COVID-19 and the Art of Suffering

John Singer Sargent – The Hermit

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” ― Carl Jung

Introvert, Empath, HSP, INFJ. Ten years ago I had no clear idea of what any of that was. I’d come to think of myself as a tormented artist, “complicated” or, for lack of anything specific, fucked up beyond redemption. Suffering became an art form, a spiritual practice, a Dark Ages approach people sometimes adopt to give meaning to their lives, if not redemption. After way too many years of this, I decided the suffering-is-holy thing is crap. Spin. Like believing that sinking (or floating) in water proves you’re a witch — until the erudite town elder tells you to stop being a moron.

There is nothing especially holy about suffering. There is no backup, no rescue. Suffering is life, consciousness, and as such meant to be fully experienced. We have to go through to come out; we have to release old things to give new things a place to grow. Nature understands this (I rarely do, until I’m buried in shit). Like a virus, chaos runs its course with or without us and when we emerge, we’ve changed. Or something like that.

Enter the 21st century. Energy sensitivity no longer falls into that nebulous gray area between psychology and airy fairy woo woo. Those aforementioned enigmatic terms are all over the place now. We have books, articles, studies, and Facebook pages full of platitudes and self-identification mantras. “I’m an empath. I see this and feel that. Be nice to me, I’m sensitive. Watch out, I’m reading your shallow ass.” The INFJ ones are even worse. My inner curmudgeon is easily irritated by and properly skeptical of that nonsense. In true INFJ fashion, I scowl thinking that splattering those claims out there insults and defies the very thing. Don’t mess with my shadows. Leave my scar collection alone. Get off my lawn.

Having said that, I also have an intimate, if not compassionate appreciation for that basic human need to be seen and understood. Well, sometimes. On my terms. Ok never mind, you get the idea.

What I do have reverence for — and to be fair, the memes have a place in this — is information and understanding. Science. Research. Clinical studies. Open-mindedness. Awareness. Everything is energy; everything is connected; we are all part of the whole. No matter where on the radio dial you are, we all know the natural terror of feeling we’re at the mercy of something we don’t understand, and I think the terror comes because everything is connected, and not the other way around. How would you know there is a bigger picture unless something seemingly “out there” came along and sucker punched you out of your comfort zone? Interconnection isn’t a theory anymore. Those 10,000 year old shamans had this figured out, and science is catching up.

Enter COVID-19. When this broke open and fear swept over the planet, I started having panic attacks. I was abysmally depressed, physically weakened, freaked out, spun up for no reason, bursting into tears, my whole body fighting a deluge. Then I realized that while getting information and trying to make sense out of things, I had opened all my circuits and got fried. Finally, I remembered what I had learned in my extensive travels through hell. High-pass filter: ON.

Like many of my kind, I no more worried about social distancing than a fish would worry about being banned to water. Just another day in my weird universe. But then this other thing happened. Scanning my social networking threads, I began to feel a deep connection to people. Normally, I swing like a pendulum between this brilliant sensation of oneness with humanity — and a full-on belief that people are shit and a Deathstar would the best fucking thing that ever happened to this forsaken planet.

Ahh, but this breakthrough put those extremes into balance, didn’t it? Suddenly, my ridiculous and often crippling sensitivity became a vehicle, a bridge joining humanity in all its glory: fear, malcontent, anger, insecurity, suffering, abandonment; but also love, empathy, compassion, cooperation, appreciation and humor.

Ergo, I feel less alone than I ever have.

Stay safe, and hang in there. We’ll get through this.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Roots and Seeds

I want the noise to stop.
Hate, fire, suffering, war;
Grief is crushing me.
The cries of nature, the wrath of the world
Plastered with lies, cold fluorescent light
And toxic platitudes.
I can’t shut it off–
And beneath the noise it’s even worse.
I open my heart and am devoured.
Every choice comes with a price:
The anguish of awareness,
Emptiness,
The hiss of a scythe.
Dark Mother reigns supreme.
She does not suffer ignorance
Or indifference;
Her love demands acknowledgment
And the courage to fall
And fall,
And fall again.
There’s no escape, for I am hers.
An old woman, spinning,
Watching.
I am not bleeding, now.
I am patient, furious and inexorable.
I am the darkness,
The reflection in a serpent’s eye,
A breath in the womb,
The resilience of life.
Here, it is cool and damp,
Roots and seeds still live
And creatures wait, held in love,
For the cleansing rain.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Why Me Lord

My childhood was a war zone. I’m a poster child for a highly sensitive person (HSP – yeah, there’s a freaking acronym for that now) packing emotional trauma. Now I’m a seasoned veteran with a collection of scars I have names for. But hey, I’ve found my calling in the wasteland, and I write the sort of books that saved my life and mind when I was a kid.

As with any calling, we all reach a point sometimes when it all goes to hell and our calling becomes the stupidest fucking idea we ever had. Well, I’d been in that for a few days and at some point, I hit the bottom. Until yesterday.

It was a quintessential New England summer day, hot, smelling of grass and flowers, with catkins blowing in the air like snow. I went out for a ride with my husband. He’s a dark, miserable bastard too, but we understand each other. We got hot fudge sundaes and took them to a graveyard, parked in the shade and listened to Kris Kristofferson while my man gave me a tour of the graves where some of his kin and friends of the family were buried, complete with sordid details. It was a good day. And old Kris brought me back to a place I had almost forgotten.

Graveyard

At the tender age of seven, when things were bad but before they got a lot worse, my parents sent me to a summer camp called the J Bar J Ranch. It was right out on the highway outside of Houston, Texas. I learned how to ride horses, find my way to the haunted shack in the woods, and never to put my hand into a cluster of pears on a pear tree because hornets live there. In the mess hall, there was a juke box. And two songs on that juke box got into my heart and stayed with me to this day.

“Why Me Lord” by Kris Kristofferson. Feel free to replace the whole Lord Jesus thing with whatever you turn to when your world gets bleak, and you’ll get this baby in context. It’s the sort of song you put on repeat, sit with your head in your hands and sob like a drunk in a gutter on your last sorry dime.

 
“Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues. This song blew my mind like a portal to the Otherworld. I don’t know what it is about it, but when I hear it, my heart opens and everything changes. Or, I sob like a drunk in a gutter on my last sorry dime–but at least the moon and the stars are out.

 
Aside from writing, music is my therapy. I have a collection of playlists containing all manner of rough, dreary, pissed off, head banging music I listen to when I need to vent and go through the darkness to find the light again. And, because consciousness loves contrast, as my old therapist used to say, I also have playlists where the light shines, and I’ll close here with one of these, some background music for my calling–that is, when it’s not looking like the biggest cosmic scam ever.

 
It’s good to hit the bottom sometimes.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.