Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blog Post Suspended until May

I am going to take a couple of weeks off from the weekly blog to care for myself. (Not that writing the blog is not self-care, just that I need to be very still for awhile.) I hope to resume the weekly posts the first week of May. Please come back and check here or on the Oriah Mountain Dreamer facebook site. This is a very difficult time. My marriage is ending and I am losing my home in the country. My heart aches, and there many logistical details to be taken care of at a time when doing much of anything is difficult. I appreciate your prayers for both Jeff and I - that we may be fair and kind with each other, that we may each heal and find new life. Oriah

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Staying with the Aching Heart

Here's the question I am holding in my life: How do we go through what feels like unbearable pain (loss, grief, sadness, fear, terror) without closing or disconnecting from our hearts? I wish I could say I was asking the question as a “spiritual teacher” exploring how to be helpful to others. But I’m not. I’m asking myself this question as one small human being who is in anguish, one woman who is facing the probable dissolution of her marriage, her shared home, her dream of being with a particular man for the rest of her life; as a person who, at moments, feels the unknown stretching out before her not (as has sometimes been the case) as an empty, fertile expanse of exciting possibilities, but as an abyss of pain and loneliness, as that which is terrifyingly unknowable.

I tried to write about something else today. I really did. But everything else came out as false. Because this is where I am: breathing through an ache in my chest that feels like it will split me open. The medical term “sucking wound” comes to mind as many breaths- conscious or not- are gasping, struggling, wet with tears. It feels like there is a gaping hole in my chest. Sometimes I’m numb with weariness and fear, sometimes frantic and driven by pain, and sometimes unable to reign in the mind that wants to move too quickly to definitive answers, possible explanations and concrete plans. But sometimes I am able to surround and hold the internal screaming with just one breath.

So, I’m paying attention to what makes it easier or harder to do that- to simply breathe without moving away from pain, without disconnecting from awareness of my own aching heart, stressed body and busy mind. Exercise helps, particularly rigorous exercise which grounds me, moves the pain out of my body and makes me pay attention to my breath. If you are someone who exercises regularly this is probably not news to you. But, for me (a woman who has only recently started to do a little exercise) how effective this can be is a bit of a surprise. Yoga, working out, or going for long walks seems to increase my capacity to at least slow down the mental hysteria. Similarly my usual daily creative and spiritual practices of writing, prayer and meditation help me stay connected to my heart without going into denial about what is happening and the anguish I am feeling. I am so grateful for the years of cultivating these practices. It would be difficult if not impossible to start a practice in the midst of this upheaval.

I’m not looking for advice,and I will not be sharing details of how Jeff and I got here. Both of us have skilled professional guides we see (and have been seeing for a long time) together and separately. But I am struck by how little the usual spiritual adages help. Like, “Be in the present moment.” The pain of the present is, at times, so overwhelming it makes it difficult to be anywhere else. It strikes me that the most helpful spiritual practices are the simplest. Like the prayer, “Help me,” or at most, “Help me, please.” Concepts like compassion and seeing the other as another myself while true, feel too lofty. More useful is the essence of all the spiritual ideas and practices I know to have some truth: kindness.

So, this is how I am going through my moments: I am paying attention to my breath, breathing into my heart, crying when I need to, talking to friends when I need to, exercising my body to stay here and reminding myself to be kind- to myself and to Jeff. Eating healthy food or going for a walk is being kind to me. Not dredging up the past and being careful about what gets discussed on the phone is being kind to both Jeff and me.

I do not know where what is happening will lead. From the perspective of this present moment, outcomes are unknowable. I suppose that is always true (although we often think we know where current decisions will lead.) It’s hard not to have clarity about what love is asking of me. But I am listening deeply when I can, and I have faith that there will be clarity, guidance, and a way to be true to the Sacred Presence that lives in each of us and holds us all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dreaming The World in Colour

Why does it seem so much easier to write vividly about pain and despair than it does to write about happiness and contentment? This morning, sitting in a sun-warmed arm-chair with my journal on my lap watching the blue jays and the cardinals quarrel over the sunflower seeds, I do not feel I have to write. At times I’m driven to write in order to alleviate pain, calm agitation, deal with uneasiness or probe a disturbing dilemma. Today, I am content to be with the world.

So I sit and ponder. Slowly, without any sense of needing to find “an answer,” I bring the practice of open inquiry that I often use for dealing with uncomfortable states to the moment, wondering: What is this thing I call contentment? Still taking in the hush of the wind through the pines and the light of the sun shining through the clear cold water to the muddy bottom of the pond- I start to write. But what comes are mostly descriptions of what this inner place of ease is not: not wanting to be anywhere else; not making lists; not worrying about what comes next or happened yesterday; not trying to unravel the mysteries of life.

Does it matter whether or not I can describe this thing I call joy or happiness or contentment? There is no suffering in need of easing in this morning happiness. Sometimes, I write to share and illuminate our struggles in the hope that others might find solace and strength in the sharing. But moments of contentment, whether alone or shared, do not need anything to be complete. If I am alone, the sun shines. If you are beside me, the sun shines. We could call it “just being” or “being present,” but something in me reaches for words- for an image or a sensually described movement- that reflect the profound peace in my arms and legs, my chest and abdomen.

Driving home last week I listened to Wade Davis giving one of the current Massey Lectures entitled The Wayfinders, on CBC radio. Davis eloquently described the sophisticated spiritual ideas and practices of the Australian aborigines. For hundreds of years these people have had faith that their nomadic wandering, the following of the “songlines” of their ancestors across an often harsh landscape, has enabled them to “dream” the world into being, preserving an essential aspect of creation. I cannot do justice here to the way they literally and metaphorically use the terms “dream” and “songlines,” but it occurs to me that my desire to write- any desire to access and manifest our creativity- is another way of dreaming the world into being. I want my writing, my “dreaming” and the songline I create and/or follow to include images and metaphors and descriptions that reflect both the struggles and the joy of life.

Good writing – like good music, painting, or any other art- evokes the universal by touching the particular that sparks our sensory memory and our heart’s imagination. I once described my depletion after meeting many people on a too-long book tour by saying I felt as if I’d had a cheese grater taken to my skin. I needed to go home, to be wrapped in the protective gauze of being still and alone in the forest. Whether or not you are a fellow introvert, these words give you some sense of what I felt.

I want to find images and metaphors that are equally strong in evoking the experience of joy and contentment. And I want the words to be vivid and real, to contribute to dreaming a world that is vivid and real. I want to avoid spiritual platitudes that reassure me that being is enough but do not reflect the full taste or vibrancy of being. I cannot claim to know how this dreaming (that of my creative work or of the Australian aboriginals’ songline) works, but it is not a simplistic matter of magical thinking. It is something that happens on a deeper level when we engage the moment completely and let our creative life flow outward in images, songs, stories and movements that hold colour, texture, sound, shape, scent, and taste. There are hundreds of way to dream the world into being with all of the fire and the beauty of that first moment of creation.

The contentment I feel in this moment is not marred by my desire to share it with words. And as I write this one of the season’s first butterflies appears- wings of brown velvet rimmed with red and gold. Trailing threads of sunlight, it dips and dives on windwaves, a flicker of movement so tenuous and tenacious it takes my breath away. And I think of a quote by Trina Paulus- guidance for all of us who want to take the risk of participating in dreaming the world into being:

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” – Trina Paulus