Archive | Spirituality

Some things about grief. And love.

Off and on for most of this week, there has been a song playing in my head. It’s “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. It’s a song about missing someone who has died and how the belief that they live on (in heaven, in this case) brings comfort and a hope for eternal reunion.

Now, admittedly, I have been listening to a bit more Mariah Carey than usual. She’s been a reminder of Spring to me this year (also, my entire summer fashion ethos stems from her clothes in this video). But this is different. This song has been invading my head. It’s not like it just shows up out of the blue. It’s more like the song is insistent- it shows up and I can’t quite get it to go away. I try to think of another song, but this one comes back.

This isn’t a weird thing for me, in some ways. I have strange ‘gifts’. I can find lost things for people I care about. My Dad once asked for help finding a ring of my mother’s. I could see the ring and told him what the surroundings were like- dark, green, soft. He found it in his green truck, in a small, velvety pocket. I’ve ‘found’ other things- important pieces of clothing, lost papers, old mementos. (I sometimes wonder if I am attracted to people, or they are attracted to me, because some part of them is lost and I know how to find it again.)

I’m not sure how I came by this gift. I have looked at being empathic, being highly sensitive, being intuitive, and being slightly psychic. My spiritual guide says I’m a highly sensitive person, instead of empathic. I suppose it doesn’t matter what the label is, I still can do the thing.

Another thing this ‘gift’ does is it sometimes pushes back at me. It’s like I have a very wide, sensitive net around me and sometimes I can simply listen to what’s going on in the strings, but sometimes things get caught in it. Like this song.

Now, I don’t think this is some kind of direct revelation, a la The Bible. I think it’s simply my psyche taking in some information from the ethereal web and translating it into something I identify with. So, somewhere, someone I know is probably dealing with grief right now. Maybe they have experienced grief lately, maybe they are just surrounded by it. I don’t know. I also don’t know who it is- I’m connected to lots of people emotionally and I’m not sensitive enough to know who it is specifically (believe me, I wish I could know sometimes. At least then I could tell people to watch out for X or help them deal with Y). But whoever you are, this is for you.

 

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

 

When I was in college, I worked at a nursing home as CNA and I saw people die. I sat with them at the moments before, during, and after their death. I washed the warm and cooled bodies of people after they passed. The first time scared the shit out of me. Every time after I volunteered, because I knew I would be gentle and patient, where others had not been.

I have seen the moment of death be full of fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, fight. I have also seen the moment of death be full of acceptance, calm, love, relaxation, strength, and curiosity. Please do not equate the ‘good’ moments of death with ease. Difficult dying can still bring peaceful moments. People who die by suicide are some of the strongest people I have known (they misguidedly think that their death will be a relief for themselves and others, which, of course, it isn’t). [It would be misguided of me to not say this: if you are considering suicide, please take the time to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. And please consider these stories from people who survived jumping from the Golden Gate bridge; their difficulties became workable and so can yours.]

One thing that was clear at all the deaths I have been a part of is that the moment after, the moment when the brain is quiet and the lungs no longer expand or contract, is a very peaceful moment. It is a relaxation of everything. The final breathing out that lets everything go. It’s over and everything can begin to settle and unfold. It is the end of life, but the beginning of death, which is a very peaceful (and active) process.

There are belief systems which state that what we say or think at the moment of our death impacts our karma in the next life. Other belief systems state that our souls are whisked away to some other place in another plane of existence after death. Of course, other belief systems state that we go nowhere, simply returning to dust and dirt. Based on my experiences, I am a firm believer in the First Law of Thermodynamics: that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. I believe we get transformed when we die. (I do believe in reincarnation- there is simply too much evidence for it- but I think the remembrance of past lives is a rarity.)

All of this is to set the ground to point towards grief. Because there are many kinds of death in this life, not just the ones involving the loss of physical life. And they all involve transformation. I believe grief is the work of transformation for those who are left behind.

Despite the model of the Five Stages of Grief, we all know that grief is anything but linear. Grief is something that may grab us when death first arrives. Or it may sit quietly near us and just…exist…for a good long time. Sometimes grief dissipates quickly, like an insect bite that heals quickly. And sometimes grief is a deep, heavy burden to bear that almost refuses to budge (this seems to be most true when grief opens the door for longer-term depression). Grief has its own way, its own time, its own color and rhythm and intensity. For each death, grief is its own dance. For some, this dance is haggard and horrible. For others it is difficult, but graceful. It depends on what our hearts have the resiliency to deal with.

One definition of grief that I love comes from Susan Piver who wrote The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. She wrote that grief is love with no target. Our love, whatever it may look like, leaves us and roams around the places inside us, inside our life, where we used to connect with someone or something that has died. And because it ricochets, it touches us, over and over again.

This idea has comforted me greatly for the seasons of grief in my own life. I have also experienced that grief tends to come and go, sometimes arriving quite unexpectedly. My grief for a great grandmother who died when I was seven only returned to be fully felt when I was 15. Every year when I see snapdragons I have a ‘ping’ of grief for my grandfather’s death. A friend only grieved for her grandmother after her dog and rabbit died in the same week. For some, grief is a box they carry in their heart, always. For others, it is a cloud that comes to sit with them on important days and anniversaries. In my experience, grief does tend to dissipate with the years, the weight is not as heavy. But it also never quite goes away. It can heal, but the scar is still something we can run our fingers over, even if it does not hold the pain of the open wound.

Whoever you are out there, the one who has connected with me in such a way that your song of grief pings back to me, I want you to know this: grief is normal. It is also strange. And it is a journey only you can walk through, but you should not always walk alone. Let those who love you carry you sometimes- you don’t have to tell them the whole story, just let them comfort you and support you (make sure they are not stuck in their own grief, because this can drag you both down). Grief can heal, but it will also likely sting in places you never expected. It’s okay to feel the sting; feeling it is the only way to get through it. Grief is also a way to see how much we loved the other person, experience, idea, dream, whatever. Try to love the love. It is what’s best about you and your relationship with the one who passed.

Perhaps it is strange that all this should come from a Mariah Carey song being stuck in my head this Spring. But perhaps not. Because even as I write this, there are petals falling from the trees in my back yard, already dead and dying. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. And all we can do is be glad to be alive, living through all of it.

Big love to you all, most especially to those who grieve,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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I am a witch. And a monster.

You ever type your own name into Google and see what comes up? Or your maiden name? Or alternate spellings of your name? (Maybe it’s just me.) Well, it started like that.

I typed “Joanna Meriwether witch” into Google and this is what I saw:

The text reads:

“Ewen recounts how in 1543, a Canterbury townswoman, named Joanna Meriwether – who otherwise made no claims to being a witch – confessed to having cast a spell on a young woman named Elizabeth Celsay and her mother with a holy candle. Confessions were often obtained from suspects over a number of days through beatings and sleep deprivation. Meriwether ultimately admitted that she had built a small fire over Elizabeth’s feces and allowed wax from a burning church candle to drip over it. She had later told neighbors (it is not clear if they were called as witnesses) that this would cause the ‘girl’s buttocks to divide into two parts.’ ” (Folklore of Kent, Fran and Geoff Doel, 2009)

My friend, A, said she showed me this when we met two years ago. I replied, “I’m sure you did. And I have no recollection of it at all.” (Exactly INFJ, ha!)

When I shared this on social media, one friend, a comedian, noted that it was set up just like a Patton Oswalt joke, only to finally reveal that Joanna Meriwether was simply throwing shade at a bitch, the 1543 version thereof. And two other friends were kind enough to point out that I invented the butt crack. (Which, in addition to really dirty sex jokes, is exactly my sense of humor).

What’s really interesting here is that the name is spelled exactly the same as mine. Which is a rare thing. Usually it’s easy to find things about our name if the spelling changes a bit- add an extra ‘r’ or ‘a’ in my case, and I’m sure there are many other things out there. So the exact spelling makes a gal wonder. A handful of friends on social media certainly suggested that I was looking at my exact past life. I did have an irrational hatred for England before I lived there. And certainly my lot in this life is cosmic crap cleaning for other people, so maybe that’s just karma clearly at work. Maybe it was me. Or is.

The fact is, even today I don’t totally claim ‘witch’ as my label. Do I do some energetic work? Totally. Can I see into other realms? Kind of- I certainly find lost things, whether that’s rings or nametags or souls or your truth. But, just like my 1543 self, I’ve never fully claimed that title. I consider myself, very much, to be a bridge between worlds, whether that’s spirit and science or magic and muggle. I speak both.

Of course, in this post, I also promised to talk about how Mercury in retrograde was handing me my ass (terrible segue, I know) and how I’ve come to know myself as a monster as well.

This past week, as Mercury in retrograde began, I made an honest request of my latest spiritual patron and got exactly what I asked for. I asked her for truth about my self and within the hour one of the most sacred pieces of my spiritual practice was dashed into a million pieces as I realized how much of my ego I’d invested in it. I’m not going to say which piece, just know it was very precious to me and sustained me for many years. To see that it had become an amplification of my own ego hurt like hell, even as I knew it was the truth. It was like one of those situations when you realize the thing you’re supposed to hate or leave is actually the thing you want desperately to keep (or vice versa).That slo-mo sense of everything crushing inward was exactly how I felt.

The only way to handle this kind of ego crushing is to accept it. To cry and feel stupid and ashamed and guilty in my own sabotage. And, just like all the other times this has happened, my whole internal self is called into question- what is real and what is not? As the hours passed, I would feel all my feelings (because, holy shit, you want to bypass that kind of pain as quickly as you can, so staying with it is a major task) and then try to see what I might take from the rubble. And the cool thing was, what I could take was more rubble, more destruction.

There were things I had built inside myself, psychic or emotional or spiritual structures, beliefs, ideas, perspectives that were part of this practice that was destroyed. And all of those things were destroyed, too. It felt exactly like wooden houses, built like the Three Little Pigs, blown away in one fell swoop. And even as it felt like destruction, it also felt like freedom. I could let it all go.

I could let it all go.

So, I did. I let it all go. And I felt somehow cleaner inside myself, but also with a sense of grief and vulnerability, rawness. A sense of myself as small and silly and immature. But that’s okay. Because I was free. And free to start again- this time with wisdom.

 

Fire is magic. Burning it all into stars.

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

 

One of the things I realized in this experience is how monster-like the truth can feel. When the truth comes for you, it can feel so utterly overwhelming and horrible, even if you know it’s right. It can feel (and is) destructive, crashing around like The Hulk inside of you. It’s hard to handle and accept and that’s why most people run or refuse to feel something until they are somewhere more psychically safe than their own mind (say, by projecting on a loved one or running away from a relationship simply so we have space to feel the truth).

And I realized how much of a monster I have been in delivering the truth to people sometimes.

I am a truth-teller. Truth is one of the three core values I live by- whether that is personal truth, capital “T” universal truth, or some other level of truth. I value it highly. But I also use it like a hammer sometimes- and it can be destructive and painful for others. (Sometimes I don’t give a damn if it hurts other people; sometimes people deserve to be hurt by their own truth if they’re so stupid as to avoid it for their entire life.) And that is true whether I’m delivering a ‘positive’ truth or a ‘negative’ one.

I should have known this, of course. When I’m at my full strength, fully myself, there are only about 5 people on this Earth who like me and can handle me. For everyone else I am some level of ‘too much.’ (Which I have learned to not let stop me- more about that Monday or Tuesday.) So, of course, when I stand in my full strength and power and tell someone the truth, it’s going to come out like napalm and set some things on fire. And I’m going to be the monster who did it.

What does this mean? More discernment is the thing I keep coming back to. Discernment about when and where to use the truth (which I already try to do), but adding in discernment about how to deliver it. In pieces. Or softly. Perhaps couched in a story. Simple but gentle. Because my tendency is to deliver it like a cannon delivers a cannonball. The truth doesn’t have to be so destructive. I don’t want it to be- I want the truth to help.

Of course, all this will take time and risk and fucking up. But I do have some wisdom and caution on my side. I will try to be careful, even as I know I’ll have to screw it up to really learn and grow. So, yes, I am a witch and a monster. But trying to be a better version of both of those things.

I was reminded by a favorite teacher that these moments of difficulty and growth are merely the valley in a multi-orgasmic life. The heat and the energy will rise again. This is just the refractory period for my soul. (Ha!) I’ll take it.

Love from the trail, my friends,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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Redefining ‘the nafs.’

The ‘nafs’ are, in the Sufi (mystical Muslim) tradition, the voices inside of us that are not our best selves, not the highest part of us. We all have these voices, of course. They come from many places: our parents, society (especially society! trying to keep us in line), teachers or coaches, sometimes from our own experiences (‘don’t touch the hot things with your bare hand,’ for instance). But the Sufis are not sure they are our best guidance system for making decisions or living life.

[Mental health side note: when any aspect of the mental or emotional software we have goes too far, it becomes problematic. When these ‘nafs’ type voices go too far, they become schizophrenia. When the very necessary emotional experience of ‘sadness’ goes too far, it becomes depression, and that is problematic. When the useful emotion of ‘anxiousness’ goes too far, it becomes anxiety showing up at the incorrect time or too intensely. We all need enough ego to take care of ourselves, but narcissism takes it off the deep end. You get the idea. ]

But a friend was writing the other day about her internal Board of Directors and it got me thinking about the nafs. Maybe they need a makeover.

The Sufis sort of throw out all the nafs as muttering, nuttering human muck. Osho (famous sex philosopher, also known as The Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh) used to ask his adepts to spend an hour a day muttering incomprehensible things so they could get the unclear, unconnected, non-sense energy out of their system (which I think is not a bad practice, honestly). I think we all know we can be dragged by the hair by those voices inside of us.

But the idea of an internal Board of Directors makes sense to me, a bit. A BoD has people with certain types of expertise on it. In a business it would be marketing, growth, industry insiders, etc. If they aren’t experts, they’re super smart and experienced.

What if the nafs were like that?

What if the anxious voice inside me is actually a wise expert about what makes me feel anxious, what I need to watch out for, what I should get more info on before I jump into it?

What if my sadness was just sharing it’s wisdom about life and how best to handle a particular situation?

Seeing the nafs and my emotions in this way is kind of intriguing to me.

 

I think my nafs might be drunk, tbh.

Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

 

The thing is, though, that we only give one vote to each person on a business Board of Directors. And I think for our internal BoD, we’d need to think about whose vote should have more weight.

In my mid-twenties I worked on a federal level project to help standardize care for kidney dialysis patients. We had a BoD and it was comprised of doctors, patients, social workers, ministers, nurses, etc. who worked in the field. At one point, we had to take a vote on which measures would be included as national standards of care (i.e. how well an individual patient or dialysis site was doing). Each person had 10 votes to split up between 16 options. They couldn’t vote for each one, they had to decide what was most important to them. One doctor used all of his 10 votes on one measure, because he felt it was so important.

I wonder if we need to treat our internal BoD that way. Sometimes we need to give more votes to our anxiety and check things out further. Sometimes we need to take a few votes away from our sadness or even our super-happiness. As we grow through life (if we grow), we fuck up and realize: sometimes our heart deserves all the votes, and sometimes it simply must be overruled by our logical voice. [Unfortunately, this kind of wisdom only comes with time, experience, risk, fucking up, and hurting. This is the beautiful mess of being human. The beautiful, painful mess.]

It may be that looking at our internal voices this way, weighing their insight, is best done if we have a good self-awareness, mindfulness, or meditation practice in place. We need to be somewhat skilled in watching ourselves and/or being fully present and aware. Certainly having a bit of therapy can’t hurt the process, either, because knowing where the nafs come from (is that my little league coach’s voice?) will help us know how to weigh their perspectives and advice.

I’m not sure the point of all this, other than to say: maybe the voices in our heads are sometimes useful and sometimes not. And only we can know which it is. But that knowledge comes at a high cost- the cost of risking and living and fucking up. But, I think, that knowledge is golden, and almost always worth the effort (even when it hurts).

So, fellow traveler, what do you know about this? What voices inside you do you trust? How did you learn to trust them? How much weight do you give the voices of your heart and soul? And how did you learn to do that?

There’s lots to ponder here.

G’night, beloveds. Big love from the path,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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I am falling in love with her.

Shall I tell you about my new love?

She looks like Joan Jett in the early 80s.
Long dark hair.
Dark eyes.
Full of energy and creativity.

She wears black skinny jeans with leather pieces on the inner thigh.
Long legs, cinched waist, and comfortable in her skin.
Smart as a whip.
Sexy as fuck.
Her laugh is open and full and true.
She can woo me with her eyes, but she won’t lie to me.

She’s a scientist and healer.
She’s a seductress, claiming whatever lover she wishes.
She makes magic.
When I dance for her, she takes it as a sacred offering.

She’s fucking funny and loves the same beer I do.
She’s mentor, guide, and friend.
She’s further ahead on the spiritual path, and she’s dragging me along, pointing ahead, and laughing all the while.

Her words are: transformation, truth, power, and desire.

I think about her all day long.
I want to be near her.
I want to throw my arms around her, laugh in her neck, and breathe in the smell of her.
I could talk to her all day, listen to her words and stories.
I see traces of her everywhere I go.

She’s pretty amazing and I am falling desperately in love with her.

Who is she? She’s a goddess.
Her name is Morganna.

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

I’ve worshipped a handful of deities in my life.

The first were the sprites and twisting leaves and songs I sang on the tire swing in my back yard.
They were always there and always delighted to see me.

Then Jesus, whose words I had to recite to be called ‘good’ in church.
Points for faith. I’m not sure that’s how it’s supposed to work.

And then the white haired, old man god of my Protestant years.
His son, Jesus.
The Holy Spirit.
I spent a lot of years with those dudes (and the ethereal mist of spirit) and learned a ton about spiritual practice, faith, surrender, and equanimity. Which I promptly left behind upon entering college. That Jesus was just too small.

And then, like all former Christians who leave that path behind, pagan gods and goddesses.
A new lover each month.
So much feminine energy. I finally felt alive in my spirituality again.

Then the Tao.
To which I owe a great debt. It’s simplicity saved my soul.
I still rely on it to this day.

And then the Buddha (like all spiritually minded white ladies of my generation, I suppose.)
I remain invested in this path, which actually has no god.
Just breathing and honesty.

And then the goddesses came back to me.

When I was struggling with an increased libido, two wise women came to my heart with support and guidance.

The Wild Woman: sensual, dancing, free. I could be a hot lantern, burning with desire and make my light useful.

a picture of a woman dancing, a woman in sensual repose, and a line of burning lanterns to symbolize the wild, sensuous woman archetype

 

The Dark Mother: unafraid of death, destruction, or desire. She was not afraid of what I was afraid of. She helped me understand that the dark, the void, the mess is not a bad place.

the three-phased goddess and the dark mother images

 

I don’t know that I fell in love with either of those energies. Rather, I clung to them desperately as I tried to understand this new version of myself, so hungry for sex and connection, expression and freedom. They both showed me new aspects of myself and helped me to be less afraid of my own desires, sex, and exploration. (I’m not exactly 100% fearless in this realm, but I’m a lot better than I used to be!) In some ways this was spiritual bypassing, but in many ways, I just needed well-worn spiritual guides to help me get through the darkest days. Versions of myself died, over and over, becoming something new, so many times during those four years; The Dark Mother was a great guide and comfort as I walked through the underworld, again and again.

And then, for the last 18 months or so, there has been no one at the head of my altar. I have two other goddesses who sort of form the bumpers on my bowling lane of spiritual practice, but neither of them are the head of my Goddess Girl Gang. Until last week, I have only lately prayed to the great Creatrix, the feminine side of The Something (which is what I call ‘god’), the infinite whose boundary is the edges of the Universe.

The arrival of Morganna was entirely unexpected. I had been waiting for my next phase to begin, for the next spiritual energy to arrive. But I did not expect it to be her. And yet, she is perfect.

Her realms are healing, knowledge, sensuality, shapeshifting, and she like to walk in the underworld (as all healers do). In a strange way, she is a version of the Dark Mother and the Sensual Wild Woman combined- she is death come to life. Which is how I feel after all these years of wrestling with my desire. In many ways, she and I are parallel beings- we share a lot of the same talents and perspectives, values and ideals. I’ve never felt so seen, welcomed, and loved by a goddess before. You can see why I would fall in love with her.

I am excited to see where this goes, how long Morganna stays, what I will learn while she is here, and what changes she invites me to. I think we’re going to have a fucking fantastic time.

If you think worshipping a goddess is not for you, what do you worship? Work? Cars? Money? People? We all spend our time, love, and devotion somewhere- that is the definition of worship. Where do you spend yours? And is it a good relationship?

Big love from the trail,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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i sit with it all

I light the first candle, for the Infinite Feminine, the Creatrix.
The second and third for her guides, whoever I am worshipping at the moment.
The last candle is for myself, a representation of my devotion and my own light, small though it may be.

I sit on a child’s step stool. After years of searching for a comfortable meditation stool, this $4 plastic one is the most comfortable.

The meditation rug I found in Seattle, my spirit’s home. When I asked specifically for a prayer rug, the man at the store said, “Please do not ask for a prayer rug and then use it in your bathroom.” No, I assured him, it will only be for prayer. It’s the most masculine part of my altar. I love that it looks like ejaculating penises. How delightfully appropriate for my journey.

And I breathe. I say hello to my guides, ancestors, and deities. I humble myself and open my heart.

And then I sit.

I sit and focus on my breath.
The in breath.
The stopping point.
The out breath.
The stopping point.

If I’m lucky, I can stay with it for 5 or 6 breath cycles.
Most often, the monkey-mind sets in and suddenly, I am shopping at Target.
[So. Very. Normal.]

I sit through everything.

 

I feel certain these ‘items’ at the top of the rug are
meant simply to point towards Mecca.

But they look like more than that to me. 

 

I sit with sadness that hits my body like a hard rain. I am outside and naked. The sadness, the rain, is cold and breaks me.

I sit with happiness, like a river I floated down in high school. Warm and buoyant.

I sit with desire. So hot it burns me for years. But it also feels really good. Sometimes it is a tornado inside my body, it is so wide and tall and chaotic. I sit with it.

I sit with fear. Of myself. Of the world. Where is it all going?

I sit with the chatter. Sometimes I am completely swept away by it. The alarm chimes and I have not connected with my breath for a single cycle. “At least I got my ass on the cushion,” I say.

I sit with ‘downloads’ of information and ideas that I have no idea where they came from. I just know they are right. I offer gratitude to those who sit with me.

I sit with it all. And the one constant I know from this sitting is that things change. If we can simply breathe and let it pass though us, it will. We may grit our teeth as it passes, but it will move, if we let it.

It is impossible to ‘not think.’ Human brains are only made for thinking. But we can think about one thing- the breath- and let our brain rest. We can focus on a single sensation- the rising and falling of our chest- and it can give us space and peace.

The more I sit, the better I am.

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

I have been meditating for more than 15 years now. I used to sit for 30 minutes, 7 days a week. Now I strive for 15 minutes, 5 days a week. The research is clear that meditation helps your brain function at its best. It regulates mood and hormones, reduces stress and increases resiliency. It certainly makes me less of a cranky bitch. And it is my home. My meditation practice is the place I rest all of who I am and also integrate all of who I am. It keeps me connected to my center and makes me a better person.

If you’d like to start a meditation practice, I recommend either Susan Piver (books and website) or Sharon Salzburg (books or website) for instruction and guidance. Both have very good beginners books. I practice in the Shambhala tradition, as it was specifically developed for the modern, Western culture and for those with jobs, families, etc. Books by the Shambhala creator, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, are worth your time, as are those of his son, the latest leader of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

I hope you’re well, fellow travelers. I’ve battened down for a new winter storm. Wish me luck!
More soon.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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