Life lessons in linguistics

A few months ago I began studying Italian via Rosetta Stone software. For the most part I love the software. Languages come pretty easily to me to begin with (for which I am hugely grateful because I love learning them), and the intuitive nature of the software is, for the most part, convenient and meshes well with how I learn. Being a stay-at-home mom, my schedule is erratic and time to myself is pretty minimal, so I haven’t exactly been able to work with it in as disciplined of a fashion as I’d like. Shortly after beginning Italian, I started to miss speaking French (the second language I learned). I studied it throughout high school, college, and then lived in the country for just under two years, but have lost a lot since my return. So when the computer that the Italian software was on crashed, I took the opportunity to start working with an intermediate/advanced French grammar and vocab book I checked out of the library. Earlier today, I went through and completed all the exercises in the first chapter of the book – a somewhat frustrating experience as I struggled to remember words, proper spelling, grammatical structure, etc. After I finished (and had made flash cards for verbs I’d forgotten, good little student that I am) and several hours passed, one word keeps coming up in my brain. I hear it spoken in my mind at random intervals. The word is céder, to yield.

Because, in my experience, the things that crop up like that are not typically coincidental, I sat with that a minute. Yield. A number of things come up. Synonyms, foremost being ‘surrender’ (a lesson whose levels I’ve been working on – and will probably continue to work on – for a long time).  Questions – to whom (duh – Momma and Papa)? Yield what (probably another duh – uh, me, everything)? In English, ‘yield’ sounds like such a harsh, forceful word. The beginning of it requiring a push from the back of the throat to get it out; the “ee” sound that follows invoking a sense of nervousness, tension, apprehension, anxiety; and, the awkward combination of the consonants ‘l’ and ‘d’ at the end requiring great linguistic intention to annunciate fully. I find that pronouncing the word in English parallels my own experience in moving through the lesson of Surrender with the Divine – challenging, full of tension and anxiety, awkward. And yet, complete surrender, and, therefore, Oneness with the Divine IS our natural state. So why has my experience with it been fraught with such negativity?

The French, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Céder. Despite being one syllable longer than its English translation, the first part of the word flows off the tongue like water or a sigh, its phonetic pronunciation of “se” (like the English word ‘set’ without the ‘t’). The second syllable, ‘dae’ with its ‘d’ firm – yet not harsh – followed by the long ‘a’ vowel sound, cushioned with a gentle, open finish (like the ‘a’ in ‘ate’, but without the ‘t’ at the end), is like a mother’s solid but gentle hand around her child. When I hear it, it carries the softness of a whisper with reserves upon reserves of strength. Céder. I want to curl up in it, feel it wrap around me because that kind of gentle, wise strength could only create the most comforting safety. And there we have it. What it both takes to surrender to the Divine (some crazy ass strength, an owning of our own will and the gentle yet firm release and relinquishing of it) as well as what is offered in the surrender itself (Divine and Supreme Care and Safety, the likes of which exist nowhere else). The English word ‘cede’ is similar, and that makes me think of its homonym, seed. A seed is not forceful or dictatorial. Yet, it contains within it enormous potential (for instance, just think of a redwood tree).

I got curious about the etymology of the word ‘yield’ and looked it up online, English being such a hodge-podge language that it is. Among the root words from which it is speculated to come is the Old Norse gjaldo, meaning “to repay, return.” And isn’t that what surrender is? A return? Return to Source, to Divinity? A reunion, but one that is, ideally, lived every day? Chosen every moment?

I’ve had a hard time thinking of it and conceptualizing it like that – because a return and reunion with Source lived with each breath of my body sounds downright blissful – and perhaps part of my problem has been the language in which I’ve considered the lesson. Yield, as previously discussed, but even surrender. The latter brings to my mind images of war and/or a half-life in captivity or shame, capitulation, failure. Perhaps at this point, you may think that I’m overthinking this whole thing. And though that may be partially true (it is a tendency of mine, after all), we throw words around in our society to the extent that they lose their power on the surface. But not in our internal world. Our internal world – the one to which we’re more often than not oblivious – retains the memory of the essence of those words. And the language we use to make sense of and give meaning to the world around us and our interactions with it has great power. Like gravity, we don’t need to believe in it or know exactly how it works for it to be very real and effective.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is that so much of life is simply about perspective, how we choose to view things or think about them. I’ve been blessed with a gift for learning languages and the opportunities through which I am able to use that gift. Perhaps if I can look at this lesson with which I’ve struggled through new eyes and with new language (céder) that bears completely different connotations for me, my movement through it will be smoother.

In France, the street sign equivalent to the American ‘yield’ sign is sometimes just the familiar upside down red and white triangle , but often, it also reads “Cedez le passage.” Most interpreters advise against direct translation and that’s a general good rule of thumb; but, sometimes direct translations provide insights we would otherwise miss. Cedez le passage, translated directly means ‘Yield the passage, or way.’ What if I stopped trying to force my own way or passage onto or on my life and just took a side step? What amazing things could grow from my having ceded, and therefore, seeded the way?

What about you?

 

Why, What, How – huh?

Up until probably the last two years or so, I was a big supporter of the question, “Why?” I asked it all the time and about pretty much everything. I was convinced that the answers held the keys to everything I thought I needed and wanted. I first began to be broken of this habit during an extreme financial and family crisis. When you consistently wonder, for a prolonged period of time (i.e., months at least), if you’re going to end up homeless or how to possibly feed a family of 6 on about $10, you stop asking, “Why?” There is no more time for why. Why becomes wholly irrelevant. Facing any major crisis is like being on fire. It isn’t helpful to wonder why you caught on fire because if you do then you’re spending energy there instead of just putting the damn fire out. The important questions then become, “How?” or “What?” as in, “How can I put this fire out?” and “What can I use to accomplish that most quickly?” etc.

On a spiritual level, “Why?” is completely incongruent with the practice of surrender, of trust, and faith. Just like when you’re a little kid, even the most ideal parents will train you to just follow directions some times. My wife and her husband trained our girls like that because, God and Goddess forbid that in any dangerous situation they would hesitate when given directions instead of immediately following them without question (obviously, this practice could be and is abused by bad parents but we’ll leave that discussion for another time). I’m convinced the Divine operates the same way.

I don’t know if it’s because we have averted most of the crises facing us or they’re at least not raging fires but little piles of smoldering ash now, but at some point over the last several months I started asking Momma and Papa that question again. Like an obnoxious 4 year old, I would rattle on and on, “Why aren’t You telling me what my career is supposed to be?” “Why have You stopped me so many times in the middle of pursuing a career?” “Why do I have such a hard time with selfishness? “Why is it such work for me to have to remember the needs and wants of other people and focus on them instead of just my own?” “Why couldn’t I be one of those people that just knows what they want to do with their life with such conviction and goes after it?” “Why have I had and why am I still having such a hard time figuring out who I am?” Ugh. On and on and on and on. Interspersed in there, of course, was a lot of, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” “What am I supposed to be doing long-term?” “What is my purpose?” Thank goodness that Momma and Papa are Patience because when I started piecing this all together yesterday, even I wanted to smack me upside the head. But then the craziest thing happened, and it began slowly some time last week. They started giving me answers. And here’s the part that’s even more astonishingly crazy: having the answers to all those questions didn’t do a damn thing other than lead to me feeling stupid, guilty, and overwhelmed. It fixed nothing. And, of course, as soon as I began to get the answers, my questions shifted to “What” and “How?” and I found myself saying, “WHY isn’t helping me!!!” Oh, hey! *Lightbulb moment*

Now, I don’t know about you, but I had to sit with that for a while (that’s what happens some times when you’re hardheaded like I am). And as I sat in that space, Momma explained – and not because I asked! – that it was the only way I was going to learn that ‘Why’ is, for the most part, a waste of time. And energy. Then I saw a pattern. When They gave me what I told Them I wanted, I wanted something else. Back when I was working full time, I complained about having to do the work of figuring out who I am and all the other stuff that goes with that at the same time, and wouldn’t it be nice to not have to work and have more time to devote to working simply on me? And I saw that as soon as I had that (now and since we moved), I’ve been complaining about not knowing what path my career should be heading down, and why can’t I just get on with that? It’s the same thing with the Why’s. I’d been asking Why (instead of What or How), and They’d been telling me the What and How. Then when They started to tell me the Why’s (totally unhelpful, but exactly what I’d been bugging Them about), I’d shifted to the What and Hows. Kind of a grass being greener type thing which stems from a lack of gratitude, but also a lack of trust.

So, in light of all of that, I am committing myself to surrender, to trust, and sticking with the Whats and Hows. I hope to report super happy fabulousness shortly on this new venture!

Little did I know…

Life is a series of cycles – an ever-changing, hopefully evolving, dynamic process. In my previous post I wrote about the key to happiness. In that post I touched on some myths of that all-too-often seemingly elusive experience and its pursuit. I haven’t been writing for the last little bit because I’ve been busy learning something else. It’s something that to some, perhaps, might seem obvious. Perhaps it was my naivete or idealism (or maybe just laziness) that kept me from being able to see it for myself before. Regardless, here it is: Happiness is not static. It is not a destination. It is as dynamic as balance, as peace. Here’s the other little tidbit I’ve been experiencing: That first taste of happiness – and, oh, is it delectable – is like an amuse-bouche. It is a teaser of things to come in a multi-course, exquisite, rock-your-senses-and-change-your-whole-world dining experience of Life. And it needs to be that amazing, that evocative, that ecstatic because it provides the motivation to get you through what comes next:

An interactive demonstration of everything in your life and your world that keeps you from being able to live in and from that dynamic space.

That first taste of true happiness is the honeymoon that precedes the work of marriage.

The name for that work is healing. The drive to do that work and achieve the happiness that is wholeness is desire.

Now, frequently when we hear the word ‘desire’ what comes to mind is of a romantic or sexual nature. It makes sense to me that this came to be in our lexicon because sex is the greatest act of creation one can experience and participate in. It is sacred in its nature because, in addition to what I just poinetd out, it is union. All of our relationships (platonic, romantic, etc.) teach us how to be in relationship with the Divine. Sex and sexual union is the most powerful analogy we can come up with for the ecstasy that is union with Divinity, with Source. Healing, re-membering, uncovering, and returning to our Essence is how we achieve long-lasting union with the Divine while in a physical body.  

One of my favorite music artists is P!nk. I just have a lot of admiration for her commitment to living her life as she sees fit and not being apologetic about it, about the choices (both wise and poor) that she makes, and taking those experiences and turning them into medicine. When I heard and saw the video for one of her new singles “Try,” though it seems written as a discussion of a romantic relationship, when I applied my filters of the above discussion of desire and healing, the chorus, at least, has elevated substance and meaning for me. As I’ve said a million times, healing is hard, messy, painful work. It is a beyond-intimate process with the Divine of being re-broken and re-made into Wholeness. And it is a decision that needs to be made sometimes every moment, every day.

So if you’ve experienced happiness and then had everything blow up around you or fall to pieces shortly thereafter and are now wandering lost and wondering if you just hallucinated or made it all up, don’t fret. It’s all a part of the process, and (perhaps counterintuitively) it means you’re probably on the right track. Just get back up and try.

 

 

The Key to Happiness

If you’ve spent any time anywhere (whether online or in bookstores, etc.) looking at self-help material, you no doubt encountered probably dozens of titles about the ‘secret to happiness.’ It is something that we, as a society, endlessly struggle to try to find, spending probably millions of dollars on everything from books, CDs/mp3s, retreats, gurus, diets, exercise programs or personal trainers, spa treatments, clothes, drugs – you name it. In an amazon search I just did simply typing in “secret to happiness”, there were just over 6,000 results. I had no idea happiness was such a profitable market. And if you’ve spent any time here in blogland, you’ll find tons of New Agers promising that certain crystals or meditations or whatnot will get you there or an explanation of the achievement of happiness that reads like a doctoral thesis on quantum physics. If quantum physics is happy at you, fabulous! But I promise you don’t need to learn it if you don’t already study it to be happy.Now, in spite of being a joy-filled person by nature (for which I am enormously grateful), I still have a tendency to get in my own way. I still get cranky and moody and irritable and bitchy and just, well, lost. And while I have learned a lot – particularly over the course of the last 5+ years – one of the things I’ve learned is that I know very little. And I’ve reached a point where I am pretty okay with that. I’m happy to marvel at the mystery of the Universe and enjoy the part I play in it. There are, though, two things that I Know that I Know – the key to happiness being one of them – and it is my great joy to share them with you here today. In plain English. For free!

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

courtesy of stock.xchng

1) What you focus on grows.

2) Gratitude is the key to happiness.

 

Yup. It’s that simple. It just figures that something so seemingly elusive is so simple to find. Now, note that I said simple – not easy. There’s a difference. Simple means uncomplicated. It is not the antonym for difficult.

 

As for the first one – the phrase ‘law of attraction’ probably springs to mind. I haven’t read any of Abraham Hicks material and I may be one of the few Pagans out there in the world who has not read “The Secret” – mostly because I’d already learned the principle from my Teacher. If you haven’t read either of these yourself, you don’t really need to if you just remember #1 up there (I know I personally have a hard time taking anyone who uses the word ‘vortex’ seriously, so if that’s you, too, you’re not alone). That’s the gist of it. Of course, if you want to do some reading, feel free! The bottom line is that the fundamental principle of ‘what you focus on grows’ is NOT froo-froo, New Age fluff. No, that part’s for real. I imagine if you take a hard look through your life and be painfully honest with yourself, you will find it to be true.

 

As for the second one – the expression of genuine gratitude is the fastest way to shift any negative or purely destructive energy and bring it into balance. Balance is our Natural, dynamic state. Everyone’s. When you connect with your Natural way of Being, happiness follows. When I express genuine gratitude, I direct my commentary to my particular conceptualization of the Divine (Momma and Papa), but don’t worry – we’re not going to leave the Atheists out there in the cold. Simply stating, “I am grateful for *fill in the blank*” totally works, as long as you’re genuine. And these don’t need to be earth-shaking sentiments. In fact, it’s being grateful for the little things that I’ve found just amps it up. Blue skies. Flowers that smell yummy. Coffee. Indoor plumbing. Stinky French cheese (I don’t have any in my fridge at the moment, but I’m grateful it exists in the world). Cigarettes. Hot water. African black face soap (it is the shit for combination skin). How it smells right after it rains. Coffee. Body glitter. Baby giggles (if you don’t know any babies, go to youtube). Youtube. Kittens. Deep, belly laughs. The internet. The color magenta. Picnics. Sleeping in. Really awesome sex. Traffic lights turning green right as I approach an intersection. Have I mentioned coffee?  Just try it. For two weeks, write down a minimum of 20 things you’re grateful for every day. Every day, no exceptions. And you need to be genuinely grateful for each and every thing you write down. If you have a hard time with that part, take a moment for each one and imagine what the world (or your world) would be like if that didn’t exist. I’d like to take a moment to remind you that I said this was simple, not easy.

 

If you manage your two weeks having been genuinely expressing gratitude for at least 20 things every day, I think you’ll find that at the end of your two weeks, you’ll be a hell of a lot happier than you are right now. And if you’re pretty happy now, imagine how much happier you’ll be incorporating this practice into your routine! And it’s cumulative! It just keeps building. Perhaps you’re remembering a part in the beginning of my post where I said I still get bitchy and cranky, etc. and wondering why you should buy into this stuff I’m saying if I still experience moments where I’m lacking happiness. Have you ever gone to a gym after either having never been to one or there being a pretty long lapse of time between visits? You head over to the free weights, pick up the 10, 20, or 50 lb-ers (some weight that you think would be manageable) and start doing reps. But your muscles aren’t accustomed to working that hard. They tire. Pretty quickly. And, by the way, you’re wearing a weighted suit when you do all this. You can only build that muscle so fast without your body shaking and collapsing in protest. It’s the same king of thing here. The weighted suit you’re wearing is all of the shit piled on top of who you really are, your True Self. The more you “work out,” the closer you come to Balance, the more you start to shed pieces of that suit which, in turn, makes working out easier, which then means you shed more of that suit, and it’s an amazing and magical cycle. It’ll kick your ass 100 ways to Sunday – I won’t lie about that – but if you persevere, you’ll get to where it is you want to be. And you can start it with the simple expression of genuine gratitude.

Leaving the Zone

Have you ever been looking for something and not even known you were searching? It’s like your spirit bypasses your brain somehow and directs your body where to go, what to do. It gives your brain just enough information so it can lend some resources to the endeavor but, at least initially, restricts access to that part of the brain that can take all those pieces, synthesize them, and then name it. Of course, once that part of the brain has access, the immediate reaction is just, “Well, duh!” How could I have missed that?

I think it happens that way so that we cannot possibly get in our own way too early in the process; so that our spirits have the chance to pull the rest of us into the process and get us to start to really want it. That way, in case our brain balks at the idea, it’s out-voted. Here are the pieces that my spirit had previously kept separate so my brain couldn’t get in my way:

1) Yesterday I began reading a book called Allies in Healing. It’s written for partners of childhood sexual abuse survivors. My wife (a survivor of complex, chronic trauma and abuse) had bought it for me at a used book store. She’s been encouraging me to be more social in general, whether it was to find some kind of support group specifically (online or in person), or to just make friends. While I don’t fall in the extremist area on the introvert/extrovert scale, I’m definitely not the extreme introvert she is. My wife and I have been together for just over five years. She is the most amazing being I have ever met. And though I knew she was a trauma survivor before we got together, I didn’t have the slightest idea as to what that meant for our relationship, how completely it would impact it and us, me, and my life. Up to this point, I’ve essentially gotten through all the challenges that we’ve encountered with her or on my own.

2) Last night I was cleaning up my blogroll. It was a rather saddening affair because most of my favorite blogs either don’t exist anymore (their authors deleted them, which for the record, I completely disagree with, but to each their own) or they haven’t had new entries in forever. It was like coming home after you’ve been away and everything’s different – nobody and nothing is where it used to be. A while ago, I’d try to hunt for new favorite places but couldn’t find anyone that felt like “kin.” So I finally resigned myself to deleting the now-non-existent sites, letting go of the hope that the authors would return and sighed in the loneliness that settled in my space.

3) Before our whole family moved here (south Florida) and it was just my wife and our oldest daughter, they found a Unitarian Universalist church and went to it a couple times. When the rest of us joined them and, the first Sunday we had enough gas money, I went without my wife and with our two girls as well as my wife’s ‘kind of boyfriend.’ We were prepping to go this morning, and I was talking about how I’m not a good mingler. My wife pointed out that the whole point was community – you kind of have to mingle to achieve it. Touche.

4) Late this afternoon, upon my wife’s recommendation, I went over to Quaker Pagan Reflections, and read Cat’s latest post. And that’s when my spirit finally let my brain in on the secret. Community. Support. Connection. Oh!  Thank you, Cat (no, really, I still hadn’t quite gotten it even after the whole church thing – I’m a bit slow some times, what can I say?).

So, instead of just reading and lurking on other people’s blogs, I actually started commenting (whether to express gratitude or if I had something I genuinely wanted to share). Then, I went a step further and googled to find an online forum for partners of sexual abuse survivors. While all relationships present challenges and opportunities to learn and grow, those of us who are partners of these survivors face unique experiences and challenges, and it’s past time that I get some support  and learn how to better equip myself. I did find one, by the way, and I signed up. Go me!

All of the hard experiences that I’ve lived and moved through over the course of the past couple years have been challenging enough, but by isolating myself the way I have, I’ve made it all the more difficult. Stepping away from what is familiar and out of what has become my comfort zone is daunting. I haven’t been social in such a long time that I honestly forget how to be. I have no idea how people do it – meet people for the first time and just chat let alone go from being acquaintances to friends. You might as well be asking me to read the Talmud. In Hebrew. However, I am committing myself to this pursuit. I will face my anxiety, I will move through it, and I will heal this aspect of myself and my life. Comfort, like boredom, is overrated, right?😉

What ventures out of your comfort zone have you recently made? Or what ventures outside of it do you want to make but haven’t yet?

Reality blogging – in the Truest sense

I try to be a very tolerant person. I think it’s a good quality to possess and express and consider it a key ingredient in the recipe for world peace. But I find I have little to no tolerance for “reality TV.”  I consider the phrase a misnomer. In my experience, and when I have forced myself to sit down and watch it (mostly when it was first introduced to our cinematic existence), I concluded little other than it being an unecessarily excessive drama-filled production; a caricature of the human experience. And because I place such an enormous value on Truth, any time I encounter or hear about it, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that makes me want to spit. So I do my best to avoid it, not wanting to waste energy.

Though somewhat less potent, my response to what I consider “reality blogging” is similar. It’s something I’ve written about (here) before, but apparently, I’m not quite done with it, so here I am again. Before I continue, I think it’s important for me to clarify that I am, by Nature, an Idealist. I am Joy-filled and Innocent (in the Truest sense of the word). I am not a cynic. Nor am I pessimistic. Really. So throughout the remainder of this post when I’m discussing these kind of blogs, it’s important for me to communicate my distaste for them does not come from that place.

I am all for positivity and positive thinking and energy and the laws of attraction and Love and Gratitude. They are sources of hope and healing and, seriously, I conclude that there’s not enough of any of them in the world; that if there were more of them, the world (and everyone in it) would be more healed and, in general, better. Not the kind of better that leads to debates about superiority or inferiority or judgment, but the kind of better that only compares each person with that person. Better as in more a manifestation of their True Selves.

Now, it is damn hard work to get to that place of True Self and certainly to live from there. I know because I’m working on it. And instead of things getting easier the further I go, they seem to get more challenging as I root through all the shit that’s piled on top of Who I Really Am in an effort to get rid of it. Yet, I find I am also filled with more resources to be able to move through that process, and the rewards are great. The “reality blogs” that frustrate me are the ones that are fairytale-esque, the ones that are only positivity, that show only the light-filled portion of that journey or only the “end” of it.

Perhaps you’re wondering why, if I’m all Joy-filled and Hopeful, something that’s so positive bothers me so much. I’ve been wondering that myself, and here is what I’ve come up with: Those blogs are the air brushed and glamour shot photos of the pursuit of self-actualization. As a Witch and a person, I have dedicated myself to being an instrument of healing in the world. Healing – synonymous with self-actualization, for in self-actualization we heal all that is not our Truest Self – is not easy. Healing is messy and painful and uncomfortable and takes far longer than anyone ever wants it to (anyone who has actually attempted to pursue psychological, spiritual, emotional, or even serious physical healing will attest to that).  Because I have committed myself to being an instrument of healing (and perhaps because of my professional training as a counselor), I think anyone considering healing should have fully informed consent before they begin. They need to know how much it’s going to suck in the middle, how it will probably get worse before it gets better (and that’s a good sign!), how it will be a process and, depending on the nature of the healing, a lifelong pursuit. So these blogs that only showcase the “end product” or the light half of the adventure serve as false advertising, mystify the process and possibly create disillusionment in anyone who reads them who is considering healing. Such disillusionment can be downright damaging, sometimes irreparably so because if one person comes across a blog like that and tries to pursue healing and then runs smack into the actual Reality of the process, the consequences – and I’m NOT being dramatic here – can be as severe as to be literally deadly. I don’t understand something, though. The question I have for those bloggers who paint such an unrealistic picture of healing and growing is this: if you actually grew or healed or are pursuing growth and healing, then I can guarantee you did or are working at it – why would you exclude the actual work part from what you share?  Do you not realize that in doing so, you dishonor not only the process itself, but your Self as well as the progress you have made and are making? How can anyone share in your triumph with you when you don’t talk about what it was or is that you’re triumphing over?

Now, to be clear, I’m not advocating anyone be a fount of negativity or talk about nothing BUT their trials or obstacles without following that up with how they moved through them. But if you’re going to blog about a pursuit of growth or healing, then I think you have the responsibility to your readers – whether your readers number 5 or 5, 000 – to be honest and real, to include the dark as well as the light. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that movies or books based on true stories are so much more powerful and meaningful than those that aren’t. So even though it can be hard, even when it might not paint the prettiest picture of you, I encourage any bloggers writing about growth and healing to include those moments of stumbling, those moments that seem less-than-beautiful if not downright ugly.

It is our imperfections that make us perfect and beautiful.

Perhaps you think that I take this whole blogging thing too seriously and are saying to yourself, “Blogs are for entertainment – Who looks to them for a life-changing experience? Get a grip, lady and chill out.” But I’ve looked to blogs for that very reason, for connection with others, to try to find out if I was the only one who had experiences like those I’ve had, if there was truly hope out there, if anyone who’d had similar problems had made it through to some better place. When we are dying of thirst, we will hunt feverishly, almost maniacally, for any source to quench us, to sustain us; and, when the internet provides immediate access and connection to a host of the world’s population, surely someone out there could offer us the life-giving substance we so desperately need. And we can stay anonymous so no one will know how we struggle and where we fall short! So, if one has access, what better place to look?

In light of all of that, I commit to you that I will never try to gloss over or sugar coat the healing process, the process of unfolding and becoming my True Self; I will share my struggles (though not wallow in them) with you and I will share how I move through them. I will be honest and authentic and seek to inspire encouragement and hope. And I welcome dialogue, your stories, your feedback, your input, so while I certainly appreciate all the “likes” for my posts, if you feel moved to do so, please do comment. I genuinely want to know what you think and how you’re doing, and if I can be of any help, I am honored to share in your journey.

How did I get on this carpet?

Life is such an amazing and beautiful thing. Ceaselessly astonishing and surprising to me. The mystery of it all continues to amaze me each and every day. Experiencing and interacting with the Divine and the Divine’s sense of humor has, often simultaneously, brought me to my knees in gut-wrenching sobs while feeling the embrace of Love and Compassion as I sit there crumpled up in a ball of snotting, overwhelming emotion and awareness of Truth and how far from and close to it I am, sometimes all at once.

Every time I experience an opportunity for some significant jump in growth and dedicate myself to pursuing that jump, to embracing it before and around me, to unfold and become more of my True Self Momma and Papa inevitably call me to the carpet about it – usually within a 24 hr period. That call typically manifests in the form of some challenge. The Divine is ALWAYS listening, and while I imagine They hoot and holler and cheer for us when we make such declarations of dedication to change and healing and are ready and willing to coach us and walk through the whole sticky, messy, and some times painful process of it with us, They are compassionate enough to test us first, to provide us an ‘out’, to make sure we really mean it. My challenge after taking up the mantle of Love and Gratitude on my crusade of anti-negativity showed up in the form of our almost 21 year old son behaving like a complete douche and, well, a typical 21 yr old male with a history of trauma who has only just begun the healing process.

The incident itself is less important than was my response to it. Now, perhaps it’s my Irish ancestry at work, but I am a temperamental being who also happens to be, among other things, relentless, willful and headstrong. It’s a delicious combination of traits (I’m not being sarcastic – really, it is marvelous), and one of the mysteries is that just those four traits can comingle in myriad different measures to produce an astounding number of different reactions and responses. Some healing and creative, some…well, not so much. On this particular occasion, they coalesced and manufactured a river of lava, a veritable flow of fury that simmered below the surface and threatened to geiser at the slightest misstep or lack of adequate contrition on our son’s part. I spent the whole of yesterday walking around in restless agitation, justifying my emotional state by reminding myself of our son’s inappropriate demanding, ungrateful, disrespectful, and bitchy behavior. Replaying the scene of our argument on a movie reel in my mind with extra attention and encore performances of the part where he called my wife (his mother) a “crazy lady.” Like a school yard bully, I aimed a steely eyeball at him (when I deigned to look upon his face) throughout the day, my ears on high alert like a cat’s ready to pounce at the smallest nuance of attitude. I didn’t try to move past the mad. I reveled in it, keeping it barely managed.

By 11pm last night, I was exhausted.  I’d already taken an hour and a half nap earlier in the day, confused as to why I was so tired. It wasn’t until just before bef time that I remembered how tiring being angry was. My wife and I were sitting on the back patio, and she asked me what was up because I seemed not okay. I replied saying I was still angry. She then inquired as to why I hadn’t been able to let go of my mad. The conversation that ensued entailed my wife, as ambassador for the Goddess and God, calling me to the carpet and reminding me of my crusade as well as poignantly asking how I was doing with that right now? Oh, a Divine touche! Well, hell. I was gloriously sucking at it. Hahaha!  How marvelous!  What a wonderful opportunity to grow! Throughout our conversation, I reaffirmed several important tenets I have promised to uphold: 1) I will always love our kids more than I will be mad at them, 2) I will ensure they are firm in this knowledge, and 3) the goal is to heal the person, not to simply change the behavior. I was still a little grumpy even at the end of the conversation, but it was a different kind of mad. It was the, ‘well, damn, I fucked that up and my emotions are not yet in perfect congruence with my goals and doesn’t that suck’ kind of grumpy. Yup, I fell off the Love and Gratitude wagon before I was even settled on to it. Good thing I’m relentless😉

Today, as I think about yesterday, I simply find myself chuckling to and at myself. Oh, Jess, did you really think it was going to be easy? Of course I have to instill Love and Gratitude in myself before I can begin trying to create it around me. So today, I am dusting myself off from that little wagon stumbling incident yesterday and damned if I’m not going to get back on that wagon again!

Wherever you are in the beautiful process and journey that is your life, I hope for you the ability to chuckle at yourself when you fall – to not take it all so seriously as to discourage you from continuing on when you get those scrapes and bruises on your knees and shins from falling off whatever wagon you were trying to get or stay on. I hope for you a touch of relentlessness to urge you to keep trying in those times because truly, nothing ever gets better if you just give up.

Expansions in the name of Love and Gratitude

At some point during the other day, I had a moment of clarity the likes of which I have only experienced a handful of times in my life. I had been listening to the short people in my house and L throughout the day and something was building up within me without my awareness. Like the sky parting after a long and tumultuous storm to reveal blueness so vivid that one swears the sky had never donned this vibrant shade before, it coalesced in my mind in words: negativity. Everywhere around me, the people I love and whose lives I am so honored to share and witness were a teaming bundle of complaints, whining, sniping, and irritability. I noticed it not only in them, but also in myself – either right before I would utter something or immediately after I thought or said it. As pervasive and present as noxious gas, it was everywhere I turned, in everything I heard. Knowing that complaining and negativity is the opposite of gratitude, and only serves to attract more of the same, I became angry; of course, only to realize minutes later that my anger only fed the negativity around me and wouldn’t help to heal these amazing people in asshole’s clothing or the situation so that wasn’t an option. The next part of the revelation occured when I began to pay closer attention to their behavior, to what they said and how they said it. And I found one common underlying theme to all of it: Fear.

I have learned that there are two (I guess technically three, but two are partners and on the “same side”) primary sources whose roots we can trace all of our decisions, thoughts, emotions and behaviors back to: 1) Fear, or its opposite 2) Love and Gratitude. Everything  (and I do mean everything) – from what you decide to wear each day to why you chose the career track you did to how you function and interact in relationship – comes back to one of these two concepts. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying all fear is “bad.” Fear, in its true form and not the hyped up anxiety we often mistake it for today, is a survival mechanism. It is one of the managers of the limbic system and the driver behind the flight/fight/or freeze response. But most stress management experts will tell you that our physiology hasn’t caught up with our modern environment. Rarely, unless one works in a dangerous and high-risk profession, is the fear that drives us today based on our immediate survival. It’s leftover from the days when it served that purpose but except in those rare occasions, its roots aren’t planted in survival. They’re planted in selfishness. AA brilliantly acknowledges this root of self- and other destruction in the famous Big Book and its 12-step program. It’s one of the main reasons why there is such a focus on service in the program and why, after one has reached a somewhat stable level of sobriety, one’s next step is to be a sponsor to someone else struggling. As a side note, the Big Book is brilliant in and of itself and I think everyone on the planet would benefit from reading it and walking through the 12 steps as well as learning the 12 traditions. For those of us without substance issues, there are any number of addictions we can substitute, if not the addiction to selfishness as a whole.

For the past several days, when I’m not herding children or cats or trying to figure out some way to not let the people I love make me crazy I’ve been reading a biography about a Franciscan priest who was a chaplain for the FDNY and died during the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I’m less than halfway through the book, and I can affirm to you that this man whom I never met in person has already dramatically changed my life in ways I am sure will continue to unfold for years to come. It’s called The Book of Mychal if you’re interested. Perhaps it’s the Christians I knew growing up or the one my parents attempted to groom me into becoming or my lack of experience with Christians who seem to truly LIVE their faith that makes the story of Father Mychal’s life that much more moving and awe-inspiring. But more than the type of Christian he was, the book (and he) is incredible because it describes the person he was. (A witchy parenthesis – it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this man actually was Saint Francis reincarnated. That was a damn cool dude that particular time around to begin with.) He was a man of unfathomable love, devotion, compassion, and service.

So it is Father Mychal I think about when I look around my home and see the state of the people I love embroiled in negativity, weighted down in fear. And again, like a few other times so far in this life, I feel an expansion within myself. If I have the capacity to recognize the state of things, then I wholeheartedly believe that I have the capacity to heal them and make them better for us all. And perhaps that might mean expanding even more, but I fully believe I’m capable of that as well and that the opportunity would not be presented to me if it were otherwise.

 

Story time

Rarely is my life not in some state of upheaval. Thankfully, when my shit is on really straight and I’m not bitching about it, I thrive on change which means I’ve learned to make some damn fine lemonade. Lemonade aside, though, I’ve established a pattern of bitching more often than not (whether this takes place in my head or with my outside voice) and allowing the upheaval to dictate my life and schedule, not to mention temperament. I’ve resisted embracing the concept of thriving on change out of fear for sending out a message to the Universe to keep it comin’ and thereby never attaining a sense of stability. The thing is, when I deny parts of my Self (like thriving on change), the result is usually a hot mess. Through denying this particular part of my Self, I essentially get plowed by the wave of change and end up bruised and exhausted on the beach of whatever new space I was meant to be, sputtering up salt water, coughing, and wheezing because I chose to hide instead of ride that wave and see where it took me. Cause that translates to stability? So, since what I’ve been doing isn’t getting me to where I’d like to be, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to do my best to not hide from those waves, to not bitch about them, but to stare at them head-on and then ride them out with grace.

One of the things that I’ve allowed to lapse when those waves come rolling toward me is my writing, as is evidenced through the extreme inconsistency of posts here. I’d like that to be different. At the moment, we have one semi-functional car among myself and the two other adults with whom I share my life. My wife is working full-time, and her husband is working part-time. His boss provides transportation to the jobs they handle, so his lack of vehicular independence isn’t a problem. My role in our house and family, though, has dramatically changed from being the full-time employee and primary “bread-winner” to being the stay-at-home mom. I’m still adjusting. One of the beautiful things about this new situation, though, is that it provides me more time to be able to devote to writing.

I was reflecting on this the other day and a movie clip from my memory slid onto a projector in my mind. I am in my tenth grade biology class. We are, yet again, sitting at our desks and coloring in pictures of mitochondria. It seems we spend most of this year just coloring in pictures of cells. Mrs. S, our teacher, is at her desk with her head bent down doing who-knows-what-besides-ignoring-us. My lab partner, JW, asks me what movie I watched this weekend. We’re not really friends, JW and myself, but these times of coloring pictures have become story time for all of us and quiet anticipation breathes collectively as they all await my tale. It is not that I am popular or friends with all or even most of them. As soon as the bell rings, we will go about the rest of our day and probably ignore each other again. But right now, I am the story teller and they are my eager audience. I begin recounting the latest movie I saw, vividly painting the scenes with florid descriptions as our coloring pencils fill in the whites of the papers on our desks. There are occasional laughs, gasps, “No way!”s, and “Then what happened?!”s. Some times, someone will point out a part I missed or forgot – not antagonistically, but because they want me to go back and include it. I am in my element. It is not the attention that I seek – I’m more comfortable out of the spotlight than in it, struggling as I am with typical 15 year old insecurities – but it is the passion for the story and its telling that drives me and lifts me up into more of who I am than I am capable of achieving on my own at the time.

I’ve been meditating a lot over the course of the last year and, through meditation, have been holding discussions with my True Self. She is a story teller. After I learned that, it made much more sense as to why I have difficulty being concise. It also made much more sense as to why I feel so alive and just right within my own space when I am writing or telling stories. In an effort to step more into the space of my True Self, I am recommitting myself to this space and to writing. I don’t know how often I’ll be posting here, but I’ll aim for at least twice a week to start and see how that goes. Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you well.

Stirring the pot

We recently moved, and because the process of the move was a little slower than I would have liked and frought with a number of obstacles magically overcome (I am speaking literally there), I had a lot of opportunity to ask some big questions and spend some time in serious reflection.

My parents were on my mind a lot at that time and, consequently, my religious upbringing and my current spiritual affiliation. I’ve written a lot about my parents and being raised in a conservative Christian household, so I won’t rehash that here. Spirituality and spiritual differences is one of the huge points of contention between my parents and myself and is one of several thorns in the side of our relationship (my non-heterosexual orientation and polyamorous lifestyle rank right up there as well).  I’m not sure which of those three they’re most concerned will damn my soul to a firey oblivion, but in all seriousness I imagine it’s a big fear of theirs that I (obviously) do not share. So during this period of transition, I found myself pondering the Christian “answer” to eternal life/’salvation’ engrained in me since before I could remember: inviting Jesus into one’s heart and accepting him as one’s ‘savior’ knowing that is not something I will share with them.

Now, I left the Church about 10 years ago when it stopped making sense to me and I found my spiritual home in Witchcraft and Paganism; however, I spent more than the first half of my life practicing that religion so I’m pretty well-versed in it and its doctrine. Regardless of whether one chooses to believe the Bible’s “divinely inspired origin” as Christians contend (which doesn’t really matter to me personally either way – lots of books contain valuable information, insight and Truth), for the sake of empathizing with my parents, I tried to step into those particular shoes during my time of introspection and reflection. I thought about how JC almost always spoke in metaphors and parables. And I concluded that where a lot of Christians miss the boat is that they forget this tendency of his and take what appear to be simple words literally. The thing is, just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they are/were intended to be interpreted concretely. I thought about the various traits that JC embodied – Love, Compassion, Mercy, Kindness, Faith, Hope, etc. – and I came to the conclusion that was what he meant with that whole, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” bit. That the goal was to integrate those characteristics and traits into one’s self and spirit, to plant them, let them take root, grow, and bloom. I happen to think that those characteristics are pretty awesome and the Goddess and God embody them and have told me I should as well. So, despite the different paths we may take to get there, my parents and I could very well end up on the same page as far as they’re concerned.

Witchcraft is a mystery religion. It is very straightforward in its identification about that. Having practiced a mystery path for about 10 years now, I have a certain calmness and level of tolerance for ambiguity that I have experienced some others as not having, which brings me to my second major realization: All religions are mystery religions. Some are just more straightforward about declaring and owning it. The thing is, because of the fact that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience, part of that human experience is the not knowing. The Big Three (and any number of other organized religions) can try to take as much mystery out of it all they want through the creation of rules, guidelines, by-laws, etc., but I think they do a disservice to their followers as a result.

I’m not saying that all the leaders of those faiths behave in such a way. I think a huge part of the problem comes from not distinguishing the difference between religion and spirituality – one is man-made and the other is Divinely gifted, respectively. The former is supposed to be a vehicle for connecting with and expressing the latter, though that is sadly not often reality. The ones who pitch the rules and religion over the spirituality are like used car salesmen; and, most (though certainly not all) of the buyers out there either don’t know enough, don’t want or are too lazy to ask questions. These religious leaders (because when they behave this way, I don’t think they deserve the title of ‘spiritual leaders’ seeing as they’re not engaging Spiritual Truth) make it seem clean, clear-cut, concrete, and straightforward with no grey area; however, in spite of all the rules and regulations, there are still inconsistencies, still contradictions, still unanswerable questions, uncertainty and the unknown. It’s like a redacted car fax report. There is still mystery. There will always be mystery.

Most people, though, fear the unknown, so they buy into the idea that it’s not really there – that those redacted sections aren’t important – and immerse themselves in the following of the aforementioned rules, regulations, and routine. They tell themselves that they have a step-by-step formula to follow. But here’s where it gets a bit dodgier – because there are inconsistencies and contradictions, they can sort through and choose which pieces they like and which ones are easiest for them and then ignore the rest (hello, KKK, nazis, scary-ass cults and other zealous fundamental sub-groups). And all of this serves the purpose of making them feel better about who they are and where their soul will go when their body dies. Really, I think that those literalist practitioners of the Big Three and other rigid organized religions are just as uncertain as the rest of us – whether you follow some other spiritual path or not. They just cling tighter to the routine when those pesky questions that pull at the rest of us about the mystery all around us dog them in order to avoid facing the questions head on and to ease the existential anxiety the lack of answers leaves with them.

But I don’t think the answer is in trying to avoid those questions, trying to escape that faceless opponent who’s one hell of  a grappler. I know it’s scary, but engaging with the Divine and Its Mystery, I am convinced, is always better than not. So if you’re struggling – whatever your path and affiliation may be – your best bet, I think, is one of two options: A) Scream, fight against, resist, cuss, kick and claw that mystery till your throat is raw and your hands and knees are bloody. If you’ve tried that course and it hasn’t gotten you what you’re looking for, try this on for size: B) Embrace that Mystery, lean into it even more. Instead of trying to fight and resist that nameless, faceless, mysterious figure, let it pin you to the ground and stare straight into your soul. Then give it a big, passionate, and sloppy kiss. Follow that kiss up with the innocent giggle of a new lover. Stare right back and ask it what it wants. Then, Listen.