electricity! — part 2 of the journey to reframing, renaming, reclaiming a life

Two nights ago, I was given a beautiful dream.

I am at a banquet, a gathering of soul-friends, when the speaker tells us the story of how, after the close of last month’s dinner, one of our group had died and been heroically brought back to life. I envision the dramatically unfolding scenario clearly, defibrillator paddles and all. I turn, amazed, to the woman seated next to me, who is the one who had died though she had spoken nothing of it. I ask her to tell me what it felt like.

She answers, ‘I was in a basement, completely devoid of all light. Not a linear, ordered, predictable basement, like our dry walled ones, more like the meandering cellar of a catacomb. Groping in utter darkness, my hands flailed at the emptiness. I was losing consciousness, below consciousness. It was like drowning. My fingers were searching the wall for the opening, landing only on cold, damp stone. In my hand I held the plug end of an electric cord. I needed to find the outlet… the outlet… the receptacle into which it would fit. It felt like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. I knew I was drowning, but I kept searching, methodically and desperately at once. Then, suddenly, I found it and it fit! At once, the room was flooded in light.

I was back! I was alive!”

Such is the way that a woman comes back to life. No tunnel of light she enters upon leaving, it is a flood of light upon her rebirth.

I awoke with a start, knowing instantly that this was a big dream. No need to write this one down, I knew it was etched in my soul. I could feel viscerally in my body the losing-consciousness-feeling of drowning, the determined effort, the power of her coming alive.

What does this mean? Am I too groping in the dark, buried in the catacombs, drowning? Have I lost consciousness, conscious living? When was the last time (a ‘month’ ago) that I sat at that particular banquet table, feasting on things of the spirit? Do I hold the plug right here in my hand that will flood me in light, bring me alive? Where is that place of fit for me? Am I coming alive?!

If I listen intently, diligently seeking, will I intuitively know where to fit the plug? Was the reading of yesterday’s book a clue, a place where a light has come on, giving me permission to choose what is a right fit for me?

The word ‘outlet’ is curious to me. What else does outlet connote?

  • A means of expression, of course, as in an outlet for creativity.
  • A means of release or escape.
  • In the case of the electrical outlet -a receptacle, a place of receiving.
  • Again in the electrical outlet- a place where the masculine and feminine join, where being and doing are one.
  • A place of great energy –ignition, passion, electricity and birth.

As I drew this image in my journal—the electric cord and the outlet—the memory of inserting my arm into the root of Birtha came rushing back to me. When I plunged my arm into the root of that tree, a surge of energy coursed through my body. It felt electric!

That was almost a month ago and I’ve been uncertain (or too timid to claim) what it meant for me. Somehow this all fits together, though clearly I am still in the dark. How is that a perfect fit? How am I to be a midwife, literally or metaphorically? Do my words or my companionship ease the passage for others? Am I being midwifed into being—these transformative waves of awareness pushing something new into life in me. Again I return to both/and, for always ‘the work’ does its work in both directions.

The first book we read during our training (the woman in my dream was a teacher in that class) was Holy Listening, by Margaret Guenther. I recall that in it she refers to the sacred companion as midwife of the soul.

The dream of the little hermitage in the woods – the cold mountain woman dream – has come back full force to me. A consistently recurring image for me now for almost 10 years, it rushed back into the light clearly last week when I gave myself permission to reclaim my own dream — a place in the woods that would offer shelter, salves  for healing the broken, and nourishment for the renewal of the weary. Carved out and guarded, like the space that my own pain created for me all those years ago, it would be a private place for hearing and healing and seeing more clearly… not just for me but for others. That which we bless ultimately blesses in return.

Might it not be a great place to create Beauty?

listening below the noise- part 1 of the journey to reframing, renaming, and reclaiming a life

Last evening, I read a book, cover to cover, about the transformative power of silence. ‘Listening Below the Noise’ was written by a woman who heard the words ‘sit in silence’ in one of those disembodied voice moments, and so began a 17 year long odyssey into it. Every first and third Monday of each month, she has dedicated 24 hours to silence, no matter the season nor sundry external influences.

Surprisingly, hers was not undertaken as a spiritual practice, at least the author did not name it as such at first, though it ended there, of course. My own journey into silence began from ‘the other end’, as a spiritual quest for healing, for love, for God. I realize that, perhaps once I found it (the healing, love, God part), I abandoned my own vigilance of the practice, as the utter despair that drove me into its arms abated. Like a love affair that slides into placidity, where inattentiveness leads to forgetfulness, I lost my passion for the practice. Perhaps then this explains the sense of losing my self, which I’ve been experiencing.

I’ve known for some time, of course, that I’ve lost my space. It happened so gradually, so insidiously nibbled away at like so many other unattended things, that I didn’t notice until, all at once one day, it was gone.

All those years ago, during those healing times, my pain had carved and guarded that space. It had forged a small opening at first during early morning hours at the chapel and wee morning hours at my writing desk. When the kids were in school, my work schedule allowed for several days a week, home alone, and the space grew bigger. When I married a few years later and my need to work outside the home was relieved, the space expanded greatly. For 2 years, I had 9 months of weekdays, 7 hours a day to myself. These were the years when the autumn became such a metaphor of return to me. Along with the geese, the groundhogs, and the trees, I was relieved of the nest for at least a few hours, freed from constant production of shelter and fruit, given permission to go turn inward, to go underground, to rest and rejuvenate.

Then, when my daughter graduated from high school, that space began to contract. Hers has been a difficult fledgling – home for six months, then out for 4, back home for 4 then out for 11, home for 6, then back out for 30, home for 6, back out again now. More so than that particular back-and-forth, however, was the perpetual back-and-forth of countless phone calls per day. With the advent of the cell phone between my oldest child’s fledgling and this one’s, I was far too accessible. This time my not-working-outside-the-home closed in my space drastically. Her cellphone calls, along with her difficulties out there, grew exponentially. I imagine my accessibility was as harmful to her as it was to me, teaching neither of us to trust. As a result, I felt as if I was sent into a perpetual summer. My days, my silence, my focus became even more extraverted and fragmented, and, in the course, I lost something very valuable, buried again beneath the noise, the chaos, the rubble.

I’ve frequently expressed this sense of loss to my husband, tried to explain to him what I was feeling, how my creative self was being buried alive. He didn’t completely understand why it was that I required lengths of uninterrupted quiet in order to have the time to go down to retrieve those jewels, nor how it was that with so many interruptions demanding me to surface, I could never quite reach them, nor why after time I stopped diving.

And so, the internet became a distraction, and like all good distractions from pain, an addiction, supplying a virtual sense of connection, temporarily alleviatng my yearning for a real one. No longer looking within for the treasure, the searches became external, following one bunny trail after another. One ironic benefit of my newly retired husband’s being home all day is that he takes the computer for hours on end!, blessedly forcing me to withdraw, and to reenter the sacred realms of my soul.

What this book offered was affirmation of my need to go there. What it also provided was a way of reframing my old friend, silence, as an intentionally chosen and boundaried space. I realize that boundaries are so vital right now to the regaining and renaming of myself. Boundaries are what a virgin innately has –even physically this is so with the placement of the hymen over her opening – and what a mother has not. All sense of separation between self and other is blurred in motherhood. When the child wakes, you are awake, when the child needs to eat, you make food. Reorganizing myself again during this next stage of life requires redrawing the lines… 32 years and five children have etched those lines fairly deep. But no longer is my shape to be drawn by the needs and demands of another. No longer is my focus to be diffuse, my life-giving energy to be funneled into another for fuel.

Silence, solitude, space – the 3 S’s have been the great themes of my writing over these past several years. It seems I do have a right to proclaim my need for all three. Though it was difficult at times for the author of the book to stand by her own resolve, it proved to be of such great value, a value she could not begin to foresee when she began her journey. Perhaps it was a pearl of great price, for I suspect that the fourth S is sacrifice. Something must be relinquished in order to make that space.

Perhaps the first thing to go is my ego. Like the author, who realized how much she had been living from hers, as she heard the echo of her unuttered words and realized how often she had spoken out of her false self – responding with ‘fixing’ words, sharing her ‘wisdom’, controlling fallout and judgments, believing in the urgency of her immediate response – I too realize that much of what holds me is the false belief that I am necessary for another’s survival.

As I ponder my own sense of calling, my own voice’s message seems to be speaking not the words ‘sit in silence’ per say, but something more along the lines of ‘retreat to the woods’. I wonder as I write this if, as the call to silence of the last decade for me began in a place of pain and led to a place of gift, this call to retreat (which, like silencing, has its own dual meanings, including one that connotes surrender) might also lead to unknown gifts. This profound sense of call to a place of retreat in the forest to create a house of healing may be as much for myself, I suspect, as for those who might come to stay.

There are other clear similarities between the author’s call and my own. Clear-cut boundaries, for one. Action that is counter to what the culture tells me is normal or even right for another. (My desire may seem eccentric to some, but Clarissa reminds me that my eccentricities are where my gifts lie). Other resonances between her call and my own – it being misunderstood, its necessity for a creative life, its need for solitude, for time, for inaccessibility, the need to let go of the desire to control, to fix, to care take, to manage what others think or how they judge, its soul-saving elements, and its trusting in what my instincts are telling me.

What are my instincts telling me?

Are instincts related to desires?

Can I begin to name this as a calling rather than a yearning?

How does that change it, give it more power or credence, for me?

Years ago I did indeed have my own disembodied voice dream, words given to me that woke me from my sleep. ‘You are bound to beauty’.

Practically speaking, how exactly does one live into the call of “being bound to beauty”? I have imagined it in so many ways through the years…

  • seeking and seeing Beauty as a way of prayer,
  • choosing to live in a place- – metaphorically or literally—of great Beauty,
  • noticing Beauty,
  • naming Beauty,
  • creating Beauty,
  • capturing Beauty for others to see,
  • Being Beauty.

Mostly I have not imagined it as a call at all but rather a naming of ‘what is’, a calling me back to the truth that my life –that Life itself– is inescapably Beautiful.

No, I’m not exactly sure that I’ve fully lived into that calling. Perhaps I set it aside along with the 3 S’s. Perhaps living into it is a perpetual process. And perhaps it has been at work in me beneath my awareness all this time. This morning when I looked in the mirror, after taking down my braid, I saw beauty there that I haven’t for such a long time. So much transformation is taking place in my life right now, so much new awareness, so much revelation. It seems to be coming in great waves, as does the labor of all birthings.

I am being formed into something new.

sand hill crone

Sand hill crane, Lake Duffy, photo @ PennLive.com

I have hiked some distance, perhaps a mile from where I parked the car to this spot, stopping for a short visit along the way near the remains of an old ice dam that once formed the lake It has been good to watch the lake’s evolution, or should I say devolution, over these past few years. No longer needed for the making of ice, the stone and earth dam was allowed to deteriorate, the water to flow, and the lake to revert to a wetland. Several new duck boxes, their freshly cut pine boards in bleached contrast to the late winter browns of the native habitat, have been erected in anticipation of winged ones who now regularly call this place home for the summer. This afternoon there were few signs of life yet. I’d heard that a stray sandhill crane had found her way there for a few weeks. Much colder than I anticipated, I was forced to leave my perch, to get up and move. Maybe she decided the same.

I’ve often walked past this particular sink where I now sit, been drawn to it so many times, frequently snapping photographs, which never seemed to capture what I saw through my own lenses, from the trail. Today I decided to leave the tamed tracks behind, to bushwack a bit, in order to visit more closely. Strangely, its much warmer here. Perhaps these steep banks protect me from the subtle but chilling breezes, or perhaps the wind has simply stepped back at dusk’s approach.

I sit on a great moss-covered rock, next to the old fallen trees, reddened by the stripping of bark and rotting of pulp, which span the ravine, . The earth is red here too, maybe from so many fallen before them. The silt in the stream bed is red. The rock is red.

As my eyes wander upstream, I am surprised by a culvert I’d never noticed before, so close to the main trail, but completely hidden from view from above. Beautifully crafted of the same red rock, it is a remnant of old railroading days no doubt. Even more startling are those 2 bentwood rockers, faded from seasons, gazing down at me from atop. Others have cherished this spot. I must be near to someone’s property, though there is no structure in sight and my vision reaches quite far through the leafless landscape.

Suddenly, I am aware of how noisy it is here – planes overhead, traffic nearby, and some incessant rumbling over the ridge – highway, farm machinery, or industry, I cannot say. The trickle of water alone soothes me, water that flows when ice is no longer need, water that, over time, breaks down manmade dams, water that is granted underground passageways, water that carries red earth to some unseen delta, water that causes the earth itself to sink and trees to collapse, creating a place of warmth and great beauty……

I am so fearful of these changing landscapes of mine. Fearful of repercussions. Fearful of potential grief, fearful of loneliness, fearful of unhappiness. I wonder if I am compromising again and then I wonder if I even know what I want well enough to know when I am being compromised. Change is so frightening, I expect most of us wait for it to happen TO us. To embrace it, to be its active agent – not codependently its accomplice, nor passively its victim, nor passive-aggressively its agent, but to freely choose it – is more frightening than I’d imagined it would be.

Courage, conviction, energy, passion and trust all are required, but love is vital. Again, I must return to center, to heart – to desire. What IS the desire that draws me, not forces me but is also  not something that I force.  Let the time to push come naturally as it will with all births. I must return often to dwell in this place of  quieter hope and deeper desire. This is the place from which will flow my strength, my passion, my energy to create a new life.

Desire, of course, leads to the creation of new life every time! Of course, maybe that’s what I’m truly afraid of! How do I prevent this new lifeform from swallowing me up, taking on a life of its own, being stolen from me or, conversely, drowning me? How do I attend to my desire without losing my self? I suspect the answer to these is to keep my self, and my heartful intent, fully IN it. Perhaps the desire is in truth to find my self. May this birth be one that comes from such a desire.

Have the previous births in my life been at all about being sensitive to my own desire, or were they simply more of the same taking-care-of/sensitivity to the expectations and needs of the other at my own expense. Oh, perhaps there is no such thing as pure desire and uncompromised love. So many births, very good births, have come from far less pure exchanges of energy – along the whole spectrum from apathy to violence. Seeds are carried and fall on fertile soil as much by accident as by intent.

My virginal self wasn’t filled with desire to have sex, she was filled with desire to be loved, and, taking care of the needs of another, her physical body got her the love she desired so desperately, at least that’s what she’d thought. So young, that’s why she had been so confused about contraception, about barriers/boundaries of any kind. Contraception made it about sex in her mind, took her completely out of her desire for love(-making). Her insistent desire for pure union was wise, though naive and misdirected. Union of body AND soul, of outer and inner, is what she desired though she sold out for something far less.

Some say the crone is the second coming of the virgin (virgin meaning a woman WHOLE unto herself, her integrity intact), except with the added wisdom of experience–fuller consiousness, clearer seeing, and knowing herself and her giftedness. Clarissa understands the crone as akin to a hardened off tree, her wisdom grown solid to protect the soft heartwood, creating an intact boundary within and from which life-giving nourishment might flow. I’m wondering if this directs the course of the flow – like a culvert built below the surface of an ice dam above left to crumble – so the harmful flows out and the goodness flows in, but also so the goodness flows out to the branches and fruits while keeping enough nourishment for self inside. I like to imagine that trickle at work within me, slowly, steadily carving a place of beauty and depth for all of those years when something atop was frozen and flat, homogenous and tamed.

Perhaps the direction of flow from this new place of desire is not about need-to-be-loved-and-accepted, but longing to live and to love fully, authentically, in a place of union between my inner self and my outward expression. Perhaps listening deeply to this quiet place–here, beneath the noise– will make it possible to hold space for my own ‘deep gladness’ without being flooded by the world’s great need, while still offering a naturally flowing, rich nourishment.

Perhaps this is the way a life becomes a habitat.

ash wednesday

at play in the garden with sophie

-fruit of my fruit-

scooping handfuls of early earth, surprisingly workable and warm

last year’s leaves

last year’s leftovers

this year’s soil

dust to dust

 –

it pours through our fingers,

hers beneath mine, delight in the falling cascade

mine beneath hers, cupped and receptive

patient

 –

what remnants of me

reside in your seeds little one

what morsels will you carry forth

how does one compost a life?

moment by moment

sifting soil through our hands

spinning

Seated at her second story bedroom window, on the old bentwood rocker with the sagging seat, the one she dragged home from the neighbor’s yardsale because she was certain it held many stories, she breathes in the twilight.  Gazing westward, she rocks softly backward, as does the earth, until she no longer perceives the ball of fire around which they orbit. From this vantage point she can glimpse the slice of sky between the rooflines of the neighboring houses and the edge of her window frame.

Flock after flock of geese traverse that magenta-painted slice, heading north. She has read that, despite momentary glances of swirling disorganized chaos, which might lend quite an alternate impression, theirs is no meandering, aimless flight, but is quite deliberate and determined.  She imagines there is no turning back.

The sky shifts to the duskier shades of lavender, blue and mauve. Day slides into night…

She has been pondering orbits and dreaming of dances.  Something in her yearns for direction that is determined, yet is something other than rigid linearity, something that has room for swirlings.  Is there really such a thing as freedom of choice, she wonders?  Are not all choices interconnected in some way in this dance of life, in this web where pulling one strand makes it all come unraveled?  She is fairly certain that we have far less control than we’d like to imagine we do.

Some days she suspects it is all an illusion – this idea of self-determination. Perhaps we are doing just fine if we don’t trip on Life’s feet as it takes us for a whirl. Of course, the problem—and the grace—with that metaphor is that she imagines she really could take the lead if she chose to do so.  Yes, she imagines Life is as gracious as that.

The day had come when she had to ‘make good’ on her promises to herself and she was terrified. It’d always been too easy, she supposed, to hide behind everyone else’s need. All at once, she realized that she had no experience at all in trusting her instincts, no previous experience to put on her resume to show that she had the potential to choreograph– to chart and to follow a course. Suddenly, it was blatantly clear that she’d never chosen a thing for herself in her life at all. She’d always allowed Life to choose her.

Perhaps that had been a choice. Consenting to Life taking her for a spin, always following – sometimes gracefully, sometimes trippingly, sometimes staggeringly – she’d remained (mostly) on her feet.  Though she may have been constantly playing catch-up, chasing some Mad-dancer across the floor, she’d learned those steps fairly well.

How might it feel to lead the dance? she wonders. To stand confidently, face Life squarely, extend her hand and invite Life to join her. How might it be to take that first step forward into Life, to feel it’s graceful, though perhaps stunned, backstep in response?  To be in full possession of her own existence.

She plays with the feeling of that in her body. It is a heart-fullness that she notices there. That’s new. Maybe courage! — that strange mix of great love with fear, of joy with trepidation– is in her after all. There is no doubt it feels powerful.

It seems that just yesterday when she’d closed her eyes to ask the same question, she couldn’t feel it at all. Instantly, she’d realized that her power was not centered in her own body.  She’d given it away once again to let someone else lead the dance.

So that explained the feeling of losing herself, she supposed, the feeling of having her dream be usurped by another, carried by a surrogate into life in some other direction. That explained the loss of energy, loss of passion, loss of power.  Rather than running with it to her own heart, her fear had handed it over to another. It’s as if she’d chosen this Life-partner, taken it by the hand, and no sooner begun dancing than she’d been cut in on. Oh,  too easily she’d handed over her Love to another.

The sky has grown darker. Overhead now charcoal blankets, while the horizon clings to a hint of pink, like a child to her lovey. The space in between — a deep shade of periwinkle– is dotted with cumulus shadows.

Power. Something she has never owned in herself. Agentic power is the word brought to her awareness this week. Recent events have made her realize that she has always lived as if at the mercy of another’s choices, another’s ability to be the agent of change, another’s power. Mostly that power had been economic. She believed she’d had little self-agency because she’d had no power—no economic power – to make things happen. But she realizes today that it’s really not possible to separate out one power from another. There is something holistic about power, as with all things.

The fulfillment of her desires had always been dependent upon another’s participation, permission, agreement and action. She may have seduced to plant seeds, then nurtured them, waited for them to grow, for the time to be ripe in the other, but relying on another’s yeses, she’d had no ability to be self-determined, and her power had come out sideways, in passive-aggressive manipulations and co-dependent maneuvers attempting to manage the dance.

No more excuses for remaining a wallflower. No more chasing after Mad-dancers, being led on a ‘wild goose chase’.  No more hoping the exits will be blocked and leave her no easy way out.

The sky is now dark as far as she can see. The lamp on the table behind her the only source of light reflected in the glass. Where does its power come from, after all? From the earth, of course, which creates its power by transforming the energy of the sun in some way or the other. All power connected to another.

She is brought back to those solar system ponderings that have been forming and informing her psyche of late. She has been pondering the sun, the way its power is central as source of the dance, the way all bodies fall into orbit around it in one way or the other in its particular system. She longs for the centeredness of the sun, being what it is, nothing more, nothing less, burning passionately of itself in life-giving ways.

The shift becomes clear. No longer is she to spin relentlessly around some pull of gravity outside of herself. Dancing with purpose and passion from the sun beating in her chest, she moves from the center of herself.  From there she’ll know what belongs in her orbit by what is drawn by the gravity of her own burning desire.

No longer being cut in on just when she is learning the steps, Life dances about her.

She turns off the lamp. The sky is black, no moon to reflect the sun tonight,  the cover of clouds blocking those other faraway suns. Venus is out there in that space in-between the horizon and the blanket of clouds overhead.

Venus is brilliant tonight.

the midwifery

Reaching my arm into her opening, I felt powerfully the midwife energy surge through me, as if I’d actually dressed in Her Kachina garb and danced Her spirit into my body. Her larger- than-life archetype rushed into the opening in me as my own curious arm plunged into the opening in the broken root of the old mother tree. Though no longer standing, she was somehow more vital to me in her falling, pushing something to life in me.

I felt Her again, later, on that sacred morning, as yet another woman revealed to us her sacred landscape. Wrapping my arms around her from behind, the opening between her ‘legs’ opposite mine, I was certain that I was supporting the shoulders and back of a woman laboring to push new life into being. I heard my whisper in the ear of her trunk, as if it were not my own voice at all, loving her, exhorting her.

The night prior, I had drawn forth my mandorla, that vulvar shaped opening created when 2 circles conjoin. I hadn’t known what would be poured forth onto the page as I sat before it; I followed only at first the feeling that told me the intersection this time was WIDE, the sacred so close as to be practically lying atop me in this place.

I’d wanted to stop there. There was no more to draw really, the vastness of that opening felt like everything; the emptiness of the page, full; the walls stretched thin – like the walls of a woman’s opening as new life is crowning. (Crowning!! What a word to come forth in the telling of this! One of the women noticed that my mandorla looked like the letter ‘Q’. , “for queen”, she’d said)

The lake had been drained in preparation for dredging before we’d arrived. The directors had apologized profusely for its ugliness. They had no idea how perfect it was. Like the womb of the Great Mother, scooped out and made ready to flow in a new way, lying fallow for a season while its insides were reorganizing, we loved her fiercely.

Likewise, out of this Yoni shaped opening on my page emerged a new kind of flow, no longer blood-red with shedding, but royal blue and dancing, like the dress in my dreams. Like a song, it flowed to quench the parched and long-waiting landscape, to drench expectant seeds with vitality.

Moving in to stand guardian to the entrance to this cavernous womb on my page came my Babushka of old, like the old Hags -the snags- of the lake. Clad in her blue dress and red kerchief, I noticed she wore the colors of the virgin, the spot of red on her head mirroring the flame that the maiden tends. Like any well-constructed beaver dam, She controls the outflow with great wisdom, and likewise protects the sacred opening from being entered by those who would desecrate this life-giving space with detritus that belongs not within.

Within the tomb/womb, the long-sleeping maiden builds a fire, a fire to see by, a fire to awaken by, a fire to create some heat. She builds it with logs from the jam, logs that I now saw as a blanket, stitched tenderly, protecting the blue eggs that lay buried like treasure in all of their shimmering potential, an infinite store of creative potential waiting to be inspired by flame. With each log gathered, they are freed to expand, to become, to fill up the space with their capacity, to enter the fabulous flow.

I have mentioned to some, upon my return, that I feel as if something has finally broken in me, some threshold crossed, some transition traversed. I realize that the transition phase of labor always must feel as intense as these past months have been. Perhaps the waters of birth have broken at last, for it feels like something fresh has come alive in me, as if pure joy  is flowing once more, a joy that is mine, but also available and free to be shared. This lusty-for-life, vibrant, voice has been liberated to come out and play, to sing .. and to cry out loud… at last. Escorted to life by the Wise Woman Crone, the midwife of my soul, they are free to give of their beauty to this place , to dance like a child, unafraid of whoever is watching.

“When what you are doing draws upon the archetype of the midwife, you know that you are engaged in sacred work” -Jean Shinoda Bolen

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