She suggests that a practice, whether it be meditation, prayer, or whatever else, is not a pathway to calm, but a pathway to passion. This struck me as a radical idea, and it made me reevaluate my Be Still Now practice completely.
Sitting in silence with nowhere to go, nothing to do, focusing only on my breathing, has been of inestimable value to me in ways I feel deeply but cannot easily put into words. I can talk about the effects in words: less speeding, diminished anxiety, a deeper connection with my intuition and creativity. But the pleasure of the actual practice during those few minutes a day is an experience I can’t share.
I would never have associated it with passion, however. Serenity, yes. I’ve pursued serenity and peace all my life, and that was my destination in creating a Be Still Now practice.
Pinkola Estes suggests I’ve not walked far enough along the path the practice opens up; that beyond the peaceful place where I stop and have my being in those minutes lies something more, some primal power I’ve been trying to control, hide, and even amputate for most of my life.
What does passion mean? Passion is a strong or compelling feeling. It comes from a Greek root meaning ‘to suffer’.
Passion expresses the full power of feeling. It’s a tidal wave, a hurricane, a tornado. It’s the grief we cannot bear, the rage we dare not fully express, the physical desire that overcomes our civilized facades and renders us as natural as wild animals.
Passion is agony and ecstasy. It’s a quality both attractive and repellent. We admire passion in music, on film, and in other artistic expression, but it’s more easily appreciated when we keep it at an arm’s length. Living with our own passionate nature, or that of someone close to us, is an uncomfortably intense experience for most people.
My experience of my own passion is it makes others uncomfortable at best. At worst, it’s a fearful threat, and when I’ve allowed it to bloom it’s been beaten down without mercy. Passion, for all its beauty, is also suffering, and none of us want to get too close to that. It might be catching.
The problem is if we are passionate, to deny deep suffering is to deny all deep feeling, to live in a kind of numb, unchanging twilight. We show a bland, inoffensive face to the world, asking for nothing, needing nothing.
We know much more in this culture about numbing our feelings than we do feeling them. When I view any personal practice from this angle, I can see being present without distraction is a natural first step to presence with our feelings. If we deliberately put aside all our coping mechanisms for pain, all that’s left is to feel it.
I don’t want to feel it. I want to feel peaceful. But my Be Still Now time doesn’t actually take the pain away. It takes my thoughts about the pain away. It allows me space to express and experience pain directly, without a lot of noise around it, but I have to actively consent to enter that space.
Passion is, of course, much more than pain. It’s also incomplete without pain. For me, pain is the top layer of passion, and if I don’t allow it, I can’t get to any other deep feeling.
Which means I can’t write from the fullness of my being.
Which diminishes the core of my life.
But, hey, nobody’s offended or uncomfortable. Nobody’s threatened, so it’s all good, right?
If I use my daily Be Still Now practice to connect wordlessly to passion, what would happen?
Just before I started writing this post, I read this:
In spring the blue azures bow down at the edges of shallow puddles to drink the black rain water. Then they rise and float away into the fields.
Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy, And all the tricks my body knows— the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps, and the mind clicking and clicking—
don’t seem enough to carry me through this world and I think: how I would like
To have wings— blue ones— ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open them, and rise from the black rain water.
And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London – a boy staring through the window, when God came fluttering up.
Of course, he screamed, seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body leaning on the sill, and the thousand-faceted eyes.
Well, who knows. Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window between him and the darkness.
Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city— turned away forever from the factories, the personal strivings,
to a life of the imagination.
I wonder if it’s possible for me to endure a fully passionate life now. I am attracted, and I am afraid. If my daily practice might be a doorway to reclaiming and inhabiting my own passion, I’m not sure I dare open it. There are reasons I’ve worked so hard all my life to bury passion.
And yet … to dance. To live in music. To be joyfully in the body. To howl and snarl and know the innocence of joy. To weep without shame. To love again without fear. To turn it all into words that awaken passion in others. Can I ever be truly peaceful without those? Is a life without passion peaceful, or merely numb?
Scrying is “the practice of looking into a suitable medium in the hope of detecting significant messages or visions.” (Wikipedia)
My laptop has developed the Technical Flu and is in the shop. I’m chagrined to discover how much I depend on it. It’s the only portable device I have, as I still resist the pressure to obtain even a cell phone. Suddenly, my access to music, DVDs and the Internet is restricted. I know, it’s a first world problem, but I’m not complaining. I whined for the first few days, but as I sit down to write this post what I mostly feel is a kind of grateful wonder.
In my laptop’s absence I find a lot of quiet. Without my usual entertainment and distraction, my ears, eyes and attention are freed. As I work on the second book of my series, I’ve picked up a sketch pad and colored pencils in order to create a map of my very complex world where the myth, fairy tale and oral history of several cultures meet and interact. Without access to my one-dimensional outline on my word processor, I recognize the need for a two or even three-dimensional model to truly show all the connections and correspondences of the series. I’ve discovered new depths to my creative vision and work and considered new ways to approach it.
Photo by Ludde Lorentz on Unsplash
Folk and fairy tales often speak of depths. Caves, tunnels, wells and stairways descend to other places, magical underground kingdoms where evil beings lurk and flex their destructive forces and unexpected but powerful animals or crones or fairies save the hero or heroine. Gypsies, oracles, shamans and seers scry crystal balls or pools of water, smoke, fire, mirrors or stones. Runes whisper messages. Tarot cards reveal enigmatic insight.
We are in the depths of seasonal darkness now. In two weeks the light begins to return. Here in Maine the day starts to fade at 3:30 in the afternoon and an hour later it’s full dark. What do the depths of darkness hold? What lies between the stars? What dreams unfold behind our eyelids during the long sleeping hours? What lives, hunts and dies in the winter-bare forests under the moon? What stirs in the dark sea’s deeps?
If we could separate ourselves and all those around us from our tech and toys, if we could all free our eyes from the screen and our ears from the noise and look, clear-eyed and undistracted, at those around us, what would we see in one another? If we were forced to sit quietly at a window with nothing but a chair for company, what might we discover in the world around us? If we stand naked and alone in front of a mirror and look into our own eyes, what looks back at us?
What lies in the depths of longing and loss? What lies denied and amputated in the deeps of a soul? What waits to be rediscovered or reclaimed, healed or released?
Some of the deepest, darkest, coldest and most fearsome depths in my life turned out to be only ankle-deep after all. Ankle deep and unpleasant, but, once challenged and understood, pathetic and sad rather than powerful and terrible. Shallows pretending to be depths. A leech or two instead of a sea monster.
Other shallows are so seductive, so enticing, so shiny, that we joyously bare our feet and run into them, gradually wading farther and farther from shore, our attention captured, our gaze fixed on their captivating surface, and there we stay until we die.
All my life I’ve been told I’m too intense. I’ve never known exactly what that means, and the criticism never fails to both hurt and irritate, especially as I can’t get more information. Asking probing questions is simply an example of my obnoxious intensity, it appears.
I wonder this morning if what people are expressing is discomfort with my love for the depths, for the dark where miracles happen, for the hidden thing, be it dreadful or dazzling. Questioning is falling out of social favor. Political correctness shackles and gags us. The shiny shallows are the place to be, where text messages, emojis and ‘likes’ glitter and frolic and algorithms and ideology teach us what to think, believe, value and buy.
Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash
I can be seduced by the shallows as well as anyone, and have several times been fooled by them, but somewhere inside me resides a wild thing, a female creature that glories in the power of the dark and deep and always returns to passion, emotion, and creativity. I want to dive into the night sky and swim naked among the stars and nebulae. I want to see and be seen, hear and be heard, know and be known. I navigate with a mouthful of questions and an insatiable curiosity. I don’t want life to be pretty and distracting and shiny. I don’t want all my dreams to be sunlit and filled with flowers and kittens.
I want life to be as it is, smelling of musk and blood and starlight, dark and powerful and magnificent beyond my puny imagination. I want the hot eroticism of life and the torn flesh of death. I want to embrace the unknowable, kiss the lips of mystery and reclaim and wield the full power of my fear.
A few weeks ago I wrote about romance and in that post I confessed that at this point in my life I’m not sure what love actually is. A strange admission from a reasonably intelligent, well-educated, middle-aged broad with two marriages and two children in her history.
Writing that post enabled me to clearly separate romance from love; though I suppose love might include a little romance from time to time. I’m convinced romance is not synonymous with love, however. I began to make a mental list of what love is not, as I often approach things from the back door first. Love is not a synonym for:
All right. So what is love? My Randall House Collegiate Dictionary says it’s “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for a person” or “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” This definition doesn’t satisfy me at all. My rewrite is that love is a feeling of warm, tender connection and deep affection. I don’t think love is always passionate and I don’t like the word attachment. If anything, love implies to me an attitude of nonattachment.
But what about unrequited love? What about failed love or withdrawn love or love as a weapon or a tool? What about the inability to accept love, or feeling unloved though being told we are? What about those who make us feel our love is ugly, twisted, shameful or inadequate?
I’m always playing with words in my head. This week it’s “What is love?” and “What is a crone? and “What are the differences between compassion, empathy and sympathy?” I lie down with those inquiries and wake up with them. I turn them over while I shower, cook bacon, wash dishes, take my morning walk, practice Tai Chi and drive to town. I’m constantly scribbling notes.
I gave a neighbor a lift this morning and asked him to talk to me about compassion, sympathy and empathy. Poor man. He didn’t know what to make of me.
Yesterday, during my frosty morning walk, I dove into a stand of staghorn sumac below the barn and went to visit the spring. This is a daylight spring seeping out of the hill on which the barn and house stand. A long time ago, someone dug a well there, and at one time a pump and tank were installed, along with a system of black plastic outdoor lines to carry water to and from the barn, the garden, and down through the woods to, presumably, crops in the fields below. All the equipment is many decades old now, fallen over and covered with leaves and moss. The well is protected by a round cement cap, much too heavy for me to lift alone (drat!).
This spot is hidden in a thick tangle of vine, briar and trees. We rarely go in there, though it’s in close proximity to the barn.
It’s fall and it’s been dry, but the drainage where the spring emerges is clearly marked by rocks and moss. The ground underfoot felt soft, and when I brushed away the leaves I found moist earth. A yard or two below that is mud, and then a trickle of water and then, at the bottom of the hill, a quiet film of water, barely moving, reflecting the tree-laced sky. Right now It’s full of apples dropped from an apple tree that grows alongside it.
As I slipped and slid, tripping over vines and getting scratched by hawthorn and raspberry bushes, feeling the velvety moss coating the rocks and stepping cautiously on rotting wood, it occurred to me that love is like this spring.
I’ve always thought of love as an action verb, something I do to another in exchange for receiving the same. I thought I knew what I meant when I used the word, though I was never challenged to define it exactly. For me it’s been a catch-all term, synonymous with dozens of other, more specific actions: Want, need, desire, honor, trust, respect, care about, listen to, defend, make excuses for, enable, protect, support, believe in, etc., etc.
But what if love is just being? What if it has no object, but just is?
This little spring is absolutely true to itself. Water drains off the hillside above us and carves a path through the earth and rock until it emerges and runs down the surface at the foot of the hill. We pay no attention to it whatsoever. It’s reliable, predictable and faithful, but not because anyone is looking. Its unobtrusive, quiet presence has created a lush pocket of life, a complex system of plants, fungi, animals and insects, but ten yards away on the open hillside it’s invisible.
What if I make a choice to allow my feeling of love to run through my life in the same way the spring runs through and over the ground? What if I carry within me a wellspring, a hidden cleft, moist, fertile, filled with life, rich in sensuality, simply because it’s an expression of self? If others find their way to it, sit a while, bathe, drink, and allow it to nourish and refresh them, they’re welcome. If others can’t see it, or don’t value it, or dislike the perfume of rotting wood and leaves or the feel of plush moss under their bare foot, it’s nothing to do with me. Not everyone chooses to make their way through raspberry and hawthorn bushes, after all.
What if I don’t need anything in return because I’m giving nothing away? Perhaps the act of love can be a simple state of being, not a totality, not a hurricane of passion and lust, not a romantic fairytale, not a prison and torture chamber, but a spring, a waterway, a shining thread I can share without depletion. Can I allow it to seep quietly up through the roots of my experience, even if no one else ever finds it, wants it, returns it or deems it acceptable?
Our spring is part of a landscape of field and forest, river, pond and stream, rocky hillside and bog. The landscape contains many forms and embraces many systems of life. Birth and death happen on this land. Disease, erosion and flood happen on this land. Prey and predators carry out their sacred dance of balance here. Blood, bone, fur, feather, antler, musk, urine and feces are all here.
I, too, am a complex system of history, memory, belief, thought and feeling. I do not feel love for everyone and everything. My experience of love is that it’s a wild thing; it seeps up where it will and trickles away without warning, taking no account of rules and expectations. I can’t command it and I don’t choose to hold it back. My love doesn’t need anyone’s reception, appreciation, validation or praise.
Love is. I reserve the right to love as I will. I am the keeper of my own wellspring.
The post reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend some years ago. She said her favorite part of relationship was the first weeks, when everything is romantic anticipation and excitement. I remember how violently I disagreed with that view, though I didn’t say so to my friend at the time.
I never trust romance, because I don’t equate it with love. Even as a child, I was suspicious of princes on white horses. As an adult, I want a relationship that survives the flu, a broken toilet, a week-long power outage, job loss, poverty, a car accident, a road trip, moving house and painting a room together. Anyone can dress up, buy flowers and make a reservation, given adequate time, money and motivation. Anyone can make love with words. Many can show up for a great night between the sheets. Most of life, however, consists of day-to-day challenges, tasks and unexpected stuff that no one can prepare for, and that’s when we find out what we’re made of, as well as what those around us are made of.
Photo by Jan Phoenix on Unsplash
In spite of all that, I hunger for romance in my life. I always have.
I realized this week I couldn’t come up with a succinct definition of romance. I could write lists of what I find romantic, sensual or sexy, but how do those categories overlap into a central core of what romance actually is? As I sat down to begin this post, I grabbed my Random House College Dictionary and was absolutely shocked at what I found.
Romance: A baseless, fanciful story; a love affair.
Wait, what? What about palpitating bosoms and muscled, shirtless heroes and wine and roses and diamonds? What about bikini waxes and lingerie, high heels, flowers, poetry, songs, movies and messages of love via social media? What about sex?
Is the whole world searching desperately for something that’s not even defined as real? I always thought it was real and attainable. I’ve thought of it as a rare phenomenon, a kind of shining miracle that can’t be bought or captured, coming only to certain remarkable, young, beautiful and deserving people.
I’m ashamed to want romance. It’s not for someone like me, someone flawed, broken, aging, unbeautiful and in many ways unlovable (another of my stories). To dream of romance, to yearn for it, is pitiable and pathetic, and I keep such dreams well hidden, releasing them only in my writing.
I notice all of these thoughts and feelings about romance, all the shame, futility and bitterness associated with one word that means a baseless, fanciful story. Wow.
I paused in writing this post and thought about Random House’s definition for a day. I decided the thing I find most disturbing about this definition is it’s purely subjective. Do we each have a unique baseless, fanciful ideal we’re searching for or trying to create? I’ve written about stories before. If my idea of romance is nothing but a baseless, fanciful story inside my head, it’s not about anybody else. It’s only about me. It’s not something I’ll ever discover out in the real world.
No wonder I haven’t been able to find it!
If romance is just another of my stories, then it’s pointless to carry shame around because nobody will participate in my ideal. I’m the only one who can be responsible for my story. Nobody else even knows it, unless I tell it, and this is a private story I’m unwilling to reveal. My story of romance is part of who I am, a piece of vivid and passionate authenticity. It’s what I dance with and write with. I need it. It’s an aspect of myself to be nurtured and cherished, not ignored and denied.
Romance is not about them at all. It never has been. It’s about me.
Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash
This is a place I’ve been before, although this time I’ve followed a different road to get here. When I lived alone in my own home in my old life, I became romantically self-reliant, as it were. I was lonely, but I realize now I was probably the most satisfied romantically I’ve ever been. I burned candles and incense. I bought flowers for myself. I took myself to the movies, to breakfast, out for pizza. I took long, luxurious baths with music and essential oils. I bought my favorite sexy underwear and wore it for my own enjoyment. I gave myself weekends away and night walks to watch the moonrise. I danced naked. I bought art cards I loved and mailed them to myself to mark special anniversaries and days.
Then I came to Maine and began life with my partner, and because I had a man in my life again, I gave up romancing myself. I realized my new relationship is deeper and stronger than romance. I no longer feel lonely. Many of my needs are being met now that have never been met before. Life in central Maine in a 100+-year-old falling-down and leaky farmhouse with very little money is not romantic, however, and my partner is a pragmatic Yankee. He’s about as romantic as a rock. He loves me. I don’t want him to be different, and I recognize he is not equipped to satisfy my hunger for romance.
Well, no. But given the above definition, is anyone? Has my search for romance been in vain because what I long for isn’t out there at all, it’s in here? Was it my responsibility all along?
I say again: Huh!
If I decide to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had, is that hilarious or creepy?
One thing’s for sure. I won’t have to work very hard to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had!
Wait, I already am the best romantic partner I ever had, I just took some time off. And now I miss me.
Last night we danced. I’m patiently and persistently attempting to root a dance group into this community. It’s taking time, but I hope in the end to have a healthy core of four or five women with whom to share this sacred practice.
As I danced, I remembered an old friend with whom I danced in Colorado. She used to often say, at the end, as we sat in a circle holding hands, “It’s so good to be in the body.”
Not in the head, where family and other relationships, financial and political complexities, expectations, rules, to-do lists and all our internal voices reside, but in the body, right now.
Our bodies contain a childlike innocence and a wisdom beyond words. They communicate to us the truth about how things are with us via feeling and sensation. Patiently, they carry us through our lives, our most loyal and faithful companions. Persistently, we neglect, abandon and abuse them.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve learned to reject, be ashamed of and hate our physical being and experience. Now we’re to the point where bodily functions tied to being biologically female are a matter of political incorrectness and a hate crime. Social pressure is increasing to eradicate the very words that define female physical experience.
But dance is for everybody in every body, and the spiritual practice of dance has taught me to honor, protect and care for my physical self in new ways. There are no labels in dance, no gaslighting, no power-over that seeks to diminish or limit my physical history or expression. Dance is wordless, so there are no language police. Dance is the freedom to belch, to fart, to wiggle, to jiggle, to giggle, to cry, to shout, to play and to sweat.
Allowing my body to be and joyfully inhabiting it has been a powerful act of self-love. It means allowing my hair to grow as it will, where it will, in the color it is. It means moving with dignity and pride. It means gratitude, for my life is a journey mapped onto my flesh. Every mole, freckle, stretch mark, scar, lump, bump, line, wrinkle and vein holds part of my story, and I honor story.
Being in my body is a powerful act of surrender, not to what the culture says I must be or not be, not to what I think I should embody or not embody, but to what I am. Simply that. The unique, miraculous complex system of genetic material, living tissue, viruses, bacteria and chemical processes that I am.
Allowing my body to be is a peace treaty. My body is not for the pleasure or evaluation of others. It’s not for sale. My body and I owe nothing to anyone, not explanation, apology, conformity, obedience and especially not shame. I refuse to go to war over gender, sexuality or political correctness ideology. I decline to support or participate in self-hatred or hatred of other bodies. The power of my body transcends the judgements, criticisms and opinions of others.
The deepest language I know is of the body. Words are inadequate to my passion, to my love, to my creativity. Spoken and written language fails to convey the richness of my body’s capabilities.
The tick crawling high on the nape of my neck along my hairline, the feel of its tiny claws stirring each hair as it seeks a good place to fasten on, gives me a physical experience so vivid and visceral it cannot possibly be conveyed in words. My skin shrinks, telling me what the sensation is before I examine the cause with my eyes. Undisturbed hair around its path rises, quite automatically, in response to the small but ominous trespass. It feels solid and smooth as an apple-seed between my thumb and finger as I pinch it off. It hurries up and down a bookmark, chestnut colored, as I transport it down the stairs, almost as though it knows it’s been seen, recognized and a death sentence passed.
We come out of our favorite restaurant after a meal on a hot, humid day and find a snake clothed in brown and green, voluptuously twined around our right front tire. My partner stoops and grasps it and it curls and writhes as it dangles from his hand, twisting between the newly-laid black tar and the heavy sky, glaring with sun, humid as a steam bath. My partner takes it into a nearby field and as he comes back he holds out his hand with a rueful expression, showing me beads of bright red blood, dazzling as rubies, on his finger, and two parallel shallow cuts that sting, he says, like paper cuts.
Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash
Last night I danced with the tick, the snake, the rasp on my knee from falling on the front cement steps, their uneveness hidden by the encroaching hostas, blooming now on thick, fleshy stems, their lavender flowers plundered all day by bumblebees.
I danced with the rattling air conditioner lodged into a window of the recreation center activity room. As usual, we traded the rise in heat and humidity in the room with the lower and quieter fan setting.
I danced with a dead fly on the wood floor, trying to avoid stepping on it with my bare foot. I danced with a living large black ant, bewildered, crawling across what must have seemed like acres of flat, featureless terrain, also not wishing to step on it, but too involved in the flow of the music to stop and take it outside.
I danced with my breasts and belly and thighs, with my feet and elbows and wild hair. I danced with trickles of sweat and a wet upper lip. I danced with my tattoo and swaying earrings and sliding silver bangles. I let myself go. I let myself be. I let myself sink into my body as though sinking into a lover’s arms, for I am my body’s lover, and it is mine.
I danced, and remembered again how good it is to be in the body.