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You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be. (Chuck Palahniuk)
As I write this, a family stands in a hospital waiting room, forced to make a decision — the hardest decision. As I write this, a young man who I knew lies in a hospital bed, his chest moving up and down only because of the air forced into his body by machinery. His heart beats because of that same machinery.
Last night, while Jeremy and I enjoyed a quiet dinner, a young man stood in his kitchen, faced his wife, and handed her a note. Apologizing. And then he put a nail gun to his head, and shot himself with it.
Today, they will unplug the machines which breathed for him, which beat his heart for him. Today, he will die by his own hand. His mother and father, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, his wife, will suffer and grieve. His children will suffer and grieve.
The only one whose suffering has ended (presumably — since I cannot know what follows this life), is him. For the rest, a new suffering has just begun.
This young man was troubled. He had a difficult childhood. The people who should have loved him and cared for him either could not or did not know how. He suffered abuse. He suffered. He went without — food, education, health care, love.
He carried this into the rest of his life. He took drugs — bad ones, and a lot of them. I saw him powder narcotic pain medication and snort it up his nose. He drank. He had affairs, recklessly and with the kind of abandon that tells you he’s using them as another way to drown all that hurts him.
He had trouble with the law. And then some more. He did time. He got out, and picked up where he left off. He chased oblivion with the determination of one who’s bent on getting there, come what may.
He fathered a son with one woman. He was not a good father to this son. He was not a good partner to the mother. He left them, and sired a daughter with another woman. Before her pregnancy even started to show, this woman left him, recognizing finally, the danger inherent in the relationship. He found another woman, one who already had three children. They married. And then yesterday, he put a nail gun to his head and killed himself in front of her.
I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me feels relief. Part of me feels sorrow. Part of me pity, part of me compassion. Part of me condemnation, part of me understanding.
I suppose that my feelings about this should be simple, but they’re not. The daughter he never met, and the woman who left him before her pregnancy even started to show? I know them and love them both deeply — they have permanent reserve on some of the most tender parts of my heart.
There was always a shred of hope that one day, he might see what his choices were doing — to him, to everyone around him. Now that shred of hope is gone, and all that remains for the rest of us is the walking forward.
Even before he knew what it was that he attempted to do, he was working to kill himself, in bits and pieces. Even as a child not yet in middle school. He had a nice smile, warm chocolate brown eyes and rich dark hair. And a hole inside him that no amount of pills, or booze, or sex, or danger could ever quite fill.
And someday, I will sit with the woman and the girl. I will try to explain why this man, who should have been a father to her, was not. Where he went. Why he chose what he chose. Why she will never have the chance to know this part of her ancestry, this part of her beginnings. I will try to help explain the unexplainable.
All of that is yet before me, before them. Today, all I can do is pray. That he feels the peace that eluded him his entire life, at last. That he is at rest. That he is finally cradled by someone who feels nothing but unconditional love for him. That he can finally lay down his burdened heart, and know that no matter what has happened to him or because of him, he is beautiful and precious and always was.
“We live in a culture that tells us that there is never enough. That we are not enough, that we are not good enough, that we are not safe enough, that we can never be certain enough, that we’re not perfect enough. And maybe the one that we really don’t talk about, that I think is perhaps the most dangerous, is that we are not extraordinary enough. In this world, somehow, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life. And so often we are missing what is truly important because we’re on the quest for what is extraordinary. Not understanding that in our ordinary lives, in the ordinary moments of our lives, is really where we can find the most joy.” (Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW)
I love this woman and her message. She’s willing to look at – and talk about – all the things that we turn away from. Thought I’d share this with you today – it’s something I’ll bring into the hours and the minutes of my day today.
Watch the full video on her blog here.
When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing. (Saint Francis of Assisi)
Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and walked out of there feeling like a brand-new-gal. These gatherings have been one of my greatest joys as a Reiki practitioner (for about a bazillion reasons). Tonight, we got to talking about prayer and prayerfulness. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I was so glad to get the input and thoughts of others as I muse over, ponder over, and chew on the whole concept of prayer, and the attitude of prayerfulness.
God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)
I have had a complicated relationship with prayer, I think. Maybe most people have – I don’t know. All I know is that I was raised as a Catholic, and that was my religious foundation for a great deal of my life. I don’t even want to get into that whole phenomenon of Catholic anger, or the idea of the “recovering Catholic.” That’s not what I’m driving at here, and I don’t really identify with either of those things. My Catholic upbringing – and my specific exposure to that perspective – gave me one conception of prayer, one way to live prayer, one way to act in prayer. And for a long time, that was the only way I could think about praying.
I believe I am finally in a place where I can actually appreciate the meaning of the word prayerful for the first time in my life. Of sensing the necessary openness, instead of expectation. And I came to it through Reiki.
One part of Reiki is actually providing yourself and others with treatment – that’s the part that most people are familiar with. They’ve seen it on the news, they’ve seen it on Dr. Oz, they’ve read about it online. And, all of that exposure? It’s great. I love it. But it neglects so much.
It’s the other part of Reiki that seems to be unseen, unacknowledged, and undiscussed. The inward part – the part where the practitioner (the one who practices) commits to walking a spiritual path. The part of Reiki that is the act of living prayerfully.
In college, I read Dorothy Day’s biography, and the quote that most struck me was when she said, “I could not go to God on my knees.” For such a long time, I really thought that was pretty much the only option I had – to be penitent, knees bent, head bowed, staring downward.
Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. (Walter A. Mueller)
In the intervening years between reading and identifying with that quote and today, my conception of prayer, and my understanding of what it means to be prayerful, has grown and blossomed. Yes, there are times I go to God on my knees, but I let it be in reverence, and not in shame. There are also times I go with arms held high, feeling joyful and embraced. Feeling jubilant.
Eddie Izzard, a rather unconventional comedian, does quite a few skits on religion. (I love his comedy – it’s intelligent and quick and wry.) In one particular skit, he says that one of the things that’s always bewildered him is the way that so many Christians manage to sing praise songs in a dirge tone. That was my experience growing up – attending church each Sunday and watching the congregants sing Alleluia as though they were going to the gallows. And I prayed dirgefully. Uck.
Reiki has brought me a new way to experience prayer – something which I did not expect. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in Reiki Shares and in other gatherings, but not here on my blog. For me, providing treatment for someone becomes a prayerful experience. I tell clients that it feels almost as though the entire session becomes one long prayer. There is peace, and silence, and the space for them to heal and to find resolution. For me, there is inner quiet, and a meditative state that is something quite different than the state I’m in when I grocery shop or watch tv. There is an attentiveness and openness on the part of both myself and the client. We each enter the session with hopes (a form of prayer) and intentions (a kind of petition) and openness (the willingness to hear and receive the results of those hopes and intentions).
Prayer gives a man the opportunity of getting to know a gentleman he hardly ever meets. I do not mean his maker, but himself. (William Inge)
I try to bring more of that into my day (with varying degrees of success). I try to bring myself into a state of mindfulness more often in my everyday life. I try to think prayerfully, walk prayerfully. Be prayerful.
Being prayerful, for me, has come to mean:
- Being soft like water – able to bend with the flexible and changing world around me.
- Being passionate like fire – able to feel all the things that it means to be human with depth and meaning.
- Being open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving.
- Being mindful of all the world around me, and the deservingness of everyone and everything to be treated with the reverence that is due one of God’s creations.
- Being mindful of my speech, knowing that the wrong words have such ability to harm.
- Being mindful of my attitudes, knowing that I (like everyone else) tend to get “stuck” in them.
- Being mindful of my part in all things – that even when I feel as though I’ve been wronged, there is something in that experience that is mine, and that I need to own.
- Open arms. Open hands. Open heart.
- More listening, less talking.
My intention this month was to work at being more prayerful in my daily life. I want to embrace all the ways that prayer has been a blessing to me in both joy and sorrow. I want to walk, knowing that with each step I take, I have an opportunity to walk prayerfully. With each breath, I have an opportunity to breathe prayerfully. Each word, each thought, each action – is an opportunity to be prayerful.
I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. (Abraham Lincoln)
It is of course possible to dance a prayer. (Terri Guillemets)
I wrote about this tonight because it’s occupying my thoughts, and I wanted to write about it to see where I was with it. I fully expect my feelings, thoughts, and ideas about prayer to change and grow – I welcome it. When I “write to discovery,” as I intended to do tonight, I tend not to be as eloquent as when I feel sure of what I’m saying – thanks for bearing with that.
I’d love to hear about what prayerfulness means for others. How do you experience prayer? How do you live prayer in your life? What things have you had to heal about prayer in order to get where you are today?
Part of walking the path of mastery is picking up all the pieces of your life one by one, like stones on the riverbank, and holding them in your hands. Turning them over and over, examining them. Seeing them again and for the first time. My growing relationship to prayer is another of those stones – one which I know I’ll cup thoughtfully in my palm many times as I walk forward.
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.
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.
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music. (Angela Monet)
In one of my previous blogs, I wrote to the realization that I’d spent the majority of my life actively working to sterilize myself (metaphorically, and somewhat literally). It wasn’t until this bend on my path – and the discovery of my creative self, and my inner, passionate and unrestrained soul – that I was able to see clearly what all of my perfectionism was working so hard to achieve – utter and complete annihilation of my ‘messy’ emotional self.
If there is no great passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you, and BECAUSE of you. (T. Alan Armstrong)
One of the major struggles of my life has been to embrace and rejoice in my femininity. From my earliest memories onward, I greeted and engaged life with a very masculine approach. And, I was very good at it – I very ably ‘wore the pants’ and was better at being the head of household than most men. I was a go-getter, I was assertive, I was forward and direct. I was a very capable linear and rational thinker. I was raised to be my father’s ‘little buddy,’ and in many ways, I was expected to fulfill the role of the ‘eldest son.’ My female self was subjugated, made small – my womanhood was stifled and denied.
My emotionality, my femininity, my creativity, my passion were locked deep in the darkest corner of my heart. I allowed them release in my private journals, or in the bedroom, or in poems I never showed to anyone. I allowed myself to experience the power of them seldomly, and with purpose and control.
We all need to look into the dark side of our nature – that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying. (Sue Grafton)
Smothering those elemental energies is a recipe for combustion – passion is not meant to be kept confined. Deep within, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before one of two things happened – my passions rode free, or I managed to kill them completely.
When I started coming to Three Sisters’ Spirit over a year ago, I sought Reiki training – a modality that is all about bringing balance to the body, emotions, mentality, and spirit. I know, with bone-deep certainty, that my path to becoming a Reiki Master Teacher has been essential in freeing those trapped parts of myself. Reiki has been absolutely instrumental in helping me to find and seek balance for all the parts of myself.
I also started attending the MoonCircle groups facilitated by Dani. I showed up hungry for something I could not name. I found a God who looked like me, felt like me, breathed and sang and danced like me. I found a way to see myself in my own Divinity. I discovered the power, the beauty, and the passion that resides in the Goddess of the trinity. I was able to make the final leap from rejecting a male god, and rebelling against my upbringing (which left me alone, yowling, and bereft in the desert of the Dark Night) to finding a spirituality and conception of God that I could embrace (and one which embraced me back).
Tonight I attended another MoonCircle group. I am a lot further along my path now than I was when Dani first handed me the manna for which I hungered. Lately, I find myself welcoming and helping other women feel at ease in our circle. I am coming full circle. Full. Circle. (Beautiful, beautiful). I have become a handmaiden to the priestess. I have become a Eucharistic minister, of sorts.
I wish that I could say that my appreciation for my woman-self came rushing back to me with trumpets and flames and joy and accolades. It didn’t. I always say that you can choose to do a thing with grace, or you can kick and scream and be dragged along to your fate. Because some things are fated – and we just choose the manner of our acquiescence.
It was more of a slow blossoming – a process that I feel now is really just starting. I had to get past the fear of showing the world my own beautifully messy soul. I had to get past and over the idea that to be feminine is to be weak. I had to discover in minutes and miles the grace, power, and transformative energy of stepping into my woman-self. I had to allow my passion to leak out at the corners, slowly and almost imperceptible. I had to let it dip its toes into the waves, before I could open the floodgates.
There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life. (Frederico Fellini)
I am coming to a plateau – in the best of possible ways. I really feel that I am coming to a place where I can allow and encourage my masculine and feminine selves to exist in equality within me. I am arriving at the place where I can enjoy my own formidable nature – when I exhibit it with masculine tendencies (for me, very lingual) or with a feminine manner (which I am still discovering).
I want to get to the place where I can wear my luscious, passionate, juicy woman-self on my sleeve and let the world see and marvel at it – without a single trace of shame and fear. I will get there. Now that I’ve opened the doors to the inner sanctum, and experienced how good it feels, I know there is no going back – only forward, into the mystery. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, God).
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot. (D. H. Lawrence)
Tonight, we gathered in a circle of women. We set the sacred space. We shared our women-stories. We held one another in the grace of the moment. We knew we were safe here. Cherished, and admired and celebrated. That’s part of what MoonCircle is about. Another part, especially for me, is allowing all of that to come into being – to find expression – in our lives (especially this month, with the new moon in Gemini).
We made Soul Collages, clipping hurriedly the things that caught our eye. Snipping bits of sentences, and cutting carefully around the images that spoke to us. I decided to share mine here on my blog – because I can look at this expression, this song of my soul, and rejoice.
Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping…waiting…and though unwanted…unbidden…it will stir…open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us…guides us…passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love…the clarity of hatred…and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace…but we would be hollow…Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead. (Joss Whedon)
My Soul Collage Poem:
In with the good
Delight at the serenity
Room to grow.
The surprising life,
Some relationships are meant to be.
I write my own magical name,
It’s nature’s secret.
It is a(n)