Tag Archives: separation

The Treacherous Terrain of Spiritual Utilitarianism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lissa Rankin, The Fear Cure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, question everything.


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.

Wanderer of the Desert _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 1

It is the spring of my fifth year at Stanford, and I am engaged in the highly stressful endeavor of applying for, and then receiving acceptances from graduate programs in philosophy. It is a time that now I am thoroughly relieved is in the past. The culture of the aspiring undergraduates in our program is, retrospectively, much more like a fundamentalist religious cult (with the strange difference being enforced critical thinking) than a typical academic department. The six students applying for graduate school this year, of which I am one, have formed a tight knit if competitive cohort, fervently engaged in an almost obsessive solidarity that I find familiar enough to not question (and I still don’t want to know why.)

My peers and I routinely discuss things such as how the search for truth is the most superior calling and that we would die for our ideas. We unfortunately mean this literally. (I am glad my past self was not tested on this.) We hold that the absolute worst thing that can happen to an undergrad is to not get into grad school. We frequently proclaim our slogan “Don’t get left behind!” While outwardly we pretend to be rational autonomous agents who are not at all conforming to a bizarre conception of the world, inwardly we grapple with our fears and insecurities that we will never be enough. Admittedly, I now tend to cringe at how ridiculous we were and can’t quite figure out what came over us. But this is particularly true concerning one of my fellow cohort members who proudly confided to me that she routinely quoted Plato during sex. This, I tell her in the moment, is taking things too far, even for me, and I ask her to just keep that to herself from now on. Please?

As it happens, I am one of the five out of six fortunates who do not “get left behind.” I get into two graduate programs. My fate is secure. However, the letter offering me a place at the University of Anonymous Desert, comes only two days before I must send in my acceptance. Two hours later I’ve booked a flight for seven AM the next morning to visit the school. Despite my culture shock (which I discount as I have experienced culture shock at every grad school I’ve visited,) I decide after my whirlwind encounter that the people at the school are nice. Speaking of the wind, I also notice that I can literally hear voices on the wind that tell me which direction its blowing, and this fascinating phenomenon helps persuade me to return and investigate further. After much anxiety and tears and irritating my parents, I commit to attend the school in the desert in the fall.

Around this time, my parents sell our family home, the one I’ve grown up in since I was three years old. Then, weeks before I move to an unfamiliar state to begin my program and live self-sufficiently for the first time, my parents separate. The death of their marriage has been a slow and painful one. Though part of me recognizes their separation is probably the best thing to ever happen to our family—they brought out the worst in each other—I am also broken-hearted and devastated. Part of me wonders whether, had I never been shaken as an infant, the marriage would still be intact, though I know this is as far from the truth as the assertion in a scene of Monty Python, “The Holy Grail,” that small rocks float.

It only takes a month or two in my graduate program before I realize, my family situation notwithstanding, that I have made a terrible mistake. I can’t stand feeling like a number rather than a person. I can’t stand the three digit temperatures. I can’t stand mustering up the courage to speak up in class just to have my ideas unceremoniously dismissed without even the courtesy of an argument, and in front of my colleagues besides. I am displaced, not just from my childhood home, the security of a two-parent household, and the only state I’ve ever lived in: I also, slowly, begin to become estranged to myself. I do not recognize this woman struggling to be seen and heard, who is not respected for her ideas, who is barely surviving without sight or assistance in a literally hostile environment.

Still, I do not think of leaving, regardless of how much it is, and it really is, killing my sense of self-worth and breaking my spirit, delighting in making me small, molding me into a “presentable vegetable” courtesy of the Logical Song.

First, there is the fact of my commitment and that leaving would be to break it, and that, I am convinced, would be giving up in a shamefully dishonorable way. But secondly, where would I go? My time in the nest is over.

My dad now lives in a small apartment and is dating a woman whom he eventually marries. My mom has moved to a funky rental and is struggling to get back into the workforce after twenty-seven years as a homemaker. I will be more secure in the grad program than trying to make it in the real world where my address is from nowhere. I stay.

As one year drearily trudges numbly into the next, my grip on the core part of myself, who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, why I am here, slowly sinks beneath the red sands, like the horse from Never Ending Story who drowned in the swamp of sadness as he was pursued by The Nothing. The Nothing is so quiet, that I never notice its gradual erosion of who I once was until no trace of it remains. Then, one morning, I awake to a day like all the rest: except I don’t know who I am. Having no energy or will to grieve such a loss, I stumble on with little sense of purpose or meaning, and even now, much of that time is lost to disassociation, out of the reach of memory.

November of 2007 sees the final drawing up of my parents’ divorce papers. Meanwhile, the landscape around me at the school mirrors the raw and barren, thorny, and parched landscape of my heart. Up until now, I’ve spent my whole life living in the Bay Area, California. I’m used to and love the golden hills, the green lawns and chattering trees, and most of all, the ocean. But here, here the desert sands ooze red like blood, canyons gape open like mouths fiercely begging for a rain to quench an eon of thirst; here the wind gathers itself and rumbles across the earth like a living animal. Here people promise themselves in strange awkward moments that a scientist somewhere must be hard at work at this very moment, creating a pesticide that will get rid of the vast infestation of dust that takes over their houses, floats in films onto their dishware, scurries into their clothing, sifts through their hair, settles into their ears and mouths, suffocates their souls. For like the parched clay within my heart, dried out and hardened from the intense heat of anger, frozen by my fears, stilled by the silence I keep in order to survive where I do not belong, the landscape surrounding me is hostile and defensive and sometimes literally locks its tenderness away, displaying nothing but spikes on the outside.

The philosophy department in this earth-cracked, hungry place is full of bigoted and sexist graduate students and prejudiced professors. One graduate student tells me after an argument in which I announce that if the department is going to give me ninety students to teach, it is my responsibility to give each of them an equal opportunity to learn, even if my research falls behind for this reason: “It would behoove you to adopt our values, or leave.” There is the professor not on my committee who expresses surprise that I have passed my comprehensive exams. There is the professor who insists that I have made a pact with most of her colleagues to grade me leniently due to my blindness, a statement I still have in writing. In fact, my miserable situation even seeps into my dreams: I dream that, at a department meeting, all my colleagues turn into eighth graders. True enough, my experience is very much reminiscent of middle school.

This desert, which I have now endured for two long years, leaves my bones dry and brittle, leaves my soul thread-bear and gulping for water, raw and cold like a piece of forgotten old stone. Inside or out, I am nowhere. I have no home, and for this reason, through the years in the desert, I wander like a nomad, like one of a lost people yearning for a promised land without the benefit of believing that a god will grant such a place to me.

For during this time I also shed the last vestiges of Christianity and throw myself whole-heartedly into following the earth-centered path I have always followed, whose name I have only now learned. I am ecstatic to realize that there are others like me in the here and now, and I can claim the ancient ways of my own ancestors. Somehow amidst the despair, I honor mother earth, hold sacred the land, sea, and sky, and speak to the old ones. This revelation somewhat complicates my graduate experience however as it also means living in the broom closet. According to my department members, the only sane position on spirituality is atheism and anyone deviating from this world view is stupid, irrational, and not worth anyone’s time. There is no attempt to tolerate others’ differences, and even the Christian in the program finds himself at the center of ridicule and insult. So I live a double life, unable to be honest with my colleagues, in constant fear of discovery.

At the end of spring 2011, and nearing the end of my coursework, the smoldering remains of the silent cry within myself keens so loudly for freedom that I can no longer ignore the necessity of leaving. I am so tired of wandering. I have wandered this desert for six years. I take a six month lease apartment in the fall to make sure I don’t change my mind. I’m too far along to leave the school, but I can make an exodus, like Moses out of the American Sahara back to my home in the Bay Area, where I can write my dissertation on virtue and interdependence. I will return to the rolling brown hills, green trees and winding trails, and water. Dear, inviting, vital ocean whose rhythm is my heartbeat.

Not even a new relationship, the first one in as many years as I’ve been a graduate student, can detour me from home. With tears in my eyes I leave for a long distance arrangement and for an apartment in Berkeley, surrounded by family and friends, soft mist, the silent bay, and people who won’t figuratively cut off my head if they learn I am a druid. (As a philosopher I very much value my head, thanks.)

Finally I start to grow and heal. Finally I can dissolve into a sacred space of becoming, from which I might emerge changed, but enough, re-membered into cohesion, renewed. Perhaps I will even once again be able to hear the voices on the wind and look into the world beyond the world, which now is lost to me. Perhaps, I can spin a cocoon around my broken pieces so that the withered fragments I have become can mend me, weaving themselves into new wings with which to fly.

The Challenge to Value Myself Over What Others Might Think of Me

I was inspired to share this experience after reading many heartfelt, courageously written recent posts from my blog friend, Alienora.
I spend a lot of my spiritual life in challenges, most of which I haven’t shared. But in different ways I think we all have to deal with this one, sooner or later. I’m still in the middle of it!

September 3, 2014
To Those in the Otherworld Who Walk Their Journey with Me:

It is Wednesday morning, and I am feeling strangely cut off, like somehow I dropped the thread I was winding through the maze of my journey, and cannot find it again. I am exhausted. My bones ache, as if I have gone a long, long way. I worry I am falling back asleep, and then I might fail or be forgotten. I do not know the word I need to live by. I only know the word yes, not yes to doing more and more, not yes to pleasing people. It is yes, I am.

Lately growth for me has not come with trying, working hard, demanding more from myself, pushing limits, proving I can do what I originally took to not be possible. I have, in the course of the challenges I meet, done every one of these things. But then I can’t do more or I fall apart, or I am frozen in fear, or I just can’t keep going: and then I grow.

I grow because I open and unfold across the barriers I built to continue my false sense of security. I grow because I can no longer maintain the dam holding back emotions, they spill over the sides of the space within which I wish they had stayed. . I give up the need to be in control. I let go. I let myself be seen. And I let change take me by the hand, as if I am a weary child, whispering hush through the dark shadowy bits of mind I might have otherwise disowned. I dissolve into endless belonging beneath coming and going. Suddenly I am not lost but at the center of the labyrinth of living. I grow.

This particular morning, I am trying to rid myself of the belief that what others think of me is often more important than being true to myself. I am terrified to say the wrong thing, to confront anyone and create conflict, but definitely could wait a bit longer before accepting this. I think of ways to hold myself apart from past and potential criticism so I won’t get hurt. I think of the defenses I’ll need to build so I won’t feel small when people try to minimize my ideas or cut me down. I wonder whether I can get away with using indifference as a shield against taking what people say personally, at least occasionally.

And then I realize, unfortunately with an even greater sense of alarm and terror, that if I did this there would be no way for you and I to reach each other. It would plunge me into the invisibility that is my greatest nightmare. The possibility is inconceivable to me, like self-imposed exile. It is a choice I will never make again.

Once, I was so hurt that I cut myself off from any world, and lost sight of my own identity. It was the year I started grad school and my parents were separating. I almost never found my way back home. I know what it is like to allow the desertification of the forest of soul. I hid myself even from me, thinking this was a form of self protection. I almost died inside before I admitted how my refusal to live consciously was only a brutal form of self-betrayal.

Earlier this year, life again began to draw me toward that edge over which we fly or fall. There, unconsciousness called alluringly, louder than the din of my over occupied, overwhelmed mind and raging emotions that were threatening to engulf me and pull me in. I lost myself in sleep, dreaming for hours, unwilling to take the covers away from my face or get out of bed. But that was not the end of it, because the stillness I knew to always be with me, in which I learned my worth, in which I came home to myself, called my name. I heard your voices in the silent cry, I remembered looking into your eyes, and found I was enough.

I came too in the midst of a crowd. You all stood with grave, stern faces, devastated by what I had almost done. And you said, “There is nothing we would have been able to do had you chosen not to return.” That was when I promised you, and perhaps more importantly myself, that it would not happen again. And it has not. It cannot.

Etched into my mind is the picture of the six or so of you I could see, incredible sadness searing lines across your faces. And I understood that had I chosen once again to simply go through the motions, we would search for each other and see nothing, you would call my name and I wouldn’t hear you: all because I would have imposed separation on myself. And so once again my world turns upside down, leaving me dizzy and disoriented with the effort of ridding myself of false beliefs, determined to stay present.

Shaking, I tear down the defenses, I break the facade of indifference, relieved that now, there is nothing between us. But there is also nothing between myself and uncertainty, and what others think of me is quite beyond my control. An icy cold runs through me. I start to cross my arms in front of me to ward off the cold, but remember in time how it will help me instead to stand in the way that reflects how I wish to be in the world. I feel like standing is an impossibility, but somehow it continues. Still, I reach out. This is the only way I know to be fully alive and live with the authenticity that comes from not letting the opinions and talk of others destroy my sense of worth and self compassion. And we all know I could use a bit more of both when it comes to this world, when, inevitably, someone won’t like what I do or say, and might even reject me.

being able to do this in my own world is the whole point. I try hard not to think about that now, though, because when I do the world spins around me in 360 degrees, and I’m reaching out again, this time literally for balance.

I can’t recall a time when reaching out was harder. Ironically, as I stumble through and decide I am probably failing, I worry about what you are thinking of me. Of course, this only convinces me that yes, most likely I really am failing. Moving beyond concerns of judgment—yours and mine–and that I’ll be found seriously wanting, is like walking through a hurricane. When I try and move through physical space, the room spins around again dangerously. I bump into a few walls. But Silently, spent of doing, I reach out. And for a moment I am there, knowing how it feels to love myself fiercely, no matter what this world’s reaction may be.

It’s only one short moment. For today it’s enough. I decide that, tomorrow, rather than “try,” I will instead just be. I will accept where I am even if I wish I had learned more quickly, and surrender to silence. I’ll open the door that habit and fear have implored me to leave alone, to find my way through a room littered with the tears and isolation, invisibility and insensitivity that haunted my childhood.

Beneath the insecurity I face, I know that, when you see me, your eyes will be kind. You have been here before. If I fall, you will, gratefully, say nothing in the moment, just help me start again. There are many things I know I’d rather not confront, but they are the guardians to the gates, the keepers of the keys I need, in order to be free to say what I long to say, to be truly who I am. And that is what this is all about. It is all I’ve ever needed to be. I start again.

The Illusion of Separateness

If you step back from it, you are almost moved to tears, but If you step up to it, you are almost moved to kill. If you step away from it, you are what appears to disappear, and once you manage to leave it behind you most certainly will. If you confront it you will attempt its destruction, and if you avoid it, it will destroy you. If you rise above it, you will be moved to fly, but if you even as much as notice it, you will never move.

If you take the lower road, you will never forget it, but if you take the higher road, you will always be remembered. If you define it you will surely lose yourself, and until it is finally named it will make sure you never know who you are. For if you were to say the name, point out what it is, it would lose it’s power over you. And yet by giving it the names of silence, you forfeit the power hidden within your self. If you ever try to lose it, you will be moved to find it again, and if you ever come across it, you will be moved to run. And if you try to hide it, it will come for you, but were you to shine a light on it, there you would see nothing.

Wild, wild, those unacknowledged things that shake the foundations of our friendships and histories, Taking on a life of their own. Wild, wild, what of you is forgotten yet always remembered? No permission for expression, it turns on it’s creator. For if you have ever lived, you would by nature be this wild creature. What happened that now we do not recognize our own passion, or understand that fear is love pushed away until it has no where to turn except against itself? Whenever you fear it, you give it more power, and whenever you choose to love it, it will no longer be needed.

Tamed, tamed, our fierceness, our passions, our love and our fear, our voices grown silent. Tamed, we continue the taming of our selves, our children. How is it we fool ourselves into believing the lie that no wildness is ever lurking, that we have squelched the last drops of honor out of our very souls, that no drop of resilience reddens the cells in our blood as they surface? Oh if you know it, you will not believe such foolish things, and if everyone knew it, justice would no longer be necessary.

Look at me, and do not look away, and give me one justification for war, one reason why the daughter cells we continue to divide are not as their earlier generations, one and the same. Convince me we are not the same, that is, if you dare to do it. Ah my friend, if you never recognize the endless knot out of which all is woven, nothing else will matter. For you, truth will ring in hollow empty shells. The light to you will be dull and demure. Sounds to you will be distant echos of dreams. For you the world will never be more than it seems. For you see, it will not dawn on you to turn on the light within yourself, to make your own music.

If instead, turning, you saw the pattern of the intertwining, you would be moved to bury your anger for each other in the sand. And after so suddenly changing into friends, what would it be like, then? You have forgotten what it would be like. And so you let it polarize you, fragmenting into opposites: right and wrong, this and that, us and them, the changer and the changed. These opposites are just one face of it, and turning again face to face with it, we come face to face with ourselves. It is that powerful, you know. It’s power lies in our belief in it. We can wave it away with a hand. And what is strong enough to drive us apart, is within our power to come together again. For we need not return to a place we have never left, or gather pieces of a whole that has never been parted. It is all that we are.

One Among Many _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 4

Aoife slumped onto the hard wooden floor of her apartment living room.  Her eyes were threatening to spill over with tears.  She was not crying for herself, but for a local person named Robin who had almost died.  A teenager had stabbed Robin, who looked like a boy, because Robin was wearing a skirt in public.  Onlookers had done nothing, save one who finally called the police and helped take the twelve year old to the hospital.  Robin identified as asexual, neither male nor female, and while Robin’s parents were very supportive, obviously not everyone was.  Robin’s assailant found the child’s choices unacceptable enough to attempt murder over it.  Of course Robin was not the only one to be a victim of hatred and prejudice, only supremely lucky to have not joined the statistics of the dead.


Today, there had been a service to raise awareness of the need to accept and tolerate everyone whose body (by choice or no) failed to meet the relentlessly insidious cultural mandate for external normalization.  In other words, it brought awareness to just how pervasively normal it was to reject, shun, or make invisible anyone whose body did not conform appropriately to the mainstream standards of gender, beauty, wholeness, or ability.  Aoife had been more than moved by what she witnessed.


As a child, Aoife had spent countless school recesses isolated and alone.  Her peers did everything they could to stay as far away from her as possible.  She had all five senses, two arms and two legs, and could walk, but her accident at age two had done a bit more damage than simply make certain tasks harder for her to accomplish.  It had also disfigured her face at a time when facial reconstruction had not even reached its infancy.  Her school peers wouldn’t let her forget how different she was.  Isolation was better than outright bullying, she was often told as an adult (if the subject ever came up.)  But Aoife’s struggles to fit in as a child served to attune her particularly to the pain and anguish felt by all those who experience ostracism, exclusion, prejudice, or sometimes even contempt and hatred.

As she sat listening to people tell story after story of discrimination and loss, pieces of a puzzle she had not even been aware of, whose formation had been long in the making, all fell into place.  The stories all had different content, but it was clear to Aoife that the structure of the stories, the why and to whom of them, was eerily similar. 


There was a  mother who lost her baby after a care giver shook her for daring to cry.  There was an elderly woman who’s first husband died for the color of his skin.  There was a woman who told of an intersexed child who committed suicide after her family disowned her when she told them that she identified with the gender they had not picked for her at birth.  A widow of one of two conjoined twins related the deaths of her husband and his brother at the hands of a religious zealot who felt that witnessing another couple’s intimate moments, something the conjoined twins had to do by necessity,  was a punishable mortal sin.  There was a young man who told of how his sister had overdosed on meds after enduring relentless threats and bullying on Facebook.  People told stories of being denied housing and jobs due to disabilities, and of friends who were killed because they were transgendered, or gay.  They sang their stories.  They danced their stories.  And through song and dance, young and old alike wove a tapestry of sorrow sewn with the seeds of ignorance, discrimination, and fear.  Aoife saw the patterns of thread common to them all: the systematic rendering of unusual embodiment as defective or deviant.  She saw   souls shatter for their appearance, recognized the silencing of those who dared speak the truths of difference. 


She allowed herself to surrender to the grief, having as she did permission from the others around her who were equally affected.  She ached with empathy, full of a despair that threatened to overwhelm her spirit.  More than these, however, was the overpowering need to act.  The need consumed her, hummed within her just below the murmur of her blood, seeped into the marrow of her bones, called out to her like a lost and wailing child.  We are all the same, came the cry from where inside herself she did not know.   We are all connected.  If one is not accepted, none can take solace anywhere. 


The discrimination faced by those with disabilities was not specific to a group, not different in kind from racism or sexism or homophobia.  The destructive messages to young girls in magazines were not teen issues but human issues.  Working for the rights of some while continuing to discriminate against women, look down on people from different classes, dispise a religious group, or fail to respect children continued to create the illusion that interdependence was less than a law of nature.  More than ever before, Aoife believed, she felt, she knew that separation was a lie.  It occurred to her that if our fears, prejudices, isolation, ostracism, and rejection were so interrelated, surely our belonging, tolerance, acceptance, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and respect were just as inextricably linked.  The world in which she lived was an interwoven world, one in which every sound, every action, every person altered everything around her simply by living.  The pattern had always been there, she realized.  It was the change in her which allowed her to see it now.


Aoife had not spent the entire past month living in such emotional intensity.  She had gone to today’s event with a friend, a friend she hadn’t known a month before.  She had met Ashlee at the first meeting of the druid seed group she’d attended.  It was a group of women who would become her second family.  Ashlee also had an ability to see and speak to otherworld people, and the two hit it off immediately.  Before the meeting was over, they had already set a date for coffee.


After ordering a hot chocolate and an espresso respectively at the quaint local Starbucks, Aoife and Ashlee began a lively discussion of their families, childhoods, life goals, and professional lives.  Finally they turned to a discussion about otherworld beings, how they saw them, and what they were learning.  Ashlee had an affinity with Sequoia trees and often had such long, patient, enduring conversations as those which are characteristic of trees:   The kind that unfold and enfold, rather than trip on words or hasten to a conclusion.  She could speak to the spirits that inhabited a place—a river for instance—and learn from them just how much damage human pollution was causing the water and the animals depending on it.  Sometimes when she closed her eyes, Ashlee could see the stars as if the milky way was imprinted right there on her eyelids.  She knew the memories of roads, the history and origins of wooden decks.  She knew what it was like for a bridge to feel the sway of a fierce wind, and that even the mountains could breathe. 


Aoife was entranced by her new friend’s recounting of all this, and felt wonder at the awesome and breathtaking experiences given to her.  Finally Ashlee asked Aoife about her experiences.  Aoife began with the faery folk she had seen as a child, the small noble people who danced in clearings and glades, lit the trees at twilight, and sparkled like jewels in the creek that meandered through the woods.  She told of meeting Athena who had taught her that wisdom and weaving were one and the same.  “Everything is interconnected.  Those who believe otherwise, are not wise.  Wisdom is knowing the difference between that which is part of everything else, which simply is, and that which appears separate which never was.” Athena had instructed.  Aoife lost count of how many times she needed to be reminded of these words.  And then she told of coming home after her time wandering the desert, and how she had met Oisin and Caoilte.


“That’s incredible,” Ashlee said a bit wide-eyed.  “So Caoilte taught you to stand tall, and then offered to run with you.  Did you get to run with him yet?”


“Oh yes, we ran together twice now,” Aoife said with a smile in her eyes.

“And…” Ashlee asked expectantly. 


“Well, I suck at running, so Caoilte ran super slow, slow for him that is, so I could keep up.  We ran out on one of the trails through the woods, up a hill and then down near a creek on the other side.  It was a very beautiful part of the woods, but I was too busy trying to breathe to pay attention.  I held out for about five minutes before feeling like I would pass out.”


The two friends laughed at the image.  “You don’t look out of shape,” Ashlee offered helpfully.


“By some standards I’m not, but the last time I ran any distance, I was ten years old.” Aoife explained.  “Fortunately Caoilte took pity on me and we walked the rest of the trail, and if he thought anything about my less than meager running ability he never said anything.  When I suggested that next time we run a much steeper path with lots of exposed tree roots zigzagging across it (because I still felt like I should attempt to meet a good challenge,) he cautioned that it would be highly impractical.”


“Well he definitely sounds sensible to me.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to run that trail, I know the one you mean,” Ashlee replied thoughtfully. “So where did you go on the second run?”


“The next week we ran the same easier trail again, except that this time Caoilte tried giving me some tips on how to move while running—how to land on my feet differently than if I was just walking, how to move my arms in rhythm with my steps more parallel to the ground than at my sides, that sort of thing.  I valiantly tried, but the suggestions only had the effect of making me look like a renegade puppet in desperate need of outside intervention.  I couldn’t make any of my movements flow naturally so I kind of just bobbed around with aimless exertions of effort.  Caoilte and I both laughed at the absurdity of the situation then, and he was quick to assure me that it really didn’t matter because the whole thing was just supposed to be for fun, which it was.  We walked for a while before I turned to him and asked a question I had been pondering for a while.  My curiosity could no longer be ignored.  I asked him whether there were more modern people who had, after death, joined with those fianna who became guides.”


Ashlee listened intently.  She was fascinated by her new friend’s ability to talk so candidly with otherworld folk as if they might have belonged to this world, still.  “You mean there might be people throughout all the generations after the fianna lived who would want to take up with them after they died?”


“Well, not exactly,” Aoife admitted.  Caoilte made it clear that no one was actually a member of the fianna, the way they might have been in the second century.  In the other world, such hierarchies and class distinctions were meaningless and nonexistent.  He had explained this after once again changing expression from curious to serious in that characteristic way of his.  Aoife said, “Caoilte shared that yes there are many people who become guides, and a few who not only dedicate themselves to assisting others in the manifest world once they cross over into the other world, but also take as their own the three values that we live by: the truth in our hearts, the strength in our hands, and fulfillment on our tongues.  And then of course he added that the whole thing was phrased slightly differently in the otherworld where nobody actually had tongues or hands and the notion wouldn’t make sense.  He has this way of being solemn without taking himself or others too seriously, you know.  He went on to point out that such an otherworld arrangement made it possible for people who had been any age or gender in life to be counted with them, one among many, and made a point to assure me that the otherworld was all about equal opportunity.”


Ashlee laughed at that.  “Seems like people continue to learn and grow, even after their time here is over.”


“Absolutely,” Aoife agreed smiling as well.  “I don’t think I ever mentioned myself in any of this, but here is the rest of what Caoilte told me.  He said, ‘just because Oisin and I sought you out doesn’t mean you have any obligation to join us.  We never compel anyone to do anything.  We are all free persons, and how you choose to live, whether or not you want to be counted with us, it is entirely up to you.  We’ll keep sharing what we know with you whether you are one of our own or not’.”


When Caoilte said this, Aoife had been full of gratitude and great respect.  Here was this person who, perhaps for the first time in her short life, was showing her at that very moment the meaning of unconditional acceptance.  She had never had such acceptance from her family.  For sure, they loved her, but their love always had strings attached.  She was lovable if she did what her mother wanted, accepted by her father only when she could pass as normal.  If she ever disagreed with her mother and stood her ground, there would be hell to pay.  If she ever failed her father’s lofty expectations of her, he would withdraw affection—subtly, in ways that were noticeable only to Aoife and imperceptible to the outside world of casual observers and acquaintances.  Aoife did not like to think ill of the dead, but her relationship with her parents had been difficult, fraught with mixed messages, guilt trips, expectations that she alone could fill any number of their bottomless needs, or give them the belief in themselves they sorely found lacking within.  Here was someone she hardly knew, letting her know in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t be expected to put on some kind of performance, pass a test, prove herself, twist herself into a pretzel, act a certain way, be a certain way in order to gain acceptance and belonging.  It was difficult, but once again Aoife found herself forced to believe Caoilte and trust this knew and strange thing, unconditional acceptance, since he wouldn’t have said something he didn’t mean.


“Was that something you were thinking about?” Ashlee was asking.


“Was what something I was thinking about?” Admittedly, Aoife’s mouth had been speaking, but her mind was busy sorting through connections, making observations, presenting her with scenes and pictures and possibilities, and she forgot what she was specifically talking about.


“You know, joining them,” Ashlee said matter-of-factly.


Aoife felt oddly threatened by the question so she said curtly, “No of course not.  I’m a druid.  The fianna are warriors, and I have chosen a path of peace.  Besides, I’m not dead.”


But long after she left the coffee shop, as one week ran into the next, she wasn’t so sure that being a physically embodied druid and living the truth against the world were at all mutually exclusive.  In fact, a voice she was too frightened to acknowledge was whispering in her inner ear, when it came to the three principles the fianna lived by, it was very, very possible that she was already living by them herself.  She certainly did not have to be dead in order to better align her life with values she already personally held dear.  She was no fighter, but then if the otherworld was as interdependent as she felt it ought to be, physical fighting was right out anyway.  Still, she hated danger and didn’t care to be physically injured or thrown in jail.  She avoided protests like she stayed clear of spiders. If she were ever asked to do something like that, she would never make good on it.


All of this was true and yet… and yet hadn’t she been a child advocate since she was three years old?  Hadn’t she  spent years speaking out around the country for those who could not raise their own voices?  Didn’t she unhesitatingly give what she could to whoever was less fortunate to herself?  She simply thought of such things as ordinary and not worth counting in the course of things, but that pesky inner voice continued challenging her to her complete dismay. 


What kept her from running, that very instant, from the thoughts quietly taking up their positions in her mind, those thoughts she wished fervently she could just ignore, was the very fact that nothing at all was expected of her.  If Caoilte and Oisin had promised to protect her, it was done with no expectation that she do anything. It was the same, she mused, when she had wanted to help them as a child.  She had no hidden motives, no  expectations of her own.


And over the next few weeks Aoife pondered another thing that Caoilte had said.  While showing her a running technique during one of their entertaining excursions, he had paused and made an observation which Aoife figured was meant to apply to much more than running.  “It’s okay to emulate someone when doing something knew, everyone has role models,” he’d said, “But never imitate anyone.  If all you do is strive endlessly to be like everyone else, you won’t ever be who you are.”


Now Aoife sat on her floor trembling, thoughts of the day’s discrimination awareness service overcrowding her already frenetically occupied brain.  It was only a matter of minutes until these feelings, these thoughts, the almost futile attempt she had made to integrate all that had happened during the last few weeks, this bewildering suspicion that she was completely over her head, all came crashing together, hurling her out of any last chance of composure.  When shaking and rocking herself like a child who had almost gone unloved wasn’t enough, she jumped up and paced the floor in tears.  When that wasn’t sufficient to express her terrible sadness, her undeterred determination to change what she could, gather the shattered points of light within every last living thing, never mind how absurd that was,  and piece them whole, do what was needed, whatever was needed… she began to shout. 


She was glad of two things then: that she lived alone, and that finally after years and years of silence and her nonconsensual apprenticeship within the confining perfect wall flower guild, she had found her voice again.  Even if her words were merely tones, “aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” and “Om” and “awen,” it was her voice, and that was what mattered.


Sound slowly turned into words, and words into exclamations.  She stood tall, closed her eyes, and shouted.   “Is Mise Aoife! Is Mise Aoife! Táim anseo.  Táim anseo I gcónaí.  Is Láidir mé.  Is Mise.  Is mise I gcónaí.” (I am Aoife! I am Aoife!  I am here.  I am always here.  I am strong.  I am. I am, always.)


Aoife’s world became sound.  It became moment.  It became one resounding moment.  Rational thought had long since walked out the back gate of her head to take a long leisurely stroll down the path of the familiar.  Aoife was.  She was, always.  What lived in her then was something much older, wiser, eternal, knowing, and unfathomably mysterious.  The kind of ineffable but indomitable spirit that sent logical syllogisms and the tenants of empirical science cowering into old dusty corners, suddenly uncomfortably aware of the limitations of all that is ascertainable and finite.  All Aoife ever was, truly was, emerged like a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon that had become too tight, too small, insignificant.  It has been said that the woman who looked then out of Aoife’s blazing eyes, who stood tall, whose tears were spent, who addressed the world as one who had always known her belonging in it, whose voice pierced the silence that had long overstayed it’s welcome, was a soul as old as the mountains, as vast as the sky, as fragile as flesh and bone, as vulnerable as a two year old in the back seat of an overturned car.  She. Was. Her. Self.


Now, there was a moment, right after the man who had first chanced across the fianna’s cave in that story twice blew the dord fian, the ancient hunting horn of the fianna.  The voice of the man’s soul had called to him a third time in that moment, called him to complete what he had started, told him all that was needed, to blow the horn the third time so that those who had slept for so long could finally awaken, could finally return to themselves.  The man heard but did not listen, knew but was too afraid to understand, and so he fled, never looking back.   He did not look to see what had come of his choice to fear, he did not look to see that he had turned on none other than his own soul, he did not ever dare to face that what he was so deathly afraid of was himself.  The fianna had no need to be awoken, but he had such a need, and for him, at least, it never happened.


Uncertainty, fear, doubt, these things had no place within the woman who stood transformed, transfixed, in the middle of her living room near the coffee table.  She did not need to ask after what she could do.  For she did understand.  She would finish what was started.  She would see the dawning of the three.  When next she spoke, it was only truth she uttered.  When next she spoke, she asked only for what was already hers to claim.


I call you, first among the great fianna of Éire, who fight with deed and song
I call you, you who are eternal in the world beyond the world
I call you to awaken from the depths within us
I am the one who touched the earth with my hands
I am the one who turned my face to the sky and wept for what I had almost been again
I am the one who looked within and wept for not fully being who I am
Blood of my blood and bone of my bone,
I remember you, the clay out of which I am formed belonged to the landscape from whence you came
Out of all I’ve ever been, from time beyond time
From all dormant places locked inside
I call you to arise, rise, rise,
Blaze out from behind our eyes
I, the soul of ages, the spirit that now within myself resides
I will embody that  voice that cries: “I need you, I call you, and it is time.”
I call those I know by name
Those whose lives within our lives remain, I remember.
Those whose lives we never sang, I remember.
Those whose journeys never crossed the white lines of printed page, I commend you.
By star and stone, by earth and sea and sky,
Hear me, hear the three things that I live by
The truth in my heart, the strength in my hands, fulfillment in my words
As a child of the oak I ask to put my hand in your hand and do what is needed
Reach into the recesses of my belonging and cry the truth where most it needs be heard
Answering  foremost as you do to Bríd, whose healing fire shapes and mends you
The source of all divine from which we all were spun
Woven into existence, kindled by the radiance bound not by any world
I stand beside you as a free person, my own unique shining person,
Those whose truth against the world unfurls,
I will serve the cause of justice with you, and live without regret or fear
Be fully, beautifully, exquisitely, wondrously here.
I combine my lot with your own, In this world and the next
For I am, and my song has etched itself into the fabric of all that is
In whatever way I am able, even if right now I do not understand
I will stand, stand with you, and do all I can.



Silence. Stillness.  So silent that Aoife could almost hear the earth turn.  So still that the rhythm of her breath, in and out like the tide, continued only as a vestige of motion.  She had only done what was needed.  She had had no expectations.  What may or may not happen next she hadn’t the foggiest idea.  She felt cold, the kind of cold that came to claim her whenever she expended a vast amount of energy.  She was a bit dazed, stunned even.  She blinked.  A few times.  Besides blinking however, she stood perfectly still.


When they came, they formed two lines, Aoife between them.  She might have said that she looked into their eyes, but it was they who stared unblinking into hers, and they saw, she felt, not just who she was now but all she had ever been.  They sought and found the measure of her name.  She also did not blink, as much as was possible, and to her bewilderment she matched their gazes, she did not flinch or move or look away.  She stood by her words, she stood on the truth she had always known.  Nothing more was needed.  They saw, and she was everything she had said, and more. 


She could not put her hand in theirs, literally.  Having a body where they did not made it a rather complicated matter.  They compensated effortlessly.  She watched in astonishment, profoundly moved, as each put their hands under her own.  She noticed as they passed her how she could not tell their gender or height or glimpse what they wore, or if they carried anything.  They did not come looking like one might have expected.  Such formalities were meaningless to the soul of the world and the pattern of interconnection that they were inextricably a part of, that Aoife was inextricably a part of with them.  As they saw only spirit when they looked at the woman who wished to be one of them, as a druid, oak’s child, so they did not bother with appearances with her and she, too, saw all they had ever been.  In pairs they moved past her.  All she could see were the two walking past at any moment.  All she could feel was the radiant energy that ran like current through her hands as they “held” them, the collisions of two worlds.  She would never know exactly how many passed her, but it seemed to her that at every quarter minute there were two more.  It seemed to her that when she felt surely there would be no others, more others appeared, endlessly.  They did not stop long with her, except for the two who turned, and stood arm and arm with her, looking out with her at the others, and she knew she would have recognized Caoilte and Oisin, even if they had not stood with her the longest.  Later she would learn how she stood there for at least twenty minutes.  Long long after, once her analytic thoughts had reluctantly, begrudgingly returned home to their familiar head, she would calculate that at about two people every fifteen seconds within twenty minutes, she would have met one hundred and fifty people.  The sheer number of them made her head spin.  But it was not how many, but what it felt like to look into their eyes, and be well met by every one, that she would always remember, that everything she ever was would always remember.


Once she was alone again, stillness settled back in around her.  Stillness, and awe, and a sense of joy, like returning home.   She could have been overwhelmed by it all, if she wasn’t also more exhausted than she had ever been in her memory.  Peacefully, gently, she fell asleep and slept for many, many hours.  She would not wake until the sun was halfway to the center of the sky.  She drempt of stillness.  That still bead at the center, that had changed everything.