Once again—in what is now becoming a Dark Matter tradition—the contributors to this issue (with the exception of Cynthia Travis, who had a family emergency, and the Aftermath 11/9 dreamers) came together with Kristin and me for an editorial conversation via Zoom. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation (with editor‘s notes in brackets), which took unexpected turns and lapsed into deep silences. As a transcription can‘t convey the vitality or the emotion of the conversation (it was very emotional) we‘ve embedded the recording below.*
Kim: I had an odd experience from reading all the pieces. I was surprised that none of us wrote about dying. And I wasn‘t sure if that meant that healing in a nonmedical model, a model that opens to imagination and spirit, excludes dying, as if in that model dying is seen as a failure… If I had written something other than what I wrote, I would have written significantly about dying as a form of healing.
Deena: What struck me about most of the pieces was that they took in the dying of the earth, and that the relationship between the circumstances of the earth and the circumstances of our own healing was prominent and it was almost as if our own living and dying was, I don‘t want to say insignificant, but not as urgent as what was happening to the earth. And then of course there was your magnificent prayer to the Mother that substantiated my feelings that we were concerned with how the earth might heal and so the dying of the earth is not an option and is not healing.
Kim: No, the dying of the earth is not. I was thinking more at the personal level – writers who reported either having illness or working with someone who had an illness.
Erica: It didn‘t even occur to me to write about my body—which strikes me now as odd. I mean I have one, why didn‘t I write about it? But I was very outward-focused for some reason and didn‘t have a chance to go back to the prompt and see if there was something that pushed me out rather than in. I mean, I‘ve had experiences I could have written about but it never occurred to me.…
Lise: Kim, I just want to make sure that you were aware that Verena Stefan (who wrote “Quitting Chemo”) died. I was surprised by the question because I thought her whole piece read as an answer to that question, or at least the last part of it.
Kim: Maybe I was looking for something explicit. The dying of the earth is unquestionably a bad thing. But the dying of the individual can be a transformative thing. I didn‘t think I saw the distinction being made between the way we feel about the earth dying and the way we feel about individuals dying.
Kristin: I read Verena‘s piece and her decision to surrender to dying by turning away from chemo as an incredibly healing, revitalizing, transformative experience. The end of the piece spoke to me about how alive she came as she moved toward death, having extracted herself from the system.
Deena: Lise since you put the piece together, was there anything in her journals later on that spoke about dying?
Lise: Of course she spoke about dying and didn‘t want to die. But she knew that healings were going on that had nothing to do with surviving and that probably these wouldn‘t be happening if she weren‘t on her way to death. I was under the impression that it came through in the piece.
Laura: I wasn‘t aware that Verena died and I needed a moment. I totally identified with her writing. I declined chemo when I first had cancer for all the reasons she speaks of. I identified with her experience of the cancer subculture and what it does to take away a person‘s will to do things the way they think they should. Everything is subsumed by the culture that says “we need you to survive” regardless of the cost to the person‘s spirit or soul which is never a consideration. There‘s nothing spiritual about it.
Erica: I have to say right now I feel like a ten-year-old who‘s wandered into a circle of shamans, there‘s so much wisdom on the other side of this computer and I‘m barely keeping up… I‘m thinking of a poem I encountered a little while ago that had to do with the Chernobyl site. One of the ways they‘re looking to see that that piece of earth comes back to life is if things start to decay again. The fact that these leaves can‘t actually die, return to the earth, is part of what keeps it from healing, because all the little microbes that used to do that aren‘t there.
Deena: For me the conversation about seeing death as part of the healing process is familiar because I work with a lot of people with terminal illness. I realize I‘m sometimes impatient with that conversation… because I don‘t think the majority of these deaths we‘re talking about are natural or appropriate. I think they‘re caused by the culture and by the dying that we impose on the earth and so for me looking for healing is not looking for the particular survival of the individual it is looking for a path that will change our brutish and violent minds.
Wendy: In my work I appreciate that things die because I get to midwife the process of change. It‘s really important that things die so a different form can manifest and something new can come out of it.
Lise: Maybe that‘s a good place to suspend the discussion of Kim‘s question. I wanted you each to have a chance to say anything you feel like saying about what you‘ve read.
Laura: I just felt a depth of continuity in all the pieces.
Lise: I agree with you. It was a beautiful experience putting it all together. I felt all of you were deeply related.
Kristin: Something that struck me was the exquisite attention that each woman paid to whatever her understanding of healing was or is, whether it‘s the sacred geometry and the worms and the devotion required to nurture that, or the exquisite presence of Laura as she bared herself to be witnessed in the fullness of her humanity. Or Deena‘s exquisite following of all of the threads related to her cancer experience and what‘s happening to the earth and the animals in our culture. The word that comes to me is “embodied.” And it also strikes me that while I don‘t disagree at all with Laura about the depth of continuity in the pieces there are so many contributors to the healing process both in this material realm and beyond it. That it is not in any way an individual endeavour. That we are supported in many ways both seen and unseen.
Wendy: Deena wrote “I learned that the cancer cell wanted to be healed, restored, returned to its original nature” and I connected that to Laura‘s piece on beauty. Because it seemed to me that cancer cell wanted to be returned to a place where it was loved and found beautiful. And so do we all. We‘ve all lost that vibration and are seeking to bring it back into the field, both personally and into the larger field. And Verena wrote about cells lighting up through creative activity. That reminded me of biophotons [Wendy writes about them in her piece]. We can see in this illness period whether it‘s personal or planetary that creative activity leading us back to the original nature of that sick cell. Laura summed it up—“can we see the medicine in the wound.” It‘s that exploratory path. And it‘s a wonderful opportunity to see the beauty in the wound and not see it as something awful, disgusting, dirty, shameful. And Karen and Anne‘s dreams kind of summed up what all the pieces were trying to express in their different ways. It was just so magical.
Lise: What you said about beauty: it‘s not coincidental that you found it in both Deena‘s work and Laura‘s. Laura‘s piece begins with an epigraph from Deena. Laura can you read it?
Laura: “Beauty like love is a fierce power that restores the world. The healer‘s power is diminished if it is not associated with beauty. Healing helps align the individual with the trajectory of the soul.”
Wendy: Laura also wrote “I‘m not the sum of all the worst things that have happened to me.” For me it was like the Earth Mother speaking to us: “I am not the sum of the worst things happening to me. It‘s so important that you not see me this way. I am not illness. I am not wounded. I am beauty.”
Deena: I‘m thinking that a healing path is complex. And that the pieces together may in some way be manifesting the complexity and all the differences that exist on a healing path where nevertheless the different ways of seeing and knowing resonate with each other. And if that is true then the pieces are in a field together and are creating the kind of consciousness that is dependent on the particularities in each individual piece.
Wendy: Each piece is a fractal.
Deena: Cynthia Travis if she were on the call might comment on how important Dr. Emoto‘s book on water [which plays a key role in Wendy‘s piece] was for her at a critical time in her life.** It took her and us in an unexpected and profound direction and also in some way changed our lives. I was also struck by the fact that the Flower of Life [also key in Wendy‘s piece] is a symbol and image that I‘ve used again and again…
Nineteen interlocking circles…(Lise is exclaiming) So a lot of what‘s written is taking on yet another life among us.
Lise: Beautiful. And fractals are so important in what Cynthia wrote as well: “A healthy, resilient society is a biomimetic one: fractal, multi-dimensional… It is why indigenous languages, stories, rituals, songs and technologies matter… for these are the cultural algorithms that translate Life‘s healthy fractal structures to human understanding…” That‘s clearly the case for the Flower of Life design [and is exactly what Wendy‘s gardens do]. So we‘re definitely in a field.
Wendy: I wanted to ask Kim: It seemed to me that you were being used as a channel by the elementals. Did you feel that at all? It seemed to me you were getting a lot of ideas that weren‘t formed in phrases that we would know. That it was their way of communicating not ours.
Kim: I did feel that I was channelling something but I didn‘t know how to name what it was. And it was making such an impact on the ego part of my mind. It was practically destroying it. So I wasn‘t the person who could successfully translate it. I had to take it more like a dictation. The best I could do was just be open to it. It wasn‘t easy to be open to it. I‘m glad it came out making some kind of sense.
Deena: I don‘t know if it made sense or if that‘s even the goal. I found it a force, an irrefutable force. A dynamic presence. Given voice and being addressed at the same time.
Kim: Oh I like that. It solves an uneasiness in me. Thank you.
Deena: I want to read this stanza “There are strangers out on the trail tonight, they carry messages. Send us the woman to enter the trance, the women who summon the guardian spirits, bring back tales of the new weather‘s force, the tread-path of walking between, the whiplash of raising up storms and bring our longing back to its source.” Thank you, Kim.
Kim: Who the heck wrote that? It‘s so different hearing it from someone else. Thank you Deena.
Lise: It‘s interesting that Erica‘s poem also begins with “Mother”—I hadn‘t noticed that until I came back to it after reading Kim: “The signs of it in the bees, without any doubt/ nearer and nearer. Mother, let me take you/ to blow across the deep in hurricane,/ flash on flash from heaven.” I just felt such a rhyming with Kim‘s piece.
Erica: Yeah, I was also using words that aren‘t mine, because it‘s a cento so I‘m grabbing lines from someone else. The voice is not necessarily mine in the same way Kim‘s voice was not necessarily hers.
Lise: I had the same feeling reading it as I did reading Kim‘s. It didn‘t make sense to me but I just loved it… and it pulled me along.
Kim: I was listening to a talk by a British psychoanalyst who had been a social worker and she was talking about working with children She said when you work with children you have to have a third ear, an ear that hears the meaning even when they‘re not saying the meaning. I wonder if that isn‘t true for some of the writing we do that isn‘t entirely our own… The third ear—that has stayed with me. Most of us talking today have a third ear. Maybe all of us.
Erica: I love that. Thank you Kim.
Kim: I wish I knew everybody better.
Lise: That‘s a beautiful thing to say. When Kristin read Verena‘s piece she wrote to me and said “Oh I love it and I love her.”
Kim: I loved the chimp who wiped the tears away from Jane Goodall‘s eyes in Cynthia‘s piece. She was crying because of the way they were being treated. The chimp reached up through the bars and wiped them away.
Erica: I loved that too. It reminds me that Goodall had a condition—she had trouble recognizing human faces. But she could always tell the difference between the different faces of the chimps. And when I read that in Cynthia‘s piece I thought “oh my god they knew exactly who she was too.”
Lise: There was so much in Cynthia‘s piece. Kristin and I were talking earlier today about what she says about practicing the art of the impossible. How if you just go by calculation and measurement, it does look completely impossible. It‘s what Karen [Mutter] is saying about the black and white chart of the diagnosis [in her commentary on her jaguar dream].
Kristin: Yes, if we‘re going just by the numbers on the charts, by the test results then perhaps it is impossible. But if we look on the illness, on the wounding, with new vision then we have no idea what is possible.
Lise: Maybe if we listen with our third ear…
Deena: Well it‘s the third ear and in her dream it‘s the third eye. Because Sharon [a woman in the dream] loses her glasses in that chasm. If we continue to work in a linear manner trying to make sense of things in that way we will fail. I was thinking also about the parallel between the healing in the wound and Cynthia‘s wisdom of the breakdown.
Lise: I think it might be worth quoting that passage: “I remind myself that the nature of every dilemma reveals its cure. Since my time working in Liberia during the early 2000‘s, my friends and I have referred to this as the Wisdom of the Breakdown: Just as in the wild, antidote plants grow next to poisonous ones, the antidote to our murderous behavior lies at our feet.”…Laura, I have a feeling you might have something to say about this.
Laura: I feel like part of the breakdown is that we are no longer able to see or know things in the way that happened before the breakdown before the illness before whatever the initiation experience is. The purpose of the breakdown is that we are made to look at our lives the world the earth in a way we wouldn‘t have been able to if we didn‘t have the illness.
Lise: It makes me think of what happened to Wendy. It wasn‘t disease, but your life fell apart…Your life broke down, couldn‘t go on the way it was.
Wendy: Yes. I liked what Karen wrote about her dream. One sentence was so important for me: “the ravine in the heart of the jungle.” It‘s this warning to us to start to look at things differently. Jaguar‘s message was “you‘re not seeing it with the heart.” So we can look at the ravine as a great divide that separates us from that intelligence.
And then Anne‘s dream… The number 7 kept coming up in that dream— it‘s the number of high spiritual attainment that comes through female enchantment. What‘s in those white mason jars, there‘s something special there that women are preserving. Again it‘s about the knowledge and skill to see with the intelligence of the heart not just the brain.
Lise: I‘m going to quote Cynthia again because it relates to what you‘re saying Wendy. She writes about friends of hers who are working (“feverishly (ha!)”) to mechanically remove carbon from the atmosphere. But she says this is a mechanized solution, whereas the Earth is a sentient being and we are Her body and so “have to remember how to live from that understanding.” I also found it really interesting that she wrote: “What‘s wrong with sensually, or even sexually, loving the Earth? Why is that considered obscene and the Pacific Gyre is not?” The original title of Wendy‘s piece was “Having Sex with a 3- Billion-Year-Old woman.” (A long silence) “I think there‘s a lot of shy people on this call.”
Kim: Well we‘re probably talking about the things that matter most to us. And most of us don‘t know each other very well.
Kristin: I was just wondering if you could each say what called or compelled each of you to respond to this particular call in Dark Matter.
Deena: Kristin and I were just at a conference. It was billed as a conference to free elephants in captivity. I‘m still reeling from it. I was unable to move yesterday or to think clearly I was completely incoherent to myself and every cell in my body hurt from the pain of learning things that I did not know about the brutal way that elephants in particular are treated—deliberately—in captivity. It‘s beyond horrific. What it awakened in me was the horror of the brutishness of this time and the way that we treat the earth and the animals and women. A former animal keeper at one point said “Just imagine men beating women with axe handles.” So for me healing that is changing our minds and the way we think and live—what it is and how we do it—is the only question.
Erica: I think for me what was compelling about this call was that when I would read these two poems almost invariably someone would say how much one or the other had meant and it always had to do with people recognizing some piece of their own healing journey in those poems. It wasn‘t what I set out to write about but it was what came back to me when I read them. So when I saw the call I thought, “Oh. I think I found a home for these poems.”
Deena: I just want to read this line of Erica‘s “You can see/ one certain lust drives every creature/ eating its way as it burns inside a furnace./ Leaving me weeping with so much still to say.”
Erica: Thank you. You read beautifully.
Kim: I would like to say that what‘s stirring in me is this profound wish to know all of you better and a deep regret that we‘re not together somewhere. I think part of why we are silent is we can‘t see the expression on each other‘s faces. I wish we were together in the same room.
Deena: Sorry I have to come back in again. There is a little narrative, Laura, from the moment that you walk into the room and have to prepare yourself to step up on that little stage and present yourself to the artists who are going to paint you. That is such an extraordinary sequence and it is a moving image that is embedded in my mind in the way what I imagine the painting is is also in my mind. [The version of Laura‘s piece that was shared did not include the image]
Laura: Thank you for saying that.
Deena: It‘s absolutely stunning.
Laura: (sobbing) I felt in that moment I just want to be a surrendered instrument. And it made all the difference. And the quiet for me right now has nothing to do with that I don‘t know people because we know each other intimately. I feel like this conversation is an intersection of the sacred. I‘m quiet because I don‘t have the words for what we‘re discussing. It‘s too important and so overwhelming. And I don‘t feel like I have the capacity to really hold it all and I‘m so glad we could do it together.
Wendy: I would just like to say I ended up answering this call because Lise beat it out of me. She took a whip and said “You have to write this!” As you must be able to see in my piece, I‘m not a writer. Lise had to edit me a hundred million times. But I‘m grateful that she got me out of my little cabin in the woods. You kind of live it day to day but it‘s not till you write it that it synthesizes and you begin to say “oh my god I did that? This has been created?” And it‘s always such a gift and a relief – when I read everybody‘s writing—that I‘m not alone. When you live alone in the forest you doubt yourself, you second-guess yourself and being with others in a call like this is such a relief. Yes there are lots of others out there. And I‘m very very grateful to have met you and to have had the chance to read your outstanding pieces.
Erica: I want to echo what others have said. I was already grateful for what you had written and it‘s all been amplified by this conversation.
Lise: There were a hundred ways this could have gone, but I think it was very beautiful and I‘m thankful to all of you.
Deena: And this conversation brought the pieces to another life altogether. Lise, do you have something you could say to end it?
Lise: Hmm. That‘s a lot of pressure…
Deena: Well, why did you come up with this topic?
Lise: Because like you Deena I can‘t think of anything that matters more right now… And without the connecting I don‘t see how any of us individually can support it. We need each other to walk through it…. And, to quote Erica, [from “Requiem in the Key of Bees”] to “Sing as we walk—it makes the trip less painful./It‘s true for bees as it is for human beings.”
Thanks to Megan Hollingsworth for hosting and recording this conversation
**Cynthia later commented: “I brought Dr. Emoto‘s books as gifts when I attended my first writing retreat with Deena back in in 2004. I had brought them without having any idea of what to expect – they were unusual (the ideas were new at the time) and I just thought they’d make a nice gift. When I met with Deena a few days into the retreat, she was stunned, as was I, at the obvious synchronicity of having brought those particular books as we had been discussing and writing about water and drought and the dire situation of the elephants in East Africa at that time. The following year at the writing retreat, in the course of our spirit journey, the elephants came. All they said was, “We are thirsty.” As usual, we took a ritual walk to the top of the sacred Mt Pinos (considered the center of the Chumash universe). I knew I needed to make some sort of water offering but had no clue where or how, or even if I’d recognize the appropriate place. In desperation, I plopped down under an inviting, gnarled pine to rest and try to listen well enough to hear what to do. It was late and the light was beginning to fade. Soon we would have to make our way downhill in order to be home before dark. I wept in despair, and when I looked up I saw that, all around me, were plastic water bottles, most of them partially full or unopened. They had obviously been there for some time as the labels were faded and worn. Weeping, I poured out the water and brought the empty plastic bottles back down the mountain. I prayed for rain, for the elephants and for us all. The sky was a dry, unrelenting blue as far as one could see. When I arrived at the parking lot, I noticed that wisps of clouds began to form and gather. By the time we got back to the house, it was pouring, and rained for two days. Unbeknownst to me, Deena and I had poured water at exactly the same time. We have been visiting the elephants and making offerings to them ever since.
Montreal, May 2018
Return to top