my soul in silence waits, day 4 -imagining

Day 4 – imagining

I search about to follow the prompts at chapter’s end — ‘How do you image God? What name do you give it? How does God image you? What is God’s name for you?‘ — but the trail leads into darkness, for images no longer come, no longer offer comfort, nor even a sense of presence.

While once upon a time, ‘Beloved’ served as the answer to those questions, offering its sweet tasting nurture, healing the unloved and unlovable in me (and the unlovable in God, for me, dare I say, for there is much ugliness and pain in this world that is in need of being beheld with great compassion and tenderness), that image has long since dissolved into the broth of ubiquity.

What image offers itself for omnipresence? Energy has no image. Pervasive presence is uncrystallized , though it might solidify into matter, creating forms that I might wrap my arms about in wonder. I suppose Ground of All Being may be a strong contender- ground from which blossoms push forth, ground- teeming with life of its own, unseeable both because it is hidden from view beneath the soil, and also because aspects of it are smaller than my eye can see. But what kind of ‘image’ is one that cannot be seen?

God- invisible and yet visible everywhere, potential and kinesis, energy and form, emptiness and teeming fullness, sheer abysmal silence and cacophony , dark and numinous.

I understand that the author is beseeching me to grasp a metaphor (not a literal image) to also let myself be held. A finger pointing, as they say. And yet, I cannot, and I am content with that—to let God be mystery, if indeed God is God at all. To let God be nothing. No thing.

Perhaps one day this will shift for me again. God will take form, become embodied or incarnate/personal. Perhaps my need will allow God to be visible. Perhaps this mystic’s soul will drift upon these waters, rising up from these dark depths, to be buoyed and upheld.

Water, then. Perhaps.  Water has been such a source of comfort and strength, deep peace and wonder for me. Water- pervasive even when invisible, within my very breathing in and out, within my very cells.   It soothes and excites, annihilates and animates, is visible and invisible, solid and ungraspable, hidden within and bathing the surface. I feel something in its presence that is undeniable.

Ok. That will do.

my soul in silence waits – day 3- waiting

Day 3 – Waiting

Waiting is such a present centered posture, even as one could also imagine it being forward facing, for the preposition that so often follows the verb ‘to wait’ is ‘for’, as if what one is waiting for is not yet here and now. Still, this posture is not necessarily one of high-expectancy , but of patience, quiet and calm. Hope can be an aspect of it, but hope is qualitatively different than expectation. More and more, I am understanding Hope as something other than ‘Hope for’. It stands alone, grounded in the present, a standing posture not a movement. A posture filled with peace, full of light. A way of being.  ‘To wait’ is to be centered in that Hope, to live quietly without undue urgency or worry, without expending undue energy upon fear. To wait is to breathe, to breathe is to live, to live is to BE.

To Be Love. Love, in this place of sorrow and joy, grief and delight, despair and peace. Love in it all.

Oh perhaps I am being blind, denying my own human frailty, and perhaps tomorrow, being human as I am, or next week, or next year, I will, gazing backwards, scoff at such ‘sentiments’ as these, being caught in some story at that time (oh, but that is not at all fair to diminish a potential reality such as despair or rage or grief as a ‘story’), some experience of being human in which Hope – or even waiting for Hope – feels like the work of fools. But it would also be wrong for me to diminish this place where I stand so firmly rooted in Peace as a blind sentiment, or some anesthetic of sorts. And so, I am a content to be a Holy Fool.

I wonder at this seeming resurgence of ‘Who I Am’, which seems to be reclaiming me as much as I am proclaiming Her, for I can also recall that, along with the innate sense of the innate Goodness of Humanity, which has been with me since I was a child despite life experiences that could have taught me otherwise, the word ‘patient’ is also a descriptor that was often used to describe me during those active motherhood years of my life. “You’re so ‘calm’.” Perhaps it goes along with the quiet demeanor of an introverted nature- this projection and perception by others of patience in me.

And yet, turning around to look back, I can see how I seemed to lose touch with this natural way of being, lost hold of its tethering root, over these last 10-20 years or so of my life. It seems that perhaps with the divorce, and then as my children left the nest, the safety I hadn’t realized that I experienced in them was lost, their unquestionable love for me no longer an irrefutable constant as I was somehow pulled off orbit.  I have faltered over this past decade, throughout this transitional time, to know that I am loved and lovable, sought desperately to find my footing in that, yearning to be seen as Good, seeking to prove my worth.  Love was no longer involuntary, it felt like it needed to be earned. 

This has been the work of a decade- to uncover this root of Goodness within me and to reground myself in it,  to let go of grasping for its validation outside of myself, to let go of my fears of rejection and abandonment, to trust in this Who I Am. The move has been from external to internal.

And so perhaps this is why this feeling of being pregnant—expectant? – with Hope. This child in my womb cannot desert me, for it is not separate from me, and will be entirely something new. This morning’s reading also explored the metaphor of waiting during pregnancy. The author recalled having crossed off each day on a desk calendar, not in a ‘counting down the days’ kind of a way, but in a marking the passage, an intention of being present to each day with wonder, a sense of mystery, deep joy and awareness.

And so, that is where I shall stand.

my soul in silence waits – days 1 and 2

Day 1 – longing

From a box of books, offered for my perusal by a dear friend, I pulled one slim volume, authored by an old familiar name, a previous volume of hers I recalled having deeply appreciated years ago. I had purged my own shelves of similar books a few years back, no longer finding resonance in their sentiments. Overtly religious in a way that I have not explored in some years, I trusted this woman author nonetheless. Besides, the title had to do with Silence. How comforting that invitation felt.

Still, I did not necessarily intend to open the book straight away, but after closing the cover on the non-fiction, science-based treatise on the psychological – restorative and enriching- benefits of Nature, there it was at the top of the stack. Choosing to open myself to what felt like something coming in from outside of myself, opening the cover on what might not at all be my own choice for a next read, from a box of the discarded, nonetheless, felt like an invitation somehow. (In truth, I love receiving books from friends as gifts, for I am without fail enriched by their choices for me, but these were books even my friend did not cherish any longer) Away from the safety of following my own narrow trail – one breadcrumb leading to the next – and stepping out onto an unexpected divergent path, is to see and to be seen by what my more narrow algorithmic trajectory might entirely miss.  Much has been learned about the ways in which we confirm our biases by what we choose to consume – whether media or food – and so, despite the fact that it can be comforting, validating and deepening to find kindred souls ‘out there’, it is also beneficial to our souls to introduce them to ideas that broaden, as well as deepen them.  I suspect this is how Love—or at the very least Empathy–  grows, after all .

Still, I laugh at myself as I write this, because, after all, it WAS a box of books of a dear friend, and I gleaned the safest selection from the pile!! So, it was not much of a stretch perhaps at all. I was more afraid perhaps that the God I would find in its pages would reject me!  However, in opening its pages, it has felt more like wrapping myself in an old blanket, hol-ey and smelling of comfort.

Indeed, in the first chapter’s invitation to explore my  longings – longings that I may have suppressed or denied – and to begin to name the ways that my restlessness has led me on strange paths, all the while truly seeking rest,  I felt the resonance straight away, for the nagging feelings of loss and longing within me were stirred awake from where I keep them contained.  Re-entering these waters was like stepping into  a warm bath, where the hidden, unacknowledged life in my womb stirs.  I have indeed deeply missed the feelings of comfort, of belovedness, longed for the relationship to Spirit (Soul –Withinness- I don’t even know how to name it) that I once knew. It feels  like coming home.

Day 2 – silence

Today’s invitation is to sit in silence, and also to notice what keeps me from withdrawing to that place of silence. Of course, although to many my life may appear to be quite quiet and withdrawn, I can fill that spaciousness as much as any other.

First and most obvious is today’s technology, always at the ready to divert, to bounce into when one begins to feel the emptiness, to fill it with ‘noise’. It is the plague of our day. In some ways, this chapter dovetails nicely with the more left-brained research of the Nature Fix book, which employed scientific methods ( brain and body scans) to measure what all the ‘noise’ in our lives does to us. (and perhaps, because of its methods, the book itself was also ‘noisy’, full of data and information. And I rcognize that this is also a way that I fill the silence in me—with knowledge , often over and against experience, as if I need to confirm what I ‘know’ or feel)

I spent much of yesterday (I am convalescing from an illness that has really wiped me out – enforcing stillness perhaps?) re-reading the book , “Awe filled Wonder”, which I’d read last spring and had found so breath-giving for me. I wanted to try to recapture what it was that I’d felt when reading it. I recalled that it had offered me a way to enter into ‘prayer’ again (as opposed to ‘mere’ meditation), offering me a new image – a way to conceptualize the energy of “God” without having to disregard my mind. 

I should explain that my concept of ‘God’ (oh what hubris is in that sentiment) had never completely disappeared, merely dissipated into a vague, pervasive presence within all, a presence that I had found increasingly impossible to pray to , or even with, rather could only seem to acknowledge, even if with wonder at times.  To ‘live and dwell and have one’s being’ in a field of the sacred, while on one hand may allow communion to feel quite a constant and natural thing, on the other, paradoxically, can feel quite empty—empty of feeling known or loved . It’s the whole ‘personal’ thing, perhaps a selfish need, though I am after all, merely human- vulnerable and needy.

I have digressed (funny, in an exercise which invites me to notice how I fill- or distract myself from- the silence, that these tendrils of thought so effortlessly unfurl) . Returning to the book yesterday, I wanted to be reminded of that feeling of peace and relief, the ‘yes’, I had experienced when reading it a year ago. It wasn’t quite the same experience in re-reading it, however. Perhaps I was skimming across its surface rather than plumbing its depths, but basically I came away with the refresher that prayer is rather like ‘tapping in’ to presence (or source, or energy) along with the idea that in this universe , Love embracing that which feels quite opposite to Love is what births new Light (think electron and positron encountering  one another, each one being annihilated in the process but resulting in 2 photons of light appearing, or Jesus on the cross embracing in freedom and compassion those who harmed him. )

And so, as to not deny that, while I have felt perhaps stuck in my journey of Spirit thse last years, which I have accepted as some mixture of Dark Night (where is God) and Unitive awareness (All is God), my actual soul’s journey, unclaimed by my  all-too-human consciousness, may have indeed been carrying me along in its deepening evolution.  Even as I have at times felt as if I have been skimming along the surface, Love has been unfolding below the surface, within and even without me.  Simply because a thing is not named or claimed does not mean that it does not exist.

Surely, I can see that “God” has been with me (because It is with everything, the center of all as both modern physics and Augustine assert), even as I once recognized “God” had been with me throughout those long years between when I rejected the idea preached about ‘God’ as Judge at a tender young age to when ‘God’ reemerged 20 years later as Lover.  It seems that ‘not God’ is the way, for me at least, to move more deeply INTO God.  For, as I look back now at what I have been invited to in these last years of my life, I can surely see that the call in me to embrace the ‘other’ as good— or at least, lovable, forgiveable, understandable, embraceable—is nothing other than Love.  Innately, I have understood (because it is WHO I am?) that dividing is not the way of Love. My ‘nature’, while frustrating to many and while it often would be easier for me to hop on the bandwagon and belong , it seems cannot be denied its inability to demonize. (of course, the danger for me is to somehow not demonize inadvertently the ones I perceive as demonizing!!! )

And so, back to silence, to prayer, to waiting…

The chapter suggests I look at the clothes/layers I have donned for protection. This is something that has come up in my private journaling quite often for me—this feeling of hardness overlying me and not liking the way it makes me feel. But lately, this seed in me, rooting perhaps over this long season of darkness, seems to be pushing, making itself known, cracking the surface layers. It feels like a glowing orb in my womb … this Orb of Hope I spoke of last week. … growing large enough to be seen, as life in the womb is wont to do. Not that the Hope itself is new, or that the knowledge of its All Is Well/All is Love is new either, but that the need to hide it seems to be falling away. My willingness to reveal it, despite the prospect of being misunderstood or diminished (well, it truly can’t be diminished, after all) feels fresh – refreshed. As a pregnant woman soon realizes, the clothes she once wore to conceal soon are useless to do so. I do imagine/hope that the drape I will choose as I grow will be a soft one , no bulging belly in your face for me. I am a creature of ‘habit’, after all.

 Perhaps that is the way in this Life’s evolution life, this becoming  of Love, which I once saw so clearly as concentric wombings. I had forgotten that at times, this means the seed cannot be discerned at all. At times it is a secret too precious/tender to be revealed. At times the quickening reveals its presence like the fluttering of butterfly wings.  And then it is suddenly quite evident, the bearer of Love’s union aglow.

the audacity of Hope -2

Like a seed in the womb, you are a warm secret,  

untouchable. You grow

and I glow, undimmable,

inviolable, incomprehensible

impossibly improbable, yet undeniable

Your birth in THIS place, inconceivable

Yet inescapable

Perhaps this is what the myth-makers sought to express

When they crafted the virgin birth

Or conjugated the verb, ‘to know’ in the first person

To be. Intimate

Impregnated

by a deep-rooted knowledge

that promises eternal Peace.

Fear not.

the audacity of Hope

Driving with Don today to the pottery studio, our conversation circled around what it looks like to dwell in the center of Hope. Unbeknownst to me, soon we would be practicing centering our lumps of clay on the spinning wheel, so as to craft a more sturdy vessel, one that was balanced and would withstand being fired. Watching the wheel spin, I reflected back to our conversation as pondered what the vessel of my life has contained..

I’d shared with Don that I really felt as if I was returning home (again) to my self with this reclamation of Hope. This knowledge of the innate Goodness of life is What I was born knowing. Many of us circle back around to the truths we knew as children, fired by life into something more solid, less malleable and more capable of containing.  Lately, my Wise Woman Witness, who has been an invisible presence for some time, has been reappearing in my life. I remember when I was first introduced to her, perhaps 20 years ago. At that time, I was surprised to find She’d been with me all along, following behind as a mother does her child, letting me fall, watching me grow, loving without compromise, guiding with unseen hands. What I soon learned was that She was in truth the real me, the one who had said ‘yes’ to this adventure of life, agreed to forget in order to become.  And it is through the eyes of her All is Well consciousness that I behold the beauty of this place—as She once beheld me.

She’s been inviting me for some time to sit with Her in that seat of Wisdom, and I’ve also longed to dwell there with Her. I think the difficulty was that the whole of me had not quite settled fully and I’d climb down from her lap to re-enter the fray.  Some scraps of my heart were still attached to being understood, or being seen, and She is invisible, after all.  Only I can see Her fully. And I had to reach a place in my life where it didn’t matter to me whether others could understand, or what they thought of Her.

You see, in some way, needing the approval of others made Her even more invisible. Sadly, human beings tend to diminish what they cannot see from where they stand… labeling Hope, for instance, as impossible or un’real’istic… somehow making small what is too Big to hold in their heads…. but never too big to be contained by our souls.  Others have often felt the need to correct (or despise) me so that I might fit into their vision of life.

But now I understand that this is a Gift that I have been given and I need not explain it so that it can be understood or accepted, I need only to hold it. I need only to BE it. To dwell in it. And from that seat of Wisdom I can simply Love. For neither am I called to diminish another’s way of seeing or being, for we each come bearing gifts unseen and each one of us grows into the fullness of those gifts in our own time and our own way, needing to pass through the stages of being human in order to become. No stage is higher or lower. All are needed and necessary. No gifts are superior or less-than. All are part of the Whole.  All are beheld by Love.

Love is never condescending. When I was receiving that energy, that was not Love. When I give that  energy, that is not Love. This place requires persons focused on the tasks of a generation, as it needs poets and visionaries. It needs innocent, awe-inspired infants and wizened fools.  Idea bringers and Implementarians.  Seeds on the wind and roots in the soil.

And it needs me to be Me…. centered in the truth of Who I am. And you to be You, bearing your gifts.

Fear not.

diamond in the rough

The message keeps being whispered to me, its light (and lightness) of blessing shining through the cracks in my defenses (or is it burning off the fog ? Which metaphor fits best the way it feels today? Washing over me like grace? De-lighting me with wonder and joy?) From so many perspectives and angles, over and again, fairly sparkling like facets of a diamond, the message is repeated, and I am being drawn more fully nto its invitation.

The crack began – this one that is letting the light in- last summer. As many cracks do, it was initiated by failure and at first overflowed with tears. I’ve been pondering that ‘what went wrong?’ moment, a blip actually, which somehow felt so cataclysmic to me, though it was just a tiny shudder. (OK, the metaphor is not lost on me again here… perhaps that crack in the earth opened to reveal this diamond, though I have had to dig around abit to fully uncover it). I’ve journaled about it and mentioned it to friends repeatedly, digging to understand that summertime experience, when in the middle of my planning and coordinating of numerous canoe trips, I sat down to over my morning coffee to watch a video that had come up in my inbox, and found myself weeping. In it, a fifty-something woman was exploring what happens to what she (and many others of us) refers to as her ‘feminine’ energy when she is required to be acting overmuch from her ‘masculine’ goals oriented, directive, organized, self – how she can feel so disconnected from her deep self and so from love, is left feeling ungrounded, empty, lost, robotic or depressed. What ‘sparked’ those tears in me? They told me that something she’d said struck a deep mine of truth inside of me.

That was perhaps the first facet of the diamond that was to be revealed.

But it was a few weeks later that full brilliance of that facet was uncovered… when my brain failed me. Overwhelmed and trying to juggle too many tasks, it fired a miscue and I failed a tender commitment I had made – to myself, yes, but more importantly to someone who is terribly precious to me. I had thought I was carrying it all, but I dropped everything in that moment. I was left feeling both bereft and baffled by my brain. The grief of my failure overwhelmed me… perhaps washing away more of that soil beneath which I had been buried.

Fast forward through the remainder of the summer, through the distress I experienced while ‘leading’ a few of those canoe trips (something that I’ve so longed to do, but which has challenged my executive skills, and left me feeling disconnected and disoriented in a place where I have previously known deep connection, well-being and belonging).

Time’s pendulum swinging into autumn brought a deeply bonding, almost magical 2 week wilderness canoe trip with my husband.­, followed by the profound, almost mystical love and empathetic joy I experienced at my son’s wedding. Summer and autumn – two distinct seasons in life- one of fullness, one of ripening and release.

Those oppositions have both puzzled and beseeched me. What went wrong this summer?  What felt so right about fall? I have unpacked and now understand that a negative energy of divisiveness, beyond my control, was brought into one of those trips, and so instead of opening to beauty, wonder, and love, several of the participants closed down to the point where they could not see goodness anywhere- and especially not in their fellow wilderness journeyers. I have also understood that this experience affected me greatly, opening a well of sorrow in me. I have explored the ways in which I repeated old stories – not trusting my instincts when they were clearly warning me about a ‘wolf in sheeps clothing’ (my apologies to wolves), my attraction to and my misguided attempts to appease and to please toxic persons, and my taking undue responsibility for the insufferable behavior of another.

But beyond that specific instance, I have wondered about what is inherently lost for me — the deep healing and nurturing of my (feminine) soul — when I go into the woods as organizer/manager/leader and guide. Then, a few weeks ago, I was struck by a random caption posted beneath a photograph of a campfire.

Fire is a potent doorway into what environmental psychologists call “fascination attention”, an antidote for “directed attention fatigue” which plagues most modern people. For many millennia our ancestors ended each day gazing deeply into the flames. Our consciousness co-evolved with fire, it is a part of us, an ancient teacher, a true ally.”

I asked the writer if the same was true of gazing at clouds, or stars, as so often at the end of a long day of canoe travel, Don and I can find ourselves enraptured for hours just watching the sky change. He responded ‘absolutely’. It’s referred to in the scientific literature as ‘attention restoration’. In brain scans, it can be shown that the energy we direct to our prefrontal cortexes in order to be focused, organized and efficient in our modern lives is diverted away from that controlling part of our brain in an immersive experience of nature, and thus our brains are replenished.  (Aha… so, no healing replenishment while at the same time attempting to juggle more and more).  I’ve so often likened my experience of presence on canoe trips to ‘praying unceasingly’ or other types of deep meditation, having intuitively understood that such contemplative practices are somehow an attempt to recreate what is a natural state of being in the wild.

As I began exploring more of the science of environmental psychology and biophilia, I learned that numinous experiences- experiences of wonder and awe- release oxytocin into our bloodstream, the same as does lovemaking and breastfeeding. We literally ‘fall in love’ out there. (Of course, I’d ‘known’ that too— as have so many poets throughout the ages). So that explains the intense feelings of closeness Don and I experience out there … and perhaps also at least a part of the deep grief I experienced with those negative participants. Perhaps my heart was broken, for it has also been shown that experiences of awe elicit profound desires to share – deep connection with the earth invokes deep connections with others. So often those feelings arise in me, almost instantaneously in a moment of beauty out there, expressed best by the words which erupt from me, ‘Oh, he would love it here so much’! , or ‘Oh, I want to bring her here to see this!’ The evoked longing- to-connect is potent in nature … or perhaps, more accurately, being immersed in a natural environment reveals the reality of our already interconnectedness, our true oneness.

The problem is that deep connections are not forged in the prefrontal cortex where I am required to reside in my executive function out there as leader. That part of my brain is focused first on performing tasks and then is divided and distracted by attending to those needs, always thinking one step ahead to what must be taken care of next. Unfortunately, where our executive functions reside, so also does our rumination, our over-analysis, our feelings of being overwhelmed, and our anxiety.

Facets two… three…four… uncovered.

Ok. My brain is getting tired just trying to explain this.

So, yesterday I began listening to an interview with philosopher and child-development psychologist, Alison Gopnik. During the conversation she began unpacking the brain of a young child- the way it is open to presence and wonder and exploration, and the ways in which these new human arrivals invite those who tend them to see the world afresh—including seeing new possibilities, making new sorts of connections, and imagining new paradigms. They teach us to love altruistically and to move toward new ways of being human. Generation after generation, she asserts, this is how we evolve—because these new beings coming into the world are open to awe and unencumbered by the limits of a prefrontal cortex- which is later pruned to perform the functions deigned necessary by the existing cultural paradigm. Looking at the brain activity of the very young, Alison likened their way of seeing the world to adult breakthrough experiences of mystical awareness, deep meditation, psychedelic drugs—and numinous experiences of beauty or awe in the natural world.

Near the end of this conversation, she touched upon what occurs over the course of our individual lives as they also evolve. Sometime after menopause, for women, our prefrontal cortexes are relieved (yes, relief was the word used) of their role of juggling it all. Perhaps the loss of estrogen does the pruning. Of course, our cultural bias towards efficient productivity wants us to despair those losses. But the truth may be that this loss is a gift, a blessing to the world. Like the orca grandmothers who know where to find food, and without whom the pods would starve, perhaps we are as necessary for our species survival as are the new human beings who enter our world with each new generation. For we, along with our grandchildren, can see beyond the details of life that can bog us down in the short-sighted immediacy of our middle years. We can see the deep and wide connections and possibilities of life on earth- beyond a political cycle, and beyond the current paradigm in which our brains were pruned to produce the certain necessary (and often delicious) fruits of a specific generation or culture. We can see the long, or deep, view. We can see again through eyes of unity and oneness with the earth. Through eyes that see wonder and beauty, we behold the mystical all-is-well; through eyes of awe we can reembrace the mystery of life. We are released our small anthropocentric view that we are somehow the apex of life or the center of it, but instead are a part of a grander story.

And so, the diamond is revealed from its many sides…feminine energy, masculine energy, attention restoration, executive function, a little child will lead them, the wisdom of age, rewilding, domestication, wholistic seeing, detailed lazer-like knowledge, deep consciousness, wonder, mystical awareness, natural presence. This too is what it means to be human with a multifaceted and dazzling brain, resilient and adaptable and alive.  I am being called to fully embrace this new way of being (which is really an old way of being). My very brain, pruning itself, is ushering me in to a new stage of life, a new/old way of being human.

Lately, with what I now understand as a dazzling new kind of brain, I have noticed in myself a reclamation of Hope. It is a dazzling thing really, though quite unpopular. How dare I?

I dare because it is Who I am.

It is the Hope I carried into the world as a babe.

It is the Hope that I beheld in those luminous/numinous breakthrough raptures of mystical knowing in my middle years when I was unable to “function”, and so relieved/broken open enough to receive and to see the wholenesss of life as terribly beautiful, knowing that it is all Love.

It is the Hope that has repelled me from allying with forces that have sought to demonize the ‘other’ .  

It is a Hope that is not at all Polyanna-ish or naïve, though it is the Hope of a child.

It is a Hope that is my deepest Reality, despite what those ‘real world’ middle years of our lives often belie.

It is Hope that we cannot perhaps embrace at certain times in our lives because we have other important work to do, but that I can hold despite (or because of ) the fact that I can no longer juggle.

The diamond I have uncovered is the diamond of awareness, a diamond that sees through eyes of Love and Hope, a diamond that has lain buried for a time now. A diamond that is beginning to shine through the cracks in my falling-apart brain…. Or perhaps  the light that is shining through the thinning branches of my late autumn mind. Thank Godde.

rambling recap

Dear Friends,

It is true, I have not been writing a lot here on these pages. I have been doing some recording of my experiences in Algonquin on my other blogsite http://www.analgonquinaffair.wordpress.com but while it chronicles the travels of my life in a certain way, it does not explore the whole of my soul’s journey in this life. Then again, I’m quite certain it is not at all possible for me to even see, let alone begin to express, what it is that I am up to in this place, where I have been and where I am going, but this is at least a broader glimpse.

The end of a new decade offers a natural window through which to glance backward, to take stock, if you will, at where/how you have travelled over the course of the past decade, at how your life has unfolded, evolved, become, grown.

So, I guess I could call this my annual ‘New Year’s Day letter’ rather than the more traditional Christmas letter, to you, my friends. Mostly, of course, this is a letter from myself to myself (as journaling, after all, is) So read if you will, but be warned, its rambling recap of my life’s journey may not make sense to any other than my own soul. And that is ok. I have begun to let go of that too, you see… the being seen and understood, remembered even. I think I’ve grown pretty okay with being mortal, finite.

Human.

So, here goes.

This year, I continued to struggle with being ‘enough’, and with comparing myself to others who I perceive as being more loving, more generous, or more devoted – somehow, at least less selfish than I. On the contrary, it continued to be difficult for me to give myself permission to make choices for myself.  I continued to feel the angst of guilt when I fell and I failed, which I realized I seem to feel most when that failure surrounds something precious to me. (although that feeling has also helped me to identify those things that are indeed precious to me and to name them as such rather than mislabeling them as other’s expectations of me, to notice how it was that I also failed myself).  This year, I continued to struggle with striking a wholemaking balance, as I continued to struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed, burntout, and with feelings of not-enoughness. and I continued to feel manipulated/bound by my feelings of shame around that.

This fall, however, several deeper awareness seem to have converged, or come forth, that feel like the beginning of healing some of those wounds.

One is an awareness that came up around one of my granddaughters. It seemed she had been struggling with the intensity of her feelings — frustration, anger, powerlessness— and had begun rubbing her forehead against the carpet, giving herself rug burns, in order to, what seemed to me, release that inner pain in an outward expression? What I noticed was that my own response was to help her learn ways to soothe herself, rather than hurt herself. Later, though, I wondered at that response in me. Could it be my own discomfort with, or fear of, intense feelings – in myself and in others, my own need to quiet/suppress those feelings rather than express them?  Maybe what she needs might be different than what I need, after all. Maybe learning to go inside and silence the chaos is not always a good thing. Maybe she needs to scream or to run or to punch a few pillows to release those feelings from her body. Maybe that’s ok too. My love for her (something about a grandchild allows you to step outside the fear of getting it right…her feelings and behaviors are not my ‘fault’, after all..and to purely see through eyes of compassion ) allowing her needs and her personality to be different than mine (she is not, after all, an extension of me), lent to me some subtle permission for my own needs, personality, and coping mechanisms to be just right for me too. It opened the door to a vast room of compassion in me where there is space for all of us, in our pain and self-inflicted wounds, with our unique gifts and life experiences, to feel and respond differently to life, releasing me from the bondage of right and wrong. There was space in that room for me to be ok, for you to be ok. There was breathing space for me to be utterly wrong- without self recrimination- and to acknowledge that I probably messed up in not understanding someone else’s needs or responses along the way. In not empathizing correctly. My own children, for instance. Maybe I silenced them when they needed to be heard? Maybe I misinterpret their feelings and responses even now, based upon my own projections.

I can’t really explain how/why this hit me the way that it did. Perhaps I was ripe to fall. Perhaps it was one of those ineffable glances of grace, stripping me of judgments or right or wrong. It was a great healing dose of humility, as well. I don’t need at all to know what is the right way, response, or cure – for myself or another. Perhaps there is no cure needed at all. Simply Love. I also was reminded that it’s ok to be wrong, to change my mind, to look from the other side, to mess up. It’s been good to walk around realizing that everyone walking around her with me is coping with their feelings, their traumas, their learnings, their perspectives and their life in the best way they know how.

Second, was the reading of a book, a few year’s old now, entitled The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. The story revolves around two sisters surviving the traumas of occupied France during World War II.  One of the sisters resists and rebels. The other keeps herself alive by being ‘good’ and seeking security. What I felt rise in me as I read the book was the understanding that each of these sisters’ responses to life was formed not only by her unique personality , but also by her earlier responses to the shared childhood trauma of a mother’s death and father’s abandonment.  Each woman’s particular response to subsequent life experiences, during the traumas of war, for instance, then was totally understandable, relatable, and lovable, expressed compassionately so by the author. The author also deftly described those secondary traumas and griefs—one of which was the miscarriage of several infants and the grief which engulfed the ‘good’ sister  afterwards. 

Soon after reading the book, I was having a casual conversation with a young woman, who happens to be a NICU nurse. I asked her what gestational age they are saving babies these days (24 weeks seems to be a strong, almost certain survival, though there have been some as young as 22 who survive. My own miscarriages occurred at 20 weeks. I’d felt them move inside of me, filled my heart with dreams for their lives (which was full of the hope I’d desired for myself), labored and delivered their small bodies into the physicians hands. I still have clear images of one of those girls…long long fingers, cradled in the hands of a delivery room nurse next to my head…I also recall the guilt and grief that swallowed me afterwards, although the details are lost in the fog) The conversation with the NICU nurse circled around to the bonds (traumatic?) that are forged between NICU nurses, babies, and moms. My later preemies, who survived, were each in the hospital for 11 weeks, and I acutely remember those relationships. The loss of them too. I also recall the feelings of emptiness, leaving the hospital with my arms empty, the feelings of numbness. The young woman told me that PTSD has also been identified as a symptom/response to a NICU experience for parents.

I remember also being told so many times how strong I was. Of course, I went into give-me-the-facts, no nonsense, survival mode. That was already my learned coping mechanism. Shut down feelings. Be strong, resilient, self-sufficient. Use your wits. Be competent. No warm arms to fold into for comfort, no breaking down, no coddling allowed. No receiving of empathy or compassion or help….. Years later, after delivering my last child, an 8+ pound son, I was commended by the labor and delivery nurse for how easy I had made childbirth seem. She wished she’d “have filmed it to show how its done”. Yes, pain is something I have learned how to quell and to silence. She chalked it up to experience. I suspect it was a different kind of learning from experience altogether.

And so, getting back to this idea of looking back to take stock…. Suddenly, I was filled with compassion for the young girl I was between the ages of 16-21, dealing first with the traumas of 2 miscarried 20 week infants and the grief that overcame me, and then with 2 infants struggling for life in a NICU, and how she survived, with her unique sensitivities, needs, courage, strength, childhood abandonment wounds etc. Without comfort. I was able to somehow forgive her for her fears of failure, her ways of adapting, and to honor her gifts/ love her for who she became. 

A friend had a grandchild in NICU this summer. I’m afraid my response to her experience was colored by my own. I hope I offered comfort/empathy/strength …. ‘trust me. I’ve been there. It WILL work out in the end. She will be fine’. I’m afraid I offered coldness and toughness, invalidating her fears. I honestly don’t know. Her response will be different than mine…

Observing myself, I wonder. Am I intolerant of others fear and pain? Of their unique responses to life’s traumas? Did I somewhere along the way become a “buck up” presence? Strong is a word that others use about me. Is that a compliment? Does my strength offer safety or does it invalidate the others fear?

I absolutely thrive in the wilderness. I come alive, feel vibrant, free, and connected, where some others find challenge — both physical and mental. I do not seek adversity, however. It is not adrenaline or conquest that fuels me, but beauty, silence, wonder, spaciousness, freedom, remoteness. Still, I led a trip this summer where a few of the women were incapable of coping with an environment that stretched them– both the human personalities with whom they were journeying and physical realities of the trip. At the time, I felt troubled by their complaining and betrayed by their negativity, perhaps taking it too personally. One of the women began to employ passive aggressive tactics – complete with eye-rolling and feet dragging (I half expected her cross her arms and stomp her foot)– her own learned responses to discomfort? But I also wondered at how I was responding. How difficult it was for me to stay grounded in a state of grace in the presence of that negativity, when the gift I was sharing seemed to be being rejected. How easy it was to slide into an an us vs them mentality, to look down upon/negate/judge another when their response was different than my own.

Looking back in my journal, I find these words in trying to sort out what occurred. “Here’s the thing though. I must remember, I am not responsible for the other’s experience or their responses to the uncontrollable. I am responsible for providing an opportunity, which the other can choose to enter into or not, and into which the other will undoubtedly bring and experience themselves. I cannot control their experience or their response…any more than I can control personality clashes, bugs, or weather and water conditions. I understand this, and still feel deeply affected and saddened that they are not able to let go and enter into the beauty and the gift that is here’

More recently than that, however, was a response to my daughter’s year end accounting of her life. She took stock of the last decades of her life, beginning in 2000, with bullet points from each year, and asked what were some of the things others remembered from the decade. What I found myself noting was  this

“A decade ago, several life-changing, transformative events converged in my life. My youngest son graduated from high school and flew from the nest, my first granddaughter was born, and I was invited to co-lead my first trip to Algonquin. (I’d visited just once before, in 2001, but this was the true beginning of the love affair, where I came to discover a wild self I’d not known before) Each of these momentous events exposed my heart to new terrain and broke it open to previously unfathomable depths of love, often rending it into opposite directions, stretching it always to hold more.….Feathers and stones”

(What I didn’t note in that response was that Don retired just a year afterward, we sold our home and moved.)

Seen from this distance, I realize what a striking convergence that was. Seen from this distance I can witness that tug and pull with compassion, I can validate both the freedom and the mooring of my heart, I can observe with one glance that precipitous change in the landscape of my life … like falling off a cliff and landing in an entirely unfamiliar terrain. With fondness, I see how the discovery of a self separate from the role I performed at home, the undomesticated, authentic self I discovered and fell in love in the wild as much as I fell in love with the wildness of the place (in truth, probably the reason I fell in love with the place was because of this free-to-be-me feeling I experienced there, after all), unencumbered by shame and feelings of not-enoughness, free to simply be happy, clashed with the self I also experienced at home. For, on the other hand, the real sense of grounding in love I feel for my children, and now my granddaughters, keeping me tied to home, anchored by love, is also authentic and true. The invitation extended to me at this decade’s end is perhaps to reclaim an old tired role by polishing it and seeing the precious gem that it is.

Feathers and stones.  Both valuable to a life here on earth.

Another granddaughter came into the house last weekend with a bag full of stones she had tumbled  until they were shiny and smooth in her rock tumbler along with a jar full of feathers. She has noticed that I also have collections of them both. I have baskets of them in my house,  mobiles made of them hanging about on my porch. As with my life, they are tricky sometimes to get into balance… the rocks pull the arrangement askew, the feathers slip from the knots and the structure loses its ability to catch the wind and dance .. but when it works, it is a thing of beauty, reminding me that feathers are necessary for grace and stones for grounding in love.

So, here I sit at the crux, which is my heart. Not a bad place to be seated, after all. Whenever I envision this space inside of me, the dream rushes up from my memory… you know the One. The BIG One, the One with the deep voice beckoning,  and the light flooding.  The One I didn’t want to come back from. The One that instructed me on the way I am to live and to love… to let myself be loved. The One that bid me to just stop, to gaze into that light, to notice the shape of the cross is like that of a tree, with light virtually pouring into it from the top, flooding it with love,  filling it deep into its roots, then flowing upwards into the trunk.  The One begging me to notice the way that the light flowed outward naturally from that filling, horizontally into the outstretched limbs.  The one imploring me to simply ‘do’ that, let myself be filled, that there was nothing else I need do, but let myself be loved. And the love that I am would flow forth from that.

Which love is the feather? Which is the stone? Which one fills? Which is the overflowing?

This fall, after returning from Algonquin, I spent a lot of time exploring in my journal the most recent shift in me that I’d been noticing this year. This summer, in the midst of the busyness of guiding canoe trips, I identified that perhaps a source of my burnout (manifesting as a  cranky intolerance and lack of compassion) was living too much out of my masculine-doing nature, with all of the organizing and leading, taking charge and taking-care of in which I was engaged, unbalanced by times of simply receiving, and being-with. No space or time to refuel my drained feminine soul. This fall, I recognized that energy was not perhaps masculine after all, but maybe a resuming of the mother doing-for (domesticated?) role in those wilder settings, a role in which I quickly become fatigued now at this stage of life.

I also noticed how grateful I felt when my boys took over a lot of that role on the Granddaughter-Son (they call it Daddy-daughter, lol) camping trip this year. The way I was freed then to BE with them in a new kind of way, a presence rather than a provider. I also noted the difference I felt in the canoe trip with Don, where there was more of a mutual sharing of the experience, a BEING TOGETHER.

When I came home this fall, I noticed it here too… my fatigue and exhaustion, the way I just couldn’t seem to ‘DO’ things the way I once did them, along with a deeper desire to BE a presence rather than perform a role. I thought about the natural rhythm of the days during our 2 week canoe trip, which I felt so very much with Don, and wondered if I’ve ever really experienced my own natural rhythm before… what with raising all those kids with their own needs and demands and schedules pulling me out of myself and into them.

This fall, though, I also noticed how exquisitely deep is my love for my children. If I am to continue the metaphor of my love for my children being like the stones in my life, anchoring me in love, then on the day that my son was married, that stone revealed itself to be a diamond. The overwhelming feeling of encompassing love I experienced for him on that day was so profound, and flowed from me without contrivance or effort, self-consciousness or shame. It simply was Who I Was.

From this vantage point, I can see how this last decade has perhaps been about making the shift fully into this 3rd stage of life – call it crone, call it forest-dweller, call it what you will – with its undeniable longing to live differently, to be freed from the ways of the previous stage of life, with its soul call to move into a quieter place, a still place, a place of presence, a place of honoring my rhythms, my needs, my weaknesses AND the gift of my wisdom (NOT stepping out of myself, sliding back into an earlier stage of life/development in order to fit in, feel valuable, or be understood but staying seated in my own knowing, the knowing of my own experience, and the knowing of my body, and trusting in its wisdom).

And so, in this rambling letter, I come to where this end of the year reckoning brings me. As I move forward into the next decade of my life, my hope is that I can find peace to Be who I am – warts and all, as they say–and to trust in my goodness wherever I am, however that looks. The surface desire is to live with less anxiety about whether or not I am okay or loved, but I realize that the deeper one than that is to trust that I am Love, as I am. To stop performing and Be who I am, in freedom and grace.

And so, this morning I wrote my ‘goals’ for 2020

To dwell in beauty, to look for beauty, to know that it all is beauty.
To dwell with ease, to be easy-going, to know ease in my heart, my body, and my mind
To dwell in curiosity, to gaze with loving curiosity, embracing mystery, humility, unknowing, and wonder
To dwell in grace– immersed in compassion, trusting all is well, allowing all to be as it as
To dwell in pleasure and peace at the wonder and joy of life, practicing deep sighs and internal smiles

To dwell in Love

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