Tag Archives: otherworld

A Grave Night

The shadows never disappear. That’s been the biggest change. Even a sunrise appears hollow and faded, as if someone insisted on placing a curtain between my view and the sky. In fact, it is as though space took on a surprising heaviness around me, its grey tendrils clinging to me as if it were the fog wrapping around the crests of ocean waves. Often my unresolved emotions surface to hang in midair the way my breath used to condense in the growing cold.

But I am not cold, nor do I find any comfort in the cloying density that mutes the music of the world to wilted whispers. It’s not that I have an affinity for darkness. At first I only ventured out at night because I found that daylight hurt my eyes. Then, slowly, I learned that the dark could hold me, enfold me into its soothing shelter like an unborn child, where I found shelter for a while from hiraeth, that unnameable longing of my heart.

Tonight begins no differently. Drops of twilight fade like ink into the vast canvas of the sky. Safe in the hushed umbral hallway, I slip silently into the rooms of the children to satisfy myself that they are sleeping soundly, and then pause by the dog to ruffle his fur. There is that glorious but grief-stricken moment when he lifts his head wags his tail. He sees me. And just as with every other night, I lose myself for a while in that indescribable feeling when life recognizes and regards itself in another.

Reluctantly I pull away, realizing that even the dog needs rest and his eyes are drooping and about to close. I drift aimlessly to the window to hover there, again like I always do, and let my thoughts still. But the full moon gently washes the weary world, a world which I wander but to which I no longer belong; and a single star winks mockingly from a great distance, as if gloating over its heavenly glow while I remain trapped on earth. And suddenly it is all too much for me: the glowing star, the tender touch of moon on the trees, my sleepless dreams.

My acute discomfort drives me down the stairs to the front door, and it is then I remember tonight’s invitation from the man I spoke to on the way back from my meanderings early this morning. He was rather peculiar, wearing a hodgepodge of clothing from several different eras: trousers that could have been placed at the start of the twentieth century, a tie-dyed shirt stamped with the names of the Beetles, and a 1970’s haircut. I have to admit that I stared before speaking.

At some point I did remember to introduce myself with my standard greeting “I am still called Maya,” and gave the universal sign for acknowledging another’s company. In return, he looked away while informing me that he couldn’t remember his name. “But George is as good as any,” he had muttered, keeping his hands at his sides.

His rudeness only grew worse as the conversation went on. He told me about an important neighborhood meeting regarding the upcoming Halloween holiday and the particular matter of a haunted house. The gathering would be taking place at midnight in the graveyard. Did I want to join them? Was he serious?

I recall now how I continued to stare at him, my curiosity turning to irritation and finally to an angry disgust. It was bad enough for him to use the “h” word when describing an inhabited household, but his choice of venue was downright insulting. I gave him a piece of my mind regarding what I think about people who continue to promote physicalist stereotypes after switching sides and left immediately. The graveyard? Does he think butterflies like to hang out in their old cocoons for kicks, too? Good grief!

He’s new, or crazy, or both, I am thinking now as I pause in front of the main door. I tell myself that I can’t believe I am doing this. But that’s a lie. I’m going because to stay is to truly be haunted: hounded by the ghosts of my past, mercilessly pursued by my murky mess of memories, ensnared in my own fears, lost in my regrets and all I left behind. If a prejudiced soul and curiosity about his grave meeting is what will get me out of my self-pity tonight, then so be it.

Just before I walk through the door, I groan softly to myself for good measure, out of principle, for spite, for the relief of hearing myself make a noise, for all of these things. Apparently, I am not quiet enough. Upstairs, the toddler starts screaming for his mother to save him from “that thing in the house” at a pitch and volume that would wake the dead, if only the dead could sleep. I’m human, not some object, I think bitterly as I take the hint and gloomily make my way to the one place in the entire neighborhood I have never wanted to go.

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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.

The Representatives of an Age _ Ailbhe’s Experience

The figure in white blazes before us, brighter than any sunrise I have ever witnessed. Even the glints of gold and gentle red of the nascent sun, reaching out as it did over the earth to tentatively touch, then entwine with the blues and greens of moving sea does not compare. Awe befalls me, and I raise my hands in an overwhelming impulse to honor such a one.

There is no gender to this individual. They tower above our tallest men, but the height strangely does not distance them from us. It is their eyes, I realize, burning with a quiet compassion, which draw us each into welcome, as if to reassure us of the intent of friendship despite the harshness of their almost searing light.

“Come.” It is not a voice, but a gesture, one which we recognize immediately as our own. Fionn, who is not accustomed to being commanded to do anything, is, I notice with some relief, returning the greeting. Still, we can all see his bafflement, mixed with curiosity, and the emotion passes through us like a wave. This is the way of emotions in the world beyond the world, and now is no exception. We share more than we ever thought possible, let alone desirable, for here very little is left in hiding.

The urgent question of the hour, where are we going?, shows itself soon enough. We are now standing in what appears to be a large stadium. Well, I think appreciatively, there are hundreds of us to accommodate, yes, but not having bodies, we certainly do not take up much space. Why the strange room with ornate columns, mosaic tiling, and mysterious figures carved on stone walls? This is, we understand, more to give us some sense of familiarity than anything else. On that count, it is failing miserably. Personally, I find myself fighting against a feeling of confinement and a desperate need for trees.

“Looks like they had a group go through here who liked Greek architecture and no one has rearranged the appearance,” Caoilte observes, a bemused look crossing his face. The two of us have walked in together, of course. “This would put us right off in the physical world.”

“Undoubtedly,” I agree, “We’re not in that world, and yet details should still be important.” I mutter this last bit, half to myself, then add, “It would be easy enough for us to change it…” But at that moment, the white figure is quieting us down and gesturing toward a large table like structure in the middle of the room for us to gather around. Like almost everything in this world, it is made of light and song.

The unintended insult is quickly forgotten as excitement takes over. What will it be like to return to the physical world? Will we get to plan any of the next life? Will we get to take on different relationships to each other? I glance at Caoilte and hope the answer to that last question is no. He winks at me mischievously in return.

I notice that we have once again instinctively taken up our usual rankings by authority, though in fact the concept means little now. Presently, the androgynous figure looks up as if to speak, and a great hush falls on us, and we stand expectantly, very still.

“It has come to our attention,” proclaims the figure, “That an unforeseen, unprecedented circumstance has occurred, which is necessarily going to change the trajectory of your soul group.”

We remain motionless at this unexpected announcement, except for our eyes. The atmosphere has perceptibly shifted into one of wariness. I find myself tracking the expressions crossing the figure’s somewhat obscured face, conceiving multiple plans of action as I do so, in case action is necessary. Unaware of what even the normal procedures are, I can only gauge the possibilities and hope this is enough to do well by those in my charge. I do what I know how to do: prepare to act for the well-being of the group, but most importantly ensure the safety of my nine. They are standing behind me and waiting for me to take the lead.

The figure continues, presumably ignoring the sudden tension. “Many of you now represent an age, and so we cannot proceed as usual. All across your homeland, and soon beyond, people are telling and retelling the stories of your lives, and you are so a part of the myths and legends of these people that you have helped shape life long after you were living it.”

We move. If the others felt anything like me, moving is inevitable. We’re staring at each other in bewilderment, our surprise mixed with frustrated confusion. Order breaks into a frenetic flurry of questions. What in the world does this mean? Who started this?” “When did this happen, and we not even knowing it? For goodness sake, why?

I think out to the group, “But we were just living, how is this possible?” I merely receive more dismay as an answer. This is a possibility that escaped all of us, it seems. Our experiences, somehow made meaningful to the passing of an entire age? But certainly, we were nothing special, no more or less equal to any other group of souls who pass through the living of a physical life, were we not?

And then fortunately Fionn has our charge, and is speaking. “How can this be? I can no longer speak for the whole of us without question, but what you’re saying is too outlandish to believe. With all due respect to you, Bright One, of course. If this is an honor, we have done naught to deserve it. In life we had only done what was necessary. Many of us lived and failed to live by our truth. Yes, there were times when we lived with courage and honor and the like; everyone can live this way. We have also made countless mistakes. I doubt any one of us had no regrets upon death. If it is true what you say, that these people think such of us, they are most wrongly directed in doing so.”

“They should look inward to themselves instead for what they seek,” Oisín adds, quietly.

The androgynous figure looks truly sympathetic. Their opinion, all things considered, aligns with our own, but I can already see there is little that any of us can do. In silence, the illuminated one draws out a kind of window through which we can view simulated visuals of the many stories being told of us. It is a bit like a hologram. “It is only right that you confirm my words for yourselves,” the figure concludes, stepping back and holding out their hands. And whether this is meant to reinforce the vast nature of the point or simply attempt a placating posture it is hard to say. It is also no longer important, for everything we counted on as being ordinary has changed.

In Between Lives: Ailbhe’s Experience

Some come to this world beyond with eager wonder, the need for resting, the joy of homecoming. I, however, fought fiercely for my life, even after it was very obviously ending. The illness was wasting my body away, but this only had the opposite effect on my tenacity of spirit. I had too much to lose, too much more to do. I suppose I died in battle, but not the kind I wanted to be remembered by. I didn’t win, of course. But I didn’t know any better not to try.

Until Mairin joined me, I was a spirit haunted by the living ones, by the stories I read in their eyes before mine drew closed against the day. But she was not long in arriving, in a way, we were all reunited quite quickly, and this was beyond joy for us.

It is hard to quantify time in the space beyond solid things, where there is growing and changing but no yesterday or tomorrow. But the time does come when we are to start getting ready to experience the adventure of another lifetime. I am grateful and overwhelmed with excitement for this.

***

We are gathered together about a fire that does not burn, a silent glow flitting about shimmering faces. I reach out and take Mairin’s hand. Our hands do not meet, but intertwine, fall together, weave into one another.

All around me, the intentions and feelings of others shine bright against the pale red sky. They form a web of wordlessness which is instantly understood. This is the way of speaking without any need for language and the limits it places on expression.

I am thinking about the world I left behind, where there are rivers and wild boars and hunting and crying and trees and beer, and passion, and hunger and sorrow and dancing and shouting and running . . . and that solidity I continue to try to touch, that I am not quite used to living without.

None of us feel we have had enough of the world, of moving and living and breathing and knowing the beauty and sorrow and joy and somber reflection which is all living out loud. There is much more to experience. There is growing old: most of us have not done so before. There is growing and learning new things, and, I probably mentioned this before but, there’s beer. I mean, I miss food, and eating, a lot.

I miss sunrises and singing the song of the dawn to a real dawn. I miss screaming and climbing trees. I miss knocking out anyone in my charge who is causing trouble and even miss their causing the trouble in the first place. I’m glad I don’t have to sleep, but miss curling up on a sleeping roll, or even on the hardpacked ground close to the smell of earth and rooted things. I miss all sorts of things,. I’m ready to try my hand at more.

As the day wanes around us, I take notice of the children chasing each other through a field of grasses not far off, and I consider that as much as I enjoy watching them, I could do another life without having children of my own. Taking care of a nine is need enough for responsibility, children are far less capable of feeding themselves. Also children demand a particular kind of patience. I’d have to be able to reconcile myself to many hours of inaction where I’d simply be holding them, and learn to tolerate getting spit up on. Then one day I’d have to provide the means to secure their future. I ran from my future as a child. What’s the point of bringing someone into the world, then demanding she not be who she was born to become?

In this place beyond time, I have reconciled with my birth family. But even now, I hardly spend time with any of them, my sister Mairin being the exception of course. My family is here all around me, laughing and sharing stories, dreaming into being our next try at living. I look out at the fields that sway for miles, full of wildflowers and wilder children. They are not so different, I realize, from the dreams forming shape and dancing in our eyes. Wild ones and our children.

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.

You Already Know

Imagine this: You are standing alone in your room. The lights are off, the blinds drawn. Your door is shut to any light that might be illuminating the hallway. Suddenly, you feel a presence with you in the room, and see a flash of violet light out of the corner of your eye.

Your reaction? You immediately fire up your computer, and send the following to your spiritually open social media friends: “I felt and saw this presence in my room. Do you think it was actually there? It was probably just a stress reaction/figment of my imagination. Any thoughts?”

In the past couple years, I have seen questions like this posed on blogs and facebook more times than I can count. Every time I run across a “can I trust what I’m experiencing” question, my response is an emphatic unequivocal “YES,!” So what are my thoughts? I suppose you will know, whether you like it or not. 🙂

The events behind the question are always slightly different, but the sequence of things and the form of the question itself are the same: So I have broken down the explicit and implicit inferences that I have discovered to be common among all instances of the process.

• Someone has an experience of hearing, seeing, knowing, and/or feeling someone or something which does not have a physical or corporeal origin.
• The person has a strong sense that she is being visited by her grandmother, is seeing an angel, or is experiencing something of a spiritual nature even if it’s not entirely apparent who is there and why.)
• If the person is uncertain about, or fears the possibility of their being a spirit world, she will experience cognitive dissonance.
• This is usually really uncomfortable, so the person tries to harmonize her experience with her beliefs as fast as possible.
• Very quickly, often unconsciously, the person runs the experienced perceptions and sensations by the scientific and cultural paradigms that she has either personally accepted or vicariously adopted.
• The person cannot readily come up with a physical explanation.
• The person decides to ask a third party whether her experience is really her experience.
• She is hoping for a validation of her strong intuition, but is also hoping to be wrong. So she explains her experience while making sure to minimize or dismiss it.

I can’t deny the discomfort of experiencing something that does not readily fit into your already established belief system. What baffles and saddens me is how quickly people dismiss their experiences, distrust their intuitive knowledge, and hand the authority to determine the veracity of their reality to someone else.

Over time, doubting the validity of your experience can lead you to lose confidence in your ability to reliably participate in and assess the world around you and undermines your trust and belief in yourself. Worse still, routinely seeking external validation of a personal experience is incredibly disempowering. It is one thing to ask for someone’s opinion or interpretation of a situation you are experiencing. It is quite another to ask someone else to determine for you whether the very thing you experienced actually occurred.

Take the following physical world example. If you had an experience of there being a rock in front of you,
you might ask someone’s opinion about the kind of rock or whether it was safe to climb, but you wouldn’t rely on someone else to determine for you whether or not the rock was really there. (In fact, what would this mean? If someone else insisted there wasn’t a rock but you could still see and touch it, would it make any sense to give them permission to change your mind?)

In the instance where you are asking for an interpretation or further information, you still have the final say on what you will believe and accept. In the second instance, you are letting someone else dictate to you whether your experience happened, what it means, and what you should believe about it.

This is not to say that you can’t interpret an experience, spiritual or otherwise, incorrectly. But, While it is possible to misidentify a person from the spirit world or misinterpret a message that is being shared with you, that doesn’t call the existence of the person or the fact of an attempted message into question. You experience seeing a rock when there’s a rock around to see, just as you feel a noncorporeal person’s hand on your shoulder because this is exactly what is happening. You might find out you are mistaken about the kind of rock, or the identity of the person, but both continue to exist regardless.

There is a vast amount of knowledge already within us. Perhaps it is there because we have accumulated it over lifetimes, or it has been passed down from our ancestors. Perhaps it is there because we are all interconnected, no matter the world we live in, and that interconnection is vaster and more intricate than we could ever imagine. Whatever the reason, within each of us is the truth by which we guide ourselves and live in integrity with who we are. Out of that seed of knowing we grow: but not unless we can trust our first-hand perceived experience of the world.

So, the next time you get the strong feeling that your grandmother is visiting you, don’t make yourself miserable by dismissing an entire way of knowing and telling yourself she’s not there. You won’t be the only person who is grateful that you’re not doubting yourself anymore. I am sure that your grandmother will also be happy that you finally noticed she is still a part of your life.

If the experience you are having is still hard to believe, sit quietly for a while. Ask yourself what is true. You can trust your own experience: you are the expert on it, after all. You don’t need to give your power away to anyone. You already know.

The Morrigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Myth Retold

I will tell you of one among many origins of the story of Niamh, eyes like pearls, sea green, spun from the land of the young, that world which rendered our anguish and fight for survival well met in a peace that passes the understanding of mortal minds. I will tell you of the future time beyond my time when our tale was woven from tattered threads of what was left, fragments of tapestries of past to present, those same sung songs spilled inky black on page, to form the bounded shapes of words which history horded for itself and refused to relinquish completely to a culture we would neither recognize nor survive, had any of us really found ourselves transported, being all that we are, to that future time all of a sudden.

Long before the loamy clay of our sacred land was covered in the smog of exhaust from cars and the blasts from train horns and spotted with sprawling malls, paved with pebbles mixed with tar to muffle the mighty heartbeat of the earth, long before tales of a new god of the sky who tamed the wild hearts of those who dared be their own masters, the landscape breathed clean and clear, and the veil between the worlds came as near as the waves are to the shore. It was that a person could reach through the mist between in either direction, so that each could wander there, or here, and such journeys were to some extent expected, and understood.

It was on such a journey that she Manannán’s daughter, sea born, radiant bright, bridged from shore to shore the two worlds by her love and called out a name of an age, through which ran our wild ones in the flash of a moment, so that the fierce and fragile lessons in our living of it might withstand the test of time. For there was nothing then forgotten, and the tide had yet to turn.

And as Taliesin crossed the sea like a wise salmon to cradle the land in the soul’s own songs, so too would I, Oisín, one mortal soul, a representative of a passing age, forge at the turning of every opposite a steadfast bond between my world and hers of the golden hair, land and sea, heart and will, man and woman, time and eternity. For my name does not matter, and could have been any name, any one. I am the centuries and the song, I am the bones shaped from the marrow of time, enthralled with the breathtaking beauty of every world.

As Rhiannon speeds her horse across the sky to guide the sun, uniting the middle world with the land of stars, so does Niamh speed her white mare over the clouds of billowing sea, her golden tresses trailing behind her, whipped by the wind, leading the cycles of light that brighten the way between ending and becoming. It was said that the earth heard her calling, and in the fog I heard whispered my own name, and there I was leaping up behind her, the child of sea itself, and we thought we could stride together across centuries, and see the gaps between our worlds disappear.

But many people began to turn their eyes away from the rocks and the trees, and the sea and the sky, stranded where they used to belong, unsure whether home lay in the land or the heavens. They lost track of the way their footsteps matched the rhythm of the seasons, and forgot how to move lightly across the land, forgot that the earth held them in her arms and could provide all they needed if only they had respect, could remember who they are. And the more that was forgotten of the old ways, the harder it became to hold another from another world, and I, who was of the physical world, built from it, born from it, knew that soon the time would come, when not I, nor anyone after me, would walk between the worlds unaided, as sure as I knew waves could never break without a sea strand.

Of the love that Niamh and I shared, a bond between worlds, it would not survive such a separation. Nothing, no one can. Had we but known we would soon be separated, love torn from love, not even to have a glimpse of one another’s faces across the wasteland of the forgotten, would we have done any differently? Who among us in the midst of living out loud their majestic, wondrous spark of being, could honestly predict the keening of souls parted from their origins, ignorant during life of that truth of rebirth that quells the fear of death and loss.

And afterward, when my story was told, pulled into the generations where saints saved all but the gods, it was said I died an ancient one, aged by more than two hundred years since I crossed over. It was the age itself that died, that which was carried by the people of my time, our beliefs, our ways, unintelligible to some, threatening to others.

Now the landscape was blind, it no longer kept watch quietly in the night like a mother for her children. No more was earth dynamic and alive but inanimate, decreed so by the new god believed to have dominion over the earth, and later generations adopted this sense of power for themselves. The hills were just hills, and the pool beneath the nine hazel trees no longer held the same mystery to those who passed it by.

It is from our sorrows, not our joys, that the story is usually told. But now, the tide turns again. Again I travel past the ninth wave, passed the reckoning of the spinners of dreams, through the watery caves of the unborn, and the last current of change carries us toward the dawn on the horizon ahead.

Within each of us stands the door of the otherworld, the only wild frontier left to dare, hidden in the landscape of bone, the last undying love out of whose arms we cannot be borne away or uprooted and torn, or undone like the ruins of the ancestors’ dwelling places. Up to each of us, too, to gather the fragile memories, and piece by piece, gently, carefully, fervently, bridge a new way, until the worlds are brought together whole. Then take up again the threads, child of the land and sea and stars, for once more our worlds are merging, and a new story must be told, with which to sunder separation, overrunning its torrents of terror like a landscape finally left to flourish in its own way, wild and unruly, untamed, unforgotten, cherished and shining, a song like the one not sung for over a thousand years, the chords rewandered, the words rewoven, shimmering through a life you spin of many moments into the future, to live full out and make your own.
***
This was, at least initially, inspired by Damh the Bard’s song, “Iron From Stone,” though the song is about a totally different story.
Iron From Stone Lyrics by Damh the Bard

Threshold of the Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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