Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Moment Before

Last week, after posting one of the poems from Dreams of Desire (a small chapbook of poetry I put out in 1995) someone on FB asked for the prose-poem below. It is another piece about our spiritual-sexuality – two of the primary indivisible ways (along with creativity) that the sacred life force manifests in a human life.This piece celebrates the passionate desire for intimacy with another and, beneath that, the longing for a “great love," for the touch of the Beloved. It is an honouring of the spectacular capacity of our physical-spiritual-self for experiencing the ecstatic.

But this piece focuses not so much on the fulfillment of desire but on the “moment before” – the place where, in bringing full consciousness to what is held back for a moment, we are better able to taste fully the ache that opens us to our own longing- that in us which calls out to the Beloved. This awareness, this willingness to slow down, to consciously co-created and fully anticipated what is held back is an element of many tantric teachings. In that moment before, we find the container that holds and directs the fire of daring to dream of union with the Other.

Pausing in the throes of desire, allowing desire to deepen, even for a moment, is a hard sell in a culture of instant gratification and fast-paced living. But the sweetness of life, and love, and learning to let go is in the slowing down and the savouring of the moment before.

The Moment Before

I want to touch
the sharp taste
of the moment in between
the second just before
the place where
the breath catches
in anticipation.

It's the scent of heat held in the air
between two mouths
reaching for each other, hungry.
The shine of moisture on slightly parted lips
just before
it melts into
the wetness of the other.

It is the skin that tingles
fine hairs at attention
It is the places that have not yet been touched
but know they will be.
It is the smooth, quivering paleness
of the inner thigh
as the outer is stroked and kneaded.
The muscles of the abdomen tightening
the back arching slightly
come here

There, in that moment
do not take your eyes from mine.
I am here

I am
to be

Do not touch me and keep your soul
out of your fingertips.
Die into me
or do not come into me at all.
Ever after is in this moment
happily or not.

Sacrifice the daydream.
Dare to hold the desire
for a great love.

Be with me.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 1995 from Dreams of Desire All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Confessions Revisted

Twenty years ago I wrote Confessions of a Spiritual Thrillseeker: Medicine Teachings from the Grandmothers, a book about apprenticing with and then leaving a teacher who was both shaman and sorcerer. I’ve resisted suggestions that the book be republished. I lived the story a long time ago, was at a very different stage of my life, and have a different perspective now on many things. I also like to think my writing has improved and I have no desire to rewrite the text.

But recently, someone I deeply respect told me how he has lent the book to many folks new to spiritual exploration and that they have found it very helpful for their journeys. Prompted by his urging to consider republishing and moved to think others might find it useful, I decided to take another look. My reservations remain and yet, I find I am not particularly attached to what others might think about either the writing or the struggles and choices of my early thirties. (A friend who knows the book recently commented, “Well, there’s lots of sex in it.” “Yes,” I replied with a somewhat wistful sigh, “that’s because there was lots of sex in those years.”)

I have not finished rereading the book, but I thought I would put a small excerpt on the blog (sorry, no sex in this excerpt.) Not sure why, but when I thought of the book, this was the scene I remembered first. So, here it is. Whatever else the book is, what I can tell you is that the story is true.

So here it is:

Something is terribly wrong. I look around my living room trying to orient myself. Nothing is where it should be. The furniture is gone, the room completely bare. The door to the hallway is on the south side of the room, the fireplace on the north. Everything is a complete mirror image of what it should be.

Immediately I realize what this means: I must be asleep and dreaming. I wonder if I should go upstairs and check to see if my body is still in bed, but I’m afraid to leave the room. There’s something here, something that shouldn't be. I can feel my heart pounding, my breath coming in shallow gasps.

A man I do not recognize enters the room. I know he and I have been married somewhere at sometime in a past I cannot recall. He is concerned for my safety. Before we can speak to each other a dark yellow streak with a dull luminosity enters the room and zooms around our feet. It looks like a tennis ball with a tail—like a miniature, three foot long, dark comet.

“Look out,” the man yells, “he will try to enter your body!”

Paralyzed, I know that whatever this is, I must stay away from it, and I begin to banish, using the words I have been taught by Raven. I’m surprised that despite my fear I am able to remember the words exactly. “I banish, into all eight directions, by the power of Law-Jup, Law-Jup, Law-Jup, Law-Jup, all energies or entities, incarnate or disincarnate, who do not love me or would do me harm to be gone from this place now!” The yellow streak leaves the room, but moments later flies back in,about six inches off the floor.

“Keep banishing, keep banishing! If it enters you it will be impossible to get rid of!” The man is screaming now.

I continue to banish, strengthening my tone and taking care to say the words correctly. Each time I do, the yellow streak circling menacingly around me leaves the room for a minute or two, but returns immediately. My banishing only seems to keep it at bay.

The man leaves the room as I continue to banish and returns with the vacuum cleaner. He plugs it in, turns it on and, holding the hose close to the yellow streak, sucks it into the vacuum, immediately detaching the hose and unplugging the machine. I’m surprised that his strategy worked, but I wonder how long the vacuum can hold this thing.

The man looks at me. “It’s the energy of a dark sorcerer. He’s trying to possess you.”

I nod, watching the vacuum cleaner. It has begun to glow and shake, and I know somehow that whatever this is, it will find a way out. I continue to banish.

Suddenly a glowing, twelve inch wooden ruler, like the ones I used in elementary school but with writing on the back of it that I cannot read, slides noiselessly out of the front of the vacuum and flies straight at me. It hits me in the center of my body, dissolving into my solar plexus and knocking me to the floor. Stunned, I sit on the floor, feeling a warm tingling moving around my navel.

The man is frantic. “Oh, my God, he's done it. Banish! Banish now and don't stop!”

My mind is clear and calm. I know that I have only a few moments to rid myself of this thing in my body. Once it is there for more than two minutes, I know it will be almost impossible to get out without a great deal of help, and may do me permanent damage. I also know it will be useless to continue to banish as I have been doing. I know I must increase my intent and focus, remain calm and gather my will, taking all the time I can to do so. If I rush I will not have the focused energy to be rid of this thing. If I take too long it will be too late. I must take all the time available and not one second more. I must not panic.

I sit and follow my breath into my body, relaxing all my muscles and feeling my weight drop to the floor. I pour all my energy and attention into my words, like focusing the light of the sun beneath a magnifying glass to start a fire. I speak quietly but with force, my tone low.

“All that would do harm, get out! Be gone!”

A murky yellow light streaks from my body and out the door. It’s gone. With a jolt I find myself back in my body, awake, lying in my bed. I can feel heat in my chest and belly. Was any damage done? Sending my attention down into my body, I check it out. Everything seems fine except for a blossoming headache. I touch my belly, my solar plexus and, moving my hand up between my breasts, realize my necklace is gone. I had gone to bed the night before with a silver chain around my neck—a Goddess figure hanging from the chain, arms upraised, holding a round piece of polished, deep-blue lapis lazuli. Now it’s gone. I search the bedding, the bed, the room, but it is not there. I’m disturbed by her disappearance. Somehow it feels connected to the dream, and I wonder what it means.

Excerpt from Confessions of A Spiritual Thrillseeker by Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 1991

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Be Cherished

Last Sunday, unexpectedly, I found myself crying in a public place.

I was at the service of the First Unitarian Congregation in Toronto. The choir sang a musical version of the 23rd Psalm, an arrangement by Bobby McFerrin. It was a slow sweet melody, an unhurried heart-opening harmony of men’s and women’s voices. The lyrics referred to the “Lord” as “She,” and I smiled remembering how, thirty-five years ago, I and many others had challenged the practise of exclusively referring to the divine by masculine pronouns. For many years I have neither experienced nor conceptualized that Sacred Wholeness beyond and within all things as a Super-person, so I’m less reactive to personal pronouns regardless of gender now. Still, it was lovely to be in a place where the choice to use a wide variety of terms to point toward the Mystery we experience but cannot define reminds us of the limitations of our words.

The song reached a conclusion with an invocation of the Christian trinity, replacing Father, Son and Holy Ghost with Mother, Daughter and Holy of Holies. And I was stunned to find my eyes filling with tears. I have often heard the traditional trinity renamed. Mother/Father, Child of God, and Holy Spirit is the most common choice. Sometimes “Son” is changed to what some see as gender-neutral terms- “The Christ” or “the divine made manifest.” But I cannot recall ever hearing Son replaced by Daughter before.

I was embarrassed and mystified by my own reaction. But I sat quietly, wiped my tears away and considered what chord has been struck within. For some reason “Daughter” had stirred something- an unattended sorrow and an almost forgotten longing.

For as long as I can remember my mother has told me the same story of my birth. Although the details of the actual delivery are sketchy she never fails to tell me that my father, although excited, was “of course, disappointed” when I was born, because I was a girl and “every man wants a son as his first child, not a daughter.” She would say this as if she was stating an obvious truth, something so apparent that it hardly needed to be mentioned. And yet, she did mention it- emphatically and repeatedly. Early on I took her repetition of the story as evidence that she was disappointed that I was a girl. (I’d never gotten any sense of this disappointment from my father who, interestingly, was never present when my mother told this story.) It took me years to realize that although she may have been disappointed to have had a girl, what she was probably unconsciously expressing was her fear or belief that she, an only child, had disappointed her father - a man she adored who loved her dearly- by not being a son.

My mother was not alone in her belief that sons were better than daughters. When I gave birth to my first son, Brendan, my neighbours would come up to me on the street and ask, “Your first?” When I’d nod in reply their anxiety clearly rose as they asked, “A boy?” When I'd respond, yes, they were visibly relieved and, clearly delighted for me, would nod with relief and say, “Oh, good, good.” I wondered what they would have said if I’d told them my baby was a girl- oh, too bad, better luck next time?

Please understand me- I know where this comes from and all the analysis about the impact such attitudes have had on women and men over eons. All my adult life I have understood that personal stories and choices reflect and shape cultural and political realities that in turn impact us all. Happily some of these realities have changed.

But my response to the lyrics in Sunday’s song went below my knowledge of social norms and prejudices to an old sorrow of the heart. Even though I don’t think of or experience the Sacred as a Person, when the language used to point toward the Mystery includes familial metaphors, I am struck by the sadness of not knowing myself as a cherished daughter. Yes God the Father can also be the Great Mother but can the divine manifest in The Son also be manifest in The Daughter if daughters are by definition second best, not as desirable, a disappointment by virtue of their gender?

Sometimes it seems that life is a continual deepening of the heart‘s understanding and healing. I know the essence of the sacred is something below or beyond gender, but it is also something that manifests in infinite ways and many of those ways are gendered, male or female. And surely the sacred is also manifest in our relationships, in the ways we relate to and cherish life in its many forms. There is a great loss if our circle of caring for the world does not encompass all aspects of ourselves, including our gender, the particular form the Mystery takes for a short while through us.

So, unexpectedly last Sunday, a song opened me to holding myself in my own heart as cherished daughter of the divine. Just that phrase- cherished daughter of the divine- makes my breath catch with the miracle of unconscious limitation opening into conscious revelation, the seemingly impossible transformed into a fuller celebration of the joy of being. And I am filled with gratitude for this unexpected healing of an old wound.

May we each hold ourselves and each other in our hearts as the cherished sons and daughters of the divine.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mid-Winter Stirrings

Today is Candlemas or Imbolc- literally “in the belly.” It is the celebration of the first stirrings of the fire of life in seeds that will sprout with springtime warmth. Because the seed that stirs deep in the belly of the earth portends new life to come, it is considered a good time for reading oracles, for catching a glimpse of the life that is to come (or, more mundanely, predicting the weather by the actions of the proverbial ground hog.)

I’ve been reading William Bridge’s wonderful book The Way of Transition. Drawing on his experience of the death of his wife, Bridges (a prophetic name for his life’s work re: helping individuals and organizations move through times of transition) offers wisdom on how to move through the three aspects of transition: the ending- the acknowledging and letting go of what is no more; the “neutral space” when what was is no more and what is to come is not yet known (but is eventually sensed as an invisible, indefinable stirring); and the new beginning.

Sometimes Bridges’ “neutral space” doesn’t feel very neutral at all. It can feel like falling through an endless abyss as our sense of who we have been, what dreams we’ve held, and how we’ve functioned on a daily basis no longer fits. This can feel threatening, difficult, frightening and bewildering. Things we once enjoyed no longer hold interest or value for us. We can feel quite lost. And in a culture that loves speed and action, goals and focused attention we can feel like there is something wrong with us.

It has been ten months since my marriage ended. I consider what has ended, what has been let go:

I am no longer someone’s wife.

I do not intimately share my home, my bed, my heart and my dreams with one other daily.

I no longer have a home in the country, nor the furnishings I’d collected over thirty years- my Grandmother’s dining set; the four poster bed I saved for ten years to purchase while sleeping on a futon on the floor; the earthenware dishes I bought for hosting dinners with friends and family. . . . .

I no longer have to find room for all of what I had accumulated over thirty years.

I do not have to shape my day around another’s needs.

I cannot use another’s needs as the reason or excuse for not doing what I say I want or need to do.

I no longer dream of a co-created future with this man.

I am no longer confined in my dreaming to what would speak to or work for us both.

The implicit agreements to play certain roles no longer hold- he as Mr. go-with-the-flow, me as the planner; he as the spender, me as the budgeter ; he as messy, me as neat-freak and many others. I no longer have to hold to the boxes we (largely unconsciously) agreed were mine. I am allowed my own ease and worry, my own frugality and spending, my own spontaneity and planning. (Okay, I'm still pretty consistently a neat-freak.)

There is more of course. Beyond the logistics and agreements of a shared life, an old pattern of being, a belief planted in me at an early age that I had to work hard in every moment, taking care of others to earn my right to be- is made available for letting go. It’s a choice- not a once-and-for-all choice- but a choice that is available to me each day, a practise for one who was trained to be the means to others’ ends.

And, as I let go, I step fully into this time of in-between, of not-knowing, of Imbolc- the place where I feel a stirring of a seed that was planted before any beliefs were learned, a seed that holds the blueprint, the spiritual DNA of a life more true to who and what I am.

So, on this Imbolc, on this feast day of the Goddess Brigit, patron of smith-craft and poetry and midwifery, I light a candle to honour the stirring, and open the dreaming eye to catch a glimpse of colours to come:

a slash of the blood-red vermilion of my own intensity of being, unfettered;

the swirl of the rainbow robe of the story-teller who has secrets to tell;

a movement in the mist- a figure cloaked in blue, headed for the isle of dreams;

bare feet twirling on dark earth, dancing close to the fire;

clear eyes silent, watching, steady in their gaze, mirroring a turquoise sea;

yellow of blazing sun, silver of silent moon;

the brush of an owl’s soft wing on my forehead;

words on a page whispered aloud into the darkness, ripples across still water;

ease and strength in muscle and bone;

a tall silhouette standing in the shadows by the river- maiden, mother, crone carved in one body;

water, dark and foaming, rushing through the gorge between high walls of stone. . . . .

What is stirring in your belly and in the darkness of the earth beneath your feet? What would you honour in lighting a candle? Can you catch a glimpse of movement, a scent of something that foreshadows what is to come that you might till the soil of your life in preparation?