Sunday, December 27, 2015

Angel Voices

It makes me cry every time. Whenever I hear a superb rendition of O Holy Night, tears rise up and begin to flow. It always happens at the same place in the hymn, beginning with the words, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices.” But I’m a goner when the sound then soars with “O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

I recently had the joy of hearing this classic carol sung brilliantly by Eldaa Munoz~Royer as the opening for a Christmas cantata performed by the Sangre de Cristo Vocal Arts Ensemble. My tears came right on cue.

Wikipedia tells me that Adolphe Adam wrote the music in 1847, to words from the French poem, Minuit, chrétiens, by Placide Cappeau, an avowed atheist. Interesting facts, perhaps, but it is not details such as these that move me so. No, my soul is stirred by those specific words taking wing on glorious sound.

Yet this morning, I realize there is more. The lyrics of O Holy Night are also a guide to meeting our personal crises, while its score evokes in us the sense of reverence that befits such a task. 

These human lives of ours contain many dark nights, with challenges that often overwhelm. A dear friend of mine recently shared her response to such a time. During a period that was both excruciating and prolonged, she found herself called to surrender, again and again. It was all she could do. Yet, doing so felt a holy act. “There is something very sacred about surrendering,” she explained, “something sacred about giving in and giving over to what you can’t understand.”

This hymn is, in part then, an ode to surrender, encouragement to fall on our knees before that which is greater than ourselves, that which we cannot comprehend, let alone control. But it also urges us to stretch ourselves in these moments, to reach for those angel voices. In this way, we open ourselves to the possibility of Light. Even when the weight of darkness deafens our ears, a stance of open, loving surrender remains a holy one, for an unguarded, welcoming presence calls the Christ force more fully into the world. O holy night, indeed!

The Winter Solstice and Christmas, occasions for celebrating Light within darkness, are both just a few days past. We can, though, choose to embody their teachings throughout the year. Whether devout believers, atheists like Cappeau, or somewhere in between, we can fall to our knees before the unknown, before that which is beyond our capacity to understand. And no matter the words we use, we can listen for angel voices in each moment. Thus, we allow the Christ child to be born yet again, this time in the mangers of our own souls.

May all your nights be holy~~and your days, too. And may that spark of Light grow, within each one of us and across this precious world in the coming year.


Leia Marie

And here is an assortment of O Holy Nights for your listening pleasure~~

Operatic…Domingo & Pavarotti, a more laid back Anthony Nuccio, and sweet Emily Edmonds.

Gospel and Pop: Mahalia JacksonCéline Dion, and an early reader suggested Patti Labelle

Country, too…Chris Young, and Nettles & Legend

And a sweet boy…Aled Jones

Something for everyone...Enjoy!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Magical Thinking, Magical Being

I thought I knew. After exploring numerous religious traditions for nearly 50 years, I thought I had an inkling of what it would be like to live in a culture with spirituality woven through it. After only a few hours in Peru, though, I realized I hadn’t a clue, and I spent the rest of my time there learning from those who did.

My main guide was Puma Quispe Singona. His first name was given at the age of four when, knowing no better, he challenged “a big cat” who had taken one of the lambs he and his mother were shepherding in the high mountains. Two years later, little Puma was struck by lightning, an event which marked him as a potential medicine man. After recuperating, he began learning the old ways from his grandfather, a respected shaman himself.

Peruvians, like Puma, who follow traditional ways experience the cosmos as a benevolent place where everything works together harmoniously and gives of itself for the highest good. They know everything to be alive--plants, mountains, clouds, rocks-- everything! Each has its own place in the whole, with an energetic quality that is in constant exchange with the rest of creation.  

Everything speaks. If your eye is drawn to a small stone on a pathway as you’re thinking of a particular person, that stone is asking to be brought to him. Noticing that a cloud has the shape of a bird or wolf is not mere fancy. It is a message, an offering to the human who saw it, for otherwise she would not have perceived that specific shape. A sudden gust of wind after a verbal point is made or a realization grasped is affirmation. Meaning can be conveyed through all these things, or in the simple arrangement of coca leaves at the bottom of a mug.

First Worlders would refer to this as magical thinking. Peruvians, ever alert for messages from a beneficent universe, would say, "Exactly!" And after only a brief stay in the culture, I have a greater sense of the feeling state such an outlook engenders. Life becomes magical, a continual process of awakening to what is offered.

When little Puma ran to his mother, sobbing about the lost lamb, she explained the concept of ayni, sacred reciprocity. “The puma is hungry and needs food,” she said, “As we give to her, blessings flow back to us.”

What a gift to live within a benevolent universe. Knowing oneself to be held within a larger, sacred flow, everything can be welcomed as blessing. And the appropriate response to such bounty is an unending gratitude. 

To live each day in thanksgiving…it is a practice that has been cultivated throughout time and across this sweet Earth. May it be so for each of us. And may it be now.

With gratitude flowing out to each and every one of you, and for the ayni that connects us,

Leia Marie

View from Sun Gate, the traditional entrance into Machu Picchu

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Each moment...

She sits easily upon the grass, despite her many years. Her movements are slow, unobtrusive, and every gesture conveys a sense of deep quietude. This stillness is so profound, in fact, that she seems part of the earth itself. A rock, or a mushroom growing on its stocky stem, could be no more still. 

She is Mama Eleni, an old and respected medicine woman of the high mountains of Peru, and she has joined us in the town of Urubamba for a despacho ceremony. A despacho is an offering of celebration, prayer and gratitude, and is used throughout the high Andes to mark all manner of events. This one is being created as a blessing for our time in Peru. 

Our itinerary focuses on sacred sites and ceremony. We’ll visit ancient temples near Cuzco, hike to Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate, and travel to places of power in the high plains of the Lake Titicaca region. But there is an inner journey we undertake as well, and this despacho is also a blessing for the personal intentions we carry for healing and clarity.

A brightly~colored woven blanket has been spread on the ground, and Mama Eleni lays a square of white paper upon it. She begins placing various items onto the paper, each one brimming with symbolic meaning. Herbs, colored sprinkles, money, sea shells, sweets, and statues honoring the Divine~~all are added with prayers, their placement in the overall design precise.

We are each given a k’intu, a set of three perfectly shaped coca leaves in a fan~like arrangement. We are instructed to breathe onto the leaves our intentions and prayers for our time here. These are then lovingly placed within the despacho as well.

The piece taking shape before us becomes an exquisite altar holding our deepest aspirations. It is reminiscent of the sand paintings of Native Americans, and the intricate mandalas found in Tibetan Buddhism.

The despacho is finally complete. Voice, drumbeat and hand~carved flute unite in joyful song as it is wrapped in its paper base, tied with a string, and placed inside a sacred cloth. Mama Eleni then individually blesses each of us with this prayer bundle, tapping and rubbing it against head, shoulders, arms, and spine, while praying softly in her ancient language.

Meanwhile, a fire has been kindled, and the despacho is added to it. This creation that has taken nearly two hours to construct, now burns, smoke rising to the heavens, ashes settling upon the Earth.

* * * * * * *

I’m back from Peru now and have settled into the life that waited patiently for my return. Mama Eleni's despacho, it seems, has come back with me, its deepest lessons a part of me now. I know each moment to be a despacho in the making. Its individual items arise from whatever occurs at home, at work, or in the grocery store, the raw material life offers us to do with as we choose. 

And we can choose consciously. We can place these elements lovingly onto the white paper of the moment, and add our own unique response~~our personal k'intu and our very best offering~~to the whole. And we can give this despacho of ours joyfully to the fire of life, rejoicing as it rises to the heavens and settles down upon the Earth.

Each moment a despacho~~a celebration, a prayer, a gratitude. Yes! May blessings stream down upon all your despachos. And may blessings shine out from them as well.

Leia Marie

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dancin' With The Grain

Just yesterday, I heard it again. “Life is a journey.” While it's hard to argue with that, lately I find myself wanting to turn the adage on its head. “A journey is life.”

I seldom feel more alive that when I set out on a trip, especially when I travel solo and into unfamiliar territory. Away from the commonplace comforts and concerns of daily existence, life speaks to me more clearly, and with a startling intimacy.

Everything is fresh. The very air of an unknown place rouses me. The landscape, be it uniquely contoured mountains or the teeming streets of an unknown city, lights me up. And the people! To be tossed among fellow humans whose ways are so different from my own, to taste food awash with exotic flavors, and to absorb the lilting cadence of a barely known language~~all these enliven me.

Are the colors really brighter, more dazzling, or am I simply seeing them as they truly are, no longer a step removed by familiarity? Of course, it is the latter. Traveling awakens me. Loosed from my spot in the stream, the current gathers me up and carries me on.

And whether I trust that flow or not, carry me it will. Yet when all is astonishingly new, I feel compelled to trust, for I know myself to be at the mercy of the unknown. What unfolds may not always be pleasant, but it will be real.

Spiritual traditions urge us to be in the moment, greeting whatever comes. Yet we are lulled by the familiar in ways that make it difficult to experience things purely, without the filters of habit. We aim to be present. We seek to drop our preoccupations and expectations, and even have techniques and practices to assist.

It is, indeed, a worthy endeavor, one that may even be essential in the quest for a rich and full life. But to be taken away from everything I think I know and thrust into an experience altogether unique is priceless. Used wisely, such journeys become an exercise for living more consciously back at home.

At a recent performance of the chamber jazz duo Primal Mates, I was introduced to a line from a poem by Gary Snyder that says it perfectly. “Catch me and fling me wide to the dancing grain of things.”

The dancing grain of things. This lovely phrase has become for me yet another metaphor for God. Seen in this light, journeying is one more way to honor the Divine, a rite of sorts. By participating fully, body and soul, I am caught up, flung wide, and offered a precious opportunity to touch that dancing grain at the heart of it all.

So, that's it from me for now. I'll catch you on the other side of Peru.

Namasté, ya'll!

Leia Marie

Oh, and while I look forward, as always, to any comments you may be inspired to send, due to my being a travelin' gal for a while, those comments likely won't be posted here for a few weeks.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blowin' in the Wind

I wake in the darkened room. The glowing clock on the nightstand tells me it's 5:14. I lie still, considering. Our bed is a soft nest, but with dawn arriving so early these last few months, it's been too long since I've seen the sky awash with color in those minutes before sunrise. Thirst for daybreak's blazing hues wins out over the possibility of more sleep. 

I rise, dress quickly, and step outside. It is darker than I expect. The mountains that form this bowl of a valley are massive black shapes against a sky that is only beginning to lighten. As I walk, I greet each of them in turn, these peaks that called me to this part of the world more than two decades ago. This practice, usually taking the form of an improvised song, has become a daily ritual, one that roots me deeply to this place.

The wind is strong this morning, urging me from behind to full aerobic velocity. In five minutes, I round the bend and hear the rush of snowmelt flowing through the sluice into the lake. I pass its mad tumble. Here, where no hills or trees obscure the eastern sky, I see cloud upon cloud, suggesting that those colors I've longed for will be muted at best. I am not disappointed. I know other gifts will come, as they always do if I'm open to receive.

I continue a brisk clip to the northern side of the lake. The wind has increased significantly amid such openness, and I know it will be fierce, indeed, when I reach the lake's far edge. Sure enough, when I arrive there, it has become a tempest, whipping hair and clothing with an intensity that could be deemed unpleasant. But I recognize the gift.

I stop, turn to face both water and the now~moist wind that surges over it. I plant my feet, raise my arms, and welcome the rush of clean, insistent air. I ask it to loosen and lift away all that no longer serves my life or the world. Fear, stinginess, meanness of spirit...I give it to the wind. That which keeps me small and blind to the pervasive beauty of the Divine...I give it to the wind. All that holds me back, causes me to be untrusting, unkind...I give it to the wind.

I begin to sense a lightening, an awakening. I am being blown and jostled into aliveness. After several minutes, my arms drop, and with a grateful heart, I retrace my steps. Again, I reach the sluice, but now climb down its rocky edge to sit among tall grasses.

Thoughts and rapidly beating heart gradually slow. My gaze moves from water to cattails to amethyst clouds, until my eyes, too, cease their movement. I am still and at peace, one being amid a vibrancy of living things. Sated and scoured clean by the freshening wind, I rise and turn toward home. My day has begun.

May we each find a way to welcome our own personal winds and may they blow us free of all we no longer need, all that keeps us separate from love. Amen

Leia Marie

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Trustful Waiting, A Fervent Prayer

Searching for a subject for this week's column, I pick up Music of Silence, a thin volume written by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast. With a quick prayer for a fitting passage, I open the book to find this: "The very word crisis comes from a root that means sifting out." This is new to me but, sure enough, my dictionary gives the word's origin as krei-, meaning to sieve or discriminate. I read on.

Brother David describes crisis as “a sifting out of that which is viable and can go on from that which is dead and has to be left behind.” As we know, such a process is rarely easy. Often, it is excruciating. Letting go of a loved one, for example, might shatter the heart. And leaving a job that no longer serves us can be unnerving as we cast off into an unknown future.

But no matter the particulars, crises usually signal a time of wrenching reorientation. At these moments, Brother David urges us to ask for guidance. The guidance he speaks of is not for the purpose of escaping what has come to be. Rather, it is a request for help in meeting it with humility and an open heart. And, he assures us, an answer will appear. 

It may, he says, arrive unexpectedly, indirectly, or through a “serendipitous event,” though it might also be “completely internal: a dream, an unbidden insight,” or a more subtle change of awareness. However, such answers don't often arrive as quickly as we'd like. In fact, it seems we humans are most often ready to be done with our crises long before they're ready to be done with us. 

So we must wait. Yet how do we wait? In trust, writes Brother David, “and trustful waiting is a truly fervent way of praying.”

A trustful waiting, a fervent way to pray. Beautiful words that are exceedingly difficult to live when we're in turmoil. At those times, we are more likely to rail against what has come to pass, protect ourselves through a busy but numbing avoidance, or rush headlong into action in an effort to force things to be as we want. Yet for a crisis to be successfully met, we must find a willingness to accept the sifting out that is occurring. And often, a trustful waiting is the best we can do. 

Life is never static, even when we feel stuck in distress and our waiting seems interminable. Things will shift. It is the way of life.

So when crisis hits, we pause to recognize life working its way through us. We ask for guidance with a posture of acceptance. We listen with great care. And we wait. If we can find it in us to wait in trust, things will go so much easier for us. And a trustful waiting is, indeed, a fervent prayer.

May we use our crises wisely, greet them with trusting hearts, and allow ourselves to be reoriented toward a greater love. 


Leia Marie

Sunday, July 12, 2015


On June 17th, 2015, a young white man was welcomed into a Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. A short time later, nine people were dead, victims of hate. The shooter, 21~year~old Dylann Roof, reportedly said afterward that he almost didn't go through with the murders because the people he killed had been so nice.

How do we remain open~hearted in the face of atrocities such as this? By listening to those who have experienced them for centuries.

Mother Emmanuel, as the church is affectionately called, was formed in 1818 when over 4,000 free blacks and slaves, weary of discriminatory practices at the city's three Methodist churches, broke away to form their own congregation. As ordinances banned all~black religious gatherings, 140 members were soon arrested and 8 church leaders were subjected to more brutal punishment.

Over the next few years, raids on the church and violence toward the congregation were commonplace. In 1822, 6 members were executed after a secret trial found them guilty of planning a slave revolt, and the church was burned to the ground. Over the next 43 years, congregants continued to meet, often in secret, particularly when all black churches were formally banned in 1834.

Things began to change following the Civil War. In 1872, Emmanuel's first post~war pastor, Richard H. Cain, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout the next century, the church continued to press for human rights, hosting such speakers as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we know, though, terror, violence and other forms of intimidation continued, giving the people of Mother Emmanuel the right to tutor us now in the proper response to hatred. Hopelessness, cynicism and retaliation are not options they endorse. Rather, in their astonishing willingness to forgive Roof and welcome unknown whites into Sunday service only a few days after the shootings, their example urges us to open to grace and let it move through us as love.

President Obama, another recipient of hate, spoke of the amazing power of grace in his eulogy for the now~deceased Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emmanuel AME. He reminded us that though we have not “earned...this grace, with our rancor and complacency and short~sightedness and fear of each other...we got it all the same.”

Yes, we do. Grace is not earned, and neither is the light of the sun, the bounty of the Earth, or the air that fills our lungs. But these gifts flow to us anyway. And what shall we do with them? We can choose to feed hate and the fear that gives rise to it. Or we can, again and again, add our small thimble~full to a love that endures and is able to forgive in the face of unimaginable pain.

Emmanuel translates as “God is with us.” May know that this is so, as we open our hearts to fully receive the grace offered. And may we offer our small light to that larger flame, again and again, this day and always. Amen.

Namaste! (in this context translating as “My small light greets your own!")

Leia Marie

If you haven't heard President Obama's eulogy, I'd say it's well worth the time. Click here!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Holiness of the Wild

I rise early, hop in my car, and drive up into the mountains. I've worn my new hiking boots indoors long enough and am ready now to take to the trail, setting both footwear and spirit free after months of dreary spring weather.

The sky is a mix of sun and clouds, perfect for bringing out the rich textures of this land, vibrant now in shades of green. After a twisty drive on a washboard of a gravel road, I park at the familiar trailhead, pile on layers against the chill and whipping wind, retie my boot lacings, and begin walking upward, light pack on my shoulders. A waning moon looks on, fading into blue near a peak covered in snow. 

Snow clumps in crevices along the trail as well and, occasionally, on the path itself. At 11,000 feet, the trees have not yet budded, and the air is thin. The only sounds are the soughing of the wind high in the trees and my hard~working lungs. My preoccupations have left me, as I knew they would. Footfall follows footfall, and I am at peace amid a natural world pulsing with vitality.

The path rises further and snowmelt adds another sound, insistent and joyful, as it tumbles down rocky slopes. Rivulets, both small and robust, cross the trail several times. My steps become more precise as I skirt water or move from rock to rock.

The path takes a sharp turn around an outcropping of pine, and I see that the trail ahead is buried in snow for several yards. As I cross this, sinking up to my knees, I realize the risk in continuing on alone. I stop and reach out to whatever assorted benevolent forces might take an interest in this woman, alone on a mountain. Sensing that all will be well, particularly as I have cellphone reception even here (arggh!), I continue on.

The trail, though, is now mostly clear as it moves out into alpine meadows dotted with tiny flowers of yellow, white and purple. Amazing in their tenacity, they bend in the wind or flow over rocky mounds close to the ground. Finally, I arrive at ridge line. Beauty stretches out before me, impossibly grand for a measly half~hour's climb. Deep gratitude rushes through me.

My summer's sitting spot, weathered log beneath a cluster of wind~break trees, is buried now in a pile of waist~high snow. I find another protected seat, take off my boots, wiggle my toes. As I eat a late breakfast, the rambunctious wind chases clouds across the sky and drowns out all other sound. 

Suddenly, the blowing stops. Silence is all, but for the trill of an unseen but hardy bird.

In this moment, I have no need for cushions or meditation chimes. Our sweet and ever~giving Earth opens me to wonder and a felt experience of the Divine, so easily perceived in this place. I drink it deeply. Then I lace up my boots, knowing we both have been christened with the holiness of the wild, and turn back toward home.

* * * * * * *

May you be christened this day, ears attuned to the voice of the Divine in whatever guise. 


Leia Marie

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Wisdom From Peru

High in the wind-buffeted mountains of Peru live a native people called the Q'ero. Rumored to be descendants of the ancient Inca who, centuries ago, sought refuge from the violence of the conquistadors, they've lived in relative isolation until recently. Anthropologist Oscar Nunez del Prado led an expedition to study them in 1955, and the Q'ero have been in contact with the modern world ever since, generously sharing their lives and the spiritual principles and practices that weave through them.

One of those principles is ayni (pronounced EYE-nee), a tiny word that goes straight to the heart of how the Q'ero, like most indigenous cultures, are able to live in harmony with one another and with their surroundings. In her book Masters of the Living Energy, Joan Parisi Wilcox, a student of the Q'ero, defines ayni as, “The impulse toward sacred interchange and the spirit of reciprocity, which are fundamental operating principles in the social and mystical systems of Peru.”

Ayni arises out of an awareness of our interconnectedness at the most basic level. As we know, every action we take reverberates, as we affect and are affected by the actions of others and the particulars of our environment. But the Q'ero move deeper to assert a reciprocity at an energetic level. They teach, according to Wilcox, that “we are fundamentally energy a world of living energy.” They tell us that this vital force is an “implicit, creative principle” that flows through everything, a vitality in lively motion, in constant exchange. All things, they say, relate in a continuous and reciprocating flow of energy.

In human interactions, we respond to one another. Some of our exchanges are clearly life enhancing, while others may feel leaden or coarse. The Q'ero teach that these various tones arise from the energetic qualities within each exchange. They offer specific techniques for releasing what's called “heavy energy,” as well as for accessing that which is lighter and more refined. Heavy energy, incidentally, is not considered bad, just not conducive to optimal functioning. 

And in the spirit of ayni, the Q'ero share these energetic methods freely, for the good of all. Using such techniques allows us, as Wilcox puts it, to consciously contribute to a “spiritual transformation by living in ayni ourselves and by mediating the heavy and light energies of our own world.”

Ayni, a sacred interchange. I'm always delighted when I find a new teaching, one more finger pointing toward the moon, as the Buddha put it. Spiritual systems across time have offered us ways to move into harmony, to step forward in grace, and to regain our balance when we slip. There are truly a plethora of ways.

Our task is to choose those that best fit our disposition and personal beliefs, and to employ them to bring ourselves and our actions into fuller accord with that creative force that most call God. And then to do it again and again. In joy.

Blessings, my fellow energy beings!

Leia Marie

Here's a link to Masters of the Living Energy. While the interviews with some of the Q'ero might be a stretch for those of us raised in a culture of scientific materialism, the exercises that introduce us to the ways of working with energy are much more accessible and thoroughly delightful.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Heal The Day, Journey Whole

Each of our writing groups begins with an improvisation. We arrive to find a small handful of magnetic words clumped together at our seat. While waiting for others to join us, we comb through the words in our pile, foraging among them for the poem waiting there. We seek it out, applying ourselves to the task of releasing it from the surrounding jumble. Humorous, bizarre, sublime, disturbing, nonsensical, profound...all poems are accepted. Without judgement, we welcome each as gift.

A lovely writing exercise and, at the same time, a fitting model for life. We are presented at birth with a bundle of descriptors. Whether girl or boy, healthy or infirm, privileged or not, plain or attractive, these and other labels cling to us as we come into awareness, with others added in each passing year.

Our innate temperament unfolds, extroverted or inward~turning, with a set of aptitudes and constrictions that we carry with us as we relate to our families and the larger world. Events and encounters pull us forward. Some help us flourish, while others impose challenges, boulders in our path.

These many and varied details are the raw material of our lives. Our poem emerges from the interplay of these inner and outer forces, and it is one that continues to unfold for as long as we draw breath.

However, just as in our writing exercise, we are not passive participants in this process. We are given numerous opportunities to improvise, to consciously choose how to mix and manage the ingredients of our lives.

Each moment is an improvisational prompt offering itself to us. Rather than acting in the same stale and unconscious manner, we can be alert for wise and creative responses. At each juncture, we can be conscious that we are adding another line to these poems of ours.

While some verses will be more pleasing, all are an expression of that which imbues and gives rise to everything. For it all flows from that God~energy that sustains us and offers us myriad possibilities to awaken more fully. And awakening is infinitely more rewarding~~and fun~~than lumbering on through the fog.

Improvisation is never easy. It requires that we take responsibility for grabbing what comes our way, wanted or not, and turning it into poetry. Like now. I open my box of magnetic words, grab a handful, note a minimal worry that I won't find anything of merit, and discover the following poem…

Here are garden and shadow,
Roses whisper like medicine
Between ugly screams.
Our choice.
Heal the day,
Journey whole.

On this path of evolving consciousness, it's all just one grand Evening at the Improv. May our creations be true. And may they be works of beauty that heal the day and let us journey on whole.

Namaste, my fellow poets. Namaste.

Leia Marie

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dig Deep!

I've just had one of those delightful googling experiences in which one click led to another...and suddenly I was enthralled. Images of dramatically lit caves, with rivers flowing through, filled many minutes of my morning. Google “Demanovska Caves” and you'll see ancient sculpted rock rising from floor and descending from craggy ceiling, and subterranean streams pooling green or frosted into eerily shaped ice formations. 

And from these haunting caverns in northern Slovakia, a metaphor arises and wings its way nearly 9,000 miles to find a home among these words. 

We all have an outer life, one visible to others and easily available for scrutiny. Each of us also has areas deep within, hidden and awaiting discovery. These inner grottos, though, are not easily accessible. We must seek them out, burrowing into darkness to find them. And darkness can be unnerving, as moving through it requires a different type of vision and several dollops of courage. 

Fortunately, life continually nudges us to explore these inner regions. Perhaps this comes as an urge to write, or to finally take those piano lessons our parents' income didn't allow us as children. Maybe we feel a pull to meditation, or are offered a chance to travel or a work assignment that requires new skills. Or maybe anguish has burst onto the scene, through the loss of a loved one or by the awakening of an emotional wound that clamors now for attention. 

No matter the particulars, we can choose to greet what comes as the voice of Spirit leading us on, offering an invitation to dig deeply and bring forth some new facet of our being. Yet so often we allow fear to keep us from heeding the call. We avoid, we put off, we deny. We pretend these inner urges are trivial, or feel we're not worthy of our own regard. 

Human nature is skittish of the unknown, inclined to remain within zones of familiarity and comfort. Yet we also have a boundless capacity for growth and healing, a desire to bring forth all that we can be. If we could interpret our yearning and our suffering as the voice of Spirit beckoning, we could more readily respond with trust and some measure of enthusiasm. And, in the process, find unforeseen riches.  

As Joseph Campbell, scholar of comparative religion, puts it, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” And like those elaborate cave systems wending their way beneath the surface of the Earth, one cavern invariably will lead to another, offering a never~ending process of discovery.

With this perspective, we could take our unease by its sweaty~palmed hand and walk forward together, in faith. We could become spelunkers of our inner grottos. And we could do it now. In the oft~quoted words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Many blessings on all your spelunking in this new and glorious spring~~and beyond. Happy belated Vernal Equinox!!!

Leia Marie

To save you the task of googling, here's a link to Images for Demanovska Caves. Click on any of the photos and you'll find many more. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Valentine

With dinner dishes rinsed and stacked, we moved to the living room. Jonathan had brought a book of poetry, and we took turns opening to a random page and reading aloud the words found there. When it came into my hands, the book offered us Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I read the first lines… 

“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”

I knew at once that this poem had been written by a woman who knew loss and had something to teach. As I continued reading aloud words that sculpted the contours of “the tender gravity of kindness,” I was not disappointed.

Kindness may be appreciated, enjoyed, greeted warmly, but until we experience “how desolate the landscape can be,” we cannot know its essential nature. Our thirst must be great before we grasp the magnitude of our need.

After a lifetime of looking into the unfathomable reaches of deep space, astrophysicist and astronomer Carl Sagan wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Love. We are told that God is love. Kindness must be, then, the simplest way to pass on that love. Kindness is the Divine in action.

My second~grade teacher, Mrs. Ross, rises now from memory~~tall, brown hair swept off her face, gentle eyes, a soft voice. I joined her class late in the fall after my parents withdrew me from the Catholic school following an incident of violence by one of the nuns, the latest in a string of small terrors.

I was placed in Mrs. Ross's class, not because she had an unused desk or because my test scores matched those of the rest of her students. No, I was placed there because I was a shy and frightened child, and Mrs. Ross was kind.

For me, she was the sun shining, a balm soothing. The principal directed her to focus, not on academics, but on returning me to a 7~year~old's joy. And she did her job well. Over the next few months, I relaxed and settled into a classroom much different from the one I had left. My eyes brightened and my smile came more easily.

As Valentine's Day approached, we made small mailboxes, covered in colored paper and adorned with designs of our choosing. Mrs. Ross made clear that we would give cards to everyone and receive them from everyone. No popularity test, this. No, the love Mrs. Ross gave, and taught us to give in turn, flowed beneath preferences and personalities. It was a nourishing stream. It was unconditional and all~inclusive.

And this love moves on now in this belated Valentine's card to you. Though we may not have met in this world, I greet you as the sparkling stardust you are. Fueled by the breath of the Infinite, you are Its expression in the world. You are also love's opportunity, for in moments of kindness, you become love realized. Love's sweet Valentine.

Love, love and more love, this day and everyday!

Leia Marie

Here is a link to Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Kindness.

And in the spirit of Valentine's Day, here's a sweet (and short) video with a lovely message I think Mrs. Ross would endorse~~Love Has No Labels

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Do you ever tire of learning the same lesson time and again? I certainly do, though often the relief I feel at being freed from whatever trap I've made for myself is ample compensation. 

Case in point: I've just scrapped an essay that was not to be~~this after putting an inordinate amount of time into it, pushing and shoving words around the page like a bully in the schoolyard. But these words were no cowed first graders. Like every other living thing~~you, a musical score, or the Christmas cactus pinkly blooming on the bookcase across the room~~words are containers that need a lively fire to thrive.

I'd forgotten the fire. I'd shown up at the page knowing what I would write, believing I was in charge of the process. A couple of ideas had come to me, and I'd set out to weave them together as I saw fit. But the words were having none of it. They were perfectly good words, mind you, but without an authentic life breath, they were weary and banged against each other in a most jarring fashion. Instead of a pleasing product, I'd created only a tangled mess of wordy threads. And the harder I tried, the messier the tangle became.

Luckily, during a lunchtime break, my vision cleared. I vowed to stop doggedly trying to force what wasn't working. Surrender happened, and brought with it a welcomed release. And a chuckle. You see, I'll be facilitating a writing workshop next week whose main thrust is helping folks step into the creative flow and let it carry them. And here I'd spent my afternoon stubbornly paddling against the current. So I pulled my dinged and dingy dinghy onto the bank and sat, gazing back at the flowing waters~~and found my essay.

All spiritual traditions urge us to live in harmony with a greater flow, but so often we try to force life to fit our intent. It's that pesky free will thing. Life's sweet energy flows through each of us, and our task is to direct it skillfully. We aren't asked to relinquish our individual wills, for that would be to refuse the gift. We're only to sense the larger flux and move with it in a way uniquely our own.

We've just celebrated Martin Luther King Day, a time to honor those who have aligned their small wills with a larger pulse, allowing miracles to move through them. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ozone hole over Antarctica shrinking due to international limits on PFCs. Same sex marriage now legal in 36 states. Malaria deaths in Africa dropping an amazing 54% since the year 2000. Miracles do happen. And they happen when individual wills are aligned with the larger flow. 

By virtue of being alive, we are immersed in that dynamism. It fills each molecule of our bodies and every particle of our souls. All we need is to fully receive it, and let it inspire our actions. Then magic will happen.

Here's to magic!

Leia Marie

For anyone in southern Colorado who would like to take part in Cascade: A Writing Workshop, please zap me an email at And for those who live in other parts of this gorgeous planet yet are interested nonetheless, please let me know. An online writing workshop is always a possibility. Blessings!