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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Transformation’ Category

Our most habitual and compelling feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are.  If we are caught in the trance of unworthiness, we experience that core as flawed.  When we take life personally by I-ing and my-ing, the universal sense that “something is wrong” easily solidifies into “something is wrong with me.

Tara Brach in Radical Acceptance: Embracing Life with the heart of Buddha

 

Okay, it has been almost two weeks since I last blogged.  I get into the zone of my life, and I forget about the blog until I start to get a nagging pull to write.  I started feeling this way two days ago, and  I decided to observe my process since it is emblematic of how I operate. It is interesting that I responded to my internal blog due date, since I have not established one officially, the way I use to react to professional writing deadlines; in other words, the way I react to responsibility.  As you may recall from past blogs, I (or should I say, my inner child) hates and avoids responsibility; and, I see now that I have turned this blog from something I love to something I HAVE to do.  It’s no wonder I have not been blogging!  Achh!  Why do I do this?

Perhaps David Friedman’s Thought Exchange system can help me get to the bottom of this; I finally got the book on Monday, and I am actually reading it!  So, according to Friedman, thoughts lead to physical sensations that lead to thoughts and beliefs, and, ultimately, to a manifestation.  My not writing my blog on time is the manifestation of my thought/belief; and, even shallow digging reveals that I have always felt like a Slacker, and on some level, I believe I am one.  I had so much adult responsibility as a child, that anything else I did as I grew older paled in comparison; hence, I always feel like I am not doing enough.

As I think about this, the belief that I am a slacker probably originated out of guilt for not wanting to do serve as my parents’ translator and English scribe when I should have been doing kid things.  I have the belief, but what is the thought, since the two are different?  I am thinking that the belief is “I won’t do it”, or, is it, “I can’t do it.”  Aha!  As a child, I probably doubted my ability to complete the adult tasks assigned to me, so I developed the thought that “I can’t do it.”  But that is different from slacking, isn’t it?  Slackers don’t want to do whatever “it” is, whether they can or not.  But then again, our thoughts and beliefs are often based on falsehood, and they don’t make sense.

Byron Katie, whose system, The work, also deals with thoughts, would ask me to interrogate whether I know that my thoughts are true; and, they are not.  I am not a SLACKER!  If I were, I would not have graduated from college at 16, from college at 20, and from graduate school at 22.  I also would not have completed a doctorate at 32, but I admit that I was disappointed that I was not done by age 30.  I am reciting these accomplishments not to brag but to dissuade myself of the “SLACKER” belief.  But, again, because I didn’t want to be forced into doing things, like publishing for the sake of publishing, I concluded that I was a master SLACKER.  David Friedman advises that I exchange my thought “I won’t” to “I will” and my slacker belief to “I am industrious.”  And, Byron Katie would ask, who would I be without those thoughts?  A happy and productive blogger!

 

 

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Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

-Neale Donald Walsch-

I thought it might be good to take stock in the past year before I start writing about 2012.  I can’t believe that wrote a total of 58 blog posts this past year; it is interesting, however, that I still have not written a background description for “About the blog” section. I hasn’t been the right time, I guess.  Still, it would have been nice to reach 60 posts, as the WordPress people were encouraging me to do, but it didn’t happen. I was not avoiding, though; I was just too busy living to write.  Yes, I have finally come out–remember the post with the Diana Ross song title?  It’s happening!  I am thrilled.  Elated.  I feel like Houdini after escaping the nailed and chained packing crate submerged under the East River in NYC.  Though I am still teaching two online courses, I am emotionally done with academia.  Over!  And, I have started a new life.

Meeting Judith Chusid on July 31 was transformational, professionally, spiritually, and socially.  As part of my training for Success is an Inside Job™ (SIIJ) workshops, I attended one myself, participated in an ongoing group working on blocks to success, and attended trainings on psychodrama. And although I felt lost at first, I shut down my Greek chorus when it started to berate me; and, pushing past the initial confusion, I see that psychodrama builds on my prior social work and spiritual knowledge and skill, and in the spring, I will be running workshops on my own.  Also, my academic way of thinking complements my collaborators’’ analytic training, which means that I am using all aspects of myself, as I had been longing to do.

So, after years of feeling professionally depleted and unappreciated, both Judith and Paul, from the Blanton-Peale Institute, sincerely value me.  As I write this, I am thinking that, I must be loving myself more, since our experiences and the people around us mirror our inner life. Oh, and wait, there is more.  I am meeting so many interesting people, both socially and professionally through Judith and SIIJ—fashion models, actors, writers, business people, and a recovering academic!  I am exploring the world beyond the Ivory Tower, and I am learning that no matter what we do for a living, or how successful we are, we all have the same fears and longings.

Before I go, I want to thank you for reading this past year and to wish you blessings beyond your wildest imaginations, like the ones I have received this past year. I will continue to write, though I am wondering about changing the format and the frequency.  We shall see.

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For me.  That I might love as I have been loved.  I pour out my heart to the God of all mercies.

via The Thirteenth Station.

Today is Good Friday.  It is also the week before my second surgery anniversary.  For those of you who are not Christian, Good Friday is remembered as the day when Christ was crucified, and it is one of holiest days of the Christian church calendar.  It is a sad day, and as if divinely prearranged, it is cloudy and gloomy.  As I write, I wonder how I will connect these two themes, but I won’t know until I am done.

This week I continue to reflect on my surgery experience, two years later, and in preparation, I re-read my Caring Bridget Journal, an awesome website that allows families to follow the progress of ailing loved ones through a daily online journal, and it is free.  What a precious gift this was, and still is, for me.  My husband started chronicling my journey the day before I went into the hospital, posting updates with pictures from waiting rooms, patient rooms, and most amazingly, from ICU.  Can you believe that I had 3,143 site visits by friends and family!  As I browsed through the photos, two before and after, pictures struck me.  In the first, I am dressed for surgery in my light blue patient gown, and I am smiling.  I was so excited that I was going first and didn’t have to wait around feeling hungry and anxious.  In the second, about five hours later, I am zonked, bloated, on a respirator, and hooked up to electronic equipment. Was that me?  The love that radiates from that website made me teary, and it dawns on me that if I should ever feel abandoned, a childhood theme of mine, I can go on Caring Bridge.  How cool is that.

Surprisingly, this was one of the best times in my life.  Okay, I know this sounds strange.  But, although I was going through a breath-stopping scary period, not just because of the surgery, but because I’d also lost my job, the light within the darkness was astounding! I can’t say enough how comforted I felt emotionally and spiritually through God’s presence in people’s acts of kindness, in the gentleness and competency of my health care team, and by the miracle of my tranquility.  I faced open-heart surgery more openly (no pun intended) than I have academic job talks.  Scary, isn’t it?  Going into surgery, I felt loved, and I could do no wrong—except, of course, die, which would have annoyed a lot of people, but other than that, NOTHING.  On job interviews, I feel judged and torn apart.

As I said in my last post, the weeks preceding and immediately following the surgery, I was forced to live in the present because projecting into the future was breathtaking, and not in the good sense, and whenever I did, I reminded myself that, “You are fine NOW.”  Living in the present is a miracle anti-anxiety prescription, yet we don’t do it enough, which is why I am repeating it again this week.  My aneurysm put life in perspective.  Yes, I’d lost my job, but I already had a part-time job teaching online, which I could do from home after my initial recovery.  Most important, in this situation, I had health insurance, when so many people in this country don’t.  After the surgery, I was so exhausted, that all I could do was BE—no excessive and demanding mind chatter, no boredom despite not watching television, or reading.  I just was.  This was a first.  Another first was that, I had no appetite—my obsession with food vanished for weeks.

Pause.  I interrupted my writing to go to a service of The Stations of the Cross, which started with an introductory reading, before congregants and pastor walked to each of the fourteen stations of Jesus’ journey.  At each station, the pastor, my husband, did a reading, a participant read another passage, followed by a stanza of Stabat mater dolorosa.  The emotion in the room was palpable and moving.  I want to share a reading from the Second Station that especially resonates with me:

I contemplate the wood at that cross.

I imagine how heavy it is.

I reflect upon all it means that Jesus is carrying it.

I look into his eyes.

It’s all there.

 

This is for me.

So I place myself with him in this journey.

In its anguish.

In his freedom and surrender.

In the love that must fill his heart.

During the open-heart period of my life, I experienced love, surrender, freedom, humility, and gratitude, themes echoing throughout today’s service.  And, it dawned on me just now that, until my diagnosis, not having grown up within the church, I just could not relate to Jesus; I was Christian by birth not by understanding.  My thinking was, why go to Jesus, when I can go to God?  But upon learning that my heart would be cut open, I was instantly drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic devotional representation of Christ with his physical heart exposed, representing his divine love for humanity.  Don’t laugh, but that image, made Christ real for me.  In Christian belief, Christ died so that we could live, and even if I’d died on April 29, 2009, as my beloved teacher did while undergoing her open-heart surgery, I’d lived for the first time in my life, and I would have died knowing that I was loved.

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I have begun to have an idea of life, not as the shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived ideas, but as the gradual discovery of a purpose which I did not yet know.

–Joanna Field


In the social work and spirituality class I teach on Tuesdays, we took a spiritual/life inventory about where we were and where we saw ourselves in the future. J., a 26- year-old woman, who is expecting her first child, shared that she discovered from the exercise that she had no fun in her life right now. When I asked whether that is something she is missing, she said she was choosing to sacrifice now, and to have fun later. Then she said, “I don’t mean to offend the older students in this class, but I am starting my profession now that I am young, so that I can get it over with.”

 

At twenty, and in my masters of social work program, I sat in her chair; I remember looking around at the middle age women in the room, and thinking how smart I was, to know then, what had taken them so long to discover—that they wanted to be social workers. Funny J. should say that, when now in my mid life, I am trying to discover what I want to be when I grow up. For the first time in 55 years, I get to choose, and I am not sure I know how because I did my share of what I was “supposed to do. Although social work fits my commitment to service, healing, and social justice, I went to social work school because I was not ready for the real world. It is ironic that instead of escaping the writing demons that persecuted me since grade school, I would choose graduate school and writing more papers! After graduating with a Master’s I spent three years in the real world before fleeing back to school for a doctorate, and, you guessed it, more writing. Well, you know the rest—24 years of failed publication expectations, and three out of four failed contract renewals, again, because as painful as it was, school felt safer than not. I have a pattern going, here, and perhaps it’s time to change it. I have to stop running away from one perceived evil into the arms of another.

 

It seems that throughout my career, I have alternated between Limbo and Purgatory. For those of you who are not Catholic, Limbo is the place where souls who are not baptized go when they die. I am in academic limbo, because I am not tenured. Purgatory is the place where souls that don’t make it automatically to heaven go to purge, or to cleanse themselves in preparation for heaven. On some level, I feel like I am purging for the “heavenly” job that awaits me. But is there a job heaven? But wait; there is also hell. Oh, never mind, I have already been there, and I must remember not to return. Hell is being forced to do politically correct work instead of the work that my heart longs to do. Years ago, when I still had hopes that I could have a research career, I wrote a grant proposal to study spiritual coping, and I was told that I couldn’t; not only that, but I was accused of wearing my spirituality on my sleeve, and I promise you, I was not walking around the university carrying tarot cards and crystals. Do I really want to return to academia?

 

The water is becoming clearer, though I am sure it will get muddy again (Waiting for the mud to settle). I do not want a tenure-track position. I choose to write and do research without having an axe over my head; to teach, to mentor, and to develop curricula that will honor the whole person, not just the head. But it is difficult to break away from outdated notions that we must remain at a job for our entire lives! And, as difficult, if not more is not to feel like a failure when defying traditional expectations, you choose other paths. I But then, again, that is the story of my life—I am the one who delayed marriage until her forties, and along the way, forgot to have children. I must remember that life is not about achievement; life is about purpose. I see that, swimming against the current has been arduous, but it has made e stronger and given me muscles!

 

Note:  The Joanna Field quote can be found in:  Carpenter, C. (2001). Chapters: create a life of exhilaration and accomplishment in the face of change: McGraw-Hill Companies.

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Social anxiety is a feeling of discomfort, fear, or worry that is centered on our interactions with other people and involves a concern with being judged negatively, evaluated, or looked down upon by others.  While it can often happen during the social exchange itself, it may also pop up in anticipation of a social occasion, or afterward when we review our performance in a given situation.

via Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia – SAS.

It took me over four decades to figure out that I am shy, and another decade, or so, to admit that, I suffer from social anxiety.  People that know me find it hard to believe that I don’t like parties: I loathe and avoid public situations, which is ironic, considering that for the last 24 years I have been teaching graduate students at schools that required faculty be visible at national conferences —talk about social exposure!  For years after I started teaching, I felt like Wilbur the pig before Charlotte ingeniously saved him, always wondering, is this the day I will be slaughtered.  I won’t tell you how this anxiety routinely manifested in my body.  Use your imagination. I am also the one whose heart beats erratically when waiting my turn to introduce myself in a group.

By the way, this is a hard post to write because I am going public with my fear of being socially judged, but I am intentionally facing off with this inner enemy.  I have been doing a lot of thinking.  Since my open-heart surgery, when I left my last full-time job, I have observed that I feel especially comfortable and content staying home, without regular public interaction—just teaching online, going to the gym, and to church on Sundays.   Also, for years, I have also wondered why my friends were out socializing, entertaining, attending cultural events, traveling, and, professionally, presenting at conferences, and although all this was theoretically appealing, I didn’t have the verve for any of it.  Of course, I also avoided writing and publishing, because it exposed me in the public square.  Exposed (and unsafe) is how I’ve felt for most of my life.

Today, I see that I have been avoiding, and hiding from a world that my early experiences during the Cuban Revolution taught me to see as dangerous and unpredictable—a view reinforced by life in a vermin and crime infested South Bronx neighborhood upon arriving in the United States.  But, I have been mindfully choosing to step out the locked box where I have sequestered myself, and the Universe is helping me, as you will see from this recent incident.  I am part of a listserv of Latino/a educators, and, of course, I never chime in, in my characteristic sideline way, but an issue came up that I just could not resist speaking out about.  So, I decided to quietly write a note to the moderator, expressing my concern over the lack of female participation on a national panel representing the organization.   And, as it often happens when mindlessly using technology, my message went out to the entire list, prompting a male member of the panel to respond, offering me his place.  Needless to say, I had to do a lot of back peddling to convince him that I could not be a part of the panel for a number of legitimate reasons (not excuses, really).  In the background of my mind, I could “hear” an almost imperceptible voice, saying, see; you shouldn’t have said anything; you should have just stayed to yourself, as you always do.

The next day, I received a personal note from one of the list members, whom I’d not heard from in years, saying hello, and asking about my life. I told her about my surgery, and about my attempts to once again return to academia, to a kinder, gentler, school of social work, if there is such a thing.  Within an hour, I had three messages from friends, and from the male panelist, letting me know that I’d sent the message to the entire list!  AHH!  I felt so embarrassed that all I could do was laugh at God’s sense of humor.  All these years of desperately trying to make myself invisible, especially around my colleagues, and I had metaphorically paraded myself in my underwear in the cyber lobby of a hotel hosting our annual professional conference!  I sheepishly sent a note apologizing for polluting members’ inbox with my personal saga.

But this story has a happy-ending.  Instead of judging me, several colleagues were pleased to hear from me, sending me warm and friendly notes reminiscing about the times our paths had crossed.  These are people I’d distanced myself from because, in my mind, they were part of the academic “in crowd”, and I wasn’t.  It sounds high school-ish, and like in high school when the fear of social rejection is stultifying, I have lived most of my life from that place.  Where did that fear come from?  Perhaps from being an outsider, migrating as a child before our current multicultural consciousness and political correctness; perhaps because I was a geeky, overweight girl with glasses; and perhaps because of my mother’s own dread of social rejection.  But I am not in high school any more, nor am I overweight.  These days, I can see myself more clearly, and the reflection I see in the mirror is becoming brighter every day!  And, like Diana Ross, I want to sing:

I’m coming out

I want the world to know

Got to let it show

I’m coming out

I want the world to know

I got to let it show

There’s a new me coming out

And I just had to live

And I wanna give

via Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out Lyrics.

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Storytelling is healing. As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. We become aware of the multifaceted, multi-chaptered ‘ I ‘ who is the storyteller.

–Susan Wittig Albert

 

A friend recently asked me what inspired me to blog, and I decided to explore my reasons in a blog.  I can’t pinpoint whether this was something I wanted to do before the surgery, or whether it was one of those gifts of the surgery.  But, regardless of when the dream surfaced in me, my Caring Bridge blog definitely crystallized the idea in my heart and mind.  As I mentioned in my first blog (On living), to my amazement, my friends and acquaintances continued reading my blog long after my six-week recovery period, and a few shared that they looked forward to reading my posts after long, stressful days, before going to bed.  One of these friends, a Palestinian dynamo fueled by the tenure clock and by an inextinguishable passion to help her people.  That she took the time out to read my blog and found solace in my writing was inspirational and gratifying both personally and professionally.  Another friend, also a social worker, commented that she and, she believed, others were healing along with me.  Then, as I am doing now, I was sharing my psychological and spiritual process.

So, what drives or inspires me to write about my process though, then, and now, I hear whispers of self-centeredness from my personal Greek choir?  I have two primary reasons; I am a healer and a writer, two identities I have seldom claimed publicly or privately.  Indeed, I have consciously and vigorously avoided being a therapist and writing for publication.  I dreaded having responsible for others’ lives feeling entrapped by the commitment inherent in a private practice, remnants of my childhood parentification (It’s all about me:  Relationship as mirrors). And, as much as I see now that I love to write, academic writing is not only formulaic and sterile, but the peer review process required for publication felt like those Roman games where the early Christians were thrown to the lions.  For years, teaching was similarly terrifying.  What was I, an academically trained social worker, who resisted agency and private-practice work and academia, to do, when I didn’t want to move because by then, I had developed life-long friendships in Ann Arbor.  For three years, I stood between not one, but two Swords of Damocles, each sword hanging by a horsehair, waiting,  my impasse, broken by a chance meeting with a spiritual reader and teacher, Chetana Cathy Florida, whom I will write about in future blogs.  Despite six years of psychoanalysis, she birthed me through unimaginable healing, and brought me to this point, continuing to teach me even though she died in 2004.  Her teachings and nurturance transformed my life, gradually releasing the Me that had spent a lifetime shackled and entrapped in a trunk strapped with steel chains.   And, like Houdini, I have escaped, though it’s taken me much longer, and I am now wiggling my fingers as I write.

There are many reasons why I write, but mostly, I write because I want to share the good news– hope that no matter how trapped and dead you may feel, resurrection, a central doctrine of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is possible.  Although with each passing day, my body’s shelf life is gradually expires, my spirit feels brighter and more alive than ever.  And, as I write, I continue to heal, as research shows that self-disclosure through writing has remarkable physical and emotional salutary effects (Neiderfhoffer & Pennebaker, 2002).  The evidence is, as they say in research, robust.  So, what are you waiting for?  Take out your pen and paper, or take out your computer, and start writing.  You can warm-up by leaving a comment, here.

 

P.S.  Did I tell you that I am preparing for my clinical license exam?  Yes, after thirty years, I am officially claiming my role as a not-as-wounded- healer.

 

Neiderfhoffer, K. G. & Pennebaker, J. W. (2002).  Sharing one’s story:  On the benefits of writing and sharing about emotional experiences.  In C.R. Snyder & Shane J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 573-583). New York: Oxford University Press.

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I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Nelson Mandela

 

I have lived my life in fear; and, it is no wonder given that I spent my pre-school years in a country in turmoil, a world turned upside down, literally, overnight.  I have a vivid memory that encapsulates this experience.  I must be seven or eight, and I am balancing on a wooden board that is slanted across the edge of the sidewalk and the street.  I am enjoying this makeshift seesaw, when the board slips and I fall, crashing against the concrete with my backside, the wind knocked out of me.  Many years later, I learned that my daily anticipation of cataclysmic events was due to political and inter-generational trauma that my family and I experienced (More on Parenting).  Knowing the etiology of my life-long anxiety helped to normalize and allay it.

 

Ironically, when something unexpected and potentially catastrophic, like my aortic aneurysm, happened, I was not afraid!  I won’t tell you that I did not have anxiety that took my breath away, but this anxiety was different.  Unlike in the past, when my anxiety was a free-floating electrical current that propelled me to want to flee from my skin, this fear had a name.  Although it was hard for me to imagine that a part of me could, literally, burst, and as someone told me once, that I was “a walking time-bomb”, I knew what my problem was, and, as Dr. Girardi confidently told me, it was fixable.  Six weeks after the surgery, I would be able go back to my full life.  Besides, cars have valves replaced routinely, and I’d read in Dr. Girardi’s bio that he had tinkered is his father’s auto mechanic shop before attending medical school.  I was set.

 

Why was I less afraid facing Open-Heart Surgery than teaching my classes at the University of Michigan?  I was amazed that my diagnosis was spiritually centering.  When faced with your mortality, you don’t have time to “sweat the small stuff”—-at least, I didn’t.  I had a much larger project to tackle.  If, as they say, life is a school (or a university), this was my qualifying exam; and if this was a wake-up call, I was going to wake up.  Whatever the lessons, I was going to learn them!  It was within that spirit that I asked myself the proverbial question, why is this happening to me.  Not out of resentment but out of spiritual curiosity.  That my aneurysm was found even though I was asymptomatic filled me with gratitude and reassured me that my time was not up yet.  God still had plans for me, and I vowed to be open to them without digging my heels in too deeply.

 

Still, despite my spiritual knowing and awareness, there was still the mundane reality that would be undergo open-heart surgery—you know—going on the heart-lung machine to circulate my blood while Dr. Girardi opened my chest cavity and heart to repair my aorta and replace my aortic valve?  You get the picture.  SCARY!  Especially so when the longest I’d ever been to a hospital was for a colonoscopy.  Then, my friend Gruti introduced me to the Successful Surgery CD by Bellaruth Naperstek (http://www.healthjourneys.com/) who gently guided me to my peaceful place each night, before gradually luring me into the Operating Room with her hypnotic voice, where “competent trustworthy collaborators” were preparing to work on me, looking “comfortable and relaxed.”  Above them in the amphitheater, a “magical band of allies”, well-wishers, and those who love me were gathered to tell me how proud they were of my courage—pleased that I was taking this step to be strong and well.  Listening to this guided imagery three weeks before my operation prepared me so well that on OR day, I was so relaxed that I was joking with the anesthesiologists.  What a miracle!

 

Nineteen months later, I still get scared some times, like when I was called for a job interview the other day, or like when I occasionally have shortness of breath, probably due to anxiety.  But then I remember my “magical band of allies” telling me how courageous I am: “You went through open-heart surgery!  You can do anything!”    And, we have all survived courageous things, but we forget them when confronted with “the small stuff” of every day life.

I would love to hear your forgotten acts of courage.

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