Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gesture: Part 2

            Here is another revelation.  I believe that I turn from Spirit, ignore it, forget it, don’t trust in its existence.  I believe that I am fundamentally alone in the universe – no help, no hope. 
            These beliefs are lies.
            My writing itself exposes the lies; it is infused with Spirit.  Every morning I light candles and sage and make the call.  Even when I think I am writing garbage, it is all done in Spirit.
            The gesture becomes the mudra of my elder years, acknowledging shame and love, pain and compassion. 
            This is how I know:
            She speaks to me, and I listen.  I have learned over time to do this, and it has taken both the strength of Her reaching out to me and also a certain surprising willingness on my part to entertain the possibility that the communication is real.
            In Malta, in the mother temple of Ggigantija, my back leaning into Her ancient stone body and feeling a hand on my head, I heard Her say, “You love Persephone because she is one of my forms.”
            In the Arizona desert, I woke up in the middle of the night hearing the words, “Go out and pay homage to the night.”  I dragged myself out of bed and walked outside, looked up, and saw a shooting star that swam across the sea of the dark sky more slowly than I had ever seen before or have seen since.
            At Eleusis, I had a vision of Demeter and Persephone, and I trembled seeing offerings left for them by other devotees.
            A few months ago I dreamed an aardvark crossed my path. In waking reality, I had recently written a piece called Walking through Walls.  The morning after the dream, I googled “Aardvark” (after searching for pictures of squat animals with snouts, not even recognizing what the animal I had dreamed about was).  I read how magicians in Africa use aardvark parts to walk through walls.
            These are just a few episodes of spirit presence in my life.  There are others.  I have sat with Persephone in my meditation, and She has told me She would walk with me through life and into death.
            Persephone’s path to the underworld is a downward spiral into the center of my heart.  She appeared just this morning as I uncovered the shame I had buried as a child, perhaps my first journey into her realm.  Here is the revelation – the underworld is at the core of the heart.  Only kindness and love can lead me out.  It was, after all, my mother’s misguided but well-intentioned love that led me in.
            But I do have another mother, a dark mother of heart-breaking wisdom and compassion.  If I ever know trust, if I ever take refuge, It is in Her hands that I place my soul.

It was a solitary road.
She’d seen no one
since leaving the women
at the crossroads.
All she knew was
the sound of gravel
crunching underfoot,
the wind in the Monterey pines
and the sound of the sea.
“Pacific is the wrong name,
for something so immense,
so powerful, so relentless,”
she mused.
“Maybe they named it that
as a prayer that it would prove true,
as a wish for their safety.”
She laughed aloud,
and the wheeling gulls overhead
cried out too, as if in response.

Memory was like
the ocean’s waves,
rising and falling,
touching shore and
running back
to the dark depths.
She realized
that she had now
lost her fear
of its failure,
had even relinquished
the worry about
where she was going and
when she would get there.

The wild and bitter wind
swept her mind clean
and left only
the pounding of her heart
and the rhythm of the waves.
The chopping barks of seals
called to her.
She could see distant splashes
where their sleek bodies
dove into the heaving sea,
disappearing below, below,
down into the dark, cold
depths of their home.

            Early in childhood, prior to assuming shame, I found the world to be wrapped in magic.  Things sparkled and glowed with energy, and words created images and stories.  They revealed what was true, what was real, what was sacred.  Words were a puzzle one could put together and take apart, forming and reforming, a magic that was endlessly fascinating. 
            If I root out and clear away the shame and self-doubt, I may find the old and eternal magic below it all.
            I want words to flow, falling as if over cliffs, in waterfalls of syllables that might be beautiful or clunky, or shining, or bouncing off rocks and open to the sky, the wind, the trees, the clouds, the stars.  I want to find words that will be ladders to the universe without and to the dark chambers within.  I want my magic back.  I want to be the purveyor of words and the conveyor of Spirit. Here is my (probably unsurprising but necessary) confession:  I am a mystic.  I claim it.
            My hand is on my heart.


Monday, December 14, 2015

The Gesture: Part 1

            The gesture is everything, says everything.  The hand on the heart is not a sign of protection or hiding; at least not this time.  It is an expression of grief, and the grief arises out of shame.
            My mother, coming of age during the Depression and birthing me soon after the Holocaust, wanted only to see me survive and thrive.  She saw me as willful, fiery, carrying the tempestuous temper of my father, which in her eyes would not serve me in this world.  It was not only fine but expected that I would be smart, but my task was to avoid revealing too much intelligence or too much spirit.  In that way, I would be acceptable and find a husband.  Being too much of anything – brilliant, impassioned, strong, ambitious – would be disastrous for a woman.
            My mother’s way of instructing and socializing me was shaming.  If that did not succeed, then outright sarcastic ridicule was the rod used to avoid spoiling the child.
            My humiliated and diminished heart held onto the shame, shoving it down into its deepest, remotest chambers.  There it quietly pulsed in rhythm with my heart, hidden yet present, waiting, waiting. 

            Four of us sat at a booth in a crowded coffee shop having Sunday morning breakfast: three abundant plates of omelets, crispy hash browns and biscuits, and one pathetic bowl of oatmeal.  Mine.  I was trying to heal a bout of esophageal pressure/pain that had cropped up after a series of colds and the fatigue that followed our annual Day of the Dead grief ritual.  My friend asked about how the ritual had gone, and I spoke about my regret over a small misstep I had made during the ritual. I was pleased that I had had enough maturity and awareness to admit my clumsiness and to make amends.  But it had truly been a tiny failure in large field of goodness.  It is telling that this is the story I chose to relate about the day.
            When I finished speaking, he asked if I realized that I had placed my hand over my heart as I spoke - precisely where I was experiencing my physical distress.  No. I was totally unaware of the gesture. 
            I had previously thought that the discomfort in my chest was a result both of depletion and also of taking a psychic hit that I saw as an energetic sword thrust into my heart by the one whose feelings I had disregarded.  There may be truth in that; a leader can easily become a target.  But maybe it was directing me towards my wound.  What if it were a sign like an arrow saying, “Hey, look over here!”  What if my body had responded to my shame, self-judgment and feeling of failure by tightening up my chest?

Surveying the road. 
Or roads, I should say, 
observing what is coming this way -
A limping figure, hard to see 
at this distance.
Ah, her hand is over her heart,
this girl or old woman approaching.

“What does your gesture signify?”
we ask, Hecate and I.
“This is the place, the only place,”
she responds, shaking her head.
“Good,” we say.  “That’s good.
This way or that way?”

She peers down one road, then the other.
“Does it matter?” she asks.

“Oh, yes.”

“Then I’ll go this way.”
And without hesitation, she proceeds
and quickly disappears from view.

I look at Hecate.
“Was that the right way?” I ask her.
She shrugs.
“Maybe a bit longer, but surer,
and with a view of the sea.”

I let out a sigh,
breath I did not even know
I was holding,
and notice my own hand
resting on my heart.

            How much is enough?  This is the struggle.  It is difficult to do what I am called to do.  It is even more of a challenge to notice and give myself credit for what I do accomplish.  How will the struggle change when the shame underneath everything is exposed?

            Here is what is emerging: the desire and effort to be kind.  Generally, being kind to others is not difficult.  Being kind to myself?  Another story.  The gesture of hand on heart becomes the token, the sign, the image for the new work.  It does not differentiate between working for the children and grandchildren and working to give the gift one has to give.  Seeing how all the work is intertwined is eye-opening.