Woman, I bow to you

I walked into the basement of an old house, which suddenly transformed into an attic room with a skylight looking out into the universe. I opened the window and climbed out to the roof. There was a metal staircase leading upwards into the stars. After I reached the 10th step, the staircase disappeared under my feet, but I continued to climb, jumping on purple clouds interspersed between the stars. I saw a white, glowing doorway without a door. When I stepped through the treshold to the other side I found myself in an emerald green forest. I heard the sound of a waterfall in the distance, and birds singing all around me. I realized my back was hunched over because I was carrying a heavy bag on my back, a brown burlap sack, like I imagine travelers might have had centuries ago. I walked along a path and came to a crossroad where I saw an old man with long silvery hair and a golden crown. He said, I will take your burden. I told him I didn’t have any burdens. He asked me to remove what was in my burlap sack. I opened it and saw it was a kind of crystal ball – or more like a plastic ball with snowflakes one finds in souvenir shops – in which a film was playing. Actually it was a music video of a Moldovan ballad* I recognized, sung by a type of Robin Hood outlaw (called “Haiduc” in folk stories), pledging his heart and inordinate reverence to a young peasant girl wearing a crown of flowers, who made rivers flow and blades of wheat grow wherever her feet touched the ground. A semi-modern version of an archaic fairy tale, which I found poetic and beautiful. The king said, let it go, and held his hand out for the crystal ball. And something in me cringed, I didn’t want to give it away, it was part of me, and I wanted to carry it even if it was preventing me from walking upright. The king put together some branches and lit a fire by touching them with his finger. He asked me for the ball again, which I reluctantly handed over, and threw it into the fire. It began to melt like the liquid mercury of a thermometer, seeping out in grayish puddles over the ground. He then blew the fire out and walked away with my empty sack, leaving me alone in the forest.

Suddenly I heard the sound of a distant guitar in the background. I turned around and saw him. I had seen him before in my dreams, or perhaps it was in life, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. He was sitting on a stone near a small pond, singing a ballad: Woman, I bow to you, Woman, I live through you, I live through your grace, Woman, I’d die for you…* He was strikingly beautiful, the song was spellbinding, and I found myself bewitched by the words, even if I didn’t think they were written for me. I felt as if I was swooning under his veil of light, overcome by the fire burning in my head, which flickered down into my throat and belly. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back and listened. And then I heard something buzz in my left ear. A few lines from an Emily Dickinson poem came into my head: I heard a fly buzz when I died… I willed my keepsakes, signed away what portions of me be assignable… I heard the buzzing again, and tried to wave it away with my hand. But the fly was insistent, it came closer and perched in the labyrinth of my ear. It whispered to me, let it go, and I realized it was the voice of the king. And then I saw in a flash how much I was defining my life, unaware, by wanting a lover who would look upon me as if I was his sun and moon, who would bow to my grace, and pledge his heart and soul with promises of outrageous valor. My unconscious desire was all about needing to feel needed, adulated, and admired because that recognition of myself in the mirror of someone else’s gaze would make me feel complete. And then I felt the whole thing drop, suddenly plunging like a ball from my chest down into my stomach, and melting through my legs into the soft ground under my naked feet.

I continued to listen to him sing, but it felt different because I realized I didn’t need anything from him and that it was enough to just enjoy being in his presence. And the fly buzzed again, asking: But what if he doesn’t want you back? And I said, it doesn’t matter. But what if he sings the song to a thousand other women? And I said, it makes no difference. What if he appears as suddenly as a breeze on the wings of the morning sun and vanishes with the glow of twilight? And I said, today is all I know of time. I felt an erratic light fill my heart, which began to breathe with its own rhythm, expanding outward and wanting to unburden itself by spilling over onto life. I touched my head and realized I was wearing a crown of flowers. I took off the crown and gave it back to my troubadour. And then I kneeled and touched his feet with the palms of my hands and said, namaste. Which literally means, the divine in me recognizes and bows to the divine in you. Or, I bow to myself, through you. I turned around and walked out of the forest through the same doorway I had entered, and climbed back down through the curtain of stars.

After waking up from the dream, I lay in bed for a long time, thinking… Thinking that no matter how enlightened I believed I had become about life and love and happiness, I was still under the influence of this fairy tale of wanting someone to tell me I was his everything. I do believe it’s wonderful to feel that your heart is so overflowing with love that your beloved appears exalted and miraculous as a consequence – because that feeling is coming out of a sense of your own fulness. What is abject is needing someone else to bow to you with awe, because then it stems from your feeling of lack and insufficiency. The first desire is generous, the second is fearful, greedy, miserly. And women in particular seem to have been brainwashed by this cultural myth of needing to be someone else’s everything to compensate for feeling like nothing. If you already feel in your heart that you are beautiful, full of grace and complete, you don’t need to hear someone else sing about your magnificence. Perhaps I had already let go of this enchanted story intellectually, but I still needed to feel its weight, its emotional traces, literally drop from my body. I think that was the wisdom of the fly heralding my symbolic death.

Stretching in bed, under the softness of my blanket of feathers, I remembered the story Irina Tweedie tells of her awakening. She travels to India and falls under the spell of a Sufi master. During her training she vacillates from ecstatic highs to unbearable depressions. She suffers profusely, either feeling exalted when he acknowledges and praises her progress, or crashing when he ignores her or bestows his attention upon other disciples. By the end of her training she recognizes that she doesn’t need anything from him, that she is content to sit in his garden and look upon his face and then leave quietly even if he hasn’t noticed her. After he dies, she knows the magical light she saw in him was really hers. And that she is her own inner guru. This is an allegory of what love feels like when it has passed beyond the threshold of need, dependence and possessiveness. When love is purely ecstatic, and there’s nothing greedy about it. Then it’s enough to behold someone else’s radiance without needing anything in return, because their radiance is really an outpouring of your heart, which paints the world in its own brilliant colors. And it is only then that love can really be free, both unbounded in its limits and also unfettered, not dependent on any rhyme or reason. The presence of the other may not exactly be irrelevant – since some people naturally resonate with you and evoke your passion and admiration more easily than others – but the other is at best a wonderful excuse to feel something overflow that’s already in you and that needs no other beauty than its own.

*A version of the Moldovan ballad by Zdob si Zdub,

*Troubadour singing Woman, I bow to you (Berlin, May 24, 2014),


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