Tag Archives: responsibility

The Weary Ones

We Trudge treacherous trails
Rough mountains and the thorny plains of tomorrow
We listen as landscapes keep up their crying
Memorizing wounds and their places

Hot sun rises, leaving burned faces
Here, human hatred, there is no shade
We taste the tears of the left behind
Wander the day, sharp with remembering

Never stop building
The changes we wish for our children
Never stop moving
Toward something, anything good

Again and again feet step around boulders
Hearts heavy with sorrow
We are holding onto the edges of hope
Often simply for balance

The vision blurs
The directions weave in front of drooping eyes
We fall, but do not lie down
We stand, but are never still

Only the steps, one, and the next
Out into a sharp and staggering world
Stumble through actions
Hope the helpful ones take hold

Whatever end you are seeking
You might reach it on the well worn way
Or arrive bedraggled and bruised
Emerging from the path you forged as your own

No time for the tears behind your eyes
No time to fan the flame of anger
Now, and now, but the future is a needy child
It hollers and hungers, feed it all that you have

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Why Change Metaphors Need to Change

Imagine you wake up one morning to the following printed in bold on the front page of the newspaper: “Everything is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem are inevitable!”
Feeling anxious and scared? Most people would.

Now imagine you wake up to a front page news article which claims, “The tyrannical dictatorship is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem within the oppressive government is now inevitable!”
You’d be relieved rather than terrified, right? Well, let’s hope so!

Both news articles are about chaos, mayhem, and falling apart, so what is it about the second article which instilled relief and perhaps even hope and gratitude, while the first article instilled only fear? Well first off, where the first article was vague and grossly overgeneralized, the second article was specific and to the point, adequately defining what human realm was under threat, without leaving it up to your alerted and all too vivid imagination.

So, apart from bizarre hypothetical examples, when does this kind of trend toward all-encompassing shock value occur? It occurs, quite often, in spiritual books and discussions on alchemy, transformation, initiation, and life transitions: and this needs to change.

Accounts of spiritual transformation often abound with claims about long painful suffering, dismemberment, “dying to who you were to become who you are,” undergoing a “soul death” in order to graduate into some higher spiritual consciousness, and descriptions of dissolution and the stripping away of all you’ve ever known, are attached to, care about, or conceive of as being central to who you are. No wonder people reading about this (like me) metaphorically run screaming into the hills, never to pick up a book like this again.

So, given the high probability of grave misunderstanding, why on earth do authoritative texts on transformation skip over the all-important bit about defining their terms and settle for shock value language like “dissolve” or “dismember” when describing alchemical shifts, initiations, or life transitions? The overarching message is just as sensational and vague as the claim that “everything” is/will be falling apart, but with the additional entreaty to “not worry, and embrace the process, because you’ll be grateful in the end.”

Uh huh. Is it my pre-dismembered or post-dismembered self who is supposed to not worry and be grateful? I don’t want to know. Not me, please!

But with all the change going on in my life, ending a 30 year career as a student and beginning to build my future, I’ve been suspicious that a transformation might be lurking just under the surface anyway. When I started to catch onto the fact that I was right about this, my response was abject terror. All I knew about transformation was taken from those harrowing accounts I’d read about, and there was no way I was going to consent to an experience like that any time soon.

And then one night I was lying awake, too anxious to fall asleep, and Ailbhe and Caoilte were keeping watch on me. Finally, having been unsuccessful at it myself, I asked if they could help me calm down.

Ailbhe kept on with the watch, but Caoilte looked over at me, his face gradually showing greater concern. “No wonder you’re terrified about your future, Éilis, when you believe spiritual transformation happens like this:”

In my mind’s eye I suddenly saw an animated picture. A nondescript but imposing looking man, embodying uncertainty and change, pursues a woman through the woods as if hunting her. The woman is terrified that if she is caught, she will lose everything important to her, or end up dismembered in some vague spiritual sense, so she is running for her life.

“I wouldn’t sign up for that myself if there was a choice in the matter,” Caoilte continued, and his eyes glinted with a hint of a smile. “Actually, what is really happening during shifts and transitions is more like this:”

Again, I saw a picture of the same woman out in the woods. Now, she is caught in a vine which has twined around her arms and legs, trapping her. It appears to be on its way to eventually strangling her. There’s the person embodying change, trying to convince the woman to let him cut away and uproot the vine which is threatening her, so she can finally break free and live her life.

For a split second, my mind stopped racing a mile a minute and I was still, surprised and intrigued by what I was seeing. That was the moment when Caoilte said, quietly, “You are dying to live, Éilis. You’ve been given an understanding which has its origins in fear, but it isn’t true.”

I began to relax somewhat. I unfolded my arms, which I realized I had crossed over me, and undid the tight grip my hands had on each other. I hadn’t even been aware how much my body language was mirroring my emotions. I was able to keep from being defensive for one peaceful moment, and then like a wave with a pattern of its own, the fear returned.

“Nothing is going to happen to you, Éilis,” Caoilte said, reading my thoughts. “Transformation is an integral part of being fully alive. If anyone wishes to speak of death, it is all that is not you that dies. But such a way of putting the process is highly misleading and unnecessarily dramatic. No one explains that what supposedly “dies” were all along illusions and never really existed. People get attached to them, so they think there is something real to dissolve or cut away, but what doesn’t serve a person was never part of them to begin with. In fact holding on is what puts so many people in danger; it is allowing change to happen which keeps you safe and gives you the space to live as your own person.”

I understood, and my panic slowly dissipated into relief, even gratitude. After a while I said, “I want to really live. So, what happens now?”

Since I’ve gained this different perspective on what transformation means, I wonder why broad statements such as “you will die to who you were” aren’t discussed in a more careful, precise way. It would be healing for a person to realize that even when it feels like all she is familiar with is dissolving around her, she will never cease to recognize that core essential spark of who she is. Just as it seems unnecessarily disingenuous to gloss over the fact that it’s the oppressive government, not “everything” that is falling apart, it seems particularly cruel to devote an extensive amount of time and energy toward descriptions and accounts of dissolution, without making the distinction between the illusions and patterns that unravel and the person’s essential nature which remains the same. That core nature of a person shines even brighter in the world after all that stuff that doesn’t serve her is out of the way. Knowing that, why suggest that anything truly valuable to her could be irreparably lost?

Anyone who is in a position to make a spiritual contribution to the world and chooses to do so has the responsibility to cultivate love, rather than fear. To that end what you say, and how you say it, really does matter. Clarity is just as valuable when conveying spiritual concepts as it is in writing good journalism or constructing good arguments. Change is already daunting in and of itself. Perhaps we might be able to move more gracefully through the transitions that are bound to occur if we transform the way we think of and talk about change.

Spiritual Teachers and Discernment

“This blog post will change your life!” Actually, the truth is, it won’t, and there are good reasons to be skeptical of anyone using this phrase a little too often with a little too much enthusiasm, in my humble opinion. besides the fact that people reading this are probably alive and reading these words are adding to your life experience, (in a positive way, I hope,) most experiences are not life-altering. Some experiences, especially spiritual experiences, genuinely do transform you. In changing your inner world, your behavior, your relationships, even sometimes the way you hold yourself in the world will change.

I have personally had many such experiences, and none of them came prepackaged with the claim, “This will change your life!” There were no claims about outcome, only compassionate suggestions. There was no anecdote to uncertainty, only direction based on a plethora of past experiences. As a spiritual friend said recently, there is a reason people in the spirit world are called spirit guides. They don’t live your life for you, (by for instance, telling you how an experience will effect you or how you will feel afterward) and thank goodness they don’t! If things were different, life would be quite boring, disempowering, and distancing and you’d learn a lot about dominance and control and very little about authenticity and freedom.

The thing is, not everyone in this world has a healthy sense of compassion, unconditional love, personal responsibility, or honesty. Everyone knows that. But this statement is true, sometimes even more so, of self-identified spiritual teachers.

Two months ago I signed up on a mailing list to receive access to free telephone calls with various well-known spiritual teachers whom I had never heard of, because I was very curious about others’ experiences and approaches to their spirituality and the theme for the series of calls was waking up, something I am more than passionate about. It was a mixed bag. There were many genuinely spiritual people interviewed on those calls. There were also cooky cutter new agers and blatant scam artists. The host of the program seemed, in my opinion, to have a discernment problem of her own, and every call she hosted, she claimed, would “change your life!” The claim became statistically unsustainable after, say, call number 5, and yet she continues to make it.

For Aristotle, true excellence was synonymous with practical wisdom–sound rationality and emotional balance— and it was notoriously hard to achieve. Some scholars of ancient Greek philosophy surmise that to this date there has not been a single human being who has achieved this ideal. All this to say that, whatever excellence is, it ought not be a quality such that everyone and their adopted cat possess it. Such is true of the property of being life-changing, I think. It cannot be given to every experience, lest the concept lose its meaning entirely.

In any case, life transformation, as well as excellence, often were both sadly absent in this realm of inquiry.

First, there was a call with a spiritual practitioner who manufactures a filter which produces “structured water.” Skeptical already, I went to his website, only to find that the filter specifications explicitly state the apparatus does not take toxins out of the water. It simply “purifies” them with spiritual intentions. The rest of this filter’s enormous, and yes, “life changing!” benefits are scientifically proven facts about water itself. I was appalled by this person’s willingness to call himself spiritual while making a cash cow off of his dishonesty and people’s ignorance, both scientific and spiritual. (I was not surprised however, given the power of human egotism.) Here is a site discussing the scam:

People who don’t realize hydration has huge positive effects on the body whether or not it is “structured” but who have, for instance, heard accurately that water is contaminated by fracking could potentially be one set of scam victims. Structured water systems don’t prevent or reduce, let alone eliminate, contaminants in water.

People who want to evolve spiritually but still believe the authority to empower them lies outside themselves could be the second set of victims, and there will probably be overlap. Here’s the secret people: you are the one who empowers yourself, you are the author of your own life (not the same as the creator of reality) and you and everything else is interconnected. You can infuse as many intentions into water as often as you like, because ultimately you and the water are inseparable. If you need proof, your body is 75% water. You can infuse intentions in the water existing already within you, and get the same results as if you placed them in a glass of water and drank it. Water isn’t just outside you, it is you.

In general, you have all you ever would need within yourself to arrive at the threshold of your belonging, because that threshold has always been at the center of you. You can structure water for free. You can also skip the step of structuring water and become who you have always been and already are, from the inside out.

Several other people featured on the mailing list sold products that, though might have some nominal benefits, are wholly unnecessary to spiritual development. In the end, many spiritual tools are developed to help people focus and get into a state to access what is already within them. Tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. You don’t need a fork to eat pasta, but it’s sure helpful! However, if someone is trying to make you dependent on a product for enlightenment, run.

Another tragic example. The spiritual practitioner who is speaking tonight and who already has my discernment radar flashing red was introduced with the now increasingly meaningless “This will change your life!” guarantee which accompanies every single call, along with the following reason for why I should listen to her (which I will not): “Her popular Twitter feed has over 54,000 followers.” (No, I didn’t make it up!) For anyone philosophically inclined, but even for those who are not, arguments from popularity are fallacious and scream ego trip.

Just to be sure, I went on her website , where, sadly, she offers many blatant self-promoting reasons why people ought to work with her, including the particularly horrifying reason that she is “unique” because she works with the most high-ranking spirits on the other side. Now, this is one of the most blatant fallacies of argument by authority I have ever heard and, again, a huge ego trip. (Not to mention, if someone on the other side actually said something like this to her, she is being lied to.) What spiritual truth could a person possibly impart while fully believing in her superiority? While pointing out why your skills as a stock broker are unique in the business helps you gain customers and successfully compete in your field, the tactic is terribly tacky and telling when it comes to imparting spiritual wisdom.

There is a great and profound responsibility that befalls anyone wanting to spiritually guide others, whether in this world or the next. Those looking for direction (not a prescriptive formula) are, by the very nature of the relationship, making themselves extremely vulnerable. In such a situation, maintaining spiritual equality isn’t the ideal, it is necessary; otherwise one or both of you could get seriously emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically hurt. This intrinsic spiritual equality is one of the very first things I learned about with my ancient family. Spiritual relationship falls apart without it.

Yes, not all of us have the same skills. That is why there are teachers and learners. But hierarchies of expertise consist of inherently spiritually equal people, period. I would personally avoid anyone who believes otherwise.

I don’t understand how it is possible to be both consciously aware, aware enough to be in the circumstance of walking a spiritual journey with many others, and continue to hold the opinion of yourself that you are unique, and because of your otherworldly connections (who would undoubtedly insist on their equality) besides. I cannot fathom a more hypocritical message, personally. I can only conclude, as seems reasonable and my right in the circumstances, that such people are only pretending to be spiritual for their own personal gain.

I am unfortunately now not just wary of a few practitioners booked for calls through this program, but wary of the person conducting the program as well. What could have been a journey of interesting and insightful discovery has, most of the time, proven to be nothing more than a disappointing marketing campaign. I feel fortunate to have listened to the people whose energy and message resonated with me and to know to look within, rather than out to my culture, or to the popular spiritual culture in which this all takes place, to know when something feels like a scam and honor that feeling. I did not have to learn how to do this with a teacher, and I am not unique, nor special. I am one among many and I am learning and imperfect and very human in all that entails and my authority extends to my journey alone, and really not even that far. And, contrary to the innumerable claims made lately about everything and its lookalike being there to save you and change your life, if you just follow such and so or if you pay for it, I have this to say, which you can take or leave:

I have learned that I am valuable, I am needed, as is every other person here, and our worth is with us from before we were born, and each of us is one among many. We are whole. We are enough just as we are. I believe we don’t follow a spiritual path because something or someone needs to fix us. I follow my path for the joy of it, for growing, and because in changing I become more myself than ever before. I have learned that comparison is conformity, and conformity stifles authenticity. I am here to speak my truth, to finally see I am enough in my eyes, and be completely who I am. Isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves?

So, when someone bombards me with unsupported and incessant claims that “This (whatever it is) is going to save your life!” I remind myself that nothing outside you changes your life. You are alive. To transform our lives, we only have to go full out in living and being all we are.

I Drempt of Me Who Once Was I

Unsteady with recognition I gaze
Up the steep climb, changed over the centuries
I, both who I was and now am wind
My way like the vines that creep namelessly

Along the track. Around my feet, here and there the branches twine,
And the moon’s three A.M. shadow glides above me silently,
Grasses on the hilltop bending wildly.

So high above the village and the fields,
The fierce wind blows, with a reckoning all its own.
There are many waiting for what future I’ll divine
Much depends on the outcome of the night.

The wise man, does he live still, ailing down below?
The one the troubled turned to, at his hearth fire now they gather,
Folded hands, a day’s work left undone. I keep the vigil with them here.
I call the wind by name, long and earnest tones,

With rising hands I raise the storm,
And at the center, meet its eye.
The swirling wind around me cries,
It is crying, cries and cries,

“The cold that mourns is born,” it cries,
The voices of the storm, they cry,
And rooted where I am, I cry,
Drowning out the wild song, together wind and woman cry.

As if I were a lightning rod
I resonate what shines but is not mine,
I form the bridge of earth with sky,
And through me, they both come alive.

Our hopes and dreams a final time
Are carried far across the land,
And though I hear, I can’t make out the whispered answer
My dream-self, the one who I am now, I do not understand.

Leaping into Growing: In Defense of Imperfection Part 3

Stumps are beautiful. Maybe humans, like stumps, can shine even if they are cut down. Maybe we can thrive even while life allows us the contradiction of growing and dying simultaneously. But that paradox befalls anything willing, wishing, to become, to participate in the experience of living whether prepared or unprepared.

So we come from things that are wild and untamed, and grow reason, and grow feelings, and still we are fundamentally wild and untamed.

What sound does grass make when it grows? What sound do humans make when they pass out of childhood into maturity, or realize they’re maturity has not replaced the child, but exists only because of the child. What is it to come into your own?

The thing is, leaping into it to find out is the only course to take, and it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. That is, it is easy since it is your only choice besides standing still, and it is excruciating because never again will you be able to say as Dar Williams expressed in one of her amazing songs, “The world’s not falling apart because of me.” You will be scarily powerful.

Sometimes I think being born is akin to giving a five-year-old a chainsaw, and then sending them on their way, telling them to go off and do something unique and wonderful and life-altering with it. Perhaps it’s a little less risky than that, but not much!

Networks and policies, and laws and ideas and projects that may not even exist yet will be fundamentally altered in some large or small way because of you. Relationships, children, random human and animal beings, environmental changes for good or ill, businesses, attitudes toward minorities, disability, poverty, spirituality, dreams, cats, baseball teams, and swamp coolers will change, will thrive or suffer because of you. Are you so prepared to be a survivor, a healer, a casualty of life, and the reason for, the cause of, other casualties of life?

Growth doesn’t give you time to prepare. It forces you to act and learn how to act at the same time. No wonder we are beautiful, terrible, amazing, disappointing, insecure, inconsistent, persevering, triumphant, wise and ignorant, calm while battling tempests inside ourselves, proud and sometimes shamed, and, if you’re like me, all the while trying to do these things honorably, honestly, with love.

So how do you measure if you have done well? From one perspective, it only matters that you have started to do something. Not until your life is over, can you know the impact of all you have done, and sometimes you will not even know then.

I prefer the suggestion in one of Philip Pullman’s novels. His fictional land of the dead is full of harpies who will fly at your face and tear you apart if you don’t arrive with a story. The harpies like a good story, so the better, more interesting, and original it is, the better your reception in the land of the dead will be.

I’m fairly certain there are no actual harpies awaiting us: but even so, perhaps it’s wise if we arrive with a fantastic incredible story. Then we will know we have lived well, and anyway, our friends and ancestors will be proud of us then. They tend to care more about our life stories than whether we were perfect. So maybe we should, too.

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.