Part of the spiritual practice of tonglen is to go to places and have experiences that scare you as a way to open and begin to feel comfortable with the uncertainty of life. Driving from my Springfield home to Janice Bailey's condo in Chicago, then on to tour an historic UU church in Oak Park; then onto Madison, Milwaukee, back to Chicago in two days -- seemed to fit the bill for understanding experimenting with this practice.
Road trips are an adventure, but I usually let others do the driving. I am more "comfortable" just being a passenger instead of being the driver, uncertain and uncomfortable trekking off into the unknown of triangular three-city trip of many miles.
Walking the Edge: Deepening Our Magic The Madison workshop title and description came a month before:
"In nature, edges, where one ecosystem meets another, are the places of greatest dynamism, energy, and creativity. Where the meadow meets the forest or the ocean meets the shore, we find the most diversity, and also the most stress. In this workshop, we explore our own edges. How do we walk between worlds? When have we been outsiders, marginalized -- and what unique vision arises from the boundaries? How do we challenge our own edges? What boundaries are healthy, and which constrict us unnecessarily? How do we push our own creative edges, taking more risks, pushing our work, our rituals, and our expression further into excellence? The tools of ritual -- sacred space, meditation, trance, ecstatic drumming, and dancing -- help us deepen our practice and expand the borders of who we can be."
Now "edge" is one of my favorite words. How could I resist this opportunity especially when coupled with the prospect of up-close time with "Star" as Nancy from Madison called her? She would need a ride to her next "gig" in Milwaukee and would I drive her? Starhawk is author of many works celebrating the Goddess movement and Earth-based, feminist spirituality. She is a peace, environmental, and global justice activist and trainer, a perm culture designer and teacher, a Pagan and Witch. I would deliver her to Milwaukee on Friday after dinner. Her keynote was Saturday morning and I would be home by the time she delivered it.
Friday morning bright and early had us searching for parking on the icy streets in the neighborhood of the Goodman Community Center in Madison. Walking a block or two in the clear frozen air, we are inside, registered and looking for places in the large circle of chairs. Star asked participants to contribute water brought from their homes to the ritual bowl and we began. Directions and elements were called in a way that assumed those directions knew what part of the room they were in and avoided the usual confusion about where north, south, east and west are located. Starhawk encouraged participants to think about the calling of the elements in a different way to avoid the "sleep-inducing" sameness of many openings and use of monotone "ritual voices." She suggested for instance that whispering could be used to call the element "air" -- a way to change things up. Loud musical voice or passionate noises might call the element "fire," etc. Finally she circled the altar and ritual bowl, beating out a steady heart beat on a drum; she approached the altar, leaned over the bowl of water, splashed droplets here and there and "one for the center." The sacred circle was cast.
Starhawk's brilliance in facilitating this workshop was in her ability to move the thematic work of the day and at the same time allow participants to explore their own edges, stresses, tensions by placing us in small groups of four or five. Women are so good at nurturing one another, making suggestions, recommending books, ideas, and websites; sharing experiences and thoughtful advice and just hearing one another. The women in my group discussed ways in which they push at the edges of their lives and where they need to grow and learn, where they are challenged and where they are successful. At the end we exchanged contact info. Follow up required.
We also looked at our edges in other ways -- though aura exploration, movement in mass, spiral dance. What if your aura is "boat-shaped" It is amazing the effortless way one can move in a crowd with a boat-shaped aura. When asked to puff up our auras like a bubble, I playfully nudged the auras of others as we continued circling? We did experimentation with recognizing the "edges" of our auras by following one certain person. Then we tried to recognize when other auras are following us. By the time the workshop concluded with a spiral dance, hugs were exchanged, the car was packed up with drums and suitcases, dinner was eaten, we were on the road to Milwaukee.
Starhawk (not her real name) is gracious and open, thoughtfully listens and honestly answers. I pressed her before she dozed in the back seat about how she had envisioned her life before fame. She thought that "living in a cottage and telling fortunes" would be nice. And she admitted, "It was only a few years ago that I realized one could not make a decent living as an author" This keeps her traveling. She came to Madison from a retreat in New Mexico, then on the Milwaukee for three days and after that to Kent State in Ohio. Obviously tired from her travels she looked a bit like a San Francisco bag lady with goofy hat and a fleecy sweater instead of a coat fit for Wisconsin in February.
She became most animated and excited when she spoke of her projects with perm culture design and sustainability. She seems very connected with her history and love of nature and earth based spiritualities. Long a San Francisco resident she now has a farm in Sonoma County as well, where she conducts retreats and workshops in earth activism and more, as one planned for spring. To check it out and her online courses go to her website.
We passed her off to her home hospitality host in Milwaukee at the dimly lit parking lot of a Park and Ride with hugs and congenial goodbyes...no diva this one. It was a true pleasure to "drive Ms. Starhawk."
Janice and I were on our way again. Ironically a friend who attended the retreat in Milwaukee couldn't wait till she got to her hotel on Friday to ring me up. We were praising the night view of the Chicago skyline coming into town from Milwaukee. She wanted to ask me why a woman near her had my name and contact info printed in her notebook.