Tag Archives: perseverance

How We Fight

Wild One 101
From Ciarán of Ailbhe’s Nine

Some learn to become indifferent to pain until they fight without thought. They learn how to lose themselves (their ability to feel, the essence of who they are, their sense of being) in order to win. The cost of this is high, for the selves they defend are the very same they so easily abandoned. Their eyes go vacant or hard or unseeing. They are trained to deny much of their own human being, and so likewise cannot see those they fall as flesh and blood and bone. They choose an inner death before their life is ended, believing it makes them better able to survive. It is unknown what continues to exist after such a fight is done, even in a victory.

But we learn to fight with our aliveness. The power within us forged in the fire of feeling. Our eyes are clear and wakeful, whether full of sorrow or laughter– compassion and passion being as they are two sides of a soul. We live our humanity fervent and full. We see each other eye to eye, and in the defending of all people, recognize ourselves in all we meet. No one is immune to suffering or grief. But the cries that we utter are always our own, whether of joy or of pain, and always the radiance burning inside. And when we fall, we blaze out each like a pulsing star, a heart that dared to beat with love, until the last spark fades from who we are.

***************
My own thoughts:

I’ve been having a very hard time putting anything into words regarding how I feel about living in a nation that seems to have been swallowed up by fear, prejudice, hatred and greed, perhaps in reverse order. Reading the news is like downing a glass of pesticides every morning and then trying to go about my day hoping I won’t experience any side effects. I’ve been paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness, grief-stricken, incredibly angry, tentatively resolved into taking action, terrified, and sometimes daring to dream all in a day. I’m a philosopher who spent more than a decade learning the rules of reason: all that flooding of feeling recently often leaves me reeling. I’m still trying to learn how to effectively take action without shutting down.

I used to be an avid advocate for the rights of children. I used to daily defend my right to full inclusion, equal access to education, acceptance and regard. And, whenever someone ever suggested to me that my perseverance made me a fighter, I’d be sure to defend my definite opinion to the contrary. To me, the purpose of advocacy was to build bridges, while the purpose of fighting was to burn bridges and erect walls, and the winner would be the fastest. I thought advocacy was strategic and thoughtful, but fighting was inherently destructive and usually violent. Advocacy resolved conflicts, fighting created them. That was a lot of black and white thinking.

We’re now faced with a situation in this country where our supposed leaders want to build walls, and the most effective way to resist is to fight: for compassion rather than hatred, for freedom over fear, for dialogue over discrimination, for human rights, for healthcare, for immigrants and their families, for people rather than profits and for healing rather than division.

I believe now that when people used to tell me I was a fighter, I honestly had no idea what they meant by that. I am discovering that I have so much to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

I am learning how compassion is as fierce as it is gentle, and is more powerful than fear, stronger than the deepest shame. I’m learning how wholeness is always in each of us, and that division is only as effective as the deception behind its appearance. I’m gradually accepting the fact that maybe, perhaps, I know how to fight for myself and for others… I just need to learn a new paradigm for how to go about it more effectively. I’m learning to trust more, to listen more, and to share, speak up, more.

I am not finding sharing these thoughts to be easy for me, at all. But I’m starting with where I am at, and that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be many more insights from my ancient family to post as well, as I keep learning, so I will be sharing more from them here, too.

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Dark Night

For you said,
“Before us lies a field of possibilities,
Many colors to trace with our hands.”

So we walked the be-wildering way
And the sun hid its face behind the trees,
The shadows lengthened on the ground
And shelter was not found in these.

For you said,
“The rise will help us see beyond,”
And so we climbed

The rocky hills
Exhausted, breathless, out of time,
The vista vanishes, as horizons will.

For the wanderer,
The space between silences
Suddenly cracks a chasm:

The music of terrain and trail
Unbearably missing,
Made mute in the heavy emptiness
Who haunts the heart of her?

Nameless I will go alone
To the place
Where turtle shells are left behind,

Where the sun cries,
And the woods do not creep,
And wonder what on earth I’m doing there.

Would I turn back
From that raw heart-wrenching road?
Would I name the trees,
Sing to the silence,
Create a cacophony to fill the emptiness,
No longer wander?

For you said,
“The rugged in between
Is a good place to wait.”

But my shell-less self shivers
In shimmering sunset,
Falling now
The first drops of rain.

Fragile and frightened,
I force myself to stay awake,
While everywhere I am not empties out,

Envelops itself,
In the mist goes missing.
Hollow echoes heard where nothing stirs.
And that’s when the silence screams.

I Return As Dr. Éilis!

On Friday, I defended my dissertation, passed without the need for any revisions, and absolutely stunned out my committee! Each of them made a point to tell me how much they loved my presentation, and how well I did in answering their questions. I rocked it, above and beyond what I ever imagined. As Martha Beck says, Woohoo!!!

It’s been a long, long road, everyone. Weeks ago, I wondered whether, after I gained my freedom–err, I mean graduated– I’d be totally ecstatic and bouncing off walls, full of so much joy I wouldn’t know what to do with myself: maybe I’d have so much energy that I’d run until I’d get exhausted: which would only take a minute. I’m serious. Writing a dissertation takes up a lot of hours, and involves the “arduous” task of sitting still…with the exception of your hands of course, which are constantly typing. Moving becomes an unfamiliar pastime.

As it happens, I am immeasurably happy, and jubilant, and elated: and bone tired. Contentedly tired, but still very weary. They don’t tell you this when you get the acceptance letter, but graduate school is a long drawn out procedure with a recovery period. I recommend warning any graduate-school-enthusiast children you may have about this phenomenon, (but to be fair, no amount of warning ever dissuaded me from attending.)

For me, graduate school lasted ten enduring years. Years spent not knowing who I was, years where I faced a lot of discrimination, pain, ostracism and social invisibility, years in which I slowly but steadily moved through and eventually transformed my anger, grief, and feelings of worthlessness. Somewhere inside me was the girl who I’d forgotten in the fog, lost under harsh layers of living, but who was still breathing, silently dreaming.

I know she was there, because I have found her. I sang to her bones to rise, to walk into her own belonging. I traveled the road of shadows for her, called her name, gathered the shattered mirror pieces and pieced them whole once I heard and knew and felt throughout all I ever was that I was not broken. I learned to love those jagged pieces, a patchwork puzzle of the past. And despite all I had been through in the place to which I returned, last week when I returned, I remained wholeheartedly myself. I could have never achieved this on my own, of course, but I did have to decide to keep going, each step of the way. That is to me a testament to how far I have come.

Always the question arises, after arriving, no longer questing, for a threshold: as I look toward my whole life ahead of me, what amidst all that should be left behind is worth carrying forward? re-membering is important, relearning resilience, rebuilding a self by the soft light of a core spark that never dies, retrieving compassion from where it had retreated, backed into a corner of regret and shame and silence about much that had never been true. Freedom, walking out of the Anonymous Desert for the last time, and shutting a door of an era behind me was a right of passage in itself. But I know well that I could have never lept the crossing had I never learned to tear down walls, break through bars, and hold my own rather than hold on for dear life. (I have often done both kinds of holding, sometimes simultaneously.)

A week before my defense, I sat down and did some re-membering. I wrote from myself to myself, which I had never done before. I will share a bit of the growing with you, as I think I’ve learned things which we are all in the process of re-membering, and because I finally found the words for it.

***

Power is found within, springs forth from love and compassion for you, to hold your own sacred space within you, and claim your birthright of worth and belonging. You can stay centered in your own truth, your own power. You are the author of your life and the divine guardian of yourself.

Stop holding your breath against change. Be discerning and open. Let go. Let go of expectations. you belong to yourself and always have. This past does not define you. It will not ruin you. You will return. Keep your energy centered, your mind focused. Have great love and compassion for you. Know you are stronger than you know or believe. The grey will fall at your light. Be present, be alive and do not try to hide your eyes. Please return without any sense of small. Be the unbridled joyfulness of you. Your power, your truth, your strength, your trust, is all of and for yourself. I love you. You are already wild.

***

The journey that has gotten me here far surpasses the feat of freeing myself from a situation I never should have stayed in. If that lived experience was the only way to get me to where I am now, I am grateful for every moment of it, and that’s the truth. And truthfully, I am also overjoyed to finally be moving on, to embrace what is next in this wonderfully wild world. Let’s do this thing!

My son, the triathlete…

An incredible, inspiring post from Sue Vincent about her son, indomitable and amazing as ever. He’s biking in a triatholon to raise money for people with acquired brain injuries, please support him and the cause!

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

nick-trike-park-birds-flowers-trees-009

You may know my son’s story. For once, I have no problem repeating it for those who do not. I have a very good reason for it that I have been bursting to share!

In 2009 my son was 25… a good looking, successful young man with a fast car, nice apartment near the coast and a very promising career. That ended on July 4th when he was left for dead in a Bournemouth alley, stabbed through the brain in an unprovoked attack.

2009 before the attack 2009 before the attack

I have written before of the terror of the next days as he underwent brain surgery to remove the shards of shattered bone from the left hemisphere of his brain. I have told of the weeks of heartache as we waited to see if he would live or die, while his brain bled and swelled, causing further damage to the brain stem itself…

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Don’t Try This At Home, Kids

How often must you fail before it stops hurting? That was the question in my mind this morning. It’s not that I am exactly failing. I’m just not succeeding, at all.

I’ve heard a lot of interesting and many helpful bits of advice about becoming conscious, and the flow of this year in particular. What has stayed with me is an idea that seems to describe life, whatever your belief system.

We’ start out in life floating down a river in boats of different shapes and sizes. At some point however we lose the boat, or it breaks apart on rocks, or it gets hijacked or stolen or reappropriated. After this, we make the rest of our way submerged in the river itself, which means everything is harsher, brighter, colder, more immediate, more beautiful, more wild, more painful, more harrowing, more directly interactive. (To be fair, if this were not a metaphor, we’d probably also die from hypothermia at this point, but I digress.)

For all its simplicity, I feel this metaphor is quite apt. For instance, I know many people including myself who are going along in living, and then something happens to terrify us out of our skin and we’re flailing in the water. If you think holding onto the shore gives you safety, think twice. Without a boat, it’s your hands grasping at the rocks along the bank for dear life. Meanwhile the churning water surges past you, dragging you away, leaving your hands wounded and bloody stains on the rock where they were a moment before. Trust me, this only needs to happen once before you realize it’s a terrible strategy.

So we try letting go and floating. And this is by far the more sensible thing to do … until we hear that we’re approaching a waterfall, and begin questioning our sanity. (I’m going to do what?) It’s not as though we aren’t used to white water rapids and waterfalls. It’s just that with them, there are only two outcomes: somewhat miraculous gliding through unscathed, or disaster.

Finishing a dissertation is like hearing that roar of waterfall up ahead. I am questioning my sanity—well to be honest I’ve been questioning that for a while. I have also heard lately the saying that if we just let the water carry us over the edge and not struggle with it, in other words pay attention to the way things in life are going and adjust ourselves accordingly, this will prevent tumbling headlong into raging currents from getting disastrous. I, for one, am not convinced.

I am paying attention to what’s going on with the people in my life who have some control over when I graduate. If I took their actions as a sign and went with the flow, so to speak, I’d slow down. In the past week, three people, an auspicious number, have told me in different ways that my plan for defending this summer is unrealistic. If I believe them, I will give up before even starting. If I don’t believe them, I’ll just be bulldozing ahead in a way that frankly feels a bit obtuse. Sure, I’m good at being recalcitrant, but that hasn’t ever won me a popularity contest in social graces. So I usually refrain.

So this morning I woke up thinking about entrepreneurs who say they are successful because they failed first, more times than they can count. It baffles me. How on earth do they do this without feeling terrible about themselves, being ashamed, giving up and attempting an easier venture instead, shedding tears, grieving, or making fools of themselves? (Actually, crying is probably acceptable. Literally or figuratively falling flat on your face? Probably not.)

I think about social movements, people who lose their lives to take a cause forward and never live to see its conclusion. Have they failed retrospectively if the movement disintegrates? Or the people who have always wanted children and try, but can’t: have they failed? I mean, they did try and did not succeed, and that’s one definition of failure. Does a person fail when their body has genuine physical limits they can’t transcend? Is it just their body that has failed them?

When is failure not personal? When is it both a genuine falling short and yet not a loss? When does it defeat a person? When is it transformative? How many attempts at trying are needed before it’s all right to walk away? How many failures does a person have to endure before it’s okay to stop beating herself up about it? Would failure be impossible in a world where judgment does not exist, and if so, are there good reasons for us in this judgmental world to abandon the concept in favor of another one? Is it ever possible to fail, spectacularly, and still be worth something, and still be whole, and still be enough?

These are my questions, and I struggle with the answers. Right now, I have little wisdom to impart. I am only beginning to experience what will hopefully, if I don’t fail, turn out to be the sequence of things which will give me the answers to those questions. And in doing so, I am reminded of the very sensible saying which I have never heeded, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

What I do know is that sometimes failure isn’t a result of not working hard at something. There have been times when I’ve worked so hard on my dissertation that I’ve driven myself into incoherence and exhaustion. These efforts however have no impact on how fast or slowly my committee gives me comments, if they give them at all. On top of this, life seems to be getting in the way of progress for everyone involved, so that regardless of how much I personally do, there’s a sense in which progress isn’t really made. I am reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s book title, “Dragonfly in Amber.” If I’m the dragonfly, grad school is the amber. I beat and beat my wings, but hover still. Is that failure? Or has there happened to be an eddy right before the waterfall so that I can look ahead to the treacherous journey but am forever swirled in place? I suppose if life is a river, you’re bound to get caught in its eddies sometime or other. Is that failure, or just terrible timing and bad luck?

For all sorts of good and ridiculous reasons, I am here, working on a PH.D., which maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish. There are people who get several PH.D.s. They have got to be masochistic. I’ve already reached the point where I am tired of such a painful experience, but the experience isn’t willing to give me up yet. I wish I had made other life choices. There are no answers, but I keep wondering when I’ll no longer feel like a failure, or like I am trying to climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops and a bathing suit. When does the light break through the clouds? When it does, I will not look back.

The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes

Persisting Within

Trust, the very core of truth,
Can never die.
No human being thinks she is, she knows she is:
Know you are, and be it.

Wake each morning to pull your world-worn body out of bed,
Your spirit knows the way and soon will rise within.
Take comfort, love radiates outward, onward;
Walk your path and climb each tree to see beyond,
Know you will, and be it.

Be the tree, so strong, so sturdy, green,
Be the rock, defiant immortal being,
Be the sheltering wind;
Be that everlasting force which drops a leaf or lifts a bird in flight.

Run and run and run and never stop,
But when you stop:
Trust the very core of truth.
Go East, unbind your Present,
Know you can and do it.

This is how it is:
The struggle and the peace,
The battle and the rest.
Rest in peace and struggle in battle,
And though you live a thousand deaths, yet you will never die.

For always there are healed weary, whom despair, so cautious, passes by.
If that is you then be the tree,
Through which the lightning strikes a hard intense rewakening.
Love all, find all, feel all.
Trust the very core of truth.

Your spirit is an undefeated spark,
Just look at the sea, the waves refuse to leave the water,
They hurl themselves against the sand
And though they crash,

They’re never lost.
All things survive the storm,
All things move on,
Look within, you know you can, you’ll do it.

I to the Philosophy Library Came

I went to reclaim what is mine
I walked roads I did not know
I braced myself against the cold
And stepped inside

The halls were just as I saw them last
The people still strangers
Except for one friend from long, long ago
Joyous and startling, like stumbling onto a benign shadow

I went to reclaim what is mine
I sat down at the table
I had all I needed but did not feel prepared
I was mostly silent and tried not to give my name

They around me did not speak
Walls shattered, fears crumbled, doors opened
A strange and somber, still homecoming
To a place I had never before been alone

Traversing treacherous terrain, the warm sun chilled me
Cement walkways became vast mountain passes
Trees seemed to bar my way with rustling branches
Streets were moats where morose memories languished
Blindly I pressed on, directionless on my way

I ignored the screams that echoed across my mind’s harsh landscape
These screams I used to make, when all I knew was torn away
When I lost who I was, and all my love
I learned to live the lie that I was nothing

My dreams, I’d dashed in bewildered anguish
Contemptuous and indignant, disillusioned, full of pain
And when the ground below my feet sloped down, before rising up again
As if a tiny valley secretly sang its presence there
I left all that haunted me behind in that small remnant of ravine

I went to reclaim what is mine
I took the steps one by one
And walked inside
And sat at their table

I went to reclaim what is mine
I returned triumphant, exhausted, grateful
At home again I met all those who watched me soar
And knew that I was welcome, able