The unfortunate truth, for me, is that humans need other humans to be fully human. And while the discovery of what is wild in the self is essential, often through time and experience in the physical wilderness, it seems antithetical to what is human to stay there, perpetually. And so, in most cases, one must return to other humans and a kind of interdependency required for living that is, by its very nature, not the equivalent of freedom and it never can be. The alternative - to need no one and nothing, and thus not be needed - is harder to bear.
Which is to say, freedom might mean different things to different people. One person’s freedom might be another person’s jail. Freedom might move, might be a dynamic understanding, might be related to knowing what is enough. It is hard to know what is true for someone without asking them. It is hard to know what is true for oneself without inquiry.
The last time I felt excited about a job interview was in 2003 when, after living as a volunteer in a tent at The Ojai Foundation for some months, I initiated an entry point onto the staff there. Questions in the interview included, but were not limited to, “How do you deal with your anger?” and “How do you get your need for alone time met?” I felt excited about the practice of hiring people based on who they were intrinsically (not necessarily by pedigree or credential) and on how well they seemed to know themselves.
The Ojai Foundation was a place, in 2003, where I felt at home and recognized. I felt stimulated intellectually by the minds there and also spiritually by the mysteries that lived alongside those minds. Nature was the container for it all. Lush, green, and everywhere. I suppose it was a school, of sorts. A boundless one.
I spent a great deal of time in stone circles on that land. I learned from many teachers about what the circle could be, could mean, could teach, could hold. I learned the way of council, speaking and listening from the heart. I learned what it meant to live that way -- the way of the heart, the way of nothing wasted. I also learned what it looked like to teach it, yet not live it fully. Everything has a shadow, after all. I still keep watch for that one in particular.
Here, in our small, communal courtyard in the desert, I continue to live the way of council. I continue to spend a great deal of time in stone circles, even on snowy mornings like this.
My body has been broken, also my heart. It is helpful to know that this is the way of it. This is how the apricot tree blooms: by breaking open the seed. This is how she remembers her own inherent self-worth; this is how she remembers to take the risk of blooming again. This doesn’t mean that life becomes easier; it means that life is lived with greater courage.
Story originally published in snapdragon: a journal of art and healing, spring 2020, issue 6.1: vibrant | vision. https://www.snapdragonjournal.com/
Each of us who is not seen in this world, who is not invited to be present in our full eccentricity, in ownership of our truest gifts, is abandoned.
In an economically driven world, we are orphans, forever in need of love and nurturing, holding and listening.
The intention of the writing has been to explore shame, femaleness, reproduction, sex, the body. A specific goal within the intention has been to explore, to excavate, to say out loud the choice to make the female self, the female body a priority, to decide when and under what circumstances to allow another life to inhabit it. Patriarchal ideology has decided for the female body that it is a “host” for life and not, in itself, a life. And, further, that it, the female body, can be a source for pleasure, but that its pleasure is derivative.
I look out at the man across the street taking care of his yard.
I look out from behind the paneled window pane.
a world is created between us.
There are feelings out there,
on the other side of the glass:
a whole city,
about who we are
and who we are supposed to be.
There are feelings out there,
where the agave is blooming.
you lay on a mat exercising your pelvis.
I stand in my blue bathrobe, hair wet.
It is so quiet, only:
The movement of your belly up and down as you breathe,
the tea kettle,
the shuffle of paper.
I stand in my bathrobe writing a poem
about the feelings out there
and the world in here,
that has stopped,
full of bath water and fresh eggs.
The ceremony has to be within.
The mountains and the desert and the sun and moon and open spaces and canyons and rivers need to live inside you. You need to be able to be there in a heartbeat and here, too, wherever here is (especially with the children).
Now clean your house.
We go into the woods, into the wilderness, to practice traveling, to practice our understanding of attack and protection, to practice seeing out and seeing in, to practice listening. And it’s all happening right here, in the kitchen, on the soccer field, as we move through traffic. Right here. All the time.
I took you for a walk and explained to you why attending a $7000/month summer arts camp was not in my vocabulary. We spoke about social class. We spoke about where I came from and where your dad came from and how different those two places were. I told you I was glad your dad had the degrees, the connections, the experiences and the resources to make it possible for you [both] to be at that camp. I told you I did not have those things. I told you that for some people, camps like these were the norm. I told you that for others, a low-cost summer day camp in the park was the best and only option. I asked you if you felt poor and when you said you did not, I felt good. I do not want you to feel ashamed like I did, though I understand my shame was deeper than the mattress on the living room floor or not enough food in the cabinets. I do want you to understand your place in the world. I told you we can talk about these things.
This morning, from my bed, I heard a young couple and their guardian arguing across the street. I do not know if you noticed. A pregnant mama pushed her baby in a stroller up a snow packed hill. I heard, “I love you,” and “I’m sorry,” and, “Bring the baby back to where it’s warm,” and “Ya’ll are crazy,” and “Leave me the fuck alone.”
From the inside, our home is enchanted like Narnia. It is a good life. But the picture is incomplete if I let you think these things do not happen or, worse, if I let you think I do not see them.
greet the desert after a long absence
give thanks for rain
find a place in the wide open
slip off shoes
dance barefoot in a slow circle
touch the ground with bare hands
ask the unanswerable questions
love the journey
say dreams out loud
commit self in service, again
whisper the names of beloveds
pray, thank you
watch the lightning
feel the gentle rain
listen to crickets
open heart even wider
greet the desert after a long absence
give thanks for rain
I listened to one of Thich Nhat Hahn’s talks and chants today in the kitchen – Day of Mindfulness at Blue Cliff Monastery. I’ve used his talks at various difficult times in my life, like a virtual sangha. I wept. I felt so angry yesterday. I heard myself say aloud that I wanted others to feel as badly as I did. Then I felt worse for that wish. This morning I understand that I was saying I needed others to help me hold the pain, because it felt like too much for me alone. I feel better now, somehow.
This made me think of a certain toddler I love, and her anger and her needing someone else to help hold the pain. Oh, child.
I know that we all suffer - every single one of us. Yet, when my pain is high, that awareness doesn’t help, it feels minimizing. The suggestion that someone else’s pain is worse also feels minimizing. We each have our own hardest thing.
When my own pain has passed, I am able again to take my place in the collective sangha and help to hold the pain of others. Each of us needs moments of feeling held, I think. What that looks like varies.
My pain has passed for now. And I take my place in the collective, holding, feeling gratitude.
Happy new year, day, morning.
Entering the Gila Forest, I feel as if the boulders, trees, pinyon jays, soil, icy puddles, coyote scat, everything, are part of an elaborate theater set. I hear a helicopter overhead and imagine the pilot seeing a smattering of humans and their canines below at various places on the road and off - stage left and stage right. The hollow sounds of fists knocking on tree trunks or dog paws treading over terrain reinforce this feeling of construction. It is quiet out here, like a vacuum. Who would create such a set, and why? What am I doing in it? If I change the set a little, could I alter the play? What an interesting thought. If I move a few moss covered rocks here or there and enact a small ceremony, will I change the fabric of the world, constructed or otherwise?
I am working on a detox regimen: How to cleanse the self of institutions.
The process will vary with each individual. However, as with other detox regimens, skin eruptions, emotional pain, physical discomfort, cravings for safety and certainty, temptations to “go back,” as well as openings to new and unfamiliar sensations and/or gifts, are likely.
It helps to have a circle of support, others who have painstakingly deinstitutionalized and can share their life experiences, ask questions of you, and offer encouragement on the doubtful days. Even one person can make a difference.
Anything is possible.
There is a scene in the film, “Off the Map,” in which the actor Jim True-Frost realizes that a story he was told about himself as a child, which he had believed since childhood, may not have been true. I thought about the significance of that scene today while out walking.
First, I thought about the blind trust we place in those around us to tell the truth and what happens when/if we learn that they have not.
Second, I thought about stories of self and how significant they are. What I say and do, who I love, the possibilities I imagine for self and world, and so on, are based on stories I have either been told about myself, or stories that I tell myself. If it is a faulty story that I am carrying, imagine the outcome.
I reflect on the myriad stories societies tell about groups of people, and the projections of stories made daily by loved ones. I make a commitment to clear out my own story house, with love and discernment, and to allow both self and other to be new in each moment.
What if relentless self-help and self-scrutiny are addictions based on the lie that who we are right now, in this very moment, is not enough?
There was a meeting about Jasper. You were there.
I jumped back in time, back to when I walked by your side.
Now nothing here makes sense.
Who made the blue and pink paper starfish on the table?
Whose black dog is this?
Who am I?
The seeds of me were there when we were together. I am not different now than I was then. And the seeds of you were there and you are not different now than you were then.
But we have lived these incredible lives between that time and this time. We have had other lovers, other friendships. We have lost our fathers. And a dog. Our child is nearly twelve.
All of time must exist at once.
Who made the painting of the chicken’s feet on the table?
I don’t understand.
And I do.
We just went to a meeting, our own psyches on display in our son’s - your propensity for compartmentalization and my inability to fail well, to not know.
Our First Born worker was there. What are the chances? Remember how she visited when Jasper was an infant? Now we watch as Jasper pulls a tractor tire by rope across the school parking lot. He has purple hair. You are both distracted and engaged. I am catapulted back in time. All of time overlapping. We do not age. And we do.
A little girl made that blue and pink paper starfish. Her name is Alea. She is eight, the daughter of someone I love who is in the Grand Canyon, who painted the chicken’s feet. Remember?
Remember that time you came by with Jasper when he was two and I wasn’t here and you wrote a note on the giant sketch pad filled with his artwork?
"8:30 AM. We tried stopping by. You can come for Jasper when you return. Love, Us."
What time is it now? I didn’t hear you knocking.
The blue and pink paper starfish sits atop a paper. The title of the paper, written by our son is, “Why Are We Here?”
I track the wilderness inside. I am leaves and seed pods littered across your cleanly swept tiles. I am muddy paw prints on your carpet, traces of fur on your favorite shirt. Outside, my temerity will make a run at you. Better run fast.
I use creative non-fiction, autobiographical fiction, and poetry to communicate, connect, and understand.