Thursday, December 29, 2011

Water as surrender

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My swimmer, based on Picasso's/pastel on paper © 2011 Cathy Barney

Water, for me, really does have living qualities. It has taught me much about spirituality; particularly trust, patience, rhythm and surrender.

To some degree, you do have to trust the water to hold you. You must believe that it will support you by giving yourself to it, without losing yourself in it – if that makes any sense. Something new is created between what the water offers and what we must give up. Together, this something between is formed.

Water is 11 times denser than air, so we learn our bodies move and work differently here. We can feel less in control until we trust and practice this way of being. Parts come naturally, others are learned. Experiencing being in the water over time shapes the unnatural into the familiar and, in my case, beloved.

Breath may be more important in water because we have to pay attention to it. It allows us to submerge for periods and keeps the fluidity in our movement when we are aware and using it purposefully. This combination of in sync breathing and movements creates a bodily rhythm that can become calming and meditative. I usually have to burn off some frustration and busy-mindedness first. When I find the balance and my rhythm, it is magical as I glide almost effortlessly along. Even the drag becomes part of the patterned movement.

Describing how to surrender is difficult because it isn’t just giving in or up. This act is more creative than that. Surrender is, really, all of the above: trusting the water to hold you, patience in being in it and finding your rhythm. When you strike that balance, there is a newness in the space. All you and something else, merged as the boundaries between skin and water recede. Today as I was swimming, I noticed it comes as what’s inside myself fuses with what’s outside. And for me, that feels divine and requires me to let go of thinking and control.

The living water is life-giving, supportive, healing, renewing, creative, loving, challenging, strengthening, soothing, calming, discharging, yet also demands respect and gratitude.

This living water has taught me so much about my spirituality. It is a tactile way I experience the divine.

Dive in!

• What is my experience of water?
• How do I surrender?
• What similarities does that share with my experience of the divine?
• Where else do I surrender in my life?
• What new emerges when I do?

as I dance
down the steps,
I find myself
gliding off

under the ropes
headfirst and
without my arms

like a dolphin
dipping under one
lane barrier and
into the next

the invitation
fully accepted,
I dive right in

Monday, December 26, 2011

Held somewhere apart

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Tried NOT to dwell on the thought that I needed a second mammogram all of last week and I did well in not keeping it front and center, but it did gnaw a bit, always at the back of my mind. I presume that's natural. This is the third time in 12 years I've been called back. Each time I worry a little less, telling myself it was ok last time, but remembering my mother's sister who died of breast cancer.

I did not feel ill in any way. As a matter of fact, I have slept better and had less pain than in months. Friday morning I did all of the chaturangas (holding a push-up position as you slowly lower yourself down) without straining in yoga and slid into upward dog with ease. I felt strong and healthy.

I was greeted by Kitty, a wonderful imaging technician I had remembered from previous years. She put me right at ease. We discussed the variety of scenarios (one picture may be enough, the radiologist may ask for more or order a sonogram), but that I would definitely meet with a doc that afternoon and know my results PERIOD. No going home wondering.

As I undressed, Kitty explained that the more pressure I could take, the better the scan would be. I held my breath (easy thanks to regular swimming and yoga) as the machine pushed. Finally, I called enough. She got the film and said that was a hefty amount of pressure. I was ushered back to the closet-like changing room and told I would know something in ten minutes. I picked up the copy of Caroline Myss' Sacred Contracts I had brought along and focused on that. I was reading about her clients that began to see the incidents in their lives more metaphorically. I was particularly entranced by her series of dreams of being grounded and not allowed on a plane as she finished to complete her first book. It meant her book wasn't ready yet, even if she thought it was. I compared that to the book I seem to have been working on for ages, but know teaching it right now is more important and feeding me to create an even stronger work.

The doctor roused me from somewhere else. I had also been praying that I could handle whatever the news. It was all so dreamlike, the radiologist saying the picture was so much different than the original and that everything was normal. "Go out, buy yourself something, you deserve it, enjoy the holiday and we'll see you back in a year." He knew it had to have hit me hard. I thanked him, only it seemed like I was on autopilot and observing from above. It was all so surreal. I closed the door and as I dressed, tears streamed down. Tears of relief, tears of de-stress, but, mostly, tears of gratitude.

I had felt held in a very safe place, somewhere aloof from the chatter of the world, from the instant I entered the imaging center door. It all confirms for me that God does have special work for me, as he does us all, and this was not going to get in the way! This experience has opened me to a newer place; one I am not yet able to define.

That night I wrapped presents until midnight, awoke at 7 am (this is the kind of energy I used to have BF/before fibro) and started right back in with Christmas prep. My youngest fought me tooth and nail all day long. I still don't seem to remember that when I bury myself in a project and she's around, I can't detach myself from her. I finally closeted myself in the small kitchen bathroom and sobbed. I did not know what she wanted from me [and told her so, then we embraced] and then I knew my next action was to haul my body to the gym and swim it off ... every iota of stress from the health scare and the holidays. It was so clear: I had neglected any self care. Mechanically, objectively, as if I were not part of the decision, I gathered my gear and told my family I'd be back when it was time to go to my mom's.

The pool was gloriously empty and bathed in afternoon sunlight. After a frenetic swim, I grabbed two noodles and floated for what seemed like en eternity. Again, I felt held and held apart.

I don't know what this is, but it feels very right and the next step in wherever I am headed. I surrender to it.

• How do I handle tenuous situations?
• How have I learned to surrender into Spirit?
• When have I felt held apart?
• What did that teach me?
• To which work is Spirit currently calling me?

took a deep inhale,
then exhaled audibly and
shut the car door

did much the same
as I opened the
imaging center door

after that, I don't
recall actively participating
I sorta sailed through

conversing with the
technician, waiting
alone, reading

then hearing the
doc say the scan 
was normal

where was I?

being held
somewhere apart

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I believe

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I can live a rather Scrooge-like
existence sometimes,
insulating myself from the world.
But then I am the poorer.

Poorer without the
connections to others,
my deeper self and,
mostly, with God.

When God is awakened
in my heart, much like
in the beloved Dickens’
character, I am giddy.

Giddy with an
unconditional love
that feels like
no other.
Love for my
children is the feeling
that comes closest.

I like to call it
That’s what we named
it when we held our babies,
skin to skin.

Nestled up close where,
I believe, Spirit would
always have us.

It is we who wander.

And for me, it is the
vulnerable baby
we are reminded of
this time of year …
in the throngs of charged
shoppers and baited bargains
… the small being that someone
who loved us so much sent,
that reaches inside of me.

This baby was a gift, I
believe. God’s way of
touching us with our own
humanity, teaching us
there is a place within,
that Jesus modeled,
where we can always
be naked to naked.

When we unwrap
our Scroogeness,
we have the best
gift possible:
ourselves as
God sees us.

That’s when we
know God’s pure
gaze of love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Death as teacher

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There's a shadow on your mammogram.

Those words from last Friday haunt me a bit, though not as much as if I hadn't been called back before.

Yes, it IS in the back of my mind as I wait a week for another go-round. Why do these things always happen over the holidays, a time when it isn't possible to get right back in?

Yesterday at a Quaker meeting of those interested in discussing/learning how to be with those suffering and dying, we each were asked to articulate our feelings about death and after. I repeated what I have written here: "Living is a helluva lot harder than dying" – in my opinion. I said I don't really fear death, though I am not ready.

If the mammogram proves to be something more than a shadow, I dread the struggle. As a healer friend said, breast cancer is really a chronic condition these days. "I already have one of those and don't need another," I replied.

Life is a struggle, but in that struggle is what makes us grow and become more of who we are.

I'm not sure how hard I'd struggle against death, but that's easier to state when that is not my condition. I'd probably fight because of my daughters; the thought of leaving them motherless is heart-renching. I explained in the suffering/dying group that I never have a problem at a funeral of walking up to the casket and speaking to the family. I see how others shy away. The family wants its pain acknowledged – mostly, I hate to generalize. I learned that working in the funeral industry and getting to know a wonderfully gifted and known thanatologist/grief counselor. When my grandmother died, I was about 10 and we, as grandchildren, were curious about her body at the viewing. I touched her just to see. It, definitely, wasn't her.

Unlike many of my brave friends, though, I have not been with someone at death – near death and very ill, but not at the moment of death. The stories I've heard confirm that it's been pretty peaceful; hardest on those left behind.

This seems like an odd time of year to be thinking about death; on the other hand, winter is the season of hibernation and death, preparing for rebirth in the spring. I have been contemplating what in me must die this season to birth something else. I am leaning toward my propensity to worry. Yes, I have shed some of my psychosis, but I believe it needs to die. It is blocking my ability to live in the present. That is what's attempting to come forth.

As someone once said: live in the present; it's a gift. That's what I want for Christmas.

• What currently gnaws at the back of my mind?
• How do I struggle to not let it overwhelm me?
• What deaths have I already died?
• What is waiting to be born in me?
• What do I feel about Death?

death for myself
is a completely
different matter 

– in my mind –

than losing
a loved one

it seems my life
has been a series
of stripping, loss
and mini deaths

preparing me
for the final


yet how will
I feel when it
eventually calls?

no regrets, I pray
... if I learn to live
in the NOW

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shining out into the world

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re you living into your name? Have you ever even thought about it? I hadn't much until Sunday's worship when I heard a message about living from the heart, which we then practiced the rest of silent worship.

It was overwhelmingly powerful for me. Mostly because it affirms where I live most of the time – a place I struggle with because it runs so counter to our culture and the direction most people are oriented. The minister spoke of compassion as being the strongest emotion/feeling we experience; that some of us have developed our vagus nerve more fully than others. Science confirms that this nerve wanders from the brain stem through the heart and into the abdomen. It affects the throat, voice box, windpipe, lungs, heart, esophagus, intestinal tract and colon. This nerve connects the heart and brain, letting the heart communicate to the brain and not the reverse. How completely interesting and affirming! By the way, Donne, our minister, says we can best strengthen our vagas by practicing even greater compassion.

So often my heart feels as if it's going to explode out of my chest. There's swirling and energy I can barely contain. It's not a medical issue because I've had that checked. I've wondered if it's stuck energy, untapped creativity or trapped emotion. But after Sunday, I realize  it's that I have to let God's love flow through me, not just into me. I've been hoarding it, rationalizing that it was mine alone.

It's not. So I really focused on letting it pour out of every cell in my being, into those behind and around me, into the entire congregation and beyond.

Donne paraphrased Rumi about compassion opening the heart much like a rose flowers. She had a hard time speaking it without intense emotion. It sparked a similar reaction in me as I heard her words.  I had already been toying in the silence with the fact Catherine means pure. But now I was recognizing how my heart also blooms, much like my maiden name Rose. Catherine Rose: pure rose/heart. Such a gift my parents have given me.

I want to fully live into this awareness. The revelation helps me see more clearly who I am as well as the gifts I really am called to use. Not waste or abuse. Frankly, I have been fighting who I am because I don't seem to fit most places. I mean really fit. As in feeling completely at home in all that I do and am.

Yesterday, I sailed, glowing, through the day fully aware of my gifts and using them. Today, I woke up after a late night, which threw off my entire schedule, and I began to sink into some despair without my morning swim. Then I remembered this new awareness and decided that, yes, I do need a routine, but the harder days and circumstances will not separate me from the path God has presented.

• How often do I live in my heart?
• How do I experience that?
• What was my most recent act of compassion?
• How have my gifts been revealed?
• Where is God currently leading me and am I following willingly?

living contemplatively
much of the time

it's hard to enter the
real world and

not be touched

by need and hurt –
someone else's

it pierces me deeply

and there, in my heart,
I would let that sit

taking up space inside me
building up in my heart
til I thought I'd burst

then the rose opened
within my chest,
dissolving barriers
and shining out
into the world

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The juicy inner stuff

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Somehow I grew up with the idea that to be a good Christian, God would ask you to give up everything at home and travel far away. There was pain and suffering. That's what we were told missionaries do and we revered missionaries.

Yesterday in the car, it hit me why I have always liked theologian Frederick Beuchner's quote about vocation being "the place your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." Because God calls us where our hearts are.

For years, I have been trying to reconcile the secular world's view of success and happiness within myself and it's never worked. I've had money and I've had time, but I've never had money and time. Time, for me, is way more important: time to discover my inner self, time to build a regular relationship with God, time to nurture others, time to paint, time to write, time to heal, time to become healthy, time to spend with others, time to really listen, time to be quiet, time to reflect.

There's still a small part of me pulling to get that job, look for work and give up my dream. Mostly out of loneliness and some need for affirmation. I am trying to be faithful to where God calls me.

I am being called to surrender not to pain and suffering or moving far away, but to not only do, but believe in the work that gives me the greatest joy: writing, making art and teaching spiritual nurture all bound together by this turtlebox framework that God planted in my heart several years ago. I must trust that it will take me on the path that's right for me as well as provide the necessary resources.

I've been trying to control the process about which piece comes first, what person to approach, when something is finished or not, whether I need to back up and earn money in another way; basically, I have tried to control the business part of the process. It's much easier to let the creative part flow. Our culture doesn't recognize, let alone honor, a business model based on Spirit's leading. But I should.

I attended a new Bible study yesterday. One my mother is leading with a variety of women from different Christian traditions. We're reading Luke and I was immediately struck by Elizabeth's easy way of embracing the announcement of her late-in-life pregnancy, then going off for five months to wait. It was so unlike her husband, who was struck mute because of his disbelief. Mary was just as accepting.

Passages about these women helped me see the connection to my periods of waiting while something of God's forms in me. I am a patient person and feel as if I've been waiting a dozen years for my fruit to ripen. Elizabeth waited much of her life.

It's like I keep sticking my finger in the baking cake, it comes out wet and I tell myself: "It isn't done yet." I want to crank up the temperature and hasten it's doneness, but then it will only be a sloppy mess.

Lord, please teach me to let go of my impatience, comparisons to secular models, need for outside affirmation and revel in the joyful work you have given me!

• What illusion of being faithful have I discovered and am shattering?
• What truth stands in its place?
• Where is God currently calling me?
• Am I patient?
• Am I willing?

how does a soul
do its real work
the juicy inner stuff
that needs tending and time

when it feels alone
in doing so

when it can't
seem to find another
walking the walk

when it doesn't
produce a paycheck
or create exciting
party banter 

how does a soul
leave the loneliness
and outside expectation

replacing it
with God's
presence and promise?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Letting my naked soul out

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Images of corporate worship/pastel on paper/Cathy Barney

Yesterday's message in worship centered on giving rather than receiving. Giving in worship, not just other aspects of life. Praising and opening, not just basking in the alluring silence.

I had a message open in me, but it did not seem right then. Perhaps, now.

I don't come to worship to give or receive. Mostly I attempt to come without expectation, except to wait – which is the entire purpose of Quaker worship: waiting for God.

I do come to be. To be with God, to be with others being with God, to be myself, to be myself with others being themselves with God. I seem to live inside out, yet still manage a protective coating most places. In worship, I unwrap myself into God's loving embrace. It is one of the few corporate places I let my naked soul out.

Of course, I have safe places, such as my studio, where my soul dances naked with Spirit and, sometimes, even with trusted friends.

My buddy Caleb, really my other child (he and Lily were due at the same time), though he chose to be born earlier), at age six said it was his purpose in life to "help people's souls find their dance and dance it."

That's also what I hope worship could be: collective souls dancing joyfully in God's presence: naked, stripped of the identities, filters, fears, expectations and wounds we so often can't leave behind, even temporarily.

• What is worship for me?
• With what do I arrive?
• With what do I leave?
• What happens in the midst?
• What dimension does the corporate aspect of worship offer me?

rushing to get there
on time

never quite making it

dumping the kids
in their class

heaving a heavy sigh
and entering

letting the space
choose me

I like a different

settling in
sinking deep

feeling the
edges fade

finding that wonderful
space between

between wakefulness
and sleep

between consciousness
and dreaming

between hardness
and softness

and truly

with God

Friday, December 2, 2011

Prayer for a fearless life

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Fear/pastel on paper/Cathy Barney

What’s your biggest fear? Can you name it?

I don’t remember being afraid of too much as a child and was somewhat astounded last night as several members of my weekly spiritual-nurture group talked about theirs. You know, the jumping over the floor and into bed so that the dark thing underneath doesn’t reach out and grab you.

I kinda missed out on that, secretly wishing a vampire would take up residence under my bed … though there probably wasn’t room. Weeks after my sister lost a turtle, it crawled out from there, apparently healthy and happy. I haven’t thought about that story in ages: a turtle living under my bed and not a vampire. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t afraid.

Most of you probably know my affinity for turtles and the turtleboxes I create. So, I think this realization is, somehow, important.

Back to the fear discussion, though: as an older adult, I believe I have made up for my lack of this stuff as a child. If I can articulate that fear – and I am beginning to – I can face and deflate it.

It’s not a fear of death; some days that would feel like a blessing. It’s the fear of living the rest of my life as I have the past 13 years: in chronic pain and as someone I don’t always know. She’s weak, confused, needy and unfocused.

That’s hard to see in print and not just as a thought weaving throughout my consciousness.

Weak, confused, needy and unfocused. Those are harsh words and not who I AM. That’s my fear talking, not me. I was always such an optimist (still am underneath), but have let the fibro couch me in the negative: what I can’t do, what I don’t have, how I am less.

If I can shift my thinking, even a little bit, I see through some of that. How, that despite the hardship, I have helped raise two wonderful daughters, completed two years of nurture training at a far distance and expense, delved deeper into my art, continued with some marketing clients, volunteered at my girls’ school and my Quaker Meeting, been able to spend time with my mother on her several long hospital stays, facilitated small groups for over 10 years, delivered retreats and workshops, maintained a regular blog, am writing/revising a book, traveled, pursued personal and spiritual growth, practiced yoga for 12 years, become a graceful swimmer …

Doesn’t look like less. Actually looks kinda like my glass is half FULL.

• What do I fear?
• What happens if I voice it?
• Write it?
• Dissect it?
• What’s my prayer for a fearless life?

body on pins and needles
always afraid, on hyper alert

that I can’t do or be
what I once was

my healer friend talks
about the new normal

what if I define mine?

look at what I
have accomplished
despite anything,

and what I have yet 
to do

that’s my prayer
for a fearless life

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Loving tentacles gently holding

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Water/pastel on paper/Cathy Barney
W - A - T - E - R

Wasn't that the first word Helen Keller signed to her teacher, Anne Sullivan? The wonderful cool gush from the backyard pump prompted her to want to know what it was by name.

Water sparks the same reaction in me.

One of the recent gifts in my life has been the closing of the pool at my local gym for a couple of weeks for maintenance. Of course, I didn't initially see it as a gift. I was bent on finding somewhere else to swim because I knew I'd sink otherwise. I started goggling what other area gyms had pools, if they offered short-term memberships and considering my best option.

Then it hit, they all included some sort of trial by potential members for free, so I started making the rounds. First off was the most spa-like and the one I could least afford at three times the price of my current membership, which was about to expire. Ohhh, but it was wonderful. I could show up with nothing but my suit and everything (unlimited towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion) was supplied, including lap and warm-water pools, sauna, steam room, a luxurious locker room and free coffee. Next was an older, smaller and somewhat-aging facility with a more hotel-sized pool. Finally, an urban gym with a younger crowd, but a gleaming pool hardly used, steam room and sauna.

I received from one-day to one-month free trials at each of these. Of course, I had to endure the sales pitch over and over. Got to be a game with the manager at the urban gym; he knew I wasn't going to join and I knew that he knew.

Today, I went for the last time, even though my gym's pool has been open several weeks. I was lured by the empty pool and the heavenly steam room. All of that happening in the glorious water. It's enough to make the pain melt away if even temporarily. After a brisk swim and stretching, I lingered longer than usual in the steam, soaking up every morsel. I sat in lotus position, deeply inhaling and feeling the layers in me shift ... as if the steam had a healing life of its own. Then I lay down and felt the moist warmth invade my sacrum and lower back. Yummy. I took a hot shower and dried off in the sauna. I was going to make the most out of this last experience.

What is it about the water that speaks to me? It's aliveness? It's healing ability? The fact it renders one close to weightless? Or that it's 11 times denser than air, so is a great strengthener without risk of injury?

My recent astrological report said, for me, water and spirituality are connected. That did not come as a surprise. Often, as I tick off laps, I pray ... well, after burning off the stuff on my mind. It's as if I feel God's loving tentacles gently holding me, yet allowing me to move freely and make choices.

Here, nothing is a burden.

• How does water speak to me?
• What else has that effect on  me?
• Where and how do I receive healing?
• Where do I experience Spirit?
• Where do I feel the balance of being gently held and free?

that initial plunge
is so worth it
almost all weight

and I feel strangely
freed, but also held

free to work through 
whatever, but held
close enough so as not
to drown

breathing deeply
dipping my head under
propelling myself as I
can nowhere else

I feel the energy
I receive it
expend it
thrive on it

and also
pray that it's
healing properties
are there for the next

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Somewhere deep within

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Seeing a physic for clarity? Who'd a thunk. Funkier yet, is my Quaker meeting sent me ... well, to scout out the fair as a potential place to staff a booth. It is the "Victory of Light" festival and Quakers believe that each of us contains God's light within. Many of us – Quaker or not, Christian or not – know it from experience.

I had always wanted to attend this event and this request sealed the deal. It also took the edge off of making it a personal journey, though it would become one. I was going as the observer.

As the observer, I was overwhelmed at the marketplace thick with readers, healers, therapists, sha-men and women, trinkets, crystals, books and anything metaphysical you can imagine. It all seemed too material upon first entrance.

I glanced at the schedule and one talk immediately jumped out at me: the past lives of Jesus. Having just come from an hour of worship, I was looking for something of depth, perhaps even familiar. I ducked in about two minutes late to hear a conversation about the many others Jesus was before he was, well, Jesus. Odd, I thought until I listened longer. The speaker was knowledgable, mentioning the Essenes, Gnostics, and Aramaic as being Jesus' original language. And then he spoke of Edgar Cayce, a name I could only vaguely recall. Cayce was a prominent last-century physic healer with a Christian tradition. Much of his work revolved around past lives. I was riveted, but a little uncomfortable. I had only toyed with the idea before.

My shamanic counselor has hinted that some of what I deal with may be "old" stuff. Now I was thinking that I should investigate this old stuff a bit. I purchased a report from the lecturer that combined my birth details (time, place, location) with readings Cayce had made for others with the same astrological data.

I am still bowled over by what it contained as well as its depth and completeness. I shared it with my longtime spiritual friend, who knows much more about metaphysics, and she was impressed.

I learned that my intertwined affinity for water and spirituality is natural because my moon is in Pisces ... ok, I don't really know what that means. In terms of the past, I have a connection to Atlantis. It is so strange that I felt called to Greece several years ago and chose Santorini and Crete. Some believe Atlantis excited between them. I was drawn to the sea around Santorini and created a ritual of leaving pain behind there because it was evident that, in this place, beauty arose out of chaos (a volcanic eruption that destroyed Santorini and may have caused the decline of the Minoan culture on neighboring Crete).

The reading affirmed and confirmed my calling to ministry in writing, one on one and in groups: exactly what I am doing! It pinpointed areas in which I am challenged and can grow and indicated Jesus is my best role model.

Venturing outside of my norm has opened new possibilities into self exploration and knowledge, shedding more light within. I don't believe this was a random experience.

• How do I experience the light within?
• When have I been called into something out of my comfort zone?
• How has that opened me?
• Opened my spiritual experience?
• In what ways do I see Jesus as model for my life?

darting in
wet from the rain
not knowing
what to expect

but being drawn
to Jesus

in the midst of
crystals, reflexology
and card readings

and finding myself
somewhere deep 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deliciously being cast about

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Expelling ashy black/pastel on paper  Cathy Barney 2011
My pastoral counselor/massage therapist/shaman [how lucky and I?] says I am in my power and I am beginning to believe he's right.

But how come it's still so murky and not this even-keeled, easy way? I ask.

From a distance, it looks like it is, but when you're in it, it's soup, he responds.

So, I'm in the soup churning and bobbing and deliciously being cast about. I think deliciously is the key word. I'm not fighting it so much and, actually, beginning to enjoy the ride and the present. Currently not so attached to the future and recognizing and letting go of the hold the past has had on me. Not easy or one-step stuff.

Last night in the nurture group I facilitate, I asked a friend with an extensive knowledge of Buddhism if the state of enlightenment and not being bothered by anything is realistic. He explained that total enlightenment only comes when we all  reach that space and that some practitioners devote themselves to not attaining enlightenment in this life.

Imagine that: freedom from striving.

The group also talked about experiences and times of revelation: when we are most ourselves. Those were all times we were not striving.

For months, I have been haunted by the idea of something holding me up that doesn't seem quite right. Like it wasn't actually part of me. During a recent emdr (eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing) session, that thing identified itself as a parasite that really meant me no harm, but found a fertile place to live. Followed some days later with intense massage and release, I understand I have been holding some negative emotion or pattern in me that my body has suppressed and is now learning how to let go. Slowly. Layer by layer, the trapped sentiment is being uncovered and ejected and it feels freeing and healing.

Last night, we also talked about surrender, submission and enlightenment being a process, not one grand ah-ha moment.

I think I've been waiting for everything to be aligned in the way that I had envisioned before things can happen and not recognizing it's a process. One that should be nurtured and honored while it's soupy and unfolding, knowing it may always be soup. But delicious soup.

Who's got the crackers?

• When have I felt empowered, in the flow or most like myself?
• How did it feel like soup or something else?
• How present was I?
• How can I learn to be more present in those times?
• What's my most recent revelation or ah-ha moment been?

accompanied deep breathing
peels off the ashy black layers
revealing the baby pink
of new growth


it feels so good to
expel what does not

my body has
forgotten how to
relax, how to be

bit I am

letting go in my studio

Monday, November 14, 2011

Make turtleboxes

Listen to this post:

 Make turtleboxes.

That's IT. That's what I am supposed to be doing right now.

Not running after new clients, proving I am worth hiring.

Not looking for a part-time job.

Not worrying about making money.

Not worrying about not having enough money.

Not lacking purpose.

Not feeling useless.

Not feeling powerless.

All of those things rob my energy and define me in negative ways that aren't me.

Funny thing is, making literal and metaphorical turtle boxes is all I really want to do. It's also what God is calling me to.

So simple, but it took awhile to get here. For various reasons, I suppose.

Me and my Turtleboxes (Autumn Barney photo)
In 2005, as I was finishing a research paper, I felt I needed something more special than a fancy report cover to wrap it in. That's when the idea of creating a turtle box hit. Right away, I could visualize what it would look like: a colorful, sacred art box housed inside a turtle shape. After all, the paper contained a collection of people's experiences of the Divine I felt honored to hear, hold and share. Making the first box, the "Mother," was magical. She was greeted with enthusiastic response at our next gathering, so I decided she would spawn 25 babies when I returned in the fall: one for each peer, teacher and elder. It was a dark summer, brightened by making the baby turtleboxes.

When I shared what I was doing within my Quaker Meeting (church), an artist F/friend disclosed her affinity for the turtle and how in Native-American lore (also in many Eastern cultures I have since discovered), the turtle represents Heaven/Divinity (the domed shell) and earth/humanity (the under belly). Of course, I thought, these boxes are the space where they meet and the right container for these stories.

I have been making them ever since, pausing at times, but never abandoning the idea. In fact, the book that has been forming from my spiritual journey the past 12 years now shares that moniker: Turtlebox Stories: Nurturing the Divine within. That's where I have been placing my energies the last year and a half. A month ago, I began facilitating a small group based on the idea of the turtlebox and the contents of my book. I realize I have the gifts and call to help others, along with myself, create our individual turtle boxes (the space we create for God to enter ... I do believe God is always available, it is we who are not). There is the place in each of us where God resides and we need to learn or remember how to locate it.

I had become stuck with my book, feeling that teaching it might provide new opening or insight. And, it has. I had a recent request for an actual turtle box I am honored to fulfill and it got me thinking that it's been awhile since I've made any and that, right now, is what truly makes me sing.

I don't let myself sing very often because I was told in junior high my voice was worthless. Unfortunately, I listened. I wouldn't even sing in church. But my babies came along and they were the only one listening, so I sang to them.

Yesterday, I did something very much outside of my comfort zone: I sang in my Quaker Meeting as worship. It was terrifying and I argued some with God that I had to tell people first that I was not a strong singer. She said: "Just sing and do it now. Don't stand up. Just sing."

Now She says to make turtle boxes and I have no choice but to listen and obey because my heart knows this it my deepest desire.

• What is something Spirit has made especially clear to me?
• How am I following that?
• How did I initially argue, object or not listen?
• What happens when I surrender?
• How does that make my heart feel?

I thought it was just
something I did for
a project

yes, I loved
every minute of
doing it

and I made more

they elicited
wonderful reactions

guess you could say
they brought joy

something so
seemingly insignificant
from my hands and heart

straight from God

and now She whispers
that is my work

the work for which
I have been searching for
so very long

for now,
I am just
resting in that

Friday, November 11, 2011

Surrendering the burden of myself

Listen to this post:

I am brokenness,
and also healing

I am weak, but able
to tap inner strength

I may hurt,
yet can find the
prayerful place in myself

My pain overwhelms me
until I surrender
from within

I feel diminished, devalued
and still have a piece
of Divinity dwelling in me

I am nothing
and everything

I feel alone and isolated,
yet sense You covering me,
holding me, living
in me

I may think no one
cares or understands,
then I remember Jesus
is here and he
knows the depths of
my sorrows and pain

When I am too full
of carrying the burdens
of the world, when my
back sags and shoulders
ache, I remember to
lay them down

When I believe all
is lost, that life
is just too difficult,
You help me find
peace, courage and serenity
from new depths I am
just discovering

When I lash out at
myself and others,
You gently remind me
that’s my anger, not
me because I am
also Your reflection

When all hope ceases
and I cry for an end,
that is when I feel
Your presence most
and regocnize I have
never been alone

You live within me, not
just above or around,
but inside as a
constant companion

• What's your prayer? Please share it here if you like.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hand in hand with Jesus

Listen to this post:

Last night, in the spiritual-nurture group I facilitate, we talked about early, childhood experiences of the Divine. Seemed only fair as we started out three weeks ago sharing our pain, often stemming from childhood. And, last week, we did an exercise, heart play, that tapped our inner child. Participating in and witnessing that free-form play was magical – and so were the explanations of what each temporary "sculpture" represented.

I [Who am I kidding? I am not in charge, just the messenger who can manage, occasionally, to listen] wanted to use and build on that openness, which was last week's topic, this week as we explored "Deepening Connection."

Our spiritual foundations are laid so very early and we don't often acknowledge or share them, whether joyful or painful. In nurturing children (who really end up nurturing and teaching me), I have rediscovered that natural openness. They have not yet acquired the filters, wounds and baggage we adults bring.

Of course, I have an evening outline and know what the queries we discuss will be. However, I never, fortunately, seem to have time to give them personal thought. I do think that would spoil the movement of Spirit within the group and be an unfair (dis)advantage. It's not an over-thinking, but rather a deep response these questions aim to elicit.

As we were worshipping and reflecting on the question [What is an early, first or natural experience you had with the Divine/Spirit/God?], I was blank for a bit, except for focusing on the early negative memory I had shared two weeks ago. One that was a human/church experience, not of God. And then this precious, tattered book from my childhood floated into my heart and thoughts. "If Jesus Came to my House" is the story of a boy, probably an only child, desperate for companionship and rescued by a one-day visit from Jesus, also a boy. That book taught me more about Jesus than any formal schooling. By reading and loving that story, I realize now that I considered Jesus (filling in for God) as my constant companion. Of course, I was blessed with a twin sister, so have essentially never felt alone except for the times I let my pain isolate me.

This line has always spoken loudest to me:

And then I think I'd show Him the corner in the hall, 
where I'm sometimes frightened by the shadows on the wall.
I always have to hurry when I'm going past at night, 

but hand in hand with Jesus I'd be perfectly all right.

The black-and-white-with-a-spot-of-red illustrations have always captivated me. They're graphic and strong; no iffiness about them. When I googled the title, I came across a blog that shared the text and pages and was astounded at the responses it drew: all very similar to mine. You can access that at http://www.collectiblechildrensbooks.com/2009/04/if-jesus-came-to-my-house.html

Apparently this little book, published 80 years ago, has helped many others know Jesus as a friend when they were children. That early foundation, for me, has been a gift. One I have been blessed to recently rediscover.

• What is an early, first or natural memory I have of the Divine or Jesus?
• How has that created a foundation for my current spirituality?
• How can I tap those early experiences and bring that openness to my current    practice/relationship with God?
• How has an early book, Scripture, conversation, etc., stuck with and guided me over the     years?
• What have children taught me about a relationship with the Divine?

Small in stature,
wide-eyed and willing

through Jesus

Understood that when
someone said my heart
was black with sin,
it wasn't true

Always felt
cradled and

Believed in
the reverence
of nature and animals,
let them reach into
and teach me

My foundation
was set sturdily

Now, my task
is to clear the
clutter and see
that's what's still
holding me up