When Myth Knocks Three Times, Answer the Damn Door

I have been blessed and fortunate too, to spend much of my life in the company of myth, legend and story. In childhood I literally sat in the lap of story, the lap of a master teller, my own father, as he wove from his past, his learning and his mind, stories that delighted, haunted and taught me much. I would not know this world without the layers of meaning and mystery that this teaching delivered to me at a young age, and continue to deliver to me now. Nor would I want to know this world, bereft of the stories that hold the whole together, weave the fabric of our lives into some semblance of meaning, and give us strength to carry on in troubled times.

I recognize that not all humans live with this richness and I give great thanks for the wondrous fact that to me, the tales have been an integral part of who I am, company on a sometimes lonely path, and inspiration to guide me on and help to understand pain of life. Characters I know so well have traveled always with me, Robin Hood, King Arthur and his noble knights, Elsie Pittock, live in me and teach me how to be human, how to be kind, how to be human and Wonder-Filled. I am learning more each day how rare a gift wonder is in a time where we have already decided we know everything, that doesn’t leave much space to play or to grow. In fact, knowing seems the surest path to drudgery that you could find or choose.

Being steeped in story, I have learned a few things in my days. One of those being that numbers show up in stories and they are not to be ignored. Three wishes, seven sons, nine fair daughters… I could go on and on, and surely scholars have delved into this territory of number symbolism to a depth that I will not attempt here. I share this only to bring to light that I am tuned in enough to know, in my life, when things begin to happen in three’s, I am on mythological ground. A sacred place to be indeed, and one that requires my full attention.

Teaching tales of all sorts live  in the realm of myth, and in our hearts if we are touched by them and give them lodging there. I am often so touched by the tales Michael Meade chooses to tell. Indeed his work has been a part of my becoming who I am and I see him as a wise elder in my life. A truth teller and a man of mystery, all intriguing qualities indeed.  I saw him live recently, in Portland at a beautiful church. The house was full of people seeking connection to something deeper than the merely physical realm in which we dwell, connection to a deeper truth, an older truth.  A sip of the sweetness of the land of myth and mystery.
One story he shared, that night was one of Zusya the Rabbi. A man of great wisdom and elder hood. Who found himself on his dying bed, surrounded by his students and grappling with the reality of his demise and his soon to be reckoning with God and the Great Beyond. In the story his students say to him “Rabbi, you are wise and learned, pure and righteous. You have the courage of Jacob, the leadership of Abraham and the vison of Moses, why for should you be afraid?” Zusya replies, ” I am not afraid that God will ask me, Zusya, why have you not been more like Moses, or Jacob or Abraham? I am afraid that God will ask me, Zusya, why have you not been more like Zusya? And for that I will not have an answer.” And with that Zusya dies. Teaching with even his last breath, giving of himself even to his very end.

This story hit me in the heart, The kind of feeling that grows and fills all the space that exists in the body and then expands past that physical barrier into something unseen yet tangible and real all the same. I gasped, a hard lump rising in my throat, a wail building in my gut, a sob racking through me with a shudder. Sucking for air as my eyes filled with tears. ” Why have I not been more myself?” When I do come to the end of days there is no sin I want less to confess, and yet, how frequently I separate from who I am to be who I think I should be. How often do I withhold my truth, even from myself? why is this fear of being me so strong and overpowering? Zusya is teaching me too, long from this world and far away as well, but present here for me. This is the power of myth.

I let it settle. I have been taught by my wise father that when a story claims you in such a way as this, it is an occurrence that is worthy of investigation and attention, with some expedience employed in that pursuit.  Why am I not more myself? What happened to the pieces of me that I cast aside, left in dark corners long ago, wondering what became of me and hence what will become of them. Is it fear of failure or fear of splendor that causes me to disown some of who and what I am, or perhaps a strange and perplexing tangle of the two? A half breed love child of my unclaimed selves, a shadow of my fullness, a discarded remnant of my gifts…I don’t know yet, I am seeking and sometimes the seeking before the finding is where the sweet meat is.

A week after the live event with Michael Meade, I tuned in as I often do to hear his voice come to my ears through his podcast Living myth. There was Zusya waiting for me again. Told in the same characteristic and urgent style that Michael so deftly gifts the world with. I listened well to what the story had to say, deepening into my inquiry of how I can be more myself. I felt a bit surprised to find the story placed on my lap again so soon, but not overly so, life seems to give us what we need and it is obvious that I needed to hear and feel this now. A welcomed guest at my fireside, I let Zusya in.

One more week passed, as weeks are ought to do and I found myself scrolling through my podcast app, seeking something nourishing to listen to. I had listened once or twice before to a show called Women in Depth and decided to give it another go, selecting an episode almost at random, of course, nothing is random…however I did not put much careful thought into my selection. The episode was about metaphor and the use of story in psychological  practice. I was enjoying the show but not overly tuned in, until the speaker began to tell Zusya’s story. She called him by another name Akiba, but the story was the same one. Here he was again, Rabbi Zusya calling me to live my life as me. I pulled my car to the side of the road. In awe and wonder of the ways that life speaks to me and guides me always to right where I need to be. Obviously this story is for me, I need it, here and now. I am so glad it came to me. I am paying attention.

It seems almost an impossible thing, to not live as oneself, but I see after examination that almost know one is truly who they are. We are so afraid to be seen in all our flaws and human-ness, so afraid of being unlovable or rejected that we hold a front up. This may feel safe, and may seem to be the only way, yet soon the mask becomes a prison we no longer know how to escape. We become trapped in a life of our own making, a life of silent compromises, aching heart and lost dreams.

So here I sit. Zusya close by. My heart full of questions and my path unclear. I know that now I choose to live as me, I know there is no way to do this that won’t hurt. Fallout happens when great change occurs. When one changes the structure, the whole has to change as well, be that a plant, a workplace, or a family. To listen to the calling of my heart means I will become a new me, already this has been happening, and it has not been easy. In fact it has been utterly painful to find myself amid the ashes of what I used to know and hold dear, reeling and looking about for something solid to hold onto. Learning to live fully as myself means learning to say no, and to say yes, to stretch to where I can’t touch bottom anymore, to boldly take the risks calling to me….
There is so much fear, and so much freedom beckoning from a doorway deep within me. Can I step through? Can I claim myself and all I am to be?…..I know this, I am willing to give my life to the pursuit. When I leave earth I want to leave having fully lived the life I came here for. May we all be so blessed.

A Rabbi’s wisdom reaching out
from beyond the grave
catches hold of my skirt hem
and holds on
“Why was I not more myself- for this I have no answer”
My greatest fear, lives in your words
I wonder- did God ask you
when you crossed his threshold there?
Were comparisons to Abraham and Moses made of you?
Did your head hang heavy as you spoke the truth-
“I wasn’t me, I wasn’t me, I wasn’t….”
For me- I choose another path
cast off my city body
and my cloak of sameness
though it be cold and I, naked and alone
I choose to be all that I am-
ardent, sweet, and dangerous
much like a wild hive of bees-
hungry and seeking nectar.

© Marianna Louise 2017


The Doorway In

Pain is my teacher
She knocks on the doorway of my heart
claws at the tattered screens on my windows
Her wind whips across my threshold
rattling my very bones

Who can say what is right or wrong?
Is it wrong to hurt, to cry, to hurl myself against the door?
Is it right to open it wide, allow the pain to enter,
welcome her home
at least for now

Nothing stays here any more
Its all a passing parade
the pain that swirls around like wind and whips tears to my eyes
and the joy that is so huge it aches deep in my heart
Are they so different after all?

Feeling moves through me now
I open to this moment
let go to hold on
Hold on to let go
my bones rattle  like a caged beast, but my heart is oh so quite….
could this be the doorway?

Simple Gifts

“Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free! Tis a gift to come round where you ought to be…and when you find yourself in the place just right you will be in the valley of love and delight. ”

These words danced from my mothers lips throughout my childhood. The sweet and simple tune, a lilting soft spun sound, like the rhythm of waves lapping at the shore. She sang as she cleaned the house or drove in the car, as we walked through the streets of Northwest Portland. Sweet hymns where her songs and they became mine too. Simple gifts was her mothers song as well,  so it is truly in my blood, my generational memory, my DNA as well as my heart.  A song which now holds the power to make my heart swell to twice its size simply on hearing the first notes of the melody. This song has in fact become one of my own simple gifts. A treasure I carry with me, a comfort, a portable  piece of home I can never misplace.

I mostly sing this song in praise and moments of joy, I snuggle up beside it. The familiar feel of its presence so companionable. I sing it for Grandma Marjorie, an audible prayer of remembrance and devotion. It says “I won’t forget where I came from, my home is in your heart and yours in mine.” It is one of the ways I carry the bones of my ancestors with me. I sing it for the girl child I once was. Small sticky hand pressed into my Mama’s larger, less sticky hand. I sing it because I remember the feel of her cheek on mine. How her hair would fall over my face, that long heavy braid engulfing me. A curtain of Mom. Could anything be as beautiful as her hair?

Simple Gifts is a teaching song. Teaching a lesson we desperately need to learn. As life grows faster and faster with each passing generation. Simplicity is losing its place at the table. Being replaced by gadgets and gizmos, social media and netfilx binges. Can this small  song serve as a vessel to reconnect me to what really matters? The simple, free and beautiful blessings that life is made up of? Can I hold the teaching close enough to feel it?

I walk out in the morning. Rain falls softly, of course it does, it is spring in Portland. I do not have much time before the hustle of the day begins. Morning is my time, I make it my own. My thoughts are dark this morning. Life feels hard, how will I make it? How can I ever fulfill my dreams when I work so much and seem to have so little? Seem to save so little, my world feels little. I am a pawn in a system I cannot change, the thoughts begin their downward spiral once again…then I see the bird. Small, so small. A bushtit I believe. A fluttering of brown in the low shrub I am passing. The roundness of the birds body, stark contrast to the long angles of the branches. There is no fear of failure in his bright eye. No self pity in his morning foraging. It looks like joy, the way he moves through the shrub, onto the ground for just a wee moment and then brightly returns to the shrub. Watching me, head cocked just so in greeting.

I remember….Simple gifts. This is the gift to be free. To walk in the morning with an old dog beside me. Now so deaf that he hardly pulls on the leash at all. The bushtits calls do not attract his attention, he just keeps on sauntering, smelling, peeing every few feet. This is the gift, pure and simple. The gift to be in my life. Fully present and aware. To see that sweet bird and let his fearless joy for life swell in my heart. The unspeakable tenderness for this shared experience of the sacredness of life. This connection of being alive on this planet together, us three. Bird, dog and woman. Intrinsically linked in this pursuit we call life.



When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed…..


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


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.





My Ancestors

There has been a deep well of  thought swirling around inside of me since my reading of the incredible book Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson. The depth and sincerity of his inquiry in to what makes a good death, and what makes a good life, have unfolded layers of possibility I have not known prior to this time in my life. I am sure I will be unpacking this work for a long time to come. He discusses at length the historical and cultural need of humans to know their ancestors. The terrible poverty of spirit we suffer in the loss of this connection to people, our people, and place. Truly knowing our roots, let alone having any type of tangible connection to the land of our people is a foreign concept to most of us here in the west. This touched a chord deep in me, as sense of loss. I knowing only bits of my family history, nothing past my great grandparents and of them truly not knowing much. There is no blame here. My parents have shared with me much of what they know, and I am blessed to have a family that is quite intact and connected. Yet, I know there is so much more that I do not know than what I do.
I certainly do not know where the bodies of my dead lie. I do not know with any certainty, even in what countries they are buried. This feels like aching loss to me. What were the names of these people before me? What words were native to their tongues? What songs did they sing? These feel like questions of great importance to me in this moment. There is a sense that a part of me is missing ,an integral piece of who I am just not there. If you don’t know your past how can you know your future?
This is the plight of the immigrant, and we are almost all children of children of immigrants to this land, here in North America. We cannot leave our homelands without leaving our homes and without leaving the bones of our ancestors behind. This was their greatest fear, all of our greatest fears..to be forgotten. To be left behind. The hurt of this abandonment runs in my blood and if you look deeply I would imagine that you will find it runs in your as well. Though you may not have seen it  there before and you may not feel its deep ache at this moment. It is there, a rift, a space, a longing for something so old we almost forgot it existed, our history. 

As often happens when I am in process of something that feels big to me, a poem erupted out of the space of this inquiry into ancestry and belonging. Poems are healing balm for my human soul., maybe your soul as well. I leave this one here to share with you and with all my own ancestors, back and back and back. May they know my gratitude.


I have lost my ancestors.
Their bones lie buried in the ground
many miles from here,
many miles from me.
I do not know under what earth they lie,
Nor where they breathed their last breath
hat memory is lost to me, if ever I had it at all.

 My ancestor’s lives are shrouded now,
cloaked in fog, mostly gone,
whispers of that time before
heavy beneath stones in some land that I do not call home.
I know not where they are
Nor what of them I carry inside myself.

 Yet I know I am born and built of the same material,
nd I am here due to their surviving
Again, and again and again,
on generation.
They must have been good hunters, good mothers, survivors
with strong bones and sharp teeth.

My ancestor’s bones lie buried in my bones
I carry their blood in the rushing of my blood
I sing their songs in my own voice
I feel the cool earth in my hands,
it is the same earth that came before me
Earth made up of the bones of ancestor’s
Earth made of life
Earth made of death
I call this family.