wisdom

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On our June vacation last year,  to the Pacific Northwest coast of the US, and a weekend spent in Massachusetts, I was delightfully thrown into nature. On a walk through the Hoh Rainforest (part of the Olympic National Forest), I was struck both by the silence and the sounds. The coast gave me the roar of water. The trees brought the sound of birds, and leaves being blown like the sound of a blustering river. And I became aware of the huffing and puffing of my breathing as a struggled up a hill, and the floating voices ahead of me and behind me, being carried by the wind.

This trip was like a vacation for my ears – on my return, I could hear everything anew again. The sounds of nature have a way of re-setting our senses, readying us for our return to human-made sounds. John Cage has written about his experiences of listening after sitting in meditation. He has explained how meditative states can help us to stop reacting in our usual way to sounds, and just listen. With this fresh hearing, even the sound of a car alarm can become like a sound sculpture to our ears.

There is inspiration for me as a therapist in this reflection about Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk : “Even under the sound of helicopters – and this is a man who buried many children in Vietnam to the roar of helicopters and bombs – he can say, ‘Listen, listen; this sound brings me back to my true self’” (Nachmanovitch, 1990, p. 93).

When I am with my clients, I am listening as deeply as I would as for the sound of a rare bird in the forest. I am listening as deeply as I would for the buzzing of an insect in the night air. I am listening as fully as when I lie down in the dark and take in the roar of the ocean. Even the most traumatized sounds can be sculptures of sound. When was the last time you were listened to as if you were that bird? As if you were the ocean? Don’t we all deserve to be heard as if our sounds were works of art? The sounds we make – our voices, our music, our words – are as precious as those sounds that fill our natural world.

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Who knew that a visit to the local Jiffy Lube on the busiest weekend of the year would yield such an energizing meeting with a stranger?  I sat in the dingy waiting room with an older, full-statured woman with a walking stick leaning against her chair. We began to make small talk about how seemingly single woman getting oil changes have to be particularly strong at a Jiffy Lube in terms of turning down all the sell-ups from the management. The conversation morphed into a discussion of food, family, literature, and travel.

This woman had been a single mom of two children, and had worked for 40 years in NYC public schools, specializing in working with adolescents. “Adolescents are all hormones, and I really relate to that!” she said with a cackle. Every so often she would use curse words to great effect – “it’s not fucking bad” (about retirement); “that’s fucking bullshit” (in regard to asking a woman if she’s going to have children any time soon). She held herself with great command, despite her obesity and her shuffling walk – a kind of solidity that told me that this woman was comfortable in her skin. The fact that she cursed with abandon was encouraging – the words were beautiful to me. They only emphasized her wisdom and sense of empowerment.

I really felt appreciative of this obscure meeting while I waited for my oil change. Here, of all places, she was my connection to the Goddess mother Demeter. And even to the wise old crone. I felt enlivened and brighter for meeting her.

(I’ve been reading a fabulous book, which allows me to imagine Goddesses in Jiffy Lubes – It’s called “Life’s Daughter / Death’s Bride – Inner Transformations through the Goddess Demeter / Persephone” by Kathie Carlson. Also see “Women who run with the wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes for connection to wise-woman myths.)

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