I’m tired in a very specific and familiar way right now. I’m not sure if any of these essays say much about my work. I’ve spent the last week at an old army barracks in the southern part of Whidbey Island, Washington, running a week long gathering for about thirty-five people who all use a particular method of using “the arts” to create transformative residential gatherings for teenagers. I was one of the two facilitators of the gathering, with Peggy, who I’ve mentioned before. I love love love group facilitation. When I first started I had never heard of it. My first inkling in what would become a big stream for me started with Jerry Springer. I loved his show. I loved how he could create a field, and use sharp, penetrating questions to unravel people’s secrets and, mostly in very explosive ways, bring them into connection and contact with each other. I’ll tell you sometime about the Psi Co Sly Sho, my first real attempt at group facilitation which actually modelled on what I thought I saw him doing. Ah. The embarrassing truth.
A quick side note, since I’ve made these essays available for my network to read I’ve been feeling very strange about using my friends’ real names. I am going to slowly change them all to super hero names kinda like Jack Kerouac did. But I’m going to have to do that carefully so I don’t get it all mixed up, so I’m not going to start today. I feel that I have been so careful to only write what people would be okay with reading, but maybe that isn’t the point. Or maybe it is? I don’t know. Simon got me tangled up about this two weeks ago and I haven’t been able to decide where to settle. I’m also ten days late with this essay, which is causing me to feel a gnawing kind of anxiety. I want this project to work. I feel like I am very invested in these essays at this point, and when I get deeply invested in anything it can become a little obsessive.
I want to tell you about this gathering we were at, but I don’t feel like talking about it. These kinds of events have so many threads, so many details, so much movement, it makes me think of a knot of roiling snakes. When I’m in it, the patterns all makes sense. My intuition is tuned in to its finest grain and I can make sense of it as a tiny self-contained world. But when I am done it feels like a dream. So hard to piece together. I’m not sure where to start. One thing I know is that I don’t feel like explaining what the work is. That feels like it will exhaust me even further. I can’t see straight right now, I keep knocking thing over. I get tired because I stretch myself to do this. I stretch out my whole psychic, emotional and sensory being so that everyone is inside, as if they are in a way parts of me. Which I suppose is a truth in a way, that we are all Another Me, in that wonderful house of mirrors way of thinking of the world as an inside out dreaming self who has purposely concealed itself to seek and find itself. It’s a bit like that, this work. I’m so grateful for it. I’m thankful to have a clear path that sustains me and gives me a deep sense of purpose. It’s a way of working that continually asks me to look at myself. We work in relationship, and we work on relationships, so we do our teaching and learning by witnessing and challenging each other. And the outcome is meant to be that we all feel more seen and more like our selves our true selves, so we can go out into the world and feel good, be creative, and take action on what matters most to us. It seems so unlikely when I write it here, but now, about fifteen years later, I’ve seen it work a million times. I get exhausted by the humanity of it, the relationships, all the language, all the emotion. It’s easier to be alone, drawing or writing, and it’s even easier to watch a movie or something. I mean, this entire week I haven’t opened a book, not once. For me, that’s my most important food. But there is something about the struggle to do this work, to stay awake and stay connected that has deepened me. It’s made me appreciate more of what it means to be alive. Even though I still get depressed, I still feel horribly lonely, it’s as if those feelings exist in a plane that has different rules. It’s hard to explain.
And it’s not exactly what I want to write about right now. I’m aware of how incoherent this essay is already, I know it’s because my brain is so tired, but I’m going to keep going. Like that 1999 Nuyorican champ said, it’s when I show up when I don’t want to write that I learn something about myself.
You know that I track my dreams. I write them down, and about once a week I have a call with my friend Doug to help me interpret one. I also use Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ method of working with dreams, where I list all the nouns, then write a definition for them, then rewrite the dream with those definitions replacing the nouns. It can be very helpful. But this week, when I arrived in Seattle, I received a dream syrup from my friend Cristina. It’s made of three herbs, she told me what they are but I can’t quite recall them. I will ask her, and slip them in here later. It is meant to help you see your dreams more clearly, and to be able to dream lucidly. My dreams are a wonderful medicine for me, and sometimes also give me information and helpful insight for my friends. I have been wanting to go more deeply into that practice and learning. It’s incredible to me, especially when Doug helps me work through them, how there can be such a wise knowing that comes through these dreams. That we sleep and dream helps me so much with my fear of death, knowing that there is a beyond (an inside?), and that I enter it every night, helps me to believe in the unknown with open arms.
So I got this syrup from Cristina. It came in a beautiful blue bottle. I guess she calls it a syrup because of the consistency, but the taste is extremely bitter. I started taking it when I arrived on Whidbey Island, the first night at Peggy’s and I’ve taken it every night since. Maybe that is why this gathering seemed even more surreal that the others (this is the 53rd time I’ve facilitated a gathering of people using this particular method which we call the Creative Community Model). Though, if I look back they are often quite surreal. I think anytime you get a lot of people together and methodically unleash the creative impulse you will have a sense of the world coming a little unpinned. But this one was different.
First, there were two dream-healers there. One a first nations woman from the interior region of BC and one an indigenous woman from El Salvador. While Peggy and I were running the main training, which was focused on the camps for teens that these folks all run in the summer, there was a time during each day for the participants to offer workshops. This is a normal part of our model. (Ugh, I am hating the flow of this essay. I’m really too tired to be doing this. I wonder if it will be my least favorite. But that is okay. That’s how I came to my drawings, as well. They are allowed to be ugly. I am allowed to be ugly. This is how I stay centered in my life. I don’t have to be more than what is, what I am. That is impossible. And those kinds of false and flimsy ideals play directly into colonial patterns of control and domination. So, this essay may suck. But it will live.) Right, so I went to the first woman’s workshop, Cindy. And with a little introduction she had us journey actually into the landscape of her medicine wheel. I did a number of years of focused trance meditation work, with a wonderful teacher called Geri DeStephano, which included a lot of journeying in this way, but I’d never tried anything like this. We were to ask for a dynamic that we wanted to transform. Well, as you know, I’ve been suffering pretty deeply about this question of love. Of having my dear friend still needing space since I told him I loved him, and then meeting that nice man who tuned out to be so racist, and of course, since that excruciatingly brief but lovely affair with Helen, which turned out so confusingly. So I went in with this, wanting to transform my relationship to love. And I am shocked, still, by what I saw:
When I was maybe three years old, my family was preparing to take a trip to India to see our grandparents. I had a little bear, called Squishy, that I was given when I was born. A little pink bear. Squishy was my dearest friend. I have memories since I was about eighteen months old, so I remember this relationship very clearly. He was a being of his own. He would speak to me, sing to me when I slept, he would explain things about the world to me. I told him my secrets. I carried him everywhere. We were as close as two people could be. Until today I have the ability to sense the being, the life, in inanimate objects, and of course when we are that small these nascent powers can be very potent. I wanted to be absolutely sure that Squishy was coming with us so I packed him into a suitcase. We left for India the next day. When we arrived, Squishy was not in the case. I was devastated. I remember now the sick feeling of loss, the scary feeling that the world had betrayed me, that it was not to be trusted. I remember the cold creeping feeling along my back when I tried to sleep for the first time without him. They bought me another bear, who I later learned to love, but it was a bad time for me. I had forgotten this memory until this journey with Cindy. When we returned home from India, there was another blow. The suitcase that I had put him in had been sent for repair. It was returned, and he was with it. But he was badly injured, shredded, suddenly threadbare. He was returned to me, broken. As if he had been in a war, or lost for a long time at sea. I remember seeing him, and holding his now fragile little body.
In the trance journey, Squishy suddenly appeared in my hands and I took him to the altar, the central stone in Cindy’s mandala, but I slipped in too deeply to remember anything more of what it was transformed into. But I know this. That this memory is a very important one in understanding why I have these awful, terrifying relationships. Where people disappear suddenly without warning. Where I am always trying to prove I am worthy, that I won’t hurt the other person. Where I feel inadequacy and guilt. Where I become overinvested in the healing of the other person, as if their illness or issues were my fault. It is a precious thing, to have this memory back. There is no way that anyone, no psychologist or friend, could ever have helped me find this memory. But without it I have been looking for the source of trauma and ascribing it to things, like maybe my dad, like the birth of my brother. I knew it had started very early. Now I have the root (or one more root) of the rejection complex. It is a major gift. We journeyed again with her and I saw more, and then later with the other woman, Patricia, and there was more sweet magic, but this was what I wanted to tell you. I feel like while I want these essays to be about books and ideas, and even more I want them to be about politics and the world and the change that I dream of and how I imagine it will come, it is about love that keeps coming out. When I let myself just flow it is love that wants to come through.
And I do think there is a way of looking at this politically. It is a bit of a stretch, but try to hear me out. This buried thing, this deep bitter sadness and sense of loss from the loss of my little bear was no one’s fault. It lives inside my consciousness as a formative event, and it had created a powerful ripple in my life. Where my relationships have been hard, not only for me, but for the people I’ve loved. I have looked only for partners who would disappear. I have hated myself, and worse and more consistently projected that hate onto others, always afraid that they would hurt me the way I hurt that little bear. As a three year old I had no way of knowing that it was not my fault that my sweet friend was injured. I only knew that I had done this. And that I could not trust myself. A few essays ago I told you about the long scream. That was another instance where very, very young I learned not to trust myself. Again, through no one’s fault (that story is still coming, I think. It is important to me).
I was sitting with Charlie’s husband Eric at lunch today and we were talking about Whiteness. Talking about the imperial impulse, the impulse to dominate, and how it must have roots in deep trauma and dislocation. And while this is never an excuse, it is so healing to have the images back, to find out where the roots of the pain are. Because, to flip the example back again, I’ve been acting out this sadness for thirty five years, not knowing that the event was so slight, and that there is no one at all to blame. Least of all myself. So the deep self-hatred that has motivated me maybe can begin to shift. What if there was a way to dream back the wounds of our peoples? What if it was possible to bring peace to the parts of this precious world that are most harmed, or more so those that are most harmful? I wonder what can happen in that world of invisible magic, that world of the dark dense forests, and the morphic, hypnogogic images. I wonder what my responsibilities are? I have known that it was my responsibility to heal my rejection complex, and beginning seven years ago I have been working towards it, one image at a time, one past life, one somatic dance class, one illness, one journey, one relationship at a time. Once the intention to heal had been set everything began to point towards it. As I mentioned I think not too long ago, it has been an alchemical process, a process of refining. If I am able to heal this, which is what Gurdjieff would call I think my chief characteristic, that which blocks my self-realization, do I then move into the possibility of being able to help dream with the world? I hope so. I love this planet so deeply, like so many, many of us do. The stars, the sun, the water, the birds. The blood, the bones, the boulders, the clouds. The trees, the seeds, the farms, the beetles. The cities, the schools, the daffodils, the whales. So much love it hurts.
The gathering ended today. I’m sitting in Peggy’s living room typing this, with big purple lilacs overflowing in a vase filling my senses. I woke up at seven thirty and met some of my friends, Oliver, Yoko, Thomas, Hazel, Reid. It was five degrees Celsius, and the sky was deep white-gray. We walked the few steps to the wide ocean, the wild pacific ocean, the great chthonic mother of the world. Stripped off our clothes. The water was icy. I couldn’t bear to swim, but I dipped myself in. A gratitude. A willingness. A deep bow to the dreaming water of life. As we dressed and joked on some large pieces of driftwood, a golden eagle drifted down from the heavens, and slowly blessed us, maybe twenty feet above our heads. The world dreams. It is not two worlds. I offer my little broken bear on the altar of my life, knowing that my wounds are my gifts. Knowing that my little childself heart was so open it could love with abandon a little toy who was more real than real. More real than a dream.