Paradigm Shift

Recently I realized that the two worlds I shift between, the one where I’m stuck in depression, worthless, living a meaningless broken life, and the one where I haven’t wasted my suffering, and my work on myself benefits everyone — that these two worlds represent two different paradigms.

The old paradigm, based on the Newtonian clockwork world, says that God made the world and then left, only things we can measure are real, only the “fittest” survive, etc.  I realize that my interest in science and my degree in Astronomy have allowed me to update the scientific part of my paradigm to one based on relativity, quantum physics, etc.  I’ve also updated my understanding of “evolution.”  It’s not the fittest organism that survives, it’s the most complex and resilient eco-system that can maintain itself.  Life did not happen by some random process, but by a natural tendency to “self-organize.”  (See my blog post called “We’re at Home in the Universe.”)

But I haven’t been able to update my understanding of myself.  Sometimes I even find myself saying things like “God loves everybody…  except me.”  Actually those kinds of thoughts mostly don’t get expressed in words because as soon as I give them words, I can see how stupid they are. God, if there is a God, of course loves everybody.  When I’m in depressed mode, there is no god.  Of course when god says “You want a tougher vocation than PTSD?” I have to laugh and that takes me out of it.  Sometimes I feel like a ping-pong ball.

In the new paradigm, everything is connected to everything else, and my work on myself benefits the collective.  When I’m able to be in that place, I don’t feel that my life and my suffering have been wasted.

I think that our whole culture is presently also struggling between these two paradigms.

A quote from my journal for March 25:
I like my idea of the two paradigms.  The old one in which my work on myself is “self-involved,” the new one where my work on myself helps everybody.  I bounce back and forth between them.  I’ve also been seeing that I think my biggest problem is the one who hates me and keeps kicking me to get me to “shape up.”  I know it’s a younger one who doesn’t have all this new information.

This both inspired me to work on the blog post, and just now, as I was typing it up, I realized that it’s possible that the one who keeps trying to get me to “shape up,” even though she does it by criticism which doesn’t work at all, it’s possible that she sees how much I am capable of and is upset that I’ve been able to enact so little of it.  She doesn’t understand the damage that was done to me.

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Navigating the Realms

I posted the Story of Persephone because it is such a beautiful description of the two worlds I navigate on a regular basis.  Except that for me the dark realm is most often painful and confusing, with times of depression, terror, and despair, and the light realm can be piercingly beautiful, but too often it reminds me of all the beings that are suffering.

I’ve had a number of names for the dark realm: Symbolic World, Heraldic World, Invisible World, Imaginal Realm, Shamanic Realm.  In the post where I talk about them, I quote Carol Lee Flinders:

Inherently “more real” than everyday reality, this noncorporeal world has always been thought to surround and sustain it and to percolate up into it at regular intervals, visible and audible for those who are attuned to its presence.
Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace, p 84

I say about my experience:

I knew, without being able to articulate it, that the symbolic realm was no colorless abstraction of Platonic Ideals, no far off heaven somewhere up there, that this realm was colorful, magical, mysterious, and contained the true beings of the trees and birds and streams I loved. 

I talk about my struggle as I travel back and forth in a post about Ereshkigal:

Ereshkigal says to me: The reward is great depth of perception, great power in expressing what you see, and the glorious moments of bringing through a truth from the shamanic world.    The price is self-doubt, and conflict, a struggle to keep your balance among the great spinning wheels, constant effort to see truly, rejection of easy answers.  The reward is the satisfaction of encountering truth: bone-hard, bone-deep.

Other posts about bringing through a truth:

Awakening Kali 

The Truth Express

Writing the Real Story

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The Story of Persephone

My friend Elizabeth sent this to me, in the form of photographs of the pages.  It was hard to read, so I typed it up.  And then wanted to share it.

In the world of the dead there is no time.  Yet every autumn, as the days grow shorter, the spirits of the underworld sense that Persephone must soon return.  They grow restless, and call to her with lost, hollow voices.  In the world of the living, the sound of their cries becomes the sound of the wind sighing in the dry grass and moaning through the bare trees.  For many of the living it is a sound that speaks to them of the frailty of life and the ultimate, unknowable void of death.  They draw closer to the fire and to one another, and they cherish the warmth of life.

When Persephone hears the first, faint sighs of the dead in the cooling autumn winds, she is filled with dread.  “They call to me.  They call to me,” she thinks as she gathers the harvest.  “But how can I leave this life?  The sky is too blue, the sun is too warm, the air is too sweet to leave behind.  The spirits of the dead cannot understand.  They are cold and remote.  They have forgotten the beauty of life.”

The wind grows cold, and the cries of the dead become more insistent.  Her promise to return to them weighs in Persephone’s heart.  Her blood slows.  Her steps falter.  It is inescapable.  She knows that she must make her farewells to the people and pleasures of the upper world, and descend to her appointed place in the realm of the dead.

She gathers the last sheaves of wheat and baskets of fruit to take as gifts to the dead souls so that they may remember, if only briefly, the joys of life.  When her preparations are complete, she spends one last day gazing on the beauty of her world, drinking in its colors and sounds and fragrances so that she will not forget it during her long stay in the dark.  Finally, at dusk, she stands of the edge of the world and weeps as she watches the sun touch the horizon.  In her hand she holds a pomegranate, the symbol of her promise to the souls of the dead.  The sun drops behind the bulk of the earth, and Persephone lifts a single pomegranate seed to her lips.  

The light shifts and ripples.  The crash of thunder rips through the world.  A screaming wind tears at her hair and stings her eyes.  Before her, a chasm appears where the sun had been only moments before, and Persephone cried out in horror even as she leaps into the void.  For a moment that seems like eternity she forgets who she is, where she is, and why.

Then, darkness . . . silence . . . warmth.  The spirits of the dead surround her.  They speak without voices.  They sing without sound.  They cry and laugh as she presents her gifts from the realm of the living.  And they welcome her with gifts of their own.  The gifts of the dead are those of knowledge and mystery and paradox.  In this world of darkness, their eyes see patterns of incredible beauty, yet the patterns have neither color nor shape.  Their ears hear rich, complex music, yet the music has neither pitch nor duration.  Here, every thought, every perception has endless variations.  Persephone is fascinated and she begins to remember . . . .

In the world of the living, days pass, weeks pass; in the world of the dead, there is no time.  Persephone measures time in terms of insights and explorations.  In the world of the living, autumn turns to winter, and the nights grow long; in the world of the dead, day and night have no meaning.  Persephone and her subjects traverse the endless labyrinth, traveling ever inward.  In the world of the living, the winter solstice approaches, and the people call forth the light; in the world of the dead, light and dark are one.  There are no dualities.  Persephone and her subjects are at the still, silent, center, in an infinite darkness suffused with an infinite light.

In the world of the living, the solstice passes.  The storms lessen.  The bears and the squirrels stir in their sleep.  And, suspended in her timeless void, Persephone begins to feel the stirring in her own blood.  The voices of life’s children are calling.  Their voices are like the buzzes and chittering of troublesome insects.  Persephone hears their first, faint cries, and she is filled with dread and sorrow.  “They call to me.  They call to me,” she whispers as she floats in the void.  “But how can I leave this?  The mysteries are too intriguing, the knowledge is too profound, the intimacy of death is too sweet to abandon.  The living are mere children.  They cannot understand the depth of this existence.”  But still, the days pass, and as the winter wanes, the cries of the living become more insistent.  In the world of the dead, they create grating, discordant undertones in the pattern of silence and sound.  Persephone’s promise to return burns in her heart.  It is inescapable.  She knows that she must make her farewells to the souls of the underworld, and ascend to her appointed place in the realm of the living.

She gathers gifts of peace and paradox to take to the living, so they might remember, if only briefly, the richly textured beauty of the dark.  Finally, on the eve of the spring equinox, Persephone weeps as she floats in the darkness.  In her hand is a stalk of wheat, the symbol of her promise to return to the living.  For a single, timeless moment she turns her ears to the impossible music that sings to her.  Finally, she raises a single grain of wheat to her lips.

The darkness shifts and ripples.  The world is ripped by a crash of thunder.  The wind shrieks around her.  The void explodes with jarring colors and a cacophony of discordant sounds.  Persephone cries out in terror even as she leaps into the blinding light.  For a moment she forgets who she is, where she is, and why.

And then, gentle laughter . .  the sounds of birds . . . the cool mist of morning’s breath.  She is surrounded by the children of the upper world.  They bring her gifts of iris and apple blossoms, the scent of rain on the ocean, the sighs of lovers.  She hears the whisper of the crocus at her feet welcoming her and spreading the world along the grassy hills— “She returns, she returns, Persephone returns.”  And as the sun rises. Persephone is filled with joy and the wonder of life, and she begins to remember.

— Retold by Irene A. Faivre    (Parabola)

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Social Distancing is Difficult for Me

I suspected that I was having a very hard time with the social distancing because I was traumatized by being left alone too much when I was an infant.  The problem has to do with regulating the nervous system.  Your nervous system resonates with the systems of bodies near you.  As a baby, your nervous system regulates itself by being in contact with the body of someone calm.  If you are upset, you can be calmed by someone holding you, rocking you, perhaps singing or cooing soft sounds.  If there is no one there, or if the person who is there is upset themselves, you are unable to calm down, or perhaps unable to wake up.  Babies left alone too long can become apathetic.

This is from the website GoodTherapy.org, given by the link above:
“Although infants are born with the capacity for stress response (fussing, crying, etc.), their parasympathetic pathways, which help downregulate the SNS stress response, are not online at birth. This means babies can go up, but they can’t come down on their own. (They will go into a “freeze” state if ignored long enough; this looks calm, but it really isn’t.) The baby’s nervous system develops the ability to calm down through thousands and thousands of supportive, soothing interactions with caregivers. At first, the caregiver is essentially functioning as the child’s parasympathetic nervous system. The development of this “braking system” continues throughout childhood, through continued positive interactions that meet the child’s needs.”

Once you have been traumatized, your system dis-regulates more easily.  You go into hyper-activation — anger, fear, upset — or hypo-activation — depression, numbness, apathy.  Seeing people on Zoom doesn’t work to help your nervous system regulate.  I have noticed, as the social distancing goes on, gets more severe with lockdown, that I have more and more trouble dealing with things.  I’m very tired, but I have difficulty sleeping through the night.

Now that it’s two weeks past the date when the last of us had our second vaccination, Kendal has opened up a tiny bit.  We can reserve a table in the dining room, sit there with friends, be served dinner, and eat and chat with our masks off.  The tables have fewer seats than usual, and they are 6 feet apart, and most of the residents still have to get take-out dinner.  So I sat there with three friends, we chatted about ordinary things, but being with real people, sharing food, helped counteract the difficulty I was having with social distancing.  Being with real bodies, sharing food and conversation, helped my dis-regulated nervous system to regulate itself.  When we left, I felt 3-dimensional instead of cardboard, and my heart was fine, no longer feeling “shocked.”

But of course, I will have to have that every night in order for it to make a long term difference.  I realize that in some ways I’m finding it scary for Kendal to open up, even a little.  I helped a friend recently by driving her to pick up something she needed, but I felt like Hanover was a strange city, it felt weird to be driving around.

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“Stuck in Their Misery”

I got an email recently from someone who said I was “stuck in my misery.”  Feeling fortified by the knowledge that I hadn’t wasted my suffering, and knowing that our culture tends to blame people for their suffering, I didn’t buy it for myself.  But of course that’s the adult me, and I also felt “shocked heart” which I realized was all the younger ones inside me who believed it.  When I was about 17 my father told me I “wanted to be miserable.”  I didn’t believe him, but when I saw that all my efforts didn’t seem to change things I started to fear that somehow I was making it happen.  This is a situation guaranteed to cause depression.

From my journal for yesterday:

I did have a hard time most of the day because of the little ones who were so triggered.  I did my best to reassure them.  I even did what Erica suggested.  Put on folk music, held Kiddo in my arms and rocked her.  I told her that her misery wasn’t her fault, it came from something that happened to her that she wasn’t responsible for, and also from being expected to do things that she just wasn’t mature enough to do, especially without guidance and support.  But I continue to feel a little shocked heart.  

Making my second cup of tea, I saw the answer.  The response to someone who is stuck in their misery has to be compassion, not anger.  If I’m angry at myself, that just perpetuates the misery.  What I do is go sit down next to the misery and tell it “I’m here, and I’m not leaving.” And then I stay there.

I can see that my willingness to be present to my depression, terror, and despair, could be seen as “stuck in your misery,” especially by someone who is resisting and denying their feelings of misery.

from my journal for today:

You can call it “stuck in your misery,” but what I do is go sit down next to my misery and say “There, there.  I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave.”  I allow my misery to relax and know it’s not going to be abandoned.  Sometimes my misery softens into grief.  Sometimes I learn something new and worthwhile.  Sometimes a message comes from outside and shifts things completely.  I never know what it will be.  I’m still learning to wait with patience and trust.  I can feel that all the little ones inside who were so upset are feeling comforted.

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Do Not Waste Your Suffering

My therapist sent me a link to a video of Dr. Eduardo Duran on “Healing the Soul Wound.” He is speaking to Native Americans who are part of a Family Service organization working to help their people heal from the wounds of colonialism. Part of this means helping people educated in western methods to gain an understanding of indigenous, especially shamanic, methods for working with soul wounds.  “Soul wound” is the indigenous understanding of trauma.  He quotes a shaman who told him “Do not waste your suffering.”  I found this incredibly helpful.  It validated all the work I’ve done to heal my trauma.  Even though I continue to struggle with terror, despair, and utter blankness, I know that I have used my suffering to learn, and to transform.  It is also possible that I’m working on unhealed trauma suffered by my parents and grandparents, and maybe even Scottish ancestors who were driven out during the Clearances.  I know, without a doubt, that I have not wasted my suffering.

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I choose to trust…

Recently I’ve been going through a bad time.  Waking up in the morning feeling disconnected from everything and everybody.  Finally I remembered that when Trump was elected, I dealt with my despair by reciting “Peace, Love, Justice…” even though the words were empty and didn’t mean anything.  It was all I had to hold on to.  So I said to myself “I choose to trust that I matter, just the way I am, that we are all in this together, and that we are headed in a good direction.”  I expected the words to feel empty, and was surprised to find myself feeling grounded and solid.  Having a place to stand.  Not quite feeling “good” but so much better than emptiness and despair.

As I continue to say it, I remember that I first got these ideas from Rob Bell.  In November 2013 I posted about my first reading of What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Bell’s actual words are: “Choosing to trust that this life matters and we’re all connected and this is all headed somewhere has made my life way, way better.”   p125  I am amazed at how solidly these ideas are holding me right now.

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Nika’s Story

I’ve been reading my journal for May 1993, and came to this description of a possible book about Nika, the artist part of me.  The original plan was to use journal entries about my attempts to express myself in art.  I completely forgot that I had written a bunch of fiction as well.  I no longer have a digital copy, there may be a 3-ring notebook somewhere with hard copy, but I haven’t tried to look for it — an indicator of how exhausted I am today.

Nika: I don’t think of myself as a lesbian, I’m just a woman who fell in love with another woman.  All my sexual relationships before Sharon were with men.  Although I acknowledged my attraction to women I never did anything about it.  If Sharon had been a man, we would probably be married, otherwise our relationship wouldn’t be any different.

It’s so amazing, writing Nika’s life.  I always thought I didn’t have “the gift for fiction”, but that was wrong, I didn’t trust my gift for fiction, was always inhibiting my power to make things up by feeling that I didn’t know enough about the scene.  I remember when I tried to write about Taliafero as a member of a rock band, or Kahoulain’s adventures with the Indians, I always imagined somebody who knew about such things reading my book and judging me as wrong.  I see now that they were too far from my experience.  But writing Nika’s story, I’ve made up weaving commissions from interior decorators and been vague enough about the details to get away with it.  And when I needed a way for Nika to buy a house of her own, “Great Aunt Julia” sprang to mind, complete with character and history.  I was telling Dana about her on our walk yesterday and he gave me a puzzled look “Was that how it happened?”

Taliafero and Kahoulain are characters in The Company of Thirteen, a science fiction story that appears in sketchy form in The Feminine of History is Mystery.

Deena Metzger‘s suggestion to “lie” has opened the door into the realm of fiction.  And then of course I realize I’ve been doing it all along, all I needed for a story to happen was to set pen to paper and start writing.  I think of the woman building her house (Foundation Stone) and the “Story of Joan” and all those stories of women living alone.  What I didn’t have was some kind of a plot idea to hang a long story on, and the faith in myself that would have let me keep writing, discovering the details as I went along.

I did several workshops and two week-long retreats with Deena.  Don’t know where the other stories went, if they are preserved in any form.

It’s interesting that my plan for Nika had been to shade the truth just a little bit, that is, to write nothing that could be contradicted by reality.  But giving myself permission to lie allowed me to expand.  The most interesting thing is to see how Nika is complete in herself, her story has structure, coherence, inevitability.  I can see how one of the alters of a multiple personality gets formed, complete with a history that may be different from that of the core person.  I can see how authors could really enjoy writing fiction, it’s a process of discovery as well as controlling and shaping the material, I can see how they would enjoy living in the world of the novel, and be sorry to leave that group of characters when the book is over.  I can also see that it would be useful for a novelist to have some experience of life, and how they would be constantly observing people, conversations, settings to gather details for their work.  I can see that Nika was too self-absorbed to become a novelist, her art has grown primarily out of a concern with the inner world: even the geologic ages and the Balmer series grew out of a sense of the structure of the inner world.

One interesting byproduct of writing Nika’s story is that some works of art, which “never made it to manifestation”, look like they might, after all, take on some form.  I thought that I might do sketches or collages to represent larger works painted by Nika in oils.  I can do verbal descriptions.  I’m thinking about doing gouache paintings of “Geologic Ages” and “Balmer Series”, also quilt paintings.  (Jeanne was very impressed with one of the quilt paintings in the Black Book.)  I also thought about doing a sketch for the Moonladies triptych, which I had planned to execute in quilted fabric.  (I bought the fabric: it’s still sitting in its bag somewhere.)  Then suddenly, Friday night it was, I saw how I could do the Moonladies in white clay — I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.  I can see the first two panels fairly clearly, and hope that the third will come into focus once I get started.

I’m intrigued with the sudden outpouring of energy for this project.  What is painful about reading this now is seeing that “Nika” had a chance to manifest in my life, but it never really happened.  I don’t know why yet, I don’t seem to have noticed when I reread this part of my journal in 2019.

First mention of Nika in this blog is in Journal Background.

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Yesterday and Today

Friday

3rd cup. coffee.  Going out with Mocha I did my best to say yes to everything.  Yes to cold, to wind, to frozen snow and dirty ice, to the call of a cardinal, to failure to see the cardinal, to tiredness…  It was all basically OK.  I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t deeply unhappy.  In fact maybe it was equanimity.

Saturday

3rd cup. coffee.  Walked Mocha out in the bitter cold.  9° and no wind thank goodness.  Everything is frozen and dry, even the bits of ground that show at the edges is hard packed dusty brown with dead grass smashed flat.  Everything seems dusty.  Bleared sun.  Matches my mood exactly now that I’ve given up the sense that I “should” find some meaningless entertainment on the Internet.  Though the sun is getting higher and the days are getting longer, I can’t believe that spring will ever come.

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Primary Satisfactions and Secondary Satisfactions

I found this such a good explanation for how our culture produces so many addictions, including addiction to money.  One sign of “secondary satisfaction” is, no matter how much you get, you always want more.

From Francis Weller:

Through studying traditional cultures and Indigenous cultures, I began to look at how they raised people, the value of belonging, the central sense of your necessity, that you were needed, that you were valued, the value of ancestors, the value of ritual. All these practices kept a cohesiveness so that the psyche didn’t go into that place of feeling empty. Where this emptiness comes from is our hyper-focus on individualism, which began several hundred years ago at least with the Enlightenment.  …

The emphasis began to move from a sense of village-mindedness to the individual. That reached its zenith now here in white western culture in America, I think, where we have abandoned primarily all sense of identity beyond my own interiority. We are separate. We may exist, but there’s nothing that really binds us together in this ideology. This ideology of individualism breeds this feeling of emptiness.

What we do with emptiness are all the isms… Patriotism, nationalism, capitalism, racism. All these isms are attempts to stuff the emptiness with something, because the emptiness is intolerable. We cannot endure emptiness, so we fix it. We also neglect what I call primary satisfactions, which are the satisfactions that evolved over our long evolutionary process of friendship and ritual and singing together, sharing meals, being under the stars together, hearing the stories around the fire at night, gathering wood, grieving together, celebrating together. Those are the primary satisfactions, and almost none of those exist any more.

We then lean into our secondary satisfactions. Power, strength, wealth, privilege, hierarchy, rank, etc. On a more personal level, addictions of all sorts are attempts to stuff something into that hole at the core of our lives, because it’s intolerable. As you know, as an addict, you can never get enough of what you don’t need. …

When we’re in ritual space together, singing together, sharing poetry, grieving together, giving thanks, we’re not wondering where the next iPhone is going to come from or where the next TV set is going to come from or when can I get my new car? We are inside of primary satisfactions, and the soul is content.

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