Tossing Aside the Halo

Sister Mary Epiphany has left the building.

img_2031By that I do not mean that I am making a departures from being the Girl Who Cried Epiphany. Instead, I am giving up on my bid for sainthood.

This whole awakening to my true self and realigning with my spirit has been a long time coming. There has been time to consider the girl I was and the woman I started to be. There has been anger at the mistakes I made. Fortunately, it has taken some time, but I have come around to forgive a lot of those failures and cruelties and misjudgments.

In this whole process of eliminating all of the static that was sidetracking me from really figuring out what I wanted from life and what I was meant to do in my time on the planet, I forced myself into a type of penitence that was probably more extreme than the modern Catholic Church would ever have asked from me.

I lavished my energy on trying to undo the wrongs of the past by looking as benevolently as possible on my present. A good plan, for certain, but the way I was going about it all was rather exhausting.

A friend and I would discuss the differences between necessary venting and soul-sapping complaining. I would see her point about how repression is a really bad thing, but I was pretty convinced that I had to mind my manners and police my exclamations of frustration as much as I could. I had years of snarky negativity to make up for. It was time to start accentuating the positive and willing the negative into oblivion. No matter what I was going to clean up my act and letting the universe know that all along I had secretly been a compassionate, tender person trapped under a brash and bristly exterior.

Of course, it was impossible to be so unbearably good all the time. Invariably, the angst would bubble forth and I’d end up feeling so damn guilty for getting lost in the crusade to find my inner bodhisattva. Not only was a mean and dark-tinged person, I was also lousy at being a good person!

(No worries, I am quite aware of the ridiculous nature of these extremes. It just seems I have to walk through these sudden fires to learn my lessons all too often!)

But lately, I realize that some things are just, well, true. It is still more than true that everyone is carrying around her own universe and that infinite galaxy of experience deserves honor. But, it is also true that sometimes people are uninspired or lazy of bigoted or just plain nasty.

dsc00207Recognizing that every unique snow flake of a human being who crosses my path may not be pleasant or kind doesn’t have to lessen my commitment to spreading love and light. Instead, it offers a much needed reality check. And beyond just recognizing that some people are not fulfilling their potential as bearers of similar light, I am now allowing myself to admit that I do not have to like them or excuse them.

I have found great freedom in just being able to say, “Yeah, well, we know he’s always been arrogant and dismissive. So what?” I think that it is ok to recognize something like that and then just move on, incorporating that knowledge as necessary so the job can get done and the day can still flow along.

When I got tangled up in delusions of grace, trying to look with my benevolent, saintly eyes on all of the ugliness in the world, I was left feeling too unmoored. I was not living fully in reality when I refused to admit that sometimes I got angry and sometimes things were unfair and sometimes people were disappointing.

So, I think I will probably lose my place on the ballot to be voted the next Saint of the Hudson Valley. But hey, the angels just might be ok with occasionally letting my otherwise kind heart tell it like it is…

Wisdom’s Messenger

I am still very much excited and energized by the word I have chosen to be my theme this year – align (I better be, the year isn’t even twenty hours old yet!).

And yet, the more I contemplate the ways I will practice “align” the more I understand that this is just a tool that will get me through my year. A single word cannot hold all that aspire to, all that I expect from myself in my journey through 2009. It isn’t supposed to, after all, since this is supposed to be an alternative to those cumbersome and cruel new year’s to-do lists.dsc00613

Align is the daily breath of inspiration that will help me fly toward my larger vision – aligning with my soul’s purpose.

I didn’t exactly expect to receive the gift of a goal that was annunciated any better than that, but as I sat down in the meditation chair tonight, I was offered something slightly more concrete.

This holiday break has allowed me to pursue the activities that my heart dreams might occupy my every moment: writing, reading, meditating, healing myself and my beloved, tending to our home, and being present to watch the setting sun and the waxing of the moon. It has given me the courage to whisper to the Universe that I have so much work to do in this world that I am ready invest all of my energies in these creative pursuits.

It’s the old tension between vocation and avocation rearing its troublesome head again (or perhaps I should say still). As much as I have tried to crush it under the heels of my boots every time I walk from the car into work, this lingering conviction that I am meant to do something else, something more, still persists.

And so, tonight I was asking for guidance for the year to come and I was given this new way to frame my identity, my sense of purpose:

wisdom’s messenger

It seems the Universe sees fit to offer me a fancy title in answer to my question of who I am meant to be in the year to come. All I need to do is live my way into fulfilling such a promising offer. I have been graced with this thirst to know, this desire to serve, this yearning to connect. (Pair that with this Gemini’s love of writing and communication and call me a mortal Mercury!)

dsc005502009, please help me to walk across your pages as

a seeker of truth,

a gatherer of visions,

a messenger of wisdom.

And you, dear readers, are there any insistent messages that have blown in with the new year? Any shifts so powerful they refuse to be contained by a single word alone?

Visions of Mary? What Are You Talking About, Woman?

In yesterday’s post about the way I have come to understand the connections between Christmas and the Winter Solstice, I mentioned that I have been having visions of Mary lately.

There was no simpler way to talk about how, while I am in meditation, I see images of an every changing woman who is named Mary and who gave birth to the child we have come to call Christ.dsc00983

Who do I think I am and when did I start having visions?

If I were better schooled in mysticism, I might have a better vocabulary for these exchanges that take place within my heart and head. Anything I have read has always applied to spiritual masters like Teresa Avila who levitated and could say without hesitation that they had been touched by the Divine. I am certainly not to be counted amongst such company.

In my healing artists’ classes we have talked about the images one receives when working on a client or just walking down the street. They seem unbidden these colors and pictures and emotions. They are bits of consciousness so foreign to our own way of knowing the world and so seem like they must come from an external source. Our intuitive centers must be so open that we are receiving messages from new sources all the time.

Or, these visions seem like such intimate extensions of our own souls that we are ecstatic to realize we are stepping deeper into our true selves. Such breakthroughs seem Heaven sent, such understanding a gift from God.

Either way, my classmates and I wondered about where these ideas came from. We worried that while in guided meditation we were just inventing our experiences, walking through the heady terrain our imagination rather than through the secret vaults of the soul. We were concerned that any guidance we received during a healing session was just judgment twisted into a therapeutic shape.

“I don’t have any intuitive power. I just make this stuff up!” we all feared.

And then our teacher offered a revolutionary idea: it doesn’t matter where any thing that dances through our minds actually comes from. If it was put into our heads, we must have been meant to notice it and experience it.

I see lots of holes in this theory. There are entire sections of the Vatican dedicated to determining whether people have had authentic experiences of the Virgin or whether they are charlatans with a crafty streak. The entire realm of faith is a dangerous dance between true relationship with God and the clouds of overactive cerebral cortices. Seers and liars – I think the two have become inextricably tangled in all too many ways.

dsc00637And yet, this explanation is most comforting to me as I try to describe my new understanding of the intimate relationship between the rhythm of nature and the traditions of Christianity. I am not begging for attention by talking about this new way that I see Mary. I am not hoping to be canonized and make New Paltz the next Lourdes.

I have been envisioning Mary and gaining new wisdom from these phenomenal moments. Am I placing a sacred face on recycled bits of knowledge I have gathered along my way? Perhaps. But, if in this dialog between Self and Soul one of the players is going to wear a beautiful mask, I couldn’t ask for more than to have her wear the sweet, complicated face of the Great Mother gliding across my inner landscape in shining blue robes.

What would it be like if we took our intuition and the images that appear to us a little more seriously? What if we stopped denigrating these experiences as mere trifles of the overindulged imagination?

How much could we learn – from ourselves, from the world around us, and, yes, even from God – if we close our eyes and allow ourselves to have a dialog with whichever wisdom bearers come to call?

And First I Promise to Look Within: Healing the Self to Heal Others

Lugano, Switzerland

“Physician, heal thyself.”

I never actually understood what that meant, and until just now I did not even realize it was a proverb from the Gospel of Luke.

What sort of medicine people was Jesus addressing? How did the middle eastern doctors of 2000 years ago approach their craft? Would I recognize the roots of my own energy healing work or were they the precursors of the conventional western practitioners of today? Was it about getting deep into the causes of dis-ease or were they offering pills to treat the symptoms?

Undoubtedly, there are countless excellent, compassionate MDs out there, dedicated professionals who look at their patients as entire beings and not just a chest cold or an infection or a bout of depression. At the same time, the grueling nature of medical school and a health care system that is focused on quantity and expediency rather than quality and attention must make it impossible for most modern physicians to really focus on their own well being.

This is not intended to be a rant about the state of modern medicine or any claim that what I am learning and practicing is any better than anyone else’s path. Instead, I play with this quotation because I am considering how I must heal myself before I will ever effectively heal anyone else.

If I ever make any claims to have arrived as a healer or as a conscious individual, I am deeply sunk in a damaging illusion. This is not the self deprecating cry of a person lacking confidence. It is simply the awareness that I am new here in the world of healing and wisdom and faith and have more to learn during every moment of every day. I can only pray for an open heart and an open mind and the love of patient people who will help foster this new rush of passion I find growing within me.

Today I found myself growing frustrated by some whom I love and respect .  She just can’t seem to quit sweating the small stuff. I just wanted to ask her to evaluate the steady stream of complaint and reaction that kept flowing from her lips and help her realize how unhelpful it all is – both to herself and her audience.

Even as this urge welled up inside me and my look of disbelief began to play across my face as she continued to speak, I knew that I was listening with ears of judgment, not of compassion. I climbed up on my spiritual high horse and began to pity her for the ways she squandered her energy and let every setback shake her to the core.

Later, worried about my own reaction to the situation, I described it all to a kind and generous friend who helped me talk through it all until I realized that I was not really upset with this woman’s behavior, but by the shadows of myself that I saw in her. The moment I allowed myself to sit behind my eyes and toss my enlightened mane, I was not greeting her with healing energy, but instead with the cold detachment of someone relieved that she knew a better way to live.

I needed to feel this flash of shame so I could step back and remember that I am a novice at this pursuit of living a wise and graceful life. The good work I can offer to the world must first flow through me, body, mind and spirit. Only when I have drank deep my own medicine can I reach out and confidently offer it to others.

Life, A Constant Process of Remembering

Going through my notes from my healing class from a week ago, I came across another little sip of wisdom that is opening up a new universe of thought for me:

Life is a constant process of remembering.

Anna's shot, the lawn

Either you look at this idea with a belief in reincarnation – that we gathered this wisdom in past lives and are trying to re-collect our thoughts in this next spin through life. Or, it has nothing to do with how many times you might have walked the earth. If we all came from the Great Source, then we once sat beside God and had access to all transcendence. To live is to try to get back to that place of Oneness.

Striking out on a spiritual path can be frightening. We are shaken from our slumber when we leave behind the malaise of daily life and look at the world with wide, fresh eyes that seek the sacred in everything.

It may have been a restless sleep, full of nightmares and cold sweats, but the bad dream of an unexamined life is at least a familiar one. To abandon those chilly, but accustomed nights can be nearly impossible when the alternative is a lonely walk into the undiscovered country of the spirit.

We know that leaving behind our ties to the pedestrian and the limiting have to be dissolved, however, if we want to free ourselves an experience a new way of being. The routines that bind us to stunted dreams and unrealized potential have to be dissolved.

How might we open ourselves to the possibilities of a journey into consciousness if we think of it not as a rush of brand new spiritual revelation, but as a process of recalling that which our souls already know? What if it is not a leap into the unknown, but a gentle process of sinking gently into the loving embrace of the Mother?

Suddenly, a thought strikes me:

We go through the process of being human so that we can learn to be more divine.

The Spiritual Mix: Oneness Across Faiths

Two and a half years ago my perspective on spirituality shifted dramatically to encompass a new world of faiths and possibilities. Unknowingly, I had been working the soil for this new flowering for some time, but it was at the Omega Institute’s Being Fearless Conference that I heard Caroline Myss and Andrew Harvey speak and everything changed.

Caroline Myss gave me a new window on my own Christian heritage as she introduced a full ballroom of people to their interior castles. Through her lecture I found the courage to to find solace in the wisdom of a saint for the first time. For all that I internalized my Catholicism, there were major aspects – namely the bits I now find most compelling, the saints and mystics – that were largely absent in the sanitized “Spread the good news: Jesus is love” catechism of the 1980s. I knew Myss’s work as a healer (The Anatomy of the Spirit had long been a bible of mine), and I was so thrilled to follow her on this new path back into my own history.

Andrew Harvey’s sessions interested me because the titles of his seminars mentioned the divine feminine. For all my goddess worship over the last decade, I was pretty sure that I had heard it all, but I could use a refresher. Hearing that familiar message from the mouth of a man would be an interesting new twist. Man, was I wrong! The world was turned upside down when the words of a Catholic saint offered comfort and the Great Mother, for all her power to nurture, was also the avenging Kali telling us that we had gone too far as we destroyed the planet and each other. Harvey helped pull my adoration of the sacred feminine into adulthood, stripping it of the girl power pablum I had needed when I first began to understand womanhood and instead offering a mature realization of the mothering nature of God and its essential relationship with the masculine principle.

Harvey is a scholar of the great world religions, and he also introduced me to the undiscovered territory of mystical Islam, Sufism, and the spiritual power of the poet Rumi. At an extended weekend workshop I attended shortly after that first conference, he gave the group Rumi’s own chant and offered it as something to “use at the core of our lives.” Having never found a Sanskrit mantra that really “stuck” in my yoga practice, I was amazed to realize that this little line in Arabic became a gentle, perfect hum in the back of my mind that I could call upon whenever I needed solace.

Reading Sister Joan Chittister’s blog today, I was immediately drawn in by the title of her post “A Glimpse of Oneness for a Change.” “Oneness” is such an important yet amorphous term – to me it means the understanding that every person who speaks to a higher energy with a pure heart is in fact communing with the same basic, omnipotent entity that can be called God or or Goddess or Spirit or Universe. “Oneness” is what gives me hope that there truly is a unifying principle in this world and that a greater, more compassionate global consciousness is within our grasp.

What really amazed me was that she invoked my own sacred mantra in the first paragraph of her post. Sister Joan talks about witnessing a zikr, the remembrance of God, not as a purely Sufi ritual but as a celebration of divine unity as “Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Hindu swamis, Christian monks, Muslim imams, Indian Sun Dancers and lay practitioners of all the world’s great contemplative traditions” joined together to praise the Sacred. She was at a summit that happened in Aspen a few weeks ago, “Gathering Spiritual Voices of America,” organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

As I move along my own spiritual path, still a magpie pulling wisdom from every tradition that will open its heart to me, I take great comfort in knowing that this desire to bring the kaleidoscope of religious perspectives together endures on a great scale. I seem to be a person who will never be tied wholly to a single creed, but I can pray to all of the names of God that I know that we can find a true place of Oneness.

A Spiritual Midwife During a Dark Spell

Now that I am alert to this November chill, these late autumn doldrums, I see lives being eked out in the shadows all over the place.

It is happening on a global and national level as economies falter and threaten to fail and we come to realize that capitalism might have been some sort of cruel joke. This gathering darkness even after all that shiny hope of only a week and a half ago (can you believe that the elation over our new president has slid into naked financial fear in only eleven days?) is crippling everyone to some degree.

I am watching it happen to the people in my own circles. Relationships are changing irrevocably or are falling away. New illnesses are emerging and some are losing in their battles for wellness. The ability to pretend everything is fine is dissolving. It is time to admit that life cannot continue on this twisting track, at this breakneck pace.

Like I said, I am watching this happen to those around me right now. I find myself wrapped in a blanket of blessing and abundance that I thank the Gods for every day. My friend BlissChick talks about how such good fortune can set us questioning this luck, and sabotaging ourselves because we fear we have been granted “too much blessing.” I completely understand that impulse to throw on the hairshirt and deny ourselves the joy of what we have been given, and have fallen into that trap countless times.

This time around, however, I am able to look at my blessings and comfort as a divinely given shield and solace. I am so well shrouded in a soft cloak of peace that I can stand beside those who suffer and absorb their stories without the interference of my own fears and losses. None of this is to say that I am cleansed from all of the selfish whining that I regret occasionally mars my conversations, but I recognize that I am free of the deeper dramas that others need to be supported through right now. I can strive to be a vessel that takes in tears and offers them back as different brew of solace and hope.

For all that we are all marked by the wheel of the year, but the ebb and flow of nature, I think that we are occasionally chosen to stand outside of time. With all humility, I admit that I am caught in a time of joyful midsummer even as the skies turn a dirty pearl and wasted wet leaves choke the walkways. I give thanks for this role as spiritual midwife, a candle burning in the fog for those who are lost in the early evening gloom.

Have you been given a warmer coat to ward off the first frost? Is it big enough to wrap around a friend who needs it?

Hope In the Glare of Oncoming Headlights

Driving home from work last night I was listening to NPR, as usual. As All Things Considered drew to a close, they offered a commentary by a Steve Bouser about a turtle who perished in an ill considered bid to cross four lanes of traffic.

At the end of this momentous week, I was expecting inspiring homages to how much America had grown and how we all had been a part of history (well, at least the 52.3% who voted for Obama). Instead, here was a guy describing the cruel but banal death of a tortoise. He extended his metaphor to the madness of human “progress” that so often happens at the expense of other species and he closed with:

Turtles have been around for 200 million years, since before there were dinosaurs. And I’ll bet they’ll still be plodding on their way long after we humans have progressed to what sometimes seems a well-deserved extinction.

What? We take a bold step our of fear into a new vision of hope and we end up with the consolation of reptilian road kill and our inevitable, self-constructed doom?

Actually, there are times I agree with this rather dim view of the human endeavor. If we continue to pave over paradise and choke the air with the byproducts of our easy credit lifestyles, then a planet that refuses to support mammalian life might be just punishment.

How’s that for hope? I recognize that this intense frustration with the oblivious hedonism and narcissism of the developed world does not exactly harmonize with the spirited optimism I often share in this space. Both are vital aspects of who I am, however, and I think it is just this dissatisfaction with much of the world that drives me to write and to project whatever positive energy I can scratch together at the end of each day.

I think this NPR commentator and I are coming from a similar place, as much as I might refuse to end any of my own pieces with such a damning last sentence. He did try to save the poor little creature and is undoubtedly sharing his reflections in order to make others think about our relentless war with nature. There are enough of us who recognize that we are wreaking havoc on the globe that we must speak up and act to change it all.

Focusing on my immediate reaction to this story, I was paying little attention to the the winding road ahead of me. A black and white cat appeared, illuminated by the relentless glow of my approaching headlights. She stopped and I swear our eyes locked for a fraction of a moment. I screamed, thinking of a series of childhood cats who looked so much like her, all of whom had probably met the same fate on a dark road on a cold night.

This feline’s story would not end like the turtle’s, however. She would scamper into the bushes and my heartbeat would slow and at least one four legged creature would prove wilier than a four wheeled machine. And so I will interpret her escape as that ray of hope, that belief that there is still time to dodge the oncoming traffic of our own undoing.

Pacing the Earth With Humility and Grace

“In order to obtain the astonishing and unifying image of the whole earth whirling in the darkness of space, humans, it would seem, have had to relinquish something just as valuable – the humility and grace that comes from being fully a part of this whirling world.”

– David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous

Apollo 17 Crew, NASA

In his remarkable book, Abram looks at the way written language (and all of the technology that resulted in perfecting that particular form of magic) has altered our relationship with nature. We are almost completely wrapped up in the power of our own minds to the degree that we no longer recognize that living on this planet is to coexist in an infinite partnership. He describes the ability of people of oral cultures to live in harmony with the land and every entity; he makes it clear that we “moderns” have alienated ourselves almost completely from such a symbiotic dance.

I wanted to celebrate the chirp of every cricket right along with him and know what it would be like to see the earth not as an inanimate setting upon which I enact the drama of my life, but to recognize the landscape as a main character. I was able to lose myself in the text. At the same time, the unforgettable element that reverberates through this work is that such a well-crafted narrative can only exist thanks to the innovations that have pulled us away from this original sensibility. And though his story is captivating, I think I would be looking for a little more excitement than the local moss and soaring birds might be able to offer after a little while. He offers a very brief solution to this separation from nature, and that is to return to a localized culture that truly focuses on what is immediately outside your back door rather than on the global vision that entrances us now. I am not sure that his answer is immediately practicable or even attractive, but I gained much simply from Abram’s description of an idealized unity of humans and their environment.

I chose the quote above both because it creates a startling perspective on the consequences of “progress” and because Abram employs the terms “humility” and “grace.” During this period of soul searching I am trying to take a break from my current dilemma that revolves around asking “what’s next?” to move further within to ask “where am I now?” Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle has been my guide, and in working with this book I have encountered these two words that I have thrown around before but certainly did not fully understand. These words are an interesting choice for Abram because one thing I missed in his book was any direct discussion of God. That is not a failing of this book necessarily – the natural world is the mightiest manifestation of the divine and it is easy to read into this text the sense that removing ourselves from nature is also to separate ourselves from the most beautiful and immediate expressions of the sacred. It is just something that I noticed was absent since so much of what I am reading these days is so overtly laced with “God talk.”

But what does it mean to live with humility and grace? This question is enough to fill endless entries, but it is one that I must begin to pose. At this moment I would consider grace to be the ability to walk through my day knowing that I am a channel of divine energy, conscious of the unity of all creation and of my own powerful place in that continuum. Humility is a concept I am just beginning to get my head around – to understand on a personal level that it is not about fading into the woodwork and sacrificing my personality in an effort to be blandly and angelically good. It is about settling into my truest self so that I am secure enough and grounded enough not to need to be first, not to demand constant attention and praise, not driven to denigrate others in order to improve my own position. It is about honesty and authenticity.

Both of these terms apply so perfectly to the way in which we must be bound to behave on this planet. To act with grace is to recognize our position in this web of life both by refusing to exploit it and by making positive contributions that better this world. And to move from a place of humility is to give up the idea that we are supreme creatures entitled to trample every other species and resource in a mad dash to have more and more and more. It is to recognize our own impermanence and look upon this planet with respect rather than as another foe to be conquered, another force to be controlled.

Inner Light and Other Dangerous Business

Candles 1 - greyman stock.xchng“Your task? To work with all the passion of your being to acquire an inner light, so you escape and are safe from the fires of madness, illusion, and confusion that are, and always will be, the world.”

–Rumi (trans. Andrew Harvey)

Inner light. What can seem more distant as we push through our daily lives, confined to routine and obligation, trapped by the illusion that there is not enough time or energy or resources to effect change? It seems no less that the human condition to dream of transformation and simultaneously cherish the belief that altering one’s situation is inherently impossible. Certainly there are the rare few who can truly be the change they wish to see, and we read their books and celebrate their vision, often with national holidays. The rest of us, however, seem mired in the world of dashed hopes and shimmering mirages.

Am I too pessimistic tonight? I only write of this sense of shared stultification because I am so afraid that I am just another victim who reads all of the right books and says the right prayers but forgets them as soon as her trust in the beauty of the world is called into question. At work the other day we discovered what seemed the perfect e-mail signature: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door.” The unspoken sentiment that we all might prefer to be home with husbands and cats and perhaps even a Lord of the Rings marathon hung in the air as we drifted back to work. We just might like life better if we were not confronted with the madness and illusion that experience and the Sufi poet tell us are inevitable.

Recently I have found my capacity to walk through Rumi’s fires of confusion to be in serious jeopardy. I claim despair at the ugliness and cruelty of the world and the pettiness of the people around me. When I can call on the greater inner voice of wisdom that so often gets drowned out by my victimhood I can understand that such whining about everyone’s else’s attitude is as boring as it is useless. Perhaps it is just an adjustment period as I try to find my bearings even as my perspective begins to shift in light of all that I am learning. Or maybe it is a sign that I have to finally step up and make some of those changes that I imagine in the moments before I fall asleep each night. At any rate, I guess it is time to redouble those efforts to actually practice walking in the paths of those saints and visionaries who seem to be able to make dreams manifest. It is as simple and as tragically complex as cultivating that inner light that I know Rumi would say is already there, glowing within us all.