Taking Refuge

Along with just about everyone else I know, I have been moving through various stages of depression, anxiety, dread, horror, and grief as I witness the travesty of government, the utter destruction of anything remotely resembling democracy, a social safety net, or environmental protections, indicated by Congress and the evolving cabinet of the soon-to-be-inaugurated dictator-wannabe.

But lately something has happened that – while it hasn’t brought me to singing and dancing, it has allowed me to put my feet more firmly on the ground. take a deep breath, and put myself back together.

A couple of weeks ago, an old real-life nightmare returned after I’d thought it gone forever. It brought profound upset, fear, anger, outrage, and a raft of other emotions, all based on pure conjectures built on a chance 15-second encounter on the street. Trauma kicked in and – after digging deep into my own “Defense against the Dark Arts” toolbox and many others’ – I went through massive home purges and clearings, doing shadow-work and practicing Metta meditation and self-Reiki.

I didn’t know what was coming regarding that nightmare, but based on what I knew, it was likely not to be good. Another wise friend had told me “If you project XYZ negative possibilities, you are also responsible for finding the same number of positive possibilities. You simply don’t know why this has happened.” I tried hard, but past experience was getting the better – or worse – of my intentions.

Click to hear Tara Brach’s guided meditation: Taking Refuge in the Beloved

Finally – exhausted by the what-ifs, the possibilities, the projections, and the near-paranoia of this close-t0-home circumstance on top of the drama on the national stage – I stood at my Reiki altar before the images of Tara and Mother Mary, and the words came to my mind, “Take refuge.” And – having run out of other options – I did. Envisioned a field of compassionate love, the arms of the Divine Mother, took a running mental leap and threw myself in.

The peace was immediate, and exquisite. It wasn’t that the genuine and potential horrors of the world – or the potential terrors of my immediate neighborhood – had ceased to be; I became aware that they were not all that existed. That – as Viktor Frankl had discovered in the Nazi concentration camps – the final freedom of one’s mind was still unbroken:

 …everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.. ~~Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I could choose my focus: fear and paralysis, certainty of helpless victimhood, outrage and striking-back – or I could focus on the human spirit taking large and small acts of compassion and love nearby, across the nation and around the world. I could focus on the goodness, beauty and creativity of Earth Mother and her endless adaptations of evolution. I could focus on the dark, and surrender to despair, or I could focus on the knowledge that there is a deeper balance.

This didn’t mean that I was going to disappear into never-read-the-newspaper/never-look-at-the-news/happy-happy perky never-a-negative-thought denial. It meant I could see the horrors, but deny them their power over me. I could choose my state of mind, I could choose my actions rather than reacting.

As I disengaged the emotional hooks of dread and helplessness, I remembered the words of the young warrior at Standing Rock:  “The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” Take refuge in divine love and compassion.

 

 

 

 

One Heart, One Mind – A Cry and a Flood of Solidarity

At two-twenty one morning, after a week of horrific news from Standing Rock, Washington, Aleppo, ecosystems of the world, I was numbly clicking through Facebook posts so I didn’t have to go to bed, lie there staring at the ceiling, and possibly get waylaid by the despair that had been building in me since….I’m not sure when, probably since the brutal attacks started at Standing Rock.

The Facebook post wrote itself…and touched off a flood of support, empathy, and wisdom: 104 “likes,” 64 comments (some long-extended commencolorful-1320721_1280ts spanning hours or days) and one share…not to mention the personal connections made and deepened off the thread. Six days later, the “likes” and responses continue. I am astounded..at no time have I ever been so raw in my FB sharing; nor have any of my posts touched such a chord. Never have I been gifted with such solidarity, support and wisdom. I am awed, humbled, and deeply grateful for so many soul-connections, unknown until now.

As friends have been posting their own struggles with depression and despair since then, I’ve been tagging them on the post, so they could share in the wealth of solidarity…and finally realized that it would make far more sense to copy the post and comments (with their makers’ permission) here.

Let it stand as a testament to human connection in a time of growing isolation, a demonstration that even when we humans feel most alone, most direly isolated, we are not alone; others are sharing the struggle, suffering with us. We are all truly connected in this world, we all do share in the sufferings and delights of others at profound levels, whether we realize it or not.

I have (for obvious) reasons, posted only a select few of the comments; for each one here, there were many variations on “You’re not alone,” “I hear you,” “I’m struggling too” and “Standing with you,” many punctuated by heart icons. What a blessed festival of love.

___________________________

Phila Hoopes
December 14 at 2:22am ·

 This has to stop. I am lying here on my sofa at 2:20 a.m., clinging to our sharing, our grieving here, each share a bearing-witness, each click a prayer. Dry-eyed, choked silent, feeling the knot of world-pain growing in my chest, in my throat: Aleppo, Standing Rock, Washington, the rainforests, the oceans, the…….all of it. Too much to begin to comprehend, too much to bear…and yet as a human with a heart I cannot shut it down and go to sleep; I cannot stop this vigil of solitary grieving, this silent, ongoing scream of desperate, directionless prayer that does nothing practical (or does it?).

This is the worst time, when the phone is running out of power and bed is beckoning my body, but I cannot think of letting go even this tenuous FB thread of connection to people who together are suffering the connection to the world’s pain and fighting the causes in such wee-hours ways as we can – a petition here, a letter there, a donation somewhere else, prayers and Reiki ongoing – does it make any difference at all? The demons set loose on the world would have us believe it does not – meanwhile trying to keep up the energy to do our own work of service for the world.

This is the time when I wish for a sweatlodge to wring the salt water and pain from pores and eyes while surrounded by others similarly releasing. To hear prayers from others echoing my own. To know that somewhere, somehow, this giveaway of heart makes a butterfly-flap of difference, shifts the balance even the tiniest fraction of a millimeter toward the light.

Comments
Sucely Lucifera Hernandez <3 It does. The Moon bears witness to our pain at the same time as she sheds light on it.

Casey van Bronkhorst You are far from alone. Let the thread of connection act as a very slow recharge cable, linking you back to us all with the faintest and most delicate of energies. You are heard. You are, softly, appreciated. Rest if you can; sleep if you must, but savor the hidden strength of that cable. …Run with us, if you’re too tired to stand. We pace in the earliest hours. We listen, though our ears are too weary to accept silence.Grief is a needle and thread that stitches you back together after a phenomenal loss. Occasionally, as it does its work, it sticks you, catching you off guard. That’s part of its process, though, as each bit of pain is a healing moment but it may help keep your empathic talents in perspective at the moment when you feel like reaching out and grabbing someone’s pain from them.

Cate Raphael  Send out that which you desire and turn it over. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the drama and the emotion of it, it happens to me too. But then when I go into meditation and be very quiet and focused and send out what it is I wish to see in the world , I remember that it is all happening for a reason. The best thing we can do is to take care of our bodies and our spirits , so that we can raise the energy, raise the vibration in this crazy world filled with turmoil. You cannot control people places or things you can only send out the energy that you want to receive. That is how healing works. If you are unable to physically help then work on raising your own energy so you can help with the healing ! You are draining yourself, and that will not help anyone but it will hurt you.

Karen Starr So many of us are reeling at the state of the world at this moment. And it is hard to know where to focus and how to best be of use. Especially for empaths this is a very hard time indeed. However, I think we need to cultivate a calmness that allows us to move past the grief and outrage to find the wisdom to direct our action. So many beings are depending on us and we have more allies in the natural and spiritual world than we can possibly imagine. Each day, each hour there is only each of us doing our best to relieve some small part of the suffering around us as best we can. Sending you lots of love, Phila.

Christel Libiot   I hear you sister and yes there is so much going on in the world, everywhere, at so many levels.. It seems the hope of “better” is so tenuous. And more than ever we need to show up and stand strong as the peaceful warriors that we are and come together to energize the emerging paradigm of Oneness and Right Relationship with All Our Relations, supporting a new establishment of a World that Works for Everyone. We have the power to do what is necessary. Let’s gather; let’s do it!

Sue A. Phillips  I am there with you too. One day despair, the next day hope. I am working on standing in my loving warrior space – I get there for a little while, then I am overcome with a depth of sadness that has me running scared – retreating into my little one who can ignore reality for a while. I honor all sides of myself along this very difficult road. We must move out of FaceBook to the real world and start standing together- for support, yes, but more for the strength of our warriors standing in all of our collective glory to protect Mother Earth and our sisters and brothers . The hard part for me is how to start the process.

David Alan Tyner  Phila, your witness is heard, your sharing felt, your deep compassion appreciated, yet most significantly your hope is kindled and enfolded. We who are letting ourselves be sensitive to this often overwhelming life, must find some way not to be crushed by its weight and expanse. Thich Nhat Hanh has helped me take Andrew Boyd’s challenge to somehow find a solution and to become it, piece by peace.

The Four Qualities of Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
CREATIVESYSTEMSTHINKING.WORDPRESS.COM

….”The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use “compassion” to translate karuna.”
http://andrewboyd.com/the-agony-of-being-connected-to…/

….“Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored”
~ Buffy Sainte-Marie 

…. A close friend just mentioned obliquely who knew of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the lyricist for Donovan’s “Universal Soldier” ? And I burst into tears remembering her as the one who told my near empty younger slate of the story of blankets, that forever changed my life and perception of First People’s struggles, being beyond any misery I could ever imagine. Still trying … many decades later.

Thank you Buffy Sainte-Marie, one of my heroines.
“My country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnuV9m7RahA

“Donovan – Universal Soldier”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A50lVLtSQik

LYRICS HERE
http://www.metrolyrics.com/my-country-tis-of-thy-people-you…

…It’s my honor to share this flame I imbue, as I’ve often been rekindled and know that this spark we share, goes back long past campfires, fighting off the Ice Ages.

… Geese share ‘point’ duty, as that initial sacrifice makes all others’ journey easier, which undermines the nominal leader/follower model with us all being leaders, just waiting for our time

…I talked to one of the creators of this app, and she assured me there are many healing circles that welcome men, although some do not and that’s also needed: 
http://www.findawomenscircle.com/
Find A Woman’s Circle: The Divine Feminine App

Carol Sheppard I understand and share in the mania of love, and worry, and needing to make even a flicker of a difference when all the forces seem to be saying that it is futile, with so many hands reaching toward fleeting connection and community that only faith says might make contact and matter. This is such a dark and difficult time and I pray to the spirits that somehow so much suffering may eased. Hard as it is we must hang on and do the work of loving fiercely and fully, especially when there is no evidence that it makes a difference. It is necessary to be the ones that do so, especially now. Sending you love and blessings ♡♡♡

Kerrith McKechnie I am with you. I think there are countless beings with us. We must be still so we can know our strengths and do what we must do. One tiny step at a time, but it IS a step, and we ARE together.

George Moore I’ve changed my prayer intention from putting an end to all of what is going on to allowing it all to ramp up to the point that finally tips the scale and creates worldwide peaceful resistance and economic revolution. By being peaceful resistors in the faces of militarized corporations, like the Water Protectors are doing, we can affect peaceful change. By not buying anything from the multi billion dollar corporations and buying locally from small businesses that only sell what is produced in your home country we peacefully cut the supply of green blood to the greed ridden billionaires and put them out of business. These actions will change the entire world. This is what I pray for, meditate on, and ask everyone to join me in.

Journeying to Standing Rock

When I named this blog SoulPaths/the journey, I had no idea of the literal journeys that would be involved in this particular soul’s path. In the past two years, Ecuador, Findhorn…and this week, a pilgrimage of support to Standing Rock, ND.

Why am I going there? I’ve written of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to the Dakota Access Pipeline that is slated to run across the reservation land, crossing the Oglala Aquifer and – many times over – the Missouri River. I touched on how they are being joined by a virtual United Nations of supporters from Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures from around the world. And I’ve touched on my gradual progress from timorous waffling to starting a group for subtle activism, to a drive for donations.

It didn’t end there…while I was raising awareness online and at Friends Meeting, I was also wrestling with a heart-response to a calling to come to Standing Rock. It seemed purely out of the question at first – an action for brave activist sorts, or groups to go out together – but as the awareness of approaching winter grew, I felt a growing urgency: if I did not go, NOW, and help in whatever way I could, I would always regret my inaction. The parable of the talents haunted me: how in these days am I using my talents for the greater good? Clicktivism and Facebook consciousness-raising were nowhere near enough.

It all came to a head three weeks ago, when I was out in the garden, clearing away spent morning glory vines from the fence and hedge: an inner voice was saying insistently, I am dying.

Wha-at? I asked who was talking – the morning glory vines were certainly giving up the ghost. Was that it? No – that could not explain the edge of gut-wrenching grief that accompanied the words. It viscerally recalled my husband’s last spoken words – Let me go – as he lay swaddled in burn-medicated wrappings after losing 85% of his skin to a reaction against the antibiotics he’d received following the implantation of an experimental device intended to keep his heart functioning until a transplant was found. It was Christmas Day; in an effort to bring holiday spirit and some level of sanity and family tradition to an unthinkable situation the kids and I had decorated his Intensive Care room with ornaments, lights, and a tiny tree the day before…but he was so deeply sedated that he could only rouse himself to voice those three words when we gathered around his bed.

I could not bear to think of the ultimate meaning of his request: the doctors were saying that this horrific, extreme situation was just a bump in the road to his ultimate healing!  Fighting my instinctive knowing, the shock and grief at my core, I started asking him for clarity – am I holding your hand too tightly? Are the bandages hurting you? I have no idea how I could find any other meaning than the obvious, but somehow I did – I kept asking, but there was no response; he’d spent his energy and was unconscious. Fighting tears, I turned to the nurse: this is what he said, but he couldn’t clarify…what do I do? She responded: unless you’re absolutely certain that he wanted you to pull the plug, you can’t do it. He can recover from this; if you ended it now, you’d be haunted by the doubt forever.

They called at 1:30 a.m. the next morning: he was having a respiratory crisis and they needed to do a tracheotomy: would I give permission? And so those three words were his last. The doctors told me a month later that the antibiotic cocktails were achieving no more than chemical reactions; effectively, he was already gone. They pulled the plug on January 28, 2006.

As I stood in the garden ten years later with dead leaves in my hair and spent vines in my hand and I am dying echoing in my mind, I balanced on a similar edge of denial. Am I dying? I asked – I had no knowledge of having any life-threatening medical condition! The knowledge came: you are replicating your father’s denial of life as you work in your house behind your computer screen. If you do not get out into the world and take real-time action, yes, you will die inwardly. But no, that is not what is meant here.

I knew the answer, of course: it is the biosphere that is dying of human’s unceasing assaults: deforestation, oil spills, the Tar Sands, the pumping of the aquifers and poisoning of the waters, pesticides killing the pollinators – all the litany of rape and destruction of our planet. Ecosystems are collapsing, climate change ramping up, a sixth great extinction taking place…yes,  I am dying was the voice of life on Earth.

The grief doubled me over: hanging onto a fence post in the yellowing garden, I wept, screaming soundlessly.

Once the worst of the pain had passed, there was a clear realization: the time for hiding behind a computer screen was over. I needed to show up and take personal action to support the causes I valued. And there was no doubt about the cause that took precedence: the water protectors of Standing Rock.

The connection went beyond their historic stand – the union among nations – the support across cultures and causes and spiritual traditions.

More than 20 years earlier, my husband had been a Sun Dancer, first on Rosebud Reservation, then at Santee, Nebraska. For two of the four years he’d Danced, I went along to support him, and witnessed …I can only call it a different reality. Here were men and women so heartfelt in their prayers that they were willing to dance without food or water for four days under the blazing sun, some of them following Spirit’s guidance to undertake extreme physical ordeals that lent power and urgency to their prayers. At the close of the ceremony, they channeled the Divine grace they had received as healing for the community, and received the community’s honor and gratitude in return.

This was the ethos that undergirded the water protectors, I knew: an ethos of radical self-giving for the ongoing life of the Earth and the People – i.e., all beings, all the peoples of every race, nation, creed, species, and sort – animal, vegetable and mineral. An ethos grounded in conscious connection with the Earth as a living, sentient, sacred being, an embodiment of the Divine. A way of being centered not on consumption of the planet’s resources, but on conscious interaction within the web of life.

When my husband was in his last two years of Dancing, the Intercessor was closing that particular ceremony to non-Natives: they could finish their four-year cycles, but they could not return. The American Indian Movement was a strong influence on the Dance in the two years I attended, and as a very obviously non-Native-looking woman I fielded my share of questions: who are your elders? Where are your holy places? At the same time their questions led me to question my own presence there, even as a Dancer’s wife and supporter, they also sent me on a search for the shamanic roots of my own heritage: a search that led to the Baltic pagan tradition Romuva and the Graeco-Roman ritual dance tradition of Tarantelle. After my husband’s passing, I went on a lengthy path of self-rediscovery and reinvention, staying away from any appearance of cultural appropriation.

That all changed this summer when the world began flocking to Standing Rock. I’d been feeling angry, out of step, and deeply alone in this culture – longing to do more than marketing restorative businesses, practicing animal Reiki, and raising consciousness online, but not knowing what to do. The public invitation from Standing Rock spokespeople – to come and witness and support the Earth-nurturing ways being demonstrated in the support camp of Oceti Sakowin, and for those who felt called, to take nonviolent direct action in the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp – hit with a direct appeal t0 my heart. And that was even before the spokeswoman with whom I was corresponding told me that she remembered my husband from his last two years of Sundancing.

So – with support and prayers from Patapsco Friends Meeting, financial donations from family and friends, and bags upon bags of donated clothing, blankets, and other items for the water protectors as they prepare the camps for the brutal North Dakota winters, I set out yesterday on yet another journey: to Oceti Sakowin, to spend three days helping in whatever way I can. I’m writing this post from an AirBnb host’s guest bedroom midway across the continent, just before geting back on the road.

The journey continues.

First Steps to Findhorn: The Mountain Not Conquered

Be careful what you wish for, they say…and after a hectic re-entry following two magical weeks at the Findhorn Foundation eco-village and learning center in northern Scotland, I badly needed time to re-ground, re-center, and integrate all I’d experienced into my life and dreams here in Baltimore. And the solution was effortlessly manifested: a case of acute bronchitis that left me flattened on the sofa with a small pharmacy of meds, and just enough energy to contemplate:

What do I do when everything I say I believe – turns out to be true? When some more of the threads binding my allegiance to a materialist-reductionist, goal-driven construction of the world have snapped, opening perception to a living, conscious, and multi-dimensional cosmos, utterly independent of human agendas? When I have taken steps from the frenetic pace of a human doing toward becoming a human being?

IMG_20160414_072113231
The path not taken (the steep cut to the right) and the path taken (the long line to the left)

The learning began on the very first day, as I checked into the Edinburgh AirBnb, was greeted and given directions by my hostess, and set off with a daypack bristling with necessities and plans to climb Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano presiding over Holyrood Park.

The one thing I didn’t bring, however, was appropriate footwear…

I barely noticed while pausing for a quick breakfast at The Southern on South Clerk Street or doing the touristy “step, stop, snap a photo” progress through the few blocks to the park….but once I reached my destination and looked at the winding, rugged stone steps leading to the summit, and the parade of lissome young day-trippers in tank tops, shorts, and hiking shoes ascending, I glanced down at my chic clogs with nearly zero tread and realized this probably wasn’t going to turn out as planned.

IMG_20160414_072059560
Gorse – not for grasping

And indeed, before I’d gone 100 feet up the stone stair with shoes slipping, ankles wobbling, and acrophobia/vertigo/poor balance kicking in, I’d discovered that 1) the prickly gorse bushes lining the steps were not helpful for support; 2) wobbly middle-aged non-climbers were an obstruction to the parade of (very polite) high-speed summiters; and 3) if I was having this much trouble on the way up, the way down would be seriously hazardous.

My late father’s voice was echoing in my memory from long-past hikes – Don’t be such a fraidy-cat! – but humiliating as it might be to turn tail and retreat, I preferred a wobbly, painstaking way down rather than a high-speed tumble. Thanks be for the patience of the summiters as I made my slow way down against traffic…

Back at the bottom, I tested my shoes on the dirt paths toward the crags, watching the ravens and realizing: this day wasn’t about distinguishing myself in the eyes of other hikers, or in my late father’s judgment. This was my journey, and it was up to me to set the rules and goals.

Why had I come to Scotland, after all? I wasn’t here as a mountaineer to conquer an insensate geological formation. I was here on the first step of a pilgrimage to a spot on the planet where humans purposefully co-created with the consciousness of nature. How could I begin the journey in a spirit of cooperation with this environment?

In all honesty, I realized, getting quickly to the stated destination of a hike has never been my motivation: from childhood hikes to last year’s treks in the rainforest of Ecuador, I fume inwardly when led full-speed past amazing plants and sights on a myopic drive to destination XYZ, when I am longing to slow down and see what is around me. For me, the experience of the journey, the connection with the land, then and now, is what matters. 

IMG_20160414_075550321_HDR
Judas-ear fungus (thanks to the RBG staff for the identification)

So I took a second look at Arthur’s Seat: was there a gentler path that would allow me to get acquainted with the mountain, on my own wobbly terms? And there was…

I followed it, slowly, in a child’s spirit of wonder and curiosity, feeling the trail firm under my feet. Taking note of the gorse, the blossoming trees, the lichens and mosses, and one breathtaking growth gleaming translucent as a rose on a sunlit tree trunk.  I greeted leisurely strollers and dog-walkers, watched the ravens flying below us….went as far as I felt called, and turned around and returned, impeding nobody’s ascent, when I felt the climb was complete. And saw and felt and experienced it all, as fully as I could….

…And returned to level ground, radiant, and made my way to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

IMG_20160414_080820808_TOPI didn’t know it then, but that experience set the tone of the trip. It wasn’t about achieving popularly accepted goals, repressing the push-pull between the inner “I must/should/shall” voices vs. the voice of the limited – and sensible – inner child for whom depth of nature-connection always came first.

It was about learning to value my own unique perspectives and leadings… respecting my limitations and the gifts they offered.  Respecting my own journey and experience…

….and opening the doors to discoveries that couldn’t be reached during the single-minded pursuit of a summit.

Escaping the Good Daughter

I’m flexing my wings for another journey this spring…this time to Findhorn, a destination I’ve wanted to visit for years. There’s an Experience Week happening, and with it the opportunity to step into a landscape where the green beings are awake and aware and working with their human stewards. It’s a trip I’ve dreamed of taking for years. 

The challenge is going to be getting there. I’ve learned from experience that each step forward is met with equal inner pushback…call it inertia, call it resistance…and this is no exception. Far from it.

For example, there was the challenge of escaping the strictures of the Good Daughter…

While shopping for my plane tickets to Inverness, I found one of those “flexible dates” offers – a walloping difference in price if I left two days early. How could I resist…it would add free time to the trip, independent time with which I could do as I chose. I’d be crazy to pass it up….

With the purchase made, and 24 hours’ freedom to reconsider, I reconsidered. I could do as I’ve salisbury-crags
always done in past travels – arrive at the site of the workshop, spend all my time in the area, attend the event, turn around and go home….or I could allow some space to be a solitary tourist in a bucket-list land, change my landing point from Inverness to Edinburgh, spend a day sightseeing, and mosey up to my destination by scenic train through the Scottish Highlands.

How was this even a question? It would be the trip of a lifetime! I swapped out my tickets for a (nonrefundable) arrival in Edinburgh, and commenced to plan….

…And awoke at 3:00 that morning, submerged in terror. The plane would go down, Edinburgh would be attacked, the train would derail – my imagination was conjuring up no end of horrors.

After fighting through the cold sweat, nausea, and metallic taste of panic, I finally realized: this was the lifelong conditioning of the Good Daughter, the internalized message thundering through my nervous system like a voice of God, delivered via my cautious, Depression-raised parents: “Thou shalt not stray from the approved path…thou shalt not waste time and money on needless curiosity…thou shalt not add needless expense to thy already unnecessary and excessive vacation…thou shalt not….”

By going to a different and distant landing point and traveling on public transport through wild terrain to my ultimate destination, I was breaching the circle of safety I’d allowed for the specific purpose of the workshop. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I was frolicking away from the narrow path I had allowed myself; and I was ripe for the picking by any predator. And, my conditioned conviction insisted, I would most certainly be picked. Red Riding Hood couldn’t have been any more doomed.

But this trip was for precisely that purpose: making my choices, stepping outside the comfort zone, defining my own experience. Escaping the conditioned straitjacket of the Good Daughter to live my own life, now that I was free to do so. Defining my purpose for the extra time and giving myself my own approval. Indulging the impulsive, curious, adventuresome Younger-Self who regularly hopped off the MTA bus a mile or more from my destinations for the sheer joy of walking and seeing the neighborhoods.

The memory arose: receiving tickets for the commencement ceremony for my Master’s degree, knowing that no one from my family would be attending. At the university bookstore, ordering the frame for the diploma, I saw a magnet: Make Yourself Proud. That became my impetus: I hadn’t spent seven years pursuing the degree, devoting doctoral effort for each 3-credit independent study (my advisor said), for my father’s pride or my family’s approval. I had done it to reinvent and reclaim my life and purpose.

This was another step on that autonomous journey. The work of overcoming my Good Daughter fears was the prerequisite for the work of my stay in Findhorn.

So refusing to be turned aside, I pushed back. Set up my B&Bs, identified the sights that called irresistibly to be seen. Set up the train trip through the Highlands to the beachside town of Nairn, and from there to Findhorn. Experienced a warm online welcome from the people who would be hosting me.

And step by step (picturing my mother cheering me on as I broke out of her inherited reclusiveness), the nightmare scenes of disaster were replaced by the images of historic, mystical, Earth-power sites. The fear was replaced by anticipation and a solid sense of rightness.

Yes, as a fifty-something middle-aged woman, I might be breaking out of the Good Daughter mold absurdly late. But better claim my life, my autonomy, my purpose, my fun, my adventure, late than not at all.

 

Phoenix Rising

There’s been a lot written about September as Suicide Prevention Month. There are walks scheduled, grassroots support movements growing…in particular Project Semicolon, a brilliant step toward reframing the question in a way that warms this grammarian’s heart…

It’s been a passionate topic for me for a long time: I’ve seen friends teeter on the edge and – thankfully – pull themselves back, or allow themselves to be pulled back. Other classmates, sadly, were not so fortunate.

And I also spent a long, long time in my 20s and 30s teetering on that drop-edge of yonder, often getting just close enough to draw blood, at one point making desperate flesh-offerings to propitiate the gods of shame, guilt and helplessness that kept me incapable of changing my past or present.

Those physical wounds were slow to heal…and their scars, like the forces that drove them, remained in my body and psyche. Like an alcoholic always hyper-aware of the location of the nearest bottle, I was always conscious that the drop-edge still awaited should I choose it…and if I forgot, the scars were there to remind me.

Yes, a whale of a lot of personal work took place in the twenty or so years that followed…and I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to the teachers and friends who stood by and supported with their wisdom and their prayers. Sometimes it seemed to take a village  just to keep this woman topside.

What caused the anguish and rage? – do I really need to go into that? Every woman who’s been there – and probably many men – can recite the litany: Not-enoughness. Self-doubt. Shame. Self-hatred. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of being seen. Perfectionism. Self-judgment. The whole Pandora’s box unleashed by a Depression-raised father from a small town with shame/inadequacy/rage issues of his own and an eternal need to be right….followed by a husband whose deep childhood conditioning led him to see women by default as authoritarian abusers. Between the internalized echoes of his mother, and my father, didn’t we have fun…

No. When those echoes started ringing in our minds, it wasn’t fun. We were lucky in that we were deeply involved in parallel men’s and women’s personal-growth organizations, so we were somewhat more conscious than we might otherwise have been, but processes and scripts can only have so much effect when generations of epigenetic trauma are pulsing in one’s DNA and nervous system.

Lots of regrets there. Lots of work to heal, lots of conversations in spirit with a husband nearly 10 years dead. And I would still occasionally lean over that drop-edge and consider…And then pull back.

When did it shift? In the months after my father, after six months’ sharp decline in which we both struggled to reach some kind of reconciliation, passed in my arms, I began realizing – I was no longer obligated to be the good daughter, limiting myself to fit his projected standards, overcome his disapproval. It was over; I was free to be myself.

But while he may have passed, his internalized voice had not…nor had the family shadows. One night’s plunge into the darkness, miraculously allowing Spirit to speak once the convulsions of tears had passed, let me see: if I take that leap off the drop-edge, the darkness wins…for me, and for everyone who knows me. There’s no coming back from that choice. In surrendering to the darkness, I’d bring it closer to those I love.

Previously I’d just waited out the storms – choosing sleep, choosing books or videos or Internet-surfing or other distractions – but that night was different: I chose life. Not out of guilt – what a horrible, selfish person I was to think of ending it all! – but as an active, conscious vote against surrender to the darkness.

As the Project Semicolon people say: A semicolon represents the place where a writer might have ended a sentence, but chose to pause and continue. You are the author; the sentence is your life.

I started looking again at those scars that night – my flesh-offering to the gods of darkness and despair – thinking of some way to shift the energy they held in my body. And the idea of the semicolon kept returning…transforming the energy of the scars with a semicolon…?

Over the next weeks and months the idea grew…perhaps to call priestess-friends to join and bear witness in an Equinox (balance of dark and light) ritual tattooing over the scars, with a semicolon butterfly? The friends I invited were supportive, but their schedules were booked, and how would I get an artist to come and do the tattoo at my home? The idea was shelved, while I supported other friends through their own drop-edge struggles.

That was a hard couple of months. Meanwhile my own self-doubts resurfaced as I worked to birth a deeper vision for my life and work: who did I think I was? All the internalized lessons from my father came roaring out…how could I exorcise these inner demons?

Finally, Andrew Harvey gave me the key in a spiritual-direction session that shook me to the bones. Tonglen practice was the tool I could use, he said, describing a variation on the ancient Tibetan meditation: to sit naked in front of a mirror, tapping deeply into the compassion of the Cosmic Christ/Great Mother Goddess as I viewed myself. To see the place in my reflection  where the blackness lived, open it up and see the dark, viscous, smoggy smoke come pouring out, and to open the Sacred Heart in me to receive it, transmute it into Light, and send it up to the stars. I should do that daily for a month, he said….and yes, most definitely get the tattoo! As I felt the hope and enthusiasm rising in response to his words, I realized – a butterfly was a lovely image, but I needed something stronger.

We agreed: a phoenix. And it should be my personal ritual, in the company of an artist who could support an individual ritual. I began that day to find the image and the artist…and to begin the practice.

My first attempt at the meditation was like draining an abscess. I felt deeply empty and clear afterwards – the shame and self-doubt for once not knotted at the pit of my stomach. Browsing Pinterest in the afterglow, I found the phoenix image I was seeking: stylized, tribal, a dance of flaming flourishes for the bird’s head, wings, and tail. I found the shop: a Steampunk establishment in Frederick, highly recommended by Witchy friends for its spiritual sensibility. I set an appointment to chat with the artist, Miranda; if the energy felt right, I would schedule the appointment for Equinox day.

The meeting went well…the art and the feel of the place resonated; Miranda was friendly, respectful of the ritual element, and powerfully supportive of my intent for transformation. Could she do it on Wednesday? No – that was her day off, but we could do it in the days before…or  we could do it that same day. After a meditation in a nearby park, I was clear: this was the day. I set the circle in the work area Miranda screened off; I called in guides and protectors and stated intent; Miranda stated her intent to support, and the process began.

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In the weeks since that day, I’ve been coming to realize the depth of magic worked in that glorious tattoo. The scars are completely hidden, one under a flame-feather of the phoenix’s wing, the other in a flourish of her tail; their energy of death and despair is completely gone. I look at the dance of red and gold on my arm, the semicolon that forms the bird’s eye and beak, and my heart lifts. A door has opened in my soul to the voice of hope and change, the ability to make new decisions, dare new ventures, reach for new connections. The Tonglen practice, like radiation, is dealing with the tentacles of generational trauma deep in my soul, and – as Andrew Harvey predicted – the tattoo and its intent started the process of healing.

Would Dad, during his life, have approved of his daughter becoming a Tattooed Lady (as he would say)? Most certainly not. I can say that now, thanks be, without the internalized child-sense that I am wrong for venturing outside his approval (where I’ve lived my life anyway); without the need to flaunt my pushback; with a sense of release that that cowering, self-effacing element of the code I learned from him is no longer mine. I am free to live by my lights, to rise, reborn, from the pyre of burning shame.

I have marked myself as my own woman, in my own integrity, making my own choices. choosing my life. And it is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthing Past to Future

IMG_20150707_085359277Blues night…Dar Williams on Spotify as I de-clutter the kitchen fordonation runs tomorrow. Maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the last of Mom and Dad’s odds and ends on the front porch of the old house to go to the dump…fraying carpets, ancient air conditioners, mattresses…the last push of transition.

My son’s old bedroom is packed with stored energy, memory-weighted artifacts to sort, keep, donate or gift. I look at these things and see them as Mom displayed them, hear her reading her writing to me for feedback, see Dad jerry-rigging his unique creations from bits and snips…

I look at the boxes stacked around the dining room, feel a heavy lump of grief in my chest. The past is a vortex that could pull me in; where is the razor’s edge of integration versus submersion; how do I reclaim my forgotten past, discover my parents’ lost history, honor remembrance and retool legacy, while gaining a perspective on a lifetime’s conscience-driven role of family misfit, a grasp on the work of today and the demands of tomorrow?

OK. Start with simple things. Open up space, open up clarity and energy. Open up time to grieve and let go. Listen to the inner guidance on what each piece wants to offer to me or to unknown others.

My Mother’s Paradox

Moving through the process of clearing my parents’ house yesterday…next up, the audiotape collection, from classical to easy-listening to my mother’s conservative political tapes: Oliver North’s “My Dream for America”; a titleless Pat Robertson tape; home recordings of Nixon’s resignation speech; Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech; a birthday honoring of William F. Buckley with a talk by Leo Buscaglia on Love on the other side (perfect representation of the paradox that was my mother).

Feeling her presence so clearly, I ask: what should I be doing with these? A quick answer: keep the ones that resonate, Freecycle the rest.

I put the box of tapes up on Freecycle with a brief inventory of its contents by category: take some or all. A quick response: “Ted” will take all, pickup tomorrow AM. I feel a moment’s mad clutching – this was food for my mother’s conservative persona and religious belief; the home recordings were made out of deep devotion. Those tapes were a key to understanding her (and perhaps communicating with others likeminded); should I be letting them go? Who knows what these artifacts of her devotion would feed in Ted?

I check in with her presence and feel a reassuring “It’s OK.” Ted will do whatever he’ll do. This letting-go, stripping-away, is about defining Mom’s legacy, the imprint of her paradox, in my life. I need no more than a touchpoint for that…and later on, not even that much.

Reality Check

Questions I’ve been receiving in meditation:

What would you do if you could see that every fumbling step was a lesson, a priceless piece of the mosaic of your life?

What would you do if you knew that the paralysis you feel in the face of greed’s ascendancy is due to your own participation – buying gas for the car, oil for the furnace, etc., etc.?

What would you do if you knew that solutions ultimately won’t come from pointing fingers, blaming self or others, but from sitting in the cosmic dance of interconnected wisdom?

What would you do if you really believed Arvol Looking Horse’s words:” “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?”

What would you do if you really, really, in-the-real-world-really believed that you were one cell in the Divine Body of creation, with an irreplaceable part to play?

To Stop Feeling Alone, Stop Being Alone

In a long-ago job, a manager once told our team – “I don’t want to hear about a problem unless you have a solution to offer.”

I’ve tried to take that as a guideline for blog posts: not to kvetch about an issue unless I can work my way through it to an answer…or at least a new perspective.

Lately, though, between rollercoaster headlines – the violent seesawing between hard-fought wins and losses for the environment, social justice, the economy, one humanitarian disaster after another – the death of my dad and the breaking up of the old homestead – I’m feeling stunned into silence. Have felt stunned into silence for months, for most of this year, truth to tell. Brief, glittering and profound phrases flicker randomly through my mind, but heavy-hearted,  I feel exhausted at the mere thought of connecting them into a message to inspire thought, feeling, or action..

I’m not alone in this. I know that. Activist friends, writer friends have shared their own feelings of shocked and devastated wordlessness in response to the events of the day.

And I know with equal certainty that my spiritual exhaustion stems also – perhaps even more – from insufficient daily, purposeful, practice in engaging with nature. Just to hug a tree, to sit on a stone and feel the earth under my hands, to work in my garden and listen to the guidance of the plants, revives my energy. This depletion from the human excesses around me is a sure sign of “nature deficit disorder” in my life.IMG_20140827_172826

And just as suffering offers the lesson of compassion, this exhaustion reaffirms the source and inspiration of my creative energy.

So…to renew, get out each day, away from keyboard and screen; go out of the house and feel the rain on my face. Listen to the whispers of the ancestors, in all their faces and races and species, in the rustle of wind in the trees. Hug a tree, place my feet between her roots, and feel my own roots reaching into the earth.

To renew creative energy, renew connection to the conscious, living, interconnected creation. To stop feeling alone, stop *being* alone.