Thursday, October 30, 2014

Survival Strategies

I want to tell you something- a hard something. I want to tell it because all week on and off line, here in Canada, there have been conversations, arguments, and declarations about the truth or falsehood of allegations of assault against a popular radio host. At my last count there were eight women who've reported being punched, slapped, grabbed, or choked by this man without their consent (he is maintaining that it was all part of consensual rough sex.)

The part of this conversation that disturbs me most is that many have declared with absolute certainty that if the women were telling the truth they would reveal their identities (two women have) and lay formal charges. I’m not going to go into all the very good reasons why a woman might not want to be identified or lay charges, but I will speak from my own experience.

Many years ago, when I was a young woman, I was beaten and raped. It never occurred to me to lay charges. At the time my primary fear was that the man would make good on his threat to kill me if I told anyone. With good reason I did not trust that others- the police, the court system- could ensure my safety. Years later, after much healing work, I realized that I’d also been silenced by the fear that I would not be believed, afraid in particular that my own family (my parents, brother and grandparents) would not believe me, and I truly felt I could not bear that hurt on top of the physical violence.

There’s another piece to this story. The man who had beaten and raped me forced his way into my apartment a month later. I remember standing in living room, looking at him and silently praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life. And what was my prayer? That God or the Universe or any power that could help me now keep me from passing out (as had happened in the previous incident when he had choked me.) My prayer was that I stay conscious so I could fight and fight hard- hard enough to either stop him (and he was well over six feet tall and I had not yet done any self-defense training so my odds were not good) or force him to kill me. I was not suicidal. The decision to fight hard enough to stop him or die trying was my survival strategy because I did not feel I could carry another beating, another rape, in my body-mind-heart, could not bear another violation that seared my soul.

I am not advocating this as a survival strategy, just reporting on my own state of mind and heart at the time. Anyone on the receiving end of violence has a right to find their own way of surviving. This was mine.

As I sent out my prayer, the man grabbed me and threw me across the room. He stood over me shouting insults and threats, and then left. I don’t know why. Did he pick up on my resolve? I have no idea. The next day I found a room to rent and moved to a location where I hoped he’d never find me. Happily he never did.

I’m not quite sure why I am telling this story now- but I am trusting the impulse to do so. What I want to say is: any conversation about a particular accusation or allegation regarding violence against women happens in the context of our collective and personal current realities and histories of violence. If you have been fortunate enough not to have had this experience and not to have had a loved one who had this experience, please remember that the overwhelming statistics on this (which do not include all the unreported cases) mean that there’s very good chance that there are others who are reading or listening to any public discussion who have had that experience. It doesn’t mean that every allegation is true, but it does mean that uninformed certainty that any unlitigated allegation must be a lie says to many of us for whom it was true at some point in our lives, “If this happened to you, it’s not a big deal, and if you can’t prove it you should be silent.”

And I want to say: it is a big deal, and if it has happened to you and you are still living and loving, still able to open your heart to others and walk in the world. . . . you have shown great courage and resilience. And if you have not already done so, may you find someone with whom you can share your story, someone who will believe you, someone who is able to hold you and your story in a way that enables you to find deep and complete healing.

As I hear and read the arguments my head understands the culture that creates the controversy and the reasons for the debate. But my heart aches with sadness for all involved, and prays for healing and an end to the violence.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Little Morning Magic

Sometimes The Call really is. . . . a call, complete with caller id. (And sometimes a synchronicity is just too much fun not to share.)

A couple of nights ago, I went to bed filled with the places where my writing had taken me, wondering how important the latest thread about discerning "real choice" was. Real choices are those that are truly accessible to us given present moment inner and outer limitations, resources and realities. Looking at my own life with more curiosity than judgement, I could see that some of the choices I thought I "should" have made simply were not available to me in any real way at the time. I also realized that I could never know if what I thought was an available choice for another was a "real choice" for them in that moment. Through stories I'd been exploring how and why we would pursue or turn away from deepening and broadening our "real choices." 

Given all that is happening in our lives and our world, it seemed important-  to know how to cultivate the healing and awareness needed to expand our individual and collective choices. But I wondered: had I gotten sidetracked in my writing, tangled in a tangent? (It happens.) 

Drifting off to sleep I asked the Grandmothers, a circle of women elders who often appear and teach me in my sleep dreams, for a little confirmation or course correction- whichever was needed. Was it good to keep following this thread about "real choice" or should I be going in a different direction? 

The next morning the phone on my bedside table rang and woke me up. The computerized voice of the phone's caller id spoke in its flat mechanical monotone: “Call. . .from. . . real. . . choice.” Skeptical, I squinted at the words on the caller id screen, and there it was in capital letters: REAL CHOICE. Still half asleep I wondered if I was dreaming. If not, I assumed I must be misreading and mishearing things.

I picked up the receiver and somewhat tentatively said, “Hello?”

The man on the phone spoke with a heavy accent. His voice was rough and filled with a sense of urgency. When I asked him who he wished to speak to he said something that sounded like my last name (House.) Unsure, I asked him again who he was looking for, and his tone changed. I could hear the smile in his voice now, as if he was pleased with my questions or had accomplished something he'd set out to do. Sounding more cheery than apologetic he said, “Oh, maybe I dialed the wrong number. So sorry,” and hung up.

Still not trusting my sleep-steeped perception I looked at the caller id history and there it was- the call had come from REAL CHOICE.

Wide awake now I fell back into bed laughing and called out, "Thank you," to the Grandmothers, to the ceiling and the floor and the walls of my tiny bedroom, to the light of a new day sneaking in around the edges of the curtains, to the faithful trees outside my window, to the Sacred Presence that holds and lives within me, to the mystery of strange phone calls and the creative process, to the almost unbelievable blessing of having this day to write.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kali's Fierce Love

I recently found Kali- the Hindu Goddess of Death, Change and Rebirth- in the bottom of my storage locker.


Well, okay- not the actual deity (although, is there any corner where the sacred cannot be found?) but images of her. And it's worth paying attention when this kind of thing happens.

Years ago I bought a book of Kali art post cards captivated by the vivid and colourful images of the sometimes blue-skinned, often multi-armed (and I mean that in terms of both appendages and a variety of weapons) Destroyer of Illusions. I’m not sure how I thought I would use them. It turns out that there aren’t many occasions when it feels appropriate to send a birthday greeting or message of condolence on a card adorned with a depiction of the divine wearing a necklace of severed heads, her long red tongue protruding to her chin.

Or maybe it is always appropriate. It's just that in my culture, it might be misunderstood.

I was surprised to find these images carefully wrapped in red silk and preserved in a zip-lock bag, mysteriously situated beneath the camping equipment and paint supplies. It felt timely to find Kali waiting for me there because I'd recently turned sixty. Which is not to say that Kali belongs only to later stages of life- often the one who points out that the Emperor has no clothes is a child or a young adult, or someone waking up in the middle of their life

Still, there she was, waiting for me, a week after my sixtieth birthday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel as this seemingly significant threshold was crossed. On the one hand, it’s only a number. On the other hand. . . . it is minimally a measure of having more years behind than ahead of me.

What I had not anticipated was how turning sixty would bring a new level of clarity about choices that allow me to contribute to life in a sustainable way. And there is a lightness in my new-found knowing that speaks with a smile in her voice, stunning me with her calm certainty, whispering, "Oh, I'm sixty- I don't need to do that anymore." Often what I am saying no to is not a bad thing- an opportunity or invitation that has meaning and merit- but it's just not what is needed for my own particular "Yes" to be lived fully.

Kali confirms the dropping away of the illusion that I need to earn my right to be, that I have to cover all of others' "shoulds" before I fulfill my own purpose and passion, hopefully contributing the best of what I have to offer to the world.

And of course, it's not an all-or-nothing-once-and-for-all sort of thing. It's a clarity that's been growing for years, and hopefully will continue to deepen. But it's had a bit of a boost, and the unexpected boon is that I am not so readily enticed away from the writing that calls me, the pacing that suits me, the willingness to listen deeply.

Some Celtic traditions say that maturity allows us "see with the eyes of death." That's how Kali sees- without illusions, accepting what we are working with (within ourselves and in the world) in this moment. I think of the Crone archetype as the one who cannot be intimidated or seduced away from the truth she knows. That's Kali- the Fierce Mother, the Destroyer of Lies, the Dispeller of Illusion. And with some denying the reality of our unsustainable ways of living together on this planet despite recent revelations that the world wildlife population has diminished by fifty percent over the last forty years. . . . well, it seems like a little of Kali's fierce love might just be what we need.

In the shamanic medicine we call it making Death (the knowledge of our mortality, of impermanence) an Ally- that which helps us see what matters most.

Kali's love of life asks us to trust that when we each find a willingness to see what is within and around us and set aside fear driven distractions to do what we are called to do, offering and receiving help where it is available and needed, life is nourished and sustained. It’s about faith- faith that doing what we are truly called to do, alone and with others, is enough.

~Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Update From Oriah

Words spilling onto the page, the kind of writing that comes from the sweet ache at the centre of my bones, always takes me home. It helps me catch up with myself, discover the state-of-the-union (or disunion) within, find healing and meaning. It opens me to sorrows that have been avoided and, as these sorrows are allowed, fresh joy in the ordinary and the extraordinary is felt fully.

Making room in my life for this kind of writing cultivates an otherwise often elusive and always delicious indwelling in my own body and heart. The words take me, make my breath catch. I find myself scrambling for pen and paper as I move past dark glossy eggplants and feathery white mushrooms in the grocery store. Turning on the light in the middle of the night, I scribble words on the pad always within reach at my bedside. After I have turned off the light, I lay in the dark grinning and whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I’ve been off social media since June in order to turn my attention to writing a new book. I miss our exchanges but it has become apparent that this truly is the right (write) thing for me to be doing now.

Oh, it hasn’t all been chuckles. Life always has its little challenges. For some of the days and a couple of the weeks I have been housebound or bedbound with frustratingly unpredictable flare-ups of the chronic illness I’ve had for over thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.) Enjoying time at a friend’s cottage despite symptoms, I joked that the new book could be titled, “My View From the Bathroom Floor.”

And, at the same time, the needs of my aging parents (both with Alzheimer’s and increasing physical challenges) have required time and attention.

But still there are moments, hours, and sometimes days when the words flow. The writing I love flourishes in slow-paced, open-ended, inwardly turned time, time that allows me to wander where the words can find me. Regularly checking my emails, blog, and Facebook cultivates a speedier, outward focus that pulls me away from the story that is unfolding.

So, for now, I will not return to regular posting although I will drop by with occasional updates. I decided to post now because I will soon be heading up to northern Ontario. Knowing I will be alone in the bush at a cabin on a lake where there is no phone or internet connection, I can sift through comments today sure that I will not be tempted to slide into the delightful distraction of daily connection during the week ahead.

Next week is my birthday and although I will celebrate with others when I return, I will spend the day doing ceremony alone in the wilderness. I will do prayers for myself, others and the world. I will sink into the silence. I will stretch my body on the massive sun-warmed outcroppings of pink granite and creamy quartz. I will listen to the voices of Grandmother Earth. I will swim in the dark water beneath the light of the full moon and let the stars sing me to sleep. I will align with the wilderness within and around me and open to the Great Mystery, the Sacred Wholeness that holds it all. I will dream for myself and my people- knowing that on the level of soul, all sentient beings are our “people.”

And, of course, I will write.

Sending much love and gratitude, Oriah

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stepping Away

There is this thing I sometimes unconsciously slip into that does not work well for me. I learned it early- a coping strategy in a childhood home where th­­e adults’ underlying rage and unhappiness was like an ever-present threat beneath the antiseptic scent of well-scrubbed appearances.

What I learned to do to survive was to continuously tune into others: to vigilantly and constantly watch and listen with my whole body and being; to anticipate what might be required; to disconnect from any sense of my own life- whether casual preferences or soul-deep desires- in order to serve the other’s priorities.

I felt I had to earn my right to be for one more day, every day. 

When my marriage to my sons’ father ended I remember telling a friend, “When I live with another I turn too much of my inner face toward them and lose myself over time.”

Over the years I've become better at setting and keeping clear healthy boundaries with friends, students, clients and colleagues. But in times of great change- even desired change- as my all-too-human anxiety arises I sometimes unconsciously slip back into focusing my inner attention and energy on the other, losing track of myself on some essential level.

As most of you know I've been working on a new book. The writing is deeply personal, a story of healing losses that both cultivate self-sabotaging survival strategies and offer some life-shaping gifts. But to write this story, to live the fullness of the healing the writing offers, I have to be deeply connected to my own life, body, heart, spirit. . . . I have to turn my face toward the inner landscape..

So, I am stepping away from Facebook and my weekly blog. Honestly, social media has brought incredible joy into my life- has brought connection with wonderful people around the world; a way to offer something and engage in and be stimulated by conversations that have added insight and contemplation, new ideas and laughter. (Yes, I enjoy a good giggle-inducing cat pic as much as the next person!)

But it has also offered me a way to turn my face away from my inner world when the writing I am doing makes it easy to want to look elsewhere. The hundreds of weekly emails, messages and comment filled with stories of challenge and courage touch me deeply. It's easy for me to unconsciously slip back into the old belief that I must exclusively focus on others’ needs to earn my right to be (or write or rest or pay the bills. . . ) The more the writing provides the possibility of truly uprooting this belief (a possibility that is simultaneously exhilarating and petrifying) the easier it is to turn my face to the many others with whom I connect on social media.

Here’s what I know: I have to write this book. Whether or not it is ever published or ever sells more than a dozen copies, I have to write it. For my life. For my health. (Oh how my fingers itch to write- for my contribution to the world- but I want to let the flourishing of this one small life be enough just for this minute.)

So I am stepping away. I will leave the pages up- but I will not be posting, reading, commenting, liking, sharing. . . .  I don't know for how long. For as long as it is something I need to do.

The Grandmothers in my dreams (who usually tend toward understatement) have said repeatedly: “Write or die Oriah.” It’s not a threat- it’s just a description of what is true for me. Death can be a slow moving away from the vibrancy of life, a hardly noticeable shrinking of living deeply and loving completely. Writing from the centre of being is what opens my awareness, what brings me to the Beloved within and around me, what cultivates the fullness of Life in me.

So the adventure continues. I hold you in my heart and prayers. May each of us find the next step in our journey. This is mine. In deep gratitude, Oriah

Oriah (c) 2014 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Neither Driftwood nor Masters of The Universe

On a pretty regular basis someone responds to something I post on Facebook with an enthusiastic, "JUST go with the flow!" 

It's understandable really- our you-can-do-anything-and-should-do-everything culture tends to cultivate an inflated sense of individual control over and responsibility for all aspects of reality, and that can feel exhausting. Surely we could do with a few lessons in surrendering and acceptance, particularly in the places where we do not have control (for instance, over other people.)

On the other hand, we are not driftwood. 

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all, to some degree, co-creating participants in our shared world and life. We have free will and are often able to make some effective choices. Of course choice is tricky, often shaped by aspects of self that are largely unconscious. Effective free will expands proportional to our awareness of what is happening within and around us, and let's face it- some moments are definitely better than others on the awareness front.

To my mind (and heart) it's not about flipping between or orchestrating the perfect mix of reaching for control or passively going wherever the strongest current takes us. Being an effective and full participant in life is a different way of being, one where we hold the tension between the idea of haplessly going with the flow and the fantasy of being masters of the universe.

It's more about using our free will to come into alignment with and surrender to present-moment surges of the surf -conditions within and around us- while relaxing into our limited but profound ability to shape where a wave will put us down. Often it's about timing- knowing when to paddle hard and when to let something larger carry us.

It's about choosing the wave to which we want to surrender, and deciding how we want to ride it in this moment. 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Walk with Me

Some days you just have to surrender and let life show you the magic.

Monday I was feeling blah- woke up with the migraine I'd had the day before. It happens. But I put on my runners and headed out for my brisk morning walk. (I'm a little late to the party on this one, having only recently discovered the profound effect that exercising first thing in the day has on mood and metabolism.)

I stuck a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, thinking I might go pick up a few things for my post-walk smoothy. I was grumpy about needing to do this (I blame the headache) but as I walked I was lifted as I often am by the beauty of my neighbourhood: the spectacular old maples and oaks; the lilacs still blooming; the kids running and laughing on the way to school; an elderly couple walking arm in arm pushing their granddaughter in a stroller. . . .Life! I was listening Bill Withers singing, "Ain't No Sunshine,"  on my earbuds ( as I arrived at the grocery store, now smiling and thinking: I love this city, this life, people.

Now the shift in my mood was magic enough, but then things started to. . . get weirdly wonderfully. An older woman (ie- a woman my age) who was stacking the produce shelves paused to help me find mint. We found one package but she frowned and took it from me, saying, "Wait." She tapped it on her hand and looked closely at the herbs, before announcing, "Okay- they are still alive! Otherwise by tomorrow they'd be no good." I thanked her, touched by her caring.

Of course, by the time I'd gotten to the check out line with my chia seed, mint and bag of kiwis (the things I'd come for) I'd also picked up an avocado and a huge elephant garlic. My total was $22.92 so I told the cashier to take off the garlic and avocado.

But before she could do that, the woman in line behind me said, "I'll pay the difference." Shocked, I turned to her and assured her that she did not need to do that, but she insisted, saying, "I've done it myself- been a little short. It's no problem."

I agreed and thanked her, in part because I was starting to get a little choked up at her spontaneous generosity to a total stranger.

As I walked out of the store, I pulled my sun glasses from my pocket. A young man standing ahead me of waved and pointed saying, "You dropped something." Turning I saw the key card to get into my apartment building on the floor. I picked it up and thanked him, leaving the store more than a little overwhelmed by the courtesy and caring of total strangers.

Smiling as I walked along, I said a prayer of gratitude and muttered, "I get it. Head pain or no, I am not alone, I am connected, I am cared for, I am part of this big messy beautiful family of life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

I wandered through the tree lined streets toward home. Suddenly a group of children were moving toward me on the sidewalk, herded by three women quietly urging them forward. They were in pairs holding hands, hats on, all between two and three years old. They made me think of ducklings bumping along, easily distracted, alternately wandering and trying to keep up. As they approached me I stood aside but one little girl stopped abruptly (causing a bit of a gentle pile-up behind her) and thrust her hand up to me. She was holding a bright yellow dandelion. "For you," she said with a big smile.

"Oh," I said startled. She'd caught me so off guard, I didn't know what to do.

She frowned, a line creasing her forehead between startling blue eyes, and then repeated with some fierceness, "It is for you!"

"Ah," I said smiling and taking the flower. "It's beautiful! Thank you."

And I walked into the little park a few steps away and sat down on the grass. It would be fair to say that by this time I was a little undone by the random kindness of the morning. I just sat there my heart aching with fullness.

Some days life breaks your heart with all that is hard: injustice, illness, injury, poverty, violence . . . But there is also courtesy, caring, kindness, generosity, connection, and incredible beauty. I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I think that Monday morning some power, some force- the Great Mystery- conspired to show me the simple healing magic of everyday life,  the beauty that reminds of us of our wholeness every day.

And I am filled with gratitude, carried by grace.

Oriah House (c) 2014