Exercise: Being Brave

Pat Schneider says “Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell.” p90 She gives a couple of examples, a short piece, a poem, where what’s really happening is revealed at the end. I thought I would try it.

Here’s what I wrote:

I travelled with a fellow Wellesley student to Europe the fall after we graduated, in 1964. She knew a translation of Rilke’s First Duino Elegy. It started: “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels? For beauty is only a seed of dread, to be endured yet adored since it disdains to destroy us.” Then toward the end “Ought not these sufferings of ours to be yielding more fruit by now? Is it not time that, in loving, we freed ourselves from the loved one, and quivering, endured, as the arrow endures the bow, to become in the gathering out-leap something more than itself. For to remain is nowhere.” I even remember the German of the last line: “Denn Bleiben ist nirgends.” I tried to find a copy of that translation without success. Compared to other translations I think it is rhythmically better.

Years later, I was sitting in my apartment, after another man I had gone to bed with once had told me he had a girlfriend coming the next week.  This sort of one night stand happened over and over. I had frozen, I don’t remember what I said, or if I said anything.  Maybe “Oh. Goodbye.”  I never expected to see him again, and in fact I didn’t.

I wrote in my journal about what had happened but didn’t describe my feelings.  No one ever saw my pain, or validated it, or offered comfort. 

I stared at the blank page. Then I went to the bathroom and got a razorblade.  I came back to my journal and drew the blade across my wrist.  I put my finger in the blood and wrote in my journal “WHO IF I CRIED OUT” but there wasn’t enough blood for the rest.

There is still more to be added to the story. I thought that cutting myself was because I had been sexually abused as a child.  Ellen Bass says this in The Courage to Heal, but I also was unable to have sex with my husband, so that seemed to make sense. This is the story I told in Journey Into Courage. I worked on the issue in therapy, but nothing ever came up. It wasn’t until ten years later that I realized I had been traumatized. People who have been traumatized, but not physically wounded, also self-mutilate, as if to make visible the wounds they feel that don’t show.

At the time of Journey Into Courage I wrote several poems, out of the energy that had been released by speaking the truth on stage. It’s the only time I wrote poems that really felt to me like poems.  One, Blood and Stone, almost describes my experience of trauma, though I didn’t know that’s what I was up against at that time.

I have just spent 30 minutes revising this piece. Something new for me, trying to live up to Pat Schneider’s recommendation to make it the very best I can. Usually I stop a little short of this amount of revising, though often it’s important to quote a journal entry verbatim.  This wasn’t a journal entry, but a writing to an assignment.

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Writing Practice

Pat Schneider is a writing teacher.  She wrote a book called Writing Alone and With Others.  She gives a lot of exercises to get you through blocks and difficulties.  In one she says “start with an image.”  She describes a process where “the disconnections are as important as the connections.  One image triggers another and, like a person walking on large rocks across a creek where the water is fast and slippery, we will not get to the fifth rock that allows us to step onto the opposite bank unless we first step on, and then abandon, rocks one, two, three, and four.    The first image that comes may not be the treasure I am after.”   p17  She describes a process of going from image to image until she gets to a story.  So I gave it a try when I was feeling down.

from my journal for Sunday, October 2

Daily Good — “What is wanting to find expression through me?”
“He spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden tower…”
“Myself it speaks and spells / crying what I do is me for that I came.”
It’s a jumble, mumble, stumble inside.  Lines of poems, lines of songs.  images?  one of the parting of the waters of the Red Sea to let the Hebrews pass through…
the Promised Land.
The Beloved Community.
Kindred Spirits.
Something else that wants to find expression through me.
The Periodic Table of the Elements.
A self-consistent entity that can manifest as either a wave or a particle depending on how you look at it.
Walking out into the Quad to find everything shimmering.
“In the beginning there was hydrogen…”
How did the Universe get from the simplicity of a star to the complexity of a pine tree?

Someone in Meeting talks about the variability of how we understand “God” among Quakers.
It occurs to me that “God” is a self-consistent entity that can appear as many different beings depending on who is looking.

Let the river answer that you’ve always been her lover.”
God can manifest as Caspar the Ghost or the Ocean of Compassion depending on what I’m open to…
Suddenly such a sense of love surrounding me.
Thank You, Great Being

After the class in physics that described wave-particle duality, I walked out into the Quad to find everything vibrating. It lasted for about half an hour, then everything went back to being solid.

“In the beginning there was hydrogen…” was the beginning of a chapter in my astrophysics textbook. My mind went on to “and the hydrogen was without form, and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” and I went on to write Genesis II.

How did the universe get from the simplicity of a star to the complexity of a tree? This question came to me as I was walking back to my dormitory after an evening spent looking at the Orion Nebula through a telescope. As a senior major, my job was to keep the telescope on the nebula while beginning students came in to draw it in their lab notebooks. The answer, which wasn’t even a concept in 1964, is self-organization.

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Struggle to Connect with the Divine

From my journal for October 26, 1994

I’ve been wanting to pray, but not knowing who to pray to, or even what to pray for.  I finally asked for clarity: to see the truth; for courage: to act on what I see; for health & physical energy, or if that wasn’t possible, for patience to deal with the lethargy.  I talked to Jesus/ Avalokitesvara/ Kannon as the most real being I’m aware of that I could ask for these things.  I guess I really don’t know how to pray — is it the intensity or sincerity of the request or how often the petition is made that “counts”? — whatever that means.  I realize as I try to pray, that I don’t see the divine beings as being motivated by the same things as humans: not likely to respond quickly to anguish, or be worn down by repeated requests, or manipulated by emotion, or angered by a failure to follow the form.  So then, if they just listen, and watch with compassion, what is the point of praying?

Avalokitesvara is the Indian version of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and Kannon is Japanese. Kuan Yin, the Chinese version, is better known.

And then I periodically have such an odd sense of the world being a radically different place than the one I’m used to.  Instead of a bunch of solid objects, which change according to rigid rules, and the most important things being money, and politics, and how will I pay the taxes and what will the neighbors think, the world seems to be much more fluid, things bloom and fade, dissolve and transform, money and social values are not important at all.  Part of this is coming from building Neskaya — the foundation walls are almost done, may even have been completed yesterday, and the shape is clear on the ground, we can see what size it’s going to be, the location of the alcoves.  The size seems just right: not too big, not too small.  It is really clear now that we are building a cathedral (for lack of a better word), a temple, a “unique sculptural presence.”  I’m tempted to call the bathroom wing the “apse” because it looks like one, a faceted circular shape bulging out of the main body of the building.  (Looking it up, I see that “apse” is correct: “A semi-circular or polygonal, usually domed, projection of a building, especially the altar or east end of a church.”)  Understanding that we are building a cathedral allows me to let go of the money, be willing to spend what we have to.  I have just the barest hint that this is god acting through me and therefore correct, but it’s confusing because all I have to act on is the inner sense of knowing or wanting or willing, but no outer sense that I am pleasing some great being “out there” who really wants this done.  Nor do I have any sense of help coming from outside in the form of synchronicity: it’s not at all like when I decided to make a trip to see the megaliths and everything fell into place.  No wonder I feel bereft.  There aren’t any signals coming from anywhere to tell me what to do, to let me know that what I am doing is “right” — whatever that means.  “Right for me” — what would that mean? something that furthers my growth, increases my compassion and self-knowledge?  “Right for the world” — it’s tempting to see that in terms of the standard idea of a contribution: does it make money, or help other people in some obvious way, does it make the world a better place to live in? does it make the world more beautiful, or cleaner, or safer, does it create peace or kindliness?  By some of those measures anyway, Neskaya could be said to be something “right for the world.”  But I also feel very strongly, with the part of me that “knows” (not intellectual knowing, but some other kind of knowing, more inward, that’s easier to doubt because I can’t look it up in a book) that what is right for me is also, automatically, what is right for the world, even if what is right for me is to try to create comfort or safety for myself by hiding and reading Elizabeth Goudge, or to try to understand myself by writing in here even if it never gets published, never has any value for anyone else.

I talk about the standard Western paradigm, where money and social status are what is important, but I don’t actually say that those values were never important to me at all.

For images of the geometry of Neskaya, see the Geometry page on the Neskaya website.

My struggle to understand the place of the divine in my life is very interesting. I do have some sense that building Neskaya is my vocation, and that there is some deeper sense of “knowing” that I don’t fully trust. What I am seeing here, partially, I saw the truth of very recently, as expressed in a post called Reframe of Vocation.

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From my journal for Saturday, September 17

Reading Krista Tippett writing about taking a break this last summer, giving herself time to think, feel, and write — she says that writing with hand and pen puts you more in touch with deeper parts of yourself. Also in At the Root of this Longing, Carol Lee Flinders explores the question of enclosure and how, when it’s freely chosen, it can help a woman go through a growth cycle.  And also The Daily Good led to a description of a book called Bittersweet, which suggested another set of complex emotional experiences.  I read about them and feel frustrated, they are talking about something I’ve never experienced, something I can’t understand.  This may be part of my low thyroid diminution of my intellectual function, or it may be how I lived my life, suppressing my intuition, trusting only my intellect.  But no, I remember as a teenager, galloping up the third hill over, the music of Brazil in my mind and some sense of emotional complexity I couldn’t name.

Too much.  On the Marginalian about Bittersweet was a YouTube version of Nina Simone singing Suzanne which sent me on to find Suzanne by Judy Collins — the first version I learned — and could barely listen to today because it was so painful.  Then there was someone talking about the complexity of the song both musically and poetically.  First she describes the music — all three verses different, then her interpretation, then what she learned from Leonard Cohen’s own words and from Suzanne herself.  Fascinating, many layered, nuanced, I can feel in my body the sense of bitter and sweet, longing and grief…

The woman who talks about Suzanne is Tamsin Jones.

I see this is what I’ve been longing for.  This complexity — emotional, spiritual, physical.  What does she say?  “the liminal space between the spiritual, the physiological, and the psychological.”

This is Maria Popova in the Marginalian, where she talks about Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet: “It is an act of quiet courage for Cain to reckon with these questions in a culture that so readily cosigns the verdict on matters of complexity with a bellicose X illiterate of nuance. For these are indeed complex, nuanced matters beyond easy binaries, murky even as a spectrum — where do the fertile blues of melancholy end and the deadening black of depression begin? The bittersweet — this enchanted loom of longing on which we weave the tapestry of meaning — exits in the liminal space between the spiritual, the physiological, and the psychological. It is an orientation of the soul laced with neurochemistry and chance.”

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I wrote this in December 2005 and first posted it on October 8, 2010. I wrote it deliberately as a vision for how I wanted to see my life, I didn’t believe it at all. Reading it today I am amazed at how accurately it reflects my current understanding. I am also amazed at the elegance of the language.

I thought I might try to write a worldview or a set of beliefs that would help me be more patient and kinder to myself, and maybe even manage my life with more grace, ease, patience, and humor.

1) The physical world, conscious thoughts, and observable behavior are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many hidden energies, karmic, ancestral, local environmental, etc., that majorly affect and condition what we can see.

2) Humans are only part of a huge complex interlocking web of living and non-living beings, and our job is to be conscious stewards of the planet that is our home.

3) At the present time there is so much violence happening and so many negative emotions, that those who have incarnated for the purpose of working toward planetary transformation are finding it very heavy going. Those of us whose major work is transforming the human intellectual and emotional fields, who have chosen to be wounded themselves as a kind of training and preparation for the work, can be especially vulnerable to negativity. We are having to work very hard, attempting to transform all the despair and grief that many people are refusing to allow themselves to feel. This can be very draining on the physical level. There is also the difficulty that the work is not seen and honored by the culture. So we do not get the help and support we need from the people around us.

In this paradigm, I am working hard and effectively to help the planet that I love. My efforts to not give in to my own fear and despair, to live in a manner that does as little harm as possible, and to make soul-nourishing experiences available for a few people, have real and positive consequences.

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Reframe of Vocation

Several people have suggested to me that I had to change my story about being traumatized very early. I thought they meant I was supposed to make it be that I hadn’t been traumatized at all. This shift to seeing that trauma was necessary for my vocation came about partly because of the Mark Matousek exercise I did on August 14. What I wrote is in the previous post. The shift might also have been helped by my understanding that my spirit knows how to use everything that happens to bring about healing and growth. That’s from Richard Rohr on August 21.

Looking back in my journal, I find that I saw that the low thyroid difficulty with thinking, actually made it possible to perceive deeper truths in a new way.

From my journal for Wednesday, September 7
One result of this bout of low thyroid has been increased access to — what shall I call it? — another mode of perception, cognition, understanding.  It’s not the rational intellect, maybe it’s a form of intuition, it’s not whatever form of intuition is signaled by the felt sense.  It’s how I perceived the “Goodness beyond Goodness” and the Foundation.  I think about the prayer/affirmation I’ve been saying “My spirit knows how to use whatever happens to being about healing and growth.”  I can see that it does, even when my cognitive self has no idea and feels helpless.  In fact it was my willingness to feel helpless that allowed me to say Thy will be done, to hand it all over to a Higher Power and then came my ability to forgive Dana and Mother.  And even how easy it was to find compassion for Jenny who had gotten so angry at Mocha.

Thursday, September 15
I have been angry that I was given so much, intelligence & money, but then sabotaged by trauma so I couldn’t do all I had in me to do.  Now I’m seeing that the job I really came to do, or was sent to do, was to work on the collective trauma.  And I’ve been doing that, in therapy, tho it’s also true that Neskaya is a container for healing trauma.  Suddenly, I’m feeling enormously grateful for my life.  And the sun came out shining on bits of trees in the quad.

Looked up Donovan song “Happiness runs in a circular motion … everybody is a part of everything anyway…”  It came into my mind after I wrote about accepting my life as a gift, seeing how it was perfectly designed to do the work I am called to. or chose.  Somehow I no longer see a difference.  Happiness runs also reminds me of the end of the performance of The Madwoman of Chaillot at Davis.  At the very end the characters froze, the lights changed to brighter and bluer, as they began to reach out and take hands the music started and they began to dance in a line on & off the stage.  “Countess, the sky is blue again!”  Because they had sent the oil magnates and their hangers-on down into the cellar, the underworld.

This performance at The University of California at Davis, which is the agricultural school, was done around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. They had some beautiful little touches that made the play contemporary.

One thing I find very interesting in this is my use of “the job I came to do, or was sent to do,” and “the work I was called to do, or chose.” Though they seem to be different I can see that in some sense they are the same. Erica says this is the mystic’s perception, seeing something that can’t be expressed verbally.

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A Role that No Longer Works

From my journal for August 14

Writing assignment by Mark Matousek: A role you’re playing in your life today that no longer suits you and why.

My role as a trauma victim.  That the wound of being left alone gets triggered and I feel very lonely and lost, the only person in the world and disconnected from everybody else.  Unable to ask for help, to go where people are and try to relate to them.  I wish they weren’t playing music it distracts me badly.  The story that I’m frozen and trapped, that I can’t get out by my own efforts — but no, I see that I’m a victim, but I refuse to blame the person who left me alone, I always saw it as my responsibility to work on it, to try to heal it myself.  So I’ve spent my life in therapy trying to heal the wounds.  Isn’t this authentic?  How is this story false?  And despite my wounding I built Neskaya.  I did not let the wounding stop me.  What part of the story do I still buy?  That I do things badly, that I don’t try hard enough, that I “think I’m so great” — NO, I don’t do that.  I working at taking appropriate care of myself.  Erica said I’m not making myself wrong which is a pattern, an old old story — “why do I always do everything wrong.”     Timer goes!  I stopped the music for the second 4 minutes.

There was music playing during the 8 minutes we were to write, but I found it very distracting. This exercise started something that appeared a month later.

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Visionary, Committed, Generous

This was written in July 2009, and posted in March 2010

I think of Elizabeth’s letter to me [10/25/05] where she talks about my commitment, my vision and my generosity.  I remember when I first read it, I had a wonderful feeling of “I’ve done it.  I’ve become the person I want to be.” And relief — I don’t have to keep trying so hard.  But it faded.  The conditioning that I’m not good enough is so strong and deep.  I’m thinking of listing all the good things people have said to me, and reading them over and over.  People have suggested that I do this, but I haven’t really taken it seriously.  So I’ll start right now.  I can find in my journal a lot of passages about good things I’ve done or people have said to me and make another document.  I started to make a list.  It’s feeling good to write it all down, I still feel odd but warmer and more solid.  Then a momentary thought — I’m being conceited — NO! I’m letting myself see and feel my real worth.  What if I really got it that I’m a good person doing good things in the world?  Would I swagger around bragging?  Would I get lazy and stop doing things?  NOT AT ALL.  I would be able to relax.  I would stop pushing myself.  I would stop making myself wrong and being angry at myself for being not good enough.  I might even have more energy for the things I love to do: decorate and care for Neskaya, teach dance programs.
Elizabeth said “You go off into uncharted territory — your wounds are your opening.” I talked to her yesterday.  A really good talk.  She said she always feels better after talking to me.  I read her the letter she wrote me about my “boundless generosity, breadth of vision, depth of commitment,” and my reaction, having trouble believing it at first, and then the relief.  I don’t have to keep pushing.  “I am changing the world by my mere presence.”  I’ve got those pages printed out, sitting right here on my table.  We also clarified the issue of becoming “conceited”, agreeing that acting superior is based on a fear that one is really inferior.  Also agreeing that being able to take in the good we do would probably make us more effective.
In therapy I talked about Elizabeth’s letter praising my vision, commitment and generosity, and started to expand on those.  Caryn asked me to slow down, so I did and began to go into detail about the hugeness of the galaxies and the amazing complexity that is the body…    A fragment drifted by “.. so great” and I spoke to Mother (what I remember most about my mother was her telling me “Don’t think you’re so great”) “I don’t think I’m so great, I think the Universe is huge and miraculous and beautiful and I want to share my excitement.” Caryn said she’d never heard me speak from that embodied place before.  I have been able to do it in the past few years: speaking my truth and not worrying about whether she got it or not.

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Guidance from 2008

This was a big help to me today.  One of the things I’ve been doing is reading through my blog, just to remind myself of the bad times I’ve been through and survived. Sometimes I get a reminder of my goodness, always a surprise. What Guidance says here seems very relevant to the current situation. This was first posted in October 2010.

(Written in April 2008)
Dear Guides & Guardian Spirits, I’m feeling very discouraged about the state of the world.  Please help me.
Dear Jenny, we remind you that compassion does not disappear because people are short-sighted and entrenched power seeks to preserve itself.  This has been going on since the beginning of the world.  Your job is to be visionary, committed, and generous.  To be a light on a mountaintop, showing that it’s possible for people to live together in peace, harmony and abundance.  It’s not your job to grow food.  If the worst happens: keep singing and dancing.  If the worst happens: it’s OK to lie down & die.  If the worst happens: you are safe in the hands of God and the planet that you love is safe in the hands of God.  Creativity and generosity will not die.  It’s who you are that matters, not what you do.  Dear Jenny, relax.  We love you.

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The Holy Grail

from the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditation 9/5/22  They quote Carol Pearson: Awakening the Heroes Within.

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves in the position of the Fisher King. Something is not right. We feel wounded, disconnected from ourselves, and our kingdoms reflect our inner state. Often, we do not initially notice our own wounding; we just find ourselves unhappy with our lives. Answers that previously worked for us no longer serve. . . .

The part of us that is fragmented, split, and wounded—that knows of the splendor of the Soul, but cannot connect that splendor with our everyday lives—is the Fisher King. The young knight [Parsifal in the Germanic version] is the seeker in each of us, yearning for the Grail [DM team: the soul, our True Selves]. The Grail offers the capacity for renewal, forgiveness, and transformation. It also is within us.

This meditation took me back to some work I did a number of years ago:
From The Feminine of History is Mystery:

the chalice well: up a narrow lane, and through a garden, the path leads to an intimate, virginal setting. the well itself is sheltered by bushes and low trees, neither too carefully pruned nor allowed to run wild, the water runs through an underground pipe to emerge through a lion’s mouth into a basin. two elderly ladies, in country tweeds with country voices are filling their water bottles, otherwise there is peace at last. i sit on a log behind the well and peace and joy well up inside me, all burdens laid down. i had come to glastonbury expecting some revelation of power and knowledge and find this simple delight instead. so humble, and so real, and no words, no words at all. every time I think of the chalice well i smile.
from The Feminine of History is Mystery, lefthand page opposite righthand page 78

the real sacred thing at glastonbury is the well; the tor and the abbey were built because it existed, but there is neither power nor joy in either of them now. there is a legend that the holy grail was once at glastonbury — the well, the well itself is the grail, so blindingly obvious that our grasping senses fail to see, but i could not see the grail in the well if it did not already exist inside of me.
from The Feminine of History is Mystery, lefthand page opposite righthand page 79

From the script for the Audio-Visual presentation: Sacred Sites of Ancient Keltia:

GLASTONBURY is an ancient sacred site, woven about with legends of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, a place sacred to the Great Goddess.  The old, old mother of earth gives lavishly with both hands, stones, water, roses, and goes on giving, though stones crumble, springs dry up, roses fade and wither.

Below Glastonbury Tor there is a spring, flowing with iron-rich water, the blood of the earth – the menstrual blood of the Great Mother, who is called Annis, Danu, Ishtar, Belili. Her blood is gathered in a great silver bowl, chalice of inspiration, cauldron of rebirth. And through the magic of time, by which all things change yet nothing is ever lost, the Cup of the Last Supper, and the Cauldron of Kerridwen have coalesced, run together like drops of quicksilver, and become that mystical vessel and chalice, the Holy Grail – that offers to each a very personal nourishment, that brings to each the possibility of reuniting the scattered fragments and being reborn as a whole person.

Note: the lefthand pages of the book, and the script are written by tuning into the lefthand side of my mind and writing what I hear. I am taking dictation from … my soul? the right-hand side of the brain? spirit?

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