Prescription for a weary soul

We can climb mountains with self-love.  – Samira Wiley

For someone who has never been terribly invested in politics, the 2016 election played an enormous role in many of my recent shifts. Perhaps it’s because I want a better world for my children and their children then the one I see coming to pass, or perhaps because this new season in my life I have more freedom to widen my scope to a more global and less individual focus. Who knows why things shape us as they do. I only know those events, and so many since, have rendered me unable to be silent. I promise this whole post isn’t going to be about politics. I only mention it because since then, I have had to work very hard to maintain a healthy emotional balance, which is what I want to talk about today.

I awoke the day after the mid-term elections feeling soft and fragile, like a bruise. Here in Georgia, things still aren’t fully decided, which honestly, is a miracle in itself. I battled my inner idealist in the weeks leading up to the election. I didn’t want to lean too hard into hope, but couldn’t stop myself from getting swept up in the emotional wave of change. When things didn’t go as I anticipated, I experienced the giant emotional deflation that accompanies large-scale events. Expectations – such a bitch, eh?

Every so often lately, I have to step off the current events train if I want to maintain any form of sanity. Look, I love the internet as much as the next person for near effortless communication and information, but it’s easy to become buried in the never-ending stream of news, opinions, and vitriol. Sometimes I have to let the world move on without me. It doesn’t hurt that it’s November now, the month that makes me want to pull in, and sip whiskey in my flannel pants and pretend no one and nothing else exists outside my own home walls.

That tender, bruised feeling, where my emotions are held back by a blister thin covering, is a warning sign that I have reached the healthy balance threshold. I can keep going, but not effectively. My soul is trying to tell me something important now.

When my emotions fray and snap, I become someone I don’t like. While I am (mostly) no longer concerned if everyone else likes me, it is very important that I like myself. My integrity matters more than a self-righteous rant, a biting comeback or the micro-aggression meant to make you understand just how put-out I am. I’m far from perfect on a good day, but when I lose my focus on loving kindness because I’m swimming around in martyrdom, it’s past time to make adjustments.

Kindness isn’t about “being nice” and remembering I “look prettier when I smile.” That’s just more bullshit. Kindness remembers the counter to gaslighting, greed and rhetoric is being fully grounded in our integrity, recognizing the humanity in each of us. The way to shut down the rage machine isn’t with more rage, but with a strong spine wrapped in gentleness and compassion. When my sharper edges begin to cut people, I’ve allowed the anger I carry become bitterness. Anger is a vital fuel and a necessary tool these days, but bitterness is only ever destructive. I want my flame to burn brightly, not rage out of control destroying others and myself.

One of the concepts I have been so struck with lately is that of being an embodied Creator, a bringer of life. I, personally, have an inherent nurturing streak; it’s always been part of me, not because I am a woman necessarily, but because it is part of my personal nature. Now that my children are grown, I still love to care for people, but I’m thinking about creation and nurturing now on a deeper level. What sort of world am I creating through my actions and interactions? What is the generative force of my time, my expression, my money, and my relationships? What am I giving birth to with my life?

I’m amazed every time I watch my daughters make themselves present in the world. They are boldly creative individuals. The world is made better by their existence. I am not the cause of this creative force, but for a time I was the keeper of it, both inside my body and later inside my guidance. But my sending forth love and generosity into the world embodied by these women isn’t the sum of my contribution to the universe. I want to continue to create environments and opportunities which promote this bold and beautiful self-expression. But I can only bring forth this possibility if I also give life to creative, nurturing spaces for myself when I’m feeling like a small tap might make me shatter.

There’s a difference between other people labeling me hysterical – which they always will – and knowing that my emotions are entirely out of control and causing damage. This is the edge I am walking today, for many reasons, not all political.

So how do we care for ourselves when loving the world has worn us down? That’s not something I can answer for anyone but myself. For me, it includes flannel pants and whiskey sipping, twinkle lights and Christmas music. Not leaving the house for days. It means puttering and organizing and watching movies while crocheting and definitely staying away from news and the internet. It means putting my phone in a drawer, telling FOMO to shut up and snuggling with my husband. These are things which make me whole and promote wellness within. I can’t predict what will work for you. If you aren’t certain, it may mean you’re well overdue for a self-check and some serious self-care. Fear tells us the world can’t run without us, but love tells us there’s more than enough room for self-awareness in the expanse of time.

When I was training for a half-marathon, there were days when I pushed very hard. I ran long and exhausted myself. Then there were days when I rested – and ate a lot of cake. The rest periods were absolutely critical in order to heal and strengthen my body for the next long run. Without rest, everything begins to break down and deteriorate, causing fatigue and injury. Eventually, if we don’t surrender to rest, the body will push back, forcing us to give it the attention it needs.

This Divine work of creation is a marathon. There are days, weeks where we show up and give. Simply being present to see and hear another person is a holy act which draws on the energy of our souls. Most of us have days filled with interactions and activities which slowly deplete our energy and creativity. We then come home and fill our loved ones and living spaces with more of our energy, sleep for a bit – usually not enough, even I am guilty – and repeat the process. This is stressful, even eustress eventually demands a period of rest and regeneration.

This weekend I will be taking a restorative late fall rest. We have a three day weekend which I plan to fully inhabit without interruption from the outside world. Retreat is how I restore my emotional balance and my ability to see and be love in the world. These necessary pauses are how I ground myself again in the type of being I choose to embody. Have you listened to your soul recently? What’s one thing you can do to restore peace and healing to yourself this weekend?

2018: a year with no name

I can’t remember the first year I felt a word – a theme, a concept, a guiding principle? – drop into my soul, naming the season to come. It’s been more than a decade since it began. I follow the theme, sometimes closely, sometimes loosely, as a way of living intentionally and of understanding the shape of my days. I’ve had all sorts of words from the fun and exciting, to the difficult and unwanted. Year after year, I receive a word from the Universe and start another trip around the sun.

Every year until this year, that is.

Usually, in autumn, I begin to feel a sort of low key anticipation, an opening in my soul. I begin to meditate on the ways the current year has shaped me, and how I have shaped it. I lean into the possibility of what may be coming next. Last year, I did the same things I always do as my journey drew to a close. But each time I consciously grasped for a theme, a flame would ignite, fizzle and then fssst…immediately burn out. My creativity and openness felt buried. I was so walled up and guarded I couldn’t listen. Honestly, I didn’t even try very hard or very often. The idea of living another year like the one I was already in was numbing.

There is so much about awakening that is difficult. Sue Monk Kidd likens it to crossing a deep, unexplored gorge, a descent into the unknown. I have likened it to razing a building down to the bare concrete foundation and then sleeping on it naked in a storm. Awakening is these things and more. I understand why we, as a species, would rather remain where the environment is comfortable and the terrain is known.

But for me, sleeping is not an option anymore.

I finally gave up the idea of giving the year a name. I wandered into January with no idea where we were headed, which is probably the only reason I walked forward at all. I still don’t have a name for this year. It’s easily the wildest, weirdest, hardest, most amazing, miraculous, hysterical, unbelieveable year I have ever lived. Nothing – not one thing – about where we are at the end of this year is anything that I would have envisioned at the outset.

And yet, I feel happier and healthier than I have for nearly a decade.

In retrospect, if I were to name this year it might be the year of Initiation. At first, I thought Awakening would be a good name, but it isn’t an accurate one. My awakening has been going on for far longer than this year. But it took the events of this year to cut all the lines, and send us on a new adventure. Had I received a word for this year, it might have changed my thoughts or my trajectory. No, this was a year I had to navigate without external leading. Even though I believe my year names come as much from within and from any Divine force without, I needed this year to be guided only by my inner voice. I haven’t been listening to her nearly enough. This has been her time to shine.

When we left our old life in March, everything happened very quickly. No sooner did we make one drastic change then another door flung itself wide open waiting for us to step through. At one point Craig wasn’t sure about making so many quick decisions so quickly, but for once I was. I was absolutely certain. I knew each door opened right on time and all we had to do was step through, and step through and step through again. Each step taking us farther away from the toxic morass we’d been swimming in.

I’ve second guessed every thought and idea for two years, but my certainty in these moments never wavered, not even one second. I don’t know what’s going to happen next from moment to moment. But after years of only closed doors as we waited in a dark hallway, my soul is suddenly well able to see Divine Providence when She beckons. There is light everywhere, dazzling me with its brilliance.

This is the year which sets us off on new paths. Craig has his and I have mine. We are walking together but loosely which sounds as though we’re drifting apart, but somehow the effect is exactly the opposite. Growing into myself has only deepened my love and admiration for the amazing human who chooses each day to remain in my life. His presence is a gift I never take for granted, even when I’m engaged in my own adventures.

What I believe now is that this year couldn’t name itself. It simply had to unfold moment by moment, and I had to decide within each moment what I would make of them. My stagnation gave way to tremendous creative force bursting forth from my body and soul. Like Eve at the cusp of creation, I’m naming and naming and naming, like God Herself, I’m breathing my own life into being with every choice and every step. This year was mine to name and rename. I am the Creator of my existence by Divine right.

I have an inkling, already, of the shape of my next year, I may even know a name. But she’s not quite ready to be born yet, so I’m holding space for her inside my body until she’s ready to breathe on her own. I’m excited again, at last. I’m pleased and relieved that my inner/outer voice is singing over me again. And I’m filled with hope for a new year in this new life, even while I name the remaining days of my present.

Diving into heresy

“Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall –I dove” – Sue Monk Kidd

Last weekend I reconfigured a room in my house, one which I have barely used since we moved here. I didn’t purchase anything new for the room, except some white Christmas lights which use year-round, but somehow simply shifting the furniture made the room warmer, more welcoming.

I’ve been sitting here all morning watching the shadows play across the walls and listening to Mo snore next to me on the sofa. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m not at church. I am grateful for this grace anew every weekend. I suppose eventually the novelty of it will wear off and it will feel like this is how life always has been. But currently, this peace is a gift from the Universe full of emotional rest and safety, and usually a steak and eggs breakfast. Falling in love with Sunday is a treat I will not hurry through. Perhaps this is how Sabbath is meant to be experienced. I only know my soul feels still on these long lazy mornings.

Strangely enough, I’m also thinking about heresy as I sit here. Perhaps it’s the recognition that a few simple shifts can change everything. As I reread my November prayer, I contemplated how moving on so often also means letting go. But I think sometimes we confuse letting go with acting as though a thing never happened. When our lives are drastically altered, whether the transition is “good” or “bad,” (this binary sorting of experience is a blog for another time.), we often work very hard at putting the event behind us so that we can get back to being “our usual selves.” It’s true, our usual selves are known and comfortable, but they are also often a false construct since we are always evolving and changing. There is no putting an event behind us. The circumstances of our lives mold and shape us, physically and spiritually. For better or worse, we are changed. A wise person incorporates these changes into their understanding of themselves and the world.

Which brings me to the heresy.

Over the weekend, I added two important pieces of writing to this space. They are concepts I have been exploring for several years and eventually are what led me to split from evangelicalism entirely. This split happened spiritually long before we actually left the church, and in retrospect, it was foolish of me to think professional ministry would ever be a fit for me again. I am constantly grateful for Divine intervention closing the doors to all the church jobs Craig applied to. Even last fall, I was still trying to get back to an old, familiar self, and not incorporating all the ways my faith and my worldview have changed. I was a heretic in sheep’s clothing.

While the manner of our leaving church was abusive and soul-crushing, the actual leaving was a Grace I do not take lightly. I forfeited church but gained back my soul. Even the hard work of returning to wholeness is a gift. I know and love my soul so much better now that I am able to see it clearly as a beautiful, deserving, creative part of my whole Self.

I didn’t share openly all the things I was feeling at the time because admitting them aloud makes me a heretic.

In my fifteen years experience with professional church, doctrine is the holy throne upon which the Lord is seated. This doctrine may or may not be strictly Biblical (many of our modern church traditions have their roots centuries after the nascent period of the Christian church), but once you wrap the Bible itself in an unquestionable layer of authority, there is no room left for interpretation or discussion. Doctrine is as holy and inerrant as scripture itself.

“This is the way God/the church is. There is nothing to be said or done about it.”

Years ago I stopped putting so much faith in traditions, layering heresy upon heresy.

Inerrancy of scripture? Nope.
Existence of eternal fire and punishment hell? Don’t believe it.
The primacy of Christianity to any other spiritual expression? Not having it.
Penal Substitutionary atonement? Forget it.
Patriarchy? Hell no.
A god who commands genocide and rape? Monstrous.
Original sin? That’s a hard pass.
Scientific accuracy of the biblical creation account? I just don’t think so.
End times rapture and apocalyptic theory? Are you kidding me? That’s not even ancient tradition. It’s 1990’s Jenkins and Le Haye pop-culture claptrap the church has used to whip up fear and furor.

I never dared admit any of this lest the church ladies clutch their pearls and call the priests and Pharisees…err…pastors and elders. Which they did anyway, even without saying these things. And now I suppose all the worry and flutter was justified. Look at the near miss they’ve been given. There was a heretic in their midst! Oh, the destruction I might have wrought.

You can see how I was fooling myself that any sort of congregation we were considering would be a good fit for me for long. I simply grew another direction from that sort of faith and thinking. I ask too many questions and draw too many aberrant conclusions. Also, I research and read a lot, both of which are threatening to the men in power. I don’t subscribe to the ideal Christian feminine template. I wear leggings far too often.

However, while I definitely have my issues about the church, I don’t think it’s a terrible place filled with terrible people, quite the opposite. My personal experience is with small men of great insecurity, but I also know some wonderful, generous, courageous women and men who lead and love and serve in beautiful ways. I admire them, even though I may not be like them in the ways I understand and express spirituality. But we don’t have to view the Divine the same way to love well together. Just ask the Jewish and Muslim communities in Pittsburgh.

I’m thinking about all these things this Sunday morning because it’s time to finally let go of my religious identity. It wasn’t all bad, but in the end, I was far more damaged than helped by professional religion. We were fervently and well loved by individuals, but the church as a business is crueler and more calculating than most “worldly” companies I’ve been part of with fewer people to answer to for their cruelty. Religion has changed me; this is undeniable.

Now I need to incorporate those changes into the new self I am becoming, one who is more whole and more honest than she’s had the freedom to be in a while. Apparently, this is the space for working that out. So here’s where I admit, we’re about to leave the map. If heresy isn’t your cup of tea, maybe it’s where you get off. And that’s okay. It’s about to get sort of feminist and Goddess-y and messy in here because that’s where I’m going next. Finally, all the doors are open; I have stopped holding my breath.

Welcome to the dark woods. Here there be wolves and witches and wild women and dancing under the moon. At last.

A Prayer for November

Hello November,
I’m so excited to be back with you again. As one of my favorite months of the year, I feel you are underlauded by much of the world. Please know that even though your first day marks the beginning of the Christmas music season for me, I am in no hurry to race through your golden hours. I love everything about you, except the time change – why do we still observe that shit anyway? But I digress, I love everything about you. I love that you begin with brilliant gold sunsets and end with slippers and flannel sheets. I love that for the south, you are the bearer of the leaves changing and the first frost. I love your quiet heartbeat of gratitude which thrums under it all.

Every year I approach you by saying to myself, I will be industrious and handle all the Christmas details this month. And then I never do. I spend long grey afternoons in pajama pants with a blanket, a book, and a warm drink instead. You hold all the promise of productivity, but you also keep pretending we have all the time in the world before the holiday rush. Once that bird hits the table it’s all GO GO GO!! FESTIVITIES COMMENCE! But those first four weeks are like a warm lullaby. Thank you for that.

I have some plans for this month, November. I hope you’ll work with me on them. I want to walk through you for a while each day and contemplate all the changes this year has brought. Who knew when I stepped out with January that we’d travel so far in just a few months? I know this is generally July’s song, but I keep finding new freedom everywhere I turn, and I don’t want to take a moment of these revelations for granted. Just like you always remind us, I am grateful, grateful, grateful for this life I’m building/ receiving – I’m never very sure which one it is. You make a lovely backdrop for this type of meditation, November. Here’s a little more gratitude just for being you.

I hope you’ll bring some new lessons for me, Nov – can I call you, Nov? I’m trying to learn to balance anger at injustice, oppression, and cruelty with openness and vulnerability. Maybe we can work together to keep knocking down walls while maintaining safe boundaries, and to be transparent without remaining a victim. There’s so much I want to do. Help me not race ahead blindly, but ground me in mindfulness and compassion, especially self-compassion. This healing thing isn’t for the close-minded and reckless.

Let’s take a moment to talk about books, ok? Your sister months have delivered some amazing reads. I’ve discovered wisdom in the most unexpected places. I’ve experienced a great deal of joy sharing my bookish discoveries with friends and strangers alike. I even have a growing number of regulars who come looking for suggestions for the next read. I didn’t expect this lovely addition to my life, November. I hope you’ve got plans for me on the shelves and in the stacks. We’ll spend a fair number of hours together there. Let’s make them lovely.

Most of all, November, I hope you’ll remind me to slow down and breathe. Of all the lessons I am slow to learn, this is the one I need the most. Remind me to open the sunroof, sit on the porch, light the fire, have the wine, meet a friend for dinner and laugh. I really hope you remind me to laugh, it’s my new favorite thing. I know it may seem I have high hopes for us this year, but I believe all of these things and more are possible. We’re going to have a great thirty days together. And maybe next year, we work on ditching the time change, eh? But for now, I think we’re just about perfect.

Here’s to a great month!
D.

This I believe

I didn’t spend much time with the news this weekend. In my life, I have never experienced such widespread hate. From the dehumanization of our transgender community to the murders of two black people in Kentucky – after the gunman was thwarted by locked doors in a local black church, – to calculated hate and terror disguised as mail parcels, to the inexplicable mass shooting during shabbos worship.

I am speechless.
I feel helpless.

I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer, and all around me, people were carrying on with their every day breathing and eating, walking around, healthy lives. I wanted to stand in the street and scream, Can everyone just stop a moment and recognize that I am living a nightmare today? I didn’t do this, of course, but my soul cried for some form of recognition that darkness had come and I wasn’t sure I could survive to see the light.

I feel this way today. I had a post ready to share, but it feels wrong to just go on with life as usual without taking a moment to recognize that the darkness is here, to grieve and to consider how to help others live to see the light again.

As a white, cis-gender woman who isn’t in school, the day to day possibility that I will be the victim of a hate crime or random killing spree isn’t great. It would be easy to send “thoughts and prayers” and go about my day as usual. But I don’t want to do this.

It is also easy to vilify and dehumanize political groups and figures. Easier to shift blame, and point figures and name call, to let rage fill me with labels and epithets. I believe that anger is a powerful weapon and so I will hold on to my anger at this unbelievable tidal wave of hate, but I will not succumb to the same sort of rage and unthinking, uncaring demonizing that enable a person to put a pipe bomb in the mail or enter a synagogue with a human-killing machine. I don’t want to do this either.

I need to remain human, and I need to see the human not only in the victims but in the perpetrators of violence. It is the only way to keep my heart whole and intact.

Richard Rohr talks about a third way, a third space, a way of holding two conflicting ideas at one time and existing in the tension:

‘Some prefer to take on the world: to fight it, to change it, fix it, and rearrange it. Others deny there is a problem at all; it suits their needs as it is. “Everything is beautiful,” they say and look the other way. Both instincts avoid holding the tension, the pain, and the essentially tragic nature of human existence…We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness.

I cannot change the world, not alone, not as myself. I will not fight power with power. The ‘if we had more guns we could prevent violence by guns’ argument is bullshit. Nor will I deny that we are in a dangerous, chaotic state currently. One where extremism and hate are normalized and denied. I won’t create enemies of people, nor will I deny that there are enemies of humanity. I am sitting in the third space, and it’s strangely filled with tension and also peace.

If I cannot change the world, then I will set about changing myself. I will love deeper, and I will show this love by being kindness and patience in a world desperate for a different way of being. I will see humanity as it is, and risk loving it anyway, even knowing I will be disappointed, wounded and rejected. I will not see human beings as the enemy even if I will not find common ground in their hate and oppression. I will believe there is a best in people that love can unlock, if only they will let love in.

Perhaps it’s all a bit Pollyanna. It’s certainly easier said than done. The binary part of me says: I am right. They are wrong. I am good. They are bad. I am different. They are all the same. But the third space says, We are human. We all matter. The world needs us.

So I breathe in deeply and breathe out the rage and the hate and the demons that infest my own soul. And I do think and pray, but I also consider what I most want to see in the world, and how I can embody this image most fully. When I am transformed, then perhaps others will be as well, but I can only open myself to be transformed. I cannot force it on unwilling others.

I will not add rage and despair to the world today. There is plenty already with some to spare.

When we know better, we do better. We know better by seeing it, hearing it and becoming it. This is believe.