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Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 10
S and KM settle in together, Sufi dance is a catalyst, a dark prophesy, "Are we going to do this, or not?"
This week we return to 2009 and the unfolding story of S and H in NYC. This one sent me back through my journals where I think I excavated 20,000 words—two or three chapters at least. Phew.
This process hasn’t been easy. It’s humbling to revisit this time in my life—especially, the struggles and habits of the personality that I fought with so viciously. Some of them stick to me still—tenaciously.
Integration done deliberately and fully like this is a strange sensation. I am retreading the most minute details and finding gems. Also, realizing memory is a slippery thing!
What I realized this week is that the key thing missing in me at this time was an embodied knowledge of the feminine. In what you’ll read here, I haven’t gotten to know Her, yet. And it hurts me to go back and be without it…without Her. (Though of course, I was, and we are, never without Her…Just without an awareness of Her loving presence.)
When I feel myself in these before-times, I feel an emptiness that makes me ache for my young self. Sometimes, I want to reach back through time and hold the hand of the me then—comfort her, give her support. I guess that’s what I am doing. I hope she feels it. I spent an afternoon weeping for her…me…all of us. They were old tears, mellowed with age; tears I didn’t shed then. It felt good.
As usual, please let me know what you are seeing and feeling in the story. You can use the comments. I like this option because then we can build on them publicly, together. Or if you prefer to send me a private note, you can do that here: firstname.lastname@example.org. So much is alchemized in our relating around what’s happening. Katherine and I need you!
Also, mark your calendar or sign up for two upcoming events!
Wednesday, March 29, 6-7pm EST—Tenacious Magic live Book Club on Zoom (For anyone who has read any of it. You don’t need to be caught up.)
Wednesday, April 5, 7-8pm EST—A Conversation with Holly McFarland about Tenacious Magic, Ancestral Healing, and Gathering Women Between the Worlds. Registration will be announced soon. Holly’s website: http://hollymcfarland.net/
These Tenacious Magic chapters are now behind the paywall, though the first seven were free to all subscribers. If you like what you’re reading here or want to start from the beginning, I urge you to go back to my introduction to this project, or Chapter 1 and/or subscribe to keep reading! If this isn’t your thing, don’t worry! My Substack will continue to have free content related to embodiment, meditation, Tantra, and poetry.
Now, on to the story…
“There does seem to be a moment when you realize that, quite by accident, you happen to have come on to the stage at exactly the moment you were expected. Everything is arranged for you—waiting for you. Ah, master of the situation! You fill with important breath. And at the same time you smile, secretly, slyly, because Life seems to be opposed to granting you these entrances, seems indeed to be engaged in snatching them from you and making them impossible, keeping you in the wings until it is too late, in fact. . . . Just for once you’ve beaten the old hag.”
—Katherine Mansfield, Je ne Parle pas Français
Brooklyn, August 2009
It’s a long subway ride back to Brooklyn from the Upper East Side. The name, Katherine Mansfield, repeats in her mind like a mantra. She can think of almost nothing else. “The poet…” H had said, “Look her up.” It sounds so familiar, and yet there are no clear associations. S considers searching with her phone but something tells her she needs privacy—she can’t imagine why—so, she waits.
Inside the apartment, she walks the long hallway, drops her heavy bag onto a chair, and sits on the couch in the living room. The tall windows offer their spectacular view of the city’s skyscrapers sparkling in the midday sun, but she doesn’t notice. She’s already looking at the computer.
S types ‘Katherine Mansfield…’ Immediately several images and links appear on the screen. She catches her breath.
“It’s me,” she thinks with a shock.
Never before has she experienced this feeling at the appearance of another—like looking in a mirror through time.
Photograph after photograph, Katherine’s warm brown eyes keep drawing her in; penetrating her. She knows that look: intense, passionate, yearning…but also lost, pleading. This is how she has looked herself in many photographs. It is the look of living life through a shell of skin, under a mask, desperate to be seen fully, but also desperate to hide one’s true self.
It turns out she does not “know” this woman as a writer or historical figure. She hasn’t read her work. Nothing “clicks” in a way that might make sense. No forgotten high school english lessons, no college essays. And yet. there is an uncanny sense that she knows this woman; knows her life, her loves, her losses. The more she sees, the more the feeling grows.
No. It’s even more than that. As she scans the screen, she can feel herself in there, within this woman. She can feel herself looking through those eyes. And she feels Katherine looking through hers. She seems to be fascinated, even amused, at what has been captured and commemorated. What a gas! Katherine seems to think.
She can intuit Katherine’s state in each image; feel the weight and texture of her clothes, and even how she felt about each outfit and accessory—the way a woman knows her own wardrobe. She can feel the temperature and atmosphere of each setting, and even sense the invisible photographers (the invisible relationship that makes a photo). S gives herself over to the experience and allows the voice in her head to narrate the experience:
“Oh, I hated that haircut…I look so thin in this one…and too fat here…that was a rough time…so matronly here…Oh Katherine, who picked out that jacket? This one is not so bad. Ah, here I am, looking content.”
S now understands why she waited for privacy. This moment is extremely intimate. She needed to be alone with Katherine, at least at first. She’s glad no one is here; no one needs an explanation.
Kathleen Mansfield Murry, wrote under the name Katherine Mansfield. Born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1888 and died in Fontainebleu, France in 1923. A prominent modernist short story writer…
“Wow, she was so young when she died,” she thinks. She does the math, “34?! She died at 34? I’m 35 now…” She speed reads websites and biographies.
The symmetries strike her as uncanny. What could be the meaning in it? They are about the same age; Katherine is a successful writer and S is longing to write; both women on a spiritual mission. Suddenly, S has the distinct feeling she is meant to continue something undone for Katherine; to carry on or carry out some unfinished business.
As she clicks through link after link, she feels an agreement being forged across space and time…She closes her eyes and says a prayer,
Katherine, I agree to carry on whatever it was you didn’t get to finish if you agree to relieve me of this pressure I feel to become a writer of consequence. Hold my hand so writing becomes less daunting for me and I will grant you access to the states I have achieved through the spiritual work you never got to finish.
S spends that afternoon researching her kindred spirit. She purchases a collection of short stories, published journals, and a biography.
On the internet, in the meantime, she learns about Katherine’s controversial and wild youth; her overbearing, but well-intentioned mother; her struggles with body image; her female lovers; her musical abilities; her fierce determination; her London literary success and status as a figure in the Bloomsbury group, where she had conversations and even friendships with Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley; her miscarriage and difficult marriages; and of course, her physical illness—the tuberculosis that would take her life. S learns about her dying days at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau under the tutelage and guidance of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.
This last detail strikes her as remarkable. If she is Katherine…was…is H…Gurdjieff? It fits so snugly she begins to shiver. What is happening? She reviews her meetings with H; conversations about Gurdjieff; he way he holds The Work; the dream of great consequence in which he was himself and Gurdjieff.
An incident that hadn’t made sense at the time returns to her. One day he made a kind of slip when she asked about the enneagram on the bookshelf. “Oh, that’s something I designed,” he’d said. She did not misunderstand him. She knew the symbol to be part of Gurdjieff’s work and wondered at his answer. Perhaps it’s even older than Gurdjieff, she thought. Perhaps H was Pythagoras, himself. Or some alien being who dropped the enneagram into Gurdjieff’s consciousness. H had complained that people have corrupted the meaning of this symbol and use it as a typological tool it was never meant to be. His manner in these moments discouraged further questioning. But, it stuck with her: “I designed.”
When Paul comes home, she says nothing about the discovery, nothing about the hours of research, tears, wonder. She keeps it to herself. She decides not to share it even with H, unless he asks. This feels immensely private—between she and Katherine.
That night as she goes to bed, memories of Katherine and as Katherine play in her imagination. She has never felt like this before. It seems too extraordinary for words: to know everything about a person the first moment you see their image, but remember none of it.
By the time she falls asleep, S believes—for this is the only explanation she can think of—that she was Katherine Mansfield in a previous life. Why else would H draw my attention to her? He wants me to remember myself.
For the next few weeks, S walks around Brooklyn carrying two consciousnesses—or so it feels. In moments—in a fancy food shop or boutique, walking through the Botanic Garden, or the museum—she’s not sure whether she is seeing things through her own eyes, or through Katherine’s. Either way, life feels somehow richer—like she has a secret friend. It gives her pleasure to explore with Katherine, to commune with her. It’s like falling in love.
Books arrive in the mail and she tears into them. Reading Katherine’s stories and journals, she understands that there are things Katherine left unfinished, things she hadn’t had time to heal. S feels she can help her attend to these, that she must. At the same time, S begins to realize she also has an ally. The healing is not one directional—it flows back and forth between them, through time.
She doesn’t know what kind of confirmation or certainty she is looking for as she begins to excavate Katherine’s life. She follows clues in books like breadcrumbs, thinking if she can understand Katherine’s life and journey better, it will give her clues to her own purpose. She thinks, “If only I can remember her struggles, her gifts, her decisions, regrets and dreams, I might understand better my own.”
The biographies she reads are particularly amusing. She can almost anticipate Katherine’s adventures. She can “tell” when the writer has misunderstood a journal entry or misattributed a motive, “No, that’s not why she left school. It was because…No, she did love her, she just didn’t know how to show it…”
Many of the characters in Katherine’s life seem to map to characters in S’s own life. Katherine’s marriage to John Middleton Murry is very like S’s marriage to Paul. Katherine’s friendship with Ida Baker, whom she calls LM, is much like a friendship S has with a woman named Laurel Macy (LM), Katherine’s spiritual friend and mentor, A.R. Orage, is very like S’s spiritual friend and mentor, Francis. It was Orage who introduced Katherine to Gurdjieff and Francis who introduced S to H. And of course, there are the similarities between Gurdjieff and H—and their initials being subsequent letters in the alphabet is just icing on the cake.
She writes in her journal after seeing Macy one weekend:
“Macy looked to me tonight so much like Ida. God, this Katherine thing has become somewhat oppressive. It’s teaching me so much, but I have to keep hold of my perspective. I am online—damned, blessed internet—reading constantly, searching for more images of her. Each time, I feel I gain some deeper understanding but I fear my conclusions are faulty…Her wild youth, how I know those demons.The strained relationships. The marriage gone bad. The impulsiveness! Her demeanor: icy and cold one minute, vulnerable and sweet the next. What?! What am I going to do with all this knowledge of another woman’s life?”
Periodically, she wonders if she should stop. But there is no denying the feeling, the impulse to carry on. She doesn’t understand, but she believes it is important and everything that needs to be clear, will become clear in time.
The best part for S is integrating the identity of a great literary heroine. In this life so far, writing has been unfulfilling and frustrating. She longs for the success Katherine has and now it seems she has it! Her harsh inner critic, the one who stops her from writing honestly and publicly, can’t stand up to the news. Now, she tells this voice, “Thank you very much for your opinion, but I’ll have you know that I was a great writer. I have written many books. I was once quite well known and highly regarded as a writer. Now, maybe I’m working on becoming a different kind of writer, or maybe this life is about something else altogether…Whatever the case, it’s my choice.”
One night, she goes to bed having read a passage in Katherine’s biography about a visit to Paris around 1916-17. In the middle of the night, she wakes with a start. Katherine seems to be trying to show her something. S thinks hard about what she knows of that period in history. The Bateau Lavoire pops into her mind. S has been obsessed with the modern artists since she was a child, especially Picasso. As a teen, she visited Paris twice, always making a trip to Montmartre and the site of the Bateau Lavoire, the ramshackle studio of Picasso and his avant-garde friends.
She seems to be on the right track. She can now see the dark streets of Paris—walking drunk on cobblestones, cigarettes, late nights. Mischief.
Suddenly, she is called to the bookshelf. She gets out of bed without disturbing Paul and goes to the living room. There in the quiet night, she pulls a small book about Modigliani off the shelf. It is a book she borrowed from Hannah many years ago. It had traveled from San Francisco to Washington, DC, to New York with her. It wasn’t a very remarkable or even a very good art book, and she should have returned it to Hannah ages ago, but it had begged to stay with her. Now, she knows why.
She flips through the pages, admiring the work of the great portraitist and lover of ladies—those dark holes for eyes, the jewel-tone palette, beautiful model after beautiful model. She imagines Katherine hanging out with him around 1916-1917. Katherine would have been in her late 20s, he in his early 30s, both of them burning with passion and creativity, both of them potentially aware on some level of the brevity of their lives. (He would die in 1920 of tuberculosis-related complications at the age of 35, she in 1923 at the age of 34.) She thinks, “They would have been irresistible to each other—like moths to the flame.”
She flips a page and finds herself staring at a painting of…Katherine. She recognizes her immediately. The voluptuous body Katherine always felt was too plump, the signature bob with blunt bangs, those searing dark eyes and creamy skin…a mild sadness about the face. Her heart races as she looks for the caption, Reclining Nude, 1917, Model Unknown.
But, she knows. It is Katherine. Did the tuberculosis come from him? Her heart is racing. She sits on the couch and does research online, finding nothing about Modigliani and Katherine. Model unknown…S smiles to herself thinking about her smug art history professors in college.
Of all the entries in Katherine’s journals, one stands out. It is from early in 19221
I feel quite…But, I mustn’t get too excited; one must keep one’s sense of proportion. Be calm!
I can’t. I can’t! Not just for the moment. If you could feel my heart! It’s not beating very fast, not racing, as they say, but it’s simply quivering—an extraordinary sensation—and if I am quite sincere, I feel such a longing to kneel down. Not to pray. I scarcely know what for. To say “Forgive me!” To say “My darling!” But I should cry if I said it. My darling! My darling! Do you know I’ve never known anyone well enough to call them that. It’s a beautiful word, isn’t it? And one puts out one’s hand when one says it and just touches the other…No, no. It’s fatal to think such things. One mustn’t let oneself go.
Here I am—back in my room. I should like to go over to the window and open it wide. But I daren’t yet. Supposing he were looking out one of his and he saw; it might seem marked. One can’t be too careful. I will stay where I am for the present until my—my excitement dies down a little. No. 134. That is the number of my room. I only realized at that moment that I am still holding my big flat door-key. What is his number? Oh, I have wondered that so often. Shall I ever know? Why should I? And yet what has just happened…
If a flash-light photograph had been taken at that moment, or a fire had broken out, and we had been unable to move and only our charred bodies found, it would have been the most natural thing in the world for people to suppose we were—together. We must have looked exactly like the other couples. Even his reading the newspaper and not speaking to me seemed to make it more natural…
Who was this Darling? Where were they when this happened? What happened? Why does she record the encounter so cryptically?
S senses in reading, My Darling, that Katherine is wanting to be found out…that she wants someone to know what happened. S thinks, Why not me? Katherine seems to say, “Yes, you!”
She tries…”It’s Gurdjieff? It sounds like Gurdjieff. But, you met him at the Prieuré in October…yes?”
Katherine is coy… “Maybe.”
“Maybe? I need more than that.”
“Well, think about where we could be.”
“You’re in a hotel…the keys give that away. But, where?” I think for a minute. “It’s definitely not Murry. And it can’t be a fling or an unknown lover…this is too passionate, too sincere. ‘My darling’ is not something you would say to a nobody…”
“You could have met Gurdjieff in London or Paris on one of his visits? Did you attend one of his lectures? Why don’t you say?”
“It’s right there in the entry…”forgive me”…I would have been guilty. That’s all I will say for now.”
“Fine. I’ll keep looking.”
S believes it is Gurdjieff. There is no evidence for this. She is basing this on one thing and one thing alone: the way she feels about H.
Long Island City
S and Paul stand on the front steps of the Metropolitan Building in Long Island City, Queens. It’s evening in early October and a chill is in the air. They are waiting for Paul’s mother, Marianne, to open the door.
The gargantuan, brick warehouse was built in 1909. “It’s 100 years old,” S says to Paul. In her mind, she is calculating how old Katherine would have been in 1909, as she now does all the time. She would have been 21.
“Come in! Come in!” Marianne opens the large metal door with some effort. She is petite and lively, dressed to the nines as always. She is speaking rapidly, her melodic English accented by Hungarian, “I didn’t hear the phone…It doesn’t work back in the studio and I have to keep walking around until I get a signal…” She kisses them both and then latches the great door behind them.
They wander down long hallways to a far corner of the building. Marianne opens a glass door into a small space with extremely high ceilings, “Voilá!” She says with a wave of the arm.
Her desk is a large drafting table against the window. A small portable heater is blowing under the desk, but the room is still frigid. A small radio plays jazz in the corner. The far wall is stacked almost to the ceiling with bolts of luxurious fabrics from Marianne’s collection…some of them are now priceless, obtained during her travels around the world in the seventies and eighties. Two hanging racks are full of colorful jackets, gowns, and coats. A large mirror is mounted on one wall. Boxes full of buttons, ribbons, and fittings are strewn about the room.
Marianne’s longtime assistant, Katya, sits at a sewing machine and looks up over the rims of her spectacles as we walk in. She smiles and greets us in Hungarian.
Paul insists on helping Marianne with some heavy lifting while S browses the clothes. Marianne urges her to try on a green wool skirt and jacket. She is standing behind S holding different fabrics up to her face so they can see them in the mirror and talking about all of the new designs she is working on. S thinks she sees Katherine in her own face. Marianne’s clothes are timeless, they would suit her. S loves being a muse for Marianne’s wild creativity and loves Marianne. Sometimes she jokes with Paul that she married him because she loves his mother. Such a free spirit. This is precisely what irritates Paul about her.
“Mom, let’s go get some dinner. It’s freezing in here. Come on…” Paul is, as usual, frustrated with his mother’s distractibility.
“Hello?” A tall man dressed elegantly in black is standing in the doorway. They all turn towards him expectantly. “I’m letting everyone in the building know that we’re going to have a Sufi dance performance on the third floor in…” he looks at his watch, “fifteen minutes.”
“Oh! Dancing!” Marianne looks delighted, “We wouldn’t miss it!”
Despite Paul’s annoyance, they walk up the stairs to the third floor. The room is decorated in the style of a European chateau from the turn of the 19th century. A semicircle of random chairs has been pulled together. S feels worlds away from Manhattan, whose skyline glitters through the windows. She takes a seat and watches the dancers preparing, putting on makeup, and stretching. There is no backstage…there is no stage, just an area marked with tape on the floor. All of it seems improvised.
After a while, the dancers take their positions. About eight people—men and women, young and old—make a small, tight grouping. They all wear black and as the music starts, they have their eyes closed. S feels excited for it to start.
The music is languid and Middle Eastern. The dancers begin moving very slowly and deliberately—feeling their way. S searches for patterns or meaning; seeking some kind of sense, but finds none. No one opens their eyes. With some distress, she realizes this show is not choreographed. Each dancer is moving to the music in their own way. She feels a mild annoyance building. I came to see a dance performance, not a bunch of people feeling music. I can feel music.
There are about twenty people in the audience, all friends of the performers. S feels suddenly and unexpectedly very foolish sitting there in a chair watching as the “dancers” move. She shifts awkwardly in her hard chair, now uncomfortable. She glances sideways at Paul and Marianne, but they seem placid, observant.
In the front row of the formation there is a beautiful, young woman. She is voluptuous and radiant and very sensual. She is moving in serpent-like coils on the ground, her eyes closed and lips pressed lightly into a smile. She is enjoying herself completely…in some kind of ecstatic trance. S watches the woman going deeper into herself and moving without a care in the world and suddenly her mild annoyance ignites into full-blown anger. Not just a little angry, but enraged. The sight of the dancers moving as they please while she sits and watches makes her feel like screaming. “The audacity of this woman! Surely,” she thinks, “others must be annoyed. This is not a performance. This should be private. Why do they need an audience?” She looks around. Others must be bothered also? To her surprise, the audience seems to be relaxed and enjoying the show. She is alone in her agony.
The show itself lasts only about twenty minutes. Then, the dancers invite the audience to join in a dance party. Marianne dances freely. S fakes it for a few minutes, but feels stiff and confused about her reaction. Paul insists that they leave and she is relieved. With some difficulty, they pull Marianne away and head to dinner.
All evening the image of the young woman enjoying the bliss of her body, her sensuality, her…femininity…haunts S.
The next day, S is in H’s office for her weekly session. She hasn’t mentioned Katherine to him and he hasn’t asked.
She describes to him the events of the night before. He listens with pleasure as she tells the story. He reminds her that Gurdjieff’s movements—the ballets he choreographed and the exercises he taught his pupils—were influenced by Sufi dance. She hadn’t known this. The coincidence seems extraordinary.
“But, why become angry? Amused…entertained…bored…these are all natural responses to the event you’ve described. Why angry?” he asks.
She searches for the answer. At first, she is stuck. Her ego wants to tell him, “I thought it was self-indulgent and rude. I felt like a voyeur. It should have been private.” She can feel she is righteous and still furious.
“It was too intimate!” She finally insists. “You don’t need an audience for that kind of dancing. I do that alone in my bedroom all the time. What made them think that was ready for the public? How dare they expect me to sit there while they experience ecstasy!” She feels the force of her protest is beyond her experience.
He doesn’t react or respond. In the silent space, she has a realization and her heart begins to ache. She says much more softly and slowly, ashamed at the obviousness of the revelation, “Ahhhhh…I didn’t want to be watching them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be dancing, too.”
She realizes the intensity of her emotions that night weren’t hers alone. Yes, they were hers, but she was also feeling Katherine’s frustration, sitting at the Prieuré watching the dancers rehearse. She realizes Katherine, too, must have longed to be them—but, she couldn’t because of her poor health. An enormous wave of compassion washes over her. She realizes how fortunate she is to have this healthy body—so capable, so agile, so strong. So beautiful and feminine. She must enjoy it. She must dance.
“Do you know about the aphorisms?”
She shakes her head.
“Above the study house wall in an elaborate script they painted Gurdjieff’s 38 aphorisms. All of The Work condensed. Number one seems to apply here: Like what ‘it’ does not like. Congratulations. You have learned the wisdom in that one.”
“You mean ‘it’ wanted to keep me comfortable not dancing. It doesn’t want me to discover what dancing will uncover?” She laughs, “It tried to convince me I hated those dancers.”
They both laugh. “So dance,” he says.
He studies her as they sit in silence. She is remembering how much she used to love dancing when she was younger and carefree, when she was drinking and wild. She’s been so rigid in her yogic discipline. So linear.
“It’s important to believe you can have whatever you want. This is hope, happiness, living. This belief is the difference between fulfilled people pursuing their purpose and the walking dead. When people are young, they tend to have this quality, but over time it gets extinguished. Find it again and you live forever.”
They begin to sit in meditation together.
He asks, “What kind of energy are you experiencing?”
“White, calm, peaceful…”
“Where is it coming from?”
She tries not to think, but to simply respond with the truth as she is feeling it. She wants to say, “From you,” but something prevents it.
“I don’t know…there’s a force. It’s bright…”
“That is your natural state,” he tells her. This feels so true.
As she focuses on the peace within, she expects to feel good. But, something distracts her…something is containing what should feel supremely expansive…
“What is ‘squirmy’?”
She describes the feeling of a glove, a sheath, fitting tightly over the calm core of her being…her body feels restrained.
“Do you know what that glove is? It’s your limitation. And you don’t like it. You have to stop thinking about the physical limitation. It exists. Get past it.”
He asks his signature question, “What is it that you want?”
She answers quickly, “Freedom…Freedom from the body…” This is not quite right. She loves this life, this body. She can dance with this body…”Freedom while I am still in the body.”
“You want to fly.”
He breaks the trance, “If you don’t like your life, change it. You have to change your attitude because your attitude is what gave you this life you are living now.”
She feels tears welling up. But simultaneously, she finds a new strength within. She turns her attention inward to the source of the tears, to her gut, and finds something like a hand with an iron grip. She soothes the hand. She watches without telling herself stories. It feels like a fist holding on to some small perspective. She struggles with it. She can feel H helping energetically from across the room.
As the fist opens, she finds an objective, unemotional state within. She breathes steadily; keeping her attention on the place where the emotion was. She is startled by when the buzzer in his office rings, indicating the next client.
H breaks their gaze and answers the phone, “Send her up,” he says and then turns back to S. “Tell me. How did you do that just then?”
“I felt overwhelmed. I let it come up inside me without being afraid of it, I just let it run its course and then…I let it pass without attaching anything to it.”
He nods in approval, “Good. Now when you see people clinging you’ll think, ‘Poor people,’ because it’s not a matter of spirituality, it’s a matter of technique.”
She passes a lovely Asian woman in the hallway and they exchange a furtive glance. As she steps out onto the sidewalk she texts Francis:
“Will you take me to 5 Rhythms tonight? I’m ready to dance.”
His response comes quickly: “I thought you’d never ask.”
It's autumn in New York that brings the promise of new love.
Autumn in New York is often mingled with pain.
Dreamers with empty hands may sigh for exotic lands;
It's autumn in New York;
It's good to live it again.
Billie Holliday is crooning in her head as she walks with Paul through the park. The fall foliage is at its peak. It’s a beautiful Saturday morning and the great meadow is teeming with activity. They walk slowly but with direction towards the other side of the park where Francis is hosting one of his infamous pot luck brunches. Paul is carrying the Park Slope Food Coop tote bag containing their offering—vegan carrot muffins topped with perfect little walnut halves.
They aren’t talking, don’t need to. All is well-ish. S feels alternately alarmed and relieved during these quiet times with Paul. When there is conflict, there is something for her to push against, to struggle against. When things are quiet, she sometimes wonders what they have in common, if he is with her. The feeling of alienation has been growing since she started the work with H, but also in recent weeks as she’s started dancing regularly. The dance is opening something in her, in her body—something she doesn’t experience with Paul. With him, life is nice…sunny autumn mornings with fruit salad and carrot muffins. Everything is in its place…only it’s like she’s forgotten something…a toothbrush or a lit stove burner.
On a morning like this, on their way to her friends’ party that Paul has agreed to attend—“At least he is trying,” she thinks with compassion and appreciation—she wants to enjoy life. She doesn’t want to wake a sleeping dog or as Gurdjieff says, “poke a hornet’s nest.” The thought of it makes something in her retreat deeply into some inner cave or grotto. What is that something…who is that something?
They ring the bell for the downstairs unit of a grand brownstone. S has been here befrore for previous pot lucks. This is Paul’s first. He tends to skip the yogi gatherings, but he likes Francis and he had no plans this morning. Francis pokes his lovely, bald head out a parlor floor window and yells down for them to push the door open, “The buzzer doesn’t work.”
They climb a set of stairs and push open the huge door to Francis’ apartment. There is a pile of shoes to the left of the door. The sparse furnishings have been pushed to the edges of the parlor and a table against the far wall is full of healthy food offerings. There are already about thirty people in the spacious apartment. Some are standing in small groupings with paper plates and bowls of food. Some are lounging on pillows and poofs and rugs. A young man with a guitar is playing and singing lightly in the corner.
The scene is classic Francis: media people who have escaped the corporate world and now work on stories that can “shift consciousness;” entrepreneurs with successful meditation apps and yoga apparel lines; high profile yoga teachers; dancers; musicians; Burning Man camp refugees; and some familiar characters who seem to be at all of these gatherings, but she has no idea what they do. They are a mix of ages, genders, races. There is surface diversity, but it is a cohesive scene. Everyone is looking for enlightenment.com.
S immediately sees some old friends from yoga and new friends from dancing. She leaves Paul making a plate at the buffet and moves through the room towards the kitchen. She hugs and says hello to several people along the way.
Francis is stirring a huge pot of dal on the stove. He grabs her and kisses her fully on the mouth—a habit that always takes her by surprise, but also pleases her.
“Hey,” his blue eyes are sparkling, “there’s kombucha is in the fridge…or you can try one of these…” he opens the refrigerator and retrieves a bottle of watermelon juice. “Tami and Dean are making this. They just got it into the Food Coop.”
She moves towards the kettle of hot water and boxes of yogi tea, “I’ll have tea.”
“Did you go last night? How was it?” He asks her excitedly. He is referring to the opening for the Red Book exhibition at the Rubin Museum. She had two tickets and she invited him but he couldn’t make it.
She widens her eyes and nods at him, making a face that says it all, “Mind blown.”
“Really? Oh, I bet. Tell me…”
“Francis, it was beyond…I’ve never seen anything like it. The talk was fascinating…I took notes…” he nods approval, “His family were there…the Jung family. This is the first time this work is being released to the public. I saw it last night, Francis. Pages that Jung himself had written and painted and illuminated…yes, like a medieval monk. It was…divine.”
“I saw the Times article. Some of the imagery is intense.”
“They had Jung’s mandala’s hung with Tibetan mandalas. It was stunning. A real marriage of east and west. The imagery of the Holy Grail, right there with Hell and the Angels and the Prophets…and the Kalachakra and a magnolia.” She is rhapsodic.
A woman with red hair has been listening in. S recognizes her from the building where she works. Her name is Julia and she has her own PR business that advises celebrities in the wellness and yoga worlds. She gasps and says,
“I saw the Times article, too. What horrible pictures. He was really nuts,” Her face contorts into a scowl, seeking our agreement. S is surprised and can’t pretend—she doesn’t agree at all.
“I found them to be impossibly beautiful and transcendent. Even the dark ones. We have to become friends with the dark. Those images live in all of us, he was just brave enough to bring them up, to face them…and ultimately to share them. Though even his family were unsure all these years what it might do to his reputation to release them.”
Julia stiffens. S becomes aware of her perfectly composed outfit and neatly-styled hair. “Maybe you do. I don’t. Such awful things—monsters eating children, murders…He was a mad man, if you ask me.”
Francis is watching the disagreement with some amusement. Julia grabs her kombucha and leaves the room. He says quietly, “In time she’ll come to know the awful images within herself, too…”
“I hope she does. It’s the only way to the light.”
S takes her tea into the parlor and sits down on a pillow to listen to the music. She feels relieved to see Paul chatting with some neighbors. After a few minutes, Francis walks into the parlor,
“Ok everyone! Listen up…” the room gradually comes to attention. “Let’s gather for a bit. We’re going to have a prayer and meditation and then a sharing circle. Parvati, will you lead the prayer?”
A beautiful dark haired woman wearing a long black dress and red turban nods happily and steps lightly into the center of the oblong circle the group is forming on the floor. When everyone is settled, she closes her eyes and lifts her gaze. She is standing and as she speaks she turns around and around, addressing all in the circle. S is enraptured by her and notices when she turns her back that she has angel wings tattooed on her shoulder blades.
She thanks Francis for being a gracious host and leader in the community. She thanks the four directions. And she offers a prayer that brings the group into a quiet state of contemplation. At the end of the prayer she instructs everyone to feel into the center of their heart and find their deepest soul’s desire. We take a minute to go inward. Then she has us offer that desire up to the sky, raising our arms to the cosmos, the powers that be, and our own guides.
“Now, bring your hands to your heart and believe it will come true. Really see it happening. Feel yourself in the state of receptivity. Receive what is coming your way. Trust.”
S finds herself wishing to write her book. This is often her wish. It sounds like this in her heart, “Give me the courage to write words that will heal and help me let go, and will heal and help others let go, so we can grow.”
When she opens her eyes, she is greeted by thirty shining faces.
After the meditation and share circle, it’s late in the afternoon. She and Paul decide to leave. They are searching for their shoes in the enormous pile when a woman with black hair approaches S. She looks familiar, but S cannot place her.
The woman smiles, “Do you remember me? My name is Soraya. I’m an astrologer. I read your chart a couple of years ago…in the West Village?”
S suddenly remembers this woman. She lives in the building Paul’s mother lives in. Marianne gifted her a session when she first met Paul.
“Of course! How are you? It’s great to see you…”
“I can see you’re leaving, but I didn’t have a chance to speak to you with the meditation and circle…I heard you telling Francis you went to the Red Book show? I’m also a Jungian analyst. I am so excited to get my hands on the book!”
Her eyes are glowing with an inner light. S remembers that the reading she had with this woman was potent at the time. Paul has moved into the hallway to wait. Soraya continues…
“I don’t want to keep you, but I have a message for you. I didn’t say this to you during our session years ago, but it came back to me when I saw you today and I checked with my guides. They want me to share it. The message is…embrace the dark feminine.”
S receives the message with some confusion. Soraya clearly knows what she is saying, but S cannot imagine what the dark feminine is. She is curious, “What do you mean? What is the dark feminine?” Images of spiders and witches and wild-haired banshees are crowding her inner eye.
Soraya seems to see her thoughts, “Yes…that…and this…the dark phase of the moon, the crone, the tantrika dancing in the creation grounds, Kali, Hecate, Medusa, the sacred prostitute…She has so many faces. We have forgotten or exiled most of them. Cast out and worse. Remember the witch trials?”
As she says this, she gives S a conspiratorial and knowing look like, I know you do. We were there together.
“I see you,” she says. “You’re a witch like me, but you don’t know it yet. If you embrace her, she will set you free. Deny her and she will destroy you. It’s not pretty.”
Soraya is nodding sadly and seriously now. “I’m telling you this to help you. You weren’t ready for it then. Now, you are.”
The two women stand looking at each other intently. S feels something important, even critical, has passed between them. She is grateful. She leans in and grabs the small woman. She embraces her and says with sincerity, “Thank you. I don’t totally know what you mean, yet. But, I promise I will try. I find a way to embrace the dark feminine.”
Soraya smiles, “You don’t have to understand it or figure it out. Open and she will embrace you…it can feel like being devoured sometimes. But, it’s necessary. And powerful medicine—for you and for the world.” She pauses, looking deep into S. “I hope to see you again.”
S joins Paul in the hallway. They walk out into the afternoon sun chatting lightly about the event. Paul enjoyed himself. She feels relieved. S has the dark feminine on her mind.
Suddenly, Paul looks at her and asks, “Want to know what I wished for?”
“Hmm?” She comes back from a deep place. He has stopped walking.
“My heart’s desire is that you will be ready to have kids soon. I want children. I’m ready. I wished that whatever obstacle is in your way would be removed so we can start a family.”
S feels her stomach drop. She begins to give him the same non-answer. She starts to protest. Suddenly, Paul says with frustration, “Are we going to do this or not? It’s fine if not, but I’ll have to move on.”
He is demanding an answer. She feels his desire and reaches into her gut. She cannot find a clear yes or no there, but she is moved to say, “Yes.”
“Good,” he says and starts walking again.
Now, she is really stuck. The glove tightens around her.
S continues her study of Katherine’s life. She longs to return to the wildness of her own bohemian days, but they were so self-destructive. Who is she kidding…they were destructive to others, too. She can’t go back. She doesn’t know how.
It feels strange to keep it all from H, but she must. He knows anyway, she tells herself, he was the one who started the whole thing. If he wanted to know how it was going, he’d ask. She thinks to herself that he was just giving her a clue to a previous incarnation. She thinks he has done his job. But the truth is, it’s nice to have a secret from him. It’s nice to keep something to herself. He talks so little of his own life. She knows next to nothing about him. She must keep something. So, for now…she keeps Katherine.
She begins to keep a list in her journal.
This Is What I Know About Katherine Mansfield…
She never felt loved by her mother. Not sure about her father…
She never felt comfortable in stockings.
She regretted the bob haircut that defined her look and desperately wanted to have long hair again but feared she’d not be taken seriously as a modern girl.
Modigliani’s 1917 painting entitled Nude Reclining, in which the model is “unidentified,” is Katherine. He painted it just before they slept together. He may have given her tuberculosis.
More even than writing she loved performing on stage. She could sing beautifully and dance gracefully.
She loved the feeling of the typewriter keys and was grander sitting there typing than anywhere else.
She understood the power of mirrors.
She believed in reincarnation and knew for a fact she’d been Japanese and Russian…at the very least.
Late in her short life she would sit in the cold, damp practice hall at the Prieure and watch The Movements with longing. She was too weak to partake, but determined to absorb all she could. She made a vow that she would be a dancer in her next life…or the next…that she would never sit on the sidelines and watch again.
The writing tick she could never get rid of (though she tried desperately) and eventually came to love…the ellipses.
She was kinder, more sensitive, and more loving than she gets credit for. She made mistakes because she was young and passionate and magnetic beyond belief.
Gurdjieff revealed to Katherine the beautiful order of the universe in exchange for a promise that she would always trust him. She was no ordinary guest, no accidental tourist. He recognized her first and then spent weeks getting her to a place where she could recognize him. When she did, she felt real happiness for the first time in her life. It was a rushed reunion, but nothing’s perfect.
Did they make love? Who cares? They have been lovers for all time. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
It was raining the night she died. She was running up the stairs when her lungs burst. She wasn’t afraid, but shocked. Her eyes looked frantic because she was searching for him…she’d imagined he would help with the transition. When she realized she’d not be able to say goodbye (and thank you), it broke her heart.
At the end of the list she includes the last thing she knows about Katherine along with a note directly to her:
I will finish what she started…though it was started long before either of “us.”
The great deception of good health is the illusion one has unlimited time to do the things one dreams of doing. Now is the time, in our good health, to tackle it.
If I do my job correctly, the book will be full of magic.
From Katherine Mansfield Scrapbook: https://www.amazon.com/Scrapbook-Katherine-Mansfield-Middleton-Murray/dp/B000GTCMLU