Tag Archives: healing

Who Are You?

Hold nothing back, you have no need to hide
Hold out your hands, you have no need to defend
Let go and live wild, you have no need to doubt
Let go and breathe, you have no need to fear

Stand equal to the defenders of dreams, protectors of truth, guardians of growing
Stand strong among the streaming stars that set your soul alight with wonder
And even when all you feel inside are division and despair
Show me the light of you, for this is who you are

Kindle the kindness that shame forbids you to share
With the one whose worth it tries to mar
Yes, that one, daring to dance despite history’s horrors
Blazing the beauty of you, every moment

Show me how you are learning to trust
With the gentle grace grown in the soil of sorrow
Show me how you are finding self-compassion
While fighting fiercely to own your own strength

Show me the spark that shines through the dark at the heart of you
Beneath the beliefs that still barricade you from belonging
Tell me of the tenderness you touch after trembling
And the tears that turned terror to triumph

Stand in the fire that melts chains and burns burdens
False foundations fall, timber tumbles, so many ruins crumbling
Flames fill and surround you, radiance reshaping shadow
Show me the sunlight soaring in your eyes

For My Mother

I wish the last face I ever saw was yours
Your bright green eyes, your complexion warm and kind
That would be a sight worth cherishing, after I saw nothing more
And your smile, the one expression etched forever in my mind

That look that says, I will always love you fully
I would carry deep within me, to return to, home inside
A stable touchstone, a reminder, that I am whole and holy
Whenever I am struggling, each time I long to hide

I’d replace that ever-present, soul-seared sneer of hate
With the colors of compassion in your soft soothing gaze
And in the places where the harsh shadows wait
Yours would be the lingering face, the gentleness behind closed eyes

I wish I could erase the projections from my map, the fear and false belief
With its overgrown topography, all that’s cruel and haunted
And in its place I’d trace an infant’s landscape in relief
The clay composed of safety, trust, and always feeling wanted

And if I could give one gift to you
Here’s what it would be
To discover, despite all I’ve been through
Your picture in a memory

*********

The last face I ever saw, the only face I have a visual memory of, is the face of the person who abused me when I was six months old. Until I recently recovered the memory and varified it was accurate, I never realized that the face I imagined often in my mind’s eye when I was beeing the cruelest and harshest on myself was identical to this person’s face.

With that discovery, I started to wonder what it would have been like to instead remember my parents’ faces (my brothers weren’t born yet.) I wondered how it might have been different if I had internalized the loving faces of my family, before they had to face what happened to me: faces that held the joy and love of two people who had just brought a new child into the world. If I had a visual memory of that love, even if everything else happened as it did, what might be different?

And for someone who has always believed it was impossible to remember what it was like to see, having even just a glimpse of that experience is still taking a lot of time to process. It was like gaining and losing something simultaneously. And the rest I don’t have words for yet.

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.

The Gifts of Grieving

At the center of each of us
A deep pool glistens
A well of tears
Fed from rivers of remembering

Here, exhausted hearts stop to rest
To spill the growing grief of moonless tides
Gently, waves wash gnarled bent hands
And the gaunt faces of mothers with stillborn dreams

Sorrow of sisters who could not tell their stories
Weary weeping borne with the nameless burdens
No time to reflect, slow down and ask questions
No time to repair all that’s worn through and ragged

Sunlight slowly smooths the surface
And the fog of forgetting retreats
Peaceful honesty, soft touch of gold hues
Soothes the swirling swells to calm

And from the vivid depths of human losses
I witness myriads of mirrored faces
See myself reflected in them all
As have millions of eyes before mine

Eyes that have watched deserts
Being formed from women and children
Singed with the screaming
Sparks of raw hatred

Eyes that closed yearning
For the warm welcome of family
In between long hours
The endless hunger of the red-splashed anger

We cannot evaporate the charred scars of our choices
Some tracks of tears weren’t meant to be dried
Healing hides in this quiet reservoir of keening
I will tend it tenderly with salty rain

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

Why Change Metaphors Need to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Memory of Carmen Santaella

Why had she come to this aching,
Keening world
The many crying
For the freedom to feel

She tried to share a brilliance
A song all her own
Lit up the dark sleeping world
For a moment burned clear

It seems so limited now
Her life’s past, unfurled
Why this flesh and bone
To segment out a single thread

Around her, familiar people
Wander, their faces haunted
By the souls shining within them
Forbidden to fully live

Hearts yearning to break open
Stay firmly shut and sealed
Hardened in the resin
Defenses of sorrow

Tonight, once again,
It is all too much to take in
She shares the world beyond the pain
And the high rise beckons

She stands for a moment, the shape of a star
vibrant with living the wisdom of the dead
Longing sends her leaping
Stills her breathing

A sigh slips silently
From among the broken bones
No light in the eyes
When the body is found

But over the hushed hill
A fresh laid mound
With the wind gone still
A song briefly lingers

Then beyond the blue-green earth
AS dense as stone
Woven again
Into her quiet conscious light

Caught free falling
By the ones always waiting
She soars on and on
No longer alone

The Apology

While what’s broken mends
We gather one another’s tears
Frightened by these raw words
Shared in earnest honesty

For our trembling hands
Suddenly afraid to touch
For the truths, unearthed
We longed to rebury in sand

For fragile trust
We thread between to weave again
I will share with you what no one else has known
What hidden shadows still inform who I am

Reach out, light one, I have much to own
Though you found the strength to take a stand
A midst the rubble of our yesterdays
What I wish to take back, were it that I can

Why do you still blame yourself
When there is nothing else you could have done
How could you not be carried away
By wild waves, compelling you too far from land

I led the way, in the space that was ours
And almost lost you; of course you ran
Let the sea of forgiveness enfold our hearts
You were caught in fierce tides you did not understand

The Morrigan

Waiting, watchful
Beady eyes,
Cold, coal crow,
Follows me.

Harsh her piercing
Grating cries
Cah, cah, calling me
I run, terrified to turn, to see.

But it is time
For battles to be won,
Reclaim the sovereignty that’s mine,
Declare independence … my own.

Red veils fall
On stark terrain,
The stretching past
The road before,

Survey the ground,
Bide your hours,
Face it head-on, don’t back down
Fight for all you’re worth.

She will lead you where you’re bound.
Demand what’s yours,
And then break free.
The other side to our path. you see,

To shine, star bright, across the sky,
You must not be afraid to burn.
Strike a kindling of flame, the old to die:
In time, this balance, you will learn.

Waiting, watchful
Beady eyes
Cold, coal crow
Follows me.

Harsh her piercing
Grating cries
Cah, cah, calling me
When I turn around, what will happen? I wait to see.