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Relationship

Wonderful Life

Do you sometimes feel you are living your life like a hamster on a wheel? You wake up, go to work, wonder where the week went? Do you feel as if your wild self has been domesticated, harnessed by duties, demands, dos and don’ts? That the moments of happiness are fleeting clouds that scud across the surface of your life?

It takes a strong wind of change to topple us from the high wire of our sleepwalking lives. A fragment of conversation that comes to us, like the fragrance of sweet jasmine. A book, a song, an interview on YouTube which invites us back to a deeper place where we embrace our Wholeheartedness. Something quite unexpected that reminds us that Life is mysterious.And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet.

I have just read Dying to be Me, Anita Moorjani’s story of the “terminal lymphoma” which ravaged her body for four painful years. Anita was rushed to hospital, her vital organs suddenly silent. Like Snow White, in her glass coffin, Anita lay in a coma. Her doctor told her grief-stricken family that she had only a few hours to live. Anita describes the near death experience (NDE) that brought an instant release of the fear that was stifling her life force. In her profoundly moving account of what she learnt after returning to her body, she delivers a simple message to the world. It is a message we have heard, but not heeded, for centuries.  It is the one thing we all find so difficult to really do: To Love OURSELVES unconditionally. To step out of our own way, and let things flow.

Yet, who is the Self we must love? And how do we nurture and love this Self if we have tasted only neglect, or blame, even cruelty, in our families of origin? How do we love ourselves with gentleness and compassion, if we don’t know how? If our core belief is that we are unworthy, that life is hard or dangerous? How do we soften, how do we love fearlessly if our instincts are blunted, our hearts shielded protectively?

We live in a Petri dish of fear in the West.  We fear the sun, we fear growing fat. We fear losing our loved ones, we fear losing our source of income. We fear old age, we fear death. We fear love. We fight AIDS, we support “Cancer Prevention” campaigns, we take out insurance, invest our money in hospital plans, bolster our sense of safety with imaginary security – money in the bank, stocks and shares – our beliefs are fuelled by lack and aspiration. Like automatons we march with the tribe mind to the drum beat of fear and competition. We juice, read self-help books, exercise, go for regular medical check-ups, but if we cannot truly love and honour ourselves, we sit passively on the Ferris wheel of life, vaguely aware that the interludes of happiness are ephemeral. Round and round we go, living in the past, living in the future, never in the Now.

Anita Moorjani says she believes that her cancer manifested in her body because of her enormous fear of living.  Now she wakes in the morning and asks herself, why am I choosing to be alive today? And she lives from that perspective, in self-love.

So we may experience ourselves in illness or in lack. We may lose our way in the labyrinth of our seriousness. Our minds may be filled with discord, dissonance. We may entangle ourselves in the straining and resisting we call stress. Meister Eckhardt said that “when the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image”. Beneath our Promethean thrust to discover, analyse, grasp, we blind ourselves with the glare of our stolen fire to the brilliance of the Light with ourselves. Like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, has been there all the time. So, all we can do is to be very gentle with ourselves, find the humour in our grumpiness, our acting out, our blaming others –  ourselves. Until we decide not to. We can waken to a new day. Remember that we are all part of a magnificent mandala of creation. Look deeply today.

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

Extract from “Call Me By My True Names – Thich Nhat Hanh.

Dying to be Me

Artwork by Emelisa Mudle

Wonderful Life

 

 

 

3

How You Remind Me

“Life is difficult”, wrote M.Scott Peck in 1978. This simple sentence reverberated in the Collective. “The Road Less Traveled” sold more than 10 million copies. There is a cold comfort in the famous one-liner. For most of us, life is difficult. It is brutal, unfair, painful. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” ( Macbeth )

Life, as The Buddha said, “is suffering”. It takes enormous courage to face into the onslaught of “slings and arrows of misfortune” – some of us run as fast and as far as we can. Some of us numb our rage, our disappointment, our bewilderment. Some of us go through the motions of living, dragging the ball and chain of our fear, murmuring positive affirmations, buying organic, diligently going to the gym, meditating to mantras. There are times in our lives where we must pare away the myths of traditional religion. When we must question old models of spirituality and cultural conditioning. There are times when we must embrace our own flawed humanness, and alone, we must blaze a trail through the dark woods. Stare the Monster in the eye.

To be Whole is not easy. To mine the psyche and bring to the surface All that we are, requires scrupulous integrity, and spiritual discipline. There will be days, weeks, even months, when we may wander, lost and thirsty in our aloneness. When some inexplicable, savage event sends us spiralling into an abyss of unreachable despair. When we ask ourselves, over and over again, “what’s it all about?” Today, to remind you of Who you are, I share with you, a spoonful of sugar – the fierce wisdom of Cheryl Strayed. On February 14, 2012, Strayed revealed herself as “Dear Sugar”, the formerly anonymous author of an online advice column at The Rumpus.

Cheryl Strayed departs from the agony aunt formula, and shares her own struggle and angst:

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her sceptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.”

Thank you.

Habit dulls our minds. We complain, and begrudge. We’re haunted by the ghosts of our past, tortured by what we could have, should have done differently. We look through the narrow prism of our lives at what is missing, and fail to see what is there.

So often it is a calamity, a rending heartbreak, a debilitating disease that rips away the predictable map of our lives, rendering us lost and afraid, without familiar landmarks. Yet, if we look up at the stars, not down at our feet, we will see a sparkling sky that stretches into eternity…  And as we walk, one step, one day, at a time, we come to sense a deeper awareness of what we have failed to notice in the jingle jangle of our compromised lives: the acts of kindness and love that sprinkle our days like peach blossoms, the honey-sweet oblivion of a restful night’s sleep, after nights of dry-eyed awakeness; the mist  that caresses the nape of the morning, the smell of toast, the cuddle-comfort of a cup of tea.

Suddenly, the savanah stretches before us, an undulating sea of golden grass beyond the walls of familiar repetion of routine that entangles, chokes our clarity, blurs our sense of proportion. Tentatively, we begin to walk differently upon the earth, recognising the sacredness of each experience, glimpsing the Divine in a dew-spangled spider web, a scudding cloud, the china blue of the sky dome. Knowing that from smoke and ashes, new green shoots will grow.

So, today, return once more to the soft space within your own heart. Give the world – and yourself, another chance. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Remember Who you are…. And Celebrate.

Nickelback.

 

 

5

When You Say Nothing At All

The Victorians had a language of flowers to express what they felt. Before them, Shakespeare’s Ophelia exclaimed, “Look at my flowers. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts.” Hallmark says it sometimes, in flowery cliché. But when words fail us, it is in the space in-between where deep levels of intense experience emerge from the silence. Viennese philosopher Martin Buber spoke of a sacred space between “I” and “thou”. A place where there is a dissolution of boundaries, where we meet as separate entities and merge to transcend the dense physicality of our bodies, bridge the fear that divides, sink softly into blissful connection. Throughout the ages, songs, poetry, literature, and now cinema, echo this plaintive yearning. In the movie, Notting Hill, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) speaks for us all in that terrifying moment when we open our hearts, reveal our longing, and pray we will be loved in return. She stands before Will Thacker, (Hugh Grant playing his quintessential self) in a pair of flip flops and says with sweet simplicity “remember I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her”.

In the silence of disconnection lies a loneliness that devours the human heart. We staunch the flow of our scarlet life blood with sterile tourniquets: undemanding friendships in controllable portions – teaspoon by convenient teaspoon. Phantom friendships and shadowy lovers stay beyond our castle walls safely in the distance of social networking sites. We seek out only those friends or consult “experts” who soothe our anxious minds with palliative agreements, coddle our egos with judgements that suit our world-view, rock us back to sleep, draw the curtains so we cannot see the cycles of the moon, or hear the song of our soul calling us to grow.

“Boundaries”.  A high currency word, much favoured by psychotherapists and life coaches, bandied about by readers of self-help books. Often these “boundaries” are the walls we erect with bricks and mortar from our egos. Walls that separate us from Life, from Love. Like gnarled bonsai in decorative planters, we live our safely contained, carefully clipped, little lives behind literal or figurative walls that block out the light of the sun and obscure the shimmering stars.

When we distance, judge, presume, and imagine that someone thinks or feels a certain way, in fact we have no inkling what they think or feel at all. Our stories about others say everything about us. It is only in our bravest moments of soul nakedness that we dare admit the truth. We’re hungry to be loved, to be special, and to be needed.  “Can we start over?”  Norman asks in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “I’m not charming and I’m not good at repartee.  My name is Norman and I’m lonely.”

It is in our moment of heroic glory that we detonate the boundary wall of lies; dismantle the gaudy facade of our charming, independent, important, busy, care-free lives.  In the differences that we think separate us is our completion. In the ebb and flow of our relationships, the starfish of new growth.  In our relationships we discover the sweetness of dying, as we release ancient fear, cross the threshold of solitude, meet each other on the bridge that arcs over the river of Life.

Alvy Singer says to Annie Hall as they end their relationship, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”  Relationships, like sharks, need momentum, or they suffocate beneath the weight of mutual wounding, become hooked in nets, speared with words which say, “I don’t mind being on my own. I need to take care of myself, because no one else will.”

Words erect boundaries, and there are times when we must say nothing at all. It is in the silent spaces we discover the convoluted excuses we use we keep people at bay, afraid to say what we feel, terrified to ask for what we need. Perhaps, when we say nothing at all, we might dare take off the clothing of our self-depreciating beliefs. And stand naked as we reveal our longing for one another in the quantum field of Love.

 

Alison Krauss soars …

 

 

 

 

 

1

Be Careful of my Heart

After the initial parabola of passion, affairs can be a descent into hell. A roller-coaster ride that skewers our heart. Scalds us with guilt and grief in the after-shock of transcendent bliss. In virtually every marriage code in virtually every society, adultery is unequivocally prohibited. In ancient Babylonia, punishment was death by drowning. And incredibly, in many places today, the perpetrators of this dastardly crime against the laws of man are flogged – 100 stripes, or stoned to death. For millions more, the punishment is divorce, financial ruin, loss of their children, ostracism from their families, or worst of all,  the solemn burial of their authentic feelings, and their true selves deep within a life of quiet desperation. Increasingly in these financially austere times estranged couples rattle about in the empty shell of their marriage because of the mortgage repayments. Some stick it out for the sake of the children, the elderly parents, blocking their ears to the silent scream of indifference which brutalises the soul. The tender memory of the lover’s embrace bruises the skin for years to come, long after the albatross of the affair has been killed and thrown into the ocean depths.

Adultery comes from Latin which means to pollute, or corrupt.”  What is polluted? Trust? Ownership?

“Morality is a human creation. The Universe does not judge,” says Gary Zukav.

The psychological view sounds more like a laboratory study of Planet of the Apes. Therapists, like little boys, pull the legs off butterflies, break things into smaller and smaller pieces so that they can see how they work. Marriage counsellors urge couples to “work harder” at their relationships; they come up with strategies, hormones, and formulae to fit the  broken pieces together again. In her book Adultery, Louise DeSalvo comments, “ perhaps adultery makes evolutionary sense: perhaps it is a pesky way our species guarantees its survival.” David Barash, in The Myth of Monogamy proposes, “ When it comes to human beings, there’s absolutely no question about monogamy being natural. It’s not. The male’s goal is to make sure his genes live on and therefore he sets out to fertilize as many females as possible. Women, on the other hand, spend nine months pregnant and then have to care for their children. So it’s in the interest of the woman to find one man who will stay with her, or at least help her take care of her offspring, and some might argue that the man is preferably wealthy or powerful. Females, by nature, are choosier and less opportunistic.” 

If only it were that simple. So often, in Love, the dots don’t join. Like the waxing and the waning of the moon, the human heart has phases of light when we turn to face the full magnificence of the sun; times of darkness, as we enfold the mystery of our passion close to our breast. There’s no book of rules, no etiquette to guide us through the perilous seas of Love. Do we throw everything away if Love comes knocking at the door, splintering our hearts, battering down the walls of the life we have built so carefully? Do we risk all for passion, adventure, the unknown, when the rugged terrain of a long relationship has been charted, co-habited. Do we stay, knowing there will always be more soul work, more growth work, as we grind away the sharp edges? Do we fall from the trapeze if there are no waiting hands to catch us? Do we encounter the paradox of forbidden Love, swooning as our hearts sweeten with joy while our minds crucify us between the thieves of Shame and Sorrow? If we’re the one that leaves, our parting of ways will involve a dismemberment of the life we knew. An annihilation of our old self. There will be dark nights when we wake with fear gnawing through our belly.

It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”, says Clarissa Pinkola Estes. At some time or another, we will come to the crossroads of choice, and the awakening of consciousness. So do we hone what we have into what our heart longs for? Do we differentiate, individuate, heal our childhood hunger … if we can’t be with the one we love, do we love the one we’re with?  Or do we risk it all to leap like a salmon over the rocks, tumble over waterfalls following our instincts as a new impetus of growth calls us up to swim as if our life depends on it. And it does.

There is some kiss we want with our whole lives,” said Rumi.  Some of us may search for that kiss through our adolescence, our experimental twenties, and often turbulent thirties. We stuff the anger, the longing deep down.  Numb our longing with the busy-ness of life. Is this as good as it gets, we ask ourselves, filling the hole in our heart with longer hours at the computer, the gym, the office, or another glass of wine when we get home.

It may take the catalyst of an affair to expose the cracks in the chalice of our marriage. It may take the sweet kiss of just one person to awaken us from our slumber. And one day, we take the risk…

Re-birthing our souls is never as simple as leaving the husk of a desiccated relationship, changing jobs, walking the Camino, or falling in love with someone new. It is an arduous task, which requires endurance… and courage. Unless we’re willing to look honestly at ourselves, merely switching partners will bring the same issues we tried to escape from with our previous partner, often leaving us marooned, stripped of our innocence. But if we are conscious, and serious about the tugging at our hearts, there are rich lessons in each new relationship, as we retrieve the long-buried parts of ourselves — our passion, our sensuality, our joy — our deceitful, destructive  Shadow.

When, at last, we come to trust our own instincts, hear and respect our own voices, feel valuable enough to touch that fertile, erotic, vulnerable part of our self, buried beneath the sediments of cultural conditioning and wipe the sleep from our own eyes, we dare to risk bursting into blossom.

Our choices in love are sacred. Authentic love feels like a reunion, recognition, and if our ways must part, the love we once shared remains, all-ways.

Painting by Frida Kahlo

Tracy Chapman

You and your sweet smile
You and all your tantalizing ways
You and your honey lips
You and all the sweet things that they say
You and your wild wild ways
One day you just up and walked away

1

Breaking the Silence

Today I break a five-week media fast. No internet, no phone, no movies, no books.  No one’s opinions or thoughts but my own. Sweet interludes of solitude. Silence between the soft spaces of a nomadic rhythm of movement across the burnished wheat fields of Sicily. Rocked by the ferries that carried me over shimmering turquoise waves, progressing slowly from the toe to the thigh of Italy. I reflected on my life,  silently observed my fellow travellers, some paddling with two thumbs across the siren screens of their iPads. Some attached by two slender umbilical cords emerging from each ear, staring into the distance with unreachable eyes. Sitting silent and still on the black beaches of Stromboli, I contemplated our world at this time of unsettling change. A time where advances in technology have irrevocably altered the way we think, the way we behave.  At first, I observed my doppelganger’s addiction to a fibre optic world that chatters unceasingly, filling my head with a jumble of thoughts, the pretence of belonging to a “global village” which is as make-believe as Disney World.

As the weeks warmed into the jasmine-scented solstice, the yearning for simplicity, for silence carried me Home to myself once more. In  quiet piazzas of rural Sicily, people still gather at ancient wells and fountains in the cool of the evening. They sit on benches, talking, listening to one another.  Old men clatter over worn cobblestones on rickety bicycles, and like battle weary knights, dismount from their steel steeds to drink a glass of wine or sip a limoncello as the swallows stitch apricot clouds together with invisible thread. My doppelganger self imagined another life … what if?

As our world becomes less and less certain, the perennial questions, “Who Am I?” and “What if?” thunder across the abyss of disconnection and loneliness.  Movies like Sliding Doors (1998) and the expansive Another Earth (2011) echo this age-old motif.  What if we choose differently, who would we be? Philip K. Dick (his short stories now depicted in movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report) is quoted as saying, “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards.”

Whether this world meets our standards or not, it is often a lonely, inhospitable place for so many. Alternative history, a parallel universe, a world where Big Brother watches our every move… where “artificial intelligence” out-smarts us at our own game, where we fall in love with robots. Out of our own minds we spin the thread of our own reality, and make choices based on a memory bank of feelings and subjective experiences that are echoes of a reality that does not exist. Or does it?

In mythology, fiction and folklore, the doppelganger was a harbinger of death or ill fortune. A spirit double, a bi-located self appears in all mythology. In modern movies and literature, where parallel universes exist, in cyberspace where avatars fulfil our fantasies, doppelgangers can be anything we want them to be in the Wonderland of our own imaginings.  We can experience those parts of our psyches that we wear like the whisper of silken lingerie: The noble, the generous, the compassionate, and the wise. We can try out for size the “good” Dr Henry Jekyll or the “evil” Edward Hyde. In the undulation of daily life we can experience the doppelganger as we experience the paradox of the human condition, the duality of our perfection. There may be times in our lives where we dwell in the dark valley of negativity and depression, and no amount of therapy or self-help literature will lure us up to the Light… until we are ready to experience being in the Light.

Or the time may come when we become weary of our own games and courageously step into the new reality of seeing our relationships with new eyes, focusing on what is good, right, affirming, about our work or our living conditions. As in fiction, from the mists of our past, emerges a New Self concealed beneath the old one.  And like a snake shedding its skin, we embrace our vulnerability as we let go one “reality” and accept another. To have something new, something better, we may have to give it all up, whether this is a relationship, a job, a belief about ourselves, others, or the world.  Our old ways become as tattered and lacklustre as the wings of a butterfly as it finally flutters to the earth after its brief moment in the Sun.

As we consciously stay alert, aware of the thoughts and feelings that pinch and chaff, the emotions that resonate in our bodies, we can choose another reality, experiment with the Mystery of this life, stepping out of our limited perspective with its attachments, neurosis, judgments to give ourselves and the world another chance. As the Buddha said, to practice meeting life on its own terms instead of straining to make everything manageable, familiar, and safe. And  then we begin again to experience this tremulous dew drop of life with all its paradox and all its wonder.  In a reality that is here and now.

 

Do not go back to sleep.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

don’t go back to sleep.

you must ask for what you really want.

don’t go back to sleep.

people are going back and forth between the

door sill where the two worlds touch.

the door is round and open.

don’t go back to sleep – Rumi.

 Art: Pakayla Biehn’s Dreamy Double Exposure.

Breaking the Silence Loreena McKennitt

 

 

1

Wishin and Hopin

So often our approach to Love reflects the narcissism of our attention deficit times. We yearn to meet our soul mate, “The One” who will instantly ease our ache for intimacy, breathe hotly on the dim embers of our libido. We search for our soul mate who will share our interests, hear us, hold us, make us feel alive, young, bright  and beautiful again. We encounter our soul mates in the first rush and blissful fusion of romantic love. That feeling that we have met before, that we are meant for each other. We return, innocent again, to The Garden of Unlimited Possibilty. A soul mate is defined as a person for whom one has a deep affinity, especially a lover, wife, husband – The World English Dictionary. This deep affinity awakens us from our slumber when we  fall in love. When the shaken-not-stirred heady cocktail of chemicals bursts like champagne bubbles in our brains as we delight in the beauty of The Other; recognise the Divinity in ourselves. We  float weightlessly, deliciously, in the amniotic warmth of our Return.

As a foundation for a lasting relationship, the drunken intoxication of meeting a soul mate is a Grace-filled initiation into the art of Love. And yet those of us who have endured times of travail on the long and often rough road of a committed relationship, or been shipwrecked on the inhospitable shores of loss after a brief ill-fated love affair, may wonder how this bliss of affinity  is possible? In even the most compatible of couplings, there surely will be moments when a cloud of discord darkens domestic bliss?  Barbie and Ken struggled to get through the brambles in their on-off romantic relationship –  Mattel announcing in a news release that they had split up. Barbie’s broken heart healed once more when she become “friendly” with the Australian surfer, Blaine – never trust a woman with torpedo boobs and 3m femurs!  The search for our soul mate is so often a fruitless quest for some ideal, some  fantastic object of transcendence. A Big Ask, when most of us are little children in adult bodies.

If the relationship is to emerge from the chrysalis, there will be drops of blood. We will be required to strain and struggle from the warm, creative cocoon of romance in order to stretch and grow our wings, or they will remain forever crumpled. And when we fly free, as we must,  we will collide with situations and behaviours that test our tenacity, bring us face to face with disowned parts of ourselves – and our lover.

The Imago model evangelises the concept that our soul mates are our wound mates. Says the high priest of this school of thought, Harville Hendrix, “We always marry someone for the purpose of finishing our childhood.”  So when we are ready for adult commitment, more often than not, our unconscious mind selects someone who has positive and negative traits similar to those of our parents in order to have another chance to heal ourselves. All too often, though, we end up reliving the patterns that hurt us in the first place and stay stuck in a furrow of frustration, expressing our pain through criticism and angry words. Relationship guru, John Gottman believes that it is not conflict itself that lies at the root of relationship problems, but how it is handled. “Venting anger constructively can actually do wonders to clear the air and get a relationship back in balance,” he admonishes. But when what Gottman calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – come crashing through our bedroom door and remain there, this is when the real work of repair and behaviour change begins.  Or we  can choose to descend into the sulphurous hell of an invisible divorce, where we live disconnected, like marionettes, going through the motions of marriage, “for the sake of the children”. And  some of us hurt so badly, we dismember our love in the gruesome carnage of divorce.

Energy follows attention. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein said, yet we stay in the battle zone, guns blazing. When our needs aren’t met, we cry, sulk, have tantrums, withdraw – or walk away in the darkness of the Nigredo before the alchemy has worked its magic. Every time you “invest” in the negative, you are honing your ability to detect faults. Your energy amplifies the annoying and the fragile, and you create the conditions that allow your problems to grow like weeds in an unkempt field. Our spiritual work is in the templum of our relationships. “Only in Relationship can you know yourself, not in abstraction and certainly not in isolation. The movement of behaviour is the sure guide to yourself. It’s the mirror of your consciousness; this mirror will reveal its content, the images, the attachments, the fears, the loneliness, the joy and sorrow. Poverty lies in running away from this, either in its sublimations or its identities,” says Krishnamurti.

And still we wish and hope. We cast wide our net online. We sign up for soul mate encounter groups. We think we have found The One, and embark on the perilous journey of commitment with meagre provisions, believing that with minimal effort, no change in our rigid behaviours, things will organically grow and we will live happily ever after. Relationships are like gardens. They require tending and frequent pruning to encourage new growth and fragrant flowers.  Often it is in conflict and despair that the real growth happens.  Rumi says, “When the grapes turn to wine, they long for the ability to change. When stars wheel around the North Pole, they are longing for our growing consciousness.”

Elizabeth Gilbert says “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.”  This may be Ms Gilbert’s painful experience, but for some, a soul mate is the person who stays long enough to allow us to feel safe. Stays long enough to heal our hearts so that they can blossom and breathe intimacy.  It is with the soul mate that holds our hand as we journey over the rocks, knowing not all roads are smoothly paved, that we come to know what Love is.

Says Melody Beattie, “Accept each part of the journey as it comes. Let each stretch of your path be what it needs to be … slow down a bit if you need to, but don’t stop.”

Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’
Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms
That won’t get you into his arms…
Dusty Springfield 1964

Barbie and Ken

Artwork: Waiting, by Donato Giancola

 

 

0

Dust in the Wind

Shall I leave my job, my relationship – can I afford not to? Shall I move home, live in the country? Am I ready to get married? Like mendicant dervishes whirling in the hurricane of our own confusion, we are blinded by the dust that swirls around the deeper truth of our questions. We falter, circle around the truth, obsess about the peripherals, back ourselves into the either-or, the no-escape corner, where we sit, huddled in the sandstorm of our immobilising fear.

It is tempting to hand over decision-making to our guru, our therapist, our rabbi, our priest. It is tempting to search for the answer to the dilemma that bedevils us outside ourselves. When we beseech someone out there to tell us what to do, we mute The Wise Man or Wise Woman within who know that the answers to the deeper questions are always found within the stillness of our own hearts.

No authority figure can ever know the sacred landscape of our soul. Their lives will be very different to ours; through the choices they have made, and if we follow their advice, our journey will be their journey, no longer ours.  It is we who are the hero or heroine of our own story.  When we reach the silence of surrender, that tipping point of acceptance of the situation, just as it is, we may come to a plateau of new perspective where we cease feeling sorry for ourselves, angry at someone else. Only when we stop blaming our partner, our friend, the organisation, or ourselves, can we sift through the chaff of fear and pain, our resistance to change; the guilt we may feel at “ letting someone down”, or the belief that we are “needed” by someone else. Only then can we know that our soul is calling us to new territory.  “Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behaviour, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But this means we then give away our power to that entity. ” said M. Scott Peck. Observe the old scripts, the raucous voices that shout out their opinions. They may be the static that distorts the signal of our truth. When we close our eyes and connect with our full aliveness, tap into the perennial stream of our own power, we liberate ourselves from the shackles of indecision. When we cease wishing and hoping for things to be different, chaffing at our restraints, longing to escape, we can make a sober assessment of our situation, and reclaim our power to choose differently. Byron Katie says, “Suffering is optional. The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with reality… Which is more empowering –“I wish I hadn’t lost my job or I lost my job; what can I do now?  ” 

What we can do now is make a leap in passion and in trust. Witness the fleeting sandstorms of insecurity, conflict, loss, blame and guilt. What we can do now is to take responsibility for what it is we want, then commit to our wise decision, knowing that we are deserving of goodness and happiness.

Our lives, this world, are in a constant process of change, a continual cycle of birth, death, re-birth. The cycles of the planets symbolise above what is unfolding below: Pluto and Uranus, cosmic catalysts for change square up against one another again from June 7th, provoking collective and personal change and new growth. Watch as political and economic events reflect the tension and metamorphosis. Feel the tension in our own lives, the need to slough off old skin, discard the mask, reclaim our original face.

A spiritual journey is a long process through desolate valleys, up steep mountainsides. Often it is our unhappiness or dis-ease that catapults us out of our entropy, arouses our quest for a more authentic life. We live in a state of paradox as we journey through the mystery and complexity of our daily lives, and deal with the consequences of the choices we make. To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.” – M. Scott Peck.

In those desert storms, clarity comes in moments of deep silence. Then we need to ask ourselves if we have the courage to follow the wisdom of our heart, accept the situation for what it is, take responsibility for the choice to walk across the threshold and enter a room we have never visited before.

Kansas

Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
The wind

Artwork: Sandstorm by Rebekah Osorio

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Between Two Lungs

It is our in-breath that holds us in Life. And yet it is when an opportunistic virus squats in the warm moistness of our body, and our lungs rattle and wheeze in the echoing silence of the night, it is only then that we experience the desperate urgency of that vital breath. We can live for weeks without food, days without water, only minutes without the hallowed air that connects us to the world around us. Yet, how often do we move mechanically through our days, without pausing to marvel at the miracle that is our body.  Until we wake from our stupor… until something goes wrong.

Many religions place care of the body as a sacred responsibility. The body is the temple for the soul, a physical form through which we all experience spirit, our humanness. Yet paradoxically, these same religions condemn our carnality; denounce our bodily functions, shame our sexuality. We have lost our ancient connection to the land, to our own animal bodies.  We worship at the altar of the mind, banishing our bodies, mutilating ourselves in our vain quest for some standard of “perfection”. Physical fitness is extolled in the media and in Western culture, yet below the skin of the perfect body,  lurks a fetid abscess of shame which poisons our blood, defiles our bones. We subjugate our natural cycles, starve our hunger for touch, use them like landfills for the garbage of shame and self-abuse. The memory of fear, loathing, and trauma, lies in the vaults of our musculature, stays, silenced in our timid, shallow breathing.

How many of us love our bodies? Care for them as we would minister to a beloved pet or a cherished child? The black rat of dissatisfaction gnaws in the belly of this body we say we love. Our bodies remain charred uninhabited landscapes. We’re talking heads, amputated from flesh and blood, swinging in space.  So, there comes the day when our athletic knees fail us after years of hip misalignment, and we must genuflect. Our facial muscles atrophy from mis-use of botox, our shoulders ache, immobilised by static hours at the computer. We are dis-embodied – unable to access the intuitive wisdom –  or the raw courage to defy the herd mind and attune to what feels self-nurturing.

As Caroline Myss says, “Our biography becomes our biology.”   So coming Home to the body requires listening, in silence, to the body’s innate wisdom to heal, to regenerate. It may take years to silence the critical voices in our heads that push us beyond exhaustion, that quell our instinctual hunger and desire. Jung talks of the Eros principle to describe this sense of interconnectedness, this sense of being fully alive, awake, in our fleshy moist bodies. He connected Eros to the archetype of The Mother, the feminine, the connection with the Earth, with sensual touch, with food, with nurturing, with relatedness to all things. Eros is our life force. When the feminine is demonised, devalued, she slips silently underground. She falls asleep, emerges angry, erupts as dis-ease. Somatised emotions sing to us our soul-songs of pain.

In the patriarchal West, we honour Logos – the masculine. When masculine and feminine energies are imbalanced, as they are in so many institutions, and religions, what emerges is competitiveness, perfection, specialisation, over-rationalisation, greed, mis-use of power, and the ultimate insanity – war. When masculine and feminine are out of kilter, we try to transcend who we really are. So often it is an illness, some kind of physical break down that brings us Home to  surrender, so softly to the warmth of  our bodies. Says Marion Woodman, “This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known. “

So, as we allow our minds to become still  energy  enters, the feelings  overflow… we begin to breathe deeply, filling our soft bellies, receiving… Life. As we learn to trust, to take seriously the honour of loving our body, our dreams bring us precious pearls in oyster shells of  metaphor, and imagery. They speak to us of dis-ease in our body if we are attentive, long before our bodies talk to us through symptoms.  Or, perhaps an “accident” may open the door to a room in our psyche we have never entered. “Injury is an essential part of the life cycle of any active biological organism,” writes Josh Schrei. “Only in a world in which we seek an endless summer and a lifestyle of perpetual comfort would we consider injury as entirely negative. Our very life cycles say otherwise. Our mothers birth us in pain and rapture, structurally altering themselves — and often being injured — in the process. We ourselves are born through a passage that puts tremendous pressure on our new frames and warps them out of symmetry right from the start… The reality is that injury — like all things in this realm of physical preciousness, up to and including death — is a gift if we take it as such.”

We cannot destroy our energy; lose our power, (to anything or anyone). It is there all the time, in the sacred landscape of our body. In the heart, between our two lungs.

Florence and the Machine –  Between Two Lungs

Dreams of a Saturday Morning in my Lover’s Bed – art by C.S. Scogins.

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Falling Slowly

Growing into wholeness can take many years, or it can happen in an instant. That Grace-filled moment when we can be alone with ourselves and truly like who we are. Often it is the spectre of fear that blocks the threshold to the brilliant blaze of full aliveness. We flounder as we grasp the elusive memory of wholeness, the melted butter richness of contentment, often so difficult to sustain in the context of our relationships, our working conditions, our financial worries. Reality congeals around us, enveloping the spark of hope; we are becalmed, stagnant, stuck.  We lose our way in the dark woods; confront the black wolf of our own shadow. Phantom-like we float through the motions of marginal living, unable to feel even our joy, as we sit, silent, inconsolable. Yet through the symptoms in our tired bodies, our souls scream out from the abyss of our own isolation. We know what we don’t want.  But do we have the clarity, in our sleep-deprived, crowded lives to glimpse the spark of  passion that gives meaning to our existence?  Do we know what we really love?

The lives we create with the thoughts we think, moment by moment, day by day, may obliterate that spark.  Like the little Match Girl in the Hans Christian Anderson adaptation of the fairy tale, we wander the icy streets, staring into windows at abundant tables, Christmas trees bedecked with baubles and gingerbread sticks, the cosy log fires of other peoples’ living rooms. We sit in the nook of our days, striking match after creative match, depleting our life force, snuffing out our passion… settling for the falling star of the job, the relationship. We believe the slippery lies that freeze us to death. Perhaps our biggest fear may be that if we free our minds of the thoughts that petrify us, open our hearts, we will make those big life changes that will crash through the flimsy structures of our lives. Our marriages will be torn asunder, we will resign from our jobs, alienate our friends.  Often that is exactly what does happen. And yet, if we stay with padlocked heart in the dark dungeon of routine chores or cup cake fixes – a new hair style, a pair of expensive shoes, a holiday, or interior design project to distract us – the price we pay for living in the safety zone will exhaust our spiritual bank account. We will project our dis-ease upon others in our homes and offices, we suffocate our souls with addictions, and we numb our bodies with medication. Eventually we must pay a price for a life unlived. “What is not brought to consciousness comes to us as Fate, ”  said Jung.

The way of the heart is the way of the “sacred warrior” said Chogyam Trungpa.  There is a danger in feeling our hunger, dismantling our defences. But what also happens is that when we free-fall and smash through our fear, the angels send us white feathers to guide us on our path. We may need to crash and burn. To rise, like the phoenix from the ashes of our lives, burnt black, transformed irrecoverably.

Changing base metal into gold is not done with bells and whistles, but in the darkness of the night. In our dreams, our daytime reveries, the sudden surge of recognition that feels strong and authentic in our bellies. Like goddess-saint Brigit of Kildare’s ever-burning flame, our light will not be extinguished unless we douse it ourselves. No man, woman, god out there can extinguish our own Divinity. It is there all the time if only we will turn towards the Light and warm ourselves at the fire. The spark we need might be a fragment of a conversation we overhear in the supermarket, the lyrics for a song; encouragement of a friend, a skilful therapist, to coax the green shoots of new growth. Sometimes we are required to dismantle the fortress of our hostility and our fear, granite stone by granite stone. To fall slowly into the ocean of our tears and swim to shore. We will always be required to work honestly, consistently to see through the smoke and mirrors that distort our truth. We will always be required to silence for ever the competing voices in our heads – our parents, our society, our siblings or friends – and recognise the sound of our own true voice. We will always be required to have a genuine desire to change our lives. To be vigilant that our journey towards self-awareness is not simply self-absorption or narcissism.   Only then can we fall slowly into the reality of our lives. To begin to live in conscious relationship by being truthful in our communications, realistic in our great expectations. To laugh more, guilt-trip less.  Only then can we savour the blissful beatitude of being in flow in our lives; in harmony with the whole cosmos. Healed, and whole.

For Ray. “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” Rumi

Paula Mills. Feather art.   Glen Hansard Falling Slowly

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Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)

We encounter them in our offices. They live amongst our families. We befriend them online, in our friendship circles. They are the beguiling strangers we meet on our travels. Men and women who leave us depleted, disorientated, disempowered, sucked dry.

They travel in groups. Wan-faced teens with vacant eyes. Pale bodies indelibly stained with tattoos, savagely pierced with shiny metal – fag ends of ancient initiation ceremonies that once embraced and bound neophytes to the tribe. This  fragment of tribal belonging so often lacks a spiritual profundity. So they live their lives vicariously, vacuously. Umbilically attached to the iPod.

The vampire is a shadowy figure that has sunk its sharp fangs into myth and legend in every culture for thousands of years. Cursed, defiled, denied, damned, the un-dead reappear in popular culture, often eroticised: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula,True Blood,The Vampire Diaries, Twilight. In modern culture, the vampire is mild mannered, courteous. No ghoul or  hideous monster. The scene is always the same. A naive, but always willing victim invites the vampire into the home or bedroom, where it sucks the red life blood from a proffered neck to sustain its own life force. There is a chilling sense of fatal attraction. A passive complicity, an enchantment, as the victim exposes her seductive neck, or lies alluringly asleep. Night after night the Vampire visits. The Victim wavers, weakens. Then, bloodless, transforms into a cadaverous demon ravenous for a fresh source of life-blood. Vampires have lost a connection to their core aliveness. Circumstance, or Fate, has battered their ability to connect with Source, the Divine, leaving them lost, alone, going through the motions of living. In movies, TV series, the old myths are coloured with swooning eroticism. The early recorded stories were very dark and carnal, with brutal destruction of the vampire-turned-victim by the ordinary village folk. In myth and fairy tale the hero or heroine is enchanted. Lost in a dark wood, displaced, far from kith and kin, vulnerable. In poetry, love stories, the unconscious psychic connection between lovers becomes the macabre death-dance of victim and persecutor, as lovers merge, fragile psyches become possessed by these devouring archetypes. John Keats describes this sense of enchantment:
Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing… La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Celebrities captivate sycophants into their orbits. Movie stars, singers, models can be literally possessed by the vampire archetype. They feed off their advisors and groupies, the “love” from their audiences, and in turn are devoured, leaving in their wake the detritus of drugs, drink and deception that destroys. Often suicide is the only way to leave the emptiness. We can constellate the vampire archetype in our own lives in the victim- persecutor dance brutally played out in so many relationships. In fear and lack, we may constellate people into our lives who polish our egos, make us feel needed, loved, important for a while… and together we germinate a symbiotic relationship that leaches our joie de vivre, saps our sense of self, sucks out promise, all hope. “Loneliness, physical or spiritual, may allow this complex to manifest. Falling in love is another common way to become vulnerable to this manifestation. Many vampire stories tell of women or men who unwittingly fall in love with a vampire, and after marriage become their victims” writes Bob Johnson.

Studies on incest and paedophilia tap into the vampire archetype. The vampire complex lurks like a hidden virus in families, surfacing again and again in successive generations. Until someone breaks the ties that bind…

Bob Johnson continues, “Vampire lore suggests incest because the most startling aspect of the folkloric vampire is that he must first attack members of his own family. His victims are preordained to be those he loved most in life. Modern versions do not always include this element, but it is almost universal in vampire folktales. And so we have the vampire father and mother who must first attack those they love.” James Twitchell, in his book on incest writes about the vampire: “I cannot think of any other monster-molester in our culture who does such terrible things to young victims in such a gentlemanly manner. He is always polite and deferential, and his victim is almost always passive in return.” The deeply disturbing movie, Trust deals with online sexual predators and the shattering of trust in a family as a 14-year-old girl is groomed and lured by the vampiric Charlie.

Not all victims of vampires become vampires in turn. Some survive to write books, appear on talk shows. Young children escape the savage breast of a vampire mothers or a psychically devouring father. Elizabeth Lesser escaped her demon lover and wrote about her experiences in Broken Open. We are not required to become vampires. We  allow ourselves to swoon. We stay too long. We deny our instincts. We vacillate, procrastinate, assuage our doubts, wish and hope it will all get better…. It never does. Without a strong sense of authentic self, a spiritual fountainhead that sustains our thirst, a sense of meaning, a philosophy that animates us when events in our lives darken all the silver linings in the clouds, we float in a void, drained of our life force, or sit, waiting at the window. Passively, we vacillate, procrastinate, and loiter in the darkness of our own fear, our own terror of living our lives with blood red passion…

So our holy quest is to discover for ourselves that source of spiritual succour. To connect with our inner world through music, dance, poetry. To discover an activity that gives meaning to our lives. To draw into our lives those relationships that nourish and delight. It takes courage to dismount from the Ferris Wheel of busyness and distraction. Often it is an act of will to sit in a field of daisies, and listen to the whisper of our soul, the heartbeat of the earth. Like Parsifal, we need to ask the right question. And then take action to save ourselves.

Stevie Nick’s lyrics depict the vampiric dance

“Now and others say…. she’s not really real….Like a candle burns bright, wants to burn faster~ well maybe then… at least she really feels.. Burning like a candle in the middle…She’s lonely, lost…she’s disconnected. She finds no comfort in her surroundings. Beautiful, Insecure, she has nothing. She moves from situation to situation…. like a ghost. Then she sees him ….candle burning….”

 

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