Tag Archives: childhood

Making Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Antlered Branch _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 13

December 23, 2013

By the time I finally leave the house with Allegro and make my way to Aquatic Park to go look for what Oisín and the others have left for me there, it is around 5 PM. I certainly had no expectation of anything in return when I first agreed to make my place their own. I am still just as surprised as moved that they’d secure some kind of manifest world object for me to show their gratitude. I still know little about what is possible in the otherworld, but imagine that moving physical objects to specific locations is no small matter, and it is even possible that it would take tens to hundreds of otherworld people to accomplish such a thing depending on the size of the object. Even now, I have no idea how they did it.

The walk is quiet and uneventful. Hardly a manifest person is around. The water laps softly along its bank, the birds’ songs are muted, and the trees stand silent and resolute against the sky which is slowly darkening into ever more mysterious shades of twilight. This has always been my favorite time of day. As a child, I used to cherish my time outside when the sun’s light, glowing like ebbing flame starkly against the night’s deepening presence, revealed to me a world of image that usually was lost to me. Often, I’d stand precariously on the back of a swing in the yard, frightening my parents for sure, but too immersed in the ecstatic wonder of suddenly illuminated shapes and outlined objects to care much at all about something more earthly, like safety. Besides, I reasoned as only a six year old can, I had excellent balance. I could not as well leave this brilliant light behind just to heed adults who wished me to come inside.

As with then, the fading light fills me with a silent, quiet, wild joy and I still imagine myself laughing and leaping and flying through that light, which is filling every space around me now with its mystery. I walk through this wondrous world, tracking the shadows in the wooded areas to my left where I found the picnic table that I am trying to locate again.

An older man, who I met once before in passing and know is quite lonely, says hello to me and I ask whether he knows if I’m near the turn off to the table. I think I am, because there are lights above and beyond the brightly infused sky flashing in the trees at this spot. But finding a picnic table while offroading with a guide dog is a hit or miss project. He assures me I am in fact close by, and asks if I don’t mind some company. I look around and don’t see Oisín nearby, so I agree that we can talk for a little while.

The two of us sit across from each other as he shares some of his life with me and I listen. A half an hour goes by, and now I do see Oisín standing at the edge of the clearing. I send him a picture of the situation, and he says not to worry, he’ll stay until the stranger leaves. So finally I say to the manifest man, “I am really enjoying talking to you, but I have to meet someone now. Can I be alone?”

I briefly wonder, as there are no other manifest people within sight range to speak of, if the man might think I’ve had enough and am just trying to back out of talking to someone twice my age. Fortunately, he turns out to be happy to grant me my request for solitude without question, and doesn’t appear to be taking it personally. When he leaves, Oisín walks over to stand beside me.

“There are a great many trees around here,” he observes, “So I thought to come show you to the one I spoke of yesterday.” This is true enough. Together we walk over to a tree which is at a diagonal from where I was previously sitting.
Once I am standing in front of the tree, Oisín vanishes, presumably so I can discover for myself what he’s left there for me. I have to admit that I am now feeling a bit like a kid on a treasure hunt. No point in ignoring the curiosity of my inner child now, I decide.

Cautiously, unsure if I’m looking for something sturdy or fragile, I reach out my hand. The tree is eucalyptus, like every other of its myriad cousins in this area. But the branch my hand encounters is not only very detached from the tree, but is actually made of Oak. It is placed rather impossibly around the trunk, and to this day I haven’t been able to get anything else to stay up there. I’ve tried, I admit.

Antler Branch On Wall

I take the branch down from the tree. It’s big! From one end to another is approximately two feet across. There is a section of branch which is just the right size to fit my hand around. Holding it there, the rest of the branch splits into two halves that arc away from each other in a kind of narrow semicircle. On each end, two twigs stem out giving the whole of it an uncanny resemblance to deer antlers.

I know the significance of deer to Oisín’s immediate family. His father, his son, and himself were all named for this animal, after all. As a totem animal, a concept from a culture which Oisín’s clan would have never known existed, deer are usually symbolic of inner gentleness and compassion, as well as protection. I mean, that can be quite true of them and everything, but deer aren’t like that all the time! They’re also wild, fiercely territorial and adaptable, resourceful, and don’t hesitate to answer to a challenge. When I have looked into Oisín’s eyes, I have seen all these things, and more of course. I for one think that if a totem is going to give insight into the spirit of a person,, it’s probably best to recognize that nonhuman animals can have natures as complicated as any human. I digress, however.

I imagine that if clan Baiscne, to whom Oisín belongs, had a family emblem, I am holding a representation of it in my hand. I have too many thoughts and feelings occurring at once. I am astonished and happy and wondering how many people it took to get this branch here—it’s so big. I am moved by how one physical object could convey so much meaning to me. If I had ever worried about being accepted, it looks like that worry is both unreasonable and I not only belong, but somehow have been accepted into Oisín’s family. This realization overwhelms me. It would be hard to believe if I weren’t holding tangible proof of it.

Equally overwhelming, however, is that, as I gaze at the branch in my hands, it seems to emit a soft, continuous glow, as if the very wood could radiate that divine spark at the heart of itself out into the changing clay world. This is all quite enough to take in, so I do what I usually do when I have more energy than I know what to do with: I choose a direction and take off. Full of a wild inexplicable joy that seems to suddenly come upon me, I gather up Allegro and we walk so fast that we are practically running. I’ve never run with a flashlight, having never had the need for one, but the blazing light around the antlered branch in my hand illuminates the night, casting bright shapes across the landscape. Sometimes, when I look through the middle where the branch splits in two, I feel like I am almost catching someone’s eye. I definitely do not feel like I am walking alone. There are no manifest people in the park at the moment. Somehow everything around us holds still, while we, myself and what feels like many who I cannot see but seem to be with me, traverse the trail back to my apartment. I, or perhaps we, make it home in record time, and the whole return journey has oddly felt effortless.

Once I walk through the door into the kitchen, I carefully set the branch down while I go get a vase from above the refrigerator to place it in. This is not because it needs to be placed in water, but just because I can’t think of another way to make sure it won’t fall or get broken. I’m trying to grab a glass vase precariously from a cupboard which is slightly too high for me to actually reach safely. But I’m in a great mood and not alone. This means I’m determined to attempt to accomplish what I’m aiming to do successfully, since I feel I can do just about anything at the moment.

“Don’t do that, you’ll get yourself hurt,” someone is saying with concern, and when I turn around I see Oisin standing behind me.

“You think so?” I ask cautiously, “I think I can reach up there. I’ve done it once or twice before.”

“Well, it’s not a great idea for what you are aiming to do at the moment. Are you sure you are not actually trying to do something again beyond your limits to prove to yourself that you are worthy of our company?” Oisín asks, challenging me with his compassionate, yet wildly fierce eyes. “We want you safe, child.”

Is that what I was really trying to do, I ask myself a bit reluctantly? Well, okay, yes that was a substantial if far from explicit part of my motivation. It would be too awkward and self-defeating to deceive myself into thinking otherwise.

“Thanks,” I say, and grab a chair from the kitchen table to stand on. The particular vase I need, it turns out, is behind a bunch of other smaller vases and would have been impossible to grab from my earlier vantage point on the floor. I am growing, even now, but I just have to remember that won’t translate into physical height.

The antlered branch is still shining with otherworldly light where I’ve placed it on the counter. It’s amazing in its own right, but perhaps more, well, awesome still is that I have become like family to Oisín and the fianna. I am trying to integrate this into my world and it’s happening very slowly. Attempting to sort out my thoughts, one in particular suddenly comes unbidden into the forefront of my mind. Is it possible, the thought interjects, that I have always been a part of this family and just don’t know it for certain yet? How else to explain why I’ve felt like Oisín is a long lost grandfather? Why else does he call me child? But I can’t even entertain the idea. I almost desperately shove the thought out of my head so that I don’t have to possibly face another instance in so many days of my beliefs being turned upside down.

So instead, I turn to Oisín to thank him properly. In response, he simply fills the room with light. We are, I realize, speaking without words. And in the silence there is understanding, of what is, which words don’t ever seem to capture adequately. I’m glad that I can let go of trying to put everything into language and can communicate through wordlessness. This wordlessness is, I am beginning to realize, the grammar of being, it is why silence is intelligent, and how existence speaks for itself.

Growing Up As a Blind Child

Through a one-way mirror, they eyed me,
Between us, their watchful eyes conceived the distance
And I began to lose definition.

I of the many translucent faces,
They sanded smooth my jagged edges
Painting them invisible with a missing shade of blue.

They glossed over my differences until I faded into the background
Molding my experiences so that they mapped onto their figures
Until I reflected their perspective thickly occluded.

They even tried to put an eraser
To that unusual glow that seemed to linger
Out of curiosity and the innocence of a child.

And my little ash child remembers their walls:
There were walls,
To keep her out, to contain her with,

But she saw through and far beyond them
How they were made for someone small, so she ignored and walked around them,
And the walls came tumbling down, and that is how they found them.

For a long time I searched for something to shelter me
Until with free hands I rebuilt my foundations,
And only then could I love what I made.

I’ve sought and found the knowledge
That they kept from me with stones.
I have survived their stares, I have stared back.

I have stood within the changing tides,
And learned the language of the wild song,
The one to which I’ve now come home, echoed in the blinking of an eye.

I rekindled trust as if I were tending the cauldron of Cerridwen
And in the river of memories I washed off the dust:
Why had I never seen myself before?

It was like repeating an unrecognizable name, until I realized it was mine.
It was like discovering I was a firefly,
When no one believed I could shine.

And now Across the bridge of overcoming,
I come bringing brokenness to light.
Bright beams alight along the road,

Pooling there like fallen stars, to guide my weary ash-child’s way.
Back through the darkness I reach out, the whole of her I carry in my arms,
And Whisper through her troubled dreams, I am here.

I who leapt among the flames, made it to the other side,
Tenderly I take hold of my ash child’s hand,
And into the blue, together we rise.

For The Protection of Our Children

<Ask a child’s silence to speak
And you will learn truths you’ve never wanted to know.
When will it be time to raise our voices from the dead,
When will it be time to break our silence?

Victims are defined by spaces, behind closed doors.
I survived—formed bubbles under my skin
To trap the pain.

But one day they burst,
And when they did, acid rain
Poured over whole villages,
Turning their sands red.

There is no scissor-curled rainbow for our stories—only blackness,
When will it be time—boom, boom, boom,
Black echoes in an empty room.

We seal up the places where we’ve been marked
By hands like barnacles, wounded<
Against the tide’s rushing out like breath.

So I try to understand how I could have been
Shaken by a nanny who left me blind
An infant no stranger to death.
Aching to be found.

We lock pieces of ourselves in the past
Afraid of our own shadows,
When it's the adults that hurt us
Who are the monsters of their own closets.

When will we shatter the hourglass of secret time?
How do we mend those childhoods broken
By parents who are themselves approaching darkness 
Encroaching on long dreamless nights?

No wonder many do not speak out
Almost killed for our crying
Those who should protect and care for us
Cut us off from ourselves with the skill of a surgeon.

Rise up out of ash, left by the light we were born with
The tears shed then.
Our only hope for oasis
In the desert of the deserted.

Sound is red and raw, who counts the wounded?
The house of intelligible action
Lies, in shambles.

Truth keens across the chasms that remain
Truth keens, keys bleed,
Screams listen,

Silence shrieks in opened doorways.
How do gods determine when justice has been paid?
The bean sidhe will not rest tonight,
Nor will lurking shape-shifters with the beady eyes that glisten.

How dare anyone break a child.
Who among us dare speak a name?
None in this world or the next will claim you:
To harm a child is to will yourself a slave.

You who use and abuse the least of us,
You sign the warrant of your own exile.
Trapped inside your skin, no kin or kind,
Separate beyond ken, your prison is self made.

The time has come to break the silence,
The time has come to raise our voices from the dead,
To seek to put an end to this unconscionable violence,
Until our seventh generation knows nothing of such pain.

Through The Looking Glass

Child searches for one who loves,
Child watches, child searches,
Darkness falling, between them falling,
Love and child once more parting,
Leaving always, always leaving,
Waiting there where naught remains.

Waiting out the darkness, darkness taking
Loved one away, love eclipsed by shadow,
Shutting out the world surrounding,
Child lost, in lonely light wandering.

And though a new world child’s gaining,
And though otherlove, crosses, reaching,
To the other side of waiting,
Child’s loss is overpowering,
Child’s world will never be the same.

Old one searches for one who loves,
Searches, searching,
Love and old one parting, leaving,
Once more leaving, once more wandering,
Through darkness wandering though naught remains.

Darkness falling, darkness shutting
Out old one’s world,
Til blindly stumbling,
Ever waiting, ever wondering,
Old now,  in dreams calling,
Old dreams come calling.

No answer falling, only falling,
And wait for the door, for the bridge of crossing,
The known world now away is falling,
Vales between the worlds are parting.

Another world is there in waiting,
The world beyond the world there waiting,
A homecoming made from the departed,
Into a world that will never be the same.

The cycle turning and returning,
Hoping light can ease my yearning,
Dare I dream of no more leaving,
Belonging to the vast and living,

Giving voice to love and sending
All that darkness swiftly fleeing,
The whole of it, the opposite of all that’s fleeting,
Hoping to rekindle what remains.

Longing, hoping beyond all reason,
Wondering upon this turn of season,
Could pain, come passing by, elude me,
And wandering no more course through me,
As if the rhythm of no place knew me
Pulsing like my blood through veins.

That the seeds of sorrow I might evade,
That of joy and laughter my life be made,
And of separation I be not afraid,
If I ever do come ’round again.

Cycles turning and returning,
Young and old as bookends  yearning,
Birth and death two  mirrors facing,
A patterned reflection, traced, retracing,
Wondering if aught had changed.

This time when the door swings outward,
This time open, outward turning,
With child’s eyes upon returning,
May darkness wait and keep on waiting,

May nothing but wonder, joy of learning,
From dawn to dusk be within me growing,
May the world so whole and ever knowing
Be the whole of what remains.

And then once more the world beholding,
Child once more, from earth unfolding,
May none but love see to my enfolding,
The light that all sustains.