When I Was Queen In My Ain Countrie

I woke from a dream, hearing
myself say aloud, “When I was queen
in my ain countrie…” That was all;
nothing more. I later remembered
that someone in this world had said
that I needed a tiara for writing.

“A tiara,” she said, “marks off
the time and space in which you rule
as Creatrix. Some authors do like
to dress up, but I feel that a tiara is enough
to remind one of who one really is —
a tiara and a really good fountain pen.”

So I bought a sparkly tiara for me
and another for my granddaugher,
who was of an age — three, I think —
to really enjoy a tiara. I also bought
a nice pen. But I’m the only one I know
that makes so many typos with a pen.

I much prefer a computer and its quiet hum.
The tiara gave me headaches. It tangled
and pulled my hair. I was going to wind up
with a tiara that had more hair than I did.
So I made a tiara of my own design with
honeysuckle vine, leaves and crystals.

I would quite like a nice silk gown
with feathers and fur and bright gems —
yet the tiara and gown are not meant
for anyone but the cats and me to see.
Other people don’t need to know
who I really am as they pass by.

I have come to believe that there is
no Right Way — only the way that works.
For me, it’s to be a Queen in My Ain Countrie
in disguise, wearing an invisible tiara
and a transparent gown of royal blue silk velvet
with a pure white lace jabot and pristine lace cuffs.

I shall just wear ordinary clothes beneath
my invisible royal vestiments so courtiers passing by
won’t pester me as I create my ain countrie.

© 2018 Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Harken, Listen, Pay Attention

Do you think you hear birds singing?
What if you’re hearing faeries?
What if they sing like skylarks,
like blackbirds or wrens?
What if they fly like eagles and owls
or cheeky sparrows or spotted towhees?

What if they are singing
for the caged and lost children?
What if they are singing
for the mothers who weep and beg for their children?
What if they are singing
for the desperate fathers, helpless
in the hands of the wicked?

Earth’s fae spirits know this is so wrong —
We are Earth’s children also —
why don’t we get it?

I mustn’t read the news before I try to sleep.
I mustn’t read the news before I try to eat.
If I must read the news (and really I must)
there must be a time to mourn after
and then strength to fight the battles.
Evil seems never to stop, never to give up.

What is it about humans
that so many of us must be
watched every moment?

Are we listening? Are we hearing
the faeries singing like birds —
like blackbirds and mournful owls
like wrens and eagles?
Do we harken at all?
Are we learning anything?

© 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

What If…

What if
the Rapture came
in the middle of the night
and in the morning
we rejects went out to find
tinfoil hats
old zoot suits
straitjackets
worn red spike-heeled shoes
with one spike broken halfway?
Or a pair of red silk thongs
slung across
tinfoil underpants —
all scattered on the pavements?
Would we realize
from this strange detritus
that we are the crazy ones,
the lazy ones,
the ones that didn’t make it,
and that
what god/dess really wanted,
what s/he was growing in this world,
were the trippers, the daily
roller-coaster riders,
the wild-eyed ones
who wear their clothes backward,
the oddities, the ones who
can’t stop laughing,
the ones who walk
through the park, shouting,
“The locusts have stolen my honey!” —
the ones who never say, “Be safe!”
the ones who live
on the very edge of glory?

© 2018 Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

81 — Birthday Cake Bonfire

I cannot hear the gentle rain any more —
it has to come down hard on the roof
for me to hear it well,
but I can see it bouncing on the leaves
of the honeysuckle and the salal.

My world is quiet.

I’m slow — really slow —
and stumble on the forest paths.
There are bruises and scars
inside and out from mishaps —
sometimes I fall.

So far, I always get back up.

I don’t know if “over the hill
is better than under it.”
How could I know that?
But I do know I’m not finished yet.
I still have work to do.

Joy is in the doing.

Someone asked, would you live forever
if you could? How could I know that?
Eighty isn’t even a fraction of forever.
I’m still learning new things, and
I shall know when it’s time to go

dancing Home.

© 2018 by Jessica Macbeth 2018

Aislinn’s Ride

Gran’mama said, “Always live high on the mountain, and always wear something yellow, even if no one else can see it.” She said she learned that from a friend from the stars, and it had always served her well. Her friend, The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, didn’t say much, but she was always worth listening to when she spoke in her deep, deep voice like a bass viol.

(This story is going to have a lot of “shes” — I hope it doesn’t get too confusing. There is Aislinn, there is Gran’mama, there may also be Gran’ma Maple (I’m not sure about her part yet), and there is The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream. The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream is the one with the voice like a bass viol, and she came in Gran’mama’s dream so sometimes other people could see her and sometimes they could not. But she wasn’t hard to hear on the seldom occasions that she spoke.)

So Gran’mama lived high on the mountain — nobody lived higher. And Aislinn lived with her in the summer times. In the winter she lived in the valley with her parents and went to school, but she still always wore something yellow, even if it was something hidden. Oddly enough, it did make her feel better, even in the lowlands beneath the mountain where the blue of the sky seemed faded and far away like The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream sometimes seemed.

Gran’ma Maple lived only part-way up, on the west side of the mountain, on a wide, wide ledge right beside the tarn. A tarn is like a very small lake or a very deep pond, and no one knew how deep this tarn was — people said it went down to the roots of the mountain — and deeper — but no one really knew. The Folk had stopped catching fish in it a long time ago — they were too unchancy-looking to eat anyway with their huge blind eyes, and it was noticed that those who caught them were never lucky after.

Gran’ma Maple stood beside the tarn. She had lived there since long before the folk came to the valley or Gran’mama had come up the mountain as a middle-aged widow woman with far-seeing eyes. Gran’ma Maple didn’t talk at all, except in the whispering rustle of her leaves. Gran’ma Maple loved Aislinn and she loved Gran’mama, but she didn’t love everyone, except the littlest ones. She let them climb in her branches, and she called them her “seedlings” and talked to them in whispers until they got too old to be able to hear her about their seventh year.

Aislinn was one of the seldom children who was able to understand Gran’ma Maple’s whispers past her seventh year, who could see and hear The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, and who was welcome up high on the mountain at Gran’mama’s house. Some of the other children were a bit jealous and made up scary stories about Aislinn and told them to each other in the dark, but everyone suspected it was lucky to be her friend so she got along all right for a while. And in the beginning of summer, when school stopped, Aislinn went up the mountain and didn’t come down again until the first leaves on Gran’ma Maple began to turn. In fact, it was the turning of the leaves and the return of Aislinn that told the other children when to go back to school just as it was her leaving to go up the mountain that told them when to stop.

As a little girl Aislinn didn’t realize that her life was much different from others. She learned reading and writing and science from the school, and she learned manners and hard work from her parents. From Gran’ma Maple she learned to climb high, even in the wind, and to sing with the birds, and foretell the weather. From her own Gran’mama high on the mountain, she learned to know all the herbs and their helping ways, to always wear yellow, and to read the clouds. From The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream she learned — well, it was hard to say exactly what she learned — perhaps it was a way of dreaming while she was awake. But perhaps that was just imagination or magic. She was never quite certain which. But on her seventeenth birthday everything changed.

It was the first of May. This year there would be a full moon that night and Neptune, the planet of dreams, would be rising invisibly beside the moon. Aislinn thought about that. She had dreamed the night before, as she usually did (her name means “dreamer” in the old magical language), and her dreams were filled with shadows and figures of light, of turmoil and calm, and they were full of hidden magic. Although she often couldn’t remember the dreams when she woke, things often happened then she then remembered that it happened first in a dream and she understood how it would turn out. So it was this morning.

She woke up her birthday morning feeling a change coming toward her. She knew it was riding a gray horse and would arrive before noon and that she should pack up and be ready to go. She packed her best yellow petticoat, bright as the sun and almost as bright as her hair, and a few other clothes, and then wondered what else to bring. It seemed like most everything else she had was in her head, her heart, her muscles and bones, but she thought some herbs might be useful so she made a small bundle and put them in with her clothes. She had a small rose quartz stone in the shape of a heart that had belonged to her mother and gran’mama before her. It hung from a fine gold chain, and though she rarely wore it, this seemed like a good day for it so she put it on and tucked it in, hidden beneath her blouse. She ate breakfast with her mother and father and then she waited.

Waiting wasn’t very satisfying — Aislinn wasn’t used to just sitting around. She meditated for a while, but still felt restless. She went into the kitchen and packed a lunch, then considered and added a three slightly wrinkled apples from last fall for the horse. She wrote a note for her parents, who were out planting seeds in the fields, and another for her Gran’mama, though she suspected that her Gran’mama already knew what was happening, probably better than Aislinn herself. She was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering if there was anything else she needed to do, when she heard the neigh of a horse in the distance. Her heart said, “Yes!”

She took her bag of clothes and her basket of lunch and got to the gate just as the horse arrived, shining bright in the sun. Aislinn felt the presence of The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream and heard her say, “The sun is nearly high and the may tree is in bloom — are you ready to ride?”

This is the end of the beginning. Or perhaps my part stops here, and you have to dream the rest for yourself. I don’t know!

Meeting God/dess Unexpectedly

Sometimes we have Encounters with the numinous and ineffable. In the woods. On the hills. Under the stars. We meet SomeOne bigger than we expected. We may have had an image in our mind of god/dess, known and sweetly familiar, but suddenly we encounter SomeOne much larger, someone far more overwhelming than anyOne we thought we knew. SomeOne very different than anyOne we may have expected.

God/dess is essentially unknowable — too vast, too old, too simple/complex, too present for us to comprehend or relate to in ordinary consciousness. We have a direct connection through the mystical experience, which strikes — like lightning — where there is the least resistance. When we surrender far enough (and that is usually much further than we can surrender intentionally), we are touched by god/dess so deeply that we lose our sense of self and find Self instead. The experience of this connection fries our nervous system and brain cells if we stay in it too long, so we bounce back out pretty quickly.

Therefore, in order for us to directly connect with the divine (without turning into a little grease spot on the ground, a few ashes drifting around, and a spirit shrieking “Wheeeeeee!!!” as it expands out into the limitless unknown at translight speeds), Something happens/exists (call it a god or goddess or archetype or archangel or whatever) between human self and Infinite Being. That something is an aspect, one facet of that Infinite Being — a face that we as humans can relate to. It is a one that stretches us a few notches. That is, the face we’ve been dealing with did stretch us and now that we are more or less comfortable with it, we are introduced to an aspect of god/dess that stretches us further. Growth seems to be the name of the game.

Perhaps, instead of alternate faces, we are seeing the face behind the face and then the one behind that… and behind that a still greater face, too big to recognize as a face, even from a distance. I have often felt this to be true, because they meld into each other in a way. Layers, perhaps, to be found as we move into expanded consciousness and into more real realities. But as we grow and become big enough, we begin to see through the face we know, looking beyond it to larger faces.

I saw a puppy meeting its first horse once. The horse was one of those big Clydesdales with hooves the size of platters. The pup found the back feet first and got all excited about them. All eight inches of the pup wriggled and squirmed and leaped up against the horse’s back legs, looking for the human he expected to be there to stoop down and pick him up.

Then he found the front legs. The dance was repeated, oh, what happiness — another two-legs to dispense caresses and tidbits!

Then the horse bent down his head to get a closer look at this tiny, manic creature, and the pup went berserk. GODS!!! GIANTS!!! MONSTERS!!! O, JOY!!! O, HELP!!! Fall down, roll over. Expose tender, fat tummy while peeing on horse’s foot.

The horse gave the pup a gentle, juicy lick, like a paternal slurp for a wobbly colt, rolling him over and over in the dirt. He came to his feet again, covered with mud and horse spit, and filled with totally overwhelming ecstasy.

The horse was very patient, very quiet, and didn’t move his feet lest the pup get under them and get squished flat. I don’t remember how long it took for the pup to realize that the back legs, the front legs and the head were all connected — all one being.

All one being. That’s something to think about.

Perhaps, dear heart, you also need to know that this bigger god/dess gives larger (and different) lessons and initiations?

A Squeek At God/dess’ Foot

I keep getting caught in too many words
(and none of them right)
when I try to talk about You.

All of my images fail, are less than You,
all of the faces I can see are not
Your True Face —
even though they show me truth.
You are too bright, too big for my eyes.
Your song is too deep and too high, too wild,
and far, far too sweet for my ears.

The only thing I can do
is keep growing — like the sunflower, the lilac,
the sequoia — until I am big enough to see
that I am You and You are me and We
don’t stop anywhere,
any time,
in any reality.

© Copyright 2001 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This may not be reproduced without the author’s written permission.

The Art of Doing What Matters

The Hindus call it dharma, and according to Depak Chopra, it means to know your purpose in life and to fulfill that purpose. We all share the common purpose of growing and moving toward fulfilling our potential for a creative, constructive, and satisfying presence in the world. However, in order to fulfill our dharma, to practice the art of doing what matters, we need to be doing something that provides a service of some kind to others, and that service must contain within it a space for us to grow. So the art of Doing What Matters contains two equally important concepts: service to others and growth potential for ourselves.

Virtually any work we might choose can meet the requirement for personal and spiritual growth if we are trying to live consciously and to pay attention to the lessons the universe is offering us. So that part is simple (ha!), and we can chose anything that suits us, anything that we feel a calling to, a vocation for. It just needs to provide a useful service for others. Our art might be practiced and fulfilled by being plumbers, painters, phytopathologists, paralegals, paramedics, pedagogues, papyrus makers, potters, priests, paladins, palaeoclimatologists, palmists, peddlers, pharmacists, philologists, porters, philosophers, or pianists — to name only a very few of our very many possibilities.

The idea of service is something we may need to think about. Sometimes alternative and complementary practitioners seem to expect that they ‘should’ be able to do what they want to do, without consideration of whether or not anyone wants to be on the receiving end. The thought seems to run something like: I am a good, spiritual person doing good, spiritual things, and people should support me in this. I have learned to be wary of people who say should (including myself), especially about other people’s actions.

If no one wants it, it isn’t a service. Let’s say you want to be a zibbletherapist. No one knows what a zibbletherapist is or does, so only the severely deranged are likely to phone for an appointment. You have two choices here. You can give up, or you can take steps to educate the public — write articles, give free lectures and demonstrations, hand out leaflets on the street corner — whatever seems appropriate and workable.

Let us further say that zibbletherapy is a form of healing in which the therapist nibbles the client’s fingernails and sings to his or her toes. This is a very specialized form of therapy, and there may not be a big market for it unless you can demonstrate to people that it is really effective.

If you are quite certain that it’s a good thing, it would be worth trying all of the educational public relations activities (especially free demonstrations) that you can. We can’t expect uninformed people to buy something just because we think it would be good for them, but it’s surprising how many alternative and complementary practitioners do seem to expect just that.

If zibbletherapy works, and if you are a good zibbletherapist, you probably can make a career of it. However, if zibbletherapy doesn’t work or if you are a substandard zibbletherapist or if zibbletherapy doesn’t promote your own personal and spiritual growth, you won’t be able to sell it or yourself.

These, then, are the fundamental criteria for the Art of Doing What Matters:

The work you offer has to be a service. It has to provide something worthwhile for people. They must both want and need it. It doesn’t matter whether the need is one of the body (food, housing, etc.) or one of the spirit (art, music, etc.) — but both the need and the desire (willingness to buy) must be there.

The work you do has to enhance your own personal and spiritual growth. If it doesn’t meet the needs of your present stage of growth, a kindly universe will try to encourage you into another line of work — often by refusing to provide clients.

We cannot do our work just for our bosses or our clients, nor can we do it just for ourselves. It has to balance.

The Art of Doing What Matters – A Personal View

When I was three, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was, “A grandmother and a doctor.” The problem was one of vocabulary — I wanted to be a wise woman, who healed in a magical way through touch and presence — like my grandmother. My self-chosen purpose in life, my personal doing of what mattered, was to try to be a healing presence in the world, and I already had a sense of how I wanted to go about this. I suspect that many of us were clear about our path in those very early years, but we simply didn’t have the words to express it. And then we often got distracted by other people’s stories.

Like most of us, I got confused about this. I stuck with the notion of being a doctor until I was old enough to understand what doctors really did. What doctors do is necessary and important, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Then, I thought I might like to be a nurse until I understood what nurses really did. Same problem. Then I thought I might like to be a psychotherapist, but in those days psychotherapy was all behaviorism and rats in mazes and no-consciousness, and that certainly wasn’t what I wanted either.

So I got married, worked as a secretary, became a mother, got involved with designing, building, and crewing on yachts, got divorced, became a house and sign painter, sold antiques, got married again, worked on boats some more, ran an antiquarian book business, got divorced again (slow learner), acquired a BA in psychology (special interests: counseling psychology, studies in consciousness, altered states, biofeedback, and parapsychology) with minors in anthropology (special interest: comparative religions) and philosophy (special interest: what’s it all about anyway?), and finally officially became a minister (of a highly unorthodox [some would say heretical] religious order). And now I’m making yet another shift to put the emphasis on writing and art — but it is still a form of healing.

In the meantime, from about the age of three onward I was practicing healing by laying on of hands, initially learned by watching my grandmother heal. In my thirties, I started teaching healing while I learned more things — meditation, massage, shiatsu, astrology, imagery work and other related and unrelated theories, concepts, and skills. Then one evening in my early forties, I was standing on a hillside, under a full moon, performing a wedding ceremony.

We were using a large stone for an altar, where I had placed a special candle. The bride and the groom had each carried a lit candle up to the alter, and with those they lit the big candle at the beginning of the service. Near the end of the ceremony family and friends came to the altar one by one to wish them well, offer a piece of advice, or say whatever they felt moved to say. As they did this, each one was given a candle, which had been lit from the large one, by the couple. Finally, everyone was standing in silence, holding the burning candles under the moon and the stars, light over light over light, while I held and blessed the wedding rings. I suddenly realized with an electric sense of shock that I was actually, in that moment, doing what I had wanted to do when I was three. And that my work, every aspect of it — healing, teaching, ministering, fit neatly into what I had really intended all those years ago.

I had blundered into my chosen art without noticing where I was going. I was just doing what seemed appropriate for the moment. I suspect that each of us is walking on our path. I suspect that it isn’t possible to get off of it — that everything we do, everything we learn, every experience we have is grist for the mill. But it does help — or at least it is comforting — to know what that purpose is — and that requires conscious examination and awareness of what we are doing.

At this time, I’m noticing that my path is changing, moving into unfamiliar territory — or maybe it’s familiar but in a different guise. I’ve been trundling around, doing more or less the same sorts of things, for a number of years now. Of course, I’ve been learning and growing and expanding what I do, but it has been essentially the same. Now, things are shifting (not because I decided they ought, but simply because they are) and I really wonder: what’s happening? What’s next?

I’ve talked to a couple of good astrologers and to some psychics and the general message seems to be something like, “Wow, this is interesting! Things are really changing for you.” Indeed. Thanks a bunch. So the message from the universe seems to be ‘wait and see’. I’ve been in this position before where I’ve known change is coming, but not what change. I keep saying that, if I knew what the universe wants me to do, I’d get on with doing it. But this is dodging the issue. What the universe “wants me to do” is to consciously and prayerfully work through the process of change.

At this moment, the change seems to be becoming clear, and it is a simple one. My vocation is becoming my avocation, and my avocation is becoming my vocation. Just a change of emphasis.

Process As Art, Art As Process

There are some questions I’ve been asking myself to try to clarify this process, and if you are experiencing the same kind of inner searching, they may help you.

They are:

1. When you were two or three or four, what did you think you wanted to do when you grew up?

2. How does that relate to what you are doing now? That is, how is your present work (paid or unpaid) a manifestation of that original plan? Or does it seem to be another track altogether?

3. What are your dissatisfactions with your present work?

4. How do these dissatisfactions relate to the concept of dharma? That is, how do they fail to meet the criteria listed above of need, service, growth, and balance?

5. What is satisfying about your present work?

6. How do these satisfactions relate to the concept of dharma and the fulfil criteria?

7. Does your present work hold the potential for fulfilling the requirements of dharma and of being personally satisfying, growth enhancing, and profitable?

8. How does this work offer service?

9. What would you need to change in you or in your work in order for this work to offer a better service?

10. How are you using this work to promote your spiritual growth?

11. What would you need to change in you or in your work in order for this work to better facilitate your spiritual growth?

12. Can you change your present work or yourself to create service, spiritual growth, satisfaction, and prosperity within your present framework, or do you need to change directions altogether?

13-?. If the answer to 12 is that you need to change directions, pick a likely direction and hold it up in the light of questions 1-11. This won’t tell you everything, but it might help you to see something useful.

These and related questions may help us to assess our present (or intended) work for doing-what-matters appropriateness. You may need to invent some more questions for yourself here.

People get confused about this. They think that one has to be doing something ‘spiritual’ in order to be growing spiritually through one’s work. Not true. We simply have to be consciously providing a service and being conscious of our intentions, our actions, and their consequences.

We need to be learning from and examining our lives as we live them. Being a priest, conducting ceremony and ritual, preaching and healing is no more ‘spiritual’ than being a plumber or an accountant. Any work can be done sleepwalking or consciously. Consciousness, self-awareness, self-examination, prayer, dedication, devotion, surrender, and awareness of the process are all prerequisites for the spiritual life. As the cliche says, it isn’t so much what you do, but how you do it that matters.

All right, I accept (reluctantly) that I am in the process of change, that this process is in itself part of my work, and that consciousness is required. I quite understand that sometimes we just have to go through the process and not try to find shortcuts, but I am a person who likes to have a plan, and judging by the number of people who ask, ‘But what am I meant to be doing?’ many other people like to have plans, too.

Or perhaps it’s just that we think we should have one. I suspect that sometimes a plan is helpful, and some times it is a hindrance. The trick is in knowing which is which. And in getting on with our work in the meantime, consciously learning, consciously being of service.

I wish you well on your journey!

Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This essay originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995

Wild Waters, Unsteady Ground

I would have said I was too sensible for love at first sight,
but you arrived, so closely followed by a tsunami and a quake,
that we both went tumbling headlong into that bright abyss.
After that first moment, my feet never touched the ground.
For an endless time we talked with words and light, quick touches,
and we never once acknowledged what was really happening.

So, the question is, what’s happening and why is it happening
to us? In the geology of life is there never a stable site?
Can I be so easily thrown by your voice, your laugh, your touch?
I thought I’d reached an age when these unanticipated quakes
are expected to have died down. I believed that my inner ground
of being had stabilized, and I couldn’t be thrown into that abyss.

A finger smooths my windblown hair. A quick kiss opens the abyss
landing on the edge of my smile instead of my cheek. What’s happened?
Nothing! Oh, no? Your hand steadies me as we walk on rough ground.
A casual arm round my shoulder shelters me from sea winds. Insight
is dizzying; insight is banned. This land was made by volcanic quakes.
I can feel them still deep in my bones — an eons-old echoing touch.

There is peril here for human hearts, no matter how sweet the touch.
Between stars or lurking beneath an unwary heart, wide is the abyss
where invisible Powers move like tsunamis sent by undersea quakes.
Unseen, the Powers rock balances. Something subtle is happening.
Why had I no warning of this? Not even the slightest foresight?
The earth is a sphere – we may fall off this tree-covered ground

and rise up in the endless void, while the Gaia beneath us is ground
between Helios and Selene by light. We are transformed by the touch
of Blind Eros, absurd with his tiny bow, who draws back, takes sight –
fires a dart meant only for gods, but hitting human hearts. The abyss
is the only place vast enough for his victims. His dart just happens
to hit like a comet. I feel like Gaia — roughly shattered by quakes,

pressured, and turned to diamond where radiance shivers and quakes.
No light fancy this – something deeper is running under the ground,
potent and perilous as wine of the gods. This didn’t just happen
but was planned long ago. Ecstasy moves closer in these touches
as we fall, scintillating and burning in the center of the abyss.
Closing eyes doesn’t help; there are no eyes here — only clear sight.

Is this then what is called love at first sight? The Earth quaking,
the opening abyss, and something perilous moving under the ground?
In the most fleeting of touches, ecstasy rises. Love is happening.

A sestina. Copyright © 2000 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

If I Were A Witch…

If I were a witch, I might be good
and do the things that I think I should —
because love grows only from loving.

I’d keep my wand clean and fully charged
and see that each kindness got enlarged —
because love only grows from loving.

I’d help the homeless shelter themselves —
this just takes work, not magic or elves —
and they’d learn love does grow from loving.

I’d teach the children myths and the arts
and feed them all fresh strawberry tarts —
so they’d learn we grow best from loving.

I’d refrain from the careless sowing
of hard words and yet harder throwing
of anger that keeps love from growing.

I’m not a witch, but I am trying
to do my best, and not just crying,
because I know I can only grow

from loving.

Copyright © 2000 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This poem originally appeared in my newsletter, An Lios

Krowing While You Work

Not My Desk; Marzipan is More Tidy

“Krowing” makes a change from whistling — and while whistling while you work is often a good thing, krowing may well be better, both for you and for the work.

(Krow, krowed, krowing — “krow” is “work” playfully spelled backward. Very early on in school, we learn that many teachers think you aren’t really trying to do the work unless you sit hunched over your paper, tightly clutching your pencil, with your feet all twisted painfully around the chair legs. Ungrounded. It’s best if you frown too. The thing you mustn’t do is look relaxed. None of this actually helps you think better, and it takes a lot of energy while the discomfort is distracting. The fae believe all of this is seriously weird and wonder how we ever get anything done.)

It’s fascinating the way we seem to keep learning the same lessons over and over — until we finally get it really truly deep down. Whoever is in charge of all this seems to be endlessly patient — much more patient with me than I am with myself.

Eileen Herzberg phoned me to say she was planning to run a meditation course and to discuss a few ideas she had about it. “First, I’ll do what you do,” she said blithely, “and start them off with an inner journey to meet their inner meditation teacher.”

I gently pointed out that I had never met my inner meditation teacher, but that it was a really brilliant idea, and I wished I had thought of it. After a brief muddle while we sorted out whose idea it really was (Eileen’s, of course), we went on to discuss how best to set the scene for the inner journey she planned. While we were doing that I took an inward brief peek at my own inner meditation teacher.

The image that flashed up was of a tiny, upright, ancient oriental lady with a face as brown and wrinkled as a walnut shell and bright, bright black eyes. I knew as soon as I saw her that I’d better come back later and listen to what she had to say, and so I did as soon as I got off the phone.

Old Mama Li, she said to me,
Look, kid, you’ve got
to get your act together.
What you’re doing is OK, but
there is so very much
more to be done. For starters, let’s
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Choose
one task each day, and do it
as a meditation. It’s all
very well, even necessary, to Sit
in meditation, to rest into the silence when
healing is happening, and it’s
not that hard to do
when you are building
a dam in the burn, or painting, or walking
in the hills — doing something
quiet and fun — but
there is much more to it than
that. Meditation has to happen
all the time. Don’t try
to do this all at once, don’t try
to go too fast. For a while,
take just one task a day. In time, this
will give you the place to stand
so you can move the earth —
if you are silly enough
to want to.

She suggested that I start with getting out my quarterly newsletter on my courses and things the next day. That, she said, would give me plenty to practice on. She obviously knows how very much I dislike doing those mailings — thousands of pages to collate, thousands of newsletters to fold and staple, thousands of newsletters to put in envelopes and seal, thousands of mailing labels to put on, thousands of stamps to stick down, thousands of return address labels to put on. Arrrgh! Boring!

The next day, I tried to focus on my breath while I worked on the mailing, but I kept getting muddled about what I was doing. Then I tried to work in time with my breath, but it was so slow — and I found my breath going faster and faster — or my hands racing while I didn’t breathe at all.

My usual way of trying to get through a distasteful task is to rush madly at it, so I kept finding myself sitting on the edge of the chair, panting.

I felt so frustrated! I’d thought this would be so easy, but I couldn’t seem to do it at all. I even caught myself thinking that I ought to be able to do it; that this should not be a problem for me. I was messing up on something I ought to be able to do easily. When I caught myself ‘oughting’ and ‘shoulding’ all over myself, I stopped. I ‘ought’ not to be doing that either!

I just sat there with a page in each hand, almost in tears of frustration. For a while I simply focused on my breathing with some vague idea of getting a running start at stability that way. Finally I asked for help. Why does it so often take so long to remember to ask?

The answer came at once — focus on the energy of the task. It has its own natural rhythm and focus. Find it.

A rhythm established itself as soon as I stopped trying to do something: collate while grounding myself and the newsletter with the earth, center while stapling and folding, put it in the envelope while connecting with the Source, seal it while filling it with healing energy. This was easy.

Gradually the understanding grew in my mind — each newsletter should have its own connection with the earth and the Source, its own healing energy, and this could be available to anyone who touched it, if they wanted and were open to it. Because each one had its own connections, it would constantly be brimming over with healing energy, more than enough for everyone who might need and want it along the way. Some of the envelopes might be reused and carry the energy even further. And what will happen if the paper is recycled? Hmmm. Like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, out to the edges of the universe and back. What fun!

Then the mailing labels — each one went on with a friendly energy ‘hello’ to the addressee. The stamps each had a smile attached, and the return address labels each went on with a wash of ‘love you’ from me.

I couldn’t believe it when I suddenly ran out of mailing labels. I scurried around the house to see if I could find any more names and addresses on scattered scraps of paper so I could do some more — it was such fun! When I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh at myself. I went off to the post office with bags full of energized newsletters, smilingly stamped.

When I got to the post office, there were hordes of people waiting, and the clerks were all working frantically. By the time I reached the counter, the clerk in front of me had an obvious headache, a scowl on his face, and a fierce impatience with the world. Besides the newsletters, I had several fiddly things to do — letters to the States and other places, each to be weighed and postage calculated individually. You could see him getting more and more impatient as I handed him one thing after another. Finally, putting all of the bags containing the thousands of newsletters on the counter, I said, “And this is the last.” He touched them — and stopped.

For a moment he just stood there. Then he turned and slowly put them in the big mail sacks a few envelopes at a time. He could have dumped them in a bag at a time much more quickly, but he seemed to be savoring each handful. He came back to me with a cheerful smile spread across his face. “There,” he said, “that’s a job well done, isn’t it?”

I was quite taken aback — it was actually working! Up until then I suppose I had just thought it was a game for me to play by myself. Now I realized that it was something that really could spread out, like the glittering ripples on a pond.

So, what did I do the next day? I forgot. Didn’t remember at all to find a task to do mindfully. And the day after that as well. Then I chose things I really didn’t want to do at all for my special task and then just didn’t do them. There is obviously a big resistance here to enjoying the boring, tedious, mundane things of life. What would one have to complain about? Procrastination wouldn’t be any fun if one were procrastinating on having fun. And I can’t scold myself because that is getting trapped in my oughts and shoulds again, so I really can’t just indulge in feelings of guilt or remorse instead of actually doing something.

The only thing left is either to do a task with the clarity and mindfulness thing or not to do it at all and just leave it undone or do it resentfully — but it feels so silly and perverse not to do it.

I hate to feel perversely silly.

It may provide a bit of harmless amusement for the Otherworld folk, but I’d rather not do it that way. ‘Undignified’ I have no problem with, but “perverse” and ‘silly’ combined are just too much. The thing that had become a regular practice was to have a good laugh at myself when I review my day, just before I go to sleep.

Okay. I wrote the above in early 1994. I added this in the middle of the next year: I’m just recovering from a prolonged bout of pneumonia and am taking this opportunity to reformat and update my disorganized web pages, which have gradually become all helter-skelter. I can do this on my laptop while I technically stay in bed, as instructed. And now, I’m thinking about how I can apply these principles to healing myself. What can I do while confined here — besides my regular meditation and self-healing?

I have recovered to the point where I can go down and up the stairs once a day, and I’ve learned to pause on each step and take two healing breaths. And to take five minutes worth of healing breaths on the landing halfway. This way I don’t collapse before the top. (At first, I unconsciously held my breath as I tried to hurry up the stairs before I collapsed. Needless to say, that didn’t work well. But I can’t climb the stairs very often, so this doesn’t seem much of a task to apply this technique to. It seems that there isn’t much I can be doing with it…

But wait! I’m working on these pages. How can I incorporate meditation/self healing into this? Well, breath seems very important just now. Pneumonia messes that up. So perhaps I could incorporate breathing consciously and in a healing way into this somehow. I’m going to try something for a few minutes…

Ah, yes. I just need to stop at the end of every paragraph and breathe in healing energy for a few breaths. Three slow ones feels about right. It changes the whole energy of what I’m doing. Instead of getting a feeling of self-induced pressure building up, I feel tranquility. I smile while I work. That alone tells me it is right. So. I shall stop here and do another page.

Now here we are in 2018! Have I learned this thoroughly? Do I automatically do it on new things as well? Noooo. Do I need to start again? Yes, I do. These days I’m working on writing my first fantasy novel — it seems that it should (there’s that word again!) be easy to apply the paragraph above to that.

Also, I have to use a walker these days, and I do already get it that I have to monitor myself closely and not push myself too hard at that. The rhythm needs to be to walk, stop and sit and breathe, and walk again. And sit and breathe again. But much of the time I push myself to a hazardous edge before I stop. If I were to insert a little more mindfulness in the walking, I might not be so exhausted so soon.

There are also gentle exercises, I’m supposed to do — perhaps I could find some way to keep myself from rushing things there too.

O! I think I see the key here. It’s the rushing at things that is the problem, not the things themselves. I wonder where that comes from? Perhaps if I could find a way to be aware of that before I fall into a self-created hole — perhaps I could really finally get this? What do you think?

Copyright © 1994, 1995, & 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This originally appeared in Crann Beathadh, 1994.