Tag Archives: journey

Stay _ A Poem for the Journey

Stay with the waves, like the ocean you breathe
These are threads of your life, a cocoon that we weave

Stay present and watchful in the vigil you’re keeping
For dormant fears, they will rise, dreamed without sleeping

Stay alert to the storm that you stir with your hands
As you strive for control, to shape life’s shifting sands

Stay open, though around you dissolves much that you’ve known
There’s no need to struggle, we carry you as our own

Stay right where you are, and no matter how far you’ve run
When you return to yourself, you’ll be found, we will come

Stay for the joy in remembering the song
And all our rejoicing, you’ve come home, you belong

Stay for the soaring, and the rest still unnamed
Stay and discover who you are when untamed

Stay, though before you the forge-fires burn
Claim your place at the center, match our strength, it’s your turn

Stay though the flames leap across through your skin
They will sear fear and shame, mend you whole from within

Stay to meet gently each moment unfolding
There is always compassion behind any challenge worth holding

Stay while your light rearranges, unwinds
Though it may seem that shadows are all that you find

Stay curious, and welcome each one eye to eye
You can never cease shining, but you might forget why

Stay your hand, your self-hatred and anger aren’t yours
Dare the mudflats of memory, there you’ll find who it’s for

Stay strong, though for days you’ve been eclipsed in long hours
Dazed in grey silences gone secret and sour

Stay with us, you are trembling with terror to speak
You are held safe in love, find the answers you seek

Stay in the dance, patterned shadows and light
You are learning your wholeness, both the day and the night

**********

You are learning the pathway within to a door
That opens in stillness, go inside and step through
It is there you remember you are worth fighting for
And to do that, you must be the one worth surrendering to

It Doesn’t Matter

*********

So what if I have wasted my hours bogged
Down in a slough of brokenness,
Time oozing from fingers
Fumbling through the quagmire of yesterdays

So what if I have tried to be loved
By pretending perfection or by pleading,
screaming out the names of disowned silences
While they cringe in the corner, craving to be seen

So what if the path to the past
Is a constant erosion of storms
Each echo a lashing of lightning
Crackling and snapping the new dawning sky

So what if I feel flawed and fragile and have no children
So what if the stars still shine brighter than the smoldering spark inside
So what if I have most often chosen the false safety of shadows,
Fed by their frightening, familiar frenzy

It doesn’t matter how often my clay self quakes
As my conception of family crumbles
Shaken to its foundations
Along a fractured fault line

It doesn’t matter how many times I have curled like an infant
On the floor of my room, clothed only in sky
Trembling against the return of frozen fears
From the far reaches of the forgotten

For time after time,
You come to wrap me in a quilt of compassion,
And meet me with gentleness as an equal
With an acceptance that knows no language

Then I can sing melodies of my own making,
Though I’ve yet to learn all the words in the music
Then I can share my truth, woven tapestry of story,
Though sometimes I might only give birth to my longing

Again and again, I can reach out to you walking beside me
No matter what I’ve done or where I’ve been
Again and again, I can reclaim this strength, returned, as my own
No matter how many times I’ve given my power away

I can wake up in your arms, day after day
No matter how lost I feel in the depths of the dreaming,
And soothed by the steadying sound of my breathing, slowly,
Slowly, open my eyes

*********
Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter: not because life and its actions are meaningless, but because the kind of love that leaves you breathlessly in wonder, at peace and knowing your own wholeness knows no conditions or limits. I have to keep re-membering this the hard way. This week, when life spun out of hand and all I could do is let go and trust I would still be held, I also recalled this quote from Rumi which inspired this poem.

“Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

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!

Rocky Start in Dublin _ Ireland, the 12th of June

It is seven A.M. The Dublin Airport is very quiet as we make our way toward customs, and then baggage claim. We retrieve our things, and I’m carrying the lightest load.

“Let me take that for you,” I offer to my mom who appears to be struggling under a lot of heavy shoulder bags.

“No, I want to carry it. It’s easier for me, I have everything balanced already,” she replies, adjusting herself like someone begrudgingly resigned to a difficult mission.

I shrug. Since I’ve known my mom my whole life, I’m well aware that it isn’t beneficial to argue with her– she will invariably and stubbornly stick to her decision. This is a wonderful trait to have while carrying a cause, I reflect, such as when she’s involved in advocacy. It is not, I observe, as helpful when applied to carrying heavy physical objects while navigating an unfamiliar area. I’d like to simply reach over and take matters into my own hands, as it were, but decide to link arms with her instead. With my brothers close by, the four of us start off to find the exit for the transit bus.

As we walk, my mind is racing with expectations, questions, concerns, curiosity, and excitement. Everything around me takes on an air of significance. Possibilities glimmer, the newness of it all shines bright and clear, and my awareness takes on a sharp focus.

It’s just that, so far, nothing is worth writing home about. The smells are airport smells. The sounds are airport sounds. If I were not hearing conversations spoken with Irish accents and the occasional dialogue in a language other than English, I would be unable to distinguish this airport from any other. Okay, I think, I couldn’t have realistically expected myself to feel a sense of familiarity right off the plane. That rarely happens, if at all. I tell myself not to worry, the recognition of this place will come.

Perhaps, I consider, I’ll need to get outside to really start to sense the energy of the land and any connection I might have with it. This thought makes a great deal of sense, so while we acquire euros and ask for more directions, I don’t let the lack of homecoming feeling bother me. But the worry returns when I do go outside, walking between terminals. Nothing happens, and I can’t figure out why.

Once we and our luggage have successfully made it onto the bus, I sit back in my seat and continue observing. The first thing I notice is that Caoilte is standing between me in the seats in front of us. I appreciate that this wouldn’t be very possible were he embodied without it getting awkward, but as things are, we are both unphased. I turn to tell mom that he’s joined us. Though she can’t see people from the other world, she’s supportive of the fact that I can, and says she’s glad we’re being looked out for.

The second thing I notice is that this is not your typical shuttle, but a cross between an airport and tour bus and I’m immediately captivated. We are driving past low grey rock walls, the Liffey river, over a suspension bridge… Mom describes what is out the window the best she can, but my attention is split between her and the tour guide, both talking, as well as the banter of the passengers around me.

I am fascinated by how many different Irish accents there are, and pleasantly surprised to hear so many friendly conversations, punctuated by laughter, empathic exclamations, good humored disputes, and a general warmth I have never encountered on public transit in the Bay Area. I over hear a conversation in which it sounds like one person addresses another as Éilis, and I smile to myself.

This is fun. Except, apart from the entertaining tour and my excitement at finally being here, I am not feeling well at all. The slight headache which was bothering me in the airport has now escalated into feelings of nausea and more discomfort than I will let on about. When it gets to the point that I can’t ignore how I feel, however, I finally look up at Caoilte, who appears concerned, and ask if he can help. To my relief, he says he can. He begins to put light around me and as long as I look at that light, I feel well enough to continue being present and engaged with what’s going on around me.

Five or so minutes pass. Presently, mom asks me whether Caoilte might be able to arrive ahead of us to the hotel and find out if we can check in early. I think we’d all love to wash up before heading out, and the normal check in time is 2 pm. I run this by Caoilte who thinks it over, appearing concerned. I can do that,” he says finally, “but you shouldn’t be left alone. Ailbhe says she can look in on you from outside the bus, but I don’t think that’s enough. You know how she is more than hesitant to be riding on it. She’d prefer that you weren’t in here to begin with”

I smile. Yes, I am well aware: after the first time she went on a bus with me, she emphatically said she hoped never to go on one again. But I am perplexed by Caoilte’s reluctance to leave us be for a moment, since nothing about the situation seems worrisome or dangerous, and I tell him so. I attempt to reassure him by saying, “We’ll be fine here for a little while, I’m sure. It’s more than fine with me if Ailbhe keeps an eye on us from a distance.”

“All right,” Caoilte agrees without conviction, “But only because Ailbhe promises to alert me immediately if I’m needed here.”

As we continue moving through a couple more stops, I try to keep up a conversation with mom who is reading me interesting tidbits from our Ireland travel book. I want to be radiant and happily absorbed in this adventure, but am feeling miserable again.

It dawns on me, then, that I’ve only been feeling okay when Ailbhe or Caoilte has been weaving light for me. But if that’s the case, I reason, surely I can’t possibly request this of them for the entire trip. Doing so would be wholly impractical, unsustainable, and not fair to them. I lean my head back on the seat, struggling to stay alert.  I’d choose being sick over needing to constantly be kept under watch, for the sake of my kin, but the idea of not feeling well for the next eleven days, instead of getting to participate with a semblance of vitality puts me in despair. I close my eyes, pleading quietly with the universe to please let me get well in some relevantly permanent fashion.

At that moment, Caoilte reappears, his facial expression somewhat unfathomable and that’s not only because I’m not up to making keen observations. Before doing anything else, however, I ask after what he’s found out in answer to mom’s question, and quickly find myself taking up the role of translator. This takes a lot of concentration, and for a few seconds everything else fades into the background.

I describe to mom what the lobby of the hotel looks like, and that yes, we can check into our rooms earlier than the planned 2 PM, but not until noon, which I add doesn’t make much difference for us as we’ll be leaving before then to have lunch with Bro1’s fiance’s brother who is often in Dublin for work. Then I fall quiet, because I’ve exhausted myself.

“That was not worth leaving you for,” Caoilte says quietly, wrapping more light around me and sending me a picture to close my eyes and breathe. “I got back as fast as possible. I should have insisted on saying no first off.”

“No need to apologize,” I reply, “I’m the one who insisted I could be on my own.”

At that, he nods somewhat forlornly. “Be still and rest for a minute,” he says. Though my physical eyes are closed, I watch, profoundly grateful, as he sends light through me, until my head is mostly clear and the nausea is gone. I thank him silently, glad he can read my intentions. I never have words for this.

Finally we get off the bus and, only after a little searching, find our hotel. Once inside mom asks the woman at the desk what time we might be able to check into our rooms.

‘”Let me see,” she says cheerfully, and pulls up information on her computer. “We do have your rooms available a bit early. They’ll be ready at noon.” I am grinning, and don’t care if no one knows why. I translated perfectly.

Much later, I am in my hotel room with mom, still feeling lousy. Trying to help, she googles my symptoms which have only grown in number and intensity. “You’re probably experiencing the beginnings of a sinus infection, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Besides that, you’re having an anxiety attack,” she says, and reads off the list of anxiety symptoms. I check off yes for every one.

I’m not surprised about the sinus issues, but anxiety? That startles me. How could fulfilling one of my greatest dreams provoke a bout of anxiety unlike any I’d ever experienced in my life? My mind draws a blank, but this turns out to be the clue I’m looking for. It strikes me that, far from being anxious about what is happening, I am actually very anxious about what isn’t happening. We’ve walked the Dublin streets, had lunch, even went into an old cathedral with an awesome statue of a bishop, no longer possessing a head, and still I haven’t felt that kind of belonging I was longing to feel.

I tell myself that I may never know why I don’t feel this way, and will have to be okay with that possibility. Meanwhile, I need to get well for the trip’s duration. What to do? As if in answer, Brighid’s face appears in my mind’s eye. We’ll be visiting her sacred well later in the week, and my ancient kin look to her for answers to their questions. I’m not messing around then, I’ll ask the Irish goddess of healing and the forge of transformation herself for a local miracle. Why not? I don’t pray, I feel that’s a Christian thing. But after spending five minutes fervently requesting healing for the duration of the trip in exchange for being able to properly honor her and our kin, the division between what counts and doesn’t count as a prayer is substantially blurred for me.

I am left with the picture of the words, “rest now” and an image of a rose quarts butterfly I brought with me for what, at the time, seemed like no apparent reason. I understand and agree.

A half an hour later I walk with mom and Bro2 out into the evening sun–it stays light here passed nine pm–and we take a tour bus around the city. Bro2 drifts in and out of sleep.

Wind whips my hair. The bus driver fearlessly starts to sing Molly Malone out of tune over the loud speaker. At a particularly long traffic light, he changes from Irish tunes to something like “Move along, move along, get moving, go.” Mom and I exchange knowing glances, delighted: he’s energetically making the light change faster, perhaps without knowing it, just like mom and I do in the car.

“I told you it’s an Irish thing,” mom says. And whether or not we’ve inherited this trait from our ancestors, we laugh.

And I am changed too, though in my case I definitely know it, and am profoundly grateful. I feel like myself again, and will continue feeling fine until I once again cross the pond.

Arrival, Ireland, June 11

I awake prior to the alarm, and wonder whether it was never set and we’d miss the flight. It is Thursday the 11th of June. Our sojourn to Éire is finally upon us. At last, we will set foot in the home of our ancestors, that landscape that has captured my heart and called to me in dreams and images since I was a child.

What will it be like to arrive, I wonder. Will I recognize the very air, the very ground on which I stand? Will I be washed with that peculiar achingly peaceful relief of belonging, the one I fell into when I met my ancient family for the first time in this life? What time is it? Has the alarm gone off? I nudge my mom who is sleeping: “Is it after five?”

“No,” she says groggily, “go back to sleep.”

But I don’t sleep. I am hot and restless and anxious, about, I realize, more than simply the reason that I am finally fulfilling a dream that I’ve had for so long. I am traveling to Ireland with my mom and two brothers, (Bro1 and Bro2 named in order of descending age), and whether we will get along is a question who’s answer remains elusive.

Yesterday, Bro2 picked me up around 4 PM. As soon as he walked into my apartment, he began to rage about his challenges in life, his newest altercation with mom, and how he couldn’t stand being around her. I was sort of prepared for an excited, “Hi Éilis, good to see you, I’m so excited,” comment. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tirade. I was particularly stunned to find myself confronting a young man disguised as a ferocious gorilla carrying on in my space and bashing our mother, who was paying for all of our flight and room expenses on the trip, no less. I tried calming him down, after all, I was excited myself, and wasn’t about to let someone spill negativity all over me just because I was the human in close range.

Bro2’s attitude set the precedence for the tenor of the rest of the day, however, affecting not just me but the rest of the family as well. By nine PM, tentions among everyone skyrocketted. There was, certainly, a period of peace in all this to be had: it was on the car ride from Berkeley to Walnut Creek, during the times when my brother and I listened to a podcast recounting the rebellion and execution of Anabaptists in Münster Germany during the sixteenth century. (No, I am not kidding.)

Now, up before dawn, I wonder dubiously whether things will continue as they are and, if so, how I can possibly handle it for eleven days. But I’m going to be in Ireland! This thought alone seems to keep worry at bay, until I get up at dawn and find I am so dizzy that I have to sit down on the floor.

I am subsequently not so aware of any of my family members, as I go through the motions of getting in the car, standing on the train to the airport, and going through security, all the time feeling disturbingly ill. This lasts until I get some medicine during the layover in Chicago. Then, perhaps due to the medicine alone, perhaps due to the fact that I have now sat down in the plane that will take me to Dublin, the sudden illness symptoms slowly subside.

My brothers are safely sitting tucked away in the row behind me, and I’m sitting next to my mom. She’s in the window seat, which I feel is only right given that she’s the one who can see what’s on the other side of the glass.

I sleep, eat dinner, sleep, eat Breakfast, and sleep some more. During the times when I am awake, however, I find I cannot stop thinking about how strange it is to be returning by air through roughly the same route my ancestors took to get here, and how their travels were far more treacherous than mine.

We have an ancestor, James O’Cahill, who emigrated to America from Tipperary sometime in the seventeen hundreds. He would have made this journey in reverse, on a ship, with at least six to eight weeks time in transit. The ocean to him would not simply be a vast wonder to marvel at down below, while residing safe and in sanitary comfort in a pressure controlled cabin in the sky. For him, and for all those who left Ireland whether for the sake of adventure, to escape the engulfing wasteland of hunger, or to ride the wind in desperation before a relentless pursuing tide of imperialism and fear, the journey would prove to be a right of passage, as much as a passage of time, and for most there was only a one-way ticket. Among their challenges would have been their daily awesome and terrible encounters with a dynamic and sometimes ferocious sea, with the power to force respect and intimacy beyond what anyone perhaps had ever imagined or ever wanted to endure. The ocean could give as much as take life, and this was no metaphor. Both the ship, and whatever conditions prevailed on it, as well as the sea itself were guaranteed to transport one to a new world, but for some, it was not America or any where in this world at which they would ultimately arrive.

James O’Cahill did make it to America alive, settling in Iowa, where several members of each generation of the family, including my grandfather, were born. It is because of this ancestor’s journey, and the wondrous, brave, and I am sure sometimes harrowing ventures of many others, that I even exist, let alone have the privilege to “hop the pond” in less than a day, with an almost certain safe arrival and a guaranteed round trip ticket. The primary emotion residing within me as I fly effortlessly over the Atlantic, then, is profound humility.

Some time later, I awake from a long nap to find that mom has taken several pictures of the sun as it slowly inches its way up and over the horizon. I stare out the window, imagining what it would look like to watch the dawn while following after it, way above the clouds. At first I cannot picture anything at all. Then, a scene unfolds for me.

I watch, breathless and bewildered, as in my mind the earth turns, and the sun stands still. We say the sun rises, but literally, the sun, being a star, orbits nothing, while the earth spins, both on itself and around the sun. This is the way, then, that the scene begins.

As the plane moves relative to the earth, I picture for an instant every time zone in the world. To say it is 5 AM in Ireland and 9 PM of the previous day in California, simultaneously, is accurate at one level and misleading at the next. Our conception of time, I realize, is only relative to perception.

Relative to the sun, every place on the earth is now, is the present. Everyone on earth is, at every moment, experiencing what is now to them, and that now is always some proportioned mixture of darkness and light. Though some of us might talk of “losing” or “gaining” a day while traveling around the world, the truth is that we are always experiencing whatever present moment is occurring within the location in which we find ourselves.

Somewhere in the world is the space-time moment we thought we left behind, or the one we expect to witness in the future, but these are simply moments of now playing out in a continuum of moment, and if we were to view the whole world, we would behold all times at once. So I do this, for an instant in my mind’s eye. I stand outside the world, motionless, and watch as if looking at earth from the point of view of the sun. I watch as light sweeps across the world, illuminating every present moment in consecutive slices of space. It is sunrise, always, somewhere in the world, at any given time. The picture goes by in a flash, while we “chase” the sun, observing sunrise after sunrise, until the snail’s pace at which we soar, slogging along sluggishly with respect to the incredible speed of the spinning earth, means that the sun once again seems to dip below the clouds and vanish from view.

We continue to follow the dawn as we sail over Tipperary, through the heart of Ireland. The loud speaker sounds suddenly. “Flight Attendants, prepare for landing.”

“We did it!” I shout to my mom over the roar of the engine. “We’re here, we’re finally here!”

“I know, I still can’t believe it!” mom replies with equal enthusiasm, squeezing my hand.

Five minutes later, we start our descent into Dublin. Moved by some impulse, I look up then. My ancient kin, I know, will be traveling this whole trip with us. Caoilte has been quietly keeping watch on the plane for this leg of the journey. On the first plane ride to Chicago, he first ran around the cabin, checked out the cockpit, and tried to figure out how the plane’s engines worked before taking his place next to us. He arrived back at our seats with a look of boyish satisfaction, and I was happy that he had a chance to investigate. “Boys and their toys,” as Ailbhe says, having picked up the phrase from somewhere. But she always says this with a playful look in her eye.

Speaking of Ailbhe, I am quite startled to see her when I make to look up into Caoilte’s bright hazel eyes. Ailbhe decisively dislikes being near modern technology, especially anything that rumbles and moves such as cars, trains, and planes. I challenged her once to sit in a car with me, but I’d never known her to appear inside a modern vehicle voluntarily. And yet, here she is, unmistakably standing next to Caoilte, a slight hint of resolute determination masked by her warm smile.

“You’re here!” is all I can think to happily exclaim.

“I wouldn’t miss my own sister’s arrival in the home we once shared, not for the world, even if I have to reckon with a plane to do it, now would I?” Ailbhe answers, posing an inquiry of her own in response to my surprise.

With enormous gratitude, I beam at her. “Thank you,” I say silently, and send her a picture of the way I am feeling, moved by joy, even though she can already see it for herself.

Ailbhe and Caoilte raise their hands, then, in the gesture of greeting: “Welcome home, Éilis.”

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.

Threshold of the Wild

When beholding her
A strong, abiding flame pervades
Ardent, glowing
About her it overflows

And cannot be contained
Having flooded every space within
Cascading over everywhere
A waterfall, tides long unnamed

The truth of it finally known
Two radiant eyes
Blaze bright, the color of wonder
Echoing our wild song

And she bursts free
Breaks apart the dense doubt of longing
Shatters the shadows
She has arrived

And now we ask her, come
Held out, her two open hands
Holding back nothing
Just like our own

In reverent silence, we see beyond
Deeply moved by the mystery
Residing in those eyes
Wide as open doors

At the threshold, the edge of our belonging
She dives, she soars
Transformed by joy, we shine and shine
We say this path was always yours

A Different Way

February 4, 2015

It’s a crisp February evening. I sit on a bench outside the Berkeley philosophy building, having at least the next fifteen minutes to myself before going for dinner with a friend. A breeze blows softly around me, the air smells clean, here and there a bird calls. It is almost six o’clock. An hour before, I learned that today is the 100th anniversary of the Campanile, a historic clock tower on UC Berkeley’s campus. At six PM, bells will be going off in the tower, rigged by three ingenious professors to chime in rhythm with the Bay Area’s famous earthquake fault line. The seismic waves in the earth will determine the pattern of the music, which will be accompanied by flashing lights.

I have come from a lively seminar on free will, and though I’ve enjoyed It immensely, I’m now needing to ground and center out of head space to become present once again with the living, breathing world before connecting with the world beyond. Soon, Caoilte will be joining me. We have a challenge to discuss and some solid time to ourselves before my friend arrives. I smile to myself thinking on how delighted Caoilte is going to be to have an awesome display of modern technology occurring as a soundtrack to our discussion.

I first heard about the challenge two days before while quietly spending time with a large standing stone during an imbolc celebration. Ailbhe sat down next to me. I was in the middle of thinking about how some people have apparently learned to bend spoons, which is not really what I was intending to meditate on. Silently, I greeted Ailbhe who looked thoughtfully at me and then said abruptly, “How would you feel about bending, as if you were a spoon that could be reshaped to reflect the most light? We will hold you safe until the end of it.” She sent me a picture of several people carrying me in their hands while I went through some kind of transformation.

I could feel the time I had to meditate was almost up, and soon the space around me would no longer be quiet. Baffled and not at all persuaded of the merits of her suggestion I simply said, “It sounds wholly disagreeable to me. But I don’t understand what you mean.”

I am once again turning over what Ailbhe said, not becoming any wiser for it, when Caoilte appears and sits down next to me. He waits patiently while I finish moving into a softer, more reflective focus and take down the shield I use to help shut out the chaos of this world during my long day. Now I can see him clearly, and for a while we sit together, looking at each other, understanding each other without speaking. He is asking how I am and I answer in the otherworld way, letting go of any defensiveness, allowing myself to be seen. I make the gesture for acceptance.

Now, Caoilte gets up and is standing in front of me. He surrounds us in a white light, so I won’t take in any energy that isn’t mine while we’re talking. “Ailbhe says you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this challenge with us,” Caoilte begins, “Why? What are you afraid of?”

He can see how I am feeling and asks the question sincerely, without judgment. Still, this is when staying out of the way gets difficult. It occurs to me that ethicists like to talk a lot about honesty, but tend to skip over the fact that being completely honest quickly dislodges you from your comfort zone. That is beside the point now, however. I meet Caoilte’s eyes: “What Ailbhe said reminded me too much of some sort of intense alchemical transformation or shamanic initiation, and I’d rather run and scream than do either of those things. Unfortunately.” I have the urge to apologize for this, but Caoilte shakes his head, so I continue, “I thought I was already enough, so why become something different? Besides I don’t want to become a shape shifter or be unable to physically recognize myself once I’ve changed form.”

There is compassion and thoughtfulness in Caoilte’s eyes now. I can already tell that whatever I took Ailbhe to mean, I was at least mistaken in part. I’m very glad about this. After a moment Caoilte says, “I can understand how you might take Ailbhe literally, as you were just in a physical challenge with her. No, this is not another physical challenge. Ailbhe and I will be doing this with you together, and the changes are energetic ones. Let me try to explain it a different way.”

Now between us there’s a picture of a dark looking space, and out of this space Caoilte pulls tiny shimmering threads of light, which glint against the night sky. Each light strand has a different color which I can’t see, but implicitly understand is there. Now, Caoilte is unraveling the strands of colored light and reweaving them, then placing them back in the darker space. As I look on the dark space becomes illuminated with the colors previously opaque within it. Instead of lying hidden in the space, the light is suddenly drawn out and brightly shining through, every color radiating out in a myriad of directions. It is stunningly beautiful and I catch my breath, in awe of what I’m seeing.

“This is what we mean,” Caoilte says, “This is about energy, changing, reweaving the patterns that keep your light absorbed in shadow, so your light doesn’t remain hidden, so that gradually you can reflect more and more the radiance already within you, to shine for yourself and then out into the world.”

“Oh!” I say, grateful for the clarity, viscerally relieved. “I’ll agree to that! I’m up for energetically changing shape, it sounds fascinating.” And more than that, which I show in intention, I understand now how I can both go through with the change and still be enough, because I am not becoming other than myself, but aligning more and more with who I have always been.

A look of pure enthusiastic joy silently transforms Caoilte’s face. I can tell he is wishing he could shout “Okay, let’s do this thing!” This is the first time it has occurred to me that shouting isn’t possible in the otherworld. How frustrating!

And, although I now find that I’m having to suddenly console my small self who’s not particularly fond of transitions and change of any kind, Caoilte’s excitement is infectious and it feels like my eyes light up. I am full of curiosity, wondering what on earth will happen now (or perhaps, more fittingly, how out of this world it’s going to get.) Again, I am holding my hands out palm up accepting my place here on the next step of this wild, wondrous journey. And then the Campanile performance begins.

It Won’t Be Like This for Long

She walks along an uneven, eroding road, eyes narrowed, mind relatively absent, heart honeycombed with loss and the enduring of uncertainty, pain, and unshed tears. Here and there the trees sway to a music she can’t hear. The fog has come again. It comes when she has stored too many false hopes with the dreams she carries: wishes that reality were different than it seems, that what is happening would not be true.

She has tied up her hair and now it loosens as she walks down the path from which the sun is quickly evaporating. Clouds billow in but they are too far off to see, so she worries what shape they will take and whether she’ll still be on the road when they arrive. She will get off the road if the messages they bear prove to be too unfavorable.

The river to her left sings of joy too inharmonious with her thoughts to take seriously. Far ahead a bird cries too loudly. If she had worn shoes, they would have squelched in the mud on the road, but for now she is as silent as the wind.

Silent, for speech eludes her, for song fails her. The silence in herself echoes the silence outside herself, until she is swallowed by it, wrapped tightly in it, a swaddled child of the smothering silence. She feels cradled by the hands of voicelessness until it lulls her into unsettled inaction. Through that indecision she wanders, the hills on the road nothing to her, the touch of the breeze almost not registered. She bends once to pick up a stone, as alone as her heart, and wonders at finding her way through relationships that, like the cliffs far to the west, crumble so imperceptibly into sand until, abruptly, they avalanche into ruin, taking with them everyone all of a sudden.

Trying to reforge the hillsides of her landscape with scarce reinforcements may or may not have salvaged the whole of the puzzle in which was carved a place for each piece of the once vast vertical stretch of stone. The puzzle rearranges itself without her, appearing crooked and baring just beneath the surface the scars consequent of her leaving.

Solemn now, the clouds come, mirroring her grey blue eyes. She should not be here. Her designated normal place is not with the river and the song of the sun bird and the wisps of searching fog, and for a second, she almost forgets why she ever strayed beyond where she was expected to go. But then the why of it is all too easy to recall. Truth telling, especially softly weaving into the world the truth of her self, is a hard won right she should have known she did not possess. Precarious now, much of what her family has worked for, seeded so carefully, and absent is the peace between them, that had never really been there, but which they liked to say they shared.

It was her lack of silence which crippled her happiness and thwarted her dream to belong. This is what they told her, and sometimes, like now, she still feels this way. But she wonders in some small part of her being what belonging means, and whether she is walking away from never belonging just to walk toward it at last. Can a person belong where she cannot be herself?

It was striving to face the fear of breaking the fragile unspoken and specious borders around what no one wished to face that brought her here, alone and to this road, and far from what she knows. Now the silence beckons with its’ eerie siren’s call: “slip into the shelter of sonorous slumber, where are you going you young hapless wanderer?” But it is not the place of the silence to question her with who she thinks she is. The answer to this cannot be determined in silence, and this as much she knows. In anger now she shouts at the silence to leave her alone–the last of her supposed company who she’d rather be without.

She senses the twilight twinkling at her as she makes for the night a place to stop and reflect on the unknown of the future. To her, now, the morning later, time crawls as she still decides on nothing. She tells herself she will survive. She is thirsting and terribly hungry for wholesome life, one that matches her aspirations, her dreams, her way of being, the light pulsing through her reflecting shapes she was too often forbidden to share. She is tired of carefully stepping around what is, just to please other people and their strange desire to continue in their illusions, as if there is safety in what they want to believe when that was never so.

Onward, and many days to come, the journey might take her from the life she had which ceased making sense to the life she dares to achieve. What if she is not enough? What if she is not prepared? What if all along they were right and it was only she who lived by illusions as they suspected? Doubt makes the fog grow thicker, but what of it? The thing is done.

She is here, and every step she takes challenges the doubt boiling dangerously. It churns in her stomach as if she contained in herself a pit of earth out of which heavy emotions could spring, doubt, and molten fear, and she will not let it spill over the edges. It is enough, she knows, to scald what is left of a person’s worth.

. Instead she imagines the sea of life within her, and she the selkie, who has finally found her skin. She may not know how to swim yet, and there is always lack of confidence, but she cannot go back now.

Besides, she reasons, she is really not alone. The living stones and water and sky breathe with her, sing to her. Even the blazing fire of the sun walks the sky without like companionship, comforted only by it’s radiant light, no one to speak to, intrepidly traversing up and up the path that winds through the mountain of the stars, no knowledge in the moment that a resting place awaits at the other side. She smiles up at the sun then, willing that it recognize with her that they, sun and girl, have a similar journey ahead.

Perhaps their hearts long for the same freedom, perhaps they both rely on nothing but their light, glowing from within. Perhaps peace is around the bend somewhere up there past the day and it’s encroaching fog. She can’t see the peace or the sun through the fog, but she decides both are there. She walks on toward her dream, every moment carrying her closer and closer to a genuine home. She is that much closer to being sheltered in the truth of herself: the truth she listened to, that called her to change.

These realizations seep slowly into her frozen mind as she stares into the pool in the river, re-braids her hair, crinkles the corners of her eyes, wipes mist from her forehead with a tiny hand, then takes stalk of her few belongings. There is not much, but she has lived this long on her own. Quickly, she grasps the leafy hand of a nearby tree, a standing person, and brushes the dirt from her clothes. She is off again, hope rekindled like tiny suns in her ever watchful eyes.

***

Things change despite us and our hopes. Things fall away, like the cliffs and the tide, and the song of the sun bird, and the cycles of twilight and dawn. Things you thought you were, no longer make sense. Things you thought you belong to fade or falter, or break apart in a vehement frenzy that surprises all. Things you thought would serve you you no longer need. Things you know now you need must be sought elsewhere. It won’t be like this for long. If you hold on, more of the pieces will fall into place, change can be sharp and demanding but in the place of all that wanting to be true is the real you, the one who emerges carved through the difficult moments you face. Let yourself shine in all those myriad of shapes you never gave yourself permission to share. And though sometimes you can’t see through the fog, know you still are not alone. All of us, myself and the others, we are here.

The Door Through

The room fills with people
Here to walk the painted labyrinth
Outlined in lights
We sing the songs of many times and places

And then you stand beside me
And hand over hand
The light that I am,
You are weaving, over and through

Things tenuous now, I tossed into in-between
Again, I part ways with uncertainty
Grown weary of its constant uncoiling
Assessing the world with wary narrow stare

And for a single second
One tick of the clock
Counting, counting down up there on the wall
I decide, step across, let go

Take your hand, our eyes meet
Everything I ought to run after
Around me falls away, dissolving
Even the fear of loving what I could lose

So much lighter now
Only brilliant joy
Welling up, cascading down
Earth and sky, and I

At the center, and from inside out
Around us, everyone is glowing
And it dawns on me, I’ve already answered
Your question at the heart of what we’re singing:

“I have opened a door
A door for you, that no one can close,
Will you walk through,
Will you walk through with me?”

***
Music and lyrics by Lawson Barnes and Carol Barriger