Healing the World

holding the world

As the world around me swirled (I awoke with vertigo this morning), I began listening to Chapter 2 of Krista Tippett’s new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. I had barely begun listening when words of wisdom about the mystery and art of my own life circumstances emerged. 

“We are all healers of the world. It isn’t about healing the world by making a huge difference. It is about healing the world that is around us. That is where our power is. How would I live if I were exactly what is needed to heal the world?” ~Rachel Naomi Remen

Remen’s words remind me how important extending “conscious love” to my daughter is—the treasured “opportunity” that awakened within me while rummaging through the darkness that emerged when it became clear she would be living with me full-time for an extending period of time.

Remen’s wisdom, learned from her Hasidic Jewish grandfather, places this “opportunity” into a larger context. I am exercising my power to change the world.

My True Self, the higher part of me who already knows how to love, watches. I move through my days extending love in quiet ways no one around us would notice. The difference I make is not huge, but, in the week since I’ve been “consciously loving,” I do see a difference for my daughter…and for me.

I will continue keeping Remen’s question before me: “Am I living as though I am exactly what is needed to heal the world?”

The question Elizabeth Alexander asks at the end of her poem below touched my soul:

“And are we not of interest to each other?” ~ Elizabeth Alexander

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry is what you find

in the dirt in the corner,

 

overhear on the bus, God

in the details, the only way

 

to get from here to there.

Poetry (an now my voice is rising)

 

is not all love, love, love

and I’m sorry the dog died.

 

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)

is the human voice,

 

And are we not of interest to each other?

And Fr. Killian McDonnell’s reminder in his poem below bestowed levity:

Perfection, Perfection by Killian McDonnell

(“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)

I have had it with perfection.

I have packed my bags,

I am out of here.

Gone.

 

As certain as rain

will make you wet,

perfection will do you

in.

 

It droppeth not as dew

upon the summer grass

to give liberty and green

joy.

 

Perfection straineth out

the quality of mercy,

withers rapture at is

birth.

 

Before the battle is half begun,

cold probity thinks

it can’t be won, concedes the

war.

 

I’ve handed in my notice,

given back my keys,

signed my severance check, I

quit.

 

Hints I could have taken:

Even the perfect chiseled form of

Michelangelo’s radiant David

squints,

 

The Venus de Milo

has no arms,

the Liberty Bell is

cracked.

Such a rich way to begin my day. Thank you, Krista and Company!!

A Second Chance

“Seems to me that every memoir is about the wisdom we’ve gathered in the part of life we’re writing about.” ~Susan Tweit

I have learned much about the writing of memoir from my friend, Susan Tweit. She is generous in sharing the wisdom she has gained in writing several published memoirs as well as the wisdom she has garnered in the writing and revising of her yet-to-be-published memoir, Bless the Birds.

SCN Conference

Click picture for link to Susan’s website

The purpose of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is what Susan calls “Soul Work.” Not all memoirs serve this purpose. But for those of us who approach our writing as “soul work,” we must go deep within. We must reflect on the good, the bad, the sublime, and the ugly about ourselves and our lives.

“In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited–sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair–for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings–that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it–are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.” ~Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro

Click picture for link to Dani’s website

I think my editor’s comments about my manuscript are a reflection of the purpose of my writing:

“Your manuscript is more intelligently written, more thoughtful, and more reflective than many memoirs I have read.” ~Judy Plazyk (my editor)

Those who have known me for years often confront me with, “You are so hard on yourself.” And that is true. I have a vicious voice in my head that I’ve needed to tame. I think that is why Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, is one of my favorites.

The Untethered Soul

Click picture for link to Michael Singer’s website

He points out that nothing is more important to personal growth than realizing that we are not the voice of our mind…we are the one who hears and observes that voice chattering away. Being able to distinguish my “true self/soul” from the abusive voice chattering in my head has been foundational for my “soul work” and for the writing of my memoir.

In the  writing of my memoir, as I turned the “powers of observation” on myself, I found myself wanting in extending love to my children. As I pointed out in my May 12th blog post, “Atonement,” my relationship with my daughter continues to heal.

In the weeks following May 12 life intervened:

  • two hospitalizations;
  • two stints in rehab;
  • moving in with me;
  • realizing she can no longer manage the steps in her apartment;
  • realizing she may not be able to work again;
  • dealing with the financial impact of that;
  • adjusting to her being on oxygen 24/7;
  • adjusting to her living with me;
  • cleaning out her apartment;
  • deciding what needs to be thrown away,
  • what she can bring to my home and what needs to be put in storage;
  • finding a storage unit;
  • finding financial resources and appropriate housing for her;
  • and on and on.

STRESS!! As one of my local writing friends noted in a blog post of her own, “We are not at our best when we are under stress.”

In these almost three months during the aftermath of my daughter’s surgery, I have been caught in the “incoherent immediacy of the moment.” When it became clear she needed to move in with me, I felt overwhelmed, resentful, and burdened. The voice in my head berated me while I grieved for the loss of solitude in my home sanctuary.

And my “soul,” observing the clutter of painful feelings and depressive thoughts, sent me deeper down to a quieter place of pondering. My soul asked my resistant self, “What is your growth edge in this circumstance?” The treasure I found is the “opportunity” my daughter’s living with me gives. I am being given a second chance to extend love to her, up close and personal, in ways the immature self of my past was unable.

I take on the challenge, knowing I still possess limitations. And grateful for the wisdom of Richard Rohr who writes in his daily meditations about the The Spirituality of Imperfection, the spiritual path introduced to me in 1984 that continues to save me from my perfectionist tendencies.

Richard-Rohr_home-view

Click picture for link to his Daily Meditations

Spirituality of Imperfection

Click picture for link

“Letting your naked self be known by God is always to recognize your need for mercy and your own utter inadequacy and littleness. You realize that even the best things you’ve done have often been for mixed and selfish motives, not really for love.” ~Richard Rohr

 

Rummaging Around in the Darkness

When I was a teenager and for many years thereafter, I had a recurring dream. I was moving into an old house. Whoever lived there before me had left a lot of stuff behind, especially in the attic. I rummaged through what was left to see if there was anything I could use. I found the process enjoyable.

Attic

These past few weeks as I’ve adjusted to my daughter’s moving in with me, I’ve been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. On Monday of this week, I felt a sudden burst of energy and cleaned my house. It had become cluttered with so much of her stuff that I didn’t yet have a place for. Decluttering and organizing are activities I enjoy and my spirit was bright as order and beauty re-emerged.

Then on Tuesday, I was in the doldrums again. It looked like depression–I didn’t want to get out of bed, I had no energy, I went through the motions. My daughter and I kept the appointment with the independent living facility that is a possible future home for her. The appointment went well but I could tell I wasn’t up to par. The application lacked information needed. I am usually quite thorough about paperwork, even though I detest filling out forms by hand. I was not at my best.

Face in Dark

Wednesday I attended a meeting where a spiritual teacher outlined eight characteristics of what he calls “our soul’s bill of rights.” He spoke about being stuck and finding a path to return to flow. I don’t have his exact words here because inside I was full of negativity (darkness), figured I was stuck, and was quietly resisting moving out of that “stuck” place.

My writing partner was in the group and in the restroom, during the break, she commented on how what the spiritual teacher was talking about was my story…the one I have been writing about in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. I jerked my head backward as though hit by a tsunami and exclaimed, “Yea, but I’m stuck again.”

ocean wave

Even though I said that I was stuck, it didn’t feel quite right and I continued to ponder that the rest of the day.

“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~Luke 2:19

Mary pondering

Then yesterday morning (Thursday) I had an epiphany. While my resistance looks and feels like depression, while it seems like a lack of trust in “everything being in Divine right order,” and while it appears to be a lack of gratitude for my many blessings, it is actually the Spirit working in my life. When I resist platitudes and disingenuous gratitude and ponder instead, I am actually trusting my process of spiritual growth. If I rummage around in the clutter and darkness (stuck places?) long enough, I’ll find useful treasure…a message meant just for me for the growth that is being called forth in that particular circumstance and moment in time. Rummaging and pondering is actually me trusting my process.

cosmos

With that revelation, I was back in the flow. The blocks to my writing dissolved. The message I need at this time in these circumstances moved into the light of my awareness.  And that will be the subject of my next blog post.

As it turns out, my recurring dream was a metaphor for the way the Spirit works in my life. I am in awe.

The Wisdom of the Body

“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For much of my early life, I neglected my body, largely unaware of the wisdom it carried. In the mid-80’s, I participated in Anne Wilson Schaef’s Living-in-Process training program. It was in her training that I began to appreciate the memories our bodies carry and the message that emerges when its wisdom is released. My first powerful body memory emerged after a massage. I was stunned and in awe of the process and the healing message my body spoke. On another occasion, my favorite during my six years in the Living Process network, my body gave me a sense of my cleanliness as a newborn before the wounds of life scarred me.

During the past few weeks as my daughter has moved in with me and my life has revolved around being a full-time caregiver, I’ve had a couple of body experiences that have piqued my interest. Without being fully aware that I was searching for my body’s wisdom, I followed the trail of my roller coaster of emotions.

Roller Coaster

The first experience came after my former student called to tell me the influence I had on her life. Before her call, I was contemplating the need to be on an anti-depressant. I had no energy or interest in things that had filled my life with meaning and purpose. After her call, I literally experienced the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I wrote and spoke about it as being the best anti-depressant ever and considered her call a Divine gift.

 “After all, the body, like God, moves in mysterious ways.” ~Thrity Umrigar

spiral galaxy

But in the couple of weeks since her call, gradually, without my being aware, the energy began draining from my body again. On Tuesday I walked around the house in a stupor, unable to write or accomplish any of the many household tasks needing attention. I was grateful for leftovers so I wouldn’t have to cook. Even watering my plants, something I have enjoyed, seemed like drudgery. Every time it rained, I thanked “Mother Nature” for doing this job for me. Impatience and weariness with life seeped into every fiber of my being. Sleep seemed my only escape.

On Wednesday, despite my lethargy, I continued the footwork to find housing, financial assistance, and case management services for my daughter. I dipped even lower when promising options failed to bear fruit. I told myself that I needed to reengage in previous activities I had enjoyed. I developed a self-care plan but couldn’t get myself out of the house. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Then, Thursday morning, after some mix-ups preventing the home healthcare social worker from connecting with us had been resolved, she finally paid us a visit. This woman had worked in the case management arena in the past and seemed to know the ropes. She corrected misinformation given to  me the day before, had an application with her to get the ball rolling, explained the slowness of the process, validated the footwork I’d already done, encouraged me to fill out applications for several housing options for the disabled, and to schedule an appointment to tour one of them as soon as possible.

pressure cooker

The pressure cooker building inside me began to release steam. I was unaware of the weight I carried until I couldn’t control the tears springing forth at the end of our appointment. With her concrete actions, validation, and empathy…even though it will take months to accomplish the next steps…I once again had hope.

And once again, I noticed the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I made that call as soon as she left and scheduled an appointment for next Tuesday for my daughter and me to tour the facility. And I attended to one activity on my self-care plan.

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.”   ~Dorothy Day

I wondered about that second energy drain. Did something specific trigger it? Gradually the pieces began to fall into place.

I had been hurt by my daughter’s disinterest in something important to me, her passivity in engaging in conversation about it. I pondered why I was holding onto this hurt. As I sorted through papers about the characteristics of myotonic muscular dystrophy, organizing them for my daughter’s file, I read again about the aspect of the disease that I’ve had the most difficulty dealing with…the executive function deficits.

  • The apathy that leaves me as the initiator and puts me in the position of being the “bad guy.”
  • The avoidant personality that leaves my daughter with no friends…her preference for imaginary relationships with celebrity personalities to relating to a real person…leaving me as her sole support and subjects me to the worst kind of loneliness…living with someone who is not really present.
  • The lack of expression (weakening facial muscles) that appears, in the words  of one pamphlet, “as though they don’t care.”

There it was. Once more I was living with someone who “appears not to care.” I had done that for at least a third of my life, probably two thirds. My body carries the memories of the emotional trauma that saps my energy.

“Muscle has memory: The body knows things the mind will not admit.” ~Louise Doughty

I promised myself twenty-seven years ago that I would never do that again. But here I am once more. While I fulfill this responsibility to my daughter, my body would not let me neglect its wisdom. It dragged me down and niggled at me until I found the source of the burden I carried…the trauma of twenty-three to forty-seven years of emotional neglect.

Now that I know, now that my body has brought me to consciousness, I am living with “what is” with more ease. I still don’t like it, but I can better comfort and take care of myself during this difficult time. For my body’s wisdom, I am genuinely grateful.

female body yoga

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

“Most of Jesus’ teachings are completely incomprehensible from a first-half-of-life perspective.”

 

Richard Rohr

In the first half of my life, I bristled whenever I heard The Serenity Prayer.

Niebuhr Serenity Prayer

Richard-Rohr_home-viewRohr points out that in the first-half-of-life, we have other developmental tasks to attend to and thus are unable to surrender and let go of the control we think we have to have to establish ourselves in life. (finding a spouse/job, making a name for ourselves, accumulating possessions) He also points out that we eventually have to let go so we can fall into our True Self–the best part of us that is always there but who we aren’t yet ready to meet.

I write in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, about my experience of learning to let go and the awakening to grace that came when I truly surrendered. I was forty-two when I embarked on the path of letting go and fifty-seven when I awakened. It is embarrassing to admit that it took fifteen years. It is an indication of how deeply entrenched my illusion of control was. Today I understand that holding onto this illusion for so long has its roots in the inattention and negligence of my childhood. But there came a time in my life when this coping mechanism no longer worked. I needed a new strategy to survive.

My experience in the second-half-of-life is that surrendering is an on-going process. It is something I find myself needing to do over and over. When I am under stress, as I have been these past few weeks dealing with my daughter’s health crisis, I revert back to trying to seize control. Before long, the toll it takes on me and on my daughter finally wakes me up again to my need to let go and surrender.

Last evening I pondered this. Yesterday, when the home healthcare nurse heard crackles while listening to Nicole’s lungs, I pointed out that she hasn’t been using her spirometer as often as has been recommended. The nurse empathized with Nicole about people being on her case. This morning during her occupational therapist’s  (OT) visit, her oxygen level was low. It was recommended that when she first gets up in the morning, she may need to increase her level from one to two liters.

incentive-spirometer

To me, that means we are going backwards. Rehab had hoped she would be off oxygen during the day before she left their facility. They got her down to one liter. Now, it is needing to be increased for at least part of the day. I gave my daughter a little tough love this morning while in her presence I had a conversation with her OT about my caregiver role.

I asked, “How should I respond to this? Do I need to harangue her (control…stress on our relationship) OR do I need to accept that it isn’t important to my daughter to increase her chances of living longer by doing all that she can to strengthen her lungs which her disease is in the process of weakening.

The questions I ponder are: Do I need to accept that living longer isn’t her primary motivation? Do I need to let go? Do I need to surrender to the possibility I might outlive her? In the bigger picture, would that be a better outcome? I am her only family and her only support. How do I practice taking care of  myself as I experience the pain of watching her make self-destructive choices and the chaos of another possible healthcare crisis?

At forty-two, detaching with love became my challenge. Between forty-two and fifty-seven, I practiced disengaging from the chaos surrounding me and wasn’t always sure I was doing it with love. At fifty-seven, my most spiritual experience in life came when I succeeded in letting go with love and surrendering to a higher will. The gift of grace received at that time changed my life.

At almost seventy-four, I once again struggle with what actions and attitudes of mine constitute detaching with love and surrendering to a higher will. My True Self knows the answer. I must be quiet enough to hear the still small voice of wisdom within.

~ ~ ~

I just heard my daughter’s timer go off reminding her to use her spirometer. And I heard her using it. When the opportunity arose this morning to have that tough love conversation with her OT, I took it. I think that was my True Self’s wisdom.

8a35f-smiley2bsun2bfaceThank you, Universe!!

Emergings: Cosmic Unfolding

“If we follow the path of evolutionary mysticism, we will discover that everything happens as part of a singular process of cosmic unfolding.”

 

 Jeff Carreira, author of The Soul of the New Self

When my former student called to tell me the difference I had made in her life…especially when she mentioned how I threw away typing papers submitted with corrections made over erased errors, I immediately thought of Elfreda Rusher, the Bowling Green State University professor who taught me how to teach typing. I Googled Dr. Rusher and learned that she is believed to be the oldest living former BGSU faculty member. She celebrated her 100th birthday on June 10. Last evening I wrote her a belated happy birthday letter and thanked her for her influence on me that made it possible for my former student to thank me for my influence on her. This gift of grace keeps on giving.

Click the picture for a link to a newspaper article about Dr. Rusher's 100-year-old life.

Click the picture for a link to a newspaper article about Dr. Rusher’s 100-year-old life.

Those of you in the computer age cannot appreciate the challenge set before typing students in the 1960’s. There was no easy way to correct our errors without making a mess. Erasures tore the paper’s fibers and were easily detected. White out correction fluid, or liquid paper as it came to be called, was relatively new. It’s use was also easy to see.

Liquid_paper

Dr. Rusher insisted that our papers be typed perfectly or they would be thrown out. I must have learned well from her. I’m grateful that lesson made such a difference in my student’s life and career.

Remembering Dr. Rusher’s influence made me think of the current evolutionary spirituality book I am reading by Jeff Carreira. He makes the point that it is not the individual alone who is responsible for a victory. A complex set of circumstances and contingencies contribute to the outcome. This perspective is not a new one for me. In fact, I include this viewpoint throughout my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.

This way of looking at reality means that my ability to make a difference in my former student’s life has many factors associated with it:

  • When I was in high school, our country was in the midst of a cold war with Russia. When the Russians launched Sputnik, students in the United States were encouraged to major in math and science to beat the Russians in the space race and save our country from communism. Since I had no aptitude for those subjects and our small school’s curriculum was limited, I took secretarial courses.
  • I didn’t even consider going to college until the parish worker at our church encouraged me to.
  • Women in large numbers were just beginning to seek college educations.
  • My parents were willing to send me despite their reservations about the need for a wife and mother to have a college education.
  • Dr. Rusher’s insistence on excellence and my own perfectionist tendencies influenced the way I taught my students.

Circumstances prevented me from following in the footsteps of our church’s parish worker as she encouraged me to do. However, her suggestion along with many other factors contributed to my entering seminary in 1975.  I speak to those influences in my memoir.

After I graduated seminary in 1979, I titled the retreat ministry I was developing Emergings. I was keenly aware of how my life had emerged and unfolded in ways I could never have imagined possible. I sensed the “hand” of the Divine working through the people and circumstances in my life to guide me in fulfilling my purpose for being here.

I knew the telephone call I received on Monday was a gift of grace from the Universe arriving at just the right moment to bring me back to myself and to my purpose for writing this blog and my memoir. Her telephone call is bigger than the two of us. The influence I had on her goes back to the beginning of the cosmos as complex circumstances and contingencies brought forth all those who influenced

  • Dr. Rusher to seek a college education in the 1930s, something rare for women,
  • To focus her 1950s doctoral dissertation on women in management positions, (I must add that I have a far greater appreciation for Dr. Rusher than I did in the 1960s after learning this about her in the above newspaper article.)
  • Her influence on me,
  • My influence on my former student.
  • And my former student’s influence on all those touched by her life.
  • And on and on…

cosmos

We are a part of a long chain of relational connections. As Jeff Carreira languages it, “…everything happens as a part of a singular process of cosmic unfolding.”

The ways of cosmic unfolding are more magnificent than we have the capacity to imagine. But what a joy it is to recognize the gifts of grace when they come our way. Our Universe is alive and continues to generate life in all its fullness. Praise be!

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

That Jesus was way ahead of his time!