A flock of geese cut across my piece of sky as I walked into work this morning after five days away. Five days wrapped in a hermit’s cocoon of fatigue, an illness that bubbles up from the very place where body meets spirit, where mind confuses physical and emotional realities. I am left to piece together whether it is more a sickness of the soul or if I can fall back on the diagnosis that can be found in a typical physician’s handbook. What is really lying in wait – a series of dark nights that I must withstand or a virus in my bloodstream?
The geese were flying northeast, finding signs of an approaching spring that sent them over and beyond what still might look to be a hopelessly icy Hudson River.
And so, there are always signs of return and the recovery of the sort of life that is enjoyed in warmer and sunnier times. And so I am grateful that I remembered to turn my face up to see nature’s messengers and wait for my own internal messengers to reveal their secrets.
‘The way you bowed to each other. Every time he handed you something, or you handed something back to him. I know that was part of the Church ritual, too, but I was lying awake last night think about it in a different way. I was thinking, maybe couples ought to have little rituals like that, where they bow to each other. Maybe once at the beginning of the day and once at the end. Maybe at other times, too. As a way of acknowledging each other – oh, I don’t know, that there really is a sacred aspect of what they’re trying to do with each other.’
This novel, the continuing story of a preacher’s daughter who becomes an Anglican priest herself and marries another man of the cloth, offers this comment by a character who watches the couple offering a mass together.
What should be more sacred than the bond one has the partner she has chosen for life? What other relationship or situation should lend itself to the creation of ritual in such a way?
Except most of us are not married or devoted to a fellow member of the clergy. For most of us, faith is not both vocation and avocation. I have always found that balance in which both partners share the same sort of passion for the Divine to be more than elusive.
Right now, my husband I am more than a little obsessed with Big Love, the incredibly well done HBO show about a “mainstream” polygamous family. Theoretically, their shared faith is so fervent and irresistible that it inspires them to walk against the tides of law and society. (Of course, if it were that simple the show wouldn’t be so addictive and compelling…)
I operate outside of the bounds of a specific religion, as does my husband. He knew that “spirituality” was important to me when we first met, and I knew that he was cool with that. Over the years my sort of amorphous pining for the Goddess has taken more deliberate shape and we have had more conversations about the role of a Higher Power, but in certain ways, the arrangement is still the same. My own journey has progressed and my Love is always there by the side of any road I choose to travel.
Because I have never committed my adult life to a specific religious, where I assumed it is much easier to find a like minded soul who is interested in approaching God in a similar way, I have sort of resigned myself to a rather solitary path marked by my partner’s interest, but not necessarily his participation. There are so many other things that I get from our marriage. Plus, it makes sense to me that I am engaged in an individual relationship with Spirit.
But this section from Godwin’s novel offers a couple an alternative to some formal, or even informal, worship of God.
Modern books on the Goddess and feminine spirituality so often seem to offer a chapter or two on sacred love making and blessing one’s union. They always seemed like the dreams of women whose lovers would always hold their witchy dabbling at arms length. In the same way, books on Eastern paths that talk about Tantra as the ultimate union between male and female (with little answer for same sex couples) as some distant ideal crafted by the sorts of people I could never imagine my husband and I to be.
But it could be made more simple, to keep it within a place of safety and comfort for all involved. What would it be to simply acknowledge the other, to take it above the sweet, but perhaps mundane level of making dinner breakfast together and cuddling on the couch for another few episodes of a mutually enjoyed tv show?
There is something delicious and necessary about finding the sacred in the every day.But isn’t there a way to plant the sacred in that every day experience so we do not have to overturn so many humdrum stones to find it?
But it can be a great bridge to cross – allowing one’s private passion for God to permeate a relationship in more overt ways (a true spirituality will always be inflecting a relationship in beautifully subtle ways). Perhaps on this day that has been forced to represent love by countless flower shops and candy companies there is room to introduce the equivalent of a sacred bow to recognize the wonder of love’s power.
Over the past few weeks, I sacrificed myself to constantly undulating experience.
It was not the Zen recognition that I am one with the great waves of the sea, rolling in and rolling out in a constant dancing pattern to eternity. I was making no metaphors to help me realize I bear my own ocean of breath that is forever washing in and out of my faithful lungs.
No, I was letting myself be thrown into the air, high on untethered adrenaline and then allowing myself to get lost in the panic of the free fall back to earth (or the water, to drag that metaphor a bit further).
In a bid for financial security (the buzz word actually is meant to be “abundance”), I actually offered up any sort of peaceful control I might have had over my routines of sleep and recollection, focused work and unselfish love.
Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, I know. Part of that is probably rooted in that I have written oh-so-little of late that I am just reveling in my ability to weave tangled webs of succulent, hyperbolic words. I guess I am just rejoicing that I caught myself before I really got lost. I came back to this space before all of my dear readers gave up on me. I’m ready to return to my novel before I decided to drop out of my writing group as a failed creative scribe.
But for all that I protest (too much…), I was still living during the last few weeks. I may have strayed from the plan I had intended for myself, and I may have been swinging madly between elation and despair, but it was still all an expression of some part of me.After all, John Lennon told us that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
I was riding extremes, but isn’t that what living is, at least some of the time? It may not be the ideal – I am definitely excited to return to a more orderly lifestyle that supports dedicated contemplation rather than a fixation on “prosperity” – but sometimes I think we have to resign ourselves to riding the fluctuations of being and give ourselves over to that process.
All this is a way to tell myself that I forgive her for the wild ride. I need to remember that I must continue to take risks and trust that even if things do not end anything like I had planned, I am the stronger for having dared to stretch myself in a new direction.
Am I being a relativist, concocting lessons well learned so that I won’t have to feel so silly for temporarily being the mouthpiece for a company that was not what it purported to be?
Or am I wisely making the best out of a detour, reading it as an opportunity to understand and learn compassion for people who are driven by fears about money and wealth that are otherwise foreign to me? It is so easy to act from insecurity, to make choices based on fear of loss, of downward mobility.
I am blessed to have had this brief chance to see how these fears have played out in my own life and were able to take precedence over my true calling as a writer and a healer.
My dear ones, I will no belabor this awakening too much, but it was such an unexpected gift, this widened perspective. I guess the wonder potion that is Zrii still keeps giving even when its business prospects seem to have gone bust…
And so, these extremes of life… How can you catch a ride on these powerful forces to learn what you can and what you must? And then, how can you most gracefully step off the wild ride?
Last week, during a snow day’s inspired bout of housecleaning, I found myself thinking back to an unusual and unforgettable book I read a couple of years ago, The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. It’s a novel about consciousness and thought experiments and features a white mouse and lots of soggy french fries. You are never quite allowed to forget that the protagonist is a vegan, and her lingering fears of malnutrition preoccupy her thoughts as she endures poverty and a life on the run.
The author is an outspoken vegan herself, so it seems natural that her heroine would share her dietary ethics. I am sure that many writers paint their own essences into the characters they need to spend the most time with or whom they wish to love most. I know that I have trouble imagining I could really get inside the mind of a fictional person who was not a redhead (ok, I am trying to get beyond that!).
Knowing that writers populate their stories with individuals whose every action and thought is colored by their own creative drive, I realize how much I inflect the way I tell the story of my own life. By “telling the story of my life” I do not just mean the way that I filter things to write about them in this space, but the way that I let my internal narrator describe the events of the day as they happen and as they get stored in memory.
We all sit behind our eyes and interpret the events before us. I think that is inescapable and a potentially delicious part of being human. Still, in the same way there are Booker Prize winning novelists and lousy copy writers, there are also ways to be a brilliant commentator on your life and ways to be a hack journalist.
I have been finding myself spinning through some “he said/she said” conversational recaps of late, both parties realizing that neither is exactly sure what was said. Perspective is like the unicorn you dream might lurk in the corner of the room. A mythical entity that you really, really want to believe in, even if you secretly fear might just be a figment of the imagination.
I know that practice and dedication can make me a better writer and I know that awareness and compassion can make me a better witness to the events of my life as they pass before my always calculating eyes. Sure, there are spiritual schools out there that teach the bliss of detachment, and maybe someday I will be seeking that sort of release from the dictates of my own roving consciousness. For now, I am going to relax into the knowledge that I am in this world, and, in many ways, of this world. I just have to learn to look upon it with the wisest and kind gaze I can.
How can the day glow more brightly if I realize I am the one has the power to clean her glasses and increase the quality of the behind the scenes commentary?
Months ago, when I was trying to describe my vision of why the Girl Who Cried Epiphany had to rise from the virtual ashes, I tried to craft an title for my pursuit of wisdom and spiritual connection. I came up with Wise Woman Working because a wise, wise woman was just who I wanted to be.
Yet again, it was an Ani song that has been my soundtrack.
Wise Woman Working. I loved the way “working” was such a multi-layered verb. It encompassed both the idea that I was an active creature, trying to get something done and also that I was like a piece of wood, being worked and crafted by my experiences.
The other day in a talk with my husband that covered the mysteries of marriage and the growing pains of personal and collective growth, I kept talking about the work that we had to put in. Usually it is my role to dole out the relationship maxims, but I know I am not the only source, especially when my love is the one to urge me to stop with all this talk of “work.” “Let’s talk about nurturing each other,” he said.
And so I look back, three months after my initial dance with all this Wise Woman Working and realize I need heed my own wise man. How does my vision shift if I think instead about Wise Woman Nurturing?
Life is full of work and struggle, but true, respectful, and focused nurturing are all too rare.
This change in language helps me understand in one more way that I am not the only one in control. I cannot force my way to wisdom by putting in long hours and gritting my teeth really hard. I have to wait and coax and midwife this wisdom with all of the tenderness and honesty I can muster.
“The business of life.” “Working on a relationship.” “Spiritual exercises.”
I know I have used all of these phrases to show that I understand the rigors of conscious living. I want everyone to know that this stuff is hard and is worthy of all my efforts. Thing is, I am realizing that my work ethic is very rarely in question, in my spiritual life or anywhere else.
This delicate process of awakening so rarely requires elbow grease. What it does cry out for is sensitivity and creativity, patience and passion. Just like when a couple journeys through life-long love, when an individual walks the path to wisdom she needs to be nurtured. Neither wisdom nor love will be wrestled and forced into submission.
And so, like any good plan, mine is open for constant revision. For now, farewell working, hello nurturing.
Still allowing myself to be pulled in a million different directions as I try to balance my writerly instincts and my healer’s imperative and rollercoaster of marriage and our economic worries, I am feeling anything but aligned right now (my chosen theme of 2009). Priorities will have to shift and I will have to let some things fall away – at least for a little while.
In hopes of finding some guidance, I let my body unfurl in a few precious minutes of stretching this morning and then lit some candles and settled onto the meditation cushion. (My folks’ dog is back roaming her Cape Cod beaches, so I can finally set a pre-work rhythm for myself.)
And so I called in guides and conjured up prayers and let the mantra begin to flow. I was beginning to feel something. Those elusive fingers of the divine were wrapping themselves around my all too distracted soul.
But I just kept chasing after God, distracted by the caterwaul of a black kitty on the other side of the glass door. With no dog to harass, she was again 100% interested in human companionship. For several minutes she wailed and then she unsheathed those claws and let them sink luxuriously into the fresh white trim of the door frame.
From a place deeper than my fragile meditative state, a voice burst from my belly: SHUT UP!
I swear the angel on my altar looked at me with reproach for bringing that sort of aggression to what is meant to be sacred space. And so I grumbled as I stalked across the room to let the plaintive creature into my cozy lair.
Purring louder than my heavy footsteps, Banshee (aptly named, yes?) danced over to the candles and seemed to warm her heart shaped face in their light. When I sat down she wrapped herself around my hands and climbed gently to nestle her head in my neck.
“Cats are the Mother with fur,” spiritual teacher and writer Andrew Harvey once said. I am more than a little inclined to believe him. Here I was, forcing myself upon the sacred, demanding guidance and solace, dictating that solitary silence was the way to get there. And there was Banshee, teaching me that I am not the one in control.
Again I am reminded that my spirit guides are not figments of an over-active imagination. They are breathing and purring and meowing beside me all the time. “Listen to me!” Banshee was calling. In all of this frantic madness to produce more and manifest more, I am seeking so desperately for clues and trampling every heaven sent sign in the process.
“Listen!” the little cat said, as she reminded me that she too is a child of the Goddess. Listen, she reminds me. Stop straining for that radio station just out of range. Stop and listen and realize the truest tune is what you’re calling interference.
Some weeks ago, after returning from a less than stimulating social engagement, I considered writing a post entitled “I’m allergic to small talk.” Skimming through pleasantries and inquiring about mutual acquaintances ran its course until we settled into the uneasy conversational currency of complaint.
I yearned to be home writing and was unable or unwilling to push the conversation into new territory. I accepted the limitations of my company and chose an uneasy silence and feigned sleepiness.
When I got back to the keyboard I thought better of such a negative invective against well-enough meaning people with whom I could not find a conversational groove. The bright side was that eventually we got to go home – that is not exactly the little ray of hope and insight that turns a pedestrian moment of my day into an epiphany.
There was no flash of self discovery. There was just relief when I got to escape and a lingering sense of guilt for being unable to be a good guest.
But during another nighttime walk with our visiting canine friend, I forgot about hunching down into collar of my jacket and let the chill tickle my neck as I tilted my head back to take in the stars. Brilliant on the frigid, moonless night, there was the constellation of the faithful hunter keeping watch over the winter sky.
Amazing how a line from a song about the ultimate love/hate relationship peppered with healthy doses of the mother-of-all-words can help put everything in perspective, but hey, that’s Ani for you.
Suddenly I was having that long overdue epiphany about how I might have transformed that visit from a session in alienation into a chance at real connection. I sat behind my eyes and tended private dreams and unspoken thoughts. I greedily gazed into my own dome of stars and refused to share them with these people that I still wanted to call my friends.
There are plenty of people in this world that are incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to connect with. Racists, misogynists, homophobics… the list of unsavory characters you would never want at your dinner table is easy enough to create. There may be worth in trying to court these creatures and pull them over to the lighter side of being, but that takes intense effort and dedication and often turns out better in the movies than it does in real life.
What I was asking from myself was nothing like that, and connection would be nowhere near as hard. They may not be my soul mates and our worlds may seem totally unrelated, but they are good people and they deserve the stories and ideas I am holding in reserve.
I may continue to be allergic to small talk as I feel all of these momentous ideas and changes rolling through my life, but that is not supposed to be a reason to lose touch with the people who have walked along my path with me to this point. Sure, some relationships need to fall away because needs and attitudes evolve and some former companions are not meant to accompany us forever. It is important to be able to let go of the people and places and habits that no longer help us serve our highest purpose.
At the same time, a great deal of responsibility still lays in the hands of the journeyer. The reason to embark upon a quest for awakening is to positively effect the entire Universe – to let the beautiful diamond dropped in your own consciousness to ripple outward to heal the entire world.
At the very least, I owe it to the people who have loved and supported me to point out Orion and describe how to find the North Star and remind them that the stars move above them and around them every moment of their lives.
Who knows, they just might have been waiting for me to contribute something just like that to the conversation…
There was a time when my spiritual life was anchored by two things: the moon and animals that had been killed by oncoming traffic.
Seeing a white crescent hanging in a blue sky would bring an unaccustomed smile to a face that was creased with worry over a life I could not figure out how to live. I’d whisper “Hi, Lady” and feel the glint of some divine power in what I considered a very bleak existence.
Catching sight of a crumpled, furry corpse would make me shiver in the way you might expect, but it also offered me my only experience of prayer. Again in a whisper I would say, “I commend your soul to the Goddess.” I’d drive on, convinced, at least for a few moments that a great, compassionate Being watched over us all, especially her most defenseless creatures.
I was in a relationship that dissolved my sense of self and power and I was working in a job that truly soul destroying experience. (If ever I weary of an idyllic college library, I need to remember the gigantic orthopedic surgeons’ office in a high rise; I’ve never met people so miserable as the female secretaries of all those male doctors.)
My boyfriend, whom I thought I had to love beyond all sense and reason, was a great guy – but just not for me. For all that he could not understand or reach me, he did have his own stores of wisdom as he tried to create a life with the very depressed woman who shared his home. I remember him saying that he wished I had a cat to come home to so that I could be able to look forward to coming home each night to a creature who loved me (he worked nights, so he was apparently looking for a four legged substitute for himself). As much as I yearned for a pet, I know I despised him a little for that comment and for leaving me alone so much that I needed to find friendship at the ASPCA.
Of course, looking back I salute him for being so right.
Each day I awake to count my blessings. A man I love with all the right mix of sensibleness and unreasonableness and everything in between. A pair of cats who greet me at the door and make me laugh every day and warm the bed each night. A clear, open sky full of the moon and the open eyes to see her. An awareness of the Divine in all things, not just departed squirrels and waxing celestial bodies.
I bask in the empathetic gaze of animal friends as well as the awesome, changing power of the moon and understand that hopelessness is a habit long outgrown.
And still, recognizing that I still greet the Lady when I see a smudge of white on the morning horizon or repeat a prayer over every departed animal, just as I did when my life was at its worst, reminds me that there is worth in every moment of life, even when it feels wasted and pointless. Back then, despite the thick fog of despair that was my twenty-third year of life, a connection to my true self still blazed forth.
I have never felt so distanced from that chain-smoking girl as I do now, but I must respect and remember that poor lost girl. She helped to create the woman I love to be today.
I honor the person I no longer have to be. She is every bit a part of me, just as the phases of the moon and a connection to animal life is a part of my every day.
Recognizing that even when life seems to be at its maddest, there is still a connection to true self. I feel so much closer to that and ususally laugh off my past as an unrecogniable dark period, but in fact, that woman created who i am now. Honoring her, just as I honor the moon and the animals who lost their battle with oncoming cars.
With what degree of certainty does the Old Farmer’s Almanac guarantee its weather predictions? Add twenty percent to that. I promise you that I can predict when arctic temperatures will hit the Hudson Valley almost without fail.
For the past several winters we have taken care of my folks’ dog while they are off on vacation. Next winter, give me a call and find out when Mom and Dad are heading south – it means that the thermometer is plunging southward too.
Through the tiny gap between my scarf and my Red Sox ski cap I watch Saoirse, the oh-so-delicate 100 lb. black lab nose along the tracks tracks of some mysterious creature who is not hiding in a cozy den, despite the frigid wind. The moon lights the western sky at just after 6 a.m. and I feel as if I am walking through a different world. Amazing how being a dog minder introduces you to the smallest details of a new neighborhood at the most unusual times of day. Only when she has moved on and I raise my eyes from the icy snow banks do I realize that the whole world is markedly brighter. Pastel morning is just beginning to color the east, and the landscape glows as if someone just turned on a light in a distant room. In this case, I guess that would be Connecticut.
Even in the near blackness a surprising number of cars idle in driveways, trying to motor themselves awake in the bitter cold just as their drivers nurse that last cup of coffee. As much as getting up early and donning boots and shearling is a chore, Saoirse’s visit offers me my my first chances to learn the rhythms of my neighbors’ lives by piecing together what clues they leave in this coldest, darkest time of the year.
There is so little to go on – you have to have impeccable timing to catch the bundled figures gingerly make their way across the ice from the coziness of the kitchen to the tepid warmth of a car whose heater strains to keep the windshield from fogging. Instead, I am left to look into the glowing windows and see figures passing back and forth, engaged in the sacredness of the morning routine.
What is it about looking into the glow of a home’s lights at dawn that seems so much more intimate that seeing those same lamps ablaze in the evening?
We are all a confederacy of early risers. Though some may be cheerful enough morning people, we are bound by what still seems an unnatural act, getting up when it’s dark as midnight. Who are we to rise before even the sun has climbed into his seat in the sky?
I found my heart warming to the residents in the houses where I could see someone standing before the kitchen sink, washing up a few breakfast dishes before she dashes out the door. We begin and end this day as strangers, but for this handful of moments between rising from bed and braving the world, we are all united in this process of preparation for the work ahead.
In this brief time between night and day I can believe wholeheartedly in a common humanity that we all share. A dream of still warm blankets and hopefully someone we love who lay beside us while we slept. A vision of hope for the day ahead before the winter chill and the vicissitudes of life challenges our resolve.
To think like Anne Shirley, this is the time when it is still a new day with no mistakes in it yet. All people and events are merely beautiful possibilities in the frozen morning lit by the grace of a waning moon.
Yesterday, I arrived at a deeper sort of realization about my own resilience. After all of the restorative work I have done – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I am not nearly as fragile as I imagine.
After years of pushing myself to the limit, I came to accept that my body was screaming “enough!” (An easy message to receive while lost in the exhaustion of the Epstein-Barr virus.) I responded by paying attention to my body in previously unimagined ways and began a discovery process about health and spirit that will continue for the rest of my life.
This heightened awareness was and continues to be amazing. For all that I have learned, however, there is one major drawback: I became more conscious of my limitations than I was of my own strength.
I was obsessed with the food I couldn’t eat, the yoga I was too weak to practice, the events I couldn’t enjoy since I needed such an intense amount of rest. The worst of this illness was three years ago, but the legacy of lack still haunts the edges of my perspective.
Somehow it was largely impossible to recognize the incremental improvements that I was making because I had become so addicted to the story of my own illness. I came to realize how afraid I was to expend any energy for fear I would either crash and burn or feel like a failure and an invalid.
Only in the last year have I been able to step back and watch myself weather one physical, mental, or emotional storm after another. Life has been happening around me with all of its attendant ups and downs, and I am finally coming to realize that I have actually been riding the waves in grand enough style.
We live in a world plagued by contradictions and polluted with mixed messages. We are at once shown powerful women so worthy of respect and emulation (Oprah and Hillary immediately come to mind) and yet we are also barraged with ad campaigns about only finding your true worth if some man buys you a diamond or if you drop a few pounds.
We know in our guts that we need our strength, but the selling of fragility as the way to love and safety infects us all to some degree. I don’t think this is only a woman’s problem – all people, regardless of gender are subject to a market that thrives on keeping us weak. (Give in to you cravings. You know you need that drink/candy bar/trip to the casino. Resistance is futile.)
Was my preoccupation with my weaknesses the direct result of a misogynistic media or the capitalist machine? Not likely. But it did help me understand how so many people are constantly unwilling or unable to acknowledge their own power and resiliency and instead become invested in their own limitations. We all get caught up in the stories that society hands us and the ones that we then personalize for our own journeys.
Our stories are vital, personal bits of narrative that connect us to the experience of our own lives. They can be beautiful, epic descriptions of strength that help reflect back to us our greatest traits. All too often, however, they are little scraps of fears and disappointments that have been woven together to become a dark fable of the futility of life.
The nice thing about stories? Someone gets to make them up based on the facts and the dreams that lay before her. Can you look at some of the stories that you tell yourself about your life and choose to turn the tales about resilience and strength into your own lived epic?