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I attended and graduated from Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and I – like every woman to pass through those hallowed halls of learning – was required to take a course entitled ‘Search for Meaning.’ The class was four credits – two of which were philosophy-oriented, and two of which were spiritually-oriented. We had two instructors – translation: we had two times four credits of homework for the class, and we ended up christening it all sorts of things like ‘Search for Sanity,’ or ‘Search for my Lost Social Life.’

And despite the workload, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. It was a deeply important part of the formation of my growing spiritual and philosophical nature.

Every student to pass through Mount Mary was required to take that course, and despite the differences in content for each section, one requirement never wavered: we all read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who’s path led him to witness and endure some of humanity’s most horrific acts against its own members (the Holocaust) – his suffering and the suffering of those around him inspired him upon his release to write it out and send it out into the world anonymously. At the last moment, a friend talked him into at least putting his name on the title page. And this short book stands as a testament to humanity’s quest to discover the meaning of life, even and especially amidst great suffering.)

I’ve found myself thinking about that book on and off in the years since I took that class, since I graduated, and a lot of life happened, and a lot of change happened. I found myself thinking about it for a few weeks, so I finally dug it out and I’ve been curling up with it for a few minutes a day since I unearthed it from the depths.

It’s interesting to see the places where I marked the pages. What I underlined then, what I underlined now. The differences in perspective. The ability to see deeper than before, and to catch nuance and meaning in things that all those years ago, I didn’t know would become important.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite parts with you tonight. I’ll let them stand alone, because they speak for themselves.

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are real and concrete.”

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it….The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends….He simply gave up….and nothing bothered him anymore.”

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you….human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.”

I’ve been going through some tough stuff lately, and learning some hard lessons. Revisiting this helped me put things into perspective, and to remind me of some of the things I believe in. It helped me refocus on the core of what I hold to be true in what sometimes feels like a world gone mad. Hope you found something here for you, too.

Um... Yeah. It looks kinda like that for all of us. The comfort is that I'm pretty sure it's supposed to 🙂

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The Winding Path

The only substance properly so called is the soul. (Henri Frederic Amiel)

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow. (Aesop)

Man is a substance clad in shadows. (John Sterling)

 

When I started this blog, my hope was to tell a real story. To say real things. To capture real moments. To talk about struggle and about joy in a real way, saying real things. To reveal all the stolen moments, and bits of life that make up our days and all the minutes and seconds and parts of seconds that weave themselves into a life. That culminate, someday, in a legacy of some sort. Yeah. That’s kind of a heavy goal, I suppose.

I wanted to talk about what it’s really like to walk a path of mastery. I think that people have the illusion that mastery is a goal, with an endpoint. The substance of the journey is that you fill your life with substance. That you fill those moments, and the quest for mastery with the substance of life. That you pick up in your hands, and turn over like stones, all the bits and pieces of what it means to be human – and what it means for you to be human – and you look at them (really look), and ponder it. Maybe you come to the conclusion that there is no conclusion to come to – that contemplation was the important thing, after all. That, and the willingness to engage the flexible world around you.

And yesterday, my dear friend Queen Dani passed on the award for A Blog with Substance… to me! A high complement (Queens have discerning taste, doncha know…it’s right in the job description). In Her Majesty’s words:

I will buckle down and choose to pass on this award to……… Carolyn – a young woman, wise beyond her years, who shows up in life each day and opening her heart a little wider than sometimes even she thought it could go, leaves this world a better place for her having been in it. I love her and everything about her. I love what she stands for, what she stands up for and what she speaks up and out for.  I love her style of writing, her words, her art, her “sassytude”, her courage and her strength. She reminds me of me at her age, and in doing that, she is a touchstone and an inspiration- also reminding me of what I came here to do, especially on the days I forget and/or stumble.”

Wow.

One of the most unifying desires of humankind (something I stumbled onto while on this path of mastery thing…), is the desire to be heard, to be seen. I never expected to win any awards for this blog, but the recognition is great. Thanks for hearing me, and seeing me!

The irony of it is, that the gratitude is mine – I am deeply grateful to have made the acquaintance of Queen Dani at the moment I most needed her depth, her soulfulness, and her unique talent for bringing the fuzzy into acute focus. I am the one who’s grateful for her willingness to share with everyone around her the deep spirituality she’s cultivated throughout her life, for her willingness to share her own stories of struggle to light the path for others, for her deep commitment to serving others and to the example that she provides for so many to follow. For opening her heart to me, and to so many others like me. Thank you, Queen Dani, for reminding me who I am every day, and giving me the gift of myself through another’s eyes.

So, in order to keep this going, I need to follow the ‘rules’ of the award:

1.) Thank the person who awarded it to you.
2.) Pass it on to other blogs which you feel have substance.
3.) Sum up your blogging philosophy in 5 (five) words.

 

If you do read my blog, you’ll know that I’ll definitely have trouble with the last directive…brevity has never been one of my strong points! And, I’m taking the second directive literally, and awarding this to three separate blogs – the substance of which, and the authors of which have enriched my days and my journey. The first goes to Ebb Tide, (and to poetblogger Sarah Whiteley) for her bravery in putting her poetry out into the world for all to read, to examine, to critique. For putting into words the longing of the human heart, the nuances of the human experience. For bravely sashaying out into the internet jungle armed only with her poet’s soul and sensibilities, and planting her flag. For your bravery, your beauty, and your talent, I salute you.

The second blog I want to recognize is Living Out Loud (and the author, the Great Martina). Her continuing exploration into what it means to live joyfully is brave in a world which forgets to value joy. Her daring and her moxie for climbing back onto her pedestal, despite the detractors rattling away at the base of it, inspires me. For refusing to be silenced, for refusing to accept less, for refusing to allow her crown to be usurped, I grant you this award!

The third blog I would like to recognize is morethingsithink (and the author Faerian) for her uniqueness – for her willingness to be someone who is brave enough to “reach beyond the ordinary.” For being a joywarrior, for inspiring me to claim the same for myself, for putting out into the world your musings and your explorations. For sharing with all of us your beautiful spirit, your creative spark, and your journey to embrace your own beautifully messy soul, I salute you.

And now the hard part. To state my blogging philosophy in five short words. Since my blog attempts to reflect the way I live, that’s really a life philosophy. (*gulp*) Only five words, hey? Okay, here goes!

SEEK ● FIND ● DARE ● EXPLORE ● LOVE

Yeah. That about sums it up, actually – and my Sagittarian nature is probably pretty apparent in that micro-manifesto!

Thank you for seeing me, for hearing me, and for reading this blog. I can assure you that it is I, fellow bloggers, who is the one enriched by all of you and the bravery with which you show up each day and tell your stories. Namaste.

These are little scraps of magic & when you paste them together you get a memory of something fine & strong, she said. Sometimes it takes till you’re 40 to see it though. (Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

This is Abby, my niece. She’s three. She’s enamored of glue. She reaches into my bag every single time I see  her and grabs out the gluestick I keep in there, and begs me to do ‘arts and crafts’ with her, because one time when she was over, she asked what all the stuff on the table was for, and her Auntie (me) told her that’s where she did her arts and crafts. You never know what little tidbits will stick there, forever, in their minds.

On the day this picture was taken, I relented. I dressed her up in one of my dad’s old shirts as her artist’s smock, and let her hold the gluestick. I papered the table. I pulled out all the supplies. And I turned around to see her gazing with adoration and amazement at this glorious thing in her hands…the fabled gluestick. The look on her face is one that I need to remember – that look of childlike wonder and excitement.

I want to have that look on my face when I pull out the art supplies and get to “work.” Maybe I should stop calling it work, and start calling it play, instead. I want to have that look on my face each time I do a Numerology Chart for a client, or meet with a new group for Reiki Share, or gather a new class for Reiki Training. I want to have that look on my face when I show up to do what I do.

In my heart, that’s how I feel about it – so, I should let it shine outward. Let it permeate who I am, and what I show up with every day.

I want to cultivate that wonder. I want to feel the magic when I hold the tools in my hands and set to work.

She tapped her finger & nothing happened & she thought she had lost her magic, but it had only changed & it took her awhile to figure it out. (Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

When I was in high school (which will date me, but whatever), Garth Brooks was huge, and that song was huge. And every time we have a night like tonight, where wave after wave of storms rolls over us, unleashing fury in crash and thrash and torrent, the words of that song come creeping back in.

I taught Reiki tonight – to a woman who made a long journey to come and be a part of the class each day. To a woman who braved Tornado Warnings and funnel cloud sightings and sheets of rain to drive here. To a woman who so valued the training, that she made an arduous trek to complete it. I honor her dedication, and her commitment to the path that she said she’d spent over ten years waiting to pursue.

I thought about that a lot tonight, as we intermittently checked the front windows of the shop to ensure that we weren’t on the brink of ending up following the yellow brick road, instead of the Reiki path (haha). About how some of the things that we want desperately end up lying mysteriously easily in the palms of our hands, as though they’d been nestled there all along. And how other things, other longings, seemed to have to cost you, seemed to have to exact a price.

We lit candles to make sure that there would be some light if the storm managed to knock out the power. As the electricity pulsed and dimmed over and over again, I thought a lot about how it said something about her character, and the depths of her desire, to saunter out into the storm to complete her training. It says something about each of us, when we pursue the things that don’t seem to want to come easily. It says something about who we are deep inside.

I always think of it as being willing to bleed for it – not to be gross. What are you willing to bleed for, to sweat for, to sacrifice for, to bring into being? I look around at a lot of people in my generation, and in the generation coming up behind my generation, and there’s this pervasive sense of entitlement. Well, folks, newsflash – you might get to the top of the heap by lucky accident, but you’ve gotta stay there by your own will. Or you have to put in your time in the trenches, so that someday, you can stand at the top and survey how far you’ve come.

When did we ever think that this was supposed to be easy? Just where in the heck did that come from? Where did we ever get the idea that it wasn’t supposed to hurt, wasn’t supposed to cost us, wasn’t supposed to leave scars? Life does that – if you’re really living it.

If you’re really living it, going deep, and putting yourself out there, you risk – and those who risk gain the rewards. Those who show up in their own lives every day risk much, but gain much. It is just as much work to maintain a true apathy, as it is to cultivate the ability to be PRESENT in your life.

Do you show up? Do you risk anything? What hill are you willing to die upon? What are you willing to hurt for? I think about that, as I listen to the “where’s-mine-ers” and the “me-too-ers” and everyone else who thinks it all just comes so easily – all the people who think that they should just have it handed to them.

And then I thought about my student tonight, and I realized that she valued what she came to receive. She knew that sometimes, things have to cost you – and the things you’ve longed for – the things that fill your soul to bursting – are worth the price you pay for them.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. It felt important to acknowledge this, and to talk about it tonight (as the thunder rolls, and the lightning strikes…)

You know what? Last week sucked. Indescribably. And, that’s okay.

It was a week full of FOG (as one of my dear friends says – FOG = F’n Opportunities for Growth). Well, it seems to be clearing up now, and I can tell you that even in the midst of all of it, I knew that I’d be grateful for each moment of discomfort…perhaps not just then, but soon – and deeply.

And it’s true. I am. Each day of last week felt as though it were three days long – and by the end of the week, I felt like the world had turned round on its axis a few more times for me than it had for anyone else. And, that’s okay.

Presumptuously, thanks for understanding blogosphere folks, why I’d need to take a few days to let it all assimilate. I am okay – and even though I know this won’t be the last time I have a really FOGgy week, I know that once all the mist fades away, what you’re left with is clarity. And that is worth the price of any discomfort.

Tonight has been one of the worst, yuckiest, most craptastical nights I have, perhaps, ever had. The kind of night that made me want to pull down the curtains of my soul, and numb out everything around me. The kind of night, where it feels like all I can do to keep my breathing low and controlled, and to keep looking right in front of me, and to not look too far off, because I would lose it.

Tonight, this is my prayer. Tonight, this is the note I want to end on. No matter how awful something is, there is a spark of hope within me, always, that it is truly not as awful as it seems.

My niece Abby and me, July 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once upon a time, I was a high school English teacher, and in that life, there was something that I sought out eagerly each day, attempted to create, and leapt upon like a tigress when it appeared – the teachable moment. That happy circumstance when I had attention, interest, engagement, and most importantly, opportunity.

The funny thing is, that when you’re a teacher down to your bones, from the moment of your birth, the way that I am, finding the teachable moment is actually a kind of sixth sense – one that (to the dismay, and eye-rolls, of many of my associates), I can identify and take advantage of no matter the circumstance. I kind of can’t help it – I see the perfect moment to provide illumination, and I take it. I’m a teacher – and I can no more let the opportunity pass by, than I could stop being who I am.

Today I went to my folks’ house to do laundry and hang out with my three-year-old niece, Abby. She’s both the best and most important ‘student’ I’ve ever had, and the best and most important ‘teacher’ I’ve ever had.

We had a great time today – she loves her Auntie, and we have all sorts of adventures together when I’m there. She has an incredibly rich inner world, which she’s pleased as punch to draw me (and anyone else who’s handy) into.

Today, we had one of those unexpected teachable moments. I was in the laundry room folding a load, and she grabbed what she calls her ‘Jesus book’ – a children’s book of Bible stories – and her duckie, and planted herself next to the washer. I sank down onto the floor next to her, and asked her if she’d like me to tell her the stories in her book.

With the dryer humming in the background, and the washer swishing away behind us, we went through the entire book – a rare thing with that three-year-old attention span. I didn’t read what was on the pages, but told her the stories from memory. I pointed out all the major players, and gave her the gist of each tale in a few sentences.

The last story in the book was the one about Jesus and the little children – the one where the man tries to shag off the kids who’ve gathered around Jesus, and Jesus stops him and tells him to let the children stay. Abby was really tuned in, and I could just feel all of the tumblers working in her quick little mind.

She’s had a kind of rough time of things for being only three – nothing horrid, but not a whole lot of stability. I told her that she could talk to Jesus anytime she wanted to, and He would always listen to her, always. I asked her if she wanted me to show her how – she nodded and then got to her feet to stand in front of me. I held my hands in prayer in front of my heart, and I started, “Dear Jesus, I had a hard time today…” She mirrored my every movement, repeated each word, on her own.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)

I am her godmother. Once upon a time, when my sister was pregnant, she debated whether, with my unconventional spirituality, I would be a suitable godmother for her child. That was like a dagger in my heart – and I’ve had a hard time healing it. No matter my own personal spirituality, I told her, that God-forbid, if something happened to her, I would do everything in my power to do all that I thought she would have done, and more.

So, I became Abby’s godmother – a role I take seriously, despite my distance from the faith I was raised with. No matter how far away I get from Catholicism, it’s never gone – it’s just become a part of the broad and deep pool of spiritual knowing and experience I’ve built for myself. Every child needs spiritual teachers, no matter what tradition.

Today, I taught my niece to pray. I told her that she did have someone to take all her troubles to – that when she has a hard day, and things feel crummy, she had someone to talk to in every moment. Someone who, though they may not answer back, would hear everything that she told them. She seemed to really take it in. She paused. She was quiet and thoughtful.

Today, I was more grateful for my innate teacher habits than I’ve ever been – today, I had a golden moment with my niece, my goddaughter. Today, I was able to act as her spiritual teacher, the role I was given when she was born, and one I cherish the opportunity to fulfill.

It was especially poignant, because they will be moving in a few weeks, and I know she’s not terribly pleased about it. It will be her third move in as many years. I wanted her to have somewhere to go with all that she will feel about it.

I totally realize that she’s three, and that there’s a whole lot more to prayer than what I was able to tell her today, but this was an important moment. It was the first of many to come.

Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and as I left, it struck me again how grateful I am to be who I am, doing what I am doing, where I am doing it. It struck me again how wonderful it’s been to have this opportunity – how wonderful it feels to be doing something that feels so exactly right for who I am and who I’ve longed to be.

I know that I write a lot about the discomforts of the path of mastery…and not a lot about the blessings. Tonight I thought about those blessings – and about how they are ever-present in my life.

I used to have moments when I felt utterly bereft, as though there was no solace, no corner of comfort for me anywhere, in my entire life. I haven’t felt that way in a long time – I have found my solace, I have found what gives me succor.

Tonight we talked about the Reiki precepts, and we talked about walking the path of mastery and what that means. I think that anyone who’s ever embarked on any kind of spiritual journey, or a journey to self-mastery can say that, at least once, they wished they’d been the kind of person who was content not to question every bloody thing. That they wished for a ‘normal’ and ‘quiet’ life. And tonight I said, “But that is not what it has been given you to do.” And as I said it, I realized that that statement was for me.

There is no way on earth that I could live another life than the one I have. There is no way I could just decide to derail this path, hop off, and get on another one. It is not given me to do. There is no way, because I would be miserable. This is what has been given me to do.

I asked for this – longed for it, in fact. As a child, I was fascinated by the Christian mystics, by the hermits, by those who heard a call deep within their souls to take up their banner and march down a rockier, steeper, bendier path than the others around them. I was intrigued by those who held aloft a lantern to light the way for so many others who trudged similarly fraught paths.

The conditions of the path are really immaterial – whether I was a nurse, or a police officer, or a nun, or a coal miner, or a Reiki master, what I could not forsake is this need to look deeply, to question, to ponder, to explore. That is what has been given me to do.

When I finally was able to pursue Reiki training in the way I’d longed for so long to do, it was like a homecoming. It was like some fretting bird finally quieted and was soothed in my soul. Because I’d found it, finally, the lantern I would bear for others, and for myself.

Dear Makenna,

I know that you said that you hate this picture of yourself. But you are eight.

I will keep it for you, so that when you are sixteen, I can give it to you to remind you that you were once totally free and did not care what other people thought.

When you are twenty-five, let it remind you that there is more to life than getting your life in order – that once, you only cared about which garden path’s hiding places looked most appealing.

When you are thirty-five, look at it, and remember, that once you knew exactly who you were without having to question everything. That once, you knew how to play, effortlessly.

When you are forty-five, look at it and see how you used to be able to cross dimensions so easily – make-believe, reality, make-believe – and that you knew there was a time and a place for each of them.

When you are sixty-five, you will look at this picture, and your heart will sing, because you will have realized that this little nymph still lives somewhere inside of you, and that when the house is quiet and the television is turned off, you can almost feel what it was like to wear pigtails and flowers and run into the sun.

When you are old, and your body has started to betray you, and the feeling of running has become more of a dream than something remembered, look at this picture and be reminded that you came here to live out loud, to dream in real time. That once, you gathered in a garden and played, that you wore a fairy’s regalia, not knowing the queen you were then, or that you would become.

I will keep it for you, since you can’t know how important it really is. I will keep it for me, too, to remind me that some things in life only become holy relics with time, and change, and distance.

I will keep it for you, and when the time is right, I will hand it to you and watch memory, and knowing, wash over your face.

Love,

Carolyn

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)