Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Questions on Bats, Christmas, and the Wild World

We had a bat . . .  

. . . show up with our Christmas tree . . . 
Yes, it seems that the first real tree we have had for Christmas in over a decade came with a bat tucked into one of the branches. The bat, poor thing, didn't make itself known until the tree was bedecked with lights and hundreds of ornaments, and until, most likely, it had come out of its semi-somnolent state now that it was in a warm, well-lit house. I didn't get to see the show, unfortunately. Steve discovered the bat, rather like a "large moth fluttering around the lamp," when he was getting ready for bed one night while I was at work. 

I wish I had been there. I have been paying attention to bats for the last four years when Bat showed up in the first sandtray landscape I created during my first appointment with my Jungian expressive arts psychotherapist. For those of you familiar with sandtray, Jungian, expressive arts, and/or depth psychotherapy, you will know this is of deep significance. The first dream, the first images, the images that follow you are the ones to pay special attention to. And when an image or symbol comes to you in person, well, it is an extraordinary and snychronistic event. However, the bat didn't come to me. It came to my husband, and it came because of my insistence that we have a real tree this year. I felt an intense need for the bracing smell of evergreen, for the perfect imperfection of branches that are crooked and unbalanced, for the nuisance of needles littering the floor. I felt that I couldn't bear not to have these in the house this year. 

It was just a few weeks ago that Bat showed up in my journal pages, in a story of a young woman named Artemis who found an old house on Crescent Place filled with scurrying creatures within and powerful totem animals without. Here is the image of the bats issuing in the address of her residence, which was a Found piece of paper I've had for some time:

I wonder if I was issuing an invitation for something wild to enter our home. It would seem so. 

And not just any wild thing, but one of the most bizarre creatures to grace the planet. In researching for this posting and looking for images, I came across this meandering exploration of Bat:
"All is mystery, darkness, and imposture in this transitional series, in all these moulds of the ambiguous, branded at the edge of the abnormal, the hideous and the fantastic." - Conrad Roth

Roth is so right. All is mystery, darkness, and imposture. The bat is on the edge of air, cave, and earth. It is mammal and bird. They glide and also engage in sustained flights of power without feather or wing. They hang upside down to sleep, give birth, and nurse their young. They see in the dark by hearing, truly a synesthete creature. They inhabit the eaves of houses, woodpiles, caves, and the trunks of undisturbed trees, including those standing on a hillside Christmas tree farm. They fascinate us, frighten us, and awaken something primitive deep within us. 

"Bats carry our projections of a 'reverse' order that forces our perspective into the nocturnal, the underworld, and the equivalent cavernous depths of psyche. The twilight emergence of bats in the thousands or millions to forage embodies for us the concealed, 
primordial forces of the netherworld breaking out in expansive liberation."  
- ARAS Book of Symbols

Somehow, that a bat traveled to our home in a Christmas tree on this particular year comes as no surprise to me. Pay attention, Bat seems to be saying. Pay attention to the Wild World. It is clamoring for us to listen with our own bat ears, singing out for an echolocative response from us, wanting us to come to the edges and see what terrible mystery and magic might meet us there. 

And, really, is that not what Christmas is truly about? Not the presents, the eggnog, the Santa, the holly and the ivy. If we can remember back, back, back long ago in our earliest times at the edge of our memories as two-legged creatures, this time of year was about the world getting dark and darker. It was a time when the sun stood still for just a moment before, thank the Powers That Be, it began to move again, and we knew there would be Light and warmth again. Christmas is when we remember this Grace, this journey down and through Darkness so that we may see Light again. Because there is no Light without Darkness. Nor is there Darkness without Light. Christmas is when we remember that it is, indeed, a possible miracle that the Wildness of Love can be born within the human heart. It is when we reach out to one another because the world can be so lonely. 

The Bat is a question mark in our psyches. Neither this nor that. Residing in a world turned upside down. Awake when it is neither dark nor light. Liminal time and liminal space. The Bat is a question we must hold before us, with never a promise of an answer. Yet it is the questions themselves that can save us. 

"There was, however, a keen awareness of this Presence in her house. Was it even her house? 
Maybe she was residing in the House of the Other? Animal? Mineral? Vegetable? 
The Twenty Questions of relationship with the Other: 
Will you see me, really see me? 
Will you hear me, really hear me? 
Will you tune your ear to the drumbeat that pulses deep in my gut? 
Will you touch me here and here? 
Will you elicit music and starlight from my throat? 
Will you forever know my name and call me by no other? 
Will you let me carry my own heartache and yet make it beautiful? . . . 
Will you be my Key, my Thread, my Doorway, my Nothing and Everything? 
Will I be your Cup, your Bowl, your Vessel? . . . 
Will you be my hiding place, the wing that covers me when the storms come?" - 
Artemis at 107 Crescent Place, from author's personal journal

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Shiftless Wanderer in Blogland

I have been busy surfing Blogland these last few nights, ever since I saw Jane's updated blogroll, which has some delightful offerings. One can get lost in this new world I've entered. I haven't quite decided what to make of it all. It is overwhelming at the very least, a cacophony and kaleidoscope of words and images so loud, wondrous, and disconcerting to boggle the mind.

I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that one of the most noticeable reactions I've had to this Meander I've followed is to second guess my own blog and my writing and my purpose and my abilities and my future as a blogger and my weight and my clothing choices and my professionalism and . . .and . . .and . .  .

And my next most noticeable thought is, "Does it really matter? and Does anyone really care? Do I really care? Am I making a big deal of something that is not really all that important? What is my purpose in this blog?" That's the question, really.

So, here's a few answers. No, it doesn't really matter. No, no one really cares all that much. And no, I don't care. Well, okay, yes, I do care. A little bit. And sometimes I care a lot. Yes, I am making a big deal of something that, in the whole scheme of things - Occupy Wall Street, the death of North Korea's leader, the Sailor's upcoming deployment (and after some discussion, my oldest son's blog name is now the Naval Officer, since he worked damn hard to earn that title), the Scholar's appointment with a rheumatologist tomorrow, the travails of daily crises and the pain and trauma of large crises that my clients are working so hard to bear - isn't that important at all, from this perspective.

But the purpose of the blog . . . that feels really important. One of the things that I second guess myself about is the gravity and density of the writing here. I've been reading some great blogs that are short, sweet or not so sweet, and to the point - Divatology, Geogypsy, Telling Dad, Whiskey and the Morning After - all worth checking out. But I came across this little nugget of wisdom in Jeff Goins' blog; "The more you focus on a particular topic, the more specialized you become and the more you attract an engaged audience." So I'm going with that. I am a fairly grave and dense person. I'm a depth psychologist. Not that you have to be grave and dense to be a depth psychologist. But that is the kind that I happen to be. No sense trying to be someone I'm not. And no sense in trying to write something that isn't true for me. I guess rather than a particular topic, I am specializing in a particular experience.

It is when I bring my most authentic self to the keyboard and to the blank page that something magic happens. I think that's true of most writers. Goins also urges the blogger to remember that this public medium isn't just a place for the writer to stand front and center and glory in the attention that may or may not come her way. The blogger must be faithful and attentive to the readers that may or may not come her way. So true. But I really don't know how to most honor the reader unless I've started by honoring the writer.

I have realized as I've wandered down some strange, busy roads these last few days in Blogland that I'm not especially interested in becoming a famous blogger like The Bloggess or Erika Napoletano or Zen Habits. That much attention scares me to death. What I am interested in is good conversation. I like smart blogs. I like blogs with interesting, new, quirky ideas. I like blogs that have some weight to them.

I have also realized that I am not interested in making things easy for people. I haven't really known this about myself until recently. I don't want to compromise my gravity and density for others' comfort. Does this sound mean? I don't intend for it to be a thoughtless, "screw you" kind of statement. What I mean is, I think it's okay for us to work sometimes. I'm reading the German and French phenomenologists and, believe me, they had no interest in making life easy for their readers! But I enjoy the challenge. I have to slow down. I have to reflect. I have to engage with the text. I have to be present. This is the kind of experience I hope to provide for those people who find their way over here. Then we can wander around together in this dense, gravity-laden life we're living and maybe not feel quite so alone.

That's my hope anyway. Maybe we can hold hands while we walk. That might make things a bit easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Children cannot live on tagliarini alone. (But somehow we all managed to survive.)

My son, the Scholar, informed me and his girlfriend last week that the 18 years he was growing up and living at home we only ever had spaghetti and leftover meals for supper. I asked him how it was possible for us to have leftovers if all we ever had was spaghetti. My older son, the Sailor, tells me that to this day I ruined his appetite for spaghetti and soup. And whenever the family gets together for a meal, especially if there's someone new in the group, they have to tell about the time I inflicted torture at the supper table in the form of peanut butter pasta.

Okay, yes. We ate spaghetti maybe once a month, with leftover meals of spaghetti for a few days. But we did not eat it for 18 years. And yes, I tried to make sure that I didn't throw food out. I wasn't always successful, but you can make a good pot of Stone Soup with leftover this and leftover that. Of course, then you have to eat the leftover soup of leftovers.

And yes, I did indeed make peanut butter pasta. It was a Thai recipe. I had never fixed Thai food before, and the recipe did call for peanut butter. But maybe Adams Natural Peanut Butter isn't the way to go. I'm not sure because I never did try to make Thai food after that. We were all a bit traumatized.

I only made it the one time, but the meal lives on in infamy. Mostly because Steve had just finished lecturing the kids that they needed to eat what was given to them without complaining and they needed to eat all they were given. So when I served the peanut butter pasta, Steve had to literally eat his words. He gagged on them a bit. The peanut butter pasta wasn't that bad, but it wasn't all that good either. (Pay attention, guys, this is the only time I will ever admit this.)

Peanut butter pasta was the meal I will never live down. Green chicken and almond casserole is the meal my mother-in-law never lived down.

Mom passed on almost 4 years ago, a wonderful woman who, no matter what people said or did, would just comment with marvel in her voice, "People are so interesting!" She'd listen to the story of her green chicken and almond casserole with equanimity and very little defensiveness. Unlike my responses to my Thai fiasco, she would, in fact, just laugh along with everyone else. (I could really take some lessons from my mother-in-law!)

The casserole got green because the recipe called for almonds, so Mom used leftover cookie-making almonds dyed with green food coloring. When they went into the casserole, the rest of the dish turned green as well. When the family sat down to dinner, there it was - a pile of green chicken and some moist bright green substance. This became Mom's meal of infamy.

According to her three children, in addition to the green chicken casserole, the only other thing Mom ever made was tagliarini (which we Southerners, evidently, pronounce "tag-larni.") Mom would put up a tiny bit of a fuss when this accusation was leveled at her. And I know for a fact that the almost 30 years I knew Mom, she never fixed tagliarini. Mom's tagliarini was my spaghetti.

But poor meI grew up eating only my stepmom's hot dog and baked bean casserole with crushed saltines sprinkled and browned on top. Which would have been fine, except that she always put dried onion flakes in it, which I hated. This beans and weenie casserole routine was occasionally broken with a meal of Hamburger Helper or pigs in a blanket made with Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls and Kraft American Singles. Somehow I made it to adulthood with a healthy heart after eating hot dogs in some form or fashion or sodium-laden Hamburger Helper every night of my childhood.

I look forward to the day when my grandson tells his girlfriend and friends he was forced fed every day of his poor poor childhood and how he grew up healthy and hardy despite a lifetime of spaghetti, or tagliarini, or green chicken casserole, or beans and weenies with crushed saltines. And I'm sure someone in the room will say, "Well, let me tell you about the time that your Mimsy served us poor, poor people peanut butter pasta!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The smallness of me is oddly reassuring.

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”

A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. ~ Stephen Crane, from "The Open Boat."

When I was teaching high school, a student came across this extraordinary passage while studying for the GED exam. She didn't understand it, and so we sat and unpacked it, phrase by phrase. I asked her if she had ever gone out on a clear night during the dark of the moon and stood under the night sky looking up at the stars. No, she said, she'd never done this before. I was teaching in an urban school, smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, so I suppose I wasn't surprised. But I was sad she'd never had this humbling, age-old experience.

When my grandson was very young, one of the first words he learned to say was "star." He was fascinated with the night sky. Now almost five years old, he still is. I often wonder if children, newly arrived on this planet, are not only fascinated with the night sky but also look at it with longing, as if homesick. My grandson told me just a few days ago with much authority that the moon was made of "green glowing cheese! and ROCKS, of course!" Of course, I said, how perfectly obvious.

The stars we wish upon and the moon made of cheese, or the lights of planes flying through a black sky, or the lights of houses and cities breaking the dark plains of America as one flies over on a cross-country flight - I feel small and humble when I gaze upon these things. The world feels immense, and I feel insignificant. A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.

This insignificance is oddly reassuring. It relativizes me, my ego, my daily dramas and crises that I feel are so extraordinarily urgent. It relativizes my busy-ness, my self-important tasks that keep me on the treadmill, nose to the grind. When I look at a star's light that started its journey across the universe four, five, ten, or more years before this moment in time, I'm stunned at the immensity of time and space. My own smallness is correlative to the inifinitude of our universe and all the other universes beyond that. I know the pathos of my situation.

Pathos is a complex emotional experience. It is more than suffering. It's not really suffering at all. It's the emotions that arise when we recognize the capacity of the human heart to suffer. To know and recognize the capacity to suffer opens the heart to compassion and empathy. I stand on my deck, tilt my head back as far as I can, let my eyes rest on the high cold stars in the winter night sky, and I feel a connection with every person on the planet who stands under this same sky. Who is born. Who does daily life, plugging along as best as one can. Who knows so much of what I know about living. And dying. I feel connected by the strands of light coming from a distant star dancing out there in Alpha Centauri.

I feel like this every winter as we make our way to the Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is turned away from the sun, and the planet teeters in liminal space, the apex of the longest darkness and the turning back to light. I feel small, filled with humility, not so full of myself, no longer too big for my britches. I remember again my humanity. One in a sea of. It's exhausting carrying the weight of a demanding ego. It's good to lay that burden down every now and then. To simply be a person, stripped down to what is basic and necessary. Because then I recognize again who my truest self is, greet her again like an old friend, and I have great compassion for that small person filled with humility.

There's a great couple of lines in Thornton Wilder's moving masterpiece Our Town that also relativizes our place here on this blue planet:

Rebecca: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.

George: What's funny about that?

Rebecca: But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God - that's what it said on the envelope.

I think of that ever expanding spatial concentric circle that defines each of our places in the Universe, and ultimately, in the Mind of God. Or whatever Higher Power you believe in and kneel down before. Even if it is the Mind of Reason and Law. Somewhere we are both the center of it all and just a tiny speck of dust, floating in a ray of sunshine in someone's empty parlor room. Like Horton's discovery of the small planet of Whoville on a speck of dust.

A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. Winter's Solstice is almost here, and these are the things I think about. Some would say that my thoughts are depressing, pathetic. Depressing, no. But pathetic, yes, as in full of pathos. Full recognition that my smallest self is connected to the large heart of the world's humanity. I take great comfort in that in some of my darkest moments, and certainly in this darkest time of the year.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's lonely over there on the side of the road.

what if what's required for us all to breach
the doorstep of peace is to shuck the carapace of our grudges,
liquid all of humanity into a new, complicated, carved
out of our scars, relationship to forgiveness?

One of my fondest memories from my high school days was when the youth group at the Episcopal church where I was a member was put in charge of the morning worship service one Sunday. We got to choose music, lessons, and sermon. It was the first time I'd ever heard The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, one of the saddest songs ever to be written. (This was in the 70's. I had a rather protected childhood, as you can gather, given the fact that a church service was one of my fondest adolescent memories. But I am, in fact, grateful for this.) I got to hang out with the two boys I was crushing on at the time, Mike Kidd and Keith Evans. Most memorably, I was chosen to play Lucy van Pelt in our sermon that Sunday, a series of original Peanuts cartoon skits.

One of the readings that morning, which brings me to the point of this post, was from a book I can no longer remember by an author who was, I'm sure, a flash in the pan, but I can still remember the gist of the message even after all these 30+ years. As Lucy, I was the one to give this particular reading because it suited Lucy van Pelt's character. It went something like this:

"I hate black people. I hate Jewish people. I hate Native Americans, Italians, Irish, Yankees, Southerners, Democrats, Republicans, city people, country hicks, smart people, dumb people . . . (and the list went on). But mostly, I HATE BIGOTS!"

I've never forgotten that reading. I think, in some ways, it has greatly informed my political views - progressive, and my profession - psychotherapist.

We had a terrible, terrible tragedy happen in our little island community this past weekend; a car full of young people, coming from a party, ended up in a fiery crash. The three passengers were all killed, and the driver walked away from the accident. She is 18 years old. Her life as she knew it is gone. She will be charged and found guilty of vehicular homicide, no matter what the toxicology report finds, because there were witnesses to how fast she was driving on this wet, dark, back road. I can't stop thinking about her. My heart aches for the families, friends, and loved ones who have lost the three young men who died. It's a mother's worst nightmare - that phone call in the night. But I can't stop thinking about this young woman. The grief that comes from the loss of someone who has died will most likely eventually lessen, there are memories, and time heals that intense pain. I know this from experience. The keening doesn't last forever.

But the grief that comes from knowing that you have taken a life . . . I just can't imagine what this young woman must now live with. Reports from the jail are that she is thinking and feeling everything one would expect to experience in such a situation: that she should have died in that accident, that she wishes she'd never been born, that she wishes she could die now, that she doesn't want to live. The community has sent letters, she has friends lining up who want to see her during her very limited visiting hours. The students and staff at the school from which she graduated have had a long, somber, heavy-hearted week. I can't stop thinking about her, and I think, "No, this would be a mother's worst nightmare."

I have also been thinking quite a bit about that lesson I read in high school in the persona of Lucy van Pelt. The judgments from some quarters laid down upon this child who must live with the consequences of her actions from that night have been harsh. I've talked with people who have said that she should be charged not with vehicular homicide but with murder. I've read comments online calling for the death penalty. It's a terrible terrible tragedy. And there all kinds of questions here about intent, guilt, accountability, and punishment. But here's what I want to say about all of it:

The person driving that car could have been either one of my own children at that age. It could have been someone driving home from a restaurant after drinking a couple of whiskey sours, not intoxicated by any stretch of the imagination, but the toxicology report would show alcohol in the blood. Or me on any given afternoon, driving home from a meeting, impatient with the slow driver in front of me, looking for an opportunity to pass. It could have been one of the guys driving home after stopping at the bar on his way home from work for a couple of beers. It could have been any one of those three young men who were passengers in the car. For all we know, it could have been the driver of the car that this young woman had just passed. It could have been any one of the millions and millions of people who drink and drive in this country. Or any one of the millions and millions of people who drive behind a slow car, passing impatiently when given the chance.

I find it ironic that Lucy van Pelt is both this crabby, judgmental little girl and also the Peanuts' resident psychiatrist dispensing psychological wisdom for 5 cents a pop. Because I have found that on my journey to becoming a depth psychologist, I have gained an increasing amount of respect for people of all sorts. This isn't because I'm some wonderful, saintly, compassionate person - though I aspire! It's because I know now that everyone has a story. Lots of stories. A lifetime of stories. And many of those stories are not happy ones. We are all really just onion-y layers, as Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom so beautifully put it, "layers upon layers of interesting, and occasionally, tear-inducing pungency."

One of the people who called for a murder charge is also someone I had a conversation with many years ago, sitting in an airport; also one of my favorite memories from an earlier time. He and I sat in this international airport and watched streams of humanity walk by, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and beauty. I commented on how amazing it was that there were millions of people in the world, and every single one of them was different. Not one the same among the millions. And my young friend commented in return, "What I find amazing is that there are millions of people, and every one has a different story."

Yes. We all have stories that we often can't see in each other's faces. We have to look deeper, peel away the onion-y layers to get to the truth of the person. We cannot know the road that another has traveled. We cannot always know the pain, the guilt, the tears and sadness another has experienced. What led them to this moment, right here right now. And sometimes, their story is very similar to ours.

Each of us are capable of great goodness and also capable of equal darkness. We are human. We meander down this road from one end to the other, doing the very best we can under sometimes unbearable circumstances. I'd much rather be a companion on that road than to be standing on the side heckling, pointing my finger, and laying down judgment on those who pass by. Even though the latter might feel like the safer stance, I suspect it's quite lonely over there on the side of the road. And I'd much rather have companions who will listen to my story than to be shamed and judged for my all too human failings. I just keep on trying to peel back the layers, shuck the carapace, invite the storytelling.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We all have work to do, not just Joe and Herman.

Caveat: It took less than an hour for me to begin arguing against my own argument below. I realize that I have approached a complex bio-socio-cultural issue simplistically, and I have genderized the issue of patriarchy, which is a genderless phenomena. These arguments below also neglect the presence of the two-spirited ones among us. I ask for tolerance as you read and welcome constructive dialogue.

It's already the middle of November. Ballots are in, and there is some good news on the horizon with some of the results. Madness has not completely taken over the country, I'm relieved to report. Though there are definite pockets of it that baffle the mind. Two names come to mind that say it all: Herman Cain and Joe Paterno. Ugh.

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about when I started this. I just knew something was bubbling in me, waiting to be articulated. As I type these two names, I realize this thing bubbling inside of me has to do with men, with women, power, blindness, woundedness, and fear. It's all right there, isn't it?

There was another full moon yesterday. I stood at the French doors of my bedroom and looked at the moon rising in the east. The light and the darkness were at that precipice where it seemed there were equal amounts of each pouring through the air. The moon, bright and clear, with clouds wisping across it, created striations of light and dark. It sat just above the tiptop of a towering Douglas fir tree that was at least a half a mile away. Yet I could see the silhouettes of branches and clusters of needles. Behind the tree, far far far off to the east, perhaps 150 miles away, if not more, is the graceful, ever present Glacier Peak in the Cascade Mountains. The mountain was a deep shadowy white etched against a dusky blue sky. And that moon, oh that moon!

So what does this scene I describe here have to do with JoePa and Good Ole Herman? I don't know either of these men personally. I'd never heard of Joe Paterno until about a week ago. He seems like a decent enough man. Herman Cain I wouldn't trust with a 10 foot pole. But I can give him the benefit of a doubt and say that perhaps, a tiny tiny doubtful perhaps, he truly has good intentions and truly believes that what he's doing is "right" and that he's "forgotten" ever knowing the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is so. As much of a stretch as that is. So I ask again, what does the full moon in all her glory over mountain and tree have to do with a college football coach and a Republican candidate?

It comes down to this - the Feminine, the Goddess, Wisdom, Sophia, Ancient Woman energy, yin, the Bride - whatever you want to call this amazing, timeless, rhythmic process that happens month in month out. The waxing and waning, the tidal waters of the world responding to the gravity of the Moon's* push and pull, and women's wombs the world over also responding. We are tied to the Moon - our blood, our bodies. Did you know that the heart and the uterus share the same muscle tissue? That no other two organs in the body do so? What does this say about who we are as women? About how our hearts, also, then respond to the Moontime? These are miracles we are talking about here. These places within the woman's body that connect her to the earth, the oceans, and the Moon in ways that men can never, ever in a million years understand. And there's the rub.

Men don't understand. And women have no idea what this is like. Whether we are aware of it or not, as women we still experience the rhythms of the Moon. Our bodies know, even if our minds do not. We cannot know what it is to not know. It is like trying to imagine the absence of touch or to un-remember the faces of our children, lover, or mother. It is an impossibility. We have no idea what men can't experience because they do not have a Moontime. They do not have a uterus that feels the pull of the Moon and so bleeds. They do not have wombs that are universes within universes. And the men, bless their hearts, can't know what it's like to experience such fullness to the point of pain.

I cannot presume to know what it is that men feel, what they experience in that part of their bodies where my uterus sits. I cannot presume to know what the heart of a man pines for without the muscled heart of the uterus to call to. It is possible that there is something else that takes its place, something else that connects him to the ground, the trees, the mountains, the oceans, and the Moon. It seems to me that there has to be something. I just don't know what it is. And, I suspect, they don't either.

(Please forgive me for speaking in generalities here. I know there are many, many men who are very connected. I'm referring to the many more that aren't and specifically to a culture of patriarchy.)

Thus, we have Joe and Herman, two men who live in very different ways, yet they perceive the world through similar lenses. A perception of the world that says that power over is important, that somehow it's okay or excusable or, in Joe's case, "slightly confusing" when someone gets hurt who is more vulnerable than they. That somehow there's some kind of justification for rationalizing sexual violence. That somehow the body is not connected to the soul. It seems unfathomable to me that someone can feel a deep connection to the natural world around them and still find a way to put the blinders on when a child is raped or to lie when women have been sexually harassed. (And, just to note, I hate that phrase "sexually harassed." The connotation is that she's been pushed around a little bit, and she'll get over it. No. It's being sexually bullied often to the point of trauma.)

Maybe I am being idealistic and naive (it wouldn't be the first time) to think that a man simply needs to "get in touch with the earth" and he'll find a way to understand that power-over is not power at all, not authentic power.

However, here's why it might actually not be a pie-in-the-sky thought: For someone to truly get in touch with the earth, to feel it, to be in proper awe of it, to engage in stewardship of it, to feel to the very core of their physical body how they, too, are the earth, requires a deep inward journey into shadow and fear and the dark Feminine soul. If someone has done this, then, yes, I think he would understand that power-over is not power at all. And he would never again be able to rationalize or justify harm to another human being, especially children.

Men have work to do. Big work. In some ways, I think it's much harder work than women have to do and have had to do. For women, we must return to something that we knew once upon a time quite intimately. Men, however, must seek something that is foreign and, I would assume, quite terrifying for them. I'm not sure if men, as a general rule, have ever come into deep relationship with the Feminine. I don't know my history well enough to say this is true, and I'm sure someone can argue with me. But I think you get my point. It's tough work that men have to do. There is not much in our culture that encourages this work. And for some men, it's dangerous work - coming into relationship with the Inner Feminine leaves men extremely vulnerable to abuse in some situations. I'm not sure what the answer is. But I do know that sitting down and being quiet isn't the answer.

I think we who are awake, aware, and have claimed the powerful Feminine self (or are working on doing so) are being called to continue to hold up the mirror to Joe and Herman, to clamor, bang the drum, ring the bell, and shout the clarion call that being blind, deaf, dumb, in denial, and rationalizing abusive behavior is not acceptable. At all. Ever. Period.

I also think that we who are able and strong enough, who are awake, need to speak up for those men who are struggling to live into a new paradigm. We need to support their tears, their tenderness, and their quiet authentic strength. A Masculine strength that is made even stronger because it is rooted in the Bride, the Earth, the Moon. When we recognize it, we need to honor it. We owe it to the fathers who are trying to raise their sons to claim a deeply Feminine rooted, authentic authority. We owe it to our own fathers who have suffered because they have not experienced it and had no one to teach them. We owe it to the Moon.

We all have work to do, not just Joe and Herman. I would suggest, for a first step, that we go outside, sit a spell, and gaze at the Moon.

*I chose to begin capitalizing the word Moon from this point on because I am now referring to more than just the physical moon. It is a metaphysical Moon to which I refer from this point on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amblers and Shiftless Wanderers, Where Have You Gone?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?
Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song,
those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another
and bed down under the stars?
Have they vanished along with footpaths,
with grasslands and clearings, with nature?" ~ Milan Kundera

I have taken on too many projects at the present time, and I am feeling the dizzying effects of a whirlwind life. I am desirous of slowness, ambling, loafing, wandering shiftlessly. As a result, I have been thinking about the words "supper" and "dinner" quite a bit these last few weeks. People don't use the word "supper" much any more to denote the evening meal. I still use it quite often. I first got to thinking about it when my grandson was visiting. He's 4 1/2, and when I asked him what he wanted for supper, he wasn't quite sure what I was referring to.

We always said "supper" when I was young. This was to distinguish it from the noon meal on Sundays which we called "Sunday dinner." I don't remember that we ever really had the traditional-after-church-large-meal that was called dinner, but I know that's where this distinction came from. It seems to me that something has been lost as "supper" has gone out of style.

When I drive in the afternoons or in the summer down the streets of the subdivision in which I live, I am struck again and again with how empty they are. There are no children playing in their yards, riding their bikes, sitting under trees throwing pine cones at each other, walking along the side of the road talking . . . no children to be seen anywhere. Day after day. I know what they say: it's the video games, the tv, the computer that keep them inside. I also know that the homework load these days is burdensome. And I know, too, that fear of myriad things, mostly of strangers, keeps them inside as well. It has become a dangerous world. I realize this. Yet, somehow the fact that the children are inside and not out in the wide world perpetuates the danger, I think. I'm not naive enough to think if more children played outside the world would be safe, but our neighborhood would be different. It would be alive. Fear has a tougher time taking root in a place overrun with childhood.

The neighborhoods in which I grew up were well-inhabited with children. With us. We played kickball, Red Rover Red Rover, tag-freeze, tv, cartoon, and other silly forms of the game, hide and seek. We raced our bikes, played make believe - Planet of the Apes, The Yankees Are Coming. Fallen trees became mansions and palaces. Willow trees were curtains or veils. We gathered pokeberries, crushed them into bottles, and tried to market them as inks or paint, succeeding only in staining our clothes. We gently plucked honeysuckle and sipped the nectar that beaded at the end of the stem. We carved paths through the woods around the wild perimeter of the neighborhood, our own private kingdom. We splashed in Beaverdam Creek, watching the water striders skate across the surface, were scolded for coming home with our shoes covered in mud.
There were slow, quiet moments, too. We sat in yards that were not ours, making whistles out of the thick blades of bermuda grass, lying on our backs watching the clouds scuttle overhead. Front porches were prime real estate for sitting on railings, talking about how "Mrs. Jones hid that dog in the coat closet today and wasn't that the coolest thing ever and I'm going to be a third grade teacher just like Mrs. Jones." Or we'd try to figure out mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and the boys we had crushes on. Talking late into the evening, until either the mosquitoes or the chill night air drove us inside.

We always had to be called in for supper, though. Parents would come to their front doors, stand on the porches, cup their hands around their mouths and holler "Supper's ready." Beans and franks. Pork chops and Stove Top Stuffing. Stuffed green peppers that I could barely get down. Or spaghetti that I could have eaten every night. All of us children showing up at the supper table with skinned or dirty knees, grubby pants, hands sticky with pine resin or stained with pokeberry, barefeet black and calloused.

These weren't idyllic times. I remember tears, anger, divorces, grief and loss, along with the more mundane childhood dramas. But something has been lost along with supper time. I am sorry to have it gone. I don't know that we can ever get it back again. The world is a different place. We are a different kind of people living in it. I suppose we have to be. But I wonder if it's not the same thing as the looping connection between fear of strangers and streets empty of childhood. Do we no longer gather for the pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy for the Sunday dinner, no longer call the children in for supper, because the world moves so fast? Or does the world move so fast because we don't have anyone to call inside for supper?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Silvery Goodness and Little Tiny Hars: On Aging Gracefully

Ever since I can remember, even when I was very young, my husband would say to me, "Age gracefully." I agreed with him. I have wanted to accept the years as they've come, stepping into each added number on my life chart with dignity and pride. I didn't want to be one of those women who clung to youth such that I became a caricature of myself. And I didn't want to kill myself keeping a youthful look or spend thousands of dollars doing so.

So here I am now, quickly approaching my elder years. And I'm trying to age gracefully. For my husband and me, this means no nips, tucks, Botox, liposuction, breast augmentations, and so on. For him, it also meant no hair dye. This last one I just couldn't agree to. Not when I had grey hair by the time I was 40. So I colored my hair for 10 years. Two years ago, I decided that by the time I turned 50, I would have my natural hair color back. A half a century seemed a fitting marker for a crown of grey hair.

My very gifted hair stylist (my son's ex-girlfriend-a story for another posting) did an amazing job of slowly, slowly blending in my natural hair color with the brown and blonde that had been my hair for years so that one could barely tell what was natural and what was boxed. By my 50th birthday this summer, I had mostly grey hair and, fortunately, lots of silvery highlights. I proudly wear it, feeling I've earned it - "silvery goodness" one friend calls these hard earned greys.

One criteria for graceful aging my husband and I have not discussed is electrolysis. I think this is one procedure that he would actually be in favor of. (I haven't had a chance to discuss this with him yet. And he's still in China until next month, so this is something that will have to wait until he's back on home soil.) I haven't researched electrolysis, though the word itself scares the shit out of me. I hate pain. And it sounds painful. Any word that shares its roots with others such as "electroencephalogram," "electrocute," and "electrode" is just plain scary.

But the little tiny hairs growing on my neck, along with other places - some unmentionable, is even scarier. This is not growing old gracefully, in my opinion. When I think of little tiny hairs sprouting on my body, I just keep seeing this ancient hunched over woman wearing a rumpled hillbilly hat (see Jed Clampitt's hat in the image above), her few remaining teeth clamped down on a chaw of tobaccy, talking about "those leetle, tiny hars" growing along her upper lip. (Imagine, if you can, the drawl in her speech.)

There are all sorts of things wrong with this picture, namely the stereotypes implied, for which I apologize. But it's true. There is just something about this recent hair growth spurt that offends my ego, pride, and self-image as a sophisticated, well-educated, modern woman. I don't know. Can one grow gracefully with leetle tiny hars poking out here and there and everywhere? I can proudly claim the silvery goodness of the hair on my head, not so much the one on my upper lip.

I don't know if I'll ever gear up enough courage to submit to something called electrolysis. Meanwhile, I keep a pair of tweezers in my purse, my bathroom cabinet, my car, and my suitcase. And I work hard to maintain a certain respectability and decorum befitting a 50 year old woman.

But every now and then, I'm just tempted to let it all run wild - let the hair grow out of control, become covered in a silvery pelt, run out in the night, raise my face to the moon and howl. Maybe, one of these days, you'll see a wild silver wolf woman running through her years, fierce and graceful.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupying Our Humanity

The title to this posting is, of course, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement happening all over the world. As I have read the various articles, editorials, and blogs, looked at images, and engaged in discussions, this phrase kept popping up. I have been trying to figure out how to make sense of all that is going on, where my Self is located in the world these days, and what I mean by this phrase that came to me out of the blue.

I want to tell two stories to get to the answer:

When I was in my graduate counseling psych program, my cohort participated in a cultural diversity exercise that has haunted me for almost a decade now. About a dozen volunteers sat in a fish bowl arrangement and randomly chose a sticky note with a few words written on it - presented face down so they had no idea what they were choosing - and placed the label to their foreheads without seeing which label they chose. As the volunteers in this exercise sat in their circle, they were to interact with one another only through the label. That is, they were to disregard the whole person sitting in front of them, the person they had chatted with at lunch, the person who was a mother or a brother or a teacher or who took on a thousand other roles in his or her life, and to parcel out the one thing that defined them at this time, leaving the rest of their human experience outside the fishbowl.

The scenario they were given was something like this: The group must choose the ten most important things that will allow them to survive indefinitely on a wilderness trip they are preparing to take. As they planned, they were to interact with one another solely on the pieces of paper stuck on their foreheads. These notes were directives such as: agree with everything I say; ignore me; respond to my statements only with questions; laugh at everything I say; argue with everything I say. It was one of the most painful experiences I've witnessed.

Sitting outside the fishbowl looking in, I saw the pain come over the person with "ignore me" written across the forehead. My classmate figured out early on what the label said and withdrew into a reinforced silence. The person who had "agree with everything I say" also figured out early on what the label said and took full advantage of it, suggesting outrageous items to include on the list for the group's survival. The person would say, "Let's take an elephant from the zoo!"

"Yes! Yes! That's a great idea!" the group enthusiastically responded. Later, the person with whom everybody agreed said this brought up old narcissistic pain, old ways of being in the world he thought were left behind long ago.

This exercise has stayed with me all of these years because I watched people I knew and loved become people I couldn't recognize. All because there was a label on their foreheads that told the world how they were to be treated. It opened my eyes to this phenomena in my everyday life.

I have had more than a few conversations in the last few months regarding the number of Facebook postings I put on my wall. Some have said they have to ignore most of them. A few others have said they hide my postings at times because it just gets to be too much. Evidently sometimes, when I'm really cooking, I'll post enough articles, images, pages, and videos to take up a person's entire Newsfeed page.

These links run a gamut of issues I am passionate about. The top contenders at the moment are: women's reproductive rights, the privatization of public education, LGBQTTTIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transsexual, transvestite, transgender, intersexual, asexual) rights, and global movements. Right now, my newsfeed is streaming links from all over the globe regarding Occupy Wall Street.

Evidently, I'm a Facebook nuisance. When I asked my husband (I must come up with my Blogger name for this man) if he had seen my posting about the delicious gluten free pizza I was making for myself these days (he's been in China for the last 5 weeks), he said he reads the first two postings I put up and then moves on. Says he doesn't have hours to spend on FB reading my posts. Even my husband thinks I'm a FB nuisance.

What is happening in the world today is big. It's really big. Conversations are happening between human beings and not just between governments these days because of tools such as Facebook. I have friends all over the world, wherever social media is allowed, with whom I can establish warm, loving relationships. There are humor and pathos. There are jokes, rants, and questions. We are all just people trying to figure it out. And the socio-political realm is reflecting these new relationships. Things are getting all shook up. Chaos reigns.

Here are some wise words from a friend in India, who watches global movements with a keen eye:
If we want to break free from oppressive politics and hegemony, we should first start with just that - speech. It is the most fundamental act towards empowerment.

In an age when we are told what to say, speaking up about what we think is a revolutionary act.

Talking, speaking, debating, and disagreeing are at the core of a process of reinventing identities that form a community able to govern itself. . . . We need to ask questions. And we need to seek answers. . . .

Our voice will join us in the shared grief of our loss, empower us with the ability to empathize with those who are different from us but are like us in their pain and unite us towards the shared goals of freedom, liberty and self government.

We have a great opportunity here to reinvent democracy as consensus of the people, by the people, for the people. Each one, having their say, is the first step.

We must not fear failure, we must fear silence.

How can I keep silent when our right to speak out is at stake?

I sat silent in the experiential exercise as I watched people I loved work in painful divisiveness and as all-too-human tendencies overtook their better judgment and the workings of the cerebral cortex. No law said I had to sit in silent acceptance. I had so many choices I could have made. I could have moved to my friend who sat still and silent through the ignorance of others, laid my hand on the shoulder of one who was alone, let that person know there would always be a loving presence. I could have moved across from my friend who was swept up in narcissistic power, eyes meeting eyes, filled with love for the heartful person I knew lived within him, so my friend could recognize that heartful person within himself. I could have said to the professor, "There is more to our humanity than this exercise. We get your point. We can be ruled by labels, preconceptions, fear, and power. But we can also be ruled by our passion, our voices, our courage, and our hearts."

This is what I attempt to do with my global news filtering through my Newsfeed. Nuisance or not. It is my voice in the world, loud and strong.

Lao Tzu said, "Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest with those who are honest, and be also honest with those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained." Thus, I would add, we relate to the flawed, vulnerable, grace-filled human being within each of us

"γνῶθι σεαυτόν." "Know thyself." It's that simple. Know that each of us has to pull our pants on one leg at a time, has to shit and piss just like the other guy, needs water and air and sustenance to survive, came into this world as a helpless wailing infant hungry for our mother's breast, laughs, cries, breathes, sleeps, and dreams like every single human being who's ever lived on this planet since . . . well, since time began. Each of us occupies our humanity every day, for better or for worse. Despite all the labels slapped on our foreheads. Despite all of our loneliness and all of our greedy power mongering. We are humankind. It's that simple.

So many, "yeah, buts . . . " to come back at this statement. But, really. It is that simple. Know thyself as human.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Laughing Like A Fool

I thought today I would try to lighten things up a bit. But I am finding this is impossible for me to do. I guess this blog is destined to be full of weighty, serious, nonfunny topics. Note: I didn't write "nonhumorous" because my hope is that sometimes I'll have some humor pop up here and there. But unfortunately (or fortunately?) I just don't do funny. (I posted as my FB status the other day, just to show you that I do have a sense of humor, "Okay, I admit it. I love Will Ferrell and the movie Burlesque. What can I say. Psyche is compensatory." See how I had to add that little depth psychology lesson in at the end? It's integral to who I am and how I communicate. The post was a little humorous, though. And I try not to apologize for who I was born to be. Bad form.)

The first time I had my natal chart read by an amazingly intuitive astrological psychologist, we talked about my Trickster/Hermes energy. I told her I didn't have any. I hate to play practical jokes on people or pull April Fool's pranks on friends. Painful. I don't understand my husband's jokes, though everyone around me finds him quite funny, bordering on hilarious at times. I miss the punchlines to many jokes because I'm so literal I often don't understand word puns. Sometimes I have to ask people, with a wince in my voice, if they're joking or if they're serious. I honestly can't tell the difference at times. Which is odd, given the fact that I'm a writer and a poet. But my astrological psychologist friend assured me that, indeed, Hermes was present in my chart. She said my tendency to step outside the bounds in certain aspects of my life, - studying to be a depth psychologist, refusing to accept arbitrary status quo, insisting on going just three miles over the speed limit always, and writing poetry - were all ways the Trickster energy showed up in my life. I was relieved.

And I do love a good Will Ferrell movie -his pratfalls, his naked butt, and painfully gross jokes. Go figure. I also love funny writers. I recently added some blogs to my Blogroll (a fascinating process!). The Bloggess (her posting today was hilarious!), Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom, and my good friend's Whidbey Island Passages feed my desire for a good chuckle with life wisdom thrown in the mix (which Will Ferrell is sometimes sadly lacking. Though Stranger Than Fiction is loaded in life wisdom). But my writing and this blog, I believe, will not be one of those which people will read so they can enjoy a rip roaring belly laugh. It's just not going to happen.

I like to think that my humor is more like that of the Fool from the Tarot.

The Fool, the first card in the Tarot deck, is an old, old archetype. "Sell your cleverness. Be in a state of bewilderment," Rumi says. The Fool is intuitive, curious, stands at the cusp of ending and beginning, eternally dwells in the present, and the direction she travels is where the road leads. (She shows up here as "The Shiftless Wanderer.") The Thoth deck shows the Fool with a diamond of light coming from the top of his horned head, "the realm of the Numina," my guidebook reads.

The number assigned to the Fool is zero. Follow that thread, and we come to the enormous potency of this archetype. My ARAS Book of Symbols says that zero is the portal to the infinite, holds all the terrors of the abyss, my ability to write this on a computer and send it out into the ethernet depends on its power, and we begin our lives at the zero hour. "We live our lives as if traveling a great circle, returning to our naked beginnings, having created for a while our own small space within the infinite," (p. 708).

These are the kinds of things that can cause me to spiral into deep reflection for the rest of the day or will have me laughing at the sheer awe and terror of it. Sometimes we can't do anything but laugh at such a grand, glorious, albeit existentially painful, life.

Really, all the best humor, my old buddy Will, Jane in Her Infinite Wisdom, The Bloggess, the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, Emmett Kelly, Tim Conway, Mike Starring's Passages~all are doing exactly that. Laughing in the face of the gods. And laughing with the gods.

You gotta laugh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Entering the Mêlée With Fists Down and Heart Open

I had an interesting discussion on Facebook this week, an experience I'm sure others have had as well. A friend of a friend and I were having a heated political debate on a thread in which we were both commenting. This person and I volleyed arguments for a few comments, and then he wrote, in reference to the original posting, "I think its [sic] absurd to post political finger-pointing post [sic], then step back and claim that it's just pure information - like the information's neutral or something."

I stopped in my tracks. As a therapist, I am trained to be aware of process as well as content. No longer was the focus on the original posting which we were debating or the ulterior motive of my FB friend who posted it. My focus was now on the process in which this stranger and I were engaging. My fellow debater's accusation brought up an interesting point–Must everything political point the finger at someone or something? Must every political article, video, posting, conversation, piece of information be polarizing? Have we ever been able to talk about politics in this country so that we remain friends at the end of the day? What are we trying to achieve when we talk politics?

One of the first social rules I learned as a young person was the directive "Never talk politics or religion." How interesting! The two things that affect our lives most deeply–our faith and our communal life–are not considered topics safe enough to talk about in civil company. Why?

The etymology of the word "politics" is quite innocuous. It comes from the Greek polītikos, from polītēs, citizen, from polis, city. A political person, then, is a citizen, a resident of the city. Why, then, do we either avoid the topic warily or enter into the fray with both fists raised?

I suspect it is because "the personal is political," as Carol Hanisch wrote in 1969. Our personal lives are intimately tied into the life of the politic. Hannah Arendt wrote, "No civilization would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other."

So when we talk about politics, we are talking about the underlying rules, laws, policies, and systems that allow us to live out our best lives, the lives we most desire for ourselves. Or vice versa. We are railing against systems that prevent us from doing so. This seems to be the crux of the matter–the denial of desire, the lack of liberty to live our lives as we see fit. Of course, throw in the tension between the individual and the collective, and there's a grand mêlée. Freud looked closely at this essential question in Civilization and Its Discontents of how one manages to follow the path of the individual spirit while at the same time conforming to the expectations and necessary laws of society. This is an essential question because this is the dynamic that is present in almost every aspect of our lives these days, and was present, I believe, in my Facebook exchange.

The person with whom I debated is a stranger to me, and, after this interaction, he will most likely remain a stranger. I can be rather stubborn in my views. One of which, paradoxically, is–remain flexible in one's views, thus giving some breathing space for dialogue. This person seemed to be rather entrenched in his political views and unwilling to step into the breathing space to see what else might be there, as did I. My second political view I refuse to relinquish is in regards to one of our purposes here on this planet: We are to learn how to live quality lives in community and to assure that this is available to everyone. All of us. Every single human being on this planet. Not a soul left standing outside the gates while the rest of us sit at the banquet table. (Note–my religious views intersect with my political views here.) I don't know if this is the right stance to take or not, but I can't not take it. I feel it is my individual, community, social, human, yes, political obligation to advocate and work for social justice for the global community.

It is a conundrum to say the least. I want to be able to create a safe place for the person with whom I am in dialogue (see The Guest House: A Love Story posting below), which requires compromise and flexibility. I am unwilling to negotiate this belief. Yet this belief that I am unwilling to compromise is one that works toward the safe dialogical space. It is an either/or dichotomy which I'm uncertain how to resolve, though my Facebook friend who hosted the debate thread ended the discussion by engaging in the commenter's process, not his content. In a personal aside to me, she called this Trickster energy–engaging by not engaging. This is also used in aikido, a way to engage by redirecting the attack rather than opposing it head-on. I like that. It is a skill I intend to foster because my inflexibility about the need for flexibility shut down the dialogue between the stranger and me.

Some of the answers may be found here–Fluidity. Non-violence. Compassion. Agreeing to disagree. Breathing space. Authentic dialogue. Acknowledgement of the other's/Other's worldview. And love.

Love. It seems almost too simple, a simplistic solution to a complicated, sometimes violent, issue. I remind us, however, that love is one of the most powerful forces on earth. One of our greatest prophets died because of it. We should not underestimate its strength. In that vein, I end with this lovely quotation by Kelly Oliver:

Love is an ethics of otherness that thrives on the adventure of otherness. This means that love is an ethical and social responsibility to open personal and public place in which otherness and differences can be articulated. Love requires a commitment to the advent and nurturing of difference.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Guest House: A Love Story

A few years ago, my oldest son and I had a falling out. He was at the tender and blind age when he was technically an adult but still figuring out how to be one. I was at the tender and blind age when I was technically the mother of an adult but still figuring out how to be one. Neither one of us was very good at this task. While I was trying my best to be motherly and supportive, I was, in fact, overbearing and judgmental. While he was trying his best to be a man and heroic, he was, in fact, irresponsible and hardheaded. Neither one of us could see the other's best intentions. It got ugly there for awhile.

Eventually, after several months of this ugliness, I broke off communications with him. I had to because I knew every time I talked with him two things happened: I became more judgmental and more hurtful, and I didn't like who I was when I was with him.

We didn't talk for almost a year. The rest of the family circled around us with caution, concern, and frustration. But as uncomfortable as it was, I knew I had to find a way through this brick wall of anger I felt towards my son. I was so filled with righteous indignation.

The complicated thing, as my therapist assured me, was I had every reason to be angry and judgmental. Some of the things my son was doing weren't right and were hurting other people. Plain and simple. It was a conundrum. How to be nonjudgmental in the face of another's wrongness and blindness? How to be in loving relationship with another person who "just didn't get it?" But I knew in my heart of hearts the paradox: as I sat on my throne of justice and judgment I was just as wrong and blind as he was. There was something I just wasn't getting. A piece of the puzzle was missing, a key to dismantling that brick wall, and I couldn't find it anywhere.

That year I worked harder than I'd ever worked on facing my shadows~my pride, my tendency to judge others, my righteous certainty that got in the way of my flexibility and ability to be in relationship, my entrenched anger, my stubbornness. All while weathering the cold silence between us and my son's anger, his immaturity, and his pain. It was a year from hell. No exaggeration.

The details of how I eventually saw the light are too many for this posting, but some of the pieces that came together were these: my continued work in therapy with a depth psychologist, bringing some of these feelings and emotions into active imagination work, the book by John Welwood Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart, and a conversation with a young friend of mine, wise beyond his years in so many ways, who asked just the right question at just the right time. The question led straight to my own woundedness, my own self-judgment. This last piece was the key to that brick wall which brought it tumbling down before me. The relief was exquisite.

Finally, finally, finally! I knew I could sit with my son in all of his anger, his hurt and pain, all of his young, male, heroic pride and just authentically be with him, listen to him with an open mind and heart, and not become defensive, angry, judgmental, or hurt in return. It was the moment I had worked for and needed that year. So I called him, arranged a meeting, told him this was a time for him to talk, that my turn would come at some point in the future. But this time I would just listen. And I did. While he poured out several years' worth of feelings of rejection and scorn from me, while he told me stories that let me know how much he misunderstood, assumed, and misinterpreted my actions, while he sat there as a young man also filled with righteous indignation - I just listened, with all of my heart.

It was the closest thing to a miracle I had experienced in a long time. Because after that afternoon, I never did feel that I had to tell my side of the story. I never felt I had to correct his misapprehensions. There was no longer a burning need to be right. Which, for those who know me, this is, indeed, a miracle!

The most valuable thing that came out of that experience is it has allowed me to be in this kind of relationship with everybody around me. And if I can't be, I immediately know I have work to do. I don't wait for the other person to do theirs. Because what I learned that year is this: If I do my work of coming to terms with my demons and shadows, -and it's the hardest work there is-then a loving space is created for the other person to enter authentically. The other person feels safe enough to wander around in that space without being judged or seen less-than.

Be assured, I am not a saint. It is often times the hardest thing to do. I catch myself again and again saying or doing things that make others feel judged. Here's the important thing though: What allows me to finally get there is not compassion for the other person first but compassion for my self. That's the key, folks, the primary key we need to open all other doors and bring down brick walls between us and others. It's the opening act of compassion for everybody else out there wandering the hard roads of this life. And it's the hardest one to learn. I struggle with it all the time, and I see how self-loathing, shame, and the finger of self-blame can bring a person to their knees. How do we love ourselves fully and authentically? This is not about egotistic, prideful, boastful love. It's about loving the parts of ourselves that are most vulnerable, sometimes most unlovable, and giving them a voice, a place to reside.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

Image from

Saturday, September 17, 2011

At breakfast, there's always a story to tell.

Every morning when I make my tea and toast for breakfast, there are stories ~ in my mugs, the honey I put into the tea, and the apricot jam I favor for my toast. It's a simple breakfast, but it's my favorite meal of the day when I can remember the stories. Memories, really.

Storied memories. Memory stories. These narratives are one antidote to the constant pressure to hurry through our lives. When we tell a story or listen to one, we slow down. I had a professor whose dissertation research was on the biochemistry of story-telling. She was able to discern that the immune system is strengthened when we sit and listen to a story. We are a storied species. It is how we make sense of our lives, how we create our realities. What story are we living? What story do we tell ourselves about our living?

When I make my breakfast, I situate myself within my life, the places I've been, the people who have touched me. If I wake up to rain and gray skies (which is all too common here on the island), I can always count on tea and toast to remind me that there's more to life than depressing weather.

I have several favorite mugs, but here's my favorite one of all time. (Be prepared. I am joining the legions of bloggers who post artistic attempts of pictures of food and kitchen items.)

I love the way it feels in my hand; it has just the right bowl-like shape, the glaze is amazingly smooth, like silk, and that funky handle, obviously attached by hand, begs for constant kinesthetic enjoyment. As I drink my tea I get to remember, and sometimes tell, the story of Trickster Raven's adventures when he stole the Sun for the People. I chose this mug (and the lovely pear mug in the first photo above) because I wanted something rich and story-filled at work. For five years, I taught and case managed inner city high school students whose lives were sometimes so heavy laden that I didn't think I could bear it at times. The mug with the hot tea helped. After resigning from my post last year, I have the mug at home, and not only do I remember Raven, but I also remember my students.

I drink mostly Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea. They come in lovely blue bags that I put in a lovely blue ceramic bowl I found at the thrift store that sits on my lovely blue countertop. Monochromatic and gorgeous. I also have black, green and jasmine teas in dark blue tins with Chinese characters embossed in gold that my husband brought home from Shanghai. And while I opened the package, he told me the story of how he came to purchase these teas. Which I will save for another time. However, here's a teaser - the teas cost $150. The story alone is worth the money.

But back to the Earl Grey. I boil my water in a black teapot that I've had for over 20 years now, - my husband still tells the story of my delight upon opening that Christmas gift -, pour the water into my cup, add just the right amount of cream, and then the honey. Oh the honey!

This honey is to die for. It is dark amber colored, not that weak yellow liquid found in little bears on the grocery store shelf. This is honey that I imagine the ancients dipping their fingers in. I swoon every time I smell it and taste it. It is the very definition of the word bittersweet. I smell smoke, earth, and wind when I drizzle it in my tea.

This honey traveled 3000 miles to sit in my cabinet because of the generosity, thoughtfulness, and attentiveness of a dear friend of mine. While visiting my sister and her partner Steve on the east coast a few summers ago, I wanted honey on my toast, found a big tub of this dark, dark wonderful stuff in their cupboard and immediately fell in love. I marveled and raved about it each time I had my toast that week. Now see if you can follow this trail: Steve told me that it came from the beehive in the yard of his business partner's father, a crotchety old man who evidently had a way with bees who had a way with nectar and honey making. I returned home and several weeks later a very heavy package arrived from Steve. It was a gallon jar filled with this amber colored honey of the gods.

So every morning, I get to put this in my tea. And I remember my sister's kitchen in the South, for which I am homesick all the time. I get to think about Steve and imagine this crotchety man, who has since passed on, who had a beehive in his backyard. The house has stayed in the family, and Steve assures me that I will have a source of honey for some years to come.

I toast my bread, find a plate - and these, too, all have stories -, smear my butter and apricot jam all over. And there are yet more stories about the apricot jam, which make me think of stories about pickled relish, which make me think of my grandmother, which makes me think of another southern kitchen that I have loved, which makes me think of an outhouse and a wishing well . . .

Do you see? Life is nothing but a series of stories. Some good. Some not so good. Some lovely. Some terribly sad. Choose a story, any one that you remember and love to tell. Follow it down that wandering path. See where it might lead. It's like sitting on the front porch on a long summer evening, swatting the mosquitoes away, drinking ice tea, the air filled with "Do you remember when . . . ?" It's like magic.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Weaving, The Embrace

Photograph by Josef Stuefer

Have you ever read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard? If not, do. It is a loveliness and a fearsome gift you will give yourself.

I read this book for the first time the summer I turned sixteen, filled with the romance and angst of teenhood. I put on a long ruffled salmon colored skirt with a tee shirt and sandals, got in my little old blue Fiat, and drove out of the suburbs into the outskirts of the city to a large, meandering park. I found an appropriately accommodating and dramatic tree under which to while away the afternoon hours, and got lost in the pages. As much as a very self-conscious adolescent girl by herself in a public park could get lost.

The opening passage stayed with me over the years - Dillard's image of a big old tomcat who would come in through her open window at night, to sit on and knead her bare chest and draw blood, so that she would wake in the morning to find her body covered in bloody paw prints, as though she'd been painted in roses. This picture stayed with me such that sometimes when my cats over the years have purred and kneaded in utter contentment, I see a young girl's bare chest, small breasts budding, with beads of blood blooming into roses.

Dillard's language is breathtaking. Her woven words about the creek, the animals, the saints, and her amazement over and over again at her blessed humanity, in all of its weakness and want, made me want to be a writer. She writes without compunction, with no holds barred. For a teenager, her passion, bordering on hyperbole, mirrored and fed the same passion that coursed through my body.

I stood with difficulty, bashed by the unexpectedness of this beauty, and my spread lungs roared, she writes.

And - I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for.

As I read, I felt the world - wide unknown splintered reeling around me - waiting to be discovered. It was waiting for me to wander out into it. Annie Dillard presented the world to me all wrapped up in the most enticing, mysterious package and said, "Here. Open it. It's all for you."

Once, not too long ago, I had a waking dream in which a Spider wove a Web between two large cedar trees. The Web was immense, a wall sized tapestry, dripping with dew, glistening in the morning sun. It was Spider's gift to the world, what She was born to do. I knew that She didn't have to learn how to spin this Web. The knowledge was inherent in Her being. It was Her being - this Web. For days after this dream, I yearned to be Spider spinning such a Web. I yearned for the simple knowing deep in my bones, in my blood, in my gut. I yearned for the materials, for the space, for the courage to indulge in this creative act. Of course, the more I yearned, desired, thought, and geared up for such an event, the further the possibility slipped from my grasp.

This is the paradox; what we yearn for most is right there and the most difficult to attain. The yearning is the resonating echo within us when we recognize our heart's calling. Yet, as soon as we pursue the yearning, paradoxically, we are taken right away from what calls us. Because the yearning is the gift.

Don't seek to alleviate the yearning. Lean into the yearning, and we are there. Embrace it. Soak in the sweet ache. Arrive at the place we will never quite get to. How bitter. How exquisite. We step out into the world, wandering, and finally realize that it is the search we seek.

One day, maybe we will wake up, and each of us will have woven a Web for all the world to gaze upon. We will have gotten out of our own way enough so that whatever gifts we have to give this world that we in-habit have been flung far and wide. It will be like Christmas. Like Spring time. Like Spider in Autumn, Her Webs jeweling fences, the shrubbery, and long blades of field grasses. Or maybe we will be wandering, walking around turned completely inside out with astonishment, and it will happen, in that moment of utter Mystery and paradox - the Weaving, the Embrace.