pilgrimage, Presence, Uncategorized

Waiting and Transformation

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WAITING
Anna Citrino

The heat rises each day in Delhi now, and the trees
on my street have lost their leaves. The branches,

gone barren, crave a new life. They hold open the palms
of their hands in yearning. Hour after hour, the sun

kisses their fingertips saying, “Not yet, keep going.
Keep on,” as the trees breathe in the circling birds,

and breathe out their emptiness. They want to blow
open in sirens of life, to scream like a child in wild glee,

want to turn on the colored search lights, to shout out
the story of a yellow Eden. They want to sing

in a ten thousand blossomed glory, setting fire
to the air. But they don’t.

They wait. Day by day, a pyre of sticks, they stand
quietly shriveling into the sidewalk, as if

they understand the silence, the humility,
out of which life finally speaks.

Landscapes can embody both longing and renewal. When I lived in New Delhi, a tree grew along the roadside in front of the school and in the courtyard inside the front gate. As the year moved toward spring, I noticed the trees beginning to lose all their leaves, just as it seemed to me that they should be bursting with life. I thought the trees were dying, and felt very sad to see them go–all of them alongside the roadway drooping and bereft of leaves.

The trees were not dying, however, though they appeared to be. They were actually getting ready to burst forth in blossom. By May the trees, the cassia fistula, had become enormous clouds of brilliant yellow clusters of flowers cascading down from the height of their branches. Their vibrant color embodied New Delhi’s intense May heat where temperatures climb over a hundred Fahrenheit (in the thirties in Celsius) accompanied with May’s monsoon season humidity. Like drifts of yellow sun, their blossoms fell in thick drifts along the roadside. It felt like the trees had to lose all their leaves in order to make way for the myriad blooms.

Some people liked to call these trees the graduation trees as their blossoms arrived at about the same time as the school year’s end. People would leave school to ride out into their summer holidays and their new or their other lives, accompanied by the generous beauty of these trees celebrating their long awaited for transformation. I learned from these trees behavior that what is true in one environment doesn’t always hold true for another, and that sometimes things that appear to be dying might actually be making ready for something entirely new to occur, even, perhaps, something glorious.

 

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It’s a fortunate coincidence that the tree blossoms at the school year’s end, a time when tired teachers are very much in need of a boost to carry them into a time of rejuvenation and restoration before beginning a new school year.  It isn’t only teachers that need renewal, however. Many people carry on through years of work holding up their families, nurturing other people’s health or hold the safety and wellbeing of others in their care, and must find how to sustain themselves and others through long periods of time. Whether its for graduation, a job, retirement, better health, a word of encouragement or a hand of support, we are often awaiting renewal like the trees, preparing and storing up reserves for the arrival of that transformative time.

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Often, when we put closure to certain phases of our lives, people like to know what we’re going to do next. We don’t have to know everything about our future though as we move toward change. We each have our our own way of opening and can allow ourselves to learn how to unfold in our own time. Success and the continual idea that we must be doing something so we can be called successful or call ourselves successful can make us deeply unsettled, and can prevent us from living satisfying lives. To wait on ourselves, and to listen deeply to the rhythms and needs of our lives is important to living meaningfully and with contentment. Before bursting forth into blossom, nature practices stillness, goes into her dark place and can look as if she’s dying. Like the cassia fistula, we can hold back, listening to our inner selves.

Several years back now, the first blog post I wrote on this site spoke about the mandorla, the ancient symbol that can be found in cathedrals’ stained glass where two circles or ovals overlap. The overlapping portion symbolically represents that area where wholeness develops, and growing into oneness occurs. As Robert A. Johnson explains in his book, Owning Your Own Shadow, the Dark Side of the Psyche, “The message is unmistakable; our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise. This middle place is a mandorla, ” The shadow times, times we’re seemingly dying but are still living, the times where all is still and it seems nothing at all is happening as we wander and explore, aiming to understand experiences, feelings or ideas are important to our inner growth and wellbeing. “Only awareness of your shadow qualities can help you to find an appropriate place for your unredeemed darkness and thereby create a more satisfying experience. To not do this work is to remain trapped in the loneliness, anxiety, and dualistic limits of the ego instead of awakening to your higher calling,” writes Johnson, explaining how important times of emptiness are for our inner lives to grow.

We live inside a mandorla–a world where opposites overlap. Whether change occurs slowly or quickly, our lives are always in transition, moving from one world into another. The stillness and space between the oppositions in our lives is where we learn how to transform our lives and periodically allow ourselves to eventually burst into blossom. While we search for the boat of insight that will carry us to the other side of understanding, we can practice being still and enjoying the moment we’re in.

 

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Uncategorized

The Mandorla

Recently I read renowned Jungian psychologist, Robert A. Johnson’s book, Owning Your Own Shadow, Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, where I learned about the mandorla. Most people know what a mandala is, but a mandorla, Johnson explains is “that almond-shaped segment that is made when two circles partly overlap…This symbol signifies nothing less than the overlap of the opposites…the overlap of heaven and earth.” Many of Europe’s cathedrals have mandorlas and often either Christ or the Virgin Mary is framed in the mandorla. Johnson says that the mandorla is the place of poetry. Johnson explains that the mandorla can help us when we no longer know how to live between the pull of opposites in our lives. It can help us rebind what is torn apart.

“It is the duty of a true poetry to take the fragmented world that we find ourselves in and to make unit of it…All poetry is based upon the assertion that this is that. When the images overlap, we have a mystical statement of unity. We feel there is safety and sureness in our fractured world, and the poet has given us the gift of synthesis.

Great poetry makes these leaps and unites the beauty and the terror of existence. It has the ability to surprise and shock–to remind us that there are links between the things we have always thought of as opposites.”

Johnson goes on to explain that if we make a practice of our effort to create poetry, we can find a way to see how the two worlds are really a part of each other, part of a larger whole. The space in the center where the circles overlap will grow larger and larger, until we see that everything is actually only part of a larger whole. Essentially, I see what he is talking about like this: We get born into a culture and we learn to place things in certain forms. We learn we are this, but not that. This is part of growing up and we function under the laws and ways of being of that culture. Our culture is just a form, a shape, and it is good to learn the rules for the ways of being that are given to us–it is part of being human. Then, at some point in our lives we go through a kind of crisis when things more or less fall apart or become very difficult, and we move out of that Garden and into the world. It is in this space where there are no clear cut laws that we learn how to have true relationship.

This struggle between opposites, the not heaven and not earth is where we learn authentic relationship and learn who we are–where we do the work of becoming. Maybe this is what St. Paul recognized when he encouraged the followers of Jesus to be in the world but not of the world. (Romans 12:2)  Johnson says that “to balance out our cultural indoctrination, we need to do our shadow work on a daily basis.” By this he means to consciously be aware of it and confront it ritually each day, and to spend time consciously letting it go of it. This has the benefit of not imposing our shadow side on others, which also enables us to do less harm in the world by not feeding the general unrest and conflict that is there. The other result, Johnson says, is “that we prepare the way for the mandorla–that high vision of beauty and wholeness that is the great prize of human consciousness.”  Ceremonies such as the mass of the Christian church, he says is one of the ways culture enables us to live out the unwanted elements symbolically so we do not live it out in real life.

Johnson’s discussion reminds me of Lorca’s essay on duende where Lorca describes how the Muse struggles with death, and in that tension is where great art is born.

As Lorca decribes it–

The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.

Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline.

We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.” (Garcia Lorca, Theory and Play of the Duende)

What I especially love about Johnson’s book is in the way it clearly describes large and complex ideas in accessible language.  The work of our lives is to balance being with doing. Our culture strongly emphasizes doing–who we know, what we know, how accomplished we are, how we can market our skills, etc. Johnson is suggests that the more we can balance doing with being the more whole and healthy we will be. He quotes Jung as saying, “Find out what a person fears most, and that is where he will develop next.” Basically, living in the in between places is where we do our soul work, the work that will enable us to move to a greater place of wholeness. We are like Jacob, wrestling with our angel and the place where we can contact the duende is where the art of our life is born, it is where Spirit lives and where we work out our salvation.