Do you need a map or a box of chocolates?

I have to thank Mark Matousek, with whom I took a class at the Therapeutic Writing Institute, for his insightful article in Psychology Today: What’s Your Metaphor? Shifting Shapes In The New Year. This post is my response.

Having never asked myself what word or phrase I consider my life metaphor, and how it affects my worldview, I decided to sit down with my journal and investigate.

In many of my blog posts I write about the Path of our life, so without consciously naming it it would seem this is my life metaphor. Is this a positive metaphor? Indeed, not negative, but a little passive. On a path wandering along waiting for things to just cross my way? Partially true. But I also believe that if I trust my feet (my intuition) new avenues will open leading to new places and new people and new opportunities.

I also use the metaphor of a Journey. You need a map, provisions, traveling companions, and a destination. There will be stumbles, detours, and things to see along the way. This seems more pro-active and goal-orientated.

Life is a Path , a Journey? Does that feel true to my own understanding? Do I need to change my metaphor? What are my options? A game. A play. Paint by number. Spiral. Flower garden. Circus. Bitch. How about Forrest Gump’s Box of Chocolates? Something new to taste all the time – some you won’t like but that will make the next yummy one even sweeter. Taste life. That’s pretty good. Thank you, Mrs. Gump. But no, not quite right.

Quest? Looking, searching for Something. That’s it. Seeking. Seeking Self. Yes, Life is a Quest.

On a quest you must ask Questions to discover you own truth and your own authentic self. Questioning everything you “know” to be true, questioning authority- those old and new external voices telling your who and what and how and when, questioning your own emotional reactions, and questioning fears and self-perception. Yes, life is a Question within which, just as Rumi said, the Answers lie.

So, as in the fairy tales and ancient myths, I could be the heroine of my own story, riding through dark, scary woods of emotional unknowns and entering bright clearings as I discover new things about myself. Using my talents to create my own path towards the enlightenment at the end of the tunnel – the (w)holy grail of human existence.

This is my New Year’s Resolution: To travel with the questions and celebrate every step of the way. And maybe take a few chocolates for the road.

Prompt: My life is…?

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Again with the Tension?! (Or, It’s OK not to know)

It’s happened again. An old theme has come circling around, adding another new level of understanding.

June 2009: I wrote this post on a different blog, which I then re-posted here in July 2011. This is the gist: During a Journal Therapy training I wrote (well, it kind of wrote itself while I held the pen) an Alphapoem which included the phrase, “Resume the Stability of Tension.” Not knowing what the hell that meant, I played with it for a while using other writing exercises. Then a few weeks later I was provided with the answer while reading Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest:

… you need to envision a lifeline between [where you are and where you want to go]. It needs to be tense, like a tightrope, something you can walk along. The necessity for tension requires we develop a different attitude about tension: this is creative tension. Creative tension is what creates the path. When we lose tension, we wander without focus (my bolding). We have to decide over and over again to stay close to the tension, to walk the wire.

In response I wrote:

I was wandering without focus. I was trying to split myself between a job that was sucking the life out of me and the longing to pursue a writing/teacher career… [but] I choose to put my Longing back in charge. Together we will walk the high wire of creativity – up where Potential and the Higher Self lives.

And so I went on my way. Two years later, I am writing, teaching and learning amazing, life-changing things.

Today: I pick up the copy of Marion Woodman’s Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity, and casually flip to a page. I read this:

Knowing [the eternal feminine] has nothing to do with blindly stumbling toward a fate we think we cannot avoid. It has everything to do with developing consciousness until it is strong enough to hold tension as creative energy.”

Having read a lot about the Sacred Feminine or Feminine Divine (or in pure psychological terms, the feminine aspects in both men and women, or our more Right-Brain-associated functions), it is that part of us that can deal with mystery, with the not-knowing, ambiguity, paradox, contradiction, irrationality, possibility… i.e. what creates art  – or stresses us completely out!

Personally, I don’t deal well with Not Knowing. It makes me tense, as it does many people. We like answers, truth, predictability, logic. We are, after-all, a predominantly and proudly Left-Brained culture. Woodman’s use of the word “tense” in the above quote reminded me of that kind of tension, the stress kind. The kind we are told is not good, the kind not to sweat. But here she is telling us that Not Knowing, that being tense, is a way to produce creative energy.

And doesn’t that make sense? We can only come up with new ideas, create new possibilities, think outside that proverbial box, if we don’t have an answer already, if we are not concretely certain and convinced and determined that we already have The Truth. No great change, no great art, no great invention, no discovery, no shift towards better was ever made by those who already had The Answer.

And so, two and a half years after writing that strange phrase and then having been given The Answer, I am given Another Answer, on the surface contradictory but equally good, equally empowering. The one does not exclude the other, they can live side-by-side, providing me with new possibilities of thought.

“Resume the Stability of Tension” = Only a tense rope (a focused life) will carry you forward, and it is only when letting go of what you think you know that you can move forward. It is OK –  indeed good – not to know.

Maybe next week, next year, tomorrow, I’ll be offered another equally truthful meaning of the poem that was given to me…

Prompt: “It is a contradiction, but equally true, that…

P.S. Just hours after publishing this post I picked up where I had left off in the other book I am reading, The Chalice and the Blade and read this:

tension between pairs as well as opposite is a frequent theme. The dynamism of nature and its periodic rejuvenation through the seeming opposites of death and birth… unity and the duality of life and death… motherhood and virginity… femininity and masculinity… juxtaposition and essential unity of the creative and destructive powers… this [is the] all-encompassing transformative character of the … ‘goddess of opposites.'”

Hallelujah!

Copyright © 2011 Darren Hester

It would be a stretch to say that all Christmas music is beautiful. Every year when turkey-leftover soup is still very much on the menu and I find myself in a store singing along with some ear-gnawing song, I cringe with self-derision. But the Christmas carols, the ones I have heard and sung since birth, they are beautiful, if only for their warm familiarity.

Growing up in England where Christian music was sung in school and the Christmas concert was often sung in church, these carols are in my blood. When I was twelve I was the soloist for “Once in Royal David’s City” in my town’s big Anglican church. I can’t hear that carol today without feeling a rush of emotion. I love to sing these songs, but unless I attend church I don’t have the opportunity to have my heart soar. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, in general, some of the most powerful choral music ever written is religious.

But music is my “religion.” Singing powerful choruses in a large group – which I have been fortunate enough to do with various choirs – or being in the audience wrapped in a blanket of sound is when I leave my monkey-mind and become closer to whatever that higher-ness is. It bothers me that, other than Broadway,  there are few other places than church where I can experience this (and Broadway ain’t exactly free or as convenient as the church on the corner). To feel the magic of music I must visit a place  that for me represents centuries of domination to listen to words that do not speak to me as a woman. (I write this with hesitation because the church with whose choir I do sing with occasionally – to get my fix-  is an extremely open and welcoming place where I have never been told I was damned for having the audacity to be be born so very imperfectly human.)

Frankly, it frustrates me that God holds a monopoly over “my” music. But I will continue to sing in Handel’s Messiah at Christmas and listen to Lessons and Carols from King’s College on NPR each year because at the end of the day beautiful music is beautiful music. The voices and the strings swelling, grabbing my heart, the timpani beating in my stomach, and the majestic horns making me feel things very little else has the capability to do. And until Winter Solstice songs are as familiar to us as “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” I will just have to sing with those choirs of angels.

Prompt: When I _____ I feel closest to God(dess), Spirit, the Universe, etc.

Trust your pen

I have to share a beautiful experience that speaks to the power of the pen to tap into something deeper and older than we can explain.

This morning I was reading The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. I won’t go into all the emotions this book arouses in me but I cannot emphasize strongly enough that EVERY woman in the world – and every man who was born from the body of a beautiful woman – should read this book. I’m sure I will touch on this some more in the future. However, the point is, as I sat here by the fire contemplating the repercussions of Eisler’s words, I suddenly realized what I had to do.

With my life.

Yeah, kind of a big deal.

Of course, I rushed to my journal to talk this epiphany through, to make sure I had heard my heart correctly. And yes, I had. My whole life, from the family and church I was born into, to the thesis I wrote as an undergrad, to writing a journal for the past 20-odd years, to teaching, to my Goddard Master’s degree program – all have led me to this place, right now. My eyes have been opened and I now have a responsibility to do something with the knowledge I have been given.

But here is the actual point of this post: As I put the period at the end of the final sentence of my journal entry, I wrote in big letters, SHALOM. That’s strange, I thought, why would I write a Hebrew word when the Hebrew Bible was what caused most of this trouble [i.e. the suppression of women] in the first place? So, I looked it up. Here’s what I read:

Shalom also means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full. (via http://www.therefinersfire.org/meaning_of_shalom.htm)

By speaking out about how and why we as a species became so unbalanced psychologically and spiritually, it is the point of my thesis work and my teaching to help others on their own quest for wholeness to feel “complete, perfect and full.”

Shalom, indeed.

So, trust your pen. Write what it wants to write. You know more than you know you know.

Natural Wisdom – in verse

These poems were written by a participant in one of my recent workshops, Natural Wisdom: Writing as Spiritual Voice. They are Alphapoems written in response to prompts while listening to sounds from nature. As you will read, not all are directly related to nature, but this is an example of the wonder and power of expressive writing: If you open yourself to the writing process, what wants/needs to be expressed will be. The author remarked that she was not expecting these words to come out, “they just kinda did!”

Thank you for your generosity for sharing them with us!

Poems by Gwendoline James

THE STORM

Dark skies releasing themselves of pent-up heat,

Inspired by Thor;  continual rumblings then stomach-churning crashes.

Straight rain falling to earth with relentless power,

Threatening all beneath its touch without regard,

Analogy for washing clean, washing away,

Never heeding any demands to stop.

Clean, so clean, until it hits earth, rivers, fields, then mud and torrents and flood and devastation.

Eternal rain……… or so it seems at this moment.

MOTHER LOST

Gone before I knew you, like the

Wind, blowing through and leaving

Emptiness, which I

Never recognized until the need to know you became

Dominant  in my later life.

Open my heart to the memories I do not have.  I want to hear you

Laugh, cry, talk ……why did

Illness take you away so that I

Never knew you, felt your warmth, heard your voice, fed off your

Energy, which was all spent by the time you gave me life.

SIDMOUTH

Soothing my fears, calming my thoughts, in this

Idyllic place.

Damp seaweed gently sweeping between my toes, the

Mouth of the river opening itself into the

Ocean.  What powerful secrets lie

Under your white crests;  your dark teal depths reflecting the

Turmoil of my mind before I came to stand in awe at your edge

Happy for the seagulls overhead and for your cleansing, incessant water to wash over my feet and

recede again into itself.

— Gwendoline James

Resume the Stability of Tension

This is a post from a couple of years ago. I am re-posting it because this phrase – Resume the Stability of Tension – keeps popping back into my mind lately. Although I am in a completely different life situation now (I left my job very soon after this post and started grad school a year later), I am paying attention to it. The “naggings” of our unconscious are important to listen to, they hold messages.

~~~

[June 18, 2009] A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar by my journal-writing/therapy mentor, Kathleen Adams. At the time I was at the height of my distress over my job. The idea of a whole day writing and learning more about journal techniques from ‘the master’ had momentarily calmed and uplifted me. Then Kay asked us to finish the following statement, “Right now in my life..”

I wrote frantically for five minutes. It poured out of me. After the writing sprint we were asked to write a sentence or two of feedback to ourselves: “As I read this I notice…” This personal feedback was what we shared with the group (if we chose). I told them that although I was calm before the write I was now a nervous wreck! I had traded a relaxed attitude for hunched shoulders and a stomach of jumping beans. Kay told me I might want to explore this in an exercise we would be doing in the afternoon.

At lunch Kay and I shared a table, and the conversation – which was intended to be about my upcoming journal workshops – became a mini therapy session. I was still shaky and Kay, being the experienced therapist that she is, asked me all the right questions. The word “loyalty” came up.

That afternoon, Kay told the group about Alpha Poems. I was already familiar with them as they were a fun portion of my workshop training. I chose to do a poem based on the word Loyalty. Here’s what came out:

Limits myself, always
Open, always
Yes, never no
Attitude
Limits the way I go
Take the road to
YOU

Wanting to play some more I chose to do a poem using the entire alphabet.

Always
Bending to others
Cutting out the
Day to
Everyone but me
Favoring
Goodness
Hating
Irresponsibility
Judging myself
Knowing how
Loyalty is my
Mantra
No one is happy
Open the door
Pursue the
Quest
Resume the
Stability of
Tension
Undo the
Values
(e)Xplore
Yourself

I didn’t think about what word or phrase would come next, it just happened. I didn’t even know what word I was going to write until I began writing it. It is a magical thing!

Anyway, the phrase that immediately jumped out at me was the strange, “Resume the Stability of Tension.” Now, I am a tense person and in my experience, that is not a good thing. I have even taken drugs for it. Hubby frequently asks me in utter frustration as he runs out of door 15 minutes before he needs to, why it has to be “so tense around here in the mornings?” I couldn’t put my finger on what it meant, exactly, but I loved the sound of that phrase and had a feeling it had something important to tell me. I played with the idea in my journal, even wrote more alpha poems around it. Still not knowing how to decipher its meaning, I decided it would be my new mantra.

Then a couple of days ago, I read this in Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion:

… you need to envision a lifeline between [where you are and where you want to go]. It needs to be tense, like a tightrope, something you can walk along. The necessity for tension requires we develop a different attitude about tension: this is creative tension. Creative tension is what creates the path. When we lose tension, we wander without focus (my bolding). We have to decide over and over again to stay close to the tension, to walk the wire.

I was wandering without focus. I was trying to split myself between a job that was sucking the life out of me and the longing to pursue a writing/teacher career that was “dragging me about” (again, I quote Christina Baldwin; she *is* me). I needed to Resume the Tension (Focus) to gain Stability.

I put loyalty to my boss and my job aside and I chose to put my longing back in charge. Together we will walk the high wire of creativity – up where Potential and the Higher Self lives.

Trust the Process, pt. 8: I Am Matter

“Are those really concepts? Aren’t they aspects of a woman’s life?” (Referring to the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone)

“What it means to be a woman? Don’t you mean what it IS to be a woman?”

“Don’t YOU matter?” … “Yes, I do matter. I matter. I AM matter.”

And so go conversations at Goddard College where I am studying for an Individualized Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts. We do not sit, inert and unthinking, attempting to sift through the rocks, pebbles and sand of a professor’s lecture searching for any valuable nuggets. And valuable to whom? The professor or you? At Goddard we are asked to be involved in a conversation, to really think (concept vs. aspect? When was the last time you analyzed the difference between those two concepts?), to think critically, and to find our own earth through which to sift.

You cannot think critically if you have no opinion, stance, or angle from which to critique. When you are just regurgitating established knowledge of the “experts” (in academics, politics, religion, etc.) without the added insight of personal experience or intuition, you are producing nothing but dust. So, you must first dig and sift through your own layers. At first this is uncomfortable, looking into aspects of yourself you have ignored or maybe didn’t even know were there. In fact, acknowledging your ignorances, your arrogances, your prejudices, your anger, your pain never feels fabulous, but it does get easier. Once you’ve accepted this is what must be done in order to become a better, wiser, more enlightened, inspired, authentic, loving, compassionate, empowered, comfortable-in-your-own-skin person, just like taking your medicine, it will help you heal and head towards your potential.

And the deeper you go into the personal the more you can understand and feel empathy for the universal. That is how we hippie-tree-hugging-meditating-yoga-types with our loving, bleeding-hearts go into the world better equipped with information that can heal others.

Yes, I matter. My own thoughts, ideas and feelings DO matter. They are important to me and as Kim Chernin writes in Reinventing Eve: Modern Women in Search of Herself:

I have seen the process of descent into the self lead back out into the world, to a concern with the suffering of others [and]…. far from being a lengthy wallow in self-absorption, turns out to be the passage through which one goes back, with a new vision or bolder service...

And Sue Monk Kidd in an interview said:

… seeking wholeness in oneself can serve the wholeness of others.

Yes, I matter. And I am matter: Earth. I am of this Earth, I am part of this Earth, as are you. All connected and we all matter. So a-sifting I will go, concepts and aspects, constructs and trans-disciplines and all, searching for the golden nuggets which will hopefully bring a little more understanding into the world.

P.S. I am also Mater: Mother. Mother Matter. Mother Earth…. don’t you just love playing with words?!

 

Prompt: Do YOU matter? Are you willing to dig to un-earth the potential of your authentic self.

 

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