It’s Not Me, It’s Not You, It’s the Ghosts

I knew it was coming, sooner or later, that inevitable moment when Sam would say “We need to talk” all the while avoiding my eye, looking about as if he expected phantoms to pop up in every corner. I won’t rehash it verbatim, but in essence, it was a conversation with which I am familiar.  It’s the conversation that usually begins with some kind of compliment or loving statement like “You’re a really nice person” or “I really like having you in my life” followed by an unspoken “but”.   Eventually, at some point after a lot of hemming and hawing, the speaker gets around to the heart of the matter:  “It’s not you… it’s not me… it’s the ghosts.”   “The ghosts” being some statement about the threshold work that I do.  The conversation ends usually with a severing of ties, either for the reason of non-belief (and the implication that believing is somehow a character flaw or personality disorder) or  of a fear of the work itself.

At the end of the day, the conversation becomes about the speaker’s comfort zones.  Modern western society is, on the whole, uncomfortable with death.  Spirit work tends to be dismissed in popular culture as a form of entertainment that attracts mostly curiosity seekers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a good scare.  While most people can accept ghosts-as-entertainment, the thought that there might be something more to it frightens them.  Even those who profess a belief in spirits are often happiest when keeping them at arm’s length, usually as the subject of some distant tale to be told rather than something to be dealt with directly.

I am under no illusions that what I do will ever be widely accepted, so I do tend to limit my disclosures when dealing with people on a face-to-face basis to those who absolutely need to know.  Sam was on that short need-to-know list for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that he’s been on the receiving end of my work.  Samhain brought it home to him that the work that I do is a lot bigger and more encompassing than he  had imagined.  As he put it, it is one thing to hear about it second-hand or get a small glimpse of it, it’s entirely different when the person sitting across the table from you lives and breathes the work.  The “enormity” of it is not something that he’s equipped to deal with right now. I recognize that and would rather absent myself from his life than be a source of consternation when he’s already facing so many other challenges.

A long time ago, I made the decision that I would answer these conversations with understanding rather than resistance. There is no argument that I can put forward when someone tells me that they cannot cope with who I am or what I do. I am what I am and the work that calls to me is the work that I am meant to do above all else.  It is work that springs, not from some morbid desire to dwell in shadows and dark places, but from a well of love, compassion, and duty.  It fulfills me in a way that nothing else does.  I cannot change that aspect of myself for the comfort of others, nor can I cease  my work to spare the feelings of one person.  Letting go, and doing so as graciously as possible, is the only solution that I’ve found that limits the pain involved in severing ties.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to put all of this into words.  This post is perhaps one part apology to someone who will be hurt and angry that I did not fight to keep Sam in my life, one part warning for those who take up threshold work with any seriousness that there’s more than one way to lose someone in doing this work, and one part recording of where I wander as I tread my path.  In any case, there it is, ghosts and all.

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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”

PBP Week 15 – Helping Others

Must we help others who would follow in our spiritual/religious footsteps?  What, if any, are our duties and obligations when faced with questions/inquiries/demands from someone less experienced than ourselves?  Are those of us who have circled the pagan block more than once under some requirement to provide answers and guidance to those that have not yet been there, done that, and bought the pentacle to prove it?  Do our experiences  automatically dictate that we become teachers and mentors? Do we ever have the right to say no when faced with questions from those who seek our assistance?  What moral obligation do we have to be truthful or to provide full disclosure when we do answer questions?

Yes, there are a lot of questions in that first paragraph, but these questions seem to crop up over and over again.  They’re important questions, IMO, and knowing the answers to them can go along way toward helping us handle questions from the inquiring minds of those less experienced.  The only problem is that there is no single correct set of answers to those questions.  Like so much of what we do spiritually, we have to decide for ourselves where our boundaries are… and deal with the potential disdain of those who don’t share our point of view.

Personally, I don’t mind occasionally helping out someone if I have the knowledge, experience, and ability to do so.  After all, I’d not be in a position to answer those questions if someone else hadn’t been generous with their own time and knowledge when I asked those same questions. Teaching isn’t something I’ve ever set out to do, but I don’t mind giving the occasional lesson.

My helpfulness is tempered, however, by the idea that we are each the steward of our own experiences and knowledge.  It is our individual responsibility to determine how and when these things should be shared and to what degree.  I have never felt an obligation to answer a question simply because it was asked.

If anything, I feel an obligation to say “no” when someone demands information about something that is too advanced for their skill level.  I realize that this pisses some seekers off and have heard the argument a thousand times that, by refusing to share, I am treating the questioner like a child who is unable to determine for themselves which risks are acceptable.  My answer to this debate is simply this… someone whose experiences are limited is like a child in that they should be afforded protection and guidance when dealing with something that is potentially dangerous.  I’d rather deal with someone’s outrage over having knowledge withheld than with the anger of someone who has been handed knowledge that they aren’t experienced/responsible/mature enough to handle it and are then forced deal with the consequences.  Like so many other things, helping others is a balance between what the person wants, actually needs, and what is in the best interest of all involved.

(And I’m just going to apologize now if there are any glaring grammatical or nonsensical errors in this post.  I’ve been losing the battle against insomnia this week, so I’m not at my most grammatically correct right now. The fact that wordpress has a built in spell-check has probably saved this post from being completely unintelligible.  Hopefully I’ll get a nap in before my next post!).

 

 

On Seeing Dead People

Charon, the ferryman of the dead, receives a c...
Image via Wikipedia

I stumbled across this in the process of moving one of my other blogs to another site and realized that I’d never posted it here.  It’s rather old news that I can see ghosts and talk to them.  However, this post is the only place that I’ve ever really summarized that particular ‘gift.’  I imagine that I will probably go into more depth with some  of the things that I touch upon here, but this is a good starting point.

This blog was inspired by Nehet’s inquiry about my experiences as a psychopomp. I realized when she asked that I’d never really written a comprehensive account of this particular aspect of my life. I’ve mentioned bits here and there, but never woven the whole story together in one place. So, here goes…

To begin at the beginning, I’ve had the ability to interact with the dead for as long as I can recall. Explanations as to why this gift is mine elude me. At some point I stopped asking the ‘why’ question and the gods stopped answering ‘because We said so, dammit.’ 🙂

I can’t explain how it works or why either, other than to say that I can see and talk to the dead. Sometimes the conversations are whispered and the visual images are only the faintest of a translucent outlines. At other times, spirits come through almost as clearly as a living person. Again, I have no explanation of the whys or hows.

It is probably important to make a distinction between the terms medium and psychopomp at this point. In simplest terms, mediumship is what I’ve described above. The forms that mediumship can take vary, but at the heart of the concept is the ability to communicate with the dead. In personal terms, this is an innate gift for me. It is not a learned skill. There was no conscious choice to become this thing; I simply am.

Again using the simplest terms, a psychopomp is a person who helps guide souls between worlds. It is, I suppose, an extension of mediumship, a step beyond basic interaction into a more complex, often more difficult relationship with the dead. Fortunately, this skill isn’t an innate, lifelong ability for me. Mediumship was the foundation on which I’ve built this separate set of skills.

Now on to the tale that I set out to tell and the answer perhaps to Nehet’s inquiry…

“It was a dark and stormy night. A brooding stranger pulled a drowning young woman from a raging river and bid her welcome back to the land of the living… ”

So begins the tale of my life as a psychopomp. I jest lightly about it now because I’m still here to make such jokes. The reality is that I came within a heartbeat or two of drowning when I was in college and the person who pulled me out of the water became my friend, partner, and mentor. He taught me shamanistic techniques and how to ‘walk between worlds.’ As a teenager and adult, I seem to attract people into my life who were close to crossing the threshold between life and death. With his help, I came to understand that there was a purpose and reason to this and that I could do more than stand by helplessly and watch. Ironically, his was the first soul that I guided- a last lesson before parting, I think.

That early training was focused on a world tree concept, which, while being a great conceptualization of the universe, didn’t work well for me. Over time, I kept researching techniques and life unfortunately handed me some opportunities to put theory into practice. When my father was passing, I couldn’t even begin to visualize the world tree. Thinking of his love of books was the inspiration to try a different technique using a library as a place to step across the threshold. Essentially, the technique that I used for a long time was to imagine myself in a large library and each book as a biography. Pull the book from the shelf that’s about the person you’re helping and step into their story. It seems silly, yes, but part of doing this kind of work is finding a way to step beyond the world we know. For whatever reason, that technique did the trick.

In the last few years, I’ve been able just to will myself to a place between worlds to do the work I need to do; no visualization necessary anymore. My process is essentially to mentally go to that place, invite the soul of the person to join me (and if necessary, guide them there), and work with them to open a door in which to pass through. With this, I do other work as appropriate for the situation – prayer work, smudgings, cleansings, and sometimes, just a lot of listening. Sometimes it’s as simple as just being a witness to someone’s parting words, passing the message to the people who need to hear it, and letting them pass knowing they were heard.

At other times, it’s not so simple, particularly when I’m emotionally involved in the situation. How do I say no to a dying friend who asks me to walk those final steps with them? The simple and painful answer is that I don’t say no. The more complex answer is that a lot of time is spent talking to the person while they’re still living, helping them to get a grasp on what they think is going to happen to them when they die, and then making sure that I am indeed there when they’re ready to cross. When it’s someone who is a beloved, the process can be very personal, intense, and difficult. However, I think that the process of losing a loved one is actually more difficult without this process. Closure, I suppose.

I’ve been asked why I’d want to do this kind of work. It’s not really a matter of what I want. Saying no to it isn’t really an option – it’s rather like quicksand, the more I struggle against doing this work, the more entrenched I become. Given a choice, I wouldn’t possess a talent that puts me in emotionally difficult situations while making me sound completely batshit in the process. When people start talking about having a reason for being and a purpose in life, I can only smile and nod. I know what mine is. Whether or not I like it is another matter.

I’m going to leave it at that, which is quite thoroughly enough, I think. If anyone is truly a glutton for punishment, I can post later in more detail later about individual examples of the work I’ve done. Be forewarned, though, they all die in the end. (Sorry, irreverence and gallows humor are sometimes necessary for maintaining sanity).

On Praying

A man praying at a Japanese Shintō shrine.
Image via Wikipedia

While by no means is prayer a ubiquitous form of religious expression, the saying of prayers is a common action on a multitude of spiritual paths.  Prayers of blessing are said over food and for child, prayers of healing for the ailing, prayers of forgiveness for trespasses, prayers of safe passage for the dying and dead.  Many of us mark each day with prayer, others may find prayer a part of their lives only in moments of crisis or during holy celebrations.

Whatever approach we take to prayer, most of us find ourselves confronted by the desire to pray for someone else at some point in our spiritual lives.  When faced with an urge to pray for another, most people don’t give it much thought, but simply send up their requests.  Prayer, after all, doesn’t require us to obtain the permission of the other person or to even consider their feelings regarding the matter of prayers said on their behalf.  Prayer is, after all, a communication between the practitioner and deity, not necessarily the concern of the person being prayed for. 

Or is it?  Perhaps it’s not as simple as saying “I want this for you,” so I’m going to pray for you.  What happens if what you want for a person is in direction opposition to what they want for themselves?  What if prayers to a deity other than their own is a violation of the tenets of their beliefs?  What are the consequences of acting on someone’s behalf without their consent?

I won’t pretend that I have “The Answers” TM to these questions.  It’s something I’ve struggled with over the years myself.  My thoughts on the matter at this point in my path are:

  • Obtain permission whenever possible.  Ask if the subject if it’s okay to pray on their behalf.  Address any questions or concerns that they may express.
  • If a person declines or appears uncomfortable with the offer of prayers, respect their wishes without questioning their reasons.  Do not argue or debate the point.  Find another way to be of help if you must, but respect each person’s spiritual sovereignty.
  • Be very forthright about the reasons for praying for another.  If the other person asks, tell them not only what you’re praying for on their behalf, but also to whom you are praying and for what reason.  Verify that the content of your prayers is in line with what they want. 
  • In the case of dire emergency where the person cannot respond, I will send prayers on their behalf, with a caveat of “Please answer this prayer only if it would be their will to have it said.” 
  • When the temptation strikes to assume that I know what a person needs more than they do, I refrain from praying for what I want for that person or what I think that person needs.  Instead, I will ask my own deities to give me patience and a clear head to cope with the situation.  “Open my eyes so that I may see, open my mind so that I may know, open my heart so that I may accept” is a frequent refrain in my personal prayers.

There is a certain underlying complexity in our interactions with each other and with our deities.  When faced with the question “May I pray for you?”, it pays to already know the answer, to know ourselves well enough to give an answer that upholds our own paths while respecting those of others.  The same is true when faced with the question “Will you pray for me?”   A simple prayer requires that we simply think before acting.

What To Do When You Can’t

I’ve hit a wall and can’t seem to find the words to express what I need to say.  It isn’t writer’s block, but more a case of brick wall. Or perhaps it’s simply a lack of spoons.*  In any case, it seems that I’ve sat down a dozen times to write a post about the recent changes and challenges that have come my way.  Each time, I’ve stared at the screen until I either move on to something else out of boredom or have a petite meltdown trying to wrap my head around it all.

I’m overwhelmed by the  multitude of both the  little, insignificant and the larger, life-impacting things that have been happening lately.    There is so much that I want to do, that I need to do, that I feel I should be doing, that I am expected to do.  There is only one small problem with all those things to be done –  I simply can’t. 

Aside from the obvious physics dilemma of not being able to be in multiple places at the same time, my own limitations and weaknesses are preventing me from doing a lot of those things that I feel need to be done. Finding energy, time, and other resources to cope even with the minor issues has become a challenge in the wake of my own on-going health issues.  I set out to do things only to find that I am being derailed by new problems or facing setbacks due to my own lack of reserves.  It’s frustrating and at times, emotionally painful.

The spiritual aspects of my life have suffered as much as the mundane ones .  Helping others through their challenges and simply being there for those in need are integral parts of my path, integral parts of who I am. I can easily say “no” when I don’t see a legitimate need, but to do so when there is a need is heart-wrenching.  Turning down opportunities to teach and share knowledge come a close second in terms of heartbreak.  I want to help, to heal, to teach, to share.  Instead, I find that I can barely manage a simple prayer for my own healing and wellbeing.  If I can’t muster the resources to keep myself going, finding the reserves to help others is going to be an impossibility.

So I’m at a bit of a loss.  Withdrawing from the world is not an option, but what do you do when you’ve hit a point of not being able to do so many of the things that are important to you?  Do you smile, say no, and hope that everyone (family, friends, and deity alike) understands?  Do you plow through as best you can, consequences be damned?  Do you keep a stiff upper lip long enough to get through what has to be done? 

The closest I’ve come to an answer is to try to scale back across the board, so that I don’t drop  the ball on any one issue or person.  Remaining conservative in the energy I give to other people.  Saying no without completely turning my back on others.  Finding moments of solitude to mend myself.  Struggling along until I have more resources.  I’m afraid that for now, it’s the best I can do. 

 

 

*I’m referring here to Christine Miserandino’s The Spoon Theory.  Worth a read if you are dealing with a chronic illness or know someone who is.