Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

The Fifth Vow
Before those who walk with me
And those who have already walked
Before all beings living and non-living
Before my teacher
Who has lit the way:

I vow this day to stay awake
Body, speech and mind
For the rest of my life

That every one of my breaths sustain the rising sun
Of perfect awareness,
That every step I take be humble as a bow,
That I know each moment to be the expression of complete wholeness,
Sure of this Light that nothing can extinguish
Because it has shined since before the beginning of time,
That fear and uncertainty crumple like paper in the flames
Of this most precious gift:
To stay awake
I devote myself entirely and with gratitude
To unceasingly fulfill the four vows.

Le cinquième vœu
Devant vous qui cheminez avec moi
Devant tous ceux qui ont cheminé avant nous
Devant tous les êtres,
Devant mon maître
Qui a éclairé la voie:

Je fais vœu aujourd’hui de rester éveillée
De parole, de corps et d’esprit,
Pour le reste de mes jours :

Que chacun de mes souffles soutienne le soleil levant
de la pleine présence,
Que chacun de mes pas soit prosternation,
Que je connaisse chaque instant comme l’expression de la perfection,
Sûre de cette Lumière que rien ne peut éteindre,
Rayonnant avant même le commencement du temps,
Que la peur et l’incertitude se consument comme du papier
dans les flammes de ce don inestimable
Qui est l’éveil
Je fais vœu de m’y consacrer entièrement, avec gratitude,
Afin d’accomplir sans cesse les quatre vœux.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Moral Indignation

Tired with all these,
for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert
a beggar born

~ William Shakespeare

I am now capable of feeling humiliated, vexed, without any other feeling in me than the feeling of this state, and of remaining there motionless, my understanding having wiped out my reflex attempts at flight.
~Hubert Benoit 

What should I do when I have been humiliated, violated or disgraced by someone else’s actions? Does it make any difference whether the action was intentional, or not?

Objectively, there isn’t any difference. That is why, from a karmic point of view, one is responsible for the consequences of even unconscious actions. Subjectively, however, at the level of intentionality, there is a difference. When a harmful action is undertaken knowingly or, worse, deliberately, then, in addition to being responsible for its consequences, one is morally accountable as well.

When I trip over someone’s foot, it is relatively easy for me to pick myself up, brush off the incident and move on. But when someone intentionally trips me, I naturally feel a kind of indignation and a corresponding sense of entitlement to something like an apology. Objectively, nothing has changed. Subjectively, the two incidents are not the same.

Moral indignation seems justified in the latter case. In that situation, as in any situation where I have been morally wronged, it seems right, if not heroic, to call out or rebel against the infraction and even demand that justice be served. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66 quoted above is written in the troubadouric style of Enuig, which is a kind of poetic lament against injustice that feeds on this sort of moral indignation.

But doesn’t moral indignation complicate how we respond to a humiliation by prolonging the agony? Granted I am responsible for my actions and accountable for my intentions, does this mean I have to wait for others to take responsibility and be accountable to me? What good does that do me?

Anyone who has felt betrayed or abused by another person knows with what urgency we seek redemption in the form of an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Although we may be temporarily placated by such an acknowledgement, it only provides a false sense of security, one that comforts us in the illusory sense of power over our lives when, ironically, it is the claim to be in control, like the now-ingrained belief in personal “rights”, that makes us vulnerable to feelings of violation, betrayal or indignation.

In Beyond the God Delusion, Albert Low writes, “if we had not made the claim to be in control, to be that around which it all must revolve, nothing could touch us, nothing could betray us” (Thy Will Be Done, p.43).

This claim to be that around which all revolves (what Albert Low calls “the center”) is the real source of our humiliation. We are vulnerable only as long as we cling to this, like an ember vulnerable to burst into flames at the slightest gust of wind. As he continues:

“If some force threatens the false center, the wound of separation becomes evident and greater force would be necessary to hold the center in place. (…) What was simply a smoldering fire bursts into a raging furnace.” (ibid., p.53)

A famous haiku by Ryokan written after he had been robbed of every last one of his possessions from his modest dwelling goes

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window

Redemption lies in giving it all away.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The torch of chaos and doubt -- this is what the sage steers by.(Chuang Tzu)

Homage to all seekers!
A prayer for sesshin

Lord, have mercy, give me Doubt!
That my cup o’erfloweth with the fire of my own thirst
Until I am thoroughly drenched with my own torment
Bewildered but unlost
The ship the shout the step away
From One divided

Amidst the bedlam and confusion
Into the gap between exile and home
Pray I hear
The sound of silence
Sing the ocean’s silver starried hush
And be myself
The hallowed hum of OM

Monday, November 1, 2010

O spring like crystal!
If only, on your silver surface,
you would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,
which I bear sketched deep within my heart.
~John of the Cross
Spiritual Canticle

The myth of Narcissus tells the story of a beautiful young man courted by many women but incapable of returning the affection of even one. The goddess Nemesis takes pity on one of his rejected suitors and determines that Narcissus should fall in love with himself and remain unable to reciprocate, thus cursing him with the unrequited love that had afflicted his cortege of spurned lovers.

The next time Narcissus catches a glimpse of his reflection in a pond, lo and behold, he is transfixed by the sight of himself. Enamored by his own appearance, he cannot leave the pond and perishes trying to embrace his elusive reflection on the water.

This myth is about conceit. It was conceit that prevented Narcissus from loving anyone and conceit that, in the end, led him to embrace a mirage.

Conceit comes from the word conceive, meaning to fashion in one’s mind and, etymologically at least, does not suggest a moral flaw as much as it does a form of delusion. In fact, Narcissus was helplessly trapped inside a solipsistic bubble. Tragically, he lived exiled from the world until love drove him “out of his mind”.

Tereisias had prophesied that Narcissus’ life would end prematurely if he should come to know himself. It was indeed in death that Narcissus transcended the mirror that separated him from his beloved and that he finally knew himself for who he was.

Ancient myths are full of tragic heroes who only come to see the light in darkness or go blind before they see, of lovers that are out of their senses and beggars that are really kings. Tereisias himself was blind, as was Oedipus. And Socrates, who was considered the wisest man in Greece, identified with Eros, the vagabond and drifter. They wandered among the lost and wounded, denuded and unprotected but driven, like Narcissus, by unrequited love. Only among the bereft, so it seems, does the light of wisdom strike.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The way out of suffering is through it

Shame is the flip side of pride. You cannot experience one without the other. We defend against shame as a threat to our integrity, as though it could consume us like flames. It even feels that way as it creeps up into our faces or down into our bodies, curling us up at the edges and setting our cheeks ablaze. We want to hide from its gaze branding us contemptible. What we wouldn't do to douse the fire of its judgment ripping through us like a meal! Yet the more we fight it, the more we stoke the fire by feeding it pride, what the Greeks called hubris. And like in many a Greek tragedy, it is this which precedes my eventual and total downfall. And I will remain alienated until my pride is leveled, until my nose touches the ground, and fear, fight and frenzy, exhausted, bite the dust. And the fire goes out.

Not by pride but by humility are we delivered from shame. As TS Eliot writes:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
~TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Die before you die

Spinoza wrote:
"A free man thinks of nothing less than of death; and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life". (Ethics, IV, proposition 67) Yet while I meditate on life, say holding a newborn baby or gazing at the full moon or into my lovers' eyes, I ache. My joy is cradled in a heart that is breaking, like laughter in bruised ribs, and it hurts to know that the seed of life is also the birth of death, and that I’ll eventually be separated from everything and everyone I love.

Most people try not to think about that or, when they are faced with death or loss in their lives, respond by defending against distress, investing energy into overcoming it as an obstacle to their well-being. The psychotherapeutic environment is useful in that regard. By providing the scaffolding necessary for restoration or renovation, it enables the self to buttress itself against situational distress, promoting healing enough to move on.

But the truth is: we all move on to dying eventually, and the root of distress is fundamentally existential, not psychological. It is because we are human beings, not because I am this or that person in this or that situation, that I suffer.

Psychotherapy does not deal with human suffering as an existential reality. Spirituality does, or tries to. (So does philosophy, though some would argue that conceptual thought is existentially challenged.) It is not that psychotherapy and spirituality (or philosophy) are incompatible, but they do have different goals and move in different directions. Psychotherapy moves in the direction of the historical self, the hero of my life story whose goal is self-preservation. Spirituality moves in the direction of what eludes the narrative but, paradoxically, survives the story: the unborn self or, perhaps, the self that is “reborn” and enjoys Spinoza's meditation sub specie aeternitatis.

Spiritual teachers will tell you that you cannot will this rebirth but, yet, you have to die, allowing the process of dying itself to transform you like saprotrophs transform decaying material into fertile soil. Conditions must be right, but otherwise, you just sit there…

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who am I
Drops from the tree
Like an apple
Or a tear from the eye
Round and clear
But still
Holding the querent
Until it bursts
The heart that wants to see
And cries out while dying
Fists clenched in a dumb roar
Against the sky
The echo of whose call
Across the canyon
Its empty husk
On the calloused ground
Beneath its feet

Sunday, August 29, 2010

William Blake
(1757– 1827)

O Féminin

O Vierge
Au regard amoureux
Imperturbablement asexué

O Mammifère
Qui déborde de lait et de sang sa générosité maternelle
Paradoxalement vorace

O Prostituée
Soumise à la volonté de puissance de l’homme élu
Médaille d’honneur, honneur vaincu

O Amante

O Reposoir

Qui tu es
Femme particulière


Que ton destin soit

Ni cela
Ni cela
Ni cela

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Briar Wood
Edward Coley Burns-Jones

The Prince makes his way through the briar patch growing around the castle that had denied entry to others before him. He is the hero that intends his fortune, the Prince that manifests his Princess, bound by a vow, not to her but to the Light within himself, the only beacon that he needs. For he is Love.

The bramble is tangled and spiny like a wrathful Castellan. It jealously guards the red rosebud that will open inside the grand delusion wherein everyone sleeps. For she is Wisdom and she too was intended to unfold under the right conditions.

The Princess thrilled to the wheel. She couldn’t help it, she was young. And as the spinning faltered at her touch so she buckled and fell, piercing herself with forgetting. Exiled but undying was her curse and blessing.

And now the Prince has endured and in enduring found what in faith he knew was always there. The two are conjoined in The Kiss. And as the wheel is set on its axle once again, weaving beginnings and endings, the world awakens to the sound of its spinning.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Awakening of Adonis

John William Waterhouse

Crisis and change. The one begets the other. This is how things evolve. It's a curse when you want to hold on to something good, and a blessing when an untenable situation gives way.

The word “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis which means turning point, the point that Hippocrates thought was decisive to one’s surviving or succumbing to an illness. Crisis is the harbinger of a cure whether that cure is life or death.

An existential crisis is essentially creative in that it can give rise to a more concerted engagement with a bad situation, as a quest for its resolution or for salvation. Sometimes it culminates in a conversion or rebirth.

Sometimes, though, a bad situation just stagnates, giving rise to that oppressive sense of being "stuck” (like a baby whose head is engaged but cannot descend into the birth canal). It is a dire predicament in which the parties involved, instead of feeling a sense of urgency or crisis, are subjugated by ennui or inertia. In a way, they do not suffer at all but hover above themselves half-alive (or half-dead), as in a coma.

When you can see this from the outside-- that someone is stuck in a disastrous situation, and might even die, but they cannot move-- how can you help? What can you do?

Induce more suffering.

Traditional ways of taking someone out of his comfort zone use isolation, ritual and initiation, forcing confrontation. These are still used effectively in many drug/alcohol rehabiltation programs.

In Zen, koans are used to arouse the mind, seducing rational thought into resolving a quandary that has no logical solution. When the usual solutions are blocked in this way, a radical departure from old ways of seeing is the only recourse.

Meditation is an effective purge. So is love. If I lay down my defenses and love you unconditionally, you can no longer deny enmity as a projected phantom dissimulating your own demons.

Sometimes even the poison is administered as the cure, flushing out a crisis by making a bad situation worse.

The decisive moment in every crisis seems to be the relinquishing of defenses against pain and suffering. Only then to discover that there is nothing getting in the way of transformation and recovery. The light is there prior to shadows like the child before the adult and opening before closing.

Suffering exposes the raw material of being, the wet cement prior to any permanent impression.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.
~ Douglas Harding, On Having No Head

Without egotism, the mind is as large as the universe.
~ Helen Keller, The world I live in

No eyes, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind: no color, sound, taste, touch or what the mind takes hold of.
~ The Heart Sutra

Where am I, the locus of my mind, where the ego arises in consciousness? When I am awake and close my eyes, it feels like I am hovering vaguely behind them in the darkness, still peeking out at the world through the mind’s aperture. But what if I were blind? Would “I” be more likely to be found spiraling along the dark and noiseless maze of the inner ear waiting for sound? And if I were both deaf and blind? Maybe “I” would have completely migrated from my head into the palm of my hand that “binds me to the world” anticipating touch (Helen Keller)? And if sense deprivation completely divested me of “I”, would this plunge me into an autistic hell where I’d be furiously groping for a way out of confusion, or would I be released from the illusion of exile altogether and finally be one with the world?

Helen Keller describes life before the dawn of self-awareness as a state of non-knowing/being, a kind of birthlessness. She says:
I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious yet conscious time of nothingness. My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation.

Her undifferentiated awareness was haunted by a soul she called “Phantom” that never quite inhabited the centerless dark of a mind uninformed by “I”:
Phantom did not seek a solution for her chaos because she knew not what it was. Nor did she seek death because she had no conception of it. All she touched was a blur without wonder or anticipation, curiosity or conscience. Nothing was part of anything and there blazed up in her frequent, fierce anger which I remember not by the emotion but by a tactual memory of the kick or blow she dealt to the object of that anger. In the same way I remember tears rolling down her cheeks but not the grief…

She was unmoved by the world until language shaped her experience and she became aware of herself as “something”. Then only could she know, and rejoice in, being:
When I learned the meaning of "I" and "me" and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me. Thus it was not the sense of touch that brought me knowledge. It was the awakening of my soul that first rendered my senses their value, their cognizance of objects, names, qualities, and properties. Thought made me conscious of love, joy, and all the emotions.

For Helen Keller, self-realization occurred when she transcended egolessness, going the opposite direction one would expect transcendence to go. Perhaps because-- without an “I” to anchor liberation, a self to give meaning to selflessness-- sights, sounds and feelings cannot shape the emptiness and silence from which they arise. Or perhaps every transcendence arrives at a place beyond polarity where, from whichever direction you approach it, "there's a sound so fine, nothing lives 'twixt it and silence", and more meant in things than meets the eye."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I tell you, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.
~ Adittapariyaya Sutta (The Fire Sermon)

We used to define addiction as a disease resulting from dependency on an addictive substance. Then the list was extended to include dependency on the objects of normal appetites such as food and sex when pursued in excess. Now we acknowledge that people can also get addicted to computer and television, or to relationships, as in so-called codependent personality disorders.

The state of mind sought by the addict is not necessarily the high of a drug-induced bliss but is more commonly a sort of mindlessness or “zoning out” intended to extinguish the flame of unfulfillment. Moreover, this unfulfillment is not created by a force exerted on me by things outside of myself, but by my own belief that I am lacking something I need.

As TS Eliot says “We think of the key, each in his prison; thinking of the key, each confirms a prison (The Wasteland, V. What the Thunder Said)

Our culture of narcissism, by promoting the making and selling of keys-- to success, fun, beauty, bliss and all-inclusive holidays promising fulfillment-- encourages the unyielding pursuit of something outside myself (or, conversely, the compulsive avoidance of lack) by blowing on the flame of this belief.

So, in the pursuit of freedom do we constantly find ourselves imprisoned by the dream of escape, confirmed in our addiction.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When birds fly in the air and fish swim in the deep,they do not do so with any conscious art. (...) if they knew this, and set their minds on doing it,they would inevitably fall down and be drowned

(from William Scott Wilson’s introduction to Chozanshi’s
The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts)

When we are preoccupied with ourselves we cannot trust. We second guess with second thoughts the unspoken agreement between ourselves and circumstances. This creates a gap where the winds of doubt rush in to fill the void, resulting in turbulence.

To close the gap we must forget ourselves.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Where Am I?
You have forgotten me
Or you love someone more than me


Loneliness arises in solitude.

Like in Plato’s great myth on the origin of love, I am oriented to what I am not. Beyond the gash of separation, ever nostalgic for the two-headed beast we once were. Singularity born to be reunited. No choice but to be consumed. No cure. (Sappho says to Eros, “You burn us”). But what a blessed flame uplifting us like flowers, fragrant with longing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Socrates: [...] you might have known with certainty before you came in contact with me, but now you're certainly non knowing.
Plato, Meno

A person comes to psychotherapy because of suffering in one form or another. Part of the problem is not knowing the origin of suffering, not its cause or why I am suffering (which is usually misattributed to something external to myself, e.g. my mood or bad habits, my relational conflicts, miserable job, or troublesome children), but its source, or how suffering has come about.

When someone breaks through to seeing the origin of this suffering, he or she usually has an Aha! moment. Something comes into focus that was never realized before, and it is simply seen without judgment. For example, I see that I am unhappy in my marriage, not because my husband is a mean guy, but because I have gone along with married life as a passenger rather than a co-pilot.

This is insight, or understanding. It is a humbling moment, as well as a liberating one. Humbling because it exposes the shadow-boxing you’ve done all these years, liberating because it sheds light on the real enemy: yourself.

Many forms of therapy stop there, at the intellect. But in order for insight to lead to a blameless attitude to oneself and, by extension, to others, the heart must be engaged as well as the mind.

Alicia Lieberman, an infant-parent psychotherapist, talks about “‘the cure by empathy as opposed to the cure by interpretation” (Infant-Parent Psychotherapy: Core Concepts and Current Approaches, in Zeanah, C.H. (ed.) Handbook of Infant Mental Health, 2005, p.475)

By this, she means that there is an opening between therapist and patient, between a living me and a living you, resuscitating parts of the self that have been reified into concepts and patterns mindlessly caught in well-worn grooves.

When therapist-patient uncover these desiccated parts and add the air and water of empathic dialogue, they result in the voice and emotion, the breath and tears, of unmediated presence. Empathy miraculously reshapes suffering into compassion, for myself and others.

This is not a state of mind, seeing or knowing, as much as it is a state of heart, being with or opening to, the mystery of our shared humanity.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Helper and healer, I cheer - Small waifs in the woodland wet - Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it - Bidding them all forget!
~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Ch. 7)

Consciousness is often described as a stream, like time is described as a river. In which case, memories would be those things floating about in it like debris and psychotherapy rather like trawling.

But is this what consciousness is? And is remembering necessary to healing?

My work with EMDR has allowed me to observe (in a kind of time-lapsed photography way) the relationship between memory and healing. In EMDR, “reprocessing” is remarkably quick, catalysed by using bilateral stimulation (originally, in the form of bilateral eye movements). The therapist asks the subject to recall a traumatic memory while simultaneously calling attention elsewhere. At some point, the intensity of the traumatic experience subsides and the memory slips into the background, to the “back of the mind” so-to-speak. The subject becomes a dispassionate observer of the experience as its hold simply lets go, drifting back to its natural place in long-term memory.

It is remarkable that EMDR can effectively loosen the hold of a past trauma that may have torturted someone for years.

My hypothesis is that EMDR works because it facilitates moving a memory from the front to the back of the mind, a shift that was arrested because of a trauma interfering with forgetting. It is a process I find similar to meditative practices (and this can include anything from formal sitting to swimming or chanting). The key seems to lie in the activation of dual attention.

If this hypothesis is correct, consciousness would be more like a double-edged sword than a babbling brook, and memories-- whose eclosion into awareness can be as sweet as longing, or as intrusive as lightning-- would have as much saliency as present experience. Though fore-grounded by recall, their natural place is in the background, forgotten.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Parents who were abused as children incur a debt that’s hard to part with.

Called to Love their own children, the debt becomes a dam that blocks the flow and, like their parents before them, their children pay the price, either as hostage to the trickle of care they can still afford, or as scapegoat sacrificed in exchange for the debt still outstanding. This is intergenerational transmission, when a debt of Love is visited on one's children “and on their children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Daily I come across children of dammed loved that reflect the two distinct outcomes I have identified as the scapegoat and hostage situations.

The first, the scapegoat, is the child who carries the burden of parental shame, often expressed in the form of physical and verbal abuse, and is cast off to roam far and away from home. The scapegoat usually does leave home in mid-adolescence, cutting off prematurely from the womb but with a vitality and sense of survival that is apparently inborn. This is the child that scientists are scrutinizing in search of that magic gene called resilience, the gene that is supposed to have rubberized the child against pain. I don’t believe in such a gene. Rather, I think that early psychological separation from hearthurt parents is what, by grace, preserves the child’s will to live.

The second, the hostage, may have been spared the full force of parental brutality, perhaps because he was the chosen one. Yet, ironically, he is also the pitiable one who cannot quite separate, his will to leave being trapped like a fly in the unguent of promised love. He awaits healing that never comes and the wound stays open indefinitely.

Whereas the challenge for the scapegoat is to find comfort in the oasis rather than the desert, to learn how to love others rather than live free but unattached, the challenge for the hostage is to wiggle free from bad love and not flit endlessly from one hurt to another.

One final observation:
So many children of abusive parents have reported to me that their parents were extraordinarily challenged when it came to parting with their money, especially when it came to the child’s education (the ultimate act of separation!). One young man’s wealthy mother refused to give him a loan for his University studies although she agreed to finance the oversea adoption of another child. Another woman recalled how her mother withheld financial support for her studies, obliging her to sign a declaration of sexual chastity for the duration of the loan. Another man was deprived financial support when his mother convincingly lied to the father that their son had run morally afoul.

Apparently, the “debt” of love transpires in the financial realm.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning

~ Rumi

In my work with couples, I teach them how to listen, using an exercise derived from Jung’s concept of the imago. Sometimes I refer to this exercise as a mirroring exercise when in fact it is a listening exercise.

I discovered the word “otology” this past week, the science of hearing. I was struck at how close it is to the word “ontology”, the study of being. In French, the word understanding is translated as “entendement”, as hearing versus, say, “illumination” or enlightenment.

When we listen, we are present in a way that mirrors without seeing. It is mirroring with our inner ear turned to the other while also inwardly attuned to the mystery of ourselves. We go through the spiral corridor of being when we go through the door of listening.

The turning leads to vertigo and a kind of madness from being decentralized. How difficult it is to hear someone in their own words and not your own! In the Sufic tradition, to turn toward the other is to be attuned to the divine and is the essence of the spiritual quest. Whirling is a door (“dervish”) to awakening, and “tarab”, the root of the word turn and troubadour, means transport of joy in Arabic.

To see on the other hand can be violent like the dawn, as a floodlight scattering shadows and breaking silhouettes. We talk about stealing a glance and, indeed, there is something akin to theft when you shine light directly on the mystery of being. It is perhaps for this reason that looking is punished so often in Greek myths.

“Tell me what love is,” Eros begged hell’s queen. “My mother won’t say.”
“First you have to learn to die,” Persephone told him.

Eros is wounded by Psyche’s gaze and pierces himself with love’s arrow, warning Psyche not to look at him again lest one of them dies. She disobeys, and they are separated.

Orpheus had a similar fate when he went to rescue Eurydice from hell. He looked back at her too soon and she slipped away at the threshold of life.

Semele, the mother of Dionysus, went up in flames when she stared at Zeus.

We want freedom from the darkness, and union with the other. But love is being yoked to separateness, losing our heads to hear the voice of the beloved in our broken hearts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,
To whom we lend fate from the border of fate.
And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,
perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret
Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (XIV)

We talk about “survivors” of abuse instead of “victims”, because the former seems to buttress the empowerment we believe to be vital to healing.

But who exactly survives abuse? Surely not the same one as before.

Abuse cleaves us from our power. Victims know this. Retribution tries to redress the imbalance, but it cannot. Not because it heaps wrong upon wrong but because integrity, once broken, cannot be restored. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

Healing arises in knowing that emotional pain bears witness against the violation, not as a call to avenge it, but as the heart’s regret, grieving transgressions.

Wholeness cannot be taken away because we are woven into something of which we cannot be dispossessed: the web of being that connects us all by its invisible threads.

Healing dissolves pain into this, like salt into water.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We are followers of the light.

Longing for the salve of a wounded existence, a cure for the affliction of being separate and alone, we pursue sources of light that pose as prophets, absolutes, promises of wholeness and of dreams coming true, rainbows and all that glitters.

We fall in love, bedazzled, and become as children innocently drawn by the anticipation of empowerment and enlightenment, aspiring to become gold by association. In this fertile attraction are planted the magic seeds of devotion. Yet in trying to get as close as possible to the Light, by some perversion of alchemy we find ourselves unable to discern the line dividing blameless surrender and blind faith. Our power is relinquished to holy men, healers, heads of state or organizations, to heroes, superstars, gurus or just to ordinary people we believed were extraordinary. And so, good turns into evil and, like a moth lighting up with the flame, we melt into One and become a power supply.

The ancient legends of Jatayu and Sampaati, and of Icarus, are traditionally interpreted as warnings against the perils of idealism, but they are also lessons in humility revealing those who would pursue something greater than themselves as vain.

Is there any pursuit of the light that is both humble and noble? And how do you distinguish the real from the counterfeit when you find it?

Of real prophets it is said that By their fruit you will know them (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:15-23). By their works not the words, their practice not the theory, their life not the teaching.

That is good advice. Still, one would be as well-advised to doubt the showy display of a fruit-bearing tree. Why does it set itself apart from others and beckon me to harvest there? What kind of tree is that?

It is said that, if you meet the Buddha, you should kill him, meaning that you should shatter the illusion of Light outside yourself. Cut the root of grandiosity and return to its humble origins.

By the first I know truth from the light cast by my own wisdom; by the second I cease to be more than that which I am already.

The light in both cases is me.