Being Yourself: Someone Wants to be a Poet

“It is clear that we must trust what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Recently while talking with a friend about writing I evoked a memory of an evening writing class I started in the Navy. We wrote the first evening submitting our pieces. In the second the instructor sat on her desk reading from our papers.

She cynically read the first line of mine with exasperation and incredulity stating “God! Someone wants to be a poet!” I stopped breathing. Rolling her eyes she threw my paper to the side of her desk for effect. I don’t remember the remainder of that evening’s class nor did I return to others. My first line concerned itself with a handmade wooden boat pulled high on the sands while yet buffeted by the waves of a rising tide, and the sounds of the surf and wind.

As I continued talking with my friend my neck began to hurt and stiffen and my throat tightened. In my mind’s eye I was watching images of ancestors on my mother’s side: they were inured to constraint upon constraint of their expression. I saw too my own history of constraints: In the seventh grade for example, the band teacher told me to put the sticks to my snare drum down and return to study hall as “I was having too much fun and not taking class seriously.” I did as he directed.

The Mystery is bent on changing us. Though not exclusively, we are changed by how we navigate difficulties. The late anthropologist Angeles Arrien said “Neither push to make things happen nor hold yourself back.” If we collapse in the face of difficulties, we are holding ourselves back. If we blame or attack, we are caught up in the folly of pushing to make things happen. Each response is self-defeating and disempowering. **

In each of my examples I collapsed. Proving we are more powerful than opposing forces never occurs through attacking, pushing-back, resisting, or collapsing. Rather, prevailing ensues from becoming a countervailing force equal to the opposition in each moment: neither pushing nor collapsing. Prevailing is standing in our relaxed sovereign power; it is being guided by non-ordinary forces informing the what and how of our next actions.

The seventh grade boy in band and the nineteen year old in the writing class were ill-prepared to do anything but collapse. They lacked a connection to Wisdom: They had unhealed ancestral, familial and personal injuries (Aka: difficulties) awaiting remedy. Collapsing in their respective circumstances was inevitable, of necessity; though painful their collapses were boons to later changes and healing.

The boards or timbers comprising the hulls of beached boats shrink leaving the boats devoid of buoyancy. For these boats to fulfill their purpose they need be submerged in water for extended periods. Only then may they be surfaced and placed in service. The waters and seas are feminine. At nineteen I was unaware of the absences of feminine nurturing in my upbringing; of her absences in the lives of my parents—and those before them, and those before them.

The crush of difficulties and our proper responses to them gives rise to gravitas—our soul weight—our rightly weighted keels ensuring our stability, our seaworthiness, and our capacities to counterbalance forces opposing us.

The lecturer, explorer and mystic Paul Richards reminds us that our power is assessed not in how hard a punch we can throw but rather in how hard a punch we can take. Being gracious, embodying an equanimity, consenting to and relaxing into the difficulties we face garners us greater ease in our lives. So too does being attuned and in touch with the Mystery. She provides clarity regarding what to do and how to do it. Being so attuned furthers our capacities in seeing and appreciating beauty—in our difficulties—and in all things. (Beauty is code for the feminine.)

The younger me, the one having too much fun in band unwittingly knew the rhythm of Life was something other than seriousness. The guy in the writing class was unaware of his deeper intent in taking the class: he wanted to learn to skipper his boat. Thanks to the selves I’ve been I am in open waters now reacquainting myself with non-ordinary Life rhythms.

I want a poetic life and to be myself. Both are more easily realized by being kind, generous, gracious and compassionate with my Self and others. Gratitude helps too. In the cycling repetitions of Beauty in the canon in which I find myself I ask—“How is the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero?”

* The Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein commissioned Ravel’s Bolero, thus her painting by Valentin Servo.

** There are times of course when the Mystery demands that we fight for our lives or those of others. We know this. Let go of any beliefs standing between you and genuinely caring for, defending and preserving yourself and others in your care.

Being Ourselves, Unafraid

“You must learn one thing. 
The world was made to be free in. 
Give up all the other worlds
except the one in which you belong.” – David Whyte

One of the most challenging aspects of life is giving ourselves over to all that wants expression through us. For example: writing — poetry, fiction, non-fiction; drawing; playing a bow and string instrument; engaging in long hours of intimate lovemaking; providing counsel or facilitation to others; directly experiencing the profound beauty of the earth, and delighting in another’s expression of genius. My longing is boundless.

Things longed for are cues from our genuine selves. Consenting to who we are and what we love, and the giving ourselves over to the doing of what we love, is the larger part of genuinely being ourselves. The smaller part is doing the necessary life sustenance things: managing resources, doing our work, providing and caring for family, repairing the car, doing the dishes, etcetera.

Being ourselves is a subversive proposition and a harrowing undertaking. Being ourselves requires letting go of being whelmed by what is occurring “out there.” It is letting go of resisting and fighting the dramas of the 7.2 billion others peopling the planet. It is letting go of our cultural story — “giving up all the other worlds except the one in which you belong.” 

Through inhabiting the world in which we belong without reservation, we recognize that our own world was made to be free in. Not the one “out there” for it will always be what it is — something other.

Etymology sources reveal the early meaning of the English word free as “beloved” — both noun and adjective forms. Todays connotations of being unconstrained are lovely yet consider this: Our worlds were made to be beloved in: my world, your world. Beloved and unconstrained! Does this not lend itself to self-acceptance, self-worth — self-love? All this irrespective of others and external circumstances…whew! 

Imagine the communities arising from these worlds.

As to the unafraid bit: Personally, I suspect my body will always fear death. Some other fears of mine will evaporate. As for those remaining: I am disentangling myself from their effects — doing what I love nonetheless. Neither I, nor anyone, need be slave to fears simply because they exist.

Happy New Year, 2015!

Today there are some forty calendars used widely in the world; a handful used less broadly; some twenty others no longer in use. And fifteen or sixteen others proposed. 

Britain’s, now deceased futurist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, reminded us “The future is not what it used to be.” I contend neither are the past or present.

Those of us shunted about by the Gregorian calendar — the conceptual architecture within which we change, constrain and expand ourselves, and our lives — are in the habit of speaking of New Year’s resolutions. Making them is another matter still — so too the discipline of implementing them.

The root of the word resolution is “solv”. It means to loosen. In content, to loosen involves letting go, presumably to make way for something else — another thought, action, or way of being.

What if, in our pattern of making or not making resolutions, we actually let go of conceptual and psychological time. What if we loosened our grip on the imposed intent of others and our cultures? Of course keep your time-based agreements and responsibilities. Yet, I am reminding us to directly experience the experience of our lives: those moments for example of doing things we love…those engagements when hours pass in what we experience as seconds, minutes.

When we capitulate to believing our thoughts and psychological experience are the real things in life; when we confuse them with the richness of experiencing our sensate and energetic experience of life; when we believe them to be life itself, we miss the happiness and beauty ever present in the loveliness and fierceness of life’s lapidary. Actual experience is the substance of life!

The protagonist in the 1998 American film Lulu on the Bridge states “I’m tired of being someone else’s idea of who I am.” Whether the future is what it used to be, or what we long it to become, choosing direct experience over conceptual is choosing life; choosing to live by your own intent; being yourself – living genuinely your own life, and doing the things you love is a recipe for happiness in the New Year. 

What else will come will come.

Wishing you happiness in your New Year!


Palomino hair 
           captivating hips,

Eschewing eye contact,

Enthralled by the inanities
of London dailies…
         — ordinarily so.

Insinuating her petite body 
into crowded queue

         faintly forward
Pressed as proximity permits
sans physical touch.

dwarfed by the mass of my body
         — enfolded within the 
field-space of my being — 

Bent on preventing intrusion 
        — imposition 

my honor 
stills and silences 
the maleness 
of body and mind.

In this 
        non-ordinary place
ineffable constituencies 
of sentience
apprehend the other
        — subtle, nuanced — 


Essential recognition. 

         …the gentle currency of intimacy.

©2014 Stephen Victor

Love’s Reclamation

for Victoria and Andrew

O Grief, 
         genderless colorless wretch 
crushing palm on larynx
         encircled brawny fingers
cancel carotid canal’s languid pulse 

…an intent 
more powerful than ought possess.

This breathless brutal — ineffable  
dissolves my prowess

siphons off the voice of my flaccid body 

                   lungs burning 
amidst ceaselessly wrenching anguish.

This taut tension of Grief’s clasp 

My amorphous and cadaverous body 
below dark fecund humus 
         — my crematory — 
                  my baptismal grave.

this extant heart and corpse 
                  remains cadaveric

or raised by 
         Lazarus’s levitational nod
is not of my choosing…

The strings of this fate 
         are held by the stealthy fingers
                  of the Mystery’s
Karmic Puppeteer. 

Should she erect 
an elevated life from this morbidity 

                  — the one rising 
will not be the one 

For this risen one
         forged into

visitations of
Grief’s fierce ruthlessness 
a summer’s day fragrance
of honeysuckle

are compassions each.

© 2014 Stephen Victor

Women & Men: Ending We & They, Us & Them

What’s madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?” ~ American poet, Theodore Roethke 

I ended my last post saying I would tell you the how of becoming a counterbalancing force to misogyny. Whew! Was I silly in making that promise! We all know what human decency asks of us. Yet more is needed to genuinely act decently, particularly when daily pressures are typhoon- and tsunami-like.

The online Oxford English dictionary defines misogyny as “the hatred of girls and women”. Seemingly there is a corollary: misandry. Misandry is defined as “the hatred of men by women”. The thing is, words are neither the thing nor the process named. The hell with words: the reality is, we (all of us) behave, at times, in inexcusably non-loving and diminishing ways. The norm in the cultures of the world is one of unjustifiable cruelty to women; and one which denies women, one-half the world’s population, their standing and voice. Our cultures also emasculate men. Aware or not, each of us contributes to this. Aware or not, we are deeply at odds with these normalized circumstances.

There is a little known reality that Life cannot hate Life. We cannot and do not hate girls and women, nor boys and men! Rather, we hate, if we do, certain events and circumstances, and the things people do, or not do. To believe we hate another person or ourselves is a profound misunderstanding and misapprehension of who and what we are.

We confuse actions with identity. We are NOT what we do! Whatever it is that we are is entirely distinct from our thoughts and actions. Distinct too from the things that have happened to us. Our actions and our qualities of character reveal ONLY two things: 1) the degree to which we have healed, grown, developed, and evolved; and 2) whether we have directly experienced the non-physical and non-psychological merging with the Human-Mystery-Membrane. (Humanity’s point of nexus with the Central Organizing Force of the Cosmos. It is the prerequisite for Enlightenment, if there is such a thing. More on this in a later post.)

The dictionary defines objectify as “to degrade to the status of an object…a material thing that can be seen or touched”. We have normalized the objectification of ourselves and others. A primary consequence? A loss of intimacy with self, others and Life.

I repeat: We are not our physical bodies! We are not our personalities! Not our psychologies. Nor our minds, thoughts or actions; nor our imaginations. Knowing this conceptually is insufficient. When we genuinely do the disciplined work of learning to love we foster the possibilities for directly experiencing our non-objectified selves, and the non-personalized, non-relational Awareness. 

One of the ostensible benefits of objectifying ourselves and others is that we can blame others with impunity. Intimacy is such an impediment to blame and objectification. Where can love come in? Oh, its belongs to those with beautiful or handsome features. Perfect bodies. Those with politically and spiritually correct language and behavior…or does it? Are these examples of objectification?

Privately, we silently fear or judge ourselves to be priggish pricks or scolding shrews. We judge others too. We declare others the bigger bastard or bitch: It can’t be about us, right? We constantly feel disbelief in seeing the actions of those bastards, those bitches, yet, whew! at least we’re not that bad. Admit it or not, this is the most pervasive drama on the human screen.

Even the least developed, evolved, or in our contemporary vernacular — least spiritually aware — of us have acknowledged that a global shift has occurred. Some journalists call it The Shift. In addition to the global difficulties we all know about, there is another less obvious change trumping all others: a mandate for becoming personally responsible for the experiences, events and circumstances of our lives, all of them. This is done by managing our inner personal and spiritual ecologies. (I will write more on this in other posts.)

I regret that many New Age people have diminished and misdirected us from what is genuine and substantive. Nonetheless some New Age soothsayers have been giving us the heads-up on the personal responsibility thing for years. Now the drill is to attend to our inner personal and spiritual ecology with a relaxed rigor and self-discipline. Consider this: The earth’s evolution via tectonic shifts are but hiccups compared to the leap possible for us and future generations — if we take on all that personal responsibility entails. And yes, we also have the choice of ending life as we know it on the planet.

As for becoming counterbalancing forces, remember that diminishing girls and boys, women and men is at odds with the nobility of our souls, if we have souls. I will drill down into specific and necessary actions in upcoming posts. Even though we do not know the how of all these things, each of us possesses sufficient capacities to be increasingly gracious, compassionate and kindhearted with ourselves and others.

Half the Sky

“When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” ~ Chinese proverb

Former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power is on book shop shelves now. I find it heartening that an American political person has honestly turned his attention to the most pressing issue of all time: ending the subjugation of girls, women and the feminine.

The People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced that “women hold up half the sky.” Though his intent was putting women in the labor force, girls and women have benefitted hugely. This proclamation has become a Chinese proverb. I mentioned this to my partner who reflexively – without judgment – responded “I wonder who holds up the other half.”

Of course conditions for girls and women remain untenable in China, yet so too the world over. We, Western or Westernized peoples, need not gloat, our women’s suffrage notwithstanding. For we continue perpetrating unconscionable horrors on girls and women daily. Those of us regarding ourselves as just and compassionately aware are ourselves unwittingly complicit in perpetuating misogyny’s grip.

Contemporary civilizations, cultures, religions and institutions are predicated on dishonoring the feminine. Those who fail to see this are yet in the grip of the denial of our enculturation. We like this part of our upbringing for we learned to fear change. To see – to genuinely apprehend the horrors girls and women routinely experience will change you irrevocably. Once changed you will have think and act differently or live painfully in dissonance.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. It’s a must read. Brilliant writing and structure yet you will need to buck up as it is graphic. I ricocheted round a myriad points of outrage, deep cathartic grief and heartening possibility.

If you value being alive. If you want your life to be better. If you are of a bent for living decently, for growing and awakening psychologically – and spiritually, for making a positive difference in the lives of others — if you want to change the world — if you want to love and be loved, you begin by becoming an individual embodiment of a force which counterbalances misogyny! (By the way, the world does not need changing!)

The Mystery continually invites us to change, to morph, to unfold, to expand. Becoming a countervailing force to misogyny is a means of connecting with the central organizing force of the cosmos – Love. No one can do this for another.

What does counterbalancing misogyny mean? 
It is the honoring of girls and women and the feminine. It is recognizing their dignity as Living Beings, as people; it is acknowledging, valuing and standing up for their human rights; it is seeing their innocence, standing, voice, place; it is honoring and respecting that they themselves own, are free to choose and decide and control what they do with their bodies, and what is done with or to their bodies.

It is honoring and valuing the Life and right of a girl or woman to have her full expression on this planet. It is honoring and respecting their personal psychologies, their thinking minds, their mental, feeling, emotional, physical and energetic needs, expression and processes. It is recognizing, respecting, supporting and welcoming their personal power, and their participation and contribution – their promise – in our lives – our world.

Counterbalancing misogyny requires that each of us individually think and act with the disciplined intent of ensuring that girls and women are safe with and safe from us. It is honoring the feminine by giving girls and women clean undemanding, respectful and honoring attention. 

How to become an embodied counterbalancing force to misogyny is the topic of my next post. 

In the interim I invite you to read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Breaking Bad

All of us have habits. We can’t help it. With them we need not engage awareness. Nor consult thought or experience or others. In short we need not choose. So we don’t. We continue sleeping away our lives deploying our legal opiate, our defense to the fierceness of daily life. Habits are perilous.

When I provided conflict resolution services to individuals and organizations there were always specific questions asked: Are you biased? Are you impartial? will you remain impartial? neutral? 

I responded: I am never neutral! I am always biased. I stand on the side of human dignity. The side of decency. I respect everyone who is a party to these issues, these conflicts and honor your dignity. I do so with my states, my presence, my thinking, my speech and actions, and the models and processes I use. 

There were also clusters of unarticulated questions: most unconscious. Some not. Always communicated though not in words. They included:
• Am I safe with you? (Will you protect me from those on the other side? from myself?)
• Am I safe from you? (Will you protect me from you?)
• Will you see me? (Can you see who I am? the one behind my fears and these circumstances?)
• Are you honestly sensitive to my own, and our collective plight? my and our needs? (Do you respect life? Do you love humanity? Me?) 
• Can, and will you help the others see me? (Can you help me see myself?)
• Can, and will you help the others remember that I have place? that I belong? 
• Can, and will you help me remember that I have place? belonging?
• If these processes capsize, do you have the will and capacity to save me? the others?
• Can we go beyond we/they? us and them? (Can you help us with this?)
• Can I stop fearing difference? (Though I like what is like me, am I safe with and from difference?)
• Can you further the mending of my heart?

This is asking so very little of ourselves – in any of our moments. Really, it is! Though we are loath to admit it, choice is ours in each moment. We can do things differently moment to moment.

There are impediments of course to such kindnesses. To being gracious.  

We can however develop the capacities to override the momentum of our obstructive bents. For starters we can:
• respect and love Life.
• define ourselves by our grandeur rather than our foibles.
• know the value – in our raw experience – of being compassionate. Gracious. Kind.
• practice self-disciplined and relaxed awareness – presence.
• override the embodiment of another’s habits, those we have mistaken for our own.
• act graciously, unfolding the compassionate intelligence extant in the center of our genuine natures.
• Be just. Decent. Powerful. Stand strongly. Give the moment what it asks,without flinching. Never injuring intentionally.

Am I naive? Perhaps! This however does not invalidate this proposal. There are other ways of being and doing. Life affirming ones.

Remember the line from the American poet Mary Oliver? “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

Poetry: 2013


Canyon Walls

Contemporary ones 
not yet stone
though equally sheltering.

But from what?

Whose story
am I etching?

©2012 Stephen Victor
Photos by Stephen Victor

Hunters and Lions

(First posted June 13, 2011)

I had little interest in history, national or world, until I read Howard Zinn’s: A People’s History of the United States. From there I was drawn to historical accounts of US courts awarding corporate entities more legal rights than we hum

an persons are granted by our Constitution. Too, I read of class, labor, gender and racial injustices in the USA during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Three years ago I began and continue to read Eastern and Western accounts of the Crusades and subsequent events in the Near and Middle East. Reading (or hearing) historical accounts of events three thousand, or three minutes ago, I am aware of the African maxim “When lions have chroniclers, the story of the hunt will be different.”

This awareness notwithstanding, I tend to have little interest in the specifics of what “we” and “they” say; rather, there are larger patterns of greater importance present. One pattern: Whether the hunter is regaling us or the lion, what is being revealed betrays the teller’s desire for a favorable future, and if necessary at the expense of the other.

Recently while reading Lesley Hazleton’s After the Prophet I apprehended for the first time that we contemporary peoples are behaving as brutally as those who came before. The intellectual understandings of such things I had previously entertained paled with this new visceral awareness.

Other patterns: I see too that the same divisive skills were deployed then as now: Eloquent rhetorical narrative and pretext, the skillfully feigned congruence of orators and writers, and a reliance on the continued self-effacing and diminishing conformity of assent by leadership’s various publics.

A final pattern: It is neither we and they/us and them! Nor does proffering good and evil suffice: Both exacerbate and confound our circumstance. The pattern I point toward is my failure and your failure to move into the place of the individual sovereignty of our unity.

I wonder:
• What can I let go of that perpetuates a diminishing of self and other, and my own brutal thought and action?
• What movements can I begin now and thus weave a narrative cloak of such life-affirming warmth that my heart thaws from its closed stasis?
• What can I move into believing that gives rise within myself to the qualities of character on which human decency, kindness, compassion, patience, the appreciation of difference has expression in my daily life?
• What other movements await my consent?

Maybe it is time to take a discontinuous leap into a different future!