I offer this poem as solidarity with friends and followers who experience great loss and suffering at this time. Recently a line from BBC’s “Call the Midwife” stunned me. The nurse said to a grieving wife, “We just keep on living until we are alive again.” This.
Flecks of sunglow
The long-chilled backbone of
Thawing teardrops caught
Spirit-inspired dawn spawns
Drawn from the integrity of
Living winter well.
© rita h kowats Spring 2014
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/lynn.schooler
I am grateful to Lynn Schooler for permission to use this exquisite photo experience of today’s dawn in Juneau Alaska. You have a rich experience awaiting you at his facebook page. Thank you, Lynn.
In July of 1990 I was released from a county jail on an island after serving ten days as a federal prisoner for illegal trespass on a naval subase to raise concsiousness about possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. I was inmate number four in a cell block intended for three. Constant chatter, and piped in heavy metal music from the likes of The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, provided a fitting backdrop for drug dealers, identity thieves and pacifists. Or so they thought. I coped by sitting on the floor against the gray cinder block wall and breathing myself to an inner world beyond the mayhem. “You’re meditating, aren’t you? Cool. What ya in for?” my companions asked. One day they brought in a sorry excuse for library books, one of them scarred with horrific racial slurs. I slipped it to the guard and asked her to remove it. She did. Ten days passed quickly. It was nothing.
On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island Prison in South Africa after surviving twenty-seven years. It was a sacred and unbelievable survival. One wall of his tiny cell had been painted white to reflect the blazing South African sun. Mandela walked out partially blinded. This was one of their more subtle tortures. With concentrated effort, I could shut out mayhem for ten days. I didn’t suffer constant torture and debasement. It was nothing. Mandela held onto these words from the poem, “Invictus” to hold him together in his suffering. While they could touch his body, they could not touch his soul, if he did not allow it. I am in awe of his strength and commitment. Amanda!
Invictus – the poem
by William Earnest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
photo credit: http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1374898/nelson-mandelas-struggle-freedom-inspired-world
While looking for food, a nomad in the Namib Desert might see this little Fringe-Toed Lizard doing his gymnastics to survive the otherwise unsurvivable heat. He lifts one appendage at a time, removing it momentarily from the sand’s heat. At noon he will burrow into the cooler sand beneath the surface. At dawn our nomad would enjoy the cool mist blowing in from the ocean, and with many other plants and animals, sip from its moisture left on leaves. The Sidewinder snake adapts its behavior by heaving its body across the sand, touching down in only two places at a time.
Adapting. And how do we human beings adapt our souls to meet the overwhelming challenges thrown at us by our environment? Like these desert animals, we are a resilient lot. We survive and we often thrive. Adaptation of the soul is analagous to adaptation to environments; however, unlike other animals, we can make choices- choices which get us and others into dire situations, and choices which redeem us. Apartheid imprisoned Nelson Mandella for twenty-eight years, and his spirit adapted and thrived. I can only conjecture about the details of Mandella’s adaptation. You have developed your ways of adapting to spiritual challenges, to “The Dark Night of the Soul,” as John of the Cross called it. These choices have redeemed me at times:
1. Be Faithful
To mantras that focus me, affirmations, rituals, other prayer forms.
2. Be Helpful
Seek out viable and positive service opportunities. Service takes us out of ourselves.
3. Be Creative
Paint, draw, write, compose music, play music) Creative activity often puts us into an altered state where we can forget our despair for a while, and unite with the Other.
4. Be Communal
Talk with a spiritual guide or trusted friend.
These adaptations get me through the heat of the day: Old truths embedded in a new metaphor.
One year after the unexpected death of my sister I still step gingerly. When we grieve we learn that all we CAN do is step out. If we step in harmony with the pain, we become sure-footed. The pain transforms from foe to friend, and we endure in spite of the loss.
My spiritual practice has been intentionality. I ask for the grace to stay conscious, to recognize each wave of grief and to honor my humanity by feeling it. It has also helped me to be aware of my sister’s continued presence in a new way. I have prayed for her spirit as she transitions into this new and unknown existance. And I have practiced letting her go.
Two gifts have emerged from this experience: reinforcement that the ice holds, and realization that we are not in control. Now I try to live into these truths, and to be in solidarity with others who grieve.
In an effort to protect our egos, we leave in our wake, a destructive landscape of regret. Our acts of protection are as much an animal response as protecting their physical lives is for other animals. The difference, of course, is that we can strengthen our egos sufficiently to withstand attacks and move beyond them for the sake of the common good. The process of moving beyond ego creates a soul-landscape rich in variety. Remnants of ego caught on jagged crags, conjure memories of lies to self and others; charred skeletons of timber stand in witness to courageous suffering endured, and hopeless suffering self-inflected.
Our soul’s geography resembles the terrain of active volcanoes years after they have exploded. Destructive lava flow has given way to affluent bursts of bold, bright, wildflowers- the acts of justice and compassion sown as seeds alongside germs of ego. Patches of green miraculously inch their way through the bowl of impenetrable metamorphic rock.
Just as rock can be intrinsically altered by the flow of hot lava, so is the soul dramatically altered by the movement of the Spirit, and our response to her. If we trust the Spirit, and trust ourselves to grapple with our instinct to protect our egos, seedlings will dot the horizon. Wildflowers, once extirpated by fear, will burst forth like fireworks on Independence Day.
I recommend frequent road trips through the terrain of our souls.