Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Mistake With A Vampire

We all make mistakes. Let me tell you about one of mine.

Recently I went unconscious for a nanosecond and picked up the phone even though I knew it was a call from someone who I experience as draining my energy (no psychic ability involved on my part, just call display.) Energetically it's a vampire-prey relationship (which I’ve been understanding more as I read Unholy Hungers: Encountering the Psychic Vampire in Ourselves & Others by Jungian analyst Barbara E. Hort.) I ended contact with this person a couple of months ago when I realized it was the only way I could not feel fed upon.

I’m not saying there aren't other ways to stop energy-draining patterns in a relationship, just that I could not find one in this case. I’d tried being explicit about what I could not do, being brief, making contact less frequently, only having contact when others were around, being open-hearted and compassionate, being fierce and direct. I’d looked at my part, and I’d had some insights. I’d understood what was happening and why, but the energy drain continued. So, I stopped having contact. I didn’t offer a lot of explanation (had been down that road many times in trying to shift things.) I just said (as much to myself as the other really,) “I’m done.”

We can all, at times, be unintentionally draining to others- yes, there’s a little shadow vampire in everyone, and yes, some folks’survival strategies lean more this way than others. Sometimes it’s a pattern in a particular relationship- as it is with this person and me. When we didn’t have contact- as happened recently when I was on retreat for two weeks- I noticed a real and sustained increase in my own energy.

No one likes to lose a habitual source of energy and comfort. So, I wasn’t surprised when the phone calls continued. I did not pick up. I deleted the messages. Each time I sent a quiet prayer for the other, that they find what they need and know they are loved. (Yes, you can love someone and know that contact is a bad idea.) 

But recently, inexplicably, I picked up the phone one evening when it rang, knowing it was this person. It may have been a moment of weakness or a moment of strength, a moment when I was too tired to think straight or thought I could “handle” it. Whatever it was, for an instant I went unconscious about what I know. Sometimes that’s all it takes to revert to old habits- a moment of unconsciousness. As we spoke I could feel my energy plummet as the other's voice became increasingly animated. It was very strange- like watching water being siphoned from one container to another. I got off the phone in seven minutes, and that’s when things got interesting. 

My inner critic went nuts: “Well, that was brilliant! Finally get the energy to write and just throw it away. How stupid was that!? And now the door is open. It’ll be a long spiral down into days in bed. And the calls will keep on coming. . . . “

You can always count on the inner critic to start catastrophizing. I was disappointed in myself and, for a moment, more than a little scared that there might be some truth in the critic’s dire predictions. I lay in bed and took long slow breaths into my belly, asking myself, “What is actually happening in my body?”

I could feel a dull sensation behind my eyes- like a black fog- and a heaviness in my legs. I realized that the precious feeling of being solidly awake and embodied that had been so vivid in the last few weeks had dimmed a little- where it had been, in the centre of my body, there was a wobbly feeling. The critic chimed in again, but I over-rode it, keeping the tone of my inner self-talk gentle but firm.

“It’s okay. I made a mistake. I’ve made this one before and survived and regained equilibrium. This time was brief, so recovery will be speedy. I am learning. Learning takes time. Old habits die hard, and new ones take time to establish. Being fully conscious in every second is not possible, so mistakes are inevitable. Nothing dire has happened. I caught it quickly, and I know how to recover from much worse. It will be okay.”

And slowly, I relaxed and moved into a deep, restorative sleep.

We all make mistakes. What matters is what we do with them. Brene Brown's research shows that we do not learn more or learn faster if we are shamed by ourselves or others. The shamanic path in which I was trained emphasised the willingness to learn from our mistakes, and one of the things we can learn is to offer ourselves tenderness and mercy, and then- we begin again with renewed energy and deepened wisdom.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rediscovering Joy in Work

In hindsight I often marvel at how little I know about where I am going or how to get there and yet, somehow, am guided in what I need to do.

I was having trouble deciding on the nature of the “retreat” time I’d set aside- two weeks starting at the end of July. I’d booked a small cottage in the woods northeast of Toronto- a lovely spot on a river too small for motorized watercraft, without a phone or an internet connection. Very private and very quiet. But was I going for a holiday, for rest and relaxation, or to work on my writing, or primarily to do ceremony that required solitude? I couldn’t decide. I felt like I needed all three.

As I packed up some novels (to serve the holiday option) the Grandmothers (who often appear in my dreams and less frequently insert guidance when I meditate or as I walk through my day) repeatedly mentioned six other, somewhat heavy-duty books on brain science and psychology. I resisted. I’d read three of these books. One was a wonderful but complex Jungian take on the effects of early trauma on psyche. Rereading it was about as far away from rest and relaxation as I could imagine. I thought I’d compromise- take four novels and a couple of those “suggested,” but when one of the latter literally “fell” off the shelf- twice- I gave up and stuck them all in a bag, muttering to myself, “Okay, okay. I get it. I’m taking them all.”

What followed was two weeks of study and writing for twelve to fifteen hours a day. I was. . . compelled. . . fascinated. . . . moved to read, take detailed notes and then write my own reflections and stories as they came. Although I had my laptop with me, I was surprisingly drawn to write mostly by hand, filling five journals and, for the first time in my life, having to soak my hand in warm water at night to ease muscle spasms from non-stop scribbling.

I also swam in the river, did my daily practise sitting on the earth beneath the trees, recorded my dreams, (which were clearly the bridge between what I was reading and what I was writing as part of the new book on choice) and prepared and ate great meals. But mostly, I was learning and writing, reading and contemplating from five in the morning until nine at night.

And I felt great! What I remembered was how much I love to work, how much I enjoy learning and letting the fire of creativity and ideas and stories take me where they want me to go. For the last five years of my marriage it was all I could do to take care of cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening etc. in between collapsing in bed ill. This- this feeling of being on fire with the desire to learn and write, to dream and work- had not been with me for years.

Each night as I lay in bed, listening to the owls calling to each other in the forest around me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this rediscovery of the joy of doing work I love. I came home happy and eager to continue, ready to read and write and learn more, with enthusiasm. (Enthusiasm- en-theos- filled with/possessed by the divine/Spirit.) Sometimes, if we can let go of "deciding" what something should or could or ought to be, the impulse that comes from deep within will guide us to the home we are longing to revisit.

In the end, all my dithering to figure out what I my intention was for the retreat time, gave way to that which called to me. Was it a holiday (holy-day), time to work on the book, or a ceremonial time of solitude? Yes. 

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Heart Stretches

I spent the last two weeks in a cabin in the woods alone, doing my Sacred Pipe prayers daily sitting on the damp earth as the sun rose and the loon’s call echoed down the river.  I did a little swimming in the river- but mostly I wrote. No phone, no television, no internet. The silence was spectacular, the isolation was intense, the writing went on and on and on.

And then, I came home.

I’ve only been home three days, but it’s been a busy time of dealing with changing developments in the care arrangements for my parents (both of whom have Alzheimer’s.) There are questions. There are challenges. There is heart ache and frustration. There is a need for action. There are obstacles to taking action. There are accusations, abuses, lies and the opening of old wounds. There is responsibility. There is bewilderment and grief.

Compared to my previous two weeks, there is a flood of interaction, a constant quest for clarity and wisdom, continual use of electronic communication (or miscommunication.)

Taking an early morning walk two thoughts kept coming to mind for contemplation. One is an observation, the other is a belief that has been brought to consciousness. Both opened me to truths that ask me to stretch in my capacity to be with the other.

First the observation:  It is much easier to be calm, kind and forgiving, even when on the receiving end of difficult behaviour, whether mildly irritating or blatantly unjust, if we understand something of the story of the other. If a friend is constantly worrying about money, keeping track of who paid for what and exacting the dollar difference in shared expenses, it's much easier to tolerate her obsession, to be patient with her anxiety if I know she was raised in abject poverty, or grew up in a household where money was seen as power and used to manipulate others.

But often we don’t know the other’s history, the back story of the fears that drive them or the beliefs that shape their behaviour. (We're not always aware of this within ourselves!) The challenge is to hold the other in my heart when I don't understand why they are behaving the way they are, to know that in this moment they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with even when I don’t know what old psychological material or lack of resources they are experiencing. I’m not talking about taking or allowing abuse or injustice. I can remove myself (or others) from range when someone is striking out and/or sometimes step in and stop action that may cause harm without making the other something less that another human being doing the best they can. Now that’s a challenge – particularly when the other is swinging at you!

As I stepped out of range of a few nasty swings in the last few days, I also realized I hold a semi-conscious belief that if I am as kind and patient and compassionate as I can be with another, sooner or later the other will be kind and patient and compassionate with me. Sometimes it works. We human beings are very responsive creatures. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes we can be kind and compassionate and patient and we still have to be smart enough and alert enough to duck when someone takes a swing at us.

The challenge, the stretch is to be kind and patient and compassionate because that‘s the way I want to be with others (and myself.) Not to get a particular response. Not to earn consideration or love or approval. Not to stop the other from wanting to do me harm. To be compassionate for the sake of compassion- with no expectation of effecting change in the other, but because that is how we want to live, even as we know we will do so imperfectly, as human beings, doing the best we can.

Deep breath, . . . .  wide heart-stretch.

Oriah (c) 2012