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Awakening From the Trump Nightmare?

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I’ve had the strangest feeling lately, sometimes several times a day. I feel happy. I’m just going about my business, chopping fresh summer squash and tomatoes or brushing my newly adopted kitty Alice, when all of a sudden I realize there’s an underlying happiness. I’m not sure what this is about, but I have some ideas.

You can brush my tummy. No, really, go ahead . . . trust me

Life Right Now

Several things have happened. For one, I’m staying longer term at my beloved country house in New Hampshire, away from the COVID hotspot near DC where I live most of the time. Four months instead of six weeks. So there’s less anxiety. I am still very careful, but I don’t feel as if I’m taking my life in my hands when I go to pick up cat food. At night I watch stars, listen for owls, and hope to see the shadowy shape of our local bear. During the day, I sit on my deck and gaze over the same meadow that my grandmother and my mother gazed over, waiting for the wild turkey and deer to show up.

The Meadow

I also got off my last prescription meds after losing seventy pounds. In my journal I wrote: “Last prescription med taken. I am the Queen, the boss, the winner, the smartest, best, rockingest human on earth. Just so you know.” (That last sentence has the ring of a presidential tweet, doesn’t it?) This is a long-time goal, and I’m feeling really good about it — so good that I went to the local sandwich shop and got two scoops of my favorite ice cream, peppermint stick. First ice cream since December, and it was beyond delicious, especially topped with hot fudge and caramel sauce.

Hope At Last

Lastly, there’s Kamala. I’ve already told you how I feel about her. I am under no illusion that the pollsters have a clue what they’re talking about. I am nowhere near complacent after 2016 and with all the voter suppression going on. The stakes in this election are literally life and death, COVID, healthcare, climate chaos, police brutality. Even more so if you happen to have been born with brown or black skin.

Still, there’s a tiny tinge of hope where there was none a few months ago. Perhaps America will step up. I don’t know. But we might.

Tears, All the Tears

Last night was unexpectedly weird. We knew it would be weird, being the first virtual convention in history. What surprised me was my reaction. I was in tears within minutes. I often cry at “America the Beautiful,” but I never cry at the National Anthem. Too militaristic for me. Not so last night. I started crying when all those regular old American people began reading the Preamble to the Constitution, was in full flood by the time Biden’s grandkids read the Pledge of Allegiance, and then all those faces, young hopeful faces singing the anthem! By the time we got to Bruce Springsteen’s inspiring song, The Rising, I was drenched.

 

Watching the videos and listening to the heartfelt speeches, I proceeded to run through all the feels in short order: deep sorrow, anger and rage, hope, fear, even trauma. Especially trauma. What we have been through and continue to suffer, as individuals and as a nation! I love America so much. I texted my friend: “I hate what he has done to us!”

And you know what? I feel happy about those feelings, all of them. It reminded me that Melanie’s still in here. All my feelings are still alive, despite having had to put a lid on them for the past four years. I mean, you have to build up defenses against the constant atrocities and the dread, especially if you’re a sensitive sort like me.

I felt my defensive numbness starting to melt last Sunday at the Quaker meeting I attend. A woman rose to remind us that New England Quakers are celebrating three hundred sixty years as a faith community working for justice and peace. “And two years ago,” she said, “a new light was lit when we began meeting here at Orchard Hill. I am constantly amazed at the light.”

I found I was crying. All the lights, all the amazing lights.

A light was lit at Orchard Hill

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Meddlesome Voices

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MEDDLESOME VOICES

I know a few folks for whom meddling in other’s lives is a full-time endeavor. They are certain that they know best, and they become frustrated or angry when their targets don’t follow their wise guidance on everything from the best butter substitute to a choice of careers to what one’s relationship with the Divine should look like.

You know these people, too. Perhaps you are one them. You may think you are being helpful or kind or even a martyr on someone else’s behalf. But if you are doing for someone else what they could do for themselves or trying to influence choices that are not yours to make, you are meddling.

Manipulating, even.

Ouch! Isn’t that an awful word? When I discovered that many of my interactions with others could easily fall under the category of manipulation — trying to get someone to believe or act in a way that might make me more comfortable — I cringed. I’ve worked hard to overcome this trait, which I learned from my family. I now have a permanent groove in my tongue where I bite it. This practice will remain necessary unless and until I finally believe that I do not, in fact, know best.

I have enough challenges managing my own life. I do not need “extra credit” for managing the lives of others. Even if they seem willing or eager for me to make their decisions for them.

Which brings me to something that can be even more destructive than those who meddle in other people’s lives: those who allow others to meddle in their own lives.

Letting Your Life Speak

I’m in the midst of making an important decision that could affect me heavily for the next few years at least. It’s a vocational type of decision: how do I spend my daily-dwindling time here on earth? Where do I invest my emotional energy? How do I employ the expertise and experience I’ve garnered thus far?

As Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer writes, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Whenever I’m faced with a major decision in this realm, I re-read Parker’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. There’s an astonishing amount of wisdom in this little hundred-page book, and it’s one of those reads that offers deeper and different wisdom with each visit.

One of Parker’s main points is that we are all born with a true self, a true nature, and then sadly, “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everybody but ourselves,” gleaning who we are  “. . . from the people and powers around us.” Meddlesome voices. 

All of our institutions train us “away from true self towards images of acceptability . . . we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

This is a great weakness of mine, a painful “thorn in my flesh.” I know I’m not the only one with this need to please and a burdensome desire for recognition and esteem. Millions of true selves are being trampled by stampeding egos chasing the values of others rather than discerning and honoring their own.

My first inclination when faced with a big decision is to read books, talk to friends, and ponder possible scenarios to imagine how they might appear to others. In other words, to look outside myself. That’s all fine. It’s raw material.

But I must be careful that I don’t end up using another’s navigational system rather than my own inner compass. My “inner light,” as the Quakers call it. I need to get down to the business of prayer, meditation, journaling, and connecting with God in nature, because those are my channels for a voice that is “different than the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel,” as Parker describes it.

This means tuning out all the well-meaning (or not) meddlesome voices — past, present, and imagined future — and letting your own life speak.

 

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  — Parker Palmer

A Gentle Rain Trumps a Hurricane: Mental Health Day

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A GENTLE RAIN TRUMPS A HURRICANE: MENTAL HEALTH DAY

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Sabbath:

It’s warm inside the Vermont Quaker meetinghouse. A gentle rain patters on the roof and coaxes  golden trees circling the house to release their leaves to winter rest.

We sit.

I got here a few minutes late and the room was already in silence. When I settled into my favorite corner, I let out a huge sigh and then felt self-conscious about the audible stress I had just carried into the room. I imagine that my sigh was tinted slightly orange.

The coming forty-five minutes in silent prayer and meditation doesn’t seem long enough to free my mind and spirit from the outrage and uncomfortable memories that Donald Trump’s sexually predatory comments have stirred up in me.

We sit.

I have not been at peace all week. I’ve been trying to write a sermon on gentleness, but keep getting caught up in the violent whirlwind of this election, despite a two-day fast from news and social media. My psyche feels battered by hurricane-force winds, and there’s a danger of drowning. What do I know of gentleness?

An old woman on the bench in front of me is slowly rotating her ankle around and around, causing her leather boot to creak, creak, creak. At first it’s annoying and distracts me from my meditation, but after a time I begin to imagine I’m journeying on horseback, saddle creaking rhythmically beneath me. It’s soothing.

I sit.

The rain falls softly outside, slowly seeping into the drought-parched earth, deeper, deeper, patiently seeking ways through hard and rocky soil, at last reaching thirsty roots with nourishment and life.

If You are Struggling Emotionally . . .

This is a hard time for Americans, no question. I highly recommend finding time for silence and solitude, walks, and news & social media fasts. Women in particular have been triggered by Trump’s sexually aggressive words and actions.

My 2016 news year’s blog, How to Forgive described a spiritual practice to help you deal with tough emotions. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, and I offer it again today in recognition of World Mental Health Day . I wish you gentle peace:

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Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

Day thirteen of my daily blogging practice.

Breaking Through to Peace

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BREAKING THROUGH TO PEACE

Pursuing the wisdom of the ancient Enneagram was not on my list of things to do yesterday, but I got lost in a website in the wee hours of the morning, and you know how that goes. (Hey, at least I wasn’t tweeting!)

I’ve had enough training in the Enneagram to know I’m a Type Nine – “the peacemaker,” but haven’t paid it much attention. Here’s what the Enneagram Institute has to say about Nines: “No type is more devoted to the quest for internal and external peace for themselves and others. They are typically ‘spiritual seekers’ who have a great yearning for connection with the cosmos, as well as with other people. They work to maintain their peace of mind just as they work to establish peace and harmony in their world.”

When I embarked on the most recent of my spiritual quests about twenty-five years ago, I specifically wrote that I was seeking peace. That’s all I wanted, after an alcoholic upbringing and then many years of dysfunctional relationships and adrenaline-driven workaholism. Peace.

This led me to Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” and then specifically towards contemplative and mystical practices. I’m drawn to silence, solitude, and meditation, practices that are often associated with eastern religions, but which also date back two thousand years to the “Desert Mothers and Fathers,” very early Christian hermits and monks who lived in caves in the desert.

desert-fathers

So I like being labeled a seeker of inner and outer harmony. But then I came across this:

“Nines demonstrate the universal temptation to ignore the disturbing aspects of life and to seek some degree of peace and comfort by ‘numbing out.’ They respond to pain and suffering by attempting to live in a state of premature peacefulness, whether it is in a state of false spiritual attainment, or in more gross denial.”

Nines tend to run away from tensions “by attempting to transcend them or by seeking to find simple and painless solutions . . .”

Oh dear. Maybe I haven’t made any spiritual progress at all! Maybe I’m placebo-transcending!

Maybe all my “striving” for spiritual centeredness is just that — “striving” after an idea I have in my head, rather than surrendering to a Reality that simply IS?

Sigh. Will I never find peace? Good thing God doesn’t give exams.

The Yonder Side of Sophistication

Today I found this excerpt in the slew of inspirational emails I receive every day but don’t usually read. It’s a quote from one of my favorite spiritual books, A Testament of Devotion by Quaker missionary Thomas Kelly, and he’s talking about a “second simplicity,” a second childhood that is the goal of mature adulthood.

“It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naiveté which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity . . . The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. . . . Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the Love of God and ever cleaves to {Her} . . . Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing.”

The latter description is my experience exactly. I sense that state of being “just over the margin” where the soul is at peace with God, and I “wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center.”

This is what peace is all about. Breaking through to that Center and living there. The practices that bring true peace may take courage because the western world  generally rejects “eccentricities” such as silence, solitude, and surrendering the ego. (And an Enneagram Nine hates rejection; their biggest fear is loss and separation.) It’s scary to step outside “the norm” and into the ether. Still, don’t you think the world could use a little more peace?

” . . . the heroic first step of the journey is out of, or over the edge of, your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported.” — Joseph Campbell

Day six in my effort to blog daily.  

Values Collide

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I went to the Quaker meeting in Putney, Vermont this morning. As much as I treasure my church family at home in Maryland, there is something about a Quaker meeting that reaches deep down inside me and makes me . . . me.

I’m stripped, gently, to my essence. All pretense and self-centeredness, agendas and plans, self-importance and neediness melt away during forty-five minutes of silent worship which is sometimes enhanced by a statement from someone who feels moved to share. I’ve never encountered anything else like it.

An older fellow named Parker, all wooly and flannelly in forest green and brown, started off the meeting with a brief reading. A “query,” as the Quakers call them — food for thought to be used in worship meetings and personal reflection. I can’t find it online, but the query Parker read had to do with vocation and valuing work, whether paid or unpaid, in the home or out of it.

It’s a timely question for me, as I gear up to get back into the world of paid work. It was good to be reminded that I already work my butt off most days, and I should value and honor my work and do it as well as I can. I always feel small and not good enough when I “admit” to someone that my pastoral and writing work is unpaid. Do I really value money that much? Is that where I get my worth? I hope not.

During the silence, my mind wandered from vocation to the general question of exactly what do I value?

Then I noticed that many people around me had slipped off their shoes when they sat down to worship, as Moses did when he encountered the burning bush and God told him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I found their act deeply profound, expressing humility, gentleness, and openness. Shoes are noisy, they announce our coming, they leave our marks in the world, and they protect us from fully experiencing the world.

As I contemplated why I was so moved by this simple, reverent gesture, I realized that these are some of my core values. Humility, gentleness, and an openness marked by honesty and authenticity.

humility star

“. . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” — Colossians 3:12

I also realized, at long last, why I am so deeply troubled by Donald J. Trump — I mean aside from the obvious devastation he would wreak on our country and the world. His very existence causes turmoil in my gut, deep upset at a visceral, personal level. He’s in my dreams. And now I understand why. His arrogance, viciousness, and lying are the very antithesis of everything I treasure; the qualities I hope to see and represent in the world, he sucks up and spits out. And he’s got millions of people thinking his behavior is something to emulate.

Thank God for Quaker meetings, is all I can say. They may keep me sane until November 8th.

Breathe. Just breathe.

So anyway — what do you value?

Day five in my efforts to blog daily.

A Quiet Response to Global Militarization

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You won’t see a press release on this. Sheila won’t be on the evening news or even tucked between commercials on late night cable. What’s the big deal? All she’s doing at age seventy-something is walking from Connecticut to Georgia in the cause of peace.

“That’s amazing,” I say, “I’d love to hear more. And I’m a writer — do you think I might interview you, or do a profile?”

“Well, maybe,” she says, looking at the floor and toying with her long grey braids. “I don’t know. I’m not really doing anything like that, you know, to . . .” She fades off, as if even talking about public attention is too much.

She just wants to have conversations about peace and thinks she will meet a lot of people to talk to along her route. She’ll be walking on secondary roads and staying in small towns where she can find people to put her up.

“I’ve done some long distance walking in the past,” she says, “but not like this. I know this is a lot.”

Yes, Sheila, one thousand miles is a lot.

Destination?

Sheila’s destination is Fort Benning, Georgia. If all goes well, she’ll be there by late November to partipate in the annual vigil and non-violent protest at the gates of the School of the Americas.

Remember them? Probably not – like Sheila, they prefer to keep a low profile, and they’ve changed their name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation so you’ll be sure to forget them. Whatever they call themselves, they are the U.S. military outfit that uses your tax dollars to train Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency” techniques, and their graduates are responsible for the death, rape, torture, and “disappearance” of thousands of Latin American citizens.

Sheila thinks they should disappear.

(For more information, visit SOA Watch here.)

fort benning

Motivation?

The thing that intrigues me about Sheila isn’t so much her 1,000-mile walk, it’s her humility. After decades of experience with non-profits and advocacy groups, I’m used to folks who would trample their own elderly mothers to get to a microphone. As my boss at the Sierra Club used to say before a press event, “Well, time to set our hair on fire and see if anybody notices.”

It seems that all anybody wants these days is attention. Attention for their product, their start-up, their blog, their meme, their new profile picture, or their latest fad diet. Everybody wants to go viral. Or they connect themselves to a political candidate (I’m going with a winner!) or a celebrity (my man!) or an interest group (I’m making a difference!) and get their ego strokes vicariously through these affinities.

But not Sheila. It’s quite possible that nobody will even notice Sheila’s walk. She’s mostly going alone, though one or two folks might join her now and then. So really, if she’s not trying to get press attention, why walk? Why not fly to the protest in Georgia like the other 20,000 attendees? What’s the story?

Sheila is a Quaker, that’s the story, and Quakers are like that. From their silent worship, they sense divine leadings and they act on them, simply and without fanfare. Sheila thinks she is meant to walk, and so she’s walking. Simplicity and peacemaking are community values for them. 

The Quaker Spirit

I started going to Quaker meetings last year when I was at my place here in New England, and I liked them so much that I sometimes go to a mid-week meeting back home in Maryland, too. Their mostly silent worship fits well with my contemplative bent and Christian meditation practices.

The Quaker call to social justice is deeply ingrained in their traditions. I think they are more biblically based than most of the Bible-thumping congregations, even though Quakers aren’t necessarily Christians. You can truly see the fruits of their spiritual practices in the way they live their lives. I’ve never met another community like this “Society of Friends.”

I’ve drafted a couple of blog posts about Quakerism in the past year, but didn’t publish them — none of them said what I wanted to say. Which isn’t surprising, because how do you use words to write about people who worship in silence?

Maybe Sheila’s quiet story will give you a glimpse into what I wish I could say.

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