Tag Archives: safety

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.

Culture Shock

“There’s a dog under your seat,” I helpfully alert the woman who has just sat down next to me on the bus.

“Oh, sorry!” she exclaims, as if this were somehow her fault, or a thing to apologize for. “Should I sit somewhere else?”

“You can sit over here,” another middle aged woman across from us suggests.

“It’s all right, you don’t have to move,” I explain, “I just wanted to let you know.”

“Well, the dog hasn’t touched me, and I haven’t touched the dog yet, so I didn’t know he was there. He probably hasn’t sniffed me because I’m wearing clean clothes and don’t smell like a dog.” Because, obviously, him not sniffing you has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a working dog and is, for once! Behaving, I think to myself, before adding the thought, was the cleanliness of your clothing in question? I decide I never want to find out, because someone who makes a great point about having clean clothes today probably doesn’t wear clean clothes often enough for this to be normal.

I now go back to almost falling asleep while sitting up straight. Besides my closed eyes, I appear very alert. In fact, if I were not on a bus I would definitely fall asleep sitting up and wake up to find I haven’t moved in the slightest. I know there are a lot of strange traits people can inherit, I’m really happy about having this one, though it’s more amusing than practical at this point.

I’m still tired when I get off the bus. I’ve gotten off at a stop before the one I usually travel to, so I can check out a restaurant that has apparently wonderful sandwiches and is seriously inexpensive. I’ve decided not to take out my Braille computer with the GPS as this will only confound me logistically once I’m ordering inside. Nothing on the nearby buildings screams restaurant at me. I pass an alley but decide I’m definitely not going down there. That couldn’t be it! Besides I am now getting a picture from Caoilte who is hanging out with me in pure energy form that the alley doesn’t look at all inviting to him when considering it from my point of view.

I ask directions. I patiently correct the college undergrad who insists I have to keep walking several blocks in the other direction. I know this as much is false: I looked it up with a sighted person on a map yesterday. Finally the woman says, “Oh it’s right here! I’ll walk with you.”

I decide I’m very grateful for the offer. But my excitement ebbs substantially as we turn left down the alley. “It’s down here?” I ask, as if asking the question might change its truth value. “I noticed the corridor earlier but immediately ruled it out. I would have never found it down here, even with a GPS.”

“Yeah, it’s this way,” the student replies, I think a bit sympathetically. Allegro and I walk down what would be a narrow tunnel if only the roofs of the two buildings we pass between, already too close to us, were to meet in the middle. I would be able to touch the walls of the buildings if I were to stand in the middle of the walk and hold out my arms, I think glumly. Have I mentioned I sincerely dislike tunnels… and alleys… and any underground or almost underground place? This better be one marvelous restaurant.

The situation gets even more precarious as we descend a winding set of large, unevenly spaced steps which in their entirety make a U-turn. We *are* going under ground. In an alley. On not the most particularly safe street in Berkeley. This isn’t good.

Caoilte, of course, had the right idea, and I was too determined to see for myself anyway. At least I am being curious and optimistic, I tell myself, searching for at least one redeeming quality in my decision.

But I’m not feeling optimistic—okay I am curious—but increasingly wary, out of my comfort zone. “It’s just right here on your left,” announces the student cheerily as she leaves me near the doorway. Allegro tries to follow her. I steel myself before going inside. I already began this morning feeling tired and like I might not be up for a mission impossible episode. I am now not only concerned but feeling like a stranger in a strange land. In fact, the more this day has gone on, the more I’m feeling like an alien.

My alienation only increases as I step through the restaurant door. I ask a man if he’s at the end of the line, and getting the affirmative, move to stand behind him. He then asks me if I can move farther right, apparently I find out after complying, because Allegro is blocking the rather tiny entrance. I might be helping people leave in my new location, but am officially out of line now, no pun intended.

Still, I have a moment to take in my surroundings: a motley crew of diverse people coming and going quickly and talking surprisingly quietly considering, all against the backdrop of some rather offensive rap music which is spiced up with more epithets than dogs have flees (with the exception of service and other well looked after dogs of course, who all dress in clean fur.)

I can see Caoilte standing next to me. Thank goodness, even though I swear he looks a bit crestfallen and out of place. I send him a picture in sympathetic agreement that, were he me in the modern world, his feelings might not be all that different. I am increasingly feeling like I don’t belong here. I keep looking around to make sure I have a good handle on what’s going on, but am simultaneously berating myself for being hyper-vigilant just because of the presence of gangsta rap. And the fact that I’m in an alley. Underground. These are not the details of a place you get while virtually walking down the street on your computer screen. Modern technology is not helping me feel comfortable, or like I belong, or know what to do, or give me the confidence that I’m safe.

I have barely moved in line. But a woman with an accent I can’t place walks up to me and says in a voice that makes me feel sick before I can help myself, “I’m here to help you, dear. What can I put on your sandwich?”

“Thank you for the offer,” I say through proverbial gritted teeth which are incredibly still plastered into a smile, “It’s not my turn in line yet. I don’t want to cut in front of anyone.”

However, about sixty or more seconds of me repeating various forms of this protest and her repeating various forms of patronizing attempts of assistance later, along with further primarily four letter lyrics from the overhead speakers, I feel myself give up. That is not a strange way to put it. I literally have the feeling of giving up, it feels like being dropped down a few of those stairs outside the door, and landing, not hard on the ground as one might expect, but on a very thin barrier between me and an eternal abyss which could give way at any minute. It is at this moment that a single word, precarious, flashes through my mind.

I continue to feel this way as I stumble blindly, pun intended, through the motions of finishing my order, getting the sandwich, and leaving. I can tell I’m not that present. Most of me, who was wishing to be anywhere else but here for a long time, sensibly left, leaving my very small self to handle it. This small self feels and acts a lot like she’s thirteen.

With a sense of detached dismay and the dread of impending familiarity which only comes with reentering patterns you thought were long gone, I watch as a Tongue-tied, awkward, clumsy version of myself plays the summarily given role of the helpless blind girl, exhibiting the confidence of a toddler about to skydive solo with a parachute. Oh. No. I think despondently, and then suddenly hit with the horror of the situation the thought changes to a much more authoritative, oh no you don’t!

Shortly thereafter, I get myself and Allegro out of the restaurant and moving up the stairs as fast as possible. I’d like to say that this is when my journey to the sandwich underworld ends. I can say, fortunately, that I’ve succeeded at not catering to my inner teenager again. However, the whole rest of the day has been fraught with an inexplicable sense of displacement which I can’t figure out how to eliminate, and not for lack of trying.

It is as if the whole of the modern world has been slightly unintelligible to me, so that engaging in conversation has taken way too much energy while I consciously assess and recall the right social norms in the way I imagine an anthropologist would while visiting a different culture. I have to say that spending most of the day in the library has been an enormous relief. And I have no trouble at all continuing sending pictures to Caoilte. Alienation of this kind, unlike dissociation or general disconnection, doesn’t seem to impact otherworld relationships and I am in profound gratitude for that. It means that I am not disappearing, merely experiencing culture shock. I can handle it in small doses.

It is only when I step off the return bus in front of my building that the strange, physical world effecting disconnect dissolves back into the mysterious nowhere from which it comes. It is a bit like waking from a dream. Everything is clear and vibrant and hopeful. The fog, that retrospectively I think might have been there, possibly, is gone now. I bound up the stairs with Allegro telling him excitedly that he’ll get to eat soon, and picking up on my refound joy, he wags his tail all the way to my front door. I gratefully return back to my familiar surroundings and my ancient family, and myself.

In the future I’ll pay more attention and listen the first time.

Rescued _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 14

December 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Antlered Branch _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 13

December 23, 2013

By the time I finally leave the house with Allegro and make my way to Aquatic Park to go look for what Oisín and the others have left for me there, it is around 5 PM. I certainly had no expectation of anything in return when I first agreed to make my place their own. I am still just as surprised as moved that they’d secure some kind of manifest world object for me to show their gratitude. I still know little about what is possible in the otherworld, but imagine that moving physical objects to specific locations is no small matter, and it is even possible that it would take tens to hundreds of otherworld people to accomplish such a thing depending on the size of the object. Even now, I have no idea how they did it.

The walk is quiet and uneventful. Hardly a manifest person is around. The water laps softly along its bank, the birds’ songs are muted, and the trees stand silent and resolute against the sky which is slowly darkening into ever more mysterious shades of twilight. This has always been my favorite time of day. As a child, I used to cherish my time outside when the sun’s light, glowing like ebbing flame starkly against the night’s deepening presence, revealed to me a world of image that usually was lost to me. Often, I’d stand precariously on the back of a swing in the yard, frightening my parents for sure, but too immersed in the ecstatic wonder of suddenly illuminated shapes and outlined objects to care much at all about something more earthly, like safety. Besides, I reasoned as only a six year old can, I had excellent balance. I could not as well leave this brilliant light behind just to heed adults who wished me to come inside.

As with then, the fading light fills me with a silent, quiet, wild joy and I still imagine myself laughing and leaping and flying through that light, which is filling every space around me now with its mystery. I walk through this wondrous world, tracking the shadows in the wooded areas to my left where I found the picnic table that I am trying to locate again.

An older man, who I met once before in passing and know is quite lonely, says hello to me and I ask whether he knows if I’m near the turn off to the table. I think I am, because there are lights above and beyond the brightly infused sky flashing in the trees at this spot. But finding a picnic table while offroading with a guide dog is a hit or miss project. He assures me I am in fact close by, and asks if I don’t mind some company. I look around and don’t see Oisín nearby, so I agree that we can talk for a little while.

The two of us sit across from each other as he shares some of his life with me and I listen. A half an hour goes by, and now I do see Oisín standing at the edge of the clearing. I send him a picture of the situation, and he says not to worry, he’ll stay until the stranger leaves. So finally I say to the manifest man, “I am really enjoying talking to you, but I have to meet someone now. Can I be alone?”

I briefly wonder, as there are no other manifest people within sight range to speak of, if the man might think I’ve had enough and am just trying to back out of talking to someone twice my age. Fortunately, he turns out to be happy to grant me my request for solitude without question, and doesn’t appear to be taking it personally. When he leaves, Oisín walks over to stand beside me.

“There are a great many trees around here,” he observes, “So I thought to come show you to the one I spoke of yesterday.” This is true enough. Together we walk over to a tree which is at a diagonal from where I was previously sitting.
Once I am standing in front of the tree, Oisín vanishes, presumably so I can discover for myself what he’s left there for me. I have to admit that I am now feeling a bit like a kid on a treasure hunt. No point in ignoring the curiosity of my inner child now, I decide.

Cautiously, unsure if I’m looking for something sturdy or fragile, I reach out my hand. The tree is eucalyptus, like every other of its myriad cousins in this area. But the branch my hand encounters is not only very detached from the tree, but is actually made of Oak. It is placed rather impossibly around the trunk, and to this day I haven’t been able to get anything else to stay up there. I’ve tried, I admit.

Antler Branch On Wall

I take the branch down from the tree. It’s big! From one end to another is approximately two feet across. There is a section of branch which is just the right size to fit my hand around. Holding it there, the rest of the branch splits into two halves that arc away from each other in a kind of narrow semicircle. On each end, two twigs stem out giving the whole of it an uncanny resemblance to deer antlers.

I know the significance of deer to Oisín’s immediate family. His father, his son, and himself were all named for this animal, after all. As a totem animal, a concept from a culture which Oisín’s clan would have never known existed, deer are usually symbolic of inner gentleness and compassion, as well as protection. I mean, that can be quite true of them and everything, but deer aren’t like that all the time! They’re also wild, fiercely territorial and adaptable, resourceful, and don’t hesitate to answer to a challenge. When I have looked into Oisín’s eyes, I have seen all these things, and more of course. I for one think that if a totem is going to give insight into the spirit of a person,, it’s probably best to recognize that nonhuman animals can have natures as complicated as any human. I digress, however.

I imagine that if clan Baiscne, to whom Oisín belongs, had a family emblem, I am holding a representation of it in my hand. I have too many thoughts and feelings occurring at once. I am astonished and happy and wondering how many people it took to get this branch here—it’s so big. I am moved by how one physical object could convey so much meaning to me. If I had ever worried about being accepted, it looks like that worry is both unreasonable and I not only belong, but somehow have been accepted into Oisín’s family. This realization overwhelms me. It would be hard to believe if I weren’t holding tangible proof of it.

Equally overwhelming, however, is that, as I gaze at the branch in my hands, it seems to emit a soft, continuous glow, as if the very wood could radiate that divine spark at the heart of itself out into the changing clay world. This is all quite enough to take in, so I do what I usually do when I have more energy than I know what to do with: I choose a direction and take off. Full of a wild inexplicable joy that seems to suddenly come upon me, I gather up Allegro and we walk so fast that we are practically running. I’ve never run with a flashlight, having never had the need for one, but the blazing light around the antlered branch in my hand illuminates the night, casting bright shapes across the landscape. Sometimes, when I look through the middle where the branch splits in two, I feel like I am almost catching someone’s eye. I definitely do not feel like I am walking alone. There are no manifest people in the park at the moment. Somehow everything around us holds still, while we, myself and what feels like many who I cannot see but seem to be with me, traverse the trail back to my apartment. I, or perhaps we, make it home in record time, and the whole return journey has oddly felt effortless.

Once I walk through the door into the kitchen, I carefully set the branch down while I go get a vase from above the refrigerator to place it in. This is not because it needs to be placed in water, but just because I can’t think of another way to make sure it won’t fall or get broken. I’m trying to grab a glass vase precariously from a cupboard which is slightly too high for me to actually reach safely. But I’m in a great mood and not alone. This means I’m determined to attempt to accomplish what I’m aiming to do successfully, since I feel I can do just about anything at the moment.

“Don’t do that, you’ll get yourself hurt,” someone is saying with concern, and when I turn around I see Oisin standing behind me.

“You think so?” I ask cautiously, “I think I can reach up there. I’ve done it once or twice before.”

“Well, it’s not a great idea for what you are aiming to do at the moment. Are you sure you are not actually trying to do something again beyond your limits to prove to yourself that you are worthy of our company?” Oisín asks, challenging me with his compassionate, yet wildly fierce eyes. “We want you safe, child.”

Is that what I was really trying to do, I ask myself a bit reluctantly? Well, okay, yes that was a substantial if far from explicit part of my motivation. It would be too awkward and self-defeating to deceive myself into thinking otherwise.

“Thanks,” I say, and grab a chair from the kitchen table to stand on. The particular vase I need, it turns out, is behind a bunch of other smaller vases and would have been impossible to grab from my earlier vantage point on the floor. I am growing, even now, but I just have to remember that won’t translate into physical height.

The antlered branch is still shining with otherworldly light where I’ve placed it on the counter. It’s amazing in its own right, but perhaps more, well, awesome still is that I have become like family to Oisín and the fianna. I am trying to integrate this into my world and it’s happening very slowly. Attempting to sort out my thoughts, one in particular suddenly comes unbidden into the forefront of my mind. Is it possible, the thought interjects, that I have always been a part of this family and just don’t know it for certain yet? How else to explain why I’ve felt like Oisín is a long lost grandfather? Why else does he call me child? But I can’t even entertain the idea. I almost desperately shove the thought out of my head so that I don’t have to possibly face another instance in so many days of my beliefs being turned upside down.

So instead, I turn to Oisín to thank him properly. In response, he simply fills the room with light. We are, I realize, speaking without words. And in the silence there is understanding, of what is, which words don’t ever seem to capture adequately. I’m glad that I can let go of trying to put everything into language and can communicate through wordlessness. This wordlessness is, I am beginning to realize, the grammar of being, it is why silence is intelligent, and how existence speaks for itself.

The Lesson At Winter Solstice _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 11

December 21, 2013

Today is my seed group’s winter solstice gathering. It is our first semi-private ritual since the group formed, and we’ve put quite a bit of effort into making it as meaningful and smoothly running as possible. My friends pick Allegro and I up in a clunky, old, yet functional pickup truck. While Ashley drives, Tara gets into the truck bed with Allegro on her lap and we set off to make the forty-five minute trip from Berkeley to Walnut Creek. Fortunately the truck is equipped with a camper shell. I would otherwise have never let Allegro ride in the back of it on the freeway.

Minus some minor hang-ups, the ritual is a big success. In itself it only amounts to half an hour of the gathering. The rest of the time is spent chatting, eating great food, drinking mulled wine, and catching up with friends and family.

Now a bit tipsy on both red and mulled wine, I find myself in the kitchen of the clubhouse we’ve rented for the event which is owned by the apartment complex of one of our members, Holly. Holly has had more whine than I have though this is hardly the main reason that, when I find her, she is more in the otherworld than this one.

“Can I talk to you a minute?” I ask Holly, who puts a warm cup of mulled wine into my empty hands. This is the first year I’ve been introduced to the stuff, and boy have I been missing out!

“I’m not all here,” she says, “I’m trying to make more whine and am running around a bit. But I have a minute.”

So, I lay out the problem for her as quickly as possible. It has now been a solid month since the fianna started coming through my apartment on the way to making other commitments elsewhere. I am more than exhausted. I lean against the wall heavily, visibly spent, explaining to her that despite the fact that none of them have individually given me any trouble, I’m an introvert who recharges energy by having alone time, and have had next to little of it lately. I think there are definitely over a hundred of them, and that’s an insane number of people to share a small 720 square foot apartment with.

This would be difficult to deal with in and of itself, but things have gotten worse. I am, as it turns out, amateur at best and dangerously ignorant at worst when it comes to creating portals to the otherworld in my living room. Recently, I’ve come home to find two modern teenagers lackadaisically lounging on my island kitchen counter swinging their feet and rolling their eyes at me when I ask them to get down. I suggest to the couple that perhaps they have died. Do they know where they are? With surprised quizzical looks, they disappear. This leaves me sad and worried. If teenage newly-deads can appear in my apartment, perhaps anything and anyone can. What would prevent a nasty otherworlder, human or creature, even elemental, from entering my space?

“So,” I say to Holly, “It seems that now, despite my intentions, anyone can get through. I’ve been trying not to conclude I ought to change my mind on offering my hospitality, but now I might not have a choice. The thing is, I haven’t known my otherworld friends that long and something like this hasn’t happened before. What if Oisín and Caoilte don’t understand? I don’t want to make them angry or let them down. What should I do? I really did mean it when I said they could call my place their own. I wanted to give that to them. But it is now costing me too much of myself and is becoming potentially dangerous. It’s never wise to indiscriminately let any otherworld being into your home, even if this wasn’t my intention.”

Holly thinks this over for a while. Finally she advises me that it sounds like, for my safety, I need to get rid of the entrances I’ve made into the otherworld. She assures me that the four people, including Caoilte and Oisín who helped me heal, are already connected to me and closing the portals won’t shut them out of my space. I’m relieved to know that. She says that to her mind they ought to understand why this situation is no longer working for me. Uneasily, I agree with her that tonight when I get home, I need to get the word out that I can’t be offering my place for everyone anymore.

I get home at 1:30 in the morning, but I am undeterred from my mission to do what I say I would. I am now extremely exhausted, and even more tipsy. I open Microsoft Word, and write a letter to Oisín and Caoilte, explaining the situation and how I need to do what is best for me, and that I apologize but I simply misjudged my capacity to host so many people, as well as failed to accurately assess my ability to selectively create portals into the otherworld. I end by entreating them to understand, still not sure whether they will, and not sure I want to know what mood they will get into if they do not.

I then close the portals immediately without waiting for approval. It would frankly be foolish to wait for a response from my otherworld friends. After all, the longer I wait, the longer I leave open the possibility that something unpleasant can come through to bother me. For all I know, some nasty thing has already done this. More than that, however, I don’t do approval. I’m the kind of person who begins eating a cookie and then asks if it’s all right to eat it—if I already know the person whose cookie I am surreptitiously taking, of course. I have walked across a road I know is closed just to tell a bewildered police officer that I do not follow the rules: well I actually had a line prepared about not seeing the “closed” sign, but I’m an embarrassingly terrible liar. Of course I am considerate of others and a happy follower of social norms, usually, but I’d rather make my own decisions and own their consequences than constantly look outside of myself for direction.

Once the portal is closed, I remember the letter on my screen. In a moment of pure inebriated clarity, I hit the save and send button in Word, then puzzle for a minute or so over why I can’t remember Caoilte’s or Oisín’s email address. I decide afterward that perhaps I should only write my otherworld friends while sober. But I do smile at the fact that I’ve completely forgotten their disembodied status for a moment and simply thought of them as people, period. And most people I know have email. I decide that I will simply leave the letter on screen and delete it in the morning. This, I think to myself, is like writing something on a piece of paper and then burning it, without the complications of writing on paper or the use of fire, both of which I gladly forgo most of the time.

After this, I can barely move and am falling asleep sitting up, which I am excellently good at. So I get myself to bed. When I wake up in the morning, I delete the letter on my screen, and hope for the best.