Tag Archives: meaning

No instruments. No people. Just crickets.

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I love folktales, fairytales, comparative religion, comparative literature– just about anything heavily laden with symbols and deeper meanings.  I first got into it when I realized that stories from different parts of the world were using the same symbols.  How can that be?  It must be coming from the same place, I decided.

Jung’s theory of the collective consciousness touches on it, but still… it doesn’t fully answer for me where it comes from– how have these symbols gotten their meaning?  How did they come to hold that meaning in the collective consciousness in the first place?

Some animals make sense- their physical presence explains their meaning.  The lion is very majestic and strong, so its symbol as king is easy to come by.

Hey Jiminy, how’s choir rehearsal going?

A cricket as being the voice of the conscience in the West or a symbol of luck in the East is a little less obvious.  Myths place crickets to symbolize communication and heightened intuition.  They call us to find our way through the dark via sound. This got cast as Jiminy Cricket in the West and “personified” as the voice of the conscience.  Like that still small voice in the dark forest of our subconscious, the cricketsong calls us to slow down and listen.  To take the time needed to nurture our relationship with the Divine within.

If you follow your conscience and deepen your connection to your intuition, you’ll have good luck and prosperity, I’d reasoned, always looking for a way to connect the two interpretations.

In China, the emergence of the cricket signaled time to plant the crops, and their leaving meant it was time for harvest.  The Chinese deeply revere the cricket, and they were traditionally kept in little cages so that people could take them home and listen to them sing.  They didn’t hear annoying chirps, but  beautiful music.

Today, I heard this recording of cricketsong. 

Go ahead a listen for a couple of seconds.  I’ll wait.

 

Amazing, right?  Talk about a literal example of how much beauty and solace is to be found if we just slow down and listen. It sounds like a heavenly chorus of angels.  Beautifully soothing and inspiring.  Turns out the Chinese are really on to something!

And now its got me thinking about the practice here in Arizona of exterminating crickets if someone has a scorpion problem…  where do we eliminate love and light in our lives because we’re afraid of and emotional sting or the chaos of passion?

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Healing from Betrayal

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Six months after I divorced my last husband, he was married to a friend of mine.  In one swoop, my social circle, activism, and religious home were taken from me.  I was completely devastated. Particularly by the way it was handled by those I still thought were my friends.  “I didn’t think it was my job to tell you” one friend said in an email, “You divorced him, so what difference does it make?”  I was completely stunned.  All the more because when this happened in my 20s, people had been so much more adult about it.

Oh, yeah.  It happened in my 20s with my first husband.  Not married 6 months after, but he seriously dated a dear friend of mine.  Then another friend from high school- then another.  It had been handled totally different by the dear friend and by our mutual friends.  She & he came to me and asked permission.  They’d kept running into each other and were developing feelings, but they’d pull the plug if I said so.

I lied and said I was fine with it.  But it hurt.  A lot.  Especially since the things he’d always complained about me that made me feel so unlovable were things she had even more than I did.

Once they made their public appearance, my calendar was full with friends taking me out to dinner.  “Honey, we love you so much and wanted you to find out from someone that loved you…”  Each of them had the news I already knew.  But I loved them for it.  It was a difficult time, but I felt supported through it– by everyone involved.

Around 30, it happened again with my Dutch partner.  They were not adults about it and made it much much harder than it needed to be.  I laid it on their respective lack of character.

For it to have happened again in my late 30s was really devastating.  This time it took everything with it- my friends, my spiritual tribe, my activism.  That it was handled so poorly and callously when we were in a mystical spiritual community (I belonged to a Sufi group) and all old enough to know better made it feel particularly personal and hurtful.

It had been hands-down the worst relationship I’d ever been in.  He reminded me of the shadow side of every relationship I’d ever had– my first husband, my partner in Holland, my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my father… and only their worst qualities and ways of making me out to be completely unlovable, worthless, bothersome and tedious.  It was so bad, in fact, that I could not blame him for it, really.  I had to take responsibility for attracting that into my life.  I had attracted it.  I had attracted it so intensely that it proposed to me, and I had accepted.  I spent the entire relationship working to release whatever it was that had brought him to me.

I didn’t talk a lot about what I was going through to others.  I was ashamed.  I felt like I should’ve known better.  I beat myself up for ignoring signs that seemed so obvious after we were married that I rationalized away before.  Indeed, I spent the first 6 months of the marriage rolling the tape in my head of all the things I’d explained away or told myself that I was being too nit-picky or bitchy or unreasonable about.  I didn’t talk a lot about what was going on, but those close to me knew that it was bad and that I was incredibly unhappy.

When you’ve had the 3rd major long-term relationship in your life end with them running off with a friend, you can’t help but ask “Why is this happening to me??  Again??!!?”

IT ALL STARTS WITH ME.

I’d learned enough about how our relationships with others reflect our relationships with ourselves to know where to look.  I sat down and wrote how it was making me feel—  Betrayed. Dishonored.  Tossed-aside.

Where and how was I doing this to myself?  Where and how was I devaluing the voice that warned?  Where and how was I betraying those that I’m supposed to love and support that have done nothing but love and support me?  Where and how was I putting myself in a bad situation by not believing those that I should?

RECOGNIZING WHAT WE DO TO OURSELVES

I found the answers in how I treated my emotions.  They gave me good information– that is what they’re here for, but I didn’t listen.  I didn’t honor them.  In doing that, I betrayed myself.  My emotions are what make me human- but I belittled and ignored them– if I didn’t outright scoff them.  I did not honor the basis of my humanity.  I misread them, then blamed them for things that had little to do with them.

I ignored them.  A lot.  Much like H had done to me.  When they did catch my attention, I took swift and typically harsh punishment against them.  They were locked up, pushed down, covered up, blown-up, buried.  I did all kinds of things to numb them out when they were unresponsive to my strikes against them and attempts to starve them out.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

I had to take responsibility for what I was doing to myself.  I was in an abusive relationship with myself.  My family may have taught it to me, but I had continued treating myself that way 2 decades after leaving home.  I did that.  To me.

Now I understood why I would see a child running away from me in dreams and meditation sometimes.  Children live through their hearts, not their minds.  To denigrate and beat up on my emotions was harming the Child Within me. No wonder life felt so flat! No wonder I hadn’t painted or written anything in so long!

MAKING UP AND STARTING OVER

The beautiful thing about our bodies and emotions are how loving and forgiving they are.  At any moment, we can start over.  They’re more than happy to begin again.

Not that there’s no mess to clean up , mind you.  That remains.  But there is no resentment on their part about the mess- only joy that the willingness to clean up is there.  They have taught me what agape means.

I learned to apply the golden rule to my relationship with my emotions.  I learned to listen to them.  I learned so many things:

  • To just feel my emotions instead of try to make them mean something.
  • To accept that emotions have energy, and that energy cannot be destroyed: they will either pass through me and make me more human, or I can throttle them and stuff them and make myself less human and more ill.
  • Emotions are nothing to be afraid of.
  • Emotions themselves don’t hurt me–even the very uncomfortable ones– the thoughts I have about them and the actions I take as a result of those thoughts do.

My emotions are not interested in kidnapping me and dragging me into a pit for weeks on end.  My thoughts may be, but my emotions are not.  They, like me, just want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and honored.  That is all.

BEING HEARD IS THE ROOT OF THE SURVIVAL INSTINCT

I’ve long been convinced that the desire to be heard is the beginning of the survival instinct.  It is so powerful, that people will do all manner of silly things and follow atrocious leaders if only they feel heard.  Being seen is not as powerful.  Objects are seen.  Think of the saying “Children should be seen and not heard.”  Its painful and hurtful and scary– especially if you’re trapped in an abusive environment.  Silencing objections is the most often employed tactic by abusers and other despots, so it makes sense that the need to be heard is so powerful.

Yet I wasn’t listening to myself.  I didn’t give my emotions the opportunity to be heard.  I talked about them, but I didn’t listen to their story.  They were not allowed to represent themselves.  I did not treat them as living beings, but as nuisances to be dealt with.

I treated them the same way I’d been so angry at others for treating me.

Recognizing this has changed my life and is the basis of the work I now do.   It has helped me release so much baggage from my past, because I see that there is nothing someone has done to me as an adult that I didn’t do to myself first.  The people around me are simply agreeing with me and treating me the way I treat myself.  The Universe is a very agreeable place, after all. 

 

Abrahamic Space

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I love the Islamic depiction of Abraham. Though the Christian tradition portrayed him as so sure and certain, I had come to know Abraham through my prayer and meditation as a figure that struggled perpetually to find the Truth. One who wrestled and agonized, who God continued to challenge throughout his life.

“Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” is the beginning of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12. This pushes him to continue to spend his life in that space in between… finding solace in neither This- not yet knowing where That is, he must negotiate a space somewhere in the middle. Though he loved his father dearly, he could not abide with the idolatry that was not only a part of his society, but had put food in his belly and a roof over his head all of his life. He literally becomes a voice in the wilderness- leaving his family and society behind to go find God.

The rest of the promise in Genesis 12 is that of making him a great nation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, beginning the story of Abraham with this great promise lays a foundation of certainty. Yet though the promise gave him the strength and courage to leave behind his home and family, surely he wrestled with it. The idea of him puffing his chest out with pride and arrogant assurance, pushing the villagers aside as he set off to establish a nation is absurd.

He left with a heavy heart. The Qur’an tells us in many places of how he continued to pray for his father over the years.

The Qur’anic depiction in Al-An’am beginning at 6:74 of Abraham’s leaving home and beginning his search in the desert is so poignant, so tender and human. There were likely many who did not believe in the idols, who saw the vanity of the practice, but did not act upon it. In acting in line with his convictions–despite the social consequences–Abraham is shown the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth. The veils are dropped from his eyes so that his heart would be strengthened.

There is the certainty of knowing that the idols are false, but when darkness falls, he searches for light- only to be disappointed when faced with the temporal nature of the stars. His repulsion for that which sets sends him to expand his search- to look beyond, to look under, to find that which is bigger. He turns to the moon, only to realize that he’s made the same mistake. “Surely if You do not guide me I will be of those who go astray” he calls to God. The search and the struggle of the search help him build his relationship with God. Each verse indicates hours and days watching, questioning, nights awake searching the heavens. Questions, answers, questioning the answers…

Though frightened and unsure, Abraham pressed on. He left all he’d ever known–the physical “certainties”–to search for something that existed only in his heart. He was scared, but still he went. This is what makes Abraham so inspiring as a religious character, and so prescient as a role model. This is where his faith and bravery lies: though he was scared, still he followed. Though he had no physical proof, still he had faith in that to which his heart alone attested. Though his mind fluttered and whirred, still he did not leave the tree that had sprouted from the convictions of his heart. Each time his mind returned to the branch, the tree strengthened, the roots deepened, and he was brought closer to God.

Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.

In working with Muslim immigrant families while living in The Netherlands, I saw these children and youth- who others saw as caught between two worlds- as living in Abrahamic Space. Little did I know at the time that 5 times a day they asked God to help them follow the Path of Abraham as part of their daily prayers. I often wonder if Muslims ever think about what that really means… to leave not only your country, but your father’s house… to wander in the desert-exposed to every danger imaginable- in order to find God.

I wonder how many believers of any faith think about the amount of questioning Abraham engaged in to become so close to God… If we really consider the magnitude of the actions that he took as a result of the answers he received… If we ever wonder how religions founded by someone so unique, intellectually curious, and individualistic could become so rigidly conformist and anti-intellectual… how we could ever come to fear that space in between- that Abrahamic Space of the Middle Way.

What does it all mean?

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Monday evening, returning from one of my partner’s performances and setting my alarm for shortly after 5am the next morning, I sighed heavily at the prospect of so few hours of sleep only to have to fight traffic to get downtown for a  University of Arizona public lecture on Healing Ceremonies.  In business for myself, I do my best to avoid traffic as well as appointments before 9:30 am.  Had I not just seen a FB post touting “Most people miss out on opportunity because it shows up wearing overalls and looks like work”, I may have just skipped over the invitation that landed in my inbox.  The loss of sleep would be worth my while in this instance, though, I was sure.  An MD giving a talk about the healing power of ceremony and the blend of science and mysticism it would likely cover is my favorite place.

It was well worth the short night and the long drive.

Japanese Woman Performing Tea Ceremony

There are many things that Howard Silverman, MD  covered in the lecture that were affirmations of the experiences I’d had with the power of ceremony and ritual.  One of the comments that he made that was particularly insightful was in his discussion of the material component of a ceremony– specifically the sacraments.  He defined sacraments as those things that affect the senses: incense, candles, scents would all be examples.  Due to the heightened awareness and imbued meaning created within the context of the ceremony, he explained, very little is needed to achieve the desired effect.  Ceremonial tobacco or even peyote used in a ceremony is minimal.  “When we lose touch with meaning, we need more and more of the material to achieve the same effect.” he explained, and went on to reflect on the impact this has on social issues and addiction rates.

Imbuing meaning is one of the primary functions of healers, he shared.  I couldn’t help but reflect on how many of our ills–emotional, physical, and societal–can be traced to a lack of meaning in our lives, or even worse- a connection to a meaning that is degrading and demeaning and erodes our dignity and honor as human beings.

Stories are the oldest tool I know of to imbue meaning- which is why they are the center point of both religion and (popular) culture.  Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t know how stories work anymore.  We teach them to our children when they’re in concrete operations- the stage where they are interested in learning character names and plot lines.  Yet when they reach the age where their thinking begins to develop, when they have the capacity to truly start working with stories and turning around the characters, asking questions, delving deeper into emotional drives and the symbolism of the story’s elements, we call them “fairy tales” and shelve them.  Instead of teaching our children how to use the stories to help them navigate the difficult places in their lives–as they were intended–we call them fantasies (or buy into Disney-ized or overly simplistic versions/interpretations) and refuse to engage with them on any real level.

storybookProblem? The meaning we took at the time isn’t erased from us.  Stories are powerful and are the key programming agents of our subconscious.  They’re baked in to us on a very deep level and that meaning continues to drive the patterns we repeatedly find ourselves in.  Ever moved/divorced/changed jobs just to find yourself in the precise situation you worked so hard to leave behind?  That’s those unconscious patterns at work.

I’ve seen that if the stories we tell ourselves increase our shame, reduce our sense of self-worth, disconnect us from the world and those around us, they feed addiction.  Shame is the fuel of addiction’s engine.

How does that fit in with Dr. Silverman’s insight about how little of a substance is needed within ceremony, and how we want more and more outside of that space?  How does our sense of meaning in our lives interact with our levels of shame? How does connection with our community affect meaning in our lives?  What in our lives, in our society erode that connection?

One of the first things that comes to mind for me is how we as a culture eat: alone. Disconnected from the preparation of our food. Eating while watching TV (both mindlessly). How much farther away can we get from the elements of healing ceremony where there is a shared/meaningful purpose, shared/meaningful preparation, and community? Is there any wonder that our portions are getting bigger and bigger? Our sense of satisfaction less and less?