Blog Post: Still Points and Watersheds

There are these curious moments in our lives. Moments when we know we are poised on the edge of something that will forever change us. Sacred moments.

In literature we calls these Watershed scenes. A watershed scene is a high point, a dividing line, a place of pause and vision, where you can look back and see the place from where you came. And also look forward at what lies ahead. It’s that place where you take a great big breath, honor and bless the past, and get ready for the great adventure waiting.

In body work, there is something called the Still Point, a moment where traumatic memory ceases and quiet enters. In this moment, the body reorganizes. Integration happens so the past can be released and new life can begin.

In both situations, nothing going forward will ever be the same.

We’ve all had defining moments such as these. The one that always makes me smile began in 1997, when I was writing my first (and so far my only) novel. A lot of things were happening in my life back then. A year earlier, I had lost a childhood friend at the age of thirty. I knew nothing going forward would be the same. Almost a year to the date of my friend Eddie’s passing, I lost my grandmother and was present at her death. Just days later, I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and had a near death experience. Nothing going forward could ever look the same.

During my recovery from the accident, I decided to write the novel I had wanted to write. Writing kept me sane. It kept me busy. It gave me a feeling of purpose. And it gave me a creative outlet. These things were good for me in my healing. I was dealing with some pretty serious pain at the time. I was dealing with PTSD (at that point undiagnosed) from the accident and near death. And I was feeling deeply alone, separated from my spirituality, and misunderstood. There were very few people I’d allow near me. Creativity saved me.

It took me two years to write that novel and fifteen years before I would see it published. It sold a few copies. Feedback was positive. I had given people a chance to think about some things that were important to me. And all that made me happy enough. It was that thing I had always wanted to do that I finally did. I could check something off the bucket list.

I thought that was the end of it.

A year after publication, I had moved to Colorado from Arizona (coincidentally, my protagonist had done the same thing). I was opening a new acupuncture practice. A friend back in Phoenix insisted I needed to open a Twitter account to promote my business.

I hate Twitter. I told her no.

She persisted. And persisted.

A few weeks later, I acquiesced.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it was sensible to follow some gurus in the healing world. So I followed Deepak Chopra and Caroline Myss. A few  other suggestions came my way. I followed those too.

Then I got a suggestion to follow this mystical poet named Carl Barbarotto.

My grandmother’s sister, who had long passed, was married to a man with the same last name. I thought that was interesting. I checked out this guy’s poetry. I liked it. A lot. And so I followed him.

A few days later, I was chatting with my mother and I mentioned the interesting coincidence of this guy named Carl Barbarotto who wrote this incredible poetry.

My mother’s face drained. “He’s your cousin,” she said.

I laughed at her. Because I knew I didn’t have a cousin named Carl. And this guy lived in Washington DC and we didn’t have any family in DC.

She insisted. I showed her his picture. She screamed. “That’s Carl!”

I waited for her to let me in on just how I had this cousin  I had never heard of. It seemed when my grandmother’s sister passed away, we fell out of touch with that side of the family. Carl and I were too young to know about each other.

My mother still had Carl’s mother’s phone number and she dialed it. Miraculously, the woman still had the same number. And it turned out it was in fact the same Carl.

The next thing I knew, my phone rang. It was a male voice. “This is Carl. I understand we are cousins,” he said.

Carl and I spent nearly two hours on the phone, sharing (and marveling) at the coincidences in our lives.

But there was a watershed/still point moment beyond this.

I learned Carl had been in seminary and he left shortly before ordination.

This gave me pause.

My novel had a character named Carl who dropped out of seminary.

My character’s last name was Bonadonna — similar musicality to Barbarotto.

My character left the Roman Church and became a Buddhist.

My cousin left the Roman Church and embraced Unitive Consciousness, or what he calls the Zen Mind.

We talked more. A lot more. About spiritual beliefs, about our journeys. And then we came back to talking about my character Carl. I explained that I named him after Carl Jung.

That’s when my cousin Carl had his still point and watershed moment in the conversation.

My cousin Carl left seminary after an assignment in a class on Carl Jung, which led him to have a dream that gave him clear guidance that he needed to leave seminary. Jung remains one of his greatest inspirations.

My life was truly not the same after that Twitter encounter. That day on the phone Carl asked me if I was still Catholic. I said I was not and I didn’t quite know what I was. That put me on a quest to find out. I ended up at a contemplative service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Colorado. The service is called Nishma, Aramaic for “Vital Breath of God.”

In all honesty, I only planned to attend twice. One time to experience it. A second time to reassess and make sure I didn’t belong there. Because me and church never worked out.

Not only did I return a third time, but I became an Episcopalian eighteen months later. And I went on to help create the contemplative prayer stations at Nishma for quite some time. Some months after that, a church friend asked me to consider becoming a Spiritual Director, which I resisted with all my being. I was flattered, but my friend had the wrong woman. Six months later? I found myself submitting my application for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at the monastery in Colorado Springs. I am five months away from graduating as a Spiritual Director and beginning a new ministry of service. I have loved every minute of it.

We all have watershed moments and still points like this. Sometimes they find us. Sometimes we seek them. However it turns out, they are moments which change us. Moments which define us. Moments where the Divine joyfully meets us.

What has been important in the unfolding of my nearly two decade long still point and watershed moment is understanding what was at work in those years when I felt lost and alone. The years while I was writing, while my body and spirit were hurting, and I felt abandoned by my Creator. When I felt overwhelmed and alone, when I found myself about to graduate from massage school while going through a divorce I never saw coming. Then the years that led me to Arizona, finding myself in acupuncture school, running a full time practice, exhausted and stressed out of my mind. Then two years later, taking boards while packing up my house and moving out of state again. So many times when I wondered when I could stop climbing stairs and finally get “there.” Where was God in those long scary weeks, months, and years when I was asking for guidance, feeling beaten and broken?

Where was God? God was clearly weaving a story. Weaving my path. Maybe not the path I was on in that moment, but surely the greater path…. the path I’m on now. God was silently at work. In the words of Carl Jung, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

My pastor says when we feel most alone God is never more present. He might be silent because the Great Creator is at work, doing what needs to be done so that when we reach our Watershed Scenes and Still Points, we can recognize them, embrace them, and celebrate them as the divine gift they are.

Blessings and peace,
Maria Mandarino

For information about my novel: Neat Little Packages Maria Troia (Mandarino)

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Meeting God in the Patterns

090Last night someone at church had mentioned she made a church decision based on logic. Turned out logic was not the right choice.

I joked with her that logic is way overrated anyway.

It turned out the decision should have been made based on tradition. And tradition typically involves following a certain order and a patterned way of doing things, which isn’t often linear or logical.

Years ago, when I was a student observer in the acupuncture clinic, our supervisor, Dan Bedgood, had mentioned to a senior intern that a student had complained to the dean about his teaching style. The complaint? He did not teach in a linear fashion.

I could not help myself.  I blurted out, “But this isn’t a linear medicine.”

Student observers are meant to do just that: observe. They are not expected to speak. And if they are foolish enough to do so, it is assumed they do not have much to share worth listening to.

Dan’s head went up and he stared at me from across the table. It was probably the first time he heard my voice and possibly the first time he even noticed me. And I think we were very close to pointing a finger at each other as if we suddenly recognized something in the other,  about to say, “Atlantis, right?”

The truth is Chinese Medicine is not at all linear. It is based on patterns. Patterns that need to be observed, respected, and honored.  It works like this: if this happens, then that happens. BUT if THAT happens, then THIS happens. Or… if the wind is blowing, then THAT happens. But if it’s damp and cold, well then THIS happens. And if it’s dry and hot, well, look at what happens then! And let’s not even talk about whether you are standing on the sunny or shady side of the mountain, because that can uncover a whole other set of patterns.

It’s a story of patterns of potential. Not of a narrow and limited road.

Chinese Medicine is a medicine that always made more sense to me than Western Medicine for this reason. Seek the pattern and you are led to the answer. Pull the piece of yarn and watch the pattern unravel; each time you tug, a new skein of possibilities.

As a writer and a poet (and as someone who crafts with yarn), I have always interpreted life through metaphor. So of course I grasped the language of this ancient medicine easily. Once you figure out the patterns in Chinese Medicine, you have the key to everything: physical pain, emotional pain, organ disease. Find the pattern, find the key. Find the pattern, find the language of the Divine.

Think about it. God is not linear. How dull would that be? This has to happen before that can happen in order for this to happen. Wait and get on line and until you reach the destination point, it’s pretty much a process of drudgery. Kind of like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Look at the universe and tell me it’s linear. You can’t. God is a creative God. And She speaks in patterns. In the patterns and cycles of life, in the patterns of our experience, in the patterns of the people we meet, in the many synchronous gifts and mysteries that come into our lives. Linear thought says you have to go through 24 other letters to get from A to Z. With God, it’s possible to get there in a heartbeat. There’s no logic in that.

What are you on line waiting for? What are you expecting might take ten years and not ten days? What do you think needs to happen before the next thing can occur? Does God need that thing to happen, or do you need the logic of that thing happening first? How might life look if you shifted that view and let go of your brain’s need for reason? And control?

How might life look if you decided to not limit God to a linear process, and instead opened yourself up to the infinite patterns of Divine Mystery?

Blessings and peace on your journey,

Maria Mandarino