Words Matter

Our words cast spells.

They change the world, because they change us.

If you doubt me, then you probably don’t believe in prayer. Many people don’t. In fact, a child of the 60s who was raised by atheists, I didn’t either until I realized that “prayer” is just another term for “words matter.”

Whether it is a mantra, a prayer, an affirmation, a dark-of-night wish uttered with a full heart, or just the words “I love you” spoken again and again to your beloved people—the utterance of words is powerful. Either aloud or in the silence of your mind.

Throughout history priests, imams, and rabbis have urged their followers to “pray together” to right a wrong or heal a hurt. Foolishness? I don’t think so. Maybe it didn’t work the way they expected it to—via the intercession of a supreme omnipotent being. But those hopeful, fervent prayers equate to energy, belief, and thought. Our thoughts and beliefs create our actions—we cannot think and believe “hate” and act from a place of love. We cannot think and believe “I’m worthless” and act from a place of optimism and confidence. We cannot think and believe “I’m a victim” and behave any differently than as a victim.

Chanting, meditating, journeying, manifesting, affirming, singing (I swear gospel singers can change the world), even drumming, whatever you do or whatever you call it, it is (in the terminology of the Western/Judeo-Christian paradigm, forgive me) a kind of prayer.

Fear is an inverted prayer. Fear consumes our minds. Our bodies even. It takes root. Without meaning to, we perseverate on all the thoughts and beliefs darkly birthed by fear. They become unintentional prayers to manifest the worst that can happen.

Do we want that? No! Of course not. So how do we feel fear and also act to defeat it?

Well it sure is hard and I’m no expert. I’m not going to glibly state that “all you have to do is…” and then lay some platitudes on you. But understanding how it works has helped me a lot. Internalizing that knowing has helped my body react to its own fear by overlaying images of light beings flooded with love on top of fear’s dark thunderheads. It actually works for me, I’m happy to say. Well, most of the time. A pandemic and an authoritarian commander-in- chief would challenge Buddha himself. (Okay, maybe not, but all us regular folks for sure.)

What made me want to write this blog is thinking about the 2020 election. As I write this, Biden/Harris have won the majority of electoral votes. Depending on when you read this, who knows what you will know about the outcome of it all. Still, I am optimistic for the future and flooded with relief. Oh, and ready to keep on working.

If there is one thing the Trump presidency has taught us it is that words matter. They have power to destroy and incite. They also have the ability to heal and soothe, but we’ve seen precious little of that for the last four years.

I’ve noticed people casually lying lately. Blatant, but casual, while I sit and listen and know the truth. I imagine it has become normalized for so many who realize lying of all kinds can be used to one’s advantage, as evidenced by the man in the White House.

The president’s lies and his vile, hate-steeped language have both altered reality. His platform is so prominent, and his voice so amplified by his power, it didn’t take long at all for him to get inside our heads. Think of all the actions that have resulted from his words.

The activism and resistance of millions of progressive citizens. People never before activated in this way—well they are now. A reaction in opposition to the ugliness because we all believe we can create change. We say it, believe it, act accordingly.

And on the other side—the open hostility, violence, and rage of haters and bigots. I’m not naïve enough to think Trump created those people. They were there all along. But his words empowered them. Big time.

Trump and his enablers have cast a spell on this nation. I do not know exactly how we will reverse it, but I know we can.

Love is, ultimately, the most powerful force in the universe. I try every day to let my thoughts and words be those of hope, action, tolerance, justice, optimism, courage, and love. Sometimes I get scared and then it’s hard.

A battle for the soul of our country requires that we cast our spells with every word and thought.

Speak up when we witness cruelty, injustice, or bigotry. Speak silent prayers inside our own hearts about what we intend for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, and all humanity. Don’t shortchange all of humanity. I mean, words matter.

Let’s use that power for good.

Grief, Love, and the Prayer Arrow

I ripped my life apart last year. Then I put it together so it looked very very different. Then I ripped it apart again. What does that feel like? Picture a surgical incision that goes from your breastbone to your pubic bone, and through every inch of muscle you’ve got. Now imagine that it heals… partly. And that’s when you rip it open again, and this time you tear it a little past the original scar. That line—stapled and trying to heal—becomes a line of demarcation between one hopeful sorrow and the next.

But as with any deeply felt pain, sometimes things go numb around the edges. The pain is deep and resonant below the surface. The edges of the wound, the patches where the staples clamp the surface closed over the ugly mess—loses something. A scab ripped open one too many times forms a tingly scar that can feel detached from the reality of actual flesh.

What is that? Nature’s way of letting us dissociate from trauma, anguish, sorrow, hurt? Survival instinct meets biology. When it comes to heart pain, survival instinct meets psychology. The result is similar.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped being okay with the numbness. Don’t get me wrong, I am anything but a detached person. I let everything in. But maybe that’s why so many scabs have formed making little places of forgetting. Little places of denial. Little gaps in the skin of me.

To be whole, I need to attend to myself. I need to rub arnica on the dark places, vitamin E on the scars. Breathe the repressed darkness up to the surface where it can float away. Get me some loving—from me and the world.

I recently participated in a wonderful exercise in which everyone created a prayer arrow. To do this, we each had to decide on something that we wanted to manifest. Something we wanted to bring about, move into, recognize, accept, be, create… you get the drift.

How to decide? What, I wondered, is holding me back the most? In light of recent events, I knew instinctively that what I had to move toward was this: believing that I am loved and worthy of love.

I suspect far too many of us have a belief that we are not loved, not loveable. Well—that is a limiting belief and it sure does hold us back. So Cat, the shaman working with all of us that evening, had us write all the beliefs that were keeping us from realizing whatever it is we had decided to bring into our lives. The thing is, we had to write them on an arrow. An arrow about 2 feet long with the circumference of a pencil. She handed out the “sacred Sharpies” and with them we managed to write, using very small letters, a shit ton of limiting beliefs. We all wrote on those darned arrows for a long time. I glanced around the room to see the group of 7, men and women, balancing their blue or yellow or green arrows across their knees and earnestly confiding to those symbolic, primitive weapons the darkest of self-obliterating, self-denying, self-limiting, self-effacing beliefs.

One at a time, when we were finished, Cat had us stand inside our circle and take turns facing her. We were to break our arrow. Breaking it, as we moved toward what we wanted to bring into being, we would symbolically and literally shatter the limiting beliefs written on our arrow.

The catch: we had to break the arrows with our throats. That little hollow where the skin seems delicately draped over space. Underneath that hollow is our life blood pulsing visibly and vulnerably beneath the surface.

Cat put the feathered end of the arrow against a wooden board. When it was my turn, I did what had been done by the woman before me. I placed the tip of the arrow in that hollow. Using deep breaths and great conviction, being chanted into power by my group-mates, and looking into Cat’s warm, somewhat bemused, smiling eyes, on the count of three, I walked forward against the resistance of the arrow.

I felt it dig, briefly, into my flesh, pushing against me. But then, I pushed against it. It met with the resistance of my breath-tautened throat, and the board held by Cat. The arrow shattered and I did not.

There is such power in ceremony. Doing ceremony in community with beloved friends is transforming. But doing it in a room of (mostly) strangers is liberating and transforming. The energy grew in that space until all the arrows were broken. Some tears brimmed, many hearts pounded.

What does this have to do with the wounds and scabs of pain, grief and denial? Something about the fact that I put an arrow to my throat and did not receive a wound. Something about being fully conscious of the dark pathetic part of me that could not ever manage to believe in myself enough to see the love right in front of my face. And admitting it to the arrow and the people with me in that room. Something about making a conscious decision to heal, instead of waiting for years to notice that, wow, I wasn’t healing. Healing from whatever crap I allowed into my dark places 40, 30, 20, 10 years ago or yesterday.

I wrapped the pieces of my arrow with yarn; white and purple were the colors I chose. Under a waxing, gibbous moon, I planted the arrow, along with my prayers, into the earth.

My prayer arrow.

My prayer arrow.