Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Good News

Someone wrote me last week (when I was acutely ill) asking me how I felt about a spiritual teacher/healer on Facebook (I honestly don't remember their name) who had declared that anyone who is not 100% healthy (physically, psychologically, spiritually etc.) cannot offer assistance to others and is, therefore, a fraud.

Honestly, I chuckled and muttered, "Yeah, good luck with that one, honey," meaning- good luck with finding or becoming someone who has no illness or neuroses or struggles. And why would you want to?

The truth is, there are many traditions around the world that honour the wounded healer- the one who knows the terrain of human struggles because they have lived them, hopefully somewhat awake to and compassionate toward the many levels of being human (and, let's face it, some days are better than others for all of us on the awareness and compassion fronts.)

The person who wrote to me was outraged. I was a little surprised at my own lack of reactivity, but the older I get, the more I trust that life will handle some of our bigger delusions and ideals about how we or others "should" be.

But as I lay in bed, unable to do very much else because of pain, I wondered about the effect of such an assertion. Perfectionistic ideals do real harm (and yes, on this I speak from direct experience.) They urge us to present as someone (or something) we are not and in so doing, encourage duplicity, denial and dangerous inflation that do not lead to a happy place.

And beneath the pumped up ideal there is, inevitably, a sense of unworthiness crying out for attention and tenderness.

The good news- seriously the Really Big Good News- is that we do not need to be perfect, do not need to be completely healed, awake, enlightened or consistent to offer something of real value to each other and the world.

Now isn't that a relief?

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Snippet of a Story on A Sunny Day

On the way home from yoga I pause to watch a small group of three year olds (clearly a daycare group on an outing) standing on the sidewalk gazing up at a young kitten poking his head out of the third floor window of a frat house. (I live near the university- lots of frat houses.)

“It’s too high!” a girl with bright red bows tied to the ends of two dark braids, calls out to the cat. “You can’t jump from there- you’ll hurt yourself.”

“He doesn’t know what you’re saying. He’s a cat,” one of the small boys tells her with just a whiff of budding mansplaining.

The girl puts her hands on her hips and narrows her eyes as she turns toward him. “Animals,” she says with a certainty I don’t ever remember having, “always understand what I am saying.”

The boy shrugs and looks back up at the kitten.

“And now,” the girl informs him, “he is looking at you.”

The boy hesitates and then replies with just a touch of awe in his voice. “I think you’re right. He is. He is looking right at me.”

I walked on, smiling. I love when the warm weather arrives and life moves outside onto our shared sidewalks. I learn so much and find my heart is lighter just from listening.

~Oriah

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Un-Mothered

I have a request: with Mother's Day approaching, can we just set aside the generalizations about mothers? I honour the care-giving that mothers do. I am a mother of two wonderful men. Becoming a mother probably saved my life- it was the first time I was actually fully IN my body and consciously connected to my life-preserving instincts. Without thought, I was surprised to find myself moving instinctively to protect my sons from my mother. I was shocked to realize how abusive my own childhood had been. There were no surprise memories- I had not forgotten anything. But suddenly I saw it for what it was and not the "normal" I had accepted as a child because there was simply no other option.

Every time I hear someone say something like, "Oh, to go back to those wonder years when we were all children and free to be who we wanted to be;" or "What a wonderful time- when our mothers took care of everything," I cringe.

The hard truth is that some of us spent our childhood terrified of and/or longing to please mothers who were unable to be caring or kind or present, and sometimes mothers who were violent and abusive. I am so glad this was not true for many- and I do love hearing people's good-mother stories. I just want us to remember that not everyone grew up that way.

So maybe we could just talk about our own experience being mothered and mothering in "I" statements, without claiming that it was what happened for "all of us." Yes, I feel a pang when I hear adults talk about mothers who were loving and supportive- but I am okay with that. I have accepted that, even after all the healing, I will still sometimes ache and grieve for something that never was.

A wonderful line by Adrienne Rich comes to mind: "There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors." Let's be that for each other- a place where there is room for acknowledging all of what has shaped us and still be known as whole.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Image from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

When We Are Done

It's good to know when something- a job, a place, a relationship, a project, a way of seeing, a struggle- is done for us, to know when it is finished even if it is not, by some external standard, complete. Some of my most peaceful, expansive moments have come when I have realized that what I was holding in my hands was simply no longer for me, and have been able- without fanfare or gnashing of teeth- to just set it down. Oh, sometimes the gnashing of teeth- the second guessing and grieving- came later, but in that moment there was just knowing, clarity, and peace. I don't know why this came to mind when I looked at this wonderful morning photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming- perhaps it is the blaze of light, the bird about to soar, the spaciousness of the image. Or perhaps there is something I am holding that needs to be set down. ~Oriah

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tax Time Musings

I recently visited a friend who had a biking accident at the rehab centre where she is recovering from a fractured femur and shattered elbow (yeah- ouch!) in downtown Toronto. The facility was spectacular- bright, spacious and beautiful, with skilled staff focused on getting folks back to their everyday lives, large rooms,and a patient kitchen for refigerating or warming food brought from home. On my way out I was thinking about how much such a place must cost to build and run, and how proud I am that our tax dollars are being used to provide such great care to everyone (all covered under our healthcare.)

And that- along with recently doing my taxes- got me thinking (as I often do) about all the things we collectively enjoy that are made possible through taxes: great public schools and healthcare, spectacular parks, public transit, roads, emergency services, neighbourhood libraries, community centres. . . .

So, once again, I fill out and pay my taxes with a prayer of gratitude that I am able to contribute and with deep appreciation for the beauty and resources we share. ~Oriah

Monday, April 10, 2017

When Our Maps Fail

Last week my life was interesting in a less-than-fun way. I became ill. Now most of you know I have a chronic illness (CFS/ME/FM) so dips in functional health happen. But this was different in that it did not conform to pattern- I had not done any of the things that sometimes trigger a relapse, and none of my trusted strategies made it better. In fact, some seemed to make it worse.

And this got me thinking about maps- theories, beliefs and stories- the things we use, often only semi-consciously, to navigate what is happening now. Maps are useful. They save time and help us make sense of our own experience so we can get where we want to go.

Until they don't. Then, we just feel lost, bewildered and a little stunned. That’s where I was last week.

Years ago I took a physics course. At one point the prof was talking about sub-atomic particles, and how they left a trail in a cloud chamber set up for experiments.

I said, “Wait a minute- are you telling me that all this is just theory, that we can’t know what is leaving that trail in the cloud chamber, that. . . . for all we know it’s little green men?”

The class laughed, and the prof said, “She’s right. It could be little green men. . . . there’s no way to know right now.

Ideally we use a theory, or a map, or a story so long as it’s useful. The problem arises when we forget that our beliefs and stories about life are “just” maps that may help us navigate, and not the territory itself. Holding and being unconsciously attached to our maps means we may ignore or not even see aspects of life that do not fit with our inner maps about life and health and money and virtue, about punishment and reward, politics and physics, about the sacred and the mundane. . . . .You name it- if we’ve lived long enough, we have a map we are using to navigate just about everything.

Last week’s health challenges were not consistent with the map I usually use to navigate illness. All the data/stories/theories my map contained about my neurological and immune systems (based on a plethora of previous experience and lots of research) were not helping me get out of bed. And that’s when something interesting happened: I started to see glimmers of earlier and largely unconscious maps: sneaky beliefs about ill health as punishment; the need and ability to “earn” health; the exclusive attribution of physical symptoms to psychological or spiritual dis-ease.

And I started to bring a deeper level of curiosity to the stories or beliefs- the maps- I and others are using, particularly when we disagree about what is happening in the world and have very different strategies about how to move forward. I got curious about and tried to imagine what possible inner map/story/belief someone might be using that gives them a perspective and position I find baffling or dangerous. I started to wonder if we might be more able to communicate if we held our maps a little more lightly and were genuinely curious about the experiences that could shape an entirely different map for someone else.

Because wherever we are going, my map indicates that we go together. That’s a theory, a story, a belief that shapes the map I draw. For the moment, I’m okay with that, although I am also aware that it may not be the only way to perceive the journey or draw the map.

Old maps tend to stop at the edge of our known world, and may include warnings against going further, things like: Here be dragons! If we are afraid of the dragon of not-knowing it can feel dangerous to remember that maps are just maps. But if we can let compassion fuel our curiosity about ourselves and others, we might just discover new territory and fresh hope for the shared journey.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Love this image of the night sky from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming- reminds me of those who navigate by the stars.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Human Beings Do Horrible Things

I am regularly moved and inspired by people's compassion and willingness to help each other. But today, I am contemplating what it is in human beings, that allows us to do things like use chemical weapons on each other. . . on children. I say "us" because, although it is unlikely that I will ever be in a position to make that kind of choice (and I would hope that I would refuse to do such a thing,) it is not particularly useful to separate ourselves from those who make choices to deliberately inflict harm.

At it's core, harming another is enabled by an ability to make others less-than. That is where the violence starts. Sometimes this is mixed with fear or greed or a lust for power, but always it requires not seeing others as fellow human beings, not cherishing all children as our children.

And. . . disconnecting from others to a degree that allows us to do violence to them, always entails disconnecting from ourselves at least a little, so we do not feel our common humanity. This is true even if the level of violence is "just" verbal. .

And there it is- the need to stay deeply connected to our own precious, flawed humanity. It's what helps us live side by side when we disagree, what enables us be clear about what is good for our shared communities without having to vilify those who disagree with us as something less than a fellow fallible human being.

Please don't misunderstand me- accepting that someone who has done violence is a fellow human being does not mean we condone the action or fail to hold human beings accountable for those actions.

Not making someone who had done violence less-than is not easy. The man who raped me when I was a young woman is a fellow human being. See what I mean? Hard. I don't need to see or engage with him. Nor do I approve of or understand what he did But he is a fellow human being, And sometimes human beings do horrible things.

It all reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Aleksandr Solznhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This being human- not always easy. Sometimes we have to take turns remembering who and what we are, reminding each other, leaning into each other, finding ways to live together in our shared world. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

With gratitude to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this image of the darkness and the light.