Report to Gaia

Gleanings from a Traveling Sabbatical

April 1  – September 1, 2011

Two Mythic Truths:

Life is Gaia’s gift to the Universe

Love is Life’s gift to Gaia

And a Teaching:

What to do for the Rest of Your Life:

Review every relationship,

Every relationship,

Until nothing is left of that relationship

Except Thanks and Praise

To accomplish that task:

See every relationship as a tree.

Notice all the trees you see on this journey through

Eight lands,

The United States, Ireland, Israel, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Canada.

As you consider a relationship,

Realize what kind of “tree” it has been:

Apple, Olive, Redwood, Sycamore, Pear, Pine, Oak, Hemlock, Peach, Avocado, Orange, Madrone, Willow, Yew, Mulberry, Cedar, Nutmeg

Has it given you sustenance, shade, fruit, spices?

Or is it a shrub, a bush: rose, or blackberry, or pomegranate?

Notice what is has given you over and over:

An opportunity to know yourself more deeply.

An opportunity to embrace shadows.

A joyful gift of color, and texture, and sweetness.

Keep working – drawing the tree, learning about the tree,

and its holy place in the Tree of Life, until all you have left to say is

“Thank you.  I praise and honor you.”

And write a praise song to say just that, and tell why.

A story that sustained my journey (told at a celebration of the life of Rumi)

A young woman, deeply in love with her beloved, had not seen him for some time, and was missing him greatly.  She also had a teacher whom she loved, and looked forward to the day when they two would meet again and she would receive her next teaching.

The day came, and she went eagerly to greet the teacher, hoping also perhaps for a blessing.  The teacher welcomed the woman, and handed her a huge basket of freshly picked, perfectly ripened strawberries.  Then the teacher said, “Do you see that mountain?”

The woman said yes, she saw the huge rocky peak nearby.  The teacher said, “Carry this basket of strawberries up that mountain.”  And turned away.

The woman couldn’t protest, or even question.  The teacher was gone.  Reluctantly, she hefted the basket into her arms and turned her steps to the high mountain.  Slowly she wound her way up the difficult path, wondering what this assignment was about, why she had to do this, what was the teaching, maybe she had come to the wrong teacher, and so on and on.  Grousing and grumbling, stumbling now and again, feeling the sun burn hot on her back, the basket of strawberries grow heavy and cumbersome, she nevertheless found something inside that kept her struggling upward.

Finally as the sun was moving deep into the west, she came to the top of the mountain, and found herself standing in a beautiful, peaceful, flower-filled meadow.  She had made it!  Furthermore, the basket of strawberries was intact.  All the exquisite fruit had made the journey without harm.

The woman looked across the meadow, and saw her beloved moving toward her, gazing at her with eyes of profound love and a smile of sweet welcome.

When he came to the end of the tale, the storyteller added the teaching by telling us some of the woman’s thoughts: “If I had only known that the strawberries were for the Beloved, that the journey was toward my Beloved, I would not have been so fussy or puzzled or grown so weary, or complained so much, or failed to notice the beauty of the mountain I was climbing.”

Notes from the Journey

July, Lucca, Italy

This month has been a time to ponder and to practice Hafiz, especially his words that are something like these: “One regret, dear Earth, I am determined NOT to have, is that I did not kiss you enough…”

That thought fires the hours of this early wakeful morning. Have I kissed the world enough so that I won’t regret leaving?

Italy, certainly I have kissed enough.

Ruefully reflecting on the layers I have managed to add to my waistline: one for delicious bread with an edge of salt soaked in peppered olive oil made in Lucca; one layer for every kind of pasta with every kind of sauce, all homemade; and one layer of gelato, also homemade in our favorite shop, which we somehow managed to wander past at least once a day.

So I have certainly celebrated the luscious food, “kissed” it again and again…and yet again.

Music everywhere all the time

Music, too, including the group of young horn players from Germany practicing near the statue of one of the town’s famous sculptors; the pair from Russia, the woman playing a kind of portable marimba very fast and her partner wielding an accordion; the strolling violinist who knows only variations on O Sole Mio; the young man who hauls his huge bass into the piazza to play those sounds only available to those long dark strings, he and his friends who bring their harps play even sometimes in the rain; and the singers who honor Puccini and Friends by presenting arias in the ancient church built over an even more ancient church built over Roman baths built over who knows what Etruscan mystery.

And people’s faces even those of our fellow tourists, alive and curious. It’s easy to tell the tourists because they are either craning their necks to try to read the street signs or bent over a map trying to discover where they are. Sometimes both at the same time.

The wonderful things about the city have been its surprises, we arrived while the swallows were here on their migration path, and each evening and morning for the first days they swirled and called and swifted around the rooftops that we look out upon from our 4th floor aerie.  The Pats checked on the internet to discover that they fly every year from England to South Africa, and the first days of our stay coincided with theirs.  And that swallows are the symbol for international cooperation!  To add to the lovely mystery a pair of doves are nesting in the rafters just outside the dining room window, and call out their morning and evening coos just to make sure we’re still listening.  And every once in a way an irascible seagull fusses about making the wrong turn from Pisa and ending up here with the pigeons.

One night as I walked home a troupe of people in medieval dress marched by to the sound of drums, when I asked I learned that this was the week of the San Paolina festival, he is their patron saint, and there would be such events for several hours for several nights.  The next night was a huge procession, everybody managing to look both easy and cool in medieval heavy costumes, some chain mail, some big banners, some flowing flags that they used like batons, and several troops carrying instruments that looked like crossbows, but were called balestra.  On and around they marched through the narrow streets — we heard the drums until late at night.  Then one day I saw a modest sign that I translated as reading that they would be holding a ball at the Piazza San Frediano at 9:30 Saturday night, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.  So off we went at the appointed hour having NO idea what to expect.  Scored seats at the outdoor bar, ordered negronis, the drink of Lucca, and waited.  Sure enough after a long wait, music sounded and a grand march with people dressed in the costumes of 150 years ago, (think Gone With The Wind) made its way into the open square and lo and behold they did the dances of the period in great circles, playing music of the Strausses mostly, so waltzes, but also mazurkas, and contra dances.  Reminded us of Mystery School, but they knew the dances and there must have been close to a hundred people — just people not performers, many ages and skills.  It was a glory to watch and applaud, and fun to just keep drinking negronis.  Several of the dances reminded me of the Troika, and Hole in the Wall, and several of those we have done our best to perform from time to time.  Then last Sunday in the afternoon there was a “torneo of balestra” over in the field behind the cathedral (that’s the one that has a finger labyrinth inscribed on one of the pillars at the main entrance) and it turned out that three towns were competing in the use of this instrument, like a crossbow, but with a trigger apparatus, so the arrow shot out like a bullet.  They had to measure the results in millemeters — or so I thought — because each of the contestants shot so true to the mark that I was astounded.  Again everybody was in medieval dress.  There was flag throwing and medieval dancing in between events. And again and again, music — including a concert performance of dear god Mamma Mia in the Botanical Gardens, which have  sequoias and magnolias and trees from many other lands as well, including a 150 year old Cedar of Lebanon.  The Mammi Mia was performed by Italians, under the guidance and musical directorship of a man named Sanjay from India.  It has been a marvel, every day in every way.  Tomorrow night a Shakespeare troupe from Rome performs the big scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream in Italian English, at the Roman Amphitheatre.  I can hardly wait!

Barcelona, Remembering Spain

I thought I was going to Spain to honor the early life of my warrior husband Ben, and it turned out that was only partly true. I spent most of my time in Barcelona and environs, with two trips to Montserrat, and one to Girona and Figueres. My friend Christiane Meunier, who completed her Pilgrim journey to Compostela this summer, told me that the men who came to fight in Spain on behalf of the Republican government, and against Franco, usually came across the Pyrenees from France, and gathered at Figueres. I don’t know whether the memory Ben shared with me of a night of gathering in Spain with thousands of others from many lands singing the Internationale and other songs in many languages actually took place in this small Catalan city, but I could see it as a possibility. Figueres is also the home of Salvador Dali, and boasts a madly glorious theatre of his design plus two museums of his work (including the jewelry which is outrageously provocative), and that is why a tour is offered. The guide told me that after the Civil War in Spain ended in disaster for the Republicans, thousands of soldiers and citizens fled through Figueres back across the mountains to France. So Figueres held a double whammy for me: Dali’s surreal imagination made manifest, and a whisper of memory of Ben’s time with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The city looks out to the very near border with France, the mountains between are close and snow-covered and touchingly beautiful. After visiting the museums and surviving the hordes of excited and exuberant Spanish young students. I sat at a small park and looked out to them, imagining as well as I could the way it might have been in 1937. Dali himself would have had fun painting the scene: a 75 year old woman conversing in her heart with a 21-year-old boy from New York who had stolen away from home in secret to fight for a country he had never seen, and an idea that would, in the way it unfolded politically in the years yet to come, break his heart again and again. And 20 years after that war ended, a younger version of that same woman would waltz into his reasonably settled life and disrupt it completely. When we first fell in love, Ben liked to quote Othello. “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them,” so rapturously did I listen to his stories. For me he was and remained a man out of myth.

A human, laughing man, to be sure, but his stories, his mythic stories! And his fierce intelligence, his indomitable courage, his “Yes!” to life, even as his health waned, made him not only a beloved friend and husband, but also a life teacher and mentor.  Over and over again as I walked through the streets of Barcelona and later during the splendid Wind Spirit cruise when we stopped in the elegant old ports of Malaga and Cadiz, I would wonder about life choices and how they play out, and whether anyone could have foreseen modern post-Franco Spain.

Considering Fate in Portugal

Thinking about the time in Portugal also.  We were all too tired to go to the performance of Fado in the evening — we had to get up early again the next morning to make the plane to Rome, and it had already been a big day in Lisbon.  But we had heard all about it, and read about it too.  It means fate and the songs are songs of desperate longing and power of some mysterious lost something and they say absolutely incormporated the deep soul of the people of Portugal.  The samples I have heard certainly spoke to something.  And I àm wondering if the process of expressing one’s deepest longing in song and having others hear it and recognize that you are singing for them as well as for yourself doesn’t in fact address some human need, which when expressed and witnessed release sorrow, pain and dis-ease.  Something makes the people of Portugal gentler than others I have seen anywhere on this trip, kinder to strangers, more eager to respond and make the visitor feel really welcome.

How that fits in with my sense of the harpist, the praise singer, the bard, as offering me the next stage or the next level of understanding I don’t know.  But somehow it does.  At the moment I am halfway between a desire to write about the trip as a comedy and as a soul revelation.  Maybe the trick is to do it both ways.  The Shakespeare play is the comedy.  The rides on the ferries is both.  So let’s see which works best for me.

Tomorrow.

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