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Your True Colors

Today my heart is feeling like this song:

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
Its hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow

Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy, can’t remember
When I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there

And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow

If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there

And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors

True colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow 

| True Colors by  Cyndi Lauper |

::: ::: ::: :::

Today I’m thinking of the heartbroken, the grieving, those who have lost friends or family to suicide, those who are figuring out their marriages and relationships aren’t working, those who are remembering lost friends, those who wish they could reach out (you can, and you should try), those who are wondering, those who are hurting, those who are wrestling with the old question (again).

One of the things I know I am here on Earth to do is heal people. I have always fallen for the beauty inside of the broken. Things and people that are broken have always made my heart open wider. It is inside the compassion that I find it easy to reach out, to stay, to hold the battered and bloody hearts and souls. So, I heal people by loving them, accepting them, and helping them see the truth about themselves- both where they are and where they want to be, who they want to be. And I help them get there.

Today I’m thinking of those who are sitting in their brokenness, feeling consumed by it, or just feeling the hard edges of it (whatever it is that makes them uncomfortable). Know that I see you. Know that you are loved. Know that you deserve what your heart wishes for. Know that you are worthy. I’m thinking of you today and wishing you healing.

Big love, always,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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Happy New Year’s Eve!

It’s Halloween, or Samhain (please, say “sow-in”- that’s how it’s pronounced in the original Gaelic), and it marks the end of the year for pagans.

I haven’t danced much this year in the new house, I realized today as I was struck by a song on the radio and stood there, still and calm. It was “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick and I closed my eyes as I listened. The sun came out and I turned towards it and felt the heat on my face and how it looks like your eye lids are all lit up when the sun comes through them while your eyes are closed. I was not dancing, but it was magic nonetheless.

When the song was done, I went to meditate. I lit the candles and got the sage smoking (that’s not a euphemism) and prayed to my ancestors. Both sets of great grandparents, now long dead. My Papa, who died a few years ago, but it still feels like I saw him last week. And to a newly dead great uncle- a very loving man who raised very loving sons and made the world a better place with his smile and corny jokes. The veil being thin this time of year, I thanked them for how their lives brought me forth and for the ways in which their spirits guide me every day.

I thought about the year past. Mostly it was difficult things I thought of. How I felt ridiculous and immature and incapable and not ready for so many things that happened. But also how I felt glad that I’d taken risks and been stupid and learned things about myself and my life and what I want to be and become.

That is probably what I like best about this ‘end of year’ versus the traditional New Year’s Eve: we recognize and celebrate the darkness in ourselves. We let it out to play. The part of us that might murder, the vengeful place inside our hearts, the seductress, the cruel one, the clown, the dead parts of ourselves- they all come out as Halloween costumes and we celebrate them. We reward them with candy, even! I think it’s incredibly valuable to recognize these parts of ourselves during this celebration and love them up, because magic doesn’t come from being good, it comes from being whole.

So, I sat at my altar and felt all the things: how feeling ridiculous is exactly like when I hit my funny bone in my elbow, but spread throughout my whole body. How I’d given bits of myself away and began calling them back. How it felt to remember things from long ago- painful things- and letting my heart hurt again. Regret. Regret sits like a mask atop my eyes but also drops down into my heart. I’m glad to have regret instead of wondering, even if it does feel like a weight. The various other feelings that needed space to be recognized and felt stopped by, too. It was sort of an ego death* parade.

I also took a few moments to send good wishes to those who had helped me in some way this past year- helped me learn, grow, understand. Even those who helped me feel regret or ridiculous- because they helped me know myself better.

And then I asked my ancestors to speak to me. The veil between the worlds is thin today and the next few days, so I believe their energy and messages come through to us living folks more easily, if we are open to them.

After it was all done, I took a very long, very hot shower. Not as a means of cleansing, but as a way of stewing in all of those things I felt. Today isn’t the day for getting all pretty and clean and free- it’s the day to recognize how dirty and broken and deliciously fucked up we are, and celebrate it anyway.

It turned out that the song I listened to was exactly right for today. “Just breathe,” she sings. Whatever comes, we accept it. And we breathe. Today I let all the ugly come up, watched the year march through me, and accepted all of it. Tonight I will celebrate it.

Much love to you, fellow travelers. I hope your Halloween is full of fright and fun- and I hope you get to be yourself, your whole self.

Joanna :: xoxo

 

Photo by Kento Iemoto on Unsplash

 

* Ego death is not what Jason Silva talks about on Facebook. Ego death is when we realize that something we’ve been attached to or believed strongly in (usually something that defines us) is either not true (as in, it’s actually a lie) or is no longer true for us. Examples:

  • I am a good person.
  • My marriage is safe.
  • There is a heaven.
  • I can have what I want.
  • I’m not broken.
  • I have a long life ahead of me.
  • God is only masculine.
  • If I am good, I will get what I want.

When we have an ego death, it’s a usually a horrible surprise: something we didn’t expect to be true, is. And it shocks us into a new reality. A reality where what we wanted or needed to believe is clearly no longer true. The part of our ego that was attached to that, that really, really wanted it to be true, has to die in that moment of understanding. So, ego death is the shock that opens us up to greater truth (even, probably especially, when we don’t like it or want it). It’s an incredibly valuable process. It’s better to seek it out than avoid it, if you ask me.

 

 

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Nightswimming

For whatever reason, this time of year, I get nostalgic for my youth. My early adulthood. It’s the quiet nights and the return of the dark, I think. Summer is ending and so is the summer season of my life.

Last night my husband played the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People at dinner. We usually listen to 70s Lite Rock or the k.d. lang station on Pandora. But he put on that album instead. And “Nightswimming” came on. For whatever reason, I was 15 again, and taking my first swim at dusk. The sun setting, a fire near our campsite, my friends and I in the water. Sometimes splashing, sometimes quiet. I watched the stars come out floating in the water. And then changed into clothes, listened to Van Halen by the fire, and stayed up waaay too late laughing and flirting and talking shit.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

::: ::: ::: :::

|| “Nightswimming” by R.E.M. ||

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
Still, it’s so much clearer
I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge
The moon is low tonight

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I’m not sure all these people understand
It’s not like years ago
The fear of getting caught
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away
Replaced by everyday

Nightswimming, remembering that night
September’s coming soon
I’m pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming

You, I thought I knew you
You I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath
Nightswimming

The photograph reflects, every streetlight a reminder
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night

::: ::: ::: :::

It’s time for a night swim again, I think. My 43 year-old self needs it. The quiet. The water. The stars. As an adult, friends have pools and waterside homes. But there’s a lake around, too. I just need to sneak in. At dusk. Nightswimming.

Love from the path,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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Night, the beloved.

 

 

Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

 

“Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

 

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All These Paths, Leading To The Same Place

You thinkers, prisoners of what will work:
a dog ran by me in the street one night,
its path met by its feet in quick unthought,
and I stopped in a sudden Christmas, purposeless,
a miracle without a proof, soon lost.

But I still call, ‘Here, Other, Other,’ in the dark.

William Stafford, “An Epiphany”

::: ::: ::: :::

[That is one of my favorite poems by William Stafford. He was an unsung word genius.]

I read something a few weeks ago and had an epiphany. One of those moments when everything – years of practice, a fragment of metaphor, and a spark – comes together and you realize something important. I was reading a quote by Pema Chodron, a famous Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. She wrote, “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

And in the moment I read that, I suddenly understood something about my various spiritual practices over the years: they have all been about me trying to accept myself.

::: ::: ::: :::

I grew up Protestant (American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ) and in that tradition, humans are sinful. They are full of sin because of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What that looks like in modern terms is being regularly told that I was bad everywhere but in my soul. That I was inherently ‘not good’ and ‘less than’ and ‘blackened by sin’ (and a whole bunch of other Bible verses I’ve forgotten twenty years later…). With only one exception*, I don’t believe much good comes from the Judeo-Christian spiritual path; we certainly have plenty of evidence that it causes war and hatred and I believe it stems from this basic understanding of our selves as inherently bad.

After years of being a good ‘Bible-thumper’ I left the church because the world it spoke of as inherently wrong, bad, and sinful was not the world I experienced. The world I knew was full of amazing things and people and choices. I had girlfriends who had successfully weathered abortions, read re-interpretations of Bible stories, and enjoyed a drink with a couple of gay people and those things made it awfully hard to believe what was in the Bible, and what was being preached about it, anymore. Like a lot of people, I left and headed East.

For many years I studied the Tao te Ching, having been introduced to it in a college class about Eastern literature. I found it delightfully simple and also satisfyingly deep as I spent time with the verses and ideas. There was precious little dogma, interpretation, and certainly no mention of ‘sin.’ It felt like a good place to settle. And for a few years, it was.

I travelled other paths: Paganism, Unitarianism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tantra, Witchcraft. I’ve changed paths often. I became an ordained ‘interfaith’ minister (which I’m not sure is even a thing, but I’ll talk about that at another time). I have travelled around to various paths, texts, and rituals because they served my spiritual needs at various places along my path. And also because I love to fall in love and this was a way to connect with different ‘partners’ at the table of religion and spiritual development. (Today I see that there are appropriation problems with that kind of spiritual path, but that’s for the another post, as well.)

All of these spiritual paths were most definitely about me finding pieces of myself inside those traditions, texts, ideas, theologies, and metaphors. But my epiphany is that my most important paths have been about self-acceptance.

 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

I’ve meditated for close to 20 years. I’ve used various forms, but mostly breath meditation (although I have used more sensual sub-genres of breath meditation at different times). For many years, I used the RAIN method, where you Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify with whatever thoughts or feelings you have during meditation. But it was in reading Pema Chodron’s words about befriending ourselves in meditation that I really came to understand its purpose was far more soft than I had been experiencing it. It was about accepting myself, the totality of myself. To be who we are, in compassionate acceptance of ourself- whatever that self may be experiencing. Meditation was about completely accepting myself internally.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a practicing witch (the intensity depends on the day and the person, though- heh). And magic has been something I have been playing with for a long time, as well. My magic mostly involves words: rituals, prayers, handmade soliloquies spoken into the void. Only recently have I taken instruction in the more modern facets of witchery. And the one thing I learned there is that good magic involves self-acceptance. Magic that does what you want it to do involves acknowledging the totality of all that you are in the world: sinner and saint, angel and demon, mother and whore. I can be good, very, very good. And I can also be wicked. If I pretend to only be light and love, my magic sputters and doesn’t get very far. But if I acknowledge and accept all that I am, my magic is far more powerful. Magic, of course, is about how we are in the world and how the world reacts to us and our desires, to our energy and our vibe. And so magic has been about accepting myself as a human in the world, moving from internal to external.

Tantra has been something I’ve only picked up in the last five years or so, and it was most definitely about accepting myself and my sexual needs and desires. In some ways, this website has been partially about spiritually bypassing my sexual desires and needs – and Tantra is one way to both accept and bypass sexual darkness. I can’t say this blog has been entirely about bypassing, because I have certainly shared my pain and frustration and growth here, as well. But Tantra has been about self-acceptance inside of relationship, especially intimate relationship. Tantra is about the balance and alchemy of masculine and feminine (not the same as ‘male’ and ‘female,’ please remember). And my path inside of Tantra has been about accepting and balancing not just the masculine and feminine within myself, but also the dark and the light. I can be the most fun, delightful, loving sexual partner, and I can also want to live out dark fantasies (starting with having an affair, which I used to want desperately. Also remember that what is ‘dark’ is different for each person; my personal ‘dark’ might bore the fuck out of someone else). Tantra has been about accepting myself inside of intimate relationship.

Beyond each of these paths – to accept myself internally, to accept myself as part of the world, and to accept myself inside of partnership – there is something else I find incredibly valuable: Western psychology. (I am most familiar with Western psychology, but other modalities of healing the psyche are equally useful and valid. I have used food, prayer, movement, and many other tools to heal myself and others; I am for ‘whatever works’ to heal people.) Most of us wrestle with some piece of ourselves that feels ‘broken.’ And perhaps we do have ‘broken’ pieces inside us. When we do, psychological tools are often useful in helping people heal (again, I am a firm believer in using what works, even if that isn’t in the professional literature). Our brokenness is often not our fault (trauma is rarely something we do to ourselves), but we are responsible for healing our brokenness once we know about it.

Knowing about our brokenness is key to self-acceptance, I believe. But we must also know that sometimes our dark, our ‘bad,’ our ‘shadow’ isn’t brokenness- it is just a part of us that needs awareness and acceptance. The same awareness and acceptance we give to the parts of us we are pleased with or that are accepted in public.

Having this epiphany about self-acceptance and realizing I’ve been on quite the search for it has brought me a lot of excitement and calm in the last couple of weeks. If what I have been looking for is self-acceptance, there is no need for a spiritual path. Learning to accept and love myself is the path. So, all this time, I was just looking for pathways and guidance to leave behind the belief that I was bad and sinful and dirty and begin to trust in the whole of myself. Yes, there are broken bits that need fixing and healing, but there are also parts that are simply waiting for me to accept them, because they aren’t broken, they’re just judged.

And, of course, the great joke from Life is that this is the gift I most easily give other people: acceptance. Whatever darkness you feel or fear, I will listen to it and love it and accept it, without judgement. It’s so easy to give others the medicine we most need. (And so I am also a giant cliche. But, I think we already knew that.)

I will definitely continue with meditation, magic, and Tantra, but now I know what they are in service to, and where to place my energy. I suppose self-acceptance is my path now. I am grateful for the strange and varied path that got me to this place, and I feel a deep sense of grace in knowing I’m not ‘sinful’ anymore. Jung was so right about acknowledging our darkness rather than hiding from it, there is both power and grace in that acknowledgement.

I love you, beautiful people. And I want you to know you’re good, even when you’re bad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*I believe that spiritual paths are suitable to different levels of psychological and spiritual development. And Christianity, as it is practiced in the West today can be useful to people who need a benevolent (hopefully loving) and also parental-style experience of god. For instance, people who are in recovery. Having a god that both loves you, wants you to do well, and will punish you if you don’t can keep people with addiction issues on the straight-and-narrow. But that’s about the only place I’ve seen it be as useful as it can be; many other places Judeo-Christian concepts and interpretations have caused a lot of fear, shame, and depravity. There are folks who are stripping off the parental piece of Christianity and evolving it into something more accepting and, honestly, Christ-like. People like John Pavolvitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But this article on Satanists also gives me hope.

 

 

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