song hiding right in front of my ears – a tiny soundbite for the day

a dear friend has noticed how singing is such an apt ‘metaphor for the way we can learn to communicate, for it seems to take into account the fact that we need to listen to others even as we empower our own contribution’.  (thank you, carolyn). keeping  harmony, literally.

the thing that i’ve noticed, as i’ve been attending to the geese this week, is how easily i can fail to detect their riotous clamor even when they are directly over my head.  the slightest sound seems to drown them out… the sound of my own footfall, the hum of the refrigerator, the idling of the car’s engine.

how can that be? it just amazes me because, when i pause to listen beneath the noise, they are so loud! i wonder at the layers and layers of meaning and context we miss in each moment, assuming that the sound in the foreground is all that there is, while so many opportunities to experience harmony fly right over our heads.

how would it be to turn off the noise for awhile, feel the deep resonance of that….

You, stand in my danger*

Dear great granddaughter,

I’ve something soul-saving to tell you. There will be some in your life who will try to diminish you, to discount you, to degrade you.  You must not let them.

You may think, ‘Grandmother, now why would I let anyone do that to me?’ and I will tell you, “It’s simple! Love!”  It’s not necessarily that we love the other so much that we overlook his or her disrespect of us, but that we want to be loved, need to be loved, so badly that we allow it, are even complicit in its happening.

It usually goes something like this. There are these parts of us, deep parts of us, sacred parts of us, even wise parts of us that come out to speak, or to play, or to wonder, but they come out in the presence of ones who cannot understand them for some reason. Perhaps they too have had those parts of themselves belittled and shamed so that they believe them to be despicable in some way or have even forgotten that they had them too, once upon a time.

Often this person has some power over us. Perhaps they are older, perhaps they are many (for we humans often seek validation in groups), perhaps they are defenders of the culture. Perhaps they are mothers or brothers or uncles, boyfriends or girl cliques, spouses or teenagers, or the middle-aged children of aged mothers. (we do not here, at the beginning of the 21st century, live in a culture that honors the wisdom of old women) The thing that they will all have in common is that you will desperately want them to love you or at least to accept you. We all want that, you know.

Now, I will tell you a secret about what happens inside when those precious parts of yourself are subjected to scorn. Other parts of you, which never want you to experience such rejection and humiliation again, seek to protect you from such pain. And ironically, they take on the voice of the tormentor, who rejected you, in order to keep you silent, in order to keep you small, in order to keep you safe.

Gradually, or suddenly, depending upon the severity of the attack, you learn to act in ‘appropriate’ ways in social settings… in your family or school, community, work or church environment. You don’t speak of soulful things at the dinner table, you don’t speak of wonder at school, or beauty, or terror, or meaning, or dreams, or yearnings. You find yourself speaking the acceptable language or not speaking at all.   You become numb and you settle for the lowest common denominator….. tolerance (or worse – judgment and blame) instead of compassion, small talk instead of conversation, material instead of meaning, sex instead of lovemaking.

Of course, each time this occurs and you recognize what you’ve done, then a new self-recrimination (shame) gets added to the pile of other-recrimination, for you may begin to despise that you speak one thing, or behave in a certain way, when your heart or your soul are desiring to speak or to act in another.

Oh, I think this is a very old problem, for we have stories and myths and religions that speak of it. We are reminded to take care where we cast our pearls, to ponder certain kinds of things in our hearts, and to place what is sacred behind the veil of the holy of holies. We receive stories of hidden treasures and lost souls. We read the words of 2000 year old saints who lament that they ‘do not understand at all what they do, for what they want to do they do not, but what they hate they do’.

There is a current film that contains a simple line that strikes me each time. In the story, a young woman is trying desperately to fit in and be accepted by her fiance’s large family at her first Christmas with them. They are rather ruthless with her, in the insidious way that families can be, thinly veiling their ridicule in sarcasm, and she winds up crying out to her lover in privacy, ‘I am not a totally ridiculous person!’

Yes, that is how it often feels when we risk revealing ourselves and are subject to derision. It hurts terribly, something in us rises in anguish, but then we recoil.  We feel terribly lonely in a crowded room. We long to be known and fear we are defective at once. Too often what happens is this — we join them (didn’t i tell you that humans seek validation in groups?)

I notice this in myself when my humor turns to the self-deprecating kind, or when I apologize incessantly  for being me. I notice it when I believe in my inadequacy instead of my courage. I notice it when I take on the image of the other’s belittlement of me. I notice it in group settings when I withdraw, when I am exhausted from ‘tending the fires’ of another misunderstanding me. I notice it when I lose connection with my own center, my own wisdom, not speaking my truth but trying to bend it to fit another’s need.   I notice it when I experience that sinking, drowning feeling afterwards.

Sometimes it feels as if there is an irreverent teenaged girl inside of me who is disgusted and embarrassed by her mother’s presence and is rashly berating me! She is so afraid of not fitting in, of not being liked. That mother, whom she fears and despises and dismisses entirely, is my own wise-woman self.

Now what to do about that?!? …..if you’ve gotten this far in life and discover your deepest self to be utterly discounted…. when you realize that you are also the one who diminishes yourself out of fear?

When you finally are aware enough to recognize her, then it is time to be your own mother at last. Take her by the hand and let her see that you are ready to own your own wisdom, to possess your own soul, to be who you are.  Show her that you are ready to honor and protect her this time. After all, you are the only one of the two of you who knows that the alternative is to live in a fearful place, devoid of true intimacy, lacking connection to true love, grace, power, beauty. Lost to yourself. She cannot see that. She has known nothing else. She’ll need you to lead her to safety.

“Spirituality is really a deep sense of belonging to life, of finding it meaningful on every level. Spirituality is the same as healing and is about coming into right relationship, especially with ourselves, so that our insides match our outsides—ie our values and dreams show up in how we actually live our life’ – Joan Borysenko

*clarissa pinkola estes, in the dangerous old woman.

” the word danger in its oldest form meant to protect, “You. Stand in my danger, in the aura surrounding me that is funded by my heart, my soul and my spirit that says certian things of this earth are so precious they can never be allowed to be harmed or made to vanish. You stand in my danger because i will protect, i will help, i will create, i will defend, i will unleash, i will hold back, i will restrain, i will open up, i will carve doors in walls, i will do whatever it takes. You stand in my danger. She is the protectoress, the one who takes care of those who have been conquered and raises them back up again, she is not only passionate, but she’s observant and experienced. she will protect anything of goodness, anything that has the merest spark, the tiniest spark at the end of the wood, she will breathe on it and bring it back to life.”-

Wild Life Sanctuary

Winter arrived, with a blast, overnight, and the view from my morning window is suddenly filled with shivering leaves on the winter-dressed oak and a dusting of white on the field. The force of the gusts on the house causes the windows to rattle and the bones of the house to creak, while outside flurries of snow swirl, like so many dervishes, their white skirts spinning, defying gravity’s pull. Following them, my gaze is drawn to the far ridge, its black silhouette beneath the blanket of gray, and I wonder if the geese have retreated beyond, for a few days, just a little ways to the south.

‘Dónde. Dónde. Dónde’….’Where? Where? Where?’…. I have been taught to hear their call like this. I wonder what it is like to have such wings as those, to follow one’s instinctual pulls and tugs, to pick up and move when the weather outside becomes too oppressive.

I have been following my own instinctual call of sorts these days- to be near them. Last evening, at twilight, I drove to the wildlife sanctuary 20 miles east of where I live. It’s the 3rd time I visited this week. I needed to be there at day’s end. I sensed that they would also require that, that sun’s fall would be a time of incoming, of gathering.

My sense was accurate.

They’ve been flying over my house in increasing numbers and frequency all week. Early arrivals or winter residents, I can’t say, but I like that they pass my way. Singing, calling, crying, seeking, whichever interpretation of their vocalization I discern matters not, I just need to hear them.

They remind me to pause.

To listen.

They also remind me to find my own voice. To send forth my own summons, or song, to let it be carried by breath, like the wind. I note that this particular winter I’ve lost my voice 3 times. Now what’s that about? I know I stopped singing once long ago, fearful of the attention it drew, but also, if I am honest, just as fearful, when I heard other voices more beautiful than mine, that my particular song wasn’t quite good enough. My introverted silent nature perhaps became a too-convenient path.

I remember reading a book as a child, The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, about a trumpeter swan who was mute and his quest to find his voice. I was not an avid reader at all back then, and this was not one of his better known books, but I was drawn to it for some reason…..This week, there was a young lad at the library during yoga, and while we were behind the screen practicing ‘corpse pose’, he was on the other side roaring like a lion. I was so drawn to the power contained and expressed in his vocalizations as I lay on my side of the curtain being quiet.

Arriving at dusk at the lake, I pulled my car to the side of the road. The last mile or so the fog had become dense and now I was blanketed in it. So were the geese. There had been a small flock  that I had paralleled enroute to the lake, but they too had disappeared into the fog. I thought for a moment that I’d come all this way to see nothing. But then I rolled down my window.

‘Aquí. Aquí. Aquí’, a cacophony of welcome surrounding me. Billows of cloud held bellowing geese, ‘Here we are. Here we are. Here we are! Welcome home! Here is the water. Here is the water. Right here. Here we are. You belong here. Here with us. Here with us. Come.’ Like those disembodied voices in a dream, they offered deep welcome and comfort.

I could not discern a single being, not one wing nor bill in the dusky veil, could not distinguish the low lying fog from the great flocks of white on the water. Sitting in my car next to the water, the windows rolled down, I let their voices enter, envelop, fill me. I breathed in their welcome. I breathed in their song.

Embraced by the ensuing dark, perhaps I need not a clear distinct vision in order to know the way. Once again comes this call to listen- listen for the beckoning call, beneath the fog, within the cloud of unknowing. Come into the dark, down to the water.

I recall how it was all the years ago (well, it was perhaps only 10 or 11 though it feels like a lifetime ago), another mid-winter summons that I couldn’t ignore. Each morning, for those six weeks of prayer, which turned into a lifetime, I’d drive to the chapel to sit in the silence. Then, like today, I didn’t know what I was ‘doing’, had no techniques given nor instructions to follow on how to be there. I just was. I went because there was something in the silence that drew me to it, something of enormous comfort, of great power and deep safety. That was a different kind of sanctuary. What was I listening for then? Help, I suppose, along with some quieting of the chaos that was my life. Finding the Deep Silence beneath the surface noise.

This drive feels in some ways much the same. I just need to be there, somehow, with the birds, in the silence and sound, listening. What am I listening for this time? I can’t really say. Oh, I suppose that I could, but I don’t need, nor desire, to make it so small as to fit into words. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Clarissa speaks of needing some fire, by which to see in the dark. As I sit listening to the wind this morning, I am reminded of that Phoenix again. Perhaps some wind is required to stir up these embers, to inspire me to follow this call, to create a new life. Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of Hestia’s hearth, around whose sacred fire we gather not only for warmth and for nurture, but also for sanctuary and light. Light to see in the dark. As woman moves from being the center of other’s lives to finding her own center, she needs such a hearth-within in order to warm herself, to shed light on herself, around which the diverse aspects of herself can gather.

Clarissa also advises that meditation, prayer, is not at all about becoming quiescent but about becoming enlivened. It is an aligning practice that sets one rightly into the heart and soul of one’s being, into the seat of one’s creativity and passion. It is about tending the fire, after all.

And so it is perhaps good-and so very right- that I am drawn to a new kind of sanctuary, a welcoming-home sanctuary that invites both spirit and song. Soul and substance. Essence and form. A Wild Life Sanctuary whose invitation is not to become more quiet at all, but makes some space to welcome my voice home. A sanctuary for me, that is about becoming silent enough- not to notice the sound of vacated space but to discern the homing call- and still enough to open the windows to welcome the fullness of song.

well of wisdom

Here I sit, not even a week after writing those words, feeling utterly bereft. Sometimes it feels as if I’m stuck in a life not my own. Time marches on, nothing changes. The log jam up here on the surface backing up, like light-blocking shades pulled down tight. I cannot break free.

On Sunday, I received a homily, which played with the metaphors of both fire and water. I wonder today, as I write this, how one doesn’t consume the other.

I hear the geese overhead, returning…

The priest spoke of fires needing to be tended, so that the light within shines brightly, doesn’t fade to a pile of embers, (though I suppose it would take but a gust of strong wind to rouse them into a roaring blaze….’the roaring within her’, the subtitle of a book I expect to be arriving in the mail someday very soon). I think of the name of the lane, upon which I have been dreaming a home of my own, Phoenix Lane…. Rising up from the embers.


The priest spoke of baptismal waters, of going under, the feeling of drowning, of dying, of death, before being lifted to find the heavens suddenly opened, revealing the light,  bestowing the blessing, ‘this is my daughter in whom I am well pleased’’

Diving deep and surfacing.

Therein lies the difficulty, I feel as if each time I emerge to experience that flash of knowing who I am, of full-bodied breathing in deeply of life, the next moment something comes along a pushes my head back under the water, like a bully who won’t let me catch my breath.

Waiting to exhale. Completely, fully.

Waiting to sigh.

Pulling a card with a friend, I am told to go to the well of wisdom, to be still and listen for that small voice. Here is an image of water in which I am not drowning. Unless, of course, the drowning one is the one I am called to draw up.

Perhaps my identification then is with the wrong me. She needs me to be the one standing at the edge, the priestess pulling her up from the waters, giving her breath. She needs me now, more than ever, to center myself in this wise woman, this mature adult self, and throw down a rope for her to grasp on to.

This same card-pulling friend gave me an image of breath on that same afternoon hike to the pinnacle, where we sat receiving the blessing. Breathless on the climb, she’d given me the image of lowering a bucket down deep into my belly to draw up the air.

Breathing deeply to draw up this one who is gasping for air.

When I identify too much with the flailing one, the gasping one, the fear of drowning one, I cannot save myself at all. When I get into the water with her, her fear pulls me under and I am trapped with her in her despair, in her overwhelmed, in her powerlessness, in her defeatedness.

I am not a strong swimmer. If I get into those waters with her, we both will drown, but if I pull myself to the shore, drawing my breath up deeply from that well, perhaps I can see an opening in the tangled debris that has her caught, perhaps I can toss her the bucket to hold onto at least, while we figure a way through.

charting a course?

This morning, I read an article about the native americans of chaco canyon, how they were masters of charting a direct course from here to there. Over mountains and across deserts, it mattered not. The article spoke of charting our own courses in such a manner as this, moving assuredly in the direction of our most valued ideals.

In choosing my totems for 2012, I was led to select the goose. I named it initially because I wanted to claim something of her fierce tenderness with her young, her nest-clearing energy. There is also, of course, something of her homing instinct that stirs in me deeply. In reading something of her energy, I learned that she is often a totem for one who is charting a course, of course, those v-shaped formations of migrating geese creating a pointed path.

I recall the instinct-injured goose at the edge of the manmade lake I encountered last spring, the one who no longer followed, or perhaps no longer heard, those instinctual calls to home but stayed in one domesticated place. No fierceness in her at all. Unafraid of me, she didn’t even chase me away from her nestful of eggplant sized eggs. Trust-misplaced.

I am reminded of my dream of a few weeks ago, the one where the flocks of geese couldn’t find their way, but kept circling and returning to the same starting point. In the end, fatigued and requiring my refuge in order to survive the harsh winter.

The leader of that flock was a girl, verging on womanhood, who reminds me of myself at her age. A young woman, who is intelligent, vibrant, creative, soulful. A young woman I admire. I wonder at her presence in my dream. This young representation of me who lost her instincts and her voice in that one tragic moment, which spiraled into so many successive tragedies, who is back at my door, needing me to offer safe harbor.

Will we make it through, find our way?

the shape of things

I dreamt again last evening of abundance, of freedom to choose, of being invited to choose whatever my heart desired, without restriction. The dream felt completely joyful, no sense of anxiety at all, or fear of being selfish by taking too much. I had won something and was fully expected to take one of each item from tables and bins in a large warehouse.

A few nights ago, Hugh came to me in a similar place, in a similar dream. In it, I was waiting for him to arrive at a department/outdoors store where I couldn’t decide what to purchase. When he arrived he quite simply started pulling one of each item from the shelves, freely. ‘One of these, one of these, one of these…’

Now when 2 dreams come so close with the same message, I assume I ought to pay attention. The words that come to mind are abundance, freedom, fearlessness, gift.

What am I to hear in these dreams?

I recall telling someone a year or so ago that I felt like I was trying on new outfits each week, seeing how each one might feel.  I suppose some might call that a mid-life identity crisis (who am I now?), but I fathom it might just as well be that I finally know that what I wear is not at all who I am, and so I am free to choose most anything on the rack –perhaps some particular color that I might bring into the world at this time, perhaps whatever fits best the shape I am now.

There’s a lot of talk of ego out there right now. I am not one to jump completely onto that ‘lose the ego’ bandwagon. If I am to be human, embodied, I know I need a shape of some sort to fill out those clothes (to follow the metaphor through), in order to bear something life-giving or provide a vehicle through which spirit might flow.  I cannot be some shapeless spirit floating above it all.  I need a body in this place. I need to be grounded in this place.

The problem lies when I forget that this shape that I am is not who I am but simply a vessel for bearing my essence, for making spirit visible. Incarnate, to borrow the Word.

My life up to this moment in time has helped to create the shape that I am today, with its unique curves and wide spaces, its mysterious scars and wondrous folds.  I choose to bless it, to claim its graces and gifts. There are perhaps certain articles of clothing that will flow beautifully from it (not hide it in shame), that will be borne gracefully by this body, animated by soul as it is.

Ah, perhaps a blue dress then.

healing the 7 generations

A rewrite of an earlier post.

I do not ‘love’ my mother. I no longer say that I hate her, though once I would have described my feelings for her in that way, though even then I suspect it was more the kind of hate that fills an empty space, which really longs for love. A younger rawer, painful emotion it was then. Today I wish her well. I sincerely thank her for accompanying me into and in this life, and for my life, just as it is. I hope for her all good things…. blessings, joy, love, healing, hope…. in the same way I hope for any other human being.  In truth, I suppose I have deep compassion for her. Still, it is not an easy thing to admit that I have so little affection for her. But this is about telling the truth and I may as well start here.

I wonder where it began. Certainly there is my own personal history that might explain it away, and I’ll get into that later. What I’m wondering now is where this legacy of mother-daughter brokenness began. Did my mother even have the resources to love me, bond with me, nurture me?  Did she love her own mother?

Growing up, visits to my grandmother were a regular occurrence, once a month. Phone calls between my mother and my grandmother were a Sunday evening regularity. But was theirs an artificial regularity, like bowel movements controlled by fiber laxatives? Or was there something nourishing that passed between them? Something nourishing that was not passed along to me?

I suppose then this is why I write

1. It is nourishing to me

2. I hope you will love your mother.

Not because I told you to, nor out of duty, but because something will have healed in these mother-daughter bonds by the time you arrive. This is why I write, trusting that this truth-telling will unveil more than secrets, but will unroot the family shame that keeps them hidden in the dark and keeps us from being tender to one another. I trust that hearing the stories of your grandmother will meet more needs than mere curiosity and wonder, but will forge connections between you and me, and heal this long lineage of broken female familial bonds.

When my daughter was born, I longed for her life to be different than mine, dreamed for her young life to be filled with hope and joy and free-spirited expressions. The pain that she now bears brings me such deep, great sorrow. It seems she is more stricken with the pain of not knowing her beauty than even was I. So ironic, as it was she who awakened me to what was awry in my own life and began in me my own journey of healing, this girl-child who reminded me of lost parts of me all along the way, this girl-child whom i wanted to nourish so that she’d never have to feel the pain of betrayal and abandonment, of dishonor, I’d experienced. She, whom I tried so valiantly to give what it was that I’d needed — to be seen as Beauty, to be heard, to be loved, to be attended to, to be cherished.

I remember the first time I saw her, nursed her at my breast, the feeling of beholding Love. So many emotions were stirred awake in me – longing, fierceness, deep gratitude. I recall vividly how also, gazing at her , I beheld my own loss.

I don’t completely understand what’s happened. Perhaps I projected too much. Perhaps it was too much for her young soul to carry. Though I’ve always known she came to accompany me, to heal me, to awaken me, to guide me — as each stage of her life awakened in me the lost part of myself at those ages (the unmet needs, the longings and losses)– perhaps all of that was too much for a young soul to bear.

Today, I wonder how that will play out in the lives of my granddaughters, how their parents wounds will play out in their lives in unexpected and unintended ways. Where will be the aggravation of the wound? Where will be the healing? What will they bear for us? How will we release them at last? May it not take 7 generations…

Great-granddaughter of mine, may you be honored for your giftedness, for the expression of beauty you bring into the world. May you not be exploited for the gratification of another. May you be cherished, not punished, for your beauty. May your free-spirited expressions of self not draw the attention of the predator. May your self not be silenced in fear. May there be something left of your Self, after traversing the treacherous passage to womanhood, for you to give to your daughter. I pray that by the time you read this, the culture will have changed in vital ways, though I expect that 4 generations will not be enough time to completely heal and make whole centuries of women losing themselves — in our family and the world.

In the book, Storycatcher, by Christina Baldwin, there is the story of a grandmother who began to tell her story when her grandson became stricken with the ‘family disease’ of drug and alcohol addiction. She thought it time at last to drag this dark family shame out from the shadows, expose it to a little light. Shame is such a hidden, festering wound. It grows unchecked like cancer until it poisons even that which is healthy in a body. The author spoke of healing the 7 generations with our storytelling.

Just weeks earlier, I had written this in my journal, shortly after I dreamed you on that mountaintop of young hemlocks.

‘I wonder how a book might be, one entitled ‘Letters to my Granddaughters’.

I am pondering my desire for my life to have meaning, for the expression of my self into this world to have created more Beauty in this place. I am thinking about the ripple in the pond. Of course, smallness always appeals to me. Perhaps speaking the truth of my life into the world is enough — i need not express anything terribly profound or new, just tell my story, unveil its truths – both light and dark — so that healing might begin here in me, and through me, in the lives of my family — the generations that came before and the ones to come after.


And may the healing of one family heal others.

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