Freedom and Commitment
“I feel like a caged bird,” I complained to my friend over coffee some time ago. “I’m a freedom-loving bird – I’m used to being able to get up and go whenever I wanted”, I wailed, as if I couldn’t get my mind around my current situation, which I loved on many levels and felt I had been so divinely guided toward. Result – confusion and guilt.
Being a very wise woman, my friend encouraged me to celebrate and embrace my love of freedom instead of feeling guilty about it. That did it, of course – every good therapist knows there’s nothing like giving approval and permission to our shadowy selves to free us from self protection and open up another level of understanding.
“I’m the one who put myself in the cage, locked the door and threw the key away”. I remembered that I had joyfully accepted the challenge to put everything I had into creating a retreat center on the Oregon coast – in fact having that challenge and mission freed me from years of aimlessness and depression – suddenly I had something I believed in to work for. And work I have 24/7 for 13 years it seems. My wonderful friend Lynn Walker, who with her husband Morris, made the excellent video on our home page, emailed recently with a link to a video they just made in Hawaii of the Hula Girl yacht. When I replied that I was enviousness and could see that they were having a lot of fun as well as working in Hawaii, she replied “We always have fun when we work – and so do you!” Am I getting the message yet?
Which brought me to a meditation on the meaning of freedom and commitment. I know that I am not alone in slipping into equating freedom with having no commitments, no responsibilities. Michael Singer in his wonderful book “The Untethered Soul” writes that the prerequisite to true freedom is to decide that you do not want to suffer anymore. He says that the price of this freedom is pain. Change involves challenging what is familiar to us and daring to question our traditional needs for safety, comfort and control, and this is often perceived as a painful experience. We all know what it feels like to meet a place inside ourselves which feels disturbing and uncomfortable. Many of us have adopted a strategy of avoiding this place by changing our external circumstances, and the ability to do this – leave a job, a relationship or a country – has felt like “freedom”, and we chafe at the bars if our external circumstances don’t allow for easy modification or involve even greater sense of loss than staying put in our uncomfortable situation. But are we really free?
Singer reminds us that we all carry a layer of pain seated deep in the core of our heart and that our psyches are built on avoiding this pain, so that fear of pain is at the foundation of our very selves and runs our lives. Which is the opposite of freedom. If we have a very busy work or social life to avoid feelings of rejection and loneliness, the chances are that we will feel lonely and rejected by the slightest lack of response from our friends or co-workers, because any behavior pattern based on the avoidance of pain becomes a doorway to the pain itself. The only way out is through, so we must be willing to face the fear and feel the pain to understand what it is.
Singer suggests that if we want to be free all we have to do is view inner pain as a temporary shift in our energy field. Pain is not a problem, it’s just a thing in the universe and it is pointless to live life motivated by avoiding it. The important word is “temporary”. Stuff happens – we cannot control everything that happens to and around us – the attempt to do so makes us crazy. The only thing we can control is our response. Knowing that inner pain is inevitable, but that it passes, opens us to the possibility of being at peace with it. It’s just a feeling. We can handle a feeling. Or else we will devote our lives to avoiding it. We get to choose.
So maybe locking myself in that cage was my soul’s way of robbing my psyche of its avoidance strategy for fleeing pain, which I mistook as freedom, and bringing me finally to this understanding so that I could be truly free. Maybe commitment, rather than being the opposite of freedom, is the path to freedom.
I first was introduced to this concept during my studies with Ellias Lonsdale (see my blog post Year of the Tiger – Awakening from the Trance of Normalcy). His Star Genesis interpretation of my soul path, as indicated by my sun at the root of my astrological chart, was that I needed to learn how to come all the way down and in, to embrace fully what it means to be human. My challenge was to come alive at the root and bring the spirit force all the way down into incarnation. He told me that in doing so I would need to face the unfaceable depths, reveal everything which wants to remain hidden. I was to resist the temptation of premature transcendence. This was my path to empowerment since, once mobilized, this energy would be unstoppable.
I realized, when I contemplated this, how much I did not and had never wanted to be here! My resistance to life took many forms. I liked to sleep as much as I could – carpe diem was never my motto! I was a loner and did not enjoy clubs and groups. I hated to commit to anything or anyone, always making sure that the exit door was ajar. Mainly I read and studied a lot, trying to understand this strange realm I found myself in but did not feel a part of. But I did not embrace it. I thought that maybe if I could analyze, sort and file my experiences, I could gain some measure of control over them. But I most certainly did not want to feel them. My fear was that, if I allowed myself to really get into anything, I would lose myself and never find the way out. An interesting question now would be —which “self” was I afraid of losing?
So that’s pretty much how it was when I found myself really wanting to move to Oregon (from England) 15 years ago, and fearfully contemplating the path which presented itself, which was to buy Oregon House and create a retreat center. I wrote in a previous blog (The Inner Healer) about my journey with ayahuasca in Peru in which I confronted the death experience, and the subsequent trip to Assisi where I was inspired by the life of St. Francis. All this, plus time spent at the Findhorn Community in Scotland where I experienced an amazing spiritual awakening, helped me overcome the fear of the commitment involved mainly because I felt deeply guided. Once I jumped in, I lost all sense of control. Stuff happened and I had to deal with it. There was no way out, no exit anywhere in sight. Despite a couple of tries, selling (out) was not an option. I was here, I was in it. In the nearly 13 years I have been serving at Oregon House, I have been brought to my knees as those hidden parts of myself have revealed themselves and I have faced depths of feelings of loss, fear, betrayal and abandonment. I have become stronger as I have moved through each experience, only to understand and know how tightly my hand was held by the divine through each one. I have also experienced many moments of complete joy and what it means to be empowered, fulfilled, loved and supported. As I wrote last time, I have finally reached a place of surrender to what is, no longer afraid that I do not have the strength to embrace whatever happens. So I think I can say that now I am willing to really be here and know the human condition, also knowing that I am connected to all that is, human and divine.
I recently read an article by Brock Noyes (www.brocknoyes.com) in the Spring edition of Alternatives magazine. It seems he has had his own awakening to this, but his avoidance path was intense meditation and yoga. He writes: “Most of us spiritual seekers are not trying to ‘be here now’ at all, we really want to be ‘up there’. He says “I thought enlightenment was a journey transcending the human experience, only to discover that it’s about being compassionately present with what is”. He suggests that “most forms of meditation and yoga are psychological strategies disguised as spirituality” and that much of what is currently offered by the self-help world is “really a subtle massaging of the ego”. I have also come to the conclusion that this is indeed true, unless there is deep awareness that these are tools to help us in our path to full incarnation, rather than to help us transcend the need to incarnate. The truth is that, as Mark Borax (www.markborax.com) says, we need authentic selfhood before we can experience authentic merging, that we can’t transcend selfhood until we act it out. That’s the karmic theatre we are in. He suggests we need to identify genuine role models, those who can show us a rightful and authentic model of power and authority.
We have just emerged from the celebration of Lent and Easter in the Christian calendar. Maybe this story of Christ gives us the most authentic role model we can imagine. I have been following Lynn Jericho’s “Inner Year” teachings (www.lynnjericho.com), in which she invites us to explore the soul’s experience of this powerful time. She reminds us that the story of Lent and Jesus’s time in the wilderness, was the story of his resisting the temptation to prematurely excarnate and reclaim His godhood, instead surrendering his spirit to full earthly embodiment and the acceptance of earthly limitations. She writes: “He had just put on physical and emotional garments of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, pain. He needed to experience imbalance, self-consciousness, and neediness. He needed to carry the weight of the world, be without any comfort, and face the greatest temptations of body and soul. He had to become the Son of Man to understand and suffer the sins of man”. She invites us to consider these temptations for ourselves on an inner level, describing them as the temptations of addiction, fantasy and prejudice. Addiction is the belief that some substance or behavior will transform emptiness into fullness; fantasy is the attempt to relinquish our responsibility and will to test divine love; prejudice is our belief that holding a fixed perspective, holding onto the past, will conquer a living, changing situation. These are ways in which we attempt to evade being fully present with what is right now.
After His years of teaching, Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice, submits himself willingly to experience necessary betrayal, abandonment, humiliation, torture and death of the body, only to reappear to show us all that the soul survives and transcends the death of the body, even after experiencing the full depths of human suffering. He offered us a way to set ourselves free. I wonder, though, if Christ could have taken on this unthinkable task for humanity if he had not first gained mastery of his consciousness through deep practices. There is evidence that Jesus travelled to the east during the “lost” years between ages 13 and 30 and studied the dharma teachings and practices of the Buddha and others – Paul Davids made an interesting movie called “Jesus in India”. These teachings show us that our thoughts, feelings and sensations are not who we are. They are simply objects, products of the mind and heart, which may be observed by the subject, the real Self, soul, atman, the I AM. Through these meditation practices we learn to transcend the ego, reclaim authority over the experiences we are having, elevate our life over the dramas of the world. We simply sit back and watch as thoughts, feelings and sensations arise and fall, endlessly. As Brock Noyes says, instead of trying to control the mind in his meditation practices, he learned “that there is true beauty and grace in the surrender to the reality that the mind will ever continue to spew out its labyrinth of soap opera stories and neurotic tape-loops. The alternative, going to war with your own mind, is a hell realm.” I like to think that Jesus learned to master these practices before his final acts on behalf of us all when he demonstrated that there was nothing to fear in fully entering into human experience. I am also sure that he and Mary Magdalene knew the mysteries of energetic and plant medicine, so that the spikenard oil she rubbed on his feet elevated his energy from fear to love and helped him endure the crucifixion. But that’s another story. Except to say that we do well ourselves to not only master our own mind and ego through meditation practices, but also to learn the secrets of how to manage our energy directly, if we are to endure full embodiment, to “know willingly, and with fierce understanding, gravity and weight, boundaries and limitations, resistance and reluctance, endurance and forebearance, wholeness and integrity” (Lynn Jericho).
So, it seems this is the journey we are all on, learning the tools and having the courage to really ‘be here now’, so that we can be truly in authentic power, be free. What exactly does this mean? What is it for? Brock Noyes concludes that “the bravest journey is opening the heart” and being grateful for the rare opportunity to experience life in human form. I would add “and keeping it open”, resisting closing down when life gets challenging. If we follow the Christ path of compassionate service in the world, we can teach and be a role model to others of compassion, openness and empowerment, of fearless tolerance. What might that lead to next? What might be the next development in the evolution of consciousness — interesting that I have come all this way and only just mentioned this word!
We are in a rapidly changing world. I look at the things we create in the world as reflections and manifestations of who we are. So I look at how we are becoming more interconnected through the various tools of the internet, and feel deeply that this reflects a longing to see ‘out there’ what we know as our inner truth — that there is no separation, we are all connected to each other and to the divine. So I believe we are collectively on a path to self-awareness by manifesting the divine in all its diversity and all its unity, peace, truth and beauty. They say the truth sets us free. So, only when we deeply know the truth of who we are by seeing it manifest, will we be truly free. And true freedom must surely be the path to authentic power and authentic merging back into the mystery.
I highly recommend Michael Singer’s book “The Untethered Soul” for great teachings on how to untether consciousness from ego. I also want to acknowledge that both Ellias Lonsdale and Lynn Jericho are inspired by the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. I have not studied Steiner directly, but think maybe I would like to.
Holding Space – Article Published in Alternatives Magazine
“What does it mean to be a woman?”
“Who am I talking to?” I asked.
“God….. What does it mean to be a woman?”
I mumbled some words – “Receptive, reflective, nurturing, birthing, creative, consuming. Sensing, hearing and feeling – the brain stem and limbic system functions. Holding group space and the wider view.”
“And what does it mean to be a man?”
“Active, assertive, protective, separate – moving forward and acting alone. Seeing and thinking – the higher cortex functions. Focused.”
“Come to Peru and write”
I became aware again of the soft voice and rattle of the Ayahuasca shaman as he sang the icaros to call the spirits of the medicine plant we had taken earlier. This was a different, much gentler, journey with the medicine than my two previous experiences. We had come to the jungle of Peru for a few days and this young Ayahuascero had agreed to work with us at short notice and the vine he picked to make the medicine was also young. It was a relief not to fight the nausea I had come to associate with this ceremony but to find myself in this sweet space. Yet here was the challenge – come to Peru and write. Write what? I did not think of myself as a writer.
What did it mean to be a woman? The question stuck with me. Somehow I knew my response in the moment was inadequate. This land and these people had already taught me much about opening the heart – and in helping to open mine I had quite fallen in love with them – like a young goose imprinting mother onto the first object it sees on being born. So the invitation to come back was welcome if a little scary. What would they teach me about being a woman?
What does it mean to hold space? The spirit of the Ayahuasca plant showed me in further visions that the cosmic joke was that this was all there was and I wrote the poems Mother and Holding Space as an expression of this knowing which became then key to my life and work. Two years later, I sit in the forest at Breitenbush with the sun in Cancer opposing a full moon in Capricorn just a week after a joyful community experience of Summer Solstice contemplating a new/old paradigm of mothering. Months spent in the Sacred Valley of Peru, my work at Oregon House and time spent with the community here have taught me much about this aspect of the feminine. And I grieve for our cultures in the West who ceased to value it, for in doing so they disempowered the women who kept the hearth fire burning in the home and sent them out to work, creating generations of latchkey children and men fed on fast food and television, not to mention burned out women doing two jobs. It may seem politically incorrect to talk about the need for women to be at home, but let me make it clear that I am not talking about all women here – for I believe there are many expressions of the feminine that women need to honor at different times in their lives. I am simply now aware that, unless someone – and a man can express this aspect of the feminine just as well – holds space for us as children, then we cannot learn who we truly are, there is no safe container for healing and growth and we cannot come into our creative power.
What I have learned about holding space is that it takes a lot of energy even though it may seem as though we are doing nothing. We at Oregon House, the community at Breitenbush, and all those running similar centers have an enormous job to do – an unseen and all to often unacknowledged job, in addition to the housekeeping, maintenance, office, administration, preparing meals, taking care of the gardens, giving massages. In order for the thousands of individuals and groups of people who come to our retreat centers to receive healing from the sacred land and waters we are stewards of, we who live and work there need to hold space, that is, hold a safe container, for them. But what is this that we do? We make sure that our guests basic physical needs are taken care of – that their rooms are clean and comfortable, the meals are nourishing and served on time, that access to the land and waters – be it the beach or the hot spring pools – is safe and monitored. We keep our own “stuff” out of the way by creating containers and support for ourselves where we can vent our feelings to each other and not have to dump our personal fears, griefs or frustrations on our guests. We extend a compassionate, confidential, listening ear, quiet presence and reflection, a gentle helping hand, a warm hug. We remain non-judgmental, a constant, loving presence, and if guests are having a hard time, we do not take it personally – for we know that part of the healing is for shadow material to come up and be seen. So we quickly learn that holding space is not about making everyone’s stay perfect – that is out of our control. That one surely and sorely fed into my English sense of over-responsibility until I got it.
Is this not what mother does – or did before she went crazy? Either because she felt she should or had to contribute by going out to work – staying home was not a valid or valued contribution and there was no support for this. Or because she never wanted to be a mother in the first place – that was not her true path but the only option other than warrior sanctioned and supported by a social structure where the roles of priestess, sacred virgin/prostitute, single woman/healer/creative artist complete unto herself were not honored – unless she became a nun. In the villages, the women worked hard at the daily chores but there was not the sense of heaviness around this that comes of not being valued. The women were confident in their sense of themselves, they supported one another and often made light of the work by doing it together. I enjoyed watching them laugh and joke together as they did the laundry in the river that ran through the village or sitting for hours twice a week on market day selling the few vegetables they had harvested from the parched soil. Here is where the support of community lightens the weight of loneliness and isolation felt by women in our nuclear family structure. And I had a strong sense that the self worth these women clearly felt came from their role as holder of space in the family – the constant center from which the children and men could leave and come back to, the hub, the core.
How can the wheel of life turn if it has a rim and spokes but no hub? How can we feel safe to go out and explore our world if there is no one to come back home to? How can we feel safe to delve into our selves, our wounds, our shame in order to heal them if there is no constant one to hold us and soothe us when we come back with our pain? How can we grow and create and be all that we can be without the security of a container? To be able to be a container for other’s pain we have first to come into comfortable relationship with our own, otherwise their grieving will activate us unconsciously and we will likely withdraw, dissociate or even run if we resonate deeply enough.
I was born in England just after the war and my mother, who had already raised four children, had been enjoying her new found freedom and peer companionship in work outside the home. She was in her essence a healer, not a mother, but had been frustrated in her desire to train as a nurse. She continued to work and I was watched and tormented by siblings and various others, so I never knew what it was to have mother hold a safe container for me as I got used to having a body. My learned survival skill was isolating and regaining control alone. More recently Mother for me became the forests, the mountains and rivers and ocean. I enjoyed an increasing sense of being held by the big Mother and She indeed holds a container for us all. Then, earlier this year I had a near death experience on a boat trip in the Bahamas. I had gone for a week of relaxation and to swim with the wild dolphins. But I had asked for healing through a release of more layers of armoring in my first chakra. They say, wisely, be careful what you ask for. I had envisioned a kind dolphin swimming up to me and zapping me with her ultrasound – a sweet and painless release of deeply imprinted fear. Oh well.
What actually happened was that the dolphins came and drew me into stormy waters and strong currents and I nearly drowned. In one of those turning points in life I simultaneously knew in that moment in the water that I was possibly not going to make it and that, if I continued to struggle to gain control alone I would probably drown myself and possibly also the man who had swum out, ill equipped but well intentioned, to help me. I knew that my survival depended on my being willing to surrender to this person. I felt my body relax completely and I drifted in and out of an in between realm and he, after a number of surreal moments, got me back to the boat. The gift as I integrate this experience is that it has given me a new survival choice. I now have imprinted cellularly – and this is important, for it is not just an idea but an experienced reality – that in complete vulnerability I can trust myself to be held by another – I can choose relation instead of isolation. It has taken all these years and a new birth from facing death, to re-pattern this. I give thanks and grieve for my old self who could never trust myself with another at this level. And it is not that others will never let me down – at times they will due to their own overwhelm- betrayal is part of life for we all are still struggling with our humanity, our unconscious agendas and poor communication. It is that I can trust myself in relationship with another, I can surrender control knowing that whatever happens in that moment I am, essentially, safe. The big Mother is always there to turn to, but now I have another choice to explore.
Mothers who truly hold space give this gift to their children. They do not have to be perfect, either. All this goes to the core existential shame. If we are not received into a safe container of parental presence and held there on incarnating, on being born, in those early years, if we cannot trust another in complete vulnerability, our experience of terror, abandonment and betrayal as we lose contact with Source, with the womb, leaves us with a core belief that we must have done something really bad to deserve this – this casting out of paradise into hell. It’s archetypal and deeply held. In trusting another with my life in the water I trusted the cycle of life and death itself and changed the basis for choices in my life. I chose to return to be with those I loved and who loved me instead of returning to Peru where I was deeply held by the land but isolated. Walking through the old growth forest at Breitenbush a few days later I had a sudden sense that maybe I really had died and gone to heaven – for this was paradise – surrounded by the smells of the cedar and fir trees, the sound of the swollen river rushing through the gorge, a double rainbow cast in the white clouds by the sunlight, and the company of a dear friend. What was more, despite an old voice in my head telling me I should leave, I knew now that I could make a different choice – to stay in paradise, to know in fact that I had never left, was never cast out.
What does it mean to be a woman? One of the things it means is to hold space – to hold a safe and constant container of relationship within which others can go to meet core fears and beliefs in order to heal them so that they can become empowered. Let us as women and men once again value this role and the energy it takes to simply do nothing but to be there, to hold the center, to hold sacred space, to get out of the way in order to be a true reflective mirror. I give thanks to all the healers who have held space for me over the years, for this is the work of a true healer too. I give thanks to the community at Breitenbush for welcoming me back and allowing me to stay while I really got it in the cells of my body that I was worthy to be in paradise. I give thanks for the opportunity through stewardship of the sacred land and water at Oregon House and through my healing work to offer this gift of holding space to others. And I give thanks to all the mothers who are remembering and honoring their vital, life-giving and life-sustaining role at the center of family and community.
Melita Marshall has a practice devoted to healing trauma and life-shape re-patterning and is the founder of Oregon House, a retreat center on the coast near Yachats dedicated to empowerment through purification, healing and spiritual alignment.
POEMS FROM AYAHUASCA – Written In Peru
Mother, hold me while I rest
Mother, hold me to your breast
Hold me, Mother, while I learn
Who I am, what I do best
Mother, hold me in your arms
Rock me, cradle me, allow no harm
To come to me, welcome me –
This separation is almost too much for me.
Hold me, Mother, while time passes
And I learn to fly again back to the star
That I never left, where I will return
When the work is done.
Bubbles that pass – try catching them –
They go before the sentence can be completed.
Unless there’s a hook. Then they stay.
What is the hook? Why do I need this one?
How does this one serve me?
A good defense? Maybe.
But it is just a thought, no more, a bubble.
What if I let it go, watch it pass with the others?
Who am I then?
I am star dust, that’s all there is
Without thought’s constructions.
Hanging around, waiting for someone to show up.
What does this one need? How can I serve?
Some reflection. Some loving attention.
It’s simple, really. Giving love to a soul
Who needs filling up again – like a gas
But pick your spot carefully. Hide and
they won’t find you. Then what?
On a busy cross-section they’ll be lining up.
Could be too much to stay there for long.
And shall we hang out together?
Then we can play when there are no customers.
And there will be two of us when it gets busy.
Sounds like a good idea to me.
Choose where you put your energy.
There are always people needing it, wanting it.
I’ll give you my attention, my energy, while
You work, struggle, cry. Then I must pull
It back or I lose myself.
Why does it serve me to obsess about you?
Give you my energy, my power, no control?
I just lose myself. Is this what I want?
There are thick rubber bands between us.
It’s hard not to.
But we must keep it moving. Energy stuck
Doesn’t serve either. So, you can have some
Of mine, I’ll take it back from the stars, the earth.
It’s a matter of choice – or should be – keeping
My own tank full.
Expulsion from Paradise
I must have done something really bad
To deserve this. There was no room on the bus for me.
They’ve been flying, I’ve been crying. Waiting
He holds me, wanting to include me.
But I’m heavy – that breath comes.
Deep sobs. Run. Mustn’t rain on their parade.
I love them and am happy for them.
Hold it. Hold on. But I’m spinning in the
Vortex – out of control. The shock sends me
Out, lost in space. Where am I? Help me!
I let them see me. Cry – please help me.
Bless them – hard work to get me back home.
Keep eyes open – look into yours. Re-run the
Whole descension experience, but re-worked.
This time I see your love, your welcome.
I remember now. I chose to come.
“Have you any idea how much it cost me to be here?”
“You are sleeping in my bed”. Let go.
That’s all it took to create the circle around us.
Now you can show me your vulnerability.