Wise Woman Working

When faced with the impossible problem of what I want to be when I grow up or who I want to be for the next twenty minutes I often panic at the multiplicity of options. Sometimes I am crushed when I realize that whatever path I choose will inevitably eliminate a host of other equally attractive, urgent possibilities. So often I become completely mired in all that I cannot do; I just freeze up and let the night dissolve into television for fear I might waste time chasing after the wrong star. I suppose this is one reason why many passionate people who really want to affect positive change end up being stymied by the weight of their own potential. The vastness of the universe, with all of its beauty and ugliness, is devastating in its scale and the abilities of one person seem laughably inconsequential.

Of all the causes that call to me but do not seem to fit into a single lifetime, I think I have finally distilled my raison d’être to one articulable goal: I want to be a wise, wise woman.

For some time I have been sitting behind my eyes, watching as I move through the world, keeping an inner score card. My awareness has been heightened and I surf from epiphany to epiphany, so often conscious of this phenomenal world with its limitless possibilities. But I constantly find myself forgetting all I know about the life of the soul and the love of the Divine and the power of healing. The epiphanies all turn to dust as I find it impossible to practice all that I know when I am confronted with another unenlightened day at work or a quiet night when I am too tired to think.

And so I am ready to introduce a second stage to all of this shouting about revelations: it is time for Wise Woman Working. The pursuit of wisdom seems a relentless one that takes dedication and conditioning. At the same time, I think there is a need to let the world pass through you and allow the knowledge to pool at your feet, but I think that certain groundwork must be laid first. All those books I have read, all the classes and seminars I have attended – their brilliance dulls and I just find myself becoming an enlightenment junkie dying for a new hit. Wise Woman Working is about practicing what I have heard preached and letting all those lessons marinate until they are not airy-fairy icing, but the real sustenance one can build a life upon. It is about living through these flashes of insight and distilling them to their essential stuff so that I can blossom into being that wise, wise woman who contributes something to this miraculous, fucked up world.

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Because the Ego is a Fragile Thing I Have to Waste

I started blogging a year ago as a result of one of those allegedly profound conversations in which, yet again, I experienced the ultimate breakthrough and uncovered an enlightened new relationship with Self and the Divine, and pretty much the entire planet.

Wryly, I scoffed to my friend, “Listen to me! I’m the girl who cried epiphany! Why do you even listen to all this narcissistic drivel?” And so I started committing these thoughts to writing and explored a public voice.

Then I stopped posting because my obsession with whether anyone was reading seemed unhealthy, I started writing fiction again, and it didn’t seem that inspired spiritual progression should invite voyeurism. Now, six months later, I think I have found my way back to the original purpose of these pages – to name those little epiphanies, both pedestrian and profound, that inform and spice this business of living, and could, with a bit of attention and intention, lead to an expansion of consciousness.

This need to start writing here again came to me today while I sat through a conference of librarians. I had organized the event, yet sat at the periphery because I am not really one of them, but instead a creature who lacks the information science credentials, and, frankly, the interest to truly engage in the conversation. For two days, I had been trying to explain to the participants my role in the college library at which I work – I’m a professional with an assistant of my own and I do actual intellectual work when I am not worrying about caterers and janitors’ schedules, honest! When I took a moment to listen to myself I realized that the lady really did protest too much. I balked at the fragility of my ego, that I had to allude to the novel I am writing and my graduate work in Ireland and actually say “yeah, but I am not actually a secretary.” See, I even had to include my credentials here so that my readers will realize that I am not just some hack whining about her day job!

My difficulties with position and title have plagued me for years both in the professional and existential sense. I think I am finally in the place where I can admit the tyranny of this need to prove myself and the longing for a ready-made description of who I am. Of course, being able to recognize that this brittle shell of identity I feel compelled to defend and describe is light years from my true self is only the smallest of initial steps. Still, it was epiphany enough to stop and hear my story as it spiraled from my lips and realize that the tale I was telling had nothing to do with me.

After such silence, I certainly have not begun to fulfill the mission of what this blog was meant to do, but perhaps remembering the long, arduous process of self expression is revelation enough for one evening.

Definitions, Categories, and Other Roadblocks on the Way to God

A couple of years ago I sat in a colleague’s office in the midst of yet another existential crisis (as you might surmise by the fact that I was sharing such a dilemma with a coworker, she is also a good friend). I was agonizing over whether I should enroll in a graduate program to get a master’s in library science. There were loads of good reasons to do it: my experience would set me up well for a job in academia; I hadn’t been to school in a few years and was starting to miss my student status; there seemed to be a general feeling of “what are you going to do next?” and this seemed a logical answer. Of course, the main reason I could cite in opposition to committing the next two or three years to my life to this pursuit was that I really didn’t want to be a librarian. At the time, that did not seem like a compelling enough answer to give up the idea.

My friend sagely observed that I was just wanted to be able to tell people: “I am a… something.” My currently ambiguous job title could be traded for a recognized profession and I could rest assured that I had secured a stable identity. When I was too scared to present myself as a writer, or it felt too new and strange to call myself a wife, or when calling myself a feminist or a redhead or a Cape Codder or a spiritual seeker felt too limiting or unacceptable or broad, I could cheerily fight the stereotype of a geriatric creature in a bun with a habit of shushing people as a declared a librarian.

Fully realizing that this quest for a title is practically a caricature of my need to construct and cling to my fragile false self, I can laugh at this misbegotten bid for a prepackaged mask. This is not to say that I no longer cling to my ego, but at least my need for it is slightly less transparent these days.

This episode belies my addiction categorization, even as my right-brained literature studying being seems to shun such logic. I think part of that came from feeling lost in the free flowing waters of fiction and poetry; I required some vocabulary to help me structure my education, a few rocks to cling to in that eddy of words and expression. Part of it, of course, must be human nature as well. Even now, I refuse to cleave to any specific religion but I still seek to build a framework of earthly logic upon which to hang my experience of the Divine in my life. I dance with definition – longing for it even as I endlessly dart away from its comforting grasp.

Of course, as I unpack this box of thoughts by seeing them sprawl across the screen, I realize that all spiritual writing and even thinking is produced against the backdrop of this essential paradox: we write and read to understand and describe that which can never be captured on the page or even by the mind. Another elementary epiphany, I realize, but something that I need to remember as I repeatedly make the mistake of choosing theory over practice, reading that book about meditation opposed to, well, you know.

All of this comes to mind specifically after reading about the difference between Celtic spirituality and mysticism at The Website of Unknowing. I was presented with so many new terms in that post, and the ersatz librarian in me longed to start researching words like “apophatic” and “cataphatic.” While such knowledge has its place however, and I recognize the site’s writer to be incredibly learned, I am going to make a conscious effort to avoid discovering the tenets of such dichotomies for a while and experiment with trusting experience and the wisdom of the body rather than trying to cultivate further encyclopedic book smarts.

Surely all of this is a delicate balance as we gain insights from great thinkers and mystics even as we risk using their quotes and vignettes as crutches that allow us to hobble ever away from the sacred.

Journeying Under the Cloak of Epiphany

As one might expect, my blog has been coming up on a lot of people’s Google searches and the like since today is the Feast of the Epiphany. I hope that a few people were not disappointed to find that my sorts of epiphanies include Rumi and Irish poetry and talk of global warming and will venture back here even after January 6. Truth be told, my knowledge of this date on the Christian calendar is limited to my Nanna’s tradition of giving us a little gift and taking down the tree on this day.

I wished that this day upon which Christians celebrate the revelation of the one they considered to be infant savior to the Magi, Christ’s baptism, as well Jesus’s first miracle when he turned water to wine at the wedding in Cana seemed to offer more epiphanies to me. On this day at home we were taken with dogsitting for my folks’ wonderful fool of a black lab, Saoirse, and with discussing the shape of our lives in the year(s) to come. Undoubtedly we were planting seeds for eventual bursts of wisdom, but it seemed to simply be a day of snow melt and the sense of standing at the beginning – or perhaps the middle – of a great transitional state.

* * *

In the last moments of daylight I took the dog for a walk, the sense of feeling largely bereft of epiphanies heavy my mind. Instantly I was grateful for the excuse to walk the soft snow in the gloaming, the path glowing white through the gathering gloom. It was yet another moment of deep recollection, the glory there is to be found when disconnected from flickering screens and long lines of words, the uncharted space in my head beyond recorded language that longs to be explored. A body kept bound by obligation and injury and forbidding weather remembered what it was to move, to feel an expansion across her shoulders, an opening of her heart from an unexpected place in the middle of her back.

The sky was neither iron nor pewter – none of those usual winter words to describe these dense clouds that seemed to glow from a place deep within as the snow reflected back the last of the dying light. It was infinitely softer, a sweeter canopy over this temporary thaw. The first image that occurred to me was that the world was lying beneath a great wizard’s cloak – a magical garment made of sun and snow and atmosphere in silver and gray that hinted at blues and pinks and a place beyond color. Then I recalled that there are in fact three wizards abroad this day: the three magicians, the Wise Men of the east who were said to have followed a star that must have glinted like an even more mysterious prism than this northern evening ever could.

After toying with whispers of despair as I felt this day to be devoid of concrete promise, lacking the sort of thoughts and realizations worth committing to a page, it seemed that hope refused to be denied. A day about which I assumed I knew so little, whose name I have used so liberally revealed itself to me in a symbol that enveloped my entire world. I am left to understand the constant, universal journey toward Epiphany.

Discovering the Space Beyond the Silence

Long Beach treeMany months ago, before this whole unfurling of epiphanies began in earnest, I was rocked with uncertainties over something or other, or probably about everything, more likely. I read my tarot cards, I stared beseechingly up to the sky, I read a text about the Goddess that was full of footnotes. I just felt like I was trapped in the maelstrom of my own psychology.

There have been a few times in my life when a voice outside of all that I know has spoken to me. Once, it said “he’s not the one.” (I could regret not listening to that one, but the two years of kidding myself in the particular relationship that followed got me here, with someone who actually is “the one.”) This particular day in question, I heard as clear as the winter air outside my windowpane “Why don’t you ask the Goddess?” In my journal I simply wrote: SILENCE.

Ask the Goddess? I’m sorry, but I really wouldn’t want to trouble her, and there would be so many candles to light, and really, what is there to say that I have not already shouted a million times into the inside of my own skull? It was at that moment I realized the relative emptiness of the self-proscribed path I had chosen to study. And by “study” I do not mean in the way that one studies Talmud or even tea leaves, but in the way that one studies the periodic table or Shakespeare. I was reasonably certain there would be a test (not of the type that gets you through a set of heavenly gates or anything, more like the sort that proves you are intelligent and witty in a bar).

I want to wrap that lost version of myself in the enveloping soul I have discovered has always been here. I want to make sure that the me from last year understands that she can ask the Goddess whatever she needs to, and if she wants, she doesn’t even have to assign a gender to the divine.

Why do I write a post about something as intimate as the understanding that, when I address an entity outside myself, I feel like there is a sensitive power in the universe? This is not the sort of declaration I feel particularly comfortable with and I don’t think I am trying to vaunt my own spiritual development as another thing I have “achieved” (at least I hope I am a little better at transcending my ego). In part, it must be that this quiet realization that barely resides in the world of the explicable means that, when confronted with the chaos that is waking up in the morning, I find there is a force beyond the void of my own fear and questions. If I am to continue spiraling through epiphanies and trying to pin them to page, I must establish this new sense of something greater as my truth. The path I am beginning to travel now is still determined by instinct, and luck, and what I hope are occasional flashes of authentic vision, but that emptiness, that silence, is a memory as I begin to try to understand the hum that is the energy that binds us all.

A Post About My Cats (and Milkweed and Bittersweet and Vine Swinging)

Banshee and Seamus getting acquaintedFunny thing about epiphanies – not only are you glowing with insights about all that you never realized before, you are also glowing a little with shame at the silly things you did and said and thought before the revelation. Now I don’t plan to dwell too much on self recrimination, but I think it healthy to recognize a few minor revolutions in my perspective.

Last week, buried in a post that rambled on about phenomenology I mentioned that we had a gotten a new kitten and were nervous about how our cat Banshee would accept him. In trying to describe the way that we felt the need to control feline nature rather than allow it to take its natural course and hence were disassociated from the greater patterns the universe, I did apologize for lowering the tone of this space to encompass house pets. Well, I’m not sorry and I am about to do it again.

This afternoon I broke what has become a tradition for me since my husband started working Saturdays. Instead of hunching in my writing spot that is surrounded by windows and wondering if the squirrels were cold out there, I went out to join them. We have miles of trails behind the house – a nature preserve and state park in one direction and a great college town in the other – and it’s a big month if I get out there once. Ah yes, I am the ecofeminist who is too busy reading to feel actual wind in my hair.

I tried to make it a walking meditation; I realized there were brief statements sent in God’s general direction, but really I was just writing blog posts in my head and at one point was repeating “Row, row, row our boat” like a mantra. No real idea why the usual one was replaced with a nursery rhyme, but it might have been something to do with looking at the world through my mostly forgotten childhood eyes. I glanced at bittersweet on the way out and thought of the way Nanna used to collect armfuls of it. I noticed the milkweed pods, their white fur waiting for a strong breeze to send them dancing on the air and remembered collecting them near the swans’ marshes in Falmouth once upon a time.

On the return trip I saw a vine hanging across the path and wondered if I could jump and reach it. Even though the November afternoon chilled my exposed belly, I grabbed hold and swung for a while; this was not a typical Saturday afternoon. When I came upon a patch of milkweed this time I climbed through the brush to feel its silkiness and liberate a few dozen parachutes of seed. So this was what it was like to notice the outer world, to delight in all that it invited me to see, to be.

The sanitized, cerebral version of myself filtered through what I have studied presents an extremely limited view of who I am, and from what I know about epiphanies, they don’t thrive in the presence of limitation. How did I assume I could elucidate anything about my relationship to “Nature” when I was leaving out an inherent aspect of my own nature: I’m a sucker for anything four legged and furry. It’s a condition I’m really quite proud of and I do not even worry that this affliction gets worse with age (I slipped a promise of a puppy into my husband’s wedding vows – it’s been 13 months and Bacchus the golden retriever has yet to materialize, but that is another story).

So my cat related epiphany is about patience and trust. After only seven days, the newcomer has pretty much been accepted by herself. His name is Seamus, and he is really quite shameless, and his dance with Banshee has taught me more in the last week about acceptance and adaptability than any self-help guru I’ve had occasion to hear.S&B curled up

Epiphany Evolved

Saoirse and meIn very different ways two of my favorite people in the world told me today that the blog idea was nice and all, but what I was saying didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Too many partially explained allusions to books they had never read, people they had never heard of. I cannot discount their intelligence or their positive intentions, so after less than two weeks of being EpiphanyGirl, it is time to try a different tack.

Now that I have stopped mourning the tragedy of being a misunderstood genius (ha!), I am willing to admit it is time to try expressing these thoughts without quotations and citations and the need to prove I have read just enough to be credible. Because the truth is, I have read a fair bit, but all those words barely begin to inform the thoughts that drove me to these epiphanies I am hinting at in my title. This quest is at least in part academic because that is an essential aspect of who I am, but to sanitize my beliefs by proving that others who caught the attention of a publishing house think the same thing is to deaden my prose and marginalize my own independent reasoning and insight.

So here’s today’s epiphany: I am a person with unique wisdom and ideas that deserve to be heard in their own right. You’ll read what I have to say not because I can tell you I agree with many of Rosemary Radford Reuther’s criticisms of Carol Christ’s work, but because I’m elucidating in some small way a few of those things we know, but don’t really know. Nobody likes a name dropper anyway (if you have read the same books and for some reason want to drop names with me, send me an email, we won’t submit the reading public to such scholarly navel-gazing any longer). I always thought that Bob Dylan (we all know him, right?) lyric was ridiculous: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Here’s another epiphany: blog for ten days and understand one of our greatest modern poets, and not because you quoted him at length and studied him in grad school! I say farewell to the failed doctoral program bound student and introduce you to the woman who avoided all that stuff so she could live authentically in the real world (this is the part where the old me would include a quote about this nifty new philosophy called phenomenology I just read about, but you’ll have to look into my distant past – ok, three days ago – for such references). This writer remembers she is EpiphanyGirl and looks at the world with the wide eyes of a child, not through the narrowed gaze of someone who is considering how dissect experience for the next chapter of her dissertation.

We won’t say goodbye to all of the quotations (I’ll never stop celebrating the ancestors and the teachers), but if I start spiraling to far into my personal bibliography, can some one please let me know? (Ever so gently, of course).

Oh, and I include the photo because it is impossible to take yourself too seriously when you have a black lab licking your ear!