Ninety days outside the Schengen area – sacred geometry in Morocco

It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –

Souk, medina, Marrakech

– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.

That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.

Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco

Doorway, Marrakech Musèe

Wall, Palais el Mokri

Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.

Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès

Who can resist being centered by such design?

All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.

I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.

Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.

Palais el Mokri

Medina, Marrakech

Palais el Mokri, Fes

Pastry, souk, medina, Fès

Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.

Magical!

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Dining room table and chairs

Dishes

Bedspread

Gate to new apartment building

Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika

Aberduffy Day

2927847289_c0ecabe4bb_zAlice O. Howell celebrated Aberduffy Day on Tuesday, October 28, about three weeks before what would have been her 92nd birthday. She left easily, surrounded by family.

At yesterday’s Samhain ritual, when Kathy and Barbara encouraged us to visit with our loved ones and bring back memories, messages and perhaps a gesture, Alice’s image and words came to me instantly. She floated in, full of grace, expressing immense joy in her release from that cumbersome body and in her reunion with Walter. Then came the gesture: raise a dram! So, after lunch, we got out the brandy and toasted her. On this day of special liminality, perhaps you might like to join me at sunset, wherever you are, in raising a dram. Get out the best scotch, face the sun, invoke Sophia, and raise a dram to Alice, Mercy Muchmore, IonaDove. She taught me so much. In bittersweet joy, Eve
holy-spirit-dove-st-peters
Invocation
O Holy Sophia, Holy Wisdom, Holy Joy hidden for so long come forth and reveal yourself in the world and in our souls!
Help us to see with a loving eye Help us to hear with in wit and intuition
Show us how to be natural and kind Show us how to find ourselves in one another
Lead us from who we think we are to who we really are
Let us learn from the flowers that we need not strive so hard
Teach us to allow that Light from within to unfold us as a gift like your Rose.
a. o. howell

Radiance

Who can resist the radiance of a smile?

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Or the sun’s rays?

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Or the sun in a flower

or a flower in the sun?

Radiance is both round and rayed,

Radiance is both round and rayed.

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It is our sun: its presence, presentation and representation in the world.

lines streaming outward from a center. common in Islamic art

Islamic art is full of centered circles with rays.

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Radiance is basic to life.

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It’s in the ceiling of this African house

And in this plant bursting through a crack in the concrete

and in this plant bursting through a crack in the concrete

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but my favorite is the radiance of my daughter’s smile on Mother’s Day.

Seeing the small is called Clarity.
Keeping flexible is called Strength.
Using the shining Radiance,
You enter the Light,
Where no harm can come to you.
This is called Enlightenment.

Lao Tzu

 

Sharing

Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.  – Ruth Reichl

Not long ago, the words “Live to share” came to me on the tag of a teabag.  I saved it on the window sill with a fortune cookie message from the week before. I generally appreciate random bits of wisdom – these two spoke to me so strongly that I wanted to save them.

fortune cookie kindness

From now on your kindness will lead to your success.

If the fortune is true, I’m deeply grateful. What grace to be at a point in life where it’s enough to be kind, to live from the heart without fear, and to leave the world of comparison, competition and mastery behind until its tools are really useful.

I’ve been trying to live by kindness for a long time – who doesn’t love the Dalai Lama? – but the workaday world doesn’t always reward it, and when I was younger and more fiery, it wasn’t always so easy. But now, having received such a propitious cookie fortune, perhaps I can do it.

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The tea tag appeals to me because it so precisely describes what I am doing with my life these days. 

After my mother died and our children grew up, Tom and I were left with a ridiculously oversized empty nest. I’ve always felt that if we have such a big, beautiful space, we should share it, so we’ve filled it with friends and family, exchange students, SERVAS and warmshowers guests, and an array of tenants. I host women’s circles and meditation groups, we have advocacy groups and the French club here sometimes, and once a month we open our home for a community dinner.

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We began having Monday night dinners about 25 years ago. When the kids were younger we did it every Monday: open community dinners. We’ve used the same rules the whole time:  come promptly at 6, leave at 8, bring real food, and help set up and clean up.

The food is consistently excellent though we never plan it. In all those years, not planning only failed twice. Once we had one salad and many desserts. That wasn’t too bad – it was fun to have dessert for dinner. But the time we had all bread was not so much fun. The next dinner is the first Monday in April. Tell me if you’ll be coming so the right number of tables and chairs get set up.

For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living by sharing the house with new friends from around the world through Airbnb. Some of our guests have already become old friends. What an exquisite joy it is to sit around on the deck after dinner enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of tea with old and new friends, discovering commonalities and sharing stories.

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The exercise I get changing beds and cleaning, especially paired with a couple of dog walks a day, is perfect for me. The pleasure I find in hanging the sheets on the line and then making the beds, especially with my mother’s linens, is enormous. I love keeping the house fresh, clean and beautiful, and the extra cash flow is paying for many long-put-off maintenance projects. When I want the rooms for family or friends, I block the Airbnb calendar and everything is ready.

What more could I ask?

Wisdom

What you would grasp
let go
only those seeds that fall
grow.

a.o.howell

Noticing

Another entry for you, Alice, as your teachings continue to unfold.

Noticing comes naturally as I practice slowing down. You once said to me,

“You don’t have to do anything.  Just let the layers unfold until your radiant soul shines through.”

Slowing down allows the light of consciousness to flow more freely; my attention, in a more relaxed and diffuse state, picks up sounds, scents, images that I wouldn’t ordinarily notice.

So, I return your poem to you with my pictures.

Pastor’s Pastorale

rYour poem, my pictures

our mother in springOr were there time enough

x

to sleep and dream

y

and mull the mind

z

on things as they might seem —

a

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but, no

b

we plod

r

(and stumble on our guilts)

d

to God.

How simple then to walk the night

s

IMG_4309and touch the stars or taste the dew

f

smile at such gifts

w

and count ourselves among the few

t

IMG_3904who yes

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who pray

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yet kiss

IMG_4122and sing to others what they miss:

It’s this! It’s this!

 From the Archives of the Heart

Everything was opening its secrets to me in silence, without a word. Everything shone in my heart now instead of my head. The more I appreciated, the more I could see. It was a whole new way of learning, by listening to silence.         ao, The Beejum Book

Thank you.

The Sybil

Alice O. Howell,  at whose feet I sit in this picture, whose student I will always be and whom I love without reservation, is 91 now. Cosy, kind or crotchety, she is being tended by family and friends in her home, Rosecroft, nestled in the Berkshires. It’s quite a winter they’ve had there, so I’m happy to pass on news from a friend who visited her last weekend. He writes that she is very much her old self and suggests reading her poem “The Sybil.” Thanks so much, Greg.

(I wish I could get the placement of the lines right but I don’t know how to do it here. Click on the title to see the poem properly.)

THE SYBIL

“Old Granny Larkin had age by the toe

and hollering for help.

She just shriveled up a little

every year with them boiling-downs.

Her watery grey eyes

went on and off like a light

depending on the kind o’ day it was

for her.

Her white hair kind of exploded

off her head – like it had a life all its own

and I mind, as a little girl

watching it raise up and move

this way and that

with her thinkin’.

She was so old not a body ’round

knew about her young times.

She must o’ been born old

like a owl.

 

Click here to continue The Sybil.

 

Sophia in the Kitchen Sink

It took me most of a lifetime to find Sophia in the kitchen sink.

 

Coming of age in the 60’s, my consciousness raised by Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer, I set myself free from the monotony of housework and never look back.

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It doesn’t help that my mother, a brilliant woman who’d studied with Alfred Adler in Vienna, relinquished a promising career to keep house and raise me. As I see it at fifteen or sixteen, she wasted her life on ironed pillow cases and clean dishes.

I rebel.

Luckily, the hippie world is waiting. By the mid-1970’s I have a bearded husband, two small children and a ramshackle house in upstate New York. For a while we go off the grid: wood stove, 1/4 acre garden, goats. We pay for gasoline and our $29/month mortgage by renting out extra rooms in our rambling house and doing odd jobs. Household responsibilities are meant to be shared but it doesn’t really work out that way. I do the cooking and the cleaning, torn between the romance of the back to the land movement (remember Alicia Bay Laurel’s book, Living on the Earth?) and the rhetoric of the women’s movement.

By the time I find myself pregnant with my third child, I’m in graduate school and teaching elementary school full-time. Housework is delegated or done as quickly as possible. Everyone is busy. A divorce follows, then remarriage and a blended family: two jobs, 5 growing kids. My mother moves in. We get a dishwasher and a part-time housekeeper. The kids have chores they sulk about. Tom, my new husband, does the outside work and the big jobs, and joy of joys!!! He cooks!

Years pass. The kids grow up. My mother dies. Then, a dozen years ago or so, while alternating reading Alice O. Howell’s The Dove in the Stone with painting the kitchen, I’m blessed with a moment of satori. The central message of the book, something I’d understood intellectually for decades, sinks into my cells.

Everything is sacred. Every thing is sacred.

That is Sophia, the sparkle in things, the living wisdom of the manifest, the reflection of the ineffable in the effable.

In Love and the World, Robert Sardello says,

Sophia, the unity of the all, is not to be understood as a dissolving of the particularity and multiplicity of the world, the many becoming one, but rather of the many as one.

Sophi in the sink

A few more years go by before the new understanding penetrates my routine thought patterns, but one day it comes to me that I can choose to like washing the dishes instead of feeling resentful that it’s me doing them again. The dishes and the process of washing them is sacred, too.

I start by paying attention to the parts I like: the feeling of warm water on my hands, the satisfaction I find in arranging the shiny clean utensils and pots and pans in the drainer, the tidiness of the clean counter and sink. The preciousness of water becomes more and more obvious as California’s record drought continues. I develop a washing system that is efficient and pleasurable. I draw in family and friends and washing up becomes a pleasant social time. When the dishwasher breaks I have no desire to spend money fixing it. I like washing the dishes.

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This is how to tend Sophia:  by paying attention to her, by loving her.

The first real rain we’ve had in thirteen months is falling as I write. The relief the rain brings, even though it’s far from enough to end this apocalyptic drought, is truly marvelous: the release of long-held stress in my body, my mind and my heart. A couple days ago a new moon rose, in Aquarius this month, the second new moon in a month, a super-moon. The Chinese year of the green wood horse is here, a year of dynamic new growth after five years of degeneration and dissolution.

May the new growth spawned this year be in appreciating the value of maintenance, of attention and love put into caring for the things we have instead of into acquiring more, into recognizing the treasure in our own back yard.

Sophia's wink

Sophia’s wink in the sink