Over the years I have been gratified by the critiques that I have had re The Soul Food Cafe but this is one that stands out quite simply because it acknowledges the contribution I have made in helping people build their inner architecture.
After an absence for five years I have returned, not to work Soul Food as I did, but to guide thirsty creatives to billabongs within the maze that is Soul Food.
Check for details about the Travels With A Donkey courses that I am currently operating.
Before we left, Stephen handed each of us a few precious corn kernels asking that, when we returned to our respective home lands, we reverently bury them, grieve over them, tend their graves, and with nature’s grace watch the renewal of life and the growth of a new corn plant. It occurred to me that this is what he had done – planted seeds in our hearts and our minds, which are watered by our tears and tended by the labours of our learning, in the hope that a new elder might begin to grow in each of us with an understanding that death is a gift, “the cradle of our love of life”.
Stephen Jenkinson, the author of Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, calls upon people to bear witness to a world that we wish were otherwise and he offers an opportunity to learn how to labour at the planting of hard-won seeds so that we might possibly, against what are sometimes great odds, learn to live, and die, well.
For some years now I have been encouraging creatives to plant nasturtium seeds and, over a period of at least a month, talk to them and watch them grow. I encourage people to keep a record in a small notebook that is covered with imagery of growth.
This is a simple task. Just fill a planter with rich potting mix and add some nasturtium seeds. Talk to the pot and the seeds and agree upon where to place it. Then spend at least ten minutes each day tending to it, taking photos, keeping a journal record. You will be amazed by what this simple plant has to teach you.
Writers talk about this frequently. Fiction writers often say that a character wouldn’t do what they wanted, or that the characters took over the story. Of course our characters aren’t real; they can’t really take over a story, they can’t really take on a life of their own.
So where does the writing come from? And why do we have so little control?
Because no one has precisely pinned down where ideas come from writers, who love to speculate, have proposed endless theories. Stephen Johnson talks about networked inspiration and how the cafe culture provides a pot in which creativity may bubble and boil. There is little doubt that creativity flourished in the melting pot of the French Salons where copious amounts of coffee may or may not have been served.
At one time I was going around talking about the creation myths suggesting that like the universe and earth itself it all began within a swirling mass of nothing. I had students closing their eyes, looking at nothing; writing about what they saw when they saw nothing. As I recall we also speculated about whether the answer lay in the roots of trees. We considered the deep roots that we are able to tap into. Carl Jung named this the ‘collective unconscious’ and many incredibly popular self help books, written by people like Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) have written extensively on the subject.
A personal favourite of mine is The Borderland: An exploration of theology in English literature, a book by Roger Bradshaigh Lloyd. My copy of this text quite literally leapt from the bookshelf into my hand in one of the second hand book shops that I frequent. Lloyd, an influential Anglican Priest talked about the Lord, or King of the Borderland being ‘Inspiration’. He names the Holy Ghost, of whom ‘no man has ever dared to give a human name’ as the sovereign of the Borderland in which the artist resides and suggests that answers to the unanswerable may be found in the Nicene Creed. Of course, at the time this affirmed my speculation that like God, in the book of Genesis, the artist makes something out of nothing. The artist is a creator, as compared to a manufacturer. One of the problems I see with self help books is that they encourage us to believe that we can manufacture things. Like Lloyd I do not believe that there is anything immoral in the “composition of pure pot-boilers since pots do need to boil if anything is to be written at all”. I do believe that we are truly creative when we are propelled by passion and find our way of tapping into the source.
With that in mind I welcome assorted story tellers, troubadours, hags, crazy people, trance tellers, bards, traveling poets, prophets, visionaries, charismatic preachers, spellbinders and holy people to join the caravan of donkeys heading towards the source. My hope is that this amazing collective will reveal quite unique ways of tapping into what artists perceive to be ‘the holy grail’.
The metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. While it can be traced to at least the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres, its most familiar expression in English is found in a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:
In ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’ Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares a numinous dream in which she finds ‘someone patting (her) foot in encouragement’. When she looked down she saw that she was “standing on the shoulders of an old woman who was steadying her ankles and smiling up” at her. In the dream Estes protested that it was her who should support the older woman on her shoulders but the old woman insisted that this was “how it is meant to be”. It turned out that the old woman was standing on the shoulders of an even older woman who was standing on the shoulders of… and so the line continued.
Modern story tellers are, as recent articles about the long history of Fairy Tales testify, “descendants of a very long line of people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people.”
Story is very old art. It is good to stop and do a stock take of just whose shoulders you are standing upon, to take the time to express gratitude to those who have, through their work, nurtured your creativity.
All that is visible must grow beyond itself, extend into the realm of the invisible. Thereby it received its true consequence and clarity and takes firm root in the cosmic order.
Back in the day, when the Soul Food Cafe was fully operational, Enchanteur used to pass out dream seeds for participants to plant. The seeds were in the bag she gave people as they were setting out. The special bag was filled with talismans for the journey. The bag contained a packet of dream seeds, spectacles, a candlestick, a tiny anchor, a medallion with the imprint of the Unicorn and a set of wings.
When operating classes on terra firma participants have sometimes received a small pot with some seeds ready to plant.
This excerpt from Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona by Ruth Underhill provides the perfect ‘practice’ to apply upon receiving the planter, planting and locating a home where the seeds will flourish.
The Papago….stand at the edge of the field…. Kneeling he makes his hole and speaks to the seed, in the Papago manner of explaining all acts of Nature lest there be a misunderstanding. “Now I place you in the ground. You will grow tall. Then, they shall eat, my children and my friends…” Night after night the planter walks around his field “singing up the corn….” Sometimes, all the men of the village meet together and sing all night, not only for the corn but also for the beans, the squash and the wild things. (Source: Growing Myself by Judith Handelsman)
If you communicate with your plants they will respond and teach you about the inner gardening that promotes creativity. The challenge here is to look after the plant, talk to it, allow it to teach you, keep a journal, preserve your experience and generally grow.
Growing Myself A Spiritual Journey Through Gardening Judith Handelsman
An Interview With Judith Handelsman
The Faithful Gardener Clarissa Pinkola Estes
A Gift From the Sea Ann Morrow Lindberg
A Saints Insights Can Transform
Saint Francis transformed the church by refocusing Christians on the Gospel, resurrecting Christian practice in six distinct ways. Some of these reveal a man who was ahead of his time. One reveals a man ahead of our own time. In each of them we can see a similarity between Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis.
What Francis did and said 800 years ago was not only for the church, or people of faith, but for all people, and this begins to explain why he was so popular even back then. The same is true of Pope Francis today. You probably have noticed that unlikely groups of people—atheists, Buddhists and certainly disaffected Catholics—are among those listening attentively to the pope, who is speaking in ways they understand, practicing a Catholicism that they recognize as meaningful and important for the world. We recognize, when we see it, how being Catholic can also be beautifully catholic.
There isn’t space here to go into detail about each of these six aspects of Francis’ spiritual vision, so I will only summarize them. But one builds upon the next, and they all reveal a revolutionary, life-changing approach to life and faith.
Friendship. A strange place to start, perhaps, but friendship had a primacy for Francis. If you think of the traditional qualities of a saint, they are usually courage, intellect and compassion. Francis had these virtues, some of them to an extraordinary degree, but for him the list simply started elsewhere. His journey began and ended with—and his charism comprised almost entirely—a true and unique gift for friendship, for true solidarity. There were clear and distinct lines of gender, religion and status in his culture and time, and Francis crossed them all. Had he not also been of unimpeachable motives and character, he probably would have been burned at the stake for this radical solidarity.
Embracing the “other.” Francis saw a different world from the one perceived by most religious people of his time. He saw the sacred in everyone and everything and so was able to pay profound respect to invisible, discarded and demonized people, creatures and other unknowns. He had nothing to gain by doing so, but he included them as equals in his life. This inclusiveness was the essence of how he changed monasticism and how he believed every person should act in the world.
Poverty. The popularity of Francis’ spiritual movement in the two decades between his conversion and death is almost without precedent in the history of Christianity. Other reforms within monasticism had shown quick growth, but not like the early Franciscan movement. In one of the most pregnant phrases of Chesterton’s little book about Francis, he wrote: “What St. Benedict had stored St. Francis scattered.” This scattering was deliberate on Francis’ part, as he made the values and spirituality of traditional monasticism available to everyday people everywhere. He took on poverty personally and voluntarily, within and for himself, rather than simply as a subject of concern in the lives of others. He did not make poverty a virtue in and of itself, but he focused attention on how being poor was a sure way to understand the message of Jesus. And for him, personal poverty was not only about living without means; it also was about renouncing power, success, influence and even respect. “Being poor” became something people wanted to do when they saw it lived out by Francis.
Spirituality. Francis lived at a time when the church often felt threatened by individual expressions of faith. One was only “spiritual” in church. Yet Francis created ways for ordinary people to mark their lives as holy no matter where they were. Valued higher by Francis than theological understanding, his personal spiritual life set him apart from nearly every other leader in the church of his day.
Care. This word perhaps best summarizes Francis’ gentle attention to, not just people and creatures, but things. This extended beyond humankind, to animals, fish, even rocks. Why? He was learning to be a lover of the Beatitudes. It was his care-full-ness in little things that made him the environmental saint we know today. In no other area do we see so clearly how Francis was a man ahead of his time.
Death. Francis embraced death not fatalistically as a gift, as did the majority of medieval people who talked in macabre ways about life as a “dance with death,” but as an important part of living. His welcoming of death was almost without precedent in Christian teaching and is more important than ever for people of all backgrounds to grapple with. Death was his sister. In this area I believe the Poverello reveals himself to be a man even ahead of our time.
The sprawling cypress trees that hid me and provided protection when I was running, terrified, live in my memory, along with the listening trees that Archie Hair talked about.
“In shamanic cultures all over the world this crucial relationship with trees is recognised and cultivated. In some villages of the Huichol Indians of Mexico, young men and women “wed” a tree for four years before they are considered ready for marriage. In this four year relationship, they pour out all their desires, their longings, their successes and failures, during regular visits to their tree. In this process of working out projections, they mature and are able to come to their human partnerships with a remarkable soulfulness and equanimity”. (Source)
The Golden Seed Grove at the Soul Food Cafe holds some lovely pieces revealing the connection some artists and writers have with trees. Baba Yaga insists that participant of Travels With A Donkey spend at least half an hour communing with one of the nearby trees. Ideally they should spend more than an hour with a tree.
According to Narrye Caldwell “trees speak so much more slowly than we are used to.” She says that “it takes patience to sit under a tree for hours, and listen to its wisdom. It takes time to pour out your heart to a tree”.
Are you willing to spend the time with a tree and listen to its wisdom? Check this guided imagery.
Make spaces indoors or in the garden where you can bask in the silence, welcome the goddess or the life force you turn to.
Alternatively you can go to Daily Zen Meditation Hall, set the timer and enjoy the space that they have created.
Anita Marie has taken a baton and run with it! The crowd cheers!