Tossing Aside the Halo

Sister Mary Epiphany has left the building.

img_2031By that I do not mean that I am making a departures from being the Girl Who Cried Epiphany. Instead, I am giving up on my bid for sainthood.

This whole awakening to my true self and realigning with my spirit has been a long time coming. There has been time to consider the girl I was and the woman I started to be. There has been anger at the mistakes I made. Fortunately, it has taken some time, but I have come around to forgive a lot of those failures and cruelties and misjudgments.

In this whole process of eliminating all of the static that was sidetracking me from really figuring out what I wanted from life and what I was meant to do in my time on the planet, I forced myself into a type of penitence that was probably more extreme than the modern Catholic Church would ever have asked from me.

I lavished my energy on trying to undo the wrongs of the past by looking as benevolently as possible on my present. A good plan, for certain, but the way I was going about it all was rather exhausting.

A friend and I would discuss the differences between necessary venting and soul-sapping complaining. I would see her point about how repression is a really bad thing, but I was pretty convinced that I had to mind my manners and police my exclamations of frustration as much as I could. I had years of snarky negativity to make up for. It was time to start accentuating the positive and willing the negative into oblivion. No matter what I was going to clean up my act and letting the universe know that all along I had secretly been a compassionate, tender person trapped under a brash and bristly exterior.

Of course, it was impossible to be so unbearably good all the time. Invariably, the angst would bubble forth and I’d end up feeling so damn guilty for getting lost in the crusade to find my inner bodhisattva. Not only was a mean and dark-tinged person, I was also lousy at being a good person!

(No worries, I am quite aware of the ridiculous nature of these extremes. It just seems I have to walk through these sudden fires to learn my lessons all too often!)

But lately, I realize that some things are just, well, true. It is still more than true that everyone is carrying around her own universe and that infinite galaxy of experience deserves honor. But, it is also true that sometimes people are uninspired or lazy of bigoted or just plain nasty.

dsc00207Recognizing that every unique snow flake of a human being who crosses my path may not be pleasant or kind doesn’t have to lessen my commitment to spreading love and light. Instead, it offers a much needed reality check. And beyond just recognizing that some people are not fulfilling their potential as bearers of similar light, I am now allowing myself to admit that I do not have to like them or excuse them.

I have found great freedom in just being able to say, “Yeah, well, we know he’s always been arrogant and dismissive. So what?” I think that it is ok to recognize something like that and then just move on, incorporating that knowledge as necessary so the job can get done and the day can still flow along.

When I got tangled up in delusions of grace, trying to look with my benevolent, saintly eyes on all of the ugliness in the world, I was left feeling too unmoored. I was not living fully in reality when I refused to admit that sometimes I got angry and sometimes things were unfair and sometimes people were disappointing.

So, I think I will probably lose my place on the ballot to be voted the next Saint of the Hudson Valley. But hey, the angels just might be ok with occasionally letting my otherwise kind heart tell it like it is…

The Struggle with Humility

Stephan de PalyFor the better part of a year I have been working with Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle, a refashioning of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. Part of me feels guilty about spending all of this time with this derivation of such a classic text, with all of its modern directions about “Soul Work” and journaling, but I have to trust my 21st century spirit and give her what she needs. Though I’ve had the original out from the library for ages (in the guise of two tragically plain looking volumes that hold 1960s translations of the saint’s complete works) I know that my chances of really reading unmediated Teresa is rather remote, while I know I will give time to the process as Myss lays it out.

Before you can come anywhere near the pyrotechnics of the soul that mark the mystic’s experience (and I use that term facetiously, knowing that a great deal of the journey to the Divine is rooted in silent communion rather than blinding visions and moments of levitation) one has to work with what Teresa calls the “reptiles.” These are the fears and hang ups and frailties that keep you from real communion with your sacred self. The reptiles are the petty shreds of the all too human preoccupations that keep us from embracing divinity.

Myss introduces humility as a necessary “quality of character” as one walks the spiritual path; understanding it builds the essential foundation as you journey upward to the turrets of the soul castle. She writes: “humility allows you to recognize an acknowledge all the positive qualities of body, mind, and spirit in another person”; “humility disarms the competitive voice”; and “humility enables you to understand another person’s motivations and to transcend any negativity.”

It’s written in a bit of a self-helpy way, but all of these things seem really quite wonderful and I can certainly get excited about the positive outcomes engendered by embracing humility and shifting the way I relate to others. At the same time, I do not think I had ever thought about the concept of humility before I picked up this book; it certainly was never a quality I strove for. What does one think of besides kids who grew up in tiny houses (humble beginnings) and someone forced to eat their words (humble pie)? I, like so many others, was raised to be an achiever; you have to sell your skills and make sure that all of your accomplishments were recognized and applauded. Putting others first all of the time is a good way to be labeled one of the “nice” girls in class, but it is not how you get to be known as interesting or clever.

I have an awful lot invested in being considered interesting and clever, so the realization that my wittiest lines so often come at the expense of others has been a vicious reptile to wrestle with. It is this resistance to letting go of what I tend to see as hallmarks of my personality (rather than banal cruelties) that has kept me in this first mansion for months, knowing that I must go back and peel away endless layers of resistant false self. So many corners of my being are shocked to learn that the goal is recognize myself to be a humble servant of God.

That really is the ultimate goal: to figure out how to act humbly on this earth with all that you meet so that you are prepared to approach to Divine with devotion unencumbered by the petty mandates of the ego. At this point I am willing to declare it a worthy enterprise, but it doesn’t seemto be a quality that contemporary living has prepared me for. I have some more work to do so that I can fight the belief that I will need to wear a sign that declares “I’m not being shy/dull/retiring, I’m being HUMBLE!”

And so I close another entry, wondering whether I am transgressing the humility code as I hope that people find my words intriguing enough to have reach the end…