Tag Archives: transition

Dying to Live

Surrendering all I have to hold
I am finally held fast, safe in your arms

Falling free from every familiar foundation
I am firmly rooted, your enduring love, solid ground

Without a mirror of my own
I am slowly recovering pieces of restored reflection

Finding myself radiantly shining
The light in me revealing vast seas of deep shadow

Solemnly, I sift through memory’s rubble, cities of shame
Struggling to recognize my strengths, strewn among ruins

My grief turns the soil for each seed of growing
I have watered them all with my tears

Tattered wrappings, every wound unwound
Each emerging, red and raw, soothed in silence

Undone, unraveled, unwoven
I have only the whispered hintings at wholeness

With tender care, I am turned transparent
Trusting and trembling in the dark of unknowing

Now the reverent hush of stillness
Rest in the soft light, gentle, mending

Now passing through the sunless shelter
Pursued by my panic, though always protected

Now crossing the burning sands
Rekindling resilience, forgotten flames of anger

Now stirring as storms and streams
Leaping through lightning, relearning languages of laughter

And together, we will fly on wings of sorrow and solace
Grey and green

Crossing The In Between

You carry me
A child in your arms
Through an open door, a crumbling ruin
Remnants of an old self where once I lived

Glancing back, there is only a shadow
Of the one I once had been
Fading as the sunset settles
The landscape still

And then … …

Hush, the darkness descends, encircling, enfolding
The quiet complete, I am safe in your keeping
Dissolving into the soft peaceful presence of you
Heartbeat of earth, soil of silence

I wait to sing the songs of sleeping seeds
Stirring as seeds do, gently
In their slow, motionless unfolding
Rooted firmly in our unconditional belonging

Turning toward the light
Without eyes to behold the dawning sky
Reaching, growing up toward the unknown
Without hands to hold out to find the way

Only your eyes
Seeing with such compassion to every moment of my waking
Only your hands
Holding me tenderly, shaping me whole

Dark Night

For you said,
“Before us lies a field of possibilities,
Many colors to trace with our hands.”

So we walked the be-wildering way
And the sun hid its face behind the trees,
The shadows lengthened on the ground
And shelter was not found in these.

For you said,
“The rise will help us see beyond,”
And so we climbed

The rocky hills
Exhausted, breathless, out of time,
The vista vanishes, as horizons will.

For the wanderer,
The space between silences
Suddenly cracks a chasm:

The music of terrain and trail
Unbearably missing,
Made mute in the heavy emptiness
Who haunts the heart of her?

Nameless I will go alone
To the place
Where turtle shells are left behind,

Where the sun cries,
And the woods do not creep,
And wonder what on earth I’m doing there.

Would I turn back
From that raw heart-wrenching road?
Would I name the trees,
Sing to the silence,
Create a cacophony to fill the emptiness,
No longer wander?

For you said,
“The rugged in between
Is a good place to wait.”

But my shell-less self shivers
In shimmering sunset,
Falling now
The first drops of rain.

Fragile and frightened,
I force myself to stay awake,
While everywhere I am not empties out,

Envelops itself,
In the mist goes missing.
Hollow echoes heard where nothing stirs.
And that’s when the silence screams.

I’m Still Here

Shattered:
Scattered shards
Of once guarded sky
Wide the gaps between each light
And I? I am still here.

Severe the drop,
Stop short, sharp and sheer
Fears without a name. let go?
Oh, yes. So much left to do in the soaring.

Roaring seas somewhere inside,
Rip-tide, toss and churn,
Turn to maelstroms the hidden dreams,
Fling with fury forgotten things.
Cling to the ledge;

Edge back; think safe; night is nothing new.
Few the songs still left unknown:
Own them all?
Yes, all of you.
Too much, that. I grasp at shifting sands

And close my eyes …
Cries in the whirlpools below,
Lone mournful moans, fear’s lullabies.
They die away into the night,
And I? I am still here.

Clear across
This lost divide,
Glide the ones who spread their wings,
Singing to the hidden things.
Springs up from the depths of them.

Mistaken turns
Learned too late,
Await me in the in between.
Once seen, gather them gently,
Gently, as you would with frightened children.

Hold them, love them.
Only then can you fly.
Why is it so hard to reach
Each hand out,
Without looking back, and hand

Over hand, find my way down?
I haven’t found the strength to move,
To love each shattered shard of sky.
And I? I am still here.

Why Change Metaphors Need to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Place Without a Name

A hundred yesterdays stacked behind her
Alone but for the memories there
And possibility’s children, yet to find her
The moments unlived, unborn, are there

And the purple fog beckons from elsewhere
Along the path she was just on before
The in-between, vast silent shelter
Tomorrow is an open door

The space between howls as if the wind of wonder
Swept vast across a cold and barren plane
But there is only stillness, question marks to wander
In neither world, the place without a name

She stands at the threshold of a foot fall
Slowly uncertainty uncoils, stretches, those searching eyes hardly tame
Time will tell the story of us all
She will, and will not be the same

Further Transitions _ A Villanelle

I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine,
Struggling to accept what I wish wasn’t true.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

Too many people choose smallness, forgetting how to shine,
So while I’m in this world, I feel most at home with you
And I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

Why embrace life’s sorrows and joys, equally in kind?
Getting hurt has only made me more mistrustful of the ones I knew.
How can I let go when I’m afraid of what I’ll find?

Hush, you say, you defend against illusions when you’re fine.
But, I’m trying to hold back waves of tears from overwhelming me anew
With grief, for I’m sure I’ve lost what’s mine.

Perfect as I am? The idea blows my mind.
What about all the wrong turns and mistakes I should work through?
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

If I leap ahead, cross beyond the line,
Where will I land, strangely beautiful and new?
I’ll surely grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

The loss is of all I need to leave behind,
Even if its time and purpose long since flew.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

Uncertain change initiates its eerie whine
At the standstill. I remain, not sure just what I’ll do.
I grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine.

Knotted threads of broken patterns continue to unwind
And the nets that kept a sense of safety number few.
I long to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

I don’t know where I belong, both embodied and divine.
Bridged in between, I wander, a missing shade of blue
And grieve, though I’ve never lost what’s mine,
Longing to let go, still afraid of what I’ll find.

From the Ground Up

The day somberly takes shape beneath
Comings and goings of many errands,
While I sift through shadows
For lightheartedness.

It’s got to be here somewhere.
Where did I leave it last?
Did I put it down, distracted,
Now failing to recall it’s location?

I am not unhappy,
Just strangely subdued,
Humbled by a shifting,
Unsolid world.

A prism of full spectrum feeling:
Beautiful and bold,
Soulful, sharp and fleeting,
Soft joy changing gently.

I interact with others,
speechless somewhere inside.
So moved I am paralyzed,
Returning to the present one breath at a time.

It feels, sometimes,
As if I might dissolve entirely
Eclipsed by a greater, more vivid,
More elusive star than the sun.

Standing on the edge, frontier of my self,
I marvel at its intricacy,
How it completes the puzzle of being
Love, fragile and hesitant.

That line drawn in the sand
I’ve been staring at for hours?
I know I will cross it,
But for what reasons and what time and in what way,

Enfolds itself in mystery,
A crane born from a paper sky,
A question mark with the power
To permanently alter who I think I am.

Transparent as cascading water,
All I sought to hold onto
Becomes fluid.
I am struggling with nothing.

The stars reflected
In the pools of possibility,
Collected in the land’s lost hollows,
Shine almost forgotten.

I gather them in cupped hands,
Hand them out where they’re needed.
This light I share with everyone,
It isn’t mine.

All I’ve held certain
Gets turned on its head
In the blink of an eye,
And I am fumbling in a once familiar landscape.

How am I? Indeed.
And yet, almost inconceivably,
Regarding myself like a child
Has never been easier.

So much room to grow and stumble and wonder,
A space so heart-breakingly forgiving,
It is impossible to fill it
With tears or awe or terror.

Only trust lives here,
The kind that leaves you shaking,
But somehow still safe.
A kind of ground zero:

Where we try ourselves at being,
Over and over and over,
Without judgment,
Without attempting anything.

The ones who continually catch us,
Whether we plummet or fall flying,
Rock us to our foundations
With the caring attention given to newborns.

So that in the moments we let go,
Suddenly we wake
And briefly remember our origins,
Imprinted as they are the heart of us.

Don’t Try This At Home, Kids

How often must you fail before it stops hurting? That was the question in my mind this morning. It’s not that I am exactly failing. I’m just not succeeding, at all.

I’ve heard a lot of interesting and many helpful bits of advice about becoming conscious, and the flow of this year in particular. What has stayed with me is an idea that seems to describe life, whatever your belief system.

We’ start out in life floating down a river in boats of different shapes and sizes. At some point however we lose the boat, or it breaks apart on rocks, or it gets hijacked or stolen or reappropriated. After this, we make the rest of our way submerged in the river itself, which means everything is harsher, brighter, colder, more immediate, more beautiful, more wild, more painful, more harrowing, more directly interactive. (To be fair, if this were not a metaphor, we’d probably also die from hypothermia at this point, but I digress.)

For all its simplicity, I feel this metaphor is quite apt. For instance, I know many people including myself who are going along in living, and then something happens to terrify us out of our skin and we’re flailing in the water. If you think holding onto the shore gives you safety, think twice. Without a boat, it’s your hands grasping at the rocks along the bank for dear life. Meanwhile the churning water surges past you, dragging you away, leaving your hands wounded and bloody stains on the rock where they were a moment before. Trust me, this only needs to happen once before you realize it’s a terrible strategy.

So we try letting go and floating. And this is by far the more sensible thing to do … until we hear that we’re approaching a waterfall, and begin questioning our sanity. (I’m going to do what?) It’s not as though we aren’t used to white water rapids and waterfalls. It’s just that with them, there are only two outcomes: somewhat miraculous gliding through unscathed, or disaster.

Finishing a dissertation is like hearing that roar of waterfall up ahead. I am questioning my sanity—well to be honest I’ve been questioning that for a while. I have also heard lately the saying that if we just let the water carry us over the edge and not struggle with it, in other words pay attention to the way things in life are going and adjust ourselves accordingly, this will prevent tumbling headlong into raging currents from getting disastrous. I, for one, am not convinced.

I am paying attention to what’s going on with the people in my life who have some control over when I graduate. If I took their actions as a sign and went with the flow, so to speak, I’d slow down. In the past week, three people, an auspicious number, have told me in different ways that my plan for defending this summer is unrealistic. If I believe them, I will give up before even starting. If I don’t believe them, I’ll just be bulldozing ahead in a way that frankly feels a bit obtuse. Sure, I’m good at being recalcitrant, but that hasn’t ever won me a popularity contest in social graces. So I usually refrain.

So this morning I woke up thinking about entrepreneurs who say they are successful because they failed first, more times than they can count. It baffles me. How on earth do they do this without feeling terrible about themselves, being ashamed, giving up and attempting an easier venture instead, shedding tears, grieving, or making fools of themselves? (Actually, crying is probably acceptable. Literally or figuratively falling flat on your face? Probably not.)

I think about social movements, people who lose their lives to take a cause forward and never live to see its conclusion. Have they failed retrospectively if the movement disintegrates? Or the people who have always wanted children and try, but can’t: have they failed? I mean, they did try and did not succeed, and that’s one definition of failure. Does a person fail when their body has genuine physical limits they can’t transcend? Is it just their body that has failed them?

When is failure not personal? When is it both a genuine falling short and yet not a loss? When does it defeat a person? When is it transformative? How many attempts at trying are needed before it’s all right to walk away? How many failures does a person have to endure before it’s okay to stop beating herself up about it? Would failure be impossible in a world where judgment does not exist, and if so, are there good reasons for us in this judgmental world to abandon the concept in favor of another one? Is it ever possible to fail, spectacularly, and still be worth something, and still be whole, and still be enough?

These are my questions, and I struggle with the answers. Right now, I have little wisdom to impart. I am only beginning to experience what will hopefully, if I don’t fail, turn out to be the sequence of things which will give me the answers to those questions. And in doing so, I am reminded of the very sensible saying which I have never heeded, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

What I do know is that sometimes failure isn’t a result of not working hard at something. There have been times when I’ve worked so hard on my dissertation that I’ve driven myself into incoherence and exhaustion. These efforts however have no impact on how fast or slowly my committee gives me comments, if they give them at all. On top of this, life seems to be getting in the way of progress for everyone involved, so that regardless of how much I personally do, there’s a sense in which progress isn’t really made. I am reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s book title, “Dragonfly in Amber.” If I’m the dragonfly, grad school is the amber. I beat and beat my wings, but hover still. Is that failure? Or has there happened to be an eddy right before the waterfall so that I can look ahead to the treacherous journey but am forever swirled in place? I suppose if life is a river, you’re bound to get caught in its eddies sometime or other. Is that failure, or just terrible timing and bad luck?

For all sorts of good and ridiculous reasons, I am here, working on a PH.D., which maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish. There are people who get several PH.D.s. They have got to be masochistic. I’ve already reached the point where I am tired of such a painful experience, but the experience isn’t willing to give me up yet. I wish I had made other life choices. There are no answers, but I keep wondering when I’ll no longer feel like a failure, or like I am trying to climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops and a bathing suit. When does the light break through the clouds? When it does, I will not look back.

Forging Something New

Hoping that struggle will solve every problem,
Treading water for days,
I give in, realizing I’ve not gone anywhere,
But am rather swamped by other people’s feelings.

What am I missing?
staying strong, striving for more,
Too much to be done now
To wait for a quieter kind of transformation.

I don’t want to use the word despair,
It serves no one,
But I am a single person
In a needy sea of change.

Tidal waves crash, over my head,
And it gets hard to breathe.
No place to land, I try floating,
Only to look up at a sky, clouded.

Yesterday we asked for healing.
We saw the red tears fall,
We hoped thread-bare, without ceasing,
Grounding ourselves on the standing stones.

Today I feel so terribly alone,
Finishing a project that cannot restore
The fracked landscape, felled trees,
Sorrow in the lives of my many friends.

It is not enough to ease my exhaustion,
Or put an end to the haunted look in my eyes.
Do we have enough time?
Is there still time?

Yesterday I sprawled out on the rock
And closed my eyes,
A purple hood pulled up over my head,
Keeping out the cold. You said,

Would you ever be willing to bend like a spoon
Reshaped to reflect all your brilliant light?
I’d hold you safe within my hands
Until you became definite, solid again.

I admit, I find this a wholly disagreeable idea,
So I’ve answered you so far with the sound of silence.
What am I missing? Holding still for a moment,
This fragmented world spinning out of control, I am at a loss.

But, too discouraged to do anything else,
I let go, with no clue as to what’s going on.
Cave early, I’ve heard. I agree out of weariness, not curiosity,
The hapless child stumbling over myself to get out of the way.

What’s going to happen now?
The oceans are heaving in grief,
The world cries out in human and nonhuman voices,
Longing, pleading, to end this needless suffering.

And so far I have only fought battles with my shadow,
Tried healing my own raw woundedness.
What is the shape of fear, turned to love?
Such a strange alchemy, when truth meets with acceptance.

I hope for the best,
I come face to face with my own ignorance,
I take one step and then the next,
All right, then, if it means you’ll carry me through the rest.