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Making my Way Back

Sample_Pic_19We all have a natural habitat. A place of comfort and ease that connects us to our natural state of Beingness.

Yet, in the straggle of human settlements that stretch like bleached coral reefs across the landscape, many of us are harnessed to thoughts, beliefs, situations that chaff and constrict. In the dissonant babble of other people’s voices we lose our way, forget what it is that we truly need to nurture our soul. We may wander in exile, lost in the endless surge of sensory stimuli that pluck and prod us off course. Our dreams and longings discarded, forgotten in the sweet meadow of  distant memories.

 

little foxOur neuroses may be a response to being removed our natural  habitat. Our pliable brains adapt to places and situations, while our wise animal bodies speak to us in metaphor, show their dis-ease in symptoms.

Like humans, animals have an inner nature. And while some of their behaviours and defenses are not always due to overt abuse, their adaptations to an alien environment may distort and warp or erupt in aggressive behaviour.

Anna Breytenbach  has devoted her life to inter-species communication. In The Animal Communicator, a documentary  in which Anna demonstrates how animals and humans share the same need to be seen and heard, we see how animals and humans display similar trauma and defenses when out of balance with their natural state of being.

imagesTT24EIEHKatrina Clay, publisher of Healing Springs Journal, describes a Navajo Horse Blessing she witnessed recently in Saratoga County. Each race horse was blessed with the intention that they would heal, let go of past wounds. Many of the race horses distracted themselves with habitual behaviours.

She writes, “good race horses have every physical need met in order to perform well. What is often neglected, however, is experiencing life true to the nature of horses – outdoors in strong social groups, eating 20 hours a day on a variety of nutritionally low plants while travelling as far as 20 miles a day finding them. While some horses and people are well adjusted to domestication, others habitually fill the empty time ordinarily satisfied by searching for food with hollow patterns of behaviour… For a horse, it may come out as cribbing or biting. For a human it may be workaholism … or any multitude of obsessions.”

Over the past thirty years we have all experienced Promethean changes in technology which has changed the way we think, communicate, behave. March 2015 will see a solar eclipse and the final Uranus-Pluto square in the series of seven which have reflected global events, particularly in the use and mis-use of power as well as the unprecedented proliferation of new technology. Perhaps this final square will bring a sense of resolution for some of us in some deeply personal way. A decision to take the action needed to make those changes that reflect inner growth. A choice to replace habitual thoughts or behaviours with new ways of being in this world that resonates with an authentic place within.

chimanzeeChange is unsettling, even threatening for humans and animals. We, like the other animals on this planet, are hardwired for danger. Our anxious brains have kept us alive for eons. Many of us tend to become more calcified as we age, more fearful, more sealed into our ticks and twitches. For most of us, letting go of our defenses is threatening. For some of us, we will never be ready or willing to embrace the changes which terrify us. And yet, it is in the taking of baby steps that we can truly follow our bliss and find our way back to a place where we feel a Belonging.

“We have not yet arrived, but every point at which we stop requires a re-definition of our destination,” writes poet, Ben Okri,in Tales of Freedom.

 

imagesOI7HXGM3Beneath the surfaces of our lives our yearnings flutter and soar like the summer swallows on thermals of delight. Our places of nurture which will be different for each one of us. Like the brave green shoots that thrust from cracks in pavements and the trees that stand sentinel alongside swirl and swish of traffic, we live amidst noise and fumes of humans in continuous motion. Yet some of us may know those places of silence. If we allow ourselves to go there, we may re-visit that spacious zone where we expand into our Belonging. Perhaps making our way back will require one day a week where we switch off the phone, leave the incessant demands of our in-box, turn our eyes away from the twitter stream or the distractions that become our armouring and our straight-jacket. Perhaps then we will glimpse our natural habitat. Perhaps then we will know that private place, where we feel our Belonging.

Gemma Hayes from the new album Bones and Longing

Making my Way Back

 

 

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Damn You

damn you picWe  talk glibly about someone being “a narcissist.” We detonate the word like a Catherine wheel on Hallowe’en; toss it over our left shoulder like a pinch of salt, and like the origins of Hallowe’en or the ritual of tossing salt over our left shoulder, we’re unaware of the moist kernel of meaning beneath the brittle husk. It’s a label that sticks tenaciously in the Victim Perpetrator model of relationships, and in a culture of self-aggrandisement that puts Self above all other sentient beings. It multiplies like an algal bloom in a culture where we consume other people’s ideas, gobble down advertisers’ enticements. We’re plugged in, eyes down, thumbs moving. Tuned out to silence.
In a particular brand of blame and shame psychology that has lodged unquestioned, unexamined in mainstream consciousness, a narcissist is our boss, our ex, a friend who has offended us in some way. They’re the ones who are utterly self-absorbed, aggressive, and abusive. They’re the cause of our divorce or our unhappiness at work. Despite  popular  assumption, a narcissist does not truly love herself. She doesn’t even know who she is . In her self-absorbed flaunting, in his amplified bravado, in her need to stand apart in her frenzied desire to need to be seen, is an emptiness, an isolation, that echoes pitifully across the babble of voices that tweet and twitter and stare into the glazed eyes of a masturbatory Selfie.
As human populations flourish across the surface of the earth, millions of souls jostle for space, air,work and food in Gotham Cities all over the world. We contract our energy, seal our body space, tune out the noise, the smells, avoid the eyes, the bodies, as we weave and glide over dirty streets, plugged into our I Pods, eyes down, caressing the smooth surfaces of our Tablets.

Therapist Esther Perel suggests that the merge model of relationship is challenging to the Millennials. I would suggest it is challenging to so many who ascribe to The Cult of the Individual. Working in collaboration with someone requires compromise, empathy, and an ability to accept that being “needy or weak or vulnerable” is part of our humanness.

Solitary bliss has an elusive, dreamy quality that advertisers have crafted into a make-believe bubble of desirability, perhaps even mandatory if we are to be normal well adjusted, differentiated human beings. The pursuit of Happiness has become a full-time occupation in the affluent Western World, the belief that we are worth it, that we have the right to have something more.untitled

According to authors of  The Narcissism Epidemic,  Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge, we are living in an age of entitlement. “The symptoms of the disease range from the extreme (hiring fake paparazzi to follow you around for a weekend) to the more ubiquitous, garden-variety solipsism (Twittering what you ate for lunch or hiring a professional photographer to take your Facebook photo). Translated into the realm of romantic relationships, the message comes across as: I’m great, and you’d better be, too.”
Esther Perel elaborates, “the culture of narcissism is about your personal happiness coming first and your partner coming second,” says Esther Perel. She adds, though, “Narcissism is actually a clinical personality disorder affecting 1 to 3 percent of the population, not an occasional attitude.”

We pay lip service to self-esteem with Botoxed lips and smooth shiny foreheads. We still look outside ourselves for validation and approval. And if we don’t get it, well then, damn you! To find ourselves has become the Holy Grail. We meditate, go to therapy, do yoga, with the same zealous application our great grandmothers used to bleach stained linen. We invest time, money and energy into ourselves. Why would we want to share our Obsession with someone else? We follow our bliss with the same single minded blinkered zeal that our forefathers used to hack down the great forests, alter the courses of rivers, decimate, or convert the indigenous inhabitants. Yet in the frenetic rush to get somewhere, be someone, there is no time, no silence to be still and go within.

narcissisFor me, myths and fairy tales are repositories of wisdom. These age-old stories carry the unperturbed truths that ripple through our lives today. They teach us that nothing has changed, nothing is “trending”. And that all our neurosis is just a minute piece in the large tapestry of evolution and transformation. The story of the beautiful youth, Narcissus, is a tale of self-absorption, spurned lovers, arid intellectualism without conversation with the moist wetness of our soul. So the story begins, as so many good stories do, with a concerned mother of an extremely beautiful young boy. She asks the blind prophet Tiresias “will he live to an old age?” to which wise Tiresias replied, “as long as he does not know himself.” So she hides all the mirrors in their home and her precious boy Narcissus grows up to be extraordinarily handsome, adored by all who meet him. Because he has never seen his own face, he depends on the reactions of others to tell him how beautiful and desirable he is.

Positive self-delusion has resulted in evolutionary leaps in technology, science, medicine and commerce. The bleached bones of many narcissists lie loosely in graveyards decorated with flags marked with marble tombstones. Today narcissism is a me-first Ivy-league requirement for Alpha males and females who deftly play the corporate chess game. It’s a must for those who hanker after their fifteen minutes (or more) of fame or infamy.

google glass“A reality shaped around your own desires — there is something sociopathic in that ambition,” writes Zadie Smith in her superbly crafted essay Find Your Beach. Our self-absorbed ambition pushes impatiently through the crowds. Our desires Tweet and Like. Don’t  question.

In doorways and under bridges of our metropolises  the homeless are unseen and unheard. I was struck by the poignancy of a plaque placed on an unremarkable cement bench along the river in Nashville today. I wondered about the woman who chose this name for her baby and the little girl who grew to be Tara Denise Cole, homeless on the streets of this American city. I wondered, did she live and die unseen, unheard, un-reflected in the shimmering green waters of the Cumberland River.a tribute to the homeless

Lana Del Rey – Damn You

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Fragile

kennedy family portraitEvery family has one. A secret that pervades the air at family gatherings like the smell of moth balls. A death, a betrayal, an imprisonment. A relative that falls from the family tree and vanishes without a trace. Secrets roll through the dust of generations like fragile tumble weeds. Sometimes they are collected and fashioned into tales that are embellished with bright beads of drama, or muted strands of omission. Sometimes they are made more colourful, more heroic, to lighten the terrifying darkness, conceal the senseless waste.

Film, literature and poetry depict the flawed hero, the Black Sheep, the Sacrificial One who becomes the Redeemer. We vicariously watch the Rebel, the circuit breaker deliver the seismic shock that topples atrophy in the family system. We rejoice in the regeneration, the potency of new growth.  The BBC’s adaptation of Irish writer John Banville’s novels portrays the pervasive power of family secrets and our complex relationship with what can be told and that which must be unspoken. Gabriel Byrne  in the title role of Quirke, (like Morse, we never find out his Christian name ) enters the portal of his past and attempts to untangle the dark knots of his family complexes: Affairs, addictions, misuse of power, and the redemption of Love. Sarah Polley, in her documentary Stories We Tell explores the twisted thread of secrets in her own family. She  discovers that her mother and Montreal producer Harry Gulkin sequestered their love. That she was born of their hidden passion. images22Y370YN

In Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, author Margaret Heffernan explores the subtle and pervasive ways we choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to remain unseeing in situations where “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.”

And yet, we do know. Many of us spend much of our lives moving forwards, never daring to look back. At first we may run like the Gingerbread Man, as fast as we can, to escape the dark shadows of our inheritance. Or like Bluebeard, we keep the gruesome corpses of our memories locked away with the key that bleeds. Perhaps we stuff the dark terror of our past into a glass bottle where it floats across the sea but eventually washes up on the shores of future generations. Family secrets are intuited even by young children, unpicked, uncovered, with the best intentions by loving parents who wish to protect them from what they perceive as a dangerous truth.

Author of Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel, examines the western belief that there should be total transparency.“ In America, lying can never be an act of caring. We find it hard to accept that lying would be protective, this is an unexamined idea. In some countries, not telling, or a certain opaqueness, is an act of respect. Also, maybe the opposite of transparency isn’t intimacy, it’s aggression. People sometimes tell for their own good, as an act of aggression.”

Nations have secrets too. We turn a blind eye. Stay under the radar, in fear of reprisal, in terror of putting our lives or those of our families at risk. Like the frog in the beaker of slowly boiling water, we remain in physically or spiritually destructive environments as the temperature increases insidiously, lethal degree by degree. Often we must confront our past, choose differently, knowing that nothing will ever be the same again.images6QQ32JVY

So often it is in our families we inherit secrets and lies and encounter conflicts and complexes that have ossified over many generations. Sometimes it is helpful to revisit the past. Sometimes it is not.

Joseph Marshall Lakota teacher, writer and story teller tells how he would go out walking with his grandfather, sometimes for miles. “He had this curious little habit of stopping and then he would turn me around, grab me by my shoulders and he would say, Grandson, look back at the way we came. So I would. I finally asked him, Grandpa, why are you making me look back? He said, Because, Grandson, one of these times I’m going to send you down this trail by yourself and if you don’t remember the way you came, you will be lost. To me, that is the greatest lesson I ever learned about history and about the past. Our past makes us who we are, makes us what we are.”

flying birdsLike racehorses, some of us are destined to be weighted more heavily from the start. Perhaps in looking back, we learn how to walk bravely in the dark. We may glimpse in the stories, the artifacts, the letters and perhaps the old photographs, the strength, the creativity, the courage of those who have walked before us. In their pain we discover the portal to our  fragility. In the opaqueness of their secrets, the bright spark of Divinity is concealed in the soft folds of their humanity.

 

Sting and Paul Simon, Fragile

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Rainbow Connection

deepening intimacy Our relationships shape shift in a seamless, boundary-less space where we spend more time stroking our screens than caressing the skin of our lover. And yet, in our arrogance or ignorance, we seek our “soul mate”. We believe that quite by chance, we will meet The One who will see us, really “get us”, love and cherish us for as long as we both shall live. Kermit the frog knew of that heart-desire when he sang, “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me…” And so we dream, we yearn for that chance meeting of souls, that fateful glance across the room, the Providence that will deliver to our door, the Rainbow Connection.

Is Fate is dependent on the will of man, on our Sliding Door choices as some inner or outer power directs us to the appointed place at the appointed time? Dr Gerhard Adler, a disciple of C.G. Jung, asked, “is there some destiny within us that preforms the pattern of our life, or is it the actual experiences which shape it? Are the experiences we encounter predestined, or do we feel them so intensely, remember them so well because of an inner need? ”

Fate, Destiny,  is described in myth and fairy tale. This interconnectedness of the microcosm with the macrocosm, our unconscious soul longing that merges seamlessly with outer events. Fate was honoured by our ancestors. Today Fate, in the Western world view implies a terrifying loss of control, and a “what’s it all about then?” kind of impotence. Even death is no longer Fated in our prosaic lives, and we believe our Fate can really be staved off with chemicals and transplants.  And yet when it comes to Love, we trust that Something else is at work. Fate, Destiny, Synchronicity…

before  sunrise
Love’s Fated initiation is sensitively portrayed by actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, one in a series of films made in 1995 and superbly directed by Richard Linklater. In this thought-provoking depiction of Fated Love,  a young couple meet by “meaningful co-incidence” on a train and spend the day together in Vienna. As she tumbles into Love, Celine asks poignantly, “I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff. But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”

So after the sunrise of a fated encounter, a brief opportunity to make a choice, embark on a journey, say yes to Love, then what? We recognise ourselves, we find our belonging. We disrobe, invite our Beloved into the fragile innocence of our inner sanctum, offer them the food and wine of our spirit, invite them to gaze upon our soul. We may discover with the clarity of hindsight that our inner receptivity to external events, our willingness to wait at the crossroads to meet our Fate has been precisely the catalyst that has allowed us to move along a particular path and experience certain encounters. And in hindsight, we can choose how we perceive these experiences.

charles and dianaFairy tale marriages are doomed to crumble outside the realm of fairy tales. Divorce rates rise, families torn asunder. We speak and say we “can’t communicate”, that it’s impossible to live happily ever after. No one can break open our heart like our lover, no one can mirror back to us our beauty and our ugliness, our vulnerability and our strength. There is no easy Jamie Oliver recipe for permanent bliss. In real life, lasting love requires a heaped spoonful of human effort, a liberal sprinkling of daily intention, mixed well.

 

Intimacy often conflicts with our hard wired self-protective defences.  Love’s oceanic depths require patience to plumb, strength and muscled endurance to explore. For many of us, lasting Love is  a realm we have never explored before. Here the currents are strong and the rocks are jagged and dangerous. Many of us are terrified when we find that our partner has different desires and passions, that he or she is  not a mirror image of  our self.

Authors of Tell Me No Lies and In Quest of the Mythical Mate, Drs Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, say we want to re-create the feelings of falling in love without any heavy lifting. imagesCA3I0VJ3

We begin with the rainbow promise of what Love may be and then turn away from that deeper brighter coloured many splendored Thing. We atrophy; or we drift directionless on the current of our lives, drowning, not waving, as we move further and further away from the one we love. We believe that relationships, like good sex, happen naturally. That relational skills don’t require muscle and focus and consistent practice. If we choose to  keep on swimming strongly towards our beloved, even though the current is strong and there will be times that we scrape ourselves on the rocks, we will discover an inner strength that astounds us.

Love ebbs and flows. It’s like the Zen riddle: If you never change directions, how can you tell there is a current?  As we turn towards our partner, we hone our swimming muscles perhaps by being willing to choose to live in tension and deadlock long enough to accept and embrace our differences. We learn to dive deeply by dismantling our defences, and at last we see our Lover as he truly is by allowing ourselves to be seen.

To Love, in all its constantly fluctuating permutations requires softness, so the energy can flow, and a strength which comes from a congruent place within. As Celine says in Before Sunrise, “I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt. ”

Rainbow Connection Sung by Kermit

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breathe In Breathe Out

images5AQUIGD8“I am not afraid of death I just don’t want to be around when it comes,” Woody Allen once famously quipped.

Each one of us has been or will be touched by Death. The death of someone close to us. The death of someone we may  identify with, someone we admire from afar. Eventually, the finality of our own dying.

When someone famous dies, death enters our lives in a way that seems to resonate through the Collective consciousness.  I received the news of the death of Robin Williams and felt a wave of sadness. This gifted actor  who wore the mask of the magician in the roles he played in his movies, inviting us all to collude in the mystery and magic of play.  I didn’t “love” him. I certainly didn’t “know him”. I am aware that the characters he embodied were cartes blanches for my projections.

Amidst the plethora of eulogies and anecdotes for this man I never knew, I wonder if  it is the dying of someone we relate to that is unsettling, or is it our own death that we fear when a  star that shines so brightly is extinguished. When a god becomes a mere mortal.

There has not been the same public outpouring over the death of 89 year old Lauren Bacall. Men, women and children die every day, pawns on the chest board of war, the thread of their lives cut by accident, disease, or brutal murder.

Donald Clarke writing for the Irish Times, says  “millions of strangers found themselves “devastated” and “bereft” at the news. A random sampling of Twitter drags up a surprising number of users who “can’t stop crying” the advent of social media only increased the metaphorical rending of garments. Everybody wants to be seen to care. Expressing implausible grief is a way of communicating your great sensitivity…What on earth is going on? The manufactured sorrow at the death of figures such as Princess Diana or Robin Williams is, to some extent, connected with a need to celebrate one’s own life. Your dad may have taken you to see Aladdin. You may remember sitting exams when the princess’s wedding was taking place (as I did). A little part of your life has just moved away…”

Vladimir Nabokov wrote that   “Life is a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness …” and perhaps when an icon or a “star” dies we are reminded of the brevity of our own existence and that Death walks with us from the moment of our birth.

Do you recall these words spoken by Robin Williams in  What Dreams May Come… the story of a man who dies and seeks his wife’s soul in the afterlife to rescue her from hell as she has committed suicide … It’s about not giving up. And yet in our death-denying society there will come a time when the light dims and the glare from the sunshine becomes too harsh, perhaps it is time to surrender and give up. To acknowledge that death is part of the cycle of life.images1UQ3E4EY

The Romans kept Death in mind at all times, especially at Life’s peak when we may lose our remembrance of the necessary part of the cycle. So when a military hero triumphantly entered Rome, hailed as a  god, standing tall in his chariot, a man wearing the costume and mask of Death stood at his shoulder, saying, “Man, remember you shall die.”

In our hubris, our fear of ageing, our terror of death, we perhaps must remember that our lives are cyclical, like the seasons, the orbits of the planets… and with each in-breathe, each out-breathe, we are moving irrevocably closer to our dying. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) taught his disciples that in all our human suffering and misery was the omnipresent fear of death. Epicurus advocated a belief that our human death anxiety is not conscious but with us all the time, and it may come thinly disguised by restlessness, accumulation of wealth and power, or excessive religiosity. He embraced the mortality of the soul. With death comes the end of body and soul and mind. In death we dissolve into the blissful tranquility of oblivion, merge  into an eternal and boundary-less universe. Socrates who lived a decade before him, believed that after death we pass on to a better life, freed from the shackles of the body. A belief which has become entrenched in the Christian view of something better that awaits us (if we are good) beyond the Pearly Gates. In living we must prepare for  death. Perhaps this is the gift in the grieving of the death of a public figure like Robin Williams.

 

beautiful_photographs_of_rain_01In safety and aliveness dwell loss and isolation, confusion and unspeakable sorrow. Nothing is static or linear. So whether we believe in an impersonal universe and the sweet oblivion of death, or an afterlife amidst loved ones or hierarchies of angels, death is our life-long companion. Death is our Dark Angel bearing gifts under His wings. Death “itches all the time” says existential psychologist Dr Irvin Yalom. And Lillian Hellman wrote that “it’s a sad day when you find out that it’s not accident or time or fortune but just yourself that kept things from you.”

When we cross the narrow isthmus of fear that links the life we live now with the life we would love to live, the acceptance of our own death “can save us”. When we acknowledge death as our companion, perhaps we can live more authentically, discover how to be alive, how to be fully present, deeply grateful for what we have right here, right now.

Matt Kearney’s Breathe In Breathe OutRobin-Williams.-006

 

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