Woke up concerned that I may have misstated a few things in my last post or at least left out some crucial caveats… Have a peek at the end where I tried to clarify things if last night’s post left you wondering if I had lost my mind as well as my attachment to my stories!
Today I am wearing my red shoes.
I spent yesterday in a fog as thick as one might see on a spring morning over the Vineyard Sound. My weekend back on Cape Cod hung around me like a shroud – a thick blanket of memories that warmed me even as it muffled the world around me. I couldn’t find joy in the days at home with my family for all that I felt compelled to mourn being away.
Last evening I went to visit the woman I can only describe as my “healer” – a small, undervalued term to describe someone who has helped me immeasurably and who does amazing work with energy that I am just beginning to understand. I spun her a few tales about my fears of leaping out of a settled job and the feeling of urgency to start acting to change the world on a piece of land that I love so well and several other theories about why I felt so off balance in the face of making this theoretical move. That’s when she laughingly and forcefully informed me that all of these intellectual reasons for why it might be hard to go back to the Cape even though it seemed to be the right thing to do in many ways was, frankly, bullshit.
“You want to go home. It’s as simple as that.”
And she is right, that is what I want, and this new existential dilemma is rooted only in the basic yearning for something so simple that I can barely credit it. I am meant to be a complex, cerebral creature who is ready to adventure across the world and send back post cards to mom and dad, not be the one down the street who drops by for tea on a random Tuesday afternoon! The place I came from – the ocean that perfumes it, the winds that buffet it, the tourist traffic that plagues it – finally that arm of sand is making itself known as integral part of myself, an essential, elementary force in my life.
When I stop spinning through the little dramas I have concocted around how difficult it will be to color outside the lines and construct a life somewhere with a reputation for expensive homes and few “good” jobs, I will realize the problem with my desire to be back where I began is not about the logistics of modern existence. It is about understanding simplicity and the recognition of the power of home and a voice deep inside of me that says “I want.”
The problem with dipping into too many spiritual texts and self-help books is that you are often left with any number of conflicting pieces of wisdom and nonsense. With the little I know of Buddhism, I can reject such wanting as too much attachment. But then, how many books are written to help empower the individual to cast a dream into the contrary winds of life and dare to chase it.
I will surely be grappling with the spiritual ramifications of want for some time, but for now I am comforted (if still more than a little surprised) by the sweetness of declaring I am more like Dorothy Gale than I ever imagined.
Kansas, Cape Cod, whatever. I am on my way.
In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.
In the last few posts I have spent some time examining my relationship to organized religion (well, to Christianity and Catholicism really since that is my only valid reference point). A story like this makes it all the more clear that the separations that are necessities of the labeling and packaging a belief in God are truly irrelevant.
This myth from the Jewish tradition is new to me, featuring terms I have never heard, but that does not make the tenets of its vision any less relevant or awe-inspiring. The story acts as the poles of the tent that support the beautiful blanket that is the belief that God dwells within all of us. I am building my life around such a belief, but never had the chance to describe this unifying light to myself with images I could understand.
Initially I was attracted to this part of the interview because Remen said, “We are all healers of the world.” It is through my desire to be a healing force in this life that I became attracted to matters of the soul in the first place. The sense that this practice of restoration is a global project and an imperative of the human race inspires me to live with a sense of purpose I have only just begun to explore. The theological questions of whether we are on a trajectory to return a perfect time before history began is best discussed at another time; for now, this tale can simply be a new way to experience the present.
Even if one wants to find fault with organized religion or at least remain an outside observer, one vital and enduring benefit of entities like a local parish is the sense of community that such places provide. We know that we need such a sense of connection to feel whole and recognized. This story gives us a way to understand all people as members of one spirit community populated with everyone who is responsible for making this a better existence. Certainly one can feel the loneliest in a crowded room, but perhaps drinking in this story fully can dispel some of that sense of alienation.
Listening to the podcast of American Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith the other day, I was introduced to Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor who has pioneered the “integrative medicine” movement that pulls the modern medical establishment’s attention to the mind/body connection. I was reminded yet again that holistic healthcare is actually considered quite radical in most circles and that many well meaning doctors have been (and continue to be) surprised by the fact that a person’s experience of her illness is as important as the clinical symptoms she may demonstrate.
The airing of this radio show is yet another instance in which the Universe seems to be conspiring to make me think about wellness and infirmity, and the place of health and illness in my own life and the lives of those I touch every day. When I was trapped on the couch with another sprained ankle last week, I plunged into a bout of self pity while speaking to a friend, listing all of the ways that my body has betrayed me over the last handful of years, including six months when I was reduced to debilitating exhaustion most of the time due to a nexus of calamities. She suggested that I might be taking good enough care of myself that none of these health issues became insurmountable, long-term issues. That is a nice thought, but I really think that I am being taught what it is to be temporarily unable to meet the days’ challenges so that I can allow that knowledge to become empathy that will eventually be transformed into the power to help others heal. These days, I am working on developing my sense of perspective on the moments when my body does not perform exactly as expected, hoping to realize that I should just be overcome with gratitude for all that she accomplishes each day.
All of this is merely meant to be an introduction (that I will surely explore later) to a passage included on the program from Remen’s book’s Kitchen Table Wisdom:
The most important questions don’t seem to have ready answers. But the questions themselves have a healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.
At this moment, this quotation gives some shape to my thoughts about what I talked about yesterday, my struggles with conforming to the fullness of any particular church. I think one of the elements of the Catholic Church that I grew up with that leaves me so conflicted is that claim to the Truth with an absolutely knowable capital “T.” I am still in a place of delicious, torrential questions. Perhaps the reason we have religion in its modern sense is to find solace in a monolithic entity that seeks to comfort its flock with creeds and commandments and promises of the ultimate wisdom. The only answer I have received to all of my questions so far is that this is not my path.
From my reading of the Christian mystics I know that the tradition that has its most obvious manifestation in the one-way communication of Sunday mass (all priestly answers, it seems), also has guided centuries of questing souls who have interrogated issues more deeply than I can possibly imagine. I am just left to wonder how to reconcile these two expressions of communion with the divine.
Reconciling, ever reconciling…