Interesting, if true: 3 useful words

head leaning against arm

Interesting, if true: three useful words when facing uncertainty, sorting truth from fiction

Among the most useful 3 words I have practiced over the years I learned from my healing teacher, Jason Shulman  who reports having learned them from his high school science teacher: “interesting, if true.”

These days I find myself forgetting to apply this in two key sets of circumstances.

On the one hand,  I find myself unquestioningly dis-believing and dismissing most of what I hear or read in the news. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

On the other hand, I find myself unquestioningly believing most of my own thoughts, which this week have tended to the dark, personal, and prosecutorial. This “dilemma” I am up against, (usually in the form of an actual human being), will never change: “it” is, “in fact” unsolvable. This is an old, well-worn` pattern, familiar when I am aware, debilitating when I am not. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

These are two sides of the same problem

In each set of circumstances some part of me – who is both limited and unacknowledged – masquerades as the whole of me. I have also handed her the keys to the bus and invited her to take the wheel: she steers me this way and that, sides-swiping bystanders along the way.

I have split myself by relegating uncertainty to the outside world, and by embracing the certainty of my own stories. 

I am used to thinking of myself as a nuanced and dimensional human being, so this binary thinking is in itself a distressing phenomenon. I have cast myself in a play with many enemies and no friends or allies.

There are more resourceful options when up against uncertainty

I had to reach back to a piece I wrote three years ago to re-presence three parts of me I need to heed right now.

The one who is willing to learn: to seek out trustworthy enough information, while realizing that in a few days I might as well be prepared to go through that process all over again. Because whether it comes to understanding how the novel Coronavirus spreads and does its damage, how public behaviors are trending, or how the economy is faring – the data is in continuous update mode.

The one who is willing to persist like sunrise and sunset with some mix of bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. Who is willing to mobilize inner resources and outer supports. Who discerns, perhaps after having wept, howled, or broken plates.

And the one who is willing to put down all her tools for taming the Uncertain: what is left then is to simply rest my head up against the unknown. Actually rest. Allow myself to be comforted. To relax, physically. Nothing to figure out. No need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. No need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. Neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on a soft, rock-solid shoulder.

A cautionary reminder to myself - and all of us

There is no single way or “right” way to respond to the uncertain and the unknown, there is just our effort to be in relationship to it, and kindness when we are not able to carry that off. 

This stand, I am willing to say, is both interesting AND true.

Giving thanks, offering healing: in practice

Offering our thanks is healing itself, for our own hearts, and the world’s Great Heart

Dear Readers ….

May this day find us each and every one with an abundance of blessings received and equally abundant impulses to pay them forward.

May we feast on a bounty of kindness for our troubled world and our own aching hearts.

May we breathe life into ancient wisdom stories, take instruction from them, and welcome opportunities to join hands with strangers within and without.

May we resolve to understand where we have come from, on whose tribal shoulders we stand, on whose tribal lands and graves our lives are built, and pursue paths to Truths and Reconciliations for the healing of human sorrows.

May we summon our will and our willingness to participate in the ways our Mother Earth reveals she is healing Herself.

May we yield to the solace of Mystery, our incapacity to understand and make meaning.

May we grant ourselves and one another permission – whether to recoil in incredulity or numbness or shed tears as we cry out to the Mystery,  in hurt, in love, in anger, in grief, in fear, in relief.

May we pursue and accept responsibility for the power to do and be good with which we have been gifted by the Mystery.

 

An invitation to practice: 

Contemplate your yearning for personal healing and for healing in the world, and how they are irrevocably one, like the palm and back of your hand. Journal a bit, or let a poem write itself through you. Leonard Cohen’s beautiful lyrics and melody in Come Healing help me sink into this contemplation.

Take a walk – around your own block or in a favorite setting. Be attentive to your environment, and pocket with thanks a few natural objects that capture your attention – twigs, stones, moss, dried plant stalks, broken open nutshells.

Back home, lay your found objects down, and gather bits of broken pottery or glass, a bead or two, yarn or twine, clay or duct tape for threading and binding them together.

Sit quietly as you infuse the items with your healing intentions and compose an offering with these found natural and household items.

Give yourself uninterrupted time to be leisurely, and make arrangement with your family/housemates as necessary. (Any animals in your home are likely to sniff you out in this activity to join their energies with yours!)

Choose any altar – in your own home or in a place in your town or countryside in need of healing, or in the hands of a friend or colleague in need: place your offering in any one of these gracious laps of the great Mystery.

Photos and words of reflection on your experience are welcome!

 

This practice will yield fruit, whether you are able to set aside a block of time to follow all the steps from beginning to end, or whether you do it in stages. If the latter, take time to reconnect with your healing intentions at each step – and follow and trust your own process as it shifts and deepens,  becomes more specific, or changes direction.

Note: This practice is adapted with gratitude from a healing ceremony that two of my healing colleagues and I channeled/designed for A Society  of Souls’ biannual gathering in July, 2018.

 

P.S. I have been peering into the “dark light” these last number of months, while a life of practice’s blog has gone dark. Thank you, dear readers, who have in one way or another blown on the embers, letting me know you missed it! Look for posts to appear twice a month.

 

“I don’t knows” small, life-stopping, and life-giving

The small I don’t know

“I don’t know” surely ranks as among the most difficult phrases for many of us to utter. Our families and culture indoctrinate us, implicitly or explicitly, in one or another story of the associated dangers. Test anxiety, performance anxiety, terror of public speaking are some of the common ways this shows up in our lives: the unknown is an enemy.

I grew up shaped by an absolute certainty that personal calamity would result from not knowing. My very existence depended on knowing. Knowing what was in family members’ minds and hearts but was taboo to speak. Knowing when I was needed where and for what without being told. Knowing the right answer. Knowing with precision. Anticipating what I needed to know and maintaining a constant state of readiness. Exhausting. No wonder I had bags under my eyes even as a kid.

Eventually I found that when I could let go of the certainty of calamity, I was not an irredeemable failure. Instead I might learn something about myself, another human being, or the world. Being open to learning and possibility sometimes serves me as inspiration, other times as aspiration. It is a practice that I have at different times pursued cheerfully, doggedly, grumbling to myself.

And if I don’t garner new information, I have the chance to practice something else: patience, and humility.

 

The life-stopping I don’t know 

Being recalled for a mammogram. Knowing a loved one is in harm’s way. A sudden loss of security, health, relationship, function. I find this I don’t know mixed with bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. The very quality of time and space shifts. It seems odd if the sun is shining and the weather perfect.

I may have to mobilize my inner resources and outer supports. I may spend a lot of my energies figuring out what is the next right thing to do. I may need to weep or howl or break plates.

Yet somehow the quality of persistence pervades such times. The persistence of sunrise and sunset, sleeping and waking, breath.

 

…somehow becomes the life-giving I don’t know

The small I don’t knows have been swallowed by the mother of “I Don’t Knows” – which I can only call Mystery. I can make no sense of my life, of the world, of Life. My sense-making mechanisms don’t function normally. It’s not exactly that I lose my senses, my mind, and the defenses that I built upon them.

They are just not the right tool for this I Don’t Know.

 

What does seem to work is this: I rest my head up against the unknown

This unknown is so solid that as I do this, I can actually rest. I am comforted. I relax, physically. There is nothing for me to figure out. I do not need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. I do not need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. There is neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on the shoulder of a rock-solid friendship.

A Who-Is meets the Caterpillar

 “Who are you?” said the Caterpillar

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,  Lewis Carroll

 

Who I believe myself to be

I have been captivated by this question since Alice’s Adventures were first read aloud to me as a kid: “Whooooooo are youuuuuuuuuu?”

Here’s how I might answer the Caterpillar. Most days there is a Who-Is who gets pissed off when I am interrupted, a Who-Is who calms when my cat curls up in my lap, and a Who-Is who avoids looking too closely in the mirror when I wake up in the morning. I trust these parts of me are always somewhere in the room of my Life, even when the proper stimulus has not provoked them to appear. These are things that I think I know about who I am.

It is only practice that has me look more deeply, to see their stories.

The Interrupted One tells this story:

Whatever it is I am doing is important, more important than answering the phone, the door, a question, a request, a demand, an urgency. It’s about getting this thing, whatever it is, done. It’s also about maintaining my preferred feeling-state: the pleasure I have from completion; the nourishment I receive from absorption in my work, in the moment; feelings of usefulness and worth. And avoiding the discomfort, anxiety, even panic, at leaving something unfinished, hanging in mid-air.

Sometimes there is wisdom in turning my back on the interruption. What I am doing actually is more important than the interruption. At other times my task-persistence is a limitation that keeps me from connecting with a real need, a real movement of life. We could call this limitation habit, or compulsion, or even denial. It binds me, and has had some some harmful consequences for the people in my life. Because…

The Interrupted One’s story conveys limitations and wisdom both

What I truly cannot bear is the disruption to my sense of self, my very continuity, which so much of the time hitches a ride on my tasks, activities, and feeling-states, the very idea that I have a self, or am a self.  If I stop, I will go out like a candle flame in a breeze of the unknown. Everything I identify as myself disappears. The “I” disappears. Annihilation is complete.

This story is mixed and mixed up. It carries my neuroses, my personality difficulties. It carries my female lineage, with its theme of abandonment. Those are limitations. This story also bears the wisdom of existential truths:

I am a do-er, a feeler, a thinker, a relational being.

I am a concealer and magician – who makes parts of myself appear and disappear.

I – and the world I live in remain full of mysteries – some of which will be revealed and become known to me, new Who-Ises to be invited in. 

Some of the mysteries, “interruptions” like suffering and death, will remain unsolvable.

And I remain a being of Mystery that, when I remember it, I can approach only as I approach the Great Kindness, with awe and gratitude.

Make room for the Problem-Solver!

There is another Who-Is that gets into the mix: My Problem-solver.

She shadows the one who invites everything in,  wanting to – oh, just clean up the parts of me that show up, make them a little more presentable – or, as my healer once said to me – keep them in the entrance hall, and never quite let them into the house without a shower and a clean set of clothes.

The Problem-Solver also sees the Unknown as an enemy, so she keeps pushing me to discover more about myself or about puzzling or horrifying aspects of Life – wisdom, there. Her limitation: she doesn’t know when to stop. She does not recognize her powerlessness when she is up against the unsolvable, or up against the Great Kindness.

I arrive at a true answer to the Caterpillar as I invite them all in

So, Problem-solver, welcome, please come in.

The Interrupted One, come in.

The Concealer and Magician be welcome here.

Come in all of you, with your stories about who I believe myself to be.

And as I stay with this dance of acceptance and change in this way, I may lose my ready answers to the Caterpillar’s question. But  the Great Goodness has my back, helps me to be in my life just as it is, and to change what I need to change.

 

A night of small revelations

I was twelve when Cecil B. DeMille’s technicolor biblical spectacle left me wide-eyed in my neighborhood movie theatre: The Ten Commandments!  Last night I was in synagogue with family in Durham, North Carolina marking the Giving of Torah to the Jewish people: a night of small, nourishing and human-scale revelations.

The evening began with a group of Muslim guests and their imam standing with us around a Torah as the rabbi lovingly spoke about the centrality and holiness of the scroll. He described how the parchment is prepared, and the great care with which the writing is done. For example, should the scribe make an error in the writing of God’s name, that whole section of parchment must be unstitched from its neighbors. The text must be completely rewritten – without error – and then restitched in place.

I had never heard this bit before – about the unstitching, the rewriting, the restitching. At the same time, I was struck by the fact that the stories themselves are full of human error, human imperfections.

The Torah scroll unfolds the ultimate error-ridden, and unfinished, story. It opens with our common origins, the Creation, then traces the early generations of humankind who, within a matter of a few pages are banished from paradise to the labors of childbirth and working the land. We soon fall into envy, murder, and drunkenness. After the Flood God starts over. More generations of ill-will, jealousies and betrayals of one another and God. The Jewish people are enslaved, taken out of Egypt, receive a collective revelation – Torah, wander in the wilderness under the protection of God’s Cloud, and with Moses’ leadership. The scroll ends as God directs Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo to die, in view of the land he will never enter. Nor do we in the Biblical telling. It’s back to the beginning for us too.

Nevertheless, we learn, it is God’s nature to give, and humankind’s to receive.

And on the night of Shavuot, we receive by grappling with texts late into the evening.

We consider the power of the very letters and white spaces of the Torah scroll. We discuss commentaries from a half dozen sources on the meaning and power of blessing. We puzzle in discomfort over a contemporary Israeli poem suggesting that Torah itself will move on, will actually leave us. We wrestle with passages from the deeply mystical text of the Zohar that warn us not to take the stories as anything but garments which clothe the ultimately unknowable Mystery of God, yet also instruct us how to live and care for one another and the world.

I neither saw thunder nor heard lightening, as the Jewish people are said to have done at Sinai. No life-changing insight into myself or my own surely numerous errors of perception, belief, behavior.

But some dew settled on me, some nourishment, much fellowship, laughter, argument, provocation. For which I give thanks.


The banner image, Egg World,was painted by my dear friend Kristine Rasmussen, who knew how to delight in life better than most of us.

Still, life with cat

Lilah came to us as a rescue cat. We were smitten at first sight.

She had been with us for some years before our cat communicator told us that we were meant to make her healing services available to our clients. For a period of time, I kept a lovely portrait of her in my rental space – now that I have a home office, she participates in person, once I have checked with clients about cat allergies.  Contrary to Mark Twain’s caution, she can and does “improve the man” but without “deteriorating the cat.”

 

Still, life with cat

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Indifferent to the opening of a can

but never to a human arrival,

all silk, darkness, and underfoot,

Lilah appears

in answer to a summons

we two have not heard,

plants herself in doorways,

demands we remain alert and

agile in our gaining years,

 

and also roams the the neighborhood.

She is known to have preferred life on the street

to people who were not up to her standards,

though we never learned the precise details.

 

When my children were young, their friends called me

“Laurie’s Mommy”  or “Jenny’s Mommy,”

now I am “Lilah’s owner” to my neighbors,

even though we all know

no one owns

a cat,

ever.

.

But oh for life as cat, a body that

joyfully, madly shoulder rolls in pursuit of tail,

bounds straight up a tree trunk to the roof,

rounds itself into any soft corner!

Still, life with cat keeps me

close to mystery,

as every day I fall anew into

her shimmering green

eyes.


More Poetry:

https://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/women-friends-come-bearing-gifts/

https://alifeofpractice.com/musings/post-card-dancing-with-life/

 

 

 

A Blessing for the New Year, 5777

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the Day of Creation: this year, beginning at sunset on Sunday, October 2.

The Jewish Sages are always of varying opinions. Some say: we celebrate the 1st Day, the Creation of the Universe. Some say: we celebrate the 6th day, the creation of the First Human Beings.

Unable to separate human life from the natural world in which we are embedded,  I come down firmly on both sides.

So many of us are living through disruptive and transformative times, each of us a new creation in process. In chaos. In mystery. In the unknown. So whatever your faith, doubt, or practice, this blessing is for you.

 

A Blessing

from Sara Eisenberg

In this season when God has been in the field

and is about to ascend to His Throne,

the mind is sharper as it peers inward,

the heart is softening,

the inner workings of all the worlds are being reset –

May you be blessed with clarity,

compassion for yourself and the state of the world,

resolve to live a good-enough life, and

trust in one step at a time,

even when it is a step back.


Read more about God in the field here:

https://alifeofpractice.com/living-in-harmony-with-natures-rhythms/1007/

A Hymn to the Plants: Best of Friends

I count myself blessed that I was able to wander about in empty fields in my neighborhood as I was growing up – sit among grasses, follow the grasshoppers, collect bouquets of daisies, buttercups, and Queen Anne’s lace for my mom, strip the seeds off the yellow dock into my pail to make “coffee.”

I had forgotten a lot by the time I started my formal herbal studies in my late fifties. On our first field walks, the plants looked indistinguishably green to me. Over time I learned to observe smooth and wavy and notched leaf margins, the arrangement of leaves on stems, the patterns of veins, the colors and sometimes fuzz on the underside of leaves. I smelled and tasted. I started to pay attention to which plants seemed to like to grow near one another – like poison ivy and its antidote jewelweed. This was one adult way of becoming friends with the plants.

Science was another – the complex chemistry of each specie, how to extract  and then dose the desired mix of constituents, how different bodies may respond to the same medicine.

Yet always there remains mystery: green plants turn the sun’s energy into food and medicines for us.

Yes, this is called photosynthesis, and there is a chemical equation for it. Still, it is a mystery. The plants’ variety, beauty, colors and countless healing gifts are mysteries. Just like the hearts and gifts of our human friends.

Some of these phytonutrients have affinities for certain kinds of tissues in the body, and can be selected to nourish, soothe, tone and repair those particular tissues. Others interact with hormones, immune cells, and neurotransmitters to foster balanced communication between cells.

It is my deep prayer that we never entirely solve these mysteries nor come to the end of praising them.

A Hymn to the Plants

from the Rig Veda*

Plants, which as receptacles of light were
born three ages before the Gods, I honor
your myriad colors and your seven hundred natures.

A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures
and a thousand are your growths.
May you of a hundred powers make whole what has been hurt.

Plants, as Mothers, as Goddesses, I address you.
May I gain the energy, the light, the sustenance, your soul,
you who are the human being.

Where the herbs are gathered together like kings in an assembly,
there the doctor is called a sage, who destroys evil, and averts disease.

As they fell from Heaven, the plants said,
“The living soul we pervade, that man will suffer no harm.”

The herbs which are in the kingdom of the Moon,
manifold with a hundred eyes,
I take you as the best of them, for the fulfillment of wishes, as peace to the heart.

The plants which are queens of the Soma,
spread over all the Earth, generated by the Lord of prayer,
may your energy combine within this herb.

*Translated by David Frawley in Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, 1989