Coming Home

Exactly one year ago, I wrote a post in which I mentioned the struggles I was having with Christianity, specifically my own pursuit of “correct doctrine.” For all my Christian life, I had believed that being a “good” Christian meant having the right opinions about the bible and believing the right things about God. After almost twenty years of living this way, making unimaginable sacrifices and horrible mistakes along the way, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep squeezing myself into the box that my church and my culture had assigned to me.  I couldn’t keep looking to everyone and everything around me to determine what I should and should not do.  I couldn’t keep trying to be “good” and I couldn’t keep striving to be “right.”  So I decided to let go, as much as possible, of everything the church, my society, and the world around me had ever taught me about who I ought to be and what I ought to think and how I ought to act and I determined to travel – as much as possible, – my own path, doing everything I could to listen to that small, quiet voice deep inside that I’d ignored for so awfully long. 

One of the early and, in retrospect, most important things that happened to me during this time started with a simple question: “What does my heart love?” As I struggled to answer this question I soon realized that the only way I could do so truthfully was to list the things I USED to love – all the things that had brought me a deep sense of peace and joy when I was younger, before I got married, before I had children, before I became a “Christian.”

Eventually, I came to realize that somewhere along the path of my life, I had started taking on identities. At the age of fifteen, I left my mom to move in with my dad and decided I was going to be a “good daughter.” I set out to be respectful and kind and helpful and try as much as possible never to rock the boat. I decided I was going to be a “good student” and made straight-A’s throughout my high school years. When I met Jesus during my freshman year of college, I decided I was going to be a “good Christian” and so I began an almost 20 year journey that consisted mostly of the search for “correct doctrine.” I got married and began a 15 year struggle to be a “good wife.” Had children and did everything I could to be a “good mother.” And all along, as I layered one identity after another on top of myself, I got smaller and smaller and smaller. Until one day I realized that when faced with the question “what does your heart love” I couldn’t answer. Because I didn’t know.

I wrote that list of all the things I used to love and spent a year doing as many of the things on it as possible. I allowed myself to spend entire days in my bedroom, just reading or journaling or listening to music. I started to paint and sketch and draw again. I bought a horse and learned to ride (with varying degrees of success.)  I even climbed a tree (not nearly as much fun at 37 as it was three decades earlier.) As I started doing the things I loved, I found that I still loved (most of) them and also found new things to love along the way.  But more importantly, I also found my own voice, my own strength, my own wisdom. I found myself.  And it has set me free.

Spirituality is the art of transfiguration. We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape. We do not need to operate according to the idea of a predetermined program or plan for our lives. Rather, we need to practice a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives. This attention brings a new awareness of our own human and divine presence… It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. The intellect identifies the goal of the program, and the will accordingly forces the life into that shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wildernesses of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your own life. The senses are generous pathways that can bring you home.

– John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

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A stroll down memory lane…

WARNING!
We live on a farm and butcher our own animals. We have never sheltered our children from this experience. Graphic details to follow…

 

Last night, a friend came to visit and told us about a boil she’d had to lance on her calf that afternoon. Before showing the kids a picture, she glanced at me and asked “are they going to be okay with this?” This morning, that innocent question inspired a conversation between Jon and the kids in which hilarity ensued…

Do you remember that time you shot the turkey and his head exploded?

Do you remember that time we butchered the sheep and ate their hearts?

Do you remember that time Bitty cut open the lamb’s head because she wanted to see its brain?

Do you remember the stillborn lamb that looked like an inside-out skeleton?

Do you remember that time the sheep died and we found the two dead babies inside?

Do you remember when we burned her carcass (in case she had an infection) and her skin and fur melted off?

That boil? Not a problem.

Posted in Farm & Garden, Humor, PERSONAL, The Eigh of 'em | Leave a comment

Wind in the Wilderness

“When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens… ‘disgusting,’ ‘ingrates,’ ‘pigs,’ ‘retard,’ ‘fag,’ ‘bitch,’ or other labels… we should immediately wonder, ‘is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?’ We must never tolerate dehumanization – the primary instrument of violence that has been used against mass groups of people recorded throughout history.” – Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness

I was thinking this statement over last night when I realized that it’s easy for me to get behind Brene’s words, as long as she’s talking about the marginalized, the minority and the oppressed. But I discovered that I felt differently about her statement when I replaced words like “aliens” and “fags” with words like “white-supremacist” “bigot” and “racist.” Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to recognize my own need to lay aside the labels. Because what we’re talking about here are not character flaws or states of being (after all, people CAN BE “disgusting” and others ARE, by definition, “aliens.”) What Brene is talking about here is how we USE those words to lump people into categories and reduce their humanity. And when I switch the words out I am forced to see that it happens on both sides. It happens inside of ME.

I began discussing this with a friend on facebook last night and some excellent questions were asked: “don’t some of those groups, like the ones marching in Charlottesville, DESERVE to be labeled?” and: “Are we just supposed to ‘turn the other cheek’ in the face of evil and become doormats?”

These are good questions, but if what Brene is telling us is true, there is a third option to consider: MOVING CLOSE. As Brene writes: “people are hard to hate close up.” We can choose to love the person behind the hate even when its hard, because people deserve to be loved and we deserve to be the kinds of people who love. This doesn’t mean we check our morality at the door. It means we find a way to connect while firmly holding our position and gently seeking to understand theirs better. Those who are filled with hate have things inside them that are difficult and disturbing… but that is not all they have inside of them. They have friends and family they love deeply, they have struggles and conflicts that are difficult and painful. When we label and dehumanize people – any people – we participate in the false dichotomy of “us” vs. “them.” This is a position that will lead us nowhere but further apart. A friend of mine likes to say that it’s a game that is rigged. The moment we start to play, we’ve already lost. In order to win, we must find a new game to play. Move closer. Moving close means being brave enough to walk through our own pain in order to understand theirs.

This is what we run up against as we consider this issue. How so-damn-hard it all is. How agonizing and upsetting and hopeless everything seems to be. But this is where it starts. We break the mold by breaking it within ourselves. We start the change by finding the strength to change ourselves. Others may never bend (although when faced with love and understanding, people usually do,) but WE can bend. And when we do, we become like the blades of grass which allow the wind to bend them, and in doing so, ensure the wind will never break them.

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The Law of Reciprocity

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect.  If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.”
– Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
– Isaac Newton

I missed the eclipse on Monday.  I was irritated at my husband over something and I acted on that irritation and said something to him.  This led me to getting more irritated, and saying more things.  Which then led to further irritation and by the time the cycle was over, the moon had passed right over the sun and I had missed it.  Thanks to me, my husband missed it, too.  The eclipse fell on his birthday and he’d been looking forward to it for months.  I’ll never forget the way he looked when we realized the moon had passed and I said to him in utter despair: “Oh my God, we missed it.”

We missed it.

We’ve been missing so much.

When I read the words of Zukav, above, I knew I was having my eyes opened to the truth of what Christians refer to as the “law of reciprocity” and others define as “karma.” Put simply: intention (or motivation,) when acted upon, is an energy that will return to us.  When we act out of love, love is returned.  When we act out of fear, or anger, or irritation, we receive more of those things.

I think this is why so many problems, especially in relationships, seem circular.  The more we do to avoid pain, the more pain we ultimately feel; the more we act to alleviate our insecurities, the more insecure we become; the more we work to avoid our fears, the more fearful we will be.  In this way, we become our own worst enemy, attracting to ourselves the very thing we wish to avoid.  (See example 1)

But this is where it gets good, because if this is true then the opposite is also true:

If we refuse to act on behalf of these unhealthy motivations (generally rooted in fear), we will begin to experience less of these feelings.  Conversely, the more often we act on behalf of good motivations (rooted in love,) the more of these feelings we will have.  (See example 2)

What’s paradoxically so incredibly easy and so unimaginably difficult about this is that if it’s true then it’s all up to me.  I am the only one who can create security, love, peace and joy for myself and I do it not by changing my outward circumstances but by changing my response to them.  By controlling my behavior, I ultimately have the ability to change my feelings.

Of course, changing my feelings is what I’ve been trying to do all along, right?  But I think this is where I’ve been getting it all wrong:  I’ve always thought that the feelings had to change first.  I’ve always assumed that the solution was to somehow stop feeling fear, anxiety, pain, etc. and then I’d stop acting on these emotions. So I spent all my time trying figure out a way to change my feelings and although I’d try really really hard for a while, it didn’t take long before I’d be right back in the same spiral again.  What I’m just beginning to realize, however, is that it’s not the feelings that need to change (something I don’t always, or even usually, [or even ever ???!] have control over,) but the actions (which I CAN control.)  And, paradoxically, the more often I succeed at controlling the action, the less I will experience the feelings.

So when I wake up in the morning and I see the cell phone lying turned on in a central location and everything in me wants to turn it off and hide it (and smash it with a hammer after lighting a fire to it then flushing it down the toilet) to keep my husband from texting all day, I evaluate the motivations behind the action (in this particular case, fear of being neglected and ignored) … and I leave it on.  By doing so, I simultaneously refuse to act upon the impure motivation (fear) and act upon another motivation: the desire to love my husband.  In this way I not only attract less fear back to myself, but also attract more feelings of love and security.

Simple, but not easy.

It will be 7 years before we get another chance to see an eclipse.  I can only pray that things will be different, then.

No.

I can do more than pray.

I will act (or refuse to act, as the case may be.)

I want us to have another chance.

“For whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
– Galatians 6:7

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Example 1:

Motivation: Fear of infidelity
Action: Checking your spouse’s cell or social media for signs of infidelity
Result: Feeling MORE afraid he/she will cheat

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time and struggled with this particular fear, you’ve seen this principle at work.  In the beginning you trusted your partner completely.  But then something happened to arouse your suspicions and maybe you checked his email.  Over time, you continued these behaviors and now you’re compulsively checking his phone while he sleeps, driving past his work when he’s away, listening in on his conversations and altogether driving yourself mad.  This is the law of reciprocity at work.

Example 2:
(By refusing to act on your fears, two motivations, and therefore results, take place simultaneously)

Motivation 1: Fear of infidelity
Action 1: None
Result 1: Feeling LESS fearful of infidelity

Motivation 2: Desire to trust your partner
Action 2: Refusing to check the phone, email, etc.
Result 2:  Feeling MORE trustful

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your partner will never cheat on you.  But I think what it DOES mean is that if it ever happens it will be easier to recover from because you haven’t spent years worrying about it, dreading it, and seeking to avoid it.  Some would even say that the act of seeking to avoid infidelity can actually work to cause infidelity, by attracting it to itself.  Although I wouldn’t go that far, I would say that the constant worry over whether your partner will cheat on you can make you just as miserable as if the action had actually happened.  So by refusing to participate in this negative cycle, you save yourself what could otherwise be a lifetime of misery.

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Wanting to say “no” is enough

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You want to say “no.”
You want to say “no,” but you feel like you can’t.
You want to say “no,” but you feel that you shouldn’t.
You want to say “no,” even though… even despite… even if…

Yet saying no seems wrong, somehow. Especially when you don’t have an excuse, a prior engagement, a socially acceptable reason for saying no.  Saying no seems selfish, disloyal, unsupportive.  You think that if you refuse, people might not like you, might not respect you, might think you’re a terrible person.  You think that because you strive to be a kind, generous, thoughtful person, you must say “yes.”  You think that being a kind, generous, thoughtful person means you shouldn’t say no.  You think that if you love someone, if you’re the only one who can help, if the cause is a good one, you’d be wrong to refuse.  And so you ask yourself the question:

“When is it okay to say ‘no?'”

This is the answer:

When deep inside, in that most essential, core part of you, you want to

When you have evaluated the needs of the person asking, and you still want to.
When you have considered the alternative, and you still want to.
When you have examined your motives and those of others, and you still want to.

Because wanting to say “no” is reason enough.

Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because how you feel matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because what you want matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because what you need matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because you are responsible for your own emotional well-being.

Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because – ultimately – loving, honoring and caring for your deepest self is the only true responsibility you have in this world.  And it’s from that place, strengthened and liberated by radical self-care, that truly loving care for others can flow.

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(Inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s essay entitled “The Truth that Lives There” from her advice column Dear Sugar, and an article entitled “Wanting to Leave is Enough” by Caroline Garnet McGraw.)

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Posted in Criticism, Fear, Friendship, Guilt, Love, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Guilt or Glory

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about self-respect.  One theme running through that article was the concept of boundaries in relationships.  Saying “no” when that’s what your heart is telling you, regardless of outside pressure to say “yes” and honoring your own needs as being equally important as those of the people around you.  I mentioned that in many ways I often feel as if there are two “me’s”: the “outside me” that seeks to please and represent myself in a certain way to the world around me and the “inside me” that makes up my authentic feelings.  These two are often in conflict but especially so when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do, in which case “outside me” generally steamrolls “inside me” and agrees even when “inside me” is screaming no.  In this way, misappropriated feelings of guilt or shame keep me from experiencing authentic freedom.  Many months ago, my counselor and I had a conversation about this and he sent me home with a book entitled Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  This was the first time I began to understand that it was not only my right but also my responsibility to set boundaries in my relationships if I wanted those relationships to be healthy ones.  But only recently have I begun to understand that one of the things boundaries do is enable us to take care of and honor our own souls.

After reading the book Boundaries, my eyes were opened to all the ways I’d allowed the lack of boundaries to affect my relationships and I struggled with anger for a long time.  I understood that my anger was because I felt certain people in my life had been taking advantage of me, but I also knew there was more to the story, only I couldn’t quite see what it was.  In addition to this, or maybe because of it, I also couldn’t understand how to stop being angry.  But last night, I read the following words written by Oprah Winfrey in the introduction to a book entitled The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukov, and it suddenly became clear to me exactly why I was so angry.  She writes:

“My favorite insight [of this book]: ‘When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of its soul, that is authentic empowerment.’  … Using [my personality] to serve my soul – and making sure the two were aligned – changed the way I did everything.  I suddenly recognized all the times I’d gotten off track by letting my personality rule.  I started to notice that the degree to which I ever felt unhappiness, discomfort, or despair was in direct proportion to how far I let myself stray from the seat of the soul.”

In other words, my unhappiness, discomfort, and despair (and in this case, anger) comes from allowing my personality (“outside me”) to speak a different truth than my soul (“inside me.”)  This revelation helped me to realize that the reason I was so angry was because I was expecting other people to take care of me in the way that I am supposed to take care of myself.

Because I wasn’t taking responsibility for my OWN well-being, I was tasking OTHER PEOPLE with that responsibility.  How dare my friend try to convince me to go, knowing (because I had sort-of, kind-of hinted) that I didn’t want to?  How dare my family member repeatedly ask me to do something when I’d already tried (in a wishy-washy, unclear way,) to make it known that I didn’t want to do it? These people were not looking out for my best interests!!!  And, well, if I wasn’t going to look out for my OWN best interests, then surely SOMEONE – especially my friends and family, without any real knowledge of how I actually felt – ought to!  Because, you know, that makes perfect sense.

With this revelation came the realization that the solution to my anger is a simple one:

Speaking the truth.  Speaking those truthful thoughts from the deepest parts of myself that too often scream the opposite of what my mouth actually says.  Because not only has my refusal to give truthful answers been harming me, it’s also been harming my relationship with others.

Doing what one wants to do because one wants to do it is hard for a lot of people, but I think it’s particularly hard for women. We are, after all, the gender onto which a giant Here To Serve button has been eternally pinned. We’re expected to nurture and give by the very virtue of our femaleness, to consider other people’s feelings and needs before our own. I’m not opposed to those traits. The people I most admire are in fact nurturing and generous and considerate. Certainly, an ethical and evolved life entails a whole lot of doing things one doesn’t particularly want to do and not doing things one very much does, regardless of gender.

But an ethical and evolved life also entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.

You can [say no] and still be a compassionate friend.

– Cheryl Strayed, The Truth that Lives There.

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Crushed tomatoes with subtle notes of basil and a hint of sweetness on a bed of socarrat with a light, nutty flavor

The children and I have been sending emails to each other lately, just for fun.  The other day we were talking about our kitchen experiments (See Friday’s blog post and also all of these) and that night my oldest daughter wrote the following:

We’ve discovered some interesting things…..Ceaser in soup?? EWE!!!!! Mayonnaise in soup? Not bad! Thousand Island in soup? NASTY!!! Mustard in soup?? Delicious!! And I also think we should put rice with spaghetti sauce on the menu!! I wasn’t here when they tried it, but it sounds good, and I think everyone liked it!

These are the discerning palates I’ve managed to cultivate in my children over the years.  The ability to distinguish between the sharp essence of mustard; the cheesy, creamy, briny notes of Ceasar; and the subtle sweetness in Thousand Island.  It’s a skill I’m rather proud of, really.  I’m dazzled by their creativity in finding new flavor combinations, impressed by their willingness to experiment with different blends of seasoning, comforted by the knowledge that they’ll never die of starvation as long as there are leaves and slugs to be found.  Compared to our typical fare, it shall be fine dining indeed.

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