Image courtesy of FlickrCC/Darwin Bell
It’s Thursday night Chi Kung, and we are cultivating energy between our palms and then our own palms and a partner’s. Our teacher instructs us to remember a time when we felt pure joy, to recall it vividly, completely in every cell, to embody joy in this moment. Then he says: Bring this joy into your hands. Offer it as a gift to the world.
Joy springs, wells, swells between our palms. I see joy spilling over the world, spreading over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, touching all the lives, feathered, finned and human, that have been and are being so devastated by the ongoing disaster. The joy stays with me after I leave class and into the next day. I realize it has been a long time since I have allowed myself to open to joy — not since April 20th at least. Since then, whether or not I am consciously thinking of the oil disaster, I feel it in my body, I carry it with me. Not as a noble, if futile, gesture, but simply because, like all of us, I am seventy percent ocean. How can all be well with me if all is not well with the sea?
A long time ago, I had a dream in which a religious authority reproached me for feeling joy in a world where there was hunger, poverty, oppression, war (this was before environmental depredation had made the list). In the dream I dared to answer the authority: “Joy is part of God’s equation.” Since I flunked algebra and am mathematically inept, equation was and is an unusual metaphor for me. Perhaps that is why the dream phrase stayed with me all these years, even as the internalized voice of the reproachful authority continues to rebuke me.
Last week I posted a piece called Three Ring Circus: The Thrill of Couples Counseling. Using the circus as a metaphor, I described my work as a couples’ counselor. In response, a number of people commented that couples counseling had not worked for them and/or that it was not affordable. I felt that a second post on couples counseling was in order.
Affordability: Some counselors (like me) offer a sliding scale, one end of which is quite modest. In my county, mental health services also offer a sliding scale based on income. They do not list couples counseling among the available services, but when an individual seeks counseling, the partner or the whole family can be brought into the process. Couples’ counseling often progresses more quickly than individual counseling. Even a few sessions can bring clarity. It can be a wise investment that may save a lot of money and heartache in the long run.
Purpose: Last week I described a particular outcome: (metaphorically flying happily ever after on the trapeze). I later regretted that conclusion, because in couples counseling it is only one possibility. The purpose of counseling isn’t to preserve a partnership no matter what but to explore how it is working, where it is stuck or breaking down, if it can be healed, and whether or not both people want to remain in the relationship — or should. Counseling can include reaching a decision to separate and how to go about separating in a way that respects and protects each person.
When I told my 97-year-old mother-in-law today’s blog topic, she said. “Not every relationship should be a marriage. People should have affairs! It is a perfectly acceptable.”
When I work with couples, I feel like I am under the Big Top. There may not be elephants, clowns, or trapeze artists (not literally, anyway) but there are definitely three rings. The work is exciting and keeps me on my toes. As counselor/ringmaster I have to be aware of what is happening in all three rings at all times.
The ring on my right features one person and the ring on the left, the other. The ring in the middle is where the mystery unfolds, for it belongs to both people. In the beginning the center ring is often either utterly deserted or bloody with the carnage of past gladiatorial battles that may erupt again any moment.
As ringmaster, I have (figuratively only!) a whistle, a spotlight, and a bullhorn. I use the whistle to halt attacks. Attacks are not the same as discussion (even heated discussion) which can lead to negotiation and resolution. My first task is to ensure safety, so that the couple can find the courage to risk revelation and connection. The spotlight brings focus to one person or the other or to a particular issue or dynamic. The metaphorical bullhorn is not to make my voice heard but to help adjust volume. Often one person is speaking more softly, literally and figuratively, and needs to be amplified. Another person may be having difficulty hearing the other, because his or her own volume needs to be lowered a bit.
Boudica, played by Alex Kingston for British TV in 2003
If I had known what it would be like to pore over and over historical accounts of military strategy and weaponry and then attempt, imaginatively, to place myself in the midst the horror and chaos of battle, I might not have planted a certain hint in Volume One of The Maeve Chronicles. Now I am reaping what I sowed: the child Maeve bore (and had taken from her by force) grew up to be Queen Boudica who led several Celtic tribes in an uprising against the Roman occupation in 61 CE. In Volume Four, Maeve is in the thick of it.
Apart from my determination to complete Maeve’s epic adventures, what keeps me going is the knowledge that this almost two thousand year old story is also contemporary — a fatal clash of interests and cultures, betrayals and humiliations, violent retaliation that spins out of control, slaughter of the innocent and not so innocent, and the costly victory of an invading, colonizing force over a native population. Sound familiar? It may not be a timeless story. (ie, there may have been times on earth when warfare was intertribal and did not involve significant imbalances of power, wealth, and technical prowess.) But it is timely. The news tells us this story in one form or another every day.
I am in the vegetable garden pulling weeds (it is always a good year for weeds.) I am glad to be away from the computer with my hands and feet in dirt. I am thinking: there is no such thing as a virtual vegetable garden. I uproot some mustard greens that are crowding out the peas. In an hour or so we will eat them for dinner. I am wishing everyone in the world could have a chance to eat something he or she has grown.
On this edible planet where we all eat (and/or are eaten), food connects all life. How we grow it, how we transport it, how we prepare it and how we share it matters. As a woman, I sometimes feel responsible (read guilty) for the invention of agriculture. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, being able to stay in one place with the babies, being able to store surplus food for winter or other difficult conditions, being able to feed more people.
Cuatro master Roberto Fuentes. Photo: flickr/superartista
Roberto died at High Valley, our center, after a long illness. During his last weeks, his friends Karen and David cared for him there, joined by his mother Luisa from Venezuela. Until her recent move to a nursing home, Karen and David shared a house with my mother-in-law Olga, also from Venezuela. Olga’s last years at home coincided with the years Roberto, a musician from New York, stayed at High Valley frequently. Whenever he visited, he played Venezuelan folksongs on his Cuatro for Olga. In her nineties and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Olga knew all the words and sang along, tapping her feet to the rhythm. Olga and Roberto were more than compatriots. They came from the same island, Margarita, and spoke the same dialect. With his music, Roberto restored Olga’s memory of her earliest years.
We usually think of praying as something we do, a prayer as something we say or perhaps read, aloud or silently. But if a singer is one who sings, a writer one who writes, a dancer one who dances, and so forth, we could say that a prayer is one who prays. If we pray, we are prayers.
The daughter of an Episcopal priest, I grew up with the sonorous, sometimes terrifying language of The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. From the General Confession this phrase has always stayed with me. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses.” (I still love that second plural.)
Quaker Meeting was my first experience of silent corporate prayer. In what I called “the womb of silence” different images of the divine emerged, especially feminine ones. In time, longing for music and ritual led me out of Quaker Meeting to form a non-institutional, earth-centered community. At length I also became an ordained interfaith minister.
Here are some things I am learning about praying/being a prayer:
If you pray for someone (or something), prepare to be part of the answer.
Photo from http://howlingforjustice.wordpress.com/
I thought of titling this post “Howl if You Love Jesus,” although Cristina’s Eisenberg’s in depth survey of the effect of keystone predators on a wide variety of ecosystems, makes no mention of Jesus or of any religion.The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity is all about food webs. And I found myself thinking of Jesus saying to his disciples: Take, eat this is my body. If you think of the earth as the body of Christ, then all its members are important: the predator, the prey, the trees, the grasses, the birds, insects, fish, the forests, the rivers, the seas, and all their myriad forms of life.
A scientist with a poet’s command of language, Cristina Eisenberg writes with precision and passion. Her own ongoing research focuses on wolves as keystone predators, what happens to various landscapes when wolves return in sufficient numbers to drive a trophic cascade. Wolves affect herbivores, for example elk, not only by limiting their numbers but also by causing them to be vigilant, thus changing their browsing patterns. When herbivores no longer over-browse, young trees can grow to maturity. When the forest and other plants are renewed, songbirds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians return. Forested river banks hold their soil, preventing erosion and contributing to the health of rivers. The herbivore population also benefits, having a more reliable and renewable food source. Wolves are called keystone predators, because their presence or absence has a radical effect on a whole complex ecosystem. When a system is healthy, biodiversity flourishes.