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Posts from the ‘Soul Journeys’ Category

Leaving the Bench for the Second Time

The past few weeks have given me opportunities to reach back and reflect on my own process of grief and arriving at a new waypoint. What happened? The more I live, read, and experience, the more I understand the journey I’m on with building a new life.

I’ve reflected on the many people who post early on in support groups. Their partner is newly deceased and they are asking after one or two weeks, “When will the tears end?” I understand why they’re asking this. This type of pain hurts physically. The people who respond, who have had more time in the grief cycle, usually tell the newbies that things will change, and to give it time, which is not what anyone wants to hear when the physical and emotional pain are so intense. 

Here’s my question for people who jump into these groups so soon: Why are you here so soon? That is the first question I ask as I read. I answer it with a list of reasons they might have: times have changed, and society is no longer connected like it used to be. People have lost communities of support.

I’ll say this until I don’t need to say it any more: the Western world has become a place of instant everything. In the West, we’re losing the skill of self-soothing. The need to sit in silence has never been so needed, and yet the volume levels are turned up so that we fail to hear what our bodies, hearts, and heads are telling us to do: sit in quietness and be still. We’ve also lost community. Community enables us to soothe ourselves, and in time turn to others for what we aren’t able to do for ourselves. This is a huge reason people show up to a Facebook group. Instant community that isn’t community. Some of what is there is helpful, and at times some things on these pages are not helpful. 

This last weekend a friend said goodbye to her mum. It has been some time in coming, and when the end came it was a peaceful ending. I’ve been aware that she and her family are in a “thin place.” I sometimes call it the funeral bubble. It is a place of reflection, where time stops while the rest of the world continues on. For those in the thin place, things are altered. We cry; we touch the spiritual; we reflect; we can think new thoughts, and in some ways, it can be rather mystical. It can be a place of solace. Eventually, we’ll leave the thin place and get back on the conveyor belt. It is when we enter the fast-paced arena of life that we demand the instant stopping of tears. We want the pain gone. We fail to realize that just like physical pain telling us and our bodies to take notice of what is going on, emotional pain is telling us the exact same thing: take notice, sit down, you are hurt.

Sitting here, I reflect on the day of August 29th, when I sat at my dining room table wondering the unthinkable: How will I survive? I wasn’t thinking of tears or the path I’d need to follow. The crazy crying jags appeared on the scene right on schedule: as soon as the emotional numbing thawed out. Looking back on it now, I think I was more scared of the crying than questioning when the tears would stop. This type of crying is physically violent. You feel it well up inside, and like an earthquake you hear the rumble of the approaching event. Ready? Shake. Hold your breath and wait for the thing to go away. And then the aftershock hits just when you think it’s over, and it starts up again. These crazy crying jags happen anywhere, nowhere, and some are triggered by memories while others have no rhyme or reason. They happen, and we who survive become embarrassed by the crazy state that doesn’t make sense to us. We leave a grocery cart in a store as we exit stage at right and bolt for the car in hopes of a safe place to let the tears out. We want them gone. Our minds are sending us a clear signal that we’re in pain. 

At this point we might be well into the grief, and well-meaning friends and family want to help by fixing it, and so they offer up help that might not be helpful. The catch here is that they may not understand, and you may not be able to explain any of what you’re going through. The words may arrive on the scene when the pain has lessened. You don’t fully understand any of this until you are years down the road. Don’t rush it—you’ll miss the essential nuggets and treasures that will be so valuable to you in your new future. 

In that new future the pain dims, and the quality of the tears changes to something else. We cry until we cry rarely. We remember with joy and fondness the good and wonderful things. We can objectively look at the relationship with its strengths and weaknesses. We gain understanding. We question; we contemplate; and we ask questions about the paths we didn’t travel down. In our questioning we become open to new pathways. We act by beginning to move towards something new. 

This movement is healthy and essential to living our lives in a new way. Along this new path we might begin to smell the trees and flowers. We meet those on this path and either engage with them or move on. Maybe we find a lovely place to sit and notice what is going on in our lives. 

We leave that space and move forward. We might make some changes, or we may choose to wait and see what changes come to us. I allowed life to be gentle with me. I realized somewhere along the path that I needed to practice better self-care. I needed to honor myself.

One of the deepest realizations I’ve had to sit with is that grief and its aftermath have allowed me to consider options for my life that I had not thought of ten years ago. How I see myself now isn’t the view I once held. This time, while sitting in a lovely spot on the path, something came along and challenged it all. I returned to the crying. I was able to call up the feelings I experienced as a new widow. I remembered. Now I write this. The difference is that this time I’m not in severe pain, and I realize that what I’m feeling and thinking is “get up off the bench, move—this is not your place now.” The tears are gone, and I stand up and step onto a new path—one I had not seen for myself. 

Putting the Sledgehammer Away

The last few days have been filled with tears, meditation, looking inward at the past, and realizing where I am in the present. Growth can hurt deep down. Growth is progress that we achieve because of the price we’re willing to pay for it.

I’ve spent fifty years pointing out how those of us in the disabled community need to raise our voices more and speak loudly—and boldly. Last week I authored a post about my experience in a crowded room. My friend Karen read it and told me that she felt as if I were plagiarizing her. How often has this happened to each of us? We come together and discover that our life experiences aren’t so different. The commonality of what we experience as persons with disability can be powerful. It creates bonding in ways nothing else does. It is a gift that I share with Karen, and with others.

“You too!!!?” While this happens all the time, the feeling that “I’m unique” is dispelled by finding out that no, once again, I’m not alone in the world. This realization is juxtaposed with the example of a child who thinks everyone sees as they do, but who knows deep down that they are “not like the other kids,” whether it be due to disability, being LGBTQ2S, or being a victim of abuse: the secret is out of the bag. Adulthood requires that we grapple with these issues.

There are times when our inner selves push each of us to stand up and fight for justice for ourselves or others. We fight to be heard, and to have our realities accepted. If we can’t fight, we’ll likely be trampled because we’re not always seen or heard. Sometimes in that fight we forget who we are; we fade to our unique gifts, talents, and insights. We become swept up in the fight for recognition. I’ve been in this place for forty of the fifty years that I’ve been advocating for justice and change and for listening to the marginalized voices.

This week it all came to a head when I was forced to look inward at where my journey had taken me. The work I desire to do now is more spiritual in nature. It is the work that honors where each of us are. Each of us are equal within this realm. It is not a place of the marginalized: it is a place of learning to love ourselves, and to accept our own authenticity.

This place is one that offers sanctuary to each of us. Here we stand on equal footing because it is our hearts and souls that are heard. In the realm of the soul and the heart, all are welcome, and all are equal at this table.

I spent two years becoming certified as a spiritual director. I spent time discovering the power of meditation. I’ve uncovered places in my heart and soul that have moved me in directions I would have not considered five years ago.

Some of this uncovering is due to my husband’s suicide. Suicide changes survivors. One of the changes is the questioning we must do around making assumptions of others and ourselves. Another change is that we come to understand that people can remove themselves from humanity in a matter of seconds. Some feel strongly that if we all feel a sense of belonging, we’ll choose to live. All of this becomes evident to us as survivors. It causes us to question old things in new ways. We see an old rainbow in a new way. It causes us to do a grand reframe of it all.

The paths we have walked no longer suit our needs. There is a restless feeling when we remain on that path. It is as if we’re binge-watching our life because we’re at a loss about where to go next. We want the old to work, but we know it won’t, and we must come to terms with the fact that we’ve outgrown the friendship, the relationship, the career, or our lives as we understand them. It is why some people shock family, friends, partners, and church members when they announce that they’re packing up and moving to that new place. “Where did that come from?” or “Wow, her death really did a number on him.” The reality is that for whatever reason, that life change was brewing beneath the surface, and the life-changing event was only the catalyst to promote action.

I’ve heard the “if you hadn’t gone to a therapist…” If I had not seen my first therapist, I would have never begun the self-exploration that I needed to do in my early twenties; it was the beginning of my soul work. I would have continued to believe that everything would be alright and settled for coasting through life.

Life isn’t a straight path. Life is bumpy, strewn with twists, bends, and curve balls. We’re challenged to sit with the unknown, and to ask new and unthinkable questions that we would not have dreamt of asking even the week before. Life is messy.

It was in this state that I engaged in a conversation with a friend yesterday. She listened, didn’t need to fix anything, and I know she’ll support me in my new direction. She can sit in the messy, the unknown. To her and to others I say thank you.

While it is the mystical that draws me into soul exploration, it is the practical that grounds me in the here and now. It is a desire to always improve who I am, and to not settle for less than who I can be in my fulness. It is my understanding and my life experience that keep me grounded in the fact that there are people on the margins of life, and that they struggle to have their voices heard, accepted, and acknowledged. I will not forget you. I cannot forget you because my waking reality—struggling to see, to hear, and to negotiate a crowded room—calls me to that remembrance. It is the struggle that I will always share with those who are disabled.

I’ll admit that walking a new life path is daunting. Can I do it? Will I fall and mess up? Will I be able to learn to discover new ways of being along this new path? In a way, I’m putting away the sledgehammer that I’ve used to break down walls that have limited me, and others. It is time to put the sledgehammer to rest. This path calls for a peaceful tool.

I know there will be restful places to sit and reflect because I’ve always found them. What I don’t know is where all of this is going, and that is perfectly OK. I’m able to smell the new air, take it in, explore its excitement. And so, I turn my back on the old, and face something new. I wonder where this will take me? Where do you need to go?

Soul Work

During my early years of working through grief and loss, I was in survival mode. That is where we all go in the beginning. We revert to the lower levels of survival. We go to the base where we can best survive. Hopefully the house gets cleaned, food gets eaten, and we manage to stay somewhat healthy, both physically and mentally. That is baseline grief. Baseline grief looks ugly. It isn’t a place that most would willingly go to, and when we’re there we want out. 

As time moved me forward, I began to change, to grow, to search for something deep inside. None of this made sense, but then what I was living no longer worked for me. I’d grown into a new place, and it required a new beginning—a new base level to grow from. 

I’ve discovered my mystical side. I fell into the mystical in a most unexpected manner: a former nun and clinical psychologist who led a spiritual life and showed up just when I needed her to do so. She entered my life at a time when I was exploring new things and new options. She walked with me as I engaged in the Ignatian Prayer Exercises. Through his process, I found something that I needed: the ability to sit in silence and contemplate. It was grounded, and it opened up avenues of new understanding, leading me to do the deeper inner work of the soul. This is where East meets West. 

This is where I found out that I needed to chuck what didn’t work because it would never work. I’d been trying to use someone else’s idea of what a spiritual life was. What did I think my spiritual life should look like? It would be unique to me. 

As I engaged in new forms of being in a spiritual way, I began searching for other places of learning. I’d heard about the enneagram, and hearing my first podcast about it made it seem complex. There was something about this enneagram thing that drew me to it. I began to look for a book that would explain things in simple terms. I found one called The Road Back to You and digested it. It’s a very basic primer, and what it does very well is enable the reader to get a sense for the number where they might fit. Its downside is that it doesn’t go deep enough. Soon I discovered that there were better ways, and there was more to this thing than nine numbers on a weird-shaped, nine-pointed thing. 

With all the therapy I’d done, and now spiritual direction, I was looking for a spiritual growth tool that I could use for myself, and that I could use to work with clients and directees. If someone is interested in this growth tool, I’ll use it. If not, I don’t pursue it. 

When I first began therapy, I did a great deal of talking. I needed to talk. While the talking helped, and worked for me during that time of my life, deep down I knew I needed more. How does one fully engage with the shadows of a life? How could I deepen and find a path into personal growth that would work for my entire life? I needed to find an enneagram teacher. There was something in this spiritual growth tool that I wanted. I began to plan and to engage in course work. Good stuff, this enneagram! I was finding a way to engage the deeper shadows and discovered its power. 

Growth, and the inner work of growth, is never easy. If it is easy, I’ve found that I’m not going deep enough. I’m not being fully honest with myself. Looking into mirrors can be difficult, terrifying, and the greatest gift we can give our souls. It is also tricky. 

I’ve noticed that while people want to change, want answers, and will even tell themselves they can do the changes needed, sometimes the past fouls it up. Sometimes past traumas, letdowns, or the reality of what we must give up to get what we seek traps us. We think it will be easy; we think it won’t hurt; we can’t sit with ourselves for the length of time it will take for the process to affect us and move us into change. We sprint out of the awful, find safety in old ways or a new distraction, and slam the door just when we need to keep it open. Hiding in bubbles doesn’t work. 

It Sounds Scary, but in the End, it Frees You

How do I know if I’m ready? The answer to this question is complex. We don’t find relief in catharsis—that is a temporary fix. Relief is found when you can sit the monster down and engage in a conversation and decide two things: the first thing is that you want to understand the monster, and the second is that you will entertain the monster in conversation so that you can learn from it. 

This is not easy to do, because we delude ourselves by thinking that we can win our monsters over with one simple chat and a table of cookies and tea or coffee. This is not high tea: this is plowing the field and finding the huge clods of earth that need to be broken up and put to use in healthy ways. 

Our monsters want all our tea, coffee, and our cookies. Our monsters lie to us. They tell us that we don’t deserve the good stuff of life. Sometimes our monsters deceive us into believing that there are shortcuts. As much as I love a short route to places, I’ve discovered that I might miss some essential scenery if I don’t stop along the way to engage the process. This brings me back to mirrors and the enneagram. 

I have found that I can use the enneagram to understand my monsters. I can meet them in a place where they feel respected by me, and I can converse with them in ways that are generous and insightful. I am taught and moved to new places. I don’t always like my teachers, and that is OK, as long as I hold space for the learning that comes because of the conversations. 

This trip through grief has taught me that there are better paths to follow and better ways of seeing myself and others. This trip through grief has also taught me to question and to find new ideas, and that taking the leap into the unknown can be scary, challenging, and just the thing we need to do to change in unexpected ways. This soul journey is going to last the rest of my life, and that is good. 

Velvet Deconstructions

In 2006 my husband fell down the rabbit hole of a faith deconstruction process that would last until his death in 2016. In 2006 I listened and supported, but didn’t follow down into the rabbit hole of Mormonism. I didn’t feel I needed to know what was and wasn’t down there. It wasn’t my time. It has to be the right time to fall down that hole.

At the beginning of this tale, I should state that I was raised in a home where reason and logic were present. This would come in rather useful in the years to come.

It took me six years to go there. I’m sure that seemed like a long time of waiting for Jon, waiting for me to dive rapidly into that same hole. When I did, it was scary, sad, depressing, and full of questions, culminating in a process of mourning what could no longer be. In 2012 I entered what I now look back on as my “velvet deconstruction.”

I’ve never written about this because, to be honest, I haven’t seen—or felt—the need to do so. That has changed. What changed?

This year I’ve read a series of books that began with delight and quickly turned to needing to rethink, reframe, and reconstruct the Western Jesus. I realized my journey had challenged me in ways I hadn’t seen coming and left me feeling as if I was splayed on a spiritual floor. This time around it wasn’t velvet: it was brutal. As of the time of this writing, I’m healing, looking back, and wondering why I missed this until I was so deep within the process that the mess was ginormous.

Having a crisis of faith should be normal for everyone who is on a healthy self-development path. James W. Fowler researched and wrote about personality and faith development in Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Stages is a classic and outlines our cognitive development throughout life. This is an academic work of research. What I really love about Fowler is that he illustrates that we never fully arrive. We cycle through all the stages over time, arriving at a higher level, only to begin the process over again. As with all things in life, learning never ends, and we’ll be doing it until our last breath.

So, I should have seen a second deconstruction coming, and I didn’t. I’d settled into a sweet spot, and when it ripped me apart it really tore at my soul!

How did this all happen? The simple answer is that I moved from one stage to another. The more complex answer is that I began to explore my values, my beliefs, and my life in new and deeper ways.

While I began to explore faith, I was enrolled in a rehab program for people with vision issues. It began as a five-day residential process, and during this time of my life I was confronted in a bold manner, asked to face my visual realities, and supported on multiple levels. And, in the end, I was able to confront myself. Looking at my religious life became an extension of that. For fifteen months I reconstructed my visual self; I wrote about it in Living With Disability. It was a life-changing experience.

Because of the work I was doing in this part of my life, it followed that I would look at the rest of my life. I began to allow myself to feel the sadness and pain of understanding that things are seldom what they seem. And so, it happened on a Sunday morning as we drove to church that I uttered the words that altered everything: “Can I make this church a place to stay and do good things?” That was in 2013, and I was trying to figure it out while realizing my husband’s need to stay away from it all. By 2014 I was still in place to try and a find a path to change. That all ended in November of 2015 when Salt Lake City announced what became known as “The Policy.”

This policy was set to discriminate against children who had an LGBTQIA+ parent in a relationship that was not heterosexual. That evening at dinner I lost it. How could a church deny baptism or anything else to a child?!!! Up until that moment I had thought I could make it work. Now I realized that I could not support such thinking. (The policy was reversed in April 2019 and the damage that was done couldn’t be undone or unseen.)

Suicide alters everything in the way you think, and in 2016, when Jon decided that the pain and suffering, he’d been enduring for the majority of his life needed to end, I was changed. I began to realize that I couldn’t go back to that church, and slowly during 2017 I drifted into nowhere land. I wasn’t making any major life decisions. I was moving to something, and someplace, new. I didn’t understand what it was—I just knew I was changing.

I was traumatized from a suicide, trying to re-establish a life. In the fall of 2017, I was discovering that another faith home was calling to me. I had to check it out. Certainly, I could look and still stay LDS. October of 2017 rolled around, and I found myself in a Starbucks at the Utrecht train station, having a conversation with someone whom I would come to love and respect. He wanted to know what I thought, not what I felt! It was in that realization that I knew I had a problem. Everything in me had been raised to be LDS. I was dealing with multiple generations of Mormons in my family. How could I even think of leaving? It wasn’t doctrine so much as other things that were tugging at me, calling me out to something that felt so different, so new, and where I needed to be. I told myself that I could attend this church service on Sunday evenings and it didn’t mean I was going to do more than that. Why would I ever leave? I didn’t need to do that.

I began to read, to learn, and to discover new ways of thinking. Growth is about freeing the soul and giving it permission to walk into new paths. By the spring of 2018 I was no longer feeling I could stay LDS and realized my value structure had shifted or rewired itself. I let go and relaxed into the process.

Looking back on all of it, I can see that this entire process was velvet. While there were tears, trauma, and fear involved, the process was gentle. Considering everything I went through from 2006 through 2018, it really was velvet. How could this be? As I look back, I think I view it as gentle because I wasn’t trying to force tings. I allowed the questions to surface, didn’t panic, and the few difficult situations didn’t last that long. The most difficult week was a conversation with my mother, and it ended with her apologizing to me. My mother and I could talk about most anything and giggle over life. We had a mutual respect, and she was open to many things that many LDS would have flipped out over.

I’ve come to the conclusion that faith transitions or journeys are more about a rethinking of a value system. Many people who choose to develop and leave the safety of certainty can remain in the same faith and approach things differently. For others, the choice to stay in one’s faith of origin is not an option. There are times when what we need changes because our ladders are sitting against a new wall. Sometimes the search can take years. The search for a new faith home can lead us out and to something completely different.

As I complete the last few months of my spiritual direction certification, I’m amazed by the paths that people are finding that bring them peace. I look back with my new understanding, and the new tools that got put in my toolbox, and offer up gratitude for both the velvet, and the not-so-velvet of the past few years. My new home is just what I needed.