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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