Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Contemplating The Crumbling

I am contemplating the crumbling that comes into every life, the kind of falling apart that softens all our edges, even the sharp forbidding angles we think will keep us safe. The kind of disintegration that has to happen if something new is to take root.

Sometimes it happens quickly- a blow to the solar plexus that leaves us breathless and on our knees.

Sometimes it happens slowly, like erosion.We don't notice until one day we find our house sliding down the muddy cliff and into the sea.

We name our contribution to the process, self-sabotage. But what if it's the way the Sacred Wholeness within and around us softens our weathered crust to give us a glimpse of our tender and unadorned centre.

So we might remember why we are here.

Maybe we could be a little less adamant about holding it together, about deadlines and to-do lists, about doing our mantras and mudras and meditations. Maybe we could learn to trust the crumbling when it comes, allow ourselves to fall apart so we do not have to induce disintegration with self-neglect and ambivalent lovers.

I am contemplating the crumbling that comes into every life, the kind of falling apart that happens when the ice thaws and the rivers flow and new life emerges.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does Love Hurt?

Last Friday on Facebook I posted a few thoughts about love- how it heals what is broken and takes us home. I also wrote,"That it broke me when someone I loved threw me across the room and I heard from the inside, the bones of my face cracking on the kitchen floor." 

A got a little flurry of emails, messages and a couple of comments from folks who wondered if I was saying that love threw me across the room. I wasn't. My then-husband did the throwing and no, he was not being loving in any sense of the word when he did so.

But love did play a role in the impact that the violence had on me. Violence at the hands of a stranger must be terrifying. But finding yourself being battered and bruised by someone you love, someone with whom you have made love and life-plans, stayed up with all night talking, gone with to family dinners, shared canoe trips and silly laughter and secret dreams, turns you inside out. 

From my own history and from working with others I know that the most common reason people give for not leaving someone who continues to abuse them is, "But I love him/her," or "S/he says s/he loves me, and I really think s/he means it."

Friends and relatives often respond by saying, "That's not love!" referring to either the violence- which most certainly is not love- or the desire to stay where there has been violence (which is a little more complicated in the face of tearful apologies, pledges to get help, and promises that it will never happen again.)

Here's what I finally figured out: Love is neither earned or unearned. It's a lot like grace- it comes and blesses and changes us. If the person we love abuses us, we don't have to figure out if they still love us despite their actions, and we don't have to stop loving them to remove ourselves from the place of being abused.

One of life's hard truths is that human beings sometimes treat people they love badly. How many of us can say we have never spoken harshly, aimed a barbed comment we know will hurt in the midst of an intimate relationship run amok? I am not equating unkind words with physical violence- there are important differences, including the level of cooperation required. When my six foot seven husband threw me across a room I had no choice about feeling pain when I hit the floor. But the truth is, although in theory words hurt only if we buy into them, in relationships words based on intimate knowledge of the other can do great harm because we know where the soft spots are, And in that moment the one on the receiving end doesn't have much choice about the anguish that arises- it just arises.

When I let myself acknowledge that I loved my husband but now had good reason to fear for my safety around him, I could leave.When I stopped obsessing about whether or not he loved me and how it was that someone could abuse someone they said they loved- could accept that this does indeed sometimes happen- I could remove myself from the place where violence was happening.

I am not saying that it is never possible to repair a relationship that has been marred by violence, although it's a long shot and not likely to happen without a great deal of skilled assistance. I am saying that love or no love, removing yourself from an abusive situation is vital to the mental, physical, and spiritual health of everyone involved, is an act of love.

I was a very young woman when I was beaten in my first marriage. It's been decades since I have had contact with the man who threw me across the room, but I wish him well. I remember the violence, but I also remember the canoe trips and the love-making, and the hopefulness of new love. I don't really know if he loved me or not. Honestly- and somewhat oddly- it doesn't feel like it's any of my business. Occasionally, when he comes to mind, I do a prayer for him, hold him in a moment when I remember the love I felt for the young man he was.

What freed me was realizing that I did not have to deny the love I had for him in order to leave. I just had to allow self-love to shape my choice. And I'm glad I did.

Oriah (c) 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What We Can & Can't Trust

In my mentoring work I often talk to people right after their trust in themselves has been shaken. A marriage has ended in betrayal; a friend abandons them in a time of need; someone is unfairly fired from a job. Inevitably, the person who has sought me out, says something like- “I don’t think I can ever trust my own judgement again- I didn’t see the lie, didn’t anticipate the betrayal, should have known, could have left, didn’t see who she was, what he was up to. . . . “

I know what they’re talking about. Three years ago my marriage exploded with the revelation of a whole new crop of lies from my then-husband. I didn’t leave because of any particular lie. I left because I finally got that the lying (first revealed a year into the marriage) was never going to stop. Leaving meant I would not be there for the next lie.

But how could I have married a man who lied about pretty much everything? How could I trust myself again?  

Many of us were taught as children that trusting ourselves meant developing finally honed skills in assessing the present truth and likely unfolding of any given situation: we marry someone and plan a life together; we buy a house we think will appreciate in value; we take a job we have reason to believe will help us provide for ourselves and others.

And then things we don’t control- other people, the economy, our health or the health of a loved one- change. Or new facts come to light that we did not know (or could not acknowledge) when we made our decision. And things unfold. . . . sometimes better than we could have anticipated. . . . . or in a downward spiral of challenges and heart ache.

And we wonder if we can ever trust our own sense of what is true again.

But here’s the thing: Creating and living a full life involves endless choices and decisions, and we're never going to have complete information about all factors (inner or outer) that effect the unfolding. So, while we can trust ourselves to do the best we can, it would be na├»ve to trust that we- or anyone else- always has clear discernment of all the consequences or all the factors in any given situation.

What we need to learn to trust (so we do not become paralyzed by the fear of making the choices that are ours to make) is that we will meet the ever-changing and unpredictable unfolding and make any required changes or adaptations. Because that’s what we learn to do- that’s the skill development and deepening of character that we can trust.

So, let’s meet the day knowing we know only a tiny fraction of the factors that will influence and effect how it unfolds, clear about our right and responsibility to make the choices that shape our lives and our world.

Because what we can trust is that this is how Life unfolds in what we are: spectacularly limited, brilliantly imaginative and astonishingly resilient human beings living together and forever inter-connected.

We cannot trust ourselves to avoid all difficulties. Difficulties are an unavoidable part of life. We can trust that we will meet what comes to the best of our ability, with all of what we are.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Walking Away From Ourselves

A client once said to me, “If someone else spoke to me the way I speak to myself in my own mind, I would walk away. But I share a body with that inner voice so I can’t walk away from it.”

I replied, as gently as possible, “Ah, but we do walk away from ourselves. We distance from our inner voice by burying it with food or work or shopping or television. . . . with an infinite number of things to numb, distract and dissociate from our own minds, bodies, hearts and lives.”

And why wouldn’t we? Sticking around for constant and cruel berating would be like choosing to hold your hand on a hot stove. The instinctual response to pain is to withdraw, and that can be life-preserving.

The problem is. . . . if we numb or disconnect from our inner world to distance ourselves from that cruel inner diatribe, we also disconnect from our awareness of other inner states that arise: joy, gratitude, peace, ecstasy etc.

As with so many things in life the only way out is through.

First we have to “catch” the voice of the inner critic. I admit, sometimes mine is none too subtle which makes it easy. Years ago, when I first started to really notice this voice I'd just closed it down with a snappy, “Thanks for sharing but no thanks!” or a less polite, “Shut up.”

As time went on it got easier to recognize the background noise of the inner critic that often lives right on that thin edge between conscious and unconscious thought (no doubt so it can quickly slip into unconsciousness when I happen to catch it at work.) Gradually, when I noticed it- now knowing that it did not tell the truth- I expanded my ability to listen. Why? So I could begin to explore what drove it, what sourced its certainty that if I pursued my soul desires disaster would ensue. I didn’t just want to shut it up and shove it into my inner shadows. I wanted to know more.

And, of course, I discovered that this voice is driven- as all bullies are- by fear.

Gradually, on a good day- when I had the time, energy and consciousness- I could actually engage this inner voice in a dialogue. I wanted to hear its story. And as the story of deep terror was revealed the voice got smaller, the criticisms lost their power. Oh I don’t want to imply that my inner critic has disappeared! But, as Ram Dass once said of inner demons, they get smaller, and when they appear we can recognize them more quickly and have them in for a cup of tea without worrying that they will take over the tea party.

This is of course a process, and like most things in human beings it does not happen in a once-and-for-all straight line, but in more of an ever-deepening spiral. But gradually we can dissolve much of the need for habits of distraction and dissociation so we can feel and live the joy in our lives more fully.

And our freedom and available energy is deepened and broadened. 

Oriah House (c) 2014