I’ve always put up a Christmas tree. Despite the halfhearted participation (and groaning) of my boyfriends, I’ve faithfully, right after Thanksgiving, headed out and bought (or here on Vashon, cut down) a tree to lug home. It’s a ritual I rarely miss.
After visiting India some years ago I returned home in the winter and the notion of putting a bauble-laden tree on display felt absurd. This is a rite of passage for anyone who ventures to India: Your brain cells are rearranged and you never view your world, or its customs, the same. I know that was true for me as a Westerner. Christmas in America, after the dust and squalor of India, felt gluttonous. So I skipped the holidays that year — though I missed having a tree in the house.
I enjoy the act of arranging the colors, textures and lights on a tree. It’s similar to making a painting, the alchemy of conjuring art. Simpler, but no less magical. I especially love the ricochetting of light amidst the ornaments, as it envelops the tree at nighttime. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to understand that the ritual of displaying a tree is a sacred act — although I’ve never fully understood why.
Most of us are familiar with the historical origins of the Christmas tree. Its association with the pagan rite of celebrating the solstice. When the light of the Sun ‘returns’ in the Northern hemisphere and begins its increase and ascent, the radiance grows stronger and longer through the ensuing months. Trees would be displayed to honor the burgeoning of light and life. And the fruits and trinkets that would decorate the tree honored the bounty, the wish of a successful harvest in the year to come.
And yet the historical perspective never impressed me much. I mean, none of those facts would drift through my mind as I’d lounge on the couch in the evening — no matter my age — and stare at the tree until I fell asleep. Nope, another set of mysterious associations would encircle me and send me into a reverie. And it wasn’t until I came to the conclusion of one of my favorite books this year that I began to make sense of my devotion.
Martha Heyneman‘s book The Breathing Cathedral is a fantastic interweaving of the cosmologies of Gurdjieff, Dante, Aquinas, Stephen Hawking and others, into a new model, a new interpretation of the universe we inhabit. I was drawn to the book because, as a longtime student of Gurdjieff’s teachings, I was intrigued to see how Heyneman, a zoology student turned poet, was bringing Gurdjieff’s teachings forward and marrying them to the world of science.
The last chapter of her book is titled O Christmas Tree, and at first the subject — the family Christmas tree — seemed an odd way to summarize all that she’d explored in the previous chapters. But in the end I understood completely. Read more
Living in the Pacific Northwest affords you lots of opportunities to stare directly at the Sun.
That reads weird, but since childhood we’re told never to stare at the Sun because we’ll go blind or insane. So when the opportunity to stare arrives one should take it.
This childhood proscription felt doubly true when I lived in Hawai’i because there was so much Sun. Too much Sun after awhile — and so I moved to Seattle to stare.
I was looking at the Sun the other day because the conditions were ideal here on the island. A gritty fog was dispersing off of the harbor, overshadowed by a bowl of overcast — a spread of grey punctuated by a bright white smudgy ball; a stealthy Sun at high noon.
Staring was startling because it reminded me of something I don’t think about that often, but when I do think about it I’m transported into a visceral feeling of living on a planet that is floating around in the immensity of endless black space.
The cycle of night day, night day, night day fashions reality into a false notion that night and day are equal. When really day is just a gift of a sliver of a twelve-hour moment. All else is nightness.
And when I have that sensation I’m reminded of what I felt like as a kid with my mom and dad and how tethered I was to them, always in orbit around their presences. Much like the Earth is with the Sun. And the Moon with the Earth. People, stars, planets and moons. Unions comprise cosmoses — small and personal or immense and seemingly impersonal.
In that same cloud light the other day, staring at the Sun’s nimbus, I also recalled a passage from A.H. Almaas‘s last book in his Diamond Heart series. It’s called Inexhaustible Mystery. He wrote a chapter titled Beyond Consciousness (one of those chapters that is worth the price of the entire book). And in this chapter is a poem he wrote called The Guest Only Arrives at Night.
The Guest of course is the Beloved, which is really you without an identity that is based on a relationship to a mother and a father. Imagine that. Read more
Ask astrologer Nick Dagan Best what school of astrology he practices and he will answer: “Astrology.”
His pointed, slightly sardonic response is echoed in his list of must-read books for beginning astrologers. When I requested recommendations for our interview, he offered, right at the number 1 spot: “The ephemeris — any version.” Because, as he explained: “It is the combined biography of billions of souls.”
And Nick oughta know. He has a reputation within the astro community for being a ‘human ephemeris’. Though, as he told me when we met for some libations and philosophizing recently, “I still don’t have Mercury and the Moon entirely down pat yet.” (“Jesus, I’m still trying to recall what sign Mars is transiting right now,” I thought to myself.)
Name an event from history and Best will tell you where Saturn and Jupiter were positioned and if Venus or Mars were retrograde or not on that date. This happened throughout the evening as we discussed the birth charts and defining moments (and the retrogrades that accompanied them) of Miles Davis, Alfred Hitchcock and J. Edgar Hoover. Dotted throughout with tidbits about the history of the United States and the planet Uranus (the subject of his new book) and the revelation that Joni Mitchell always referred to her favorite white Mercedes as her “baby” and, of course, where the planets were the night her “baby” was stolen. Read more
The transition from summer heat to autumn cool. The light shifts and slants and when Scorpio approaches, regardless the hemisphere you reside in — well, the soul goes orange and crimson — a rich Tibetan red.
Critters rustle around slowly now. There’s lots of deer about, walking right in the middle of the road and then, once spotted, jumping to disappear into thick blackberry vines (I don’t know how the vicious thorns don’t tear their hides). Read more
And yet, though we strain
against the deadening grip
of daily necessity,
I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it then?
Is it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplayed melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances
or streets, as they wind through time?
–Rainer Maria Rilke