Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part III: Beauty

Never lose an opportunity of seeing something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.     

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

File:Ely Cathedral Nave Ceiling, Cambridgeshire, UK - Diliff.jpg

Photo by DAVID ILIFF

Beauty is the basis of my spiritual discovery process.

I found the Anglican church on a trip to England, back in ’07, a time of big transition. My then six-year-old and I visited St. Martin in the Field and read the names of long-ago ancestors on placards in the narthex. We toured medieval graveyards. We toured Ely Cathedral, with origins around AD 672, home to St. Catherine’s Chapel, a stained glass museum, and towers reaching some 215 feet. We stared up at the ceilings, decorated in ancient paintings of the ancestry of Jesus, and felt our simultaneous smallness and our connection to all that has ever been.

Back in the states, I wandered into a small Episcopal church and heard Bach and a homily delivered in Latin and German. The smell of incense wafted by as people knelt on prayer benches. Ministers, dressed in robes, gave communion at a carved altar while someone played Mendelssohn on a massive pipe organ.

For a girl coming out of the cult of fundamentalism, with its stripped-out, prefabricated buildings and its scorn for arches and sculptures, and organs, the beauty of this new place called to me.

I was that girl in the Church of Christ, but my parents were strings players. Nobody could fool me into thinking that marble statues or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus were evil. I already knew that truth lived at the symphony – just as truth lives in the inherent beauty of the universe. I knew better.

Beauty saved my life. It gave me a reason to keep moving forward when I was surrounded by people who taught suppression and denial of the self. When I felt trapped in that cultural prison, believing I was worthless if not married by the age of 23, I could always plug into music as a meditation, and reconnect to universal love.

File:Century Tree.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Century_Tree.jpg

Beauty = Truth = Innate Knowing

We all know beauty makes life worth living. The wonder we have watching the sun rise: this is truth. The goosebumps we get listening to a choir of children’s voices: this is truth. Sometimes I see intricate floral masterpieces rendered in tattoo ink and realize: this is truth. Not just formal works of art, but the arrangement of grasses in my neighbor’s xeriscape. We all seek this kind of truth, and we can trust it.

What causes me to experience beauty is an innate knowing of the right direction for me at a given moment . . . which may differ from the right direction of my friends or family. The beauty experience whispers the next right thing.  More like this . . . More of this . . . Keep reaching for this . . .

If I listen to the voice of beauty and follow it, I always find something I needed. I’m learning to trust this inner wisdom. When I do this, I reach for the divine.

Here are some things to consider in your own search for beauty.

  1. Your immediate environment: How pleasing is it to the eye?
  2. The sounds in your space: Do they bring you joy?
  3. How often do you let yourself absorb art of any kind?
  4. How lovely are the words you read or hear or write?
  5. How often do you absorb the natural environment (sights, sounds, smells, textures)?
  6. What do you do to create beauty?
Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Why do I want this? Skip resolutions and Go Deep instead.

My Bodysmith friends and I have been asking ourselves: Do we even want to make resolutions for 2017? Does it make sense to replay the same self-assignments, year after year? The question makes sense if you think about how New Year’s resolutions have evolved over time. From ancient Babylonia to our present civilization, people tend to declare something anew at the beginning of the year.

But that new something keeps morphing as our worldview shifts over time . . .

When resolutions began, thousands of years ago, we reminded ourselves to pay off debts and keep the gods happy. If the gods were happy, the world ran smoothly. As society became more military, we pledged allegiance to a king as we prepared for the next round of battles.

At some point in modern history, our focus shifted inward, to self-improvement. We set goals to make us more physically, spiritually, financially, or mentally fit: give up sugar, pay off credit cards, start a running program, go to bed earlier, stop smoking . . .

But just a relative few years into the new millennium, people trend toward making no resolution at all. Why is that?

Why we’ve stopped making resolutions.

Yes, we still care about being in shape, taking care of our bodymind, but we see more deeply into that goal set than we once did . . . or we want to. We know more about our brothers and sisters living in poverty at home and abroad. Our resolutions start to look shallow in relation to the refugee crisis or human traffiking.

the bigger picture of our new year's resolutions

from “Borders,” www.lucabarberini.com

A question emerges – and I hear this question between the lines of every therapy conversation. Why do I want that? Why do I want to make more money? What makes me want to be thinner, calmer, and stronger? What drives me to want better concentration? Why do I care to read more books? Watch less TV? Spend more time in quietude?

Does it even matter? We glimpse a bigger and more complicated picture than just our own personal fulfillment. We see how we are connected to every living creature. We sense a deeper spiritual meaning in our quest for a smaller waist and we want to understand why we put so much energy there. Who am I? What’s this part of me that needs to be more solvent, improve my marriage, and give more to charity? What’s this part of me that needs to fit into my skinny jeans?

To see if a new awareness could be happening to you, try this exercise.

  1. Get your notebook, a timer, and pen. Light a candle. Get some tea. Write this question: What do I want? Try not to judge your answers. Just write them down. Make a list.
  2. Take several deep breaths and then write this question: Why do I want that? Pick an item from #1.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes. Answer the why question. Keep your pen moving on the page without stopping, for the entire ten minutes. Repeat for each item on your list, or if they fit together, write about them as a set.

Talk to someone about this exercise and what you learned. You may suddenly see more deeply into your motives and needs. This deeper vision of your why is a way more powerful motivator than a simple list of resolutions. Your why is what your higher self knows you need to help you continue growing, becoming a better person, becoming all you can be, all you were meant to be. Return to this page anytime you need to remind yourself why you do what you do and see if it helps you get motivated to action.

P.S. My resolution is this: Protect myself from things and people that drain off my creative energy (more on this later).

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Be More Self-Centered and Save the World

image copyright Moyan Brenn

What does it mean to be self centered?

Your Self is your wise spiritual center. But outside this center, we live under a weighted blanket of stress and uncertainty, threatened by darkness and greed from all angles. We feel disconnected from neighbors and afraid of people on the other side of the philosophical aisle. 18% of the population suffers from a full-blown anxiety disorder and depression continues its 80-year rise in the general population. Lots of us medicate this pain with alcohol and other drugs. We separate from self.

When I glimpse the big-ness of our broken world, I often think: DO SOMETHING!!!! Reach out to more people! Give more money to charities! Convince people to stop hitting children and get themselves into EMDR therapy!!!

. . . And then I remember My Self. My limits. My small-ness and human-ness: my need for sleep and meditation and stillness.

All I can do is heal My Self, become calm and conscious, untangle from ego. Which means understanding who I am. Some spiritual teachers recommend constantly holding onto the thought, Who am I? The question takes us deeper into our spiritual center. This is what it means to be self-centered.

Who Am I?

How to use this question? Start with these lists and see what you learn.

  1. Make a list of things you know, for sure, about yourself (e.g., I work hard; I want to make more money; I like being by the ocean; I get upset when people don’t do their jobs . . .). Concentrate on the list and ask yourself, What does this mean about me?
  2. Make a list of your accomplishments (e.g., I finished college; I became a teacher; I had a family; I organized a new community board . . .). Study this list and ask, What does this say about me?
  3. Make a list of your failures (e.g., I didn’t pursue acting; I dropped out of college; I left my one true love; I can’t get rid of my depression . . .). Then ask, What does all of this mean about me?

Self Center as the Path to Enlightenment and Calm

Now you have some reference points for the question, Who Am I? Choose a few new habits to help you continue getting to know your inner self. Take long walks and allow your mind to wander. Start a quiet yoga practice. Begin doing Morning Pages in a notebook. Add five minutes of quiet coffee time to your morning. Allow thoughts and feelings to emerge; notice as they pass.

Insights and preferences may show up as you find your spiritual center. I prefer not to marry this person. I can change my religious habits. Alcohol robs me of mindfulness. I need to make music. I can best love that friend from a distance . . .

When we center ourselves in this question, we become less fearful, less narcissistic. We start to learn our cosmic roles and see ourselves as connected to the whole universe.

What Do I Do with My Self?

The question, Who Am I? deepens us over time as we start to see our roles in universal learning. One of my cosmic roles: shining a flashlight on what bothers me: hypocrisy, disconnection, and domination. Writing autobiographical fiction lets me illuminate these – with the hope that someone in my audience will benefit. It also keeps that question front and center.

As you discover your cosmic roles, you get the desire to do something, even if just to breathe and notice. Trust this impulse. Keep asking, What does this mean about me? Where does this idea come from? You also grow calmer and realize how your life history makes sense. There are no mistakes. Everything happens to further our development as connected souls. It’s all good.

P.S. EMDR helps this process along.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Abusive Religion or Political Party? Toxic Faith: Part II

 bones-1295805_960_720

Toxic Faith & Political Abuse

Spiritual practice should calm and ground you – so you feel hopeful, refreshed, more generous, and more compassionate. Religion and philosophy should promote ever-increasing access to your wise mind or Higher Self. But some movements block connection with your inner wisdom by hammering a terrified, guilty, censoring, or rejecting message. This is spiritual abuse.

As I watched this year’s presidential conventions, I saw how toxic faith gets used by political groups. I realized that any movement, ideology, political campaign, or faith tradition that makes you afraid of the world, afraid of what lies ahead, afraid of change – of losing things as they are, is manipulating your good heart. This is political abuse.

Think about the ideas you’re being asked to support. Watch closely the interpersonal behavior of those at the helm. Allow yourself to notice: Who benefits most from this notion? If you were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as a child, you become more vulnerable to being lured into abusive political or religious doctrines as an adult.

Here’s another short list of signs you’re in an abusive church or religion or campaign.

  1. You (or someone else) are physically hurt or threatened by a person in a power position.
  2. You (or someone else) are sexually approached by a person in a power position.
  3. Your intimate relationships are not respected by those in authority.
  4. You’re encouraged to only socialize or converse with those whose beliefs are the same as the group.
  5. You’re discouraged from consulting other sources (e.g., news venues, literature, holy scriptures) not endorsed by the group.
  6. You feel you can’t trust your own reason to help you discern truth.
  7. You feel you can’t make art – or you’re discouraged from trying art forms (e.g., dance, writing, sculpture).
  8. Meditation is not encouraged. Neither is solitude or quiet reflection.
  9. Your inner exploration stays invisible or unheard.
  10. You notice in-groups and out-groups that are not discussed openly.
  11. You’re afraid of what the elders say about you (or would, if they really knew you).
  12. You feel alienated from your higher power.

zinnia-1382681_960_720

The main reason I wrote Wife Material was to resist the tyranny of a church that tried to lay claim to my mind. I wanted it back. I desperately needed to mute the dogma in my head, so I could listen to my higher self.

Exercise for Re-establishing Contact with your Higher Self

Get out your notebook and a pen. Get comfortable. Write for five minutes on the following.

What makes me slightly uncomfortable about my church (or faith group or political party) is . . .

Set down your journal and do something else for a while. Later today, tell someone else what you wrote – anyone who will listen and not shame you.

I believe you can trust your deepest inner wisdom to guide your thoughts and choices.

Read Wife Material Contact Deborah