Eyes on the Conductor

crows and willows

Every evening, one hour before sunset, the crow migration begins.  From my living room chair, perched on the sixth floor, I watch.  In groups of ten to twenty the birds fly past my window en route to their nesting grounds in Bothell, north of Seattle.  They fly to the wetlands on the University of Washington campus.  Other groups make their nightly pilgrimage from the Skaget Valley south to Bothell. They choose this place because the branches of the willow trees make noise when owls land on them, allowing them a safe night’s rest.

Last summer I made the pilgrimage to Bothell at dusk to take in this phenomenon. Scientists estimate that ten thousand crows congregate here. Take it from me. At least ten thousand. See the video below to get a sense of it. The sky became opaque and the air carried raucous, deafening cries. It takes a spirit of adventure to immerse oneself in the midst of them. Shortly after dark, as if a conductor had given a signal, all noise  and movement ceased. Peace prevailed in the willow trees down in the wetland. The next morning I watched groups of ten to twenty crows fly by my window, on their return trip to their day jobs.

How do they know? What tells them when and where? Is it in their genetic code? Why is it such a community venture? I don’t know. Scientists have some answers. PBS has an amazing documentary about experiments with crows by University of Washington scientists. I have come to respect and treasure these highly intelligent tool makers and profilers. But what I want to ponder here is the spiritual truths and practices crows can teach us:

The crows teach me the truth about our spiritual genetic codes. Instinct is the essence and intuition its vehicle of expression. Our souls instinctively tend toward what is good, and intuition discerns the route and destination. We are most god-like when we are faithful to intuition.

“Birds of a feather flock together,” they say. Another spiritual truth is that we are not alone. Community protects and nourishes us and calls us to act justly. I imagine ten thousand persons united in the pursuit of goodness. What a goodly cacaphony they would raise!

The crow migration reminds me to listen to the conductor. We all carry the potential for intuition, but it does not develop on its own. The crows instinctively know when it’s time to go to the willow trees. Our instinctual intuition is an insturment that has to be well-tuned by practices of silence, stillness and listening. These habits ready us to see when the conductor lifts the baton. The whole process creates a sacred symphony of the Spirit which reverberates in the soul of the universe.

Crows at UW Bothell

Fire on Thanksgiving Day


We are each planted with a spark of light.
Each life is like a fire.
We must take care of that light.
Feed it.
Do not let passions for anything we find delight in
Rage and consume us
In any small or large manner
Or we will dim the fire.
It is made of the love of our parents
And ancestors.


It is lit by the Divine within everyone.
We must take care of it.
We each carry light into the world,
Every small and large being.
We share the light with every
Small and large act of compassion.
Laughter and joy make it dance
Beyond time.
What will we leave the day as a gift
Of remembrance and thankfulness?
c Joy Harjo November 6, 2013 Grand Rapids, MI dark and rainy

“This is Joy Harjo’s ongoing journal of dreams, stories, poems,music, photographs, and assorted reports from her inner and outer travels about Indian country and the rest of the world .”

Let us, this Thanksgiving Day, tender the embers of love in our lives.  And as we love and honor love, let us be mindful of our history of domination in the world, and give thanks for all the good that we have inherited from native peoples.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Walk on the Wild Side Salon: Dreampoem

Wee Hours of the Morning 11/24/13

As the Spirit “drove Jesus into the desert,” so was I driven to the Walk-on-the-Wild-Side Salon, all a jumble with trepidation and exhilaration.  It was time for something eclectic and edgy.  I sit in my chair and wait until my stylist arrives:  tall, slender to the extreme, head a vision to behold.  Half of his hair is layered into sculpted spikes, splattered carefully with hues of chartreuse, pink, and purple.  My heart hammers to the rhythm of, “Mayday!  Mayday!”

“So, what’s shakin’?” asks Zeus?  I describe my desired cut.  “O.K.,” he says,  “But are you prepared to walk on the wild side?  You have to do exactly what I say.”  “Yes.  I’m ready,”  I assure myself, more than Zeus.  “First,” he begins, “You have to get loose.”  With that, he slams his hip into my hip, shaking my shins and rattling my teeth.  “Hey!”  I shout.  “You said you were ready.  Now get loose, girl!”  Zeus retorts, and he hits me on the other hip.

At last, all loosey goosey, and raring for a revamp, we get started.  Zeus is an artist in the studio of his dreams- or is that in the studio of my dream?  He designs sans mirror, I suppose to keep me loosey goosey.  Finis!  Zeus brings out the mirror.  There before me sits Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo.  OMG.

I awake with a guffaw that evokes a startled meow from my cat.  “Where have YOU just been?” she demands.  By the time this dream hit paper, a picture of Lizbeth Salander is hung on my bathroom mirror.


I stroll the promenade of my dreamscape,
Inebriated with the freedom
Of the Unconscious,
In search of a new DO, RE-DO. FOO-FOO,
In lieu of life-as-I-know-it.

Wild Spirit calls “Can you do the loosey goosey spirit walk with me?
It goes like this:

You put your right hip in
You put your right hip out,
You put your right hip in
And you shake it all about.
You do the hokey-pokey
And you turn yourself around,
That’s what it’s all about!”

“What will it cost me, ” I ask.
“Nothing.  Everything.
But you have to be All loosey goosey.”
“I’m in.”

© rita h kowats 2013

ADDENDUM:  December 18, 2013

You will have to walk on the wild side to believe this.  I got my hair cut today by a new student, a delightful young man.  We had such a good time that I decided to tell him this dream.  After the telling he revealed that his surname is DeWilde.  Honestly.  As in untamed, wild, uncivilized.  We agreed that he should someday open his own salon, the Walk on DeWilde Side Salon.  No, I don’t look like the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo!

I sit here in awe of the synchronicities of life that teach us so much.

“Can I Have a Smell of It?”

sams onion

I was feasting on the BBC’s “Foyle’s War” recently, (http://www.foyleswar.com/) and as usual, it held me by the heels of my assumptions and shook me awake.  It’s World War II in England, and the neighborhood police office is holding a raffle for tuppence a ticket.  The prize- an onion.  Sam asks the clerk if she can have a smell of it.  I froze the film and myself for a moment while tears made their way from heart to head to eyes.  “Can I have a smell of it?”  Due to rationing, Sam had not smelled or tasted an onion since Christmas.  She didn’t buy a raffle ticket- she probably couldn’t afford tuppence- but her colleague, Paul Milner did, and when he won the raffle, he shared the onion with Sam.  Of course, it goes without saying that human nature being what it is, the black market on food thrived all around Sam.  A wealthy person bought minced ham in a can for her dog, while most Londoners were lucky to have meat.

The medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, addressed greed and privilege in the marketplace.  In the midst of merchants, nobles and bishops he preached against a merchant mentality of greed and said that all people were aristocrats, even the disgruntled peasants, because they are sparks of the divine.  This was a very revolutionary message because it threatened the power of financial, state, and religious institutions.  For this message he was condemned, because he was said to have corrupted the minds of ignorant lay persons.

I am calling myself back to that place of simplicity where just a smell is enough for a while.  Grace can be found in downsizing and simplifying.  When we shed the shroud of excess, our spiritual senses come alive again.  Can you smell the onion yet?

from thetravelworld.com

from thetravelworld.com

Spare Spirituality

Like the holy caves of Cappadocia
Spare Souls have open spaces
Where the Spirit’s breath
Unhindered by the excess which
Muffles the voice of God.

Spare Souls
Head into the Dark Night
Sustained by the smell of Hope.
Because they have known
The taste of ecstasy,
They remember, and the memory is

© rita h kowats

Phantom Pain: Abandonment

Used with permission wikimedia.org

“Goldfield Ghost Town”
Used and edited with permission wikimedia.org[/

The Ghost Town

Last week fear of abandonment touched me again, after a long hiatus.  I think it is perhaps the most universal of our human emotions.  It is both a psychological and spiritual experience, so it must be healed on both levels.  Reading, analyzing, and verbalizing my experience has helped heal me psychologically.

A review of the topic by Claudia Black, PhD, in the June 2010 issue of “Psychology Today,” gives a clear and succinct summary of key elements of the experience.

  • Abandonment sends the message:  “You are not important.  You are not of value.”
  • Abandonment happens when a child has to hide a part of who he or she is, in order to be accepted, or to avoid rejection.

They learn…

  • It’s not alright to make mistakes.
  • It’s not alright to show feelings.
  • Everyone else’s needs are more important than yours.
  • Your success is discounted or ignored.

Reading, reflecting, and dialogue have helped me to soothe the emotional scar of this primal wound, thus releasing its hold on my life in the present.temp

The Dance

Some translations of 2 Samuel 6 have King David “leaping and whirling before the Lord,” when the Ark was brought back to Jerusalem.  It is said that he danced with abandonment, which is “unbounded enthusiasm,” according to the Free Dictionary.  It gives the archaic meaning of enthusiasm as, “Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god.”  In the midst of his leaping, I believe that David loved his true self as much as he loved God.  The other experience of abandonment victimizes the ego, not the true, spiritual self.  No one can take that away.  Dancing naked with our deepest self before our god heals our wound.  Loving ourselves is the way to heal abandonment.

Bernard Tyrell, S.J., wrote a book in 1970’s, called Christotherapy.  Writing it was a spiritual practice to aid him in recovering from alcoholism.  He talked about the practice of mind-fasting and spirit-feasting.  I find it helpful.  To deal with the remnants of pain from the original wound I say and write the mantra, “I release this pain.  It has no more power over me.”  If I say it enough, I live into the reality.  Spirit-feasting frees me from ego, inviting me to dance with abandonment.  My mantra becomes, “I love you, Rita.  You are infinitely valuable.”  Every time I am tempted to obsess over a real or imagined abandonment, I fast from that message and love myself.  Finally, the practice of intentionally affirming others, takes us out of our own pain, and their joy becomes a mirror for our self-worth.

A Blessing and a Prayer

When spirits of past abandonments
Waft through us,
Imprinting the walls of our psyche-
We invoke the Spirit of the Creator to
Bless us with magnanimity and
Heal us with the fire of her love.


“You Go, Leaves!”

golden grove unleaving


Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Spring and Fall”
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Recently the Seattle area experienced two back-to-back wind and rain storms, so severe that the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge was closed.  Police officers had to escort a few traumatized drivers to safety.

Still today, I see leaves clinging to trees as if they don’t know they should have fallen last week, or, as if they refuse to fall until they are ready.  Driving through the city I spontaneously burst into several rounds of “Rocky” music, shouting raucously, “You go, leaves!”  I think this is a healthy spiritual practice.

But the leaves must fall, and
November must come,
Lest there be no spring.
There must be spring.

I have long prayed with Gerard Manley Hopkins.  He is my modern Meister Eckhart, and another profound mystic.  On a retreat many years ago, this poem became a call to integrity for me.  The gloriously colored leaves remind me of the artist and mystic in each of us.  Contemporary society often fears and therefore shuns that aspect of ourselves.  I learned that we need to mourn that loss and commit ourselves to nurture it back to life.  We should mourn when something beautiful dies, because, “It is Margaret [we] mourn for.”


"Into the Woods" by Vinoth Chandar

“Into the Woods” by Vinoth Chandar

At age 69 I have begun to listen to older friends as they cope with losing one friend after the other.  Someone said she can go to three funerals a week some months.  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that kind of loss and how it must feel  After awhile one must just throw up one’s arms and shout, “Bring it on!  I’m all alone anyway!” I want to continue with tried and true spiritual practices that have sustained me in the past, and develop new ones to see me through this new stage of aging, which began today with news that my recently deceased sister’s friend has received a sobering diagnosis.  The best practice for me seems to hit it straight-on, put it out there where I can see it.  So here it is:

First family funerals-
Expected. Sick and aging parents.
We can do this.
We make peace with
The emptiness left by November’s unleaving.*
Life goes on, they say.
And it does.

Then sibling death-
Unnatural.  Unexpected.
That shouldn’t happen,
But it does.

It doesn’t stop there.
Today I hear November winds howl
Around vulnerable friends
Who stand like dominoes
Waiting their turn.
I feel like the Ancient Mariner,
“Alone, alone, all, all alone, “
Wondering what curse I have called down.

How do we bear this Last unleaving?
Our bare, black spirit -limbs
Are leaved round by brilliant
Grace sustaining.
No curse.

© rita h kowats

* I am indebted here to Gerard Manley Hopkins for the word, “Unleaving,” coined in his poem, “Spring and Fall.”

** “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Fourth Part

Love In Absentia


For ten years
I stepped and misstepped
In and out of the
Craters of your absence,
Tangled in the tidewrack of
Your memory.

You married
Someone else and
The tidewrack tangled
Around wounds not yet congealed,
In craters not yet sealed .

Twenty-nine years of
High tides and low tides have
Closed the craters now.
Tidewrack washes ashore to be sure,
But it doesn’t stay.
While you must be coupled,
I must be solitary.  Your gift to me
Is your absence, wherein I found
My Self.

© rita h kowats