Tag Archives: St. Croix

in solidarity

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So I have been spending A LOT of time this month engaged in independent introspection through my own meditation practices, in my readings and in reflection writing sessions in response to the readings Seth has assigned. I enjoyed my alone time greatly but was open to testing out the shared experience of a community spiritual gathering. I was asked to participate in at least one religious or spiritual service this month. I was happy that I was able to participate in two. The two were very different in their own right and I feel as if I could have written a blog post on each as I had very different experiences and feelings about each of them, but as Seth mentioned in his initial chapter challenge this month he wanted this chapter “to be to be more internally reflective and self-examining.” My descriptions of both events will inevitably leave out some details as I am still examining my reactions to both experiences and may be able to write more about them at another time. Here and now, I will leave you with my initial observations – excuse the lengthy post. Both experiences were intense and full; I thought some readers might find interest in the comparison.

On Island: St. Croix Virgin Islands

The day before I left St. Croix I attended a gathering called a Women’s Bush Bath. I knew very little about what this process was, how it would unfold or what it was exactly for. But it sounded like a wonderful process to be a part of and a great way to say goodbye to the island for a few months.

The event itself happens from time to time throughout the year and is organized by one or more women who decide to initiate it. This particular one took place on a full moon Sunday morning. I was invited by a new friend on the island and was told to come only with herbs, flowers and an open mind. Oh and to wear a bathing suit. The gathering was held on a beach on the East end of the island looking out to America’s only underwater national park – Buck Island. The beach was virtually empty outside of the group of about 20 women who attended. There was a very open and organic structure to the gathering, but from beginning to end it lasted about an hour and a half. Women arrived with bags of wild flowers and herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme). Each woman greeted each other warmly as they arrived and laid out their beach towels in a circle around several buckets of fresh water. The organizer reminded us as we sat down in the circle to engage with those that we did not know (someone of a different age or a different race, someone from the island or a visitor) We were then asked to prepare the bath. Each woman from the age of about 6 – 66 was asked to distribute the flowers and herbs into the waters. Each of us took our turns scattering and dunking the bright red hibiscus, the orange and pink bougainvillea and rose petals, along with a myriad of other wild tropical blossoms into the buckets of fresh water. We were asked to put our positive intentions for ourselves and others into the water with the flowers and then take a short walk away from the circle for a personal moment of contemplation. We were asked to conjure all that is not serving us anymore – look at it directly and let it go. Upon our return to the circle a few prayers of gratitude and intentions were said over the water. Each of us were asked to call on a maternal figure from our ancestry to bring support to the circle and prayers of gratitude were spoken.  Each person was asked to focus on their special skill or purpose (a word or an idea that they felt they were able to give to the world)  We all spoke that word into the circle then one by one were bathed. Starting with the youngest and then the eldest in attendance, each woman took a turn dunking coconut shells, and flower pots into the water showering the (now warmed by the sun) fragrant mixture of herbs and flowers over the heads, arms, and bodies of each participant. After being bathed, each person bathed the next woman in line. Following the cleansing we formed a line by the sea’s edge and took in the view of the island in the distance, the sound of the crashing waves and the chants of one woman singing. When all had completed the bath we brought the line into a circle and said our goodbyes to one another.

For more information about other kinds of Bush Baths check out these links:
Jamaican Bush Bath
Herbal Bush Bath

Exactly one week after the Bush Bath, I attended a very different spiritual gathering.

While Inland: Harrisburg Pa

In an effort to understand or reconnect with my childhood Catholic rearing, I returned to the Catholic Church that I attended as a small child. I had not been to a mass for at least 15 years and had not been to this particular church in 25 years. Although I have rejected the teachings of the Catholic beliefs and the structure and formalism of the religious practice, there were few things about the process that I still remembered to be comforting. My Grandfather played the organ each Sunday and the colored stained glass windows glowed with light from outside in the dark building. I wanted to see if there was still some comfort there to share in.

I arrived early in the Harrisburg neighborhood where my Grandparents lived and started my Sunday with visiting their old house. As many things are when you return to them, it was a bit of a disappointment. The house now looked very small, the willow tree I remember in the back was gone and both houses on either side were empty. Going back to the church around the corner where my Grandfather played the organ was also a bit of a disappointment. I thought I would somehow have, if not a spiritual connection, maybe a feeling of nostalgia or warm memories. What I found instead was the following:

It was a cold wintry morning (yet technically a few days past the first day of Spring) Even inside the church I found myself still shivering. I sat in the back and watched as the pews filled up with people quietly filing in. There were a few kids squirming sitting in a separated section of the church reserved for them and 3 men dressed in long white robes overseeing the service on a raised stage in the front of the room.  The wall held a large golden-colored cross with the figure of Christ nailed to a cross. The colored windows that I remembered were now dampened by new blinds that looked strangely like bars on the windows.

The service started out with a reminder and request to focus on the sins that we have all committed throughout the week. “Remember what you have done and confess your true nature” were the words of the preacher. This was followed by a story of Moses and a lesson about what love is to each of us and what is should not be. We were asked to face our truths but only in an “appropriate” context. After this homily, we were reminded to donate to the church and asked to volunteer in the telemarketing plea for donations for the church. The upcoming Easter services were also mentioned (there would be an egg hunt following mass on Easter Sunday). This was preceded the basket passing for church donations. The blessing of the gifts were then made and the body and blood of Christ were consumed shortly after by the congregation – communion. In between homily and donation requests the congregation stood up, sat down, kneeled and prayed intermittently. Songs were read and sung from the prayer books and prayers were repeated in unison after the preacher had recited them. The final message passed on before leaving was about how following the “lamb of god” would take your sins away. “Let us leave you with the mystery of faith.” We gave our handshakes of peace, there was another hymn played and I left the Catholic Church for the last time as the bells were ringing in my ears.

Want to know more about Catholic  “Mass?” Check this out and learn more if you have not been to one. Interested in Catholic Services in Harrisburg Pa investigate for yourself.

3/28/14

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pulling up roots; planting new seeds

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photographs by Grace Lichtner

At the beginning of this month I was contemplating what it felt like to be “at home” in a new place. I questioned and discussed this with many people. The response that made the most sense to me was “to be at home is to be connected”. After this month of exploring new territory, I tend to agree with this statement. Whether it’s feeling connected to the land, the water, the culture, or the people who I am surrounded by, feeling at home really does come down to the connections that I make in my immediate environment.

In these past four weeks, I, along with my housemates here, have gone through a lot of changes leaving old patterns behind and creating new ones. (in eating, sleeping, and communicating). I am becoming aware of my own reactions while also watching and observing my good friend Jim gradually build the foundation for his new physical home. Pulling up roots from one place can feel like a shock to the system, but I am learning that if I am able to branch out in new ways I will quickly regain nutrients and energy from the fertile soil around me. Studying my natural environment here on the island has helped me feel more connected. This time has offered me valuable lessons including, taking the time to nurture new seeds and making sure not to rush the growing process.

Like coral branching out we all are testing our flexibility stretching our limits and reaching for new connections. As a part of my “field guide” creation this month, I was asked to connect with and collect knowledge from locals on the island through interviews. I have been lucky enough to find the most helpful and kind individuals who have gone out of their way to help me feel at home and feel informed about the foreign terrain and culture. I am grateful for their initial guidance in my first wanderings here. My interviews with them have been informal yet informative. Through our conversations, I am learning by absorbing what it is they love and want to share from their island living perspective, leaving the role of the interviewer behind and taking on the role of the listener, observer and new friend.

My first real connection was Trisa. New friend and “on island” confidant Trisa immediately connected me to good people, good eats and great ways to access the water through a paddle board lesson and snorkel excursion.  She also connected me to near by neighbors of mine Theresa and Aaron who are also working on a house remodel project. Theresa writes her own blog offering all kinds of tips for a field guide to island living.

Ty and Adrian of Bush Tribe Eco Adventures are two other fantastic connections. Through Bush Tribe, I made my first explorations hiking and exploring. Ty also manages an amazing place called Discovery Grove where I learned much about the history, plants, and native fruits and herbs on island. Through Ty I was also able to make connections with friendly visitors to the island who then introduced me to Captain Dee. Dee takes visitors sailing and snorkeling.  Our excursion brought us to a near by tiny island for some of the best snorkeling I had ever experienced. Ty also introduced me to Dale who runs the fantastic local Sejah farm.

I really have had such little time here, not enough to fully engage in the history or culture of the island yet, but I am seeing each new connection as a seed that has potential to branch out into a whole new garden of possibilities. My “field guide” for St. Croix has barely begun at the end of this month but I am looking forward to taking my time cultivating the exploration and watching it grow.

1/30/14

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january: wild card

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During the time that I began to know Beth, she was immersed in a number of projects in Baltimore.   These included: “Speaking of Silence”, “Middle East Baltimore Stories”, and “Remington Youth Community Radio” . These endeavors centered around uncovering voices and stories that had been purposely silenced or ignored as unimportant, or they were designed to give an outlet for those who don’t normally get to share themselves.  I remember spending time with Beth and plunging into questions around how these topics and people had been marginalized and silenced.  Something that I realized about Beth, was that as she was undertaking these projects, she was forging a connection to place, which helped to create an even deeper feeling of home for her in Baltimore.

This month you have been asked to investigate your new home of St Croix and share some of the things that you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.  As you make new discoveries, you are connecting in different ways with your new environment.

For this month’s wildcard I would like to combine this exploration of your new environment, with the exploration of silence and marginalization.  As part of your discovery process you have been instructed to conduct three interviews.  During one of these interviews I would like you to try and interview a Crucian.  Along with the general questions you ask about the area that will help in completing your field guide,  I would like you to delve into some questions that will uncover something hidden within the fabric of life on the island.  This could be linked to the environment, culture, history, etc.. but must uncover something that has been  marginalized or silenced (possible examples:  crucian language and people, agricultural resurgence, cultural heritage, diversity of climate, water scarcity, bio-luminescent bays, hovensa oil refinery).  As this uncovering process helped you during your Baltimore projects, the goal is that this exploration of silence on St Croix will be a way for you to discover the depth of your new home, and possibly even uncover a creative project or interest for you there in the future.

As your field guide continues and as you use one interview to uncover something hidden about your new home, I would also ask that you take one photo per day of something that makes you feel at home there and to publish at least five of these at the end of the month on the living chapters website.    You can add short captions to each one or leave them to speak for themselves.

As a final link between home and silence: try to take ten minutes per day (you are welcome to extend the length if time allows) for yourself where you calm your mind in your new environment and just breath and relax.  I know that in previous chapters you have been asked to take on similar awareness exercises, and this is just a small continuation and reminder of that, as I know from my own life that when I am moving around and adjusting to new places, I forget to take this time for me, and have to be reminded to do so.

It is clear that there is much happening with your settlement on St. Croix (long plane rides, unfinished living space, remote roads, hindered communications and/or internet).   Don’t let this month’s chapter or additional wildcard challenge overwhelm or add difficulty to your life.  Instead, continue to adapt to each moment as you have before to see what it holds for you and how it can further your integration there.

As this is a busy time with adaptation and logistical considerations, let this also be a time of exploration, awareness and relaxation .

This chapter has set a direction and goals for you this month………but reaching the destination, as always, is not the important thing….

1/15/2014

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on “Her” island by the sea

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At the start of this new year I was ready to dive head first into island exploration, with my blank field note-book in hand, I was prepared to record – stories to hear, places to visit, food to eat, and people to meet. St. Croix is only 28 miles long by 7 miles wide. Being a relatively small island, I was sure I would have no problem creating my own field guide in four weeks time. Well its now 12 days into January and I am quickly realizing that even with an appetite for exploration, I did not calculate “Island time” into my preplanned schedule. It took us the first week of this month to even arrive on site, I should have known that it might take a little longer to settle in and branch out into exploration mode.

Unlike prior vacation visits, this time we are setting up a new home at the end of a very long and bumpy dirt road in the tropics. There are many other things that needed to be attended to first before new exploration. Basic survival was number one on the list – figuring out how to eat, where to sleep, how to get around, and how to live among a new community. Simple adjustments need to be made to understand the different, geography, climate, communication patterns, access to technology and transportation. Making all these changes in a short period of time can feel like strenuous exploration in itself. At times this past week, this initial adventuring has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But in those stressful moments its best to banish panic and doubt and simply remind myself that this is the year of letting go of past patterns and taking on new challenges. I wanted to push my comfort zone this year and this move is certainly doing it. In transition times like these there is nothing more important than keeping a healthy, positive, and peaceful mindset. The best way that I can accomplish this is by starting exploration in my immediate environment from where I am and slowly radiating outward.

The house we are living in is a beautiful construction site being put together piece by piece, day by day. It is nestled on the side of steep hill on the north side of the island close to the rainforest. The view is spectacular overlooking St. Thomas and St John Islands in the distance. The house is like an island in itself separated from the rest of the island. Even with a four-wheel drive vehicle it is difficult to navigate to and from the house to other places on the island.

With this in mind I decided to start exploring my own personal island in this new environment. The first exploration was the house itself – where will we eat? Where will we sleep? And when the construction inside home is too much where will we find refuge? Ashley’s simple suggestion of taking walks this month to get acquainted with the environment was the perfect excuse to get to know my own backyard.

My first walk upon arriving was into the overgrown garden in the backyard. I started photographing the plants, trees and flowers that I saw with every step there was something new to see and learn about. On my second outing, Grace Lichtner my new housemate and former Living Chapter’s player, accompanied me retracing the same garden path. Grace is almost 10, game for exploration and full of knowledge on plant and animal life, a perfect partner in creating a field guide. She helped me learn the names of the flowers and trees that I had photographed the day before. We made up new names for the ones she didn’t know and took notes on what we thought the plants might be good for. This time we walked further down the path than I had gone before but returned when the sun started to set and our stomachs started to growl for dinner.

Grace and both her parents, Mike and Agnes accompanied me on the third walk on the garden path. Together we went just a little bit further and discovered a star fruit tree at the end of the path as well as an opening to the road leading to the ocean below. 15 minutes later winding down a zig-zagging nearly vertical road we reached the beach for our first visit with the sun, sand and surf. We marked the adventure by collecting coral and rocks from the beach to take home to the house island.  This felt like the first accomplishment in true exploration, a bridge to the outer circle of the island and the first path of many to chart for the field guide.

1/12/14

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chapter seven

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Dear Beth,

Happy New Year! I’m excited to kick-off Living Chapters 2014-style with you in your new whereabouts of St. Croix. Knowing this short term move will help determine if this island will become your new home, I can imagine your challenge over the next few months will be to stay in the present and not get overwhelmed by questions of the future (isn’t that always the challenge?!)

You’ve become somewhat accustomed to migratory living over the last couple of years with short stints at a pool house, carriage house, boats and friends’ couches. While you never expected to make any of these places a permanent nesting ground, you found ways, especially through Living Chapters and the help of friends, to make yourself at home by being very intentional about the ways you have chosen to live. Knowing I will play a role in keeping you grounded this month as you embark on your latest adventure, I’ve been wondering how do you connect to a new place while staying connected to yourself?

I want this month to be a mindful exploration and reflection of your surroundings. Throughout January I am asking that you use your senses as well as your creative faculties to create a field guide to St. Croix. As your partner in crime I too will make a field guide for St. Paul, my recently named home that I’m in need of getting better acquainted with.

Here are the requirements:

Your field guide should include 4 maps, 6 walks, a daily written reflection, and 3 interviews. Each week you’ll share one of these things on Living Chapters. They should be accompanied by some sort of reflection (which may or may not be derived from your daily log). The daily written reflection is intended to be more of a space for you to develop a writing practice and keep connected to yourself.

After every walk I want you to make a list of everything you remember seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. I also want you to collect something from each of your walks that you can bring home into your domestic space to create a sense of place.

The interviews should all be done at your home over a simple meal that you’ve prepared with locally-sourced ingredients. The interviews should be designed so that they give you insight into some aspect of St. Croix, i.e. culture, history, food, etc. It’s entirely up to you who you choose to interview.

Lastly, I gave you a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost to accompany you this month as inspiration. She refers to each chapter as one of her maps. Her writing is beautiful and meditative. Early in the book she references a quote by the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno that I want to leave you with, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”

Have fun in St. Croix!

 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

par·a·dise

What is your definition of paradise? Have you been there? Have you tasted it, heard it, inhaled it or held it?  Does “Paradise” exist? And why do we pine for it? I’ve been contemplating these questions this week, while attempting to meditate on the north side of St. Croix, a tropical island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On this particular trip and in past travel experiences through exotic places, I often wondered if I would stumble across paradise. I listened for it in the rainforest, looked underneath coral and shells for it, went swimming under  turquoise waters looking for it and sipped down multiple fresh mango smoothies trying to fill myself up with it.  Like in meditation, I feel somewhat lost in this search for paradise. Its as if I am wandering about trying to find some kind of bliss I am not even sure exists. What is being zen? Do you feel that way in paradise? And if so how do you find paradise?

Before giving up on this quest entirely, I decided to look in one more place: The online Merriam Webster Dictionary… and there it was! Alas paradise and its true meaning(s)

par·a·dise

noun \ˈper-ə-ˌdīs, -ˌdīz, ˈpa-rə-\

: a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect

: a place that is perfect for a particular activity or for a person who enjoys that activity

: a state of complete happiness

These explanations left me a bit perplexed. How can paradise be so many things that are different and separate from one another?

So Webster is telling me this: Paradise is a PLACE, one that is so peaceful and beautiful that it seems to be perfect. Is it a place that makes one believe they are content and happy in its perfection, a place that intoxicates one with its surface beauty or the fruits it has to offer.

OR maybe

Paradise is a different PLACE for different people. It is really a place that is elusive in nature, and needs to be sought out and found in a step by step process. First by finding your individual “particular activity” or purpose then by seeking out the one and only and perfect place that will suit your purpose.

Merriam dictionary also says: Paradise is “an imaginary place or state of utter perfection and happiness”  So we have all been searching for an imaginary place of utter perfection? Did we somehow miss this definition in school growing up? I am not sure which is more difficult to track down – finding the imaginary place or one of utter perfection.

I looked a little further and found the origin of the word paradise.

“ Middle English paradis, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin paradisus, from Greek paradeisos, literally, enclosed park, of Iranian origin; akin to Avestan pairi-daēzaenclosure; akin to Greek peri around and to Greek teichos wall ”

The origin of this word seems to describe the feelings I  have personally when trying to define the word or search out this state for myself. I sometimes feel enclosed or boxed in, as if I have to follow Paradise’s prescribed notions. It was like Paradise itself had set up a boundary for me to search for something that may not exist instead of searching for and observing the things that do exist in my world right in front of me that bring happiness.

Well, where else would you go when lost in search of paradise?

Wikipedia of course: This is how it is defined there:

“Paradise is a religious or metaphysical term for a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and eternal. It is conceptually a counter-image of the supposed miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and idleness”

To me this seems like a bit more of a realistic description. Maybe its a post modern paradise?

I believe paradise can only be a place or state in which we interpret and experience individually. It is an existence that we can build for ourselves holding reality and positivity as a guide while, at the same time, letting go of all expectations of others’ definitions of perfection. It’s somewhere in the realization that we do not deserve, find or are given paradise – we create it.

So go ahead and find your own sweet spot wherever you are. Whether it’s in zen meditation, staring out the window of a car, waxing a car, playing guitar or taking 30 second videos… enjoy the process however you plan or live it out and don’t feel judged – it’s your own private paradise after all.

9/14/13

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