diving deep and surfacing

I have read that fasting reveals the things that control us, that we tend to cover up what is inside us with food (and other things) and that  fasting brings these things closer to the surface.  At first we will rationalize that our feelings, such as anger for instance, are due to our hunger, but soon discover that we are angry, not because of hunger but because of the anger hidden within us.

If this is true, there must be deep sadness hidden inside of me.

I broke my fast last evening, after 48 hours. It was time. Physically, the pressure and severe pounding on the top of my head and behind eyes, the heat in my face,  was wearing me thin and practically demanding all of my attention to be turned inward.  My desire to be present to my family was stronger than that demand, and so I ate, just a simple meal with my son and his girlfriend.  Very soon, my brain said ‘thank you for feeding me’ and I was able really to join them.

But not before the fast offered its essential gift to me and I received, I believe, what I was to receive.  My body is indeed a vessel of prayer and a messenger of grace.

I had not planned this fast far in advance. It came up suddenly for me, just a few days before I began it, with that instinctive ‘yes’.  I had not planned for the fast to coincide with Friday evening’s film that arrived in the red-enveloped parcel; it was simply the next title in the queue that I had created 9 months ago.  I had not planned for the fast to coincide with Saturday’s live theater performance, which I had agreed to attend with my friend several weeks ago.

Friday morning, as I journaled about the birthing that’s currently happening in my life, I wondered on paper if there was something I needed to understand about the way I give birth, the fears I have around it perhaps. I recalled the rage that rose unbidden in me around my granddaughters’ births, as I witnessed the medicalization and dewomanization of what should have been an empowering time in their mother’s lives.  I knew at the time that the power of that reaction was some piece of my own rage surfacing. Though I spent weeks reentering my what has become a periodic search into attaining certification for midwifery, I suspected that particular response wasn’t addressing the truth of my pain at all.

It was around the time of one of their births, last summer, that I had the ‘big dream’.  I was great with child and my water broke, so I took myself to the dr’s office where I was given 3 pills, which I took without question, by the doctor at the check-in counter. The pills were tranquilers that put me to sleep and stopped my labor instantly. I recall feeling enraged at having been tricked. I’m wondering today if that was the beginning of the recent feeling I’ve had of walking along the surface of my life.

LateR in the day on Friday, coveting some focus I went to my Motherpeace cards and pulled one. Its message?- “going down to touch deep emotions, and gathering yourself together”And so I prayed to the Wise Woman of the Lake …you know, the one I’d asked to come to me in a dream about a month ago…. to come and take me by the hand, draw me to Her depths where parts of me lay scattered from that ancient wreckage. Let me see.

And so, Friday’s night’s film opens and we meet a 50 year old woman still caught in the trauma of having given birth at age 14 and being forced by her mother to give the baby up for adoption. Her life is stunted and stuck, her relationship with her own mother broken and embittered. Each evening she relives the pain of her loss, in her journal and her nightmares.

And so, Saturday’s musical opens and we meet a 14 year old girl giving birth to her 2nd child, conceived by her stepfather, who snatches the child from her arms immediately after birth and gives it away (or kills it, she doesn’t know for sure).  We hear her lament to God, ‘I’ve tried to be a good girl…’ as her life spirals into accepting one abuse after the other.

And so, here I am, emotions unmasked by food, fresh again in my own lament.

Here I am 13 years old, coming alive in spirit and voice for the first time in my life, assaulted after school by my favorite teacher . No one will lend me their voice. I am left with my own shame to swallow.

 

Here I am, 14 years old, at my mother’s white-haired gynecologist, after my periods have halted in the face of that fear. He has some trouble and has to go in the wrong way. Oh, yes there’s something wrong with me.

 

Here I am 15 years old, with a boy who thinks I’m a fool for not knowing what to do with his thing, who proceeds to tell me (along with his mother) that there must be something wrong with me when it won’t fit into my fear?

 

Here I am 15 years old, part of me lying spread out on the table, where he’s taken me for the vacuum aspiration…  some other part of me up on the wall.

 

Here I am 16 years old, hips propped on a bedpan, doctor swearing beneath his breath because the 5 month old placenta that had been pulsing life into my kicking and hiccupping infant won’t let go its hold even as the precious life it fed and i loved lies dying in the next room.

 

Here I am 17 years old, compassionately drugged by the doctor, as another 5 month old child exits my womb. But I can’t understand why they can’t hear me screaming ‘NO! NO! NO!’ until one of them wakes me to show me the perfect and dead little girl.

 

Here I am 20 years old, the child down the hall given a 1 in 500,000 chance of survival, born too early, lungs unprepared, infected by me….

When I saw the movie, Color Purple, 10 years ago I’d only felt the pain of it, the trauma, the powerlessness, the brutality, the domination and abuse.  I don’t recall feeling at all the empowerment, reclamation, and victory that I experienced watching the musical version yesterday. Nor did I feel before the strong women who showed Celie the way to empowerment, I felt only her oppression.  I suspect I didn’t feel these things because I didn’t know these things in myself.

As I partook of both of these dramas this weekend, I was able to be a compassionate witness to the terrible youth of those two tender characters in all of their innocence and vulnerability. It was also easy to observe the ways in which their evolution as women had been stunted, as if some giant hand hit the pause button at the time of their traumas. I hadn’t been kind enough to behold myself through these eyes before now.

During the viewing of the film the first night, I had noticed those old voices of self-doubt rising in me, the ones who try to keep me small, saying ‘just be content with your life as it is’ , and ‘who do you think you are anyway?’, and ‘why do you have to be ‘special’’?  I do think there’s some truth in that self-punishing shadow-voice, some grain to be gleaned from its condemning chaff. For instance, it doesn’t really matter what I DO with my life perse, but is important ‘how’ I live it (with joy, peace, love, with presence, spirit and soul, and awareness of beauty). But I need not let that truth undermine my desire to share myself in some specific and meaningful way. I need not let it hold me back from reaching for something that will make my life bigger, not smaller.  There is room enough for both/and, both the all-is-well, cherish each moment and the something-more to which I am drawn.  For both spirit AND soul. They need not play tug-a-war with my life.

My soul ought to feel free to rise up and reveal her full beauty.

Now I see that there is something in keeping myself small that feels safe to the one in me who once tried to be big and was violated because of it. That teacher hit my life square in its growth spurt, just when I was coming into my power and my voice. I stopped singing that day.  My god, no wonder I just about broke when I attended that class reunion years ago, met up with those persons who knew me when I was 13, then again when my marriage broke up and the grief of that opened the vault to those losses long hidden.

All of those young me’s still live in me. Wise Woman of the Water took me down to visit them. I saw them clearly… it took only 48 hours of prayer in my body, of consuming only fluid with Her. Now, she can help me to gather them together, midwife them to life, and teach them to trust in their power, in their voice, in their courage.  In their Song. Remind them that they CAN carry something to term, can labor with confidence and grace, do have the strength to push this child to life.

There will always be broken places in me, scars and debris from that wreckage, but I need not label that wreckage as ugly.   Yet, another gift from the fast for me is this- I needn’t give to a feeling or an experience in me any label of badness that makes me experience suffering.  My hunger was hunger, something I could notice, something I could choose, or not, to tend to, to inform me – or not.  Likewise, I can choose to nurture. I need not give my herstory a word that makes of it suffering. I can take all of those me’s into my arms and love them with tenderness and wisdom and hope. I can see my life as beautiful.

Last week there was an earthquake in New Zealand that ravaged the city of Christchurch, while out on the water that same earthquake sheared “30 million tons of ice off Tasman glacier, forming  massive icebergs, including this beauty”.

May we all find these places in ourselves in the after-years of our own tragedies.

Beloved

A friend invited me to join her in a weeklong fast earlier this week, and I found myself saying almost instantly ‘yes’.  This is not to say it was an impulsive ‘yes’  rather it was one of those yeses that seems just to be waiting for someone to finally ask the question so it can come out to play. Yet as the week drew on, and the day drew near to our journey together, I began to question my wisdom. I realize, of course, that this is not unlike many of my self-doubts and second guessing. That censoring, fearful, and critical voice often comes chasing after the quieter, certain one, nagging it until it finally relents.

There is something more binding about a yes that is a commitment to another, rather than to oneself, at least for me, and I presume for many others too, particularly women. We often won’t let another down, though we have no problem doing it to ourselves. Oh, I certainly have experienced those other ‘negative yeses’ — the can’t-say-no yeses, the yeses to role, or to another’s expectation of me– but trusting this yes to something that feels instinctively right is new to me.

No, this is not the ‘yes’ I wrote of in this week’s post. That ‘yes’ was a BIG yes, to something I’d desired and prayed and heard, but had tried to run from when that fearful me came with her nay-saying.  But it is interesting to me that this smaller ‘yes’ came with the same ‘I can’t’ chasing her. I expect its time for me to take her by the hand and show her that we can.

I expect this is going to be one of those embodied spiritual learnings, like the one I had (with this same woman incidentally) while portaging my canoe in Algonquin. A re-minding me, through my body, of my strength, my courage, my will. We shall learn that my yes is a yes this time.

But don’t read this wrongly, the initial yes was not about willpower and control. This initial yes was a powerful draw to attend to something in me.  For one thing, I feel called to take a closer look at those patterns of eating in me, those places in my life where I either eat mindlessly, out of habit, the way a cigarette smoker lights up every time she sits down with a book, or those places in my life where I eat to distract from pain…or boredom…or fear, those places where my eating is almost unconscious, disembodied.  I desire to live a life more present than that. A life fully feeling and engaged.  A life attentive and intentional, mindful and watchful.

Some months ago a book was recommended to me, Geneen Roth’s, Women, Food and God. I have several of her books on my shelf, but the line that caught me to buy yet one more was when this friend stated Roth’s premise as believing that women’s compulsions, on either end of the spectrum, whether they be eating compulsively or compulsively dieting (I’d add compulsive exercise to that for me) are really a substitute for our hunger for that thing you name as god (or spirit, or aliveness, or meaning). We are using these things to fill up ourselves, either literally or by way of filling our time and our minds with all of the counting, and measuring, and logging repetitions. I’ve mired on both ends of that spectrum.

There might be some who’d say that this exercise in fasting is but more of the same.  Perhaps from the outside that might appear to be true, but from the inside I can with authenticity say that this is completely different.  The difference has to do with intention and attention- – what am I hoping to see, and what I am gazing upon.  It’s not about being perfect in order to gain Love, nor it is about covering up in order to hide from it. At its core it’s about me wanting to be present to that which is present …and Present.. in me.  

 ‘Why should the wedding guests mourn when the bridegroom is with them. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away, and then they will fast’.

This passage of text grabbed me by the heart this week.  In reading it I felt that same longing in me to feel fully alive and In Love, the longing reflected in that surface feeling of which I’ve spoken of late; reflected in the mourning I experienced the day I read great love poems to my granddaughter and noted they felt like rote words; reflected in the boundary of death I solicited in order to give myself permission to live.

My deepest desire is to reconnect with my depths, to reunite Spirit and soul, body and mind, divinity and humanity, in me, to be One. And so my prayer during this time of fasting is to let my hunger draw me back into my Hunger, into the arms of the Beloved and into the arms of Belovedness, to let it be a weeklong retreat of attention to Be-loved-ness, with a built-in call to attention, like the monastery bell embodied.  Though I intend to move through the routine of my ordinary days here at home, meeting with friends, sitting with family, working on projects, etc, my hope is that the hunger bells in my body will re-mind me that I am carrying Love within me, always.  Like centering prayer, may I have hundreds of opportunities given to return to Love.  This is like carrying the knowledge of a great secret within,  a secret that is like a deep smile, the secret of a great Love affair between god and me, between the Spirit and my soul. May the child who is born from this union be blessed.

Yesterday, I was so very enlivened by the imagining of a new creative project, a love-child if you will, in me;  enlivened as well by those who have nurtured this presence in me.  I felt powerfully the release of some long-buried passion in me. It was, I think perhaps, the big ‘yes’ of this week that opened the door to it, freed it in me.  However, as I drove to my agreed upon appointment with my friend last evening, which was to be the beginning of our fast and the following through on my littler ‘yes’, I was suddenly afraid that a week of fasting might diminish my energy, and I didn’t want to lose it again. I thought then of turning back because, like a young couple both longing for and afraid  of having a baby, I almost convinced myself that the timing was off, that I couldn’t possibly conceive and nurture this baby while doing this or that thing.  It’d have been a good-enough excuse, I needed all my energy for this creative endeavor.  All at once, though, I clearly understood that the energy I was feeling in that moment had absolutely nothing at all to do with the food I had eaten. This was an energy born of something else entirely!  (and I wonder here, how much of my eating is an attempt  to find that life-energy ).  This was an energy born of my passion for this new life in me, from my excitement around purpose and calling, not unlike the love that powerfully propelled me and gave my heart courage when I was a young mother. I could describe it as this, Spirit and soul (eros and psyche) made contact and ignited something powerful in me yesterday. Oh, there is a love-making quality to this energy. Yes.

Another piece of this fast for me is this distinct call to Compassion I have been hearing. (Hmmm. Com-passion , with passion ! ). Part of that call is more of the same desire to give myself with passion to this new thing in me,  without reservation or censor. But at the same time, central to the call  is this abiding desire– to give myself to somebody, something, someOne  greater.  I want to know my creative call as a response to a need in the world. I want to believe that as this red room in me closes to new lives, which desire or need  to come into this world, other rooms in me are opening to receive that which is needing and longing to be born into this place.

So this is a big part of my prayer for this week, to see beneath the surface also of this thing, this creative child of mine, beneath the surface manifestations, the distractions I might follow, the fluff that might threaten to cover it over, the myriad ways in which I might feed it without conscious thought and without attending to the essential need, the ways in which I might get caught up in the hunger and not tend to the Hunger.  I want to know that “one thing necessary”. I want that kind of clarity, unhazed, the Knowing that is deeper than knowing, the ‘why’ that will keep my ‘how’ sacred, the love that will give my heart courage. I want to draw deeply from those roots in my-self-as-Love as I bring this thing forth into Life.  I know that I need, the world needs, my life to flow from that place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

refuse thy name* (and say yes)

okay, i say yes.

not a half-hearted ‘yes, but only’    

as in –

‘yes, but only’ until it feels uncomfortable.

‘yes, but only’ until i no longer feel like i’m still good enough  to do this.

‘yes, but only’ if nothing else in my life has to change.

 i simply(?) say ‘yes’. yes, as if i have no other choice, as if i have no safety net, no security, no easier path that won’t result in water meeting stone.

 the kind of yes i once said when survival depended upon on my yes … to something wild and unknown that  terrified me but into which i had been thrown… re-membering now the sudden way courage flowed  from my heart as if it was beyond my control.  the kind of yes that came when my world was turned upside down and i had no choice but to find my legs again if i hoped to find food. the kind of yes that accepts that i will feel beaten and depleted, lost and confused, unworthy and unable, but knows that my heart will carry me through.

because something in me is telling me that my very survival does depend on this.

i recall that day i was so profoundly moved as we stood over the cold stone to drop our clay pots. how it was that with each crash, i felt the full impact of that yes. yes to the fall. yes to being broken. yes to becoming human. . yes to life, imperfect but bearing beauty, how it was that i cried tears of sacred joy at witnessing that miracle of birth.

i want to say yes to that! to imperfection and brokeness. to terrible beauty and joy.

my god, you have dropped into my lap a treasure and i thought to toss it aside because i wasn’t good enough? how many treasures have i cast aside?…. and still i expect you’d continue to drop them until i opened my heart to catch one, like some lover tossing stones at my closed window.

what caused me to finally hear that tap on my soul’s window?  your persistence?  my quiet?, or the serenade of your band of musicians? all three here in this moment,  as i sit gazing at my reflection in the mirror, wondering who i am.  

suddenly the glass sash flies up.

i see it is you.

‘yes’

i wonder when i started believing ‘ i can’t’? how i forgot that i had been given the tools that i need long ago when life pushed me over the edge and said ‘jump’. did i think that i crashed on that day? in what funhouse mirror have i been seeing my reflection, mistaking my flying for crashing?

in your mirror, i see, gazing up from beneath my window.  what grace has been given that i called disgrace. what power i labeled powerless. what courage named fear.

i see my wings unfurling,  feel the power in my chest opening, re-member my courage, my strength, my grace.

instinctive.  

spontaneous.

unquestioned.

undeliberated.

wild.

now you urge, ‘jump’, once again, eros to my psyche, locked up in these walls.

and i leap

and i’ll fly

wild.

 

*from Shakespears line in Romeo and Juliet, at the window

’tis but thy name that is my ememy’
  

eros and psyche

i was led to rodin’s drawings this morning, line sketches and barely-there watercolor washes of women, eroticism transparent. i was also led to an interview with a well- respected teacher of mindfulness meditation,  eroticism less apparent.

this is no indictment upon the teacher, i have found her work to be profoundly meaningful, deeply healing and transformative, in my life.  i am also not at all addressing her physicality, sexuality or even sensuality when i state that i found her eroticism less apparent.  in truth, i find her to be quite beautiful, alive, and present.  i simply found the contrast  to be remarkable.

perhaps it is my artist’s soul, but i WANT to feel the things i feel when i enter into rodin’s sketches.  i want to feel the yearning and the heartache,  the joy and sorrow, the profound bliss and deep despair.  i want to trust my body…when it signals hunger or desire or need for fulfillment, to follow its erotic impulses that lead me to my own creativity.  i want to trust my sensuality and my sexuality.  i want to be a soul-embodied, or as a new friend named me ‘earthy and birthy’.

i suppose there is a subtle difference between being fully human, fully feeling, and believing that my feelings are all of who i am, being swept away and into them and making of them my identity. however, i want to feel and to follow the things that draw me, not merely observe them and let them pass. i want to feel the fire and the light, to recognize what matters most when it comes to me  as a scream or a whisper from the depths of my being. i want to trust the eroticism implicit in life, which compels connection and movement of some sort, the subtle movements of say delight or disappointment and the grander ones of ecstasy and grief.

i expect the difference between being a slave to my emotions and being free to listen to and engage them is one of awareness (or mindfulness, as the teacher would say).  as such, i am conscious of, and choosing to trust that, attending to my yearnings is not a departure from the sacred, but a movement with Her. i imagine this is like the difference between taking the dog for a walk, and the dog taking me.  turtle woman might call this,’ taking my Home along with me’, while yesterday’s mandorla would beckon me to keep my roots in ‘All is well’ even as the yearning-to-express human (of the earth)  part of me  is propelled into life, impelled by some urgent tender longing to become, which rises from within the depths of my being in god.  it feels ironic to me that i think of this as keeping my spirit grounded  in sacred awareness as my human soul receives permission to follow its heart, while those who tend toward ecstasies that keep them ‘above’ the pain and suffering of earth might be  invited to ground themselves in their humanity. but, you know, even if i am at times dragged willy-nilly and out-of-control (thank god!) i still trust that the journey is holy and good. sometimes i think all of our striving to control our thoughts and see through the illusion of life, is just that, an illusion of control and a rejection of life. and sometimes my meditation practice can serve as an escape from life rather than a catalyst to engage it more fully.

i want more passion than that.

although it’s never explicitly stated, and so is perhaps my own judgment projected, my experience in so many meditative and contemplative prayer-forms is that there exists a not-so-subtle judgment of feelings and desires. i am told to notice them, but not to follow them, and then let them go, as if the longings that course through my body are not real, or worthy of my attention.  for one such as me, who spent the first half of her life numbing her feelings in order to survive, this can be unhealthy. i know, i know, awareness is the opposite of numbing, but a third way of welcoming my humanity seems to honor the whole of who i am much more than either pole of dissociating my Self from my feelings does.  nonjudgment of my feelings (fear not) allows me to be fully present with and to embrace my yearnings and sorrows without giving them power over me, but instead allows them to awaken me.  if i do not judge any feeling as unwelcome, or wrong, i need not fear where it will take me.  likewise, if i don’t attach my ability to experience the sacred wtihin life to either the fulfillment or the relief of my desire, but rather trust in the presence of something sacred right in the midst of my longing, i will not experience my longing as suffering, but as aliveness.

so many times i hear the call to get out of my head, to stop following the monkey mind, etc, but i wonder if many practices do not also lead me to using my mind to get out of my body… and away from my yearnings.  could this be, taken by some, simply a new bent on hatred of the flesh that has plagued our religions for centuries? yet one more mind-body split?

i do not want to escape my body, disconnected from “the desire that springs a ‘yes’ …or even a ‘no’….within me”.  i trust that there is some very good reason that i am a spiritual being inhabiting a human body,  some reason spirit chooses to become sensual flesh.  i want to be intimate with this sensual world with all of my own senses fully present.  i WANT to be a soul-embodied, to follow the call of something wild and natural in me, to be humble (of the earth, not above it all), madly in Love with life, and to trust that it is good. i want to be alive.

The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it is meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. ~ Gerald May

becoming human, part 2- ebb and flow

some see it as a spiral, the soul’s movement,  re-encountering the same desolation or consolation in ever deepening and healing planes on its journey into wholeness. some see it as a wave, in its great circular path to the shore,  going under and rising, sinking and breaking.  one day, one week, one season, one year, you are filled with deep contentment, with a knowing that all is Love. everywhere you look is Beauty, ordinariness is Bliss, and you are released of your longing for More because you are swimming in it.  you perceive your life’s meaning as Simply Being Here, in Love, loving and being loved. then one day you wake up (funny how in each place we feel we’ve awakened) in quiet despair, your longing for purpose, or justice, or more, sitting square on your chest.

the problem is that we label one place as good, the other as bad, or at the very least establish a hierarchy of sorts, so we keep going back to that place of deep peace, without receiving the gifts from the longing,  or we keep going back to our longing for justice, for instance, without receiving the gifts of all is well.  many of us we equate god, or spiritual wellness at least, with peace, whether that peace be within or without, but we don’t allow for the possibility that god is as fully present in tension, in chaos, in desolation and dis-ease.  no, we want to ‘fix’ that when we feel it ourselves or see it in others. it makes us uncomfortable, when discomfort may be exactly what is needed. we label the desolation itself as dwelling in fear, when it may be in fact fear that drags us away from it.

some of us can’t see god in winter, because the evidence of god for us is in blossom, growth, fruit. some of us can’t see god in summer, because the evidence of god for us lies beneath the surface. ..in vastness, stillness, and silence.  but growth without stillness is cancerous and stillness without passion is apathy.  of course, then again, perhaps god is also in cancer and apathy!

i find myself to be in the camp of returning often to the well of deep peace. some of that is a genuine soul craving and vital refreshment to me, true to who i am and who i know god to be, but i suspect some of it is also discomfort with staying in that uncomfortable place where deep longing and desire lie, wanting to resolve it too early, not trusting god there.  i think sometimes, falsely so, i equate all desire with false ego.  i also think i equate my distress with being far from god, when in truth it may be inviting me closer.

i silence the screaming in me when maybe the scream should be heard. i let the silence, silence me. i settle for Beauty when i could have Passion.

 i suspect that i can have both.

i think it is possible to have a foot in each place. to trust my mystic’s soul that knows all is well, and to follow my Lover’s heart .  i think of the times in which i have had deeply profound experiences of union and oneness with All that Is, and how frequently they have been followed immediately by witnessing extreme violence or oppression of some sort. i have always heard this to be a call to behold my Beloved in the midst of apparent atrocity. yes……but perhaps it has also been a call to carry my sense of fearless Belovedness with me into those very places with passion.

sometimes, i think it boils down to whether i want to be a witness to life, or a participant in life, both valid but quite different callings….. or are they?

i am not going to rush too quickly this time back into the arms of the divine, where i know i will feel instantly better, but not address the deeper desire that keeps surfacing , the desire to feel myself, to know my own shape. i’m going to trust that god will go with me there….. and is already there waiting for me.

the human being and god are after all, both/and.

becoming human

To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others- David Whyte

i recently learned of the ancient symbol, the mandorla, which consists of an almond-shaped space created by two intersecting circles. to me it feels like that thin space the celts speak of, where spirit crosses over the veil and is suddenly visible.  standing in this place, we can more fully witness and experience the communion between spirit and flesh that always exists but which we often cannot see or feel. it is at this point of intersection, which at times may feel quite small, and at others, as if there is no place where we can step where we are not standing fully in that place of union, that the rent of duality is mended.   i experience this junction as a place of full aliveness, but  i also know it as an intensely creative space, a place of conception, pregnancy and birth. indeed the almond contour itself might easily be perceived as a vulva.

we played with mandorla images a few weeks ago at the mid-winter retreat, in order to attend more closely to that particular mid-winter intersection between stillness and movement, between the void and the manifest, between silence and song that is the first week of february.   i felt the intersection that day as a place of teeming potential where emptiness breaks into abundance, you know, like those complete vacuums into which suddenly there appear particles of matter that the physicists wonder about. yet even this description leaves one with the illusion of a before and after, or an either/or, when in truth the experience when straddling these 2 worlds is one of both/and. both empty and full at once.

last weekend i drew a mandorla of my own.  in one of the circles, the red one, the color of earth,  i found myself writing the words, ego*, shape, desire, fear, striving, emptiness, purpose, who am i – so clearly the space where i stand in my longing today. into the second circle, the blue one, the color of sky,  i wrote the words, Love, I am, mystery, all is well, peace, joy, bliss and the divine- clearly the space where i stand always, acknowledged or not, beneath my surface tension.   i then filled in those circles and colored over the words with the pastels, overlapping the colors red and blue at the place of union.  i think i had hoped that the center almond-shaped overlap would turn purple for me; instead it was a subtler shade of mauve, pink perhaps.

when i turned the mandorla on its end, placing the blue orb beneath the red one, where i felt it belonged, suddenly, that once-sky-blue space felt like water– birthing waters, lady of the lake waters, waters supporting the continents, crone waters. almost at once, the earthiness of me seeped into the blue, sending down roots to drink deeply, hold firmly. it is odd to think of oneself as rooted in water (ungrounded?), but these roots felt familiar and secure, like something well-known and trusted.  at the same time, in the ‘opposite’ circle, the edge of the mauve almond unfurled, like the lip of a balloon, a cervix, or a navel, spilling blue into the red like a fountain. it was, in truth, more like an explosion than a spilling perse, ejaculatory almost.

it is to that point of opening and outpouring in the mandorla that i am drawn.  it feels like such a tender place that i know this is a place i must pray, this place of both love-making and birth, where that which is divine spills into the me that is my unique shape in this place.  my prayer has perhaps dwelt for far too long in that deep underground source of my being, the vast all is well where my roots are so well-established.  yes, blue, the place of deep ocean peace, is where i have tended to go when i sit with Love, and perhaps i needed that ‘grounding’ in ‘all is well Being’ before i could securely explore my ‘yes’ to my specific, authentic way of being and carrying gift.  it seems clear to me that the invitation today is not to go underwater, but to spend time praying red, earth, my nature, the grounded mary-and-jesus space in me.  i am embodied, incarnate, after all, and if my striving-for, desire for meaning, and empty places are ever to find their true shape, i must tend to that place where the divine is yearning to spill itself into my life, right in the center of my very own longing , right in the midst of my earthiness.

today, i pulled a book from my shelf by bill plotkin, entitled Soulcraft, a book that’s been waiting for me to show up.  plotkin puts into words the message contained in my  mandorla.  he would label my circles as spirit (blue, Oneness) and soul (red, one-ness) . his claim is that our religions and spiritualities and contemplative practices dwell mainly with establishing a connection with Spirit and miss the cooresponding  need to establish a connection with Soul.  so, many of us are leading those quiet lives of desperation, of which thoreau spoke to me yesterday, their song unsung.  plotkin’s life work is about addressing the needs of the soul to express its unique gift (shape) in the world, the specific ‘why am i here?’ whose roots draw and rest in the greater Why Am I Here. His opening words struck me….

                We long to discover the secrets and mysteries of our individual lives, to find our own unique way of belonging to the world, to recover the never-before-seen treasure we were born to bring to our communities. To carry this treasure to others is half of our spiritual longing. The other half is to experience our oneness with the universe, with all of creation. While embracing and integrating both halves of the spiritual life, Soulcraft specifically addresses our yearning for individual personal meaning and a way to contribute to life, a yearning that pulls us toward the heart of the world, into our wild nature and the dark earth of our deepest desires.

                Alongside our greatest longing lives an equally great terror of finding the very thing we seek. Somehow we know that doing so will shake up our lives, our sense of security, change our relationship to everything we hold as familiar and dear. but we also suspect that saying ‘no’ to our deepest desires will mean self-imprisonment in a life too small. And a far off voice within insists that the never-before-seen treasure is well worth any sacrifices and difficulty in recovering it………

suddenly i feel like the woman in the song ‘killing me softly’ who shows up to hear the musician ‘singing my life with his words’. 

* as an fyi, i do not use the word ego as a dirty word, but rather the vehicle through which my soul might express itself

on nights like these

on nights like these i feel the suffocating truth of thoreau’s sentiment that ‘most (wo)men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them’.  i fear that slow starvation, that shriveling of my soul.  

on nights like these every cell of my body seems to scream ‘run! run away! as fast as you can! if you stay here much longer you’ll die.’

on nights like these, the fear of endless days of woefully unsatisfying tedium makes the silent scream in me threaten to rise to be heard.

on nights like these, when who i am seems less important out there than what i am (if i speak all the right pleases, smile at the right faces, look in the right places, act like a person in my place ought to act, then i’ll be allowed to be) yet to remain a ‘what’ makes me feel so unreal,  i yearn with all that i am to escape the unreality.

on nights like these, i desire with all of my being…. heart, mind, and soul, each organ, each tissue, each bone, each cell, each fluid, each space in between and within….  to be the subject of my own life, not the object of another’s.

on nights like these, when i feel such dis-ease, such yearning for Self-ownership, i am struck by the image of that mass-produced piece of furniture that i keep being asked to inhabit, which is really not made in my shape at all. so why do i keep going back into that room? there is something in me that wants the things that this room contains, but doesn’t want to be made into a china cabinet or a larder in order for that nurturing space to be a part of her life. this room needs an overhaul.

on nights like these, when it seems as if a vast impending desert has been unrolled at my feet and there is nothing on the horizon to inspire my hope for anything but more  of this hot, dry sand,  i’m certain the foreboding  must be written on my face for all to read. in my eyes the distance is mirrored.

on nights like these, i yearn to be free, only to laugh at myself in self-recognition (what would i do with all that freedom anyway? !) knowing full well that i’d never be free anyway.  loneliness and shame would have me running right back to captivity.  no, the freedom i crave is not out there anywhere, its somewhere inside of me.

on nights like these, when i feel so terribly stuck, the impulse to move, to run, to fly is so strong. i suppose it’s a natural response, after all, to stuckness – this longing to break free,  to run away to someplace where i can be me… whatever ‘me’ is.

on nights like these, when  i feel the closing-in, the no-way-out of this  there-has-to-be-more,  i recall so viscerally that old familiar feeling of being  boxed in.

but fear not, you who write and read this, for on nights like these,  there is no yearning at all to be dead,  instead there abides a near desperate desire for life!

no phonecalls, please, to ask if i am ok. this hunger for life will not be pacified, numbed, nor, i suspect, go away. the yearning for more is a yearning for More and i cannot fill that space with anything less. and, yes, while i know and have experienced the undeniable and abiding truth that there is no space that is truly empty, i ache to inhabit a space, to be real, to know my own shape, for the word that i am to become enfleshed

my soul cries out!

 there is a song in me that yearns to be sung.

one wild and precious life (or death, where is your sting?)

Okay, I’m just going to confess something here, because I imagine I’m not really alone in this one.  Well that‘s not really why I’m going to confess it, I suppose, its more that I’m trying to be authentic  here regardless of whether or not someone accepts me. Paradoxically I suppose being authentic will actually help with that, not hinder it.   I have experienced such a plethora of circumstances where persons believe they are the only one with (fill in the blank) because we are so afraid to just be human with each other. Instead we try to be/look perfect. Why do we hide and diminish ourselves like that? We’ve been doing it for a long time, if the ancient story of Adam and Eve is any indicator. Shame is such a perverter of self image.

Of course, the sacred seems to really love to put on the clothes of humanity, but that doesn’t ever seem to change our minds about either our humanity or where to look for the sacred.  

So this is the thing. Sometimes when I am sick like this, my hypochondria kicks in (and the computer, of course, makes it so much easier to feed that monster). Suddenly I’m convinced I either have ovarian cancer or early signs of heart failure (my dad died when he was 58 of heart failure, so I come by this particular manifestation of the fear quite honestly) or fill-in-the-blank.  The weird thing (I guess it’s weird, but this is the confession part) is that I’ve realized that my motivation for looking isn’t always because I’m afraid of being really sick. I look because some part of me really wants that dreadful disease.

Now I know I could be treading on thin ice here. This isn’t really a death-wish though, not in that despairing kind of way. I know what that one feels like too. I’ve been there, just wanting some dreadful disease to come and take me out of my pain. And it isn’t a malingering either, there’s no feigning involved and I can’t recall the last time I went to the doctor’s…. probably poison ivy. It’s not that I want pampering or attention or sympathy.  

What I think it is, is this.  I want permission to live my life fully.

And I know I’m not alone in this because there are all those clichés that go something like this – ‘If you found out you only had one year to live, what would you do?’  Everything from Bucket Lists, to discernment tools where you imagine yourself on your deathbed looking back on your life and ask yourself what you regret not having done, to my own long-time measuring stick that helps me decide what’s important in this particular moment by imagining myself at 80 looking back on this moment, speaks of the blessing of coming face to face with the finite nature of our human existence to more fully realize the sacred nature of our human existence.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

No matter how deeply I fall into the arms of knowing that I am eternal, that I am a part of and an expression of an infinite Love that I will return to and be embraced by when I am done  (i sometimes picture this like a vast fountain, of which I am an arching spray jutting forth into time and slowly falling back again into eternity, carrying something vital with me back to the source ) there is something about the urgency of time that amplifies the sacredness of the journey, and the necessity to be true to it. Ironically, it was this experience of utter assurance that I would be fully reabsorbed by Love  when I die that kept me alive in the midst of my very darkest days, when one might think such a message from the universe would make it easy to step out of life and back into that experience of pure Bliss. Instead it did the opposite for me. That experience of the Beauty of the other side made me realize somehow that my life is blessed, vital to the whole, and that there must be some meaning to my existence here.

That is how the notion of Eternity helped me to realize the sacredness of my life, and now it seems that the notion of Time is working its blessed wiles on me.

It strikes me that it is the finiteness of our journeys that helps us to distill what is essential, of the Essence. Death is not to fear in the way in which we often do (the unknown aspect of it). I learned this clearly when I came so close to it. Rather Death is a gift, a boundary of sorts to keep us attentive to the sacredness of life, so that we are called regularly to assess how we are spending it and whether that aligns with our truest purpose. It’s rather like my understanding of the nature of a cup, when it came to me as a way of understanding boundaries and disciplines. If I do not invite and allow some container into which I can pour myself, a container that fully says ‘yes’ to this one thing, then I spill all over the place and never go deeper than the surface of my life. And I can never offer a drink.

And so, when I sometimes long for some fatal illness, the thing that I am longing for, I suspect, is a reminder of the sacredness of my life, so that I will give myself permission to live it fully, in alignment with what is Holy in me. I want to move that sacred boundary closer, paradoxically, so that I can feel more alive!, so that, like I do with the cup, I can choose more clearly and freely that ‘one thing necessary’ that belongs in my life, and say ‘no’ more easily to those things that are not life-giving, that are mere fillers of time or even drainers of my life energy, or that keep me trapped on the surface inattentive to the richnes of what lies beneath, waiting for me.

In truth though, even deeper than this, I know this to be a Holy Longing. The longing is really to be closer to the Sacred, the Sacred One whose veil is thin at moments of birth and death.  The longing is to be granted permission to live my life in daily communion with the Sacred, keenly aware each moment of the sacredness of life. Naked, in the Presence, immersed in heart-breaking-open Beauty.

I wonder, if I knew I were dying (and we all are, after all) how would I live? Without the illusion of safety and invincibility, would I cherish each moment a little more, attend to what is real? In the face of my undeniable fragility, would I be less defended? Would my fears and my ego step aside and let me come out to play? Would that box that I put myself in, which defines what a woman like me can do with her life, fall apart? And would I worry less about ‘who I am’ and simply be who I am?

Would I move to that house in the woods? Have long conversations with friends? Snap photographs – in my mind- of Beauty- to carry forth with me in whatever way that happens (to pour back into that fountain’s basin as a blessing)?  Would I continue to write?

Yes.

Because of all the things that I ‘do’ in this meager and exceptional human form, this very peculiar human capacity for language is the way in which the essence of who I am is somehow, no matter how imperfectly, encapsulated and expressed into form- a form in which I can share this experience of life with others. Perhaps it is a Divine impulse then…. as we imagine the divine longs to become incarnate, the word longs to become flesh, spirit to become body, energy to matter,  the invisible to visible, and the ineffable to vibrate…. to be  known, or as some would say, in order to know Itself.

Ah….or perhaps it is purely a human impulse, ego-driven, and an attempt to cheat death and sidestep time, become immortal and eternal by leaving something tangible of myself behind.

 I only know this. I want my granddaughters to someday know who I am.

 

 

word made flesh 2

rediscovered this old poem today in my journal… from the days, 9 years ago, when  i was falling in love with don.

you crush my fantasy

of self-sufficiency

my overwhelming need for solitude

overridden by your touch upon my back

the deepest breath of prayer

that brings me to my center

cannot reach my depths

as does this breathing in of you

no.

 Love cannot whisper Her desire for me

lest i begin to hear

Her hope, revealed by your divine lips

a fantasy you whisper

as i hold my fear-filled breath

yet your surprising sentiments

infiltrate these ancient walls

where no self-indulgent disregard may trample

this garden where i swing, i fly, i laugh

i marvel

at how you were granted invitation

as you push me higher

story time

for Lilly, Layla, and Sophie

I hear my grandmother’s subtle knock on the door as she slips into the house, and I tumble down the hall behind my dogs, who are as anxious to sniff and to lick their hellos as I am to see her again. By the time my grandmother turns back from fitting the old wood and glass door snugly into its frame, we are, all four of us, there at her heels, broad smiles and wide wags greeting her.  Her arms are so wonderfully warm that none of us can seem to wait our turn for their welcome.

We are going today to our favorite place, so I grab my hooded sweatshirt from the hook by the door and my hiking boots from the front porch, where I’d dropped them off, muddy, and head out to her car. I love riding in my grandmother’s car with its bumper stickers about kindness and love and compassion.  Immediately I feel different when I get in it, as if I am somehow responsible for really being the words I’ve just read.

In the car, I settle into the warmth and quiet that I always experience in my grandmother’s presence.  I don’t know how or why… maybe it’s her own quiet way that awakens those quiet genes of hers in me….but we settle in with each other almost at once.  I sigh. This is how I imagine it must feel to curl up in a winter cabin, next to the fire with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate.

We aren’t going far at all, but this drive always feels to me as if we are journeying to a whole new world. A world where people walk slowly, talk softly, listen deeply.  And this time of the year is always our favorite to visit there.  In summer there is shelter from the heat of the sun, in spring there are the sounds and smells of new things, in winter there’s the hush of being blanketed in snow, but in autumn there is mystery.  Leaves are revealing colors you didn’t know were there, fruits and seeds are ripening at once, and everything that’s dying is becoming food. I love the autumn best of all. Grandmother always told me that autumn was the season where she’d too felt most at home, until more recent years when the stillness of winter began beckoning her.

Soon we arrive at the small parking area at the trailhead. Grandmother and I dangle our legs out opposite sides of the car as we don our hiking boots for our walk, then grab our packs and hit the trail. These woods are mostly young, or so grandmother has told me. Though they are much, much older than even she, in tree-years they are mere teenagers. Many years ago, before grandmother’s grandmother was born, every tree in these woods had been cut down by lumbermen. It’s hard for me to imagine that this favorite-place-in-the-world of mine was once completely stripped naked of life like that. I feel sad when I think of that. But today She is so full of life that I know she has healed from those days.

(Grandmother taught me to use the word ‘She’ instead of ‘it’ when talking about the earth and the things in it. She says it helps us to love and learn from Her more)

I think it would be hard for me to believe my grandmother’s stories about how these woods once were, if it weren’t for another grandmother much older than she, who tells the same story each time we visit Her in this place. That’s where we’re going today, of course. We hike for 2 miles before reaching the footpath, which leads up to Her, that veers off from the main trail. It’s not hard to find, if you’re looking for it, for there are others who come to visit with Her too, animal and human friends, and together we’ve worn a narrow path.

I remember coming here with my 2 cousins, when we were 5 or 6 years old. Grandmother had said ‘We’re going on an adventure together today!’. Of course, we ended up here, at the Grandmother Tree. We three girls tried to reach around her trunk, to give Her a girl-hug, but our arms weren’t long enough no matter how far we stretched our fingertips and pressed our cheeks into Her belly. Not until Grandmother joined us, were we big enough, and then we stood for a very long time, just holding Her, feeling Her life next to our hearts, so close.

Grandmother Tree had more stories to share than just the story of these woods being clear cut, for She remembered her sisters and cousins with whom She’d once dwelt in these woods, who would be as grand as She today had they lived.  I love when She tells this one.  I always feel a shiver run down my back as I turn around and around to see a dark forest filled with beings like Her, feel the deep, quiet peace of that. This is what the words on my grandmother’s stickers feel like.

But the biggest secret She shares is the one of how She survived the woodcutter’s blade, so that She could live to grow into such a Wise One, offering seasons and seasons of shelter and shade and nourishment to so many creatures, like my grandmother and me.  To hear this secret, you must follow that narrow footpath, for you can’t hear it from the main trail. You have to walk around back. Then She will tell you. Back there, between the place where my cousin’s cheek and mine hugged her belly, she whispers Her secret in your ear.

Her scar is massive, taller than both my cousin and me standing on top of each other’s shoulders. My grandmother calls it Her beauty mark, though the loggers who paid a visit to these woods didn’t see it that way. That’s why they didn’t want Her. She was hollow inside, with a wound so large that decay had set in even then. Disfigured like that, she would’ve been worthless to them. That’s why my grandmother says it’s this gaping cavity that saved Her.

Together, my grandmother and I learned that after a major trauma of some sort, fungus gets inside a tree and begins to decompose the tender middle-wood. However, a tree can survive the loss of her middle-wood as long as she continues to grow on the outside. Many injured trees lay down rings and rings, covering over a wound, though they are hollow inside, and survive for quite some time. Sometimes though, trees like Grandmother, with more massive wounds, grow new wood right on the edge of their wounds by curling inward. Rather than growing flat across the wound, which might heal the wound faster, trees like Her grow two supporting columns of new growth called ‘rams horns’ which make the tree stronger.

My grandmother once taught me this prayer about Rams.

Great horned ram, filled with life force,
Teach me to a black sheep,
Going my own way, following my path,
Not walking in the rut made by the narrow-minded.
Help me to to keep my balance in unstable places,
Keeping my freedom to be me.

When I was a little girl, that first summer when all four of us wrapped ourselves around Her, I could slip through the doorway to sit inside Her belly.  The ground was soft and moist, filled with leaves and rich with decaying pieces of Her  Sometimes I wish I were still that small, so I could sit there today, because I’ve got some questions that I need to ask Her, and it seems the answers are clearer in there. Today, I sit with my back to her belly instead, where She willingly holds me up as I draw pictures and write stories in the empty book my grandmother gave to me. I like the stories that come when I sit here with Her. They always surprise me somehow.

Other days I scurry up her trunk and out onto a limb, to my grandmother’s favorite seat. My grandmother loves to tell me the story about how, when she was a girl herself about my age, she climbed up to the highest limb she could reach in the white pine in her side yard, but then was afraid to come down. ‘Just like a cat’, with both hoot in unison. My great-grandfather had had to climb up to carry her down.

But she’s not afraid to go out on a limb in this tree, for there’s one more secret I haven’t yet shared about Grandmother Tree. Long before I was born, my grandmother went looking for Her. She had heard rumors about this magnificent matriarch who dwelt in the woods near her home. The day she discovered Her, it was early spring, after a harsh winter, filled with heavy ice storms and fierce blasting winds. There had been a late spring snow the day before, but it was warm the day that my grandmother walked the main trail. Ahead and to the right, my grandmother noticed a brightness, as from an opening in the canopy, where the sunlight was penetrating, streaming in. As my grandmother drew nearer, she knew, instinctively that this was the place.

She tells it like this.

It was as if I came upon the scene of great Beauty where something profoundly sacred had just happened. It was obvious that something terribly violent had occurred in this place; at the same time there was something incredibly serene about this place where I stood. I knew the tree had succumbed recently, for there were still leaves in her branches. The impact of her falling, I cannot fully describe. Trees, which had stood for a century, had come down with her, while branches were stripped completely from others. The gaping tear was in the canopy now, and it was as large as a football field. At first, I found it odd that so much of her massive trunk remained standing, at least 2 maybe 3 of me high and wondered why she would break like that, wondered how even lightning could’ve penetrated her girth to fell her. But when I came around back, to the secret place, I saw then for the first time that She had succumbed at last to a wound. I touched tenderly the flowing contours of her scar, peered inside her cavity and up into the sunlit sky.

I remember most how She was dripping that day. The snow was melting rapidly and there was a moist ripeness to her lying there. I understood that in her falling, in her dying at last, she would yet give birth to new life. The sunlight, penetrating through to the forest floor, thanks to her surrender, would surely impregnate the seeds lying dormant there, and Grandmother’s very bones would become a placenta, nourishing new life. Her wound had become a womb.’

So you see, when my grandmother found her, before I was born, She had already broken off, about 15 feet above the earth, and plummeted to the ground. So, when I scurry up her trunk to sit in Her limbs today, to write or to draw or to listen, it is upon the remains of Her trunk, which still sprawl across the ground, that I scurry. When I was a kid, She was the best playground I could have ever wanted. My grandmother would give me a boost up onto her trunk and off I’d go climbing and running, never too high, but close to the earth, and never afraid to come down.

In the summertime now, She is covered in vines and green growing things, but this late in the autumn, after the vines have died back, we can sit on her bones once more. Today, my grandmother and I eat our lunches out on her favorite limb. We talk about turtles and trees, but mostly we listen. Grandmother closes her eyes and smiles for a long time. Somedays, I join in her ‘listening smile’, and somedays I draw pictures of her smiling, but today I slide down to peek under the leaves and the rocks for what might be hiding there.

Its soon time to go home, so we gather our things, kiss Grandmother Tree goodbye, and head back to the car for the drive back to my house. My grandmother asks me what I am looking forward to in my week, and I tell her. She reminds me to keep listening, to keep looking beneath the leaves and the rocks.

I kiss my grandmother goodbye at the door and dart inside. The dogs break into a frenzy of joy when they see me. They smell the earth on me.

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