Dreams: The Perilous Ledge – The Steel Door

Dream: The Perilous ledge

I am standing on the ledge of roof on a completely isolated house built waaay up high.

I can see the octagonal shaped tiles of the roof above me as I balance on the ledge which is long and only about 2 feet wide. There is  just enough room for my feet, but the ledge is dangerously sloped slightly downward. I gaze down into a deep rocky cavern below – there is no safe way off. I discover that the ledge is covered with blankets, which makes it soft, but also since they are piled atop one another, even more unsteady.

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I want to get down and so I carefully throw the blankets aiming into the cavern, thinking that if I must jump at least they will soften the blow of falling. But instead of landing in a pile that might cushion my fall, the blankets land helter-skelter dangling uselessly on the tips of the rocks serving as little protection from a fall.

I have no idea what to do.

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Carefully I turn myself around on the ledge and see, seemingly of out of nowhere, that no more than a few feet from where I precariously stand there is a huge tree with branches protruding outward all the way toward me and downward in close stages. I step off the ledge onto the tree and begin to make my way down carefully and fairly easily.

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I wake up and wonder aloud: Where is the TREE in my life? 

 

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My Life

Background

Losing apartment of 20 years in Brooklyn. Living in an apartment in a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains far away from friends, family, and Culture with a big “C.” Suffering through 20-30 degree below zero winter outside, only 39-50 degrees inside. Will the landlord fix problem? Must I move? Complications: big dog, bad back, little money to spend.  On a precipice. No idea what will happen. Stability and home feel constantly threatened. Seeking that “tree” to safely negotiate this crisis.

For days after my dream I walk around saying,

“where is the tree? … Where is the tree?”

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Drumming and Chanting

A few days after the dream I had a session of very intense drumming. I began chanting as I usually do, using the thoughts in my mind and the words of my chant to inspire my hands as mirrors and as a call and response. I gave myself permission to express anything and everything without self judgment: hope, fear, rage, and the playfulness that popped up in between – whatever came through in the moment came out my mouth and pounded into the drum.

As I played and chanted, I felt myself transform, as I often do, into an ancient Wise Woman, part myself and part my Spirit Guide, whose language is the chant and whose expression is the rhythm of the drum. My voice became full, haunting, wailing, raspy as the drumbeats bounced off the drum skin back and forth from my hands to the walls cascading back into my body. I felt my energy going down through the goatskin of the drum into the body of the drum, which is made from a tree.

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And then something very profound happened: I traveled down the drum through the vibration of sound, just as I had climbed down the tree in my dream.

I felt the safe pathway through the drum.

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Now

As I sit here typing tears are welling up in my eyes because I realized that the tree and the shamanic work I was doing at that very moment IS the TREE I had been searching for. The drum and my spiritual work are the “Way” safely off that precarious ledge.

Dream: The Steel Door

Last night I dreamt I was flying, arms outstretched gliding easily. But then I found myself flying/walking in an industrial environment – down a long, long poorly lit hallway with dirty hard steel doors, one after the other in long succession – all closed and enclosed by heavy walls. I felt trapped. But as I approached the first heavy thick door, I simply allowed my mind to believe that I could penetrate it. I had in that brief moment of approach to the barrier a “meta-awareness” that my belief controlled my options – and as I allowed that thought to become a realization, my body went in-between the metal elements of the door, breaking itself up, but without losing my “self” as I emerged out the other side.

I went through that way, crashing through, door after door.

Now

As I write this I continue to feel fear about my future, wondering how I will meet my need for stable home – and simultaneously – a sense of surety that I can fly through, break up, retain myself, travel down through the drum on the beat and the chant – and find the ladder of the tree to safety.

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Not Just a Walk in the Park

I wake up in the middle of the night again with my pajama top twisted uncomfortably around my body. Each time I struggle to free it I scream out in pain at the slight shift of my body. In the morning, I can’t turn over. I try to move myself to one side or the other, but can’t do it. I can’t get myself out of bed.

Slowly I figure out just the right angle, push the bed with my hands and manage to contort myself up on one side. Carefully I slide my feet out under me and reach tentatively for the floor. While holding on the dresser I use all of my arm strength as I grunt and groan, hoisting my body up to a hunched-over standing. Carefully I place one foot in front of the other on the too soft rug which makes me feel like I’m going to fall. Searing pain stabs my side.

I hobble into the bathroom, hold onto the doorknob and lower myself onto the toilet seat. To stand, I bring myself up with one hand on the knob and the other on the sink. I hold onto the sink to bend and wash my face. While squeezing the tube of toothpaste I inadvertantly drop it on the floor, but leave it there – I just can’t bed down that far. I dress sitting on the toilet seat because lifting my legs while standing is too painful and I might fall over. Dressed, I carefully place my dogs collar over her face as to not excite her – if she leaps off of the couch she will knock me over. I feel afraid to put my foot to step outside over the 3” drop from my front door onto the porch.

This is my usual morning.

Thanks to my “Little Z,” my now massive Great Dane, I’m “forced” to take daily hikes to provide her with proper exercise. The “Little” part of her name was given when she was a wee pup …

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and it just stuck, despite her growing ½ a pound a day to her now 133 pounds of solid muscle.

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As we go for a short morning “poop & pee” walk downhill on my street, I wobble and walk haltingly, but with each step my muscles start to relax and the pain decreases. The tourists have started coming back to their trailers which now line Lake Champlain’s beachfront, so Z and I can’t go there for our “daily constitutional” like we did this past winter. It’s Saturday and I’m in the mood for a new vistas anyway, so I look on a map to find the closest hiking trail. It’s Cheney Mt. Trail, just a few miles from my newly adopted home in Port Henry in the Adirondack Mountains of NY.

I ask for directions and consult the map because the strange sounding “Pelfershire Road” isn’t showing up on my GPS and maybe because of my dyslexia I can literally manage to get lost walking around the block.

I park my white car near the trailhead and with as little in my backpack as possible to keep it light: water, a snack, a book, my iPhone – Z and I begin our hike.

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We walk around a fence and enter the first section of the trail, a big open meadow – good news for my aching back! As we start our ascent up the mountain I feel a bit scared; what if I slip or twist my back? But I’m careful and I figure I can always turn around if it’s too much. My thoughts turn from concern for my health to the pleasant weather, watching Z prance in the field, the beauty of the newly green forest engulfing us, and the birds calling out their songs.

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Up and up and up we climbed on the soft pine covered ground,

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over fallen logs surrounded by sweet young maple and birch trees.

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My chubby body causes me to pant and sweat, but I endeavor on. I have no idea how long or high the trail, there was no information in the little “sign in” box at the trail head where I printed my name and Z’s – I wondered, should I put “one” or “two” in the box that asks how many were hiking – does Z “count”?

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Z gallops ahead gleefully, I rest a few times on the way up and once the steep incline relaxes, I observe the vibrant life around me.

I discover tiny mushrooms poking out of a huge fallen tree.

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Tiny purple flowers happily soaking up the sun.

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Translucent itty-bitty yellow flowers.

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Dark, leaf-like mushrooms growing on a massive gray boulder.

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I love discovering the tiniest flowers, getting down to their level my face to their bright faces and intimate parts. Seeing these delicate lovelies reminds me of my ex-girlfriend Beth. She and I were together for 9 years back in the 80’s. She taught me a lot in that decade.

Beth would point at a particular part of the sky and say something like “do you see how the color changes right there from a blue-gray to a purple-grey, and then on the bottom to burnt orange?” With Beth’s guidance I began to pay attention to the nuances of color, the shades, the gradations.

Beth raised orchids in our home, the extremely delicate kind that hang on small pieces of wood and live on air. She’d frequently examine each plant carefully, making sure it was healthy and strong. She’d spray them with a soft water-mist and even gathered their pollen in a tiny glass tube pollinating them herself like a human bee. Beth taught me how to see the subtleties and how to care for tenderly. At the time I thought only she had those abilities, but after we separated I realize that I too had “sight” and tenderness. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for our qualities until we are all alone able to ourselves in our own reflection.

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I’ll be 64 years old on May 25th – that hardly seems possible – I still feel like a 7 year old inside! As I hike, I feel lonely. I know so few people here in my new town so I’ll probably be celebrating my birthday all by myself this year.  I also think about how I’ve been truly blessed when it comes to lovers and how there have been several wonderful women in my life after Beth – but I’ve been single for years now and that makes me feel sad.

As I hike along I wish I could share these incredible surroundings with an intimate human companion who could actually talk, and at the same time I feel strong, fulfilled in a new way – and I realize that I’m loving being just with my doggie Z, sharing the unique quality of silent understanding that exists between human and canine companion. I like being alone with her in the forest – I move forward when I wanted to, stop when I want to look or rest – no questions asked, no response needed.

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When we reached the summit and look over Lake Champlain even thought it’s not a big mountain, I feel proud of myself for making it to the top, amazed that I am the same woman who just a few hours before screamed as she painfully got out of bed.

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Lake Champlain from the top of Cheney Mountain

I take off my backpack and sit on a big flat gray rock taking crunchy sweet bites from an apple purchased by the bushel at a local orchard. I do my darndest to relax in the pleasant weather as all manner of flying bugs swarm around me inspecting and penetrating my skin for their lunch.

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I can’t take the bugs any more so I try to get up – and can’t. Once again, the arthritis in my spine sets in. 10 minutes of stillness and I’m back to square one – an old crotchety lady barely able to move.

But what can I do? I can’t stay at the top of the mountain – I have to get up!

I roll over slowly, manage to hoist myself onto my hands and knees, do a few “dog and cat” stretches to grease up the joints in my backbone, get my feet underneath myself, and eventually, while shouting out in pain, bring my body to standing. Disabilities aren’t fun – but I’m not giving up!

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Once again, carefully, Z and I walk along the well-marked train in the other direction across the top of the small mountain to the mountainside overlook – a stunning vista. We gaze at layers and layers of greens and shadows, softly sloping mountains lush with trees sprouting new leaves. It’s hard to imagine that just two weeks ago all except for the evergreens would have been bare, dark trunks and branches. I survey the area …

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Mountainside view from Cheney Mountain

and lo … a bench!

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Mountainside view from Cheney Mountain.

Z races around trying to dodge the flying bugs, while I sit gratefully down on the  wooden bench. I pull out my book Teachings From The American Earth: Indian Religion and Philosophy“… the first conspectus of the variety of American Indian religious experiences and philosophic beliefs, largely from the Native American point of view.”

As I alternately read and gaze over the mountains, I focus on each section. It dawns on me that the big bald peak in the middle is strip-mined. At first I think I’m looking at a sandy-colored stone mountain, but now I see the big rusty-red machines resting on the slopes like kids toys abandoned in a sand box. I feel shocked, sad, angry – confused as my eyes roam from the vibrant life all around to the stale life-less area in the middle. I wonder about all the animals that lived on that mountain.

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Strip mined mountain, center/right. Mountainside view from Cheney Mountain.

I recall my conversation with a birder last week while he was in the park catching and banding. He told me about a bird that nests in the local fields amid the growing crops. He said that because of global warming those crops are ripening more quickly nowadays and ready for harvest sooner. Somehow I naively thought that global warming was affecting the coastal areas, but not up here in the mountains. Sadly that’s not true. It turns out that because those crops have to be harvested at a certain time in their cycle, which is before those baby birds can grow old enough to fly and leave the nests, the farmers are using their reaping machines – and literally chopping the tiny birds up into pieces.

Sometimes I feel ashamed to be human.

I start reading again. Some of the essays address the linguistic structure of some Native American languages and what that structure reveals about the people’s worldview. In “Linguistic Reflection of Wintu Thought” Dorothy Lee writes:

“Our attitude toward nature is colored by a desire to control and exploit. The Wintu relationship with nature is one of intimacy and mutual courtesy. He kills a deer only when he needs it for his livelihood, and utilizes every part of it, hoofs and marrow and hide and sinew and flesh. Waste is abhorrent to him, not because he believes in the intrinsic value of thrift, but because the deer had died for him. “

“… Because the dear had died for him.”

He honors the spirit of the deer.

Imagine if we thought that way.

Not to disparage Christians  in any way, but I think about how they talk about Jesus “dying for me” – but who among us truly honors the animals, the giver of food for our tables? Do we make sure they lived and died in an honorable way? Do we use every part and not waste? Who among us has a daily practice, a way of life that honors in this Native manner?

I can’t help but feel a sense of disgust when I look at that raped mountain. Shame. Anger. Even my dog knows not to shit in her own bed!

The clouds are starting to gather and darken, and I decide I’d better head back down the mountain just in case of a storm – and with my dwindling energy it seems like the wise thing to do.

Z jumps to attention the moment I stand, ready and waiting for my next step. She’s great – she always stays nearby, venturing just a little ahead or behind, always checking to make sure I’m within sight. I’m sure this is partly a hyper-awareness due to the fact that she is totally deaf – but whatever the cause, we stick together like peanut butter and jelly and it makes me feel safe and loved.

We head down the mountain as we came, following the well-marked trail, forgetting about the bald mountain and everything wrong with humanity and just appreciating the leaves and flowers and bird song. Also I’d better not let my mind drift off because I need to pay special attention to my footing to make sure I don’t slip on a leaf or trip on the true roots that crisscross the path. One false move and I’m on my ass – and, I remind myself as I twist my ankle slightly, I’m here alone without cell phone reception … I don’t even want to think about what that might do to my ability to descend safely.

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Eventually we’re back at the wooden sign-in box. I unhook the latch and pull out the binder and write a “thank you” to the trail makers for hanging such clear trail markers. I think about how I usually get lost and how grateful I feel that they put up those clear markers so close together so this time I didn’t. I’m feeling good – I made it up and down in one piece and now I’m on to the homestretch.

Z and I head down and as it becomes less steep and …

Hmmmm … somehow the terrain seems slightly different – I don’t seem to remember needing to step so carefully on tall grass. So I reverse myself and go back up to check the trail marker. There it is. I must be going out correctly. I turn around again and we continue back down, and down … and I see a big fence …

but, uh-oh, it’s not the same fence I encountered going in. “Oh well,” I think, “there’s an easy way around the fence so the road must be close and it can’t be too far to the place where I parked my car.” I put Z on a leash and we walk to the street.

No car in sight.

My phone beeps: 20% power left.

I realize I’m LOST.

I turn off my phone to conserve what juice I have left.

I go into the middle of the long, windy, deserted street. I look up and down. No parking area.  No white car.

We start walking down the deserted street. I “feel” that I must have overshot my mark and should go downhill towards where I think I parked the car. Z and I walk and walk and walk and walk down a long steep hill. No car. No cars on the road.

By this time Z is panting and tired and in need of water, and I, having anticipated the end of the journey, feel exhausted too. But what can we do? We turn around and head back UP that hill.

At least Z doesn’t argue with me as a lover probably would. There was no “see, I told you it was this way,” (with attitude), or “why didn’t you look at the compass on your phone when we started so we would no how to get out?” Z just turns around and walks with me, no questions asked, and does what I do – climb back up the long steep winding hill.

My mind starts to race. I moved here only 6 months ago and I don’t know that many people. I think about turning my phone on and calling the one friend I think will be home and will help. What do I say? I am on some road, walking with Z – lost. I can’t remember the name of the road, it starts with a “P” and I’m losing juice on my phone.

Oh boy.

A car comes towards us. I try to flag it down, but it speeds ahead avoiding us. I think “This is the ‘country’ for G-d’s sake, what does he think I’m going to do, rob him?” I wonder, “why didn’t the driver stop?” “Was I ‘threatening’?”
“A older woman walking her dog?”

We continue hiking, up and up and up. As I force myself to move forward with vigor, I worry that maybe I should have walked downhill even farther and maybe I’ll be walking back and forth for hours and never find the darn car. But the thought of needing to find my car before the sun starts to set encourages me to walk with great purpose because I know if I let me fear get the best of me – well, that will not be good. And as I stride forward I notice my back starts to feel stronger. The harder and faster I walk, the better I feel. Well what do you know about that!

Wait … another car! I flag him down gesturing with my hand and placing my fingers to my mouth like, “hey, I want to talk to you!” Thankfully this time the driver stops and he tells me that my car is up the hill ahead. Oh what a relief!

Finally around a bend, the back end of my 1991 White Chrysler LeBaron comes into view – Oh, I want to kiss that car! We arrive, I open the trunk and get out Z’s water and travel bowl as she collapse on the ground in exhaustion to lap it up.

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We climb in the car; I ravage the banana I’ve been saving in my backpack all this time in case we got stranded and take a long drink of water from the dwindling ration in my canteen, then I throw Z a treat into the back seat and head towards home.

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When we get home all safe and sound I look up information about the trail. The guide says:

Cheney Mt. Trail: 1.5 miles round trip, easy/moderate. Trailhead on Pelfershite Road. Walk across field, enter woods for a short uphill hike to summit with three scenic overlooks.”

“1.5 miles”! Easy/moderate … short uphill hike.” Are they kidding me?

OK maybe 1.5 miles isn’t very far – but it seemed far as I was panting up that steep hill.  But hey, as someone who could barely get out of bed this morning, I still feel like I climbed Mount Everest – and survived!

Plus … those trail people don’t count getting LOST – so I think I should get a few extra points – Don’t you?

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Brooklyn to the Adirondacks for a Shamanic Mother’s Day Dance in the Spirit World

Vibrant/dying multi-colored leaves flutter on the hillsides as I drive.  I’m zipping along in my newly purchased 1991 Chrysler LeBaron along windy Adirondak mountain roads past massive glistening bodies of water towards my new home. Driving, I envision myself slaloming the cleavage between the gently sloping breasts of Mother Earth.

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Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2014

20 years in Brooklyn – 20 years! Loved years –  and still, I had been desperately longing for Nature. Once, late at night, when the streets were nearly empty in Park Slope, I walked down quiet streets with my dog, my Great Dane “Zuli,” to our local community garden.

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Zuli Photo by Adrienne Gruberg

I  turned my key in the  iron-gated lock and the gardens’ scented beauty wafted into my nostrils.

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Tulip in Warren/St. Marks Community Garden Park Slope Brooklyn NY Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2012

I was so hungry to feel the earth! Z and I walked in among the sweet flowers and green vines, along the jagged dirt path, weaving our way inside. The full silver moon shined more brightly than any street light. As I gazed upwards, slowly, I sank to my knees, then to my belly, to my breasts and face. I lay my face down upon damp soil  and finally my whole body rested on the Mother in her sacred scented garden. I wept for wanting her, for needing her in my life. I knew I could only stay alive in Brooklyn if I had her surrounding me. If only I could stay there in her garden, belly to belly, forever! I wept salty tears into her ground. Weeping thankfulness for supporting me, for loving me – for allowing me to love her. Yes, the City is vibrant and creative – every day brought new surprises. Gifts in the form of music and art and fashion and the mass of humanity in all of its diversity and color and form. And I vibed right back  – hey, I am the funkiest City grrrrrrl! But a deep, lonely part of my soul longed for Mother. Finally, it happened, and one day 6 months ago, I found myself driving up into the Adirondack mountains, towards my new home. Soothed by the beauty all around me: Lake Champlain, the Green mountains of Vermont in the distance – here it was, the inner landscape of home. Welcoming and spectacular; the natural environment literally and frequently takes my breath away. I step out onto the balcony of my apartment which overlooks the Lake, and gaze at brilliant blue sky at shimmering clouds reflected in the glistening lake. Golds and pinks and yellows in the sunset.

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Sunset on Lake Champlain Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2014

With each glance outside my window, I see a different, stunning picture – ever-changing Glory. It is not unusual for me to exclaim aloud, “Wow!,” at the sudden exquisiteness right outside my door.

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View from my balcony Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

Oh, but all too soon, fall changed to freezing, bitter-cold winter – unlike any I’d ever experienced. At times it was 39 degrees and windy INSIDE my apartment. I shivered in the ice-cold, all the while marveling at the ice crystals that formed in intricate feather-like patterns on my windows.

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Icy Windows Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

But where are the people? Nowhere to be seen! I walk into the center of town at  8 pm on a Saturday night and encounter no one. No music playing – not even from cars going by.  Here everyone seems to dress alike, look alike. Suddenly, because of my unusual hair, I am the “weirdo,” garnering stares everywhere I go. 20 years in Brooklyn followed by 6 months of massive culture shock. But I am saved by the Lake! She is diverse as the Port Authority in rush hour. Moody, dark, angry, shimmering, flat, frozen, rushing .  She is a massive changing body, rippling and flowing – assuming a multitude of forms . And all her forms are Power.

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Icy Lake Champlain Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

Longing to be be close to her, despite winters freezing cold, I donned layers upon layers upon layers upon layers of clothing. I became “Nanook of the North”! Out I went into the frozen landscape, surrounded by floating ice and howling winds. My beautiful Zuli passed on years ago, and now I am blessed to be accompanied in my explorations by my newest best friend, my majestic Great Dane, “Z.”

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Z Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

I braved the cold daily, I discovered hiden places, slippery glass-ice, mounds of hard snow, huge icicles, and soft feather-bed drifts.

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Icicles Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

I breathed the frigid air in deeply, peered off into the icy blue skies, flung my body down into the snow.  I danced on her and sang to her – I sounded like her wind, and called to her scratching trees, raised my hands to her sky, listened to the creaking, booming, voice of her frozen lake. I danced, whooped, clapping sticks accompanying my chants.

Ice on Lake Champlain

Ice on Lake Champlain Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

I found it easy, plearuable to explore my senses, trusting in letting myself go. Because of Z’s company, I felt safe being the only human on the frozen shore. With no one watching, I felt no self-consciousness – how, after all, could I be embarrassed in front of the Mother? I belonged. Perhaps a part of my soul lived here before – an ancient part that recognizes this place as home? Through the winter, no matter the cold, through fierce winds, and 20 below zero temperatures, I donned my boots and hat, stuffed Hot Hand packets into my gloves, wore as  many layers as anyone could possibly put on – and I went out every single day to make my mark in untrodden snow.

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Partially frozen Lake Champlain View from my window Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2014

I am a Jew studying Shamanism with the wonderful Sandra Ingerman.  Encouraged to  move and sing any which way I feel,  I began to journey. In my journeys I encounter a Helping Spirit. I opened my mouth and a strange yet familiar language came forth. Perhaps it is an ancient language that I embody but do not yet fully comprehend? As I chant, dance, play my shakers and journey, my relationship with my Helping Spirit is developing – and in the process I am slowly transforming.

Often the moment I close my eyes and begin chanting, I see/sense a dark-haired female Spirit above me in the Upper World. She stands on the dirt ground of an isolated place in the center of a group of long-haired male drummers. naked to the waist, seated cross-legged. She is clothed in a white wool poncho with  symbols in red. She is clearly the Shaman/Spiritual Leader of the group with much power and honor. I feel my Spirit Guide sending energy down from where she stands way above me in the Upper World. She stands like royalty – brave, powerful, simultaneously old and young – a commanding presence.  She sends energy down towards me via an angular almost imperceivable cone that travels down, infusing me with song and very subtle instruction. I don’t feel any personal emotional energy coming from her, but I get the sense that, with her guidance, I am being instructed to carry on an ancient tradition, resurrecting or remembering on her behalf/the behalf of her people.

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Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

If I stand in a particular position, with my feet apart firmly planted, my arms slightly away from my body, hands facing downward with my fingers relaxed down and wrists just a bit higher, I can feel doves lifting my wrists with invisible strings. I see the pelts of two animals, a lion wrapped around my front and a bear around my back in a protective embrace. As I raise my head erect and proud, I feel a falcon sitting atop my head staring fiercely, proudly forward. More recently, when I am chanting, I’ve felt that I have begun to “become” this Spirit, merging into her body via the energy she sends down to me. It is as though she and I are one for a short period of time and I can see through her eyes –  but we still have our distinct separateness at all other times. Death was the subject our next shamanic journey class. Just a few days before class I found myself driving along passing an old barn antique store with lots of interesting objects strewn helter-skelter out front. I could not resist the draw and quickly made a U-Turn to take a look-see. The antique store was quite dark inside, jam-packed with just about anything that could be in an antique store: guns, picture frames, china, furniture, lamps  – there was a section for every possible category of antiques – all stuffed in every which a-way and covered with years of dirt – my kind of place! Hanging from a center beam in the ceiling over the proprietors’ head, was a fringed Native American *Ghost Dance Shirt decorated with symbols.

Ghost Dance Shirt

Ghost Dance Shirt Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

Immediately I felt drawn to this ritual attire,  and I wanted to have the Shirt. I tried it on and it fit. I felt thrilled when I put on the Shirt, but would not fully allow myself to feel the excitement of wearing. I really wanted to take it home but I am not Native American and I feared it might not be appropriate for me to have this sacred object. I explained the friendly proprietor that I wanted the shirt but that I needed to consult the Spirits –and if I was supposed to have it I would be back the next day. He smiled and nodded his head, seeming to understand. The next morning I went to the woods to journey and ask about the Shirt. I did not receive a clear “yes” or “no” message to tell me if I could wear the shirt or not, but I was told that I could bring it home with the condition that I was to understand that material objects were not a substitute for direct Spiritual connection. That afternoon I returned to the antique store and bought the Shirt, took it home and washed it many, many times, ringing out the brown water and flushing with clean because the cloth was filled with years of dust and dirt from the the old barn. As I washed the Shirt in my kitchen sink, there were moments where I felt transported – I saw myself ritually washing the Shirt on a rock with lake water. Then I went out in the woods and broke off a curved branch, knifed off the rough parts, tied a string to the middle and threaded it through the long fringed arms. I  hung the Ghost Shirt in  my bathroom to dry then moved it the wall of my bedroom facing my bed.  I wanted to fall asleep that night and wake up looking at and feeling the energy of the Ghost Dance Shirt. That next morning when I was half awake, I heard for the first time the name of my Native American Helping Spirit.** For those who aren’t familiar with the Native American Ghost Dance, it was a sacred ceremony that spread like wildfire during a time when the Natives Peoples here in the United States were being pushed off their land, murdered en mass and stripped of their rights. The dance was designed by inspiration to bring back the Ancestors, return the land to its original owners, and repopulate the buffalo that were also slaughtered to near extinction by the Whites. Whites thought the Ghost Dance was a war dance and made it illegal. In fact the massacre at Wounded Knee was sparked by the performance of this ceremony and the reaction of fearful Whites.

Ghost Dance Shirt

Ghost Dance Shirt Photo by Judith Z. Miller (c) 2015

Right before the journey that I performed with my class on the subject of death, I felt the urge to wear the Ghost Shirt and determined that it was appropriate, given the sacred space created by our circle. We were instructed to seek out an ancestor.  I traveled to my guiding Spirits’ circle and saw my mother who passed on from this earthly plane in 1989. My mom and I had a love/hate relationship. She was a powerful, vivacious woman who really preferred volunteering or socializing to  spending time with the kids or cooking dinner – and since my father worked a lot or was out with her -my familiar relationships were fraught with conflict. However, the love between us was strong despite the difficulties, and in many ways my mother and I were very close.

Zookie & Buddy 1934:35 copy

My mother and father, 1935

While in my journey, I saw my mother on Friday night lighting the sacred Shabbess candles.  Frequently when my mother lit the candles, she had tears in her eyes and tightness in her jaw because of the discord in our family. Many memories of my life and events came flooding towards me. I recalled times as a child when I had struck out at my mother. One by one, the mean things I did in response to the pain I felt after beatings or because she left me unprotected from  abuse from other family members flowed into my consciousness. I felt very sad about my actions, even though at the time my behavior was an understandable response of a young child – but I know now that these actions hurt my mother’s feelings deeply. I remembered standing in our hallway near the front door of our home with my back to the beautiful blue and gold Unicorn Tapestry wallpaper that I loved so dearly.  I was about 14 years old and my mother was standing facing me, glaring. Suddenly she slapped me across the face – hard. Spontaneously I slapped her back equally hard. We were finally the same height and weight – and I felt her equal. I looked her in straight in the eye, fiercely, and proclaimed that she was never, ever, to lay a hand on me again! She never did. As I watched these events unfold in my journey, after each wrong and each retaliation, I reached out towards my mother to hug her. I felt her astral body close to mine. I could not feel the denseness of our physical bodies, but I felt my mothers presence. I saw and felt a translucent image of her, a form that embraced me with receptiveness. I felt a closeness in the co-mingling of our energies. My mother loved to dance. I have many fond memories of gazing from he doorway, watching her singing and dancing alone or of watching my parents dance together in the kitchen – which to this day I regard as the most intimate, loving and romantic thing a couple can do. There in journey in the circle with my Spirit Guide and the drummers surrounding us creating a constant rhythmic beat, my mother and I gently embraced in in dance. I felt held and received. As I share this story and remember the experience, I know that that those few moments of intimacy with my mother were moving and healing for me – and I hope it was for my mother’s spirit as well. And may you, too, be united with your mother in Spirit this Mothers Day! Happy Mothers Day Mom – Glad to know you’re still dancing!

JudithZMiller_09.15.12_067

Calling upon the Spirit of my Mother Photo by http://www.trixrosenartphotography.com

Notes: I am a Jew studying Shamanism. There are deep connections between the two seemingly divergent paths, for a website that speaks to these click here. My current teacher is Sandra Ingerman, a well respected, down to earth, knowledgably teacher/shaman who it turns out is originally from Brooklyn. I’m attending my second of a series of her online class via the Shift Network. I and about 1,000 others from all over the globe, have been meeting once a week on the phone.  Sandra schools us in the practice and essentials of shamanism and leads us in shamanic journeys and ceremonies. After the sessions, students connect via phone in small groups to process what we learned and we also meet up on Facebook. Sandra always encourages us to find a direct personal connection to the Spirit World and to work, daily, on our own practices. Sandra Ingerman, suggested two books on the Native American Ghost Dance: “Wovoka and the Ghost Dance” edited by Don Lynch and “The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee” by James Mooney – you may find them of interest as well. **I refrain from sharing my Helping Spirit’s name here as this information may be sacred to her.

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Journey to Yara – Water Goddess of the Amazon

I’m lying down on a yoga matt among a circle of about 20 seekers. We’re attending an all-day workshop led by shamans Itzhak Beery and Robert Murphy on Amazon Medicine, taking place on the 5th floor of New York City walkup, celebrating the life and teachings of their dear friend and fellow shaman Ipupiara who died in May of 2011.

We place our heads facing towards the middle of our circle and I prop a pillow under mine, closing my eyes as instructed, readying myself for what I  hope will be another exciting, fruitful journey.  Itzhak and Robert play the drum and shaker as I begin to feel my body relax.

According to Shamanic Journeying by Michael Drake http://shamanicdrumming.com/shamanic_journeying.html:

“When pulsed at around four-beats-per-second, rhythmic drumming induces a theta wave cycle in the brain. Theta activity reflects the dreamlike state between wakefulness and sleep. Theta rhythms are associated with meditation, prayer, spiritual awareness, and the deepest states of shamanic consciousness. Theta increases creativity, enhances learning, reduces stress, and awakens intuition. Researchers have found that if a drum beat frequency of around four-beats-per-second is sustained for at least fifteen minutes, most people can journey successfully even on their first attempt. Shamanic drumming continues to offer today what it has offered for thousands of years: namely, a simple and effective technique of ecstasy.”

So, I ready myself for that “ecstasy” by focusing on my breath and allowing my body to sink into the floor as the rhythms take me down and down and down. Within moments, huge large-leafed towering plants dripping with moisture surround me.  I stand in the rainforest as my female self, but feel uncomfortable – something inside doesn’t feel quite right.

I notice the drum and shaker again, sink down and down, and re-enter the forest – feeling changed. I look at my body; sweat pours in rivulets along my muscled chest and strong, male arms. Now, comfortable in my skin, I walk briskly, barefooted, hair flying whipping back and shaking long and brown.  I break into trot. The hot breeze softly caresses my body as calves strain against leather wraps on my tattooed arms and legs.

A shadow blocks the sun from above – I halt. With hand shielding eyes, I gaze up into the sky. The tips of a scalloped black and brown winged bird with a span the length of my arm, tinged white-hot from the sun, circles above.

I follow her – up.

Climbing, parting stiff green stalks, slashing with my machete through the thick damp undergrowth, I rise step by step by step up to the mountaintop.  Once at its peak, I stand tall and still as the large bird hovers above and a cool vapor mist rises in delicate wisps, dissipating into a bright blue sky. I search the distance down below into the valley.  My eyes fall upon a large patch of blue reflecting sky … a lake with gently curved white sandy shores.

Enlarging my pupils, my eyes collect more light and color as my expanded vision hones in on the scalloped sandy edges of the lake, then into the blue water.

She comes into view.  Standing waist deep in the cool pool, a beautiful female creature feeds a brown and white spotted fawn.  Her skin, a caramelized brown – her breasts, peaked in darker brown swollen nipples, are full of milk, ready to burst as they float above the clear water.

Yes, I am certain – it is She, Yara, the Goddess of the lake.

In that moment, I want her blossoming sweetness.

The soft earth and warm flat rocks press against my bare feet as I find my way down the narrow path snaking towards the lake. A thin leather strap encircling my waist holds my loincloth. On my left side, a white hide pouch wrapped tightly in yellow and red string contains a handful of flat black elliptical river stones and a bright red ruby. On my right, a similar dark brown pouch holds green and white tender herbs. As I walk, the pouches bounce against my sides and a string of wide-petaled red and white flowers surrounding my neck floats gently along my chest.  The jungle path leads me easily towards my destination – the Water Goddess Yara, bathing.

I stop in my tracks, suddenly realizing the Goddess may perceive my approach as danger; I must announce my presence so as not to instill fear.  From a small stiff leather pouch tied around my neck, I remove the sacred sage and copal.  Smacking my flint against a stone, the wrapped bundle of dried herbs quickly ignites into flame and the musty-scented smoke makes its way upwards between the dripping plants cut back along the path. Cupping the smoke in my hands, I lift the musky scents upwards towards the sky. As I walk, I hold the smoking herbs torch-like above my head, arm extended to the sky to signal my approach. I announce myself to the Goddess Yara with smoke and fragrance lofting on the breeze flowing towards the lake.

As I approach, the surface of blue glimmers between the trees and I am aware of a powerful feeling growing in my groin. I must not walk towards the Goddess – my desire is too strong.

Prostrating the length of my body along the ground, I feel the tiny soft spikes of damp moss against my thighs. With only my head lifted, I pull myself along the path in a steady crawl the remainder of the distance towards the lake.  As I approach, the forest widens itself and opens onto the shore. Suddenly, there – I see the Water Goddess Yara with rounded belly and deep dark almond shaped eyes standing tall and proud in front of me! I sink down, flat, onto Mother Earth – motionless.

I hear only the sounds of the forest.

Slowly, stretching my fingers as far as they will extend, I gently brush the Earth in a swimming, circular motion – sweeping away all of the rocks and tiny pebbles on the path in front of me, then flattening the ground smooth, packing it down firmly with my thick palms.

Cautiously, I raise my head to gaze upon her. Behind the Goddesses’ thick black hair, to her left side, I catch a glimpse of a moist gathering darkness – it is as though she carries behind her voluptuous beauty, a raging storm, ready to be unleashed at will.

So as not to startle the Goddess, I move slowly as I gather a handful of sand from the beach, sprinkling a small stream of white grains from my fist – a white dry sandy dust to barely cover the dark brown circle of packed earth.

With eyes cast down, I pull myself to my knees.  One by one I place the smooth oval black river-stones in a circle atop the white sand with the largest and flattest in the center.  Removing the scented herbs from my pouch, I scatter them in a circle around the outside of the dark stones.  Removing the red and white flower lay from around my neck, I create yet another circle around the herbs.  From a pouch lined with a large flat green leaf, I remove a thick sticky honey-sweet porridge, placing the sugary mass at the very center of the circle on the largest river stone. Atop the white sticky-treat, I carefully balance the large red ruby.

Reverently backing away from my offering, I again lay the length of my body along the ground – waiting in silence and stillness.

From my cast-down position, I can just see the tips of Yara’s delicate hands select a single green leaf. The fawn, who first twitches her nose sniffing, gathers the delicacy in her soft lips and pulls it into her mouth, chewing.  Then, directly in front of the circle, Yara sinks down to her knees and leans forward. Sniffing the sticky porridge, she inserts the tip of forefinger into its sweetness, bringing it to her lips, then licking her finger with a slight smile. With a stroke, she plucks the ruby off the top and sticks it on top of her third eye.

Still prostrate with my body into the Earth, I feel myself glow and smile in response.

Carefully, pushing myself backwards, I crawl in reverse along the path – exiting as I came. Then, once out of sight, I stand, turn my back and walk up the path, blending again into the trees – heading home.

I sense the sound of the drum and shaker.  As they subside, I hear a voice calling me back and I feel myself returning to myself. I am again in my female form, relaxing on a soft matt and pillow on a shiny wooden floor in a loft in New York City.

I am pleased with my offering.

JudithZMiller_09.15.12_011

Photo by Trix Rosen

Judith Z. Miller

aka Artist Soul Speaks

Posted in Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thank you Mr. Rosamelia!

If You Can Read, Thank a Teacher !

Back when I was a kid in the early 60’s living in suburban New Jersey, nobody knew anything about dyslexia; kids like me were just considered “slow.”

Even in the 5th grade, when I attempted to read even the simplest books, I couldn’t make sense of the words. I’d look at the printed letters on the page and they would literally move around, jumping from one place to another. Sometimes I could get a feeling for what the words meant but my inner comprehension didn’t translate into being able to say the words out loud – I just couldn’t read. To this day, I often write the last letter of a word first or start a sentence in the middle of a page, and my writing is illegible. I even type my shopping lists because I can’t read my own handwriting

Throughout grade school, because of dyslexia, I was barely able to read, write, spell or do arithmetic – in other words, I lacked the basic skills to do just about anything I needed to succeed in school. (Truth be told, even now as I write this blog, I Googled the word “arithmetic” because, well … I don’t have a clue.)

Kids are cruel and they constantly made fun of me. I was called “stupid” more times than I can count. Up until recently, hearing that word made my hackles go up ready for a fight. I remember one incident when a group of “popular girls” forced me play “monkey in the middle” as I desperately tried to capture one of the “stupid kids books” they stole from me. They tossed the book – the embarrassing evidence of my stupidity – back and forth over my head again and again, all the while mocking and taunting, calling me names.

Me, in my favorite cowgirl shirt - around 9 years old.

Me, in my favorite cowgirl shirt – around 9 years old.

Demeaning slow kids was institutionalized. One year, to divide up the school into class sections, they gathered the entire population into the auditorium. The principal called up each child individually by name and the group had to stand facing the assembly until the last students name was called.  When I heard my name called out for the lowest section, my heart sank. Name by name, they called out all of the “slow” kids in my grade, as we were forced to stand facing the entire school. I was mortified; I wished I would vanish into a deep hole in the floor and bury myself.

Before my mom would let me go out to play, she would read to me or sit with me for hours on end holding up “Flash Cards” that look like huge dominos. She’d place them squarely in front of my face repeating the same answers to addition, subtraction and multiplication over and over again – ad nauseam. But no matter how many hundreds of times she went through the pack, flashing the same images, I could not remember the answers. In fact now, 50 years later, I still can’t add and I don’t know my multiplication tables past 5. But, I do remember those Flash Cards with their domino images. When I want to add, I visualize those dots forever imprinted in my brain floating in the air in space – and to arrive at the answer, I count the dots in front of my eyes.

Grouped together with all of “slow” students, mostly the poorer kids including children of color who had no access to private tutors  – we were known as the class “retards” or “dummies.”  Because of the constant teasing, frustration, feelings of worthlessness and a tumultuous home life, I ended up getting into lots of fights. Even though I had a tutor and my mother tutored me herself almost every day, I just could not seem to make any progress. So, I took my anger out on other kids – I became a bully.

In school I was always put in the “rough” sections filled with other “slow” kids – who were “troublemakers” like me. In 5th grade, a boy named “Guy” sat behind me and instead of listening to the teacher he would relentlessly pull my hair.

One day when my teacher, Mr. Rosamelia, was momentarily out of the classroom, I stood up after a particularly hard yank, and turned around and yelled at my torturer at the top of my lungs.  Guy responded by punching me in the gut with all of his might, shoving his fist so hard and so far up into my diaphragm, I doubled over in pain, gasping and wheezing for air. When he saw the result of his punch, knowing I would retaliate in kind, Guy started running. Despite the pain and panic at my inability to breathe, my ferocity took over. Like a Wild Child, I grasped the edges of the two desks standing between us and flung them helter-skelter to opposite sides of the classroom, where they thundered into the walls. The boy ran licitly-split out of the classroom, and I, now at full speed, chased him – bashing, smack dab into the formidable belly of my over 6 foot tall teacher, Mr. Rosamelia.

Of course Mr. Rosamelia, who witnessed only me, long hair flying, ranting and raving – along with the disastrous condition of the classroom  – made me stay after school that day.  I sat down across from him at his big wooden desk, angry, hurt, facing stacks of the many English books that had accumulated over the years that I had yet, and probably would never, be able to read.

The reading levels in grade school were color coded, so that you had to get through all the colors: Yellow to Green to Blue to Red – to get to Purple, the top book.  Of course I was still struggling word by word through Yellow, the bottom book, when almost everyone else in my class was sailing through Purple, reading aloud as if the words automatically streamed from the page into their minds and out of their mouths like an easy-flowing river. I slumped down in my chair as the formidable stacks loomed large, physical proof of my inability to accomplish anything, ever. I felt despondent, clearly I would never be able to make any headway – I was just too “dumb.”

Instead of giving me a lecture about my bad behavior, Mr. Rosamelia stood and solemnly took the purple book off the top of a stack and placed it in the middle of his desk. Then he gathered all of the books and held them with two hands, the Yellow, Green, Blue and Red – a rainbow-color of volumes that represented years and years of barriers, frustration and inadequacy. He held the books aloft in the air over his head, and with one grand dramatic gesture, Mr. Rosamelia threw the books down – crashing – into the metal wastebasket beside his desk!

Then Mr. Rosamelia picked up the Purple book and gestured towards me. As he looked me in the eyes, he said: “Now, you’ve read them all – read this!

Tears are streaming down my face now over 50 years later as I type these words, because, you know what? As the books came crashing down, the barriers, the pain, the frustration, the self-doubt – my “stupidity” – all of it shattered and crashed with them  – and from that day on, like a miracle, I was able to read the Purple book!

Sure, I still had problems, I still struggled, I wasn’t the best in the class, and there were many more hurdles in the years ahead. But somehow, I had faith in myself because my teacher Mr. Rosamelia had faith in me.

Now at age 61, sometimes you’ll find me at the Food Coop looking quizzically at a handwritten shopping list, cursing under my breath for not typing it, wondering what in the world I’m supposed to buy scribbled indecipherably on the little slip of paper.  But, when I’m temped to call myself “stupid,” I correct myself, I don’t demean myself any more  – the voices of those other kids no longer taunt me – because of Mr. Rosamelia, I cut myself some slack.  And hey, thanks to computers and spell check and calculators, as an adult usually I get by just fine.

Mr. Rosamelia, if you are still alive today, this is a Shout Out to you. I honor you and thank you from the bottom of my heart. And if you’ve passed over, and if there really is a heaven, I know you are there Mr. Rosamelia, because that one dramatic gesture of faith way back in 1962 when I was in your 5th grade class

… well Mr. Rosamelia … it changed my life!

Tuesday, May 7th is National Teacher Day, the day and week we honor those who teach and inspire our youth. Would you like to honor a teacher?  Read more about National Teacher Day and week at http://www.nea.org/grants/1359.htm

Posted in Childhood Education, Life Cycle, Personal Achievement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birth. Death. Shit. Life.

Yesterday I achieved a Life Goal …

Yes, my friends, I watched a HUMAN BABY BORN!

Is it bizarre that at the ripe old age of 61 I’ve never actually managed to see another human being enter the world?

I’ve never had kids of my own – and that decision has been a difficult one. It was one of the primary reasons I lost a long-term lover, and several other partners considered that stance a serious relationship issue too.  But I just could not do it. Although I love kids, it seemed to me that I’d have to give up too much of my freedom and my artistic time to become a full-time parent.

Only occasionally do I feel sad about not having kids, but increasingly over the years I felt a deep lack in my life at never witnessing a human birth – an experience I always thought should be a common occurrence shared by community.

Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties, I helped my Collie named “Lassie” (of course) give birth – twice. Once she had 9 pups and then 11. I stayed by her side vigilantly, helping her break open the little sacks that housed each tiny puppy – and, sadly, carrying outside and burying the 11th  – the even-smaller still-born pup, the runt – in my back yard. Life juxiposed with death. Birthing the pups, burying the tiniest in my backyard in the rose garden – it was an amazingly intimate experience that I’ll never forget.

Me with my dog “Lassie”

Although I value those memories, I’ve continued to feel that not being present at the birth of a human baby made me not fully human. It’s not that I have to actually be a mother to feel like part of the human family, but I felt a deep need to be part of the Cycle of Life by bearing witness to a human birth.

Sadly, in antiseptic North America, birth is treated as a “medical condition” appropriate for a hospital room, not a social or shared cultural experience – an “emergency” kept separate and hidden – only to be shared by doctors, nurses, midwives and a maximum of three, usually family members.

Over the past 20 years I’ve asked my gynecologists, dualas, friends and friends of friends, even very pregnant total strangers – to help me find someone willing to share the intimate experience of birth – but it just never worked out. Most people already had their maximum of three.

Some people advised me to become a midwife or duala to satisfy the desire – but although the idea did intrigue me, and I did look into it because I love kids and I posses many of the qualities required, it seemed absurd and just “wrong” that I had to become a professional just see a human baby born.

But yesterday, finally, my friend and sister childcare worker at the Park Slope Food Coop, “V” graciously allowed me to be present with her and her partner “C” for the labor and delivery of their beautiful baby girl.

I’ve never liked hospitals and I hate it when people describe accidents or anything that involves emergencies and painful medical conditions. When hearing these stories I feel a surge of adrenalin through my body, along with empathic pain directly in the area described in the story so overwhelming that when someone is about to tell one of these stories, I plead with them not to share or at least allow me time to exit the room before they begin recounting the event – so obviously I was a bit concerned that seeing the blood and painful writhing of a friend would be too much.

But I’ve sought out the opportunity to see a birth for years … and now, finally it  happened!

Tentatively named “L,” the tiny baby girl came into the world at 7 pounds, 14 ounces after a painful and exhausting night-long ordeal.  Up all night with “V” at St. Luke’s Roosevelt hospital with a nurse and midwife in attendance, and “C” exhausted and asleep, I gave what I had to offer: loving massage, gentle words, and my full, steady calm attention – which helped ease “V’s” pain and nerves – and made me feel useful and not at all an “outsider” to the process.

In 1989 I was alone with my mother in her hospital room when she passed away from a brain tumor. I was the only one by her bedside.  I sat next to my mother as she breathed in a soft breath, a few short gasps – and then a long, slow exhale. That long breath created a wet bubble. When the bubble burst, my mom stopped breathing – she was dead.

The woman who brought me into the world had left it. For weeks afterwards I said to myself over and over: “I am a motherless child” – feeling a painful loneliness different and deeper than anything I’d experienced before. But still, I continued to feel privileged to have been present at the moment of my mom’s death – to share her holy moment of transition.

Tuesday night into Wednesday I spent hours standing by “V’s” side, waiting for life to emerge, as she trembled and moaned in agony, trying mightily to ride the wave of each contraction with the help of her practiced full even breaths and the midwife’s coaching.

Stroking her damp forehead, rubbing her feet and back, I felt incredibly intimate with someone who really, when I thought about it, I barely know – as I only spent 2 hours and 45 minutes with once a month supervising other people’s kids.

But there I was:  there by “V” side, with “C” looking on. As the baby was about to come, the midwife instructed each of us to hold onto one foot and leg, and we became like human stirrups, giving her a place to push with all of her might, breathing in and holding her breath and pushing, pushing pushing.

And we watched – “V” watched in the mirror as she pushed, and we all saw it:  the crown of her tiny baby’s head emerge from her birth canal; the wet, bloody, hairy head, followed by a plop of mushy perfectly formed little baby-body oozing out, still connected via a thick flat white and blood-red umbilical cord … I was astounded, awed – intimately connected – and, surprisingly, the blood didn’t bother me at all.

All I could do say over and over was …

“Oh my G-d! …  Oh, my G-d … Oh my God!

The sight, the magnitude of standing just inches from this little life bursting out into the world welled up in my chest. I could literally feel my heart swell, my chest expand with joy and awe – and my tears well up and pour out of my eyes.

I felt so privileged and “right” being there. There she was, covered in a sort of white dust and blood, little “L” came into the world, beautiful – perfect, precious, sweet.

I could not take my eyes off everything. I couldn’t get close enough. I waited eagerly for the midwife to tug on the umbilical cord and pull out the bloody placenta, and I watched carefully as the mom got sewed up with a hook-shaped needle … surprisingly, not a squeamish minute passed.

Now, a day later, I still feel a sense of completeness, connectedness. Knowing death, knowing birth – more a part of the cycle of life – and eternally grateful.

Away all night from my  “Z” – my 15 week-old Great Dane puppy – I’d hired a wonderful dog walker, Stacey Ragan – a talented artist who I know from our shared jewelry making businesses .  Her first time walking little “Z” – Stacey entered my foul-smelling apartment facing diarrhea soaked bedding – and bravely and graciously dealt with the awful mess.

Stacey voluntarily stayed with “Z” an extra long time knowing I was attending a birth ‘till soon before I returned from the hospital. Clearly those fresh-frozen marrow bones I bought “Z” to hold her through a long night were NOT a good idea!

Little “Z”

Yesterday, just home from the hospital, I did poop-covered laundry, washed my floors and tolerated “Z’s” dirty puppy dog shit-stained feet as she jumped up to greet me. I was doubly exhausted after that long sleepless night – but there was no alternative but to do what had to be done – that’s just how it is when you’re a “mother.”

As I was cleaning the shitty floor, I thought back to the aged years of my previous Harlequin Dane “Zuli” who lasted 12 years before I had to put her down – an amazing feat for a Dane. In those last years she was extremely weak and lost bowel control. Once my ex-girlfriend Elizabeth cleaned Zuli up without waking me – a generous gesture that proved her devotion.

Over those last years, I spent hours cleaning Zuli’s emaciated shit-stained body and carrying her down the front stairs to see if she’d go in the street.  As difficult as those times were, they bonded us – there was much love and a silent understanding. I felt total commitment to do anything to care for Zuli – and surprisingly, even though it was difficult, the experience made my life richer and gave it more meaning.

“Zuli” – when she was big and strong

Thinking about Zuli reminded me about a trip I took back in the 90’s, with my then-lover Beth. We were traveling from Washington DC where we lived to New York City  – and I had a horrible intestinal attack. We couldn’t get to a bathroom in time and when we finally arrived at a gas station, I was literally covered in shit.  Beth came into the little cold dirty bathroom with me and calmly cleaned me up with those rough paper towels that come out of the dispenser – literally whipping the shit off of my shaking body – maintaining her sense of humor throughout, despite my embarrassment and horror.

Yes, “Shit Happens.” And blood, and mucus, and death. Sometimes the memories are painful and ugly and smelly.

And the birth of beautiful little baby girls happen too – right there in the middle of a big mess.

Today, through it all, because of it all, I feel thankful for the LIFE that surrounds me, for the beauty of “L’s” tiny full lips, and glazed-over eyes, for her 10 tiny perfect fingers and 10 tiny perfect toes. For my new puppy, “Z.” For Life in all its raw, smelly, bloody, stinky glory – for all of its beauty and newness, its puppy and baby-ness.

I’m feeling grateful for the sweetness and the mess that bonds us, the “shit” and the gory-glory that tests us and proves our devotion – for what makes us human.

I feel grateful for birth and, yes, even death – for all that brings us closer together – grateful for all the ever-so-intimate experiences that make life so darn, well …

REAL.

“My G-d”
By Judith Z. Miller
(c) 2010

Judith Z. Miller

aka Artist Soul  Speaks

Posted in Life Cycle, Personal Achievement, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 11th – Celebration of Life “Be-In”

On September 11th 2011 I produced the Celebration of Life “Be-In” as an alternative way for local artists and community to acknowledge, process and transcend, via ritual, the events of 911.  While I am horrified by the tragedy and its aftermath which claimed many thousands of innocent lives and still impacts worldwide events – I think it is essential not only to mourn those who have been lost but to make a conscious choice to go on living, loving and celebrating life so we who envision a better world will have the strength and courage to actualize that vision. Imagine peace – work for justice!

Below is my improvised speech on that beautiful day in my local community garden in Park Slope Brooklyn, followed by my written artists’ statement, along with a short video documenting portions of that wonderful day to the soundtrack of MAURI’S “Mankind.”

Art is a Grand Tree — its roots dig down into the very essence of history and culture, drawing sustenance from the depths of authentic human experience. Ritual employing art and linking the strength of the tree creates alchemy in the human soul. As we gather spiritual energy from the Grand Tree of art we can share that energy with the world around us, acknowledging, honoring, and ultimately transcending all that separates us.

Each of us lives our own sacred story. As I strive to understand 9/11 through my story and the stories of others, the complexities and questions make me marvel with horror at the deep psychic impact of this tragic event. Its aftermath of oppression and war has had a profound effect on the entire world.

In the face of tragedy, I trust in art. And I trust the tree. My “Sacred Staffs,” and amulets, all hand carved from the roots and trunks of trees, are my way of connecting with and sharing Nature’s healing power. They, linked in ritual, are my voice and my prayer.

MAURI’S song “Mankind” expresses my fervent prayer that we will learn to respect all beings on our beautiful, fragile planet — may that day come soon!

Judith Z Miller
Healing Ritual Artist

Judith Z. Miller with Master Drummer Frisner Augustin, September 11th, 2011
Photo by Debra P. Hershkowitz

Credits for Celebration of Life! “Be In” Music Video

Artistic Director/Executive Producer
Judith Z. Miller
http://www.zamo-zamo.com

Sacred Staffs & Wearable Art
Judith Z. Miller
Sticks & Stones
Group Instillations & Individual healing sessions
http://zamo-zamo.com/sticks_and_stones/index.html

Music
“Mankind” by MAURI
Written by Mauri Nadina
http://www.mauri.bandcamp.com
http//:www.mauritriodelfuturo.blogspot.com

Video Producer
Dawn Paap

Videographers/Video Editors
Jett Cain
Sam Rappold

Global Rhythms
DJ Neva E. Wartell
Radio Soleil http://www.radiosoleil.com
More information: http://www.facebook.com/DJNeva
Radio show archive: http://www.djneva.podOmatic.com

Body Painters
Rainbow Heart
Tyler P. Fairbanks
Jim Su

Dance Coordinator
Sylvana Tapia

Dancers
Lacey A. Birch
Kristina Harris
Andrew Jacobs
Raven Jelks
Katrina Ong
Olivia Mia Orozco
Molly Rappold
Sasha Smith
Mirirai Sithole
Sylvana Tapia
Natalie Walters

Little Blond Girl
Lucia Ferguson

Makeup
Ahuva Adanani

Percussionists
Frisner Augustin
Michael Adams
Steve Deats
Andres Nieves
Shoshana Jedwab
Judith Z. Miller

Photographers
Debra P. Hershkowitz
Julius Constantine Motal
Heidi Russell

Stylist
Dawn Paap

Twin Towers Oil Painting
Leon Nicholas Kalas

Event Invitation
Angelica Grant

Event Promotional Video
Sonja Bozik & Akhil Bali

Volunteers
Lisa Fernandez
Rebecca Joy Fletcher
Pat MCcarty
Sheri Stein

Location
Warren St/St. Marks Community Garden
Park Slope Brooklyn New York

Special thanks to Erica Louder, Dr. Lois Wilcken & La Troupe Makandal, Inc., the Warren St/St. Marks Community Garden, DJ Neva E. Wartell, and to all the artists, volunteers & participants in the Celebration of Life! “Be-In”

Celebration of Life! “Be-In”
Artists Commemorating 9/11
September 11, 2011
Park Slope, Brooklyn NY

A ZAMO! Production © 2011
All Rights Reserved
ZAMO-ZAMO.COM

Posted in Brooklyn Community, Dance, Handmade Crafts, Judith Z. Miller in the Media, Multimedia, Music, Performance, Photography, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Video, Visual Art, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment