Into the Dark, December 2

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am fascinated by the light reflected in the windows on these just-past-dawn winter mornings. I keep taking photos, trying to look through the reflections back into my world, but an altered version of my world. I am Alice gazing into the looking glass. I am Lucy looking into Narnia. There is a world of possibility out there, but also back in here. The images draw me outward and inward at the same time. There is magic at the very center of our lives. Alice and Lucy and their authors knew it: We are standing in the shining door or window or mirror or lamp post between worlds, you and I. The same vast worlds of possibility that reach outward also reach inward, and sometimes we approach them on the same pathways of light and shadow.

So today’s word is Reflection. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve chosen that word for contemplating our place in the world. We need the mirror or the glass, the light and shadow, the eyes to see the deeper layers.

Here is a poem on light by John O’Donohue. If you like it, you might consider buying yourself a copy of his To Bless the Space Between Us.

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

Gratitude List:
1. Sweet Habanero sauce on scrambled eggs.
2. Taking the world a step at a time
3. Creative projects. I need to draw and crochet and knit and take pictures right now. Zentangles, especially, are helping me to meditate and keep my heart open right now.
4. Hot showers and how they wake you up.
5. Yoga. Balancing. Stretching.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Sacred Work of Raising Children

I have always resisted too intense a categorization of genders.  Now, with two boys to raise, I often find myself caught in that tight spot between the noticing of their particular energies and the awareness of cultural beliefs about gender in children.  In some ways I see them behaving in the particular ways that people say boys will behave, and often they defy such artificial categorization.  They are who they are, separate from notions of gender.

Perhaps all children go through the hitting phase, no matter their particular shading of gender identity.  I can only speak to my own family’s experience: My children hit each other.  Often, and without holding back.  We do not hit our children, so they did not learn it from us.  The seven-year-old is developing better impulse control, fortunately, but this puts him more at the mercy of the four-year-old.  Of course, Seven is a master of provoking Four to violence.  There now, have I gone and blamed the victim?

I do not handle their violence well.  I think we need some help.  It hasn’t worked to keep repeating the scripted phrases, “When you hit, I feel worried because I am afraid you might hurt your brother.  I need you to stop hitting now.”  It hasn’t worked to threaten to take toys or video time.

Yesterday, I tried the technique I have heard about of holding the hitter in a chair until s/he calms down.  I could feel his frustration building, could feel the need to lash out rising within him.  Needless to say, it did not seem to be a successful intervention.  I want to do more simple acknowledging of strong feelings, more talking it through.  Too often, I go in yelling too:  “This is not acceptable in this house!  We do not hit each other!  How often do I need to tell you that?”  Umm.  Not helpful.

Yesterday I finally watched the video that everyone has been posting on Facebook in which Patrick Stewart speaks of the work he is doing to end domestic violence in memory of his mother, and now in memory of his father as well as he learns of the role PTSD played in his family’s story:  “Violence is never, ever, ever, a choice that a man should make!”  I often tell the boys that we do not hit each other, but I have started using a variation of Stewart’s phrase for the boys:  “Violence is never a choice we should make.”

We do talk about it, and I suppose it is sinking in to the corners of their consciousness.  Yesterday as we were driving, I began to rhapsodize about the Valley we were driving through, and Four perked up from the back seat, “I thought you were starting to say Violence.”  Okay.  So he’s learning the words, at least.

Yesterday someone also sent me this simply-written article from The Huffington Post.  While I am pretty sure I am not like the parents in the story who let their son run rough-shod over another child’s imaginative realm, it was another good reminder of why this work of socializing our children is so crucial to their development.  When people dismiss aggressive behavior in boys as simply the uncontrollable behavior of their gender, how deeply does that become part of their psyche as they grow up and relate to women?

I went into the day weary of the constant tasks related to helping these children learn to interact with each other without violence, and came out of it weavng together the video and the article which remind me that this is sacred work, this work of helping these two boys learn to control their impulses, to name and acknowledge and express their feelings in open ways, to respect each others’ space.  I’m still at a bit of a loss about how to handle the hitting, but more hopeful that each conversation, each interaction, is a moment for learning how to be mature human beings.  For all of us.


Gratitude List:
(It’s been a few days, so I am going to break the rules and let myself have ten.)
1.  A sparkling, humming, magical swarm of bees.  I am sorry that the beekeeper was unable to catch them–they settled too high in the tree before flying off, but I will hope that they will establish a powerful and healthy wild colony.
2.  The panicky-sounding “Yeep!” of the bullfrogs when we startle them as we walk by the pond.
3.  Listening to Alice in Wonderland with Ellis, and watching him catch the jokes and puzzles and puns.  It is such fun to laugh with my children.
4.  The enormous Yard Sale at Lebanon Valley Brethren Home.  It was a delight to explore the treasures with the kids.
5.  The temporary grace offered by a little pharmaceutical assistance when the herbs just seemed to be insufficient to help my body cope with the current onslaught of pollens.  I will still hold out as long as I can because I don’t like to live in the mental fog, but it’s nice to know it’s there when my eyes blow up and I can’t stop sneezing.
6.  Someone saw a big black snake at the farm.  It has been a couple years since one has been spotted.  Snakes are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.  Now to keep my evening eyes peeled for bats. . .
7.  Lupines growing from the stones at the edge of the highway!
8.  Roadside sign that said, “Let us walk Honestly.”  That’s nice.  So often I dismiss those signs because they tend to be consigning people to hell, so this was a lovely change.  And then I saw one that said, “Be ye merciful.”  I like that one, too.
9.  Family expedition to Weaver’s Dry Goods in Fivepointsville.  Mini Doughnuts.  The wonder of exploring the toy section with the children.  And Jon, too–he was like a kid himself.  (But don’t get me started on the prominent display of Roundup in the front of the store.)  In the parking lot on the way out, we saw something you don’t see every day, a plain Mennonite woman driving a tractor, pulling a trailer with a load of supplies and three or four girls in it.  I hope they weren’t going far–it looked sort of dangerous.  But amazing.
10.  Entering Weaverland Valley from Terre Hill (say Turr-eh Hill).  Something sings in my bones at the view of the light playing over the valley, the farms, the green meadows and tidy fields.

May we walk in Beauty.