Greetings, dear ones!
How strange to find myself setting up residence in what could be a 1950’s dorm room at a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico! Here I am, having stepped outside of my very nice life to create a writing/working/volunteering four month “retreat” for myself. (“Retreat” is hardly the right word, it’s feels more like an advance!)
It’s all because I’ve had this plan…or more accurately, it has had me. It has nudged and tugged at me for many years. forming a current that carries me along. Once before, in 2004, the current carried me back here, to Las Cruces, New Mexico, with a clear intention and need to visit the places of my childhood, places of both trauma and innocent childhood joy. I was seeking healing and wholeness, needing to reclaim the parts of myself that had been split off, buried and abandoned, leaving me fragmented. Around that time, the outline and title for a book came to me, unbidden. The title for my book (and this blog) is Missile Meditation because that is what I’ve been doing, literally and symbolically, meditating among the missiles.
Excerpt from Missile Meditation:
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico 2004
It is Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, 2004. I sit cross-legged on the ground, meditating among the missiles, rockets, missile launchers, and other weaponry on display at the entrance to White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. The dry desert heat penetrates my body and the white sun burns down on my bare forearms. I’m seated on the square black cushion from my wheelchair that I removed and placed on the sunbaked sandy ground. The Organ Mountains are behind me, unseen but felt, their presence solid and reassuring, as if my back were resting against them. Eagle woman is nearby, perched high on one of the towering rock spires, silently witnessing with her keen eyes. Warrior woman is also here, watchfully circling the missile park on her horse.
My eyes are open.
For many years,
I’ve been following a long road
like a labyrinth that circled in and out,
close and then away
and then closer again,
over and over and over,
until I ended up
My intention is and has been to surrender to this current, not pushing forward faster than it is flowing and also not resisting it. In this, I have been guided by Rilke’s voice:
“May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
Now, this current has carried me back to New Mexico, the setting of my young childhood, from birth to age 10. It feels like I am in late stage, active labor as this book, my personal history and how it fits with the whole, tries to get itself born!
Like everyone, I was born, for mysterious reasons or by chance, into a particular place and time, with particular parents and societal and cultural norms. My father was a sergeant in the U.S. Army at the time of my birth in 1956 until I was 10 years old. My parents were members of an extremely conservative fundamentalist anti-denominational Christian church. They were both natives of a small rural town in southern Arkansas, raised with conservative values. The U.S. Army and their church, along with my parents’ Southern upbringing and the culture in the United States in the ’50’s, gave my father more than enough permission and entitlement to position himself as the undisputed head of the household. It was through these particular lenses that I found myself trying to understand the world and my place in it: Southern, military, conservative, fundamentalist Christian.
In retrospect, I have often wondered whether I was born with extra sensitivity, the tendency to question what I was told, and the need to understand the why of things or if it was because of my experiences in my family that I needed to question my reality and believe something different was possible in order to survive. Probably some of both are true. But it seems possible that if my childhood hadn’t been so traumatic and so hard to survive, I might still be looking at the world through those lenses, accepting the paradigm into which I was born. Could it be that the need to heal from trauma is an important way that not only I, but we, as humans, learn, grow and take a leap beyond our entrenched beliefs and ways of living? Maybe sometimes, it’s not until the pain is intolerable that we are desperate enough to take a leap into the unknown, try something new, perhaps even evolve.
As David Bercelli writes in “Trauma As a Stepping Stone to Wisdom”: Maybe trauma is the universe’s way of helping humanity to develop and mature as a wiser, more compassionate species. This era of human history is witnessing tremendous trauma on a global scale. It seems impossible to stop such tragedy despite our greatest desires to do so. In light of this unstoppable, irreversible and seemingly self-destructive era of our humanity, we need to ask: “What possible good can come of all this violence?” Once again, if we view trauma as a part of life, we must consider the possibility that the large-scale trauma that we are experiencing has the potential of helping us evolve into a more ethical, moral and caring species. This global trauma can be viewed as the pain of the human species developing a greater wisdom, which might possibly lead us into a new era of human consciousness. It is Einstein who first recognized that with the splitting of the atom our technology had advanced further than our moral and ethical ability to handle it. Trauma, if used correctly, may be a way to help our species develop the moral and ethical dimensions necessary to responsibly handle our technological advancement. “
As I write this in 2019, his wise and hopeful words do spark hope in me and support a sense of purpose and meaning in processing my own trauma. We have brought ourselves to the brink of self-destruction and, at the same time, a huge awakening is happening. I feel it. Deep in my bones, I know the truth of both the risk and opportunity of this crisis time. And… we don’t know yet if it is too late for us. We don’t even know in the big picture how much it matters. How important or significant is the survival or extinction of the human species? We are just one interconnected part in a much, much vaster reality. Maybe we will just be one failed evolutionary experiment and after we are gone, in what will amount to a blink of the cosmic eye, life will continue to evolve in other directions.
I sometimes find such thoughts oddly comforting, but such a removed, philosophic perspective is not where I live most of the time! I live in my body, connected to the bodies of my daughters and I want us to wake up, face the truths that need to be faced and find a sustainable way forward. On an individual, personal level, I want to be able to take the experiences of my childhood and use them as the raw material for an alchemical process, a transformation. In humbler terms, I want to be like an earthworm, eating the dirt in front of me and pooping it out behind me, leaving the soil more aerated, fertile and conducive to supporting life.
And so, as I’ve asked myself countless times, why write this book? If it is just a story of abuse and damage and trauma and blame, it will not be worth writing, not worth the labor pains. I don’t want to write a book blaming my father, or the army, or the fundamentalist church, or even the patriarchy, for that matter. I want to write a book that expresses the truth of my life, what happened to me, what I did, how I understand it all. I want to see the connections between the forces that almost destroyed me. I want to share what saved me. I want to connect the dots of cause and effect and understand how my personal experience is a microcosm of the bigger picture. I want my understanding to be empowering. I want to say: look at us, how dear and beautiful we are, and yet so full of fear and so potentially dangerous to each other. I want to suggest that we sit down with ourselves and make friends with our fears and our loneliness. I want to suggest that we open to each other, to the truth of our connectedness and to our shared vulnerabilities. I want to testify to the necessity of facing our personal and collective shadow. I want to say that we can heal and learn and change. Our species evolve beyond tribal mentality. Despite or maybe even because of all I suffered, I believe in love as a healing power. I believe in the power of acceptance and understanding. I believe in the possibility of redemption.
“No age lives completely unto itself. Each age has only what it receives from the prior generation. Just now we have abundant evidence that the various species of life, the mountains and rivers, even the vast ocean itself, which once we thought beyond serious impact from humans, will survive only in their damaged integrity.
The Great Work before us, the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence, is not a role that we have chosen. It is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves. We did not choose. We were chosen by some power beyond ourselves for this historical task. We do not chose the moment of our birth, who our parents will be, our particular culture or the historical moment when we will be born. We do not choose the status of spiritual insight or political or economic conditions that will be the context of our lives. We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.”
~Thomas Barry “The Great Work”
Thomas Barry’s words answer my question, I write to “understand and fulfill my assigned role.”