Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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What Phillis Wheatley Taught Me

Phillis Wheatley came into my life pressed between the pages of a rather lack luster anthology. I was twenty-one when I first sat down in my American Literature class ready to be thoroughly educated. My professor was young and handsome. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches and I knew that we would have great discussions that would change my life. I was right. My interactions with him would change my life.

The only Wheatley poem my anthology contained was the short but controversial,

On being brought from Africa to America

‘TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither fought now knew,
 Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I read the poem with understandable concern. My white Gen-X background in no way prepared me for a woman who spoke with gratitude on having been taken from her family at the age of 7, sold into slavery at age 8 and then named after the slave ship which transported her. How she ever survived the long voyage aboard “The Phillis,” no one knows.

I sat in shock listening to my professor discuss the hardships of her life in blasé tones. He furthered the insult by saying that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. My indignation was instant. Nowhere in her words could I detect irony. I heard a fragile voice, as gentle as moonlight, singing out an ideology forced on her through hardship, a new and vengeful God coupled with the tortuous cruelty of slavery. Surely, no one with a heart could read this poem and honestly believe that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. Slowly I raised my hand, stated my case and flatly refused to back down.

My professor believed that his word was the last word on all subjects literary. My refusal to understand that Wheatley’s poem was ironic angered him so much that he began yelling “ironic” at me every time our paths crossed: In the hall, out on the green, in the parking lot. My reply to each and every one of his attacks was to simply say, “sincere.”

At the end of quarter, after turning in every paper, after aceing every quiz and test I received a D-. The girl who sat opposite me never turned in her papers, missed tests and didn’t read the assigned texts but was shocked to receive an A. I approached my professor, I stated that he’d switched the grades and he replied, “How very ironic?” Yes it was ironic that I should fail this simple class with my strong English background. Yes it was ironic that I should fight for a defenseless black poetess, and yes it was ironic that I, a woman, was forced to defend my belief before an empowered white male. I went to the Dean, I filed my complaint and nobody listened.

So this is what Phillis Wheatley taught me. She taught me that even when you’ve been bullied, brainwashed, stomped on and threatened you have to keep on speaking what your heart tells you is right. Since failing American Lit. I have become a lover of Wheatley’s poetry. In her words I find sweetness, beauty, and a refinement not of this world. Her voice is more tangible to me now than any grade. My soul is strengthened by her poem On Virtue. My love of art grows in her poem To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works. My favorite of her poems is simply entitled,

On Imagination.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
 Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Phillis is one of the reasons why I write about silenced women. Her history is part of why I will always take up a cause my heart recognizes as pure. Phillis could not speak out against slavery when she herself was enslaved but read again On being brought from Africa to America and notice how gently she presses the truth that we all have the right to find grace.

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Choosing Healthy over Hellish Love: Understanding the Trauma Bond

I’ve known several people who believed in this phrase, “We always hurt the one’s we love.” These people weren’t naturally abusive but each had a brutal past, a despair based perspective and an intangible grief. They lived in a state of bitter despair, their days clouded with careless words, biting comebacks and bursts of violence. There were constant stories of war, drunkenness and past wrongs depicted so vividly that, even though I wasn’t there, I experienced them vicariously.

Trauma Bonds make you the secret keeper to other people’s traumatic experiences. These bonds hold you hostage to atrocities, forcing you to turn for support to those who witnessed hell with you. Break a trauma bond by starting a better life and you will never be forgiven for leaving your fellow victims alone with their pain.  Stay and you will be forever stuck at the scene of the crime, a captive victim to a hellish past.

Trauma bonds are fused by a love that goes beyond healthy. It asks that you bare your soul, set aside your values and immerse yourself in a cult like existence. The bond is so overwhelming that you forget who you are and what you ever wanted for yourself. Only the trauma exists; the perpetuated recollection of the darkest moments in life replayed again and again within the trauma bond collective.

Trauma bonds are defensive. Everyone outside the bond is viewed as a potential risk, criminal or predator. Within a trauma bond there is no room for growth, no room for happiness, success or healthy relationships with the outside world.

In my book, The Only Home I’ve Ever Known, my character Gidra is trauma bound to her mother Sophia. They survived a war, hid from enemy troops and forage for food through bombed out villages. With the wars end their trauma bond continues. It grows, warps and twists into a new kind of desperation which makes Gidra’s life impossible to endure. At the beginning of the book Sophia artfully recalls their shared past in order to maintain her control over her daughter. You and I have been through a lifetime together and there is no one in this world who will ever love you or know you the way I do. Please remember that when Parker starts to make you promises. Please remember how hard we’ve fought to stay together when life wanted to separate us.” With these well-chosen words Sophia strives to enforce the trauma bond and destroy any hope Gidra may have of a life outside their bond.

Identifying and breaking away from a trauma bond is an important step to discovering your autonomy.  If you are experiencing a relationship that leaves you feeling depleted or depressed it may be traumatically fused. Separation is usually the first step. Only through separation will you begin to gain a new perspective of the world around you. Secondly, forgive your trauma partners for the life they offered you. When you learn to let go of your past you will be ready to embrace your present. Practice self-protection. Set safety boundaries that free you to live authentically. Open your self to new experiences slowly. Too much too quickly can send you back into old habits.  Practice everyday gratitude (this I really can’t stress enough). Chose to be happy and remember that you do not owe your life to anyone. You were born to live each day on your terms. Go forth and truly live.

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Role Enforcers

If you find yourself feeling the need to explain your actions, you are probably confronting a role enforcer. A role enforcer is a person, or group of people, who intend to keep you stuck in their version of what is acceptable. Role enforcement has been a necessary component in human development by keeping us safely organized within a social structure. Parents are natural role enforcers. It’s the parent’s job to shape their child into their idea of healthy maturity by keeping the child safe within the bounds of a shared identity.

Friendship also acts as a role enforcing infrastructure. Friendship begins with shared interests, perspectives and behaviors which support one another’s idea of what’s OK. If you step outside of the shared state of normal then you run the chance of being teased, nagged and manipulated back into the flow of what is acceptable. Remain at odds with your friend’s relational infrastructure and you’ll soon be looking for new friends.

So what is role enforcement’s place in an intimate relationship? In truth it has no place because a healthy relationship is deep and open. There are no shared states of normal. Instead there is flexibility, compassion and understanding of the changes and shifts which slowly transform an individual throughout a lifetime. We are born seeing the world through our parent’s perspective, we are raised and shaped by the qualities of our friends but as adults we may choose to break the mold, rise up and become the person we were born to be.

In my book, “The Only Home I’ve Known,” I introduce Gidra, a World War II survivor raised in the sex trade. She lives a life born of desperation; driven by a will to survive the worst situations. When the war ends her mother Sophia (an abusive role enforcer) maintains the survival role. Gidra is objectified, sold, paraded out and bartered for jewels, clothing and money. She meets Parker, whose unconditional love shatters her perspective; freeing her from the role which crushed her. With Parker’s love she dares to seek a life of possibility and hope.

Always beware of role enforcers. Identify the people who make you feel as though you must explain your actions. Notice when your authenticity is challenged. Watch for little comments and innuendos that imply you are not acting in accordance with role expectations. Role enforcement is a natural state in herd mentality but it has no place in an open aware relationship. Desiderata by Max Ehrmann states, “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all people.” Love the role enforcer for the well-intention gifts they tried to saddle you with but never surrender your sense of self or let anyone box you into a false identity. Take comfort in the knowledge that you are unique to this world. There never was or ever will be another you.

The Covenant of Relational Intimacy Part 2

So what does the modern covenant look like? How do we swear to one another that we will stand against all peril, keep vigil and give solace when they are needed? The answer to this question changes with each individual experience. Though the word covenant means to cut a thing which is eaten, (break bread, offer sacrifice, feast,) its inherent meaning slices far deeper. Covenant is an act of coming together to prove we are not alone, that our individuality does not ensure loneliness and isolation. Covenant is the promise that someone, be it God, our spouse or our best friend, will always be there no matter what. Covenant is seen as a necessary component to relational intimacy because it is the promise of security, safe passage and safe harbor in a world fraught with storms.

How do you create a sense of safety, home and community in an ever expanding world? We must turn again to the covenant of relational intimacy, the sworn loves, fidelities and friendships that guide us, house us and keep us feeling safe.  Humans are born to enter covenants, to make packs, swear oaths, to love and care for one another, and to protect at the risk of personal sacrifice. Within true covenant friendships are not allowed to slip away.

The covenant of relational intimacy is the single most important thing you will do in life. Now we have the opportunity to do this on a global scale. Create community in every way you can. Educate yourself about the lands, beliefs and lives of others. Take advantage of this momentous time by immersing yourself in the flow of humanity; be it through twitter, spirituality or travel. Make time for conversation, even if you’re in a rush. Stop to ask a person how they are then take the time to really listen to their answer. Each interaction will feed your soul and expand your awareness of your place in the world.

I look forward to knowing you in this fast moving and fascinating time, maybe over coffee, maybe through the web. In the meantime, I’ll write about your loves, your courage and your covenants. I’ll write about the honor and strength it takes to become the person you were put on this planet to be. I’ll write about your losses and joys as our lives continue to weave through this modern age. It is our shared universal covenant that is the greatest epic story in the cosmos.

The Covenant of Relational Intimacy Part 1

Blood is thicker than water, what does this really mean? In the book The Blood Covenant, by H. Clay Trumbull, a ‘blood covenant’ is a blood ritual more binding than familial ties. Under a blood covenant you remain your father’s son, your mother’s daughter, but your true allegiance rests with your sworn sisters, your blood brothers; the men or women you would die for without question.

As a child I became blood sisters with my friend Stephanie. We cut our thumbs, rubbed the cuts together and knew we’d never be apart. I lost Stephanie from my life eighteen months later and have passed years without once thinking of her. Why did I so easily accept her loss? Why did I allow her to fade into nothing more than a foot note in my history?

At the time my world felt too big, my community was scattered, my days fogged in by the names and faces of people I would never see again. I told myself that if I had been born in a village construct, raised in the intimacy of extended family, then perhaps I would not have handled the loss of my blood sister with such silent resignation. With an ideal home life I believed I would have fought her loss, grieved her absence, prayed for her in absentia instead of allowing her name to pass from my mind. Why did I feel such resignation to loss? Why did the memory of our friendship fade to indifference?

Desperate for answers and a sense of community I spent years in various churches, joined groups, went to parties only to feel as alone as when I first set out to find “My People.” This search for relational intimacy, for my place in the world, led me on a search for knowledge, for community, and for the home I longed for. What I found after years of wandering is a very simple truth. We have evolved sociologically beyond our original communal constructs. Our small village idea of community has opened to a world experience because of population density, global media exposure and our beloved internet. So many people pass through our lives that it is impossible to keep them all close, yet you can grieve their individual loss and love them in the moment.

In part two, I will discuss how covenant has remained an integral part of human relationships.

Writing Your Passion

I am a passionate person. How could I not be when I look around at the many fold beauty of my life? I’m passionate about art, about literature, people, relationship’s, forests, animals, gardens and just about everything I see when I hike or walk. Yet, the one thing that really moves my heart and warms my soul is stories. I love stories; the short little ones you hear at the grocery store, or while sitting on a park bench eavesdropping on two old friends discussing their lives. I love the stories of children, of veterans, and especially old people with one foot in the grave.

If there is anything I could contribute to my success as a writer it would be this passion I have for the spoken histories of my fellow beings. Nothing is more powerful than a spoken story, nothing pulls me in quite the same way as when a grey haired old lady leans into me and says, “You know what? I remember when that happened.” In moments like these I know my plans for the next hour just died a quick death because, right here-right now, I’ve got a life to listen to; a story to hear, words and images to memorize, transmute and rewrite into something solid, something real. In my own way I am recording the stories of life, my life, their lives, the lives of little old women with sharp blue eyes who have the time to spend forty minutes recounting the death of twins, the loss of a husband, the burning down of the old family home. I stand there, I listen, I offer my hand and my condolences because right here, right now I’m living, they’re living, and the stories must be told as much as they must be heard by a kind and listening ear.

If you mean to be a writer never turn your back on anyone’s story. Never tell yourself you don’t have the time to listen to that child in the too bright tea shirt who is telling you about his dog. Never ever walk away from an old person just because they may look a little strange, talk a little too slow or smell like sour milk. Stay where you are and take the time to hear them because sometimes when they open their mouths magic streams out. Sometimes they tell you stories so good, so sad, so riveting, that with a tweak here and there, you have a tale which is not just beautiful and heart wrenching but also very, very real.

Boosting your Cognitive Creativity

I’m an active writer. I write every day and when I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing. I’ve found however that my mind is never so clearly creative as when I’m out walking in my neighborhood. It’s during these walks that my characters find their true voice, my scenes gain in depth and color and my plot takes on a shape which far exceeds the bare bones structure I was originally given to work in. So what is it that is so powerful about walking? Is it the increase in oxygen to the brain? Is it the stimulation of the nervous system? In 1997 the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that a group of scientists had proven that cardiovascular exercise improves creativity independent of mood. Whether walking, dancing or running you are not only improving your body, building a stronger heart and overall strength, but you are also unleashing the cognitive creativity in your brain.

 
I propose that when you are feeling creatively blocked go for a walk, dance, or do any type of cardo-exercise to open your mind beyond its current creative level. Let go of your worries, release all the limitations you or others have placed on you. Breathe deeply and focus inwardly on the world which you alone can create. Whether you compose music, prose or paintings there is a reason why you were put on this planet. There is a reason why your individual art is so very important to the world. The reason is that only you can see and create what is being expressed within your heart and mind.

 
Another exercise I use to open my mind creatively is prayer or deep meditation. Going close to the source which created me and asking for guidance is a powerful way to open the mind and heart to new thoughts and ideas. This very grounding and liberating practice has helped shape whole sections of my books which had before given me trouble. Regardless of your beliefs the simple act of sitting silently with the source or deity you hold dear can work miracles in your mental makeup. There is limitless possibility in silence, in being present in the moment, in listening to that creative well spring from which all things are nourished.

You are a sacred being and your words, ideas, and creative expression are as important as the house which shelters you and the good food you eat for without human creativity and expression we could not relate to one another on a deeper level and without relationship one cannot expand and evolve. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Insignificants is relative…creativity is imperative…go forth and create.