Altared Perceptions

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Altared Perceptions: December 2012- “Blessings”

Published January 6, 2013 by Susan Woodward

rock musicalI have to admit that when I first saw the drawings for December’s concept, all that ran through my mind was the jingle for “Mystery Date”.  Remember that old game?  “Open the door for your Mystery Date…”

As I thought about Blessings, though, I am reminded of so many doors that are available to me in this world.  Like the old Advent calendar I used to have with my children every holiday season, these doors were opened each week of the advent season with blessings behind each one.  All we have to do is open the door to let them in!

Doors that I would like to open in 2013: first, my heart.  I want to find the courage to open up to people and let them into my life.  I have been avoiding that for awhile as I have been working to try to get myself together.  I think I am ready to open that door now.  Maybe I won’t FLING it open, but just opening it bit by bit will be a start.   It has been a year and a half since I ended my relationship, and I am ready to allow a new one in if a knock comes at that door.  That is a blessing that I will welcome.

I also want to open my eyes more and take in more of the beauty around me.  Shutting myself away from the world for six months also closed off the beauty that I could have appreciated better.  I resolve to bring my camera back out into the light and go look at the world around me.   That is a blessing that I will welcome.

Opening my ears and listening closer to others is something else I will be doing.  As I learned in the month of humility, it’s not all about me.  I do need to be a better listener, and that will bring blessings as well.

My fourth door is the mind.  Expanding my knowledge and experience will broaden my mind, bringing me blessings that I have yet to even fathom.  There’s a lot for me to learn, and with each passing day, I give up that opportunity if I don’t open the door.  This, too, is a blessing I welcome.

Another way to look at this decor of doors is in a quote from Joseph Campbell: “When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”  I have always loved those words, and as I looked at these doors this year, I am reminded of all the blessings that have entered into my life, and all those yet to come I am willing to allow in!

Altared Perceptions: November 2012- “Humility”

Published January 6, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Another very difficult topic to grapple with…but it does flow logically out of “Honesty.”  November 1

These beautiful cloud paintings were created by Michael Pigott.  While looking at them, it makes me think of the immensity of the Universe and what a tiny blip I am in the midst of it.

For so long, my over-involvement with a huge number of activities fed my ego.  That was a hard thing to honestly admit, but it seemed that the more I did, the more I was looking for recognition.  That’s a poor excuse for being busy, busy, busy.

Of course, in the midst of trying to do it all, I didn’t see it that way; however, as I think about humility and really realize the blip on the map that I am, it does put things into a healthier perspective.

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There’s something to be said about the unity of a bunch of “blips”, though… like a single grain of sand.  All alone, the grain of sand is practically nothing, barely noticeable unless one takes a really, really hard look.  However, if several million grains of sand come together, bound with a common purpose, they can form the most beautiful sand castle.  Millions of raindrops falling together can bring growth and nourishment to others.

The majesty of these clouds fills me with awe.  The paintings seem so real that I could almost reach out and touch them, yet stretching my hands to the very sky itself reminds me again of how tiny I am in the midst of this Universe.   But as tiny as I am, I still am a PART of it. Without the trillions of tiny particles, the whole would never be.  And I am content with that.

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Altared Perceptions: October 2012- “Honesty”

Published December 26, 2012 by Susan Woodward

This was a very difficult topic for me, as I have a tendency to be dishonest with myself.   I set goals that sound great at the time, and I truly believe when I am making those self-promises that I can fulfill them…and then reality steps in.   I make myself busy, busy, busy…so much so as to avoid taking the time to take a good hard honest look at myself and my life.

Well, I un-busied myself this summer.  As I took a hard look at myself and what I want to do with the rest of my life, I found that being honest was extremely hard.   When I looked at all the busy-ness of my life up till July,  I knew that I honestly was not giving my best to everything.  How could I?  I was running here, there, and everywhere, involved in this, that, and the other thing… and most of it was to distract me from the personal work I knew I had to do.  I had to withdraw from a lot of things that once gave me pleasure, but had begun to seem more like a time-filler, in order to do a lot of thinking and a lot of examination.

I can honestly say that looking in the mirror was hard.   Helping to build the decor for the church gave me some contemplative time as we glued small mirrors to the ribbons that were suspended from above.  The central piece of the decor was a huge “distorted” mirror made of crumpled foil.  This was to represent the distorted view many seem to have when they look in the mirror.  For me, though, it was a more honest representation of what’s in the mirror… I saw someone I really didn’t like all that well.  If that is the image I see, then I had to ask myself what others honestly see when they look at me.

Folks on the Creative Team probably notice that I am pretty quiet… not because I don’t want to talk, but I was immersing myself in the whole concept as we were building it.  It’s also the one month that I actually forgot to take pictures because I was so immersed in what I was doing.

In an effort to be more honest with myself and others, I made some tough decisions about my involvement in many of my activities instead of hiding behind the many masks I was wearing.  Giving myself the time to reflect has helped me to focus on things that are truly most important to me.  Stepping back from commitments can allow others the opportunity to come forward who are more honestly able to do a better job.

Altared Perceptions: Summer 2012- Cultivation

Published December 26, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Better late than never!!

What a great theme for our summer spiritual assignment!  The creative team worked July through September building a progressive decor as part of our cultivation.  The idea was to create a growing passion-flower, beginning small and climbing up the wall throughout the summer.  It also included the plant bearing fruit.

What a wonderful idea!  I love the choice of the passion flower for the summer assignment… what are we cultivating?  How can we not only make something grow, but how can we grow ourselves?

This was a great challenge for me.  Although I didn’t write about it, I did work on my challenge throughout the summer.

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My choice for growth came through the Symposium on Mythology in Santa Barbara, California, sponsored by the Pacifica Institute and the Joesph Campbell Foundation, as well as serving on the planning committee for the Celebrating the Mythic Life Conference held in New Paltz, New York.  My work with mythology is not only limited to what I do with students in the classroom, but in my personal journey.

In Santa Barbara, I had the opportunity to share the myth-centered work I do with my students.  My hope for the presentation was to bring ideas to other educators to use in their own classes, particularly the creative writing project that we do.  Since that time in September, this has grown into an online blog featuring pictures of my students’ work, and the possibility of working with the Joseph Campbell Foundation on a 9-12 curriculum that features mythology while meeting the Common Core Standards and the PARCC framework.   Myth is such a strong part of who we are and how we relate to one another.

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As the church decor “grew”, so did my hopes for expanding upon what I consider to be very important work.  As the fruit began to appear, I started to see some of my dreams regarding both the Symposium and the Conference begin to come to fruition.

The Celebrating the Mythic Life Conference in New Paltz brought me growth of a more personal nature.  Partaking in ritual, listening to fabulous speakers, and actually immersing myself in mythology helped me to learn more about the archetypes that reside within me.  After having withdrawn from the world for some time, it was a way for me to begin to ease myself back from the cave.   It is still taking my some time to figure out what it is I really want for myself at this point in my life, but I do know that the work of Joseph Campbell will play a huge role in whatever it is that I will do!

The final stages of the decor, with its upward-stretching branches, reminded me to continue nurturing the work that I have been doing.   As I watched the vines grow, so did my spirit and my resolve to keep myth alive.

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Altared Perceptions: March 2012- “Perception”

Published March 4, 2012 by Susan Woodward

According to Rev. Scott Taylor, “Perception is not always about getting it right; sometimes it’s about seeing it all–about noticing what we’re leaving out of the picture. Stepping back and getting a wider view doesn’t always come naturally. It takes work and intention, and some assistance.”

As I gazed at this month’s altar, I have to admit that my initial reaction was disappointment.  Not that it isn’t beautiful… it certainly is.  However, what I saw seemed so simplistic that I wondered what kind of meaning I could pull from it to tie in with this month’s theme of perception.  But then, after re-reading Scott’s words about stepping back and getting a wider view, I was also reminded of a wonderful quote from Wayne W. Dyer:

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

How’s that for gaining perspective?

And so I began to ask myself about the symbolic meaning of the chosen decorations… what message could I find in them for me this month that would help me in examining my own perceptions of the world?

First, I noticed the green background.  Green symbolizes growth and new beginnings… fitting for March as we await the Vernal Equinox and the promise of Spring.  I, too, am anxious for growth… growing past my fears and allowing myself to let new buds of knowledge and experience form as I enter the next phase of my life (I turned 50 two weeks ago, and evaluating what’s next has been predominant in my mind).  The areas I would like to tend and bring new growth to are in my writing and re-evaluating what I want to do with the rest of my life.  Am I making a difference with what I am doing?  Do I still have the same passion with all the added stress of the media view of public education and the mandates coming down from the state?  How do I perceive my role as an educator?  How AM I perceived by others?  The perception of students, parents, administrators, the general media, and even the governor sometimes has me wondering how much longer I might stay in this profession.  How can I truly grow in the classroom when I often feel constrained by the pressure of conforming to producing data on state tests?   Larger classes, administrative duties, added meetings… all these are taking time away from preparing for and doing what I truly want to do: teach.  Maybe if I can find another way to perceive what is going on, I can once again sense growth not only in my students, but in myself.

For the irises, I turned to a dictionary of flower symbolism, and this is what I found:

The flower symbolism associated with the iris is faith, wisdom, cherished friendship, hope, valor, and courage.  The iris is often used in Mary gardens because the blade-shaped foliage denotes the sorrows which ‘pierced her heart.’ Iris is a Greek name meaning “rainbow,” and in mythology, this is the name of a rainbow goddess (“Living Arts Originals”).

Altering perceptions in life definitely involves the list of qualities above, so how fitting to find an iris on this month’s altar!  How I perceive myself and my role in the educational field is certainly going to include having faith in myself, having the courage to stand up for what I feel is right for students in the classroom while being wise enough to still find a way to give the state what it wants, all the while hoping that I can strike that balance effectively.  On a personal level, I feel like the flower that has not yet fully bloomed.  I am not the tight bud because I am not closed off from the knowledge of what I need to do for myself, but I am nowhere near the full blossoms either.  I am that flower that is beginning to open to this new stage of life that holds such promise of beauty as long as I persevere on opening.

The iris is a perennial, its bulbs producing flowers year after year, unlike annuals that last for only one season.  I want the changes I make in my life at this new stage to be just as on-going instead of short lived.  Also, notice that the bulb is not planted in soil, but in a dish of water.  Its roots are not anchored to one place and is therefore more mobile, able to be moved easily.  This reminds me of the detached branches from last month’s altar… able to leave the trunk yet still flourish on their own.  It’s another reminder of freeing myself from anything that binds me… including the public education system if need be one day.

The piece of driftwood at the forefront of the altar is another reminder of this.  It is wood that broke away from its source and, usually via water, made its way in the world.  At first look, it seems to simply be a dead piece of wood that serves no purpose; yet if that is true, why do so many people collect it and put it in their gardens?  It may have been worn down by time and no longer produces any new  growth, but it is still revered as an object of beauty.  Who knows where this piece of wood originated as it broke away from the tree and moved on?  Who knows what it has seen of the world?  That’s how I’d like to view myself in my old age: a piece of driftwood that managed to detach itself, travel around, and still remain an object of beauty.  For something that appears at first glance to have no use, driftwood is still perceived by many as nature’s artwork… otherwise, why would people bother to pick it up and take it home for display?

Finally, we have the pussy willows.  I again turned to a dictionary of symbolism for their meaning:

The flower symbolism associated with pussy willows is motherhood. When grown commercially, pussy willow shoots are picked just as the buds expand in spring, and can last indefinitely once dried. The branches can be put in vases or the buds can be used for table decoration. Pussy willows are one of the earliest signs of spring (“Living Arts Originals”).

Another early sign of spring, like the iris and the green background… but notice that it says that the pussy willow can last indefinitely.  That’s what I want for the changes I wish to make in my life; I want them to be indefinite, not just for a season.  As a symbol of motherhood, I am reminded of my own role as a mother, and how my love for them is indefinite… even if I someday detach myself and make my own path elsewhere.  These pussy willows have been cut from their source, yet their simplistic beauty will linger.  That’s what I want for my relationship with my children.  Whether they are the ones to uproot and move onward or I am, I want them to know that my love will always be with them.

From my original perception of simplicity in this month’s altar, I am surprised and pleased by what I have found in taking the time to explore its beauty and finding meaning there for me.  Reiterating what Wayne W. Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

Source:

“Living Arts Originals.”  2008-2011.  <http://livingartsoriginals.com&gt;.

Altared Perceptions: February 2012- “Courage”

Published February 5, 2012 by Susan Woodward

“What makes a king out of a slave? What makes the flag on the mast post wave? What makes the Hottentots so hot? Who put the ape in apricot? What do they got that I ain’t got?”

“Courage” — and that is the theme of February.

This is something I have been struggling with for quite some time and now, as I approach the golden age of fifty in two weeks, is really a good time to find my reminder of that which I seek… my courage.   I know I have it, but reminding myself of that fact seems to fall short (see my earlier post “Lessons from the Yellow Brick Road” for more).

The “altar” this month reminds me of how courageous it is to let go of our comfort zone.  The branches of the tree from last month have now broken away from the trunk and are free to find their own way.   It reminds me of how difficult breaking away can be.  Who can imagine a branch flourishing without the trunk to sustain it?  Yet these branches fly free among the moon and stars of the Heavens.   Letting go of all that we have known and “branching out” on our own is a true act of courage.  I remember what it was like for me to leave everything behind and begin a new life in Rochester where I didn’t know a soul.   It scared the hell out of me.  Like the floating branches, I felt like I had no roots.  However, in detaching myself,  I discovered a whole new life I never could have imagined.  Has it been perfect?  No.  Was it the right thing to do?  A hearty yes!

Adorning the branches are the white flowers of last month along with both evergreens and new leaves.   For me, I am reminded of how the white flowers represented the winter snow on the January altar.  Winter is a season where all seems dead.   Growth has halted as the world is at rest.  But February (and Imbolc) brings the promise of new growth, which is symbolized by the green leaves and the evergreen branches.  This reiterates the courage in the detached branches, as it takes a brave soul to suffer the loss of the old ways to make way for the new.  Death of former patterns and things that no longer suit us has to be suffered through if we are to reach the new growth that awaits us.  Yet even though we may let go of parts that no longer suit us, there will always be that which remains to remind us of our beginnings.  The birds that soar with the branches once nestled in the tree left behind.   The birds had symbolized those we loved and nourished in January, and that love does not leave us, even as we leave and take flight.

I also noticed the blue color of the stars and the ring around the moon.  For me, this is a two-fold symbol.

First, leaving our comfort zone and all we know can be sad in many ways.  When fear rises, nostalgia has a tendency to kick in and make us long for the comfortable parts of the past, even if they don’t really suit us anymore.   That’s why some people fall back into old patterns when the new ones get difficult.   From my own experience, I fell (several times) back into an unfulfilling relationship because it was easier than being courageous enough to go on alone.  Nostalgia has a way of coloring the memory.

But blue is also a color of serenity and peace.  I can only find peace within myself by having the courage to detach and follow my bliss.

In this way, the blue of the stars and the ring around the moon represent this conflict.  Although it may be sad to leave and move onward, having the courage to follow our own path is what will ultimately bring peace.

The same conflicting symbolism holds true for the blue netting that floats above the branches.  It could be viewed as the safety net that may catch us if we fall once we’ve taken flight, or it just might be the net of the past that threatens to ensnare us if we lose our courage.

As a safety net, the blue could bring us the peace of knowing that we can often count on people from the past to be there to help, even as we branch out on our own.

On the flip side, it could represent things from the past that never quite leave our memories and could trap us if we let them.

As I ruminate about my own courage and think again on my earlier post, I know that I am still looking for that physical symbol as my reminder that I do have courage.   I need and want that reminder as I venture forth so that I will no longer fall into situations that threaten to trap me in old patterns.

Altared Perceptions: January 2012- “Love”

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Rev. Scott Taylor’s sermon today reiterated the monthly theme of “Love”, but focused on how lack of self-love has led to a “numbing” of our souls in always expecting the worst in situations.

I gazed quite intently at this month’s altar as I listened to Scott’s words.   The more I heard about self-doubt, self-criticism, self-loathing, and self-defeating behaviors, the more I saw the scarcity of branches on the tree.  It reminded me of how I have written about my feelings of being disconnected and isolated.   Before the decorations were added, I would highly doubt that even Charlie Brown would have chosen this as a Christmas tree!  It must have looked bare, scrawny, and neglected before the love was added.   So many times I, too, feel like that tree must have looked in its natural, undecorated state.  One of my Mayan-sized resolutions for 2012 is to work on that feeling inside myself by letting go of fear of rejection.  If I were this tree, I would certainly feel neglected, scrawny, insignificant, and not lovable.  Too often, I DO see myself that way (ok… not the scrawny part…), but in learning to let go of my fear of rejection, I can learn to love me.

Even the trees without an abundance of branches still have something to offer.  This tree is able to provide a branch for a bird feeder to offer sustenance to others.  Like the tree in December, this one also is a gift.   In loving myself, I can see what I CAN do for others instead of focusing on my self-imposed limitations.   The hearts can symbolize not only the love that the tree has for the birds in providing them with food during the cold times, but the love that the birds have for the tree in providing that food as well as perches to rest themselves upon.   No matter how I view myself, I know that I always have the ability to give to others who don’t see the limitations that I do when I look in the mirror.

The flowers at the base of the tree are white and remind us of the snow at this time of year (well, most often at this time of year, anyway… no snow presently in 2012!).   The snow is a blanket of beauty spread upon the Earth, but most often it is viewed as a reminder of the cold that surrounds us.  But this tree offers its gifts in the midst of the cold… a place to hang the bird feeder and a place for the birds to land and rest.   And winter is a resting time.  The Earth is at rest after working hard to provide its inhabitants with the food that we enjoy year round.   We all need a time to rest after hard work… winter reminds of that.  It’s a time to recharge our batteries to get ready for the work ahead.

The heart at the top of the tree is to remind us of love… love for others, as well as love for ourselves.  The tree top is placed on the tip-top of the trunk of the tree… the same trunk that I viewed as sparse and unwanted earlier.

Again, I am only sharing what I see in this month’s altar, and if anyone would like to add comments here, I welcome them gladly!

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