On seeking

Sky #2, date uncertain (film) © Gabriela De Golia

My best friend and soul sibling, Sarah, often brings Harry Potter up in conversation with me. Despite the transphobic nonsense JK Rowling has spat out, we still appreciate what the Harry Potter series offered us: characters who embodied the understanding that magic is real; young camaraderie; adventure; wonder; and more.

One thing Sarah talked about once was the role of the Seeker in Quidditch games. (For those who have no clue what that means: Quidditch is a sports game in the Harry Potter world played on broomsticks. The match ends when the Seeker of a team catches an incredibly fast flying golden orb called a Snitch. The huge amount of points awarded for this feat usually means the victorious Seeker’s team wins.) She pointed out the Seeker’s relationship to “doing nothing.” Most of the game the Seeker is, as the name implies, seeking. They’re avoiding other players and distractions so they can get their eye on the prize — the Snitch — and upon seeing it, begin chasing it and hopefully catch it. For much of the game, it looks like the Seeker is doing nothing. They’re just sitting on their broom looking around.

And yet, theirs is the most important task of all. If they capture the Snitch, they bring their team to victory.

When Sarah pointed this out to me, I sighed with relief. What a beautiful, fairy-tale-esque description of how I understand the spiritual process to be. Maybe, even more broadly, life’s entire process.

Capitalism demands that we constantly produce. That we show the fruits of our labor so we can be deemed worthy of belonging. That we make “discoveries” so we can then make claims over certain places, things, even people. That we always be “doing something” because time is money and money is King. Being patient, doing nothing, resting, meandering, getting lost, and seeking without a clear sense of what we’ll find or when we’ll find it are not virtues in a capitalist paradigm. They’re considered wasteful, stupid, and pointless.

Yet in Quidditch, if the Seeker busies themself with trying to do anything other than observe their surroundings patiently, they’ll never locate the Snitch and definitely lose the game. The less they do outside the bounds of waiting and observing, the more likely they’ll strike gold.

The Seeker’s process mirrors many spiritual processes to me. The more I slow down, lighten my load, and observe patiently, the more I take in, feel, and see. In other words, the more I act like the Seeker, the closer I feel to Source/Mystery/God. And the closer I feel to God, the more alive I feel, because I am more aligned with my life’s yearning for me.

What if we considered our own lives as though we were in the role of the Seeker, even just a little more? What if we spent far more time patiently observing ourselves and our surroundings so that, when we do act, we are more sure-footed in our movements? How can we create systems that allow for more rest and patience and meandering and considering, rather than penalize us for it? (I’d like to see universal healthcare, basic income, and unlimited vacation from employers, to name just a few things — all of this would allow us to live lives of ease and abundance, rather than scarcity and urgency, so we could regularly “be” rather than always “do.”)

I pray for a world in which our wins reflect how discerning we were with our actions, rather than how much we tried to cram in a day. I pray for a world where patience and slow, intentional observation are valued. I pray for a world in which our seeking is always revered.

May our seeking and the questions that come with it always be seen as precious. May the answers they unveil to us be healing to our beings.

On levity

Levity, 2021 (digital) © Gabriela De Golia

A few weeks ago I was walking through the woods near my house with the specific intention to receive divinatory messages from nature. What came up was a visitation from a butterfly that landed right in front of me on my walking path. It nestled itself onto the ground and opened up its beautiful wings for me to marvel at.

Almost right upon seeing this creature, I heard a voice within me say, “Levity is sacred.”

Levity isn’t something I often think of as a personal quality of mine. I’m able to have fun, yes. But I often tell myself it’s best to “think deeply,” to take everything I’m doing seriously, to consider the weight inherent with being alive in these times. An intensely intellectual upbringing mixed with navigating traumatic experiences made me a bit of a stranger to levity for many years.

I also consider myself a mystic. Many people will define that differently than I do, but for me, it means I can have direct and embodied experiences of the divine. I don’t need middlemen to mediate my connection with Source / God / Mystery. It was mystical poetry that most helped me fall in love with God because it was through those words that I first encountered depictions of the divine as playful, joyful, even ecstatic. I resonate with a God like that, I think in part because I want to better embody those qualities in myself. While I think God experiences the full spectrum of emotions humans have been gifted, for so long I had only ever seen portrayals of God as imposing, demanding, and stern. Mystical poetry was a balm for my disillusioned spirit.

Mystics across traditions have been known to levitate. I often found it funny to think of mystics as floating through their towns and abodes while living their lives in flight, but I didn’t think much of it until I met that butterfly in the woods. The legends made a lot more sense to me thanks to that encounter.

What if mystics, who embody unmediated connection with the divine, didn’t so much levitate à-la-flying-through-the-air, but rather levitated in the sense that their spirits were floating with a sense of levity? What if a key to touching God is to loosen our grip, let go of our seriousness just a bit, and make ourselves light enough through self-emptying that the divine can take up residence within us? What if playfulness is a doorway to encountering God’s Self? Not at the expense of grief or anger or any of the other “heavier” / “more serious” emotions we have, but as an acknowledgment that play and pleasure and levity are part of God’s Being, too? In a world that is so rife with suffering and all things “serious,” might a little levity go a long way? Like an alchemical compound that helps transform all the ingredients into something entirely new when they’re all brought together, I’ve been finding that infusing my pains with some levity helps me experience my pain, grief, even despair in new ways. Levity is a necessary sibling to the seriousness of our times, I’m finding.

Since that encounter with the butterfly, I’ve been stumbling upon many feathers and wings on walks. Turkey feathers, vulture feathers, an intact butterfly wing, a dragonfly wing, … I thank all these messengers for the repeated reminders that levity can help me take flight through a lightening of my soul, serving as a portal to God and a balm for my wounds.

On bees, fear, and healing

Honey Bee, 2021 (paper collage) © Gabriela De Golia

I used to be terrified of bees. Even harmless bumblebees would send me running in fear.

At some point in early childhood, I was told I was deathly allergic to bee and wasp stings, even though I’d never been stung. Then one day I was walking on a beach in Tahiti and stepped on a wasp and got stung. I went into a complete panic, thinking I was about to die because it would’ve taken at least an hour to get medical attention. A teacher I was on the trip with came running up to me after hearing my panic and said, “if you were allergic you’d already be showing signs of that, but you’re not — I think you’re going to be ok.” Indeed, I ended up being ok, and I admittedly felt embarrassed by how paranoid I must have appeared. I’ve been stung more times since then and have been ok every time. I’m not allergic to bees or wasps, it turns out. Yet my fear of them was planted deep in my psyche.

Bees are just one thing I learned to fear. Despite living a very comfortable life, I picked up on the explicit and implicit messaging that there was always something to be afraid of in this world. A Zen Buddhist nun I used to live with once reflected, “you were taught to fear a lot, Gabriela.”

I have come to understand that those who encouraged me to fear so much were doing their best to help me survive in a world where there truly is a lot to fear. I also accept my own role in solidifying those fears in an attempt to survive in this world. But surviving is not thriving, and I eventually started to realize one doesn’t thrive on fear.

This year, I began taking classes with women who practice shamanism in a tradition that views bees as important totems. One of them is also a beekeeper, and both teachers simply adore bees. I wasn’t sure the classes would resonate with me given my fear of these beings (even though the topics didn’t require me to physically interact with bees). But I trusted my instinct and signed up for the courses.

The decision to learn from the bees (and some of their human friends) has been a truly sacred gift, one I never expected to offer myself but am so glad I did.

In seeing other people treat bees as friends and messengers, even healers and medicine-givers by virtue of their capacity to sting, I was witnessing a new way of relating to bees I’d never considered possible. Rather than view them as pests that could kill me, I started seeing bees through my teachers’ eyes. I developed a sense of awe for their resilience in an ecologically devastated world. I began to appreciate the magic of honey so much more. And I started to trust that stings might not be as worrisome as my mind always told me they were.

In seeing others live without fear when relating to bees, I have become more trusting and friendly towards these beings. In an even broader sense, I have begun to ease my hyper-vigilance towards the earth and its holy creatures. Even wasps have become less scary, and many other things I used to panic at the sight of no longer phase me as much (this includes spiders, snakes, and more).

Part of my journey towards learning to live with and heal from various traumas has been the practice of regaining a sense of enchantment, trust, and pleasure in a world that previously felt (and was at times) truly threatening to me. Not everything one perceives as threatening has to (or should) be befriended. But in the instance of bees, learning to relate more lovingly to that which I previously feared has opened up a whole new spectrum of joy for me. I can walk outside and feel excited instead of scared at the sight of a bee now. While the impulse to run appears sometimes, it is much less potent than it used to be. And I can trust, in an integrated and embodied way (not just in an intellectual manner), that even if I get stung by a bee or a wasp I’ll be ok, just as I have been ok before.

The bees are inviting me to trust them more, and in doing so, they are inviting me to trust myself more. I feel my entire nervous system, body-mind, and spirit recalibrating themselves in magical and healing ways thanks to these invitations.

Many thanks to Ariella Daly of Honey Bee Wild, Gabriela Gutierrez of the Virtual Temple, and the bees for helping me shed fear-based narratives to make room for more awe and joy.