as an encounter group, but we took our role as caretakers of the whole community very seriously.  It was a sweet time.  We formed deep and lasting friendships, and this gave me a foundation for my faith and a deep sense of responsibility to and for others.

In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group.  It was meant reverently, because her dad used to use this phrase to help dispel some of the angst that was going on around him in his final years.  He was dying, but he didn’t want a fuss made over him.  With due respect to him, and to Richard Carlson who wrote the “Small Stuff” books, however, HELL NO, this concept was not something we learned in our open circle group!

While I appreciate the ability to reflect on whether something that is bothering me is an annoyance versus an emergency, the suggestion that “it’s ALL small stuff” is patronizing, to say the least.

The platitudes, “it’s all small stuff”, and its first cousin: “everyone is doing the best that they can” are obnoxious sugar pills.  They divide people from the unpleasant realities of pain.  The first one minimizes people’s perception of pain, and the second one minimizes the pain that others inflict, often quite deliberately. If we were all doing the best that we can, we would experience heaven on earth, instead of violence driven by power and greed.  When someone says “it’s all small stuff”, it is used as a silencer.  It is intended to shut people up, because we don’t want to deal with their genuine pain or their legitimate grievances. The phrase “it’s all small stuff” literally minimizes people’s struggles and their pain.  It doesn’t reduce it, it mocks it. Minimizing is a control strategy used by abusers to make people and their pain appear insignificant, and therefore dismissible.  That is not love.  That is contempt.

Love invites us to be real.  It calls us by name. We embody and express love in action when we take each other seriously.  We express love in action when we invite and welcome the stranger, along with our friends, when we sit quietly with them, listening, fully present with integrity.  The grace of invitation is that it is rooted in humility and joy.

Click here to email Deb or see her website for more of her work.



Invitation to mentor (and be mentored) by Sherene Zolno

One thing I try to emphasize in my training of coaches is that you cannot coach into “no request.” For me, this has meant that there’s some understanding on the part of the other person that they need help or perspective. They may not have clarity on their predicament, not a fully formed sense of choice, mind you, but they have at least a spark of,  “Hmmm, this just isn’t working; perhaps I’ll ask for help.”

Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting.

That summer I went to work at the shop of my parents’ friends. They had a refrigerator repair business and I answered the phones, took orders, and sent out their guys on jobs. Generally alone, I listened to the top ten on the radio and called in to try for a prize when I knew the answer to one of the DJ's questions.

I felt lonely and overlooked. Sad and uninspired. I was smart, in the top 10% of my class, but there was nothing special about that from what I could tell.

But for one thing.

My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was taking summer classes at the Albany State Teachers College, not far from where I was working. She offered to drive out to the country where we lived, 3 miles out of town from Troy, New York, pick me up and then drop me off at my job on her way to the school.

It was a most unusual relationship, this teen and her teacher.

During those long rides, we talked about reading and books, learning from literature, and I also remember reading a few challenging books, including her recommendation, the difficult and lengthy Anna Karenina. We discussed it, and I understood . . . well, some of it.

We also talked about our lives, and what possibilities the future could hold. I shared with her some of what I was feeling – the grief of a 14 year old who felt on the margins of life. Mrs. Cohen listened, without apparent need to fix me or my world.

So what was the invitation Mrs. Cohen felt that led to her driving miles out of her way to take me to work and to her sharing her life with me that summer – to being my special mentor and coach?

We never talked about it. But I believe that I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate my grief and need, nor could I have formed then a request for her help.

Now, so many years later, I can only guess at her motives. But I recognize how an invitation was given and received, and it was a blessing, even if unspoken by this teenage kid and her English teacher.