JANUARY CHALLENGE… My Awakening Experience And Moving Forward

Here is my contribution to Barbara Franken‘s January Challenge series.

This is a story in which the right kind of trouble unexpectedly brings a gift.

From an early age, I struggled to feel a sense of belonging and identity. As a child I loved play-acting and imagining what it might be like to be a bear, a dog, a fox, or an orphan, a prisoner or conductor. My attempts at belonging were easily expressed by play-acting where I could put on a mask and give myself over to fantasy. But when not play-acting, I felt lost, convinced that I was missing something that others must have.

According to my parents Merriam-Webster dictionary, identity was defined as the quality of being a particular thing and not some other thing. Yes, I thought, my problem has something to do with a lack of being someone in particular. As I grew older, anytime I felt that others were defining me, even when they were being complimentary, I felt alienated. How could they know something about me when I had no clue? I was a fake, and I knew it.

Years later when in my early 30’s I moved to Oregon from Long Island, New York. After a few stormy years of relationships that failed, and feeling the need for solitude to just let myself be me, I started to practice meditation.

Some months later though I started to feel strong, uncontrollable emotions and I could no longer make it through a single day without crying. This was not the kind of crying where a few tears run down your cheeks, but gut-wrenching crying that would last until I finally fell asleep exhausted.

A year later, I was ready to seek out a guide. Having a love and familiarity with the writings of C.G. Jung and James Hillman, I entered into analysis. In the course of a three-year long therapy, traveling to the depths of hell and back, I experienced a most amazing and unexpected healing.

Not that I went from 0 to 250 in an instant. There was plenty of work to be done. Exploring my dreams, memories and relationships led me to see that I was filtering my experience through a very cloudy lens. There was a series of recognitions that came from therapy that both broadened my view and opened me up to not be afraid of an ongoing increase in that opening.

Many insights began to come into view, including a painful recognition that how I understood myself, others and the events of my life needed a revisioning. But with that came a recognition that nothing could happen without seeing how tightly I held on to a view of the past and present which bled into the future. Even if there are objective facts about my life that get to tell the story their way, what I needed was a story that made room for all the longings I ever knew and how to live with and through their power over me. That meant looking fear right in the face and learning how to talk back, and most importantly, learning to talk at all.

Seeing a deficiency in my use of language was a huge part of the work and it still is today. A love of words and language allows for an ongoing stream of ideas leading to new ways to experience and understand all that life has to offer. And for me, learning to open up to deeper levels of myself and others eventually led to the following life-changing experience.

One morning, much later in the therapy, upon waking from an emotional dream, I felt an intense burning and buzzing at the base of my spine. I sat up in bed, and felt what can only be described as an electric shock shooting up my spine into my head. I thought I might die it was so intense, but it only lasted a few seconds. I knew that something very big had happened. Over the course of the next few years, I began to feel different, physically, emotionally and intellectually. I felt tremendous healing as I slowly began to live closer and truer to matters of the heart.

It is as if now I am now more like a hollow reed where before I was a lead stick. It’s difficult to describe, but I continue to feel a sense of opening, enfolding, better able to love and be loved. And especially to belong – in my body, in my family, and in the entirety of this big, beautiful and crazy world.

There’s not freedom from suffering but to suffer as love does when it lives on in spite of the relentless longings. Feelings flow, moving through me without resistance. If I could bottle the experience, I gladly would and give it away. I am most grateful for feeling a sense of renewal.

Surprisingly, the one thing I thought I was missing; having an identity, I now know I never needed.

Next up in the series is one of my wonderful sisters in blogging, Linda – http://lindalitebeing.wordpress.com

To Kill a Mockingbird

Growing up on Long Island in the Sixties, I have fond memories of celebrating Halloween with family, neighborhood friends and school mates. To be outside at night in the cold and dark was an adventure. It was a time when knocking on the doors of neighbors, some rarely seen, and catching a glimpse of their lives was mysteriously tolerated.

Deb Halloween

Halloween didn’t start on October 31st, but in the preparations that took place in the weeks before. First, we would have to come up with an idea for a costume, which included time spent imagining who we wanted to be this year. This was my favorite part never having had a clear sense of who I was anyway – so I enjoyed thinking about characters that had caught my fancy and what it would take to assume their likeness. Although we did occasionally purchase a costume in the store, often times we made our own.

DI HalloweenAnd, because my big sister’s birthday was October 28, she usually had a party with her friends where I could at least tag along to see what the big kids were up to. There was a lot more to Halloween than just the big day of Trick or Treating.

 It was around Halloween that my neighbor friend Regina, invited me over to watch a movie that she liked. Regina loved movies, and for the most part I shared her tastes although it was a struggle for me to endure watching four hours of Gone With the Wind with her.

That day we watched To Kill a Mockingbird, a movie we both came to love so much that we looked forward to watching it again every Halloween season. Except for the last scene, the movie didn’t have that much to do with Halloween, or did it? The ending scene takes place near Halloween and finds siblings Jem and Scout walking alone in the woods returning home from a school pageant. Scout, dressed up as a ham, is walking home with Jem when they are viciously attacked by Bob Ewell, the father of Mayella Violet Ewell, the accuser in a trial in which the children’s father, attorney Atticus Finch, defends Tom Robinson, a black man Mayella accused of raping her. The children are rescued by the mysterious neighbor Boo, who they had never seen before but had only heard stories about. Boo must have followed the children to the pageant and so is able to defend them from Bob Ewell’s attacks as the children make their way home.

As a child watching this film, I loved Scout’s character; a feisty young tomboy, ever curious and not very fond of conventions like wearing a dress to school. The movie’s depiction of the rural south in the 1930’s intrigued me with its poignant portrayal of racial tensions and the blatant mistreatment of blacks. This was something I was vaguely aware of from my parents, but had not seen firsthand in my northeastern home in NY.

Watching this film in later years I have File:To-kill-a-mockingbird.jpgcome to appreciate the social relevance of the film, not only for the awful plight of Tom Robinson and blacks in general, but also for the character of Boo, a man who might be too sensitive for this world, rumored to only go out at night and ironically feared by the children for never having seen or known him except through stories and rumors.

The movie is a perfectly fitting reminder that Halloween remains relevant to us as it invites us to try on other costumes and imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, especially those we don’t understand. As well, Halloween is yet another convergence of pagan (Celtic or possibly Germanic) sensibilities that found their way into western christianity, primarily through Catholicism. Catholics adopted All Saints Day as a holy day in remembrance of the dead to coincide with the pagan celebration of Samhain, the time of the year leading into the dark winter months when both the gods of the harvest and the ancestors needed our attention, propitiation and participation in the cycle of life.

From Wiki:

“At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí.[31][32][33][34] The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes.[35] Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them.[36] The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.”

This day of the dead, All Saints day, has more recently been associated with the occult and demons, or those spiritual beings who would harm us. Halloween in some protestant churches is now known as Reformation Day, celebrating their separation from the Catholic church. But I think the sensibility found in post-reformation theology that holds to the view that the dead are no longer with us, resting in Abraham’s bosum; untouchable and unknowlable to us, might have more to do with keeping clear the separation between the spiritual and material realms. A preference for dayworld over the underworld suggests that nothing immaterial can be trusted; all spirits are demons. I often wonder how much this theology has led to the materialistic view so prevalant in western science and modern culture that says that nothing unseen exists.

But, when we close ourselves off to the spirit world, we let go of the ancestors too; their history, wounds, sufferings and especially our living connection to them which remains hidden in us, haunting our world.

Let the mockingbird remind us through her ability to mimic the song of many birds how much we might glean with eyes open for all that is seen and unseen, especially from the dead – whose struggles, fears, failings, dreams and humanity may show us something about ourselves – something hidden, afraid to come out of the house, something we need to know.

All We Are Saying…

During the summer of love, 1967, I turned 9 years old. The winter before, I stayed home sick with mononucleosis – out of school for 8 weeks. With plenty of time spent resting on the living room couch, television on, I became acutely aware of the horrors of the Vietnam war.

Two years later, a neighbor friend’s older brother was killed in a helicopter crash while returning from Vietnam. The war it seemed, had come a little closer to home when Frankie Perry didn’t return to his family. Watching my friend collapse in tears upon learning about her brother’s death I realized I couldn’t imagine her pain and felt oddly uncomfortable for the peace and comfort I had in my young life. I ran home confused and ashamed.

With the awareness of war and how horrible humans can behave towards each other came a very strong emotional desire for peace. I like to think that most of us feel this desire, if not often, at least occasionally. Especially, or ironically, when living peacefully challenges us.

Mom in kitchen 60sThis past winter my sister and I were cleaning out my mom and step-dad’s condo where they had lived for the last 20 or so years. Unable to live independently – my mom with dementia and my step-dad too frail to get around, they moved into a memory care facility where they now have 24/7 nursing care. They live in Atlanta, so I was away from my Oregon home for about 8 weeks helping out as much as I could.

Looking through their pictures and keepsakes prompted many memories of days long gone. Although not among their belongings, I remembered a red leather address book that my mom kept. The old-school kind with tabbed pages in alphabetical order. I remembered a day when I was 9, sitting at the kitchen table reading mom’s address book, feeling very sad about the world. This is perhaps the first time I can recall taking on the burden of the world and with such depth of feeling. I thumbed through the book to a blank page towards the back and wrote, “Peace to all the world. Love, Debbie,” and dated it, which is why I remember it was 1967.

Peace seems elusive, in these times more than ever with our heightened awareness of world affairs. There are though many people working to make a difference. Today as I was browsing through C-Span’s Book TV, I found a wonderful talk by John Hunter, speaking about his career teaching gifted 4th and 5th graders in a game he created called World Peace Game. I was curious to hear the details and if I am understanding him correctly the game is primarily a way to teach children the art of relationship, especially negotiating and resolving conflicts through conversation and persuasion. Wouldn’t it be great if this game were available for adults?

Perhaps this is old news and I am the last to discover this wonderful man and his vision. But, in case I am not the last, I wanted to share the link of the Book TV show here:

Or, for a quick glance at John Hunter, the students and the game, here is a brief 8 1/2 minute video:


Thanks John Ono Lennon for so many youthful lessons and this:

I Thought I Was a Child

One of the insights I’ve received from reading James Hillman is the ability to hold the opposites in one hand and see how they are related. In an anthology of his writings and lectures called Mythic Figures he suggests that the archetype of childhood has permeated our culture and that childhood has become both something we worship and admonish ourselves for.

On the one hand we place everything related to fun, enjoyment and creativity in the lap of the child, but in the next breath we berate ourselves and each other for our childishness. Oh, what’s a human to do? Should we grow up into responsible, yet boring adults or remain carefree, answering to no one, never a worry for the future, living to play? Can the child be both creative and responsible? Must we leave behind creativity in order to be responsible? What happens when creativity is opposed to responsibility and does it have to be this way?

“The pattern we have been exposing shows a vicious circle. Abandoning of the child in order to become mature and then abandonment to the child when it returns. Either we repress or we coddle this face of our subjectivity. In both cases the child is unbearable: first we cannot support it at all, then we give way to it altogether. We seem to follow a pattern contained in the word “abandon” itself, as it is contained in the alternate and opposite meanings of “losing” and of “releasing.” On the one hand we free ourselves of a condition by letting it go from us, and on the other hand, we free ourselves by letting go to it.

The child archetype, because of its ahistorical and prehistorical tendencies, by moulding consciousness after itself would have us lose history, producing a generation of abandoned children who see all things in their beginnings and ends, an existence of omnipotent hope and catastrophic dread.” James Hillman

He goes on to remind us, archetypally speaking, how deeply entangled the child is with the mother.

“For the mothering attitude, it is always a matter of life and death; we are obsessed with how things will turn out; we ask what happened and what will happen. The mother makes things “great,” exaggerates, enthuses, infuses the power of life and death into each detail, because the mother’s relation to the child is personal, not personal as related and particular, but archetypally personal in the sense that the child’s fate is delivered through the personal matrix of her fate, becoming fate in general which she then is called.

The mother archetype gives the personalistic illusion to fate. Whatever she has to do with takes on overwhelming personal importance which actually is general and altogether impersonal: the desires and loathing of the mother-son relation so intimately personal become suprapersonal enormities, just as the experiences of despair, renewal, continuity, and mystery of the mother-daughter relation that seem so fatefully personal become impersonal eternal events. The growth she furthers is all-out and passionate, the death overwhelming, mater dolorosa, for the mother is always too much: goodness and support, concern for weakness, or interest in ambition. Her too-muchness makes the child into hero and rebel, into princess and prostitute, for her passion converts our hurt derelict conditions into archetypal importance.”

So the child archetype keeps us bound in the sense  that everything becomes too personal which keeps us from the freedom to truly be related, moving beyond our neediness and demands of each other. Instead of seeing the other through the lens of curiosity and the skill of listening, we look for approval and love that in spite of our efforts we fail to ever feel. This in turn keeps us dependent, always hoping that we are lovable, good, or just the opposite, keeping a safe distance, rejecting the claims that the archetypal mother makes, because we know her power is too great and her demands impossible.

Archetypal psychology does not offer us hope, but rather encourages us to see where we are, to experience the pain and suffering of the ideas and fantasies that have us in their sway. Perhaps all that it offers is a flashlight when the only thing we can see is that we are in a very dark place.

“It’s such a clever innocence with which you show myself to me 
As if you know how it feels to never be who you wanted to be 
I thought I was a child until you turned and smiled 
I thought that I was free but I’m just one more prisoner of time 
Alone within the boundaries of my mind” Jackson Browne

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

I have always been a believer in one thing or another. As a child, the idea of God was incomprehensible. What, or who, were people talking about?

I can recall mercilessly teasing a catholic friend, that it must be awful to have to follow the rules of the Pope. No doubt that taunt had its roots in my parents Protestant prejudice and most certainly not in any true attempt on my part to understand who the Pope was or what Catholicism was.

Around the time I first began to reflect about religion; who God is/was, or who I was for that matter, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps God did not exist. Incomprehensble as God was anyway, this was not a loss, but more a discarding of an entity out of reach. The existence of  God did not strike me as the most obvious conclusion that one could come to. Unseen and out of reach, God’s existence is not obvious. As author Michael Novak so aptly put it, “No One Sees God.” 

For awhile my teenage cosmology turned decidedly atheistic. Perhaps my wondering would have ended there but for the perpetually haunting question, “who am I?” continually drawing me back to other questions like “where are we,” and “why are we here?” Any thought or idea offering clues as to what the nature of life was about, whether in books, music, other people’s insights and ideas became attractive.

Clearly the road to any embrace of a belief system is personal and often without reasons obvious to others. The idea that any of us stumble their way into one position or another, I believe, risks assuming an understanding of one another, or may be a defense of one’s own position, or lack of interest altogether. As I age, I like to give myself, and others, the benefit of the doubt as to the conclusions they come to in their personal cosmology. Because my own weaving and winding adventure in and out of various points of view serves to remind me that as Ian Anderson says so simply, Life is a Long Song…

In later years my interest in world views or cosmologies and their conclusions about life continues to deepen. I have to accept that my interest in the underpinnings of our very being is not necessarily important to others. I remain in awe by the very fact of being. How can the continual awareness and mystery that we experience ever be taken for granted? That is truly beyond me…