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.


Breaking the Cycle

“Maybe I have been here before.
I know this room. I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve sen your flag on the marble arch.
Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
– Leonard Cohen, “Hallejuah”

Since this refrain has been looping through my head all week, perhaps it’s  fitting introduction to this month’s Cauldron Blog Project theme: Calendars, Cycles, and Patterns.  While I love the idea of spiritual calendars and finding patterns in my work, there are some cycles that are actually detrimental to my practice.  The fact that I’m walking around with the above song stuck in my head is a fair indicator that I’m deeply enmeshed in one of those cycles – one in which I find myself scrambling for any scraps of self-love and self-worth that I can find.

The last few weeks have been difficult.  Things that are happening now carry the echo of old hurts.  Patterns of behavior that began with one or another painful event in the past are being repeated now, much to the detriment of myself and others who would be a part of my life.   Seeing these patterns reemerge has given me the chance to see that the tools I used to cope at the time were not – and still are not – the ones that I actually needed to process those events in a way that was healthy.  I’ve persevered, but in doing so, caused lasting harm in other ways.  In trying to deal with pain in my own ridiculously stubborn and independent way, I have closed myself off from meaningful connections with others, nursed a deep-seated distrust of others’ motives, and created a mental framework that does not allow me to either love or trust deeply.  Yes, a few people did some pretty awful things to create this outlook, but I’ve come to realize that while I cannot change what happened, I could have reacted to it in ways that were less self-destructive.

So what to do to break the cycles that are detrimental?  Simple: Learn to trust again.  Find a way to love that is sustainable and nurturing.  Ask for and accept help when I need it instead of insisting that I can handle everything on my own.  Communicate what’s happening below the surface, particularly when it involves others.  Focus on the rewards of opening myself to others rather than the risks and dangers.  Cope with the fallout of what’s happened without withdrawing or shutting down. Admit my own shortcomings and failings without endlessly being plagued with self-doubt.  Accept that what has happened cannot be altered, that I can only change the way I react to it. Be wholly present in this world when not actively engaged in shadow or threshold work.  Find a way to accept that not having all of these skills already does not make me in fatally flawed or unlovable.

Alright, maybe this isn’t so simple.  One step at a time, I think, beginning with enlisting the help of others.  I did reach out to other people this week , to ask for general emotional support and to schedule counseling.  It doesn’t like much, does it?  Such small steps, such giant leaps, to break the cycle.

The Temple of MSB: Poking the Sore Spots

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that I “won’t be doing any trail running in the foreseeable future.”  The unforeseeable future was another matter entirely.

Today I ran.

I ran because every single sore spot of my being has been poked and prodded in the last few weeks. I ran because I am tired of being held back by my own body’s failure to function correctly. I ran because February saw the deaths of five people with whom I was acquainted. I ran because I have spent the last few weeks once again dealing with an individual whose sociopathic behavior made my life a hell for far too long.  I ran because the person to whom I feel most connected nearly succeeded in ending his life.  I ran because I was reminded in a painful way of why I find trust and love difficult.  I ran because there has not been a moment this week, not even in sleep, when I’ve been able to process everything that is happening. I ran because there was no other outlet for the anger, anxiety, and fear that all of these things are creating.

I ran until my knee buckled, leaving me sprawled face down in a muddy patch of trail.  Falling made me furious, mostly at myself for being such an idiot.  The questions came screaming through my head loud and clear: When are you going to stop running from things that cause you pain? When are you going to stand and face your fears?  When are you going to stop letting your life be controlled by pain?  When are you going to thank that handsome guy Loki for all of his help lately?

What? Wait a minute…

Well now, that would explain a lot, particularly why a lot of hidden truths have been coming to the surface lately and why masks are getting ripped off of those who would wear them.  Why I’ve had a compulsion to burn red, orange, and yellow candles. Why I have been finding weird ‘goodies’ in my shopping cart that I didn’t put in there  (today it was Pop-Rocks and Cheerwine).  Why my mp3 player will not stop playing Combichrist’s “Kickstart the Fight” no matter how many times I try to delete the song.  Okay, maybe I’ve been a little slow on the uptake, but I’m fully aware now that Loki is not just lurking but actively ‘helping’.

Does anyone need one slightly used and somewhat demented trickster deity? Free to a good home, but I won’t promise that he’s housebroken.

Returning to the Temple of MSB

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I’d been hitting the trails on Sunday mornings, affectionately known as the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood.  Thanks to the vacation and subsequent illness mentioned in my last post, I’ve missed two weeks of Sunday services.  Today, I finally laced on my running shoes again and set out with a feet-dragging reluctance that I’m almost ashamed to admit.  I could think of some really good reasons not to go- being ill, feeling physically drained, horrific seasonal allergies, lethargy such that I can barely pick my feet up off the ground.  I could also think of some rather dumb excuses not to go – cool weather, looking silly in running clothes, not wanting to be seen in ‘public’ with a nose leaking like a faucet.   Of course, others have been so kind to give me reasons why I should absolutely never go trail running on my own – poison ivy/oak/sumac, encounters with dangerous creatures like poisonous snakes, bears, and serial killers, horrific accidents like falling down an embankment, breaking both legs, and having to live off leaves and dew drops until finally succumbing to death by exposure.

In spite of the internal whining, I set out on the trail this morning with the intent to walk most of it, resting frequently, and being cautious as I went.  After about twenty minutes, I felt stronger than I had in weeks and picked up the pace to a slow jog.  As I began to run, all the voices of doubt started shouting in my head – what if I made myself sick from the exertion, what if I ran across a bear, what if I fell down an embankment?

I should point out at this point, that, given the right combination of circumstances, we can manifest our thoughts into reality.  In my case, I promptly tripped over a tree root, flew head first into the middle of a huge rhododendron on the embankment below me, and in what was a priceless bit of slapstick, tumbled slowly down the bush, landed briefly on my feet  and then promptly did a face-plant into the hillside.   As I lay there checking for broken bits, the voices of doubt started a chorus of “told you so, told you so”.   Bruised, sore, and with an entire choir of defeatist voices in my head, I did the only thing I could do.  I picked myself up, climbed back up to the trail, and finished my run.  Why persist when the nagging voices of doubt had been right?  Because, by doing this, I feel the connection between mind, body, spirit, and my environment in a way that I haven’t been able to otherwise achieve.  If it costs me a few sore muscles and bruises, so be it.  It’s a price I’m willing to pay.

My attitude toward my spiritual path is much the same.  There are a thousand reasons not to strike out on a seeker’s path – there are dangers in those woods as well.  It can be lonely, difficult work. It is, after all, easier to take the path of least resistance – whether it’s spending Sunday morning either on the couch or attending services at a church of my family’s faith.   I’m not interested in the easy way, however.  Stumbling along and falling down is a part of the journey, whether trail running or forging a spiritual path.  We grow and learn, not when everything goes smoothly, but in those moments of error, those times when we trip over an obstacle.  Today, I learned that I can roll with the punches, no matter how many times a little voice in my head says “quit now”.  I also learned that when I commit to walking (or running) along a path, I’d damn well better pick up my feet if I don’t want to get up close and personal with the local flora.


Caution: Contains Content (PBP Week 6)

Someone recently sent me a message complaining about my ‘failure’ to post a content/trigger warning on blog posts that may be of an ‘upsetting nature’.  Among the ‘issues’ cited were a post referring to the Sandy Hook shootings (here), use of the dreaded F-word (here and here), and mentions of mental illness, cancer, and death (too many to cite).  Apparently, I am being an ‘insensitive excuse for a human being’ by not putting big neon signs over each blog post that warn of potential triggers.

So for those of you who need one, consider this your content warning:  This blog… and indeed  the person writing it… contains content that some  might find offensive, objectionable, upsetting, or in direct contrast to the opinions and thoughts that they hold dear.

Now… and I say this with love…  get over it.

Trigger/content warnings have their place.  For example, I think film ratings are a good idea, because some things are too mature for a seven-year-old.  And I love people who label emails/post as “NSWF”, as we all need to be able to earn our keep.  Trigger warnings are also a great tool or certain spaces on the net, such as sites that deal specifically with trauma survivors or that show images of a graphic nature.

However, I don’t think that my decidedly non-graphic post about a school shooting warrants a trigger warning.  I am not on this planet to make sure that anyone exists in a constant zone of safety, free of references to things that might be painful, uncomfortable, or upsetting. While I generally try to keep content somewhere between PG and PG-13 levels and am a trauma survivor myself, I feel absolutely no need to be the babysitter,  guardian, or gatekeeper for other people’s pain.

In fact, keeping myself (or others) constantly insulated from pain is quite the opposite of my fundamental beliefs.  Life is full of discomfort, pain, and trauma.   It is my belief that a part of becoming a ‘spiritual grown-up’ is to accept that pain is a part of life and that no one is exempt experiencing pain.  To function fully, we need to be able to take the pain that we’ve been exposed to, learn what we can from it, and then let it go.

I do not expect strangers on the internet to safeguard my emotional state for me, nor will I accept the role of doing this for other people. I will do my best to be respectful and courteous, to not be overly graphic in my descriptions, and not to casually reference things that I know are triggers for many people.  I will not, however, post a warning on every post for potential triggers.  I leave it to the reader to understand that, in any public space you enter, you have the potential to hear, see or read something that might be upsetting to you.  I also leave it up to you to figure out the best way to handle those moments.  (Hint: Attacking the person who made the triggering comment may not be the ideal way to handle these things.)

There. You’ve been warned.

PBP Week 50 – Youth Lost

This is not the post I had intended to write when I sat down yesterday.  The post that I’d already composed in my head was about Yule and the longest night of the year.  There are other things that need to be said in the wake of yesterday’s events in Connecticut.

To the ferrymen…
Ease the journey of those who have fallen,
shepherd gently the souls of the innocent,
help them cross to a place of peace.
To the comforters…
Ease the pain of those left behind,
hold them closely in your arms,
help them to see the life still left.
To the fighters…
Choose carefully your battles,
know that you will not always win,
make the progress that you can.
To all…
Mourn and grieve as you need,
and when your tears have dried,
take a stand and vow “Never again.”

This world will never be without violence or pain, but the kind of horrific scenes that unfolded yesterday do not need to be a part of anyone’s experience.  Do what you can, wherever you are, with the tools you have to prevent another child being lost to violence. Advocate for the solutions that you believe will stop this kind of mindless violence against children.  We may not agree on the best solutions or how to achieve them, but until we begin to talk earnestly and honestly about the issue, there can be no hope of ending this nightmare.