A Beehive In My Heart and marvellous errors

the four chambered heart

Last night, as I was sleeping

I dreamt – marvellous error! –

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

– Antonio Machado, quoted in The Fourfold Way by Angele Arrien (Harper Collins, 2003)

This time last year I couldn’t bear going into work.I was told it was a kinda PTSD response. Entirely natural, it turns out, following life threatening illness or surgery.

Seems like it all just caught up with me.

I had a few chill pills, a lot of love from family, some workplace support, and a really helpful therapist. I’d chosen her to ‘do’ EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) on me. In fact, we just talked, and I learned the difference between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’. Day to day survival had been challenging enough. The very thought of going beyond that, into ‘thriving’ was – and still is – challenging.

I returned to work. I survived again. I’d planned to practise thriving this year. Looking at some volunteering work, finishing off some writing project and starting some new ones. Some courses to sign up for. Some of it’s been achieved. Then I had investigations around anaemia – colonoscopy and endoscopy, cameras should into orifices they had no business being – and the DVLA and my consultant have confirmed I’m not allowed to drive.

All of which is a shock, and things I’d have found very challenging to cope with this time last year. So there’s progress. I’ve achieved a counselling qualification, and some form of hypnotherapy qualification, and at least a working understanding of the power of the mind and trance work.

I haven’t yet fallen in love. Although my heart breaks easily and pretty much every day. Smiles, looks, smells and touches can all promise more than they give.

As part of my own recovery, I attended the first part of a training in ‘shamanic healing’, which I wrote a little about in an earlier blog the raven, the beaver and making happy tracks in ordinary reality. I’m not a Shaman, and I don’t claim any special insight or spirituality, but I wanted another way to help understand the impact of trauma and healing, and found it helpful and grounding. I do use much of the knowledge  on myself, and in my work as a psychotherapist.

Recently, I finished reading The Four Fold Way by Angeles Arrien, which develops some of the shamanic/First Peoples understanding. The Paths of Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary are explained from the perspective of native spirituality – very ‘New Age’, I’m sure.

The Healer is encouraged to ask how they help heal the four chambers of the heart daily:

“Am I full hearted. open-hearted, clear hearted and strong hearted?”

Some simple questions I now practise. Am I full hearted? How many times have I approached situations or people in a half hearted manner?! To be half hearted is a ‘wrong placement’ – how much healthier, stronger, empowering to be ‘whole hearted’ or ‘full hearted’!

Am I open-hearted? Not naive – but opening and softening my heart, rather than closing it down through defensiveness or fear.

Am I clear-hearted? Do I have clarity of purpose, or am I doubtful, ambivalent or indifferent?

Am I strong hearted? Physically, I’ve been all too aware of the vulnerabilities of my heart over the last decade, but this is a question about courage. Can I be authentic and courageous today? The author, Angeles Arrien, locates the etymology of the word ‘courage’ to the French coeur, or ‘heart’ and “the ability to stand by one’s heart or to stand by one’s core.”

Instead of asking when someone became anxious, stressed or depressed, the shamanic healer might ask;

When did you stop dancing? When did I stop singing? When did I stop listening to and telling stories? When did I sop enjoying silence?

The ‘shadow’ of the Healer is the Wounded Child of the South, preoccupied tieh the Four Universal Addictions:

The addiction to intensity.

The addiction to perfection.

The addiction to the need to know.

The addiction to being fixated on what’s not working rather than what is working.

Shadows, addictions, hearts and minds. Warriors, Teachers, Healers and Visionaries. All parts of my world. sometimes helpful, sometimes unhelpful.

And as for love – that’s another adventure yet …

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The raven, the beaver and on making happy tracks in non ordinary reality

drum n rattle

Recovering from my heart surgery last year , I often hallucinated with whatever drugs they were pumping into me. I had no idea that’s what I was  doing. It did seem a little odd that at night my ward was being run by a Chinese matron instructing men in loincloths to pose whilst Chinese nurses painted them in beautiful watercolours.. I just thought it was all part of an Arts Therapy programme. It was comforting when one of those nurses sat next to me to read some poetry, and hung  strips of coloured ribbons around my bed and over me. The next night, when a sacked caretaker shouted abuse and broke a window by throwing a brick at it, was more unsettling. By the third night, when the Irish nurses were creating sculptures of animals on the ward, I was still convinced that all of this was true. I don;t know when my imaginations stopped and common reality took place. It was only several months after it all that my family told me the Chinese nurses didn’t exist. I don’t know what else was and wasn’t true.

The shaman is a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself. Once he has achieved this he can help others.

Mircea Eliade Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton University Press, 1972)

So it’s not surprising that I’m drawn to the idea of  ‘non-ordinary reality ‘ in shamanic healing. I’ve recently spent some days learning a little more about the sacred ritual of ‘soul retrieval’, a healing journey facilitated by ‘smudging’ through prayer and burning of cedar, sage, sweet grass and using a drum and a rattle. I’ve worked with forms of trauma before, and welcome the opportunity to understand it from a different, and more intuitive, perspective. As a counsellor, we use ‘talking therapies’. Sometimes, there can be too much talking.

I’d read a while ago about the role of the ‘berdache’ in Native American culture and was intrigued/drawn to it.

a berdache can be defined as a morphological male who does not fill a society’s standard man’s role, who has a nonmasculine character… Berdaches have special ceremonial roles in many Native American religions..They serve a mediating function between women and men, precisely because their character is seen as distinct from either sex.’

…Shamans are not necessarily berdaches, but because of their spiritual connection, berdaches in many cultures are often considered to be powerful shamans.

Walter L Williams, The Spirit And The Flesh (Beacon Press, 1986)

So I trolled along to a Shamanic Healing training. I ‘received’ a soul retrieval first – a very relaxing, calming and entrancing experience.  No great revelations, and when my healer old me his power animal had been in a yellow kitchen to retrieve part of me , it didn’t ring any bells (or beat any drums!) Afterwards, however, I recalled overhearing my B&B owner disparaging gay marriage as they prepared breakfast in the kitchen, and how wounding it was to overhear their comments in the public arena of the breakfast room. I looked the next morning, and their kitchen wasn’t yellow. But the feeling of having part of myself returned, or taken care of, did feel important.

When it was my turn to give the healing, I was nervous – all fingers and thumbs with drums and rattles, chants and focussing on journeying. I was disappointed not imagine a dramatic power animal like a bear – I was met with a raven, which insisted that the trees it was flying over were cedar. They returned with something, but it was unclear to me and of no use to my ‘client’. Later, I found that the raven is a symbol for creativity and magic – raven is the guardian of ceremonial magic and in absentia healing. ‘You have earned the right to see and experience a little more of life’s magic.’ It seems the raven may have appeared to help me more than my poor client, and I will probably use cedar for smudging rather desert or white sage in the future.

Our second practice, and my healer talked of seeing a boy with a blue ball at the seaside. I love the sea, and hate balls, and again there was no strong resonance for me. My second giving of healing , I saw a beaver this time. Again, I was disappointed, but later learned the beaver is ‘the doe-er, the builder’, and took away a sense of urgency, both to continue this unknown journey, and also feeling more energised and active.

I did order a drum, and a rattle, and I’m insured to practice ‘shamanic healing’. as a student. I’m holding back on that a little to see what will happen – part two of the course is in September, and if I successfully complete 12 case studies I attain a certificate. Drop me a line if you might be interested. All of which is a long way from my counselling training, and still feels a little ‘weird’ and ‘out there’. But it’s all about healing, and making some form of connection.

Yet, that night, I had the strangest, but most comforting dream. I discovered a ‘rooftop garden’ at my place of work. It’s very beautiful, full of pot plants, and statues, and water features and pools, with the most glorious food, and lots of light, warmth , and the sound of children’s laughter. It’s inhabited by lots and lots of people, some of whom have left the organisation but enjoy spending some time up there, and there’s room for many more. It’s accessed by a special lift at reception – the glass one with  a curved side. I met a couple of friends there in the dream, who were already knew of its existence. Now, when I feel pressured or stressed at work, I make a decision to ‘visit the rooftop garden’ to get a little peace and inspiration, and have told supervisees to do the same. It’s not rational, but it is helpful. That’s the beauty of non ordinary reality. It allows you to see things differently, beyond a common or imposed reality, and to work intuitively, creatively – and magically. One translation of ‘shaman’ is ‘one who sees in the dark’. Sometimes we all need to see in the dark.

So I leave you with an open invitation to occasionally wander through non ordinary reality, and perhaps join me in the Rooftop Garden.
May the warm winds of heaven blow softly upon your house
May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there
May your moccasins make happy tracks on the path
and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder
(Cherokee blessing)