A new tagline; a clarified mission

My best friend and her wife were in town this weekend when we had the happy coincidence of a big, gnarly snowstorm holding us all hostage in our house. This meant we were trapped inside with them, forced to play multiple games of Carcassone and Sequence, eat copious amounts of cookies, cook hearty Southern food, and talk shop about the Enneagram. I know. Rough times, right?

Having them around gives me the chance to have long conversations about topics of interest to me (I love my husband dearly, but he’s more of a doer, not much of a conversationalist…). One realization I had (am having) is the surprisingly little amount of insight I sometimes feel I have into myself. For instance, although I know the Enneagram pretty well, I have the worst time knowing (or staying on) what type I am. I’ve been very good at persuading my listener that I am really a certain type, only to change my mind a couple months later. What that means to me is that sometimes I identify so strongly with an idea of what/who I am, that it is hard to step back and see the stable, unchanging Self that lies underneath all the preconceptions I hold about myself.

In that same vein, this weekend I realized that the tagline I had for my blog is misleading. Not intentionally, of course, but rather because I thought it was what I was about – or what I was supposed to be about. My tagline was “thoughtful explorations of spirituality, psychology, and their intersections,” as you may recall. After all, I’m a counselor, and I feel myself to be spiritually inclined and want to write about it. So that’s what I do, right?

Actually, no. When I take a cursory look at the podcasts I listen to, the books I gravitate to (currently just dived in to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God), and the things I often write about on here, I have a different inclination. I unabashedly enjoy writing about theological issues. I particularly enjoy looking at those issues through a lens of culture: both our modern culture, and the culture in which ancient texts were written.

I have a passion that cannot be extinguished (at least it hasn’t been, yet) for the urgency of not letting constricting theologies and religious views lead society around like a bull on a nose ring. My heart quickens when I think about helping free an enslaved Christendom from its patriarchal, colonial, xenophobic, unbridled capitalistic chains, and help restore it to the justice-for-the-oppressed, freedom-for-the-enslaved, dividing-walls-broken-down, grace-filled emancipator that Christianity was meant to be.

Retrieved from Stock Photos

That is what I feel called to write about here. Sure, I might say things that some perceive as polarizing, or too political, in ways that writing about psychology would not have me do. But look at our world around us. Is the time not an urgent now?

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever felt you were “supposed” to do one thing but realized your heart was drawn toward another? Have you ever realized your conceptions of yourself were really misconceptions – and humbly chose your new way? Have you ever felt you must speak, but were afraid to, but maybe you did it anyway? My heart extends toward you, anonymous you, because I know your struggles to do so are probably greater than mine. This is no easy work. My hope is we push toward truth and emancipation together.

May we courageously step out into the unknown.

joy, and undoing the knowing

(12-28-15) My friend unwraps Reese’s bells with the greatest deliberation and sets them before himself on the counter. One, two, three, four. He stuffs them all into his mouth at once because they taste better that way. Tears roll down my cheeks, my abs ache, I can’t breathe.
I laugh every time just remembering it.

*****

(12-29-15) I know him so well but tonight I don’t. A near stranger staring at me earnestly across the counter. I am stunned and speechless, almost dizzy for a moment as my eyes unfocus – who is this man with the scruff and glasses, rubbing his forehead in that way? They focus again and I see him, the man I’ve always known, yet am undoing the knowing.

*****

(12-30-15) I sit with my therapist and give her my stream, or really train of consciousness about the new love that is pouring into my life and my most wonderful retreat at Gethsemani and how very very happy I am right now, sorry to be talking so much about everything all at once. She laughs; this is your time, use it how you want! She has sat with me in my pain and tears, and somehow it makes things better that she sits with me in my joy and shows me that this is just as important. I struggle to believe joy is okay but maybe it is okay because these people are not leaving me just because I am happy.

*****

(12-31-15) I am at home here, in the home of a Friend. My belly is full and my heart is warm, and we settle in to Quaker silence as I settle in under a blanket.
My heart is full to bursting. I must surely radiate this joy from my very being. I wonder if it is okay to feel this much joy. Maybe I should ponder sadness around the world? No, no, no, something deep within assures me, Joy is precious, and not found every day. Share this joy with others. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free. Joy like this should not – cannot – be contained.

Sun over horizon

a mosaic of self

I have been doing a lot of traveling over break, visiting old friends that I haven’t seen in ages. I’m not the best at regular phone calls and keeping up with people, so it’s a good thing these friendships are the kind where you can pick up wherever you left off and things feel just like last time. This sense of comfort and familiarity is a lovely thing. Particularly in today’s culture, when so many people move around to totally new places: for work, for love, for scenery, for fun: it is nice to be back with people who have known you longer than the year or two you’ve been living in a new place. However, those same friends have also missed some of the latest things in your life, in your growth. I often don’t realize what they’ve missed because in that time of reuniting, we are transported back to the times we were together. Sometimes it’s directly, through the “Remember When?” game, or indirectly, through the patterns that the two of us have established together. Kind of like couples, friends can develop “scripts” and “roles” together. You act this way, and I act this way. When you say that sort of thing, this is how I respond. We generally don’t even realize we do this.

However, this has caused me to reflect on whether or not I feel like my real “self” in my old friendships. Perhaps it’s just my rosy backward-looking glasses, but didn’t I used to be so much more silly and carefree in college? Now I feel more serious, more thoughtful. Didn’t I laugh so easily back then? Wasn’t I so adventurous that year I lived in Boston, when the city was my oyster and the T could take me almost anywhere I wanted to be? Where did that girl go? And who am I now?

Likewise, I see myself “be” different people when I am talking to different people. With my roommates, I can be goofy, using silly voices and talking about ridiculous things. Is that me? With one friend, I am slowly drawn to excitability, feeling like a contrast to her animation until it finally infects me too. With another, I am steadfast and hardworking, stable and consistent. Is that me? With another, my more nurturing, but also sensitive and emotional, and easily hurt, side comes out. Can that be me, too?

In my current life, I often feel “overly responsible”: the type of person willing to do not only their own tasks, but probably other people’s tasks as well, if need be. (By the way, this is not ideal for me nor for the other person, whose own sense of agency I can take away when I do things for them). With my family, I sometimes feel “under responsible”: fuzzy-minded, letting them decide what’s going to happen, just going along for the ride. Is it just regression when you return home after being away?

I realize I’m not an open book. I share certain information with certain people. Some people are for discussing romantic relationships, but only as far in as I allow. Some people are for politics, or science. Some for daily life happenings. Some for religion. Some people I allow in to hear my real thoughts on spirituality. I am a fragmented glass, a mosaic of color. My colors look different depending what part you focus on. A different light reflects depending what angle you stand away from me. I seem to be divided, yet I am one person.

Who am I? I wondered today, feeling almost deceptive with the many faces I can wear, even though I’m not trying to intentionally deceive anyone, yet genuinely confused as to which is my “true” self. Then the phrase “true self” rang a bell, and I suddenly realized: it’s just personality. Who are YOU? My personality is like my exterior, my shell. It’s the way that I interact with the world. There are a lot of protective and defensive mechanisms I use to feel secure, and I developed certain habits in order to win praise, affection, or a sense of okay-ness from other people. That’s not my real self. My real, true self is not my personality. My personality is not all bad – I can be funny, sweet, helpful, kind – but it’s also not everything I am. And sometimes, the sharp edges of my mosaic-piece personality cut my own, or others’, fingers. I am beyond the faces you see. I am beyond the faces I see, the things I know about me that other people don’t, the contradictions that don’t even make sense to me. I am beyond the attachments that lead to hurt feelings or joy, jealousy or security. My core essence is rooted in something far beyond the way I always think about myself.

Think of it this way. Through a glass mosaic, or a stained glass, the colors are mixed and beautiful. But the colors only do their thing because of the light that is behind it. The true self is like that white light (which is really all the colors on the spectrum) that shines and illuminates all else. The mosaic is made of disparate glass pieces that can be beautiful, but are not in themselves illuminative. I need to stop confusing the glass with the light. It’s just personality. My true self is like that illuminating light.

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