Tag Archives: freedom

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

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.

I’m Still Here

Shattered:
Scattered shards
Of once guarded sky
Wide the gaps between each light
And I? I am still here.

Severe the drop,
Stop short, sharp and sheer
Fears without a name. let go?
Oh, yes. So much left to do in the soaring.

Roaring seas somewhere inside,
Rip-tide, toss and churn,
Turn to maelstroms the hidden dreams,
Fling with fury forgotten things.
Cling to the ledge;

Edge back; think safe; night is nothing new.
Few the songs still left unknown:
Own them all?
Yes, all of you.
Too much, that. I grasp at shifting sands

And close my eyes …
Cries in the whirlpools below,
Lone mournful moans, fear’s lullabies.
They die away into the night,
And I? I am still here.

Clear across
This lost divide,
Glide the ones who spread their wings,
Singing to the hidden things.
Springs up from the depths of them.

Mistaken turns
Learned too late,
Await me in the in between.
Once seen, gather them gently,
Gently, as you would with frightened children.

Hold them, love them.
Only then can you fly.
Why is it so hard to reach
Each hand out,
Without looking back, and hand

Over hand, find my way down?
I haven’t found the strength to move,
To love each shattered shard of sky.
And I? I am still here.

I Return As Dr. Éilis!

On Friday, I defended my dissertation, passed without the need for any revisions, and absolutely stunned out my committee! Each of them made a point to tell me how much they loved my presentation, and how well I did in answering their questions. I rocked it, above and beyond what I ever imagined. As Martha Beck says, Woohoo!!!

It’s been a long, long road, everyone. Weeks ago, I wondered whether, after I gained my freedom–err, I mean graduated– I’d be totally ecstatic and bouncing off walls, full of so much joy I wouldn’t know what to do with myself: maybe I’d have so much energy that I’d run until I’d get exhausted: which would only take a minute. I’m serious. Writing a dissertation takes up a lot of hours, and involves the “arduous” task of sitting still…with the exception of your hands of course, which are constantly typing. Moving becomes an unfamiliar pastime.

As it happens, I am immeasurably happy, and jubilant, and elated: and bone tired. Contentedly tired, but still very weary. They don’t tell you this when you get the acceptance letter, but graduate school is a long drawn out procedure with a recovery period. I recommend warning any graduate-school-enthusiast children you may have about this phenomenon, (but to be fair, no amount of warning ever dissuaded me from attending.)

For me, graduate school lasted ten enduring years. Years spent not knowing who I was, years where I faced a lot of discrimination, pain, ostracism and social invisibility, years in which I slowly but steadily moved through and eventually transformed my anger, grief, and feelings of worthlessness. Somewhere inside me was the girl who I’d forgotten in the fog, lost under harsh layers of living, but who was still breathing, silently dreaming.

I know she was there, because I have found her. I sang to her bones to rise, to walk into her own belonging. I traveled the road of shadows for her, called her name, gathered the shattered mirror pieces and pieced them whole once I heard and knew and felt throughout all I ever was that I was not broken. I learned to love those jagged pieces, a patchwork puzzle of the past. And despite all I had been through in the place to which I returned, last week when I returned, I remained wholeheartedly myself. I could have never achieved this on my own, of course, but I did have to decide to keep going, each step of the way. That is to me a testament to how far I have come.

Always the question arises, after arriving, no longer questing, for a threshold: as I look toward my whole life ahead of me, what amidst all that should be left behind is worth carrying forward? re-membering is important, relearning resilience, rebuilding a self by the soft light of a core spark that never dies, retrieving compassion from where it had retreated, backed into a corner of regret and shame and silence about much that had never been true. Freedom, walking out of the Anonymous Desert for the last time, and shutting a door of an era behind me was a right of passage in itself. But I know well that I could have never lept the crossing had I never learned to tear down walls, break through bars, and hold my own rather than hold on for dear life. (I have often done both kinds of holding, sometimes simultaneously.)

A week before my defense, I sat down and did some re-membering. I wrote from myself to myself, which I had never done before. I will share a bit of the growing with you, as I think I’ve learned things which we are all in the process of re-membering, and because I finally found the words for it.

***

Power is found within, springs forth from love and compassion for you, to hold your own sacred space within you, and claim your birthright of worth and belonging. You can stay centered in your own truth, your own power. You are the author of your life and the divine guardian of yourself.

Stop holding your breath against change. Be discerning and open. Let go. Let go of expectations. you belong to yourself and always have. This past does not define you. It will not ruin you. You will return. Keep your energy centered, your mind focused. Have great love and compassion for you. Know you are stronger than you know or believe. The grey will fall at your light. Be present, be alive and do not try to hide your eyes. Please return without any sense of small. Be the unbridled joyfulness of you. Your power, your truth, your strength, your trust, is all of and for yourself. I love you. You are already wild.

***

The journey that has gotten me here far surpasses the feat of freeing myself from a situation I never should have stayed in. If that lived experience was the only way to get me to where I am now, I am grateful for every moment of it, and that’s the truth. And truthfully, I am also overjoyed to finally be moving on, to embrace what is next in this wonderfully wild world. Let’s do this thing!

Navigation

Moon-spun moments disperse at daybreak
By day the sunsoaked landscape cries
Sighs a cacophony of endless voices
Boisterous streetsong, chatter of strangers

Arrange my day along a familiar route
Without a topography, the map obscures
Ensures that I will lose my way
If I stray from the journey, even slightly

Yet, nightly I travel roads unweary
Hearing the hush of darkness unfolded
Enfolded in the ebony behind closed eyes
I step lightly through

Moon-beam strewn stepping stones
Alone wander paths I’ve never taken
Then a whole world to explore
For there are memories to awaken

Aching to be known, whispered in landscapes
Grace in every motion, no need for seeing
Only being; until streams of dawn
Drawn across night’s sacred shelter

Melt the moonpath, its visions vanished
Banished in the dusk of dreaming

Demeter’s Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Is More Discerning Than Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says, “I’m hungry, let’s go eat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plato’s Cave

Again I’ve stepped from Plato’s cave
Where no idea is self-made,
Surprised how cold thought’s pure embrace,
Beneath eternity’s marble face.

I’ve come before here once or twice,
Its beauty chiseled out of ice,
Such stillness, not a rock exhales,
Pristine, unmoved, things-in-themselves.

A permanent transcendent time,
Is the world of Forms, the Good, Sublime.
Staring out of fixed stone eyes,
A changeless gaze, a semblance of the wise.

But what’s remembered lives, it’s the truth I understand,
And the whispering trees whose spring leaves appear,
In winter shake their branches clear,
Cycles turn time’s circling hands.

Mired in the sticky sap of love,
Gently dry the loss from grief stained eyes,
And the unkempt joy and laughter of
Each person’s full and fragile life.

Such a vibrant, wondrous mystery,
Sacred the shadows, sacred the living light.
What tales can be shared without a history,
Or in the silence of perfection, where no day follows night?

I have no need of any rescuing,
Nor need of wandering the ideal world above,
And it’s in the breaking open, that I fly free,
To soar with laughter, tears, and love.

Citizens of the World

Divided only by stories and space,
Spread across oceans,
We burn to belong.

loyalty takes tributaries,
Flowing water known by many names
The direction, the destination the same,
We babble like brooks about the better ones, the one way.

Monuments to freedom tilt across borders,
Still we stand and throw obligations at each other
As if handling hot stones,
No one owning where they’ve come from.

As long as we are terrified of each other’s thoughts and hands,
We’ll search for differences to divide us.
But you are not separate, only, from a different tree,
And like a leaf, I have fallen with you.

Child, the way has not been clear,
But change aches to be made.
It whispers under every breath,
The first and the last, and those inbetween.

No wonder we hold and no wonder we long,
No wonder we gather our own,
To stall the hunger for each other.

Knotted together is the good for us,
And the good for the world.
Put your hand down. Covering your eyes is not allowed.
Neither is staring. All has its balance.

So much of our tapestry of meaning is at stake,
Its patterns woven along many dimentions,
You glimpse it just beyond these nested, sacred shelters
Where like so many birds, one day every soul will soar, fly free.