Evil is a Facebrick Church in a Modernist Style.

I am no one

A thin spirit

Wandering the Land at its source

Shape-shifting to become 

The peaks and valleys 

Of the everyday

The banality of Evil

All around me

Sits, hideous

Contemplating the world from a park bench 

Evil is a face brick church built 

In a modernist style

Signalling its permanence

As a landmark on the highway, heading home

I struggle to keep pace

Wraith-child match girl

Lighting flames in the wind

The terrible book of the past

Written around, and on, and through me

Jaws of bone and stone

Open to offer a route 

Elsewhere

Standing at the gate

Pink light of dawn

Cold hands of morning

Slipping into the folds 

Of a warmer place, 

A language learnt

A past unravelled 

Commentary

I wrote this poem in response to Jane Alexander’s sculpture ‘The Butcher Boys’, currently part of the permanent collection at the South African National Gallery.  It depicts the brutal and dehumanising forces of apartheid.  It is unsettling and haunting.  It is also the subject of the tourist’s gaze.  A work to be photographed with by visitors to the gallery pulling amusing poses.  This is the way of things.  Alexander made the work in the 1980’s, a time when the violence of the state, and the response of the people was exploding in South Africa.  I remember this time as my childhood years in Johannesburg.  Sun-lit and ordinary.  Lying on hot bricks, wet from the pool.  The tanks rolling down the quiet suburban streets to quell uprisings in the neighbouring township.  The barbed wire going up around our primary school.  Bombing my bike as fast at it could go around the twisted pedestrian bridge that spanned the highway.  Horror on the outskirts of an insulated suburbia that was participating either through active collusion or a studied refusal to notice.  Being in South Africa over the last few weeks, the visceral sense of a great evil that made the present is something that I feel everywhere.  Life goes on, as it should, but this poem bubbled up in response to the insidious ways in which evil sits with us.  In my practice I think about what it means to live with the after-effects of evil.  What the balance is between knowing the evil of the past, seeing how it operates in the present, and also being sufficiently free of it to be able to respond to what is right now.  It is the tension between knowing what made us, and releasing its stranglehold without the denial and amnesia that can characterise a too-hasty release of the pain story.  Working through identifying and releasing pain stories in the West of the Wheel, I am aware that these stories are woven into the fabric of national narratives, kaleidoscopically.  Poems bubble up in dawn meditation.  The cacophony of the dawn chorus.  My tired eyes snap open.

 Briefly, I am awake.     

Image

Advertisements

Take Me to the Most Beautiful Thing on Earth: The Dance of Family, Work and the Sacred

I got lucid a couple of months ago inside a dream in which I had been frantically, and unsuccessfully, trying to balance symbols of family life and the academic pathway I am currently pursuing.  At the point at which I became conscious, I was swimming in a vast ocean, and with great effort, I began to walk on the water.  Opening to the dream, I asked to be shown the most beautiful thing on earth.  I was whisked over the ocean, to the house where I had been playing out the conflicts of work-life (im)balance, now in darkness.  Peering through the glass door, I saw my partner and our two children fast asleep.  This was the most beautiful thing on earth. 

There are many ways that our dreams can offer layers of meaning and insight to peel back.  My family, sleeping, content and peaceful, was the most beautiful thing and place on Earth for me.  Not a massive external firework show.  Warm and reassuringly simple.  

I am reminded that sometimes in pursuing the spectacular moments in life, the acclaim and success, we can miss what is really there, right now.  Achingly fleeting.  

At the entrance to the East of the Wheel, holding together the juggling act of my life and fighting to maintain the space of this process, I think about what I must leave at the threshold.  In the dream, I walked on water with great effort.  And I peered at the most beautiful thing on earth, my own family, through glass doors.

These are the layers.

The core beliefs that I leave at the threshold.  

The belief that life is hard.   The belief that I am separate.  That I do not, or can not, participate.  

I held onto this dream for a long while.  Bowled over by it I must admit!

But what if…..

What if….  I surrendered to the currents of the great ocean without trying to walk on water? (While acknowledging the effort of having done it!)

What if…. I opened the glass doors and laid down to rest in the restorative warmth of the most beautiful place on earth?  

What if!  

 

Exiting The North

English: Photograph of a Vajrayogini painting ...

English: Photograph of a Vajrayogini painting from Thangka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last few months have been strange.  A submersion in single-minded commitment. Trying hard to get the thesis finished, and when I haven’t succeeded in hitting the targets, putting everything else off till I do.

This approach, weirdly, sapped the energy right out of my work.  I see how much that is a part of my agreements.  To be alone.  To isolate myself.
I held on.
Doing the practices of the North, and dawn meditations, where I struggled to stay awake, I was aware of this deep anxiety.  The pain of how I separate myself from all things.  The way the work of the thesis, unreleased, hung around and fed the anxiety.  How as soon as I did the work, that anxiety would lift.  The sense of connection returned.
It has been a test to stay with it, and leave it, all at once.  Let this part of the project go.  And accept its incompleteness.  Because beyond assembling, some light editing and binding the thing, there isn’t a great deal more I can do content wise.  Got to trust what’s there.
I finally handed the thesis in a month and a half ago, but it is still not quite done.  There are the examiner’s comments, due after Easter.  Further revisions likely.  Meanwhile, life goes on.  In the North you face the biggest tests to your staying power…  I get it.  Finishing this work is my hot spot. Staying with the wisdom of the process as I begin to face East in the Wheel.
We went back to South Africa over the festive season.  To see family, and for my partner to do some work.  We have taken the risk that he leave his job to work the hail season over there, so that with the cash he makes, he can buy a vehicle over here in London and we can have more control over his working hours in order to share child care responsibilities more equitably.  While in South Africa, I kept writing on the thesis daily, energised by proximity to the place that my work is all about.  The tension between separation and unity.  This is all tied in with what I do next.  How I manifest my intention in the real world. On the last day there a friend came over to tell me about a project she is working on, to set up a school that emphasises the natural world and play as central to children’s education, and also bridges the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in South Africa by offering subsidised places to low income families.  It’s about building an amazing, innovative space to educate children that is accessible to those who are normally excluded.  It is pretty risky and untested.  My friend wants me to get involved, and work on the project.  There is funding.  It’s a paid role.  This would be in about 6 months time.
I sit with the possibility of what can come next.  The risks and the rewards.  What do I do with what I’ve learnt?  How do I manifest right action?
Before we went to South Africa, and while we were discussing whether my partner should leave his job or not, I had the following dream.  It speaks to the heart of ‘what next’.  The step by step.  The letting go. The trust and faith.  The marriage of the miraculous with the pragmatic.  The dream mobilised many symbols of the past few years to powerfully engage me.  I’m still sitting with this one.
I go to a party, with young French people next door to our old home (This is the house we used to live in, our dream home, which we were evicted from very suddenly a year and a half ago.  Though traumatic, the energy released by leaving was what propelled me into opening up to new possibilites.)  I am not with my family.  I must make a decision about whether or not I stay and take halucinogens with these young, sweet, naive,open and exploring French students.  It is hard to make the decision, but still I stay, not deciding either way.  I know it is only for one night, taking the drugs and exploring my own mind.  I will go back to my family.  I look at our old garden next door.  I speak to Charlotte Joy (a colleague in the anthropology department who also has young children, but is more successful than me), and show her the garden, explaining how we lost it when we were evicted.  “It looks dull but at least it is here” I say, because the wild forest like garden planted by my friend is gone, and has been replaced by healthy looking – if dull- vegetable patches.  Well tended.  I am describing the garden to Charlotte in terms of loss, but I realise as I speak that there is no loss.  It was never really my garden.  
 
I must still make my decision about imbibing the halucinogens.  
 
There is aggressive knocking at the door.  Noise Officers from the council, female, like the two women who evicted us from our home in the real world.  i don’t invite them in, but they barge past to serve noise eviction notices.  Suddenly I realise I have nothing to fear from them!  This house is not mine, and the music that had been playing loudly has been turned off.  What a laugh!  An anti-climax for them.  
 
I must still decide.  
Sarah from the ReUnion (the amazing artist project that I got to know over the summer that took over and transformed urban waste ground near our flat into a magical summer space) talks it through with me.  She is somehow running all of this.  But she is neither naive nor young.  She is youthful, knowing and wise.  She is the one who knows.  She will not make a decision for me, but she shows me the den that has been made to cocoon me when I need to retreat from the massive explorations of my conciousness I will undertake by eating the halucinogens.  I know that I will take this leap, it is just scary and I worry about leaving my children.  
 
But it is only one night!  
 
I will be back with my family!
 
This decision is connected to the business idea my partner and I have been discussing in the real world. I see that our plans have a spiritual source and involve travel to South Africa.  
 
I take the drug.
 
My daughter is suddenly there, and afraid.  
 
Twin goddesses rise up out of the wooden floor boards to help me.  
 
They are made out of fire.  Wildly powerful.  But also controlled, exotic, and deeply knowing.  They are coloured red and orange.  
    
They have a lot to show me.  
 
A sweet Bengali girl from my daughter’s school comes and comforts her as I absorb the knowing the Goddesses are imparting.  They do this by asking a series of questions about the business idea.  As I answer it gets clearer.  At its heart, the plan must be altruistic and self-helping, connected to our mission in South Africa.  
At this point I woke up.
I went to the bathroom, and when I came back to bed and fell asleep, I felt the Goddess again, her twin aspect now singular.
My body was vibrating.
I knew she was made of fire.

Am I Done Yet? Shame and the Writer.

When you’ve been with a project for a long time – and I’ve been with the work of my post graduate degree for almost ten years – it’s sort of weird to let go of it.  Especially when it doesn’t feel like I did my best.  I handed the thesis in last week Friday.  A big heavy blue bound tome, that looked the part, but left me feeling empty.

Because it could’ve been better?

Because I’m painfully aware of how my habitual pattern of refusal has kept me time and time again from doing the work I dream of doing?

Because there is still the letter to the examiners to complete?

Instead of the expected and hoped for rush of release, I reached my target and fell flat.  Seeing only the gaps, what’s wrong with the work, the real possibility of failure.  Or the even scarier possibility of being given yet another chance to give it my best shot.

What might have been a celebration of completing  became a wallowing in self-criticism.  I shudder when I think of the examiners reading what I have written, sweated over and sacrificed for.  Close my eyes like I’m on a scary roller coaster I’m riding over and over again in a grim endurance test.  I start to write the letter to them explaining what I have done to the manuscript in response to their last set of comments, and feel ashamed.

That’s what’s at the core of this refusal to be cool with where I am at: shame.

It’s been written all over the life story exercises of the West of the Wheel.  A deep abiding shame.  Damn!  And there was me thinking I’d got this thing down.  Ready to enter serene and smiling into the East.   When it doesn’t turn out that way, my impulse is to give up.  I can’t do this.

Can I?

Who is the ‘I’ at the centre of all this chat anyways?

My writing partner and friend in the Circle writes to me.  A reminder that these are the fault lines.  Recognise the cracks, but don’t fall in.  Not this time.  Wallowing in my shame is Resistance to Life.  And life is sweet at its heart.  Sweet and shameless.

IMG_0190

My Circle partner shared a powerful reflection on shame, thesis submission and the intersection of the personal with the social scientific by Alison Pryer.  You can read the full post by clicking the link at the end.  It’s so beautiful, and true.  Her story, and the bravery with which she writes,  put my stuff in perspective.  And the way that it is poetry that offers her a wild exit from the sense of shame that threatens to paralyse her creativity resonated deeply with what it means to me when I let go and allow that channel to be opened.  Reflecting right now, the experience I can liken it to is the one I had giving birth: something that could’ve so easily been tainted with shame, but for various reasons wasn’t, unlike other parts of my life.  Why was that?  Pryer alludes to it when she writes about the poet maintaining a state of alertness while lovingly attending to the world.  Much of the pleasure of making poetry lies in the wait for and then the chase after that which is elusive, and which will always ultimately evade us. Like pleasure itself, poetry is somewhat unruly and feral. It can’t be controlled or scheduled. You have to take what comes. Thus, the poet must remain in a state of alertness, must attend lovingly to the world, in order to experience and represent wonder and possibility.

Here is a bigger extract.  I urge you to click the link at the end.

All of us have at some time or another keenly felt the intense burn of shame – the horrible recognition of our deficiency, inadequacy, and unworthiness, that feeling of exposure and social alienation (Kaufman, 1980). Shame is the obliteration of vulnerability and trust in relationship. Thus, shame is only possible when we make or find ourselves vulnerable, as I was in this particular pedagogical situation as a doctoral student being publicly examined at my doctoral defence, where I had chosen to talk about my explorations of a subject matter that was taboo. Clearly, I had been naively trusting, blind to the power of academe to uphold its unspoken culture of silence, even though I had so accurately described it in my work.

 Unfortunately, further factors compounded my shame. According to Elspeth Probyn (2005), shame “always attends the writer” (p. xvii). Also, those who have experienced shame early on in their lives have “a greater capacity to re-experience the feeling” (Probyn, 83). To make matters worse, according to Gershel Kaufman (1980), shame is “always particularly amplified in a culture which values achievement and success” (xiv). By the end of my doctoral examination I was teetering on the brink of failure.

Perhaps western culture goes too far in its almost complete pathologization of shame. So much so that it is shameful to even talk of shame. Yes, shame is always unwelcome, always uncomfortable, painful even. Shame “marks the break” (Probyn, 2005, 13) in relationship, in connection, in community, in trust. We feel shame not because we don’t care, or because we have no interest in a given situation, but because our interest, our love, our care, our desire for mutuality in relationship is not returned. We are spurned. We yearn to repair “the break” so that our interest, love, desire, and care might in some measure be reciprocated. Shame, writes Probyn, “illuminates our intense attachment to the world, our desire to be connected,” (63) and is always deeply embedded in contexts, politics, and bodies.

As I have since discovered, it is how we respond to an experience of shame that matters the most (Kaufman, 1980; Probyn, 2005). Shame can be a highly generative emotion, a catalyst for self-transformation. Probyn puts it this way:

Shame is not unlike being in love. The blush resonates with the first flush of desire. It carries the uncertainty about oneself and about the object of love; the world is revealed anew and the skin feels raw. Shame makes us quiver. (2)

This keen appreciation of our longing for connection and community is in itself deeply transformative. Shame, shot through with desire, may embolden us to tell new stories (Probyn, 2005), or to tell old stories in new ways.

            Poetry may be the ideal medium of inquiry for someone (like me) who’s longing for connection and community has been heightened through an experience of shame. The making of poetry is deeply concerned with building relationships and seeing affinities (Simic, in Zwicky, 2003, 47). It is also about finding community, coming home as it were, to our own lives and the life of the wider world. Thus, it is a medium that affords an ecology of both knowing and expression. Jane Hirschfield (in Zwicky, 2003) expresses this more poetically:

Every metaphor, every description that moves its reader, every hymn-shout of praise, points to the shared existence of beings and things. The mind of poetry makes visible how permeable we are to the winds and moonlight with which we share our house. (16)

Poetry is also an ideal medium of inquiry for someone (like me) who has experienced trauma. The poet, Charles Simic (in Zwicky, 2003), writes:

My hunch has always been that our deepest experiences are wordless. There may be images, but there are no words to describe the gap between seeing and saying, for example. The labour of poetry is finding a way through language to point to what cannot be put into words. (85)

Much of the pleasure of making poetry lies in the wait for and then the chase after that which is elusive, and which will always ultimately evade us. Like pleasure itself, poetry is somewhat unruly and feral. It can’t be controlled or scheduled. You have to take what comes. Thus, the poet must remain in a state of alertness, must attend lovingly to the world, in order to experience and represent wonder and possibility.

         Simone Weil (in Zwicky, 2003) says, “The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love” (102). Adam Zagajewski (in Zwicky, 2003) insists that in poetry we exercise our capacity “to experience astonishment and stop still in that astonishment for an extended moment or two” (p. 108). Thus, the creation of poetry calls for a nondualistic appraisal and understanding of the world, one that privileges neither thought nor feeling, intellect nor emotion.

         Earlier I quoted Probyn’s (2005) claim that “shame always attends the writer” (p. xvii). However, the quality and clarity of a poet’s perception helps to dissolve feelings of writerly shame by rekindling profound connections to the world. Simic (in Zwicky, 2003) proclaims only half in jest:

The ambition of each image and metaphor is to redescribe the world, or more accurately, to blaspheme. . . . The truth of poetry is a scandal. A thousand fornicating couples with their moans and contortions are nothing compared to a good metaphor. (46)

So the poetic impulse – that generative, loving state where whole worlds are birthed with mere words – is of necessity quite shameless.

Cultivate a shameless heart filled with light.  Be that girl.

Over and out.

http://www.ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/publication/insights/v13n03/articles/pryer/index.html

 

 

 

Being in Allignment with Intention Is Not a Get Out of Jail Free Card

I Awaken my Light…

How much of my life is in alignment with this intention?

Last night I went to bed late having actually done some work on a project that is mine.  I didn’t feel tired, I guess that’s the energy of doing something fresh again, like I was energised by returning, at last, to a project that I want to finish, even if I struggle to at
times. This is interesting to me, the way in which awakening my light is about honoring the things that are close to my heart, that feed the inner fire. And feeding that fire means having more energy, rather than less. This seems to be the way to see if what’s happening is right; to check in with that energy. So there are different kinds of tired. The tired that comes from ‘job well done’, the tired that feels like pushing through treacle because there is so much resistance to doing the task. I’m caught up in thinking about work now. It’s like at long last I have permission to pursue it. Here’s another interesting thing. In order to finish the thesis, I have to totally let go of making it polished and spectacular. There’s not enough time, and the project is too convoluted and complex anyway. My skills are not there yet. This means that sometimes I don’t want to bother finishing.  But here’s the rub, and where I know when I am in alignment with my intention.  Because dropping the standard, and doggedly sticking to it in order to finish, and finishing itself being the end goal, means that I am released from the other baggage and find that the energy returns. The fire ignites.

Going to sleep last night after doing a good few hours on this, I had a dream about my mother and father. My father was collecting all kinds of stuff as he does, and it was all covered in mould, damp. It needed to be thrown away. He hates throwing stuff away. I remember when we left South Africa to come to the UK 19 years ago, how he threw tantrums when my mother took control and emptied the house of all the rubbish and stuff that had accumulated over the years. In my dream last night she, my mum, assumed this uncharacteristically assertive role again. She had a new boyfriend, and was keeping this new information to herself. It was like she had distanced herself from us, her children, and was now living her own life. From what she did say, I guessed that the new boyfriend was Greek, from Tottenham, and a Spurs supporter. A proper immigrant London son and geezer. Not her usual arty, flaky, volatile type at all. It was cool. I liked this change. Having guessed her new involvement I reconnected with her on an equal level. She admitted to me that she had never wanted children, and that she was aware of how this not actually wanting the children she had would’ve affected our experience growing up. This was even more so for my younger sister than me as she had been the second child, and her birth had been located in the really difficult part of our mother’s relationship with our dad. Like I was the romantic baby, my sister was the no-turning-back baby.

Later on my dad let me and my sister throw the mouldy stuff away. It felt good.  Both to thrown the stuff away, and have his permission to do it.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

In the waking world, my circle partner and I shared our free writes in our weekly space about how in alignment we felt with our intentions.  Mine was the piece of writing shown above.  Discussing our observations from the preceding week, we had a conversation about the unexpected twists in living an intention.  I’ve transcribed it (we held our circle in a chat room due to work commitments… holding our space indeed!) as an experiment in communicating the process of working our way through the Wheel:

Maia – Awakening our light is sometimes not what we expect

Dom –  yes, that sounds right

Maia – Not necessarily all romantic and free

sometimes laundry

facing what we don’t want to

it’s etched with pain and struggle too….

Dom – And awakening our desire within that….

Maia – And pulling ourself out of i

it has tension at the edges

that we see and choose not to submerge in

it can be tired

Dom – Honouring the intention to awaken desire in ALL of life…

Maia – It has a history of heartache

of disappointment,

promises not kept

the birthing process is painful sometimes

and we to mourn

for losing innocence to find it again..it’s the tunnel we have to go through

Dom – Bumpy journey through the birth canal…

Maia – yep

and accepting that

Dom – and that’s where your intention has so much resonance for me… because it holds this thread of accepting all of life… not                  resisting or trying to push away the bumps….

Maia – well it’s only possible if I do

which maybe I didn’t realise

I thought this stuff was partly a get out of jail free card

you know a clean slate where its all different

Dom – Ha ! Tell me about it!

Maia – but its a bit of both or something

Dom – yes… that’s the thing…. its a bit of both….

Maia – it does say you don’t have to feel what you been feeling that’s not yours

but it’s not easy

Dom – exactly… and so the processes in the west of naming and holding and releasing are such an important part of clearing the    space, so you can’t just push it away and avoid. We work with the pain, hold it, and release.

Maia – What feels hard is that I have to do it myself – the thing that’s it’s actually my choice, i create it, am responsible

Dom – Sounds so simple as I write…. I think about the power of resistance that slows me down

Maia– we get help but we have to be willing to take that responsibility

that leap of faith that belief

no one will do it for me

Dom –   When we hold that… the realisation of taking responsibility… how much are we able to drop then? And how liberating is that?     Like… for example, you dropping the idea of doing the PhD…  I have to talk to my boss today about doing less hours in the office over the next few weeks…. it terrifies me… to ask for what I need….

Maia – each of these little things is important and what it’s about

reminds me of a pema chodron quote

where she says we hear a lot about the bliss of enlightenment

but not a lot about how painful/difficult it is to go from being totally wound up to being unstuck

Dom – ha ha… yup.

Maia –  or something like that

but joy is important because we have it there everyday

like my therapist said – have fun – without it there’s not lubrication

Dom- Yes! And it’s hard to go down a slide dry…..

Maia – maybe this could be a task for next week……

Dom – fun is so important… its everything… that playful, smiling spirit…

It changes the nature of things… the heaviness…

Maia – everyday before we sleep, write about the things that made us happy that day

from the smallest to biggest moments

Dom – Is this our practice this week?

 Maia – and share with each other – just a list if we wish

a suggestion…

Dom – great… I love it ! xxx

share all in one next week? Or email each morning?

Maia –  hmm maybe email each morning – i like that idea

Dom – me too…. sort of like daily scripting in reverse….

Maia – yep….. too much counting sorrows let’s count some joys

Dom – Joy counting x

Maia –     : ):)

Dom – Mould wiping : )

Maia – Hehe !

Dom – tee hee xxx

Of Dreams and Foxes

This is the story of how the poem ‘Night Foxes’ got written.  It’s all about how creative acts can bubble to the surface.

Not sure why I’m sharing this.  It’s sort of mundane, personal… but why not open up an exploration of the ways in which creativity emerges and see what other experiences anyone has to share?   I would love to hear.
It was during a visit from my father.  Dad had been with us for a week already.   On good form but intense.  Always so caught up in his own head; the incessant talking.  My own latent anger.  It was the end of a nice, but emotional, day where his family had come over for lunch.  My aunt had cried while talking to me and her daughter about the time our grandmother, her mother, had died.    My Aunt told me later by e mail that she always felt guilty about how differently her and her brother’s life had turned out.  Her’s marked by material success and good health as she aged; his by big losses and struggles with mental and physical health.  I was getting a little lost in the big feelings that were coming up.
That’s the general background.
Before going to bed that night, attempting to settle, I drew a Medicine card.  It was the Fox.
This is a summary of Fox’s message:
The ability to meld into one’s surroundings and be unnoticed is a powerful gift when one is observing the activities of others.  Fox’s ability to be unseen allows it to be the protector of the family unit. If danger arises, Fox is johnny-on-the- spot. Nanih Waiya, Great Spirit in the Choctaw tonguehonors Fox with the duty of keeping the family together and safe. This is accomplished through Fox’s ability to observe undetected, without making others self-conscious. Fox is always concerned with the safety of family members and is an excellent talisman for those traveling far afield.
If Fox has chosen to share its medicine with you, it is a sign that you are to become like the wind, which is unseen yet is able to weave into and through any location or situation. You would be wise to observe the acts of others rather that their words at this time. Use your cunning nature in a positive way; keep silent about who and what and why you are observing. In learning the art of camouflage, you need to test your ability to pull this off.  One test of exercise that may be helpful to you is deciding to be invisible. In doing this exercise, you might try to visualize your body as part of your surroundings, full of the colours of the location you are in. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with stealth and grace, unheeded by others. If you do it right, it works! You can leave a party unnoticed or become as unobtrusive as a piece of furniture, watching the developing
drama of the subjects you are studying.   
With Fox medicine, you are being asked to see
all types of uses for Oneness.
 
I reflected on the aptness of this card after a day of being so immersed in the memories and dynamics of the preceding generation.  My father and Aunt don’t see each other very often.  Their meetings are years apart, and can be hard work.  As a daughter and niece, I had hosted this lunch because it was a means to create a space where we could be together.   Though not always easy, there is something important about witnessing the dynamic of the family; accepting it; opening to it.  The lunch was not about ‘me’, but about witnessing the older generation, however imperfectly.  It was my attempt to acknowledge the ‘oneness’ of my story with theirs.  And I suppose it had required me to become less visible, to listen more (I struggle with listening).  Fox is also a significant animal for my younger sister, who is away right now travelling in North America.  Drawing it, I felt connected to her, able to draw on the support and insight she gives to what can be a heavy family dynamic.
I then went to sleep, but was woken a couple of hours later by shrieking sounds outside on the street.  I got up and looked.  There were two foxes on the road outside!  They appeared to be having a fight, eventually going their separate ways.  I watched the last fox make its way out of sight, then wrote this down:
 
The dead of night
Foxes wake, sounding warnings
Crossing rivers
Made of
Sand
 
I went back to bed and had this dream:
I had through a process of becoming, infiltration, luck and knowing, become part of a tour of Brazilian musicians, who were world famous, and also deeply rooted in a spiritual tradition.  The most well known of the musicians, an older, slightly porky man, showed me evidence of sacred places where he had been instructed not to play music by ghosts who had communicated through till receipts (yes, the kind you get from Tesco.   There is no accounting for the sub-concious!)  He showed me where they had marked the receipts with ‘zero’ to communicate the silence.  This was not a message not to play music -far from it- it was a message about which places on earth are places of sacred silence.  A different thing altogether.  It was powerful.  I put on a big show of being freaked out.  Inside I was amazed and glad to have been included in this inner circle.  I had gained access to it at the Stage Door.   When stopped by the bouncers, I had talked my way in by partly bluffing and partly remembering that I was a Fado singer, who had grown up immersed in the world of Fado through my family.  As I spoke to him I was engaging in a process of piecing together, and creating,  the story of my life, partly fact, partly fiction.  Anyway.  It was enough to get me through the door.
There it is.  In the waking world, I have grown with the world of Fado as a marker of identity, albeit distantly.  My father and Aunt are of Portuguese descent, and their grandmother, a seamstress and a poet, had once made a dress for the famous Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.  This was a story I had heard a lot as child.  There is more to excavate in this dream, but for me the main thing right now is this sense of making a life story of one’s own that is intimately connected to all the life stories of all the others who are around you, came before you, will come after you.
Since then I have been practising the technique of ‘disappearing’.  This is not so much about magic as it is about lessening one’s sense of being separate.  Doing it, I was reminded of something I had read once by Alice Walker in which she spoke of imagining yourself as gone from the earth, having left not a trace.  In a world obsessed with legacy, fame, being noticed and remembered, this is a powerfully challenging exercise to do.  In terms of my Wheel of Initiation practice, it has provoked an examination of the ways in which I engage with the process of writing my life story in the West.  What version am I telling?  How do I inhibit growth by attempting to tell a perfect version?  What other pain stories, apart from my own, are revealed in hearing what I am writing told through other people’s perspectives?  What do I carry?  What does it mean to release these burdens?  Disappear?  Cultivate spaces of silence?  Not as an escape, but as a form of practice that lessens the attachment of ego to the idea of separation as a primary identifier of Self.
These are tentative reflections on the ways that creativity, in all kinds of forms,  bubbles to the surface out of the soup of everyday life, dreams, coincidence and the opening of practice.

The Stuck Places aka It’s Okay, Take Your Time

In the West, as the process of telling the life story unfolds, I find that a big challenge is finding my way out of the spaces in the story that I get stuck in.  Today in our circle, as I shared the latest chapter, I felt a sense of wanting to rush through, get past the section of my life that I have been writing so much on.  I have had enough!  I want to move forward!  So I try to… and the writing reflects this.  Sharing it in the circle, I don’t get the sense of having released and passed through.  Because in trying to rush through, what is revealed instead is a powerful stuck place that is holding me tight.  A shrill, victimised voice runs through the text, and it is mine.  Rushing through, I would like to quiet this voice, but this doesn’t work!  In order to release, there has to be a point of acknowledgement.  Sigh!  I see the newspaper cutting I have pinned on my desk:

IT’S OKAY, TAKE YOUR TIME  

My circle partner is supportive, and gently encouraging about the need to acknowledge pain and release it with gentleness. Again, I am grateful for the space and support that a cohort; a sangha, brings to this process.  She recounts a story from Ursula Le Guin’s book The Wizard of Earthsea.  Ged, the main protaganist, is on an island where many of the inhabitants are addicted to a drug that has robbed them of their magic powers even as it keeps them cloaked in a haze of comforting illusion.  You can’t see what’s ahead when all you can see is yourself.  This is the way that a powerful pain story, unreleased, operates in one’s life.  It dominates the narrative so that all that is seen is Self.  This obscures life.  This blocks the way forward.

My partner also points out how amazing it is that we spend so much time resisting where we are and who we are here with.  She reminds me of Pema Chodron’s teaching to practice precision – to see what is clearly.  How you feel is your starting point.  Be with it.  How you relate to it comes next.  And both parts, the being with and the letting go, require gentleness. Being with and letting go without harshness.

We feel tired of how we feel about things.  I feel tired of how I can feel about things.  Where I am in my work, in the telling of the story, in my practice, in my life and relationships.  But if we/I don’t listen to the stuckness, keep denying how we feel, try to layer it with a self-judgement to be compassionate, then they will continue to swim around like hungry ghosts, needing attention.  Getting stuck is due to not being with the feelings, avoiding them or trying to turn them into other, more acceptable feelings too early.  Like turning anger into compassion.  Yes, this is the ultimate aim!  But, it can’t be rushed without going through due process.  Getting through the stuckness with honesty.  The compassion must start with ourselves if it is to go out into the world.   Because suppressed feelings are dangerous.  They can jump out unexpectedly and do damage.

A way to avoid dealing with supressed emotions is to defer them to a martyrdom that masquerades as compassion for others.  Am I doing this process to heal a relationship with others?  This may very well be a side effect, and if it comes out of it, great. But primarily this is about healing myself, so that in making my way through the world, I stop the cycle of inflicting pain and damage unthinkingly and dangerously.  In the inner and outer worlds.  This is the connection of all things with self.

Angry girl… you hold your heart on the inside

Angry girl, you turn the point in and do damage. 

The side alleyway.  I tried to grow things.  I tried to make a nest of my own.  i think I did this with my sister.  i think we did these things together.  It was in shadow so things could not grow.  I imagined I could make it beautiful but I did not have the resources to do it.  Nor was there the natural light.  This was a place to bury things.  The goldfish corpse that I placed in the ground and dug up a year later to see the bones.  This was where I ran to after fights, during the heat of things.  This place of shadows and quiet, of building rubble, neglected and private.  I cried here a lot, sitting on the upturned bricks.  I did bring friends here too.  To sit on the bricks.  Later, when I was older, to drink Vodka, sniff turpentine.

How do I make space to express suppressed feelings so that I can then allow those feelings to pass?  The italicised passage above speaks of a space I made during the time in my life I am writing about at the moment.  I placed it randomly here to demonstrate how we carry these spaces with us as metaphors all the time.

The tension of going through the Wheel lies in the dance of identifying whether what we do is honest, or more masking.  If we are really seeing the path through, or if we are blinded by the massiveness of our fascination with ourselves.  Identifying a pain story is one step.  Acknowledging it the next  (this can mean difficult feelings).  Then, letting it go.  For me, the stuckness comes with an attachment to pain, a clinging to the mask of victimisation.

That without pain, my life lacks meaning.

This is where the Wheel is powerful medicine, a structure through which various kinds of spaces can be made to allow things to have their expression.  And sometimes, it is in the articulations that other’s make that we can find the right expression for our feelings.  These two poems spoke powerfully to me today and yes, gave space.  So I keep moving, gently gently.

1.  http://starsrainsunmoon.com/2012/07/12/gulping-sleep/

2. Poem by Maia Marie
Making love to you is a ritual
When the rain is done and the air is new and clean and fresh
After all of that
I still love you, I just love
It lays there bare, a knowing, a fact
A feeling on its own
Separate from place and journeys and destinations
I open and close the window as the wind calms and sun appears
I spend my day like this
Adjusting a sail
Yet the tree always stands in the courtyard letting the wind through its branches easily
Perhaps it’s true, it has no choice but to grow towards the sun from where it’s rooted.
I look for my voice in hiding places
A child playing, koo koo

Dreaming of Darkness

Light in the night (Castelldefels)

Light in the night (Castelldefels) (Photo credit: jcarlosn)

It was a disembodied voice, heard in the gap between sleeping and waking, that brought me into the Wheel of Initiation.  Sounds like something unmissable, but actually capturing dreams and listening to the pointers of truth emerging from our subconcious requires a bit of engagement and discipline.  Sometimes we just don’t feel like doing it!  I know I don’t.  Being in a deep, wonderful sleep, or about to go into a deep wonderful sleep, it can be tempting to not write down the dream when it wakes you, or scrawl down the word that is repeating incesantly.  The night I heard the disembodied voice repeating the word that would lead me to Julie Tallard Johnson‘s work over and over again was one of those nights when I REALLY wanted to just sleep.  It had been a long day, full of the demands of children, family, home, work and it had been crappy weather to boot.  I was SO ready for a good sleep.  But this word, repeating, would not go away.  So I turned on the light, scrawled it in my bedside notebook, and promptly went into that much needed deep and refreshing sleep.  The next day, I checked out the word and the journey began that brought me to the Wheel of Initiation and this very page I am writing now!

Something to be said for keeping a bedside notebook for these night time scrawlings!  And also something to be said for just getting them out, however.  I have been known to write dreams in the dark too, allowing the pen to just let whatever has come to have some space in the gap of wakefulness.  It is always a bit of a thrill and occasionally a surprise to read it back in the morning.

So when I had another repeating word appear in the gap between sleep and awake the other day, I paid attention, scrawling it down with the promise to check it the next morning.

The word was Prometheus.

I knew Prometheus was a figure from Greek mythology, but couldn’t quite remember which one. I had it mixed up with Icarus as I googled the next day.  But this was not a dead end of confusion.  Icarus is destroyed by flying to close to the sun.  And Prometheus is punished by the Gods for stealing fire and giving it to humans.  Now what was this dream voice trying to communicate to me?   There is something here about too much light, and reflecting on where I was at around the time this dream voice appeared, I was trying very hard to be positive and good, a light-filled person.  You know.  Spiritual and glowing and saintly.  Super committed to my practice.  Wanting very badly to progress.  Be the most spectacular initiate ever.  A wonderful human being.  And in the process I was running myself ragged, trying to be all things at all times.  To my family, myself, my practice, my work, community, circle.  And feeling bad and guilty when I wanted to ‘switch off’.  This was resistance trying to get me!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with striving to be these things.  But in the process of trying so hard to reach the Light, there is a danger of suppressing the darkness that is also nourishing.  Too much emphasis on being positive, light and good, and we can get burned.

The Tao Te Ching speaks a lot about darkness:

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery

By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source.

This source is called darkness.

Darkness born from darkness.

The beginning of all understanding.

Jeanette Winterson has written about the beauty and power inherent to surrendering to darkness at times when it is necessary.  Her descriptions of retreating in response to the coming of winter darkness ignite a warm glow in the heart, reminding me of the subtle interplay and dance of darkness and light, and also of the many faces of light.  Not always bright, manifesting light can be as much about the low glow of a winter fire, wrapped in the blanket of darkness.  When my daughter expresses her fear of the dark at bedtime, I try to describe it in these terms.  To think of the dark as a cosy blanket, that we wrap around ourselves to help us get to sleep (she doesn’t always buy it!).

In denying our shadow; our darkness, what do we suppress in ourselves?  The feminist writer Audrey Lorde would describe what we suppress in our desire to be too-good/light as The Erotic.  This is an erotic far removed from nullifying porno-culture.  It is, in Lorde’s words, …a measure between the beginning of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.  It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.

Again, I come to this confusion about the nature of light and dark.  The danger of making an equivalence between moral value and the qualities of light and dark.  This confusion is a way in which what Steven Pressfield describes as ‘Resistance’ finds a subtle way in.  Resistance operating in one of its most successful disguises, making over-work and an insane striving,  into the illusion of our true work.  In Audrey Lorde’s words:

This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others.  Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process.  For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing…. The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible.  Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a longed for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.

Beware the myth of Prometheus, where the  bringing of fire is equated with punishment.  Lighting the inner fire requires only a love for the darkness that surrounds it, and an appreciation of the dance between the two.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/31/jeanette-winterson-night-guide

http://www.metahistory.org/guidelines/EroticUses.php

://www.amazon.co.uk/Wheel-Initiation-Practices-Releasing-Inner/dp/1591431115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336561683&sr=8-1