Letting Go with Dhumavati

Having tools to develop my Self, as a spiritual being and as a form of self-therapy, are among the reasons I love practicing witchcraft and Hinduism. Both traditions serve my desire for theosis, or becoming a god, or achieving enlightenment.

One necessary ability in this journey is being able to see clearly. Tantric Hinduism does not encourage complete renunciation of the world, rather embracing the world and also seeing it clearly is its complex call to humans. Seeing clearly, particularly seeing one’s Self clearly, can be a very sobering experience.

I’d like to think that the power, self-confidence, and other strengths I’ve developed over the last few years of my practice are the most visible aspects of myself. But I’m not convinced that’s true, or that it’s important. As I pray to Kali Ma to “slay the fears that limit my spirit and dance upon the grave of my iniquities,” She gleefully gives me what I ask for. So my fears are laid before me and my iniquities spread out for all (or at least some very important people near me) to see.

I am still – still – sorting through the rubble of my relationship issues. In some of the situations I am not at ‘fault’ and in others I am most definitely at fault, but the lowest common denominator in all of it is…. me. There are certain areas of my life in which I cannot be trusted to make good judgment calls.  There are times when I act out of scarcity and those times are when I screw things up, bad. My Lady Kali lays this all before me. Again and again and again. I asked to slay my fears and dance on my iniquities, therefore I must see them. And oh, it is humbling.

In fact, it is so humbling as to feel humiliating, and I grieve. I sat before my altar this weekend and wept. I have feelings of shame, but it is my shame. None of the gods I work with now will have anything to do with shame; it’s not them putting shame on me. Instead, the gods, particularly of Hinduism, bear a profound compassion. They answer our prayers not out of spite, or to show us how flawed we are so that we can grovel for their grace, but so that we can see clearly and heal. The truth really will set us free.

I’ve been reading recently of Dhumavati, the goddess of widows and those with nothing left to lose. Her name means ‘Smoky One,’ for like smoke she is unattached to anything, she is barely seen, she is able to go wherever she wills, as no boundary can keep her out. She is withered and dirty, a crone. She seems a little insane since she has no ‘function’ and therefore needs not keep to any rules. She has nothing, is nothing, and can offer nothing. But she is full of compassion for those who grieve. She is a bestower of boons. She brings comfort; She knows what it is like to lose it all.

250px-Dhumavati

I realize I’ve had experiences with Dhumavati at a few other points in my life. She is powerful and not to be trifled with. In fact, she is considered inauspicious; married people and those with children are unwise to court her. I can understand: as a parent, and pregnant to boot, there are losses I would rather not know anything about. But I feel her again. There is a great deal of grief and loss that I don’t know what to do with, nor do I know how to stop making the same mistakes. So I petition her, placate her with offerings, and ask for her wisdom and comfort.

Dhum dhum dhumavati svaha

Dhumavati’s main lesson is to ‘let go.’ At the core of life is the brutal reality that we only think we’re in control of our lives. But if we take one step back we might see just how little control we have. We can let go. Often letting go creates more freedom and very little destruction. Sometimes letting go means the house of cards collapses and we have to see that we were clinging to an illusion. That is painful, but also freeing. Seeing clearly is freedom.

This song has been running through my head. Appropriate and so, so good. Enjoy.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m definitely in the ‘before enlightenment’ state of things, and most definitely lately. I feel further away from anything spiritually meaningful than I have in a while. I’m tired, getting over some sort of mild virus, and likely swinging on the swing set of hormones. While I usually have a strong container for dealing with news and the internet, the last few says have felt particularly overwhelming. It feels like the few are eager to make a quick buck off the backs of the many. If it’s not the confusion and atrocities of Syria or the targeting of Coptic Christians in Egypt breaking my heart, it’s the continued melting of the ice caps, destruction of bee colonies, or systematic reduction of access to affordable and relevant healthcare for the poor, the marginalized and/or women in the US. How can we continue to poison one another, in body, mind, and spirit??

What’s a person to do? I neither want to stick my head in the sand, nor do I want to freak out from overstimulation. I don’t want to ignore the suffering of others, but I also don’t believe that I have the power to make the change I want to see. I cannot single-handedly affect policy in the Middle East, save innocents from drones, or abolish contaminants in our water,plastics and food. While I do my best to make the healthiest choices for my family that I can, I don’t think I can avoid all toxins, nor do I completely believe that we, as a society, can shop our way to change.

Again I ask, what’s a person to do?

Chop wood, carry water.

I accept that I’m overwhelmed, that for whatever reason, my boundaries are lower today. I remind myself that usually I have good perspective and that whatever I’m feeling will pass and my perspective will return. I make sure I’m eating something healthy (not falling onto my stand-bys of milky tea or coffee). I focus on my chores. I move my body and do one thing that I have to do anyway. I sit in front of my altar, even though it seems pointless in this mood.

What do you know? I’m less cranky after sitting. Even a pouty puja is better than no puja at all. After my chores I feel a little stronger, a little more focused. I know that it’s a mere semblance of control. By tomorrow this clean living room will be dusty and cluttered and crumbed once more. And that’s ok. Every day the water needs to be carried.

That’s how I’m feeling this week. If the wise ones are to believed, I may feel this way at times even after enlightenment. Good thing I’m getting good at chopping wood and carrying water.

The Stories We Tell

Attempting to process one’s life in public is difficult. It’s challenging to avoid details that risk exposing other less public people, or details that get too intimate for my comfort. Yet how to explain my story? I fear I might have misrepresented myself in my last post. The likelier occurrence is that in attempting to present my experience safely, I actually created A Story.

What’s a ‘Story’? It’s a narrative of events that we tell ourselves to make the confusion neater and tidier, to wrap up loose ends, to put one’s self in the best possible light, and to make more comfortable the uncomfortable.

Recently the wise John Beckett wrote a post called Change Your Story, Change Your Life. We have the power to reframe the stories in our lives. For example, in May I realized that I’m actually an introvert. This realization reframes every awkward party and sleep over I’ve had. This reframes group dynamics for me. When I look back on my first marriage, I used to tell a story about how I was really a lesbian, you see. Only that’s not true. At the time it was the best way I could make sense of my experience. The story I now tell about that marriage’s demise is one I think is more truthful: an ill-fitted match of two people with no tools to deal with conflict or communication, and one party (me) deep into the throes of major depression.

Our stories evolve over time, and I’ve no doubt that my understanding of what I’ve been experiencing this summer will evolve as well.

The problem is that we try to create Stories at all. How often do we cling to a narrative that may or may not be true? I realize that creating a narrative is but one way we can process our experiences, and it can certainly be a necessary part of communicating that experience to others. However, in the last few years, and especially in the last few months, I’ve seen how limiting clinging to those stories can be. My experience is my own, but it may not be the ‘truth’ of the matter.

In writing my previous post it seems that a few people saw some victim mentality in what I wrote. That was not my intent at all. Yes, I used the word ‘hazing.’ That certainly implies a victim being bullied. I chose that word because that’s how I feel about only a small part of my recent experience, not because I think that is the truth of the situation. I would never be in relationship with any bullying entity – lover, friend, or god.

I also do not think that either my Feri training or the Feri Current are to blame for what is clearly a situation made all the worse due to my personal failings. And yet, I do think both of those things play a role.

First, any intensive spiritual work is bound to facilitate conflicts. Why? Not because chaos is cool, but because facing our fears and realigning our patterns causes chaos. Using the tools we’re given to stand taller, speak truth more boldly, move more strongly, create firmer boundaries, love more deeply, etc, will cause conflict with those that expect us to be just as we always were. And then there’s the general awkwardness of learning to function more healthily. This summer has exposed some major weak spots of mine and highlighted patterns of mine that need some serious realignment.

Secondly, I think the Feri Current is a living entity. It isn’t in my control, but is part of a grand give and take. I certainly don’t think it’s out to get me. Nor do I believe that tapping into a living Current absolves me of my free will. It’s a dance, where I feel the wave and choose and respond. Maybe the Current isn’t a singular entity, maybe it’s more a conglomeration of the various Feri gods. I don’t know. There’s some theology to unpack here; I’ve been focusing on my experience of it, rather than trying to nail it down in concepts and fancy words.

I’m no victim. I’m just a flawed person, working out my patterns in a somewhat semi-public fashion, in relationship with other flawed people, who are also working on their issues, all the while we try to connect with our gods, spirits, and communities. It’s really uncomfortable and exposing. Being vulnerable and held accountable by my partner, friends, teachers, and gods isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Hopefully those two things, vulnerability and accountability, will keep me from being paralyzed by my Stories.

Feri Freshman Hazing

I talk about the Magic a lot. I also call it the Current. You might call it Flow, God, the Divine, the still small voice within, serendipity – there are many names. Over the years, I have developed a sense of it, when I think I’m pulled by the Current, rather than by just my own whims. Usually what happens is an Idea comes into my or my husband’s head, an idea previously unconsidered. Or an opportunity is presented to me and I am faced with having to choose Yes or No. Most of the time these decisions are not life altering, but when the Magic is involved I know that a Yes or a No will take me down a new and usually unfamiliar path.

The biggest example I have of this in my life was when my husband and I decided to move to Wales. The idea came to him out of the blue. Yes, my graduate adviser was there, but I didn’t have to be. We knew we wanted to leave Oakland to raise our son, who at the time of this decision was only 7 months old. The idea came to us and we said YES. When we started looking into the requirements we were told to expect at least a year to get everything in place. Nine months later we were not just on our way to Wales – we were there. Doors opened. Pieces fell into place. In my experience, this happens when we’re tapped into the Current.

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this spring I was faced with an opportunity and I chose Yes, knowing full well there would be consequences. I felt the Magic, it was strong, and I trusted it.

Oh there were consequences all right.

The last two months have been turmoil. I’ve been distracted, obsessed. My relationship with my husband, Adam, has been taxed, pulled to extremes. In an intimate relationship, large leaps into the Current don’t just affect me, they affect my partner too. What happens when one person says Yes! and the other partner doesn’t even know the opportunity was presented? Chaos. That’s what happens. Lots of tears and fighting.

Just as Adam and I had touched a tip of reprieve my situation blew up again, a gigantic nuclear explosion, with toxic fall out tainting all that came before. It was ugly. I felt used, confused, lied to. Several people were involved. It was drama of the most salacious kind. I didn’t know whom to trust. My reason said one thing one day, and something else the next. My intuition flipped and flopped. I didn’t trust the players involved, I didn’t trust myself, and for the first time ever, I didn’t trust the Magic either.

I was angry. Angry that I was caught in the middle of something so ugly. Angry that other people were unable to work out their own issues. Angry that the situation was provoking my sorest and weakest spots: I take people at their word. Once I choose to trust I often ignore yellow and red flags, a tendency that hurt me deeply over the winter. I am stubborn. I trust myself and my choices – to exclusion of others. I do not tend to take others’ counsel. I ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. All of those things can be positives, but, in situations like the one I was in, all of those things were painful liabilities.

I reached out to a Feri initiate friend. She wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, but offered compassion. ‘You are on a Feri ride,’ she said. Her words rang true, but filled me with dread. How am I to trust the Current if it is so fickle and hurtful? It’s like I’ve been doing trust falls with the Current, only to have it step away and not catch me on fall #5. Not fair! Not kind! How do I trust it again?

This is the first time I’ve faced a choice of this magnitude since my Feri dedication (not the same as initiation) in January. I wonder if the Current decided to test me. I feel like I’m being hazed. I feel like I’m a freshman who mistakenly signed up for a graduate course and realized it only after taking the first test. Or the beginning swimming student who has been thrown into the open ocean. Sink or swim.

My initiate friend (and every Feri initiate I’ve ever talked to) has a story about getting beaten up by the Current. Relationships ended, friendships broken, jobs lost, families isolated, households moved, and on and on. I relayed this reminder to Adam and he said if this is what we have to look forward to, he’d rather I quit Feri. But I won’t. I never choose the easy path, for better and for worse.

After all that has been said and done, I feel like I’m back to myself. I’ve come up for air. I’m no longer sucked into the undertow. I’m clinging to my basic tools, as to a life raft: sitting meditation, the exercises my teachers have given me, small devotions, and making kala.

Looking at the silver lining in such a dark and stormy time, I see that my choice was a catalyst for deep personal work that was needed. Adam and I are in couples counseling, working out some of the deepest, more stubborn vestiges of our issues.

Personally, I have chosen to let go of my need to understand just what exactly happened in that nuclear explosion. I can’t know and as uncomfortable as that makes me, I’m moving on. I’ve made a commitment to myself and to Adam that I will reach out more often to more people. I will not keep my own counsel, but seek out the advice and accountability of trusted allies. Somehow I will align my reason and intuition, not over privileging one to the detriment of the other. I’m not sure how this is going to happen, but I’m committed to finding a way.

This Magic stuff ain’t for the faint of heart.

 

 

Orange Alert

A post in which I am all kinds of vague and mangle a metaphor about traffic lights.

Some readers might remember that I had a very, very challenging summer last year. This year is only slightly better. Last summer was far too busy and physically and emotionally overwhelming. This summer is far less physically taxing, but is equally emotionally challenging. I am feeling the emotional fall out – finally – from the heartbreak of the last twelve months. I am in the middle of excavating old wounds and nasty patterns with my husband. I am reaching out to forge new relationships. It’s all hard, but necessary and rewarding, work.

I privilege relationships above all else. What I am finding this summer is that this may not be wise all the time. I also privilege what I call ‘the Magic.’ Other people might call it flow, synchronicity, timing, luck, coincidence, or the Current. Once I started really listening and looking for this in my life, I found that strange and beautiful doors began opening. My life took on even more adventure. Obstacles weren’t as large or as stubborn anymore.

By Wazouille, via Wikimedia Commons

By Wazouille, via Wikimedia Commons

So I’m listening and looking even more keenly these days. What I’m seeing is that the work I’m doing personally around my relationships is necessary, but there are no green lights at this time. What I’m seeing is that the areas of my life that I want to be open and moving forward are not. I’m not getting No’s; I’m getting Not Right Now’s, lots of orange lights. I have to wait. My pushing is not helping; it’s only making certain things worse.

All of my relationships are highlighting things I need to work on: patience, trust, being vulnerable, reaching out. Can I trust the Magic? Can I trust my partner? Can I keep showing up with openness and meet my friends where they’re at? Can I trust the people in my life to show up for me and accept me as I am, mess and all? In addition to relationship stuff, my family is house hunting and having next to no luck. Can I trust here too? Can I trust the spell work I’ve done around it? Can I trust the timing will work out?

Everything is about trust for me right now.

As I wrote that last sentence I was flooded with weariness. I don’t trust very easily. I don’t think the world is out to get me, but I’m always on point, guards up. I’m always showing up for others, not asking -or expecting- others to show up for me. I’m always working too hard: not to be forgotten, to push things through, to make things happen for myself. I have to let go. I have to trust.

The green lights in my life are all professional. I keep ignoring them, because I privilege other areas of my life. I think it’s a human trait to try to avoid the uncomfortable ares of our selves and our lives and stick to what we’re good at. I am not being allowed that right now. For over a year now I have been offered one excellent opportunity after another. I’ve turned several down. The time is come to stop that and to embrace the Magic where it is. Getting more serious about my personal spiritual practices and my writing involves a healthy dose of trust and vulnerability. It’s not just relationships that require these things.

So this weekend, as one thing after another fails to go according to plan (I’m not in Canada, for one), I realize that I’ve been revving to go at lights that, while not red, are merely at orange. I need to focus on the green lights. Orange lights are temporary. Revving won’t make them turn green any faster.

I have to trust that attending to these green lights will lead to more green lights down the road.

My Life is a Love Story

Falling in love is easy, if mysterious. It can be as simple as a chemistry-laden kiss.  It can be as complex as seeing a girl in an orange silk dress across a crowded room and knowing that my world is about to be turned inside-out. However, growing a love that is sustainable, with healthy boundaries and joy, is the work of a lifetime. My life is a love story, and the Red Goddess is my co-author.

Love stories get a bad rap, and for good reason! Courtly tales of romance from the Middle Ages, centered around grail quests and knights and their ladies, and modern rom-coms and romance novels, seem to focus on a singular type of love and experience. Romantic love is prized above all other aspects of relationship, focuses on one person and one person only (the ever elusive One), and lasts forever. Only one other person can be our ‘missing puzzle piece.’ We are not complete humans until we’ve found our ‘other half.’ There are very clear heteronormative patterns and qualities that we must embrace in order to find True Love.

I tried to live by those tropes, but they never worked out for me. See, it turns out that I tend to be the more ‘masculine’ one in my relationships. I am the knight in shining armor. I will swoop in, love you up, and be your rock. I almost never cry, but often end up in relationship with people who do. I am a problem solver. I am bold, aggressive, firm, and enthusiastic. This can be very overwhelming for people. Especially people who are more invested in women being flighty, passive, all about gentle feelings, and in need of saving. Only once have I been swept off my feet – and it was by a teenaged baby dyke, who in the end tended more toward passivity, thus confounding our gender dynamics even more.

The gender dynamics of loving and being loved definitely confuse things. I’m married to a strong male, who the overculture insists is the knight, but all the while prefers to be the princess. Complicating this, he is the ‘pretty girl,’ the one who never thinks she’s pretty enough. I am married to a princess who wants nothing more than to be swept off her feet, but every time I try she refuses, because she thinks she’s not pretty enough. I can’t just show up in my suit of armour, I also need to be riding a unicorn, not a mere thoroughbred.

I have compassion for my husband. I have hardly any experience being the princess myself. I don’t feel safe as the princess (too many thinly veiled rape narratives in all those fairy tales, thank you very much). More importantly neither do I believe that anyone wants me as their princess. I love others as I want to be loved, and I expect little in return. I will admit this is not the healthiest dynamic.

Love is quiet, painful, intimate, tender – vulnerable. I am terrible at being vulnerable. Blogging has been one act of challenging this. I like being the one in control. I like being the knight, rather than the princess. Loving demands that I allow myself to let others see me and love me in return. It requires small acts of passivity and release, a different type of risk. That terrifies me to my core. I know that learning to let myself be loved, not just to love, is something I need to do for my continued growth. Choosing is important, but so is being chosen, by friends, by lovers, and even by the gods. These are things the Red Goddess is teaching me.

The Lovers, from the Mary-El deck. It is no surprise to me that this is also 'my' tarot card.

The Lovers, from the Mary-El deck. It is no surprise to me that this is ‘my’ tarot card.

As I embrace the Red Goddess in my life, I see that She has been singing me a siren’s song. I always assumed that to honor an indiscriminate slut would mean that I would have to be one too, so I gave Her the side-eye and backed away slowly. But as I see my own story and the choices I’ve made more clearly and honestly, I realize that my life is about love, a pouring out that is in keeping with Her desire. All of my passions, spiritual, musical and academic, have been pieces of a hunger for connection and relationship. Relationship means everything to me, and the more I understand this about myself, the more I see that this isn’t something to shy away from, but something to embrace. Loving is heroic, full of daring, bravery and action.

And love is limitless. So what happens if I fall in love with more than one person at the same time? There isn’t any model for that in medieval or modern romance tropes. When it happened to me I had to walk away from the standard map and become my own cartographer. More love means more conflict, especially when my partner is invested in the standard knight/princess motif. Envy, jealousy, scarcity of love and time – all these demons reared their ugly heads. I had to dig deep and face these demons. I also had to accept the consequences of loving someone who was unprepared to be given everything they said they wanted. I had to accept the reality of losing them. More love means the possibility of more loss. Every parent knows this fear.

There is no perfect lover, no saving Love. I don’t believe in being completed or perfected by The One, nor can I save anyone else. I am already complete. Each important relationship is a part of my own perfection and continual unfolding. My life has been a series of romances that have honed me. I haven’t been single since I was 20. I am often hard on myself about this, wondering if I am afraid to be alone.

I have realized that I need not diminish myself for the comfort of others. I don’t need to love people less intensely simply because they fear the strength of my love. I am the knight in shining armor, that is the way I love. I am writing my life like a love story. Imagine Romeo and Juliet if Romeo doesn’t climb the balcony. What if Bilbo says no to Gandalf and never leaves the Shire? Any good story is full of risks, a love story even more so. Loving is an heroic act; each time I’ve taken a risk I’ve been rewarded with adventure, love, and wisdom. I am the heroine and the knight, the lover and the beloved, of my own story.

Both Kali and the Red Goddess have shown me just how big my heart is, how full of love, how black and how bold it can be; I’m still terrified. But when I am on my deathbed and I look back on my life, I will never regret having loved. I will have written the story I wanted to read.

Identity

My birthday was this week. Birthdays and anniversaries are good times to reflect on one’s life, so I’ve been thinking about the last year of my life, about the challenges and successes.

The greatest challenges for me in the last 12 months have all been relational. Since this time last year I have had a miscarriage, lost and/or ended three important friendships, survived my son being 4, and entered into the deepest of emotional depths with my husband.

The struggles with my husband have been and are intense. We raised and discarded the dreaded D word (divorce). Our lives are significantly better together than apart; we haven’t worked hard over the last 10 years to give up now. Our solution and process is uniquely our own: we are breaking up and staying together. We’re a both/and kind of family, not an either/or one. What new relationship can be born if we prune away what isn’t working? Can we let it bloom in its own way, in its own time? I am more than hopeful, I am confident that we can. I am exhausted, but grateful that he and I can not just think outside the box, but live outside it, too.

As for the friendships, I do not believe, nor desire, that they will be renewed. One of my worst recurring nightmares used to be me walking through my life and no one would talk to me. I was never able to find out what I’d done wrong (was it something I said? did I do something wrong that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to??). No one would tell me! They wouldn’t look at me, they would turn away; I was shunned. Losing my friendships has been a bit like that. A disagreement followed by absolute silence. The ladies in question could not apologize, not even to say, “I’m sorry things have ended this way, let’s work this out.” I’ve done my share of apologizing. I have realized this year that it costs me nothing to say I’m sorry when I fuck up, and fuck up I do.

In losing these friendships, painful as it’s been, I’ve also found an incredible degree of strength and freedom. My biggest fear was realized: I exposed myself and people – beautiful, amazing people – walked away. I did not die. In fact, their absence opened up space for new, amazing, beautiful people who not only can accept my quirks, but also share their own with me.

Midyear I posted about Kali’s heart surgery. I found my heart is bigger and bolder than I ever realized. I do not need the companionship of people who will not work things out with me when we disagree or hurt each other. I do not need to diminish myself for the comfort of others. I do not need to love people for both of us. I do not need to apologize for both of us. I may have known this intellectually before, but now I’ve learned it, I know it in my bones.

I feel stronger in who and what I am. I do not fit boxes all that well. I am not a Democrat or a Republican. I am not a lesbian, nor am I straight. I am not a Christian, nor anything else ‘normal’ or remotely orthodox. I am an independent, queer, witch of the left hand path. I am a devotee of Kali. I am a scholar, editor, writer, singer, mother, lover and friend. I am fierce and silly, often in the same breath. I am an introvert, but I am not shy.

It feels good to stand more boldly in who I am. It feels good to know who my allies are, who I can trust, and who will is willing to go the distance with me. I am inspired to dig even more deeply into my practices, to live even more boldly in the year to come. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

(None of this is surprising when I look at the collage I made for my 2013. So far that divination is spot on, sigh.)