Tag Archives: reflections

Re-turning to Trust

Fear is like the partner you can’t get rid of: you fight it and scream at it and beg it to go away and then spend the interminable hours of a frantic night after it disappears flailing in the dark, unmoored, untethered, searching for the hand you know always brings you back to familiar ground. It certainly feels momentarily like anything is better than being alone with nothing to do but confront the immensity of yourself. So you give fear a call and let it back in. And the cycle continues…

Sometimes I’ve been able to break that cycle, and for lengths of time that surprise me, at least when I am with people who hold space for me in the world beyond the world. But when it comes to this world? A world where getting hurt isn’t a theory, where my differences define me, where rejection is very real, where words can wound, intentions get crossed, and the present moment is so often ensnared in a web of wilting memories… what, are you kidding?! Trust is a very, very rare and endangered species.

My world began like this: when I was six months old, someone tried to kill me. Part of me understood, in a way I still cannot even put words to, just how, literally, totally frightening the world could be. Safety became my mantra and my survival raft on the sea of changes. I learned all sorts of healthy and unhealthy ways to build and maintain a stronghold over the water, shore up the retaining walls, and in general do all I could to ensure that the tiny, fragile island I was didn’t get swamped and submerged again. I didn’t discriminate. Whatever it took. I needed rain, not a flood. I needed the calm clay earth to give me another chance to put firm roots down, ground me here. I needed air to keep moving through my body, breathing room, the winds of many temperaments to carry me once I learned to fly. Most of all, I needed other people and needed to learn how to love, rather than fear them.

Unfortunately, we don’t usually get only one traumatic experience to heal from while we’re here. So, over the past couple years as I liberated myself from grad school, I’ve done a lot of healing. I’ve gathered myself in, gone through the naming, sat with shadows and struggled to find their place as part of my wholeness and accept them. And still, the fear is there. It hums an eerie lullaby just beneath the constant cacophony of day to day living. It comes knocking at my door as soon as I want to take a step, let alone a leap, out into the world. It haunts me while I’m longing for solitude with worries or pictures or memories or just a nagging urgency to keep watch. It winds around my relationships, putting a stranglehold on genuine intimacy. It riddles my confidence with pointed question marks and weaves illusions of isolation around my dreams. It awaits in the silence when my only company is the vast bewilderment of myself. It tries to convince me I’m the only one who’s ever felt like this.

There might be long stretches of time during a day or for several weeks when I can ignore it and throw myself into enjoying life. But the fear for that life I am out enjoying never really goes away. So, last April when I decided to join a group of people who gather once a week to learn about an art of relating called circling, I was unsurprisingly terrified. It turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. There was a structure and several things we agreed upon at the outset, which created a container of trust and belonging unprecidented in regular social life. We would pick two people per night whom we’d focus our attention on, just being with what is: the moment to moment experience of that person, the present way it was like to be ourselves, how we felt in relation to each other. It was suddenly okay to make mistakes without fear of rejection, safe for me to come out of a long hibernation, which had begun somewhere back in graduate school, poke my head out of my shell, and discover solid ground just where and as I was.

The more I became solid in myself, the more I was able to be present and compassionate toward others and drop the nonspecific persistent fear. I remembered how to sit and listen softly to someone who was hurting. I could hold someone who was grieving and be in that space with them, without trying to rush them through the feelings, fix their pain or insist it would all get better soon. I delighted in laughing with others, reconnecting with a joy not possible when living so much in solitude, and even occasionally felt vulnerable enough to laugh at myself. The idea I’ve always known as true, that the world is full of many good and trustworthy physical people, developed from a thought to a visceral feeling, an embodied knowing.

I was traveling the road home, this time not through the otherworld, but through this world. And home is gradually getting a little bit bigger… enough to give fear more room to settle down, close its eyes, and even sleep for a while if I’m lucky. The space in which I live has grown larger, able to contain that much more of the light and the shadow and the fear (which isn’t planning to vacate any time soon) … all at the same time.

Now, only a few short months later, my time in that particular cauldron of transformation has abruptly ended. A lot of people there use e-cigarettes constantly throughout the night and the vapor was giving me migraines. The person leading the group (who also vapes) hasn’t ever responded to my attempts to contact him and work out an accommodation for everyone’s needs.

Fear responded promptly, of course. There was the fear that I’m the problem, that the world might not be safe after all, that I simply don’t belong. Then a friend from the group called and shared that this guy is notorious for never communicating. I’m still disappointed. Mostly, I am humbled by a truth staring me in the face. How can a person be safe if she’s rejecting, blaming, and putting down her own self? I can long for belonging, but if I can’t have it in my own skin, where do I go? And it doesn’t help anyone to stall out on fully living whenever anyone else has temporarily forgotten how to shine.

It would be easy to get disillusioned, crawl back into that old, clammy, familiar shell, pull down the curtains and pretend that actually makes you safe. But, life unfolds whether you struggle or let go into the living of it. When I’m aware enough to make the choice, I kind of get wide-eyed at my unconscious actions and wonder what all the needless flailing and frenzy was about.

There’s that scene in Monty Pithon’s Life of Brian when a bunch of people wait in a line to talk to this guy who asks each of them if they want freedom or execution. The hilarity is that a bunch of people enthusiastically choose execution. The grave truth behind the comedy is, of course, that in the end, many of us fear the wildness of genuinely self-authored freedom more than we fear the subtle and not so subtle ways we allow ourselves and others to deprive us of life. Struggle, or let go? Freeze, or freedom? Do I really have to think twice about that? It is our re-turning over and over to trust, even though with specific people trust gets broken, that allows the space we hold for all of who we are to grow, and that’s what gives us room to shine, no longer play it small. That is what empowers a person to put the authority into self-authorship, and that’s the foundation of freedom, and there’s no safer place to be.

Love Is More Discerning Than Fear

So I haven’t posted as much as I’d like on here, in part because I’ve been ill, but mostly because I’ve been working on my dissertation and, like my everyday life in the physical world, I don’t think my dissertation would be interesting to read about. Well, at least if you’re not me.

But I’ve been in thought mode. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and love, and lighthearted topics such as why we still predominantly live under the illusion of separation rather than embrace our interdependence. So perhaps this is remotely dissertation related after all.

So earlier today I found myself feeling tired, enough that I took a short nap: and had a dream about a vampire. I’d say this never happens, but it just has, for the first time. Perhaps I should add that I hardly ever read books or watch shows about vampires, and try to avoid the subject generally speaking altogether. However, I can’t ignore it today.
***
The Dream:

My only role in the dream is that of observer and perhaps fortunately so: I am invisible to all the other dream characters who are in fact acting in a vampire movie. This allows me to watch these people’s choices and reactions unfold in realtime, without ever being effected by them myself.

In the dream, a middle aged woman is lying on a sofa, now and then glancing toward the front door. Presently, without knocking or introduction, a tall, strangely dressed man in his forties strides into the room, as if it already belongs to him. He has short brown hair and a pale narrow face, and, I notice for some reason, has unusually long and boney hands. He wears an open long fake leather jacket without buttons over a wrinkled baggy blue shirt which is hastily tucked into business casual slacks.

The woman doesn’t move, but smiles at him broadly. They’ve been dating for a while, and she’s invited him out to dinner.

“I think this is a good time to tell you that I am a vampire,” the man says, before the woman has time to speak. His unnervingly high voice breaks the silence, mealy and seductive.

You would think the woman would either run or kick him out at this point, but she doesn’t. She is convinced their love will transcend all obstacles in their way. She is still smiling at him, both enticed by danger’s potential and convinced the emergence of the relationship between them keeps her safe from harm.

The woman asks if she can see his fangs. He opens his mouth, and there are definitely large fangs in there, behind his eye teeth. It registers with her that he’s not lying, and half reflexively she sits up straight so she can look directly at him.

He says, “I’m hungry, let’s go eat.”

“Okay,” the woman says, but she’s not feeling so safe now. “But you won’t hurt me, right? We love each other. You can’t possibly want to feed off me: I’m sorry I even thought it. You wouldn’t, would you.”

She’s looking at him intently, hoping, willing, demanding to find trust and respect reflected in his eyes. I’m not sure what she sees, but it’s clearly not what she was expecting. She goes a little pale. . “You wouldn’t,, would you?” the exact same words as before, but now a question tinted with fear, rather than a vote of confidence.

The vampire continues his silence, which begins to speak for itself. Suddenly, he leans in close to her, as if about to tell her a secret. Instinctively, she flinches away. “But I told you, I’m hungry.” He breathes into her ear, and reaches out for her. Only then does the woman run panicked and screaming from the house, vampire in hot pursuit, until eventually she gets away, and barely for all that.
***

All the while this is going on, I am observing and asking myself questions: Why am I watching this? Why won’t she leave? Can’t she tell that love never had anything to do with this relationship, that it has always been about fear? Where is her discernment? Could we turn off the TV, or create a new, different movie, one where love rather than fear is the norm?

Because to my mind the vampire doesn’t just represent hostile people who feed off others’ energy to sustain themselves—narcissists come to mind. It could just as easily stand in for an entire culture based on fear, operating entirely within the illusion of separation. We live for the most part in such a culture every day.

And yet, we are interdependent beings who flourish through cooperation, belonging, and mutual vulnerability. Sometimes, the fragility of human life is the only point of equality upon which to rebuild connectedness. It is impossible to do this when you are governed more by fear than love, as this dream shows.

In fact, the dream points to several important points about fear and love, connection and disconnection, which is why I include it. Vampires are probably the most vivid symbol of separation I could dream up, no pun intended. When you live from a place of belonging, love, connectedness, energy is infinite. You are part of all that is, there is no alone, and the light you find in yourself exists everywhere.

The concept of a vampire, in my opinion, derives from a primal human fear that we might all be separate beings with separate experiences who can be dwindled to nothing before we die and perhaps even become nothing when we die. Vampires as a concept emerge out of a belief that you are alone, that the world has or could at any time abandon you, that you have little and lack what you need, so you have to take the force of life from others to survive. And a person who does this, interestingly, is always portrayed as dead or undead which isn’t an accident.

Having integrity, wholeness, is part of truly living, and if a person lives off of others, they never come to realize who they really are, and for that reason, aren’t truly living. They also don’t have to care: about the consequences of their actions, about the future of the planet, about the quality of life for their children’s children, or even about respecting and valuing the people and other living beings around them. The vice of extreme separation is apathy, and arguably a vampire with true empathy and compassion would, I think, be a contradiction in terms. (But don’t worry, I don’t have the space to argue that here.) 🙂

Now, back to the dream. The thing is, while it seems clear that the vampire isn’t living from a place of love and his purpose is to perpetuate doubt, displacement, distrust, and fear, (I mean, he even comes out and says so explicitly!), the woman isn’t living from a place of love either. Her appeal to love to keep the two of them in right relationship wouldn’t be necessary if she truly loved and trusted herself. When she is seeking the truth, it would be better for her to look within, rather than desperately seek for confirmation in another’s eyes. It is fear, not love, that serves as the reason she looks outside herself for safety and belonging and I think it is relying ultimately on fear that prevents her from having the very discernment that would keep her safe.

Conforming to what everyone else does, trying to fit in, buying things in the hopes that something outside yourself will make you happy– these are all ways to perpetuate a culture of separation. Industries and then family and friends and then the voices in your own head which tirelessly stream messages such as you’re never whole, you’re never enough, you’ll only be loved if you are perfect/do x for a living/fulfill someone’s expectations– these likewise are all symptoms of a culture based on fear. As long as we live with and buy into this fear, we won’t be able to properly discern when it’s time to leave and run after the very essence of ourselves before it’s drained away.

Belonging first and foremost to who you are, knowing you are never alone, that you’re enough, already whole, that’s the foundation of love and the end to the illusion of separateness. And if the person in my dream had this view of herself, she wouldn’t have continued allowing separateness into her house long after it announced itself. She’d see straight through the illusion, and the most loving thing to do then would be to let it go.

Once the woman in the dream could surrender to what is, accept her situation and the truth that she was dealing with a vampire (separateness), she was able to break free of her illusions and once again begin to belong to herself. I know that, however idealistic it might end up being, I do dream of the time when more people, (starting with myself, because I’m the only person I can change), will likewise surrender to what is because in breaking the illusion of separation, we free ourselves to run through the door of belonging, and start living according to love rather than fear. And when that happens, we just might hit the eject button on the movie which has been playing much too long and watch as something wondrous and new takes its place.

Not An Easy Thing

 It is easy to sit in a chair and think about battles.  It is easy to do nothing and wonder at how much there is to do.  It never goes away, the being done, the standing straight, the letting go.  It is not easy to move, to hold, to scoop up the piles of mud along the roads and build with them.

 

There are times when a moment inserts itself in between actions,  a breath between despair and determination.  It is hard to fight what needs to be done, hard to do what must be done.  And the in between, when decisions hold their breath: I can hear the hush of time standing still.  A dewdrop, teetering on the edge of a leaf in the morning, the leaf suspended, no longer attached to the tree from which it came, not yet given to the ground.  Darkness and light an equidistance away. 

 

I wonder whether I am really good.  The battle that I fight inside doesn’t seem to have determined any victory– just me, torn between slipping beneath waves or continuing to tread water.  Dreams are beautiful, the everyday details of harvesting them are not.  We want children, but what kind of world do we give them?  I wonder how helpful it is to eek out my small existence here in papers and hot footsteps and prepared meals and broken thoughts when all the time living feels so inevitable, as even the rhythm of tomorrow is already pulsing under the heartbeat of the present.  The future is taking shape under my hands, with every second.

 

I’m not sure why I don’t do what I think would make me happy.  I’m not sure what would make me happy.  I’m not sure why I cannot break out of the hollow stare that has become the monotony of daylight, the sign language of opportunities and the imperceptible sigh they make when they get passed by.  Nothing breaks this silence, not even the roar of the earth turning, or the pleading I am so aware of, that fills me inside.  I am shivering despite the heat.  I am caught between the struggle to accept my own failures, and my indestructible instinct to stay alive.  All the time common sense flees because it’s cautions are no longer useful.  Light is a thing as transient as living and I wonder if a particle dreads it’s transition into wave form even though it is all one and the same.

 

Hope is butterfly shaped and just as fragile, as intricate as a drop of water, pink as the skin of a newborn, just as much on the brink of dissolving as a dying flower.  So much joy and sadness can happen in an hour.  It is easier not to struggle, but just to feel.  At least amidst the changing colors of  the sky, of the earth underfoot, I may do what is right, or what is wrong, but at least I will chart a course through this world, take responsibility for the things I can make real.

The Sojourner’s Lament

“We have to give up the life we have planned, in order to have the one that is waiting for us.”
–Joseph Campbell

Ah my friend, what plans have been well-made that have then been undone, what visions of freedom are never born into the world for no reason but that of fear, what successes have never occurred because of the slight possibility of failure, what loneliness was never quelled since the distress of rejection proved stronger, what hopes have been shattered by the begrudging jealous voices of our previous generations, how many people stay in the nest as they’ve been told that there is no reason to look beyond how they were brought up, how many shouts are never heard because mouths have never opened to make them, how many fallen tears, whether of joy or of sorrow, have been lost in the cycles of clouds and rain, how many of us go hungry out of ignorance of what might nourish us, how very few of us take a leap into the unknown and discover we have found all that we are looking for?  How do you ground yourself where you cannot take root? 

 

Ah my friend, how much sadness has already made the face of the world swollen and bloodshot?  Is it sadness or the constant companion of mortality that subdues us into silent murmurings by the sides of the roads?  For life and death are faces of the same coin and the coin can be tossed purposefully or with abandon, all the same.  Do we not wonder while we breathe why we are here?  Do we not stop to marvel at the goings-on of life that persist among and around us regardless of the most violent moments human beings have ever seen?  Perhaps we can learn from our wordless brothers and sisters who survey the world on wing through sky, or consult the ones who put four paws to the ground.  Perhaps we might learn from our own brothers and sisters, gone to rest in the world beyond this world.

 

Oh, will we ever learn, indeed?  We will not ask the flowers, you agree, what they have seen, for even they wish not to recall.  How many dreams lay untouched at the end of lifetimes?  Who will dare to carry out what they long for to come to terms only later with whether they have done right?  You may travel thousands of miles, and still the inner space in which you keep your most hidden thoughts is the largest uncharted ground you will ever find. 

 

You could weep at the enormity of it.  But it is better, you know, to put on some sunglasses and a big funny hat and strike out through the undergrowth:  the unruly branches of unkempt trees, the marshes of memory, the fog of the forgotten.  View it as a great adventure, one you will never chance to make again, and learn to confront all the wild creatures that might cross your path, for they are all parts of you that you have left in shadow.  What dream could you realize once you are this strong?  I think, as it is, you could manage anything you ever thought to be worthwhile doing in this world.  And are you the kind of person who can manage it, regardless of what happens or how many eyes roll in your direction?

 

In this particularly forlorn and unfortunate pop culture, “live life to its fullest,” has become cliche. Life is so fragile.  What can we make of ourselves if we do not know what we, who we are?  Not just what kind of success we can achieve, but what song still sings just beneath the rushing of blood, what landscape is imprinted on our skin, what hard-won determination defines us intricately like the labyrinth of bone that allows us to stand at all. 

 

Ah my friend, if only there were answers.   Anyone who tells you they have the right one is not worth listening to.  Anyone who stares at the sky wistfully and longs for something she cannot speak, treat her like your own relation, , for you surely have seen the same bewildered longing haunting the unfathomable eyes staring back at you from your own mirrored reflection.  Do what is needed for you, then, for there is nothing else, nothing more you could ever ask of yourself.

 

What is waiting for me, my friend, if I close my eyes and let go of this straight and narrow existence I chose for myself so so long ago, thinking then it was all I would ever need?  Do needs change with age, with experience, with growing?  I am here: perhaps this is strength enough to turn my hopes into something real.  Then I will no longer be dreaming of what could be, but find myself being all I could ever dream.