Friday, June 28, 2013

Here for others

When I'm feeling down, when I'm feeling blue, it is a great consolation to remember that I am not here for myself! I am here to help others. Not just my family either, but all of creation.

That sounds so lofty, but helping is usually done in simple daily acts; how you live your life, even driving courteously on the road, sharing a laugh with the checkout person at HEB, and so on. It's easier and closer than it seems. (I tell myself)

I also believe that prayer and meditation bring positive energy to the world, as well. A world dearly in need of positive energy, love and compassion!

If this life were a selfish act and I was here for personal self-development or whatever, I'd be ready to trade in this rental body and go on to the next big thing. What I am experiencing should probably not be called pain or suffering, so much as the ennui of a modern American life. As busy as you want, but ultimately empty of deeper meaning; social isolation the norm. Our possessions cage us in and control our time. Enough whining about the good life! Life free from poverty, violence, disease, and natural disasters, in which there's plenty of room and time for me to ruminate about what is wrong with my blessed life.

I think I'm struggling with saying a sort of goodbye to my children (Austin moves into an apartment Aug. 15), and that my life has been too defined by them. Like a man who defines his life by his career and then retires, I'm drifting. I would love to plunge into more volunteer work (currently just helping with Funlympics a few hours a week, a great event you can read about here). However, I have a shortage of time, or more accurately, inconsistent amounts of time throughout the year. I've put out feelers to the Floresville hospital (no response) and other places for volunteer work, and nothing has come through yet. I met an amazing woman who does contemplative prayer as a prison ministry and invited me to do so, but it's not at a good time for me.

I'm sure God will put something in my path, and I will keep my eyes open and hopefully my heart, too.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Who do you say I am?

I want to thank everyone I work with and go to church with, and socialize with, because they help me behave like a normal human being even when I think I am experiencing devastating emotional turmoil!! They expect me to show up as a person completely in control and in command of my faculties, and I cannot disappoint them. Being around them, in person, works. What doesn't work is being on Facebook or any type of virtual connection, because people can't see the expression on your face or how puffy your eyes may be from crying, when you are online. They don't know if you never got dressed or out of bed this morning, etc.

This morning, I woke up after a particularly difficult night (Austin didn't come home, and I never sleep well when I'm not sure where he is or what he's doing). I remember being awake in the middle of the night in what felt like a full-blown anxiety attack, feeling on the verge of a heart attack or something, my blood pressure no doubt skyrocketing and my pulse racing. Everything feels that bad in the night; every night has the potential to be a dark night of the soul for me, though not all of them are. So, I wake up in no fit state to do anything, but I do drag myself to church with Dwaine and Andrew (the dragging being more literal in Andrew's case, lately), because that's what we do of a Sunday morning. Plus I am liturgist this morning, so I have to actually stand up and do a tiny piece of the service.

My family gets to hear zero out of me on the way to church, not one word, because I am cocooned in my own personal misery and heartache. I also rush my husband, who is habitually the last one out the door of a morning, which can cause us to run late. But thank God for all the people at church, because they all lovingly greet me and -- surprise! -- they want me, expect me, to be concerned and interested in them, in all their problems! It is hard to be concerned for someone else when you feel buried under the rubble of your own emotional wasteland.

Anyhow, I was definitely doing better by the end of the service (though periodically teary-eyed throughout), and by brunch, I felt actually human again. I had a good conversation with Lou R. about his ailing wife and his adolescent daughter; heard about poor Bill G. who has a severe infection (complications of diabetes) that has gone untreated too long, and now is facing a major surgery to amputate a toe; we said goodbye to our wonderful, semi-retired interim pastor; and are preparing to say hello to a new pastor next week. In the Methodist church, what that translates to is FOOD, and lots of it. We had a brunch today and will have a lunch next week.

This afternoon, just because the Lord does love to pile it on, I also attended our wrap-up session of Companions in Christ, where we got to share around the room just what we thought of every person there, and name each one's spiritual gifts. We quickly discovered that in this regard, it is much easier to give than to receive! I only broke down one time, when Shelley named prophecy as a gift of mine (i.e., speaking the words of God). This is a gift I claim, but it's not an easy one to have and it is completely beyond my power to control it.

Back to the panic attack for a moment. I know the description sounds perhaps almost clinical, i.e. needing medical attention of some sort, but seeing a doc would mean I'd have to give up my drug of choice, which is caffeine. No way! I need that hit like a heroin addict needs it, so I am willing to accept the side effects, which do not happen often enough to disrupt my life completely. Sounds like a rationalization, and it is. Which reminds me of a lovely Buddhist story that James Finley told us last week. The water buffalo (a favorite animal in Buddhist tales, apparently) is enlightened enough to pass through a lattice window. It is so enlightened that it passes through effortlessly, with not even the lattices blocking the path -- until it gets to its tail, and gets stuck. We all have that part, our tails, that most vulnerable and broken part, where we get stuck.

I get tired of being an emotionally overwrought Enneagram Type 4. Oh, and if you think I'm tired of it, you should talk to my family, especially my teenage boys! Ay-yih-yih. As this link describes,

Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental

Yup, that's me! I thought I was so over that, back in my 20s ... or 30s ... now past the midway point and on the downhill slide from 40s, and that is still how I am, at the core. Way too many tempests in a teapot still happening here. What would ever happen if I had to face a real crisis?

What helps me now, and is a new revelation to me, is that I am a tool in God's hands, and I have important Godly work to do here on earth. I can't just dissolve in misery about my petty little problems (70% of which are self-created), because I have meaningful work to do that will be of real help to other people. I haven't always let my light, and my gifts, shine as brightly as they should. I still don't quite trust in God, that God really loves me and forgives me. But I'm getting closer. The tail may yet come unstuck, one day, and I can see the potential for Buddha-hood or being Christlike. Not just in myself, but in everyone else, too. Hallelujah!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Contemplative prayer

I attended three evening speeches given by James Finley at the Oblate School of Theology during their Summer Institute this past week. The topic of the institute was the currently trending theme, Mysticism. Finley was a novitiate (I believe that is the right term) under the Trappist monk and prolific writer (and defender of the contemplative spiritual path), Thomas Merton -- Merton, the great -- in the early 1960s. Merton, at the end of his life, was exploring Buddhism and Eastern spirituality, and finding much common ground with a certain, mystical flavor of Christianity. (By the way, yes, even people going to these great spiritual workshops were watching the Spurs Tuesday as soon as the talk ended at 8:30!)

I was deeply touched by the experience of attending these sessions (with more than 400 others present each night), particularly night 2, which reached deeply into suffering (an apropos topic for me, always). But also, night 3, when Finley's final words addressed the ongoing suffering of the world around us, and that we are called to end it. A monumental task, yet what's that saying? All things are possible with God.

I felt like I made a new best friend in a sense, this James Finley, and through him, was re-introduced to my great friend Merton, and we will meet again in some mysterious way that I cannot explain. Have met, are meeting, will meet; it's an eternal get-together in the ever present Kingdom, that amazing and mysterious Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus constantly speaks of. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done," notice all present tense, happening even as I write this in the here and now.

A couple of weeks before these talks, a friend from my Companions in Christ group loaned me a book by Merton, "Contemplative Prayer." I love the synchronicity of it.

I am still plodding along with contemplative prayer. This is the stage I've reached: not sure which of the seven mansions of Theresa of Avila this would be, but I got to the stage where I could relax deeply enough to drowse off during the 15-20 minute session. That's great and doubtless a deep spiritual accomplishment, except that the point of contemplative prayer is NOT to be sleeping, but to be in a deep communion with God, which I couldn't necessarily attest to when my head was bobbing down and jerking back up in that state of pre-sleep. (My son Andrew asked if anyone else in my contemplative prayer group noticed I was falling asleep. I said, no! Everyone else has their eyes closed, too, or they should have their eyes closed; I personally have never peeked around to check. The only one we notice is Victor, down at the end of the table, who snores.)

So I have decided to keep my eyes open but cast downward and not particularly focused on anything, and see how that goes for a while. This is not in strictest conformity with the rules of Father Keating, but you know the trouble I have following all the rules about anything.

I cannot speak for how anyone else can deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer, but I can describe my own experiences and what has helped me. I do like to discuss the experience of this form of prayer, though it's rather flying in the face of the whole non-intellectual approach, the call to abandon mind, thoughts, analysis, etc. The minute you open your mouth to speak, you are once again squarely in your rational, thinking mind. True enough. But even the rational mind has some useful observations about the practice, blind as it may be to the actual great hookup with the Big Guy.

So, I speak. Making gentle and progressive changes seems to be more effective than trying to force anything with this prayer. Also, I am trying to become gradually more remote from my thought processes, so I can watch the mind at work without becoming that thought process. Quite a delicate dance it is, as I endlessly captivate myself with another "devout" insight, only to have to let it go and withdraw back to my silent communion with God. As Father Keating says, we are not to follow our thoughts, even our most splendid, holy and enlightened thoughts, during this period of time. That's what we do through most of our day, so it is what we need not do during contemplative prayer.

The core of mysticism, as I grasp it, is that God cannot be completely known through the intellect, great as it is for other things. In fact, it is the mind itself that prevents a full immersion in the divine spirit. The mind, and the ego, are terrified of being overcome. Where would the self be without them? Lost, in empty space and nothingness -- yet in that new beginning, a fertile ground for God's work.

I've been feeling the conviction that my loved ones, in particular Dad (the most recent to pass), are not "gone" in the way our body feels the loss. Yes, we can no longer perceive of them in any of the usual ways, cannot see them at work in the world anymore, cannot speak with them or give them a hug. (Losing these small habitual acts grieved me so much with my Mom's death.)

But there is some imprint, there is something, that I notice with a sense deeper than my mere body. It's a Dad-ness in certain moments, or knowing what Dad would say, or how he would feel about something, or being aware of the lightest touch of his presence. This could be a mental trick, much the way many people say that God is a mental trick! To ease the suffering, we delude ourselves. Perhaps. I don't think I could prove to you either way where God or my Dad are, or whether they are, anymore. But I know what I know, and thank God I know it, and I wish you could as well.

I don't think our loved ones (who have passed) want us to grieve so deeply, to give ourselves scars with the depths of our mourning. I think they send so much love to us, and they want to send comfort too, but it is hard to cross the divide between the living and the dead. Even the word "dead" sounds wrong to my ears, a human convention for something we don't understand and cannot describe. Dead is not the right description. As usual, this human word is a perversion of the underlying reality of the situation.  Instead, what we call death is a transition, from this realm, to another that I am convinced is more real in many ways.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Seeing Dad again, in a dream

I saw Dad last night, in a dream. A different dad than I knew in life. What I remember is a fragment, but I'll tell it to you.

There were two homemade videos he had made, that I discovered (this is the dream narrative). Each one was of him, around my age (I would say "young" but middle-aged is more technically accurate). He was with a different woman in each video, courting and flirting with her in a beautiful outdoor setting (one setting was a natural pool of water). This happened in a dimension where Mom was not around or in the picture, so to speak.

Dad was thin and good looking, and had a lot more hair than he would have in real life. I was able to get into one of the videos and meet him there. I went up to him and grasped both his hands, then he was leading me up some stairs, again outside. The first thing I told him was that Cynthia and I missed him so much, and I was crying as I said it. But the next minute, I was laughing as we reminisced about some funny thing Dad had said or done. He has such a great sense of humor.

Dad was vibrantly alive in this place, this Eden, so to speak. His Garden of Eden would have to involve having a beautiful woman beside him! And it wouldn't be Mom or Han either, I am sure.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How my blog was nearly stolen

This is a little embarrassing. I typed in the wrong domain name for my blog Website and came up with someone else's -- remarkably similar to mine, about spiritual journeys and such. For a moment I thought, someone's stolen my blog!! Then I remembered my website name was different and breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close one. If you never hear from me again, that means I've forgotten my blog location for good! Feel free to steal away at that point, but only if you're a decent writer on all things spiritual and can continue in the fine tradition I started.

I live in fear that all my well-thought-out and highly complex, strong passwords to log into all my web addresses (FB, LinkedIn, email, bank, 401K, insurance, etc.) will be wiped out in some disaster. You see, I have gotten so creative in the naming of passwords that I can't remember a thing about most of them. I rely on certain methods that I cannot disclose here (I don't want any government agencies getting hold of my methods and hacking into all my sites, after all) that are not entirely foolproof. At work, I am required to change my email password every 60 days, which I hate. After all, it requires the effort of thinking of a brand-new, strong (i.e. hard to commit to memory) password and then remembering it! The amount of creative effort in generating a new password so often is just daunting. Yes, there are websites that promise to generate and store passwords for you, but I don't trust them. Another NSA (or could it be IRS? SSA? etc.) trick to gain access to our private information!

I'm being tongue in cheek about the whole governmental spying thing. At this point in my life, I am much more concerned about finding terrorists than I am about bungled government spy programs. Maybe the fact patterns will change as new information emerges, and I will feel differently in the future, but that is where I am now. It's interesting to try to figure out where conservatives and liberals stand on the whole lack of privacy issue. My opinion is we surrendered our privacy when we equipped all our electronic devices with smart technology like GPS. To me, there's just not much difference between a private company having all that data and the U.S. government.

I also can't understand why conservatives think it is perfectly OK to legislate bedroom behavior or a woman's reproductive decisions, if they also believe it's not OK for the government to have access to phone and email activity of citizens.

But that's not what brought me here today. I have been in the throes of judging my adequacy as a parent, now that my children are nearly grown and it feels too late to fix any mistakes I have made! (Yeah, oh now I decide we should have been much stricter with the 19-year-old who will move out in August. How's that working out?)

I don't have many memories of my childhood, and I think partly that was a protective reaction. My parents fought often and loudly, and it was frightening and traumatic to me. It was almost like this was an old, bad habit they developed -- their only way to relate to each other was by fighting. Mom would find something to belittle Dad about, and would keep on and on, trying to get a reaction from him, until he would explode (though sometimes he would sit back and take the abuse, and that was perhaps worse.) My home rarely felt like a safe place to me. I know my parents loved me, and in some ways they even loved each other, but that is how I reacted, the particular sensitive soul that I am. Another child would have felt differently. Now my parents are both dead (my Dad since last November), and that is part of the processing that is also occurring in my life. They are gone now. I forgive them both, and love them both more than ever. So now I can say some things about my experiences living with them, speaking from my current adult perspective, without having the same level of emotional pain and blame that once existed.

Here's one little thing I remember. (Sister, this may be too hard for you to read, so skip this paragraph.) A few little details, but I think they say a lot about the nature of the home environment when I was a child. We had a dog who, I believe, was named Mitzi. I never was responsible for taking care of her, or if I was, no one particularly enforced it or made sure I did take care of her. I remember one time, discovering that her food (which was canned, at least that time) had maggots in it. That's how long it had been sitting out. The thought, now, makes me so very sad. My mom got rid of Mitzi -- either took her to the pound, or gave her away -- and it took me a few days (or longer) to notice and ask where she was. That makes me sad, too.

Here's the point of that one little sad story in a sea of much worse stories that play out all around us, every day. If I have taught my children nothing else, I have taught them how to take care of a pet properly. I drilled it into them that our dog and cat, as well as parakeet, must be fed and given fresh water every single day, that our pets can't do this for themselves, and their very lives depend on it. They are helpless and at our mercy. (The dog and parakeet, anyhow; Cassius just pretends to rely on the food we give him.)

This one thing, I did well. (Of course, it's not the only thing.) I think by extension, I taught my children something about love in action. Love, without action, is no love at all. It's such a small and seemingly insignificant act, to teach the proper care of pets. And yet, and yet ... if everyone had been taught the proper care of all creation, how much better a place the world could be. It starts at home, though it certainly should not end there.

The painful places in my life need to come up and be expressed, or they corrode my soul. I hope that my writings can help others, even one other person, as well.

Should I share the story idea I had? Or is it so good that someone trolling through blogs will snatch it up and make it their own? (I should be so lucky that someone would save me the hard work of actually writing a decent story) Here's the story line. It's actually about you. Say your life has been wonderful, productive, and you are a caring and compassionate person, working on self-improvement and helping others. Except ... for that one terrible thing you did. You know what I'm talking about. It sometimes keeps you up at night. It happened years ago, yet it stays with you, a drag on all your subsequent efforts. It actually is haunting you, a ghost that you cannot purge. During the day, it's fine and you can keep yourself together. There's a gloss of normalcy over your life, but underneath there is this area that seems to be rotting you away, from the inside out. Can you ever really consider yourself a good person, after all, or does that one event define you, forever? Does it create so much bad karma that no subsequent efforts on your part can ever make up for it, and the world would have been better off without you? How do you ever know?

I am speaking of something similar to Paul's "thorn" which is endlessly fascinating, because we don't know what it was. It is also universal. We all have that thorn, that place of sin and regret. Some have a larger one (or more noticeable) than others, for sure. But examine your life, and you will find a tender place where it hurts when you poke around, where you feel that you've been an utter failure, or worse, done something that was actually evil. It's not hard to do something really bad, in the heat of the moment. I am one who believes for sure, "There but for the grace of God go I." I believe that as human beings, we are all capable of atrocities under the right circumstances. The world is full of examples of decent, upright people who did unspeakable things to others, because of the moment they found themselves in. What happens to these people after that, for the rest of their lives? Do they continue to justify that horrendous act or acts? Is there any way to actually atone for a wicked action?

There it is. Send me the full story as soon as you finish it! You can put my name in the acknowledgements, or maybe dedicate it to me.

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