On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

“…the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words.” ~Romans 8:26b

If the Spirit prays with groans too deep for words, then I’m okay with my moans and groans about writing on the topic of “happiness.” Writing is for me a spiritual practice … writing letters to the Divine in my journal is a prayer practice for me.

I often moan and groan until an opening occurs and what is too deep for words emerges … wisdom flows from my pen as though from the still, small voice within. The Divine doesn’t always speak to me this way, but I have experienced these transcendent moments enough to trust that my moans and groans are leading me to a deeper place of awareness. Being in league with the Spirit isn’t a bad place to be.

And so, while I moaned and groaned about writing on the topic of “happiness” for my writing group, I trusted something deeper would emerge. And it has and continues. Here’s the latest!

Growing up, my family dubbed me the weird, serious one. They reveled in joke telling and laughing uproariously. I didn’t get some of their jokes, didn’t find some of them funny, and couldn’t join in their merry-making.

I inevitably forgot or messed up the punch line of most jokes I attempted to tell. My family happily reinforced my thinking about myself as “humor challenged.” That presented a dilemma

If you have been following my blog posts on happiness, you have probably guessed that my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is not a tale of “happily every after.”

“Be kind to your readers. Color your darker moments with humor to lighten the heaviness of your story,” those of us writing memoirs are taught.

As you might imagine, that unsettled me. How could a “humor challenged” woman prone to melancholy make her less than “happily ever after” story funny?

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

According to Forbes, Kevin Hart, was the highest paid comedian on the planet last year. That makes him pretty popular. And he makes people laugh by making fun of himself and finding humor in painful situations in his life … like his fear of the dark and absurd reactions to his mother’s death.

I’m no Kevin Hart, but fortunately for me, I have good friends and many of them find me funny … not for the jokes I tell … I gave up on jokes a long time ago. They find my  comments about the absurdities of life and my wry comments, usually made at my own expense, funny. Sometimes they even laugh uproariously.

If you have ever experienced that side of me, just know that is a sign that I feel really safe with you.

And fortunately for me, I had a good editor. After reading my manuscript, she would not accept my perception that I am “humor challenged.” Hmmm. Had she noticed something in my writing that would at least give my readers a chuckle.

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

But, since satire had never automatically flowed from my fingers before, the tongue-in-cheek humor that emerged as I wrote about “happiness” filled me with happiness. 🙂 I noted it as the presence of the Transcendent.

Then, last weekend, some bonafide funny words popped out of my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked with for awhile. She was excited to hear that I have finished writing my memoir and that it will be published in 2018. I told her:

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

The second part is: ‘I’m getting my act together.’

The third part is: ‘I think I’m getting the hang of this now.'”

We both chuckled. Later she sent me an e-mail.

“It was so delightful to talk with you this afternoon.  I can hardly wait until your book is published!  Please keep me in that loop so I can get an early copy.”

You, too, could be “in that loop.” All I need is your e-mail and permission to add you to my list. You could send me a message on my contact page. Or, if you haven’t already, you could sign up to receive notifications through my blog. Just saying.

I never cease to be amazed and in awe at the way Spirit works in my life. Today I’m grateful to know that I am seriously not “humor challenged.” My editor confronted me several times with this truth. She will be happy that I finally get it. Groan! Forgive me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner. 😉

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Happiness

Happiness was the topic chosen for the April meeting of my Cincinnati Contemplative Writing Group. Of the six of us, four of our essays referred to the pursuit of happiness enshrined as a right in our Declaration of Independence:

My essay turned into a research project. I will expand on this topic in my next few blog posts. This is my first installment:

I found a 2013 Time magazine article written by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Happiness of Pursuit.” He points out that Americans have made the pursuit of happiness into a central mandate of our  national character … “an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.” Even though there is no guarantee we’ll achieve happiness, we are free to go after it in almost any way we choose.

Kluger points out that the kinetic nature of our modern world is making achieving happiness harder than ever. He cites a 1972 survey showing that only one-third of Americans describe themselves as “very happy” and a poll showing that Americans identifying themselves as “optimists” has dropped from 79% in 2004 to 50% in 2013. In our lifetimes, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder and 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we are eighteen years old, 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression.

This gap between our optimistic expectations and our reality has, according to Kluger, spawned the vast happiness industry that has become big business.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

Interesting that in our group of six, only one of us professed to currently being and always having been a happy person. Other terms used to describe our views on happiness included:

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • uninteresting
  • highly overrated
  • fleeting
  • ephemeral
  • elusive
  • momentary
  • over-used
  • pressured expectation

Except for that one “happy” person in our group, we seem to be following the trend noted in Kluger’s essay.

What words come to your mind when you hear the word “Happiness?”

In what ways have you pursued happiness?

Where do you see yourself on the “optimism” continuum?

How would you write about this topic?

I look forward to reading your comments. More to come on this topic in future installments.

And by the way, did you notice I changed the name of this blog? 

Our Sage Sister Revolution

My Sage Sister book study group met yesterday. We dug into Chapter One in our newest selection, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older.

At this time in our life, late 60s to early 80s, this book encourages us to view elderhood as an opportunity to reconnect with the sacred dimension of life:

  • find a sense of “enoughness” from within
  • connect with our inmost essence and cultivate the calmness and self-knowledge that breeds wisdom
  • transcend “doing” in favor of “being” and a clarity of consciousness that comes from spiritual growth
  • cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible
  • pursue our own paths to fulfillment … following our own inner promptings and intuitive leads.

An example was given of a seventy-four-year-old women pursuing a Ph.D. in conflict resolution to sharpen her skills as a mediator. Our conversation was energized by her view that “elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.” Growing into her full stature, this woman plans to speak out more often and from her inner authority.

We shared around the circle how we struggle to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” Letting go of our all too familiar “doing” mode, we are seeking balance by going within to discern how we are being called to infuse public life with higher values … how we are to speak out from our own inner authority.

Cindi shared a recent experience of interacting with college students at an event focusing on protecting the environment. The only white-haired person in a small focus group, she was shocked to find these students unconcerned about climate change. She has no idea the effect she had on these students, but she took the opportunity to ask them probing questions, hoping to stimulate their critical thinking on this issue so vital to her and her husband.

Cindi also shared about her passion for healthy eating. She made an offer to her local food bank to work one on one with those they serve to teach recipients how to prepare unfamiliar fresh vegetables.

Sue, our youngest member and a retired teacher, shared her passion for working with young people to increase their understanding and empathy for people who are different and the spiritual community in which she participates that focuses on raising the consciousness of humankind. She is currently substitute teaching, but her greatest joy is nurturing her grandson’s development and awareness of the differences that enrich his world.

Jasmine, our oldest member, and her husband are the parents of nine children. One is gay and another is lesbian. Her love for them was undiminished when they came out to her. She shared her concern about the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people and how she tries to dissipate animosity by openly sharing about her love for her extraordinary children. Jasmine spends a lot of time in prayer and knits prayer shawls which she donates to local hospitals and nursing homes.

Cathy has a passion for social justice especially as it relates to underprivileged and marginalized folks. She, too, has been active in donating to our local food pantry and educating others to the food insecurity that exists in our region of the country. Dayton is in the top ten of the hungriest cities in the country. Cathy has also been active in helping immigrants get settled living in this new and strange country and city.

I shared my concern that responsibility is often omitted when we talk about freedom … responsibility infusing freedom with a higher value. I have recently awakened to my responsibility in our current political environment. I asked to be appointed as a precinct captain, something I am capable of doing, assuming a larger role in my community than I ever imagined. This action speaks to my concern for our government to be in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am educating myself about actions I can take to free our government from the undermining effects of big money and using my writing and speaking skills to call our government officials to engage in responsible prophetic action.

We Sage Sisters will meet again next month to give each other support on our continuing journey of conscious aging. I am so grateful to have these outstanding women accompanying me on the journey of becoming a conscious elder.

 

To be continued …

In my last post, A Disturbing Awakening, I noted that “Miss Nicey-Nice” needed to change and ended with … to be continued. Here is my continuation.

Part of the change I see myself needing to make involves letting go of my complacency. I have rarely been politically active and have only campaigned for one presidential candidate in my lifetime. In fact, I have been disgusted with politics.

This is me at a rally inviting our congressman, Mike Turner, to hold a town hall meeting. We have a number of concerns we’d like to talk with him about. I can understand why he might not want to meet with us. I watched a video of a South Carolina town hall where the constituents screamed, yelled, and boo’d. I have also seen videos of town halls where constituents asked intelligent questions and would not allow the politician to avoid answering or skirt the issue. That is the kind of town hall I would like to attend.

My sign reads “See our ANGER. Hear our FEAR.” I chose the wording after watching the South Carolina rally. I believe that under the loud expressions of anger lay a lot of fear. I know that is true for me.

I think it is interesting that in the picture, I am walking next to a person with a sign reading “Save our Democracy.” I didn’t know how important democracy was to me and how much fear the threat of losing it engendered. I actually had physical symptoms similar to those I experienced after 9/11.

In the face of the threat to our democracy, I have taken several steps. Perhaps I will share more about that another time. For today’s post, I will share one of my experiences at the “Searching for Mike Turner Rally.”

Toward the end of the rally, I walked over to read a sign with a lengthy message. Molly introduced herself. I made a new friend.

Admiring Molly’s necklace, I learned that she is a glass artist who left corporate America to follow her dream. She has her own art glass studio. You can click on this link to visit her website. I told her I admired her courage in following her dream.

For her sign, Molly had taken the time to write part of a quote from Majida Mourad, a Lebanese-American from Toledo, who shared her wisdom on an American Task Force for Lebanon website. Click the ATFL link for the full quote.

Molly’s sign read: “One of the things that happens to a lot of people in Washington is that they lose touch with their roots. They stop going home. They pretend that they were always big successes and they become a different person. Don’t let that be you.”

The rally was coming to a close and many people were departing. My friend, Jim, and I had signed up to be two of the people who would go into Congressman Turner’s office to express our concerns. We were permitted to go in two-by-two and Jim and I were way down on the list. Our parking meter was running out of time. I told Jim it was okay with me if we left. I said, “Our registering our concerns to his staff probably won’t make that much difference anyway.”

Molly intervened. She was diplomatic as she referred to me as “an older woman.” I chuckled because that is exactly what I am, and I am not insulted by that label anymore. Especially when a young person is acknowledging the important role of elders in our community. After all, I belong to a Sage Sisters group where we support each other in being conscious elders.

Molly told me that young people are supposed to be angry and aren’t paid much attention to. But when people with gray hair are concerned enough to speak, people listen.”

So, I turned to Jim and said, “Okay, let’s stay.” His wife, Diana, could take care of the parking meter, if needed.

So, this gray-haired elder waited and took a turn talking with Congressman Turner’s staffer about my concerns. I told him that I’d like to hear Congressman Turner speak to what safeguards our system has to protect our democracy and how he is utilizing those. I noted that Turner serves on several congressional committees that deal with these issues.

I also had an opportunity to share my personal experience being the mother of a daughter with a progressive neuromuscular disease who would have had no healthcare during her crisis in the spring if not for the Affordable Care Act and medicaid expansion. Jim and I acknowledged that ACA isn’t perfect and needs revising. I emphasized the problems insurance companies posed while I worked in the healthcare field, denying much needed services to my chemical dependency clients. I pointed out how our whole nation is now alarmed by the heroin problem and stymied about how to handle mental health issues.

I returned home from that rally feeling grateful to have made a new friend who reminded me to stretch into my role as an elder. Because of this young woman I embraced that what I have to say does matter and does make a difference. I won’t soon forget that as I continue pursuing the “change” I need to make.

I was “nice” to the very young staffer in Congressman Turner’s office and showed him respect. Reminding myself that “nice” isn’t bad, just not always enough, I also expressed my passion. I shared my experience and my words of wisdom.

I wish Mike Turner would listen to Majida Maurad’s words of wisdom and come home to his constituents…to his roots. He won’t have far to go to listen to her.

She happens to be his wife.

 

A Disturbing Awakening

Awakenings often begin with a disturbance in the midst of ordinary circumstances. I have found that if I stay with the disturbance long enough and follow its threads in my life, a profound awakening is in the offing. Recently, I experienced this unexpected phenomena.

On a Saturday afternoon in January, I joined three of my cousins (Chuck, Cathy, & Mike) and Cathy’s husband (Gary) for a visit with their mother (my Aunt Evelyn), in her assisted living facility. We formed a circle in a lounge area for our visit.

Mike, Cathy, & Chuck behind Aunt Evelyn

A volunteer at the facility approached us. She seemed to know my aunt and cousins. She shared the progress she was making on her cancer journey. Then she suddenly launched into a political rant.

I found what she said offensive.

I looked down and played with the zipper on my coat.

Mike attempted to engage her in conversation, but she was on a roll and was not really interested in dialogue or in hearing another point of view.

I continued to play with my zipper.

I felt jarred by her intrusion into our pleasant visit. On the hour’s drive back home I wrestled with myself. Despite my discomfort with what she said, I said nothing. I could have launched into a rant of my own. I have some strong political opinions, but I said nothing.

That evening my daughter and I watched a movie that had been recommended by my friend, Ani. Gentleman’s Agreement is a 1947 movie starring Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck portrays an investigative reporter who has been assigned to write a series on anti-Semitism. He struggles with how to approach the subject. Then one day he has an idea. He’s new in town and no one knows him, so he decides to pretend he is Jewish. Instead of basing his series on research and interviews, he would be able to write from experience. Even though his best friend from High School is Jewish, he is shocked by some of his experiences.

In the meantime, he falls in love with a woman. She is from an upper middle-class family and shares his hatred of anti-Semitism. But in her tight-knit community of family and friends, they have a “gentleman’s agreement” not to speak up about the discrimination, prejudice, and hostility they witness. I squirmed as my eyes were suddenly opened to something about myself that has bothered me for years.

From 1990 until my retirement in 2007 I worked as a chemical dependency family therapist for Turning Point, Miami Valley Hospital’s treatment center. I am guessing that the event that bothered me happened sometime around the turn of the century in 2000. The African-American member of our staff decided to do a survey of our African-American clients to see  how they felt about the way they were treated by the white staff.

At that time, we had five or six African-American clients. When our coworker gave us the results, the only thing I remember from that survey was that they dubbed me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I took that to be a derogatory term and it bothered me for years because one of those clients was special to me. In my private practice as a couple’s therapist, I had worked with him and his wife. I loved them and agonized with them about the difficulty he had letting go of his addiction.

So, for at least sixteen years, I carried that with me. What did they find objectionable about my being “nice.” With my father’s shining example, (see my December 3 post), I thought treating others with respect and compassion was a good thing.

But as I listened to Gregory Peck and his love interest argue about her reluctance to speak up to her family and friends, my eyes popped open.

That must be why they called me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I’m too nice to speak up in the face of injustice. Just like today. I stayed silent during this woman’s diatribe, despite how offensive it was to me.

I didn’t like what I saw about myself.

Being “nice” isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it is not enough.

I need to change.

To be continued.

 

 

Being True to Me

After I posted my last blog entry, “Bearing My Cross,” Cindi, my friend and one of my biggest cheerleaders, called. She, too, is serving as a caregiver for a family member. She overflowed with enthusiasm for what I had written. She said, “You write at a level of depth that is so real. Most people don’t want to go there.”

I said, “I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

skim-surface

Since then I have been pondering her words and the force behind my response.

I grew up with disapproval for being “so serious.” As a result, I found it safer to write about sorrow and anguish than to talk about it. My writing became a spiritual practice. Throughout my life, I’ve written letters to the Divine in my journal, pouring out my struggles until some deeper wisdom flowed from my pen.

writing-in-journal

Being a witness to this deeper wisdom emerging from somewhere deep inside continues to awe me. It is what helps me grow spiritually and not just survive the vicissitudes of life. That is the spirit I bring to my blog posts and my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.

I experience this sharing of my struggle with personal foibles in my process of growing spiritually as a calling. Still, every time I reveal what is “real” for me, I risk receiving the same censure I received as a young person.

“Most people don’t want to go there.” 

I struggled with the truth of Cindi’s words in the light of the reality in today’s publishing industry. Authors are expected to do 98 per cent of the marketing for our writing. Like most writers, I am an introvert who hates the whole idea of selling myself and my work. Yet, every writers’ workshop is replete with tips for “finding your tribe,” those readers who resonate with your writing. Some people make a living advising writers on how to successfully find readers. I wondered if I needed to change myself in order to appeal to a wider audience. But …

“I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”  ~Jeremiah 1:5

Then, last evening, I watched a recording of Oprah’s interview with Glennon Doyle Melton on Super Soul Sunday. And I received just the glorious validation I needed that finally inspired me to get this blog post beyond the pondering stage into writing. Glennon validated what I had already concluded: What is most important is being true to who I am. This is how I came into the world. This is who I am meant to be.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

love-warrior200nyt

Glennon is new to me and I have not read her memoir, “Love Warrior” or her “very popular blog, Momastery. But these words in her interview with Oprah resonated deeply with me:

“I no longer think I am broken. I think I am a deeply feeling person in a messy world.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Pain is like a travelling professor. The smartest people I know are the ones who say, ‘Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me everything I need to know.'”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Suffering is when we try to skip over the pain and get to the resurrection before the crucifixion…trying to rise before we fall.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon recounted several stories of disapproval she has received for her “truth telling.” Revealing what is “real” is risky. I am grateful to have found this kindred spirit and to witness her success. There are people out there who thrive in the presence of authentic revelation.

I remind myself that despite our flaws and sometimes because of them, we can be powerful channels of the Divine. I relax in this awareness because I find nothing more gratifying than hearing that someone, like Cindi, has found my writing to be validating and inspiring in all its realness…to know that what I have written has made a difference to someone. That makes the journey worthwhile.

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

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