Rethinking The Label of Solitary

297 days. That’s how long it’s been since my feet had trod the trail that’s been referred elsewhere in this blog as the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood. Three seasons have come and gone without so much as a single footfall.  Physical incapacity has kept me away from this moving meditation for months; fear has barred my way when physical pain no longer prevented me from returning.

I returned to the Temple of MSB this morning for a slow and cautious hike, as there is still months of recovery before I can contemplate running again.  Today’s return was an act of sacred (but much dreaded) duty.  Not wanting to think too hard about why I’d come back, I focused my attention on the trail itself and some improvements that had been made in my long absence.  It occurred to me for the first time that I’d taken for granted the trail other than as it pertained to my own footsteps upon it.  Someone had come long before me to forge a passable path through wild nature; other hands left trailblazes to guide the way; an unseen army works unceasingly to clear trash and fallen timber; a forest ranger frequently checks the area for anything problematic.  Likewise, my ability to walk today has been the result of so many dedicated folks who made it their jobs to get me back on my feet.  Though I was walking alone through the forest, I could not have claimed this space as my own without the work and assistance of so many people.

I may have entered the woods alone today, but it was  not done as a individual acting in isolation.  Avoiding this particular trail has been an act of cowardice and denial on my part.  It is the place where I first met Sam.  In the days since his passing,  I have felt called there by his spirit. It is a call that I haven’t not wanted to answer, because I felt that I have failed him in this life. Michael ultimately pushed me to answer the call, by reminding me that, in denying Sam, I am failing to do the work that I’m sworn to do.  Damn his eyes for being both correct and logical.  In the end, Sam simply wanted to let me know that he has found the peace that he so desperately sought in life.

As I hiked out of the woods, I had a bit of an epiphany.  While I have long described myself as a solitary practitioner, the term is a misnomer.  As is the case with the Temple of MSB and with my physical well-being, I am not working in spiritual isolation. Ever.  Deities, guides, guardians, gatekeepers, helpers, and human souls are all a part of the work that I do.  Without the ubiquitous others, I could not do the work that has been charged to me.  There is never a time in my work when other sentient beings are not involved, never a moment when interdependence ceases.  Solitary implies that I am walking this path alone.  While the path is my own, I am never alone in my practice, never wholly independent.  Always, someone stands behind me, before me, or at my back, motivating me to continue this work.  For every one of those individuals, I am grateful.

 

(This post was written as a part of the Cauldron Blog Project 2015 for the July theme of Independence/Interdependence.)

 

 

Waiting…

 

Trigger Warning: This post is about one aspect of my threshold work and was composed as a personal narrative earlier today as I sat by a friend’s hospital bed.  Because it touches on the potential loss of a loved one in a  personal way, some folks may find it difficult to read.

There are times on this path of mine, particularly in doing threshold work, in which all I can do is wait and try to prepare for what comes next.  There are times when I have to sit on my hands and wait, because the next move is not mine to make.

I am waiting as I compose this post, notebook perched on one knee as I hold vigil next to Sam’s hospital bed.  His daughter watches me surreptitiously.  She’s not entirely sure of me, nor I of her.  We’ve only met twice prior to her panicked call to me last Sunday, telling me that they’d just arrived at the emergency room and confessed in a whisper that she was scared.  She’s still frightened a day later, afraid that if she lets go of her father’s hand, he might slip away in that moment.  It’s her ritual during this time of waiting.  She will not leave his side unless I take Sam’s hand in her stead. So I play this game of hand holding when she needs to step away to cry in private.  I know that need well – I did the same when my own father was in the CICU prior to his death.

Sam is waiting too… his body continues to function thanks to a tangle of wires, tubes, and machinery.  His soul is wavering, though, not quite ready to let go this life and yet not sure if it should remained tied to his broken body.  I’ve made the first move – I’ve stepped into that place where he lingers and asked if he is ready, if he needs my help.  He is uncertain.  The pull is strong in both directions and so he remains, not quite fully connected to the physical body, but unable to leave it entirely behind.  I tell him that he can decide in his own time, that I will be here if he needs me, and I leave a foot in that place where he lingers and a foot in the reality of the hospital room.

We wait in relative silence for his decision.  His daughter ventures to speak only rarely – asking me if I can ‘sense’ anything, if he is dying, if her mother is there with us.  Yes, I tell her, her mother is here, watching over them both as she always has.  I cannot, will not, tell her of her father’s uncertainty, that even if he chooses to remain, his body may not be strong enough to survive this.  I leave it to the doctors to warn her that ‘it is too soon to tell’.  They soothe her with their assurances that he is resting comfortably and is not in pain.  They cannot see the spirit that stands beside the bed, looking puzzled and concerned at the body that it had occupied.  I am glad that they cannot see this; I am glad too that Sam’s daughter is head-blind. Seeing what I see would be of no comfort to her.

For me, this time of waiting requires an unwelcomed emotional detachment.  I want to able to sink into my own grief, to cry my own tears of fear, to remember the moments that bind me to Sam.  What I want doesn’t matter however.  Sentimentality and nostalgia are luxuries that I cannot afford right now.  I need this waiting time to plan, chess-like, several moves ahead, what I will need to do if he decides to go.  There is time now to prepare myself for the work that will be required.

So I make plans – how to best guide Sam and to help him sever the ties that hold him here, what to do for his daughter in the hours that will follow, what prayers might best be spoken, what deities I might call upon for assistance without conflicting with his strongly held religious beliefs and without compromising my own.  I contemplate leaving all of this to his clergy, to withdraw myself from the spiritual side of this situation and willingly take on only the role of concerned bystander. I convince myself in this moment that my beliefs, my gods, my work might not be welcome.  I worry that I am intruding on moments that his daughter might feel should be hers alone to share.

As doubts creep over me and I contemplate leaving, I hear the whisper, a faint rustle of sound.  Wait, he asks, please wait. I reach for his hand and offer a silent plea to my goddess for the strength to do the most difficult thing – to simply wait…

Laugh Loudest When You’re the Punchline

I headed out to the trail that I affectionately refer to as The Temple of Mud, Sweat and Blood today for the first time in months.  It’s been a difficult week so far and I was in desperate need of peace and quiet, if only for an hour.  I’ve not been able to get out on the trail in months thanks to a knee injury and won’t be doing any trail running in the foreseeable future.  Today was more of a trail hobble, with knee wrapped up and walking stick for support. I think I would have went out today even if it meant crawling along the trail.

The slowness of the pace, I hoped, would give me a chance to clear my head a bit after a rough few days. There were two unrelated deaths this week, within hours of each other, that left most of the people that I know in mourning.  I found myself coping well enough with the passings themselves, as neither was entirely unexpected (both had been battling serious health issues).  Dealing with the level of grief and emotion of the people around me just left me drained, with no recovery time or ability to bounce back.  There hasn’t been an hour without a message, call, text, or email from someone coping with these losses.

Old grief gets stirred up at times like these and it’s not going to come as a surprise that Andy’s death has been heavily on my mind this week (as it was already in my thoughts before these new losses).  I was expecting a bit of flack about my last post, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Andy’s friend, James, called me this week and said “So, you’ve publicly admitted that you lied to a dying man?” Looking back, I realize that I did not choose my words well or carefully and left a lot open for (mis)interpretation, particularly for someone who knows only the end of the story.  If I look at my previous post through that filter, I sound like even more of a jerk  than (I think) I actually was.  My tone was more callous than I’d intended and I can see how it could be taken badly.

After a few minutes of some very serious questions and answers, James finally summed it up with “So, you felt this intense, maddening kind of love for him that made  you want to be  a caretaker of all the broken bits of his soul?  You felt driven all along, at the urging of your goddess, to try to give him as much comfort, solace, and healing as you possibly could, even if it meant having to lie to him about your feelings and hid from him things that you thought might hurt him? Even if it meant doing so meant that you’d have to revisit some of the most painful times of your life?”  Yes, I told James, that was exactly how I felt- at last, someone gets it.  At this point, James snorted loudly into the phone and said “You are so adorable” with much the same tone and meaning that folks in the southern part of the States say “Bless your heart.” (For those not familiar, these phrases both roughly translate to “My god, you are such an idiot.”).  Then he started laughing, a cackle that would do any witch proud.

My temper frayed just a bit at that point and I demanded to know what was so funny.  “Ais, you and that idiot Andy are. I don’t think I’ve met two such stubborn, inconsolable asses in my life.”  I still wasn’t seeing the humor in this and told him so.  James went on to relate the conversation in which Andy had first told him about me.  “He was driven,” James stated, “by an overwhelming need to help you move past the things that had caused you pain. What I asked about being a caretaker of the broken bits of his soul, those were his words about you.  The things you wanted for him… he wanted those same things for you.  That was the work that he needed to finish before he died, trying to mend what was broken in you.” I ended the phone call feeling somewhat stunned and re-framing a lot of things in my head to fit this new information.

As I walked the trail yesterday, that conversation was on my mind.  Then the earworm started and I could hear Andy’s voice singing Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” (which, hooray for piling on the irony,  is the only song I’ve ever heard Andy actually sing – maybe I should have paid more attention to the lyrics at the time).  At that point, I started laughing at the whole thing because it was the only thing that I could do, other than become an atheist.  Oh thank you Isis, Mender of the Broken, for your ‘delightful’ sense of irony and your ability to fix the fixers.  To think that Coyote makes me nervous and that I refuse to work directly with Loki because dealing with tricksters is too squicky.  Leave it to the Boss of Me (TM) make those two look like mere amateurs.  *snorts* Sweet and gentle mother goddess, my ass.

At the end of the day, I needed that laugh, that moment of not taking seriously something that was, at the time it happened, intense and difficult.  I needed too the humor to get me through this week’s losses.   One of the people who passed this week had an uncanny ability to find the humor in everything and to laugh even in her darkest hours.  In facing another diagnosis of cancer, she said this: “Own your journey and find the humor in it, especially the hard parts. Laugh through the pain, laugh through the fear, laugh loudest when you’re the punchline of the joke.”  Good advice from a wise lady.

[Author’s note: I’ve recorded James’ comments with his consent and full support.  At least I think he consented… it was hard to tell with all the snorting and guffawing that he was doing.  I think he’s probably still cackling as I write this.]

Fire Burns

[ Trigger Warning –  This post touches on a lot of potential triggers  – including miscarriage, death of a beloved, sacrifice, bullying, rape, and self-acceptance.  I’ve intentionally avoided being graphic or emotional in talking about these things, but  there is a whole lot of potentially painful subjects mentioned in fairly quick succession, mostly, but not always, just in passing.

General note: This post, in case you didn’t guess from the above, talks about some very personal and intense experiences.  Much of this is a culmination of things I’ve touched on in my last few posts.  If you’re not interested in reading about personal experience and some associated unpleasantness, skip reading this post.

I’d ask, too, that if you feel the need to belittle, ridicule, or otherwise criticize the events and decisions described below, that you refrain from doing so in the comments.  Thoughtful comments are, as always, welcome.]

Continue reading “Fire Burns”

Up From The Ashes

Sometimes, just when I think I know exactly what I going to do and just how I am going to do it, a juggernaut comes from out of nowhere and lays me out flat.  This is often followed by long periods of staring blankly into space while all the gears and wheels inside my head try to mesh together again in some sensible functioning way. Today, apparently, is one of those juggernaut days.

This morning I was certain that I’d finally got down my ideas for the February addition to my ritual calendar.  It’s a lovely, light working, something to help ease the heaviness of winter and to encourage a bit of self-care for SAD.  Everything was laid out beautifully in my notes, just waiting for me to type it up. When I tried to open the file this morning, it was gone.  Not moved. Not accidentally sent to the trash.  Just gone without a trace.

This is not a big deal.  I have enough of the ritual memorized that I still write it up without the notes and so I opened WordPress.  When I did, a post in the feed caught my eye – Between the ribs from Rock of Eye.  Before you click, I should probably say that this might be disturbing to some readers.  It disturbed me, but not for any of the obvious probable reasons.  I read the post three times in between pacing and muttering “shit” a lot to myself.   Hours later, I’m still twitchy because this particular juggernaut blindsided me with something that hits too close to home. That someone else has experienced this makes it more significant and less easy to dismiss as a misfiring of an overly creative mind.

I usually write about things here that I think would be useful to other eclectic seekers.  What I don’t talk much about are the very deepest, grittiest bits of my path, because they are deeply personal and interwoven with my relationship to my deity in a way that is far too intimate and intense to put into words. Alex’s post laid out one of those things that I’ve refrained from talking about here – a desire to meet death at the hands of one’s deity.  I’m still not sure that I’m ready to discuss this with any depth here, but I will say that I have had this same experience, a vision of dying at the hand of my deity.  In my case, it was not a steel blade, but a complete and utter consumption by fire, a destruction to ashes.  That’s all I’m going to say on the matter for now, just an acknowledgement that it happened.

As I’ve thought about the above experience today, a message from Her has come through loud and clear – that while the planned February ritual is “acceptable”, it is not what I should or need to be doing.  My impression is that what I’d planned was a little too light, a bit too nice, a bit too sweet, and a bit too likely to have zero impact.  While I’m still trying to work out what it is that She wants, I know that it relates to that vision and to (metaphorically) burning myself down to ashes and seeing what rises from them.   The mechanics of how I’m going to accomplish this are not clear to me at all, nor is the exact purpose of doing so.  So from having a full ritual for the month, I’ve come full circle back to having only the vaguest idea of what to do and twenty-seven days to figure it out.  No pressure, of course.

All Hallowhain de Muertos

The title is a bit of a holiday mash-up, I admit, but I have yet to come up with a single name for the holy days that I celebrate this time of year.   As an eclectic practitioner who does a substantial amount of work with the dead and dying, this time of year has become my highest of holy periods.  There’s feasting, rituals,  offerings for the dead and deities alike, prayers,  a good bit of spiritual renewal… you name it, it’s a part of these important days.  Samhain has been my fallback term for the spiritual celebrations at this time of year, but I’ve realized that my way of celebrating the holiday isn’t entirely in line with the traditions of this holiday either.  So what is it that I’m celebrating then? Hallowhain? All Muertos?  The Grim Reaper’s Birthday? International  Psychopomp Awareness Day?  Damned if I know what to call it.

In any case, whatever you name it, that time of year has come around again.  I’ve had to scale back this year, largely due to mobility issues stemming from a recent knee injury.  Cooking a full blown Samhain supper was out of the question, as was hobbling down the steep embankments to the river to do my usual work there.  Even the usual purification bath got nixed this year  because getting up from slippery tub with a wibbly-wobbly knee wasn’t happening.  However, I did manage most of the usual offerings and prayers, libations and roll calls.  The deities to whom I owed offerings and thanks got those in plenty as well.  The vital work was done,  at the very least.  Maybe I should refer to this year’s celebrations as All Hallowhain de Muertos Lite.

Never Forgotten – Marilyn

Belated Birthday

The Cauldron lost a wonderfully witty, wise and tough elder yesterday, Marilyn. Sorrow abounds today, but joy as well, for having known the warmth her presence in our lives. George Elliot said “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” Marilyn, you will always live in the hearts and minds of those who knew you.

Many blessings on your continued journey, dear lady.