Thursday, December 31, 2009

Joy and a new vision for 2010

There are some years that I am ambivalent about. Then there is this year. I am so glad it is on its way out.

After working at a job in human services that couldn't meet payroll, I left mid-year with no job prospects. This is the year of the recession. What was I thinking?

In our culture of Can-Do, you'd think I could make things happen - like find a job or get my private practice to grow faster. After attending a clinical counseling workshop, several therapists told me that it took them 5-7 years to develop their practice. So paying for more strategic planning consultations or spending lots of money in advertising didn't seem to be the answer. The clients I have came from word-of-mouth or prior contact.

As my identity crumbled around my usual "paid work" ways of seeing myself, I found myself more engaged in family life, community, and the creative arts. These are things I have always done. I just had more time and wanted to experience it with less guilt while indulging...

But let me give you an example of how this worked: My husband encouraged me to see my sister after leaving work. Go ahead while you can, he said.

Going to Seattle to see my sister felt decadent since it cost money to travel out there. But it also felt incredibly important. It had been four years since I had been to her home to visit. It was nice not to have the pressure of having only two weeks of vacation at some stressful job and feeling torn about how to spend those prescious days while recovering from burnout.

It would also be nice to say I went free from worry. But that would be a lie. I obsessed about the money, finding work, and not being a burden the whole time. It followed me like Pigpen's cloud in a Peanuts cartoon.

Instead of flowing gracefully into the unknown, I found myself in knots for most of the year. My usual reaction is to feel guilty or get upset that I don't have work or somehow feel like I failed in fulfilling some life goal. There were times when I found myself teary and afraid. What if we run out of money? What if time keeps trickling and I find myself alone, poor and ugly. This seems funny to me now, as I write this - especially the ugly part, as if this had anything to do with work. But the feelings of despair grabbed me and shook me senseless at times this fall.

I grew up with the notion that money is the root of all evil and the Calvinistic view that prosperity is a sign of being faithful. Neither of these extremes makes sense.

My problem probably has less to do with money than becoming comfortable in my own skin. And at age 48, what a time for that as I enter into the Change of Life. What an opportunity and a curse!

I still don't have a real income at this point. I depend on my partner in many ways, but also in using our dwindling resources. I am trying to figure out how to make a living. The world is changing faster than I can keep up.

There have been so many experiences of heartache this year that I want to try joy. It has never been a priority. Life has been pretty practical or functional, or about fulfilling expectations - often what I think others want from me.

Our little meditation group had a Buddhist retreat on joy. I attended this about a month before leaving my job. Many participants seemed to genuinely be able to access joy or they were desparately seeking it.

My response to the group was that I was at the session to just focus on my breathing. At the time, I had a quiet sense of pride - there was no grasping, no attachment. And yet, my inner child longed for play or a release from the grinding sense of responsibility an oldest child often feels. Perhaps I could bring this into my adult life somehow. Seeing happy Buddhist teachers is what drew me to this practice to begin (Fruedian slip -wrote being) with.

I love learning and playing the harp. I love writing and self exploration. I am grateful for the times I've had to be with my kids and grandson or visiting friends and family. My grandson's interest in playing with me astounds me. My sporadic civic work has been deeply rewarding. I have loving friendships in my life. My partner's tender kisses are small miracles. The seeds and the roots of joy have been planted, tended to, and now need nurturing.

These past several years have been like trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole. I am so done with this, I keep telling myself. I pray to God that I learn some kind of lesson that I can't even articulate because I want to fit, to find ease, to breath, to be kinder to myself and others. I want to be of service, but in a way that is sustaining. There are some plants that need to go.

So while the past few years feel like work hasn't come together, it has created the energy to push me into a new way. And maybe instead of a grinding, life-sucking way, I want to do this in a way that is easier, more relaxed, loving and joyful.

My hope for you and all those you love in 2010 is to find your place, accept your whole self and shine with joy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Message

This is the season of lights and hope just as the winter darkness peaks. In the faith tradition I grew up with, a little child represents the power of vulnerability and the message of a new beginning.

Jesus of Nazareth inspired people of all walks of life. But his story starts before he ever came into the world. And, his story is still living in the hearts of many around the world.

The Bible is split into two sections, the Old Testament with its stories of living in community and connecting to God through Law, and the New Testatment asking followers to live from the heart - to stretch beyond the Law and take bigger risks for compassionate service to others.

Everyone comes into this world as a vulnerable child, an infant. If we are reading this, then we also have grown physically, mentally, and cognitively. These, too, are gifts. The wisdom is in holding the infant and nurturing that within ourselves and in others while encouraging maturity.

Jesus' name means teacher. As an enlightened person, he offers important lessons and messages about how to care for the least of us. His life inspired the likes of Dorthy Day, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. just to name a few in recent times.

My prayer this season is that as we fill our oil lamps or celebrate freedom from slavery or the birth of a teacher or hope that once again the light will stay brighter a little longer and warm us, that we be strong enough to leave the womb and tend to those whose needs are greater than our own. May we be brave enough to continue writing the Living Word in our hearts and in the world.

In Peace and Light,

Monday, December 7, 2009


There are times that just beg for reflection. Illness does that for me. One of the things I have learned about my body is that it reflects internally and externally my condition. At important points in my life, it has helped me gather the strength to make changes or shifts that I would not otherwise do.

Carl Jung used the Chinese intuitive method of divining called the I-Ching. The Chinese developed an ancient system to look at the various cycles in human endeavors that mirror nature. It's been a while since I dug out my books, but after two weeks of a viral bronchitis, it was time.

My question was: what purpose does this illness serve?

_ _ Fu or Recovery/Returning was the sign. A new beginning after stagnation.
_ _ Working with one's essential nature, one can heal by gently resting,
___ reviewing the past, allowing energy to return and build without forcing it. The Chinese sign FU is thunder energy that is nourished under the docile nature of the earth and is renewed. At its very essence, the sign refers to the apparent pattern of the intelligence of heaven and earth - made manifest in love of life and in all forms of goodness.

Not only had I suffered with a nasty physical illness, I had been in a funk for quite some time. My world view was as stagnant as my lungs. Sure, I'd had some positive things go on. But for most of the year, I had simply endured a series of overwhelming events.

I wondered if I was loveable, yet there was no reason to believe that the people in my life didn't love me. Turning 48 years, I wondered if I was competent in anything as I struggled with trying to find a professional identity, express myself in writing, or take on new things like the harp.

In many ways, I had returned to my adolescent self - changing hormones, overly critical view of myself and the world, and feeling like I wanted more, but was very impatient with my less than perfect self. I had lots of health problems as a teenager and young adult. It took a lot of work to pace myself, focus on the things that were truly important, and take good care of myself. It is a lesson I am relearning.

Instead of circling back to the beginning, this felt more like a spiral. I certainly am not a teenager. Instead I am a mother of adult daughters, a grandmother, a wife of almost 30 years. I am aware that I have only moved twice in my adult life - both times within 20 miles of the farm I grew up on.

Somehow, this circling is something to reckon with. Home. One can never return home. Yet, I seem stuck in never leaving it. I have images of my youth that seem as fresh as yesterday. My work with others says that you can't forget those memories, yet they cannot control your life in the here and now. So how does one move forward without integrating the past with one's current life? I think what I am missing is a future. It has felt futile to have any attachments or hopes for possibilities when doors seemed to shut instead of open.

According to the I-Ching, there is a natural order in the rhythms of human endeavors that open and close, grow and decay, or bring light or darkness. I am so ready for an opening, growth, light, accepting the love that already exists in my life, and maybe accepting love that I don't even know exists in the world. After working with so many suffering people, it has been too easy to take on others' pain.

Where is the joy? It is already there. I just need to catch my breath and allow it to seep in.