Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Nativity

by John O'Donohue

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark, to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her,
A face deciphers itself from water,
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein,
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first,
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anger Is a Lump of Coal

I believe there are two kinds of anger we experience. There is the pebble anger and the coal anger. The pebble anger is just that-- annoying little rocks that turn up in your day. Your husband didn't clean last night's dishes. Your child left her dirty clothes on the floor again. The traffic is ten times worse than usual and you are going to be late for work for the second day in a row. These are pebbles. They have no history attached to them. They are pure in the moment anger that is felt, is annoying and, in time, we get over it.

Then there is the lump of coal anger. This is anger that has hardened over time. It has settled deep in your gut and the molecules of it have changed and become more complex over time. This anger goes WAY back and it is much heavier than a pebble. You feel it with you all throughout your day. The other day a girlfriend told me she was having dreams about her rage. This is a perfect example of the weight of anger becoming so heavy and full, it begins to manifest in other areas of our lives. This anger that has become so full it can no longer be ignored.

I believe that, although coal has its good purposes, we would all prefer a nice shiny diamond. Here is where my coal analogy gets a bit more complicated. That anger became heavy coal under the pressure of years and suppression. That anger was pushed into a deep recess of subconsciousness for life-saving reasons. We do not consciously choose what gets repressed and what doesn't! If your mind has suppressed anger, then it did so with the loving intention of saving you-- and perhaps the moments when this happened were precious life-saving moments. Over time that repressed pebble grew under the mounting pressure of day-to-day. Other pebbles and layers of living piled on top of the anger until it grew and grew. Once that anger solidifies into hard coal, there are only two options.

Option one is that the hard coal remains hard coal. This seems to be what most of us do because... well, it's the easier option! This anger coal is a great source of energy and we draw from it to clean, create, cuss people out when needed, and generally work ourselves into the ground. When we do this, the energy drawn from that coal is the best you will ever get from it. The coal anger will remain as a heavy lump in your spirit providing an eternal source of rage and heat. And, rest assured, that lump of coal will grow heavier over the years so that your rage will always have a source of energy from which to draw.

The second option is to provide pressure to that lump of coal and wait patiently for your diamond. When you honor that anger by examining it and feeling it, the anger begins to transform very slowly. Look deep into that lump of coal and when you think you know where it came from, look deeper. Go deeper and deeper and deeper into that anger until you go to its very center, its very origin. This process can take moments or days or months. Be patient. This may mean that for a significant period you are a very angry person. That's ok. Keep going deeper. For some people, you may trace that anger all the way to its very core and find the father that abandoned you when you were only 4. Keep going and you may find in the center is the mother whose addiction destroyed your family.

When you get to the core of your lump of coal, you will know. It will sear through you and what you believed to be anger, you will find is really immense grief or shame. Whatever is there in the center of that giant lump of anger, hold it. Let the pain of it come, the pressure of it mount. This will not kill you. There is no scientific evidence to show that anyone ever died from feelings, though my clients argue this point with me often. You will grieve. You will cry. You will know yourself at a deeper level and then an amazing thing happens. One morning you will wake up and feel lighter. You will sense something missing from your very core, a large weight lifted. You will reach down inside yourself for that heavy coal you have carried for years and find-- it is gone. There, in its place, hanging about your neck in a spot of prominence-- a new brilliant diamond, sparkling and glorious in the morning light.

This Is What Letting Go Sounds Like

A tsunami wave gathering its punch
as a first curl of water within itself, the
early sounds of a disaster begin
as a soft rush. The
flap of a flock of birds’ wings gathering
for southward flight, this
is what letting go sounds like—the loud crack of
a shot gun resounding against mountains
a wind caught inside a wooded glen
the lonely howl of one
in the night.
The snap of twigs against the foot
fall, a jet arriving and gone, rain against
my roof, soft
sobbing in the other room, this
is what letting go sounds like.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nashville's First Snow

Well, it finally came, the first snow of the year... and in December no less! It seems we rarely get snow in middle Tennessee anymore, so this was a beautiful surprise.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Let me preface this article by asking all my male readers to bear with me here. I absolutely believe this read will be well worth your time and encourage you to continue despite the title! I will, however, give you the upfront warning that I disclose a small bit of personal information in this article so please stop here if you feel this is too much for you to hear. Ok, let us commence this exciting topic...

I have been reading a new book, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. For those of you who know me, you are probably shocked that I have never read this book before, but it is true, I have not. I'll be honest, at times it feels a little hokey to me, and sometimes I have to go back and re-read something and re-analyze, process. The stories from the book are grounded in Eastern philosophies, archetypal tales, and Native American religion. Being a recovering Baptist, I am very wary of this and I think that is part of what is slowing me down. I have tons of rigid dogmatic remnants from my Baptist years-- no offense to any of you wonderful Baptist people out there (including much of my own family). I am fully grounded, however, in Jesus Christ. He has just done too much for me and proven Himself a Higher Power in my life. For me, Jesus is not relegated to just another wise prophet or a man with some helpful stories to guide me through the day. No, for me, He is the one and only true Son of God, no less. All other spiritual teaching that comes through my mind has to first go through this and what remains after the filtration can be kept. So, the reading of this book has been a bit arduous as there is so much to filter.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. The connection between our personal psychology and our personal spirituality is so delicately intertwined in this complicated webbing, that I want to closely examine my psychology because of how it affects my spirituality. One of the wonderful things I have taken away from this book is her discussion about menstrual cycles. She points out that the veil between the unconscious and the conscious mind thins while a woman is menstruating. During this part of her cycle, all those unconscious feelings and beliefs bob closely to the surface of the conscious mind. This can be overwhelming and a very emotional time for us ladies. I really find this to be true and have sensed this happening with me for awhile now.

I was particularly aware of this process this month as I am just coming off my period. Experiencing those emotional 7-10 days was much different for me this month, much more bearable. I found myself with a new reverence for my own sadness and anger this month. Those feelings are not just random by-products of hormone explosions in my body. They are true parts of my very own subconscious mind. They are real and valuable, most importantly, these feelings are not random-- they are meaningful. So, this month I let them come rather than try to fight or suppress as I would normally do. I connected them to their true sources as best as possible. I listened to my anger which quickly dissolved into an intense sadness and fragility. I cried a lot this past week and it felt good. I grieved a lot and it really hurt and it really felt good.

My "PMS" was actually productive for a change. Now that I have experienced this, it makes me angry that I have been denied this wonderful experience of my own monthly cycle for years. I have been told by my culture to shut up, get over it, take a pill, you just have PMS. When in reality I am having my very own valid and honest emotions that MUST be felt and heard, not shushed. It is no wonder to me now that women in the Western culture report more intense premenstrual symptoms than most any other culture in the world. We are shamed for a part of our cycle that we cannot stop and that in reality is a monthly gift rather than "the curse."

I have to believe that as I experience this once a month emotional cleansing that a lot of junk is going to be tossed out from my piled up unconscious mind. The hope is that, in time, these feelings may become less intense, as I allow myself this cyclical gift. I believe it is possible we Western women can begin to experience our menstrual cycles more similarly to women of Eastern cultures. This is exciting to me. As painful as some of the emotions were that I have had to feel this past week, it is no less painful than the harmful repercussions I face from my own behavior when I act out these invalid and repressed feelings. Hooray for me and hooray for my period! :-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Serenity Prayer: Courage

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

courage to change the things I can

and wisdom to know the difference.

It's a prayer many of us have heard and one that some of us cling to as a sacrament just as effective in reaching a Higher Power as communion. When I pray the serenity prayer, well, things happen. Serenity, courage, and wisdom happen-- not always in that order.

Most recently I have been thinking a lot about the whole courage part. Sometimes recovery comes in thick layers like eras of time that can be excavated by archaeologists. If someone were to try to do an archaeological dig on my life, they would find a thick layer and say, "Hey, here's the acceptance era!" This is, of course, is not true for everyone, and will change through the course of my own life as well. I believe I am presently in the era of courage and it is very scary, thus, the era of COURAGE.

I have often prayed this prayer and thought, "Why would you need courage to change something that is already fully within your power to change?" The prayer does say, God grant me the courage to change the things I can. Why is that scary? Well, now I know. Once you have reached full acceptance of the truths in your life, whether that be I am in debt, I am very sick, or My boss is impossible and there is nothing I can do about it, the next logical step becomes action.

When I am no longer obsessed about about all the things I cannot change, then I am absent of anxiety! I am at a place of peace. In this peace I have the clarity to see all the things in my own life that have become overgrown or dying, and am faced with the daunting task of cleaning it. This may require me to throw out the very things I once thought were essential to living. This is very scary because one may think, "What if I throw this out and then I need it later? What if this really was keeping me alive and then it's gone! I will die without it!" or him, or her, you just fill in the blank. Looking in your own yard means cutting back things and that will probably hurt. It means acknowledging your own negligence and taking responsibility for it. It means jumping into the unknown, leaning completely on the belief that my own human mind cannot heal my own human mind and I just might have to depend on someone else to help me with this. Looking at my own yard means I can never blame other people again for its overgrowth and shambles. Deciding to do this takes immense courage, really deep, gut-wrenching courage. God, GRANT me the courage to CHANGE the things I can.

I know for me it won't actually be archaeological digs that uncover these eras but journals and blogs that trail for miles after I am gone. And when friends, loved ones, and generations behind me dig through the writings, I pray they find thick, healthy layers of acceptance upon courage upon wisdom and that they know-- words bring healing, whether it's a journal entry or a prayer.