All posts by Éilis Niamh

About Éilis Niamh

I am a graduate student in philosophy. I study virtue ethics, such as ancient Greek ethics, and how it informs a modern world for which interdependence is becoming a law of nature. In the past I have given talks around the country and have otherwise advocated for the rights of children and the need to end child maltreatment. I write poetry and music, and have recently branched out to try composing short stories. I enjoy being in nature, hiking, kayaking, swimming (underwater,) tandem bike riding, walking in the woods, spending time near the ocean, and camping in (but not climbing) mountains. I love serious debates, making terrible puns, playing board games, and living life fully. Family and friends are very important to me, and I make it a priority to stay in touch with them. I honor my ancestors and have a tremendous respect not just for other people, but for the animals, plants, and landscape that I share the world with. As a lover of wisdom, I value truth-- even, or perhaps especially, the truth that the only constant in the universe is change and you should hold onto everything you are absolutely certain about very, very lightly. In all I do I try to be true to myself, follow through with actions on what I say I'll do, and do my best. And, when things get too serious, I toss a hedgehog toy for my adorable yellow lab and guide partner, Allegro, and try to balance a ring on his nose before he bites it.

Dying to Live

Surrendering all I have to hold
I am finally held fast, safe in your arms

Falling free from every familiar foundation
I am firmly rooted, your enduring love, solid ground

Without a mirror of my own
I am slowly recovering pieces of restored reflection

Finding myself radiantly shining
The light in me revealing vast seas of deep shadow

Solemnly, I sift through memory’s rubble, cities of shame
Struggling to recognize my strengths, strewn among ruins

My grief turns the soil for each seed of growing
I have watered them all with my tears

Tattered wrappings, every wound unwound
Each emerging, red and raw, soothed in silence

Undone, unraveled, unwoven
I have only the whispered hintings at wholeness

With tender care, I am turned transparent
Trusting and trembling in the dark of unknowing

Now the reverent hush of stillness
Rest in the soft light, gentle, mending

Now passing through the sunless shelter
Pursued by my panic, though always protected

Now crossing the burning sands
Rekindling resilience, forgotten flames of anger

Now stirring as storms and streams
Leaping through lightning, relearning languages of laughter

And together, we will fly on wings of sorrow and solace
Grey and green

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Crossing The In Between

You carry me
A child in your arms
Through an open door, a crumbling ruin
Remnants of an old self where once I lived

Glancing back, there is only a shadow
Of the one I once had been
Fading as the sunset settles
The landscape still

And then … …

Hush, the darkness descends, encircling, enfolding
The quiet complete, I am safe in your keeping
Dissolving into the soft peaceful presence of you
Heartbeat of earth, soil of silence

I wait to sing the songs of sleeping seeds
Stirring as seeds do, gently
In their slow, motionless unfolding
Rooted firmly in our unconditional belonging

Turning toward the light
Without eyes to behold the dawning sky
Reaching, growing up toward the unknown
Without hands to hold out to find the way

Only your eyes
Seeing with such compassion to every moment of my waking
Only your hands
Holding me tenderly, shaping me whole

Who Are You?

Hold nothing back, you have no need to hide
Hold out your hands, you have no need to defend
Let go and live wild, you have no need to doubt
Let go and breathe, you have no need to fear

Stand equal to the defenders of dreams, protectors of truth, guardians of growing
Stand strong among the streaming stars that set your soul alight with wonder
And even when all you feel inside are division and despair
Show me the light of you, for this is who you are

Kindle the kindness that shame forbids you to share
With the one whose worth it tries to mar
Yes, that one, daring to dance despite history’s horrors
Blazing the beauty of you, every moment

Show me how you are learning to trust
With the gentle grace grown in the soil of sorrow
Show me how you are finding self-compassion
While fighting fiercely to own your own strength

Show me the spark that shines through the dark at the heart of you
Beneath the beliefs that still barricade you from belonging
Tell me of the tenderness you touch after trembling
And the tears that turned terror to triumph

Stand in the fire that melts chains and burns burdens
False foundations fall, timber tumbles, so many ruins crumbling
Flames fill and surround you, radiance reshaping shadow
Show me the sunlight soaring in your eyes

I sing of an age

I Sing of an age that’s almost flown
Birds whose voices raised the morning sky
Wild landscapes, spread out to receive the naked sun
Trees whose roots embraced the earth, yet towered high
Seeds that sprang up fragile life, silent but for the wind

I sing of the age of crumbling dust
Rumbling wheeled boxes that fume with piercing cries
Houses molded for masses, as if carved from a single stone
Plants with their exhalations of thick smoke, clouding corroded concrete fields

Forests that burn while communities fall
Beneath a cacophony of chorused lies
Millions enslaved to masters ticking on the wall
Hands that wring the time from unlived lives

Endless games of monopoly and musical coins
Galleries of staged photographs, manufactured mirrors to memory
Chiseled bodies, carved into perfection, whose occupants still seethe with self-loathing and hate
Gold palaces, beneath which bones rattle the dark restlessly

Stories of renewal on tips of tongues that never tasted rain
The deserts of souls whose blood runs dry
Endless grey complacency to numb the festering and open wounds
A harvest of pain sewn from all we deny

Wars waged to sunder, to ravish with rage
A wasteland of frightened faces fleeing for shelter, turned away
Nuclear families forced to split apart, fission into half-lives
Screams in school yards and the drip of silence cold as death

Generations gaunt and starving and those who crushed them to make their start
Spilled greed that leaves a spreading stain
A sea of fear to fill the ever-widening divide
ANONYMOUS sentries sent to defend and guard against each broken heart

Children who are taught to lose themselves before they’re formed
Men and women wanderers with vacant hollow eyes
Their tears from banished terrors fall stillborn
Life lingers, though breath’s motion fades as oceans rise

I sing of an age bereft and slowly breaking
Each, though aching, standing alone
Among the paths still left to us for taking
Could we accept and meet this age, and one another, as our own

Stay _ A Poem for the Journey

Stay with the waves, like the ocean you breathe
These are threads of your life, a cocoon that we weave

Stay present and watchful in the vigil you’re keeping
For dormant fears, they will rise, dreamed without sleeping

Stay alert to the storm that you stir with your hands
As you strive for control, to shape life’s shifting sands

Stay open, though around you dissolves much that you’ve known
There’s no need to struggle, we carry you as our own

Stay right where you are, and no matter how far you’ve run
When you return to yourself, you’ll be found, we will come

Stay for the joy in remembering the song
And all our rejoicing, you’ve come home, you belong

Stay for the soaring, and the rest still unnamed
Stay and discover who you are when untamed

Stay, though before you the forge-fires burn
Claim your place at the center, match our strength, it’s your turn

Stay though the flames leap across through your skin
They will sear fear and shame, mend you whole from within

Stay to meet gently each moment unfolding
There is always compassion behind any challenge worth holding

Stay while your light rearranges, unwinds
Though it may seem that shadows are all that you find

Stay curious, and welcome each one eye to eye
You can never cease shining, but you might forget why

Stay your hand, your self-hatred and anger aren’t yours
Dare the mudflats of memory, there you’ll find who it’s for

Stay strong, though for days you’ve been eclipsed in long hours
Dazed in grey silences gone secret and sour

Stay with us, you are trembling with terror to speak
You are held safe in love, find the answers you seek

Stay in the dance, patterned shadows and light
You are learning your wholeness, both the day and the night

**********

You are learning the pathway within to a door
That opens in stillness, go inside and step through
It is there you remember you are worth fighting for
And to do that, you must be the one worth surrendering to

For My Mother

I wish the last face I ever saw was yours
Your bright green eyes, your complexion warm and kind
That would be a sight worth cherishing, after I saw nothing more
And your smile, the one expression etched forever in my mind

That look that says, I will always love you fully
I would carry deep within me, to return to, home inside
A stable touchstone, a reminder, that I am whole and holy
Whenever I am struggling, each time I long to hide

I’d replace that ever-present, soul-seared sneer of hate
With the colors of compassion in your soft soothing gaze
And in the places where the harsh shadows wait
Yours would be the lingering face, the gentleness behind closed eyes

I wish I could erase the projections from my map, the fear and false belief
With its overgrown topography, all that’s cruel and haunted
And in its place I’d trace an infant’s landscape in relief
The clay composed of safety, trust, and always feeling wanted

And if I could give one gift to you
Here’s what it would be
To discover, despite all I’ve been through
Your picture in a memory

*********

The last face I ever saw, the only face I have a visual memory of, is the face of the person who abused me when I was six months old. Until I recently recovered the memory and varified it was accurate, I never realized that the face I imagined often in my mind’s eye when I was beeing the cruelest and harshest on myself was identical to this person’s face.

With that discovery, I started to wonder what it would have been like to instead remember my parents’ faces (my brothers weren’t born yet.) I wondered how it might have been different if I had internalized the loving faces of my family, before they had to face what happened to me: faces that held the joy and love of two people who had just brought a new child into the world. If I had a visual memory of that love, even if everything else happened as it did, what might be different?

And for someone who has always believed it was impossible to remember what it was like to see, having even just a glimpse of that experience is still taking a lot of time to process. It was like gaining and losing something simultaneously. And the rest I don’t have words for yet.

It Doesn’t Matter

*********

So what if I have wasted my hours bogged
Down in a slough of brokenness,
Time oozing from fingers
Fumbling through the quagmire of yesterdays

So what if I have tried to be loved
By pretending perfection or by pleading,
screaming out the names of disowned silences
While they cringe in the corner, craving to be seen

So what if the path to the past
Is a constant erosion of storms
Each echo a lashing of lightning
Crackling and snapping the new dawning sky

So what if I feel flawed and fragile and have no children
So what if the stars still shine brighter than the smoldering spark inside
So what if I have most often chosen the false safety of shadows,
Fed by their frightening, familiar frenzy

It doesn’t matter how often my clay self quakes
As my conception of family crumbles
Shaken to its foundations
Along a fractured fault line

It doesn’t matter how many times I have curled like an infant
On the floor of my room, clothed only in sky
Trembling against the return of frozen fears
From the far reaches of the forgotten

For time after time,
You come to wrap me in a quilt of compassion,
And meet me with gentleness as an equal
With an acceptance that knows no language

Then I can sing melodies of my own making,
Though I’ve yet to learn all the words in the music
Then I can share my truth, woven tapestry of story,
Though sometimes I might only give birth to my longing

Again and again, I can reach out to you walking beside me
No matter what I’ve done or where I’ve been
Again and again, I can reclaim this strength, returned, as my own
No matter how many times I’ve given my power away

I can wake up in your arms, day after day
No matter how lost I feel in the depths of the dreaming,
And soothed by the steadying sound of my breathing, slowly,
Slowly, open my eyes

*********
Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter: not because life and its actions are meaningless, but because the kind of love that leaves you breathlessly in wonder, at peace and knowing your own wholeness knows no conditions or limits. I have to keep re-membering this the hard way. This week, when life spun out of hand and all I could do is let go and trust I would still be held, I also recalled this quote from Rumi which inspired this poem.

“Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

How We Fight

Wild One 101
From Ciarán of Ailbhe’s Nine

Some learn to become indifferent to pain until they fight without thought. They learn how to lose themselves (their ability to feel, the essence of who they are, their sense of being) in order to win. The cost of this is high, for the selves they defend are the very same they so easily abandoned. Their eyes go vacant or hard or unseeing. They are trained to deny much of their own human being, and so likewise cannot see those they fall as flesh and blood and bone. They choose an inner death before their life is ended, believing it makes them better able to survive. It is unknown what continues to exist after such a fight is done, even in a victory.

But we learn to fight with our aliveness. The power within us forged in the fire of feeling. Our eyes are clear and wakeful, whether full of sorrow or laughter– compassion and passion being as they are two sides of a soul. We live our humanity fervent and full. We see each other eye to eye, and in the defending of all people, recognize ourselves in all we meet. No one is immune to suffering or grief. But the cries that we utter are always our own, whether of joy or of pain, and always the radiance burning inside. And when we fall, we blaze out each like a pulsing star, a heart that dared to beat with love, until the last spark fades from who we are.

***************
My own thoughts:

I’ve been having a very hard time putting anything into words regarding how I feel about living in a nation that seems to have been swallowed up by fear, prejudice, hatred and greed, perhaps in reverse order. Reading the news is like downing a glass of pesticides every morning and then trying to go about my day hoping I won’t experience any side effects. I’ve been paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness, grief-stricken, incredibly angry, tentatively resolved into taking action, terrified, and sometimes daring to dream all in a day. I’m a philosopher who spent more than a decade learning the rules of reason: all that flooding of feeling recently often leaves me reeling. I’m still trying to learn how to effectively take action without shutting down.

I used to be an avid advocate for the rights of children. I used to daily defend my right to full inclusion, equal access to education, acceptance and regard. And, whenever someone ever suggested to me that my perseverance made me a fighter, I’d be sure to defend my definite opinion to the contrary. To me, the purpose of advocacy was to build bridges, while the purpose of fighting was to burn bridges and erect walls, and the winner would be the fastest. I thought advocacy was strategic and thoughtful, but fighting was inherently destructive and usually violent. Advocacy resolved conflicts, fighting created them. That was a lot of black and white thinking.

We’re now faced with a situation in this country where our supposed leaders want to build walls, and the most effective way to resist is to fight: for compassion rather than hatred, for freedom over fear, for dialogue over discrimination, for human rights, for healthcare, for immigrants and their families, for people rather than profits and for healing rather than division.

I believe now that when people used to tell me I was a fighter, I honestly had no idea what they meant by that. I am discovering that I have so much to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

I am learning how compassion is as fierce as it is gentle, and is more powerful than fear, stronger than the deepest shame. I’m learning how wholeness is always in each of us, and that division is only as effective as the deception behind its appearance. I’m gradually accepting the fact that maybe, perhaps, I know how to fight for myself and for others… I just need to learn a new paradigm for how to go about it more effectively. I’m learning to trust more, to listen more, and to share, speak up, more.

I am not finding sharing these thoughts to be easy for me, at all. But I’m starting with where I am at, and that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be many more insights from my ancient family to post as well, as I keep learning, so I will be sharing more from them here, too.

Making Returns

I’ve been sick with the whisky of sorrow
Drowning in draughts of deep grief
Delirious, intoxicated by the excitement of chaos
Shame the thick tenebrous brew that I drink

I have chosen isolation, drunk from such loneliness
The sharp scent of silence staining my breath
Tending a pantry of long bottled secrets
Despair, and terror, and regret

Here are the hops of hope, all drained dry
The jinn of constant crisis and its tonics on recall
Cocktails of confusion and forbidden joy
And of the cider of solace, not much left at all

Here are my chilled kegs of childhood memories
Just the hurtful ones … I want a refund if I can
And the traits on tap I formed to survive these
If nothing else, please take them off my hands

I want the light stuff, it never goes bad
Something soothing and gentle to calm me inside
The soft touch of wholeness to shelter all that I have
The spring thaw of winter to bring me alive

For the past and its memories, there are no returns
And though life has its trials, no one keeps score
The freedom you long for isn’t something to earn
Learn to trust that with patients, you’ll live more and more

We’ll trade for your hatred, your blame and your rage
Deep peace and acceptance, forgiveness comes slow
And gently replace the twinned silence and shame
With the seeds of compassion, that with you will grow

Your need for pain, your constant clinging in fear
You now can safely leave behind
Hope shines centered in the stillness here
Gathered together, it’s love that we find

Remember, grief cannot be exchanged
Without the tears cried, it’s joy that you’ll lack
And please be mindful when making each change
Of the old and familiar, so you don’t choose it back

A Grave Night

The shadows never disappear. That’s been the biggest change. Even a sunrise appears hollow and faded, as if someone insisted on placing a curtain between my view and the sky. In fact, it is as though space took on a surprising heaviness around me, its grey tendrils clinging to me as if it were the fog wrapping around the crests of ocean waves. Often my unresolved emotions surface to hang in midair the way my breath used to condense in the growing cold.

But I am not cold, nor do I find any comfort in the cloying density that mutes the music of the world to wilted whispers. It’s not that I have an affinity for darkness. At first I only ventured out at night because I found that daylight hurt my eyes. Then, slowly, I learned that the dark could hold me, enfold me into its soothing shelter like an unborn child, where I found shelter for a while from hiraeth, that unnameable longing of my heart.

Tonight begins no differently. Drops of twilight fade like ink into the vast canvas of the sky. Safe in the hushed umbral hallway, I slip silently into the rooms of the children to satisfy myself that they are sleeping soundly, and then pause by the dog to ruffle his fur. There is that glorious but grief-stricken moment when he lifts his head wags his tail. He sees me. And just as with every other night, I lose myself for a while in that indescribable feeling when life recognizes and regards itself in another.

Reluctantly I pull away, realizing that even the dog needs rest and his eyes are drooping and about to close. I drift aimlessly to the window to hover there, again like I always do, and let my thoughts still. But the full moon gently washes the weary world, a world which I wander but to which I no longer belong; and a single star winks mockingly from a great distance, as if gloating over its heavenly glow while I remain trapped on earth. And suddenly it is all too much for me: the glowing star, the tender touch of moon on the trees, my sleepless dreams.

My acute discomfort drives me down the stairs to the front door, and it is then I remember tonight’s invitation from the man I spoke to on the way back from my meanderings early this morning. He was rather peculiar, wearing a hodgepodge of clothing from several different eras: trousers that could have been placed at the start of the twentieth century, a tie-dyed shirt stamped with the names of the Beetles, and a 1970’s haircut. I have to admit that I stared before speaking.

At some point I did remember to introduce myself with my standard greeting “I am still called Maya,” and gave the universal sign for acknowledging another’s company. In return, he looked away while informing me that he couldn’t remember his name. “But George is as good as any,” he had muttered, keeping his hands at his sides.

His rudeness only grew worse as the conversation went on. He told me about an important neighborhood meeting regarding the upcoming Halloween holiday and the particular matter of a haunted house. The gathering would be taking place at midnight in the graveyard. Did I want to join them? Was he serious?

I recall now how I continued to stare at him, my curiosity turning to irritation and finally to an angry disgust. It was bad enough for him to use the “h” word when describing an inhabited household, but his choice of venue was downright insulting. I gave him a piece of my mind regarding what I think about people who continue to promote physicalist stereotypes after switching sides and left immediately. The graveyard? Does he think butterflies like to hang out in their old cocoons for kicks, too? Good grief!

He’s new, or crazy, or both, I am thinking now as I pause in front of the main door. I tell myself that I can’t believe I am doing this. But that’s a lie. I’m going because to stay is to truly be haunted: hounded by the ghosts of my past, mercilessly pursued by my murky mess of memories, ensnared in my own fears, lost in my regrets and all I left behind. If a prejudiced soul and curiosity about his grave meeting is what will get me out of my self-pity tonight, then so be it.

Just before I walk through the door, I groan softly to myself for good measure, out of principle, for spite, for the relief of hearing myself make a noise, for all of these things. Apparently, I am not quiet enough. Upstairs, the toddler starts screaming for his mother to save him from “that thing in the house” at a pitch and volume that would wake the dead, if only the dead could sleep. I’m human, not some object, I think bitterly as I take the hint and gloomily make my way to the one place in the entire neighborhood I have never wanted to go.