Tag Archives: compassion

The Place Beyond Forgiveness

I have forgiven me, but that has not been enough
I’m still haunted, at times just looking in your eyes
For me, the fact that I’ve grown is irrelevant
I remember; and I ache to erase, all of it

Breath catches, frozen in mid motion
I relive it in an instant, a wave of yesterdays
This time, I force myself to trace the river of shame
Trembling with the effort of owning what I did

Perhaps I can finally be at peace
The way you have made peace, and love me
The way you have always loved me
You stand in the doorway, a light against shadows

Try to find the grace in the sorrow, you say,
The gold in the grey
Some compassion for the one that you were
In a moment where all was forgotten

I search for the goodness I might have learned
Gather a harvest from tears
You meet my eyes before I shut them
With open eyes I watch the wounds begin to heal

Can I hold space with you, you ask me then
I fear allowing myself something kind
Attempting, regardless, to meet myself gently
You step behind me, quietly enfold me in your arms

With the trust of a child, I let myself be seen
I am present without judgment, perhaps for the first time
I am shifted into spaciousness, now enfolding us
And the light shining through me is mine

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The Treacherous Terrain of Spiritual Utilitarianism

Imagine that you, a person who considers yourself firmly on a fulfilling spiritual path, have just broken your leg in a freak accident. While recovering in the hospital, you are visited by someone who, up until now, has been a dear friend. Unfortunately, that is about to change…

Your friend opens her mouth to comfort you and says, “It must be really hard to be dealing with this right now. But,” she continues with unnatural excitement, “You’ve given yourself such a wonderful soul growth opportunity!”

When you gawk at her with both incomprehension and a sinking feeling that perhaps you’d rather remain ignorant of her meaning, she simply ploughs ahead with the explanation you never had been waiting for. “See, before you were born, your soul chose all the lessons you were to learn in your lifetime. You chose to sign up for all sorts of traumatic experiences, including breaking your leg, so you could accelerate your spiritual development in this lifetime. Gosh, what a wonderful thing! Think of everything you can learn from it!”

Wonderful? Your doctor is running late on his rounds and you’re in need of more pain relief. After ordering your friend to leave in a voice which sounds unsettlingly more like a growl than a human, you sink back on the hospital pillows hoping for some peace. But it doesn’t come.

Despite yourself, you find you are very disturbed both by what your friend said and what her words imply. How can your friend actually believe her own words? And what if, an admittedly terrifying thought, your friend is right? After all, can anyone really prove her wrong?

Did you choose before birth that you were going to break your leg? Does everyone choose what happens to them before birth? What about abuse or cancer survivors, what about survivors of genocide. Surely, assuming there’s an afterlife; no soul would choose such a horrible experience willingly, no matter how sweeping the universal perspective might be. You think back to spiritual teachings you’ve heard in the past about the other side being full of light and unconditional love. Could anyone possessing unconditional love for themselves and all beings ever justify or permit atrocities to be done to themselves or others they love simply on the grounds of expedience? Talk about violence inherent in the system!

The above example is of course hypothetical, but the concept it describes is alive and well. It is a concept that is perhaps most popular in new age philosophy and spirituality, but is gaining supporters from people of spiritual backgrounds of all sorts. It is defended in books you never would want to pick up and read, and books by people who genuinely, purposefully, and passionately live their own spirituality every day with heart and dedication. In the spirit of respectful disagreement, I chose to quote someone of the latter sort to exemplify.

Lissa Rankin is a spiritual person I greatly admire, many of whose teachings and perspectives I have also come to adopt along my own spiritual journey. She is definitely not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to defend the plausibility of what I call spiritual utilitarianism, the doctrine that actions are right or acceptable when they maximize usefulness, here understood to consist in the greatest personal and collective spiritual development over lifetimes. Here is her eloquent and succinct articulation of spiritual utilitarianism found in her book, The Fear Cure.

Think of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced—childhood
Abuse, the abandonment or neglect of a parent, illness or disability,
The loss of a loved one, betrayal, heartbreak, divorce, poverty,
being the victim of a violent crime, selling your soul for a paycheck,
Or whatever has hurt you the most. What if, instead of
Being a victim of these traumas, on some soul level, you chose
these challenges?

– Lissa Rankin, The Fear Cure

What if, indeed? Houston, we have a problem.

First, let us inquire into some of the practical and physical world dangers which could easily result from the widespread adoption of this view.

• Victim Blaming: It wasn’t his fault, she asked for it … literally, before she was born.)
• Apathetic Response-Ability: I can feel like a good person while I do nothing to help with (poverty, homelessness, that woman being harassed at work, that man being discriminated against for his disability) because everyone having these experiences chose to put them in their life. Who am I to interfere with their spiritual development? I’m off the hook.
• Complacency and Disconnection: If you really believe that everyone’s hardships, including your own, are a result of soul decisions you made before incarnating, compassion and empathy are optional, not necessitated. It is hard to be authentically present with your feelings if you think you have set up the circumstances of them in advance. If this is true in your own case, it is even truer when trying to relate to others who obviously chose their own suffering.
• Standard Problems for Maximizing Consequentialist Theories: Spiritual utilitarianism holds that actions are spiritually good/worthy if they maximize spiritual growth and minimize spiritual regression or stagnation. It is for this reason a maximizing consequentialist theory—that is, the good on this view is defined in terms of maximizing consequences and outcomes.

Spiritual Objections to Spiritual Utilitarianism
• Spiritual Utilitarianism is a System That Fosters Disconnection: The choice which spiritual utilitarianism posits occurs before birth is itself, after drawing out implications of the theory, a vehicle for separation. That is enough to call its claim to being a theory of spirituality into question.
• A Theory to Shield One From Vulnerability and Mortality: Spiritual Utilitarianism is a wonderful defense mechanism against confronting your own mortality or your own susceptibility to pain, illness, disability, loss, and hardship. Are you struggling with a disability or illness? You can try to console yourself with the thought that your higher self lovingly wanted this for you. Are you currently able bodied and are afraid of disability or loss? You don’t need to confront your fears or seriously question your inaccurate assumptions about others’ quality of life if they all asked to have such experiences. You can ward off fears of facing your own vulnerability in this way, too, believing that while the future is uncertain to you, your higher self already knows all about it. Defense mechanisms always sound like a good idea until you remember they are one of the most common barriers between you and genuine spiritual development, interconnection with all of life, and self honesty. Defensiveness leads to self-deception, which prevents a person from either fully shining her own light, or being able to fully give and receive love. When any spiritual concept or theory is used as a defense mechanism, it creates suffering, disconnection and isolation, and blocks openness, integrity, intimacy, love, and acceptance.
• A Superiority Complex: If you are happy and healthy, spiritual utilitarianism could easily lead you to conclude that you’re quite spiritually evolved, while those who are suffering have a lot to learn. But one of the most fundamental spiritual truths that exist is that we are spiritually equal. And one of the most fundamental physical truths is that we are equally susceptible to vulnerability. After these considerations, spiritual utilitarianism seems right out, as well as highly divisive.
• Spiritual Utilitarianism Permits Betrayal by your Higher Power: Should god/source/the one betray you in the name of expedience? Assuming for a moment such a betrayal is possible, spiritual utilitarianism seems to condone such a soul-devastating occurrence if it will result in your rapid spiritual development (somehow.) It might also be permissible for human beings, in the name of spiritual utilitarianism, to create suffering for others if that suffering is found to further spiritual growth. At first, this might sound crazy. But it is most definitely not, when you remember that the theory in question defines right action only in terms of the act’s consequences.

Questions That Need Asking:
Before taking any theory on board as part of your ethical outlook or spiritual practice/belief system, critical thinking is a must. Here are the questions I’ve asked myself about spiritual utilitarianism.

1. Generally, we think it wrong to sign off on something without another’s consent. The incarnate you will not remember her link to the soul who made the decisions for her life to come. How is choosing horrendous hardships for your future incarnate self any different morally from making the same choices on behalf of your imminently arriving future clone?

2. Suppose you want to learn a spiritual lesson and there is a rapid harrowing way of achieving it and a much slower gentle way of achieving it. Is it really ethical (or an act of self-love or compassion) to willingly harm yourself by subjecting yourself to the former rather than opting for the latter? My intuition is that such self harm is spiritually/ethically wrong, but such a decision would be praised for its goodness on the spiritual utilitarianism theory.

3. If it would maximize your spiritual growth through a particular soul lesson for you to cause grave suffering to another, should you do it?

4. Is suffering ever absolutely necessary? Are unconditional love and prechosen courses of suffering compatible?

5. It seems that the claim that we need to maximize spiritual growth is incompatible with actually achieving such growth. That is, a person who goes about actively trying to maximize her development will, by the very nature of grasping after outcomes, distance herself even further from the goal. Does the same self-defeating logic apply on the other side?

6. Is it possible for a soul to live authentically, allowing the divine to lead her, while insisting on choosing for herself ahead of time how her life is going to go, at a general level.

7. What if you’re not a utilitarian? If spiritual utilitarianism were true, would all souls have to adopt it? What if you, as a spiritual being, lived by completely different principles or took a different approach to growing and becoming more generally. Aren’t you allowed to conduct yourself according to your deepest truth, or is spirituality cosmically standardized? I shudder at the thought!

Personally, after working through all these implications of the spiritual utilitarianism theory, I am willing to see it sent off to that lovely place to which absurd, harmful, or groundless theories go when their time has expired. I am willing, as well, to bet that whatever happens after we die, choosing the pivotal events of great suffering for our lives to come is not part of it. We can thank the gods for that!

I will eventually be following this post up with another which aims to explore what, if anything, might replace the rather misplaced theory of spiritual utilitarianism as a plausible theory of spiritual growth and right action. Don’t be surprised if it has virtue ethics in it. I mean, my entire dissertation is on virtue ethics. What else would I advocate? Surely, it would be the very stuff I believe and live by.

Meanwhile, question everything.

Reflected Darkly

How can I love you?
All you are lacking:
Your empty spaces,
Locked doors,
Torn dreams,
Blind fears?

How can I love you?
Squinting through the glare of fluorescent memories
At every twisted, knotted decision
Rewandering the wrong turns
Of your wasted years?

How can I love you?
With resentment coiling in your eyes?
Purple with anger
A thousand scars
Rage against the silence
Incapable of tears.

How can I love you?
I have searched the worlds for compassion,
But my bitter judgments are all I’ve found,
Every flaw screams loud and clear.
At a loss, I turn around
And put away the mirror.

Spiritual Teachers and Discernment

“This blog post will change your life!” Actually, the truth is, it won’t, and there are good reasons to be skeptical of anyone using this phrase a little too often with a little too much enthusiasm, in my humble opinion. besides the fact that people reading this are probably alive and reading these words are adding to your life experience, (in a positive way, I hope,) most experiences are not life-altering. Some experiences, especially spiritual experiences, genuinely do transform you. In changing your inner world, your behavior, your relationships, even sometimes the way you hold yourself in the world will change.

I have personally had many such experiences, and none of them came prepackaged with the claim, “This will change your life!” There were no claims about outcome, only compassionate suggestions. There was no anecdote to uncertainty, only direction based on a plethora of past experiences. As a spiritual friend said recently, there is a reason people in the spirit world are called spirit guides. They don’t live your life for you, (by for instance, telling you how an experience will effect you or how you will feel afterward) and thank goodness they don’t! If things were different, life would be quite boring, disempowering, and distancing and you’d learn a lot about dominance and control and very little about authenticity and freedom.

The thing is, not everyone in this world has a healthy sense of compassion, unconditional love, personal responsibility, or honesty. Everyone knows that. But this statement is true, sometimes even more so, of self-identified spiritual teachers.

Two months ago I signed up on a mailing list to receive access to free telephone calls with various well-known spiritual teachers whom I had never heard of, because I was very curious about others’ experiences and approaches to their spirituality and the theme for the series of calls was waking up, something I am more than passionate about. It was a mixed bag. There were many genuinely spiritual people interviewed on those calls. There were also cooky cutter new agers and blatant scam artists. The host of the program seemed, in my opinion, to have a discernment problem of her own, and every call she hosted, she claimed, would “change your life!” The claim became statistically unsustainable after, say, call number 5, and yet she continues to make it.

For Aristotle, true excellence was synonymous with practical wisdom–sound rationality and emotional balance— and it was notoriously hard to achieve. Some scholars of ancient Greek philosophy surmise that to this date there has not been a single human being who has achieved this ideal. All this to say that, whatever excellence is, it ought not be a quality such that everyone and their adopted cat possess it. Such is true of the property of being life-changing, I think. It cannot be given to every experience, lest the concept lose its meaning entirely.

In any case, life transformation, as well as excellence, often were both sadly absent in this realm of inquiry.

First, there was a call with a spiritual practitioner who manufactures a filter which produces “structured water.” Skeptical already, I went to his website, only to find that the filter specifications explicitly state the apparatus does not take toxins out of the water. It simply “purifies” them with spiritual intentions. The rest of this filter’s enormous, and yes, “life changing!” benefits are scientifically proven facts about water itself. I was appalled by this person’s willingness to call himself spiritual while making a cash cow off of his dishonesty and people’s ignorance, both scientific and spiritual. (I was not surprised however, given the power of human egotism.) Here is a site discussing the scam:

People who don’t realize hydration has huge positive effects on the body whether or not it is “structured” but who have, for instance, heard accurately that water is contaminated by fracking could potentially be one set of scam victims. Structured water systems don’t prevent or reduce, let alone eliminate, contaminants in water.

People who want to evolve spiritually but still believe the authority to empower them lies outside themselves could be the second set of victims, and there will probably be overlap. Here’s the secret people: you are the one who empowers yourself, you are the author of your own life (not the same as the creator of reality) and you and everything else is interconnected. You can infuse as many intentions into water as often as you like, because ultimately you and the water are inseparable. If you need proof, your body is 75% water. You can infuse intentions in the water existing already within you, and get the same results as if you placed them in a glass of water and drank it. Water isn’t just outside you, it is you.

In general, you have all you ever would need within yourself to arrive at the threshold of your belonging, because that threshold has always been at the center of you. You can structure water for free. You can also skip the step of structuring water and become who you have always been and already are, from the inside out.

Several other people featured on the mailing list sold products that, though might have some nominal benefits, are wholly unnecessary to spiritual development. In the end, many spiritual tools are developed to help people focus and get into a state to access what is already within them. Tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. You don’t need a fork to eat pasta, but it’s sure helpful! However, if someone is trying to make you dependent on a product for enlightenment, run.

Another tragic example. The spiritual practitioner who is speaking tonight and who already has my discernment radar flashing red was introduced with the now increasingly meaningless “This will change your life!” guarantee which accompanies every single call, along with the following reason for why I should listen to her (which I will not): “Her popular Twitter feed has over 54,000 followers.” (No, I didn’t make it up!) For anyone philosophically inclined, but even for those who are not, arguments from popularity are fallacious and scream ego trip.

Just to be sure, I went on her website , where, sadly, she offers many blatant self-promoting reasons why people ought to work with her, including the particularly horrifying reason that she is “unique” because she works with the most high-ranking spirits on the other side. Now, this is one of the most blatant fallacies of argument by authority I have ever heard and, again, a huge ego trip. (Not to mention, if someone on the other side actually said something like this to her, she is being lied to.) What spiritual truth could a person possibly impart while fully believing in her superiority? While pointing out why your skills as a stock broker are unique in the business helps you gain customers and successfully compete in your field, the tactic is terribly tacky and telling when it comes to imparting spiritual wisdom.

There is a great and profound responsibility that befalls anyone wanting to spiritually guide others, whether in this world or the next. Those looking for direction (not a prescriptive formula) are, by the very nature of the relationship, making themselves extremely vulnerable. In such a situation, maintaining spiritual equality isn’t the ideal, it is necessary; otherwise one or both of you could get seriously emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically hurt. This intrinsic spiritual equality is one of the very first things I learned about with my ancient family. Spiritual relationship falls apart without it.

Yes, not all of us have the same skills. That is why there are teachers and learners. But hierarchies of expertise consist of inherently spiritually equal people, period. I would personally avoid anyone who believes otherwise.

I don’t understand how it is possible to be both consciously aware, aware enough to be in the circumstance of walking a spiritual journey with many others, and continue to hold the opinion of yourself that you are unique, and because of your otherworldly connections (who would undoubtedly insist on their equality) besides. I cannot fathom a more hypocritical message, personally. I can only conclude, as seems reasonable and my right in the circumstances, that such people are only pretending to be spiritual for their own personal gain.

I am unfortunately now not just wary of a few practitioners booked for calls through this program, but wary of the person conducting the program as well. What could have been a journey of interesting and insightful discovery has, most of the time, proven to be nothing more than a disappointing marketing campaign. I feel fortunate to have listened to the people whose energy and message resonated with me and to know to look within, rather than out to my culture, or to the popular spiritual culture in which this all takes place, to know when something feels like a scam and honor that feeling. I did not have to learn how to do this with a teacher, and I am not unique, nor special. I am one among many and I am learning and imperfect and very human in all that entails and my authority extends to my journey alone, and really not even that far. And, contrary to the innumerable claims made lately about everything and its lookalike being there to save you and change your life, if you just follow such and so or if you pay for it, I have this to say, which you can take or leave:

I have learned that I am valuable, I am needed, as is every other person here, and our worth is with us from before we were born, and each of us is one among many. We are whole. We are enough just as we are. I believe we don’t follow a spiritual path because something or someone needs to fix us. I follow my path for the joy of it, for growing, and because in changing I become more myself than ever before. I have learned that comparison is conformity, and conformity stifles authenticity. I am here to speak my truth, to finally see I am enough in my eyes, and be completely who I am. Isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves?

So, when someone bombards me with unsupported and incessant claims that “This (whatever it is) is going to save your life!” I remind myself that nothing outside you changes your life. You are alive. To transform our lives, we only have to go full out in living and being all we are.

Living In The Light

The fire in my bones
Sings without words
Lights each of my steps
Inside out, from beyond the stars

Shatters the darkness
Joy calls me home
In this turning world
I sing of a timeless space

Beyond all names
From which I’ve come
I’ve settled in
I live there now

How can I speak this powerful love
Humming to itself throughout all things
Calling, calling me on
I am leaping within the cords of life

I am seeing the unfolding of the skies
And the dreams taking shape before my eyes
I am weaving myself into life
I return to my address of nowhere

I have touched the boundless center of being
Seed sparks flung out from the core alight with wonder
breathlessly I live the awesome beauty
Now and now, the quiet acceptance taking place within me

I have new eyes, glinting, for I surrender
To the sea of uncertainty, having nothing to fear
Here I am, moved, excited to be moving
Through every day and night, take flight once more

Beyond all wrong and right
Beyond the need for doors
Burning through the rays of the divine
I burst into this moment, free and soaring

Every inch of me gleaming with an indescribable feeling
Such expansive belonging, an endless tide
Open and still, around me silence is glowing
And at peace with unknowing, here I reside

Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability _ The One-Many (OM) Project

I’ve decided to continue posting, when I come across them, the words and work of others who, like myself, are committed to living and articulating the interdependence of life, and how and why we should live by, among, because of, and even sometimes for each other. If you know of anyone doing related work, let me know and I’ll include them! This is my passion: not only what I am learning from my spiritual companions, but what I’m writing my dissertation on. I’m calling this, in honor of my own experiences, and yes in order to keep my inner word nerd happy, the One-Many or OM Project. We are all one among many, but never separate from each other.

No one walks alone, so I am including the words of those gone before, who walk their journey with me.

The Message From My Ancient Kin:
“Child, the way has not been clear, but Change is always in the making. Even now, each voice that hides inside, could burst at any moment, and from the heart of every silence, rend from it the truth it yearns to cry. This silent cry, breaking in waves upon the world, floods the landscape in its pleading, still aching to begin, speaking wordlessly within. Be that voice, speak your truth, embody that spirit that is all that you are. For our world is starving for love, is yearning for meaning, to hear the song of every life. And our children need us to live life fully: how else can we leave them their beginnings, or guide them to live by the wonder shining out through their eyes even once they’re old? We have always belonged. We need to remember. Our lives are but a single thread. This is love that holds us, even if it can’t be heard or seen. Our raw moments of connection are the knots tying us together, and it’s from the strands of our own song that we spin the story we become into something beautiful and strong, part of the fabric pattern of the world.”

And now here is another OM person and an inspiring TED Talk which she gave in 2010.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Listen to the talk or read the transcript here:

In Brené’s words:

Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. … (W)hat we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is … how we’re wired

If I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness … a strong sense of love and belonging … and folks who struggle for it, … who are always wondering if they’re good enough … . There was only one variable that separated (them.) …(T)he people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.

These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.

What they had in common was a sense of courage. … It’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.

And the last was they had connection, … as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were

They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating… They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…

Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect…” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” … Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.

This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and … say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

In Difficult Moments: Learning to Let Myself Be Seen

I would speak for you,
I would call the colors, help you name the sadness in your eyes.
I would sing the sky’s song to you,
And hold the space for you that has no words.

But right now, peering through the dark stained glass,
Full of the mists of weariness,
I wish that silence would blow across the marshes of my memory,
Seep into conversation, drowning out my own sadness.

Sometimes there is only inky confusion
Lapping at the shores of my life,
As if a wave could slip onto sand indecisively,
Curling up upon itself just before its journey’s over.

Shame and its isolation wash over,
Conveniently masked by grey tears I wish no one knew about.
We have all asked, but I just don’t know why.
Shifting tides, interrupted flight patterns of birds,

An afternoon of lingering loneliness,
Longing for laughter,
And I’m trembling against sharing the seeds of such sorrow,
That never lets itself be named.

It’s tempting to frame it for you in pretty packaging,
Hoping, halfheartedly, that this time the tenebrous tendrils, fog of forgetfulness
Will snatch the melancholy from my mind,
Before you notice what’s there.

But the icy wind blows fiercely through,
Tossing untried possibilities across the vacant field
Of this directionless day.
And I am haunted by the changes I did not make fast enough, well enough.

Why can I not look inside
And recognize this nameless grief as mine?
Defeated I stare across the divide to where I thought I’d be by now .
Me—–you; place-where-I’m-standing—–place-of-my- longing.

The season is coming to an end,
And I fear I have harvested nothing.
I return empty handed, it seems, but for the tears pooled in my palms
Settling into the lifelines on my skin.

Perhaps, in this way, I can still water my dreams,
While the silent cry, breaking in waves upon the world,
Floods the landscape in its pleading,
Still aching to begin, speaking wordlessly within.

So I stop constructing paper cranes out of my pain,
And unfold the creases, between us its map and the indecipherable key,
The empty spaces for which I have no words.
And we wander the pathways there that I have yet to tread,

Because this is how we remember,
Our lives are but a single thread.
Because this is love that holds us, even if it can’t be heard.
Our raw moments of connection are the knots tying us together,

And it takes everything I have, to step across, reach out,
But when I do, the illusions shatter
And I’m amazed to find that you understand, that the shadows are familiar,
That you too struggle to name them, to share the origins of tears.

I would speak for me:
I feel undone, discouraged, , alone.
Could you surround me in your present, quiet light,
Until the fog clears, until I’m assured once more we’re home?

Please, help me gather these broken pieces
On the edge of this unknown,
Where there is nothing left to hide:
And for a moment keep them safe for me, carry them with your own.

One Night At a Berkeley Pub

At the Starry Plow, , a young man sings “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”
It’s the first time I have really listened to the words:
Tales of the ravages of the first world war
Exhausted, I wistfully wish he’d picked a different song tonight.

But when the verses are over and the chorus repeats
Again and again, my attention starts shifting.
To the ten people standing in the isle
Standing in a line, silent as a grave.

I’m the only one to notice them,
Held transfixed by the grief that haunts their tearless eyes
And within such sadness, I lose my bearings,
Their solemn sorrow startles me.

This is not what I expected.
Too many emotions that contradict each other
Course through their bodies, as they let the music move them.
Too much to be present to, but I try.

And then forgetting to make sense out of it all,
I fold my hands and sit still with them until the song is over.
Together, they wrap their Arms around each other,
Holding on tightly, as if bracing themselves against emptiness.

As if, by trying to appear as one,
They could quell the different struggles taking place within them each,
A weary story etched upon their faces,
Between us and the silence, and with the silence it remains.

If I were alone I’d cry for those whose tears cannot fall.
My friend asks me, “Aren’t you going to drink your beer?”
But I am far, so far, far away from here.
Feeling what they’re feeling, I can’t move or speak at all.

The song done, I wish that I could comfort her, my troubled soul sister,
Beside me now, determined to regain composure,
And though I cannot hold her, I can reach out and enfold her,
Never alone, I whisper, a single space is ours together.

Along The Road _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 7

It was Friday, two and a half weeks after I first offered to Caoilte that, as the fianna had no permanent place to live here in the actual world, they could call my small but functional place home. I was exhausted. There were just so, so many of them. Every couple hours when I was home, there were around four groups of five or so who’d come through, and most likely more when I was sleeping, and more when I was gone. They were very respectful and, being disembodied, very quiet. But I was sharing space with them, and it’s very different keeping up a place for many rather than just one. I did end up with some alone time, but never knew for how long it would last, or whether, if someone showed up, there would be something expected of me to do.

 

There were a few times I’d thought of letting Caoilte know this wasn’t working for me, but wasn’t sure whether he’d be understanding or not. I also was extremely stubborn, and every time I came close to actually attempting to contact Caoilte, I’d decide that I could at least attempt to get used to living like this, as everyone else seemed to be, (everyone else had, it seemed, been living in close proximity in groups even in the otherworld, and weren’t phased in the slightest.)  I certainly wasn’t going to give up the minute I felt tired or it became difficult to make good on what I’d promised to do. After all, I’d offered my hospitality, and it would be bad form to change my mind this early on. Besides, I could not imagine a fian backing out of a difficult task, and although I wasn’t a fian myself, I was in some sort of relation important to them or they wouldn’t have included me in the first place. So, I decided to keep learning from the experience, be grateful that I got to meet so many people, and keep up my practice of casting circles around me if I wanted the kind of privacy which would render me truly invisible.

 

On this particular Friday, I was frazzled not just because I’d been entertaining somewhere between fifty and a hundred people, but because it had been the kind of week where I was running into all sorts of obstacles due to my disability. This is a sighted world, and often it isn’t made for me, or at least that’s how it feels. I’d spent hours trying to make the correct formatting on a single poem on the blog. I was trying to finish an a cappella album of music, and as if attempting to record it whenever neither the refrigerator nor the Amtrak trains were running wasn’t enough, I also could only get Audacity to work with sighted assistance. The person I paid to be my assistant was ill and couldn’t show up, which meant I spent five hours that Wednesday including transit and wait time going to shop alone to Trader Joe’s, rather than the mere hour and a half it would have taken with a sighted guide with a car. For all the negative impact cars have on the environment and the planet, the freedom they offer is often taken for granted by those who have them and longed for by those who don’t. Someone without a car, whether sighted or blind, simply has fewer options in the world as to where to travel, and how much to get done in one day.  And ordinary activities such as meeting a good friend for lunch or doing something spontaneous must always be weighed against the hours and hours of transit time and the meticulous planning involved.

 

Being blind confounds these limitations, and adds more to the growing list. When the bus driver forgets to announce my stop in an area with which I am unfamiliar, I not only have to walk an extra five or so blocks but also, usually, get lost. It’s way too easy to be late somewhere because the bus is late, there’s construction, or a light has stopped working. Sometimes buses pull up in the middle of the street, and I miss them as I don’t even know they’re there. Sometimes four or five buses pull up at a stop at once, and it’s necessary to literally run from one to the other and back asking each driver the name of the bus and hoping, if that’s not the right one, that I can find the right one before it leaves. In other words, it gets very complicated, very quickly.

 

It was that kind of week, one with which I am all too familiar, in which I was being told or shown, implicitly or explicitly, that I would have to miraculously reattach my retinas if I ever wanted to participate in the kind of living the world had to offer me. The alternative would be to completely adjust my own expectations and goals, so that they fit the limitations the world was prescribing for me, and I of course found such an option intolerable. Yet the problem really did seem to be that I did have expectations and standards, and it was not just the world that didn’t measure up to them: I did not meet my own expectations either.

 

Given all this, when I installed a new version of Audacity onto my computer and the sound was suddenly muted, rendering every capability it had useless to me, I lost it. A muted computer means I can’t work on anything. It’s akin to having your hard drive go out, and every project you’re working on is suddenly gone. The difference, to my mind it seemed, was that whereas the problem with a hard drive is internal to the computer, the problem with muting was internal to myself. If I could only see, nothing would have been amiss for more than a few seconds. Retrospectively, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time feeling sorry for myself: but that is what happened.

 

I did have the wherewithal at this point to get out of the house. I decided to take a walk down by the bay at Aquatic Park, hang out with nature (the great equalizer of all beings) and soak up some sunshine. Perhaps the light outside me would blaze out the darkness that was threatening to swamp the space within me, threatening to convince me I was actually worth nothing despite appearances, and that giving up my expectations entirely was the only option. Somewhat miserably I made my way across the Amtrak tracks at breakneck speed as to not be caught on them if the bell went off, and wound my way more slowly down the cracked tree-rooted sidewalk to the path by the bay.

 

The bay at Aquatic Park is actually a lake. Building up the area had caused some of the bay to be cut off from the rest by filled land (not landfill, but legitimate land that was used to displace the water.) It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to stay angry while birds are calling, ducks are splashing about and quacking, children are shrieking on a playground, and trees are rustling in the wind. I decided it wasn’t a challenge worth taking, so I let go of the anger. The anger of course was more with myself than at any one in particular, and the more I lost myself in the surrounding world I love to which I’ve always belonged, the world of earth and wind, water and trees, laughter and song, I forgot the meaningless chatter of the world of illusion that humans have constructed which had never been able, let alone ever had the intention, to adopt me.

 

I was now no longer angry, but disheartened and sad. I felt sad because so much of my life in this world is spent alone in isolation, partly due to my disability, and partly due to one of the occupational hazards of being a philosopher. Sad because many people are so afraid of blindness that they would rather exclude me than ever consider whether there would be value in getting to know me. Sad because this manifest world often shuts me out, and I am not the only one who experiences this kind of banishment caused by prejudice and discrimination. As I walked, I thought about how so many people, for varying trivial reasons, from race to ability, gender preference to objectifying standards of appearance, are given the message to find their way elsewhere. There are only a few groups of people for which this world is truly made, but none of those who have been rejected have ever thought to band together, to find commonalities among their differences, including the fact of their differences, and create the communities they long for. (More on that later.)

 

I thought about how I was sad because most of my ways of belonging rarely, if ever, fall within any shared reality I have with others in this world. Some part of me still remembers the world I would have gone to at six months of age if I hadn’t wanted to see what life was like instead. A part of me still recognizes that world as home, and has never adapted to this one. A part of me has always belonged their more than here.  As an adult, I walk both worlds, one foot in each of them, belonging holy to neither, and for that I am a wanderer. In a way, it was no surprise that I wanted to try to create once again somewhere between this world and the next a place where other wanderers like myself are welcome. I’d still like to do that, actually, but not at my house.

 

As these thoughts went streaming as they always do through my head, I continued walking through the park, watching the motion of the water, feeling the branches of trees waving over my head, and noticing all the people who were also walking out on this beautiful autumn afternoon. That is when I saw Oisin walking toward me, not particularly on the road. I looked up, and our eyes met.   Much passes between people without words. And so it was then, an exchange of all each of us was in that moment, which would have taken embodied humans several days to talk through to the end.

 

He walked over and took my hand. For a long time we walked in silence this way, I between Allegro and Oisin, connected to both of them. The quiet calm compassion that Oisin has for all living things seemed to wrap around all three of us, and I felt at peace, more at peace than I could remember ever feeling. Any sense that I was less than anyone had simply vanished. Any trace of feeling like a wayward orphan who neither fit in, nor could make sense of the world had vanished also. This was unconditional acceptance, and I knew I was blessed to experience such unconditional belonging while in this world. It is the belonging we all share in the world beyond, and it was not just mine to look forward to, but mine to have, here and now.

 

Holding hands with an otherworld person is a unique experience. It’s obviously not like holding hands with an embodied person. Unlike human hands, otherworld people’s hands are cold and also obviously lack any density or definition. Though my hand felt cold, it didn’t actually drop in temperature, and it felt almost like it was about to fall asleep without the unpleasantness of actually falling asleep, like there were currents of energy coursing through it. I was fascinated by the experience. Somehow we could reach each other across worlds, world boundaries notwithstanding, as if, I thought, such boundaries were only precursory or nonexistent.

 

When I’d completely become grounded and he thought I was all right, Oisin let go of my hand and started walking a bit ahead of me, now actually following the road. I smiled at that. In order to hold my hand, I realized, he’d had to walk through the reeds and other plant life lining the path down to the water, and at some points he would have been actually walking in (on?) the water. I was impressed, though I suppose it made no difference where he was concerned. No embodied person could have pulled that off. There were advantages being an otherworld person, I mused, even if you can no longer enjoy manifest world food.

 

We’d been walking together for a few minutes more when a thought occurred to me, one which I admit I’d never before considered. The thought was this. Here I was, walking with Oisin, and he not only was from another world but had lived long, long ago. Surely he’d know things I never would have imagined, and I hadn’t thought to ask him any questions. I could ask, I realized, any question I wanted, though I might not get an answer to every question I could ask.

 

For a moment I thought hard about what kind of question I’d ask such a one. Perhaps not a question about his, or even our, past, I decided. I did have endless questions about the past, but felt that any answer to such questions would be information only, and I wanted to ask something of more permanence than mere information.   I realized too that like most people he wouldn’t be able to answer a question about the future, mine or his. I wanted to ask an experiential, not just factual question. One that could transcend languages and time, cultures and conceptions of the good. I already knew we had some philosophical disagreements, and wanted to avoid them at the moment.

 

When I’d finally settled on a question, I asked it in pictures. “Oisin,” I asked, “Can I see the world through your eyes? Can I experience the world as you experience it?”