Yesterday, that would be Sunday, was the every-few-months-or-so meeting of the acronym defying Gay Men's SM-Spirituality Discussion Group that I'm involved with. Rather than meeting in Manhattan, one of the members invited us out to his home--with a pool--on Long Island. After an initial email discussion of taking the train, I proposed to drive the Manhattanites out to Long Island, and that offer was gratefully accepted.
Now, shooting through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and heading out the LIE is one of my all time favorite trips to make. It reminds me of heading out to the Pines, so I'm stirred with anticipation of visiting that place I love so well. Even when I'm not actually going there. It always causes me to try to recall F. Scott Fitzgerald's words about Long Island, stretching out towards the continent, green with promise. Or something. It's been a few decades since I read The Great Gatsby.
We were asked to bring along stuff to eat, so I stopped at a farm stand before I crossed the Uhlerstown-Frenchtown Bridge to New Jersey and picked up some sweet corn, cantaloups, and blueberries. Traffic in New Jersey was surprisingly heavy, folks heading to the beach, no doubt, and New Yorkers fleeing that steamy metropolis. I picked up the guys who had convened on East 15th Street and soon enough, we were heading east on the fabled Long Island Expressway. Which, for a change, was not a parking lot. With none other than Diabolique serving as navigator, we arrived easily at our hosts wee little house in the woods. (Not so "wee" actually; the previous owners raised six kids there.) And after lunch and a dip in the pool, we settled into our circle.
Our host had recently bought one of those fire pit things, a big copper saucer sitting in a wrought-iron frame. He was intent on trying it, so even though the weather didn't quite call for it, wood was hauled over from the front porch and we had a nice little fire going as we began.
Now, I usually try not to think too much about what I'm going to say in the group. But to the extent that I do think about it, it was more or less along the lines of O Woe Is Me: my anxieties and frustrations and humiliations sufffered in my job search. I held off taking my turn--because who really wants to hear about that, right?--and sat listening to my fellow Gay Men's SM-Spirituality Discussion Group members take their turns.
I was sitting closest to the fire, and now and then, the smoke would blow right over me, tearing my eyes and causing me to hold my breath for a bit. In front of me was the round outdoor table where we had had lunch, painted black with a little hole in the middle to stand an umbrella in.
The fire, the smoke, the black metal table... it brought back a memory.
Almost a decade ago, on a trip to New Mexico, my Ex and I were exploring an anasazi site on top of a mesa. Walking around, I found a pottery shard on the ground, about the size of my thumb nail, glazed with decoration on one side. I was so excited--"It's an artefact!"--until I realized that the ground was littered with pottery shards. The pottery shard in my hand was not lying on the ground because it was so rare, but because nobody had gotten around to collecting the thousands of pottery shards on every square yard of the place. I didn't keep the shard, because legends are legions about the Bad Things that happen to anyone who removes anything from an anasazi site and takes them home.
Continuing my exploration of the mesa, I came across a hole in the ground about the size of a grave, with steps leading down into the shadows. A little marker identified this as a Keva, underground sacred space used by the anasazi for their religious practices. I headed down.
A Keva is a big, circular hole in the ground. The top is bricked up leaving a round opening in the center of the roof, which is architecturally referred to as an oculus. Around the perimeter of the hole is a low stone bench. A fire would be built in the middle, the smoke slowly rising up and escaping through the oculus.
At the bottom of the steps, my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. The midday sun coming in through the oculous at the center barely provided enough light to discern the walls of the Keva. It looked like an endless void.
What a powerful place.
I could imagine those long dead anasazi, living their lives on top of that mesa, under the fierce, baking New Mexico sun. But time and again, they would leave the sun-baked daylight world and go underground. There in the darkness, lit only by a fire in the center. Drumming. Chanting. Barely able to see the faces of the people around you, faces of the people you saw every day of your life, but transformed, eyes shining in the firelight, faces painted, chanting, praying, murmuring. The smoke burning your eyes, the coolness of the underground space. The smells, the sounds. Regularly stepping out of your life and paying a visit to the underworld, familiar but strange.
As we sat in a circle around the black table, listening to each man in turn describe his own spiritual journey, my mind kept coming back again and again to the Keva.
And this gave me a kind of perspective on my own daylight world existence. I seemed to see myself and my own journey more clearly.
I'm working hard, so hard, to hold myself together. Keep my game face. Looking at the want ads in the newspaper, sending off my resume hopefully thinking "myabe this one," again and again and again and again and again. Talking myself out of or through all the disappointments involved in this pursuit. It takes a hell of a lot out of me. So much energy, even though I'm not even aware of it.
I once heard it explained as to why hot weather was so dangerous to the elderly: your body has to work hard to maintain body temperature, and when you exert yourself on top of that, walking to the busstop, the impact of that exertion is multiplied exponentially, so that walk to the busstop is like running up stairs.
And that's just what it's like with all this stress. Even though it looks like I'm just sitting here on my porch going through the want ads, hi-liter in hand, I might as well be sitting in court facing jail time.
And with all this angst, I'm setting aside as much as I can, narrowing my focus. Getting to the gym, whipping men, enjoying the beach, paying attention at church, thinking deep thoughts (I haven't been able to read a book for the past two months, I'm about ten pages into twelve different books at this point, I just can't concentrate)... all that will have to wait.
After I am once again secure in the knowledge that I have a paycheck coming in.
And so, yesterday, in our circle, when my time came, that's what I talked about. About my visit to the Keva. And what I learned there.