Friday, June 29, 2012

No more accidents

Embrace (feeling transformed by Spirit and expressing that)
Pastel and paint on paper © Cathy Barney

[I wrote this blog specifically for a contest answering how words have transformed someone spiritually, but I also think it’s appropriate here. Because of a 300-word limit, it is a shorter-than-usual post and without the ending prose-poetry summary. I’d love for you to share how words have done the same for you!]

 Listen to post:
God used to speak to me via auto accidents; probably because it took me a long while to discern her softer whispers. In 1998, I experienced a doozey, which triggered an arduous journey toward fibromyalgia diagnosis, acceptance and healing. Pain has been my constant companion and teacher, inching me closer to Spirit, though I am not always a willing student. Images and words have become my therapy, my lifeline.

Righting what seemed like a wrong directed me toward yoga and Quakerism, a melding of mind, body and spirit. In redefining myself through the lens of disease, I rediscovered art as an opening. A mentor suggested I journal about my art. I had been the journalist who never journaled; I only wanted the facts as they related to telling someone else’s story. Dozens of notebooks and hundreds of blog posts later, I understand the power of words to transform and heal me, unlock and nurture others.

As I wrote about my art, I recognized it was expressing my deepest self. My heart began to flow through my pen and onto the page, softening it to God. For me, journaling and art are my purest forms of prayer. Exposing the deepest, darkest, messiest parts of myself in writing clears the way for Spirit’s transforming light, tapping that of God within and calling me forward. Calling me to be more of who I am. Often, my words end and God’s take over. We have one breath, one heart and one mission: to love. No more, no less.

No more accidents.

• How have I experienced God?
• What has discomfort taught me?
• How has it brought me closer to Spirit?
• How does writing or self expression clarify my relationship to God?
• How have words, mine or another’s, opened me spiritually?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wiggling my toes with joy

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What a roller-coaster week. I have been battling my fears and, just when I felt at my most scared, received wonderful news: that I have been awarded another grant for the under-served kids’ art program I am organizing.

Truthfully, on Tuesday, I was ready to hang it up because of so many obstacles. I came to my studio anyway; I just wanted to be here, in this space that God has called me to create.

I had written an e-mail to my landlord, checking in and asking for some things that had been neglected. I was expecting him to balk. He didn’t. On that note, I collected myself and went to Turtlebox Studio. I made a few calls trying to sort out some new information; someone I trust said transportation is a huge issue for this program. In my simple mind, I thought the fact the school is walkable to these kids was enough. He said I could be held accountable; another trusted source said the kids won’t come unless someone shows up to drive or escort them.

How dim I’ve been, I thought. I believed creating the space and program and offering it were enough. The thoughts spiraled out of control, triggering so many fears: that I had no idea what I was doing, that I’d be personally sued, that I would be forced to move or, when my trial period is up, the rent would be too expensive … yadda, yadda, yadda.

To distract myself, I decided to check e-mail and there it sat: the message that I am the recipient of another Quaker grant*; this one to supply and furnish my art room. Not only that, but there was a bit more available. It also said: “May the abundance of God’s love for you cause you to wiggle your toes with joy!”

I choked up and tears formed. God truly answered my heart cries and kept the promise Jesus made last winter that I would be given what I needed. It was so tangible and came at such a poignant time. There’s no way it could be other than Spirit’s handiwork.

The news helped me relax and see that part of my journey is to trust and not work myself into worry. Trust and I will receive. I heard or read somewhere that worry is a prayer for disaster. And I wrote here several posts back that, for me, trust = energy. So, I’m thinking that trust is a prayer for receiving what I need. And I just got it.

Now, I will sit back and wiggle my toes with joy!

• When have I experienced God breaking through as I am at my worst?
• How is that a game changer?
• What has that taught me about trusting?
• About relaxing into Spirit?
• About gratitude and hope?

consumed with a
bent on a

pressuring myself
to perform
and, well,
do it all

until I buckled
and almost
gave up

then a sunny
reminder that
this is God’s
work, not
just mine

and it’s
supposed to be
energyzing and

God will

all I must do
is trust

*many, many thanks to Good News Associates, their generosity and vision

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No longer ego’s hostage

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Sunday in worship an interesting thought occurred to me: How can I retract my defenses? The tightness and rigidity, let my guard down?

It’s something I have questioned, though in different forms, for a very long time. It may also have been stimulated by my daily Henri Nouwen devotion that said the world pushes us to prove ourselves and that God’s love is opposite and accepting. Do I let the world push me? Why do I feel as if I’m in a continual fighting stance? My body is tried of always standing guard.

I believe God had already begun to give me an answer when, the day before, as the girls and I were Father’s Day shopping, I came across an interesting book, entitled “Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway,” on the clearance rack. Something made me pick it up and start reading. I flipped a few pages in to a section on the levels of fear and that the root of all fears, no matter the specificity, is the fear of not being able to handle what life brings.

For me, it was an OMG moment and I mean that in the holiest and truest sense. I bought the copy and didn’t give it another thought until Sunday afternoon and again, Monday as I continued to read.

I really have grown afraid, throwing myself into victim mode and always being on the defensive. Hense, the tightness. Hard as it is to articulate and admit, I have given my responsibility and power away, blaming circumstances, things and people for my struggle. Mostly, though, I have blamed myself.

Blamed myself almost to oblivion. I am beginning to see the circumstances of my life have, rather, molded me, strengthened some gifts and opened others. It is making me who I am and who God sees that I am. It’s as if God gently placed a mirror in my hand and whispered to me to lighten up, see my true beauty and let go of the rest.

Wow … can I do that? I’ve been wrapped so tight so long, can I remember? Can I also unwrap this identity created around falseness?

If I think about it, I have already survived one of my worst fears: living with chronic pain. I’ve learned to manage pretty well and, really, have taken responsibility for that in many areas of my life, such as committing to regular exercise, changing my diet, figuring out sleep. One I have been clinging to is looking at it as a problem instead of an opportunity. The greatest gift has been a reason to slow my pace and discover God within.

I have been more afraid of living than dying. Sounds so ridiculous when I see it on paper. Now that my eyes have been opened to viewing difficulty as an opportunity, the fear seems to recede. As Susan Jeffers, author of the book on fear, writes, one of the truths about fear is that the only way to get rid of it is to go out and do the thing that scares you.

Maybe I need to start living instead of dying.

• What drives my fears?
• How have they hindered me?
• How have a taken time to explore them?
• Where do I find God in all of this?
• Is there a particular message for me here?

I used to be this and that
could do this and that

now, I can’t

that’s what my ego has said

it’s held me hostage
as its victim

but God has reached
in, deeper than the ego

and given me a glimpse
of truth
and beauty
and light

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taking off my ego for a minute

Listen to post:
Cruising through Facebook’s newsfeed, I stumbled across the post of an accomplished acquaintance revealing that she feared showing something she was developing to someone of stature and experience because it would be lacking. Instead, he raved about it and then there was a wonderful link to the course of study. Rich, detailed and well written, it occurred to me her work is similar to mine. With a few exceptions: credentials, perhaps more polish and a venue in which she is paid for her work.

I sulked for a minute, probably feeling the same doubt she described. I am little, I thought.

Stinging a bit, I scrolled down the page and found an amusing cartoon of a guy at the doctor, an x-ray on the light table showing a rectangle between his ribs and the caption: “Good news! You’ve got a book in you, just waiting to come out.”

That, I believe, was God at play, reminding me I am doing my work, all of which is contributing to the book in me, and my friend is doing hers and there is plenty of room for both. It’s not hers or mine, one is better and one, lesser. Not just room for both, but plenty of room.

This on the eve of my first advisory-committee meeting of six gifted individuals who will help me birth my longtime dream of nurturing local, under-served kids with a free-spirited art exploration program.

Why do I have to remind myself not to measure the success or importance of work by money?

I had wanted to begin last night’s advisory meeting with the Quaker act of centering as we each arrived from another place than the other. But we came in shifts and that didn’t seem to fit. I was grateful to have all of this support, but in the midst of talking, I started to doubt. Doubt my direction, doubt my inspiration to host this program, doubt there will be the necessary resources. [I am still waiting to hear about two grants.] The same doubt that reared its head reading the Facebook post yesterday.

When it kicks in, it so colors my perceptions. I think what transpired was a lively discussion and a session of bringing this wonderful variety of supporters to the place where I am.

I am: for me, that’s code for the presence of God. Last night, it seemed all about being understood. Today, it looks more like a group movement toward Spirit. I must trust that this transition of taking my program into group ownership is a shift in the right direction and that I must relax my grasp.

I’m not sure I know what that feels like, but I am going to playfully experiment with relaxing my grasp.

• When have I doubted recently?
• What stirred that experience?
• How do I respond to doubt?
• What surfaces?
• What, of God, lays beneath?

so much pushing
to get it all right

spell it ALL out

so everyone knows
where I am

and then I am
to take off my ego
for a minute

and listen to
where God is

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pain and my inner-most self

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Pain has been on my mind lately as I re-write parts of a book. Specifically, I expose how pain has been a teacher in my life. I remember when I first named the chapter that and showed it to someone, they immediately flipped the page and remarked that no one wants to read about that.

I was a bit shocked by the response; not what I had expected. This person has experienced pain, but in a different form than mine. Theirs was cancer and mine, chronic. My best friend, who has lived much of this journey with me, says, from her perspective, the chronic pain seems much harder to deal with than something more acute. I think she means over the long haul.

I wonder why that is? I believe it may have something to do with how we normalize things. For example, with an acute diagnosis, we tend to gear up into how-to-fight-this mode and move through phases either of improvement and managing it, denial or accepting the prognosis. There are defined treatments, periods and, often, some sort of conclusion. I am not saying any of this is easy. The waiting and now knowing are probably the worst; then the threat of the disease returning. And yet, we normalize.

When, at 24, my best friend was dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, no one dared breathe the word death. We all were in total denial from the gut-rendering respiratory treatments to the priest’s offer of last rites and my friend’s mother leaving his room untouched for years as if he’d return any moment. We told ourselves that Mike was not dying. When he did, I was racked with guilt that he’d not had the chance to discuss it with anyone, save the priest. We each normalized it.

I don’t dare to compare fibromyalgia to cancer; it’s like apples to oranges. Nor do I wish to minimize its trauma. As such, I have never been able to normalize my fibromyalgia like I did with Mike. Of course, this happened to me and that’s a game-changer. I’ve normalized surgeries, scary tests and the limbo of waiting for results, however. In the case of the fibro, nothing much seems defined except that life is different than before, very different. There’s not a bar I am trying to get back to. Sure, there was at first, but that was of my own creation. I am learning the new normal, as my healing-touch friend terms it.

I am uncovering that, from one day to the next, I am not the same person. I can not depend on having had a fitful sleep, the energy, pain-free body or clarity I used to. Everything is NOT going to be the same as it was.

Isn’t that what life is really all about: experiencing each day as it comes without expectation? Even with gratitude?

I was much more complacent and demanding when I lived normally. Was more asleep with eight unbroken hours. Numb from not feeling pain. Unaware and unappreciative of my body. Taken in by the world and removed from God within.

Why would I ever want to be normal, for pain has taught me about my innermost self?

• How can I view pain as a teacher?
• What lessons has it dispensed?
• How have I normalized trauma?
• What happens when I don’t?
• What relationship do pain and Spirit have in my life?

I used to think
I was better

when I slept,
remembered everything
when I wanted,
could make my body
move however I wanted,

when I was normal
as the world valued

until pain met me,
turned my world
upside down

and awoke my numbness

now I know better

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Second chance

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This week, I am in a place I’d hoped not to be: a fibro flare-up. I have managed incredibly well since last fall and, almost, convinced myself this wouldn’t happen again.

And yet, it has. In the midst of pain, sleeplessness and new injury, I am stubbornly trying to use all of the lessons and awareness I’ve accumulated to NOT plummet into my old patterns. Patterns of closing up, numbing myself and falling into the murky abyss of disconnection and isolation. I am catching myself.

Fortunately, I understand what triggered this and I am coping by not only taking care of myself, but seeking help from others. I didn’t use to do that. I’d suck it up and suffer alone, which only made things worse.

I am trying to detach and be the observer and also bless this experience. That practice has proven extremely beneficial in the past few months, although it’s much easier to apply to little, annoying things.

Monday at the chiropractor, he gave me something new to chew on: “What if you’re not worse, but this is a step toward discarding old injury.” You mean like taking a half step backward to get two steps ahead, I asked. “Yes,” he responded, then left me to stretch on his table and take my time getting up. Tears flooded my eyes, memories, my brain and knowing into my body: he’s right. I am getting a second chance. Another shot at responding to the kind of trauma that set this whole thing off.

It is the response, I am understanding more than anything, that makes the difference.

Sixteen years ago, I had a miscarriage and, for years, my body tried to hang onto that baby, punishing itself for losing it. Fourteen years ago, an automobile accident caught me in a twist and I froze.

Last week, an unexpected medical procedure revolving around my reproductive system (sounds familiar, huh?) tapped those experiences and disease. This time, however, I am not fighting it by closing up. I am trying to surrender into it. It’s not easy and counter to what my body feels like it’s programmed to do.

More importantly, I am not letting my mind go ballistic, getting ahead of the situation and already putting one foot in the grave. I prefer to believe my body is preparing to shed a layer of old, deep pain.

Yesterday, I sat down to do some more editing on the book I have been writing and re-working for what seems like eternity. The first chapter is Pain as Teacher; so, here I am letting it be.

What is this pain, this experience teaching? To remain present, surrender into the experience, expected the unexpected, be positive and trust … not run to the conclusion that this is all bad. It may be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean punishment. It may actually mean healing.

This will not crush the dream I am in the process of realizing: opening an art studio for under-served kids, publishing my book, making art and offering nurture groups.

Truth be told, before I recognized what was happening, I asked God why this – pain and injury preventing me from living and dreaming ­­– was happening again. I needed to articulate that fear. I did it in the comfort of the meditation tent I’ve constructed in my new studio. Then the phone rang and one of the six people I’ve asked to serve as an advisory committee for this kids’ program instantly said yes – no hesitations. I figured it was God’s way of telling me that nothing will stop my dream. All six have agreed: no arm twisting.

Key to holding all of this, this time, is balance: knowing when it’s time to push through and also when to relax and surrender into healing. Previously, I’d totally push until I was depleted or completely succomb to shutting myself down.

I am grateful to get the opportunity to do it right this time. First, to be aware of what this is, then to surrender into it, but not let it eat me. The best way to do that is to trust.

• How do I typically react when things aren’t going well?
• What’s my programmed response been?
• How do I re-program myself?
• What is the response that is better for me?
• How do I trust God in these situations?

I’ve been cruising along
for many months

like I used to

until I hit a roadblock

and the old junk
came flooding back
like an unwelcome
tidal wave

into my body and brain

and yet,
my spirit had something
to say

“don’t go here,
it’s not your path
THIS time”

and I was actually
able to listen

and respond


Monday, June 4, 2012

A single act

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It’s been a full week from one extreme to the next, life transitions, ups and downs and little time for quiet or spaciousness; yet there have been moments. Perhaps more than I have noticed.

 One happened Tuesday morning after I had arrived at the pool churned up. Not troubled necessarily, but mind, body and spirit busily engaged from a full long weekend of traveling and preparing for the always-crazy end of the school year.

 At first, I was forced to share a lane, which beats not swimming … but not by much. Fortunately, rather quickly, another opened up and I started to melt into the laps. Yes, I had walked out the door without my water bottle; at least, however, I was attempting to get back into the groove. I require a regularity and rhythm that had been out of sync because of social and family obligations and traveling. 

Here, now I was returning. To myself, my heart, my mind, my body and, eventually, to God. I struggled with letting the thoughts and busyness go, settling into my lone lane. Then I heard the door click. Another swimmer, I selfishly intimated. I’ll have to share. If I don’t look up when I make my turn-around, I won’t have to. I was stopped as someone called my name and handed me an ice-cold water. “My deed for the day,” she muttered as she walked away. I stared rather blankly trying to register what just happened: a random act of kindness. The woman to whom I said a quick hello in the locker room and mentioned I’d forgotten my water had purchased one from the machine for me. 

Instantly, everything changed. As if God were telling me it’s okay, I am not forgotten in the busyness of obligation for others.

 I’ve carried that kindness around all week, in and out of ceremonies, last lunches, parades and, even, an unexpected trip into my ob-gyn for a biopsy. Of course, I won’t know results until next week and neither my physician or I believe it’s anything. While this event caught me off guard, I think I might have stumbled more into self pity had it not been for that single action of receiving a cold water poolside. That has been such a reminder ALL week in the madness that even if I am too busy for God, God is never too busy for me. There’s a peacefulness in that revelation. One that prevents me from a self beating because I have not had time to pray, meditate or do some contemplative reading all week. 

One that has also kept me from being too weepy after discovering that my cloissinee Catherine of Sienna charm fell out of my prayer-bead bracelet. I think I lost her in Washington, D.C. probably on the subway.

 And helped me giggle yesterday at the doc’s office when, after we were finished, I accidentally met him in the maze of hallways looking for a bathroom and he routed me away from the one with the ripe-diaper aroma. And not growling this morning when four kids were jumping over mattresses and couches playing hide-and-go-seek all over my house.

I can’t imagine that kind woman at the gym had any idea how much she’d brighten my week. I am grateful she didn’t think twice about it and followed her heart.

 • How has a random act of kindness affected me? 
• When I have committed one, how am I able to release myself from any result and just do it because I should? 
• Where have I experienced God this week? 
• Where unexpectedly?
• How am I gentle with myself when I don’t squeeze in contemplative time? 

arriving home Monday evening
on a wave of Washington, D.C. 

just in time
for 6th grade graduation,
school to end,

a parade to watch,

birthdays to celebrate

and very little
let alone
God time

except for a single soul
who graciously
quenched my thirst
at the beginning of the week

and I’ve felt that
living water
through tension,
trauma, celebration
and gratitude