Liminal Time

reprinted from the February 2021 Trillium Awakening Newsletter

February and March have always been important times for me as harbingers of change. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re moving toward a change of season from winter to spring. Something about this transition is profoundly moving to me. The earth is changing, gaining light and temperature and losing ice and snow. Trees and bushes are undergoing what feels like a painful birthing as sap moves and buds engorge and finally burst into flower or leaf.

Socially, this is also a time to celebrate struggle and transformation during Black and Women’s History months. My forty plus years in education have given me ample opportunities to celebrate these commemorative months. As a poet, I’m always drawn to read more Black and women-identified poets and to explore their intersectionality.

Today in the US we’re paying more attention to these intersections. Our understanding of race and gender identity is deepening. In my college teaching, each term I have students who are, themselves, or have family members who are, non-binary or transgender. And we discuss the importance of recognizing how central and deeply personal gender identity is to our sense of self. When we add race to the mix—Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, it’s like a kaleidoscope that shifts our perspective of Self and Other.

Perception of Self and Other is such an essential part of being human. In the awakening process, we find a new perception, a two way mirror that shows us ourselves and the other as ourselves. We see that we’re not separate. There both is and isn’t an Other, just Consciousness arising as That.

Traditionally, spirituality has focused on the transcendental, getting up and out of our physical human form to hang out in the state of Being where all is bliss. Today, we know the limitations of this transcendental perspective. We live in these bodies. We identify ourselves in the mundane world as this and not that, or both this and that. We navigate our lived experience this way. We encounter others whose vision may be grimy with the detritus of their conditioning, and they may see only parts of us and respond accordingly. We may be moved to demand our place, to demand justice and equality, to bridge the gap between what is and what could be for ourselves and others. This is how I think of awakened activism.

I would say that the crux of our awakening is that we discover our true and total nature. We discover it as we greenlight, embrace, and ultimately integrate all the hidden parts of ourselves. And this discovery can take years, a lifetime even. And we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in the constant evolution of consciousness arising as itself in its myriad forms. This sense of our ever emerging totality deepens our empathy and compassion. We can embrace the world in all its fragmented, disparate parts. This is what love is. The philosopher Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public. I love this sentiment. Our love for the totality of Being demands that we pay attention to injustice. That we speak and take action against it.

I lived a long time as an “invisible minority:” a white, middle class, educated, apparently cisgender, Queer professional. On the outside, folks saw what they wanted to see, even as they sensed my difference. The truth of my Queerness, that I lived with and loved women, did not align with my superficial exterior. This dissonance resulted in a transference of anger and hatred from the truly life threatening—anonymous phone calls detailing how I would be harmed—to public violence and harassment, to job and housing discrimination, and family alienation. It’s a common story for those of us who are perceived as Other by family and community. For a long time, too long, decades, I was what I thought of as quietly Queer.

It may make no logical sense, but the murder of George Floyd last May, and the social upheaval that followed catalyzed something in me. Some deep and essential parts of myself as marginal, expendable, and shameful woke up. I began to write about the murders of trans and gender nonconforming people—at least 44 last year—mostly trans femmes, Black and Latinx. Each death touched this part of me, my Queer self, my white, aging, pain-limited, masculine-feminine, shamed, threatened, liminal Self: Radical Embrace of these parts.

It’s essential to claim our awakening emergent selves.We awaken as what we are, all our parts. For me, this must include what it is we embody, our Queer, trans, heteronormative, non-binary, racialized, able or differently abled, neuro-diverse, transient bodies. We em-body Consciousness as all of this. This is what awakens in this liminal time of constant emergence, living and dying, at one with Self and Other, as finite and infinite. This is the great paradox. There’s room in you for all. There’s room in us for all, everything and everyone. Awaken to all that you are, and let your Self sing. Sap’s rising, you’re in bud!

Relaxing into the Feminine

In Vedic astrology, my chart has two exalted planets, Jupiter and Saturn, the Guru, and the master of difficulty, delay, and setbacks. It’s a powerful combination as it requires me, or maybe predisposes me to seek the wisdom of what is difficult. Recently when the Cassini space shuttle beamed pictures of Saturn, I was thrilled to have their up close views of that majestic planet. They revealed what is typically unseen.

When he was in Kindergarten, my nephew Stephen, when asked why fell behind in his school work, said, “There’s a lotta things out there and they all gotta move.” There are a lot of things out there. The universe is teeming with the unseen, both manifest and unmanifest, beings and fields of energy. This is the creation point of the Feminine mystery. It can be very subtle, but it is ever present. When we contemplate, meditate, or pray, it’s this mystery that responds. It shows up in intuition, synchronicity, coincidence. The knock on the door, the lump in the throat, the gaze that finds ours across space. When we find ourselves moving in harmony with what is happening, we are in the arms of the Feminine. This is true free will; we follow where we are led.

When we relax into the Feminine, we create a receptacle, a place and a way to hold what arises. We are receptive and vulnerable without being passive. We create the space, set our intentions, and focus our awareness on what is arising. It’s a stance of being rather than doing. Yet it can be difficult to differentiate between these, between the healthy Feminine and the healthy Masculine, which are only facets of Being, dancing, interacting forces. For me, the symbol for Ying and Yang is useful here, the way the dark and the light flow against each other. Or the nearly permeable boundaries between colors in a rainbow. Where does one end and the other start?

Holding the Feminine is like that. The healthy Feminine shows discernment when we heed our intuitions, when we lean into the rub between idea and reality, when we allow ourselves to feel what is painful knowing that it will stretch us beyond our comfort zone AND that we have the resources to remain grounded in consciousness even as our hearts are breaking.

There is so much that is unseen, in our own bodies, and lives, and in the world around us. A woman in China holds her new baby. A man in Norway gazes out a hospital window. Your neighbor is answering a phone call that will change her life. You cannot see them, but they are there: love, loss, birth, death, mercy, cruelty, generosity, manifestation of your deepest desires and fears.

When we risk resting in what is, we are rewarded with the experience of life. When we resist, we limit our ability to know deeply the texture of human existence. Resting opens us to pure feeling: joy, love, grief. Resisting hardens us into deflecting shells. We fear that we cannot contain it all. It will overwhelm, even annihilate us. So we turn away, close our eyes, ears, hearts. We harden ourselves with the belief that it makes us safe.

Meanwhile, life continues to unfold, blossom, ripen, fade, and die over and over and over again. You are big enough. You contain multitudes. There is always more room to receive, but only if you allow yourself to relax and expand. To stretch until it hurts and then resting, stretch again. This is the Feminine principle at work, like birthing; once it begins, we cannot choose to stop it. We must open to it to bring it into the light. Once there, it can be seen, known, familiar, more manageable. Breathe into your own dark, tender places. What do you find there?  Can you open to it, speak it, know it? Can you relax into the mysterious embrace of the Feminine?

Poem for Our Mountains

Beauty Broken Whole

These mountains you love so much?

Disruptions, ruptures.  Once they lay

quiet beneath an inland sea, placid

and flat, soft, smooth sand.

Then the earth heated and shook, 

tore at its breast like hands

that broke open fissured ribs 

until its molten core poured out.

All a shifting and grinding, thrusting

like trust or truth, like what is buried in

you, dear heart.

The Path Back to Embodiment: A Journey through the Washita Massacre

When I was a seeker and then after in a state of transcendent awakeness, I embraced the analogy that life was like a movie and that we were both audience and projectionist. That “truth” was seeing life as mere image from which we are or can be completely detached.

I remember as a teen watching the film Little Big Man, a devastating depiction of the massacre at Washita where Custer and his troops ambushed and murdered an encampment of Cheyenne who had been turned away from shelter at Fort Cobb. I embarrassed my cousins by wailing uncontrollably during the scene of the attack. It was, after all, only a movie.

Tonight, 45 years later, the trauma I experienced as a 15 year old was reawakened by another reenactment of the Washita massacre, this time on the small screen. For all its contrivances, the 1993-1998 series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, invested a great deal into its depiction of the lives of the Cheyenne people and other plains tribes during the time of their persecution, dispersal and diaspora late in the 19th century. Over the first three seasons, the lives of Cheyenne characters were lovingly cultivated, including Chief Black Kettle who signed two government treaties and who despite regular deception by the white government thought that the cavalry would not attack his people without provocation. In a two hour episode, the show depicted the events leading to and the devastating aftermath of the Washita massacre. Among the men, women and children shot dead by Custer’s men were characters including Black Kettle and his wife who over time felt known to me, blossomed into three dimensional beings by actors who captured their essence and by Cheyenne advisors who made sure that the depictions were authentic.

There was no wailing this time, only a deep heartache brought on by the smoldering tipis and the bodies of the dead. Watching the characters of Dr. Quinn, her fiancé Sully and his Cheyenne “brother” Cloud Dancing wander like wraiths through the desecration was excruciating. It was not “just a movie.” It was as real on an emotional level as anything I’ve lived in this present life of heartache and suffering.

In the 45 years since my tender initiation into the truth of how the west was won, the lives, histories and survival plight of our native people have drawn me to my own known truth. Life is full of suffering, dehumanization, institutional racism and genocide. Human fear, greed and self-service have wounded the life force of all beings. Alongside beauty is always horror.

What purpose is served by attempting to transcend this fact? Inasmuch as life is a grand illusion “signifying nothing,” it is also a lived experience of these bodies that are born, that are highly sensitive and vulnerable to the caresses and buffets of the world, the crucible in which we are annealed, refined and stripped down to our essence. For myself, I far prefer my ability to feel the truth of image, the reality of perception, than to sit back at a safe, untouchable remove, like, as Sylvia Plath called them, “the peanut crunching crowd” of transcendence.

Tonight, my whole body heart is broken open by man’s unkindness to man and by the awareness that I am both perpetrator and victim, both the beneficiary and the loser in the epic history of the rise and fall of life on Earth. There is no more enlightening knowing than that.

Broken-hearted River

It’s been a while since my last post. The wild ebb and flow of life has kept me otherwise occupied, but today, there’s a melancholy yearning in my heart that brings me back.

It’s late afternoon.  I have an hour or so before I have to go back to work for a Board meeting.  I drove to Blue Star for a latte and then drove down to the river,  picked my way out to a little spit of land where the water is rushing by shallow, cold, rocky. Everyone seems to have had the same idea today.   Scattered  around the river are clusters of people, a man with his toddler son, an old woman with her dog, people in singles, pairs, small groups basking in the river’s presence.

The river is a balm.  Throughout the day, I’ve felt a small dense pressure in my heart.  It is free from story or cause.  Free from any particular worry.  Rather it feels like a conduit to a deeper layer of my humanity, a sort of heartache of living, of aliveness.

No matter how deeply I fall into awakened consciousness, this heartache is always there.  It’s like this river rushing, thinning, opening, always moving from source to sea to rain and snow and back again, passing through stalk and leaf and fruit.  Today it blossoms here inside me, bursting forth with a persistence that cannot be ignored.

Nothing can stop its course.  Nothing  plug its source.  The hole from which it springs is eternal, human, precious.  I’m grateful for its waters that bathe me in such tenderness and tenderize me with with its relentlessness. Long may it ramble.

Psychic Surgery

For the last few years, I’ve been experiencing what, to work a metaphor, I’m going to call “symptoms” of a psychic wound from my childhood.  It’s a wound around sex and sexuality that has been deeply bound in psychic scar tissue.  This scar tissue has acted as a deadening agent, a protection from accidental re-injury or activation.  The last fifty years allowed a lot of scar tissue to accumulate, for the psychic body to develop a somatic relationship to the wound in which it has been as if asleep.

Then came awakening.  With awakening as consciousness came the slow awakening of many parts of myself, countless and previously unknown parts.  Some of these parts brought ecstatic enlightenment to my Being.  Some brought quiet joy. Others brought pain that radiated out from the essential wound of incarnation, of being in a body.  Some of these parts are small and mundane, others are large and consequential.

About two years after awakening as consciousness, I took a long and quite activating telecourse with Waking Down in Mutuality founder, Saniel Bonder called “Let’s Talk Sex.”  For me, the course opened the door to the way sex and sexuality have been shadow parts of my Being, parts that are acting on me without my awareness.  My Trillium Awakening teacher Sandra Glickman has said “we are governed by what we can’t see.”  How true that is.

I’ve often used the metaphor of a splinter in talking about psychic woundedness.  It’s as if early life events, conditions and patterns lodge in our Being, some of them quite deeply, and once their trajectory inward stops, and they come to rest, they begin a trajectory in the other direction, back out toward light propelled by the body’s psychic antibodies that form a pocket of pus around them, sometimes with swelling, irritation and pain until they work their way up to the surface level where they can potentially be removed.  Sometimes they shoot out on their own accord, like a birth.  Even if they come out on their own, they leave a trace of their passing, a trail, a residue of awareness.  But sometimes they are obstructed and require the assistance of a skilled practitioner.

My wound material has been under the skilled care of a team of practitioners.  I first spoke of the wound with my core teacher, Allan Morelock.  He’s both my spiritual GP and a highly skilled specialist. He held the revelations without judgment and offered a salve of love and acceptance.  The Let’s Talk Sex course community was a collective massage team that prodded around the wound awakening its field of feelings: pain, distress and confusion.  Over time, the confusion gave way to a pressure to acknowledge the nature of the wound, which for the first time in my life, I spoke to my Beloved partner, revealing the people, places and actions that caused the wound.  Since then, the scar tissue of the wound has softened, parts of it have been metabolized into my Being.

But the deeper parts have been more stubborn.  They have required a commitment from me, welcoming them forward.  I say it’s been a commitment from me, but of course, it’s not been me at all; it’s been the flow of Being, bringing around events and realizations, revelations that have created space around and shed light on what has been buried for so long.  It has brought me into the transmission field of teachers whose skills with healing are both mysterious and effective.  The Shamanic healers Cielle and Jeffrey Backstrom peeled away the layers of dead and decaying matter between the wound and its healing.  They’ve created the space for and called in those who are the wisdom keepers for my life.  These keepers have revealed some of the conditions that led to my wounding and as importantly the patterns that caused it to fester, darken and limit.  They’ve brought me to readiness for surgery.

Last night, I entered the operating theater via a Skype session that brought me face to face with the psychic surgeon, Allan Morelock.  There’s a way that being in the transmission of these deeply embodied spiritual teachers, Sandra, Cielle, Jeffrey, and Allan, slices through my resistance to exploration.  In their loving, laser-like gaze there is neither a need nor a place to hide. My relationship with these teachers, especially Allan who mid-wifed my awakening, is deep.  The trust is bedrock.  The loving care, the truth telling, are utterly reliable and inescapable.

Meeting Allan last night, entering his transmission field stripped me down to the deepest, ickiest place in my wound. Through conversation, we unpacked it and bathed it in light.  He guided me into a meditative state in which we could lift out each piece of the wound, both the “story” of what happened, and the ways in which the conditions and patterns of my life have caused it to fester over decades.  He held it all in the light of loving investigation, of forgiveness and release.  He drew the whole gaping wound out of my body, left a large, tender spaciousness in its place.  In the hours to follow, in recovery mode, I rested in the pain of healing.  I was exhausted with the work of Being more fully alive.

This morning, in meditation, the palliative care of body, mind and spirit, I rested in the ongoing healing of my wound.  I rested in awareness of its long history, our long relationship, the dance of accommodation.  I acknowledge the way that relationship is changing through the healing process.  Sandra Glickman has famously said “wounds formed in relationship can only be healed in relationship.”  And in my experience this is true of all healing.

There’s a way that the depth of wounding is matched by the length of healing.  What we bring in with us when we enter this fleshly experience of our Being, what we accumulate from the early days can take the rest of our days to integrate.  There’s a way in which being alive in this human body is the core wound of experience.  When we awaken as embodied consciousness, we enter into the dance of healing, of mediating the distance and dissonance of Being and Body, which are both one and separate.  Like Michelangelo’s iconic depiction of the outstretched fingers of God and Man, these bodies are a constant ache toward the eternal.

Healing the Parts that Make Us Whole

To heal, you must be willing to disrupt your equilibrium. To go deep into the unseen, unknown places, to allow the energy there to be stirred and released.

As part of my process of becoming a mentor in the spiritual tradition I follow, I am required to undergo six therapeutic sessions–typically these are psychological, sessions of “talk therapy.” Talk therapy has long since stopped being a mode that works for me, that gets into the depths of my shadow places, the parts that are in need of exploration and exposition. Years of yoga and various body-centered energetic healing modalities have unearthed and revealed into the light of recognition long festering patterns of behavior. So to meet my six session requirements, I requested and was given permission to work with a pair of Shamanic healers who teach in our lineage.

The question I’m pursuing is not important. Although it has a story or elements of story: a who, what, where and when, and likely has a why, I’m not really pursuing those. I’m no longer interested in the story per se. It’s more like a flavor, a residue. It’s like the splinters that remain after a large sliver is removed from the flesh.

I’ve worked with these two healers previously around this particular issue, and in both cases, they brought about huge shifts for me. Each time, we met in person in small groups that were working together for a longer period, once for a week and then for a weekend. The sessions I’m doing now are happening via Skype. They begin with prayer, with calling in the elements, the unseen guides that surround us at all times. There’s a short conversation about the issue being pursued, and then there’s a long period of energetic work in which I am more or less passive, sitting, eyes closed, breathing the circular breath used in rebirthing, and feeling into what is happening in my body.

A lot happened in my body. Painful contraction around my solar plexus. Heat. Cramping. More heat. Deep vibration. My teacher held me between two crystals, one at my crown and one beneath my feet, and my body was filled with expansion. I had to loosen my shoulders from their joints and let my arms hang out at an angle. I saw the Christ and Magdalen. I saw my father and waves of light that was more than light, a sort of deeply embodied incandescence. I was the hills and the snow and the ether that holds everything.

She told me that I would continue to integrate the healing. It might show up in my dreams. Might interrupt my sleep. Might make me vulnerable, raw, irritable. To ground myself, drink plenty of water, take hot baths. Walk consciously in the outdoors, breathing the cold air, feeling the earth beneath my feet. To ask for forgiveness. To know that I was healing.

In the last thirty six hours, I’ve manifested most of the side effects she noted. I feel a deep discomfort in my body, in my Being. And yet, as she pointed out, this is how I know that healing is happening.

We are always a process. Never a product. There is no end point, no completion, no perfection. As long as we inhabit these human bodies, we will continue to unfold. When we awaken into embodied consciousness, it is a second birth, a continual maturation that along with our being alive brings a deepening into what we are. All that has come before us going back to the primordial ooze is within us to be integrated. We are not separate from all that is or has ever been. The further I go, the deeper I go. It’s a folding as much as an unfolding. I fold more deeply into my parts as they unfold within me. I’m merging with every thread and fiber of my Being.

This is an essential process for anyone who sets out to guide others on their journey. It’s a shamanic process, this journeying. We must be familiar with the terrain and be willing to face its fearful aspects as well as its shining peaks. We must be willing to upset our own equilibrium, to lean into our own discomfort, to take everything we have been given and honor its gifts. Being is a powerful master. Are you willing to learn what it has to teach? In life, the poison is often also the antidote. Learning is homeopathic. A small dose will go a long way.

The Unfathomable Mystery of Being

I would be a liar if I said my life were without layers. One moment seamless well-being and ease, and another moment deep discomfort and existential pain.

Today, at the school where I work, two girls, close friends for most of their short seven and eight year old lives, had an altercation. None of the adults witnessed it. Suddenly there were tears and recriminations. Neither girl denied her actions, the sharp elbows into another’s ribs and the subsequent slap in the face. One of the teachers, as is our way, took the girls away from the rest of the group and asked them to talk to each other about what happened. No one lectured them about the inappropriateness of aggressive physical contact. They know about that. They each spoke from the feeling of the moment. There was anger. There were hurt feelings. There was an apology and an opportunity to speak further about the issue. Then they went off together back to class.

In itself, this is a somewhat unique story. And I offer it as an example of how unfathomable we are to ourselves and to each other.

Life has layers. I’ve been in an ongoing conversation that I mentioned in an earlier post with an east coast friend about the nature of suffering. And in my experience, we all suffer in some way from time to time. Simply being incarnated, being in this physical realm, can be quite painful, and that pain can cause suffering, even for those of us who have realized the Self. What changes is our relationship to the suffering. It takes on a sort of simplicity, free from story and ideation. Often it comes up right alongside our realization of its source in the still undigested bits of our conditioned existence. To deny that we suffer in this way is to deny our humanity.

In my experience, as in the story I recounted above, all relationships open the door to the unfathomable mystery of the self and the other. Now some may say “there is no Other!” And there’s a way in which that is true. And at the same time, paradoxically, there are 7 billion incarnated beings on this Earth, and each one of them appears to the body mind on some level as “other.” When we encounter this other, it is an encounter with the Self. Whatever we experience with them is being experienced within the self. It’s a mirror showing us something about our own particular path in this life. In the account above, the girls experienced a paradox of relationship. In loving there is also irritation. There is shadow. In relationship, there is separation and merging, irritation and bliss. We can’t have one without the other.

One of the most beautiful things about the altercation between these two schoolgirls was the fierce anger of the one and the heartbreak of the other. Children are transparent. They have not learned how to dissemble, not completely. And what I loved in watching their exchange was that they were willing to be fully present with what arose. “You made me mad.” “You hurt my feelings.” It was clean and simple. No one pretended that they felt other than they did.

The further I go on this path of embodied awakening, the more I realize how little I know. Nothing is static. Everything is changing. I don’t know my Self, my partner, my family, my friends. I experience them. In the moment. Being is continually unfolding, painting itself, as my beloved teacher Allan Morelock has said, on us in each moment. We must awaken to this truth. We must awaken to its its iridescent beauty of emergence. Its unfathomable mystery.