Tag Archives: belonging

Re-turning to Trust

Fear is like the partner you can’t get rid of: you fight it and scream at it and beg it to go away and then spend the interminable hours of a frantic night after it disappears flailing in the dark, unmoored, untethered, searching for the hand you know always brings you back to familiar ground. It certainly feels momentarily like anything is better than being alone with nothing to do but confront the immensity of yourself. So you give fear a call and let it back in. And the cycle continues…

Sometimes I’ve been able to break that cycle, and for lengths of time that surprise me, at least when I am with people who hold space for me in the world beyond the world. But when it comes to this world? A world where getting hurt isn’t a theory, where my differences define me, where rejection is very real, where words can wound, intentions get crossed, and the present moment is so often ensnared in a web of wilting memories… what, are you kidding?! Trust is a very, very rare and endangered species.

My world began like this: when I was six months old, someone tried to kill me. Part of me understood, in a way I still cannot even put words to, just how, literally, totally frightening the world could be. Safety became my mantra and my survival raft on the sea of changes. I learned all sorts of healthy and unhealthy ways to build and maintain a stronghold over the water, shore up the retaining walls, and in general do all I could to ensure that the tiny, fragile island I was didn’t get swamped and submerged again. I didn’t discriminate. Whatever it took. I needed rain, not a flood. I needed the calm clay earth to give me another chance to put firm roots down, ground me here. I needed air to keep moving through my body, breathing room, the winds of many temperaments to carry me once I learned to fly. Most of all, I needed other people and needed to learn how to love, rather than fear them.

Unfortunately, we don’t usually get only one traumatic experience to heal from while we’re here. So, over the past couple years as I liberated myself from grad school, I’ve done a lot of healing. I’ve gathered myself in, gone through the naming, sat with shadows and struggled to find their place as part of my wholeness and accept them. And still, the fear is there. It hums an eerie lullaby just beneath the constant cacophony of day to day living. It comes knocking at my door as soon as I want to take a step, let alone a leap, out into the world. It haunts me while I’m longing for solitude with worries or pictures or memories or just a nagging urgency to keep watch. It winds around my relationships, putting a stranglehold on genuine intimacy. It riddles my confidence with pointed question marks and weaves illusions of isolation around my dreams. It awaits in the silence when my only company is the vast bewilderment of myself. It tries to convince me I’m the only one who’s ever felt like this.

There might be long stretches of time during a day or for several weeks when I can ignore it and throw myself into enjoying life. But the fear for that life I am out enjoying never really goes away. So, last April when I decided to join a group of people who gather once a week to learn about an art of relating called circling, I was unsurprisingly terrified. It turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. There was a structure and several things we agreed upon at the outset, which created a container of trust and belonging unprecidented in regular social life. We would pick two people per night whom we’d focus our attention on, just being with what is: the moment to moment experience of that person, the present way it was like to be ourselves, how we felt in relation to each other. It was suddenly okay to make mistakes without fear of rejection, safe for me to come out of a long hibernation, which had begun somewhere back in graduate school, poke my head out of my shell, and discover solid ground just where and as I was.

The more I became solid in myself, the more I was able to be present and compassionate toward others and drop the nonspecific persistent fear. I remembered how to sit and listen softly to someone who was hurting. I could hold someone who was grieving and be in that space with them, without trying to rush them through the feelings, fix their pain or insist it would all get better soon. I delighted in laughing with others, reconnecting with a joy not possible when living so much in solitude, and even occasionally felt vulnerable enough to laugh at myself. The idea I’ve always known as true, that the world is full of many good and trustworthy physical people, developed from a thought to a visceral feeling, an embodied knowing.

I was traveling the road home, this time not through the otherworld, but through this world. And home is gradually getting a little bit bigger… enough to give fear more room to settle down, close its eyes, and even sleep for a while if I’m lucky. The space in which I live has grown larger, able to contain that much more of the light and the shadow and the fear (which isn’t planning to vacate any time soon) … all at the same time.

Now, only a few short months later, my time in that particular cauldron of transformation has abruptly ended. A lot of people there use e-cigarettes constantly throughout the night and the vapor was giving me migraines. The person leading the group (who also vapes) hasn’t ever responded to my attempts to contact him and work out an accommodation for everyone’s needs.

Fear responded promptly, of course. There was the fear that I’m the problem, that the world might not be safe after all, that I simply don’t belong. Then a friend from the group called and shared that this guy is notorious for never communicating. I’m still disappointed. Mostly, I am humbled by a truth staring me in the face. How can a person be safe if she’s rejecting, blaming, and putting down her own self? I can long for belonging, but if I can’t have it in my own skin, where do I go? And it doesn’t help anyone to stall out on fully living whenever anyone else has temporarily forgotten how to shine.

It would be easy to get disillusioned, crawl back into that old, clammy, familiar shell, pull down the curtains and pretend that actually makes you safe. But, life unfolds whether you struggle or let go into the living of it. When I’m aware enough to make the choice, I kind of get wide-eyed at my unconscious actions and wonder what all the needless flailing and frenzy was about.

There’s that scene in Monty Pithon’s Life of Brian when a bunch of people wait in a line to talk to this guy who asks each of them if they want freedom or execution. The hilarity is that a bunch of people enthusiastically choose execution. The grave truth behind the comedy is, of course, that in the end, many of us fear the wildness of genuinely self-authored freedom more than we fear the subtle and not so subtle ways we allow ourselves and others to deprive us of life. Struggle, or let go? Freeze, or freedom? Do I really have to think twice about that? It is our re-turning over and over to trust, even though with specific people trust gets broken, that allows the space we hold for all of who we are to grow, and that’s what gives us room to shine, no longer play it small. That is what empowers a person to put the authority into self-authorship, and that’s the foundation of freedom, and there’s no safer place to be.

Echo Poem

In songs of night, it calls your name.
Aim.
Dark slits of eyes gleam like sapphire.
Fire.
The chains of shame are tightly wound.
Wound.
No one now can hear your pleas.
Please!

Where is the joy you used to know?
No.
Or the light which you’ve so carefully grown?
Gone.
Is there still time to take stock?
Stalk.
Down your cheek a single tear.
Tear.

You rage in fury like the wind.
Wind.
The dark knows all that you are not.
Knot.
Its voices with your own entwine,
Whine.
You long to feel less afraid,
Frayed.

Doubt takes over every thought:
Ought.
Always something more to do,
Due.
More is better, try again:
Gain
Finds you wanting,
Wanting.

To the shadows you will never be enough.
Enough!
There’s nothing more you must become.
Come.
In you, the power to bewilder,
Wilder,
In you, the light that’s always there,
Here.

Right now you do not think you’re strong,
Wrong.
Let go, for many hold you still.
Still.
What is it that cages you in fear??
Fear,
And the separateness in which you disappear.
Appear.

Shadows cannot leave a hole.
Whole.
It’s you who are the missing piece.
Peace.
This journey isn’t only yours,
Ours.
You are not alone
One.

This is a poem inspired by Jane Dougherty’s poetry challenge. This week the task was to write an echo poem. Check out Jane’s Blog tosee the challenge and the rules for it, as well as all the awesome poetry and short fiction she writes.

Further Transitions _ A Villanelle

I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine,
Struggling to accept what I wish wasn’t true.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

Too many people choose smallness, forgetting how to shine,
So while I’m in this world, I feel most at home with you
And I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

Why embrace life’s sorrows and joys, equally in kind?
Getting hurt has only made me more mistrustful of the ones I knew.
How can I let go when I’m afraid of what I’ll find?

Hush, you say, you defend against illusions when you’re fine.
But, I’m trying to hold back waves of tears from overwhelming me anew
With grief, for I’m sure I’ve lost what’s mine.

Perfect as I am? The idea blows my mind.
What about all the wrong turns and mistakes I should work through?
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

If I leap ahead, cross beyond the line,
Where will I land, strangely beautiful and new?
I’ll surely grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

The loss is of all I need to leave behind,
Even if its time and purpose long since flew.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

Uncertain change initiates its eerie whine
At the standstill. I remain, not sure just what I’ll do.
I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

Knotted threads of broken patterns continue to unwind
And the nets that kept a sense of safety number few.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

I don’t know where I belong, both embodied and divine.
Bridged in between, I wander, a missing shade of blue
And grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine,
Longing to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

Hill of Tara Part 2 _ Ireland, 2015

“A’Ma,” the old name pierces through the humming of my bones, as if someone were insistently trying to call me back from some precipice of ancient time over which I might slip out of sight. I stand at the back of a group of at least twenty-five tourists, at the summit of the Hill of Tara. The tour guide is speaking about the Tomb of the Hostages, and how archaeologists believe Tara was probably more of a ceremonial site for the inauguration of kings than the actual dwelling place of any of the high kings themselves.

It’s probably rude, but I ignore her. Archaeological theories simply pale in comparison to my own bone-deep knowing of a very different Tara, a place on which an entire king’s fort stood, which could, when necessary, house over a hundred tens of people.

“A’Ma.” Softer now, the voice parts my thoughts, a mind of its own, diffusing some of the memories, and I take notice, finally stirred enough out of my distant reverie to respond. Moved by the old name of endearment, I look to my right, my eyes falling on the only person who ever spoke that name to me when I was alive, 1800 years ago.

“Ailbhe, sister,” I say excitedly, silently, our conversation as it so often does carrying on through thoughts, intention, images, and feelings. I send her the intention full of feeling, “I am so glad you are here to share this experience with me.” And I am very glad indeed. My immediate family simply would not understand why this place holds such meaning to me, and why I feel the way I do, being here.

“Right now you are more Mairin than Éilis,” she observes, glancing at me thoughtfully.

This makes me a bit uncomfortable. Can she see passed my thoughts which contain my words? Does she see that I have been lost in an ancient reflection? How much of that reflection am I prepared to share? For I was taken, suddenly, back into the days when my name was Mairin, when I was a bandraoi who knew the healing powers of herbs, who protected my people against the unseen and could see the light in all living ones. My memories were not so much of events as feelings, and I felt the way Mairin often felt at Tara, uncertain about her legitimacy and own merits to be present at such a kingly place, haunted by the guilt, almost successfully buried, of abandoning her birth family, and terrified of forever being lost behind the shadow of her sister. The awe and wonder at standing in the boundaries of such a sacred place was there; so was the misgivings of a girl, born a middle child, who disappointed her parents for the second time by leaving her family and a life of a land-owner’s daughter to train as a druid.

Our family was a noble one in status, but not in character. I still don’t remember why it was so dysfunctional, but I do know our brothers were highly favored, and we girls were to have children and continue our mother’s line: our response to which, jointly, was to remove ourselves as fast as possible. Ailbhe had been the first to walk away, taking what she could carry and steeling into the night, only nine years of age, to journey here to Tara and try her hand at becoming a banfhénnid, a warrior of the fianna. But at the time I was only just turned seven, and never fully understood the why of my sister’s leaving. It was a terrible loss for me to spend my days without her, and despite myself, I would wonder whether she might have stayed a bit longer, had I been a better sister.

By the time we found each other again, I was a full bandraoi and Ailbhe was the rigbanfhénnid of fian 4, she had a nine of her own. I feared all those years of separation could have been enough to distance us, but the love and loyalty we had toward one another as children did not fade with time. And so I chose to serve her community rather than that of our birth family, who had nothing for us, and those years together at Almu were the happiest in my life. … And yet, I always wondered whether my sister influenced my acceptance, and whether I would have qualified on my own. And so, at Tara, I would spend much time fighting a gnawing insecurity I felt surely druids ought not possess.

I can tell that Ailbhe has seen these thoughts and feelings. For an instant, part of me worries she will judge me for it, but I know her well enough to know better. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “I was always so proud to be your sister.”

I shoot her a thought that I am going to get emotional and can’t randomly start crying in the middle of a large tour group. Ailbhe breaks out with a knowing sisterly grin: “But that wouldn’t be so bad for you, come to think of it.” Her smile is full of as much mischief as compassion.

Then I have an idea, only in part formed to change the subject. “Do you want me to aspect you?” I ask. She nods in answer. Aspecting, which is also called trance channeling or just channeling, is when you share space with a person from the spirit world. I move my ego/personality consciousness partly out of the way and Ailbhe fills in the rest of the space, so we’re both sharing the same body. I’m about 1/3 present, and she has the rest of the space. I stop trying to hide any thoughts, When you’re sharing a body with someone, neither you nor the person sharing your space can hide anything. This used to be somewhat alarming to me, but now I greatly value sharing such a profound level of honesty.

As Ailbhe goes about sending me feelings of acceptance to quell the growing emotions gripping me from the memories, she also draws our attention to the tour guide. We listen, I, fascinated, Ailbhe both quizzical and reflective, while the guide starts relaying one of the myriad legends of the fianna associated with Tara.

I convey my excitement to Ailbhe about this. “There are many who still remember you, see, there really are.” My comment is in part made in reference to continuing our conversation from the day before, over the surprising frequency with which “pagan Ireland” seems to be represented in tourist audiovisuals almost exclusively with the mention of Cúchulainn, and no one else.

“It’s one of those stories that is not accurate with events,” Ailbhe remarks in reply, “But she does a good job in the telling of it.”

Then a somber stillness steels over her, and I am flooded with an uncanny mixture of gratitude at what is remembered and grief for an era long passed, the recognition of so many inevitable changes since create an inexplicable kind of longing. “What is it Ailbhe,” I ask, concerned.

“Isn’t it strange,” Ailbhe says then, “That today among the tourists gathered at the seat of the ancient high king stand many of our fianna themselves, and of us I myself am looking out through your eyes, embodied in a way wholly unexpected; and then to hear of my own people, being discussed in passed tense. But we are still here. No one considers that we might be very much present now.”

I briefly imagine the possible look that would cross the tour guide’s face if she somehow gazed out toward the crowd and noticed that many of the ones she was speaking about were also gathered here, listening to her. I realize that in such a case she’d most likely be frightened, both by what she was seeing and by the confusion that would set in, having no culturally accepted language in which to articulate the experience so others would understand without judgment. I can tell that Ailbhe certainly knows all of this, and yet there is a part of her still wishing to be seen, not just for who she was, but for who she is. I keep her close to me. “I see you,” I tell her.

For a while we simply stand together silently. The guide has finished her story and goes on with a speech about something, but I am too out of the way to track it consistently. I am aware most of all of how the two of us are standing with the self-assured dignity and grace which Ailbhe has in abundance, and I am still learning to possess.

Then Ailbhe says quietly, “It’s hard for you not to be able to see it, isn’t it, Éilis? It’s not easy for me either, to be looking out of your eyes and not to be able to see all of Ireland expanding out from us.”

I agree, taken somewhat aback by the comment. Usually I think little about what I might be missing with my lack of eyesight, but in this place full of memories, and many visual memories now lost as I have no reference for them, I am feeling bereft. Suddenly I go from being grateful for Ailbhe’s words of comfort to feeling hugely inadequate. Here I am, trying to give Ailbhe the experience of once again being an embodied person at Tara, but I will never be able to give her the whole of the sense of the place she once had.

Ailbhe notices the shift in me immediately. “It’s all right,” she whispers, trying to console my troubled mind, “This experience is more than I ever imagined I would have again. It is more than enough, Éilis. Thank you, I am more than grateful to you.” She pauses, and puts a light around us. The light is made of unconditional acceptance, and slowly I become at peace again. Finally she says, “I should let you have a few more moments up here fully back in yourself before you and the group need to move on.”

She steps out of my space then, and with a radiant white light shining around me, I completely return to myself. I can still see Ailbhe next to me. People are now walking up to touch the Lia fáil, the stone of destiny. Our time to just stand quietly will be over shortly.

Suddenly, Ailbhe reaches out, and takes my hand. With the connection she conveys a picture. Two souls, having been sisters long ago in an ancient age, reunite once again on the hill of Tara to stand at the summit and look out at a country that was once their home but is no longer home to either of them now. No matter that the sisters now live in different worlds. No matter that one has been wandering through lifetimes in search of her origins while the other has spent her existence in the world beyond, representing an age. None of that has ever been enough to keep us apart. Once again, we stand in a place that has always held a deep significance to us, except that now the land beneath and around us has been transformed by the passage of almost two millennia, in a way barely recognizable. Hand in hand we both reclaim and lay to rest an era, safely holding what once was in memory, while restoring to who we are now what of our histories the land once claimed as its own. For one more moment we look into each other’s eyes, brown peering into blue. Then Ailbhe gently lets go of my hand and disappears.

When I finally get to touch the lia fáil, it oddly seems to pail in comparison to that more private experience Ailbhe and I shared. Somewhat to my immense relief, the stone doesn’t make any piercing cries. Thank goodness, I think to myself, half jokingly, that means less responsibility for me. But even while I walk away and start down the descent of the hill, I am struck by the gnawing feeling that I am already on my way to fulfilling a destiny of my own.

Rocky Start in Dublin _ Ireland, the 12th of June

It is seven A.M. The Dublin Airport is very quiet as we make our way toward customs, and then baggage claim. We retrieve our things, and I’m carrying the lightest load.

“Let me take that for you,” I offer to my mom who appears to be struggling under a lot of heavy shoulder bags.

“No, I want to carry it. It’s easier for me, I have everything balanced already,” she replies, adjusting herself like someone begrudgingly resigned to a difficult mission.

I shrug. Since I’ve known my mom my whole life, I’m well aware that it isn’t beneficial to argue with her– she will invariably and stubbornly stick to her decision. This is a wonderful trait to have while carrying a cause, I reflect, such as when she’s involved in advocacy. It is not, I observe, as helpful when applied to carrying heavy physical objects while navigating an unfamiliar area. I’d like to simply reach over and take matters into my own hands, as it were, but decide to link arms with her instead. With my brothers close by, the four of us start off to find the exit for the transit bus.

As we walk, my mind is racing with expectations, questions, concerns, curiosity, and excitement. Everything around me takes on an air of significance. Possibilities glimmer, the newness of it all shines bright and clear, and my awareness takes on a sharp focus.

It’s just that, so far, nothing is worth writing home about. The smells are airport smells. The sounds are airport sounds. If I were not hearing conversations spoken with Irish accents and the occasional dialogue in a language other than English, I would be unable to distinguish this airport from any other. Okay, I think, I couldn’t have realistically expected myself to feel a sense of familiarity right off the plane. That rarely happens, if at all. I tell myself not to worry, the recognition of this place will come.

Perhaps, I consider, I’ll need to get outside to really start to sense the energy of the land and any connection I might have with it. This thought makes a great deal of sense, so while we acquire euros and ask for more directions, I don’t let the lack of homecoming feeling bother me. But the worry returns when I do go outside, walking between terminals. Nothing happens, and I can’t figure out why.

Once we and our luggage have successfully made it onto the bus, I sit back in my seat and continue observing. The first thing I notice is that Caoilte is standing between me in the seats in front of us. I appreciate that this wouldn’t be very possible were he embodied without it getting awkward, but as things are, we are both unphased. I turn to tell mom that he’s joined us. Though she can’t see people from the other world, she’s supportive of the fact that I can, and says she’s glad we’re being looked out for.

The second thing I notice is that this is not your typical shuttle, but a cross between an airport and tour bus and I’m immediately captivated. We are driving past low grey rock walls, the Liffey river, over a suspension bridge… Mom describes what is out the window the best she can, but my attention is split between her and the tour guide, both talking, as well as the banter of the passengers around me.

I am fascinated by how many different Irish accents there are, and pleasantly surprised to hear so many friendly conversations, punctuated by laughter, empathic exclamations, good humored disputes, and a general warmth I have never encountered on public transit in the Bay Area. I over hear a conversation in which it sounds like one person addresses another as Éilis, and I smile to myself.

This is fun. Except, apart from the entertaining tour and my excitement at finally being here, I am not feeling well at all. The slight headache which was bothering me in the airport has now escalated into feelings of nausea and more discomfort than I will let on about. When it gets to the point that I can’t ignore how I feel, however, I finally look up at Caoilte, who appears concerned, and ask if he can help. To my relief, he says he can. He begins to put light around me and as long as I look at that light, I feel well enough to continue being present and engaged with what’s going on around me.

Five or so minutes pass. Presently, mom asks me whether Caoilte might be able to arrive ahead of us to the hotel and find out if we can check in early. I think we’d all love to wash up before heading out, and the normal check in time is 2 pm. I run this by Caoilte who thinks it over, appearing concerned. I can do that,” he says finally, “but you shouldn’t be left alone. Ailbhe says she can look in on you from outside the bus, but I don’t think that’s enough. You know how she is more than hesitant to be riding on it. She’d prefer that you weren’t in here to begin with”

I smile. Yes, I am well aware: after the first time she went on a bus with me, she emphatically said she hoped never to go on one again. But I am perplexed by Caoilte’s reluctance to leave us be for a moment, since nothing about the situation seems worrisome or dangerous, and I tell him so. I attempt to reassure him by saying, “We’ll be fine here for a little while, I’m sure. It’s more than fine with me if Ailbhe keeps an eye on us from a distance.”

“All right,” Caoilte agrees without conviction, “But only because Ailbhe promises to alert me immediately if I’m needed here.”

As we continue moving through a couple more stops, I try to keep up a conversation with mom who is reading me interesting tidbits from our Ireland travel book. I want to be radiant and happily absorbed in this adventure, but am feeling miserable again.

It dawns on me, then, that I’ve only been feeling okay when Ailbhe or Caoilte has been weaving light for me. But if that’s the case, I reason, surely I can’t possibly request this of them for the entire trip. Doing so would be wholly impractical, unsustainable, and not fair to them. I lean my head back on the seat, struggling to stay alert.  I’d choose being sick over needing to constantly be kept under watch, for the sake of my kin, but the idea of not feeling well for the next eleven days, instead of getting to participate with a semblance of vitality puts me in despair. I close my eyes, pleading quietly with the universe to please let me get well in some relevantly permanent fashion.

At that moment, Caoilte reappears, his facial expression somewhat unfathomable and that’s not only because I’m not up to making keen observations. Before doing anything else, however, I ask after what he’s found out in answer to mom’s question, and quickly find myself taking up the role of translator. This takes a lot of concentration, and for a few seconds everything else fades into the background.

I describe to mom what the lobby of the hotel looks like, and that yes, we can check into our rooms earlier than the planned 2 PM, but not until noon, which I add doesn’t make much difference for us as we’ll be leaving before then to have lunch with Bro1’s fiance’s brother who is often in Dublin for work. Then I fall quiet, because I’ve exhausted myself.

“That was not worth leaving you for,” Caoilte says quietly, wrapping more light around me and sending me a picture to close my eyes and breathe. “I got back as fast as possible. I should have insisted on saying no first off.”

“No need to apologize,” I reply, “I’m the one who insisted I could be on my own.”

At that, he nods somewhat forlornly. “Be still and rest for a minute,” he says. Though my physical eyes are closed, I watch, profoundly grateful, as he sends light through me, until my head is mostly clear and the nausea is gone. I thank him silently, glad he can read my intentions. I never have words for this.

Finally we get off the bus and, only after a little searching, find our hotel. Once inside mom asks the woman at the desk what time we might be able to check into our rooms.

‘”Let me see,” she says cheerfully, and pulls up information on her computer. “We do have your rooms available a bit early. They’ll be ready at noon.” I am grinning, and don’t care if no one knows why. I translated perfectly.

Much later, I am in my hotel room with mom, still feeling lousy. Trying to help, she googles my symptoms which have only grown in number and intensity. “You’re probably experiencing the beginnings of a sinus infection, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Besides that, you’re having an anxiety attack,” she says, and reads off the list of anxiety symptoms. I check off yes for every one.

I’m not surprised about the sinus issues, but anxiety? That startles me. How could fulfilling one of my greatest dreams provoke a bout of anxiety unlike any I’d ever experienced in my life? My mind draws a blank, but this turns out to be the clue I’m looking for. It strikes me that, far from being anxious about what is happening, I am actually very anxious about what isn’t happening. We’ve walked the Dublin streets, had lunch, even went into an old cathedral with an awesome statue of a bishop, no longer possessing a head, and still I haven’t felt that kind of belonging I was longing to feel.

I tell myself that I may never know why I don’t feel this way, and will have to be okay with that possibility. Meanwhile, I need to get well for the trip’s duration. What to do? As if in answer, Brighid’s face appears in my mind’s eye. We’ll be visiting her sacred well later in the week, and my ancient kin look to her for answers to their questions. I’m not messing around then, I’ll ask the Irish goddess of healing and the forge of transformation herself for a local miracle. Why not? I don’t pray, I feel that’s a Christian thing. But after spending five minutes fervently requesting healing for the duration of the trip in exchange for being able to properly honor her and our kin, the division between what counts and doesn’t count as a prayer is substantially blurred for me.

I am left with the picture of the words, “rest now” and an image of a rose quarts butterfly I brought with me for what, at the time, seemed like no apparent reason. I understand and agree.

A half an hour later I walk with mom and Bro2 out into the evening sun–it stays light here passed nine pm–and we take a tour bus around the city. Bro2 drifts in and out of sleep.

Wind whips my hair. The bus driver fearlessly starts to sing Molly Malone out of tune over the loud speaker. At a particularly long traffic light, he changes from Irish tunes to something like “Move along, move along, get moving, go.” Mom and I exchange knowing glances, delighted: he’s energetically making the light change faster, perhaps without knowing it, just like mom and I do in the car.

“I told you it’s an Irish thing,” mom says. And whether or not we’ve inherited this trait from our ancestors, we laugh.

And I am changed too, though in my case I definitely know it, and am profoundly grateful. I feel like myself again, and will continue feeling fine until I once again cross the pond.

Demeter’s Fire

Six months old she is
When I begin gathering her in my arms,
To gently rock her
Within the flames.

I stand by her fiercely
Every night, with love,
Sweep away the ashes
Of the no longer needed.

With ardent joy I watch her change
As the outer shell dissolves,
Her eyes take on a charcoal grey
And raw and radiant, she burns to live.

Stop, stop! her mother cries
Tearing tears from raging eyes,
Her fervent passion rivals mine,
Equal, by the love with which we’re both defined

What are you doing to my child?
I am seeing to her being wild.
Bone deep the memories I set alight,
To the song of the soul I sing each night.

I do not deliver death on one so small,
The smallness itself is all that dies.
Who questions me, when there’s only love behind
what to you appears, at once, harsh and strange?

I, born of eternal light divine,
I lit the wisdom in the child’s eyes,
Set smoldering, her limits, to shine her light free,
Turned resilient and bright all she can be.

Do not tear her from my arms
As with Demeter of old,
Do not misunderstand
Healing in unfamiliar guise.

Do not be mistaken
By what you’ve been told.
Though tried, she will rise
Brilliant and bold.

I know, for I too am self-made
And could not help but recognize
My kindred, spark which can’t be tamed
Which as well within myself resides.

Let me hold her,
Until she knows her name,
Until trembling, leaping
Through a waking world, she flies,

And with our ones
Who stir the sleeping,
Though she’ll not see
Her world the same,

She’ll be as the sun
Is to the dreaming
Rekindling the hearths
No one thought would blaze again.

Then through this life, let me carry her,
These trials, triumphs to the wise.
There is no loss here undertaken,
She is opening her eyes.

Threshold of the Wild

When beholding her
A strong, abiding flame pervades
Ardent, glowing
About her it overflows

And cannot be contained
Having flooded every space within
Cascading over everywhere
A waterfall, tides long unnamed

The truth of it finally known
Two radiant eyes
Blaze bright, the color of wonder
Echoing our wild song

And she bursts free
Breaks apart the dense doubt of longing
Shatters the shadows
She has arrived

And now we ask her, come
Held out, her two open hands
Holding back nothing
Just like our own

In reverent silence, we see beyond
Deeply moved by the mystery
Residing in those eyes
Wide as open doors

At the threshold, the edge of our belonging
She dives, she soars
Transformed by joy, we shine and shine
We say this path was always yours

The Gathering

I was you when you cried
All alone, no one there
Cloaked in possibility’s sudden
Severe song of I am here

The earth your cradle
The wind she who rocked you
In the screaming silence
All around you

I made my way
Gathered you softly in my arms
To whisper, there now, it’s okay
Come home, I say

I was you when you arrived
Pink and trembling
Fragile and small
A girl who gripped life

With the passion of the gnarled oak
solid, sapling strength
Unaware of how time would erode
The steadfast soil beneath your feet

Before you knew how hateful jealousy
Could try stealing your light in insatiable hunger
And still, though turned from green to brown
You refused to be uprooted by its thunder

I made my way
Gathered you softly in my arms
Replanted you as you were reaching
To touch the spark of brilliant sky

From a greater light you now are grown
And in the breeze enfolding you
I whisper, it will be okay
Come home, I say

I was you
Sister of my heart
When your stern smile
Broke through the vale

Of a startling world
To gaze quizzically
with clear, sharp child’s eyes
Up at unfamiliar faces

How you wondered, even then
Why you had to hush at all
Solid as the granite rock
Keening after experience

Unquenchable as the wailing wall
You were, not yet trusting
If the foundations would hold
Were the posts to crumble and fall

You became my lighthouse
Not knowing who else would heed the call
Of that ever beckoning spark within
You lived out loud as did we all

I gather you up in my arms
As your reluctance melts away
I whisper, it has always been okay
Come home, I say

I was you
Taking your first breath of precious life
Reaching out to an expectant
Waiting world

Hands eager to explore
To touch your beaming mother’s face
And taste the exquisite solace
Of arms who knew of love

And in the harshness of uncertain time
You encountered and embraced letting go
Tending carefully the light of memory
Which each, crossing over, left behind

I catch you
Leaping wildly into my arms
Laughing, okay, okay
You’re home, I say

I, the one who touched another world
Before I learned to crawl
I reach out
Gather myself in my arms

And through all I am and ever was
I thread the shreds of shattered past
At last to mend them whole
Pull the weeds of grief and fear

So in their place, love and joy
Can once again reseed the grove of our belonging
And then, never more, should our children need
To weep our tears of longing

Around the circle, we join hands
Changed, though just as ever one
Shining through our eyes, the patterns rearranged
Emerge in wonder, it is done

Culture Shock

“There’s a dog under your seat,” I helpfully alert the woman who has just sat down next to me on the bus.

“Oh, sorry!” she exclaims, as if this were somehow her fault, or a thing to apologize for. “Should I sit somewhere else?”

“You can sit over here,” another middle aged woman across from us suggests.

“It’s all right, you don’t have to move,” I explain, “I just wanted to let you know.”

“Well, the dog hasn’t touched me, and I haven’t touched the dog yet, so I didn’t know he was there. He probably hasn’t sniffed me because I’m wearing clean clothes and don’t smell like a dog.” Because, obviously, him not sniffing you has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a working dog and is, for once! Behaving, I think to myself, before adding the thought, was the cleanliness of your clothing in question? I decide I never want to find out, because someone who makes a great point about having clean clothes today probably doesn’t wear clean clothes often enough for this to be normal.

I now go back to almost falling asleep while sitting up straight. Besides my closed eyes, I appear very alert. In fact, if I were not on a bus I would definitely fall asleep sitting up and wake up to find I haven’t moved in the slightest. I know there are a lot of strange traits people can inherit, I’m really happy about having this one, though it’s more amusing than practical at this point.

I’m still tired when I get off the bus. I’ve gotten off at a stop before the one I usually travel to, so I can check out a restaurant that has apparently wonderful sandwiches and is seriously inexpensive. I’ve decided not to take out my Braille computer with the GPS as this will only confound me logistically once I’m ordering inside. Nothing on the nearby buildings screams restaurant at me. I pass an alley but decide I’m definitely not going down there. That couldn’t be it! Besides I am now getting a picture from Caoilte who is hanging out with me in pure energy form that the alley doesn’t look at all inviting to him when considering it from my point of view.

I ask directions. I patiently correct the college undergrad who insists I have to keep walking several blocks in the other direction. I know this as much is false: I looked it up with a sighted person on a map yesterday. Finally the woman says, “Oh it’s right here! I’ll walk with you.”

I decide I’m very grateful for the offer. But my excitement ebbs substantially as we turn left down the alley. “It’s down here?” I ask, as if asking the question might change its truth value. “I noticed the corridor earlier but immediately ruled it out. I would have never found it down here, even with a GPS.”

“Yeah, it’s this way,” the student replies, I think a bit sympathetically. Allegro and I walk down what would be a narrow tunnel if only the roofs of the two buildings we pass between, already too close to us, were to meet in the middle. I would be able to touch the walls of the buildings if I were to stand in the middle of the walk and hold out my arms, I think glumly. Have I mentioned I sincerely dislike tunnels… and alleys… and any underground or almost underground place? This better be one marvelous restaurant.

The situation gets even more precarious as we descend a winding set of large, unevenly spaced steps which in their entirety make a U-turn. We *are* going under ground. In an alley. On not the most particularly safe street in Berkeley. This isn’t good.

Caoilte, of course, had the right idea, and I was too determined to see for myself anyway. At least I am being curious and optimistic, I tell myself, searching for at least one redeeming quality in my decision.

But I’m not feeling optimistic—okay I am curious—but increasingly wary, out of my comfort zone. “It’s just right here on your left,” announces the student cheerily as she leaves me near the doorway. Allegro tries to follow her. I steel myself before going inside. I already began this morning feeling tired and like I might not be up for a mission impossible episode. I am now not only concerned but feeling like a stranger in a strange land. In fact, the more this day has gone on, the more I’m feeling like an alien.

My alienation only increases as I step through the restaurant door. I ask a man if he’s at the end of the line, and getting the affirmative, move to stand behind him. He then asks me if I can move farther right, apparently I find out after complying, because Allegro is blocking the rather tiny entrance. I might be helping people leave in my new location, but am officially out of line now, no pun intended.

Still, I have a moment to take in my surroundings: a motley crew of diverse people coming and going quickly and talking surprisingly quietly considering, all against the backdrop of some rather offensive rap music which is spiced up with more epithets than dogs have flees (with the exception of service and other well looked after dogs of course, who all dress in clean fur.)

I can see Caoilte standing next to me. Thank goodness, even though I swear he looks a bit crestfallen and out of place. I send him a picture in sympathetic agreement that, were he me in the modern world, his feelings might not be all that different. I am increasingly feeling like I don’t belong here. I keep looking around to make sure I have a good handle on what’s going on, but am simultaneously berating myself for being hyper-vigilant just because of the presence of gangsta rap. And the fact that I’m in an alley. Underground. These are not the details of a place you get while virtually walking down the street on your computer screen. Modern technology is not helping me feel comfortable, or like I belong, or know what to do, or give me the confidence that I’m safe.

I have barely moved in line. But a woman with an accent I can’t place walks up to me and says in a voice that makes me feel sick before I can help myself, “I’m here to help you, dear. What can I put on your sandwich?”

“Thank you for the offer,” I say through proverbial gritted teeth which are incredibly still plastered into a smile, “It’s not my turn in line yet. I don’t want to cut in front of anyone.”

However, about sixty or more seconds of me repeating various forms of this protest and her repeating various forms of patronizing attempts of assistance later, along with further primarily four letter lyrics from the overhead speakers, I feel myself give up. That is not a strange way to put it. I literally have the feeling of giving up, it feels like being dropped down a few of those stairs outside the door, and landing, not hard on the ground as one might expect, but on a very thin barrier between me and an eternal abyss which could give way at any minute. It is at this moment that a single word, precarious, flashes through my mind.

I continue to feel this way as I stumble blindly, pun intended, through the motions of finishing my order, getting the sandwich, and leaving. I can tell I’m not that present. Most of me, who was wishing to be anywhere else but here for a long time, sensibly left, leaving my very small self to handle it. This small self feels and acts a lot like she’s thirteen.

With a sense of detached dismay and the dread of impending familiarity which only comes with reentering patterns you thought were long gone, I watch as a Tongue-tied, awkward, clumsy version of myself plays the summarily given role of the helpless blind girl, exhibiting the confidence of a toddler about to skydive solo with a parachute. Oh. No. I think despondently, and then suddenly hit with the horror of the situation the thought changes to a much more authoritative, oh no you don’t!

Shortly thereafter, I get myself and Allegro out of the restaurant and moving up the stairs as fast as possible. I’d like to say that this is when my journey to the sandwich underworld ends. I can say, fortunately, that I’ve succeeded at not catering to my inner teenager again. However, the whole rest of the day has been fraught with an inexplicable sense of displacement which I can’t figure out how to eliminate, and not for lack of trying.

It is as if the whole of the modern world has been slightly unintelligible to me, so that engaging in conversation has taken way too much energy while I consciously assess and recall the right social norms in the way I imagine an anthropologist would while visiting a different culture. I have to say that spending most of the day in the library has been an enormous relief. And I have no trouble at all continuing sending pictures to Caoilte. Alienation of this kind, unlike dissociation or general disconnection, doesn’t seem to impact otherworld relationships and I am in profound gratitude for that. It means that I am not disappearing, merely experiencing culture shock. I can handle it in small doses.

It is only when I step off the return bus in front of my building that the strange, physical world effecting disconnect dissolves back into the mysterious nowhere from which it comes. It is a bit like waking from a dream. Everything is clear and vibrant and hopeful. The fog, that retrospectively I think might have been there, possibly, is gone now. I bound up the stairs with Allegro telling him excitedly that he’ll get to eat soon, and picking up on my refound joy, he wags his tail all the way to my front door. I gratefully return back to my familiar surroundings and my ancient family, and myself.

In the future I’ll pay more attention and listen the first time.

Love Is More Discerning Than Fear

So I haven’t posted as much as I’d like on here, in part because I’ve been ill, but mostly because I’ve been working on my dissertation and, like my everyday life in the physical world, I don’t think my dissertation would be interesting to read about. Well, at least if you’re not me.

But I’ve been in thought mode. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and love, and lighthearted topics such as why we still predominantly live under the illusion of separation rather than embrace our interdependence. So perhaps this is remotely dissertation related after all.

So earlier today I found myself feeling tired, enough that I took a short nap: and had a dream about a vampire. I’d say this never happens, but it just has, for the first time. Perhaps I should add that I hardly ever read books or watch shows about vampires, and try to avoid the subject generally speaking altogether. However, I can’t ignore it today.
***
The Dream:

My only role in the dream is that of observer and perhaps fortunately so: I am invisible to all the other dream characters who are in fact acting in a vampire movie. This allows me to watch these people’s choices and reactions unfold in realtime, without ever being effected by them myself.

In the dream, a middle aged woman is lying on a sofa, now and then glancing toward the front door. Presently, without knocking or introduction, a tall, strangely dressed man in his forties strides into the room, as if it already belongs to him. He has short brown hair and a pale narrow face, and, I notice for some reason, has unusually long and boney hands. He wears an open long fake leather jacket without buttons over a wrinkled baggy blue shirt which is hastily tucked into business casual slacks.

The woman doesn’t move, but smiles at him broadly. They’ve been dating for a while, and she’s invited him out to dinner.

“I think this is a good time to tell you that I am a vampire,” the man says, before the woman has time to speak. His unnervingly high voice breaks the silence, mealy and seductive.

You would think the woman would either run or kick him out at this point, but she doesn’t. She is convinced their love will transcend all obstacles in their way. She is still smiling at him, both enticed by danger’s potential and convinced the emergence of the relationship between them keeps her safe from harm.

The woman asks if she can see his fangs. He opens his mouth, and there are definitely large fangs in there, behind his eye teeth. It registers with her that he’s not lying, and half reflexively she sits up straight so she can look directly at him.

He says, “I’m hungry, let’s go eat.”

“Okay,” the woman says, but she’s not feeling so safe now. “But you won’t hurt me, right? We love each other. You can’t possibly want to feed off me: I’m sorry I even thought it. You wouldn’t, would you.”

She’s looking at him intently, hoping, willing, demanding to find trust and respect reflected in his eyes. I’m not sure what she sees, but it’s clearly not what she was expecting. She goes a little pale. . “You wouldn’t,, would you?” the exact same words as before, but now a question tinted with fear, rather than a vote of confidence.

The vampire continues his silence, which begins to speak for itself. Suddenly, he leans in close to her, as if about to tell her a secret. Instinctively, she flinches away. “But I told you, I’m hungry.” He breathes into her ear, and reaches out for her. Only then does the woman run panicked and screaming from the house, vampire in hot pursuit, until eventually she gets away, and barely for all that.
***

All the while this is going on, I am observing and asking myself questions: Why am I watching this? Why won’t she leave? Can’t she tell that love never had anything to do with this relationship, that it has always been about fear? Where is her discernment? Could we turn off the TV, or create a new, different movie, one where love rather than fear is the norm?

Because to my mind the vampire doesn’t just represent hostile people who feed off others’ energy to sustain themselves—narcissists come to mind. It could just as easily stand in for an entire culture based on fear, operating entirely within the illusion of separation. We live for the most part in such a culture every day.

And yet, we are interdependent beings who flourish through cooperation, belonging, and mutual vulnerability. Sometimes, the fragility of human life is the only point of equality upon which to rebuild connectedness. It is impossible to do this when you are governed more by fear than love, as this dream shows.

In fact, the dream points to several important points about fear and love, connection and disconnection, which is why I include it. Vampires are probably the most vivid symbol of separation I could dream up, no pun intended. When you live from a place of belonging, love, connectedness, energy is infinite. You are part of all that is, there is no alone, and the light you find in yourself exists everywhere.

The concept of a vampire, in my opinion, derives from a primal human fear that we might all be separate beings with separate experiences who can be dwindled to nothing before we die and perhaps even become nothing when we die. Vampires as a concept emerge out of a belief that you are alone, that the world has or could at any time abandon you, that you have little and lack what you need, so you have to take the force of life from others to survive. And a person who does this, interestingly, is always portrayed as dead or undead which isn’t an accident.

Having integrity, wholeness, is part of truly living, and if a person lives off of others, they never come to realize who they really are, and for that reason, aren’t truly living. They also don’t have to care: about the consequences of their actions, about the future of the planet, about the quality of life for their children’s children, or even about respecting and valuing the people and other living beings around them. The vice of extreme separation is apathy, and arguably a vampire with true empathy and compassion would, I think, be a contradiction in terms. (But don’t worry, I don’t have the space to argue that here.) 🙂

Now, back to the dream. The thing is, while it seems clear that the vampire isn’t living from a place of love and his purpose is to perpetuate doubt, displacement, distrust, and fear, (I mean, he even comes out and says so explicitly!), the woman isn’t living from a place of love either. Her appeal to love to keep the two of them in right relationship wouldn’t be necessary if she truly loved and trusted herself. When she is seeking the truth, it would be better for her to look within, rather than desperately seek for confirmation in another’s eyes. It is fear, not love, that serves as the reason she looks outside herself for safety and belonging and I think it is relying ultimately on fear that prevents her from having the very discernment that would keep her safe.

Conforming to what everyone else does, trying to fit in, buying things in the hopes that something outside yourself will make you happy– these are all ways to perpetuate a culture of separation. Industries and then family and friends and then the voices in your own head which tirelessly stream messages such as you’re never whole, you’re never enough, you’ll only be loved if you are perfect/do x for a living/fulfill someone’s expectations– these likewise are all symptoms of a culture based on fear. As long as we live with and buy into this fear, we won’t be able to properly discern when it’s time to leave and run after the very essence of ourselves before it’s drained away.

Belonging first and foremost to who you are, knowing you are never alone, that you’re enough, already whole, that’s the foundation of love and the end to the illusion of separateness. And if the person in my dream had this view of herself, she wouldn’t have continued allowing separateness into her house long after it announced itself. She’d see straight through the illusion, and the most loving thing to do then would be to let it go.

Once the woman in the dream could surrender to what is, accept her situation and the truth that she was dealing with a vampire (separateness), she was able to break free of her illusions and once again begin to belong to herself. I know that, however idealistic it might end up being, I do dream of the time when more people, (starting with myself, because I’m the only person I can change), will likewise surrender to what is because in breaking the illusion of separation, we free ourselves to run through the door of belonging, and start living according to love rather than fear. And when that happens, we just might hit the eject button on the movie which has been playing much too long and watch as something wondrous and new takes its place.