Archive | September, 2009

Baptizo – To Immerse, Dip, Dunk or Wash

27 Sep

My decision to try surfing was similar to being baptized as an adult. I saw a video of people being dunked and felt this bizarre curiosity to partake vs. watching from the sidelines. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not that girl who will jump off a cliff just because “everybody’s doing it” and in high school had no problem saying no to drugs. I am my own person and always have been. I hate group think and act on the courage of my convictions. But some impulses can’t truly be explained. They’re mysterious and spontaneous and change our lives forever. 

True, I’ve had my moments of ridiculous impulses like the time I put my foot in tar to see what the black ooze “felt” like and the time I thought I could slide down a pole with no hands. One incident resulted in hours of scrubbing my feet with turpentine; the other a visit to the hospital. Both occurred when I was five. But at forty, I rarely do things on impulse. Even when I feel God coursing through my veins, urging me to risk, I hesitate, trapped by years of grief and loss. 

Trying surfing was a whim – catalyzed by a friend talking incessantly about it and seeing little kid after little kid on the beach in wet suits learning how to do something that from my vantage point I thought I might be able to do too. If these little tykes could go from lying on the sand to popping up on the sand practicing their pop up, why couldn’t I? In hindsight, it was the kid in me, watching those kids that created a longing – a longing to play. A longing to be part of something instead of trapped in the isolation of adulthood and singleness and the seriousness which is a deep part of my personality. 

In the film “Shall We Dance?” – (the original Japanese version vs. the not-as-poignant remake with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez), a Japanese businessman mired in the monotony of corporate life stumbles across a ballroom dance studio and signs up for dance lessons on a whim. In secret because partnered dancing was once taboo in Japan. And we watch the miracle of dance restoring his suffocated soul, breathing it back to life.

I relate to this protagonist, my dance partner the sea, giving me pieces of myself back. It is the ocean and a board causing me to laugh and wake up in the morning with a sense of joy and to relax and sleep better at night. Surfing also introduces me to new friends, breaking me from my self-imposed rigidness and isolation, much the way the Japanese man befriended people in his dance class and the competition he enters!

It is the ultimate cliche to say that surfing is spiritual – so I won’t say it. But I will say that in its spirituality is a form of sensuality or sexuality. And if sexuality is about union and creation, then the wave meets me in that place of ecstatic contact – sometimes terrifying me, sometimes making me laugh, sometimes making me cry out with joy. Cowabunga. It also warns me to be careful; that its power can be dangerous but that a life without risk is one without transformation or relationship. With God. With oneself. With others.

My adult baptism was an amazing experience catapulting me on a journey beyond description for this blog post but in a way surfing and the baptism are related – both entailing water, renewal, dunking and being washed clean. Anew.

On days I surf, when I lie down at night, I still feel the movement of the wave within me. I feel myself  resting on my board, the waves gently rocking me or the feeling of propelled motion as the wave took me that day. I feel the sea literary a body memory, still wedding me, permeating the very cells of my being and experience. If that is not God, I don’t know what is.

Down-Shifting

23 Sep

Much to my grandparents’ dismay, my dad raced stock cars in college, causing them fear for his safety as well as the wild streak running through him that propelled him towards dangerous thrills. Consequently, he never drove cars with automatic transmissions. Some of my earliest memories include sitting on his lap while he drove (which of course freaked my mom out) with my hand underneath his on the gear shift. I can still feel the size and strength of his hand placed over mine as we moved the stick from fourth, to third, through second and into first – the vibrations of the gear tingling in my palm.  

Being my father’s daughter, I learned to drive on a stick but that was in the days when you could zip around San Diego’s freeways never hitting traffic. If I had a stick now, my legs would probably shake from having to put in the clutch so much while in gridlock. The only time I ever drive a stick now is when my car is in the shop and the mechanic loans me his beat up pick up truck. But I will never forget the sensation of downshifting – a feeling engrained in my body long before I learned how to drive. The somatic knowledge that when the car shifted to first, turned right and began a steep incline while I was half asleep in the passenger’s seat, we had reached Shadow Knolls Dr. and were almost home.

While off from work these few days, I knew there was one day that I had to designate for tasks and chores I’ve not had time to do. I dreaded this because I knew that would take me out of relaxation mode and back into doing mode. I was right. Yesterday, I went from first to fourth, jamming my gears. Now I’m trying to slow back down to first. But how hard it is to slow down when used to driving in fourth on the freeway 24/7.

They say it takes at least ten days to truly unwind on a vacation and that most people typically have to return to work just as they were beginning to relax (or before they reached that point). I would agree. I’m sure the day I go back to work will be when I’m finally letting go. When my incessant TMJ has finally let up. 

If shifting is about rhythms, what has happened to ours’? What of our natural cycles for sleep, rest, work and play? How has technology and electricity and the demands of making a living altered that?

The other day a friend of mine returned to me the baby blanket I knit for her first born child. I looked at it in astonishment realizing it has been seven years since I’ve held any knitting needles. How in the world did I have the time and the patience to knit her son a blanket? I have tubes of water color paint sitting here on my table that have sat for three months now without me opening one. And I’m sorry for that because these things are good for my soul.

In order to down-shift, we have to make it a priority; a necessity; a medical order. Or it can become the latter at some point. Grinding the clutch. The transmission shot.

Reflections on the Water

21 Sep

The scariest thing about learning to surf is strapping the board on top of the car and praying it doesn’t come flying off on the freeway. Seriously. Or, worrying if the little pocket in your wet suit, designed to hold your car key will indeed hold it. (Okay, I’m as neurotic as a female Woody Allen, I admit). But with faith the size of a mustard seed, I am managing to overcome these challenges. 

So today marks the beginning of a few much needed days off from work before the chaos of work plus school starts. Confronting my board transporting fears and the bizarre wailing sound the wind makes against the transport straps (a cross between a motorcycle and lawn mower), I went to the beach. And I was pleasantly reminded that the Pacific looks much different on weekday mornings than it does on Saturdays during a stretch of unseasonably warm water temperatures. 

Although surfing can be a communal gig, in the end it is just me and the wave. Being alone today, I luxuriated in this phenomenon. As a learner, I need time to think about what the wave is doing to me. Is it pushing me, gliding me, wiping me out or pearling me? And what I am doing in the intersection?

To master anything takes practice and the courage to make mistakes. On the other hand, repeating the same mistakes over and over creates bad habits. Good form is essential. In ballet, you do a million plies at the barre before moving to the floor and jumping. You build strength and foundation before graduating to pointe shoes.

With surfing, it’s all in the pop up. If I get the pop up right, I get the wave. If I have bad form, I stumble.

I reflect on all these things but in the end, thinking evaporates like the mist when the sun breaks through the clouds. In its place, being emerges. Thought, feeling and motion become their own form of trinity. And all my neurosis washes away with the foam (at least temporarily). From swimming in solitude. Literarily and figuratively. 

I feel so blessed to have this time to reconnect with myself. How disconnected I’ve been. 

“I am the bubble, make me the sea.” (P. Yogananda)

To Sir, With Love

16 Sep

While in the Henry’s market today, I heard the song “To Sir, with Love” piped in overhead and was immediately transported back to my teenage years when my father insisted that I sit down and watch Sidney Poitier in the movie. (During Humphrey Bogart week, I was expected to view each film that aired as well). A wave of nostalgia hit me, not only for those years back at home but for a movie that would probably seem mind boggling innocent now.  

In “To Sir, With Love”, Sidney Poitier plays a school teacher in a rough London neighborhood who with dignity and strength, helps his troubled students take on those very same qualities. The final scene culminates at a dance party where the students express their love for him. It gets me every time, particularly the blond haired girl who adored her professor and asks him to dance with her. The soundtrack lyrics go – 

“And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend, a friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong, that’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return? If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start, but I would rather you let me give my heart, To Sir, With Love.”

It gets me in the gut every time for who of us daughters hasn’t needed someone to teach us “right from wrong/weak from strong” – and sometimes we don’t get that from our fathers but from the Sirs. The Sirs who who love us but don’t hurt us. The Sidney Poitiers of this world. 

I have had a few Sirs in my life who have changed me irrevocably for the better, even if they themselves don’t know the magnitude of their impact or teaching. The writer Antoine de St. Exupery once said, “Love is the process of leading you gently back to yourself.” The Sirs of our lifetimes assist us in this process, so of course we’ll always hold them on the pedestal of our hearts – bigger than life because of the life they gave us.

I told the women in one of my bible study groups that if I’d been alive when Jesus was, I’d have had a crush big time. Because he was a Sir. Gentle. Strong. Commanding. Magnetic. Perhaps then, my nostalgia for the song I heard today takes on so many meanings as I walk deeper in my faith. Farther on the path with Jesus. 

In the end, it’s all a love song. “If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high, – ‘To Sir, With Love.”

Sister Carmel

16 Sep

It’s mysterious how certain people play a significant role in our lives, even when we barely know or spend time with them. Sister Carmel is one of those people in my life: an individual intersecting my journey at strategic spiritual moments. 

Sister Carmel is a nun at Our Lady of Grace church. She was the only person my mom shared with about her experiences while incarcerated. After my mom’s suicide, this struck me for two reasons: The fact that my mother didn’t burden me with talk about her time in jail revealed the depth of her shame about it – and the fact that she felt comfortable telling Sister Carmel about it indicated that Sister Carmel was special. 

I had never met Sister Carmel but on the night I received word of my mom’s death, she was one of the first people I called. My mom had given me her number years ago and I knew she needed to be informed. She was also the only one at the church with enough pull to secure me a definite time for the memorial service so that I could move forward in notifying family and friends of an action plan so critical after the passing of a loved one. 

Sister Carmel came to the service and she set up masses in my mom’s honor. She called me a few weeks after the memorial service and told me it was going to be hard for awhile. At Christmas time, she suggested we meet for a mass and breakfast in honor of my mom’s birthday – December 15th. She gave me a rosary as a Christmas gift which my pastor then blessed since I didn’t know any priests anymore. Months later she continued to check in with me and arranged for a mass in my mom’s honor on the anniversary of her death – July 18th. Sister Carmel met me at the church where I fell directly into her arms sobbing. After the service she took me to the “quiet room” – the place where parents take their babies during service because it is a sound proof area. “Just when you think you’re done crying, there are more tears,” she said. She was right. I cried for another twenty minutes after the service. 

Today I passed by the gift shop in the hospital where I work and saw a witch on display for Halloween. And my mom immediately came to mind. How she loved Halloween. I thought about how I’ve stopped thinking about her on a regular basis but that when I do I am starting to simply miss her. Sister Carmel and my pastor told me it could be a year before I actually started feeling love and sadness due to the shock of the suicide. They were right. 

So today when I checked the mail and saw a card in the box, my heart did a double beat. My mom was one of the few people who sent me cards and I felt a wave of sadness that the cards no longer come. There will be no Halloween Hallmark greeting ever again except for the ones I send. The chocolates I buy for others. 

There was no return address on the stationary. I didn’t have a clue who the note was from. When I opened the envelope, I saw beautiful angel stationary and then realized it was a note from Sister Carmel. Just asking how I was doing – how was work – how was my grief process. One year later. She welcomed me to stop by Our Lady of Grace instead of waiting for anniversary markers. I felt a gulp in my throat. The realization that God was sending one of His intercessors to periodically look after me.

High Fidelity

12 Sep

Okay. I’m ripping the title of this blog post off from a great movie with John Cusak and an unknown at the time – Jack Black. And that movie took the title from an English novel. But that is besides the point.

A school teacher friend of mine has been saving me back issues of “Time” magazine that she gets for her classroom. So the other night I found myself reading an article about the state of marriage in America from the July issue. It was quite depressing. It pointed out the high profile infidelities of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, John Edwards and Jon Gosselin and how eager the country is to swallow up such public intrigues. As I was reading, it dawned on me how loose cheating has become on television — characters rarely feel a sense of guilt or torment anymore, nor is the aftermath of betrayal really explored. Nowhere more do I get this sense than when I watch the teen drama “Gossip Girl” and watch the supposed high school kids betray each other, have a cry about it and then simply move on to the next intrigue. In real life, the heart hurts a lot more.

This particular article pointed out that the true victims of infidelity are the children of the parent(s) acting out. As I read that I remembered my feelings about infidelity as a child and the intensity of my reaction towards my father’s promiscuous behavior. A true Bill Clinton (and I actually like Bill), he seemed to genuinely be in love with every woman he was with, although he failed to realize that loving more than one woman at a time – to the extent that it involved lying and cheating on a regular basis – wasn’t the best way to “love” someone. I vowed I would never let a man treat me that way. Of course later I did. I attracted players like magnets. I also developed my own insidious seductive traits and later found ways to justify my behavior when it strayed from the strict moral code Catholicism instilled in me. But I remember what it was like to be little and to just want a mom and a dad and a family. Long term love and loyalty to a child is a no brainer and yet somehow this is becoming increasingly difficult for our culture to pull off. 

Now I am not writing this to paint myself as some moral high brow because GOD KNOWS I’m not. Nor is it my place to condemn others. Not only that, I’ve seen many couples, after working through infidelity who came to see it as a gift. Although the transgression was excruciatingly painful, it was the crisis that brought the couple back to intimacy. Instead, I’m writing this because as I move deeper into my faith, I’m having a better understanding of this subject.

I’m realizing that although moral codes are important, they are not how we prevent straying from God. In fact, the more we focus just on the rules, the more we seem to want to break them. Rules have to have meaning and a larger term context to truly be treated with respect. I think the key to fidelity is simply staying faithful to God. The more the focus is Vertical, the less chance for fixating on the horizontal. And the less need to act out and fill a void because the void gets filled by Him. I look back at some of the very stupid things I’ve done and realize that if I had only been connected to God – I mean connected – not just trying to be “a good girl so God didn’t throw me into hell” – I simply would have behaved differently. 

Modern day psychology attributes much acting out to inner neurosis and wounding and as a therapist, I definitely believe aspects of this, particularly in the case of sexual abuse. But at what point does one break free of one’s past? At what point does one become conscious? No longer stuck in repetition compulsion? I think God heals so many of the deepest wounds. “Chains be broken. Lives be healed. Eyes wide open. Christ is revealed.” 

Not only is fidelity about faithfulness. The word also means high quality of sound or picture in an electronic device. So when we’re faithful to God, perhaps then we have the best reception. The clearest picture for our lives. Amen.

Hormonal

5 Sep

As much as I hate PMS jokes, there really is something to hormones and their power to create Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde within the female species. But what does all that mean really? Just what is the good and the bad of being hormonal? Is there any benefit from feeling like an emotional time bomb about to detonate?

PMS stands for PRE-menstrual cycle – that means before menstrual cycle – not during. Within the female, we see a variety of symptoms, depending on the type of breed: weepy, bitchy, hungry, tired. When I was younger, I would get so depressed before my period started it scared me. But then like magic, the feelings would lift and I’d be back to my smiling self. Now I just get EXTREMELY tired with a need to be horizontal – a bag of potato chips by my side. If you mix this in with a full moon, I fall asleep by 8:00 pm, dream profusely and want nothing to do with people after 5:00 pm.

The gift of this is that once a month, I realize how little control I really have in my life. Over my body and the rhythms of life itself. It teaches me to just slow down, stop and deal with my limitations. With my moods. My distortions. My tendency towards self-pity and negativity. And it makes me rely on God. Because at the end of the day, He is the only one who can pull me through the craziness of my own chemistry. Not meds. Not motrin. Just me and God. And my dear dear bed.