Tag Archives: love

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.

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.”

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

Sadhbh Speaks

Golden tresses spill, a cascade of sun-soaked tears,
And you await homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.
In the song of silent empty hands, you grieve alone.

The waterfall roars your screams from world to world,
A thousand tumbled beads still rippling with the shimmers of last light’s touch,
Golden tresses spilling a cascade of sun-soaked tears.

I wept such tears once, as the eagle flew far beyond the sky,
Before shadows eclipsed an abandoned sun, or my screams died in singing silence.
If only I’d awaited homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.

Dear hearth-daughter I never knew, we keen for our deer ones the same.
If you turned just once to look behind you, would you know me by my sad doe eyes?
Your family aches to fill your empty hands with love. There is no need to grieve alone.

***

Photo from Jane Dougherty’s now quite past poetry challenge from way back on the first of June. Check out her blog and all the entries which made it both on time and in the official round-up, Silent Cascade Poetry Entries. We were supposed to use the above poetry form and the words cascade, eagle, tresses, abandon, and rippling. This poem has been in my head in several different versions for the past two weeks but I have fallen seriously behind in all things blogospheric (yes, that’s a real word … starting now!) I’ll keep attempting to catch up again.

Wordless

I have had little to say
For I cannot both speak
And share these silences
Heavy with honesty

Hidden heartbeats
Leaves uncurling
Reaching hands

I cannot map change onto an undiscovered landscape
Describe time’s tides not yet sailed
Or make verses of untold

Fragile possibilities
Nascent and naked
Stretching soft tendrils
To touch a turning world

I cannot choreograph the wondrous waves
Crashing down croppings of rock
To cradle the clay creature I am

Cascading a cadence, playful and wild
As the wind whips them free
Flying, falling, sea strand and sea
Uncertainty churning the breath of the sky

How it cries aloud what could be my name
And how I am leaping, leaping through
Before I even understand

Breathless and smiling
Swept up, gathered close in
Fierce love, bewildered, untamed

You Came _ In Memory of Carson

You came into a world, crying out the joyous wonder
Bursting to begin, to set the spark of life aflame
Safe within the arms of love, they brought you home

You came to be a living song, long into the years of growing
Knowing within every passing moment
All that precious time could name

You came and went so quickly
Your laughter a dying memory
Your love, a glowing ember, still remains

You came into a world in peaceful silence
Across the threshold, a light, a hand to welcome you
Safe within the arms of love, they brought you home

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.

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.

The Shadow Side of Joy

Last night I was visiting family, and we decided to watch what would turn out to be one of the most suspenseful movies we’ve seen in a long time. Why? Well, the major problem turned out to be that nothing went wrong.

First of all, three very young children set out to maneuver a rickety homemade raft across a lake … and none of them drown. There was a very old, arthritic dog … that didn’t die. Two of the lead characters, an African-American man who used a wheelchair and an able-bodied white woman who lived in the deep south … did not experience any challenges or conflicts in their evolving relationship, and fell madly in love within three months of meeting each other. Disagreements, when they did arise, … only brought people closer together.

The longer the banal plot line of the story stretched without a crisis, the more agitated we became. Then it happened: our groaning complaints about the lack of riveting action (I.E. terrible stuff befalling people) turned into hesitant, nervous exclamatory pleas for an unknown and obviously hostile future to please not dump its doom onto these people whose lives were so precariously prosperous. “Oh god, I won’t be able to handle it if that dog dies.” “Those kids are going to drown, I just know it.” “Someone’s going to get their heart broken and be emotionally shattered.” “I can’t take it! What if…” …

I sat there eating popcorn, reflecting as if from a distance on how absurd human beings, including myself, can be. (I admit to feeling just as threatened by all that good fortune, which was obviously going to turn out to be too good to be true.) What a fascinating phenomenon, to expect vicarious terror to temporarily take us out of ourselves, only to realize that we are terrified to feel joy. Suddenly, the movie seemed far more interesting, not because of what was happening in it, but because of what was happening to us. The characters’ happiness grew in direct proportion to our misery. Our own fears prevented us from sharing in their happiness.

We know life is ephemeral, that time is fragile, that change is inevitable. We’ve been prepared, to the best of human ability, to respond in a crisis of tragedy. But we barely recognize the crisis we experience when we are surrounded by love and truly feel at peace. We grow up expecting the next shoe to drop, the next tragedy to hit.

At least I did. I remember a particular day when I was about to graduate from Stanford. I felt completely at home in myself and completely content where I was. As far as my twenty-two-year-old self was concerned, I could be a student with this wonderful group of friends in this beautiful city, living in the space between the potential of a dreamed future and the lived experience of launching it, for the rest of my life. I was caught in an experience of pure joy at what was the case, this very moment. I loved it all. And then someone reminded me of the impending changes I would soon be facing, that all my friends would leave and that there were many rough, gnarly, tragic, and potentially devastating moments to come in my future, and I was an anxious terrified mess for months afterward.

That person was absolutely right. I probably don’t even have to tell you of how, in those subsequent ten years, I have lived through strained awkwardness, gnarly situations, terrible grief, gnawing loneliness, discrimination, pain. I could go on, but adversity befalls every life. The question is not, ‘how can I prevent suffering from ever happening?’ The question is, ‘Why let the fear of inevitable, yet unpredictable suffering silence my laughter, stifle my wonder, strangle my joy, stop me from reaching out in love and cause me to withdraw and close down instead?’

Why, indeed. Bitterness is child to a constricted soul who shies from the vulnerability needed to love and be loved, out of fear of the risk of being hurt. People who can’t experience their own joy because they so fear the potential immanent loss of the good all around them, come to resent and compete with those who seem to be able to fully take in moments of connection and contentment. And how can you author your own life if you allow yourself to be ruled by the tyranny of anticipation and your current fictions about the future?

You can’t, of course. You might be so worried about the possibility that something might happen to your kids that you fail to fully be present as you tuck them into bed at night. You might be so afraid of losing a dog or a cat that you only realize after they’re gone how you could have fiercely loved them, but held back instead. Most of us don’t ever fully realize how many beautiful, vibrant, cherished moments we miss while we’re preoccupied with fears of what isn’t there.

We learn to embrace–accept, acknowledge, attend to– the shadows of our soul, our inner children, our false beliefs, the fragmented rejections we sometimes glimpse in the mirror. And yet I am left wondering, long after the movie ended, what would happen if we learned to hold a compassionate space for the shadow side of joy. I wonder about the freedom in finally being seen, the strength born in a person when the risks in reaching out are worth every second of being fully alive.

As I Crossed Over: Caoilte’s Experience

It was winter cold, the morning I returned to her. The night was cresting a wave of a darker sea, brightening slowly with patches glimmering brighter than any sun. The light filled every span of sky, until I felt it filter through skin, it was, and was not mine. Boundaries seemed to dissolve, around me, around all I could see from where I was. With quiet curiosity I felt separation fall away, while keeping whole the one I knew as I.

***

The murmur of the surrounding voices, growing sharp with concern, began to fade into a song whose melody I once could follow, but to whose chords I could no longer belong. Why did they weep, my fiercest friends, when I was still here, tinged fair against the depth of sky, shining out all I had ever been? Could they not see me, holding out my hands to them, set free from the bindings of age? For a moment, uncertain, I remained, bewildered, torn, unsure which way to turn.

Then, in fully fledged joy, I leapt between silences, having glimpsed the threshold of a door, and then I knew: the cause of their keening, the body huddled on the floor that once answered to my name. I tried, but could not shout to make known I was there, the same. For a moment I wondered if I might remain alone, if I would wander the in between of worlds as I had done in other ways the whole of my life.

And then, suddenly you were there, grasping my outstretched hands in yours, as strong as I tried to remember you. This time we would not let go.

I forgot if there were other things I knew, lost as I was in the light-song of you. Joyful tears sparkled in your eyes, eyes like the bright moon, eyes of my love, I dreamed, mere dreams, to see again. Laughing then, you pulled me into your arms, effortlessly carried me, though between us you’d been so much the smaller of the two.

I did not know how to speak in such a new form, but love never needed words. Together at last, we crossed the bridge of light woven with a thousand stars. I’m here, you’re here, and the felt thoughts blend, both of ours.

For there is now no moment to separate us in time, no sequence of nights and days, no leaving behind. No veil, only mist, that parts to the keen eye, with the colors of belonging, an eternal tide, a dance we’re wandering, life into life, and ending in beginning, we do not die.

There is no death, only change. Playful time might rearrange as we let go of what was never ours to own and emerge, as if from the cocoon of a denser, more solid world, into the vibrant song of being, which we have always known. In joyous abandon, we leap into the arms of those who wait for us, united once more, finally come home. We cross the bridge of becoming, Brilliant and bold, and dance the patterns of the light. In us, there is life.