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Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual transformation’

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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The biggest obstacle to our staying with the new thoughts we take on is that “positive” thoughts often generate “negative” feelings.

David Friedman

This time, I have taken even longer to get back to writing, but this is a pattern for me, and I have discovered that it is related to my “fear of success.”  Whenever I am succeeding at something, I freak out, and I stop.  But this freaking out is not loud and conspicuous; it is insidious and sneaky.  It tiptoes and whispers so lowly in my ear, that I can’t defend myself against it, succumbing helplessly to its grip.  Looking back, as the affirmations for my blog increased so did my fear.  But instead of taking in the love, I jumped from the present moment into a foreboding future of writer’s block and rejection.  They say you create your reality, and I did.  If my fear was that you would stop reading—- well, you have, because I stopped writing. It is interesting that instead of writing, “stop reading”; I wrote “top reading I am more afraid of the former than the latter.  In other words, how can I someday have a widely read blog when I can’t accept the job of my current readership?

Over the years, I have learned of my difficulty tolerating the sensations associated with love and success, and I have been working on changing that. When I was young, I avoided falling in love because I could not tolerate the exhilaration after meeting someone who excited me. I felt so out of control and agitated that I wouldn’t sleep for days.  The same happened if I were excited about a job. To protect myself, I just realized, I shielded my heart with the cloak of avoidance. If I don’t succeed, I don’t have to deal with my heart prancing around, overwhelmed by the excitement (terror?) of infinite possibility. Although I am still prey to avoidance, since I often don’t see it coming, I am learning to mindfully sit with the sensations associated with success. Sometimes, when I sit with Judith Chusis, my mentor and collaborator on the Success is an Inside Job project, I am assaulted by anxiety that makes me want to jump from my skin or even throw up.  At those times, I soothe myself by recognizing the pattern, telling myself that I am okay, and bringing myself back to the present moment. But when the fear is restrained, I don’t become aware of its grip until days or weeks later.

As you know from past blogs, I do background research as I write.  When I searched using the keywords “tolerance of positive emotions”, I could only find information, mostly psychoanalytic about tolerating negative feeling states.  Interesting, I just discovered that for me, positive feelings become negative because I feel deregulated.  It’s no wonder I have been avoiding the things that make my heart race and frantically dance! So, what am I going to do about this?  I am going to continue to work on tolerating the sensations associated with expansion by sitting with them until I make them my friends, as Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, would say, and I am going to read the book, Thought Exchange, by David Friedman.  Friedman, a highly successful songwriter, author, and speaker, has written a book about changing your thoughts to create your reality. When my friend Cath told me about it, I skeptically asked what was unique about this book since others have expressed this idea in, for example, Ask and it is Given, Conversations with God, and the Secret.  What she replied, caught my attention.  According to Friedman, you must learn to tolerate the sensations associated with your positive thoughts.  I have to go order my book.  To be continued.

P.S.  I hope you had a peaceful holiday.

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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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“When you pray for anyone you tend to modify your personal attitude toward him. You lift the relationship thereby to a higher level. The best in the other person begins to flow out toward you as your best flows toward him. In the meeting of the best in each a higher unity of understanding is established.” via Norman Vincent Peale:

While on the retreat at the Garrison Institute, I learned a meditation from one of the teachers, Sharon Salzberg, for developing, what Buddhists call, Lovingkindness, or metta. The intention is to open your heart with compassion for yourself and others. You start this meditation by offering yourself lovingkindness, May I Safe, May I be Healthy, May I be happy, May I be peaceful, and Live with ease. Then you move on to a “benefactor”, or someone you like and admire, then, to someone you dislike, to someone you are indifferent to, and, finally, to all living beings. As I practiced the meditation, I discovered that if I sent lovingkindness to people that triggered me (I’d decided that they were unfriendly, conceited, etc. without even knowing them), my next interaction with them was warm and friendly. I ran this experiment, so-to-speak, several times, and the results were consistently positive.

 

The other morning, after returning home, I continued to practice this meditation to continue to spiritually open my heart (notice I said “spiritually,” since I don’t want another open heart surgery right now), and  I not only felt physically softer, but my posture became more relaxed. The interesting, though not surprising, thing was that I found that even when sending Lovingkindness to others, I am simultaneously sending it to myself. Once again, it dawned on me that those people triggered me because they mirrored parts of me that don’t love, and by loving my triggers , I become more compassionate towards myself. So, to give you an example, one young African American woman repeatedly shared her process, and although we were in randomly assigned breakout works, we’d often be in the same groups. After a couple of shared groups, I found myself resisting her story of deep pain, dismissing her as attention-seeking and self-centered. The retreat faculty, on the other hand, compassionately listened to her story and praised her for her wisdom and courage.

 

Since the second pillar of meditation is mindfulness (the first is concentration), I observed my cynicism without judgment. I asked myself why, as a human being on a spiritual path and as a social worker, I could not witness her suffering with an open heart. Then, I realized that the judgments I projected onto her are my self-judgments. Often, before I blog, I am taunted by thoughts that you, the reader, will see me as self-centered, self-absorbed, and wallowing in my banal pain. But, I have to make peace with the idea that I cannot control how others see me; ultimately, I am only responsible for my perceptions and judgments, which I, invariably, project onto others. Why should they, or I, for that matter, suffer because of my unwillingness to face, and hold myself in lovingkindness? So, May I be Safe, May I be Healthy, May I be happy, May I be peaceful, and Live with ease.

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For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

via Happy New Year Quotes, New Years Eve Sayings.

 

A Cuban New Year’s Eve tradition is to dump a bucket of water out the window, to rid oneself of the dirt (karma?) of the old year and to clear the way for a clean start. My friend “Remedios” reminded me of this practice yesterday as we Skyped across continents, she in Europe and I in the US. She was tearful, wistful that she and her younger sister are estranged for yet another year, and regretting her part in causing it. Her courageous expression of grief and regrets engendered a conversation about compassion and forgiveness of self and others.   Though it seems that our automatic response to tears is to try to contain them, as we talked, it dawned on me that, perhaps, through our collective end-of-year sadness and tears, we are emotionally and spiritually cleansing in preparation for all that is to come in 2011. With this insight, can we stop beating ourselves for being blue when we  are supposed to be glad?   Sadness leads us to go inside to see what needs to go into our bucket.

 

On this eve of 2011, I feel the anticipation of Advent (Discovering Advent), the exultation of Christmas, and the trepidation of Joseph fleeing with his wife and new baby to Egypt (The Grinch sings the blues). However, that I am writing and you are reading this blog, and that it brings me such deep joy and fulfillment when writing was for so long soulfully painful, gives me hope and staunch confidence in my resilience. And, I am profoundly grateful to you for holding a safe space for me to heal and to express my creativity by bearing witness to my darkness and my light.What a priceless gift you have given me!  Today, and always, I wish for you all that you have given me, magnified.

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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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