Light Every Candle That You Can

16 03 2017

Lately, too many days have followed this pattern:

I wake from a dead sleep, struggle to untangle myself from the sheet and blanket on my bed and stumble to the bathroom to get ready for the day. As I drive to work, I am angry at every other driver for,,,existing, apparently. I jump into work like a kid jumping into the deep end of the pool before actually learning to swim – after a long, breathless time, I paddle and flail my way up for air. The day is gone.

I drive away from work listening to my brain argue with itself about stopping at the gym. The days I stop are the good ones. Many nights I lie to myself that I will trade the workout for a productive night at home, checking many items off the needed-to-do-last-week list (and I always believe that lie, despite all evidence to the contrary).

At home, I check the news while my dinner cooks. I give up any thought of productivity, as the day’s latest atrocities suck my energy into the waiting ocean of anger and despair. I take my dinner upstairs and eat while watching The Voice or This Is Us or, God help me, The Match Game. Whatever. I play a jigsaw puzzle game on my Kindle until I fall asleep. Sometime later, midnight or one, I wake up. Stiff from sleeping upright, I get ready for bed.

But I don’t sleep when I get there. I try reading a book. The good ones are the ones I can concentrate on long enough to fall into the story. Some nights, that just won’t happen. I lie awake and try to breathe through the ambient anxiety. Or I open social media on my phone and, before you know it, two hours have passed. I finally fall asleep again, not only worried, but truly heartsick. I dream chaotic or stressful or lovely dreams. In the morning they are all jumbled together, and I try to tease them apart, parse them like an obtuse sentence. When my alarm sounds, I tell myself not to get up, “Just lie here (warm and comfortable and thoughtless)…just a little while longer”. And I do.

Until I have to get up and the whole thing repeats itself.

This past week, on Sunday evening, I had tickets to see Carrie Newcomer perform. I had to fight the inertia of Sunday night, plus a winter weather advisory, just to get myself in the car. Once at the venue, my friend Molly joined me. We chatted until the lights went down and Carrie and her accompanist came onstage.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

I felt like Carrie’s first words described where I have been living – bewildered, in the darkness.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still

And I was. Weeping in the dark auditorium, I felt, for the first time in a while, not quite so alone in my despair. The whole world (not just me) weeps. And then:

Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.
I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer ” Love”

There have been songs written about this experience of sitting in a theater or a bar, listening to a stranger whose song articulates what has been living, unarticulated, in the listener’s heart. Carrie’s words spoke directly out of my heart – and I am certain that she chose this opener for me. Because a gifted artist knows her audience, and those of us gathered that night were all in need of a blessing. We are all part of the weeping world, but, yes – still believing in what words like courage and love stand for; believing in the promise of the “beautiful not-yet”*

Later, after the concert, Molly and I walked to our cars, arm-in-arm, through swiftly falling snow. The crystal flakes landing on my upturned face felt like a benediction, their melting a baptism. Washed clean of my wretchedness, I was ready to follow Carrie’s exhortation, and hold the promise in my heart:

 

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of god will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

 

_____________________________________________

Note: Carrie Newcomer’s opening song, lyrics quoted above, was “I Heard An Owl”. You can listen to it here: https://youtu.be/MyD632qIww0 . Carrie’s songs are amazing, a balm to my weary soul.

* “The beautiful not-yet” is the title to another of Carrie’s songs.





Puzzled

16 02 2017

“A puzzle with a solution is a game. A puzzle without a solution is a work of art.” –Marty Rubin

My friend Wendy made a passing comment to me in December about her enjoyment of online jigsaw puzzles. I don’t remember the context, but it wasn’t as if we had a lengthy discussion about it – she mentioned it and we moved on to something else.

Fast forward to January. I found myself, most evenings, restless and fidgety. Too tired to go out, too wired and worried to relax. Wendy’s comment about jigsaw puzzles popped into my mind one evening, and I immediately downloaded an app for my Kindle. That first week, I not only did the daily mystery puzzle (no picture to tell me what I was putting together), I also put together three or four easier puzzles a day. I was so obsessed with these puzzles that my brain began processing normal objects all day long as if they were puzzle pieces needing to be fit together (the same thing happened, briefly, in the early 90s when I became addicted to Tetris). I realized that this was not a good sign. Gradually, I increased the difficulty level and reduced the number of puzzles, until I hit a steady groove of completing one puzzle a night.

As stressors amp up in my own life, compounded by the stress we are all experiencing on the political landscape, I feel almost a compulsion to solve the daily puzzle. When I finish it, especially if it is particularly challenging, I feel a sense of accomplishment and completion – a brief but satisfying relief of anxiety.

As my anxiety has deepened, my sleep patterns have shifted. I fall asleep for a few hours then wake, sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m., for up to two hours. I’ve developed a bad habit of looking at social media in this interregnum between periods of sleep. I’ve read late-night screen-time is not good for my brainwaves and I know from my heart rate it is terrible for my emotional state.

The past couple of nights, rather than logging onto Twitter, I’ve been thinking about my sudden fixation with jigsaw puzzles. Why this particular activity at this particular time? At various points in the past, I’ve similarly questioned my Tetris addiction, my repetitive binge watching of “Felicity” and “Ally McBeal”, the weird card-counting solitaire game I invented one winter…and each time, the first answer I’ve hit upon has been a variation on the theme of control. In particular, when I feel as if I am inadequately meeting the challenges confronting me (i.e. under-prepared, under-skilled, and/or under-resourced), I have a tendency to take refuge in some meaningless activity that allows me to feel even a minimal level of mastery. I have everything I need to solve a jigsaw puzzle:

  • there are borders/boundaries; I know where they are and how to identify them;
  • I have all the necessary pieces (especially on my Kindle, where random pieces don’t end up on the floor or in the cracks between my couch cushions);
  • the variables are limited – basically, I find the right spot for each piece based on it’s immutable color and shape.

Wouldn’t it be nice if managing people or politics or my own fears and insecurities was as easy? How would it feel in other areas of my life to engage in a single activity that has shape, form, a clear goal and an easy way to assess that I’ve successfully achieved it? That might just be my definition of heaven on earth. Instead, my life is filled with complexities, from the people I interact with to the projects I engage with to the mission I try to live and serve. There are no immutables here: everything is changeable, everything shifts and forms and reforms into different shapes and very few of my tasks are of the kind that can ever be considered “finished”.

I said the first answer I hit upon was about control. Another answer for this fascination with jigsaws, which came to me in the quiet moments of wakefulness the other night, goes deeper than my control issues. This second answer is about interconnection and interdependence. Living in a “post-truth” world, where nuclear aggression is suddenly back on the table and, even in Iowa, the protests are loud and contentious, I feel the need to seek out models for a different way of being and interacting. Jigsaw puzzles are an excellent candidate. Each piece is unique, specifically both itself AND an integral part of a much larger whole. Without connection, the full picture cannot be viewed. Each piece is interdependent with every other piece in helping the whole image to coalesce into something meaningful.

If I am interdependent with all the other pieces of this jigsaw puzzle we call the universe, if we are all part of the same whole, then the very things that I am fearful of and rail against are part of that same whole; by extension they are part of me. Seen in this light, my sudden obsession with completion of puzzles becomes a quest for wholeness in a fractured world.

It appears that my commonplace problems and my deeper existential anxieties often surface and make themselves known to me through sudden behavioral anomalies. They enter my days practically unnoticed at first, disguised as simple distractions. It is only when I have (or take) the time to question what is happening, then to slow down and get quiet enough to hear the answers, that I begin to understand myself. But what do I do with this understanding?

After the election in November, Martha Beck published an article titled, “From Inside the Darkness“, in which she says:

“My job today is to feel all the parts of me that are like the darkest parts of my profoundly divided country, my profoundly divided species. It is to listen to them, to understand them until my own fear, anger, and sorrow dissolve into the light of compassion.

I can only do this inside myself–but that will be enough. It will be enough because one healed person broadcasts an energy that can pull dozens, hundreds, millions of people out of their own darkness.”

She goes on to state, “Compassion, friends, is the most revolutionary power on earth–not simpering and weak, but magical, powerful, the very force of Creation.” That compassion, according to Beck, must first be extended toward ourselves: compassion for our imperfections, our less-thans, our wish-I-weren’ts, and our hate-that-I-ams. When we extend the healing energy of compassion to ourselves, our little piece of the puzzle shines – and that shining light then radiates into the other pieces with which we connect.

It would be silly to suggest that I will heal the world by putting puzzles together on my Kindle. That said, thinking about why those puzzles have been occupying so much of my time has proven fruitful, and has led me to think differently about the divisions in my heart, my life and our world. It has reminded me that the way forward is one of healing and compassion. As the old song goes, “Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.” Let it begin in me.





Circling Out of the Dark

26 05 2016

“Dispiritedness and disappointment are the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday.” – Lance Armstrong

The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday simply don’t let despair have the last word, nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and …,” and they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to live accordingly.”  — Krista Tippett

 

Whether we are spiritual geniuses or not, we cannot let despair (dispiritedness, disappointment) have the last word, even when we feel like we’ve hit it hard; even when we feel as shattered as if we crashed into a brick wall going ninety miles an hour.

I know this is true – but like many important truths, it is taking me a lifetime to understand.

Harry Chapin, the singer-storyteller, wrote “All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown/The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around/All my life’s a circle and I can tell you why/The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by/It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when/But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again…”

I think his image of life as a circle of experiences that keep coming around is an excellent one. I visualize it in varying ways:

     

What each of these images have in common is that they keep circling back. Whether this process plays in an endless loop (like the infinity symbol), keeps circling ever inward toward more precise understanding (like the nautilus), or keeps ascending toward higher levels of experience (like the upward spiral), is a matter of discernment. For today, it is enough for me to remember that repetition is part of the learning process.

Sometimes, I think I should know things already. Things like: my thoughts impact my mood; what others say or think about me is only their perspective, not holy truth; I should never eat two breakfast burritos when one will suffice. And I DO know these things. I just don’t always remember to act in accordance with what I know. The resulting consequence is that I get the opportunity to relearn the basics, each time with added nuances of realization and/or understanding.

I know, that sounds like an awfully positive spin on the “d-words” (dispirited, disappointed, despairing) when the experience of any one of them feels pretty crappy. If I’ve allowed myself to dwell in one or more for any length of time, it gets harder to climb back up into the sunlight of positude. Recently, for example, I became aware of just how dispirited and low I have felt for a while. It had set in and taken hold for so long, I had forgotten that it was not just the natural way people feel. Then I started noticing how often my thoughts flowed along these lines: “My life sucks!” “Why can’t just one thing, one little thing, go right?” “This can’t be what I went through all that for!” Every day, not only were those thoughts there, but so were the clouds of depression and, even, despair.

Then I remembered that I know how to address this: I can change my thinking.  As soon as I started consciously changing my thoughts, things began to change. My whole life hasn’t been dramatically recreated, but it feels a whole lot better. Turns out, re-learning what I already knew feels like a gift. Like sunshine after months of clouds. Like true friendship after long, lonely days. Like meeting my future self and discovering that she’s pretty wise, if she let’s herself be! Today won’t be perfect, and neither will tomorrow. But both days will feel a lot better than any two random days last month, because I will be thinking “I’ve got this.”

And so it is when we circle back around. The everyday spiritual genius hiding within each of us can finally say, “Yes, and…”; can finally allow our inner resources (as opposed to our feared deficits or perceived brokenness) to choose our way forward. Suddenly, we’re circling out of that “D”arkness, into the light of a new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 





Spooky Action From A Distance…Two Truths and a Lie

29 10 2015

“In a landmark study, scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands reported that they had conducted an experiment that they say proved one of the most fundamental claims of quantum theory — that objects separated by great distance can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior.

The finding is another blow to one of the bedrock principles of standard physics known as ‘locality,’ which states that an object is directly influenced only by its immediate surroundings. The Delft study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lends further credence to an idea that Einstein famously rejected. He said quantum theory necessitated ‘spooky action at a distance,’ and he refused to accept the notion that the universe could behave in such a strange and apparently random fashion.”

— John Markoff, “Sorry, Einstein. Quantum Study Suggests ‘Spooky Action’ Is Real“, New York Times, October 21, 2015

The article quoted above came to my attention during a social gathering in the basement of a convent in Wisconsin one night last week. (I know, it seems like there might be something funny to say about that, especially if you’ve never known any nuns personally. But trust me, many sisters are quite social.) It was another two days before I had the opportunity to read the article myself. As Markoff states, this study is the best evidence yet for “the existence of an odd world formed by a fabric of subatomic particles, where matter does not take form until it is observed and time runs backward as well as forward.” It gave me goosebumps!

And not just because of the study’s many scientific implications. For nearly 48 hours, I had been thinking about this concept of spooky action at a distance, allowing my imagination to run wild. So imagine how I reacted upon learning that the lead scientist on the team conducting the experiments is named Hanson – the exact same last name as mine! Weird coincidence, eh?

And that’s when I stopped giving the entire concept much serious thought, because: Halloween. In late October, it is not really possible to think about something Einstein, everyone’s favorite genius, called “spooky” without thinking about spooks and other things that go bump in the night. In that moment, the (likely ill-conceived) idea for today’s Halloween post was born:

Two Truths and A Lie: Spooky Action Version

What follows are three stories about spooky occurrences (with apologies to serious scientists everywhere). Two of them I swear are totally true, and faithfully reported. The third is partly made up. You decide which is which, because I’ll never tell! (Not in this post, anyway)

Story #1: Amber Light

In the early 1990s, my parents purchased a house at auction. The home had been built and lived in by one family, the last member of whom, Amber, had recently moved into a nursing home. My parents never met her. Over the first few years of living in the house, strange things sometimes happened: doors slammed for no apparent reason; my parents would wake up in the night to discover every light on the first floor of the house turned on (despite having been shut off when my folks went to bed). They joked that George, father of Amber and builder of the house, was less than ecstatic about the renovations they were making. The parentals weren’t particularly bothered by the occasional oddities they experienced. However, none of these incidents prepared them for what happened one winter night, years after they had moved into the house.

That night, both of my parents were awakened from deep sleep at exactly the same moment, bolting upright in bed in unison. Their hearts were pounding, adrenalin coursing through their bodies.

Dad: What woke you up?

Mom: You tell me what woke you up first!

Dad: I saw a blinding light right above us, right above the bed. It was there briefly, only a few seconds, then disappeared.

Mom: I saw it too!

They were both nonplussed by the incident, and slept fitfully the remainder of the night. In full daylight the following morning, they were still a bit freaked out, unlike any of the other times unusual things had happened in the house. After discussing the incident, they formulated a theory of what had happened. My dad got online and began searching for information to confirm their theory. Eventually, he found it: Amber, the previous occupant of the house, had passed away in the night. They concluded that Amber paid one final visit to the house that had been her lifelong home.

Story #2: Cecilia’s Curse

A few years ago, I was visiting my parents in New Mexico. In a local paper, I happened to see a notice for ghost tours being conducted in Albuquerque’s Old Town and insisted that my parents accompany me on one such tour. It was a beautiful evening in Old Town, and Dad was surprised to see just how many people had turned out for the haunted tour. It was a great experience – we learned all kinds of new things about Old Town and Alubuquerque’s history. Toward the end of the tour, we arrived at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. In all my previous visits to Old Town, I’d never seen this chapel, and I was immediately enchanted. (see video of chapel)

Once the entire tour group was inside the main chapel, I noticed someone out of the corner of my eye, way off to the side, away from the group. However, I didn’t really pay much mind to her because our tour guide, who was very engaging, had begun to tell the group about various hauntings that had been reported by chapel visitors in the past. He asked if anyone in the room was named Cecilia – and my parents and I started laughing because that is the name I took for my confirmation. The guide noticed our laughter, and called us out to share. I explained my connection with Cecilia. He began to tell a story about an incident shortly after the chapel had been built. It involved someone named Cecilia or whose patron saint was Cecilia (I don’t remember which) dying mysteriously in the chapel. Ever since, women who are connected with Cecilia often see a particular ghost. After seeing the ghost, the person visited would experience something extraordinary – either good or evil.

The whole room kept looking at me as he spoke, and I was uncomfortable with the scrutiny. I began to look around the room, and my attention was caught by the figure I had seen previously. The center of the chapel was open – faithful who had attended services there in the heyday of Old Town mostly stood – but along the side of the room were niches with wooden pews in them, so that prayerful visitors had a place to sit down. I looked to my right, and saw a woman in old fashioned dress sitting in one of the niches. She was looking directly at me, and after inadvertently meeting her eyes I quickly looked away, as I usually do when I catch a stranger staring at me in a public place.

As we left the chapel, I asked my parents, “Did you see that woman sitting on the right side of the chapel? She was staring at me and freaking me out!”

My parents looked at me blankly. “Which woman?”, they asked, looking around at the members of our group.

“She wasn’t with our group,” I said. “She was in the chapel when we got there.”

“I was the first person in the chapel after our guide,” my Dad said. “There was no one in there ahead of us, the room was empty.” We laughed, and began joking about how I had seen the apparition – now I needed to expect something momentous to occur. I was a little creeped out, but joined in the good-natured joking.

On the way home, we stopped for gas. As he often does, my father returned to the car with several lottery scratch tickets. “Here you go,” he said. “I got you a ticket – it’s the least I could do since you treated us to the haunted tour!” Unbelievably, when I scratched the ticket, I had won $3,000! Apprently, the ghost was feeling benevolent that night!

Story #3: A Little Night Music

In June of 1978, my family moved from Ohio back to Iowa. For the first couple of weeks, we stayed in a hotel, waiting for the previous owners of our new house to finish moving out. When we were finally able to inhabit our new home, a good deal of work needed to be done including adding bedrooms in the basement. For the time being, my two brothers were sharing a room upstairs, while my sisters and I (three of us) were in another room. My parents had the master bedroom.

On our very first night in the house, I woke around 2:00 a.m. to the sound of unearthly music – very similar to Native American flute music – flowing through the house. No one in our family played such an instrument, and the music was very…present…is the best word I can use to describe it. I laid on my mattress on the floor, unsure what to do but terrified of the eerie music. Suddenly, someone grabbed my foot – and I jumped about a yard off the mattress!

It was my sister, Gwen. She whispered, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”, I asked.

“You know what!,” she whispered back furiously. “That music!”

Honestly, unless you heard it, you cannot understand just how freaked out Gwen and I were. We decided we couldn’t possibly leave our room to investigate, but we also couldn’t just lay there and listen to the sound of that music in our house. On the count of three, we screamed for my dad. The music immediately stopped, but we were committed to having an adult check into it. It took several attempts to scream him awake, but eventually Dad came running into our room.

We explained what had happened, which, granted, sounded silly to him. He claimed he had been awake and hadn’t heard a thing. But we knew he had been sleeping because of the difficulty we had getting his attention. He grudgingly walked through the upstairs of the house, then opened the basement door and shouted, “If you’re in our basement playing a flute, cut it out!”

We were told to go back to bed and forget about it. My parents believed the sound was simply air moving through the a/c ducts. And they stuck to that story forever, despite the fact that in the years we lived there I never again heard that same sound. But it stuck with me, and it always frightened me when I thought of it. It had not felt welcoming.

Many years later, I was living in Cedar Rapids and working professionally in college administration. I happened to pick up a book by a man who was attempting to come to terms with his Greek Orthodox religious upbringing, which was full of mystical stories and superstitious beliefs. Only, as he delved more deeply, he discovered that mystical events tend to happen in real life, not just in his mother’s stories. He recounted the following experience of visiting a deserted chapel in the countryside of Italy (this is my retelling because I no longer own the book):

The chapel was known for being particularly lovely though in ruins. The author and his friends had gotten lost on the way there. When they arrived in the town, after dark, they were told that the chapel had recently been boarded up to keep local vandals at bey. Disappointed, they drove to the chapel anyway, and decided to attempt to get inside. At the back of the building, they discovered that someone had been there ahead of them, breaking open an entrance just large enough to squeeze through. Once inside the chapel, it was evident that very recent visitors had been up to no good – spray painted graffiti was still dripping and many items inside the chapel were smashed; litter was strewn throughout. Suddenly, low flute music was heard. It’s sound was menacing. The group stood together, discussing this sudden development, and the music got louder, building to a crescendo. Suddenly, items began flying at them from around the chapel – pieces of litter, small rocks, etc. – as if a strong wind were blowing inside the building. The author and his friends fled.

I shivered in my cozy little cottage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His description of the flute music was eerily familiar to me – I recognized it immediately. I understood the small groups’ fear upon hearing it. And I wondered what might have happened if, all those years ago, my sister and I hadn’t started screaming.

###############################

So, which stories are true and which embellished? Feel free to guess! If you know the truth, though, don’t give it away to everyone! And, remember that when it comes to spooky actions (to paraphrase Hamlet): there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your science, Einstein!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!





The Post that Almost Wasn’t

26 12 2013

In all the years since the inception of this blog , I have never come this close to NOT posting on a Thursday. The reasons for this are both simple and complicated.

On the simple end of the spectrum, it was Christmas week. A week that did not go according to plan, so was more rushed than intended, but was also wonderful in spite of a few set-backs. The busy week meant that I had not written a post in advance of this morning, so when I awoke at 3:20 a.m. nauseous and chilled, the next eight hours of physical illness and discomfort did not really lend themselves to sitting at a computer capturing my thoughts in words. When I felt well enough to sit up and log on, I also felt empty. Which leads to the complicated reasons for almost missing a Thursday post.

Had I found the time to write on Monday, I would have written about the incredible example of patience and acceptance provided by Mike. We got on the road at 6:45 a.m. Monday, intending for Mike to be at an important appointment for his son, leaving directly from there to head to Iowa for Christmas. We blew a tire less than four miles from home, during rush hour on I35W. Not only did he remain completely calm while maneuvering  out of traffic, he was remarkably sanguine about missing the appointment, despite the fact his son had made it clear he wanted Mike there. While I was starting to ratchet up toward hysteria, he refused to be flummoxed, reminding me there was no point to drama – there was nothing we could do but make the best of it. Through a long morning of waiting for the vehicle to be road-worthy, missing the appointment, and eventually getting on the road, his calm demeanor remained intact. Even though it meant missing dinner and an evening hanging out with his sisters, Mike entered fully into our stops in Cedar Rapids, visiting friends who had newborns to show off. Not once did he attempt to rush our time with friends in order to get back on the road, no matter how much he may have wished to. Yes, if I had found the time to write on Monday, I would have written about patience and gratitude, and the deep examples of each from that day.

If there had been time to write a post on Tuesday, I would have written about being cared for by family – even though the family was not my own. From the delicious home cooked breakfast, to a Christmas Eve celebration 27-people strong. Laughter ruled the night, dinner was direct from Pizza Hut, and love was expressed in hugs and words and hijinks. While I missed my own big family, there is something recognizable as “home” in spending a chaotic night with any loving, large family. Had I somehow, miraculously, found time to write on Tuesday, I’d have written about the spirit of love at Christmas, and how wonderful it is to bask in its glow.

Then there was Wednesday, Christmas itself. If I had found the time, between bouts of sitting and chatting in three different homes, between moments of sharing and silence, I would have written about kindness and generosity. I would have written about the happiness of watching someone you love relax completely and be at home. I would have written about a surprise Christmas gift that touched me deeply. I would have written about how little it mattered that we never showered – after all, there was a phone call which said, “Come over, I’m frying eggs”, but which meant, “Come over and I’ll show how much I love you by cooking for you.” A shower doesn’t rate next to that. If I had written yesterday, I definitely would have had plenty to say.

To say I feel empty today is only half true – physically, my body rebelled against and rejected all of the rich indulgences of the past few days and emptied itself in the early morning hours. Emotionally, I feel flat, not empty. The rich experiences of family and friendship over the past few days make today seem flat by contrast. But the reality is so much more complex. All of the amazing feelings and examples of the past few days – the love, kindness, laughter and generosity – were not fleeting. They are abiding and real. That we don’t taste, touch, see, feel them daily is our human failing.

So, when I finish writing today’s “post that almost wasn’t”, I am going to put on some Christmas music and sing along. I’m going to reconnect with the many feelings of the past few days, and I’m going to celebrate them all. Why waste a whole day feeling empty and flat when I can feel  filled with light and joy?!





Un-guard!

26 09 2013
IMG_0165
 
I stumbled yet again. In the murky half-light just before dawn, I had only been able to see a few feet in any direction. Now that day was fully upon me, I could make out dry, furrowed and rocky terrain stretching to every horizon. I saw no distinguishing features, just the promise of further punishment on my bare feet and the continued threat that they would see me. I clutched the vessel to my body, attempting to shield it from both the sun (lest its radiance betray my location) and from splintering on the unforgiving landscape. When I glanced behind me, I did not see them, but I could feel their pursuit.
 
My one protection was the long cloak I clutched about me, woven of thread which so closely matched the featureless plain that is served as a form of camouflage. Because my hands were not free to assist me in remaining upright, I often stumbled. And the length of the cloak caused me to step on it with regularity, tripping myself when the stony ground did not…I know not how long I toiled to carry the vessel. Time became meaningless on that journey.
 
Eventually, however, I saw a small something on the horizon, which turned out to be a simple square building, open on two sides. I approached it warily, fearful of what or whom I might encounter, but desperate for rest and water. I entered what could only be described as a temple. The room, open to the land on two sides, contained a simple pedestal in the center, on which nothing resided.
 
“Welcome. We have been waiting for you.” I turned toward the voice, to see a man and a woman, each garbed in simple white robes.
 
“Please,” said the woman. “We have prepared a place for your burden. Don’t you wish to rest? It will be safe here.” She indicated the empty pedestal, and gestured toward the vessel I carried.
 
It seemed like forever since I had been wishing to set the heavy vessel down. But now that it came to it, I was loathe to do so. It was my burden, entrusted to me. Yet, these two looked at me with compassion. They made no move to take the vessel from me, simply waited patiently for me to choose.
 
Carefully, I unwrapped the vase from the folds of my torn and weathered cloak and placed it on the pedestal. At first, it appeared a small and unlovely thing. And then a shaft of sunlight found it, and everything changed. It lit up the room with its brilliance, a myriad of colors in its ingeniously worked glass. I was overcome by its beauty.
 
“But it shines so!” I cried. “They will find it and destroy it!”
 
“I promise you,” replied the man, “its light is meant to be seen. For this it was created.”

        #########################################################################################

When I woke from the dream recounted above, I couldn’t shake it. The haunting quality of it, the visceral emotional impact of it. Most especially, I couldn’t shake the truth of the dream.

I say truth because I knew immediately upon waking what the dream intended me to learn: that the vessel I had so carefully protected and shielded from the eyes of others was my self. The vulnerable, beautiful, shy, powerful, loving, shining self that I was born to be. That I had worked so hard to protect from hurt. That with my misguided efforts and protective coping mechanisms I had hidden not only from the world, but also from me.

There is a quote, often attributed to George Eliot, which says, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.” I love that quote, but it is about what we do with our lives. What my dream showed me was a slightly different truth:

It is never too late to be who you ARE.

You have journeyed in silence, fear, and discomfort long enough.

Come out of hiding. Let your true self be in the light, instead of shrouded in secrecy and webs of self-preservation.

Will everyone love the true self you reveal? No. Will their rejection, if and when it comes, hurt? Probably. But not as much as the self-rejection implied by staying hidden. By keeping yourself small and unobtrusive. By pretending that you are not who and what you are.

This last bit I didn’t learn from the dream. I learned from practicing the lessons of the dream: by opening myself to vulnerability; by painstakingly making the conscious choice to stand in my own center when outside forces (often people I love) buffet me; by allowing a moment to pass so I can respond from my truth instead of knee-jerk react. I learned by trusting others. And I learned by trusting myself.

Have I learned these lessons perfectly? No way! Each day has its own set of conundrums, of tests and trials. That said, letting my true self live in the light of day has been significantly more fulfilling than keeping myself hidden. Shame and Guilt, who were my frequent companions, have mostly disappeared. They don’t thrive in the light.  They have been replaced by Acceptance and Grace – companions who encourage me to grow into my best self. And my self, who I am, is a gift to the world.

If you recognize yourself in my dream, or know in your heart that you have been guarding your true self from the light, I encourage you to take the steps necessary to let the you that is unique and beautiful and essential come out. Take tiny steps forward, if you must. But don’t deprive the world any longer of the gift that is you. It is never too late to be who you are – who you are shines, and is worthy of love.

From my journal, after waking from the dream.

From my journal, after waking from the dream.





Light in Uncertainty: The Candle of Peace

13 12 2012
Note: My Thursday posts for December are loosely based on the weekly themes of Advent and the tradition of lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath. The candle for week two of advent is the candle of peace, sometimes called the candle of prophecy or preparation…
 
IMG_1453
 
“We may have ten possible images of tomorrow and for each one of these there may be ten images of the next day, giving a hundred possible images of the day after tomorrow and a thousand of the day after that, and so on, which means that the uncertainty of the future increases rapidly as we move our imagination into it.” — Kenneth Boulding, “Ecodynamics”
 

My senior year of high school, I had a terrible dream that a good friend (Steve) became disabled from an injury sustained in a wrestling match. Steve was a state high school champion and being heavily recruited by colleges, so it didn’t seem implausible. I had moved back to Iowa for my senior year and my close friends were an expensive long-distance call away. But when I couldn’t shake the dream, I called my girl Pam. She said, “I’m so glad you called! I had a horrible nightmare last night about Steve!” She related her dream, which was very similar to mine, resulting in the same disabling injury. To say we were both freaked out by having had essentially the same dream would be to put it mildly.

I had come to know and trust a priest at my new high school, Father Lyle. As soon as possible, I shared the tale of the dream with him. His brief response to my dream was not what I had anticipated. “What will you do when it comes true?” he asked.

In a previous post, here, I shared another dream I had – this one the week prior to my grandpa Joe’s suicide.  In that dream, I met my grandfather in his new guise as a fire-eating bird (which is striking given the method of his suicide).

At the time I dreamed them, both dreams had the feel or appearance of prophesy – a foretelling of something to come. The first was clear and frightening – and never came to pass. The second was difficult to comprehend, shrouded in metaphor and layers of hard-to-grasp meaning. However, it was magical and comforting, even before the event it foreshadowed took place. In the hours immediately following my grandfather’s death, it offered warmth and comfort when both were unexpected.

And that, it seems, is the problem with prophecy: we never know until much later whether the vision, dream, stump-speech or sermon is actually prophetic or merely one of many possible futures woven whole-cloth from our imaginations. We would love to be certain, though, wouldn’t we? We want to know what the future holds as if, somehow, this will offer us a measure of control over our unpredictable, unruly lives. How can we be at peace when we have absolutely no idea what the future holds? 

I have found that the degree to which I am able to be at peace within myself – and to radiate that peacefulness outward into the world – depends on my ability to do the following:

1. Let go of my need to control how the future unfolds. It will unfold no matter what I do; no ouija board, storefront psychic or prophetic dream interpretation can accurately prepare me in advance. Now, letting go of control does not mean sitting on my hands (so I don’t chew my fingernails to the nub) and cowering in fear. Christian theologian, Henri Nouwen, coined the term “active waiting”, which he discusses in terms of the Christian scriptures. I love this concept, because it takes the act of waiting – which most of us hate, think of as a waste of time, or lack patience for – and shifts it from a passive to a proactive state. Active waiting presupposes that we are already on our way, not sitting bored at the departure gate.

2. Think of my life as having a purpose, and that my purpose is unfolding this very moment.  One of my favorite things about working with a life coach this past year has been that she challenges me to keep making this personal mission or purpose more clear in my thoughts, my words, and my choices. In this way, I am preparing for the future that will come. I may not control the future, but there are concrete things that I can do right now that will help to shape my role, and these things need to connect back to my purpose and values. Concrete examples abound – for one, my purpose has been unfolding to include addressing hunger in the world (both physical and spiritual hunger). Maybe someday this will mean a career change to work on the issue full time. But for today, it means being aware of and grateful for the food abundance available to me, having a healthy relationship with food in my own life, and seeking ways to contribute to both education and relief efforts locally (such as raising money for Kids Against Hunger or the film series I sponsored last year on campus).

3. Remember that relationship is the antidote to fear of the future. There are many times when I feel alone and lonely. These are the moments when I am most vulnerable to fear and begin trying to grasp at control of the future. We are meant to be in relationship:

  • with ourselves – spend time in reflection, examine our choices, learn about our own values and purposes; 
  • with others – family and friends, colleagues, even strangers; interacting in a genuine and loving manner with others mitigates the fear and the loneliness, and helps us create a community. I have found that the wider I cast this net, the less I am afraid of a hard landing when I step forward and take a risk because there are people willing to cushion me;
  • with God – I am convinced that we humans are spiritual beings; that whatever belief system we profess, being in relationship with the divine, with the sacred, is vital to our healthy functioning in the world.

So, as I reflect on the candle of peace this second week of Advent, I am working to be at peace within myself at this moment, and with the unfolding future that I cannot control. I pray that as I find some measure of peace within myself, I can share it with those around me – radiating peace into the world in much the same way a candle radiates light and warmth.

Peace be with you, my friends!