Embracing space: what’s left when there are no distractions

Do you know why most New Year’s resolutions fail? (I know, we’re in the middle of a July heat wave. Bear with me, here) I think it’s because we try to add new things to our lives without actually making space for them. We want to hang on to all the old ways which are familiar and comfortable and on top of them add all these other, better things which will make us new and improved. I know it’s what I do, anyways.

This concept occurred to me this morning while I was sitting with my funk. Somehow, when I was journaling this morning, I wrote myself into a funk. Usually writing works the other way around for me. So there I was, stuck; stuck in the mucky, monkey-mind mess that likes to snare me from time to time. You know the one. There’s never a specific thing you can point to and say, this is the problem. Instead all the little imperfections and quirks and wish-it-could-be’s and if-only’s pig pile on your brain and dance around in spiky tap shoes.

No? Am I alone in this?

As I sat there with all the tap dancing things I should be doing-thinking-improving-changing-being, I realized something. By allowing this fallow time in my life, by not filling it with appointments and obligations, I have no distraction from my funk. I just have to sit with it. I suppose I could have created some busy work. Something always needs washing or sorting. But I didn’t. Instead I just sat with the funk.

I am funky, I thought. Not very pleasant at all.

A funny thing happened, then. I sat there and accepted the funk without fighting, without creating a distraction, without rushing to escape. Pretty soon, all those terrible tap-dancing things began to seem quite silly. The longer I sat, the sillier they became. The more I made room for them, the smaller they shrank. After awhile- poof! – they disappeared.

How strange, I thought. This has never happened before. What’s different?

Then it came to me: space. Empty space made it possible for me to sit quietly  while the jiggering, yammering demons did their worst. When I didn’t flail and flounder or argue and chide them, they wore themselves out. They disappeared, leaving me none the worse for the experience, and perhaps, even, a little bit better.

I began to wonder how many other simple lessons I miss because I am always busy, always thinking, always striving to be something better than who I already am. Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with activity or with aspiration. Only I get tripped up by trusting in should or must instead of simply accepting who I am, and letting what comes, come.

I should be better than this by now.
This must finish this so I can be….
If I don’t accomplish what will they think? (They who? I don’t actually know.)

It’s no wonder I fall flat at resolutions, be they New Year or otherwise. I never make room for anything to be fully realized, especially not my own heart. Instead, I just try and squish newness in and around the things I love to do, the things I need to do, the things I should be doing and the tap dancing demons. I’ve never found the courage to clear out enough space for anything to change or grow. Whether I’m afraid to let go or certain I can hold it all, the result is the same. I smother everything in layers of expectation – the good, the bad, and the messily fantastic- and expect it to be different this time.

So yes, this morning I was uncomfortable. Funky, if you will. But I survived. It didn’t last too long or hurt too bad, really. Those fiery darts turned into flowers when I stopped using all my defenses against them. There’s a lesson to learn in this. I plan to make space for the rest of the day to let it sink in, making room for the newness, room for wonder.

It’s kind of amazing the insight you can find in a wide open space when you stop looking for something to fill it.

 

Cranky when Writing: when Creativity runs dry

I’m cranky about writing today. It’s true.

It only took 84 days for me to run out of words but I feel all dried up of creativity. Which is, of course, tinged with irony since it is the first day of my creative sabbath. Perhaps I’m frozen by possibility again? It still happens from time to time.

I had a little anxiety moment on my run this morning. Those triggers can go off unexpectedly. I can’t live with my guard up all the time, but boy when those things hit you with your guard down, they can drop you before you know it. I’ve been shoo-ing that demon out all day now.

Also I’d rather be reading. Some days all I want to do is curl up with a book and lose myself. Maybe I just think losing myself is preferable to living with myself on an angsty sort of day.  At least the van has working AC again.

Here’s the thing, we all get to have an off day, whatever the reason. The days we hide in the bedroom with cups of tea and grump for no-good-reason. It happens. I used to fight harder against it, but struggling only binds me more tightly. If I just let myself be prickly awhile, eventually I come out the other side.  I do feel kind of sorry for Hunky, though, while it’s going on. He’s sort of collateral damage.

Maybe that’s the lesson for me today. We get grumpy and prickly and blah sometimes, and that’s how it is. Instead of beating ourselves up over it, “shoulding ourselves to death” my friend would say, we can just lean in. Everything is temporary. This too shall pass.

So what you can know about my first day of creativity is that I am literally counting words as I type to meet my minimum requirement. I letting go of perfection and saying this is good enough. And tomorrow is another day. For better or worse, I’ve done what I could do.

Bruce Hornsby makes me happy; an unlikely path to holiness

Right now I’m listening to Bruce Hornsby on Spotify. Do you remember him? He slips off my radar for weeks at a time sometimes, and then one of his songs pops up again. I think to myself, “Why don’t I listen to more Bruce Hornsby and the Range? He always makes me so happy!” So today, even though I have no idea what I’m going to write about, I’m happy.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about happiness lately. Not just my own happiness (though I’m frequently the subject of my ponderings), but the nature of happiness.  I think happiness gets a bum rap in religious circles. We subscribe to dying to self, sacrifice, and piety but often at the expense of our own happiness. We say really holy things like, God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness. It sounds good, very spiritual but honestly, I don’t believe this is an accurate picture of God.  The creator of quarks and sub-atomic particles is more complex than such a binary holiness equation. I’m not denigrating piety or sacrifice or even suffering. But maybe we’re cheating ourselves out of something by believing they are the singular signs of higher level spirituality or perfection.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was a laugher. I like to imagine a great, ringing belly laugh, the infectious kind. I can see him now, head thrown back, eyes twinkling, or bent forward, grabbing his knees and trying to catch his breath as His followers chortle around him. I’m not a historical scholar, but I know few things about life in Jesus’s time. First of all, for your typical Jewish man (which most followers were), life was hard. You worked hard; you paid a lot of taxes, and sacrifices, and offerings. I won’t even begin to detail the hardships women faced. As an oppressed people, day-to-day existence was fairly scrappy for the people of Jesus’s time. Anyone peddling more of the same- suffering, hardship, sorrow- probably wasn’t gaining a huge following.

So when Jesus spoke to them of something different, better, new, the expectation was a path that led to a better life, including, you guessed it, happiness. Here’s where I lose some people because you’ll say, well obviously Jesus was talking about HEAVEN, not life in the Roman Empire (insert eye roll if you’re feeling sassy). Except, Jewish people didn’t have a construct of Heaven the way we do today. That’s a pretty modern construct, and not entirely Biblical.

What Jewish followers believed, and a large part of what we need to understand is the Kingdom of God takes place here, on this very earth. On this very good earth as Abba has declared it, we usher in the Kingdom. Not an army of scowling, self-righteous followers, but a smiling, gracious, self-effacing welcome crew, pulling out chairs and passing out refreshments. When our joy is contagious, when what we offer is beautiful, we reflect the very heart of God. Those of us sitting around waiting with sour faces for the sweet-by-and-by are missing something – a very large piece of the Jesus picture.

This is what I am coming to believe as I deconstruct and reconstruct this wild and woolly faith. Happiness is part of the divine package. We were created in joy, for joy.  I simply do not believe the God who handcrafted penguins and kittens and sea turtles didn’t delight in the creation process. Why? Because it made Him happy and He knew it would make us happy as well! Why are strawberries so sweet? For our pleasure! Why does the autumn breeze smell divine? For our pleasure! Why are hand-holding, and hugs, smiles, and a gentle caress part of the universal human experience? Because the universal human experience is rooted in happiness. From the beginning of time our Abba, whose greatest joy is expressing His love, meant for love to bubble over with delicious, delightful happiness and joy.

Oh but the fall, you say?

But the CROSS, I respond.

If we are restored to our former glory (if we ever actually lost it), then why are we afraid to be happy? Why do we feel guilty when we pursue the things which tickle our souls? Why wouldn’t I turn on a little Bruce Hornsby and the Range simply for the simple thrill of delight it brings to my soul?

I’ve wasted too much time trying to twist myself into some pious image I cannot be. I’ve despaired to the marrow that I’ve failed to live up to some ideal I simply will never attain. But I’m learning now. Learning I can pursue happiness and be closer to the Man from Nazareth than I have ever been. My smile makes Him smile since no one across the universe desires my happiness more. Holiness is overrated if it comes at the expense of a belly laugh, a warm hug, a space at the table. I choose happiness, and I believe with all my heart, that holiness will follow quickly, if it can only follow the sound of my laughter.

Post traumatic growth: finding answers in experience

Yesterday I threw a question out into the universe: where do I go from here? It seemed that I had reached an impasse, one I’m not sure how to get past. As a person of constant questions, I often ask things without expecting a response. I certainly didn’t this time. But sometimes the universe is simply waiting for us to ask the right question. It’s as though God knows until we open our souls to the answer, She’ll only be giving a gift to someone with clenched fists. On so many occasions I have to wait and wait and wait some more for answers. But this time, the Spirit was only waiting for me to ask to whisper her guidance over me.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast I listen to infrequently (It’s a lovely podcast, we just don’t always click personality-wise because I am a grumpy curmudgeon. This the episode on anxiety caught my eye). Very briefly in that episode, they mentioned this episode of On Being about resilience which I listened to on my run this morning.

Holy Malloy. HOLY MALLOY! (this is what I say when swearing is inappropriate)

I wish I knew the word for how it feels when you hear the click of answers falling into place in your soul. Even though I didn’t receive a neon sign or a carefully detailed map, with just a few words, I received clarity for the next steps in my recovery process. I don’t need specific answers about what may be next, as long as I can see part of the path that will get me there.

Do you ever have these moments? You know the ones. Suddenly we gasp aloud as an electric thought jolts us into wakefulness. We hear or see or experience something so sweetly tuned to our soul that likely no one else can hear it the same way. In fact, it’s often the case that these gifts are specifically meant only for us.

The summer after my friend Natalie died, everywhere I looked were ones. When Nattie ended an excited sentence, she used exclamation marks…like this!!! Except, she always released the shift key too soon, so instead we got this…!!!!11. Those ones were so much a part of her, and after she was gone, the world around me was filled with ones. Maybe it always is, but that summer they were for me and no one else. I was specifically open to receive those ones. They were reminding me when random terrible things happen, life still has meaning. We have the power to make meaning through our own experience. 

It’s easy for me, when I reach what seems to be a dead-end, to fall back into learned helplessness. Accepting that I don’t have the power to change things is a familiar neural path for my thoughts to travel. This morning, however, I was literally shoved from that path onto a new one. I encountered a new perspective, a new way of healing, and permission to take back my spiritual experience as my own. What a silly thing to need permission for, huh? But apparently I did need it, and this morning the universe poured permission into my soul at fire hose volume.

I allow the probability that a relationship can break beyond restoration. That happens sometimes in this life. Depending on the relationship, this unresolved stress cycle can continue to cause trauma – relational, emotional, perhaps even spiritual. But just as I can receive permission, I can also withdraw permission. I can close doors, declare an end, if not geographically than relationally, taking back whatever power I relegated into their care. I can own myself, and all the pieces of myself again.

Are you waiting on permission to own all the pieces of your life? It’s already yours. We can make meaning from our experience if we are open to receiving it.

 

 

Making space for emotional and spiritual health

In May, I stayed pretty busy. It was a good sort of busy. I felt like I was growing and contributing and celebrating important events. Not at all the wheel-spinning busyness that is exhausting with nothing to show for it. This month, and likely this entire summer, is intentionally much slower. It’s a time for more internal work rather than external work. Time to take the lid off my emotional and spiritual health and stir it up a bit, see what floats to the surface.

Healing from trauma is interesting. For awhile you have to look trauma in the eye. Then you have to step back a bit and let it all settle again. If you move too quickly, you end up with a worse wound than you had to begin with, but if you wait too long, or leave the work unfinished, it festers. Last month was a good time to step away and let the dust settle a bit. Now I can more clearly see the things which still require attention.

This week, I did some work with understanding spiritual trauma, and some research on anxiety, both causes and techniques to deal with it. Unfortunately, these things snag all my triggers. Here a trigger, there a trigger, everywhere a trauma trigger. I’ve meditated so much I dream about meditation, not even kidding. I’m not as worried about depression anymore, but stepping away from that lethargy means engaging with things that are difficult.

I journal, and share with some of the people I trust, but none of these things change the fact that I am currently in an unresolved stress cycle. This means I that I can’t escape from the thing which triggers my fight or flight reaction. It’s a frustrating situation. In many ways I my emotional and spiritual health is improving. However, until I can break free of this cycle, I face the probability of regular set backs .

I see the problem, but I’m currently unable to solve the problem.
And so the question remains, where to I go from here?
My guess is figuring this out, will be my work for this summer.

Let it be: practicing the art of allowing

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. 
Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

Today is a heavy sort of day. I debated sharing the reasons why and landed on the side of not going into details. Even without details we all know what it’s like to feel the weight of life some days.

My meditation this morning focused on allowing. During the meditation, rather than holding too tightly to the breath or resisting to strongly the stray thoughts, emotions and sensations that the monkey brain insists on thrusting to the attention, we make room for all the other things beside the breath.

What a thought or sensation arises, we acknowledge it by naming it. For instance during my time I named “Dinner” “itch” “garbage truck” amongst a hundred other things. The point is that naming the thing acknowledges its validity and allows it to retreat, returning focus to the breath.

A little while later, while I was walking the dog, considering the rain and wondering why ants climb power poles by the thousand, I realized that I’m learning to allow far beyond a fifteen minute meditation.

Normally when life gets heavy, I numb or escape. I mindlessly scroll or binge watch netflix – any type of mindless distraction will do. The goal is simply to avoid feeling until the feeling goes away.

But not today. Today I am allowing these heavy emotions. I feel them without but they don’t consume me. Creating space at the table alongside the chores and writing and spending the day, all day, with two of my wonderful daughters.

I can feel sadness, hurt and confusion. There is space for them in my life and in my day. I can also snuggle the pups, talk about succulents and make taco salad. The smile doesn’t negate the sorrow, nor does the laughter dishonor the hurt.

There’s room for all of it. It’s all appropriate, all necessary. We are amazingly beautiful, incredibly complex beings not defined by a single emotion or a single event. We mistakenly treat difficult emotions as enemies or obstacles. But really, those ‘negative’ emotions only want us to acknowledge their presence, to feel them as they run their course. Their place in our lives as valid as the their more enjoyable counterparts.

Today I am allowing. Yes it is heavy, but it’s proving so much less exhausting than resisting this process. Sorrow cleanses and grief reminds us of love shared. These are necessary processes in wholehearted living. They are as beautiful in their own way as rapture, joy and excitement. We can make room in our souls without fearing we will drown. There is room.

There is room.

We can feel and grieve and grow and heal. Let it be.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Intelligence vs. Intellectualism: Permission to have the feels

This morning I was thinking about the difference between intelligence and intellectualism.  Lately, I explore activities I would have called “new-agey” just a few years ago. I meditate, do yoga, commune with nature and journal responses from my intuition. (Some people call this voice, my inner guide-how’s that for new-agey?) It all seems very touchy-feely from an intellectual standpoint. At least, that’s what my inner intellectual tells me.

I am a fan of intelligence who enjoys learning and exploring new things. More than anything, I love a good, in-depth conversation. I want to understand the world from various perspectives and ideologies, even if they aren’t the ones I incorporate into my own worldview. Seldom do I accept anything blindly, and I admit to being an information junkie. Intelligence and education matter to me, which isn’t likely to change, nor do I want it to.

However, at some point I shifted from enjoying the experience of learning to relying on intellectualism. Intelligence encourages me to acquire and use knowledge and skills, while intellectualism tells me only knowledge matters, at the expense of all else, especially feelings.

I don’t know when this shift happened, although I can trace some roots to growing up in dogmatic systems. I can distinctly remember thinking, well that doesn’t feel right, so I don’t accept it when hearing certain doctrines and traditions. But I did not accept unquestioningly, as expected.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when I made the shift to intellectualism. Somewhere in my early adulthood, the need to fit in overwhelmed my need to question. My codependency certainly plays a part here.  Perhaps what I heard sounded just good enough to make me squash my questioning nature. Maybe in the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis, I needed answers I could always depend on. I’ll never know for certain.

What I do know is that so much of evangelicalism relies on a very traditional, intellectual stronghold. This certainty, the need to accept without question, the assertion of only one correct worldview, bled into every part of my life. As I’ve said, I am a spiritual being. I also have a deep perfectionist streak. The lure of spiritual certainty and spiritual correctness proved too much. I believed the lie that emotions shouldn’t be trusted, that my inner-voice is inherently evil, shoving them down and away.

This worked for awhile, until all the repressed emotions cause a spiritual earthquake. Whether it’s the concept of God as genocidal maniac when compared to Jesus, or the disparity of the Sermon on the Mount from the Christian Nationalism, eventually my emotions demanded a hearing. Biblicism and rationalism made fine walls but rotten counselors.

When I entered therapy, my counselor advised me to stop trying to make sense of everything. Sometimes we must simply feel what we feel and work from there. Two years later, I have to remind myself of this on a daily basis. True, intellect is important, but intelligence is more than my intellect. Emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence also play an important role in well-being.

In fact, during the years in therapy and since, I have largely been swimming through a great big vat of emotional soup. I needed to relearn not only how to feel, but how to trust my feelings. And then I had to learn not to be ruled by them. I’m still working on this one with the help of meditation. My intuition, my inner guide, is speaking again. First with a whisper, but eventually louder. Sometimes now she even sings.

Learning to embrace questions and uncertainty has been a difficult battlefield. If something doesn’t feel right, I have permission to reject it, even without a rational alternative. I’m allowed to push-back against the rhetoric of certainty and tradition simply because it makes my soul feel dirty and twisted. Sometimes I’m wrong and I make big, messy, visible mistakes. But I can live with mistakes easier than I can live with cruelty, exclusion and blind acceptance.

My life currently, is very touchy-feely, but not without direction. I have a host of non-dual teachers and fellow questioners who willingly share from a vast well of experience and understanding. When all else fails we lean into love, kindness and empathy. We feel all the feelings in a world which makes very little sense. I am far less certain and far more happy than I can remember being in a long time. My soul fits in my skin again, even with all the feelings up in here.