The bear and the monkey.

There is a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana that I like very much. Rama, the blue-skinned human incarnation of the god Vishnu is searching for Sita, his wife. She has been kidnapped by the demon Ravana. On his quest he comes across a white monkey named Hanuman and a black bear named Jambavan.

The two animals join in the quest and they enlist the aid of the entire monkey and bear clans. After a month of searching they still haven’t found Ravana’s lair or Sita, and they are at the end of the Indian continent.

Jambavan knows a secret about Hanuman that he himself does not know. Hanuman is the son of the wind god and has immense powers. This information was hidden from him to keep him from annoying the meditating sages. Jambavan breaks his promise to the gods and Hanuman wakes up to his true self, grows immense and is able to see the island where Ravana’s fortress is, thus leading the group of searchers in Sita’s rescue.

How many years did Hanuman go before he was told of his birthright and his power?

How many of us are similarly asleep?

I am that bear.

I am here to tell you a secret.

You are more powerful than you know.
You have within you the light of God.
You are made from stardust.
You were put here because you are needed and necessary.

You are beautiful.
You are powerful.
You are eternal.

Act accordingly.
Use your powers for good.

(If you are interested in an especially readable and enjoyable version of this tale, please go to your library and get “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” by Sanjay Patel. It is illustrated in “Samurai Jack” style.)

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Parenting license.

I wear baggy clothes for the same reason some people gain weight. I do it to hide. Somehow in wearing something too large, shapeless and styleless, I’m hiding who I really am. I know, deep down, that even if I were naked, I’d still not be showing my true self. The soul is deeper than skin.

Perhaps my need to wear dull colors is also a self defense technique. It says don’t notice me. It is the same as camouflage for birds. The male cardinal is red. But the female is brown. She is the one who protects the young. Perhaps the child I am protecting is myself.

I know that lots of things were taken from me as a child. I know that I was not loved or cherished. I know that my room was gone into without my permission. I know that my money was stolen by my dad and my brother. My brother stole it from my room. My dad just took it out of my savings account. He saw it as a spare account for him. Much of my money as a child came from my grandmother. She was his mother. I know that he expected my Mom to give him the Christmas money that she got from his Mom. He saw any money from her as money for him. Money is a symbol. Perhaps he felt that she never gave him enough of anything. Perhaps he was jealous if she gave anything to anyone else.

He was greedy. He was selfish. He was a glutton. He did not care about other people’s feelings. If I told him that I had a headache, he would tell me about how he had a bigger headache once. Maybe he thought that by pointing out how it could be worse, I should get over it. Maybe he was just self centered and didn’t know how anything could be about anyone who wasn’t him.

If I told him about something emotional, something that made me sad or angry, he offered a pill. They were all prescription. But prescribed doesn’t mean healthy. Medicating your feelings is escaping them. I’m grateful I never took him up on it. I’m sad that I wasn’t taught how to deal with my feelings.

It is just like with alcohol. Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it is healthy. If you drink to deal with your feelings, you are abusing yourself and your children. You aren’t teaching them how to be human. You are teaching them how to escape. You are stunting their emotional growth.

You are supposed to trust your parents. They are supposed to look out for you. They aren’t supposed to get zonked out on substances, legal or otherwise. They aren’t supposed to just take up space on your childhood. They aren’t supposed to chain smoke themselves to death. They aren’t supposed to leave you high and dry.

My parents abandoned me before they died. They just weren’t there. Perhaps they did me a favor by dying. It meant that I got to learn that their normal wasn’t normal at all. I had to start looking out for myself and learning from others.

I find I get really angry when I see a family where the parents reek of cigarette smoke. They are poisoning their children every day. Even if they smoke outside of the house, they are shortening their lives day by day, and they are reducing their energy level bit by bit. Even before they die they have stopped being alive. Smoking is theft. It steals your health and your life from your children.

I find I get really angry when I see parents treating their children how I was treated. I want to yell at the Mom for treating her son like he is an embarrassment or an interruption. I get really angry when I see this same mom who growls at her child for doing things that are normal for children decides to have even more children.

I get really sad when I see these children look so sad. If eyes are the windows of the soul, his soul is screaming “Rescue me, someone, anyone. I am in hell.”

I asked three people what I could do. A minister. A teacher. A therapist. They said I can’t do anything. I just have to watch this happen.

Is it possible that there were people who saw me as a child and wondered the same thing?

Some people are simply not capable of being selfless enough to have children.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right.

You have to pass a driver’s test to get a driver’s license. The theory is so you prove that you are safe. But amateurs get to have children. Sadly, the driver doesn’t get caught in the flaming wreckage. The passenger does.

Healing negative self-talk.

I have come to see a connection between self-hate and addiction. I have come to understand that negative self-talk is the same as eating junk food.

People know it is bad for them, but they keep doing it. Why? There has to be a payoff for any behavior we do, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.

Children who misbehave do so because it gets them attention. Any attention is better than no attention. If the parents don’t make a fuss over them when they do something right, but yell when they do something wrong, the child will persist in the misbehavior. This seems paradoxical. You’d think the child would want to not get yelled at, but really the goal is attention. Getting negative attention is still getting attention.

There are plenty of people whose parents yelled at them all the time when they were growing up. They were constantly taught that they was bad, wrong, stupid. Their parents drilled into them how imperfect they were.

The bad part is that they often learn this lesson well. Even with their parents not around, they will often tell themselves the same things. They may hit themselves or curse at themselves the same way their parents did when they made a mistake.

Sometimes they will seems to set themselves up for failure. They will not plan enough time to do a project. They will leave things for the last minute. They are then constantly late and overwhelmed and making mistakes. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

The scary part – they are living up to their parent’s image of them. There is some odd negative validation going on. There is a strange payoff.

This self-abuse is the same as a person who constantly binges on junk food. Our bodies crave fats and salt and sugar, even though it is bad for us. We will overeat at a buffet and feel miserable, yet we will do it again and again. Why? We know we should eat less and eat better food, but we don’t? Why?

It is the same thing. We get a payoff. We like the feeling we get from overeating and from eating unhealthy food. We like feeling like we are bad, like we are rebels. We are rebelling against good by being bad. The “bad boy” is a hero.

We have to retrain ourselves to get pleasure from good things. Nobody gets excited about broccoli and lima beans. Nobody gets excited about going to the gym. The payoff is quieter. The payoff is slower. It is harder to notice.

Your brain works better. Your clothes fit better. Your knees don’t hurt. Your heart works better. Your health improves. These are pretty good payoffs, but you don’t see them right away.

The same is true with negative thinking.

Negative self talk is an addiction the same way that overeating and drugs are. And it is healed the same way.

We humans need habits. Instead of going on autopilot and living with bad habits running your life, fill up your time with good habits. Seek positive choices and do them. Leave yourself reminders. You’ll forget. That is a normal trick of the bad-habit brain. That isn’t you.

Sometimes our minds are like small children that just want attention. Just like with children, ignore the bad and praise the good.

Make an intentional choice to say good things to yourself. Know that it takes a long time to retrain your mind. Nothing is automatic or easy. It takes a long time to get well. Have patience with the process. Understand that you won’t have patience at the beginning. That too is part of the process.

When you do something good, notice it. Don’t dismiss it. Write up a certificate. Draw up an award. Write down a list of all the good things you did that day.

Don’t make a negative list (“didn’t wreck the car”, “didn’t get into a fight”). While those are good things, work on noticing the little things that you did right. They have a way of hiding at first. It will get easier the more you do this. Make it a daily practice to write down at least three good things that happened that day. When that gets easy, increase the number.

Give yourself easy goals to start with. You are taking baby steps, not running a marathon.

You have to choose to love yourself in a way you were not shown how to by your parents or the people who you were raised with.

Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves.

Sometimes they broke us, because they themselves were broken. They didn’t know any better. That doesn’t excuse the damage they did. But it does explain it, a little. People tend to repeat bad habits. People who were hurt tend to become people who hurt other people.

You don’t have to repeat the same bad habits. You can heal that wound.

I’m not going to lie here – it hurts to heal that wound. Just like with a broken leg, sometimes it has to be broken to finally heal right. It is painful whether the wound is physical or emotional or mental. It takes a long time to heal.

But it is so worth it. Who wants to walk with an emotional limp all the time? Sometimes it is “the devil you know” so you stick with it, because change is scary. But trust me, press on.

That pain you feel from trying to make a good change is a sign of healing. Don’t run from it. Lean into it, breathe, and walk forward. It will get easier.

And know that you aren’t alone on this journey.

A lot of us hide our brokenness, because we were taught that our brokenness is shameful. It isn’t. It is part of being human, and being human is a messy thing.

Poem – kin/kind

Just because someone is kin to you
doesn’t mean anything.

Kinship without kindness
requires no fealty.

If your brother, mother, father
show you “love” couched in
threats, shame, or guilt
then walk away.

Love that hurts isn’t love.

There is nothing
about the accident of birth
that guarantees
kindness.

There is nothing about
being a sister
that fosters
protection.

If kin are not kind
then “family” is an empty word.

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

If they treat you
as an accident,
an embarrassment

then that is their loss.
It is not a reflection
of your worth
but of their blindness.

Set a high price for yourself.
even if your “family”
says you are worthless.

Or perhaps even because of it.

If the family you were born into
does not treat you as a friend
but ignores, belittles, embarrasses you

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

Bullies can be brothers.
Rapists can be relatives.
Murderers can be mothers.

There is no “normal”.
There is no “average”.

There is only you, right now.
If your “normal”
feels wrong
feels unhealthy
feels strange

Walk away.

You can create
a new family
from friends
who know how
to love
the beautiful person
that you are.

Home remodeling for the soul.

I’ve realized that some of what I’m writing in this blog is like the “how-to” articles in home-repair magazines. They show you how to build a deck or remodel your kitchen. They show you the tools to buy and all the insider tricks to make it come together well. There are pictures and words, and somehow in the middle of it you figure out how to do it in your own home. Perhaps you don’t have a square deck – yours is rectangular. Perhaps you don’t want granite countertops in your kitchen, but the pictures of the cabinets going in explain something that you needed. This is that, but for the rooms in your heart and head.

Sometimes “home remodeling” hits closer to home. Your first and truest home is you.

This is my journey, and my work. If any of this helps you figure out things, all the better. Our paths will be different, but there will be some similar landmarks along the way.

I’m “growing up in public” as one friend tells me. Either he learned it from his therapist or from group work. Either way, it is a good phrase. It isn’t easy when you haven’t gotten all of your growing-up out of the way when you should, but late is better than never. Writing, beading, and drawing are how I do my growth-work these days. I use eating well and regular exercise to help keep me on this path. It is all connected, body-mind-spirit.

Recently I went to my spiritual director (kind of like a personal trainer for the soul) and she told me that there are many rooms our hearts, and Jesus wants to enter into all of them. This includes the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Hmm. Kind of sounds like wedding vows when I phrase it that way.

One room we are working on is my childhood, and feelings of loss. I’m angry about the bad choices my parents made. I’m angry that they smoked themselves to death. I’m angry that they died young, leaving me to defend myself against a predatory brother and an insensitive, bossy aunt. I’m angry that they weren’t there for my graduation and my wedding, because of their bad choices and their lack of self-control. I’m angry that they left me alone a lot, even when they were alive.

But she pointed out that anger is a symptom. There is always something that comes before anger. I’ve been working on this technique recently, so I understood where she was going. Trace it back to the root. Dig down to the source.

The feeling before anger in all of this is sadness. It is grief. It is loss.

Instead of dealing with my sadness, my grief, my loss, I went straight to anger. Anger is useful but you can get stuck there. If you don’t dig out the root cause of anger, and dig down to the grief, you’ll be treating the symptom and not the cause.

She asked me to name this room. I call it “The Room of Abandonment”. I spent a lot of time alone as a child. There were a lot of things that I wasn’t taught before they died – basic things like taking care of a house inside and outside. How to cook, how to garden. I’m learning these things backwards. I still am terrible at plants, but I can get by without a garden. I’m not great at cooking, but I make do. I celebrate everything that I do figure out. I’m pretty awesome with hedge shears. I make a pretty fabulous stir-fry. My hummus is getting better too.

I felt abandoned before they died. I felt abandoned after they died too. I was just 25, so I was old enough to take care of myself. But being the youngest in a family where the older brother is abusive is hard. It was hard to claw myself out from underneath his mountain of lies. I didn’t have any perspective on what “normal” was.

So. This room. Look how I’m not really dealing with this room. This is normal. We want to turn away from hard things. So I’ve drawn it. I’ve made it into a prayer bracelet as well. I have reminders of it to force me to look at it. These are like writing notes to myself on my hand – “pick up spinach and cheese and Triscuits”. They are reminders for what I’m trying to forget.

She asked me to visualize what it would look like. I saw a light-blue room, empty, save for a chair. The walls are blue like a robin’s egg. The walls are windowless, but there is light. I’m not sure where the light is coming from, but the room feels clean and bright. The chair is an old wooden chair, like the one I rescued from my grandmother’s house when the time came for her to be put into a nursing home.

WP room 2.
(The drawing of the room)

My director told me to invite Jesus into the room, and to invite Him into any hard feelings. He wants to be there, to help me with them. This is some pretty foreign stuff. Jesus as a friend? Jesus wants to heal me? Jesus wants to hang out with me, in the boring times as well as the beautiful times? She says that Jesus wants to be with me all the time, in all the rooms of my heart. He wants to be with all of us like this.

It is like getting a notice that the President of the United States, or the Queen of England, or the Pope is coming over to my house and wants to hang out in my basement. I want to say no – come sit over here in my living room. It doesn’t have a lot of clutter. There are comfy chairs. There is natural light. Surely you don’t want to hang out in the basement with the spiders and the one overhead fluorescent light. There is a lot of clutter in the basement. It is really embarrassing. Nope- that is where Jesus wants to go. Not only does he want to hang out there, he wants to help me with it. He wants to help me clean it out, or be OK with it as it is.

When she asked me to invite Jesus into it, and I felt that while I wasn’t ready for Him to be in the room with me, He came in and put a fuzzy green shawl around my shoulders while I sat in the chair. The shawl was a reminder of His presence, and it was comforting.

While there in that visualization, with that shawl, I worked on my feelings. I’ve been working on this for days. I return to it again and again, refusing to turn aside. I’m trying not to obsess about it because that isn’t healthy either. Just like with yoga, it is important to have rest periods in this work.

When I started drawing the room, I felt that it needed something extra. I was wary of putting too much in the room. If I clutter it up with tools or toys then I’m being distracted from the work at hand. Often it is so easy to use noise and activity as an escape from being by ourselves. There is a lot of fear of silence in our society. We don’t like to be alone with our thoughts. This room needs to be quiet and clear, so I can process this feeling.

When I was thinking about it, trying to remember what events made me feel abandoned, I felt that I had to draw a rug under the chair. While I was drawing it, the events came to me. While inviting Jesus in, I started to see things clearer. He is helping me to deal with these feelings. I wasn’t ready to process this years ago. I’d put a wall around it because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it. I don’t feel like I’m ready yet either, but I think that is normal. There are a lot of things that God calls me to that I don’t think I’m ready for.

One of the biggest things I realized was that I was taught shame about my body, and of being female. This was taught to me by my mother. Ignorance was masked by fear, which lead to more ignorance and fear. The body was always to be clothed, and periods and sex where embarrassments. Necklines were always high, and bras were always padded so no nipple showed. I learned about the mechanics of sex from a library book. I learned about how to deal with periods by accident, on the sly. Bodies and how they worked were seen as disgusting, shameful, wrong.

And then I dug down further, past the grief. All of it traces back to a feeling that I didn’t get something that I thought I deserved. All of it traces back to not being OK with things as they were, as they are. It has to do with not trusting the process, and the Director of the process, God. All of it has to do with not being ok with the Now. Anger comes from grief. Grief is a sense of loss. It is an unwillingness to accept change. That is an unwillingness to accept things as they are. It is a desire to shape the world to fit me. Nothing is ever “good” or “bad” or “half-full” or “half-empty”. It just is.

It is our society that trains us to define things as good or bad. We can unlearn this. I believe that all the sages from all the ages have been trying to teach us this.

Jonah praised God in the whale. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. The apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good, for those called by God. There is something in these ideas that is so revolutionary and yet so simple.

Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to make wine out of grapes, and it just isn’t ready yet. I’m reminded of my story of when I tried to encourage the tadpoles to be frogs sooner than they were ready by pulling on their tails. I think I need to hang out in that room for a little more, and let things ferment. I’m not very good with waiting, but I’m inviting Jesus into that too. I think He understands the quiet times, the waiting times.

WP room 3

Here’s the bracelet I made to remind me to work on this. The blue beads are for the walls in the room. The Green bead at the top is the green shawl from Jesus, to remind me that He is there with me. Going clockwise, the white bead is me. It has two millefiori on it, one on either side. The square brown bead represents the chair. The broken-looking beads represent the “stuff” that created the need for the room. They are made from recycled glass from Africa.

Opinion poll.

Why do we care what other people think? I’ve read recently that humans need community. We need each other to create our understanding of reality. But I’ve found that if we pay too much attention to what other people think, then we stop being able to think for ourselves. We stop being able to act too.

Say I’m at work. A lady gets upset that I’m smiling. She thinks that I’m making fun of her, that I’m smirking. Then I’ll make a point of not smiling, and another person thinks I’m not being friendly enough. It is healthier for my soul to just do whatever I’m going to do and let them deal with their issues themselves. Otherwise I’m constantly second guessing myself.

I try to adapt myself to other people. I think it is kind to adjust myself so I’m at eye height to them, or that I know enough about their reading interests that I can suggest something for them to read when they ask. Remember how the apostle Paul tells us we must be all things to all people? Yeah. That.

But there is a big difference in being accommodating and being a doormat.

And there is something very dangerous in letting someone else shape your behavior. When you do, you are giving up your autonomy. You are giving up control. You are letting someone else tell you how to live your life.

I have a friend who was told that he would amount to nothing, that all he was good for was factory work. He was told this by an authority figure at school. Fortunately he had a strong mother who told him a different story. He is soon to graduate as a social worker.

Imagine the loss to our world if he had listened to that negative person.

We are often told that we aren’t good enough, that we can’t do something, or that we should give up or never even start. The secret is that other people are mirrors of you. If someone is telling you that, it is their own fear of failure they are pushing onto you.

Don’t take it. It isn’t healthy.

Think of this. Use “you can’t do that” as a dare, as a springboard. Use it as a sign that you are on the right path. There is something you are about to do that frightens them, because they think they can’t do it. But they aren’t you. Prove that person wrong. Do it instead of them. Do it because of them. But just do it.

And forget about what they think. They don’t know anything anyway.

Peace (cat in a tree)

I want to be a peacemaker. I want to take conflict resolution classes. I want to help people understand each other. I want to wake people up to their potential. I want to show them how to prevent problems.

My spiritual director says I need to focus inward. She says I need to take care of myself first. I guess this I kind of like when you are on an airplane and the pressure drops. You have to make sure your oxygen mask is on first before you help out the people around you. I guess it is like being a first responder. If you aren’t in shape, how can you rescue someone else?

This makes sense yet it also sounds backwards. There are already too many people who are totally self centered and selfish. There are already too many people who are unaware and unawake. To turn my desire to help others around onto myself seems like regression.

But perhaps the middle way is best. It would mean that I am balanced and grounded. It would mean that I can help others and not be depleted. If you overextend you may fall. Just like if you are rescuing a kitten from a tree, if you reach out too far, go past your balance point, you’ll fall to the ground.

Then, there is the idea that the kitten needs to learn how to get her own dang self down.

If you keep rescuing the kitten, she’ll keep needing to be rescued. Maybe there is something useful there in that thought.

Nobody rescued me. Nobody stood around and cheered me on to start getting healthy in body and soul. Nobody figured out how I could carve out time and money to go to the Y. Perhaps there is something in letting people figure out how to get there on their own.

Maybe there is something to being OK with the idea that they may never get there. Maybe there is something about being OK with where they are right now.

I just hate listening to the yowling of that stuck cat.

I want it to stop climbing up that tree. It has climbed up that same tree for years and it keeps getting stuck. I want it to pick a different tree or figure this one out. Or stay away from trees entirely.

I’ve got my own trees to wrestle with. I want to help, but I don’t want to rescue. But I also don’t want to feel like saying “I told you so”.