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Keys to the Forgotten Song #writephoto

In the beginning the keys were known. Their place and purpose was common knowledge. They were discussed in passing as we might talk about the weather, the planning of meals, or the news. The keys made life what it was: they unlocked the people’s joys and sorrows, they opened new spaces within which to begin, become and belong. They gave them access to adventure, growth, grieving and love, finding and leaving, succeeding and failing, wanting and being enough.
The keys kept the song of the world in tune, according each the measure of who they were, each knowing the reasons for the bars in the way, each aware of the immense value of the rests and how the melody could not proceed where silence was not allowed.

And then, gradually, the keys were forgotten, lost. No one could say what or where they were. No children were taught their purpose and meaning. No elders wove stories of love and belonging, grief and mending. Soon enough, such neglect took its toll.

First, the threads, soft strings that kept the world in tune, in resonant resilience, began to unravel. For the most part this unraveling went unnoticed. Only the composers among the people, trained to listen deeply to the ever present song, heard the dissolution into discord. They would often give voice to the unstable harmonies, the discordant measures, trying desperately to change the way notes were conducted over and over again long after their time had passed. Most of their warnings fell on deaf ears. Sometimes people merely increased the volume of their own individual melodies in order to drown everything else out; sometimes the composers new and disturbing melodies would abruptly be brought to an end. These latter reactions made the music of the world more and more unbearable. The strings screeched and snagged, scratched and snapped. And this calamitous clamor only amplified, increasing in tempo and pitch.

People grew frantic and desperate. They no longer could remember what the song was for, or why it existed at all. In their forgetting, they began to no longer value individual melodies. In the forgetting, they lost their threads of their stories. In their forgetting, they no longer understood the necessity of rests, that music needed not only sound but its absence to survive.

So the people found it normal to insist that the best melodies were those which never had pauses, but went on and on without ceasing. They invented ways to play ever longer series of notes without ceasing. One of the fastest ways to do this was to play the same notes over and over again without ceasing. Eventually, generations of people never rested, but lived and died without ceasing, in ignorance of the sound of silence.

Finally the time came when this arrangement was no longer a sustainable option for anyone. The din was chaotic, catastrophically cacophonous. No one wanted to part with their many unmusical creations which they valued so dearly. And so it was decided that the song should be shut away. For so long the people had shut out the silence, confining it to emptiness the way one might drive light into its shadow. In a strange twist of fate, the land ceased its singing, and the shadow was all that remained.

The people needed a way to contain such a vastly woven web of song which for so long had throbbed at the center of life like the heart and soul of the world. At once the greatest engineers of the land held a great convention at which it was decided that they should forge an iron chest and that the song should be confined to it, instead of being allowed as it was to flow and flood everyone and everything, sending as it did so the pulse of itself everywhere.

The task was undertaken immediately, and people were congratulated on how much progress they made as they worked ceaselessly to finish, day and night. At its completion, they poured the song inside, slamming the heavy lid to seal it in with a clang. It is said that, though many lost their lives in the chest’s creation, once it had been buried no one could remember how to cry for their lost ones. They did not even know how to speak to one another. Now, even the song is lost, hidden in the land where it awaits the time when once again it is set free to restore balance to the earth and soften the hardened and harsh hearts of humankind.

I don’t know why I was the one to discover the chest these centuries later, its hinges twisted and rusted with time, its three locks mocking and massive, its contents as mysterious as the legend left to us in our fading memory.

Perhaps, as I have been told I came from a line of composers, I was simply blessed with the fortune: whether good or ill I cannot yet say. All I know is the all-consuming search for the keys. All I have to follow is this single stray note according to which I can discover them. It reads: “Compassion, Gentleness, Division: at their beginning, these words hold the keys. For these are all that is needed to set singing a changing, growing, turning world. Each breaks the heavy heart of silence. Each turns a lock in the chest. When each is placed where it belongs and all three are held equally together, the song will return.”

The first part is easy enough to figure out. The beginning letters of the words are C, G, and D. But as to how and in what way these could be keys, I cannot say. Perhaps you remember?

In response to Sue’s photo prompt, The Chest.


The Treacherous Terrain of Spiritual Utilitarianism

Imagine that you, a person who considers yourself firmly on a fulfilling spiritual path, have just broken your leg in a freak accident. While recovering in the hospital, you are visited by someone who, up until now, has been a dear friend. Unfortunately, that is about to change…

Your friend opens her mouth to comfort you and says, “It must be really hard to be dealing with this right now. But,” she continues with unnatural excitement, “You’ve given yourself such a wonderful soul growth opportunity!”

When you gawk at her with both incomprehension and a sinking feeling that perhaps you’d rather remain ignorant of her meaning, she simply ploughs ahead with the explanation you never had been waiting for. “See, before you were born, your soul chose all the lessons you were to learn in your lifetime. You chose to sign up for all sorts of traumatic experiences, including breaking your leg, so you could accelerate your spiritual development in this lifetime. Gosh, what a wonderful thing! Think of everything you can learn from it!”

Wonderful? Your doctor is running late on his rounds and you’re in need of more pain relief. After ordering your friend to leave in a voice which sounds unsettlingly more like a growl than a human, you sink back on the hospital pillows hoping for some peace. But it doesn’t come.

Despite yourself, you find you are very disturbed both by what your friend said and what her words imply. How can your friend actually believe her own words? And what if, an admittedly terrifying thought, your friend is right? After all, can anyone really prove her wrong?

Did you choose before birth that you were going to break your leg? Does everyone choose what happens to them before birth? What about abuse or cancer survivors, what about survivors of genocide. Surely, assuming there’s an afterlife; no soul would choose such a horrible experience willingly, no matter how sweeping the universal perspective might be. You think back to spiritual teachings you’ve heard in the past about the other side being full of light and unconditional love. Could anyone possessing unconditional love for themselves and all beings ever justify or permit atrocities to be done to themselves or others they love simply on the grounds of expedience? Talk about violence inherent in the system!

The above example is of course hypothetical, but the concept it describes is alive and well. It is a concept that is perhaps most popular in new age philosophy and spirituality, but is gaining supporters from people of spiritual backgrounds of all sorts. It is defended in books you never would want to pick up and read, and books by people who genuinely, purposefully, and passionately live their own spirituality every day with heart and dedication. In the spirit of respectful disagreement, I chose to quote someone of the latter sort to exemplify.

Lissa Rankin is a spiritual person I greatly admire, many of whose teachings and perspectives I have also come to adopt along my own spiritual journey. She is definitely not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to defend the plausibility of what I call spiritual utilitarianism, the doctrine that actions are right or acceptable when they maximize usefulness, here understood to consist in the greatest personal and collective spiritual development over lifetimes. Here is her eloquent and succinct articulation of spiritual utilitarianism found in her book, The Fear Cure.

Think of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced—childhood
Abuse, the abandonment or neglect of a parent, illness or disability,
The loss of a loved one, betrayal, heartbreak, divorce, poverty,
being the victim of a violent crime, selling your soul for a paycheck,
Or whatever has hurt you the most. What if, instead of
Being a victim of these traumas, on some soul level, you chose
these challenges?

– Lissa Rankin, The Fear Cure

What if, indeed? Houston, we have a problem.

First, let us inquire into some of the practical and physical world dangers which could easily result from the widespread adoption of this view.

• Victim Blaming: It wasn’t his fault, she asked for it … literally, before she was born.)
• Apathetic Response-Ability: I can feel like a good person while I do nothing to help with (poverty, homelessness, that woman being harassed at work, that man being discriminated against for his disability) because everyone having these experiences chose to put them in their life. Who am I to interfere with their spiritual development? I’m off the hook.
• Complacency and Disconnection: If you really believe that everyone’s hardships, including your own, are a result of soul decisions you made before incarnating, compassion and empathy are optional, not necessitated. It is hard to be authentically present with your feelings if you think you have set up the circumstances of them in advance. If this is true in your own case, it is even truer when trying to relate to others who obviously chose their own suffering.
• Standard Problems for Maximizing Consequentialist Theories: Spiritual utilitarianism holds that actions are spiritually good/worthy if they maximize spiritual growth and minimize spiritual regression or stagnation. It is for this reason a maximizing consequentialist theory—that is, the good on this view is defined in terms of maximizing consequences and outcomes.

Spiritual Objections to Spiritual Utilitarianism
• Spiritual Utilitarianism is a System That Fosters Disconnection: The choice which spiritual utilitarianism posits occurs before birth is itself, after drawing out implications of the theory, a vehicle for separation. That is enough to call its claim to being a theory of spirituality into question.
• A Theory to Shield One From Vulnerability and Mortality: Spiritual Utilitarianism is a wonderful defense mechanism against confronting your own mortality or your own susceptibility to pain, illness, disability, loss, and hardship. Are you struggling with a disability or illness? You can try to console yourself with the thought that your higher self lovingly wanted this for you. Are you currently able bodied and are afraid of disability or loss? You don’t need to confront your fears or seriously question your inaccurate assumptions about others’ quality of life if they all asked to have such experiences. You can ward off fears of facing your own vulnerability in this way, too, believing that while the future is uncertain to you, your higher self already knows all about it. Defense mechanisms always sound like a good idea until you remember they are one of the most common barriers between you and genuine spiritual development, interconnection with all of life, and self honesty. Defensiveness leads to self-deception, which prevents a person from either fully shining her own light, or being able to fully give and receive love. When any spiritual concept or theory is used as a defense mechanism, it creates suffering, disconnection and isolation, and blocks openness, integrity, intimacy, love, and acceptance.
• A Superiority Complex: If you are happy and healthy, spiritual utilitarianism could easily lead you to conclude that you’re quite spiritually evolved, while those who are suffering have a lot to learn. But one of the most fundamental spiritual truths that exist is that we are spiritually equal. And one of the most fundamental physical truths is that we are equally susceptible to vulnerability. After these considerations, spiritual utilitarianism seems right out, as well as highly divisive.
• Spiritual Utilitarianism Permits Betrayal by your Higher Power: Should god/source/the one betray you in the name of expedience? Assuming for a moment such a betrayal is possible, spiritual utilitarianism seems to condone such a soul-devastating occurrence if it will result in your rapid spiritual development (somehow.) It might also be permissible for human beings, in the name of spiritual utilitarianism, to create suffering for others if that suffering is found to further spiritual growth. At first, this might sound crazy. But it is most definitely not, when you remember that the theory in question defines right action only in terms of the act’s consequences.

Questions That Need Asking:
Before taking any theory on board as part of your ethical outlook or spiritual practice/belief system, critical thinking is a must. Here are the questions I’ve asked myself about spiritual utilitarianism.

1. Generally, we think it wrong to sign off on something without another’s consent. The incarnate you will not remember her link to the soul who made the decisions for her life to come. How is choosing horrendous hardships for your future incarnate self any different morally from making the same choices on behalf of your imminently arriving future clone?

2. Suppose you want to learn a spiritual lesson and there is a rapid harrowing way of achieving it and a much slower gentle way of achieving it. Is it really ethical (or an act of self-love or compassion) to willingly harm yourself by subjecting yourself to the former rather than opting for the latter? My intuition is that such self harm is spiritually/ethically wrong, but such a decision would be praised for its goodness on the spiritual utilitarianism theory.

3. If it would maximize your spiritual growth through a particular soul lesson for you to cause grave suffering to another, should you do it?

4. Is suffering ever absolutely necessary? Are unconditional love and prechosen courses of suffering compatible?

5. It seems that the claim that we need to maximize spiritual growth is incompatible with actually achieving such growth. That is, a person who goes about actively trying to maximize her development will, by the very nature of grasping after outcomes, distance herself even further from the goal. Does the same self-defeating logic apply on the other side?

6. Is it possible for a soul to live authentically, allowing the divine to lead her, while insisting on choosing for herself ahead of time how her life is going to go, at a general level.

7. What if you’re not a utilitarian? If spiritual utilitarianism were true, would all souls have to adopt it? What if you, as a spiritual being, lived by completely different principles or took a different approach to growing and becoming more generally. Aren’t you allowed to conduct yourself according to your deepest truth, or is spirituality cosmically standardized? I shudder at the thought!

Personally, after working through all these implications of the spiritual utilitarianism theory, I am willing to see it sent off to that lovely place to which absurd, harmful, or groundless theories go when their time has expired. I am willing, as well, to bet that whatever happens after we die, choosing the pivotal events of great suffering for our lives to come is not part of it. We can thank the gods for that!

I will eventually be following this post up with another which aims to explore what, if anything, might replace the rather misplaced theory of spiritual utilitarianism as a plausible theory of spiritual growth and right action. Don’t be surprised if it has virtue ethics in it. I mean, my entire dissertation is on virtue ethics. What else would I advocate? Surely, it would be the very stuff I believe and live by.

Meanwhile, question everything.

Reflected Darkly

How can I love you?
All you are lacking:
Your empty spaces,
Locked doors,
Torn dreams,
Blind fears?

How can I love you?
Squinting through the glare of fluorescent memories
At every twisted, knotted decision
Rewandering the wrong turns
Of your wasted years?

How can I love you?
With resentment coiling in your eyes?
Purple with anger
A thousand scars
Rage against the silence
Incapable of tears.

How can I love you?
I have searched the worlds for compassion,
But my bitter judgments are all I’ve found,
Every flaw screams loud and clear.
At a loss, I turn around
And put away the mirror.

From the Ground Up

The day somberly takes shape beneath
Comings and goings of many errands,
While I sift through shadows
For lightheartedness.

It’s got to be here somewhere.
Where did I leave it last?
Did I put it down, distracted,
Now failing to recall it’s location?

I am not unhappy,
Just strangely subdued,
Humbled by a shifting,
Unsolid world.

A prism of full spectrum feeling:
Beautiful and bold,
Soulful, sharp and fleeting,
Soft joy changing gently.

I interact with others,
speechless somewhere inside.
So moved I am paralyzed,
Returning to the present one breath at a time.

It feels, sometimes,
As if I might dissolve entirely
Eclipsed by a greater, more vivid,
More elusive star than the sun.

Standing on the edge, frontier of my self,
I marvel at its intricacy,
How it completes the puzzle of being
Love, fragile and hesitant.

That line drawn in the sand
I’ve been staring at for hours?
I know I will cross it,
But for what reasons and what time and in what way,

Enfolds itself in mystery,
A crane born from a paper sky,
A question mark with the power
To permanently alter who I think I am.

Transparent as cascading water,
All I sought to hold onto
Becomes fluid.
I am struggling with nothing.

The stars reflected
In the pools of possibility,
Collected in the land’s lost hollows,
Shine almost forgotten.

I gather them in cupped hands,
Hand them out where they’re needed.
This light I share with everyone,
It isn’t mine.

All I’ve held certain
Gets turned on its head
In the blink of an eye,
And I am fumbling in a once familiar landscape.

How am I? Indeed.
And yet, almost inconceivably,
Regarding myself like a child
Has never been easier.

So much room to grow and stumble and wonder,
A space so heart-breakingly forgiving,
It is impossible to fill it
With tears or awe or terror.

Only trust lives here,
The kind that leaves you shaking,
But somehow still safe.
A kind of ground zero:

Where we try ourselves at being,
Over and over and over,
Without judgment,
Without attempting anything.

The ones who continually catch us,
Whether we plummet or fall flying,
Rock us to our foundations
With the caring attention given to newborns.

So that in the moments we let go,
Suddenly we wake
And briefly remember our origins,
Imprinted as they are the heart of us.

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.

Dissertation Committee Anxst

Amidst the clouds,
Uncertainty dances
Shaking the Rattle of doubt.
Shortcomings fall

What to do?
The storm uncontrolled,
You can only account for you,
Listen, hope, tempt an unfolding.

Sometimes dreams smolder,
Simmer low,
Sap hardened in the tree
Goes nowhere, can only be.

Change threatens
To chain me in place.
What is my place?
It shifts,

It slides,
Adrift, takes sudden shapes
Earthquakes and avalanches of old beliefs,
I’m left largely undefined.

Paper-thin objects of nameless cries,
Respect, status, authority,
Conference granted on advanced degree,
All sparkling social little lies.

What’s the reason and the why?
Why spill your thoughts,
In ink red like blood,
Until the mind, exhausted, freezes dry?

Does it make us more sacred,
More worthy, more loved?
Does it finally prove to others
We can teach some to fly?

Is it common sense
To not move for days,
Nor sleep well nor eat right
To stay on top of a page?

Push through despite
The fearful thought,
It all just might
Come to naught

And if, having done what I can,
I don’t succeed?
Such fears
I have no time to heed.

I will finish what I’ve started,
Though it’s largely not up to me,
And hope that when I’m finally parted
From these ragged years, I will break free.

Rescued _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 14

December 28, 2013

This morning I wake up in a panic. As fast as I can muster, I scramble out of bed and, despite all logic, turn on some lights. Whether or not this will do any good, it makes me feel better. Isn’t it strange that a blind person still feels better with the lights on?

I’ve awoken from a dream which seems terrifyingly too real. In my dream, I am in bed slowly waking up to a new day. Suddenly a huge black dog jumps on top of me, pinning me down. It is bigger than Allegro, who is 75 lbs, but not substantially so. It is perhaps 100, 110 lbs. I admit to not wanting to look at it much though, so can’t say more about it. Instead, I turn my head toward the right side of the bed and start screaming for Allegro to help me get the dog off me. Allegro is wagging his tail and wanting pets, but seems unphased by the fact that there is a nasty canine growling and bearing its teeth preventing me from getting out of bed. Then I wake up.

By the middle of the day, I’ve put this incident safely out of my mind. I make dinner and then get comfortable to listen to a good book. I have no obligations for work or school not just because this is December and still winter break but also because I’m on medical leave, so I’ve been happily doing as the spirit moves.

My dad has given me a fascinating book for Christmas. It is Cathie McGowen’s novel, The Expected One, about a modern-day descendent of Mary Magdalene. Now, even though Mary Magdalene is from the Christian tradition, she is a feisty, strong, compassionate, fascinating woman particularly from McGowen’s perspective. Incidentally, McGowen portrays Jesus himself, who in the novel is Mary’s husband, as being a human being I might actually want to meet. Besides, it is obvious that a lot of historical research went into the making of this book, along with excellent descriptions of remote villages in France, and modern Jerusalem, and I adore historical fiction. So it is after midnight, and I am contentedly listening to yet another chapter on CD.

Suddenly, a dog appears at my front door, growling menacingly and glaring at me. It looks identical to the dream dog. However, I am *not* dreaming now! I’m even more terrified than I was this morning. I try not to look directly at it. I can almost hear its low-throated snarls, and am too petrified to move.

How on earth did it get in here, I wonder. And then it hits me: I have closed my portals to the otherworld, but unfortunately not before this beast got into my apartment to terrorize me. What kind of dog is it? Who sent it here? What am I going to do?

As my mind races, a picture flashes before my eyes of a scene in the novel The Last Miracle At Little No Horse. In the scene, a black dog personifying the devil leaps onto the main character while she is sleeping and won’t let her move. This devil stuff is one reason I left Christianity. I couldn’t believe in a religion that seemed to glorify suffering with its image of a crucified god while creating a nonhuman entity upon whom to lay the blame of all the evils of human nature. I seriously hope this dog is not the devil. Probably not.

I wonder if this might be Cú Chulainn’s dog totem animal instead? He is, according to my otherworld friends, quite the narcissist as well as their personal rival and they’ve made sure I haven’t run into him. Even so, I doubt even Cú Chulainn or his totem animal would be this vicious for no apparent reason.

I admit defeat at the “who?” question and quickly return to the more pressing need for action. All this speculation isn’t helping the situation whatsoever. The dog is looking more and more malevolent, and if I am honest with myself, banishing this dog is far beyond my capabilities. I start wondering whether I ought to slip out the back sliding glass door and … what exactly… spend the night outside? It’s cold and it’s now around one in the morning.

At this moment I sense some sort of activity occurring to the right of where I’m sitting. I haven’t been paying attention to that part of the living room, as all my focus has been on the snarling dog at my front door. With the exhaustion of having to suddenly remain seriously vigilant, I reluctantly turn my eyes briefly from the dog, hoping it won’t take this opportunity to rush at me. I feel paralyzed with fear, but fortunately my head actually obeys my command to move.

My head turns, and suddenly I am looking up, straight into Oisín’s greenish-blue eyes. I am profoundly relieved to see him here. He’s in fact standing right next to me, his facial expression impossible to read. There are two other féinnidi standing behind him, but it’s too difficult from my vantage point to see them clearly enough to possibly identify who they are. Identifying them is not immediately important, anyway. I’m thinking, by the gods this situation is much, much worse than I thought. Again I wonder how this could have happened.

Now that they are here, however, my fear has significantly, though not completely, subsided. Oisín is sending me a picture indicating that I need to help them by keeping an eye on the dog while they go about banishing it. (I now think the reason has to do with the fact that they could then make certain that any energetic links formed between me and the dog could vanish along with the creature. At the time however, I just do what I am asked, regardless of how much I’d rather look anywhere else.)

The dog is still there, fierce and terrible, a defiant look in its eyes, as if it were challenging us to go ahead with the impossible. Oisín is no longer in my line of sight, and I’m in panic mode for a second until he puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I am so grateful we have more than one way to stay connected, and now, I feel safe.

As I watch, a radiant glow streams past my peripheral vision. I blink. I am definitely looking at some kind of object that looks sword-shaped, but which is entirely made of light. I presume that everyone now has a light sword. I now have two thoughts crowding out any fear of the dog from hanging about in my head. I think, this is the first time I’ve ever seen any of the fianna use swords, rather than simply wear them so they can be easily identified. Secondly, I muse, light sabers may in fact have a very real origin within someone’s experience with the world beyond this one. Star Trek could very well be divinely inspired.

Now Oisín is pointing the sword at the dog. A bright band of white light is rapidly streaming from the tip of the sword, soaring in a wide arc over the twenty feet between the living room sofa and the front door. This light, I realize, has very long range. It is one continuous, concentrated, brilliant beam that traverses the room in less than seconds while never breaking apart. It is almost like a Lazer, but within whatever spectrum of light is visible to me.

Oisín is aiming the light far above the dog’s head which perplexes me, but I’ve come to trust his reasons for doing things. (It is only later that I recall that in fact dogs physically have genuine trouble seeing overhead objects. This is why a guide dog can run a blind person into a tree branch which is high enough to smack the person in the head but also too high for the dog to see. Sadly I’ve had personal experience.)

As I watch, the light beam is abruptly changing direction in mid air, shining rapidly down onto the dog’s head. The dog has not expected this, obviously. The light is streaming onto the dog’s head, and the fur on its head starts to pulse with an evanescent glow. Then the light bursts apart, shattering into millions of showering sparks. Wherever the rain of sparks fall, exploding like myriads of tiny prismed multifaceted intangible crystals, nothing remains. With three on one like this the dog doesn’t even have time to growl. It vanishes almost instantly, and not a trace of it remains.

I think my mouth is hanging open slightly. I am infinitely grateful and also full of awe and a great curiosity as to the physics of this particular kind of light. I am, I admit shamelessly, a physics groupie. I taught myself physics in high school when the teachers weren’t sure how to teach someone who is blind, and then read many physics books for lay people for fun, and passed a course at Stanford in special relativity and conceptual quantum mechanics with one of the highest scores. I know this is no manifest light. Upon hitting an object, many colors, that is wavelengths, contained within the wave of a single white light beam will get absorbed by the atoms in that object, and some colors will be reflected. You see an object as green, for instance, because, in this object, green is the only wavelength, color, of light that the atoms in the object haven’t absorbed. Black objects and black dogs are their color because they don’t have a color to reflect. That is, in a black object or entity every wavelength in a light beam gets absorbed and “stays” in the entity. This is why color appears to be absent.

Spiritually, I have come to learn, humans are like most manifest objects in this respect. That is, when you hear someone tell you that your shadow side, that part of you that is suppressed and disowned, must be brought out and integrated for you to grow, there is a deep truth of physics behind the why of it. Perhaps such a task is less frightening if you know that the shadow is dark because it has absorbed all the colors of the light within you that you fail to or refuse to draw out and express.

With most things and all people, including otherworld people, light is always in the darkness, waiting to shine. Not so for whatever creature the dog actually had been. Whatever its composition was, it was made of no ordinary darkness, either. A dark object always has light within it, stored as energy in its molecules. The darkness in the dog, however, seems to be a kind that abhors the light, and shrinks from the opposite of itself. It seems to be such that it has no capacity to absorb color, but is in the purest, most sinister sense of the word, a void. Now it is the nothing at the heart of its essence, and perhaps not now even that.

I shiver slightly at these thoughts, glad for the comfort of Oisín’s hand, still resting on my shoulder, and the presence of the others. I am so very lucky, I think, to have such wonderful friends, who are willing to walk their journey with me and protect me, even though most likely I am the one who let the dog in by keeping that portal open in my living room for so long. Live and learn, I suppose. I sincerely thank all three of them for rescuing me. Before leaving, Oisín wraps me in still, quiet, golden light, so I’ll feel safe enough to actually get some sleep.

The next day, I invite a manifest friend over and together we sage the apartment thoroughly, walking the perimeter counterclockwise three times. Then with my Tibetan singing bowl, I reclaim my space as mine. I hope now I have properly banished everything and everyone unwelcome. I set the intention that this space is for me, my family, and my friends, in this world and the next, and only for us.

The Four Who Helped Me Heal _ When Two Worlds Meet

August-September, 2013

In 2008, I develop a chronic and serious medical condition that is not properly diagnosed for the next six years. It is an intestinal condition and here is the thing I learn about such conditions: there is a lot of stigma around them and it is almost taboo to speak about it. So it has taken me over a year to decide to post this.

I am tested for Crohn’s, IBS, a whole gamut of scary conditions—but never, oddly, for the one condition I end up learning I have. I wonder if my problem has anything to do with my diet, so I give up dairy, gluten, and nuts and seeds. None of this works either, and is instead quite the hassle to deal with in daily living as I am exhausted, not absorbing any food I am eating, and scheduling my life around my illness.

Besides the physical illness, however, there is an even stealthier nightmare to contend with: the nightmare of secrecy, shame, self-blame, self-disgust, and isolation. At the same time that I want an accurate diagnosis, I also live in constant fear of its discovery. I believe that if anyone finds out, it will be proof that I must be replaceable and unloved. Sometimes I wish I could never see anyone again. I feel like I am living someone else’s life. I have certainly checked out of the one I’ve been given, but like the lyric in Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like but you can’t ever leave.” I have already made up my mind a while back that “leaving,” which would mean complete apathy or death, is no option for me. I just wish I could be a whole person again.

It takes until March of 2013 to get a proper diagnosis, after which I am immediately referred to a surgeon. I find I am mortified and relieved to finally be taken seriously and have an explanation for the terror and pain. I can finally name my nightmare that has taken over my life, its truth borne silently and in hushed horror. And as I come to accept both that I will not have to endure this forever, and that surgery is my only option, as I work hard to heal my shattered spirit, I begin slowly to surrender to what is. Very slowly.

It has been extremely difficult to prepare for surgery: all the ins and outs of care I need during the hospital stay and then again almost constantly for the three weeks following, the lining up of friends and family, social workers, and dealing with bureaucracy has been almost too much to handle. During all this, four people from the otherworld keep appearing together around my living room. Quietly, with no expectations of their own, they lend me support with silent presence, and it is strangely validating, this vigil of acknowledgement and how they do not judge me for not being whole, or well, and don’t look away. They wear homemade wool outfits, are extremely tall, and carry swords and shields with swirly ray patterns on them, so I can’t tell precisely if I am seeing the symbol for sun or water, or both at once. They look solemn and serious. They rarely move. They have yet to speak to me. That hardly matters. In the other world, whole conversations can occur without words.

I don’t know their names or why they are here, I mean why they are bothering to hang out with me, but I am not ever surprised to see them, it is kind of like arriving home from a long day and finding your family there— ordinary joyous contentment, belonging. I am also way too exhausted and ill to ask questions or even be particularly polite, but they don’t seem bothered by that. I simply except, gratefully, that they are here, as I go about making countless phone calls, and work out my manifest world recovery team who will have to spend three to six weeks assisting me while I don’t have a guide dog. The surgeons don’t want him with me while there’s a chance he could pull on me or cause me to fall.

Now, six months after my referral to a surgeon, around August 20th, I am attending another appointment for a second opinion. I am prepared to take as much control of the situation and my health as possible. I have literally twenty-five questions on my Braille computer ready to ask, thoroughly researched. I’m leaving no stone unturned.

I look around the room and find all four of my otherworld people are here. When our eyes meet, their eyes are kind, with a somber calm within them. I marvel at how they can see into the truth of things, but don’t evaluate what they see. This in and of itself is a gift to me. When I think there is no way I could possibly be safe, I look at my otherworld people and they help to ground me in myself, in a gaze that simply accepts what is.

When the surgeon walks in, I think, well okay, this surgeon dude tries messing with me, he’s going to be really sorry he does. That thought makes me smile despite the circumstances. These four people from the otherworld are formidable looking indeed. They certainly command anyone’s respect, and I surmise, would most likely instill fear in anyone who got on the wrong side of them. The surgeon, I notice, is effectively surrounded. I am relieved and for the first time ever while in a doctor’s office, I feel safe.

Fortunately, the surgeon is thoughtful and respectful, and doesn’t hold limiting stereotypical views about people with disabilities. He answers my questions thoroughly and to the extent it is humanly possible, puts me at ease. I am so young and otherwise healthy that he is confident the surgery will be a success. He corrects my misinformation and this in and of itself silences many of my fears. Meanwhile, my otherworld people keep their vigil around the room, holding space for me, keeping me centered, their presence silently challenging my belief that until I am well I am not valuable to anyone. I cannot seriously have this thought and look into their eyes at the same time, and so unless I need to be looking elsewhere, I never look away from them.

I arrive at the hospital on September 17th. Trembling violently from cold and nerves, I enter the unusually frigid operating room. This is when I realize I have a choice: resist or surrender. Up until this point, I believe that surrendering means giving up the deepest part of me. It is my dignity and respect which needs fighting for, and it is this dignity that the surgery and the hospital stay, with its inevitability of rendering me profoundly dependent on others, surely threatens and compromises. But suddenly my need to heal overrides my desire to continue with my defenses. The anesthesiologist begins to read the affirmations I have written up for her to say while I go under, each to be repeated three times. “You are whole, safe, and secure,” she says soothingly. “You are whole, safe and secure.”

I let go, completely, and by the time she repeats the affirmation a third time, I’ve lost consciousness. When I awake, I know I am well. I still need to recover, but my body feels like mine again. My first words are, “I’m so happy!” I realize surprisingly that at the moment I am not in any pain at all, despite just having gone through an intense major procedure. But that is not the only gift I receive from this experience. I know that my choice to surrender is the greatest gift I could ever imagine: I come home to myself. I do not lose myself, but find it again. I find peace, and this peace stays with me wherever I am.

I spend six days in hospital. I do recover well, but there is still all that uncomfortable and gnarly stuff that comes with having major surgery. Incredibly, amazingly, my other world people stay with me the whole time, regardless. They hold space for me, and protect me so all I have to do is heal. I don’t need to see them. I can feel the light that surrounds me, and it is like being a child who finally experiences what it is like to be held.

It is only after six weeks of recovery (after which I can eat whatever I want!) that I see my four otherworld people vividly, in front of me, like I normally do. And when I do, it finally occurs to me to ask who they are. When they tell me, my rational brain goes on strike until further notice and I am caught in between impossible and possible, acceptable and unnervingly unacceptable reality.

I spend the first week in a bit of stunned denial, and ask them at least twice a day to come again with who they are. Occasionally I worry that I am engaging in the most outlandishly creative act of imagination ever conceived. Have I lost it? But no, somehow I know I am probably not making this up at all, and the adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ would absolutely apply and I’d be incapable of dreaming all this even if I tried. Also I am definitely not dreaming. Also, I have been too busy preparing for and then recovering from surgery to try. Also, if these really are the people they say they are, I absolutely have to believe them.

Still, I am having trouble accepting this reality. Moments strike me at random in which I am confronted with trying to come to terms with what is going on. Why would these four people, who I don’t even know, choose to spend days with me in which I can barely get out of bed, am often in pain, and need help doing almost everything under the sun? How can they see the state I’m in and not judge me? Why is it that, though they never look away, I feel peacefully, utterly safe? I am beyond grateful. But why? Why do this for me?

But when I do ask Caoilte about it, ask why, why would he and his sons Faolán and Colla, and his cousin Oisín, be so unconditionally here for me, he simply replies, “Why not?”

It’s a response that effectively separates itself from any line of argument to the contrary. It causes me to think seriously about the negative view of myself that I hold and always have taken for granted. I know that if I were given a reason why, I’d try my best to come up with why I still did not deserve it. But there is no reason. I am given instead an invitation to accept what is. It takes some time, but acceptance does come. I accept despite my culture’s aversion to spiritual experiences that make no sense, I accept though this leaves me in profound humility, gratitude, and wonder. And I am forced to confront my incredulity that I could ever be worth doing such a thing for, ask myself whether I have been wrong my whole life about lacking value unless I am exceptional or perfect, whether, regardless of my blindness or health or illness or strengths or weaknesses I might just be enough. Really? And why? But as I will come to find out, there are many preconceptions of myself and the world that I’ll be turning on their head, reevaluating, and growing from, letting go into awe and gratitude and wonder, coming home.

a href=”https://thesoundofwhathappens.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/the-antlered-branch-_-when-two-worlds-meet-part-13/” title=”The Antlered Branch _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 13″/

First World Living

I am giving up, I say
Crawling into bed
Closing my eyes
Many relationships, my dissertation

Are simply not working
I am tired of fighting, I say
Nothing happens
Events feel senseless to me

In high school once a year
We drew tiles
White blue red
First, second, third world

Meals were dealt out accordingly
Everything from banquets to hardly anything
More went home empty and hungry
Some went home full wanting more

Later I walk across the street
To the restaurant
There I am hungry
Potatoes and vegetables, soup and turkey

carry it home
I sit down with my thanks
Giving proportions
Fill a glass

With water
Prepare to eat and realize
This is first world living

Not just the food but
Having more than enough and still
Feeling like
Life is a waste

All day emptiness but outside
The world spills up and over itself everywhere
Full of itself with
More than enough

The Salmon of Knowledge _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 12

December 22, 2013

It is now Tuesday, and I have yet to hear from Caoilte or Oisín about the letter I sent them. I wonder whether this has been the best way to communicate. I do remember thinking, however, that if anyone from the otherworld would read a letter on a computer screen, Caoilte would.

Now however, my anxiety over whether or not anyone will understand is growing rapidly. Are they angry? Have I failed my commitment to do my best in all things and follow through on what I say? This last thought threatens to send me into despair. After all, I said that my place was theirs also, and now I am taking it back. I remind myself that I am changing my mind for good, perhaps even legitimate reasons, but I cannot convince myself that those in the otherworld will find such reasons sufficient. I am hoping I have not inadvertently created a conflict. More than that, however, I take the vow I have made to live by the fianna’s values extremely seriously and would rather not break it in only four weeks’ time because I hadn’t the foresight to realize just what I could and could not commit to.

I get to my routine Tuesday appointment, conveniently within walking distance from home, a good fifteen minutes early. Happy with myself on this count, I sit down on the plush couch in the waiting room and close my eyes. I’m going to use this time to think.

Thinking yields a plan of action that, I admit, feels outlandish to me. Where did this idea come from? It is this: go talk to the salmon of knowledge and ask after how Oisín and Caoilte and the rest of the fianna feel about my decision.

In my mind, I recall the story in which Fionn, comes by the wisdom of the salmon. The salmon, Finton, acquires the wisdom of the ages from eating the nuts of the nine hazel trees which I have only learned very recently are said to have stood around Nechtan’s Well at the mouth of the river Boyne. The druid Finegas gives young Fionn the task of cooking up the salmon as well as warns him not to eat any of it in the process. However, while cooking it, Fionn attempts to squelch a blister on the salmon’s skin. In doing so, he burns his thumb, which he instinctively places in his mouth. Upon hearing this, Finegas instructs Fionn to eat the salmon, as its knowledge is obviously meant for him to have.

Closing my eyes, I am surprised at how easy it is to come by a place I should know little about. The grove of the hazel trees is so vivid to me, that I can’t imagine I’ve never been here before. But I can’t fathom how or when this could have happened. It is located near a very steep hill, which by my rough estimation is 20-30 degrees in slope. I must walk up the hill and down the other side to get there properly, avoiding lots of loose rocks and tree roots along the way. The pool is surrounded by many slopes leading down to it, in fact, and lies slightly below the grove which lines the slow stream running straight through the middle of the trees.

As I walk into the grove, I suddenly remember things that seem rather silly to find important at the moment. Facts such as that there are better places to wash, it isn’t safe to navigate the stream or even some of the river it turns into further on with a boat or coracle, and that the willow trees nearby can’t properly burn in a fire. Since I am not interested in making a fire, washing in the stream, or boating, I wonder briefly where these seemingly random thoughts have come from, and why. I decide I definitely have to have come here before even if I find it baffling.

It’s super cold and windy here today. Due to the time zone difference, my venture at 11:15 A.M. pacific standard time puts me in the grove at about 7:15 in the evening. The water feels like it is under sixty degrees when I test it, and after leaving my hands in it for over a minute, they turn numb. Around me the leaves rustle in the wind, while the stream gurgles around small boulders and dances over pebbles. I sit on an ancient flat rock with my hands in the water, hoping the salmon of knowledge will appear sooner than later.

After five or so minutes, a relatively short time, I note to myself, I see the salmon in the water and catch it immediately. To be fair, I think it is easy for me to get hold of the salmon only because, a few months before hand, I have a dream in which I catch the salmon of knowledge in my hands. Since allowed this in the dream, it seems that the salmon is quite happy to hang out again with me now. Holding the salmon gently under the water, I realize with relief that I don’t actually have to enact cooking it or sucking my thumb. This is quite fortunate for the both of us, I have to say, the exemption from thumb-sucking particularly appreciated on my end of things. Just touching it is sufficient. Unsure of whether or not sending pictures to the salmon in my head is an effective way to communicate, I give it a try anyway and ask my question.

Next, I let the salmon go, after thanking it for its help in the matter. Then, I wait. Not for long, it turns out. But I have to say, the next few minutes pass with interminable slowness. I have finally come home. The last thing I would ever want to do is find myself rejected after such a long time yearning after and searching for those in the otherworld with whom I truly belong. I am sincerely worried, convinced that I can’t trust myself to ever do the right thing, and it is a bit existentially terrifying to not know where I stand. These are the feelings I have in any similar situation in this world, but somehow multiplied exponentially in this situation where I tell myself that I might lose everything– an everything the likes of which in this world I have never known. Yet, as these things so often go, I am soon to have a lesson in just what real belonging looks like, and it is, for the most part and with some crucial exceptions, the truth against anything my past experience urges me to believe.

Presently, the salmon returns, with an answer in the form of a picture. of course everyone understands why I’ve had to close the portals to the otherworld, and have not been upset with me in the slightest. I can let go of my concerns. Real belonging is unconditional. It is my own sense of separateness and fear that has prevented me from knowing this before. Succumbing to the fear of rejection, I have inadvertently spun an illusion of the very isolation I dread around me, until I have convinced myself that “real” belonging is conditional and capricious, any actual evidence otherwise notwithstanding.

Secondly, they have been waiting for me to recognize the value of my own needs and commitment to myself, and change my mind. They’ve known for a while it hasn’t been working out for me, but I needed to come to this realization on my own, and they are surprised by how long it has taken me to concede. I, however, am not surprised. Conceding, it seems, is only something I do once it becomes absolutely necessary. It has now become necessary. However, at any moment beforehand, I was determined to stand my ground indefinitely. Oh well: I know myself well enough to recognize I can be recalcitrant, even to my own detriment. “Perhaps such a steadfast commitment to self-defeating stubbornness is no longer needed?” is the suggestion offered kindly in the picture. I find the idea a bit strange, against my instincts really, but because it is part of the picture, I start to take it seriously, a little at a time.

Later that day I get a very vivid vision. I am told that if I go to the Aquatic Park, to a particular tree near a picnic table I’ve found last week, I will find a gift from Oisín to thank me for the hospitality I’ve shown the fianna. I have hosted so many of his family and friends that he wishes to give me a tangible token of their gratitude. It is clear from the picture he sends me that he doubts I’ll consistently remember the bit about just how understanding everyone has been and still is, unless there is something in this world to remind me. I have to admit he is probably right about that. Moved by such unexpected reciprocated generosity and full of curiosity at what Oisín has in mind, I decide that tomorrow, as soon as I can get out, I’m going to head off and investigate. I’ve now forgotten all about doubt and worry which have been replaced by the sheer excitement of participating in this unfolding mystery that spans two worlds. So, in my return picture I say, “Wow, that’s incredibly thoughtful of you. Oh, and if there are more adventures to go send me on, I’m up for it.”