08.12.12

some mysterious fractal

August 12, 2012 is when I finally made it to Florida to start grad school. It was on a Sunday. I was supposed to leave the day before, but the movers I hired were terrible and took too long. I guess I missed my flight? I couldn’t get a hold of any friends to crash with so I had to stay at this noisy airport hotel.

I had to stay with my cousin here for a couple of weeks because my stuff was being bounced around all over the east coast. Such a disreputable moving company.

I don’t even want to rehash all of that because it was horrible and I am tired of complaining about how horrible life has been down here. I think the horror magnifies with how hopeful I was to finally find my tribe, to make a real connection with a blood family member, to escape the cold and growing disappointments of Chicago.

Well, life had other plans for me.

It’s been very transformative spiritually. Going into year six of my life down here, I feel like I’ve unloaded a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage. I feel cleansed and unencumbered. But the journey to get to this very precious place has been very expensive: on my bank account, on my credit, on my body, on whatever I would call my social life.

Has it been worth it? I’m not entirely sure yet. This is a rather 7 of Pentacles moment right now. I’m looking at what I’ve grown so far and knowing there is more work to do.

Instead of regaling you with how shitty and disappointing and heartbreaking and humiliating and scary (and I’m pretty sure this blog has detailed a lot of that, so just peruse the archives for a good gasp, cry, or sigh), I’d rather just pivot from here and say that I’m done with this period of my life–or maybe my (very warranted) emotional response to it.

I’m not like Katrina and the Waves walking on sunshine yet, but I am tired of feeling like my life is one long, painful climb, even if that is the Capricorn way. Eventually, I want to be able to rest and enjoy the views up here…

 

The prolonged money and housing instability has been interesting to navigate as someone who is a Capricorn sun and rising with a Cancer moon. My sojourn in Florida has hit me where it hurts, over and over. That’s probably due to Pluto and his heavy demolition crew obliterating my 1st house of self, where my Capricorn sun and rising reside.

Who am I without a stellar reputation? Without stable housing? Without friends to lean on? Without a reliable stream of money?

What is my home? Who is my family?

I don’t really know what the answers to those rhetorical questions are. I believe I’m making it up as I go along–as we all do. I thought I knew those answers.

I didn’t realize how much I had relied on my plucky nature to get me out of jams, and how I have always had a strong community there for me to lift me up. Even with social media, I had both strong online and offline communities, where even both worlds would begin to meld. I met my last boyfriend in an MSN chat room and then we met in IRL–he lived in the same city and went to college with people I knew from my church.

It’s hard to have these stalwarts stripped away–sometimes very violently, and sometimes very slowly. But all the same, it’s left me very vulnerable and open–well, it’s easier to hear from Spirit in this way.

Looking back over these five years, I don’t have much gratitude for this stripping process yet. Still, because I want to change my attitude towards whatever has been unfolding in my life, I took myself out to dinner downtown.

As a sidenote, I do think it’s funny how some Americans will roll up into a nice restaurant and wear soccer jerseys or whatever else seems like casual attire.

My Cancer moon needed to be fed and nurtured. It felt so good to eat the (sometimes literal) fruits of my labor (I had a peach salad and a peach cobbler). As my current housing situation is driving me a lot batty,  it was also nice to not physically be here for three hours, to breathe healthier air in a different space, to not have the draining energy of this newest, inconsiderate boarder. I could at least afford to do this for myself, to celebrate my survival in a tough, unsympathetic state. That’s an accomplishment in it of itself.

But that’s the reframe right there: survival of losses, not just the losses. It’s what I’m good at. I do like to to triumph over circumstances. It may not be that I got to keep my car or my housing or my bank account at a consistent level. I have survived those losses. It seems right now the triumph is over death, over giving up, over having my spirit decimated.

I’m in a real spiritually desperate place right now. I am desperate for real, meaningful change; desperate to have Spirit move me–both literally and figuratively–to a place where I am nurtured and can be nurtured; to a place of deep fulfillment and appreciation; to a place where I can be fully myself again. I am desperate enough to not solely look to other people to help me. I am desperate enough to shut out the world and to look within for all the treasures that were hidden underneath all of the things I’ve lost. I am desperate enough to not look to myself first and then come to the end of myself–I want to look to Spirit first where there is no beginning and no end.

I’ll be going on a retreat this weekend and I hope that my desperation will be met with opportunities and answers and practical solutions, and maybe a little more patience and strength as I keep journeying from the “here” of discontent to the “there” of “finally!”

By the way, that’s a perpetual round trip we all make, from discontent to contentment.

As the solar eclipse comes closer, I know there’s more coming my way—actually good things, things I’ve been wanting for so long, like stability, like expansion, like love in all forms. Lately, it’s been wonderful to have things to look forward to, not just things to dread.

As I grow older and closer to the midpoint of my life, I feel the pressure of limited time and there’s so much I want to do with my life than just survive. I have to trust that all that I’ve gone through here was not in vain–that there’s a purpose that’s greater than my own soul growth and spiritual development, that the ripple effect will be wider than I will ever know.

It’s really easy to forget, that even within the chaos, there’s some order—even if we don’t understand it yet, like some mysterious fractal that begins to unfold.

I have to trust that this unfolding, albeit painful, is truly both beautiful and beneficial. Otherwise, my life has been utter madness without any method or reason. I’m not talented enough to invent reasons or methodology on my own.

So here I go, with another long trust fall with the Universe. Even as I squirm and question and fret, there’s still a knowing that I am following, that nothing is ever wasted, that at least some of this wild and wacky ride will make sense, soon.

lucy, desi, lucie, desi jr.

family is more than blood SOM

I recently wrote about my own family’s astrology, which really tripped me out because of how my brother and I were the solutions of what elements my parents lack (earth and water). I randomly stumbled upon Desi Arnaz’s natal chart because he and I have similar chart patterns (bowls above the horizon). I noticed that he and my mother have the same birthday.

I had read that Lucille Ball had noted that her marriage to Desi wasn’t anywhere near as pleasant as it was portrayed on the TV show, “I Love Lucy.” And then I saw that she was a Leo. It was like my parents, but reversed–including in age (Lucy is older than Desi).

Today is Lucy’s birthday. She would have been 106 years old if she were still living. She is a Leo like my father. What’s interesting about Lucy and Desi involves their moons and ascendant/rising signs. Desi has a Cancer moon and rising. Lucy has a Capricorn moon and rising. By degrees, both of those placements are in strong opposition.

Guess what their children’s sun signs are? Lucie Arnaz has a Cancer sun, Capricorn moon (hello full moon baby, like my brother), Leo rising. Desi Arnaz, Jr. has a Capricorn sun, Pisces moon, Aquarius rising.

I looked at their north nodes, which have a lot to do with fate.

  • Lucy’s north node is in Taurus.
  • Desi’s north node is in Capricorn.
  • Lucie’s north node is in Pisces.
  • Desi Jr.’s north node is in Aquarius.

And here are some interesting connections in their charts:

  • Lucie’s midheaven is in Taurus is conjunct, but not by degree, to her mother’s north node.
  • Lucie’s north node is conjunct to her dad’s sun.
  • Desi Jr.’s south node, in Leo, is conjunct his mother’s sun.
  • Desi Jr’s Mercury in Capricorn, is conjunct his father’s north node.

I didn’t want to start looking at what all these signs may mean about their relationships to each other, or their individual personality traits–that would take a lot of time and it’s not necessarily my focus of this post. I just thought it was so random to have a famous family have the same sun signs as my family, but all in different configurations.

The north node contacts make me think that although this marriage ended in divorce, there was a lot fated for this family to be together, to learn from each other.

Additionally, quincunx relationships, or relationships with signs five signs away (the angle is 150 degrees), can feel like fate. The Obamas are a classic example of how that can work, and work beautifully (Pres. Obama being a Leo, and the First Lady as a Capricorn). But it can take work. It can be really tough. I can only imagine what a Leo woman living with a Pisces man could feel like. Maybe those lunar and ascendant oppositions weren’t harmonious. I can tell you as someone who has that Capricorn-Cancer opposition, it’s a push-pull seesaw that can give me emotional motion sickness. It doesn’t mean, though, that I can’t find some spiritual Dramamine, or a way to keep my eye on the horizon. And that goes for relationships with people, too.

I don’t want to get too heavy into the synastry (relationship astrology), but it doesn’t seem that hot between Lucy and Desi, in retrospect. I don’t personally think any relationship is doomed because of synastry. It can be a good user’s manual for a relationship, or a post-mortem of why a relationship worked–or didn’t work.

If you didn’t get any of that somewhat technical astrology jargon, here is your TL;DR: you and your family, for better and for worse, are probably bound by fate in ways that you don’t even realize. Astrology is a way to explain those connections, to make sense of the randomness of the genetic lottery that we’re all a part of. Even when I felt like I never belonged with my family, I can see how I am inextricably tied to them, and them to me. Even if it’s not the happily ever after that I’ve fruitlessly sought, I know that our astrological aspects to each other, even just our sun signs, have taught me things about loving myself (Leo), the importance of family and close friends (Cancer), and spirituality (Pisces).

Even when things end, there’s still a lot of good left.

 

 

astrology & superstition

astrology SOM

As Mercury Retrograde’s shadow period continues to loom long, I have been thinking about the collective pop culture freakout that will happen next weekend when Mercury’s retrograde transit begins in earnest. It’s a little bit annoying since it seems to be the only time that people care about astrology. But my annoyance isn’t because I’m some rabid evangelist for astrology (although my close friends may disagree). Astrology is a paradigm that seems to work for me…for now.

Mercury Retrograde nowadays can feel like a silly superstition, like not walking under a ladder or owning a black cat. Superstitions have a way of becoming the scapegoat for all that goes wrong (or even right) in a person’s life.

I wonder where I start to feel like astrology is merely more information that I can use to lead my life in a better, more informed way instead of just an excuse for why things don’t go the way I want (or vice versa).

Currently, I’m having some problems in my bathroom. The toilet isn’t filling its tank very well. Usually, a toilet’s tank takes about a minute or less to fill. It’s taking 15 minutes now. And recently, there are some pipes screeching and banging behind my toilet when no one is using it.

My computer has given me a blue screen of death twice. It’s not old.

So what’s going on? It seems like things are just falling apart all at once.

With the toilet, this house is old. I have Uranus in my 4th house, which has to do with home life. Uranus is a bit of a wild card. It’s hard to know what will happen. It’s like a scary jack-in-the-box. I’m not a fan. I had my room flood during this Uranus transit, so the pipes are brand new. But, again: this house is old. I’m also getting a new toilet seat because I bet that toilet seat has never been replaced. It’s wooden and painted. The paint is chipped and stained. The seat itself is broken underneath. The seat will be replaced and the hissing fill will get fixed soon.

As for the computer, although it’s pretty speedy, it needs more RAM mainly because Google Chrome is a greedy little application. But, I’m not purchasing any new RAM until Mercury Retrograde is really over, meaning we’ve cleared the shadow period where Mercury makes it way back to the degree where it started its seemingly wayward course.

That’s the conventional wisdom of dealing with the trickster planet’s moonwalk in the stars: don’t buy any new technology. The reasoning is that if I buy something now, it may not work correctly and I will have to return it later, wasting both my time and my money.

Is that wisdom or superstition? Are these planetary and lunar transits more like weather reports? For example, it would be foolish to go out without an umbrella in Florida, especially in rainy. I’ve done it and it’s horrible–soaked to the bone, in denim.

There are other do’s and don’ts which all have to do with travel, communication, and technology:

  • If you have to travel, prepare for delays.
  • Back up your documents (to the cloud!).
  • Re-read your emails before your send them.
  • Make sure your car is running well.
  • Think twice if an old friend or ex re-enters your life.

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to buttress all this advice. It’s good advice no matter the transit or season. It just takes extra time. But then I also think about confirmation bias and the power of suggestion. Am I just more sensitive to these transits because I know about them, or do they explain phenomena that otherwise would have made no sense otherwise?

The way I see Mercury Retrograde, as well as all retrograde transits, is that they are times for review. We are eternal beings that live in a temporal world. Things break, fail, or become ruined. There’s not much in the world that will last–even relationships; even our bodies. We need to have time to repair and to release.

Mercury Retrograde can also be an invitation to rest, to slow down. Maybe in our fast-paced modern world, that invitation is more salient now that even 100 years ago. But in our speeding around to get things done, things get overlooked.

Mercury Retrograde can be a time of review. Are we being good stewards of the things we own? Are these things owning us? Maybe these exes or former friends that come out of the woodwork are a test to see if these relationships have really ended. Have we really moved on?

Sidenote: It seems a little unfair that Mercury Retrograde happens at key times during the academic year. Right now, many families are preparing for their children to return back to school and to college. Today is the last day of a tax-free weekend in Florida, so the stores may be crammed with people buying computers and other technological gadgets (as well as clothing and shoes). Other school preparations involve just getting there (with all the things that have been bought): traveling across the state or the country. The shadow period for Mercury Retrograde won’t end until most people are back in school, around mid-September.

The next Mercury Retrograde this year will happen in early December, with the shadow period beginning in mid-November and ending in mid-January 2018. What a crummy time to travel. That’s during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. It’s also a crummy time to study and possibly have your computer’s hard drive fail as you are writing a final paper. That happened to me five years ago, during the final retrograde shadow period. I had an extended warranty and was able to get it replaced for free, but it was scary and inconvenient when it happened.

So what are you to do? You can’t just sit at home and avoid everything. That’s what I believe superstition does–imprisons and limits people. I believe astrology really tries not to do that, even if it there is discussion about seemingly limiting transits, like a Mercury Retrograde. It seems like astrology tries to empower and illuminate.

I’ve come to some rueful acceptance that I can’t catch all the “good” transits in the way that I want, especially the Venusian ones. But then again, all the “bad” ones don’t catch me, either. And that’s part of the mystery, of life. There’s so much interplay between the potential of the stars, my own free will, the Universe itself, and what others’ free wills…and maybe Fate with a capital F.

So with this Mercury Retrograde coming up, and with life–do the best you can in light of that old adage: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” This transit isn’t a black cat crossing your path. It’s just a season of a different kind of awareness. There are plenty of astrologers who can help you out, too.

 

 

sad songs really say so much

sad songs SOM

As a Cancer moon, I have been noticing lately how I’ve gotten a little addicted to sad songs. I’m not too much into the “name it and claim it” crowd, since that is a crowd I have been desperately trying to get away from. But I do believe words have power (hello? I’m a writer). I didn’t want to start some incantation of listening to sad songs.

This same predilection for possibly enjoying the sadness probably started in grad school, which was really difficult for multiple reasons. I was writing about my past, dealing with rejection, and feeling altogether misunderstood. I started watching kdramas as a way to feel emotion about someone else’s deeply emotional stories. Now, I don’t feel like I have the emotional space to watch them.

Music has been slowly making its way back into my life, although not yet in the creative sense. I was feeling a little uninspired about what’s been out there. And, as Mercury Retrograde has been showing its shadow since last Monday, I’ve been in some major nostalgia. I was remember how Belle & Sebastian meant and maybe still means a lot to my ex’s best friend. That’s still unfortunately my first memory of the Scottish band, even though I liked them way before I had met the ex and his friend.

Enough about them, though. I have been addicted to the song, “Winterbreak” by MUNA, and it was really upsetting me how much I love it, especially the chorus.

Oh, baby I think we both know
This is a love that we won’t get right
Still if you said that you wanted
I know I’ll always have one more try

I’ll say this much: there’s a situation that I feel where these lyrics may be true. But I’m not sure if I’m just in love with the song, or am also in love with the lyrics of the song that seem to sing my heart’s confusion and angst. I do know it relates to how I see my mother.

But, as Elton John sings, these songs are doing something for me.

Turn ’em on, turn ’em on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on

They reach into your room, oh oh oh
Just feel their gentle touch (gentle touch)
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

My fear of conjuring up the broken heart that hasn’t yet arrived may be premature. Yet, in a sense, as I wait for answers, my heart is already broken. Whatever was to take form as I wanted it to and when I wanted to has yet to be.

There’s a little sorrow when things don’t work out when and how you want them to. It doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. It may mean that I’ve been dodging my disappointment in a way that music is not allowing me to. It’s nudging me to be a little braver with my sadness, and maybe to usher in some healing, too.

Right now, my efforts in remaining positive feel like slowly deflating balloons.

Maybe it’s OK to let them pop completely…

Sometimes, there’s a little comfort and self-protection when you think the worst has come. At least you can plan for how you feel and how to move on. It seems a lot riskier to plan for joy, to plan for sunny days, for good weather.

What if you get caught in the rain of your disappointments?

This reminds me of a beautiful quote from Stephen Colbert.

Cynicism is not wisdom. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but cynicism is a self-imposed blindness. You put the blinders on yourself to protect yourself from a world that you think might hurt you or disappoint you. Be a fool. Believe things will be good. Better to be hurt.

How can I be more foolish? How can you?

In the meantime, as we gauge whether we should bring our sunglasses or our umbrellas, here’s a playlist of the songs I’ve been obsessed with. Some of these songs may not be really sad in the traditional sense, but I hope they bring you some comfort on some blissfully sad day.

coda

let go with love SOM

I have tweeted about my relationship with my mother before. I believed I deleted another thread from Easter when I realized that she was a narcissistic mother, but I did blog about it.

Maybe it’s through American pop culture, but I really wanted my mother to fight for me, for us–more than she has.

Our “ending” has been a little anti-climatic. I didn’t cry when I spoke to her this past week. I felt so in control, like a doctor giving a grave diagnosis and giving options to her patient.

As I summarized nearly 40 years of wanting and waiting, I had compassion for myself as I didn’t hear the responses I wanted: remorse; contrition; sadness.

I’m still wrestling with this a little bit, because this–waiting for her to show up emotionally–is at the heart of what has gone down between us for decades. What’s worse than hatred is apathy.

I can’t make her care about me in the way that I need. Her obstinacy to walking to the middle where reconciliation and restoration reside and flourish.

She only sees this as a right or wrong issue. The way she sees it is that she is emotionally available and she’s unwilling to change her behavior. It takes two, she said. Apparently, I’m still not doing enough. Enough of what? I don’t know.

You know that Rumi quote about meeting in that field beyond right and wrong? That’s where I am, but she decided not to meet me there.

My conversation with her last Thursday was really a coda to a swan song that started before I was born, where I was the scapegoat for the loss of her nursing career. By the way–if your mother or father blames you for ruining their lives, that’s a classic narcissist move.

What’s weird for me is how not-sad I feel. I feel whole and complete. I’m relieved. I don’t have to keep trying, like Capricorns are wont to do. We won’t give up until…is there an until, actually? Do we ever give up? That’s one of the dark sides of being stubborn sea goats. We need the discernment to know when to keep going and when to find a new path.

Any fires of sadness, grief, and anger were snuffed out by depriving it of the oxygen of my desire. Yet, I’m still sitting here, looking at the smoke rise to the heavens as she’s already left our campfire site.

So, that’s it.

One thing I’ve realized when relationships end, or at least drastically change course, is that I grieve the ending before it actually comes. So that conversation I had with my mother–she didn’t hear anything new except that I was done trying to make this work. We had been here before, many times.

I still love and care about her, as I told her twice on the phone.

I never heard those words back.

Right now, I feel unburdened. Clear. Clean. A gaping wound has finally sealed and healed. So, I’m grateful, because those kind of wounds tend to define a person until they are healed. Mother wounds may be some of the most stubborn to heal until you start to identify with you you are now.

When you learn how to be on your own side and be a good mother to yourself, the pain lessens and subsides. When you learn not to identify with the societal expectations of nuclear families and see yourself as someone who shouldn’t be ashamed but instead proud of having survived a loveless relationship, that’s the growth. That’s the “win” of being an adult child of a narcissistic parent.

Sadly, because we were never emotionally close, I don’t miss that much. I miss would might have been, what should have been.

That’s the only that may break me–knowing what I deserved vs. what I actually received. But what’s important is that I did deserve and will always deserve a mother who is openly proud of me, openly loves and supports me, is openly affectionate with me. I don’t have to beg for it. I don’t even need to ask for it.

Every child deserves to have parents who truly care about them without having to debase themselves to receive love. That is the tacit agreement parents and children make when children are brought into the world. Some of us are lucky to have that agreement to remain intact, while others of us have to recover from these agreements breaking.

And you can recover. Recovery–a new path to wholeness–is yours and waiting for you.

Now I can move on. I know the toxicity of this relationship has touched every relationship I have been in. Now I look forward to creating healthier relationships with people that are built on trust, reciprocity, respect, a genuine liking of each other, and, most of all, real love.

If you have a narcissistic parent, check out narcissisticmother.com. Also, this podcast from Terri Cole is what started me on this last leg of my healing journey regarding my mother.

visitors

the beautiful struggle SOM

I chose this particular picture because I’m pretty sure these are the actual butterflies that have been stalking me at my house.

I’ve been living in this house for over two years, and the butterfly run-ins I’ve had seem to be a sign.

The first time it happened, a few weeks ago, it was a sunny morning. Our house faces the east, so it can be pretty bright and warm on the porch. I was doing a rather quotidian task, taking some trash out.

In the front of the house, we have plants that do attract butterflies. I’m not sure about the name of the plant. But the butterflies do flitter about amongst these bright salmon pink blooms that are directly in front of the porch. There are flowers all over, including purslane in flower boxes right on the porch. But they tend to hang out there.

2017-06-17 10.26.21

Purslane – where the butterflies hang out is further out.

When I came out and started walking along the porch, two butterflies basically came at my head while I was walking. This has never happened–butterflies on the porch. I throw out the trash and come back and they are still on the porch, hanging out waiting for me, hovering.

I started to think about what this meant. I knew it had to be loved ones who have passed–specifically: my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and my friend Charles.

When I really started to think about it, it really touched me. I don’t really have many paranormal or supernatural things happen to me, but those butterflies coming at me, when there was nothing else on the porch that would be attractive to them? It seemed more than coincidental.

It’s hasn’t been as dramatic since then, but I have seen them come close to me a few times. There have been two recent times I have seen these exact butterflies, waiting for me or passing by. The first time, I was coming back from buying groceries, getting my bags out of the car. Those pink blooms are parallel the driveway, and the butterflies hovered in the blooms, waiting for me. It was really sweet, to have entities waiting for me.

The other time that I can remember is today. An orange butterfly’s wing knocked on my window. They never get that close to my window. All sorts of bugs do, even birds (one took a big dump on my window in a way that meant they had to have clung to the screen). I see butterflies in the backyard, not even orange ones. I saw a beautiful swallowtail near our palm tree the other day. I see monarchs and those basic looking yellow butterflies flit and glide about all over.

This window knocking, though–it was really strange: watching the butterfly come directly toward the window and then knocking on it and then flying away.

Previously, before I had these kamikaze butterflies in my life, I saw signs like repeated numbers and other sort of synchronicities. The past couple of days, I’ve talked about and seen unicorns: in a tarot pull and in a GIF one right after each other. A friend, whom I called a unicorn, woke up clutching her crocheted unicorn.

I’m not sure what the signs mean right now. The link above means that I’m to know that I’m not alone. Sometimes, I dread signs. It means that I need them. I sometimes take them as bad omens.  Like, here: here’s this talisman to carry because shit’s about to get bad again.

I’d really like to hope that it’s just more that I don’t have anyone around that I see consistently. Soon it’ll be my massage therapist. But for now, it’s no one that I like. I almost am seeing them like my pets.

There’s also been a hawk that has come by a couple of times.

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My neighbor the hawk

That was back in June. This picture is more recent:

2017-07-24-08-40-15.jpg

A neighborly visit in my neighbor’s backyard.

 

It seems it comes just so I can see it, and then it’ll swoop down, for food I imagine. It’s come before this summer, though. The last time I saw it was in October.

I’m not Snow White when it comes to animals, although for the most part, domestic animals like me. All these articles state that the hawk’s presence is about awareness, perspective, vision, discernment, and focus. According to Celtic mythology, the hawk is a messenger from “otherworlds” or the beyond. This could apply to so many things in my life, but it is a good and well-heeded sign.

But. To be honest, signs of any sort, even if I ask for them, kind of freak me out. I feel like I am not paying attention, that I’m doing something wrong, or that something will go wrong. Yet, at the same time, because my world is so small again sans car, I feel like these visitors are friends. While I fret that I’m in the wrong, I’m also comforted that these beautiful creatures take the time to come visit me, to be seen by me.

At the very least, I know that I am not physically alone. As I continue to find some financial stability so I can leave here and live in a more peaceable, comfortable place, it’s nice to know that while I am here, at least Mother Nature welcomes me and sends me these visitors as signs of encouragement and hope.

the stories we tell and keep

my whole story

I started this blog post a while ago. Today, there is a new moon in Leo and Leo season has started. It’s a little easier for me to write about such deep spiritual and emotional matters since things have lightened up a bit (although the house these Leo transits are going through is not a light one (8th house)). For the first time, I was considering how this will be received and it was a bit painful to come back to this topic, since it’s a very personal one for me. It was like reviewing my scars and feeling a little phantom pain.

Still, this is really meant to be a conversation. I can only write about what I know and experience, and maybe you have a different experience or knowledgebase. Either way, I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13, verses 1 through 3

It’s wedding season so most of us have heard what is called “The Love Chapter” from the Bible’s New Testament. But it was only yesterday that the first three verses really made sense to me.

Simply put: there are a lot of people with good intentions about how to help others in the spirituality realm, but the love is lacking. Instead of promoting healing through grace, it further hurts and sounds like a racket.

I had a bit of a tweetstorm that was implicitly inspired by someone else’s tweets. I think now I was triggered by the verb usage, not the noun, but it’s still in this vein of spirituality and personal development that I’m not really flowing in.

As I stated in that thread, Chiron stationed retrograde yesterday, in Pisces. That’s a five-month long transit. Chiron is the wounded healer, so a retrograde transit, especially in intuitive, spiritual Pisces, is going to be pretty powerful.

Retrograde transits–where planets look like they are moving backwards in the sky–are about reviewing, resting, realizing, realigning, recovering, restoring–you get the idea. So this particular transit is about going back and healing old wounds. The idea of jettisoning old versions of ourselves or old “stories” will probably come up.

Tell Me Your Story

So there’s been this persistent idea that, as a writer, I really take great offense at, and it’s one you may have heard: drop the story. I’m a writer and storyteller by trade, so when I initially hear that, I’m like, excuse me?

The idea behind is really just about living in the moment, not in the past, not in the future, yeah yeah yeah. It’s not a bad idea, even if it’s a cliched and trite one. But words matter, and I want to make sure that we, especially I, use the right words and concepts.

My first impulse come from this Joan Didion quote: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” Stories and narratives are who we are. Oral histories of who we have been, what we have been through, what our ancestors have been through–we are living stories, still being unfolded. And I think this is beautiful, in all its gore and grace.

Transformation involves having a “before”–and many times, I feel that this process ends up being shortcut or circumvented because it’s messy and unglamourous. Even I want to fast forward through the struggle and the disappointments and the muck. And as I right there, I’m encouraging myself to glory the gory middle of the stories I live.

Stuckness and Struggles

Dropping old selves, identities, stories, etc.–even snakes don’t do this. It’s a gradual process, the shedding of old kin. The word “drop” is what upsets me. Yes, this is a case of semantics, but I’ll come back to this idea.

For example, it’s been a really tough time for me here in Florida, both financially and socially. I have some very persistent Venusian problems–or at the very least, I have a very long saga of trying to establish a sense of community and security here, which you could also call Cancerian and Capricornian problems.

Grad school was pretty traumatic–lots of rejection, betrayal, hurt, and my feeble ways for me to be heard and understood backfiring on an exponential scale. That’s a big part of my story. And then the aftermath of homelessness, losing my car twice, being in abusive housing situations–stability has been a very elusive thing for me, and as a Capricorn with a Cancer moon, it was living my worst nightmares on a daily basis.

Right now, though, it’s been almost two months since I’ve had a car. It still kinda stings, but with time, the sting is fading. My housing situation isn’t ideal, but I’ve come to terms with it. I’m not in contact with anyone from grad school.

In this moment, no one is abusing or taking advantage of me here. I’m not in fear of my life. As I write this, I’m watching my favorite people on YouTube share their spiritual wisdom–it’s become a tradition of how I spend my Sundays now.

I’m “fine.”

I put “fine” in scare quotes because there are still things I want to accomplish (surprise! a Capricorn with goals!)–not just lofty things, but just basic things, like paying my bills on time, building up my freelance business, having local friends. I deserve all those things and more.

But there was still inordinate amounts of trauma. Did I have any post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? I’m not sure. I’ve never been diagnosed. If I did, I do not have any symptoms right now. But to think that the shit I went through has absolutely no impact on how I’m viewing my life right now just because I’m living in the moment doesn’t ring true to me. There’s still some healing that could and should occur, maybe even in ways that I can’t fully see yet. But I try to do my best–and honestly, that is enough. I trust that the Universe will reveal whatever else needs to be healed when I am ready.

But let’s say, that on this road to wholeness, I continued to talk about the horrible places I live. If I was talking to a friend about it for the 30th time, and they told me to drop the story, I’d be deeply offended. It doesn’t really leave me with something else to do instead of re-telling this story. I’m offended and now I want to just drawn inward, which usually is not going to help me to talk about something else–whether it’s because my friend is just tired of hearing it, or if it’s because my friend can sense that holding onto this isn’t helping me anymore.

How We Talk About Pain and Struggle

Either way, in my opinion, it’s phrases like dropping the story, poverty consciousness, and victim mentality that are ultimately pejorative and not very helpful. Maybe they were meant to be diagnostic terms, or even empowering terms, but to me, they are just shortcuts and spiritual bypass that do not deal with the larger stories that have been going on for millennia and need to be challenged and transformed. These catchy terms do not deal with the fact that I’ve sustained prolonged trauma that even if my situation changes, my psyche can still be stuck in another house, in a shameful moment in class, in that key moment of pain.

Spiritual folks could use good, large doses of both sociology and psychology so that they can understand why individuals and groups of people do what they do.

Maybe this is due to the Age of Reason, but a lot of Western spirituality is so heavy on personal responsibility, as if we all live on our own little islands and never interact. There’s a reason why I can give such perfect advice for others but I can’t really drag myself out of my own mire of despair. I’m going to venture  to say that that’s how humanity is set up–it’s a team sport.

In light of this, I see a lot of these buzzy terms have no real connection to the fact that we live in oppressive systems such white supremacy, patriarchy, antiblackness, homophobia, transphobia, abelism–systems that hold us back from being our true selves, systems that wound and traumatize us. This can also look like generational trauma and wounds, pains and struggles inherited from our ancestors. I rarely hear spiritual teachers and healers talk about this. Someone may be stuck in the past because of some systemic ill or a generational trauma, and the person seeking understanding and healing gets victim blamed.

On the positive side, this also means when individuals get freed from a personal struggle, there are ripple effects that can be seen and felt within their families, communities, ethnic groups, and beyond.

Future generations can be freed.

Sidenote: This makes me question what we use spirituality for. If so much of what we are dealing with has to do with people we may have never met, or actions from hundreds of years ago, what are we doing to systemically change things? Personal development has been so key in helping individuals, and sure–eventually, individuals become groups and there can be systemic change. But when use buzzwords that limit our point of view about what individuals do, we are only looking at a sliver of what’s possible for not only personal healing but what beauty queens all over want: world peace.

The Psychology of Trauma

So what is trauma? Here is a definition of what psychological trauma from the Sidran Institute, which is an educational group that helps others learn about trauma.

[A] traumatic event or situation creates psychological trauma when it overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope, and leaves that person fearing death, annihilation, mutilation, or psychosis. The individual may feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically overwhelmed. The circumstances of the event commonly include abuse of power, betrayal of trust, entrapment, helplessness, pain, confusion, and/or loss.

There are coping strategies for psychological trauma, like avoidance and numbing, but I want to posit that when we share our stories and we are stuck, then that could possibly be a sign of trauma. It’d be helpful to think that this person doesn’t want to be stuck in a place of past pain, and talking about is a way to move towards a place of healing and wholeness. There’s a reason why talk therapy works.

Trauma is real. I helped with research on trauma in children for a few years. Trauma as a diagnosis almost made it into the DSM-V, but it presents itself in so many different forms, it was hard to pin down to a set of universal symptoms. This larger understanding of trauma and how it affects people–both physically and emotionally–is missing from the spiritual waters I swim in.

Why Don’t We Want to Hear Stories?

So, if we dismiss people telling their stories, we have to think about why we don’t want to hear them.

My experiences have been that people just get tired of hearing it and suffer from empathy exhaustion. Since I was in grad school, I have had to ask for help multiple times, for years, with diminishing returns. I’ve already written about some reasons why this happened, and I think empathy exhaustion is one of them.

Another reason is this idea of people just wanting to focus on positive things. They are positivity junkies that do not want to see someone else suffering with their basic needs. Love and light, y’all!

Yet another reason is just people just don’t want to be bothered. Maybe it’s due to a subconscious fear that someone’s bad times are contagious. There’s also just the impatience of walking with someone through their dark night of the soul or valley of the shadow of death. It’s messy and many times you can’t pull someone out of his or her bad spiral. So we turn to axioms and pithy sayings, hoping that somehow, people will just wake up because we asked them to.

“Drop your story.”  It really sounds like the people who tell those suffering from depression to just “snap out of it.” Hopefully, dear reader, you know that by telling someone to snap out of depression is way worse than not saying anything at all.

And usually, it’s not your job to do that, to pull anyone out. There’s something very powerful and transformative about being present, about just being there, about listening to someone tell their story, about not trying to solve anything.

Watch Thich Nhat Hanh talk with Oprah Winfrey about compassionate listening and how it can alleviate suffering.

Just by listening, you can be a catalyst for  transformative healing. You don’t have do anything except hold space and listen with compassion.

Whether we’re operating from impatience, fear, or judgment, we have to treat people’s stories, however old and worn out, as sacred. Hearing someone else’s story is an honor, not something to take for granted. If someone is stuck, listening to them re-tread stories should alert you that this person has been traumatized. You don’t need to cajole them into healing. You know that a journey to wholeness is usually a long one.

Re-Writes and Re-Frames

Finally, if you’re asking someone to drop something–a story, an old self, an identity, remember that nature does not like a vacuum. What are you inviting them to pick up? What are you inviting them to write instead?

Maybe we can invite people, invite ourselves, to re-write or re-frame our stories. The events of what happened cannot change and many times cannot be forgotten. But maybe the theme can be changed, or even a larger story arc can be created.

Let’s take my story for example. It’s a typical Capricorn story of struggle and triumph. It can be hard while you are in the middle of the story to even see what the story arc is. I could easily think that my story is just going to be never-ending struggle.

And that’s where we can hold up mirrors of hope for each other. We can let each other really see ourselves for who we are: adorned with love.

We may have been pushed face down in the muck of shame, sorrow, and humiliation, but we can be lifted up in the bright glory of grace, mercy, love, and redemption.

Erasing the beginning of our stories only dishonors our pain and all we’ve gone through. Tell it all. Find people who you can trust who will listen with compassion. Find people who can trust you so you can listen with compassion.

From the most benign to the most pernicious, stories and identities serve some sort of purpose, and it’s usually safety. It’s what we know. Going into the unknown is scary, for most people. Many times, too, people telling and re-telling stories is to actually make some sort of sense of what happened–it is a way, maybe a fumbling and awkward way, of usher in healing.

And sure, there can come to a point that the story has been fully examined, understanding has been realized, and it’s time to close the book and open a new one. That takes both patience and discernment to know when someone reaches that point. My concern is that people are jumping the gun on where that place is.

What I’m not advocating is for people to overwhelm their own boundaries and just take on a bunch of negative stuff. Honor your boundaries: there are definitely people who end up feeling like they are stuck in this emotional black hole.

If you can’t offer any more assistance, I strongly suggest telling people to go to therapy. It’s not for everyone, but especially if the therapist is trauma-informed, there can be some breakthroughs that can happen with spiritual teaching and healing is coupled with psychotherapy. Participating in a support group can also be of help.

Both Sides Now: Walking Away and Being Walked Away From

This issue comes from a deeply personal place for me. Years ago, I was dumped by a friend who thought I was too toxic and negative–but my life was in shambles. Granted, this woman really tried to be close to me way too soon and was one of those perpetually happy people. I made no apologies for my journey and have no regrets that she was no longer my traveling companion.

I’ve been on the other side as well. I had an online friend many years ago who was really stuck. She lived in a horrible living situation and was most likely clinically depressed. We were friends for years, but my own patience just ran out. There was nothing I could do.

Looking back, though, I could have done a couple of things differently. I could have limited my time talking to her and I could have just listened and tried to not fix her. Holding space for someone who is suffering and is in pain is a sacred duty, not something to be taken for granted.

What’s the Story? Who Are You?

Ultimately, I’m asking for folks to not use empty spiritual buzzwords, to be more patient and kind, to be more discerning, and to realize that the human condition is a cumulative experience.

I have many old stories that I am not living in any longer, but they are chapters in my own book of life that are sacred, that are precious, and that brought me to this place.

…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be…

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem