A Measure of Worth

What does it mean to be worthy? This thought has been gathering in the corners of my mind for some time now, and in fact I have done some writing on this line of inquiry, but nothing that seems to articulate the true question I have fermenting in my heart. It is not how does one become worthy, but what does this worthy even mean, and where did this concept originate from?

In Indigenous cultures living their original life ways the idea that one could be worthy or unworthy would seem preposterous. Being human, being alive, you are obviously part of the fabric of life and therefore belonging to your people, sharing in life and community, and the joys and struggles therein. I am reminded as I write this of the stories of early missionaries attempting to bring the concept of original sin and baptism to native populations, who were so thrown off by the idea that they would just laugh at the missionaries. It was preposterous! Of course babies are not born as sinners, what an insane concept that it. I believe those cultures, so much older and wiser then our own, would have had the same reaction to this idea, spoken and unspoken that we all carry here in the west, that we are somehow unworthy and can attain worthiness through actions and appearances. Through becoming something other than what we are right now.

The etymological roots of the word worth come from multiple sources and cultures and vary some through the ages.  Many sources state a connection to value, price or merit. Old English, weorp, has the meaning of high value, equivalent, prized, but also hence, and toward. So you see even woven into the roots of this word we so casually and thoughtlessly use is this idea that we are heading toward something, that we are becoming. My teacher Stephen Jenkinson eloquently speaks about the concept of hope being a cruel sort of tyranny. I would propose that this idea of worth and the false god of hope live very close to one another, perhaps they are even bedfellows.

The idea that hope is anything less than a supreme healing and guiding force has been a hard sell for me I must say. I have long loved and quoted our dear Emily Dickenson’s poem that so beautifully states “hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” It has taken some time, sweat and befuddlement to arrive where I sit today, knowing that in hope we lose the moment we are in, forgoing the life we are in for an illusory golden someday that will, as much as we desire it to, never come to pass. When I fall into judgment of how my life looks, when I question my value in the world, my worth, I collapse into the idea that someday I will be more than I am now. This is a false belief.

I do not mean to say that I will never change, no contrary to that, I am changing all the time. I grow older, and a little wiser. I become more grounded and kinder. All this is true. And yes I can make more money and travel, finally write a book, get in better shape. All this can happen. Yet none of this changes who I am , and none of it affects my worth, or perceived lack there of. I am, by birthright, whole. This idea that is lodged in our culture and thereby in me, that I will someday be more worthy, is an illusion, a false god, a decoy.

I believe that trying to be of more worth, takes me away from the deeper work of  trying to be more me. It isn’t just me suffering with this affliction. I would wager that most of us, living in the west, suffer with this same damaged and distorted thinking. Fall prey tp that false god of perfection and attainment, and go to bed worrying about what we aren’t and what we could be, if we tried harder, if we had more self control, if we had a different set of circumstances at our doorstep. I know I do. I know many nights my last thought is a plan of how I will do better tomorrow, and on waking my first thought is how I will do better today. The idea of just being ok with how I am now, and now, and now…seems almost impossible. What would I do with my life if I was not chasing some ghost of perfection and worth?

The self help world does not help. I can scarcely begin to imagine how many guides to finding your worth, creating self worth rituals and becoming worthy there are lining the shelves of the local new age bookstores. The sorrowful thing is that as well meaning as this all is, it is actually nothing more than a distraction and a fantasy. What if we could simply feel that we were already worthy, that we have great value, that we are in fact mandatory to life as we know it. How would it feel to live in that reality? Awesome, it would feel awesome. You know who would not feel awesome about it? The publishers of self help books, the marketers that sell us products, the fashion industry, the car sales lots. The list could go on and on.

The capitalist, puritanical, colonizing voice of our culture sings loudly in our ears, ‘you are not enough” from the cradle to the grave, and we listen. We listen and we purchase. If we stay distracted by this never ending hunt for value and a sense of worth, we will continue chasing our tails in circles in a dark room. It is by turning to face the faceless voice that beguiles us, and challenging it that we can begin to come into right relationship with our own lives and the lives of those around us. You cannot put a price on that. It is valueless, or, is in invaluable.

As a woman living in North America I am personally deeply and darkly acquainted with this quest for feeling enough, and I see it in other woman as well. We all walk around quoting the same two lies, I am fine, and everything is ok. We say it so much we believe it, we say it so much when another woman breaks the mold, we condemn her. We are our own thought police. Living in cages that we have created and enforced, the cell walls of our own denial of suffering. In failing to speak our fears and inadequacies we add bars to the cage, so that less light can come through. All this is part of the ruthless oppression of the concept of worth and the constant searching and hoping that we can become more worthy and more whole.

I do not know how to banish from  mind and spirit the idea that I am unworthy. I do not know how to disconnect from my cultural conditioning and let go of these thought patterns that live so deeply in me. This way of viewing myself and my life may be here for the long haul. Thank god I do know, that I do not have to believe everything I think, and that shame cannot live in the light. It is dwells in the unspoken darkness and does not care for conversation. In being brave enough to dissect in myself this worthiness lie, and speaking of this process to others, I am putting a nail in the coffin of this manifestation of our cultural madness.

Healing does not happen in isolation, it happens in community. In the community that I share my sorrow, grief and shame in, and in my own inner community. I am learning to welcome home the parts of me that I have been hiding from. Learning that the very things I have felt made me unworthy are actually some of my greatest gifts. Retrieving  the pieces of me that I abandoned and beginning to do the work of figuring out why I abandoned them in the first place. This internal family that makes up who I am.

Instead of measuring my worth, I want to feel my life. Knowing that simply being here is enough.. The pleasures of having a body, a quite moment alone before dawn, the unspeakable beauty of morning birdsong. I am as whole as the birds that sing, as worthy of life’s beauty and abundance as the squirrels that visit each day. I do not have to be, do or change anything in order to claim my place in the order of things. I simply and sweetly show up in my life, and today, that is enough.

 

 

Disposable Society

I am in a space of unfolding layers, seeing guards I have constructed to bar hurt from entering me in a deep way. These layers keep unfolding, wavelike in nature, first one, than another, than a third. So many ways our culture is broken, so many lives compromised at the alter of our consumerist culture, so much sacrificed to the God of Capitalism. I have chosen not to see the real consequence of my thoughtless actions and choices, it seems to much to bare. If my choice to get a takeout cup of coffee, or a to go box has such a powerful ripple through the world, how can I bare the weight of being human? How can I always choose well? Why does it hurt so badly to have the blinders ripped from my eyes, to see the far reaching and devastating ways each day that my actions and those of the people around me affect the whole?

So many of us choose to simply not see. In the words of the dear Bob Dylan ” How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”
I am seeing in a raw and truthful light, so much that once was hidden from me, or perhaps hidden by me. As I often do, when troubled. I put my pen to paper and with words, gain insight to the heart of the matter. I share here a poem that came from the deep pondarence of my current unfolding layer. How can I live lightly on the Earth? and how do I mourn the ways that I do not without falling into apathy and despair. I have found some answers of a sort, small as they may be, and I have found the peace that comes from not pretending that I do not see.

Wasted

I am surrounded by a nebula of “trash”
Discarded, once useful thing
surround me where I sit.
A plastic cup, a lid, a straw
cellophane wrappers piled on the floor.
A pair of scissors, broken and forgotten
purchased from the dollar store not long ago.
Half lives of things once needed now discarded
a shadow of our hunger
the gaping maw of convenience.
If we could look with eyes that see,
at the star-trails of our waste
the wake of “disposable” suffering
we would lie down on the still friendly Earth – and weep.
for all our careless blundering
our selfish need for ease
our lost sense of belonging.
Behind me, the trail of cast off things
is miles wide – and towers high above me.
No amends can meliorate this sin.
My only penance is a glass jar with a lid
A muslin bag, a woven basket,
I carry these in solace for my sins.
My greed, my haste, my waste.
I may not right past wrongs,
but I can wage peace and freedom with the tools I choose
Sing reverence for all I use.
A scared pact of human need
and Earth’s abundant gifts.
Walk slowly, look, see,
Your choices matter
You have power
you – are a person of consequence
Be consequential.

 

The Humans Weep

Poems have been pouring forth since I have returned from Orphan Wisdom School. On the plane home I sat, set pen to paper and they began to come. A mournful pursuit poetry can be at times. Mournful, joyful, encumbered, yet free, but most importantly true. The words that come through as I write poems are all true stories. Expressions of the joy and sorrow of my aliveness and my wonderings. I plan to begin sharing them more frequently here, may they fall upon the ears of those who need them.

 

The humans are crying tonight
Darkness gathers in the corners of our lives
Just out of sight-you have to turn to look at it
Trouble is brewing, dangerous times are these
Flick your eye, just left of center
There it waits-terrible trouble indeed
In fact- if you are not crying tonight
You may not be human at all
Or perhaps you have forgotten how to be
Or were, never properly shown
In the first place
What it means to be woman, or be man
But the humans weep tonight
Raise voices in a howl of grief
So keening and wrenching
That only the wolves understand
They know the sound of a heart breaking
They know the exquisite beauty of the moon
They  know loneliness, and kinship and pride
Tonight as the humans weep
On the dark warm Earth
Wolf lays downs-belly to the same Earth
Licks her paws and sighs…
“Oh yes, welcome home Kin, welcome home-
It is time you know despair and hunger again”
Wolf rests her head on her paws softly
And the weeping fills the night sky

Marianna – 2017

A New Old Forest, My Birthday, and the Power of Following my Heart

I just celebrated my 36th Birthday,36 trips around the sun. That is 13,140 days I have been alive and breathing outside of my Mother’s womb. Incredible. It seems like a lot when you count in days. Long enough that I have learned many things, unlearned a few, and have oh so many I am still learning. I feel young, I am young, but I also am no longer a youth. I am truly a woman and very much feeling the power of that truth.

I spent my Birthday in the woods, writing, eating amazing food, wandering in the rain for hours and making some unexpected new friends. Truly magical, and made more so by the circumstances of my coming to be on that land at that time. I will share this story of how I came to be on the land, on the weekend of my Birthday and share also some of the poetry that come from my time immersed in the power of nature.

More than a year ago I read the profound book Braiding Sweetgrass,  by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I was deeply touched by her work and to say that this book was life changing for me would be and understatement. It actually changed the way that I see nature and my place in relationship to all life. It is a book that weaves us as humans back into the whole of life in a way that helps me believe we may make it as a species after all. It was in the pages of her book that I heard first of Shot Pouch Creek.

She tells the story of  a man , Franz Dolp, who bought 40 acres of land in the coast range of Oregon and devoted his life to restoration of that land. He tended the trees, planted natives, kept them safe from the hungry mouths of deer. Nature was a direct route to the divine for him, and that resonates so deeply with me. I immediately felt an affinity with this man, now deceased, and longed to see the place that he so loved. A new old growth forest.

Being that it was located in Oregon and I am as well, I knew that I needed to go there. I consulted google to find out where exactly the land was and how I could gain access to explore. I learned that the land is not open to the public, and the only way I would be able to visit was with permission of OSU. I also saw that there had recently been an event called The Trillium Project, in which residencies are granted for creatives to be on the land and create projects in relationship with the land.  This is a program offered through The Spring Creek Project which is a part of Oregon State University’s Liberal Arts Program. I signed up for the newsletter so that I could keep up to date on happenings and events as the overall feel of the departments online representation felt like something I wanted to be part of.

Over the next many months I read the newsletters that came in my email, feeling more and more called to be part of this work. I also read Braiding Sweetgrass twice more. I was learning so much about being a human being, my relationship to other non animal beings and how we can all thrive together. It is mind blowing to start to feel that not only do I love plants, but they love me back too! Incredible and maybe even delusional, depending on who you ask. But this was my felt sense and I honor that above all else. My body does not lie to me.

Early spring I was excited to see in my inbox the call for applicants for this years Trillium Project! Here it was, my chance to go to Shot Pouch, my chance to be on the land and write, in the peace of the new old Forest. I submitted a proposal, and was elated to be chosen for a writing residency. I was elated to be able to go to the land I had long dreamed of, but also to be chosen as a writer for this project. I am not a scholar or an academic and it was a big thing for me to submit that proposal. I think I have a touch of imposter syndrome when I comes to calling myself a writer. I am a writer, yet I am also shy to say these words. Shy to claim my place as a writer of words and a maker of poems. Stepping into the unknown and away from my comfort zone always pays off for me, and this was no exception. I listened to my heart and was richly rewarded.

I left early on Friday May 12th, car loaded up with my camping gear, extra tarps (thank God!) my writing supplies, some watercolor pencils, and a cooler stocked with really delicious foods. It was after all, my birthday weekend. I drove south to Corvallis and then west into the Coast Range. My heart humming, ready for what was to come and excited to be going. It was one of those times when I felt almost disbelieving that it was really happening. How could it be that I had read about this place, wanted to go, and a year later found my way there? Not just to be there but to dive deep into my writing and contribute to a project that is so deeply inline with my beliefs and principle. Incredible. When you jump, sometimes you land right were you are supposed to be.

As I arrived the rain had stopped, I fumbled with the lock box for a moment and then was able to open the gate and drive through the intense green all around me, over a small bridge with a flowing creek beneath it and pull up outside the cabin. It was quiet surreal to be there, to really be there. Surreal and not what I had imagined at all somehow, but so beautiful all the same. I wandered around for a bit to get the lay of the land and let it all sink in. Then I set up my tent, at the edge of a meadow, right by the creek. It did not start to rain again until I had my rainfly up.

Rain came hard after that though, so much rain! I was cozy and dry in my tent home and had good gear to keep me dry outside as well. Quite content I walked in the rain, began to think about writing and ate some much needed lunch.
My time there was nurturing on so many levels. I was first of all there because of answering my hearts guidance, that itself was comforting. I met three amazing women who were there at the same time as me, and they welcomed me into there group with so much affection. The poems began to flow and came through me with astonishing ease and grace. My senses all feasted on the beauty around me. Truly such an amazing place in the world. Fertile ground for all life, mine was no exception. I found myself blooming right along with everyone else on the land. All the plant people, in all their forms blooming with me. A richness of life appearing for me in a profound way. I am humbled by my experience and will treasure the memory for a long time to come.

This trip will live on inside me, and will also live in the pages of my writing that came from my residency. I am compiling and editing now, in the hopes of creating a chapbook of my writings on ecology, spiritualty and humanity. Below I will share two of my poems from this trip as well as some photos. It is with a full heart that I write this. I have so much gratitude for life bringing  this dream of mine into being. SO much gratitude for Robin Wall Kimmerer, Franz Dolp, and the Spring Creek Project at OSU. Life is full of blessings, if our eyes are open to see them. Nature is not only there for us, nature IS us. All flourishing is mutual.

Shot Pouch

This land called me-
and I came.
Driving from city streets
down long highways
and curvy roads
and then – here
I have arrived.
Rain and apple blossoms
the creek softly humming outside my tent
A foragers feast of green
How often I’ve imagined this!
the meadow wide, trails ascending
Maple and Cedar greet me
I walk slowly, expanding my senses
smell and touch
the earth, water, air
It is all so alive here
Cedar fragrant against my fingers
Earth soft and damp beneath my feet
bird songs encircle me,
for now I have come-
home.

Grandmother

My grandmother said – “nature is my temple”
and so I worship there as well.
Cathedrals of green canopy above me,
prayer rugs of violet and clover,
the blessing of life giving holy water.
These are my sword and shield,
my crown and chalice,
my strength.

When Grandma was dying,
her bed was moved outdoors.
To the garden, under the edge
of the green cathedrals canopy.
The place where she could see
the face of God above her.
She lay still for a long time,
just looking up,
and then almost voicelessly whispered –
“Thank you.”

Green fills my spirit when I think of her.
my hands become hers,
brown with soil,
rich with life and food.
I draw her from the earth,
Root, stone and bone.
All she left undone is now on my lap,
I release the mantle of her sorrow,
we are both freed.
I have only one wish left –
That my last words be
‘Thank You”IMG_3600IMG_3605IMG_3575IMG_3570 (Edited)IMG_3598IMG_3591

 

 

 

 

Peering out from behind the mask-Who is under there?

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I wear a mask. You can  not see it on my face, but it is there all the same.  Well concealed are the parts of me that I would rather you not see. The parts that hurt. The shame gremlins. The sorrow. I learned to wear this mask when I was so young. A self preservation method that worked, on some level to create a perception of safety. A wall around my heart. How can we live in world that feels so cruel when the heart is so soft and tender How can we grow up whole when culture teaches us to tear each other apart? We learn  to see the hurt, the otherness, the awkwardness  in others as a sign of their weakness and lack of validity. We learn this early. Our parents do not have to teach it. We have another mother who happily teaches us the ins and outs of judgement and the social power structure, mother culture.

Most of us have mastered the tool of masking before we are 8 years old. The skill grows quickly and insidiously  from that first age of self consciousness. In many cultures and faith traditions, a child until seven years of age is considered blameless, or  “sinless.” If we look at the etymology of the word sin, meaning “to miss the mark” then we see that children in the younger years are truly sinless. They have no mark to miss. No plotting or planning, and no masking. Pure expression and experience. Pure love and emotion. Of course the age at which we learn to begin hiding varies greatly. Some children probably learn much earlier, as circumstance requires of them.

I consider a mask to be a form of separation we create to hide from others, or even to hide from ourselves. This is so subtle that we may not even be aware that we are masking.  We hide so that we don’t feel wounded. Or we hide because  we have been wounded. The trouble with the hiding is that it also keeps us from expressing the truth of our being. The truth is the reason we are here on earth. To express our truth and the wisdom of our souls is why we accepted the assignment of life school in the first place!

Many of the things we learn in childhood serve us at the time we learn them. We use them and we need them then. As we grow older the behavior that was so useful when we were young may no longer serve us. Alas, we may also no longer know that it exists in us, until we begin some real inner excavation. Masking is one of those tools. I use the word tool here not to say it is necessarily a healthy life skill…but in  more rudimentary sense. A tool = an implement that get a job done.

The bitter truth is that we live in a culture that is built on people being willing to wear a mask. We admire humans who seem to have it all together. The friend we all have who  works endless hours, trains for a marathon and is always put together and smiling. Families that are intact and happy, with clean young children and perfect Christmas cards sent out each year on time. Women who hold high power jobs, parent perfectly and go to spin class faithfully. Celebrities  and television characters that make life look like a perfect picture of ease, fun and excitement. All of these projected images of success have one core thing in common, they make us feel like we  could be more. We could be better. We could be thinner and more dedicated to our work. We could make more money and travel more. We could have invested years ago and have it now be paying off. Our teeth could be whiter and we could have more friends and more fun! This feeling of longing, of wanting to be more…it makes us feel like we are less.
Here is the trick, here is mother culture speaking untruths in our ears. Here is the trap that keeps us tied up, wanting, waiting, wishing, comparing and masking. Because you know what? It fucking hurts to want what you don’t have. And it takes raw vulnerability to say    ” yeah I want a lot that I don’t have and it hurts me, I feel less than, I feel left out.” So we don’t say it. We throw on a custom made mask and we head out the door with fake ass smile plastered all over our poorly concealed sorrow.

The trap has been set. We grow up with images of life that are unreal and unattainable for most. Even the wealthy among us find out that our needs are not met through the accrual of things or power. We think we want a life that look a certain way, that meets these standards of success that we were taught would make us happy.  Everything in our culture sings this same song, produce more, buy more, you will be happy….or at least you will look happy. Most of us do not even know how to find out what happiness mean to us. We give up our sovereign right to know our own minds and we settle for the daily grind and an ever changing mask. Can we be brave enough to look outside? Can we peel the corner of that mask off and allow ourselves to be seen? In all our longing, confusion and fear? If this speaks not to your souls experience dear friend, do not feel compelled to read any further. But if you feel the call of longing to set down the mask and find out who you truly are, stay with me in this inquiry.

As I began this writing I spoke of childhood wounding and of sorrow. I would propose now that all of our searching outside ourselves, all our longing and all our masking are tied to this same root. The need to  love and be loved. In fact, our entire consumerist culture is built on this. The desire for love.  We humans are truly so simple. Food, water, warmth, shelter, love and sex are really all we need. Love topping the list. I remember reading of the Harlow study done using baby  Rhesus monkeys. A cruel horrible study indeed. In which the infants separated from their mothers were given the choice of a wire fake monkey mother with a bottle of milk attached that the young one could drink. Or a soft plush fake mother that had no bottle that the young one could feed from. Each time the baby chose the soft, more life like fake mother monkey. Coming only to the wire one to feed when very hungry and then scrambling back to the security of a soft body to cling to. Even though it was a doll and lifeless, the security of something soft to cling to, the only mother these poor creatures were allowed to know.

In this life where so many of us feel isolated and alone. We substitute the needs for love and connection with the pursuit of things, status, wealth and power. It is a cultural madness that leaves us always and forever wanting more. Of course we want more! Our basic needs are unmet so we try again and again to meet those needs, attempting to fill up a hunger that cannot be filled by anything you can consume. Not food or drink. Not drugs or sex. Not new clothes or cars. Not the latest iPhone or gadget. None of it will even touch the longing, only numb you for a moment so that you can’t feel the pain.

This drive for love is under and around everything we do. Beginning in childhood with our family and then as we grow older at some point the focus shifts and we desire to have this love from our friends and peers. Many families cannot give the love we seek, many homes are full of sorrow or fear. Peer groups are fickle and ever changing. We can grow up seeking that which we want more than anything else in any place we can find it. This shows up in addictions, in compulsive behaviors and unhealthy relationships. We desire so much to be loved that we try to find the parts of ourselves that we deem unlovable and hide them. The masking has begun.

To begin the process of taking of our masks we must become willing to be seen. First seen by ourselves. Willing to look into the dark corners of our lives and see what we have been hiding from. This takes great courage. Until we can see our own truth, we cannot start to really learn how to be honest . In learning to be honest, first with ourselves, we can the learn what it is that we really want.

My mask comes mostly in the form of “I am fine and everything is ok.” I wear it so well and so often that for many long years I did honestly not know that it was there. I wore it into the desperation of addiction which eventually brought me to the place of needing to look under the mask to see what hurt so badly that I was unconsciously trying to destroy myself. Hidden under my mask, is a deeply sad and confused little girl. With a huge tender heart who doesn’t understand why the world feels so cruel and why she is so alone. In seeing this clearly, as painful and hard to admit as it may be, I open the door to see what it is I am longing for. Love, security, and belonging. I know I am not alone.

I know I am not alone because this is what all humans want. A place to feel safe. To be loved and to love. To be accepted as we are and able to shine! How sad that we don’t learn to give this to each other. How sad that instead we feel we have to hide out behind a mask that presents us as something we deem to be more loveable than our true selves. When nothing could be farther from the truth! Our true selves are what is loveable about us!

I am ready to learn a new way. I am ready to put down the mask, to stop saying “I’m fine” when all I want to do is lie down on the ground and weep. I am ready to allow the pain and the beauty of life to break me in half. to crack my mask, once and for all. I will leave that mask on the floor and step over its broken pieces on my way to the freedom of living as me. Like it or no. I am who I am .

As the wise teacher, Krishnamurti once said  “it is no  measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” It is no strange thing that so many of us are sick, in this profoundly sick society. How can we change the way we live as a people to start meeting the true needs of each individual and of the whole? How can we create a new world where we honor the life of ALL beings as holy? How can we make our children feel safe enough that they never have to learn to wear a mask? I don’t know if I have answers…but I do have some ideas, and I am sure you do to.

We can learn to listen to the call of our heart to meet the heart of another. We can slow down in our lives enough to be with the people we love and meet new people to love! We can hug more and make eye contact with strangers. We can commit to leaving every person we meet better than we found them. We can speak up against injustice and tyranny. We can bravely be willing to say what we need and what we feel. We can make our homes safe for our children to do the same. We can get to know our neighbors and offer our hands in service and love. We can grow our own food, cook and eat it in our homes with our families. We can learn to hear the parasitic voice of mother culture as she tries to tell us we are not enough and call her, then and there on her bullshit. We can be examples in our own lives of fearless, simple and heart centered living. We can be thankful for all that is given and all that is taken away. This is my prayer. This is my commitment.

I’ll leave you now with a simple poem by the great Hafiz. A call to being brave enough to let your heart be seen. Know that you, wherever you are and whoever you are, have a place here. You are whole. You are needed. You are welcomed. You are loved. Leave your mask at the door tonight. Let’s meet each other in the plain beauty of our own sweet faces.

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