from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

hiatus, line break, passion, love

It's an oddly liminal space, too, these few days between Christmas and New Year. In some ways it's not easy, though I'm not sure why. Christmas is a time for friends and family; so is New Year, but in between I feel introverted and solitary. It's a hiatus, a line-break. It works if I'm away somewhere solitary, say by the sea – preferably on an island – but it's not an easy time, for me, to be with others. (Perhaps many of us feel that, if we're honest.)

I've had no time for solo freewheeling, for reflection and introversion, for a small descent to the Underworld; relevant to this time (in fact necessary to the season, symbolically and psychologically speaking), and especially relevant to me this year, with the recent death of my mum and a number of personal tumultuous events. It seems important to make time to process stuff as one goes, and I haven't yet been able to; so rather like Odin (in a less godlike and grandiose way, of course!) I still feel suspended from the World Tree.

But in my suspension my mind defaults to its continual preoccupation: what is love?

I think of the many shades of love. I think of how easily we confuse co-dependency, lust and ego-massage with love. I think of the kind of love that requires being in pain. I think of what my teacher Joan Swallow said, when I was 30 and really didn't want to hear this: 'All romantic love is a projection'. I think of what Scott Peck says, in The Road Less Travelled: Love is an act of will. A verb. I think of what whoever it was said: 'Love' [ie romantic love] 'is an image focused through the lens of the mind onto whatever screen it fits with the least distortion'.

Cynical? No. Just that our desire to desire and be desired is of the ego; and that kind of passion, unknown as it seems to have been until the C12th in the Western World (yes – really; more anon), at least as a basis for marriage, until then (and that's still the case in the East), is amazingly heartstoppingly wonderful; a true peak experience – and not enduring; or at least not enduring if comsummated. I think of how we put on another – a human other – our desire for transcendence, for union, for the 'divine', or the sacred.

What is it that the soul needs?

I think of passion, and how necessary it is to live with fire. Seems to me that passion is what gives rise to creativity, via yearning – but passion comsummated goes quiet till the yearning arises again; an endless cycle of need and fulfilment. That's one significant and essential facet of love. But is it actually 'love'?

And I think of other quieter types of love. What is 'steady-state' love, for instance?

This more solid love, the love I have recently been musing on, a less obtrusive and glamorous love altogether, has I suspect more to do with extending oneself for the sake of another over and over, without recognition; quietly, unassumingly, gently, compassionately. It's about wiping up the shit, about not telling everyone that you just did, about stretching yourself further than you thought you could bear, beyond limits, without being a martyr. It's about learning new ways, maybe. It's not about ego-fulfilment.

I say this because I recognise that the strain involved in telling my dad, over and over, with immense non-patronising patience so as not to humiliate him, the same thing several times an hour but as if for the first time – that yes, my mum is indeed dead; that yes, he was in the bathroom to brush his teeth; that yes this is where I live and he doesn't but we're very glad to have him, that yes it's Christmas, that yes it's hard for us all, that yes he does indeed need to put his T-shirt vest on underneath his shirt, that yes – this once, twice, even several times throughout the night – yes, the bathroom is just there, across the hall – all this is closer to love than all that eros and yearning and restless desire and unrequited suffering stuff fixated on another to gratify my own needs that my younger self liked to put herself through.

And in thinking about all this I have, this Christmas season, thought over and over about Oriah Mountain Dreamer's wonderful 'The Invitation', with its wisdom; a shaping spirit for me the last 12 years or so.

I have been thinking too about how essential it is to live authentically, to live from the heart.

Here is her invitation to me, to you, to us all (and just so you know, when she speaks of 'faithless' she is speaking of the ability to be faithful to oneself, to follow one's own star, no matter what the cost):

'The Invitation' by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

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