Sunday, September 9, 2012

Putting the Fun in Spirituality

Yesterday we did an illuminating exercise at the DTMMS Board of Directors meeting. In small groups we described this spiritual path in simple terms, getting past the jargon and the woo woo and the technicalities of how we do what we do.

In our group, we talked about what the kid inside each of us likes about the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path.  We realized that in the course of the serious pursuit of ceremony and self-development, we get to...

  • stay up all night
  • go swimming
  • dress up in skirts and dance around
  • dig holes
  • wrestle
  • play with fire
  • paint not just our faces but our whole bodies
  • hang upside down
  • dress up in animal costumes and dance like they would
  • have nicknames
  • be in disguise
  • practice turning invisible
  • be blindfolded and go through a maze with people shooting water guns at us
  • tie ourselves up to someone else and walk around as if we’re Siamese twins
  • make a star go across the sky
  • talk to trees, and rocks, and animals, and plants, and other people who like doing all these things, and God, and the wise elder inside of us, and the warrior, and the little kids that remind us every day how fun being alive can be!
As I write this, sitting in a bakery, there is a 2-year-old in the next booth, playing peek-a-boo with me. As if this list wasn't enough to make me laugh out loud, he came along to reinforce the point - reaching for the more can be a blast! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Patience: It's more than just waiting around

I used to think that being patient meant twiddling my thumbs, waiting for someone else or something else to catch up with where I was. "Be patient" was code for "Settle down!" "Take a chill pill!" "Relax, already!" It was the hard fact that Santa wouldn't come until after I went to sleep, that boys wouldn't understand me until some distant time after high school, and that potty training my child wouldn't happen overnight.

Unfortunately, that definition of patience was really only thinly disguised impatience!

As it has many times over, the teachings from the Sweet Medicine SunDance path have given me something more substantial to work with:

"Patience teaches the people tolerance. Patience is caring for all the little things that matter so that a larger thing is served."

That's what I wrote in my notes at a talk ThunderStrikes once gave on the topic of the 20 Great Teachers (Patience is the 20th Teacher). That's very different than how I'd been thinking about patience! It's much less about trying to control myself, and more about creating that which I truly desire.

In other words, it's working with the progressive steps toward potty training, not just wishing for the day it will be done. It's the fact that the promise of any holiday is much more possible when I bring my best (rested) self to the day. It's learning to understand myself so that I can more honestly and fully be understood by others.

Most importantly, patience isn't about holding myself back. It's about being so clear and dedicated to my vision that I'll do what it takes to make it happen. For a go getter like me, that's an understanding of patience that works.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Seduction of Impossible Standards

Like Woman of the World, I have had moments of wondering if I am “enough” and if “I have what it takes.” Because of physical injuries, I certainly don’t “have what it takes to” to succeed according to the standards I held for myself a few years ago.

Back then my daily reality was an uninjured body. Now, my daily reality is that I am slowly recovering from physical injuries that are subject to reinjury whenever my self-care is not adequate. My hearing injury along with constant ear pain and tinnitus, even after months of being seemingly healed, has recently been reactivated by a brief exposure to loud sound. I knew this particular sound might be a problem and even had hearing protection in place. So much for having regained the hearing I lost in that ear. It is gone again. My foot injury has been even slower to heal , also with many setbacks.

At times like these, perhaps the best thing to do is to take Dr. Brene Brown and Women of the World’s advice to allow myself to breathe through my feelings of vulnerability, without attempting to shut those feeling down. At least that allows me to remain authentic.

I’m not as loathe to do this as Dr. Brown claims she was in her video, and I might even be one of those people she claims to avoid, because a significant amount of the time I consider being present to feel those uncomfortable feelings as they come up to be a necessary, non-optional part of showing up for my life, but, honestly, if one of my choices was being able to walk and hear again normally and without pain, starting right now, I’d really like to chose that option.

However, as far as I can tell, that isn’t one of my choices. Maybe a great spiritual master could heal these injuries in an instant, but that isn’t something I know how to do, at this moment.

Realistically, my choices are just as Dr. Brown outlined: 1) to allow myself to feel vulnerable and thereby gain authenticity and connection with others and thereby preserve my ability to still feel positive states like satisfaction and joy whenever they happen or 2) allow my fear and shame to cut off authentic connection with myself and others thereby causing myself to feel only numbness and the misery of being disconnected.

Once again, as far as I can tell, choice number 3: full healing of my injuries now, and not at some unspecified time in the future, is not on the table.

My understanding of Woman of the World’s definition of “having what it takes” is engaging wholeheartedly with my life as it is and with who and what matters to me most, despite all my personal limitations and shortcomings, despite the ways my life is not how I would prefer it to be.

Yes, there is great freedom in getting to engage with what is, here and now, instead of being shutting down because there is a gap between the reality and my ideals.

However, you may have noticed that it is a recurrent theme for me that I’d like my injuries to already be healed. On this issue I am as bad as the boss who hands out an assignment and wants it done yesterday. If the standards are impossible, completing the task is impossible. If the task is impossible, I have an excellent reason not to put any effort into it. Pretty dumb, huh? The stink of self-sabotage emanates strongly from choice 3, despite my attempts to hide the stench with a veneer of noble and spiritual sounding language.

Obviously, my life is an excellent venue right now for learning how to hold more of a space for myself of tenderness, compassion, and good care. If I desire healing, I need to hold a more wise and consistent healing space for myself, day in, day out, over the long haul. I actually need to show up to the healing, instead of whine about still being hurt.

Yes, it sucks to be hurt. But it also sucks even worse to focus my energy on the problem (I want to be already healed, but I’m not) instead of the solution (giving myself the care I need to heal).

I welcome your prayers as I continue the process of growing up and showing up.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Necessary Ingredient for Growth: Vulnerability

A friend recently sent me a link to a TED video by Brene Brown, a research prof at the University of Houston in Social Work. It might be called "Deconstructing Vulnerability, Constructing Wholeheartedness."  (It's not, though - just called TEDxHouston Brene Brown.)

But that's all by the by.  Just watch the thing:

She makes a compelling argument for vulnerability, the willingness and ability to be vulnerable, as the basis for growth, creativity, joy, belonging, and love.

In the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path, one of the wheels we study is the Blocks to Maturity.  This wheel includes shame, blame, and fear - three things which effectively block our willingness and ability to be vulnerable.

A few months ago, I wrote about our questioning of ourselves regarding whether we are good enough, whether we have what it takes.  This is another take on how to answer that question, through looking at those emotions/reactions which lead us to feel inadequate.  Brown has written extensively on overcoming shame etc., so we can simply recognize that we ARE enough.

But by this, she does not seem to mean the self-satisfied, kick-back-and-wait-to-be-served enough.  She means instead the "enough" that allows us to engage fully in life rather than holding back because we are afraid someone will actually see us.

And that - without that kind of engagement, we just can't grow, we can't learn, we can't become.  We can only exist.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Loneliness Teaches the Mastery of Power

The Elders say that Loneliness teaches the people the mastery of power. I've felt many faces of this teaching - being home to myself, fully committing to finding beauty wherever I am. But I must have more still to learn from this teacher - who seems to be walking with me lately amidst a pervading sense of being lost.

The problem with feeling lost is the embedded “should:” I should know where I am, where I’m going, where that thing is that I need now but can’t put my hand on. Without the should, wouldn't lost just be an exploration of a space I didn’t predict, one that I may not feel quite prepared for but which is here nonetheless? Lost means that there’s some way I’m used to feeling oriented that is not orienting me right now. So, being lost is the demand to pay attention, to create a current set of reference points.

That’s the pep talk version of how I understand being lost. Meanwhile, though, there’s the loss inside of lost that must also be reckoned with. The antonym of lost must be home, that place where we find and are found by those people, things, sensations that are utterly familiar – and the kind of familiar that brooks no critique. Home is a place we deserve, not the complacency of familiarity but the sustenance of it, the rootedness that helps us grow. Lost is the vacuum created by the lack of home, when home has not only gone missing but left no breadcrumbs to follow.

The paradox lies in the truth that home can and must be found anywhere even as it is a somewhere that beckons us to return. Here in this wilderness that I currently know as my own heart, here is my home of the now, the reality of where I live and breathe, the unequivocal welcoming of my spirit and being, the place that must take me in. Indeed, even as I search for the home that is on the other side of the moon, I do not leave this wildness behind – it must accompany me, and I must allow it to enrich and enliven all the places I inhabit. But I admit to being tired from being in a place where exposure is the norm and where warmth, comfort, and sustenance take such effort, scavenged from unfamiliar surroundings.

What is the power of this paradox? At the least, it fuels my determination to keep going - whether that's into greater ease with these solitary spaces, or in search of a path that reconnects me with others; most likely both. And it takes me, too, into the power of prayer. Paradox always creates a space that is bigger than I know how to be. So, the connection starts there; I'll keep my eye out for breadcrumbs.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dancing to the Music of the Unknown

I've spent a good deal of my life looking at the relationship between fear and the unknown, learning to calm the anxiety that comes up when I don't know what to expect, or how to behave, simply by normalizing it. Until recently, I figured that was the best outcome - normalize fear as a reasonable response to the unknown, and then just get on with things.

Turns out, that approach takes way too much effort. Normalizing fear puts a box around it, gives it a label I can live with; but the fear is still there. I'm just using tricks to get over it, under it, past it, setting my will and intent so that fear doesn't keep me from totally missing out (curled in the fetal position or hiding behind some tree).

I thought that "grit my teeth" strategy was working - but I've recently figured out it's really kept me away from the unknown far more than it has ushered me into it. I might dip my toes in, or peek around a corner - but again and again, I've sought the comfort of the known to help me assuage the discomfort of the unknown. And in doing so, the known stays my focus.

While leading a healing ceremony last week, I discovered a whole new approach: let that initial flare of fear signal where the unknown can be found, but then let my curiosity, my love of learning, and my determination for excellence open the door. It's not a muscling through type of thing - it's delight and questions and humility. And connection - especially connection.

In fact, connection is the key. When I'm convinced that I'm all I have to rely on in this world, that throws me back into the known every time. When I'm actually connected to Spirit, trusting that Spirit and I are in a dance together, then the unknown becomes the music, the invitation to movement, the guide that takes me into partnership with Spirit, showing me the way.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What It Takes

I was in a ceremony the other day where this question came up: Do you have what it takes?

It reminds me of that moment in Rio Bravo where Dude wants to go into the saloon - through the front door - after the guy who shot Wheeler, and Chance asks him if he thinks he's good enough.   Dude responds that he'd like to find out.

That question - are you good enough, how good is he, is he as good as I used to be, you're not good enough - is one of the themes of this movie.  Dude proves he has what it takes when he walks into the saloon (yes, through the front door), claiming his place as a deputy in spite of his history as a drunk, and catches his man through ingenuity AND skill with his gun.  Colorado proves he's good enough by minding his own business, then jumping in on the right side - oh, and by his skill with his gun.  Feathers proves she's good enough by standing up to Chance, sitting outside his door all night, throwing a flower pot through a window.  Stumpy proves he's good enough by showing up at the right place at the right time - defying Chance, and saving the day - and by having a good throwing arm even if he can't run.  Carlos proves he's good enough by ...  Well, suffice it to say that all the good guys and gals prove that they're good enough.

But good enough for what?  And what, exactly, does it take?

Sitting in that ceremony, I realized that what it takes, for each of us, is exactly what we've got.  Neither more nor less, nor different.  But that means, too, that in order to have what it takes, we've got to give it all we've got.  It's like a key in a lock.  I can only unlock my own lock, not yours or Dude's or Stumpy's.  I'm the only one who has the key that fits my lock.  I have exactly what it takes.

But in order to open that lock, I do have to use my key.  There's no other way.

This is how we give ourselves into the world.  This is exactly the idea that, if we refuse to give of ourselves into the world, if we refuse the world our artistic originality, we are cheating the world, not to mention ourselves.

Refusing to give of ourselves because we're afraid we don't have what it takes - well, at least in that moment of ceremonial revelation, I realized how silly that is.  Because we have exactly what it takes.  Even, in a good moment, the courage of Dude: the willingness to put it to the test, to find out exactly what we do have.

Movie note: Howard Hawks, director of Rio Bravo, said he made it as a response to High Noon - apparently both he and John Wayne thought no lawman would act the way Gary Cooper's character did in High Noon (that is, ask for help).  However, I see a similar what-it-takes theme in High Noon, too, though there it's defined as the difference between a boy and a man.