This past week, much of the southern part of our province was devastated by floods. Including the area and trail we were planning to go to hang our prayer flags. A disaster of this scale, epic porportions, made the decision unquestionable - we weren't going near it. Safety was our primary concern, as well as staying away for the emergency workers to do their jobs.
However, being the anniversary of Cam's death, it felt really important to do something. So we changed our plans and went north to Jasper National Park. Our trip turned into a spontaneous adventure - not quite sure what we would do, or where we would stay. In the end, our weekend turned out perfect. I would hazard a guess that it worked out better than the trip we had planned.
We hiked up the Bald Hills trail in Jasper, which has become my new favourite trail! We reached the top, had a picnic, and then rested in the meadow - taking a wee savasana. We honoured solstice and Aborigonal day with an Iroquois Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Earth while sitting on a mountain top overlooking Maligne Lake.
After dinner, we hiked up to Mount Edith Cavell and sat beneath Angel Glacier at sunset, surrounded and protected by massive, powerful guardians of rock and ice. We hung our prayer flags there to be infused with the energy and light of the "supermoon" over night - the closest and largest full moon of 2013.
That night, we stayed at the Edith Cavell Rustic Hostel, on bunk beds, with a wood burning fire glowing in the stove. The next day, we went back to Edith Cavell to get our prayer flags. We wanted to bring them home, hang them in the yard, and be close to them for a while.
And, as if that wasn't enough, we made one last pit stop at Athabasca Falls. There is something so powerful about being in places that render you speechless for their beauty and power.
Our weekend was so deep. So honouring. I felt I had nurtured my mind, body and spirit. It was my yoga.
In A Grief Observed by CS Lewis he writes, "There was no sudden, striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight, when you first notice them they have already been going on for some time."
And, when I look back on the past 7 years - the steps forwards and the steps backward - I see that there has been net gain towards integration and understanding how grief has forever changed me...and what my changed self needs to find ways to honour that which has changed me...
...like the way a glacier carves it's way through rock - changing the landscape forever...
...like the way a mountain meadow bursts with wildflowers, seemingly with no warning except warmer days...
...the rhythms and cycles of nature...seasons...full moons...dawn...dusk...
....cold rooms warmed by glowing fires...prayer flags...
The hardest part of making my prayer flag was deciding which prayer to use! I had a number in the running, and finally decided on one that I've used on a regular basis in my own life. It's the Zen Night Chant from the Upaya Zen Center:
"Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time passes swifty and opportunity is lost.
Let us awaken
Do not squander your life."
I relate to this prayer both in my own life, and as a wish for the people of the world. It speaks to what I have learned about how I want to live and love, understanding that life hangs on by a thread and things can change in an instant. It speaks to the power of grief to awaken the fires of truth and compassion within, recognizing that hearts break...break open...leaving an opportunity for growth and healing.
It just felt right to use this prayer - it felt easy to infuse the flag with all the depth and wisdom I read between the lines. And so the creating began....
First, I had to buy a vintage train case to hold all my supplies....Ok, maybe not an essential step, but a FUN step. I wanted something that I could hold everything in easily, and something that was easy to transport. Voila. It's perfect. And cute.
Next I chose the material. Traditionally prayer flags are bright, but I felt drawn to more earthy colors, so I chose a light beige as the base color, with brighter accents. I cut a piece of material 5" x 11" and then folded the top edge over 2" ish and pinned it. This will become the casing where the string will be threaded through to tie the flag to a tree. Then I used a simple running stitch to close the top casing. It doesn't look as professional as a if were sewn by a machine, but I kind of like the "homemade" feel to it. Considering this, I also did not hem the sides and bottom of the flag, but I suppose you could if you had a sewing machine. I left the bottom edge of my flag slightly frayed - it made it look a little more used or natural or...something....
For the accents, I cut two smaller squares of a sheer aqua blue material, to be glued onto the flag as an inset; one to write my prayer on, and the other to draw* a tree.
* By "draw" I mean that I printed a drawing of a tree from the internet and used it as a template to trace onto the material. I may be creative, but I'm no artist.
The tree is symbolic of a verse from a poem that I love by E.E. Cummings called I Carry Your Heart:
"...here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart..."
And, finally I put it all together. I glued on my insets with the prayer and tree. To brighten it up, I decided to cut out a yellow flower, and to sew on a red button. Yellow because it is a color I find cheerful, and a red because it feels primal and instinctual.
Lastly, I threaded a piece of twine through the top casing and my flag is officially complete!
Next weekend is our trip to Vision Quest Ridge in Nordegg, Alberta. I'm packing this flag and will hike it up to an ancient vision quest site where I will tie it in a tree to spread my prayer with the wind. Next time you see it, it will be blowing in the wind.
This June will mark the 7th year since the death that changed the trajectory of my life. I struggle with what to "do" on the "anniversary." The date always seems to loom just around the corner marking time. Nonetheless, it is significant. It's the day I changed. It's the day I was uprooted, and eventually replanted with the wisdom in my bones that death brings. It's how I got here, teaching yoga for grief support and being drawn to walk alongside others who have experienced a loss.
I decided a few years back that I wanted to go to the mountains each June, to reflect on my own experience of loss and growth, in a place where I can immerse myself in the vastness and wonder of it all. This year, at summer solstice, I'm going to hike "Vision Quest Ridge" in Nordegg, Alberta. A short, steep hike to panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and Abraham Lake. As per the name, this hike passes an old vision quest site, which drew me in. It seemed supportive and appropriate that we would be on ancient native land, where so many people before have been to seek spiritual guidance and purpose. You can see photos of it by clicking here.
I've heard from others who have done this hike that there are prayer flags tied in a tree to mark the site. That inspired me to take a prayer flag with me, to create ritual and ceremony around the intention of my hike. I've seen them for purchase at a variety of stores, but I hesitated to buy one for myself because I didn't understand the deeper meaning of the symbols and prayers inscribed upon them. Nevertheless, I love the image of prayer flags strung along high mountain ridges with the wind carrying the prayer across the land and to all beings. I knew that if I were to hang a prayer flag on this hike up Vision Quest Ridge, it would have to be a wish that arose from my heart about love and loss, life and death. So, I thought, "why not make my own?"
A quick google search revealed that, not only is it fairly easy, it's something (I think) I can do!
So I went to a fabric store and I bought small scraps of fabric - which is actually quite cheap. You can "fill a bag" with scrap material for $8.00. I chose any piece that "spoke" to me - both in colour and in texture. I also bought a small sewing kit, some fabric adhesive, and even some embellishments like patches, and buttons. The grand total for my prayer flag project kit = $25.00.
My next step is to be quiet and still and listen to what arises. What prayer do I want to share? What do I want to be carried to the top of a mountain by me, and then carried across the lands by the wind?
I'll update this blog on my progress and will also submit my final flag to The Prayer Flag Project; which is "a collective project spreading peace, goodwill and kindness, one flag at a time." This project was created in 2011 by Vivika Hansen DeNegre. She invites people from around the world to create their own flags and hang them outside, to have the sentiments carried by the wind to all the wind touches. She then posts photos of each flag on her blog. A virtual sharing of the prayer, I suppose. It's beautiful.
Stay tuned...I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Until next time....when the sewing begins...