“Think deeply about the future. Use your intuition seriously and develop your capacity for prophecy, an old-fashioned but useful skill.” – Thomas Moore
“Think deeply about the future. Use your intuition seriously and develop your capacity for prophecy, an old-fashioned but useful skill.” – Thomas Moore
“A dark night can toughen you and steel you, helping you to be a real presence in your world. In the realm of the soul, most of us are wimps at first. We have to deepen and strengthen our outlook and style…The most precious gift of your dark night might be the sheer edge and heft of your soul, your presence as a person of real substance.”
Thomas Moore – Dark Nights of the Soul
This is especially true when we can find a way past the often legitimate sense of being victimized and catapulted into a dark night by forces seemingly and sometimes literally beyond us. The “victim” sense is appropriate up to a point (some moreso than others) in that it allows us to identify what we value that has been, to our minds at least, threatened. In stages of development, some layers of growth must be protected since the tenderness of new growth is a real consideration. Just as we wouldn’t mock a newly growing plant if it cried upon being bruised or smashed, we don’t mock our own phases of identifying loss and need for restoration or recovery. But we don’t stay in that victim mode if we want to get the most of the seemingly worst turn of events. We hang onto the lessons of the dark night, grow protective callouses on hands determined to love and, in general…
We grow anew, maybe a little less straight than we’d originally thought but…we grow. And we grow strong.
The relentlessness of synchronicity, of the recurring pursuit of soul for deeper meaning and expression struck me this morning as I, once again, “accidentally” opened a book that seemed to be picking up on a conversation I’d left off only just moments before and days before and. The ongoing conversation of my soul and mind, inspecting the state of my health, asking why. Thomas Moore’s articulation in Dark Nights of the Soul chimed in:
“The religion scholar Mircea Eliade explores in his journals what he calls “the spiritual, ‘religious,’ functions of illness.” “Illness,” he writes, “is the point of departure for the process of personality integration and for a radical spiritual transformation.”
“Illness is also a kind of poetry. It expresses the course of life, but it doesn’t explain it. It invites you to reflect on your way of life, spotting the gaps where your soul is negected and complaining. You can think about where the disease came from and how it reflects the way you live or the ways of your society. Eventually, your sickness may cure you of your misconceptions, as it speaks its poetry on behalf of nature, guiding you deeper into union with the source of your own life. The more you are emptied of your physical abilities, the more you are filled with the strength of soul.”
Over a year ago I began to acknowledge the slam of chronic illness, the recurring fever and its effects, coming seemingly out of nowhere but not a stranger to my world. I couldn’t sustain that acknowledgement because, for one, I didn’t want it to dominate my expression or my perspective. How quickly does “disability” become identity? For fear of that very possibility, I retreated. But my body continued to struggle. I would shove, push, scramble into days that most folks can do without too much reprisal. The benefit of 50/50 parenting delayed my final crash, getting me through my last semester as I spent any “spare” time in stillness, lying around, trying not to feel guilty. But the summer and heat, lawn and life depleted me fully.
I found Dr. Myhill’s illuminating insights. This failure of the mitochondria is inherited from the maternal side, she says. Cracks me up in light of recurring divination screaming…”then one receives great blessing from the ancestress.” Such a tangle of potential meaning. Dr. Myhill? My grandmother, Sugar, gifting me with this curse? She’s the one who suffered and whose heart literally exploded. I was born with my heart murmuring. Truly, literally a heart murmur. Can we say I was born with my soul already needing healing? And my body therefore spoke or murmured? We can say and see anything, really. But I agree with Moore. I agree with the opportunity here.
My own struggles have legitimized my grandmother’s story. She was not taken seriously, had many tests for her health and when you read Myhill’s description of the total body shutdown caused by this failure in energy production on a molecular level you read her story, my grandmother’s. She was not believed. She was looked on with some contempt and seen as “weak.” I see a bit of redemption in this. Her spirit can rest with more ease. Who she was as a person, the perception of her soul, of her essence can be rid of that lack of credibility. She was, in fact, stronger than anyone knew, working to stay active in life while her respiratory system failed her, while her thyroid roiled and her heart – though tested without revealing it – worked with very little fuel.
What is the soul’s work in this chronic illness? What is the pattern? Activity and reprisal for such activity, rest required, punitive pause. Then rev up the engine a bit, ragged but rolling and out the door again. Second-guessing the fatigue every step of the way. Is it that I don’t believe I’m allowed to live without punishment? Is this the first time I’ve faced this possible cause? No. God, no. I’ve covered many a layer, incorporating new vision, new thinking, acceptance of myself on deeper and deeper levels and actions, life changes reflecting the inner work. And yet. My body continues to express itself through limitation. It’s possible I chose this for a specific learning process just as my soul entered this body. But I can never know with a certainty, can I?
What does this illness give me? It requires I rest in feltness supreme on levels deeper and steeper still. It requires I treasure my energy and use it more strategically and conduct my life in even more mindful ways, visionary energy becoming vision more cherishing of life itself. Life. Life beyond “productivity.” Life beyond “legitimacy” earned in our culture’s definition of “living.” Life beyond approval.
People seem to generally be more comfortable either giving extreme medical advice or assuming the illness is caused by a lack of effort to bring the life into fitness on every level. Why is that? Is it that humanity has yet to figure out how to just be with? Be with. Other. Self. Now. Here, let me tell you how I know you’re mismanaging your world ‘though I don’t know you well enough to begin to do so! This, this is what happens most often. Why? No matter…
“Hi. Yes. I have this chronic illness. And I’ve done more homework on my soul than most and I’ve altered my whole world in order to create an environment that honors my requirements. I’m still ill. Deal with it. There’s no one easy answer. And. This. Is. Life.”
When the proof of your “advancement” cannot be revealed in products, the soul brews a most potent stew of creative jive and appreciation for every slice of life. You are more present than ever. Especially when you quit condeming yourself for not appearing to be diligent, active, resilient.
What is this illness giving me? Because of the intense rest and supplement flood, my eyesight is improved, fever reduced. My heart rhythm is more steady, the pause, shudder, spasm, slam, almost-pass-out moments are practically non-existent. My energy is more potently available. My respiratory system is saying “thank you!” My stamina is not yet returned fully but I’m getting there. My respect for my body has increased even more. I’ve learned not to pretend this isn’t a real, valid issue needing measured regard and careful planning. I’ve promised myself that it will become a layer of my daily living I integrate without crashing again. And it will be so effectively managed there won’t be much use for the tag “chronic illness.” It’s going to be about even deeper even more unique perpetual regard in love, tailor-made for honoring my individuality as well as my clan-self. Hey, and one day, I’ll sprint again.
“Picture can defend us against image, emotion against feeling, intellect against insight, a dark way of life or personality against soul’s unmanipulable shadow, and, of course, psychology against psyche.” Thomas Moore (Dark Eros)
Once again, and on deeper levels, I’m finding that the life lived in reaction against others’ judgments is a life defending against being alive, being raw, being flawed, being … ultimately? whole.
So. No. More. Open. Every. Door. And. Let. It. In.
And I’m finding forgiveness as magnesium at maximum dosage opens the door for the right nourishment to reach my literal heart muscle. And this discovery came right when I was starting to open my heart up in ways long lost since childhood. I don’t believe it is, any of it, an accident.
I’m licking wounds, growing stronger, settling into acceptance of who I am (a dynamic thing I must fight to keep up with and then give up on and then be visited by and then yes…this is life) and I can find few words for it. But. But the theme that keeps dogging me like a hound of Hades is this one issue – what to fight for.
I run to Thomas Moore’s Dark Eros, for whatever intuitive reason, and these are the pieces of synchronicity life speaks to me now, on this one issue:
“Life itself is both caring and hostile. We are born astride a grave, the hopeful swell of life an inevitable move toward death. Nature is lovely and vulnerable, and yet it is also cold-hearted and cruel, oblivious to human reasons for protection. To live this life with full participation in nature is to adopt its cruelty and vulnerability. Often it seems psychological problems center around this issue of participating in the Sadeian nature of reality. We back away from engaging in cruelty, but the harshness does not go away. We deny the victim our gift of power, and then we become the victims of that denied force. We cannot believe we are capable of the vulnerability a life episode asks for; we retreatk and then feel literally and utterly wounded.
If the individual human soul is torn between victimization and cruelty, the soul of culture also gets tangled in problems of power.
We have so humanized and rationalized the positive powers of life that only in pathology does the divine peek through.
..innocence split off from shadow is not innocence at all but only a posturing. Paradoxically, embracing Sade could ease conscience and guilt, and it could revivify social justice.
The shadow in human life cannot be brought home as long as we concretize it in some objectionable other. Like everything else, evil is assimilable by soul only after it has been subjected to a poetic alchemy, refined into fantasy and feeling instead of personality and emotion, and woven into the fine tapestry of imagined experience.
It’s fine to be imaginative in articulating the details of a sensitive life, but the real nub comes with the presence of aggression, vicitimization, and power. Will we ever cease reacting to victimization with increased violence? Will we ever realize that strength of heart is to be found only at the deep end of the well of vulnerability? Only the person or nation open to influence, dependent, relying, often disabled can know the deep muscle that grants effectiveness, creativity, confidence, and security. Only the allowance of failure breeds moments of success.”
I keep coming home to vulnerability. It doesn’t tell me what to fight for except those components in life that give room for vulnerability between peers and allow strength to grow and withstand the strengths of others, however lovely or not. We fight for the dynamics of power that give us room to be vulnerable with a peer without being destroyed or devoured by their shadows. We fight for the dynamics of power that give us room to grow, hopefully without destroying anyone else, without hindering their own progress. Those “dynamics of power” are simply the muscles we use to open ourselves up and be real in the moment, to push past the internal resistance, to push past a bit of the resistances in others. Those dynamics of power are the ones we utilize to retreat until a safer day, while the ones we long to be vulnerable with or open up to are still learning just how potently reactionary they are.
I had occasion to fight this week and I left it alone. And a noble fight it would have been. But I realized the message was deeper. I pulled back after much tremendously ugly and rabid frothing at the mouth with rage long tied to things I have still to redeem. It was, if you take it apart, pretty small. But not really. Not when you look at the dynamics of it. The messages. The energies. The powers. The victims. The perps.
My son’s locker was broken into at school. By. A. Teacher. But it’s their policy. But it’s not their policy to take, seize and possess personal items. But they did. He went to his locker to put his books away and the locker shelf his sister had given him was gone. He mentioned it to a friend and was overheard by a classmate. She informed him that the teachers regularly check to see if a student has left the locker on the last number of the combination (hence, unlocked). If so, they take a personal item without telling the student, put it in a closet and wait. So, he went to his teacher. She had broken it, his personal property, in the attempt to remove it. Her commentary, after volunteering to pay for the item: “I hope you see this as the lesson it is meant to be. Do not leave your locker unsecure.” [insert image of mocking, incredulous redhead saying “what kind of stupidly revealing statement is that?”]
Vulnerability is as much a right as is protection. And choice is something I find even just as valuable. If choice is something that needs to be submitted in lieu of greater gains, then hopefully that choice is submitted willfully and with full awareness of what will be gained, what will be lost, what will be required. Scenarios, environments, timing, situational “ethics” have their meaning. But when? And. What to fight for when? And how? And. When your heart is beating, head is pounding, hands are shaking and the voice is trembling, it’s time not to fight but to retreat and discern which fight you’re spoiling for at the time. Epic reactions mean epic past unfinished business. Usually. Especially. When. A. Locker. Is. Involved.
My son was not upset by it. We decided to leave it alone and keep it for later reference if the need should arise to show a trend (this does seem to happen). But I was wiped out. It hit on a deep wellspring of pain from my past, one I keep working to heal. An issue so perfectly symbolized by the locker and the teacher and. And the broken personal yes. Well, I have no recourse, no re-imbursement. Only one thing. The fight to keep myself vulnerable when it matters most. The fight to recognize that the beauty I experienced of the one involved, of the whole thing is not gone because of a betrayal. But must simply be accepted along with it. While I keep my safe distance and acknowledge my longing to do anything but that (and I don’t want to attack).
And I surf the internet, scan the news and find one is going to burn a book. In reaction. To fight for something. But he fights himself. He fights the very thing he treasures and has no idea of it. And nations toss words and it all swirls in frustration and stupidity supreme and all I can say is this: We are vulnerable. What will we make of it?
From Thomas Moore –
“Being attached to the soul, to life, to destiny, to others, to place, to family, or to talent is the kind of submission, limitation, and harnessing that allow desire to perfom its rituals of exploration and that invite effective power. Without this bondage, human effort is Promethean, godless, off-track and soulless…Sade is the theologian of hell, speaking for the red angels of the fiery inferno whose job it is to urge and to tempt toward the pleasures of binding and of being bound.”
Dark Eros – The Imagination of Sadism
This puts a whole new spin on “oppression ousting” in that it challenges us not to disturb the type of bondage that delivers us into discovery and fulfillment. So, it could be said that ousting oppression includes ousting fear of our desires. I love it.
“Dionysian surrender to life includes an ego-relaxed receptivity to sexuality, a willingness to let life be shaped by desire and by sexual inclination. Yet when this Dionysian spirit is linked to the compassionate eros of Jesus, it takes an unusual form, becoming an emotional oxymoron – carnal chastity, promiscuous compassion, or, in the perfect phrase of Mary Daly, pure lust.
The Dionysian spirit is usually seen as a sexually expansive force, and so it is not obvious in some portraits of Jesus…Ruether concludes that ‘Jesus appears to be a person unperturbed by sexuality because he relates to both men and women first of all as friends.’ …
The image of Jesus suggests a way of placing limits that derives from joy and pleasure rather than fear and anxiety, limits determined by a positive choice in life. Jesus seems to suggest joyful celibacy and then to tolerate the struggles of others to establish their ways of being sexual and their ways of finding limits. …
The sexuality of Jesus consists in his openness to strangers and friends, the physicality of his healing, the sacramentality in his approach to food, the tolerance he displays in the face of sexual transgression, and his espousal of a philosophy based on love. Only a worldview mired in materialism could fail to see the sexuality in this expansive and inclusive erotic philosophy. The sexual teachings of Jesus, told best through his example, present a soul-centered eroticism in which friendship and a compassionate heart are not only included but placed at the center.
We have a strong tendency to think of sex as emanating from the sex organs or from the purely physical body, but Jesus demonstrates a quite different notion – sexuality rooted in compassion and in the capacity for friendship. It is a more broadly defined but no less sensuous sexuality, in which love and pleasure are joined integrally. There is no need to import affection to what is thought to be a plain physical expression or to justify sex with love. In the sexuality of Jesus physical lifea nd compassion are two sides of a coin. In him we find that the heart is an organ of sex, as surely and effectively as any other private part.” – Thomas Moore, The Soul of Sex
Some could consider this “sacreligious” but it resonates for me, deeply, since I’ve been examining the impact of fear-filled religious dogma on my own concept of myself as a sexual being. Marriage. Divorce. Dating. Sex. Motherhood. Academia. Writing. Art. What breathes life into any of these realities? Love. But going deeper into love, what “type” of love? Can I identify one that feeds all relationships with innocence and grace? What infuses everything? I keep landing on one: Eros. When fear melts away, when shame fizzles out in the light of the sun, when power struggles are stripped of their inferior control-frenzied gropings, eros is given the room to express and infuse itself into every layer of living as that pure lifeforce, erupting in poetic spill or artistic flow, feeding the motions of care-taking in all its forms, impassioning the goals for fitness or achievement of any form. Erotic love is not about fitting into a role as a married person or a saint or a sex symbol or a captured image of acceptable (or taboo oo oo) sexual functions. It is the infusion, the flow, the glow of surrendering to being alive with pleasure no matter your status.
Right now my status is boiling over a cauldron of change and growth and and and. I just might be late for class if I don’t kick it in. But I’m going to do it making love to life every step of the way. Jump and jive…
“…anger wants to flow through your system, from your first awareness of injustice to your final syllable of complaint. That feeling of becoming angry may be nothing more or less than the pulse of life asking for expression. The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote:
Don’t use your anger to conceal
a radiance that should not be hidden.
Anger is your spirit flashing out of you. It is your presence on earth insisting upon itself. It can be overdone, of course, be expressed in the wrong ways, and be confused with many other things. But it is still the force of your life, your precious daimon letting itself be known.”
Thomas Moore – Dark Nights of The Soul
I kept seeing one of my sons twirling a workbook quietly in his hands out in front of him as he listened to the teacher. Twirling and listening, twirling. And then I saw the contrast of his frame, his head bowed over a book as punishment (!!!!) for having twirled the workbook while listening. These images flashed onto the screen of my mind when I felt self-doubt crashing in on my efforts to get him moved to a different teacher. There were other scenes I could’ve played on the screen, scenes of reported abortions of love and education but this one, this one of his twirling a workbook did it for me. Combined with his fading enthusiasm for learning, I couldn’t just sit on my anger. It had to find some fairly potent expression. And it did. Within 3 days he was moved to the teacher of choice. Anger, when doing the work of love, is awesome great stuff. And I worked out the uglies privately, the brutal rage had to boil over a bit first in order to get to the most effective slice. It was a balm to read this bit of Moore in retrospect.
It’s not like she warned him. She just bypassed all sense of respect and slammed him into the shame zone. And it was not the first time with my son, or others. I asked him, when trying to find all the layers of the situation, if he could tell me what she had been teaching at that moment. He spewed verbatim the subject matter and then some. Some kids learn best when they move or make noise while learning. Where do we put them in an education system that eats kids for lunch everyday? I don’t know. I have to tell myself I’m not a hypocrite to even have my children in this system. I tell myself I’m teaching them how to maintain their authenticity without shooting themselves in the foot, how to deal with the fallibility of systems and adults who think they’ve arrived while maintaining a measure of respect for both the system and the adult while dealing with a sometimes total lack of respect for the personhood of the child. It seems insanity. You have your gains and your losses. Right now the gains outweigh the losses and this is true because the disparity was turned around by anger as love in action.
The report after day one with the “new” teacher (she taught my older son beautifully 2 years ago): “Mom! It was AWESOME! I held a SNAKE!” and “One kid started singing and didn’t get in trouble!” and two other kids were bantering back and forth while learning and the teachers only commented on their talk. And. And. And. His body language said plenty without the words but what a treasure, his reports. That these should be announced with delight is both sad and glad proof of what’s wrong with our system of education. It should not be a rare thing to be “allowed” to be who you are. It can work and be managed beautifully without the control-based fear-driven “approach” to taking care of children.
The morning of his first day with this teacher I made sure to walk him into class. I was greeted not by one but by two hugs. The teacher and the aide put their arms around me and said “We love your son! We’re so glad he’s here! He’s going to do great in here Mama…” The last hug was the biggest surprise and came not as a quick pass of fleeting affection but prolonged holding encouragement. They were thrilled, the administration showed compassion and my son got to hold a snake.
Anger…it protects what’s precious when it’s utilized strategically, transmuted in the cauldron of love.
Thomas Moore, from his book, Dark Nights of the Soul, says:
“You may get to the point where you realize that if you want happiness, you have to accept profoundly and honestly the sadness that waits at every turn. Every decision for happiness will get you in trouble, and your occasional courageous forays into the dark will likely give you a taste of heaven. Opposites weave back and forth into each other, like a thousand yins and yangs interpenetrating.”
I’ve been pulling back and observing things lately. That includes observing my moods and waves of upset, of bliss. This has been a tumultuous time. My whole being is trying to find equilibrium in a new world. Everything is different. My children are responding differently to the divorce than they were even 6 months ago, responding differently to me, to our relationship. One of my sons is finally coming into a more expressive phase in his unfolding and the demands in general have gone from plenty to surreally plenty. The way I put myself out into the world around me has changed. And apparently this is my week for rage. The cauldron is turned upside down, further removal of stagnating stuff.
It’s a bit much. But I find Moore’s words right on time, right when I despaired of the thousand yins and yangs weaving back and forth in my own soul. The trick is not to despair. Not that it means eternal bliss. It just means you can be with yourself in more comprehensive acceptance and objectivity that does not lose the subjective soulful perspective of self. It can seem like a tangle ’til you pull back and take a long look.
I got this book of Moore’s earlier this year and had to put it down. The affirmation hurt too much. It haunted and confirmed things I had been second-guessing in my soul. Self-doubt melted on levels that required a tremendous level of adjustment. I suppose it was a bit much wine in wineskins fresh from the work of weaving new threads into the old layers, readying me for a versatility supreme. But I’m able to read it more these days in all that spare time I have so little of.
I like this perspective of what happens when we get so close to the interworkings of the soul:
But then a kind word, a reminder from a wise soul or the patterns of life’s changing tides pull us back, scoop us up and draw us out to a broader view and we see:
There’s a greater work going on in the fabric of our lives.
Have you noticed that sometimes the telling of a story is more magickal than the witnessing, being there in the flesh? The teller reaches deeply into the wellspring of whole experience and flows out a special elixir of timeless nourishment, the kind infused with the soul’s delight in living, with a unique stamp of the essence of that one person. Speaking the tales of the trails of our victories, our losses, we feed and nurture the soul’s exclusively vital work of opening up, sharing freely in a nudity of unique expression, a feast of flow.
Last night was an evening filled with soulspeak. I enjoyed immensely over an hour’s lecture given by Thomas Moore at Elon University. It washed through me with such affirmation, encouragement and strength. He spoke on the soul of the university. But you can’t speak on the soul of anything without bringing it to the basic level of human experience. And since I’m embarking on my education again, it was appropriate. Not(!) that Elon is in my budget. But I digress…
My daughter called me last night after her game. I had just barely gotten through the door and sat to a late dinner when her story filled my being. I was sorry to have missed the actual moment but … also not sorry. I’ve not missed much of anything with my children. It was landmark for me to arrange for others to be with my son at his game so their dad could coach my daughter’s game. With the rainy season, we’ve had major overlapping with make-up games. Two parents are needful. So are grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends. But I knew my soul needed the nourishment of an evening spent listening to one who has blazed a trail of soulful intent. I went to it cajoling myself every step of the way. This whole week has been a study in hiding within, finding that deep place of peace. That is to say: It’s been difficult for no particular reason except the sometimes tumultuous process of accepting change. So, I pretty much pushed me out the door and down the road. There was a point where I could’ve turned one way and witnessed a soccer game. I was tempted. But the other pull won over my resistance and I turned in the opposite direction.
I could go on and on, dissecting how great it was to hear Moore. He fed me at a pivotal moment on my path in ways that won’t be duplicated. And in ways that will reverberate. And yet, so did my daughter. Such delight came through a cell phone singing with the soulful expression of her descriptive joy: “Oh my GOD, Mom! It was great…” I’m going to keep the details private but suffice to say she had a highly satisfying game (even though her team lost), playing the goalie position throughout. And she, like me, had kicked and resisted every step of the way up to that game.
What is it in the psyche that gets so fed up with being stretched? It simply is. We were both “rich,” to say the least. But we both wound up in the same moment, overjoyed. I had no doubt I’d made the best choice for myself.
And it struck me. Had I been there that evening on the sidelines, I would’ve missed the depth of my daughter’s enthusiasm in sharing. I would’ve done my duty truly out of love but all while feeling split and deprived of something absolutely essential. I needed the telling, the stories of one whose soul drinks of wells precious to my own appetite, addressing crossroad moments to come and of past eras profound. It filled me up, gave me a sense of my ability to stay the course. How? He told many stories, weaving layers asserting the immeasurable value of soul.
The telling of a tale, of a deeply felt moment stirs, tugs and evokes the best stuff of resilience, of delight, of vision. My daughter gushed and it fell all over me like a waterfall and in ways witnessing the actual moment never would have done. She gave me her soul’s unabashed response to life. But what was her first question to me, the opener? “How was the lecture, Mom?!” The point was not “you shoulda…” but joy in sharing.
What are stories but the simple dance of two voices saying: Give me … Give me you. And I’ll give me too. And we’ll find our way.