Blog Post: Sense, Coffee, and Kindness

The phrase flew out of my mouth that morning: “Live your coffee.” My day (and truthfully much of my week) had been cloaked in struggle, the kind that is caused by the bad behavior of stressed out, suffering, self-involved, and mindless people. I know you’ve been there too. As the Chinese say, we are living in interesting times.

I am proposing a simple antidote:  sense, coffee, and kindness.

Let me explain….

 

Be sensible

According to Webster, sense is simply defined as conscious awareness. It’s easily implemented by anyone, whether you are eight or eighty. Be conscious. Be awake. Be aware of something outside yourself. And be aware of what is within yourself as well.  If you’re reading this blog, you are probably well on your way to some such practice of mindfulness.

But we all fall off the wagon. There will always be that person who presses your buttons and catapults you right out of your Zen. (Usually it’s someone who is close to you and has installed those buttons, by the way).

As my T’ai Chi instructor used to say to us every week in class, the practice of T’ai Chi requires constant correction.

So does the practice of sense.

 

Live your coffee

If you’re not conscious, if you’re not awake, if you’re not aware, well, then have a cup of coffee. Okay, so maybe not literally.  It’s a good metaphor though. Coffee sharpens the senses. It makes you more alert.  You know that saying, “wake up and smell the coffee?” Well, it has merit. At any given time we have the choice to pay attention or not, to be awake or stay asleep, to live our coffee or not.

What are you missing? Who are you not seeing who is suffering and needs to be seen? Might it be the crabby lady on line behind you at the Post Office? Might it be the crying child in the cart at the grocery store with the exhausted and short-tempered parent pushing the cart?

Might it even be you and your desperately neglected, abused, and weary spirit?

Pour yourself a cup of Joe. And ask yourself, ” To what and to whom may I be more present?”

Is God calling you into a deeper communion to be a vehicle of healing in this world?

Live your coffee and lean into that calling.

 

Be kind

Once you’ve taken the first two steps, I promise the third is a terrifically easy stretch. Robert Fulghum said it brilliantly in his book, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

A quick reminder:  Fulgham’s rules of kindness apply to you as much as they apply to the crabby lady behind you at the Post Office and the child in the grocery cart. The rule in my clinic is to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you go about the work of rescuing anyone else. It’s a helluva lot easier to smile at someone in need when that smile comes from the center of your soul. That kind of smile plays a lot better in the world too, by the way.

Be awake. Live your coffee. Be kind. The world needs you now more than ever.

Blessings on your path,

Maria Mandarino

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Blog Post: Still Points and Watersheds

There are these curious moments in our lives. Moments when we know we are poised on the edge of something that will forever change us. Sacred moments.

In literature we calls these Watershed scenes. A watershed scene is a high point, a dividing line, a place of pause and vision, where you can look back and see the place from where you came. And also look forward at what lies ahead. It’s that place where you take a great big breath, honor and bless the past, and get ready for the great adventure waiting.

In body work, there is something called the Still Point, a moment where traumatic memory ceases and quiet enters. In this moment, the body reorganizes. Integration happens so the past can be released and new life can begin.

In both situations, nothing going forward will ever be the same.

We’ve all had defining moments such as these. The one that always makes me smile began in 1997, when I was writing my first (and so far my only) novel. A lot of things were happening in my life back then. A year earlier, I had lost a childhood friend at the age of thirty. I knew nothing going forward would be the same. Almost a year to the date of my friend Eddie’s passing, I lost my grandmother and was present at her death. Just days later, I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and had a near death experience. Nothing going forward could ever look the same.

During my recovery from the accident, I decided to write the novel I had wanted to write. Writing kept me sane. It kept me busy. It gave me a feeling of purpose. And it gave me a creative outlet. These things were good for me in my healing. I was dealing with some pretty serious pain at the time. I was dealing with PTSD (at that point undiagnosed) from the accident and near death. And I was feeling deeply alone, separated from my spirituality, and misunderstood. There were very few people I’d allow near me. Creativity saved me.

It took me two years to write that novel and fifteen years before I would see it published. It sold a few copies. Feedback was positive. I had given people a chance to think about some things that were important to me. And all that made me happy enough. It was that thing I had always wanted to do that I finally did. I could check something off the bucket list.

I thought that was the end of it.

A year after publication, I had moved to Colorado from Arizona (coincidentally, my protagonist had done the same thing). I was opening a new acupuncture practice. A friend back in Phoenix insisted I needed to open a Twitter account to promote my business.

I hate Twitter. I told her no.

She persisted. And persisted.

A few weeks later, I acquiesced.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it was sensible to follow some gurus in the healing world. So I followed Deepak Chopra and Caroline Myss. A few  other suggestions came my way. I followed those too.

Then I got a suggestion to follow this mystical poet named Carl Barbarotto.

My grandmother’s sister, who had long passed, was married to a man with the same last name. I thought that was interesting. I checked out this guy’s poetry. I liked it. A lot. And so I followed him.

A few days later, I was chatting with my mother and I mentioned the interesting coincidence of this guy named Carl Barbarotto who wrote this incredible poetry.

My mother’s face drained. “He’s your cousin,” she said.

I laughed at her. Because I knew I didn’t have a cousin named Carl. And this guy lived in Washington DC and we didn’t have any family in DC.

She insisted. I showed her his picture. She screamed. “That’s Carl!”

I waited for her to let me in on just how I had this cousin  I had never heard of. It seemed when my grandmother’s sister passed away, we fell out of touch with that side of the family. Carl and I were too young to know about each other.

My mother still had Carl’s mother’s phone number and she dialed it. Miraculously, the woman still had the same number. And it turned out it was in fact the same Carl.

The next thing I knew, my phone rang. It was a male voice. “This is Carl. I understand we are cousins,” he said.

Carl and I spent nearly two hours on the phone, sharing (and marveling) at the coincidences in our lives.

But there was a watershed/still point moment beyond this.

I learned Carl had been in seminary and he left shortly before ordination.

This gave me pause.

My novel had a character named Carl who dropped out of seminary.

My character’s last name was Bonadonna — similar musicality to Barbarotto.

My character left the Roman Church and became a Buddhist.

My cousin left the Roman Church and embraced Unitive Consciousness, or what he calls the Zen Mind.

We talked more. A lot more. About spiritual beliefs, about our journeys. And then we came back to talking about my character Carl. I explained that I named him after Carl Jung.

That’s when my cousin Carl had his still point and watershed moment in the conversation.

My cousin Carl left seminary after an assignment in a class on Carl Jung, which led him to have a dream that gave him clear guidance that he needed to leave seminary. Jung remains one of his greatest inspirations.

My life was truly not the same after that Twitter encounter. That day on the phone Carl asked me if I was still Catholic. I said I was not and I didn’t quite know what I was. That put me on a quest to find out. I ended up at a contemplative service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Colorado. The service is called Nishma, Aramaic for “Vital Breath of God.”

In all honesty, I only planned to attend twice. One time to experience it. A second time to reassess and make sure I didn’t belong there. Because me and church never worked out.

Not only did I return a third time, but I became an Episcopalian eighteen months later. And I went on to help create the contemplative prayer stations at Nishma for quite some time. Some months after that, a church friend asked me to consider becoming a Spiritual Director, which I resisted with all my being. I was flattered, but my friend had the wrong woman. Six months later? I found myself submitting my application for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at the monastery in Colorado Springs. I am five months away from graduating as a Spiritual Director and beginning a new ministry of service. I have loved every minute of it.

We all have watershed moments and still points like this. Sometimes they find us. Sometimes we seek them. However it turns out, they are moments which change us. Moments which define us. Moments where the Divine joyfully meets us.

What has been important in the unfolding of my nearly two decade long still point and watershed moment is understanding what was at work in those years when I felt lost and alone. The years while I was writing, while my body and spirit were hurting, and I felt abandoned by my Creator. When I felt overwhelmed and alone, when I found myself about to graduate from massage school while going through a divorce I never saw coming. Then the years that led me to Arizona, finding myself in acupuncture school, running a full time practice, exhausted and stressed out of my mind. Then two years later, taking boards while packing up my house and moving out of state again. So many times when I wondered when I could stop climbing stairs and finally get “there.” Where was God in those long scary weeks, months, and years when I was asking for guidance, feeling beaten and broken?

Where was God? God was clearly weaving a story. Weaving my path. Maybe not the path I was on in that moment, but surely the greater path…. the path I’m on now. God was silently at work. In the words of Carl Jung, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

My pastor says when we feel most alone God is never more present. He might be silent because the Great Creator is at work, doing what needs to be done so that when we reach our Watershed Scenes and Still Points, we can recognize them, embrace them, and celebrate them as the divine gift they are.

Blessings and peace,
Maria Mandarino

For information about my novel: Neat Little Packages Maria Troia (Mandarino)

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Meeting God in the Patterns

090Last night someone at church had mentioned she made a church decision based on logic. Turned out logic was not the right choice.

I joked with her that logic is way overrated anyway.

It turned out the decision should have been made based on tradition. And tradition typically involves following a certain order and a patterned way of doing things, which isn’t often linear or logical.

Years ago, when I was a student observer in the acupuncture clinic, our supervisor, Dan Bedgood, had mentioned to a senior intern that a student had complained to the dean about his teaching style. The complaint? He did not teach in a linear fashion.

I could not help myself.  I blurted out, “But this isn’t a linear medicine.”

Student observers are meant to do just that: observe. They are not expected to speak. And if they are foolish enough to do so, it is assumed they do not have much to share worth listening to.

Dan’s head went up and he stared at me from across the table. It was probably the first time he heard my voice and possibly the first time he even noticed me. And I think we were very close to pointing a finger at each other as if we suddenly recognized something in the other,  about to say, “Atlantis, right?”

The truth is Chinese Medicine is not at all linear. It is based on patterns. Patterns that need to be observed, respected, and honored.  It works like this: if this happens, then that happens. BUT if THAT happens, then THIS happens. Or… if the wind is blowing, then THAT happens. But if it’s damp and cold, well then THIS happens. And if it’s dry and hot, well, look at what happens then! And let’s not even talk about whether you are standing on the sunny or shady side of the mountain, because that can uncover a whole other set of patterns.

It’s a story of patterns of potential. Not of a narrow and limited road.

Chinese Medicine is a medicine that always made more sense to me than Western Medicine for this reason. Seek the pattern and you are led to the answer. Pull the piece of yarn and watch the pattern unravel; each time you tug, a new skein of possibilities.

As a writer and a poet (and as someone who crafts with yarn), I have always interpreted life through metaphor. So of course I grasped the language of this ancient medicine easily. Once you figure out the patterns in Chinese Medicine, you have the key to everything: physical pain, emotional pain, organ disease. Find the pattern, find the key. Find the pattern, find the language of the Divine.

Think about it. God is not linear. How dull would that be? This has to happen before that can happen in order for this to happen. Wait and get on line and until you reach the destination point, it’s pretty much a process of drudgery. Kind of like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Look at the universe and tell me it’s linear. You can’t. God is a creative God. And She speaks in patterns. In the patterns and cycles of life, in the patterns of our experience, in the patterns of the people we meet, in the many synchronous gifts and mysteries that come into our lives. Linear thought says you have to go through 24 other letters to get from A to Z. With God, it’s possible to get there in a heartbeat. There’s no logic in that.

What are you on line waiting for? What are you expecting might take ten years and not ten days? What do you think needs to happen before the next thing can occur? Does God need that thing to happen, or do you need the logic of that thing happening first? How might life look if you shifted that view and let go of your brain’s need for reason? And control?

How might life look if you decided to not limit God to a linear process, and instead opened yourself up to the infinite patterns of Divine Mystery?

Blessings and peace on your journey,

Maria Mandarino

 

Blog Post: Spirit’s Promise

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I believe God speaks to us in the spaces.  In the moments of stillness. In the moments of connection.  I find all too often people are not comfortable enough,  trusting enough, or perhaps present enough, to listen to the guidance that comes to us in these moments.  And too often I’ve been one of those people.

Two summers ago, I had one such moment and a chance to live my life a little differently.  It was quite an extended moment, actually. And dare I say, it was a defining moment that has inspired me to find the courage to stand firm on my intuitive gifts.

My friend Kelly and I had been on the phone that day, talking about some training in equine massage that  I was contemplating doing.

And he said, “I think my heart would explode if I could work with horses.”

Our friendship is such that we don’t let each other get away with powerful phrases like that.  So I asked him what was going on.

He shared that he has always loved horses.  Working on them was not within the scope of his license as a New York massage therapist.  He had thought about taking a course in animal communication instead.  Finances stood in the way. He never explored it.

I knew this wasn’t about money though.  A statement like that is never about money.  It’s about the soul remembering what it came here to do.  But what happened next defied any measure of logic. Let me say first, it’s not like I’ve never done something like this before, but I’ve certainly never done it  with this kind of connection, clarity, and velocity.

I said to Kelly, “I’m feeling a horse running toward me.  I feel it running right into my chest.  It rips my heart open.  There is a gaping hole inside.  And then the horse fills that hole.  And then there’s a pause.  I feel you now becoming the horse.  And I feel you and the horse, as one, tearing out of the gate.  The horse transforms you.”

The information kept coming, equally as fast:  “You’re going to work with rescue horses.  You’re going to heal the horses.  But there’s something else. Your work with the horses is going to heal you.”

There was a pause in the information and I waited to see if there was more. Then I got this: “And you will heal these horses so they can work with kids who have special needs, kids who need healing. So you will be the healer who heals the horse. But the horse is the healer who heals you. And you free this horse so it can then heal children.”

Then I said, “You need to volunteer somewhere where there are horses. Forget about money and the animal communication classes. That will come. For now volunteer. You need to just be around horses. Look on Eastern Long Island. Somewhere around Riverhead.”

Then I paused. Nothing else was coming. Except this: “I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when you get there. But Spirit will lead you.”

I paused and furrowed my brow because what I got next seemed crazy. But I said it anyway.

“And don’t be surprised if you meet a horse named Spirit.”

Here I was, in Colorado,  1,800 miles away from New York, where I had lived most of my life. I hadn’t been back home in ten years. I had no clue there was a rescue barn there. Yet I knew in the center of my being that somehow there was one. Exactly there.

What happened next was surreal. Kelly texted me in less than five minutes. He sent me the link to a rescue barn. It was not in Riverhead, but in Manorville, one town over.

The name of the rescue barn? Spirit’s Promise.

It was named after their first rescue horse: Spirit.

Spirit’s Promise doesn’t just rescue horses that have been abused and neglected. Once rehabilitated, these horses go on to work in their equine therapy program, helping humans heal. The horses work with people who have experienced various emotional wounds. Among them: cancer survivors, survivors of trauma and sexual abuse, and those who have been harmed by bullying. The horses are there to be healed. And then the horses become the healers.

What Kelly told me shortly after learning all this provided an added layer of validation for both of us. A few weeks prior, Kelly’s friend Danny had sent him a video link about an animal communicator and a leopard named Diabolo, who was sent to a wild life rescue facility. Danny told Kelly this was the work he needed to be doing, that he had this gift. No one in the rescue facility could handle Diabolo and so an animal communicator was brought in to determine what was distressing the wild cat. Through her work with Diabolo, the animal communicator learned that the leopard desired respect and wanted to be renamed.  Diabolo’s wish? To be renamed Spirit.

And so when I had told Kelly not to be surprised if there was a horse named Spirit, he paid attention. When he found the actual barn called Spirit’s Promise one town over from where I told him to look for it, he knew this was important enough to investigate.

He called Spirit’s Promise and learned there was a caretaker’s day scheduled in two weeks.  He signed himself and his daughter up. He immediately resonated with Marisa Striano Charles, owner of Spirit’s Promise. His story of how he found the rescue barn captivated her. Kelly described a magical day working with the horses, bonding with and learning from them. Kelly’s own spirit certainly needed to meet the Spirit.

But I was curious about something. The information I received that day began while I was sitting in my clinic, setting acupuncture needles in myself. The last bit of the conversation about finding the horse named Spirit happened on my short ride home, just down the hill from my office. This was not the first time I had received information for Kelly at that exact place on my drive home. Some months before, in that same location, I had a visual impression of Kelly scattering rose quartz crystals on the ground. I called him and asked why I might be seeing this. He texted me a picture of a piece of rose quartz, the size of a softball. He had just been meditating with it.

So I had asked Kelly if the name of the street meant anything. He said it didn’t. It took me a while to put it together. Since childhood, Kelly’s spirit guide has been the bear, the Native American symbol of courage. At the bottom of this hill is a creek. And that creek so happens to be called Bear Creek. Wild bear had once been hunted on this land. It is literally bear land.

Some days later, I told Kelly he needed to look for animal communication classes in his area. He called me back to tell me he found one. The school so happened to be named “Two Bears.” We both suspected it was the one. Kelly was sure he needed training. Danny and I were pretty sure he didn’t. Then a few months ago, I knew he didn’t.

My friend Jean’s Yorkshire Terrier, Fiona, was dying of liver disease. Fiona had been perfectly healthy and then suddenly turned jaundiced. The disease came from nowhere and progressed rapidly. There wasn’t much time left. Jean wanted to know what Fiona needed to be more comfortable in her last few weeks.

The animal communicator Jean had contacted was unable to communicate with Fiona. The reading didn’t really unfold. I asked Jean if she was open to me asking Kelly if he could try. She agreed.

Kelly was hesitant, but tried anyway. He felt he didn’t get much of a connection. But he was clear on this much. Fiona told him that she felt like she “wasn’t the princess anymore.” Kelly was solid on that, but he thought this was virtually useless information.

What Kelly didn’t know is that Fiona’s full name was Princess Fiona. She was literally Jean’s princess, her first Yorkie. Only months before, Jean had gotten a fourth Yorkie, a puppy named Duke. And Fiona suddenly found herself feeling  lost in the crowd. Jean knew what needed to be done: Fiona needed to be showered with love during those last weeks to know she would always be Jean’s princess. Such a simple and short message held tremendous healing.

It’s been quite a ride since I learned about Spirit’s Promise. There was healing in the message for Kelly that day; I could hear it in his voice. But there was healing for me in that message too. And validation…

Spirit.

Spirit speaks to us. Spirit is a powerful guide. Spirit , I believe, is love. And that Spirit — that love — wants to put us on the path of our destiny — back on the path to the Divine.

But that message was not just about one word. It was not just about Spirit. Spirit was found at a place called Spirit’s Promise.

Spirit offers a promise: Follow me. Trust me. Let me lead you. I promise, I won’t abandon you. Let’s take this ride together; I will lead you to blessings you can’t even imagine.

I have revisited this experience for over a year now, sitting with what I believe was a mini-miracle. A beautiful gift from God, shared between two friends. And shared beyond us too.  The story has touched so many. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Marisa Striano Charles on the phone. We both say we feel like we’ve known each other from another time. She feels the same way about Kelly. When I feel a little off course and when I need to deepen my connection to Spirit, I wear the wrist band that Marisa sent me, the one that bears her website name: www. SpiritsPromiseRescue.org. It serves as a reminder of the promise of Spirit and the many mystical ways in which God communicates and validates His love for each of us.

©2016 Maria Grace Mandarino

Blog post: Finding the Sacred Space in the Poem

Most of my blog posts are short.  This one isn’t.  You might want to grab that cup of tea or coffee now.

I’ve been digging up old poems, figuring out how to fit them onto this blog.  They are pretty old poems.  And I’ve been struggling to find exactly where the sacred space might be in some of them.  It’s there.  It’s always there in any art.  Like rests between notes in a piece of music, there must be space in the poem too.

But I couldn’t easily point to the space in these poems and so my posts have been slowing down as I’ve been struggling with this.  Then I looked at the dates when the poems were written.  During this period of my life, I had become a committed patient of chiropractic.  And after the first few adjustments with my neurology teacher, Dr. Brian Stenzler, all of a sudden my poetry took on a whole other tone.  A tone I didn’t recognize.  The voice was suddenly honest, bold, and courageous.  And that made me tremble.  I didn’t know what was going on.  But I knew one thing.  Just about all these poems tumbled out of me (with very few edits) right after Brian would adjust me.

Not having the guts to ask Brian what was going on (figuring he’d think I was crazy), I approached my myology instructor, Dr. Steve Lindner about this.  I handed Steve the first poem I had written, a poem called “Spoiled” (see below).  Typically not one to be at a loss for words, Steve got pretty quiet.  Then he softly said, “Brian is reconnecting you to your divinity.”

The man damn near made me run out the door.  I wasn’t bargaining for an answer that involved the word divinity.  Lindner was a highly left brained instructor and the toughest task master in the program.  I was banking on some good straight up neurological reasoning from him.

I went home even more scared.  And the poems continued to come fast and furiously. I hadn’t been as prolific in years.  My words were never so exacting and bold.  And for the first time since I could remember, writing was easy.

So why do I bring all this up at this precise time?  We’re going to take a little fork in the road here….

Astrologically, we are in a Mercury Retrograde period right now.  Mercury was the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology, and as such, the planet Mercury is said to rule communication, among some other things.  The retrograde is actually not a backward planetary movement, but the planet simply slows down a bit, and relative to the earth’s movement, it appears as if Mercury is moving backwards.  It is not.  It’s just a false perception.

As an acupuncturist, I practice an ancient medicine that is founded upon observing our natural surroundings.  This includes observing earth as well as heaven.  The Chinese classics teach that man reflects Heaven and Heaven reflects man.  In acupuncture, we even consider the phase of the moon when we treat our patients.  Nothing with regard to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health happens in a vacuum.  The ancients knew this.  There are many primitive cultures that teach similar principles.  Primitive cultures did not have Google to rely on, but only their surroundings and keen senses.

Given my training, I’ve come to view planetary movement as the acupuncture chart of the sky.  The planets are the points.  The lines between the planets are the channels.  And these lines create patterns.  There is a style of esoteric acupuncture based on sacred geometry: patterns that exist in the body that reflect patterns we see in nature, patterns that are thought to be sacred and of God.  And these esoteric treatments happen to work like a charm.  God speaks to us in the patterns within us and the patterns beyond us.  In fact, in Ireland, there are sacred walking paths that are referred to as “walking the patterns.”  Patterns simply lead us deeper into the mystery of the sacred and allow us to commune with God.

So when Mercury retrogrades, while some people go hysterical about communication and travel plans going awry, and computers and technology failing, the truth is a Mercury retrograde is a perfect time to soulfully reflect upon our old ways, old experiences, and old patterns. It’s a chance to rethink these things, to address inner and outer conflicts with compassion, to bow our heads in gratitude for the lessons learned.  It’s a time to be gentle and tender with ourselves and others (particularly those from our past).  And then with healing and new understanding in our hearts, we can seek to make things new.  And so, here I am, looking through old poems, trying to find the space in them, trying to find the light.  Light that with any luck will illuminate the path ahead as the journey expands.  We cannot move ahead without looking behind and honoring our past.

So, let’s merge that fork we just took a while back and return to my story about my poems and the chiropractic adjustments.

The goal of chiropractic is to correct a subluxation, or move misaligned bones back into proper alignment.  The word subluxation literally means “under the light.”  Not an optimal state.

When the subluxation is corrected, here’s the interesting thing:  there is now space between the bones.  Space which allows the neural system to open up and communicate harmoniously.  I think this is significant to my story.

One day when we were discussing my poetry, musing about whether the poems might someday turn into a book, Steve had said, “You should call them Luxation Poems.  Poems of the light.”

I liked the idea.  The bone is moved.  A space opens.  And light comes in.  A creative process ensues.  God collaborates with us in that creative expression.  At least I think he does.  I think he has to.  Artists love other artists, as Julia Cameron says.

I doubt these poems will ever turn into a book.  It’s surely not my plan. Crazier things sure have happened in my life though, God knows.  So, for the next few blog posts, and a few of the poems posted before this entry, here are my Luxation Poems.  The first one, “Spoiled” is found below.  I hope you find the sacred space in the poems and more importantly, that you always seek to find the sacred space in your life.

Blessings,
Maria G. Mandarino

© Maria Mandarino 2002

Spoiled

On the day you had called

I found the celery rotting in the Tupperware bin,

yellowish-beige, gelatinous, and caving into itself.

Just in from work, a full day of grief and aggravation,

needing to get the chicken in the oven in time for dinner.

“It’s a bad time, Grandma,” I had said.

You persisted anyway,

“When are you coming to see me?” you demanded.

I sighed.  Damn it.  Always a battle with you.

An eternity has passed since that day.

And still each time I open that Tupperware bin,

I think of you, fearful I will find rotting celery again,

relieved when I find it crisp and whole.

Guilt follows my relief soon enough.

I have a different life now, a new outlook,

some time on my hands,

and the wish that you were here now to share it.

You see, more things have spoiled in my life, Grandma.

That’s the word you used to use for things gone bad.

“It’s sperled,” that’s how you’d say it,

with your East New York accent

that used to make me cringe.

The day he left, I cried and cried.

Then I remembered

you did this too,

twice.

But it never ruined you.

“I’ve been through worse than this,”

that’s what you’d always say,

even when the doctor gave you a diagnosis

of lung cancer

with six months to live.

You beat it though.  Dying ten years later,

not a cancer cell in your body.

I don’t cry for him anymore.

I cry for your wisdom, lost,

asking you for signs to show me what to do next,

to tell me what you would do,

what you had done,

how to be strong.

But the only image I can recall is you,

gathering your patent leather purse

with the pearl clasp,

telling the white-coated doctor

that you had been through worse than this.

###

Poetry: Rising

The open spaces of nature offer the opportunity for stillness and healing.  This poem unfolded from a dream I had about a friend who is a gifted healer and a great lover of nature and God’s creation.

Rising

There is a hollow ache in me

at never having slept

under a starlit sky

as you have –

in the woods, among all

that God intended

to roam wild

and free.

There is a hollow ache too

for the grace that lives

behind eyes that burn

with wisdom and faith;

eyes like the river that sustained you,

mysterious but undeniable life

bubbling beneath a crystal surface.

You told me you camped alone once

in the mountains of Taos,

drifting to sleep to the calls of coyotes

while lightning fractured the distant night sky

and you waited to hear God’s voice.

I dreamed I saw you there, saw your feet putting roots

into red clay

that trembled and swallowed you whole.

But you were smart enough to yield to it

and then rise like the phoenix at dawn,

bold,

beautiful,

with powerful wings,

ready to save us all.

–Maria Mandarino

November 7, 2001

Blog Post: Holding The Sacred Space

The phrase “holding the space” has been gently following me for years now. And until very recently, I thought I had understood what it meant.

The first person to ever use the phrase “hold the space” with me was a friend and colleague with whom I taught in New York. He would talk about how the best massage therapists were the ones who could hold the space. Massage strokes, he said, were merely technique and could always be learned, but presence and connection were things that came from elsewhere.

Over time and somewhere between my journey from New York to Arizona, someone inserted the word “sacred” into this phrase and while I didn’t ponder it further, the phrase “Hold the Space as Sacred” just resonated for me. I liked it, and when I’ve taught massage therapy and Reiki classes, I’ve often used the phrase with my students. The space we create for others to heal is sacred.

But on December 28th, 2013, a few things changed to deepen my understanding. An old friend and former teacher was in town and we had the chance to visit.  We caught up on eight years and many miles and it was good to see him.  And while he seemed infinitely happy with life, something lingered — a hint of frustration and disappointment — and finally he asked if I had talked to his best friend recently. I said no. Not for any reason, but he had simply transformed into someone I didn’t quite recognize anymore. Life just does that sometimes. But I did believe the person I had once known was still in there.

Their friendship had been extraordinary. Tighter than some brothers are. They could bear witness to each other’s lives and support each other’s processes like no two men I knew.  These were good guys, both classroom teachers of mine, as well as soul teachers. The kind of guys who are not afraid to open a vein and share what they had learned about walking the Path. And the sincerity in their friendship inspired the heck out of me.

So when Brian had shared that it was some time since he had last heard from his friend, I was deeply saddened.  I had nothing to offer.  Except for that familiar phrase I had shared with a friend just days before. This woman also had been frustrated with a friend who had checked out emotionally. I had told her, “Just hold the space.”

And so I repeated this to Brian.  “Just hold the space, Brian.  He’s in there. And I believe in time he will come back.” He nodded and maybe even seemed a little bit brighter.

What Brian didn’t know though was that in that moment, I had made a silent decision to also hold the space for their friendship to heal. In fact, later that day, I wrote a poem entitled “Holding the Space,” a poem inspired by our conversation, which appears at the end of this blog post.

Curiously, on the evening of that same day, I had attended my first service at a new church. A beautiful, meaningful and symbolic service that moved me deeply. Particularly unique to this service are stations set up for individual worship. These stations are, quite curiously, called “Sacred Spaces.”  And don’t think that didn’t get my attention this night of all nights.

A few days ago, something prompted me to connect with Brian and ask him if he’s heard from his old friend. It turned out that the friend had reached out, quite unexpectedly and with no prompting. And their friendship is back on track, just as it used to be.

I was so joyful for both of them. And I couldn’t help but wonder about this idea of holding the space.  What IS it that we actually hold?  What IS the space?  It obviously is not something one can measure out in square footage. It is not a place where one can hang drapes and set furniture or have tea. This space, this sacred space, is an intangible thing, a thing we carry. I thought perhaps we carry it within our hearts.

But in realizing two people holding the space could cause a person to shift and return to their inner Light, well, I had to think space must be way more than a thing we carry in our hearts.

After hearing from Brian, I wondered if holding the space was actually a form of prayer. The past few months, I’ve been on a personal journey of sorts where I have come to understand that intention equals the frequency of prayer. Thus, it did not seem like a huge stretch to think that holding the space (a form of intention) was another way to pray and it was likely that this space was not just any space, but indeed a sacred space.

Just last week, I met with my pastor to discuss some concepts that were plaguing me.  And in that talk, I mentioned the notion of Holding the Space, how when I work with people, this is my approach to everything:  presence, connection, having clear intent, and extending compassion.

And, in a roundabout way, out of that discussion, came the second poem posted below, “Corridors.”

My first reaction in writing “Corridors” was that I was being redundant given the first poem. Often I write a poem, only to find in a few months I write another that is rather similar to the first, but the first was really just a test run for the real poem that was slowly gestating. This wasn’t like that though. Both poems, I felt, had merit on their own. One did not replace the other. But still, the former English teacher in me didn’t like that I had recycled a phrase. It almost seemed too easy. Yet, this phrase has been following me for so long, it has come up in so many conversations, in such different settings, that I kind of knew that wasn’t it at all. There was something more to be excavated here.  Spirit was knocking at the gate.

This morning, I sat meditation a little longer than usual. I have been needing to deepen my practice and I’ve been more than a little resistant about this, which is usually an indicator that I need to become more disciplined. And this morning, practice came particularly hard. A lot of monkey mind — things I needed to remember to do, things about which I was anxious and worried, people for whom I was concerned. Sitting this morning involved quite a bit of me needing to ask my thoughts to please step aside and wait (yes, I always say please). And finally, maybe in the last 15 minutes of sitting, the thoughts quieted and I entered the blissful stillness that is Zen.

And then,  just before the last chime rang on my Insight Timer app, I heard these words clearly:

You ARE the space.

I could feel my heart expand. I immediately wrote the words down. Because I knew more words would be coming.

A while later, I messaged a friend who just gets me, and who often holds the space for me. (Interestingly, she is a counselor who specializes in a form of creative therapy called sand tray therapy. And the basis for this therapy, as taught to her by Catholic nuns, is to “hold the space”).

I asked her, “If holding the space is actually a form of prayer, and we ARE the space, then does this mean we ARE the prayer?” She thought it might.

I went on, “So if we ARE the space, if we ARE the prayer and we are not merely saying a prayer, then we are also the living manifestation of Divine Love? Prayer in action? And that’s why holding the space can be so powerful?”

She thought I might be onto something.

My mind is still, quite frankly, a bit blown by this. And that’s not only fine. It’s perfect. It’s always best when my mind gets out of the way. My heart resonates with this. And that’s even more perfect.  That’s how I know we’re going somewhere really good.

And so , I leave this possibility with you.  Sit in stillness, breathe deeply, and hold these words in your heart:

We ARE the space.

We ARE the prayer.

We ARE the Manifestation of Divine Love.

Try them on.  See how they fit.  And if these words resonate with you too, see how you might offer something more to this world and those in it by not just holding the space, but by being the space.

Healing light,

Maria

 

 

 

© MG Mandarino 2013

 

Holding The Space

At the crossroads

of fear and desire

is great suffering.

 

Luminescence fades

as legions of angels

watch in silence

and are forced

to wait —

 

and hold the space

as sacred

 

until the light

of consciousness

returns.

 

Maria Grace Mandarino

12-28-13

 

 

 

 

 

©MG Mandarino 2014

 

Corridors

In the dark and narrow hallway

of oblivion

we forget sometimes

there are rooms too,

with doors,

which, when opened,

reveal

tall windows

of great light.

And something ancient and knowing

whispers

that it’s safe

and okay to enter

this place, this still

and sacred space

where the soul can breathe

and heal.

 

Maria Grace Mandarino

4-11-14

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