Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shape of Your Heart

"Heartful," portion of painting by Courtney Putnam

Do you ever think about the shape of your heart? The human heart does have a specific shape, what with its lovely cavernous ventricles and orbed atria, but what I'm talking about is the metaphorical shape of your heart.

Over the last few days I have been reading Dorianne Laux's poems in her book Smoke, and I stumbled upon her poem "Heart." While reading Laux's poem, I started to focus on my own heart. At first I noticed that it was a flower bulb in the deep, dark depths of me. Then, a little green sprout appeared at the top, like part of me was opening up, seeking a bit of light.

In "Heart," Laux writes:

"The heart shifts shape of its own accord--
from bird to ax, from pinwheel
to budded branch."

And then, later:

"Harmonica heart, heart of tinsel,
heart of cement, broken teeth, redwood fence.
Heart of bricks and boards, books stacked
in devoted rows, their dusty spines
unreadable. Heart
with its hands full.
Hieroglyph heart, etched deep with history's lists,
things to do. Near-sighted heart. Club-footed heart."

What does your heart look like today? What did it look like and feel like this morning? What does your heart look like as you lie in bed, waiting for sleep to envelop you? Or, when you pet your cat? Or, weed in your garden? Or watch an old movie? Or listen to your favorite song?

Notice how the shape of your heart changes with everything you do. What form do you most like it to take?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Gathering Time

"Gathering Time," mixed media collage by Courtney Putnam

The squirrels are at it again -- scurrying about the wet leaves under the dwindling tree canopies, gathering and chomping through chestnuts, digging up bulbs in our gardens, climbing thorny rose bushes to eat the succulent rose hips. And they're especially fast little creatures this time of year. It's like the Squirrel Olympics in my neighborhood. I saw one squirrel carry an extra large bagel in his mouth while skittering across the top of the neighbor's fence. That, most certainly, should win him some kind of medal.

Besides the spectacle of squirrel-hood this time of year, what message can we glean from these ever-active, super-gathering creatures?

Jamie Sams' & David Carson's Medicine Cards, a divination deck and book, squirrel medicine offers wisdom about the power of gathering what is necessary and true and letting go of what is not. Carson writes, "The gathering power of Squirrel medicine is a great gift. It teaches you to gather and store your energy for times of need. It teaches you to reserve something for future use, whether it be a judgment, an opinion, a savings account, candles, or extra food. To put it in a nutshell, Squirrel is the Boy Scout of the animal kingdom--always prepared."

I think about the "nesting" feeling that often reveals itself to me in autumn. I've been stock-piling tea so much that it won't all fit in the kitchen cabinet. I've also been carrying my comforter around the house with me so I can curl up with it wherever I am.
I suppose there is a part of me that wants comfort all around me: warmth, softness, and calmness.

This idea of "storing up energy" for the future is certainly at play with me now, too. What about you? One gift of the darkness of autumn is that it often slows many of us down. It's as if we're storing up our energies for when the spring returns. This time might also be teaching us a lesson in slowing down, especially if we've been overextending ourselves.

Another gift of squirrel medicine has to do with preparing for change and embracing what is to come. Carson writes,"If Squirrel has scurried into your cards today, it may be that you are being told to honor your future by readying yourself for change. The message could be to lighten your load if you have gathered too many 'things' that do
not serve you. These 'things' can include thoughts, worries, pressures, stresses, or gadgets that have been broken for years."

In your life, what is accumulating to the point of stress? Too much clutter in your environment? Too much worry? Too many obligations? Too much of saying "yes" to others and not to yourself? What can you do to honor what's important to you as well as what serves you? When you see yourself in the future, do you feel heaviness or lightness?

The final gift of squirrel medicine, according to Carson, is about creating an "untroubled heart and mind" in which to place your gatherings. In other words, remember that anything you gather needs a safe place to rest until you need it. Squirrels are experts at finding safe places to store their goodies for the winter. Be conscious of not only what you gather (i.e. positive thoughts vs. self-destructive thoughts, etc.), but also the environment in which you store these things/thoughts (this environment is you!). Squirrel wisdom asks you to be open and loving toward what you gather, for the more you nurture what you're storing inside you, the more powerful and meaningful these things will become in the future when you need them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Falling into Fall

A portion of "Fall Goddess," mixed media collage by Courtney Putnam

Fall has now transformed into full-blast autumn. Is this happening where you are? The weather has shifted to a combination of wet and windy here in Seattle, and the hours of daylight have dwindled. I'm noticing that these external changes are causing me to turn inward and to investigate what transformations are happening for me on the inside. How do these falling leaves make me feel? What do I desire or need now that there are fewer hours of light? Do I feel I am able to stay strong during the strong winds of my life or do I feel I'll topple over?

When I look inward, at first I am aware of the the way fall creates a feeling of
detritus resting inside me. In a way, I feel that part of me is returning to the earth for a long nap. I feel just a tad more dread when I greet the morning in darkness, feel sticky and uncertain with any stagnation in my business, and feel disappointed with my body whenever aches and pains reveal themselves to me on a given day.

But I've also noticed that fall is fruitful; the decay is full of nutrients and someday the flowers will return. Fall is bringing out a strong emotional contemplative side that is compelling me to create art, and I've felt my body craving warm, healthy foods like soups that not only seem to nourish my body but also my spirit. And giving bodywork sessions during this season always seems to be powerful for me as I witness clients relaxing and healing on such deep levels.

Sometimes, though, life can be changing all around me, but I am stuck in the sludge of my world. Do you ever feel this? I forget that fall is fruitful and that I am in control of so many of the positive changes in my life. I can choose to dig deep and uncover the beauty in the detritus; I can move through this season with mindfulness and happiness and grace--even when I wake up in the morning, and for a moment, start dreading the darkness.

One thing I've started doing is playing upbeat music in the morning and I move my way into the day through dancing and jumping around. The soundtrack to the film Kinky Boots has been my favorite for dancing as of late. I always feel better once I move. Once I physically move.

I encountered a quote by Milton Trager that speaks to this idea of moving in order to make change:

"First comes sensation, then comes movement. If you want to be different you have to feel something different."

Sometimes desired change occurs when we actively take steps--when we identify how we feel (and consequently how we want to feel), and then step into the world with this new vision. Put in another way, Trager is also saying, "when you're stuck, move." I love Trager's wisdom here: if we want to feel differently, we have to move. We have to make the change--or at least help it along with a pinch of our good intentions.

Sometimes that means physically moving--taking a walk, dancing, or stretching. Sometimes it means cursing or stomping, too, for these emotions need a way out as well. Maybe a good walk stomping around in the fall leaves is just the ticket to transforming your day. Or try turning on some tunes during the slump time of your day and letting your body move you into a new state of being. Whatever it is you choose to do, make it active; make your external movements represent the internal movements you are intending to make. Shake your way from lethargy to playfulness and see how you feel inside.

How do you feel about the falling leaves now?