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.

On water, ancestors, and memory

Gabriela Smiling, date unclear (film)

It’s almost the end of Cancer season, and I’ve been thinking about water a lot lately. This is also partially because of a class I’m taking with Weaving Earth, which has been focused on water for many weeks. It’s been a beautiful exploration, even when putting me face to face with the ways water has been used and abused for many centuries.

Mostly, I’ve been contemplating the intelligence of water. The ways it shapeshifts, adapts, moves, and molds itself. The ways it embodies intentions that are infused into it, like how tears shed while feeling different emotions all have distinct molecular structures when viewed under a microscope. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that water takes on the energetic imprint of what is infused in it (through sound or other means), for better and for worse. The notion that a few drops of water infused with a particular intention, emotion, or goal can alter the makeup of an entire cup, bottle, or jug of water is the foundation of making flower essences. For a long time, I thought this was nonsense, yet the more I look into water’s intelligence and learn about the magical creativity of this element, the more true it all seems.

Waters I have sung to before drinking them taste sweeter. Waters I have thanked before diving into them feel fresher. Waters I have blessed before anointing myself or another transport the anointed to a mythic time, where the here and now melt into a more spacious reality. I believe magic carries memory and that in infusing water with intentionality, the water changes not only itself but those with which it comes into contact. In the words of Octavia Butler, “all that you change, changes you….”

My thoughts about water’s intelligence have coincided with some thinking I have been doing surrounding ancestral connection. As a white person with multiple European lineages (and some Ojibwe heritage) in my family tree, I have found that learning more about who my ancestors were before they were labeled as “white” by capitalist systems has been an important part of dismantling white supremacy within me. The melting pot mentality of the United States forced many of my ancestors to hide, forget, or be embarassed by their cultural practices. I view it as part of my life’s purpose to (imperfectly) begin a process of reconnecting with some of these old ways of knowing. Not to fetishize the past, but to embody ways of knowing that reflect a healthier relationship with self, others, and the earth.

All of this is to say, I think about how the waters of my body — blood, sweat, tears, and more — might be vehicles of memory and intelligence. How they might be repositories of intelligence that can guide me on a path towards healing from the ways white supremacy, capitalism, and more have disconnected me from ancestral knowledge. What if my body and its waters could be seen as holders of knowledge that span beyond my lifetime? What if the liquids I am made of are pre-programmed with the wisdom of my ancestors? Instead of thinking I need a DNA kit to prove who my ancestors are or relying on historical records to “connect” me to them, what if I could trust that connecting to my lineages was possible through my own body and its waters (along with the dreams and intuitions that arise from them)?

I’ve been amazed at how certain things sound and feel so familiar to me, even though I’ve never heard or seen them before. An example of this is Scottish folk songs, even though I have never even set foot in Scotland, nor was I raised with any education surrounding my Scottish heritage. Yet the more I learn about water, the more I wonder if centuries of ancestors singing those tunes (or similar ones) altered the make-up of the waters in their bodies (and the bodies of their descendants as a result). Perhaps my sense of familiarity with Scottish folk songs (and Scottish Gaelic in general) is a manifestation of the waters in my being resonating with something they were intentionally encouraged to recognize over centuries of ancestral waters reverberating with those same sounds.

While a DNA kit can be helpful for those to whom it is accessible or appealing, I don’t think I need one to prove to myself that I am of Scottish or Irish or French or Spanish or Ojibwe heritage. When I hear those languages, sing those songs, and walk across those lands, the waters in me tell me so. My ancestral molecules light up at the sounds and sights.

Water is a vessel for memory, and the body is a vessel made of water. My very being is a vessel of ancestral knowing. Even when recorded histories cannot tell me who exactly my ancestors were or confirm ancient truths I know to be real, I can still feel my people in my bones and know that my ancestors (and their wisdom) are within me. I can trust that my body and its waters know what they know. Water’s knowing is enough.

On divination as relational praxis

Constellation Map, 2021 (digital) © Gabriela De Golia

This summer, I am taking a class with the organization Weaving Earth that blends ecology, astrology, earth stewardship, and more. One of the facets of this course is the practice of divination with and through nature, including but not limited to bird watching.

Divination is something I’ve long thought about and practiced. As a tarot reader, I am easily identifiable as a practitioner of at least one form of divination. But divination, for me, is not what many think of it. Namely, I do not use divination practices to foretell the future. At least, not directly.

I view divinatory practices as akin to mirrors. They reflect back that which is already present, but in a new way that “reveals” new insights and opens doorways we hadn’t previously noticed were there. It’s less about finding out what’s going to happen in order to prepare yourself for an outcome we can’t control, and more about discerning what is within our sphere of influence right now. That way, we can make better choices in this moment that will help us build a better future. I believe the seeds of the future are planted in the now, so to the extent divination is about predicting (and possibly influencing) the future, one must understand divination as a method for entering into a deeper relationship with this moment. We must get to know, understand, and relate to where we are now if we are to have any chance of co-creating a worthwhile tomorrow.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately, mostly as a result of something my summer course teacher brontë velez said, has to do with divination as a relational praxis. In a recorded conversation with water protectors, brontë brought up an alternative understanding of the Biblical story of Moses miraculously parting the seas, which they’d read in Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White. In short: rather than engaging in impossible magic, Moses might have succeeded in bringing his people to safety by being so attuned to the tides that he would have known when the low tides could give him and his people safe passage (and when the high tides would return and swallow his pursuers whole). “When you give your attention to the land enough, Creator will work with you for your freedom,” brontë emphasized.

I’ve been turning these points over and over in my body, mind, and spirit, letting them work their magic on me. The idea that offering greater attention to something can be a doorway towards freedom hits home for me.

(A small side-note: obviously, the capitalist systems around us constantly grab at our attention, encouraging us to be fixated on things that often run counter to a liberated existence, such as social media algorithms. I believe such forms of attention is different from becoming attuned to something we can be in an active, co-generative relationship with, such as the land we reside on, the bodies we occupy, the divine, etc. I hope it’s clear that I am talking about the latter in this piece.)

As a result of this conversation, I’ve been thinking about various forms of divinatory practices and how they might, quite simply, be forms of relationship. Relationship that guides us on a path towards freedom. Whether the divinatory tool be nature, tarot or oracle cards, our body, the stars, or anything else that fills us with awe and helps us feel more enlivened, what strikes me is that the key ingredient to any form of divination is relationship. Before touching the freedom we seek (through divination or other means), we are first and foremost in relationship. Relationship is the precursor to freedom.

When I think about my tarot practice, it is very apt to understand the way I offer divinatory readings as relational. Namely, I am in a relationship with the cards I use and with the person I’m engaging with. I am also in relationship with the moment and space we are in, the circumstances that brought the encounter to bear, and much more. Even when I already know the person well, my tarot readings last ninety minutes for a reason: it takes time for the reasons someone sought out a reading to unfurl comfortably; it takes time for me to explain my methodology and help the person feel safe in the process; it takes time for the seeker and me to court each other and settle into a resonance that feels conducive to vulnerability; and it takes time to discern what the cards are communicating. I take my time with readings because relationships are built with time.

My relationships to the cards and my own intuition have been built with time. I believe I am a talented tarot reader not because I’ve memorized card meanings, but because I have become friends with the cards (which are vessels of meaning) and with my inner landscapes (which are the ground from which I offer meaning) over long stretches of time. My cards are my friends, and I am theirs.

To practice meaningful divination is first and foremost to be in a healthy relationship with ourselves, our tools, and the present moment. Rather than view the cards (or whatever our medium of choice is) as something to merely extract information from, what if we could relate to them as companions who are capable of — and interested in — being in relationship with us? Rather than view the future as something immovable and imposing, what if we approached it like a being we could relate to through the present moment with love and care? And how can we better understand that, whenever we offer readings to another person, we are forever changing them and ourselves through the act of relating with each other? How might all of these questions and the insights they illicit make our practices more magical, pleasurable, grounded, and healing? And might such attentive relationality be, as brontë suggests, a miraculous doorway to freedom?

On apocalypses

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Mammoth Hotsprings, Yellowstone, Wyoming, 2011 (film) © Gabriela De Golia

Apocalypse comes from the Greek word meaning “to reveal.” An apocalypse is an uncovering more than it is an undoing, helping us see things as they are and as they have been for a while: fractured and disconnected, centered on profit instead of community, individualistic, unsustainable, harmful, etc. The systems we have been living under are collapsing under their oppressive weight.

The COVID-19/coronavirus crisis is an era of death, not just of physical bodies but of the myths we’ve absorbed about our existence (namely, the myth that we are independent individuals as opposed to interdependent collectives). We are experiencing the death of our world as we’ve known it because the social structures and stories we’ve known can no longer hold themselves together.

Yet this time can also be a moment of birthing. We can bring a new world into being if we let ourselves process what is happening and tend to the seedlings of transformation that are seeking to take root and sprout. There isn’t only death in our midst; life is stirring under the soil, desperate to burst forth. Like compost, we can create new growth from the debris of our past.

We must help this burgeoning life to emerge by taking big and small steps towards a new world. We must nourish resilience if we are to bring a new, more sustainable, and equitable world into being. We must harness the tension that’s accumulating during this crisis to propel us forward into a new era of social, political, personal, economic, spiritual, etc. transformation. The tools for a revolution of love are here and the stage is set. Let’s do this.

In addition to basic hygiene guidelines like washing hands and self-quarantining, here are some ways you can practice helping new life emerge in this time of death and dying:

  1. Stay connected emotionally despite physical isolation. Reach out to your people in whatever ways you can through digital means, letter writing, social media, etc. Connection is crucial during crises and times of imposed isolation.
  2. Prioritize your wellbeing. Don’t give up your responsibilities to others, but make clear to yourself and your community what you can and cannot offer at this time. You are a human being with limits on your capacity. Your burnout will harm the people you care for, so be clear and real about your boundaries. Be very diligent when it comes to caring for your physical, emotional, and mental health.
  3. Permit yourself to be where you are. Whether you feel panicked or calm, how you are feeling is a reflection of the ways your body and psyche are processing this experience based on past traumas/experiences. There is no universally appropriate way to be feeling in light of all this. Grieve the losses this situation has thrust upon you and celebrate the silver linings. Give yourself wide berths as you navigate these waters.
  4. At the same time, try to make decisions from a place of love, rather than fear. If you’re feeling unsettled, engage in healthy self-soothing until you can make decisions from the perspective of, “what’s the most loving and life-giving thing I can do for myself and others right now?”
  5. Do less, not more. Our nervous systems are more sensitive than we realize, and they need lots of love right now. Our brains are overwhelmed, and we need to give ourselves space to literally clear neural pathways. What’s the least you can do right now to get by? What tasks can wait or be removed from your list of to-dos? Sleep as much as you need (though if you struggle with depression, don’t stay in bed more than you need to avoid the onset of an episode).
  6. Create some structure amidst the chaos. Our brains need at least a small amount of order to feel safe. Try making a daily schedule for yourself that’s not overtaxing but helps you stay focused on the things you really need to do.
  7. Model healthy crisis response. Children learn how to handle crises by watching how the adults around them do so. If you manage this time by moving from a place of love over fear, you will be teaching another generation how to better care for themselves and the world.
  8. If you’re healthy, offer assistance to vulnerable folks, including the elderly and immunocompromised. Create local community networks where resources and tasks can be shared (like getting groceries for your vulnerable neighbors). We must engage in physical distancing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other out responsibly.
  9. Let this moment radicalize you. To be radical means to address something “at its root.” This crisis wouldn’t be so drastic if we had universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and many other social systems that valued people’s lives over monetary profit. This situation is a political crisis as much as it is a health crisis, and we must address the root causes (namely, social policies) that created it. Donate to a political campaign that is pushing for radical social reform, even if it’s $5/month. Call your representatives demanding that evictions be banned for the duration of the pandemic, that utility companies not be allowed to shut off power/water/gas, and to prioritize the most vulnerable. If your local politicians are enacting progressive crisis response strategies, demand that those stay in place after the pandemic has passed. Organize. Vote accordingly.
  10. Cultivate joy and allow yourself to feel pleasure. Yes, there’s a crisis happening, but it won’t get any better by being depressed or angry or anxious all the time. The idea that we aren’t allowed to experience happiness while others are suffering is codependent nonsense. Make love, sing in the shower, watch your favorite movie, eat your favorite comfort food, do at least one thing a day that can boost your mood and remind you that there is beauty worth living for in this world. Moving from a place of joy will sustain you for the growing revolution.

We are witnessing an apocalypse, but that doesn’t mean everything is over. It means a new promise is revealing itself. We are on the precipice of a revolution of love that is teaching us how to live interconnectedly. It’s on us to accept its invitation to change our world into a better version of itself.

On queerness & mindfulness

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Pride Parade, San Francisco, 2010 (film) © Gabriela De Golia

This piece was originally posted on the Awaken Everyday Blog of Copper Beech Institute in celebration of Pride Month 2019.

I identify as queer. I am also a mindfulness practitioner. While these two things may seem unrelated to one another, they are inherently connected for me. Without mindfulness, I likely wouldn’t have been able to awaken to my queerness; without queerness, my mindfulness practice would not be as rich as it is.

While I sensed I was attracted to other women at a young age, I spent many years denying this deeper knowing and couldn’t bring myself to embrace it or make it known to the world until relatively recently. It was only when I became a resident at Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness center in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, that I began to recognize my attraction to women as more than just fleeting thoughts or feelings. When I was invited to find stillness and come into greater connection with myself through my meditation practice, I could no longer deny the part of me that had been whispering for years, “I am queer.” I realized I yearn for meaningful, romantic, and sexual connections with women (in addition to men and people of other genders). My practice has helped me dismantle and shed the negative programming I’d adopted surrounding my attraction to multiple genders and granted me the spaciousness to fall in love with myself anew as I leaned into my queer nature. My practice gracefully then guided me into my first and current, wondrous partnership with another woman. In very real ways, I am openly and happily queer thanks to my practice of mindfulness.

In a complementary way, my awakening into queerness has led to a more profound practice of mindfulness. To practice mindfulness as a queer woman who experiences social marginalization with respect to gender and sexuality reminds me that contemplative practices are ultimately centered on achieving liberation from suffering. This includes liberation from the suffering imposed on marginalized beings by oppressive social structures such as homophobia, sexism, and patriarchy.

Lest we forget: mindfulness practices were not developed by spiritual masters thousands of years ago to feel less stressed or become more productive, even though it certainly helps with that. At their core, contemplative practices were established to awaken from false notions and touch the deeper, sacred reality of radical interconnectedness. Recognizing that oppressive social structures try to keep us from accessing this truth, we are invited to practice in such a way that our mindfulness can be a vehicle for furthering love and justice in the world by dismantling systems that deny the inherent dignity of all beings, including those in the LGBTQIA+ communities.

My practice of mindfulness is centered on learning to love myself, others, and the world in a way that is counter to the oppressive norms that currently structure our societies. Similarly, to be queer is to love and exist in a way that is counter to current social norms. In these respects, my practice of mindfulness and my queerness are cut from similar cloth; each helps me to love and to exist from a place of greater liberation.

 

Related reading:

On resonance

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The Grand Tetons at sunset, Wyoming, 2011 (film, Nikon) © Gabriela De Golia

 

Content disclaimer: this musing is a bit science-focused at first, which I personally love but know can be intimidating for some. It grows into an interdisciplinary piece though, touching on spirituality, social theory, and more. I’ve tried my best to write about science in accessible terms, so if it isn’t your thing, have no fear! I gotchyu.

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There are many ways to define resonance whether you’re talking about physics, chemistry, relationships, or any number of topics. All point to a common theme, though: it represents the amplification of a particular state when it encounters something else in that same state. It’s a co-creative and mutually growthful occurrence.

The most common example of this has to do with sound. Most of us have experienced it: we’re playing an instrument with others or singing in a group and, suddenly, the sound we individually produce “jumps” to a much higher level (also known as a higher amplitude) because it’s matched up with the frequency produced by another object or person. This is because the frequencies literally add onto one another so their total strength is much greater than their individual parts. The sound we made alone is nothing compared to that which was created together.

I personally love graphs because they are simple and often artistic representations of complex information. I’ve included one here about the concept of resonance that I found on PhysicsNet:

 

resonance-graph
Graph demonstrating vibration amplification when resonance is achieved, (c) PhysicsNet

In this graph, f(o) represents the resonant frequency. When you hit this by getting an object to vibrate in a particular way, you see the amplitude of the vibration (the strength of it, in other words) suddenly jumps by leaps and bounds. It’s like hitting the musical/physical jackpot; it’s where you get the most bang for your buck.

You can achieve this resonance goldmine by joining in with something else that’s vibrating at the same frequency (such as the music example from above), or by reaching an individual object’s or your own “natural frequency”. For an example of natural frequency, think of making a crystal cup “sing” by wetting your finger and pressing it along a glass’s crystal rim in circular motions. When doing that, you’ll feel the cup vibrate more and more strongly and start to “sing” once you get a good rhythm going. You’re hitting its natural frequency there, making it go into resonance.

For those who sing in a group setting, like a choir, you know when you’ve hit resonance — the sound of the group utterly changes, along with the energy of the space (including in your body). I mean this very literally: energy changes by virtue of the physical vibrations coalescing and becoming much stronger, so you feel a vibrational shift. I also mean it in a more intuitive manner: when you hit resonance, you feel more “in tune” (get it?) with your surroundings. Because you literally are.

In addition to being an amazing scientific phenomenon, resonance is an incredibly helpful concept for me when making decisions and/or thinking about spirituality, relationships, and many other aspects of life and society.

We’ve all experienced a circumstance in which there are many different options we can choose from. To help clarify what the best choice is, we create pros vs. cons lists, ask our friends and family for guidance on what to do, or leave it up to chance and flip a coin because we literally can’t make the decision for ourselves. I have personally done all these things when presented with something I simply didn’t know how to navigate. They all work well to some degree. When I started thinking of the concept of resonance in terms of decision making, I had a new tool with which to disentangle the knotted mess of possible paths to take.

If we think about our life as a symphony and the different decisions we make as musical notes, each decision then has its own sound, with its own beauty or sharpness or flatness. Some are clearly not the right note for this time in our lives; many others might all sound appealing and could feasibly work in the larger musical piece. The question is, thus, which exact note/choice do we choose that would best compliment the music at this place and time of our lives?

I say we choose that note/option which, when carried out, brings all the other aspects of our life to a “higher amplitude”. Think of the graph above: which note, which vibration, which choice is the one through which you can be ushered to new heights precisely because it represents your natural frequency?

This is obviously a very abstract concept, so perhaps a concrete example might help to clarify what I mean here. I am now in my late twenties, and over the past decade, I have served in many professional roles: political organizer, social justice trainer, educator, staffer at a Buddhist monastery, grant writer, program coordinator, and more. Each role has nourished me deeply and I could feasibly serve in any of them for the rest of my life and be very good at it. They would all make me quite happy, too. As my father likes to say, “my daughter is a Renaissance woman, a Jane of all trades — she can do just about anything!” Obviously, this is a loving exaggeration, but the point is that I have many paths available to me when it comes to career. This is a blessing not all people can claim for themselves, so I am truly grateful for the privilege of having a choice in what I can do with my life.

Very much to my surprise, when I saw my now-beloved pastor the first time I ever went to church at the age of 26, a small but clear voice inside my spirit said: “I want to be that.” I was a doubter and did not actively believe in God at the time so you can imagine I was incredibly confused by the internal voice. I dismissed it as bizarre and humorous. I imagined I was attracted to the fact that she was facilitating learning in a spiritual context, which I myself had already done to varying degrees in my capacities as a Buddhist practitioner and training facilitator. I imagined I liked the fact she was in a leadership role and a public speaker. I imagined all sorts of things to explain away the confusing statement that had arisen within me.

Yet slowly, surely, over time I began to realize what actually happened upon meeting my pastor was that my natural frequency had been struck; I just hadn’t known what that would feel or “sound” like before it happened. By going to church these past couple years, by developing a deeper friendship and “professional” relationship with my pastor by becoming a deacon, and by listening more and more to my own internal symphony and figuring out what notes sound best within my being, it has become very clear that the path of becoming a minister is exactly the right path for me to follow at this time. I thus recently submitted my applications to divinity school and hope to begin my pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree in the fall of 2019.

Whether or not I become an actual pastor is beside the point to me. Maybe I’ll become a chaplain, or maybe I’ll be pointed towards some other path during my studies. But to walk the path of ordination right now feels exactly right and I know the journey will eventually lead me to where I am most called to serve.

Coming to the understanding that I want to become a spiritual leader — namely, a Christian minister — required patience, trust, and developing a sense of comfort within discomfort. It required that I admit I was both enthused at the thought of becoming a religious leader and embarrassed by it (because, according to modern standards, religious people are foolish, right?). It required that I learn to let go of my obsession with what others think of my life choices and listen instead to what notes the orchestra within me wishes to play, and what the conductor of my life (God, my Higher Self, etc.) is inviting me to do.

As a Christian, when I think of resonance, I think of tuning myself to God’s frequency. When in prayer, instead of listing things I hope God will do for me, I try to align my being with God so I can become resonant with the divine plan and flow with the larger patterns of existence. It’s a subtle and confusing practice at times, but again: once you hit resonance, you know it. (Fr. Richard Rohr speaks to all this beautifully in his short meditation A Tuning Fork.)

When I hit spiritual resonance, God and I begin to amplify one another. On my end, that means I act from a place of greater unity, strength, and peace. Even if there are multiple good options for me to choose from, I usually sense which one is more “in tune” with God’s plans. I pursue this path as best I can even if it’s not what I or others initially wanted to do because I trust infinite God more than my finite self. I might be afraid to follow God’s path because of the vulnerabilities it hoists upon me (such as the possibility of rejection, uncertainties about my future, etc.), but I do so anyway because I know God’s plans always yield more love than I could conjure up on my own.

With practice, I believe everyone has the capacity to sense this kind of resonance and act from it, even non-religious folks. In essence, to sense resonance is to deepen one’s intuition. To deepen one’s intuition is to learn how to distinguish the signal from the noise of our minds and follow that signal at all costs, even if it means taking risks and navigating unknowns. It is an act of faith in oneself and the larger process.

The only way to get better at this is by doing it. Doing it allows us to hear with greater clarity what the voice deep within and/or beyond us is calling us to do. In doing what this voice wishes for us, we come into greater resonance with ourselves and the world around us. In so doing, the symphony of our lives is taken to new heights; we feel more in tune with ourselves, others, and the larger process.

Spanning outward from the personal realm, I believe this concept of resonance can also be applied to social systems. What societal structures open us up and lift each individual and group to new heights of fulfillment? What social systems allow for the whole to be amplified and sustained? What policies honor all persons, leaving no one at risk of a socially-imposed, premature death? As a radical progressive who believes in a beloved revolution, I believe such a resonant society looks like one in which the government supports the poor, celebrates difference across gender and race and all other facets of identity, opens borders, and functions from a philosophy of abundance rather than one of lack. It is a culture of listening rather than dictating; of accountable forgiveness and amend-making instead of punishment and excuse-offering. It is a space where interdependence is validated instead of independence.

In short, a resonant society is one that is in alignment with our human essence and calls forth the parts of ourselves which mystics across time, space, and faiths speak to: that is, our interconnected, abundant, transformative, and whole nature. Such a society, though we’ve never lived in one, is possible precisely because it is in our very nature to achieve such resonance. While it requires practice, it is possible. Indeed, the possible is only possible through practice.

Whether on personal, divine, or social levels, I find the concept of resonance to be one of the most helpful forms of imagery when navigating unknown and complex situations. It helps me distinguish signal from noise. It helps me remember I don’t have to exhaust myself, that I can simply listen for the right frequency and follow its directives upon locating it. Resonance is what guides me amidst the glorious messiness of life.

*

The inspiration for the post’s image: I took this photo of the Grand Tetons during a cross-country road trip in 2011. When my brother and I arrived in the national park, we turned a bend and there stood the Grand Tetons, a monumental mountain range that juts out from the earth to an elevation of 14,000 feet. I gasped so loudly that he halted the car, afraid I was having an asthma attack (note: I don’t have asthma, but apparently my breathing pattern was similar to that of an asthmatic). I unexpectedly started to cry; something about those mountains moved me to tears. Our entire stay was a deeply spiritual experience for me that I reflect on regularly to this day. It was one of the first times I ever felt deeply resonant with the world around me. Even though I wouldn’t have called it this at the time, it was an experience of communion with God.

On hope

 

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Floating candles, California, 2010 (film, Nikon) © Gabriela De Golia

 

Hope is a thing of grandeur. It is a primary pillar of many spiritual faiths; a thing we are told to hold onto when all else fails. Without it, especially during difficult times, what is left of our reason for being?

As someone who deeply appreciates the story and path of Jesus, I recognize that Advent (the time leading up to Christmas, which we are experiencing at the time of writing this) is a time of hope. In Biblical texts, the period leading up to Jesus’ birth was depicted as a time when deep darkness covered the earth and all seemed at a loss. Yet in this darkness a great light was gestating; the darkness was the seedbed for great changes that were fast approaching. Some knew this because they could read the signs (think: the Three Wise Men) and because of these abilities, they grasped hope from the clutches of despair. This hope, this light, this beacon, of course, was held in Jesus — the vulnerable, complex mixture of all-powerfulness and absolute powerlessness. God manifested as a human baby that couldn’t fend for itself yet somehow held the strength of all the heavens within it. What a beautiful metaphor indeed.

To have hope in a time of deep despair is a nuanced exercise. For some, it seems obvious that we should cultivate and nourish it. For others, it’s more complicated than that. Pema Chödrön, one of the most respected Buddhist teachers of our time, bluntly suggests we “abandon hope.” Put slightly differently, she says, “the trick is not getting caught in hope and fear.” For her and other Buddhists, hope is but an emotional state that is just as likely to yield suffering as fear.

Indeed, upon deeper inquiry, it becomes clear that many of our hopes are fed by our fears. We are afraid x will happen so we hope y happens instead. It’s somewhat circuitous, but if one looks at the true nature of both fear and hope, we see they are closely related and even woven of the same threads.

Because of its proximity to fear, we must be attentive to our hope. Otherwise, we’re likely to suffer whether or not we nourish said hope, for it will merely be a masked version of our fear. Hope is, therefore, a subtle practice, a delicate state of being that must be tended to diligently.

As a Christian who practices Buddhism, I often find myself at a cross-wiring when it comes to hope. My trust in God’s grace leads me to have immense hope for myself and the world, yet my Buddhist practice encourages me to let go of my hopeful thinking and the emotional states that come from hopefulness. It’s a very interesting space to be in.

What I’ve started doing in light of my seemingly-opposing spiritual inclinations is to nourish my hope without tethering it to an outcome. This is paradoxical when seen in the light of conventional understandings of hope, so let me explain.

In my view, hope is problematic when predicated on the need for a particular outcome to occur. To me, that’s like gambling with fate. You can’t control the vast majority of what will happen in your life, let alone the world, so why spend so much energy becoming emotionally invested in an outcome that could very well not happen? Of course, some argue “because that’s what keeps you going!” But what about when that thing you’re trying to avoid happens, or that thing you’re hoping for fails to happen? Was all your effort and emotion, then, a waste?

Hope is often used as a way to escape the discomfort of the present moment. To hope for a better future often translates into sidestepping our need to simply be present with what is happening right now: our pain, our sorrow, our anger, etc. That’s not always a helpful strategy. Again, in the words of Pema Chödrön: “If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” We’re all walking on unsolid ground — we could all suddenly die of a freak accident, lose a loved one, or have unexpected changes knock us to the ground. Ironically, becoming comfortable with the “groundlessness” of life is necessary for achieving deep inner peace.

I won’t go as far as Pema Chödrön and suggest we abandon hope altogether. But I do believe it’s important to abandon hope that seeks to keep suffering at bay. That is an exercise in futility.

I also believe it’s important to release our hope from our desired outcomes. To hope without demanding that your vision for the future manifests is to hope for something different. It is to place a radical amount of trust in oneself and in the process. To have hope without necessitating a particular outcome is to act from the knowledge that even if none of what we want to occur actually happens, something transformative will nevertheless manifest in the depths of the unknown. That transformative something might be painful, but we recognize it is not wasted in the grand scheme of things precisely because there is no waste in the grand scheme, only transformation. This is not a spiritual truism; even the law on the conservation of energy points to this fact.

To have hope without requiring that our desired outcome manifests is to humbly admit that due to our own incapacity to understand the full scope of the process we neither know the best outcome nor have the means to bring it about on our own. So why seek to impose our hopes on the world? Why not instead trust that, no matter what, the situation will become transformed in a fashion that is aligned with workings that are far grander in scope than we can possibly understand? For some, like myself, these larger workings are called “God”; for others, they represent processes (be it mechanical, social, relational, etc.) that are larger than them.

Healthy hope is thus a matter of trusting that the larger process is inherently based on transformation rather than on the dichotomy of successful vs. wasted experience. To hope without skipping out of the present moment, without requiring that the world gives us a specific outcome, is to touch a deeper level of stability than fear-induced hope can ever offer. Above all else, healthy hope is a remembrance that fruitful transformation is inherent to all situations.

Further readings

On queerness

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Posters depicting Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay elected official in California. The quote on them reads: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” San Francisco, 2010 (film, Nikon) © Gabriela De Golia

I identify as queer. By that, I am not simply referring to my sexuality, though I am indeed attracted to people of the same gender as me (that is, cisgender females; I’m also attracted to more genders than that). When using the term “queer”, I am referring to a way of being in the world. Queer is a way of positioning myself with regards to the mainstream, of loving, of existing. Queer to me isn’t simply about sex; it’s about every part of me and my positionality in the world.

For those of you who are confused by my use of this term due to teachings that claim it’s an insult: yes, it was indeed a pejorative word for many years and some people still use it as such. But for a number of decades now, folks in the LGBTQIA+ community have been reappropriating the term as a method of self-empowerment and it has come to mean so much. Many still don’t feel comfortable using it, which I understand, but I personally like it because a) it doesn’t linguistically limit my attraction to a particular gender; b) when marginalized communities take an insult and turn it into a celebratory term, there is a beautiful reversal of power structures (“we’re queer, we’re here!”); and c) because “queer” denotes so much more than sex.

Dictionary.com defines queer as “strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular”. In a very real way, to be sexually and genderly queer is to be strange from the conventional viewpoint of society. In my view, this is a very good thing for many reasons.

If we are brave (or woke) enough to admit that the conventional viewpoint of society is to see things through the lenses of patriarchy, classism, racism, sexism, etc., then anything that is considered “strange or odd” by the standards of this viewpoint inherently points to an alternate, more liberatory structure by which our society could function. Put another way, what is “odd” from the conventional social viewpoint is actually that which can guide us to the path of liberation from our oppressive social systems. Thus, if being queer is to be “odd” by modern standards, then to be queer is to have a unique perspective on social norms that can inform our communities on how to live from a more liberated place.

Deep down I’ve known I was queer since middle school, but I didn’t bring myself to embrace this and make it known to the wider world until just recently. There are many reasons for this, some of which are common experiences for LGBTQIA+ individuals: mockery or rejection from people who sense our queerness; the social pressure to be straight (or at least present as such); erasure (“you dated a man for years, you’re not queer (enough)”); internalized insecurity about one’s very being (“I’m different and therefore unworthy.”); etc. Queer beings are intrinsically counter to what current power structures ask of us; this is why many queer folks describe themselves as “countercultural”. There is nothing inherently wrong or erroneous about our orientation/existence, yet systemic social structures and policies state that there is. Thus, to be queer in this day and age is to run counter to the norm; to run counter to the norm is to be at the margins; to be at the margins is to experience marginalization.

Queer folks, like any marginalized group, are placed on the margins without our consent simply by virtue of who we are. This puts us at risk of harm and even premature death. Yet some of us have come to value and embrace this marginalized position, and I include myself among this crew. We do not embrace our marginalization because we celebrate a victim mentality but because, really, why would we want to be “at the center” when the center is built on oppressive systems (see my above point about patriarchy, classism, racism, sexism, etc.)? To be consciously at the margins is to be closer to the possibility of a different society grounded in equity, love, and the celebration of differences. In the words of Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Even with all of its hardships, the positionality of being on the margins is, to me, a far grander and more liberated existence than that of trying to force my way towards the center of current power systems (which ultimately amounts to a process of conforming to and furthering problematic norms).

One example that might clarify what I mean here has to do with marriage equality. While I am completely in favor of granting queer couples the right to marry and enjoy the benefits of such a union, the entire conversation about why queers should be allowed to marry has been centered on many bizarre assumptions, including the notion that “queers are really just like straight people, so let them get married!” I disagree: queer people are not “just like straight people”; our life experiences are different from that of someone whose orientation and relationships mimic a social ideal.

Marriage equality, in many circles, amounts to a method of bringing queer folks into the privileged position of straight people. While helpful in many respects, this has largely been an assimilation strategy that brings queers into the straight fold rather than celebrating the difference that is queerness. While the intentions of marriage equality might be noble, there’s also queer erasure going on through this process of assimilation. Such a strategy is very different from a practice of liberation that seeks to free everyone (queer, straight, everyone) from the grips of oppression such as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

Why haven’t we instead questioned the fundamental assumptions undergirding the whole marriage equality debate by asking: “why do we have this straight/queer dichotomy in the first place, and why does society go to such lengths to act on it? Why is the ‘straight way’ the best way, and why should queers be expected to conform to straight norms, including marriage? Why do we even require people to get married in order to have hospital visitation rights or tax benefits? Why are we even limiting marriage to two people?” Etc. etc. etc.

To clarify: I believe that working to transform “the center” by altering social norms through policy changes and other means is absolutely essential to providing marginalized populations with basic needs. And I won’t claim to have all the answers to the question of how to create a truly liberated community. My only point is that we can’t stop at mere assimilation strategies, and they definitely shouldn’t be the end goal. We must reevaluate the system in its entirety if we are to create a beloved community that uplifts and celebrates all people. Assimilation tactics have their purpose, but if we stop there it’s going to be a long road to freedom indeed.

A point about queerness as a practice of liberation that I’ve recently come to understand within myself has to do with patriarchy and sexism specifically. For much of my life, I was mostly attracted to men — though I knew I was also attracted to women — and I dated a man for nearly six years. (A sidenote: I’d be remiss not to mention that my history of male partnership and attraction to men grants me much privilege when it comes to queerness. I easily pass as straight in many circles and can slip into “straight mode” if necessary. Not all queer folks benefit from this straight-passing privilege.) Much beauty was found in all my romantic/sexual encounters with men. And yet, in all of them to date, there was a nagging fear that I had to do something about myself because I simply wasn’t enough in relation to the partnership. This, I have come to realize, was partly a manifestation of internalized sexism/patriarchy.

When I started going on dates with women, it took a while to notice that this fear of “not being good enough” wasn’t there and that I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to the people I was dating in the way that I had while seeing men. A lot happened on a personal level between when I broke up with my last male partner and when I started dating women, so at first, I thought the shift had to do with those changes. Eventually, though, I realized I wasn’t feeling the aforementioned insecurity simply because there wasn’t an unbalanced gender power dynamic between me and my female dates. We were approaching each other from a level gender playing field, if you will. This was very different from my dating experiences with men, which were inherently lopsided from a social-power standpoint. When I realized this, I felt a deep sense of joy and relief; I could now engage in partnerships with a lesser amount of social bullshit to sift through.

This isn’t to say that men themselves are to blame for the insecurities I felt; I recognize that the larger systems of patriarchy and sexism are to blame there, even if and when said systems act through people. I also don’t mean to imply that female-male partnerships can’t ever be grounded in justice; they absolutely can, and I know a number of straight partnerships that are very “queer” because of the healthy way each party navigates gender and sexual dynamics. And this isn’t to say that classism, racism, and other sorts of oppression don’t crop up in queer relationships; they obviously do.

What I’m getting at, rather, is that the practice of being queer in my choice of partners — that is, to see women — has been a beautiful, personal practice of healing from sexism and patriarchy. To embrace my queerness has, in very real and concrete ways, helped me to more intentionally walk a path of personal liberation. While I’m still attracted to men and imagine I’ll date men again, exploring my attraction to women and finding ways to tend to the wounds of internalized patriarchy means queer-female relationships (both platonic and romantic) are the more wholesome option for me right now. While this wouldn’t be the case for all, it is for me.

I am so happy to be queer for many reasons. One of them is that my queerness has helped me see alternate and more liberatory options for myself (and the world) than I ever knew were possible when I couldn’t embrace my queer nature. Even with all its complexities, my queerness is, therefore, a deep, deep blessing.

Suggested queer reads