Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Blessing of A Painful Choice

Sometimes a choice arises that is totally unanticipated. 

I’ve been very fortunate. Although I’ve had CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) for thirty-one years, I’ve never had the non-epileptic seizures that are often part of this neurological disease. Until about a year ago. At that point the regular night-onset exploding headaches started to occasionally be accompanied by blinding flashes of light and bed-side-lamp-busting thrashing about. (And yes, after more than three decades I have tried the full range of bodywork, inner work, spiritual practices, energetic healing modalities, functional medicine, food plans, supplements etc. etc. etc.- often with positive results on many levels.)

Two months ago a dear friend with a different kind of nerve/neurologically caused pain tried a new medication and stopped having the daily headaches that had plagued her for decades.

Intrigued, I spoke to my doctor. I’d been resisting meds but, as my doctor’d pointed out, the trouble with seizures is, even if you’re willing to ride out the pain, they may damage the brain (and with two parents with Alzheimer's I'm particularly keen to protect all the brain cells I can.) 

And so the experiment began.

Over the next six weeks there was good news and bad news. The medication (at the smallest dosage I could get, which was less than one tenth of the daily recommended amount) stopped the night-time inner lightning show and the ensuing pain that had often left me struggling and recovering for three to four days a week. Yay!

There was, however, a down side: My never-too-great-energy plummeted. Despite being reassured that my body would "adjust" in a week or two, the decline was continuous. Twice I had to talk well-meaning strangers out of calling 911 when I had to lay down on the floor- once at the post office, and once in the laundry room of my apartment building. (It sounds dramatic I know, but it did seem that laying down and resting until I could move on was preferable and considerably less dramatic than falling down.) By the end of the six weeks it was regularly taking me at least an hour (sometimes two) to muster the energy needed to get out of bed and take the four steps to the bathroom after waking.

Needless to say, not much writing was happening. Or reading. Not much of anything was happening. I was pain-free but unable to walk around the block.

So there was the choice: deal with pain or be pain-free but unable to do anything. To my surprise, my preference was clear. Pain is not fun. Pain takes a lot of energy to manage. But, with good practices and lots of grace, it can be managed at least some of the time so I can participate in some of what I love- so I can write a page, read a chapter, walk in the park, do a little yoga, visit with a friend or my sons. . . 

So, I stopped taking the medication. This was my choice for now, with this particular med. If the pain was more or the dulling of my senses with the med less, I might have made a different choice. And, I am no purist- I do at times use meds to help me manage the pain. 

Having chosen, I felt oddly elated. It felt like a confirmation of my love of life, an affirmation of my choice to be here even when “here” involves pain. The medication encased me in a pain-free fog of deep exhaustion, made me feel like I was sitting (or laying down) outside of life.

It strikes me that this is often a choice we have to make because life includes discomfort in a myriad of forms: grief, loss, uncertainty, anxiety, physical pain, trauma, etc. But it also includes laughter, joy, love, caring, creativity, ecstasy, belonging and all that good stuff. And if we want to be awake enough to feel the latter, we will encounter- and feel- at least some of the former. Don’t get me wrong- I am not glorifying pain. I continue to explore ways to have less pain and more energy. But a solution that eliminates pain while taking away the sense of participating in life is not, for me, any solution at all

There were a lot of things I could not do in the last six weeks, but I could pray. Some days, I felt like I prayed continuously (when I wasn't asleep.) Oh it wasn't all enlightened gratitude-and-love-filled murmurings. I prayed in desperation and confusion, seeking understanding, expressing frustration and letting the tears flow. I prayed for the strength to get up off the floor. I prayed for calm when panic seemed more reasonable. I prayed for patience and wisdom. 

And I prayed for the world, for the earth, for the creatures of the land and the water and the air, for the human family and for those were suffering close by or far away, In particular, I prayed for those who were ill or in pain who did not have a warm cozy nest of an apartment in which to rest or good health care, clean water, and nourishing food. (Prayer is sneaky that way- if I sincerely start from where I am it opens my heart to myself and then, inevitably, to others and the world.)

And. . . having made the choice that was mine to make at this time, I prayed in deep gratitude for the Sacred Presence that is always with me, that holds me and helps me and gives me life. It's like a little miracle really, how connected we are to life- how we are life- even when life is not easy. What we are made of is stacked in favour of choosing life, and I am truly grateful for this, for being here, for the ability to feel what is in this moment.

Oriah (c) 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014


This is a heart-song in praise of the constant change that is part of the gift of living here on this spectacular blue-green planet.

Oh, I know- there are times when I resist or grumble about the ceaseless change within and around us. I want to cherry pick, to have only certain changes that I can direct or that I pray for- like peace in the world, and patience, and immediately effective strategies for living wisely and sustainably together. Or. . .the physical strength to get my laundry done today (okay, I don't actually pray for that but it would be nice.)

And sometimes, when I am feeling spectacularly delighted or crushingly overwhelmed, I just want everything- inside me and around me- to stop for a moment, to stay the same. Sometimes I even try to make things stop and stay the same. Yeah, like that ever works!

Change just keeps on rolling.

Earlier this week I posted an update on Facebook about a few days of challenging pain and exhaustion. The next morning I was not as tired and the pain had subsided a little. I smiled in the darkness of my bedroom and whispered thank you to this reality we live for being one of constant change. Oh, it’s true, some days the change is not in the direction I am hoping for, but even when that is true we are reminded that change is a constant, invited to find hope in that fact that present conditions will not stay the same.

So tonight, I offer my gratitude for movement, for unfolding, for birth and death, for decay and renewal, for change in all of its manifestations. And, ironically, when I truly accept change- both that which is chosen and that which comes unbidden- I find at the centre of it all. . . . a still point. Right there, at the end of exhale, before the impulse to inhale, I find an awareness of an implicate stillness at the centre of explicit change, a Presence beneath, within, behind and surrounding this constant movement.

The flow of constant change and the ever-present stillness- both true, both blessings, both holding and moving us.

Oriah (c) 2014

(Pic of the full moon from last night by the photographer Karen Davis. A reminder that what is full will wane, and what is diminished will, eventually wax to fullness once again.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Postscript to Survival Strategies

Thank you to all the wonderful women and men who commented here and on Facebook on my story “Survival Strategies." As I read through the comments I feel held in your caring. It is sad but not surprising to see how many mention similar experiences of violence in their lives. This is not the first time I have told this story that happened in my early twenties. I wrote about it in at least one of my books, although there were details included here that have not been published before.

The incident I described happened more than thirty-five years ago. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some wonderfully skilled spiritual healers and psychological guides. As the trauma was released and I healed I was able to use this experience to be more deeply present and openly accepting with others who have had similar experiences. It has been my honour in my professional and personal life to listen and hold others’ stories, to let those stories break my heart open over and over, to offer what help I can for healing.

For those of you who have asked: the man involved was not a stranger but someone I knew (as is true in the majority of cases.) Years after this incident, when my own healing felt complete, I did look into laying charges. All of the police and lawyers (one former crown prosecutor) I consulted told me that, for a number of reasons I will not go into here, prosecution was not likely to be successful and so would not be pursued. I did what I could- through my lawyer I informed some who were geographically and emotionally close to the man involved (members of his family) about his violence. I have some reason to hope that they have both monitored his behaviour and found help for him so that no other women suffer at his hands. That is my prayer.

Following the impulse to share this story now, and receiving feedback has had an unexpected positive consequence. I’ve been working on a new book which includes some different but difficult stories about my life. I have great faith in stories, in their ability to offer healing and meaning to both the teller and the listener in the way they reveal the glorious and messy truth of a human journey. But I also know the vulnerability of writing about personal choices, and sometimes drag my feet about sharing those stories, reluctant to be on the receiving end of others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings about my life.

The response I received on the story I posted here has encouraged me to continue to write- not only because I received overwhelming support and genuine sharing, but because I also received a handful of messages and emails that were. . . .judgemental, shaming, accusatory and just downright nasty. And it was okay. I was okay! Oh, I’ll admit, it’s never fun to be misunderstood or judged harshly, but the thing that made me smile was that my own response was mostly curiosity and bafflement. I did not feel compelled to respond or defend or reveal more than I wanted to in an effort to be clearly understood. I got it! Others’ responses are theirs, so I am free to write the truth to the best of my ability and send it into the world with a prayer that it do no harm. I laugh as I write this- I have no hubris about this clarity and the freedom it brings. I know that as human beings we tend to “get it” and “lose it” and “get it again” over and over, and that’s okay.

So, it’s back to the writing. I will continue to drop in and share here as the impulse to do so arises, filled with gratitude for the richness of our connections and sharing here. May you be well. May we live together on this small blue-green planet of beauty in a way that is truly sustainable for our bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Survival Strategies

I want to tell you something- a hard something. I want to tell it because all week on and off line, here in Canada, there have been conversations, arguments, and declarations about the truth or falsehood of allegations of assault against a popular radio host. At my last count there were eight women who've reported being punched, slapped, grabbed, or choked by this man without their consent (he is maintaining that it was all part of consensual rough sex.)

The part of this conversation that disturbs me most is that many have declared with absolute certainty that if the women were telling the truth they would reveal their identities (two women have) and lay formal charges. I’m not going to go into all the very good reasons why a woman might not want to be identified or lay charges, but I will speak from my own experience.

Many years ago, when I was a young woman, I was beaten and raped. It never occurred to me to lay charges. At the time my primary fear was that the man would make good on his threat to kill me if I told anyone. With good reason I did not trust that others- the police, the court system- could ensure my safety. Years later, after much healing work, I realized that I’d also been silenced by the fear that I would not be believed, afraid in particular that my own family (my parents, brother and grandparents) would not believe me, and I truly felt I could not bear that hurt on top of the physical violence.

There’s another piece to this story. The man who had beaten and raped me forced his way into my apartment a month later. I remember standing in living room, looking at him and silently praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life. And what was my prayer? That God or the Universe or any power that could help me now keep me from passing out (as had happened in the previous incident when he had choked me.) My prayer was that I stay conscious so I could fight and fight hard- hard enough to either stop him (and he was well over six feet tall and I had not yet done any self-defense training so my odds were not good) or force him to kill me. I was not suicidal. The decision to fight hard enough to stop him or die trying was my survival strategy because I did not feel I could carry another beating, another rape, in my body-mind-heart, could not bear another violation that seared my soul.

I am not advocating this as a survival strategy, just reporting on my own state of mind and heart at the time. Anyone on the receiving end of violence has a right to find their own way of surviving. This was mine.

As I sent out my prayer, the man grabbed me and threw me across the room. He stood over me shouting insults and threats, and then left. I don’t know why. Did he pick up on my resolve? I have no idea. The next day I found a room to rent and moved to a location where I hoped he’d never find me. Happily he never did.

I’m not quite sure why I am telling this story now- but I am trusting the impulse to do so. What I want to say is: any conversation about a particular accusation or allegation regarding violence against women happens in the context of our collective and personal current realities and histories of violence. If you have been fortunate enough not to have had this experience and not to have had a loved one who had this experience, please remember that the overwhelming statistics on this (which do not include all the unreported cases) mean that there’s very good chance that there are others who are reading or listening to any public discussion who have had that experience. It doesn’t mean that every allegation is true, but it does mean that uninformed certainty that any unlitigated allegation must be a lie says to many of us for whom it was true at some point in our lives, “If this happened to you, it’s not a big deal, and if you can’t prove it you should be silent.”

And I want to say: it is a big deal, and if it has happened to you and you are still living and loving, still able to open your heart to others and walk in the world. . . . you have shown great courage and resilience. And if you have not already done so, may you find someone with whom you can share your story, someone who will believe you, someone who is able to hold you and your story in a way that enables you to find deep and complete healing.

As I hear and read the arguments my head understands the culture that creates the controversy and the reasons for the debate. But my heart aches with sadness for all involved, and prays for healing and an end to the violence.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Little Morning Magic

Sometimes The Call really is. . . . a call, complete with caller id. (And sometimes a synchronicity is just too much fun not to share.)

A couple of nights ago, I went to bed filled with the places where my writing had taken me, wondering how important the latest thread about discerning "real choice" was. Real choices are those that are truly accessible to us given present moment inner and outer limitations, resources and realities. Looking at my own life with more curiosity than judgement, I could see that some of the choices I thought I "should" have made simply were not available to me in any real way at the time. I also realized that I could never know if what I thought was an available choice for another was a "real choice" for them in that moment. Through stories I'd been exploring how and why we would pursue or turn away from deepening and broadening our "real choices." 

Given all that is happening in our lives and our world, it seemed important-  to know how to cultivate the healing and awareness needed to expand our individual and collective choices. But I wondered: had I gotten sidetracked in my writing, tangled in a tangent? (It happens.) 

Drifting off to sleep I asked the Grandmothers, a circle of women elders who often appear and teach me in my sleep dreams, for a little confirmation or course correction- whichever was needed. Was it good to keep following this thread about "real choice" or should I be going in a different direction? 

The next morning the phone on my bedside table rang and woke me up. The computerized voice of the phone's caller id spoke in its flat mechanical monotone: “Call. . .from. . . real. . . choice.” Skeptical, I squinted at the words on the caller id screen, and there it was in capital letters: REAL CHOICE. Still half asleep I wondered if I was dreaming. If not, I assumed I must be misreading and mishearing things.

I picked up the receiver and somewhat tentatively said, “Hello?”

The man on the phone spoke with a heavy accent. His voice was rough and filled with a sense of urgency. When I asked him who he wished to speak to he said something that sounded like my last name (House.) Unsure, I asked him again who he was looking for, and his tone changed. I could hear the smile in his voice now, as if he was pleased with my questions or had accomplished something he'd set out to do. Sounding more cheery than apologetic he said, “Oh, maybe I dialed the wrong number. So sorry,” and hung up.

Still not trusting my sleep-steeped perception I looked at the caller id history and there it was- the call had come from REAL CHOICE.

Wide awake now I fell back into bed laughing and called out, "Thank you," to the Grandmothers, to the ceiling and the floor and the walls of my tiny bedroom, to the light of a new day sneaking in around the edges of the curtains, to the faithful trees outside my window, to the Sacred Presence that holds and lives within me, to the mystery of strange phone calls and the creative process, to the almost unbelievable blessing of having this day to write.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kali's Fierce Love

I recently found Kali- the Hindu Goddess of Death, Change and Rebirth- in the bottom of my storage locker.


Well, okay- not the actual deity (although, is there any corner where the sacred cannot be found?) but images of her. And it's worth paying attention when this kind of thing happens.

Years ago I bought a book of Kali art post cards captivated by the vivid and colourful images of the sometimes blue-skinned, often multi-armed (and I mean that in terms of both appendages and a variety of weapons) Destroyer of Illusions. I’m not sure how I thought I would use them. It turns out that there aren’t many occasions when it feels appropriate to send a birthday greeting or message of condolence on a card adorned with a depiction of the divine wearing a necklace of severed heads, her long red tongue protruding to her chin.

Or maybe it is always appropriate. It's just that in my culture, it might be misunderstood.

I was surprised to find these images carefully wrapped in red silk and preserved in a zip-lock bag, mysteriously situated beneath the camping equipment and paint supplies. It felt timely to find Kali waiting for me there because I'd recently turned sixty. Which is not to say that Kali belongs only to later stages of life- often the one who points out that the Emperor has no clothes is a child or a young adult, or someone waking up in the middle of their life

Still, there she was, waiting for me, a week after my sixtieth birthday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel as this seemingly significant threshold was crossed. On the one hand, it’s only a number. On the other hand. . . . it is minimally a measure of having more years behind than ahead of me.

What I had not anticipated was how turning sixty would bring a new level of clarity about choices that allow me to contribute to life in a sustainable way. And there is a lightness in my new-found knowing that speaks with a smile in her voice, stunning me with her calm certainty, whispering, "Oh, I'm sixty- I don't need to do that anymore." Often what I am saying no to is not a bad thing- an opportunity or invitation that has meaning and merit- but it's just not what is needed for my own particular "Yes" to be lived fully.

Kali confirms the dropping away of the illusion that I need to earn my right to be, that I have to cover all of others' "shoulds" before I fulfill my own purpose and passion, hopefully contributing the best of what I have to offer to the world.

And of course, it's not an all-or-nothing-once-and-for-all sort of thing. It's a clarity that's been growing for years, and hopefully will continue to deepen. But it's had a bit of a boost, and the unexpected boon is that I am not so readily enticed away from the writing that calls me, the pacing that suits me, the willingness to listen deeply.

Some Celtic traditions say that maturity allows us "see with the eyes of death." That's how Kali sees- without illusions, accepting what we are working with (within ourselves and in the world) in this moment. I think of the Crone archetype as the one who cannot be intimidated or seduced away from the truth she knows. That's Kali- the Fierce Mother, the Destroyer of Lies, the Dispeller of Illusion. And with some denying the reality of our unsustainable ways of living together on this planet despite recent revelations that the world wildlife population has diminished by fifty percent over the last forty years. . . . well, it seems like a little of Kali's fierce love might just be what we need.

In the shamanic medicine we call it making Death (the knowledge of our mortality, of impermanence) an Ally- that which helps us see what matters most.

Kali's love of life asks us to trust that when we each find a willingness to see what is within and around us and set aside fear driven distractions to do what we are called to do, offering and receiving help where it is available and needed, life is nourished and sustained. It’s about faith- faith that doing what we are truly called to do, alone and with others, is enough.

~Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Update From Oriah

Words spilling onto the page, the kind of writing that comes from the sweet ache at the centre of my bones, always takes me home. It helps me catch up with myself, discover the state-of-the-union (or disunion) within, find healing and meaning. It opens me to sorrows that have been avoided and, as these sorrows are allowed, fresh joy in the ordinary and the extraordinary is felt fully.

Making room in my life for this kind of writing cultivates an otherwise often elusive and always delicious indwelling in my own body and heart. The words take me, make my breath catch. I find myself scrambling for pen and paper as I move past dark glossy eggplants and feathery white mushrooms in the grocery store. Turning on the light in the middle of the night, I scribble words on the pad always within reach at my bedside. After I have turned off the light, I lay in the dark grinning and whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I’ve been off social media since June in order to turn my attention to writing a new book. I miss our exchanges but it has become apparent that this truly is the right (write) thing for me to be doing now.

Oh, it hasn’t all been chuckles. Life always has its little challenges. For some of the days and a couple of the weeks I have been housebound or bedbound with frustratingly unpredictable flare-ups of the chronic illness I’ve had for over thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.) Enjoying time at a friend’s cottage despite symptoms, I joked that the new book could be titled, “My View From the Bathroom Floor.”

And, at the same time, the needs of my aging parents (both with Alzheimer’s and increasing physical challenges) have required time and attention.

But still there are moments, hours, and sometimes days when the words flow. The writing I love flourishes in slow-paced, open-ended, inwardly turned time, time that allows me to wander where the words can find me. Regularly checking my emails, blog, and Facebook cultivates a speedier, outward focus that pulls me away from the story that is unfolding.

So, for now, I will not return to regular posting although I will drop by with occasional updates. I decided to post now because I will soon be heading up to northern Ontario. Knowing I will be alone in the bush at a cabin on a lake where there is no phone or internet connection, I can sift through comments today sure that I will not be tempted to slide into the delightful distraction of daily connection during the week ahead.

Next week is my birthday and although I will celebrate with others when I return, I will spend the day doing ceremony alone in the wilderness. I will do prayers for myself, others and the world. I will sink into the silence. I will stretch my body on the massive sun-warmed outcroppings of pink granite and creamy quartz. I will listen to the voices of Grandmother Earth. I will swim in the dark water beneath the light of the full moon and let the stars sing me to sleep. I will align with the wilderness within and around me and open to the Great Mystery, the Sacred Wholeness that holds it all. I will dream for myself and my people- knowing that on the level of soul, all sentient beings are our “people.”

And, of course, I will write.

Sending much love and gratitude, Oriah