On Being “Spiritual” ... Or not.
I came across this saved piece of writing this morning from 2012 (I have a habit of keeping snippets of writing that have meaning for me) called “The Space Between” by Tracy Cochran.
“In the end, spiritual work is about being willing to be naked and vulnerable, about letting go of the armour of answers to live to be open and defenceless (I once heard that the word “lost” came from a Norse word that means to disband an army). Real spiritual work depends on an awareness that can embrace contradiction and brokenness - that can bear not knowing, being in between.”
A long time ago (more than 15 years I think) I was asked by someone “What is your spirituality?”- like I could define it. I recall feeling deeply uncomfortable- was my answer going to be acceptable? What was my answer anyway? Did I have an answer? I have long wished I could say in response to such questions- I’m catholic/christian/muslim/pagan/hindu etc.
Once when I was very young I thought it would be good to be jewish- because then my life would have some sort of spiritual definition.
I had a brush with the Church of Scientology back when I was a uni student in my late teens- when I was self-defined (and by family of origin) as Catholic/Christian, and recall a hearty argument about belief: I was convinced that faith/belief was everything and the Scientologist advocated (forcefully I recall) that faith/belief meant nothing if not based on “fact”.
Last year, a client came to see me because a fellow counsellor had told him I was a “spiritual” person. He assumed that meant I was Christian.
There are many things I “believe” in, and some things I “know”. I have a science degree- I know about objectivity and measurable evidence. I also have a creative imaginal world that is potent and feeds my life in ways that science cannot.
I “know” about the creative imaginal world, however, it is often devalued as childish and unproven. I have seen and experienced the creative imaginal world change many people’s lives for the better and for healing. What is psychology if not about the creative imaginal world translated into action? (As much as researchers try to make it objective and measurable).
Read the poetry of Mary Oliver or the work of Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen (https://www.animas.org/ ).
How do you measure relationship (sociometry perhaps https://aanzpa.org/) or emotions?
Be curious about what the trees are speaking- and the ocean and that symbol or image that attracts you so much. For me, one of those symbols is the Sheela na Gig pictured above.
We must be prepared to not know- and as Rainer Maria Rilke says: “I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now...the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”
This is my prayer for my grandchildren, and dare I say, for our politicians and our world.
Clearing, by Martha Postlethwaite
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
The Women Gathered
Last weekend the women gathered at Rydal for ‘Women Flourishing: the shadow and the light”. It was a very special weekend - full of sharing, creating, letting go, poetry, psychodrama and cyclic wisdom.
I learnt that next time I will create more space for rest and take some insect repellent spray for the mosquitos!
One thing that seemed to resonate with the women was the psychodramatic way of thinking about spontaneity - a new response to an old situation or an adequate response to a new situation. It’s lovely to hear about new responses and new role development!
We had a large working space that was often filled by the altar.
We moved the altar aside at times to create a stage for psychodrama. Much time was spent exploring the wisdom of the cycles and discussing such things like women and their hair - what does your hair symbolise for you? And the grand possibility of the subversive powerful nature of Being Maga (age 50-75, menopausal/post-menopausal).
This morning I went for a walk. Not an especially rare occurrence, but not as frequent as it “should” be (should…who created that word, seriously!!...The most guilt provoking word ever).
I went out of my front door, down the driveway and into the mist. I drank the mist in the smells and tastes and feel on my skin is so much like Ireland…and this mist in the Blue Mountains has its’ own particular taste and beauty.
I spent a significant part of the walk admiring the creative webby work of spiders. I could duck and weave under and around a few, but some were across the path at waist height - don’t go that way!
I got to thinking - the creating of the web looks (to me) like hard work.
But is it truly hard work when one does what one is meant to do? What one has been created to do?
And then I begun to hear in the mist (in my head…same thing) my favourite song which I think will be my funeral song (remind me to tell my children) “The Woman in the Moon” as sung by Barbra Streisand. It’s a battle cry for me...
Here are some words from the song:
I was warned as a child of thirteen
Not to act too strong
Try to look like you belong but don't push girl
Save your time and trouble
………Little sister, little brother
Keep on pushin'
Don't believe a word about
Things you heard about
Askin' too much too soon
Cause they can hold back the tide
But they can never hold the woman in the moon
Keep on pushin’ folks…to be and do whatever you have been created for.
And do this with ease and grace and passion.
And here is the link to Babs singing (in “A Star is Born” – with curly hair- the one with her and Kris Kristofferson- great soundtrack).
As I write this, it is the day of Beltaine – High Spring (in Australia). Thunder and lightning seems to be the order of the day! (In fact Beltaine day came with a direct lightning strike which knocked out our modem and the simultaneous thunder truly felt like all the Gods and Goddesses were playing 10 pin bowls on our roof! A deeply disturbing way to be woken up!)
I recently had a lovely massage with Angela from Awen Natural Therapies in Leura, up here in the Blue Mountains. Turns out she also creates amazing mandalas from flowers and plants that are provided to her. As it is Beltaine time in the southern Hemisphere were I live (high spring on the seasonal wheel of the year) I happened to have hawthorn flowers available in my garden, as well as some freshly unfurled oak leaves. So I sent her a photo of both.
Hawthorn is very special to me – the thorn tree that graces so many sacred wells in Ireland and graced with white blossoms (over there, in May and here in October). And oak trees (I have so many, but the one named Sheela na Gig in my front garden is most loved!), so precious with their strength and connection to the ancestors.
I love Glennie Kindred’s work on the Tree Ogham and here is what she says (in part) about these wondrous plants:
“Hawthorn – Love, the Heart, Cleansing, Releasing Blocked Energy, Protection, Preparation for Spiritual Growth.
The hawthorn has the ability on the subtle level to open the heart to spiritual growth and love. It continues and aids the process…of healing the inner child and resolving with love any areas where you might be manifesting a victim complex that will keep you vulnerable and lacking in power and energy.
Oak- Inner strength, endurance, courage, a doorway to self determination.
The Oak is a doorway to inner spirituality….she will lead the way to the truth, especially about past layers of action, and this revelation brings strength and vision, and a gateway to new understanding”.
“Psychodrama can be seen as a bridge between shamanism and psychotherapy…Moreno’s life and work embodied a confluence of magic, science and religion.”
R.J. Landy in “Drama Therapy: Concepts, theories and practice 1986
(note: J.L. Moreno was the creator/founder of psychodrama)
Back in 2015, when I was working towards some sort of integration of my ways of being in the world (professionally and personally), I wrote an article for the Australia Aotearoa New Zealand Psychodrama Association (AANZPA)’s annual journal, called “Psychodrama: Descendant of the Shamans.”
It was the story of my Vision Quest with the School of Shamanic Womancraft(now called Wilderness Solo-a solo journey of 3 days and 3 nights being on the land and with myself).
What interests me now, is that I wrote it 6 years ago and the journey that I have travelled since then has been a further and further integration of the two ways of being.
The Attitude of a Warrior
Psychodrama is described as the Theatre of Truth. And "to shamanically heal, one must take on the attitude of a warrior, a warrior for Truth, who faces challenge and is willing to do what is right, rather than what is comfortable.” - (Brighid’s Healing- Ireland’s Celtic medicine traditions by G.McGarry).
Drama of the Soul
Psychodrama has been described as the Drama of the Soul. “On the psychodrama stage everything has soul and spirit. On the magical psychodrama stage we do not separate realities. Psyche and materia are the same thing – everything comes alive.” - (Psychodrama, Surplus Reality and the art of healing” by Moreno, , Blomkvist and Rutzel, 2000)
The Integration of Psychodrama and Shamanism
I am a working and living integration of psychodrama and shamanism, and I continue to be called by Moreno’s words:
“There is…A first universe which contains all beings and in which all events are sacred. I liked that enchanting realm and did not plan to leave it, ever.”
'The Theatre of Spontaneity' by J.L.Moreno 1983
...And everything always remains “All about Relationship!”
Women's Mental Health and the Shadow Wound
The Cave of Shadows is the residence somewhere within your psyche and body of all those disowned, disavowed roles in you.
They reside – pushed into the dark as things that are fear-full, provocative or unacceptable somehow.
A cordial meeting with the Keeper of the Cave is a necessary venture if you wish to become intimate with the unconscious in your life. It is the work of a lifetime to bring the shadows of the unconscious into consciousness. Only then will we have a choice.
We meet the 'Keeper of the Cave' at the entrance to The Wheel of Woman’s Life - that seasonal cycle that has mirrors and layers depicting the movement of the sun, the moon, the seasons, the menstrual cycle and indeed the movement and rites of passage of a woman’s life.
I meet the 'Keeper' at the time of Samhain (also known as Halloween). That point in the south west of the wheel that is the darkest and also the point that my ancestors (in Ireland) believed was the New Year beginning.
I meet her there. You may meet her elsewhere in this organic measurement of time, this wheel.
Samhain is marked in Australia at the beginning of May- it is the time when the veil between the worlds is at its’ thinnest and so makes sense to me that the Cave of Shadows would be at its’ most accessible.
I sometimes find myself saying to a person who is staying in a grindingly unhappy relationship* (often abusive-except when it isn’t, of course) that “hope is a great deluder”.
I wondered today if that means I am cynical? Certainly I have been in relationships* for far too long because I hoped the other would change. I hoped the other would eventually “get it”.
Maybe if I loved them “enough”, or tried “harder”…
I like to think I am reaching my wisdom years – a small chuckle tells me that wisdom simply means that I am prepared and eager to learn more…To understand more.
There is never stasis in wisdom. Maybe acceptance and peace – but never stasis.
If I stop hoping I will grieve the loss of hope. The loss of the dream of what could be. Now, “what could be” is a pretty amazing thing – and can lead to an immense amount of awesome creativity. And my capacity for hope and dreaming must be honoured.
How do I honour this amazing gift?
Discernment. Honing my skills of discernment. On which particular altar of relationship will I place my hope (and my grief)? Who will honour my dreaming in the way my dreaming deserves?
Listen to your voice of discernment.
Locate it. (Mine is at the back of my neck – go figure!).
Most days now I go down to Witches Leap (Leap being the Scottish term for waterfall and the witch being a face in the rock- (see image above) and say hello. I don’t usually say it out loud, (well…ok, sometimes), because my discerning voice has some reservations about being put in a straight jacket or burnt at the stake (oh hang on – there’s a difference between discernment and fear – there’s that wisdom again)…and I listen to her, in this place of my belonging.
She reminds me that hope is (or should be) always tempered and informed by ‘what is’. And what is in this moment, at this time has many layers of joy and pain and beauty and aloneness.
Listen to ‘what is’ and be discerning about the threads of hope you decide to follow (that is the witch speaking as I listen to her).
We are in a place of great learning
My hope at this time says to me that we are in a place of great learning. It’s not easy – in fact, a lot of it feels f***ing impossible (my apologies to those of you who do not know that I can be quite sweary at times).
But, relationships only work if we allow ourselves to love and hope and tolerate difference. And, to be discerning about what aspects of difference are “dealbreakers” for you.
There is a spectrum of tolerance for difference. Where are you on that spectrum? Are you at the….
And what has formed this place? What brings you here? And how do you feel and respond to others who may stand (or sit or lie or dance) at a different spot on this spectrum?
Can you be with ‘what is’ and hold hope and grief in your heart (and soul)?
Please wonder, and move forward with hope and discernment gently.
*a small note about what relationship means: it might be with an intimate partner, a friend, an acquaintance, a group, or a workplace. It could also be with trees, plants, animals and rocks…it’s all about relationship!
Friend, what actions will you take today so that you become the ancestor of your future happiness?
(paraphrase from notes taken when listening to David Whyte in webinar).
What time of day is your most creative time? I realised some time ago that early morning was mine-which perhaps coincides with Day 3 of the New Moon-(as I write this, it is a Day 3 New Moon and also happens to be my Natal Moon). As we begin, so we continue.
Women’s Circle of Reflection and ConnectionI will be holding a weekly Women’s Circle of Reflection and Connection commencing online (Zoom) from Wednesday 21st July at 7am*. These circles will be for 45 minutes and will focus on a brief reading (a poem or perhaps a short excerpt of writing which will be sent out the day or so prior to the Circle) followed by a sharing Circle.
My hope is that we can be inspired together and connect with each other through sacred listening, and that this will stimulate and support each of us to bloom in our creativity and spontaneity as we continue through our days and weeks.
Payment will be on a “pay what you can” basis- from $0- $10AUD. Registration is essential by emailing me:
*If you can’t do 7am or would like a Circle that is not women specific, please also email me and let me know your preferred day and time and preferred composition of Circle, and I will see what I can do.
I spent some time over the last couple of days watching a movie called “The Wisdom of Trauma” which featured the wonderful Gabor Maté.
I was struck by many things he said including “we don’t respond to what happens, we respond to our perception of what happens” – but more than that, I was struck by the man himself. He is immensely kind and loving. He is not afraid to touch and hug. He is vulnerable and creates true encounter with others. He says “meet people where they are and don’t try to change them”
I felt that the majority of what was spoken was not new to me, (the notion of the patriarchal domination of Mother Earth). What it actually bought home was the truth of the statement by J.L. and Zerka Moreno (of Psychodrama) that “IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP”
Gabor Maté says, trauma may not be so much terrible things happening-but more to do with being alone with the hurt.
Making relationship is the most important thing that any of us can offer or create. It is certainly the most useful aspect of any therapeutic work. Making relationship is a skill. I encourage us all to continue to hone this skill with all that we are.
Have you ever had the feeling of being so excited to step out there and be seen, and then afterward you crash with thoughts like “oh dear, there’s too much of me, I am too vulnerable, what will people think”?
In groupwork theory it’s the finely tuned balance between disturbing motive and reactive fear – what pushes you forward and what holds you back. Some of us are forever oscillating on the edge, sitting on the edge of our chair. My psychodrama teacher, Max Clayton, would say this is the perfect position from which to do the work. Often that is the position people are in when they start counselling.
Some of us (like me with my recent photo shoot) go with the disturbing motive and then sit with the feeling of (oh no) exposure and judgement (mostly my own!)
At this Full Moon time of peak energy and blooming, I offer one of the photos from this shoot. It was a magical day.