Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Telling Ourselves The Truth

Have you ever spoken open-heartedly and honestly only to realize, as you heard your own words, that they were not true?

I am overdue for sending out the fall newsletter to my mailing list. I planned on posting it today as the weekly blog/note. The mailing list has been updated, and I wrote the newsletter last week. But. . . . I realize that what is written is no longer true. It’s not that it’s a lie, but it is not the deepest truth I know at this time (which is all any of us can hope to own and convey.) How do I know this? From my dreams of walking through fog, my vision unclear; from the feeling in my body of pulling myself together and “up” to write about where I am and what is planned, a feeling I recognize as pulling away from what is to meet some inner expectation or avoid some hidden trepidation; from dropping down into my practise of prayer and meditation and movement in yoga and finding. . . something else.

There is a feeling in my body that I recognize as one that comes when some “news” about where I am or where I am going comes from deep connection to who and what I am, a place within that is aware of Spirit at the centre. The feeling is of two simultaneous sensations: a slight tension or resistance in my upper body (shoulders, neck, head) and a letting go in the belly, a releasing of something I was not even aware was being held and slightly twisted in my gut.

The slight tensing in my upper body is a kind of quiet, “Oh, no,” the kind of “Oh,no,” that recognizes that a truth I have been outrunning has caught up with me and can no longer be denied. It’s the “Oh, no,” of the ego. I am not vilifying the ego here, (we cannot live in a balanced way in the world without a good ego container.) I’m just reminding us that, at times, we forget there is more to what we are than that ego container and we are not as consciously “in charge” as we like to think we are- which is both the good news and the difficult news of being human. The “Oh, no,” is less protest than a kind of recognition of and surrender to what is needed. It was there when I did a vision quest, years ago, and realized I had to leave my marriage. It was there when I did my next vision quest and realized I had to leave my job as a social worker to teach shamanism full time. It’s an “Oh, no” that is more of a reluctant “Oh, yes,” that gets that what must happen next involves (from the current perspective) both some risk and. . . . an opening to unknown possibilities that will minimally loosen or completely undermine some aspect of the identity I have built for myself.

And the unfurling in my belly? That is the confirmation that although the outcome of the next step is not foreseeable, it is a step toward deepening my life, toward being more of who and what I am, toward living closer to the sacred at the centre of my being. It is a loosening of my resistance to the life I have been given, to the purpose I serve – even if I cannot consciously see or articulate all of what that is. It is a loosening of the ties that bind- ties of fear and conditioning- an opening to the joy of simply being.

I realize that in writing this now I am probably raising expectations of some Grand Announcement to come. But, sometimes the thread we have to follow is the soul's desire to go down deeper into the fertile darkness without knowing what we might be offering from the journey.

We all have our ways of knowing when we are living from the centre of what we are, connected to and aware of that which is larger than ourselves. Slowly, over time, we learn our inner “signals” and on a good day, we have a moment of courage when we do not turn away from or try to bury a signal that does not fit with what we think we need to do to pay the rent or preserve our place of belonging. When that happens, when we listen and heed a deeper knowing, it is a good day. This. . . .is a good day, for me. :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Notes to Self on Forgiveness

I have long thought about and experienced forgiveness as something that arises when I have done my inner work around an old hurt. My own experience is that it is not so much that I forgive another (as an act of doing something) but that our essentially compassionate nature causes forgiveness to arise when healing has taken place. Choice is of coursed involved (I can choose not to forgive) but the act of forgiving is more an allowing than an act of will that can be insisted upon as a “should” or reached for as a spiritual ideal.

This morning, while doing my practise of prayer, meditation & contemplation I had a little “Aha!” moment about one hindrance to allowing forgiveness to arise:

It’s difficult for forgiveness to arise and expand within us if we continue to allow ourselves to be re-injured in the present by the one we want to forgive for past hurts.

Now that may seem painfully self-evident but apparently I needed to "get" it on a deeper level or in a clearer way.

This is probably easiest to see around physical abuse. Even now, thirty-five years later, I would not spend time alone with my first husband (who beat me) not because I do not forgive what was done, (I do) but because I would not put myself in a position to be hit by him again. I did not leave after the first (or second or third) time he hit me. He was remorseful and sought counselling, and I wanted to forgive him. But the physical abuse continued, and it became clear that if I was going to be safe, and if I wanted to forgive him for the injuries and pain already incurred, I was going to have to remove myself from the place where it could happen again.

It gets trickier when the harm is more emotional than physical- for instance when, in intimate relationship, someone we trust lies to us repeatedly. Forgiving the lying (and whatever inner or outer consequences may have resulted) is not really possible if the lying continues and we stick around for it, believing what we are being told again and again.

In fact, when the same person recreates the same or a similar injury as the original hurt, it inflames the old wound. Re-traumatisation interferes with the healing necessary for forgiveness to arise. If we want to forgive another, we cannot allow ourselves to be repeatedly harmed in the same way by the same person again and again.

This may or may not involve removing ourselves physically. We may have good reason to continue contact with someone who has stolen from us, but we do not need to invest in his or her latest money-making scheme. We may not want to end contact with a family member who has repeatedly lied to us, but we can remember to verify information they give us before we act upon it. And, of course, only we can evaluate whether or not we have the energy and desire to continue boundaried contact with someone. Sometimes it is necessary and desirable to simply withdraw.

We can and do forgive each other for injury- intentional and unintentional, conscious or unconscious- all the time. It’s one of the wonderful things about us- we are beings within whom forgiveness arises as healing happens. But when we remember to include not just others but ourselves in our own hearts, when we treat ourselves with the same tenderness and compassion we wish to extend to others, not allowing on-going mistreatment and/or choosing to boundary or step away from potentially (and somewhat predictably) injurious situations, the fullness of our capacity to be compassionate and forgiving can arise unencumbered.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Praying in the Dark

I keep coming back to the reality of how much I don’t know. When I do my prayers, if they include requests for healing on any level (for myself, others or the world) I always add, “For the highest good of all and according to free will.” It’s my way of saying: “And what the heck do I know?!”

I’m trying to remember this as I assist my two aging parents, both of whom have Alzheimer’s, because it’s so easy to become convinced that a particular path or unfolding of events would be preferable, desirable, or have “better” consequences. But- once again- what do I know?

My mother is grieving the loss of my father (who has advanced Alzheimer’s and had to be sent to a psychiatric facility 100 miles away after escalating aggression.) Her doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, pastor and myself think that the progress of her dementia might be slowed and her well-being enhanced if she went to assisted living for even a brief stay at a beautiful retirement residence on the lake in her community. She could come and go, receive daily support, and not have to make any immediate decisions re: selling her home or where she will live in the longer term. Seems like a no-brainer.

But, she is adamant (most of the time) that she does not want this, although she is not clear about what she does want & refuses to try a period of respite in assisted living. Understandable, but from my perspective, not really in her best interests.

But, what do I know? My definition of “best” may not be hers. Supportive living might decrease the rate of her mental deterioration. But what if that’s not her priority? What if (and I am not saying this is true) she is semi-consciously hoping that the dementia will progress faster so she will not be cognisant of missing my father? Her entire and sole identity for sixty years has been “Don’s wife.” It is hard for her to imagine any other existence. And. . . . maybe she doesn’t want to.

Which is where the second part of that “rider” I put on my prayers comes in: “according to free will.” People have a right to make their own choices about how they live (unless it impinges on another’s choices and then we have to work toward a mutually acceptable choice) and, if they are not completely mentally incapacitated, how they die. And let’s face it, we all make less than ideal choices all the time. How many of us have watched a friend choose a partner we know is going to treat them badly or make an unwise financial decision? (Because it’s so much easier to see the probable negative consequences of others’ choices.)

Even the situation with my father- which I and many others worked to avoid- well. . . can I be sure that the facility where he is now is not for his highest good? I pray it is.

I’m not advocating passivity in our lives, or in our relationships. I will do everything I can to ensure both of my parents receive the support and care they need. But. . . some of those decisions are beyond my control (at this point, particularly and legally, with my father) and some, rightfully, (again, at this point, with my mother) are not mine to make.

Human beings have free will. Whenever I hear someone say with unqualified optimism that “everything happens for a reason” implying some kind of divine order orchestrating the unfolding of events, I want to remind them about free will. Often “the reason” something happens is because one or more human beings made a free will choice – as is our right and responsibility- that had particular seen or unforeseen, positive or negative (from our current limited perspective) consequences.

So, I’ll keep adding my rider to prayers- so I can pray with my whole heart for what seems to me would be of benefit for myself, other s and the world- reminded that my perspective is very small, and that everyone has the right to exercise the free will we have each been given, for as long as we are able.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Accepting What Is Again. . . and Again!

I keep thinking about acceptance: about how accepting what is isn’t the same as resignation, and how our fear of the later can fuel denial; about how acceptance can maximize the opportunity to find and take wise action if it’s available; about how acceptance allows for and helps us co-create change but isn’t about reaching for or grasping at change, isn’t about postponing life and love until a hoped for change is achieved; about how accepting what is includes accepting that some of what is sometimes is hard and beyond our control.

I’ve been thinking about how often I can look and sound as if I am accepting what is when secretly (ie.- unconsciously or semi-consciously) I am trying to bargain away, sneak around, or earn my way out of difficult conditions.

As usual, it’s my body that brings me to the truth of how I am doing with reality- revealing at least some denial, disconnection and discouragement where I was hoping I’d cultivated nothing but awareness and acceptance. Ha!

I was blessed in August to have two and half weeks at a small cottage in the woods. From the minute I arrived, my body, heart and mind soaked up the green quiet of the forest. And I slept. For the first ten days I slept fourteen to sixteen hours a day. It’s a little scary to sleep for fourteen hours and need a nap four hours after waking when you’re not doing much except sipping a cup of tea and watching the sunlight on the river. But I surrendered, I rested.

The depth of my exhaustion wasn’t altogether surprising. I’ve had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it is misnamed in North America) for twenty-eight years, with prolonged periods of relatively more energy and less pain, and other times that have been more acutely disabling. And the last year- with my marriage ending, my father moving into the heart-breaking stage of advanced Alzheimer’s, and my mother being diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s- has been particularly taxing.

By my tenth day at the cabin I was sleeping a mere twelve hours a day and feeling a bit better. Three dear friends with whom I have done shamanic ceremonies for over twenty years arrived for the weekend. These are women I love and enjoy. They always arrive with enough nutritious food (and chocolate) and energy to care for all needs. It was a delight to have them there.

And, less than twelve hours after they arrived I started to physically collapse with all the symptoms of acute ME. After they left, I slept for three days, rising only to get food or water and scribble a few desperate notes in my journal. (They can put that on my tombstone: She Kept Writing Until The End. :-) Then, feeling only marginally better, I packed up for the drive back into the city.

It’d be easy to berate myself for a lack of awareness re: my physical state. I mean- after TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS you’d think I’d have honed in on a fail-safe way to gauge my energy and discern what I can and cannot do on any given day. But the truth is that the realities of ME/CFS, like all conditioned realities, change continuously, and situations do arise (like an exploding marriage or two parents suddenly needing increased assistance) that can over-ride the body-self’s awareness.

So. . . I brush myself off, get up off the ground and start over- again!- honing in on the wisdom available to an embodied soul re: how to live this day so I can offer what I am able in a sustainable way.

Am I still attached to/wanting “progress”? Oh yes. No point in denying it. But I’m redefining progress. Progress is not the illusion of “getting” the realities of living with ME/CFS or anything else “once and for all” (which, when you think about it is really a desire to go unconscious and operate on some kind of strangely idealized automatic pilot about things- like physical health- that we must be considering mere means to “more important” ends.) Progress is the willingness to adapt the learning that experience has offered to the present moment reality.

But most importantly, it’s about embracing the paradoxes, living with the tension between truths that seem diametrically opposed. As I deepen my willingness and ability to accept what is, accommodating and compensating for conditions that cannot be controlled, (which is why I put my glasses on in the morning and do not insist that if I just find the right spiritual attitude I’ll be able to read without them) I simultaneously remain open to the full range of possibilities for change.

As I acknowledge and accommodate the limitations of the present (eg.- needing to write in one or two one hour periods in a day instead of five or six hour blocks as I once did) I think of others with ME/CFS or other chronic illness- like athletes or dancers or construction workers- whose work requires physical strength and stamina they no longer have. I send out prayers for their struggles and feel deep gratitude for having work I love that can be done in small bits while lying in bed if necessary.

And that’s the biggest difference between acceptance and resignation: resignation feels like defeat and breeds hopelessness and helplessness; acceptance of what is, even when conditions pose real difficulties, helps us focus on what remains and can be cultivated without denying real loss. It encourages us to see and allows gratitude to arise for what can be enjoyed even in the face of difficulties beyond our control. And acceptance opens the door to spontaneous compassion for those who are facing similar or more serious limitations.

Resignation is a shrinking, a turning away from life. Acceptance is an expansion, an opening that helps us find the courage to be who we are and do what we can. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I am deeply grateful to have had the time and a place close to the earth where I could see through some of my denial, wrestle with and step away from resignation, and find renewed awareness and acceptance. . . . again!