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My Stage 3: An Ordinary Mystic ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA

September 11, 2018
My Stage 3: An Ordinary Mystic
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

     On a misty, chilly early January morning, I stood transfixed along the craggy seashore of Scotland’s Isle of Skye, mesmerized by the power of the wind and the waves slamming up against the weathered boulders jutting out from the coastline, defining the edge of that vast ocean spread out before me, while shorebirds dipped and swayed, riding the currents.

     As a non-religious college freshman, I had scrimped and saved to join a university-organized trip to the UK between fall and spring semesters. While others used these valuable three weeks to earn university credits, I journeyed alone throughout England and Scotland.

     In last month’s blog, I wrote of the three stages of spiritual development, based on the writings of Friedrich von Hügel and Gerard Hughes. Both authors write of the importance in our spiritual institutions of a mystical element, corresponding to the adult stage of human development—Stage 3.  By this time in our lives we’ve experienced life’s pains and contradictions, and easy answers don’t fit anymore.

     Stage 3 challenges our Reality that living only by our intellects offer, which Evelyn Underhill says, provides “none of the peculiar qualities of life … but only a ‘practical simplification of reality’ made by that well-trained sorting machine in the interests of our daily needs” (Note 1, pg. 17).

And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself? Rumi

     I began life as a Catholic, denounced it at age 13, joined the Jesus Movement in my late teens, and stayed with it even as it morphed into patriarchal authoritarianism under the cover of evangelicalism. And then more than 25 years ago, my faith shifted, most evident when I moved with my family to Peshawar, Pakistan, to work with Afghan refugees. Not having read von Hügel or Hughes, I didn’t know I had moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3. Nothing made any sense. My prayers bounced off the ceiling—if they went that far. Not knowing what was happening, I worked harder at my evangelical spiritual disciplines to no avail. I attributed it to culture shock, but three years later I could no longer use that excuse.

     My husband also was experiencing spiritual angst. Fortunately, we were in contact with Ray, a wonderful British pastor. While visiting him in the States, he handed us two publishers’ catalogs of the world’s great mystics. As in all such catalogs, included with the small picture of each publication was a two-to-three sentence description of the books’ contents. His advice to us?

     “Take these catalogs. Just read the book descriptions slowly. When something resonates within you, stop. Read it over several times, and ponder just those sentences.”

     And while we both included meditation in our spiritual practices, we were unversed in the mystics.

     Within a few days of our meeting with Ray, we returned to Peshawar.  We had an unexpected layover in Lahore, Pakistan, where the Catholic Archdiocese included a bookstore. By that time, the blurbs on John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul had grabbed my attention.

     I found a lifeline in that bookstore of predominately Urdu language books: an English version of My Only Friend is Darkness. Living the Night of Faith with St. John of the Cross, by Barbara Dent.

     Stage 3 life includes what Underhill calls the push within our psyches for the transcendent, for a connection with something more than our material world. Contrasting von Hügel’s Stage 2 with its “crystalizing tendencies of thought”, she says this of mystics:

      “Only by direct contact with life in its wholeness can we hope to discern its drift, to feel the pulsations of its mighty rhythm; and this we can never contrive save by the help of those who by loyal service and ever-renewed effort have vanquished the crystallizing tendencies of thought and attained an immediate if imperfect communion with Reality—‘that race of divine men who through a more excellent power and with piercing eyes acutely perceive the supernal light’—the artists, the poets, the prophets, the seers; the happy owners of unspoilt perceptions; the possessors of that ‘intuition’ which alone is able to touch upon absolute things. Thanks to their disinterested attitude toward life . . . these do not wear the mental blinkers which keep the attention of the average man focused on one narrow, useful path” (Note 1, pg. 17-18).

Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.
― Meister Eckhart

     John’s dark nights were my introduction into the mystical element that became my structure to support my Stage 3 life: “The land of the spirit is a land without ways,” says John of the Cross. Over time, as I continually found myself returning to and sinking into this lifeline, the transcendent began to penetrate my protective ego.

     Definitions abound, and while Eerdmans’ Handbook to The World’s Religions has no definition for mystical, it includes these:

Mystic: One who seeks direct personal experience of the divine. He [sic] may use prayer, meditation or various ascetic practices to concentrate his [sic] experience.

Mysticism: The search for direct personal experience of the divine. There is a distinction between seeing mysticism as leading to identification with God (as is common in Hinduism) and as leading to a union with God’s love and will (as in Islam, Judaism and Christianity).

     All major world religions encourage their adherents to develop a mystical component in their spiritual disciplines.

We should pay attention to such a point that we no longer have the choice.
Simone WeilGravity and Grace

     Is there an opposite to mysticism? I am crudely summarizing, but Iris Murdoch juxtaposes mysticism with practical reason, the latter emphasizing rationality, and through the use of our will, choosing duty—primarily an outward pressure. Mysticism consists of vision, gazing, and attention to our inner lives, with its emphases on waiting and attention. Simone Weil, a religiously unaligned mystic, says, “We should pay attention to such a point that we no longer have the choice” (Note 3, page 159).  

     The first step, therefore, as you enter Stage 3, is to grow in awareness and consciousness of the undercurrents of your psyche, or your spirit—however you prefer to name that great current of life that flows within you, that bubbles up, that’s capable of sensing the Divine, that breaks through our ego, through our focus on the “one narrow, useful path.”

     Of course it isn’t an either/or situation but and/both. I will choose to stay faithful to my familial commitments. But Western religions tend to emphasize duty over paying attention to our inner lives.

     Thomas Moore says mysticism “involves a constructive loss of self and a feeling of being connected to the whole.” And while a consistent loss of ego and absorption with the divine may not be your regular experience, he says anyone can be an ordinary mystic. That was my Isle of Skye experience: A sense of unity when I felt connected to something so much greater than myself. Moore calls it a “moment of bliss”—such as what you may experience in parenting, gardening, artwork, music, yoga, or nature. He says to take these moments and “weave into your thinking, feeling, and relating so they become part of your life and your identity” (Note 4, pages 41-42). We need this weaving to navigate the waters of Stage 3. I experience moments of bliss in nature—and in baltering with my husband on the dance floor to fun music (balter: to dance with minimal skill but with great joy and enthusiasm).

     Mysticism includes an ethical component. After all, if you are experiencing one with all creation, you would feel the pain and suffering due to injustices inflicted on not just humanity, but also on our planet’s animal and plant kingdoms. Based on one’s personality, abilities, and inclinations, the trajectory of your ethical component is determined by paying attention to where your energy goes, your emotions—in short, what grabs your attention. What values and subsequent choices will guide you in this next stage of your life?

I perceived the universe as in some way conscious.  ―Karen Armstrong

Contemporary spiritual author Karen Armstrong says:

     “Mysticism is one such spirituality, found in all religions and is a startling example of this deep unity of the religious vision. Mystics often have different beliefs which inevitably affect their experience. They will describe their interior journeys in terms of the orthodox traditions of their faith: Jews, Christians and Muslims, for example, believe in a personal God while Buddhists feel that this is an unreligious idea and prefer to speak of an ultimate but indescribable Reality.

     But the actual experience of all mystics is strikingly similar: all encounter a reality in the depths of the self, which is, paradoxically, Other and irrevocable separate from us. All emphasize that this ultimate reality, which gives meaning and value to human life, is ineffable, transcending our limited words and concepts. . . . They feel that they have transcended the confines of their limited and isolated egos and also feel that they have been somehow absorbed into the ultimate truth and are at one with the world.” (Note 5).

     If you feel the pull of Stage 3, seek out what these insightful authors have to say about this instinctual need for the transcendent in your life. Don’t push it away, but welcome it as “normal.” Mindfully sit with anything that resonates with you. And if necessary, pick up a publisher’s catalog!


Notes & Sources:

1. Underhill, Evelyn. The Mystic Way, Ariel Press. 1992. First published in 1913, it remains a central authority in the role of mysticism in Christian life.

2. Eerdmans’ Handbook to the World’s Religions. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1982. Page 417.

3. Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics. Writings on Philosophy and Literature. Penguin Books. 1997.

4. Moore, Thomas. A Religion of One’s Own. Gotham Books. 2014.

5. Armstrong, Karen. The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century. Kyle Cathie. 1991.


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

When the Path Dries Up ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA

When the Path Dries Up
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Why does it happen that sometimes one’s church/spiritual home/path doesn’t fit anymore? Self-blame is a first reaction when the path dries up: “What am I doing wrong? What do I need to do get things back to where they were?”

You work harder at whatever your spiritual practice is. You read more books, go to more conferences.

But in many cases, you’re just growing up and your chosen spiritual institution won’t let you.

I dwelt in the land of spiritual conundrums while living in Islamabad, Pakistan, about 20 years ago. In those days, English-speaking counselors were as rare as finding gold in my backyard, books ordered through the mail from the United States to Pakistan rarely arrived, and it would be years before Google answered questions.

Islamabad’s Our Lady of Fatima Church ministered to the Catholic population and had a library that carried English-language books. Although the French-speaking priest serving the oppressed Pakistani population had scarce time for what he saw as a privileged, white, middle-class American woman—and I understood this—he had limited time and limited resources—he didn’t forbid me the use of the Church library even though I was not a Catholic.

Hence I came upon, in Fatima’s dusty library of a select few English books, guarded by that stern, elderly French priest, God of Surprises, authored by Gerard W. Hughes (Note 1).

Catch the irony there?

And surprised I was, as Hughes nailed it for me.

Hughes draws his ideas from the writings of Friedrich Von Hügel, in his The Mystical Element in Religion.

Von Hügel develops his work from the three main stages of human development—infancy, adolescence, and adulthood—outlining the principal needs and activities which characterize each stage. He believes all religions must tend to and consider the needs and activities of each stage: an institutional element corresponding to infancy; a critical element corresponding to adolescence; and a mystical element corresponding to adulthood (Note 2).

Von Hügel says there is a constant threat that one element will be emphasized to the exclusion of the other two, or two will be stressed to the omission of the third, thus stifling the religious development of its adherents. Hughes writes from a Roman Catholic perspective, but extrapolates his findings to all Churches, whereas von Hügel says this is true for all religions.

While the needs and activities continue throughout each stage, they should cease to be predominant if we are to continue into the next stage of spiritual development.

Stage 1: Infancy, an Institutional Element

When I discovered Hughes, I had been immersed in Christian evangelicalism and was versed in its institutional tenants and moral imperatives. My journey into this faith began with my rejection of Roman Catholicism at the age of 13, continued into my late teens when I joined the Jesus Movement, and ended with non-denominational Protestantism in my early 20s.

Following von Hügel’s pattern, upon entering this religious vein—and coming from a Catholic background unfamiliar with Protestant dogma—this church versed me in the institutional element, my “baby” steps: “This is what we believe and why; this is how it is manifested in one’s life.” It’s like little children learning from their adult caretakers.

Stage 2: Adolescence, a Critical Element

But when I moved into an adolescent stage of my faith—just as in human development—I began my questing. Why, when Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Give up all your wealth and follow me,” was that an unpreached sermon? Why do we so senselessly destroy God’s creation in our consumer-oriented society? Why do only men get to sit in the big chairs up on the altar? Why does this church only have men as elders and pastors? What is meant by the word “soul?”

And while I was a leader in my profession—I was elected president of the state chapter of a national construction association—I couldn’t be a leader in my church. Consequently, I had a disconnect between the male-centered, consumeristic teachings of the Church and my everyday experience. Women could lead governments but couldn’t lead in the church. Christ led a life where “he had no place to lay his head” but that wasn’t modeled by Church leaders.

Hughes says that,

“A Church isolated from our human experience can only survive as long as it can succeed in forbidding its adherents to ask questions and think for themselves. It must lay heavy emphasis on the importance of obedience to religious authority, obedience being understood as unquestioning acceptance of whatever is presented by the teaching authority, and by making it sinful for its members to criticize, or to read or listen to anyone who may propose any contrary teaching (emphasis added) …. If the critical element is not fostered, Christians will remain infantile in their religious belief and practice, which will have little or no relation to everyday life and behavior” (page 17).

Around the topic of women in leadership, the Church leaders barely tolerated my questioning. I was told that I had to “speak nicer if I wanted the [all-male] church leaders to listen to me”—which I never did achieve. The counseling pastor called me “ornery”—i.e., “ugly and unpleasant”—as he shooed me out of his office (Note 3). He expected a Stage 1 response from me: “…unquestioning acceptance of whatever is presented by the teaching authority,” making it “sinful” for me to criticize or question the teaching authority. Time ran out for any further discussions with this pastor; I was returning to Pakistan. Although not familiar with Hughes’ book at that time, I did have enough sense to withdraw my membership.

But reading Hughes later on handed me an “ah-ha!!” moment, the lightning bolt hit: My church had fostered an infantile spirituality. And in the process, it became irrelevant to my everyday life.

And as von Hügel says, all religions have this tendency. While living in Indonesia, the stricter Islamic clerics issued a fatwa (religious edict) forbidding all Indonesian Muslims from practicing yoga, saying it would lead them astray from their true faith (Note 4).

Stage 3: Adulthood, a Mystical Element

By the time I discovered Hughes, I had been a global citizen for years, living and working alongside people from all religions, cultures, and countries. I encountered life’s mysteries in myself and in my world, primarily through suffering. My suppressed inner life bubbled out all over. I related to earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. I had spent years dwelling in John of the Cross’ via negative, the way of darkness, and following and knowing the Divine in that darkness. Through quantum mechanics, I became aware of an interconnected world, one with potentialities and possibilities—at least at a subatomic level, and no one knows how that plays itself out on a macro level.

Life was full of enigmas and mysteries within myself, others, and in the cosmos. I studied models and metaphors of God, how God is referred to Biblically as a mother hen, a suffering servant, a woman looking for a lost coin. But I’d walk into Churches and hear the Divine spoken of with certainty and exclusively as “He, Father, King, and Lord,” and “this is what He wants you to do.” I’d cringe at this idolatry and make good my escape.

And what is “mystical?” I’ll discuss that further in next month’s blog, but suffice it to say it includes vision, gazing, and attention to our inner lives.

If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.

Simone Weil, French philosopher, mystic, political activist and author

In adulthood, if we allow ourselves, scary stuff can arise from within, from “an examined life.” What arises doesn’t fit into a tidy, enclosed, and infantile institutional box. But this inner space is where we encounter our deepest selves, this is where we connect to and unite with Ultimate Reality/Divinity, however we define it. We welcome our inner life into our consciousness. People House believes that, “Developing our ability to be conscious is the key to an increasingly meaningful life.”

Based on von Hügel’s analysis, what has been your own experience of a spiritual institution? Has any one or two elements dominated to the omission of the other one? Does it help you understand how hostilities and divisions develop between various institutions?


Notes & Sources:

1.) Hughes, Gerard W. God of Surprises. Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd. London. 1985.

2.) Note these are MAIN stages; these three stages are broken down by various human development experts into further categories.

3.) I found out many years later from an elder serving at that time that the male church leaders had assigned one of its pastors to scholarly research the role of women in the church. This pastor concluded, that from a Biblical point of view, evidence supported both sides: installing women as church leaders and not installing women as church leaders. The male leadership decided to maintain the status quo of no women in church leadership. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: “The truth is that male religious leaders have had–and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter” (emphasis added). I was so deceived; I thought these leaders were truth seekers!

4.) http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1874651,00.html


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

 

 

Lughnasadh: Harmonizing with Mother ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

August 1, 2018
Lughnasadh: Harmonizing with Mother
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

“Where are all the elephant carcasses?” wondered mystified conservationists managing Sri Lanka’s coastal wildlife preserves.

The 9.1 magnitude undersea earthquake of December 26, 2004, set off a series of tsunamis along the coasts of countries bordering the Indian Ocean. About 280,000 people died or went missing in 14 countries, and waves up to 100 feet high swamped coastal communities. Indonesia was hit the hardest, following by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the time, along with my husband and 15-year-old son. The epicenter was off the coast of Aceh, Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, located 1,500 miles northwest of Jakarta. It’s estimated that up to 220,000 Indonesians lost their lives or went missing.

Like the seas, my soul roiled in anger at this revelation of fleeing animals: Anger at how clouded humanity’s mind has become. Anger at how we’ve bathed ourselves in hubris, so confident in humanity’s ability to rise above nature, to conquer it, to force it to our will. Anger for all the tied up and penned in domesticated animals who panicked with fear and couldn’t flee. Anger at our leaders: the scientists, monotheistic religious leaders, economists, politicians, and educators who shame indigenous groups who practice a different form of spirituality, those who still have eyes to see Divinity in nature (note 1).

And anger at how we talk about “dumb animals”, meaning of course, anything who isn’t of the human species. But yet who went running out into the receding seas, gathering up “God’s abundance” in the millions of stranded and flopping fish, only to then be swept out to their watery graves by the next 50-foot wave? It wasn’t the flamingos, they had long ago flew the coop to higher trees.

It was humanity.

Not the smartest beasts in the room

Survivors spoke of how their dogs refused their routine morning walks on the beach, and how elephants trumpeted in fear when their handlers pushed them toward the dangerous beaches.

The tsunamis hit after the earthquake. In Aceh, humans had 15-20 minutes to grow in awareness. The “dumb animals” sensed the change and responded. And, OK, so we’ve lost our sense of interconnection with our planet and its energies, but at least we could have recognized we weren’t the smartest beasts in the room.

Fortunately, lone human voices still cry out in the wilderness, brave souls willing to buck the status quo. Sensitive to their own needs for interconnection with forces greater than our accepted religious, cultural, and political institutions, these creative and courageous individuals still cry out, “Wait! The Emperor has no clothes on!”

Terryl Warnock joins those voices in her book, Miracle du jour, inspiring her readers to become a part of the enchanted world rather than a part from it (note 2).

Lughnasadh: It’s all about the light

The Northern Hemisphere harvest calendar traditionally places Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sa) on August 1 or 2. But Terryl, grown sensitive to the energies present in nature around her, celebrates the sacred day by an easily missed and subtle seasonal change.

“Lugh is the god of light, skilled in all the arts, and taken as sacred from ancient Celtic religious traditions by contemporary pagans. It’s all about the light,” she says.

Terryl, a contemporary, solitary pagan/witch, celebrates “Lughnasadh when the light of the high summer sun—acute, blue-white, and unforgiving—first blunts itself, ever so slightly, against the oncoming fall season. The light of day begins to soften. The punishing Summer Solstice warrior sun begins to age and mellow a little. The Great Goddess, His mate, is heavy and gravid, brought to term and ready to be delivered of Her abundance. The goldening of the light brings with it feelings of plenty and satisfaction.

“Lughnasadh is the first of three autumn harvest festivals for pagan folk. It tends to be a particularly light-hearted celebration, even by the standards of today’s conspicuously light-hearted pagan religious observances. It is harvest, but it is first harvest, skimming the cream and taking the first cutting.

“Lughnasadh feels like the last, sacred summer weekend to goof off. The capital-H Harvest draws nigh and as the days get shorter and the light more golden, the heavier work of Harvest approaches. Although few of us now live in cadence with the agricultural cycle, fall is still a busy time of year for most: the kids have to get back to school, houses and vehicles must be winterized, there’s canning and filling the freezer to be done and, of course, the holiday season is now unavoidably out there on the horizon. It’s time to start getting in and putting by for winter but, for this blessed moment of first awareness it’s still summer, and still too hot to work very hard. In ancient times people harvested the first cutting at this time and baked special braided loaves of bread with it to celebrate. In this spirit Lughnasadh is also known as Lammas, festival of loaves, and witches more poetic than I have called this sacred time ‘yeasty’ (note 3).

“But I am yeast-impaired in this lifetime. You could build a house with my loaves. So the ritual meal for my Lughnasadh celebration is a stew of freshly-harvested and roasted green chili with homemade tortillas.

“Traditional Lughnasadh celebrations also involve weaving corn and wheat into Goddess symbols, such as dollies, little corn dolls made out of husks and tied with wheat stalks. It is also a time to be exuberantly physical. We can feel the arc of the zenith. We are ‘unbearably animated’ in our bodies as in our lives, as we hike a mountain or take a nice, long bike ride (note 4). The funereal aspect of Lughnasadh is the knowledge, for certain now, that these glorious long summer days are numbered as the sun god marches inexorably to His inevitable winter death and resurrection.

“My father, who was more pagan than he knew, always started saying ‘we’d best get to work on our wood pile for the winter’ at about this time of year. It was too hot to do the seriously heavy work of wood gathering, though, so we’d take a family picnic to go scouting, as he called it. We’d break a couple of hatchet handles trying to throw them and stick them in stumps, plink a few tin cans with the .22 (cleaning up the woods scrounging trash for our targets), and see who could get to the top of the ridge first to get the best vantage. As a token effort, we’d chunk a piece of firewood or three in the bed of the truck. We were out there to play and to enjoy life for its own sake.

“Harvest, even detached from agricultural cycles, offers all of us the opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty in our lives. It is a time to feel our riches, to enjoy them, to celebrate where and how our lives are whole, to look at what we have, rather than to yearn after what we lack,” concluded Terryl.

The stream of life that dances in rhythmic measures

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and
of death, in ebb and flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this morning (note 5).

These days, I’m not near so angry, but sorrowful. I mourn the loss of species, fauna and flora, as well as humanity’s loss of intuitive ecological interconnectedness. We’re reaping what we’ve sown. We pump a stream of violence into our culture as we poison our land, our waterways, and our air. Our bodies then carry this violence within them as we commit violence against each other.

But we can return. Mindfulness practices can move us into an awareness of that stream of life surging through Mother Nature. We become conscious of the rhythms of life, of that powerful energy that drove the elephants up to the hills.

This Lughnasadh, watch for that “subtle change in light.”

And to my friends in the Southern Hemisphere—Happy Imbolc!

______

Notes & Sources:

1.) I am simplistically dividing spirituality into two groups: those whose view of god emphasizes the immanence of divinity—the closeness of divinity that is within creation—vs. the transcendent idea, which emphasizes divinity outside of humanity, watching over us. Again, our cultural institutions push us into an untenable either/or position, when in reality, it’s and/both. For example, I feel a deep, intuitive connection with the natural world. This same energy/spirit flows through the universe, and so I intuit my connection with all that is and I know that at a deep level within my soul.

2.) Terryl Warnock, author of The Miracle du jour, MoonLit Press, LLC. Published Summer Solstice 2017. For more on Terryl, see my June blog

3.) https://marcietelander.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/celebrating-the-very-first-harvest-and-lughnasad/

4.) Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess. Emma Restall Orr writes that the Summer Solstice has deepened our understanding of power and how we might access it. The cross-quarter day of Lughnasadh, between high summer and the red skies of autumn, asks what we will do with it.

5.) Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, No. 69

_______

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Fruits of the Spirit || Lora Cheadle

Fruits of the Spirit

By Lora Cheadle

Ingredients for a Happy Life

I’ve noticed a lot of relationship stuff on Facebook lately. Many of my friends are celebrating anniversaries, several friend’s kids have gotten engaged, and there are always a multitude of articles such as: making others fall madly in love with you, what women are biologically programmed to find attractive in a mate and what all men wish women knew.

Then there was the post from The Onion that my son recently shared. It was entitled, “Study Finds Not Acting Like Total F*&%ing Moron Most Attractive Quality in Potential Mate.” Although the article was satire, it actually made a very important point, which you don’t even need to read the article in order to benefit from. And that is, don’t act like a jerk.

Everyone has Troubles, the Difference is how we Respond to Trouble

Life is hard. For all of us. Nobody goes through live unscathed, no matter what they may say and no matter what you may think. Everyone experiences loss, heart break, devastation, sadness, depression and pain. True, some may seem to have more or less than others, but really, it’s about the same. Everyone experiences hardship. The difference is how we handle that difficulty.

Being Positive For Ourselves

Most people are resilient and most of us like to feel good, so we go ahead and act happy, even when we aren’t. Not to lie, or to put on a false front, but simply so we can feel as good as possible. Because feeling good feels better than feeling bad. So, for whatever period of time that we are out in public, we put on a happy front, and quite often, because of the happy front we’ve put on, we actually feel happier.

Not Burdening Others

Sometimes we also feign happiness for others. There are many situations where it’s not appropriate to say what’s really going on in our lives. For better or for worse, there are things that we just don’t say, and there are things we just don’t want to hear from others.

How would we react if our favorite barista told us that she’s super tired because her husband got drunk last night and woke her up at two in the morning to fight about their credit card bill, which was too high to pay off? What if a co-worker said she was sorry to be so out of sorts, but that she hadn’t felt loved in years, and that the emptiness of a bad marriage sometimes really got her down. What if the checker at the grocery store shared that his grandma is battling cancer and that his ex-wife was bipolar and he is scared to leave the kids with her more often than he was comfortable with because his grandma needed so much help?

In some sense it could be a relief to hear that others had problems too, and it might make us more compassionate, but in another sense, it could unduly burden us. We might think, “What, so now I’m supposed to be late because you can’t get it together?” or “What am I supposed to do with that? Am I supposed to help, offer advice, give you the day off? What do I do now?” Which is why culturally, we just don’t air our dirty laundry!

Everyone Hurts, All the Time

Just because we don’t share our problems, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We aren’t the only ones with problems and we aren’t the only ones digging deep, putting on a pleasant face and going on with our day to the best of our ability. Everyone else is too.

Which brings us to The Onion article that my son posted on Facebook. The most attractive quality in anyone, not just a potential mate, is not acting like an idiot. Treating everyone with respect, kindness, and with the assumption that everyone is fighting some kind of battle.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a relationship we are talking about either. Whether it’s a long term one or just a fleeting interaction in public, the only thing that matters is how kind we are to each other.

The Common Denominator is Kindness

When I started thinking about my relationships, and what I wanted out of those relationships, I started off with longer lists of qualities. I want friends who are humorous and supportive, who are open minded and loving, but very quickly I saw that those qualities are actually fairly superficial. Yes, I want a partner who is humorous, but I also want one who is serious. I want friends who are supportive but I also need friends who give me my space. Yes, I strongly prefer those who are open minded, but I also deeply appreciate those who have strong beliefs. The common denominator to any of my desired qualities is kindness.

If someone is serious or funny, I want them to be kind with their words. If someone is supportive or aloof, I want them to do it with kindness and gentleness. If someone is committed to their beliefs or open to a multitude of new ideas, as long as they go about it in a kind and gentle way, I’m perfectly fine with whatever they think.

It made me see that living a beautiful, joyful, peaceful life really isn’t that hard. All we have to do is be gentle and kind. To understand that suffering is a universal human quality, and that everyone suffers is all we need to know. To know that it is not our job to change or alleviate this suffering is also helpful. We don’t have to have solutions. We don’t have to find the answer. Literally, all we have to do is be kind and gentle to everyone around us. That’s all.

It reminded me of a wall hanging that a friend gave me when I got married, that was taken from Galatians 5:22-23. It was a row of apothecary jars labeled with the fruits of the spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I always thought of it as the Ingredients for a Happy Life, and although I have failed to use those ingredients, those ingredients have never failed me. Pretty simple recipe, if only we remember to use the right ingredients!


To read more of Lora’s writing, visit her website.

About the Author: Not sure what lights your fire, or do you know exactly what lights your fire, but you keep spinning your wheels? Either way, Lora’s got you covered! Whether it’s through an Angel Reading or through hypnotherapy, where the subconscious mind is brought on board with the conscious mind, working with Lora reveals your divine path and gets you chugging down the road in no time. As a former lawyer, (She knows firsthand the courage it takes to following a new path!) Lora is very straight forward and process- oriented, using modalities that that yield results. No crystal balls or goddess robes here!

Why “Living in the Moment” Doesn’t Always Work || Lora Cheadle

Why “Living in the Moment” Doesn’t Always Work

By: Lora Cheadle

I was in the lobby of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan when the secret of life was revealed to me.

Contrary to what I’d been told, happiness, peace and prosperity did not come from living in the present. Happiness, peace and prosperity came from leaving the present moment, constantly shifting between the past and the future.

My chronic obsession with being present for everyone and everything in life had actually created a bigger issue, and as a consequence, I was even less present than I was before I became mindful. My over-presence resulted in a severe lack of presence.

Connecting to the Past and the Future

This sudden shift in perspective was due to a trompe d ‘oil (trick of the eye) mural on the Rockefeller Center ceiling by Jose Maria Sert, entitled Time. The key figure in this mural straddled a wide gulf with a heavy yoke over his neck. One foot on a pillar representing the past and one foot on a pillar representing the future, with the man perpetually balancing in the present.

The remarkable feature of this mural was that the man appeared to move as the viewer moved below him. When standing to the left of the man, he appeared to be looking to the future, his weight rooted firmly on his left leg, on the pillar representing the past. Moving towards the center, present point, his weight appeared to be evenly balanced on both pillars, poised between past and future. Moving to the right, the man began shifting his weight and his gaze, once again looking to the future and shifting his weight to his other leg, which, from this vantage point, was now in the past.

Walking back and forth under this mural two things became apparent. First, in order to stay perfectly balanced in the present moment, there can be no movement. Second, the crushing weight of the present moment was too heavy, even for this strong man, to hold up without the constant shifting of his weight. His movement was what gave him strength, flexibility and resiliency. He would not have survived rooted in the present.

The Fallacy that “Staying Present” Leads to Peace

This got me thinking about the push to live in the present moment, and how we might be taking that all wrong. Single-cell organisms live in the present moment. I’m pretty sure my dogs and cats spend quite a bit of time in the present moment. Babies and children spend much time in living in the present moment, but as they develop, they begin moving outside the present moment. The greater the level of intelligence, the greater the ability to move outside of the present moment, to reflect upon the past and to plan for the future. It is the ability to escape the ever-present present moment, that leads to happier, more productive and more peaceful lives. Not simply being present.

I once heard a former prisoner of war speak.

Despite spending seven years in captivity, he was able to survive and eventually thrive, in part, based on his ability to continually shift between the past and the future in order to create a tolerable presence. I navigated natural childbirth based on my ability to shift between the past and the future, only touching down in the present moment momentarily.

Even in ordinary, everyday situations, my ability to continually shift forward and backwards over the present moment gives my life peace, meaning and continuity. Otherwise, like the amoeba, my life sometimes feels like nothing but a perpetual string of frustratingly disconnected present moments. My ability to escape the present, to continuously integrate the past and plan for the future, provides depth and richness, bringing me happiness, success and peace.

Attending my children’s school concerts, I move briefly into the future, mentally planning a quick store run in preparation for dinner. This makes my future more efficient and enjoyable. Flashing back to memories of my own high school concerts brings on a flood of warm memories, making my present more enjoyable and meaningful. I am present, listening to the music, watching my children, but I’m also teetering between past and future, using both to navigate and enrich my present.

Disconnecting from the Present Moment Preserves Sanity

For me, my problem is not my failure to stay present. The problem is my chronic obsession with being present for everyone everything in my life. My problem is my over presence.

Like most Americans, I am constantly bombarded with multiple texts, calls and people. With two children, four animals, a spouse, multiple friends and family members, as well as clients and coworkers, staying present is sometimes crushing. Staying present requires me to be in multiple places at once, which I cannot do. Nothing remains sacred. Life becomes a string of present moments where nothing gets accomplished, nothing is enjoyed and frustration and inefficiencies mount.

The crushing weight of being present for everything that life throws at me, in the exact moment that it happens, means I’m stuck standing still. Like the man in the painting, I get crushed by a burden that I cannot hold.

I stand there stoically and attentively, but no matter how present I am, I cannot answer incoming calls at the same time I am texting replies. I cannot check my Facebook messages at the same time I’m viewing a Snap Chat. I cannot listen to one child’s stories about the day and help the other one with homework. I cannot pet the dogs while feeding the cat.

Mindfully Unmindful

In order to stay sane, happy and productive, I need to escape from the ever-present present moment. I need to move between the past and the future, constantly shifting between them in order to make the present do-able.

For me, the secret of perpetual peace and happiness does not lie in living in the present moment. The secret of perpetual peace and happiness lies in my ability to straddle both the past and the present, continually shifting my weight between the two. Like Time, staying locked in the present moment is too much for me to hold. I remember my past. I look forward to my future, and I bring both of them with me wherever I go, using them both to organize and enjoy my time in the ever-present present.


To read more of Lora’s writing, visit her website.

About the Author: Not sure what lights your fire, or do you know exactly what lights your fire, but you keep spinning your wheels? Either way, Lora’s got you covered! Whether it’s through an Angel Reading or through hypnotherapy, where the subconscious mind is brought on board with the conscious mind, working with Lora reveals your divine path and gets you chugging down the road in no time. As a former lawyer, (She knows firsthand the courage it takes to following a new path!) Lora is very straight forward and process- oriented, using modalities that that yield results. No crystal balls or goddess robes here!

Avoid Empathy Burnout through Compassion || Mary Coday Edwards

Avoid Empathy Burnout through Compassion

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

January 17, 2017

2017 brings a new year, a new start, and for many, new resolutions.

This blog on compassion completes my three-part series from the 2016 International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS; Note 1), hosted by the Mind & Life Institute (Note 2) which I attended in November.

The two previous blogs focused on staying true to yourself but yet extending loving kindness and practicing genuine concern for another’s wellbeing.

COMPASSION VS. EMPATHY – AND A HOWLING CHAIN SAW

In keeping with Mind & Life’s mission to integrate science with contemplative practices, Geshe Thupten JInpa of McGill University spoke on “Understanding the Psychology Behind Compassion Meditation.”

Compassion is a natural sense of concern that arises within us when confronted with another’s suffering and then feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.

It’s comprised of three parts: first there’s the understanding that someone IS suffering; second, we feel an emotional connection; and third, we are motivated to see the suffering relieved. And this third piece of “doing” includes the prayerful act of practicing lovingkindness toward another, of wishing the other well by connecting spiritually to our common humanity.

A significant difference between empathy and compassion is that third bit:  empathy takes us to the place where we enter emotionally into someone else’s suffering; we focus on the problem and the experience of it. If we stay in this emotional swirl, we can easily shift into “empathy burnout”.

We manifest compassion, however, when motivated to relieve that suffering; it takes on an ethical quality – a way of being.

A solution to the personal distress of empathy burnout is to shift empathy to compassion. Empathy can take a form of “feeling for” vs. the “feeling with” of compassion. 

For example, I suffered when I heard chain saws whining away in the forests in the dead of night in the poverty-ridden countries in which I’ve ived. Instead of cutting myself off from the excruciating emotional pain of an ecosystem killed and stolen, I can train my mind to move beyond my emotions to a more empowered state of “what can I do to halt illegal logging?”

And perhaps to consider the pain of poverty driving the howling chain saw.

IT CAN BE ENOUGH: THE INTENTION TO BE OPEN TO THE FIELD OF LOVE

And if because of our own pain and hurt, we cannot move into compassion, the INTENT can be enough.

Associate Professor at Claremont School of Theology Andrew Dreitcer spoke on “Practicing the Presence of Compassion: Contemplative Christian Traditions.”

Using a thousand-year-old Christian early morning practice, he led us in a process of INTENTION to be open;  i.e., when we are not capable of compassion, but we truly desire to be available to the presence of love, for ourselves and others.

First centering ourselves, he asked us to seek within us for just one word that could focus us on the intention to be open.

That word – our mantra – was then the focus of our meditation for the next 20 minutes, the idea being that then throughout the day when anger or fury arose and compassion for our fellow human beings was nowhere to be found, we could return to this word with the intent to extend compassion.

I find this process very hopeful – and helpful. Instead of throwing myself on the rocks for my lack of compassion, I can at least stay in this space of intent, knowing it is an ancient monastic tradition where it just might lead me into a “connection with an eternal, loving presence,” as Andrew called it. 

All of this is to say we CAN train in compassion. We train in order to RELEARN to relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us from a place of understanding and compassion rather than from excessive judgment.

It doesn’t happen overnight. But by me even saying I have an iota of intent, I can learn to catch myself, and perhaps begin to move into a wider place of genuine compassion – living in peace not just with others but also with myself.

_______                                                                              

Notes & Sources:

1.) ISCS “brings together scientists, scholars, artists and contemplatives to explore distinct though overlapping fields of research and scholarship, using a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to advance our understanding of the human mind.” This symposium hosted about 1,200 attendees.

2.) The mission of the Mind & Life Institute is to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing by integrating science with contemplative practice and wisdom traditions. https://www.mindandlife.org/mission

________

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

 

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Predestination, Fate and God’s Will vs. Free-Will || Lora Cheadle

Predestination, Fate and God’s Will vs. Free-Will 

By Lora Cheadle

      One of the questions asked by humans throughout time is whether we have free-will and are in control of our own destiny, or if our lives are predestined by some higher authority and we have no choice except to live out what’s been planned for us. Whether we call it fate, God’s will or destiny, the question remains; are we in charge of our own lives?

Regardless of what we believe, when we are faced with challenging situations, or when we have big decisions to make in our lives, we want to feel like we are making the right decision. But maybe our decisions don’t matter all that much? Or maybe they do.

The Free-Will to Make Decisions

When challenges happen, people seek out the guidance of friends, counselors, religious leaders or even psychics or other types of intuitive readers. When we seek the advice of others, we are attempting to gain clarity on the future, learn from the experience of others, figure out what action we should take in the present and reassure ourselves that what we are about to do makes sense to someone besides our self.

As someone who does both Angel Readings as well as more traditional therapy, I have a unique perspective because I get to see the interplay between free-will and predestination. The way I see it, life is a beautiful combination of both free-will and destiny, with some decisions being impactful, some decisions having no bearing on the outcome of a life and some decisions veering us to an alternative, but equally correct, path.

Destiny

Think of predestination like this. Pick a generic story that everyone knows, maybe a fairy tale like The Three Bears. When everyone roughly knows the story line, it is possible for a group of actors to stand up and successfully act out the play. Sure, some things are going to get messed up, the story may go off track for a while, but since everyone knows the story, everyone will work to get it back on track whenever things fall apart.

At the end of the day it won’t matter if Goldilocks sat in the chair first, ate the porridge first or slept in the wrong bed. The story still gets told and everything that was crucial to the story line took place.

If we believe in destiny, or fate, then this is a good way to view our lives. We can think of our life as having a general structure, and we can see how there are a large number of small decisions that that really don’t impact the overall trajectory of our lives. Just like the actors above, We will be nudged back on track whenever we go too far off script.

Free-Will

Think of free-will like this. If you put a group of actors on a stage without a script or a story line, and ask them to act out a story, It will take everyone a while to figure out what is happening. Everyone has to work together until a common theme is established and agreed upon. If one person fails to get on board with the others, his actions alone cause random, unanticipated upheavals leading the story awry and forcing everyone else to adapt.

Whether these adaptations serve to bring the rogue actor back in line in or force the others to create an entirely new story line, at the end of the day, a story is still successfully told. And most importantly, sometimes the most brilliant and beautiful stories are the unanticipated ones, that are created out of something wholly unanticipated and unexpected.

If we believe in free-will, we may have more control over our life in some sense, but we are still subjected to the outside forces of others, and we still made to deal with many unanticipated situations, causing us to sometimes follow paths that are not of our choosing.

The Interplay between Free-Will and Destiny

No matter what we believe, it’s the combination of following the predestined story line and exercising our own free-will that makes life juicy, interesting and fun! Without both free-will and destiny, life is either be too try or too wild. Life is meant to be lived, and it’s the combination of conscious choices and happenstance that makes it worth living!

If we take “Job A” when “Job B” was the predestined better choice, all is not lost, we adapt! We work with each other to get back on track or we create a new and different track that is satisfying to everyone involved, and our story still gets told.

Making wrong decisions happens to everyone, and surprisingly, is not that big of a deal. As long as we stay present and involved, listening to our intuition and staying conscious, we cannot make a mistakes. Sure, our final story may be different than our original story, but whose to say this new conclusion wasn’t the predestined better choice to begin with?

Let Your Intuition be Your Guide

One of the keys to staying conscious is listening to our intuition. Our intuition is like an ever-present narrator, narrating our story, helping us stay on track and nudging us back in the right direction when things get too far off track. Sure, discussing our problems with friends or going to a counselor or intuitive is helpful, but we are all equipped with our own sense of intuition.

Intuitive Readings focus on the energy of a particular person or situation as it stands in the present moment. People incorrectly assume psychic readers are able to “see into the future” or “know” what is going to happen, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! All intuitive readers do is use their intuition to tune into your intuition and to tell you what you are feeling!

Truthfully, I feel like my job as an intuitive as well as a more traditional therapist is ask the right questions and to reflect back to my clients confirm what they already know.

As complicated as it may sound, understanding the interplay of free-will and destiny is pretty simple. Let your internal narrator guide you along, try, listen, feel, remain conscious and reach out for help whenever you need it. But ultimately, trust your own heart and remember that no matter what happens, the story of your life will still reach a successful conclusion, and it doesn’t matter if that conclusion was predetermined or self created.

All you have to do is do what Goldilocks did keep on trying things until you find thing that fit “Just right!”

 


To read more of Lora’s writing, visit her website.

About the Author: Not sure what lights your fire, or do you know exactly what lights your fire, but you keep spinning your wheels? Either way, Lora’s got you covered! Whether it’s through an Angel Reading or through hypnotherapy, where the subconscious mind is brought on board with the conscious mind, working with Lora reveals your divine path and gets you chugging down the road in no time. As a former lawyer, (She knows firsthand the courage it takes to following a new path!) Lora is very straight forward and process- oriented, using modalities that that yield results. No crystal balls or goddess robes here!

Holidays and Grief || Jenny St. Claire

Holidays and Grief by Jenny St. Claire

holidays

Grief is about loss.  Many only associate it with physical death, but it is about anything that feels like an ending.  Several common experiences can be a breakup, the end of health through an illness, or losing a job.  Some unexpected examples of grief can be missing how the holidays were when you were a kid, being so busy you don’t have time to take a breath or the state of national affairs, like an election. Grief can surprise us with its depth, breadth and intensity.  Unfortunately, we Americans have been taught to avoid grief, which leaves us vulnerable because we don’t know what to do with it.

 

What can you do in times like this?  FEEL IT. 

I can hear some people thinking, “Why should I feel it when it hurts so much?  Shouldn’t I just get over it and be positive?”  Too often, we try to get rid of unpleasant feelings, especially during the holidays.  We numb out with delicious desserts, alcohol, TV, movies, surfing the internet or partying.  When you can identify when you’re enjoying yourself vs. avoiding yourself, you’ll gain greater clarity about what you’re doing, and maybe even what you need.  What are your top three numbing techniques? 

 

Recently, I was feeling really grumpy and couldn’t shake it.  I fought it for three days, only growing more and more irritable.  Finally, I surrendered to it, connected with it and asked for some insight.  My heart responded by filling with sorrow and I started to cry as my dog’s face came to mind.  She passed away last year and her one-year death anniversary is coming up.  I’m grieving!  While I didn’t feel good, per se, I at least felt some relief because I finally understood what was going on with me.  I had no idea my grumpiness was covering my sadness, and it was telling me I need to mourn.

 

With my current grief, I know I will make my way through it even though it hurts right now.  If there are any of you who are not so sure you will survive the grief, I encourage you to reach out for support.  Talk to trusted friends or family, call a hotline or therapist, or go to a grief support group.  If you would like some things you can do to help yourself, read on.

 

Connecting with Your Grief

Grief can be informative and transformative.  When you honor grief by being present with it, you may be amazed by what it can offer you.

How can you connect with your grief?  Here are a few ideas:

 

  1. Breathe – 10 slow, deep breaths
  2. Journal on one of these prompts:
    • What’s heavy on my heart is…
    • What I wish I could tell you is…
    • What I miss most is…
    • If I could change something, it would be…
  3. Be in nature – go to a place that calms, moves or connects you
  4. Move your body – walk, yoga, hike, dance
  5. Listen to a song that speaks to your grief

 

Once connected with your grief, let yourself feel.  Let yourself mourn what you have lost.  Let yourself be shaken up so you can let the old go, when you’re ready. 

Allow to rise within you what you need now.  Do you need to open your heart again?  Do you need to take better care of your mind, body and spirit?  Do you need to BE more than you DO?  Do you need to create something?  Do you need to learn to play an instrument?  Do you need to change careers? 

Grief transforms us over time.  Whether we wanted to change or not, we honor ourselves when we can accept what is.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from a book called Honoring Grief by Alexandra Kennedy:

“Our grief wakes us up to life.  We learn to hear the exquisite beauty and sorrow of being fully alive, to savor the simple moments, to cherish what’s here now.  If we can hold ourselves with compassion, we can hold others with compassion.  If we can let ourselves be as we are, we can allow others to be as they are.  We can begin to embrace life as it is in this moment and trust the flow of life as it unfolds.  Then we learn to walk the earth with wonder.” (p. 134)

If you aren’t feeling the warmth, love and connection you desire during the holidays, maybe being present with your grief will carry you there.  Remember this quote and hold yourself with compassion as you’re feeling the aliveness of sorrow.  Let yourself be as you are.  Let yourself receive the love you need…especially from YOU.  Now, more than ever.

Loving Kindness || Mary Coday Edwards

Lovingkindness: It doesn’t mean approval of someone’s actions!

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

November 22, 2016

oving-kindness

November 9 to the 13 found me attending the 2016 International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS; Note 1), hosted by the Mind & Life Institute in San Diego – especially a gift coming on the heels of our pre- and post-election events.

And the holidays are upon us. And there’s Uncle Joe sitting across the table from you, epitomizing everything you disagree with. And you’re committed to bringing about more good in the world vs. more suffering.

Perhaps these conference ruminations will help you stay centered on your core values, as they helped me.

Richard J. Davidson, University of Wisconsin, & Matthieu Ricard, Shechen Monastery, ISCS 2016 Opening Keynote Speakers. Used by permission from Mind & Life Institute

Richard J. Davidson, University of Wisconsin, & Matthieu Ricard, Shechen Monastery, ISCS 2016
Opening Keynote Speakers. Used by permission from Mind & Life Institute

YES – WE CAN TRAIN IN COMPASSION

In his session Sunday morning titled, “Sustainable Compassion Training – Extending-care Mode of Practice,” Boston College Associate Professor John Makransky guided us in a contemplative session designed to enable us to extend loving care to others as an extension of the loving care in which we are held. This process teaches us how to “drop the level of reactivity” into a habit of compassion by finding a field of love and compassion from and in which we are all held (see Note 2 for additional resources).

 

Dr. Makransky led us through the following steps:

1.) Begin with a simple two-to-three minute breathing exercise, paying attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale.

2.) Next, try to recall one simple, loving caring moment: someone laughing with you, rooting for you – in your childhood or a very recent encounter – a memory that makes you happy when you recall it.

3.) Settle on that one such moment – recall the place, how it felt.

4.) Imagine that person is coming to you right now – not a distant memory, but be in that moment now, letting that person commune with you in your deep worth, taking joy in you, wishing you well – relaxing into that felt sense of that moment – beyond superficialities, letting those loving qualities seep into your whole being.

5.) Receive that loving energy into your whole body, into every cell, into your whole heart and mind, every layer of feeling and emotion, every part of you loved; beyond all superficial thoughts and impressions of yourself.

6.) Receive that loving energy so deeply that it can feel natural to let it come through you to those nearby and around you, like a natural impulse. It’s as if your caring figure has been communing with you, not on a superficial level, but deeply, validating your worth and dignity.

7.) Always still receiving, but now let it extend as if through a window pane, from your depths to others, to their dignity, beyond all limiting thoughts and impressions, deeply wishing them well.

8.) In this way, begin to rely on this loving energy which senses more than just limiting impressions, and wishing them DEEPLY well. Learn to trust that power or love more than limiting impressions, to rely on that.

9.) By communing and wishing well in this way, we learn to see others as we are seen, to love others as we are loved, to know others as we are known.

10.) Let this loving energy infuse your whole being – let it relax your heart and mind, let heart and mind fall open, by letting everything be in its natural openness.

I discovered that staying with the memory I evoked in Step 2 and continuing with that imagery did enable me to get beyond superficialities.

Of course, my Uncle Joe wasn’t sitting across from me.

LOVING KINDNESS DOES NOT MEAN APPROVAL

Lovingkindness, compassion, and empathy: words bandied about such that we lose their meanings. I will return to these words in next month’s blog, but some clarity is needed now.

Conference speaker and meditation author and teacher Sharon Salzberg said that lovingkindness derived from the ancient word “metta” and denoted “a heart space of inclusion.”

While it includes “a deep acknowledgement of connection [with someone], it doesn’t mean you like them or approve of them; it doesn’t demand action; it doesn’t mean being sweet, with only a sugary ‘yes’” to that which contradicts who we are.

“Compassion,” she continued, “rests on the shared understanding that we are all quite vulnerable. In life there is nothing we can hold on to” as permanent, all is always changing.

The idea behind these exercises is that I can learn to live with that paradox, of simultaneously being with someone whose actions I don’t approve of but yet extending compassion.  I can gaze upon my Uncle Joe and look deeper into his being, where I find that vulnerability of shared humanity. I may have to leave the table or gently challenge his ideas. All of this creates stress within me, and that’s when I pause, breathe, and ask my higher self what to do next so I don’t contradict who I am.

Much easier said than done, but it is a skill I can practice – for the good of myself and for the good of this cosmic space we dwell in.

Mindfulness is paying attention to your present moment nonjudgmentally, so if you felt an energy shift within you while reading Dr. Makransky’s contemplation exercise, I suggest you print it out and make it part of your daily routine.

_______

Notes:

1.) ISCS “brings together scientists, scholars, artists and contemplatives to explore distinct though overlapping fields of research and scholarship, using a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to advance our understanding of the human mind.” This San Diego symposium hosted about 1,200 attendees.

2.) Additional resources: Foundation for Active Compassion, Transformational Practices for a Better World; http://foundationforactivecompassion.org/; and Courage of Care Coalition; http://courageofcare.org/.

________

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Why Kindness Matters || Dorothy Wallis

Whatever happened to Kindness, Caring and Respect?  Why Kindness Matters

By Dorothy Wallis

kindness

Have you noticed a change in mainstream cultural values regarding the way people treat others?  You may wonder what happened to kindness, caring and respect?  The election campaign has highlighted a growing acceptance of rudeness and disrespectful behavior toward others as being okay.  People are experiencing increasing stress and anxiety as a result.  Have we have forgotten the value of being nice?

 

Self-absorbed 
People seem to be more impatient.  Rushing ahead whether at work, in traffic, or at the grocery store is often the main goal with disregard for one’s fellow companions.  Waiting in line or for any service is seen as an annoyance.  On the highway, people drive as if there is always an emergency.  Cutting in line, swerving between cars, not paying attention when someone is talking, and walking down the street talking loudly on a cell phone glued to one’s ear is actually rude.

Self-Serving
I am all for the freedom of self-expression and following your inner guidance, yet it seems we have misconstrued the authentic expression of our True Self with the high jacked notion that self expression means anything goes and that it is not only acceptable but admirable.  Somehow, we have come to believe that doing whatever serves us in the moment no matter what affect it has on others is a right with an attitude of “I can say anything I want, behave anyway I want, and do whatever I want and you need to accept me this way.”  This is often accompanied by, “If you don’t like it…it’s not that I need to change…you need to work on your issues.”  Yikes…doesn’t that feel yucky?

This entitled self-serving attitude is dismissive and wreaks havoc on relationships and is certainly not a way to win friends or influence people.  It is easy to see that projecting blame, anger and rage onto others does not create friendship nor does it create harmony.  It is also easy to fall into a lack of awareness of others and how your behavior or inattention affects them.  You may brush off being impolite, not saying please or thank-you as inconsequential.  Yet actions such as inconsiderateness, lack of empathy, disrespect, rudeness, insulting and offensive remarks, belittling, gossiping, patronizing, taking advantage of or intimidating people are behaviors that often inflict irreparable harm to others and poison relationships.

Why are we Mean? 
Fear 
In an attempt to protect yourself, your beliefs or to feel safe you may disregard or mistreat others in order to distance yourself from those different than you.  You may retreat into withdrawing your attention or go along with the ego’s belief that the best defense is to be offensive.  Intolerance of other’s views, opinions, religion, way of life, and taking advantage of their vulnerabilities are indicators that you are reacting from a place of fear.

Low Self-Esteem 
A misguided perception is the idea that being rude, demeaning others, retaliating or bullying means you are stronger or better than another.  It is actually a sign of weakness and low regard for oneself.  The level of disrespect you have for others reflects the level of disrespect you have for yourself.  When you diminish others, you diminish yourself.  The way to bolster your self-esteem is through appreciation and consideration of others and taking the moral high ground, which fills you with joyful inner regard and respect.

Going along with the Crowd
The need to belong is strong.  Everyone needs connection and relationships.  Human interaction is required to ensure survival and is necessary to activate brain development.  Socialization is how you learn.  So why would you engage in behaviors that push people away?  Your very need to belong is one reason you may adopt crude behavior and go against what you feel is morally right in order to be accepted in a group.

The influence of the community you live in, the people you work with, your family of origin and your social groups are all powerful forces.  Your actions mirror what you see others do.  As a social creature you tend to adjust your values to the “norm.”  So, what is the current “norm?” Have you noticed more tolerance for bad manners and impolite behavior?  Is it really okay to text at the dinner table, to not listen when someone is talking to you, to gossip, interrupt, disrespect or embarrass someone?  These actions may not seem to have much consequence in the moment yet they create distance and resentment in those at the receiving end of your behavior.  Dis-respecting, dis-approving, dis-empowering, dis-missing, dis-daining, dis-regarding, dis-engaging, dis-couraging, dis-paraging, dis-tancing, dis-crediting, and dis-heartening actions dis-solve connection.

 

When you “Dis” someone, you Breed Contempt and you Lose Relationship

 

You not only lose relationship with others, you separate yourself from your true essence.  Following what the crowd does can be a dangerous mindset.  What seems like harmless misconduct is the seed, which grows into abuse, aggression, hatred, cruelty and violence.  Not only do these behaviors undermine others, they are toxic to the person dispensing them.  Self-loathing, loss of respect, loss of identity, loneliness, lack of love and separation from oneself is often the result.

 

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners, lack of consideration for others in minor matters, a loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
~ Robert A. Heinlein

 

Do you want to experience happiness and make a difference in the world?  Be Kind
Everyone wants to find meaning, to make his or her life matter.  Harmony and peace propagate from everyday actions of caring.  If you genuinely want self-respect, love and connection in your life, kindness is the cure.  Kindness is consideration and concern for others.  It is the act of spontaneous generous goodwill toward your fellow humans and brethren, and toward all of nature’s creatures, including you.  Benevolence comes from the heart.
Remember the popularity of Random Acts of Kindness?  Doing small deeds and acts of kindness is powerful; they promote a sense of deep well-being inside of you as well as others.  The way to inner peace and happiness is through compassionate action.  Generously give praise, use kind words, and acknowledge people.  Be considerate of others beliefs, viewpoints, and differences.  Be present, be patient and listen with curiosity.  Drop the “Dis” and engage, approve, regard, empower and give credit to others.  Cast off your pride and learn about good manners and what behaviors promote great relationships.  You will experience more joy.  Kindness Matters!

Cultivating Gratitude || Bridget Blasius

Cultivating Gratitude

By Bridget Blasius

Retrieved from People House Newsletter

gratitude

As we enter the harvest season, we find ourselves surrounded by reminders to be grateful for the blessings we have in life.  While many of us hold gratitude as an ideal, the pressure of Holiday preparations can leave us feeling overwhelmed.  This can make it difficult to actually enjoy our celebrations.  Sometimes, it seems like the autumn holidays can speed by before we know it.  When we don’t take time to pause, reflect and breathe, we can easily forget what it is that we are supposed to be celebrating!

Some may be wondering how they can pause when there is so much to do.   This is totally understandable.   We are often taught that taking time for self-care is selfish or irresponsible.  This is far from being the case.  When we take care of ourselves, we develop more resiliency to be present for those we love.

Autumn is a season full of rich, sensual pleasures.  How much do we take them in?  To cultivate grateful presence, start by taking a contemplative walk.  Do it slowly.  Notice the blessings offered by nature in the moment.  Feel the crisp winds, and notice the brilliant colors.  Smell the rich earth, as the leaves decay and provide compost for next year’s growth.  Nature is in a constant process of renewal, and so are we.  Every breath is an opportunity to notice the beauty around us.

When was the last time you took home a brilliantly colored leaf, and pressed it in a book?  Small natural objects can provide reminders to stop and reflect.  Consider incorporating leaves into a collage or other form of artwork.  Try doing this with children.  Enjoy their laughter and innocence.  Teach them to never lose sight of this.

Offer service to those around you, but do it joyfully.  If you notice yourself feeling fatigued or anxious, give yourself a break.  Be sure to offer appreciation to yourself for the good work you may be  doing.  It is easier to appreciate others when you realize that you, too, are worthy of love.

Tell yourself this:  It is OK just to be.  Sometimes, we need to do absolutely nothing.  Try sitting on the porch with a warm blanket and a cup of hot tea.  Take a nice, long bath.  As you feel the warm water, take the opportunity to be grateful for your indoor plumbing.  There are so many things that we take for granted.  We may worry that things will not turn out the way we want, in life, yet there are so many things about our lives that are right.  Let us not lose sight of this.

At the same time, let us not dismiss any sufferings we have endured.  Let us offer gratitude to ourselves for our own strength, in getting through them, and gratitude for our loved ones who have supported us along the way.   Send out the intention that all who are suffering may have the same support.  As you do this, you may notice a greater openness, warmth and generosity within yourself.

This is the very soul of autumn, the spirit that inspires our holiday celebrations, which create the memories that keep us warm through the months ahead.  Let us light candles and welcome that spirit into our homes, as we welcome our relatives and friends.  When we truly cultivate this awareness, it ceases to matter whether our pumpkin pies are perfect.  We stop caring whether our houses are totally clean.  Perfection is not what people will remember, about our holiday gatherings.  They will remember love and laughter, which we can only cultivate through presence.  So, let’s take time to be present with ourselves, so that we can be present for those who matter most.

Shame || Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 9

Shame: What’s it all about?

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards.

shame

Shame. Common to the human experience, we’ve all experienced it, at times so excruciatingly painful that we seek desperately a hole to fall into, the proverbial wish for the ground to open up beneath our feet in order that we can hide our shame, or what we are ashamed of.

Shame resilience depends on being able to move through shame experiences with self-compassion (after all, how many perfect people do you know?), authenticity, and courage. Getting there, however, requires mindful discernment between shame and its cousinly emotions: embarrassment, humiliation, and guilt, so some definitions are in order.

Embarrassment is a response to something that threatens the image of ourselves (our persona – see last month’s blog), that we’d like others to believe about us. Sources of embarrassment fluctuate based on situations and who we’re with.

For example, nothing like realizing after you’ve been speaking to someone for 10 minutes that you’ve had a nose hair blowing in the breeze; if our persona’s projection is for perfect hygiene, we’ve obviously fallen below the bar, it’s beneath our projected image. If we can use compassionate self-talk, reminding ourselves that we’re certainly not the first ones to have longish nose hairs peeking out, we can move beyond the experience with humor.

If your mother’s 65 and shows up at your engagement party in a mini-skirt and go-go boots, it may cause embarrassment to you if you think it falls short of a family image of class and sophistication.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

And then there’s humiliation, what we feel as the recipient of a shaming attack by someone else. It consists of an incident that demonstrates a relationship of unequal powers, of experiences of power and powerlessness, where one is in an inferior position and unjustly diminished. Brene Brown uses this example of the difference between shame and humiliation: A teacher is handing back papers and one paper doesn’t have the student’s name on it, and publicly the teacher announces that the student is stupid. With healthy self-talk, the student will be humiliated and embarrassed, but will tell herself, “That is the meanest, most nasty teacher ever. I don’t deserve that.” If the child’s self-talk is, “Ugh. He’s right. I’m so stupid, why do I keep forgetting to put my name on my paper. I’m so stupid.” That’s shame.

“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” Carl Jung

Segueing onto unraveling shame and guilt, the easiest way to remember is the following: Guilt says “I did something bad”; shame harangues us with “I AM bad.”

Guilt focuses on our behavior. Guilt feelings have to do with ethical or moral principles that we believe are necessary to be a “good” person that we have violated: I did something I shouldn’t have, or I didn’t do something that I should have. Generally speaking, guilt can be a positive, healthy response, when it’s used in a manner to correct something that was indeed wrong.

However, often these principles have come down to us through various authorities: our parents, religious leaders, or our teachers. Perhaps they’ve become laws to our consciences, an authority within our psyches and as we age, need to be re-examined to see if these principles translated into values are still serving us.

If rocking the boat was not allowed in any form for a child, then challenging bullies or an abusive status quo can bring about feelings of guilt when an individual on a personal growth trajectory knows leaving said abusive situation is the next step that’s required. These guilt feelings can quickly slide into shame, if the inner authority continues its tirade against boat rocking of any sort, AND throws in the “truth” that those who do so are bad people. In this case, one is led to believe that they deserve their shame.

Shame washes over us even if nothing external occurs, whereas its cousins pop in for a visit over external circumstances.

Adults who as children were abused, neglected, continually criticized, abandoned, or mistreated internalize the message that they do not fit in, that they are inadequate or unworthy.

Shame then arises when our self-image is doubted or under attack. Me writing this blog is a classic example.

If I believe I am a font of wisdom, and the way that is proven is by how many “likes” and/or “comments” that I receive on Facebook by admiring fans, when that falls short of my expectations, shame eats at my soul. In other words, when I need everyone’s approval to bolster a sagging self-esteem, if my self-worth is tied into needing others to say positive things about me, then “You are a Failure! You are a Failure!” screams at me when, in this case, I fall short of the 1.5 million positive comments I need.

Until we can shift our abusive self-talk to that of compassion toward ourselves, we will continue to believe shame’s message that we are unworthy.

So – pay attention to the emotions running through your body. Ask yourself when these painful encounters occur: Is this shame? Embarrassment? Humiliation? Guilt? Sit with them, breathe into them, and practice self-compassion, non-judgmentally. Embrace your experiences with gratitude; these are your teachers!


Sources include:

Works by Donald Nathanson, Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self; and his on-line materials.

Jacoby, Mario. Shame and the origins of self-esteem: A Jungian approach. 1994. Routledge; London.


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Here is a list of other blogs Mary has written for People House:

 

Developing An Internal Sense of Safety || Dorothy Wallis

Developing an Internal Sense of Safety

 Much Ado about Fear (part 2)

 fear-pt-2

“Anxious, stressed, scattered, I can’t concentrate and can’t sleep through the night.  I am not in physical danger, but I just never feel safe.”  The aftermath of fearful situations or the uncertainty that the world is not a safe place can leave you shaky, unsure and on edge.  You have lost a grounded sense of security.  How do you develop an internal feeling of safety?  You may wonder if or even believe that a haven of serenity exists inside of you, but when fear arises you may wonder how to get past the fear.

In “Much Ado about Fear, part 1,” we found how fear initiates a natural visceral response to a perceived threat whether there is an actual threat or not.  The fear response instantaneously activates a protection mode of fight, flight or freeze to keep you safe from harm.  Even when your physical body is no longer in danger, you may experience lurking fear in the form of anxiety.  Only when you truly believe you are safe will your body calm down. 

Developing an internal sense of a permanent peaceful place within provides a knowing of inviolable safety and trust.  This sanctuary is found by moving into and beyond the transient experience of fear.  Yes, that’s right, touching the fear.  It sounds challenging because it is such a change from the way you may have previously related to fear.  For the most part, you have been taught that fear itself is dangerous and territory that you do not want to touch.

Here is the practice.  Move through it at your own pace and be aware of the feelings that arise.  Being Consciously Aware opens you to the experience.

How to Begin: Getting to Know Fear

Meet fear with the feeling of being welcomed into its home and getting to know it.  Approach this part of yourself gently and slowly; take your time.  Fear is an energetic expression of your emotional body to warn you.  You are entering the unknown.  It may be uncomfortable and much resistance may arise.  Open to fear with curiosity, spaciousness and a sense of discovery. 

Become consciously aware of your response to fear and approach fear as you would a supportive relationship.

Be Aware of Your Natural Tendency to Turn Away from Fear

Naturally, your impulse is to turn away.  The desire to not feel fear is normal because it is a feeling of not being safe.  You retract from feeling the physical sensations of fear in the same way you use to get away from danger.  You may fight fear by “toughening up,” suppressing and controlling the sensations, flee by distracting yourself or ignoring the sensations, or numbing the fear with drugs or alcohol.  All of these engage you in a battle against your own body and against yourself instead of addressing the cause of the fear. Your longing to not feel fear makes you more afraid and insecure.  You can’t fight, run away from or freeze fear into submission.  If you attempt to control it, it returns again and again as anxiety and grows louder.  Fear is a warning siren.  The only way to turn off a smoke alarm is to pay attention to it and physically connect with it.  It is wise to run out of the house to get away from fire, but running away from the alarm to stop it from ringing won’t work.

Be Willing to Touch the Fear with Compassion and Love

Approaching fear with a willingness to experience it with love for what it is protecting creates a new relationship with this part of you that is exquisitely designed to safeguard you.  A great benevolence and caring are at the heart of fear, which deeply cares for and protects you.  Underneath the desire to protect is immense love and compassion for yourself and others.  Touching fear with your Conscious Awareness transforms your understanding of it into an aspect that is known.

Allow Yourself to Experience the Physical Sensations of Fear

Have you ever been fully present with the physical sensations of fear?  Your reaction to fear is rapid and instinctual; it happens so quickly that you probably have not paid much attention to your bodily sensations.  Overcome your habitual tendency to not feel and your desire to not be afraid by choosing to discover this part of your being. 

Enter with Love. 

As fear arises, place your awareness on the physical sensations in your body.  Fear is a vibration of energy.  Notice where the energy is located in your body and where it moves.  Allow your curiosity to discover the subtle qualities.  What are the textures, temperature, sounds, smell and color of the energy?  Biological changes activate your body to protect itself.

Some of the physical sensations you may encounter are:

  • An abrupt, all encompassing movement of energy in your chest and throat
  • Your heart beating faster….your breathing becoming more rapid
  • Blood vessels constricting to shunt the blood around your body to your core, arms and legs
  • At the same time, you may get a cold flash or even trembling as the blood moves away from the skin and into your core
  • Your perception and awareness of what is around you increases
  • You become very alert and focused with increased clarity
  • Your sensing ability expands spherically far out from your body
  • You have a deep instinctual desire to get away or hide
  • You may have a sense of contraction, tightness or shrinking
  • Clarity diminishing when flooded with fear and panic

You will have your own unique experience of the sensations.  Notice what happens to you in different circumstances.  As you learn about your automatic responses make different choices in how you relate to fear.  Do you panic or react with more fear?  What happens when you choose to relate to fear with compassion and kindness?  How does your experience change when you know you can regulate your response?  You cannot eliminate fear and it would not be wise to do so but the more you get to know fear and gain confidence and trust in your ability to choose your response, the more you develop a sense of safety and security.

Stay Present, Connect, Inquire and Listen for the Underlying Truth

Once you have connected with the physical sensations of fear, and gain some skill with your ability to touch it, observe how the energy changes.  The intensity shifts, it comes and goes, and you have a greater awareness of its impermanent nature. 

Staying present with the fear, take a deep breath and increase the depth of your compassion and caring.  Love invokes a profound state of clarity.  Connect with the energy that is guarding and protecting a part of you.  Fear protects your body and your loved ones and also protects your values, beliefs and parts of yourself that you find unacceptable.  Often what keeps you from inhabiting a place of safety is your fear of what you may discover inside of yourself.  Inquire deeper within and see if what you care about protecting is still necessary or true for you.

Is it a belief I hold that is not in alignment with my authentic self?  Is this an essential part of myself?  What else may fear be protecting?  Is it hiding a disowned part of myself?  Is there something I fear even more than keeping the anxiety?  Am I holding on to a belief that I am innately bad, unworthy or unlovable?  Do I fear what I desire most: receiving love, intimacy, abundance, or relationship with God or Spirit?

Uncovering the emotional truth that fear has been protecting leads you into an awareness of your story and an exploration into your true self.  Look at how many times you have walked into fear.  What strengths and attributes have carried you through rough times?  What parts of you adapted?  Somehow, you have survived and that speaks of your resilience.  A sense of freedom and empowerment results from regaining disowned aspects of yourself and finding out that your essential nature is good, capable and wholesome.  Honor and appreciate your authentic self; allow the unfolding.  An internal sense of safety is a journey and is built from the recognition of your authentic power and trusting that there is an unwavering well of support and guidance within.

___________________________________________________________________

Dorothy Wallis is a former intern at People House in private practice as an Individual and Couples Psychotherapist for over five years as well as an International Spiritual Teacher.  At the forefront of the consciousness movement for over thirty years, she is grounded in practices of meditation, family systems, relationships, and emotional growth.  Her work reflects efficacious modalities of alternative approaches to healing based upon the latest research in science, human energy fields, psychology, and spirituality. 

She is a leader in the field of emotional consciousness and the connection to mind, body and spirit.  Her compassionate approach safely teaches you how to connect to your body, intuition and knowing to clear emotional wounds and trauma at the core.  The powerful Heartfulness protocol empowers your ability to join with your body’s innate capacity to heal through holistic Somatic, Sensory and Emotional awareness.  

 

developing-saftey

Rejoicing with Chaos || Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 8: Rejoicing with Chaos!

final chaos pic

August 30, 2016

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards.

“When the persona is gone, chaos remains. To know that has a magnificence,” said John Heider (1).

Persona literally refers to the mask worn by actors in ancient Greece – the characters they played in their performances.

Our own persona, or mask, begins to form in early childhood in order to adapt to the desires and expectations of parents, teachers, and peers. Children quickly learn that certain behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and will win approval while others may earn punishment. These suitable qualities are then woven into the persona, while what we perceive to be unsuitable gets sent to the basement of our unconscious, stored away in the dark, which Carl Jung called the shadow.

And our ego has a vested interest in keeping this mask intact, as our ego has spent decades perhaps protecting us from what it perceived could harm us, and the persona plays a valuable part in ensuring that safety. Unfortunately, that safety also required the ego to shut out valuable pieces of our true selves.

Now, I do believe ego gets an undeserved bad rap as it’s because of the ego that consciousness arises; i.e., as we begin to wake up to our true selves, our ego is that part of us that reflects on what is arising from within, that necessity within that is calling us to incorporate that which we have denied, have relegated to the shadows; that which is calling us to return to our true selves, our essence. Jung used the term “Personality No. 1” to refer to our outward, adapted personality, and “Personality No. 2” to refer to our true essence buried under the layers.

This persona can begin to crack and fall apart at any point in our lives. In last month’s blog, I wrote how the path of growth includes bumping up against the scary unknowns, which are designed to wake us up.

“ … chaos remains.”

About chaos theory, physicist John Polkinghorne  says that “… there are many complex systems [in nature] whose extreme sensitivity to the effects of very small changes makes their future behavior beyond our power to predict accurately”(2).

A few ideas regarding this annoying inner and/or outer chaos: first of all, our psyche, our unconscious, can be sending up through dreams, synchronicities, and shifts in our moods and our body VERY SMALL CHANGES and we just need to be paying attention, mindfully.

We don’t have to go through life-altering, heart-rending circumstances for what appears to be random chaos to emerge. 

Ruth McLean, in the first verses of her poem Awoken exquisitely describes living with her chaos:

I awoke, one morning,

from shades of sleep,

to find my world had changed …            

 

The ground on which i had always placed my feet,

had subtly shifted with the darkness.

 

The firm beliefs and solid suppositions

that ordered my daily decisions …

had evaporated before my eyes …

 

… caught and helpless,

uprooted and airborne,

I existed …

 

dangling in space

between the old

and the new …

 

one eye was fixed with longing to the past

   the other,

 

with an urgent expectancy,

to what might lie ahead …

 

Next, this chaos is temporary, if we can go with the flow, if we can just allow it, staying with the experience non-judgmentally.  

Lastly, part of staying mindfully with chaos is like the theory: we must remember that there’s a good chance our future may look drastically different from our present – if only in our outlook. 

“…To know that has a magnificence.”

But KNOWING this, PERCEIVING this, that this chaos is a result of personal growth and subsequent transformation, has a MAGNIFICENCE, has a SPLENDOR, has great light, a brilliance.

Metaphorically, this perceiving brings the light of understanding into our circumstances. It does NOT mean that now life is good and I have great wisdom as to what’s going on and what the next step in my journey is.

But we DO know that this seemingly random chaos in our lives has meaning, has purpose, and that we can work with our ego, our persona, and our unconscious to bring out more of our true essence, Personality No. 2, to life every day, that we can truly give the gift to the universe of who we are.

So while we’re stumbling around in the dark, or up on that plateau where the path is difficult to find, keep in mind that magnificence of chaos!

_____

Note 1: John Heider, among other things, studied and helped direct long-term programs at Esalen Institute, taught at the Menninger Foundation of Psychiatry, and directed The Human Potential School of Mendocino, California. He is the author of The Tao of Leadership.

 

Note 2: Polkinghorne, John. Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, New York, 2002: pg. 68

_____

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Living Consciously| Spirituality in Daily Life || Mary Coday Edwards

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

People House Featured Blogger
mindfulness
As I mentioned in my first blog regarding contemporary spiritualityno one institution or religious practice owns its definition. Spirituality does seem to imply, however, a two-way search: We seek for a connection with something greater than ourselves and at the same time, seek through self-knowledge to live a fully human and integrated life.

How can we do that? Mystics and poets through the ages stress being mindful – to paying attention to your NOW. After all, that’s all any of us have! The past is gone and our future hasn’t arrived.

All we have is this moment. And this moment. And this moment.

Yes, we make plans, but we hold onto them lightly. Our NOW holds the seeds to the future; this is where inspiration hits, where creativity manifests itself, or when answers to life’s challenges break into our consciousness. When we’re ruminating over the past or anxiously planning our future, we miss those revelatory moments.

And speaking of life’s challenges: They are designed to increase our consciousness.

As humans, we automatically have ideas and beliefs about the world and these determine what is important and what is not important to us. This is our worldview or world picture, the way life is and our place in it.

When our worldview isn’t serving us anymore

Often our worldview lies unconscious and unchallenged – we’ve just soaked up what our parents told us or our culture through its various delivery points, such as advertising, social media, TV, Hollywood, government, education, or religion.

Gordon D. Kaufman says,

“A worldview or world-picture is working well when (1) it performs the indispensable task of providing communities and individuals with order and orientation in life, that is, when it is able successfully to organize and interpret the experience of women and men in such a way that they can come to terms with it and life can go on; and when (2) this orientation provides sufficient meaningfulness and motivating power to enable them to continue to struggle even against serious adversities and troubles, indeed catastrophes” (Note 1).

Life’s challenges are intended to wake us up, and by paying attention to our assumed values, beliefs, and attitudes, the Universe presents us with opportunities for to examine our unchallenged way of life. Having lived all over the world with so many people of so many stripes, I’ve had opportunities aplenty!

 

Letting life change us – before we explode!

My journey began in Peshawar, Pakistan, about 25 years ago when I set off to look for universal values. It was also when, at the time unknown to me, cracks were forming in my own worldview. Unaware that these cracks originated deep in my soul as shifting tectonic plates, I spent a long time holding them together with duct tape before I would recognize them as the gifts they were and allow them pull me apart.

Through these past five blogs, you have been the recipient of my resultant changed interior landscape, my upheaval.

I learned to delight in mystery: Blog 2.

picture

Anak Krakatau, Indonesia, taken by Edwards.

 

While living in Pakistan, I was ready to jettison the God baggage, but what I realized was that I wasn’t throwing out God – just the metaphor/model that I had embraced in my late teens, when I joined the Jesus Movement.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Life, as well as every religion’s scriptures and/or holy books as well as science, uses metaphors and models to explain the ineffable. I had God in my worldview, and my metaphor/model wasn’t serving me anymore.  Someone has said that the God we believe in must be compatible with the way in which we understand the fabric of reality.

However, a downside of living with mystery, with uncertainty, can be a weak character, one who takes a stand for nothing. If nothing is completely “right”, then why study? What is the good?  What is justice?

 

Which takes us to Blog 3: Critical realism as a guide to the real.

The meaning of truth is correspondence with reality, but what is reality? We have a pretty good idea, for example, of what’s in an atom – otherwise I wouldn’t be typing on this computer, but not an absolute. We have an inkling also of spiritual realities. Although their experiences are not as easy to duplicate, all of us can relate to some of the spiritual nuances revealed by generations of seers, mystics, poets, and artists.

Therefore, we have a form of realism, in that some aspects of the world are accessible to us, but it is a critical realism because our scientific – and spiritual – constructs are also reflections of the imagination and intuition of our human minds; they are extrapolations.

Consequently, based on the fabric of reality shown by quantum physics, I live my life as if my efforts mattered (Blog 4: The physics of prayer: choosing mystery). At a subatomic level we live in an observer-influenced world.  Compassion for sentient beings might indeed make the world go ‘round – including compassion at a distance.

 

And translating this all into action – why should I care? Why should I exhibit compassion?

Blog 5: Values, Morals – and Quantum Ethics. Because we’re all hitched together, as John Muir wrote in 1911. Father of our national park system, Muir spent time with and in nature and sensed those interconnections just when Einstein’s Nobel Prize winning discoveries were beginning to disturb existing worldviews.  Relationality, inclusive patterns and interconnectedness appear to be deeply imbedded in the fundamental structure of our physical world. Elements in a system adjust themselves to other modifications and system laws develop.

For up to 4,000 years various versions of the Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others as you would not want done unto you”, have appeared in nearly every religion and ethical tradition.

And this was before the Internet, so these great intuitive thinkers for the most part came up with this with little interaction amongst themselves.

In summary – and speaking as a critical realist – mindfully practice your spirituality, comfortable with mystery. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, says mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

Be grateful for everything; circumstances wake us up so that we learn to bring all of ourselves to every life event, we show up as ourselves.

This may mean drastic changes to your worldview. Embrace them, mindfully, living the question of “Where is this taking me?”

And tentatively perhaps, base your values, ethics, and decisions on an interconnected world where your efforts matter.

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Note 1: Kaufman, Gordon D. In Face of Mystery, A Constructive Theology. Harvard University Press, USA, 1993; pg. 47.

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About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes|| Craig Freund

By Craig Freund, Affordable Counseling Program Intern
New posts every other Tuesday

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“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

                                                                -Nancy Rogers

 

In my time as a student, mental health counselor and therapist I’ve come to learn firsthand that there is most definitely a great deal of pain in this world. This pain comes in all forms and can stem from events of the past, of the future, as well as from the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives. From a young child who has experienced unspeakable trauma, to the hurting middle aged man that has bottled his depression for years, the work of helpers and healers is never ending. In spite of this pain, every day, countless people do amazing, incredible, wonderful things for their fellow man.

These helpers and healers are made of something truly courageous as they hold hope for the hopeless, make space for the hurting, speak for the speechless, fight for the weak and care for the forgotten.

 

With the hardship that our therapists, case managers, nurses, doctors and counselors confront day in and day out, there is nothing quite as amazing as seeing someone heal, find their power and regain an authentic sense of self. In this way, the emotional burdens that our helpers and healers regularly experience are very much an honor, blessing and privilege. However, with the inherent dangers associated with compassion fatigue and secondary trauma, this work is not for the faint at heart. These helpers have pushed their comfort zones to the max and through the heat of emotion, chaos and their own experiences, have found themselves refined as diamonds in the rough of adversity.  

 

These helpers and healers are often composed of the strongest, most compassionate, most resilient hearts and souls. Often these healers have experienced their own pain and through their experience are able to pass along some learned intrinsic strength. In lieu of their strength and in the face of true empathy, the hurt can be shared and tears may be shed. Our helpers and healers fight through the pain, just as they encourage their client to do the same.

In the midst of uncertainty and with a sense of true purpose, day in and day out, these healers fight for recovery and encourage healing often in an abyss of hurt and heartbreak.

 

As we recognize the important, irreplaceable role that our helpers and healers have in our communities, it seems important to appreciate these brave souls. It becomes ever more apparent that not all heroes wear capes and that these everyday heroes most definitely deserve some credit. To all the trauma warriors, courageous counselors and hopeful healers… this one’s for you. Thank you for all that you are and all that you do!!!

 

If an effort to further foster resiliency for our helpers and healers… check out these supportive resources.

 

http://www.compassionfatigue.org/

 

http://www.proqol.org/

 

http://rekindlesolutions.com/

 

“No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another. Thank You!”

                                                                                                                 -Unknown

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About the Author: Craig is one of the many exceptional interns working in the People House Affordable Counseling Program. With over 4 years of experience as a Mental Health Counselor working in residential, crisis and hospital settings, Craig is a wonderful addition to the People House community. Craig is a gentle, compassionate and genuine person who works to tailor his therapeutic approach to the specific needs of each and every individual. He enjoys working with a wide variety of individuals with various life experiences and personal interests. For more information or to contact Craig, please see his therapist bio.superhero

Ownership – Rev. Stephen “Clyde” Davis

Many years ago I was a neophyte member of a similarly freshly-formed men’s group. I was struggling to find meaning and purpose and hoping to stumble on it alongside fellow seekers. At one point I found myself vigorously defending a member of the group whose communications I felt had been consistently attacked by other group members. I was full of righteous indignation as I wielded my verbal sword on his behalf. Suddenly, I realized the focus of the group had shifted to me – not a very comfortable awareness for me at that time.

Several members attempted to explain to me how I was projecting my discomfort onto the person I thought I was defending. And how, at the same time, that person was not owning his process. That threw me for a loop. I was unfamiliar with the concept of ownership and not inclined to admit I was projecting anything. In fact, I was so sure I was doing the right thing, I continued to energetically defend myself and my fellow group member for weeks, even going so far as calling the two most egregious members “Ownership Nazis,” as they continued their (as I saw it) assault.

I was taking this whole thing very personally and I remember feeling incredibly defensive and overwhelmed by this sudden “unfair” treatment and “bullying.” I was often near tears for not being able to see or appreciate this new perspective. I was also full of shame that I wasn’t even aware because I was so entrenched in such unconscious behavior.

And here these guys, these Ownership Nazis, were persevering in their efforts to make me “see the light” and “win me over…” Well, I was hardly going to open myself up to that sort of vulnerability – no way! As long as I could keep the focus on the other guy and his shortcomings, I would be safe…

I wouldn’t have to admit that my defense of him was really a defense of me.

Only after what seemed an interminable period of time did I begin to get a glimmer of understanding.

I was protecting myself by talking about someone else’s issues.

It was always easier to see someone else’s issues more clearly than my own. I was speaking globally about issues I held dear, and hiding behind terms such as “we,” “everyone,” “you,” “they,” “always,” and “never.” Somehow by using general terms and implying that my experience was universal, I was staying safe and less likely to be confronted or held accountable. I mean – how can anyone disagree with me if I am speaking the obvious and unassailable truth?!

It never occurred to me at that time that the only truly unassailable position, the only really true thing, was my own personal experience.

I couldn’t conceive of standing in my truth if it wasn’t everyone’s truth.

I was so terrified of saying anything that was true for me that wasn’t true for everyone else because I might be wrong. And holding a wrong position meant that I was wrong, which led to more shame.

It took years of diligent attention on my part to finally learn the value of speaking only for myself, to share my individual experience, to stop assuming that what was true for me was automatically true for everyone else. It was very challenging to begin to hear myself and see how often I defaulted to “groupspeak” and projection to keep the focus away from me.

Eventually I came to see that ownership was actually a path to freedom.

I am free when I assume responsibility for myself alone. What is true for me is only true for me – and may change tomorrow. No one can disagree with my truth because it is only my truth. As long as I own my experience and don’t force it on anyone else, as long as I allow you your experience, your truth, and affirm it as yours, I am free.

Taking on the responsibility to act independently of everyone around me, to speak only for myself, and to fully own my experience is what makes me free.

Ted Lothammer, the founding father of People House, said it best: “I am 100% responsible for me, you are 100% responsible for you, and the universe is responsible for everything else.”

Until next time,

Clyde

Dogma – Rev. Stephen “Clyde” Davis

In an earlier post I alluded to religious or spiritual dogma, and I’d like to say more about that now.

My understanding of the term “dogma” involves a rigidity that I find unappealing. Most dogma is presented as an incontrovertible truth – something that cannot and should not be questioned. Much religious dogma is of that “love it or leave it” ilk, and even a lot of spiritual dogma also falls into that category. There are, however, many spiritual and religious practices and beliefs that are much more flexible.

I prefer to adhere to beliefs that encourage questioning and are adaptable to each individual. I find it difficult to accept any belief that discourages inquiry. I also like to fool myself into thinking I don’t hold onto any dogma in my spiritual experience. I convince myself that my dogma is merely “encouragement” or “suggestions.”

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So what specific beliefs do I hold that could be considered dogma? Well, some of my “suggestions” include:

  • A daily or regular spiritual practice.
  • Full ownership of and responsibility for my experience, expression and behavior.
  • Being open and receptive to differing points of view.
  • Practicing non-judgment.
  • Expressing my truth in a clear and responsible way.
  • Refraining from “preaching.”
  • Listening more than speaking.
  • Asking questions to avoid projecting.
  • Avoiding generalizations
  • …and many, many more.

As much as I want you to agree with me and prioritize the same beliefs and values, I have to release that want and do the best I can to accept that what works best for me is not automatically what will work for you.

I am constantly tempted to hold you to my standards and judge you “less than” if you dare live your life differently than me. And that very temptation is what helps me see how easily my “suggestions” can morph into dogma.

I constantly struggle to let go of the notion that, “If it works for me, it must work for you.” When I am able to operate without that dogma, wonderful things happen. I begin to really hear you and realize the value of your different experience. And my dogmatic belief changes into a more flexible notion of, “If it works for me, it might work for you too.” And them, ultimately, I have the option of making that notion into, “It works for me and it doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Then I am truly free.

Separating from my attachment to dogma also impacts how I am received by you. When I talk about how my beliefs and values work for me without suggesting or implying any “you shoulds,” I allow you to hear me more clearly. When I speak of my experience and own it as best I can, I allow you to have your own experience, free from my expectations and wants.

This is a complicated topic for me, and one that I am actively processing day-to-day. I aspire to a better and clearer understanding, but I realize that it must take its own time.

More to come, I’m sure.

Clyde

Toilet Training for my Inner Child: DISCONNECT – Clyde Davis

What is there about sitting down in front of the keyboard and realizing the energy to communicate has suddenly, inexplicably, just drained away? It’s not that I believe I have nothing to say or that anything I say is without value – quite the opposite! I know I have much to speak to and many experiences that have value. I truly believe my perspective on things can be novel, challenging and insightful. It just seems that all those wonderful notions and powerful insights all lose their impact when I’m not engaged in a conversation, or listening to someone else expound on their views, or being asked what I think.

Do I need the stimulation of others to feel productive? Creative? Communicative? Many times the answer is yes, I do. There is nothing quite like the random association of group sharing or rapid changes of topic to get my juices flowing. And yet, at other times, all by myself I am just brimming over with such urgency that I am astounded when I sit down to write and nothing occurs. So what actually happens when the opportunity to write presents itself and I come up wanting?

Part of the difficulty I find in writing comes from the simple fact that my mind works way faster than my hands. Sometimes even faster than my mouth, but those of you who know me would affirm how rare that is… I do find it frustrating to not be able to record the words as quickly as they form. Or reproduce them as clearly as they first form.

Another factor is my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I am overly concerned about tiny details of my writing that others hardly think about. I cannot consciously misspell a word as I type, or repeat a word too soon, or misuse a mark of punctuation, or use an imprecise word to express what I am feeling. In fact, I must decide on the font, the font size, the text alignment, the page layout, and a host of other niggling details before I can relax into the typing at all. Hmm. Small wonder I can get any words out at all!

I do, however, feel it necessary to state how important it is to pat myself on the back for actually writing at all – even if much less in extent than my inner perfectionist would like. I know how critical it is to do what is hard to do in order to overcome the inertia of old patterns of behavior. Just writing this short piece is having a positive effect on my reluctance to sit down and write. Something. Anything. At any time. It all adds up to ultimately overcome the inertia of remaining the same – doing the same thing – repeating the same uncomfortable habits over and over, while expecting different results.

I’m sure there is a lot more to my feeling stuck and unproductive than the few things I shared just now. But it’s a start. More later…

Clyde

Toilet Training for my Inner Child: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY – Rev. Stephen “Clyde” Davis

Recently the People House community lost one of our own. She had been a veritable fixture at People House for decades, and then, suddenly, took her own life. I knew her, and not just casually. I had the valuable experience of taking several Facilitator Training courses with her, and had participated in many other classes and workshops with her as well.

The first feelings I had after hearing of her passing were surprise, sadness and disappointment. I was surprised because I didn’t see it coming; I was sad because I miss her, and I was disappointed because her family will not have her for a resource as they live their lives. I was also disappointed that she hadn’t sought me out when things got tough.

The next awarenesses were of her daughter and grandchild, and her long-time companion who has been a friend of mine for many years. I spoke with her companion and learned more about her life before the end. I became more saddened and even a little concerned.

It brought up a number of questions for me about the part I might have played, or didn’t play, in the circumstances surrounding her death. I know from listening to her about much of the pain, trauma and sadness she had encountered during her life, and felt I had done a more-than-adequate job of facilitating her process when given the opportunity. What nagged at me, though, was the question that still whispers sometimes in the back of my mind – did I do enough?

I realize that dwelling on that question would not be a healthy thing for me to do, but I thought my awareness of it would be important to share with you. As a spiritual leader here at People House, I feel a responsibility to the community to give what assistance I can to those who need a little help, a compassionate shoulder to lean on and a non-judgmental ear to listen. Maybe in this instance, I felt even more responsibility because I felt she needed more than just a little help. I’m still not sure.

Did I fail her – did I let her down when she needed me the most?

I will never be certain one way or another. Yes, I had been available and no, she hadn’t asked. But that knowledge doesn’t erase the doubt. And that doubt springs almost completely from my inner child – the little boy in me that doesn’t know what to do, or isn’t sure he can provide whatever may be needed. Because I grew up in an environment that did not foster a sense of my own value and strengths, it took many years of psychological and spiritual growth to overcome the doubts about myself I held on to so strongly. And even today I still question. Thankfully, I now have many resources at my disposal and many tools in my toolkit, not the least of which is the caring and supportive environment I find at People House.

It is situations like these that reinforce my belief in embracing uncertainty. By welcoming my doubts, my not-knowing, I open the door to new beliefs, new possibilities. By allowing no resolution to occur, I can embrace those I couldn’t imagine. By suspending judgment about my behavior, I can rest free of guilt and shame.

Until next time,

Clyde

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If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255, 24/7/365.

For local help in Colorado, you can reach the Community Crisis Connection at 1-844-493-TALK (8255), 24/7/365.

These services are available for anyone in crisis and for those who are supporting someone in crisis. Do not hesitate to call. Trained professionals are ready to help.

Toilet Training for My Inner Child: Spirituality? – Rev. Stephen “Clyde” Davis

As a People House Minister, I felt moved to create a blog that had a spiritual nature. That sounded reasonable until I began to more closely examine the assumptions and possible expectations involved around the use and meaning of the word spiritual or spirituality.

Although I consider myself a spiritual person, I cannot demonstrate that by many commonly held beliefs and actions.

Do I adhere to a specific religion or faith? No, but I do find particular aspects and beliefs of some major religions to be attractive.

Do I believe in God? No. Certainly not the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent father-figure, creator, judge and, hoary thunderer I grew up with.

Do I worship or pray? No.

Do I believe in original sin or my intrinsic unworthiness and need to be redeemed? No.

Do I need an exterior authority to provide me with morality, ethics, values, guidance, approval, rewards or punishments? No (but I used to).

Do I need all my questions answered or have all my doubts and confusions resolved? No, although that seems very appealing at times…

Do I believe I have a soul? No. At least not the accepted definition of a soul, anyway.

Do I believe there is an afterlife in which my consciousness continues? No. Until someone comes back and reports their experience in a verifiable way, all bets are off.

Do I ascribe to or embrace any religious or spiritual dogma? No – and yes. More on this later.

So how do I justify my ministry, my ordination as a minister? How can I affirm my spirituality in the face of all these seeming contradictions?

That’s complicated. It calls for some examples of what spirituality is in my life, and what I believe are important components of spirituality or being spiritual.

One challenging spiritual thing I do is practice awareness. I try to expand the depth and duration of my awareness at all times. (Or at least whenever I am awake enough to realize I have the opportunity…) Whether I am at work, communicating, creating or just relaxing, I make an effort to be present with and listen to what is going on around and in me.

I am also drawn to situations, experiences and relationships where I am forced to admit I am ignorant, uncertain and may never know the right answer or path to follow. Embracing this constant uncertainty keeps me in a state of enhanced awareness and consciousness.

I also practice to the best of my ability the principles of compassion, non-judgment, personal growth, authenticity, accountability, integrity, ownership, listening and facilitating. Sprinkled with a (sometimes too) liberal dose of humor and spontaneity, these principles guide my spirituality and growth.

But there’s more to my notion of spirituality than these few hints – lots more.

Undoubtedly you have a few thoughts as well.  And so a blog is born. Hopefully I can stimulate you to question your own beliefs and values as I explore my own and we take this path together.

Until next time,

Clyde

Toilet Training for My Inner Child: Introduction (And True Facts) – Rev. Stephen “Clyde” Davis

Nothing has been more on my mind in the last six months than exactly how I was going to begin this – my first blog. And nothing has demonstrated more clearly so many of my weaknesses.

I have struggled with doubt: Do I have anything of value to say? Can I adequately express whatever I feel strongly about? Are my beliefs and perspectives of any interest to anyone but me?

I have struggled with fear: Will I represent People House poorly? Will I show myself to be as boring, ill-informed and/or pedantic as many of my “inner committee” voices avow? Can I really pull this off?

I have struggled with inadequacy: I don’t have the credentials needed to speak with any authority. How can a life-long blue-collar worker with “some college” have anything interesting to say? Who do I think I am?

I have struggled with procrastination: Naaah – I’ve got lots of time before I have to produce anything concrete… I do my best work at the last minute… Just how long can I put off actually writing anything?

Interestingly, I noticed that my thoughts mostly ran to reasons for my potential failure in trying something new. I rarely found myself coming up with support for this experience being successful and rewarding. In fact, only when talking with friends and relatives did I hear positive comments about this opportunity. Hmmm. This “gave me furiously to think.”

I recognized I had been struggling with staying present.

All the above represent what happens inside me when I look to the future instead of staying present. In this moment, I have no fear, no misgivings, no doubt. And so this blog will be a continual exercise in being present, being open and honest about what is happening for me and what my experience of living is like.

As one way of beginning, let me give you a brief glimpse of some of the ways in which I show up in the world:

I was born in 1952. I have one younger brother. I have been successfully married for 38 years and am the father of two sons – one married with a daughter and a son. My father died several years ago and my mother is 89 and resides in an assisted living facility in upstate New York. This may all sound perfectly normal until I tell you that my father’s sister married my mother’s brother and both my grandmothers lived for many years after their husbands’ deaths with two unmarried daughters, two of whom had psychotic episodes… But I digress.

I also identify myself (less factually) as a personable/isolated, insightful/insipid, intellectual/playful, gracious/grating, quiet/clamorous, wise/glib, listening/storytelling perpetrator/victim. I also have years of experience in psychotherapy as both facilitator and patient. In short, I easily relate to paradox and understand impasse. There are good reasons I call myself a Minister of Uncertainty – I refuse to fit in any predetermined category.

I am truly looking forward to this adventure.

And along the way, just call me,

Clyde

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth