August 23, 2018

Fruit of the Spirit in Ormond Park Village

In Galatians, one of the letters in the New Testament, the fruit of the Spirit is described. Qualities are named by which one can know that the Holy Spirit is present in one’s endeavors: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

With some good friends and neighbors, my husband and I have been involved in a challenging conflict involving a powerful public entity. Last year the former mayor of our city arrogantly destroyed a park used by children, teens, and older folks in order to build an expensive and unnecessary road to a failing golf course. He did this without public input and in secret, hiding his intentions from the public bodies whose input was required until it was too late to stop the destruction.

We took the mayor and his administration to court. But in what I consider to be a grave injustice, the judge “temporarily” allowed the permanent road to be built, claiming it could be torn out if our neighborhood group prevailed.

We continue to fight this decision, and we have fought hard. Yet our neighborhood kids do not yet have a playground, promised by the new mayor. Nor do we have a settlement, also initiated by the new mayor. 

There are some things that have been said, and some stances taken, that one might interpret to be intimidating. Yet I don't feel intimidated. I feel the strength of the Spirit beneath me, holding me up. And I also know that following the Holy Spirit does not always mean you win in the world of courts and governments. Failing to achieve the outcome for which one fought, in faith, and with all one’s might, can be a bitter pill. How does one find the strength to bear the injustice of it?

I know deeply that those fruits of the Spirit named in Galatians are signs of spiritual accompaniment. They are signs of Grace. So, to counteract the taste of the bitter pill, I have been looking for signs of Grace in this work of saving Ormond Park.  This is what I’ve found.
  1. We have acted with a fierce love for the children of the neighborhood who lost their playground, and for the creatures of the woodland who lost their homes to the bulldozers. 
  2. We have experienced deep joy in coming to know our neighbors better – how creative, committed, kind, and generous they are!
  3. We have endeavored to show kindness in our dealings with all the city officials involved in the destruction of our beloved park, from the tree-cutters and heavy machine operators to whom we offered early morning donuts and coffee, to the city attorneys who presented specious justifications for the destruction.
  4. We have practiced generosity by contributing our time to this cause, and our money to cover the significant legal expenses.
  5. All of us involved in this project felt a clear call to advocate for the trees, animals, and children of our neighborhood, and to stand up to the bullying of the former mayor. We have been faithful to that call.
  6. And we’ve definitely practiced patience, gentleness, and self-control in the face of intimidation and stonewalling, rather than screaming with rage and making loud demands!

I’m grateful to become aware of these ways in which we are building the Beloved Community among us, here, in Ormond Park Village.

There continue to be ways in which my personal reliance on Spirit is still sorely challenged. I can feel so much hateful anger toward the former mayor, for those who attempt to intimidate with glaring and side remarks, for the judge who allowed the road to be built, and for a system that rewards those with political and financial power, while disempowering regular folks. Peace seems out of reach.

But look and see! We have begun to develop a different kind of community here, a Beloved Community built on human being, one that does not depend on mayors and city councils, on votes and courts, on political power or economic gain. We are growing a community in the shade of that same tree that bears the fruit of the Spirit. That gives me a great deal of hope. And a great deal of gratitude. And peace, finally, begins to take root.

May 18, 2018

Splitting the Ego Atom

Some time ago I experienced an ecstatic vision, rising out of sleep, in which I physically, emotionally, and spiritually experienced what we would call Paradox. (See Postcard from the Lip of the Void.) These sensations all occurred together, at once. A baby being born and the same baby as an old man dying. A village shuttering its windows in fear against arriving tanks, and the same villagers driving the invading tanks. A water drop forming in the vapors of clouds and at the same time dropping into and being absorbed by the ocean. All of it happened at once, outside of time, outside of space. And my body and mind rebelled. In fact, I could only experience fragments at a time, as my mind attempted to hold them together and couldn’t, as my body attempted to sense them together, and couldn’t.

I once read an article on children’s language development by Allan Schore, a neuropsychologist who studies the neuropsychology and attachment development of children. He described how mothers/caregivers, with all good intentions, narrow a baby’s experience by teaching language. Imagine a baby standing up in her crib following a nap on a spring afternoon, taking in a number of sense impressions: skin sensation of a spring breeze, sunlight warming her skin and falling on the room in a variety of light patterns, sounds of birds and insects outside the window, flutter of the curtain in the breeze, etc. The baby is having a multimodal, multisensory symphony of experience. These are not separate experiences that the baby notices in sequence (as I’ve had to write about them), but a woven tapestry experienced as a whole. Mother then enters the room, exclaims, “Oh look at the nice sunshine!” Baby’s multidimensional experience suddenly gets split into a focus on the sunshine. Now there is only “sun” and it’s multimodal beingness is reduced to the word “nice.”

The mother didn’t do wrong. She did what is needed. She is teaching language to her little one. She is teaching her to take a step beyond the Garden of Eden, to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. She is helping her little one to form an ego, an incredibly important tool for survival that will help her interact effectively in a three-dimensional world. The unavoidable cost is to lose the richness of the original experience through the creation of little bubbles or atoms called “sun” and “tree” and “house” which will eventually be drawn in a way that can be seen and understood immediately by others: a circle with lines emanating from it, a rectangle for a trunk with a circle on top for leaves, a square with a triangle inverted for the roof, the letters “h-o-u-s-e,” and so forth. We celebrate these accomplishments of children, without realizing, perhaps, the cost to the child’s creative spirit, or how we can minimize the cost.

Even so, I’ve come to the conclusion that our conscious, social minds need our splits and our bubbles of separateness (inside and outside), that they are a built-in way for us to get along in a world that isn’t often attuned to our holistic needs. For example, I was able to split off my physical needs from my emotional needs as a child. As a result, I was able to enjoy and find pleasure in the food my mother cooked for me, without having to cope with overwhelming feelings about ways she hurt me. I was able to split off painful memories that, had I held them in memory, would have threatened my ability to cope with the dangers surrounding me. And I was able to experience a spiritual split that allowed me to experience the Blessed Mother (I was raised Catholic) as my spiritual, comforting, protecting mother.

In adulthood, at least since age 30 or so when I rediscovered a spiritual path, I have been focused on reuniting those parts of myself that have been split off, with reconnecting all of the separated parts of myself. Right brain to left brain, inner/emotional brain to outer/thinking brain, heart to gut to head, etc. The most important split, and one that remains most difficult for me to heal, is the split that came as a result of childhood abuse: body split from everything else. This split has resulted in chronic physical pain, stiffness, neuropathy, and autoimmune disease. At 68 my body is so much healthier than in my 40s and 50s. I haven’t had any symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in over a decade. But I feel the loss of my body, the loss of enjoyment of my body. And I know my body feels the loss of my spirit and energy.

Here’s the way I’ve been conceptualizing the reconnection of my split parts. Like everyone, I formed an ego, that requirement of living in a social and material environment. I perceive that ego as a network of small “cells” or “atoms” or “bubbles,” each having a rigid membrane holding it together, and there is a lot of power locked within each atom. Also like everyone who attempts to live an examined life, I have attempted to become aware of, and to reconnect, all of this power-being-held-within-rigid-atoms. All of this power is one thing – the power in atom A is the same power as that in atom B. When and if the rigid exterior membranes of these atoms melt, all of that power will unify, it will take up space, it will have perceptible Presence. There will be a Big Bang of Merry when my Ego Atoms finally collide and merge together into a unified field. I confess that I am not sure what integration will look like. I am working toward something I can’t imagine.  Will it be like my vision of Paradox? Like the baby holistically experiencing in the crib? Or will the Big Bang of Merry be something more like release from this 3-D world, more like death?

It’s because of that ecstatic vision of Paradox that my heart, and even my head, KNOW that there is no separation, in me or anywhere, that All is already integrated. Knowing gives me the courage and patience to continue. Knowing gives me the language to render it in words of separation. But my body is not yet convinced. My body still feels the pain of separation.

So. I breathe deeply and sigh out as I wait and watch and move for the tendrils of connection to form. I breathe deeply and sigh out as I stand and move and and dance and watch for freedom.

March 26, 2018

Night Dancing

This weekend I participated in my first InterPlay event – something called an “Untensive,” three days of moving and standing still, on my own, with a partner, and with a crowd. This experience, which sounds mundane as I write these words, was anything but. Something broke wide open in me as I moved through my stories and others’, through forms danced and witnessed with inspiration and spontaneity – with tears and shouts and sighs – that connected Spirit with Body with Mind.

But the biggest surprise has come to me in my sleep. I’ve been waking in the middle of the night with ecstatic dreams. This morning I woke about 4 am with a dream so vivid I wish I could dance it here rather than describe it.

I was standing up in a Quaker Meeting for Worship, where we usually sit quietly, and occasionally share words. I was boldly lifting my arms, looking to the heavens, exclaiming about the bits of cosmos that were showering down on us, the charged particles of light that fell upon and into us, electrifying the cells of our bodies, causing our very bones to burn bright. 

I turned into the center of the worship circle and sank, a folded leaf onto the cork floor, laid my forehead and palms on the coolness, felt the pulsing energy of the fiery earth core deep beneath and within. Sang to Mother Earth my thanksgiving for magnetizing us to herself, keeping us close, saving us from being flung into empty space. The curling tendrils of green energy rising incessantly through the crust of ancient and recent history. The wet films of microbes blooming in the dirt, digesting our garbage to make rich, black soil for green life. Colonizing our intestines and our lungs, our eyes and our mouths, to create these walking, talking hybrids of human and microbial cells – us, the species we call human beings.

I danced the passion, the zest, the big J JOY of Life – falling, rising, showering, tendriling, filling, flowing, loving, holding, leaving, making – this awesome miracle that dances around and inside us 24/7!

We are aware of this moving, ecstatic, miracle of Light and Life – when? When our babies are born, when we make love with ourselves or with others, when we stand firm against injustice, when our pets curl up on our laps, when a storm rips through our towns, when a loved one is felled by violence or mishap. At those times, it is possible to feel Aliveness and the preciousness of being Alive. Maybe at those times we can even dance in and on behalf of Life.

But most of the time, nearly all of the time, for the limitless tiny moments that lie between the Big Moments, for nearly all of our lives…..

don’t we sleep through the whole thing?

January 7, 2018

Ringing in the New Year

Last week, cleaning out closets that hadn’t been touched in 25 years, I found a ring my father had made for me almost 50 years ago. I couldn’t bear to wear it for all that time. Wearing it reminded me of terrible things, things I didn’t want to remember. I tried for a time after my children were born to talk with my father, my mother, and my siblings about my – our – experiences. But they had no curiosity about hearing more, only denials, outrage that I should talk out loud about my experience, and discounting recommendations to seek help, since I must be “crazy.”  So, rather than deny my experience, I sadly put my father and mother and siblings away from me. I tried to place my memories of them in solitary confinement, while building a healthy, vibrant life for myself and my children, and doing the inner work that would allow me, eventually, to forgive them. I have felt at peace with all of this for nearly 20 years. I have felt at one with God, with myself, and with those in my life whom I love and who love me, recently including  my brother and sister-in-law who have reconnected with me.

Before getting to the closets I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching that we cannot get our fathers out of us. We cannot get our mothers out of us. They are present in every cell of our bodies. Of course I knew this on a genetic level. But Thay meant more than that. He meant that they “inter-are” with us, that they are present within us. That we are them! But I had been doing exactly the opposite for the last 50 years – trying to get my father, my mother, out of me. Trying to build a life with the memory of them cut out of it.

Thay taught about conversations he had with his own father in meditation, how he would start by addressing his father as “Daddy.” I thought to myself, “Well, you didn’t have an abusive father.” I couldn’t imagine calling my father “Daddy.” But while Thay didn’t give any details, he did imply that things were difficult between him and his father. He told of the day when he finally felt inwardly at peace with his father. “Daddy,” he said, “we have succeeded.” He considered coming into peace a joint effort, and a joint achievement, that belonged to both him and his father. Because his father still lived within him.

This story flayed my heart open. I think that, even in the act of forgiving my father, I had never acknowledged the sorrow of losing “Daddy.” I noticed my one soft memory of him. I’m 6 years old and have just started first grade. I’m doing a reading assignment, and am – unusually - nestled next to him on the sofa. He has his arm around me, and he is helping me sound out the words in my Catholic school primer. I was feeling a bit traumatized by school. There were 49 other unseasoned school-children in my first-grade classroom with a teacher who had taught high school the year before, and didn't know the first thing about calming young children. I was unsure of the rules and unable to do many of the things I thought the teacher was expecting me to know, though she was probably just testing our academic skills. My father is uncharacteristically tender, and I lean in to him. I soak in his bigness, I feel safe. That is the moment I think of when I think “Daddy.” Even now, 60 years later, it brings tears.

So today I found this ring in the bottom of an old jewelry box, an opal ring with one small emerald chip – there used to be two – which my father had made for me while at the height of his lapidary hobby in the early 1970s. I hadn’t been able to wear it all of these years. But today I unaccountably slid it on my finger. Then I went to Quaker meeting for worship.

In the silent, waiting worship God showed me that I had taken a cutting from the family tree and transplanted it into good soil, tending it and fertilizing it. I had not cut out my parents from my life. I had taken a cutting from our shared family tree! This new tree has so much more health than the tree from which I took the cutting. What I understood this morning in worship, in a way I had not before fully appreciated, is that the healing that has occurred in my transplanted branch of the family tree has also helped to heal the whole family tree, because that lineage lives on in the new tree. Christ has helped me, through the teaching of a Buddhist monk, to reconnect with that moment on the couch when my father helped me to read, and to feel the truth that this loving Daddy also lives within me, alongside the wounded Daddy parts that have and continue to be healed.

I can now wear the ring he gave me, and feel gratitude to God and to Life for returning my father to me, for the ongoing healing of a lineage in me and my children and their children. I don’t know if I will replace the lost emerald chip. It reminds me of the wounded Daddy who could not always be a good Daddy to his daughter. But it sits alongside the light-filled brightness of the opal - his inward desire to be good, to be tender, to be patient. I am grateful for this Buddhist teacher, who learned how to open his heart to the Daddy within and is teaching me to do the same. I am grateful to the Christ, who led me in learning to love my children, and who led my brother back to me, and me to him. I am grateful to the Creator, who “don’t make no junk.”

May your new year be filled with the transformations that expand hearts and minds. Blessings to you.