Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finding New Life in Dreams of Death

When I was a child and I was having a difficult time going to sleep- usually because my parents were arguing and I was frightened, sure I was at fault and trying to figure out a way to “fix” it- I would imagine myself held in the giant hand of the Sunday School God I had been taught was always watching over and caring for me. 

Years later, the image of a bearded, grey-haired old man sitting in the clouds lost any real meaning for me. I was more interested in living deeply than ascending into cloud cover, and the idea that the divine was just like us but Bigger and More (and male) didn’t make much sense to me. I was aware of a Presence within and around me, but for many years the term “God” felt, as Martin Buber wrote, like an “over-burdened word." As I expanded my ways of thinking and speaking about the Presence I experienced, I used terms like the Great Mystery, the Sacred Wholeness, Awareness, and the divine. Gradually the term “God” became more neutral for me, a word that could point to all of this and to that which is simply beyond our ability to articulate.

I offer this as context for a dream I recently had. I had awoken in the middle of the night and was having a hard time getting back to sleep, so I had started to say the prayers I use as my daily practice- a set of twenty-two names for the ineffable that is both transcendent and immanent. In the midst of these prayers, as I started to slowly move across the threshold of dreams, I heard a voice say “Rest,” in a way that made my whole body gently vibrate as if every cell was a small bell picking up and resonating with the tone and meaning of the word, releasing me into a deep sleep.

As I felt myself fall into a warm, comforting darkness, I thought, “This is what dying will be like- like effortlessly letting go and falling into God’s hand.”

Of course, I don’t know what death will be like and honestly, I’ve never been too concerned about it. I’ve heard Buddhist teachers talk about practicing for our death by being mindful in our daily lives so we will not miss the transformation available at the time of our death. My infinite curiosity about life and spirit mean I'd love to be as conscious as is humanly possible just to see what happens in that moment of transition when it comes. But more importantly, I am drawn to practices that help me deepen my awareness of and participation in the life I have here and now.

So, I like the idea of practicing to be awake for that moment of transition by relaxing into the embrace of the divine on a daily basis, by doing what I can and letting go of the rest so I can live with my heart open and my spirit renewed.

And I like the idea of keeping one part of my attention on my breath to cultivate awareness as I tumble gently into the hand of God at the end of each day.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Giving Up On Once-And-For-All

I’ve been reading through old journals, finding the ends of threads for the book I am writing.  It’s a humbling experience. Repeatedly- sometimes only days apart- I have written in celebration and gratitude about realizing an insight or perspective that seems to clear all confusion and offer new possibilities for health and happiness. The humbling part is that the content of these insights are often very similar, if not identical to each other.  

Reading, I groan and think, “Oh good grief! When am I going to get this once and for all?”

My friend, Peter Marmorek, teaches an online writing course. One of the warm-ups he uses is- “What is the lesson you keep learning over and over throughout your life?” The question assumes that forgetting and re-discovering things we feel are significant is a universal experience, and so perhaps not the personal failure we sometimes fear it is.

We spiritual types are fond of phrases like, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” So why are we so frustrated with relearning a core truth, with “not getting anywhere?” Haven’t we already said there isn’t anywhere to go, that it’s about being here, now?
I think our frustration is harboured in a secret, semi-conscious, and very human hope that there is a. . . . place (inner or outer) on the other side of some critical spiritual or psychological experience or insight where we will be. . . .different than we are, transformed into someone who consistently embodies the spiritual values we hold dear- like love and compassion.

Is there no truth to this? Are we doomed to repeat patterns of misery, misunderstanding and the co-creation of suffering? 

Makes you want to just open a bag of Hersey Kisses  (dark chocolate of course) and lay down on the floor for a few moments. . . . or a week.

It’s a tricky business- leaving room for possibilities without grasping for signs of progress.

I often hear from people who’ve had experiences they feel are awakenings- experiences of knowing at a bone-deep level the beauty of life and their place in it. Often they are concerned, if not downright frantic, that they're not going to be able to hang on to the feeling or perspective their experiences have offered. They tell me, “I am afraid I am going to forget.”

Sometimes I reply, “You will never forget.” Other times I write, “You will forget, because that’s what humans being do- we forget and remember, wake up and go back to sleep over and over again.” Both things are true. We do forget and remember- but on some level we never go back to sleep quite as deeply as we once were, after we've had a moment of being truly awake. This is how we learn and grow, in an ever-spiralling meander. I suspect that most of the time we are too close, our noses pressed up against the details of managing daily life, to see the bigger pattern clearly.

In The Awakened Heart, author Gerald May calls our moments of insight and awakening “remembering love” and “homecomings.” He reminds us, “. . . . it is one of the most precious experiences of living: to have been kidnapped by some worry or striving and then suddenly to gracefully returned home to the present moment, reminded of love.”  He lays aside wanting once-and-for- all learning, writing: “If the one great homecoming were to happen too soon, I would so miss all the many little ones.”

I go back to my journals and begin to see the blessing of repeated homecomings- no two truly identical, each one slightly nuanced but always buoying me up and pointing me back to remembering and reconnecting with Life and Love.  

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Betraying The Feminine

I wrote this piece twenty years ago. Some might wonder if the tone is self-condemning but honestly I felt then, as I do now- that there is liberation in recognizing the ways in which we unconsciously collude with that which dulls or buries awareness of our inherent beauty and power. What I call here “the Goddess” is also known as the divine Feminine that lives within us all- men and women. There is no self-blame here, only a sense of what we must unlearn if we are to embody the sacred marriage of the Feminine and the Masculine in ourselves and in our communities.

For me, the line that breaks my heart open is the one I have highlighted. it reminds me that what I was taught- what sadly many young men and women are still taught- is a lie. For surely, what is done to each one, does matter. 

A culture based on a principle of power-over does not encourage men or women to know the deep power and beauty of what we are. We are all, beginning again and again, the long walk home together.

I am Oriah and I have betrayed the Goddess.

Each time I have given away my power
reshaping myself to please another
taking care not to speak the unspeakable
not to move too fast, too wildly, too wisely, or too strongly

I have betrayed the Goddess.
Each time I have sacrificed myself to please the Father
each time I have opened my body to another
as my heart remained closed to myself
each time I have been quiet 
when I wanted to scream NO to the violation
each time I have been quiet 
when I wanted to shout YES to the moon and life
I have betrayed the Goddess.

I have been raped and I have been beaten.
And each time I have gotten up, like all the women before me
moving slower than before
to take a bath and wash from my body
what could not be removed from my heart and soul,
to bandage my own head and heart where they are torn
to soak my muscles as bruises rise
an ache to the bone.

I have betrayed the Goddess each time I thought:
It doesn't matter
It doesn't matter what you do to me.

I have betrayed the Goddess in my forgetfulness of her name.
And now I turn to walk to her
unsure of the journey
unsure of my welcome
Can you forgive me?
Can I learn to forgive myself?

I walk, and I am encouraged by the faces,
however scared, however unsure and nervous
of sisters also on the road home
I know the journey will be hard,
and it will be a healing
not just for me and my sisters
but for my sons
and the other children, and for this tiny green planet.

But I also know- for the first time- 
that I cannot walk this road to save this Earth
or even for my children
as much as I love each of these.

I must learn to walk the path home to the Great Mother, 
first, for myself.

Grandmothers, help me.
I need your song to keep me from slipping into forgetfulness,
as I begin, again.

Oriah © 2012 (This prose poem first appeared in Confessions of A Spiritual Thrillseeker: Medicine Teachings from the Grandmothers by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, © 1991)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Responding to Resistance

Resistance. It may have been futile against The Borg (okay- geeky Star Trek reference) but it certainly can cause havoc with the creative process. I am working on a new book, The Choice, and some days the writing is like being in labour. It's a good metaphor to use when dealing with resistance of any kind (where a deep soul-serving aspect of self wants to proceed and the smaller self is being dragged kicking, screaming and sabotaging wherever she can.)

What does someone giving birth need? (And I draw here on the experience of two home births- one to a 12lb, 10 oz baby.) Support- firm gentle support; constant reminders to stay in the moment, to breathe through this contraction, not to get caught in anticipating the future.  A voice that says with the authority of experience, "You can do this, stay here, just this breath, this contraction. . . . this line, this sentence, this story. . . ."

Can't help but think how, with my first son in particular, I wanted to say mid-labour, "I've changed my mind. I want to adopt!" But I can no more say "I quit" to this book than I could to having those babies mid-labour. Ironically, (given the book's title) when we've really chosen life fully, we can't just back out of that choice when it requires us to do something difficult, without doing real damage to ourselves.

When I think of stopping, or trying to back up out of writing the truth that’s hard to live with and acknowledge, of deciding I want to give it all up to become a lawyer or a cat groomer I have an image of the spikes they put at some parking garage exits. They puncture your tires if you try to back up. You can only drive forward.

So resistance really is futile. But it can cause anguish. We have to touch it gently like a screaming baby, make comforting noises, whisper, "Shhhhh. . . you're okay. . . just breathe. . . . .just keep writing. . . . all will be well . . . .”

So, I keep on writing- through moments of exquisite ecstasy (usually when the first draft of a story is complete and sometimes when the words come in a steady effortless stream) and moments of excruciating resistance (most often when I am trying to get started on a story I know is going to take me down into the depths.) 

It’s all just what is- the resistance, the agony, the ecstasy and the learning- all just life passing through us, holding us, tossing us about like a small boat in weather that is constantly changing.

Birthing, driving out of the parking garage, tending a screaming child, sailing through varied weather: pick the metaphor that helps you keep moving ahead where there is resistance. Me, I like my metaphors mixed.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freeing The Inner Hostage

When did I get to be so timid, so cautious, so afraid to stand up and say something raw and real, something that might make others uncomfortable?  

With awareness comes choice. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the book sales that allow me to write. But I've recently discovered that I've been holding myself hostage to this unexpected boon. Because the truth is, with the book sales and the “fame” (albeit a one on the one-to-ten scale of this kind of ephemeral “known-ness” that brings both blessings and strangeness) I’ve become. . .  cautious. 

When something you offer goes beyond the local circle that knows you personally, it invites projection because. . . . well, because that’s what we human beings do: we project the best and the worst of ourselves- onto others. It’s such a consistent thing in the human family that I have to assume it’s a feature, not a bug. It lets us see qualities that we are not ready to own (or aren’t even aware of) in ourselves, helps us see our reaction to and work out our relationship to these qualities.

We've all experienced the difficulties with  projections- the confusion and hurt of realizing that the other has not seen us for who we are or doesn’t like what they see when our humanness emerges; the anguish when our projection onto another drops and we see the human being before us and are less than thrilled with what we see (and with whom we may have intertwined some aspect of our life.) 

My default survival strategy as a child was to take responsibility. For everyone. And everything. All the time. Yes, as crazy as it sounds (and is) I decided (although that sounds far more conscious than I could have been) that the only response to my existence being an on-going disappointment to my mother, was to work hard with every breath to make everything alright for everyone. Impossible, but it kept me moving, trying, working, striving for more than a few decades. Until my body collapsed. And then, with a lot of help, I learned (and am still learning) about self-love and care, about the limits to my ability to respond, about what is and is not mine to “fix” or “save," about how we co-create what is -together.

It’s an on-going healing, and one I have come to appreciate for the consciousness it requires and cultivates. But the old default strategy is wired into my limbic brain. Most of the time I can see it, catch it, sit with it. But one of the things that sometimes triggers unconscious terror in me is feeling or anticipating others' disappointment.

And nothing breeds disappointment like projection.

So, the reason I get all antsy and ambivalent about doing public speaking or teaching (aside from my soul-deep need to spend my time writing) is 1) I know (and hope) some folks will come because they have read my books; 2) not knowing me personally they will project all kinds of wonderful qualities they have onto me; and 3) as they see me and get to know me they will be disappointed. It's inevitable, although probably not as consistent or ubiquitous as I imagine in my worst moments. And as much as I dread seeing or feeling others' disappointment, what really scares me is what I have done and might unconsciously do again to avoid it-  censoring myself, hedging on the truth as I know it, or taking on impossible responsibilities that are simply not mine. 

Oh, it's not all about self-preservation. When I have an opportunity to offer something I want to ensure that (to the best of my ability) I do no harm, that I offer something that encourages us to be compassionate and kind. But compassion and kindness has to include room for our human frailty and  shadow- those qualities we might want to deny even in our own minds.

Because I am every bit as human- as contradictory and inconsistent and messy in my thoughts, feelings and actions- as anyone else. Sometimes, at the end of a long day in the midst of a week of conscientious self-care, I eat six popsicles. Yep, six! Don’t ask me why. Some days, within minutes, I swing from feeling genuine compassion for people who are clearly having a hard day, to wanting to verbally lop off a few heads for bad behaviour. Some days I wish the best for my ex, and some days I hope he is tortured by living in the house I bought and furnished with things I'd either carefully purchased after saving for years, or inherited from my grandmother. 

I try not to feed or act on the popsicle-craving, head-lopping, vengeful aspects of self. And some days I succeed. But that doesn’t mean those aspects aren’t there and won't at times, be all too apparent. That's just what it is to be a human being. And when (not if, but when) my humanness disappoints another, well. . . that's also just what is. Another’s disappointment may feel momentarily life-threatening, but that’s an echo of an old reality that has passed. 

And even this- this failure to consistently maintain (or pretend to maintain) the awareness that others’ reactions are theirs and are not about me- well it’s yet another part of the messy magnificence of me.

So, look out. There's no telling what might come out of me now that I am no longer being held hostage to the unconscious desire to avoid disappointing people- both those I know and those I don't. 

Oriah (c) 2012