By Claire Blatchford
When I’ve been confused or in distress Incarnational Spirituality has, many times, offered me a helpful and steadying stance. Not a creed, dogma, or set of rules, but, quite literally, a stance. Stance as defined three ways in the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary: “a) a way of standing or being placed, b) an intellectual or emotional attitude, c) the position of both body and feet from which an athlete starts or operates.”
I like the word stance and these three definitions because Incarnational Spirituality is definitely, for me, a way of standing or being placed, not only on this earth but within the specific incarnation I’m in now. This earth, the natural world, the invisible world I can sense within this world, family, friends, and various communities I’m connected to, the time in history I’ve incarnated into: stance implies relationship with all of these things. When I feel I’m standing in relationship with one, the other, or all of them—rather than ignoring, condemning, retreating or hiding from them-- I know I’m not alone. (This is not to say there aren’t times when I need to retreat, rest, and lie low, in order to gather strength to stand again.) I can also sense there are deep meanings behind all these connections, meanings I may not yet be fully aware of, meanings that wait to be discovered, explored, and worked with.
I also know when I’m standing straight with ease and strength because I feel clear and able, and I mean this not just physically but intellectually and emotionally. And I know when I’m not straight intellectually and emotionally, am wobbly, weighed down, or hunched over with worries, uncertainties, fears, and so on. Likewise, when I am standing straight, there’s an invigorating, athletic feel to it. The feel of, “I can go for it! I can find my way into and through it.” Be it a difficult or unhappy situation or even a super busy or grey day. In short, it’s the stance of feeling empowered because I’ve chosen to be an incarnated human being at this time within a certain web of relationships.
I recently, to my own amazement, found the reassurance and power of this stance in my dream life; it is there within me when I’m asleep as well as when I’m awake. Here is the dream that alerted me to this:
I dreamt I was lost in a strange city. I was standing on the sidewalk bare foot with only the clothes on my back. No car, no keys, no wallet, identification cards, money, known address to return to or destination to go to. No cell phone. No familiar faces passing by. No eye contact with any of these obviously very busy, very purpose- filled passersby.
I am, by the way, a country girl, not a city girl. In the country I often see places –within a thicket, beside a stream, beneath an old tree—where I know I could pause and find my bearings if I wasn’t sure of the way. But not in the midst of a city. Because of this I was-- in the dream-- flooded with momentary panic: Where was I? Where was I supposed to be going? Curiously I was most upset not by the loss of all forms of identification or currency but by the absence of my eye glasses. How was I going to read a train schedule, a map, a newspaper? How was I going to find, and make sense of, whatever I might be directed to?
Then a wave of something warm washed over me, not just once but several times, and I knew one thing for sure: I was standing upright on my feet. My own two feet that have carried me up stairs and down, up mountains and down, everywhere from dawn to dusk day after day since I first stood up, through every situation— easy or hard—I’ve been through thus far. And, though I wasn’t wearing shoes, my feet weren’t the least bit cold, like the cold feet I’ve been getting the last four or five years. So cold I need to wear socks when I go to bed.
I looked up and saw deep blue, cloudless sky over-head. I didn’t know what city I was in, didn’t know where I was supposed to go, or if people spoke in English or a foreign language, but there was the sky. The thought that the sky belongs to everyone, no matter where one is, has always been important to me. My heart rose as it always does when greeting clear sky expanse and openness. And there was the sun. That, to me, meant the stars were there in the sky also, though, as usual, not visible during the daylight hours. I felt steadied.
Looking down I saw the earth. Pavement, pebbles, dirt, bits of twigs from a tree, and, to my right, unmowed grass. Grass! It looked as though I was standing on the edge of a park. And, hey, there was some clover! I was instantly beside the clover, squatting, fingering the heart shaped leaves with their white markings. I didn’t need my glasses to read into these familiar shapes and colors. I felt gladdened –much more at home. If there was a park and grass in this city, it couldn’t be too strange.
Might there be a four-leaf clover? I began looking. I’ve always found it easy to find four-leaf clovers. As four-leaf clover folks know, it’s possible to “sense” them before you see them. So, sensing one was close, I had to look, and……..I woke up!
While I was happy to find myself in my own bed—not alone in some strange city—I was also, funny to say, slightly disappointed not to be hunting for this four leaf clover! It wasn’t the “luck” of the four leaf clover I wanted, though that might have been helpful in the dream situation I’d landed in. What I wanted was the little “Got it!” satisfaction of sensing the presence of a four leaf clover and connecting with it.
As I lay in bed mulling over the dream, it occurred to me how different my dependence on my eyes (and eye glasses) is from the “sense” of the presence of a four-leaf clover. I’m not denying the role and import of the physical senses. Yet I have this other sense, a sense I may not be able to define very well, but one which I also can’t deny. It was as though the dream was reminding me, no matter how confusing and scary the situation I may find myself in outwardly, there are within me subtle senses which, if I pay attention to them, can help to calm, steady and reorient me.
I thought too how the absence of my glasses fed into my panic, while the realization I was on my own two feet stirred confidence. Then followed feelings of awe, wonder and gratitude for the sky, sun, stars above and the earth below, which helped to anchor me not only in the strange world I’d found myself in, but in myself as well.
And that night I fell back asleep thinking: are we ever fully conscious of all the ties we have, both obvious and subtle, known and unknown, within the many worlds we inhabit and their possibilities? This is what Incarnational Spirituality is about: waking up to these connections.