Dark Remedies

As the dark time draws nigh  

Could it be that the seasonal affective disorder, and all the snotty noses are reminders that part of what is needed in the fall is to turn inward and rest? How might it look if we were to support an inward journey, instead of quickly banishing the oncoming darkness with lights, proclaiming “safety” and “celebration?” These days, there is little example of skill in navigating those dark peripheries. The shadowy sides brought forth in therapy are left in therapy- no one in the community is privy to the gift of those shadows. We quickly banish anything resembling hurt or sorrow, all too often labeling them as dark, though the dark, as we know is much much more. 

It is rare to hear someone say, “I must go inward now, do not worry about me, but wait for me to come out of the dark place. Please have ready some hearty meat stew, a thermos of tea, a wool shawl for my shoulders, and a warm place by the fire to sit. Take care of my family and home. I will return when the moon is bright again. Ready our good people, and upon my return, gather them in, for I will have need to share with you what came from the dark.” Just as unlikely is it to find the one who will do this task for you- who will greet you on the other side, afraid of the darkness just as much as you, but like you, in utter accordance with darkness’s will and want. For darkness needs to be nourished, just as much as we need to be nourished by it.

Intact cultures around the world had rituals, and specific folks who held the ability to travel inward to dark places, to other realms, and to commune with those they found there- often these were ghosts, spirits who could not rest, and thus were causing havoc on the other side. The astral travelers were the shamans and medicine people, but others were sent on vision quests as well, at certain times of year, or before an important battle, in order to glean wisdom from the other realms, from the multitude of the ancestors of that place and those people.  Nowadays we have new age folk forever heralding the light, and very few willing to extinguish it with you, looking over your shoulders as you do, dark quieting raucous light, pleading with her to be sensible.    Here in the Pacific Northwest, the dark has been falling steadily without me even realizing it, carrying on with my never ending to-do/gotta get it done list, racing against the sun even when the cool air and the rosey hips dotting the hedgerows whisper, “slow down… don’t work so much, don’t worry so much, take a walk, here, harvest this medicine, you will need it when the nights go cold.” Until….earlier this fall a gnarly cold found its way into my body- sickness’s gift forcing me to take heed, stay  home from work, linger in bed, and to succumb to much needed rest, and much needed introspection time, namely in the form of writing.  All the while I battle with the voices that say, “buck it up,” and “suck it up,”- dominant culture’s mechanized mode of life nipping at my heels, economic anxiety a never ending current in my days. Despite my best early efforts to fight it off with my favorite herbal allies, this one hung tight, and almost a week later did I come out of the dark, back into the light. 

There will be no mention of what herbal remedies you can take to get through the dark time (though a little rose elixir or love potion to get you through wouldn't hurt;)) There is a poverty that underpins every showy Instagram product herbal pic, and I do wonder about this. This is not going to be yet another post about how much Vitamin C our wild rose hips have, or how you just need to take more Vitamin D (lard is a great fat soluble source) to get through the winter, nor will I offer my recipe for elderberry gummies (maybe later); though all these  remedies have their place, and indeed could support your health, but let us not forget that pain, illness, suffering, and frailty are just as much part of the human condition, and worthy of our regard.  When we are constantly offering up a remedy for a time of year that is meant to be grieved and mourned, we have functionally turned our beloved plant medicines into one more coping mechanism. Herbal medicine in our collective cultural history has indeed arisen aside capitalism, but a way of being with plants in the place where you pass your days has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with relationship. Yes we can support our immune system all we want, but the deep sickness in our bones, that soul longing for something to make it right has to do with what has been missing for a long long time- knowing our place, knowing our people, caring for our living, and tending to our dead. This sickness has no herbal remedy for it.  

I believe the proper remedy this time of year is darkness itself. 

Here the evergreens remain stalwart in our cool but temperate landscape, the few deciduous trees we do have show gold, and then turn to brown. Wool is a perennial favorite fiber around here, for its warmth and its ability to withstand the drizzly rains we have so often in the fall and winter. We dress in layers year round, many work three jobs (or more) in our summer economy; in fall we grieve our temporarily lost income as we celebrate more time to focus on creative projects; we don our muck boots, add another log to the fire, and await the dark and the rains that we pray will fall, to nourish us should another long dry summer make its way to our island fields. 

When I succumbed to my sickness but obligated to a work deadline, I went for a half day at the office and found myself, after an hour at my desk, almost cowering under the pressing light of the overhead fluorescence. Now, if you are a psychologically minded person you may asses this reaction as “mental health issues,” and make it be about my personal mental faculties and my ability to “deal,” instead, I implore you dear reader to ask a bigger question, as I have been taught to do: what befell a people such that now, when the darkness falls all around them, they must, instead of gathering together to welcome the dark, be succumbed to endless sources of artificial light?  To me that is insanity indeed!

Because I grew up in a psychologically oriented culture, and have walked with that model’s understanding of depression for many of my days, when I took to my bed to nurture my cold infected body, an upwelling of grief and anxiety surfaced with the thought, “maybe I’ll just stay in bed, disappear; no one can find me.” This voice spoke directly to my soul’s deep longing for retreat, introspection, and rest, but with language hearkening back to my orientation of depression as bad or wrong. The upwelling of the grief and anxiety stem from the fear I carry that by taking time out of “my life,” (the busy capitalistic doing model) to focus on nourishing myself through rest and introspection, that I will be ridiculed, scorned, or risk losing my job- thus my entire security hinges upon this. After a life time of walking with depression and understanding it from the impoverished view point of the individual, I can say with confidence that what shows up for me as “depression” or my inability to “deal” or “be” in the world is not a personal failing, or something I need to fix- be it by more therapy or St. John’s wort tincture. They are more often signs of a soul’s cry from the dark ethers of something the darkness is needing from me. You can call this egotistical all you like, but I’ve earned enough white hairs at this point to claim my gifts, and writing is one. I am sure any introvert, visionary, or creative can relate to this. For it is only by approaching the darkness, courting the darkness if you will, by allowing time for rest, retreat, ritual, isolation, and introspection, that those who dwell in darkness make their way through us and out into the world. For me this week, rest and introspection ride in on the sickness, giving me “excuse” to retreat, to stop doing, to take heed of fall’s dark arrival. 

Can you imagine then, if as a people we had some skill with which we employed to grieve summer’s end and court fall’s darkness? No human evolved to be staring at screen all day, to be bathed in hours of bright lights, or to be carted back and forth in a mechanical vehicle hurtling through space at high speeds. Instead of fleeing to Southern climes as soon as the chill comes, we face the darkness with wonder and awe. Instead of rousing children before sun has kissed the gray sky, making them rush bleary eyed to catch the school bus, where their days will be spent showered by artificial light, we let them sleep, letting their natural bio-rhythms be nourished by the dark. Why this mad insistence to keep going at the same pace as summer’s long hours permit us too? No wonder so many folks plunge into a seasonal depression- I suspect if more folks cried at summer’s end, economic sources adjusted work hours accordingly, municipalities ensured that those who needed it most had what they needed for winter- money for heat, a proper tea set, heat tape around pipes, good food in the larder, loads of firewood, hearty sweater for winter walks, numbers of friends to call for nights of knitting, talk, book groups, etc., depression rates would drop. 

The dark time asks us to remember from whence we came. We give thanks for the sun’s heat, mourn summer’s death, all the while knowing that we, like the earth need a fallow period. With the dark time and now, Winter Solstice, we welcome the returning light, let us linger with what the longest night of the year offers. With a little humility, a little heavy heart, a slower walk, we can begin to wonder out loud with each other, what might it look to approach this darkness? How might I bring some reverence and love to this dark time, before the powers that be extinguish it with their fake revelry, their 24 hour shopping, and the lighting of the town square? Let darkness have its way with you. Do not rush too quickly to singing back the light. Be not afraid to linger long into the dark night, for when else do stories of forgotten ones come alive, when else do whispers of your future dreams dance in your sleep, when else do fires burn their brightest?

Only in the dark.

May this winter solstice bring memories and visions from worlds unseen, may you find the wisdom to act on said visions, for the darkness does not bring what you want, but what is needed. 

Together, again

“So we seek lovers and mentors and friends that we may be seen, and blessed.” James Hillman.

A friend remarked about my last blog post, “That was a good post, but I wonder if you’d write about friendship. I know you’re interested in sex and desire in relationships, but what about friendship? I see my partner when she is with her friends, having fun; we don’t have too much of that anymore. What about friendship with your partner?”

Ah… friendship. I would argue that my last post on desire and the need for mystery stand side by side with friendship. For what is friendship but the ability to be seen by one you love, to have one who is consistently compassionate and honest with you? When we feel seen by one we love, we are more able to open into the energetic spark of desire, of creativity, of mischief, of loving kindness!

But once again, the story of the one romantic partner bound to fulfill all unfulfilled needs often sets us with such a bevy of expectations, that the lightness that is needed to tend to our friendship can crumble- leaving us bitter, tired, and resentful- singing the same old song. However- that spark of light and laughter my friend sees when her partner is with her friends is what needs to be paid attention too.  

Each relationship we have comes with different expectations- whether we are aware of them or not is another story. If you are questioning how to bring some joy back into your dominant partnership, begin to ask, "What are my expectations of my partner?" "What can I do to feed my partner what she/he needs?” The answer to this latter question often takes a deep plunge into the heart of vulnerability, because so often what we need is simply more softness. The answers to these questions, when asked in a deep honest way can bring up discomfort- could it be you are not too good at asking for help? Is there an old hurt that needs tending too? Is there an appreciation we are holding back from saying? So often we hide behind work, kids, family obligations; we tune out and numb out through drink or drugs or media. When we begin to ponder these questions, we begin to step back from the clandestine hold of the dominant partnership and see ourselves in the bigger story of our life- where does this relationship factor into my life story? How does our relationship feed our greater community? Coming to the table from the vantage point of the bigger picture, immediately there is space for some lessening of the hold of expectations- you can come to your partner as a friend and ask, “How are you?” “What can I help you with today?” Together then, perhaps you can begin to wonder if your current model of relating is good enough for the two of you! There is not one model fits all! Some partners want a relationship where sexual activity, mystery, exploration and desire are key. Others are content to have friendly companionship day in and day out, where maybe the spark is no longer there, but you have a deep love and regard for the one by your side. Others sacrifice much for their children, veritably waving to the other partner from across a pile of soiled diapers, muttering, “See ‘ya in eighteen years!”

If only we each had the ability to rise every morning remembering that we made it through the night!

Not all of us are so lucky.  That simply remembrance thus roots us in gratitude reminding us that our partnership could turn south at any moment, our friend could take ill, a loved one may end up in a freak accident. When we orient ourselves to that knowing, imagine how your day might go! But we are only human! And humans forget sooo easily. This is why we need to cultivate many relationships outside our dominant  one, so that our soul is filled and we can be reminded of the goodness of life, and the fact that we are not alone. For as my son’s father used to quote, “shared sorrow is half sorrow. Shared joy is double joy.”
What makes for a good friend? 

Earlier this fall the theme of friendship kept coming up in many of the conversations I had. One friend was pondering her relationships, asking out loud, “Who are my friends? You’re my friend, so and so is my friend, and yet I am so busy I rarely have time for my friends!” Many years ago I had the privilege of exploring the good work of community building with a gray haired man who’d had a stroke; given this and his deep love of life, he began to call himself “Lucky,” for he knew that indeed he was Lucky to still be granted his life, despite how, in certain ways, the stroke incapacitated him.  Attuned to the troubles of our times, he wrote extensively about community and relationship; summing up one of the greatest heartbreaks of our time, writing, “The economy depends upon our isolation.” And so it goes- many of us stretched thin, living paycheck to paycheck, with needs for safe housing, consistent loving touch and affection, health care, good whole food, mental health, and the like going chronically unmet, we struggle just to get by, leaving little time to nourish ourselves or heaven forbid our friendships! Thus, friendship must be prioritized- despite the cost it comes with, we simply cannot thrive without it. 

With the question, “what makes a good friend?” Courtesy and etiquette beg to be wondered after. 

Oh sometimes I think I was born into the wrong century! How liberating to live in a day and age where there were culturally shared understandings of courtesy, etiquette and hospitality. You knew what to do when someone was ill- what medicine to take them, and the in turn they knew how to receive you at the door- certain phrases and pleasantries were extended so neither of you stood about too awkwardly- you took comfort in the form of the ritual of what the visit intended. You knew which songs to sing when the harvest was poor. When someone died there were rituals you participated in, certain dress was called for; certain patterns delineating when and where you found yourselves in the world, so that those around you could recognize you and be recognized. You did not wring your hands mourning, “What do I do? I don’t know what to do!” At a friend’s birth, afterwards, we women attending spoke of our bereftness at not knowing a proper birthing ritual with which to offer our friend-we stood firm in our presence with her, but we each keenly felt a lack- could we have placed a knife under the bed? Sung a bringing down song to the little one as he made his way from womb-space to earth side? Having lost such traditions, we did not know, and a fake ritual was worse than no ritual at all. 

Up until very recently there still lived common courtesies about invitations and such. Now it seems we cast a wide net and see who we catch, or we very intentionally limit our circle to only those we feel safe with, all the while heralding our belief in “community.” Say you invite someone new over for dinner, you talk for hours, you have a good time, and you say good night. Weeks go by and you hear nothing from this person. You think at the very least it would be proper to have an email thanking you for the dinner, perhaps extending the invitation, and when nothing comes, you begin to wonder, “Did I do something wrong? What happened?” Now does this make you more or less inclined to reach out to this person, leaving the chance to build a relationship really up in the air. In a day and age where anything goes, more often than not we are having to navigate someone’s personal orientation to the world, instead of navigating a shared understanding of cultural norms. To me these things seem obvious- send a thank you after a dinner, leave a message when you call someone- return the message, follow up. If you are not able too then a simple apology and explanation would be in order. The new age self-help books have pounded it into me, “DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!!!!” And really I don’t, but I stake a claim in the ground that we, as folks who claim to care about community, begin to ask ourselves- how am I showing up for my community? Who am I letting down by not communicating honestly?” 

This is also begs the question- are we really that overextended in our relationships that we cannot return a simple phone call, send an email? Perhaps so, which is another heartbreak. When a shared understanding of these things ruled the day, it meant that village life and the villager’s obligation to the health of the community still stood a chance! Now days, we don’t extend invitations to folks because of our “feelings” or “stories” about them, we bail out at commitments at the very last instant and then don't bother to apologize for letting the person down, shrugging our shoulders to the tune of “going with the flow,” or simply, “I don’t feel like it.”  

I am of the mind to be inclusive even at the cost of discomfort. Here in our small community so much of the community mindedness seems to be naively centered on the old maxim, “why can’t we all just get along?” or the even more cringe worthy hippy commandment, “we’re all one!” We cannot get to a place of “we are all one” when we are unwilling to sit together, talk story, and walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We must be willing to spend some time sitting and sweating it out together, and this could take many years, before we come to some semblance of understanding. 

My deepest friendships are those I’ve been able to walk through the fires with. Friends I’ve had misunderstandings with, friends who have been unafraid to speak up, get fierce with, extend ourselves in loving kindness again and again. I have also seen clearly the cost of relationship when your orientation is only to the surface interactions you have with people on a day to day basis- you never develop a shared understanding, never make yourself vulnerable by opening up, and the relationship stays stunted, and you stay safe- never fully letting anyone in to love you and see you, making for a very lonely existence, denying that you have any needs or wants hiding behind the other heart-numbing new age cliché of, “it’s all ok.” I know many people were not raised in homes where debate, expression, and emotion were allowed and valued, such as at my family’s dinner table- and I am beyond blessed to be able to speak honestly about deep matters with both parents and my sisters without fear of condemnation or reproach- our dedication to the greater good of the family, our shared value of service for the greater good, a constant thread in our kinship. 

Perhaps on some level you don’t think you’re worthy of a good friend. Do you slink away from obligation, making excuses, because you don’t know how to show up? Perhaps you were taught you weren’t supposed to ask for help, as is such a common theme for so many men. Do you fear you might not have much to offer? A wise one I know says, “you’re here on the planet right now? That is a sure sign you are needed! What other proof do you need to go on?” We are mammals, we are tribal folks, our entire DNA is knitted up in knowing we survived this long on planet earth because of cooperation, by working and living and dying together.

Vulnerability takes courage, but without it, our lives become dull and flat.

To speak up, reach out, connect and connect again, to find ourselves laughing after a shared meal, toasty after wine and poetry read aloud together on a blustery dark night, to singing together on a summer’s day- these are the riches of the human way, and we must find ourselves together again.   

Desire's Feast

I have been exploring wonderings about sex and love for as long as I can remember, and will be posting many more posts on this in the future. May these words spark a bit of desire's star in your hearts and maybe your loins! ;)

Do please comment and share respectfully. Thanks for reading!

  image found on pinterest: source unknown

image found on pinterest: source unknown

Love needs constancy.
Desire needs space.

When is it you most desire your beloved? 

When do you most long to be with your beloved?

Why does the romance novel industry generate over $1.08 billion dollars a year in sales? 
And the porn industry? Last I heard it was one of the highest generating industries in the world...in the world! And let's be frank, much of it is geared to heterosexual men...but that is a topic for another blog post.

We humans tend to desire that which we do not have. We daydream while at work, we dream of greener pastures, we develop elaborate fantasy worlds, only to discover at the end of the day that the object of our desire does not keep house well, or has poor music tastes, and most certainly will age one day, as will we. 

In desire there is little room for the frailties of life, or of the mundane of the real world:  rising on a cold morning to light the fire, rousing sleeping children from slumber who grumble at you and plead for more sleep, to the monotony of never ending dishes to wash, to the same lover night after night after night. Desire has her wings in courtship, in longing, in daydreaming, of that first flicker of flame we feel when we see a beloved from far away. Desire reminds us we too are made of spiritual matter, and that every so often, locked in an embrace, or given over to the kind of lovemaking where we know not where one begins and the other ends, desire sends us to the stars. Desire allows us to kiss the divine, to leave behind albeit briefly, the monotony of our day to day world. Desire lets us walk that bridge between seen and unseen worlds where creative possibilities seem infinite, inspiration lives, time and space spiral out instead of plodding along our culture's dictate of the past/present/future, and we surrender to the fullness of our body and heart singing in full abandon.

Ah desire! The stuff of stars. And quite literally this is what this wonderful word conveys.

Rooted in old French and further back in Latin, an original understanding of the word desire was to "await what the stars will bring," originating from the stars, from the heavenly body, from the constellations. For what human has not felt that tug of longing when staring up at a black night studded with shimmering stars?

  source:  weheartit.com

source:  weheartit.com

The opening phrase: Love needs constancy/Desire needs space, is a remembering of Esther Perel, who planted these words in my mind and heart several years ago. Ms. Perel's Ted Talk on The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship has now garnered over 8 million views- ringing soundly in the souls of many of us who took in those nineteen minutes. Ms. Perel is a therapist based in New York who has focused her professional career on infidelity, questioning all along: what exactly is the "cheater" looking for? Her work on the need for maintaining desire in long term relationships is in sharp contrast to the countless self help books and therapists constantly towing the line for attachment. The attachment theory in adult relationship counseling often brings about that which it seeks to banish- greater insecurity.

Given desire's starry ways, her dance with longing, mystery, and wildness, we seek out lovers beyond our norm so we can remember our star-ness, our uncultivated soul, and taste, but for a moment's pleasure, the intoxication of the wild divine. So many of us make do with an anemic life of cabin porn, countless girl on girl action streamed any time/anywhere, IG homestead feeds, airbrushed beauty, and lack of a good sex life, that leave us always hankering for more, but for what, we're not even sure?

Desire is a cohort of mystery, and mystery needs patience, beauty, and a certain old fashioned style of cunning to call her forth. Is this not why we fantasize about things dark, illicit, and forbidden? We crave mystery, like we crave true wilderness, even as we witness every day the decline of any truly wild places (untouched by human hands). Mystery hinges on wildness- she is the tracker's quiet step, the plant folk's keen eye, the singer's tuned ear. To court mystery, we court wildness, we court the divine, and we pay homage to older ways of remembering, ways humans have had for millennial of being in relationship with place and time. What whispers to you when you craft a love letter that cannot otherwise sing when you press the keypad? Is it simply because there in the ink you know your lover is the one who stayed up, perhaps late into the night, penning words of adoration, words that can only be written after the death of day? What happens when we light a candle instead of instantly switching on a light? Court darkness for a time, and watch desire begin to sing. When we go for a walk feeling wind caress our hair, holding hands with a beloved not talking, desire sings there as well.

I have made love near a desert, on the edge of the White Mountains, where Bristol cone pine trees have lived for thousands and thousands of years- some of the oldest trees on earth. That day, off road, far from humans save my lover and I, under the hot desert sky, I was transported to an ancient trove of memories, tapping into a deep creative spring where words and songs began to seep and later, to flow. Since love making like that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate that scenario, and once again watched how desire can be elusive, needing just the right conditions to be born. Cling to her too tightly and risk suffocation and stagnation. Feed her mystery, darkness, and magic and watch her rise. Thus to cultivate this every day so she may reside side by side with the mundane, takes practice, alertness, and the commitment to keeping desire fed.

Without desire we lose vitality.  It is when we enter that space of desire, where mystery, wildness, and divinity live, we find ourselves tied to the vast cosmos of life: startled at how truly alive we are.