Facing These Times

Too many injustices exist in our world, and even in the United States, that I don’t know where to begin to fight. Women’s voices unbelieved. Native voices unheard. Black voices misheard. These few but mighty injustices are enough to send me railing and soon fall into hopelessness.

It seems that freedoms are plucked away, little-by-little, constantly. How can I help in an effective way when the government and corporations work daily against us? I donate to nonprofits with time and money. I vote. I want to hit the street during a protest, but protests happen rarely near me. It seems that what I do doesn’t make a difference. It seems that the work of others isn’t effective enough either.

Maybe I’m impatient. Perhaps the work will show fruit months or years from now.

I have no answers, and I have little hope. But I have to continue.

I will donate my time and money to just causes.

I will educate myself.

I will attempt to educate others.

I will vote.

I will protest when I can.

I will try. And continue to try. And continue to try.

Because doing nothing will bring greater suffering.

I will continue to seek the infinite love and compassion within me so that others may suffer less. Uncovering that love and compassion means facing my own dark side every day, sitting with it and looking it in the face.

Light shines through me. And light can pierce the dark only when I stand in it.

 

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The Tyrant Surrenders

Yesterday, as I tried to set up something on my computer, I had a meltdown. I couldn’t get an external hard drive to format to my Mac. Then I sobbed. But I realized that I wasn’t sobbing over a computer problem that I caused. I realized how bored with my life I’ve become, how clueless I am about what to do with my life.

Mary Oliver says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Well, hell if I know, Mary. It doesn’t seem wild and or precious. It seems boring, devoid of adventurous tales and excitement. No wildness here. Not right now. And precious? What’s precious about pitifully sobbing over a small problem then falling asleep for several more hours?

I suppose the precious thing was my surrender. After giving up hope that I’d fix my computer problem, I went to my bed and not only sobbed, but cried out. Something was coming out of me. Maybe it was some spiritual Alien creature that didn’t rip open my stomach, but ripped open my heart for a brief time. I seemed to mourn for my life, or mourn for what I was realising. Thoughts of wanting to die came and went, as did thoughts of failing at life.

As I lay, nose running and sounding like a wounded animal, I began to surrender to my situation. I let go. I let go of almost everyone and everything. I gave up on trying to win the game of life. Then I went to sleep.

My surrender may sound dangerous. It may sound like I’m tumbling into a deeper depression. Truthfully, when I woke up I only felt slightly better, and feelings worsened again as I took a walk (thinking the walk would make me feel better). But the surrender I experienced was not one I’d had before. It seemed like an admission. An admission to feel that way, an acceptance of my powerlessness. The acceptance seemed laced with compassion.

My meditation this morning followed up on this compassionate presence. In this meditation, guided with Tara Brach’s voice, I practiced what she calls the RAIN of self-compassion. Using the acronym RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture), I practiced making peace with myself. I’m so very hard on me. Why haven’t you made a better life, Sarah? You’re worthless, sleeping so much. You’re not making a difference. Where’s the adventure you’ve dreamed of, you long for? 

This type of warring dialogue, this set of battle taunts, seems to run through my mind without me realizing it. I set myself at war with myself. I don’t allow compassion into the battlefield. I slice and shank, trying to cut through to answers. And when my inner self is on its knees, vulnerable, I run it through. I try to kill the weakness, anything that doesn’t live to the unattainable standards I’ve set for myself.

Which brings me back to my surrender yesterday. I don’t think it was the surrender of my inner self. I think, instead, it was my rampaging, tyrant self hitting her knees.

True Longings

What does my heart most long for?

I asked myself this in today’s mediation. Some answers that surfaced: love, communion with nature, peace, justice, communication with the creator, deep relationships with others

Not once did my heart say, “I long for a job.”

Although the answers spoken ring true and powerfully, equally powerful is what my heart didn’t say. It didn’t say that it needs a career or any financially-fulfilling occupation. I am relieved and so grateful that it didn’t say that.

When I started my job hunt, I felt the pressure of want and need. I told myself that I need a job to pay bills and want a job to feel statisfied. I seemed to equate my worth with that purpose. But as I continue to hunt, the grasping subsides. Because a job does not make me more or less worthy of love. Because my purpose is not defined by someone else’s hiring me.

The answers my heart gave are somewhat vague. But the heart knows what it needs. The capitalist society I live in does not. As I continue my journey, I am beginning to trust that those vague answers will develop into realities bit by bit. The heart speaks little phrases throughout my days that may not seem like much. “Make your bed” or “Go work in the garden” or “Call this person” may not appear life-changing intially. But it’s those little directions that get me out of my negative thought patterns, out of my head, and into the world of love. They guide me step-by-step into my mysterious purpose.

The Memory Block

My therapist and I have been working on reprocessing memories. However, I have few memories to give. When she asks me to recall my first and worst memories of thinking about myself in a particular negative way, isolated, fuzzy mental pictures appear. When was the first time I thought, “I don’t deserve love”? I don’t remember.

I attempt to scan pictures from my childhood, pictures from where I’ve lived, who I’ve interacted with, and when the pictures were first recorded. I see some images, but they’re either static landscapes or isolated snapshots with people in which I don’t remember what was said or the exact context. I remember my dad yelling at me as a small child, but I don’t remember what he said or what exactly I felt. I can imagine fear and feeling small. Was that really what I felt?

I can remember some more recent memories more clearly, such as a high school boyfriend choosing to play World of Warcraft instead of spending time with me. I remember feeling the insecure thoughts that he cared more about a game than me, some “I don’t deserve love” thoughts. I remember another boyfriend, earlier in high school, who inspired thoughts of “I’m unimportant.” We were at a costume dance in which I was dressed as a princess. He said, “Look at you. You’re dressed like a princess. You think you’re a princess, but you’re not.” When I imagined myself a princess, I felt important. Granted, some ideals surrounding princesses are unrealistic and unhealthy, but imagining myself in the role of a royal who cares and fights for what’s right boosted my self-esteem.

Later memories are somewhat clearer. But what happened to my earlier memories? Has my mind surpressed them, compressing them into palatable images that I can’t dissect and decifer? Have traumatic things happened that I don’t remember? My therapist told me that, at first, she thought I just didn’t want to return to those thoughts. But truely, I can’t find many memories to access. My mind is largely blank, and I don’t know how to rip open the wall. Parts of the wall are translucent and I can see parts of scenes, but where are the actors, the dialogue?

Is it fear that blocks me? How deep does this fear go? For how long will it stand? I fear I will never have enough courage to look back and heal my present.

Another thing: my inability to look into my memories brings thoughts of inadequacy, of letting my therapist down. Really, I feel like I’m letting myself down. But I’m currently unable to help myself in this matter. Perhaps as I continue down the path of meditation and focus on other exercises with my therapist, the wall will begin to crumble.

Out of The Darkness Walk

At the end of September, I’ll be walking with fellow mental illness survivors and the family and friends of mental illness victims. I participated in one of these Out of The Darkness walks two years ago, and felt deeply the love and solidarity. If you need support or want to support others struggling with suicide, I suggest you go walk. ❤

Find an Out of The Darkness Walk near you here.

Starting to Learn Acceptance

I’ve noticed that my writing hiatuses are long, both on my blog and in my creative writing efforts. But I am accepting this. I hope you, my readers, will also. With my recent spike in creative writing activity, perhaps I will blog more, but I don’t know. I can’t promise anything. I’ll just work to accept it.

Acceptance. That is something I’m beginning to learn with the help of Tara Brach, Pema Chödrön, and my therapist. I’ve been engaging in meditation that involves noticing and accepting, welcoming in all that enters. I’m finding that none of it’s bad. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept the tension in my back, the tightness in my throat, the clenching in my stomach, but not impossible. And when I welcome the anxiety and fear, treating them with compassion, relief comes.

I am trying to accept my current career situation. I completed my Master’s degree in May, then worked temporarily for the university where I completed the degree. While I feel myself a capable, albeit new, member of my field, I felt disregarded and undervalued at the office by many of my co-workers. A couple of co-workers valued my work, but working there became frustrating when I realized I wasn’t valued for my work by the others. Feelings of hopelessness were exacerbated by all the excess drama around me there.

I’m relieved my temporary employment has ended there. But now I transition, and transition takes acceptance of the moment. I’ve applied to many positions, which means the waiting game has begun. In this time, anxiety and fear about the future can creep in. But now is the moment. Right now, I write. Right now, I accept the present and attempt to stay with it.

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Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

Overload

When the autumn season begins to arrive, it seems that a flurry of leaves is not the only rushed scattering that occurs. Academic commitments begin to grow and commitments to clubs and organizations are reestablished after the over-too-soon summer vacation.

Classes have begun for me as a graduate student, after a four year academic hiatus. Work for those classes has begun and I feel I’m off to a productive, organized start. Although some of the projects look daunting, I know I will complete them step by step. In a class I begin next week, I will learn how to use a software program unheard of to me previously. In the class I began this week, my final project involves producing a marketing or grant proposal package for an actual client. I know little about marketing and only know how to operate Microsoft Word (okay, and maybe I can dabble in a few other programs). But let the panic not begin.

Oh, and I’m committed to sing with the chorus I have sung with for the past few seasons, lead teach at my church a few Sundays, start mandolin lessons, continue my proposal writing for the two organizations I volunteer for, continue working in the business with Ray, and hopefully start singing with my church choir. It’s beginning to feel tight above my sternum. What have I done?

My ego confidently says, “You’re ready for this! You can conquer these things! This is life, so seize it!”

Not so sure.

A small voice is cautioning that my group of commitments may overload my being and become overwhelming. Is it my Higher Power?  What about the little things I need in between, such as meditation, prayer, exercise, healthy eating, and time with friends and family? These “little things” prevent my breakdown, hold me back from the depression pit. Should I cut back now on these outside commitments, even though I may enjoy these things?

Because I’ve Changed

My parents visited for dinner at me and Ray’s the other night, and talk was small. Between periods of silence, there was conversation about Arthur the cat, Vixen the dog, my brother at school, their new van, and other assorted things that have been conversed about almost ad nauseum. Not so many years ago, my parents and I conversed regularly and freely about faith, religion, politics, and sex. Now those subjects are hardly breached, and when they are, it’s a meticulous, creeping dance of both parties. We’re like careful mice passing quick, awkward glances as we scurry by, watched in the shadows by rats with sharp teeth,  fearing we’ll disturb those offensive things.

My views on nearly all the topics we once discussed freely have changed, and I’m not the model daughter they had, sharing and preaching their views. I no longer believe in the patriarchal, male-figured God that they do. My conception of God is transforming with abstraction and mystery. As far as I can see, they believe in the same image of God they instituted me in from birth. They claim they’re voting for a man I cannot in any way condone for multiple reasons, but mainly for his absence of compassion, curtesy, and kindness. I moved in with my now-husband before we were married: a sin in their eyes.

As if losing connection with my parents weren’t enough, my parents are sometimes aggravatingly passive aggressive about the difference in viewpoints. When they arrived for dinner, my dad asked, “Where’s the master of the house?”

I said, “Excuse you?”

He continued to say, “Where’s the man of the house?” My man was upstairs getting changed, and soon joined us. Ray is the man in our house, but not its “master.” We are both happily equal partners, and my father’s sexist comment was unacceptable.

Then the comment about the once garden bed that Ray and I have unsuccessfully weeded this year. My dad gestured to the wild tangle of weeds and said, “We were just admiring your gardening, Sarah.” As if the responsibility to weed the garden beds were solely mine and absolutely necessary to a happy, healthy home.

I once was close with my former best friend, too. Last summer, she called me to say that I would no longer be her maid-of-honor, nor participate in the wedding, as we had, according to her, “grown distant.” I was infuriated, and haven’t spoken to her since. However, she may have been correct about the distance growing between us. Although she respects the beliefs of my church, which is Unitarian Universalist, she found the service strange and unfitting to her spiritual growth. That in itself was fine. We grew in friendship while we both were attending Christian-faith churches, and I had moved on from that faith. She hadn’t. She still stayed close with friends from high school, some of which I didn’t connect with to begin with. In retrospect, I can see that her close friends were not my close friends, and I struggled to converse with them. Some of them did nothing but gossip, which exhausts me.

I’m close to others now. While I’m saddened by the loss of what I had with my parents and Megan, I am comforted by the closeness I now have with others. At this point of departure from my childhood, the horizon of the unknown can still be daunting. The transition has been slow, lessening the impact, but the process is nonetheless painful.

Because I’ve changed, I have lost and gained. Because I’ve changed, it seems my parents are angry. Because I’ve changed, I’ve been in and out of limbo. My life is now much more mysterious than it was. I’m never lost, though. The answers are within me and appear at the right times. Do I face my fear and try to explain the new sides of me? Will my parents still love me? The answers to these questions are still covered in the mystery.

 

“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

~ from “Changes” by David Bowie

Don’t You Know?

“Through the driving rain, I have lost the words to piece us back together, to tell you how it hurts. ‘Cause lately we’ve been breaking…There’s still a way to make it right. We’ll find the strength this time…Don’t you know, you’re standing in the way of the light?” ~ Birdy

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A week ago today, thoughts of myself and the world began to flip. A week ago was my second day at Lily Dale, New York, a gated Spiritualist community “dedicated to the service of God, Spirit, and Mankind.” Spiritualism, if you are unfamiliar, believes not only in life after death, but that communication can be and is made between the spirits who have passed on.

Of course, considering my upbringing, I was afraid I was going to be sucked up into a cult and if not, I was going to Hell for anything I may believe upon hearing at Lily Dale. Neither so. Free will is emphasized, and only principles of Love are spoken. To see some of the reactions of others upon hearing from their loved ones via a medium is enough to believe and to realize that Love is present and alive beyond what we call death. But by Monday evening, after my soul sister Jordan had left for home, I was sobbing to Ray on the phone. I had heard several messages from mediums to others at public readings, but none for me.

I told Ray I would drive home that night. My thoughts told me I’d drive into a pole or a tree. I was scared. Ray convinced me to check into the guest house as planned. After settling there, I waited in line to attend Circle Night, in which a medium sits with no more than six people and gives each a reading. My first mind-blowing reading began.

While some of the energies and spirits may have been from the women on each side of me, influencing my reading, I did pick out some things that would have applied to me only in that circle. Such as the prophesy that I would have twins, who would answer my prayers. All the women in the circle were too old to give birth, and there was one man. Terrified, I sat. I had received a message.

What?? Twins?! I shared my fear with the medium and the circle after everyone had had a reading. She said it could be two others that come into my life and answer my prayers, and that I would not necessarily give birth. Not wishing to be alone with my thoughts, I spent much of that evening with the group from the circle, fellowshipping. My fears faded.

The following day, I met with a different medium, who I had scheduled a private reading with before arriving at Lily Dale. After he had prayed to Spirit, he meditatively began to share that he could sense my third eye wide open. Yes, I felt ready to receive. He said he could sense a mystical quality about me, that I had telepathic abilities, that dreams were involved, and that I have been given a special gift that not many have. In a sense, I could relate to these things, but not strongly. He said he felt that I would be doing what he does. He could sense how sensitive I am, and said that I could call upon Archangel Michael to surround me with the protective light of Christ so I would not be brought down by others’ emotions. He reported to me that a woman had “stepped in”, someone who died when I was about the age of seven, and that she could see then that I have this mystical gift. She knew that I was in a minor car accident as a child, he said, and I vaguely remember being told about this by my mother. As he described the woman, I could think of one or two women that could be her. (I still am unsure who this may have been.) I said that I didn’t recognize her, and he said that I may later.

I began to doubt while I tried to remain open. Our half-hour session was ending, and I had heard nothing from Gammy, nothing from Kristy, or Buddy the cat, or Ray’s dad, or anyone I recognized. The medium continued with several other details I don’t remember. Thankfully, I recorded the session on my digital recorder and he recorded a CD. Our session ended. He said he had never had a reading like mine. I guess that made me feel special.

I left his office cordially. He said something about hoping I enjoyed the session. “More will be revealed,” I said, quoting Ray. “Yes, it will,” the medium agreed. I was pissed. I had hoped and expected to hear from Spirit-side someone I knew, especially Gammy or Kristy. Instead, I received a call to service. A call to service using gifts I barely knew and greatly doubted I had. My mind began to angrily refute all I had heard, redefining it all as nonsense.

The cards read something different. For the first time, I had bought a deck of oracle cards. Sinful, I know. These cards had (and have) the opposite of devil praise to proclaim, however. After shuffling, I set up the drawn cards on my bed at the guest house that night. The first card, the one about what is happening now, was titled “Heaven Sent” and was about spiritual gifts. O-kay, God. As the cards were turned over, I began to accept my gift. I told my Higher Power that I would accept this with help and if it were the truth. The result was spiritual happiness.

My happiness grew when, in all, I attended three public sessions of the Healing Temple on the grounds. As the meditative healers laid their hands upon me, the loving, restorative energy began to fill me. Afterward, I would sit in the woods with that power and allow it to soak. I left Lily Dale joyful and excited for life ahead. As a spiritual retreat, my trip was successful. I hurt, I learned, I grew.

Today, I am no longer high on spiritual hope. I woke up earlier today than usual with ease. I kissed Ray as I sent him off to work, and engaged in my daily meditation. Then, as if under a spell, I slipped down upon the pillows of the couch and slept until noon. I awoke dazed, hungry, and increasingly frustrated. I powerlessly had fallen back to sleep, and now I was powerlessly angry and unfocused. Like the nearly impenetrable thunderstorm I drove through as I approached Lily Dale, life feels foggy and heavy again. It feels like pieces of me are chipping away again.

After writing this post, I am better, but I wonder. How long will I stand in the way of the light?

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Photo by Jordan Macosko

 

Started Things

When I was four, I started piano lessons, then took them on and off until about junior high. In grade school, I started baseball, and when I was stuck in the outfield along with receiving a minor hit from the ball, I quit. I applied and was accepted to a program for a degree in Russian language, but didn’t start one class. In my study, I probably have around 20 notebooks and journals that are started, but not full. I won’t try to count the number of stories and poems I’ve started but haven’t finished. It’s just depressing.

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Today’s blank journal page. It has a date; does that count?

But for all the starts and stops, I have completed things. I completed a Bachelor’s degree. I completed trips to Russia, Ireland, and Canada. I completed two sessions (thus far) as a Hogwarts professor at my church. (Yeah, I’m proud of that. Professor Regina Owlwit at your service.) I published twice to my college’s literary journal. I have won a contest or two with my writing. Sure as the sun rises, I am going to finish this iced coffee sitting so comfortingly next to my computer.

Too often I become discouraged at the incomplete things lying around in my brain, those limp, soggy scraps that slowly rot under dim, greasy lighting. Those fragments of the Russian language that I rarely practice, those notes on the mandolin, those two chords on the guitar, and that volleyball overhand serve I never learned completely. Other things block the growth toward completion. Mental illness, physical illness, a job we need to take for the money, big life events such as getting married (I raise my hand. While I don’t at all regret getting married, it was a distraction from many things.) Distractions of all varieties surround us, whether positive or negative. Perhaps some things are not meant to reach completion. Perhaps some things are impossible to complete by nature, perhaps some things are continuous. And as a former perfectionist, I can say that completing some things just to complete them is not worth the anxiety and stress.

Why do we allow our worth to be defined by our list of accomplishments or lack of completions? Aren’t these “things” just lessons? We are eternal beings; what does it matter if you don’t complete that big project because you had a melt down trying to perfectly complete all the other projects in your planner? Granted, started things give our lives drive and passion. For those of us with depression, they can be windows to a more enriched life. But started things do not define us. Perhaps that started thing that ended was a lesson in itself; perhaps it was not for you.

Started things cannot heal you. They may draw you out of your cave, but they are not an end. If we rely on started things alone to complete and heal us, they will not be completed, but instead become those limp, soggy scraps in our brains. And we’re likely to crawl back into the cave with that dim, greasy lighting.

Started things are not a waste of time or entirely lost to time. We can start again. We can pick up where we left off, even though we may need to backtrack a little. And it’s okay if you try and try and try and it is never completed. Perhaps that started thing is meant only to be started. Do your best. Your Higher Power will do the rest.

Happy Monday!