Simple Gifts

Cornucopia

I remember how much I used to love the holiday season. From the beginning of autumn until New Year’s Day, life couldn’t get any better. During the last month and a half, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were lumped into a sort of uber-holiday where I was constantly surrounded by family and friends and church-goers—truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Then, quite a few years ago, I came to the realization that I had gradually stopped believing in the Christian God, or really any deities at all, and the holidays suddenly grew awkward.

Acknowledging with Grateful Hearts

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
pleasures pure and undefiled
Lord of all to thee we raise
this our grateful hymn of praise.

—From “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)

As a child, I felt, as most American children do, that Christmas and its peripheral holidays—Thanksgiving and New Year’s—could never come quickly enough. Luckily for me, we always got an early start.

A week or so before Thanksgiving, everyone would start talking about their plans—traveling, what to cook, which football team would be triumphant. There would be the big meal that coming Thursday, sure, but there were also warm-up meals at church and school and work. The big day would come around and the turkey and dressing and gravy and casseroles and sauces and rolls and pies and cakes would overflow from one meal to the next (by the time we would end that long Thanksgiving weekend, who knew how many turkeys we’d taste and whose dressing and gravy we had rolling around in our guts?). But there was always a theme to the festivities, and we would often stop and focus on that theme—thankfulness to God for his many wonderful blessings.

The American Thanksgiving holiday is not on any of the “Holy” calendars, but when it comes to important days of the year in the United States, Thanksgiving Day may be the holiday that remains the truest to its original intent. Our first president, George Washington, proclaimed November 26, 1789 to be celebrated as “…a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”

Hundreds of years later, 76% of Americans still believe in a personal God (and half of those people believe God speaks to us directly). So if you walk down a crowded street, more than half the passersby, if they are honest with you, will have to admit, “I believe there is a God and that he/she/them/it is intimately involved in my life.” Gratefulness to God is what this nationally observed holiday is still about.

I’ve made it no secret that, even though I am a pagan witch, I find it just as likely that the god the goddess are manifestations of humanity’s collective unconscious as they are living personal entities that interact with us on a daily basis. So what about me? And what about people like me who often don’t find the idea of god/goddess a believable concept? What am I left with on holidays like Thanksgiving Day or anyone of the three Pagan harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain)? Can I still be thankful? If so, thankful to whom?

These questions, and hundreds like them, have plagued me for the better part of the last decade. I’ve let go of my attempts to answer a lot of the more abstract or cerebral items on the list (I’m convinced a lot of life’s questions are “unanswerable”), but there remains a small list of mysteries that I want to continue to explore, authentically and with whatever humility I can muster.

What is Thankfulness? What do I have to be thankful for? To whom should I be thankful?

An Unexpected Gift

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

—From “Simple Gifts” by Joseph Brackett

This is going to be a really random thing to say, and I can think of no segue to offer, but I’ll explain in a moment. So here goes. Not long ago, I spent several weeks wishing I was a werewolf. Now, let me explain.

The novels I read are mostly supernatural or fantastic in some way. Magic, vampires, futuristic dystopias or post-apocalyptic survival tales—if it’s fast-paced and fun, I’m in. Like a lot of people with tastes similar to these, I had read some of the Anne Rice vampire series. Well, recently, I had the random urge to start from the beginning and read all the way through Rice’s Lestat books. So I logged onto her website to make a note of the order of publication of the book series, and that’s when I noticed a link for The Wolf Gift Chronicles.

I clicked on the link and read the brief synopsis of the first book, The Wolf Gift. Here’s what I read:

When Reuben Golding, a young reporter on assignment, arrives at a secluded mansion on a bluff high above the Pacific, it’s at the behest of the home’s enigmatic female owner. She quickly seduces him, but their idyllic night is shattered by violence when the man is inexplicably attacked—bitten—by a beast he cannot see in the rural darkness. It will set in motion a terrifying yet seductive transformation that will propel Reuben into a mysterious new world and raise profound questions. Why has he been given the wolf gift? What is its true nature–good or evil? And are there others out there like him?

I was half-way through chapter two on my Kindle a few minutes later. I glutted myself on that book for about a week. There were a lot of passages that I would read and then immediately re-read. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. While Anne Rice is definitely a successful and popular author, I’ve always found her style to be a little more deliberate than my typical reads (like I said, I typically like my novels to be somewhat fast-paced).

What I later realized was that I was having a profound spiritual experience while reading the book. I was learning again, through the eyes of Reuben, the irreplaceable joys of experiencing the world in its raw and unfiltered state. I was falling in love with a set of experiences that I could never actually have, because I could never become a werewolf, or Morphenkind, as they’re called in the book. However, this didn’t prevent me from having a heartfelt desire to become one of the Morphenkinder—if anything the impossibility made the desire excruciatingly more potent.

One passage in particular not only altered my consciousness, my perceptions, but planted a seed inside of my heart that quickly grew and spread deep roots into the soil of my spiritual being. It takes place as Reuben is swinging in his wolf form through a forest of ancient redwoods in Northern California and reveling in the simple yet beautiful wildness he is becoming accustomed to.

The night had never seemed sweeter to him in all his existence; it was conceivable that he could live this way forever, self-sufficient, strong, monstrous, and utterly unafraid. If that was what the Wolf Gift had in store for him, perhaps he could bear it.

Yet it terrified him that he might surrender his conscious soul to the heart of the beast pumping within. For now, poetry was still with him—and the deepest moral considerations.

A song came to him, an old song. Where he’d heard it he couldn’t recall. He sang it in his head, putting its half-forgotten words in proper order, only humming under his breath.

He came out into a grassy clearing, the light from the low gray heavens increasing, and after the closeness of the woods, it seemed beautiful to see the shimmering grass in the thin rain.

He began to dance in large slow circles singing the song. His voice sounded deep and clear to him, not the voice of the old Reuben, the poor innocent and fearful Reuben, but the voice of the Reuben he was now.

’Tis the gift to be simple
’Tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Again, he sang it, dancing a little faster and in greater circles, his eyes closed.

This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

Since I finished reading The Wolf Gift, as well as the second book in the series, The Wolves of Midwinter, hardly a day has gone by that I have not found myself singing and humming and whistling this Shaker dance song from 1848. There is a single line in the song, a conditional clause that, all on its own, stands out to me and repeats itself over and over in my thoughts.

When true simplicity is gained…

I have spent the subsequent months pondering simplicity and its role in the inner life. While material and outer simplicity are easily quantifiable, if not easily achieved—continue to remove the unnecessary—purposeful simplicity of the heart and mind are difficult to comprehend, for this writer at least.

But I kept on singing and listening to and playing “Simple Gifts,” and it started to change me in small ways. I began to notice things I had forgotten—small yet beautiful things that brought me joy, things that had already been happening in my life, but without my recognition of them, without an attitude of thanksgiving to accompany them. So I began to write them down, in no particular order, so that I would be able to go back to this list of “Things that Bring Me Joy” and remember them all over again. Here are a few items from the list.

  • Laughing with friends and family.
  • Going to the movies.
  • Long drives in the country and in the mountains.
  • Sharing a relaxed meal with like-minded friends.
  • Playing board games.
  • Sitting around a campfire for hours.
  • Date nights with my wife.
  • Daddy-daughter time.
  • Being asked interview-style questions by someone who is genuinely curious to learn who I am.
  • Winning a debate.
  • Losing a debate.
  • Finishing a debate where both sides have more questions at the end than they did at the beginning.
  • Entertaining/cooking for someone in our home.
  • Someone I care about remembering to encourage and compliment me.
  • Remembering to encourage and compliment someone I care about.
  • Rambling around town or in the woods (sometimes with my camera, taking random pictures).
  • Sharing a secret.
  • Enjoying an excellent beer or three with someone who appreciates it is much as I do.
  • A quiet house or a calm coffee shop and a good book.
  • Sincerely asking someone, “How are you doing?” and getting an equally sincere answer.
  • Walking in the dark shade of tall trees.
  • A well-executed, concise, and thought-provoking letter from an interesting person.
  • Inside jokes.
  • Someone asking me to read them a poem, one of mine or one in a book I’m reading.
  • Listening to a song for the hundredth time and finally “getting” it.
  • Songs that take one hundred listens to finally “get.”
  • Swapping stories with people that start with, “The first time I ever…”
  • Used bookstores and money to spend in them.
  • Experiencing something beautiful or moving or sublime for the first time with someone I care about.
  • Thinking about someone, wondering how they’re doing, only to find out they were thinking about you at the same time.
  • Discovering things to add to this list.

When Reuben runs through the forest, leaping from tree to tree, he hunts. He smells his kill from far away, and he tracks it for miles. As he quickly gains on it, his hunger increases until it is all-consuming. When he catches his prey, he tears into it with an almost-orgasmic reaction. Each part of the animal is savored—muscle, skin, internal organs—they are all  crunched and lapped up to the point of ecstasy. In his wolf form, he is free to enjoy life at its basest, its most sensual, its simplest. This is why he calls it the “Wolf Gift.”

I know I cannot become Morphenkinder, at least I cannot change my body to the shape of a human-animal hybrid, but there is a change that can occur, that can continue to occur. I can see life, no, the living of life, as a gift—from others, from myself. I can see it as a gift to be cherished and devoured all at once. I can leap through the tops of trees, passing over whomever or whatever would keep me from my delight, my bliss. I can sink my teeth into its veins and gulp down the hot meat of now, of this moment.

What is Thankfulness? Living life to the fullest. What do I have to be thankful for? Anything and everything that brings me joy. To whom should I be thankful? To the earth that sustains and comforts me, to myself, and to those I love for participating with me in this grand adventure we call “Life.”

I leave you with my hymn of grateful praise, performed by two masters of music, each in their own rights, Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss. A blessed Mabon, everyone, and many happy holidays to come!

Removing the Mask of Kindness

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Do we learn kindness
or the mask of kindness?
Pablo Neruda

America is a culture of entitlement. Everywhere I look—work, mass media, the marketplace, our youth, sometimes even at home with my own daughter—I see people who believe that they deserve to get whatever they want, and if you or I do not give it to them, they are justified to protest to the highest authority available.

I have witnessed this first-hand throughout most of my adult life, having worked almost exclusively in… customer service.

I’ve done retail. I’ve done call centers. I’ve even done retail call centers. And any time someone’s money is involved, there is always the chance you will see their true colors, especially when things don’t turn out like they planned. Here is a short and incomplete list of the types of things I’ve seen and heard from people when they’ve become irate about their customer experience.

  • Cursing: Not just your every-day, four letter obscenities. No, I’m talking about someone telling me that I was going to burn in the flames of hell because of a decision I made on one of their insurance claims (and they had quite the satisfactory tone in their voice!).
  • Insults: I’ve been called fat, ugly, and stupid (though never all at once). I’ve been labeled a “smart-ass” more times than I would care to count (okay, there’s probably a hint of truth in that one). And I’ve been told that I was so dumb, I must be a high-school drop-out.
  • Threats: I’ve been threatened with assault, slander, arson, law suit, and even death one time (obviously an empty threat).
  • Rage and Hysteria: These are, by far, the worst, not because the people or situations are necessarily more difficult, but because I can barely keep myself from laughing. I once stood behind the returns counter of a major retailer and tried to have a reasonable conversation with a skanky-looking, jive-talking, inbred, obviously-strung-out looser of a female human being who insisted that she did not need a receipt to return the swim bottom she had obviously worn (and by the looks of it, she had been wearing it during the several days previous to and leading up to about five minutes before she walked in the store. “Hand sanitizer, anyone?”). This creature completely lost it. I don’t know if she was cursing me, insulting me, or threatening me, because I couldn’t understand a word of what she said. Not to mention her breath, which smelled like a cross between half a carton of burnt cigarettes and a steaming pile of cow dung. Her shouts became hoarse wheezes which turned into coughing. Eventually she stormed out of the store, half on her way to an asthma attack. How do you not double over laughing at that level of absurdity?

I’ll tell you how I did it. I learned to detach myself from the person and the situation, but I didn’t learn only to turn my heart to stone at a moment’s notice. No, that would make me look and sound like a robot and would render me unmarketable as an employee. I also had to learn to pretend to care, and I learned this through training, practice, and experience.

One of the jobs I held was at a call-center where we filed automobile accident reports, both from our company’s policy-holders and other parties involved. The training for the job was intensive, and included an entire week’s work of conflict resolution and “empathy” training.

Don’t misunderstand. The company didn’t expect us to react to some poor sap’s calamity with any kind of genuine compassion. They only wanted us to give the impression to each caller that we truly cared about their dented quarter panels and their cracked windshields. They taught us to be nice,not kind. And this was enough for most people. They were either too self-absorbed in their own difficulties to notice our lack of sincerity, or they simply did not expect a complete stranger to have the capacity for even a basic level of compassion.

I was good at this game. In fact, I was exceptional. I received regular praise from both my supervisors and my customers for my ability to handle difficult calls and my polite and empathetic tone throughout those calls. But none of it was real. None of it was sincere. I could turn it on and off again at will. I got so much practice at it, in fact, that it became much easier in my everyday, non-work-related experiences to fall back on my practiced facade of compassion (which was, in fact, only civility) than to practice true and heart-felt kindness toward others.

The result was that I forgot how to feel for strangers, and some days I think that capacity has shriveled up and blown away forever.

Is this really so strange, though? Aren’t entitlement and a lack of compassion two sides of the same coin? Doesn’t our believing that we deserve more than what we’ve earned feed our cold-hearted indifference to the miserable world around us? And doesn’t that indifference again feed back into our compulsion to inwardly transform everyone and everything around us into mere objects?

Kindness brings healing and encouragement. Every time I experience it, whether from a loved one or a stranger, it blows me away, and I feel the same way each time I touch someone’s life with my own kind actions. Why are we, as humans, so stingy with it when we understand so well how powerful it is?

Do we ever learn true kindness or only learn to wear well the mask of kindness? And more importantly, who will teach us kindness? Where is the path back? Not surprisingly, while I was meditating on these very questions, a possible answer came to me as I was thinking about the nature of the universe and the magic that pervades it.

My spells, my divinations, and my journeys to the realm of Oakenshade are all empowered by the universe around me and put into action by my intention. What if the intention of kindness can lead to kindness? What if I were to allow the  ever-present power of the spirits of nature to strengthen me on the path toward kindness, while my intention to walk that path, one step at a time, leads to a manifestation of my desire—taking off the mask of false-kindness, and taking up the mantle of genuine kindness and compassion.

What a deep magic that would be! Magic begats magic, and kindness, kindness. I say, “Let the mask fall away.”

So mote it be into my life.
So mote it be from me into the lives of others.
So mote it be.

The Luminous Window

The Luminous Window

For quite a few years now, I’ve made a practice of doing spontaneous acts of art, including singing, playing the guitar or Irish whistle, and writing poetry. I try to get in “The Zone” (just my name for it) by opening myself up to the influence of my subconscious mind, my environment (both physical and spiritual), and the people around me. It always has the potential to be a cathartic and artistically satisfying experience.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself going to that place of meditation while doodling, and recently it has been pointed out to me by a couple of friends that these drawings have a certain intangible visual appeal, that they strangely draw the viewer in for long periods (regardless, seemingly, of their lack of technical merit). So I thought I might share a few with my readers, from time to time.

Enjoy!

Listening to the Voices in My Head — Part 2

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There was a boy named Samuel who ministered and did service to Adonai under the prophet Eli. This was during a time when prophecy and visions were quite rare, and it would have seemed strange for someone to claim to hear from God.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The sacred flame that had been lit to God that day was still burning, so it was not very late into the night. Samuel was lying down trying to sleep in the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

While he was lying there, he heard a voice call out his name. Samuel answered, “I’m right here!” then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“No, I didn’t,” said Eli. “Go back to sleep.” So Samuel went back to the tent where the Ark was and tried to sleep.

Then Samuel heard the voice again. “Samuel!” it called loudly. So Samuel got up again and went back to Eli and said, “I’m right here. Did you call me?”

Again Eli said, “No, I did not call you. You should go back to sleep.” So Samuel went back and lay down and tried to go to sleep.

It all happened again, just as the previous two times. This time, however, Eli realized that it was God who was calling to the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lay down, and if he calls you again, this time say, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”

The Spirit of God came once again to where Samuel was lying down, and he called out to the boy just as he had three times before. “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

– from the first book of Samuel, in the Torah of the Judaica and in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible

I’ve written previously about my polyphonic mind, the mind that speaks to me in many, unrelenting voices, and this past weekend I talked about coming to the realization that I am insane, and being okay with that—more than okay or resigned, actually. I made an active decision to listen to the voices.

But now what? Once I hear them, what do I do with what I hear? How do I react to what they say? Answer: the same way I react to something anyone says. Here are some examples.

  • Agreement: “You are exactly right.”
  • Contradiction: “You are definitely wrong.”
  • Indifference: “I couldn’t care less.”
  • Challenge: “If what you say is true, wouldn’t that also imply…?”
  • Interaction: “I’m interested in your point of view and this topic. Could you answer a few questions, please?”

Of course, when you can’t get a break from these “people” in your mind trying to talk to you, it may come out more like…

  • Obsessive Compulsion: “It has to be this way. It just has to. What can I do to make this happen?”
  • Refusal: “No, no, no. There’s no way. I’M NOT LISTENING! LA LA LA LA LA…” (runs away)
  • Resignation: “Alright, alright, whatever you say. Just shut the fuck up already.”
  • Anxiety: “But what if you’re right? What if I can’t? What if they won’t…?”
  • Creation: “This belongs to me now, and with it I am going to do this…”

It’s the last example above to which I have recently given much thought. Creation. It may sound strange, but what started this whole “listening to the voices” line of thinking was a movie. It was a documentary film called American Mystic (currently available to watch instantly on Netflix). The film follows three young people as they seek out their own spiritual paths. Here’s the trailer.

One of them, a young man named Kublai, is a part of a Spiritualist church, and is training to become a medium. At the very end of the film, Kublai explains what it’s like inside his mind when he is reaching out to the spiritual world. He said it is like a bunch of different radios, all turned on at once, and he has to listen for the right one. When he finds the right one, then he is able to communicate with the spirit world through the sounds and impressions he receives via the radio.

Now, I have no idea in what way the “soul” continues after death, what happens to it, or if disembodied souls have the ability to communicate with the living in this way, but this was like a slap in the face when I heard it. I had never heard anyone describe the inner workings of their mind in a way similar to my own. I don’t want you to leave this page to re-read my previous post, so here is a quote. It’s only an analogy, of course, but it’s the one that most closely resembles the real thing.

Imagine a room with a chair in the middle. This is where I sit. I am always sitting there. No matter where I go or what I do, I am always sitting there. Even in my sleep I am sitting there. Now imagine that there are televisions from floor to ceiling along all the walls, dozens of them. Some are large-screen, some are small. Some are black and white only, but most are in color. Each television is tuned to a different channel; each one is showing a different program. Of course, I cannot see all of the TVs at once, because some are behind me, and some are to my left and right. If I want to see one of these other televisions, I need only turn and focus my attention on it. If a TV set is turned on, however, I can still hear it, even if I am facing another direction. Usually, only four or five of the television sets will be going at any one time, mostly on different walls, though there may be two on at once on the same wall.

Sometimes an individual TV will turn off or on, seemingly without any provocation or control on my part. Also, the volume of a particular television set may go up or down, again, beyond my control and for no apparent reason.

My job, as I sit in the middle of the room, is to decide which one of these TVs I will concentrate on, either the sound (if I can’t see it) and/or the picture. By concentrating and focusing on one television, I am able, by sheer force of will and attention, to exclude from my senses what is going on with the other TVs. It is not that the other TVs are turned off or even turned down, it’s just that I am trying to only pay attention to one.

This is the way my mind works, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and this is how it has worked for as long as I can remember. The TVs are just an analogy of what one might call “voices” in my mind. But they are not just voices; they are not just passive, like some television or radio broadcast over the airwaves. These are fully conscious, sentient, intelligent voices, as if there were other versions of myself talking to me inside my mind.

Now, imagine that the TV sets have the ability to change form from televisions to other objects, like people or instruments or actions one might perform or see performed or colors or raw emotions or anything else imaginable that a person might conceive in their mind.  The objects are in a constant state of flux, a constant state of transformation. Add to this another couple of things: the objects, again seemingly at random, “phase” in and out as if from my plane or dimension of existence to another and then back again over and over, or perhaps they just move away from me at great speeds and then move toward me.

I cried. I cried when I heard Kublai talk about his gift. I cried because I spent several years trying to mute those voices, trying to ignore the voices and pay attention to the “real” world. I’ve gone to countless therapy sessions. I’ve taken thousands of doses of medication. I’ve spent entire afternoons weeping or screaming or both because my mind wasn’t normal enough to do some of the things other people do. I have waited and waited for these actions, these steps I have taken… I have waited for it all to take the voices away.

But, what if they never will? What if they aren’t voices in my head? What if this young man Kublai is my proverbial Eli?

“Go and lie down, and if he calls you again, this time say, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”

Listening to the Voices in My Head – Part 1

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I have a sister a few years younger than me. We spent most of our childhood riding around the state of Florida with our parents, pulling an RV behind us. We lived in a different town almost every week. Our family was dependent on the generosity of strangers, so there was no regular or predictable income being brought into our home. It was not unheard-of for the cupboards to whither down a bit. So, as you might imagine, doctors were sometimes considered a last resort.

Our family finally settled down when I was about fifteen (my parents have lived in the same home for over twenty years now). With our new stability came a little more money, so we were finally able to start having regular visits to optometrists, dentists, etc. My sister had her eyes checked not long after, and we were all surprised to learn how bad her vision actually was, especially at a distance. But it wasn’t until she put on her glasses for the first time that she understood how differently she had been seeing the world.

We were standing in the front yard, all four of us, when she put them on. She began to cry. “Is this the way everything is supposed to look?” she asked in disbelief. “I thought everyone saw the world the same way as me! I thought it was normal…” She continued to cry, and it wasn’t long before my parents had joined in with her.

A few years ago, in a similar way, I learned that I was crazy. Mad. Mental. Insane. I’m not going to outline the story of how this all came to pass, not in this post at least. It is sufficient to say that my life (emotionally, maritally, vocationally, spiritually) was a shambles. I was completely lost.

But, when you’re crazy, at least when you’re born that way, as I was, you don’t know that you’re crazy until someone tells you about your abnormalities. And that’s all madness really is, a mind that operates in a way other than what is normal. Here’s how my mind operates. Strange, huh? But, and this is the clincher… I didn’t know I was abnormal! I never knew that most everyone saw and heard the world differently than I did! For thirty plus years I never suspected that it was strange to constantly have several voices as well as lights and shadows in your head all at once, vying for your attention.

Then life brought me a series of “Ah ha!” moments, like my sister had. I now understand how unusual (which can be read as “special” or “broken” or both) my mind is. It is impossible for me to begin to imagine what it would be like to be as most others are, to see and hear the world as they do, just as it would have been impossible for my sister to imagine 20/20 vision before her glasses.

But what about me? I wondered. Where are my glasses?

There are none, I replied. There will never be a quick fix for you. In fact, there will likely be no fix at all. This has been my thought process for several years now.

At first, I hoped the mood-stabilizing medications I was taking would quiet the voices, but it only quieted my emotions. Therapy helped me learn to talk about it, but not to stop it. Family and friends accepted me, but never understood. My doctor was reluctant to declare me schizophrenic. “You just don’t fit the bill,” he told me. “There are too many major differences between you and the classic case. Many of the issues you deal with are not strictly physical.” Metaphysical? I asked him. You can’t mean spiritual, right? No real answer to that one.

Discovering I was mad was difficult and demoralizing. Working up the gumption to tell people, even doctors, about “hearing voices” was terrifying. Being told that there was nothing they could really do was confusing. After a couple of years of wrestling with it all, I became so fatigued that I just gave up. If I can’t be fixed, I will just have to learn to live with it… all over again. I was like my sister, except that, instead of glasses, all I was given was pity. “I’m sorry your eyes don’t work right. Try to find a way to live with it.”

And that is exactly what I have done. Whatever time and energy I can spare, I devote to the task of acclimating myself to the environment of my own inner landscapes. If my mind is an ocean, I strap on my diving boots and sink to the bottom. A storm? I strip off my clothes and run out into the rain and wind and thunder. A heaviness? I pull it up over my head like a blanket. A fire? I stare into the coals and see salamanders dancing. A cacophony? I listen to the voices in my head.

(Click Here to read Part 2)

Heyr Himna Smiður

This is a video of Icelandic indie-folk band, Árstíðir, singing an early 13th-century hymn in the Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof (a train station in Wuppertal, Germany). Since the composition of the melody heard in the above video—over 700 years after the words were penned—this hymn has become a standard in churches and folk gatherings all over Iceland. Here is a translation of the lyrics:

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one,
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
human every sorrow
from the city of the heart.

Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.
(source)

I have listened over and over again to this song, sometimes for hours at a time. When it begins to play, my consciousness immediately expands—upward and downward, outward and inward—and I am transported to some place magical. It is the music, you see. The music is the magic for me, and it always has been. If you were in my living room right now, we could sit and listen for hours to song after song that has touched me in this way. (In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t give you much of a choice!)

Being raised in a Christian home, it would be easy for me to focus my attention only on the language that reflects the authors Christian worldview. Phrases like “I am thy slave,” or “son of the virgin” plainly stand out, but I only need to meditate on the title of the song itself, Heyr Himna Smiður, or “Hear, Smith of the Heavens,” to hear another choir singing this song—The Sons and Daughters of the North Wind. In my mind I hear the ring of hammer on iron, I see the wind-fed flames of the red forge, and I feel the steam roaring up from the basin when hot iron is thrust therein. In my heart I imagine the great blacksmiths of Norse legend, like Wayland and Brokkr, and I feel the passion of Kolbeinn Tumason, the Icelandic chieftain who composed this hymn on his deathbed, as he cried out, not just to the more recently-arrived Christian god, but also to the source of the Allfather himself, the Smith of the Heavens, the forger of the nine worlds, the unknowable and undefinable every-thing-no-thing.

I leave you with one more recording of this hauntingly beautiful song. May Joy and Wonder find you on your path.