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

 

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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.

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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?
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Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part II: Meditation

 

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What is Meditation?

Meditation trains our minds to focus on the present moment, to be aware of our thoughts and feelings, and to observe our whole experience in a mindful way. It’s any practice that fosters mindfulness.

I’ve practiced daily meditation for the last year and a half, and it’s changed me. In fact, I hardly know where to begin describing how it’s opened my awareness and allowed me to know more who I really am.

Meditation calms me and raises my overall energy (vibration). It gently guides me back from my tangle of thoughts and emotions – and into stillness. There, I find a deep connection with my higher self, my inner light . . . call it ultimate wisdom, call it God.

This connection feels very much like a place.

Is Meditation like Prayer?

It depends on how you think of prayer. I remember being taught to work hard at it: first with a list of thank-you’s – then a list of wants – followed by an acknowledgement of how I don’t deserve any of it.

When I meditate, I do the opposite of hard work. I get very calm and still. When my mind wanders, which it always does, I guide it back to my breathing or the sounds around me. I’m not there to genuflect or ask for things. I’m there to rest in focus.

But once I’m there, the practice turns into a kind of prayer: a very open, receptive state where I’m allowing this life and its abundance to live through me.

“But I’ve tried Meditation, and it doesn’t work for me”.

I recommend meditation for all my clients because it helps create inspired change. But many people say they just can’t do it. Their minds wander too much. They can’t quiet the noise in their heads. They can’t afford the time or sit still long enough. To this, I say:

Meditation is for everyone.

It’s a gift from the universe that we can all access.

No matter how scattered and fidgety you feel, meditation practice meets you where you are and helps you gradually become calmer, more grounded, more in touch with your truth.

Meditation Transforms Trauma into Deep Soul Healing

Tara Brach talks about how meditation works to heal trauma generally. Others have written about Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome and how adding a bit of Buddism or other tradition can replace old guilt and worry with new gratitude and calm.

In my early religious training, the world was very small. As my mind expanded, I needed a bigger vessel for my spiritual experience than any one tradition could offer.

Meditation changes my religious trauma by expanding the spiritual space around me, putting all prior experiences into context, creating a bigger bowl for my growing sense of universal consciousness and wisdom.

Bigger Bowl = More Room for  Spiritual Expansion = More Growth

Resources to Get You Started

So as not to overwhelm you, here are just a few bits that I think will help you get started. Take what’s useful and leave the rest.

  1. A great blog post by Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-puddicombe/finding-time-to-meditate_b_7338158.html
  2. A really good teacher. https://www.tarabrach.com/
  3. An app that has it all. https://insighttimer.com/
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Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part I

From Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox St Clair, 2008

How do we turn religious trauma into deep emotional healing?

Religious trauma happens most often in movements that are fundamentalist in nature – or, “Strong Religion.” In my practice, I see adults who grew up scared of sinning and going to hell or disappointing God or being shunned for some infraction or bad thought. I call this early spiritual abuse and it affects every part of life . . . especially our relationships.

If you were raised in a movement that was fundamentalist or evangelical in nature, you probably experienced religious trauma . . . even if you don’t think of yourself as wounded or traumatized . . .

. . . and especially if you’re a woman.

Religious trauma occurs when a tradition, doctrine, or group . . .
  1. emphasizes the person’s inherent wrongness, sinfulness, or unworthiness
  2. focuses on controlling people’s sexuality
  3. teaches a literal hell or other kind of severe outcome that a deity will use to punish people who don’t follow particular creeds
  4. focuses on controlling people’s thoughts or emotions
  5. teaches the domination of one gender or cultural group and the subordination of another (no matter how benevolently described)
  6. teaches a person must follow a set of behavioral prescriptions or rituals in order to avoid condemnation by a higher power
  7. excommunicates, dis-fellowships, or shuns people for failure to adhere to some set of behavioral standards.

If your childhood religion did any of these things, you probably experienced some form of spiritual abuse.  Some would say that just growing up with the teaching of these ideas constitutes spiritual wounding . . . trauma to your spiritual self.

For more in-depth consideration of spiritual wounding, this article by Edward Kruk highlights earlier thoughts of Simone Weil on spiritual affliction as a form of slavery. More on this to come . . .

Replacing Old with New

This summer, let’s talk about transformation. We need real ideas for how to replace unhealthy old teachings (that got under our skin) with practices that promote healing, love, and peace . . . in other words, soul growth. Here’s a preliminary list. I’ll be back with more on each item in this list.

  1. meditation
  2. beauty
  3. diverse friendships
  4. energy work
  5. trauma therapy
  6. body work
  7. reading good fiction
  8. creating
  9. disobedience
  10. love

Again, please write with your ideas, suggestions, and stories. My novel, Wife Material, is based on my story.

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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.

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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

 

 

How Getting Grounded Makes you Smarter

I believe you.

Permission to Know What you Know

I believe you.

I think it’s important for you to know that. When someone’s taking you seriously, you stay more awake to your observations. Sometimes we knock down the disturbing ones, like a kid playing Whack-a-Mole. We fear a dawning realization. We don’t want it to be true. So let me just say right now, I trust what you notice.

She really hurt me.

I need to get out of this relationship.

He’s abusing our child.

My mother didn’t want me.

That person sexually abused me.

I don’t believe in God anymore.

When we hammer down, swat away, or block thoughts we don’t want, we put ourselves into trance. We un-ground ourselves. We zone out and fade away. We stop being present in our bodies, so we miss information being registered through our senses or body organs.

So let’s look at that spot where we erased our innermost thoughts. I’m right here with you. It’s okay to know. But it helps if you feel safe while you become aware.

Let’s Get Grounded

Some part of each of us wants truth, even if it’s devastating. But we need to be grounded. That means safe and aware of our surroundings, present in our skin, present in this moment right here.

Here’s how to get grounded.

  1. Sit comfortably. Become aware of your breathing.
  2. Look at your surroundings. Notice colors, shapes, people, plants, buildings, cars, and furniture. Notice dust motes on the windowsill.
  3. Ask yourself: what emotion do I feel? Is it more anxiety than sadness? More sadness than anger?
  4. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? Just notice it, and then bring awareness back to your breathing.
  5. Say something calming like, It’s okay for me to feel angry; I can feel my feelings and be okay; It’s 2016 and I’m a grown up now; I am safe.
  6. Hold an object like a stone or your house key. Feel the texture and temperature of it.
  7. Say something supportive like, I have friends; I have people I can turn to; I am loved.
  8. Walk around. Feel your feet on the ground. Listen to the sound of your shoes on the floor or pavement or grass.
  9. Stand in a doorway and press your arms as firmly as you can into the sides of the doorway.
  10. Listen for sounds all around you.
Grounding helps you notice.

Grounding helps you notice.

When you get grounded, it’s like waking up after a long hibernation or thawing after a long freeze. Now, you may feel all kinds of emotions you didn’t notice when you were tranced out. Know that this is normal. If you get anxious, go back to your breath. It’s always there for you. Go through the steps again. Try tapping the sides of your knees with your fingertips, back and forth, while staying focused on your breath.

Grounding happens through body awareness. Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist, teaches that awareness of the body is the gateway to all knowing.

Getting grounded allows you to perceive, more accurately, what is happening in your life. Grounding keeps you safer by letting you register danger signals and resources for safety. Grounding gives you back lost time – time you may have once spent rummaging for lost keys or shoes, getting lost, or daydreaming instead of reading. Grounding lets you use all the information available in your environment – you listen better, remember more, and connect more dots when you’re grounded . . . because you’re really, fully here.

You get smarter by unclogging your creative mind, letting even the unwanted thoughts and perceptions just be there. Those unclogged thoughts start to connect with others, and so on. Soon, you have a new conscious web of insight and feeling. And it helps to have someone you trust, someone who believes you, listening closely, bearing witness to the formation of this beautiful new web, and being grounded with you.

Oh, and writing helps with all of this too!

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