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welcome

I can’t believe more than a year has passed since my last (real) post. I feel the need to re-welcome myself to this blog and my readers to myself.  Welcome! Looking pack on my past posts, I can see why I did so much writing last year. It was a hard year, full of big changes, painful losses and some intense lessons.

This time last year I was enduring one of my longest bouts of anxiety yet. I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, and ultimately had to increase the dosage of medicine I had been taking. It was just a terrible time. Close friends recommended I see a pastoral counselor they know and respect. In just a few visits, this counselor shared a practice with me that has completely transformed my relationship with my anxiety, and really my whole life. The Welcoming Prayer is from a book called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault, and it has simply worked (in amazing ways) for me. I’d like to share it with you here (taken directly from the book).  For a re-welcoming post, I think it fits.

The Welcoming Prayer

The three step process of the Welcoming Prayer

  1. Focus and sink in
  2. Welcome
  3. Let go

Focus and sink in

To focus means to sink in to the feeling in your body. If it’s a physical pain, like a toothache you become very present to it, putting your full attention inside it. Exactly the same is true for emotions. If you are angry, see if you can be present to how anger is manifesting in your body—is your jaw clenched? Stomach in knots? If fear is present, what is the sensation of it? Is your breath short? Is there a sense of vertigo, or a stampede of ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline?

Don’t try to change anything. Just stay present.

Focusing doesn’t mean psychoanalyzing. This is not about trying to discover why you feel the way you do, or justifying your feelings. This first step is the key to whole practice. By becoming physically aware of this energy as sensation in your body, you can stay in the present, welcoming it.

Welcome

Now comes the most inscrutable and counterintuitive instruction in the whole of Welcoming Prayer. Sitting there, steeped in the feeling, you begin to say, ever so gently, ”Welcome, anger” or “Welcome pain, welcome.”

How’s that again? If this emotion is what necessitated the practice in the first place, why are we welcoming it? Isn’t the goal to get rid of it?

Actually, no. The goal is not to let it chase you out of presence.

Admittedly, this is paradoxical. Common sense tells you that the emotion is the problem and the solution is to eliminate it. But by welcoming it instead, you create an atmosphere of inner hospitality. By embracing the thing you once defended yourself against, or ran from, you are actually disarming it, removing its power to hurt you or chase you back into our smaller self.

This moment can always be endured, the well-known spiritual writer Gerald May reminds us, and the act of welcoming anchors us firmly in the Now. This is the moment where those two great streams, awareness and surrender, converge. The small self is surrendered into the authentic self, connected to the divine within. In this configuration, you are able to stay present in the Now regardless of its physical or psychological content. It’s something the great saints and mystics have always known.

A couple of important points: First, what you are welcoming is the physical or psychological content of the moment only, not a general blanket condoning of a situation. I’m frequently asked by people with abuse histories, “But incest shouldn’t be welcomed, should it?” This misses the whole point. What you are welcoming in this moment is not incest, but the feelings the experience triggers for you: the fear or the rage or shame on your plate right now.

This is a very important mistake to nip in the bud, because if uncorrected it can lead to the assumption that surrender means to roll over and play dead, or that the purpose of the practice is to teach you to passively acquiesce to situations that are in fact intolerable. This is not so at all. There’s a crucial distinction between surrender as an inner attitude and as an outer practice, and we are concerned only with the former here. From the point of view of inner work, the situation is straightforward: anything done in a state of interior bracing will throw you immediately into your small self, with its familiar repertoire of defense mechanisms. Surrender understood as an interior act will place you in alignment with [your authentic self, your imago dei, that part of you that is connected to God]. Once you’re in right alignment, you can decide [freely] what you are going to do in the outer world. Sometimes this is a spirited fight; other times it is acquiescence. But whichever way, you’ll be doing it from consciousness, not reactivity.

Let go

Don’t get to this step too quickly. The real work in Welcoming Prayer is actually accomplished in the first two steps. Stay with them, going back and forth between ‘focusing and sinking in,’ and ‘welcoming’ until the knot begins to dissolve of its own accord.

And yes, ‘letting go’ is also just for now. This is not a final, forever renunciation of your anger or fear; it’s simply a way of gently waving farewell as the emotion starts to recede. If you can’t quite make it to this step, that’s OK. Don’t fake it, because the bulk of the word has already been accomplished.

When you are ready to let go, there are two ways to go about it: a short way and a more complex litany. In the short way, you simply say something like “I let go of my anger,” or, if you prefer, “I give my anger to God.”

Mary Mrozowski (creator of the Welcoming Prayer) preferred a more complex and invariable litany. When it become time to proceed with the third step, she would use this:

  • I let go my desire for security and survival.
  • I let go my desire for affection and esteem.
  • I let go my desire for control and power.
  • I let go my desire to change the situation.

The would be her inevitable litany, whether dealing with physical or emotional affliction. Those first three, of course, are the three false self programs, and in naming them thusly, Mary said, “I feel like I’m sending a strong message to the unconscious.”

The last one, “I let go of my desire to change the situation,” is right between the eyeballs and a stroke of pure genius. In no uncertain terms, it removes this practice from the ballpark of “fit-it” (“I do this practice in order to correct an unpalatable situation) and back into unconditional presence.

For Mary this practice was all about inner alignment. Whether the pain went on forever was not the point; the point is that throughout this entire “forever,” an awakened and surrendered consciousness can remain fully present to God “for the duration.”

This year, a routine of normalcy has sweetened our lives. No dreadful accidents, no tragic losses have tumbled me into panic. I know the hard times will visit again, but I feel so better prepared for them now. Maybe this prayer will help you sometime, too.

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yet to be

During this season of Advent, I am praying that God would reveal to me something yet to be revealed. For the past few months I’ve been hovering just around the edges of a big something, an idea, a concept, a truth, a something he wants me to understand, but that my own fear has kept hidden.

like something just beyond the window, the trees, the morning fog

like something just beyond the window, the trees, the morning fog

This morning I read Paul’s prayer to the Philippians (1:9-11):  And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

So now, as we anticipate the coming Light, I pray Paul’s prayer for myself, for knowledge and  full insight. I wait for the fog to lift, for God to help me understand what has yet to be understood.

What are you waiting for during Advent this year?

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Ch-ch-ch-changes!

OK readers, in light of a few recent posts that are bringing me a little down, a post about the positives of right now:

D and I bought a house. When we aren’t feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of long-term debt, we are basking in the joy of having our own little home. The house came to us through a bit of wu wei; we noticed the ‘for sale’ sign at the bottom of a driveway on Bee Branch at a time when we were just settling into my grandparents house right up the road. We took a look just for the heck of it, met the owners and heard their amazing story of working on the house over the years. They bought the four acres from their friend, ordered the cedar logs from British Columbia, and have been laboring in love, little bits at a time (as this was their vacation home) since the 70′s. D and I fell in love with its small size, cozy wood stoves  and cedary-smells, and have been blessed to work with owners who empathize with our less-than-impressive income.

a little peek of the little cedar house on bee branch

We put up our first Christmas tree in the house last weekend. Need I say more?

courtesy of Harrell Hill Farms

the magic

We traded in the old mini-van for a new car. Yep. Crazy. Jetta, TDI, car of my dreams. Loving the gas mileage and the coolness. Not gonna lie.

I have a full-time job (thus the house and the car, whew)! After a year of working one part time job, a month of working two part-time jobs, I finally have full-time work with GEAR UP NC in the Yancey County School system. For the next seven years, I hope to be working with parents and families to see more students graduate high school and succeed on a wide range of post-secondary paths.

Gearing Up at the high school!

In many ways this year, I am feeling for the first time like maybe I am becoming an adult. With real pain and suffering has also come real joy. Alongside all the unsettling, unpleasant changes I’ve been experiencing lately, I must also acknowledge the sweetness of the positives.

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eGAD!

Alright, ya’ll, throwing it out there: a post about anxiety!

I’ve been dealing with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) since I was in college in 2005. At that time, I felt anxious for about two months, couldn’t eat, cried a lot, and felt like I was going crazy, and had no idea what I was anxious about. For a young student who generally felt positive, on top of things, and in control, I was terrified. I went to the doctor, got a prescription, and finally started to feel like my old self again (it wasn’t as simple as it sounds, but the rest is a post for another time).

Since then, I’ve still had anxious times, but nothing like those two months at school. I’ve also learned more about anxiety, and am trying a different approach, going off my medicine and researching cognitive behavioral therapy (in hopes of trying it soon). In my research, I’ve read lots of practical tips for dealing with anxiety. One I’ve found helpful is to notice my feelings without judging them, naming the physical sensations and accepting them for what they are (instead of giving into my most common response: Oh no I am going into anxious mode let me get more anxious about being anxious! OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

Another thing I’ve been trying is looking at the times when my anxiety gets intense, goes beyond general nervousness or apprehension that’s normal and short-lived. So I have been following my anxiety, paying attention to my body and my environment (what am I actually doing) when I feel it coming on. Below are a few of the recent times when I’ve had severe anxiety that has uninterrupted sleep/eating habits and lasted more than a day or so:

  • D broke his jaw and had to have surgery.
  • My brother’s best friend died unexpectedly.
  • I directed a summer camp for a week.
  • I got into conflict with someone at church.
  • I changed jobs and had to send an email in which I felt that I was letting someone down.

In the first two instances, it seems like when my idea of reality, the status quo, gets upset by something or changes dramatically, I get uncontrollably anxious. “The world is NOT what I’ve always known it to be! Terrible things happen and I can’t control or prepare for them!”

In the last two instances it seems that when I don’t know how another person is perceiving me, or fear that I’ve upset another person, I get uncontrollably anxious. “What are they thinking? I bet they think I am an irresponsible, incompetent jerk. Oh no!!!

The middle instance seems to be a combo of both those things: A drastic change to my status quo, and being completely vulnerable to how people (and kids) might perceive me, sends me into intense anxious mode during which I can’t eat and I demand that my poor hubby to actually come to church camp and stay with me….

I don’t want to make too much of this pattern, as indeed sometimes I can find no reason whatsoever for feeling anxious, but there does seem to be a common theme centering around my need for CONTROL…..When something happens that reminds me that I am not in control of the world I live in, nor of the people in that world, it really throws me off! Of course I can rationalize to myself: “Dora, come on. You KNOW you are not in control of anything. God is. You are not. You know that. Don’t even try.” But how do I make my body believe that?  HOW???

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on needing hope

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light   
‘Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we’ll be alright

~ Mumford and Sons, “Ghosts That We Knew”

My life has generally been bright and smooth, like a river stone. I’ve had dark days, and painful losses, to be sure, but I’ve never questioned that my life would continue on its bright path, in a world that was basically good with people that were mostly safe and happy. I don’t think I’ve ever really needed that kind of big, grounding hope, that things will get better. I’ve heard it talked about, to the point of cliche,  but never needed it.

Lately though, I’ve been feeling the need for a hope that will see me through in a big, overarching way. This year has been one in which I have been reminded experienced for the first time  my own lack of security in the world, of the fact that the world is imperfect and that people suffer inevitably  and sometimes beyond any scope of what I can understand. In the days after months of witnessing enormous loss in close family and friends, I feel like I am modifying my identity, or my sense of reality. Pressing questions weave in and out of my mind. Is the world good? Are people mostly happy and trying to do their best? Does God will terrible things to happen to innocent people? Is it wrong for me to seek and enjoy happiness and security while others are suffering so greatly? These questions aren’t just hanging around for pondering over a cup of coffee and a journal entry. They are urgent. I need to know the answers so I can get on and live.  How do I continue?

Hope. God shows me the possibility of a better world, one that we all have hands in creating. Hoping and working for the kingdom of heaven on Earth, drawing nourishment from the transcendent spirit that connects us to one another and to the  world, and looking forward to a time when we will all be drawn back together without suffering, represents, for me, that big hope that I can’t live without.

Practicing this kind of hope is a new feeling, like grabbing hold of a little gift that has always been there for the taking. It reminds me that the river stone wasn’t always bright and smooth. It has ridden the ancient waters of tumult, lost parts of itself and been transformed.

 

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to hold the electric green

The golden haze of days,
Summer’s last big showing.
She uses all her sway,
Oozing up through every low plant
Pressing down through the tops of trees,
Heavy green leaves drooping with the weight of summer.

Trying to hold the electric green
In the prism of the air we walk in
She throws out her cloak of morning fog
Summons the susurrus of crickets
And breathes her sorceress sigh from
The open blooms of the honeysuckle vine.

But the clear blue sky reminding, urging
Loosens the fastenings of summer’s web
With a whistling switch and sweeping leaf.

In our own bodies too
We feel the gentle push-pulling of the days.
Our hearts bind tight, contract around
The heavy fullness of summer.
The long apricot-to-blue-gray evenings
Swell and contract around our hearts.

But in our hair and heads the cool clear blue
Whispers and whips and undoes the bindings of summer,
Until she flees and we are filled

With the golden blue cool shimmering of October.
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weekend wonder

Summer weekends in the mountains are the best.

Inspired by new friends, we sought the rare Gray’s Lily on the Roan Balds.

The view from the Roan is even better in person.

 And someone became a fan of the Johnson City Cardinals (actually, I think the grape Italian ice is what really won him over).

 He got to run the bases after the game.

Weekends like these remind me of why we moved back home.

Lifting up gratitude today.

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The Tale of the Gypsy Wedding Dress

As D and I approach the second birthday of our marriage, I have been reflecting on our magical wedding day and chewing on a story about the procurement of my dress. The following tale is as true as I can remember it. Ladies, enjoy.

I have never been one of those people who dream about their wedding day in acute and ecstatic detail. Yes, I hoped to get married one day, but I was never in a rush and usually had more pressing things on my mind, like you know, the meaning of life and death and whatnot. So when I found myself happily engaged in the summer of 2009, I approached dress shopping with an unexpected sense of glee: This is my day to look as beautiful and as me I want! Woohoo!

Dress Number One

The night after D proposed, my sisters and I spent hours on ebay, and I actually bought a dress. $78 plus shipping.  So what if it has poofy sleeves and is two sizes two small? I’ll remove the sleeves and make it work! Something about that neckline I just have to have! (“Do it! Do it!” cried the giddy bridesmaids-to-be.) So, as I basked in all of five days of being engaged, Dress Number One arrived. Let’s just say it was a no. Think Shelby in Steel Magnolias, but with long sleeves.  My dad loved it, actually wanted me to wear it. Not happening.

Add long sleeves, and you have Dress Number One.

But not to worry, my frugal readers, the $78 were not for nothing! A few months later, my little sister went all out for Halloween as a shockingly realistic zombie bride. The dress debuted in the hideous glory for which it was destined.

Dress Number Two

After my initial adrenaline-based purchase, I calmed down and decided to take my time dress-hunting. I knew what I wanted: simple, lace, cream, not to wedding-y. A few months later, I found it. This time on Etsy, $60, vintage. I was in Harrisonburg so I got to try it out for new friends before my family saw it. And it was a hit. In the back of my mind though, I knew it wasn’t gonna fly with the mother of the bride. It was just too simple. But I thought I would give it a shot, so I came home and tried it on for her. As expected, “It is beautiful, but it just isn’t what I pictured my daughter walking down the aisle in.” I was in the familiar pickle of wanting to please my mother and needing to be true to myself. So I compromised. It was two months until the wedding, and I told her that if I could find something I loved between now and then, I’d get it. If not, I’d wear Dress Number Two.

Dress Number Two in action

I really loved the back.

Dress Number Three: The Gypsy

A little less than two months until the big day, and I was still in limbo about the dress, thought not really panicked. I knew if I had to wear Dress Number Two and disappoint mom, the world would go on. But part of me still wanted to find that perfect dress that would please everyone. So, it is a normal Saturday in July, and D and I are driving down the road in rural Linville, finishing a week of cooking at Camp Caramel. We drive by several yard sales, nothing strange for a Saturday in the mountains. As the circus of items long-stashed in garages and attics of strangers floats by my window, a mannequin in a white dress, looming over a quilt of gnomes and bicycle wheels, catches my eye. I demand that D turn around, and we return to the little square piled high with the wares of a dreamy lady in a long skirt and magenta headscarf. The dress is kind of seventies style, deep v-neck, floor length cream-colored thin fabric. Lace around the neck and flowy lace sleeves. Just so me.

“How much is the dress?” I ask hopefully.

She grimaces, “Well, I was really trying to sell the mannequin. The dress was my sister’s, out her wedding didn’t work out so she never got to wear it.”

“Would you mind if I tried it on?”

“Sure, I guess. I guess I could sell it for 15 or so.”

I tried to stay calm. Please let it fit.

D and I found a dark shed and he zipped me. I felt lovely and natural. I stepped out into the sunshine and the lady stopped straightening her empty picture frames and stared at me.

“That dress is yours. I have chills you look so beautiful.”

We both teared up and I said too many thank yous and hugged her like an old friend. She gave me her email address: gypsymtnwoman@…. and asked me to send pictures of the wedding.

D and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing. “We’ll take the mannequin.”

She was thrilled, explaining how there was just something about this day, and how she would be glad not to have to tote it around for the rest of her long journey.

There certainly was something about that day, and about that dress. It was magical.

So, it only took three dresses, approximately $150, and one gypsy to find the perfect dress. I think the story alone is worth that and more.

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just listen

(From Psalm 19)

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

the dome proclaims his truth.

 

Day to day pours forth speech;

night to night declares his knowledge.

 

Every swath of grass sings his word;

any brittle leaf chants the key.

 

Any yet.

 

There is no speech, nor are there words.

Their voice is not heard.

 

Any yet.

 

Their line goes out through all the earth,

their words to the end of the world.