Browsing the archives for the Spiritual Journey category

An Open Letter to My Fears

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Dear Fears,

I know, you are happy to gather together like this en mass because when this happens, you often get to get behind the wheel and get to drive for a while. But not tonight….

First, I would like to take a moment… pause… and welcome you. All of you fears – from the ones about being laughed off the Internet fro addressing you openly, to the ones that quietly whisper of doom in the days ahead – have a place here and I welcome you. The kitchen is over there and feel free to help yourself if you get hungry or thirsty from screaming in my ear.

How My Camera Sees Hiway 6

I have some places I am choosing to go, and I have things to do as I get ready for my daughter to come home. I have plans for time off with my kids in the mountains, and I have goals that I am steering towards – regardless of the economic weather of which some of you enjoy reminding me.

You are welcome. But you don’t get the wheel. You don’t get to choose where I go, or how quickly I must move. Where I am is where I am, and that is ok for right now.

I will focus on the life that I have now – just as it is, and not worry about what may happen or compare it to the life i think i should have or others have. Life as it is is my focus, not life the way I want it to be.

So be welcome. Just know that you are the visitors and not the owner or driver. I suspect that i am far more vast a creature than i can even imagine, should you find plenty of room to occupy yourselves while I move.

Thanks,
James

No Comments

Love and the Vulnerable Heart

Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

In the mid-90’s I became convinced during a relationship crisis that while I knew the words of love, and I may know something about the touches of love, my behavior was still so unlovely that I had no clue what love was about. So I decided to become a student of Love, and this had many miraculous effects upon my life.

So when a friend admitted earlier this month that they had no idea what love was, I remembered getting to that same point and becoming teachable about love. And while it has been a while, and my life is much richer, and I have made many mistakes and therefor learned many lessons – I have never tried to articulate any of the things I have learned about love.

So this is the first in sharing these lessons of mine.

Rose

And the first thing I have learned about love is that it needs a vulnerable heart to work. Or rather, I have to be vulnerable if I am to love at all. If I try to protect myself against the pain and possible heartbreak of betrayal or apathy, then my heart becomes hardened and I cannot be moved as I can when I stay vulnerable.

There is a paradox here that is at work. But being vulnerable to being hurt may give us the wings we need to rise to a point where the hurt means something less devastating when it comes. I’m not saying less painful – in fact so far I find the pain is more acute when I don’t protect myself. But there is something about the healing that is different and doesn’t create the same hardened scar tissue.

I appreciate the paradox since I often spend my days finding vulnerabilities in systems and then doing whatever it takes to remove those same vulnerabilities. So workwise, I have always been taught that being vulnerable is bad.

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

Now, sometimes a vulnerability cannot be removed without breaking the system. For example, an unplugged computer in an empty and locked room is less vulnerable than one connected to the Internet. And it is equally unusable.

So we also have the idea of risk, and the ability to accept certain amounts of risk through an aware decision. If I plug that computer back into the wall, turn it on, and open the room, it becomes much more usable – and in some situations I may reduce the harm that can be done and then still accept the risk of certain amounts of vulnerability.

And in love, this is an important idea to me. For love to work, I have to accept the vulnerability that comes from opening myself to another and not guarding myself against harm by that same person. And what makes the Risk worthwhile is that the sort of vulnerable openness that comes from dropping our guard is an essential part of developing true intimacy with another person.

“I have been sick, really sick, on flights in the last few weeks. And, I have been amazed by the kindness of strangers. There is, indeed, something about vulnerability that helps us to connect with people — even when we’re holding one of those little bags from the seat pocket of an airplane.”
— Jan Denise

I mentioned earlier that when I came to this personal crisis, that I knew something of the words and touches of love but not much about the authentic behavior of love. For me, that sort of intimacy is both the thing I desire most and something I fear terribly because of how open to harm vulnerable I must become.

As I try to stay teachable on these things, I also keep looking for symptoms in my life of getting it right or wrong so I can make adjustments. And the biggest one that I see in my life about my willingness to become vulnerable, is that when I avoid the potential harm of the vulnerability of being authentic, then I start managing my image and how I look and seem to others. My perfectionism starts to rise up as well and so I get less done, I spend more time spinning details so you think of me as I would like, and so on. All of this stems from avoiding that vulnerability.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
–M. Scott Peck

Let me note this importance of vulnerability isn’t just about the love between lovers, but also between parents and children, and also between close friends. Some see it within the workplace as well as in dating.

In fact, it seems to also be true in terms of labors of love as well. It seems that the posts where I am open and write about the things deep inside – that is the posts where I am most vulnerable to how they might be received – these are the ones that can touch people the most, that generate the most thankful e-mails and messages in twitter. And I am not the only one seeing this in blogging.

This is the first thing I learned about love. Should I share more about this journey? Feel free to speak words of comfort in the comments….

4 Comments

Living in Daytight Compartments

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Have you ever been exposed to an idea that seemed mildly interesting, but then later helped you grasp something vital? That’s what the concept of daytight compartments are to me. I first heard of them in a Dale Carnegie class, many years ago, and loved the mental image of doors sealing off each day one from another so I only had to worry about today. I was already familiar with the idea of watertight doors on a ship, and always wondered what the doors between days would look like.

Daytight Compartments

Thinking about it now, I imagine there comes a time in many sailors’ lives where the idea of watertight doors stops being an interesting idea and an occasional threat to the skull, and instead becomes a necessary reality. On ships, these doors prevent a leak or flooding in one compartment from threatening the other compartments. What is a disaster in one part of the ship is stopped from being a disaster in other parts of the ship because of these doors.

So in my case, my life was much the same as a ship that is in danger of sinking as crises were overwhelming me. Things in the past would leave me a wreck and before I could recover, there was another disaster approaching fast. I would hear people using the slogan, “One Day at a Time” and try to reach for some sort of serenity about the present day but I could never just force this to happen through an act of will.

And that is when daytight compartments stopped being an interesting bit of wordplay, and became a necessary part of my life. The term “daytight compartments” was first coined by Sir William Osler as a way of describing how the following quote changed his life when he encountered it:

It is not our goal to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what clearly lies at hand.
— Thomas Carlisle

Sir Osler’s many achievements were attributed by him to this idea of never looking more than 24 hours ahead or behind right now. Dale Carnegie included this concept as part of a strategy of dealing with worry. For me, this is what allows me to continuing jumping through the hoops of a single-father, IT-professional, and artistic life with regrets and fear running off my back like water from a duck’s back.

Most of my fears are about things that have nothing to do with my immediate task of crossing this daytight compartment and making it to bedtime. And most of my regrets are about things that happened yesterday or before. Living in a working space that exists only from now until bedtime is just too small for my many fears to get too large – and yet it’s large enough for me to focus on what is at hand.

Those who know me and hear me talking about my “next right thing” are seeing me working in such a compartment. I can only deal with so much between now and bedtime – the rest I have to leave in God’s hands. And in the meantime, if a disaster has happened or will happen, I am safe in today. And when I am safe in today and can then focus only on the day around me, I can find some wonderful things.

Before IT started me working late-night maintenance windows again, I loved my dawn walks with my dog. I would time them so I was always on the west side of the lake for sunrise so I could watch it reflected in the lake and imagine today’s doors opening, often reciting this along the way.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.
–Sanskrit Poem

What about you? How do you “seize the day” and stay focused in the present? And what does it do for you?

6 Comments

Being a Dad through Self-Injury

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

22 Comments

When Gratitude Flows

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

I love gratitude. I love it like a thirsty man loves water. I need it like a man needs water, too.

Sliding Down the Falls of Time

I need it, but I so often am without it. I can tell because I start feeling like things should be better. Maybe you know the feeling? I am lacking gratitude when I find myself comparing the way things are with the way I think things really should be. It doesn’t matter what I am looking at – maybe comparing something I tried to accomplish with what I actually got done. Maybe I am comparing how someone treated me with my own ideal of how i deserve to be treated.

Either way, there is a certain dissatisfaction that comes up. A resentment arises against the way things are. That’s the thirst.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
— Melody Beattie

So the question becomes, how do we go get a drink of gratitude when we need it? I can’t just will gratitude inside me – I know, I’ve tried. But surprisingly it’s possible for me to just go do a few simple things that let me start getting in touch with it again.

For me, it always starts with making a list of things that I am grateful for – for example, when doing this in my car (and I seem to do this a lot when I am in my car), I start with my car. Because no matter how much Houston traffic may be sucking my joy right out of me, it is still better than walking everywhere I need to go.

Oh hell, I could probably use a gratitude list right now, and it seems the easiest way to illustrate what i am saying:

I am grateful right now for…
…having this place to share my thoughts
…for the people on twitter chatting away in another window on this desktop (they are awesome)
…my house, because it is cold and wet outside and I am neither of these things
…Internet radio (listening to blip.fm at the moment)
…great conversations I had last night at Coffee Groundz
…a day of hanging out with my son
…Ethiopian Sidoma coffee
…Maire Brennan’s Celtic music of hope and faith (yes, the music changed)

Yes. A comforting sip of clear and cool water soothing my mouth and throat as I swallow it. I wasn’t even aware of how thirsty I was until just feeling the quenching of that thirst.

And I can even make it better! There are people associated with some of the things on that list. By telling them how I feel right now – enriched, warm, grateful – because of what they gave me, I can share it and make it grow. I need to remind myself that my life is this rich and wonderful because of the the other people that I am connected to – whether by social media and in person.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
— Cicero

What about you? What are you grateful for? Please leave a comment with your list – even if it’s only one or two things Better yet, after you make your list, share whether making it changed how you feel or see the world. (And if you see something that you like in the comment of another, let them know.)

6 Comments
« Older Posts
Newer Posts »