Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The prediction was coming true…or at least I thought it was. Astrologers proclaim that it is completely unethical to predict death, and the idea of “desiring death” for another is unacceptable for everyone. Yet during the past few months I had clearly seen the astrological “significators” for death in my Mother’s chart, particularly as it was reflected in my chart. Death is more easily seen and predicted by looking at the chart of a person who is the closest to the one who may die. Jupiter, the planet of release, is usually implicated, especially in a case like this where I was the caregiver.
These were the thoughts that were swirling in my head as I walked across the frigid cold parking lot to the nursing home yet again. I had been coming here every morning for two years and I knew I had to face this adversary, this death, now. And I wanted to do it with patience and dignity, knowing that this moment in time was auspicious as well as ominous. It held hope for healing and the chance for love. But I could barely hold my courage any longer, and so I hoped the prediction of release would soon be coming true.
I dug my hands deep into the pea-coat jacket, and retrieved the fragment of paper that I had scribbled on months ago—it was a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that had been sustaining me through the last few years of Mother’s illness. I stopped and read it again: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we would find in each person’s life a sorrow and a suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” I had changed the word “enemies” in that quote to “families.” It certainly resonated with me now.
The air smelled warm and chemically sweet in the nursing home. I entered the elevator alone and was inched along to the fourth floor. The door opened and as I walked across the dining room I looked for Mother. She wasn’t there. The other patients were eating, though many had their heads drooped over as if they were asleep. Hardly anyone talked. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled in the somnolent dreamscape.
As I walked down the quiet hall I could feel fear rising like sap in my veins, and it began pouring out my hands. The limbs of my body felt weak. The door to her room was open but I could see the curtains drawn around the bed. Could she have died during the night?
Pulling the curtain open I saw her eyes were closed, her mouth was open and the breathing laboured. I sat down next to her and took her hand in mind and began praying to God to release this Soul.
“Isabelle?” she said, as she stirred and opened her eyes. “You’ve come.” Her voice wasn’t more than a whisper.
“Yes, Mom, it’s me.” I leaned closer. Our eyes locked into an embrace. It was as if she was holding onto me, to life, by the very force of our gaze. We stayed that way a moment, then I had to look away, to let go.
I could hear the heavy footsteps of someone approaching. The nurses asked if I would wait outside as they checked her vital signs. Vital signs…that meant something different in my language.
I walked back towards the dining room and collapsed into a chair. Staring blankly across the room I let my eyes linger on a simple crèche of Mary and Jesus in the stable. The naïve tackiness of the plastic figurines didn’t strike me as cheap or trivial this time; instead I remember how Mother had devoted so much time each year to creating a good Christmas for my father and I. Every year she would set up a Victorian Christmas village underneath the tree—an idyllic village scene where there was always pristine snow, where the skaters always had a glistening mirror lake, and the warm lights of the Catholic Church were always welcoming. She had been a good mother.
But some would say she had not been a good mother. I could still hear my mother’s voice rattling around my psyche—old tapes that never seem to leave: “Isabelle, you must do this! If you cannot do this for me, I tell you I will die. I will kill myself, and your uncle knows this. He will tell others why I died--because of you.” This was how I was raised---there was no freedom: “Do this, or I will commit suicide and others will know why I died. You must do what I say.” How much pain and fear she must have held within, to threaten that to her only child.
In time we had each forgiven the other, but now we needed something beyond forgiveness. The time for miracles was past, but could we hope for something more now—some simple grace? I thought of the simple grace I had felt on the day of my first communion. Dressed in white, like the little bride of Jesus, I wondered if I would feel a tingling as the wafer, the body of Jesus, was placed in my mouth. I believed in this little miracle, and so I experienced something, even if I didn’t shiver with delight—I could feel the sacredness of the moment. As I grew older I lost the peace that came with such simplicity and embodied faith, but in its place came a trust in the cycles of life and nature, leading again to a comforting cosmology of meaningfulness. Astrology had given me that—but now—what would happen if the astrological signs that predicted my mother’s passing at this time didn’t happen? Would I lose my faith? Would I lose faith in the synchronicity and correspondence that existed between the astrological chart and timely unfolding of events? Would I lose faith in God?
I was too tired to think--too tired to attempt to read the mind of God—too tired to think of the relationship between God’s mind and the Soul’s will. The charts seemed to reflect what was happening now, but all I could do was to let my head fall onto the table in in front of me like the other residents of the home. Maybe this is what’s it’s like to die here.
For the first time a slow cleansing trickle of tears began to fall as I allowed my thoughts to drift back to my study, to my sanctuary room. I sat there staring at the astrology charts-- dreaming –watching how the signs had changed once more, but like in a bad dream, I was unable to see clearly, to answer questions…I couldn’t remember what the signs or symbols meant nor if it was an ending or a beginning, or even whose it was.
I awoke to the soft touch of a nurse’s hand on my shoulder. “You can go in now, dear.”
Sitting down next to the bed again, I took Mom’s cool hand in mine. I could see a slice of untouched pumpkin pie on her table, and gingerly I placed a small forkful of it in front of her lips. She opened her mouth and took a small bite and I could see the barest hint of a smile. She looked so very old, and yet seemed so very young; like a sick child who couldn’t feed herself. I wanted to feed and comfort her.
“Thanks honey…I love you…” I took both her hands and held them, trying to infuse them with warmth and life. Then I waited for the rest of the sentence to unfold—the part where she would tell me what she needed next and why. But it didn’t come. There wasn’t any more she chose to say this day. I was shocked.
“I love you too…” I said, surprising myself as a warmth came over me. Maybe this was is what “healing” feels like. Then she closed her eyes as if to close our session as she drifted back to where she had been. This was one of the very few times Mother had ever said “I love you” that wasn’t followed by a “but...” or a condition for approval.
I got up and walked back to the elevator, and pressed “Down.” I couldn’t wait for the slow creature to come to the 4th floor. My courage was tenuous, almost leaking away. Again the paradox—the fear of death, and the shock of feeling loved. The healing of some old wound was almost more than I could take. I couldn’t stand still—I spotted the “Exit” sign and ran down the steps into the fresh cold air outside. It now filled me with life.
Early the next morning the nurse called me as I sat at my desk. Mom had just died. I looked over at the cool blue light of the computer screen and saw that Jupiter, the planet of release and relief, had just conjuncted my Sun, and was aspecting Mom’s chart as well. We had been blessed.
I stared blankly at the signs and the synchronicity of “endings and new beginnings”—those euphemistic terms that were splayed all over the charts, but still a wave of sadness enveloped me as I remembered the painful ambivalence of our love. But it was finished now, and the ending had been both predictable and not predictable.
I turned off the computer screen as a ray of golden morning light shot through the window and warmed my face. I was in awe of the love that had appeared, and finally let myself inhale the hope of a new day. I stood up and moved to the window letting myself be bathed in sunlight and gratefulness for the small miracle of our last visit—we had indeed been blessed by simple grace. ~ (c) http://www.elizabethspring.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
When I first met Peter I believed in predictions. Now I know “it’s complicated”. That’s the phrase people use to describe their love relationships when some things are true and some things aren’t as they’re meant to be. “It’s complicated” we say—like when two people love each other but question whether they are meant to be together—when they look at their partner and say: “I can’t live with you, and I can’t live without you.” In any relationship at all, there’s often the questions of: “Is this meant to be? Are we fated to be together? If so, why? Am I learning something here or repeating a pattern from a past life?” And even if we don’t even believe in these things, most of us are still curious.
These were the questions that were brewing in my head the day I met Peter. I was 29 then and I was pondering my single life. In what way might I be fated to be a solitary Soul? Maybe I would never meet someone to love; maybe I was too proud or impossible. In retrospect, I believe my desire to meet Peter helped bring us together. The world desire means “coming from the stars.” Maybe it was meant to be.
I still believe in predictions, but I know now that astrological predictions are lived out in their very unique and particular ways. How do we survive the transiting “death and rebirth experiences” and live through the hard times? When astrologers look at the predictions for these times—like all those “2012 predictions,” they are alarmed by how full of challenge and change they are. The predictions sound complicated and full of optimistic pessimism, or pessimistic optimism. You choose. True or not true, fate is questionable, change is hard, and still we have to keep making decisions.
When I was very young I lived with these questions, and when I heard my first astrologer speak, I decided to deal in the world of predictions—I decided to become an astrologer. I joined the ranks of those who were “attempting to read the mind of God.” I believed in astrology then, and that meant I believed that there was a meaning and an order in the Universe that was –almost but not fully--beyond understanding. This “reluctant astrologer” knows that it’s complicated. And because I knew I needed to learn about love and loving, I decided to write a book about it: An Astrological Guide to Different Kinds of Love.
And so I began the book and still write long emails to the young woman I began mentoring in astrology. Kendra is 29 years old and I’m 59—but that’s now. When I first met Peter, I was young and believed in predictions of a different sort….a more predictable sort. Perhaps I underestimated the power of free will and the Tsunami-like impact of the unconscious, and how our multiple selves and inner voices, like our planets, each have their own agendas and desires that don’t always agree. It takes, what Carl Jung, called the “Self” to co-ordinate them. I like to think of the Self as the center of a mandala.
So, was I destined to meet Peter that day in 1982 on Beacon Hill in Boston? Would I accept “us” without question? No. That’s not what an astrologer would do. Astrologers look up charts and ponder endlessly. But the question remained: Were we meant to be together or not? Was the hand of fate involved?
And what about now—that Grand Planetary Cross we are all living through, and those gloom and doom predictions of 2012? What about the perfect metaphor of Uranus entering Aries in March of 2011 as the earthquake and Tsunami happened in Japan? Uranus, the planet of revolution and unpredictability literally quaked the Earth, and what about the revolutions breaking out in Africa? The accuracy of the symbolism is uncanny.
Astrology presupposes a meaningfullness, a lack of randomness, a mathematical patterning that can be measured and felt. Fate and destiny. A planet is strongest and acts up when it enters and leaves a sign—and this revolutionary planet, Uranus, had just left the watery sign of Pisces to enter the fiery realm of Aries. Mix Aries and Uranus together— what are we supposed to do? Fear is not the answer. Does astrology help us prepare? Maybe. But perhaps what it does best is give us hope as we look back and see how the “dots in the picture of our life and times” are strung together. Good or bad, if meaningful patterns exist, then God has a chance to exist in some form as well. Call this a higher power, meaningful evolution…you name it.
The synchronicity of meaning-making, or astrology, is most clearly seen in retrospect rather than in prediction…yet still we want to know. We want to imagine our futures and make good decisions—so we look at the many ways these planetary predictions may play out in our lives. It seems to give us a measure of control, and is the subject of a book—this book. And love…
And so, I met Peter and our story began…do you think it was predictable?
© Elizabeth Spring http://www.elizabethspring.com/
Monday, March 14, 2011
When you really know someone, you know what they like. And it should be simple to give them what they like, but it’s not. We don’t even allow ourselves to give us what we need. How strange…is it lack of courage or selfishness? But there are times when we do care and we give.
This was one of those times. Peter cared. He knew what I wanted—he knew enough about me to know that if I was in Zurich there was only one thing I wanted—it was to see Carl Jung’s stone tower that he built for himself on the shores of Lake Zurich. Jung started creating his private retreat late in his life and it took him forty years to complete. He painted life size scenes on the curved inside walls of the solitary study, and he’d sculpted inscriptions and images on large stones surrounding the tower. I’d seen photographs of him there in his eighties, pipe and book in hand, simply sitting and looking out over the waters of the Obersee. His sculpting tools and paints were sometimes shown in the background.
Jung’s tower retreat was evocative of medieval times with its turrets, archways and courtyard. He built this “temenos”—this sacred place, as a sanctuary where he could retreat and study alchemy and astrology during his years of banishment from the psychoanalytic community. It was here that he carved Greek, Latin and astrological hieroglyphics into stones and images that were close to his heart and imagination. Here on the shores of the lake, was the large block of “orphan stone,” a rock left behind by other workers, a stone that Jung carved for himself in recognition of his 75th birthday. Peter worked in clay, and I think he understood Jung’s comment: “I need not have written any books—it’s all here on the stone.”
And that was why we found ourselves outside the door in front of Carl Jung’s house one day. The devastating news was that we couldn’t go in. And what I had wanted to see was not actually there—it was over in Bollingen on the shores of the Eastern shore of the Obersee, and not at his family house in Zurich. So Peter took a photograph of me pretending to smile in front of the house we couldn’t go into, and then we retreated in despair.
However—the next day Peter had an idea. And by late afternoon we were kayaking along the gentle shores of Lake Zurich gazing up at Jung’s numinous structure.
“Shall we go ashore?” Peter asked.
I stared at the imposing stone walls and rusticated doors with the barred and shuttered windows. This was not the kind of thing that Peter would usually suggest. He tended to be one who honored rules and regulations, and would never trespass. This idea was so out of character for him; I must have looked at him as if he was a madman.
“Of course,” I said. “A little adventure.” Peter knew me, and he cared. He wanted to do this for me.
And so we kayaked through the weeds along the shoreline till we hit ground. The tower sat right on the lake, and it appeared as if no one was in sight. There was only the sound of the wind through the trees, the rocks jutting through the reeds, and the lapping of the little waves on the shore. It looked deserted, yet alive. Ivy clung tenaciously to the white rock walls and there was a huge tree that looked like it had been struck by lightning. Could this be the same tree that Jung had spent so many hours under? The one that had been struck by lightning the day he died?
We waded through the mud and held our breath as we approached the arched doorway of the tower. I could see the inscription Jung had carved over the doorway “Vocutus Atque nonvocatus deus aderit”. I whispered to Peter: “It says: ‘Called or not called, God is present.’” I was hoping no one else would be present. Peter tried the latch on the door, but it was locked.
“Come here,” he motioned to me. And like a kid, Peter hoisted me up with his strong arms to look in through a window—an arched opening in the wall..and there was Philemon.
“He’s there! Philemon!” I exclaimed. Painted in vibrant colors on the curved walls was the mural Jung had painted of his beloved imaginal muse. Here was the wise old man, his spiritual mentor. He was huge, with outstretched wings that Jung copied from the iridescent wings of the rare bird, the Kingfisher. I had just shown Peter a copy of this painting the day before in the recently released “Red Book.” This Red Book was the journal Jung had kept during those years of transition and trauma when he suffered the “divorce” from his real mentor, Freud. Some say, those were the years of his psychosis. For Jung, those were the years to paint, sculpt and play in the sand by the shores of the lake.
Peter lifted me down from the window. “Maybe we’re pressing our luck…I mean our time.” Peter said, looking at me as if he was hoping I’d had enough. We both knew there had to be some watchmen around here. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was.
Peters face looked flushed. It must have taken him a lot to disobey, to trespass.
We started to carefully make our way back, approaching the rocky shore. I kept staring at the carved stones around me—and then I saw it. It was a bird, large, recently dead, and with the same outstretched wings as Philemon. It lay under a carved image of a serpent in a rock, and it had the same dark iridescent wings. I reached for it, but Peter pulled me away and hurried me towards the boat.
The land began giving way to sand, then mud, and suddenly I lost my balance. I could see one foot had sunk deep between the rocks. I tried to pull myself up and fell into the water.
Aggh….I yelled. “Its twisted!”
I let myself collapse into Peter’s arms as he picked me up and carried me over to the grass only a few feet away from the Kingfisher. He laid me down softly. I could see the burnt tree above my head. “I want it Peter. I want the bird.”
I could feel myself beginning to shiver. It seemed as if the winds had picked up and the sky was being painted colors. Those clouds weren’t there before.
Peter looked down at me. He looked scared. He looked at the bird, then looked at me. The shivering got stronger. I closed my eyes. Was it getting darker and colder or was I having an anxiety attack? For some reason, I didn’t care.
I thought my eyes were closed, but I could see through them… charts and golden mandalas were radiating through some deep darkness. There was Jung’s chart, and mine...and Peter’s chart-- all appearing and disappearing, overlaying each other. There was my chart with my Sun, Neptune and Venus all clumped together, and then Peter’s chart rising up into it like a developing photograph. His Neptune radiated through my Venus: the symbol of idealism in love…had I ever told him that? And then Jung’s chart arouse, and I could see the glyph of his South Node, the astrological point of past life connection, like a bright star conjoining my Neptune/Venus. Why hadn’t I seen this ancient connection before? Why hadn’t I seen this hint of interconnected past lives? Why was my body shaking uncontrollably?
And then I felt him. Peter laid his warm body across mine…completely. The weight and heat from his body permeated mine like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s day. I could feel the moisture from his breath and I breathed it in like an infusion. The images of light and symbols began fading as I opened my eyes to Peter’s soft gaze. To say I had never felt this before was obvious. But to say I had never seen such love in his eyes was true. It brought me back.
And then he got up. I watched him as he walked over to the Kingfisher. He stood staring down at this almost mythological bird for a moment. I wondered if he knew that it carried both good and bad omens…and how rare it was to see it in these parts. I wondered if Jung had ever seen the bird on these same shores before he painted them on Philemon, his other-worldly mentor.
Peter bent over the dead bird but I couldn’t see what he was doing. I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing rhythmically. I could feel the pain in my ankle but it wasn’t more than I could handle. What I could feel was the pull of the earth underneath me-- like a magnet I had been pulled into orbit and didn’t want to release myself from it. I was rooted here, I couldn’t move. I too, was a dead bird. Or maybe I was home. I didn’t care.
Again I felt Peter. This time he had his hand on my chest, gently rocking me, and calling my name. I opened my eyes. He slowly waved a long feather in front of my eyes. A feather on the breath of God. Then he leaned over and kissed me so softly, like the first time we ever kissed. I opened my eyes. Peter placed the feather in my hand.
“Come. It’s not meant for us to stay here any longer. Come with me, Isabelle…” and then he scooped me up and carried me into the kayak.
In another hour we were back at the hotel, my ankle soaked with ice, my heart so full with love, it disconnected me from everything except Peter and the presence of a small wet black feather. “Called or not called, God had been present.” This was a good omen. It had been well worth the trip.
© Elizabeth Spring