Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autumn Equinox Fire Ceremony

Fire has its own life, it transforms everything, it is never static. Fire sustains us, warms us, cooks our food, keep us through cold nights. Fire nurtures us but can also bring death. Fire destroys, burns legacies, ravages forests, but allows new undergrowth to spring forth like a phoenix from ashes.

On the first night of the fall equinox, my husband, two friends amd I attended a fire ceremony in a Chicago suburban backyard. We were here to take a look at ourselves, at the new season and to possibly change and heal ourselves. Would gazing into an outdoor campfire of crackling logs set us on that path?

Some drawbacks: there were too many people in the backyard, too many lawn chairs huddled together, with the warmth of the campfire too far away on a night that dove into the 40s. Nevertheless, after some initial discomfort and disappointment, I chose to ignore these inconveniences. Being here with like-minded people who wanted to use fire as a meditative focus was all that mattered.

The leader started the ceremony. She talked about fire, about rituals, about Native tribes and had each of us, in rotation, throw a small tobacco offering into the flames. It was in thanks for the earth on which the fire stood. It was in thanks for trees and air which feed the fire. She explained how the ceremony would serve to help us release what no longer serves us, such as fear, and set intentions for what we wish to manifest, such as a fervent dream of ours.

Subsequently, we each privately examined that which we most feared. During this fear meditation time, the leader drummed on a bohdran-type handheld drum. Afterward, we each cast a sprig of cedar into the criss-crossed flaming logs. This served as a symbol through which we might banish the fear we identified. In response, the fire rose up briefly in acknowledgement each time. Afterward, we internally cast our thoughts into our dreams and wishes - again more drumming. Then we each tossed a small amount of sage into the fire.

After each segment of the ceremony, two or three of us teamed together to share our thoughts, our fears, our dreams and what we saw through our meditations. I had fulfilling private visions, a mind's-eye visitation of a bluejay, and creative ideas that seem to emerge from nowhere. What blessings!

To me, the fire, tobacco, cedar and sage are all instruments of God and are servants of God. Going through an autumn fire ceremony is a human way to ritualize new beginnings and take a meditative look at what we hope for our futures.

My friend Raminta, though of few words in between the ceremony segments, said she got much from the event. She had arrived on the scene with her mind awhirl, she said, but over the course of the ceremony found peace, relief and relaxation. She looked refreshed with her eyes dancing with new life! ◦

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is wabi-sabi? How is it continually and intimately expressed in the life of a frugal poet?

One of the most refined, thoughtful and poetic societies, Japan, has gone through unfathomable disasters in recent history, such as the profound earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. Nevertheless, the Japanese people continue to push forward in quiet strength, dedicated to and motivated by their culture, history, sense of humility and connection with one another.

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy based in Japan that embraces a sense of flawed beauty, the profundity in nature, and of things impermanent, humble, primitive, transient and incomplete. It celebrates the modest, rustic and unconventional. It is the organic versus synthetic, the rough-hewn and uneven over the measured and laser-edged. Loosely explained, wabi means a philosophy of imperfect, natural beauty and sabi means the artistic expression of what’s assymetrical, aged or unpretentious.

Daisetz Suzuki, one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, considered wabi-sabi “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” Rather than a poverty of pain and a sense of desperation, it instead gives the relief of removing the weight of material concerns from our lives.

Wabi-sabi suggests the notions that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect. The Persians are known for a proverb about the true beauty of rugs, a wabi-sabi attitude reflected in a different culture, “A Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise.”

Remarkably, wabi-sabi has everything to do with the spirit of the frugal poet. We exist. We go with the flow. We focus on the beautiful. We have strength in light of hardship or snags in our lives. And our poems reflect this attitude. The concept of wabi-sabi reminds me of the lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

It is the poets and those with a frugal poet’s spirit who can see both implicit meaning and opportunity in any situation, and can find voice, or at least search for it, to express compassion and humanity even amid injustice or when in mourning.

I had signed up for a multi-evening workshop in the craft of handmade bookbinding at Chicago’s Hull House. Our upper floor studio itself was a wabi-sabi space of lovingly worn benches, nicked but well-used work surfaces and natural lighting pouring in from screenless windows. We used hand-crafted papers, linen thread, monster-sized needles, scads of glue, bone folders, thick pieces of cardboard and stiff oilcloth in an array of colors. There, we crafted and sewed a number of hardcover blank books, Japanese side-stitched bindings and cloth-covered boxes.

I admired a fellow student’s finished handmade book, even though the pages were uneven and had a naturalistic waviness to them. “The only thing perfect is God. I try to remember that in everything I do,” she said. “I am imperfect and every act of creation carries human imperfection along with it.” But therein lay the beauty of her handmade book!

Flawed fictional characters, for example, are more interesting, textured, memorable and beautiful than perfect, static ones. What would Cyrano de Bergerac be without his big nose, The Little Match Girl without her poverty, or even Star Trek’s Mr. Spock without his lack of emotions? ◦

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Japanese haibun method: mixing journal entry with a haiku

A haibun is a Japanese form of journaling involving a journal entry followed by a haiku poem. The haiku serves as a distillation, an associated thought or an epiphany to the actual journal entry. The Japanese poet Basho and the beat poet Jack Kerouac worked in the haibun form.

Remember, the classic haiku poem is 5-7-5 -- meaning three lines of poetry; five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line and five syllables in the third line. However, in English language haiku, these rules are flexible.