Be determined

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Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility – both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me. Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to win, a commitment to fight the good fight.

Anna Deveare Smith, Letters to a young artist

 

 

Go where the peace is

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There’s a misconception about peace. We tend to believe that being at peace means the absence of discomfort, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Our inclination towards being comfortable can mislead us. In reality, God most often leads us to places fraught with challenges because this is how we grow in love.  And what God wants most for us is to be equal to God in Love.

The spiritual life is a journey. We’re all headed somewhere. And like any journey, along the way, there will be danger, doubt, confusion, feelings of being alone, mixed with moments of sheer joy. It is easy to become consumed by what happens to us along the way and distracted from seeing instead, what is happening within us, and what God is becoming for us.

Seeing life through a spiritual lens involves changing our perception of who we are and who God is for us.  And it takes work. Mostly because the first thing we see clearly when we put on our spiritual glasses are the false truths we tell ourselves. We see how we actually prefer the distractions because the way we are accustomed to seeing is more comforting to us than the hard work and discomfort of transformation. Yet it is in this way, that we also begin to see that the peace that God desires for us, offers us a different sort of freedom. Not freedom from trouble or discomfort, but freedom from our own illusions –  that God is not present, at work within us, walking before us, whispering behind us. The greatest illusion is that we are alone, that we could actually drift beyond God’s reach.

This is not an easy shift in perception. But the shift does comes about slowly through a practiced, intentional effort to align ourselves with seeing through a spiritual lens. Contemplative prayer (or meditation) helps to re-align the way we see. As we sit, the mind shows us all kinds of thoughts and worries, even bright ideas. These thoughts will never go away…and that is not the goal of quiet prayer. Resting in Presence teaches you that while everything goes on around you, within you there is a place that is still and quiet, a place that exists beyond our thought world, a place where peace exists within us, regardless of what’s going on around us. We may only access that peace for a few seconds here or there when we first begin to practice. But over time, we will learn to find our way to that place with more frequency, not through any effort or will of our own, but by gently responding to God’s invitation to come and stay a little longer this time.

What it means to be contemplative

I call myself a contemplative.  And lately, as I take rest to reconnect with my spiritual practice, I realize not only had I lost touch with the core of my contemplative self, but that many others do not understand the nature of contemplation or what it means to be a contemplative.

I’ve always been a thinker, even a self-confessed over-thinker. It’s kind of a pre-requisite for being a writer. Always ideas, always an active imagination, always an ongoing dialogue in my head, always a propensity to being still, because after all, you must be still enough to capture an idea when it comes.  But being a contemplative doesn’t just suggest that one spends hours on end mulling over the meaning of life. Contemplation is a practice of cultivating an attitude of listening and responding to the movement of God in our lives. William J. Barry, who has written a lot about the practice of spiritual direction and contemplation says that, contemplation begins “when a person stops being totally preoccupied with his own concerns and lets another person, event, or object take his attention.” Contemplation then means a movement away from self-absorption towards becoming absorbed in a Being beyond oneself.

Contemplative prayer, more recognizably known as meditation, is the practice of going beyond oneself. And it is very challenging. As I sat in meditation this morning, my thoughts were going a mile a minute. The goal of contemplative prayer is not having no thoughts, rather it is allowing thoughts to come and pass, without latching onto them and being carried away by the stream of thoughts that pass constantly. That’s what makes the practice of meditation so difficult. Training the mind not follow its every whim is daily exercise and it can be a frustrating, never-ending journey. But this is the spiritual life. And at its core, a commitment to the spiritual life is a commitment to the work of freeing oneself from self-absorption and self-preoccupation. And when we are free from our self-determined ideas about who we are and what we must do, we are open to the movement of God and able to hear more clearly the activity to which God invites us to.

It’s easy to be busy doing, not so easy to get busy being. But the truth we all confront at some point in our lives, and the source of most all discontent is coming to terms with the reality that what we are doing does not wholly satisfy us. The question of the contemplative is always, “Who am I being?” And the answer to that question lay not in the doing, but always in the being. It can be a scary place to live, in the being of who we are, and we will always come up with every good reason not to stop and rest there.

Accepting Loss

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Gerald May quote

I’m oiled up…wearing my acceptance oils today – Cypress, Frankincense, and Myrrh – because I’m going through a major transition, experiencing a blend of losses that are very real to me. And with any transition and loss comes a grieving period.

Grieving is uncommon nowadays. We associate grief primarily with death, but the death of a person is not the only kind of loss we experience in life. We lose jobs, we lose status, we lose lovers, we lose dreams. And in suffering these kinds of losses, when you share the pain or heartbreak associated with it, you may find a few moments of sincere understanding followed by a quick prescription to get over it – “Let it go” and “move on” are the most familiar approaches. We have a ‘buck up’ approach to grief in dealing with these seemingly less important losses which concerns me on many levels.  One, because it doesn’t offer real compassion for the person suffering the loss, but perhaps even more importantly, simply “moving on” doesn’t leave space for the growth, healing and transformation that comes from first accepting that you are indeed losing something that was valuable to you.

Despite casual advice, I’ve chosen to allow myself to settle into the process of grieving. As a trained spiritual director, it is my duty to be able to sit with my own feelings of pain and loss so I can hold those feelings for another person. What I run from in myself, I will run from in others. You have no idea how badly I just want to move on…replace this grief with work, or television, or any sort of noise or busy-ness. I want to exchange this weakness for Power. Instead, I let the weakness overcome me like a wave…let it lead me to a place of transformation.

A proper grieving experience actually invites us to become something new. When loss and pain confront us, our first instinct is to sweep it under a rug. We can cry later. We don’t have time to be sad, or angry or resentful or whatever feeling may arise in the holding of our pain. So we just turn that channel off. We are hard-wired to resist any kind of suffering. But what we fail to understand that great contemplatives know as truth is that burying our own anger, resentment, pain or loss actually steals our joy. We carry the opposing energy we refuse to give to the other. And it builds up in us like a toxin.

What makes the spiritual life such an inconvenient commitment is, that it calls for an acceptance of all things. All things. Not just good things, like blessings and prosperity, but all things. Even sad, suffering things like loss and hurt and pain. We accept that they are present in our lives so we can accept that they are present in others lives. And in the acceptance of our losses, we come to know a deeper, more compassionate, present even in darkness kind of God. This is the God of the Psalms. This is the vulnerable God. This is the God who transforms and makes us whole. And this is the God who desires to dwell comfortably within us, and it is our suffering that makes room for Her. Suffering makes way for Grace…that grace, we might extend to others.

The un-welcomed truth about the spiritual life is that whatever we resist, persists in us. Still, we have become a people very adept at covering up our wounds. Social media affords us the luxury of presenting only the parts of ourselves we find, and believe others will receive as desirable. Nobody wants sadness, nobody wants weakness. We call that “bad energy.” But look to any great spiritual teacher and practice their way. The truly courageous spiritual person possesses the willingness to actually look suffering in the face, go to hell, war with themselves and return home anew – stronger, more truthful…shining because they’ve walked through fire.

Practice saying Yes to yourself

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I just took a big risk and forfeited a great paying job…two of them actually. Although I have a decent amount of money saved, choosing not to work right now is totally illogical.

But I have dreams. And in some downtime between a job that ended and another that was to begin, those dreams began to recur. Rest realigns your purpose. And that rest in between jobs gave me the space to remember what makes me happy, remember who I am, remember what I was born to do, who I was created to be. And all of that rest and remembering served me well. I remembered so well, and so vividly, that saying yes to another well paying job became more and more difficult.

What struck me most as I was making my decision, was how difficult it was for me to actually act on what I knew I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to take the jobs, I knew I had the financial freedom to say no to them, but the paralyzing crisis of freedom perplexed me. Why is it so difficult to actually do what you want, to say yes to yourself?

Trusting yourself is one of life’s greatest challenges. It takes practice. It requires a daily commitment to affirming yourself. Trusting yourself forces you to ask yourself everyday – Do I believe my potential? Are my dreams supported by the universe, God? Am I determined enough to make what exists in my imagination a reality?

Saying yes to yourself demands courage. You have to be daring enough to take a risk. Wild enough to follow your heart. Audacious enough to believe it is possible. And as I get older, my fearlessness in the face of the unknown is threatened with every obligation, every financial commitment, every idea that I must be, do, or have this or that, and everybody else’s better idea of who I am supposed to be according to them.

In the end, it all came down to a matter of the heart. When I lived out of my heart in the reality of working those jobs, I felt anxious. When I lived out of my heart in the reality of having the freedom to take time for myself and work towards executing my ideas and my vision, I felt peace. So, I chose peace. But I also learned that choosing peace doesn’t always mean you won’t be uncomfortable. There is always discomfort in the gray…in the space between black and white…that certainty of knowing, there is always discomfort. We prefer to be certain, we prefer to have answers, we prefer to have a plan clearly outlined, to follow a map. But there is also a map of the heart. And the only way to follow it is to rest in the peace of knowing that our hearts desires will in fact lead us somewhere. To some place where freedom and joy meet. Some place far off in the distance that even with perfect vision we can barely see. But it is there. We can glimpse it. And it can be felt, deep in our soul. It can be heard in the quietest of moments. It is a God whisper, saying to our soul…Yes. And we have to listen for that whisper of a feeling every day. We have to practice hearing it, practice saying yes to the unknown. Like a child who jumps in a pool for the first time, or takes her first ride on a bike. Children see other people do what they cannot yet and trust and believe they too will be able to swim and ride and be free. It just takes practice.

#NoPeaceNoJustice

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I struggle to be outraged or shocked at the events shaking our nation over the past year. I always prefer to see truth come to light. The current and recurring events reveal who we are as a nation, and that revelation gives me more comfort than any pretense of good or better than.

I have never believed the glorification of the foundation of our great nation America. At our core, we are a country born out of resentment and discontent. The founding fathers left a system of government that didn’t serve them, revolted and set sail for new land, stumbled upon America and stole her from native people through intentional acts of genocide, violently went to war against their brethren for their rights, formed a new government that better served their own interests, and build our nation’s economy on the backs of injustice.
This is our country. And it’s not a judgment, just a reality. I am American too, and suffer her freedoms and her wounds just the same.

The truth is, we are a proud and entitled people. We fight for what we feel we deserve. We look out for our own. We fashion our own truths to reflect what benefits us the most. (This is how our great Declaration of Independence could be written, signed, and still celebrated despite originating amidst all manner of immorality and wrongdoing.) We form our own beliefs, and with our freedom to create whatever philosophy or religion that serves us best and makes us the least uncomfortable, we have a created a world for ourselves that makes Justice impossible to be upheld. Justice fails to be a reality when we see the world through a self-serving and self-protective lens. If the very essence of justice is fairness, to stand for it requires a seeing beyond your Self.

The self-evident truths our nation are founded on infect us all and need to be replaced with the only Truth that will set us free… that we are all ONE. Our neighbor is our sister, and our enemy is our brother. The oppressed and the oppressors are one. The cops and the criminals are one. The news reporters and the activists are one. The murderers and the victims are one. The government and the people are one. The rich and the poor are one. The prosecutors and the defendants are one. The young and the old are one. You. And. I. Are. One.

But we cannot see this truth, and there will be no justice and there will be no peace…until we experience a revolution of the heart and the way we see.

So when we cry for Justice, what we are really crying for is Revolution. Because a people whose nation’s founding principles are rooted in self-interest, can never be rightly concerned with equity, fairness…Justice. And that is why there will be no justice until there is peace. Because there can never be justice without, until there is peace within.

Anais Nin on the torment of awareness

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“I have a ferocious lucidity…I am aware that my gift is my curse-for I see into others lives abnormally with such keen insight, it sometimes gives me an inhuman role to play-the wise man’s role, so hateful, so difficult. At times some depend on my guidance, but at other times they hate it and rebel against it…And yet at other times, they ignore it, and then, because my feelings are involved, I suffer more from their blindness than they do…I utter truths which hurt…because I am accurate. I hate my own lucidity-I suffer as a god must suffer when he looks down and commits a murder committed in a moment of blindness. Sometimes I feel so desperate I cry out that I will kill myself and put and end to this seeing. Oh, the torture of eyes forever open! Close my eyes, oh god, that I may rest from suffering. I can no longer bear my awareness. How clearly I see!”

-Anais Nin, Mirages

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Love My Enemy

I retranslated the classic gospel of Luke passage where Jesus is teaching about loving your enemies.  I took this on recently after a spiritual teacher I greatly admire suggested the practice of transcribing sacred or profound writings as meditation.  The daily exercise over the course of a week’s time, verse by verse, one or two a day, proved very revealing. Because really, this love your enemies talk isn’t as much to do with how we treat others, as it is to do with how we treat ourselves, and how we respond to the parts of ourselves that we find unlovable.

Seems Jesus knew the extremes to which we are willing to go to protect ourselves against the emergence of our true selves, and how easy it is to keep hidden from ourselves the parts we’d rather not admit. Our True Self – our whole integrated selves – demand that we take account for all parts of our selves.  Otherwise we are fragmented, not whole, incomplete in our understanding of ourselves, and subsequently our understanding of others.  Self-examination is the hardest part of spiritual work.  But in order to connect with one another and love despite the flaws we find in them, we must be willing and able to connect with our own flaws.

It’s not a new question, (many a philosopher, theologian, analyst have explored this) but it felt new to my soul to ask, What if all this time, my “enemy” has been myself? So the following is transcribed accordingly….

 Love My Enemy

(a retranslation of the Gospel of Luke 6:27-36)

27 “But I say to you who listen, love yourself, do good to yourself (don’t hate yourself), 28 bless yourself (don’t curse yourself), pray for yourself (don’t abuse yourself) 29 If you strike yourself on the cheek, offer the other also, and if you take off your coat, take off your shirt as well (expose yourself, be vulnerable, do not hide or withhold from yourself for fear that you will be in lack), give it all 30 Give to yourself when your soul demands it, and if doing so sheds a layer, and you find yourself stripped of familiar goods (treasures, habits, attachments) do not ask for them back 31 Do to yourself as you would do to others.  

32 “If you love only the things you love about yourself, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love themselves, and only see and embrace the good parts of themselves 33 If you treat well only the parts of yourself that are good, what credit is that to you?  For this is your ego, your false self at work – embracing only the positive, ignoring the negative shadow self for fear it will be dethroned if light is shed on it 34 If you lend (regard, give time and attention) to only the parts of yourself from which you hope will gain praise, what credit is that to you? The ego loves to be admired, to glory in itself 35 But love every part of yourself (the good, the bad, and the ugly), do good to yourself (don’t hate yourself because of what you discover about yourself), and examine yourself truthfully, expecting nothing in return (for there is little praise in this world for those willing to shed light on things). But your spiritual reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish, even you. 36 Be merciful towards yourself, just as a Mother or Father is merciful towards their child.

the fragile Diva

marilyn-monroe - 1Thinking about Marilyn Monroe a lot these days. She’s stunning and vulnerable yet gets a really disrespectful rap in our culture, and I’ve been trying to sort out why.

I work with a bunch of dudes, and asked a couple of them in the story room recently, “What category of woman do you put Marilyn in?” “Not a role model,” was the first reply. “Alcoholic, pill popping, whore,” was another. They see the mistress of JFK, singing “Happy Birthday,” lips all pouty, skirt blowing up in the wind. She certainly was all of that, oozing sex appeal with an embarrassing need for validation, yet still somehow she strikes me as a woman who was very in control of her destiny, not willing to be controlled by her daring choices nor man’s perception of her.

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I recently watched a short documentary about her life and learned a few things that surprised even me.  Like, did you know she was the first woman in Hollywood since Mary Pickford (the silent film star) ever to own her own production company? And she was such a big fan and friend of Ella Fitzgerald, that she petitioned a famous night club owner in Hollywood to let Ella perform there back in the days when not even famous blacks could sing in night clubs, promising that every night Ella sang, she, the enigmatic Marilyn Monroe would be in the audience. And the club owner did it, and Marilyn showed up for her friend, Ella, every night…

That’s no bimbo move.

But Marilyn knew she was a fantasy. The girl you secretly admire but never actually make your wife…or your friend.  She didn’t fit in a traditional role, she didn’t want what was readily available to a pretty girl like her and in refusing what was offered her, called into question everyone else’s assumed role in culture. Women scorned her, men lusted after her. What to do with a woman who identifies with something bigger than herself, unapologetically chooses to follow It, and oozes a peculiar, disarming confidence along the way? We are all given the option when confronted by a woman like Marilyn – to embrace Her or reject Her…and in choosing either we demand of ourselves to either step up to the plate of life, or retreat.

This peculiar something Marilyn embodied is mysterious and challenging.  It harkens to another time, long ago when being a woman of power didn’t necessarily mean giving up all your feminine attributes. To be a goddess in a former world meant being both seductive and a wise leader. It’s a frightening kind of power women possess, it’s been called cunning, manipulative…we’ve been re-storied by men as temptresses, brujas, whores, bitches and witches, Delilah’s and Jezebel’s….simply because of our alluring power. True feminine power is a scary kind.  It weakens the structures we build to protect us from all feeling.

20140224-224508.jpgWhile undeniably striking Marilyn appears on the surface, I get that one wouldn’t necessarily consider her a “tower of strength.” Her pout distracts from the limitlessly freeing multi-dimensionality of what being a real woman like Marilyn actually offers to me, and all women alike.  She was tragic and empowered in a way that we don’t dare celebrate so no wonder it’s hard to recognize strength in her…or in oneself. It’s simply easier to pity than feign to understand. Easier then to put woman in a box – strong or weak, secure in herself or self-loathing, confident or wracked with self-doubt. Hollywood, God bless this town, seems to beckon these enigmas. It may be one of the few spaces where insecurity and vulnerability are invited, and then tricked into putting it all out there for everyone to see.  Marilyn owned her sexual prowess, and her weakness.  And that is a lifestyle granted only to the extremely daring and courageous.

Seems men and woman alike aren’t quite sure how to manage the fascination with this kind of woman.  There’s something about Marilyn that was so desirable, yet she could never be possessed by anyone. Studios tried.  And men certainly tried. And because she could not be possessed, I gather they could not figure out how to love her. And I am coming to believe her life was a tragedy not because she had a tragic childhood or an addiction to pain medication. The tragedy was that truly, the lady just needed to be loved. Not possessed, Loved.  Underneath all her liquid appeal, she was really just a fragile diva. Very needy, very wounded and very unwilling to hide it from anyone.  She knew she was a fantasy because she knew the truth of herself. It wasn’t just the way she dreamed, it was her awareness of her own duality…That she could be at once a persona, yet always still just a person.

I’m thinking a lot about how to walk that line – of the persona and the person. Because what’s occurring now in culture is a type of woman whom we call strong, confident, secure of herself…who doesn’t seem to need a thing. This kind of confidence comes quite naturally to some, that ability to project strength, to keep going in the face of fear and never let on to the truth of what’s really occurring inside you. It’s so damn attractive, and it is often quite a real strength to be admired. Yet, it seems once a woman exhibits that kind of strength, she is qualified as this “type,”and that qualification seems to come at the cost of her full expression of herself. Not sure that’s the ideal either?

marilyn monroe4Half the beauty of being a woman is being able to love fully in our bodies, and through our feelings. The widest range of emotional expressions is at our disposal, to embrace and mirror back what we experience in the world. To laugh and cry, to smile and pout. To nurture and to need. It is our luxury as women, it is our natural biological cycle to be Moved…to care…To Feel.

The impulse to disregard our feelings, our Be-ing, is in effect to deny the Essence of a woman. No matter how masculine the everyday rhythm of this world (and it is so) – to win, to own, to rush, to war. No matter how insistent the compulsion to play at a man’s game – to rationality, to logic, to strategy, to succeed. We cannot do so at the cost of our feminine power. I will not put up walls, button up, give good face.  If my crying makes you cry, good for you. Connect for one moment as the Feminine does, with the suffering of this world, with the recurring loss of innocence, the desperate grasping for hope, the incessant hum of injustice, the raging inequality – and your powerlessness to do anything about except to Feel It All. Touch Her, for one moment…sit with Her and let Her break your heart. And just. fucking. cry. about it.

That’s the gift, the absolute joy of being a woman. We have the pleasure of knowing that this expanse of feeling inside us, no matter how overwhelming, won’t be the end of us, and it won’t be the end of you, and it won’t be the end of this world. It is just Who We Are at this moment, at any given moment. We are disappointed, broken-hearted, yet we still Love. We are betrayed, and betrayed again, and again, yet risk love once more. Because that’s what women do.  We give birth and watch it die, over and over and over again…for Love.

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I feel it all I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card inside, wild card inside
…I’ll be the one who’ll break my heart…
–Feist

Big girls

Not that kinda big. But the grown up, bossy kind. Girls who make big decisions, big moves and do it in a big way. When I wanna get pumped up I listen to Madonna’s Holiday, and dance around my bedroom like it’s my birthday party. Sometimes you need to psych yourself out just to manage the resistance to the new, the more coming your way. What’s inevitable when you’re making big girl decisions is that you will experience serious waves of doubt. I try to focus on images of women who empower me. They did it so why can’t I? Sounds a bit naive…and perhaps even childishly entitled when you say that out loud. But there’s a simple truth to it. It’s daring to believe you can do anything. And it is almost childish feeling to just go for it despite the odds. There’s something wonderfully ridiculous about going with a wild idea, delightfully irresponsible about taking a leap, landing just beyond your comfort zone.

So in addition to my Madonna Immaculate Collection private dance party, I’ve been singing this Sinatra song this morning…Fairytales can come true they can happen to you when you’re young at heart…Makes me smile. And I’ve also been listening to Nas…Big Girl Now. Yeeeaaah. That one just makes me feel like a Boss 😉

“My Ghetto Queen of Sheba”

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