Realms of the Soul, May 2019

In addition to myself, several people I care about also have birthdays in May – one couple we are close to – are having their fifty-eighth anniversary. Our old dog Lucky was also born in May. Had he not finally given all of his generous heart away he would have turned fourteen this year – the impermanence of all things.

This month’s Realm is a birthday celebration of some of the aspects of my life – but I hope it will serve as an inspiration for your own assembly of personal gratitude and celebration.

The selection and emotional process of gathering and assembling objects for a Realm / altar / or whatever term you might choose, offers a unique opportunity in itself. As is the case with any creative and spiritual endeavor – the process is often more meaningful than the destination reached. The journey towards intention is frequently the gift.

This month’s Realm is assembled on a used cabinet door I found at a Good Will store and that I embellished with a pair of wooden strips on its underside. The strips were thick enough to elevate the door from a surface. At a total cost of 2.99 (we had the four anti-scratch pads in a junk drawer) and with a time investment of about 15 minutes, it will make a good display vehicle for any number of things from a dish of food to a vase of flowers.

The candles (again all found at yard sales or in thrift stores for one to four dollars each) represent the kind of the light that I would imagine being emitted from a birthday cake for a person my age. Once randomly arranged on the ‘tray’, their sizes, heights, shapes, and luminescence became a sanctuary for the objects and the symbols of this month’s Realm.

My oldest daughter’s birthday follows mine by three days. Despite her yard being frequented by hungry deer, she loves to garden and she gives us roses from time to time – those that have survived a night of foraging noses. The rose in the vase is a symbol of our thanks to the universe for the blessing of her presence in our lives.

Continuing on a botanical bent, I buy packs of wildflower seeds. I scatter the seeds in random places along walks I take – for example – where bulldozers have torn away from the lunch counters of bees and the wedding beds of butterflies. In this month’s Realm the presence of the dish of seeds lifts my spirit into the breeze of the images they conjure – flowers, bees, and butterflies – returning life perhaps – next spring – to what is now barren ground.

On my 50th birthday, my wife and friends surprised me with the gift of a ride in a 1930’s bi-plane flown by a stunt pilot – one of those gifts, that in memory, must soar through the skies of all future birthdays.

I have a jar of “scree” – I call it. For most of my adult life I have picked up tiny bits of gravel, pieces of sand, plaster, chips of masonry, scree from mountain tops, rocks from railway beds and train stations – everywhere I have traveled, walked, ran, and sat – all carried home folded in scraps of paper that were tucked away in my wallet, a backpack, or a suitcase. I’ve collected sand and pebbles from beaches in Hawaii, Canada, England, France, and Spain. I’ve picked up gravel and tiny rocks from mountains and rivers, and pebbles from the streets of Paris and the shores of Cape Cod; small bits of flaked masonry from ancient castles and pinches of dirt from the gardens of Kings.

I’ve kept the “scree” in a jar – filled it over the years a grain, a pebble, a piece of shell at a time – filled the jar with memories that I trust my family will someday scatter in the wind with what will remain of me.

It’s too ambitious for most to people to collect a sizable amount of scree “a grain, a pebble at a time,” but any amount will do; a pinch of sand from a that next trip to the beach, a couple of pebbles from an upcoming walk along a river, a flake of mortar from the crumbling path of a favorite garden you’ll be visiting – small bits and pieces of time and experience; invisible and underfoot to others – but of value to you.

I have a collection of marbles, gifts from friends and a few from my own childhood. Their presence in the Realm this month is an intent to acknowledge my gratitude for all relationships in which I have found love, support, and encouragement.

On the first of May, I found the hummingbird nest, long abandoned, under a shrub I was pruning. It reminded me of the words and images I experienced that floated around me at some point during the cardiac arrest I had nine years ago. “Shred the poems and set them free, out across the prairie so the wild birds can catch them in their beaks and make nests with words like “Please.”* For the gift nine additional birthdays, I look at the nest and find myself in a state of gratitude for which there are no words.

On a beach in the south of Spain, where I hoped to find a shark’s tooth like my wife and a friend had, I found instead the clay remains of a building block of some kind. It resembles a primitive representation of an animal who has a gigantic spirit in its body that it carried up from the sea and into my life. Off from my desk – where its hours are now spent as a paper weight – it’s placement in this month’s Realm is a tribute – along with a small vial of his hair – to Lucky whose spirit was also as big as his body – Happy 14th Birthday – old pal.

In another vase (all vases used and purchased used for under 3.00) is a promissory note of intent that I wrote to myself. I won’t look at the note again for 6 months when I will come across it and will be able to ask myself, “How are you doing at this promise?” At month’s end, I’ll put the vase on a shelf where we keep Christmas decorations; a good place to put notes to yourself whose messages you want to be reminded of later in the year.

The center vase was left empty as a representational nod to the unknowable future; an unknown future that exists in the light of the present and among those symbols representing some of the gifts that life has given to me.

Find a used cabinet door, put some strips of wood under it, and gather objects and symbols on the top. Write a promissory note to yourself. Tuck it away where it will be waiting to be found. And remember – our imaginations – like good books – can always take us to memories and places that our feet can no longer travel. And remember too, while looking into a mirror – that every birthday is a gift and that your life is the remaining vessel that carries forth the light of all of the beings you have loved.

*words discovered to have come from lyrics written by Jennifer Warnes.