Tag Archives: other world

Spiritual Teachers and Discernment

“This blog post will change your life!” Actually, the truth is, it won’t, and there are good reasons to be skeptical of anyone using this phrase a little too often with a little too much enthusiasm, in my humble opinion. besides the fact that people reading this are probably alive and reading these words are adding to your life experience, (in a positive way, I hope,) most experiences are not life-altering. Some experiences, especially spiritual experiences, genuinely do transform you. In changing your inner world, your behavior, your relationships, even sometimes the way you hold yourself in the world will change.

I have personally had many such experiences, and none of them came prepackaged with the claim, “This will change your life!” There were no claims about outcome, only compassionate suggestions. There was no anecdote to uncertainty, only direction based on a plethora of past experiences. As a spiritual friend said recently, there is a reason people in the spirit world are called spirit guides. They don’t live your life for you, (by for instance, telling you how an experience will effect you or how you will feel afterward) and thank goodness they don’t! If things were different, life would be quite boring, disempowering, and distancing and you’d learn a lot about dominance and control and very little about authenticity and freedom.

The thing is, not everyone in this world has a healthy sense of compassion, unconditional love, personal responsibility, or honesty. Everyone knows that. But this statement is true, sometimes even more so, of self-identified spiritual teachers.

Two months ago I signed up on a mailing list to receive access to free telephone calls with various well-known spiritual teachers whom I had never heard of, because I was very curious about others’ experiences and approaches to their spirituality and the theme for the series of calls was waking up, something I am more than passionate about. It was a mixed bag. There were many genuinely spiritual people interviewed on those calls. There were also cooky cutter new agers and blatant scam artists. The host of the program seemed, in my opinion, to have a discernment problem of her own, and every call she hosted, she claimed, would “change your life!” The claim became statistically unsustainable after, say, call number 5, and yet she continues to make it.

For Aristotle, true excellence was synonymous with practical wisdom–sound rationality and emotional balance— and it was notoriously hard to achieve. Some scholars of ancient Greek philosophy surmise that to this date there has not been a single human being who has achieved this ideal. All this to say that, whatever excellence is, it ought not be a quality such that everyone and their adopted cat possess it. Such is true of the property of being life-changing, I think. It cannot be given to every experience, lest the concept lose its meaning entirely.

In any case, life transformation, as well as excellence, often were both sadly absent in this realm of inquiry.

First, there was a call with a spiritual practitioner who manufactures a filter which produces “structured water.” Skeptical already, I went to his website, only to find that the filter specifications explicitly state the apparatus does not take toxins out of the water. It simply “purifies” them with spiritual intentions. The rest of this filter’s enormous, and yes, “life changing!” benefits are scientifically proven facts about water itself. I was appalled by this person’s willingness to call himself spiritual while making a cash cow off of his dishonesty and people’s ignorance, both scientific and spiritual. (I was not surprised however, given the power of human egotism.) Here is a site discussing the scam:

People who don’t realize hydration has huge positive effects on the body whether or not it is “structured” but who have, for instance, heard accurately that water is contaminated by fracking could potentially be one set of scam victims. Structured water systems don’t prevent or reduce, let alone eliminate, contaminants in water.

People who want to evolve spiritually but still believe the authority to empower them lies outside themselves could be the second set of victims, and there will probably be overlap. Here’s the secret people: you are the one who empowers yourself, you are the author of your own life (not the same as the creator of reality) and you and everything else is interconnected. You can infuse as many intentions into water as often as you like, because ultimately you and the water are inseparable. If you need proof, your body is 75% water. You can infuse intentions in the water existing already within you, and get the same results as if you placed them in a glass of water and drank it. Water isn’t just outside you, it is you.

In general, you have all you ever would need within yourself to arrive at the threshold of your belonging, because that threshold has always been at the center of you. You can structure water for free. You can also skip the step of structuring water and become who you have always been and already are, from the inside out.

Several other people featured on the mailing list sold products that, though might have some nominal benefits, are wholly unnecessary to spiritual development. In the end, many spiritual tools are developed to help people focus and get into a state to access what is already within them. Tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. You don’t need a fork to eat pasta, but it’s sure helpful! However, if someone is trying to make you dependent on a product for enlightenment, run.

Another tragic example. The spiritual practitioner who is speaking tonight and who already has my discernment radar flashing red was introduced with the now increasingly meaningless “This will change your life!” guarantee which accompanies every single call, along with the following reason for why I should listen to her (which I will not): “Her popular Twitter feed has over 54,000 followers.” (No, I didn’t make it up!) For anyone philosophically inclined, but even for those who are not, arguments from popularity are fallacious and scream ego trip.

Just to be sure, I went on her website , where, sadly, she offers many blatant self-promoting reasons why people ought to work with her, including the particularly horrifying reason that she is “unique” because she works with the most high-ranking spirits on the other side. Now, this is one of the most blatant fallacies of argument by authority I have ever heard and, again, a huge ego trip. (Not to mention, if someone on the other side actually said something like this to her, she is being lied to.) What spiritual truth could a person possibly impart while fully believing in her superiority? While pointing out why your skills as a stock broker are unique in the business helps you gain customers and successfully compete in your field, the tactic is terribly tacky and telling when it comes to imparting spiritual wisdom.

There is a great and profound responsibility that befalls anyone wanting to spiritually guide others, whether in this world or the next. Those looking for direction (not a prescriptive formula) are, by the very nature of the relationship, making themselves extremely vulnerable. In such a situation, maintaining spiritual equality isn’t the ideal, it is necessary; otherwise one or both of you could get seriously emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically hurt. This intrinsic spiritual equality is one of the very first things I learned about with my ancient family. Spiritual relationship falls apart without it.

Yes, not all of us have the same skills. That is why there are teachers and learners. But hierarchies of expertise consist of inherently spiritually equal people, period. I would personally avoid anyone who believes otherwise.

I don’t understand how it is possible to be both consciously aware, aware enough to be in the circumstance of walking a spiritual journey with many others, and continue to hold the opinion of yourself that you are unique, and because of your otherworldly connections (who would undoubtedly insist on their equality) besides. I cannot fathom a more hypocritical message, personally. I can only conclude, as seems reasonable and my right in the circumstances, that such people are only pretending to be spiritual for their own personal gain.

I am unfortunately now not just wary of a few practitioners booked for calls through this program, but wary of the person conducting the program as well. What could have been a journey of interesting and insightful discovery has, most of the time, proven to be nothing more than a disappointing marketing campaign. I feel fortunate to have listened to the people whose energy and message resonated with me and to know to look within, rather than out to my culture, or to the popular spiritual culture in which this all takes place, to know when something feels like a scam and honor that feeling. I did not have to learn how to do this with a teacher, and I am not unique, nor special. I am one among many and I am learning and imperfect and very human in all that entails and my authority extends to my journey alone, and really not even that far. And, contrary to the innumerable claims made lately about everything and its lookalike being there to save you and change your life, if you just follow such and so or if you pay for it, I have this to say, which you can take or leave:

I have learned that I am valuable, I am needed, as is every other person here, and our worth is with us from before we were born, and each of us is one among many. We are whole. We are enough just as we are. I believe we don’t follow a spiritual path because something or someone needs to fix us. I follow my path for the joy of it, for growing, and because in changing I become more myself than ever before. I have learned that comparison is conformity, and conformity stifles authenticity. I am here to speak my truth, to finally see I am enough in my eyes, and be completely who I am. Isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves?

So, when someone bombards me with unsupported and incessant claims that “This (whatever it is) is going to save your life!” I remind myself that nothing outside you changes your life. You are alive. To transform our lives, we only have to go full out in living and being all we are.

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For The Sighted Child Who Never Woke Up

Last night I rocked you in my arms,
To the rhythm of the question which I ask with every heartbeat, why?

Did I think silence would answer me,
When I wondered aloud whether it was my fault?

Into the darkness you fell and could not rise,
Covered by a blanket of night without stars,

So do I run after you like a spark,
Or leave you behind without a word?

Crawling under the curtain between worlds,
Passed the water drip of time,

As if I could find within myself, still breathing,
You buried within the hollow hills of grieving.

Unable to defend your small fragile body,
You cry out for shelter, you almost died crying.

I am unable to notice the hands that reach out,
Convinced that, as before, my tears will banish me.

The infant with your perfect eyes and hands,
How can I conceive of you as my beginning?

If I was stronger, perhaps I could recover your memory,
But like an island, uncoordinated, that has lost it’s place within its map,

I wandered off into the mist, directionless,
And lost myself beneath the waves.

What am I doing here,
Convinced I don’t deserve the sunrise I won’t see?

How will I love, accept, and mend
The imperfect pieces left to me?

Again I will water the seeds of our growing,
Despite my anger, in knowing it is most likely too late.

Because I tried to heal
But merely broke apart, revealing

Sleepless dreams I tried to hide,
Someone else’s hope, so long ago denied.

Before giving into my unknowing
Of where, and if at all, I’ll stand,

I return your bright six-month-old smile
That has not yet known the cruelties of the world.

Faced with what I could have, ought to have been,
Our eyes lock and then

I let go, the girl who lived,
In relief, great tides, wash over me.

And so I shout a reckless challenge to the wind,
From a place that has no name, what might become of me I just don’t care,

I stare into the face of death until it blinks,
And I know now we do not die, there is nothing left to fear

For the sight child who never woke up,
I return for who I was, ever safely keep you near.

And now, once more in sunlight, though we did not travel far,
Dear child open your eyes, awaken to all you are.

When she was born, Bean Alainn was indeed a beautiful girl. Her seal fur was softer than that of her siblings. It glowed slightly, almost as if it were being lit from inside out, especially when rays of light from above burst apart like shooting stars in streams of greens and golds. Her beauty far surpassed outward loveliness, however. For Bean’s eyes were like harbors, pooling calmly and quietly into deep fathomless blue: eyes that at once contained compassion and elicited awe. For to look into them was to not only be well met, but to be suddenly immersed in something indisputably beyond your ken, and yet discover that far from losing yourself in that vastness, you would instead recognize yourself reflected there. I met Bean Alainn myself only on several unforgettable occasions before life flew from her, and I have never forgotten those eyes and how it was her very soul that looked out from them and somehow always sought and found my own.

Anois, now, there is yet one further thing to be said about Bean’s birth. For though Bean was páiste beag, just a wee child, her soul had in fact lived a very long time. Bean’s soul had traveled at least three life circles between this world and the next before arriving here, or at least, that is what the druids told Bean’s parents upon her birth. For even the seal folk have their keepers of the wise who know the patterns of the stars and can sing of the loom on which new life is spun and how, among it’s threads of many colors, the strand of fate is woven throughout. And this is what the keepers of the wise said, that Bean Alainn’s soul was very old indeed, and that upon her lay the fate of three worlds, and no matter how carefully she chose her actions, she would bring much joy to some, and much sorrow to others.

And so Bean’s parents kept this knowledge to themselves, and neither to any kin nor even to Bean herself would they speak of it. The druids’ pronouncements were not ordinary, and they feared their daughter might be found to be displeasing and destructive to their underwater world and be sent to the edge. So they brought Bean up as ordinarily and uneventfully as possible.

Young Bean grew strong and well alongside her many brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and friends. She ate with them, sang with them, and laughed with them. She learned to count by sifting grains of sand, and learned the names of the stars by how their figures appeared on the surface of the water. She learned how to stay out of reach of sharks and fishing boats, how to hunt for fish, how to swim gracefully, and how to put a mist on the sea that would muffle the selkies’ voices so human beings would not realize that they often spoke to one another.

She and her siblings would often watch from some distance as their mother would dance out on the rocks and sand bars at midnight with the other women of the clan. The ability to shed a seal skin and take human form did not appear until selkie children came of age. Boys and girls alike grew into their power as shape shifters, but it was quite rare for the men among the selkies to come to land. Roomer had it that a selkie father and his son were killed in a hunt off the place the humans called Sule Skerry, and that had the father not come to land to fetch his son himself, such ill fortune would have not befallen them. So it was that the only men who ventured onto land were childless and had few immediate kin, and they were pitied by the rest.

By the time Bean was six summers old, she had won a reputation for herself despite her parents’ intention that, other than her stunning beauty, she be plain and unremarkable. Anois, now, selkie children learn their people’s sacred songs from the day they can speak, and to a human person even the most unskilled singer among the selkies would take your breath away. All selkies have haunting voices that make the human heart ache for a home it cannot name until a person is filled with such longing that her dreams are of nothing but sliding silently beneath salty spray and frothy foam, yearning after some lost and forgotten island mirrored beneath wave and sea. But it became apparent quite early on that Bean would be one of the greatest bards within many generations. When Bean sang, the very rocks of the land heard her song, and the mountains echoed her high clear tones so that stopping in a field, a person might turn her head and wonder at the voice reverberating upon the wind. When Bean sang the waves grew quiet and still, and trees bent to catch her words, letting them linger for a moment in their leafy hands. When Bean sang, birds cried overhead circling and calling to her, until she could imagine the current of a river and the silent authority of a forest.

Anois feiceann tú mo leanbh, now you see, my child, the elders had never forgotten the words of the druids, and so they took notice as elders should. And it was decided, as often these things are without the person present, that Bean Álainn ought to learn the ways of the clan early, for the knowledge holders had come to the elders saying, “This girl will be among those from whom we will one day choose a new leader, and it is fitting for such children to begin training early so that when the time comes, their responsibility will not weigh so heavily upon them.”

So it was that when the girl reached her seventh summer, Eithne, a well respected elder, sought the child’s parents and instructed them to take Bean and come with her to the next council which was held after every third rising of the moon.

Home

Could you take me home, back where the light shines, not from your places but from your eyes, in your steps but without a flame? I fall off the bridge with no ending. Unfrightened, I open my mouth to breathe underwater. Someone says, “I am you.”

Where are the brothers and sisters we lost? Where is the completion for the incomplete, the whole for the broken, the new for the old, the awakening for the unaware?

Where is the color for the shadow, the roots for the seed, the space for the stars, the family for the love, the heart for the beaten, the part for the departed, the world before our world, where are those who put us here?

Sometimes I just wish I could see you again. Life bends with our choices, roads wind. Sometimes we cannot see ahead. Mountains are sometimes avalanched into our living rooms.

I cling to our memories but don’t know if they’ll fade. I plead with the wind to keep us together, but it throws our friends to four directions. Scattered like rain, I cannot even hear your whispers. \

Tell She who has so many faces– I’ve sought impressions in her eyes, that I struggle to know every inch of her silences. Her words are my life pattern, in woven relief. She disperses like clouds, and I run to follow her at breathtaking speeds that leave me reeling.

I will join the seekers and slide in the mud until I learn how to survive. I rise and fall like nations. I turn ages as the earth turns seasons. I dance for rain. I dance for the song. I age seamlessly. Earth pulses to a rhythm I cannot quite hear.

All around me people make their verdicts. They tell me who I am and should be. But the caged bird sings, remembering the time signature of clouds, and I recall the beginning.

I fly through the vast universe on a cream-tan horse whose feet tap-dance worlds like stepping stones. I can keep warm by the fire in my bones. I can sing the song of life and death. I know every passionate mother, every determined daughter, every tree, every rainbow, every finch and squirrel, every hardworking man, every grieving boy. I know myself. I am a blanket of stars.

Go ahead, reach across the curtains of loneliness to touch another world. Bring back a lost child. You are no more lost in the mist than I am. Who are you to think you cannot know me like you know yourself, like I’ve known all I’ve ever been? Where have you come from? We are pulleyed to each other by a song. Your ancestors are immortal. They walk among the living. This we have always known.

Along The Road _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 7

It was Friday, two and a half weeks after I first offered to Caoilte that, as the fianna had no permanent place to live here in the actual world, they could call my small but functional place home. I was exhausted. There were just so, so many of them. Every couple hours when I was home, there were around four groups of five or so who’d come through, and most likely more when I was sleeping, and more when I was gone. They were very respectful and, being disembodied, very quiet. But I was sharing space with them, and it’s very different keeping up a place for many rather than just one. I did end up with some alone time, but never knew for how long it would last, or whether, if someone showed up, there would be something expected of me to do.

 

There were a few times I’d thought of letting Caoilte know this wasn’t working for me, but wasn’t sure whether he’d be understanding or not. I also was extremely stubborn, and every time I came close to actually attempting to contact Caoilte, I’d decide that I could at least attempt to get used to living like this, as everyone else seemed to be, (everyone else had, it seemed, been living in close proximity in groups even in the otherworld, and weren’t phased in the slightest.)  I certainly wasn’t going to give up the minute I felt tired or it became difficult to make good on what I’d promised to do. After all, I’d offered my hospitality, and it would be bad form to change my mind this early on. Besides, I could not imagine a fian backing out of a difficult task, and although I wasn’t a fian myself, I was in some sort of relation important to them or they wouldn’t have included me in the first place. So, I decided to keep learning from the experience, be grateful that I got to meet so many people, and keep up my practice of casting circles around me if I wanted the kind of privacy which would render me truly invisible.

 

On this particular Friday, I was frazzled not just because I’d been entertaining somewhere between fifty and a hundred people, but because it had been the kind of week where I was running into all sorts of obstacles due to my disability. This is a sighted world, and often it isn’t made for me, or at least that’s how it feels. I’d spent hours trying to make the correct formatting on a single poem on the blog. I was trying to finish an a cappella album of music, and as if attempting to record it whenever neither the refrigerator nor the Amtrak trains were running wasn’t enough, I also could only get Audacity to work with sighted assistance. The person I paid to be my assistant was ill and couldn’t show up, which meant I spent five hours that Wednesday including transit and wait time going to shop alone to Trader Joe’s, rather than the mere hour and a half it would have taken with a sighted guide with a car. For all the negative impact cars have on the environment and the planet, the freedom they offer is often taken for granted by those who have them and longed for by those who don’t. Someone without a car, whether sighted or blind, simply has fewer options in the world as to where to travel, and how much to get done in one day.  And ordinary activities such as meeting a good friend for lunch or doing something spontaneous must always be weighed against the hours and hours of transit time and the meticulous planning involved.

 

Being blind confounds these limitations, and adds more to the growing list. When the bus driver forgets to announce my stop in an area with which I am unfamiliar, I not only have to walk an extra five or so blocks but also, usually, get lost. It’s way too easy to be late somewhere because the bus is late, there’s construction, or a light has stopped working. Sometimes buses pull up in the middle of the street, and I miss them as I don’t even know they’re there. Sometimes four or five buses pull up at a stop at once, and it’s necessary to literally run from one to the other and back asking each driver the name of the bus and hoping, if that’s not the right one, that I can find the right one before it leaves. In other words, it gets very complicated, very quickly.

 

It was that kind of week, one with which I am all too familiar, in which I was being told or shown, implicitly or explicitly, that I would have to miraculously reattach my retinas if I ever wanted to participate in the kind of living the world had to offer me. The alternative would be to completely adjust my own expectations and goals, so that they fit the limitations the world was prescribing for me, and I of course found such an option intolerable. Yet the problem really did seem to be that I did have expectations and standards, and it was not just the world that didn’t measure up to them: I did not meet my own expectations either.

 

Given all this, when I installed a new version of Audacity onto my computer and the sound was suddenly muted, rendering every capability it had useless to me, I lost it. A muted computer means I can’t work on anything. It’s akin to having your hard drive go out, and every project you’re working on is suddenly gone. The difference, to my mind it seemed, was that whereas the problem with a hard drive is internal to the computer, the problem with muting was internal to myself. If I could only see, nothing would have been amiss for more than a few seconds. Retrospectively, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time feeling sorry for myself: but that is what happened.

 

I did have the wherewithal at this point to get out of the house. I decided to take a walk down by the bay at Aquatic Park, hang out with nature (the great equalizer of all beings) and soak up some sunshine. Perhaps the light outside me would blaze out the darkness that was threatening to swamp the space within me, threatening to convince me I was actually worth nothing despite appearances, and that giving up my expectations entirely was the only option. Somewhat miserably I made my way across the Amtrak tracks at breakneck speed as to not be caught on them if the bell went off, and wound my way more slowly down the cracked tree-rooted sidewalk to the path by the bay.

 

The bay at Aquatic Park is actually a lake. Building up the area had caused some of the bay to be cut off from the rest by filled land (not landfill, but legitimate land that was used to displace the water.) It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to stay angry while birds are calling, ducks are splashing about and quacking, children are shrieking on a playground, and trees are rustling in the wind. I decided it wasn’t a challenge worth taking, so I let go of the anger. The anger of course was more with myself than at any one in particular, and the more I lost myself in the surrounding world I love to which I’ve always belonged, the world of earth and wind, water and trees, laughter and song, I forgot the meaningless chatter of the world of illusion that humans have constructed which had never been able, let alone ever had the intention, to adopt me.

 

I was now no longer angry, but disheartened and sad. I felt sad because so much of my life in this world is spent alone in isolation, partly due to my disability, and partly due to one of the occupational hazards of being a philosopher. Sad because many people are so afraid of blindness that they would rather exclude me than ever consider whether there would be value in getting to know me. Sad because this manifest world often shuts me out, and I am not the only one who experiences this kind of banishment caused by prejudice and discrimination. As I walked, I thought about how so many people, for varying trivial reasons, from race to ability, gender preference to objectifying standards of appearance, are given the message to find their way elsewhere. There are only a few groups of people for which this world is truly made, but none of those who have been rejected have ever thought to band together, to find commonalities among their differences, including the fact of their differences, and create the communities they long for. (More on that later.)

 

I thought about how I was sad because most of my ways of belonging rarely, if ever, fall within any shared reality I have with others in this world. Some part of me still remembers the world I would have gone to at six months of age if I hadn’t wanted to see what life was like instead. A part of me still recognizes that world as home, and has never adapted to this one. A part of me has always belonged their more than here.  As an adult, I walk both worlds, one foot in each of them, belonging holy to neither, and for that I am a wanderer. In a way, it was no surprise that I wanted to try to create once again somewhere between this world and the next a place where other wanderers like myself are welcome. I’d still like to do that, actually, but not at my house.

 

As these thoughts went streaming as they always do through my head, I continued walking through the park, watching the motion of the water, feeling the branches of trees waving over my head, and noticing all the people who were also walking out on this beautiful autumn afternoon. That is when I saw Oisin walking toward me, not particularly on the road. I looked up, and our eyes met.   Much passes between people without words. And so it was then, an exchange of all each of us was in that moment, which would have taken embodied humans several days to talk through to the end.

 

He walked over and took my hand. For a long time we walked in silence this way, I between Allegro and Oisin, connected to both of them. The quiet calm compassion that Oisin has for all living things seemed to wrap around all three of us, and I felt at peace, more at peace than I could remember ever feeling. Any sense that I was less than anyone had simply vanished. Any trace of feeling like a wayward orphan who neither fit in, nor could make sense of the world had vanished also. This was unconditional acceptance, and I knew I was blessed to experience such unconditional belonging while in this world. It is the belonging we all share in the world beyond, and it was not just mine to look forward to, but mine to have, here and now.

 

Holding hands with an otherworld person is a unique experience. It’s obviously not like holding hands with an embodied person. Unlike human hands, otherworld people’s hands are cold and also obviously lack any density or definition. Though my hand felt cold, it didn’t actually drop in temperature, and it felt almost like it was about to fall asleep without the unpleasantness of actually falling asleep, like there were currents of energy coursing through it. I was fascinated by the experience. Somehow we could reach each other across worlds, world boundaries notwithstanding, as if, I thought, such boundaries were only precursory or nonexistent.

 

When I’d completely become grounded and he thought I was all right, Oisin let go of my hand and started walking a bit ahead of me, now actually following the road. I smiled at that. In order to hold my hand, I realized, he’d had to walk through the reeds and other plant life lining the path down to the water, and at some points he would have been actually walking in (on?) the water. I was impressed, though I suppose it made no difference where he was concerned. No embodied person could have pulled that off. There were advantages being an otherworld person, I mused, even if you can no longer enjoy manifest world food.

 

We’d been walking together for a few minutes more when a thought occurred to me, one which I admit I’d never before considered. The thought was this. Here I was, walking with Oisin, and he not only was from another world but had lived long, long ago. Surely he’d know things I never would have imagined, and I hadn’t thought to ask him any questions. I could ask, I realized, any question I wanted, though I might not get an answer to every question I could ask.

 

For a moment I thought hard about what kind of question I’d ask such a one. Perhaps not a question about his, or even our, past, I decided. I did have endless questions about the past, but felt that any answer to such questions would be information only, and I wanted to ask something of more permanence than mere information.   I realized too that like most people he wouldn’t be able to answer a question about the future, mine or his. I wanted to ask an experiential, not just factual question. One that could transcend languages and time, cultures and conceptions of the good. I already knew we had some philosophical disagreements, and wanted to avoid them at the moment.

 

When I’d finally settled on a question, I asked it in pictures. “Oisin,” I asked, “Can I see the world through your eyes? Can I experience the world as you experience it?”

Extraordinary House Guests _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 6

It was after five when I came home. Like usual, I fed the dog, put on a pot to boil water for dinner, and checked my email all without turning on a single light switch. (Its a great way to conserve energy for anyone interested– at least I think so.) I put on the Clannad Pandora station and sat down for a quiet dinner alone. Allegro had just come from snoring on his fleecy mat to wander pensively into the living room. I turned my head. And that was when I realized I was not alone after all.

I blinked. Two otherworld people were sitting on my couch, slightly in awe of the plush furniture, pretending they were not staring. I noticed anyway. I can never feign indifference on them, but fortunately it works in the other direction as well. To this day I do not know their names. My dinner was on the table, so I returned to a decisively manifest world activity which I had already realized I would have to enjoy while I could. Otherworld people can’t eat, and sometimes they glance longingly at whatever I’m happily consuming, unable to relive the experience themselves.

After dinner I ran around the living room with Allegro, throwing his hedgehog for him to fetch. His nails clacked and skidded along the hard flooring as he repeatedly failed to get traction. Fur flying, tail wagging, he ran around and around in a seemingly tireless frenzy and I mused that perhaps he was in the mood to see who would tire first, and that he bet it would be me. Fifteen minutes into it, however, he suddenly stopped moving so quickly. By this point, I was letting the loud music drown out the increasing amount of noise being made by all.

Besides the hedgehog squeaker “with its original grunter sound” per the apt description from the manufacturers, nails clicking, and the occasional bark, I was taking full advantage of my opportunity to run like a maimed leap frog and holler and yell for purely legitimate and nondestructive reasons. I mean, if I wanted to change careers and do something excellent for the blind, I’d devise an accessible adapted version of caber tossing or Hurley. The psychology of the human need to be inexplicably and spontaneously loud is poorly underdeveloped. (The interplay of Hurley and the human urge to holler and throw things in a perfectly acceptable manner would be a great thesis topic. It would even lend itself to a horribly punny title such as “The Interplay of Personality and Play: The Role of Hollering Loudly in Both Hurley and the Expression of Human Nature,” but I digress.)

So, Allegro slowed down, and then stopped chasing the hedgehog altogether. I, however, only partially paid attention to him and so continued to run… right into an otherworld person. The only plus side to this kind of collision is that it doesn’t hurt anyone involved. It still requires a great deal of awkward extrication and apologies especially as it’s possible to partially run through, rather than hit and bounce off of, a being made of energy: and I still felt the need to not let on about just how startled I was while offering muttered sheepish explanations as to why on earth I was leaping around like an idiot and loudly stating incoherent noises like “eishtay!” which means nothing at all (Allegro doesn’t care if it makes sense, right?) This otherworld person was already vanishing when I finally got to look at him, and I can’t blame him for that. I only got to see his shadow, and nothing more.

When I made it into the kitchen to retrieve the hedgehog, I saw yet another otherworld person. His presence so close to the hedgehog explained why Allegro hadn’t gone to fetch it. I added this to my list of reasons why my guide dog is wiser than I am.

I managed to avoid a collision and was ready with a bit more politeness this time. “Hello,” I said, “Nice to meet you.” Then I thought for a moment about what, exactly, might be needed regarding otherworld hospitality. Was this person going to stay here, or not? Showing him around, giving him a cup of water, asking him to sit, getting some blankets and fixing a meal if he had traveled a long way and was hungry… these are things that otherworld people simply do not need. Finally I asked the only polite question I could think of, “Do you like this style of music? Is it too loud? I can turn it down if you want.” At least he could hear and enjoy the music, I thought.

The person, whose name I still don’t know, would have laughed with me if he could. He sent me a picture which indicated, “I spent my whole life listening to Celtic music. Of course I like it. You should play it as loud as you want to, it doesn’t bother me either way.”

Satisfied that I had made this person as comfortable as possible, I tried asking his name, but like most people I would meet he had either forgotten his name or tried sending it to me spelled out in Irish which failed miserably. So I shrugged apologetically and indicated that I needed to clean up the kitchen and start winding down for the night. He stuck around, but visibly vanished so that I no longer saw him. Otherworld people have that ability, I’d come to understand. It takes quite a bit of energy for me, and them, to project and see images and so often they are in their more natural invisible state, though still present.

When I turned off the music and was preparing for bed, I had yet another quandary to consider. There were at least four people hanging around my place. I couldn’t tell if they were the same as before, or another group of four passing through. Although I was sure I’d see a few women, it was statistically more likely I’d see men instead, and so far that was the case. I had realized, slowly, somewhere in the midst of the evening, that I was seeing fianna members who were passing through on their way to wherever they were headed, which I told Caoilte would be fine with me. However, there was a person hanging out in my room, and I needed to change into some pajamas. Ah, details and the minutia of everyday living.

“Um, hey,” I asked wondering when I’d stop feeling awkward, “This is my room and I need it to myself. Could you go hang out in the living room over there instead?” I pointed right, out the door, mulling over whether I had insulted his intelligence by pointing or whether I ought to assume that a person who lived in Ireland 1800 years ago wouldn’t know English, or whether it mattered in the slightest. I’d forgotten he wasn’t embodied and voiced the request aloud.

He was saying in sign, “That’s fine, I understand,” and disappeared. I sighed with relief.

But now, I wondered, should I close the door? If I’d had five or so physically embodied people over, I would have certainly closed the door as well as kindly kicked them out of my room. But this was my space, and I lived here alone… did I really? I thought so, two days ago. I thought about how I had to keep the bathroom door open for years, even when I was occupying it, because whenever I closed the door my cat would meow with ear-piercing angst and scratch off paint on the wood with her perfectly positioned predator’s claws. Darn it all if I was going to start closing the door and acting like I had roommates when I’d chosen to live by myself for a reason, and anyway these weren’t the sort of roommates anyone else would notice. It was around this time that I flashed on the memory that, while they were alive, the fianna were quite used to living with and around large numbers of people. Privacy, especially in the individually-boxed-and-packaged way we’re used to experiencing it now, was a luxury they may have never known. They’d already know how to meticulously respect people’s boundaries and occupy themselves elsewhere if anyone needed time alone.

First and foremost, I decided that as a flesh and blood person of this century, I had a right to have priority over what boundaries we’d set. Unlike the others, I was decidedly not used to living with cohorts of five people, especially if their members were constantly changing, and even if they were consciously showing up in groups that were much smaller than the nine to twelve who usually stayed together. I was, admittedly, very grateful for their thoughtfulness on that point. Second, I’d take the opportunity to see how my house companions handled the situation. As a rule I don’t tend to trust people simply on the basis of affiliation, though with Oisín and Caoilte as their friends I already trusted them more than most. Even so, it was imperative to me to be sure they would respect the boundaries I had. As it happened, I very peacefully spent the night without any visitors venturing into my room, though there were a few more groups who came through the other room unseen during the night. They didn’t bother me.

The next day was quite similar to the first as far as sharing it with my otherworld companions was concerned. To be honest, after a week or so, I lost count of how many people I saw and I stopped feeling like I had to somehow entertain them all. But, on day 2, I was still constantly looking around to see if anyone else had arrived. Whenever I came home from an appointment or from an outing with my seed group, I opened my front door more slowly than usual to make sure it wouldn’t hit anyone and peered around to see whether or not the place was empty.

That night, after bringing home my take out order of fish and chips, an otherworld person sat across from me at the table. He was one of the ones who couldn’t help staring wistfully at my meal. I felt bad that he wouldn’t be able to eat it, and that I couldn’t offer to share it. I attempted to let him in on how it tasted by sending a picture of what it tasted like. Just in case you want to try it, it’s nearly impossible to turn taste into a visual image, but especially when you can’t see.

I’d changed up the music on Pandora and was now listening to country (don’t hate me.) I hadn’t listened to country music in a long time, and it was making me want to get up and dance. I hadn’t moved much that day, and I often feel like a day without much movement is a day in which I’m slowly dying.

My dinner guest had vanished, and I looked around self-consciously at the room for signs of life. Other than Allegro’s ever-present, easy-going, joyful spirit that always fills my surroundings, I was surprised to see no one. I ran over to the sliding glass door and closed the blinds. Now, if I look like a fool trying to run, I look like an even greater fool trying to dance. I either bob around aimlessly (but in rhythm!) or move so fast against the beat that I’d fall over if I stopped unexpectedly. I wasn’t sure whether I could control whether an otherworld person saw me dance, but I wasn’t about to take the risk of some actual world person having a glimpse at me through the window. I wondered briefly what people who lived in the second century would think about country music. Should I only play music they like while they are here? How long would they be here? How many are they anyway? Would I ever meet a woman among them? These were the questions that flitted through my mind as I stood in front of the stereo, unsure how to proceed, once again a bit overwhelmed and baffled by all I was experiencing.

Then, I deliberately forgot about otherworld goings-on altogether, and threw myself into enjoying the moment, in this time, in this world. I reveled in still being able to take up space in the most uncoordinated of fashions, able to mercilessly sing along (loudly) with the songs whose words I knew, able to stomp and clap my hands and turn my head and grab a very excited Allegro’s two front paws and whirl around with my surprised canine dance partner. Grateful that I was still able to laugh at myself and listen to the simplistic lyrical babble about love and staying out too late and blue jeans and motorbikes and teenagers sneaking out together, and homes that families owned for generations, and hot sticky summer afternoons, and katydids, and honeysuckles, and learning what it takes to grow up, and the sorrow of having to say goodbye, and the exquisite unconditional outpouring of joy on holding your newborn child for the first time. In a nut shell, what it is to be and live human.

We all have our place and time in the world, but this is the time and the world that is mine. I danced, my hands forming the meanings of the words, unconsciously weaving the words of energy and motion into the descriptions of the here and now. If others danced with me, I never knew, but by the end of it I would have welcomed them to join in in whatever their way might be.

In My Own Voice _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 5

 To all who have been following this thread, I think it is time that I speak in my own voice.  I fictionalized my experiences because I believed I would reach a wider group of people, and because I felt I needed extra protection against the few people out there who could make my life difficult if they found out who I really am.  I have thought long on it and decided that making these experiences my own, which they are, is an essential way to live by my own values.  Being true to myself is much more important than saving myself from trouble that most likely will not happen.  Also quite practically, the experiences I wish to tell of that follow don’t make as much sense if I had them happen to a sighted character.  If people really like my character I can certainly write some interesting stories about her that did not actually happen, and because I’d be making it all up, I could make her life much more interesting.

Sláinte Mhór,

Eilish Niamh

 

November 21, 2013

 

The wind is howling tonight.  I can hear the leaves scraping in frenzy several stories down beneath my bedroom window.  The wind tosses an aluminum can around the courtyard.  It’s dull clunk against the pavement resounds hollow, a drone against which the mournful, swirling air eerily harmonizes.  The wind is an entity to be reckoned with:  a feral cat stalking the sky, a fierce wolf yelping for her children, a creature all of itself born of the freedom fog which crouches, which watches, which waits.  I hear it’s keening, and I silently keep vigil with That Which Watches.  It is a vigil I do not remember entering into, but I am fully present with it now.

 

The wind mirrors the wild turbulent waves—of air or water it would be hard to guess—that spill over, overflow, break relentlessly on the threshold of body and soul, my body, my soul.  I do not live in a still and placid time.  And yet—and yet the tide, it has turned.  It has already turned and returned and is charting a new course in turn.  And though the wind gusts and forces trees to bend with it, plasters my hair against my face when I go out to relieve the dog, speaks of ghosts and the secrets of landscapes and hums with the expectant chatter of the seekers of possibility, it seems important to pause and reflect that, when the tide turned, there was not a sound. 

 

Silence is the greatest teacher.  At the heart of every person is a profound, poignant, persistent, passionate, peaceful, and present silence.  It is the place to which we first and foremost belong.  I have come home to that silence.  But as with all things, every place of solitude and stillness contains the door through which we step to belong to everyone and everything else that is.

 

Yesterday I met over a hundred, you the first fianna of Éire.  I looked into each of your eyes, I put my hand in your hands.  You looked into my eyes and there were no uncharted spaces.  From the depths of my soul, or perhaps just of soul, beyond my ken here and now, I called you.  I dedicated my life to actualizing, no longer running from, the wild heart that beats so assuredly within myself. 

 

I answered your call,  I leapt to standing, to stand, and I sobbed, I sobbed in grief for what is forgotten.  I sobbed in joy because much is not forgotten.  I called those I know by name and all the many whose names I know not.  Separation is a myth, an illusion.  What is, is.  I am, I am, and we are. 

 

You walked past me in twos, and placed your hands under my own.  I could feel your shadows pass me by.  I knew the ones who stood arm and arm with me, and lingered longest.  My hands radiated with the energy of the collisions of worlds.  We heard each other, we understood each other, and the stillness, the silence, it spoke for itself.  Words were unnecessary and cluttered and did not happen, and even now I struggle to find words to express how, though I am more myself than ever before, I will never, ever be the same.

 

I am convinced I recognized you, that I feel I know you, like my own brothers and sisters, like I will know my own children.  I recognized within myself that same wise and wild, empathic and enfolding, passionate and peaceful, ferocity of being, that willingness to face and accept the dangers of growing, that we all share, if only we would dare acknowledge it is there.  I shouted Is Mise Eilish Niamh, and I shouted the truth against the world, and in this world and the next I keep the principles you hold dear, for they have always been mine also. 

 

And now I have looked up from writing, from wading through these mere mirages of meaning, words, that do not do justice to experience.  Caoilte is standing here, he who so often walks between worlds.

 

“You already know this, but we wanted to remind you not to imitate any of us,” he says.  “You must be fully who you are, yourself.  This is what will serve you well, and be well with us.” (I know I really need such reminding as it is taking me a while to fully believe the truth of it, that I am enough.)  Caoilte continues, “There is still hope for our future.  Not as many listen now, but the song that you can share to leap it’s way into the world will be better heard in these times when the hills sing to no one.  You are welcome with us.” 

He says this not in audible words, but in gesture, as if he embodied the words.  As if words were motions that could be danced gracefully, full of the depth that gets lost in their telling.

 

And I say, though it is perhaps inadequate, “Thank you.”  Actually I do more than say.  I make the gestures, the signs of gratitude, in the language of the other world.  Motion that is almost dancing.  I have watched how those of the other world turn the raw threads of a universe in which nothing is at rest into beautiful patterns imbued with meaning.  I learned at least how to dance “thank you.”  And so, a bit less gracefully, I embody the gratitude I wish to convey and it is more powerful than mere words could ever be.

 

Then I reflect for a moment and add, “You are welcome here, too, always welcome here Caoilte, son of Ronan so long ago, different and the same.  You and the others are welcome to come through here on your way to wherever you are going.  I know what it is like to not have a home of your own, to be a wanderer.  Though you belong now to another world, your people are welcome here with you, so that you know there is a place in the manifest world which you can call home despite the when or where of it.” 

 

I truly empathize with that displaced feeling that must come with having no permanent place to call your own.  In the desert, I was like a nomad as well, and thanked the gods everyday that I finally found a place that was mine, that I landed somewhere.  I am simply so excited to get on with the rest of all that will happen, to throw myself into a beginning, learn and be all I can, grow even if it’s difficult, that offering my hospitality seems like the least I can do to give back in kind… and I’d do it anyway, I know.

 

Caoilte shrugs.  “It is yours to give and that we gratefully accept.”  (Now I am unsure whether he looked amused, or took me completely at my word.  I was definitely clueless about what I had just signed up for.)

 

Then I am alone again.  Then I sit staring at the wall, listening to the wind shake the night into a restless awareness of itself, but I am somewhere else.  The wind continues it’s tearing apart, but now at dusk, the new day is in it’s infancy, and I am peering out at a world that is impossible to see as torn apart.  It’s a world within which I eternally and intricately belong.  A world to which I know now, I have always belonged. 

 

I think, I used to not know a thing about being grateful, not until everything that has happened these last few months.  When I look within, no divisions remain.  I am not just grateful, I am at peace.  I am not just in unfathomable awe and wonder at how I live, literally, with, for, by, because of others.  But I stand in amazement by the side of my own hearth fire, knowing it is my own self worth and acceptance that made any of this possible. Being myself, fully, utterly, unapologetically and so much much more than what I ever could be, beyond myself, more, because separation is a lie, everything is part of the pattern, the endless knot woven whole out of all that is, this is the truth against the world.  The world discovers dualities, dichotomies, schisms and distinctions, categories and opposites.  I not only believe or think, but know, have seen, witnessed, been present with and aware of all otherwise.  It is.

 

Wide Awake _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 2

(Sometimes:) Is fearr rith maith ná drochsheasamh.  A good run is better than a bad stand. – Irish Proverb

 

When Aoife returned from school to the coast where she grew up, she decided to reconnect as much as possible with a source of spiritual guidance.  The barren and lonely desert, with its moaning winds and haunting separatism, favored only those living things who could bottle up and hide away anything valuable to them, whether that be life sustaining water, little green shoots, or happiness and tears.  Before graduate school, Aoife had decided to follow the spirituality of her ancestors and joined a modern group of druids.  She had begun to study as a bard for only a few months when her parents died, and anything that she might have loved or enjoyed seemed to languish then.

                Now that she was healing from what she had been through, she no longer needed the thorns and spines and thick hard shell that protected her so well in the desert.   She felt it was finally safe to return to her bardic studies.  She considered that it would be wise to learn many of her ancestors’ stories, just as the bards of old sang the lives of those who had gone before, weaving the strands of long ago into the pattern of everyday living.  Now, Aoife sat at her laptop PC, the internet just a keystroke away, thinking about her commitment to remember Oisin and Caoilte, and the rest of the fianna.  Despite their words of caution that she would not gain much insight into who they truly were from reading stories of who others thought they should be, she thought the best place to start was to learn the stories written about them anyway.  After all, the only story about them with which she was familiar was the one about the cave and that had nothing to do with what happened while they were alive. 

                So, with excitement, Aoife began a rudimentary google search.  Once she started reading, she got lost for hours in the retelling of all their countless adventures and otherworldly encounters and exploits and nearly thwarted escapes from captivity, battles, and nomadic hunting excursions.  She read about how Oisin was purportedly born.  How, the first time Fionn came to that forlorn dreary stretch of woods, he found a deer which neither of his dogs would harm.  When he brought the deer inside his house, she turned into a beautiful otherworldly woman.  She was Sadbh of the Sidhe, transfigured by an evil doer, and Fionn was the only human being whose protection kept her in her true form.  Sadbh was Fionn’s truest love, but tragically he could not forever stay indoors with her – this no one could do, surely—and so she was found and taken as a deer back to the woods.  The last time Fionn came upon those same woods, he found a boy, naked and surely frightfully cold, whom he recognized to be his son.  For this reason he named the boy Oisin, which means “Little Faun.”

Aoife then read about the time when Fionn was captured and Caoilte burned a great number of fields and killed hundreds of men, women, and children in his grief and then (not unlike Noah from a very different place and time) had to gather two of every kind of wild creature and bring them all to the king before Fionn was set free.  The majority of this story listed all the manner of wild thing Caoilte captured but didn’t give many details about why Fionn was imprisoned.  Aoife was struck by how oddly similar the tale was, besides it’s apparent Noah connection, to the story of Demeter who in her grief on losing her daughter to the underworld, refuses to allow anything to grow, any crops to survive, or any patch of earth to be fertile or green.  Less seriously the list of animals made her recall the scene in a Monte Python movie in which a character extolls the various animals, objects, birds, and all other plethora of items on which the people “feasted and were glad” upon receiving the Holy Hand Grenade.  She had a terrifically fun moment with this image before, inevitably, considering just how many innocent people died in many stories, but this one especially.

Although all the accounts about the fianna were fascinating and full of adventure and would probably make a very successful action movie, Aoife was greatly disturbed by all the seemingly useless violence.  It didn’t surprise her that they’d killed so many people, sometimes in the name of war, other times just because they could.  She knew she didn’t share the same value system so central to a time when classes and hierarchies were taken for granted, a time fraught with warring tribes, a time defined through standards and a quality of life that she could never know or ever completely understand.  She tried, sometimes more successfully than at other times, , to withhold judgment about the decisions people made in the past even while she searched through and weighed the consequences of their actions almost unconsciously, attempting to piece together lessons she might learn in order to find the joy in life they knew and avoid the hardships and pitfalls they did not see coming. 

Aoife was at heart a progressive, almost socialist pacifist and believed fervently in the maxim “We are all some mother’s child,” rather than in the efficacy of war.  She believed that race, color, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or religious creed were all aspects of identity that had no bearing on the respect and consideration of human dignity which everyone deserved and was worthy of.  She believed class shouldn’t even exist.  She was determined to have a lively philosophical discussion with Oisin and Caoilte about the use of violence and whether it was ever morally justified when the right time presented itself.  Although she knew they would probably have to agree to disagree on some points, she was more than curious to find out what the fianna would think about modern values and she might even change her mind about some of her opinions.  It was fantastic that she could simply just ask them, she thought, grinning like a mystified child.

                It was then that Aoife came across one of the most told stories about Oisin that exists: the story of Niamh and Oisin in the land of the young, tír na nóg.  She read about how Oisin had been out hunting, and wasn’t having much luck, when he saw the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen riding across the white capped waves of the sea on a horse that had no equal in all of Éirinn.  The woman had long flowing golden hair, and her eyes shown with unfathomable depth and piercing clarity, and were so like the pearls found in the shells of oysters that cling to the rocks at low tide that it was impossible to tell their milky white hue from that of the foamy crests of water that held her reflection.  Oisin asked her for her name once she came ashore, for he was already so in love with her that he could think of nothing else but to be with her.  The woman replied that she was Niamh, daughter of Manannon Mac Lír, the god of the sea and one of the Tuatha de Danann, no less.  She told Oisin that she had come seeking him and was so in love with him that she wished to take him with her to her country, tír na nóg, and there be married and live happily.  She was adamant and persuasive, and came across as one who had always gotten her way.  She told Oisin that Tír na nóg as a land of flowers and fields and forests, a land without strife or toilsome striving, where no one grew old and no one died.

                Oisin knew that, if he accepted Niamh’s offer, he would never see his father or the rest of the fianna again.  He asked for one night to think it over.  On the next dawn, he knew he must go with her to this strange land.  He had to see this place for himself, and more importantly, Niamh’s fairy charm was irresistible and he knew he could never be happy again without her.  In Tír na nóg, Oisin had three children and lived very happily with Niamh, but after three years he missed his homeland of Ireland sorely, and longed to see his own people again.  Niamh did not tell him that while three years had passed in her country, three hundred years had passed in his.  She did try to persuade him not to return home, but Oisin’s mind was set and it was impossible for another person, even his true love, to unmake his mind.  And so, Oisin went to Éirinn on Niamh’s only condition, that he not set foot on the ground, for then the years would catch up with him and he would be very old.  Oisin meant to keep his promise, but it was not to be.

When he got to Ireland he was overcome with grief at not finding any trace of his family or companions.  Just before returning sorrowfully to Niamh, he saw several men trying to lift a large and heavy boulder.  Being always an empathic soul who wished more than anything else to help those in need, Oisin began to lift the rock for them and it was then that the saddle slipped from the horse and he fell to the ground.  He became an old, blind, withered, wrinkled man, dependent on others to survive (which must have been quite a change as he never went through the stages of growing old as most folk do.)  He died belonging neither to the land he was born to nor the land in which he raised his children, neither in the arms of his love nor among friends.  It was presumably only once he died, that Oisin gained some semblance of peace.

                Aoife sat staring at her computer screen, stunned.  It was not occurring to her to ask whether the story was accurate.  It was not occurring to her to start reading another story, or indeed do anything at all.  Somewhat numbly, she covered her face with her hands and squinted, hoping, praying to whomever she could think of—a rock, the god Lugh, her dog—that she would not feel, that she would not think, that she would not remember.  But she did remember.  She began to sob.  She was not just crying for Oisin, she knew all too well, she was crying for herself, and for Conn, or perhaps despite Conn.

                Connell, hence Conn for short, had been her only, her true love.  Well, she thought he had been her true love.  There were too many similarities between her story she gave the world about her relationship and the one told about Oisin to not wonder if it was more than likely that Niamh, who at first came across as flawless, beautiful, loving, and kind, in the end turned out to be a waking nightmare.  For Aoife had, for a long time, told her siblings and friends that she was happy, more than happy, couldn’t imagine her life without her love, and wished they could spend an eternity together even though this was a big, blunt lie.  She persisted in keeping up the facade of contentment and joy even while Conn slowly and steadily kept her more and more to himself, until she hardly saw her friends or spoke with her family.  In truth, Conn would often cling to Aoife like a vulnerable toddler and whine that if she truly loved him, she would go away with him to share a little world of their own and only have each other.  In truth she was as terrified to be with Conn as to be without him, and he made sure of that.

When she first met Conn on that infernal August morning, a mere 104 degrees, Aoife felt as though she was a weary lost and bedraggled traveler who, upon the brink of death, suddenly stumbles on an oasis and eagerly revives herself with the water she thought she’d never find.  Aoife had been promised the world, in fact more than the world.  Somehow Conn knew all of her weaknesses, all of her insecurities, and all of her places where she was too vulnerable to fight, but it was over a year before Aoife questioned whether his having such knowledge about her was anything other than safe and genuine intimacy.  She had nothing to compare her experience to.  .  When he found out about the death of her parents, he had assured Aoife that she would be accepted into his large family and would never be abandoned again.  He wrote her long romantic love letters.  He held her for hours.  He told her there was something special about her and that most men wouldn’t see it, but he did.  He told her that she was the only person he could be himself with, that he’d found the one, that he couldn’t live without her.

He had been so loving that she felt comfortable sharing her ability to see the spirit world with him.  He swore he understood, and assured her that she was strange and exotic and other men would make fun of her for her differences, but that he, Conn, cherished and valued her.  Sometimes he got angry with her for wearing clothes that he felt made her look like Lolita and would insist that she change into something less revealing when they went out, even if it was otherwise completely appropriate.  He would then cajole her with a pout in his voice that he loved her so much that he couldn’t bear to have another man look at her.  To please him, Aoife would go change, happy to have found someone who was so brutally honest and loyal.  She also knew not to make new friends, especially guy friends, because Conn would get jealous and start calling her incessantly to check her whereabouts and even threaten to track her, but he earnestly explained holding her hand and looking deep into her eyes, that he only acted this way out of love and because he had had some traumatic event happen to him as a child.  So Aoife did exactly what Conn wished her to do.  If Conn was hurt, she knew how that felt, and she would not hurt him further.

                Conn hated technology and disliked living near too many people.  He told Aoife his dreams of living off grid with her in a remote part of Wyoming, where their nearest neighbor would be at least a mile away.  He lovingly insisted that Aoife was selfish for wanting the amenities of an apartment, and promised that she could always depend on him to survive.  If and when Aoife ever challenged his opinions or thought differently, he would go into a fit and break things, important things, and he’d put her down for her education and remind her that he had gotten where he was in life with nothing.  It didn’t matter that he had no degree himself, he was intelligent and smart and the education system was corrupt and bureaucratic.  Aoife would worry that something was wrong with her and promise to try to love him better, do more for him, cease being judgmental and listen more, whatever it took to calm him down until the love of her life returned.  Then he would gather her up in his arms and kiss her and tell her he wanted to be her life partner.

This went on and on.  Aoife found Conn more and more unbearable to be around, but the tenacity and power she once had in abundance continued to slowly ebb out of her bones as if the tide in her only knew how to recede.  What was more frightening than Conn, however, was the absence of the light inside her.  She would sometimes, very cautiously, peer within herself and more often than not come up empty handed.  When she saw no light at all, though, something shifted.  Despite the fear and her grief which was so palpable she thought for sure it might drown her, she knew better than to never, ever let anyone take all the light that burned inside her, that made her her own.  That light kept keening so persistently, though now quiescently, to shine, always shine, that she could not ignore it’s calling to her, the call to return and belong to the only one she would ever be in this world.

                On one of the rare occasions when Conn went back to visit his family, Aoife knew what she had to do.  Her heart was a stone, but the neurons in her brain were on fire.  She would live, she must.  She shipped back his things and changed the locks.  She called her brother and he had stayed with her a week, until she had stopped shaking, until they knew Conn would not return to try and hurt her.

When Aoife left, she left knowing only that some part of her deserved more, was more.  She felt more guilty and uncertain than she had ever thought possible, and was afraid that Conn was right and that she was inadequately prepared to live her own life, a life without him in it.  When Aoife left, she continued for a while to hope that Conn would change, and they could live the life they had planned together.  She told herself that Conn had only threatened to hit her once.  He hadn’t actually hit her, just did things like yell at her to watch her jump and get angry when she went out with her friends.  These were the excuses she would give herself as to why it wasn’t all that bad and she could live with it, but somehow she knew she was now lying to herself as well.

It was only after she left, a month or more after, that the word abuse ever came to mind.  Who, besides someone skilled at manipulation, guilt, feigned neediness, and practiced apathy would make someone choose between their relationship and their friends and family?  She had not waited until she was old and frail to leave.  But those months in the beginning, when Conn was her world, when all good and meaningful things in life felt permanently eclipsed by his brilliance and undying love, when all she could see was him, him, him, filling every inch of her horizon, when he made her feel special and unique and loved beyond any love she had ever known: it was as if a fairy from another land had waltzed into her life.  Within a year they were living together, and in the months before she left they were already talking about marriage.  After that, once the relationship began to go downhill, Aoife had lived in the land of youth in yet another way.  Conn, as it turned out, had the emotional capacity of a five-year-old.  If he did not get his way, he threw a tantrum.  Granted, it was a tantrum of emotional blackmail, fear, obligation and guilt, threats, rage, and sometimes desperate displays of tears which was more sophisticated than simply throwing yourself on the floor and pounding your fists, but it was just as ineffective.  Aoife found herself unwittingly in the role of mother one moment, lover the next, and it was disconcerting and exhausting.  Thank the gods they had not had children.

Aoife often hoped that, had Conn succeeded in isolating her completely, she still would have found the courage to walk away, but of that, she would fortunately never be sure.  Now looking back at that time which she filed away under “relationship mistakes,” it was almost as if the time with Conn was a dream, a surreal blip on the timeline of her varied existence, as if she had spent more than a year sleep walking, as if she had moved in a waking coma, as if she had given her very heart and soul away not realizing she had surrendered, almost willingly, to become the play thing of a bangle tiger.  She was not sure how she woke up before the tiger swallowed her whole, but she knew she was still mending the pieces of herself that had been so skillfully torn away.  She knew, then, she was stronger than she had ever given herself credit for.  She knew Conn had picked the wrong sort to mess with, and over time she learned her worth in this world.  She knew she had almost missed her chance to wake up, but she was now wide awake and would never be lulled asleep again.

                Once again Aoife surrendered, this time in safety, to the flashbacks and her tears.  Perhaps if she cried enough she would learn to live with the experience, as a war veteran might learn to live with the shrapnel permanently embedded in his shoulder.  She let herself cry until she was spent, and tired, and could resolve once again to no longer give away her power to this man and the wounds he inflicted on her already bruised and battered spirit.  It was late, she realized, and so she ate some chocolate and went to bed.

                But the next morning she couldn’t put the story of Tír na nóg out of her mind.  It had been over a week since she saw Caoilte or Oisin, and she found she very much wanted Oisin to know that she understood what he might have gone through.  She sat down and ate a bowl of cereal and then sat on the sofa to read her email, but behind her eyes were images of Oisin leaving his family, and never seeing them again, all for the sake of a girl.  No human being could be worth such a sacrifice, Aoife thought adamantly, because it was such an insidious choice to force someone to make.  Surely there were strong people in the world, like Oisin, who would never fall for such a trick as the one Niamh must have pulled.  But if there was any truth at all to the story, even someone as strong as Oisin had fallen for it, for a longer time than she had.

                Tears came unbidden into Aoife’s eyes again.  This time she did cry just for Oisin, for the unnamed and incalculable parts of himself and people he loved that he had lost without any struggle or fight or last stand, just stolen in the name of love out from under his nose by a woman who was very probably damaged, and broken, even while stunningly beautiful.  A woman who was hungry for all she could never have and, like Conn tried to do to Aoife, devoured everything he had.  She cried.  It was only when she finally looked up, after what seemed to her like a long time but might have merely been moments, that she realized she was not alone.

Oisin stood next to her, his hand, which she couldn’t actually feel, resting on her shoulder, his face full of concern.  It was so odd, Aoife thought, that she didn’t shriek or pull away or do any of the other things she usually did when someone surprised her, especially if that person was of the opposite gender.  She had generally been very afraid of people, particularly men, since she had left that terrifying relationship with Conn.  Perhaps, she mused only momentarily, she really was healing from it.

                “Please don’t cry,” Oisin said quietly. 

                “Sorry,” Aoife always felt a bit embarrassed when someone saw her cry, “I never meant for you to have to come comfort me for being upset about something that happened to you.”  The whole scenario struck Aoife as being opposite what it should be.  “I wanted to comfort you, let you know you are not alone.  I just really empathized with what you went through, never seeing your family again. Was it like…” she stumbled on, trailing off unsure how to say what she wanted to say.  He had so much more experience than she did, having been in the world so long ago.  There must be something more important to ask someone so ancient.

                “I don’t remember all the details of what it was like.  But I do know that you’ve been through many struggles, and when you found your strength to actually walk away, learned what you were worth, and discovered that leaving doesn’t always mean giving up, I was very proud of you.  It took me a much, much longer time to realize that I would give up everything by staying, and gain everything by leaving.  It was almost too late when I learned that”

                “Did you ever find your family after you left?” Aoife asked.

“Sometimes it’s possible to physically be with your family while being further away than you have ever been in your life.  But I have had hundreds of your years in this world to be with my family.  I’m no longer sad or angry or divided.”

“I understand,” Aoife replied, and she really did.  Then after a while she asked, “I just wondered, how did you know I was with someone and left him?  If you were there, then, why didn’t… I… see you?” She was going to ask why he hadn’t come to talk with her then to warn her to stay away, but decided it wasn’t good on her to ask that question.

                Oisin smiled knowingly.  “Well, you weren’t ready to hear a warning from anyone, not even your siblings and school friend who valiantly tried.  Let’s say, your mind was made up and nothing would unmake it.” After a moment, he went on, “You were so defensive back then, that you were blind to the world beyond the physical world.”

                Aoife nodded.  He was right, of course.  She was shut off from everything back then, including herself.  “I didn’t read what actually happened to you, did I?” she asked almost as a statement.  “Can you tell me everything you know that happened?  Perhaps it might help someone else realize it’s time to open their eyes.”

                Oisin sat down facing her.  He truly did not know the details of all that happened, not anymore.  “A long, long time ago,” he began, “I reconciled myself with Niamh, for I do recall her name was in fact Niamh.  She was of noble birth, for sure, but not Manannon’s daughter.  I never met Manannon or his daughter until my life was through, and they would very much like to clear up the misunderstanding.  In the world beyond your world, after some time…if I can speak of something such as time happening in a place where time doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to you, I learned to forgive her.  Most importantly, I forgave myself.  After that, there was no need to remember the details.  The lesson was, first, to find the good that can be saved from the experience.  I cherish my children who I would not have had without her.  I then learned to let go and move on, as you’re doing now.”  He paused for a moment and then he thought of something and his eyes gleamed in the half-light of the room.  “I will tell you a different story.” He said.

The Birth of Oisin:
http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/~thoqh49081/celtic/oisin1.html

Oisin in tír na nóg:
http://www.shee-eire.com/Magic&Mythology/Myths/FinnMacCool/Oisin-TirnaNog/Page1.htm
For a different version which I have not heard told anywhere else go here:
http://www.horsesoftirnanog.org/legend.htm

 

 

I don’t wish to write about the subject of unhealthy or abusive relationships without providing some information that might be helpful.  In no way am I at all qualified to assist anyone in any official manner, beyond sharing my experience.  In my experience, then, while anyone can do a google search, sometimes the people who are most in need are those who are too terrified, traumatized, overwhelmed, depressed, or too isolated and in danger to do a search themselves, and I hope this helps them.

 

The National Domestic Abuse Hot Line:

http://www.thehotline.org/

 

The Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program, resources, articles, and community run by Melanie Tonia Evans:

www.melanietoniaevans.com.

 

The Verbal Abuse Site Run by Patricia Evans (no relation to Melanie, it is simply coincidence):

http://www.verbalabuse.com/.  Many of her books can be found on Amazon or Audible.com.

 

Eilish Niamh