This morning found me at an interfaith spiritual community of which I have been a part since I walked through the door in 1984. It is called Pebble Hill Church and is comprised of folks of all religious/faith traditions and some who consider themselves atheist or agnostic. It is a Peace Site, which means it is dedicated to bringing about peaceful solutions to the challenges facing us on a personal and global scale. What drew me there today was that the celebration was to honor President Obama as he serves his last week in the Oval Office. Although I can’t speak for everyone in the community, what was verbalized was a profound sense of gratitude and respect for the man and the progressive changes his administration made on the fronts that we value, such as woman’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the environment and general peace and social justice. We are also experiencing trepidation about the changes the incoming administration will bring about. Many of us are ‘gracefully aging hippies’ who have marched in various rallies since the 1960’s.
One of the components of the service is welcoming people to verbalize their commitment to become active members. A relatively new couple stepped up to light their candles and claim their role in the community. They were accompanied by their two small children who helped their parents kindle their candles. The other person to stand before the congregation named Julia, has been attending since she was a small child. She is now in her 20’s. Her parents Gretchen and Michael have both been active members for many years and her father had passed in 2015.
What moved me about this ritual was observing that these young people will be immersed in a community that values love and peace. It encourages both activism and pacifism. It offers opportunities to get involved and not just sit back and bemoan the state of the world. When a religion teaches and preaches hatred, poisoning young people, I can’t fathom that a God of love would be any too pleased with that. It isn’t a matter of believing that ‘our way is the right way’. It leaves room for open-minded conversation and finding equitable solutions.
Another ritual we did was lighting candles to bear witness to groups whose wellbeing may be at risk if the new administration fulfills its campaign promises. Children, women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, the environment, those enslaved in sex trafficking, those with mental illness, those who may lose insurance benefits, were all acknowledged with the words, “We bless you, encourage you, and empower you.” As I stood up, I spoke on behalf of journalists who have much to say in this time of upheaval and endeavor to do so while freedom of the press is still in place. I pray that it always is.
Members of the congregation took turns reading snippets of President Obama’s speeches. Each moved me to goosebumps and tears. His farewell address, like the other ones before, called on the American people to be a force for good in the world and evoked a sense of the power of the collective. He expressed gratitude and humility, as he praised those who stood with him.
It had me wondering (and I don’t plan to tune in) whether the word ‘we’ will be used as many times in the president-elect’s inauguration speech, or whether the word ‘I’ would overshadow it. I already know the answer.
At the end of service, we sang the hymn that has becoming a rallying cry for peace…We Shall Overcome. I changed the word ‘someday’ to ‘today,’ since we need not wait for a time in the future to affect positive outcomes. Now is the only time we have.
Some of the takeaway messages that were shared were about letting light overcome darkness, taking positive action, blessing those with whom we disagree, no matter how vehemently, and being a convert to love.
Bless you, Mr. President. Thank you for your service.
I think people have a certain image of me, that I am always (or mostly) bubbling over with bliss, oozing love and light and sprinkling glitter everywhere. Yes, that is a part of my persona, but there are other aspects since we contain multitudes. Someone responded to one of my posts on Facebook about boycotting the inauguration as a way of speaking out loud and clear that it is not acceptable to endorse bigotry and policies that endanger freedom and lives. I am sharing this, knowing that there are people reading these words who may have supported the candidate, while not considering the long-term impact of what might seem like expedient choices. My belief is that if we run our decisions through the filter of how they will impact the next seven generations, we are in sustainability, rather than destruction mode. What we think and do matters.
His response was: “You interviewed The Dalai Lama. I know you from the love you radiate. I am surprised you posted this. Not one of you (meaning friends who commented) has talked about taking 100% personal responsibility for your lives, thinking the government has control. Our lives are created by our thoughts. When each of us comes from a place of love and light, all the outside crap disappears, and we actually make a positive impact on the world.”
How I answered: “Radiating love IS what this is about, Richard. It doesn’t always look warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it needs to be Mama Bear fierce and protective. I am taking responsibility for my values and walking the talk. Love and light alone is not enough. Sometimes saying a loud and clear NO, this is not acceptable is what it takes. And BTW, the Dalai Lama gets angry. He told me so. He is not passive even though he is peaceful.”
The response from others who read the original post, was heartening:
The calendar page has turned from 2016 to 2017. Some would say, “not a moment too soon,” as a result of seemingly daily losses of notables and the current socio-political climate. Since the election here in the United States, levels of anxiety and depression have increased dramatically. Regardless of which side of the fence you position yourself on, there is friction to be felt. What happens when you don’t let yourself feel it?
In my case, I have discovered that repressing genuine emotion takes its toll on me physically. I am writing this blog after returning home from a visit to my local ER where I knuckled under and went following a bout with bronchial bleh that was treated with methods mainstream and integrative. These included antibiotics, inhaling salt water via a Neti pot, bags of lozenges, Nyquil, Dayquil, breathing in steam infused with essential oils, a warm wrap containing rice, flax, eucalyptus and wintergreen. What came along with the illness was that I coughed so hard that I strained my ribs. Imagine doing a few hundred sit-ups or crunches and then trying to breathe. With the aid of hospital- based TLC and a non-narcotic medication, the screaming level 8 ouch has diminished to a far more manageable 5 at the moment. Got through triage quickly. Being a cardiac patient who is having breathing issues and rib pain, kind of bumped me up on the list. Felt like Typhoid Mary with my residual cough, so I was given a mask as a precaution as I alternately sat and paced around the lobby. Although I work out 3-4 times a week at the gym, I felt considerably older than my 58 turns around the sun and like my mom would have said, “decrepit,” as I limped a bit and guarded my ribs.
When I was ushered into the room, I was greeted by caring staff who assessed what was going on, took my info, vitals, expertly inserted an IV for Tramadol and fluids since I was dehydrated (chalk it up to meds that were meant to dry out sinuses and congestion) and got me to the x-ray room. I found myself resting well, despite the pain and within 3 hours or so, I was out the door headed to pick up prescriptions. No flu, no pneumonia, blessedly.
Roll back the clock to 24 hours ago, which was New Years’ Eve. I had planned on joining friends at a party in their home. I don’t hang with a rowdy crowd, so I knew I could lounge and veg in the company of those who were there. A persistent voice reminded me that I needed sleep more than socialization, so I made a decision to stay home instead of venturing out into the night. It was the first NYE that I had spent totally at home on my own in my adult life. I am a social butterfly and although watching the ball drop in Times Square or the Giant Peep descend in nearby Bethlehem, PA isn’t my idea of a good time, I still have enjoyed time with kindred spirits as I said farewell to one year and a hardy hello to the next. It occurred to me that it really was no big deal to flip the page on the calendar solo. As indicated on social media, others of my friends were feeling low key too and decided to forgo festivities. My fancy dinner was chicken soup and tea and my elegant attire were a fleece robe over jammies.
Roll back even further in the day, and I was having lunch with my friend Ken who is a phenomenal dream guide as well as an intuitive healer. He has known me a long time (likely two decades.) and had picked up on the need I had to explore long time challenges with regard to money, success, and self-worth. Call it ancestral, but the fear of not being enough and doing enough to have enough has plagued me. As a child with asthma, I felt a need to push beyond healthy limits to keep up. An A student and dedicated athlete (competitive swimmer) who gave it my all in nearly every circumstance. A committed caregiver to the people in my personal and professional life. A workaholic who literally worked her way into a heart attack. Someone terrified of not being able to pay her bills, to the extent that she is embarrassed at being underemployed at the moment after being laid off from a lucrative job a bit more than a year ago. I have been able to piece together freelance/contractor jobs in my conjoined fields of therapy and journalism. Still, I have been ‘shoulding on myself’ over how I think things in my life ought to be. I have been setting up unreasonable parameters and then harshly criticizing myself when I haven’t met them.
I acknowledged that one of my stumbling blocks is comparison as I measure myself unfavorably to others who I perceive as being more successful in worldly ways (meaning making more money than I do with a similar background and training). I also hold up an extended tape measure that spans where I am to where I think I should be. Either one is a losing game.
One of the challenges I have encountered over the years is my perception of The Divine. I like the 12 step term, “The God of our Understanding” and I have what I call ‘God-versations’ often. The question I ponder is whether they are dialogues or monologs. Who is it that I am communing with? I know that I don’t believe (as Ken put it) in a ‘guy in the sky’ who pulls the puppet strings and we have no control over which direction we move. I also know that we are not totally left to our own devices with a God who has no investment in our wellbeing. When we took a look at my belief system, it turns out (no surprise), that I have a difficult time surrendering to God’s will for me. I am like that two-year-old who wants to tie her own shoes, as she insists, “Do it myself!” How am I not willing to let God tie my proverbial shoes from time to time since I sometimes get them tangled in knots?
We agreed that I would truly invest myself in non-action more of the time, which feels counter-intuitive for this recovering Type A who sometimes downgrades to a Type B+. Once I seed planted, my instructions were to step back and just let things be and let God do what God will, trusting that all is for my Highest Good.
As I entered into the New Year, my lungs are open and I am breathing my way clear. I am inhaling love and exhaling fear. I am inhaling trust and exhaling doubt. I am inhaling self -compassion and exhaling self- judgment. Ahhhh~
My friend Kai Karrel came into my life in the past five or six years as a teacher of spiritual ideology that he puts into direct practice. He refers to himself as a “writer, a poet, a mystic and a spiritual adventurer.” He is a divinely human and humanly divine soul brother. Kai spent years in a rather austere ashram and emerged with insights that guide his life and inspire others. One of my favorite stories about him relates to his love of high test coffee that might, on the surface, fly in the face of the disciplined life he had lived.
His Facebook post today spoke what I needed to hear in the moment.
“One of the root meanings of the word Hanukkah is initiation. The story tells us of an oil lamp that lasted eight nights instead of just one allowing the Menorah to be a source of light and illumination.
One of the spiritual meanings to this beautiful holiday also called the ‘Festival of Lights’, is the initiation into trust. An initiation into the knowing that we are plenty, that our inner source of inspiration never knows lack. That if we trust and accept, open and allow, our lives will forever be illuminated.”
Raised Jewish, Hanukkah has always been a celebrated-in-the-home holiday in my childhood and to this day, allows me to acknowledge my roots and honor the light within us all. Lately, my own light seems to have been flickering, with the fear that it will be extinguished. Never prone to depression or anxiety, I have been noticing an uptick in both. I might attribute it to the state of the world, post election. As an empath, I have been known to absorb, like a sponge, the feelings of those around me. As a therapist, I am in the thick of things with clients who have been riding an emotional roller coaster. Add to that, the holiday season (anniversary of my husband and mother’s deaths and a recent passing of Michael’s 98 year old Aunt Kitty, who was the family matriarch), with the call to be full of cheer, when there are times when I’m just not feelin’ it. On top of that are financial/career issues and I have been on quite the wild ride. One final cherry on top of the not so sweet sundae is feeling under the weather physically.
Last night, I trekked to my son Adam and his fiancee’ Lauren’s place, to celebrate Christmas with her family. It was a joyous and low key time where we enjoyed each other’s company, basking in the glow of the tree, engaging in an Italian Catholic tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes and watching a bit of the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. Just my speed at a time in my life when being a recovering Type A+; not satisfied to be merely Type A, (I have long been an overachiever) necessitates, not only slowing down, but stopping completely. Driving home, little traffic, (Aunt Kitty used to muse that “Everyone must already be at their destination,” when she would note that there were few cars on the road.), drinking in the twinkling lights that embellished buildings along the way, remembering doing that with my parents when I was a child. Even though we didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, we still appreciated some of the traditions of our neighbors and friends. I lit the candles for the first night of Hanukkah and watched as the light steadily burned; liquidating my fears a bit, as the flame did for the yellow and red wax.
This afternoon found me bundled under a quilt on the couch, while the sun beamed through the half circle window in my living room, warming me up and melting my soul that has felt frozen lately. A sinus/respiratory yuck-fest over the past week, has me immersing in solitude this afternoon, rather than time with family. I did get out this morning to Circle of Miracles for the holiday service. On the way home, I stopped at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It is where I go sometimes to commune with Mother Mary; a nice Jewish girl who had a pretty important role to play in the spiritual realms. There is a grotto on the grounds where people leave petitions for intercession and tokens of appreciation. Today, I wrote down the words that were in my heart and tucked it into a notch in the wall. I left a green crystal heart that I found in my backpack. Although I wasn’t raised Catholic, the place has special meaning for me. The first time I visited, I was in my mid teens. My BFF Barb, her mother and I went there for the annual Polish festival. It felt like the other end of the world. (something like an hour from our South Jersey town) Amazingly, as an adult, I end up living 10 minutes away.
When I was speaking with Mary, I was walking in circles around the center of the grotto and surrendering my beliefs to let go of what was holding me back. With each step, I found myself closer to a truth. I know better than to ask ‘why?’ something is happening, since the answer is always, “Because it is.” The real question that beckons a constructive response is, “what?” as in what are the next steps I am to take? I await my marching orders.
I sometimes forget, as Kai said, “that our inner source of inspiration never knows lack.”
I go back and forth between seeing myself as co-creator who has a hand in everything and at the effect of a decidedly benign Divine with a sometimes bizaare and twisted sense of humor. I assure myself in the midst of doubt that everything I ever worried about or fretted over has worked out better than I imagined.