Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meditation: Lift up your elbows

Take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take another deep breath, filling your stomach, your diaphragm, and finally your lungs. Hold this breath for five seconds…1-2-3-4-5... And exhale, allowing the breath to exit your lungs first, then your diaphragm, and finally your stomach. Take one more deep breath, and as you breathe in, feel the energy of a misty morning enter you, supporting your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. Hold the breath for seven seconds…1-2-3-4-5-6-7. As you exhale, feel all tension leave your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. Continue breathing deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel the prickling of drying dew on your hands and face. The grass slicks wetly against your boots. A pink and lemon-yellow light peeks tentatively over the bare tree limbs of a nearby forest. The sunrise tints the lowering clouds a muted amber and salmon and then disappears behind the darkened cloud mass. The earth reverberates with strength and surety, and you relax against her as you stride forward through the mist toward your destination. The mist settles around you, wispy yet with a force almost beyond comprehension. Allow the mist to dissipate any remaining fear and anxiety as the world around you relaxes in the gray light of the dawn. You have never felt so relaxed, so secure, so calm.

As you walk through the gray mist with the green earth beneath your feet, a building begins to take shape, rising stealthily out of the fog. It is a fairly large lean-to barn, constructed from old wood and burned-out beams, uneven rocks and smooth stones. The leftovers from other buildings, some long gone, form the structure of this barn. The planks are gray from ceaseless rainy days, weathered and broken in places. Patches of whitewash cling to the recesses of the stones, allowing their virginal, natural beauty to shine. The thatched roof, however, gleams in the gray light of morning, sparkling and bright. There are no windows in this barn, but as you circle the structure, you see a golden light emanating from the open doorway. You are drawn to it and stand at the edge of the barn, looking in.

The barn is dark, so you have to wait several minutes before your eyes adjust to the diminished light. You hear a snuffling sound to your left and a scratching straight ahead. Remnants and patches of straw litter the ground by your feet, trailing thickly into the barn. To your far right, a large pile of hay rests softly against the ancient barn boards. As your eyes clear, the darkness receding, the mist lifting, you see a pitchfork leaning lazily against the wall, sticking randomly into the hay pile. The soft sound of a bleating sheep draws your attention away from the far wall and to the space directly in front of you.

You see a large, fleecy white sheep lying in a protective pen. Her eyes roll toward you with a look of pain and surprise, sleep and patience. Her stomach is distended and moves with a mind of its own. The sheep bleats plaintively and tries to get up, but a strong hand holds her down, comforting and soothing. The hand is reddened from hard work. A slight hiccup or cough, a sound made in the back of the throat, wakes you from your study of the hand, and your eyes fly to the face attached to the hand. It is twisted in a wry smile, a grin just hovering on the edges of a wide mouth.

Hazel eyes, the colour of a winter storm, tighten slightly, looking at you, taking your measure. The face is delicate yet strong, with a straight, thin nose and high cheekbones. A riot of red hair tumbles down her back, held in place by a rough, rawhide leather strap. A stray piece curls against her cheek, and the woman impatiently casts it behind her ear. She is dressed in a long, green, woollen skirt with a heavy, gray, woollen coat protecting her from the early morning chill. The coat is too big for her, as if, in her haste, she grabbed the wrong coat from the hook next to the door and didn’t have time to get another. Underneath, she wears only her white shift, with no adornments or outer bodices. She is wild and spirited, but her voice and movements comfort and soothe.

“We have been waiting for you,” she says, her voice deep and rounded, melodious to your ear. “Trixie here will be birthing a little lamb soon.” She smiles then, her hand patting the sheep warmly. The light from a lantern flickers in her eyes. “Her time is soon,” the woman continues, turning her sparkling eyes to you. Their warmth reaches into your soul, drawing you immediately into the intimate embrace of this woman who kneels, hunched on the ground, beside a birthing sheep. “Could you bring us some water from the well?” she requests, holding out a bucket to you. You nod mutely and take the bucket from her outstretched hand, retreating back into the gray-tinged morning.

Not knowing where the well was located, you circle the barn until you stumble across a thin, worn pathway leading into the woods. You decide to follow the pathway, thinking it might lead you to water. As you walk, you notice small details on either side of the path: The trembling of a drop of dew on a blade of grass. The soft sloughing of your booted feet. A simple white snowdrop flower. A sighing birch tree. And as you look, a single ray of sunlight shines down from a break in the clouds. It illuminates something on the side of the path. What is it? (pause) Stop to look and study the object, remembering it for later. (pause) This is your key to understanding your relationship to the goddess Brigid.

Having received this divine information, you find yourself at the edge of the woods. Peering into its dark, shadowy depths, you see a simple stone structure among the trees. It is a well, hidden in the depths of the darkness, stalwart and alone, life-giving and healing. Taking a deep breath, you plunge into the recesses of the forest, walking with purpose to the well. You tie your bucket to the end of the frayed rope and drop it over the side of the well, listening for the satisfying plop. The silence spins out forever. “Where is this water?” you wonder, hoping you do not have to delve deeper into the forest in search of another well. And then a voice comes to you, from deep within the well.

“Look inside the well,” it beckons in a warbling voice. It is thin and cracking, as though unused to speaking. “Look inside my depths, for they are your depths. Look inside my darkness, for it is your darkness. Look inside my heart, for it is your heart. I offer you healing and peace, comfort and cure. Trust me. Trust yourself. And look inside.” You glance over your shoulder to make sure no brigands or robbers lurk behind you. No one is there. You are completely alone except for the trees and the well and the voice. Taking a deep breath, you lean over the well and look inside. In the darkened depths of the well, an image forms - a part of yourself to be healed. What is it? (pause) The image disappears beneath the waters of the well, and the bucket floats up so you can easily grasp it.

A powerful voice says, “Drink some water and be healed,” and you do. The water is clean and crisp and cool. It slides down your throat, sweet and soft. It is liquid candy. It is springtime. It is sunshine and blue clouds and blooming flowers. It is all that is good and beautiful and innocent in the world, and for a split second, the forest darkness lifts and the light shines amid the tall trunks. “Go now,” the voice says, and you do, tripping over your feet, sloshing water out of the bucket, hurrying down the narrow pathway until you stumble into the golden light of the barn.

“Quickly<“ commands the red-haired woman next to the sheep as you walk in the door. She is crouched next to the sheep, her hands feeling the animal’s stomach. “Bring the water,” she says, “and then hold up the light.” The sheep’s upper legs have been tied to a post to keep them from thrashing and injuring herself or the shepherd woman. The woman washes her hands in the water and dries them on her stained skirt. “We’ve got entwined twins here,” the woman says briskly, easing her hands into the belly of the birthing sheep. Her gray eyes narrow as she begins, by touch, to sort out the eight legs and two heads of the baby lambs. “I’ve got to get them going the same way,” she grunts. The sheep’s belly moves fluidly with the ministering actions of the woman. “I need your help,” she says, grasping your hand quickly and lithely, snakelike in movement. She gives you no time to refuse her request. She thrusts your hand against the left side of the sheep’s uterus, placing two spindly, firm objects into it. The sheep grunts her displeasure.

“These are the lamb’s front legs,” the red-haired woman explains. “You need to keep them here, away from me but near this object.” She pushes your hand against a rounded, heavy object. “That’s the lamb’s nose,” she says, turning back to her work. You hear her muttering under her breath, talking to the sheep, to the lamb, to the forces of nature, and the faerie folk. But you cannot make out more than a few words here and there; your concentration is divided between holding steady the lamb’s front hooves and head and holding high the wavering lantern.

“Take your hand out,” the woman says urgently but quietly. You remove your hand, just as she does, and within minutes, two newborn lambs lie nestled in the hay, next to their mama. The shepherdess unties the mother sheep and cuts the umbilical cords. With steady hands, she coaxes the lambs to feed. Never faltering. Never wavering. Never rushing. Secure in her knowledge of what to do next, she cares for her animals as you stand by, amazed, touched, and honoured to be witness to this scene. You hold the lantern high with one hand, as the other drips sheep fluid on the toes of your boot.

The woman washes her hands in the water bucket and then offers it to you. You place the lantern on its hook and sit on the rough, hay-strewn floorboards. You are tired, more tired than you can ever remember being. You wash your hands in the water and dry them on a towel handed to you by the red-haired woman. As you sink down into the floor, pillowing your head on a pile of hay, the face of the shepherdess swims into view.

“By the way,” she says, grinning, “I’m Brigid. Nice to meet you.” And she shakes your hand as you descend into a much-deserved rest.

Now, take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take another deep breath, filling your stomach, your diaphragm, and finally your lungs. Hold this breath for five seconds…1-2-3-4-5... And exhale, allowing the breath to exit your lungs first, then your diaphragm, and finally your stomach. Take one more deep breath, and as you breathe in, feel the energy and the wonder of the world around you in your fingers, your toes, your legs and shoulders, even the top of your head. As you exhale, wiggle your fingers and toes. Shake your legs and move your shoulders up and down. Take another deep breath and, as you exhale, move your head from side to side. Feel the ground under your body touching every nerve ending and muscle. Hear the rustlings of the people around you. Notice the movements outside. Continue breathing. Stretch your arms out above your head. You are returning to the present, to the here and now. Continue stretching. Continue breathing. When you are ready, open your eyes, blink and focus, and sit up.

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