A huge aspect of spirituality is learning how to nurture ourselves and others. It may sound so elementary as to be trite, but how often do we say, “It’s OK” when we mess up something at work, or “Nice try anyway,” when we realize we have an overdraft? Usually, we’re the first in line to berate ourselves as if beating everyone else to the punch will somehow lessen the blow. A wise teacher once told me that harsh words toward oneself are “an act of violence.” That stopped me in my tracks. It’s never too late to be kind to yourself. Ever. Or, to pay attention to that small voice in the folds of your heart that thinks maybe, just maybe, you could try to do something new. A voice that longs to be heard and also protected, like the tiny seedling.
As she walked in nature, pondering her anger, Claudia felt foolish and self indulgent. “This is stupid,” she thought. “Anger is for out of control people and if anything, I’ve learned to control those childish impulses as I’ve aged.” But had she really? Or had she merely found ways to numb herself through keeping busy, or eating or gossiping or having a glass of wine every night. As she pondered this, Claudia felt heat start to rise in her chest. Then she was surprised by the tears that formed quickly. “OK, I’ll talk to it like they suggested. But where do I begin?”
“Hello anger,” she said out loud. “How’s it going?”
Not very well, she thought. Then to herself, Claudia said, “What are you trying to tell me?” As she said these words, Claudia sat down at the edge of a tree and closed her eyes. “What are you trying to tell me?” she repeated to herself. Almost immediately, words flew into her head:
Pay attention to me.
“What are you trying to teach me?” she asked.
I have energy that you have been ignoring. I am your friend and not something to be pushed away. I need your love.
This thought made Claudia feel very sad and she had an image of being in a playground and pushed away by another girl who didn’t want her to join in a group. She found herself talking to her younger self, comforting her and telling her it would be alright. Claudia felt a wave of warmth spread over her chest and a feeling of peace.
More memories began to flood her and she treated each one as a precious gift and opportunity to love a part of herself, a younger part of herself, that had been ignored. She practiced being a friend to herself and realize that this was different than being kind a generous – a trait she’d mastered. This was really about love.
Slowly, she got up from the tree and walked back to the others who were waiting for her at the retreat center. She realized that even though everyone there was still not so young, that they were beautiful. What surprised her most was seeing her own beauty and she realized she was coming home to herself.
Soon it was time to leave the retreat to go home. She wondered if she’d still be able to see the beauty in others, even if they didn’t yet know it themselves. She received blessing from the retreat leaders and knew she still had work to do, but that she had come home to herself. When she returned home she found that she felt different as she lived and worked with others. She felt more gracious toward others and people noticed how freely and gracefully she loved them. By being herself, she gave others permission to be themselves. They felt free and beautiful when they were with her and realized how not so young but how beautiful they were too.
While this is a modern day fable, it may have struck a chord with you. Comments?
“I surrender,” said Claudia, when her aunt picked up the phone. Before her aunt could get a word in, Claudia continued, “Listen, you know that Women’s Retreat thing you’ve been trying to get me to go to for, like, years? Well, I think I’m ready to do it, and I wondered if you wouldn’t mind giving me all the information…again.” Claudia carefully wrote down the information, hung up and redialed the phone. Happily, there was an upcoming retreat scheduled in just a few weeks and even better, Claudia arranged to talk in person that afternoon with the woman who would be running it.
This is the part where I’d love to write that Claudia attended the retreat and got her mojo back and lived happily ever after. But, it wasn’t quite that easy. When Claudia arrived at the retreat, she met women from all over the place, from very different economic and cultural situations than hers. She was embarrassed to find that being with others so different from her kind of scared her. The leaders of the retreat kept inviting everyone to just be themselves and that they were all welcome. One curious observation was that the leaders were not exactly young, but they seemed to feel that everyone was beautiful which made them look a little beautiful themselves.
At the retreat Claudia wrote fairy tales, played with her inner child (she felt extremely self conscious about this exercise, but ended up loving it), befriended a tree (who knew?) and learned more about herself and the other participants. She couldn’t remember when she had felt so free and she also realized that she wasn’t very fond of herself. One day someone said, “You don’t like your anger very much, do you?” “Now, why would anyone like their anger?” she replied. “Maybe it has something to teach you — why don’t you talk to it?” a teacher asked. “Talk to my anger? How do I do that?” “Why don’t you go outside and take a walk with it and see what it has to say?” Feeling somewhat foolish, she laced on her sneakers and headed outside. “We’ll be waiting for you,” her instructors called as she left.
Have you ever “talked” to your anger? Are you brave enough to share what it said?
Claudia went to sleep, exhausted, and slept fitfully. Upon awakening, she was aware that she’d had some wild and unimaginable dreams, as always. Her dreams seemed to be taking on a life of their own. This particular morning, she actually remembered one that involved a long road and that the road had spoken to her. “How could this be?” she wondered in her awakened state. And yet, in the dream, she was sure that the road had, indeed, spoken to her. It had said, “You need to go right.” The message made no sense to her. Was she supposed to turn right? Were her politics in question? Was she on the correct path?
As she sipped her coffee, she suddenly sat up straight as she wondered if she was being invited to write. Claudia had begun many journals, but usually only contributed to them when she was upset and needed some place to vent. She had rarely, if ever, written in a calm state. Something about the idea of writing about the dream really resonated with her, so she went through a drawer and found a half filled journal and opened it up. “Where shall I begin?” she wondered. She grasped a pen, opened the journal to a fresh, blank page and across the top printed, “YOU NEED TO GO RIGHT.” “OK,” she thought and began to chuckle to herself as she realized what the message may have been saying to her. What if “right” was actually “write?” “If I’m going to get this right, I’d better start at the beginning,” said out loud.
Filling her mug with another cup of coffee, Claudia began to write her story, beginning with the day she was born. “Who was there to greet me?” she wondered. Knowing that she was the youngest of four, she also wondered how the other siblings felt about a new younger sister. She had a sense that perhaps not all of them had been excited. Claudia wrote about the people she loved and who loved her. She also wrote about the people she didn’t love and those who had hurt her. She wrote and wrote and found herself amazed at the intensity of feelings she felt as she wrote and brought up long forgotten stories.
Finally she stopped writing, mostly because her hand was cramped. “Wow,” she thought. “I’ve been writing for over an hour and yet I feel like I’ve got so much more to say.” Claudia also realized something else: she wasn’t as angry as she’d felt the day before. The writing made her feel lighter but she was filled with judgments about what she had written. The heaviness began to return and with it, some sadness. Picking up the phone, Claudia began to punch in some familiar numbers.
Diary of a Mad* Woman ~ (*Middle Aged Diva) – Part 1
Claudia was a not so young suburban mom who feared her beauty was fading quickly. She’d worked so hard on her home, her kids, her career and her community, but she often felt she wasn’t good enough. She had spent many years taking care of others, watching Oprah regularly, taking yoga, being kind and generous and many people depended on her. As long as she could remember, she believed that if she was good and kind to others and worked hard, she would find happiness. So, she worked and worked and worked until one day she realized she was exhausted and sad and not very happy. She was disillusioned and disappointed in herself for all the years of her youth she had taken for granted and would never see again. Her marriage seemed hollow and her kids needed her less and less. She thought, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m utterly lost.” Thinking this left her frightened and even more lost and unsure of what to do next. Then Claudia realized with a shock that she was mad. Mad about what was happening to her aging body and mind. A little crazy with the changing hormones and on some level, longing to get out of her mind and into her heart.
Have you ever felt this way? What did you do?
It’s been said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter. What’s better than softening your gaze and realizing the hilarity all around you. According to Abdul Laraji, a sound healer, laughter stimulates the adrenal glands, making you healthier. I notice that when I laugh really hard, it seems that — sorry, this is kind of gross — a gallon of gunk gets cleared from my throat and lungs and I feel lighter. When my kids were younger, we had a joke about a little kid returning his pet turtle to the pet store because it had developed blisters on its feet. “Blisters?” the shop owner said with incredulity. He went to the back and returned with a new turtle. Upon handing it to him, the little boy said, “Thanks Mister, vrroom, vroom,” using the turtle as a race car. I guess you had to be there — but we repeated this joke so many times and acted it out with one person being the shop owner and the other the little boy, that even mentioning the word “turtle” would send us into laughter attacks. So….anyone heard a good joke lately?
There’s a wonderful song written by composer David Friedman called, “We Can Be Kind”. In it, the song lists all the troubles we currently face and asks what can we do when we don’t know what to do? His answer is that we can be kind and that we can take care of each other. Kindness goes a long way. Today, as I left after visiting my older sister in the hospital, weighted down by my own thoughts, I noticed a woman I’d seen earlier in the hallway. She had been talking to a man I assumed was her grown son. As she got on the elevator our eyes met and she emitted a long sigh. I asked if she was OK and she replied that her husband had just been put into hospice, her sister had suffered a heart attack while on vacation in Phoenix and her son, who she had just been visiting, was going to be living with her upon his release from the hospital. Suddenly, my troubles seemed much lighter and I gave her a hug. There wasn’t much else to do or say, but a small piece of kindness helped us both.
With the holidays and family gatherings and stress upon us, I find it altogether too easy to retreat to a very old rut called judgment. Whether it’s judging myself — “I’m too old,” “I should be in better shape,” “My house is a mess, “– or others — “They’re crazy,” “Why don’t they just….(fill in the blank),” “It’s their own fault they’re ….(fill in the blank),” it gets pretty noisy in my head. It’s as if passing judgment makes me better or immune to the pain I see all around me. My 12-step work reminds me that while some judgment, as in discernment, is necessary in ones life, sitting in judgment of ones self or others is a pretty lonely existence and a subtle but powerful act of violence. One of the entries in “The Courage to Change”, a daily devotional, says, “I used to live my life as if I were on a ladder. Everyone was either above me, to be feared and envied, or below me, to be pitied. God was way, way at the top, beyond my view. That was a hard, lonely way to live, because no two people can stand comfortably on the same rung for very long.” So, what’s the antidote to judgment?
According Spiritual Director’s International, “On November 12, author Karen Armstrong and a global group of collaborators, unveiled an international initiative to promote compassion. Armstrong is a TED [Technology, Education, Design] award winner with the following wish, ‘I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.’” This Utube video better explains what she’s up to. Charter for Compassion
How can you be committed to compassion?
What’s the difference between intuition and a nudge from God? Webster’s defines intuition as: “The ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning.” It’s mysterious and forceful. It sounds and feels deeply spiritual to me, or is it just part of the way we’re wired? Why is intuition more freely attributed to women than to men? Anyone? Anyone?
“Help, I need somebody.
Help, not just anybody.
Help, you know I need someone.
I love the spirituality of the Beatles song “Help!” I doubt Lennon and McCartney were thinking of God when they wrote “Help,” but you have to admit there’s a powerful message in those lyrics (and many other Beatles tunes as well.) Just consider the opening:
* “Help, I need somebody.” First of all, they’re admitting they even need help, which is HUGE! For many of us, admitting we are powerless over our problems, that our best thinking got us to where we currently are, and that it’s not working is a big honkin’ deal. What a terrific relief to be able to say “Help,” or to cry, “Uncle!” They’re saying they can’t do “it” alone. Webster’s Dictionary defines help as, “coming to ones aid.” They need somebody: a person, another human being to come to their aid.
* “Help, not just anybody.” Second of all, they ask for help again and not from just any old Joe who’s walking down the street. It can’t just be just anybody. It has to be someone in particular, someone or something who can actually help.
* “Help, you know I need someone.” Third of all, they say “Help” again! Yikes. Things are pretty intense to be repeating the word again followed by a repetition of the need for a person or something other than themselves to supply aid.
* “Help.” Another cry. OK, this is really serious!
The lyrics go on to talk about when they were younger and didn’t need help and now that they’re older, they do. There’s something about aging that makes us both more vulnerable and oftentimes, less likely to ask for help. Is it stubbornness or vanity or shame or what? I thought of this song today as I was trying to figure out some finances that just aren’t working and realized that the tune has been rattling around in my head for pretty much my whole life. I have a bad habit of trying to do everything myself (fewer people to blame, right?) and can get pretty far down the road before remembering that there are other people out there who would be happy to not only help but are quite possibly better at doing what it is I’m stuck on. So, I’m reminded that the song is an invitation to get out of my own way, out of my head and into my heart and when needed, just ask for some help…divine and human.
Which is easier for you – to receive or ask for help?