Guest Blog Post: John Fox, co-facilitator with Mirabai Starr of Eremos’ upcoming event: The Heartbeat of Hope: Life-Giving Nourishment in Stressful Times.
This past month, with great attention, I have slowly read Mirabai Starr’s Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation. Her life-story hits me where it truly hurts, her grief moves me to tears; it is heartening to the further edges of what is exhilarating, beautiful and unknown.
I feel significant threads in her tapestry are shared—the profound ways Ram Dass and Stephen Levine influence our life and work.
This occurred for me in the fire of my very broken places and a deep awakening, at the age of sixteen, of my consciousness reaching towards God.
Both Stephen and Ram Dass helped me open into a vivid sensitivity that is intimate with the human condition.
In the autumn of 1974, at the age of 19, soon after the amputation of my right leg, I stood with Ram Dass at the corner of Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. I was distraught. I was in near despair about what living meant—or to be more exact, at that time, a fear that for me it meant nothing.
I felt as close to hopeless as one can come; fear crowded in around me.
Simultaneous with this, strangely enough, I felt an unstoppable and forceful cry forcing itself up through, from my dark unknown, crying out for God’s love, help and presence. That’s why I was standing there with Ram Dass at that street corner because of my longing and brokenness.
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
In flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
And no space: everything is close to my face,
And everything close to my face is stone.
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly
I remember he looked at me and with a gaze that felt and appeared to me far more fierce than loving, like a Jeremiah from the Old Testament.
Ram Dass said, “You couldn’t get away if you tried.”
What he said dropped into me like a small seed I could barely see. It took me time to experience what he meant. I had to wait to hear and grow into this:
I can’t escape the life I am given; and more, God does not, will not, allow me to abandon Her. What I didn’t realize for quite a while (and though I can still forget) although I felt abandoned in the extreme, the deep and lovely truth is this: I had never been apart from the Great Spirit, never abandoned, nor could I run away!
His statement doesn’t address how I should respond, it said something else; I feel it speaks to a radical acceptance…not by resignation or non action…but a profound active acceptance that could, in itself, be alchemical, offer a spiritual opening.
That’s what Ram Dass was saying to me—a deep, and, yes, fierce transmission of abiding, even tender, love.
Seven years later, I met Stephen Levine (blessing upon him) and while I had grown considerably, there remained inner work to be done. What I learned from Stephen was how to deeply listen to a person. I began to reclaim within myself a much better sense of humor and playfulness. Yet, even more, I learned from Stephen and Ondrea the practice of staying with people, even when there was great discomfort.
All of this was essential to my own learning and I have brought what I learned from them into the work with Poetic Medicine.
What I want to offer with Mirabai on April 9th is a day for you to get in touch with your unique heartbeat—that drum of life-blood, awareness and sensitivity—your spiritual heart which is so often connected to what we mean by that somewhat elusive word, hope.
We will offer dialogue and stories, writing and contemplative practice that encourage exploration, sharing and reflection.
In recalling Kabir’s “breath inside the breath,” it may be only a hair’s breath underneath your physical heartbeat is another heartbeat, that is, by its mysterious nature, able to speak to you as a dear friend, comfort you with nurturing silence, cry out with you, or, if need be, cry for you, in a raw and absolutely necessary way.
Please join us!
*Excerpt from John Fox’s March 2016 Institute of Poetic Medicine Newsletter