Angela di Foligno was a 13th century Umbrian Franciscan mystic who began her initiation on the spiritual path when she was almost 40. She was officially declared as saint in October of 2013. Her works were dictated to a relative who was scribe and a Franciscan brother in the church, and so we unfortunately do not have access to the complete depth and intimacies of her ecstatic visions and commentary (both she and her scribe discuss how he was writing in such haste and fear from admonishment from his religious brothers that it is a “short and defective version” of her experience). Nevertheless, as readers, there is still so much for us to gain in terms of inspiration and commiseration.
In “The First Twenty Steps of the Blessed Angela in the Way of Penance and Spiritual Perfection,” the Franciscan saint details the arduous journey of mastering both fear and love, a requirement to evolving in our human consciousness to realize our divine spark and transform shame. I want to discuss three aspects of this journey that relate specifically, as I see it, to the challenges set forth by many women: love for the body, love for one’s relational boundaries, and love for one’s time and space. Most cultures fail to honor women in all of their desires and powers, and so we must learn to honor ourselves and each other. Angela, as we shall see, was fiercely willing to honor herself.
For much of my life, I’ve wanted experience. I think it stems from my childhood/teenage years. When I would travel (for school events, mostly), everyone my age or a bit older always seemed SO much older than me, so much more mature, and I always felt like a little kid, and that embarrassed me. I didn’t care about money or being materially successful. It seemed more admirable to take a road or overseas trip and meet a lot of different people and encounter cultures and read books that would help me grow emotionally and mentally. Recently, my friend who is younger and on his way to being a millionaire by the time he is 40 has tried to encourage me to read books about financial investments and business. I do not have the best habits with money, mainly meaning I don’t usually save or invest and just live paycheck-to-paycheck rather carelessly.
But in the Dhammapada and Upanishads, they say that neither those who only follow the material path nor those who only follow the spiritual path will reach nirvana. . . it is only those who find a balance between the material and spiritual, the mind and the body that will be able to reach nirvana, be one with Brahman and notice the true self. Continue reading “Spiritual vs. Material: The Middle Way? by Elisabeth Schilling”
I think it was either Simone de Beauvoir or Betty Friedan who mentioned we live in a “sea of hostility.” Mainly it is the comment section of almost any post of photo or text where this can be evidenced. Since much of humanity spends a solid amount of time on social media these days, such negativity, judgment, criticism, canceling, and general snarky reactivity and pushing of opinion starts to leak into our veins. I was thinking about the human predicament the other day and what might be a central issue for many: the avoidance of pain.
We think we avoid suffering, discomfort when we project it on to another person. When we decide to play the game and live life for ourselves, acquiring more and more wealth, we forget there is a cost to the earth and often our near and far global neighbors. We try to avoid suffering when we demand our freedoms, trying to fashion a world according to our preference even as it means imposing our personal moralities onto others. Continue reading “The Sacred Love We Can Share through Kindness and Patience by Elisabeth Schilling”
It looks like it is time again for me to pack up and drive a few hundred or more miles to a new destination, a place I will finally try to plant roots, this time offering commitment + endurance, hoping to build a life of more balance and authenticity. I assume I will need a constant reminder of gratitude, quelling the entitlement that can bubble up when I think “this should be easier.” I’m not sure when, why, or where I’ve picked up that refrain, but I see it in others and myself and wish for an alternative.
With the help of several people, I’ve secured a full-time college teaching position on a beautiful college campus of a kind of institution I am certain is doing its part to heal the world. At least that is what I feel when I serve at a community college, a place where I feel inspired and challenged by students who have a diversity of needs. I’ve been teaching in such institutions for so long, I’ve fallen in love and know, by experience, that I can help in such spaces.
What can we learn from each other? Some people teach us that we need help with boundaries. Some remind us that we are easy to love. We can observe the way some lovers make us want to escape, simmering a queasy feeling in our stomach that we practice patience and non-attachment with so that we are not harmed too much whilst in their presence and other lovers are always ready with a supportive word, assuring us that what we desire is valid, that we do not need to justify our path.
The people who we react to the most intensely, most of the time negatively, are these people our lessons? That sounds rather crass when thought to apply to anyone in an extremely oppressive and/or abusive situation. I would not suggest we apply this to anyone but ourselves, if indeed, it works for us. This is not the fatalistic idea of people belonging in a certain state or being punished for something. This is more a strategic curiosity of looking at our own agency from a back door. For example, my body might contort in frustration and sadness with someone, which could indicate I need to not be in relationship with their energies, but until I can create another path (maybe due to work commitments, relational obligations, financial situations, etc.), I feel more empowered reflecting so that I can learn about myself and others so as to perhaps not invite the same energies in during the future or to not have them affect me so harshly so that it doesn’t matter.
For many of us, listening to women-loving-women songs is a spiritual experience. That is because somehow it makes us feel seen, puts a sense of hope into our world as well as daydreams of romance. We can understand the challenges and the regret or guilt that comes with disappointing others and ourselves, them for not being who they wanted us to be and for us, not being who we are for far too long. Holly Near’s Simply Love album narrates a story that I might envision as a musical theatre production, and I really wish someone would ask me to write it and then hold the casting call (yeah, I’d want to be in it too, so save me a part). I offer some of my thoughts on two central songs in the would-be musical in hopes of sacred liturgy on a potential stage.
Simply Love has 28 songs and was released (according to Spotify) in 2000. I think the synopsis would be surrounding Cassandra, in a loving relationship with her partner, reflecting on her journey to this place of authenticity. I can imagine how it might be living one’s live in an exploratory way and coming to new revelations later in life.
There might be lots of lessons to consider. These lessons might have holes, for I’m not a wise sage, and I’m not really even a mother. As I am a couple of years from 40, I think about what lessons I would teach my daughter if I had one, lessons to honor her physicality, lessons to create space for her soul. What do you think of these lessons? Would I be a bad mother?
Be self-sufficient, and work hard and do it early.
I think there is much to say about a woman making her own money so that she can be in relationships that honor her tendencies and desires and contribute in those relationships financially. I’m not sure why it is, but I still feel that we are in a time where most men are more given the idea they should be self-sufficient and work hard and early to do it and many women, although perhaps a hint of this, would not have this as the core of who they are. A woman should have her own money so that she can be free.
Find a spirituality and a community that allows you to be confident in your internal wisdom and body and support learning about life skills.
Carol Christ wrote about gift economy on this blog in 2013, and I am taken by her story of the woman who brought raisins or cracked nuts to the group even though she had very little. In beginning to encounter the literature on gift economy myself, I am wondering how it all works, especially wondering, perhaps outside of such a conversation if it doesn’t relate or misses the point, what someone who feels they have nothing to give can give.
When Genevieve Vaughan wrote about gift economy in Ms. Magazine in 1991, she wrote, “where there is enough, we can abundantly nurture others. The problem is that scarcity is usually the case, artificially created in order to maintain control, so that other-orientation becomes difficult and self-depleting.”
I think we start to look for other ways of existing when we experience the brokenness of a current existence. The exchange economy under mindless capitalism does not honor equal, fair exchanges. If we could keep from manipulating and being deceptive about what a product is worth, if we could more generously assess the contribution of workers, then some of us might not be bothered. Of course, for that work which is never compensated by money, mostly women’s work, that is the other issue that might not be solved by more equal exchange, and probably more the point of Vaughn’s.
I caution myself to be critical and nuanced. I’m sorry, folks. I just haven’t had such dazzling hope or remote interest in politics since. . . well, since I was a puppet junior high evangelist for an independent candidate my Dad liked, and I don’t want to try to remember who it was. But I was 13. And I’m 38 now. What hath made this cold, indifferent, anxious millennial’s soul to warm?
I am into mindfulness, contemplative studies, Eckhart Tolle, Don Miguel Ruiz, Nhat Thich Hanh, the kind of comparative religious studies scholar who has eastern spirituality leanings, so when I heard Marianne Williamson was a presidential candidate, I got curious. I’ve not read A Course in Miracles (although I think I’ve avoided it for the same assumptions Williamson says she initially made) or actually any of her books. Williamson is Jewish and has a pluralistic perspective when it comes to noting the basic underlying wisdom of all religious and spiritual beliefs (I realize we have discussed this before when I called them “wisdom traditions” – is any tradition actually wise/can you separate the violence, oppressions, and misogynies of them?).
She speaks in cool, rushing waters and has a platform that still sounds “political”/political (she breaks down what this word actually means in her latest CNN Town Hall) and is spiritual and based in a rhetoric of love. After the complete loss of hope in what [T . .] represents, and the not-yet healed wounds from [B. . .], she sounds like a reasonable adult, much like Obama did during his years. I wonder if they are friends? They should be.
In our society, relationships with food are complicated. Sometimes we might be anxious that our food is not safe, that we are not told the whole story, that we have to educate ourselves on what we can and guess the rest. Sometimes there are emotions connected with food such as ecstasy, joy, guilt, remorse, anxiety, or disgust. Sometimes thinking about food can be stressful, that we don’t have enough money to feed ourselves and others in the ways we would like or at all. Other times, we might wish food away because it is boring or we have limited skills or vision. I cannot say that my relationship with food is the healthiest. I have used food as a punishment and way to self-harm, I’ve been restrictive with food or scared of certain foods. I’m a little or a lot OCD and neurotic with how I handle food.
Ultimately, though, I love good food, and I rather enjoy cooking, especially when I have time to myself and am alone in the kitchen. There is something soothing in cleaning the preparation space and items, chopping the vegetables, combining the green, orange, purple together, letting my intuition guide me for spices. I know that food can be a ritual. It is a time where I listen to the water spill from the spout, the crackle of garlic in oils, the silence in the gaps where I pause before completing another step. Sometimes I go renegade, experimental or familiar, and other times the recipe is liturgy as it requires my faith to be guided by another’s wisdom. Continue reading “The Healing Feminine Energy of Food by Elisabeth Schilling”
Are Women’s Bodies too Magical for Professionalism?
I feel I’m at times strategizing ways to hide my magic. I contemplate, for instance, whether that college in [conservative state] is going to like that I had a poem published in a lit mag called Pussy Magic (they call their staff a “coven,” which I adore – I’m quite proud to be in this magazine – I think I have a crush on the entire staff). Sometimes, I’m so used to asking questions such as this, that I find myself surprised and unprepared for when other people manage to, admirably, give fewer fucks.
For instance, I was watching an old YouTube clip the other day of Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show about her preparation for being sworn in.
Colbert was asking her about her experience, and she was asked to explain the story behind her nails (good question because it is a good story). She told him that when Sonia Sotomayor was being sworn in, she was advised to choose a neutral color of nail polish because something like red would bring in too much scrutiny and comments. Continue reading “Magical Women by Elisabeth Schilling”
I think being a mother must be an amazing experience. I don’t really know the glimmers and shadows of any life but mine, even though I would be more than happy to listen. Recently, I’ve been reading the poems of Carol Ann Duffy, Scottish poet, U.K. Laureate, and once partner to poet Jackie Kay, and she writes something in one of her poems (“A Clear Note”) that I resonate with: “Never have kids. Give birth to yourself.” It is not Duffy, the narrator, who says this, but a character named Moll.
In the triptych poem, three women—Agatha, Moll, and Bernadette, three generations of women, speak to and about each other through time and space. The quote is just something Moll recalls saying to her daughter, Bernadette one night when she is drunk. I of course do not think a woman cannot give birth to herself if she has children. But it is certainly a good (in my opinion, for I wish it so) excuse for myself, revising this line of verse in my own voice: I will never have kids; I need the entirety of life to birth myself.
I am tired and a bit emotionally exhausted, yet hopeful and in calm spirits as I have returned from my 8 months of traveling through Europe. I left in a rather dramatic impulsivity with little planning other than to leave the States for as long as I could and focus on writing poetry. I suppose I wanted to stay indefinitely, but now I realize that there are good and bad elements to everywhere.
In Basque Country, the beaches were beautiful but you might have to sunbathe in clouds of burning cigarette smoke because everyone seems to be lighting up everywhere you go. In Sicily, the history and fashion and food are intoxicating, but a lot of the buildings are crumbling and the landscape is parched in many places. In Ireland, it is green and lush, every corner a fairytale, but in the town centers, the air in winter is suffocating with the smoke of coal burning in houses as if it were London in the 1800s so much that I mostly refused to walk outside where I stayed. Continue reading “Sometimes You Can Go Home Again. . . Because I Did by Elisabeth Schilling”
It’s hard for me to be dignified and peaceful sometimes. To produce and sacrifice without rewards, making sure I’m not “sacrificing” in a way that quells my truth and power, making sure I look at dignity in a liberating way. Words continually need to be unpacked, and I do that. I know the work. According to the OED, it means “The quality of being worthy.” For me, ‘dignity’ is just being aware of your self-worth and celebrating that. It feels hopeful and romantic and raw. To sacrifice, to me, in the way I’m using it in this moment, is to be life-giving and co-creator; I think of it in the same way as what the earth does, so that it can continue. Like a leaf fallen to nourish its own soil.
The OED definition of ‘sacrifice’ I like is “The destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something regarded as having a higher or more pressing claim.” We can decide what is more pressing. For me it is the ethic of generosity and production in a non-greedy way. I do not sacrifice in this more self-empowered, law-of-the-universe way I’ve recently come to understand much. But I would like to. Sometimes, though, I feel tired in my production, like I need more feedback, even if it is another woman willing to listen to me, which is why posting on FAR is so healing and life-giving because there is all of you.
I’m glad I have wisdom in my body. Even if “I” (my mind?) goes chaotic, feels overwhelmed and lost, my body has this natural intelligence to heal and regain balance if I can listen and get out of its way. That reminds me a lot of the earth—regions harmed by human mindlessness have been known to restore itself, even after radiation or toxic explosions, when humans leave for awhile. But if “I” equate myself with my mind, isn’t that also a part of the body? Wouldn’t the mind (the brain? the processes that help mental consciousness and thoughts arise?) then be wise, seeking balance? It just does not feel like it. So if anyone can weigh in on that. . . why so easy for my body-body but not my mind-body?
I can’t even save myself. I make bad decisions just like the ones in the world – bombs and wars and the industrial revolution with chains of greed. But then I go on and, without even knowing any part of the story, want to save others. Carol Christ’s post yesterday on family brought me to tears and I instantly had to write a poem. First, it made me think of the memory of my own mother telling me to wait for my dad to get a belt and him saying it will hurt him more than it does me.
Except when I told my mom this, she said it never happened, so I don’t understand the vivid visions in my head that I have being little and hearing the words and being afraid, and why the sight of men’s work belts make me nauseous. I believe my mother. It doesn’t matter either way, I guess, now, in my opinion about my own experience. What I mean by that is I don’t want to do the work of being suspicious or thinking about what is at stake at the moment. I’m okay with shelving it. Let’s just say I believe and don’t feel like trying to explain those visions. I suppose everyone will have an opinion about my decision and perspective on this. Feel free to voice it if it makes you feel better. Continue reading “Longing to Heal Family in our Differences and Distances by Elisabeth Schilling”
Lately I’ve been reading a few Paulo Coelho books. I won’t say they are beyond feminist criticism, but it’s not what I’m going to focus on this post; but as always, feel free to say in the comments why/if you find them problematic. I expect and welcome it because it might be another layer of this conversation that I don’t have time or am not yet emotionally ready for myself.
What I want to focus on is the solution the author seems to advance in each of his books, at least those I’ve read, to our perpetual unhappiness despite the evidence that everything is fine, better than might otherwise be.
Adultery: I never finished this one, actually. I had to take it back to the library the last time I had to leave Ireland, but I’m sure I will find it again and read the rest of it soon. So I can’t say what the ending revealed, but what sticks in my mind was the predicament of the main character. She, from her perspective, had it all: wealth, an interesting career she liked, an attractive husband who was attentive and kind, a family, health. This was why she was so confused that she was unhappy. This is the premise of many of his books: the person who doesn’t know why they are unhappy. Also, the observation that no one is really happy.
I have something hard to say. It is about some of ourselves, some of the time.
Let me start by offering you my perspective on negativity on the internet: people are not always conscious or mindful. We let our bitter wounds affect our ability to listen to each other and respond in compassionate ways. Being compassionate does not mean we have to agree with each other. But it means that we shelf our ego and do not immediately jump to disregarding another’s experience or perspective; we can disagree without being harsh. We can be honest, while being kind.
There is some negativity in the comments from regular FAR readers and contributors that I want to speak to in hopes we can become a more supportive community and a better model of peaceful difference. Support simply means that we will create a more safe space for people to share their experiences, give their opinions, and be able to disagree. Diplomacy is the key. If diplomacy does not feel authentic to you. If it feels repressive and you equate it with being polite, then let’s look at the definition of the term:
Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post contains details about unwanted sexual advances. Read Part I here.
After Sicily, I went to the English countryside for an intended two weeks in a work exchange. A retired, but part-time, lecturer of Greek and Latin in his 60s was moving house and needed help packing and cleaning and cooking. There would, in a day or two, also be a male student from Lithuania and a Brazilian couple joining the communal house, and I found the position through workaway.info, a site one must pay for that I used three years ago with no problem.
On one hand, I have to use sites like this from time to time due to financial reasons. On the other hand, after traveling alone for awhile, I long for the communal exchange. I enjoy helping someone learn a language, cook for their family, organize their clutter because of the conversations along the way. They have a house and extra food. I have the time (my two classes I teach at university online do not take much) to help. If the people involved are mindful and truly grateful for community and shared work and resources, it can be a sacred return to a way of life where people can practice sharing, non-greed, and carrying each other’s burdens. We practice living with strangers, with all the challenges that presents, instead of isolating ourselves in presumed comfort. Continue reading “Navigating Social Space as Power-Struggle, Pt. 2 by Elisabeth Schilling”
The space we take up by our bodies is an element of the sacred. As we move from bed in waking, through our houses and then out into the world, if any of that movement places a woman in close proximity with a man or men, she might do well to observe how the male presence may modify her behavior, from adjusting orientation, position, and flow.
Mauro Drudi’s installation of LEI (SHE/HER/YOU – formal) in the Chiesa de San Cristoforo on the Sicilian island of Ortigia where I usually take a bus to daily has become the shrine of women I’ve been searching for. Each time I cry, I am glad I can feel something: those tears are a mixture of communion, comfort, and recognition.
When one enters the church, there are two converging walls. On either side, a woman’s face is painted in shadow and light, gazing off toward the light, is reproduced over and over so that the number of women looks almost countless. They are the same face, a reproduction of Antonello da Messina’s “Annunziata” in the mode of pop art. The difference is not in expression. They all wear the same thoughtful, complicated, neutral countenance, holding deep thoughts and experiences of suffering and wise knowing, both acceptance and maybe resistance; they have lived and might be any age, although I see in our connection my own. The difference is between glossy, unblemished surfaces of wood vs. surfaces weathered, slightly ragged, sometimes scribbled on with ink. The former, found on the right when one enters supposedly represents the “positive” woman, the “western woman [. . . representing someone] happy, gorgeous, well-kept.” On the left, about these representations, Drudi says, “Which artist can paint the skin of a woman who has been abused, beaten, exploited, captivated or disfigured with acid? In my opinion, nobody, and so I let the material speak: the wall of a beach hut destroyed by a storm; woods and materials used and abused [. . .]; exhausted panels deriving from carrying tons of goods, tables, packagings, production wastes.”
I am falling in love with failure. At least I’m trying. It is time I have to.
We shouldn’t, lovely womyn, be short on our accomplishments. It doesn’t matter how slow going we’ve been, what we haven’t done yet, or what we haven’t quite obtained. We have to focus on the great strides we’ve made despite all the seeming nothings. If we fail, that means we put ourselves out there. Many times I submit a request or offer myself, the answer is silence, but other times the answer has been “yes.” I just haven’t heard many yesses because I don’t really try all that often. I’m timid, beat myself up, get down on myself, give up. Failure feels most like failure, though, the bad kind, when I’m indecisive and I don’t or can’t act. Not committing to something or deciding feels like a weight or blades inside. How can I love this failure? Or, at least, how can we be compassionate toward ourselves when we are in this situation?
I get Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, at least from what I can gather from this quote: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, [. . .] and another fig was Europe [. . .]. I saw myself sitting at the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.” Continue reading “Love a Good Fail, and Fiona Apple is my Liturgy this Morning by Elisabeth Schilling”
Most of us are trying to make it to a place of material comfort where we are living in a way that feels honorable. Some of us feel we could have made better decisions in the past so that we might have figured out how to do such before the age we are now. I recently did a tarot card reading that I interpreted as mainly positive or neutrally-revelatory. But one of the cards stood out from the rest, and I really didn’t understand it. I was feeling positive that day, and, even though I have often felt unsure and longing in my recent travels despite all I have accomplished materially and psychologically, I have to say it wasn’t a card I was expecting: the III of Swords, which symbolizes disappointment and heartache, especially due to mental happenings. What could I feel heartache at? Perhaps I am disappointed that creating that place of safety and material comfort seems a long way down the road.
For about a year and a half, I have been working on a collection of poetry that I feel is worth something. I have been writing poetry since I scribed pages hidden between my math textbook when I was 9, gone through poetry workshops in graduate school where I produced a creative thesis, and continued to write off-and-on after that. I have an extensive cornucopia of poetry, but it was around last October of 2016, perhaps, that I decided to write my experience.
As a pre-teen, I wrote about what I thought my life could be, fantasizing about being an older woman with mottled relationships, missing opportunities to discuss my fragile relationship with my parents as the only-child-golden-child, my passion and doubts as a religious, my shame at not being more experienced. Even when I was in graduate school for poetry in Ohio, I didn’t think my life was worth excavating. I wrote dreamy, dense poetry that was surreal and symbolic but largely incoherent. I could again have written about my evolving religious beliefs, my curiosities and risks I took living outside of my home state of Oklahoma as a young woman for the first time, my declining relationship with my mother, or my insecurities again, but this time as a lesser-prepared graduate student in comparison with my literary and theory-laden colleagues.
On one hand, some might say the culture I come from is narcissistic and navel-gazing. I would agree, but just like I feel women can sometimes be selfish in a quite necessary and liberating way (as opposed to those around her accusingly saying she is “so selfish” for abandoning them/following her own path/needing a room of her own), I feel the confessional and self-reflective can be the healing and helpful side of the coin. For me, at least in my experience, my “finished” collection feels exactly this way.
I’m the type of insecure wallflower who has deleted social media accounts, blogs, photos, poems, and journals because 1. I am not good at commitment or planning, 2. I shame myself for being eclectic and lacking consistency, and 3. a sentiment I have either created or exists in some form externally prods me to brand myself, something I cannot do well (see no.1 and no.2). Oh, that doesn’t mean I don’t find the brand smart, and maybe calling it a “brand” condemns it to consumerism and commodities, when really it is being focused where I am distracted and a frivolous sensationalist.
For so long I’ve been wandering in the maiden stage, but now I am a mother, to myself, since I’ve made hard decisions to loosen or cut ties with people who have not always acted in my best interest in their attached and, at least to me, manipulative ways; I have long felt a mother to whatever group of students I have the honor of guiding; and I moonlight as a card reader/astrological guide where I feel I can nurture and provide compassionate advice to those who desire a connection from the universe. The way I practice is that I allow my empathy and research about ourselves to encounter the client’s own internal wisdom. There is not anything that qualifies me to be a teacher or reader any more than anyone else. We are all guru to each other when we listen closely.
I am not sure why I have never wanted to be a mother of a child. Not-wanting has felt very natural to me. Now that I have put some distance between myself and my own mother, her voice and so her desires are not so much hovering over me. I feel free and good about my decisions, about following the path that is normal for me.
But what I really love about the four phases of the feminine way – maiden, mother, maga, and crone — is that we do not necessarily need to always identify with the stage that aligns with our age or any rites of passage. I remember going to a goddess ceremony in California where we could speak from any of the perspectives we felt aligned with that at the time and explain why.
It is not easy navigating the world with fragile boundaries, self-worth, and a potential history of manipulations. I often seek wisdom in spiritualities and unfamiliar religions because I need a substitute for the childhood traditions I have abandoned as a raft mid-stream. I am attracted to fashioning another raft, this one not pre-fabricated but gathered over some time by reaching for branches and tendrils. I am never confident about my assessments concerning relationships, and I mostly avoid going very deep with people anyhow or keep my head down so as to go unnoticed or divert the interest of others because I don’t yet know how to have healthy relationships that entail elements of balance or stay more-or-less in the middle way. It is awkward and fumbling to do life on one’s own, and I am hardly a victim. I completely admit that healing is within my purview and I simply have not tried hard enough, or that I just need to accept that no relationship is perfect and one cannot exactly have pleasure without pain, and so allow my body to sink into the underwater worlds and be taken by the sensory suctions of sea urchins and stings of jelly fish. Perhaps a relationship can also be one of peace and calm passions where those involved keep their attachments in check. I guess that is possible.
There are two tarot card decks that have accompanied me on my trip overseas this summer: Alana Fairchild’s Rumi Oracle and Lee Bursten’s Tarot of Dreams. In recent readings, I have been presented with messages of place, thus the topic of my post.
But first, Seneca, Stoic philosopher born around the time of Jesus, cautions that people traveling to escape their difficulties are sometimes no better when they have arrived to a distant land because they have not become rid of themselves. Likewise, zen philosophy suggests that it is not our circumstances that matter so much as the peace and calm we create in our inner landscape. Nhat Thich Hanh or Ram Dass or Pema Chödrön (maybe all 3) have a metaphor for the tumultuous ocean – that the sea is often rocky, but it is always calm in the deep beneath. Yet, I see all this as a reminder to be mindful about the added layers of suffering we can create and advice for difficult times when we can’t leave yet. Regardless, I think any wisdom cannot discount the need for a nurturing, healing space when at all possible.
After my year of teaching high school students, I found a kinship with them in their frustrations, longing, apathy, hopelessness, and hope. Fortunately, we studied together Jean Paul Sartre, whom I want to get to know more intimately, but we, the teens and myself, could take the spiritual answer to our questions about the meaning of life (is there one? What is it?): The meaning of life is to give it meaning.
I am not sure about their generation, but adolescence for me, in mine, was about discovering, not necessarily creating. Of course, now I think it is a little of both.
Sometimes I wonder if there is also a lesson. Being an academic, perhaps I love learning and teaching. I demonstrate my love as Jonathan Livingston Seagull does, by offering to others, perhaps a specific community of others, those who have chosen or must be in a state of learning (easily found in institutions of high school and college), the truths I have gathered (59). Of course ‘truth’ is a word that tastes a bit tannic, for it needs to be rolled around by the tongue a bit to be cleansed; perhaps to mitigate its toxic potential, we can never consume it undigested, but must gestate it and transform it within our warm bodies, just at the cliff, before we allow it to permeate our organs in a chemical structure that serves us.
How the voices speak of what is and isn’t tastes of a superficial sauce I let drip from my lips. In the first dialectic of aging (harkening back to Marie Cartier’s helpful division of conversational foci), usually what is spoken about has little to do with our mental, spiritual, or emotional states. It is not a comment on perhaps what it should be: how evolved in consciousness or how mindful a soul is, how evolved in practices of discipline and surrender one is, how creative we have been in our attempt to ease the suffering of ourselves and others. It is not this because when people comment on age or how old someone might be, it is usually, in my recent experience, from one who knows not a person well enough to address any of these former possibilities nor in a situation where those in conversation have the luxury of mulling over such glittering, dazzling musings.
For indeed, let beings sit together on rocks or leather couches, playfully and perhaps seriously, discuss opinions on reincarnation, what has appeared in Tarot readings of current life stages and what the presence of what that Major Arcana card might represent as intuited by our subconscious. We might share stories of the messages we have lately received from trees, how they surrender so seemingly freely to their baldness as we might, with a few tufts of auburn leaves on a naked limb, how sometimes the bark is smooth and ghostly pale and how other times the trees that catch our communion are thick and rough like we are, tempting us to press our soft flesh into each other’s bark and feel how specks of wood and sap enter us, how we all bend and break and maybe rise up in another season with a flamboyant, hairy green bush, taking up all the space that we can, as we reach our arms in passionate ecstasy to the sun and moon, learning that sometimes we can best speak in silence and trembling. Continue reading “A Feminist Liturgy of Old and Age by Elisabeth Schilling”
French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace, says forgiveness is knowing I am other than what I imagine myself to be (9). For Weil, our true selves seem to be inextricably intertwined with each other, with the universe; knowing this can bring compassion for the self and world.
Upholding the constructed self that needs to be justified, protected, and admired can cause a lot of stress within our bodies and perhaps violence in relationships. Weil says that the cause of war is that we do not know we have access to the universe in our own bodies (86). Sometimes I feel that we avoid each other, looking in to each other’s eyes, because we cannot bear the weight of energy, the collision of spinning vortex that might occur the closer we move. Our DNA might hold memories, shared vibrations with ancient mountains, and the bodies we inhabit feel so intensely. Every cell seems alive with sensation, and most of us want to avoid the pain that cannot always be extracted from the pleasure that is also ready to be encountered.
One of my students asked me, as we discussed Weil in class, why we should improve, try to become better people, what the point was of anything. I don’t always know the answer to these questions or what might prompt them, but what I think for the time being is that we get up off the floor because there are these moments of intimacy where the universe is felt through our veins, and to experience that, even occasionally, might be worth everything. To do what we might be destined to do, to co-create and do that in healing, pleasurable ways, is to align with something beyond, but not excluding, ourselves.