Tag Archives: doubt

Dark Night

For you said,
“Before us lies a field of possibilities,
Many colors to trace with our hands.”

So we walked the be-wildering way
And the sun hid its face behind the trees,
The shadows lengthened on the ground
And shelter was not found in these.

For you said,
“The rise will help us see beyond,”
And so we climbed

The rocky hills
Exhausted, breathless, out of time,
The vista vanishes, as horizons will.

For the wanderer,
The space between silences
Suddenly cracks a chasm:

The music of terrain and trail
Unbearably missing,
Made mute in the heavy emptiness
Who haunts the heart of her?

Nameless I will go alone
To the place
Where turtle shells are left behind,

Where the sun cries,
And the woods do not creep,
And wonder what on earth I’m doing there.

Would I turn back
From that raw heart-wrenching road?
Would I name the trees,
Sing to the silence,
Create a cacophony to fill the emptiness,
No longer wander?

For you said,
“The rugged in between
Is a good place to wait.”

But my shell-less self shivers
In shimmering sunset,
Falling now
The first drops of rain.

Fragile and frightened,
I force myself to stay awake,
While everywhere I am not empties out,

Envelops itself,
In the mist goes missing.
Hollow echoes heard where nothing stirs.
And that’s when the silence screams.

You Already Know

Imagine this: You are standing alone in your room. The lights are off, the blinds drawn. Your door is shut to any light that might be illuminating the hallway. Suddenly, you feel a presence with you in the room, and see a flash of violet light out of the corner of your eye.

Your reaction? You immediately fire up your computer, and send the following to your spiritually open social media friends: “I felt and saw this presence in my room. Do you think it was actually there? It was probably just a stress reaction/figment of my imagination. Any thoughts?”

In the past couple years, I have seen questions like this posed on blogs and facebook more times than I can count. Every time I run across a “can I trust what I’m experiencing” question, my response is an emphatic unequivocal “YES,!” So what are my thoughts? I suppose you will know, whether you like it or not. 🙂

The events behind the question are always slightly different, but the sequence of things and the form of the question itself are the same: So I have broken down the explicit and implicit inferences that I have discovered to be common among all instances of the process.

• Someone has an experience of hearing, seeing, knowing, and/or feeling someone or something which does not have a physical or corporeal origin.
• The person has a strong sense that she is being visited by her grandmother, is seeing an angel, or is experiencing something of a spiritual nature even if it’s not entirely apparent who is there and why.)
• If the person is uncertain about, or fears the possibility of their being a spirit world, she will experience cognitive dissonance.
• This is usually really uncomfortable, so the person tries to harmonize her experience with her beliefs as fast as possible.
• Very quickly, often unconsciously, the person runs the experienced perceptions and sensations by the scientific and cultural paradigms that she has either personally accepted or vicariously adopted.
• The person cannot readily come up with a physical explanation.
• The person decides to ask a third party whether her experience is really her experience.
• She is hoping for a validation of her strong intuition, but is also hoping to be wrong. So she explains her experience while making sure to minimize or dismiss it.

I can’t deny the discomfort of experiencing something that does not readily fit into your already established belief system. What baffles and saddens me is how quickly people dismiss their experiences, distrust their intuitive knowledge, and hand the authority to determine the veracity of their reality to someone else.

Over time, doubting the validity of your experience can lead you to lose confidence in your ability to reliably participate in and assess the world around you and undermines your trust and belief in yourself. Worse still, routinely seeking external validation of a personal experience is incredibly disempowering. It is one thing to ask for someone’s opinion or interpretation of a situation you are experiencing. It is quite another to ask someone else to determine for you whether the very thing you experienced actually occurred.

Take the following physical world example. If you had an experience of there being a rock in front of you,
you might ask someone’s opinion about the kind of rock or whether it was safe to climb, but you wouldn’t rely on someone else to determine for you whether or not the rock was really there. (In fact, what would this mean? If someone else insisted there wasn’t a rock but you could still see and touch it, would it make any sense to give them permission to change your mind?)

In the instance where you are asking for an interpretation or further information, you still have the final say on what you will believe and accept. In the second instance, you are letting someone else dictate to you whether your experience happened, what it means, and what you should believe about it.

This is not to say that you can’t interpret an experience, spiritual or otherwise, incorrectly. But, While it is possible to misidentify a person from the spirit world or misinterpret a message that is being shared with you, that doesn’t call the existence of the person or the fact of an attempted message into question. You experience seeing a rock when there’s a rock around to see, just as you feel a noncorporeal person’s hand on your shoulder because this is exactly what is happening. You might find out you are mistaken about the kind of rock, or the identity of the person, but both continue to exist regardless.

There is a vast amount of knowledge already within us. Perhaps it is there because we have accumulated it over lifetimes, or it has been passed down from our ancestors. Perhaps it is there because we are all interconnected, no matter the world we live in, and that interconnection is vaster and more intricate than we could ever imagine. Whatever the reason, within each of us is the truth by which we guide ourselves and live in integrity with who we are. Out of that seed of knowing we grow: but not unless we can trust our first-hand perceived experience of the world.

So, the next time you get the strong feeling that your grandmother is visiting you, don’t make yourself miserable by dismissing an entire way of knowing and telling yourself she’s not there. You won’t be the only person who is grateful that you’re not doubting yourself anymore. I am sure that your grandmother will also be happy that you finally noticed she is still a part of your life.

If the experience you are having is still hard to believe, sit quietly for a while. Ask yourself what is true. You can trust your own experience: you are the expert on it, after all. You don’t need to give your power away to anyone. You already know.

Don’t Try This At Home, Kids

How often must you fail before it stops hurting? That was the question in my mind this morning. It’s not that I am exactly failing. I’m just not succeeding, at all.

I’ve heard a lot of interesting and many helpful bits of advice about becoming conscious, and the flow of this year in particular. What has stayed with me is an idea that seems to describe life, whatever your belief system.

We’ start out in life floating down a river in boats of different shapes and sizes. At some point however we lose the boat, or it breaks apart on rocks, or it gets hijacked or stolen or reappropriated. After this, we make the rest of our way submerged in the river itself, which means everything is harsher, brighter, colder, more immediate, more beautiful, more wild, more painful, more harrowing, more directly interactive. (To be fair, if this were not a metaphor, we’d probably also die from hypothermia at this point, but I digress.)

For all its simplicity, I feel this metaphor is quite apt. For instance, I know many people including myself who are going along in living, and then something happens to terrify us out of our skin and we’re flailing in the water. If you think holding onto the shore gives you safety, think twice. Without a boat, it’s your hands grasping at the rocks along the bank for dear life. Meanwhile the churning water surges past you, dragging you away, leaving your hands wounded and bloody stains on the rock where they were a moment before. Trust me, this only needs to happen once before you realize it’s a terrible strategy.

So we try letting go and floating. And this is by far the more sensible thing to do … until we hear that we’re approaching a waterfall, and begin questioning our sanity. (I’m going to do what?) It’s not as though we aren’t used to white water rapids and waterfalls. It’s just that with them, there are only two outcomes: somewhat miraculous gliding through unscathed, or disaster.

Finishing a dissertation is like hearing that roar of waterfall up ahead. I am questioning my sanity—well to be honest I’ve been questioning that for a while. I have also heard lately the saying that if we just let the water carry us over the edge and not struggle with it, in other words pay attention to the way things in life are going and adjust ourselves accordingly, this will prevent tumbling headlong into raging currents from getting disastrous. I, for one, am not convinced.

I am paying attention to what’s going on with the people in my life who have some control over when I graduate. If I took their actions as a sign and went with the flow, so to speak, I’d slow down. In the past week, three people, an auspicious number, have told me in different ways that my plan for defending this summer is unrealistic. If I believe them, I will give up before even starting. If I don’t believe them, I’ll just be bulldozing ahead in a way that frankly feels a bit obtuse. Sure, I’m good at being recalcitrant, but that hasn’t ever won me a popularity contest in social graces. So I usually refrain.

So this morning I woke up thinking about entrepreneurs who say they are successful because they failed first, more times than they can count. It baffles me. How on earth do they do this without feeling terrible about themselves, being ashamed, giving up and attempting an easier venture instead, shedding tears, grieving, or making fools of themselves? (Actually, crying is probably acceptable. Literally or figuratively falling flat on your face? Probably not.)

I think about social movements, people who lose their lives to take a cause forward and never live to see its conclusion. Have they failed retrospectively if the movement disintegrates? Or the people who have always wanted children and try, but can’t: have they failed? I mean, they did try and did not succeed, and that’s one definition of failure. Does a person fail when their body has genuine physical limits they can’t transcend? Is it just their body that has failed them?

When is failure not personal? When is it both a genuine falling short and yet not a loss? When does it defeat a person? When is it transformative? How many attempts at trying are needed before it’s all right to walk away? How many failures does a person have to endure before it’s okay to stop beating herself up about it? Would failure be impossible in a world where judgment does not exist, and if so, are there good reasons for us in this judgmental world to abandon the concept in favor of another one? Is it ever possible to fail, spectacularly, and still be worth something, and still be whole, and still be enough?

These are my questions, and I struggle with the answers. Right now, I have little wisdom to impart. I am only beginning to experience what will hopefully, if I don’t fail, turn out to be the sequence of things which will give me the answers to those questions. And in doing so, I am reminded of the very sensible saying which I have never heeded, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

What I do know is that sometimes failure isn’t a result of not working hard at something. There have been times when I’ve worked so hard on my dissertation that I’ve driven myself into incoherence and exhaustion. These efforts however have no impact on how fast or slowly my committee gives me comments, if they give them at all. On top of this, life seems to be getting in the way of progress for everyone involved, so that regardless of how much I personally do, there’s a sense in which progress isn’t really made. I am reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s book title, “Dragonfly in Amber.” If I’m the dragonfly, grad school is the amber. I beat and beat my wings, but hover still. Is that failure? Or has there happened to be an eddy right before the waterfall so that I can look ahead to the treacherous journey but am forever swirled in place? I suppose if life is a river, you’re bound to get caught in its eddies sometime or other. Is that failure, or just terrible timing and bad luck?

For all sorts of good and ridiculous reasons, I am here, working on a PH.D., which maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish. There are people who get several PH.D.s. They have got to be masochistic. I’ve already reached the point where I am tired of such a painful experience, but the experience isn’t willing to give me up yet. I wish I had made other life choices. There are no answers, but I keep wondering when I’ll no longer feel like a failure, or like I am trying to climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops and a bathing suit. When does the light break through the clouds? When it does, I will not look back.

Forging Something New

Hoping that struggle will solve every problem,
Treading water for days,
I give in, realizing I’ve not gone anywhere,
But am rather swamped by other people’s feelings.

What am I missing?
staying strong, striving for more,
Too much to be done now
To wait for a quieter kind of transformation.

I don’t want to use the word despair,
It serves no one,
But I am a single person
In a needy sea of change.

Tidal waves crash, over my head,
And it gets hard to breathe.
No place to land, I try floating,
Only to look up at a sky, clouded.

Yesterday we asked for healing.
We saw the red tears fall,
We hoped thread-bare, without ceasing,
Grounding ourselves on the standing stones.

Today I feel so terribly alone,
Finishing a project that cannot restore
The fracked landscape, felled trees,
Sorrow in the lives of my many friends.

It is not enough to ease my exhaustion,
Or put an end to the haunted look in my eyes.
Do we have enough time?
Is there still time?

Yesterday I sprawled out on the rock
And closed my eyes,
A purple hood pulled up over my head,
Keeping out the cold. You said,

Would you ever be willing to bend like a spoon
Reshaped to reflect all your brilliant light?
I’d hold you safe within my hands
Until you became definite, solid again.

I admit, I find this a wholly disagreeable idea,
So I’ve answered you so far with the sound of silence.
What am I missing? Holding still for a moment,
This fragmented world spinning out of control, I am at a loss.

But, too discouraged to do anything else,
I let go, with no clue as to what’s going on.
Cave early, I’ve heard. I agree out of weariness, not curiosity,
The hapless child stumbling over myself to get out of the way.

What’s going to happen now?
The oceans are heaving in grief,
The world cries out in human and nonhuman voices,
Longing, pleading, to end this needless suffering.

And so far I have only fought battles with my shadow,
Tried healing my own raw woundedness.
What is the shape of fear, turned to love?
Such a strange alchemy, when truth meets with acceptance.

I hope for the best,
I come face to face with my own ignorance,
I take one step and then the next,
All right, then, if it means you’ll carry me through the rest.

The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes

The Four Who Helped Me Heal _ When Two Worlds Meet

August-September, 2013

In 2008, I develop a chronic and serious medical condition that is not properly diagnosed for the next six years. It is an intestinal condition and here is the thing I learn about such conditions: there is a lot of stigma around them and it is almost taboo to speak about it. So it has taken me over a year to decide to post this.

I am tested for Crohn’s, IBS, a whole gamut of scary conditions—but never, oddly, for the one condition I end up learning I have. I wonder if my problem has anything to do with my diet, so I give up dairy, gluten, and nuts and seeds. None of this works either, and is instead quite the hassle to deal with in daily living as I am exhausted, not absorbing any food I am eating, and scheduling my life around my illness.

Besides the physical illness, however, there is an even stealthier nightmare to contend with: the nightmare of secrecy, shame, self-blame, self-disgust, and isolation. At the same time that I want an accurate diagnosis, I also live in constant fear of its discovery. I believe that if anyone finds out, it will be proof that I must be replaceable and unloved. Sometimes I wish I could never see anyone again. I feel like I am living someone else’s life. I have certainly checked out of the one I’ve been given, but like the lyric in Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like but you can’t ever leave.” I have already made up my mind a while back that “leaving,” which would mean complete apathy or death, is no option for me. I just wish I could be a whole person again.

It takes until March of 2013 to get a proper diagnosis, after which I am immediately referred to a surgeon. I find I am mortified and relieved to finally be taken seriously and have an explanation for the terror and pain. I can finally name my nightmare that has taken over my life, its truth borne silently and in hushed horror. And as I come to accept both that I will not have to endure this forever, and that surgery is my only option, as I work hard to heal my shattered spirit, I begin slowly to surrender to what is. Very slowly.

It has been extremely difficult to prepare for surgery: all the ins and outs of care I need during the hospital stay and then again almost constantly for the three weeks following, the lining up of friends and family, social workers, and dealing with bureaucracy has been almost too much to handle. During all this, four people from the otherworld keep appearing together around my living room. Quietly, with no expectations of their own, they lend me support with silent presence, and it is strangely validating, this vigil of acknowledgement and how they do not judge me for not being whole, or well, and don’t look away. They wear homemade wool outfits, are extremely tall, and carry swords and shields with swirly ray patterns on them, so I can’t tell precisely if I am seeing the symbol for sun or water, or both at once. They look solemn and serious. They rarely move. They have yet to speak to me. That hardly matters. In the other world, whole conversations can occur without words.

I don’t know their names or why they are here, I mean why they are bothering to hang out with me, but I am not ever surprised to see them, it is kind of like arriving home from a long day and finding your family there— ordinary joyous contentment, belonging. I am also way too exhausted and ill to ask questions or even be particularly polite, but they don’t seem bothered by that. I simply except, gratefully, that they are here, as I go about making countless phone calls, and work out my manifest world recovery team who will have to spend three to six weeks assisting me while I don’t have a guide dog. The surgeons don’t want him with me while there’s a chance he could pull on me or cause me to fall.

Now, six months after my referral to a surgeon, around August 20th, I am attending another appointment for a second opinion. I am prepared to take as much control of the situation and my health as possible. I have literally twenty-five questions on my Braille computer ready to ask, thoroughly researched. I’m leaving no stone unturned.

I look around the room and find all four of my otherworld people are here. When our eyes meet, their eyes are kind, with a somber calm within them. I marvel at how they can see into the truth of things, but don’t evaluate what they see. This in and of itself is a gift to me. When I think there is no way I could possibly be safe, I look at my otherworld people and they help to ground me in myself, in a gaze that simply accepts what is.

When the surgeon walks in, I think, well okay, this surgeon dude tries messing with me, he’s going to be really sorry he does. That thought makes me smile despite the circumstances. These four people from the otherworld are formidable looking indeed. They certainly command anyone’s respect, and I surmise, would most likely instill fear in anyone who got on the wrong side of them. The surgeon, I notice, is effectively surrounded. I am relieved and for the first time ever while in a doctor’s office, I feel safe.

Fortunately, the surgeon is thoughtful and respectful, and doesn’t hold limiting stereotypical views about people with disabilities. He answers my questions thoroughly and to the extent it is humanly possible, puts me at ease. I am so young and otherwise healthy that he is confident the surgery will be a success. He corrects my misinformation and this in and of itself silences many of my fears. Meanwhile, my otherworld people keep their vigil around the room, holding space for me, keeping me centered, their presence silently challenging my belief that until I am well I am not valuable to anyone. I cannot seriously have this thought and look into their eyes at the same time, and so unless I need to be looking elsewhere, I never look away from them.

I arrive at the hospital on September 17th. Trembling violently from cold and nerves, I enter the unusually frigid operating room. This is when I realize I have a choice: resist or surrender. Up until this point, I believe that surrendering means giving up the deepest part of me. It is my dignity and respect which needs fighting for, and it is this dignity that the surgery and the hospital stay, with its inevitability of rendering me profoundly dependent on others, surely threatens and compromises. But suddenly my need to heal overrides my desire to continue with my defenses. The anesthesiologist begins to read the affirmations I have written up for her to say while I go under, each to be repeated three times. “You are whole, safe, and secure,” she says soothingly. “You are whole, safe and secure.”

I let go, completely, and by the time she repeats the affirmation a third time, I’ve lost consciousness. When I awake, I know I am well. I still need to recover, but my body feels like mine again. My first words are, “I’m so happy!” I realize surprisingly that at the moment I am not in any pain at all, despite just having gone through an intense major procedure. But that is not the only gift I receive from this experience. I know that my choice to surrender is the greatest gift I could ever imagine: I come home to myself. I do not lose myself, but find it again. I find peace, and this peace stays with me wherever I am.

I spend six days in hospital. I do recover well, but there is still all that uncomfortable and gnarly stuff that comes with having major surgery. Incredibly, amazingly, my other world people stay with me the whole time, regardless. They hold space for me, and protect me so all I have to do is heal. I don’t need to see them. I can feel the light that surrounds me, and it is like being a child who finally experiences what it is like to be held.

It is only after six weeks of recovery (after which I can eat whatever I want!) that I see my four otherworld people vividly, in front of me, like I normally do. And when I do, it finally occurs to me to ask who they are. When they tell me, my rational brain goes on strike until further notice and I am caught in between impossible and possible, acceptable and unnervingly unacceptable reality.

I spend the first week in a bit of stunned denial, and ask them at least twice a day to come again with who they are. Occasionally I worry that I am engaging in the most outlandishly creative act of imagination ever conceived. Have I lost it? But no, somehow I know I am probably not making this up at all, and the adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ would absolutely apply and I’d be incapable of dreaming all this even if I tried. Also I am definitely not dreaming. Also, I have been too busy preparing for and then recovering from surgery to try. Also, if these really are the people they say they are, I absolutely have to believe them.

Still, I am having trouble accepting this reality. Moments strike me at random in which I am confronted with trying to come to terms with what is going on. Why would these four people, who I don’t even know, choose to spend days with me in which I can barely get out of bed, am often in pain, and need help doing almost everything under the sun? How can they see the state I’m in and not judge me? Why is it that, though they never look away, I feel peacefully, utterly safe? I am beyond grateful. But why? Why do this for me?

But when I do ask Caoilte about it, ask why, why would he and his sons Faolán and Colla, and his cousin Oisín, be so unconditionally here for me, he simply replies, “Why not?”

It’s a response that effectively separates itself from any line of argument to the contrary. It causes me to think seriously about the negative view of myself that I hold and always have taken for granted. I know that if I were given a reason why, I’d try my best to come up with why I still did not deserve it. But there is no reason. I am given instead an invitation to accept what is. It takes some time, but acceptance does come. I accept despite my culture’s aversion to spiritual experiences that make no sense, I accept though this leaves me in profound humility, gratitude, and wonder. And I am forced to confront my incredulity that I could ever be worth doing such a thing for, ask myself whether I have been wrong my whole life about lacking value unless I am exceptional or perfect, whether, regardless of my blindness or health or illness or strengths or weaknesses I might just be enough. Really? And why? But as I will come to find out, there are many preconceptions of myself and the world that I’ll be turning on their head, reevaluating, and growing from, letting go into awe and gratitude and wonder, coming home.

a href=”https://thesoundofwhathappens.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/the-antlered-branch-_-when-two-worlds-meet-part-13/” title=”The Antlered Branch _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 13″/