Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back Home Again

I had hoped I'd have a chance to blog during the eight day Boston Pilgrimage, but no such luck because -  I was too busy having such an AWESOME TIME!!!!!  I know my last blog post seemed tentative about the travels, and tentative I was.  Once immersed in the experience, however, all tensions and concerns about safety, transformation, defiance, or any other difficulty floated away.  For me, the moment that I was able to assure myself that all would be well was when our third bus driver, Nathaniel - we called him Nate, took over the the responsibility of driving.  We requested Nate travel with us again this year since we'd had such a great experience with him two years ago.  When he pulled the bus onto the interstate near Buffalo, New York, I finally slept.

What was it about Nate?  You probably think he was a strong, commanding personality that took charge and gave a sense of authority and competence.  Not at all.  Nate is one of those rare (my assessment) people of any age who can get out of the way, just provide a safety net and helping hand.  He did his job well, skillfully driving the bus and finding the addresses we were to be delivered to without aid of an on-dashboard GPS.  And, all the while he was driving and navigating, he'd say, "Just tell me what you need."  And I did!  If only I had such relationships with people in my everyday life.  No dancing around trying to figure out if he might be receptive to what I had planned, no wondering if he'd really be parked along the north side of the Boston Commons at the agreed upon time, no arguing about whether the destination was a worthwhile one.  Just unconditional support.  There was the occasional, "Are you sure you want to do that?" from Nate.  To which I would respond, "what do you suggest?"  We'd share information with each other about alternative options, and then cooperatively decide what made the most sense.  I know this sounds like I'm crushing on our young bus driver - and I am - but only as an infatuation with the really great collaborative process we had.  Blogging about this makes me think I should examine all my relationships and try to determine what makes them different from the one I have with bus driver Nate.

But, the topic of this post is not "Bus Drivers" but Back Home Again.  So many people give a sigh of relief when they return home from a long journey, including me.  I'm not feeling that so much this week. I am glad to not be sleeping on the bus or a floor or responsible for 22 teens 24/7.  But I am not enthused about being in my own home.  While away I thought I might take a couple days at home  so I could center and refocus myself, but instead I threw myself back into work full force.  I think it may have something to do with the thousands of weeds that invaded my carefully planted perennial beds while I was gone, or the closet explosion that happened as I was pulling out every possible garment when deciding what to pack, or the raft of bills and household papers calling for my attention.  It was too much - being home seemed more daunting than the 22 teens (whom turned out to be fine traveling companions and not burdens at all).

Coming home has made me re-think the way I am living.  This house, this 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom, 1 den, living room, formal dining room, lawn with new perennial beds, and 2.5 car garage - is, possibly, weighing me down.  It is of course, much more space than I need personally.  However, when I have any of my family over, especially for overnights and extended stays, it is just the right size.  Is the maintenance and the expense worth it for those times?  Could those times happen in smaller digs and still be wonderful?  Could they happen some other place than MY home?

If not about the house and space being too much, is this coming home more about the reminders of unfinished projects - painting the porch and trim of the house, refinishing the floors, updating the hallway bath, and more and more perennials?

Ponderings, these are all ponderings.  I think I'll go paint for awhile this afternoon and see how that feels . . . .

Here is a link to a few Boston photos, including one of Nate waiting patiently for us to all gather back at the bus.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


The day on which one starts out is not the time to start one's preparations.  - Nigerian Folk Saying

In about thirty-six hours, I will be getting on a bus with twenty-two teens and two other adults.  We will be embarking on the biennial Coming of Age Boston Pilgrimage.   We have been preparing for this week for the past year.  Funds secured for our travel, packing lists, permission forms, reservations, itineraries planned, and deposits paid.

The last time I went on this trip, I was a lackey for Brian, the minister and leader of the pilgrimage.  At the time, I made notes:  cut back on free and shopping time - boys are bored;  try to incorporate spirituality or at least reflection in each day's experiences;  be more attendant to community building and including kids on the fringe; and finally, remember to put self in youth's place.  These were things I meant to talk with Brian about before planning this trip.  Then, last year, he resigned.  The trip became my sole pervue.  Hopefully, I have incorporated last time's notes in this year's trip.

I realize that I have some anxiety around this whole trip.  There is the usual, what if someone gets lost or hurt?  What if someone becomes seriously ill?  What if someone is totally opositional and defiant?  What if, what if?  I think I've planned for all the emergency contingencies.

Here's what I'm really concerned about:  transformation and transcendence.  Will the travelers come back more enlightened, better persons for this experience?   The motives for these travelers is as diverse and bewildering as each individual.  Some are traveling because their parents insist they have this experience, some because their older siblings or friends had this experience and it sounded like fun.  I doubt that any of them are going because they have the desire to grow spiritually and deepen their understanding of and connection to Unitarian Universalism.  In the past year with these students, I have felt I have played the role of the Greek god Kairos to them.  Kairos had winged feet and a septor, poised on a razor's edge, left hand inches away from the scales of Fate.  The invocation for Kairos was "Grab Him Swiftly, "  for opportunity does not always knock twice.  Always, opportunities are sweeping past, this moment in time will never come again.  Kairos teaches mortals that one must always be paying attention, always be listening for that moment when a choice is knocking on the door of your life.  The knock is often no louder than the beating of one's own heart, it is very easy to miss.  I do not purpose to say that I am of an age where I no longer miss any opportunities, but I can sometimes recognize the opportunities these young people are allowing to slip past.

Sure, they are all beginning to think of their futures, but they are pretty narrow thinkers in that regard.  I am reminded of the words of Robert Pirsig when I think of the youth (and, yes, even myself):  The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away.  Puzzling.

Will these youth be able to hear the opportunities that will knock on the doors of their lives on this trip?   (Will I be able to hear the knocking?)   Will they be able to see past the tourist's trappings and know this could be one of their life's fleeting moments of inspiration?  Will they make the connection that the places and people we will be learning about share a common faith with them?  Will that matter to them as we travel?  Or next year?  Or when they are twenty-five?  Or fifty?  We will all know the answers to these questions in time.

As for now, I don't know what else to do to but get on the bus.

". . . . When we no longer know where to turn, our real journey has begun."  - Phil Cousineau

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Examen

Christianity today, in my opinion, is a much different path than it was back in it's humble beginnings.  The Desert Mothers and Fathers, the early mystics of the tradition, were more like the men and women of their time who practiced meditation and sought an inner transformation for themselves.  Long before the formal church was established, Christian mystics were seeking a moral and transcendent life that could be learned, known, and lived by all.  They were looking to find practices to re-create the healing, transformation, and unconditional love, that Jesus was able to manifest in the way he lived his life.  Eventually, some of the Christian practitioners thought it would be a good idea to get some things in writing, make some laws, and try to get all people to do what was imagined to be the best for the whole of humanity.  It's a huge task, rife with anxiety, fear, and corruption.   As the Christian tradition became formal and hierarchical, some people tried to remain more true to those mystic men and women of the first few centuries of the common era.  The legacies and works of many of these seekers and mystics are still evident today in some of the monasteries and convents of many Christian sects.  Today, I reflect on St. Ignatius, of Loyola that is.  Ignatius was a Spanish knight who lived over 500 years ago (1491 - 1556).   As he wandered around marauding and warring, he had time for contemplation between battles.  It was in this contemplation that he came to know that he desired a life that was more life giving than life taking.  It was because of this desire that he founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) so that he and those who chose to learn with him might be able to emulate the life of Jesus, in some small way at least.  Ignatius noticed an advantage to contemplation that followed a particular pattern and shared this method of contemplation with others.  To some people today, it is known as The Examen.  The five tenants are:

1.  Recall that you are in the presence of God.
2.  Look over the present day with a sense of gratitude for this day's gifts.
3. Ask God to send his holy spirit to help you examine your actions, attitudes, and motives with honesty and patience.
4. Now, examine your actions, attitudes and motives.
5.  Give your cares over to Jesus.

If you are comfortable with Christianity, this is a great way to do a daily assessment.  For those of us who, for one reason or another, do not embrace the Christian tradition - I offer a more open way of doing The Examen.  A good time to do this is midday and/or as you are going off to sleep at night.  When done at midday, you are able to catch yourself and redirect your actions, attitudes, and motives if necessary.  When done as a sleep time ritual, you can look at the day honestly and put it away or aside so that you can drift off to a restorative sleep.  Here is the more general spiritualistic way to do The Examen:

1.  Recall that you are a part of the whole Universe.  You are made from the same matter as the stars, the sun, the ocean, the mountains, the earth, and the trees - the same matter as all that exists in the Universe.  You rely on all other forms of life, human and otherwise, for your very existence.  Feel the sacredness of you, feel the sacredness of all of the Universe's creations, feel the sacredness of all that you have created.

2.  Look at today, where you are, with a sense of gratitude.  You are still alive in this incarnation.  You are still connected to the rest of humanity and the natural world in ways that are familiar and meaningful to you.  Give thanks for the lessons you can glean from today.

3.  Take several deep breaths and just Be in silence.  Listen for a word, a sound, a feeling, or a presence.   When you feel connected to this silence, you will know that you can reveal your deepest concerns,  sorrows, shame, or regrets.

4.  In your silence, lay out what needs to be examined and reviewed.  Be honest.  Do not allow your ego to become confused with ethics.  You are not entitled to anything that is not available to all living things.  Remember that you are no more and no less important than any other part of the Universe.

5.  In closing, breathe deeply again.  As you exhale, see each thing you have examined being released to the Universe.   As these things are sent out to the Universe, they will be transformed, expanded, contracted.  You can not know the potential of these things, so allow the Universe to hold them all.  Breathe deeply and become re-connected to where you are now, to the tasks and opportunities before you.

Take, Lord (Universe), and Receive

Take, Lord (Universe), and receive all my liberty, my memory,
    my understanding, and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
Whatever I have or hold, you have given me.
I return it all to you and surrender it wholly
    to be governed by your will.
Give me only your love and your grace
    and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

St. Ignatius, from the end of the Spiritual Exercises

Life Changes

Many people my age talk about the grace of being able to accompany their parents on a journey of aging.  They share stories about the harsh parent who finally says "I love you" or a parent who apologizes for things that are difficult for them to talk about. I guess we all recognize grace when we see it.  I am actively searching for grace with my mom as I write this.  Maybe I need to start with recalling my experience with my father - where I found grace in his final months of life.  Here is an except from a spiritual autobiography I wrote a couple years ago:

As an adult, the only time I had a conversation, if you could call it that, with my father about the sexual abuse was during an early morning phone call.  About a month after I told my mom that I was not going to allow my children to be around my dad, he called me.  My phone rang one Saturday morning at 6AM.  “Lori, this is your dad.  I just wanted to say that all young girls provide men with opportunities and I am no different than any man.  That's why I've accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  Any sins I may have committed are in the past, they are gone.  I suggest that you ask the good lord to forgive you for what you did to me.”  That was it.  He hung up.  We never did have a real conversation, about anything, after that.  Even when reaching out to him at the end of his life, it was apparent to me that I would never get the conversation with him that I'd imagined in my mind.  But, I did get a great gift, a grace, the day I understood that conversation would never happen.

After not seeing my father for several years, I heard from my brother that he had a terminal illness and was not expected to live much longer.  I was worried that if I didn't at least go and see him one more time, I might have regrets when he passed on. So, I made the drive to see him.  I walked into his hospital room to see a man that I did not even recognize as my father.  Instead of the tall, handsome man in my memory, I saw a small, shriveling, gray, and balding being that had had one of his lower legs amputated.  The gasp that formed in my throat almost choked me.  “Dad,” I finally managed to gasp.  I felt like somehow something I had done or not done caused the state he was in.  He acknowledged me by holding up his hand.  As I got closer to the bed, I could not stop myself from crying, even though during the entire journey to this moment I told myself I would not cry when I saw him.  I held his hand and he greeted me like we'd just seen each other a short while ago and I was here for a casual visit.  He asked how the weather was, what kind of car I was driving, if I was working, if I'd gotten a hair cut.  Things that made no sense in the context of the visit.  When I was able to compose myself, I quit giving yes, no, or one word answers to his questions.  When I quit answering his trite questions, he quit asking them. I wanted to blurt out that I was sorry for everything in our past, to say those things didn't matter, but I couldn't because it wasn't true.  I realized I wanted to say those things to ease the tension, to make things more bearable for us in this moment, if that was possible.  I also knew that was not what I'd come to do, to make him feel better.  I also knew I had not come to make him feel worse, either.   Finally, holding his hand I said, “Oh dad, there's so much we've never talked about.”  As I spoke, he nodded his head and quietly agreed.  He looked like he was thinking about what I was saying, perhaps even feeling a bit of sorrow or regret.  He just kept nodding and saying, “yup, yup.”  Finally, he let out a large sigh and said, “Yup, what are you making then?  About $700 a week?” 

I felt as if something inside of me physically snapped.  It was like a moment of crystal clarity.  I no longer had any hope of, or even any desire for, an apology or acknowledgement from him about our sordid history.  In that split second when clarity came, I realized that I was the only one that could totally rid myself of the rope-like remnants of sexual abuse that so often seemed to intrude in my adult life.  Even though I began sobbing, I felt a joy that was one of the most mystical, loving embraces I'd ever known.  In just a few moments the tears stopped.  The rest of the visit, much to my surprise, I was able to just sit with my father and feel a sort of compassionate empathy for him.  On the drive home I was by myself in the car, but I'd never felt more in the presence of something, or someone, that exuded a love I'd never known. 

My father did not die soon, as was expected.  He lived several months, hospitalized, on dialysis, and needing frequent surgical procedures to control more gangrenous extremities or ulcerated intestines.  I was able to go and visit him a few times during those last months.  I never hoped for a deep, healing conversation and we never had one.  We talked weather, sports, politics and a bit about relatives.  After each visit, it felt as if there was reaffirmation that the gift of clarity during the first visit was, in fact a real and authentic gift, if not from him, from the Universe.  

So, here's sending out a request to the Universe, again, that another moment of grace is in store.  May we all be molded and formed in healthy and healing ways by the love and experiences that our lives have in them - even when we can not see or feel them.

Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle.
The miracle is not to walk on water,
The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,
to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
Peace is all around us -
in the world and in nature -
and within us -
in our bodies and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith; 
it is a matter of practice.
                                                                                                        -   Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spiritual Practice 911

I am just completing the first year of a three-year Spiritual Direction Formation program.  It is called Prairie Fire.  This class is part of a certificate program of The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

When I began Prairie Fire, I was delighted to learn about Centering Prayer.  This practice, formalized by Father Thomas Keating, a Jesuit Priest, is based on the contemplative practices of early Christian Mystics, or the Abbas and Ammas, of the dessert.  In this simple practice, one chooses a word that resonates peacefully with them.  Words like peace, love, light, one, help, om, or Jesus are often used.  One starts by repeating your chosen word over and over.  When you might find your mind wandering, you return to the word.  This was a change from the two kinds of meditation I’d learned earlier.  The first meditation I learned to do was based on Eknath Eswarin’s instruction of learning a rather lengthy mantra like the St. Francis prayer for peace or a passage from the Bible or Bhagavad Gita.  Repeating that long passage over and over was the meditation.  Later I learned zazen, a type of Zen meditation.  Simply put, the goal in zazen is to empty the mind, to not think of anything.

While all three of these ways of meditating are wonderful, powerful and potentially transformational, they require a discipline of finding a regular time to do them.   I have tried for extended periods of time to set aside time upon waking or before going to bed to do these kinds of meditations.  I have committed to being with groups who are engaging in these practices.  And, more times than I want to admit, I have abandoned the practices when life, ordinary or dramafied, got in my way.  And always, a pang of regret and guilt accompanied the abandonment of the practices. 

Ah – enter Welcoming Prayer – the answer to our spiritual practice emergencies. The history of the Welcoming Prayer is a little surprising. It’s not an ancient practice, though it’s an ancient idea. Mary Mrozowski of Brooklyn, New York — a friend of Father Thomas Keating — developed the method. She was inspired by Abandonment to Divine Providence, an early 18th century spiritual work by Jesuit priest and spiritual director, Father Jean Pierre de Caussade.  Here is how it works:

            Letting In - This is not about indulging, justifying, or amplifying bad happenings or feelings.  Rather, this part of the process allows you to name and feel your experience.  Feel the emotion or the feeling in your body and take note of where it is.  Are you tense, fearful, lethargic, fidgety, hot, sleepy, confused?  Just acknowledge what you are experiencing and take note of where you are feeling it in your body.

            Welcoming – We are talking about feelings and emotions here.  We are not going to welcome things like illness or injustice.  We can, however, acknowledge that these things can cause fear and other emotions that become a part of us.  We welcome our feelings and emotions because we can only start from where we currently are, and we can only move forward when we accept where we are.  We say, “Welcome fear (or sadness, or grief, rage, or whatever your emotion or feeling is called).” 

            Letting Go – Once we let in and welcome our feelings and emotions, we can let them go.   This is the part of the prayer when we understand that there are motivations, often that we are unaware of, behind our feelings and emotions.  Letting go means that we are willing to spend time in the great unknown.  We understand that we can experience our emotions and feelings without having them interfere with ours, or other people’s well being.  We say:
             “I let go of my desire for security and survival.

            I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.

            I let go of my desire for power and control.

            I let go of my desire to change what I can not, or should not, change.”

Welcoming Prayer is not my spiritual practice, but rather a supplement to my meditation and journaling.  It is like a first aid fix for me because I can apply it anywhere until I have time to ponder the deeper, more complex places where my feelings and emotions may be coming from.  It can also help with breaking negative thought patterns and it can get you through a tough spot.  If you find yourself struggling with the same emotions and feelings, try Welcoming Prayer. 
Until I post again I’ll be Letting In, Welcoming, and Letting Go -   Lori

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waiting for a Spark to Ignite

Waiting For The Spark  - A song about the struggle to write, and then realizing that this in itself is fodder for a song.

And I'm Waiting For The Spark
Spark to set my mind aflame
Waiting for the Spark
To burst to flame
                                                                      by Gayla Drake Paul

Saturday, February 19, 2011

And It's About You, Too.

I'll admit, sometimes I forget to look at the whole picture.  This is also about you, too.  Perhaps more about you than anything else.  And as an eight, you, Mr. Magnanimity, and Mr. Self-sufficient - you do not want us to act like this is so much about you.  You are always about looking for the best way to meet the needs of all, even if sometimes you insist that we all see things your way.  But that's okay - you really are looking out for all of us.  So, what stresses you?  What is hard for you?  That old number five - can be such a stressor.  Over thinking all the ways you might be useless or helpless.  Luckily, you recognize when you do that and you also know how to detach yourself from those thoughts, from the outcome.  It's not easy, but you can do it when you must.  And how have you grown?  You are the world's best helper and offerer of unconditional love.  How lucky are those ladies in your life to have access to that?  And when we all offer you a little flattery about how your helping fixed our problems, we see that you may be altruistic to a bit of a fault.

So, even though I may not always be saying or showing you this - it is because of you that I care so much about the others.  I have the same questions for you that I have for her - how can I help? Do you want to talk about it?  One thing I do know, you have always been so strong and able - figuring out how to do what you needed to do as I watched in awe.  I hope I've learned to let you tell me what you need from me.  I know I used to tell you what I thought you needed from, well, the world.  But you proved me wrong, I got a but wiser from the lessons.  And I have always known that this was about you, too.   It has always been about you, too.

It's All About You

This has been a tough day for me.  And when I say that, I cringe with guilt.  It really has been a tough day for me, but only because it's been a tougher day for you.  I know that my life will go on pretty much as it has for decades, affected mostly by choices I make rather than the random things that are affecting your life so profoundly.  As I think about you, I come back to thinking about me.  What should I do or say?  What will I be called to do? - and just know - I will do it gladly.  And most importantly, how are you managing to be so strong right now?  I'm pissed as hell!!!!!!  Of course not at you.  If I believed in god, I'd be pissed at god.  Instead, I'm pissed at randomness.  I'm pissed that it is not me instead of you who is having to deal with this.  I go back and forth.  Pissed, accepting, pissed, accepting . . . . .  

What I want most is for you to know that this time is all about you.  I don't think you might know that because you are a nine.  Yes, I think you are.  A peacemaker.   Your wings - they tell me this about you.   Your six gives you stress because you worry how to appear loyal and true.  Remember - for right now, you can let go of this stress - for right now, it's all about you.  For a change, ask others how they are going to convince you that THEY are loyal and true.   Then there is your three.  Three is so you.  You achiever, you intellectual, you.  Don't try to hide it, you couldn't if you wanted to.  But even with the very strong three, your six sometimes shows through.  And your nine - well, girl that is just you.   Now, don't go changing just because of this, this, thing that you're dealing with.  Whatever you do, keep working the nine, three, six.  Say it with me.  Nine, three, six.  Nine, three six.  Do not, I repeat do not, let yourself get stuck between four and five.  That could happen if you let yourself fall.  No telling how you'd get yourself free from that self-blaming, over-thinking, withdrawal syndrome.  No, stick with your numbers.  Remember, even when you wish you weren't so damn loyal, so six, that's where get your courage.  And your intellect, well sometimes that truth is only understood by you, but keep casting it out there anyway.  Most of all, stay high on that nine.  You said you were going to go seeking serenity - all you need to know that is that you already have it!  It's in you.  It's all about you.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jung and Ubuntu

In my last post I waxed on about Freud, not because I get Freud or feel he has definitively defined the human psyche.  I wrote about him because I think he provides a good basis for how we talk about things like the psyche, ego, unconscious self, conscious self, pleasure, flight, etc., etc.  Maybe that's how Jung was feeling about him when he wrote to Dr. Freud.  I can just imagine the letter.  Hey Sigmund, You don't know me but I think we may have some common interests - dreams, early life experiences, sub conscious mind, super conscious mind - you know, stuff like that.  Want to get together and talk about it sometime? And so they did.  As with many May-December relationships, Jung kept searching for what was around the next idea and Freud just wanted to stay where he felt comfortable.  I'm told the relationship ended when Jung kept expanding his ideas and Freud said, "enough already."

Speaking of expanding ideas, it was Jung that brought us the concept of a collective consciousness.  Several years ago I was in a dream group.  A fellow member was an analyst/psychologist.  Once when we were talking about symbols, he was trying to explain that Jung believed that there were certain symbols,  or archetypes, that appeared in all cultures and that had similar meanings in all cultures.  When someone asked how that could be, he drew this big circle.  Then he drew several smaller circles with large parts of the little circles overlapping the large circle, sort of like a venn diagram.  He said, "the small circles represent individual minds, which are all part of a larger mind - the collective consciousness."  He said there was nothing we had to do, nothing to learn or study, in order to be a part of that collective consciousness.  That moment was transformative for me.  I felt somehow less weird, not less unique, but more connected to all of humanity and even all of the universe.  Ideas, feelings, knowings - things that I didn't even have language for, suddenly made sense to me.  Thank you Dr. J.

Now, here I am years later in a similar setting, studying to be a spiritual director.  We do talk of dreams and symbols and their meanings sometimes, but rather than looking at things through a psychological lens, we are looking at them through, well beyond spiritual, an ethereal lens.  My teachers base their teachings and practices on early contemplative mystical christianity.  As they teach they try to understand and define the practices of the christian mystics of the third century and earlier - the desert mothers and fathers.  The works of scholars and theologians like Merton, Keating, Armstrong, Norris, Bourgeault, and Newell are assigned regularly.  Six months into this program, a pattern is emerging for me.  That pattern is, to quote Dr. J., "the small circles represent individual minds (not just our minds but our souls, our very essence I say), which are part of a larger mind (not just a larger mind, Our larger Mind, our Souls, the very Essence of all living things I say) - the collective consciousness."  It seems simple, but it is true, I believe the collective consciousness is what we call God.  At least that is how I understand and define God.  The continual thesis of my current studies is simply put, God is in everyone of us, every one of us is in God.  These are my words, the best I can do with a this concept that seems beyond our simple verbal language.

Back to Jung.  While Jung was not a religious person, he did speak of psychological maladies as spiritual illnesses and deficiencies.  His own experiences with what he called neurosis and hearing voices convinced him that when psychological symptoms present, it is an indication an absence of wholeness.  He suggested that alcohol and drug abusers were seeking to fill or repair a spiritual void or brokenness with chemical experiences.  Jung is credited with influencing Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, their correspondence affirms that.  Jung more or less declared that psychological health and wholeness was not possible without a spiritual health and wholeness.

So, I would like to say thank you to Carl Jung, introduced to me by Dr. J and more deeply by Dr. B., for helping eradicate my early concept of God.  That early God - father, omnipotent, all seeing, punishing, angry and loving (can you say schizoid personality disorder???), never ever made sense or helped me feel good about myself or the world.  The God I now can get my mind around, or rather the God that can get it's mind around mine, is the God I can believe in.  In this kind of a relationship with God, I have to take some responsibility (and credit) for what's happening in the universe as well as my smaller world.  Every thought, every action taken by all of us becomes a part of that collective consciousness.  We - all of the universe known and unknown, comprise God.

In closing this post I say Ubuntu.  No, not the cola, the computer font, or the Linux operating system. Ubuntu - an ethical concept of African origin which if it has to be translated into words loosely means - "I am because You are, You are because I am."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mind Full

(*NOTE - if you find this too tedious, skip down to the poem at the end of this post :-)

I have been thinking a lot recently about how we relate - to each other, to ourselves, to our environment.  Why do we act the way we do?  What makes us feel the emotions we do?  What compels us to make the choices we do?  How do we overcome that which has been put upon us?  Here are some thoughts -

When I first studied Freud, I recall a sense of being annoyed by a white male's explanation of the mind.  Over time, however, I have come to see the benefit of organizing models of the human psyche.  Whether his ideas and explanations are final explanations or just primitive building blocks, they are evident in the works of later psychological scholars either as a basis or comparison.  

Identifying and describing the id, superego and ego are  very helpful to us in understanding our personal, private and public selves.  By this I mean, the id defines the very essence of who we are.  Depending on our degree of healthy and accurate self-knowledge and assessment, the id may be known or not by ourselves.  We are not always conscious  that our actions are reflections of the id, that is our instinctual drives, the drives toward pleasure or away from danger or hurt.  Here is where the flight or fight instinct lives.   I think there is sometimes also an active “invite” instinct where we try to adapt to an environment that we unconsciously perceive as pleasurable or safe.  We try to invite ourself into an environment that may not be compatible with our true self, simply because we perceive that being in that environment may be beneficial in bringing safety or pleasure.  In our inviting, we may place ourselves in places and situations that are in direct conflict with our uncoordinated, instinctual id. 

Our ego is the part of us that represents common sense and reality as opposed to the passions of the id.  It is in allowing the ego to come forth that chooses the life we live.  The ego is our out loud, or in plain sight, expression of who we are.  The superego is the part of us that facilitates the relationship between the id and ego.  It is where our pre-memory experiences, cultural norms and societal messages are internalized and, when called on to do so, sent to the ego for external expression.  It is no wonder that Freud put such emphasis on experiences of the very young and bonds, or non-bonds, with early care givers in forming the superego and ego.  

It is interesting to note that Freud did not use the terms id, ego and superego.  It was his translator, James Strachey, who latinized Freud's terms "das Es", "das Ich", and "das Uber Ich."  Rather than id, ego and superego, these terms literally mean "the It", "the I" and "the Over I."  Too bad that these terms were not used, as they are more self-explanatory than the latin substitutions Strachey gave us.  

So, why does this even matter?  It sometimes makes my brain hurt just thinking about this kind of thing, yet it does help me understand that, probably, since the human race began we have been trying to understand our connection with that something outside of us that is larger than all the universe, yet at the same time wholly contained in every individual living thing.   I believe that something is what people call  God.  Or god.  Or love.  Or divine presence.  Or spirit.  I don't think it matters what it is called, it only matters how it is expressed.  

Perhaps the reason I am so interested and concerned with how the mind works is because I have a sense that in order for one to truly express what we call god, we must first find god.  Our mind holds memories not only from our lives but, I believe,  from the lives of others and every event in the universe.   This bring us to Jung . . . . . . whom I shall leave for another day.  I think more important than knowing and explaining our mind and how it works is our feeling how our mind works - how it helps us make connections to people, to science, to love, to living - to that which is meaning filled for us.  

I have always been a bit envious of the poet who can reduce what took me hundreds of word to say to just a few lines of poetry.  Today, as a full explanation of the meaning of life,  I give you David Whyte's -

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are too tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sacred Space

Recently I facilitated a group whose task was to think about and discuss sacred space.  I realized late in my preparations that the curriculum I was using suggested that people be given a piece of paper and markers to first draw a picture of their sacred space and then share their drawing with the group.  I chose to ignore this suggestion for two reasons:  1 - I knew these adults would groan and grimace that they were not artists.  I feared all their energy would be put into trying to get the drawing, not necessarily the memory, correct; and 2 - we only had 20 minutes for this activity.  How could we draw and share in that time?

Instead I asked them to close their eyes, take a deep breath or two and think about a space that was sacred to them.  I asked them to sit quietly for a couple minutes and let the memories from this space come to them so they could notice details and feelings about this place.  After the quiet, I asked people to share.

The first person shared that the place they were thinking of no longer existed.  The people who shared the space with him were still around.   Whenever they get together, which is not often, they always speak of that place.  It is an old house they lived in, right above Cannery Row.  The memory holder lamented that the last time he was in that area he could not even find the spot where the house once stood, but the memories were as clear as if they we yesterday's events.  As he spoke, his face softened, the color of his eyes deepened, and his voice became more melodic.  Wow - I wished I had been a part of that.  He didn't share any of the events that he remembered, just that it was in that space that so many important and transcendent experiences had come to him.

Another person shared that her sacred space was a childhood home and the spaces were ones that she, her siblings and neighbor friends explored.  They often went to the forbidden river and swam or waded, careful to remove any articles of clothing that might get wet and tattle on them.  Again, not much was said about the topography, other than there was a river, or the natural beauty, but rather the feelings and emotions that were still carried from those days so long past.

Others shared stories of places where families gathered and celebrated holidays - family homes, vacation spots, first solo explorations.  The common thread that held all these stories together were the emotions and feelings that they stirred within us all.  No one said the places they remembered as sacred spaces were the most beautiful or awe inspiring places they'd been.  I found this intriguing and interesting.

In the next days I began asking people I happened to be meeting with what place came to mind for them when I said "sacred space?"  No one, not one of the roughly twenty, responded with a place of religious or natural significance.  All had to do with a memory that was associated with the experience in the place they recalled.  First homes, grandma's house, their vegetable garden, their child's room at bedtime, a concert parent's saved money to buy tickets for, a cemetery -  it was an interesting mix.

This exercise has made me consider, or perhaps, re-consider what sacred space means.  Based on all the responses, I am aware that at any random moment, we may be contributing something to a place or event that will be imprinted in someone's memory as sacred.  What a beautiful thought.  I suppose we need to say that we also should be aware that we may also, at any and every moment, be contributing in a negative way to those memories.

So, this new awareness, that sacred space is more a memory, a feeling, or emotions than a physical place has made me stop and take stock of how I am interacting with people.  I do not believe that solely my behavior will define one's experiences, but I do think that I have an opportunity to contribute in ways I may not even be aware of.  It reminds me to make sure that I am always being the most genuine and authentic person I can be - sad when sadness is about me, warm when connections dictate, goofy and funny when the spirit moves, patient when time is needed, persuasive when a timid soul needs a nudge,  but always - me.

Think about your sacred spaces, close your eyes, take a deep breath or two and think about a space that is sacred to you.  Sit quietly for a couple minutes and let the memories from this space come to you.  Notice details and feelings about this place.  Now, share - write them down, pick up the phone, or plan a road trip.  More sacred space is waiting to be discovered or remembered.