- dating a kind and thoughtful man, who is similar to me in a lot of good ways, and different from me in interesting and enriching ways.
- raising Little N on my own, since his dad moved to Las Vegas last month. Wow! this is challenging. I'm never doing enough. I hope Little N feels my love enough.
- working as an executive assistant at a local non-profit. it's dull, routine, mundane work that I don't love, but I do appreciate the stability of the job... and the consistent paycheck.
- struggling, against the tide of my habits, to improve my health and reinvigorate my body. this is good work. and it's work!
- dreaming of my vocation. I want to work with women in the area of spirituality. in particular, I want to lead retreats, starting with the motif of the Madwoman in the Attic.
- daydreaming of home ownership and homelife with the man I'm dating and Little N.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
What is my problem!? I wondered, from the midst of a low day. I scribbled my way through it, through the lens of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
My "problem" isn't my brain - at least, not in the same way as - my emotions. Big. Overwhelming. In-My-Body feelings. And in response to those big feelings I do something. Usually something unhealthy, or in DBT-speak, something Ineffective.
It's Ineffective because it blocks my route to my Goals. My Goals come from my Values. Although... these days it feels like my Goals are being adopted and incorporated from the naturopath and my dismal health numbers. It feels a little backwards. My Goals are actually determining my Values. They're good Values - Health, Longevity, Fitness. They just didn't start in me.
Priorities and Values can change with time and circumstances and new or renewed insights. For a long time, with L, my Value was survival. While at my last job it became Interpersonal Effectiveness. That continues in my current position, though I have some mastery of it now, relying on my good manners plus prompt response time. But the Naturopath and my numbers indicate that my Value needs to be Physical Health.
I've never been an athlete. And it's a very long time - 15 years or more? - since I felt strongly connected to my body. I do experience my strong emotions in my body. But then I tend to do something external to try and change how I feel emotionally. Eat. Smoke. Watch TV.
Mindfulness, I guess, is the tool or skill for acknowledging the big emotions in my body, then letting them pass, while I remain present in my body. In my senses and physical sensations. The Wise Mind process is how I sort out what's going on and choose actions that are Effective for body and emotions. Effective for my Value of physical health.
And... this scribble suggests... my Value of Emotional Integrity...
Some people surround themselves with things that are pleasing to the eye. People like my mother prefer matching colors and complete sets. Furniture. Window dressings. Appliances and silverware. I appreciate that life when i visit but it doesn’t feel like home to me. My biota is much more a random collage of select things that inspire and move me, planted in the practical stuff of getting through each day. I’d like to call it an authentic life but really it’s me clinging to any meaning and vitality I can find.
My bedroom houses a collection of books, stacked on narrow shelves and teetering along the edges of rare flat surfaces. Not because I’ve read all the books but because the books tell me, just by being there, that someone has made some sense of some particular topic that means something to me. They hold the promise of meaning. They offer a glimmer of inspiration
Today, i sit in doldrums. Winter in seattle is a palette of grey-sky days and early deep dark nights. Daily life is a trudge through obligations and responsibilities. Structures that I must abide like rent and bills, grocery shopping, social etiquette and deference to authority. My office job is mundane and riddled with “powers that be” who must be pleased and satisfied. My body is fat and sedentary. The little time that is mine is so often lost to sleep. Recover from the work-week. Not because it engaged me but because i endured it.
Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? That my daily life, and thus the span of my days alive, is so… meh. Where do other people find the spark of life?
I think that’s why we hear so much about gratitude and the “little things.” i think that’s why so much emphasis is placed on family, in this culture. To the point of declaring “friends are family,” as if friends weren’t precious enough on their own. These things are where we, as a culture, have assigned meaning. Are they not meaningful to me? Are they not enough?
I think it’s also the contrast of “Zowie! Pow! Kazaam! I’ve figured out some big things!,” in my twenties versus “I’ve got to figure out how to make ends meet and parent my son,” in my forties. Those twenty-something big things are barely relevant to my daily life now. And they were big significant things like feminism and social justice and life-giving theology. But how to build a daily life, that pays the rent and raises the child, and embodies those big things, today?
So I look for inspiration, capture it in a word or image, tack it up on the wall, return to it, again and again, like worship. Photos of my son. Images cut from magazines. Poems and quotes. Cards from friends. All stuck onto the wall together.
This collection of artifacts tells a story. Once upon a time there was a woman who felt her life didn’t matter. So she drew close to herself things that signified mattering. She stood before them, imagining they made a mirror, reflecting what mattered in her life. Rather, they were a projection, like movies cast from film and light, issuing the promise of meaning into her and her days. She could live the life depicted in the pictures. The answers were right in front of her.
Really? Can I really live a more vital and meaningful life - beyond the to-do lists and the collage on the wall? Are the answers right in front of me?
I've been in therapy for the last seven years. And I think I'm burned out on it. I'm tired of talking about myself. I'm tired of listening to a therapist's perspective, questions, and suggestions. I want some quiet in my mind. I want some time to synthesize what I've heard; practice what I've learned. I want a pause from all the chatter.
This is a tricky decision to make, because I'm just coming out of a funk and still really struggling to do the daily self-care that my body needs. But that's just what I want to do - the doing part of these years of learning.
I expect that my therapist won't be keen on the idea. Maybe the naturopath won't be either. I believe that they see their work, together, as support for me to do the doing and since I haven't been consistently doing it maybe that looks like I need more support.
But it doesn't feel like support, these days. It feels distracting and disrupting. It feels like one more thing I have to do for someone else - keep an appointment. It feels inconvenient and, due to a billing error, suddenly expensive. A break, a pause, looks so freeing and open.
So what do I want to do with this pause that will make it worth the risk of declining my practitioner's support? How will I make this work for me? I'm drafting a routine for myself to include the daily practices necessary to heal my body and sustain my emotions and mind. Here's some of what that entails:
Tangled up in all this striving for good health and self care is something about my beliefs about myself and my life. Am I worth taking good care of? Do I want to be alive and for a long time? Is my life worth living and my work worth doing? Depression says, No. And again, no. Over and over until I'm too tired to resist and I yield to believing that the answer is always no.
It requires a vivid imagination and a good sense of humor to say, Yes.
The world is a big and chaotic place and I am small and, yes, meaningful, in the midst of it. My work as a secretary and as a mother is repetitive and mundane, and yes, it's worth doing well. My body is temporary, already bearing the toll of the years and, yes, it warrants persistent care and tending. Yes, because my tiny life touches other tiny lives and we matter to each other. Yes, because good is worth doing and being for each other. Yes, for laughter. Yes, for beauty. Yes, for comfort, sanctuary, and justice. Yes, for remembering important things and returning to them with the passion of awakening for the first time. Yes, because connection is real. Yes, because where there's a breath there's a hope. Yes, because I am here, now.
I don't and probably won't always remember to say, Yes. My imagination falters and my humor is pretty dark. But deep in my gut, where intuition and faith reside, yes simmers and bubbles up to my memory. I make a fresh list, again, of how I choose to live. I start to practice, again, the routine that heals me. And I look for the reminders of yes.
Those reminders, for me, right now, aren't revealing themselves in my therapy appointments. That might be the biggest reason to take a pause from sessions. And seek new places and people who say yes.
"Hold your heart in all tenderness. Something healing this way comes."
- Jen Lemen
These words have been on my heart a lot lately. Because they are beautiful and hopeful. Because there's so much that needs healing - in my body and my heart, in the bodies and hearts of people I care about, in this country, in the world...
To me, these words are an invitation to be softer, compassionate, unguarded and vulnerable. Open to pain, my own and others'. Faithful to myself and others in the midst of severe trials. To accept hope and healing, to believe that it is coming. To carry hope and healing into my relationships. To be one who bears hope and tends others as they heal.
It's been a long time since I've felt myself to be an open, compassionate person. Post partum depression and the end of my marriage rendered me harder, less emotional, disconnected from other people and myself. The last couple of years, and moving forward, have been about my healing in terms of reconnecting and re-membering myself to those parts and practices and tending their life and expression. Lately, I find myself invited to engage with others, beloved friends, with depth of feeling and healing presence. These invitations challenge me to be the best version of who I am today and to keep growing into someone tender, attentive, and tending.
My dear friend's health crisis is one of the invitations I'm accepting right now. Losing faith in those dark hours last week is probably what rose this quote to my mind. It reminded me of how to show up and who to be when life is so very hard. It reminded me of who I am.
A few weeks ago I finally settled on the idea and accepted that there is no unifying meaning to be made of life the way it is. The lessons of my childhood and a spiritual walkabout through Neo-Paganism and Wannabe Buddhism all fell away with a clattering clumsiness confirming their unreliability. This very prospect of accepting the emptiness had followed me for years, threatening to unravel my tenuous and tentative commitment to life. And in this moment of acceptance it called to me again, with a bellowing vow to suck me into a void where nothing really mattered. Where I and my love, my Little N, didn’t matter. But I held my ground.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my bright little room, I spoke softly to the emptiness inside of me. "You can stay with me. I'm not running from you anymore. And you can speak with me. I'm not afraid of your noise and words. I understand you a little better, now, and you are precious to me."
The emptiness is valuable. It reminds me of my agency. I can choose how and what I assign meaning to. Like some sort of spiritual anarchist, I'm declining and refuting the religious law and order that defined how I became who I am. I retain a hermeneutic of love, grace, and justice as my lens on life, but I reject the prescribed social order and the shoulds of personal piety, of judging our neighbors, of accepting and yielding to an unjust social, political, and economic status quo.
There’s no inherent meaning, for me, no obvious goodness or rightness, to the way Western society is ordered. It’s not God’s Law that we live in heterosexual legally married nuclear families, that we prioritize private wealth and comfort, that we amplify a narrow view of individual morality over a broader view of public health, economic and environmental sustainability, justice for the marginalized and the poor, that we define those in need as “deserving” and “undeserving” of aid and support… It goes on. It’s all been better said and sometimes solved by folks wiser, more experienced, more effective than me. But it bothers me. And the religion of my upbringing hasn’t helped any of it get better.
The same critique applies to my personal life. There’s no inherent meaning in my marriage and divorce. It doesn’t mean anything that my ex-husband, L, now lives with me and Little N as a roommate and my partner in parenting. I assign no value nor criticism to my leaving home and my birth family to pursue my education and plant myself in a new place with new people in my life. There’s no particular meaning to rejecting the religion and politics I come from. There’s no particular meaning to my current financial struggles and career anxiety. These things just are, and I get to choose what sense to make of them.
It’s easy to wax on about the big bad world out there. And it’s easy to hunker down into my tiny personal world. The common theme in both scenarios is my choice. The ordained law and order is an illusion. It’s refutable. It’s synthetic. I can and must choose something true in order to keep going in my life.
The search for something true sends me right back to the prophets and good teachers who have walked this path before. I’m thinking of guides like Buddha, Jesus, and even today’s pagan teacher Starhawk. Their words, lives, and choices, illuminate true things for me about non-attachment to stuff, people, and notions, drawing in the marginalized, supporting the weak and the poor, heeding, tending and defending our home planet.
In some ways it would be easier to yield to the illusion and accept the myth of a divine law and order that structures our public and personal lives giving us meaning and righteousness. But that doesn’t ring true for me and my life. It doesn’t fill the emptiness and it never has.
Back in November, I posted that Samhain to Imbolc would be a season of sitting still with the life that I live. Oh, but I am a wriggly little worm. Much of this dark season has been resisting the life that I live. So mundane. So uninspired. I've been looking ahead to a season of action on resolutions.
I came across the above image in my Facebook feed and it did inspire me a little. I'm thinking a lot about my health. About managing my weight, getting a grip on how I feel before reaching for food, about how I want to feel, and about the things that I enjoy, that feel meaningful, and that make me feel connected. This colorful image opens my lens on health to include all of those aspects and their interconnections. Plus, I read a quote (also in my FB feed) that basically said we overeat not because food gives us pleasure, but because it doesn't give us enough pleasure. I hunger, really, for pleasure, happiness, good relationships, a sense of the presence of the Divine, meaningful work. In the absence of these things I reach for a chai tea latte and a cheese danish and head back to my job.
This season of action prompts a long list of To Dos in order to reach for the full health that I want and need. Eating healthfully. Moving my body in a way that's enjoyable and repeatable. Playing with my son after work each night and reading to him before bed. Checking in with friends for Mama-dates and ritual. All things that I am capable of and have done before.
And - this season of action calls for discrete inactivity. Sitting. With my journal. With my life. Recalling and recounting my blessings. Perceiving the fissures in the mundane where the special and inspiring whisper through.
In addition to being a time to recall our Beloved Dead, Samhain is also referred to as the "Witches' New Year." This really works for me. I appreciate the cohesion of a year ending while the earth is going into a cold, fallow state. In fact, I see the time from Samhain to Imbolq as a period where the year is dying. When the light and the plants start to rebound in February, I perceive the new year beginning.
This year, I've approached Samhain with a mind of letting go. A whole dark cold season of letting go. A time to compost, mull, and brew. No resolutions for January 1 - they will wait for February's light.
I am letting go of my marriage as I complete final paperwork and prepare to stand before a judge for the final decree of dissolution. I've been preoccupied with doing the work of this process and the emotions have faded from my perception. In this dark season I will pause and say goodbye to married life. Lay it down, with all its expectations and disappointments. Let it rest.
I am loosing my desire to lose weight, right now!, and slowly surrendering to my emotions. I may need the entire dark season and the entire new year to learn this practice. Where in my body do I feel my feelings? How do I experience my emotions? Time to lay down the perfect body and inhabit the one I am today.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I'm wrestling with our culture's prescriptions for age and timing and worth. That by X years old one should have achieved, purchased, defined Y, Z, and Q. I'm 40. I have a job that is neither a career that defines me nor my heart's work. My job is low paid and my heart's work goes unpaid. I have a home that I rent. Purchasing a home is not in view, despite my age. I have no partner. I am mother to a young child with special needs. I am short and fat with greying hair and no make-up on my face. My life is out of sync with the culture's preferred order and significance. This year has surprised me with the realization of how much those guidelines mean to me despite how little I've consciously subscribed to them. I will lay these down, too, and sit with the life that I am living.
The promise of spring lingers in another segment of the Wheel of the Year. There will be a fresh season for incantations and invocations. Part of me very much wants to skip over the slow still dark and rush into the bustling of resolutions and new habits. But a deeper hunger rumbles, calling my attention to the value of this current season.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. As a child it meant apple picking, apple cider doughnuts, and pumpkins! Pumpkin selecting, pumpkin carving, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin pie. Every year we made a little trek into "the country" to pick out our pumpkins at a farm stand. We hauled them home to the suburbs for all the ways we enjoyed them. It was looked forward to, even as teens, and served as a sure sign of the season.
While there's plenty of country, farms, and farm stands to be found in Washington, Little N and I are urban dwellers these days. And kiddo doesn't take much delight in long drives to unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people, sounds, and smells. So we took the city-dwellers' approach and I picked up a couple of orange beauties at the grocery store next door to our apartment. We invited a friend over and commenced carving.
Little N wanted a "happy" pumpkin, so Miss A delighted him by carving exactly what he had drawn for her. I went for a spookier approach, which also allows allows a lot of candle light to shine through, and cut a cyclops from my pumpkin. Kiddo does not like my creepy monster and sequesters it to a different part of our deck, away from his happy creation.
From a Pagan perspective this season, like each season, holds sacred meaning. By now we've noticed the days getting shorter, the darkness enfolding us, and in Seattle the cold and rain have started. We inhabit more time indoors. We reach for creature comforts of hot beverages and hardy foods. We are embracing the darkness as best we can and listening for the messages it offers. It's a time for composting that which doesn't serve us, as well as the dreams that have not come to fruition in the time we granted them. New life will be cultivated from their detritus in another season. It's a time for giving thanks for what we have received and that which we have learned. Our lives are stronger and more vibrant for these things. It's a time for drawing near to the folks we love. We are all connected.
Little N doesn't really understand seasons yet. He is puzzled by our dark mornings as I rustle him up for school. He plays out on the deck in dark evenings within the glow of the overhead lights. I don't know if that's due to being a child who hasn't seen as many seasons change as I have, or if it's related to his Autism and not perceiving sequences. I'm hopeful that his comprehension and appreciation will develop as he grows up. To that end, I have the job and the joy of sharing what I perceive in each season. I'm trying to become more intentional in my parenting around this topic and Autumn calls me to it more than any other season. I string little twinkle lights up in our apartment to warm the darkness of our evenings. I make a place on my altar to host the photos of our Beloved Dead, his grandfathers. They have a special place in our hearts and minds at this time of year (more on that and Samhain coming soon).
I want Little N to perceive the turning of our little blue planet in our solar system, in our galaxy, in our universe! Our lives are tiny, precious, and changing with our own seasons in this magnificent space. We humans are all connected to each other in various ways and I wonder how to teach him about that as well. I want Little N to experience connection to traditions I grew up with as a link to a family he is part of, a family that loves him, but who he barely knows, rarely sees. I want Little N to be familiar with the emotional and material meanings of entering the dark. We needn't fear or dread the darkness. We can work with and within this season. I want Little N to deeply know all of these things and have fun living with it!
So I drag home the pumpkins from the grocery store. We carve them and giggle over the slimy orange goo we pull out of them. We light them and watch the candlelight flicker inside of them. I plug in the twinkle lights. I make room on my altar for the grandfathers. And I try to draw Little N's little-boy-attention to the darkness and what it can offer.
On Sunday afternoon my Pagan circle celebrated Mabon, the holiday of the Autumn Equinox. Mabon is the second harvest festival we recognize, this one for later crops like squash and apples. We gathered to give thanks for the light that has sustained us and the bounty of the land, and to prepare ourselves for the coming darkness and cold. Already we observe darker evenings and cooler temperatures.
This new season we are entering is referred to as the time of the Dark Mother. She is the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Marked by her sickle and scythe, she comes to reap what has been sown, in the land and in our lives. She has many names in many cultures including: Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Tiamet, Hecate, Nemesis, and Morrighan.
The story of Demeter and Persephone is particularly relevant to Mabon. Demeter, the goddess of grain and harvest, loses her lovely daughter Persephone to Hades, the god of the underworld. Either abducted or perhaps descending voluntarily, Persephone is resigned to six months of each year with Hades. Demeter grieves the absence of her daughter and the land is barren. That change, from lush to loss, begins at Mabon.
For our ritual, we decorated the altar with garden fresh vegetables and fruit. Bright Mums and Oak leaves stood out in a vase. We crafted candle holders from apples and placed them on the altar to note the four directions and god and goddess at the center. Our meditation focused on seasons of our lives – which season are you entering and how are you preparing for it? We used a Talking Circle to shape the individual sharing and later group discussion around our altar.
I’m entering a season of partner-less among the partnered. Now, more than ever, I feel like our culture places heavy expectations on us to have a partner. The expectation peppers our popular culture in music, television programs, and even commercials. The love-interest. The love unrequited. The love lost.
I started dating when I was 13, and while interspersed with solo phases, have usually had a partner or some love interest in my little sphere. Even in those times when there wasn’t a partner, and they were good for me once I adjusted to them, I assumed that there would be again. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve drawn some (a lot?) of my sense of worth from being partnered and possessing partner potential. Not so these days. Who wants to date an overweight, 40-year old, divorced mother of a child with special needs? The culture tells me the options aren’t good. So I look ahead and assume a long season of singleness. A season of belonging to myself. I’ve grown to like the idea. I’m choosing how to live in that season and claim it as my own.
I think it starts with treating myself as I would a good friend, in my thoughts, words, and actions. I tend my close friendships with time together, authenticity, listening, fun, sharing, patience… and so I will treat myself. It means developing personal practices for my body, mind, and spirit. It includes returning to my dreams for 2014: improved health and weight loss, feeling and expressing my emotions in healthy ways, hosting mini-retreats for women, cultivating a good divorce and co-parenting, and returning to my creativity – especially writing. It stretches to imagine new dreams of confidence, good work, and community.
So where I previously experienced loss and confusion, facing this season of living partner-less, I now feel excitement and anticipation. I am a true companion to myself. Composting the distractions, lies, and cultural hubbub, to tend something true, vibrant, and vitally my own. This is my season.
Note – The Fall Equinox has only recently been named Mabon. It received the name in the 1970s from Aidan Kelley as he wrote Crafting the Art of Magic. He deemed it a useful tool in helping modern Pagans to conceptualize Pagan religious ceremonies. This is interesting to me because it speaks to how contemporary Paganism is both an old religion of ancient myths and symbolism and a young religion that is still being created. I think about that seeming dichotomy a lot as I imagine all the little circles around the country, or around the world, gathering and recognizing the symbols and seasons of the year in their own unique ways, borrowing from the past and infusing it with their own personalities, creativity, and desires. I appreciate the malleability and personalization of this religion because it allows each person to honor Spirit in his or her life in his or her own ways.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
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