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Posts from the ‘Soul Journeys’ Category


Two years ago, I began to attend courses on the enneagram. I’m a type eight. Yes, the one that so many look at as “the worst.” But I don’t agree. I claim who I am proudly! Others have differing personality types with their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll own mine.

When I first read the description of an eight, I was repelled. It didn’t feel flattering. I did not want to see it, let alone identify as an eight. It took me some time to accept that I am all of it, the ugly along with the great things, and there are so many wonderful things about who I am!

The enneagram is a spiritual growth tool. One of the benefits of using the enneagram is that a person can learn to work on the not-so-healthy parts of themselves and move forward into health. This is the journey we are all on: self-discovery and improvement. I embrace this journey fully.   

This last week I was asked by another course attendee what I liked about being an eight. To answer the question, I decided to write this post.

When I first read about who eights are personality-wise, all I could see in the words were the negatives. To tell you all the truth, I readily identified with the harshness that we as type eights can hold ourselves to. I possess an inner critic that pushes me to do my best. I’m not a perfectionist: I require that I do my best, and that I be satisfied with being good enough. I’ve really had to work on this part of myself. Accepting ourselves as good enough is a battle because society tries to force a belief that perfection must be achieved at all costs. I disagree, and see the damage that perfectionism can cause. Let there be “good enough” and let it begin with me.

I am thankful that my “knowing” can also cause me to question. I believe that this quality enables me to sit with the uncertainties, and to learn more about what I once thought were absolute truths. I like that in a crisis situation, I can respond with the ability to provide a workable solution.

We’re leaders, and sometimes we fall into the trap of protecting those whom we see as vulnerable in negative ways. We can also speak to the need to protect the vulnerable and hold deep compassion for their struggles. I’m becoming aware of when this is healthy, and when it isn’t such a good thing.

I like the way in which I’m challenged to confront myself in the mirror of life. I believe one of the strengths we as eights have is to come out of our denial, and to look at our weaknesses. We might spend time fighting the truth about ourselves, and when we embrace what we must embrace, we dig in deep and work to understand ourselves better. I really like this about myself.

I don’t like that there is a part of me that goes to vengeance. I do this when I feel the need to protect myself or others. It is ugly. I’m coming to understand that in challenging my need to protect, and to mount the campaign to go to war over what I perceive as unjust, I first need to look inside and explore myself before I aim and fire.

Which leads me to the fact that we as eights have a tendency to fire first before we even aim or are ready to aim. We can be dense and asleep to how our harsh reactions can affect the fragile souls of others. When we come to understand what our actions may be doing to someone, we can challenge ourselves to that part of ourselves that desires to protect in healthy, compassionate ways. Understanding the enneagram is enabling me to be kind and gentle to myself. I can use my two arrow to give to myself in softer and gentler ways. I can drop into my five arrow, which I do often. I use this arrow to observe myself and others. My five arrow is one of the things I credit to bringing balance to the eight within.

I like the part of me that will explore and is curious. I like the fact that people know that I’m dependable. I also understand that if I set a boundary or a limit to what I can take on in life, it is understood that I’m at my limit.

I am learning to trust in new ways. I like the fact that my vulnerability teaches me that I can do this hard thing.

I have done the activism that I’ve needed to do in my life, and I listen to the call to change my life direction and to try a new path. I’m excited for this new thing. I sense that this is the best thing about eights: when we’ve done the work around our knowing and can sense our new direction, we can and do act boldly.

I love being an eight!   

The Hard Things

This past week has been a roller coaster of sadness, fear, contemplation, and soul-searching. I’ve had to step back and look at the last seven years of my life and reconnect with feelings that I thought were buried.

On August 29, 2016, I sat at my dining room table and wondered how I would get through life as a disabled person in a country where I didn’t have family or many friends. The fact is that I was traumatized, in shock, and trying to make sense of everything with no way to make sense of anything. And so, a journey began. 

I began to read and learn and discard the useless junk books. People spout Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s stages, workbooks on working through it. They said that if you do this, that, or the other thing, you’ll work through your grief, and all will be well.

I call BS. Grief can’t be fixed or cured. I stumbled on one book that I will recommend. The author went through traumatic loss and did what she needed to do to come through things. It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine is an excellent book that portrays the awful, the trauma, and the struggle to stand up again when grief and loss enter our lives. Death, unlike other life events, presents unique challenges for each of us. Someone’s death by suicide adds to our saying goodbye in unique ways. 

Devine’s experience was different from mine, and yet she touched on similarities: the inability to feed myself, to sleep, to drag myself into a new day or to know what to do. I’d had to shut work off and allow for healing time. I was compromised. 

The only thing I fully understood on August 29, 2016, was that for the next year I would not be making any major life decisions that could be put off. My father had taught me this, and it served me well during a time of tears, fear, trauma, and uncertainty. 

I was able to visit the US in the summer of 2017. It felt like I was in a foreign country. It wasn’t home. Europe was home. Going to the States was a chance to explore and connect with family, and to realize that I needed to find my own path. It was time to begin to do the deeper work of change. 

I needed to let go, and to trust that the process of healing would occur as it needed to happen in my life. I let go and engaged in trusting the universe and myself. I had to trust that I would walk a path that needed to be walked. At the end of two years, the type of tears I was crying had begun to change. My life was changing, and I had begun to trust my process. I was headed into new territories. It was a velvet road that I walked. Yes, the road was bumpy, and there was much to learn. The transition was done on velvet and I only realized after the fact that I’d been moving to a new place.

Newbies to this process often ask when the tears will stop, when the pain will stop, when the missing will stop. Things change; things don’t stop. You don’t get over people you love; you work through it all. Learning to walk through things is the real work of grief, loss, and an acceptance of the life we move into. And so, I began my education in standing stronger and finding how to heal from the awful, and unthinkable, of surviving my husband’s suicide. 

This last spring, I completed continuing education units (CEU’s) for my license renewal. The presenter on surviving a death by suicide had me until he played a snippet of a video on forgiveness. I thought about it and I asked why you would need to forgive someone for doing what they felt they needed to do in life. I realized at the end of those hours with him that he didn’t get it in the same way I got it. My husband’s death has never required my forgiveness. It never will. I digress. 

In 2023 I’ve begun a new soul journey that calls me to an acceptance that my vision is changing. Once again, I must face the fact that it is harder to read, to see what I once saw, and to figure out what the new path forward will be. Once again, I’m grieving the loss of what was, and sitting with the fear of how bad it will get. Once again, I’m wondering if I can do this hard thing.

How does anyone get on doing the hard things? I got thinking about this yesterday when I realized that I had a friend who hasn’t quite walked the life path I’ve walked and doesn’t understand the messiness of facing the hard in the same way I do. I hold out space for this person because they’ve had different challenges. 

I think some of us who have faced a constant stream of hard things tend to shortchange those whom we view as not having hard and challenging lives. I’ve had to call myself out on this. What looks like an easy, privileged life is seen from the outside. One of the things the past seven years has pounded into my head is that judging this type of thing is a trap. It’s a trap because we might look at ourselves as knowing more when it comes to doing life. I don’t think we know any more than others. We only know a different thing. 

I get that my clients and directees come to me for various reasons. I expect them to need to deal with hard things. I’ve had to learn that I need to cut a great many people a great deal of slack. We each face our hard things differently. 

I tell you all of this because I’m learning to graciously accept others’ sincere comments about my doing hard things. While it’s second nature to me, it isn’t to them. I realize that I want to respect their desire to support me just as I would support them. My journey is calling me out on being a judgmental person. Oh, this is a hard thing! This is deep soul work.

I think back to when I was in my twenties and I wondered how people older than I was got to where they understood all of this. It’s about not being afraid to call the old self out to the new self. That is what grief and loss is all about. 

Navigation (Revisit)

When I wrote this post in 2018, I was emerging from two years of intense pain and grief over Jon’s death. The faith transition I had been on was winding down, and a new portion of the river was opening up to me. Since the posting of “Navigation,” it has become a post that I’ve referred my clients and directees to. This post holds a special place in my heart. I’m well into new places on this river; I wish all who journey well.


5 June, 2023

River pilots have been a mainstay of the great rivers of the world, and in the U.S. they taught many how to navigate dangerous places and waters. I’ve used this analogy in closed groups, and am now choosing to use it here in this space. I hope the message is one of hope. This is an imaginary conversation.

The master river pilot and I sit in the boat eating bread and cheese, drinking the cold water of the river we’ve been on. The pilot is silent and waiting for me, the student, to comment.

“Devastation and damage is there. That is what I see.”

“Is that all?”

I slice off more cheese and bread and drink the water.

“No, I see triumph and wisdom.” We turn back to view what was navigated, and we both sit in silence, thinking over the trip that has placed the boat in its current location.

WHOA! We both survey the damage, crazy as it is, and we embrace. I’m sobbing in joy and gratitude. I stammer an “I could not have done this alone,” and take the pilot’s hand. “You didn’t tell me how beautiful it would be, and I didn’t think I could see it this way. This river is magnificent! And so is the damage!” Yes, in my fresh realization I discover that the damage I have navigated has its own beauty.

We can see it all! The mountain and the sacred space. We can see the dark, creepy forests and the valleys that held spaces of peace. I wonder if the people that were there are still present, or if they have also left for new destinations. I notice a city and inhabitants exploring its environs; they are being told to get on the newer, more elaborate boat that has been brought to this point in time. I knew it was time for a new boat, and a new journey. I understood the pilot would not be as active this trip, but that if I asked for help and assistance, I would have it. I had grown much, and it was time to test my new strength against the currents on my own.

I remember the terror of boarding a tiny, dilapidated boat, feeling as if it would get me nowhere, and preparing to sink as I went out on the water. But I remember thinking that if I had to be on the water in this craft, I’d better do my best to save or repair it. And that is how the journey began. I remember beaching the craft and walking inland to a forest that looked dark and threatening. I sat on a rock and cried because I knew I had to go into that place and I was alone and fearful of journeying into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of what I would find, but I was uncertain of navigating in the darkness. As I sat there, I heard the tinkle of bracelets and earrings. It was a gypsy lady! She was saucy and vibrant and said that she’d been in that particular forest in the past and would be glad to serve as a guide. Together we reached a meadow of great beauty where the gypsy helped me locate a magnificent chrysalis that was just about to hatch, and as we watched it, the most beautiful butterfly emerged. It was the soul of the woman who had gone into the forest!

“This is yours and it will be with you forever.” The memories come back and the memory of the bond between the two of us floods my mind. The butterfly has remained nearby as the journey has unfolded. It holds magnificent strength! I know now that I have been molded by this soaring creature of such beauty, and I still wonder why I have not captured its deeper essence.

In wondering about this, the butterfly responds to my heart:“You have! You have been so busy on the journey that you’ve failed to look in the mirror! All you see is the damage! You know the beauty is there, but have you really claimed it for yourself? You are aware of triumph and wisdom, but are you aware of them residing in you? Don’t you remember when I broke free? Don’t you remember how I soared? Do you think that was only the beauty of my wings? You doubted what I gave you, but I’ve been near you all of this time. I am you, in pureness! Take a fresh look at me!”

I return to the boat and realize I’m crying. I gasp for breath and try to calm myself.

The master looks at me, the student of the river, and echoes the butterfly: “Your butterfly joined you so long ago that I think you have forgotten her full power. You have held her close and soared, and at other times sunk into deep despair. She never left you, and when times required her to, she reached down and pulled you up to travel on the river another day. I sent the gypsy lady to you when you needed a primer that would serve you well and prove to you that you could do this work of Life.”

I sit speechless. What words can I use to respond to this? I don’t have words—only a realization that truth has been spoken.

“When I asked you what you saw, you spoke of the worst first. You have done this type of thinking for so long that it has become primary to your functioning, and yet when you stand tall and survey the surroundings, you also speak to the triumph, and finally, the wisdom that you have gained.”

The master teacher and navigator has me focus on the rapids that I so recently transited.

“Look! What is there?”

“Only triumph. I don’t see anything else. But you were there with me, guiding me through the rocks, and when the boat began to take on water you stood and watched as I bailed myself out.”

“I only did that to teach you to trust me as you never have trusted me before. I knew that in your heart you wanted to learn it for yourself. You have learned this part of the river well. Well enough to guide others. Look again and learn from the journey you have been on. You are not that scared, younger woman of so long ago. Look at your hands. Feel your strengths.”

Once again the truth is spoken to my heart.

In the past two years, the journey has taken me to many places on the river. It has been a transit and journey of a new type. Leaving the old and finding the new, only to discover that the old has served in ways I never felt it could.

The boat I am in now is simpler, yet sleek and modern. The guides who have served to enable me to navigate the rough stretches have come and gone. Each has taught me new things. Each guide has specialized in a very particular portion of the river. But the pilot who began the journey with me has remained.

As I think back over the journey, I’ve come to understand the lessons the river has taught me. Pain and growth, whether in childhood or adulthood, teach strong lessons. I’ve gathered them in and managed to weave something out of it all, yet I’m not quite certain what it is all about. I just know that it is there, and that someday I’ll look over it and maybe have some insight that isn’t present now.

What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when the insights we gather serve us well, and other times when our view can trap us into paths we’d rather not wander on.

So, as I pause on this river, look and observe, I can’t get too snarky or certain. I am, like each of you, a traveler on this river. I navigate it with respect. I turn to the master pilot and navigator and announce that it is time to run this new river area. I smile, get a slice of bread and cheese, and more fresh water. I wonder who the new guides will be. I wonder if I’ve learned enough to guide myself or others. I realize that it’s not my call. But the master of navigation seems to feel that I’m ready. I turn my back on the damage holding the triumph and wisdom in my heart and raise my voice to the skies in a way I have not done in two years.

“Okay, cast off!” I drop the ropes that have anchored the boat to shore and sing as I do so. The boat feels good and sturdy, and I know that on this new stretch I’ll learn, grow, and move in ways I have not done before. I wave to the navigator, who is once again on the shore but never out of contact range.

“Show me what you can do now! I’ve been waiting so long for you to run this portion of the river, and run it you will!”

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.