The Very Human Need for Experience

Good and Evil

Good and Evil


I wanted to shelter my son from the world. I prayed away my foul mouth, hid my tears and played happy family with gusto. I wanted his world to be flowery, fun and fantastically clean. I didn’t tell him about my childhood unless I was telling a funny anecdote about a pet or a friend. I socialized him, took art classes with him and enrolled him in a co-op preschool where I could play perfect with other perfect mothers. Right out of preschool we enrolled in a perfect private school where I was sure he would bloom into the perfect prep school boy. In my search for perfection I lost something integrally important to the development of a well-rounded human. That important missing element was a well-developed sense of reality.

As time passed I began to see the holes in the world I’d worked so hard to create. I wasn’t being myself, my friends were drearily superficial and my son was unhappy in his school. Desperate for answers I turned to a book I stole from my high school, an ancient, dog eared copy of Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha. I love this book for so many reasons. Like many other great inspirational books I can just open it to any page and find a piece of wisdom that will help me with whatever it is I’m facing. That day I opened the book at the beginning. I read of Siddhartha’s mother, her love for her child and her tragic early death. I read about the prophesy, proclaiming Siddhartha to be the greatest teacher of the age. Then I read his father’s reaction to this prophesy. Having just lost his wife and then faced with the loss of his son to a religious life, Siddhartha’s father created a perfect world in which pain, suffering and old age had no place. He imprisoned Siddhartha in a false utopia and robbed him of reality in order to keep him safe. How did Siddhartha react? He ran away in search of answers to the questions his father could neither pose nor answer.

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Setting down the book I began to see the holes I’d identified in my parenting open into rather worrying chasms. I remembered the perfect children I’d known growing up, the ones who’d summered at the country club, vacationed in the tropics with their perfect families only to go slumming as drug using collage kids. I started remembering other sheltered kids who’d gone wild with sex and drugs the moment they’d found freedom from the suffocating control of their perfect worlds. Slowly I began to think that maybe by keeping our children in ignorance of pain and suffering we create a vacuum in their experience which will only propel them into a deeper need to experience the very things we try to protect them from. We cannot limit our children’s experience on this earth by sheltering them from a world they will someday have to live in.

So what is a frightened conscientious parent to do? I still only have a vague idea. In my heart I think a parent’s job is to guide a child through the world but not to shelter them from it. I feel that we must discuss even the small details of their day and how their different interactions made them feel. Most importantly we must validate their emotions with empathy, compassion and a willingness to hear while we admit our own feelings, failings and frustrations within the discourse. In other words it is very important that our children see us as loving, fallible humans whom they can trust with their secrets. We live in a tumultuous world of opposites. As much as we hate to admit it good lives in balance with evil and both must be experienced in order to be understood. We cannot end suffering any more then Siddhartha the Buddha did because suffering is a necessary part of experience and experience is the only true teacher. No matter how hard we try, we cannot recreate heaven on earth because that isn’t why we’re here.

Making Peace with Experience

Making Peace with Experience

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Animal Magic

I grew up with a lot of animals. Animals were our way of life. We woke to the sounds of chickens. We spent our days training horses and mucking out stalls and our nights cuddled up around our old wood fire place with cats, dogs, ferrets, a rabbit and a chinchilla. When it was time for bed it was just a matter of standing up to signal your entourage to follow. My entourage consisted of Muffy, a calico kitty our neighbors found in their garage and Zena the whippet who came to us after being shuffled through three other homes.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

We were the collectors of the unwanted, the unadoptable and the hopeless. Our horses were slaughterhouse saves, our dogs were pound puppies and our cats came to us from every corner of the city. The most dramatic cat story we converged with was that of Mimsy. She was a beautiful silver stripped kitty who was rescued by an elderly homeless man from boys who were beating her to death in the streets of Spokane. My sister was a teenager in her car when the man knocked on her window and gave Mimsy to her. I can’t remember what he said but I do remember the look of grief she described in his eyes, a look that stemmed from an inability to understand why anyone would try to beat a kitty to death. I’m happy to say that in our large menagerie, Mimsy lived a long and happy life as mother’s favorite lap cat.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Since we adopted our new puppy last Wednesday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hundreds of animals which have graced my life. I still miss my first cat Lilly and I still tear up when I think of Zena the Whippet, Serge the Greyhound and Nitro the incomparable Doberman/Shepherd cross who was in all likelihood an angel cloaked in fur. So many things have changed over the years. So many lives have come and gone and yet we plod on, loving those who will only grace a small portion of lives. Though their years are short, the love they leave behind lasts a lifetime. Animals heal us, they bring us close and they open our souls to a deeper experience of what really matters. With a pet, every snowfall is magical, every sunrise filled with expectation and every well warn path becomes riddled with joyful possibility.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

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Nothing to Prove

two girls holding hands
I no longer have anything to prove. Not to myself, not to my friends and not to the world. Stress, anxiety and worry, guilt and fear grow stronger when I reach for perfection; wanting in every way to prove that I am worth knowing, worth hearing, worth the time it takes to say hello. Freedom lives in acceptance, as does love, compassion and the greatest gift, contentment. I have set aside my need for riches, my wish for worldly wealth and I am at home with myself and to myself in a way I never was before, simply because I make no excuses for who I am. I am…and that’s enough.

The road to poverty is paved with unnecessary consumption; that driving need to own the latest, the greatest, the biggest and the best in order to be cutting-edge, cool and accepted. I have bought my fair share of acceptance based merchandise. I have run up my credit cards and wept when I couldn’t pay the bill. I wore the right shoes with the right dress to the right occasion where I said all the right things to all the right people? Instead of feeling exhilarated, accepted and admired I felt tired and jaded as if I’d shelved the best and brightest parts of me for one radiantly superficial occasion.

Once shelved, our best and brightest features begin to fade. Our true natures waste away into the shadowed recess of our souls, coming out in confessions to a friend who isn’t really a friend because in truth, she’s never really met you. Oh sure you’ve shopped together and gossiped together but the moment you let your true self slip into the open, you’re confronted with the reality that you’ve crossed that line into inexplicable depth. Your pretty friend’s eyes glaze over, there’s a lull in conversation accompanied by the reality that you’ve gone too far. “Beyond this point there be dragons,” the old maps used to read and you struggle through uncomfortable chatter, the bird song of small talk, until you reestablish the comfortable anonymity that kept you both intimate strangers. Then your friend grows busy, too busy, to shop and gossip and her world spins on without you.

I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, I’ll love you in your best dress or in your most ragged pair of sweats. You know the pair you reserve for those days when you’re too old for teddy bears but too broken to understand how much you need one. I don’t care if you’re not wearing eye makeup or where you got your hair done. If you can’t stop crying I’ll probably join you. If you’ve got the giggles I’m right there to.

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
-William Shakespeare

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A Wealth of Choices

I own the choices I’ve made; the dark ones, the wicked ones, the wrong ones and right ones. No one said do this and forced me into it. I walked, eyes open, into my life choosing the safest path again and again until I came to this place of quiet repose. I have a house I love. It’s too big but I like the way the sun pours in. I have a husband who adores me. He works a lot but the money is good. I have a child I love. He’s loud and noisy but he makes me laugh. I have a cat to snuggle. He’s big and beautiful and keeps me company.

It’s easy to look back on the choices I’ve made and think: If only I’d stayed in school I could have had a career. If I’d stayed in that city I might have learned independence. If I’d traveled when I was younger maybe my life would feel bigger. It’s easy to let go of free choice and blame others for the twists and turns our lives have taken. It’s also easy to settle into a rut and let the dust settle.

My life is now half-lived. A wealth of choice lies before me, waiting to be made. I’ve lived hard and I’ve lived easy. I’ve basked in the sunlight and labored in the rain. I could close my eyes right now and fade into duty, schedule and the comforting rhythm of time or I could make a choice to change this happy groove into something even greater; life can be too soft, too smooth and too insufferably sweet. Sometimes it’s good to let the rain in. Sometimes it’s good to turn the world on its ear. Sometimes you need to step on a cold sharp rock just so you can remember to be grateful for warm plush carpet and the comforts of home.

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The Farm Wife’s God

Shepherdess with Her FlockI will not pass through your “angelic” doors to be made insignificant by your lofted buttresses, shining alters and painted glass. I will not feel small in this world (my world); the place where my mother walked with her mother back to the beginning of time. Keep your sky God … a never wandering…never breathing…never living God who lets his children slip through his fingers into hell flame and fire.

My God rests upon the world, an invisible guest filled with a heady love, riotous in his moments of childlike joy. As one we live a life of love and laughter, blessed by the magic of a stocked pantry and a well-made stove belching out good scents: hot fresh bread, new beef stew, hot apple tart pulled from the flames just as the crust turns golden. This is a Good use of fire, the right use of fire, a fire that feeds and nurtures as fire should. My God is a hearth God, an earth God, a plentiful smiling God, his feet treading the wheat rows at my side from planting to harvest.

During long winters, my prayers are answered with the birth of a child, the well-wishing visit of old friends and neighbors, the scent and flavor of roasted ham and salted lentils. My God is here, his feet under the table. He blesses us when the sun hardly shines and we have only our stories and each other to pass the time with.

So I say to you now, threaten no one with your false doctrines, black clad papist man. For fear has no place among the peaceful. I’ve seen your cathedrals rising high into the clouds, calling the frightened to worship in dread of hell fire and false magic.

My cathedral is my hand-made house. My pulpit, a faded arm chair by the fire.  My doctrine is the doctrine of the farm: rise early, feed good fodder, share your bounty with your neighbors, always close a gate and be kind even in the kill, for kill we must to lay our table. As the fire heats the meat, my God and I give thanks, and are humbled by the beauty and bounty of the day.

I need no sky God’s magic, no promised afterlife, no cathedrals dripping in gold to know that I am loved, heaven made and purpose bent. I need no holy man to guide me to the heaven I already know, not while the hills call, the cattle low and there are sheep to be sheered.

When my time comes, my God will lead me by my work roughened hands that have fed people, birthed people, raised up the sick and buried the dead before the setting of the second sun and he will know that I have always been grateful to be alive. That  being the very best kind of worship there is.

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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.