Fred retired this year and, with his unrestricted schedule and my flexible one, we’ve spent a lot of time outside. Our last camping trip was to E.C. Manning Park where we hiked into alpine meadows, kayaked on Lightning Lake, and bagged the highest peak in the park.
On our way home, Fred dropped me off near Bridal Falls, and I biked a hundred kilometres to Fort Langley, meeting up with Fred in parks in Chilliwack and Abbotsford to refuel and rest. The ride was flat and easy until I got to Abbotsford. Then my route took me up and down city streets and into the hilly countryside past cornfields, vineyards, and the historic village of Mt. Lehman. The quiet road led my tired body up, up, up and around a bend to surprise me with an expansive view of the Glen Valley and the promised 15% downhill grade.
I’m thinking about all we saw now as I write this week’s post. Ripening blackberries on the roadside, constellations of stars in the night sky, red, blue and yellow wildflowers, thousand year old Dr. Suessish fir trees, a mother deer and two fawns ahead of us on the trail, a monkish marmot sitting on top of Mt. Frosty, fairyland mushrooms, and whiskey jacks eating bits of apple from Fred’s hand.
Creation called us each day to come and walk, sit, and wonder. It offered no words, disdained metaphors, gave no rationale. My body sang in the rhythm of movement. My heart let it lead, and my mind wandered to no place in particular.
August and September we plan to head out again to the mountains and to the sea. Our hearts follow our feet, trusting the inner voice that keeps calling us out to play.
Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! –Jacob, Genesis 28:16 (NRSV)
Credits and References: Three Brothers trail by Fred Hizsa, used with permission. Coprinus comatus (shaggy ink cap or lawyer’s wig) mushroom by Fred Hizsa, used with permission. View from Mt. Frosty by Fred Hizsa, used with permission.
We all want the full meal deal:
nine gifts of the Spirit, every fruit
in a neat little package with our name printed on it
and Christ, the only ingredient listed.
We want what those people are having,
but we don't know to get it.
Wisdom tells us transformation doesn't happen quickly,
then we're fooled when it beats us to breakfast.
We can spend a life-time trying to disentangle the do/be dilemma.
God does it, but what's my part?
I still have to show up
and sometimes I can't
If we care for others without caring for ourselves, it won't work.
Or will it?
Where's the line between rest and self-indulgence?
When it comes to attaining spiritual maturity,
there's so much I don't know,
I keep being led back to a thought
that might be true.
We can relax.
God will get us there in the end.
We just don't know
what "there" looks like.
Perhaps when I arrive
I'll open up my take-out life and say,
"This isn't what I ordered."
And God and I will have a good laugh.
If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line–starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led–make of that what you will. —Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
Lately, my self-awareness has risen to a whole new level. I swear there’s a little fellow deep inside me rummaging through all my crap and sending it up for me to look at. These “gifts” are about as attractive as the skull in the picture above.
So far, thankfully, rather mundane things are being hurled my way. I noticed I got irritated by a comment, unsettled when someone didn’t agree with me, and frustrated when I took a wrong turn. I hear what I say sometimes and want to take it back. I didn’t remember until we opened our take-out meal in the park that I meant to ask for ketchup.
I notice how each awareness is followed by judgment and disappointment. As my self-awareness increased, so did my discouragement.
Listening to James Finley’s podcast on Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle reminded me that the way to an ever-deepening union with God involves three things: prayer, humility, and self-knowledge. God isn’t inviting us to transcend ourselves but to become ourselves.
This gave me the courage to believe I’m not getting worse. I’m on the right path, and all this self-awareness is supposed to be helpful.
With that in mind, I was able to step back and observe this pattern of noticing, criticizing, and becoming discouraged. I began to wonder what it would be like to offer myself what I offer my directees: compassionate, non-anxious presence. What would it be like to simply notice what I was noticing without labeling it as wrong and something to fix?
I felt a quickening in my heart as I imagined a new spiritual practice evolving. Whenever a new awareness comes, instead of critiquing it, I can name what I notice without judging it as good or bad. I can simply receive what I notice as information about myself.
As I practiced responding to each new awareness with compassion and curiosity, I began to humbly accept things about myself I don’t like, parts of me that I used to ignore or banish. I began to ask these tender parts what they needed.
Take my propensity to misplace things or forget what I remembered ten seconds ago. Instead of beating myself up about it or brushing it off as no big deal, I can name that this happens quite often and makes life difficult. As I hold this and the sadness it evokes, I wonder what kindness could I offer myself.
My grandson, who is also on the autism spectrum, has the same difficulties. I think about how my daughter gently comes alongside him, going through the checklist of things he needs to take with him before he heads out the door. When I think I don’t need to do that, I end up forgetting something. Self-awareness tells me it would be kind to pause before I leave the house and go through a similar checklist.
God isn’t inviting us to rise above ourselves but to become ourselves and find we are infinitely loved just as we are. I’m a little nervous about what that little fellow is going to send up next, but if I don’t panic (as James Finley calmly says), I might remember to immerse myself in the ocean of God’s love.
I feel so much love over my soul, it is like an Ocean I immerse and lose myself in: it is my vision on earth while waiting for the face-to-face vision in light. [God] is in me, I am in Him. I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my Soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His eyes . . . –Elizabeth of the Trinity [1880–1906]
It was a somber Canada Day on Thursday. Canadian flags were half-mast in the wake of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves outside Indian residential schools in BC and Saskatchewan. EVERY CHILD MATTERS was boldly painted down the middle of a blocked-off section of Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) was giving out orange shirts with that phrase on it. I was grateful to join the sea of people wearing orange shirts and also grateful for the work of the IRSSS. You can learn more about them here.
Credits and References: Portrait of Caravaggio looking in mirror. Creative Commons. Ocean by Theron Trowbridge. Used with permission. Quote by Elizabeth of the Trinity in letter to Canon Angles, August 1903, in I Have Found God: Complete Works, vol. 2: Letters from Carmel, trans. Anne Englund Nash (ICS Publications: 2014), 123. IRSSS Logo by Art Thompson. Used with permission. “World-renowned Nuu-chah-nulth artist Tsaqwasupp (Art Thompson, 1949-2003), gifted this design to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society as a symbol of how our culture helps us move beyond the traumas suffered in Indian Residential School. Each tribal group on the coast has creation stories; most of them involve the Raven as the supernatural creator. Every tribal group has stories with in the tribe or family about the shaman. Almost every tribal group has stories about a shaman re-installing lost souls back into human beings who have suffered a traumatic experience of one kind or another. This would happen with the usage of a ‘soul catcher’ in which the shaman would capture the soul then ‘blow it’ back into the mouth of the victim.” (from IRSSS)
“What I have done with the arts is to put three elements together (in a Ditdaht style) to signal hope of restoring some of our inherent strengths. Strengths drawn from our history and the strengths we will have today. We have an incredible history as Native people of this country; we have suffered through many disadvantages and elimination. We have become well-adjusted in most respects. Not only have we survived, we are moving beyond survival into a new era of native awareness once dreamed of by our ancestors. We are truly becoming a strong people.
“Through the arts, I have woven my future. something that is important for all of us. For me it defines in one aspect who we are it helps define our space in the world.” –Tsaqwasupp (Art Thompson)
“Are you okay?” the grey-haired man asked as I propped my bike against a hedge outside his yard.
“Yes,” I said continuing to open the map on my phone. “Is this the way to Twin Lakes Road?”
“No. You need to go that way,” he said pointing the direction I’d come from.
I didn’t like his answer, didn’t like the way the app and my fingers weren’t cooperating, but the fact became increasingly clear. I’d taken a wrong turn again.
“That means I have to go back up that hill,” I sighed, feeling my age.
“It’s not that bad,” said the man who was older than me.
He was right about that, too. Once I got onto the crest by Oliver Mountain, it was a nice scoot down on Willowbrook, shaded by trees with views of rolling hills, farms and ranches. Seven kilometers later, I passed the corner where I should have turned right and hoped Fred saw my text.
Up ahead, I glimpsed a mother bear and three small cubs ambling across the road. I got off my bike and signaled the approaching car behind me to stop. With a sense of wonder and mild trepidation, I watched them disappear into the bushes.
During the next forty kilometres, up into the arid hills by White Lake, past the golf course on Twin Lakes Road, and down into Keremeos, I had a lot of time to think about wrong turns.
A few days before, Fred dropped me off in Summerland. I planned to bike to our campsite just north of Oliver, a fast fifty kilometre ride. At Okanagan Falls, I wanted to bypass a section of highway, but I took McLean Creek Road instead of continuing on Maple. Nothing looked familiar. I certainly didn’t remember it being this hilly when I rode it last year. Finally, I came to what I thought would be the highway. Instead, I was back on Eastside Road. I texted Fred: Took a wrong turn. Leaving OK Falls again.
Then there was the decision of where to camp. “Maybe when we see the temperature is going to be in the thirties, we should choose a cooler location,” I said to Fred as we fled from our campsite in the heat of the day.
I thought about all that as I rode to Keremeos. I figured out what I would do next time, so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
And yet. I’d wanted to know what it was like to bike the McLean loop. If I hadn’t gone left instead of right at the top of Secrest, I wouldn’t have seen the bears. And if we hadn’t camped at Inkaneep Provincial Park, we wouldn’t have gotten to know the family of quails that lived there. Only after the parents felt secure did they allow their tiny offspring to come out and feed in our campsite.
Our feelings are like those little chicks. They only come out when it feels safe, and Mama and Papa God are watching out for us.
So now, as I write this post, a tender fear comes out from the bushes. I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong–“it” being my relationship with others, with God, and life in general.
As I listen to this familiar fear, I think about the gifts my “wrong” turns gave me. I think about the man who came out of his house to point the way. I think about what I shared at the end of this year’s Living from the Heart.
Each person’s offering was touching. Tears came easily. The word “trust” pushed itself into my awareness. So when it was my turn to speak, I said I trusted their journey with God.
Now God was asking me, “Can you trust yours? Can you trust Me to meet you when you can’t get there the way you’re going? Can you trust Me to get you safely across the road? Can you trust Me to be the safe place for your fragile feelings?”
A yes rises in my heart like a cyclist ascending the height of land. The view from here is magnificent and the ride down cool and effortless.
God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” –Hebrews 13:6 (The Message)
There’s still time to register for Living from the Heart. “Living from the Heart offers a learning community that invites participants to deepen their experience of intimacy with Jesus. Biblically, the heart is the very core of life out of which intellect, emotions, and intentions flow. Opening to God’s heart of love with our whole heart, especially in our most broken places, brings a healing integration within and provides the courage to offer our lives in loving compassion to the world around us.” This course is offered in person in Calgary, Alberta and in Abbotsford, BC in a weekend/Saturday format and in an intensive format on Bowen Island, BC. It is also offered online.
Credits and References: A view of vineyards, Skaha Lake and the north end of Okanagan Falls seen from Eastside Road. by Ted McGrath. Used with permission. California Quail Family- Kerikeri, Bay of Islands by Shellie. Used with permission.
Sometimes being here feels like I’m in the wrong place as if I could look at a map and backtrack to where I’m supposed to be. But there’s no map for the contemplative journey, let alone my contemplative journey.
“Here,” the wise ones say, “is the only place to be. It’s the only place we can be.”
Well, that sucks because here isn’t there where tears bear witness to divine encounters, where God’s voice springs forth from the page, where my Christmas cactus isn’t limp and dying, and compulsions don’t mesmerize.
If I have to be here, I want to fix it up, at least, and need help with that so I ask three times to take the thorn away
but You don’t.
Here is good in many ways and yet–
That “and yet” feels so big and so lonely until
someone else says they’re here, too and tears fill my eyes.
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. –Isaiah 66:13 NRSV
So often I hear from readers that they’ve felt comforted to know that I’ve experienced what they’re going through. It’s a relief to know you are not the only one who struggles with distracted prayer, self-doubt or discontent. These relieved readers thank me for my willingness to be vulnerable and share my struggles. Do you hear an invitation to be vulnerable and share your struggles with someone? Perhaps you will hear from them a relieved, “Me, too.” Perhaps you will be Mother God to them offering them company in a lonely place.
For the past three months, James Finley has been my spiritual guide. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I walk in a nearby park and listen to a podcast from Turning to the Mystics. Then I sit for twenty minutes of centering prayer.
I was inspired and encouraged by Finley’s meditations on Thomas Merton. But when I listened to his reflections on Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, I found myself getting discouraged. I don’t love God or pray unhindered by distractions the way Teresa could, even in the fourth mansion (if that is where I am), never mind the seventh.
Even though I have experiences of God’s presence in my day, my silent prayer is full of distracting thoughts. They never let up. They take me up and out of the present moment, and I lose the awareness that it’s even happening. This is not new, and I’m not new at this way of praying. I’ve been practicing centering prayer for sixteen years. Shouldn’t I be further along by now?
Then I heard Finley say that one of the habits which Teresa calls “reptiles” is discouragement.
It isn’t just that when we got into the castle, we were careless of these reptiles; that is, these habits got in with us. But we realized that we’re raising them as pets . . . these little ongoing habits that we know compromise the fullness of the love that we’re called to, to surrender ourselves over to in the love of God. And I also think that what happens in all of this then is that we’re being asked by this love to give up the ideology of perfectionism; that is, the ideology of our inner peace being dependent on our ability to measure up to the standard of love we feel called to. We’re being asked to give that up and handing all that over to being surrendered over to the infinite love that loves us so unexplainably in the midst of these unresolved matters that we have not yet been able to work through. And so, this is the gift of tears, see? This is the gift of tears is this being invincibly loved and being so unexplainably precious in the midst of so many, very real, tangible shortcomings and unresolved things that end up compromising ourselves and others and not responding to the love of God.
What I heard in Finley’s words is that I need to give up measuring myself and surrender my progress to God. I also heard that God wants me to surrender my inability to pray or love better and to rest in the reality that I am being invincibly loved and am unexplainably precious to God in the midst of my unresolved habits and unpassionate love for God.
I can offer myself compassion. I can put my hand over my heart and say to myself, “This is hard. You thought you would be in a different place right now and you are disappointed that you aren’t. We all get discouraged when we don’t see ourselves progressing. But you’re not in charge of this, and God isn’t disappointed. God’s infinite love unexplainably loves you right here, right now in the midst of your discouragement and distractions. Breathe in that love. Breathe out that love.”
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12(NIV)
In this short video, James Finley, clinical psychologist, former monk, and Center for Action and Contemplation faculty member, encourages us be lovingly present to the overwhelmed, reactive, and flooded parts of ourselves and others during the COVID-19 crisis. To touch this suffering with love is to dissolve it, revealing the deep peace of God that depends on nothing but upon which everything depends. (Center for Action and Contemplation)
On a run, I wondered what I would share for my check-in that afternoon at the peer supervision group I attend with other spiritual directors. Typically when we check in, we don’t just share what’s at the surface of our lives, but what’s going on in our souls. What is said is often tender and held with deep gratitude.
At first, I couldn’t think of anything to say because I feel like I haven’t landed anywhere. I’m in an in between place, so that’s what I decided to share.
“I noticed I got anxious when I read Katherine May’s book in which she discovers she has ASD. I was nervous of finding myself like her and nervous of finding I wasn’t.” I paraphrased this quote by May.
Perhaps I am hoping to excuse myself. Perhaps I’m hoping that people will love me a tiny bit more for knowing that I can’t help it, that I’ll never be able to access the easy patience that I see in everyone else. Perhaps I’m hoping for a better life story, a coherent, tidy narrative arc that finally draws my scattergun life together into a kind of sense. I sometimes feel as though I’m asking for a privilege, to be allowed to say that I’ve watched my friends sail past me into competent adulthood, while I’ve stuttered and stalled, but that it’s not my fault. it’s beguiling to think that I could shake it all off that easily.
I notice, now as I write, that this quote makes me anxious. It names my desire for an excuse or explanation as to why I’m not like other people, but I doubt many people would see how I’ve “stuttered and stalled.” Then I think, don’t we all stutter and stall? And then I want to cry.
I slow down and listen to my gathering tears. There is something in me that wants to be heard and seen. I’m not neurotypical, yet I don’t have seven out of the ten top traits of autism. I’m on the borderline between two worlds, and I don’t live in either.
The day after my peer supervision group, I brought my in-between feelings to a focusing session, I pictured myself on a steep ridge. I could see open landscapes to my left and to my right. I listened to my desire to get off the ridge on one side or the other and rest there. I felt the futility of knowing neither side had rest for me. A lump formed in my throat. As I stayed present to it, I felt invited to sit down and find comfort in that narrow, in-between space.
As I felt myself relax there, I began to feel hope. I remembered something that happened in peer supervision. This month, it was my turn to bring a situation I was dissatisfied with during a spiritual direction session. I told them I was angry for a directee who was stuck in internalized shame she picked up from how she’d been treated by others. I felt frustrated that my anger robbed me of my ability to feel compassion and be present with her where she was.
One of my peers gently offered that those on the autism spectrum can find it difficult to hold two strong feelings at a time. Perhaps that’s why my feeling of compassion was blocked. I sat with that for a moment and sensed Jesus’ compassion for me. I heard, “That was so hard for you. It was all you could do, and you wanted to do more.”
Here was Jesus offering me what May articulated in that quote: It’s not your fault. I felt my shoulders soften as warm acceptance enfolded me.
Now that I know about this tendency in myself, I can notice a strong feeling and wonder what other feelings might want to be heard. Allowing them a voice, enables me to make choices without being dominated by one strong emotion.
Naming what is true about me (for now, anyway) relieves the tension of having to be what I’m not. So what am I?
What it’s like for me to be between neurotypical and autistic? I named a few traits that I noticed last year. Here is what I’m noticing now.
I need a heads-up and time to adapt to some changes. An unexpected change can turn certainty into chaos. I suddenly feel unsafe and don’t know what I can count on.
I need things spelled out for me. I often feel like I didn’t get the memo about what’s expected in a certain situation.
I need a lot of down time. Being in groups of people for any length of time overstimulates me emotionally. I don’t get overstimulated by a lot of noise or bright lights but by all the verbal and nonverbal messages I’ve picked up. I manage okay in the moment but afterward, I feel anxious and overwhelmed. I ruminate over what I heard and saw, trying to understand what confused me. I have to pick off the burrs of judgment that tell me I’ve done something wrong.
I need you to not take it personally when I have a meltdown, but I also need you to hear what made me meltdown. It doesn’t happen often, and I’m not as loud and dramatic, as Dr. Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor, escalating, fists clenched, “No. No!NO!!!” But I can relate to him. I can see what he wishes he could calmly ask for.
I need to wonder. I tend to feel one strong feeling at a time. Experiencing anger, elation, compassion, hurt, or any other feeling by itself has led me to make a decision I later regret. I need to wonder. What else might I be feeling?
Above all, I need self-compassion. It’s hard to accept the limitations I have that many others don’t. So I can be gentle with myself and give myself the understanding, space, and rest I need.
Autism, by definition, is on a spectrum. We may not all have ASD, but I wonder if we all have HSD: Human Spectrum Disorder. We all have limitations being who we are. What would you list as your top six needs to be who you are?
Do not run or fly away in order to become free. Rather go deep into the narrow space given you. There you will find God and all things. –Gustave Thibon
Credits and References: “Border” by Jo. Used with permission. Katherine May quote from The Electricity of Every Living Thing p 257 “The Spine of Devil’s Backbone” by Mitch Barrie. Used with permission.
Take a moment and listen to the experience of Emma Baker, a 84-year-old survivor of the Kamloops residential school. I knew about the residential schools and how bad things were, but this hits harder than any of the presentations, courses, books, plays or movies about the experiences of indigenous families in Canada.
I have heard this discovery called “Canada’s George Floyd Moment” and what happened to First Nations people in Canada referred to as genocide. The news of the uncovered remains of 215 children buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops residential school is shocking. Here is an excerpt about it from the CBC news.
“Preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School have uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said Thursday (May 27).
“The First Nation said the remains were confirmed last weekend near the city of Kamloops, in B.C.’s southern Interior.
“In a statement, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said it hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work, and that its Language and Culture Department oversaw the project to ensure it was done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way. The release did not specify the company or individual involved, or how the work was completed.
“‘To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,’ Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in the statement. ‘Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children’.” (CBC News)
I hope you will take the time to read this poem by Abigail Echo-Hawk, a Pawnee artist and poet. I will close with some of her words: may “our voices sing the mourning songs with the trees. the wind. light sacred fire ensure they are never forgotten as we sing JUSTICE.”
Last week, I was in a classroom in Austin, Texas, where a girl who was apparently going through a really rough spell at home wrote a poem that was definitely tragic and comic both, about—everybody was yelling at her in the poem, from all directions. She was just kind of suffering in her home place and trying to find peace, trying to find a place to do her homework. But she wrote this in such a compelling way that when she read it—and read it with gusto and joy—there was such joyousness in her voice, even though she was describing something that sounded awful—when she finished, the girls in her classroom just broke into wild applause.
And I saw her face—she lit up. And she said, “Man, I feel better.” And I thought, yeah, that’s—this is such a graphic example of putting words on the page. That feeling of being connected to someone else, when you allow yourself to be very particular, is another mystery of writing. —Naomi Shihab Nyein an interview with Krista Tippet
Those paragraphs could have been a poem. Maybe they eventually became one called “She Lit Up” or “Man, I Feel Better.” I reread this story and breathed in the wonder of that moment: the tragic comedy, the gusto, the wild applause. It was a holy moment of connection. And it happened just last week.
You never knew when you woke up that day you’d find a burning bush on the walk to the store or see a holy man feeding five thousand with the peanut butter and jam sandwiches you dropped off at the shelter.
Or what about the Saturday when you came home again to a loneliness so old and hard that it cracked and God spilled out?
Or yesterday, when you happened upon a raccoon on the fence, tulips taking the next shift as the daffodils retire, and eagles cresting, calling, urging you to fly?
You don’t know, when you wake up each day, what moment is waiting to become a poem that wants to be read again and again.
. . . poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them. –Naomi Shihab Nye from “Valentine for Ernest Mann”
In the On Being podcast I quoted above, Naomi Shihab Nye talked about the transformative power of poetry–of reading it and writing it. Her love mischief with poetry led her to read a poem to her son each day when he woke up. After a conversation Nye had with a principal, he began sharing a poem to the entire school as a part of the daily announcements. “One thing I’ve tried to say to groups over the years, groups of all ages, is that writing things down—whatever you’re writing down, even if you’re writing something sad or hard—usually, you feel better after you do it,” Nye said. “Somehow you’re given a sense of, OK, this mood, this sorrow I’m feeling, this trouble I’m in—I’ve given it shape. It’s got a shape on the page now. So I can stand back; I can look at it. I can think about it a little differently—what do I do now? And very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse. They always say, ‘I wrote things down. This isn’t quite finished. I need to work on it’—but they agree that it helped them see their experience, see what they were living. And that’s definitely a gift of writing that is above and beyond any sort of vocational—how much somebody publishes. It’s an act that helps you, preserves you, energizes you in the very doing of it.”
Everybody (yeah, yeah) Love your body (yeah, yeah) Love your body now.
Adam Sud should have died. Seriously addicted to amphetamines and fast foods, his body and soul were in rough shape. Feeling defeated, he attempted suicide. In an interview with John Robbins, Adam said that when he survived, he grasped how hard his body fought to keep him alive. From that moment on, he decided to give back, to take care of the body that had taken care of him. He began to love his body. At 350 pounds, Adam said he didn’t love how his body looked; he loved what his body did for him. That love turned his life around.
Recently, a friend asked me how I found the time to get outside and exercise daily. “I don’t know,” I said. “It just happened.” But as I thought more about it, I realized, it didn’t “just happen.” Something changed. I had begun to love my body as much as I loved work.
For decades, I’ve been addicted to work. I love doing and accomplishing–the more the better. Then, when we were away for a week on Vancouver Island in March, I noticed how much I enjoyed not working. When we got home I didn’t want to go back to the same old same old. I made sure that every day, I took a mini-vacation. I got outside.
This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this desire. When I worked as a pastor and had a few weeks off, I felt like I’d stepped off a fast-moving train. I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t get back on. I believed that getting on that train and pushing myself to accomplish more was what I needed to do to be a faithful Christian. I also believed I wouldn’t have worth if I didn’t.
But I don’t believe that anymore. God isn’t asking me to push myself, do more, and sacrifice my body to serve the kingdom. I’m not indispensable, and I don’t need to prop up my ego by doing things to prove my worth. I have worth because I’m a child of God, and what God loves God cares for and wants us to care for as well.
When I was obese, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I believed I was a beautiful person, and I tried to see my physical appearance as beautiful, but I didn’t know how to equate my state of unhealth with any sense of objective beauty.
I think it’s because my body saw what I was doing to it and didn’t like it. It also didn’t like what it heard from me. I gave a clear and consistent message: I don’t like you. I criticized my body, frowned at it, fought with it, berated it, and ignored it. The only way I could conceive of loving my body was to love how it looked (and I couldn’t lie) or give in to its cravings (and that would be disastrous). I knew on some level that my body wanted to be fed nutritious foods and get a good night’s sleep and regular exercise, but it was hard to believe it really wanted that because none of those things made my body sing. Not at first, anyway.
But that wholesome desire was there. When I saw others my age losing a significant amount of weight, I thought, “If I ever lose the extra weight, I’d be able to bike farther and faster.” More than looking good, I wanted to feel good when I moved. I knew what that felt like, and I wanted more of it. That’s when the pounds started to come off. Adam Sud helped me understand what was happening to me. I had begun to appreciate my body for all it did for me. I felt compassion for it, and I wanted to take care of it.
I hear time and time again from wellness experts that we think we can improve ourselves by being critical, and if we let up on ourselves we’ll become fat and lazy. “But the opposite is true,” experts say. “What you love you will care for.”
I love my body. I love what I see in the mirror. I’m grateful for how my body moves with energy and ease. I thank my body for all it does for me and am learning to ask it, “What can I do for you?”
The first law of healing: We want to care for the things we love. The first step in toppling Galatea from Pygmalion’s pedestal is for you to love your own body just as it is now. To love your face, your skin, your shape, size, age. To love it first, and then to let your self-care arise naturally from the love and respect you have for who you are, not for who you should be in the eyes of others. We want to care for the things we love.Most of us have it backward: I’ll love my body if it’s thinner, if my thighs don’t jiggle, if I change the way I look–my nose, my hair, my skin my breasts, my neck, my belly. We diet or exercise or buy products in hopes that maybe one day we will love what we see in the mirror. We regard the body as if it’s a problem to be solved, as if there is something fundamentally wrong and it’s up to us to bully ourselves into lovability. And because the motivation to care comes from the outside, from someone else’s standard of acceptability, we cannot apply the first law of healing. —Elizabet Lesser, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes
Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, and creativity. She is one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100. She is the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, A Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, Marrow, and her latest book, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. There are a number of interviews with Lesser about Cassandra Speaks. Here is one by Banyen Books. Once you hear this Ted Talk you will want to hear her other one, Take “the Other” to Lunch.
Credits and References: Workoutlove by Reliv International. Used with permission. Stick person in front of mirror by Tsahi Levent-Levi. Used with permission. Quote from Elizabet Lesser, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes, p 68-69