sacred places and stardust

There are many sacred places along the journey through grief. One of the them is the body, but I’ll build to that.

Land is precious. Especially land full of trees in the fall, when everything is changing so beautifully. I’ve always loved fall most of all the seasons, the season of my birth and of new beginnings. For much of my life this was the time when I would be landing in a new place, new school, new community. As a child in a military family we often moved in summer, so fall would be a time of seeing who I was in a new place. How would this place and these people receive me, a precocious child who challenged authority, loved approval and wanted to create everything anew?

Land always received me well.

I remember landscapes – German forests, Georgia swamps, a low flat Kansas field between our backyards and the big gates behind which I later learned Leonard Peltier was imprisoned, the dried up riverbeds and magical desert lawns in Texas, the sparse trees held in concrete in Brooklyn, the dirty active water between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty, sky fetish beauty in every direction in the South Pacific, the white sands of Tulum, the lush green hills of rural Japan and the Big Island and Southern Africa. Changing conditions, diverse beauties – it is an outstanding planet. Each of these places are locations of my growth and places where I left part of myself behind, skin shed.

Lately I have been shedding self in a few places.

In Detroit I have been letting go of a certain urgency that permeates crisis, that can make everything feel very important. People ask me how I am responding to the crisis in Detroit, and I want to say: by loving it, very slowly, as it is. It isn’t easy. I am growing a capacity to see a longer arc of time in this city, these communities which are engaged in basic battles, that is, battles over the most basic human needs. I am growing a capacity to be visionary even when there appears to be no time for looking ahead.

In rural Minnesota my unborn little relative is now part of the land, the wind, the dirt, the birch stand and the pond, the trail through the woods, everywhere. I am growing my skill in grieving, my understanding of the importance of impermanence.

I am realizing the humility required to be stardust. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just the truth. We suffer, we die, we control only how much beauty and joy and laughter we can seek and let in. We are temporary, first and foremost.

This cosmic season has been all about grief and letting go. It feels like there is so much death and transition being pulled forward by these eclipsing or retrograde celestial bodies which don’t know our names but shape our lives. It’s terrifying to realize the insignificance of my impact, my pain, my grief, and my ability to protect those I love. This doesn’t mean don’t try, give, effort, extend. It just means I have to be less attached to everything, be of the world without clinging and grasping.

This is theoretical, right now my knuckles are pale with the grip I have on all the things I want to love forever.

It helps to look at the truth of what I can and can’t protect. I am concluding that I can’t protect anything except my dignity and my capacity to love. And that is a lot, that is worth fighting for, that is a life’s work, against all the odds and expectations and the strong arms of the moon and the playful fuckery of mercury.

What gets me through, always, is space. I meditate as if I am floating in space, the Milky Way somewhere far behind me. I remember that I am just one body of billions, hurtling through space on a body in orbit amongst a trillion gazillion other bodies, much larger, much smaller.

What is random is not personal, even the most beautiful and sacred experiences – it is the whole massive universe that is precious, not me specifically or especially. It is all of existence that is worth the attention of prayer and intention, not my singular and most likely myopic concern. That comforts me, being a fragment of a sacred existence.

Then I can pull all of that scale into my understanding of myself. I am stardust, the baby is stardust, Charity is stardust, Grace is stardust, Sheddy is stardust, Blair is stardust, Papa is stardust, Grandma Brown is stardust, and so on. This is my stardust litany.

What does it mean to be stardust? The sacred place I am longing for is right here, in this body so briefly available to me, accessible through pleasure, chanting, storytelling, healing, dancing and noticing this skin I am in. I am of the celestial whole. When I see my flesh and bones as a source of information, self-love and curiosity become inevitable.

Fragile bones and individual oceans, with memories of stardust spiraling through us – could we be more beautiful? More sacred? More capable of the grief and love required of the living?

Octavia taught us to pray working, to let our work be sacred practice. I am holding these words as my life work continues to challenge me completely, to feed my human curiosity in the face of human terror. I cannot know or understand it all. It hurts my heart, mind and body to pretend I know much of anything.

And, we are stardust. And, each one of us is the sacred place.

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