Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dreaming in The Dark

Tonight is the longest night of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Some friends and I got together tonight and did a ceremony to honour the fertile darkness and celebrate the points of light within us and around us that are not always visible under the bright lights of the day. These friends and I have been celebrating this turning of the wheel together every year for over twenty years, Tonight as we shared stories, prayers, reflections, and intentions (not to mention some great food) I was struck by what an honour and a priviledge it is to journey with others over many years, to see and support each others unfolding.

For me it has been a year of some unexpected endings and beginnings. My marriage ended, and I had to leave my home, many dreams and most of my belongings behind. The disconnection was painful. But returning to live in Toronto I reconnected with many old friends and found new connections with others. A little over a year ago I started posting weekly blogs and this, along with starting to post on Facebook, blossomed into new online connections with people from all over the world. What an honour it has been to participate in thoughtful, inspiring, questioning and respectful conversations in both forums.

I see the time between the Winter Solstice and the new year, as a kind of crack between the worlds, a time for being still, for turning inward and for dreaming deeply. So, to honour this, I am going to step away from my computer for this time. I will resume posting regularly on FB and doing my weekly blogs in the first week of January.

I send out prayers of gratitude- for life and all that it offers, for the world and all that it asks, for friends and family and the broader community who have reached out and touched me with their support and presence during the past year. I send out prayers for peace- within myself in the places where I find myself resisting what is, for those of you who are struggling with personal challenges, for the world in all of it's sacred beauty and crazy chaos.

May we dream deeply in this time of darkness- a dream to replenish the personal and collective spirit of respect and peace and justice, of collaboration and cooperation and compassion. With deep gratitude for all the blessings of this life, Oriah

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How We Wake Up- Literally!

Years ago I heard Barbara Marx Hubbard say, “It used to be that when I woke up and jumped out of bed in the morning, I felt I was already behind.” It reminded me of periods in my life when I’ve felt driven to do more, move faster, try harder- years when I too felt like I woke up behind. People who lived with me said I “hit the ground running.” Some mornings, particularly after I developed CF/ME, I just plain hit the ground.

Barbara’s comment made me turn my attention to my experience of waking up in the morning. I began to notice my experience when I first opened my eyes. Don’t get me wrong- I wanted and hoped to wake up centred and grateful for the day, full of calm, clear energy. But what I wanted more was to see what was true: what I was actually experiencing upon waking each day.

Lately, as I lie in bed reviewing dreams and becoming aware of the feel of the smooth cotton sheets and warm duvet on my body, I am filled with an ecstatic sense of gratitude for my life- for my body-self, my home and friends and family, for all the changes and challenges in my life over the past year. . . for simply being where I am. I literally wake up smiling.

The thing that is startling to me about this is what has changed, what I am not experiencing that had been pretty much a constant for a very long time.

I heard Barbara’s comment about how she used to wake up over ten years ago. And, as I turned my attention to my experience upon waking, I became aware of a constant thread of tension beneath the surface of whatever else was happening. Whether I was feeling physical pain or energetic enthusiasm, whether I was looking forward to or dreading the day, there was beneath all of this, a strange and familiar tension that ran through my body. It was like a thin taut wire running down the centre of my arms and legs and looped once around my heart. For days I simply observed and wondered what this was. And then one day I realized: I was waking up every day with a sense of bracing for a blow. Beneath all of my other experiences of the start of the day there was a sense of anticipating and getting ready to absorb a potentially damaging blow of some kind. It wasn’t rational or literal. It wasn’t even a thought. It was a tensing against what felt like the high probability that sooner or later something was going to metaphorically “hit” me.

I don’t know when this began but I am guessing that it had been with me for a long time. I hadn’t noticed it until I deliberately looked because it was a constant, like a familiar background noise you don’t even hear anymore. I didn’t judge it or try to get rid of it, and it didn’t stop me from often feeling gratitude and joy. But, whenever I paid attention as I awoke, it was always there.

And now. . . . it’s gone. Really! I’ve watched for months. I’m not even sure how long it was gone before I realized it. But there it is- gone! I know this may not sound like much, but to me it’s like a small miracle. And as I lay in bed these mornings instead of “bracing for a blow” I’m filled with deep overwhelming gratitude for being alive. I’m not trying or remembering or cultivating gratitude- it is just there, by grace, filling me. And I cannot help but smile.

And, as I observe this open-hearted gratitude, I notice how relaxed I am in my mind-body-heart-self. I feel a deep sense of rest. Now, if you’ve read The Call you know that rest is not something that has come easily to me. Rest, for me, has often been elusive, partial and non-restorative. But in this place, every breath restores and the sense of rest is cellular.

So, here’s what I know: One of the many gifts of the gratitude that comes by grace is a deep restoration of body, mind, heart and spirit. Because, when we’re filled with and held by gratitude we can’t simultaneously try to pull away from what is, can’t brace for a blow- real or imagined, remembered or anticipated. I don’t know that we can make this all-encompassing gratitude arise, but we can cultivate our own willingness and awareness to receive it when it comes.

Did I find rest because I felt gratitude or was I filled with grateful appreciation for life because my habitual “bracing for a blow” was dissolved by a combination of changing inner and outer circumstances and again- more grace? I don’t know. But I do know that it is difficult to really completely receive anything- rest, another, life, joy, the moment- when you’re bracing for a blow. And these days, I awaken filled with gratitude, able to receive the moment, surprised to find my eyes filling with tears of inexpressible joy simply for the blessing of being alive.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Do We Know?

When things don’t go the way we’d hoped in our lives we often wonder, “What was I thinking?!” It is both the curse and the blessing of being a writer that I can actually go back and find out exactly what I was thinking and feeling- because I wrote it down!

So I recently pulled out the journals I’d written during the first year of my relationship with my now ex-husband. Please understand me: I was not trying to determine if I could have avoided the pain of separation by not going into the marriage. Nor was I looking for a foolproof way to only make risk-free choices in the future. I am a human being, and I am old enough not to waste energy trying to be something else.

I did want to learn as much as I could- for myself and those I work with- about how we know what we (think/feel we) know and what determines whether or not we are true to or abandon our own deepest knowing. I wanted to know if I’d seen what was coming and ignored it, or if I hadn’t foreseen it at all. It was hard to know what to hope for- the former would mean that I’d gone unconscious and ignored what I knew, and the later could mean I just hadn’t been very aware, or that, as is always the case- a great deal is unknowable.

And, as these things can pretty much be predicted to go, it turned out it was a little of all three, although the thing that surprised me most was how much of what had been hard and ultimately made continuing together impossible, was there in those early journals. Alongside the record of the heady ecstasy of falling in love and my intermittent flashes that we might not share as many core values as I’d hoped, were my rationalizations for ignoring inner misgivings- arguments that dismissed my uneasiness as understandable nerves (I had been down this road before), that I was too picky and needed to learn to stretch emotionally, to trust more deeply, to accept the other as he was and let go of my attachment to things being a certain way. (Sadly, I did not extend the argument for acceptance to myself and what mattered most to me.)

Reading the journals raised a couple of important questions: How do we know what we think or feel we know? How do we know if the sense of a seemingly clear “Yes!” or “No!” is the voice of intuitive-instinctual wisdom or if it’s what Jungians would call one of our “complexes”- clusters of emotionally charged and emphatically clear aspects of our unconscious, usually clustered around old wounds. How can we tell when we are tapping into the trustworthy instinctual-intuitive wisdom of psyche (soul-heart knowing) and when we are being driven by the emotionally skewed perspective of unconscious and unhealed wounds?

I do not have any foolproof checklist, but I have found a few clues, indicators that might help us discern when we may be “off” about what we think/feel we know:

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing comes most clearly when we are aware of the body-self, because it is the wisdom of embodied soul. So, if in doubt: do something that pulls awareness into the body-self (go for a walk, lie down on the earth. do some yoga breathing and postures, dance.) And if you don’t know what brings you into your body-self awareness- experiment, find out. In contrast complex-ridden certainties tend to take us away from body-awareness, are heady- often presented as rational arguments in circumstances where logos it is not particularly useful (for example, when considering personal preferences and what has real feeling value for us.)

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing tends to be relatively simple, straightforward and instantaneous- a quiet and clear “yes” or “no.” Justifications for complex-ridden decisions tend to be convoluted and complicated (and often very entertaining!) only revealing the “right” choice at the end of lengthy argument (if only with ourselves.)

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing does not need to be justified. I know it because I know it. Questioned it does not become defensive or self-justifying. In contrast complex-driven decisions tend to become highly charged when challenged by inner or outer voices, and an air of self-righteous justification arises quickly and emphatically.

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing does not claim to know things it cannot know- like future outcomes or divine purpose. It is most often based on a sense of knowing the next step of the journey. Period. Complex-riddled decisions often claim to know what we cannot know: that our decision is being guided by if not dictated by a divine purpose or a “higher” power; that the outcome will be pain-free and wonderful on all levels for everyone involved. These kinds of claims ought to make our antennae tingle!

• Complex-driven decisions tend to push for speed to avoid imagined disaster. When this sense of I-must-choose-fast rises it’s a pretty safe bet that the choice being made is at least in part being driven by old fears and wounds. So, buy some time. Tell anyone else involved, or yourself, you’ll sleep on it, journal about it, dream with it. Take a beat. Give the quieter instinctual-intuitive wisdom a chance to find you.

You see the pattern, the flavour difference between the two? We each have to find our way of discerning between these two. It may take a lifetime to sense with consistency and will no doubt never be one hundred percent clear. But the taste of the two is decidedly different because they each serve a different master: one serves the soul’s agenda of expansion into and offering the world more of who and what we are; the other serves the agenda of the often frightened smaller self, seeking safety and the perpetuation of an illusion of sovereignty and control.

If we want to make our choices from the place of the soul’s priorities we have to develop the ability to discern the difference between the knowing of psyche/soul and the knowing that arises from old survival strategies. It’s a work in progress. It’s why we are here. And we do this, not to avoid pain or challenges, but to weave the one bright thread that is ours- the one that mirrors essence in the particular shape of the man or woman we are- into the collective tapestry of this shared dream.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beneath Denial

Let’s talk about the difficulty of accepting what is, the temptation to go into denial about some aspect of ourselves or the world that we desperately want to be different. Let’s start simple.

I can’t go out in the evening.

There it is: the reality of my physical limitations at this time. A truth I have been tinkering, bargaining, and arguing with for years. I’ve been pretending that maybe if I just understood this reality better, just negotiated a better “deal,” I could change and control (just a little) that which is getting in the way of something I want.

It is of course not that I really can’t go out in the evening. I can. I do, particularly when I am feeling like my underlying health is somewhat stable. And every time- every single time- no matter how much the gathering or event inspires or relaxes, no matter how much the content or people are close to my heart and deeply valued- I end up in bed for most of the next three days or more. And let me be clear- I am not talking about staying out past ten, or imbibing any substances that might take a toll on the body. I’m talking about going to a writing group, or a friend’s art opening, or a small quiet gathering to celebrate the solstice. Really.

I’ve had ME- Myalgic Encephalomyletis (or Chronic Fatigue as it is called in those parts of the English speaking work under the influenced of American health insurance companies) for twenty-seven years. There’ve been acute periods of severe disability and much longer times of chronic illness largely managed by accepting some limits. I can’t drink alcohol. I don’t eat food with any artificial chemical content. I can’t travel extensively. (When considering a trip to Turkey a few years ago my doctor casually asked how anxious I was to see the inside of the Turkish hospital system.) I’m okay with these and many other limitations. I accept them, allow that they may change, work around them, and have come to have deep faith that none of the limitations this illness brings stop me from being and living who and what I am completely.

But. . . I just want to be able to go to a friend’s for an evening meal and still get up and function the next day! Is that too much to ask?!

Hear my frustration? Hear my unwillingness to accept what is? Hear how I create suffering for myself by going out and then railing against the consequences of my choices?

Recently, a friend told me that New York psychiatrist Mark Epstein once told him that he saw people who were in denial about something as “caught in an old sorrow.” It took my breath away. Naming others as being “in denial” about something that seems oh-so-clear to us (and aren’t we all stunningly brilliant about another’s blindness?!) has become a bit of a bad habit in many spiritual and psychotherapeutic communities. It implies a deliberate ignorance. Epstein’s phrase- “caught in an old sorrow”- says so much more, speaks to the inner struggle, and allows us to see the other/ourselves with real compassion.

So, as I lay in bed berating myself for once again going into denial about my inability to go out in the evening, I wonder: where am I caught in an old sorrow and what might that sorrow be? And I get that funny sinking feeling that comes when we know we’re onto some essential and less-than-pleasant truth about ourselves. And I remember.

I remember in my body, the feeling of being desperately lonely as a teenager. I lived in a very small, conservative town in Northern Ontario, and I was always asking questions about faith, beliefs, ethics, and social justice. I read and wrote and loved to learn. I was decidedly out of sync with the majority of my peers. I wanted to be included, connected, to belong, but I just couldn’t stop trying to start discussions about why God seemed to answer some prayers and not others, or the merits of literature and art in creating change in the world. At sixteen, I was not what many would have called a fun date or a party asset!

When I came to Toronto I was delighted to find fellow travellers, and my work in studying and teaching shamanic practises connected me to a wonderful community of delightful people with similar interests and questions. People who primarily do their socializing and sharing in the evenings because they have jobs during the daytime.

And so, I revisit the old sorrow that fosters denial about my ability to go out in the evening. Knowing this, perhaps I can tend that old sorrow and be with what is in this moment- not anticipating or trying to avoid the loneliness that sometimes comes when we cannot join with others, whatever the reason.

Where do you find yourself fighting reality? Where would those who love you say you slip into denial? Perhaps there is an old sorrow that has you caught, that clouds your vision of what is, that needs a little attention so it can let you go and you can be with what is without suffering.