Category Archives: masculine & feminine

living the question

2014-12-05 12.21.43I have spent most of the past year gradually falling in love with one of the most patient and observant men I have ever known.    He is attentive, generous, creative, and wise.  One of the many gifts he has given me is a copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (other gifts include earrings shaped like the dopamine molecule, a hand-hammered ring he crafted out of a quarter, numerous bouquets of flowers, and some of the most heartfelt and lovely works of poetry and art I’ve ever been privileged to look upon. I mention this to give you an inkling of the quality of man we are talking about here.  And also to preen a little.  Preen, preen.)

Right.  Anyway, one of the most famous passages of that beautiful book of Rilke’s is this one:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have read this passage. So many times that, gradually, it has lost its power.  It has lost its power because I look at this quote and think “ah, Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. Seen that.”  And the experience of these words gets filed away.  I already know.  So I deny myself the experience.

I have fallen in love before.  I have attended school before, participated in art therapy before, cooked stew before, celebrated my birthday before, taken trips overseas before.  Over time, it grows easier and easier to believe that I can never experience the delight and vibrance of this world in the way I did the first time.  It grows easier and easier to slot new experiences into pre-existing categories; easier and easier to take for granted things, people, and experiences  that once lit me up with gratitude.

It’s insidious, this having-of-answers.  I used to live on a tiny street in Culver City, near a school that had planted its borders with mexican marigold and lavender.  Every morning, walking to my bus stop, I’d crush a leaf or two in my fingers and sniff the sweet, heady scent all the way across Venice Boulevard. Sometimes I’d tuck a sprig into my pocket or behind my ear, where I could lift it to my nose throughout the day.  And then one morning, in a hurry, headed to an appointment with a person I loathed, I found myself at the bus stop with a fistful of crushed and withered leaves that I could not remember plucking or smelling.  This ritual of delight had become just another bullet point on my to-do list. I “knew” what lavender and mexican marigold could do for me, so I’d plucked them.  But I’d forgotten to have the experience.

I write this now because, as I entered into love this year, I had so many answers.  I’d been in love.  I knew what worked and what didn’t.  I knew what I wanted and whether I could realistically get it or not.

But this love has taken my answers from me one by one.  Slowly, begrudgingly, I have learned that I cannot apply the tricks and techniques and shortcuts that I learned in other relationships to this one. I have learned that  a) I know nothing about this love and b) that is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes it is very ugly, being me.  Sometimes it is the hardest, most awful, paralyzing-pulpy thing to admit that I have been wrong, that I do not know, that this experience I face is different than anything that has come before.  It takes extraordinary energy and raw nerve to live questions instead of answers.  It takes almost unimaginable courage to allow myself to be fully seen.

On the other side, though!  When I do take the deep breath and do the courageous thing, when I welcome this man into my life each day as a surprise and as an enigma, when I allow myself to stumble and show ineptitude and admit that I do not know, life grows so exquisitely vibrant.  There is a spectrum of experience, and when I narrow it to keep myself from experiencing the most intense suffering, I am also denied the most transformative joy. Slowly, I am relearning how to welcome all of life.

The dust accumulates in such subtle ways: the retelling of a story until all the feeling is worn out of it, the frustration at having to re-experience something I did not like the first time, the assumption that I already know how an apple tastes and that this apple can hold nothing new.  I think this is the way that we can wake up, eventually, and feel as though we are no longer alive.

Sometimes it is easier to keep my head down and deaden myself to experience—sometimes there is so much to do that tasting the apple feels like one task too much.  But when I am walking down the hall after tucking my children into bed and they call after me “we love you the MOST!”  I want to hear it every time.  It is no less beautiful for having been said several hundred times before. I don’t want to deaden myself to it.  I don’t want to stop hearing it when the man I love says I love you.

This man that I love, loves me.  That is the newest, most surprising, most fantastically beautiful feeling I have ever experienced.  I don’t ever want to teach myself to take it for granted.  I don’t ever want to teach myself that I know this already. I don’t want any answers.

I know I will forget, again, to read the words Rilke wrote instead of saying, “oh yeah, Rilke.” I know there will be nights that I stride down the hall preoccupied with all there is to accomplish, not hearing the “We love you the MOST!” that follows me from the boys’ room.  And I want to welcome this, too—-gently welcome this mistake-making, this not-hearing—as part of the question I live every day.

2015-01-02 13.35.14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening

Slowly the evening puts on the garments
held for it by a rim of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands divide from you,
one going heavenward, one that falls;

and leave you, to neither quite belonging,
not quite so dark as the house sunk in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which grows star each night and climbs-

and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening,
so that it, now bound in and now embracing,
grows alternately stone in you and star.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

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Filed under masculine & feminine, parenting and personhood, poetry, Uncategorized

persephone, again

Aidoneus - Hades (Pluton) & Persephone (Proser...

Persephone has hold of me.  I know I’ve written about her before, but she won’t let go.  What is it about her life, characterized by the journey to hell and back, over and over again?  Light to shadow, shadow to light. Jung wrote that in order to truly individuate—to mature into our full self-expression–it is important to integrate the shadow side.

What is the shadow?  The shadow is patched together of the ugly brutal truths, the parts of ourselves we’d rather deny or ignore.  Syria is a shadow right now, use of torture by our military is a shadow, nuclear poison washing into the sea is a shadow.

So why would we want to integrate such a hideous reality? Wouldn’t it be better to rise above these things?

Persephone says no.  When I listen to her–rarely, because I don’t want to , because the things she says are hard to hear–this is the message: Continue reading

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September 13, 2013 · 3:52 pm

learned helplessness

English: Broken glass, off Queen's Road, Titan...

Each man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbor. Then all goes well — he has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun.

                                                                                            ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I’ve moved into a home in Boone that is beyond perfect.  Bamboo floors, deck aerie, lots of garden space, a stained-glass yoga/meditation sanctuary, a shower with TWO massaging nozzles (!), set way up in the mountains amidst ravines and gorges and soaring trees.  I wake each morning to the sun dancing on the floor, filtered through layer upon layer of mountains and leafy trees. I am so blessed.

The previous inhabitants of this house had, ooh, different methods of appreciating it.  The landlord did a lot of work, but signs remain–broken glass scattered throughout the lawn, piles of beer cans in the woods, and most obvious of all, the remains of a huge bonfire in the backyard into which had been put (if I hazard a forensic guess) most of a bed, several semesters’ worth of textbooks, and a lawn chair.  Plus at least three quarters of the contents of an ABC store.

This morning, preparing my tea in the kitchen, I looked out at the ugly heap of twisted metal and ash and knew it was time to start a garden. Continue reading

6 Comments

August 21, 2013 · 3:48 am

elements and earth harps

This past week I took the boys and joined the inimitable Michelle Wilde at the weeklong Elements Gathering.  We made cordage with wild dogbane, we carved raw alabaster into fetishes, we sewed and beaded braintanned buckskin medicine-bags, we started fires, we gathered food, we baked acorn bread, we wove baskets. My children went feral before my eyes, bartering for knives, setting traps, crafting their own belts and clothing from the desert landscape.

Every evening (rather surreally in this landscape of buckskin loincloths and flintknapping) there was world-class music.  I wrote this reflection by lantern-light after listening to William Close play the Earth Harp.  If you click on the link there, you will see a very professional and las vegas-y presentation of what the earth harp is.  My experience of it was far more…well…elemental.  I could feel the music rising up the ground through me, humming out all of the sadnesses and rough edges and deeply-carried emotions. I understood sound healing for the first time.  In the context of the week, it was a life-changing experience.

Years ago, my friend Bud Howell introduced me to primitive skills and accompanied me to Tom Brown’s tracking school.  In those weeks of tracking and shelter-building I could feel the beginning of something large and vital, but it fell by the wayside as the years went on.  Now I had found it again. I felt as though I’d been watering one tree all of my life, and suddenly had learned that my life is not one tree.  My life is an ecosystem, layered with shrubs and vines and groundcovers, and for the first time all of them were watered at once, and the raw bits and ends of my life started to cycle round and support each other.  There’s really no way to put it into words.  But this is what I wrote as it happened:

Continue reading

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August 4, 2013 · 3:01 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Despair & Complaint

i swear.

Last Saturday I sat in a circle of women at the home of a friend.  We’d shared a bountiful and delectable meal, gathered around a cleansing fire, protected ourselves all around with candlelight and color and books and beauty. Yet when we sat to share and listen, there was such darkness there.  So much sorrow and pain and terror, wrong turns and misunderstandings and fury.  Our children were being put in danger, our elected representatives were trying to eliminate our basic rights, our voices were being silenced, and we were in PAIN.  I had actually turned it over and over in my mind whether I should come to this circle or not, as I’d been in a bit of a funk myself and didn’t want to inflict my turbulent energy on others. Continue reading

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June 18, 2013 · 2:41 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Internal/External ways of knowing

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Farm Woman Going to Mark...

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Farm Woman Going to Market

In the normal course of things, writing comes to me like breathing.  I do it without thinking.  When I sit down to write an article or a post or a letter, I am more mindful of writing, just as I am more mindful of my breath during a yoga class or meditation.  But it is still an involuntary process, flowing through me, requiring little of me.

Lately this has not been so.  It’s been a tumultuous few weeks: last week I traveled to Indiana with my parents and children to visit our family matriarch, a powerful woman of 95 years who ran a dairy farm alone after her husband dropped dead, leaving her with three small boys and pregnant with a fourth.  From all accounts, Grandma’s  early life was pretty joyless: an unhappy marriage followed by an even unhappier widowhood, constant struggle with poverty and endless hard work, a tornado that destroyed her entire town, hopes for a second marriage that were cruelly dashed, an unsupportive and judgmental extended family and church community.

As an adult, I can see all of this.  Yet as a child, my experience of Grandma was her ever-present gravelly chuckle, her bustling busy-ness as she baked and crocheted and painted, utter delight in her work as a hairdresser and in her family.  Grandma always sent buckets of presents for Christmas, and her house was full of art and candy.  Her hair was always perfectly curled and colored, her eyes were always sparkling.  She gave me my first “permanent” when I was 12 years old, treating me as a co-conspirator in my endeavor to be beautiful despite the disapproval of my staunchly anti-chemical-hair-enhancement parents (the heathens!) Continue reading

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June 4, 2013 · 7:38 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: relationship

English: Flow of Merced River after Autumn's r...

Here in North Carolina it has been raining nonstop for close to two weeks.  Long walks of exploration through newly roaring creekbeds and exciting leaf-boat journeys down gutters aside, it gets depressing.  When we assembled last night for joy circle, I could feel it in the room.  We were all out-of-sorts.

I have learned through hard experience that when I am facing turbulent or charged or discombobulated energy, the only way out is through.  I can’t pretend it’s not there or fake it until I make it or put on a glossy mask and act as though I’m utterly self-possessed.  I have to jump into the messy emotions and the fear and the not-knowing until things change.

So I threw what I had planned out the window.  Next week is our herbal high tea, and there was loads of planning to be done, but none of us were in a “planning” kind of space.  I took some deep breaths and did a quick internal scan of what had been coming up again and again this week.  And what emerged was relationship.  Disintegrating relationships, or painful confrontations, or loneliness, or longing, or miscommunication.  So many friends had been calling to talk about this, so many articles and conversations and books had turned up to shed light on it.  We would explore relationship tonight.

Supine Pigeon

pigeon pose…compressing the third eye is wonderful for the nervous system

We started with some very slow, deep hip openers.  All of us store emotional tension in our hips, but for women especially the practice of hip-opening stretches like thread-the-needle or pigeon can be very intense and cathartic.  We warmed up with cat-and-cow and slow vinyasa, then took our time in pigeon, using the breath to expand on the inhale and fall down on the exhale, compressing the third eye on our doubled fists or the floor.  From this place of release we slowly resumed a seated position and went through a guided meditation.

In the meditation I asked everyone to identify a pattern in their relationships that has caused pain.  It could be a pattern of abandonment, or betrayal, or loneliness, or a sense of unworthiness…any painful experience that seems to repeat from lover to lover or friend to friend.

When we think of these patterns it hurts.  We followed the pain within, to the place in the body it seemed to originate.  There, in the body, we stayed, feeling the pain, noticing the sensation it caused.  I asked:  if this feeling had a voice, what would it be saying to you?  What is its message?

I could see the messages on faces lit by flickering candlelight:  you’re impossible to love.  you’re not good enough.  you try too hard.  you don’t try enough. 

I asked everyone to identify the age of this voice.  Was it a little girl speaking?  A teenager? A grown woman?  And  I asked each woman to return for a moment to her breath, to her own power and centeredness.  From this place of adult self-assurance, I asked each woman to extend her love and power to that voice, to contradict the message that caused such pain, to envelop it in love and warmth and safety.

And then I asked for each woman to conjure up within her body the feeling of being loved.  The feeling of being adored, cherished, cared for.  I asked for each woman to draw this feeling through her body with the breath, filling each cell with that sensation of warmth and bliss.  I asked each woman to imagine her ideal mate sitting before her, regarding her with complete love and acceptance, and to notice how that felt.

I put a paper and pen in front of each woman and, still in a space of candlelit silence, asked that they write down how it felt to be loved this way, what thoughts and resistances emerged from this feeling.  I asked them to write who they were within this relationship of love, how they walked when they were loved this way, how they spoke, what changed in their lives, what they let go of, what they learned.

Some women had to leave the room, overcome by trying to imagine a love like this. We are a circle of strong, self-assured women who juggle very meaningful work, studies, care of others, and personal evolution, and yet through each of us runs this fault line of self-acceptance.  We have difficulty creating for ourselves what we effortlessly give to others each and every day.  I never fail to be blindsided by this paradox.

When we gathered again over tea and lavender scones, the energy was subdued.  We had touched on something deep and vulnerable.  I talked a little about vulnerability, how it is the only way into communication, how the high gloss of self-sufficiency repels every attempt at connection.  I know a lot about this.  That doesn’t make it any easier.  I spoke about ways to use what we had learned: taking what we’ve written and using it to create a sense of expansiveness and love in our own lives, now, making the changes for ourselves that we sensed would happen only when we were loved.

Finally, I gave in to the quiet and turned on the music.  We danced, and outside the rain poured down and lightning flashed in quick illumination of our bodies letting this out, this unutterable paradox of strength and vulnerability, self-assurance and self-doubt.  This feels very important to me.  I think that the unraveling of this question will have a bearing on questions of environmental damage and social injustice and right living and mental health.  I know that our self-relationship has a bearing on our relationship with everything and everyone. I don’t know how yet.  But I am beginning to be clear on the question.

Lightning 2

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May 7, 2013 · 9:19 pm