Archive | February, 2009

Stubborn Heart; Soft Heart

28 Feb

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

Last night during a sermon at church, the guest speaker, our own Jason D. used the term stubborn heart to describe a heart that resists – resists openness, resists love, resists tears, resists surrender. Ultimately, resists God. I loved this analogy because I knew exactly what he was talking about. I know when my heart becomes stubborn, like a child refusing to share a toy or an evil Queen too hardened to be happy for anyone around her. Jealous. Resentful. But more than anything – SCARED. 

It’s taken me a long time for my heart to soften and it’s a work in progress for sure. When I first started attending my church, Journey, I literally felt my heart as a hard walnut shell that God was trying to crack open. Talk about stubborn. Debris was flying around everywhere (and continues to). Now I often feel my heart all soft and gushy. But it is a dance of expansion and contraction. It is a continual opening and closing like flowers turning to face the sun during the day and closing their blossoms at nightfall. 

I have found that the ways of the heart opening are as numerous and mysterious as the heart itself. They vary like the paths of streams flowing towards a large body of water. Some catalyst occurs that starts to crack the heart open again. Sometimes the trigger is an intensely painful experience that busts the heart open like a blast of dynamite creating space in a building or wall. Or sometimes it’s a person who sees us deeply and for a moment redeems our faith in both ourselves and humanity. And then it can just be a gradual softening like when the sun begins to melt the winter snow, or after holding onto something super tight, you suddenly let go and relax a little. Regardless of the ways, I experience this all as God. 

The heart is a very funny animal. Researchers are finding that the heart may have its own central nervous system and that it actually radiates an energy. In Paul Pearsall’s brilliant book, “The Heart’s Code,” he writes, “The heart may be where God’s intelligence or logic is expressed within us… Cardio-energetics says that the heart can serve as a magnetic pole attracting that energy…” 

“When you’re not trying to make the heart into something you think is proper, it showers you with its magic, and even in the midst of pain it can offer moments of rapture.”- Thomas Moore.

Here’s to open hearts!

Wrestling with the Wrestler

25 Feb

In screenwriting, writers follow a basic rule: show don’t tell. The actions of the characters should reveal their inner struggles and motivations and the dialogue hint at their histories instead of telegraphing them (or the ideologies of the writer). 

While watching the film “The Wrestler,” I knew everything I needed to know about the father/daughter relationship between Randy the Ram (Micky Rourke) and his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) even though I knew very little about their back history. When Randy says to Stephanie, with tears in his eyes, “I’m just an old piece of meat…I deserve to be alone…I just don’t want you to hate me,” and afterwards Stephanie links her arm in his, forgiving him for past transgressions, I know everything I need to about her desperate need to have his love. And when she later yells at him – “I waited two hours for you in that restaurant. I’m done! I’m not doing it again,” as he pulls her hair out of her face almost as if seducing her, I get their history. The essence of it anyway. When she opens the door and says, “Out. Get out,” I remember my own history. When I shut my dad out of my life because the heartbreak of having him in it was destroying me. Such decisions become the ultimate act of self-preservation and yet at such a cost. It is sheer HELL to walk a parent out of your life – slamming the door of your heart behind them. 

I did not enjoy the movie “The Wrestler.” I hate wrestling and I hate stripping – both of which are featured in the film. I find them both barbaric and void of intimacy and connection. Nor did the characters transcend anything which for me has become an element I want in a film, particularly if dealing with tragedy. But nonetheless, I was deeply moved by this portrayal of a father/daughter relationship (and the brilliant acting). 

The details of my relationship with my own father differ vastly from those insinuated in the Randy/Stephanie one but the essence of the relationships parallel each other. My dad and I had a connection, he was there for me for a time and then he severely abandoned me. My story is too long and complex for a blog entry. It is however written in movie form, which I PRAY TO GOD will some day make it to screen. 

Thankfully, I was able to spend time with my father before his death. He died knowing I didn’t “hate him” and I was left with the knowledge that he loved me besides letting me down over and over again. Because of this, I left the movie reflective but centered instead of unhinged like I used to get in the old days. 

Girls like me with fathers like Randy the Ram – basically good guys at heart but deeply flawed leave one with a template for relationships that is hard to reconfigure. I saw myself in the character of both the daughter and stripper – women wary of love and who often pick men who are good but despite themselves can’t quite figure it out. Thankfully, there is an answer and end to this anguish. It comes in the form of God the FATHER. 

My aunt and uncle send me paraphernalia dealing with princess themes partly because Johnny called me princess when I was a little girl and partly because I spent three years working on an unpublished book project based on fairy tale themes. Recently they sent me a plaque that says, “I know I’m a princess: my father is King of Kings.” This says it all and can heal even the most severe of father wounds. Because of Him, I no longer have to wrestle with this so hard, nor am I getting so beat up. Amen.

All Creatures Great and Small

23 Feb

PBS has been airing a show that I’ve recently been catching glimpses of. I don’t know what the show is called except that I believe it’s sponsored by “Nature.” Anyway, every time I stumble upon it, people are being featured with their pets and interviewed about their relationship with them. A number of the interviews highlight cats and the transforming impact of them on their owner’s lives. Whenever this show comes on, I stop riveted as I listen to people’s personal testimonies. It’s like witnessing someone’s conversion to God. I’m held slightly in awe.

Now I grew up with pets so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with how endearing they can be. Boomer, Pasha, Smokey and Sly were significant childhood companions. However, I have never given money to the Humane society and used to be kind of cynical whenever listening to animal rights activists. I felt like it was easier for people to take up a cause for animals- a species one step removed from them – than to confront all the injustice humans experience. But suddenly, I am finding myself deeply drawn to animals and that I’m concerned for their well being in the same way I am for humans. 

For me, having animals as an adult is a different experience than when I had them as a child. Sure, I had to be responsible for mine as a kid. I come from farm stock, so chores were more than part of my daily regiment. The dogs got walked and brushed twice a day despite the fact that they had almost an acre to roam on and I washed them every Saturday. When I got my driver’s license at sixteen, I also took them to the vet. But somehow being responsible for pets as an adult differs from my childhood experience. If pets were like siblings when I was a kid, now as an adult, they feel like my children. 

I became the proud owner of Rumi and Hafiz when their previous owner, an elderly woman fell and broke her hip, resulting in her needing to move to assisted living. She had raised these cats since they were infants, feeding them milk from an eye-dropper. It broke her heart to give them up and she called me a few times the first week I had them to make certain they were truly okay. 

Rumi and Hafiz (I gave them these names) were initially overwhelmed at having to change living environments. They hid in my closet during their first day or two with me, only to come out at night or to be fed. The sound of their paws clicking on my hard wood floors drove me batty at first, as did their waking me up every few hours for food like newborns. They came up with all kinds of clever ways to arouse me from slumber including walking directly on my face, which resulted in all of us being startled and terrified.

Like any parent, I think my children are the most beautiful, most clever and most unique species on the planet. But trust me. Rumi and Hafiz are. Besides looking like super models, with soft beautiful fur, blue eyes and well defined cheekbones, they are love personified. My cats are not your typical aloof, leave-me-alone, I’m independent felines. Rather they are dog-cats. They want to be by my side every second. If I’m at the computer, one is on my lap; the other on the desk. When I wake up, one is sprawled on my legs; the other on my chest. They display an uncanny degree of loyalty and affection that I don’t know what I did to deserve and look at me with eyes that I swear pierce into the depths of my soul. For you see, I think these two cats are really angels disguised in fur. I truly think they are missionaries from God sent to look after my spiritual well being. 

The other day I happened to be at the police station filing a report for the hit and run driver who rammed into my car – %$#@!  –  which is right next to the humane society. A woman from the agency was walking a magnificent dog. I’m not certain what the breed was – s/he was similar to a golden lab but a little more red in color. Anyway, I fell in love. And it just killed me that the dog didn’t have a home. I looked deep into his eyes and then verbally said a prayer. “Please, may you find a wonderful family to love you.” Isn’t that what we all want and deserve? Whether animal or human, we all want a family where we can freely give our love. This dog wasn’t so interested in “getting” love. He just wanted to wag his tail and to GIVE his love. 

Years ago, PBS aired another program dealing with animals. Based on the books by James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small,” was a delightful series about a Yorkshire veterinarian. Yes, indeed. All creatures great and small. The Lord God loves them all. And it is through them that I am learning some pretty profound lessons about love.

While We’re in a Body…

21 Feb

I’ve never understood it when people say they don’t have to time to exercise. For me, the degree of business in my life is directly proportionate to how much I HAVE to exercise. The more hectic my schedule, the more I need to move my body in order to avoid complete insanity. Children go psycho without recess; are we not the same?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not an exercise addict. I don’t have to work out every day, nor am I obsessed with things such as body weight and image. In fact, I find this culture’s fixation on physical aesthetics revolting in its ability to damage the psyche and general well being. No. When I talk about exercise, I’m really referring to the mind/body connection.  

Long before the mind/body connection was all the rage, my father used to tell me, “A healthy body makes a healthy mind.” He was right. I started long distance running with him when I was ten and found that after exercising, my mind functioned clearly. Better than that, negative emotions evaporated with the sweat.

I learned early on that exercise, besides being good for the body, is critical to emotional stability. It’s pretty basic. If we don’t release tension, we de-combust. Every time we experience stress, our muscles tense, we hold our breath and often suppress our emotions. Do you know what this does to us over time? It gums us up big time.  

In his classic book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey talks about the importance of being “principle centered.” He suggests we organize ourselves not around time but around our priorities. He claims that if we do this, we’ll suffer less with time management because what matters to us will get done. For me, the body is a priority because if I tend to it, I’ll be in balance and focused. When people say, “I don’t have time to exercise,” I think – I don’t have time not to. It’s too important to my overall well being and success. 

 This morning I woke up after only six hours of sleep (not enough) and a long list of things to do today starting with a trip to the mechanic (I’ll save that for another post), wash, grocery shopping, email and calls galore to answer, etc, etc. You know the drill. By 8:00 am my mind was spinning. I was composing blog entries and to do lists in my head – the ideas swirling in my mind like bees without a landing zone. “Girlfriend, you need to get a grip,” I told myself. “You’re going mental.” I added going to yoga to my “to do” list. 

Thankfully, I like yoga; it’s important that we like whatever form of exercise we choose. Otherwise, how often will we engage in it? And what kind of experience will we have while doing it? Shitty. And that defeats the whole point of the mind/body connection because exercise should put us more in touch with our health/ joy vs. misery. Life is hard enough. 

I think of my body as the house which holds my soul. While in this body, I want to take as good of care of it as I can, sweeping out the cob webs and getting rid of the guests who have long overstayed their welcome. I also want to spend time in it instead of being checked out. 

If I’m not in my body, I’m not in my heart and most of the time when I’m in my mind, I’m clearly crazy. So, while I’m in a body, I want to take care of it and be in it! Let’s bless our bodies and not curse them; they are here to be of service to us and simply want our love.

How Jack Bauer Got Me Through a Breakup

18 Feb

Last night I found myself getting suckered into “24” again. I was so disappointed by season 6 that I had stopped watching it. However, I watched the two hour special set in Africa that aired as a precursor to season 7 and thought maybe I could get into the series again. But the first few episodes this year left me a little flat. After seven seasons, I was hoping for new plot lines – some deviation from a nuclear device about to detonate and a mole being planted at CTU. Yet there I was last night pulled into the inevitable vortex of “24” despite myself.

I became initiated into “24” during the brilliant season 5. They were airing re-runs of it on Friday nights and somehow despite coming into the episodes half-way through the season, I began to piece together all the various subplots. When I realized I could go out and get the entire season 5 on DVD, I went down to Blockbuster and rented one DVD. I drove back later that night for three more. The next day I signed up for Netflix. 

About the same time, I was in the throes of letting someone I loved go because he simply couldn’t commit to a proper relationship. Despite my heartache, I was shocked to discover that if I put in a “24” DVD, the suspense totally pulled me out of any lovesickness. As I made my way through season 5, I then back-tracked through season 4, 3, 2 and finally to season 1. By then I was doing both Netflix and Blockbuster because I couldn’t wait long enough for Netflix to send me the next DVD.

Now I am not a t.v. junkie. Nor is my aunt. But apparently, the first time my aunt ever saw “24” was during a “24” weekend in which they showed an episode every hour. She watched the entire weekend. My uncle thought she was insane.

I don’t do action movies. I don’t like violence. And I don’t believe in torture/violation of human rights in the name of the war on terror. Why then did Jack Bauer get me through a break-up?  Maybe because Jack Bauer is all about commitment. Well, not in the way I’d want from a guy… he would not be a fun man to date … but let’s face it. Jack isn’t wishy-washy. He takes a stand and sticks to it all for some supposed higher good. Very little grey with Jack. And for that Jack, you were kind of a hero to me. Copy that.

When Faith Flatlines

16 Feb

If you’re prone like me to an artistic temperament, there are days when you’re really up and days when you feel your faith flatlining. So where do we get the crash cart when that happens? Who or what resuscitates us? How do we keep our minds from going straight to a gutter of negativity and our hearts from plunging into depression and despair? If “those without hope perish”, how do we keep hope alive? How do we fan its flames from bare embers?  

I don’t think it’s an easy endeavor. But like throwing out a life preserver, I think there are a few things that can help. 

They say faith is a matter of perspective and it most definitely is but once that perspective is tainted, it becomes hard to shift. This is my issue with cognitive behavioral therapy, which in my line of work is all the rage. The idea with this is that if you change your thought, you change the feeling and behavior. This is all good and dandy when YOU CAN change the thought. But what if you can’t? What if you try but you hit a brick wall? Likewise, we often have insight but that doesn’t always mean we change the behavior or feeling. What happens then?

I think there is a point where will power doesn’t always work. Where mind over matter fails. And that is where we have to surrender and turn to God. We have to say, “Please, God. Help me. Heal me.” Or we turn to someone who has faith and say, “Please, intercede for me.”  

If the opposite of faith is fear, it’s important to move away from its breeding ground. What helps me do that is art because it fosters possibility vs. limitation. Creativity jump starts my mood like jumper cables do a car. It helps replace depression like an antidote to poison. Healing doesn’t come from focusing on the negative; it comes from transmuting the negative – moving through it into something Higher. Something beautiful. Something worthwhile.  

When my faith flatlines, I ask for help. But then I often have to just put one foot in front of the other. Like the Nike commercial, I have to “just do it.” Put on the sneakers, hit the pavement and wait for the God endorphins to kick in again.

Emission Cleaner for the Heart

14 Feb

I’ve been cursed with catalytic converter problems. My last car, a used Ford Taurus had the check engine light come on at 150,000 miles. I was told the catalytic converter was going out and that the repair would be $1,500.00. (The car was barely worth that). Then a mechanic told me to simply drive it until it didn’t pass smog (he checked the codes for me periodically to make certain nothing else was going on) and two years later, the engine finally didn’t pass smog. Then the state ended up picking up $500.00 of that bill.

Now it’s another used car with a check engine light that keeps tripping because of the catalytic converter. This will be another $1,500 repair for a car barely worth that because the year and model of my Hyndai features a special catalytic converter that you can’t get a boot leg copy of. So, they’ve suggested an emissions cleaner to see if the engine can run more efficiently.

As I was driving away in a rather foul mood, I was thinking my heart could use an emissions cleaner. Was it too blackened? Contaminated with emotional debris? Choking on itself? I wondered.

I’ve always prided myself on being a loving, compassionate individual. Nothing wrong with my heart. Plus, I can cry rather easily – another sign I haven’t quite rusted yet. Well, it’s funny how we can delude ourselves. How I’ve built a shrine to my intellect and left my own heart out in the cold like a puppy I cruelly won’t let in for the night. 

Deep wounds scab over but every time you bump up against them, they re-open. Salt stinging on tender tissue. And somehow I’ve hit some of those old wounds and am reminded of how crappy they feel. How dangerous they are because bitterness and depression creep in around them like tenacious weeds.

The heart’s defenses form a protective wall around it. Sometimes a literal fortress builds itself around the allusive muscle.  Sure the bad stuff stays out but joy and love can’t flow freely in. But the reverse is true too. If you open the heart to let in the good, the old pain that was shut off has to flow again. And that sucks. 

Going to church and getting in touch with God opens the heart. It brings in all the joy and love we desire and that is a wonderful thing. Most of the time this leaves me with a sense of hope, renewal and energy. But every now and then, this opening makes me hit the dark – the pain and the loss – because these too sit lodged in my heart. 

Every now and then I feel like God, the Master Mechanic is ripping out all the parts of my engine, my heart included. He’s got grit and grease everywhere. An old motor ready for the junk heap. That is how I feel a lot of the time. I see all the rust and neglect over the years; all the places where I’ve been dinged and dinted. At times like these, I hope He puts in emission cleaner for my heart. Anything to clean it up and get it in working order again. I try to remember that Woody Allen once said, “the heart is a resilient little muscle” and that Victor Frankel remarked, “that which is to give light must endure burning.”

A Lost Valentine

8 Feb

Valentine’s Day is not until next Saturday but as it one of the most commercial holidays of the year, we will soon be bombarded with commercials promoting flowers, chocolate and diamond rings. So Valentine’s Day is on my mind but not for reasons you might think. 

Perhaps because I saw my father give too many different women roses and chocolate, I learned long ago that you can’t buy people’s love and that romance doesn’t automatically equate with a depth relationship. In fact, I was already on guard in the fourth grade when Jimmy R. – the cutest and nicest boy in the class gave me a porcelain unicorn and I told him, “Thank you very much,” and then promptly returned it. His sister was furious with me claiming I’d broken his heart and my mother wasn’t so pleased either. But I was sure taking the unicorn meant we would have to go steady and I feared that would interfere with Girl Scouts and ballet class. Needless to say, I am still a little wary of it all. 

But this Valentine’s day I will be sad; I am already sad. And no it isn’t because I’m single. It’s because my one true Valentine has always been my mother. While we never had a close-knit relationship, without fail, my mother always sent me a card on February 14th- even last year when she was in jail and had to mail me one from her cell. And now she is gone. There will be no Valentine this year from mom. I wish I could send her one but I don’t know the postal code in heaven.

Because my mom committed suicide, someone last week asked if it troubles me that she isn’t in heaven. I was more disturbed by the question because I have to believe that she is there. She was Catholic and I went over this issue in-depth with her priest and nun. Both individuals knew my mom and her addictions/depression pretty well. They reassured me that my mom was a good person; that God always shows Mercy. The priest quoted Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” claiming that my mom could finally give it up and be with God.

The only time I have worried that my mom isn’t with God came after a bad dream. In the dream, she called on the telephone and I asked her how things were going (in heaven). And she paused and said, “Well, not so good…” And suddenly I realized we had another series of calamities on her plate with which to contend. But after I woke up from the dream, I concluded it represented past crisis’.  While I’ve had many prophetic dreams (including the one of her death), I simply don’t believe she is in hell. 

So this Valentine’s, I am missing my mom. I have bought a few cards to send to family members – trying to keep my mom’s tradition alive. 

In church on Friday night, the music worship leader paused between songs and asked us to feel Jesus’ presence right there before us. I closed my eyes and could literarily see and feel His Essence in front of me. Next to Him was my mom; I couldn’t sense her presence as strong as His but she was there with Him.

Maybe I got my Valentine after all…

Body as Bethel

5 Feb

Awhile back my pastor identified Bethel as a place where Jacob received Divine Guidance. He then asked people to identify their own personal Bethels. 

If truth be told, my body is my Bethel. While we are spiritual beings, the reality is we live in physical bodies. Thus, my body is the conduit for hearing from and receiving God. It is the place where I meet God daily, provided I am in touch with it. For this reason, I think being in tune with the body (in a responsible, conscious way) is a spiritual practice. 

I know I am not in touch with my body (or myself, or God for that matter) when I become a human doing rather than a human being. When this occurs, I get so caught up in what I need to accomplish that I function like a robot. Although this mode of operation gets things checked off my to do list, I’m checked out in the process. I lose all awareness of my physical, emotional and spiritual being. 

What helps me get back in touch with this is yoga. Yoga creates profound spiritual awareness because with each posture there is a corresponding breath and with each breath, I breathe in God. Like prayer and meditation, it requires that I be still (although occasionally moving) and in that, I come to know Him. 

I’ll be honest. A lot of times I don’t want to bother. I don’t think I have the hour and fifteen minutes to be with Him (or me for that matter). And quite frankly, I don’t always want to make Contact. Because if I make contact with my breath, I make contact with my heart and then that in turn leads to contact with my feelings. All requiring me to Surrender which I fight, even if the end result would be the deepest Peace and Grace. 

This morning, I woke up stiff as a board. My body filled with tension – God’s way of informing me that things in my work life need some major re-organizing. His way of giving me His Guidance through discomfort. And with this increasing realization, I took the time to be with Him in movement. I found a 7:30 class and let myself go – breath by breath back into the temple. 

There is a reason Jesus is pictured in paintings with his heart all aflame. His heart is literally burning. And there is a reason why saints have halos. I think when deeply engaged, the body becomes a vessel for Spirit – for Energy – for God. 

I love Walt Whitman’s quote, “I sing the body electric.” After class, the sky seemed more blue, my heart more open, my mind more at ease. I am very grateful for body as Bethel.

Beauty and Black’s Beach

1 Feb

If I were independently wealthy and never had to work a day again in my life, I would get a yellow lab, move to the Big Sur and walk on Pebble Beach every day wearing a L.L. Bean sweater. But as I don’t see this happening any time soon, I’ll settle for the fact that I live near another radically beautiful stretch of the Pacific.  

Today was one of those glorious days in San Diego where the sky is a peacock blue and the sun a perfect blend of warm and gentle. It was one of those days where no matter how much you have to do, you have to axe the agenda and drive down to the beach.

My relatives forever tease me that my favorite beach in San Diego is Blacks Beach. If you don’t know why this alarms and amuses them, Blacks Beach is supposedly a nudist beach, although I rarely see anyone there, let alone a nudist. Well, okay. Twenty years ago there would be the occasionally person au natural. My aunt Sue was once visiting me while I was in college at UCSD and I took her down the cliffs to the beach. Supposedly we passed someone naked but I was so caught up in the conversation and rugged coastline, I didn’t even notice. Bathing suit – birthday suit. It’s all the same to me.  

Anyway, I like my beaches isolated and Blacks Beach is one of the few beaches in San Diego that isn’t densely populated. This is because you can only access the beach by walking from La Jolla Shores when the tide is low enough to cut over, or by trekking down a hilly path that most people don’t enjoy walking back up. This isolation is what Blacks Beach and the Big Sur have in common and is why I love them both. The solitude amidst profound beauty penetrates deeply into my soul.

At Blacks, the cliffs get drenched in Mediterranean light reminiscent of a Cezanne painting. The water swirls in tones of deep blue and green while light dances on the waves shimmering like diamonds. The Big Sur is more mysterious and moody. The fog rolls in hugging the Cyrpus trees in a mist as magical as Avalon’s, transporting you to another realm entirely.

Oh how we need these other realms to take us deeper into ourselves and God.

For those of us growing up near the Pacific, the ties to it can be uncanny. After living in New York for five years, I suddenly started seeing the Pacific every time I closed my eyes. It wasn’t simply a nice snap shot like a post card memory. It was a haunting image – a mirage in the desert – calling me back home. It was very disconcerting. My life was in New York but the Pacific had different plans for me.  

Today, the ocean called me out again. Altering the day. And bringing me a little bit more in synch with my soul.