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.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moon, Tree, Shell

Did you see the moon last night? It was glorious. At midnight I stood under it like standing under a hot sun. But the moon's light is cold and silvery, like I imagine rain's light to be if it were to cast such a thing. Moon shadows all over the yard - long, black, indecipherable. The craggy limbs of the firs, hemlocks, and cedars etched the sky behind them like engravings on blue-black glass. And it was so quiet I could hear the scritching of a beetle's legs as it scurried over dried leaves in the basement window well. Like a spotlight, the moon's beams illuminated a bowl of moonsnail shells sitting on the edge of the garden.

Yesterday was 9/11, and I thought about it all while I was out there in the yard with the moon, the black trees, and the bowl of moonlight at my feet. I thought about all of the posts on my Facebook wall - those that honored the victims of the terrorists' attacks, the posts that railed against the victims of our retributive attacks in Iran and Afghanistan, the prayers for peace and sanity, the demands to end the endless wars we engage in, the stories of children who have known only war since the day they were born, the messages of pride in being American despite everything or because of ignorance of everything. I stood under the moon and gazed at the silhouettes of those trees and thought about it all.

The way our house is situated on this hill, it is as if it were encircled by evergreens. They are of towering height. Sometimes I'll see a bird, an eagle, hawk, or crow, perched at the very tiptop of one and imagine the world they can survey from that vantage point. These trees have been faithful companions over the years. I have stood in place, turning and turning so I can see the perimeter they form, a sacred circle. I have sent up praise and thanksgiving when I can't believe how blessed I've been. And I've wept and prayed for some understanding and grace when life has brought me to my knees. I have had long conversations with myself and the world while the trees sat in council, lending their quiet wisdom.

Last night, I drew comfort from their stalwart presence. From their constancy. From their timeless wisdom that lets them grow roots down and branches up. From their implacability.

The moon, old as she is, wanders. She cannot help but wander night after night through the sky. Waxing and waning. I drew comfort from that, too, at the cusp of the Monday and Tuesday, at the very moments when September 11, 2011 turned to a new decade. I drew comfort from the moon's rhythmic inconstancy, her varied lives of light and darkness, "the portentousness of her measured concealments and revealments" (The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images). An ancient wanderer who has guided wanderers for millenia.

This triad of moon, tree, and shell grounded me at the end of the long commemorative day in which I felt so many conflicting emotions. Before I went back into the house, I looked closely on the bowl of moonsnail shells. Looked at them as if I had never seen them before. At first glance they are white. Look closer and one can see the variations of earth, sea, and sky - blue, gray, golden, black, silver, pink, and brown. Shells spiraling around themselves, following an inner way, Fibonacci's intricate path to a galaxial form of timeless beauty. Ariadne's thread sculpted in a sea creature cast upon the shore. A shell. A husk. An empty thing that once held life.

I held one of the shells in my hand, felt its form as if it were molded just for my palm. Like the moon it was named for, the fleetness of its being paradoxically lent it age. I put the shell gently back in the bowl and went back into the sleeping house.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How William Wordsworth made me a sinner.

It was William Wordsworth that caused me to sin at the age of ten. In the Episcopal church I attended as a child, the basement fellowship hall held a solitary bookshelf that contained a few precious books. Among the requisite religious tomes was a book of English poetry. It was about five inches thick, old, blue, and musty. I took the book home every week. And every Sunday I would bring it back - good Christian girl that I was. Eventually I realized that no one except for me read the book and that every week I took it home it was not missed. One week, I never brought the book back to church. I was officially a thief now, though I rationalized the theft as an act of poetic love.

The book still sits on my shelf today, 40 years later. I could not read Wordsworth's poem enough to slake my thirst: "I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils." I did not know what "vales" were, nor "a host." But I was taken up, entranced. Like Wordsworth, my heart danced with the daffodils.

"I wandered lonely . . ." Oh yes. I resonated with these words. I knew about that wandering. I knew about that loneliness. And Wordsworth made it beautiful. He made it important. His words, somehow, made my wandering loneliness meaningful in a way that I did not yet understand. But I had a way to track my journey.

Hindsight is an interesting miracle of perspective. Here it is 40 years later, and I write in a blog I've decided to call "The Shiftless Wanderer." I did not make the connection until just now between those first lines of poetry that rang in my child's heart and this blog. We change as we grow older, yes. I believe, more and more as I get older, however, that there is some core Self within us, this nugget of Soul stuff, we are born with, that we bring with us from beyond the veil of our Before Lives. When we meet it in our journey through this lifetime, there is a feeling of recognition ~ "Oh, there you are! I've been looking all over for you! I've missed you."

Some are fortunate to find this nugget of Soul stuff early on in their lives. Others are equally as fortunate to engage in a lifelong, worldwide search for it. I was fortunate in both regards - I found it early, but it took me a long time to realize that I had found it. It is fascinating to realize in midlife that one's life has circled back upon itself, like the dog who turns turns turns in preparation for sleep, flattening down the grasses of an ancient plain that still lives in the canine heart. I circled back round and round to poetry until it was the nest to which I return again and again when the world becomes too much. When I need my little cleared space in the wide grassy plain and I need to take refuge from the lions and charging rhinoceros that roam wild out there.

Poetry speaks to that which is unspeakable. The lines articulate the ineffable. The rhythm of poetry gives sound to a heart that beats at a register far below the human ear. The words come together, even though they are in English or the language of the writer/reader/speaker/ translator, to speak in a tongue that transcends human capability. Poetry is pure paradox, even at its most simple.

It is a dark place when the light shines too bright.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. ~ Wendell Berry

It is a place of blessed light when the night is so very very deep, and it seems as if the morning will never come.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk . . .
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe -
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. ~William Stafford.

This "remote important region in all who talk" - where is that, I wonder? I think it is the same place where I was when I was young and began wandering through the lonely world. I think it's a place we all know in some way or another, this shadowy something place. My little nugget of Soul stuff recognizes it ~ where clouds wander and cast shadows on the world below, where a weary dog follows his tail until he finds a safe place to lie down, where a child who has recently suffered loss finds a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils as if they were grown there just for her.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As wholeheartedly as the broken heart will allow.

I didn't want to write about grief so early in the history of this blog. But. Well. There you have it. It's what wants to be written about tonight. The subject of grief is much on my mind these days. There is much to grieve about when one is living a life and loves mightily. What do we do when grief catches us up? What do we do when it threatens to bring us to our knees, the tidal waves of tears caught in our hearts?

Evidently the psychological powers that be have decided there is a limit to how long we can grieve and still be considered mentally viable. About 2-6 months, according to the DSM-IV TR. Within those months, there are other criteria that one must meet so as not to be deemed clinically depressed: not too much guilt about the wrong things; not too many excessive feelings of worthlessness; be sure to speak clearly or precisely; get through daily life just fine; and absolutely no hallucinations in which the loved one tries to communicate beyond the misty veil with the living. If a person is lacking in a few of the above, well then, there's a problem - and evidently it's not grief.

I do hope you can read/hear my skeptical-bordering-on-scathing tone of voice above. I'm not sure who graphed grief and its attendant features to make such a neat and tidy summation of the wide range of human responses to loss, but he or she was flat out wrong. It just doesn't work that way. I have been working through one major loss for over 40 years now. And, yes, sometimes it interferes with my daily living.

In the last few weeks two of my dear friends have lost loved ones. These loved ones were both extraordinarily young. And they both died too suddenly and too tragically. What does one do with the grief? All of that sadness? All of those tears? All of that left-behindedness? With that big gaping hole where the loved one once stood?

I have some other ideas about what to do about grief besides tracking guilt levels and speech patterns. Here are some suggestions, some movements with and through grief, sort of like a Meander.

Wallow in all of the grief. Get lost in it. Be totally overwhelmed by it. Let your heart be broken by it. Let the brokenness be your heart.

"He awakened daily to the prospect of nothingness
in the day's house that like all houses was mortuary.
He slept on the fornicating bed of the last breath."
(from "Kill the Day" by Donald Hall in The Painted Bed - one of the saddest books I've ever read)

"Grief and the deep, slow processes of mourning to which it yields have a rhythm of their own, and to refuse to sink into those rhythms is to make a monument of a past which no longer has a future." - Robert Romanyshyn

Go. Grieve. Do it as wholeheartedly as your broken heart will allow. Only then will you come through to the other side. Only then can you return to life. "Loss is a season of the soulits winterand, like the winter of the world, a moment whose time must have its place," Romanyshyn assures us.

Get angry and wail.

"Despite the heaviness of a star
turned in upon itself,
I will teach myself to cry out
against this black thing
you invented over a bonfire . . .
When it visits my bed, I will sink my teeth
into its flesh, willing a voice
to be heard outside of my darkness."
(author's personal poetry)

Remember the world of things.
In "Melancholy Inside Families," Neruda focuses on the items of daily life-a blue bottle, an ear, the feathers of the owl, parachutes, kisses, a smashed cup, a curtain, stones, rain, mud. Ground yourself in the things of this world and pay them homage. They will keep you from floating away.

"Right here, Lord,
tether me to my shadow
like a fat, spavined mule
struck sideways in tankmud
bawling for eternity.

"At midnight,
when the stars slip their traces
and race the moon like wild horses
to their deaths in the darkness,
let my hoarse song twine with the nightwind."
-David Lee, "Psalm Written after Reading Cormac McCarthy and Taking a Three-Hour Climb to the Top of Pine Valley Mountain", in So Quietly the Earth.

Remember this earth - the dust from which we came and to which we go. This earth that holds us and the unbearable weight of our sadness.
"Do not be afraid to suffer, give
the heaviness back to the weight of the earth;
mountains are heavy, seas are heavy." - Rilke, "Sonnets to Orpheus IV"

". . . which I alone know,
because I am sad, and because I travel,
and I know the earth, and I am sad." - Neruda, "Melancholy Inside Families"

Most of all, do not forget to love and be loved.

For my two dear friends who have loved and lost this summer, this is for you. Remember~you are loved.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The shiftless wanderer meanders. The first one.

It is 10:56 p.m. in this very quiet, dark house on this very quiet, dark island. We go to bed early around here; the restaurants close up by 9:00, the taverns by 11:00 or 12:00, depending on who’s still sitting at the bar. I decided, out of the blue, that this was the night that I would begin that blog I’ve been talking about for the last six months or so.

Out of the blue.

Just like that.

It was time.

While I’ve been in my head about the whole thing for months—what do I say, who do I say it too, what if no one reads it, what if people actually read it, what if I sound foolish, what if I start and the whole project peters out (which many projects I take on tend to do), what if . . . what if . . . what if. And tonight, out of the blue, just like that, with no thought, no hesitation, no what ifs, my gut said, “Okay. It’s time.” The only thing I knew before I started typing was—I wanted to address the title: The shiftless wanderer meanders.

No outlines. No rough draft. No preparations. No thing except a thread that leads from my gut out onto the page/blank screen and from there out into the world. The wanderer. The words as wanderers. A sort of meandering, looping-around-itself kind of path that will lead who knows where. As a matter of trust, we’re just going to follow the thread of words, follow the path.

We’re going to wander. Do we dare. . . ?

Do we dare to just meander along, with no set destination planned, nothing packed for the journey, no three ounce travel sized toiletries fit neatly into the quart sized plastic ziplock bag? Do we dare to wander this way and that, hither and thither? Wasting our precious time?! Gasp.

Yes. We do dare. Because in this day and age, this is the lesser risk. We would be fools not to take the dare. In this day and age when the ubiquitous Mapquest/GoogleMaps/ YahooMaps/ BingMaps/MapsOnUs and handy-dandy GPS instruments (my husband calls his “Doris”) tell us exactly how to get from point A to point B in the shortest time possible and getting lost is not a possibility, we would be lost if we didn’t take the risk of setting off on a journey without a map, without a destination, without an arrival time, and without packing our neat and tidy bag.

The pun is intended. Sometimes knowing exactly where we are situated can be quite dangerous. Sometimes being exquisitely safe can be the most vulnerable state in which we find ourselves. Certainty and security are often accompanied by complacency. Apathy follows complacency. And cynicism is often times not too far behind apathy. Once we’re complacent, apathetic, and cynical—well, all bets are off at that point. We are left wide open to all kinds of dangers. We are no longer on our guard, no longer alert, aware, paying attention, and sometimes, we are no longer alive. Getting lost, in this case, is the desired state.

This is an invitation to step out into the world geared with only our hearts, our guts, and our finely tuned senses that were gifted to us the day we were born in all of our animal glory. Let us dare to become wanderers in this place we call home. Let us take the bigger risk to be shiftless in our wandering—to take our precious time, to linger over trifles, to kneel before what is awful and awesome, to take each other’s hand with care and presence when we reach the difficult parts of the road. This is an invitation for us all to be Shiftless Wanderers.