Monday, August 3, 2020

What "The Big Picture" May Miss

Lately I've been relishing my gift of intuition, and at the same time noting how difficult specifics have been for me my whole life, ever more difficult as I grow older.

If you're familiar with the MBTI, you know that people have two broad ways of gathering information, Sensing and Intuition.

Sensors focus on the present, on facts, on what can be processed through the five senses; concrete, literal thinkers who value realism, common sense, ideas with practical applications.

I, on the other hand, test as high as possible on Intuition, and immerse myself in the "big picture," in possibilities, patterns, impressions, imagination, reading between the lines, diving deep--but have on more than one occasion forgotten the name of my best friend.

Monday, February 24, 2020


In a reframing of the Buddhist meditation on death, I have often immersed myself in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the inevitable. 

This practice has taken many turns, one of which was deciding to have a natural burial at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery

As I approach my 82nd birthday--though no threat looms with immediacy--it's no longer possible to ignore the eventuality of my own death. And I love the idea of going back to earth in the woods, with a natural marker. 

Without the barrier of a coffin between me and the earth, my molecules can easily mix with those who've preceded me, and I'm delighted to imagine the company I'll join. Among the many names on my growing list, poets, artists, spiritual teachers, psychologists, and musicians are prominent.

Somehow this practice of drawing others' spirits to me has affected my coaching busioness and my artworks, reminding me to simply rejoice in what flows from intuition. 

Often, I've experienced the emotions of a client prior to a call -- not always realizing the mood's source until we're in contact. A friend said, "They're playing the strings of your guitar." I so resonate with that image, which echoes my lifelong favorite among Rainer Maria Rilke's poems, "Lovesong" or "Liebeslied" (the original follows the translation by M.D. Herter Norton):
How shall I withhold my soul so that
it does not touch on yours? How shall I
uplift it over you to other things?
Ah willingly would I by some
lost thing in the dark give it harbor
in an unfamiliar silent place
that does not vibrate on when your depths vibrate.
Yet everything that touches us, you and me,
takes us together as a bow's stroke does,
that out of two strings draws a single voice.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what player has us in his hand?
O sweet song.

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, dass
sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
Ach gerne möcht ich sie bei irgendetwas
Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
nicht weiterschwingt, wenn deine Tiefen schwingen.
Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
der aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Spieler hat uns in der Hand?
O süsses Lied.
Yes, everything that touches us takes us together as does a bow's stroke that draws a single voice from two strings.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

I Know What Endarkenment Is

I don’t know what enlightenment is, but I know what "endarkenment" is… a way to get endarkened really well is to be narrow, to only see things one way (Charles Tart, Enneagram Monthly, March, 1999). 
So many people I talk to describe their own transformation process in terms of shifts in awareness, a sense of stepping outside a frame of reference they'd always held. And it does feel like moving from the dark into the light.

"The most profound moments in my life," said an Enneagram style Eight, "were actual events where I came out on the other side." She's strong, responsible and had tended to avoid signs of weakness or feelings of vulnerability. So you know the enormity of the shift when she said, "It scared the f------ shit out of me!"

Completely transforming one's awareness is a scary place, and it helps to know where the process is leading:
At the first level (of development) people simply realize… how much of the time they spend on automatic pilot.
The second level of insights are… psychodynamic or personality revelations. People begin to see more clearly patterns to their motivations and behavior…
There can arise a clear vision of the dissolution of self from moment to moment, and this often leads to a realm of fear and terror…
Later there arises… a spontaneous process of letting go of personal motivation, and… a vision of the true connection between all of us...
~ Jack Kornfield, "The Seven Factors of Enlightenment", pp. 56-59 in Paths Beyond Ego
Understanding your Enneagram style can be enormously helpful as a road map for your patterns of motivation and behavior. One psychological pattern I discovered in myself as an Enneagram style Nine, for example, was how I'd made myself passive-aggressive by setting myself up to feel discounted. This usually happened when I’d failed to state my needs clearly. Then, when someone failed to read my mind and act on my needs, I became passive-aggressive and the other person felt I'd set up a trap. And of course, I had. 

So I know what endarkenment is. You know, too, when you see how you set up and feed into the stories that reinforce old, narrow views. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

I am Thou


Recalling this week several practices of healing self and others that have stayed with me throughout my life, I am so happy to remember a healing mantra that calmed my anxiety when recovering from breast cancer surgery almost nine years ago, "Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung, the Siri Gaitri Mantra. 

The first four sounds of the mantra ascend and expand into the Infinite; the second part of the mantra pivots those qualities of the highest and brings them back down, to interweave Earth with Infinity:

RA is the Sun  -- its energy strong, bright, hot, and purifying
MA is the Moon -- a quality of receptivity, coolness, and nurturing
DA is the Earth -- its energy is secure, personal, and the ground of action 
SA is Infinity -- the impersonal cosmos in all its open dimensions and totality
SA -- this repetition is the turning point
SAY -- awareness of a sacred "Thou"
SO (the personal sense of merger and identity) and 
HUNG (the Infinite, vibrating and real) -- "I am Thou"

Saturday, October 6, 2018

How Society Grooms Women

Journalist Connie Chung penned an open letter supporting Christine Blasey Ford, while for the first time publicly sharing her own experience with sexual assault. Rachel Yang, Variety.
This morning I read Connie Chung's account of being sexually assaulted by her trusted family physician when she was an innocent young woman seeking birth control. Someone will no doubt ask "Why didn't she stop him?" when he brought her to orgasm with his fingers. Such a question would come from someone who has no idea of the strength of social conditioning on females to trust doctors and others in authority positions.

Feeling sick to my stomach, I remembered a similar experience when I went to a gynecologist before my first marriage. Though not as naive as Connie Chung had been, I wasn't sure about the physiology of sexual intercourse. So when the doctor--a woman, actually--explained she was slowly stretching my hymen tissue so I wouldn't feel any pain on intercourse, I felt its inappropriateness, especially because I'd told her about being raped at age 16. Nonetheless, I did exactly what Chung did, kept quiet and afterwards dashed out of there as quickly as I could, embarrassed and ashamed.

We tend to think of sexual grooming as specific to child sexual abuse, but the elements are the same in any form of abuse -- the appeal of a relationship with someone who gives you special attention, the underlying assertion of power not evident until trust is established, and the sense of secrecy based on the expectation of not being believed, or chastised if believed. Those negative judgments can be overt or covert.

In the case of my being raped as a teenager, I was on a family trip to Scotland, my parents knew I was walking on the beach near the hotel where we were staying, and they looked for me when I was not back after dark. Yet when I finally stumbled in, the police they called insisted on a medical exam to make sure I was telling the truth.

And then MY PARENTS NEVER MENTIONED THE SITUATION AGAIN! No one asked if I wanted to talk about it, no one assured me that stopping to chat with the man did not make the rape my fault, no one commented on my sudden need to have a light on in my room at night.

The Scottish man who raped me used an abbreviated form of sexual grooming--approaching me when there was still daylight with a casual question about my being American and some conversation about the golf tournament I mentioned my Dad was there to attend, treating me like an adult without ever being openly seductive, then offering to walk me back to the hotel, as it was getting dark. A very nice local man being thoughtful to a tourist. I was flattered and trusting, only half-way back to the hotel realizing--while deep in conversation--he'd walked me to an area away from the lights where sand dunes blocked a clear view from the road. When we saw the headlights of a car--which I knew was my father because one of the lights was out--the rapist clapped a hand over my mouth and said, "If you make a sound, I will kill you."

Why am I posting this in "The Only Gate is Now?" Because this blog is where I've written about surviving another kind of death threat -- breast cancer -- and reminds me that no matter what life brings, "there's nowhere to go, there's nothing else to be." Staying present for me means not numbing out, not dissociating from the emotions that flashbacks arouse. I dealt with my anger at the rapist of the past, but not until forty years after the event, awakening terrified from a nightmare and writing it down so I wouldn't numb out again, emotions that eventually found a home in my poem, "Union."

Now I must allow the anger to move through me again, aroused by Brett Kavanaugh's appointment in spite of Christine Blasey Ford's testimony and his obvious lack of integrity, and beyond these specific events to the larger world we live in, characterized by the ascent of greed and dominance of wealthy white males, to the exclusion and--often--terror of anyone not part of that club.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

I Choose Authenticity

(Published in The Enneagram of Death: Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dyling, 2012)
Authenticity is a daily practice. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the COURAGE to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the COMPASSION that comes from knowing we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the CONNECTION and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. Brené Brown, Ph.D.
Many people who've had cancer report significant changes in their lives and a gratitude that might seem strange to those who haven't been there. Having had breast cancer, I realize how difficult it is to put into words the gratitude I felt. Of course I'm grateful to be alive, grateful to all the helping professionals, friends, and acquaintances who were part of my healing, grateful to my body that the cancer didn't spread through the lymph nodes, grateful that I didn't have to have chemo. But my gratitude spread beyond those happy aspects -- I was grateful to the cancer because it brought me into greater presence than I'd ever experienced.

The important question became, "Now that I am present to my impermanence, how do I live every moment going forward?" The answer to this question was not a conscious decision. It bloomed in me as a consequence of opening myself, of having yielded and embraced breast cancer. The biggest lesson I learned was how I'd contributed to the burden of caretaking I'd felt -- in my life and in my work -- by keeping the focus completely on other people and not asking for what I needed. I was giving, but not allowing myself to receive. 

Caretaking fed my ego and also exhausted me. Having cancer required that I learn how to ask for help and be clear to those around me what kind of help I needed: to be listened to, encouraged to talk about myself. Instead, my gift of focusing on the positive had taken charge, and left no room for feeling tired, disoriented, lonely, or that dreaded state -- NEEDY.  Everyone was rejoicing in how brave and amazing I was, while some newly acknowledged part of me simply wanted to curl up and be held. 

Exactly as Dr. Brené Brown's research on authenticity suggests, I'm more connected now because I learned a new kind of courage -- to be imperfect (needy), to set boundaries (ask for what I want and don't want), to allow myself to be vulnerable (admitting these needs without shame), and along with this came true compassion (giving is no longer a one-way street). Thus, I'm grateful to Dr. Brown for having put into words the lesson I most needed to learn.

Once my energy and mental balance returned, instead of feeling I was "back to my old self," I found myself "going forward into a new self," one that has a squishy part I didn't have before. Vulnerability can be interpreted as feeling defenseless, exposed, insecure. My new squishy part has none of those negative connotations. It has made me softer, more yielding, tender, sensitive, open, and accessible.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Cave Drawings

(Published in The Enneagram of Death: Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dyling, by Elizabeth Wagele.)
Research suggests that trauma survivors can head off long-lasting symptoms by letting friends know what they're going through. Susan Lien Whigham, "The Role of Metaphor in Recovery From Trauma"
I had not thought of my 2010 breast cancer diagnosis and surgery as trauma until I read the transcript of How the Brain Helps Us to Survive Trauma and understood that any life-threatening event can be traumatizing -- war, a terrible car accident, a natural disaster, a heart attack, cancer.

And the measure of how well or quickly we recover, compared to those who might develop post-traumatic stress disorder, is whether or not we can discharge the energy created by the shock. Some of our response to stress is determined by our own emotional resiliency, but much of it depends on whether our caregivers, family, and friends contribute to our feeling helpless or support our gaining a sense of control. We can begin to take charge of our fate when we're able to talk about our feelings, absorb the reality of our circumstances, and move into action.

My strongest urge while convalescing from surgery was simply to be listened to. And yet, I didn't really have the words to express what I was experiencing. Some of my friends interpreted my early quasi-silence as a desire to have my spirit lifted, and entertained me with stories. I loved them for this, yet also needed help to find words for what I was experiencing.

So I was relieved to read how listening for metaphors can help recovery from trauma. I remembered an earlier blog entry where I tried to express my reaction to others' view of my "bravery": 
It's like driving in a heavy rainstorm late at night. You'd rather be home by a cozy fire, but you're on full alert, every sense attuned to what's happening in your immediate environment. You don't have time to be afraid.  
I didn't feel brave; I felt swept up in a tide of experience. During the two weeks of diagnosis, biopsy, and surgery I was in a kind of trance, floating, as if rocked on the waves of a deep ocean.

Notice the quality of water in these metaphors -- rainstorm, tide, waves, ocean. And notice also how these water metaphors are hard to pin down (another metaphor); how fruitless it would be to try to capture water with a "pin" of any sort. And yet, these watery images helped me embrace a shock too big to encompass with left-brain language.

Breast cancer brought death into my house. Paradoxically, the mastectomy brought a change to my body that meant I could stave off death, probably for many years, so I denied the surgery as trauma. It took almost six months for me to see the loss of my breasts as a disfigurement, to notice how I'd been  dressing to hide it from the world, how quickly I covered myself after a shower--when I used to be so happily naked.

I finally let in the loss by following my metaphors, diving in to the ocean, being swept by the tide to a barren shore, finding a flat terrain with strange plants and unknown dangers, dark caves filled with ancient drawings, wondering Who are these others who have been here before me? How can I survive this? 

And I knew I had to find my way through this metaphorical territory, go into the dark caves, experience the fear, learn from the ancient drawings, find guidance from others who had been there for a while. The spirits of these women encircled me as I wept for the loss of my breasts, they chanted with me as I celebrated life's changing seasons and embraced more enduring symbols of womanhood. 

 *   *   *

Seven years later, on April 15, 2017 I faced another loss, the death of my mother. Yes, she lived a long and healthy 104 years, and yes, I was exhausted during the final years of caring for her. But each process of grief has its own territory. As the months passed, I looked at the image above of women in community, and wept as they encircled me once more, reminding me of lifelong love from my Mom, who was also my best girlfriend.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Pattern That Connects

"Premonitions open us up to each other and to the greater world... they show that we are part of something larger than the individual self, that we are an element in the great pattern that connects." Dr. Larry Dossey
The opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking should convince even the most skeptical that there are ways of knowing beyond the ability to make logical connections:
"A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools took more than a year to assure the authenticity of a supposedly ancient Greek statue the Getty Museum of California was going to purchase for $10 million. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. One said he "heard" the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient." (David Brooks, New York Times).
We all have the capability to access these versions of a "sixth sense" although many shy away from that possibility, especially those who fear the unfamiliar. Even the word premonition carries an aura of foreboding - that something "bad" is going to happen.

When we're fully present, however, the possibilities are neither good nor bad, we're simply open to a broader context of knowing, a larger "mind" or "field." Whether you experience this knowing as a feeling in your bones, an image, or a nagging thought, it's saying to you, in Larry Dossey's words, "Wake up. The evidence for a larger world is staring you in the face."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

One of my favorite stories about C.G. Jung is a reported dream where he was drowning in a vat of human waste and calling "Help me out!" to his therapist, who stood on the rim of the vat. Instead of taking his outstretched hand the therapist pushed Jung's head down into the liquid, saying, "Through, not out."

That's often what it feels like when I commit to greater self-awareness and then see what I've gotten myself into: "Get me out of this!" No matter how innovative my efforts, there's a quality of struggling in, yes, a vat of shit.

I recently watched an episode of "John Adams," where Adams teaches one of his sons about the virtues of manure, insisting that the young man mash it around with his hands. Adams' recipe for compost would delight today's organic gardeners -- seaweed, marsh mud, dead ashes, rock weed, livestock waste, kitchen scraps.

My own dung has a similar variety -- scraps of history; ashes I thought were dead; a deep sea of muddy droppings from unconscious creature selves; weeds I'd imagined pulled forever; the waste of years spent serving an ego-image.

I keep in mind this quote from William Bryant Logan's Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth: "Not only the grain in the mealbag, but the full-blown rose are, in one sense, the gift of turds."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dream Journaling

For years, I've used Clyde H. Reid's Dreams: Discovering Your Inner Teacher as a straightforward format (based on Jungian dream analysis) to walk myself through the key aspects of a dream:
  • Date of dream:
  • Title:
  • Motif:
  • The dream in detail:
  • Context: what's happening in my life at this time?
  • In this dream, who are the main characters known to me before?

       Outstanding characteristics:
       What part of me is this?
  •  Who are the main characters not known to me?
        Same sex figures (shadow)?
        Opposite sex figures (anima/animus)?
  • What are the outstanding features of this dream (flood, explosion, animal, house, etc)?
        What part of me is this feature or image? What is it saying to me?
        What important symbols appeared? How are they related to me?
  • What archetypes may be manifesting themselves here?
  • What feelings did I have during/after the dream?
  • What other thoughts, ideas, or memories does this dream trigger in me?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Audacious Ekphrasis

In December I accepted the role of Editor-in-Chief for Bacopa Literary Review. Below is a copy of my first post on our Editors Blog:

If you want to know more about me, Googling Mary Bast will first evoke echoes of my other life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written flash memoir and several forms of poetry including found poetry and ekphrasis, an audacious poetic form that's among many we're encouraging for Bacopa 2016.
You'll find a long history and many definitions of ekphrasis. I like the most open, contemporary version best:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.
I first learned about ekphrastic poetry in a workshop with Melanie Almeder, who drew our attention to two famous poems written in response to Pieter Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus: William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." 

Note that Williams' poem to some degree follows the tradition of describing the visual scene (a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry / of the year was / awake tingling / with itself), while Auden's interpretation is a bit wider (About suffering they were never wrong, / the old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position: how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window).

Almeder invited workshop participants to write our own poems in response to the Brueghel painting, encouraging us to range as far as our muses would go. My poem "plummet" (published in Bacopa Literary Review 2012) imagined Icarus as a woman:

there is an Icarus
a woman who flies 

on intricate
feathered web
of covert


she breathes faster
learns to soar

the admonition
do not fly too high

her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
heavier than water

when she dives
no sun's light
scuffs the surface
As a visual artist I've explored other ways to interpret "the intersection of verbal and visual arts." For example, in response to Kim Addonizio's poem "Divine" (Oh hell, here's that dark wood again. / You thought you'd gotten through it--), I created my acrylic painting, "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again." Then I reacted to my own painting with the poem "Backdraft" (again the dark wood. / Guardian of the Abyss hovering above / like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life). 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Developing Intuition

In The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals, Gavin de  Becker described a childhood where his ability to sniff out his mother's moods quite literally meant survival. As an adult he parlayed this keenly developed intuition into a world-renowned business -- serving victims of domestic abuse and stalking, evaluating threats to political and media figures, and proposing new laws to help manage violence. His book could be a manual for healthy intuition:
I have gotten great benefits from taking the voice of skepticism I used to apply to my intuition and applying it instead to the dreaded outcomes I imagined were coming. Worry will almost always buckle under a vigorous interrogation. If you can bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you'll see that it fosters creativity. . . Worry is a choice, and the creative genius we apply to it can be used differently, also by choice.
We're all trained to be analytical, and consequently to doubt intuition that isn't tied to direct knowing or experience. In her introduction to Inner Knowing, Helen Palmer admitted that her "anchor in intellectualism made it difficult to accept even profoundly convincing intuition as being meaningful and real." Palmer was referring to several incidents of her own inner knowing, the first of which occurred when she was deeply involved in the East Coast movement of resistance to the Vietnam War: "My imagination became as believable and solid as the furniture in my room." She knew, for example, that a friend must take a route across the Canadian border different from the one planned, and later learned that others who took the original route were stopped and arrested.

Many people describe intuition as a hunch based on experience. In a New York Times review (1/16/05), David Brooks summarized the opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The Getty Museum in California had planned to purchase a supposedly ancient Greek statue for almost $10 million. A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools had taken more than a year to assure its authenticity. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. When asked to explain how they knew, one said he heard the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient. Another felt a wave of intuitive repulsion. The outcome? "The teams of analysts who did 14 months of research turned out to be wrong. The historians who relied on their initial hunches were right."

I encourage you to develop trust in your hunches, whether experience-based or seeming to come out of nowhere, the kind of intuition that has served me so well and that led Helen Palmer to found the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition. Maybe you'll only feel a nudge. Something feels right about this, though I'm not sure why.

Dr. Michael Ray, author of Creativity in Business and The New Paradigm in Business, offered five truths about intuition.
  1. Intuition can be developed. You have intuition within you. Accept responsibility to develop your individual style of intuition.
  2. Intuition and reason are complements. Reason, experience, information and intuition are a powerful combination.
  3. Intuition is unemotional. It involves paying clear attention to the most appropriate alternative that comes from your creative Essence.
  4. Intuition thrives on action. Follow-through is important to make use of your creative ideas, and intuition is strengthened by seeing its manifest effects. 
  5. Intuition is mistake-free. Sometimes your intuitions will be on target and sometimes not. The more you develop it, the more often it will be on target. Your intuition will grow when you have faith that it doesn't make mistakes -- it just offers new possibilities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mindfulness: Experience the Experience

Listening to Dr. Ronald Siegel in a Mindfulness webinar, I was struck by his observation that the common factor underlying all psychological disorders is "experiential avoidance."

Notice how you typically handle painful experiences. Do you tell yourself "I can't stand it" or "If I let myself go there I'll never be happy again"? When we retreat from life this way we deny our own healing resources. When we're mindful we allow ourselves to be present to experience.

Mindfulness is not limited to meditating on a prayer cushion for 20 minutes morning and night. "Many of us are so busy," Dr. Siegel writes, "that the thought of adding one more thing--no matter how potentially beneficial--is just too much. The good news is that mindfulness practice can be taken up in different ways to suit different lifestyles."
Here's an excerpt from "Nature Meditation" in his book, The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems:
Turn your attention fully to the world around you. If you can get to a window or go outside, use the natural world as a focus. If you need to stay in a room and can't go to the window, you can do the same thing with the walls, floor, and objects in the room. The idea is to systematically look at everything in your visual field and describe it. If your mind wanders to thoughts or body sensations, just gently bring it back to the outside world. As with walking meditation, this can be used as a formal meditation practice, replacing breath meditation during particularly anxious times, or as an informal practice as you go about your day.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Strong Drink

Humor is a good antidote to untested assumptions and a marvelous way to elicit change at a symbolic level. It shakes us loose. For example, in a workshop on personality types I handed out a variety of Slammers — beanie-type toys that make a sound when you throw them down on a hard surface. Participants had great fun with these, sometimes slamming them down on the table to make a point during the discussion.
  • For Skeptics, who worry about what could go wrong, their Slammer was a puppy dog that shouted, “Oh, no!”
  • For Helpers, who take care of others’ needs and forget their own, their Slammer had a puckered-up mouth and made the sound of a big, smacking kiss.
  • My own Peacemaker types tend to merge with others' agendas and fail to speak up for ourselves; when we threw our Slammer down… it made no sound at all!
A friend says we Peacemakers are easy to tease and enjoy self-deprecating humor. That may be true. While reading Iris Murdoch’s The Green Knight, I laughed out loud at this passage:

“What he saw might have been her pity for him, her sympathy. Or perhaps just her kindness, the way in which, ever after as he watched her, she instinctively made all things better, speaking no evil, disarming hostility, turning ill away, making peace: her gentleness, which made her seem, sometimes, to some people, weak, insipid, dull. ‘She’s not exactly a strong drink!’ someone said.”

Ironic that my favorite cocktail is a Godfather. Hmmm. I might be symbolically drinking strength. Anyway, as I've matured I've become a stronger drink, stepping up, shouting out; my paintings and my tastes in poetry are becoming less and less rule-bound.

I LOST MY BOOBS, NOT MY SENSE OF HUMOR proudly stated my post breast cancer t-shirt more than five years ago. So my son Dylan Schwab helped me create a rap about having no breasts (click here). I was inspired by Anne Hathaway, who is Sweetness personified (and I’m sure has very nice breasts), performing her paparazzi rap:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Awakening Heart Energy

Starting a new business many years ago required taking risks, and my emotions were running wild. I needed a positive symbol of awakening heart energy and chose a tattoo of a dolphin swimming around my heart. When I told my mother, I was devastated by her response: "Why would you want to disfigure yourself?"

You've had similar experiences, I know. People who take risks to define themselves according to their own needs and dreams often have to overcome the almost insurmountable authority of social conditioning.

Many of us had the childhood experience of being told what we can't do: what's not normal or polite, what's dangerous or beyond our abilities. We were left with a sense of powerlessness to predict what will make us secure. Even as adults, these early messages haunt us: Who will criticize me for trying something new? Who will laugh at me for this idea I have? What will I do if this doesn't work out?

Sometimes we overcome our insecurity by whistling in the dark. (I'm not afraid! I'm not afraid!) But when faced with a tough decision, we may also endure an internal debate: What do I do now? Which of these paths do I take? Can I trust my own judgment? Will I give myself permission to go for what I want?

This is the paradox: when we act as if we're powerless, in that very act we give our power away. Until I found my own personal power, until I could stay clear about what I wanted to do and why, I fell into the victim role, pointing my finger outward. Initially, I was angry at how my mother, in spite of her generally loving support, could undermine my attempts to break the mold. I felt hurt because I wanted her approval. 

When I could finally come from my center and let go of my attachment to her opinion, I was freed from reacting to Mom's response and touched by her own fear of change.

How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something you were excited about because someone else put on the brakes? My mother was uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, just as your friends and family may be when you take a risk. My tattoo was right for me. And I revamped my business because it drew me to work that's richer and more meaningful, even though there were lean years. 

In the process, I learned an important lesson. Sometimes we begin to doubt ourselves when others criticize, worry, or question our urges to live our lives more fully. We need to remember they're actually questioning themselves, unable to imagine doing what we've found the courage and vision to do.

Years later my life was saved from breast cancer by a bilateral mastectomy. I was not afraid of losing my femininity, but I was concerned about damage to my dolphin. My surgeon was able to keep it almost completely intact, and the tattoo's symbolism has carried me through surgery, recovery, and the five years since then with an open heart.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Tibetans Call It a Bardo

In my early thirties, I attended a Silva Mind Control course to stop smoking. Others were there for weight control, memory training, and self-healing techniques. Over several weeks we were taught relaxation and visualization techniques, including the development of a mental laboratory complete with desk, calendar, files, visual screen, a door beside the screen, and healing medications. 

We were also told we'd have an experience of extrasensory perception on the last day of the training, which I found intriguing but presumed impossible for me. For that last session we were instructed to bring in three slips of paper, each showing only the name and city of an individual we privately knew to have an illness or physical problem.

To start the morning of the last day, we practiced by placing the body of a friend on our mental screen and scanning for problems of any sort. Following instructions, suddenly I saw and heard a motorcycle hit by a car. The motorcyclist's face wasn't visible, but because the man I was scanning owned a motorcycle, I expressed my alarm to the instructor, who suggested I find the date of the accident and send healing light to my friend. 

I closed my eyes, went to alpha level, visualized the calendar in my mental laboratory, and was astonished to see the pages turning rapidly until they stopped at a date in June. I assumed this to be in the future, as the session took place in February, so I did as the instructor suggested and pictured my friend bathed in white light.

After a break we were assigned partners, and the first one, whom I'd never met and didn't know would be a partner, handed me a piece of paper with a man's name and location written on it. In alpha level, I visualized a man on my mental screen, and saw his whole left side was darker than his right. I didn't know what it meant. 

Using a technique we'd been taught, I imagined putting on this person's head, and was immediately torn by depression, sorrow, and resentment. I could feel my left side was crippled; I had no hearing in my left ear and no sight in my left eye. I knew hearing was intact in my right ear, but vision in my right eye was limited in some way, though I couldn't describe exactly how.  

Afterwards, my partner said this was the son of a dear friend; 21 years old and bitter because he'd been crippled on his left side in a motorcycle accident at an intersection where a car had ignored a stop sign. He had no hearing in his left ear and no sight in his left eye; hearing was normal in his right ear, but he had tunnel vision in his right eye. His recovery was slow and he was despondent.

As I almost feared when asking her the accident's date, she named the same day in June I'd seen on my mental calendar. The motorcycle crash I'd pictured earlier that morning, before being assigned to this partner, had occurred the previous June!

Interactions with my next two partners were less clear but equally mind-blowing. With one, I pictured her subject with a brain like a walnut, the right side shriveled, then found she'd given me the name of a friend with brain cancer in the right hemisphere. With the other I kept seeing The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, focusing especially on the size of his nose. She admitted she didn't know anyone with a critical injury or illness, so had given me the name of a friend with chronic sinusitis.

I was disoriented for several weeks. The world as I perceived it had changed. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche refers to a bardo as a juncture "when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened." My experience of this unexpected, new reality opened my mind and heart.

Since then I've had many instances of knowing something that either had not happened yet, or had happened at a distance, without my direct knowledge, and was later confirmed. At first I was frustrated by the lack of specificity, but over the years I've learned to relax into what I now believe is a universal flow. 

As a coach this has manifested as psychic intuitions. I've learned to slip into a meditative state and seek information beyond the obvious. My clients often comment, "I was just thinking that, but wasn't sure I was ready to talk about it," or "How did you know that? I've never told anyone."

My bardo experience has left me with a lifelong sense of awe, triggered by the recognition, "If this is possible, anything is possible."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Symbol of the Wave

Alan Watts, in an essay on zen,
used the metaphor of a wave ~
each wave appears to be
separate and distinct
but waves are also part
of the ocean they share.
Likewise, there are seemingly nine
distinct personality styles, but
we have a common ground in that
in our essence we are whole and gifted.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Like a Flower...

The following interchange with a reader who's an Enneagram style Five tells a story. Read it and note how she opens up (and gives permission).... 

Dear Mary: I'm an Enneagram Five, and lead a pretty full life doing social work, but I'm 50 and have never been in love with anyone. Looking at myself objectively, it seems a tiny bit sad, but not enough to do anything concrete about it. I hate the idea of sifting through many people, and maybe some will be compatible. It wears me out just thinking about listening to all those people, so I convince myself it's better to be alone, unless someone compatible just happens to cross my path. Thank you for the service you provide to those seeking more knowledge. Will anyone else see this note?

Dear Reader: I understand how satisfying life can be when work is interesting. However, you do imply that a relationship might be worthwhile ("I convince myself it's better to be alone"), if you could find someone without "sifting," or perhaps if listening were not so exhausting for you.You asked, "Will anyone else see this note?" Not if you don't want them to.I'm reading a fascinating novel by Irvin Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept. I believe Neitzsche as described by Yalom was an Enneagram Five. Perhaps if you read Yalom's book you might find something interesting that applies to you. 

Dear Mary: Thank you for recommending the book; I'll read it... I thought a secretary or helper might respond and only on a public web page. I even tear up my journals promptly because I can't bear the thought that someone might read my innermost thoughts, so yes, I'd like my notes to be private. I interact with so many people each day, my time alone is pretty much a gift. I believe I would interact well with anyone who knows the Enneagram and is healthy in whatever style they happen to be, but I don't know a soul who has done more than read one book about it or just glanced at the subject. Are there any Enneagram students in my area? Thank you immensely for your time.

Dear Reader: I'm sending you information about the closest chapter of the International Enneagram Association (IEA). There's a page at the IEA web site with news about regional chapters that may be a source of information for you. I recommend joining the IEA if you haven't already. Even if you're not a "joiner" it's a way to gather useful information. Also, I hope you'll attend the annual Enneagram conference.By the way, I give my time freely, and not totally without self-interest. Often these inquiries lead to an article, which supports my writing. Even when someone like you asks that nothing be published, I always learn something from the interaction; so this interaction is a resource for me, too. For example, in thinking about how to respond to you, and re-reading When Nietzsche Wept in that light, I noticed Nietzsche as described by Yalom is very sensitive to weather changes, and very sensitive to touch.This led me to remember a wonderful book (and tape), Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars. One of his stories is about Temple Grandin, an adult woman with autism who created a sling to comfort and carry cattle. She then got the idea to create her own "squeeze machine" because from early childhood she longed to be touched but couldn't tolerate it. She lies in her sling daily, with controls that allow her to create as much or as little pressure as she wishes. A wonderful metaphor. 

Dear Mary: If others can learn from anything I might share, feel free to go ahead and publish any of my comments. I'm evolving and I know one of the greatest things we can do is share with one another. I trust you and will make every effort to attend the conference. Thanks for all your information; know that I will use it. About the touch issue. I love being held and always longed for that as a child, but being from a large family, my parents didn't have a lot of individual time for me, though we each felt completely loved by them and by each other. My relationships seem to be those in which I give much of myself, but only about three or four people are capable of giving to me in the manner I prefer to receive. A therapist held me perfectly only three times over a period of about a year and a half, and that memory sustains me anytime I need to be reminded of what it might be like if our creator could be here in person, to allow me to feel his/her love and my connection to what we are other than just being a part of this world. I'm hugged often by children and friends, but I can never bring myself to ask anyone to hold me. If there is anything you ever want to ask me, feel free; and you may use it in any way you deem beneficial. I've seen the benefits of your sharing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Sacred Sorrow

"Going to pieces or falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed it is as essential to evolutionary and psychic transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells... What 'disintegrates' in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, of course, but its defenses and ideas... [opening] us up to new perceptions, new data, new responses." Joanna Macy, Chapter 16, Sacred Sorrows
My first cracking of the shell, when it hit, was comparable to what's been depicted by others: a sense of emptiness when approaching activities that had been fulfilling, disorientation, feeling separate from others and from myself (I could look in the mirror and not even recognize my own face). It was also clear I'd walked through a door that had shut tight behind me. 

That step into a space between the worlds was taken in the Spring of 1997, when I ended my second Naranjo workshop with a deep commitment to engage fully with life. For the first month afterwards I did just that. Then I fell into depression of a kind different from the familiar and transitory times of feeling dispirited. I finally realized that for me to really engage (the Nine's spiritual goal) I'd have to go through a wild and scary ride. 

I've read many books and articles about depression and about transformation. There are accounts from survivors of depression and references to spiritual struggles, but few personal stories of how transformation can occur during these dark times, how people are different as a consequence of this experience that disconnects them from all that's familiar. It appears that many who experience the pain of transition stop the process -- by taking antidepressants, being unwilling to endure the discomfort, and/or failing to recognize this could be a passage to something new and not simply a dark and endless tunnel with no light at the end.

Based on my own experience, if you use the Enneagram beyond playing games to categorize people, you will find yourself on the path of transformation whether you expected that to happen or not. I'm not a Catholic, so didn't originally turn to such resources as Suzanne Zuercher's Enneagram Spirituality:
"What does this surrender based on the necessity to admit our truth feel like? It is the experience of anguish, because anguish is to be aware of, to admit, what we cannot accept and embrace about ourselves... Such pain gradually lessens as we become more humble, simply acknowledging what is so."
As much as I admire Zuercher's work, however, her examples are generic and related to Christian scripture and beliefs. Riso and Hudson have broadened our perspective in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, writing that the "great religions of the world have provided a multitude of practices for personal transformation; so have modern psychology, the self-help movement, and contemporary spiritual thinkers." They also disclosed some of their own transformation process:
"Part of our discussion had to do with whether or not we would ever see the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel,' since each of us was constantly going through a fair amount of pain as we uncovered layers of neurotic habits and unresolved issues from the past… Even though excavating the various strata of the psyche meant going through layers of pain and negativity, making conscious the old accumulated psychic junk that we had not wished to deal with, it would be worth it." 
Over the years I've heard the voices of all nine styles. I don't think I'm crazy. Quite the opposite. Caroline Myss (Spiritual Madness: The Journey of the Modern Mystic Through the Dark Night of the Soul) said we invite spiritual madness whenever we say "I want to see clearly." 

I've come to view the nine points as representing passions with which we all struggle, though a stronger dynamic exists for the personality fixed at that point. And I've been in and out of the abyss as if batted around the Enneagram, experiencing the dark night of the soul from the perspective of all nine styles, particularly the Four, the Five, the Seven, and my own, the Nine. This has given me more empathy for the varieties of distress each style must encounter. And each point has valuable lessons:
One of the ways I've experienced a Four-like anguish is an existential angst, a mourning for all the pain and evil in the world and an attraction to "doing something about it" (e.g., volunteering to take meals to AIDS victims) without actually moving past my emotions and taking action. My own experience reflects that of one of my Four friends: when I'm in this place of mourning I avoid meditation/prayer because of the fear that if I looked for my essential Self "there might be no one home." When I can stay with this fear I remember myself, become more clear about what I value, and act accordingly.
When my sense of desolation takes a Nine tone I feel a deep fatigue; avoiding the energy, focus, meditation/prayer that would be required to discover my true will and purpose. I'm now better able to observe my fear that if I looked, there might be "someone home" and that discovery would require action! Now when I notice myself avoiding engagement (energy, commitment) I stay with the fear, it ceases to control me, and I feel a sense of contentment and even joy. More and more I find myself committing with enthusiasm to people/projects that match my own agenda and values.
During one whole month I experienced a Five-like down time, a retreat into intellectual safety, much reading and analysis, a strong discomfort with sharing my own deep emotions. But I experienced it from afar, observing it to exist more strongly than ever before, but at the same time separate from "me." By the end of that month I easily and generously connected with family, friends, clients and enjoyed those connections freely: sitting in the middle of friendship in a way I'd never experienced. I was not conscious of a plan to work through my feelings, but I did commit myself to staying centered and enduring the "madness." As Myss pointed out, my answer didn't come in a letter! It came in the changes I saw in myself after I returned.

My Seven-ish spiritual madness, when it shows, is more a manic state of avoiding deep work, a sense of unbearable pain and fear of confinement -- a fear that if I get down in there I won't like it and I'll never be able to find my way out. Because it is so dread-full, I bring myself out of it quickly. But the learning from this shadow work is fantastic. This is where I hear the voices of addiction yet being separate from them. For example, I've become able to hear the ego aspect that says, Wouldn't it be fun to stop writing and go out for a chocolate sundae; then you'll feel so much better. Or, Wouldn't it be fun, instead of going home and working on that project, to stop by this department store and see what's on sale? When I can sit with the feelings and ask myself, What do I really want? the answer is always some version of a journey to the Soul.
I still sometimes fall deep into sorrow. But as Clarence Thomson said to me, "I'm amazed at the intuitive intelligence of some of my Nine friends. Our culture doesn't always support this kind of intelligence, even when, and especially when, it's hard to put into words." Well, I have learned to trust the sorrow is sacred and my intuitive intelligence, my gut sense, my Essential Self will guide me in the process of self-remembering, my spiritual unfolding.