Healing of Memories

In certain circles, we say, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” This past Friday evening, we began our Healing of Memories workshop in a similar vein.

We were led by Fr. Michael Lapsley, who lost his hands and one eye in a terror bombing in South Africa, and created the Institute for the Healing of Memories as part of his own journey toward wholeness.

He asked us to identify a recent moment that both “pushed our buttons” and, in a flash, took us back to an earlier time. I could think of nothing like this, though I could recall recent exchanges that caused me to over-react.

The next day, through reflection, picture-making and story-telling, and surrounded by others on the healing journey, I had a revelation. In the course of 30 minutes, I laid bare a piece of my history, made illuminating connections between past and present, and had a remarkable catharsis of grief that surprised me with its presence, force and urgency.

This experience has given me so much to ponder:

  • Pictorial representations and the unconscious
  • The role of community in healing
  • The redemption of story-telling
  • The limitations of our own awareness
  • The mystery of the human experience

My own particular mystery is this: I know what it’s like to ignore an issue of which I am aware. I know the cost of that choice. I know what comes from finally facing what I have ignored.

I have no understanding, yet, of the cost of my unknown and unexpressed pain, grief and hatred. I wonder, now, what will flow from the new awareness, the new freedom and the new love.

 

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you….”

from The Gospel of Thomas

 

http://www.healing-memories.org/about/history

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“Full of Yes”

This morning I felt compelled to pray. Instead, I wrote a poem. Some, like Mary Oliver, would say, “same thing.”

I wrote because the prayer I would have said (Hail, Mary) did not seem right. It seemed too perfect, idealistic. I wanted something earthier, something more real. Something I could identify with.

Hail, Mary, Full of  Yes

You are

The girl who said yes

Without knowing how

It would all unfold.

 

You became the

Mother of mysteries, the

Mother of sorrows.

Stabat Mater.

 

What can you tell me about the path between

Yes and no,

Faith and despair,

Acceptance and resignation?

 

Did you feel blessed

Or cursed.

Favored or burdened.

Foolish or wise.

 

What can you tell me about

The joy and heartache

of Yes?

 

Or, just tell me

Would you do it all again?

Would you?

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“I Am Afraid”

I said this aloud to someone the other day. It took me hours to accomplish the task. Why?

First, I had to figure out what I felt, at bottom. For me, this requires a sifting, or sorting through. When I have fear-based reactions, they often propel me quickly into solutions – actions to take; things I must say. So quickly do I move into action that I may be unaware of the initial feelings.

I have come to see that, although there seems to be a certain urgency to do or say something, action is rarely required, or rarely the most suitable response. After all, I am not doing triage in an ER. No one is bleeding on the gurney. Although, it may feel as if I am.

Knowing this about myself, I waited. And, the realization came to me: I am afraid. I had named what it was, and backed off the need to fix it. And then the urgency quieted.

Urgency is one thing. Shame is another. I have, until the last decade, not understood that my shame around fear doubled my dilemma. Not only did I feel afraid, and in need of action; I also felt my fear was deeply wrong.

Many of us have felt deeply wrong about something. It can be about emotion, as in my case. It can also be about addiction; a medical condition such as depression; or a traumatic event that victimized us. It can be about identity, as we know from the phenomenon of the closet.

Shame is insidiously powerful. It denies access to those parts of us that need the most attention, love and integration. It cuts us off from others.

How then, can we heal – sitting alone, with the strong-box of our dis-ease stashed safely under the bed?

This is why the story-telling component of recovery is so powerful. Or, why, I think Jesus asked so many people “What would you have me do for you?”

We need to be able to say it, aloud, for the healing to begin. To name the thing that needs attention and love. To coax it out from under the bed.

It’s paradoxical….we’d rather die than say the thing we most dread. And, yet, to live, we must.

Amen.

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Ready To Go

Late yesterday afternoon, time seemed to collapse for a moment.

As I sat in a chair, facing out into the woods, I saw myself more than 12 years earlier, doing the very same thing.

At that time, as now, the house was quiet, and void of the many things – some of which are now packed or sold – that would come to fill it.

That sense of sameness invoked by the view, the spare space, and the quiet, reminded me that the intervening years have not changed my love of this simplicity, my ideas about beauty nor my need for it.

None of this is written in sadness, or fear. Not this time. I feel ready to go. And, that is a tremendous gift.

How many times have I, have you, have we, been pulled unwillingly into the current of change? And in those times, how long has it taken me, or you, or us, to turn from resistance to acceptance? To welcome, perhaps begrudgingly, or even bitterly, what must be.

Of course, I initiated this particular change in order to free my time and resources. And, so, this readiness may bear the taint of luxury. Nonetheless, I have initiated other changes that seemed to come on as rip tides, and I felt alone, far out at sea.

One anchoring quest in all of these transitions has been the search for beauty, the need to find it, and the grace it offers. The connection it makes, for me, to this big, mysterious, sacred world. The gratitude it births.

I have heard, from a wise friend, that gratitude is the opposite of entitlement.

I am not owed any of this beauty, and yet, it is here. It is lavish, like full-hearted love. But I only see it, appreciate it, when I am present. My ongoing prayer is than I remain open and present, especially during times of change, to see what is before me, rather than to see only what is behind.

Beauty can be birthed in the letting go. This has been my experience. There is no reason to believe it will not be so again.

Amen.

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“When?”

We were waiting at the counter. Of the 4 employees behind it, 3 were engaged in some problem. The fourth was engaged with another couple, answering questions, making recommendations, carrying on leisurely.

I was pacing back and forth between the Problem-solvers and the Recommender. My internal dialogue was not the most sophisticated or generous.

Don’t you see me?

When is it my turn?

Why is this taking so long?

 

And, this was about butter and yogurt. Not life and death.

I am from New York. This was Philadelphia, not Zabar’s.

And, I realize, I am in a hurry wherever I am.

When I began Italian lessons last Fall, we were asked to introduce ourselves.

Mi chiamo Paulo. (My name is Paul.)

Habito a Jackson Heights. (I live in Jackson Heights.)

Mi piace cucinare. (I like to cook.)

Non mi piace aspettare. (I don’t like to wait.)

Ironically, I had been eagerly anticipating this long weekend away with my partner, so we could slow down. Walk. See wonderful art. Eat long, delicious meals. Sleep in.

And, we did.

And, yet, Saturday morning, as we lay in bed – a vast expanse of white, punctuated by soft hills of downy pillows, and overlaid with a sumptuous duvet – I found my mind running ahead into the day and all that it might hold. Then, I chose to remind myself that this particular moment – this anniversary morning – was what I had been waiting for. It was here. Now.

And, I was spending it like Monopoly money.

So, I stopped thinking.

I allowed my face to feel the cool of the pillow.

I invited my leg to put all its weight onto the mattress.

I listened to Alan’s breathing.

I was finally present.

No longer anxious.

Not wondering “when”?

 

And, I realized that “Now” is better than “When?” if I allow it to be.

 

“If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”

Thérèse de Lisieux

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God or god?

“The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be

I was in the laundry-room-cum-library of my building this morning, looking for a paperback for the round trip flight to California later this week. My eyes first lighted on Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. I have been reading such memoirs of late, most deliciously that of Ruth Reichl. Her Garlic and Sapphires is a laugh-out-loud pleasure.

Scanning the shelves for one more choice, I came upon the Tillich book, The Courage to Be. The author’s name leapt at me. The recognition came from memories of conversations with my Aunt Mary, a Josephite nun, and from other references during my years in EFM and the Haden Institute. What I also recognized, a bit sheepishly, was that I had never read anything by this highly esteemed theologian of the 20th century. Off the shelf it came.

I have begun my reading, appropriately enough, with the introduction. And, lest you think I rushed to the last page to read the last sentence (which is quoted above), accept my assurances that Peter Gomes saved me the trouble by citing it midway through his introduction. Although, given my usual restlessness, a quick peek at the final paragraph would not have been extraordinary.

And what does my restlessness want but a quick fix?

A new solution?

A “god” instead of “God”?

It has taken me the better part of my lifetime thus far to understand the difference that a capital “G” makes. For I have made much of my worship of “gods”, which have ranged from full-blown addictions, to shopping, to sarcasm, gossip and distraction. Many of which temporarily assuaged, though did not really address or heal, Tillich’s aforementioned “anxiety of doubt”.

In an exchange of letters with Bill Wilson, Carl Jung wrote:

“(Addiction)…was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God”.

My personal experience bears this out in spades. It was only when I began to see, reluctantly at first, that the small gods truly had feet of clay (yet, I was the one to disintegrate first), did I make a choice to abandon them each day.

I am not done with this journey. I still do an occasional dance around an idol. I entertain questions and doubts. I find myself discontent with the word “God”.

But, rarely, now, do I find myself pawing underneath the table for the fallen scraps. More often, I am partaking directly of the feast. And, at my best, I am inviting others to join me.

Amen.

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Year in Review

I confess to a liking for ritual. I have come to see that ritual actions – celebratory or sorrowful; public or private – help me to solemnize significant moments, such as beginnings or endings, as well as longer transitions.

I have designed and enacted personal rituals for my own special moments – taking possession of a new home, or, leaving a beloved place, as two examples. Such rituals honor and externalize my own reactions  – gratitude, sadness, anxiety, delight. And, in doing so, I allow myself to hold them and then release them.

I am reminded of ritualistic actions as I contemplate the ending of 2012 and the start of the New Year. I will not be with the throngs of revelers in Times Square, or attending a party. I will be cooking a meal for my partner and me to share, and reveling in our time together. I hope that this simple act becomes a ritualistic one.

I also want to take a page from my friend, Gio’s, book. His birthday ritual poses two questions:

  • What have I learned about myself this year?
  • What do I hope for the next one?

As I ponder 2012, I am struck by several realizations:

  • I am not my job. That may be a “duh” for many. But, having been thanked and shown the door at mid-year (a first in my 31 years of working), this was an eye-opener for me. And a happy one at that.
  • I don’t need to understand in order to accept, or forgive. This took some time to make itself at home in my heart. The struggle lasted for months, and required a small village to carry me through. A recent line from Andrew Solomon in the NY Times echoes my newfound perspective: “Those who make comprehension the precondition of acceptance destine themselves to unremitting misery.”
  • Certain truths arise in time. Yes, in some cases, it comes at us quickly, like a fierce summer storm. But, this summer, the months of respite from the 9-5 routine allowed realizations to surface that may not have appeared until much later, if at all. Which leads up to my last a-ha…
  • Stillness is the midwife of truth.

And, what of 2013? I am, as of this writing, not prepared with specifics. But, I do wish to live as my Christmas prayer recently expressed:

May we birth the beauty we bear inside us; May we live in love abundant;

May we heal what is broken, within and among us; May we be lights unto the world.

Amen.

 

 

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Absolutes

In moving toward my personal brave new worlds….of consulting, and independent projects, and collaborations with wonderful colleagues….and of leaving the Hudson Valley to create more room for all those efforts to burgeon…

I find myself mulling the “Always”, “Only” and “Never” statements. They go something like this…

I will never work 9-5 again!

I will only do work I love.

I will never find a place as beautiful, with people as wonderful, as here. 

I will never be nourished sufficiently without this garden, this sky, these trees, those stars…

If I don’t take this (fill in the blank with your favorite household object) with me, I will always regret it.

A few years hence, every time I look back at all that has happened, I will always be grateful that I sold my house.

I catch myself thinking these things when I am with folks from around here, or while re-discovering Grandma’s coffee set in the attic, or as I watch the golden leaves cascade down in a sudden gust.

And I hear determination, and fear, and lots of projections. Anyone else?

But underneath, there is a core belief that these are sound choices; that there is something unshakably authentic about this path.

I am not waking at 3am, in a panic, wondering about my sanity. I go about all the requisite activities with focus. I am asking for help, and getting it.

And, I am now old enough to have institutional memory. I know that I have, indeed, always been sustained, sometimes in ways I would not have imagined. I see that I have always been with wonderful people, regardless of my surroundings.

So, I know that nothing is forever, or for never. Or, for always, for that matter.

At least, in the limited “always” (and “only” and “never”) that I can conjure.

Which means this is about faith, and trust, and hope.

And love.

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Cost and Promise

It is becoming clear to me that I want a different work configuration. And, perhaps a different configuration of my time, and life, in general.

Since my full-time corporate job ended, I have been engaged in a number of new initiatives that have captured my imagination and energy. They speak more directly to who I am and what I would like to contribute.

I would not have the luxury of investigating these new ventures if it were not for the luxury of time away from a 9-5 routine. Not to mention a severance package.

I feel excited, engaged, hopeful. I like being the master of my time. I know this also means being the master (to the extent possible) of my fate – I will need to find and/or create my own work.

The promise, I hope, is greater fulfillment for me, and a greater benefit for others. I do not mean this in an egotistical way. My goal is not accolades. But, I do believe that when my contributions flow from an authentic place of greater depth, they will have greater consequences.

These freedoms I now enjoy – to think, explore, develop, discuss, discover – feel a bit unbounded now. But this will not always be so. The financial realities of this world will edge in, perhaps sooner than I wish them to. And, so, although I feel the promise inherent in this freedom, I am now asking myself, “At what cost?”

And, with that question, come a host of others, such as:

  • What costs am I willing to bear?
  • What compromises am I willing to make?
  • What are the “needs” and the “nice to haves”?
  • What values will drive these decisions?

It has entered my mind, more than once, that my current financial obligations can be significantly reduced, voluntarily, without putting my welfare in jeopardy. That my current financial obligations are based on the luxury of a healthy corporate salary. That without these obligations I would be free to pursue my dreams without so many bills looming over my shoulder.  However, it may mean leaving a place that I dearly love. A place to which I am deeply grateful and deeply attached.

I may not literally take nothing for the journey, as Jesus instructed his disciples. Nor make a complete renunciation of worldly goods, as lived out by Francis of Assisi.  But, there is an important message in this for me. Attachment, of whatever kind, can stifle the heart’s complete expression. The same is so for the truth.

When the Truth seems at odds with attachments, which wins out?

This is the question for me now.

Amen.

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Dream Time

It has been about 6 weeks since my lay-off.

I have abandoned the obligatory, inauthentic, half-heartedly self-imposed feeling of guilt that comes with not working.

I am now enjoying myself.

Make no mistake – I am looking for work. I have my daily log of all those activities: reviewing the job boards, hunting around LinkedIn, applying to suitable positions, emailing contacts, reaching out to new ones. I am also doing self-evaluations, contemplating new applications of my skills, and brainstorming, even dreaming, with others about new and meaningful initiatives.

In the midst of these hopefully productive activities, I notice that Time has taken on a different quality. It is not unrelenting; it is, instead, unfolding.

Perhaps this is because I do not have daily, or weekly deadlines. My iPhone alarm no longer is set to chime, Monday through Friday, at 6:45am, with the electronic replication of tolling church bells. I am not rushing through lunch at my desk. Running down the stairs at 6th Avenue to get the F train, hoping to be first in the laundry room on Monday evenings after work.

I meet friends for lunch, coffee, dinner. I stay up late for theater. I take naps at 2:30pm.

And, I have time to allow my brain to work differently. I am imagining. Hoping. Doing research. Asking. Learning. Dreaming.

As a result, I am also speaking authentically with others about who I am, and hope to be. And, about my dreams for myself and for the world.

One of these, co-dreamed with my friend Jeff, is that LGBTQ teens and young adults have the spiritual resources to live authentic, deep, meaningful lives.

Lives that move toward healing and wholeness.

Lives that, despite the violence and vitriol, are lived from an abiding inner guidance, are supported and enriched by meaningful connections with others on the same path, and embody an unshakeable identification in Divinity.

I imagine our programs happening with, and beyond, welcoming religious institutions across the faith spectrum; in partnership with other organizations who care for, and serve this population; alongside GLSEN and PFLAG.

And, I imagine and pray, that, someday, what we hope to do will no longer be necessary.

Amen.

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