October 15, 2013

Gazing into the Unknown

"Happiness is not forcing the sun to shine, 
but letting go of that which blocks the light."
~Stephen and Ondrea Levine

Willpower . . . we use so much of it on our quest to obtain what we want that oftentimes willpower is what keeps us from receiving the best outcome for ourselves. If I see a road before me, tunnel vision can help rid me of distractions, but it can also keep me from picking up on the subtleties of data that can enhance my experience of traveling through life. Here's a personal example, where my stubborn focus and awareness of only one thing instead of the whole came to teach me to have 
gaze instead of a stare.

For years I have been typing away at a novel, researching the occupations of the characters and studying cultural differences between America and Italy, weaving in highs and lows into the plot. But, I began the story with the end in mind, which motivated the passions the characters displayed throughout. I clearly saw the conclusion before the first chapter was even written. Now, many times writers can do this fluidly, so this is not necessarily "writers' sabotage." But in my case, the strict focus on the closing scene repeatedly short-circuited me, diffusing the flame that was supposed to guide me like a teacher throughout the story. I found I wasn't allowing the spontaneous elements of the story--such as arguments, additional plot tension, humor, a new character entering and shaking things up--to flow. With so much willpower and determination to get to the fixed end scene, I had actually burned a hole in the proverbial pages with my harsh stare instead of creating a warm glow with my gaze at the big picture.

So, in order to get my heels out of the dirt and let my characters' destinies be open to a myriad of possibilities, I "put away" my closing scene. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe, like things in life, I'll be pleasantly surprised that what I thought I wanted wasn't the right fit, and my willingness to release my willpower and open myself toward the unknown, unplanned future is really the serving the highest good for my characters . . . and, speaking personally, for myself.

February 12, 2013

Fleeting Frost Weed

"Trash bags in the woods!" I thought to myself. I saw about a dozen similar images like the one above scattered on the trail one cold, wintry morning. It looked like someone had just let loose of plastic bags and let the wind carry them away to eventually settle on the forest floor, wedged between shrubs and sticks and whatever green ground cover survives the winter months here in the South. I stopped, surprised at the volume of supposed trash. I mean, one bag would be "tolerable," but a dozen or more? Nope! Not good for mankind. I don't actually pick up trash when I'm running; I just get annoyed by it. And that's not good either. I realized I should probably act on this one, let my conscience kick in and not just my criticism and annoyance at other people's poor decisions, as the trash just seemed so irreverent out in the stillness of the early morning in the woods.

I walked closer to one of the white "bags," and when I reached to pick it up, it melted in my hands! It was nothing more than delicate, icy ribbons of layered patterns and folds! These were not trash bags strewn in the woods at all. These "now picturesque," white, ghostlike sculptures were the beautiful phenomena called frost weed, a perennial herb that grows in wooded areas and has a thick stem that holds a plethora of water. When the first freeze comes, that water bursts out of the stem and produces white, ribbonlike, one-of-a-kind designs that . . . well, can resemble plastic bags. Frost weed only remains in its icy state for a few hours, then the morning sun or rising temperatures melt away the frosty designs, and all traces of ice ribbons disappear. I know this because I came back later with my "good" camera and all the frost weed had melted within two hours of seeing it that morning.

Just like the frost weed, sometimes I have felt misjudged and misrepresented. I have felt that I put out my best efforts of love and beauty to others in my actions and intentions, but the reaction was not what I had hoped for. Ever felt that way? We all hold true value. But people disappoint us. Our gifts to this world are so unique, just like each spiral and fold of the ice patterns that burst forth from the stem of the frost weed plant when it can't hold its contents in any longer. When we have a vision or idea or a new version of ourselves to offer the world, we rarely get the accolades we are anticipating. Rather, it's more like an accusing stare that implies, "How can you be so . . . ?" But if we are in tune with our life's mission, and God's guiding force in our life, then we know to "Stay in this place, until the current of the story is strong enough to pull you out," as the poet David Whyte says in his poem "Coleman's Bed." We remain as steady as we can on our divine course until people around us recognize the beauty and gifts we are offering and take a closer look. Suddenly we are not misunderstood. Suddenly we are not mistaken for the plastic bag littering the woods and are valued as a unique but fleeting moment of impact and beauty when taken a closer look at. And sometimes we don't wait on others to validate ourselves; we get to the point where it's enough to feel it and live it from the inside out. To positively identify with our own uniqueness. We believe in ourselves again, free from outside approval.

"Stay in this place, until the current of the story is strong enough to pull you out." Powerful words. We often have to sit in our aloneness until our outer story catches up with the inner life that is rich with uprising force and momentum. The other "players" in our life story (parents, children, spouses, lovers, bosses, friends, and even different parts of our own self) keep the "current" of our life stories moving, but at the pace that is governed ultimately by God's unique design. We cannot control the timing of the current or the lens with which others choose to see us. They are on their own journey as well, learning their own lessons just the same.

Now I anticipate frost weed every winter and am often not up and out in the woods early enough to catch sight of it. Therefore I only see it here and there. But I get a rush of pleasure when I do come upon it because not everyone sees this plant in action: forced by the cold temperatures to "create" beauty when it would be so much easier to stay warm and "in tact." Neat and tidy. Boring . . . but safe. I'm willing to let go and risk the cold forces of winter moving me (moving the current of my story) into a unique beauty instead of the warm lull of safety that an unchallenging life offers.

November 6, 2012

In the Dirt I Write . . .

Surrender tree

The Surrender Tree
opens me to what I cannot see . . .

As I write in the dirt that
supports its roots:
I release my logic,
my will,
my need to know,
and trust that my small act
of faith,
of letting go,
will create beauty and life
more wild than my imagination can dream.

Looking around,
I see that I am alone.
My ritual is guaranteed.
Today is another day
to speak my surrender
into the air,
while the tree bears silent witness
and keeps my secrets
to itself.

Walking away,
I look back at the tree,
then the ground.
I envision the words, like offerings,
stirring in the dirt,
under the small stones and branches
I’ve laid upon them,
actively in dialogue with
for me.

I cannot communicate the depth
of what my surrender means,
because even I do not understand it.
But the words I’ve spoken out loud
and set into the dirt
by the base of the tree
make me

© 2011 by Jenna Love

This poem came from a ritual I created at a time in my life where nothing I could "do" was changing anything in the physical world around me. My deep need to make things and situations turn the way I wanted, in the time I wanted, only left me frustrated, disappointed, and even a bit faithless in my spiritual journey. I'm naturally drawn to trees because to me they represent groundedness. Their root systems are complicated, entwined, far-reaching, and adaptable. The trunk and branches grow toward the light and seek higher awareness.

Notice in the picture how this beech tree's bark has been carved into by people who have left an initial or a word, a marker of an emotion, a record in history. Well, I wanted my history to be more private, subtle, just between me and God. I wanted to place my words and symbols in the ground right at the base of the tree, as if they would somehow penetrate the soil and become buried, go underground and emerge again in a new, enlightened form. I was seeking for my grief and frustration and hopes to die and be transformed.

Many times a week I performed this ritual. I also placed special rocks I collected, favosite coral fossils to be exact, on the dirt. I wanted to take the fossils home because the coral had become crystalized and they were really beautiful and rare. But leaving them at the tree was like another offering, to go along with my words and symbols in the dirt, to give away the things I needed to surrender: thought patterns, expectations, desires, fears.

One day, though, I brought a stone with me to the tree, which I had recently bought, called chiastolite. It is a stone noted for its distinctive cross-shaped, black graphite inclusions against a brownish background. Symbolically, I connect with the cross symbol for Christian representations, and carrying it with me was a positive reminder of discovering my life mission, realizing that the path to fulfilling it would not be easy. It would require a sacrifice. But in the sacrifice there is the promise of a kind of death that only leads to transformation and the promise of something better. To me, Jesus and the cross is relevant to me on more than just the level of how He suffered for us. It is also a prophetic announcement to all of mankind that our life is a journey that will require a time of coming to terms with our mission, a wrestling with God and ourself (and even bargaining) to possibly have some other option than what we know is our path. Then there's a coming to terms with whatever lies ahead, not knowing for sure where the journey will lead but having a surrendered faith that gets you on your knees and in the dirt of your life for a while, wondering if you heard the calling correctly because it sure doesn't feel comfortable. Next comes some real pain. The death of the old self, the old thought patterns and expectations and beliefs of how you thought your life would be. All gone. Done. In the dirt ready for transformation.

Then some time has to pass. That time is different for everyone. For me, usually things do not transform overnight, but require months and years to bring certain situations full-circle. God is really not concerned with how long we spend in a death/transformation cycle; He's concerned with the outcome, the change it produces on the other side.

When transformation and restoration occur, there is a great respect for the process that was required to enter this new territory of change and rebirth.

But back to the chiastolite stone I carried with me one day to the tree . . . I really didn't want to leave it there, buried in the dirt, but knew symbolically I needed to. I scooted some dirt around and then suddenly it fell deep into a hole an animal had dug, so deep that I panicked that it was out of my reach. I tried to retrieve it, but it was long gone. Just like everything in my head (my worries, my fears, my longings and expectations) that needed to slip away, the rock with the cross on it went first; it led the way for my personal surrender.

I felt a little shocked that the chiastolite was gone so suddenly and was so out of sight and reach. But it confirmed my need to stop obsessing about what I need to leave behind, to just do it once and carry on. Trust that doing it once with certain faith is better than doing it daily with no faith. So, I let go.

About two months later I was at the tree, snuffeling about the dirt, and as I moved some leaves I saw the chiastolite right there on the surface of the dirt. Just right there in plain sight! Not underground in the pit of darkness. Simply there for me to pick up without having to search for it. It was odd, really, to have so much time and weathering occur over the two months---and the area is on an incline. I never expected to see that rock again. I felt it had been given back to me. It was okay to take it home. Because I didn't look for it and dig it up and chase after it, it rose to the surface in its own time. Right then, I realized the clarity I sought in my life would probably follow this same pattern.

For the first time in a long while, I felt that my acts of surrender at that tree were heard all along. That not one grief cry, faithless moment, plead, petition, or longing had gone out to oblivion. Though nothing had, in fact, turned a corner in my life or had really changed or come full-circle yet, I knew that I was heard and that I was told to keep enduring. The chiastolite cross stone was given back to me as bread for the journey, you could say. An offering to ME this time. A reminder that endurance builds the soul's stamina for the next stage of the journey.

Endurance is a teacher.
Patience and higher understanding are its gifts.
As long as we resist the path we do not want to traverse,
we cannot embrace endurance
as it is meant to work in us
and change us.

May you speak your surrender like a mantra today, then let it go.
May you write words and symbols in the dirt as Jesus did, then let them go.
May you believe in the grace of endurance and the grace of restoration.

November 2, 2012

The Courage to Choose

"To have courage for whatever comes in life
---everything lies in that."
St. Teresa of Avila

I was at Fort Pickens Gulf Islands National Seashore this summer and was amazed at the contradictory sight of present-day, undisturbed beach and an old U.S. military fort built in the early 1830s. It was originally built to defend Pensacola Bay and its navy yard, and is one of four forts built in the South that was never occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War (1861-65). I did wonder who was held captive there, though, and discovered that Geronimo, a leader of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe (Native American group from the Southwest), was held at Fort Pickens as a prisoner of war in October of 1886 for seven months while his family was held in another location (Fort Marion, now renamed Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL). The doors in the picture above are at Fort Pickens, and it is likely Geronimo was inside one of these, paying his price for the freedoms he sought, which took the form of fighting against Mexico and the U.S., who wanted to expand into Apache tribal lands.

I look at these doors and they seem so thick, heavy, impenatrable, and if I was inside by force, as a prisoner, I just might have the will to fight, the will to live, knocked right out of me. But when there is a greater force driving someone, such as Geronimo's fierce loyalty to his tribal culture, often a courageous and daring spirit emerges that is willing to go the distance, no matter the end result. It is noted in history that Geronimo did come to embrace Christianity in his later years while still honoring the spirituality of his culture. Somehow, through his struggles, honor code, pain, and fighting, he still was open to the Spirit speaking to him and not shutting off his divine connection just because life got challenging.

These doors of uncertainty loudly echo the words of St. Teresa of Avila to me, "To have courage for whatever comes in life---everything lies in that." So many times I am faced with either looking at doors, which represent choices not yet made, or I am stuck inside doors, which represent the choices I have made and wish to improve upon or even change entirely. It takes courage to find where the keys are within myself to unlock and enter or unlock and be free. Where does one get this guidance that can make or break one's life course, or relationships, or careers?

Below is a poem I wrote to help me through this process of tapping into inner knowing. I hope this blesses you in a way that leads you to trust when you receive guidance.

The Understanding

I understood
the truth of my soul,
the voice of my ever-patient angel.
I understood.
But I was faithless.

The signposts pointed to a direction
I did not want to go.
I felt the tap,
then the pull,
then the push.
I was faithless in the free-fall.
I was rebellious in the resistance.
I pretended to prefer soul dissonance.
But all along I understood.

The new direction before me glowed and pulsed.
It held both the flame of destruction
and the warmth of the womb, ready for rebirth.
This paradox made me
so I chose the familiar icy path instead.
I remained
for a long time.

But I knew I could not hang on to life

I understood.
But I was faithless.

Life repeated itself in weary patterns.
Reminders that I was still
feigning fulfillment.

My God, my angel,
how patiently they persisted:
opening doors of hope,
whispering words in my heart,
speaking through ancient earth formations,
guiding me through dream scenarios,
and connecting me with like-minded soul friends.

I understood
what was taking place
all along.
Finally, I got too tired
to resist.

 My free-fall became a welcome letting go.
And in the silence of the wind that cradled me
as I went down,
I began to loosen the tight grip on
my expectations
my desires
my fears.

As I descended I became lighter,
which surprised my faithless heart.
Feeling lighter,
faith then filled me.
Its weightless energy drew me up,
overpowering the force of my free choice,
which had allowed me to go down,
into the moment of my greatest
with myself
to let go
of it all.

I knew I was safe.
I felt my angel near.
I surrendered to the moment.
I surrendered the rest of what I held on to
that weighed me down.

And I understood.

I always had.

© 2011 by Jenna Love

October 31, 2012

St. Anthony

This picture was taken 400 feet underground in a Tennessee cave. Amidst the dark depths, a wishing well was started some years back as visitors were drawn to the small, constant pool of water. When we see water, often we are reminded of movement, fluidity, life, and healing. These coins are like offerings, signs of hope from those who travelled far beneath to move upward toward something better and more life-giving. This wishing well was a spectacular, glittering presence in a dark underground world. When I came upon it I was reminded of a poem I wrote about soul retrieval, and how St. Anthony is associated with helping us retrieve that which was lost, stolen, or misplaced. I believe our souls can't ever really be lost, but we can feel so disconnected from ourselves that we need intervention from a higher Source to reconnect and reunite and "find" ourselves again. This poem is a representation of the metaphorical "retreival" of my soul when I finally wasn't afraid to make the journey down in order to come up again. Note the word "retrieve" means "to get back again", "rescue", or "recover". 

St. Anthony

so I must be alive.
But my shallow breaths
match the shallow depths
where my soul could not survive.

yet I search for my soul.
But where does one look?
There is no instruction book.
And my life feels out of control.

St. Anthony, hear my plea.
My soul I need to retrieve.
St. Anthony, illuminate the way.
And may the angels around me stay.

My hope is not in vain.
I breathe deep and slow,
intuiting the way to go,
knowing I must cross harsh terrain.

though nothing is yet found.
My soul floats on the air,
waiting . . . somewhere.
And I seek it like a bloodhound.

St. Anthony, hear my plea.
My soul I need to retrieve.
St. Anthony, illuminate the way.
And may the angels around me stay.

is the place I must go.
Seeking the eternal ember of light,
hidden deep within the night,
I feel the nearness of its glow.

the ember’s heat reaches me.
My eyes gaze upon a vision:
a spiritual collision
of who I am and what I can be.

St. Anthony, hear my plea.
My soul I need to retrieve.
St. Anthony, illuminate the way.
And may the angels around me stay.

a hand extends out toward me.
When it touches my face,
I feel calmed by its grace,
and my eyes close in reverie.
A strong hand now in mine.
It’s pulling me
from the chaotic debris,
allowing my senses to realign.

In front of me he bows.
Holding a crescent-shaped bowl,
St. Anthony returns my soul,
and all I can ask is, “How?”

to one much wiser than me.
One who heard my distress,
and found me worthy to bless.

Copyright © 2012 by Jenna Love

June 7, 2012

To Freeing the Caged Bird Within . . .

This poem is written to all of those who live in self-captivity.
Remember: You hold the key to releasing yourself from old patterns, beliefs, and the bondage that keeps you from living your authentic life. The key is always within reach, just as in the picture above . . . sometimes we just don't expect the help to come from ourselves . . . we wait on someone to bring us out of our misery. Look around, pay attention, and take control of your path!

red scarf

Following the trail with obedient feet,
every day I make the same groove
in the dirt
while my eyes scan the abundant life around me
outside of the manmade path.

Frostweed sprouting on a hillside.
Hollowed-out tree trunks.
One red leaf swinging on a branch,
unique in its ability to hold on, though it is now winter.
All of this is just out of my reach . . .

The area off the path holds a secret
I’ve been too narrowly focused to understand,
because this path I walk is dull.
This dirt is dry.
The tree roots threaten my ankles.
New life doesn’t emerge here.

But my eyes see life over there, in the valley.
And over there, where rock and water meet.
And over there, where the red leaf still clings, triumphantly.
But I was told to stay on the path that was created
for those who enter the woods.

It’s safer, I’m told.
It’s easier to walk on, I’m told.
It’s respectful to the woods and animals, I’m told.
And I’m used to being blindly obedient.
But . . .

This path I walk is dull.
This dirt is dry.
The tree roots threaten my ankles.
New life doesn’t emerge here
on this worn-out, manmade path.

My focus is narrow, like the trail.
I’m daily kicking up dust, creating clouds of confusion.
This temporary blindness is causing
                 yet a determination
                                            for something else
                                                                         over there.

As my determination builds,
I gaze upon a divine omen.
It is red.
It is long and winding through a pile of leaves
off the trail.

Its twisting shape beckons me to move toward it
and I find myself swaying and moving,
like I haven’t done in years,
feeling happy and alive.

My feet stop at the threads
of the bright object
rising out of the leaves
like an out-of-place red vine

I look down.
It is a red scarf.
Yet its abandonment has saved me from my own.

Its hopeful red energy
and billowy movement under the leaves
fills my mind with future possibilities
I had never considered.

How can this object have such an effect on me? I wonder.
Is it because it escaped its tight hold on the traveler’s neck
who fervently kept to the path?

Is it because I admire its fluid escape into
the area off the path where life is
interactive and wilder,
holding all the potential I need
to have hope in feeling alive again?

In feeling courageous enough to get off the trail
and walk an unpredictable, curvy terrain
that restores wholeheartedness and wonderment?

I look around and I am eight yards away from
the dull, dry dirt of the trail.
I smile and keep moving farther away from it,
with the scarf loose in my hands,
blowing in the wind.


Guiding me toward my own freedom.

© 2011 by Jenna Love

June 6, 2012

The Grace Prayer

Grace, to me, is receiving the power and blessing of Spirit as I relinquish control and choose to let a higher power move through me so that I am more receptive to the blessings that will enrich my life, mind, and spirit. The above pictures of the rock towers were taken on the high point of a hiking trail. Many people build a tower in this place, and it always gets knocked down by wind and rain (and possibly rambunctious kids!). The towers are always uneven, wobbly, and not necessarily beautiful, yet the fact that people get inspired to build them, and even add a rock or two to those already built, shows me that humanity as a whole has a desire for upward movement, to get their hands on the ground, pick up a rock, and take that first step to build something that represents effort, hope, and balance. I believe those who build these towers experience a moment of grace that gets them "out of themselves" and connected to something that visually affirms God will help with the structure and building of their life. This grace is available, all the time, even on the day the rock tower falls, because it gives another hiker a chance to be graced with the inspiration to "think big" again.

God, give me the grace to clearly know what it is you would have me know today.

God, give me the grace to see clearly what it is you would have me do in this world today.

God, give me the grace to be patient with the uncertainties in my life that cause grief and panic and the illusion of separation and rejection.

God, give me the grace to know when to open my life in a new direction and and seize an opportunity you have put before me.

God, give me the grace to let go of what I no longer need to cling to.

God, give me the grace to embrace the present moment and not wish for the future to arrive before I am ready for it.

God, give me the grace to accept what I cannot control, specifically the actions and choices of others.

God, give me the grace to love myself and treat myself with the utmost respect.

God, give me the grace to believe that I am safe and my life is divinely guided and protected no matter what situations I face.

God, give me the grace to know I am worthy of a peaceful and sound mind.

God, give me the grace to be comfortable with uncertainty.

God, give me the grace to not feel cheated about things that have happened to me.

God, give me the grace to not live in regret or bitterness.

God, give me the grace to surrender what I hold so tightly to. Let me trust that the act of letting go makes a path for what is mine to come to me.

God, give me the grace to keep my spirit in present time.

With Gratitude . . .

May 5, 2012

Love Is Where You Find It

I have made a hobby of collecting heart-shaped rocks for many years, so I expect to see them. What I've not expected to find was a rock like the one above, with a heart-shaped opening. This has become one of my favorites now because of the "unexpected" uniqueness, yet it still has the common heart-themed thread.

In my life I often get sidetracked by how I think things should be. When the expected things in life show up, I cancel out all other things that come my way because I am satisfied. Why bother to look for the ways life could surprise me? I often think. This stale philosophy reminds me of the saying that we were not born to merely survive; we were born to thrive. This "open" rock reminds me to be open to the unique things that show up in the periphery of my life and bring them to the center of my vision for a better observation. Often what I tend to overlook will actually harmonize with my life goals and plans, which ultimately leads me toward a state of thriving.
"It is not inertia alone that causes the unspeakably monotonous and unrenewed human condition to repeat itself again and again. It is the aversion to  anything new, any unpredictable experience, which is believed to be untenable. Only he who can expect anything, who does not exclude even the mysterious, will have a relationship to life greater than just being alive."                             
Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

May 3, 2012

A Life of Balance

I came upon these large rocks in a dry creek bed very unexpectedly. It was early morning, right as I was beginning my run, and I stopped in a moment of awe and respect for the artist who skillfully created the display of balance. The rocks are large, if the pictures don't give that impression. Strength was needed to position most of them, and a knowledge of engineering, I would imagine. But what was most impressive to me was that as I looked at the various states of balance, I entered into a beautiful silence and state of peace within myself. I began to feel grounded, and the faithless heart that I awoke to that morning believed that maybe the impossible was really possible. Maybe the challanges that lay before me just needed a resting place, a stillpoint. Maybe I needed to stop doing and thinking and worrying and just BE STILL long enough to clear the clutter from my mind and allow God to give me strength and a feeling that everything in life does balance out . . . eventually.