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