An Opening, A Turn

Humiliating experiences.
Continual verbal harassment.
Sustained discrimination.
Social exclusion.
Intentional cruelty.
Chronic, ongoing fear and anxiety.
Perception of being trapped.
Feeling powerless to stop an attack.
Repetition of the above.

These are some of the causes of trauma.

Trauma, in the emotional or psychological sense, refers to “experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless” (Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice). According to the nonprofit mental health resource HelpGuide.org,

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

The DSM, in its discussion of post traumatic stress syndrome, indicates that while this condition is typically thought of as resulting from one major event, an experience of violence or extreme horror, PTSD can also come about from an “accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents.” Bullying is one scenario that is noted as a potential cause of what’s referred to as “complex PTSD” (Psychology Today).

What are some of the lasting effects of traumas of this nature – the subtle (or not subtle) forms of non-physical violence that, repeated over time, deeply wound the mind, the heart, the spirit?

Severe depression.
Sadness.
Hopelessness.
Guilt. Shame. Self blame.
Feelings of disconnection from other people.
Social withdrawal.
Shock. Denial. Disbelief.
Edginess. Agitation. Anger.
Avoidance of things, people, places, activities, etc., that remind one of the trauma.
Emotional numbness, coldness, frigidity.
Difficulty in forming close, lasting relationships.
Difficulty in accessing one’s capacity for sexual pleasure.
Abuse of drugs or alcohol.

I mean.

I read all this stuff, and it is my story. Every word of it is me.

I read it and I feel relief. This is what happened to me. I didn’t make it up.

And then I read it again and another voice inside of me says: Hush. This doesn’t mean anything. This happens to everyone. Who are you kidding? You’re not a trauma survivor. You’re an ordinary person living a relatively privileged life. Trauma is rape, war, having your house burn down. Bullying isn’t trauma. … Well, maybe for some people. But not in your case. You were just a kid in school and that’s what being a kid in school is like. Sucky. Now close that door, shut your mouth and walk away.

I have a Ph.D. in American Studies. My specialization is minority literatures. I used to teach about privilege and oppression in college classrooms. I shared classic works by brilliant artists with students who were adult, educated, intelligent, and in some cases, quite worldly. And it was always this: When a writer described experiences of oppression related to their membership in a group targeted for discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, nationality, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or anything at all, the students cried out, “They’re so angry. All they can talk about is how they’re a victim. The mean old world did this, that, and the other bad thing to me, my family, my great grandparents, my group. OK, well, bad things happen to everyone. Get over it. Nobody wants to hear that shit.” The contempt, the revulsion, was congealed in and dripping from their voices, their faces, their written responses. Nobody wants to fucking hear it. OK. Point made.

It can be awfully hard for someone who experiences privilege in a certain area of life to understand that some of the things that helped put them in the position they enjoy, occurred at the expense of other people, people they’ve never met, people who may live somewhere else in the world or who may be dead now. That it’s not simply a matter of the lucky-blessed-by-fate and the neutral. Privilege means you got yours BECAUSE something was taken away from someone else. Specifically. And in my experience, just about no one wants to have that kind of responsibility put on them. Especially folks who are privileged on one axis – but oppressed on another.

I’m a fat, lesbian recovering alcoholic whose family background is working class (and back before that, just plain poor). With plenty of serious mental health issues in all the branches of the family tree.

You think I want to say anything that’s going to make someone call me a whiner, a victim, a blamer-of-society-for-my-problems? Fuck no.

And on social media. And among my friends. I don’t want a reputation for focusing on the negative. I certainly don’t want to come across as feeling wronged, limited, or damaged by what I see others as having supposedly done to me. People don’t like people like that – at least people I know don’t.

But yet.

There are these experiences. That shaped who I am. And the way that they shaped me was in the form of trauma.

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, a pioneer in the field of trauma treatment, said, “I think trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst. You see the horrendous things that people do to each other, but you also see resiliency, the power of love, the power of caring, the power of commitment, the power of commitment to oneself, the knowledge that there are things that are larger than our individual survival” (On Being interview).

I don’t want to talk about my trauma as something bad that happened to me, some outside force that stunted my chances for a health and happiness. I want to talk about it as a gift my soul gave me, a core set of lessons in the curriculum of my life, something written into the plan for my earthly journey before I incarnated into this lifetime, one of the cards in the hand I dealt myself before birth – in consultation with the Divine, with my guardian angels, with the highest wisdom and guidance available to my spiritual self.

I want to talk about it as something that really happened.

I want to begin to integrate it. So that I can move on.

Dr. Van der Kolk says that trauma is different from other difficult experiences (even the very most difficult ones of all) in that trauma exceeds a person’s ability to process what’s happening, to cope with the emotions, to sustain a sense of safety and fundamental okayness. This effect is compounded when the social or family environment surrounding the traumatic incident(s) does not allow the person to feel what they feel, does not accept the reality that the person is trying to express, essentially, does not surround the person with love, comfort, compassion, care, and reassurance that they deserve to have healing.

In these situations, a person cannot then integrate the traumatic experience as just another story, even if a painful one, in their self-history. The person can’t create such a story because there is no acceptance for it, neither internally nor externally. The person cannot, then, deal with the consequences of what happened, whatever those consequences may be.

The unintegrated experience remains in the body. In the tissues. In the cells. It is a felt memory, one that a person doesn’t so much recall as relive. The words to describe the experience don’t actually exist – even if the experience itself could theoretically be told about in the most mundane of terms. “He called me this name. Over and over. Everyone else joined in. Nobody would talk to me. It lasted for ten years.”

A few years ago, everyone was talking about bullying all the time, especially in queer activist circles. A lot of attention was being given to kids, especially queer ones, who committed suicide after being bullied. The whole “It Gets Better” campaign was started by Dan Savage, and it became viral. People started to talk about bullying, to take it seriously.

I could not participate in those conversations.

I couldn’t talk about my experiences of having been bullied. I couldn’t talk about other people being bullied, because that might lead to my having to talk about me being bullied.

Being bullied. Being bullied. Being bullied. I am saying it a bunch of times right now because the phrase has such a charge for me, because it scares me so much. And for some reason all of a sudden today, I am ready to, I NEED to, face it.

I shut the door tight on that period of my life. I can talk about my struggles around self love, I can talk about almost killing myself with alcohol, I can talk about depression and economic exploitation and all this other stuff, I can go on and on, I have a lot of passion for sharing these experiences that I’ve had in the hopes that what I have learned through those challenges may be of some help to someone else somewhere. But I can’t talk about being bullied because I am still so ashamed.

When someone else comes out about their experiences being bullied, I think they are brave – and that their sharing their stories helps make the world a better place.

When I imagine myself talking about being bullied, I feel exposed. I am too embarrassed to even go there. I imagine it must seem so terribly predictable, so cliché, so obvious. I tell myself that of course I was responsible for how people treated me; I was too shy, too weird, too unskillful in my social interactions, yes, too unattractive. I deserved it. Deep down, well, maybe not so deep down, I believe that I deserved it, I brought it on myself. In retrospect I think I could have done any number of things differently and my life in school would have been different. If I had known better. If I had tried harder. If I had forced myself to not be so … strange. So fucked up. Such an ass. So goody-goody. So difficult to like.

I don’t get to talk about being bullied. Because I deserved to be bullied. That’s how I felt when the conversation came up. How I still feel. That’s why I couldn’t say anything – why I wanted to run away when people started talking about this. All this shame would well up from the pit of my stomach and I would have to swallow it down and it just made me feel like puking.

Then today. At work. I read a blog post by someone who was coming out of the closet and asking her readers what it was that they were afraid to share about themselves. And I read this post on my friend’s blog, talking about witnessing others being outcast at school. And then I was editing an essay by someone else about the culture of weight hate. And then I was re-reading this other article on our company website about trauma and weight gain. And all these texts were crossing my path talking about what the body does to try to meet our needs for emotional healing when our minds aren’t actually able to deal with our traumas.

And somehow it all came together and I just wondered what energy would be freed up if I was able to actually look this trauma right in the eye and say:

Yes.

I was severely bullied throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Whole classes called me names, loudly discussed my ugliness, threw things at me, excluded me from group projects so that I had to make up my own solo assignments in order to pass.

I hated my existence.

Going to school was a torment. Any time I achieved an honor – such as being selected for the senior show choir – my actual life got worse, as these groups were full of people who missed no opportunity to mock and degrade me.

As is so often the case, telling adults only made things worse, because they belittled my emotional responses and accused me of tattling.

I was a child. I did nothing to deserve the cruelty that surrounded me.

I was suicidally depressed.

Long after I graduated and went on to become a successful adult, I pictured myself jumping off of bridges.

I tried to eradicate myself by drinking.

Luckily, I failed at that.

And here I am. I grew up fine. I have a life that I love, a sweet job, a wonderful home in an awesome city with my beloved partner and my beloved roommate, creative passions, dreams, goals, purpose, service, positions of leadership, a spiritual path. Many friends. Abundant, nourishing community. I’m utterly surrounded by love and support today. There is just about zero bullying in my life, and what bullying does show up is not personal towards me, but simply the outflowing of someone else’s fear.

And I have this trunk in the basement of my psyche that is tightly locked. I stand on the lid so that it stays down, so that I most of the time never even notice that it is there.

But it moves.

It shakes. It vibrates. It is full, full, burstingly full of energy.

I think the energy has actually grown over time.

I think that if I don’t open it, if I don’t look at the contents and see what is in there, I think it might, one day, explode.

So this is me – stepping down off the trunk, pulling out the key that I’d forgotten was there on a chain around my neck all along, putting it in the lock and

turning

turning

turning

to face whatever comes out.

  

You Can’t Go Back, but You Can Go Again

A few weeks ago I had the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: go back to Yellowstone National Park.

I worked there for one summer after my sophomore year. In hotel housekeeping, which wasn’t that bad.  I actually liked it.  And I also really liked the trip out there on the Greyhound, even though it was supposed to take 24 hours but ended up taking 48. It had to have been some kind of archetypal transition period for me. It all happened during the middle of a much longer period of depression, which stretched back through the college year before and forward across the next year, when I studied abroad. I had a very hard time making friends and generally functioning in a normal social way among people … and had just put myself among only strangers, very far from home, in a place where it was still cold and snowy and full of bears in mid-May, on purpose.

I don’t remember being unhappy, though I was lonely a good bit and may have been homesick  because of my fear of all the strangers.  Somehow I got through, found people willing to hang out with me and drive me places — maybe due to my roommates and all of my early contacts being missionaries, or at the very least active in the Bible studies that my roommates led.  That was cool with me! I remember it being a summer of spiritual searching even before these people entered my life. I appreciated the Bible studies and the discussions about God and morality. I was reading about God — the book God: A Biography, which appealed to my not-yet-quite-admitting-I’m-an-English-major mind with its exploration of who God would be as a person, based on his character traits as revealed by the stories about him in the Bible. I also read a short and unassuming book on reincarnation which drastically reshaped my beliefs (or call them superstitions) about what happens after death and between lives. It was called Life Before Life, and my mom had mailed it to me because it had so rocked her world after she picked it up at Goodwill for, probably, a quarter! (I mention that only because for some reason it seems that a new, mass market paperback edition of that book now goes for $439.11 on Amazon!  :-O )

I was very into build-your-own-religion in those years, even as I was trying on Christianity, particularly Catholicism, one more time. I still made up my own nature rituals. And when I revisited Yellowstone this summer, the presence of nature in its immense power and beauty struck me immediately and deeply. Strong memories came back of how I fell ridiculously in love with the aspen trees and how amazed I had been at the cold, crystal clear waters of the lakes. Especially Yellowstone Lake. Oh man … Now I have always been a fool for bodies of water, and lakes are some of my favorites. And the hugeness and the clarity of this one just blew me away. I remembered on this trip how the lake had been frozen when I first arrived in Grant Village (where I lived, which was on the shore) and how I had heard it when it cracked. I could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence almost tangibly, and I felt the life energy in the molecules of water, and all around me.

Captivated

 

clouds and lake

I would go to the West Thumb Geyser Basin — or sometimes just the shore where I was, by the restaurant and everything — and watch the silvery water. Sometimes I was the night maid, and I got to watch her at night. Can you tell I was in love?

Going back, maybe because I have since read all of those Clan of the Cave Bear books, it struck me how sacred and mysterious this place must have been to the people who lived in that area before the Europeans … the landscape of the geyser basins, the steam rising among the pine trees, the deep pools. I thought that the hot springs must have been seen as beings with their own life forces — I wished for more time to stay and get to know them again. I fantasized about sitting quietly there and tuning in to whatever the energies were, whatever whispers might be in the air.

blue pool

 

deep

 

basin view

Sitting quietly or spending a long time anywhere weren’t to be had on this trip, it seemed. Instead, we encountered an amazing abundance of wildlife! Badgers on the trail, snakes, an elderly fox carrying a dead marmot (!), the requisite herds of elk and bison, and an incredible NINE bears! We watched a coyote being steered away from the grazing herds by a few matter-of-fact pronghorns. All of these run-ins, glimpses, and outright ogle-fests were simply spellbinding.

Still, I think my favorite hour of all was the one I spent at the lake. And if I didn’t get to linger on the misty, mysterious, mystical lakeshore or wander among the pines, I now have an escape fantasy that will last me at least the next fifteen years. But hopefully it won’t be that long before I return next time.

And here are some more pictures that are just cool.  🙂

floating tree

 

deep pool 2

 

heart geyser 1

Irish In Recovery

No, I’m not recovering from being Irish, as that title might imply.  I’m not even a “recovering Catholic,” as so many members of my family are – I guess I detached from the mass (so to speak) early enough that it didn’t leave any lasting trauma — just a fond memory of the smell of candles.  But seven years ago, just before St. Patrick’s Day, on a very snowy weekend in Minneapolis, I did give up alcohol for good.

The circumstances that led to this turn did not actually have anything to do with St. Patrick’s Day, though they did have to do with a certain Irish bar on Nicollet Mall and my reckless behavior there and thereafter.  And it did happen to be the beginning of spring break, which was also the week in which I had to write my preliminary exams, based on which I would or would not receive permission to proceed with my dissertation.  That was not a good choice of week for waking up in the hospital, not knowing how I got there, and not feeling (or looking) very good.  Soul searching, meeting going, and eventually essay writing, ensued.  That first SP day, four days after deciding to get sober, was a 24-hour period in which I stood outside myself, unable to touch what I was feeling.

One of the books I read at that time, called How to Quit Drinking Without AA (they had it at my local library in Northeast Minneapolis!), said this, which made a big impression on me: if it’s true what they say, about every cell in the body replacing itself over a period of seven years, then an alcoholic who stays sober will, after seven years, have a body in which not one cell has ever actually had alcohol.  Even though it’s a little cheesy, and biologically misleading, the whole image of a clean cellular slate appealed deeply to me.  Hesitant, as I always am, about any kind of lifetime commitment (somehow tattoos are exempt from this??) I remember thinking, OK, I will make seven years my goal.  At that point, if I make it that long, I can reevaluate the situation.  So seven years was always my big mountaintop in the distance.  And now, as of March 13, I’ve actually reached it, and now here I am hanging out with the view.

I’ve always had little celebrations over the various anniversaries, sometimes a private ritual, sometimes a gift to myself.  This year nothing really came to me in terms of an outward recognition, nothing seemed to appeal; I think I have just been experiencing the moment of attaining that specific goal on a more inward level.  It affects me in ways that don’t really express themselves in words.  I didn’t feel drawn to go to any meetings, because I just didn’t feel like conversing about it.  It’s more like an egg of light that I’ve been quietly honoring within myself.  But finally, one thing did occur to me as an appropriate celebration: I decided to do something to explore my relationship to St. Patrick’s Day from this new perspective.

Even though I only have one grandparent who was actually Irish, it was the grandmother after whom I was named.  She and all of her kids, my dad and my seven aunts and uncles, just seemed to embody that heritage to me.  I can’t really say why I was drawn to it, but I felt a heart connection with Irish culture, and it developed into a whole complex of things within my personal identity narrative.  Maybe I just needed something to organize that narrative, and Irishness seemed to do, but I really did love and passionately embrace and receive creative and spiritual and political inspiration and nourishment from a lot of things about Irish culture.  I didn’t go about it half-assedly; I traveled to Ireland twice in college.  As a leftist nerd into history and literature and folk music and drinking until four a.m., I pretty much found something in my interest in all things Irish for every part of my personality to do.

I don’t mean to be cliché about the connection between alcoholism and being Irish.  I’m not the only one in my family who’s encountered this particular challenge.  I know that historically there have been reasons, and those reasons have led to results.  I also know that I purposely adopted a certain stereotype as part of my persona.  I’m not outgoing by nature, and my childhood and school experiences did not equip me with any confidence or self-worth.  Maybe I thought, if I construct this “hardcore” character, a stereotypical drunk girl who’s into Irish stuff, people would mistakenly think they already knew me.  And they might talk to me.  And that would be a miracle.

The whole thing wasn’t insincere, even if it was partially constructed.  I was drawn to Ireland as a creative influence.  I identified politically with the resistance to British rule; I’ve had a long-standing scholarly interest in the meaning of “terrorism” in nationalist struggles.  And I loved going to live Irish music shows in American Irish pubs and rocking out.  I wanted to write ballads too.  And I honestly thought Guinness was the most splendid and tasty and aesthetically pleasing beverage in the world.  And I declared repeatedly that St. Patrick’s Day was my favorite holiday, because it honored all of my favorite things.  And it really was like a punch in the gut, the St. Patrick’s Day that fell four days after my first committed sober day.  I felt disoriented, realizing how deeply into the foundations of my sense of self alcoholism penetrated, or beginning to.  It wasn’t all about St. Patrick’s Day, but St. Patrick’s Day stood in for a lot of stuff.

In the years since then, I’ve mostly avoided this holiday, with that form of ignoring that is still attention.  To me, it was just so much about drinking, even sober events held the association.  But what I’ve been working on in the past year, as I’ve been revisiting the AA approach to serenity, is dropping the fight, dropping the last vestiges of the fight against things I felt uncomfortable around, like my previously-sober partner starting to drink now and then, or like St. Patrick’s Day.  This holiday, though strongly connected with drinking (for me), had also held other meanings that had been important to me.  But I had a suspicion that I needed a new connection to it; I needed to discover whether or not the holiday held any significance to me as the person that I am now, both the same as and different from the person I was seven years ago.

So I thought I’d begin with paganism; I thought maybe there was an ancient Celtic holiday around that spot on the calendar, over which the Christian conquerors had plopped their saint’s day.  And the sources I read said sure – Easter.  But that’s more often linked to the Pagan festival Oestara.  For St. Pat’s, pagans (and patriots) may wear snakes instead of shamrocks, representing those supposedly driven out by the missionary (for “snakes,” read “traditional Irish customs and beliefs”).  Upon reading which, I thought, as some women in my family might have said, oh hell!  I don’t want to adopt a protest instead of a holiday; although I agree with it, that just doesn’t sound like the kind of extra-positive healing energy I was looking for in this celebratory gesture of rebirth!  And call me sentimental, but I just don’t have much of a desire to observe holidays that commemorate colonization, exploitation, and religious oppression.  So I will probably do, as usual, nothing.  But I guess (or I hope) at least it will be a slightly more peaceful, conscious nothing.

In the end, maybe this was what I needed to “reevaluate” on my seven-year anniversary, as I’d told myself I someday would.  I don’t, after all, need to consider whether permanently quitting alcohol was the right decision for me.  It definitely was.  Even after seven years, the horror and the fear of experiencing another night like that last night is remarkably fresh and real to me.  On the other hand, I still don’t feel totally at peace with my relationship to alcohol in the culture that surrounds me.  My main reason for not drinking is still “I don’t want to die,” and somehow that seems to bring the fear and the resistance and the powerlessness right along with it.  I wish I had a more positive reason for this commitment, but when I think about calling it a spiritual pursuit for its own sake, I know I wouldn’t have chosen it if I didn’t have to, and I’m still too afraid of the substance to name abstinence from it a virtue.  And yet, the journey has been nothing if not spiritual.  It’s led to soul-searching and honesty and lessons and transformations that have been valuable to me beyond fathoming.  I am so grateful to have had this source of learning in my life; so let this, and my blessings to all who read it, be my St. Patrick’s Day tribute.

simbolismo triskellion

Registered!

Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace!  😀  😀  😀  I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now.  (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present.  Thank you, Mom!!!)

I am super, super psyched.  The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last!  Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on.  These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning.  But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances.  I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions.  As I said: Really Excited!!!

This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night.  The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute.  I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion.  I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way.  I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise.  I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around.  Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude.  I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy.  In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.

One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely.  This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele.  I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp.  (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele!  !  !)  I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy.  The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha.  I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance.  It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me.  It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations.  The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations.  Each line is repeated twice:

This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,

As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.

La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,

Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu

I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one.  I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,” I did feel myself dissolving into the light.  As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond.  That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else.  That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings.  For me, it was the beginning.

And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp.  We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch.  It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies.  The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand.  My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me.  Everything I need is in this song.

So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs.  I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer.  I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music.  At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.

Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord?  Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so.  Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us.  Sweet dreams!

The Fear of God

I’ve started in a book group that’s reading Caroline Myss’ book Entering the Castle — it’s based mainly on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila (along with drawing on other mystics in other religious traditions).  The idea of the book is to teach readers how to follow the mystic’s path while living in the modern world — to become “mystics without monasteries,” as she puts it — ultimately to arrive at the mystic’s true goal, the life lived in identification with the divine soul.  Which is, in essence, union with God.

You know, within the last couple of months I committed myself, with witnesses, to a path of mysticism and a path of ministry.  I did these things because I felt a strong inner call, and praying about it, I felt I received clear and abundant signs that it was the right thing to do.  I can admit now that I did not make these commitments with a full understanding of what they would demand of me.  I also felt I could not choose otherwise.  It was not a question of logical consideration.  In fact I find it really hard to explain the reasons why I chose these commitments, and so I am more comfortable keeping them to myself. 

I agreed to marry my partner after only two and a half weeks of dating for similar non-reasons — realizing well into the journey that my commitment to this union would really require of me that I grow a lot, that I face my own buried dysfunction, that I learn to think less of my small self, to become more selfless.  And to be extremely flexible.

So now that I have been a spiritual bride and taken new vows, first of all, I find all my shit getting stirred up — all that stuff that keeps me from truly being available for service.  In the last few weeks I’ve had some really painful experiences of struggling with lack of forgiveness (for myself, others, situations…).  Another area that’s been triggered is my old social anxiety, feeling ill at ease and self-conscious in social situations, like I’m always making the wrong move.  And of course, writing all this and recalling the ways I have been chastising myself reminds me that self-acceptance remains one of the big areas where I still have a lot to learn.

In the midst of all this, Caroline Myss’ book comes along.  I find as I begin to read it that the promises of the introductory chapters comfort me in some deep way — they seem to hold out hope to my soul that there is direction and guidance available — that there is peace that can be found — indeed, by following a path the entry gate of which I’ve already passed through. 

They also kinda scare the crap out of me. 

I realize that I actually am not a little afraid of going down that path.  I’m a little scared of the journey in and of itself.  What will it reveal to me about myself that is not acceptable to God?  What will it insist that I do?  What will it force me to give up?  Will I feel those things as difficult or painful, or will they simply arise in their proper time as natural next steps, easy and joyful to take? 

How will following this path change me? …  I notice that this human life of mine, with its aesthetic arrangement of material comforts, its intellectual pursuits, and its interpersonal relationships organized into the predominating social structures of the day … this small life of mine, put together with so much energy and attention … it’s compelling, it distracts me away from the spiritual path.  It pretends to be in competition.  My small self reads of the union of the soul with God through the effacement of the ego, and thinks of its comfortable apartment life, and thinks that that would be painful to sacrifice, it would be hard to let go, and my small self is unsure that the metaphysical rewards will be worth the discomfort of growth and change.

I wonder now if this is what The Lord of the Ringsis really about.  I’ve been re-reading the series this summer — I read it all the way through several times as a teenager, but haven’t looked at it for a long time, and I just got the urge to revisit it and see what my current self makes of it.  I was curious to see if I would find its meanings and lessons changed as I read them from a new vantage point in life.  So now I’m thinking about Frodo’s journey as a nice metaphor for the journey of the soul.  (I know lots of people have suggested religious interpretations of the series before — I’m not arguing for a critical interpretation — just saying that as another version of the archetypal story of the Hero’s Journey, as a story, it can help us understand that othet heroic journey that is inward, toward the divine spark within.)  Frodo signed on for a dangerous journey into a completely unknown wild, answering, when called, from his heart, not his head.  He took it on for the good of all — surrendering his own will and accepting that his death was likely with deep courage and faith.  There was something in him that was unwavering — that, when he was surrounded by total darkness, and all of his hope was gone, that nonetheless continued putting one foot in front of the other, until there was nowhere further to go.  And when he got there it turned out that the goal could not be accomplished by his own power at all, but only through the intervention of a power greater than himself — what might have been called, in the context of the story, destiny.

I don’t think, here in the West, that we really understand the meaning of destiny anymore.  It’s only through reading the works of Indian and Middle Eastern writers that it’s even beginning to dawn on me that there is a big gap there in my (and our) cultural understanding.  But there is something about both the way I met and married my partner and the way I came to the spiritual path I’m embarking upon today that has a feel of destiny.  What that means to me is that I have a feeling that there is some purpose in these meetings, that some piece of some plan is clicking into place, that, to put it simply, some good will come of it.  At these times I’ve felt the elusive edge of a sense that all our souls are part of a great … perfection, an extremely complex and delicately balanced story that is unfolding exactly as it should, the only way it ever could, toward our evolution, toward our highest good.

This barely-touched sense of rightness, totally inexplicable though it may be, still gives me enough willingness, courage, and excitement to put one foot in front of the other down the path into the utter mystery. 

Thanks to you for allowing me to share this with you.

Love and blessings,

Heartland Soul