Monday, February 02, 2009

3 Spaces

There is a certain space that comes into my mind. It actually represents a point in time, when I was probably about 7 years old. It's an image of sunset at my parents' house. I am standing outside, in the street, facing their front yard; the red, orange, and purple sunset explodes behind my best friend's house next door. I have no idea what I was doing at that time--if I was in the street, I was more than likely riding my bike or walking home from a friend's house. It was definitely summertime--late summer, August. When I stood there, I heard music. At that time, it was likely that I'd hear music from lots of places; I was the youngest child in a family of five, and all of my siblings were teens at this point. There was hardly a time when music was NOT blaring from somewhere. But this was not that music. Over the years, I've struggled to identify it, to recapture it, but it's difficult. It's more like a song produced by Nature, something embedded in the environment--maybe a song of the fairies, if I want to be fanciful. I hear elements of it, snippets of something like it, in various places, but not enough.

I spent a lot of my formative years without much personal space. As I mentioned, I had 4 siblings (2 brothers, 2 sisters), and I was the youngest. All of us except for my oldest brother slept in the attic rooms upstairs. I shared a room with my 2 sisters, and it was not a big room. Frequently, being teenagers, they had their friends over, and did not really want their baby sister hanging around. I frequently complained to my mother, as their room was also my room, and I couldn't go there when I wanted. She would just tell me to go outside. I loved being outside, but these were not the times that I wanted to be outside. There was no other private space in the house. I swear that this is why I need so much space as an adult.

Over the years, this same spot, this same point in time, comes into my mind at different times. When I was at university as an undergraduate I had a dream about it. I was in the driveway of the corner house on my parents' street; a girl I went to school with called Christine lived there. I entered the house through the garage. I was looking for something in the house, and somewhat mindful that I might not be alone in the house. I was afraid of encountering anyone. Whatever I was looking for was mine, but I had a hard time finding it. As I made my way up through the house, I found myself climbing out a window and into her backyard. I took a few steps, and I was immediately back at that summer sunset--I recognized the scene immediately. I heard someone coming, and before me was something different, something not part of the original scene--it was a long rope hanging from a tree, the kind that you climb and swing on. I grabbed the rope, but instead of climbing, I was lowering myself. As it turns out, I was lowering myself back into my body in my bed, or at least that was how it seemed as I woke up at that moment.

My friend Phil told me about a Scarlet Imprint book he was reading called "Devoted". It was a collection of stories from worshippers of various deities. These were not the nice, peaceful deities--they were the tricksters, the destroyers. The story of a Loki worshipper made a particular impression on him. It raised the question of whether or not one could ever get out of worshipping these deities once they started. The answer, at least from that story, seemed to be "no".

I have been drawn to crones, hags, moon goddesses, and destroyers my whole life. I'm not entirely sure why. Hecate, Morrigan, Kali--all of them representing extremes. I was asked once by a Bengali man I knew about why I chose to be so intimately involved with Kali pujas. "Why must you choose the most extreme form of shakti?" It was a good question. Shakti is the name given to the underlying consciousness of the Universe. It can be perceived as gentle and motherly, but it can also be destructive and dangerous. Shakti is the force that runs through every person. When one's shakti operates at its peak, one is enlightened, saintly, a boon to society. Most of the time, our shakti is not at its peak, which leaves us insecure, depressed, hung up on certain phobias and ideas. But the shakti is no joke--those who try to "raise" their shakti without any guidance can fall into madness. I get nervous when I see books teaching people how to do kundalini yoga. One should never do that without guidance. Yet I always feel drawn to that extreme energy.

Which brings me to another point in time, or type of point in time. Spring and summer thunderstorms. I know I am recalling a point in time when the weather is warm outside, the clouds gather ominously, the rain comes down like daggers, and the wind is fierce. The lightning cracks the sky, and the thunder shakes the ground. At such points in time, I find myself going outside, preferably barefoot if I'm in the country. I don't get too concerned about getting hit by lightning. I just love running through the rain in my bare feet--a very primal feeling is recreated for me at these moments. It's as though I'm part of the storm.

My colleagues over the years have generally regarded me as a grounded person. I don't like to waste time when it comes to large projects, I like to break things down, organize them, and get to work as soon as possible, regardless of how I personally feel about the project. Some days I am very focused, and can work very efficiently. But sometimes everything just seems to shimmer away like a mirage, and I find myself in one of these other places. I may not literally see that place in my mind; I may just hear a sound or have a feeling that I associate with it. When I do, it's impossible for me to sit down and do anything practical. No matter how simple the task is before me, I can't focus on it, and I have a drive to get out--to go for a long walk, to go down to the river and run barefoot along its banks, to sit in the back of a quiet, old pub and allow my mind to wander. And it does wander. Sometimes I can write stories in this space, if I can discipline myself to do so. This is fine if there aren't major deadlines looming, or other restrictions. But the feeling can last for days. Sometimes it ends in a high fever, and then I'm committed to bed for a couple of days.

A third type of space that I gravitate towards at times is monastery space. I love walking through the echoing halls of a convent or monastery, I love hearing the singing of the monks or nuns. I grew up in a modernized, "folky" Catholic Church that I never liked as much as the old one--the Latin recitations and chants, the magnificent cathedrals that were grossly misunderstood by Protestant reformers. Nature has its own architecture, but some man-made attempts to create the Divine atmosphere are very impressive. The mind works in metaphors. That's the only way to approach this tremendous shakti, this terrifying thing we call "existence". Words do not describe it, so we can only wrap our minds around it by saying what it is "like" in words, or using visual or audial metaphors in art, architecture, and music. Cathedrals are full of symbols--they are everywhere that you look. And they are not simply "Christian" symbols--many are very universal, reminding you of your own connection to everything else.

We are so caught up in our mundane lives, and we get comfortable that way. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. When I go away to a silent retreat, or some very quiet space to meditate and remember my connection, it is sometimes hard to readjust. It really should not be difficult--if one is really centered in their own stillness, what is going on externally shouldn't make a whit of difference. We draw lines where there aren't any.

While I was working as a system administrator, I had another dream. I was in the library where I was based, walking through the main atrium. It looked like a war zone. The floors had huge holes in them, as though a mine shaft had caved in, or something underneath forced its way out. The place was shaking and falling down. I picked my way through the debris and explosions, trying to find stable pieces of the floor. Underneath I heard a tremendous crunching sound, like a chewing and swallowing. I knew it was inevitable that I would fall to that thing underneath.

You might think that I would wake up terrified from such a dream. Instead, I was relieved. It was a dream of an aspect of the Goddess Kali called the Great Devourer (mahagrasa in the Sanskrit). Mahagrasa appears in myth on the field of battle against the demons of the ego. As they attack, she picks them up and devours them. This is metaphorical for the stripping away of the habits and beliefs that restrain us and make us miserable. For the devouring goddess to act in my life, I had a chance of getting rid of those restrictions and eliminating that suffering.

When I reflect on the different events, spaces, and my response to them, I realize that it's as though I'm always teetering between two worlds. One is scholarly, organized, and academic. The other is chaotic, dreamy, disturbing, and somewhere on the edge. Really, the two worlds are not separate--I separate them in my mind, but they are part of the same complex reality. Which is why choosing one over the other is inappropriate--they need to be integrated. Integration is a challenge, but I seem to gain more and more ground with that task every year.

I am always curious as to what effect this has on others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Honored to get a mention on the blog. That was a great discussion we had.

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Keep up the Great Work, Brigid!