Tag Archives: Caoilte

The Mill

Mill Photo

Lugach fixed his son with a soul-piercing stare. “I entrusted her to you for no more than half a sun’s climb, Cormac. Where is she!” Seeing the pain threatening to engulf his fathers face was almost worse than the hot waves of shame, flooding him with his countless failures. He felt like he had been a disappointment to his father from the day he was born. Now he would be hated. He shoved the clawing animal of guilt and grief back into its iron-barred cage in his heart. To his horror, he was not quite under control when he spoke. That was the way with him, good, but not good enough. “Lost.” It was a choked whisper. Dazed, he shook himself violently, as if from a nightmare that would not give him up.

“Lost?!” his father roared. “May you find her or die trying!”

Running … running … who had moved him? … When had the running begun? As if from a great distance, he watched his body run. Die trying… if only he could do that, it might make his father proud.

Now far from the roundhouse door, down the steep rugged path… he was headed toward the mill… the mill his father built along with his new life after he left the fianna. Cormac used to hate that mill. Now it was a refuge, one of the only places to be alone.

Today it was not his thoughts that sent him sprinting to the roar of the wheel and the grind of the stones. It was not even the resentment he had at not being given the same choice for a future that his father had. It was a dread, an unnamable loss that tore at him now.

Lost, she was lost…

He’d been playing “hide to find” with her when the runner arrived from a far off settlement, on the business of trade with his father. But his father wasn’t there, and so it was up to him to provide hospitality.

He’d left her for a moment among the clusters of trees with no concern. His sister knew the woods like the back of her hand. Besides, at five summers old, she shouldn’t always need to be supervised.

The last thing he had said to her was, “Don’t wander outside the trees.” The last thing he’d heard was her birdsong of laughter as she enacted some imaginary game.

The sound of pounding feet that were not his own brought Cormac unceremoniously back to the present. He thought that running full ahead might keep him from the pain, but now it sliced through him again, sharper than a spear.

The mill, he had to get to the mill. Tears threatened to fall, and crying was as good as forbidden. He was not so far now… but whoever was coming this way was having no trouble gaining on him. Had he been spotted? Quickly, he moved sideways, then dashed behind a thick clump of trees where he could remain hidden, while keeping an eye on the road.

Lost … she was lost …

“Mac Lugach!” the voice shouting his name too close to the sheltering trees provoked a cold panic, even while he recognized the speaker. It was Aodh, Caoilte’s eldest. . Since when did his friends provoke terror in him, he wondered? But he dare not question the extent of his ability to fall short of every social expectation. He held his silence close as death.

“Cormac,” Aodh questioned quietly, having soundlessly covered the space between them. He was too good. Of course he was.

They belonged to the same cohort, and yet Cormac could not meet Aodh’s searching eyes. He turned away in shame, but not before Aodh saw the tracks of tears on his face. He wished he could disappear. He prepared for the inevitable mocking that didn’t come. Instead, Aodh just stood there quietly, regarding him with a genuine concern.

“Something isn’t right with you. What is it, man?”

What was it. Cormac searched in the growing fog for the words that seemed to shrink into shadow, frightened by the glaring light of truth. “Lost … the mill … lost…”

“Look, man,” Aodh said after thinking for a while. “If it’s the mill you’re wanting to get to, let me come with you.”

“Why are you here?” the question was sudden, and Cormac immediately regretted its harshness.

“Your father sent for us to search for…”

That was enough. Could his father not trust his own son? Apparently not. And there were others?

he was back on the trail now, moving … parting the shadowed words and the fog, pounding the anger into the ground, aware only vaguely of Aodh’s presence beside him. He was too dazed to care, but not too numb to drown the panic rising in him like a tide. Lost … he had lost her.

***

They found the body floating near the mill. She had not yet learned to swim. Between them they carried her, back up the path from where they had come, to break the news no parent is ever prepared to hear.

Behind them, as the sky began to darken, one light could still be seen. It glowed soft and shimmering, just above the mill. It has never disappeared.

Sue’s Photo Challenge

The Representatives of an Age _ Ailbhe’s Experience

The figure in white blazes before us, brighter than any sunrise I have ever witnessed. Even the glints of gold and gentle red of the nascent sun, reaching out as it did over the earth to tentatively touch, then entwine with the blues and greens of moving sea does not compare. Awe befalls me, and I raise my hands in an overwhelming impulse to honor such a one.

There is no gender to this individual. They tower above our tallest men, but the height strangely does not distance them from us. It is their eyes, I realize, burning with a quiet compassion, which draw us each into welcome, as if to reassure us of the intent of friendship despite the harshness of their almost searing light.

“Come.” It is not a voice, but a gesture, one which we recognize immediately as our own. Fionn, who is not accustomed to being commanded to do anything, is, I notice with some relief, returning the greeting. Still, we can all see his bafflement, mixed with curiosity, and the emotion passes through us like a wave. This is the way of emotions in the world beyond the world, and now is no exception. We share more than we ever thought possible, let alone desirable, for here very little is left in hiding.

The urgent question of the hour, where are we going?, shows itself soon enough. We are now standing in what appears to be a large stadium. Well, I think appreciatively, there are hundreds of us to accommodate, yes, but not having bodies, we certainly do not take up much space. Why the strange room with ornate columns, mosaic tiling, and mysterious figures carved on stone walls? This is, we understand, more to give us some sense of familiarity than anything else. On that count, it is failing miserably. Personally, I find myself fighting against a feeling of confinement and a desperate need for trees.

“Looks like they had a group go through here who liked Greek architecture and no one has rearranged the appearance,” Caoilte observes, a bemused look crossing his face. The two of us have walked in together, of course. “This would put us right off in the physical world.”

“Undoubtedly,” I agree, “We’re not in that world, and yet details should still be important.” I mutter this last bit, half to myself, then add, “It would be easy enough for us to change it…” But at that moment, the white figure is quieting us down and gesturing toward a large table like structure in the middle of the room for us to gather around. Like almost everything in this world, it is made of light and song.

The unintended insult is quickly forgotten as excitement takes over. What will it be like to return to the physical world? Will we get to plan any of the next life? Will we get to take on different relationships to each other? I glance at Caoilte and hope the answer to that last question is no. He winks at me mischievously in return.

I notice that we have once again instinctively taken up our usual rankings by authority, though in fact the concept means little now. Presently, the androgynous figure looks up as if to speak, and a great hush falls on us, and we stand expectantly, very still.

“It has come to our attention,” proclaims the figure, “That an unforeseen, unprecedented circumstance has occurred, which is necessarily going to change the trajectory of your soul group.”

We remain motionless at this unexpected announcement, except for our eyes. The atmosphere has perceptibly shifted into one of wariness. I find myself tracking the expressions crossing the figure’s somewhat obscured face, conceiving multiple plans of action as I do so, in case action is necessary. Unaware of what even the normal procedures are, I can only gauge the possibilities and hope this is enough to do well by those in my charge. I do what I know how to do: prepare to act for the well-being of the group, but most importantly ensure the safety of my nine. They are standing behind me and waiting for me to take the lead.

The figure continues, presumably ignoring the sudden tension. “Many of you now represent an age, and so we cannot proceed as usual. All across your homeland, and soon beyond, people are telling and retelling the stories of your lives, and you are so a part of the myths and legends of these people that you have helped shape life long after you were living it.”

We move. If the others felt anything like me, moving is inevitable. We’re staring at each other in bewilderment, our surprise mixed with frustrated confusion. Order breaks into a frenetic flurry of questions. What in the world does this mean? Who started this?” “When did this happen, and we not even knowing it? For goodness sake, why?

I think out to the group, “But we were just living, how is this possible?” I merely receive more dismay as an answer. This is a possibility that escaped all of us, it seems. Our experiences, somehow made meaningful to the passing of an entire age? But certainly, we were nothing special, no more or less equal to any other group of souls who pass through the living of a physical life, were we not?

And then fortunately Fionn has our charge, and is speaking. “How can this be? I can no longer speak for the whole of us without question, but what you’re saying is too outlandish to believe. With all due respect to you, Bright One, of course. If this is an honor, we have done naught to deserve it. In life we had only done what was necessary. Many of us lived and failed to live by our truth. Yes, there were times when we lived with courage and honor and the like; everyone can live this way. We have also made countless mistakes. I doubt any one of us had no regrets upon death. If it is true what you say, that these people think such of us, they are most wrongly directed in doing so.”

“They should look inward to themselves instead for what they seek,” Oisín adds, quietly.

The androgynous figure looks truly sympathetic. Their opinion, all things considered, aligns with our own, but I can already see there is little that any of us can do. In silence, the illuminated one draws out a kind of window through which we can view simulated visuals of the many stories being told of us. It is a bit like a hologram. “It is only right that you confirm my words for yourselves,” the figure concludes, stepping back and holding out their hands. And whether this is meant to reinforce the vast nature of the point or simply attempt a placating posture it is hard to say. It is also no longer important, for everything we counted on as being ordinary has changed.

Why Change Metaphors Need to Change

Imagine you wake up one morning to the following printed in bold on the front page of the newspaper: “Everything is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem are inevitable!”
Feeling anxious and scared? Most people would.

Now imagine you wake up to a front page news article which claims, “The tyrannical dictatorship is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem within the oppressive government is now inevitable!”
You’d be relieved rather than terrified, right? Well, let’s hope so!

Both news articles are about chaos, mayhem, and falling apart, so what is it about the second article which instilled relief and perhaps even hope and gratitude, while the first article instilled only fear? Well first off, where the first article was vague and grossly overgeneralized, the second article was specific and to the point, adequately defining what human realm was under threat, without leaving it up to your alerted and all too vivid imagination.

So, apart from bizarre hypothetical examples, when does this kind of trend toward all-encompassing shock value occur? It occurs, quite often, in spiritual books and discussions on alchemy, transformation, initiation, and life transitions: and this needs to change.

Accounts of spiritual transformation often abound with claims about long painful suffering, dismemberment, “dying to who you were to become who you are,” undergoing a “soul death” in order to graduate into some higher spiritual consciousness, and descriptions of dissolution and the stripping away of all you’ve ever known, are attached to, care about, or conceive of as being central to who you are. No wonder people reading about this (like me) metaphorically run screaming into the hills, never to pick up a book like this again.

So, given the high probability of grave misunderstanding, why on earth do authoritative texts on transformation skip over the all-important bit about defining their terms and settle for shock value language like “dissolve” or “dismember” when describing alchemical shifts, initiations, or life transitions? The overarching message is just as sensational and vague as the claim that “everything” is/will be falling apart, but with the additional entreaty to “not worry, and embrace the process, because you’ll be grateful in the end.”

Uh huh. Is it my pre-dismembered or post-dismembered self who is supposed to not worry and be grateful? I don’t want to know. Not me, please!

But with all the change going on in my life, ending a 30 year career as a student and beginning to build my future, I’ve been suspicious that a transformation might be lurking just under the surface anyway. When I started to catch onto the fact that I was right about this, my response was abject terror. All I knew about transformation was taken from those harrowing accounts I’d read about, and there was no way I was going to consent to an experience like that any time soon.

And then one night I was lying awake, too anxious to fall asleep, and Ailbhe and Caoilte were keeping watch on me. Finally, having been unsuccessful at it myself, I asked if they could help me calm down.

Ailbhe kept on with the watch, but Caoilte looked over at me, his face gradually showing greater concern. “No wonder you’re terrified about your future, Éilis, when you believe spiritual transformation happens like this:”

In my mind’s eye I suddenly saw an animated picture. A nondescript but imposing looking man, embodying uncertainty and change, pursues a woman through the woods as if hunting her. The woman is terrified that if she is caught, she will lose everything important to her, or end up dismembered in some vague spiritual sense, so she is running for her life.

“I wouldn’t sign up for that myself if there was a choice in the matter,” Caoilte continued, and his eyes glinted with a hint of a smile. “Actually, what is really happening during shifts and transitions is more like this:”

Again, I saw a picture of the same woman out in the woods. Now, she is caught in a vine which has twined around her arms and legs, trapping her. It appears to be on its way to eventually strangling her. There’s the person embodying change, trying to convince the woman to let him cut away and uproot the vine which is threatening her, so she can finally break free and live her life.

For a split second, my mind stopped racing a mile a minute and I was still, surprised and intrigued by what I was seeing. That was the moment when Caoilte said, quietly, “You are dying to live, Éilis. You’ve been given an understanding which has its origins in fear, but it isn’t true.”

I began to relax somewhat. I unfolded my arms, which I realized I had crossed over me, and undid the tight grip my hands had on each other. I hadn’t even been aware how much my body language was mirroring my emotions. I was able to keep from being defensive for one peaceful moment, and then like a wave with a pattern of its own, the fear returned.

“Nothing is going to happen to you, Éilis,” Caoilte said, reading my thoughts. “Transformation is an integral part of being fully alive. If anyone wishes to speak of death, it is all that is not you that dies. But such a way of putting the process is highly misleading and unnecessarily dramatic. No one explains that what supposedly “dies” were all along illusions and never really existed. People get attached to them, so they think there is something real to dissolve or cut away, but what doesn’t serve a person was never part of them to begin with. In fact holding on is what puts so many people in danger; it is allowing change to happen which keeps you safe and gives you the space to live as your own person.”

I understood, and my panic slowly dissipated into relief, even gratitude. After a while I said, “I want to really live. So, what happens now?”

Since I’ve gained this different perspective on what transformation means, I wonder why broad statements such as “you will die to who you were” aren’t discussed in a more careful, precise way. It would be healing for a person to realize that even when it feels like all she is familiar with is dissolving around her, she will never cease to recognize that core essential spark of who she is. Just as it seems unnecessarily disingenuous to gloss over the fact that it’s the oppressive government, not “everything” that is falling apart, it seems particularly cruel to devote an extensive amount of time and energy toward descriptions and accounts of dissolution, without making the distinction between the illusions and patterns that unravel and the person’s essential nature which remains the same. That core nature of a person shines even brighter in the world after all that stuff that doesn’t serve her is out of the way. Knowing that, why suggest that anything truly valuable to her could be irreparably lost?

Anyone who is in a position to make a spiritual contribution to the world and chooses to do so has the responsibility to cultivate love, rather than fear. To that end what you say, and how you say it, really does matter. Clarity is just as valuable when conveying spiritual concepts as it is in writing good journalism or constructing good arguments. Change is already daunting in and of itself. Perhaps we might be able to move more gracefully through the transitions that are bound to occur if we transform the way we think of and talk about change.

As I Crossed Over: Caoilte’s Experience

It was winter cold, the morning I returned to her. The night was cresting a wave of a darker sea, brightening slowly with patches glimmering brighter than any sun. The light filled every span of sky, until I felt it filter through skin, it was, and was not mine. Boundaries seemed to dissolve, around me, around all I could see from where I was. With quiet curiosity I felt separation fall away, while keeping whole the one I knew as I.

***

The murmur of the surrounding voices, growing sharp with concern, began to fade into a song whose melody I once could follow, but to whose chords I could no longer belong. Why did they weep, my fiercest friends, when I was still here, tinged fair against the depth of sky, shining out all I had ever been? Could they not see me, holding out my hands to them, set free from the bindings of age? For a moment, uncertain, I remained, bewildered, torn, unsure which way to turn.

Then, in fully fledged joy, I leapt between silences, having glimpsed the threshold of a door, and then I knew: the cause of their keening, the body huddled on the floor that once answered to my name. I tried, but could not shout to make known I was there, the same. For a moment I wondered if I might remain alone, if I would wander the in between of worlds as I had done in other ways the whole of my life.

And then, suddenly you were there, grasping my outstretched hands in yours, as strong as I tried to remember you. This time we would not let go.

I forgot if there were other things I knew, lost as I was in the light-song of you. Joyful tears sparkled in your eyes, eyes like the bright moon, eyes of my love, I dreamed, mere dreams, to see again. Laughing then, you pulled me into your arms, effortlessly carried me, though between us you’d been so much the smaller of the two.

I did not know how to speak in such a new form, but love never needed words. Together at last, we crossed the bridge of light woven with a thousand stars. I’m here, you’re here, and the felt thoughts blend, both of ours.

For there is now no moment to separate us in time, no sequence of nights and days, no leaving behind. No veil, only mist, that parts to the keen eye, with the colors of belonging, an eternal tide, a dance we’re wandering, life into life, and ending in beginning, we do not die.

There is no death, only change. Playful time might rearrange as we let go of what was never ours to own and emerge, as if from the cocoon of a denser, more solid world, into the vibrant song of being, which we have always known. In joyous abandon, we leap into the arms of those who wait for us, united once more, finally come home. We cross the bridge of becoming, Brilliant and bold, and dance the patterns of the light. In us, there is life.

Day 3, Three Quote Challenge

The third day of the three quote challenge is almost over! My conclusion is that time is going by too quickly. Thanks again to my awesome friend, Ali Isaac, for inviting me to participate, it’s been super fun!

My last quote comes from a person who I could probably quote all day, both because her words move me beyond being able to find any words of my own for a while, and because she inevitably challenges me beyond any point I could remotely map onto the edge of my comfort zone. Pema Chodron gets at the heart of being human, in all its gnarly and profoundly beautiful intricacies, in a way that, without fail, causes me to grow immediately.

So, I had a hard time figuring out which of her quotes to post, but settled on this one because it makes me think of Caoilte every time I read it.

Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to
inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.

Pema Chödrön,
The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

To carry on, if she chooses to do so of course, I nominate my lovely blogger friend Helen Jones.

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.

Arrival, Ireland, June 11

I awake prior to the alarm, and wonder whether it was never set and we’d miss the flight. It is Thursday the 11th of June. Our sojourn to Éire is finally upon us. At last, we will set foot in the home of our ancestors, that landscape that has captured my heart and called to me in dreams and images since I was a child.

What will it be like to arrive, I wonder. Will I recognize the very air, the very ground on which I stand? Will I be washed with that peculiar achingly peaceful relief of belonging, the one I fell into when I met my ancient family for the first time in this life? What time is it? Has the alarm gone off? I nudge my mom who is sleeping: “Is it after five?”

“No,” she says groggily, “go back to sleep.”

But I don’t sleep. I am hot and restless and anxious, about, I realize, more than simply the reason that I am finally fulfilling a dream that I’ve had for so long. I am traveling to Ireland with my mom and two brothers, (Bro1 and Bro2 named in order of descending age), and whether we will get along is a question who’s answer remains elusive.

Yesterday, Bro2 picked me up around 4 PM. As soon as he walked into my apartment, he began to rage about his challenges in life, his newest altercation with mom, and how he couldn’t stand being around her. I was sort of prepared for an excited, “Hi Éilis, good to see you, I’m so excited,” comment. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tirade. I was particularly stunned to find myself confronting a young man disguised as a ferocious gorilla carrying on in my space and bashing our mother, who was paying for all of our flight and room expenses on the trip, no less. I tried calming him down, after all, I was excited myself, and wasn’t about to let someone spill negativity all over me just because I was the human in close range.

Bro2’s attitude set the precedence for the tenor of the rest of the day, however, affecting not just me but the rest of the family as well. By nine PM, tentions among everyone skyrocketted. There was, certainly, a period of peace in all this to be had: it was on the car ride from Berkeley to Walnut Creek, during the times when my brother and I listened to a podcast recounting the rebellion and execution of Anabaptists in Münster Germany during the sixteenth century. (No, I am not kidding.)

Now, up before dawn, I wonder dubiously whether things will continue as they are and, if so, how I can possibly handle it for eleven days. But I’m going to be in Ireland! This thought alone seems to keep worry at bay, until I get up at dawn and find I am so dizzy that I have to sit down on the floor.

I am subsequently not so aware of any of my family members, as I go through the motions of getting in the car, standing on the train to the airport, and going through security, all the time feeling disturbingly ill. This lasts until I get some medicine during the layover in Chicago. Then, perhaps due to the medicine alone, perhaps due to the fact that I have now sat down in the plane that will take me to Dublin, the sudden illness symptoms slowly subside.

My brothers are safely sitting tucked away in the row behind me, and I’m sitting next to my mom. She’s in the window seat, which I feel is only right given that she’s the one who can see what’s on the other side of the glass.

I sleep, eat dinner, sleep, eat Breakfast, and sleep some more. During the times when I am awake, however, I find I cannot stop thinking about how strange it is to be returning by air through roughly the same route my ancestors took to get here, and how their travels were far more treacherous than mine.

We have an ancestor, James O’Cahill, who emigrated to America from Tipperary sometime in the seventeen hundreds. He would have made this journey in reverse, on a ship, with at least six to eight weeks time in transit. The ocean to him would not simply be a vast wonder to marvel at down below, while residing safe and in sanitary comfort in a pressure controlled cabin in the sky. For him, and for all those who left Ireland whether for the sake of adventure, to escape the engulfing wasteland of hunger, or to ride the wind in desperation before a relentless pursuing tide of imperialism and fear, the journey would prove to be a right of passage, as much as a passage of time, and for most there was only a one-way ticket. Among their challenges would have been their daily awesome and terrible encounters with a dynamic and sometimes ferocious sea, with the power to force respect and intimacy beyond what anyone perhaps had ever imagined or ever wanted to endure. The ocean could give as much as take life, and this was no metaphor. Both the ship, and whatever conditions prevailed on it, as well as the sea itself were guaranteed to transport one to a new world, but for some, it was not America or any where in this world at which they would ultimately arrive.

James O’Cahill did make it to America alive, settling in Iowa, where several members of each generation of the family, including my grandfather, were born. It is because of this ancestor’s journey, and the wondrous, brave, and I am sure sometimes harrowing ventures of many others, that I even exist, let alone have the privilege to “hop the pond” in less than a day, with an almost certain safe arrival and a guaranteed round trip ticket. The primary emotion residing within me as I fly effortlessly over the Atlantic, then, is profound humility.

Some time later, I awake from a long nap to find that mom has taken several pictures of the sun as it slowly inches its way up and over the horizon. I stare out the window, imagining what it would look like to watch the dawn while following after it, way above the clouds. At first I cannot picture anything at all. Then, a scene unfolds for me.

I watch, breathless and bewildered, as in my mind the earth turns, and the sun stands still. We say the sun rises, but literally, the sun, being a star, orbits nothing, while the earth spins, both on itself and around the sun. This is the way, then, that the scene begins.

As the plane moves relative to the earth, I picture for an instant every time zone in the world. To say it is 5 AM in Ireland and 9 PM of the previous day in California, simultaneously, is accurate at one level and misleading at the next. Our conception of time, I realize, is only relative to perception.

Relative to the sun, every place on the earth is now, is the present. Everyone on earth is, at every moment, experiencing what is now to them, and that now is always some proportioned mixture of darkness and light. Though some of us might talk of “losing” or “gaining” a day while traveling around the world, the truth is that we are always experiencing whatever present moment is occurring within the location in which we find ourselves.

Somewhere in the world is the space-time moment we thought we left behind, or the one we expect to witness in the future, but these are simply moments of now playing out in a continuum of moment, and if we were to view the whole world, we would behold all times at once. So I do this, for an instant in my mind’s eye. I stand outside the world, motionless, and watch as if looking at earth from the point of view of the sun. I watch as light sweeps across the world, illuminating every present moment in consecutive slices of space. It is sunrise, always, somewhere in the world, at any given time. The picture goes by in a flash, while we “chase” the sun, observing sunrise after sunrise, until the snail’s pace at which we soar, slogging along sluggishly with respect to the incredible speed of the spinning earth, means that the sun once again seems to dip below the clouds and vanish from view.

We continue to follow the dawn as we sail over Tipperary, through the heart of Ireland. The loud speaker sounds suddenly. “Flight Attendants, prepare for landing.”

“We did it!” I shout to my mom over the roar of the engine. “We’re here, we’re finally here!”

“I know, I still can’t believe it!” mom replies with equal enthusiasm, squeezing my hand.

Five minutes later, we start our descent into Dublin. Moved by some impulse, I look up then. My ancient kin, I know, will be traveling this whole trip with us. Caoilte has been quietly keeping watch on the plane for this leg of the journey. On the first plane ride to Chicago, he first ran around the cabin, checked out the cockpit, and tried to figure out how the plane’s engines worked before taking his place next to us. He arrived back at our seats with a look of boyish satisfaction, and I was happy that he had a chance to investigate. “Boys and their toys,” as Ailbhe says, having picked up the phrase from somewhere. But she always says this with a playful look in her eye.

Speaking of Ailbhe, I am quite startled to see her when I make to look up into Caoilte’s bright hazel eyes. Ailbhe decisively dislikes being near modern technology, especially anything that rumbles and moves such as cars, trains, and planes. I challenged her once to sit in a car with me, but I’d never known her to appear inside a modern vehicle voluntarily. And yet, here she is, unmistakably standing next to Caoilte, a slight hint of resolute determination masked by her warm smile.

“You’re here!” is all I can think to happily exclaim.

“I wouldn’t miss my own sister’s arrival in the home we once shared, not for the world, even if I have to reckon with a plane to do it, now would I?” Ailbhe answers, posing an inquiry of her own in response to my surprise.

With enormous gratitude, I beam at her. “Thank you,” I say silently, and send her a picture of the way I am feeling, moved by joy, even though she can already see it for herself.

Ailbhe and Caoilte raise their hands, then, in the gesture of greeting: “Welcome home, Éilis.”

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.

A Different Way

February 4, 2015

It’s a crisp February evening. I sit on a bench outside the Berkeley philosophy building, having at least the next fifteen minutes to myself before going for dinner with a friend. A breeze blows softly around me, the air smells clean, here and there a bird calls. It is almost six o’clock. An hour before, I learned that today is the 100th anniversary of the Campanile, a historic clock tower on UC Berkeley’s campus. At six PM, bells will be going off in the tower, rigged by three ingenious professors to chime in rhythm with the Bay Area’s famous earthquake fault line. The seismic waves in the earth will determine the pattern of the music, which will be accompanied by flashing lights.

I have come from a lively seminar on free will, and though I’ve enjoyed It immensely, I’m now needing to ground and center out of head space to become present once again with the living, breathing world before connecting with the world beyond. Soon, Caoilte will be joining me. We have a challenge to discuss and some solid time to ourselves before my friend arrives. I smile to myself thinking on how delighted Caoilte is going to be to have an awesome display of modern technology occurring as a soundtrack to our discussion.

I first heard about the challenge two days before while quietly spending time with a large standing stone during an imbolc celebration. Ailbhe sat down next to me. I was in the middle of thinking about how some people have apparently learned to bend spoons, which is not really what I was intending to meditate on. Silently, I greeted Ailbhe who looked thoughtfully at me and then said abruptly, “How would you feel about bending, as if you were a spoon that could be reshaped to reflect the most light? We will hold you safe until the end of it.” She sent me a picture of several people carrying me in their hands while I went through some kind of transformation.

I could feel the time I had to meditate was almost up, and soon the space around me would no longer be quiet. Baffled and not at all persuaded of the merits of her suggestion I simply said, “It sounds wholly disagreeable to me. But I don’t understand what you mean.”

I am once again turning over what Ailbhe said, not becoming any wiser for it, when Caoilte appears and sits down next to me. He waits patiently while I finish moving into a softer, more reflective focus and take down the shield I use to help shut out the chaos of this world during my long day. Now I can see him clearly, and for a while we sit together, looking at each other, understanding each other without speaking. He is asking how I am and I answer in the otherworld way, letting go of any defensiveness, allowing myself to be seen. I make the gesture for acceptance.

Now, Caoilte gets up and is standing in front of me. He surrounds us in a white light, so I won’t take in any energy that isn’t mine while we’re talking. “Ailbhe says you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this challenge with us,” Caoilte begins, “Why? What are you afraid of?”

He can see how I am feeling and asks the question sincerely, without judgment. Still, this is when staying out of the way gets difficult. It occurs to me that ethicists like to talk a lot about honesty, but tend to skip over the fact that being completely honest quickly dislodges you from your comfort zone. That is beside the point now, however. I meet Caoilte’s eyes: “What Ailbhe said reminded me too much of some sort of intense alchemical transformation or shamanic initiation, and I’d rather run and scream than do either of those things. Unfortunately.” I have the urge to apologize for this, but Caoilte shakes his head, so I continue, “I thought I was already enough, so why become something different? Besides I don’t want to become a shape shifter or be unable to physically recognize myself once I’ve changed form.”

There is compassion and thoughtfulness in Caoilte’s eyes now. I can already tell that whatever I took Ailbhe to mean, I was at least mistaken in part. I’m very glad about this. After a moment Caoilte says, “I can understand how you might take Ailbhe literally, as you were just in a physical challenge with her. No, this is not another physical challenge. Ailbhe and I will be doing this with you together, and the changes are energetic ones. Let me try to explain it a different way.”

Now between us there’s a picture of a dark looking space, and out of this space Caoilte pulls tiny shimmering threads of light, which glint against the night sky. Each light strand has a different color which I can’t see, but implicitly understand is there. Now, Caoilte is unraveling the strands of colored light and reweaving them, then placing them back in the darker space. As I look on the dark space becomes illuminated with the colors previously opaque within it. Instead of lying hidden in the space, the light is suddenly drawn out and brightly shining through, every color radiating out in a myriad of directions. It is stunningly beautiful and I catch my breath, in awe of what I’m seeing.

“This is what we mean,” Caoilte says, “This is about energy, changing, reweaving the patterns that keep your light absorbed in shadow, so your light doesn’t remain hidden, so that gradually you can reflect more and more the radiance already within you, to shine for yourself and then out into the world.”

“Oh!” I say, grateful for the clarity, viscerally relieved. “I’ll agree to that! I’m up for energetically changing shape, it sounds fascinating.” And more than that, which I show in intention, I understand now how I can both go through with the change and still be enough, because I am not becoming other than myself, but aligning more and more with who I have always been.

A look of pure enthusiastic joy silently transforms Caoilte’s face. I can tell he is wishing he could shout “Okay, let’s do this thing!” This is the first time it has occurred to me that shouting isn’t possible in the otherworld. How frustrating!

And, although I now find that I’m having to suddenly console my small self who’s not particularly fond of transitions and change of any kind, Caoilte’s excitement is infectious and it feels like my eyes light up. I am full of curiosity, wondering what on earth will happen now (or perhaps, more fittingly, how out of this world it’s going to get.) Again, I am holding my hands out palm up accepting my place here on the next step of this wild, wondrous journey. And then the Campanile performance begins.