A few times in my life I’ve been gifted with untreatable pain and now is one of them. These days I’m lying awake at night, unable to find a tolerable position, obsessing about what is wrong with me and how it might be getting worse. Promising to fix myself tomorrow with better diet, more meditation, increased self-awareness—bemoaning whatever failure of self-care led to the problem in the first place. Unable to concentrate during the day, experimenting with various combinations of food, drink and drugs to escape sensations that continue to demand my attention. Forced to acknowledge that I am getting older, decaying in my own skin. Fretting about how this makes me less of a companion, less of a teacher, less of a person.
Yoga Wicca Buddha
Exploring a personal, eclectic path by looking at the intersection of three great traditions.
Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
I spent my adolescence listening to Nana Mouskouri: sentimental, schmaltzy songs, yes, and none more so than “I Have a Dream.” Yet the lyrics have stayed with me:
I'll bring to you the secrets of my life
Like petals in my hand and you will understand…
Demand of me all that I have to give
And while I live I'll give it gladly
Command me to deny the world I knew
I'd give it all away if you but asked me to.
It used to make me a little weepy back then. Perhaps it still does. The singer addresses a unknown beloved, who may only be a figment of her longing. But that longing was one I shared. The idea of complete surrender had a strange attraction, as did the undefined perfection of the distant lover. It doesn’t really leave us, this need for a deeper solace, for intensity of experience and blissful oblivion both. We may direct our desires to gods or lovers or just into the void of mystery, but deep down we know—or hope we know— that somewhere out there is the beauty our souls were made for.
But lovers disappoint and gods remain elusive.
It used to be my kid’s room, on an upper floor, the last one to be vacated. I moved in then, and my books and icons, idols and altars seemed to merge happily with the stuffed animals and old toys. Now I’m the one who plays and dreams here, reading about ancient religion and history, writing about how trees and stars, elements and animals, all bear their own deeper meanings, all play their part in the poem of the world.
One day I called this place “my ivory tower” and the words rang a bell of joy in me, calling up my love of academia, footnotes and learning, gothic arches and leather-bound tomes — the ivory tower as splendid isolation from the practical cares that are clearly not my forte. But I also felt there was more to it than that.
My friends have been on pilgrimage. They’ve walked the Camino and hiked the Himalayas and climbed Glastonbury Tor. They've made it to Dharamsala and Rishikesh. I haven’t done any of that. But I have been to the ocean in Maine. And I have walked back and forth between two points twenty feet apart for long periods. Those are my pilgrimages.
A darkened chapel. A leather-clad villain holds his victim by the throat, ready to slit her open. Another man creeps closer, gaze steady, voice intent, trying to talk him out of it. Finally the rescuer urges:
“You can choose to hide in your nightmares. Or you can choose to wake up.”
The screen flickers as I pause the recording. I know I will rewind and re-watch. For the rescuer’s words came as if addressed to me.
Not that I’m intent on murder. But I am familiar with nightmare.
One of my yoga students approached me after class. She wanted to discuss a scene from a book I’d leant her.
“You know how the author is teaching a yoga class, and one of his students breaks down crying and he cradles her head in his hands and acts as her witness? And then he shows her how to be her own witness?”
“Well I was wondering if you could that for me?”
Sure. No problem.