Saturday, September 26, 2009

Contemplating The Enigma...

I. The Early Motion

The poet stands at the center of the universe contemplating the Enigma. He draws sustenance from the masterpieces of the past.

Studying the four seasons as they pass, he sighs. Seeing the inter-connectedness of things, he knows the many ways of the world.

He mourns the leaves torn away by the cruel hands of autumn; he honours the fragrant tender buds of spring.

Autumn frost sends a shudder through his heart; summer clouds can make his spirit soar.

He learns to recite the classics; he sings in the clear fragrance of old masters.
He explores the treasures of the classics where form and content join.

Thus moved, he lays aside his books and takes the writing brush in hand to make this composition.

The Art Of Writing
by Lu Chi, 261 A.D.
Translated by Sam Hamill

I have been trying to write a new piece on this blog for weeks now. I started several, but none were right. I mentioned last time that this blog is not updated as often as the others because it is so important to me, I have to swim fathoms deep within myself to find the right words, and, like the game where a handful of colored stones are thrown into a deep pool and one must dive in to retrieve the one perfect stone, one goes deep and surfaces again, gasping for air, catching one's breath, and then dives down again. It is in this way that I approach writing this blog. I think I went through nearly ever single stone before Wen Fu helped me to surface.

This blog, Maitri's Heart, is, in it's way, so secret, so hidden, it is as though with each post I am reaching inside and pulling my heart out of my body to lie on a platter before you.

This is my heart ... watch it beating ... put your hand on your own chest and feel your heart ... our hearts beat as one ... write your truth Maitri, write your truth, write your truth to help others...

And so, like a novitiate who kneels, finally, to take the solemn vow, I have taken the vow of silence, and with it the vow of words. From the deepest part of me, I give you my heart, that all of our hearts might be connected as one.

I have realized, in these past painful months, that my coming out of the cocoon, as I've written about, wasn't a loss of any kind, but a preparation. The time ahead of me will be fraught with change, and like the novitiate about to take her solemn vow, I am about to step over the line from whence there is no turning back. I have been preparing for this since the day I was born.

The Enigma.

Why would a small, frightened child, who lived in a complex world of confusion, abuse, love, hate, secrets, things dark and hidden, and more, find her only true connection in life when hidden underneath a large grove of golden yellow forsythia bushes, a little spiral note and pen clasped to her chest, and only then, only when the words found their way onto the page, could she breathe, could she speak, could she say the words that no one could hear. They lived on the page alone, but they kept her alive, and so they have for fifty-five years.

One of my earlier memories was when I was about ten years old. The nuns at the school were very concerned about me and knew that something was very wrong, but knew not what. They told my mother that I should be taken to a "doctor," meaning a psychiatrist. I was painfully shy, withdrawn, and yet I could be a social butterfly. My nickname for myself was chameleon. I could change colors to fit in anywhere, but I was never truly seen. I learned to protect myself from very young. I learned to slide down inside the pen where no one could see me. I could hide inside the barrel of the 19 cent Bic pen and only come out when there were more words to write. I would not have survived without those forsythia bushes, the little red spiral notebook, and the Bic pen.

So my mother took me to the psychiatrist. He told her that I was an extremely sensitive child, and that something had happened to me, or was happening to me, but he knew not what. (Sexual abuse was not talked about or dealt with in those days.)

He had me do ink blot tests. I remember those, doing those, but I don't know why I had to take them or what they meant. There were other meaningless tests, and I was sent home with the "extremely sensitive" diagnosis to a land where a little girl was abused, and secrets were kept, and presents were given. Money and presents kept me quiet.

I have had trouble with money all of my life. It's the only way I had ever been soothed. For most of my life I could walk into and out of the most expensive store in the world, and all I would carry out with me was a pen. A new pen, another chance at life.

Abused children need lots of chances.

My childhood, the abuse, the mystery, the secrets went on in time, and the chameleon perfected her shape-shifting color-changing life until no one knew her at all.

This may be why I have spent the better part of forty years in therapy, more in than out, and now, I have settled into "maintenance," that place where all of your "diagnoses" are known, after much shuffling of medications the ones that work and make you look like a sane person most of the time have been prescribed and are taken, and life goes on as it will, one way or another, for the rest of one's life.

The diagnoses...

Bi-Polar Disorder, Type 2 (The more depressive rather than the manic side of things); PTSD Type 2 (The kind treatable but not curable. Looks like I'm on some kind of "2" jag.); Borderline Agoraphobic (I love that, when I'm not a 2 I'm a borderline...) meaning that I can go out sometimes for brief periods, but it takes it's toll, I rarely do it, I arrive home near panic, and may not leave the house again for a week or two or three, depending on what needs to be done in a critical sense. Then there's the Borderline Personality Disorder. Apparently that's not prevalent for me but it is there. I think it has something to do with my chameleon youth, and the fact that I left my body so often to go somewhere else so that I didn't know what was going on, that sometimes I had trouble re-entering. Rocky landings, dontcha know. (Do not let this lead you to think that I am Sybil or something, amongst all of my stone soup ingredients, or diagnoses, I do not have MPD -- Multiple Personality Disorder -- though if you asked the pugs they might beg to differ.) And to top it all off I have a pretty severe anxiety disorder.

Aren't I something?

The meds and wonderful doctor keep me on track and if you met me you'd likely not think I was anything out of the ordinary. The thing we don't realize is that we are all out of the ordinary, it's just that nobody knows what ordinary really is.

Besides the above hodgepodge I have a near Mensa I.Q. I have a huge heart. I am a very gentle, sympathetic, empathetic person, and a natural healer.

I am an artist whose art grows out of her body and other natural things and found objects, and parting with a piece of it -- they usually take months to make and are quite complex -- always feels like losing a body part. That's if I can bear to sell a piece of my work at all. It suddenly came to me, not long ago, that having no body in my early life (because I had left it to survive) and having taken somewhere toward middle age to realize that I had one (even though I didn't know what to do with it, and gained a lot of weight just to keep it tethered to the earth, but now, finally, am seriously losing weight and shocked to see that my body does not just float off and disappear like a helium balloon...) I can be alive. I can have a body. I can be safe. What a surprise. And I can hold on to the special pieces I create if I need them to feel whole.

I try to balance this by working on things that I love that I can sell. I handspin complex art yarns on old fashioned hand spindles. I clean, dye, and spin pretty well all of the yarns I use for my big projects, I make jewelry out of stones that have healing powers, even if the wearer doesn't believe in such things it doesn't matter. Love, spirit, and good intent go into every piece of art I create, and that, most of all, is what is meant to be felt.

And so... and so I am 55, and this year I was ordained as a minister, and though I can and have performed a wedding, and have spent most of my life teaching out in the world, the older I get the smaller my world looks to everyone else and the larger it looks to me. You see, I am no longer a novitiate. When people think of cloistered orders, nuns, monks, or the hermit in a cave on a mountain, they imagine a lonely existence. Something perhaps hollow, empty, and somehow lacking. What most people don't realize is that to do the work of your deepest soul you need silence and solitude, and more, it is the most deeply fulfilling work that you can do.

I am many, many things and the one thing I won't, will not ever again, do, is hide any part of my life, even if others find it distasteful, confusing, or even frightening. I'll give you a list. It is all true, it is all a part of who I am, I am proud of it all and comfortable with it now, I live in my own skin comfortably, and I believe I was meant to go through everything that I have in my life so that I could open my hands and my heart and my eyes and, quietly, from my cloistered world, help heal others with my words. I am no longer a novitiate. I have bowed down on my knees and taken the mantle, and I walk in the world, now, as...

* A woman

* A child of abuse

* A child who was loved

* A child who was misunderstood and frightened

* A chameleon child who was many things to many people but only one person to herself

* A married woman, now an ex

* A woman was thought to be a heterosexual all of my life (it was always sketchy to me), which a husband of nearly 30 years, three children, and the first of who knows how many grandchildren might belie, but...

* I am a lesbian. I am a lesbian and when I came out and said it out loud I felt whole for the first time in my life. People said, "Don't tell anyone." I said, "I have kept secrets all of my life, and I'm not keeping this one. I am a lesbian, and finally at home in my own skin, and though, barring a very few brief relationships, I have been alone almost ever since coming out, it does not make me any less a lesbian.

* I was raised Catholic, have spent thirty years or more as a serious student of Buddhism, I was ordained by a Christian minister, I am an interfaith, non-denominational minister who can perform any and every kind of alternative wedding imaginable, but will no longer perform another ceremony until all are afforded that privilege. I open my arms to all paths of spirituality that are based in love, kindness, non-judgment and an open heart. I am a minister who seeks no title. I've tried, but it keeps feeling awkward. It's because I'm meant to live a cloistered life, for the most part, and give from my heart to all that I meet and anyone I can reach, and my name, Maitri, is enough. My name says it all. I am, on paper, Reverend Mother Maitri Libellule. I have used various forms of that title. I went back to Maitri. I tried Mother Maitri. I kept trying on different clergical hats and none of them fit. I look better in my flamingo hat.

"Maitri" is the Buddhist teaching of loving-kindness and compassion, and at its core the teaching is about the need to have that kindness and compassion for ourselves first, because without that we are an empty well, and we have nothing to give to another. I took the name Maitri legally five years ago because I meant this teaching to be my life's work. I don't need a title. I am simply Maitri, except on legal papers where I have to use my last name. I shall be spending the weeks ahead changing every single place I used my "Rev." title back to simply Maitri
. I really don't need anything else.

This reminds me, fondly, of Colette. While I have a library of books on spirituality including the Bible, Buddhist texts too many to count, numerous books on Native American Spirituality and just about every kind of spiritual practice you can imagine, the book that I call my "Bible" is Earthly Paradise, the collected writings of Colette. This is not sacrilegious. No, the writings of Colette have taught me and led me to all the places, the most deeply spiritual, sacred, and pure places, that things can be found. Love, a ripe piece of fruit, the garden, a small child, words, letters, animals, friends, everything was sacred to her. She has been my greatest Muse, as a writer, a minister, and a woman. Everything was sacred to her, everything was holy.

It is in this book, decades ago, that I first read something that would come to be an important stepping stone in my own life, but I couldn't possibly have seen it then. Colette wrote, in the 1920's...

"So, it came about that both legally and familiarly, as well as in my own books, I now have only one name, which is my own."

Colette, she became Colette.

Maitri. I have become Maitri, and it is both who and what I am, both legally and familiarly.

I was born in April, 1954. Colette died in August, 1954.

My mother was born in July 1926. She will soon die as I pass through the portal and take a turn down the road that will be the rest of my life. It will not begin until my precious mother dies. She leaves me, as Colette left me, a legacy, and now I carry much with me into the holy chapel of my own making where I will dedicate my life to one of service, and I will use the tools that I have been given in this life of mine. Love, faith, the natural world, and all of the wonders and mysteries that are always just beyond our grasp, and give us a reason to keep on living, so that one day, we, too, might experience the Enigma.

I would like to leave you, here, with a couple of paragraphs from the editor of Earthly Paradise, the amazing Robert Phelps, who took a lifetime of writings by one woman who lived more than eighty years, and whose book I am never without. Phelps wrote of Colette...

"But she also knew -- perhaps the word is 'trusted' -- that to be born sentient and watchful is a daily miracle: that the paradis terrestre, the earthly paradise around us, is as wondrous an index of heaven as any we shall ever know; and that to abide here, even as an exile, for seven or eight decades, is a blessing -- because it is a chance to watch, to 'look for a long time at what pleases you,' and to find 'un mot meilleur, et meilleur, que meilleur, a better and better word,' with which to secure it for others.

"And when we, in turn, watch Colette watching, we realize that, along with love and work, this is the third great salvation, or form of prayer, which we have been given. For whenever someone is seriously watching, a form of lost innocence is restored. It will not last, but during those minutes his self-consciousness is relieved. He is less corrupt. He forgets he is going to die. He is very close to that state of grace for which Colette reserved the word, 'pure.' "

I have contemplated the Enigma. I have watched winter turn to spring, spring to summer, and summer into autumn. The leaves are falling from the trees as my mother prepares to shed her mortal coil, and I shall spend my life being watchful, always looking for a better and better word, with the spirits of my mother and Colette around me. They have served me well, words, the life rafts that have floated me this far downstream. I imagine they will take me the rest of the way...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Light, Peace, Circles of Energy and Mystical Things...

"When he left Amanda moved to the exact center of the room and resumed her posture. Her arms became very heavy, then lighter, then very light. What a peaceful place, she thought, feeling the room all around her. She smiled at her hands, concentrating on imagining the circles of energy. Amanda was a very good person to teach something mystical to. As old as she was she could still talk herself into believing anything she wanted to believe."

~ Ellen Gilchrist ~
The Annunciation

Circles of light, of peace, of mystical things...

When I began to write this piece, as I always do, I meditate and make notes about it for a few days, and then I find myself drawn to the book that has just the quote I need in it, and I really seldom know what that quote is when I hold the book in my hands. This is a very special book to me, and Ellen Gilchrist is one of my favorite writers.

A funny thing happened some years back. I had read and reread and taught Gilchrist's books to my students, and when I was able to go to a writer's conference that she was going to be at, I was elated, walking on air. As I arrived, over coffee and breakfast bits, I spilled something on my blouse, a silk ruffled blouse, one of my favorites, and I thought, "Oh Lord, I'm going to hear Ellen Gilchrist today, maybe even get a chance to see her up close, and now look what I have done."I was upset and near tears at the very thought.

I went into the Ladies Room to use a paper towel and water and tried to get it out. I heard a woman say, "Here, let me help you." I said "Thank you," and when I looked up it was... yes, Ellen Gilchrist herself. I nearly fainted and was sure I uttered some kind of nonsense, falling all over myself praising her books. I was in my 30's and I think I swooned. She kind of laughed, and was very kind.

Her talk to a large crowd was so inspiring that I took notes, and cherished them for a long time. I shared them with my writing students. Sadly, they are long lost, or packed away with tons of paperwork and old teaching materials, but I will never forget that moment, and she was light, and full of peace, and there was a mystical energy about her, both as she cleaned the spot out of my blouse, and spoke to a vast crowd who hung on her every word.

There is something about her novels and short stories that are down to earth and yet hold a kind of magic. She writes about a lot of the same characters in different books at different stages in their lives and different sets of circumstances. You get to feel that you know these characters, and I was changed forever that day. That mystery does exist, in her writing, in her life, and in the circle of energy all around her. I learned a lot that day, and though it was long ago and I don't remember much that she spoke about, I have a feeling when I think about it that makes me tingle all over.

Last time I wrote about being in a fugue state. It waxed and waned for a long time and I was not able to write here. I have three blogs. This one, which is truly the work of my heart, very sensitive, comes from deep inside of me, and none of the pieces can be written quickly or often. The other two are lighter, more fun to write, and I can conjure up those pieces much more quickly. If I write less here, the writing goes fathoms deep, and as it swims to the surface it has the quality of the Magic 8 Ball I had as I child. You asked a question and turned it upside down, and up from the murky depths you would slowly see an answer. Yes, No, or Maybe. And the way it worked was that it came up so slowly you couldn't even see the answer at first, and then as it began to rise it was blurry, and finally it came to the top, just under the glass, and you could read the answer. I was mesmerized by this.

I have come to see that fugue state as a Magic 8 Ball kind of time. It is a time of uncertainty, a time where there is are unanswered questions, things unknown. It can be frightening and make one feel as though they are losing their footing. I was acutely aware that my Circadian rhythms were all askew and I fought it at first and then let myself slip peacefully into it. I stopped feeling guilty about sleeping so much, and just let myself float, drift, dream, and let the answers rise. When I first started coming out of this state it was like the 8-Ball, the answer was coming from the murky depths, and couldn't be rushed.

I lie almost asleep and when I was very still, my breath having slowed to that even, peaceful place, I felt circles of energy around my body. I thought what a mystical sacred time it was. Instead of being afraid or depressed I began to feel a portal opening inside, and I finally realized what was happening... my body needed to shut down to prepare for the crossing of the threshold of new experience.

My mother is very bad this weekend, and when she passes there will be dramatic changes in my life, most of them very good, but at 55 I will have to take on responsibilities I never have had to do, and it is scary. I think part of me was trying to shut down, and part of me was in the cocoon time, resting, preparing, wiggling my way out of my old form, sitting too naked and wet to leave the cocoon. I am not, yet, all the way out, but I am drying out, less afraid, stretching and moving about and learning about my new form. I am getting ready to cross through the portal and take on the mantle of my new duties and responsibilities, and sometimes it makes me breathless, and at other times I feel a bit of excitement fluttering in the pit of my stomach.

The thing is, these changes will not happen until my mother passes and when I feel those flutters, I feel guilty. I don't want my mother to die, but I can't stand to see her in such pain, weakening, turning toward the place of reality that I'm not sure she even realizes but I have felt it in our last conversations. She sleeps more than she is awake. Just as I am coming out of my fugue state, I believe she is moving into hers. She, too, is getting ready to walk through another portal into a land unknown. She is a woman of deep faith, she is not afraid to die, but still nothing can prepare us for what lies on the other side, and we won't know until we get there.

We are both, my mother and I, preparing to cross our own thresholds, moving toward our own paths that are both scary and uncertain. As my mother moves toward the sleep that will take her to another land, my Circadian rhythms are normalizing and I am beginning to wake up. I've barely taken a nap this week, writing all day and making lists and doing internal preparation. It is a time when we will both launch into flight, passing each other as we move in opposite directions, or so I imagine, and I hope, for a single moment, we can touch fingertips as we pass. My mother is dying, and at 55 I am moving toward a kind of awakening and beginning to fully live in a way I never have. At the same time it is almost too much, and yet I come closer and closer to being ready.

We are both, my mother and I, circling around the time when we will will float toward the turning time, like a turn-style going into a building. One of us is going out and another going in and I'm not sure which one of us is going in which direction, but I know that there is movement now, and that the time is almost here.

I feel a glow like candlelight, a gentle light, soft, so as not to hurt my eyes. I squint and try to see through to what is on the other side, but it is too soon. Closer and closer I come and I feel my human form, changing and nearly ready, begin to circle and prepare to land, like an airplane approaching the runway. As I land my mother's spirit will take flight into a place I cannot know.

Watching my mother in her final days, though I am heartbroken to see her so sick and in pain, knowing that she is tiring of being so ill all the time as she said on the phone today, and yet knowing that she is ready and preparing herself to take that final step, I become less and less afraid of death, both hers and mine. But watching her near this point, it makes me realize how quickly time passes and how we can so easily squander the life we have been given. At 55 I feel more alive than I have ever been. I am getting lighter. I have lost 40 pounds. I am changing in so many directions at once I don't even have words to explain it, and it is far too private a journey to share. I have shared the outer journey, things like looking for a house and a car and preparing for life's necessities in the time ahead, but the inner journey and how it will manifest in the time ahead is the most important part. I shall not share it. It is mine alone.

And so my mother and I are in a time of preparation and grace. The time is coming near, and I believe we are both almost ready for our journeys, changed forever, and exactly where we should be.

Be not afraid. We are guided toward that perfect light. Life is illuminated by a mystical cloud of unknowing, but soon we shall both know, and we will both arrive on opposite sides of the threshold. Fugue states will come and they will go, but I am no longer afraid of them, for I see them for what they are, times of deep transformation.

I am ready. I am ready.