Rediscovering Etty Hillesum

EttySometime during or after my sophomore year of college (1985-86), almost certainly after my existential crisis decimated any sense of certainty I’d had about religion or anything else, I found the book on the left: An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. Etty was a 27 year-old Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam, and who started keeping a diary in 1941. Along with her observations about the war and the danger she and her fellow Jews were in, she wrote vividly about her intellectual, spiritual, and erotic life, which were all intensely intertwined. She strove to have what she called “a thinking heart.” I was utterly captivated the book, and it has stayed with me all the years since.

A few weeks ago I discovered – quite by accident – that the volume I owned was only a small portion of Etty’s diary. The book on the right is her Complete and Unabridged diary, along with the letters she wrote from Westerbork, a work camp where she was imprisoned before she was taken to Auschwitz. The unabridged volume is out of print, and I paid quite a bit for it, but it feels like one of the best expenditures I’ve made in a very long time. I feel like I am entering a “new octave” in my own life, integrating (finally) a lot of old lessons and releasing old aspects of my identity which went with them. Finding Etty anew at this time, and with so much more material, feels highly synchronous.

I haven’t had time to compare the texts yet, but the differences between the covers speaks volumes. The softly muted, pastel portrait on the left, with its demurely downcast eyes, hardly seems to have anything to do with the frank, bold, intense expression of the photograph on the right. It’s easy to suspect that there will be a great deal in this version which the previous editors found unsettling or uncomfortable, or which they feared their readers would not find appealing. I am looking forward to meeting Etty all over again, and I tremendously grateful for the thirty years of life and experience I’ve had since then. Years which were denied to her by anti-Semitic hatred and violence which still scar our world today. Her words are a gift. Her memory is a blessing.

Changing My Story

One of the most powerful realizations I’ve ever had is that the stories we tell about ourselves shape our realities, and that if we can change our stories we can reconfigure our brains and transform our lives. It can be easier said than done, but every so often something in my brain clicks and I realize that I’ve been trapping myself in a story which no longer serves me (if indeed it ever did).

One of the most dramatic examples from my own life was the day I realized that I was tired of and bored by the story of myself as a woman with a broken heart. Yes, the pain of my failed marriage and the bad ending of a subsequent relationship was real, but I was done with letting it be one of my defining characteristics. A relatively short time after that, my soulmate entered my life.

For the past several years I’ve been mourning the loss of creativity which resulted from that soulmate’s death. I’ve felt hollow inside, unable to create new fictional stories or work on non-fiction projects, cut off from the stream of passion that used to be part of my essence. It’s felt like I’m missing a vital part of myself. It has hurt a lot, and I haven’t been able to “fix” it.

This evening I realized that I was tired of that narrative. It had been true for a long time, but I was beginning to believe that the story was preventing me from moving forward. Something went “click” and I released the story. I am no longer a woman whose creativity was stolen from her.

I’m  not sure yet how my creativity is going to manifest in the days to come, but I have faith in the power of changing the story.

Integration & Stretching

For the past twelve years I have kept some important secrets about my soulmate, who died a little over eleven years ago. There was nothing illegal, illicit or dishonorable, but there were some elements of the unusual which most people around me would not have been comfortable with. And so, although I have several friends and family members who do know these truths, for the most part I have concealed them in order to better ensure his dignity in life and death. And if all that sounds mysterious. . . well, there was a lot of Mystery involved.

During my long grieving and depression which followed his death, my creativity went dormant. I had spent most of my life writing stories and engaging in other creative work and play, but his death left me hollow inside and mired in mundane reality. Last week, during a rejuvenating road trip, I began to wonder if it was time to finally tell the whole truth about LM, to write a memoir of our relationship — not just as a personal exercise, but with the focus and discipline I would give to writing for publication. Maybe the practice of telling a story I know well, working on my writing craft, would prime my creative pump. Maybe I need to tell this story in order for the others to return.

I have (almost) always kept a personal journal, and at the time we met I had been very active on LiveJournal for several years. In fact, we met because of LiveJournal (and eHarmony, but not in the way one would expect). So a few days ago I logged into LJ for the first time in several years, clicked back to the spring of 2004, and started reading and making pdf’s of all my entries. I wanted to remember who I was then, what my life was like, and what the ripples were like when I first met the mutual friend who would bring us together.

It has been an unsettling experience. I had forgotten several important events, some of which I do remember now that I’ve read about them again, but a couple of which I still can’t recall with any clarity. For instance: I have no memory of being the president of the board of directors of the small church I was attending at the time. I had remembered being on the board, but not being president. I remembered that I had resigned from the board, but not that doing so as president had caused some drama. I can’t remember any actual details of those events. As I said: unsettling.

I was not yet forty, working a temporary job, attending seminary, involved in a roleplaying game group, and parenting a six year old. It was an intense time on multiple levels, most of it positive. Reading those journal entries feels like finding pieces of myself scattered along an old path, picking them up, and fitting them back into place. I’m not the same woman I was, but I feel more whole recovering these lost parts of myself.

At the same time that I’m reaching back I’m also taking steps forward. This week I went to my first Toastmasters meeting. I did four years of policy debate in high school, so I have no fear of public speaking, but I would like to refine my skills. This club is called “Lightworkers Toastmasters” and I like the idea of being able to speak about the things I am most passionate about to an audience which shares my involvement in spiritual and/or intuitive work.

Last night I went to my first American Tribal Style belly dance class. I’ve long wanted to be able to bellydance, but I’ve always been more of a head person than a body person. I have enjoyed square dancing and contra dance, but my brief forays into ballet (as a child), jazz (teenager) and a previous attempt at belly dance (in my thirties) were not at all successful. I felt awkward and didn’t have fun. Last night I felt awkward too. . . but at 53 I no longer worry so much about being judged or getting everything right the first time. The class is six weeks long. I don’t have to be perfect on the first night. The awkwardness wasn’t comfortable (I guess by definition) but it wasn’t overwhelming. I just shrugged and kept going.

I have become very aware of being “middle-aged.” I don’t look as old as I am. I certainly don’t feel that old. But I am much more aware of the inexorable flow of the sands of time, and the impossibility of moving backwards. I can recover memories of my past, but I can’t live there. I never want to stop learning or growing. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life without my creativity and without passion. I don’t need a lover to be passionate, and I am hoping that the combination of writing the memoir, dance, and speaking will strike some sparks to enliven my life again.

Going to my 2nd Motorhome Show Today

Fall RV show

I went to my first RV show two years ago with no plan except “Get a feel for what is out there.” It wasn’t immediately overwhelming, but after a couple of hours my eyes started to glaze over. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, there’s not a lot of variety in motorhomes. Their interiors tend to have the same features in only slightly different layouts. It’s hard to keep them straight after the first three or four.

I’m going to my second show today, but this time I’m going armed with a dozen print-outs of a self-created checklist to help me focus, evaluate, and keep track of the things I’ve learned are important to me.

Motorhomes are not designed for a single woman who prefers reading to watching tv. They are designed for families, and some of them have two tv’s inside the coach, plus one outside. They maximize sleeping options, not space for shelves. And no one designs motorhomes to have space for shrines. So part of what I’m looking for today is which standard coaches could most easily be reconfigured to suit my needs.

I’m also going to be looking very closely at heating, cooling, and insulation. My dream is to be on the road full-time, but I’m not yet financially self-sufficient, which means needing to stay near my day job. So I need to find out which models will keep me comfortable through a Pacific Northwest winter.

The last time I did this a friend went with me, but this time I’m going alone. I don’t want to feel rushed or pressured because someone who doesn’t have any stake in these decisions starts to get bored.

I’ll put my check-list below the cut:  Continue reading

Authenticity

One of my biggest struggles with my spiritual direction site was that I felt constrained by my own expectations of what such a site ‘should’ be like. Expectations which did not match my sense of self or what I offer. Last week, I finally changed it. I changed the title of the site, changed the header image, and most importantly wrote a post about becoming more authentic. . . .

http://feralholiness.com/re-orientation/

I am shifting my approach to this blog as well. It started out as being a place to focus primarily on my goals of becoming a free range human, developing income from spiritual direction, freelance writing, and etc. But I’m going to open it up to be more holistic. Those goals are not set apart from my daily challenges and more general growth.

 

Back in the Saddle

It’s been eight months since I posted here. I’ve thought about it several times during the interval, but didn’t have enough clarity to actually craft an entry.

I ended my therapy series in April, when I finally felt free of the depression which has been shadowing me for a decade, but it’s taken several more months to really start breaking free of the habits of depression survival which have been limiting my life. I do have the energy to exercise, to see friends, to work on my business, to write more than anguished journal entries — but for a long time my brain has been insisting that I need to keep hunkered down, preserving my scarce resources.

Today I revisited my Feral Holiness website for the first time almost a year, and discovered that several people had used the Contact form but I’d never received any notifications. Since the form manager did not make it intuitively obvious how to fix that, I went over to YouTube and found a tutorial which gave me the information I needed. I fixed the form’s back-end, and then sat down and responded to each person who had sent me a message.

I am currently working on a biz dev to-do list involving marketing, blog post ideas, and adding free resources to the website. The best part is that after months of feeling inadequate and scared of the challenge, I’m having fun!

Death, Flux, Xeper

The day after I made my last original post, my father went into the hospital. Nine nights later – an interval with particular significance for those of us devoted to Odin – he died.

I loved my father very much, and I admired him deeply. I was proud to be his daughter, and to be known as his daughter.

I was not prepared for the feeling of liberation that filled me once the initial shock of grief passed.

I was not prepared for how good it felt to realize that I would never again worry about whether or not he would approve of, or understand, my decisions. Especially my decisions about the profound changes in my work and lifestyle which this blog was founded to chronicle.

Two months later, via a free association browsing session on Amazon, I ended up downloading a sample of “The Children of Set: The Confessions of Michael Kelly, vol 3.”* This was entirely out of character for me. Despite my wide-ranging reading, I have always avoided books about The Left Hand Path (LHP) due to my impression that they were focused on celebrating evil and using occult power to exploit others for personal gain.

That is not what I found in this book. Instead I found a story of a man seeking personal development, excellence, and ever more profound levels of initiation. The Left Hand Path, as presented by Kelly, addressed some of the points of tension I have had with the Right Hand Path: most significantly, my utter lack of desire to be ultimately subsumed in union with the One, and its insufficiency in addressing the concept of personal sovereignty.

Reading the book was an initiatory experience in itself, an unprecedented event.

And it has thrown my spiritual life – including my work as a spiritual director – into turmoil. The turmoil itself is not a bad thing, but it’s forcing me to re-think a lot of my basic assumptions about how I conduct my personal spiritual life and my business. It’s also forcing me to reassess how I feel about an occult school and a fraternal order I belong to, both of which are deeply worthy organizations from which I derive both deep spiritual value and companionship.

The Word of the Temple of Set is Xeper, which means “I have come into being.” It is a word of self-awareness, self-directed development, of ongoing initiation, of becoming and becoming and becoming, in this lifetime and after death. It is a word which captures my earliest sense of my life’s mission: to travel from world to world, learning and developing and evolving in ways that I could never have done had I remained in place. In my father’s world.

Between Dad’s death, this book, and others about the LHP, I have been doing a lot of processing about my sense of self-worth, my sense of freedom, of sovereignty, of courage. About my values, my vision, and my long-standing mission “To bring light” – which takes on a whole new level of meaning when one has been reading about luciferian figures as champions of human sentience and freedom. And I ended up doing something like a spontaneous soul retrieval, recognizing and reintegrating an expression of personal sovereignty which I had personified and externalized when I was an adolescent.

And then, because all that wasn’t enough, I took part in a self-nurturing coaching session which turned into a deep and profound cleansing and reclaiming of parts of myself which had been lost to me since my soulmate’s death nine years ago.

Since Dad’s death, my work on my business has been completely stalled. At first I blamed it on the ordeal of his last week and the tasks which followed, and then I blamed my lack of personal discipline and initiative, but this evening I realized that I haven’t made any progress because my business is an expression of my spiritual life, and I’ve been in flux and without direction.

And then I finally allowed myself to admit something which has been subconsciously nagging at me for weeks: my beautiful new website is all wrong. It’s a lovely expression of nice middle class white lady spiritual coaching. It’s a website I could show to my father and have him be proud of me. There’s nothing in it of the shadows, of the claws and the blood and the stars and the tears and the ecstasy which have made me who I am. It doesn’t show the Priestess of Ereshkigal. It doesn’t show The Dancer in the Void. It doesn’t show the Hierodule. It shows an authentic slice of who I have been, but it doesn’t reflect the whole me. It doesn’t express the life I want to live, the spirit I want to express now.

It reflects the sensibilities of those polished and preppy online mentors who want to help you make money online by expressing your authentic self – but whose expectations of what ‘authenticity’ looks like never seem to fit me.

The place that is authentically mine scares me.
It scares me because it’s beyond the pale of the life of I was raised to lead.
Because it’s outside of what’s safe and “normal” and business as usual.
My business is called Feral Holiness because I know that I want to live outside of those boundaries, but I’ve been afraid to commit to taking that step.
Afraid to be seen in my feral fullness.

But I’m dying within the boundaries, in the cage of my present life.

Only one thing to do.

Xeper and Remanifest.

I have to completely erase my website and start over.

I have to create a vision from my gut and my cunt as well as my rational mind.
I love the light. But I cannot shrink from expressing my shadow as well.
If Feral Holiness is going to be my work, then I must be feral.
Otherwise there is no point.
I cannot presume to offer to help others with their soul work if I am ashamed of my own soul.
I cannot help others find and express their authenticity if I am hiding behind the good girl mask.

*I will get a commission from Amazon if you make a purchase after clicking this link (same session only). It will not add to the price of anything you buy.

Lilith’s Aura

She bows before no one
a goddess in her own right
a darkness made purely out of beauty
a light that only the free understand
wild feisty empowered spirit
your presence is powerful
the weak fear it
many fall in love with the idea of you
but most can’t handle you
you reign without permission
there’s nothing you won’t do.

Source: https://rabbitholeofpoetry.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/liliths-aura/

Taking a risk, selling spiritual services

I just paid for a course in “Heart Centered Selling” after listening to a webinar. It’s going to cost me about $600 over four months, and that scares the hell out of me. But I also think that I need to learn what this instructor is presenting.

Spiritual direction is probably one of the least sales-oriented services out there. Traditionally, directors work through or under the auspices of houses of worship, or as part of another ministry. And the words “sales” and “ministry” are not comfortable together, with good reason.

But I need to learn how to explain to people who might benefit from working with me what I do, why it’s worth paying for my services, and how they will benefit – while also making it clear that if we’re not a good match then I don’t want to work with them. I don’t want to pressure anyone, but I do want to present my services effectively and attractively.

And it’s not just for spiritual direction. I also need to be able sell my ritual consultation and celebrant services, and my (to-be-developed) workshops.

Because if I am not able to generate an income from this work I won’t be able to do it full time, which is what I want to do.

So I’m making what is for me a sizeable financial investment in my future, believing that Feral Holiness is a viable business that I can and should take seriously. I think that’s what prompted me to finally hit the “Register” button: asking myself Am I committed to this path or not? And if I am, then am I willing to pay a price to gain the skills I need to be a good businesswoman as well as a good priestess? Because on the path I have chosen I can not be one without the other.

If I had a temple or established community to support me, this would not be an issue.

But if I had that support I wouldn’t be living the life I lead now, would never have made the break to become Feral, and this blog and my business would not exist.