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Samhain: death, darkness, and duende

October 30, 2011

I was raised to consider the world in a very authoritarian way:

  1. Power is strictly hierarchical, always top-down ~ Authority figures (aka –atriarchs) hold power over others – they give orders, which are followed.
  2. Place is irrelevant ~ The correct attitudes and behaviors are universally appropriate. There is no need to learn anything about local conditions, nor should you contemplate tailoring responses based on local customs or preferences.
  3. Community is irrelevant ~ People who do things differently than we do are Wrong. They need us to correct them, teach them what is Right. And Right things are universally appropriate. [See #2.]

So when I dreamed of someday wielding power and influence, naturally I thought it would be as a matriarch. My mother sees herself as the matriarch of my family of origin; I am her eldest child, so I should have been her heir. And when I succeeded her, in due time, I would enjoy the respect and affection she takes for granted.

There are so many things wrong with the above scenario, I almost don’t know where to start in addressing them.

In some holographic way, people are our relationships. That is, our essence emerges from connections between what is inside of us, the habitat we reside in, and our surrounding community. Each of us is a network, nested within networks smaller (physiological systems, organs, cells, molecules, atoms, quarks) and networks larger (household, family, neighborhood, watershed, region, continent, planet, galaxy, universe).

Place and community always matter. We are not just who we are, but where we are, and how we are.

Every place I’ve lived, every community I’ve joined, has changed me. We all participated in trialogue, and we each changed in response to each other.

But sometimes that’s not enough. And if you’re raised by authoritarians, and/or in a colonialist/imperialist culture, like I was, you may find yourself resisting the much bigger changes that are necessary for spiritual growth and evolution.

Not that I knew that’s what I was doing! No, what I knew was I was confused; then miserable; then depressed; then undergoing an existential crisis; then consumed with fears that I was going to dissolve, as if I had never lived at all.

I did have to give up my old life. Everything that defined me when I lived in Illinois, in Oklahoma, in New York, in Indiana. Because otherwise I wasn’t open to what Maryland wanted to teach me about itself. You can’t love a place (or a person or a community) that you only want to make over to be something it isn’t.

Luckily for me, topographically Maryland doesn’t much resemble Illinois, Oklahoma, New York or Indiana. (Although thankfully some of the flora and fauna overlap.) So I don’t get Maryland confused with other places I’ve lived. And I like visiting new places, which I tend not to compare to other places; I just enjoy where I’m at. (Spouse tends to compare, then rank, every place zie visits.) Yet I’ve had trouble learning to love places I actually lived in.

And then when we moved here, something entirely new occurred. Something that challenged my habitual response to place.

Maryland asked me if I could see it for exactly what it is. And if I could love it, as itself.

Not as something not-quite-as-nifty-as-Fairport, or Chesapeake-Bay-is-almost-as-good-as-a-Great-Lake.

And the only way to find out if I could do that was to let go of identifying myself by other places that are not here. To not identify myself by place at all, creating a space for us to meet.

To just be, and see if we could like each other. No expectations. No pressure. Just exploration, just togetherness.

Just falling in love, just seeing the whole world anew.

I was reborn, and I now feel myself to be a native of Maryland.

I went through a similar metamorphosis with my social support network, which is now largely based out of the Mid-Atlantic.

My ideas about what things I can aspire to, the sort of person I can be, the kind of life I can live, are all completely different than they were in my pre-Maryland life.

But to get here from there I had to let my old life/lives die.

This morning I drew a ‘map’ of all the nodes and hubs of my life as a network in Indiana. And then I found myself drawing over it, a ‘map’ of all the nodes and hubs of my life as a network in Maryland.

When I was in crisis, I was terrified that if I loosened my grip on all the old ideas and relationships and aspirations (even though most were toxic, dying, and/or septic), I would not just die, but I would disappear. Because without all that baggage, who could I possibly be? Did I even have an essence underneath all that? Why try to find out? Too scary!

My thinking then was tragically flawed. We aren’t just ‘what’s inside’, but also where we are, and who we are with. Beyond that, we always have the capacity to surprise ourselves by doing something differently, making unforeseen choices.


From all that I have observed (and experienced) in my life, authoritarian leaders do not actually inspire in their followers respect and affection; mostly it’s fear and dread. Those people who follow orders do so because they’re afraid not to, or because they’re biding their time until they can take over. People who don’t follow orders get vilified, blacklisted, scapegoated, and either driven away or incapacitated. I know, because I chose to walk away from my family of origin, before someone managed to kill me. My mother would have never picked me to be her heir.

I now see how limited and frankly unappealing being an –atriarch would be. I hate telling people what to do; I love collaborating. If I had a mantra, it would be ‘think for yourself, and get back to me, so we can both learn from each other!’

I listen to places, and I’m open to learning more about what they need, and what they don’t want.

I often enjoy conflict, despite how awkward and uncomfortable it can be, because the upheaval teaches me things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I’m willing to learn from anyone.

Who and where and how are you?

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