From Ambition to Meaning

“Throughout our lives, transitions require that we ask for help and allow ourselves to yield to forces stronger than our wills or our egos’ desires.  As transitions take place during our later years, a fundamental and primal shift from ambition to meaning occurs.”  
Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life

41GyeErgUvL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_That simple phase, those four words, “from ambition to meaning,” would sum up the four days’ interior journey of those who travelled with me at Soul Spark in mid February.  As the starting point for our first circle conversation, where each of us, having crossed paths before, now sat comfortably together on sofas and rocking chairs, with the fieldstone hearth and fire taking its place of honour, offering warmth and solace, this excerpt from Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life became our touchstone.  Regardless of age or stage of life, occupation or endeavor, each of us, host and participant alike, found ourselves delivered to this threshold, whether by ready intention or “no-choice” choice.

I’ve been writing about this threshold for the past few months, initially catalyzed by my experiences at the Self as Source writers’ retreat in early December.  From the dark depths of winter solstice, I recognized the need to listen and tend to what David Whyte calls “the great inside shout of joy,” that new life that we must call our own,  helped into being by our preparation, practice, discipline and allies.  Then, almost a month later, inspired by that master of naming and blessing thresholds, John O’Donohue, I gave deeper consideration to my allies, those beings – human and non-human, animate and inanimate, living or passed – whose shoulders we stand on, whose backs shore up ours, whose energy, image and guidance we call upon, who walk beside us to remind and help us call forth our resiliency, talents, and wisdom.

In between: a straight forward dental procedure reactivated some Bells Palsy symptoms that emerged almost three years ago, and still has me in irritating distress with a “not yet quite right” bite.  An irregular EKG for which cardiac consultation and testing has occurred.  Hearing that several younger colleagues have suffered strokes, heart attacks and brain injuries.  The passing in January of those iconic musician-artists, each in what is now my decade.

What had been ready intention, has now become my no-choice choice of letting go, paring back, or as I said quite spontaneously yesterday to a friend, a necessary “winnowing to essence.”

Angeles Arrien instructs us that when we stand upon a threshold, we must do the inner work of transformation and integration – the treading, turning, twisting and flailing of noticing, releasing and discarding what is no longer necessary or aligned with our essential nature. Noticing its signposts:

  • Work, that while in and of itself deeply satisfies, the preparation and holding for which energetically costs more than can be afforded.
  • Dreams that have silently, surreptitiously slipped to the background of awareness, attention, and need for fulfillment.
  • Tiredness signaling depletion and misalignment.
  • Anxiety and worry that time, at least in this lifetime, is running out.
  • Pressure to keep telling a story that’s no longer relevant, describing a self that no longer feels true.

“Deep in the wintry parts of our minds, we are hardy stock and know there is no such thing as work-free transformation.  We know that we will have to burn to the ground in one way or another, and then sit right in the ashes of who we once thought we were to go on from there.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes  

On the eve of our inaugural Soul Spark (now to be an annual mid-winter gathering) during meditation, I suddenly asked myself, “Who is this person I am becoming?” this person who:

  • Is a bona fide seeker of God and the transcendent?
  • Meditates regularly?
  • Whispers words of loving kindness throughout the day?
  • Wakes before dawn to listen to an hour of poetry and song?
  • Reads Rumi, Hafez, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard von Bingen, and other mystics?
  • Several years earlier than declared, is walking away from professional work to embrace a simpler, more creative life?

“Who is this person?” for she does not yet seem to be me.

IMG_0004(1)This is threshing. This is the process of becoming, wherein I am unable to answer, “Who am I now?” because I’m releasing myself from the story and illusion of who I think I am, who I have been.

Yet what I can say is there is a bittersweet sister found in the threshold, and her name is grief-relief.  The grief-relief of noticing, releasing and discarding that which had served but does no longer.

To give myself permission to notice, name, and feel this most peculiar grief heals, makes space for, and helps me recognize the edges of to eventually claim this person I am becoming.  It helps me make choices better aligned with and in support of who is emerging.  It helps me become my own ally in service of living out loud that inside shout of joy.

Three at Play

It’s said there’s something auspicious about things happening in threes.

A week ago, that was the case when I tuned in The Road Home as I turned in for the night.  As luck would have it, I heard Bob, the program’s creator and host, give an update to an episode I’d heard from the previous week, wherein he recited a wonderful story by the great Persian Sufi, Hafiz, as interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky. I was deeply taken in by his first reading of “Bring the Man Here,” and then I and the community of Road Home devotees were treated to hearing it again, as context for his friend, Danny’s reply to receiving a recording of that original reading.  Then, given some restless nights last week, I heard for it for the third time, early the next morning during rebroadcast.

Bring the Man to Me

A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.
He was stretched out around the fire one night
And said to one of his close ones,
“There is a slave loose not far from us.
He escaped today from a cruel master.
His hands are still bound behind his back,
His feet are also shackled.
I can see him right now praying for God’s help.
Go to him.
Ride to that distant hill;
And about a hundred feet up and to the right
You will find a small cave.
He is there.
Do not say a single word to him.
Bring the man to me.
God requests that I personally untie his body
And press my lips to his wounds.”
The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours
Arrives at the small mountain cave.
The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.
The disciple, on orders not to speak,
Gestures toward the sky, pantomining:
God saw you in prayer,
Please come with me,
A great Teacher has used his heart’s divine eye
To know your whereabouts.
The slave cannot believe this story,
And begins to shout at the man and tries to run
But trips from his bindings.
The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.
Think of this picture as they now travel:
The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.
Every particle of existence is a dancing altar
That some mysterious force worships.
The earth is a church floor whereupon
In the middle of a glorious night
Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,
With a speechless rider
Taking him toward the unknown.
Several times with all of his might the slave
Tries to break free,
Feeling he is being returned to captivity.
The rider stops, dismounts – and brings his eyes
Near the prisoner’s eyes.
A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.
The rider motions – soon, soon you will be free.
Tears roll down from the rider’s cheeks
In happiness for this man.
Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,
God has seen you and sent a close one.
God has seen your heart in prayer
And sent me.

Love Poems from GodLadinsky is one of the west’s foremost interpreters of Hafiz, having published three volumes: The Gift, The Subject Tonight is Love, and I Heard God Laughing.  I travelled to Europe with only two books, a small handbook of Rumi, and Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God, a collection of poems from twelve sacred voices from the East and West.  Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, on their Spirituality and Practice website, describe Ladinsky as “an audacious talent with a big heart, a keen sense of humor, and a creative way of looking at things,” inviting us to make playful our relationship with the Divine.  Audacious and irreverent came to mind when I read laughing his introduction to Love Poems from God:

“I think God loves bootleggers—defiant poets who ferment the air as they sing and lift the corners of our mouths. Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring. And what we say about the Gorgeous One should make Him appear a knockout. Whoever made this Universe is a Wild Guy. I think only our ecstasies offer any real clues about Him.”

Bob acknowledges that not everyone is as enamored by his audacity, and that he draws severe criticism in more traditional circles.  Nonetheless, I find his interpretations accessible, current, necessary and yes playful, inviting me to take myself less seriously.

So why so taken by “Bring the Man Here?”  An auspicious sign to have heard the story not once, but three times in a matter of days, hence worth consideration. In search of the words, I found myself at a beautiful blog called Heartsteps, a site created by someone who calls himself “Pilgrim,” as his “hook for working through a daily spiritual practice: a journal, breadcrumbs to mark his progress…to remind him to stay on the path” …the road home. Reading and re-reading, as I stayed present with my initial impulses, like dream interpretation I recognized myself in each of the characters: the Perfect One, the close one, the slave, the cruel master.

Suffice to say, there is much for me to sit with and hold light, in a playful way, which in itself might be lesson enough.  And, stumbling into Heartsteps, I realized a simple way to write more regularly here, by rescuing the moment when a poem touches my heart.

The Road Home