Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The lesson of balance

It was a journey getting into the studio today, but I am here now. I lingered in bed as the sub-zero temperatures pawed at our old-house windows. Usually, I'd be up at 6 on Tuesday and headed out the door, dropping the kids at the bus and depositing myself at the pool for a mile of laps. Just too damn cold, I told myself. They weren't going to school and I wasn't stepping out, no matter how bundled, at six below.

Seemingly out of nowhere, I snapped at Lily, my 13-year-old, as I was hastily gathering everything I needed to get here. She was trying to control what I was saying to myself as I mumbled the list of everyone else's needs I was tending to before I could get to mine. She was also in the midst of pushing me toward a house full of kids today. I dislike when the anger eeks out. It reminds me that I have unfinished business.

Interestingly, I was going to blog about retreat today; how I typically indulge in one in January and haven't yet this year. I was thinking that maybe I don't have to because I am taking a series of daily retreats, a slower pace this month that has filled my annual need for solitude and reflection.

Early this month, I'd been looking forward to a daylong retreat to let go of last year and look ahead to 2014. Sounded perfect for me and it was literally around the corner, five minutes away. And then a touch of the flu hit and dashed those plans. Generously, the retreat leader met with me last week to give me materials, talk through what transpired and encourage me to do the work on my own. We even set an appointment for a month so I could share this particular journey. Have I even opened the folder to begin? No

Have I regularly been spending time in centering prayer? No, I take three minutes with the reading, then move on because there is so much work awaiting me. Of course the Thomas Keating quotes are deep and worth savoring, I just can't devote the time I'd like.

And, I am certain, swimming would have burned off the emotions I hurled at Lily. I really want to learn what those bubbling emotions signal. They caught me off guard as I'd spent last night with close friends, receiving a massage from one and wonderful dinner from the other. I'd slept great and could relax into the massage this morning instead of pushing myself out of bed at the sound of the alarm. Honestly, though, I was disappointed by how achy I felt. My muscles and connective tissue had been unearthed, stretched, soothed and put to rest. I'd detoxed with herbal tea and lots of water, nixing the tempting red wine my companions were drinking.

I was out of kilter this morning. Kids off school, me off schedule with no exercise and I was racing to get to the studio to blog and spend some time in stillness. Not to mention the Artsy Fartsy postcards I need to send, the workshop news release that needs to get out, the expense report to file, the mission statement to revise, etc. Much as I dislike it, I have a daily regimen I must follow if I want to maintain some normalcy living with fibromyalgia. Sometimes that makes me angry. Why do I have to spend at least an hour or so exercising daily, another 20 minutes taking supplements and doing the Netti pot? Then eat an allergy-free breakfast and pack a similar lunch? And, where do I fit in a spiritual practice? Optimum centering prayer suggests 20 minutes twice a day. Seems like a dream while I have kids at home.

The world's ingrained message tells me to speed up and fit more in. Spirit says to step back, breath deep, recollect and actually be grateful that I know what I must do. That the emotions swirling and leaking out tell me I must retreat, recalibrate and set myself in right order for the coming year. For me, there are no short cuts.

• What happens if I get off rhythm, out of sync or off schedule?
• What role does regimen play in my life?
• What's the balance between physical, mental and spiritual?
• How do I retreat?
• How does that recalibrate me and makes things right with Spirit?

lured by mother
nature's violence

using it as an excuse
against daily discipline,
giving into the mind
at the expense of
body and spirit

when the froth of
anger is lodged
at another, an

how many times
must I learn the lesson
of balance?

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Pain as teacher

Reactions when I suggest that pain can be a teacher have surprised me. They range from shrugs, topic-switching and a general politeness in tucking this subject away. Except by those who know.

So it was delightful that a small group to which I belong actually asked for more information. Experiencing pain became one of our discussion points that evening. We begin our sessions by catching each other up on our lives since last month, often connecting it to the archetypal astrology we are here to study. Almost magically, whatever has collectively been on our hearts has woven its way into our sage instructor's lesson, before we even knew. One soul shared her frustration at major obstacles, yet retained a calm detachment. Another currently feels overwhelmed by life. One actually has opening pain in her chest. The other three of us were not currently in those places, but we have been. We heard each other's pain. Better yet, those in pain seem to be letting it in and learning its lessons.

This group's honesty and integrity provides great comfort and confidence with regard to a new workshop, Pain as Spiritual Teacher,  I am so excited about hosting with a longtime friend and very trusted healer. When I proposed it several months ago, she didn't flinch. "Of course I'll do it with you; what took you so long to ask?" she replied to my request. What makes this so authentic, I believe, is that we have both struggled for years with chronic pain. We're combining my spiritual nurture and creativity with her yoga therapy and counseling background. 

Pain has been the subject of some of my writing, here, and in other venues. I'd like to share portions new to this blog. They are personal and MY journey, so I don't expect them to speak to everyone. Sharing these experience can empower healing and awareness in others, which is why I feel called to do so:

Truthfully, pain has been a catalyst in my life: an agent of change, bridging one stage to another. The one before fibro and the one after. The one before awakening and the one awakened. The one fighting myself and the one learning to surrender. The one mesmerized by cultural mandates and the one living from my heart. The false self and the real self. The me-centered life and the God-centered life. Striving for unattainable perfection and embracing my flawedness. Pretending to be strong and showing my weakness. Wearing masks and shedding them.
When pain came calling at my door, I had no choice but to let it in. It preyed on every weakness, wore me down and I gave it utter control. I succumbed to its charms and let it define me. My ego was a mess. I believe it gave into what it thought was stronger. It told me I was nothing and, along with the pain, took charge.
I see now it was not acting in my best interest, but its own. 
Too long I had listened to the world’s warped idea that we are immune to pain and … if you experienced it you are weak, unworthy or not one of the annointed.  I bought the cultural promise of ease, health and wealth. So, when pain struck, I was defenseless. 
For all intents and purposes, my projected self curled up and died, my ego going through the motions and pretending. I was a pretty good actress. Besides, who really wants to recognize another’s pain? Means you’d have to own yours first.
Fighting it or letting it rule me were not the answers I was seeking. Befriending it was. Looking at it as having a message changed my perspective, helped me open to that wisdom and surrender the situation to God instead of (mis)managing it myself. 
Oh, but I fought the work of exposing my wounds. They were piled so heavily, imbedding my core self even more deeply. Creativity rescued me by expressing, exposing and accepting my wounds in a manner I could comprehend, even embrace.
I gained a new awareness, though I walked one step at a time. I was not ready for more. I write this now with the perspective and insight of distance.
God gave me the courage to shine the flashlight of Truth into the most locked parts of myself: the places sealed off since childhood that the pain tapped. A willing, but tepid traveler, I was astonished to witness that the inaccessible parts were not ugly and dangerous, just trapped inner children given no light, nurture or encouragement to mature. With exposure, they blossomed and were able to tell me what they needed. Some of them I have parented into adulthood. Others till need tending and room to grow. 
As God and I chiseled away at these layers, I could loosen my grip on the false self, which had been a response to injury. That injury had become my inner jury and judge. I let it tell myself I was less-than and unworthy. 
As God helped me excavate, I began to see myself again as the unharmed pure one I knew so well in childhood, untainted by wounds. This innocent had been surrounded, crowded and choked out by all of the injured still nursing their wounds and in paralysis: a state of shock, incapable of moving or growth. Until God released them, me.
I experience pain, but, with God’s grace and wisdom, don’t let it define, freeze or trap me. I now know to look for its message: to what am I not paying attention that I should. 
Inevitably, there’s a sacred lesson, for pain is teacher.

• What is my reaction to pain?
• What is my experience of pain?
• How does that idea that it has lessons to teach resonate in me? 
• What might those lessons be?
• How can sharing my experience possibly open others?

Pain as Spiritual Teacher will be offered at two Cincinnati locations in March and April. The first in a series, we are planning three others. For more information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1424900054406234/

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Whom God chooses

I asked Spirit what to blog about today and she jumped out of my heart and into my mind. I'll call her Jessica, the mother of five children ages 12 and under. I'd known several of the children, who charmed me, before we were introduced.

She's told me her story in bits and dribbles, always over the drone of nearby children, who bounce around the six-room house vying for the attention of the visitor. It's not a pleasant tale, peppered with the love and support of family.

At 15, something tragically unthinkable occurred. When she divulged details, I shivered, mentally wrapping a protective blanket over my 15-year-old, wishing I could have done the same for Jessica. It helps explain why Jessica seems less mature in some areas. In others, she is wise beyond her years. I believe she may have stopped growing emotionally after this incident. Merely an observation, not judgment or criticism.

Jessica is the first to point out her flaws. "I can't help my 6th grader with his math, it's so beyond me," she almost cried when we spoke before Christmas. "You know, I'm not good at that stuff."

It breaks my heart to see her so hard on herself, so I offered, in truth and love: "When my youngest had that math teacher two years ago, she said she was now teaching in 6th grade what high-school seniors used to learn." Her eyes grew wide and she responded: "Really, then maybe I'm not so lame."

She's not – at all. In fact, twice I have heard God speak directly through her to me. She wasn't even aware. The first time was several years ago when she lamented they had no computer and she knew her oldest would soon need one for school. She wasn't asking, hinting or implying that someone get one or even that I should. We'd just met, really.

But the message stayed with me for a few months. Until I blurted it out in Quaker worship because I had to get it off my chest. Though I wasn't even asking for money, one kind soul made a donation and they passed the collection plate, which my Meeting (church) doesn't ordinarily do. They, too, were moved by Jessica's story. Between my generous faith community and neighbors, we were able to purchase a desktop computer, printer, ink and year of Internet. Thanks to the local Obama headquarters, who donated leftover office supplies to Artsy Fartsy, the family also got a big box of paper.

I hadn't said a word about the computer until everything was organized and ready to go. Jessica latched on and hugged me repeatedly, saying I was her angel. "You really heard me." she said. "Not me, but that of God," I answered. We unknowingly made the delivery on her middle son's birthday, which stoked the celebration. God was certainly in charge

Jessica has also battled leukemia for 18 years and takes a number of medications, which have robbed her memory. She blames chemo for one son's struggles. In my Artsy Fartsy program, I have found him cooperative, creative and adorable. Being singled out and separated from siblings could have that affect.

Before Christmas, I had stopped by with a small gift just for Jessica. Often, she is overlooked as the children are more obvious recipients of help. You would have thought I had bought her a new house rather than scarf, bag and necklace, which, by the way, perfectly matched her outfit. She led me to her room and the sack of goodies she had just purchased from the Dollar Tree. "That's all I can do this year," she said as if merely thinking it out loud, not expecting any response or action.

One of my husband's generous siblings had asked my girls to select a charity and buy toys with his check. Well, as teens, they had procrastinated. Perhaps, though, this was Spirit's movement. We quickly texted to ask if their uncle would mind supporting an entire family instead. Without hesitation, he said yes! The girls went to work creating a list and plotting the next day's shopping expedition.

One of them and I decided to pay Jessica a visit to make sure this was okay and get some ideas. Just as we were walking out the back door, the front door-bell rang. One of her boys was bringing me a Christmas present. The mother with few resources had insisted on lavishing me with gifts. It's, probably, the most meaningful present I have ever received (okay, besides from my children). I quickly opened it, then we were on our way. I thanked her (a little too quickly, I now understand. I should have savored receiving and let her bask in the feeling of giving) and Jessica mentioned to be sure to notice the name of the fragrance. It was labeled "Token of love." I sprayed it on the other night, feeling very bathed in love and the light, springy scent.

There's more to tell ... in another post. I like ending on the idea of love and light, because that's what this friendship has brought me.

• When has an unexpected friendship brought deep resonance?
• Is my heart aimed at helping people locally or globally? (no wrong answers, here!)
• When have I heard God speak through another?
• How did I respond?
• If giving is easier than receiving for me, what might I be depriving another giver of in not receiving?

the first time I met her,
she hugged me

I think because
I listened

something I'm good at
and something rare for
the mother of five

when I have been able
to listen deeply enough,
I am honored to hear
God speak through her

a wounded, marginalized
woman who thinks she's
good at nothing

that's whom God chooses

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Completing the magical circle

Structure seems to have captured my attention lately. 

Last Saturday we explored Louise Nevelson's work with Artsy Fartsy kids. I took some of the leftover scraps and created my own piece. I loved playing with the the re-cyled pieces of wood, moving and arranging them until they suited me. At one point, it became so hot in the room and we needed more ventilation for the spray-painting booth, that I opened a studio window. As I did, I noticed a scraggly, weather-beaten and warped strip of plywood. Perfect, I thought for my scuplture. I removed the rusted screws and added it. 

And, then I left it for the weekend.

All week, I have been slowly gluing sections together and tweaking the design. After most of it was glued, I realized it wasn't gong to be a wall piece, but could stand on its own and was interesting from all angles. But, it needed something. I removed the one plastic piece, which no longer seemed to fit and shifted the warped plywood from across the front to the top. It's sort of Picasso meets Zen temple. I adore it and the process that bore it!

It is solid, aesthetically pleasing and gives me great pleasure.

At the same time, my brain has been developing some ideas around the skeletal structure and I suspect this process is entirely related to my creative building exercise.

A Thomas Kelly quote from a Sunday Quaker worship sparked my imagination. Something about lingering in "double-minded obedience." The night before, I'd remembered a dream snippet of recognizing to love myself from within. All of this moves me closer to deeply knowing that the seed of God is, indeed, within me. Focusing on this wisdom moves me away from double-mindedness and into deeper relationship with Spirit, wholeness, being, existence, Truth and the eternal.

I mulled this over in worship, primed by the Kelly quote and God's words to Moses from the burning bush: "I am that I am." They have haunted me for some time, though they are such a mystery and their definition, for me, is beyond words; more like an intuitive, bodily knowing.

As I sank deeper into the golden silence, a meditation came to me:
Bathe yourself in love
completely, unlike any
other time
[feel the love]
bubbling up from inside,
trust and go deep
into the Tree-of-Life roots
work your way up your spine;
the entrance is the place in
your sacrum I showed you
you already have deep roots
trust those
take my hand and we'll ascend
toward the nothingness of Love
leave everything else behind

I had an experience last year of journeying through the Tree of Life. This time, I understood the tree represented me, my body and journey. My body is the trunk. My faith is the roots and I am pushing the Christ Energy that I can feel, which is the seed of God, within me up and out the third eye toward this no-thing-ness of Love, void of emotion and thinking; a place of pure being.

A week later, again in worship, this tree-like skeletal system flashed in my mind and I began to identify other body parts:
• Feet – roots of faith
• Sacrum – where God resides (sacred space)
• Heart – where Jesus lives
• Reproductive organs – creativity
• Head – wisdom/Sophia
• Eyes – awareness
• Hands – compassion
• Ears – discernment and Truth
• Third eye – divine connection

I am grateful to tangibly know this sense of Spirit within my own body and to be able to taste it as I create an outer structure that has given me such joy.

• When has a tangible act sparked a spiritual Truth or epiphany?
• What was my emotional response?
• Where do I imagine Spirit? Outside or within?
• How has my vision of Spirit's placement or proximity changed?
• How can my body be a temple or vessel?

we crawled through
the tangle of roots
into the altar of the sacrum,
traveling up
higher and higher
as the branches grew thin
to the point of

the place everything becomes love

we are birthed from this
nothingness and our life's
work is to make our
way back, completing
the magical circle,
our cycle and purpose

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