1996: Continuum Workshop

From my journal for May 18, 1996         I was at a Continuum workshop. It’s a  movement practice developed by Emilie Conrad Da’oud

Emilie’s talk is quite fascinating.  I don’t buy it all on a literal, scientific level, but as poetry, as suggestion, it creates a context in which new things can be experienced.  She started by saying that we think we know what we are, what a human being is, but in fact we have no idea what we are, or even if we’re here.  She described how we began as aquatic beings, and as we stabilize, choosing a narrow path thru many possibilities, we become rigid, and lose touch with the source place from which we can be nourished.  Then we need to liquify our rigidities and dissolve our tightly held boundaries, in order to get back in touch with the source.  She described people who grow up in a hostile environment, hunching her shoulders to show the rigid defensive pattern.  Someone said after paying so much attention to the inner world she found it very hard to move.  Emilie said that could be a result of making too sharp a distinction between inner and outer, e.g. that the inner world is full and rich and meaningful and the outer one is not important.  This can make it hard to move.  Emilie says “You must push through that wall. You must just rough it.”

There was a lot of talk about “self-referential.”  This work is obviously self-referential, we look inside ourselves for what to do next, for the meaning of our experience.  Emilie said that the beginning of all political systems is looking for some authority to tell you who you are and what your life means.

For a while after this workshop, Continuum was a very important part of my day. It helped me hold together psychologically, and improved my body’s flexibility. It’s possible that I stopped doing it during the Summer from Hell in 1996. Haven’t read far enough in 1996 to know.

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1996: Enneagram 4, Difficult Winter, Individuation Process

From my journal for May 8, 1996

Woke early.  I have angry rejoinders to my brother going through my head, so thought I would just write them down.  Actually, I think he did me a service with his stupid, patronizing, officious letter because it’s roused my own anger.  After the first bit of numb misery — I just wanted to die — I started fighting back and now I’m actually feeling much better.

My brother sent me a letter criticizing me in many ways.  I don’t know how he knew I was an Enneagram 4. I think I must have told him, because the types are determined by a long and personal questionnaire.

“this is not easy reading.”  i.e. you are a coward if you won’t read it.  “fours are so self-involved, as a defense against emptiness which they equate with abandonment,”   Wait a minute !  I really was abandoned.     

After dealing with a lot more criticism, I finally say “this is all your imagination, it’s your story about me, it has no resemblance to my actual experience.”  I don’t remember if I ever actually said anything to him.

So what have I been doing this winter?  [more anger at my brother]  — what was this winter all about, and the experience of extreme abandonment, isolation, hopelessness, terror, for which death appeared as an unattainable relief, what did all that mean?

Interestingly I don’t mention the Paxil episode, which was surely the most intense experience of the winter, and actually affected me into the summer when I began to be unable to sleep more than 90 minutes at a time, lost weight, and finally had to start taking a tranquilizer to calm myself down.

But in May, I’m writing about interesting experiences that I’m having that I think are part of the “dark night of the soul.”  The “she” at the beginning is a writer named Penny Lewis. I tried to track down Penny Lewis and her book, figuring she must have been a Jungian therapist, but only found one, who was much too young and whose book was published in 2013, much too late for me to have read it in 1996. A lot of what I quote sounds like a lot of what is described about “descent” and “soul” in Bill Plotkin’s book.

Later, she [Penny Lewis] quotes Jung as saying “the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.” p168   I had trouble understanding his way of describing the process, but this last statement rings true.  It certainly describes my experience this last winter, and that gives me hope that what seems to be the death of the ego is in fact a door to the Self.  I’ve read the paragraphs three times and they still don’t make any sense to me except for the idea that the Self is much bigger than the ego (“all-encompassing”) and forces it to confront “problems which it would like to avoid.”  and, I suppose, to which there is no solution within the domain of the ego.  But the Self has power to force a revolution which must happen in a different (and higher or wider) dimension, accordingly the ego must experience itself as the “victim” of the Self.  Lewis says “Archetypal energy will break loose archaic resistances in patients and free them to proceed further in their individuation process.”  p168  I surely hope this is true for me.

I simply don’t know if I was able to “proceed further in [my] individuation process.” Maybe I’ll find things as I go on reading my journal. Maybe it will turn out to be what I wrote in June 1996.

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2011: “A Gorgeous, Mischievous Moment…”

I’m on an e-list of people who have taken Jalaja Bonheim’s Circlework Training.  Jalaja has been doing work in Israel, for years, with circles of women, containing both Israeli and Palestinian Women.

On Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 1:41 PM, Joan Kiley wrote:
This article is so beautiful, written from the heart, about the heart, in support of the “movement.” It’s by Eve Ensler. I hope you’ll check it out.

Quotes from Eve Ensler – Reader Supported News
“I have been watching and listening to all kinds of views and takes on Occupy Wall Street. Some say it’s backed by the Democratic Party. …. Some say its Communist, some say it’s class warfare. Some say it will burn out and add up to nothing. Some say it’s just a bunch of crazy hippies who may get violent.
“I have been spending time down at Zucotti Park and I am here to offer a much more terrifying view. What is happening cannot be defined. It is happening. It is a happening. It is a response to injustice and inequity and poverty and Wall Street corruption and soaring college debt and unemployment and homelessness, institutionalized racism and violence against women, the murdering of the earth, fracking and the keystone pipeline and the wars that the US has waged on other countries that have destroyed them and bankrupted us here.
“It is a cry against what appears to be scarcity and what Naomi Klein calls a distribution problem and, I would add, a priority problem. It is a spontaneous uprising that has been building for years in our collective unconscious. It is a gorgeous, mischievous moment that has arrived and is spreading. It is a speaking out, coming out, dancing out. It is an experiment and a disruption.
“We all know things are terribly wrong in this country. From the death of our rivers, to the bankruptcy of our schools to our failed health care system, something at the center does not hold.”

On 10/11/11 11:32 PM, Aura Hammer wrote:
Thanks Joan. I don’t know if you women know about what’s going on here in Israel, but we’ve been doing this all summer and it’s been the most exciting summer (since the summer of 67…). What Eve Ensler wrote has been going on in other places for months now, and it’s very exciting to feel it spreading to America as well. Jalaja, you have been speaking for a few years now about the spread of circle work as expressed by Paul Hawken in the book you gave me (Blessed Unrest) (it’s just about my bible!) – and THIS IS IT – the world is awakening, circles are everywhere. As part of the Israeli protests, we had one Saturday night where 1000 circles happened everywhere in the country at once, connected by internet, but people with people – old, young, all walks of life, came to speak their hearts, their concerns, their wishes, at the same time. The energy was so incredible that it still continues!. Even tho most of our tents have come down, people are still talking – in circles – and not in circles… people are expressing, being heard, a new/old kind of democracy or, as i see it, the beginning of something even newer and older – matriarchy. what’s also wonderful for me is that this is being created by young people, but – as opposed to the ’60’s – it’s not against the older generation – the older generation is fully part of it, the young people listen to their elders and the elders listen to the wisdom of the young….i’m so glad to be alive, and to feel the connections being woken!

On Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 5:57 PM, Joan Kiley wrote:
Hello Aura,
Thank you so much for sharing about this exciting movement in Israel! I love to read about the young and old together, generations feeling their connections. Last night I listened to a man who talked about the same thing happening at Occupy Wall Street, the questioning, the listening, the respectfulness between generations, truly trying to understand one another.
Yes, I can’t imagine a more exciting time to be living. And when I view photos of the OWS gathering and discussion groups, so often it is of circles.

From Aura
one important detail i forgot to mention: it was started by a young woman(!), a film student named Dafni Liff (Scroll down to her speech).  When we had a huge demonstration in Tel Aviv, of 450,000 people, she spoke and told the reason why she began this: she said that she had a friend who committed suicide, no specified reason, but her reaction to this was the amazing decision to work to stop despair. so she gathered some friends, put up a tent, and the rest is history. so this is not just about social and economic justice, not just about changing democracy, this is about treating society as a whole, this is about healing the world…

See Paul Hawken: “It’s the earth, talkin back, wakin up…  It is global, classless, unquenchable, tireless….”  Alas, the video is no longer available.

See my post on Dancing in the Streets

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1996: Beltane

From my journal for April 29, 1996.  The holiday I am talking about is Beltane, May 1, also called May Day, one of the cross quarter days of the Old Nature Religion of Western Europe.  My energy for teaching dance is not good because of my long ongoing struggle with depression, rooted in early trauma which I don’t know about yet.

Winding the maypole properly involves a lot of colored ribbons — we had 18 in a variety of colors, fastened at the top of the pole.  We parceled the ribbons out to the dancers, and then had every other person turn and face the other way.  We started with the people going clockwise holding the ribbons up, and the ones going the other way ducking under them.  Then the ones holding the ribbons up lower them and go under the ribbons held up by the ones they are facing. As each person goes up and down, the ribbons get wound into a woven pattern on the pole.

Spent most of the day getting ready for circle dance.  Was feeling anxious and disconnected, and it sounded like that was the basic energy of the day.  I had a lot of trouble deciding what dances to do — beforehand, that is, I didn’t have too much trouble once we were there and dancing.  There were three kids who didn’t want to dance every dance and sat out a lot — sullen kid energy.  It was better after they left and five of us — Sally, Sue, Evvie, Sybil and me danced around the woven maypole.

The best part of the day was walking out Iron Foundry Road with a friend and talking about the difficulty of trying to celebrate a major holiday without any real support.  It’s hard to carry the logistics of the whole thing when I’m not feeling the energy of the spirit, and no one who comes really understands the depth of what we are doing.  I see that what I am really trying to do is keep the form, keep the continuity of a tradition, until such time as there is spirit to fill it again.  Doing the maypole is important because it has such deep roots in the past.  I told them that the maypole represents the bare trees of winter, and as we weave the colors we are encouraging the trees to grow again.  I said — in that slightly intense, slightly tongue-in-cheek voice that I associate with Eleanor when she’s split — that if humans did not do these festivals, the seasons would not come round, I said that the sun would not rise if there weren’t certain old men in Tibet and in the land of the Hopi who call it over the Eastern Horizon every day.  I don’t really believe this, but it was the only way I could express my feeling for the importance of these festivals.  Something major is lost when human beings fail to acknowledge and celebrate the great cycles of nature.

Tried to find a picture of a finished maypole, but then I found this, and it’s a great set of pictures and explanation of what we were doing.

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1996: What Would Healing Look Like

It makes me so angry to read this now, and to see what I learned from a pair of alcoholics about who I was and what I should do with my life.  From my journal for April 26, 1996:

Talked to Eleanor about the painful feeling that my failure to get better is some kind of choice, and my anger at myself for not being different.  I wondered how it was possible to change that, to accept that I’m really damaged, that my failures are not conscious choice.  She said that one thing that helps her is to remind herself that if she were really better, the things that are so hard now would not be hard at all — that’s the definition of healing.  (Owl calling, probably great horned hu-hoo-hu-hooo)  She said she can get stuck in not wanting to heal because she imagines that if she were better she would then have to do all the things that are hard.  For both of us it is unimaginable that those things would be easy, or that we would want to do them, or the energy would be there, or else we would be able to  say no and not feel guilty about it.  I see that there is an enormous tangle here, between hope of healing and fear of healing, the belief that I am not damaged just willful and selfish, the idea that healing would only mean being able to force myself to do things I think I ought to do.  And then to try to buy space for myself I tell myself that there is no hope of healing, instead of that healing is possible and I have no idea what it will look like, but it certainly won’t involve forcing myself in any way.  Healing that’s really healing, and not just adjustment to a dysfunctional culture, would mean: 1) knowing what I want and what I need, 2) being able to ask for them and/or 3) having energy to do them, 4) knowing what I don’t want and don’t need and 5) being able to refuse them, defend myself.  That’s what healing would mean.

I love that, in the middle of writing about something very important to me, I still am able to notice the call of an owl.

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“Dear Jenny, I do love you… “

This was written in June 2004 and posted in  September 2011. I read it and was almost moved to tears by the sentence beginning “Dear Jenny, I do love you…” I feel like a very different person, looking at Jenny, and being able to accept everything, everything, seeing her as worthwhile.

Rough day yesterday.  A lot of fear & sense of alienation from my life.  A beautiful day but I wasn’t really present to it, etc.  A lot of pain about the ecological crisis, letter from Barbara Kingsolver about the animal species headed for extinction, the potential disaster of global warming — and feeling bad again about my house, so unsustainably built — It occurred to me this morning that my house is like me — a mixed bag of creativity and health and disfunction.  I can love it, even tho it’s not “perfect” — I can even love its “imperfection” as I love the battered and starved baby just as she is.  Can I love myself too, love my mistakes and unconsciousness?  I feel a softening, tears coming.  Dear Jenny, I do love you, I love your brilliances and your mistakes, your creativity and your inhibitions, your passion and your blindness — you are doing the best you can with a truly difficult set of factors.

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1996: Tangle of Fear and Grief and Anger

From my journal for April 24, 1996

Driving over to Danville, Lynelle asked how I was doing, and I said I had been anxious until I got to the underlying sadness.  When I can feel the sadness, the anxiety goes away.  She asked if it was anything specific and I said it was feeling bad for Dana that he had got stuck with me.  The tears well up as I write that, as they did in the car, but I see now that I’m sad for Dana, but not for myself.  What I feel toward myself is anger that I’m such a failure, unable to love him back in the way he deserves, unable even to relax and open and let him love me in the way that he wants to.  The pain of that is so great, that I mostly don’t let myself feel it, I’m afraid I would die of the feeling, or that it would go on forever.  So there we have fear and grief and anger all tied up in a big tangle, and the anger is directed at myself for being a failure rather than outward toward the parents who failed me and damaged me.  Well, I don’t know what to do with that.  I’m caught in the same bind that Lynelle is, I’m angry at the part of me that’s damaged as though it were a moral failure instead, as though I could have done better and am perversely refusing to.

So painful. I’ve heard so many other people say similar things: can’t let myself feel it, afraid I would die from the pain, it’s my fault not my parents abusing me. But I remember that at first, when I was a child, I thought I was defective, and that everything that went wrong was my fault. I didn’t understand that I was wounded until I was 42 years old, when the Children of Alcoholic information came out. I still had a number of years to go before I understood that my inability to have sex with my husband was due to early trauma and not to some choice of mine.

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1996: Need to Deal with Damage to the Foundation

From my journal for April 17, 1996

I’ve been thinking how out of touch I feel with that experience of spaciousness I had last year.  It’s as though it happened to a different person.  I feel like I’ve had all these experiences, many of them wonderful, and very solid feeling at the time, but somehow they haven’t stuck, I haven’t integrated them into who I am.  It’s like I captured them briefly in a net and then they dissolved and disappeared.

Reading the books on infancy does suggest that most of my recent experience is related to infancy, somehow I’ve lost contact with the more adult parts of myself — like that notion of the descent of Inanna, leaving all her adult coping strategies behind as she goes down into the most ancient wounded place.  I had a different image — I saw myself as though engaged in a task of assembling something and one of the first steps had been done wrong.  Therefore, the whole thing had to be dismantled, painstakingly, so I could readjust the pieces of the foundation.  I see myself setting aside “spaciousness” and “creativity” and other pieces as I work my way down to the bottom.  When I finally get the bottom “put together right” will I then be able to reclaim all the other pieces?  It’s an interesting analogy/paradigm for the functioning of psyche, but it is accurate?

I’d been reading books by D.W.Winnicott and Daniel Stern. Lots of interesting ideas about the psychological dynamics of mothers and babies. I think my intuition is right on, that there’s something important right at the beginning of my life, “one of the first steps had been done wrong.” Yes, I was traumatized before the age of three which is when the brain matures. That means that my brain matured under the influence of trauma. There is no actual term for this kind of early trauma.  Bessel van der Kolk proposed a diagnosis of DTD — Developmental Trauma Disorder, for children traumatized before the age of three. But so far the people in charge of the Diagnostic Categories have only allowed CPTSD — Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — which covers a number of different conditions.

Yes, I had to actually go back and deal with the foundations, with the consequences of that early trauma, before I could begin to heal from my childhood. The work with Erica, a specialist in trauma and attachment — my earliest relationship with my mother —has finally helped me get down to the bottom.

I love that my scientist asks of my idea “Is it accurate?” I had no way to know until I understood about the early trauma.

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1995: I Want to Feel that My Life has Meaning

From my journal for September 19, 1995

Last night I decided that I wasn’t going to fight my depression because there’s a way in which it feels restful. …  I see that what I want is not to be happy, or to accomplish certain projects like the dollhouse and the teal dress, or even enjoy working on such projects — which look pretty minimal and meaningless in the grey light of my depression — what I want is to feel that my life has meaning.  If I felt connected to the meaning of my life, doing or not doing projects would fall into place: I would either find motivation for doing them, or be easy with myself when I couldn’t do them.

“Finding motivation for doing a project and being comfortable with myself when I don’t have motivation.” This is exactly why doing the blog is perfect for me now. Do I feel that my life has meaning? I think Neskaya is the biggest part of it, but the blog feels meaningful too.

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1995: Menopause Questions

From my journal for September 12, 1995

I was wondering if I’m doing the part of menopause that involves letting go of worldly accomplishments.  I see that I have been trying to push myself to be creative, imagining that I could make up for the lost years.  But I can’t, and I need to accept that.  I would be in a very different place, artistically, I would have learned a lot of skills, developed themes, markets, audiences, collaborators…   who knows what I might have done.

September 14

I have been feeling apprehensive about my health, and in fact the feeling that my life is meaningless resembles what I would imagine I would feel if I were diagnosed with a fatal illness — if I had six weeks to live, what’s the point of typing journal?  thinking about books to be written? seasonal pageants?  I’d probably continue to write in here, and walk the dog and do yoga, in an effort to reduce stress and keep my mind clear.  I don’t know what else I’d do.  Long term projects would vanish, and I’d be asking what is most important to me? just as I am now.

O yes, I don’t know if I ever managed to write out specifically my thought that this particular menopause crisis is about letting go of those long-term projects.  Long-term projects belong to an earlier time of life, when one can count on having energy and time to carry them out.  And the idea of a “career,” of a natural progression that peaks at some point, of a coherent body of work, I see that I’ve been trying to reclaim that expectation and it doesn’t make sense.  I see that I don’t have to give up my long term projects, but I do have to give up any expectation of ever finishing them.  Long term projects have to be of the sort that’s like the dollhouse, where the process itself is fun to do, where it can be laid aside for long periods of time and picked up again, where the ability to do it doesn’t not depend on being able to build momentum.    Reading through July was painful because of the number of projects that I was working on that are now in limbo.  I haven’t painted the doll house in weeks, more than a month, I think.  The teal rayon dress stopped with the bodice sewn together.  I haven’t drawn or painted, I haven’t even been writing Nika’s morning pages.  That all seems like another life.  And the “five books” — that project belongs to another person.  It astonishes me to think that I still have, somewhere, the packets I intended to send to publishers last February.  It now seems like there’s no point in that at all.

I never finished the teal rayon dress, don’t remember what I did with the doll house — I think I put it down in the woods, somewhere near the trail.  I haven’t even mentioned Neskaya, a long-term project, that won’t actually start until a year from now, and is certainly a critical part of my vocation.

What happened to the “five books” project is that it ended when I discovered that my motive was to “prove that I deserve to live, even though my parents were disappointed in me.” I never actually wrote that in my journal, all I wrote was about the loss of the project.  I completely forgot that I made up “packets to send to publishers.” So astonishing to revisit this critical part of my life and see what I actually wrote. Makes me wonder what else is missing.

Interestingly, this blog, not even envisioned at that time, turns out to be exactly the right thing for me to be doing. It doesn’t take a lot of energy, I only have to do it when I want to, have energy, have a topic. And there’s lots of raw material!

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