Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Back east, back to summer, back home.

photo from "The View from Squirrel Ridge" blogspot

Next week, I will travel for our annual family gathering to the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, to the idyllic town of Orkney Springs where The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration and a Conference Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is located. A mouthful. Most people simple call it "Shrine Mont." Though when I say it, it's spelled "Shrinemont."

Do you know that feeling you get when you say the name of a place and you are there? Folded into the letters and the way the mouth moves to make the sounds and the word caressing the ear you find the angels of time and memory? That's how it is when I say "Shrinemont." When I hear it. When I think it. I travel back through years, through age and distance from this cold wet green island, back to childhood, back east, back to summer, back home.

I feel moist Virginia air surrounding, inundating, immersing me down, down, down until I feel the rough dusty stones beneath my fingertips, the back of my neck and underarms wet with perspiration. I watch the fireflies' tiny miracle insect lights dance at dusk. Bare feet callused from summer walking on hot pavement, gravel driveways, wood splintered trails through backyard pockets of forest in a sea of suburbia, the soles of my feet black with tar and dirt. My heart catches when my mind's ear tunes to the awkward guitar strums of a 16 year old me, playing folk songs like the hippie child I wanted so badly to be ~ Blowin' in the Wind, House of the Rising Sun. I am taken back. Come with me . . .

Drive on Route 263 from Mt. Jackson all the way to the very end, through the tiny town of Orkney Springs, its old white farmhouses huddled at the foot of North Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley, and bump up against Cross Mountain and you arrive. . . 

by Idawriter-Panoramio.com
. . . to a cross and altar of rough stone where you sit on wooden benches under dogwood and amidst mountain laurel for meditation and communal worship. I have wandered away from my childhood Episcopalian and Christian roots, but I have stayed closely connected with the rooted tendrils of soul, spirit, and Mystery Words. . . 

. . . to rocking chairs on screened front porches, where we meander through story, a good novel, a glass of wine, silence, and back again . . .

photo-The Shiftless Wanderer

. . . to the religious, in the very best sense of the word~to bind, to connect, to consider with great intention and care, free of dogma, full of joy, dancing, rousing choruses of unseen campers hiking up back trails, clapping, spirited discussions, quiet walking prayers in the Labyrinth, modeled after the labyrinth at Chartres, the Isle of Iona Entry Stone resonating with its Celtic roots . . . 

photo - www.shrinemont.com
. . . to the place every child should have, a wide open place to come to, a touchstone through the wilds of growing up, a place to come for solace from the pain of a childhood wrought with the standard dramas of divorces, stepmothers, and general weirdness of coming of age. . . 

photo-The Shiftless Wanderer
. . . yes, you arrive. Finally.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Each moment of each day a bead.

copyrighted photo by memyni

I am a psychotherapist. My profession comes from a long lineage of psyche's healers, long before Freud, Adler, and Jung. There are the soul retrievers, the shamans who journey into the imaginal realm to find the wounded soul parts who wandered off, leaving behind a fragmented self. * There were the dream healers who did their sacred work in the Greek healing temple, the asklepeion.

Another psychotherapist of old and still working hard today is the confessional priest. Confession. Where a person can admit all that weighs down her soul. Where the shameful deeds of a lived life can be given over, aired out, and yet remain a secret without festering. The psychotherapist hears and holds the shame of the client and, like the priest, works to transform the telling into a sacred act.

Which brings me to the main point of my little ramble tonight. Atonement. I've been thinking quite a bit about this recently. If you read my previous post, you know that I confessed to an act of really, really bad parenting. Cruel words issued from my mouth have come back to haunt me years later.

My work is listening to people tell stories. Like the priest, I am called to be an exquisite listener. I listen to the clients' stories of their fathers who don't know how to be present to their sons' tears or tenderness. Of their mothers, so cut off from the Ground of their Being and so brittle they snapped in half. Stories of women who choose really damaging men to abuse them and then call it "love." I've listened to the young woman with a dozen diagnoses tell me what the people in the walls whisper to her at night.

And then there are the stories of their own cruel deeds, more painful to witness than all of the others. The stories of shame, guilt, violence, and sin. Sometimes they tell the story with no emotion. And sometimes they tell the story choking on their weeping. These are the hardest stories to bear, I think. You can't tell someone who's just confessed some awful deed that it's okay. Because it's not. There are reasons, of course. Always the story behind the story waits in the wings to be told.  But it's not okay. Justifiable? Redeemable? Forgive-able? Yes to all of the above. But not okay.

So where's the healing? As one person said to me recently, "Why would I tell this story to anyone if it means I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life?"

Good question. And yet, the story must be told, because otherwise it festers. It's the poisonous thorn that works its way from skin, to muscle, to blood stream, straight to the heart. The violence perpetrated against someone else then simply perpetuates as self-violence, the violence against the Other who is the Self. What to do?

I've thought of this in regards to my own partial confession. The word I keep coming to is "atonement." When I first thought of this word, I was uncomfortable. It has overtones of a Baptist revival. I don't have anything against Baptist revivals. It's just that - this isn't one.

To come to an embodied knowing of one's human weakness and ability to inflict pain is more than a feeling of guilt. It's more than, "Oh! my bad?" More than, "I'll never ever do that again because when I do I feel bad." More than the superego using the fragile ego as a whipping post.

For me, this experience took me right out of my self and into the larger world. I dissolved into the essence of humanity. A true Dionysian dismemberment.

"How to make it right" has been the refrain in my mind. It seems impossible. The hurt is done. It can't be undone. I can't turn back time. No number of apologies will make it right. Guilt is pretty useless as far as making it right. And I don't want to redeem myself. I want to atone for this deed. (The dictionary says that these two words are synonymous. But maybe you can feel the subtle difference I'm getting at here.)

I taught vulnerable adolescents for five years at an alternative high school program, listened to their stories, did therapy on the fly, gave them my heart and my soul. Looking back from this vantage point, I see I was doing more than following a vocational calling, building a professional resume, or redeeming myself. I nurtured these students, and the compassion boomeranged back to me was a chain of rosary beads. Every day was an unconscious prayer of atonement for the cruel words and all of the other ways I was not present to my son. It was a gift I gave and received unknowingly.

Now I'm awake. And I realize that atonement is a quiet, daily practice. It's not an announcement (so please forgive this announcement). It's a private, intentional living into and honoring what it means to be fully human. I understand now the significance of the rosary. Each moment of each day a bead. An opportunity. A blessing.

*(See Sandra Ingerman's website and this article for more information on current shamanic practice within the field of psychology.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's about time

It has been 5 months and 15 days since I last posted. This is a lifetime. Much happens in 5 months and 15 days. Much happens in one day. In an hour. In a minute. The trajectory of a life can change in a matter of seconds.

I had to spend some time working on my dissertation proposal. I'm still not done, but I was tired of waiting to finish before coming back to The Shiftless Wanderer. I needed to come back here. Needed to write. To meander in words and musings. And since I've lollygagged around not writing my proposal, I figured I might as well lollygag around here not writing my proposal. At least something will get written!

In the last 5 months and 15 days my son The Officer, a single dad, left on deployment aboard the U.S.S. Momsen, leaving behind his 5 year old son. The Scholar had his heart broken. That's enough life for several lifetimes. We brought home a new kitten, Miss London Featherbag, who quickly acclimated to her new digs. Old Lady Bailey, the queen of the roost, did not acclimate to the changes nearly so fast. There's 18 lives between the two of them. We've risen out of bed 167 days. Brushed our teeth before bed 166 times. Watched dozens of movies in which we got to live other people's lives for a few hours.

And things have fallen apart on a regular basis. Somehow they get put back together in a somewhat miraculous fashion. I think this is so they can have the opportunity to fall apart again. I came across the phrase "marvelous misfortune" in Ginette Paris's wonderful book on the neurogenesis of heartbreak. I highly recommend it - both the book and the perspective that when things fall apart one is experiencing a marvelous misfortune. It helps.

One of the most potent marvelous misfortunes I have had in the last 5 months and 15 days actually happened just yesterday. A lifetime ago. One of the most potent in my life, really. It happened because of a 30 second anecdote The Scholar told me. About something I said to him 8 years ago. Something awful I said in a fit of anger. It hurt him terribly. The falling apart that followed was a shattering of the image I've held of myself for . . . well, maybe most of my life. I don't remember saying this awful thing. But he does. And he'll remember it for the rest of his life. What I'll remember for the rest of my life is how my son unwittingly held up a mirror for me that I have refused to look into all this time. It was about time. This was one of those moments when the world suddenly shifts on its axis.

My body feels different. The past I remember has changed into memory that I now question. The present time, my house, my clothes, my work, this blog - everything shifted, as if someone had turned the lens of a camera oh so slightly so that everything came into focus. I didn't even know things were out of focus.

The thing I saw clearly for the first time - no, not saw clearly, but felt in every deep fiber of my being was that I was a humble, flawed human being. Simply that and nothing more. I was no better than all of the people that I have always, secretly, thought I was better than. The marvelous misfortune is that for the first time in my life I know, in the truest sense of that word, that I am a part of the human race. It continues to be perhaps the most painful enlightenment I've ever had.

Thirty seconds. A story my son's been carrying like a knife in his belly for 8 years. And now, at age 50,  I have to begin living a different life. I haven't figured out that part yet. I feel like I've just died. Or just been born. Who knows. Aren't they one and the same thing?