Write Your Own Story of Strength and Resilience

Yesterday, I arrived at a deeper sort of realization about my own resilience. After all of the restorative work I have done – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I am not nearly as fragile as I imagine.

dsc00757After years of pushing myself to the limit, I came to accept that my body was screaming “enough!” (An easy message to receive while lost in the exhaustion of the Epstein-Barr virus.) I responded by paying attention to my body in previously unimagined ways and began a discovery process about health and spirit that will continue for the rest of my life.

This heightened awareness was and continues to be amazing. For all that I have learned, however, there is one major drawback: I became more conscious of my limitations than I was of my own strength.

I was obsessed with the food I couldn’t eat, the yoga I was too weak to practice, the events I couldn’t enjoy since I needed such an intense amount of rest. The worst of this illness was three years ago, but the legacy of lack still haunts the edges of my perspective.

Somehow it was largely impossible to recognize the incremental improvements that I was making because I had become so addicted to the story of my own illness. I came to realize how afraid I was to expend any energy for fear I would either crash and burn or feel like a failure and an invalid.

Only in the last year have I been able to step back and watch myself weather one physical, mental, or emotional storm after another. Life has been happening around me with all of its attendant ups and downs, and I am finally coming to realize that I have actually been riding the waves in grand enough style.

We live in a world plagued by contradictions and polluted with mixed messages. We are at once shown powerful women so worthy of respect and emulation (Oprah and Hillary immediately come to mind) and yet we are also barraged with ad campaigns about only finding your true worth if some man buys you a diamond or if you drop a few pounds.

We know in our guts that we need our strength, but the selling of fragility as the way to love and safety infects us all to some degree. I don’t think this is only a woman’s problem – all people, regardless of gender are subject to a market that thrives on keeping us weak. (Give in to you cravings. You know you need that drink/candy bar/trip to the casino. Resistance is futile.)

dsc00749Was my preoccupation with my weaknesses the direct result of a misogynistic media or the capitalist machine? Not likely. But it did help me understand how so many people are constantly unwilling or unable to acknowledge their own power and resiliency and instead become invested in their own limitations. We all get caught up in the stories that society hands us and the ones that we then personalize for our own journeys.

Our stories are vital, personal bits of narrative that connect us to the experience of our own lives. They can be beautiful, epic descriptions of strength that help reflect back to us our greatest traits. All too often, however, they are little scraps of fears and disappointments that have been woven together to become a dark fable of the futility of life.

The nice thing about stories? Someone gets to make them up based on the facts and the dreams that lay before her. Can you look at some of the stories that you tell yourself about your life and choose to turn the tales about resilience and strength into your own lived epic?

Yeah, Work Is Work, But What Else Might It Be?

img_0784I have written many times about the tension between having a day job and wanting to pursue my writing and healing live full time.

Green as a Granny Smith apple, I look to the bloggers and friends who can dedicate all of their time to their creative pursuits. I wish constantly for the financial freedom or the artistic warriors’ courage that allows them to refuse the constraints of the nine to five.

I shadowbox with guilt that my work ethic isn’t strong enough, that I should knuckle down and realize I wasn’t born independently wealthy and that I love this new house and have to earn the salary to pay for my piece of it.

At the same time I try to sort out the root my aversion to my job. Is going to a temple of knowledge every day and being paid for my pains actually painful or is it just an amplified version of the drama everyone experiences on Monday mornings? What if my soul is trying to tell me that I must do something else? What if I just don’t realize how good my job could actually be?

These are all still rhetorical questions, because I sure as heck don’t have any of the answers to them. Yet.

One thing I have sorted out, however, is helping me find new peace with my job as I continue to show up there each day. It sprang from a great deal of soul searching I did over my vacation when I started to realize how worried I was about returning to work.

I have been afraid to either like my job or give it my best effort because it might lead to contentment.

Huh?

You see, I worried that if I was content in my work, the Universe might start to think that all I could do was take care of the logistics of a college library and design a few publications and manage a few budgets. The Universe (or God or my boss or myself) might start getting the idea that this life was ok for me and I could quit striving for that elusive something better. Even worse, I feared that that “something better” might stop trying to find me.

And so, I offered about 42% of my energy and attention to 40+ hours of my week. Somehow, I still expected to come home and switch into being able to give 110% of myself to writing and healing and loving my husband.

img_0788But, there is this thing called inertia. It the law that says that an object (or a redhead woman) is most likely to persist in a given state once she is already hanging out there. I am not sure what sort of magic I thought might happen during the commute home, but I guess I was hoping All Things Considered offered the alchemical secret of turning disaffected, scattered working girl into inspired, focused epiphany girl in the span of a thirty minute drive.

And so, I still have absolutely no idea if I am supposed to work toward escaping the relatively safe and predictable world of a salaried, benefit laden job in higher education (not that anything is all that stable these days) or if I am supposed to take all those risks and step into a “career” of my own creation. But, at least I am coming to understand the law of physics in my professional and creative lives and have stopped believing that I can make gold from the ashes of an unlived day.

I am dedicating myself to my job anew, and daring myself to look at every task and every person with fresh eyes. I am willing to risk offering all of myself to my position for the hours that I am paid to do so. Heck, if I do that maybe I can stop blogging about work on my own time!

What are your strategies for getting through the workday? Do you have this sense of tension too?

Those of you freed souls that we office-dwellers envy – what is it like on the other side? Any secrets you’d like to share with the class?

The Dance with Difficulty: Learning and the “Hard Stuff”

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“I’m just glad to hear that someone else is doing something that’s hard.”

My dear friend Lady Bird said this to me in one of our many conversations in which we hash out the contents of our souls and describe the decor of our interior castles. She was responding to a comment I made about how challenging it was to practice all I was learning in my healing artists’ school. This healing work was asking more of me, mind, body and spirit, than I had ever imagined.

As an English major, I remember being envious of my friends who were studying more technical things. I longed to be immersed in brand new concepts in the way that the biology majors learned about obscure physical processes and the psychology students learned about the activities of the brain.

It wasn’t that every poem and novel didn’t offer new gateways into knowledge – in many ways it was much more limitless than the structures of scientific theories. It was just that everything was so open ended and there were so few “right” answers that I sometimes felt a little at sea. We would all read the same books and compose completely different papers that flowed in countless directions. I was full of free floating thought (isn’t that what liberal arts educations are supposed to give you – the ability to think?), but I felt that I was getting little concrete information. My brain was learning expansion, but not necessarily discipline.

As my days as a student become a smaller and smaller percentage of my life (funny how that happens – when I was 22 I could say that I had spent 10% of my life in Ireland – I don’t want to do the math to know what it is now!), I look at that legacy of how I learned to learn.

What is my relationship with gathering and retaining knowledge now?

And, what does it mean to embark upon learning something that’s hard?

dsc00095So much of life is already “hard.” Finding work that sustains you economically, mentally, emotionally. Taking steps to be physically and mentally healthy. Maintaining relationships and finding the balance between caring for ourselves and others. Monitoring all of the suffering in the world and making whatever small steps we can to alleviate it. Coping with pain and death and debt and loneliness

Getting through the day is so often challenging enough, why take on any more stuff? We have so many practical and emotional battles to fight, why add more information and “to dos” to the list?

This morning I started looking back on the last few years of my life. There have been countless challenges that have forced me to grow as a person and I know I have learned thousands of essential lessons.

I have read hundreds of books and meandered down countless avenues of thought. And yet, I have enjoyed the luxury of being my own teacher, putting the book down when the prose got too thick or the philosophy deviated too much from what I thought I wanted to absorb.

Last week, I mentioned that I still thought about how I had decided against pursuing my PhD. Though it is still in the back of my mind as a path not taken, I treasure the freedom I have had to pursue whatever wisdom strikes my fancy.

Now, I find myself in a completely other kind of study. It is wildly open ended as I use all of my creative powers in service to another’s healing process, and yet there is groundwork to be laid and structures to be learned first. I find my brain needing to adapt to a whole new sort of discipline that can let me fly free and stay grounded at the same time.

dsc001831We are still in the time of a year’s fresh new thoughts and dreams. Maybe this is a good moment for you to consider how you learn new things and how you engage with stuff that’s “hard.”

Is there information that begs to be absorbed in a new way? Are there challenges that ask for a different sort of attention?

What new territory is asking to be claimed and explored?

Visions of Mary? What Are You Talking About, Woman?

In yesterday’s post about the way I have come to understand the connections between Christmas and the Winter Solstice, I mentioned that I have been having visions of Mary lately.

There was no simpler way to talk about how, while I am in meditation, I see images of an every changing woman who is named Mary and who gave birth to the child we have come to call Christ.dsc00983

Who do I think I am and when did I start having visions?

If I were better schooled in mysticism, I might have a better vocabulary for these exchanges that take place within my heart and head. Anything I have read has always applied to spiritual masters like Teresa Avila who levitated and could say without hesitation that they had been touched by the Divine. I am certainly not to be counted amongst such company.

In my healing artists’ classes we have talked about the images one receives when working on a client or just walking down the street. They seem unbidden these colors and pictures and emotions. They are bits of consciousness so foreign to our own way of knowing the world and so seem like they must come from an external source. Our intuitive centers must be so open that we are receiving messages from new sources all the time.

Or, these visions seem like such intimate extensions of our own souls that we are ecstatic to realize we are stepping deeper into our true selves. Such breakthroughs seem Heaven sent, such understanding a gift from God.

Either way, my classmates and I wondered about where these ideas came from. We worried that while in guided meditation we were just inventing our experiences, walking through the heady terrain our imagination rather than through the secret vaults of the soul. We were concerned that any guidance we received during a healing session was just judgment twisted into a therapeutic shape.

“I don’t have any intuitive power. I just make this stuff up!” we all feared.

And then our teacher offered a revolutionary idea: it doesn’t matter where any thing that dances through our minds actually comes from. If it was put into our heads, we must have been meant to notice it and experience it.

I see lots of holes in this theory. There are entire sections of the Vatican dedicated to determining whether people have had authentic experiences of the Virgin or whether they are charlatans with a crafty streak. The entire realm of faith is a dangerous dance between true relationship with God and the clouds of overactive cerebral cortices. Seers and liars – I think the two have become inextricably tangled in all too many ways.

dsc00637And yet, this explanation is most comforting to me as I try to describe my new understanding of the intimate relationship between the rhythm of nature and the traditions of Christianity. I am not begging for attention by talking about this new way that I see Mary. I am not hoping to be canonized and make New Paltz the next Lourdes.

I have been envisioning Mary and gaining new wisdom from these phenomenal moments. Am I placing a sacred face on recycled bits of knowledge I have gathered along my way? Perhaps. But, if in this dialog between Self and Soul one of the players is going to wear a beautiful mask, I couldn’t ask for more than to have her wear the sweet, complicated face of the Great Mother gliding across my inner landscape in shining blue robes.

What would it be like if we took our intuition and the images that appear to us a little more seriously? What if we stopped denigrating these experiences as mere trifles of the overindulged imagination?

How much could we learn – from ourselves, from the world around us, and, yes, even from God – if we close our eyes and allow ourselves to have a dialog with whichever wisdom bearers come to call?

And First I Promise to Look Within: Healing the Self to Heal Others

Lugano, Switzerland

“Physician, heal thyself.”

I never actually understood what that meant, and until just now I did not even realize it was a proverb from the Gospel of Luke.

What sort of medicine people was Jesus addressing? How did the middle eastern doctors of 2000 years ago approach their craft? Would I recognize the roots of my own energy healing work or were they the precursors of the conventional western practitioners of today? Was it about getting deep into the causes of dis-ease or were they offering pills to treat the symptoms?

Undoubtedly, there are countless excellent, compassionate MDs out there, dedicated professionals who look at their patients as entire beings and not just a chest cold or an infection or a bout of depression. At the same time, the grueling nature of medical school and a health care system that is focused on quantity and expediency rather than quality and attention must make it impossible for most modern physicians to really focus on their own well being.

This is not intended to be a rant about the state of modern medicine or any claim that what I am learning and practicing is any better than anyone else’s path. Instead, I play with this quotation because I am considering how I must heal myself before I will ever effectively heal anyone else.

If I ever make any claims to have arrived as a healer or as a conscious individual, I am deeply sunk in a damaging illusion. This is not the self deprecating cry of a person lacking confidence. It is simply the awareness that I am new here in the world of healing and wisdom and faith and have more to learn during every moment of every day. I can only pray for an open heart and an open mind and the love of patient people who will help foster this new rush of passion I find growing within me.

Today I found myself growing frustrated by some whom I love and respect .  She just can’t seem to quit sweating the small stuff. I just wanted to ask her to evaluate the steady stream of complaint and reaction that kept flowing from her lips and help her realize how unhelpful it all is – both to herself and her audience.

Even as this urge welled up inside me and my look of disbelief began to play across my face as she continued to speak, I knew that I was listening with ears of judgment, not of compassion. I climbed up on my spiritual high horse and began to pity her for the ways she squandered her energy and let every setback shake her to the core.

Later, worried about my own reaction to the situation, I described it all to a kind and generous friend who helped me talk through it all until I realized that I was not really upset with this woman’s behavior, but by the shadows of myself that I saw in her. The moment I allowed myself to sit behind my eyes and toss my enlightened mane, I was not greeting her with healing energy, but instead with the cold detachment of someone relieved that she knew a better way to live.

I needed to feel this flash of shame so I could step back and remember that I am a novice at this pursuit of living a wise and graceful life. The good work I can offer to the world must first flow through me, body, mind and spirit. Only when I have drank deep my own medicine can I reach out and confidently offer it to others.

Life, A Constant Process of Remembering

Going through my notes from my healing class from a week ago, I came across another little sip of wisdom that is opening up a new universe of thought for me:

Life is a constant process of remembering.

Anna's shot, the lawn

Either you look at this idea with a belief in reincarnation – that we gathered this wisdom in past lives and are trying to re-collect our thoughts in this next spin through life. Or, it has nothing to do with how many times you might have walked the earth. If we all came from the Great Source, then we once sat beside God and had access to all transcendence. To live is to try to get back to that place of Oneness.

Striking out on a spiritual path can be frightening. We are shaken from our slumber when we leave behind the malaise of daily life and look at the world with wide, fresh eyes that seek the sacred in everything.

It may have been a restless sleep, full of nightmares and cold sweats, but the bad dream of an unexamined life is at least a familiar one. To abandon those chilly, but accustomed nights can be nearly impossible when the alternative is a lonely walk into the undiscovered country of the spirit.

We know that leaving behind our ties to the pedestrian and the limiting have to be dissolved, however, if we want to free ourselves an experience a new way of being. The routines that bind us to stunted dreams and unrealized potential have to be dissolved.

How might we open ourselves to the possibilities of a journey into consciousness if we think of it not as a rush of brand new spiritual revelation, but as a process of recalling that which our souls already know? What if it is not a leap into the unknown, but a gentle process of sinking gently into the loving embrace of the Mother?

Suddenly, a thought strikes me:

We go through the process of being human so that we can learn to be more divine.

Still Sewing Together These Remnants of Self

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Tonight was my writing group’s holiday dinner. A mightily different crowd of people from my healing class, but a sweet and generous atmosphere all the same. I am the youngest in the group by a good twenty years, with the majority of the women already enjoying a well deserved retirement. There is talk of grandchildren and good therapists and the best female Episcopalian ministers, and, of course, books that change lives.

When asked about how my novel was going, I hesitated because, truth be told, fiction has taken a back seat to my healing work and my spiritual explorations and the words that I scatter here. For all my talk of integrating the self and walking around with a whole perspective, I suddenly found it difficult to marry my worlds.

There wasn’t the luxury of time or space to explain this whole other aspect of myself to a group of laughing ladies sipping champagne. They know me as the girl who writes stories about a painter of churches who struggles with his marriage and his faith. Smiling and nodding, they moved on to talk of waters more easily navigated, more updates on people they had known since their now grown children were small.

It certainly was not disinterest or rudeness that kept them from asking what sort of healing I do. I realized quickly, that for all their worldliness and their fascination with the human experience, energy healing was unfamiliar territory and required an introduction in a different setting. In the same spirit, to a group generally still wary of computers, mentioning that I kept a blog might not mean an awful lot.

Tonight was a valuable lesson for me in the art of carrying around a complete sense of self, but being alright with the fact that some people are tuned into smaller slices of who I am. To walk around constantly needing to flaunt my wholeness and announce myself as a writer and a healer and a spiritual seeker and a person with a library operations manager is just too much stuff – both for a business card and for polite conversation. All of those things are just details anyway – important details that describe how I spend my time, but details all the same that can never describe the true essence of who I am.

Still, I came home with a full belly and a slightly confused head. How will I sew the various remnants of my life together? It is one thing to know that it is not necessary for colleagues to understand the changes in my life – if they notice anything it might be that my rougher edges have been smoothed. But in a social situation, it is a little different to realize that it will be challenging to explain my shifts in priorities and talk about the things that truly matter to me.

I know that it will just take patience, and that I should not expect all of my revelations (understanding myself as a healer, as someone who communicates to people in a space like this) to take root in a week.

Isn’t one of the first lessons of writing “show, don’t tell“? When I walk through life wearing a cloak stitched with the wisdom I have gathered on my new path, I think I’ll find these worries will have flown with the moths that chewed up my old disguises.

A Tricky Word: Extraordinary

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We’re going to be extraordinary

Seven years ago I sat in a college theater watching a friends’ production of Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others and this line, like a well aimed arrow, got lodged in my heart.

I carried around the burden of this drive to be extraordinary like a sick woman bears a prognosis that she has six months to live.

Contentment scared me because I equated it with settling for my still imperfect life. The experience of the ins and outs of daily existence made me feel like I was stuck in one big waiting room praying I would soon be released into the next stretch of life where things really counted.

Always on the run from the mundane, I chased after at ever elusive hopes that magic and transformation would find me even as I raced around in a panic. There was no chance that I could ever find peace in meditation – all about embracing the present moment – because I was convinced that the present moment was just a big, fat, ugly reminder of all that I had failed to do.

It was a well meaning sort of madness, since all I really wanted was to lead a “worthwhile life,” but it was a destructive madness all the same. Essentially, I was convinced that unless I totally revised my uninspired every day life, I would end up a dissatisfied fifty year old, regretting my lost youth and unused potential.

Then one day I realized I was comfortable in my own skin.

Ok, it’s not a complete transformation, I definitely admit. I still get cranky about work sometimes and I fret that I will not see my name on the spine of a book by age thirty and I panic that there are not enough hours in the day to be a writer and healer and a wife and a professional and someone who actually SLEEPS, but I’ve stopped rushing to some undefined place of “achievement.” I know this feeling has been creeping up slowly, but I feel like I just woke up a few days ago and realized: I AM leading a worthwhile life.

Learning that to heal someone is to facilitate her awakening definitely lead to this epiphany. That definition finally lead me to accept what we have heard so many times – to change the world, help bring change to one other person.

The other thing that made me realize I actually can be the change I wish to see without changing everything was watching my teacher and my healer in action. These women may get to be well known someday, but for now, they are effecting amazing transformations in the worlds they directly touch each day. They wish to get their ability to heal and their message of possibility out there, but they are not driven by a need for recognition or because they believe that what they have is not enough.

I am still striving to make what improvements I can, but I think I am finally doing it from a place of fullness rather than a place of fear that I might not be enough. It seems this is the only way to really reap what we sow. Who knew that the best way to move forward was not to project yourself into an always distant future but to be happy standing still for a moment?

A Smooth Landing Back in the “Real World”

When we stepped from the cozy den of our teacher’s home, with its great bellied wood stove and the incense flavoring the air, the coldest winter wind of the season tried to steal the breath from our throats. Naked trees shivered and swayed in the frosty air and the taste of December settled on our lips.

One of my classmates sighed and said, “Back to the real world.”

Buddha in the snow

I swear I spoke from a place of truth deep inside of me, and not from any false optimism when I replied, “But that was the real world.” I meant that though our three day healing artists’ class had been transformational and downright otherworldly, it had actually happened and it was part of the reality our group has been blessed enough to know on this earth.

This feeling carried me through to the moment, a little over twelve hours later, when I walked into my office and managed to still wear a gentle smile. My previous weekend-long classes had spat me into Monday mornings with a sense of dread and discombobulation. Meditation and healing work had nothing to do with balancing budgets and book shifting projects and I had felt lost between the two worlds.

Today, however, I was amazed by the blissful sense of integration that bore me through the day.  I had managed to bring the healer that I know myself to be through the doors of the workplace. At last, I felt a sense of wholeness that was almost always lacking when I sat down at my desk and interacted with colleagues.  I’d had enough of leading a life that was disconnected with itself.

It is time to stop believing that we are more than one person, that we can effectively slice ourselves up into little pieces and give our spirits to God, and our love to our families, and our practicality to our work. We are all complex, multifaceted creatures with our fingers dripping with all different colors of finger paint, but that rainbow is all unified by one hand, one arm, one being who dances in many different worlds.

I have been struggling with a sense of desperation because I felt like a fraud in every part of my life, especially as I tried to reconcile my professional/working self and my healer/writer/seeker self. No piece of me could get my full attention or dedication because I was so busy slicing myself up into discrete portions.

Many months ago, a dear friend counseled me that all of my worlds did have a sense of harmony and did make sense because they all had one essential element in common: ME.

Her wisdom did not take root in my heart until I walked through this workday and realized that my true self really was the fulcrum that balanced my two worlds.

I cannot manage people and projects if I do not come to everyone with an open heart and a belief in the interconnectedness of all beings. I cannot thrive as a writer and a healer if I do not use the organized, disciplined parts of my brain. My different identities have always colored the others in my closet of characters. The diversity of my experiences and abilities have always been a source of power for me, however untapped and unrecognized.

We all carry around an entire universe of possibility. How many of us have trouble finding the compatibility that truly does exists between the different corners of that universe? How much more powerful can we be if we stop drawing lines in the sand of our consciousness and embrace true integration?

What new forms of harmony and understanding might thrive in this world if we can first find a way to create such a sense of balance within?

Healing is the Dance to Awakening

And so the first year of my healing classes concluded today. For all of the mad and beautiful directions that I have flown in the last few days, I give you something simple, a definition of healing that I love to wrap my mind around:

To heal someone is to facilitate her awakening.

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It is not about the healer, it is not about specialized training, it is not about trying to do anything specific. It is about helping another person, in some small way, move from the fog of daily life into a place of glittering awareness.

Again, that idea of acting the midwife rises to the surface, and again it has nothing to do with the physical journey of bringing forth a child. The deeper I get into training as a healer, the less mystical the process begins to seem in some ways. I am realizing that the nation of healing is a truly democratic one, a place that is open to all people who look upon others with compassion and wish for the very best in this world.

Every day, I begin to understand that change really does begin within the individual and then ripples into the greater pool of life. This belief allows me to say that healing really is as simple as opening our eyes to our true selves. From that place of wholeness we can then see that we are all connected to the Divine Source. Connection to the Great Spirit, in turn, binds us all to one another because if God is in one of us then God is in all of us. We can always hold that sacred nature in common with all beings.

We are not all called upon to take up the title and duties of healers, but we are all born into a relationship with the earth and the life that surrounds us. In that relationship can we find the connection and the compassion to help carry others along to new senses of awakening?