Making Peace with my Mother’s Paradoxes

Dear Mom,

You’re one of my angels now, nine years gone, cheering and challenging me from the spirit world after you blessed my vocation in our last real talk….but I’m still trying to make sense of your paradoxical legacy as I, in my turn, approach elderhood. Not only your legacy in my own life, but the legacy you left the nation through your contributions to the Heritage Foundation and Republican Party and the rest of your conservative causes.

I know you would never have wanted a man like the DT to become president – he would have horrified you – but his position as president-elect is nevertheless the outcome of many of the things you supported devotedly in your life. And I still, to this day, can’t figure out whyWhy someone so profoundly spiritual as yourself – I’m not talking about your conservative Catholicism, but your incredible, compassionate, visionary spirituality – could have fallen so completely for a party that waves its collective middle finger in the face of all the virtues you taught by your lifelong example: reverence for the natural world and all its beings; compassion for all regardless of color, nationality, creed; strength that did not deny your femininity.

Propped by my desk now is the prayer by Max Ehrmann that hung over yours, and spoke to the values you demonstrated through your life…

Let me do my work each day; and if the darkened hours of despair
overcome me, may I not forget the strength that comforted me
in the desolation of other times.
May I still remember the bright hours that found me walking over
the silent hills of my childhood, or dreaming on the margin of a quiet
river, when a light glowed within me, and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the tempests of the changing years. 
Spare me from bitterness and from the sharp passions of unguarded
moments. May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit. 
Though the world knows me not, may my thoughts and actions be
such as shall keep me friendly with myself. 
Lift up my eyes from the earth, and let me not forget the uses of the
stars.  Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself. 
Let me not follow the clamor of the world, but walk calmly in my path.
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am; and keep ever
burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope. 
And though age and infirmity overtake me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams, teach me still to be thankful for
life, and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet; and
may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still. 

 

I still remember when I came home from school crying because someone in my fourth-grade class had said I was communist, because we had family in Lithuania, then behind the Iron Curtain. I was raging, “I hate the Russians for what they’re doing to our people!” and you corrected me, saying that the Russians were victims of their government, and that it was the Soviets who were holding our people prisoner.

Thirty-some years later, I was asking your former parish priest, the saintly Father Tony Dranginis, of the Lithuanian community’s church, St. Alphonsus, to help a Russian refusenik friend to bring his wife and son to the U.S….he was appalled, saying, “Do you know what the Russians did to our people?” I quoted your words verbatim…and he had a change of heart, and sent me to the Lithuanian community’s immigration attorney. She made the same objection, I gave her the same response…and six months later Sasha was welcoming Tatiana and Sergei to the U.S.

Your compassionate teachings had more of an effect than you probably ever knew.But for all your parenting wisdom and visionary writings, you could be just as righteous an essayist as your media favorites, William Buckley, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter. And here I find myself choking on why? Why, always Why? How could you not see the hate, the arrogance, the meanness of these people?

I remember years ago, when you told me, “When I was young, I was just as liberal as you are. Then somebody took me aside and told me how things really are.” I’ve wondered for years who that person was, what sway they held over you, that they could turn you aside from the natural inclination of your own soul – the compassion to which you’ve returned since your passing, that shone out of you so many times as you cried over forests being razed and wrote impassioned letters to the editor about cruelty or neglect to animals. The compassion that led you to feed the birds, squirrels, raccoons (“poor Mrs. Raccoon, having to be a single mother and raise her babies alone!”), foxes, possums, cats, dogs….any animal that came your way knew it would receive a meal.

Part of it, I believe, was the church in which you grew up – as Baltimore’s Lithuanian community church, St. Alphonsus was deeply imbued with anti-communist and conservative Catholic ideology; to this day it is one of the centers of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, which you swore to the end that you preferred to the modern vernacular version. Part was surely generational trauma – your parents and sister Olga fleeing Lithuania for their lives, just ahead of the Soviets in 1919. How many anti-communist pamphlets did I unearth among your papers, your uncountable issues of The Voice of the Martyrs chronicling the horrors of life under Soviet Russia? I vividly remember writing letters to my cousins in Lithuania, with you carefully schooling me to
remove any references to Christian holidays because they could cause our family to be sent to the gulags.

I stumbled on an article the other day – The Red Scare and the Liturgy and Life Pamphlet Collection – that gave a deeper perspective: evidently good Catholics couldn’t enter or exit their parish churches without being accosted by ranks of anti-communist literature. And at St. Alphonsus, with its Lithuanian population still grieving families behind the Iron Curtain, that anticommunist message must have been particularly powerful….and amnesiac. I didn’t learn about Lithuania’s quisling government, or collaboration with the Nazis, until I was in my 20s, and was devastated by the information.

And you seemed to swallow it all in your devoted loyalty to Nixon, Reagan, Oliver North, the Bushes, your scorn for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic politicians across the board – “godless liberals.” Your conviction that only incitement by malcontent leaders with malign intent could twist “our fine black families” to engage in protest against the conditions of their lives. And yet you lived just blocks away from poor black neighborhoods in your Depression/WWII young womanhood in Union Square; you must have seen those conditions at least in passing. Or was your ethnic childhood so insular?

If anything emerges from my browsing through your writings, it is your innocence, your naivete, your allegiance to the patriarchal establishment, so conditioned that you couldn’t see the fusion of church and corporate interests. Working for Standard Oil in your younger days, you would have been in the thick of that paradigm, the rise of Christian Libertarianism. And surely there was an attraction (a crush?) to your hyperliterate conservative gurus; how many times did I hear you dreamily quoting William Buckley’s articles, savoring his turns of phrase like a fine wine?

You could have had no idea how it would all wind up; you died years before the rise of the Tea Party, when even Dad, staunch Republican that he was, abandoned the GOP and voted for Obama, not once but twice. “It’s a sin and a crime what the Republicans are doing,” he said. But even in his dying days my work for green businesses and the Earth was still anathema to him, your blessing clearly a misinterpretation on my part.

But always, you and I shared a deeper understanding. And I am heart-glad that, despite our differences, you saw that I was still coming from that spiritual/mystic place we shared…heading in different directions, but from the same point of origin.

Mom, as I’m reading the writing you left behind – years of letters to and from Aunt Olga and Dad, carefully stapled and filed in a box with cheery 1970’s flowers on the cover; years of Op-Eds, articles, and Letters to the Editor, carefully pasted in on fragile pages in big leather scrapbooks – I’m seeing some of the forces that shaped you, but so much remains a mystery. I’m glad that – even while you veered wildly between holding your political ground and cheering me on as a writer; asking me to review your outraged op-eds and saying you were proud of my work; borrowing books from your parish priest on bringing lost family members back to the Church and telling Dad that my husband’s and my Earth-based spirituality was no less real and valid than the fervent Catholicism you practiced – I never doubted your love for me. However reactionary your political and religious positions, you framed them from a place of heart and spirit, and even while you argued fiercely for the default masculine pronoun and derided feminist ideology, you were never any less than proud of being a woman, nor did you expect anything less than that as a woman, I would be strong and hold my own in a man’s world.

For all our differences, Mom, you’ll always be one of my heroes.

REBLOG: Earth Mother’s Message on Chaos, the Grid of Energy, and need for Calm.

From Mare Cromwell’s For the Earth Blog

Reblogging  this powerful and important channeled message from Earth Mother, transmitted by my longtime friend, Gaia mystic and author Mare Cromwell… she provides a little of her story and her many credentials at the beginning, then starts to deliver the message at 4:12.

Just a few of her key points:

CALM DOWN. Too many of us are getting pulled into the drama of these times. Our collective subconscious feeds an energy grid encircling the planet; some of our actions feed Earth Mother; most don’t. So – yes, feel the emotions, process them, and release them; don’t numb them out or get stuck in them or lash out in anger and hatred at others.

ENERGY FEEDS ENERGY. Hatred and anger build more hatred and anger. There are positive energies pouring into the planet – Cosmic Christ energy, Buddha energy. Pray, send positive energies into the grid. Create prayer circles, do ceremony – the Earth needs this all the time now.

CHAOS IS OVERWHELMING. And it is necessary; a new world is coming in. Native peoples have predicted this. Don’t feed the chaos with reactionary drama. Negative energies are served by our unconsciousness, numbness, reactivity…their time is limited and they are fighting hard to hang on.

WE EACH HAVE A CHOICE: To get sucked into the drama, or not. Facebook is a prime example of the addictive cacophony, the energy hooks us immediately when we login and too many of us are venting there. Step away from the computer, go outside, stand barefoot on the Earth and give our angst to Mother; she is hardwired to heal.

MOTHER LOVES US. More than anything, she wants us to know this. Mother loves us and wants to help and heal us. And she asks us to be present with her, listen to her, love her back.

There’s much more – much more – in this long message, and I urge you – please listen to it all. This is the real deal, and it’s important for all of us to hear it.

For more of Mare’s channeled messages from Mother Earth, see her books, Messages from Mother – Earth Mother and The Great Mother Bible (or, I’d Rather Be Gardening). 

Findhorn: Ascending the Power Point

“…And over there is the Power Point,” said our co-focalizer Pat, waving her hand toward the forest beyond the Cluny parking lot. Dropping that provocative comment with no further explanation, she went on to point out the laundry, the Boutique, the downstairs 24-hour shower, and other necessities. But that bIMG_20160430_065735943rief mention left me determined: when we had some free time to explore, the Power Point would be destination #1.

It only took a passing mention at dinner to discover that five women in our group had felt equally compelled to see the Power Point. Despite the cold drizzle, we bundled up and sallied out across the parking lot, past the heart-shaped wisteria espalier and under the freestanding arch, with its path leading up the hill.

This was just a getting-acquainted trip for us, exploring our environment. The five of us laughed and joked about Woman Power, being unafraid – even eager – to encounter the nature spirits of the spot (or even the great god Pan himself!), but an undercurrent of awareness ran through our carrying-on: this expedition was calling forth a wild-woman face that we each carried hidden. Our IMG_20160430_065804821backgrounds were varied, international – Welsh, Spanish, Dutch, German, and American – and each of us was aware at bone level that past the budding arch, with its wind chime like a doorbell, lay genuine earth mysteries that transcended our individual cultures.

Instinctively, each of us gently touched the wind chime to ring as we passed beneath the arch. I was reminded of the Shuar community of Ecuador, who painted their faces before going into the rainforest to tell the spirits that they came humbly in peace.

The graveled path arced uphill, turning sharp left around a growth of trees and bushes to reveal two circles, set like an anteroom and sanctuary. My heartbeat quickened at the still air, the echoing song of sleepy birds, the feeling of expectancy. IMG_20160430_070004602

Instinctively we walked the first circle clockwise, past the Garden of Release and its fragrant flowering bushes. The flagstone path led on to the second circle, outlined in white stones, with a bench facing a simple altar to the Feminine beneath a young Scottish Pine. Silently we gathered in a meditative semicircle and offered an intention for the coming week, then one by one laid an impromptu offering – a feather, a stone, a fallen blossom – on the altar.

We recessed out in silence, feeling as if we had already accessed a Power Point, knowing that the actual destination still lay ahead. Our footsteps muffled by damp leaves, we followed the path as it spiraled uphill. “The path is a beginning of ritual in itself,” one of the women whispered, and I agreed. Like walking the turns of a labyrinth, this wide spiral was leading us inwardly deeper even as we moved higher, glimpsing the roofs of Cluny below us through the trees and the mountains far beyond.

Around and aroundIMG_20160424_172002788_HDR, walking, walking…there were shortcut trails directly to the top of the hill at intervals, and a couple of the women broke off to follow these, but the deepening feeling of ritual held three of us on the path. Finally we came to the summit, a clearing of holly, birch, flowering bushes and a simple altar of stones. “Love is the answer, Love over all,” said one woman in a hushed voice. Standing there, I felt the connection of earth, trees, sky, the Deep Feminine connection between us five. Smiling impishly at the rest of us, one woman howled at the nearly-full moon somewhere beyond the clouds, and we all joined in, embracing our wild Oneness with divinity.

Walking down, unwinding the spiral, I felt the ritual energy slowly releasing. Women began to talk again, one speaking of similar experiences at other earth sanctuaries, another sharing her worries as a Catholic experiencing things far outside church dogma. I stopped to admire a clump of lichen on the path, and another woman noticed a bee, somnolent from the cold, huddled on the path next to it. Carefully, reverently, we picked it up and placed it in the grasses to the side of the path. Down and down we circled, all five of us, till the path swung wide on the downhill stretch to the arch and wind chime.

After a brief discussion, the other women went on to explore another trail. My feet were still hurting from traipsing the mountain and streets of Edinburgh; I went in to rest and take in the evening’s experience.

It was only in my second week at Findhorn that I learned of the significance of the Power Point: its place among seven sacred hills in the vicinity; its association with the Divine Feminine; the significance of the trees that populated its slopes. But we had been introduced that night, and our impromptu sisterhood had tasted its mystery, and that was an experience to cherish.

 

 

Findhorn Bound: Women’s Wisdom in Nairn

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Leaving Edinburgh was not easy – in one day I’d seen enough to fall in love with the city’s glorious stone buildings, urban mountain, royal and postage-stamp gardens, and friendly people – but I took a great and shamelessly touristy thrill in riding a real British double-decker bus to the train station.

I’d been hoping to find a congenial – and informed – seatmate for the four-hour ScotRail ride to the North….and glory be, next to me settled a delightfully acerbic elder lady from Inverness, who’d been taking the North/South ride throughout her life. IMG_20160415_075758329 Together we entertained a young mother’s active toddler, while my companion shared her memories, gave history lessons about landmarks, clued me in to differences between British and American English, and dished gossip about the royal family and their Balmoral Castle, far over the snow-clad peaks of the Cairngorms to the east.

By the time we were approaching Inverness and passengers were lining up to use the lavatory, she was telling hilarious tales about the tourists who invariably couldn’t figure out how to close the compartment door. When my turn came, and I was equally baffled, she gestured with hands and eyes from her seat as other passengers hid their smiles. IMG_20160415_094240763_HDRI followed her not-exactly unobtrusive pointing, and sure enough, there was the button, just as well-hidden as she’d warned. What a relief!

The train station in Nairn was a mile’s stroll from the home of my AirBnB hostess, the “Swan Woman of Nairn”…healer, artist, photographer, Renaissance woman….and the evening that followed, of touring the town and gathering with her friends in an impromptu wise women’s circle, was magical.

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My hostess asked as I was settling in for the night, “Would you like to come for a dip in the sea with me tomorrow morning?” I gasped – the winds that day had been frigid, and the next day’s temperature was predicted to drop into the 30s ! This was her normal practice, she added, smiling, and her guests often found it a profound experience. “No expectations, no pressure,” she added, and bade me goodnight.

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Next morning dawned cloudy and as cold as expected, but we sallied out, she jogging ahead, I photographing as I moseyed along, soaking in the beauty of the place. She’d told me the stories of the swans nesting in the river…how she and a friend had saved a clutch of duck eggs from being swept away in a flood…and shared her wonder at seeing the tide coming into the River Nairn as if to meet her on her way to the ocean. I crossed the bridge, passed the trailer – caravan – park, and came to the dunes…and she came to meet me as I topped the hill.

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The dunes and sea, Moray Firth

“There are fishermen up the beach, so if you’d rather not undress, that’s fine,” she said tactfully, noting my pulled-down hat and hands tucked inside the sleeves of my thin Gore-tex jacket. “You can shelter here by the pier while I get ready and go in.” Teeth chattering, I nodded gratefully and watched in awe as she slipped out of her jogging suit and shoes, pinned up her hair, and walked serenely barefoot down the beach to the water’s edge. She lay down in the shallow surf, rose, and walked in to waist-height, dipped, emerged, and returned to dry land.

She smiled at my wide eyes and said, “It’s simple. When I lie down in the water, I feel my connection to the land, the water, and the air. I focus on that connection; the more connected I feel, the less I feel the cold.”

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(c) Morag Paterson, 2016

I closed my eyes and breathed in her words, remembering my husband’s experience at his third Lakota Sundance ceremony: offering his chest for piercing in giveaway as Traditional intercessor Elmer Running struggled to cut through his skin to insert an eagle’s talon, telling him, “Pray harder! Pray harder!” He hadn’t felt the pain, he said; he was lost in an trance of connection with cosmic Oneness. I’d gone half-expecting to witness macho stoicism or Spanish-Baroque grotesquery, the piety of pain, and there I found him describing transcendent ecstasy.

And here, halfway around the world, was this wisewoman, embracing a habit I’d read of stereotypical Englishmen of the old public-school military sort practicing – but driven not by sacrifice or macho discipline but that same transcendent connection.

Opening my eyes, I turned, walked down to the water, stooped down and held my hands in the receding ice-cold surf as my own homage to nature. A rogue wave rushed up, splashed around my galoshes and soaked my socks, and I laughed in surprise and delight.

And we went back to the house for breakfast.

 

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?

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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Supporting Those Who Support the Change

For a long time now – going back to this site’s .wordpress.com days – I’ve been promoting occasional events and organizations that spoke deeply to my heart and soul. And today, after a weekend of life-changing personal shifts, SoulPaths is taking the first steps toward its next incarnation – celebrating those who are driving the Great Change our world so badly needs.

I’m thrilled to share the news that Starhawk, under whose direction I spent a life-changing two weeks studying the principles of permaculture design at Earth Activist Training – Starhawk, the culture-changing voice of Goddess spirituality and earth consciousness who led ritual at the WTO protests in Seattle and set up the (permaculture-based) camp for Occupy at McPherson Square in DC – Starhawk, who’s held a vision for empowered, peaceful, grassroots actions for decades now, has now published her book on the topic…

Starhawk will be offering a telecourse on Empowerment Through Collaboration: How to Create Transformative Community through the Evolver Network and Living Mandala, July 2 through August 6, online as a webinar.

Whether you are a street activist, a Transition Town participant, or working out the principles of sustainable living with an intentional household or eco-village, in this course you can “learn how to make your participation in groups, in all of its aspects, an expression of your highest ideals.”

If you have any desire at all to help create the global change that is so badly needed, don’t miss this training. She and her guest speakers will be giving interactive mentoring on topics such as…

  • The Balance of Power and Responsibility
  • Communication and Trust
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Conflict, Trauma, and Dealing with Difficult People
  • Meetings and Facilitation

Oh – and in the interest of full disclosure, yes, as an ambassador of the Evolver Network, I will receive a small commission if you do sign up…..but that’s not why I’m making this announcement. I’m making it because Starhawk’s work is profound and powerful, because it is helping to create the peaceful change our world needs, and because it needs and deserves to be shared widely. Seriously – don’t miss this training.

Welcome to the Real World

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I knew of a physicist at the University of Chicago who was rather crazy, like some scientists, and the idea of the insolidity, the instability of the physical world, impressed him so much that he used to go around in enormous padded slippers for fear he should fall through the floor.

— Alan Watts, Nothingness

Most people would laugh at such a scientist. But as new science steadily addresses realities far beyond the reach of our so-called “common” sense –  I find myself wondering about the craziness of those padded slippers.

After all, what would you do if the theoretical science that formed the framework for your world view suddenly turned out to be visibly, tangibly verified by your everyday sensory experience? If, for example, instead of seeing a floor,  you saw a million swirling points of energy?

I suspect you might be just a little….well, freaked out.

Indigenous cultures have taught such concepts for millennia – for example, that we are all energy beings, and that we are all connected – but despite popular movies like What the Bleep and corroborating data from institutes such asHeartMath Research Center, modern society has a great deal of difficulty accepting the empirical reality of such concepts.

We’re deeply conditioned by our secular-materialist culture to believe that we are isolated individuals, that the boundaries of our minds do not extend past our skulls, that a solid floor is a solid floor, that…well, you get the idea. Even if we  subscribe to the belief that we are all connected, and that we can communicate energetically, a core of skepticism  may linger: without direct personal experience, how can we be sure? And we file the quantum concepts away in an agnostic cubbyhole.

For example, I’ve always held the belief that all beings, from stones to trees, from viruses to gorillas, from crickets to skunks, from krill to whales – and oh yes, also including humans – are sentient, thinking and feeling in their own unique way. These beliefs are woven into indigenous faith and practice around the world, in shamanic cultures from the Amazonian rainforest to the Siberian steppes.  And they’re core beliefs that I’ve held, and tried to act upon, since long before the days of my husband’s deep involvement in Traditional Native American practices.

But it wasn’t till this past weekend, when I was out doing homework for the Land Healing apprenticeship*  I’m now pursuing, that I received a firsthand experience of exactly what these beliefs mean in real life, outside the heady realm of cherished certitude. And I’ll admit – I was mind-boggled.

I was walking a path on sacred land near my home, and intentionally stopped to connect sensorially and at heart level with two trees along the way, as I’d been taught in the first class.  Connecting with each tree individually, I received very different impressions of personalities and attitudes toward humankind (or rather, human(un)kind in one case…passing two-leggeds had not been kind to that Standing One).

I responded politely to the input those trees were giving, and then stepped a little further down the path…and had the mind-boggling sense that every tree in the park was aware of me and assessing me – my intent, my attitude, my reasons for connecting and communicating with their two siblings.

Have you ever stood at a podium in front of a thousand psychics, all of them “reading” you? That’s roughly how this felt. I’d read old folk tales of people wandering into a forest and experiencing the spirit of the wood, panicking and fleeing – I’d never been able to understand such a reaction; forests had always felt like sanctuaries for me.

Now, however, I could understand. While the gaze of these uncountable trees was in no way hostile, it was wary, cautious, penetrating, evaluative…and overwhelming. I responded to the unspoken questions – “Who are you and what are you doing here? What do you want with us?” by explaining that I was a beginner trying to learn the right way of being in relationship with nonhuman beings, and asked them to ease up a little – they were scaring me! And they did. The contact broke, the sense of intense attention faded;  I could breathe again, and continued on my way.

I have been sitting with the aftershocks of that experience for the past week. Even though I’d hugged and talked (privately) to trees for years, even though I’d experienced individual trees as sentient beings in class as well as in the two conversations before the encounter with the entire forest, even though I’d had every reason to expect such a response from the forest as a whole,  the experience of trees en masse, as a crowd of individual personalities, was beyond any of my imaginings.

I remembered the response my husband used to give to such experiences:“Welcome to the Real World”....that is,  however much I believed in interbeing, the interconnection and sentience of all things, I couldn’t know this as reality until I stepped past my conditioning to experience it directly.

And the implications were staggering….

Imagine living in a world where energetic communication not just with other humans, but with every other being was not only possible, but also acknowledged fact…not a fantastical delusion to be treated with antipsychotic drugs, but the foundation of uncountable indigenous cultures. We know this to be the truth…and yet this real-world daily communication has been dismissed by this “enlightened” culture as pagan superstition.

Imagine living in a world in which plants, animals and humans consciouslycoexist in a delicate dance of balance that leaves their environment largely intact for millennia. We know that this also is true – it shows up in one account after another of intact indigenous cultures, even today.

Just sit with those images for a moment. Imagine being a consciously participating element of a living, communicating, mutually supportive environment, gaining wisdom from every other element.

Now picture our world, with humans isolated from all other beings by an assumption of superiority and dominion, exploiting or eradicating those other beings while we debate their level of sentience and dismiss what knowledge cannot be gleaned by instrumentation and metrics.

Is it any wonder that this culture is crazed and soul-starved? And what is there to be done about it?

I have only just completed my second lesson of the apprenticeship, so I am hardly the one to advise wholesale solutions. However, the old childhood rule for crossing the street does come to mind:

Stop.  Stop assuming, stop numbing out, stop objectifying…

Look. Try looking at everything around  you as a sentient being. What would it be like to get the perspective of an oak…a deer grazing in your garden…a polluted river?

Listen.  Next time you’re about to prune a tree, for example, tell the tree politely what you’re planning to do and why, then ask permission. And wait to see what you hear or sense inwardly.

If nothing else, ask – what if? Even if you already believe that we are all related and all beings are sentient in their own unique way, what if these trees, for example, are not simply standing passively in the earth, waiting to serve the purposes of humans, but are observing and participating in their environment in ways we can’t even imagine – and quite capable of communicating their perspective?

You may be familiar with the Gaia theory of a conscious, self-regulating planet. For many of us it ties in with the Earth-centered values we have carried for many years. Now take it a step further: what if that theory describes not only a living system of interacting organic and inorganic elements, but also a living system of interacting individual consciousnesses – consciousnesses with which we can communicate and interact to heal the wounds this world has suffered?

What if?