This has felt like a long week. I am tired. I feel as though I could look back and sigh and simply walk to my bed and sleep. I feel as if I’m half asleep already. So I look back instead and re-focus my weary eyes on the week. I was able to join several other Spiritual Directors and friends from my graduate program for a retreat on Saturday.
It felt good to be surrounded by “my people”. I experienced inspiration and connection that was sustaining and life giving. I had enough voice the next day teach my Spirit Play children and to lead a webinar for facilitators of Lutheran Volunteer Corps who are bringing spirituality programming to intentional communities across the country. I am grateful I could speak. I am grateful that I am able to offer this guidance on a small scale in my classroom and a national level to an organization that has been so important in my own journey.
I am grateful that I could spend 3 days this week teaching with the Center for Congregational Spirituality. Again, my voice held and I had the chance to guide and be in relationship with clergy and other Spiritual Directors trying to bring group spiritual direction into congregational life. I am grateful that mid week I was able to join a friend in listening to a spiritual teacher inspire and remind us to be our truest, best, most loving self in the world. Yesterday I was grateful for professional guidance from others as I contemplated finances and my daughter’s cavities. Today I am grateful that I had time to cuddle my children, time to do a few little projects around the house and grateful that I got to lead a beautiful group experience.
Mostly though, this week, I am grateful for love. I am grateful that each day I feel love, I know love and I find it in myself to give love. This is what makes my tired self, here at the end of the day and the end of the week sigh with a smile on my face and a serene trust in my heart. Things may be intense in this time of transition and transformation. They may sometimes feel like every cell is being rearranged painfully, but there is life…there is Life through it all and I am lucky and miraculously blessed to be living it.
As I wandered more fully into my work to release old pain and open myself to joy, things slowly began to shift. Over months I filled my journal, paid attention to my dreaming, walked and practiced yoga and saw my healer and my Spiritual Director. It was like tracing a line back into the shadows or down into deep waters. How far down would we go? Where would it take me? Would I be able to find my way back out? Did I really want to do this? I mean, I had lived without a full experience of joy for a long time. Was it worth the level of work that I felt was waiting here for me? Ultimately, in the wondering and the fear of this, I had to choose yes, choose life again and again and again. The only way through the dark is through. If you skip it, or run backwards and change your mind, you will never know and you will never get to the other side of this moment. And let me tell you, it’s terrifying. As a Spiritual Director myself, I can tell you that the journey of transformation has a cycle like the seasons. One must surrender to the dying in order for the new birth to come. Things must fully decay before their energy is available to grow anything new. I know this. And I know that the law of impermanence means that everything, whether coming into life or letting things go, will shift and change and be something else quite soon. Nothing lasts….not pain, nor joy. To be available to both requires a certain flow or flexibility.
I know all that. But when it’s me going through the dying, I forget as fast as anyone and think that if I walk into pain, that I might get stuck there forever. And when it’s me going through the joy, I always forget and hope it will last forever. In this case I started entering my own surrendering to death…the death of a certain way of being that kept me unavailable to joy. Except that being immersed in that process I found out that I actually wasn’t available to pain either. There was a day when I realized that this was a choice to feel everything or to feel nothing. There isn’t a filter where you get to say I’m only going to experience purely joy and sorrow and broken heartedness are a thing of the past. The more you feel the joy, the more you can feel everything else. Saying yes to this…to more life, this is risky. This opens you up, to yourself, to others, to Spirit and these relationships are almost always disruptive eventually.
I met someone who was telling me about her fiancé. She had been in an abusive relationship before because she thought she needed that kind of protection to be safe. She said that this partnership wasn’t safe, but it was fully alive. Safety is its own kind of death. For me, choosing relationships and allies who could hold some perspective for me as I went further into darkness was vital. A beacon in the confusion of walking blind, a safety line as I sank down further and further into the unknown. Small moments of connection, of love, care and concern were my fuel and my inspiration in the descent. They gave me the courage to keep saying yes. Who are the allies who give you the courage to say yes to life? What gifts have they given you? How do you express gratitude for their presence?
So what to do when you realize that you aren’t so great at compassion…in fact that you have a big problem choosing to drink when you are thirsty? Since I am someone who wants to be better at choosing love and life, I sat with my Spiritual Director and subsequently with my journal to try to listen to the message my body was trying to send me. The choice not to drink, to not meet the need of my body was not just a matter of making sure I had my water bottle with me or filling my cup at meals and not leaving till I finished. This was a harmful habit. When I wrote about it, the voice in my head revealed a familiar script. “You can have water later. Right now you need to get something done. If you do this next thing, then you can have the water.” And then, “Great job getting that done, but it wasn’t really that hard and there is much more to do. After this next task, then, maybe if there is time, you can have the water.” Except I never gave myself the water. Sub in whatever life giving experience or nourishment you want. When you can’t choose to at least occasionally give yourself something good, there is a big problem.
So I found myself thinking about what I wanted to choose and I realized that in many places I was carrying around old pain and I felt ready to set it down. I wanted to open my hands to joy instead of clinging to old bad habits. I returned to my regular yoga practice with a wise teacher. I made my way back to a place where I had worked specifically on this water issue before.
I had been to see a healer/shaman/Chinese Medicine person when I was ready to get pregnant with my second child. I had seen him till I became pregnant and then went on my way. The thing is, the space he worked in had totally intrigued me. I came in fairly soon after we started working together saying I realized that I hadn’t been in a healing space before quite like this. In my experience of western medicine, practitioners will touch you anywhere, but not talk to you about your experience/feelings/soul and you can go to therapy to talk, but they won’t really touch you. My healer would do dream work and body work with me as I explored and moved toward opening to receive another baby. It was a profoundly whole space and when I became pregnant, I left reluctantly. I felt like I was on the verge of learning something that I really needed to know.
When I returned to my healer, I did have a tight shoulder that wouldn’t release for weeks, but really I went back to finish learning wholeness and to let go of old pain so I could be open to joy. This sounds great, and it was, but any time we make a choice like this…if we are serious about doing our work, we have no idea what we’re in for. When you say yes to Life, sometimes what it demands back from you is death the of something else. In those first moments of choice I didn’t know what I was asking for. I just wanted to find some internal kindness, to drink freely. What do you say yes to? When have you said yes and it took you out beyond what you could imagine? As you look back on your own journey, what yes sparked you to set out into this path?