Masks and Shadows and Character Flaws

            I’m guilty. I did it again.

            When Ketut invited me to a gamelan competition in Kintamani six years ago, I pictured a few groups of men with their instruments sitting around jamming. I love gamelan, can’t get enough. But when he told me it was an all-day event I stifled a yawn.

            That gamelan competition (read the story here) turned out to be one of the most elaborate spectacles I’d ever attended anywhere in the world. I told myself I would never again pass judgment sight unseen.

            There’s a mask museum in Mas village about fifteen minutes by motorbike from where I live. Friends were going and invited me along. I like hanging out with friends so I agreed, but in the musty recesses of my subconscious, I pictured a dingy warehouse packed to the rafters with old masks. It’s an impression I conjured when I first learned of the museum’s existence. I’d harbored that image for years, unaware I was doing the very thing I’d promised never to do.

            The day of our outing dawned breezy and beautiful. We walked the short distance from my friend’s house to the site. When she turned off the main road to a broad drive that looked like the entrance to a palace, a niggle of possibility poked through my low expectations. We topped a rise and I stopped, overwhelmed. Immaculate lawns, meticulous gardens, and a row of fan palms with rice fields beyond created a breathtaking panorama. I swallowed hard and fished for my camera.

From that point on my jaws hung open. There were six Javanese style buildings, joglos, housing masks and puppets of exquisite quality.

The rooms were spacious, artistically arranged and light-filled. Professionally displayed masks had descriptions telling the origins of each one and it’s meaning. Many came from different islands in Indonesia, but stunning samples from Africa, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia created an intriguing mix.

I’d encountered a pair of splendid, twice-human-size puppets on the streets of Ubud during Galungan ceremonies one year and had never seen them again until now. I’d wondered how the person wearing the towering figure managed to manipulate it. One friend caught me peeking under the sarong of the tall fellow on the far end and made a cheeky remark. But I’d satisfied my curiosity. A metal rod ran vertically inside the body for the puppeteer to hold. At approximately navel height, a hole allowed just enough visibility to avoid a collision.

Above is a tiny sampling of the 1300 masks and 5700 puppets on display at Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets. Mr. Hadi Sunyoto, a businessman and cultural enthusiast, wanted to preserve this traditional art form. He built the museum in 2006 for his collection. As I entered the sixth building, look who was there.

Later that afternoon I sat at home revisiting the photos I’d taken, one-hundred per cent disgusted with myself. There was no justification for my arrogant failure to expect magnificence instead of mediocrity. Why did I fall into that trap even when I was aware of the tendency and had set an intention not to?

I noticed a significant shift in energy as January rolled in and proclaimed 2019 the year of the shadow. The time felt right to go more deeply into the dark side of my psyche. The trip to the mask museum shed light on judgment and superiority, two traits I would never have claimed as part of my M.O. But there they were and when I acknowledged their presence I saw how they’d impacted other areas of my life.

It appears the Universe is an eager partner in this quest and is taking every opportunity to smack me with evidence of my least attractive qualities. There’s a growing list. I remind myself I asked for it, but more often than not these toxic tendencies are the last things I would have expected to be true of me.

But I’m owning my shadows, dear ones, so take heart! It’s only February. By 2020 I should be a much nicer person!

The Importance of Mistakes

picture from: https://id.pinterest.com/vexyvee/pins/
Don’t let remorse trap you in a non-life.

My daughter came home fired up from a company training session. She thought the concept that mistakes would no longer be referred to as mistakes was brilliant. In that progressive industry errors in judgment were labeled opportunities. I remember at the time thinking, Why not call a spade a spade? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.

I was wrong.

At the time I labored under clouds of guilt because of my own mistakes. My definition agreed with the Cambridge Dictionary: an action, decision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result. I’d accumulated a significant number of those unwanted results and anything that smelled like avoidance of responsibility for my errors in judgment annoyed me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how things like that can hang around to haunt you? In fact, that word, opportunity, wouldn’t let go. One day it hovered in my consciousness bugging me until I finally checked the definition.

Opportunity: A favorable juncture of circumstances.

I ran through a few mental equations:

If mistake = opportunity

And opportunity = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Then mistake = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Really?

The answer is yes and no. It’s what we believe about our mistakes that either imprisons us in guilt and shame or catalyzes our personal evolution. If we try to avoid the pain of our misjudgments or wallow in the messy consequences of them, we limit our ability to progress into a deeper relationship with our own life.

But what if we saw every mistake as a favorable juncture of circumstances? The possibilities of that blew my mind! What a viewpoint shift, right? That change in perspective would empower us to forge ahead, to look for opportunities for self-discovery and growth in the midst of the fallout of an error in judgment.

Sometimes our mistakes hurt others.

That fact cannot be remedied or undone for anyone else. What’s left for us, personally, are the stories we tell ourselves — our response to whatever repercussions have been generated. We can be destroyed, damaged for life, or we can move forward toward healing. There are lessons we would never learn without those events. Often the greatest opportunities for growth are brought about by our most grievous mistakes. Revelations come as we allow the pain, admit culpability for the part we played in the debacle, and move through it into greater awareness of our weaknesses and tendencies.

It can be terrifying to take a close look at the past and risk being flooded with unresolved grief. But until we do, we’re more handicapped than someone on crutches. We’ll never be able to fully express who we are when a portion of the self is kept hidden.

Changing how we perceive mistakes isn’t as simple as telling ourselves that the hairy monster living in our psyche is a wonderful growth opportunity. Depending upon the degree of trauma and fear, we have to find a level of safety that makes it possible to begin our mental shift.

There are several approaches.

1) Therapy is one of them. I personally found the expertise of a Somatic Experiencing therapist incredibly helpful in dealing with my guilt, shame, and self-blame. But everyone is different — find what works for you.

2) Telling a trusted friend or family member — with extra emphasis on trusted — who will listen without judgment to what happened, what you fear, how you want to move forward can be first a step toward liberation.

3) Write it. I cannot emphasize enough the insights to be gained by writing the whole story as you remember it. Memory is tricky. As you describe what happened you may find yourself asking, “Was that really how it was?” As you write, ask why questions. Why did I do this? Why did I think that? Why did I say what I did? Keep asking those questions until you get to the real answers which may not be the story you’ve always told yourself.

Then let it go?

Maybe not. The truth is, we can’t. Trauma remains embedded in cell memory. But how we choose to think about those life challenges has the potential to change everything. What we can let go is our attachment to shame, guilt, and self-blame. When we do, relief is enormous and liberating. The best parts of self are free to come out to play. And the depth of soul we can summon to meet others in their own dark places multiplies exponentially.

Before I understood the importance of my mistakes
SAD – HAUTED – STUCK
After I explored the opportunities surrounding my errors in judgment
FREE

Creating A Life that Fits Like Skin – Seven Years Later

 

Creating a Life That Fits Like Skin was the title of the first blog I posted when I moved to Bali. I knew I’d found my place, my people, my authentic self, and I thought I knew why.

The island nurtured me. The natural beauty of tropical rainforests, rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, and cloud-shrouded mountaintops offered ever-changing vistas. Exotic temples and terraced rice paddies awed me.

People were kind, welcoming, generous, and devoted to their Hindu rituals. They were other-focused – as non-narcissistic a group as could possibly be – devoted to the common good. They respected themselves and others and went about life with quiet dignity.

Those were my surface perceptions. They were all true and fed my starved soul. But there was another energy, something deeper, hidden, that hummed in me and came alive when I heard the metallic frenzy of a gamelan orchestra, saw a cremation pyre shooting flames and black smoke skyward, and I prickled with gooseflesh when the ogoh-ogoh monsters paraded the dark streets on Nyepi Eve.

I had much to learn about my Pluto heart.

In the holy springs of Tirta Empul, thirty minutes outside of Ubud, there are twelve gushing fountains to cleanse the body. Past another wall are four more for purifying the mind.

The water was chilly and fish nibbling at my legs distracted me. When I reached the fourth cascading fountain and ducked into it, Bali spoke: “If you dare to truly know me, you must accept the darkness with the light.” It was as though I’d been zapped by lasers. My eyes sprung tears, my body trembled, but my heart knew. This was the missing piece, not just in Bali, but the thing that had gone so terribly awry with my life.

The Balinese have a foot in both worlds, the seen, and the unseen. Their rituals strive to maintain a balance between the two realities knowing that both have their place, that neither is inherently good nor bad. Ancient texts written on strips of preserved palm leaf, instruct those who can read them in astrology, myth, medicine, and magic, both black and white.

Lontar

Darkness is paraded in the streets as though to say, “Look, everyone! These are the symbols. They represent what we cannot see. Look!” Offerings are piled in towering stacks and people gather in dance, trance, and prayer. 

The Midwest, mainstream, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant box I was raised in had no room for deviant behavior. Even Catholics were looked upon somewhat askance. For those of us who need the Plutonian connection with the underworld, there were few options. Some turned to opiates and alcohol to brush elbows with darkness. Others, like me, looked for it in marriage and found it in divorce.

It’s taken time to understand the message of that holy spring.

I didn’t know how to care for that other side of me. I created a facade for the person I thought I should be and played the role, denying self and watching my life disintegrate. This quote by C. JoyBell C. says it well: “The caterpillar does not become a butterfly by telling everybody it has wings. It actually buries itself in darkness and grows those wings.” 

The Balinese know that darkness comes out sideways causing great harm if left to fester unattended. Shamanic rituals offer an outlet for dark energies and are essential to everyday life. On this island of mystery and magic, I’m free to embrace the shady underbelly that makes me who I am. The shadow deserves to live openly, to dance with darkness and claim its place. When all has been said the truth will out: without darkness light has no significance.

 

 

Gifts of the North Node

I am a brilliant creation of the universe formed from the cosmic protoplasm sailing into eternity. I have two hands, two feet, a couple of great ears, and I’m clipping through life at a moderate pace; minding my p’s and q’s, crossing my t’s, dotting every i.   By jm Raging Universe

Illustration by Michael Forman

That quote caught my attention today because it describes the south node in the sixth house. Everyone has a north node and a south node specific to their date and place of birth, and each node is in one of the twelve houses of the zodiac. If I’ve lost you I’m not surprised. Astrologers know exactly what I just said! And no, I’m not one of them, but I have had readings done once a year for the past three years by an incredibly gifted astrologer, Anita Doyle, whom I’ve never met. My south node is in the sixth house, and the south node in the sixth house is about minding the p’s and q’s, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. My existence has been defined by should’s and should not’s, Norwegian Lutheran guilt, and perfection. Responsibility was my middle name. Until now…

So what changed? I don’t worry much anymore about p’s and q’s. The t’s and i’s have gone missing. Responsibility? I’ve removed as much of it from my sphere as is humanly possible. And guilt? I’m working on it. The glorious thing about my south node is that there is a north node sitting directly opposite in the twelfth house of Pisces. The south node represents natural tendencies, the ones we automatically fall into without thinking. The north node holds those qualities we need to develop to bring us into balance.

Yesterday I was fretting about something I’d been asked to do that would put me in front of the public for several days at a time. I was voicing my distaste for the kind of energy I would be required to expend. It all felt wrong. My daughter was listening patiently. When I finished my rant she matter-of-factly said, “Mom, your north node.” I looked at her blankly, then in a flash I remembered. According to Anita’s assessment a year ago, my opportunity had come to embrace the north node, learn to let go of logic, perfection and performance, and get on with my evolutionary development. It was about honoring my intuition and leaving behind the habitual patterns of striving to meet everyone’s needs while neglecting my own. It was time, Anita said, to move away from my past modus into a meditative place removed from the dictates of duty and responsibility. She called it a more monastic life. Monastic!?! The word terrified me and I summarily dismissed everything she said thinking she had really missed the mark with this one.

Looking back at the choices I’ve made since then I marvel that they have systematically brought me to this place, this life that looks exactly like the north node in the twelfth house. There was no conscious plan, but something within me was so compelling that ignoring it was not an option. When gently nudged by, “Mom…your north node,” I knew I had to listen to my feelings, not my logical mind. If something feels wrong, if pushing feels distasteful, the lesson is NOT TO DO IT! So I won’t. Instead I will trust the unfolding, a state that was utterly impossible for the old south node me. With that decision I feel my gut unclench, my shoulders relax, my breath go deep and soft.

I Googled north node in the twelfth house earlier today and found this passage by Elizabeth Spring. Tears streamed. How liberating. How affirming. How grateful I am to be traveling this path.

“We are called to “the monastery” here in the sense that it is a non-verbal, solitary, spiritual call towards Self awareness. The 12th house has sometimes been called the house of troubles, because it can’t be dealt with logically and pragmatically, and to do so doesn’t benefit the person with a North Node in this house. However, the key to this house placement is that there is no longer any need for troubles, duties, obligations, humility and service! All those are embodied in the opposite 6th house. As a 12th house North Node person you have earned the right to take the deep pleasures of the unconscious: gifts of magic, insight and deep peace.”

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