Painting by Kimmie Camarena ~ https://www.etsy.com/people/KimArt
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain ~ Kahlil
With this pain you are digging a path for yourself. ~ Rumi
For the Love of Pomegranates
Any good writer knows the key to any good plot line is the birth-death-rebirth cycle or the hero’s journey as Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, termed it. It is a theme that runs rampant in any good story line.
The key here is always about the death and initiation cycle though. Without initiation there can be no rebirth.
It’s a story line I learned late in life. I was always simply flopping about like a lost ping-pong ball. I was always longing simply for the birth part. I loved the birth part. A new adventure, new city, new home but mention the death part and there would be vodka tonics, lots of cigarettes, too much wine and probably nachos (lots and lots of cheese). All I had ever really understood about the death part was what I had learned from stories and fairy tales. Your destiny was awaiting you if you swept up all the soot, endured the rage of angry stepmothers and evil stepsisters.
Translation: You stoically keep going and moving (idle hands are idle minds) (stay in a job you hate, a toxic relationship or fill in the blank….) and if you endure enough misery and suffering then the magic will begin. Ritzy balls, midnight kisses and happily ever after. Yet I was so always out of breath back then – up down, up down – (remember ping pong ball) I thought it was all about the outer world.
It took me a long while to catch my breath and finally stand still long enough to realize that the happy ending storyline happens first in the inner world and then sometimes if we are really really lucky it is reflected in the outer world.
A priest once told me that his favorite tarot card was the death card. (yes I used priest and tarot in the same sentence). He began to tell me his reasoning, but there was really no need the death card in any Tarot deck is all about, well okay you guessed it ~ death; but not always death in the heartbreaking way that we experience it when someone we love passes from this world to the next, but death as a loss of attachment to anything outside ourselves.
A pulling away of our energy from let’s say a lost job, relationship, food, alcohol, anything that we have our energy focused on once removed feels like a tremendous loss; like a death. This loss is always potential initiation and if we play our tarot cards right it can lead to us to the storyline where there’s a wedding, big party and a happily ever after.
When I was a ping-pong ball there was a lot of death, but not much initiation. Unlike Persephone I bit and fought refusing Hades rather overpowering invitation to join him in the underworld. On the occasion when I was stolen and taken to the underworld, I only lingered close by – longing for pomegranates but refusing their sweetness. Or on other occasions I would stay there enjoying the pomegranates, but refuse to come up for the 6 month hiatus; the time it would take for the flowers to bloom, the grass to grow and the valleys to swell with cool waters and lush green.
Over pad thai a while ago reminiscing with an old friend about our 20s and 30s she sighed and said, “Wouldn’t it be great to be that young again and that unconscious?” After the laughing stopped I said, “No, not really.” But I understood what she meant.
That place where you believe anything is possible, where our wrong choices haven’t happened and where we believe we are worry-free only because we won’t stop and take a look at where we’ve landed. Where there is no surrendering to loss/ death but only a constant scurry to quickly replace whatever was lost so our bouncing along unconsciously can continue.
But ping-pong balls tend to roll into many unnecessary and messy situations. My hope back then was always a replacement kind of hope; something else to fill the dark space that began to grow larger when it felt like there was no hope. The kind of hope that kept me from seeing the widening space as a invitation to drop, to let go, to go in search of gold.
Rebecca Solnit says, “False hope can be a Yes to deprivation, an acquiescence to a lie. Official hope can be the bullying that tells the marginalized to shut up because everything is fine or will be. In it’s dilute forms, false hope is not so far from despair, both can be paralyzing. But despair can also be liberation”.
Despair, unlike false hope, can lead to initiation. This initiation stuff is hard. Really really hard. It’s hard to ever imagine that things will ever get better that the pain we are suffering through will ever end, that life will ever still turn out amazing.
I was always so frightened of the death part because I didn’t know that there was so much brilliant gold there if only I surrendered sooner so that the initiation could finally happen. There was much death in my life but no surrender.
I dreamed once in my late 20’s there was a hired gunman trying to catch me, but I outsmarted him in every alley, every doorway, every hiding place. I was smart. I knew the places to hide and then I remember him saying he was exhausted and I was just too hard to catch. I remember also realizing he was more of an angel than a hit man.
And it finally began to sink into my feeble little ping-pong brain that he was trying to help me, not hurt me. But I was tough, and stoic, and refused to let go, letting go would be heresy, a crime against the rational, linear, worldview I had been assigned at birth.
I was terrified of surrendering to what? I didn’t even know.
But the delegates of my worldview had somehow assured me it wasn’t good. I think we all know deep down that when we finally let go the feelings will all be there just waiting and like a relentless storm we might just drown.
When I learned to surrender, when I learned to actually feel my feelings then the tears, the sadness, the hopelessness would begin.
I would long to long again for simple pleasures of a margarita on a hot summer night, a new cute dress, but in those moments when I let go, the longing for the material things of this world died too….
Finally on those occasions when I had really surrendered to it I would realize there were parts of me I had never discovered, like everyone in Pleasantville, I began to see colors where there was once only black and white. The road I began to see was a spiral journey upward as David shares with an astonished crowd in Pleasantville, “There are some places where the road doesn’t go in a circle – there are some places where the road keeps going …”
And eventually after years of being dragged to the underworld and refusing to leave, I learned to walk there all by myself and slowly learned that it was in my climbing out of the darkness that like Persephone trees bowed and flowers bloomed in my presence simply because I had surrendered.
And then the most remarkable thing began to happen my tiny ping-pong view began to expand, as the wonderful Buddhist monk Pema Chodron says, “Life wasn’t any longer the size of a postage stamp” or in my case a ping pong ball.
And with it’s new and sudden boundlessness I began to volunteer. I taught computer skills to older people. I taught ESL. I began to write not for fame or money or to be saved. I wrote about the mosquito I battled with in my home one hot August night, I wrote about my beloved goose floating about on the lake outside with the broken wing.
Jungians call this path to initiation, holding the tension of the opposites, not allowing the pulling away of Spirit from matter. Healing this split allows our real Self our Divine Self to come forward.
Buddhists call it staying present, that place where we don’t scratch the itch and instead stay present to the moment so we can then begin to fall deeper into who we really are.
Ever so slowly I am still learning to fall, to not scratch the itch. A well-meaning friend asks when I am in my early 40s, single, unemployed, living in a not so amazing 4th story walkup in Astoria, NY: What my goals are? Where do I see myself in 5 years? I understand what she is asking but I don’t quite know yet how to describe this new inner world I’ve discovered. My goal then and now is only learning to fall, to feel my feelings, to see brilliant new colors.
To let the universe step in.
I am learning to be boundless. .
I dream one night I am in a record shop the song playing is the most beautiful song I have ever heard. I turn to the clerk and say, ”OMG this song, this song!!”
“I know! I know!” she understands my rapture.
“What is the name of the band?”
She pauses dramatically. “Boundless!” She exclaims with a fiery intensity.
I am suddenly breathless. I can’t believe this. What a Beautiful name for a band! “Boundless?!!” I question. I am beside myself with joy.
“Yes!” She is elated as well. “Boundless!!”
It is a spiral journey this birth/death/rebirth dance, one we are all always learning to embrace. I have learned, though that even when I think I know where I am headed I must always be open to eating pomegranates when they are offered. I must always be open to journeying to the underworld. I must always tend to my Soul.