Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

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Had an interesting conversation with a young woman sitting next to me at one of my favorite healthy restaurants called Always Cafe.  It is where I go to take a breather from seeing clients in my therapy practice. It feeds the body, mind, and spirit of this crunchy granola hippie child, so I can return rejuvenated. On this day, the joint was jumping so I pulled up a stool at the counter facing the front window. A curly haired, hat wearing, bespectacled 20-something perched one over after asking if she could sit there. She had a book with her, the title of which I could discern, but had a  card/bookmark that appeared to have an angel on it.

She asked what I was eating and I told her that it was squash soup and a falafel wrap (strange combo, I know.) and she told me what she had ordered..something with beans instead of meat since it was Lent. She went on to share that she was Catholic and liked the Latin Mass and attended church daily and prayed the rosary throughout the day. She asked if I was Catholic and when I told her that I was raised Jewish and in 1999 was ordained as an Interfaith Minister. I explained that for me, it meant embracing a variety of practices. As I write about it now, it mirrors the idea of the food fusion I mentioned above. She inquired if I have a congregation and I informed her that I officiate at ceremonies and don’t want the politics of my own congregation. I take it on the road instead. Portable prayer. Have faith, will travel.

She asked what I practice and I said that I volunteer for various organizations and speak to strangers and hug them. I asked how she puts her faith into action. She looked at me like I had two heads. She responded that she wasn’t very good at that part. She works at a school as a cafeteria lunch lady and I encouraged her to speak to the children kindly and to smile at them and that would make a difference. She could treat people like Jesus did. She responded, “Oh, ok,” as if she was processing the possibilities. I said goodbye to her before I headed back to my office and gave her a heart sticker that I had in my pocket from Valentine’s Day when I did a Free Hugs stroll in Doylestown, PA. I thought about offering her a hug but had a feeling she would not be comfortable with that level of connection.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”-James 2

How do you put faith into practice?

 

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My friend Cass Forkin invited a few friends and me to be her guests at the 50th Annual Four Chaplains awards Banquet at which would be honored as Humanitarian of the Year. Cass is the Director of the Twilight Wish Foundation which grants wishes for seniors.

Their mission “is to honor and enrich the lives of deserving seniors through intergenerational Twilight Wish celebrations.”

Their vision” is to impact cultural behavior by inspiring the way society views aging to make our world a nicer place to age, one Twilight Wish at a time.”

They have granted wishes such as tombstones, dentures, wheelchair and stoves, and adventures such as a cross-country truck ride, having a painting lesson with a famous artist and one I got to participate in, acquiring an autographed photo of Gene Simmons of KISS and four carved pumpkin images of the band members.

I have known Cass for many years and have witnessed first hand the dedication she has for this organization and the ways she puts her heart and soul into the work. She was clearly deserving of the award.

The group that bestowed the award was one I had not heard of but was deeply moved when hearing the story of the namesakes.  They were Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist Minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed Minister. These men were assigned to the  U.S.A.T. Dorchester, which was carrying 902 men. On February 2, 1943, the ship was struck by a German submarine and rapidly took on water.  These four men were witnessed offering comfort to the terrified occupants who were plunging into the frigid water. In a supreme act of heroism, they each took off their life vests and gave them to four others. As the ship was sinking, they were seen praying. According to John Ladd, a survivor, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

Their legacy lives on. In the hotel ballroom were numerous military personnel; some active duty and others retired, from all branches and of all ranks. Several were chaplains themselves. For this avowed crunchy granola, left of center, pacifist, being in a room filled with service men and women was a change from that of my customary crowd. I was delighted to hear, not glorifying of war, but a devotion to peace. As the story of the men unfolded before us, I was struck by the winding road that led the chaplains to the pivotal moment. One of them had nearly died at age 12 but lived on to become a hero. Each of them made a conscious choice to enter the seminary and the military. Each of them was assigned to the Dorchester and happened to be on board when the ship was attacked. It led me to ponder the concept of ‘meant to be.’ Was it pre-ordained that this event occur and that the four of them had their roles to play? 

There were others honored with applause who were families of the chaplains, survivors and those who died on that day.

I plan to visit the chapel which located in Philadelphia so I can immerse myself in the energy of such devotion.

This past weekend, I immersed myself in the juicy, playful, light, lovely, dark, soul deep, bone marrow core, Earth-shaking, birth-giving, uplifting, dance ’til you drop,  life-enhancing, righteously angry, shadowy, frightening, flirtatious, fluid realm of womanhood when I attended the Womanly Arts Experience created by Regena Thomashauer (a.k.a. Mama Gena). I had heard of her back in the early 2000s and was drawn to her calls- it -like- she- sees- it-speaking-truth- to -power-from -the heart- in -yo’- face-irreverent attitude.

Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts: Using the Power of Pleasure to Have Your Way with the WorldMama Gena’s Owner’s & Operator’s Guide To Men  and Mama Gena’s Marriage Manual are her triumvirate and she adds to them her most recent book, Pussy: A Reclamation. If that title is shocking to you as a reader of this column, remember that it is used as a pejorative term that was cast about caustically by the occupant of the Oval Office. Mama Gena and those who attend her workshops claim it as an empowering word. As she moved across the stage facing 900 some women who had traveled from many places on the planet (Nigeria, Denmark, Australia) and throughout the United States to New York City, she invited us often to see that part of our bodies as a source of creative power to call in the lives we desire. Her passion for this work is contagious. She presents a resounding clarion call for women to step out of the shadow in which they may have hidden and into the light, center stage, fully honoring all that they are.

What I loved (among many things) about the weekend, was the invitation to explore the myriad ways of being a woman. None was preferable to another. There were women from all socioeconomic backgrounds, educational levels, ages, body size and shapes, skin hues, spiritual traditions, physical abilities, and life experiences. The diversity was dazzling. Several generations from the same families attended. A woman in her 80’s whose youthful appearance belied her octogenarian status, proudly introduced herself to the cheering crowd.

I had set an intention when signing up that I would put away my tendency to be ON as a way of connecting with people. I planned to be fully present as a witness as well as a participant. An occupational hazard for me as a therapist and facilitator is to take care of others who I teach and counsel professionally and who I love personally. Quite the experiment and quite the challenge to simply BE. I know that once I sign up for a workshop, it has already begun and issues connected to the subject matter will arise. Not a surprise when a few days prior to the weekend, I developed a stye in my right eye and at some points over the weekend, my eye was so swollen that I looked like I had gone a few rounds in the ring with Rocky. I felt self-conscious and a bit grotesque and lizard-like when I looked in the mirror. It made sense to me since according to Louise Hay’s work, it represents anger. I also wondered what I was not wanting to look at. I think of myself as conflict avoidant and as a Libra peacemaker would much rather go for a win-win. I know there is much beneath the surface that is brewing and festering, ready to purge, just like that bacterial bump under my eyelid. Warm compresses, makeup-free eyes and anti-biotic drops were practical interventions. Breathing through the emotions that surfaced, sharing my feelings with Sister Goddesses (the term used for those in the community) who lovingly empathized.

A central issue arose that I addressed via journaling and conversation was one of comparison. Even though I (like every human on the planet) have experienced loss and trauma (the death of my husband when I was 40, both parents over a few year period back in 2008 and 2010, the destruction of our house in Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Florida, an ectopic pregnancy, my husband’s diagnosis of Hep C all in 1992, fast forward to 2013 with the onset of shingles, and then a heart attack and kidney stones in 2014, I reasoned as I heard the stories of other women there of horrific trauma, that my stuff isn’t so bad, added to it that I have resources and learned resiliency skills. After all, I reasoned, I am a therapist who counsels clients who have experienced loss and trauma.  And as I heard other women sharing about their successes, I asked myself why I wasn’t where they were on that ladder. Neither are good for the heart or soul. I am learning to hush the inner naysayers.

We were encouraged us to brag about ourselves and be witnessed by each other. Women are not generally encouraged to do that, instead, we are given messages that who we are and what we do is not enough or shouldn’t be lauded. “Be humble.” “Don’t be too full of yourself.” “Keep your head down.” “Who do you think you are?” “Don’t shine too brightly.” Women are often intimidated by each other, not trusting each other.  In this safe setting, we could, with zest and joy brag freely. A rising tide lifts all boats and I was inspired by what my Sister Goddesses achieved as I thought, “I’ll have what she’s having.” The courage to stretch our comfort zones was heartily applauded.

My brags: Single mama of a 30-year-old son who recently married the love of his life. My wonderful ‘daughter-in-love’ thanked me for raising the man of her dreams. I am a self-supporting Renaissance Woman (writer/speaker/therapist/editor/minister/coach) whose work makes a difference. I am at ease with new experiences and meet friends daily. I embrace life full out, and do it physically via Free Hugs events. I did my first 5k in September. Oh, and I lived a dream into reality by interviewing the Dalai Lama in 2008.

I have come to recognize that I am an excellent provider. I took care of my son as a single parent and kept us in the same house by working several jobs. I provide support for the people in my personal and professional realms.  This I do because I can and because I want to. Another stretchy area had to do with willingness to be the recipient of other people’s kindness, caring, and generosity. I can talk a good game about the cycle of giving and receiving. One can’t exist without the other. And yet…I often push it away. A few years ago, a friend was offering me a  shoulder massage and assured me that she didn’t need or want anything from me at that moment. Yikes! Was that ever hard to accept?!

I sense it has been a stumbling block to attracting the kind of romantic relationship I desire. I want to be able to trust a partner to be strong enough to be an emotional and physical support. Needing to surrender in safety to someone willing to be in that role.

Both of these are works in progress.

A few observations that remain with me from the weekend. Mama Gena has a vital talent as a facilitator. She is able to skillfully open people up and do ’emotional surgery,’ and be able to close them up afterward so that they are not left gaping. Sadly, I have not seen that in every workshop I have attended. A second gift she has is that of presence. I watched her working with a participant and as she gazed at the woman, it was like they were the only two in the room, so focused was she.

I continue to do ‘this woman’s work’ every day of my life as I experience all the feelz full out and I celebrate the myriad ways of being a woman.

 

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Writing this with a sty in my eye, obscuring my physical vision, but not blurring my insight. What is surprising is that this time the impairment is on my right side. Over the past few years, I have had shingles, kidney stones, plantar fasciitis, a heart attack and a Bakers’ Cyst, all on the left side of my body. Balance is a good thing in most cases. I know that a sty is a non-contagious bacterial infection that causes a lovely lump with gook in it that I can’t wait to be free from. Warm compresses, sans makeup, attempting to keep my hands away from my eye, resting it when I can, are all called for. From a metaphysical perspective, I wonder what I am needing to see.

According to You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay:

Eye: Represents the capacity to see clearly past, present, future.

Sty: Looking at life through angry eyes. Angry at someone.

I consider my life in the moment. I have been exploring all three time-frames and know that while I can’t change my past, I always have the capacity to alter how I see it and what I want to do to claim my life choices in each moment to propel me into a happier future. I teach it and preach it, so I had better live it. There are moments when I feel shoulda woulda coulda regrets but realize it is futile to hang on to what I can do nothing about. Much of my what if and if only thoughts come from the time period spanning my marriage back in the 80’s and 90’s. I am keenly aware that had I not married Michael, I would likely not have become a journalist since we published a magazine from 1988-1998 and when he died, I became a freelancer. Had I not married Michael, I would not have become an interfaith minister since he was the one in seminary and when he died, I completed the work he started and was ordained instead. Had I not married Michael, I would not have adopted my son and seen him through a challenging childhood and adolescence into successful and happy adulthood. Although I can’t claim total responsibility for how he evolved, I know I contributed. Had I not married Michael, I likely would not have become a bereavement counselor, since his illness and subsequent death taught me so much about loss and grief and made me a more adept guide for others. Had I not married Michael, I likely would not have learned as much as I did about my co-dependent tendencies that played a role in our paradoxical marriage that sometimes pulls me back away from the here and now into the there and then. I know that I have still (19 years after his passing) harbored anger and shame over events that were part of our time together. Even after all this time and heaps of personal work, some memories linger that I would much rather forget.

What I know is that unhappiness is the gap between how I think things ought to be and how they are in the moment. The question is, can I sit in the just don’t know-in-between until something changes (or nothing changes) and I come to peace with it? My pattern has been to rush past what I was unhappy about (spiritual bypass), rather than give myself permission to have a pouty pity party. A whole lot of ‘How come? It’s not fair’ I can then have compassion for myself and be less likely to take stuff personally.

Learning to see things from a higher perspective.