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!

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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?

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.

 

Re-translated and re-membered

It’s been too damn long since I’ve written. Anything. Unfortunately, my computer troubles I had been having are still unresolved – at the moment the hard drive of my previous laptop is in a sort of limbo state where it’s still fully intact, yet I am unable to access or open any of the files. Including the book on which I was working. I don’t know if that’s some sort of message from the Universe that I need to chuck it and start over; that I need to work harder and because I hadn’t been it, I can’t have it until I’m ready to work harder (and therefore I need to go about 1) being dedicated and disciplined enough to do so, and then 2) start proving that I am; or, if it’s just some fluke that has no meaning at all and I’m just overthinking things (who me? Surely, you gest). Regardless, I do recognize that thinking about it too much just makes my brain hurt.

I recently reread one of my favorite series ever – the House of Night books. I. Adore. Them. They’re just plain fun. And in re-reading them, I’ve found I want to write again. Unfortunately, my desire to write wasn’t the only thing that rekindled.  The smoldering ashes of my fears and doubts that I tried to deny before burst back into flame. I had previously attempted to at least dismiss their importance while still working toward my goal: “I’m not a good enough writer to write a book,” “I’ve researched writing seminars and workshops in my area and haven’t even found any so how can I even improve my writing so that I could eventually write a book?” “I don’t know enough (period – as in, about anything) to write,” “I probably average maybe 3 people visiting my blog on a daily basis – obviously what I have to say is 1) at best not very attention-grabbing and interesting for other people or 2) at worst, so poorly written (in addition to being uninteresting) that even the people who do come here don’t make a point to return,” “And what about that whole idea of finishing my damn post-Masters degree – how does that fit in to wanting to write a book?” etc. Blah, blah, blah. Ad nauseum. You get the gist. There they all were, huddled together, burning as brightly as ever (and making a great deal of noise) in the front of my mind. The discouragement I felt at not having my laptop and my hard drive thus suddenly had annoyingly frustrating company.

In the midst of the blah-ness I had been feeling during the semi-forced/semi-voluntary hiatus I’d taken, I was barely even checking my emails. So the other day I finally went through my inbox and deleted a ridiculous amount of crap. During said pruning, my eye caught on some post notifications from a couple of the blogs I follow. One in particular drew my attention. I hopped on over to Courage 2 Create and began reading Ollin’s post. I was as stunned as Ollin, I imagine, when I read about the quote from the Tao te Ching having been mistranslated. The quote is probably one you’ve heard before, except here it is with the accurate translation: “A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath the feet” (not “…with a single step”). Huh. Now, it’s not the whole individuality, self-reliance thing Ollin describes that I’ve typically gotten caught up on when previously reading the mistranslation. It’s the pressure Ollin writes of regarding that first step that resonates in my belly. That potential (and not kinetic) energy waiting and pushing on my insides, warring with feeling overwhelmed and unsure of the what/where/how/etc. of the step itself. Not to mention desperately needing to NOT misstep (I really hate making mistakes). So, the correct translation of the quote seems to be advocating not doing as the first part of this thousand mile journey but being. Ah, hell.

Thus do I recognize another lesson that has spiraled back around. Be. Don’t Do. Or perhaps more accurately, be before you do. This has been a difficult lesson for me to breathe in and internalize to the point where I know it all the way deep down in the center of my bones. I’m much more comfortable doing. Probably because I recognize that being has long been a weakness of mine, wrapped up in that whole knowledge of and intimacy with self/identity.

I’m (like, I imagine, most other people) not a fan of psychological or spiritual pain. When I’ve spent any time withbeingbefore, I’ve ended up drowning in a stagnant, dishwatery hot mess of gross and fearful emotions. The other night was the first time I’d ever been able to put some words to this historical emotional experience. You know those little grow-your-own pots of herbs of flowers that come with the dirt and seeds all their in a neat little package? In the analogy I worked up, it’s like those little pots are people’s identities and the different herb or flower seeds in them are the different pieces of our identities. What it’s felt like for me is that my little pot didn’t come with seeds. Like somebody got sleepy on the job and just forgot to put them in there. And all around me I see all these pots with seeds that have created beautiful and strong and healthy herbs and plants and flowers. And I just have dirt. So I’ve cut flowers or herbs from around me and stuck them in my pot so that it looks like I’m just like everyone else. Except that whatever I take eventually dies and I’m left with only dirt once more.

At this point, I’ve historically gotten completely discouraged and felt so utterly defective that I’ve just turned to do something else to distract myself. But the other night after reading the quote from the Tao te Ching on Ollin’s blog, I forced myself to continue sitting and being.  And then something pretty awesome happened. I re-membered that I have the power to create my Self each and every moment. I (and I believe all of us) have the power todecidewhat seeds I want to plant within me. Just like a mail-order catalogue, I can simply ask Momma and Papa (or the Universe/Goddess/God/Divinity/Whatever language you want to use – insert here)  for whatever seeds I want, plant them, and then work to cultivate them and help them grow.

So let’s say maybe you haven’t ever felt like what I have, but maybe you’ve struggled with or don’t like some of the seeds you were given. The beauty of all this is that you have not just the freedom, but the amazing opportunity to determine for yourself that perhaps you don’t want to grow chives, for example, anymore. Maybe you feel like growing mint or hibiscus or calla lillies or catnip. Awesome! Dig up those suckers up, chuck them in the Universal compost pile, and go get you some new seeds.

We just celebrated Beltane here at our house – a time of supreme and Divine fertility and also the halfway point through the year. Each year, I usuallly procrastinate and wait until October 1st to begin really working on my shit in those last 30 some days before Samhain and the end of the year. I’m going to try something different this year. Instead of putting all that work off (which makes for a miserable October, by the way), I’m going to commit to stop being a lazy Witch and start doing that work now. Litha (the summer solstice) is a little over a month away, a time of fullness and abundance and blooms. Let’s see if I can get some of these new seeds I’ve ordered to show some of their glorious colors by then!

What blooms are you working on coaxing to life and fullness? Do you have some seeds or plants you’d like to exchange? What’s stopping you?

Stripped & Unburdened part I: Hiding behind fear and pain

After writing this post and realizing how long it was, I decided to split it into two parts to make for more easily digestable reading 🙂

When I was in grad school, I took a class on crisis intervention. Ironically, while I was taking it, my family and I were actually in crisis. I’m going to pause here for a moment because ‘crisis’ is one of those words like ‘depressed’ that has reached a point in our vernacular where it has been overused to the extent that its definition has gotten lost. Kind of like how socks manage to vanish between the washer and the dryer. In order for us all to be on the same page, then, I’ll share with you the definition I’m using which is the working definition in the shrink world: when you’ve reached a point where your perceived demands of your environment overwhelm and exceed your perceived coping mechanisms. In plain English, that means that the stress you’re experiencing with whatever it is going on in your world is so great, so vast that you literally cannot deal with it. You are drowning in an ocean when you’ve only ever learned to doggy paddle and your stamina is quickly running out.

Crisis is a strange thing. It’s strange when you’re experiencing it, and it inevitably changes you. Due to its extreme nature, the change it brings about is also generally extreme, though the individual experiencing it is the only one who can determine which way that goes. In crisis, it typically feels as though nothing is stable, nothing is solid, very little is safe. It is a time not just designed for tending those most basic of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy (e.g., food, shelter, water, sleep, etc.), but it is a time when there is no room for anything else.

 I don’t know and won’t speak to or for anyone else’s experience of crisis, as we all process things differently. For me, I had no idea how to “appropriately” invite, ask, or accept support from others. The crises I experienced spread across a range of topics that are all in some way taboo in one form or another. Finances and homelessness, spirituality, incest. It didn’t help that my family lives on a different planet from orthodoxy and my greatest fear of someone pointing a finger at any of the things that make us ‘different’ as the reason for what we were experiencing was too great a fear to conquer in the midst of chaos. It haunted me every day.

And so I withdrew. I stopped talking to my family of origin completely. I kept my eyes averted when I was in class. I stopped calling friends. The world had become a desolate and coldly unpredictable place. It seemed every time I turned around, something else had exploded. I want to clarify a moment here – it wasn’t that I didn’t receive support from others throughout this time. I did. In many forms. But it was as though I had lost my knowledge and ability to interact with others. Because focus has to shift to all those primitive needs, interactions with others become more, well, primal. Thus, there is no sugarcoating, no easing your way around things. A starving person will simply snatch food out of your hand if you hold it out. There is no thinking about manners and politesse. That’s just not the space they’re in.

When you’re in a crisis, though, other people don’t know that unless you tell them, so they still expect you to behave like a “normal” human being. This adds a degree of stress in and of itself. I would find myself wondering, How many times should I say ‘thank you’ so that they would know how grateful I was? How could I infuse those words with enough emotion that I sounded as genuine as I was especially when I was doing my best to not even glance at my emotions because if/when I did, I’d fall apart? How many times should I apologize for burdening them until they believed me? How cliched did I sound when I asked my best friend to borrow money? Again? How should I explain to my professors that, I’m sorry, I can’t come to class today because my family and I just spent our last $2 on egg noodles from the dollar store so we could eat today and therefore we don’t have the $4 I need to get a subway ticket to get to class and home again? Who could I possibly talk to and share what I was going through with and not have a concern that they’d call DFCS on us and tear my whole family apart? So I hid behind my fear and my pain. And I kept my mouth shut.*

After we moved here and things had settled a bit, I found that I still kept my eyes averted. I wouldn’t tell anyone I met much about myself or my family or the circumstances that surrounded our arrival in this new state. I was still hiding. But while I was hiding, my thoughts were as venomous as the mouth and belly of a kimono dragon. Internalizing my fear and pain was destroying me, so at least in my head, I began to direct that poison outward.  I alternated between using that fear and pain as a shield and as a weapon. I clung to my sense of wounded entitlement and became resentful of everyone who wasn’t me. When I looked at the people with whom I worked and the people I served at my job, the people I saw in the grocery store or on the street, all I saw were the differences between us. Differences to which I took personal offense. (Before all of those crises took place, believe it or not, I had liked people in general. While I wasn’t ever one of those super outgoing, extreme extrovert types, I found people fascinating and loved learning about them, hearing their stories.) Now, there were few people who could provoke even a kind look from me. And while I realized this wasn’t me – wasn’t who I was – at the time, I had no interest in changing it, let alone any idea how to do so even if I did.

(continue on to part II here)

*If you know or are close to someone who is experiencing or has recently experienced a crisis, I hope that what I share in these two posts might help you to understand what they may be feeling and going through. I encourage you to keep reaching out with compassion, understanding, and patience while they move through the dark night they’re facing.

Exes and Ohs

I had a dream last night that my ex was in. Not just any ex. You know, the ex. I think most of us have (usually) one of these. Whether it was the one who broke your heart the most, the one who made you the craziest, the one who got away, etc., (or perhaps some combination of all of the above). When I was talking to my wife about my dream and my ex’s resurfacing in my subconscious this morning (he has a habit of doing that every once in a while, and I have yet to concretely figure out why), our fourteen year old came and sat down with us. As we were trying to explain why this particular ex was a bigger deal than any of my other exes, my wife seemed to sum it up perfectly.

“He’s like her heroine,” she told our daughter. I’ve talked about this ex -we’ll just call him J here – with my wife in great detail, so she knew exactly what the dream had stirred up for me and a good idea of where my thoughts were wandering.

I sat with that idea for a few minutes and decided it was probably pretty accurate. While it’s true that my “relationship” with J ended almost a decade ago and I like to think I’ve gotten smarter since then, I got stupid around him, just like people do on heroine. Heroine is not one of those drugs that you can try once and only do occasionally. Smart people check themselves into rehab after doing heroine once.  I was not smart then. It took me a long time to get smart.  One look from him, and I would be gone. I had melted into a puddle on the floor.  I paid for witnessing and sharing in the infrequent bursts of brilliance when his true self emerged by letting him play me and treat me poorly. He broke my heart more times than I remember, and I willingly submitted to it until I decided not to anymore. I used to say that he would be amazing if not for that small personality flaw of being an arrogant asshole. Those moments of brilliance were pretty incredible. It took me a little while to realize I was completely in love with him and then it took me even longer to quit him cold turkey. Even after I had, I would know when he was near or in town. I would know shortly before he tried to contact me (which he did several times, despite my having said I never wanted to hear from him again). The connection I had with him was one for which I have few words. And I knew him. I realized years later after I began studying Witchcraft and Paganism that I have known him life times upon life times before. I’m not sure what lessons we were meant to teach each other and help each other learn this time around, but it feels like we still have unfinished business. I will forever be grateful to him for helping me to find my Fire – because it took a shit ton of it for me to be able to leave him and cut myself off.

So when I woke this morning from the dream with visions of his dark, shoulder length wavy hair, turquoise and hazel eyes, broad shoulders, chiseled cheek bones, and heart-shaped lips in my mind, I just shook my head and chuckled. This was an atypical reaction for me. When I’ve dreamt about him in the past, I’ve woken up angry or frustrated or sad (and, of course, horny). But this morning was different. As I sat with the difference, I realized that, Oh, despite all of the shit he’d piled on top of who he truly was and how much he had hurt me, I was still in love with him. And not the “in love with him to the point where I would allow myself to get stupid again” kind because that is not love. It can get tangled up with love, but it’s not the same thing. And I certainly was not, nor am I now, in love with the shit piled on top of his essence. It’s his essence that I will probably always be in love with.  And the packaging for that essence this time around just flat does it for me. I’m a total sucker for dark hair and light eyes to begin with but add in the broad shoulders, put some wave in the hair, and toss in some sculpted cheekbones, and I’m done. And in that moment of realization, probably for the first time, I did not try to fight being in love with him. I just accepted it. Accepting didn’t mean I had to contact him, to try to rebuild or recreate some kind of relationship with him on any level. I just sat with it and acknowledged that it was.

After I’d gotten myself coffee, I looked him up on facebook for the first time without feeling guilty or like I was betraying myself. He doesn’t look very different. I did not message him or friend request him, much to the disappointment of our 14 yr old. I don’t remember what I told her when she asked why – that might have been when my wife pointed out he was my heroine. As I drove to work, though, I thought about it. The only reason at the moment I would have for contacting him would be an ambiguous curiosity, and while flirting with the idea of doing so in my head is one thing (and mildly entertaining), I’ve decided without clearer intention than that, the only possible thing I could create from doing so would be a hot mess. I certainly don’t need any of those right now. So instead, I will enjoy this knowing that I am still in love and that I can simply accept it. And I will marvel that I can indeed be in love with two people at once (I hadn’t been sure this was entirely possible for me). And I will enjoy this reignited spark of my sexuality that visions of J stirred up. 😉

Enter the White Room

I am currently in a space that I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever been in before. It is a still and quiet space and it is full of emptiness. How can a space be full of emptiness?  Honestly, I don’t know how that works either, but I know that it is. Why do we characterize emptiness as a “bad” thing? I know that in my own head (a dangerous place to spend too much time) when I say the word ’empty’, the emotional response that first pops up is sadness, but in a variety of flavors and intensities. And when I step back and observe it non-judgmentally, it is like rice paper. Thin, flimsy, filmy, and a little dingey and dirty. Like an old white t-shirt that the washing machine can no longer restore to its initial brilliance. That tells me that it is not Truth. At least not all the time, and certainly not in this instance. This emptiness is clean and crisp, like a fresh canvas or maybe more accurately, like a fresh bulk of sculpting clay, waiting. And its silence is a music all to itself.

I sit in this white, crisp and clean fresh room/space, and I acknowledge that I – not my True Self, but all the crap I have piled on top of that brilliant and radiant Essence that I know is buried under here somewhere – am making myself miserable; not to mention, I imagine, making the people who love me anyway, crazy. It is a consclusion that I first reached last night. This I – the crap piled on top of Me, I – has sought transformation, half-heartedly, many times. But, again, when I step back, it looks like those attempts have just pasted shiney pieces on top of the crap. But the shiney pieces don’t stay shiney, and soon, they just look like everything else, and no real change has occured. It’s like setting out on a path to an amazing destination, but convincing myself that the directional signs I encounter point the exact opposite way they really do and so I’ve walked around in circles and, of course, end up right where I started.  The result is that I feel more confused, disoriented, exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated altogether.

So last night (I think it may have been when I was lying in bed before I fell asleep but I’m not entirely sure), I recognized myself as being right back at that same starting point, except this time, I also recognized that little bit I mentioned above about making myself miserable. Possibly for the first time ever, I admitted that to myself. Always before, I would point to circumstances around and outside of me – people, situations, my bank account balance (a consistent favorite of mine), etc. Events over the past few days had catapaulted that little fact into my consciousness. My response to a gentle and inordinately patient prompt from my wife as to what I needed the other night when I’d  thrown a temper tantrum about not having eggs in the house and had come back after having gotten them (I had started to bake chocolate chip cookies and ended up driving out to go get them in an energetically violent huff) was a personality transplant. You mean me, she asked? No – I need one, I had responded, as I journaled the ridiculousness of my outburst so as to not put any of that shit into the cookies I still planned to bake. I am telling you, if we were Roman Catholic, my wife would have been canonized years ago. Her response was to pick up our sea salt grinder and immediately shower me in the stuff.  Back to last night, though. After acknowledging that I make me miserable, I informed Momma that I think I might finally be at that point where I am willing to truly and irrevocably change. Not like any of the myriad times before, but completely different. I also told Her that I knew it might be a difficult road, and that I would need Her help to tap into that crazy-oomphy-Divine Will that’s buried somewhere in my core that I struggle to access on a conscious level but seem to be able to do fine when it’s completely unconscious and unintentional. Please, please, please, I begged. Help me to do this. After I’d woken up (not just the physical part of that, but, you know, my brain was awake), and I stopped to breathe a moment, I found myself here. In this white and beautifully empty-filled room.

I did a spiral journey reading with my Goddess amulets revealing my gifts and talents; my childhood wishes; my secrets; my pleasures and treasures; my anger, fear and sadness; my body, mind, and spirit; and, my Future Self. Then I went outside to smoke a cigarette. Outside, I closed my eyes and saw myself in the white room. As I sat there, I don’t remember if I was trying to figure out what my next step needed to be, if I had asked a question. But I saw a vision of myself reaching down and the floor of that space opened as I reached. Vision-me reached for my Self – the one that I’ve buried under all the crap – and an arm came up to grab my arm. My Self’s arm. Vision-me told my Self that I didn’t think I was strong enough to pull Me up from under all the crap. Vision-me didn’t have enough weight or substance to do it. Then I thought that maybe that wasn’t the answer anyway. As soon as I entertained that notion, the idea that this me simply needed to be devoured by Me and then partake in that alchemical process of transmuting all the crap and be the only one left standing. For a moment (probably out of fear that the notion of being devoured inspired), I entertain other possibilities and analogies to get to this same destination. There are none. I know this on a visceral level, more clearly than I know my own name.

All of this I could see happening in this vision in the white room, and where I am now is standing in that white room, starting to bend over. The floor has not yet begun opening up, My arm has not yet reached out toward me, to pull me under and devour me completely. I will because the idea of being consumed in that way by my Self both terrifies me and excites and arouses me on every level imaginable and promises to be ecstatic in a way that I have never experienced before. How could I possible turn down a promise like that? Better yet, why the hell would I? No, I will not turn it down.  I simply wanted to pause in this moment, to record this moment as I stand on the precipice of such ecstasy after having inflicted such misery and pain upon myself while it is still pooling around my feet with the sensation of it gripping my ankles with its cold and meely fingers because I know that whatever lies ahead – and for once, I am not attempting to predict it or imagine it, to set an expectation or prepare myself in any way – will be full of the kind of beauty that speaks directly to and of Life. That beauty that a Mother sees and stands in awe of as She watches Her child grow and stumble and make mistakes and get up and learn. The beauty that is so True that the only response is in the language of tears. And I hope that some day, I will look back on this, and I will see that beauty not only in the step I intend to take shortly here, but in the thousands of circular steps that have brought me to where I am now, with all their pain and stubbornness and hardheadedness and determination and folly and arrogance and selfishness and close-mindedness. I honor those steps, as I honor the one I am about to take, and I express gratitude and hope as I lean forward to be devoured by my Self.