SEARCHING FOR A DEEPER UNITY

Projection: the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or desires to someone or something. –The American College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin. 2000

            We all do it. Seeing in someone, most specifically a powerful public figure, what we deeply long for in order to complete the drive in our psyche for wholeness.

It is unconscious. Instantaneous. I know I did it when Obama became our first African American president. I stared at the New Yorker cover of his lean, handsome face in a white George Washington wig. I felt a flood of adoration. Barack Hussein Obama was a flawless god-like figure: the projection of a young part of myself who longs for justice and goodness in a complex world of darkness, light, and every shade of grey.

Projection allows us to bypass, rationalize and justify all the evidence that defaces our object of adoration. If you watch the mechanisms of your mind, you can feel this in action.: a sort of mental hiccough, a veil coming across your brain, literally blocking out rational incoming thought.   Never has this phenomenon been more wildly at play than in our recent presidential election.

How do we make meaning of this? How do we find a common ground that transcends–but does not deny–the huge schism in Americans’ values and perceptions?

Carl Jung wrote of the Shadow. Not only our “dark side” but the part of us that is unknown, that lives in the yet-to-be-discovered corners of our psyche. Shadow is typically unconscious, until something –or someone – challenges our view of ourselves, frightens us, or emerges as our enemy.

If we add the Shadow into the projection stew of the last 18 months, we see a field day for both idealized and shadow projections onto both presidential candidates.  Yes, of course, the economics, the anger of displaced workers, the social justice issues, women’s rights, and so on figure into this. That is the rational side. I am suggesting that the snake slithering beneath the carpet of our rational discourse, is our unconscious projections.  If we are searching for meaning and a path to unity, we need to rip up the carpet and welcome the snake to the table.

What does this look like?

We can tune in to the activity of our own minds.  Say we see a woman on tv in a pink shirt that reads, “Women for Trump”.  Does our projection-mind immediately flash: “Boy, she must be really stupid.” Or “I’ll bet she is a housewife with no mind of her own.” Or, “What did he pay her to put on that shirt?”

The truth is, we have no idea who that woman is, or what her motives are. By projecting our own shadow onto her, it becomes our bad, not hers.

Can we catch ourselves? Can we stop it.? Just stop it. Then, if we are interested in our own personal growth, we might ask, “What shadow longing in me made me project that stuff into her?” – Maybe we have a secret longing to trust a man that much. Maybe we are conflicted in our own hearts about who we support and who we voted for, and this women in pink represents certainty……Maybe our mother always wanted us to be a strong independent woman and never let us wear pink?  Maybe we have un-met dependency needs from childhood, and imagine that the woman in pink can depend on others? The possibilities are endless. Only an inquiry into our own personal history, conscience, and emotions can guide us.

I was moved to tears when I watched Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I don’t know how she did it. So much pain in those sleepless eyes. And yet she rose to her moment in history, even to the point of asking all of us to support President-elect Trump, to see him with an open mind and “give him a chance to lead.”

What a gift she gave to our nation. Can we take this further, into our homes and communities? Can we see the unity of being in all of us?  Can we realize that we have a strong common ground in longing for our candidates to fulfill our deepest hopes, and heal our deepest wounds? Likewise, that we all demonize and project fear into the persona of leadership that threatens our deepest need for wholeness.

Can we honor this unity of our common psychological nature, and use this election to come to know ourselves, to know and honor our neighbor, and to open our minds, following the shining example of our first woman presidential candidate, Hilary Rodham Clinton? I invite you to join me in making a commitment to do this, even as I honor the duel reality of fightimg with a new fierceness for the values that Hilary represented to so many of us: equal justice for all, the rights of women, and the power of the feminine to lead us into a brave new world.

HEALING OUR RELATIONSHIP TO CONSUMPTION

Here we are: October 31. Halloween. I don’t know about you, but in my childhood it was all about how much candy I could rake in that night. Oh, sure, the pumpkin carving was fun, but my mom never made nutrient-rich pumpkin soup. And we never ate the apples we bobbed for. It was all about the object of desire: Sugar.

            In recent years there has been a growing awareness of how unhealthy it is to consume abundant quantities of sugar but these messages are trumped by a long-standing cultural mandate that if you don’t join in during the holidays and eat that big slice of Aunt Mary’s cream pie, you are being selfish and rude.

As the specter of the holidays looms, I have begun to frame it in a new way: How do I cultivate a different relationship with consumption?  Not just of food and spirits, but gifts or clothing or anything that vibrates with the lure of desire.  In  her book, The Zen of Eating, psychologist Ronna Kabotznik refers to the “numinous muffin”, numinous being the experience of divine love. So often our objects of desire take on this quality — I must have it, and when I get it, “I” will shiver with pleasure, and be transported from my ordinary, often anxious or depleted state, into an altered state of being.

The genesis of this very human behavior goes very deep, often into a childhood where the candy at Halloween, or the sweet cakes at Christmas were the only respite from the lack of “treats” in the emotional life of the family. In the case of an extreme like anorexia, children deny consumption, rather than join in the feast, in the hopes of gaining some sense of control in a chaotic family.

To alter our relationship with consumption, the first question is: “What am I really hungry for?” Instead of embarking on the holidays by saying, “What do I get to eat at this party?”, ask, “What if it is not about giving myself permission to indulge, but about opening myself to a new reality of possibilities?”

I spoke to someone recently who has given up wine, once a pleasure so desired that she organizing all of her time to optimize her ability to drink. Her consumption was not on a level where anyone would call her an alcoholic, but she realized this was part of the problem. She blended in with the cultural norm. It took a personal crisis for her to wake up to the true nature of her relationship to wine. She sought help, and now, 3 months alcohol-free, she reports experiencing life in a new way.

“The leaves on the trees seem more vibrant. I notice the pain and beauty in every moment. I cry at the footage of the siege of Aleppo. I laugh with the checker at the store and we share a moment of simple joy looking at the baby in line behind me…..I am examining my relationships, friendships, and life goals with new eyes. I’m not embarrassed to say ‘No thank you,’ when offered a glass of wine, or a cookie (I discovered that when I gave up wine, I didn’t want any form of sugar!) And the world looks different, because I feel so differently about myself.

Changing, and sustaining our relationship to consumption is a life long journey for most of us. At the dawn of the holiday season, I invite you to embrace the real spirit of the holidays, by discovering what your soul truly desires.

THE ALCHEMY OF CHANGE

Can you feel it? Take a moment. Wherever you are, breathe. If you can, step out your front door, or look out the window. A leaf falling off a tree? It is early days, the warmth of summer still teasing us with brilliant sun. But you can feel it, the change–autumn opening her palate of crimson, purple, and gold, calling us to enter a new world, not only the one of color and cool nights, but a new dimension deep within our souls.

Have you ever dreamed you are in a strange house? One you don’t recognize from waking life? There is a haunting quality to it, as you walk across an unfamiliar space in dream time; open a door that leads to a staircase, onto a roof garden, a tree with ripe golden fruit; beyond, you can smell the ocean, feel the mist of salt water on your nose.

Change is our only constant experience. Buddhists teach that everything in the universe is in a consistent state of transition: the sea, the sky, our bodies. Only the center of the soul, the subtle mind, is unchanging. Philosophers of ancient Greece wrote of the world in “flux”, and in China, Lao Tsu wrote of the Tao, “the way” of consciousness through never ending change.

It can be frightening. Many people say, “I hate change!”. Often this fear comes from childhood. If changes came hard and fast when you are little, it can culminate in a feeling that you have no control over your environment, your destiny, your body, your mind. And so often, we don’t. Working through this fear is a hallmark of psychological maturity, what Jung called “Individuation”.  Finding a place inside of us that sees the inevitable changes of life with open eyes, while holding a hand over our hearts, seat of the subtle mind, as eternal as a smooth stone at the bottom of a clear lake.

“How do I find this place?”– I hear this question often, and at times of my own fear and despair, I ask it myself. I wish it were easy. I wish it were the case that once you feel the reality of the eternal part of yourself, this connection remains firm and unchanging. But we are all humans, flawed and afraid. This connection must be renewed, again and again.

I look to luminaries like the Dali Lama or Pema Chodron. Surely they have it all figured out. But, in truth, both of them are quite open about the hard work of maintaining their connection to the divine. I once heard the Dali Lama laugh at his own tendency to inflate his ego. “Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and I think, ‘I am the Dali Lama!!’” He laughed and laughed, confessing with his great humor that we must work hard every day to step away from our silly selves and summon the humility to know the divine.  Pema Chodron has confessed that even after decades of meditating, she struggles to calm her mind and keep it from wandering off to the day’s grocery list.

We all need to find ever-changing, creative ways to connect with the eternal  inside of us, and in the world. Yesterday, I saw one huge maple leaf float off a tree. I touched the wrinkles around my eyes, reflected on yet another birthday coming up. I took a deep breath. We cannot change the progress of time, or the aging of the body. But we can look bravely at the world, feel compassion for those around us.

And listen to our dreams. Recently I had a series of many dreams of wandering in unfamiliar places, following people I don’t know, searching for something with no purpose. Then, one night, I dreamed of a woman who took me into a field beneath the full moon. She reached into the earth and held up a large slate-grey stone, as big as a coffee table. I woke in tears, feeling that she—my inner divine—was saying, “Stop all of this nonsense: see the substance of your very being.”

Dreams are a gift of the unbidden, but I believe they are nourished by our conscious efforts in waking life to connect with the subtle mind. There are many paths: meditation, song, prayer, dance, painting, long walks, a moment in line at the grocery store when we take a breath and bring our attention inward…..Our divine soul, is there, waiting patiently for us to tap Her on the shoulder and say, “I am here.”

REACHING OUT by Aeron Hansen

After my last blog, The Black Snow Queen, appeared, my daughter, Aeron Hansen, wrote  this beautiful essay. I want to share it with my readers:

Is every trip to the market the same? Sometimes it can feel like you’re just going through

the motions, since it’s a regular task, but each visit offers a slightly different experience,

and often times, a touch of humanity from someone who warms your heart, makes you

feel alive, connected and excited about shopping for produce. Each time I go to Top

Banana, a simple produce stand by my home, Dan, the produce guy, will say, “Hi Aeron,

how’s it going?” He will ask me if I want a sample of something juicy and ripe that’s

recently came in. The last time I was there, I sampled an unknown melon that looked like

a honeydew had made a melon baby with a cantaloupe.  Dan, who resembles a hobbit,

with his stocky stature, untamed curls, scruffy face and chubby cheeks, shoots me a

warm grin every time I see him. I always leave that place with a warm heart and a

bit of produce: a fun fact.

Today, about one week after the shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota

and the five white policemen in Dallas, I set off for a 4-mile run, to the place where my

soon to be husband and I run most of the time – my daughter’s middle-school track and

field. I set out to clear my mind of the internal chatter – I’m worried about my daughter’s

trip to cater an event with strangers tomorrow, what if something horrible happens to her?

I should have done a background check, oh I’m sure they are kind people, but people do

messed up things, look at the recent events in our country and in countries targeted by

Isis. Will it ever end? We are also in the midst of the most twisted presidential election.

It’s hard to comprehend Trump becoming our next president. He will make things worse

by creating more fear and dividing people. There is too much negative press and my cell

phone is giving me brain damage.

Steadily, at about a 9.5 minute mile pace, I run the track while getting passed in spurts by

a strong, athletic African American man with bulging biceps and calves.  We work the

track in melodic intervals, me in a steady cadence and him passing me with speed of a

cheetah and grace of a gazelle, and then coming to a stop, which allows me to catch up

and then pass him. We didn’t make eye contact.

At one point, I watched him running from the other side of the track, and I thought to

myself, how are black people reacting to this movement of Black Lives Matter? Is it

demeaning in any way to have a national campaign support a group of people that belong

here? It’s the year 2016. We have made much progress over the years. Why do black

people need a rally cry that their lives matter?  We, as a nation, seem to have surpassed

racism and hate on a broad scale, but unfortunately people of different races, religions,

gender and sexual orientation are still mistreated. Our nation is made up of so many

races, which is what makes our nation diverse and rich. All lives matter. Yet with the

recent shootings and media coverage on racism, it seems like we have taken a few steps

back. I felt compassion, confusion and a deep sadness as well as hope, running around

the track with this man.

Soon I noticed a young, bright-eyed boy, who looked about 8 years old, walking up the

stairs to the track with his family. They looked like immigrants from Somalia, with their

dark skin, slender bodies. They wore nice clothes and the women wore hijabs. The boy

was curious about the running man and watched him with intrigue. I looked at the boy as

I rounded the track and we smiled into each other’s eyes. I felt so present and alive after

receiving the boy’s warm, innocent smile. I made another round and then noticed the

running man was speeding up and was about to pass me on my right. The boy slowly

approached the man on the side of he track,  raised his arm and opened his hand. The

man reached out and met his hand as he flew by. I wanted some of that too, so I shifted

my direction so I could get closer to the boy and I reached out and he gave me a

magnificent high-five.

My entire body started to fill up with joy, starting from my feet, then to my belly and up

to my heart, until a few tears rolled down my cheek. My earlier feelings of fear,

worry, and anxiety from all the mind chatter were gone and what had replaced it was

love, hope and a sense of what really matters – human connection. I turned the corner

and saw the running man stretching on the side of the track. He looked up at me and we

gave each other a smile. This boy brought us all together on the track that day. It was a

nice reminder of how human interaction can be so powerful and free from prejudices, hate

or biases. Just every day people reaching out.​

THE BLACK SNOW QUEEN

Dallas, Texas is my home town. Over fifty years ago my friend, Merry, and I invited our new friend, Tonya, to lunch. She was the golden throated, luminously beautiful star of our Dallas Theater Center Teen-Children’s Christmas Spectacular, The Snow Queen, the Hans Christian Anderson story that would be immortalized decades later in the movie, Frozen.

            We were all very proud of the fact that our Snow Queen was Black, a gentle, intelligent, joyful young woman, just turned 14, on the cusp of learning what the adult world was all about.

After rehearsal we were starving, eager to chow into a cheeseburger and fries. We entered a restaurant close to the theater and took a seat by the window, talking on and on, as teenage girls do, of the new steps in our dance (Merry and I were lowly ice sprites in the chorus), and the crush I had on our  choreographer. Merry and I were blown away with the beauty of Tonya’s solo, as the Snow Queen sang of her power to transform an icy world.

After what must have been over thirty minutes, we noticed that other people around us were already eating. A nervous, middle-aged waitress approached our table. She spoke only to Tonya, “This isn’t right but my manager says I can’t serve you.”

Blood surged to my face. Merry glared at the waitress. Tonya’s eyes found a crumpled napkin on the table.

“Let’s get out of here, “ I said, “And we are never coming back!”

Outside I continued to rage. Merry cried and spit on the ground. Tonya didn’t look at us. We walked back to the theater. She called her mother. We never went out to lunch again. A burgeoning friendship ended that day in shame, guilt, shock, confusion. At Christmas Tonya played the Snow Queen beautifully, but it seemed she no longer sang of a Queen’s power, but as a young woman Black woman, saddened by a vision of the world to come.

In the wake of the shootings this week in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas, I grieve that humanity has so easily forgotten that we all evolved from the first Africans; that we all had black skin until some of us migrated north where the sun rose over fields of ice and snow. Only then did we become pale, ultimately choosing to marginalize, dominate, and fear our black ancestors.

As President Obama reminded us today in his speech from Poland, there has been progress. If my friends and I walked into that Dallas restaurant today, they would readily serve our Black Snow Queen. A Black woman may even own the place. But we still have a long way to go before the majority of us confront our own racism, and translate this into compassionate action. I like to think Tonya, the Black Snow Queen,  is calling on each of us to do whatever we can to move this consciousness, and this conversation forward. To transform those fateful words, “We can’t serve you,” into “We will serve, honor, and respect all human creatures who inhabit our beautiful Earth.”

SWIMMING AND THE SUBTLE BODY

“Alchemists always worked with particular embodied substances, waiting in slow motion for them to reveal their intelligence.  This highly refined embodiment called subtle body… exists between body and mind, partaking of both inspired metaphor and physical anatomy. From the point of view of the meeting between subjects, , such as Aboriginal and landscape, you and I—releases a mutual intelligence.”

—-Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel by Robert Bosnak

The first moment of contact is always a shock – be it 84 degrees, 74, or colder. “What is this?” cries the skin, “a substance so unlike our breathing air that is enveloping every inch of our largest organ—”

Legs thrum, arms reach forward, breath gasped to the right, to the left, demanding that this substance yield its warmth….. “

Ah, yes—” the skin whispers at last, luxuriating in the rough and tumble joys of our first mother: water.  And skin is elated, whatever the challenges of too many people in the lane, or rain storming down on the surface of the water.

Not everyone loves to swim, I realize that. For others, movement practices  on dry land can often provide the doorway to transcendent experiences of reality. For me the act of submerging in water is so delightfully otherworldly.  In dance and mountain climbing we are still surrounded by air. Our skin sweats and breathes in an ordinary reality.  For me, there is something about the sensual relationship between skin and water that moves me into a dimension that Carl Jung called the subtle body:  the soul in matter/ matter within the soul.

For corroboration, I offer what happens to my mind when I am swimming. In the beginning, I go back and forth, the way many of us do in the early moments of meditation: what am I going to get for lunch? Did I take out the trash? When should I pay off the house?…..But, with persistence, and a scan at the environment around me: my husband swimming beside me entirely underwater, his head scraping the bottom of the pool; the young woman on the other side flipping through the water like a dolphin fleeing a shark; the sunlight riding the currents down into the azure depths, I am in a new world. My mind stops making lists. I notice my own movement, the feeling of rolling, gliding, the illusive tickle of water against my fingertips.

A place opens in my mind of memory, imagination, and that moment in dreaming where you find yourself made of a whole new cloth. This state of being is almost impossible to describe without sounding like a fairy tale author. I have the hunch that this felt state of “other world-ness” is what Jung means by subtle body. It comes in dreams, and at moments in waking life we often call “sacred”, or for me, under water. It doesn’t happen every time, and not through any will or method or even conscious intention, but comes, I suspect, with a simple willingness to observe states of mind and body without judgment. Then it is possible to literally swim in this place between waking and dreaming, body and soul, heaven and earth, while being completely grounded in the smell of the chlorine, the laughter of kids by the side of the pool: mind and body unified, whole, here.

Happy Threshold of Summer!

THE TIGER WAITING

“I’d like to see the tiger before—“

His voice trailed off.

We sat in the zoo café, staring at the figure before us: large eyes, thinning cheekbones, pale muslin hat with long flaps like the blinders on a warhorse.

No one finished his sentence. He could have meant “before I go.” We all heard, “before I die.”

I jumped up, racing blindly out into the thick stream of bodies at the San Diego Zoo, searching for a golf cart-like vehicle I had seen carrying VIP’s around the park. I found one. “Someone needs to see the tiger and he can’t walk all the way up there. Can you take us? I’ll pay you anything.”

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

“We’re not supposed to.”

“He has cancer….”

The driver’s face showed no emotion. “Just a minute”. She called on her walkie-talkie. Could my tearful request be so common that it touched nothing within her?

“Ok,” she said into the phone with no expression. To me she said, “Hurry up. I don’t have much time.”

“Neither does he,” I said, my voice cracking.

I ran back to the café, “Bring your coffee, everybody. We have a ride to the tiger!” David moved slower than the rest of us, the flaps on his hat swaying in the warm breeze. He climbed into the back of the vehicle, his long legs folding like a praying mantis.

Our driver didn’t look at him, but she drove with a sense of a woman on a mission. No one spoke as we flew down twisting back alleyways closed to the public. There was something quite magical about it that I knew was not lost on David. We  got to see the zoo backstage: a baby giraffe on wobbly legs still hiding in the tall  barn, odd goat like creatures getting a pedicure, the baby panda on her way to a nap, and, as we rounded the bend, the back entrance to the Bengal Tiger Exhibit.

She was larger than any of us imagined, a magnificent head, and a body like a mountain range at sunset. She rested on a ledge in the shade, looking right at us as if she had been waiting all day for David.

He got out slowly, camera tucked in his hand, his eyes misting as he walked toward her.

Our stoic driver slid her hand off the steering wheel, and we all watched David’s languid stride until he stood at the fence, looking in; the tiger looking out.

A stillness settled in the air.

I wanted to call out to David, “Don’t move!” Once he lifted his camera, he would take pictures; the tiger would move off the ledge. David would go home to chemo and all that lay beyond.

Don’t move. Stay there, looking at the tiger, the tiger looking at you….

The late afternoon light shifted, the tiger’s face illuminated, her golden eyes unblinking.  Her spine lengthened as if to say to David, “Here I am, in all my magnificence: a gift to you.”

David’s body suddenly became animated with the energy of his youth, the camera an extension of the wild creative spirit that he shared with this animal.

As if she knew all of this, the tiger did not jump off the ledge. Perhaps she was a matriarch, in the later stages of her life. Perhaps she felt a kinship with this man in the funny hat, whose life was also waning.  She stayed on the ledge, her head shifting slightly as David knelt and leaned sideways and forward – stopping short of standing on his head – to get just the right angle.

I never saw his pictures. Months passed, and it has been two years now since he has been gone. I know the photos are safely in his digital library, but no one can quite look at them. Not yet. And how we grieve, for when love is so fundamental, its absence is simply not to be believed.

I wonder if the Bengal tiger is still on her ledge, her golden eyes shifting in the late afternoon sun, searching, as we all are, for David to walk around the corner, lift his camera, and capture us all.

THE SERETS OF HIS SOUL: Review of Paul Kalanithi’s WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

The title is poetic. This first caught my eye. Then I read what it is about: the memoir of a brilliant young neurosurgeon dying of stage IV lung cancer. ..When breathe becomes air….the moment when he made the transition from a breathing human being to living in the everywhere, the oneness of existence some call Eternity.

How could I resist?

Never mind that I lost my soul mate, my mentor, my cousin, David, to the same disease two years ago next month. Perhaps this is the book David would have written had he been a writer. He was a therapist, and as Paul Kalanithi continued to do brain surgery up until a few months before he died, my cousin chose to spend his last months with family, friends, and his patients.

Paul Kalanithi opens a world for us that is far more about living than dying. A literature major and lover of books from childhood, he had always wanted to write. He mapped out the course of his life in neurosurgery and the vast and dynamic horizon of neuroscience. In one section he details doing an operation with tiny electrodes that target an area unreachable by surgery. The patient is wide awake, and suddenly reports, “I feel sad. Crushingly, terribly sad—“ Paul adjusts the electrode almost imperceptibly. After a few minutes, the patient sighs, “I’m myself again.”  Paul reflects that it is of little use to cure the cancer if his patient lives with a terrible sadness. And so opens the possibilities for the future of treatment for so many brain disorders, from schizophrenia to Huntington’s.

Paul had a beautiful and brilliant wife, and had every reason to chart his life in decades: twenty years in neuroscience, the last ten as a writer.

With the diagnosis all of this shifted. Alongside the precious time with his patients in the operating room, he took up the pen – or these days, the laptop—as his way of finding meaning in the morass of the tragedy unfolding inside his body.

What is it about words that opens doors into the soul? I could ask that about any art form. It requires a peeling away of the layers of protection we erect in ordinary life. The role of “Doctor Kalanithi” gave way to a man who was entirely vulnerable, one foot in this world, the other in a much larger reality.

From this place as half man. half eternity, he writes not only the story of the course of his illness, but opens the book with Part One: “In Perfect Health I Begin”. We become a fly on the wall in his loving childhood family, his decision to focus as much on science as literature. The grueling hours of medical residency in brain surgery. The mistakes made. The evolution of his soul and consciousness in relation to the realities of medical practice.

His guiding principle? Meaning. Paul was ignited with the vision that  penetrating the physical properties of the brain can tell us even more about the mind and the soul and the meaning of life than the most enduring works of classical literature.  His quest – right to the end – was to find the connections through the healing pathways of brain circuitry that link us to purpose, to the core of existence, to each other.

His revelations, the mere persistence of his vision, his strong relationships with colleagues, patients, and his beloved wife, propel us through the story.  A portrait emerges of a man whose allegiance to meaning is so deeply embedded in his character, he is astonished to learn that after medical school most doctors choose “light” professions such as radiology, or dermatology. For Paul it had to a journey of the soul that took him into moments of life and death with patients and their families, finding in these moments, the most extraordinary and meaningful experience of life possible.

I leave you with Paul’s own words:

“Being with patients in these moments certainly had its emotional cost, but is also had its rewards. I don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity, it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul –was obvious in its sacredness.”

 

Reference:

Kalanithi, Paul ( 2015) When Breath Become Air Random House. New York.

LISTENING AND THE NOW

They are intimately connected. What is their relationship, and how can we live in the dynamic reality that emerges from their unquiet union?

We hear so much about it these days, Living in the Now, as if it is the holy grail of spiritual freedom. Schools of psychotherapy, yoga, and Buddhism have done a tremendous job in bringing the focus of our collective consciousness into the Now. And yet, I often wonder if Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory, is weeping? If so, perhaps what she needs from us is not wallowing in the misery of the past, but a careful threading of images and symbols into the Now that doesn’t leave our identity out in the cold of spiritual zeal.

What if a path to experiencing the Now lies in a very simple, but often elusive tool: the ability to listen to ourselves, and to others. Some of us listen for a living. We cultivate these skills over decades. Nonetheless, I find it is a capacity we can never take for granted. Like meditation, it requires a commitment to consciousness that is born anew each moment.

Listening can be the gentle floating bridge that allows the simple magic of life to emerge. After Alan Rickman died I found an interview with him on You Tube, on acting and listening. He makes the elegant case that the whole game for an actor is to surrender to active listening on stage. This is where the character comes to life, not in the reciting of one’s own dialog, but in the deep listening to the other characters, being sensitive to the energy of the space on stage, making every moment a discovery.

How would this change the experience of every day life, if we could listen deeply, valuing the beauty of the Now.

In Shakespeare’s last play,  The Tempest,  Prospero, disturbed by the discovery of the treachery of his fellows, tells his daughter, “A turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.” I have often wondered if Shakespeare was referring to his own mind in late middle age, “beating” with all the images and memories of the past and present, as he looked down the road to the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” (Hamlet, from the “to be or not to be” speech)

Shakespeare probably knew well another great treasure of the Now: the wellspring of creativity. Imagine the difference: Will Shakespeare walking through the streets of London, worrying about the receipts from his last play, gnashing through an argument with an actor the night before, chiding himself because he has no idea what he’s going to write for his next play….Contrast Will Shakespeare walking through the streets of London, listening to the voices all around him – a street vendor selling strawberries, a woman talking to her baby, a riff of music in the distance, a lark heralding the dawn—and, as he listens, his eyes take in the faces of those around him, the texture of the stones on the path, the tiny bud of a rose appearing in a garden.

I like to think Will Shakespeare brought himself back to the Now, time and time again. That he knew better than anyone that a worried, distracted mind is not a creative mind. The mind needs rest, and presence, to spring forth words that evoke the tragedy, the comedy, the beauty of our precious life on earth.

Just now, on this frosty January morning as my freezing fingers tap on the keyboard – a dog barks – a crow lands on the roof – I can see the dense fog settling on the Lake through the bare branches of the coral bark.

Where are you at this moment? What sounds, sights, memory, or dreams are emerging? I wish you a life of listening deeply, and finding a place from which creativity, love for self and others, and emotional freedom can flourish.

The Effortless Motility of Being

motility: Of mental imagery that arises primarily from sensations of body movement or position. Having the power to move spontaneously. —The American College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin. New York. 2000

It was a phase used often by my beloved analyst, Dr. Lee Roloff: The Effortless Motility of Being.  I think he told me once where it came from, but the source has faded from memory. Not a quote from Jung, but from a philosopher or artist. Perhaps Lee made it up himself. Its meaning was clear: the fluid, awake state of existence free of irrational fears or anxieties, self doubt, complexes, blame, aggression, or self-denigration.

I realize now this is an apt description for our relationship, as it evolved over the course of ten years of analysis. There was humor from the beginning, and excited gasps as we discovered that we knew the same quotes from Shakespeare, or loved the same Dylan Thomas poem, or hummed together a phrase from Finzi’s Ecologue for Piano and Strings.

Especially in the last two years, as I entered my mid sixties, and Lee his late eighties, the play of emotion, the ease of connection, anticipating each others sentences took on an art form of its own. Our laughter was more gentle, our movements less boisterous. The way we looked at each other held all that was unsaid between us: every single moment delightful, sometimes contentious, sheathed in the illusion that it would never end.

When I picked up a voice mail telling me that he had died, I was not shocked. The undercurrent between us had known this for awhile. Two days before, I had dreamed of my father’s death, and was eager to share this with Lee. Turns out, it was a precognitive dream of the passing of a man who was father to my creativity and my soul.

The morning after Lee died, I woke from this dream:

I open the door to my office and in the garden, two enormous columns of pale lavender flowers have grown up overnight. They resemble no flowers in waking life. One is a tall, strong, reaching to the sky. The other is bowing toward me, trembling, in that moment right before all the petals drop…..Then I am a little girl. My family is in the Witness Protection Program. We live in a cathedral. My mother comes to me and says, “Your cousin is here. He is so excited to see you.” I run down the stairs and open a door. There on the top bunk of a bunk bed is a boy, a few years older, wild yellow hair. He jumps down and we greet each other, so happy to be together.

I have come to see the tall, strong lavender column of flowers as Lee’s Eternal spirit, the one bowing toward me, the mortal Lee. Both are this luminous shade of pale lavender, of a texture so delicate, so beautiful. The color of his soul.

The Witness Protection Program? I was protected for so many years by his careful, gentle witnessing of my every feeling and fear. And our work was in a sacred place, where we found a space of our own, to play.

Not long after this I had another dream:

I have parked my car, which has a dream catcher hanging from the rear view mirror. I return to the car, and the dream catcher has been taken away. I am very upset. I notice a small note tucked beneath the windshield wiper.

When I woke up, I asked Psyche to tell me what was in that note. This is the response I received: “Dear Elizabeth, this is a great loss for you. I am so sorry. His desire to be close to me was very great, and I welcomed him with open arms, in the effortless motility of being.”

Whoever you are, wherever you are, may you come to know this place where you are held in a sacred space by a mortal being who brings you Eternal love.