Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as an editor. One day, she would like to be a silent film star. She is the author of Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and Waiting for the End of the World (Bottlecap Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in dotdotdash, Nano Fiction, LIES/ISLE, and Uphook Press. She can be found at her website.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I came to Sorrento in Campania, Italy for eight days, alone. Actually, I’m writing this from the balcony off of my room during the golden hour, when the pink and white flowers and the ivy vines are drenched in a soft honey-colored light. God’s filter. The cosmos’ generous reminder that Earth is perfect without us. But the Italian people surely make a strong argument; they are one of the world’s maestros of splendor and creation. From their frescoes to the delicate placement of flowers wherever and anywhere flowers can grow, the Italians understand the holiness of not only aesthetics but intentional living.
So, in the land of the sirens, as the Sorrento coast is known, it is no surprise that I — without a true understanding of what I would embark on — fell well into the depths. Perhaps you can blame it on my elemental nature; I’m a scorpio whose language is cthonic. I crave the long hours of confession and exploration and transformation.
Before Italy, I’d been in London alone — in quaint Datchet, a village just outside London, technically — for three days. So for 11 days, I’d been in relative solitude, save for ordering a pint or cobbling enough Italian together to purchase a boat ticket.
As a gift to myself for finishing my forthcoming book, The Magical Writing Grimoire (2020), I booked a holiday to Italy, on my own — to write, to dream, to swim in the cerulean sea, to see where my blood comes from.
But as I would learn — when night fell here in Italy, it fell hard, and without a soul to speak to on my own (in this six-room church-turned-bed and breakfast tucked high into the mountains) I felt a transformation take place.
Into the depths
For some, eleven days of solitude is doable, desirable even. But for many, it’s not. It is a sentencing. It isn’t that I crave silence. On the contrary; I fear it — especially coming from New York City. It’s that I needed it. There’s a difference.
If I could not quiet my mind, if I could not disappear from my life, how could I truly know what it meant? What could I learn from the other side of my life, where my own body is my only anchor?
As creators — writers, leaders, artists — and as humans, we rely on a kind of sustenance. You pick the poison. We need to drink it, inhale it, dive into it. For me, that bread and wine is light and space, solitude, apart-ness. A certain relinquishing of comfort. I needed to be challenged, far away from the myself and the places I knew. I felt a restlessness growing in me that demanded a sequestering.
For the longest time, however, my weaknesses have found the form of a fear of abandonment, the need for (but fear of) quiet, and lack of control. It comes from trauma and it comes from knowing that around any corner I might fall into the abyss of self. Thinking too much. Add a little wine, and I’m fucking gone.
But in being alone, I have faced my demons. I have named them. Here in Italy I’ve abandoned what I knew to be comfortable and safe. I felt, in some moments, far into the mountains in this isolated commune high above the more populated Sorrento coastline, that I abandoned myself. What were you thinking, I asked myself at least once, coming here alone, for all this time, without anywhere to go on your own? There are two restaurants down the road, a market that closes for siesta, and winding streets of farmland that cannot be traversed by foot.
I’d abandoned a sense of control. First of all — traveling abroad is not like going to the cinema alone or sitting awkwardly, fidgeting during a solo dinner. The end point is not soon. The awkwardness is replaced by a small village curiosity, a light that shines on you and is hot and is real. You begin to see yourself as the subject. But you realize the ego is a type of demon you must drag out to the little square and send off on its way.
But more than noticing my aloneness, control issues threw me into the sea. I could not control the inevitable surprises, which came in the form of car breakdowns, missing boat rides, nearly fainting in 90-degree heat. Walking up hundreds of steps, on a cliff, just to get to some semblance of where other people are.
And of course, the quiet. The heavy quiet that pools in like a ghost, under the door and through the shutters, at night. The quiet that tells you how far you are from everything, how many hours you have until sleep finally settles in. What of the anxieties and rogue feelings of sadness? They are there, a chaotic circus of them all, prodding you, reminding you how far up the mountain you are — without a car nor a means of leaving. When you look out the window, you see Vesuvius.
You think of your body as ash.
But isn’t this what you came for you, I asked myself. Isn’t this what we all want? In life, we are forced to move through our traumas — things that have happened to us, things that have been done to us. We carry our wounds as an albatross, even if we aren’t aware of it. And life has dealt us all a heavy hand.
In my day, I’ve seen, either in myself or in my family, foster care addiction. I’ve seen chronic illness and death. I’ve seen poverty and I’ve seen prison. What are your wounds?
Why would I willingly stoke the flame after survival? Why I let myself be lured by sirens?
In some sense, choosing to be uncomfortable and choosing to work through the quiet is the lesson. It is a pain that I didn’t quite expect in coming alone to a faraway country without a friend or anyone to speak to. But it wasn’t the pain of place. It was the pain I brought with me.
I was the hurt. I brought my fear. I brought my anxiety. Italy didn’t do this to me. There’s a certain shock in realizing that. And a definite freedom.
Solitude & loneliness are not the same
I felt so alone on so many nights, an aloneness that was less about not being near people or places and more about my individual decision to fly 4,000 miles from home. How the gift of autonomy comes with a solitude that must be understood and appreciated, rather than feared.
How we are, ultimately, alone.
But being alone is not the same as loneliness. The people in the market, the people in the farms plucking lemons, the people who make me limoncello, the people who steer our boats from island to island, the people who direct me to the nearest whatever it is, the tourists who see me sitting alone and ask me to dine with them — there are people everywhere, and that is a treasure. Those small slivers of conversations are a reminder that we are alone, but we don’t have to be lonely.
The earth sees you. It wants you to be here.
One night, I texted my father for help. The loneliness followed me up the little hill when I walked back from dinner. My father, Italian as they come, served many years in prison — and weeks in solitary. I felt silly asking him for him, but I knew he’d understand what solitude could do, and he said:
Always realize today is just one day. And tomorrow is a new beginning. A new opportunity to feel differently or experience different things. Don’t let your mind control your feelings. Think how lucky you are —being able to travel. And having people in your life that love you and care about you. You are never detached or isolated. The world is much too small for that anymore. Everyone is connected. I love you.
In silence, we grow. It reminds us that not only can we and do we survive, we are self-resilient when we willingly put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, when we decide to settle in and let the silence fill us with every thought and memory imaginable.
There is no way down the mountain. There is nothing but your own mind — and no matter how luxurious or beautiful the country or place you are in, we are all alone, bodies full of chemicals and traumas that demand we look them in the eye.
Ancestral work is healing
My father’s family is Italian and Sicilian — at least his parents and great grandparents were. We have Spanish and West Asian ancestors as well.
I was raised in New Jersey with my Italian/Sicilian grandparents. My nonna, from Palermo. My grandfather, part Napolitano. I only saw Naples from the car, its hundreds of homes — colorful, scattered, boxy, so much laundry hanging you could see it from space. Many of its people are living in poverty, under the stronghold of a mafia, the Camorra. They say Naples is the realest city in Italian, a place that doesn’t afford any of the luxuries or predictable splendor of other cities. It’s hard and gritty and I have that in my blood.
My grandfather, Sabatino, whose family hails from this city — what must his family have done to get to America? What drove them out? What sort of assimilation problems did they have when Italians were considered dirt?
My grandmother Concetta Maria came by boat — you can see her name on a ship’s manifest, along with her sisters, one of which fell so ill she had to be taken to the hospital upon arrival in the port of the United States. She told me once about the blackshirts, Benito Mussolini's men, wandering around as she sat under lemon trees.
She spoke Sicilian, my grandfather spoke an Italian dialect. They made fun of one another’s language. When they came here, they didn’t teach any of their seven children Italian or Sicilian. They forced assimilation in the household, as many immigrants do.
In any sort of ancestral work, you aim to understand your bloodline. In my case, my grandparents were relentlessly catholic, deeply disappointed in many of their non-catholic grandchildren — me — and generally chose favorites. Some were favored, coddled, loved. Near the end of my grandmother’s life, well into her 90s, she made me cake, presented me with a rosary, made a sort of apology.
I’ll never forget it. She pulled a long lock of black hair from a box and wielded it over the dinner table. She kept her hair, as if to keep her youth, her vitality.
To this day, my black hair reminds me of her. I care for my hair — wavy and coarse and wild — because it is Italian hair. It is my own.
And on this trip, when I boated from Sorrento to Capri, I thought of them, of their struggles, of how hard they worked to make a life for themselves. Where they failed and how they loved. How they made my father, the artist and musician and poet, and how he made me.
I dove from the small passenger boat into the deep emerald-green water. I was submerged quickly, lungs full of salt water so thick and fast that I gagged. I swam back to the boat’s ladder, frightened, and out of control. But I caught my bearings and swam again. The sea wanted me to know her.
This was baptismal. Swimming in the waters of my blood, my body fully cradled by the earth’s watery womb. Towering island rocks loomed over my head. I was being tugged on by the ancient ghosts of time, my ancestors saying hello, my ancestral land showing me its gusto and bravado. And its softness. In the water a sense of home came over me, no matter how scared or foreign I felt.
I was there because two people, at some point, made love. And they lived here, and they fished in these very waters, and then their children had children. And someone, some girl, me, came back — in search for something.
There is a photograph of my grandfather standing at the water’s edge, birds flocking all around, his black jacket strewn over his shoulder all casual, as he looks back at the camera from afar. It is so blurry you couldn’t make it out entirely, but it is on the prayer card from his funeral, so we know it’s him. You could make him out anyway — his deep golden skin, his firm stance.
He was a fisherman, and my father is a fisherman. They spoke the language of water. They understood and understand water in their very nature.
And now I speak it too. Born of a water sign, obsessed by the depths, I am called to the sea by sirens.
Parthenope, the siren of Naples
At my bed & breakfast, my door is labeled in gold: Parthenope. I only remotely knew of this siren, that she was one of the many who lived on the coast of Sorrento. But I was not expected to know her so well.
On the way to Amalfi and Positano one day, we pass Li Galli, an archipelago of little islands — Gallo Lungo, La Castelluccia, and La Rotonda— surrounded by cerulean water. These islands are also known as Le Sirenuse, where Ulysses’s sailors were sought out by the sirens, thought to be named Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia. Of course, sailors would crash in wild waters against these jutting rocks, only to blame the voice of women for their misfortune.
The sirens, aside from singing, played the flute and the lyre, instruments which glide on the wind with a sort of frenzied beauty. The siren stories goes back to the 1st century, when Greeks told their tales. I imagine them as mermaids, although they are also commonly depicted as having a bird body with human heads.
My room, the is Parthenope room, is decorated in light blue, gold, and ivory. Of course, this was initiatory, a blood welcoming. Upon first entering, I fell into a deep rejuvenating sleep, lulled by some song, some sustenance from ancient times.
My dreams were of water and lineage.
When I awoke, I felt I’d become a siren, a descendent of Parthenope, perhaps, someone who understood the sea. And, while we’re at it, can bring sailors to their deaths.
The legends — and there are many — say that Parthenope was said to throw herself into the sea when she couldn’t please Odysseus with her siren song. Her body was found on the shore of Naples, where my grandfather comes from. Other stories say that a centaur fell in love with Parthenope, but Jupiter couldn’t have this — and so he turned her into the city of Naples, while the centaur became Vesuvius. And when Vesuvius couldn’t have her love, he would erupt.
Parthenope taught me something — that even in beauty there is darkness. It is up to you find the light. You can find it on islands, and you can find it in yourself.
But there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I’ll never know. For many, the mystery of lineage is a wound. A forced removal of information. A wound of colonialism and genocide. A nothingness. An end of the line.
For me, it’s the fact that my ancestors were disappointed that I wasn’t more Catholic, that my parents hadn’t stayed together. That they didn’t pass on their language.
My ancestral work, I’ve realized, is accepting that I can still come from a place, still be of a thing, still call upon the past, still devote my life to exploring my blood — even if my family wasn’t perfect, even if I wasn’t catholic enough in the eyes of my grandparents. Because ancestral work is so much bigger than everything we understand.
My ancestors tell me to find gratitude in being alive, to look out and see the sky and sea, to find magic in the city and the thousands of doorways and street signs — and to keep looking for Synchronicity. To always keep your eyes and ears open. Messages find their way.
How many of the ones of who made me plucked lemons? How many of them swam in the shore? How many of them drove through the city streets of Naples, or down the mountains in Sorrento? How many of them stopped and prayed at the very churches I photographed? How many of them built cities with their own hands and brought culture to America when they came? How many of them stayed in Italia?
The sheer fact that life moves onward, rolling as water, a siren song that continues — and how lucky it is that I get to breath in this existence? That is my ancestral work.
What have you learned on your travels? It doesn’t need to be far to be meaningful.
A place always reveals itself long after you leave
Tonight, my last night, the air feels quieter. The dark feels more expansive. The room feels emptier. As if the fullness of my adventure has come to a close, and I am just waiting departure. As if my body has left already, but some essence of me stays. Sometimes this cutting off hurts. You can’t place why, but it does. The places we go, especially those we were meant to see, feel the vibration of our leaving as much as we feel them fade into the distance. That’s the cord.
Of course, once I leave, this place will become more real to me — more beautiful, somehow — than it was when I was there. The greens will be the most green. The curtains will always be swaying in my mind.
What I will remember isn’t the long nights or anxieties, the running from terminal to terminal or the breakdowns in language. I’ll remember the way the sun melted into the ocean. I’ll remember how the Italians are late even to toll their own bells. I’ll remember the way the skipper looked when I thanked him. His golden body sweating from long days carrying bodies to and from the coast lines. I’ll remember the long siestas and the open windows and the dogs in the street.
I’ll remember how quickly my room filled with light when I opened the shutter even a little. How much the light wants to get in. How we must let it. How we owe it to our lives, our fears, our wounds, and our ancestors.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine, an editor at Ingram’s Little Infinite, and co-host for the podcast, AstroLushes, which intersects astrology, literature, wellness, and culture. She regularly creates dialogue and writes about intentionality and ritual, creativity, poetry, foster care, addiction, family trauma, and chronic illness—particularly Ankylosing Spondylitis, a disease with which she lives. Most recently, she is the author of LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES (Quarto Publishing/Fair Winds Press), a collection of practices and rituals for intentional and magical living, as well as a poetry collection, NYMPHOLEPSY (co-authored by Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein). Her second book of nonfiction, The Magical Writing Grimoir, will be published by Quarto/Fair Winds Press in April 2020. It explores the use of writing as ritual and catharsis. Her essays and other work can be found in The New York Times, Chakrubs, Catapult, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Refinery 29, Healthline, Entropy, Narratively, Catapult, Best American Experimental Writing. She studied English and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University, and received a Masters in writing from NYC’s The New School. FOLLOW HER ON INSTAGRAM HERE.
Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as an editor. One day, she would like to be a silent film star. She is the author of Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and Waiting for the End of the World (Bottlecap Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in dotdotdash, Nano Fiction, LIES/ISLE, and Uphook Press. She can be found at her website.Read More
Astrolushes is a podcast at the intersection of astrology and literature, ritual, wellness, pop culture, creativity — and, of course, wine. Expect guests, giveaways, & games — and get ready to go deep with us.
The water-sign hosts are Andi Talarico, poet, book reviewer and Strega (@anditalarico) & Lisa Marie Basile, poet, author of Light Magic for Dark Times, & editor of Luna Luna Magazine (@lisamariebasile + @lunalunamag). You can the astrolushes on Twitter, too, here.
LISA MARIE BASILE: Let’s chat about the birth of AstroLushes! I think it sort of started on a drive we took to Salem, MA, where we witched out for a weekend and visited HausWitch for my Light Magic for Dark Times writing workshop. In the car, I threw celebrity and literary names at you and had you guess their big 3 signs. You were amazingly on point! I'm wondering, besides having fun with it, what do you personally think the 'use' or 'reason' for this astro-knowledge is? I think people are generally fascinated, but we both know there's more to it.
ANDI TALARICO: That road trip and our time in Salem definitely feels like the genesis of this show! It started with us guessing celebrity's charts and now it's just a part of all of our conversations. I feel like now we're constantly wondering about writers and actors and philosophers through the lens of their astrological placements. It's a fun game but I think it also allows for a possibly deeper understanding of the art and culture that we engage with.
And engagement was how I came to astrology. My mother always read our horoscopes from the paper when I was growing up; she's a mystical Pisces who has visited psychics, believes in prophetic dreams, and finds herself fascinated by the moon. I inherited a lot of my curiosity from her. But by age 12 our household had changed considerably and it became a harder place to exist and grow in. So it's no surprise to me, looking back, why that was the time I started studying astrology.
It was a way of making sense of the world. It also gave me an opportunity to talk to people about themselves (and to keep the focus off of myself.) It made me feel like I had some sort of agency, a voice, a new authority. Now, the language of astrology, to me, is less about telling people about themselves and actually, much like my tarot practice, using the themes and ideas as lessons that we can use to fully become our best, most authentic selves. That's where it crosses over into self-care as well.
How do you feel about people who think astrology is bogus, Lisa?
Astrology…much like tarot practice, uses the themes and ideas as lessons that we can use to fully become our best, most authentic selves. That's where it crosses over into self-care as well. — Andi Talarico
LISA MARIE BASILE: I love that you say it's an engagement with everything around us. And that, as a child, it helped you navigate a very difficult world. It truly is a language we learn and then we speak, and that can bring people together in an instant. And it can help us focus on the many characteristics of ourselves. In my life, processing the trauma I've experienced through the filter of the Scorpio has been amazingly beneficial; I now look on it all as transformative, rather than destructive.
It's also really interesting to give a name to the various inclinations and motivations for people's art or behaviors. Especially when you look at creative people, or really evil people, and you start seeing how many of them fit into a certain astrological sign, or element. It may not be scientifically proven, but that’s the sort of mystery and liminality that we derive meaning from.
I am a scientific person. I believe that reason, empirical evidence, and research is important. I live with a chronic illness, and I'm a health writer as a day job. It's important to me that information is disseminated accurately, or, say, that the injections I take have been proven both effective and safe, and that sometimes, you need medication over meditation, in order to heal.
At the same time — people need to know there’s more to health and wellness than big pharma. And there’s more to this world than what we can see. I think the zodiac allows us to approach the liminal, the intuitive, the subterranean. It does exist outside of 'objective science' and that's okay. It allows us to dive headfirst into the shadows of this world and our lives, and I think that's the key to the feeling whole — straddling both sides. Science has a place, but so does the esoteric. You can't prove love, but we all feel it. So, it's the same thing. Some things we just explore knowing that it may be obscure. I am grateful to be able to take part in the world from both stances.
What do you think about how people can use the zodiac as a healing tool, or in daily ritual?
There more to this world than what we can see. I think the zodiac allows us to approach the liminal, the intuitive, the subterranean. It exists outside of 'objective science' and that's okay. It allows us to dive headfirst into the shadows of this world and our lives, and I think that's the key to the feeling whole — straddling both sides. Science has a place, but so does the esoteric. You can't prove love, but we all feel it. — LISA MARIE BASILE
ANDI TALARICO: I definitely look through several horoscopes during the morning to see what my day/week might bring me. I mean, the basis of horoscopes are transits, what the movement of the current celestial journey means in my zodiac placements, and I love that about horoscopes — how it's a constant reminder that everything changes, nothing stays still, and how cyclical life can be, for good or bad.
I like to look to the planets/celestial bodies and their assigned western astrological associations for greater personal meeting. Like, what does it mean to be represented, as I am, by the Moon? The Moon shines because it reflects the light that is given to it. I feel the same way, again, for good and bad. I also shine brightest when I'm basking in the the light of stimulating conversation and affection. I turn inward and dark when I'm not given light to work with.
Also, since the Moon transits more often than other bodies, since it's constantly waxing or waning, it serves as a beautiful remind to keep pushing forward, that this moment isn't forever, to enjoy the view and perspective before it changes yet again. It's why I have a little crescent moon tattooed on my finger — my constant reminder that the only constant is change.
How do you feel connected or represented by Pluto, Lisa? Pluto is such a symbolically important planet of creative destruction, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that!
What does it mean to be represented, as I am, by the Moon? The Moon shines because it reflects the light that is given to it. I feel the same way, again, for good and bad. I also shine brightest when I'm basking in the the light of stimulating conversation and affection. I turn inward and dark when I'm not given light to work with. — ANDI TALARICO
LISA MARIE BASILE: Oh, that’s so beautiful! When you say, “I turn inward and dark when I'm not given light to work with,” I feel that in my core! I love the idea of this cosmic duality, how it represents the shadowy quietude and the display of light. It reminds me that we are all just star stuff. It’s why I started Luna Luna!
It’s funny you mention the tattoo, because I have one that also reminds me that things change; it’s an ampersand. Maybe that’s why you and I are so drawn astrology? That it provides a foundation we can find stability in but the fluidity we need to always be growing.
I think the fact that Pluto has been considered a planet, a not-planet, an exoplanet and whatever else, is very beautiful—a perfect and living representation of Pluto as a symbol: it dies and is reborn, and yet it remains this beautiful archetype of transformation, weathering the storms of idea and rule and order. Could literally anything be more perfect?
Pluto is my beautiful ruler, and I am indebted to its reminders. I have always been able to die and rise. I lean into the dark and then I die. I go into dark periods of change and emerge. I almost need it more than the light. But I suppose, that is my language. The darkness becomes a kind of light that makes sense.
I think that’s the beauty of this cosmic story. No matter what you believe or feel skeptical about, astrology’s narrative, symbolism and reminder to explore the grandness of human emotion and circumstance is all splayed out up there. We just need to look up.
What do you think about people who say they they believe in astrology and make Huge Life Decisions around it? Do you think it’s important to figure astrology into your day to day? Jobs? Dates? Etc? Or do you think it serves its best purpose as a tool for introspection, rather than a rulebook?
No matter what you believe or feel skeptical about, astrology’s narrative, symbolism and reminder to explore the grandness of human emotion and circumstance is all splayed out up there. We just need to look up. — LISA MARIE BASILE
ANDI TALARICO: LOVE this: "...Pluto as a symbol: it dies and is reborn, and yet it remains this beautiful archetype of transformation, weathering the storms of idea and rule and order. "
As for me, I don't make huge life decisions based on astrology in the sense, that, say, I won't work with people of certain signs or judge them based on their natal chart. The idea of not dating this sign or that sign is a prejudice to me, and unfair. Even knowing someone's chart information is an act of intimacy — that's private knowledge — and to use it against someone or to think you know everything about a person based on it...hell no. Absolutely not.
Can it help you locate potential challenges? Yes, I believe that. Is is exciting when your synastry is in alignment and looks positive? Of course. But we're all much more than our natal charts. We're our upbringing, we're our ancestors, we're survivors, we're our good days and bad days, we're what we've been allowed to be and what we've rebelled against. Our zodiac signs matter but they don't make or break us.
I WILL make decisions based on transits and the moon's phases, though. Like, new beginnings during the new moon — that just makes sense to my entire being, both my physical and spiritual self. I definitely believe in harnessing the new energy at the start of a new zodiac phase — focus on good communication at the start of Gemini season! Make those spreadsheets in honor of Virgos everywhere! Get real sexy at Scorpio time!
But, would I, say, not send an important email when Mercury's in Retrograde? No, I try not to rely THAT heavily on astrology. I try to use it more as a guide and tool for learning than a strict rulebook. But...I also hate rules and authority in general. I naturally bristle against those who think they have the exact answers, at least in areas that don't involve exactitude and true yes or no areas. I'm a skeptical human, in many ways.
Is is exciting when your synastry is in alignment and looks positive? Of course. But we're all much more than our natal charts. We're our upbringing, we're our ancestors, we're survivors, we're our good days and bad days, we're what we've been allowed to be and what we've rebelled against. Our zodiac signs matter but they don't make or break us. — ANDI TALARICO
FANCY THE COSMOS, WINE, AND A COZY CONVERSATION BETWEEN FRIENDS? LISTEN TO THE ASTROLUSHES PODCAST HERE
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
The coming of Spring brings with it all sorts of feelings. For many — like myself — it allows us to shake off the heavy cobwebs of winter’s seasonal affective disorder. It bring with it a sense of opportunity, change, and transformation, as the sun’s warmth melts the icy shell we developed over the dark months. In NYC, at least, and in many wintry parts of the world, that coldness makes you go inward, go quiet; the hibernation leads to an introspection and quietude that — although necessary — can feel isolating, exhausting, and endless.
I welcome the spring’s golden light. I am a new seedling each year, and with each spring I bloom again. I feel my body mobilize, my mind sharpen, and heart soften. The colors, the flowers, the balmy winds, the sparkling light that lasts until late into night — it reminds us of life, potential, growth. Here’s how to harness it:
Use the flowers as a reminder of resilience & transformation.
Everything changes form. We wilt. We bloom. And there’s a certain comfort in knowing that we are flexible and fluid — that everything has the potential to change; most of what we feel is temporary. The pain. The sorrow. The exhaustion.
When what we feel isn’t temporary and can’t be shaken off with the seasons, we can turn to the earth for a lesson in letting the light in: While we may have dark moments (or years), we can decide to unfold, as a flower, to let the light nestle into our petals and stems.
What happens when we let that light in just a bit? Can we find one thing to love or be appreciative for?
Create an herbal apothecary, and let the earth soothe your body.
According to the book A Wilder Life, there are many common herbs which have a multitude of uses. Of course, use only with the permission of your doctor (knowing that these may support or promote health, not cure diseases).
The most popular spring-time apothecary essentials:
Dandelion — Anti-inflammatory and diuretic (eat or drink the tea)
Garlic — Antibacterial, can be used for cleansing wounds (use as oil or in food directly from fresh garlic)
Holy Basil — Provides renewal and energy; is considered an adaptogen, for helping the body handle stress (use as a tincture or tea)
Saint John’s Wort — Mood-stabilizing, antiviral support, and can support the transition between seasons (tea or tincture)
Nettle — May provide support for allergies and immunity (tea).
Peppermint — This is a zesty kickstart for low energy, in addition to providing tummy support (tea or oil).
Take part in a daily manifestation ritual
Throughout the winter, it’s easy to think deeply about the wounds, voids, and shadows of our lives. By spring, the light and energy wake us to the beauty of nature — reminding us that we can create the change we need. We do not always have control over circumstances (like our finances or the daily burdens of life), but we can make space within our hearts for possibility.
The ritual is simple: Get a large jar with a lid (or another container that speaks to you), and each day — perhaps right before bed, or as you wake up in the morning — place a small piece of paper with an intention within the jar. Your intention should be written in present tense; it should be for something realistic, but aspirational. It can be for the physical or the non-tangible:
I have confidence in group settings
I am always making space for kindness and love
I am capable of saying what I want
I am assertive at work
I am a successful writer making enough money for rent, food, and travel
I feel worthy, loved, and respected
I have a beautiful summer beach vacation lined up this summer
If you are seeking more rituals and practices, my book LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES contains several — many of which utilize the earth’s natural beauty and energy.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern collection of inspired rituals and daily practices and the forthcoming "Wordcraft Witchery: Writing for Ritual, Manifestation, and Healing." She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including 2018's "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual, wellness, chronic illness, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Chakrubs, Narratively, Catapult, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her work can be seen in Best Small Fictions, Best American Experimental Writing, and several other anthologies. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Body Ritual is Lisa Marie Basile's column about wellness, chronic illness and finding healing and autonomy in ritual. You can follow her on Instagram for more on this topic.
If you live with a chronic illness, or if you love someone who has one, you know the delicate balancing act it requires. Living on that liminal precipice, between doing just enough and doing too much, requires an almost spiritual focus. And it’s tiring. I know, as I have ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative, incurable spinal disease.
Who we feel we are within our minds is not always what our bodies reflect. And sometimes, that very lack of reconciliation rewires us. We start to believe we cannot, are not, will not.
We can, we are, and we will embrace the wholeness of our limitations and our magic. It doesn’t matter if people want us to stay quiet, go away, or stop complaining. We have a right to explore what it means to experience life as we do.
Stigma, lack of education, and fear make it hard to exist in a body that exists on the margins. Sometimes all the noise and suffering keeps us at a distance from ourselves. We often are so tired from the pain or insomnia or anxiety that we smile and pretend everything is okay. We sometimes allow ourselves to be taken advantage of just so we can seem “normal.” We push the limits of our bodies and lose grip on our boundaries. Sometimes, we get through the day, and that’s it. Sometimes it’s hard to feel empowered, to feel enough, to feel that we can and are and will.
The deep and important work that goes into healing the trauma of illness is often ignored. Instead, we focus on the day to day needs. We keep our heads above the water — but the secret is that we must become the sea.
Recently I decided to go inward and empower myself to make time and space for my voice and needs as someone with chronic illness. Instead of trying to blend in or assure everyone that, “I’m fine, really,” I stared down into visit the abyss. I decided to take my time, for no reason but my own needs, and look my chronic illness in its eyes.
I cut through the noise and the stigma and the denial. My body, alight and in focus.
To do this, I made a list of chronic illness journal prompts and chose a beautiful journal strictly for these questions (or you may want to type these out or dictate your answers).
So, I wrote down several questions in my journal, and attempted to answer them. At times I answered one a day. Sometimes I answered several in one go. The important thing is that you take the time to be honest with yourself.
What I learned from answering the below questions astonished me; I was able to advocate better for my needs, recognize and make space for joy and gratitude, and find the parts of myself, like glass shards, I thought I’d lost. I didn’t lose them, it turns out. They simply changed form.
Chronic Illness Journal Prompts
Who am I without my chronic illness?
Who am I with my chronic illness?
How did I change when I was diagnosed?
How did I not change when diagnosed?
How is my pain level today? How is my fatigue?
Are my basic needs met? How can I facilitate this?
What positive thing have I learned about myself while actively experiencing symptoms or side effects?
What negative thing have I learned about myself while actively experiencing symptoms or side effects?
What do I do during periods of remission?
What do I do or feel when I’m in a flare-up?
Are there any ways at all to bridge the gap between feeling good and not feeling good?
How do others make me feel about my chronic illness?
Who understands my illness and supports me in my experience of it?
How can I help others understand my illness?
What do I not feel comfortable explaining about my illness?
Where are my boundaries?
Where can I be more receptive or open? Is it in receiving love? Is it in talking about my needs?
How do my finances play into my illness?
Are there areas in which I am privileged and thus, have gratitude?
Are there community resources or other resources I can tap into for help?
How does my race, gender, or educational background impact my experience of chronic illness?
How does my illness impact my job?
How does my illness impact my social and/or sex life?
Are there other intersecting issues that impact my chronic illness?
What do I love about my body?
What do I need to feel happy on a day to day basis?
What do I need to feel sustainably happy in the long term?
Among the things I need, which do I have?
What are three things I am thankful for right now, in this very instance?
If I am not happy, what is in my power to change that?
What work — no matter how seemingly ‘small’ — can I do to advocate for or contribute the wellness of others who may be suffering? Would this feel gratifying?
What gives me hope?
Lisa Marie Basile is a poet, essayist and editor living in New York City. She's the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine, an editor at Ingram’s Little Infinite, and co-host for the podcast, AstroLushes. Most recently, she is the author of LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES (Quarto Publishing/Fair Winds Press), a collection of practices and rituals for intentional and magical living, as well as a poetry collection, NYMPHOLEPSY . Her second book of nonfiction, WORDCRAFT, will be published by Quarto/Fair Winds Press in April 2020. It explores the use of writing as ritual and catharsis. Her essays and other work can be found in The New York Times, Chakrubs, Catapult, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Refinery 29, Healthline, Entropy, Bust, Bustle, The Establishment, Hello Giggles, Ravishly, and more. She studied English and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University, and received a Masters in writing from NYC’s The New School. Want to learn more? She’s been featured at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, HelloGiggles, The Cools, and more.
ASTROLUSHES is a podcast at the intersection of astrology and literature, ritual, wellness, pop culture, creativity — and, of course, wine. Hosted by Luna Luna editor-in-chief Lisa Marie Basile and contributor Andi Talarico (both water signs!), you can expect guests, giveaways, book reviews, and more. You’ll have fun, but you’ll also go deep.
Episode 1 is an introductory episode during which the hosts chat about astrology’s impact in their own lives, plus they tackle the ideas of reductive astrology memes, pop culture (Rihanna lyrics!), folk magic, family lineage and trauma. They also a Rapid Fire Round of Guess That Sign (which sign is Poe?).
For now, you can listen to ASTROLUSHES on Anchor.Fm (there’s an app and also a website), but the podcast will soon be available on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else podcasts can be found. If you like what you hear, leave them a clap or star the show on Anchor. You can also listen below!
You can tweet them at @astrolushes.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
In a recent article in The Daily Dot, a popular influencer was called out for their “blurry” beliefs and work, overpriced but not actually handmade goods (as claimed) and abusive tendencies toward employees. The overarching message of the piece: Not every healer or influencer out there — no matter their follower numbers or beautiful Insta-curation — is worth their salt. Some, in fact, are downright theives.
I’ve always taken issue with people selling promises of healing without any real sense of accountability. Grandiose and often empty words (“light and love heals everything,” “all you have to do is manifest hard enough!” and “you have to invest in X to find abundance”) are distracting to people in rough situations. These are — I have been, and will be — people who want to be seen, validated, and healed.
I just can’t get past overpriced abundance rituals, the refusal to acknowledge the importance of shadow work, or concepts that aren’t grounded in reality. Because love and light and abundance rituals do not solve racism or poverty. And because telling people your cheap, badly-produced goods are ethically sourced hurts everyone at every level.
The thing is, it’s hard to tell the frauds from the sincere folks. I started noticing this several years ago, when I created Luna Luna (which obviously has a vertical around magic and ritual). I’d come across healers and gurus and guides who seemed to have it all together: Beautiful photos. Money. Bestselling books. They’d sell full moon serums or crystal-infused oils. They’d sell you candles that would attract money or heal a disease or find you a lover. How could one parse the capitalist who appropriates spirituality from the person who genuinely cared? And how can one ethically tout an object that ‘cures’ social and physical/mental ills, without acknowledging the many variables at play?
I would consider myself spiritual in specific ways, but this wasn’t always the case. I identify with the archetype of the witch, and I have carved space for ritual and meditation in my life, but it took a long time for me to get there. For one, I have leftover trauma from childhood catholicism; adhering to strict beliefs and associations (this color represents this outcome, for example) doesn’t quite sit right with me. I prefer chaos. I prefer to go off my gut. I prefer to study, learn, and then take what feels good for me. My practice these days is mostly based on meditation, journaling, and connecting with nature.
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I’ve had a few people direct me to a specific recent article about healing/spiritual/ community manipulation and emotional abuse today, asking for my opinion. I’ve been out of commission all week with two removed teeth (fucking worst), but I did take the time to read the piece. . I’ve even written one like it (with a different subject, for which I received numerous cease and desist letters) for @lunalunamag in the past. It is still up. So I’ll keep it short and sweet: there are lots of spiritual ‘gurus’ and ‘guides’ out there. Especially on Instagram. We are treated to highly curated, beautifully designed shows of magic and healing and quotes. Some of it is amazing. Some of it feels a little shady. Right? Some people swear they can save you, that they have the answers, that they can guide you to divinity or healing. Some sell products. There are as many frauds as their are people who want to support, empower, uplift, and love you, though. Sometimes there’s no way of actually knowing, though, since all of this is presented in such a magnificent manner. No one can hold all the answers. No one knows you better than you. They can provide tools and inspiration, but that’s it. Otherwise, even the gospel of the curated Instagram is still just a shady ass who-knows-what’s-real being shouted toward you in an array of pretty colors. This is the case for any industry. . Your gut is what matters. When you feel like you need support and encouragement or a little burst of inspiration, find what feels right to you. Whether that’s joining a group dedicated to ritual or reading quotes from a certain influencer. There is a dark belly to even the beautiful things—and your gut knows it. Trust your own feelings and put stock in your heart above all other promises and products. I say this because I have experienced group manipulation, promises of splendor, people trying to tell me how to get rid of my “demons” in ways that felt off to my own personal intuitions. It’s a hard, vulnerable line to walk, and it’s easy to be led astray. This is not on you. But it should be stopped. 💓
So when I see someone make grand promises, that you have to do this to do this, or believe this to achieve this, or buy this to get this— especially to the vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the traumatized, the abused — it doesn’t sit right with me.
Sometimes those promises come in the form of feigned care and support, when at the bottom of it all was an Instagram strategy and some pretty words.
I don’t believe that any one person can have the answers. And I don’t believe that anyone should peddle goods to people when they don’t have the integrity to back it up.
Among those promises would be actual spiritual advice despite questionable stuff, like the not-so-ethical production of goods, plagiarism of both products and feel-good quotes, and employee mistreatment. This likely happens a lot, but all of this came up in the Daily Dot article about this one specific person.
So what do we do about it all?
I wrote a book about self-care and regenerative rituals, so I spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing. When writing my book I wanted to make sure it was a guidebook, not a rulebook. That any practice I wrote of wasn’t from a closed culture — and that anything referenced I cited in the Resources section.
I wanted to make sure my book was a byproduct of my experience, not a way or promise or path. That the reader would be self-healing using my prompts, that I would not — and could not — be healing them. That, if anything, the book and the reader would enter into a conversation about healing together.
That’s the thing about healing. It has to happen in a safe space. Before I started really working to heal my lasting trauma from childhood — the obsessive memories of homeless shelters, assault as a child, family addiction, foster care, chronic illness — I found comfort in all sorts of untoward things.
This included drinking all night with friends who thought getting obliterated was the answer. I found comfort in false friendships or relationships, where people wanted to be loved more than they want mutual loving care. I turned to fraudulent psychics here and there for advice, and of course there were those who’d want to dig into my pockets rather than genuinely help.
The point is, we take comfort and care wherever we can find it — and sometimes, because of pain, loneliness, poverty we turn a blind eye to gut feelings. I’s hard to know if it’s helping or prolonging the wound.
The Internet version of this really is the abundance of healers and guides out there. Many of them are wonderful — and many are my friends, who take special care to create products and books and ideas around self-care and healing products — but many are there for fame and fortune, not to help.
They want to preach at you, not have a conversation. They claim to know the answers, rather than admit that they’re always going to be searching. They lack self-awareness, charging big money to people who literally are seeking magic work because they’re on the verge of eviction.
It’s hard to know what sort of intentions people have. Sadly, there’s just no cut or dry answer. How could there be? I think our gut has to do the work. But for the gut to work we have to have self-compassion and give ourself the space and time to let our intuition work. This is a process — a process damaged by hope being dashed by scammers.
We could spend $45 on a healing candle from someone with 50,000 followers and a beautiful Instagram page, someone who hasn’t provided insight or vulnerability elsewhere or even a glimpse into their own real lives. Or we can buy a tarot session or a book or a crystal from someone who is less concerned with a perfect, sort of distant, who-are-you-really? branding, whose track record shows an active interest in trauma recovery or healing or helping others before they started earning money from it. And even the above is an oversimplification.
If something doesn’t feel right, even if that something has a quarter of a million followers or is quoted in wellness articles, you are by no means obliged to look to it for wisdom.
I say all of this because I think on my own mother, my own friends, and myself — and all the times we needed a hand, a source of inspiration, a talisman of hope, or a guide to getting back to ourselves. It would be a real shame to get a candle or a reading or a downloadable guide that came from someone who wasn’t sincerely invested in our care, who only wanted to make money, and who used unethical means to produce a product, from conception to production.
I read a piece the other day by Kaitlin Coppock for Sphere + Sundry. It’s a comprehensive look at fraud-work in the spiritual and healing communities, and it goes into much better detail than I can. It covers:
“Tips for distinguishing real practitioners of astrology, witchcraft, and spirituality from self-serving charlatans taking advantage of the mounting witch-strology renaissance. And lastly, recommendations for how professionals (or aspiring professionals) can navigate related ethical considerations.”
I recommend reading the above and asking questions for yourself. Stay alert, be good to yourselves, and don’t let influencer numbers drown out your intuition.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern collection of inspired rituals and daily healing practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including 2018's "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual, wellness, chronic illness, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her work can be seen in Best Small Fictions, Best American Experimental Writing, and several other anthologies. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Welcome to a sneak peak of my grimoire of self-development and ritualized living!
Though the archetype of the witch is part of what inspired LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES, it’s also a book of what inspired me about people I love and care for, like my mother, who has had to grow and regrow several times over; like the people I know who have used their voice for personal and community change in the face of systemic oppression. It’s a book of love and care, of rebellion, of reclamation, and growth. That energy is magic.
I wrote LMDT after an editor actually spied a ritual of mine here at Luna Luna and asked me to expand on it— and so it is, in many ways, the unofficial Luna Luna grimoire.
Here are all the places you can pick up the book. And here’s a look at what’s inside:
Light Magic for Dark Times is all about ritualizing your life and finding your inner magic — by embracing the light and the shadow together.
It was written as a guide through the self.
The chapters cover everything from journaling and sigil creation to finding your own personal magic and integrating daily ritual.
The foreword was written by the inimitable Kristen J. Sollée. You should read her book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring The Sex Positive.
Because I’m a poet, you’ll see a lot of literary references woven throughout the book.
Light Magic for Dark Times is for the rebels, dreamers, shadow-dwellers, thinkers, darklings, & light-seekers amongst us.
You can find more inside peeks below
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A peek inside #LightMagicforDarkTimes — from journaling prompts & sigil work to shadow exploration and self-love rituals, my book is designed for anyone who wants to ritualize their life, lean into the archetype of the witch, and celebrate the many layers of self — both dark and light.
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I have always felt a connection with darkness, the space between here and now, the shadow. For so long I have felt not only a home in the dark—but too comfortable, almost naturally made of it. I do not think this is a bad thing. I understand its liminality & language, just as I think others do when they encounter a hardship or loss or trauma at a young age. This changes our hearts, our wirings, and even our physiological responses. . Shadow work is about reframing those changes and making that liminality work for you—the pain is not always a negative. I believe it is an opportunity to transform, or cycle through transformations, as I learned early from a mentor. It might take a while, or feel bumpy, but it can happen. . For example, when I was much younger in my teens and in foster care, I always held the blaring sense that I was different, invisible, not enough. I heard the others gossiping about me and I longed to vanish, to be validated in my heartache, and I pined for the traditional family unit with all the trappings that come with it. For many years I lived with shame and silence and anger, not realizing in those very differences was my entire world. . Shadow work is the work we do to look into those feelings and internalized ideas to disassemble or rearrange them to bloom better things for ourselves. My shadow work was always through writing and self-listening and even though I’m not nearly perfect, I have been able to make peace with my past and turn that shame into pride. I hope that those of you reading the book or those of you that are looking to pick up the book find some healing and opportunity in it. When reading it, you are the guide and you are in charge of the results. 🖤🌗
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🍃Spending time in nature—also called ‘earthing’—has been well-documented to have a positive effect on our mood and physiological health. Connecting with water or flora or the soil helps us come back to simplicity, our natural selves, & the quiet, pulsing energy of our creativity and joy. 🍃
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This photo is courtesy of @divine.goddess.vibes—thank you! It is so special when someone connects with the book. Though the archetype of the witch is part of what inspired LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES, it’s also a book of what inspired me about people I love and care for, like my mother, who has had to grow and regrow several times over; like the people I know who have used their voice for personal and community change in the face of systemic oppression. It’s a book of love and care, of rebellion, of reclamation, and growth. That energy, that goal, is magic. I don’t have all the answers, nor does this book, or anyone, really— but it is a guide to finding your own for yourself. 🖤
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine and the most recently the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times” and "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual, wellness, chronic illness, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her work can be seen in Best Small Fictions, Best American Experimental Writing, and several other anthologies. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
As World Mental Health Day trends across social media, I’ve felt both sorrowful and appreciative. On one hand, it’s hard to see just how many people suffer with various forms of mental illness. On the other, I know intimately how damaging it can be to shame and silence those who suffer, and I’m glad we’re changing that. That suffering can be passed down, internalized, neglected. It rots away at us, our families, our communities, and our cultures.
It seems we will always battle with mental illness, whether it’s chemical or triggered by one’s experiences, or both—but there are options. From medication to mindfulness, from simply speaking as a way to release the albatross, to learning to work with your own triggers and cycles (I think of it as intuiting when the sea is coming to flood shore), everyone will explore different approaches, unique to their needs.
And if we are always fighting against the illness, the least we can do is create an judgment-free and compassionate environment for one another.
I recently received The 10-Step Depression Relief Workbook: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach, written by Simon Rego, Psy. D. and Sarah Fader, my friend and also the creator of Stigma Fighters. The book creates that environment.
I was so glad to have received it as well, as I’ve always lived with a lingering anxiety and depression. My mental health challenges are deeply tied to life changes and times of powerlessness, rooted in my past: As a kid, both of my parents suffered with addiction, and we lived in homeless shelters and then we went into foster care. I’ve come to recognize what may set my depression and anxiety off (moving home or job, being thrown for a loop, not feeling cared for or supported), and living with these issues is like walking on a tight rope. I’ve come to force myself to understand that it’s all a balancing act, and that that’s just the truth. That said, I’m grateful to have been able to manage my symptoms.
When I received this book, I was in the middle of a move. Perfect, right? I hadn’t fallen into the depths, but I was feeling it. That undercurrent, its surging, its quiet little hum. And so, I turned to the workbook, which I appreciated very much because of its kindness and its approach.
First off, the book starts off with an intro that makes it clear that depression is a real illness—not just a bit of melancholy that sometimes makes us feel blue. It also notes the very real risks of depression—including the physical. Because chronic depression can lead to heart attacks, diabetes and stroke—all of which have been verified by science.
Next, it discusses the barriers to treatment that many people and countries face—limited access to therapy, medical treatments, or a lack of trained healthcare providers. (Just take a look at this study around the prevalence of Brazilians living without depression treatment). For this reason, the workbook uses a cognitive behavioral therapy step-by-step approach, which can help find a workaround to some of those barriers. It specifically mentions that it may be best suited for those with mild depression or people who are hesitant about medical treatment.
Written in a friendly and clear voice, it helps the reader first get honest with themselves: What is depression, what are the symptoms? What are your symptoms? It also offers some glimpses of Sarah's own experiences—and asks the reader to share theirs. This feels very much like a loving conversation rooted in both gentleness and serious action.
It then moves to discussing the therapeutic process—and CBT, which offers action items for managing depression. CBT, defined, means, "Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Unlike traditional Freudianpsychoanalysis, which probes childhood wounds to get at the root causes of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior."
The book goes on to discuss other therapies as well, just so you know the differences—which I appreciated. Following chapters include recognizing and workshopping problem areas (like replacing negative thoughts, and enhancing objective thoughts), making a plan for yourself, learning to not procrastinate when it comes to tasks and self-care, and learning to develop lifestyle skills and finding gratitude.
What I like most about the book is that it very much sounds like a kind and objective friend who wants you to help yourself and be happy, in whatever small step feels right for you. Its focus on both the short-term (immediate behaviors) and the long-term (learning mindfulness and maintaining wellness, even when not depressed), is important. The fact that is acts as both a triage and a holistic coach is so key, I think. This helps the reader get some relief while thinking about the bigger picture.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to peer inward, discover healthful and pragmatic tools to manage depression and create a step-by-step approach to taking action.
I also recommend checking out CEO Sarah Fader's Stigma Fighters, which is a mental health non-profit organization (founded in 2014) dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness.
As the site says, "There are teachers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors, writers all living with mental illness. These are the stories that need to be told; the people who seem to be “regular” or “normal” people but are actually hiding a big secret. They are living with an invisible illness. They are struggling to function like the rest of society. It is Stigma Fighters’ mission to raise awareness for people who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive. If you are living with mental illness and you want to share your story, please fill in the form HERE. We look forward to fighting the stigma of mental illness one story at a time."
i hope that whatever your path, and whatever pain you're feeling, you take the time to care for yourself. You deserve it.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine--a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including the forthcoming "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Sabat Magazine, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.
Dr. Simon Rego, a licensed clinical psychologist with close to 20 years of experience in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based psychological treatments, is currently Chief Psychologist, Director of Psychology Training, and Director of the CBT Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Long before I knew I had a chronic, degenerative illness (Ankylosing Spondylitis, a disease that fuses your vertebrae and joints together), I lived with fatigue and widespread pain and chronic eye inflammation (which, of course, led to reduced vision on top of cataracts from steroid treatment).
It took a decade (with on and off insurance) to convince doctors that I wasn't inventing an illness, that my eyes weren't red from "contact irritation," that my pain wasn't from getting older, that my tiredness wasn't from binge-drinking or staying out late dancing. (To be fair, I did all of those things, but the heaviness in my bones was its own strange animal, an animal that I lugged along with me while all of my friends bounced back after a night out).
Many people with chronic illness (especially with autoimmune diseases) have ventured down the same winding path--medical neglect or disbelief, lack of resources, lack of knowledge in the medical community, lack of diagnoses, and a lack of support.
If you are the only person you know with an autoimmune disease or a chronic illness (or, really, any type of lasting body trauma), you know how isolating and fear-inducing it can be. Do you really know your body if your body is betraying you? Do you have a handle on your own future? Are you somehow no longer the same? Can you get the help you need?
My body was two people. A young girl, and a bag of blood, going on a bender, following no directions, attacking herself. I was lost to my selves.
When I finally convinced doctors to test me (for HLA-B27 antigen, plus an MRI to detect fusion), the diagnosis was an existential blow. I suspected the disease, of course--as my father has it--but knowing that I'd never, ever be cured felt like a sentence to me. For a year, I wallowed. I felt self-pity, I felt out of control, and I was on the edge of constant sadness. I felt lame. I felt silly. Here I was in my early thirties being told I might be fused together later on, my body a prison, my body no longer mine, but a shackle keeping some version of me tucked down deep inside.
I had always turned to ritual throughout life, especially when times got rough. Ritual is there for these times. It establishes a sense of order, it makes space specifically for the self, and it encourages focus, intention, and growth.
I used ritual to help me escape those constant thoughts of worry, anxiety, self-doubt, exhaustion, and fear. I used ritual to establish routine and self-care and self-empowerment. Through lighting candles each week night as a way to make rest time to decorating an altar in honor of myself and my body, I became an advocate for myself. There were many: bathing in lavender to intentionally create a sense of fluidity, journaling nightly through pain (using that painful energy to focus and transmit change and manifestation). If it all sounds woo-woo, consider this: anything you do for yourself is a ritual already. Anything you put your mind to is more likely to happen. Any time you carve out for yourself is sacred. It's an act of warfare against chaos and self-loss. It's a reclamation, a creation, a magical hour.
Ritual helped me back to myself: I felt stronger, more determined to make time for myself, more connected to the simple things that made life fulfilling and beautiful (rest, a walk in nature, time to write, creativity). The disease no longer controlled me; instead, it was a part of me, as a sad friend in need of love and time and cooperation. I was a vessel for opportunity, not despair.
A year after my diagnosis, I also went on to write a book, Light Magic for Dark Times--which is a collection of rituals and practices for hard times. I even included a portion on body and identity, and chronic illness.
I will be leading a workshop on chronic illness and ritual at MNDFL Meditation in NYC on July 21. I hope you will come, as it will be an open, safe space. We will discuss chronic illness, meditate, and map strategies for self-care and self-empowerment. All are welcome!
About the event
Welcome to Strong Women Project's first women's wellness workshop!
We're connecting with MNDFL in the West Village to provide free workshops to focus on our wellness. Our first workshop is led by Lisa Marie Basile. Darley Stewart, SWP Founder and Curator, will also speak about chronic illness in the context of recent findings. We'll also do some light meditation and stretching to kick off the workshop.
Lisa Marie Basile will discuss what it means to establish ritual as a way of encountering one's chronic illness or other body-mind related traumas. Ritual might mean bookending one's day with someone positive and encouraging but it can also mean going deep and dark and peering into the abyss of self to confront the pain/shame/etc of chronic illness. You can expect to feel like you are part of a loving community and to come away with a set of tools that can help you when you feel overwhelmed or lost, or are just looking to transmorph your experience into art or inspiration. It's a balance of light and dark. Lisa Marie Basile is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern guide of rituals and daily practices for inspired living.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (Operating System, 2017), Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalenteRead More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Body Ritual is Lisa Marie Basile's weekly column about wellness, chronic illness and finding healing and autonomy in ritual. You can follow her on Instagram for more on this topic.
Where are all my autoimmunies and chronic illness survivors out there? I wrote this for you—for those who are newly diagnosed, as well as those who aren't but have few people to relate to.
I'd like to start this column off by saying: I have ankylosing spondylitis. It's a degenerative, inflammatory, chronic disease that primarily affects my spine, causing the vertebrae to fuse (which would leave me immobile and in chronic pain). It also affects my eyes, stomach, heart and most of my other joints. I am constantly in pain (each day it's a new inflamed body part and pain level, what fun!) and deeply fatigued—as if my soul is somewhere off in a deep sleep.
The key to the management of this disease is medicine (some risky ones, called biologics, among others) to prevent degeneration, eating well and constant movement. This sounds easy—but it's a holistic lifestyle change that people without chronic illness probably can't imagine.
I don't always seem sick on the outside. In fact, I seem everything I am not, for the most part. Ankylosing Spondylitis is not as well known as, say, Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus, so almost no one has ever heard of it—but there are 200,000 Americans living with it, and I am one of them.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years—before I knew I had a disease, and after I found out about it:
1. You may feel all alone.
For the past 10 years, I knew something was wrong with me. Like a lot of people with chronic illness or autoimmune/autoinflammatory disorders, I went through a dead-end labyrinth to get my diagnosis. I also went through long periods of so-called 'remission' where I never even felt sick. In college, I felt intensely, deeply tired when my friends were wide awake (and partying!), and my back always just 'happened' to hurt.
By grad school in my mid-20s, I had so many eye issues (uveitis, inflammation of the inside of the eye), that I developed cataracts from steroid use. Going to class made me want to die, I remember. The halogen lights were destroying me. This illness was the first sort of port-of-call for me, signaling doctors to what was really happening systemically. Before then, doctors say I'd needed vitamins, exercise, and more sleep. Sure, okay. They also asked if my pain tolerance was "low," as if I was making things up. This is both a form of gaslighting and medical negligence.
But throughout this time, before I knew what was wrong, I felt so alone, and I started internalizing the idea that I could be, somehow, lying about my symptoms—lying to my friends about being tired, lying that I was achy, lying that something wasn't right. I started to internalize their reactions to me: "Well, you seem totally fine! You're young and healthy. I'm sure it'll be OK." I didn't realize then how reductive and hurtful this all was. That sort of positive reassurance doesn't leave much room for someone to consider the reality of what I'm saying—we're socialized to say "It's gonna be okay," rather than, "Oh shit, that sucks, I'm sorry." And that's so tiring.
I was moving through life as a ghost, gauzy and see-through, but my-god, I thought, I am here. Fast forward several years: At 31, when I finally had good enough insurance, I got the lab imaging, blood-work, and checkups done to confirm my diagnosis. And then—like that—that was it. I had it. And it was still my little secret to tend to. Me, alone.
2. You will grieve.
Getting a diagnosis is shattering—and no one else in your life gets it. Not your spouse, not your job, not your friends. The grief is circuitous; you grieve that your body is not like everyone else's body, you grieve because it means you will forever have something to look after. It's like a little garden, a little creature living inside you—only it's somewhat malicious and fucked and wants to make it so you go crazy (and maybe even go broke). When I was diagnosed, I went straight through some of the grief stages. Mine, of course, started with denial:
"You'll need medicine forever," the doctor says to me. He's staring at a screen that shows where my sacroiliac joints have begun to fuse. "Well, I don't know about all that," was my first response. This must be a mistake, or you must be trying to prescribe me things because you get money from Big Pharma, I think. For the next month, I cycled through depression, rage, some more denial, self-pity, back to depression—and, finally, acceptance. (This comes and goes, like water, rippling). I say to myself: If I do not take this medicine, eat this food, and workout, I will not be able to move one day. One day soon. As in very soon, maybe. And I'm not talking ouch-my-knee-hurts-pain. I'm talking NO-MOVEMENT pain. I'm talking inflamed organs, like my heart. Loss of vision. Loss of quality of life. I could lose my job, my ability to write.
This isn't easy, and the grief is very private and very lonely. You can know that there are people who understand, but sometimes not even that makes it easier. That's OK. You're allowed to grieve. One of the things I do is keep a journal—I write about why it hurts, how I feel, and I even write letters to myself. Sometimes I'll burn a candle at the end of the day (sometimes in the tub) and just sit with it, looking into it, taking that moment for myself—to see, hear, and be with my body. This helps when I'm dealing with pain or medical frustrations.
3. You will see the global impact of your disease.
Not everyone has good insurance. I didn't for the majority of my life—and I am sure one day I will go without again. This is debilitating to someone with chronic illness, especially if that person is marginalized—a person of color, a person in the LGBTQIA community, an immigrant.
In my Ankylosing Spondylitis support group, I see people who are able to access their medication (many of us take Biologics, which cost around $7000 a month without insurance). Others have partially-subsidized coverage. Others have no coverage. Others, in different countries, won't get the medicine AT ALL. It is horrifying to see a 27-year-old former surfer bedridden, longing for the sea, wishing he were dead because he can't access care. It is horrifying, and it is guilt-inducing. (Some of these drugs do offer coverage assistance programs, but I'm not aware of how it works, and I have been told the process labyrinthine).
I have immediate family members without insurance or who use Medicaid. The approval process with Medicaid or any shitty insurance to get any imaging, medication or lab work is lengthy, inefficient or simply nonexistent. These insurance companies will run a person through the ringer—putting their health at risk—rather than provide them with the opportunity to get the care they need. And this is enraging, especially for people with chronic illnesses who don't have advocates or the energy to go to multiple doctors (many inept or not up to date in their training) or chase paperwork trails. If you do not have insurance, it could be fatal or life-altering. (In a future article, I'd love to compile resources for low or no-income individuals with chronic illnesses).
All of that said, if you know someone suffering—especially someone with insurance or proper medical care—please offer them a cup of tea, a night in with a good movie, or just the opportunity to vent. You don't need to fix the issue, find a diagnosis or do anything else besides be there for them.
4. You will be told that your disease (or any chronic illness or invisible illness) is seen as a ploy for attention and a not-real illness. You will question your own feelings.
You will think about how you could have cancer, or you could be dying right now, or how people are much more pain than you are. You are also told these things. You think about how, on the scale of human suffering, yours is pretty fucking low. But that doesn't make you feel better, either. You will have to learn to explain to people just how you're sick, what accommodations you need, and why it actually, truly matters. You will have to learn that they might not even believe you. You will be grateful to the ones who do.
Example: For me, I seem mostly alright at work. I don't complain on-the-job, but I am in pain and exhausted constantly. The commute itself destroys me. How do I tell my boss? How do I make it clear to HR that I'm not lying? If you can't see it—therefore a sickness must not be valid. There is so much attention around chronic illness between those that have it, and so little known outside that community. How do we make HR departments aware of this? How do we make the general public aware of this? What sort of intervention must we have on the national level to make sure companies are talking about this? And how do make sure people still hire folks who have chronic illnesses?
5. You will develop a more precious view of life.
Because life is amazing and you want to live it, and you don't want to die or become nothing but the disease. You want to travel, and when you do, you really enjoy it. You want to have sex and really enjoy it. And you want to revel in your success because maybe one day you will be too sick to do what you love.
6. The people who tout chronic positivity can go fuck off.
There's a great episode over at The Fat Feminist Witch about people who tout "chronic positivity"—the idea that if you are just positive enough, or if you manifest hard enough or use the right crystals, you can get better or make the pain go away.
This is irresponsible, privileged and inaccurate. There is some evidence linking positive thinking and healing, of course, but positive thinking likely won't stop your body from attacking itself. The mind is a powerful thing—and we are powerful beings—but to believe in the power of the self is to understand we are natural beings. And natural beings do get sick.
There is also a great deal of benefit in employing the use of crystals and spellwork in healing, but there's not enough evidence to use these practices as a solitary method of healing. And anyone who implies you "simply" need to detox or meditate in order to get better is being reductive.
I've been thinking a lot about this very issue as I write, Light Magic for Dark Times (Quarto Books, 2018), a grimoire of spells, rituals and practices for self-care. There's no replacement for professional help (mental health or physical health), and there's no magic bullet that will suddenly stop someone from feeling sick, getting sicker or feeling depressed.
There are lots of ways to reach for the positive and celebrate those little moments when you do feel great—but there's also no need to go around pretending like it doesn't suck. We need to find a language that strikes a balance here. Language that says, "Here's what helps me feel better sometimes," as The Fat Feminist Witch (who is amazing, please check her out) says, and avoid language that says, "well, you'd be better if you only did this."
Not everyone has the luxury of positive thinking, either. And when you're sick and someone tells you that you're on your illness path "for a reason" (like God's test of character) or you should "get into meditation because it could save you," it feels less helpful and more hurtful.
To anyone who wants to tell us about yoga or juicing or vitamins or detoxing: There are ways to suggest help—and I urge to to explore them by asking chronically ill people what they need and what resonates. (Stay tuned for an article here at Luna Luna about how you can help people who are chronically ill—Nadia and I are writing it).
7. You may need to step away from the Internet sometimes.
Don't tell the older generations, but it can be dangerous to have too much information at your fingertips, ironically. I myself have obsessed on my disease to the point where I'd be Googling it and reading forums and conducting "research" at 2:30 a.m. Empowering yourself through knowledge and community is SO vital (I cannot stress this enough, since doctors don't care about you like you care about you), but there is a time and a place—especially when stress and a lack of sleep makes you sicker.
Not every voice in your Facebook support group is correct. Not everyone's experience on a certain medication will indicate your own. Not everything you read will apply to you. Learn to detach when you need to.
8. You won't always be a bouquet of fucking roses.
Because it hurts, okay? And because loud noises and crowded streets and annoying people are on my last nerve after being in pain all day. And because we're not perfect. No one is perfect. The whole idea that you have to hide your sickness to assimilate in society is detrimental—to those who are sick, and to people who could potentially help them. If you need to be vulnerable, find the right space to do so. You'll need to learn when it's too much (or if you need to see a therapist), but don't feel the need to silence your experience. You are allowed to say it is hard. It is so hard, my friends.
9. It gets expensive.
People with chronic illness spend so much money—on drugs, doctor's visits, complementary therapies, fitness memberships, cabs, meditation classes, lost days of work. It is not easy for most people, especially those who are disabled and do not have steady sources of income.
Spend some time finding community gardens, fitness or health care centers, or libraries that offer free or low-cost classes and sessions and activities. Doing one good thing for yourself each week can mean the difference between loneliness and despair and hope. And it doesn't have to be expensive!
10. It takes work to be ok.
It requires a mix of professional help and creative, complementary therapies. I've noticed I do so much better when I see a doctor, swim several times a week, take time out for magical ritual every day, use ASMR for better sleep, and practice mindfulness when I start cycling through my sadness and anger. (When I say mindfulness, sometimes I excuse myself and simply breath or doodle or do something that lets me focus on me and redirect my intent. Sometimes I imagine a sparkling, healing pink aura around my body as I walk). If I mess up my routine, stress, fatigue, inflammation, pain, and brain fog take over.
11. You may need to find a new language.
I've failed in some efforts to talk about chronic illness without seeming pandering: "You're not alone!" or even the chronically positive "together we do this!" can seem trite and empty, even coming from me. It's a constant learning experience, one in which I gaze into the abyss and have it gaze back.
12. Celebrate when you can.
When I feel good, I feel great. And I go for broke—I dance all night, write until the sun comes up, or try my best to complete a new project. It's about learning to seize the light and also being okay with going dark sometimes.
LISA MARIE BASILE is the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine. She is the author of a few books and chapbooks of poetry: Apocryphal, war/lock, Triste, and Andalucia. Her book NYMPHOLEPSY (co-authored with Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein) will be published by Inside the Castle in November 2018. It was a finalist in the 2017 Tarpaulin Sky Book Awards. She is also working on her first novella, to be released by Clash Books in 2019. Her first nonfiction book, Light Magic for Dark Times, will be published by Quarto Books in 2018. Her work can be found in The New York Times, Narratively, Refinery 29, Entropy, Bust, Bustle, The Establishment, Hello Giggles, Ravishly, Cosmopolitan, and more. Her work has been nominated for the Best American Experimental Writing anthology and for several Pushcart Prizes, and has appeared in Best Small Fictions 2015, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler. She has written extensively about her experience in foster care, hoping to shed light on the reality of the foster system, the resiliency of foster youth, and the psychological trauma that can occur as a result of being placed in the system.