Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Importance of Doing Something

If people are rewarded for doing nothing, they do more of it. Eventually, they forget that doing something is an option. When the rewards stop, they sit and cry over their losses. Or they get angry and destructive and try to make somebody else pay for the injustice they imagine has been done to them. Meanwhile, the people who are willing to do something have to carry heavier and heavier loads to compensate. Always do a little more than is expected of you, and soon more will be expected of you. No wonder there are so many crabby people in the world.

             (from an e-mail, January 2012)


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Drama Queens: A Generational Curse?

My maternal grandmother's life was an ongoing melodrama about the Perils of Christine, the poor victimized heroine who was misunderstood and undervalued by all. After a short, intense honeymoon period, all her relationships would end up being flushed down the toilet when other people refused to follow her scripts. Her episodes of chest congestion were imminent pneumonia and her hemorrhoids were colo-rectal cancer. She could scream and hit and throw things with the best of them.

She lived to be 92 in a world that failed to live up to her expectations, wondering why so few people came to sit at her feet and partake of her superior wisdom. Today, she would probably be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and walk out after the first ten minutes of cognitive therapy, proclaiming that the therapist was a charlatan and an idiot very much in need of an extended course of electroshock treatments.

My mother believed her mother's scams for a very long time. At age 85, she is still struggling with the fact that she was unable to please her mother. She honestly believed that her mother's soap opera was more important than her own. She got her self-esteem by devoting herself to me. When I told her that I was not interested in being the purpose of her life, it broke her heart.

I am a drama queen too, but I didn't dare to act out much until I grew up. I spent the decades between 20 and 40 trying to understand myself and control my destructive impulses. I flipped between extreme grandiosity and feeling that I was the worst piece of shit in the universe. No happy medium was possible.

My daughter held it all in. I wish she had been a drama queen. I would have been able to understand her better.

My granddaughter - ah! That's an adventure yet to be written. Hopefully, all the wisdom we have accumulated in the past generations will help.

It is better to have a drama queen child than a drama queen parent. If a parent understands what is going on, there is still hope for the child. Parents can get help, learn to cope, and maybe break the cycle.

The basic rule is simple: Figure out what the child needs (focused attention? limits? a break from being nice all the time? fair treatment? solitude? sleep?).  Then provide for those needs when he is not acting out. (Yes, there are male drama queens as well.)

Say no calmly, without blaming. Arrange things so that acting out is consistently counter-productive to achieving Her Majesty's self-willed goals. (We often reinforce negative behavior without realizing it.) Understand that unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional surrender.

Get adequate rest, recreation, and de-programming. Work as a team with your spouse and other important care-givers. Get knowledgeable help with parenting skills, anger management, assertiveness and boundary-setting. While it is not possible to transform someone's essential personality style, it is possible to channel it in more positive directions.

In many cases, these things are generational. If we can break the cycle, the devastation is arrested and future generations have a better chance at the good life. Mental health is worth working for.

The bad news is, personal change takes a lot of energy. The good news is, it's worth it. Today's drama queen may be tomorrow's teacher or musician or politician or inventor. Who knows? She may even become a child psychologist.



Saturday, December 01, 2012

DON'T GIVE ADVICE AT ANY PRICE

What's the difference between a back seat driver and a coach? A coach's opinion is solicited and valued. A back seat driver's wisdom, however clever and useful, is nothing more than annoying noise.

Ogden Nash (or was it Piet Hein?) counseled:
Don't take advice
at any price!
That to you
is my advice.

I would add to that: Don't give advice unless you are being handsomely reimbursed and have good malpractice insurance!

People who seek advice are generally looking for affirmation for decisions they have already made. Then, if things go wrong later, they can blame the adviser instead of taking responsibility for their own behavior.

People who give advice for free claim to have the best intentions, but their hidden agenda is generally world domination.  I know.  I am one of those people.  No matter how much I protest to the contrary, I secretly believe that the world would run perfectly if everyone did things MY way.

My mother told me that she felt guilty when she didn't follow my advice. The law in our family of origin was, IF YOU LOVE ME, DO WHAT I WANT. I told her that henceforth, I would try to abstain from offering unsolicited counsel and charge her 25 cents for any solicited advice . If she paid for it, it was hers to use or not as she saw fit. I made 50 cents on that agreement before we forgot about it, and we got a giggle or two.

I often find myself in a position where it seems imperative to repeat my standard warning: I am a person with strong opinions, and inclined to express them forcefully, but you don't have to do what I want just to please me. You are responsible for your own decisions and their consequences, so you have to do what you think is best for you.

In my early days of parish work, a lovely lady with no church affiliation consulted me about the fact that she was living with a man she was not married to. He was a recovering alcoholic with only a short period of sobriety, and she didn't want to be trapped in a relationship with him if he fell off the wagon. After hearing her out, I said I understood her concerns, and perhaps it would be better to wait before making a radical commitment.

She stared at me with horrified eyes, demanded WHAT KIND OF MINISTER'S WIFE ARE YOU? and sallied forth to tie the knot ASAP. I hope it worked out well for them.




Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Still Alive

from an e-mail, Jan. 12, 2012:

Yesterday, I had one of those moments of epiphany when I remembered who I am. Under all the layers of neurosis, self-pity and fatigue, I am still alive. I am Spirit. I am wind. I am flame. My life is burning whisky, not tepid water. I can't change the choices I made in the past, but I still have choices now. My mission is to help myself and other people feel authentically, and find wholeness through the experience. That's the sacred purpose of ancient Greek theatre, and it is at the heart of all art forms. We are a family of artists, but we were afraid to live that. My grandfather did, and he was rehabilitated in concentration camp, and later died of malnutrition. The arts are dangerous. Better to make money scrubbing floors and doing whatever is necessary to survive, and criticizing others for not living out their dreams.

Every time my mother starts to paint, she angrily repeats her mantra: NOTHING WILL COME OF THIS. She is doing some wild stuff now. I hope she stays with it.

Today, I am struggling. Tomorrow, I might jump into another time line or transcend to another dimension.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Co-Dependent Parent

You may be co-dependent if:
*you scratch yourself when your spouse itches, while failing to notice the skin cancer growing on your own arm.
*you spend every waking hour obsessing about and micromanaging your child's life, while your own needs are ignored.
*you feel like you and your mother have merged into a single person, and you can't separate your opinions from hers.
*you flip from one emotional extreme to another, depending on how someone else is doing today.
*you feel that if you could only find the right buttons to push, someone else's life would magically be transformed.

The concept of co-dependency is a relatively recent development in psychological thinking. It began in the field of chemical dependency, where the spouse or other significant person in an alcoholic's life was referred to as a "co-alcoholic", or "enabler". It was discovered that successful treatment of the co-dependent was just as likely to result in recovery for the addict, as treating the addict. Without the shock absorption provided by the co-dependent, the consequences of the addiction become increasingly painful and compelling, hastening the process of hitting bottom and making the choice to live rather than die.

At first, it was assumed that the addict's behavior caused co-dependent symptoms in significant others. However, when the addict becomes clean and sober, the co-dependent behavior of the family tends to continue as before. Unless the other participants in the dependency game choose to confront and change their own emotions and behavior, they find the new situation intolerable and start looking for a new addict to attach themselves to.

As therapists started looking for the hidden causes behind this baffling phenomenon, they realized that, in most cases, the co-dependency predated the addict's chemical abuse. Co-dependents are programmed in childhood to behavior patterns that dovetail with the emotional profile of an addict.

According to Pia Mellody, a high-profile psychotherapist and writer, the five core symptoms of co-dependency are:
1. Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem. (We are either the royalty of the universe, or a useless piece of excrement.)
2. Difficulty setting functional boundaries. (We are either enmeshed with others, or separated from them by thick walls which allow no intimacy.)
3. Difficulty owning and expressing our own reality. (We have been told what to think and feel so often that we are unable to think our own thoughts or feel our own feelings.)
4. Difficulty taking care of our own adult needs and wants. (We expect someone else to read our minds and provide what we need. We can't get what we want because we don't have any idea what that might be, so we concentrate on trying to get what we think we should want.)
5. Difficulty experiencing our reality moderately. (Life is a roller coaster of extremes.)

Virtually everyone experiences these symptoms occasionally, especially in relation to certain people. However, when they are a dominant pattern in our lives, the result is a chaotic mess of misery.

The relevance to child rearing is not difficult to see. A child whose role models are co-dependent will consider that behavior normal, because they lack the resources to think about it critically. When they grow up, they will engage in co-dependent behavior in their adult lives, perpetuating the curse.

If the parents are co-dependent with their children, they will try to live through them instead of managing their own lives and taking care of their own needs. The children will feel guilty for "making" Mom or Dad unhappy, and entertain delusions of grandeur, imagining that they have vast powers over others. They also learn the cardinal rules of a dysfunctional household. Don't think your own thoughts. Don't feel your own feelings. Don't trust your own perceptions. And above all, don't tell anyone what is going on.

A parent with severe emotional wounds is not capable of raising healthy children. The children will become shock absorbers between the parents and reality, and pay the price the rest of their lives.

Personality disorders, including co-dependency, are treatable. Learned behavior patterns can be unlearned. The road to recovery begins in pain and demands a great deal of courage and hard work. However, the rewards are worth it, for this generation as well as the ones to follow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What About Tomorrow?

What about tomorrow? No need to worry; it's not here yet.

Six-year-olds who are sniffing gasoline don't worry about kidney damage tomorrow or fifteen years from now. Smokers are told that the "coffin nail" they are smoking will shave 15 minutes from their life, but they figure that those are the last 15 minutes of their lives, not worth living anyway. People who live on junk food and don't exercise have some vague idea that they are damaging their health, but they can deal with that tomorrow, when symptoms actually emerge.

We all want the good life -- satisfying career, good cash flow, supportive mate, adorable children, beautiful house and pets that don't scratch the paint off the doors. There are no guarantees that life will bring us these blessings. However, if we invest in the future -- getting an education, safeguarding our health, building nourishing relationships with others, applying for jobs that we are interested in, giving a day's work for a day's pay -- our chances of getting something worth having are greatly increased.

Every journey, no matter how long, begins with the first step. Every mountain, no matter how high, is climbed one step at a time. Every new skill has to be learned, one attempt at a time, with many failures and setbacks. Every structure, from a tiny log cabin to a great skyscraper, is put together one piece at a time. The law of cause and effect has not been repealed. We can dream big, but we have to start small.

It is useless to worry obsessively about tomorrow, or anything that we can't control. We are wiser to turn our attention to what is happening here and now, enjoying the gifts the day brings, while rising to the challenges in front of us.

No matter how good today is, it will not last forever. No matter how bad today is, there is something we can do to improve it, if not for ourselves, then for someone else.

What about tomorrow? For better or worse, we are building it now.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mastering fear

"Don't try to make the butterflies in your stomach go away. Teach them to fly in formation."

-- Bob Carr, street performer and juggler extraordinaire

The Granite Life-preserver

A friendship based on guilt may look like a life-preserver, but it's really a millstone. Guilt leaves us feeling exploited and unsure. If we behave lovingly out of guilt, that gift will come wrapped in resentment. The more we give, the more we hate, until everything falls apart.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Without Hope of Return

Once upon a time, in my more idealistic days, I decided to befriend Lil B., notorious drunk and part-time AA member. The friendlier we got, the more she asked me for.

When I took her to the doctor and sat in the waiting room until she was ready to go home, I reminded myself that I was to be a servant.

When I prayed through the night for her daughter who was in critical condition with a drug overdose, I rejoiced with Lil when the tide turned and her child's life was spared. I thought we would be friends forever after that.

When Lil asked to borrow my brand-new upperclass vacuum cleaner (which I loved dearly), I reminded myself of the saying recorded by Luke: "Lend without hope of return." The vacuum eventually came back with a permanently damaged motor. The dust bag had broken, and Lil blamed me for inconveniencing her with a substandard vacuum cleaner. (I eventually invested in a new motor, but the machine was never the same.)

Lil's self-serving attitude gave me the backbone I needed. When she phoned the next time, she wanted me to transport a TV set to her cousin's place. "Lil," I said kindly, "I have decided not to do any more things for you. I want to be your friend, but I get the impression that you don't want that -- you are just interested in what I can do for you."

"Well," huffed Lil, "IF THAT'S THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT IT--" She slammed down the receiver and I never heard from her again.

Afterwards, I thought ruefully. "Jesus was lucky. He didn't have a car, or a TV set, or a vacuum cleaner." That's when the penny dropped. The admonition to divest ourselves of property is not a command – it’s a call.

Perhaps the call to material poverty is selective, like the call to celibacy. Jesus didn't seem to mind dropping in at his affluent friends' places for free meals. He never told Mary & Martha & Lazarus to sell their house and go on the road with him.

Like all calls, the call to poverty is an invitation to a fuller life. We serve best out of our poverty -- material, emotional, spiritual, sometimes even when our bodies are being eaten away by painful disease. Only a few choose to follow that call. Their lives may become easier or more difficult as a result. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the choice they have made and why they made it.

I don’t have to hang onto my achievements any more than I have to hang onto my property. I don’t have to hang onto my deeds of mercy and service either. I am free to do what I want. That is enough, if I am willing to admit it and embrace it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SYNERGY

It is much easier to function synergistically as a part, rather than struggling futilely to be the whole. Many problems we are unable to solve on our own will find unexpected solutions in a collaboration, especially if we let go of our pre-judgements and bring ourselves to the table with an open mind, ambiguities and all. In any effective group, the solutions come not from us, but from God. That works best when everyone is actively seeking God's will, but God is sneaky and will work for good even through those who think they don't need Him. Most problems are solved in process, not definitively. It is important to be patient and learn from what is unfolding.

Friday, February 29, 2008

God's Shalom

Peace be with you.

It sounds so easy, so comfortable, so politically correct.
But there is a price.
How can we be at peace
with God, our neighbours, and ourselves?
Aren't those conflicting priorities?
How do we judge their relative importance?
How do we begin to have peace,

make peace,
be peace?
It's all so personal!

If we claim to have good news to share,
we must also be good news

to those we want to share with.

That may cost us something --
everything.
Save your life and lose it;
lose your life and save it.

God's economy is strange and paradoxical.
The only thing we cannot forfeit
is the love of God.
Our souls are not for sale.
We give what we do not own;
we receive what we have not earned.

How is healing possible in such a world as this?
We have no control; we can only ask.
God will not be manipulated.






Friday, February 22, 2008

The Tyranny of STUFF

It takes time and energy to take care of stuff. Physical stuff, intellectual property, outdated issues, unresolved traumas and conflicts, even memories. I have a choice: caretake my past or build my future.

I want to live. I don't know exactly what it takes to make me feel alive, but I have only a limited time to find out what it is. I realize now that the experience of abundant life is a continuum, not an on/off thing, and my dreams of perfection were unrealistic. I will never get everything I want, but I can work towards getting more of it.

I can't grab the right stuff if my hands (and heart, and mind) are already full of wrong stuff, obsolete stuff, broken stuff, and even OK stuff that isn't as important as I thought it was.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Facing Truth

Rev. Dr. Ursa proclaims: Our most fervent prayers are born of guilt, fear, and resentment. The most effective ones are the fruit of love.


Ursa's evil twin counters: So -- before I presume to pray for others, I should divest myself of my own guilt, fear, and resentment? You've got to be kidding! That's how I legitimize those nasty feelings!! "Dear Lord, Joe is a jerk, but I'm OK because I'm praying for him. When I get finished being holy, I expect you to hand over my lollypop! I've earned it!"

We need honesty in our recovery tool kit just as much as we need faith, hope and love. Honesty with God is difficult, because God is huge and scary and all-powerful and may retaliate if we fail to please. Honesty with others is difficult, because we risk being cast into outer darkess, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Honesty with ourselves is most difficult of all -- we cling to our shredded self-image, the delusion of self-sufficiency, the filthy rags of our self-righteousness, praying desperately to believe that if we just faith hard enough, the world will re-arrange itself in the glorious patterns we dreamed before we lost our innocence.

When the All-Powerful and All-Knowing comes to us in the garment of unconditional love, we howl and weep because we have nowhere to hide. It is not an easy matter to acknowledge who we really are. But until we do, our deepest hurts remain unhealed and festering.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Desperate Dog

If the shoe fits, wear it. if the dog barks, feed it. If it bites -- you have a problem.

The Parable


of the Desperate Dog

A fearful woman decided to protect herself by getting a large dog. Whenever something or someone threatened her, she would scream for help. The dog would rush to save her, growling, barking, sometimes nipping. She would act horrified and punish the dog for being so aggressive. "Bad dog! Bad dog! How could you act like that?"

After a while, the dog got the message that he should not be so aggressive. He stopped responding to her screams. This was even worse. "Bad dog! Bad dog!" she would scream. "Why didn't you defend me?"

One day, while the woman was beating her dog, he turned into a handsome prince who said, "I love you dearly, but I can't go on like this. We need help."

They sent a letter to Dr. Phil, who invited them to appear on his show. He was sympathetic to their cause, and offered to pay for a session with the world's greatest therapist.

After six hours of waiting, they were finally ushered into the consultation room. The therapist heard them out for as long as he could stand. Finally, he interrupted them. "I'd like to help, but it's a waste of time. You aren't interested in constructive change. You're looking to use my advice as a baseball bat against each other."

"Forget the advice," the lady snapped. "Just tell me how to turn this cretin back into a dog."



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Impression Addiction

(October, 2006)
It has recently come to my painful attention that I sacrificed most of my life to fantasies. I wanted to be the best, the most beloved in all things, and I needed people to tell me that I was this mythical person. Impression management was more important than the experience of living.

The price for my unwillingness to accept reality was a chronic sense of failure. Failure as a student (because I couldn't score 100% all the time); failure as a teacher (because some of my students refused to comply to my unrealistic visions of them); failure as a mother (because my children weren't perfect); failure as a wife (because my husband wasn't God); failure as a woman (because I was not a sex goddess and did not particularly enjoy the company of children); failure as a Christian (because I had doubts and could not invoke God's power on demand). The universe would not conform to my dreams, so I was a mistake.

Last Good Friday, I drew pictures of the failure monsters, the success idol, and other evils. I renounced them and burned my artwork before God's altar.

Now I need the help of my friends to see myself realistically: to acknowledge both my strengths and weaknesses, to be comfortable with my limitations, to absolve myself of responsibility for things which I cannot control.

It's a hard road, but it's a whole lot better than hating myself.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Time wasted or time redeemed?

From one of my e-mails, October '06. I think I was lecturing myself.

I DON'T NEED ANYBODY'S PERMISSION TO BE HAPPY AND PRODUCTIVE. A MINUTE OF PLEASURE IS BETTER THAN NO PLEASURE AT ALL. THE ONLY WASTED TIME IS TIME SPENT MAKING BAD MEMORIES.

Healthy, nurturing relationships are essential. We all need people who like us for us, and want to share themselves and their resources "just because". When I encounter people like that, I tend to be just a little leery -- is this too good to be true? Time is the test. There is no need to offer trust to anyone who hasn't earned it.

Mother Theresa said that our society has a famine of love. I am agreeing with that more and more. Simple friendship is a very scarce commodity. Everyone has better things to do -- working, networking, climbing the ladder. "Just because" is not acceptable any more -- everything has to have a purpose. In my book, there is nothing to compare with the feeling of heading out to meet a friend, to "kill" some time together. But what we are actually doing is redeeming it, finding ourselves in each other's pleasure, and laying foundations for a future we might actually want to show up for.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whose Mistake is it, Anyway?

I recognized myself in this story, told by Sheila Fabricant Linn in the book Belonging, and pray that I have made as much progress as she has. She commissioned a jeweler to recast her mother's ring for her own wedding. The first version was unsatisfactory, so she sent it back. The second version, which arrived two days before the wedding, was even worse -- not only did Sheila dislike it, but the stones kept digging into the side of her fingers.

"So, the day after the wedding we returned it once more. From then on, I noticed that every time the phone rang, I was afraid the jeweler was calling to yell at me for bothering her again. I was acting as if it were my fault that she had not made the ring correctly.

"Finally she did call to tell me they were ready to mail the ring. She spoke to me in a very loving way, and apologized for not having made the ring as I wanted it the first or second time. I realized what I had been doing. We had hired her, we were paying for her work, she had made a mistake . . . and I was acting as if I needed to make amends to her.

"Years ago, I would not even have sent that ring back. I would have taken the consequences of another's mistake and worn something for the rest of my life that I did not like. So, even asking the jeweler to redo the ring was a step toward making aments to myself for all the times in the past when I took the consequences of other people's mistakes. Realizing how I had been blaming myself for the jeweler's mistake, I tried to make further amends to myself by appreciating the way I had held out for what I really wanted. I do that again each time I look at my ring and let myself enjoy how it feels exactly right for me."

While I was typing this, I remembered an incident from early motherhood. Andy -- still a pre-schooler -- bought a box of plastic pre-historic figurines. They weren't expensive from an adult point of view, but they represented a substantial investment for him. As soon as he got into the car, he tore open his purchase and discovered that one package of figurines was missing.

As he grieved over the loss, I sat in the car with the engine running, clutching the steering wheel. All I wanted to do was put my vehicle in gear and get the hell out of there. Then I said to myself,

I'LL BE DAMNED IF I LET HIM TURN OUT LIKE ME!

I shut off the engine and explained to my son that when we buy something in a store and there is something wrong with it, we can take it back and ask the people who sold it to us to fix the mistake. He was surprised and happy to hear that. We marched back into the store together. I let him handle the transaction himself because I was sure he could do it better than I could. He trusted that justice would be done, and I didn't. His explanation was so charming that he got not only what he asked for, but an additional package of figurines.

It would have been so easy for me to tell my son to stop whining and appreciate what he got. But that was a message I had heard too often as a child. I was still, at age thirty-something, absorbing the consequences of other people's mistakes instead of holding them accountable.

The good people of the Christian church tend to support unassertive behaviour, labelling it "forgiveness". But it is not loving to support other people's mistakes, unintentional or otherwise. We each need to own our deficiencies before we can experience grace and grow through it. Forgiveness is a divine act of grace, but we can't honestly offer it to others unless we first admit that we were wronged.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Preach, Teach, and Leave Literature

You know you're recovering when you can go to a family reunion and you don't have to preach, teach, or leave literature.
--"Karen" (from Anne Schaef's Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much)

Preach, teach, and leave literature -- the style of evangelism we love to hate. Yet we all do it. When we get on a bandwagon -- the latest diet, the hot new book or movie, the game to end all games -- we want company. Once our enthusiasm wanes, we redouble our proselytization, hoping that the new converts will help us to re-live the first hyperflush of insane hope that this time, we would get things right and everything would be fine forever.

If I can't control my life, I try to control others' lives. Now there's a bit of twisted logic! Somehow, someone else's backyard jungle is more exciting, more worthy of attention, than my own weedy flower beds.

Dr. Shaef: "How much easier it is to work with people instead of trying to overpower them with the righteousness of our rightness. CONTROL IS DEADLY FOR EVERYONE."

So, Doctor -- even if I succeed, I fail?

Ouch.

Friday, February 08, 2008

My Elegant Four-Point Plan


I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, because they encourage rebellion and feelings of failure. In November '06, however, I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted my life to change.

My FOUR-POINT PLAN for 2007:
LIGHTEN UP
LET GO
EMBRACE SURPRISES
COMMUNICATE MY NEEDS/ASK FOR HELP


This replaced my former agenda of
SAVE THE UNIVERSE
NEVER GIVE UP
STRIVE FOR PERFECTION
DO FOR OTHERS


This was followed by a budget (no more impulse buying, except with designated "mad money"), 10 goals, and a list of strategies for achieving said goals. No implementation date -- I started right away.

I have destroyed part of the paper record and am planning to destroy the rest, so I won't have anything to feel guilty about when I fail to produce a perfect performance on all points. It's clear to me which direction I want to go. Forget the GPS and navigational charts -- all I need is a compass.

It's been tough so far. I keep screaming that I want freedom, but I agonize when I have to make choices.

My elegant seven-point plan for 2008:
1. Take one day at a time.
2. Love myself so I can love others.
3. Trust my own judgement.
4. Believe in the future, but don't try to live there.
5. Avoid trying to change others.
6. Explore new avenues.
7. Learn to play.

I really want to publish one of my novels in 2008. But I'm afraid. What am I afraid of? Failure? Success? A fantasy-reality collision?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Desperatedly Seeking Inner Autonomy

When children are told what to see, what to think, and what to feel, they become conditioned to suppress their own perceptions, thoughts and feelings. Their real self becomes more and more separated from their illusionary self -- I think the shrinks call that "personality disassociation"? The road to authentic seeing, thinking and feeling is long and hard, but there is a road. God can be a big help as long as we are willing to be absolutely honest. If we believe that our honesty would threaten God as it threatens the powerful people in our lives, our faith becomes a stumbling block rather than a channel of grace.

My grandmother's favourite non-violent correction was, "You make me sad!" This may have seemed enlightened when compared to abusive name-calling and hitting, but it took its toll. It is a heavy burden for a child to imagine that s/he is responsible for the emotions of others.

Adults are directly responsible for their own emotional states. Circumstances and other people can influence us, but they do not have the power to control what we think and feel. When I first heard that at a support group meeting, it seemed ludicrous. Even now, decades of struggle later, it seems an impossible challenge to master my own inner dialogue and the feelings that are generated by it.



Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Avoiding or Embracing? Let me Count the Ways

(January 31/07)

Ten Ways I Avoid Feeling Potentially Overwhelming Emotions:

1. Tackle something on my "shit list" (things I SHOULD do, but don't want to).

2. Ponder theoretical cosmic issues.

3. Engage in process addiction.

4. Shop.

5. Criticize or advise others.

6. Write essays.

7. Do good deeds.

8. Read or watch TV.

9. Cook and/or eat.

10. Worry.


Ten Ways I Ground Myself in Preparation for Releasing Potentially Overwhelming Emotions:

1. Knit.

2. Make music or listen to music.

3. Write poetry or songs.

4. Sing.

5. Daydream/fantasize/imagine stories.

6. Take a bath.

7. Walk a dog.

8. Ride my bike.

9. Talk to a close friend who is in the mood to listen.

10. Pray/meditate.


Why I do my Therapeutic Work in a Public Place

1. I feel safer. When I imagine someone reading this, I feel that somebody cares. I blog, therefore I am.

2. Except for one instance, I have never achieved a sufficient level of dysfunction to warrant therapy and the personal attention it implies.

3. Non-intrusive self-disclosure may help others who are struggling with similar issues.

4. Blogging spares people who don't want to know what's really going on with me.

5. If somebody says, "How's it going?" I can answer, "Read my blog."

6. Sometimes I meet new people.

7. It feels more creative and significant this way.

8. Maybe a famous author will use me as material for a novel and give me second-hand fame.

9. I am forced to be clear and specific to avoid confusing my potential audience.

10. I keep hoping that everything I've suffered and learned will go on to benefit the world, even after I'm gone.






Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Incident on Quadra Street

When I am in Victoria, I like to attend church at Christ Church cathedral to reconnect with my Inner Anglican, experience superbly-crafted liturgy, and be deafened by the new pipe organ. Afterwards, I like to stroll down Quadra to my favourite market square, which features a grocery store, London Drugs, and a fast-food Japanese restaurant which offers free barley tea to customers.

One Sunday in June 2006, I wandered into London Drugs after church to take my blood pressure. I picked up some stuff to justify my presence, and made my way to the grocery store.

On the way, I sat down beside a lady who was selling The Victoria Street Newz (a surprisingly professional publication by and for street people, which airs their issues and allows their vendors to earn a few dollars), and we talked briefly while I hunted through my change.

This particular grocery store is my favourite food store in the world. It has a coffee machine right inside the door, and a bar with stools to sit and enjoy a break. There are also little round tables and chairs outside for snacking and people-watching. Besides the deli counter and any number of ready-to-eat food items, there is a separate fish counter at least twenty feet long. The floral section is a kaleidosopic jungle of cut and potted flowers, notably enormous roses.

Outside the door, a bare-chested man was lurching back and forth, trying to bum a smoke, becoming more frustrated by the moment.

"Here," a woman sitting on one of the chairs called out. "I'll give you a smoke."

He approached her, hardly able to believe his luck.

"Sure I'll give you a smoke," the woman said. "Somebody just gave me five bucks." The two of them started chatting affably.

I reflected on the fact that down-and-out people seem to be more generous about sharing their good luck than my own social circle. As I passed them, I got another look at the man, and realized that he was a pretty fair specimen of manhood and would clean up well. Perhaps this lady had motives other than generosity.

Monday, February 04, 2008

My Glass Ceiling

My maternal grandmother insisted that we were superior to normal mortals -- practically a new mutation. She blamed all her problems and ours on one thing: JEALOUSY by the little people who surrounded us. She also neutralized many of my protests against injustice with, "You're just jealous."

I had no way of testing her premises, so I internalized them. Jealousy became a dark, vindictive power that must be avoided at all costs. There is some truth in that, of course -- jealous people can do horrible things -- but I deified jealousy, attributed it with supermagical powers that disrupted all aspects of life. Hence, my reluctance to face success or admit that I am good at anything. When I get to a certain rung on any ladder, I sabotage myself.

Is it too late to change a life that has been trapped in a narrow crack between the fear of failure and the fear of success?

I've put the success thing on hold by declaring that success and failure are an illusion. I'm not satisfied with that conclusion, but it will have to do for now. The pertinent question is not: How do I control other people's perception of me and my perception of myself? but What do I want to do with this moment of life and the moments to follow? What is really important to me?

Friday, February 01, 2008

How Sick is Sick Enough?

During a flight from Victoria to Regina in 2005, my seat-mate Miranda lived up to her name. (Miranda is a classical Latin word which means "to be marvelled at".) She had the worst case of nausea I have ever seen. She had discovered her gift for medication-resistant airsickness on a previous flight, but she could not afford the time for land travel. I kept handing her fresh airsickness bags and a damp towel while she told me her story between heaving sessions. It came naturally to me because she was the same age as my daughter.

Miranda was celebrating her 27th birthday by travelling to her grandfather's funeral. That night, she was going to be carrying the cross for a midnight ritual in honour of the deceased -- a job reserved for the oldest grandchild, but said grandchild had just had part of her arm amputated and was unequal to the task. There had been a storm the night before, knocking down power lines & trees, so Miranda had been forced to travel to the airport (in the dark at 5AM from a house with no electricity) via a convoluted detour, pulling trees off the road with the truck & chain along the way. This woman is a construction contractor who breeds mastiffs in her spare time. A couple of weeks before, her husband rolled her SUV with her entire crew in it. No one was killed, but everyone went off on medical disability at the same time.

When she started to shake after a particularly tough session of trying to vomit up bile, she said, "This is normal . . ." She said that the shaking had started a couple of years ago, and the MRI showed a brain lesion. I asked if she seizured, and she said no. I said no problem, shaking would not freak me out. I told her that in her place, I would be shaking from stress, with no need for a brain lesion.

Miranda was not a whiner -- she just found herself telling me more and more because I was sympathetic. I thought that she might feel less awful if she talked through her stress. At least, conversation would provide some distraction from her misery while we were on the ground waiting to go up for another nauseating ride. The flight from Victoria to Edmonton did not require a plane change, but there were two touchdowns.

Periodically, she would wail, "I'm SORRY!" and ask why I was being so nice to her. She felt overwhelmingly guilty for being sick, and doubly guilty because I was being inconvenienced by her presence. I tried to convince her that I understood that she wasn't vomiting uncontrollably for the express purpose of annoying me, but it was a hard sell.

Miranda represents one extreme of the spectrum of reactions to personal illness. She was ashamed because she could not control her body, ashamed that she needed assistance, and she expected to be punished. Those at the other end of the spectrum love their organ recitals and games of "I'm sicker than you," and expect the universe to revolve around their medical abnormalities. Anyone who refuses to participate in the expected manner is immediately convicted of selfishness.

What I learned from Miranda on the airplane is that sickness is an opportunity to experience grace and also an opportunity to experence rejection. Our experience shapes the way we handle our illnesses. A few days after I was Miranda's seat mate, I walked out of a Christian concert five minutes before it started and was unable to go back in because I could not face the thought of having to squeeze by people again if the urge to pee became overwhelming. I sat on the steps outside and listened as the MC went through the various stages of the sales pitch. I got more and more frustrated, and finally told God I couldn't listen to other people any more and wanted -- nay, needed -- to follow whatever path he showed me. One person -- an insurance salesman who was once a psychiatric nurse -- came and talked to me for a while in a non-invasive way, and left me feeling a lot better. I decided not to apologize for my behaviour, or plead for understanding. When I am sick, physically or mentally, I will remain sick until I am well. That's it.

My mother and I are both of the Miranda variety. No matter how sick we are, we accuse ourselves of malingering. Even though we would not dream of refusing to tend any and all sick people who cross our path, we worry that we are not sick enough to deserve tending. How crazy is that?


I secretly long to be a medical megalomaniac, suffering theatrically from some dreaded, exotic but painless disease, which requires dozens of specially-trained people to tend me like a wilting orchid. What would happen if I threw myself on the floor, weeping, and refused to get up under my own power?

I'd lose control of my life, that's what. Aye -- therein lies the rub.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Knowing what I want

Once upon a time (probably in the late 80s), I happened to be in Regina by myself at supper time, and discovered that I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I WANTED TO EAT OR WHERE I WANTED TO EAT IT!!!! I knew the preferences of every family member, and kept trying to juggle them, becoming more and more resentful because nobody seemed to care what my needs were . . .

BUT HOW COULD I GET WHAT I WANTED IF I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT WAS???????? I was so out of touch with myself that I didn't even know what I wanted to eat.

I still have to work at this. Hard. It can take a long time to overcome performance panic long enough to became aware of what I want. I have to relax, let go of the various layers of delusion, and find ME. The really cool thing is -- it generally turns out that what I want at the core is what God wants for me too. It is always true that what I need (as opposed to what I am conditioned to think I need) is what God wants for me. That great struggle between what God wants and what I want -- that's a MYTH. The real struggle is between what I want/need and what I think I should want/need.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dethronement Syndrome

When the second child is born, the first child experiences a devastating dethronement. S/he can no longer imagine that s/he is the focus of the parents' world.

My mother experienced the birth of a sibling when she was five, and concluded that her parents no longer wanted her. She went down the street to a nice-looking house, rang the doorbell, and asked the maid if the owners would be interested in adopting her. Her mother countered by telling her that she was needed to look after the baby -- a burden that haunted her life. Every time my grandmother staged one of her deathbed scenes, it included a promise to look after the baby brother. That weighty sense of responsibility, coupled with the repressed desire that something horrible would happen to the little monster, created a conflict which was still alive and well when the "baby" was seventy-five years old.

Love never seems to be enough for the dethroned child. He craves uninterrupted, unqualified admiration -- what he got when he was that miraculous first child. To me (a non-dethroned only child), being the "good child" means being the child who contributes the most; to the dethroned child, it means being the child who is adored the most.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why therapy often misfires

Nothing will help you if you don't have the motivation to act. You can't be like the person who lies in bed shivering, but won't get up to get another blanket because he tells himself he's too tired. Most of us seek help from experts when we haven't begun to do the things we know we need to do for ourselves.

Then there's that small matter of discipline. Just about anything really worth doing requires motivation, courage, and the willingness to practice.

-- Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear

Christine's commentary: There are no magic formulas. We are the only ones who can bring about lasting change. Therapists can help us see things differently and help us plan strategies, but the hard work -- and the suffering -- is something we must do ourselves.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Working through the lessons

November 27, 2005
A perfectly controlled, trouble-free life will not make anyone happy. Happiness comes from taking ownership of the life we have and working through the lessons it holds for us.

I've always felt like a failure, and was worrying about the fact that I am running out of time to become rich and/or famous, confident, untroubled, and Incredibly Wise and Important. Sort of a Superwoman/Mary Poppins combo -- practically perfect in every way, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound with a creative flourish that would distinguish me from all other building-leapers.
But today -- I thought maybe I could stop driving myself. I've always tried to do my personal development homework, thinking it would make me more efficient in achieving my goals of perfection. It never occurred to me that what I was doing as a sideline could be the main event.


This could change everything! Maybe I've discovered my personal cure for chronic restlessness & misery.

If it works . . . . . . who knows, I might become rich & famous and all those other things and run happiness workshops all over the world. Everybody wants to be happy, right? They should be willing to pay big bucks for the secret.

Ooops -- am I on the treadmill again?

Sept. 27, 2006
After a year of putting self-care first, I am trying to ease out of the slow lane. You know what? I've discovered that I don't want to work. Now yet, anyway.
I want to goof off. I like goofing off. I have experienced some genuine bliss while goofing off. Why do we strive to become rich and famous, anyway? So we can afford to goof off.

I want to take the short cut and goof off right away, without any further detours. I am tired.

My Voice says that it's OK to rest until something draws me irresistibly -- something I really REALLY want to do, more than I want to goof off. I can escape from Shouldville and run free.

Who is this Voice, anyway? God, who knows what is best for me and wants me to have it? Or my shadow side, composed of all the parts of myself I didn't want to acknowledge?

Either way, it might be worth while to give freedom a try.


December 10, 2006.
My restlessness is back. The peaceful bliss of simply being is eluding me. I am hurting -- hurting about all the awful things in life that I can't control. Part of the process -- or a signal to get my ass in gear?

I decided to stop living in the future and make 2007 the best possible year, focusing on what is available here and now. Sounds great -- but what if grieving is part of the work I have to do?

What would I tell someone else? Honour your pain, and take all the time you need to own it, feel it, share it, express it, release it to your Higher Power, whatever you conceive him or her to be. Is it time to take my own medicine?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Seeking Growth, not Perfection

It all seemed so noble, so generous, and if I say so myself, it even seemed so saintly. "Reach for the top. Give it your best. Don't settle for your second best." The very rhetoric of my zeal to do my best, to be my best, sent fire surging through my veins. But the rhetoric betrayed reality . . . Nothing is ever perfect. My best was always flawed . . . I am a mistake maker. The human condition of trial and error is my condition . . . under all my sham pretence, I knew all along that I could never match my dreams with my performance. . . .

Perfectionism always has a downward spiral. It leaves us room only for failure. Nothing ever comes off exactly as we planned it. And the end result of such failure is discouragement. Very often our frustrated hopes degenerate gradually into a disappointed anger. We act out our discouragement or anger in obnoxious ways, but they are always buried in pretense. Others would never suspect . . .
The only real failure is the one from which we learn nothing.

-- S.J. Powell, "Happiness is an Inside Job

Christine's commentary: The most toxic aspect of equating performance with personal worth and loveability is what how it affects our relationship with God. Instead of perceiving God's love for us as absolute and unconditional, we try to hide our true selves from God and turn ourselves inside out striving to reach new heights of worthiness. Fear of failure becomes our obsession. We cannot take pleasure in our achievements because there is always another mountain to climb. If we do more than is expected of us, we experience a momentary thrill, followed by dismay because now more will be expected of us. We put out 110%, wonder whether we should be trying for 120%, and worry how long we can keep it up before everything falls apart.

Many people cannot begin to open themselves to God's love until they have crashed spectacularly.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why We Need our Heretics

In order to see clearly, we must see as insects see -- in multifaceted images, each bearing the stamp of truth, yet never pretending to encompass all of it. Our disparate visions are the key to a healthy community, because they invite us to continue seeking more and more truth, order, and harmony. A perfectly homogeneous community, trapped in its own delusions, can neither grow nor heal itself. It can only take up more and more space, like a cancer. Inevitably, it is doomed to rot under its shiny facade, and collapse under its own weight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

APOCRYPHAL SAYINGS by Ursula the Heretic

THE MOST BROKEN AMONG US SEEK HEALING BY ATTEMPTING TO ORCHESTRATE THE HEALING OF OTHERS. We must always take care that ours is not a ministry of exploitation. When achieving the desired results is more important to us than our unconditional love for the person with whom we are walking, we have become wolves in sheep's clothing -- wolves with the best of intentions, but wolves nonetheless.

No matter what I say I believe or even think I believe, the way I live my life is my only authentic statement of faith.


Too often, the voice of the institutional church echoes the voice of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are each responsible for reaching out to God, listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and discovering the truth for ourselves. Our personal pilgrimage is lonely, demanding, and often perilous, and may even lead us astray, but there is no danger greater than that of avoiding it altogether.

Clergy are our trusted servants. They are not God, nor do they always speak for God. Each baptized and confirmed Christian is responsible for his or her own spiritual welfare.

The more the Church uses the sales techniques of the world to promote itself, the more it will fail in the long run. The Spirit of God is not a commodity.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not one of us knows . . .

Albert Schweitzer was probably the only person who was ever a professor of theology and a first-year medical student at the same university at the same time. When I started digging his books out of the public library in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, I discovered that they had not been taken out for decades. That's a pity.
http://home.pcisys.net/~jnf/

Quotes from Schweitzer's writings:
Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others. That is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it so that we may not lose courage.

The ways along which we have to struggle toward the goal may be veiled in darkness, yet the direction in which we must travel is clear.

The one essential thing is that we strive to have light in ourselves. Our strivings will be recognized by others, and when people have light in themselves, it will shine out from them. Then we get to know each other as we walk together in the darkness.

The power of ideals is incalculable. We see no power in a drop of water. But let it get into a crack in the rock and be turned to ice, and it splits the rock; turned into steam, it drives the piston of the most powerful engines. Something has happened to it which makes active and effective the power hidden in it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Prayer

In its simplest sense, prayer is the soul's communication with God, often completely unverbalized conversation with the ground or core of all being. Prayer, above all, is not magic -- the polite coercion of an unwilling God into doing our will. Nor is it the attempt, by wheedling, pleading, and cajoling, to get God to change his mind, as though he were some capricious tyrant in need of obsequious courtiers. Prayer makes changes in us, not in God. It's a little like tuning the radio or TV dial in order to open the right channel to the infilling of his Spirit. Nor is prayer for others an attempt to alter God's actions. Rather, it unleashes an unseen but very real energy towards others. The power of the mind, tuned to God and directed to the good of others, is a dynamic that may be as yet little understood, but it is undeniably active in our world.
-- Tom Harpur

Saturday, December 15, 2007

UNKNOWN AND FEARFUL TERRITORY

Times of trouble discover the true worth of a man; they do not weaken him, but show his true nature.
-- Thomas a Kempis


Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.
-- Henri Nouwen (The Wounded Healer)


Unless our questions, problems and concerns are tested and matured in solitude, it is not realistic to expect answers that are really our own.
-- Henri Nouwen (Reaching Out)


In many ways God is "unfathomable" . . . . If you can know everything about him, then he is no longer God; you are.
-- Henry Cloud (Changes that Heal)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oranges

Many of my more vivid memories are brief encounters. I don't keep my shields up very well, and people talk to me.

I was picking up fruit in the supermarket when an elderly lady asked me a question about the oranges. The conversation quickly moved to more personal matters, face to face across a bin of oranges.

Suddenly she burst out, "How come a complete stranger cares more for me than my own family?"

I don't know what I said in response. I hope I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Alpha Chick Pilgrimage

September 24, 2007
MacLean's Magazine arrived today. News is not what it used to be. It seems to be on the light-weight, sensational and biased side, with heavy emphasis on the quirks and shenanigans of celebrities. After a few minutes of browsing, my generation gap starts showing and I feel like a backwater dinosaur.


I learned that, according to Statistics Canada, in 2006, 43.5 percent of adults aged 20 to 29 either never left their parents' house, or moved baack after a short stint away from the nest. In a growing number of these cases, the kids are bringing spouses with them. Yikes!! What is going on here? Parents need to sell their houses, buy tiny condos, travel a lot, and stop cooking with cheese.

My favourite story so far in an interview with Jane Christmas after her 800-kilometer Camino pilgrimage through Spain. She wanted to get away from her children, and expected her experience to be a modern version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales -- relaxation, companionship and story-telling.

Alas! Female bonding was not what she expected. "We're trained to believe we're inclusive and bridge-building, but particularly in group situations, that just doesn't happen. 'Bonding' is really code for 'the need to know another woman's secrets, so you can render her defenceless'. That sort of knowledge is power for women, and they use it to exclude others . . . .We call men on their bad behavior, but not each other, because we're afraid of other women, of what they could say about us or how they could exclude us." Our budding pilgrim found herself trapped in a "consciousness-raising Oprah orgy", where alpha chicks fluffed their feathers until Jane wanted to slug them all. The experience was Lord of the Flies on estrogen.

"Sometimes it takes someone else's really bad behaviour to shift you onto a different path and make you walk alone."

Not that she was ever alone. There were always other pilgrims on the route. At night, in the refugios (pilgrims' hostels), they were crammed together in bunk beds, with no privacy whatsoever. Even when she was completely exhausted, the snoring of strangers kept her awake.

She said everybody she knew took taxis sooner or later rather than continue the hike.

Final question: Would you ever go on holiday with a group of women again?
Answer: NO! NO WAY.

I found this interview refreshing because it admits that hiking 800 km is not all glamour. It also admits that women aren't perfect. I generally find men easier to talk to. They have a wider range of interests, are more likely to say what they think, and take criticism more easily. If a problem develops, it is usually solved within a reasonable time, and if it can't, the relationship is allowed to die a natural death. Conflicts with women go on endlessly, keep taking new forms, and never seem to be forgiven or forgotten. The punishment of exclusion never ends, until some major incentive is offered. A lot of women never seem to outgrow the grade four playground. Men aren't perfect either, of course, and can be very annoying, but I find their imperfections easier to forgive.

I'm talking about friendship here, not mating. That's a whole different scene, which I don't understand and never expect to. Mating seems to bring out the best and worst in people.

If I were going to walk 800 km with a group, I would like it to be an assortment of men and women of different ages, including children. I would like the alpha wolves and chicks to stay home, so we could all feel free to be ourselves and do whatever seemed good to us, within reasonable limits.

Oh yes, one more thing. I would like to spend my nights in four-star hotels with whirlpools and fluffy bath robes and people who don't snore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Not Good in Bed

Certainty is the hallmark of stagnation.
-- Rev. Dr. Ursa

Rainbows are the gift of unsettled weather.
-- Dancing Bear

Before we can change a relationship,
we must become willing to risk the relationship.
-- Dr. Ursa

If you hitch your wagon to a star,
don't expect to control the destination.
-- Dancing Bear

Some birds won't leave their cage even if the door is left open.
They need a closed door behind them before they can move on.
-- Dancing Bear

Love that demands something in return is not love at all.
-- Rev. Dr. Ursa

There are two kinds of learners who are difficult to coach --
the ones who are perpetually upset about their mistakes,
and the ones who don't believe that they are capable of making
any.
-- Professor Ursa

If no one objects to what I am doing,
maybe I should be doing something else.
-- Dr. Ursa

Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have
and frees us to move away from the safe place
and enter unknown and fearful territory. -- Henri Nouwen

When someone tells me, in one way or another, that I have
disappointed her (or him) by not living up to her fantasy, the
fault lies not with me, but with the fantasy. I will serve my
critic best by allowing her to sort out the debris of the
inevitable fantasy-reality collision for herself instead of trying
to alleviate her distress by twisting myself out of shape.
-- Ursula Maxima

No matter what I say I believe or even think I believe, the way
I live my life is my only authentic statement of faith.
-- Ursula the Heretic

Before embarking on any kind of self-improvement program,
shop for a hard hat. People will be unkind if you fail. They will
be even more unkind if you succeed.
-- Dr. Ursa

I once had a rose named after me, and I was very flattered.
But, I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue,
"No good in a bed, but fine against a wall." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a
good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.
~George Burns

Santa Claus has the right idea ... Visit people only once a year.
~Victor Borge

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become
happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
~Socrates


Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential
food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat. ~Alex Levine

Money can't buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more
pleasant form of misery ~Spike Milligan

Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.
~Herbert Henry Asquith

Don't worry about avoiding temptation ... As you grow older, it
will avoid you. ~Winston Churchill

The cardiologist's diet: If it tastes good, spit it out. ~Unknown

By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he's too
old to go anywhere. ~Billy Crystal

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eastmain and Beyond

July 20, 2005
Tomorrow morning, Doug and I are going to set out on a 1,000 km journey to East Main, Quebec. We have been invited to participate in a diocesan aboriginal gathering. We'll be collaborating on a workshop on healing. If it is good, it will be very, VERY good, but if it is bad -- hey, let's not go there.

July 26, 2005 (after driving 2500 km and spending three days with fellow travellers in search of hope and healing)
1. Eastmain is one word, not two. The community is named after the Eastmain River, which empties into James Bay. The aboriginal price for gasoline there is $1.06 per litre.
2. The James Bay highway is 620km long. It is intersected by the transtaiga highway, a gravel road which is 688km long. We didn't see the latter because we turned off the JB hwy at kilmeter 350.
3. Archbishop Douglas Hambidge (our keynote speaker) sleeps in his mitre, but he never wears it to breakfast. (That's what he told me, anyway! This amazing man spent two years in Tanzania as principal of a theological seminary after he retired from his ecclesiastical career in British Columbia -- that was his way of getting away from it all. He now mentors rookie bishops in Africa. They call him gamaliel, which is Swahili for "great leader." He can't read Cree syllabics yet, but he can read Anglican liturgy in Swahili.)

December 17, 2005.
I planned to write more about our Eastmain trek once I had time to catch up on my sleep and reflect on my experience, but I didn't get around to it until now. The memories are faint now, but the imprints of the experience are on my soul.
This was the first time I have ever had the opportunity to do any kind of teaching about inner healing. I've been practising it for 25 years or so, but no one seemed particularly interested in what I was doing. Healing emotional wounds through prayer is even more suspect than healing physical problems. 1. It doesn't work. ("You're a nice lady and you mean well, but there is nothing you can do to help.") 2. It's not necessary. ("Once you accept Jesus/get baptized in the Holy Spirit, you are perfectly healed at all levels and are showing a lack of faith if you look further." 3. It's evil. ("Psychology is of the devil and Agnes Sanford was a New Age witch.")

So how did I get this job? I volunteered. Doug had a three-hour slot to fill, so he welcomed a little extra input. He put lots of fences around me, though. I was to speak for one hour and one hour only, after he had introduced the topic. That would give him an hour to clean up any misconceptions I might have spread.
I decided I was not going to spend that precious time making speeches which nobody could recall afterwards. I wrote down the basics, as simply as possible, because English is not the first language of my intended audience. I decided to leave my actual presentation under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit in real time. That's the way I usually work. One advantage to that method is that I never know what's coming next, so I don't get bored.

Soon after my arrival, I started hearing, "We hurt. What can we do to help ourselves?" That was marvellously refreshing -- no denial, no fancy footwork, no blaming of Whitey or the Evil Federal Government. Just the question: WHAT CAN WE DO? These people were ready for anything positive we could give them. The intimidating question for me was, "What makes me think I have anything to offer?" These people have a painful history, a difficult present, and an uncertain future. I didn't know if I would be strong enough to cope with what they face every day. I had no answers to catapult them into a new sunrise of peace and good will and prosperity. If anybody should be teaching anybody, they should be teaching me. I realized that I was completely inadequate to the task I had so confidently undertaken. I had nothing to offer but myself.

Our first workshop went smoothly. There was a little bit of interchange, and most of the people stayed awake for most of the time. I did a lot of storytelling and a couple of spiritual exercises. In the evening, I walked out to the sweat lodge and had some conversation along the way, but I chose not to participate in the ritual.

Despite the fact they they use holy water in this traditional ceremony of purification, it's still too much of a stretch for me. A non-aboriginal lady who underwent it for the first time that week-end said she was glad she did. Next time I'll bring along a long skirt (the obligatory attire for women in sweat lodge), just in case.

The next morning, I woke up in a fog of tears. I could feel pain everywhere. People were allowing themselves to open up. I got into a deep conversation over breakfast and started praying for people as the opportunity presented itself. As we were gathering for our opening session, I felt I had to speak publicly and encourage everyone not to hold back the process that was unfolding. As so often happens in these occasions, I didn't know what I was going to say, other than the first sentence.

I asked Archbishop Hambidge to give up some of his time at the mic to allow me to speak. After some consultation with the organizers, my presumptuous request was granted. I said something like: "I feel tears in the air this morning. Don't hold them back. Share them. If we can freely share who we are -- share our experience, strength and hope as well as our tears and regrets and bitterness -- then the answers will come, not from us, but from God." The translation that followed was so extensive that I suspect some commentary was added. I took that as a good sign. I had been heard. I had also heard myself. If I can be who I am, without masks or weapons or clever ideas, and share that without trying to create any kind of impression, then the answers will come. Not from me, not from my fellow travellers, but from God. That simple insight was enough to demolish my entire ministry model.

At our second workshop, one of the presenters came in early and flopped down on the couch. I can't remember exacly what he said, but the intent was, "I'm beat. Sock it to me." I laid hands on him and told him to breathe deeply. He floated off somewhere, then floated back, opened his eyes, and smiled. "That feels wonderful."

When my turn came in the workshop, I talked for about ten minutes, and then asked the group to lay hands on me. They did a great job. I asked, "Who's next?" This unleashed a joyful and powerful session of healing prayer that involved all of us. When we finally wound down, we were too tired to do anything more, but nobody wanted to leave. We knew God had been in the room with us, and we wanted to savour the moment.

From then on, everything went by too quickly. I wanted to stay forever. Our time together was precious -- a sharing of strength and courage and laughter and pain. We were family. We belonged to each other. Nothing was more important than that.

Archbishop Douglas Hambidge spoke about identity and empowerment. "When we know who God is, who our brothers and sisters are, and who we are, that is empowerment." His ideas were not revolutionary or slickly packaged, but they hit home. He believed what he said because he said nothing that he did not believe. In Africa, they call him "Gamaliel". Great leader. He deserves the title, although he would be the last to admit it. This is a man who has achieved much more than could reasonably be expected. I usually envy such people, but I fell madly in love with him instead. He lifted me up and showed me new possibilities for living. When I finished praying with my healing team at the final eucharist, I went over to his team and asked them to pray for my ministry -- that it would truly follow God's path.

I believe that our prayer is being answered at this very moment.


July 6, 2006.
Here I am, almost a year later. It's been a tough year for me. I decided that I was empty and needed to discover my identity as a child of God. I decided to give up the performance thing and learn how to look after myself as God longs to look after me. I've made progress, but not without physical symptoms and anxiety attacks. I've had days of living in the moment that were so beautiful that it seemed impossible that they would ever end. I've had days of living in fear and rage and a body that would not do what I want.

On August 15, I am going to Mistissini with my husband. All the churches in town will be invited to attend. Instead of the intimate circle, we will face a crowd and speak through a translator. I am starting to jot down some notes about belonging -- belonging to our community, our God, and our authentic selves. According to the Linns (Dennis, Matthew & Sheila), addictions are our misguided and often self-destructive attempts to phone home when we have lost our connection.

I didn't get far before I started asking myself what my addictions are and why I chose them over other addictions. #1 Worry -- an attempt to control the future. #2 Happy helping -- distracting myself from my own pain and needs by focusing on the needs of others. #3 Food, which helps me feel connected. It's not food I crave as much as fellowship, and the pleasure of the person who prepared it.
I don't have time to divest myself of those three compulsions by August 15, let alone my innumerable other defects of character. So I have a choice: don the Hallowe'en costume of perfection, or bring myself just as I am.
I have nothing to bring to the circle but myself. That is the hardest lesson I have learned this year.

February 10, 2007.
In Mistissini, we stayed in a three-star hotel by the lake, across from Elder's Point, the traditional teaching centre. The community looked more like an urban subdivision than an isolated First Nations reservation. Money is flowing in from the James Bay electrical power project, and the members of the band council are doing their best to make sure that the cash benefits the community. The rapid transition is generating some future shock.

There was no need to worry how I would perform before a big crowd. We had just the right number of people for a talking circle. The community was grieving some recent tragedies. Even with the filter of translation, we connected.
The Sunday service turn-out was no bigger than usual, but the Holy Spirit was there. We had two teams laying on hands. Doug and I worked together -- a rare occasion. That alone was worth the whole trip. We were doing something we both felt passionate about, something we hoped would make a positive difference in the universe, bring God into our human circle.

All the time that we were laying on hands, the members of the congregation were praying in the pews, some holding onto each other, some weeping. As we were finishing, the mood lifted. We shared communion with a sense of celebration.

After lunch, I was completely depleted. I went for a walk with our designated dog -- a young black lab who showed up on the deck in front of our hotel room about ten minutes after we checked in and hung around during our entire stay. I felt as if I was carrying a half-ton load of cement, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The dog amused himself by picking up various objects and carrying them, practising for a future career as a retriever.

I was told that we had made an impact on the community -- that we would leave something useful behind. I have always been ambiguous about the idea of non-aboriginal people invading First Nations space with teaching and advice. Now I'm re-thinking that. We are all absolutely equal in our need for God's grace, and we all carry the same spiritual power -- the power to bring God closer. Maybe we are meant to be part of each other's healing process.

Doug and I have been invited to the diocesan healing gathering in Chisasibi (another burgeoning community on the Quebec side of the James Bay coast) this coming July. "We want to learn more about spiritual healing."

It's a long drive through the wilderness, but I want to be there. I'm already rehearsing what I want to pass on from my own quarter-century journey of prayer. I could write an entire book, but I will have to keep it manageable. Write down, as simply as I can, what is burning in my heart, give it away, and then trust God to take care of the rest.

I long to let go of everything I count on for identity, self-importance, and self-esteem. I want to get it right. But I won't. I am fallible. No matter how much I prepare and pray and study and compile and sweat, I can't be all things to all people. I can't control the results of my efforts. If I can accept that, there is hope.


September 20, 2007.
The healing gathering in Chisasibi was cancelled at the last minute, leaving me without closure for the strong sense of call I had about this journey. Our attempt to use that time for R&R backfired when Doug was hospitalized with pneumonia in Sault Ste Marie.

I told Doug that I would not be available for any missions next summer, but I'm not sure that is the right decision. I guess I'll have to go with the flow if the opportunity comes up.

I am left with a work-in-progress on the topic of forgiveness. I am wondering -- should I write a book? Is that the meaning of my frustration -- that I need to communicate? I have often wanted to write a book about inner healing, but I was afraid that the time would come when I would be ashamed to be reminded of an earlier, less evolved phase of my development. I keep changing my mind, learning new things, becoming increasingly aware of what I don't know.

If I wait too long, I will realize that I know nothing at all, and will have no motivation to write anything down.