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.

Contact Deborah

 

Still Recovering from Toxic Religion: Pass That Buick in Love

It’s OK to keep evolving.

Here’s a story about being inspired and suppressing it.

This morning I got behind a slow-moving Buick on a major thoroughfare. I encountered the same dark green Buick, ten minutes before, when I was crossing a downtown street. On foot, I got up close and looked inside at three senior women – all probably in their eighties, peering out the car windows as if thoroughly lost and overwhelmed by the traffic. Now, as I now rode behind them, they slowed and stopped at every side street.

I felt bad for them – they seemed lost and confused and I’ve been there myself many times. But I also chomped at the bit – just because the sun was shining and I wanted to sail down the street, unfettered, toward Mama Jean’s Famous Tuna Salad. I thought about passing, but then got a stab of guilt. Why? What’s wrong with blowing by the Buick with a smile and a wave?

This felt familiar: feeling inspired to race ahead into a sunny adventure whilst holding back, tucked behind someone who isn’t ready to race ahead. Then I thought . . .

Why do I still do this? Hold back, feeling guilt for wanting to pass someone or say ‘no-thank-you’ to an unwanted offer or avoid a conversation I know will drag me down . . . ?

I was raised to think other people’s feelings were more important than mine . . .

 . . . that I was selfish and arrogant if I needed to be my age or to just get the hell out of someplace that didn’t feel good.

I learned in my family, my church, my Church of Christ school, that if someone is upset by your behavior, that must mean you’re doing something wrong . . . and if someone feels inferior in relation to you, you should always modify yourself, so as not to offend.

While I’d love it if everyone felt warm and fuzzy, I just can’t make that happen and stay sane.

(Yes, I used to try.) Sometimes, we just want to drive a little faster. We get inspired and seek to create or take care of ourselves instead of prioritize someone else’s perceived needs. Be a selfish ten-year-old or a teenager with her own opinions. Grow into an actor or poet when our original life script says, “blend in and be quiet.”

Being inspired doesn’t make us arrogant.

It’s creativity . . . the Divine spark . . . at work in our lives, pressing us forward into growth.

It amazes me how lifelong is this process of getting free from toxic religion. I need a special 12-step group for this. But the Buick represents yet another layer to shed. A very co-dependent layer. My stifling won’t help anybody live better . . . or help them be inspired.

Pema Chodron says when she sees someone on TV who is suffering, she takes a breath, gives a nod of respect and love in their direction . . . a kind of brief meditation for their well-being. And then she resumes her day. If I apply this to my friends in the Buick, I can pass them with love.

Move far away to follow your dreams. Love someone  your parents don’t want you to love. End a relationship that drains your life force. Start a business, take a risk, or make a mistake. Surging forward into sunshine makes us evolve.

It’s okay to shed the guilt and go.

Contact Deborah

 

Affirmations for Healing Spiritual Abuse

 

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Spiritual abuse includes any kind of religious teaching or practice that diminishes your human rights, isolates you from the wider world, or systematically places you in positions of low power. I modeled these affirmations for healing spiritual abuse on those found in Jessica and Nick Ortner’s The Tapping Solution courses. Say them aloud or read them silently as you tap your body, gently, in a left-right-left-right motion: on the outsides of your knees, the outer edge of your eyes, your temples, your collarbone, and under your arms. You can also watch a tapping demo here.

  • Even though I have hurt places inside; and even though this old hurt causes me pain today; I love and accept myself.
  • Even though I still carry old hurt from my childhood; and even though I still feel this old hurt in my anxiety, my depression, my shame, my difficulty with relationships; I love and accept myself.
  • Even though old teaching made me feel I wasn’t good enough, I see goodness in me and I know I am enough.
  • Even though that old teaching made me feel shameful and unlovable, I now know I am good and lovable.
  • Even though the old message taught me not to make myself a priority, I now realize I need to first be aware of my feelings and my needs – so that I can care for myself. I now realize I must care for myself first.
  • Even though the old message made me feel insignificant, I now see that I matter.
  • Even though the old message taught me that I wasn’t inherently lovable, I now know that I am lovable. I deserve to be loved and nurtured.
  • And even though I still sometimes feel ashamed of my needs, ashamed of my feelings; I know that my need for love, touch, validation, rest, emotional expression, and understanding are an essential part of being alive.
  • I don’t always know what to do about the part of me that still hurts; I worry I will always have this pain; I wish I could be the person I’ve always wanted to be, but the fear and anxiety keep me stuck in old ways of seeing myself, stuck in old ways of feeling and moving about in the world.
  • Maybe I can let go of the fear.
  • Maybe I can trust my inner wisdom.
  • Maybe I already have the solution to all that old pain inside me.
  • I now open my awareness to Divine wisdom and love.
  • I open my awareness to who I really am.
  • Even though I’ve been so busy trying to be someone else’s version of me; I start to recognize my true self now.
  • My true inner self loves unconditionally.
  • My true inner self knows everything about me, and still loves me.
  • My true inner self knows what I’ve been through and understands my pain.
  • My true inner self helps me grow.
  • My true inner self connects me with Divine love, wisdom, and creation.
  • I accept my true inner self and I allow it to become more and more familiar to me.
  • Even though I haven’t always been in touch with this part of me, my true inner self keeps me company and nudges me toward higher consciousness and calm.
  • My true inner self helps me move toward greater awareness and creativity.
  • My true inner self understands me completely and knows the wisdom of every part of my life and being.

My novel, Wife Material, tells the story of one girl who exits spiritual abuse and says yes to her true inner self . . . which changes everything.

Read Wife Material

 

Abusive Religion or Political Party? Toxic Faith: Part II

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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.

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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.

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15 Signs of Religious Abuse: Toxic Faith, Part I

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How do I know if I’m in an abusive church?

Religious abuse keeps us quiet because of the beliefs that support it. In fact, if you have difficulty with your faith tradition or your church, you probably think it’s YOU with the problem – not the spiritual guidance you’re receiving.

I felt invisible, stupid, and scared as a girl in the Church of Christ.

My autobiographical novel, Wife Material, deals with the

crazy-making and gaslighting of spiritual abuse.

A person’s faith or religious community should make them calmer, wiser, and more connected (to their higher power and the people in their life). This short list of problems might help you determine if your religion could be having the opposite effect, making you sick instead of whole. The following apply just as easily to synagogue, mosque, prayer group, or drumming circle.

 

You might be experiencing religious abuse if . . .

  1. You feel worse about yourself after being at services.
  2. You have doubts or diverging opinions but feel afraid to express them.
  3. The lead clergy person ignores you – or, puts a lot of social pressure on you.
  4. The leaders criticize or guilt-trip you.
  5. You feel invaded by the practices of worship (e.g., “Reach out and hug the person next to you!”).
  6. The doctrine requires you to cut ties with family or friends and make yourself more available to the group.
  7. One gender is given privilege over another.
  8. Certain racial or cultural groups are devalued or given privilege over others.
  9. Child corporal punishment is condoned or encouraged.
  10. Certain people’s voices or views are privileged, to the exclusion of others.
  11. Your sexuality is scrutinized or labeled “deviant.”
  12. You feel voiceless, unimportant, crazy, sinful, or ashamed in relation to the group.
  13. You’re told how you should think, feel, vote, or handle your personal life.
  14. You’re continually asked to sacrifice your boundaries or self-care to further the agenda of the group.
  15. You’re pressured to share more personal information with the group than you feel comfortable sharing.

Consider writing down your reactions to this post. Also, Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book, Release, is a gentle starting guide for moving out of the dis-empowerment of religious wounding and into spiritual healing. I’ll be back soon with more signs and an exercise to clarify your basic faith from the toxic religion you’ve learned.

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On Losing Christian Fundamentalism…and my Fundie Facebook Page

I closed my original Facebook account…the one full of cousins and college roommates……the one full of Christian fundamentalism.

Two weeks ago. I’ve never felt better.

True confession: I created a new account before closing my old one. I began populating New Facebook with people from age twenty-four and beyond, which might mean you. For a while, the two accounts sat side-by-side. (Sorry, Facebook.)

In Old Facebook, a conglomeration of past and present, I constantly ran into people from my childhood. We knew each other in a fundamentalist religious community….a system that, for all its soul-saving intentions, did some serious damage in my life. That system inspired my new book, Wife Material.

Every time I scrolled through the news feed of Old Facebook, I felt depressed and anxious. I felt like the outsider I was/am. I saw the great gulf that separated my worldview from theirs. I felt waves of revulsion and sadness but could not figure out why. (They’re being nice, right?)

In New Facebook, I find neighbors I like, people building community, announcements for concerts and art shows and wine tastings. I feel connected to something larger and more real.

I avoided Old Facebook. I rarely posted my current activities. But if I logged in, I’d get mesmerized by the scrubbed joy and sparkling perfection of “friends” – some I’d experienced as judgmental and shallow. I couldn’t tear my eyes off the screen. How happy they were at Homecoming! How proud to take their own children to Christian college! How fulfilled in the Lord!

I kept scrolling while I split into two people: one of me, devouring and choking on the confusing scraps from their shared table (the one I could never find) – the other me, tugging us both back to reality. Deborah, you don’t have to eat off the floor anymore!

The denouement to my Old Facebook took place after I shared a post on gun control. I added fuel by overlaying the rainbow flag on my profile picture (In retrospect, I was asking for it.).

I received questions and thinly-veiled threats from college mates. “I’d be careful if I were you…waving flags!” Then, a groundswell: “Guns aren’t the problem! Parents should beat their kids more!” (I suppose as a deterrent to violence?). “My parents wore out my behind and I’m grateful they did.” Someone else said, “We don’t need gun control. We need parents to use the rod like God intended! My parents did and I’m a law-abiding gun owner!”

I snapped out of my trance, lunged for the delete key, and clicked madly: YES I’M SURE. YES, I WANT TO EXPUNGE THIS ACCOUNT. YES, I’M TOTALLY SURE. I KNOW I’LL LOSE EVERYTHING – YES, PLEASE!!!! GET RID OF THIS $#*&^@ THING FOR ME!

Now, for some grieving and grappling. The cloud of childhood censorship is gone. But can a recovering fundamentalist-girl really share publicly about her faith and reason? What if people get mad?

Ah, okay. I get it. Now, I’m free to find out. Now, the real growth begins…

For more about losing my religion and healthy rebellion, visit these posts:

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