Galloping

As a child, I cultivated an obsession with horses. I read every book written for horse-crazy girls. I imagined myself as a horse (or on the back of one) to pass the time on long car trips. A city kid, I rode whenever I could: on my uncle’s horses in Ohio, my cousin’s horse in Pennsylvania, the horses at Girl Scout camp.

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Here I am with my brother and one of my cousins on my late uncle’s horse in Ohio. Heaven!

Often these were plodding rides, but what I remember best are the times I let my horse run. Looking back, I can see that the galloping horse became a motif in my life.

At camp one summer, we were cantering along in the woods happy as could be when a branch swiped the glasses right off my head, leaving me blind the rest of the ride.

Another time, I fell off runaway Thunder, my cousin’s horse, and broke my wrist.

In my 20s there was an exhilarating trail ride through the New Mexico desert, just me and Judy and two cowboys, scaling ridges at top speed, galloping through arroyos. Somewhere there’s a photo of the two of us on top of our horses, with the blue New Mexico sky behind.

Then at age 32, I fell off a state park horse. This sent me spiraling into a health crisis that took years to resolve.

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Horse happens to be my “sign” in the Chinese zodiac, something I found out as an exultant preteen. The Chinese restaurant’s placemat said so.

I forgot about this for a while, or discounted its significance. But recently I learned that not only am I a horse, I’m a fire horse born in a yang year (vs. yin year). Signifying great power and energy, coupled with an adventuresome and headstrong nature.

Also signifying something historically unwanted. Fertility dropped in parts of Asia in my birth year, 1966, because no one wanted to bring a girl-child in that would embody the power of that sign. While men embodying the power of the sign were lauded as leaders—go figure!—the women were reputed to be rebellious, bitchy sorts who henpeck their husbands to an early grave. (I’ll leave it to my spouse to say yes or no to this stereotype.)

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I bought this jade horse in China a few years ago, without knowing I was a FIRE horse.

“How to rein in that spirited animal?” was the question troubling potential parents (and mates) of fire horse girls born in yang years.

I’ll tell you how, in my case. You give the 1966 baby a lower-than-average level of inherited qi, or life force. TCM posits that we are born a certain amount of qi which is our base, which can be used up (and usually is by the time a woman reaches 49). Yikes.

So if you start off with less, as I did, you have to learn how to marshal and save your qi—and acquire more qi.

I have not always been great at conserving my own energy. But life has shown me the importance of that. Falling off a horse taught me that.

Meantime, the impulse to run like crazy, to learn it all, try it all—I see now that this might be the fire horse wanting to gallop. I’m learning to acquire more qi* so I can follow these impulses!

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I’ve always been driven, but it seems like it would do me good to act more like a fire horse born in a yang year, now that I know this dimension of myself. Even if my adventures are mostly on the page or in plumbing the depths of the human soul.

And rebelliousness? The funny thing is that while I have always embraced a certain, shall we say, intensity, I also saw myself as rather meek, passive, and compliant.

But meanwhile a secret rebellion simmered inside.

When I was 21, a mentor said he appreciated my reformist spirit. Perhaps my rebellion was less secret than I thought.

And perhaps I rebel daily through the way I live, rebuking some of the edicts of society, like “you must climb the ladder” and “you must buy all the gadgets and live in the biggest house you can afford” and “you must only look at the material world when making sense of things.”

In such a society, even the act of tuning in to my own sensations, reflections, and inner knowing constitutes rebellion.

So if you see me sitting still and looking contemplative, I just might be galloping!

*Through the Dragon’s Way program, locally taught by Melissa Laborsky, MD. Highly recommended!

Resonance

On the cusp of a “new year,” what shall we plan to create? I have a love-hate relationship with the cheerleadery “new year/new you” notion that’s so rampant. So much promise! So much pressure to do/be better/more this year!

I like the reflections my yoga teacher brought to class this past week. She turned the focus from goals to intentions, and asked how we wanted to be in the new year.

So a better question than “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” might be “How do you want to show up in 2019, for yourself, for your community, for the world?”

Resolutions generally involve some measure of force. We must deny ourselves something, or push ourselves to do something. But if we choose a state of being to guide behavior, positive actions flow naturally from that intention.

Not that we won’t fall short. But we can return to the intention time and again, while resolutions go out to the curb with the crumpled-up wrapping paper.

For me, it’s helpful to choose a word to encapsulate my focus for the year. This year’s theme was alignment. Last year’s, transformation. For 2019, it feels like the word resonance has chosen me.

I’m intending to sink into who I am, resonate my soul’s essence, and bring that resonance to any interaction. (Always holding this gently, with the caveats when I remember, when I can…knowing that this might be more often than I expect.)

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“One of the interesting qualities of being human is, by the look of it, we’re the only part of creation that can actually refuse be to be ourselves. And as far as I can see, there’s no other part of the world that can do that. The cloud is the cloud, the mountain is the mountain, the tree is the tree, the hawk is the hawk.” –David Whyte

The poet-philosopher David Whyte nails it when he says humans are the only part of nature capable of refusing to be what we are. We are so adept at pretending to be something other-than-us, we can even come to believe that we are that thing we’re pretending to be.

I’ve been down that route and it doesn’t work well for my constitution. In this second half-century of my life, I’m over fakery.

It’s chancy to show up. To be fully human is to be vulnerable. It means experiencing pain and loss and doing the best I can with it. It means risking exposure and shame. And risking deep joy and connection as well.

When I look up resonance, I find several definitions:

1. The state or quality of being resonant (resounding or echoing, as sounds: the resonant thundering of cannons being fired.)
2. the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation.
3. Phonetics: amplification of the range of audibility of any source of speech sounds… (more)
4. Physics: the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus, occurring when the frequency of the stimulus is the same, or nearly the same, as the natural vibration frequency of the system.

So it’s about sound, speech, words, but also vibration.

I find it interesting that there is a scientific phenomenon (if I understand the physics definition) by which vibration appears to be amplified when frequencies align or nearly align.

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WinterLights 2018 at Newfields

Something to try, if you like: Walk into any group of people and resonate your truest being. You may be invisible to some who are not on your wavelength. No matter. Who sees you? Who finds you? You are drawing your people based on your vibration.

You are also, I believe, shifting the overall frequency in subtle ways, making it easier for others to resonate who they are as well. To show up as yourself is a daring act and might tempt others to reveal more of themselves than they would otherwise.

You are reverberating, resounding, perhaps at a frequency beyond the capacity of human ears to hear, but make no mistake: the effect is real.

Here’s to a soul-resonant new year.

Three Hours North

I was born the same year as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Oh of course, we both were in existence long before this birth, but 1966 was when our current recognized incarnation began: When my soul consolidated into this body, and the Dunes were designated as National Lakeshore.

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I’m only three hours south of this incredible place, something I allowed myself to forget for way too long. Recently we became reacquainted. Exploring the trails and shores for a couple days, I felt restored.

Walking the beach you might see trees pressing down across the sand and into the water. The brushy ones make it look like you can’t get past, till you arrive and find: Here you can walk under the tree, or here you can go up higher on the sand, or here just hoist yourself over. Or go a little deeper than you mean to, out in the water.

Or here maybe you just want to savor standing on a downed tree and feeling its smooth skin with your feet. The water doing its dauntless polishing, tempting a toe.

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To the east or west from the beaches lie the trappings of industry. Lakeshore and I were both born under the shadow of human folly, which continues still to this day.

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But there is peace even in the smokestacked encroached-upon existence. (Not-so-fun fact: Lead pollution, like that of the steel mill described here, fed into my health problems a dozen years ago, when high levels of both lead and mercury were found in my body.)

Still: These waves. Their power feels truer than anything. Sitting here you can’t hear industry, you can’t hear vehicular hum, or any of the ubiquitous noises of civilization that just.never.stop.

The waves are like breaths—sometimes slowing, sometimes racing each other but constant, the sound of moist, fluid, rhythmic life. Every single wave and breath its own experience.

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The answers are within, say the sages. Sit still long enough and you will find your answer. Or at least find a newer more pregnant more potent version of the question.

Sit still long enough and you contact something like eternity, the thing that goes on long before and long after this small understanding of a life.

Healers for the Culture

After yesterday’s proceedings, I passed a bad night, my body tensed as if against physical blows. To be a woman in this culture is to know that at any moment your body might be violated, and your voice dismissed.

Back in college, I remember a women’s studies professor saying something like: “If you take a man and a woman and strip them of all status, till they’re homeless on the street, the man will still be in a more privileged and protected position than the woman, just by virtue of his gender. He’d have to wear a sign that says, ‘Don’t take anything I say seriously,’ to even come close to her experience, and even then….”

Angry? Yes. Scared and sad too. A bad night.

I realize that this is nothing new to people who are less insulated by the things that usually cushion me from our culture’s violence. My race and class, my monogamy, my savings account—all these mitigate the full impact, even as a lesbian woman, of hatred of the “other.” So when I dip into this space, I know that I am just tasting a hint of the animosity that others swim in every day.

A woman-hating culture is a racist culture. Is a transphobic, ecocidal, xenophobic, heterosexist culture.

I write these words and stop to read them. I am part of the culture. People create the culture. I create the culture. My actions, thoughts, words form the story we live by. What do I choose? I choose otherwise.

In search of sustenance I take my dog for our usual morning walk on the golf course. I am one of the privileged who can walk at dawn in relative safety—my skin color (if not my gender) ensuring that I won’t be targeted for being in the wrong place, potentially risking my life.

The sun comes up and lights steam rising from the creek. A heron flies through my field of vision. My bleary eyes open to the beauty of a sycamore.

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A few clover plants bloom at my feet despite the groundskeepers’ daily efforts to maintain a monoculture of turf.

I’m looking at you, clover. They try to cut you down, chemicalize you out of existence. They say you don’t belong in this white-boys’ club. Yet you persist. And I see your sisters there with you. You’re not alone.

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Further on a small colony of mushrooms pushes up, also defying the chemical onslaught and furious mowing that are business as usual here. This fruiting body is just the part of the organism that we see. The mycelium under the earth may be in mysterious communication with nearby trees, according to Michael Pollan. Trading nutrients.

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I see you, fungi, and I thank you.

Leaning against a big hackberry tree, I can finally take in a deep breath, and think about what I want to create.

Let us find ways to nourish each other, recognizing that we are not alone in the pain being wrought these days. Let us seek underground communicative pathways inaccessible to those rolling along on the surface, blithely reaping the benefits of inequity and exploitation.

Let our outrage/fear/grief lend itself to deep listening and empathy, as we imagine ourselves as each other—whether that be a different race, immigrant experience, or a different life path altogether. Or even a different species. We are not alone on this planet, threatened by destructive rules made by men drunk with greed.

Let us be healers for each other, through our listening, and healers for our fractured culture, through our words and deeds. Because a culture built on other-hatred cannot stand. Its failure is assured, one way or another. How it fails is ultimately up to us.

Letting the Carapace Go

In San Diego I learned about sheep crabs, the largest California spider crab and impressive as can be, with a knobbily bluish shell.

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Photo by Eva Funderburgh, via Flickr Creative Commons

I learned that crustaceans molt several times over their lifespan: backing out of their carapace after first growing a soft new shell. They pull water into the new shell to expand it to allow for growth. It soon hardens and they go on their merry way in this roomier carapace (until it, in turn, becomes too cramped).

I’ve been taken with this image, thinking: What if we, too, could back out of our shells and emerge with a new watery skin? Though extending the metaphor requires a shell to harden, the expansion is what intrigues me.

We have the power to expand beyond what we think is possible. (And maybe we can be different from crustaceans, and choose to retain that soft, wet outer skin, instead of armoring up.)

What if the world, itself, could molt like that? What if it is in the process of molting right now? I use “world” here to mean consciousness, the stories that guide us, the collective agreements we have all upheld.

Can we make way for something that has yet to take its full form but that gives room for all of us to grow into the fullness of who we are?

In that personal and collective growth, we can look clearly at the shell of what is passing away. Perhaps it protected us, for a time. Or some of us anyway—those who have been privileged enough to be considered normative through race, gender, orientation, etc.

But: It’s time. We don’t have to buy into a story that makes no sense anymore.

We don’t have to agree to a dominant (but dying) cultural myth that diminishes someone else to make ME bigger. We don’t have to purchase (literally) the trappings of a culture that relies on what amounts to slave labor and massive inequity. We don’t have to buy into oppression, exploitation, racism, fear, war.

What if we all just walked away from that old defunct thing, just backed on out and moseyed on our happy way with something much softer surrounding us?

It isn’t easy, I’m not saying that—we white people in particular feel safe in our habits, in our business-as-usual. And the sweep of change encounters tremendous resistance in the form of the nation’s leadership (as Michelle Alexander brilliantly writes in her New York Times Op Ed today). But in the immortal words of Arundhati Roy:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

To get quiet enough to feel the newness beckon, that feels crucial. To allow the call of the new to bolster us as we get out from under the old.

For me, this exploration lends itself to a simple inquiry: What can I let go of in this moment? Maybe it’s a breath I’ve been holding, a grip in my eyeballs, a resentment, a knee-jerk defensiveness, a fear of speaking up… or a habitual dissing and dismissing of whatever I need to feel, as emotion washes through me.

Acknowledging, allowing, and melting any rigidity… That is where I want to place my attention this first day of autumn, and in the coming season of letting go.

What about you: How do you conceive of the old constrictive shell, whether for yourself or the world? Can you envision a new, slippery, softer shell? What you would like to fill it with as you create more spaciousness?

In backing out from under the carapace, we join countless others in an expansion that can’t be stopped.

Come on Out

Yesterday I outed myself as “woo” to my new colleagues, and you know what? They didn’t bat an eye. One wants to have coffee to learn more. Another wants one of my services.

With Pride Month in full swing, I’m reminded of the closets where I used to hide, in so many ways.

Back in the early 1990s, when I entered the workforce, I felt I needed to hide most of who I was. Most tragically, I pretended my beloved was my roommate. That’s what we did back then (in that town anyway).

I also hid my spiritual bent, my tender underbelly, my writerly aspirations. Interacting that way was like trying to fly with one wing.

What a relief, nearly 30 years later, to find that having a wife instead of a husband is a nonissue for everyone in my ever-widening circle. And to be able to talk about transgender loved ones as well.

And what joy to feel appreciated for all of who I am.

Where are you with that? Do you feel safe to bring all of you to your endeavors? It’s an energizing proposition. One I wouldn’t have expected, at many points in my life.

What would happen if we all came out as … ourselves? If we let our sweet inner weird kids come out and play?

Long ago a counselor told me something about myself that made me cry. He spoke of a Persian proverb that goes something like: “If you have two loaves of bread, you must sell one and buy a flower.” He said it meant that we need both bread for the body, and a flower for the soul.

He said, “You are our flower.

Which still makes me tear up.

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Open up, little flower.

The Shape of Redemption

Have you seen The Shape of Water, that marvelously innovative film with atmosphere that just won’t quit? Mostly I loved it. So lush and creative!

The film has been lauded as a modern fairy tale about embracing the “other”—with characters who are all outsiders (monster, mute woman, gay man, African American woman) banding together in the name of love.

But: I was disappointed in the ending.

Spoiler alert. I’m going to reveal the ending.

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Here’s my thinking: The monster/amphibian man/Amazonian river god could have emerged as a true hero if the last five minutes of the film had gone differently. Sure, the Hollywood ending works—he slashes the throat of the man who shot him and his beloved. He exacts revenge for torture and imprisonment as well as the final insult of murder. He gets the girl and even brings her back to life in a dreamy underwater scene.

Satisfying, on one level.

But I was rooting for something really innovative. The god-man’s foil is the heartless Colonel, who throughout the film jabs the “asset” with a cattle prod. Faced with the “other,” this white man persists in cynically disbelieving that he might have anything to learn.

Throughout the film I watched the villain suffer both emotionally and physically—while the river god-man turned out to have bona fide healing powers. And I thought that maybe, just this once, Hollywood might surprise me.

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Amazon River photo by Mariusz Kluzniak, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Maybe it didn’t have to be all “kill the bad guy” this time. Maybe the river-god would turn out to be a true healer. He could turn to the man who had made his life hell, recognize his suffering, and show him something different, reveal a whole new worldview.

The transformative power of love—real love, not just the limited “I-need-you-you’re-mine” romantic variety—would surely alter the Colonel. The fingers the river-god had bitten off could be regrown. Healing and forgiveness would pack even more punch than a vengeful, justifiable slash to the throat.

It sounds sappy, maybe, or wispy. But compassion doesn’t equate weakness in my mind. And it doesn’t have to be exercised without muscle. Say the villain, fingers restored, still lashes out in violence instead of bowing down to the greater power of love. The river-god could contain him, without hurting him physically, understanding that his suffering is of a different sort. The kind that takes longer to heal.

I’m aware that it’s largely my privileged and coddled life that allows me to think this way: Never having confronted true evil, I am free to look for the sliver of light I believe everyone possesses. To watch for the wounds beneath the villainy. To consider the villain as more than just the sum total of evil acts.

I am free to call for transformation, never having been on the receiving end of violence.
But there are people who’ve been there. People like Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived genocide in Rwanda and brings a message of forgiveness now.

Or Phan Thi Kim Phuc, Vietnam’s “napalm girl” who, years later, embraced the man who ordered the bombing of her village.

Their courageous example tells me that this impulse toward healing over vengeance is possible, and that I’m not wrong in seeking it. And maybe it isn’t only about effecting change in a “villain”—change that may or may not happen. Maybe it’s about the transformation arising in the one who holds compassion.

It’s just a movie, you might say (back to Shape of Water). Let the ending stand unquestioned. It’s what we’ve come to expect. After all, the same theme turns up in countless novels, song cycles, video games, operas, paintings, on and on. It’s the theme that’s driven Western society for eons: that we overcome by force and domination.

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Not the Amazon. A river I’ve visited, with its own transformative healing power.

But the cultural myth we live by is shifting, and needs to shift, and it’s time for our cultural expressions to reflect that. Who better but the artists to explore and embody a new Story of Reunion, as Charles Eisenstein puts it?

Note: For more on the transformative power of compassion, check out the Forgiveness Project, a powerful collection of stories from all over the world.