Tag Archives: reflection

Birth Experienced First-Hand

“Do you want to feel a puppy while it is being born?” my dad’s wife asks me as I sit on a small chair against the wall of the now hot and muggy puppy room. She and my step sister are looking after Kate, a yellow lab who is pushing and panting out her fifth and final litter of puppies who will be raised through Canine Companions as service dogs to people with disabilities. It is April 13, an auspicious day for children of any species.

She has already delivered the first three: yellow male, around eight ounces, whose tiny trembling form sends us many times scurrying for hot water bottles to keep him warm; black female, feisty from first breath and a massive thirteen ounce firey bundle of look-out-world; black male coming in to top his precocious sister in weight by a single ounce, whose low plaintive cries make the eldest sound like it belongs to a smaller dog breed. Kate is, at the moment, fulfilling her motherly duty: taking a rest while her babies keen continuously for her attention.

A hands-on birthing experience? I wonder at the idea, realizing that the possibility to have such an opportunity is making me excited and apprehensive all at once. I get very still and consider the question. It sounds amazing, but would Kate mind? How would she feel about that? It is a strange thought to have regarding a dog, I know. I have been noticing lately that I’ve been taking such considerations far too seriously after attending a conference on minimally conscious people and whether they can participate in medical decision making. Of course Kate won’t be phased in the slightest. And unlike a wild dog, she’s even nonchalant about humans moving her babies away from her to a warmer place to help keep them alive and comfortable.

Even so, I find myself inexplicably feeling shy. “I’m not sure,” I say slowly, as relief mixes with a tinge of regret.

“Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.”

All through the birth of pup number 4 I find myself reflecting on the experience I am having already. I am quite moved, and I feel honored to watch. I am astonished by how such a process has gone on since the first instance of life, and yet for me, a single living individual experiencing just one particular life, I have never been present at a birthing before. How strange and beautiful, I think, to witness the transition of a unity, two lives in a single body, into its division of distinct and vibrant creatures– one with eyes watchful of the ways of the world, the other arriving silent and surprised, already implementing instincts to breathe and cry and move.

I try to imagine what it could possibly be like to be squeezed out into a cold, loud, incomprehensible world. I’d cry. I’d sense and feel and feel and feel and there would be nothing else but the moment, no time or ordering, only the now and now of changing feeling — and rising unaware, the impulse to respond. But this is where my imaginative empathy stops. I admit to myself that I really don’t know what it is like. There are people who claim to have memories of their own birth. I am definitely not one of those people.

When pup number 5 is on his way, I decide to change my mind. I simply can’t pass up a chance to be in the middle of things, literally speaking, and really get a feel for what happens (no pun intended.) I am right there with Kate when pup 5 Is born.

Girl helping to deliver a puppy, it's curled up in the sack it is born in.
Éilis delivering pup.

Puppies are born in a little sack, unlike humans. When they first arrive, they are not even breathing. There really is a fetal position, and pup 5 is in it. I help with taking him out of the sack, and hold him as he takes his first breath of life. In that moment, it is my turn to be breathless. Puppies are born blind, and I think deaf as well. His first experience isn’t the sight of his mother, but me holding him in the palm of my hand. For my part, I am in awe of him.

Like usual, when I attempt to say something out loud in response to the experience, my words hardly convey my internal thoughts and feelings. “Does he have any fur?” I am immediately answering myself in my head. Of course he does, he’s a puppy! But in my defense, he really doesn’t feel like he has fur. He is so slick in my hand that his fur feels like skin. It is only when I get to hold him again after he’s dried off that I can feel his short newborn fuzz. His ears are barely distinguishable from his head. His tail appears sort of wilted compared to the full furriness characteristic of labs which it will grow into as he gets older.

Girl sitting next to round tub with yellow lab mother and puppies, holding a tiny newborn.
Éilis holding a puppy seconds after birth.

I hold him a couple minutes longer while he tries with uncoordinated enthusiasm to crawl around in my hands. I lift him up so he’s more level with the tub which will be his home until he’s big and strong enough to climb out of it, and my dad takes pictures.

Close-up of girl holding newborn yellow lab.
Pup number 5, baby boy, in the first few minutes of life.

Afterward, I assume I’ll be giving him to Kate straightaway for tending, but instead we weigh him and put him with the other puppies to stay warm. Kate, it turns out, has one more delivery to go.

Kate's last litter, six healthy pups.
Kate’s last litter, six healthy pups.
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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!

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.

Arrival, Ireland, June 11

I awake prior to the alarm, and wonder whether it was never set and we’d miss the flight. It is Thursday the 11th of June. Our sojourn to Éire is finally upon us. At last, we will set foot in the home of our ancestors, that landscape that has captured my heart and called to me in dreams and images since I was a child.

What will it be like to arrive, I wonder. Will I recognize the very air, the very ground on which I stand? Will I be washed with that peculiar achingly peaceful relief of belonging, the one I fell into when I met my ancient family for the first time in this life? What time is it? Has the alarm gone off? I nudge my mom who is sleeping: “Is it after five?”

“No,” she says groggily, “go back to sleep.”

But I don’t sleep. I am hot and restless and anxious, about, I realize, more than simply the reason that I am finally fulfilling a dream that I’ve had for so long. I am traveling to Ireland with my mom and two brothers, (Bro1 and Bro2 named in order of descending age), and whether we will get along is a question who’s answer remains elusive.

Yesterday, Bro2 picked me up around 4 PM. As soon as he walked into my apartment, he began to rage about his challenges in life, his newest altercation with mom, and how he couldn’t stand being around her. I was sort of prepared for an excited, “Hi Éilis, good to see you, I’m so excited,” comment. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tirade. I was particularly stunned to find myself confronting a young man disguised as a ferocious gorilla carrying on in my space and bashing our mother, who was paying for all of our flight and room expenses on the trip, no less. I tried calming him down, after all, I was excited myself, and wasn’t about to let someone spill negativity all over me just because I was the human in close range.

Bro2’s attitude set the precedence for the tenor of the rest of the day, however, affecting not just me but the rest of the family as well. By nine PM, tentions among everyone skyrocketted. There was, certainly, a period of peace in all this to be had: it was on the car ride from Berkeley to Walnut Creek, during the times when my brother and I listened to a podcast recounting the rebellion and execution of Anabaptists in Münster Germany during the sixteenth century. (No, I am not kidding.)

Now, up before dawn, I wonder dubiously whether things will continue as they are and, if so, how I can possibly handle it for eleven days. But I’m going to be in Ireland! This thought alone seems to keep worry at bay, until I get up at dawn and find I am so dizzy that I have to sit down on the floor.

I am subsequently not so aware of any of my family members, as I go through the motions of getting in the car, standing on the train to the airport, and going through security, all the time feeling disturbingly ill. This lasts until I get some medicine during the layover in Chicago. Then, perhaps due to the medicine alone, perhaps due to the fact that I have now sat down in the plane that will take me to Dublin, the sudden illness symptoms slowly subside.

My brothers are safely sitting tucked away in the row behind me, and I’m sitting next to my mom. She’s in the window seat, which I feel is only right given that she’s the one who can see what’s on the other side of the glass.

I sleep, eat dinner, sleep, eat Breakfast, and sleep some more. During the times when I am awake, however, I find I cannot stop thinking about how strange it is to be returning by air through roughly the same route my ancestors took to get here, and how their travels were far more treacherous than mine.

We have an ancestor, James O’Cahill, who emigrated to America from Tipperary sometime in the seventeen hundreds. He would have made this journey in reverse, on a ship, with at least six to eight weeks time in transit. The ocean to him would not simply be a vast wonder to marvel at down below, while residing safe and in sanitary comfort in a pressure controlled cabin in the sky. For him, and for all those who left Ireland whether for the sake of adventure, to escape the engulfing wasteland of hunger, or to ride the wind in desperation before a relentless pursuing tide of imperialism and fear, the journey would prove to be a right of passage, as much as a passage of time, and for most there was only a one-way ticket. Among their challenges would have been their daily awesome and terrible encounters with a dynamic and sometimes ferocious sea, with the power to force respect and intimacy beyond what anyone perhaps had ever imagined or ever wanted to endure. The ocean could give as much as take life, and this was no metaphor. Both the ship, and whatever conditions prevailed on it, as well as the sea itself were guaranteed to transport one to a new world, but for some, it was not America or any where in this world at which they would ultimately arrive.

James O’Cahill did make it to America alive, settling in Iowa, where several members of each generation of the family, including my grandfather, were born. It is because of this ancestor’s journey, and the wondrous, brave, and I am sure sometimes harrowing ventures of many others, that I even exist, let alone have the privilege to “hop the pond” in less than a day, with an almost certain safe arrival and a guaranteed round trip ticket. The primary emotion residing within me as I fly effortlessly over the Atlantic, then, is profound humility.

Some time later, I awake from a long nap to find that mom has taken several pictures of the sun as it slowly inches its way up and over the horizon. I stare out the window, imagining what it would look like to watch the dawn while following after it, way above the clouds. At first I cannot picture anything at all. Then, a scene unfolds for me.

I watch, breathless and bewildered, as in my mind the earth turns, and the sun stands still. We say the sun rises, but literally, the sun, being a star, orbits nothing, while the earth spins, both on itself and around the sun. This is the way, then, that the scene begins.

As the plane moves relative to the earth, I picture for an instant every time zone in the world. To say it is 5 AM in Ireland and 9 PM of the previous day in California, simultaneously, is accurate at one level and misleading at the next. Our conception of time, I realize, is only relative to perception.

Relative to the sun, every place on the earth is now, is the present. Everyone on earth is, at every moment, experiencing what is now to them, and that now is always some proportioned mixture of darkness and light. Though some of us might talk of “losing” or “gaining” a day while traveling around the world, the truth is that we are always experiencing whatever present moment is occurring within the location in which we find ourselves.

Somewhere in the world is the space-time moment we thought we left behind, or the one we expect to witness in the future, but these are simply moments of now playing out in a continuum of moment, and if we were to view the whole world, we would behold all times at once. So I do this, for an instant in my mind’s eye. I stand outside the world, motionless, and watch as if looking at earth from the point of view of the sun. I watch as light sweeps across the world, illuminating every present moment in consecutive slices of space. It is sunrise, always, somewhere in the world, at any given time. The picture goes by in a flash, while we “chase” the sun, observing sunrise after sunrise, until the snail’s pace at which we soar, slogging along sluggishly with respect to the incredible speed of the spinning earth, means that the sun once again seems to dip below the clouds and vanish from view.

We continue to follow the dawn as we sail over Tipperary, through the heart of Ireland. The loud speaker sounds suddenly. “Flight Attendants, prepare for landing.”

“We did it!” I shout to my mom over the roar of the engine. “We’re here, we’re finally here!”

“I know, I still can’t believe it!” mom replies with equal enthusiasm, squeezing my hand.

Five minutes later, we start our descent into Dublin. Moved by some impulse, I look up then. My ancient kin, I know, will be traveling this whole trip with us. Caoilte has been quietly keeping watch on the plane for this leg of the journey. On the first plane ride to Chicago, he first ran around the cabin, checked out the cockpit, and tried to figure out how the plane’s engines worked before taking his place next to us. He arrived back at our seats with a look of boyish satisfaction, and I was happy that he had a chance to investigate. “Boys and their toys,” as Ailbhe says, having picked up the phrase from somewhere. But she always says this with a playful look in her eye.

Speaking of Ailbhe, I am quite startled to see her when I make to look up into Caoilte’s bright hazel eyes. Ailbhe decisively dislikes being near modern technology, especially anything that rumbles and moves such as cars, trains, and planes. I challenged her once to sit in a car with me, but I’d never known her to appear inside a modern vehicle voluntarily. And yet, here she is, unmistakably standing next to Caoilte, a slight hint of resolute determination masked by her warm smile.

“You’re here!” is all I can think to happily exclaim.

“I wouldn’t miss my own sister’s arrival in the home we once shared, not for the world, even if I have to reckon with a plane to do it, now would I?” Ailbhe answers, posing an inquiry of her own in response to my surprise.

With enormous gratitude, I beam at her. “Thank you,” I say silently, and send her a picture of the way I am feeling, moved by joy, even though she can already see it for herself.

Ailbhe and Caoilte raise their hands, then, in the gesture of greeting: “Welcome home, Éilis.”

One Moment At a Time

Some days segment out
Moment
By
Moment
Letting go now

Letting go now
Present, shifting
Bafflingly clear
Every second a choice

Yes I can
At every instant
Behold again my broken
Shards of mirror

Shattered and yet
Within each appears
A whole reflection
What is, I accept

I am and am not here
Known and unknown
Fragile and all
Fragmented and complete

Some days segment out
Free at every moment
Choosing to be
I let go

Now and now
I quietly allow
Becoming to unfold
The change in me

A Different Way

February 4, 2015

It’s a crisp February evening. I sit on a bench outside the Berkeley philosophy building, having at least the next fifteen minutes to myself before going for dinner with a friend. A breeze blows softly around me, the air smells clean, here and there a bird calls. It is almost six o’clock. An hour before, I learned that today is the 100th anniversary of the Campanile, a historic clock tower on UC Berkeley’s campus. At six PM, bells will be going off in the tower, rigged by three ingenious professors to chime in rhythm with the Bay Area’s famous earthquake fault line. The seismic waves in the earth will determine the pattern of the music, which will be accompanied by flashing lights.

I have come from a lively seminar on free will, and though I’ve enjoyed It immensely, I’m now needing to ground and center out of head space to become present once again with the living, breathing world before connecting with the world beyond. Soon, Caoilte will be joining me. We have a challenge to discuss and some solid time to ourselves before my friend arrives. I smile to myself thinking on how delighted Caoilte is going to be to have an awesome display of modern technology occurring as a soundtrack to our discussion.

I first heard about the challenge two days before while quietly spending time with a large standing stone during an imbolc celebration. Ailbhe sat down next to me. I was in the middle of thinking about how some people have apparently learned to bend spoons, which is not really what I was intending to meditate on. Silently, I greeted Ailbhe who looked thoughtfully at me and then said abruptly, “How would you feel about bending, as if you were a spoon that could be reshaped to reflect the most light? We will hold you safe until the end of it.” She sent me a picture of several people carrying me in their hands while I went through some kind of transformation.

I could feel the time I had to meditate was almost up, and soon the space around me would no longer be quiet. Baffled and not at all persuaded of the merits of her suggestion I simply said, “It sounds wholly disagreeable to me. But I don’t understand what you mean.”

I am once again turning over what Ailbhe said, not becoming any wiser for it, when Caoilte appears and sits down next to me. He waits patiently while I finish moving into a softer, more reflective focus and take down the shield I use to help shut out the chaos of this world during my long day. Now I can see him clearly, and for a while we sit together, looking at each other, understanding each other without speaking. He is asking how I am and I answer in the otherworld way, letting go of any defensiveness, allowing myself to be seen. I make the gesture for acceptance.

Now, Caoilte gets up and is standing in front of me. He surrounds us in a white light, so I won’t take in any energy that isn’t mine while we’re talking. “Ailbhe says you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this challenge with us,” Caoilte begins, “Why? What are you afraid of?”

He can see how I am feeling and asks the question sincerely, without judgment. Still, this is when staying out of the way gets difficult. It occurs to me that ethicists like to talk a lot about honesty, but tend to skip over the fact that being completely honest quickly dislodges you from your comfort zone. That is beside the point now, however. I meet Caoilte’s eyes: “What Ailbhe said reminded me too much of some sort of intense alchemical transformation or shamanic initiation, and I’d rather run and scream than do either of those things. Unfortunately.” I have the urge to apologize for this, but Caoilte shakes his head, so I continue, “I thought I was already enough, so why become something different? Besides I don’t want to become a shape shifter or be unable to physically recognize myself once I’ve changed form.”

There is compassion and thoughtfulness in Caoilte’s eyes now. I can already tell that whatever I took Ailbhe to mean, I was at least mistaken in part. I’m very glad about this. After a moment Caoilte says, “I can understand how you might take Ailbhe literally, as you were just in a physical challenge with her. No, this is not another physical challenge. Ailbhe and I will be doing this with you together, and the changes are energetic ones. Let me try to explain it a different way.”

Now between us there’s a picture of a dark looking space, and out of this space Caoilte pulls tiny shimmering threads of light, which glint against the night sky. Each light strand has a different color which I can’t see, but implicitly understand is there. Now, Caoilte is unraveling the strands of colored light and reweaving them, then placing them back in the darker space. As I look on the dark space becomes illuminated with the colors previously opaque within it. Instead of lying hidden in the space, the light is suddenly drawn out and brightly shining through, every color radiating out in a myriad of directions. It is stunningly beautiful and I catch my breath, in awe of what I’m seeing.

“This is what we mean,” Caoilte says, “This is about energy, changing, reweaving the patterns that keep your light absorbed in shadow, so your light doesn’t remain hidden, so that gradually you can reflect more and more the radiance already within you, to shine for yourself and then out into the world.”

“Oh!” I say, grateful for the clarity, viscerally relieved. “I’ll agree to that! I’m up for energetically changing shape, it sounds fascinating.” And more than that, which I show in intention, I understand now how I can both go through with the change and still be enough, because I am not becoming other than myself, but aligning more and more with who I have always been.

A look of pure enthusiastic joy silently transforms Caoilte’s face. I can tell he is wishing he could shout “Okay, let’s do this thing!” This is the first time it has occurred to me that shouting isn’t possible in the otherworld. How frustrating!

And, although I now find that I’m having to suddenly console my small self who’s not particularly fond of transitions and change of any kind, Caoilte’s excitement is infectious and it feels like my eyes light up. I am full of curiosity, wondering what on earth will happen now (or perhaps, more fittingly, how out of this world it’s going to get.) Again, I am holding my hands out palm up accepting my place here on the next step of this wild, wondrous journey. And then the Campanile performance begins.

Still Life

The clearing beckons and you enter,
The butterflies between the trees flitting
Over the translucent stream below.

The momentary beauty captures your attention,
Stays your breathing, and you pause–
To reflect on a course of action,

Rummage in your backpack
No time to lose, your movements quick and frenzied,
Hoping you’ll find what you are looking for.

Triumphantly, you place an artificial lens
Between you and the scene before your eyes,
And try to focus

And frame an experience
As it shifts within its own rhythm,
Ever changing and alive.

Hurrying, you zoom in
On a view you just can’t miss.
Worrying over whether you are too close,

You get farther away for a better view.
And the shutter snaps open in a flash,
And the digital photograph

Pins the butterflies in their places
While the stream, in mid ripple,
Ever eludes to change.

With the moment safely captured ,
You can finally sit tranquilly,
Observing in silence.

But now, as you take in your surroundings,
You find nothing to stay your gaze
Save for the landscape in its subtle rearranging.

The bright screen displays your memory,
The one whose occurrence you never fully attended,
So feeling at a loss,

You remain exactly where you are,
Wondering at what you never took in,
And hoping for another opportunity.

In that instant I see you there,
Bordered by the portrait of the trees.
How strange for you to find

Frozen frames of living beautiful,
Moved by depictions of the no longer moving.
And if you’d turn your eyes on the water,

You’d notice how your own reflection
Resembles the appearance of a life stilled,
Impermanence just beneath the surface.

I am only passing through,
Noticing how everything happens to unfold.
Each experience changes with remembering,

No more defined within one image as I am,
Just as fleeting as the lives that create it,
And it is only when life ends that it is still.

The Essence of Light

Light moves
Simple and silent

An eternal inscription
Echoing within internal reflection

It bends, it shifts, it shapes
Refracting through time’s hourglass,

Curving hope, carving the colors of forever
Upon each radiant rainbow

Restoring the tree’s core
Growing as the newest flower
Everlasting and ephemeral

And though poised as a prism just above the horizon
It disappears
With the slightest touch

A Year Ago Today _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 9

July 26, 2013

The fire crackles, contained neatly in its metal fire ring. I watch the flames in their leaping, weaving shapes and shadows before my eyes, telling of tales I cannot quite read, dancing a song I can watch but cannot hear. Above me, the stars are shining somewhere in the night. Night, the closer of the two, presses in on all sides, and moving slowly around the flames to keep away from the smoke I feel I understand what a planet must feel like, orbiting its central star, the only thing keeping it from folding into the blackness of vacuous space.

Most of us have gone to bed. I surmise it might be around 1 in the morning, or later. Only three of us are awake now. I’ve been talking to a young man who claims to be an anarchist but the only label I’ve managed to give him is “obnoxious.” He has invariably been irritating me all night, and I have a headache from talking to him. Fortunately, this is when White Fire walks over and sits down with us, seeking company and the warmth of the flames.

We are several groups of druids camping on an ancient mountain in Southern California, my own Seed Group, and a group from around the mountains in which we’re now gathered. White Fire is a member of the second group.

When he sits down, White fire turns to me and begins a conversation about the otherworld. I’m happy to talk to him. First of all, his voice is quiet and calm, a nice antidote for my headache. Secondly, the man who has been the source of the headache knows nothing about the otherworld, which means I am guaranteed that he will shut up for however long White Fire and I keep on with the conversation. Thirdly, White Fire knows something I do not, many things I do not: I feel it in my bones. I feel in my bones that I must speak to him: now.

“What do you know of the purple fog?” I ask.

“The purple fog is the twilight,” he answers in a way that makes me imagine him saying so with a smile and wandering eyes.

I shiver despite the warmth of the fire. I have written several poems about purple fog, being the twilight, thinking this was a grand metaphor, but never suspected that I could be drawing on an ancient truth, one that now I realized I always knew, if only by an ancient instinct.

We talk for twenty minutes or so about the twilight and the fog.

But I have a more urgent question. One I am a bit terrified to ask. Well, to be honest, I am not afraid of asking the question, but of finally finding an answer. I feel I will in fact finally have an answer tonight. It’s a question that has haunted me since 2010. I can’t let it go, and now I can’t ignore it, even if I tried.

If the question were a child, it would be jumping up and down, tugging on my arm, and squealing incessantly for attention. Fortunately, I have only to deal with the question, and not the image of the impatient toddler it is conjuring in my mind.

“Where in the bardic Gwersu are you at now, White Fire?” I ask for a start.

The order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids,
http://www.druidry.org,
of which we at the campsite are all a part, is divided into three grades, the bardic grade being the first and the one I am in. Gwers (gwersu plural) is the welsh word for lesson, and our study course contains 48 lessons, gwersu, in the bardic grade. I can’t remember now which number White Fire responds with, but I do a fast calculation and know he must know about what I am about to speak of, since the number he gives is past eight.

“Do you remember reading in gwers 8 about the fianna, and how they’re sleeping in a cave, and someone starts to wake them up, but only gets two thirds done with it before running away in fright and leaving them off pretty miserably?” I ask. My hands are folded much too tightly in my lap, while with an effort I try extremely hard not to conjure the picture of the fianna sleeping in the cave, even though usually I see a picture of the scene my words are conveying at any time whether I am talking about the otherworld or a washing machine. The picture would upset me too much.

“Yeah, I remember that story,” White Fire confirms for me. “Why? What do you want to know?”

I nod, take a deep breath. “What’s happening about it, do you know?” I am shifting around self-consciously, not sure whether I am actually comfortable having this conversation. I’ve never spoken about this with anyone. It’s the kind of thing most people would meet with concern, and perhaps a question about my health or sanity. But I remind myself I am speaking to a fellow traveler on a druid path, and so it is much more likely that I will be taken seriously and heard without a large dose of negative judgment. I continue by way of clarification, “I mean, is anything being done about it? This is a situation that can’t continue, especially if they really are worse off than before. I cant rule out the possibility. What do you know? Is anyone looking for them, are people on this already?” I am thinking to myself that usually I have this conversation about things like global warming or the conflict in the Middle East, or food stamp regulations, or the protection of children. I’m not thinking of this situation much differently, I realize.

“It’s already happening,” White Fire says quietly.

“Oh,” I exclaim half to myself and half to him. My relief is almost tangible. And then a thought suddenly crosses my mind, a question really: I’d said in 2010 that if I ever had a chance, I would finish what was started so that whatever waking needed to happen, I’d help complete the last third. Did I just now stumble onto the chance to do just that, I wonder?

What I do know is that I’m not going to be content to stand by and go about things as usual, leaving what might need to be done to other people. I want, need, to be a part of the solution. I feel quite strongly about this, but if I am honest with myself, I can’t fathom the reason why. Why given so many stories about so many ancient people, would this particular one not only catch my attention but spring me into action? I am sure, only, of the fact that it has.

“What exactly is already happening,” I ask White Fire. “Do you know anyone who has gone to the otherworld to get help from people there? What has been done already?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I only know that something is already being done. It’s been going on for a while. People are waking up. It’s happening everywhere. All around us.”

I picture nondescript sleeping people slowly waking up completely, getting to their feet awkwardly, walking into the sunlight, squinting and shading their eyes, attempting to move after being horizontal for an unconscionably long length of time. But I have to erase the picture rather quickly.

Instead, I begin to weigh the likelihoods of various scenarios which I might come to encounter. I allow myself to consider the logical possibility, albeit a small one, that the myth could have more reality in it than anyone would want to believe. In which case, I think fervently to myself, for the sake of the fianna, I hope that such a theoretical possibility can’t physically occur and this particular myth fully lives up to the literal falsehood by which the modern term “myth” is defined. On the other hand, the probability that the story speaks of a profound metaphor is much, much higher, and less cruel, in equal measure.

However, because my philosophically trained mind can’t rule either possibility out wholesale, I have to act. As soon as possible. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know where I’ll have to go to do it, or if I have to go journey to a different world (which for me will be easier since sight won’t get in the way.) I actually know little about the fianna specifically, other than of their importance, but that does not matter either. What matters is their freedom, and if I can do anything at all.

And then White Fire’s words fall into place for me. Of course, I realize, the story is about shifting consciousness. This is about returning to ourselves. Perhaps the myth is meant to show those of us living now how we ourselves are sleeping, numbing ourselves out against pain, persisting rather than existing, going through the motions of living what we are told to become, rather than joining the dance of life as all that we are. If I was not cold despite the heat from the fire and my four layers of clothing, I am now. The person who told the story in the particular way she did in the gwers had not just conveyed the need to wake an ancient group of people: she called us if we would listen to awake to what of them we might find within ourselves.

In 2010 I heard, but I am actively listening now. What would it be to live as an awake person? I yearn to know. I want to wake up, I want to walk into the world tall and sure of my own belonging. I will look within myself first, then, before looking anywhere else. Even so, I have to make sure this is in fact the metaphor and the people in the story are actually okay. They do exist, I think, I am sure of it. And I am also sure that I would try to do what I could to help, rather than run from them. Running just seems so unnecessary, and a waste of time besides.

“Thanks,” I say to White Fire, sincerely, letting go of something I have been worrying over for three years now. I read once that actions define us, shape who we are. The fog of indecision lifts, and then a path is visible ahead, every moment a choice. And when all is said and done, choosing is easier than never making up your mind, no matter how hard the decision. Well, at least for me.

It is several weeks later, one late night back home in Berkeley, that I get the opportunity to be a part of what happens. Trying to take to heart what I’ve learned in the bardic gwers on storytelling, I decide I ought to memorize a story. The best story to memorize, explains the gwers, is one that speaks to you, that you always come back to. There is only one story fitting that description for me right now: the myth in Gwers 8. I set myself to memorizing it. As I go about what needs doing that evening, I recite the story in my head as best I can, and then when I have finished I recite it again. Without thinking, I recite it a third time.

Three is a powerful number, the binding number. I have spoken my intention three times, giving my word to it, but on this night I have forgotten that fact. I’ve got to go grab something out of my room, and that’s all I’m thinking about after I finish the third telling of the story. Concentrating entirely on the practicalities of the moment, I walk through the door distractedly. Halfway across the floor, I jump out of my skin, then try to recover from being startled as quickly as possible. I blink, a few times, bewildered, more than a little in awe of what I see. I don’t move.

There, as clear as day, only about a foot away from me, stand twelve people, in two rows. It’s hard to understand how they managed to fit in the space they are occupying, as they are all quite tall and imposing. They range from 5/8 to 6/5 in height, roughly. They stand very straight, very still. They are all male, and I notice, carry shields with intricate swirling patterns I can’t quite make out or understand, and are wearing large belts with swords hanging from them. They all seem to have chosen to appear as they were in youth, though based on what they are wearing I know they lived a very, very long time ago.

I’m having trouble meeting their eyes, I am more than a little daunted by the idea. But I am not having trouble recognizing them. I am unmistakably looking at twelve fianna warriors, who are now patiently standing in my room. What to do?

I decide the natural response would be to be afraid, but I dismiss the idea. Far from being scared, I realize, I’m excited to see them. First, I am full of relief and something like joy. They can’t very well be sleeping in a cave, I reason, if they’re standing here now. Besides, my thoughts continue, it is just plain rude to fear people I’ve never met before, and haven’t I been waiting three years to talk to them? Somehow I know I have been looking for them as much as they have been looking for me. Now, we have found each other.

And then I realize I am staring. I look quickly at the ground to stop staring, remember that this isn’t polite either, and so, with determination, I look directly into their eyes … and then I can’t recall why I just hadn’t done that in the first place. In pictures I say, “Hello. I’m Éilis. It’s nice to meet you.”

A year has passed since my conversation with White Fire. One incredible, transformative, amazing, mind boggling, awesome, healing, wonderful year has gone by. I started out wanting to help a group of people I barely knew get themselves out of a cave in which they could neither live, nor die. Instead, I found myself reunited with my family, my very ancient family. I walk my journey with them. I am home. I am more myself than ever before. And I will never, ever be the same. And every day as I am living, not persisting, standing tall in the knowing that I so holy belong here and now, I often wonder, as there is so much to wonder at, what now? Whatever it is, there’s no need to wait to find out. It’s already happening, after all.

False Beliefs

I must worry about my future because otherwise it will go badly.
In order to belong, be safe, and have security, I must fear change and avoid the unknown.
I must make everyone happy, otherwise I am ungrateful and selfish.
If god(s) have a plan for me, I must follow it: as well as routinely sweat over whether I am doing so.

I shouldn’t eat chocolate chip cookies at breakfast and the like.
I shouldn’t cry. I shouldn’t speak out on subjects that people prefer to ignore.
I shouldn’t make any actually or potentially unpopular suggestions if I want to keep my friends.
I shouldn’t color outside the lines, be too creative, too curious, too centered in my own belonging.

I should assume that fulfilling my dreams will be full of hardship.
I should only believe in the shared reality the world has agreed upon.
I should satisfy others expectations of me before I meet my own expectations.
When others see closed doors ahead, I should take their word for it, and not go investigate for myself.

It is wrong to be grateful and happy as long as other people live in misery.
It is wrong to feel of equal worth to those of higher status, wealth, or prestige.
It is better to act small, so that others won’t feel diminished by your light.
Pain, when familiar, is better than the uncertain task of finding which wild place calls you home.

These beliefs pass among us quickly, infecting all who adhere to them with dis-ease.
Yet we all too often resist questioning their authenticity. Why ever is this so?
Why allow disruptive, dishonest tenants to rent out rooms in your head? Go ahead and replace them.
Step beyond such specious shadows. Whatever are you waiting for? The light switch is right here.